Monday, November 14, 2011

Horcrux: cheap on Amazon

We have some big news.

Are you sitting down?

Kendon and I

finished Harry Potter!

11.11.11 was a big day for us.  We hunkered down on the futon with a bag full of Wendy’s and didn’t stop reading until the Horcruxes had all been found and Voldemort had been defeated and Harry and Ginny had sent their little red-headed babies off on the Hogwarts Express and every last natural-cut French fry had been consumed.

We closed that very last book with a new sense of meaning in life and a determination to pass on the bazillion life lessons of Harry to our own offspring one day.   We discussed the brilliance of J.K. Rowling as she interweaved characters, generations and objects to create a culminating tapestry of meaning.  We discussed the epiphanies we experienced as we ended the last chapter of the last book, after nine months of seven years of Hogwarts.  It was a bit like closing a chapter in our lives, we decided.

Conveniently, the last movie came out on DVD last night.  “Perfect!” we shouted.  It was like 11.11.11 was the day when the stars aligned and magic really happened and dreams really did come true.  So we bought the entire BluRay series.  And, hours after finishing Book 7, we watched Movie 7 Part 2 for the first time ever.

I’m not exactly sure what we were expecting.  All that I remember after putting it in are flashes of memory that include explosions, bad acting, and making out.  Nothing made sense.  No stars aligned.  Voldemort laughed at the end in such a jovial manner that I laughed with him and wanted to give him a high five.  Which isn’t right at all.  We finished the movie and I racked my brain trying to remember what life lessons we were supposed to draw from this.  I tried to remember what Dumbledore had told Harry that was so deep. Because he couldn’t have possibly had time to say it in the 30 seconds screen time he was given. 

That DVD become like a disgusting Horcrux.  It ruined our mood.  It ruined 11.11.11.  So we destroyed it.  Actually we sent it back to Amazon after paying a small restocking fee.  And that’s close enough for us.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Death by chocolate: grim. sad. ugly.

Marie Antoinette said, “Let them eat cake.”  I could kill that crazy French Hitler woman, if she weren't already dead.

It was Kendon’s birthday last week, and all he wanted – with the exception of a small country, a pony, and the beta version of Minecraft – was Costco’s quadruple chocolate cake, which is roughly ¼ the size of our refrigerator.  We bought it the night before his birthday, when all we’d eaten all day were stale tortilla chips and smashed Nutri-grain bars.  We picked up the cake and angels began to sing from the fluorescent hanging lights high above us.  We could smell the Dutch cocoa and almost taste the shaved chocolate flakes generously strewn across the side. And the frosting.  Oh, the liberal amounts of perfect chocolate frosting.  The frosting taunted us from beneath that plastic protective dome cover, daring us to rip it up and dip our fingers in and lick off the chocolate right there in the bakery department.  That there frosting sealed the deal, and we returned home that night the proud parents of the most beautiful cake on this good planet.  We thought of splitting it in half and finishing it off for dinner.

I would love to end this story by saying that we did just that: that Kendon blew out his birthday candles and we filled ourselves with cake and rode ponies and moved on with our lives.  But that’s not how it happened at all.

It has been ten days.  That chocolate cake is STILL IN OUR FRIDGE.  It still taunts us, but not in the same way it did in Costco that day.  Every day since the birthday, we’ve had a piece of that cake.  And every day, there is still more of that cursed cake to eat.  Nowadays, our bellies cry in protest, and tears stream down my face as I shakily cut us another slice.  “We’ve.... got… to finish it,” I say to Kendon, who has begun to hide in a corner every time I pull that horrid Costco tray out of the fridge.  “Mustn’t… waste…food.”  Then we force ourselves to shove down one more piece, wishing for death for one more chocolate cakey evening.     

I think next year we’ll have vanilla cupcakes.  Mini ones.  Make that just one mini vanilla cupcake. With no frosting.  And we’ll split it in half.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Our weekend in the desert

Last weekend we went to the desert, where my throat engages in a constant, selfish supplication for more water, and I turn into the dried-out creatures I see wandering the desert on shows like “Life”: yellow-eyed and slow.

I always thought that beauty had to include green.  The lush jungles of Hawaii or the mountainous pines of the northwest or the flowery meadows of my very own Utah create memories that look like romantic impressionist paintings. Going to the desert has taught me that beauty can also be the contrast of a blue sky against an endless stripe of red-brown. When you recall the desert, it looks like modern art.

In the desert this weekend, we went through years worth of old, dusty boxes in Kendon’s childhood home. The goal was to salvage the treasures and throw away the rest. And I started thinking about the significance of a box.

The problem is, nothing can go into a box unless it is a treasure to begin with.  We fill boxes with sentimental knick-knacks, samples of our finest work, and with the quiet hope that the contents of our box will one day see the light of day again; that our children will admire them, that they’ll go on display, or that we’ll put them to use years down the road.

So when a box gets reopened, the reasons flood back.  The nostalgia and the sentiment and the hopes may be dusty, but they’re there, waiting for you in their dark cardboard confines.  And you have to decide if your treasured things are now trash.

And sometimes it’s painful, the decision; the remembering.  Important treasures, like love, get packed away into our boxes, where they become forgotten until they disintegrate from years of wind and sun beating them into dust.  And when the box gets reopened, you remember what your treasure looked like before it was nothing.  And you feel a little sad.

So I was careful last weekend as I went through someone else’s treasures.  I was careful to remember that, buried beneath the cobwebs and dust of each box was another memory, another quiet hope.  I tried to imagine my Kendon playing with each toy as a little boy, making little boy noises and turning the living room couch into a racetrack, or a war zone, or the Wild West.  I tried to imagine the concentration and pride he put in to drawing this purple monster or winning this plastic trophy. I tried to imagine the love that went into each letter and card; the comfort and laughter it once gave to its recipient.  I tried to imagine each object’s life before the box. And I tried to hold onto these thoughts when I had to throw their containers away.

When we left the desert this weekend, I started thinking about my own boxes, tucked away in a closet at home.  And I decided to blow away some more dust.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Each day is Valentine's Day

Egle woke up that morning with a resolve to quit smoking.

She entered her tiny kitchen whistling a Frank Sinatra tune, picked up the full pack of “Prima” cigarettes on the counter, and broke her morning routine by tossing them into the rubbish bin. She put a pot of water on the stove and watched the steam fog up her view of the city outside the small window.  She drew a smiley face in the glass and could see clearly through the eyes and smile the identical gray buildings that surrounded hers.  “23” was painted in old flaking red paint on the building directly facing her kitchen.  It was the number of years she’s been married; the number of years she’d been smoking.  Looking beyond the dirty Soviet-built structures, Egle marveled at the perfect sunrise.  It was an explosion of light that striped the sky with a pattern of purples, oranges, yellows, and blues, stretching outward forever from a vanishing point she couldn’t quite see. It bathed the streets below her in a soft orange glow that was reflected in the old rickety autobus that stopped in front of her building, the “welcome” sign of the corner grocery store across the road, and the wet streets, littered with bottles, cans, and a few passed-out homeless men.

She sat on a three-legged stool and drank a hot cup of Summer Bouquet tea, nudging the old dog, asleep under the table, with her slippered feet. Wagging his tail, he got up and put his big boxer head on her lap.  He looked up at her with eyes that said, “Let’s walk,” and she agreed.

Egle pulled on her favorite pair of jeans and a soft pink sweater. She removed her house slippers and stepped into her only pair of heels, as black as the sleek boxer eagerly waiting beside her.  Her hair was a gray-brown frizz that had a mind of its own, and she carefully pinned it into a French twist before applying some mascara and a light layer of pink lipstick. She pulled out the perfume she’d purchased a year ago at the flea market down the road. They always had cheap imitations of American scents, and this one was her favorite – “Sensuous” by Estee Lauder. Egle only used it on very special occasions. Today she spritzed it on liberally, and the scent of mandarin and sandalwood filled her plain bedroom, taking Egle to a warmer place: one with more sand, more smiley faces, and less concrete. She smiled at the thought that today, the tropics wouldn’t be tainted with the smell of tobacco.

The November air outside looked brisk, so Egle bundled up in her nicest winter things and took an assessing look at herself in the mirror.  Her mother had always told her she was too skinny, but with her faux-fur scarf around her thin neck and the cream-colored turban on her head, she felt like Elizabeth Taylor, minus the cigarette.

Their morning walk was longer than usual.  They strolled for several blocks, enjoying the sunshine and stopping to browse the wares of the street vendors. Old, weathered women smiled at her and held up their odds and ends: shoelaces, pantyhose, and vegetables.  An old paperback romance novel caught her eye, and she talked the old gypsy down to 50 cents.  A few blocks later, she bought a small bouquet of wildflowers.  Pressing them to her nose, she tried to envision the distant countryside garden they were picked from, somewhere far beyond the walls of building 23.  Finally, she bought a jug of grapefruit juice, hoping it would give her mouth a bold enough flavor to resist the “Prima” box that still lay in her rubbish bin, tempting her the more each hour. Then she and the boxer returned home.

Egle carefully placed the flowers in a yellowing glass vase she kept beneath the kitchen sink, then spent the afternoon reading her new book. She gripped its pages especially tight when the urge to smoke became stronger. She knew she should get up, that she needed to boil the potatoes, that it was only a matter of time before he came home hungry.  But she didn’t dare go anywhere near the kitchen’s rubbish bin, so she stayed in the living room, hoping he would be so pleasantly surprised by her decision that he would suggest a romantic evening out.

At long last she stood up and returned to the bathroom to freshen up. She put a fresh coat of lipstick on and smoothed out the frizzy stray hairs on her French twist, smiling at her Elizabeth Taylor reflection. She turned the large knobs of the radio to her favorite station, where Frank Sinatra was belting, “You make me laugh with my heart….”

That’s when he walked in.

The door slammed behind him, a cold interruption to her day of peace.  He kicked clumsily at the dog, who whined and slumped to his spot beneath the kitchen table, tail between his legs.   Timidly, she gave him her news. She was congratulated with shouts of outrage. His scathing words drove the stench of alcohol out of his lips, raging a winning battle against the lingering scent of the tropics. He grabbed the vase of flowers and threw it to the ground. It shattered along with all her hopes for the evening. Frank Sinatra sang on, unaware.

Dinner wasn’t ready.

Is your figure less than Greek?

She looked like a whore. 

Is your mouth a little weak?

And if it wasn’t for him, someone would have put her away in a mental hospital long ago.

When you open it to speak
Are you smart?

Everything was spinning, and her mouth had tied itself up in knots again.

Her makeup streaked down her tired face, creating a marble effect on her hot cheeks.  Swallowing hard, she managed to steady herself enough to flee into the dimly lit bathroom again, where she locked the door and looked in the mirror.

She was not Elizabeth Taylor. She was a circus clown.

Egle waited until his rampage was over, and she could hear him settling in front of the television with something he’d found in the refrigerator. She crept out of the bathroom and into the kitchen.

Shakily, Egle dug into the rubbish bin for the box she had tossed away so freely that morning.  She hurried to the balcony and tried to whistle, but the cold night air seized the music trying to escape her lips and turned it into a bitter fog. She could hear the muffled sound of his slurred voice inside, cursing her damn smoking habit.

Egle looked at the dark, fading “23” on the gray brick wall before her. She lifted a cigarette to her lips and closed her eyes.

She would try again tomorrow.