Hey, little goldfish….

He followed me everywhere. Not like a stalker…more like a lost and very loud puppy. I would find him outside my business. Every time I moved, he would move nearby. once even next door. He would always hit the line at the store at the same time I was ready to check out. We were forever “accidentally” meeting up. Even during my married years…he would walk along behind me and say silly things..and I would tell him to leave me alone…that I was a Christian and happily married. He was wasting his time. But it seems he had a lot of time to waste. He would yell after me, “your husband is not who you thinks he is!” and I would yell back “You do not know my husband.” He would looked concerned and say…”No, you do not know your husband!” I should have listened.

My husband was gay. There was no fixing that. He has married two other women since leaving me..because it is tough to be a black lay pastor and be gay…so he would rather have a wife he hates and abuses. I am thankful that I am no longer that woman.

So…what to do about my shadow? One day, after my husband left…we “accidentally ended up walking on the same sidewalk. I was not in the mood for his nonsense and told him I did not want to talk. So…we just walked.

He began to sing..”Hey little goldfish…where ya going to…hey little goldfish. can I swim along with you?…Hey little gold fish…we could have a whale of a time.” I turned around and looked at him. I thought I was the only person in the world who knew that song. It was from some cheesy late night television movie in the 70’s. Some guy had created an experimental house under the sea and his teenagers had their band down there. performing that song.

There Greg was…all beautiful and ridiculous and hopelessly devoted to me…and following me singing…THAT SONG!

“Hey little goldfish…where ya going to…”

I slowed down to walk beside him…and put my hand in his. He tried not to act surprised and we walked along singing softly together.

We have been holding hands ever since.

We traded rings with fish on them at our wedding years later.

Happy Anniversary Beloved

Trouble

Earnestine Wilson lived in a three room house on North She She in Hominy, Oklahoma. It was covered in tar shingles and surrounded with small gardens and a little yard that she cut with a motor-less lawn mower. She never wore pants…ever. She cooked from the time she got up and until way after supper, which came later those days. She was a busy, yet quiet woman. I do not ever remember her ever starting a conversation but she was gracious and would listen and reply if you wanted to have one. She canned vegetables and made every thing from ingredients, not boxes. She shaved her husband, Dewey’s, head and face with a basin and long razor, every morning before breakfast. I loved her. She was one of my very favorite people on the planet. And she loved me back. She did not laugh out loud…she did nothing loud…but she chuckled often when I was around and I liked the way her wrinkled face crinkled and her eyes twinkled.

All the kids loved her. We would hang around that tiny house all day, every summer. There were no toys, or gadgets to play with. We played with each other, and watched her cook, or sew, or quilt, or can, or work in her garden. And then there was meal time…MEAL TIME!

The house always smelled like food so you could not tell it was time to eat until she called you. And it was never time to eat until her sons came. Darrel owned an Arco gas station across the street and Phil was the fire chief. They were large grown men, with wives and children and homes of their own. but they found their big feet under Earnestine’s table every morning and noon for breakfast and lunch…and quite a few evenings when they had to come and collect their kids, they would bring their wives and the meals in that tiny house were always loud and fun.And Ernestine put out banquets! Her large table took up almost all the space in that tiny kitchen and the heat form the stove was overwhelming in the summer. But the platters, piled high with food, covered the table, and every inch of cabinet space. I will never understand how a couple of such meager means could continually overfeed a tribe of descendents every day but she did. I also do not know why we never died from food poisoning, like we worry about today, because folks back then did not put all that in the refrigerator. There would have been no room. To this day, I have not been able to duplicate the fried potatoes, fried okra and blackberry cobbler. And the SWEET TEA!

But it was not just the food that made meals memorable. Another vivid, less pleasant memory sticks after all these years. Getting to the table, when called, was fraught with dread and danger. See, Earnestine’s house was three rooms, all in a row…the living room, (where the only television lived, and where Dewey held court. A side doorway led to their bedroom, that was stacked with a life time of possessions and their bed that was so high, that I imagine Ernestine needed a boost to get her tiny self up there, and then another open doorway led to the paradise of a tiny little kitchen. There was a door to the kitchen from the yard…just like in the living room…so technically we could go out the living room and down to the kitchen door to get to the food…but Dewey, who seemed born with a fly swatter in his hand, would stop swatting flies and start swatting kids if we did that…so the only way to get to the food was to go through the bedroom, past the den of a small, ferocious demon!

Ernestine loved all us kids, but I think she loved that demon more. His name was Tiny and he hated us. All of us! He lived under her bed, so when we were called to the table we would all jump up excitedly and run to that door…and then stop. We would bunch up there and hesitate and then whoever was in the back would get impatient and push…and the unlucky kid that was pushed out in front of that bed was subject to gnashing and snapping and snipping on ankles while the rest of us ran past. Sure, we could have kicked the dog and sent it reeling. It only weighed 3 lbs. But Ernestine LOVED that dog and we all loved Ernestine. Tiny was a chihuahua,with silky short blond hair, bulging, black, orbs for eyes, and long vicious teeth.

When all the kids went to their homes, I stayed. I had no where else to go and nowhere else I loved to be as much as there. The little house would finally cool down. Fans everywhere moved the air. The Wilson’s did not care for “forced” air and rarely used the window unit their daughter, Mary, had bought them. They would sit together and watch Gunsmoke and the News. I think Dewey had a thing for Miss Kitty. And in the peaceful nights together, Tiny would come out and chase his tale in the middle of the living room and the would laugh and laugh and laugh. He would finally tire of that sport and come to Ernestine and she would lift him up to her lap where he would settle and sigh and she would stroke him until bedtime. I would lay on my pallet and watch them together, and feel that “This is love! This is what love looks like!”

Why am I telling you this story now? Four months ago, I was scrolling through facebook and came across two pictures, my friend Mary Cook, had posted. Her dogs had just had pups and there they were. They were so tiny and cute, that I showed the picture to Greg. The post said she would be giving them away. Greg took one look and starting begging her to ask for one. They were CHIHUAHUA! Oh my. I asked her if he could have one and she agreed in seconds and every day for nine weeks Greg would run new name possibilities by me, and beg me to ask her when his pup was coming home. Finally, Mary brought her. She was blond and silky and had black eyes and she fit in the palm of his hand. I say, his hand, because she was rarely ever in mine. He sleeps a lot these days, and even when he is awake, he is usually laying down, and his pup is always right there with him. HE LOVES THAT DOG. He bought her some small toys, and even though we have a crate, she sleeps with him. He talks to her more than he talks to me.

He named her Trouble, because she is always in trouble with me. She steals everything and piles it in her toy stash. When she makes a mistake and poops off the paper…she steals cat poop from the cat box and puts it on top of hers. I am certain she thinks she is framing Katie, my cat.

This last few days, late in the evening, when the food is put away and the kids have gone to their own homes, Greg and I sit in the living room and watch our shows and the news. And we laugh at Trouble chasing her tale and attacking her toys. And when she is tired, she puts her front paws up on Greg’s legs and he lifts her up and settles her in…and I watch. And I know I was right! THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT LOVE LOOKS LIKE.

These words

I feel like I should start with “I am sorry!” Not that I need to apologize…I have done nothing wrong! But I am so conditioned to show you my remorse, to offer penitence, for being extra…for BEING more than you wanted and yet NOT BEING ENOUGH to make ME worth your trouble. I have waited decades for you to absolve me of a crime you cannot name.

Do you know how many voices have whispered, and screamed to me…you are a writer? My own voice would not dare agree. I know that there are always words, bubbling inside my belly, like butterflies or botulism, and sometimes I think to spit them out…but they are all wrapped around a cord…the cord that attaches me to you…and if I say them..if I write them? They can never be unsaid. The cord will be cut and the dream of you… wanting me… will die.

So, I set aside writing and instead went to living…and along the way I lived a few stories and read a few stories and heard a few stories and then retold them to my children…and my friends…and teachers who asked to grade me on essays. And each time…they said to me…you are a writer. And I would laugh and demure and say that cannot be true. I cannot write the words, the real story. My story is all tied up in you. In order to tell my story, I will have to tell yours and all the stories of the others who told me to be silent.

“SHUT YOUR DAMN MOUTH! NO ONE WANTS TO HEAR YOU”

You lied to me. The truth is…YOU did not want to hear me. YOU did not want to see me.
I was an embarrassment to you. It has taken me a lifetime to figure out what it was that was so embarrassing about me!
You told anyone who would listen that I was a liar, before I had a chance to speak, so there was no point. I did not speak.

I think now…I get it sort of.

I was the extra kid..the unnecessary kid…the girl that was supposed to complement the boy…the son that you got in the ordinary way. But you did not need a girl…a pretty little girl with a dead father and a runaway whore for a mother…that girl might inspire empathy and empathy might cause her to take attention away from the real child…the ordinary boy…the normal family. So…you set about making sure I knew that I was not special. I was not extraordinary.
I think you could have forgiven me if I had been exceptional…but I was clumsy in the ballet classes and a genius at reading music, but that is not the same as talent. I could not do anything at all..except weave words together. And you would not let me weave words together…

“SHUT THE HELL UP, GOD DAMN I! NOBODY CARES WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY.”

You won! I agreed with you and remained silent. I wonder why it was so important for you, that no one ever hear me. What were you afraid I would tell them? Were you afraid I would tell them about what goes on behind closed doors? Were you afraid they would find out that your husband watched me, closely, in the way a man looks at a lover…not a daughter? Were you afraid I would tell them that you called me a slut before I knew what the word meant? Were you afraid I would tell them about your hand print on my face? Were you afraid that I would tell them that you did not want me?
I spent my life with a graveyard of words… held… putrefying into ulcers. I self-medicated by telling stories…everyone’s story but my own. The stories made people feel close to me, without ever really knowing me. I could not let them know me, because you convinced me! No one would ever want to know me.
This blog has been ready to go for weeks but I could not bring myself to write…because you might read it or hear about it. Every word I typed had to be run through the filter of “what will she think of me?” I have wasted a forest on paper that was wadded up and thrown away, because you might read it. You might find out that I disobeyed you.

“JUST KEEP YOUR DAMN MOUTH SHUT! NO ONE WANTS TO HEAR YOU! YOU ARE SO GOD DAMN STUPID!”

Maybe you were right…I was stupid! All these years worrying what you would think of me…knowing damn well that you do not think of me at all. I am invisible.

I am over it! I know you expected to love me. And all those years you were so angry with me,because you didn’t. And now that I am older and more honest with my truth….I did not love you either. I did not know how. There had never been anyone in my life long enough for me to learn love. I did not love you…I just so desperately wanted you to love me. I still do.
The words are coming out now. I refuse to be buried with them inside of me. I will not apologize. I was waiting for you to tell me who I am…but now I know.

I am a writer…and I am about to tell my story!