This morning, before my son and I ventured out for his walk to school, my husband called me down to get his
camera phone so he could take a picture, “I think there’s a red-tailed hawk on Tommy’s front yard…” By the time I got to him, it was gone.
“I think it was… It was just sitting there, it was so strange. Like it was looking for something…”
“Like its keys…? I asked, adding, “Where is Gandalf? or Beezer?” referring to our cats. He said they were inside.
Back to work, nothing to see here.
I went to the kitchen and wrestled out a bag of trash to go in the cans by our driveway. The sky was very clear, still a little dawn-ish outside, so no real sunshine, just its rumor. It always amazes me in some really weird way how the sun just hangs out and does her thing. It’s automatic. She doesn’t move at all, there is no sunrise or sunset; it’s just the Earth turning.
Lined up across the street from my house were four tall bistro chairs, upholstered in some form of black bonded leather (essentially vinyl), sitting in wait for the maw of the garbage truck which would come soon enough. Because they were out overnight in the sub-freezing temps, frost had settled on their seats.
My husband was on his way back into the house from running some trash and he mentioned to me as we passed on our walk-up that we should write something in them.
Given the news lately, and my anxiety, bad dreams, poor sleep and general low-grade PTSD from being a 34-year resident of a neighborhood serving as a bedroom and home to top brass in the military (including General Powell back in the day) and other people who work for the government, my thoughts were not rational. My initial ideas about what to write on those seats were puerile, humorous, shocking and primitive.
I’m not sure what my husband was thinking of writing, maybe Peace Be With You or Have A Great Day or I Like Your Smile, because he’s a kind and decent human being. But because I come from different stock, I had all sorts of low-class possibilities in my head. I like one-word hits. My brain is pretty fast at calculating opportunities like that: how to get something impactful done in a broad stroke.
Two nights before, the night of the San Bernadino attack, I woke stunned from a nightmare of black-clad, balaclava’d, and jackbooted thugs opening fire on my family and me in our own backyard. Given this dream, and my apparent anxiety that has been feeding my subconscious, I knew that I have been in dire need of some laughter. Some air in my lungs, the numbing in the lips that comes from the deep breaths of laughing hard.
So when my husband went inside to fetch his gear to push off for work, I scampered up to the seats and scrawled on the seats with my fingernail to cut through the frost.
I saw space or opportunity for four letters: S-H-I-T, I thought, first… well, only after thinking F-U-C-K, but SHIT was right there as a swift shame-driven alternative, right on the tip of my fingernail, I swear. (Remind me to tell you about the first time I said “fuck” in 8th grade in the earshot of the Gray Nuns of the Order of the Sacred Heart…)
Prouder than a peacock with his tail feathers at full spread, I ran in to grab my
camera phone to snap a pic. “I wrote on them,” I squeaked to my husband as he went back to his car. “Oh?” he said, bemused, concerned and curious.
He walked over and this is what he saw:
He giggled. “Funny,” he said, slightly relieved I’m sure, at its relatively G-rated content. It could’ve been so much worse, trust me, I wanted to say.
Last night he was the one with the home invasion dream. “Lock all the doors…” he said as he squeezed me in to give me a smooch before driving away. “Take care of Ma,” he said to Murphy and Charlie, our dogs who bark at things that are not there and he was off to save the world from bad mortgages.
I wondered about how a harpie might feel, a rush of anxiety that comes as the sky brightens. I knew the “art” would be like the methane it represented: vapor, as soon as the eight-minute-old sunlight hit the dark reflective surface.
Taking that childlike risk of writing a taboo word (even though it was ephemera) on someone else’s property (even though it was headed to the landfill), was exhilarating. It felt like I was free from fear and that at that moment, everything was just as it should be.
And it was. At that moment, everything was as it should’ve been.
I went inside to show my son, “Look at what I did,” I said, eyebrows up and biting my lip like Bill Clinton.
He was confused. “Fart? Did you do that? Why would you write that?”
I sort of deflated, defended, “Because why not? It’s not super offensive; the chairs are headed for the trash… it will evaporate in a nanosecond once the sun hits it…” I thought of all my kids, he would think it was funny.
“Oh. Ok. Funny. F-A-R-T… that’s pretty clever. You could’ve written far worse… ” he said, and I stopped him from giving me ideas. He’s the youngest of three brothers and he’s in 6th grade, so he’s got plenty of source material and I need to preserve the illusion that he’s still a young baby.
He finished his breakfast, gathered up his stuff and I zipped his jacket. As we stepped down to walk to school, the frost had burned off. “It’s gone, Mom,” he said, a little sad that he wasn’t able to see the actual letters anymore. “I’m glad you took that picture of it.”
I almost wasn’t going to write this post today. I thought that people might consider it lowbrow in light of all the sadness in the news. But I know that I can’t change other people nor can I cater to them, or else I’d never get any writing done. Each of us is on our own journey and we all process grief and fear in different ways. I can’t let myself be consumed by fear.
Given those processes, I know that if I let it, fear can take over me. Sirens blared past my house an hour ago and I went searching for my phone to run a police scanner app I uploaded after the Paris attacks. I opened my local emergency response channel and went to Urban Dictionary to look up police codes. I heard that a building needed to be evacuated because a media room was likely exposed to a gas leak.
Just before Hallowe’en there was an explosion in a science lab at a nearby high school, so I lost myself. I was about to text my son at his high school to see if everything was alright, but he still had an hour to go, and my inquiry could set off a complete meltdown for him. I had to think about him first. I got back in the Moment. I fought the fear: I put down the phone and decided to write this post instead.
My writing “F-A-R-T” in the frost on the chairs is not a nod toward denial and complacency but rather a step into vulnerability in order to own and then release my fear. … emission accomplished.