Mom told me once that ideas and words are powerful, not only as tools, but as medicine. Not medicinal in the hospital sense, but in the spiritual sense. Chants, songs and ritualistic phrases become of these words we use in daily life.
My sister despises me and my brother when we swear, even in a humorous context, because the ability to communicate is a gift, a present to humanity. Often words become abused and misused, and leave themselves open to misinterpretation. Misinterpretation can lead to misunderstanding, conflict and sometimes war.
It is by this design that I choose my words and philosophies carefully. I have stated that my friends do not drink or consume alcohol for any purposes. I have also stated that my relatives do not consume alcohol and that no Native American consumes alcohol.
Others may wish to contest my philosophies and the words which I praise. That is what they believe in, this is what I believe in. We both run our lives according to what we believe.
I told friend of mine that if you get enough people to believe in something, it will happen; then, I was referring to the end of the world and the TV shows dedicated to the subject. He told everyone, "We're going to die!"
If you get enough people to believe it, it will happen.
There is power in that. There are power in words.
That is how I choose to live my life.
We ate dinner and were watching a movie when Mom grabbed my chin. She wrangled my head so she could see my left ear, making me almost spill my coffee.
"Oh my God." She smiled. "Hey Anne! Gabriel! Look at this."
I wrinkled my face as Mom held my head in her twisted hands. They weren't completely useless or gnarled, only the knuckles were swollen permanently. Mom held my face tight with her fingers. She needed to have strong hands.
Gabriel and Anne stood by us and Mom turned my head into the light. I squinted and smiled when my siblings gasped and laughed.
"When you'd get that?" Anne asked.
"The day after Gabriel's birthday."
"Cool," Gabriel said.
"Did it hurt?" Anne lightly tugged my earlobe.
"Not really. Hurt for five minutes. A good kind of hurt actually."
Gabriel took a turn at feeling the stud sticking through my ear. The pin tugged at the skin; I felt like a sliver through my ear. I liked it.
"That's cool," Anne said. "Why'd you decide to take a stab at it."
I wrinkled my nose and shrugged. "Figured I needed a change. Do something new, something different."
"You? Need change? Escapism isn't your strong front," Anne said. "If you want to start anew, you'd have to kill Jennifer."
"It's true!" Anne exclaimed. "Every darn conversation, she comes up. I could write her bio. We should get you another cat and name it Jennifer." Mom freed my face. "Let her go."
"I did once and they almost kicked her out of school."
"You shouldn't mess with her destiny," Mom said. "If she's going to acted like a baby, you shouldn't have to take care of her diapers."
"I smell mutiny," I said.
"No, that's the food in your mustache," Gabriel said.
"That's cold," I said.
"It's the food," he said.
"We're going to have to find you another girl," Mom said. "One who , cooks, cleans, gets weird jokes and doesn't drink."
"Jennifer gets my jokes."
"I'm bored," Gabriel said said, looking at an imaginary watch.
"Once Jennifer rejected you, you should have rejected her," Mom said. "She did everything you hated and she's still on your mind. It's been seven months since she told you to take a hike. Are you both speaking English?"
"Like scholars. You don't know the effects she'd had on me?"
"Yes we do," Anne said. "That's what chocolate's for. It's also an aphrodisiac."
"Great," I flustered. "I'd be heartbroken and horny. What a combination."
"No problem," Gabriel said. "You have hands."
Mom, Anne and I turned to Gabriel, mouths open and noses wrinkled. "Gabriel!" we exclaimed.
"What?" he said, spreading his hands. "'Ts just a suggestion."
I rinsed the dishes and was drying my hands when Gabriel came in and got a pop from the fridge. He didn't look as menacing as he did when they picked me up. He wore black shorts, black t-shirt and black socks. His hair hung straight down his back and over his shoulder and under his chin a little. His slim basketball arms and legs moved with a grace unlike mine; I could never tell if he was going to stand or make a free-throw. His muscles were drawn tight over the bone and flexed easily and notably under his skin. "Wooden Nickel on Thursday?" I asked with out making it sound like a question.
"Yep," He popped the hissing tab.
"They're open on Thanksgiving?"
"People mostly eat in the afternoon or around six. Nighttime, they usually go to the bar." He took a deep drink of his pop. "Party animals are usually night creatures."
"I would think there'd be more people at home watching futbol."
"Don't matter," he said, leaning on the fridge. "They're are going to be a lot of people there anyways. Don't worry about it."
I folded the towel and set it on the counter. "I just don't want to go in and find ten people there. I want a lot."
"It's not like were going to play guitars, y'know. We're making a statement. It doesn't matter how many people are there."
"True, true," I said. "I just want more people because it makes me happy."
"Sicko." He went back to the movie and I laughed.
Laughed and laughed and laughed.
I selected some clean clothes from my suitcase. I'd been wearing my clothes for two days and realized I needed to take a shower when Anne kept moving away from me on the couch.
I set my VCR aside, my notebook and homework and some small paintings I had done. I chose my clothes and almost shut my suitcase when I remembered the photos. I dug to the bottom of my suitcase and found the packet I put in there first so I wouldn't forget it.
Marker lines spelling 'JJ' labeled the letter sized manila envelope. The packet was fairly thick, about a half an inch. "Hey, Mom, do you want to see what she looks like."
Mom sat on the couch, reading a thick coverless romance novel instead of watching her chick movie that makes me and Gabriel cringe. Pitty leaned on Mom's leg, purring and rubbing her whiskers into her pants. She didn't watch the movie either. Mom's attention quickly shifted from her book to me.
"Yeah," Mom said, her interest peaking.
I pulled the photos from the envelope and handed them to her. She held the edge with her fingertips, a habit she picked up when she worked as a curator at the museum in Spokane. The top picture of Jennifer was a simple shot of her outside of Kennedy, her face lit by the sun. Her expression was tensely unemotional, like she wanted to stay and run. The next was of her walking down the hall, her eyes wide with flash bulb surprise. Others included her laughing, talking, walking, sitting in the TV room, eating dinner with me, Jim, Heather and Cameron, playing pool and so on.
Mom's expression remained unchanged from her book reading to photo browsing. She meant no offense by it; I doubt she knew she made me feel uncomfortable. The photos moved front to back in her hands, critical eyes searching every detail of Jennifer in the photos. I knew my mother very well, more than she knows. She was not impressed by Jennifer.
I said nothing. When I began to take everyone's advice and 'get over it', Jennifer became more and more normal to me. The beauty I saw leaked from my mind and I constantly questioned myself as to what I was thinking when I first saw her. Then I expelled all the beauty I saw in her when she turned on me. Jennifer was no one to me anymore.
Ha Ha. Not until two weeks ago.
Then came the photos of her and Rocky. Laughing with Rocky. Smiling with Rocky, holding Rocky. Never a dull moment with Rocky. Always happy with Rocky.
Rocky, Rocky, Rocky.
I shook my head, turned away and left the couch. "I'm taking a shower."
Mom's stare pressed hard on my back.
I sat at the table drying my hair. I tried to brush the darn thing straight by hanging it down the side of my neck and toward my knees as Anne had instructed, but knots formed anyways. Mom set the envelope down on the table and went behind me. She took the brush from my hand and relocated the direction of my hair. She rubbed my shoulder for a moment, then brushed.
Nothing had to be said.
"I don't know where you get those waves," she marveled again. Every time she braids or brushes my hair, she says that.
"Hmm," I mumbled. "Every since we used that hair relaxer, my hair has be stringy when it's wet. And I'm losing a lot of hair."
"You have so much, how can you tell?" I hate it when she says that.
"I don't want to use that relaxer ever again. My hair hasn't been the same since."
Mom successfully fought a tangle. "Did the Selsun Blue work on your hair?"
"Yeah, until I lost it in the showers."
"How'd you do that."
"I left it in there and forgot about it. The janitor must have thrown it away." I winced at Mom's specialized way of haircare. "I was too cheap to buy anymore."
Mom scowled and scratched the top of my head with her fingernail and said, "I noticed."
"I tried using conditioners," I continued," but they hardly work. My hair just gets more frizzly and I can't do anything with it."
"Oh boo hoo," Gabriel said from his upstairs room.
"Oh be quiet," I said.
"You guys..." Mom said.
"Boy, I freaked this one girl last September. She started playing with my hair when I was sitting at dinner with a bunch of friends. I could feel my hair being pulled on, kinda', and I turned around and gave her the Evil eye. She dropped my hair and put her hands up to her shoulders and said 'I'm sorry, it was just there.' She acted like I was going to hit her."
"I would have," Gabriel said from his room.
"I told her I didn't like anyone touching my hair."
I rolled my eyes. "You know who."
Mom braided my hair. Jennifer braided my hair once, on the day I left for Spring Break. I visited her during her work hours on that warm March Saturday. We talked and somehow my hair entered the conversation. She offered to braid it and I felt a large ray of Heaven fall upon me. Her soft novice fingers twisted my hair, delicately tugging at my scalp until a braid formed from her patience. She apologized for the shoddiness of her work, but the chills I received from the experience sent me to a higher state of being. I tried to keep her braid during the two days I traveled on the Greyhound until it unraveled in Butte. I cherished that braid long after it had separated.
I handed Mom my rubber band and she tied off my braid.
Anne caught me moving storage boxes of books from the living room corner by the wood stove. "Starting early?"
"Nope. Getting prepared." That made no sense. I cleared the front of the outlet and moved all the boxes and extra chairs and card table to my room. Anne helped me move the Soloflex machine. I vacuumed the floor. I dusted off the walls.
"How come you can't do that to the rest of the house," Mom asked, her arms folded in front of her.
Gabriel watched, perched from the top of the stairs.
Anne played with the end of her braid.
I stood back, fists on my hips, and looked at the bare spot in the corner. "Cool," I remarked. "It's ready for Friday."
Mom rolled her eyes and spun on her heels. "I'm going to bed," she said walking away.
"'Night," Anne, Gabriel and I said.
Anne yawned slightly and said, "I've got a date with the Sandman." She went upstairs to her room.
"'Night," Gabriel and I said.
"'Night," she said back.
I raised my eyebrows and shrugged to Gabriel who supported me with a steel smile. "You out for the rest of the week?"
"Cool." I scratched my head. "Know what's on the agenda tomorrow?"
"Hmmm..." I looked back to Gabriel to say something, but lost my thought when Gabriel looked out the window, his hand open, palm on the banister. His gaze sharpened, not on an object outside, but on a feeling.
The snow fell quietly outside, the wood crackled and hissed in the stove, David Letterman told his jokes.
"What?" I asked.
Gabriel took several moments to respond. "Someone's coming. Someone's coming home."
Damn that's spooky.
I stoked up the fires, set them so they would burn all night, turned off all the lights and went to my room. I dressed down for bed, climbed under my cold sheets, and turned off my light.
The phone rang.
"For crying out loud." I jumped out of bed and turned on the light. "Never a moments rest." I pretended to be cranky. I don't know why I do, I just like to.
I picked up the receiver mid-ring. "Hello?"
"Hi! I'm sorry to call so late."
"That's OK Who is this?"
There was a snicker on the other end. "Sorry, it's Jennifer."
"Oh!" My adrenaline jumped and I pinched myself. "Hi! 'Chuptoo?"
"Not much." Her standard reply. "'Ts pretty boring here."
"Hmmm...What're you doing now."
"Not much." Ohhhh kayyyy...
"Enough Jenn. Tell me what's on your mind."
Her breathing was all I heard for several moments. "Is your offer still good?"
She scoffed. "'What offer?' The one about going up there."
"To Montana. Turkey Day."
"Oh!" Dumbass. "Well, yeah! Of course."
"Coool." Uh huh. Aannd... "I might have to thumb it, though."
I scoffed. "How much do you need?"
We ironed out all the details, made plans to pick her up, then said goodnight. I returned to bed and then suddenly realized she was coming up here.
She was coming to spend Thanksgiving with me.
She was coming to spend Thanksgiving with me!
Oh, and my family too.
I went outside and laid in the snow.°
My fingers and legs were numb when I came in. I stood by the cackling stove until I could feel the exhausted carpet, then went to my room. I changed my clothes when I sensed two eyes watching me. On my bed lay Pitty, her long white tail tossed haphazardly on the blankets. She laid on her side, her chin resting on a fold. She stared at me, her eyes quiet and restful with a sense of indifference.
"Don't you even think of slobbering on my blankets." I sat down next to her, and scratched behind her left ear. She turned into my fingers, her internal motor beginning to hum in rhythm her breathing. She closed her eyes and thought of mice.
"I'm in deep shit." Pitty acted like she didn't hear me. "She's coming up. Once they find out, they're going to put on their best cleats and I'm going to have to drop my drawers. Rats." Pitty raised her head, her motor stalled for several seconds. "What am I going to do?" She sighed and closed her eyes. Mom, Anne and Gabriel explicitly said they did not want Jennifer up here for Thanksgiving, and I knew why. But Jennifer... But Jennifer...
But Jennifer what? Jennifer needed me. She lasted three weeks on the on dry dock and I was her anchor. Rocky was for a while, but he raised it and she drifted away for three months. More likely, she cut him off.
I said I trusted her to her face before I left, but that was a half truth. Now I had to tell my family Jennifer accepted my offer. I was not going to back down because I knew Jennifer.
All I had to do was come up with compelling arguments in her defense.
"You know," I started, knowing Pitty rolled her eyes," I just realized that Jenny, or Jennifer since you don't know her, had already planned the trip after she called me the first time."
Pitty looked at me quizzically.
"Well, check this out." I petted her along the length of her back. "She knew exactly how much she needed, and when she would arrive. You know what I think?" Pitty shook her head and tightened her paws. "Well, I'm going to tell you. I think she reserved her ticket before she called me because she knew that'd I'd help her. And I would've too. And I'm going to too." I looked down to Pitty. "Am I pathetic or what?"
"Not really," Pitty said.
"Either way, you're going in the porch."
I put her in the porch and much later I realized she talked. She never let me live that down.
Gabriel had just gotten out of the shower when I woke up. I stared at the slanted ceiling for awhile, picking out the details of the ambient snow lit wood. The microwave whirred in the kitchen. I yawned big, stretched my arms into the cooled room and drummed by stomach.
"Get up," Mom said. "Make some pancakes."
I checked my watch. Eight-thirty six. I had little time.
The kitchen felt like a basement. The oven sheltered me from shivers. I coughed on the powdered milk I spilled and mixed up the gooey batter. The pan heated up and the butter bubbled brown and hissed during its solid death. The batter spread in a circle and solidified around the edges. Everything comes full circle. I can't remember where I heard that quote, but it must be true. Despite the fact we are not committed to each other, I felt guilty of my secrets, like I had broken some sort of trust, even though she didn't feel guilty keeping them from me. Now she decided to stay here for Thanksgiving and she could very well learn more about me than she ever dreamed or expected.
"Boo," Gabriel said plainly.
I dropped the spatula. "Christ!"
"Tense are we?"
He made himself a jar of tea. I wanted to tell him about Jennifer before I finished with the pancakes or before he finished microwaving his jar of water and put a Lipton teabag in it. He told me not to be distracted by the thought of her at the Wooden Nickel, but what now since I promised to bring her up for Thanksgiving dinner?
I piled twelve pancakes on a serving plate, four for each of us, but I didn't feel like eating. Mom buttered her flapjacks and covered them with her natural maple syrup. She tightened the tie of her robe and sat at the table. Anne fixed her coffee and Gabriel steeped his tea until it turned a dark red.
I fixed the fire to burn hot and recharge the house. More snow sat on the sills of the windows and the tree's branches indignantly hung under the weight. The clouds traveled west and the sun peeked over the hill.
I sat on the chair with a single creak and placed my hands on the table. I scratched my head, sighed and picked some lint off my pants, hemmed, hawed, smelled the Folgers percolating, thought of full circles and how my pancakes never did seem to get to be perfectly round...
"Oh my God," Mom said slowly, lowering her fork. I looked behind me to see what caught her interest but the dusty curtains were closed and nothing moved since last night. I turned back to Mom and she was staring right at me. "Tell me you didn't."
I waited too long. I found some large white lint on my pants. "Um, well..."
Anne came out of the kitchen. "What?"
"Tell me you didn't."
"Um, I kinda' told Jennifer she could come up for Thanksgiving."
"What?!" Gabriel stormed out of the kitchen. "What? I didn't hear you good the first time. What was it you really said?"
"You don't need a Miracle Ear. Let me explain..."
"Goddamnit," Mom said. "We told you not to bring her up here. You'll disrupt everything."
"I know but..."
"Don't you remember the Owl?" Anne added. "She's not a Player. She a girl with a drinking problem. Strike one with her requirements."
"Let her go!" Gabriel said. "What part of that is a little fuzzy to you? She may be a cool person, but she's not going to help. You have enough feelings about this, you don't need to add another." They surrounded me with their bodies and explanations. All of them made fists as they talked, trembling with each word. Gabriel even started sweating. "She's a liability. Call her back, tell her she can't come, " and Gabriel spread his fingers in front of his face, "and do the hand thing I suggested."
"Are you guys going to let me talk?"
"You're not inviting anyone else are you?" Mom asked.
"No, I just want to present my case." They stepped back and I shifted in my seat. "I know you guys said to leave her in New Mexico. But I asked her before I came up and last night she said she changed her mind. I told her, no, promised her, I'd fly her up."
"Was it a Commandment?" Anne asked crossing her arms.
"Tell her you're sorry then."
"Why are you guys so scared of her?"
They glanced at each other. "We're not scared," Gabriel said. "We've been planning this whole affair at your request. Briggs has been antsy about future involvement. He knows all about the Owl and know it's because our focus blurred."
"She scares you."
"Knock it off," Mom said. Rats. "We're stating fact. You can get her into a lot of trouble if you bring her here."
"She's going to find out sooner or later," I said. "Ann-Ann said it to me last night. I can't keep things from her. Gabriel said last night he wanted to meet her. And you said that I was trying to be a friend. I can't be much of a friend at a long distance." At this point, I had to lay sympathy on thick. "She needs me."
"She's as old as Anne."
"And I have my Associates Degree in Linguistics."
I sat back in my chair and pushed and pulled the skin on my face. "I want her to come up. I promised."
"That's not good enough."
"She has to know. If she doesn't like it, then we all will have to let her go."
"Now this is interesting," Gabriel said, shaking his index finger. "Do you think you're willing to finally say goodbye to her if she doesn't like it here?"
"My back would be against the wall," I said. "You've all said that I should have rejected her for rejecting me and lying to me." I looked Gabriel square in the eye. The fire crackled and snipped, echoing up the length of the black stovepipe. I could smell the snow through the doors. "I can do it. Just get me angry enough."
"Getting you angry won't be a problem," Gabriel said. "But you said it yourself. You're a sentimental fool." He leaned close to me. His brown iris muscles twitched and his brows peaked higher than Bela Lugosi's hairline. Arm and Hammer baking soda toothpaste lingered on his breath. He grinned. "I have a confession to make." Mom and Anne looked at each other and then at us. "I said last night I felt someone was coming home. I think it's her." Gabriel laughed, shook his head and walked back to the kitchen and said over his back, "Screw it, I vote to let her come and see what happens."
Mom squinted her eyes at me. She handed me her pancakes. "Warm these up for me." Mom put on her glasses and continued to read.
Anne looked to Mom and Gabriel, spreading her heads to the sides of her waist and said, "That's it? Don't we get to slam the idea some more?" No one answered. "Darnit." She put her hands on her hips. "Looks like I'm another victim of the status quo." She turned to her pancakes.
I reheated Mom's pancakes and placed them by her elbow. She thanked me and added, "No more surprises."