Volume 14 Number 2
Volume 14, Number 2
|Table of Contents||Headwaters|
Are there too many memoirs out there? Are too many being written? Is enough, enough? After all, for the last twenty-five years we’ve read memoirs on every conceivable subject. Some great, some good, some fair, some poor. Everybody knows what those subjects are, so I’m not even going to bother listing them. I’m treating my question rhetorically, of course. Nobody would ask if it’s time to stop writing novels or poems or plays or movies, so I do not know why we’d ask it of memoir, but many critics do. Those of us who love memoir know how some critics appear to delight in deriding them. Read More...
"Teeth on Bone"
|Buddy is a black pointing Labrador—he points and flushes—and when I said to Scott over the two of them spooning on the living room floor, “I don’t know why you need a girlfriend when you have Buddy,” I felt immediately that it was wrong to have said and wrong to have thought. Buddy is the best friend of seven years, not the girlfriend of less than one. He came from King Kennel in North Dakota, where Scott lived during graduate school and trained his puppy in the yard and, later, hunted with his partner in the woods. Buddy grew into his name, and he moved with Scott to Utah, Alabama, and Oregon, traveling the states in between with his head out the window, on alert.|
|“A Brief and Necessary Madness”|
We called the tree a “knockaway,” but it is properly called Anacua, after an Indian tribe Cabeza de Vaca described without affection. Even that name is probably a fiction, or a mispronunciation of whatever those vanished Indians called themselves. We’re told the tribe attributed occult powers to the tree that became their namesake. I could see why. The specimen in the right front of our yard was timeless and indestructible, a Triceratops with branches. Its bark, rough as scales, rode the trunk in an armor of shadowed channels. Its leaves were sandpaper to the touch, and wore a green so dark I thought the liquid in their veins ran black. I never doubted that the tree had stood there since de Vaca wandered past, witness to countless summers like the one that year, when the temperature passed a hundred each afternoon and the pavement deep-fried anything it touched.
|“Something Like Joy”|
“You usually get here this early?” she asks. A woman, sixty or so, white uniform dress, stockings, white shoes, dropping her clothes into an open machine.
“No,” I say, “I’ve never been before noon.”
“I love this place early.” Her voice is soft but strong, the accent more Mississippi than Arkansas. “Before everyone else gets here with their big bags of clothes and children piled up all over the place.”
In the late eighties, the city desk’s telephone lines became overwhelmed by callers making impossible demands. Phone technology was still the newsroom’s main conduit of raw information and we had multiple lines to accommodate tipsters and sources, as well as reporters notifying assignment editors of breaking news and late inserts. But in the evening, the lines were often blocked with personalities who didn’t understand that our deadline culture required efficient, sometimes telegraphic speech. I heard from many of the same callers nightly, some every fifteen minutes until their mania ran its course. In quick succession, I might answer the phone’s insistent ringing to the complaints of a televangelist’s unhappy wife, a man who called himself Hoboken offering nonsensical editorials, and an unknown presidential candidate reciting a press release. Their confusion and pain altered my consciousness, a case study in neuroplasticity.
| “On Fire for Research” |
I love getting in my car in the pre-dawn darkness, watching the dashboard glow green and silver and red as I turn the ignition, feel the neighborhood stillness all around me. They’re all asleep, my neighbors, and I’m awake and stealing away on an adventure. I back out of the driveway slowly and roll up the street, the GPS beaming on the dashboard, toward a destination two hundred miles away, where I will talk to a stranger, an old moonshiner who, in his wild youth, drove fast cars down midnight roads on the adventure of his life, and hope that he will tell me what he knows and I need to know that will help me make sense of the history of half a million restless people and their descendants—and I don’t even know what that is.
Grandma glanced at the mantel clock on top of the television every time the cuckoo clock in the kitchen called cuck-coo. I begged to wait up. “Ja, Schatzee, just a while longer.” She always called me Schatzee, her darling. Curled beside her on the sofa, I played with her fleshy upper arm. It was my security blanket, Grandma’s arm, and I kneaded it like kiachle dough while she taught me German words—guten Morgen, gute Nacht, schlafen, auf Wiedersehen—and darned Boppa’s brown socks with silky yellow thread, a thimble protecting her thumb. Boppa’s supper—a slab of ham, a crusty hunk of buttered rye, paper-thin cucumbers swimming in vinegar—waited on a plate covered with waxed paper on the kitchen table in the dark.
|“Night Crawlers” |
A dark shadow crosses my face and my heart jumps. Standing over me, Tyler says, “I’m ready to go.”
“So soon?” I say, shaking something away from me, something that buzzes around my head as if it were a fly. The sun holds steady above the canyon wall but the air has cooled. I startle at how long I may have dozed.
As my mind clears on the drive home I ask Tyler, my nine-year-old son, if he had a good day. “No,” he says.
I didn’t care about anything. I didn’t care what her relationship with that boy was. It didn’t matter. It was as if I’d been given a command. I wish I could describe her beauty with the thunderbolt-like power I felt then. Sarah. Sarah Wills. She had full lips, supple blonde hair, Nordic fair skin, a dangerous sexuality, a slight touch of handsomeness. She had a husky Bordeaux-wine tone to her voice, with strong traces of the South, a honeyed huskiness. It was one of the few times in my life when I didn’t think carefully about whether to act or not. I knew I had to be alone with her.
|“A Good Weapon”|
J. C. said, “Come here for a minute. I want to show you something.”
I’ve told my wife about this moment. I’ve told my dad. I’ve told one friend. Otherwise, maybe because I feel shame, maybe because it has never come up in conversation, maybe because I’m a chickenshit, I haven’t talked about this: J. C. pulled me into a separate room of the church five years ago to show me pictures of him at war. We hadn’t seen each other for two or three years, and the gathering at the small Methodist church was in some way about us coming home. I’d come home from Utah, recently married, recently become a father of three. He’d come home from Afghanistan, the single father of a baby girl. He handed his daughter to his father and asked me into a smaller room.
He said to me, “I’ve gotta show you something. You’re the only one around here who will understand.”
|“A Brown-Skinned Lady and Her Sunblock”|
In 1984 I, like every other girl in America, wanted a Cabbage Patch Kid. To impress everyone with my logic—I was one of those brats—I asked for the brown-skinned version, a request my Sri Lankan-born parents could only understand as preposterous: dark-skinned dolls were for black children. That this was pitiable for them—the dolls’ homeliness was a given—was no reason for me, however, to get a doll that matched my skin. At Zayre’s, my father held the boxed toy at arm’s length, wondering was I sure I didn’t want a regular doll?