Someday I will tell my children about the day Osama bin Laden was killed. And that will include finding out via ThePensblog.
I get pingbacks on my iPhone from ThePensblog, right? I wake up and the first thing I see in the morning is any notification I got through the night, right? First thing I see this morning:
The Pensblog: Bin Laden is Dead
… and I think it’s a joke. I’m thinking, haha, they’re making another joke about that screengrab of Sid on KDKA with the caption “Leaving for Afghanistan” again. I read the post. Still didn’t believe it, so I mosey onto Twitter for confirmation. And lo and behold, it was true.
The “that’s just sad” meter exploded somewhere in the world today, for a couple of reasons: 1) ThePensblog basically broke the “Bin Laden is dead” story in my world, 2) I checked Twitter to confirm ThePensblog, 3) I listened to NPR’s special coverage all day to make myself pretend believe it was NPR that I had really heard it from.
OK, maybe NPR wasn’t a legitimate option either. MOVING ON.
Oh, and the first person(?) I told was Jack. I said, “Hey, Jack, they killed Osama Bin Laden!” And he was all…
You can fight me on this, but I’m pretty sure that’s the best Jack picture. Ever.
Speaking of pictures, a picture is worth a thousand words and if you got a picture, well then you got a story! How’s that for a transition!?
Last year I interviewed an English professor at Vandy, Lorraine Lopez, about her collection of 10 stories called “Homicide Survivors Picnic” selected as one of five books competing for the 2010 PEN/Faulkner Award. (Spoiler: she didn’t win, but it’s damn good.)
The point I want to make here is all in the first two grafs of that story — it only took one image, and an image that originated from her own mind, to create the complexities of the whole story. And I always remind myself of that — it doesn’t take much. Just a spark to catch, and boil into a fire.
This week’s inspiration was simply rain and it’s called, “Bartown.”
I joined Mel at the bar that night. She wanted to know everything about Momma. She slung back a shot of something brown and gleaming and told me she wasn’t leaving until she had every speck of information. I was her reluctant informant, and every time she pressed me for more, and more, I kept thinking to myself, don’t give it all away, don’t give it all away.
She asked about the hospital and how the nurses were treating her. I didn’t feel too bad giving away benign details like that. But just when I was beginning to feel comfortable enough to tell her maybe a little bit more than I had a right mind to, she’d blow her gaze past me to the group of guy’s playing pool to my back, rock in her seat to hike up her skirt, and stick her wedding band on her thumb.
Not that Ted would have ever found out, or even minded, but the idea that the very thing that had split up mother and daughter could so easily slip from wedding band to costume jewelry, infuriated me.
“Don’t you care,” I blurted out.
“I’m here aren’t I?” she said, moving her neck East to West.
Mel hadn’t found out until after New Year’s when she got Momma’s Christmas card without the usual two-page letter on the year’s news. She called my cell phone the week Momma was in her second round of chemo and I told her I’d call her back, but I never did. She had no right to know, I thought.
“Spare her the details,” Momma had said that morning. I couldn’t place my anger on what bothered me more, that Momma thought I would give Mel all the particulars, or that she thought Mel deserved to know them in the first place.
“Who’s her doctor,” Mel said. “There’s a doctor that comes into the steakhouse all the time with his scrubs on. I think he’s some kind of blood doctor. Is he a blood doctor?”
“I don’t know,” I said. He could have been for all I knew, any doctor helping a patient fighting leukemia could have probably been categorized as a blood doctor, but I was beyond trying to ease her mind by providing any real world link to Momma’s doctor.
That was how she had met Ted. He always got a steak, “medium-rare,” Mel would say in a sing-songy voice, buy all kinds of drinks and leave a fat tip, with his number scrawled on the check. Mel was just playing hard to get until she saw his ex-wife follow him into the restaurant and hound him for a year’s worth of child support in front of the whole place. Then, Mel was hooked. And Momma was sick to her stomach when they moved in together in the RV he had gotten from his daddy’s will. Nine months later there was a baby, and six months after that, they got married at city hall and packed up the RV to find work in Des Moines.
“How’s Pauly,” I asked. I hadn’t seen the baby since the city hall wedding.
“Oh, he’s fine,” Mel said. “Ted’s watching him now, he’s so good with him. Momma would be happy about that.”
“Don’t talk about her like she’s dead,” I spat out.
“I’m not! She just doesn’t know, that’s all. What’s your problem? Have a goddamn drink. All this town’s got is bars, so you’d better drink up.”
I didn’t want a drink. I didn’t want to sit on that sticky stool in that muggy bar watching the rain come down in sheets through the wide-open metal doors, so I said,
“Let’s go see her now.”
“Why we gotta do that? She’s probably sleeping,” Mel said.
“She doesn’t sleep when she’s doing chemo. C’mon, let’s go. I’ll pay your tab, and meet you in the visitors lot at the hospital. OK? C’mon.”
“OK, OK,” she said, fixing her hair and rummaging in her purse.
We walked out into the downpour and raced to our cars, drenched by the time we got the doors unlocked. I sped to the hospital to be sure I was the first one there. I sat in my usual parking spot watching for Mel’s blue car. The rain turned my windshield into one of those kaleidoscopes that twist and turn and change the picture a million different ways. I watched it morph the hospital entrance, the entrance lights moving in and out like swirling beads, the headlights of passing cars weaving in their red beams. I had been gazing at the windshield like that for 20 minutes, glazed over, before I realized Mel wasn’t coming.
I thought I had given her an out. But as I got out of the car and out into the rain, I knew the out had really been for me. And Mel knew it even before I did. Momma was all mine again, and I would tell her that Mel had said hello.