Authors: Lois Walden
For My Sister
Drive at Your Own Risk
Denver: The Blizzard of ’03
Slippery When Wet
Interstates /Road Construction
Rear-view Mirror /Good Visibility
Mrs B. Takes the Wheel
Picking Up Speed
Road Signs You Must Know
The Birth of the Bird Fish
Changing Lanes With Mary Michelin
About the Author
Imagine. My mother enters. Quick, run into her outstretched arms … She lifts me above her head. I am six, seven, eleven. Higher. Higher still. I am locked inside her gaze. Suddenly, she lets me down gently, places my right hand on her
shoulder, my left hand around her skinny waist. We glide like skaters on fresh ice; one two three, one two three, one two three. So old-fashioned … Beat changes. Lindy… and a one two one two three four, one two one two three four, and on and on … and …
Exhausted, we sit down.
… Our dance is over.
She reaches for a pack of Camels hidden inside her polyester, lime-green housecoat. How she loves polyester.
‘You can’t smoke in here,’ say I.
?’ asks she innocently.
‘There are rules.’
.’ She lights up a cigarette.
‘Not good for you.’
My mother shakes her head in despair, looks at the beige walls, lifts up her right foot, rests it on her left thigh, like a child about to tie her shoe for the first time. She snuffs out the cigarette on the bottom of her pink and grey fuzzy mule, flicks the butt across the room. She stands. The unspoken. Who
leads? Who follows? She leads. I follow. And so it goes … Our eternal dance …
I prefer the slow dance. This is not completely true. Depends … Age, place, time. History… It is always about history.
‘Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Dumpty had a great fall; had … a … great …
‘Then what happens?’
‘Never mind. It’s only a nursery rhyme.
When Stuart Manly, the education director for The Actors Cooperative, told me that I would be teaching in a town called Beatrice, Nebraska, I could hardly wait to get there. Beatrice was my mother’s name. She had died nearly twenty years ago. Her life was her undoing. Her death was my undoing. Maybe I would find her in the streets of the town that was named after her. Maybe it was our time to finally say goodbye.
‘Don’t you ever forget about me, baby.’
‘I won’t. I promise. I won’t.’
When you long for something too much, you can convince yourself you will not survive another second unless it happens right now. But the more desperate you are, the more it is a bona fide guarantee that you’ll have to wait.
Stuart Manly made it clear. It would be a long journey to Beatrice: ‘… primarily a Midwestern tour. You’ll be preceding
the company. And isn’t
the perfect play for that part of the country?’ He does not wait for my response. ‘You start out in Mississippi, fly to Chicago, then it’s Iowa, on to Colorado, next stop is Nebraska, maybe Montana, maybe not.’
Maybe I don’t want the job. ‘Sounds great.’
‘Loli, we here at The Actors Cooperative are interested in you because of your varied writing skills and your unique musical talent. We feel teenagers will understand their
heritage through your cutting-edge teaching methods.’
He has no idea what I do. ‘Thank you, Stuart.’
‘One second, Ms Greene.’ He puts me on hold. ‘I’m back.’
Hate hold. ‘You know I don’t deal with text.’
you prefer contemporary literature.’
‘No. Not at all. My strength is working with teenagers, dealing with contemporary
, so that they can understand themselves better through process and self-exploration.’
Hope I don’t have to deal with him. ‘I look forward to working with you, Stu.’ I don’t want this job. I don’t want
job. But … gotta get away, away from Simone. Think about my future, our future. What future? Always liked the road. Best part of being a performer was … the road. Discover who you are; not in relation to anyone, anything. The road.
My plane lands in Memphis approximately seven hours and eleven minutes later than my estimated time of arrival. I am too pissed off to get myself depressed, but as I drag my ruined red bag off the conveyor belt, I ask myself out loud what the fuck am I doing here? I am here to teach – a fact that boggles my mind.
‘Mine too, honey.’
The little Enterprise rentacar bus drives at a leisurely pace to the parking lot, which happens to be fifteen minutes, as the crow flies, from the baggage claim area. At least the sleek, blue, almost new, made for you, 2003 Esprit is waiting for me. I am given my instructions by a good ol’ young Mississippi boy, who clearly played fullback for Ol’ Miss. His neck is twice the size of my underused, oversized, top of the line, green
I begin the drive. The wind blows my spiffy Enterprise
from one lane to another. A truck speeds by, at no less than eighty miles an hour, splatters slush on my windshield. My wipers get stuck. The rear-window defogger ceases to
. I am unable to see out of my rear window. But I can’t stop. I have to get somewhere. I have a destination.
I arrive in Oxford, Mississippi at eleven p.m. Why am I here? For the kids … For the kid in me. My classes begin tomorrow. At some unforgiveable hour, I will attempt to wave my
teaching wand at a schoolroom filled with tired, toxic teenagers; to tap into their imaginations. Teaching is
that I have to do, want to do for those tormented teens, for myself, and finally for her.
‘You are more than welcome.’
‘Anything is possible, honey, if you want it badly enough, and you do it well enough.’
To love is to be free, to live is to die, and to hope is to get through. Tomorrow is what we wait for. Today is all I have. Tomorrow I just might get my ass onto another jumbo jet plane and fly away forever. Don’t need to wonder what that’s about.
‘Honey, it’s not about anything.’
It’s about you. It’s always about you.
The storm has let up. I want to get the lay of the land tonight. Christ! Go straight. Now turn right. Continue on … What’s the name of this road? Who cares. Follow signs to town square. There it is – lovely little square. What’s that sign say? ‘Ajax Diner.’ Go there tomorrow. I bet it’s not as good as the
Diner? That was the best diner that ever existed. Ever.
Time to find my southern sleep zone. Cannot wait to get my feather pillow out of my bag. Love sleep. Hope the sheets are polyester. Love polyester. Reminds me of her.
So, I’m currently comfy and cozy in my cabin in the
woods. We are talking a very southern world. It’s foreign; not Baghdad, no bombs, no need to panic. I will survive.
Gloria Gaynor! Remember her? Disco-era dance diva. Where was I then? Having some forbidden sexual
somewhere, which then led to another unfortunate sexual encounter somewhere else. I
do that anymore. Too old. Old age is scary. Mourn all that dies.
‘Don’t get sentimental. Mustn’t wallow in the wasteland called yesterday or dream about tomorrow.’
Glad you could make it.
‘Where’s the party, hon? Don’t get home too late.’
M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I … Just spelling it gives me that home cookin’ calm: mashed this, corn bread that, southern
peas, the bees knees, and double dippin’ if you please. Can’t wait to eat at the Ajax Diner. It will have to wait until after tomorrow’s class.
Morning. Next day. A note is slipped under my door. I read
it out loud. ‘Snow day. No school.’ Hooray! Still feels like it did when I was ten or eleven. Crawl back into bed and doze my way to dreamland between those polyester sheets. I looked forward to those days of lollygagging in synthetic luxury.
Look through the frosted windowpane. Hell! There is only one quarter of an inch of ice on the ground. So, what’s
to that Civil War spirit?
‘Why isn’t there any school?’ I ask.
‘We are just not as courageous as we use to be, darlin’,’ replies my sexy southern hostess, who owns the log cabin where I
Speak for yourself. I’m down here in fraught-with-Faulkner territory, flyin’ by the seat of my polyester panties. Memories – those marvellous madcap adolescent memories. Let’s not go there. How many times can you whisper ‘I love you’?
And again I whisper, ‘I love you.’
‘I certainly hope so, darling. I love you too.’
Phone rings. ‘What if someone dies?’ says a disembodied voice on the phone. ‘Someone you love has left you all alone. Are you prepared financially for a sudden death in your family? We can help you through this trying transition. No interest, money back guaranteed.’
‘I’m visiting, you asshole!’ Hang up. Don’t talk to me about death. Talk to me about life. What are the survival tools needed for living in this world? I am well aware of the innumerable tricks for getting out of it. My mother was my mentor.
First period class. It is seven forty-five a.m. Exhausted. Can anyone learn anything at this hour? Homeroom teacher is out sick with shingles. I can see why… Let me tell you about the kids with their full hearts and deep fears. Most of them have
conveniently forgotten that they ever had an imagination. They wallow in the wild wanderings of the mind without giving the mind much thought. Most of them hunger for at least one moment in which they might control those uncontrollable desires that are controlling them. These are the teenage years in a nutshell.
Hey, you over there! I am well aware that you are in the middle of some mid-teen masturbatory exploration. And you over there with the oily skin! I know that your little vulva is vibrating. I know that young Jake’s wanger has been wigglin’ in a wringin’ wet Spalding sweat sock. Tell me, baby boy …who is she? One of the Dixie Chicks? Norah Jones? Your mother?!
What if the girl is a guy? Poor Jake. You have ventured down the road to perdition. Mr and Mrs Boll Weevil are
in you, Jake. They would much prefer the sock. You can’t get in trouble jerking off in a sock. Out of sock you can get Aids. You can get that, young boy. You can get some kind of love, not their kind, but some kind. And, you can get free. No, Jake, you mustn’t get free. Because if you do, you will leave the Weevil family behind while you are getting it in the behind.
‘Jake, wake up! Say something.’
Yawn. ‘I don’t get this exercise.’
‘How could you get it if you’re sound asleep?’ Or jerking off.
‘I wasn’t sleeping.’
‘Fine. What don’t you get about it?’
‘I can’t explain.’
‘I don’t want to.’
Help! Where is the homeroom teacher? ‘What’s the problem, Jake?’
‘My little brother’s got the flu. I think I got the flu. My head hurts.’
‘You got a fever?’ I walk over to Jake’s desk. He cowers. Remember can’t touch his forehead. Against school rules. ‘Why don’t you go to the principal’s office. Have them call home. See if your mom can pick you up.’
He looks relieved. ‘Okay.’ He bends over, pulls up the back of his pants with his right hand, picks up his books with his left, rises from his seat, walks as if he had a ton of bricks in his pants, makes his way to the door. All eyes are on his exit. They too wish they had a fever. They are out of their minds with envy.
When I was their age, I was out of my mind. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
‘The bough’s breakin’, baby
Down will come baby cradle and all
I knew the bough was breakin’. She lived inside her tears. My heart still swims in her sorrow.
As the door slams, I shout. ‘Look at the ceiling, look at the lights, look at the walls, look at the floor! Sense that every single thing that you see is alive! Do you hear what I’m saying?! Alive! As alive as you and I are! Sense the breathing floor beneath your feet, the living walls surrounding you. We are a part of a phenomenal world where everything is alive, interconnected, and anything is possible. Imagine that right here, in this
classroom, burns a golden fire.’ Perplexed. They look perplexed. ‘Now turn that raging fire into pure gold. Place that pure gold inside your heart. Inhabit your heart. Become your heart; a breathing, living creation filled with pure love, pure gold. What have we got here? What is that called? Anybody?’
Some girl in the back of the room has the balls to answer: ‘Crazy.’
‘No! … Alchemy! I have always loved the art of science, the science of art, the transformation of something into something other than what it was believed to have been.’ This
notion, at this particular moment in that particular high school leads me into my next topic … potent space. Let me see if I can explain it to them; the
being potent space …
As I fix my gaze upon a room full of shiny, terminally toxic, teenage faces, some black some white, I hear in my head the willful silent challenge from each and every one of them. ‘Who the fuck are you? Prove it. Whatever it is, prove it.’
‘When you move in relation to that which moves you, that which moves through you, are you moving it or is it moving you?’ … Glazed looks, more acne and no response until …
After class, Lydia approaches. She breathes hideous
egg-beater breath on my violet meditation beaded
. The beads fog up before her eyes. She looks frightened. Finally, she speaks. ‘I am an avid reader and an avid
. I believe that your potent space diatribe borders on the demonic.’
I am taken aback. ‘Can you explain?’
‘Well, it just doesn’t seem Christian. It appears to be
, no, extremely metaphysical without any inherent
ideas in the explanation.’
It starts at home with the parents. Parents go stupid, filters down to the kids. Soon you have second-generation soul sludge. It’s a form of practical prejudice. Works for everyone at home … Hopeless situation for the rest of us.
‘Metaphysics is not demonic or anti-Christian, Lydia. Look, why don’t you give it a chance. See how you feel by the end
of the week. Then, we can continue our discussion. I look forward to it.’
Lydia never returns. Her family prays for my soul’s retrieval. They are not the first to pray for my soul. They will not be the last.
Seated at a window booth in the Ajax Diner, on the town square, looking across the square at the Oxford courthouse, at its newly painted pillars, downing my third piece of corn bread I think about Lydia as I remember my time of demons. Oh Lydia, Lydia, you do not have the faintest idea about demons, do you? I know demons … I knew Judas. His hands touched my body.
In 1983, after my mother’s untimely death, my Judas
appeared as one Lothar Bovar. He posed as a healer. I fell under his spell, fell into my holy hell, heart first into his world of sin and shame.
I was in from Los Angeles visiting my sister Dina in New York. It was a dark, wet, wintry day when I strolled into his West End Avenue apartment. The living room floor was tiled in shiny black and white vinyl squares, like a chessboard. The pawn enters. Me. Old queen moves with clarity and absolute cunning toward victory over the pawn’s soul … Trance time in Tormentville!