At first the words were just sounds to Lilah’s ears, but by the time they had meaning, the song’s rhythm was locked in her cells, in her heartbeat.
Right outside the frosted window of Lilah’s bedroom, Papa chopped the wood. Each “huh!” was the jolt of the axe tearing through log after log. Lilah, in her crib cage, felt the bed shake and shiver.
When nap time was over, Mama came to lift Lilah out of the bars, up into a warm hug smelling of apples and spearmint gum. Mama with her big white smile and her rough red hands.
“Take this hammer–huh! Give it to the captain–huh!” Lilah sang along when she was rolling scraps of bread dough into snakes. She was a big girl now, too big for naps. She knew to stay away from the black stove that swallowed those chunks of wood. She had a wrinkled scar on her hand to remind her.
One day even later, Lilah came home from school. Mama met her with a bright light in her eyes. A surprise. A phonograph.
Papa put the black vinyl record on the turntable and set the needle arm at the edge. There was a whisper and a scratching noise, and then a guitar and a man singing about the Rock Island Line, it is a mighty good road. Papa grabbed Mama and they did a cramped Lindy Hop around the kitchen. Lilah clapped her hands.
The song faded into the scratchy whisper and then a strange man’s voice began singing,
Take this hammer-
Give it to the captain
Lilah put her hands up to stop the sound, to stop that man.
“That’s Papa’s song! That’s my papa’s song!”
She pushed the metal arm. It made a terrible shriek and line appeared across the flat black circle.
Mama and Papa stared at her, still as statues, while the metal arm, caught in the center, went click, click, click.
This piece is from my archives, but I’m enjoying it again.
After Jake dumped me, I signed up for hatha yoga classes. I figured I needed to do some deep breathing and stretching. Maybe I’d even meet a single yoga guy and we could do pranayama and who knows what else together.
By the third week of yoga, I knew the routine. I had my own purple mat and my favorite place in the back corner. On the third Thursday, I spread out my mat in my spot. I put my glasses carefully in my carry bag. Then, following others’ examples, I lay down and stretched.
We began with a short invocation and then some breathing exercises. When I opened my eyes after the pranayama, I looked to my right and my heart lurched. Jake Murray was sitting one row and two spots away. Without my glasses, I stared at his back. That certainly was the bulky, teddy-bear body I knew so well. His curly brown hair wreathed the bald spot on his head. If I squinted my eyes, I could see the black hair on the back of his neck that I’d touched only three weeks ago.
Jake! What was he doing in my yoga class? What a lot of nerve! Wasn’t it enough that he was constantly in my mind? Now he had to show up in my yoga class, the class that I chose to help me get over him.
I hyperventilated remembering that day I waited for him to call. We had planned to go for a hike together before his conference in Rhode Island. I waited all morning and then finally I called and left a message. It was a casual message, a message I rehearsed several times so that it would sound light and unconcerned, like I had plenty of other things to do than sit around pining for his company. “Hey, I thought we were going hiking today. Give me a call.”
To my shame and fury, I did wait around all day. Waited and wondered and imagined. Well, he’s a doctor, maybe he had an emergency. Not likely, since Jake had told me that Dr. Bill was on emergency call this weekend. But you never know with doctors, right? The phone only rang twice that Sunday, and neither call was for me.
When I was in bed that night, the phone did ring and it was Jake. “I ran into Barbara at a restaurant,” he said. “We decided to give it another try.”
I stopped breathing for a moment while my brain replayed the words. Then I said, “That doesn’t feel very good.”
“No, it doesn’t.” he said. “I’m sorry.”
“Goodbye, then,” I said, and pushed the END button.
I called my best friend and cried.
“What a chicken-shit, doing it on the phone,” she said. We lambasted him for a good half hour. She was on my side, and it helped–a little. Still, I wept myself to sleep, feeling worthless and unloved.
During the following weeks, I kept busy after work. I raked out dead leaves and planted more perennials. I even started a new flowerbed in the back yard. My teenaged kids called it “Dr. Murray’s grave.” That made me laugh. Yet every time I shopped in the supermarket, I feared that I might bump into him.
And now here he was invading my yoga class. What will I say to him? I wondered. Or should I just ignore him? No, that’s too childish. I can’t pretend he’s not here. I must be calm and mature.
“Oh, hello Jake. How are you?”
“Hello, Jake. Do you like the class?” Maybe a simple, neutral statement was best. But wait, questions were a bad idea. Asking him a question would force us into a conversation. I didn’t want to talk to him. Did I?
While we moved through the poses of salute to the sun, I glared at Jake’s back. I was hot with fury at his presumption in showing up at my yoga class. This was another one of God‘s weird jokes. Or maybe it was a spiritual test, to see if I could remain detached and calm in this unwelcome encounter. I peeked at him doing the postures. He was lousy. He couldn’t touch his toes at all. His belly got in the way when he tried to grab his ankles.
As if reading my mind, Beth, the teacher, said, “Remember that this is your yoga, not anyone else’s.”
For a moment, I felt guilty. But only for a moment. Then my petty, picky monkey mind resumed its gleeful chatter. Ha! You fatty, you can’t do yoga. Shut up, that’s mean, I scolded myself, but the enjoyment of his ineptitude remained like a tiny, tickling flame. Hee hee hee, look at that slob, he is sweating like a pig and this is the easy stuff.
When the class was almost over, I finally decided to be friendly and breezy, “Oh, hi Jake. Great class, yeah? Got to run, bye.” Something like that.
He was the only boy in high school that I wanted. He was the star of the class of ’69. He played tennis in his white shorts. He played varsity football. He was in all the Advanced Placement classes. (So was I.) But he thought fast and critically and spoke up a lot. I rarely said anything. It was still the days when boys ruled classroom discussions.
I wanted his attention from ninth grade through twelfth. I wanted this rising star to want me by his side. He was broad-shouldered, dark of skin with dark brown hair. He was hairy. He was student body president. Of course.
Whenever he was near, I talked louder and laughed more. He appeared not to notice, but, knowing the way high school society works, I bet people told him I “liked” him. He liked the slim girl with the thick, long blonde hair. She was also in the A.P. classes. She had a wide smile, a sprinkling of freckles and was quiet but smart. She became a flag girl. I was friendly to her because it brought me closer to him.
And then in my senior year, my mother’s cancer and the treatments forced her to stay home. The high school grapevine probably passed that news around as well. My seventh-period teacher often let me go home early. On the way home, I’d sometimes walk by his house. I don’t think I was much help at home that year. I did do the grocery shopping. I did cook–sometimes. Mostly I nursed my crush, played the guitar, and listened to Donovan records in my room.
But sometime before graduation, he called and asked me out. After accepting quietly with great self-control, I hung up the phone and shrieked, “Daddy! He asked me out!”
The date was for a show at the L.A. Music Center. I can’t remember what performance it was, a play or a concert. I fussed about what to wear, but I don’t remember what I wore either. I know that my father waited up for me, and when The Crush walked me to my door and we paused at the top of the stairs, my father turned on the porch light and opened the door. So much for my longed-for good night kiss.
When I look back on that evening, I believe it was a pity date. I imagine his mother saying, “Your father is too busy, and we have these tickets. Why don’t you take Kim? She’s having a hard time right now. I’m sure she’d like to get out of the house for a while.” It speaks to his kindness that he asked.
The summer before college, I went to summer school at U.C. Santa Cruz. I took to wearing Mexican blouses with no bra, and ragged bell-bottom jeans. Let my hair go curly-frizzy. When I came home in August, he called me. Or maybe I called him? I went to his house, and we made out on the basement sofa. He was a lousy kisser (by now I had some basis for comparison). All spit and sloppy lips. And when I wouldn’t go further, he complained about blue balls and how uncomfortable he was.
In the fall, I went to U.C. Irvine. My mother died in November.
He went to Harvard. Got a law degree like his dad. I knew he stayed on the East Coast, but just last week, I googled him.
He never practiced law. He wrote a book or more, and he writes a blog of political commentary. He went bald. And he voted for Trump in 2016. I’m still affronted. How could I have had a crush on someone who would vote for Trump?