L is for Lip Gloss

Nope, this isn't a Lipsmacker, but it has a vanilla-mint flavor, and it will have to do for now.

There was, and is, one panacea for all wrongs.

Lip gloss.

Back in the day, when one was crying, her friends were in charge of getting her to the Super Wal-mart. One would buy lip gloss–preferably Bonne Bell Lipsmackers. Sometimes the three-pack, if whatever it was, was really bad; but every breakup, every betrayal, any hurt whatsoever, however minor, however lame or pathetic, counted.

The rule was enacted when C. began crying in front of the lip gloss section at the Super Wal-Mart one day. Why doesn’t matter. A tradition was born.

Call us shallow, but a little lip gloss goes a long way.   Continue reading

K is for Katherine Anne Porter

“Miss McDonald!”

Heather Ross Miller inspired terror and love in her students.  Who better to teach Southern Women Fiction Writers than the woman who reminded us all that Appalachia is pronounced, “I’m gonna throw an apple-at-cha!”  followed by her permanent squint and grin?

I sat up quickly.  I couldn’t remember if I had done the reading.  That happened a lot in those days.  She stared me down. She knew.  She paused and then asked me a question.

“Do you know why the government won’t legalize marijuana?”  My friends snickered behind me.

“No, ma’am.”  My voice was weak, tinny.  She smiled one of those Cheshire cat grins.

“Everyone would be too happy to pay their taxes!” She cackled, turned to someone else, and the discussion resumed.  I sunk into my chair.  After class, I tried to sneak out of the room.  Again, I heard, “Miss McDonald!”  Continue reading

J is for Jasmine

Sometimes you just have to bang one out so you can keep going with a project.

When I walked into the tiny plant store, a rather bitchy woman greeted me with a curt “hello?”  Clearly, grungy 23-year-olds did not frequent her store.  But my apartment needed plants, or it would not be home.  I planned on buying a few succulents, and a few African violets.  Those were forgotten the minute I walked in.  The store smelled like heaven.

“What is that scent?” I asked.

“The gardenias?”  I shook my head.  The heady scent of the gardenias infringed on the initial perfume that welcomed me.  Gardenias, in their cotillion-like grandeur, give me headaches.

“The jasmine?”  She lead me to a medium-sized pot, overflowing with small, bright green leaves;  miniature trumpet-like flowers covered the bush–pure white, dotted with a quick stroke of yellow in the middle.  I leaned over to breathe it in.

“Yes.”  With that I carried the plant to the counter, and bought it with all of my tip money from the night before.  The jasmine was my favorite roommate from that moment, when I moved home, and when I moved into my next apartment.  It died about a year later, unable to survive the dry heat and cold draughts.

* * *

Entering the Bangkok airport, jet-lagged and wobbly, I took a deep breath.  Unlike the canned air of most airports, I smelled something familiar.  I smiled.  Everywhere we went in Thailand, jasmine was there.  Teas.  Gardens.  Garlands.  Soaps.  Body lotion.  Anything.  The products did not feature the cloying, floral scent posing as the flower found in U.S. products.  I might as well have had a bouquet of the flowers behind my ear at any moment.  It is delicate.  Perfect.  The only perfume I would ever need.

I search for jasmine wherever I go.

I is for Innocent

The first words that come out of the foreperson’s mouth inspire hope.  The defendant’s eyes widen, a smile creeps across his face, his shoulders relax: not guilty, not guilty. And then the list begins: guilty, guilty, guilty.

The system says we are innocent until proven guilty.  Yet a jury does not decide you are proven innocent, they decide you are not guilty.  There’s a difference.  One is not guilty when the prosecution does not prove its case, or, perhaps because one really is innocent.

The young man is baby-faced.  He has perfected the blank stare, one that he thinks betrays nothing, except it does. He is angry.  He is scared.  As the charges are read, I zone out; I don’t look at anyone but the judge, except for a moment.  As the guilties roll in, he looks stunned, then furious.  He curses under his breath.

In a few years, he could have been a student in my class.  But in reality, in a few years, he would likely be right where he is now: in his neighborhood, in a trial, in a jail, not moving further from where he was born.

Sitting across from him, I realize that my innocence of his world is a mix of dumb luck and naïveté.  There’s intellectual skepticism that people like me harbor: the system is rigged.  By claiming that, people like me can sleep at night.  Deep down, however, we believe that the system will work, because we want it to.

The defense polls the jury—do you all agree?—and all 12 of us say yes.  My stomach drops.  I do not doubt our verdict, but I doubt my innocence.

H is for Helmet

I’m on my back, on the ground.  It’s cold.  Where is my cell phone? I don’t know where my backpack, or my bike is.  I can’t tell if my helmet is still on.  How am I going to get home?

A woman stands over me, tells me to stay still, and I insist I’m okay; she responds her friend has called 911.

“What?  I’m fine!”  I realize I’m having trouble speaking and that the lower half of my face feels searing pain and numbness all at once.  I raise my right hand to my mouth.  She gently tells me to stop talking, that my mouth is cut up badly.  I start rambling.

“Are you from D.C.?  Are you visiting friends?”  She tells me she’s from North Carolina.  “My husband is from North Carolina!  From near Burlington!  Are you a Tar Heels fan?”  I cannot stop talking.

A man asks me for John’s number; I can’t see him but I can hear him.  What’s my work number? John once asked me.  I can’t remember numbers ever.  It’s in my phone.  Why do I need to remember it? John looked dumbfounded.  What if your life depends on it? I laughed.

I can’t remember his work number.  I can’t remember it. I tell the man this, and he says it’s ok, asks if I know John’s cell number.  I say a few numbers first before getting them in the right order.  He never answers his cell at work. Continue reading

G is for Garden

The Early Girls called to us, sitting on the asphalt, the first starter real starter tomatoes at the market; spring greens and herbs were no longer novel as they were in the ground, thriving.   They were, true to name, at the farmer’s market before any other varieties were strong enough to make it.

Towards the middle of the June, the starters had become full plants, yellow-budded, with small green hard globes hanging heavily.  The fruit scented the plot more than mint and thyme–dry, warm, a little acidic, green.  Soon, the tomatoes ripen; I cut vines not only to keep the tomatoes longer inside, in the brown- and green-glazed bowl, but to bring that scent inside.  I planted more marigolds and calendula, to keep bugs away, and daisies and johnny-jump-ups and zinnias wherever herbs and vegetables were not.

By July, we had more vegetables than we knew what to do with, except the tomatoes.  Salad.  Pasta.  Sauces.  Grilled. Vodka-spiked.  The plot is in full sun, and we had to water it twice a day before the soil cracked.  All of the tomatoes now, Early Girl and Green Zebra and orange cherry, pop off the vines.  Each day I rubbed the leaves and vines between my forefinger and thumb; tomatoes are said to respond to human touch.

Late summer brings heat and a shifting sun.  The nights were cooler, and we planted the greens again.  We had some greens and herbs that lasted through the summer and now start to thrive the same way they did in the spring.  The last of the hard green tomatoes that never ripen come off the plants; I make jars of green tomato chutney and fried green tomato BLTs.  They are so good.

F is for Fort Funston

Or, the post in which I finally return to the original rule of the Alphabet project, in that the post is about 250 words.  Okay, it’s 380.

Photo by McAlister Clabaugh.  It would be really weird of you to steal someone else's wedding photo, but don't steal it.

I took my shoes off once we were through the old concrete gun batteries, my toes sinking into the sand and kicking up grains into my dress.  Gusts off wind off the Pacific, whipping up the cliffs, kept blowing up my long dress.  Christine carried the orchids, McAlister the mostly-drunk bottle of champagne.  (True to form, we started early.)  I saw John from across the parking lot, his lean figure cutting through the blue and brown landscape in his James Bond suit and sunglasses.

I’m getting fucking married to that sharp son-of-a-bitch, I thought.  (Just because I was getting married didn’t mean I was going to stop thinking and talking like a drunken sailor.)

Unbearably blue sky stretched for miles around and above us.  Everyone said not to do it there since the fog would take over; it always did.  But here we were, the sun a white spot, rays like spotlights; they casted long shadows on the sand, tinting us in Technicolor.  The beach, our friends, the paragliders, the cliffs, the roaring ocean, the howling wind through the dunes–this was hyperreality.

Ten of us clustered in a carved-out cove in the cliffs, shielding us from the wind.  Christine’s blue-and-green watercolored dress also was blown around by the wind; we unintentionally had matching sunglasses in different colors.  Our friends stood near us, and Sue, John’s cousin who is a San Francisco judge, stood in front of us.  We clasped hands.  I started crying, gulping air and trying to say the words.  The wind blew tears away, and Christine kept handing me tissues.  John started crying, which he never does.  We kissed.

After, our friends threw rose petals at us in the wind, some dodging us gracefully, others smacking us right in the face and sticking to still-damp cheeks.  We opened another bottle of champagne and passed it around before signing our documents on the trunk of a car.    The fog had not yet rolled in, and we left the sand dunes, the winds to our backs and sun in our faces, blue sky miles and miles above us.