Check out “Memorial Hall” and other essays in “IAm Subject”.
Returning from real-estate testing in Pierre, I sped east on Interstate 90 to Sioux Falls doing 130 miles per hour in my Subaru just because I could. It was in the heat of summer, I think 1976. If you knew South Dakota in the 1970s, not as much traffic as there is now. My excursion into limited infinity lasted 40 miles or so before I scaled back to 75 and hovered close to 80 for the rest of the trip. I felt that if I kept at that pace, I would be pushing my luck in the late afternoon; but once in a while after I crested a hill and saw no traffic in sight, I sometimes sped up again. Driving that fast felt exhilarating, freeing, as if there were no boundaries; and as a single parent with three children, I thought then I lived within prison walls.
I also loved the time right after my first divorce that I traveled to Kalispell, Montana, to see my sister, first on Interstate 94 then north through Missoula with no speed limit. And when I was in college, the 75 miles per hour speed limit in Iowa all on hard-surfaced roads. Besides, driving that fast on roads was the only way to cool off on a hot summer day–no air conditioning in the car then. Seat belts? Not on your life. But I never got a license until I had my first teaching job. I trusted that speed to boyfriends and male friends.
As a single parent in the late 70s and early 80s, jostling children in Sioux Falls from one event to another meant that right after school until late at night, I moved children like checkers between wrestling, gymnastics, karate, confirmation classes, baseball, basketball, part-time jobs, any which way they wanted to go in any car I had then: dropping one kid off somewhere, then heading somewhere else to pick up another, then back home for a third and maybe neighbor kids, until about 9 or so, 11 if one of them was working late, all were safely back at home. Well, that is until one or two of them sneaked out the window.
Recently my daughter told me that in the middle of the night she or her older brother would push the car out of garage and down the road. I still don’t want to know where they went.
Once when my mother and dad drove up from Iowa for a visit, my mom said to me as she rode with me after school from one place to another, these kids are in too many things. But then I didn’t know much else but being in a car. By that time, between showing real estate sometimes on weekends, helping my second husband run a tavern, and teaching in a town 30 miles away and going back there at night for rehearsal, I should have had enough of the interior space of cars.
One day this week around noon in Dickinson, North Dakota, my daughter happened to stop by on her way back to the office. I shut off the vacuum cleaner and poured myself another cup of coffee in order for us to exchange tidbits or two. In the midst of our exchange to catch one of us on her move to a new place and my packing to head back to Sioux Falls, a Subaru commercial interrupted us:
Now I know that my children spent a great deal of time in a car, both the front and backseats, but not as much as I did all told; but I didn’t think I raised them, as the commercial said I should have, in the back seat of my cars, and I argue that anyone who does so now should be taken out to the north 40, as my father would say, and be given a good talking to.
One really cannot have a decent conversation with a child in a car. One can yell at them, especially when they are younger, corner them to ask about something, all because you are the only means to get them where they want to go. They can’t escape. Sometimes they won’t answer and for the next mile or two, which will seem like a hundred, it’s the silent treatment with a child staring at the floor.
It took years for my daughter to travel with me for any trip longer than Wal-Mart because of her being in a confined space guarded and cornered by a parent. I felt that way with my first husband, and at times my second. They drove all the time anywhere we went; it was my job to keep the kids under control. One time on the Interstate 29 heading south, I had this unbearable urge to jump out of the car; my first husband was talking so much that everything in my body hurt. I wanted to be anywhere but there. My hand was on the lever, but there were children in back.
I suppose that day I was raising my children, not properly of course.
If anything, parents should know by now that children need to be nurtured and guided, not raised in the back seat of a car. They don’t need to eat fast food in the car. They need to learn the art of conversation over a dining table without being forced to respond. They need to look a parent or two in the eye. They need to know how to negotiate, how to reason without feeling trapped. They need a parent to discuss the latest political events, the meaning of existence, religion in one’s lives. They need to know that mistakes happen and that it’s ok to fail. They need resiliency, and to learn forgiveness and humility. They need to practice consistency and be persistent. A child cannot learn those lessons in a car, much less in the backseat where the mother or father views them in third person through the rear-view mirror while talking a little louder than normal to project their words over the noise of traffic and the radio to the backseat; at the same time keeping the remainder of both eyes on the road. They need to be hugged and cuddled, teased and to tease. They need exercise. Children should be allowed to cry alone if they want to but not in the back seat. The house needs to be filled with laughter, not just the interior of a car or truck for that matter.
Now there’s mingling and mingling, some tit for tat and this and that, but to cry because some organization helps you find a man a second time, a Christian man she hopes, although anyone can hide behind any label, is beyond my comprehension. It’s not that loneliness is not sad, for I can attest to that–sad beyond all measure, for as my mother said, “Loneliness is a bitch”; but to consider oneself lonely because someone doesn’t have a partner is sacrilegious, especially in light of Jesus’ existence. We can’t count Paul, for he thought that it would be better to marry than to burn. He and the rest of the early Christian folk thought that Jesus was heading back round in their lifetime to gather them in his fold. For sure, even today. one must be prepared to encounter the divine and live an ethical, god-fearing life, even if one has trouble with God thought. By the way, some early Christian folk believed in reincarnation but that was stamped out by the Second Council in 553 AD.
The problem with Christy’s-yes, her commercial name is Christy– almost-in-tears stance and Robert’s smiling sycophancy, him sometimes on her right, sometimes on her left, and with those intermittent, timed just right PDA (Public Displays of Affection), is that the commercial argues that a woman is not complete unless she is with a man, any man, as long as he proclaims himself a Christian. Funny we didn’t hear the same from him. But that kind of positioning isn’t surprising, considering that kind of propaganda has been around since Eve and the helpmate theory. Commercialism– isn’t that why Jesus lost his temper in the temple?
That Christian Mingle commercial usually breaks bread about mid-morning; and for me, since that’s about six to seven hours after I’m up for the last time, it’s almost nap time. Usually I’m tidying up the kitchen or sitting at the kitchen table reading the latest “must read.” Lately I’ve been scanning and reading in fits and spurts great plays by David Rabe or essays in the wonderful Native American anthology Nothing But the Truth or re-reading Joseph Campbell, who does not suggest in the least that what goes around, comes around–that old ruse.
Once I even slammed down my coffee cup on the kitchen table the minute I heard that Christy whine.
It’s not that I don’t believe in the laws of consequence–I do beyond all measure. Acts that one does now will ultimately reap what they sow in this lifetime; but it’s not a bite-you-in-the-butt response, as some Christian folk wish on other folk. It’s not chaos theory, per-say, but the laws of physics on a psychological, emotional level translated into human decisions that ultimately result in deliberate and not-so-deliberate actions; and those actions have consequences. The decision I made after my second divorce, not after my first, as I should have, not to let any man define who I was, yup I’m paying for it now, as even as I will tomorrow for those decisions I make today.
That commercial might be better and might give me pause to consider creating a made-to-measure profile on that site, if I’m sure that every male profile on that site is the truth and nothing but the truth, and if I want to change any old man’s diapers in the long run–and to spit out my response to your question, no, a man will not change any old woman’s diapers, unless he is paid handsomely for it, and at that age it’s not sexual favors–if the commercialized Christy considers herself equal to the commercialized Robert. Oh, if the commercial were paused and listeners shot questions at them in real time, I’m sure that she would say that she’s equal to her man and loves her position as a Christian wife–the temptress who led Adam into sin, the beautiful repentant prodigal daughter who returns with the skin of a dead snake stuck like toilet paper to the bottom of her shoe.
Don’t go back to cooking and cleaning, changing nappies if bearing fruit is in one’s future. Don’t go back to piddling around the kitchen, vacuuming dust and cat hair up off the sofa, getting down on one’s hands and knees with a toothbrush getting the crumbs out of corners. Don’t go back to bending over a bathtub, scrubbing off the crud of your and his and your and his children. Get some exercise. Read some feminist theory. Find out who you are for Christ’s sake. Become a self-sufficient woman who experiences the present in all the physics’ and physic’ singularity.
“Farmed out” published in Lief Publications
On January 23 of this year, at Saint Joseph Hospital in Dickinson, I had the cataract in my right eye removed, as recommended by Dr. Biesiot. Even though prior to the operation, friends calmly told me that the operation was simple, I still had a great deal of fear, for when my mother had hers done, sometime in the mid 1980s in Omaha, Nebraska, something amiss occurred: her eye was not deadened when her doctor began to cut. The pain sent her into shock; as a result, hives erupted all over her body.
At the preliminary appointment, I told Dr. Leidenix, the eye doctor from Bismarck, what had happened to my mother, and he assured me that the operation was perfectly safe. He even shared some of the history of cataract removals–the week-long stay in the hospital, the pain, the head in a vice, even at the same time informing me of possible complications. He said the operation today only takes 10-15 minutes.
I checked in at 8:45 am. After a little waiting and approximately an hour of eye drops every five minutes or so, I was wheeled in the operating room. A covering was placed around my eye, just so the cataract can be seen. I didn’t even have to be in a hospital gown: one gauzy outfit over my clothes covered me from top to bottom, except for my shoes.
The drops to deaden the eye had begun earlier, but in the operation room, the drops were applied again. I didn’t feel anything, just a little pressure as I was told. Although I often find myself facing obstacles without asking for help, I was surely glad for the nurse who held my hand during the procedure. The dome of golden prisms that I saw during one part of the operation, like the ceiling of a cathedral or a museum I have yet to visit. And yes, after 10-15 minutes, the operation was over, and a little while after that, around 11:30 am, a friend took me home.
The operation was uneventful, simple, painless; and as a result of everyone’s focus on the patient, I did not panic. But more surprising was the card I received in the mail a few days later from the doctor, the anesthesiologist, the nurses, and the staff who attended me and others undergoing the same procedure that day.
I wasn’t born yesterday, as my friends know; in fact, my life experiences have given me a wide variety of crazy, wonderful, sad, frightening experiences, but this card was the first I have ever received from a doctor and those who aided in an operation.
When I first saw the envelope, I thought it was a bill, but when I opened the envelope, it took me a while to realize what it was. So kind and considerate, what care they showed!
(If you click on the picture, it should enlarge so that you can read the names up close.)
My mother’s recovery from her operation took an extremely long time–hives weeks to fade; emotionally much longer–but it’s been one week since mine. The sensitive treatment that Dr. Leidenix, the anesthesiologist, the nurses, and the staff showed has made my recovery a snap. I can see white now, can distinguish blue from black. My vision in my right eye has improved a great deal. And I can’t wait for the second cataract to be removed.
Thanks to all of you!!
“The Lesson” was originally published in Hurricane Alice (1990) and again in Kaleidoscope (2007). Thanks to Tina Hall for republishing it in The Original Van Gogh’s Ear Anthology.