#4: Ecdysiast

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From The Oxford English Dictionary :                                                                   Ecdysiast: (noun) a striptease performer

In the late sixties, Jeff, my ex-husband, and I met a dancer from a long legacy of ecdysiasts.  We were promptly invited to her home to inspect generations of vintage stage costumes, and to meet her thirteen foot boa constrictor, Tiny Tim.

Upon arrival, our hostess said, “The snake is hiding behind the stove.”  So the dark-haired beauty pulled out her Kansas City skin-trade costumes, many of which belonged to her mother.  Dressed in regular clothing, she demonstrated a few shakes from behind a fluttering fan of pink ostrich feathers.

Very distracted by the sound of slithering, I could only barely whisper, “That’s cool.”   A snake on the loose was not what I anticipated from our social call.

“Jeff, will you help me get him out of there,” the dancer said.   “He might cut himself.”

Jeff wrestled the stove out of its confines, the woman grabbed the snake by the tail, and said, “Oh God, help me!  Tiny’s wrapped around the gas-line.”

Jeff gripped Tiny Tim with both hands.  Because of the reptile’s powerful writhing, his arms shot above his head, positioning the monster close to the ceiling.  Jeff managed to hang on, but as we stared in horror, dust bunnies from Tiny’s body fell off him and landed in our eyes.

I never heard such sounds from my ex, as if he were on a runaway roller coaster.  He lurched, twisted, and tripped from the kitchen to a small cage in the front room.  Tiny obediently coiled inside his home, the dancer slammed the door and locked it.  Just like that, it was over.  Left panting and sweating, Jeff held his snake oiled hands out like he’d been slimed, I was fairly sure I never wanted him to come near me again, and with a quick dip and giggle, our hostess had just survived an awkward performance.

In seconds, we left that house with an oft-told tale: Jeff and I knew a stripper who performed with a boa constrictor.  Given the strength required to handle thirteen feet of pure muscle, it simply wasn’t possible.  After all these years of embellishment, this is the truth: that girl was a normal dancer with a pole, removable costumes, and a few inanimate props; Tiny Tim was her household pet; and it was Jeff who danced with a boa constrictor.

Photo by Marissa Bridge

#3: Canaglia

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Based on my mother’s limited expectations for marriage, she chose her mate according to his gene pool.  My dad called himself ‘The Producer,’ so I’m pretty sure he operated within the same parameters.  Their insecurities, lack of opportunities, coming of age in WW2, were overcome by what they saw as  physical superiority, in themselves and their children.

Beauty was more valued than education.  Their badges of honor were square shoulders, shapely legs, almond eyes, good hair, exceptional posture, and in my mother’s case, speed.  Her driving skills matched any daredevil man’s,  Dad was a normal driver, but nothing could slow her maneuvering excellence down, especially four screaming kids in the backseat.

Not long after my father left, so did Melanie and I.  She was still in high school.  We had only the confidence of our upbringing, youth, and skimpy clothing.   Those led us directly to a hippie artist with a page-boy to be coveted, who lived in a retired mail truck.  Old friends in a matter of hours, we piled into his vehicle for a spin around Kansas City.

The truck had been converted into a sunny, drivable living space, lined with daisy wallpaper.  Big enough for sections, it housed a sofa/bed, a small table, and what Melanie and I used as a running track between the front and back.  The driver sat on a free-standing swivel stool, and in a moment of quiet repose, I plopped next to him cross-legged on the deep dashboard.

When he pulled in front of our house, one of his friends, referring to our car antics, said to him, “God, all that screeching, now that those two are leaving, maybe we can actually hear ourselves think.”

Self control and car manners were not part of our upbringing.  Until then, we’d gotten by with our buona faccia facades.  Realizing that acting like wild animals wouldn’t cut it with those outside my parent’s model was as shocking as a slap, and the first step to self-examination.  And even though we were mere canaglia, I fit into the artist’s aesthetic vision.  He moved out of the mail truck, into our house, which he turned into a palace of his imagination, and I married him.

Definition of canaglia, n. from the Oxford English Dictionary:                                             [‘ Rabble; the common people; a mob or pack of people regarded as rabble’]

Photo by Marissa Bridge

#2: Magnolious

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We plant trees for the women in our family who die.  It began with a Redbud, my mother’s favorite, at the world headquarters of Unity Village, Kansas City.  Then came a Magnolia for our forty-nine year old sister, Gretchen.  It was placed twenty feet from Mom’s Redbud, which died shortly after Gretchen’s tree went in the ground.  We bought a replacement, it died too, and now we commemorate them both in the Magnolia.

Near the end of Gretchen’s life, she took care of someone’s house, plants, and animals while they were on vacation.  Early in their week of absence, she got all gussied up in one of the owner’s cocktail dresses, shoes that Gretchen could barely walk in, and adorned herself in jewels.  She drove their BMW to a bar, brought a guy home, and as if she lived there, entertained him for six nights in a row.

On the eve before the owners return, Gretchen called me and explained her predicament, not knowing what to tell the guy.  I said, “You have to tell him the truth.”

“I can’t do that!  He’ll think I’m a big liar.”

“Well, what if he knocks on their door looking for you?’

“I know, what should I do?”  I heard the conspiring laugh.

“ I think you have to tell him, Gretch.”

I never found out how she got out of that one.   Smoke inhalation in an apartment fire took her life.  At her memorial, during the informal stories from those she saved and loved when no one else was there for them, a teary-eyed tall blonde stood to speak.

“Gretchen worked for us a few days a week,” she said.  “She only did what she wanted and it wasn’t that much.”  A knowing laugh erupted from the attendees.    “But she was so good with the kids and our pets.”

Remembering Gretchen’s description of the woman whose persona she assumed, it was clear I was looking at her.  “The weird part though, “ the woman continued, “is how much time we spent talking to her, about her after she went home, and even my friends called to hear the latest Gretchen episode.   She drove us a little crazy, but we’ll really miss her.”

I view Gretchen’s week of borrowed identity as a climactic convergence.  She’d always been a prankster, an envious person, she possessed theatrical flair, and an impulse to impress.  And she felt most alive the moments after a big scare.  But the biggest influence in her life was disappointment.  In Gretchen’s mind, it was only through intrigue and risk that she could begin to approach her magnolious potential.

Definition from the Oxford English Dictionary:                ‘ Magnificent, splendid, large’

Magnolia photo by Marissa Bridge

#1: Revirescence

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When young, my writing was fueled by rage and righteousness, put down with a furious pen. These days I quietly type away, sifting through facts for a buried truth, a clear explanation of what just happened.  And I write for revirescence.

So this is the latest.  After a year-long recovery from broken bones and medical immersion, I went online and met a man.  Immediate core differences stood between us, but the mission of my healing legs held us in symbiotic captivity.

He treated me like an injured queen and I acted like one.  We took weekly trips from one end of New York State to the other, and traveled to other countries.  With every step of the way on his lovely arm, I grew stronger.  A few months ago, pain-free and greater leg power than ever, I pronounced myself completely recovered.

But my needs were our structure, and without them the foundation of the relationship shook. Our lack of common priorities turned into a contest of wills.  The future did not belong to us, yet in the scheme of our lives, it was an important chapter.  Speaking of which, I find myself in another recovery, this time with mighty bones…and an open heart.

 Revirescence: excerpted from the OED, noun                                                                                                                         ‘ The action, quality, or fact of growing fresh or new again; an instance of this.’

Photo of Long Island Hydrangea by Marissa Bridge

Another Threshold

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It’s been months since Marissa Bridge and I came to the end of our weekly blog collaboration: her thirty six orchid paintings from bud to naked stem, with short essays by me.  Next Saturday, we begin again, but this time, instead of art, language will be our initiator.   I intend to choose a weekly word from the Oxford English Dictionary, and use it in a short essay.  In turn, Marissa will match what I write with a piece of visual art.

This practice is our commitment to creativity, but were it not for you, our followers, it might not happen.

In appreciation,                                                                                                                       Stephanie

(Photo by me in Bali.)

 

Live Music

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In a recent late night conversation about loss, aging, and the current state of global affairs, I said, “The only comfort is in knowing we don’t have to live forever.”

Such glibness can be explained.  On top of everything else in the world, I am attending two memorials within a few days.  But it isn’t just me making careless jokes.  On a quiet night in an Indian restaurant, our waitress asked if we’d been there before.  I recalled a recent dinner, different friend, same table.  The place had been packed.  The waitress’s graying bun hung from her head like a climber losing steam.  She gestured beyond the sitar and tabla players, out to the sidewalk.  “I know,” she said, “where is everybody tonight?  Did they all die?”

The three of us laughed and laughed again.  Even with collective fears of imminent disaster, we laughed at the thought of the end of the world, about sitting in a little place in the East Village on a sleepy Sunday night, about being the last five people left on earth, blithely eating Chicken Tandoori while listening to live music.

But laugh as we may, anything can happen.  A close friend of mine, along with five others, was killed in a small plane.  It was years ago, still fresh, a beautiful spring day, clear skies.  Yet the pilot scraped the roof of a building as he was coming in for a landing.  It turned out he suffered from back trouble and was flying on morphine.

As I sat crying my head off at the funeral, I noticed a brass memorial plate on the back of the bench before me.  It had the name Hattie on it, the dates of her birth and death, and a quote.  By then, thousands of other mourners had seen it, and it was my turn for Hattie’s take on life.  “Well,”  the plaque said, “that’s that.

Long Lost

For those of you who have read this before, I apologize.  I’m trying to get the text and the image to publish on the same page.  Wordpress can be unpredictable.

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John Gibson arrived at my apartment for what we refer to as ‘salon.’  But before we were to commence our usual shenanigans, he needed to sit down and read prayers for a very sick friend.  I lowered the lights, and for several minutes, John read blessings off his computer.  He closed with the prayer that repeats a comforting concept when a person’s about to leave this earth: World without end.

Within the hour, John was belly down like a reptile looking for a diamond earring I had just dropped on the floor.  And I was right beside him.  We tried corralling it with a dust mop.  When that didn’t work, I got up and retrieved a flashlight that needed new batteries before we could use it.  Every dimmer in the apartment was turned to high.  All the while, I kept lamenting, “That’s what I get for showing them to you.  God, I feel like my sister, Gretchen.”

After my mother died, Richard, her long-lost-half-brother drove from Wichita to southern Missouri to treat my three siblings and I to lunch.  In a state of unspoken grief, we mostly stared out the window at a manmade lake and golf course with grass so smooth I assumed it was fake too.

Gretchen, the youngest, got up to go to the bathroom.  After an unusually long time, she returned looking as if she’d witnessed something worse than what we were repressing.  In a breathy hush, she said, “I took off my diamond ring to wash my hands and when I went to put it back on, it wasn’t there.  I think it went down the drain.”

I stood and followed her to the bathroom.  Our waiter and the hostess came in to see what all the fuss was about.  A uniformed member of the maintenance crew joined us with a big light and a plumber’s snake.  He eventually fetched more tools and went about the removal of the drain pipe. Her ring was not there.  At least thirty minutes into this fiasco, we returned to our uncle who looked as if he remembered the reason for his absence.

Still crawling around on the floor at the end of this tale, I said to John , “Gretchen found the ring by her kitchen sink, exactly where she’d left it.”

“Where’s the damn earring box?”  John commanded.

“I heard the diamond tinkle across the floor, John.”

“I don’t even know what we’re looking for.  I need to see the other one.”

Once again, I hoisted myself from a prone position, got the little white box and handed it to him.  Both diamonds were inside.  It was one of the screw backs that I’d heard scamper out of sight.

With John reciting prayers for his dying friend, and Gretchen’s birthday within a few days, yet thirteen years after her tragic death, there was plenty of grief in the air.  That is, if one had the courage to face it.  Instead, I pulled a Gretchen: false loss, big panic.  I don’t claim the technique to be particularly desirable, but in a so-called world without end, it’s comforting to recognize a glint of her in me.