Craig

As my mother so delicately put it, our ragtag little family came together because of “a beautiful, drunken mistake.”

I know what she means. My parents were barely out of their teens when their casual relationship resulted in yours truly. The year surrounding my birth is a story in and of itself, involving wacky misunderstandings, dramatic reveals, bar brawls, and a vengeful ex-girlfriend, but it’s not my story to tell. Somehow they managed to scrape together whatever bits of maturity they had and make a home, but it’s a hardscrabble sort of life for two overgrown kids with a baby. There was never enough money, never enough time to catch up. They did what they could to keep the plates spinning.

When I was seven, our tiny tin-roofed trailer took in a boarder. Craig was the guitarist in my dad’s band and a professional couch nomad. He explained to me once that he didn’t have a permanent address and just floated around wherever he felt like it. I asked him once if he was like The Littlest Hobo.

“Well, shit,” he said thoughtfully. “I guess I am that fuckin’ dog. Just goin’ around the road and shit. Except I guess I never saved someone from no goddamn train car or whatever it is he fuckin’ does. I just kill the locals with sick guitar solos and fuck off out of it.”

He always talked like that. He didn’t mean anything by it, but his speech was peppered with as many “fuck”s and “shit”s as there were nouns. Every sentence was a work of art in the medium of sheer profanity. My mother furrowed her brow at the way he spoke, but studiously ignored it in exchange for rent and the fact that he was willing to engage me in rambling conversation so she could get dinner on the table.

Once you got past the language, Craig had a strange way with children. At a somewhat brainy seven, I was used to being condescended to or treated as an adorable sideshow, but he treated me like a well-admired peer who just happened to be really short and obsessed with ponies.

“Whatcha readin’ today, li’l mama?”

I looked up from the ancient copy of National Geographic. “I’m learning about Burkina Faso.”

“You know most girlies your age are readin’ about unicorns and magic fuckin’ kittens and shit? That’s pretty supremely fuckin’ cool. Who the shit is Burkina Faso?”

“It’s a country,” I said. “Not a person.”

“That’s good enough for me. I bet you can tell me all the fuck about it now, so let’s hear it.”

And so it went. I’d go off excitedly about whatever new information I’d just picked up, and he’d actually listen. I don’t think he retained any of it, just like I forgot all the chords he tried to show me, but like any two people who aren’t used to being heard, we had an understanding.

“I tell you, mama, you’re fuckin’ goin’ places.” He’d say this all the time, but on this particular day, there was a note of melancholy in it. I peered owlishly at him through my glasses as he pulled a cigarette from behind his ear and lit it.

After a beat, he spoke again. “You listen to me, kiddo. You’re special. A real diamond. Don’t become no cocksuckin’ washout like me.”

“You’re not a washout.” I said it because I believed it rather than out of any sense of loyalty. Craig played a bluesy Lohengrin on his electric guitar for my Barbie weddings. Sometimes he would play it with his teeth and play it well. How could he not be magic?

“Li’l mama, I sleep on your fuckin’ couch and play guitar for a living. That ain’t nothin’ anyone needs to be proud of.”

“Dad does that. I’m proud of my dad.”

He puffed on his cigarette. “That’s different. For one, your daddy don’t sleep on no couch, he sleeps in a bed with one of the hottest pieces of ass I’ve ever seen, if you’ll excuse me saying so about your mom.”

I nodded, mostly because I had no idea what he was talking about.

“Second of all, that ain’t all your daddy is. He does it for you. He loves his tunes, but he loves you more. Me, I do this shit because there’s fuckall else I wanna do, which ain’t no way to live your life. You listen to me. You gotta have something to do it for.”

“Do what?”

“Anything. Fuckin’ anything. You make goddamn sure you have a reason.”

He moved out that Sunday.

It’s been a lot of years since that trailer and a whole lot of life since that little girl. I haven’t gone to any of the places in National Geographic or the ones I was supposed to go in Craig’s head. Lately, I’ve been having a crisis of wondering why I bother with writing. I fall asleep on my own couch after hours of trying to produce something readable and it’s so, so frustrating. I don’t know that I’ll ever do much of anything with it, but it’s enough to have a reason. See, I finally decided that I’m going to push on with it regardless in search of maybe someday finding and making something special.

A real fuckin’ diamond.

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We Are Learning to Make Fire

I have never believed in soulmates. The idea of The One, the person put on this earth to complete you, has just never sat well with me on any level. Statistically, the odds of you even finding the one person you’re destined to be with in a sprawling world of billions of people are astronomical. You have a better chance of randomly finding your first grade teacher on Chatroulette, and the odds are even greater that if you do, he’s going to show you his penis.

Even leaving aside the logistical problems, I feel mildly offended at the idea that I need to be completed. I’m already a complete person, albeit a deeply flawed one. I do believe in love (“to the depth and breadth and height/My soul can reach”) and I’m not opposed to romance. I just don’t want to be the half of a whole, because what happens when your other half goes away? You can keep your souls meeting in divine union. All I really want is a partner.

And yet.

And yet, nothing is ever that simple. If all it took was mutual respect and shared life goals and a certain amount of fondness, we’d live in a very different world. There has to be something more. Even lust is just science, boiled down to bare bones of evolutionary biology and pheromones that often lead us terribly astray (“The lads I’ve met in Cupid’s deadlock/Were- shall we say?- born out of wedlock”), and even that is fleeting.

I’ve fallen in love before. More than once, but not often enough that you could call it habit. There’s no pattern aside from an obvious predilection for boys with glasses. The variables are all different. There’s no predicting it, that maddening rush that comes when a person walks into a room and says your name just so. It’s a poorly designed scientific experiment with the methods all wrong and inexact and the subject staring dreamily off into space, doodling hearts in a spiral notebook. This has happened before and it will happen again (“Let us go then, you and I/When the evening is spread out against the sky), but I don’t know when or how.

I think it’s backwards to think we’re only able to find true love with one person in the whole world. Isn’t it more romantic in the end to think that the possibility is there at any time, an unexplained phenomenon that most of us will experience at least once in our lives? If love is neither math nor chemistry nor biology, then maybe it’s alchemy,  spinning the ordinary and everyday into gold.

*Credit where it’s due to the authors of the italics: Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Dorothy Parker, and T.S. Eliot. Title comes from Margaret Atwood.

Opening Act

In some dusty basement somewhere, there is a videotape of a kindergarten graduation ceremony. Set in the long-ago landscape of 1990, it shows a matronly teacher in polka dots interviewing a sea of children in itchy-looking formalwear. Though I couldn’t tell you exactly where to find it, there is a point on the video where this woman (who looks for all the world as though she smells of baby powder and cheap lipstick) asks a gap-toothed little girl with crimped hair and a crinoline what she wants to be when she grows up.

“A doctor,” the little girl chirps, pushing her giant plastic frames up on the bridge of her nose. A pause. “Or maybe a ballerina.”

I don’t think I need to tell you that the little girl never became a doctor. By telling you that the little girl grew up in a small town in Newfoundland that offered no dance training and that the puberty fairy decided to be extra generous with the secondary sex characteristics, I think you can probably infer that she never became a ballerina either. Some of the sharper among you have probably deduced that the little girl was me. (I bet you figured out the ending of “The Notebook” right away, didn’t you? You intellectual dynamos, you.)

As a way of introduction, I’m Lynn. I don’t have a fancy career. I’m not gifted in any particular way. I’m not possessed of ethereal beauty or even particularly good skin more than two weeks out of the month. That said, I like to write, and I’m told some people like to read it, so here I am, and (hopefully) here you are. I welcome readers and feedback from all walks of life.

Unless you’re a ballerina. Who likes “The Notebook”. Then you can go to hell.