For my feminine side, Anne Gelhaus.
And for Robert S. Pesich, coyote laureate.
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Your old life was a frantic running from silence.
The speechless full moon comes out now.
A Vague Egyptian Myth
I never should have gone to work that day. If the onset of my period were not enough, I arrived at my desk and saw all those pictures of Maisey and Tanner looking cuter than children should be allowed, attacking me with their weed-like youth. Especially the one of Maisey on her first soccer team, grinning loose-lipped at the photographer as she cradled one of those undersize pee-wee soccer balls.
Thus mesmerized by my own charming DNA, I was an easy setup for Derek, the sweet young intern from Santa Clara University, when he leaned into my cubicle, proffered a Van Dyck still-life of doughnut holes and asked, “Would you like one, Miz Lowiltry?”
That was when I lost it.
The signal making its progress through my forest of brain cells carried clear instructions: my mouth, vocal cords and related equipment were to produce the words, “Thank you very much, Derek,” after which I’d deliver one of my finest anchorwoman smiles, and my hand and arm muscles would gracefully extract two or three of the little fatballs for later consumption. These were simple instructions. But somewhere in the miniscule gap between the words “Thank” and “you,” my face began to rumble and quake like the Hayward Fault, a hundred little Richter tics that gathered into one humongous seismic wave. Right there in the office – my office – I began to gush tears and emit strange animal noises, smack dab in the middle of the nine a.m. foot traffic.
I ignored young Derek’s quickly fading smile and stumbled to the nearest possible refuge – the women’s room. Shielding my face from the four-basin-long mirror, I slipped into the handicapped stall, where I knew there would be hand railings should I need to drag myself up from the floor.
I settled onto the toilet lid, slid the door latch into its slot and reached into the black plastic dispenser for T.P. as flimsy as rice paper. It was enough, however, just to have something to apply to my leaking face. It was then that I began to reflect on the powers of visualization.
My company had sent me two months before to Akron, Ohio, where I took part in a seminar entitled “Visualization for Success.” The seminar leader was Hank Scallion, a tall, lanky Jimmy Stewart type with blinding horse teeth and long balletic fingers. With perfect Iowa diction, Hank instructed us to close our eyes and form a picture of our dreamed-of success. He then asked us to tuck that image away in our memories, so we could pull it back out whenever great anxieties or disappointments reared their malicious donkey-heads.
I do not imagine that my own inner hologram was the kind that Mr. Scallion had in mind. Mine was a high wall constructed entirely of thick glass bricks. The bricks were transparent but packed with deceptive little bumps and grooves, allowing my co-workers and colleagues only the vaguest image of my real self, an amorphous but polite, thoroughly professional woman. If they wanted to try and chip it away with vodka gimlets and insinuating questions at some cheesy fish-market restaurant with nets hanging from the walls and black-and-white photographs of guys named Oscar and Leon hoisting two-hundred-pound swordfish in Baja California or Gloucester, Massachusetts, well tough shit, Pocahontas. These bricks come down for no one. If they ever caught half a second’s reflection of the real Sandy they’d tuck it into their snide little brass-button Harvard blazers for future use. Forget it! My stuff on this side, your stuff over there, and just try to make me out.
There, on my porcelain throne, I stared into the moss-green neutrality of the stall door until it fuzzed out brick by brick into a solid column of crystal. After a few minutes, the blood stood back from my face and my breathing leveled out at a standard Tuesday morning in-out in-out.
“Sandy? Are you all right?”
The glass bricks rattled as Shanili tapped her knuckles on the opposite side. For a few seconds I considered the childish belief that if only I held my breath and slowly lifted my feet from the floor, perhaps she would give up and go away. But she’d probably gotten the whole story from Derek, and wouldn’t leave me alone until she was sure I wasn’t sawing away at my wrist with a car key.
Okay, I thought. This is where the real professionals hang tough. Think about it, girlfriend – a little sobbing fit, that’s all. It is still possible for you to save a little dignity here. Just dream up some goofy little story, like maybe your favorite cousin from Athens, Georgia got killed in a train wreck last week and it just so happens that she was absolutely nuts about doughnut holes. No, that’s not going to work. Let’s try an image. It’s you and Hank Scallion, and the two of you are sitting astride a pair of tall, lovely, snow-white camels in front of the Sphinx. While Hank tries to suck the spinach salad out of his big teeth you forge a connection with that graceful, serene stone face, pulling all those millennia of solidity and balance into your own expression. I am calm. I am enigmatic. I am unfigureoutable. Now smile for the camera, honey. Wipe your weepin’ eyes and o-o-pen that stall door.
I should have known better. A vague Egyptian myth had no business going up against Shanili’s chocolate-pudding eyes, possessed of more compassion than sixteen and a half Mother Theresas. At the first glimpse of her concerned expression, her artfully furrowing brow, I collapsed onto my throne and let out a torrent of oh-so-personal, oh-so-embarrassing minutiae. Expressed as a free-verse poem, it might have gone something like this:
Five years we were together
and we had so much
and we were going to get married
at least that’s what it seemed like
I mean, you don’t take a girl from thirty-four to thirty-nine
you don’t take her to the edge like that, Shanili
you don’t spend a hundred and three Sunday mornings eating French toast with a woman
He knew, right?
He had to know
the way I doted on my nieces
pictures all over the fridge
and the way I looked at big-eyed slop-footed puppies in pet-store windows
and smiled that special smile
at women pushing baby strollers
down Lincoln Avenue
And I said,
I hope our child has your eyes and my nose
and certainly your hair
because mine is uncontrollable sometimes
and I’ve tried that new henna conditioner but it just doesn’t
I mean, I know he’s a guy
but what does he want?
The Big Dumparissimo
and I am so alone, Shanili
I’m so alone
and I want to be a mother
I just want to be a Mom.
You get the idea. And I suppose I could have limited my space-shuttle launch to a single victim, but as word got out that a destroyed marketing director was conducting a full-gonzo emotional meltdown in the handicapped stall, an outbreak of urinational need swept through the female office population. Before I knew it, I found myself reciting my confessions to a dozen multi-ethnic faces gathered outside the stall, painted in expressions of sisterly sympathy.
I suppose I should have been grateful for all this Goddess-worship around my toilette du tears, but even as my feminine exterior filled up and smoothed out, my Wharton-educated, business-suited hardass self was back in Akron, conjuring one last bit of visualization with Hank Scallion. Hank was flossing now, the Sphinx had turned into Mount Rushmore, and there at the feet of my lovely snow-white camel lay the remains of my glass-brick wall, shredded into powder-light piles as a squadron of Mexican gardeners marched our way, leaf blowers in the ready position.
Hank chucked his floss at them, yelled “Gudyam!” (which I suppose was Egyptian for “Giddyap!”) and disappeared in a flurry of camel-hoofs. It seemed like a good idea, so I followed.
Photo by MJV