Saturday, August 13, 2011

“Saturday Morning”


            Stretching lazily, I glance at the clock, relishing in the pleasure of the late hour. No alarm jars me awake--just my own internal timer deciding to begin the new day. Shifting my feet, I feel the weight of the dog as she lingers in bed with me. She raises her head, her eyes follow me as I leave the room, but she’s too lazy to follow. I amble into the kitchen, hold the kettle under the faucet for fresh water, and set it on the stove to boil. Dipping my hand into the cookie jar, I pull out a chocolate chip cookie. Smile upon my face, I punch ten seconds onto the microwave because I know it’ll heat the chips to just the right temperature. The cat head bumps my ankle, drawing my attention to the empty water bowl. I run my hand down her sleek body, tip-to-tail, and I do her bidding. By then, the microwave beeps. Warm cookie in hand, I munch as I wait for the water to boil. The Earl Grey and honey line up on the counter once the tea kettle hisses. It only takes a minute to brew the tea deep gold.
            Cup in hand, I meander to the back door and slide it open. The dogs push against my legs as they bound ahead of me, Koi tumbling into Bridget in a fake fight that quickly morphs into a manic chase around the yard and through the bushes. I ignore them as they zip in circles around me for my eyes see only my swing in the tree. I set my mug on the side table as I situate my rump into the seat, shift my weight backwards, and hook my feet through the footrest. The morning coolness lingers under the Live Oak, enticing finches and doves into the tree’s branches. I sit and sip, floating on the moment. Eventually, David saunters out the door and nestles into his own hammock-swing. Our conversation rambles aimlessly from topic to topic. We have the entire day free to do anything—or nothing.


Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Friday, August 12, 2011

“The Puzzle Piece”



            The puzzle pieces, dumped unceremoniously upon the dining room table, hide a magic surprise. I pick carefully through the pile, categorizing pieces by color, sliding edges to the side. Puzzles require thinking inside the box, so establishing borders comes first. Straight lines and matching designs group and regroup until I form pairs and short chains. Once the boundaries hold firm, the real work begins. My hands dance through the choreography: pick up, turn, twist, match, fit. Again and again until out of chaos emerges the picture. Gestalt.
            Then disassembly begins. Tearing down the whole back into the individual bits, I bend and separate until chaos piles again on the tabletop. Haphazardly, I swipe everything back into the box, not noticing a lone piece hiding under the edge of a book. Now the puzzle, unknown to me, loses its wholeness. The lone piece longs for reunification. When I pull another puzzle out of its box and spill it across the table, the hidden part slips into the mound, trying to belong where it no longer fits.
            The piece carries similar colors and shapes to this new picture. I don’t notice the subtle differences each time I try to find a place for it. I pick it up, scrutinizing it meticulously as I try to find a mate. Near matches frustrate me as I try to force the bit into belonging. I even resort to pounding it with my fist before casting it aside. I pick up my rhythm once the piece sits in isolation, an outcast within the group. Eventually, the picture sits in completeness upon my table. My eyes draw over to the castaway that caused me so much irritation, and in shame I realize my mistake. Picking up the stray piece, I recall the picture of the last puzzle I’d assembled. I go directly to my shelved boxes, pluck open the correct box, and return the piece to its home.

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Thursday, August 11, 2011

“The Next Step”


            I few weeks ago, I gave a draft of my first novel to a friend to read and critique. We met the other night over dinner to discuss my next step—finding a literary agent. Suddenly, the manuscript sitting on my desk took on a different importance as I started an internet search to find someone to represent me and my work. The book, written years ago and boxed away for a dozen years, offered me the perfect escape last summer as I rediscovered the characters and their adventure. I became a texture artist, adding additional details and descriptions to every page, until I created the renderings I envisioned for every scene. I lulled myself into complacency as long as I kept tweaking each chapter. But now that the book is finally finished, I know I cannot let it sit for another twelve years on the corner of my desk. I cannot hide it away in a box, stuffed under old shoe boxes in the back of my closet.
            I must take the next step. As with all aspects of life, moving into an unknown territory fills me with contradictory feelings. Change brings with it wonderful opportunities, but also unpredictable responsibilities. I somehow had the mistaken belief that once I moved into my fifties, I’d be making fewer changes in my life. However, within the last couple of years, I’ve retired from a thirty-year career and moved my mother into our home to become her caregiver. Breathing new life into the book drafted years ago has led me to the next step as a writer—experimenting and refining my voice and style, rediscovering my love of creating poetry, and meeting the challenge of blogging on a daily basis. I stand now and look back at the steps I’ve taken over the last few months and realize that I can only move forward—even if the next step holds the possibility of disappointment.
            Next steps never bothered me in my youth. I always clearly imagined multiple trails that could or would lead me to my final destination. Often, I found one way blocked with unforeseen obstacles. Sometimes, I plowed through these challenges to reach a clearing in the path. Occasionally, I backtracked and found a different route to the same journey’s end. A few times, I altered my course dramatically and found myself on an unexpected track far lovelier than my original choice.
            As I begin this newest passage in my life, I find that I poke along the path at a slower pace and with more caution than I did in my past. I don’t want to waste energy by recklessly dynamiting a barrier, nor do I want to turn around and head back whenever unexpected events block my progress. I like to see myself steadfast and steady, climbing cautiously over the rocks in my way. If I get tired, I’ll perch on the highest boulder in the pile and enjoy the view. The next step in my travels carries no timeline, so I can meander at my own pace.  

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

“Old Graveyards”




 


            Tombstones lean into each other, as though in death family members still long to whisper secrets. Each marker represents a life, and I wonder. Did this woman cherish her children? Did she weep at her infant’s death or bare her grief in stoic rigidity? This man, who lived to be almost eighty, did he throw back his head in laughter over a pint? Did he labor in the fields or at a factory? Did his days tally anger or joy? Did he pull the blanket of death tightly around him in those last moments, or did he fight for each moment of life?


            I stand before this couple, together for eternity. Was their marriage happy? Did they linger close to one another in the mornings, cocooning for warmth before each sunrise? Did he smooth stray tendrils of her hair away from her face and sneak a morning kiss? Did she pull him down in playful lust? Did they sing sweet greetings as they reluctantly left their warm bed to build up the fires, tend to the children, or head to the barn? Did she glance out the window as she did her chores, longing for a glimpse of him as he toiled through his day? Did he rush back for his midday meal, hungry for her smile? Each night, did she reach for him in her sleep, entwine her legs with his for warmth? Did he awaken at midnight to watch her soft breath puff from her yielding lips? As the years flowed one into the other, did he notice the lines around her eyes when she laughed? Did she mind the gray in his morning stubble or the thinning of his hair? During those final moments, did they clutch hands and pledge everlasting love?



Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

“Cat Scratch Fever”


            “Lizzy, let Penn in,” my mother directed as she shifted an overloaded bag of groceries onto her right hip and struggled to fit the house key into the back door.
            Penn, our Welsh Terrier, sat obediently at the gate, his little stub tail wagging eagerly in anticipation of entering the house. Penn, a typical Welshie, perked his head to the side in curiosity as his gaze shifted from me to Mom as she opened the back door. Carrying groceries, I elbowed the gate latch up, shifted to butt the gate out of the way, and followed Mom into the house, taking it for granted that our spunky terrier would follow on my heels. After all, we carried food!
            Feeling a whoosh of air around my legs, I spun around to witness a black and tan streak blur out of our yard and head for open spaces.
            “Peeeeeeennnnn! You come back here!” I yelled, dropping the groceries as I leapt down the back steps in pursuit of our dog.
            Now, Penn had a reputation in our neighborhood. A high energy dog, his devotion to my sister, brother and me made him extremely protective of us. My parents returned twice from evenings out to find our babysitter sitting on the back porch, us three kids playing in the kitchen within her sight, and the dog guarding the back door in ferocious dedication. Like most Welsh Terriers, Penn formed his own decisions and would never back down from perceived “danger.” For him, that meant he had to defend his kids at all costs.
            Freedom made him crazy with doggy glee, and he cut across the play area, running in circles around me as I tried to get him to jump into my arms. He’d dash full speed at me, make as if he would come into my embrace, and then veer off wickedly at the last second. Each time he made his circle, he widened the circumference of his loop until his orbit started zipping him into the back yards of our neighbors who didn’t have fences.
Suddenly, he broke from his circular rotation and made a dash to the opposite side of our field, and I pelted after him, my legs pumping like pistons. I’m not certain what happened next. Penn shot across one yard where neighbors had their cat staked out on a super long lead. I remember watching the cat spring straight up in the air, almost like a cartoon, with her fur bristling out and her snarling meow and menacing hiss bringing Penn to a full halt. At that point, I lunged for Penn, but he escaped my tackle attempt and continued on his mad dash. As I got to my feet, the hysterical cat started climbing onto me, digging her claws into my skin as she tried to get onto my shoulders. She dragged her lead with her, tangling my feet and legs. Before I knew it, I hit the ground again. Startled even more, the cat caught my right arm in a death grip and wouldn’t let go.
By this time, Penn sensed my pursuit of him had stopped and circled around in time to see me go down in a free fall with the cat attached to me. Terrier instinct took over, and he swooped in to defend me from the cat by grabbing the cat’s leg and pulling with all his strength. He’d pull and shake, pull and shake, trying to rip the cat free. And the cat’s claws dug deeper and deeper into my arm.
By this time, the entire neighborhood’s on alert! One woman, nine months pregnant, grabbed a broom and started beating Penn over the head, but he ignored each blow. Our next door neighbor, who played often with us and Penn, managed to pull the dog off the cat and haul him away while other kids and adults examined the pulp of my arm.
When my mother ran up, she found me sobbing uncontrollably as blood seeped through my sweater. Always calm in emergencies, she grabbed an offered towel from one neighbor, instructed my sister to get her purse and car keys, told the boy holding Penn to take him back to our yard, and carried me over to the car.
The emergency room staff, of course, knew me. I had enough visits to the ER that my parents worried the nurses would report them for abuse. My injuries, though, always had a bizarre tale attached to them that dovetailed with the physical evidence. Coming in with a clawed up arm and a story of my dog trying to rescue me probably topped the list. With efficiency, the nurses cleaned my ripped fingers and doused gallons of antibiotic scrub on the deep punctures the cat’s claws gouged into my arm. The doctor took a look at their handiwork, gave me another shot of penicillin for good measure, and sent us on our way.
Within a few days, the fever started. My arm throbbed constantly and overnight the wounds began oozing white puss. Another trip to the ER had the young doctor pouring over his medical books to diagnose Cat Scratch Disease. He changed my antibiotics, gave explicit instructions on how to care for my wounds, and sent us on our way. Every day, I’d head to the school nurse’s office to have my injury cleaned and new bandages placed on my arm. At first, the nurse would cringe and grimace at the seeping mess. Eventually, the antibiotics kicked in and the fever and infection went away.
I still carry the scars on my arm from my encounter with Cat Scratch Fever. Fortunately, I never attached any type of trauma or phobia to the participants in this event. I still love dogs and cats, and I don’t panic when I see pregnant women waving around brooms! I’ve never met another person who also contracted the disease, so as a child I enjoyed my notoriety that the disease afforded me. Finally, I survived the years of teasing from my family that I endured once Ted Nugent’s song hit the airwaves.   


Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman
           

Monday, August 8, 2011

“Low Maintenance”


            Believe me when I say, I don’t know if I should brag about my “low maintenance” lifestyle, or if I should pretend my nature demands indulgent splurges on superfluous items and activities, so that I can feel like I belong with the rest of my gender. My baffled looks always give me away when I don’t know the name of a designer purse, have never purchased haute couture clothing, and don’t know the difference between a Milano and a Converse. My entire wardrobe fits into an eight foot-by-four foot closet which I share with my husband. My lingerie bares the labels Fruit of the Loom and Hanes. Every nightgown or pajama set I own fits into one drawer, and I own one pair of blue jeans. I can count on my fingers the number of times I’ve had my hair cut by a professional. I went from cutting my bangs into a crooked zigzag at the age of four to mastering several different styles by the time I reached thirty. My first and only manicure and pedicure excursion occurred just two summers ago, and I’ve never had a massage or visited a spa. I barely registered jewelry on my radar, so I didn’t bother piercing my ears until seven years ago. When my son decided to pierce his ears, I went along and decided on a whim to discover the whimsical world of earrings. Every Christmas, I ask for a bottle of perfume which I carefully ration to last until the next holiday season. I broke down and joined the world by purchasing a cell phone, which I kept for six years before getting a new one last summer. (I changed carriers, so I had no choice!) The car I drive is currently only twelve-years-old, but I’m renowned for driving the same vehicle for twenty years. I haven’t up-dated the television and sound system in the family room, so they’re eighteen years old. I’ve forgotten the ages of the washer, dryer, refrigerator, and microwave. Our rule for appliances simply states: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Over the years, I’ve had female friends question my assertions that I’m happy, and I admit I went through a rough period in my thirties when I whined about my limited selection of clothing for work. At that time in my life, I fantasized about moving into a bigger house, taking a yearly vacation, and going out to eat whenever and wherever I wanted. When my father died so unexpectedly ten years ago, my perspective changed. I reassessed the things I valued—and discovered I really don’t value things at all. Instead, Time became a hot commodity for me. I treasure the moments spent with my family and friends. I understand the importance of piddling in the garden or strolling through the property. I love to linger over a delightful phrase in a book or craft my own perfect prose or poem. None of these activities require expensive clothing or fancy shoes, yet all of them bring great pleasure to my life.


Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman            

Sunday, August 7, 2011

“All-Nighters”

          My senior year in high school, a group of students from Trinity University took me into their fold. Ms. Liz, a co-worker at Hickory Farms, generously shared her friends with me and allowed me to get a sneak preview into college life. Stewart, who lived closest to my home, would pick me up in his new, red Trans Am and escort me either to Ms. Liz’s apartment (a conversion in an old house in Alamo Heights), or to The Bombay Bicycle Club where I had my first Singapore Sling. I loved these all night outings with these wonderful new friends. Each came from different places, each had unique stories, and each offered friendship to me even though I didn’t attend Trinity.
          Looking back, I know the influence of this tight group of friends guided my later days when I attended Texas A&M. For one thing, I never saw anyone drive drunk. Before it became fashionable, we had designated drivers. Several of the men, Vietnam vets attending college on the GI bill, had already “been there, done that”—and then some. They probably overprotected me, and I always appreciated it. I remember lounging on huge pillows in someone’s apartment, lights low or candles burning, our murmured conversations drifting from current issues to philosophy to heartbreaks. These gentlemen introduced me to different music, impacted my reading, and encouraged my self-discovery.
          Once at A&M, my all-nighters stemmed from necessity. No matter how hard I tried, I never had a course load less than seventeen hours, and many semesters I had nineteen or twenty because of labs. I didn’t while away to the wee hours of the morning discussing philosophy or analyzing song lyrics. Instead, I drilled over the human muscular system from sundown to sunrise. I didn’t lounge on huge pillows with gentle candlelight shadowing all but our voices. Instead, I sat in our huge walk-in closet with the brightest bulb I could find in the center light and poured over Freud and Jung. Of course, my roommates and I stayed up to daybreak after baring our souls, drying our tears, or swearing off men again. In those magical hours of moonlight and stars, we often shared the things we kept hidden during the day.
         Eventually, college ended and so did the all-nighters. Until parenthood! To this day I can still feel Paul’s weight as he snuggled in my arms in the middle of the night. The thick cushioned rocker allowed me to sit and rock for endless hours. I’d croon my “sunshine” repertoire—every song I knew that contained the word “sun” or “sunshine” wove into our nightly ritual. A series of ear infections meant we shared many all-nighters. And children grow into that age where they begin their own all-night escapades. David and I always retreated into our own room, sometimes we’d read, or David would play his guitar late into the night. Often we’d end up drifting off to sleep sometime before morning once we’d hear the front door click, and Paul whisper through our bedroom door, “Mom, Dad? I’m home.”
          “All-nighters” re-entered my life during the last few months. With my mother’s condition demanding attention during the day, I don’t get to leave the house until six or seven in the evening. Fortunately, I have friends who don’t mind meeting for dinner and don’t complain if we stay up until past midnight catching up. I’ll stay up to almost sunrise in wonderful conversations drifting from current issues to philosophy to music and self-discovery.
  

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman