Midnight Moon – “Blockhead” Part I

“Blockhead”

Music: “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge, “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, “Cherry Bomb” by the Runaways, “Knock on Wood” by Eddie Floyd

Birth
Sunday, January 28, 1979

Rebecca Thomas Dunne was in a decidedly bad mood.

She’d had a backache the entire week previous, and her husband Griffin had been a total asshole about everything. What she truly wanted was an ice pack and a foot rub. Instead, what she received was reproach in the name of breakfast–poached eggs to be precise. Rebecca just could not get them right this morning. Griffin was unhappy, as he had been for the past six months.

“Para el Amor del Dios,” Rebecca muttered in her native language as Griffin stormed the kitchen petulantly.

“Dammit, Rebecca,” Griffin griped. “It’s the only thing I ask—that you give me fairly adequate meals.” He shoved his plate aside. “As it is, I’m late for my tennis match. I’ll never hear the end of it.”

Too tired to argue, Rebecca sighed and muttered something about making him something different. He huffed and refused her offer, leaving without his coveted breakfast.

The door slammed, shaking the house. She was left with Sister Sledge singing their sibling empowerment anthem on the LP and a growing sense of ineffectuality. She had never felt so low in her life.

Then, without any warning, she found herself standing in a puddle of liquid.

“Shit,” Rebecca found herself saying. Then, mortified that she had sworn so viciously, she covered her face. “Did I just say that?” Another contraction buckled her and her focus was shifted as she clutched her belly. “Oh wow. I’ve gotta call Irene.” Not once did she think about calling Griffin. This labor business had already started off badly.

She hoped the child came out all right or she would never forgive herself.

Of course, several hours later, the child dubbed Samantha Brittany came out angrily–and when she was cradled in her father’s dubious arms (Elizabeth and Irene suspected he was merely there because the tennis courts didn’t have reliable lighting at night and he had nothing else better to do), she screeched like a wild monkey trapped in gilt.

That probably should have been a warning. Oh well.

Childhood
1987

Being Jennifer’s big sister dominated Samantha’s early years. Jennifer had come along a little less than eighteen months after Samantha, and she was softer, kinder, and gentler than her predecessor. At first, she followed Samantha like a shadow, mimicking anything she did. It was empowering to have a permanent copycat, and thus was the state to which Samantha had become accustomed. However, as Jennifer grew up, and the sisters started socializing outward (particularly with their cousins—Irene’s daughters), she had begun to change. She preferred Barbies and My Little Pony to the jungle gym. She took pride in her E-Z-Bake and her gang of Cabbage Patch dolls.

To Samantha, that posed a bit of a problem.

Samantha, perhaps molded by those early moments in her mother’s womb, hated anything frilly or domestic. She had more scabs and scars than hair bows. And the word dress made her break out into hives all over. Nowadays Jennifer wore them all the time!

Ack! Gag her with a spoon! She couldn’t stand it.

It was a rainy Saturday morning, and Rebecca was depositing Samantha and Jennifer with her older sister so that she could take care of some important business. Samantha and Jennifer were too young to understand what was going on, and Rebecca didn’t have the heart to tell them about the impending breakup of their parents. If she had been more frank, she would have found that her girls would have been more acceptant of the severance.

Samantha used to enjoy being at her Aunt Irene’s house. She was a fan of the bigger space and of the camaraderie she shared with her female cousins, particularly Jessica and to a lesser degree her little sisters. Well, except one.

Irene had set the girls up in the living room while she did some work on a criminal case in the other room. The girls (their brother Eric was over a friend’s house for the weekend) were fairly self-sufficient, especially with Jessica supervising. Jessica was not a pushover, but she was hardly a tyrant either. Samantha admired her older cousin and hope that she grew up exuding that same amount of power.

It was nearing nine that morning. Irene had produced a sizable amount of pancakes, eggs, and bacon for the girls to consume, and then let them loose to watch some TV. Jessica had originally wanted to watch the VHS of Wildcats (Irene knew nothing of this, however) and no one had openly protested.

That is, until someone had turned it on Muppet Babies, and Samantha felt her heart sink.

Jessica, not quite eleven, sighed in exasperation as she tucked her legs under her on the couch. “Muppet Babies? Really?” She looked over the rumpled masses like an irritated general. “All right, pipsqueaks—who turned it on the Muppet Babies?

There was a chorus of juvenile denials. Jessica groaned and waved a hand. The voices stopped.

Suddenly, the tallest of Jessica’s little sisters stood and spoke.

I turned it on Muppet Babies,” announced Daniella Thomas defiantly.

Samantha rolled her eyes. She didn’t like her cousin Danie, with her hair flips and bright nail polish and fluorescent hair scrunchies that somehow ended up at the Dunne house and in her way. But even more—and she would not understand this until she was much older—she didn’t like Danie because she was stealing her baby sister away.

Jessica’s reaction was much like Samantha’s would have been. “You little brat! No one wants to watch that.”

Jennifer fidgeted. “Actually, I—”

“Maybe we should pick something that everyone can enjoy,” Moira-Selene offered, being the eternal peacemaker.

“I think everyone would enjoy the Muppet Babies!” Danie countered.

“I personally wanted to watch PBS,” nine-year-old Claudia-Michelle revealed, flipping through her music maestro book.

Danie rolled her eyes. “You’re such a bore, Claudia-Michelle.”

“Better than being an idiot,” Claudia-Michelle shot back. Danie’s eyes widened then narrowed. Samantha snickered. Claudia-Michelle, even though she was a bit too prim (especially in her lace-trimmed pajamas), had some redeeming moments as well.

“Hey!” Jessica exclaimed. Everyone went quiet again. “We’re gonna watch the movie. Anyone who doesn’t want to watch can go play somewhere else.”

Danie gave a defiant hair toss. “Well I am playing somewhere else. I have a makeup session with Barbie. Anyone else want to come be beautiful with me?”

“Go away, Danie,” Samantha snapped. “You’re just being a show-off. No one wants to play with your stupid girly toy.”

In her French braid and long-sleeved PJs barely hiding her surgery scar, Moira-Selene sighed. “Danie… Sam…”

“You don’t want to play with it,” Danie said, “but Jennifer does.” With smugness in her eyes, she turned to look at Jennifer, who fidgeted in her place as if she had shot J.R.

Samantha gazed at her little sister, cornflower blue stare intense. “Well? What are you gonna do?”

Pause. “I want to play with the makeup,” Jennifer said softly. The smug satisfaction on Danie’s face was enough to turn Samantha’s stomach. Guiltily, Jennifer bit her lip and followed Danie out of the room.

As Samantha watched the opening credits of Wildcats, fuming, little Gretchen Thomas plopped down next to her.

Gretchen was the youngest of her cousins. She had been attached to Jessica much like Jennifer had been attached to her. Jessica, however, was six years older than Gretchen, so the attachment was slightly awkward and short-lived. Jessica had found better entertainment than hanging out with her four-year-old sister.

“You know,” Gretchen began, pigtails swinging, “she is my sister but I really don’t like her.”

Samantha, a little surprised, looked at the little girl sidelong. Gretchen, big green eyes filled with boldness, stared back. After a moment, she leaned as if sharing a secret.

“I know where Eric keeps his spiders,” Gretchen whispered, eyes twinkling with evil. “We could put one in her bed.”

She was small, but she had spunk.

Samantha’s mouth twisted into a grin. She would do. Yeah, she would definitely do.

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Midnight Moon – “The Middle” Part I

“The Middle”

Do you believe in miracles? I do.

I entered the world small and barely breathing during an early September afternoon. And with a companion, too: my twin sister, triumphant and vibrant with life.

So happy my parents were with their bounty: a set of twins! However, Fortune frowned upon them and rendered me deformed. No, not in a way that made people stare shamelessly. No—this dysfunction was steeped in subtlety. It existed inside of me.

I nearly died numerous times before my first birthday. The left ventricle of my heart never formed correctly—a condition called hypoplastic left heart syndrome; infants endure procedure after procedure before they can lift their heads, aided by the oracle of technology. Back then, such boons were not available, and the news descended from doctors’ mouths like an atom bomb.

When I flash back to the moment the stalwart Dr. Gregory Armstrong stood wearily before my shaken parents, surgical cap in his hands, my parents’ solidarity jumps out at me. Hands are linked, bodies are close. You would never know that two years later, my father would have resumed the affair that spawned three children with another woman. Thinking of that makes me wistful.

“If she doesn’t have surgery,” Dr. Armstrong informed them, “she will die. Her heart is severely malformed, and it will be a miracle if she lives past a month of age without swift action.”

My mother attempted to swallow her tears but could not. She broke down into heart-aching sobs. The thought of her precious daughter dying…inconceivable. My father nodded resolutely and told Dr. Armstrong to do everything in his power to save me.

* * *

I stand in the gallery of Audbone Heights Medical Center while a long-haired (in a surgical cap, mind you) and focused Gregory Armstrong amends my inauspicious heart with the Norwood procedure, which, at the time was fairly new. My father, versed in the discipline but sobered by the sight of his own child under the knife, observes. My little body appears blue and pitiful under the illumination. I cannot watch for long.

Later on, I hover a moment over myself in recovery. I brush a finger over my newborn fist, wishing I could feel my own skin. As a rule, I never get to touch my past, just to observe.

* * *

The plate flies over my head and shatters against a wall. Luckily I am a mere shade in this scene so the possibility of getting maimed remains low.

It is 1988. My mother carries my little sister Gretchen on her hip to her seat while the rest of us cower at the dinner table, listening to my parents argue. I didn’t know then what the pictures in my head meant, only that they scared me. My mind foretold my hospitalization, but how could I verbalize this? Outside of the family, others believed I was odd, despite Jessica and Claudia-Michelle’s fervent defense.

“I know you’ve been with her, Robert!” my mother exclaimed, banging a pot of pasta. “I can smell her on your breath.”

“How dare you accuse me of being unfaithful without any proof, Irene?” my father demanded. “It’s not my fault if you’re feeling insecure.”

At the sound of metal hitting metal, six-year-old Gretchen jumped. Danie frowned into her spaghetti. Jessica tried to calm her, bolstering the rest of us. Eric sat red-faced, inwardly cursing his parents for not being nice to one another.

But Claudia-Michelle. She’s staring at me.

With the dubious pleasure of hindsight, I now understand not only the development of myself but also that of my sisters and brother. Jessica formed into the tough tomboy because she had a great deal to protect and Eric felt, being the only boy, he had to be as tough as she was; Claudia-Michelle, gentle and sophisticated (and fierce when circumstance allowed), learned to appreciate the brief beauty of things in life and the care and respect they required. Danie refused to be lumped with her sickly twin and flourished with her vitality. Gretchen struggled with the awkwardness the inattention brought. My life impacted all of theirs; many a night there were with them bouncing around in a waiting room for me.

My seven-year-old face hurts to take in; inside of me, my heart fought to pump as infection started to overtake it. My glassy eyes fluttered with the effort to stay conscious.

Claudia-Michelle rose to her feet. “Mama!” she yelled, voice hoarse with fear and urgency.

The scene blurs; Mama rushed into the room just as my seven-year-old self collapsed into Claudia-Michelle’s arms. I can barely see past the tears before I close my eyes and move on.

* * *

Later on, Dr. Armstrong faced my parents (less than united) about my newest problem. I had an infection of my heart, and the shunt was becoming ineffective. There existed two options: transplant or death.

My father threw his hands up in frustration. I press my lips together, trying not to be angry when he suggested that the transplant is too much of a long shot. He worked in the profession, watching as hope failed for transplant patients and they died without a new organ. His assertion is steeped in reason, in logic.

“No,” Mama disagreed, eyes damp but voice firm. “We will manage. Get m’ija a new heart, Greg. She hasn’t come this far to fail now.”

Dr. Armstrong, that bullish giant with the gentle hands, nodded. He wasn’t merely interested in the positive stats and the good press; he genuinely wanted me to pull through. I believe if my parents had disagreed with the transplant option he would’ve placed me on the list himself.

“I am glad we both agree,” Dr. Armstrong said quietly. However, there resonated a bit of reproach for my father. A little amusing from this end.

* * *

Oh yes. I can’t leave out the heart. It has a story of its own.

The donor had been a vibrant ten-year-old girl who had died in a tragic car accident while visiting family in New York. Her name was Ella, and she lived in a suburb in Pittsburgh with her two sisters, mother and father. She played softball and loved Mark-Paul Gosselaar. Her health was exquisite, and her blood type matched mine. And the heart? The atria and ventricles were perfect, like they had been carved by gods while the embryo flourished inside of her mother.

I’ve visited Ella several times. She was lovely, a precocious redhead that reminds me of Jessica. She had freckles that she hated and blue eyes inherited from her mother. I am not so egotistical that I believe I deserved her heart. Every time, whether she’s sighing over Zack Morris’s smile on the TV screen, catching her breath after clearing home plate, or fighting for her life in an ambulance going at light speed, I thank her for the gift. She will not be disappointed.

The Month of Cake

I apologize for my lack of updates this week. It’s been a little bit stressful at work. To have gainful employment I am convinced is assured hair-pulling. But oh well. Thankful for the work, always! I am also dealing with the birthdays of three members of my five-member family. Well, eight members technically when you add in fictive kin. So January I have dubbed the Month of Cake, though this year so far I have not bought a cake yet. But the month is still young!

Here’s to birthdays! Today’s my older sister’s, and she’s…what? Did you think I was going to tell you? 😉

 

Poetry Corner – “Nine”

My baby brother is autistic.

It’s not something I readily admit to people.  He’s a wonderful little boy despite it–aren’t they all, and the little girls, too–and I try not to let that color my perception of him. I remember the day, the moment he came into his world. This month, four days before my mama’s birthday, he turns nine. My world would not be the same without him, and for that, even with its hardships I am thankful.

I want to watch him grow and be taller than me.

“Nine”

For the Midget

The air displaced–it knew, right before the vibration–
The little one is coming, and you should come, too–
And bear witness to Life entering the room,
As deja vu comes over you; yes, we sisters three
Traveled the same path to light and sound
Where shrouded in Mother we could not partake;
And now he enters, an early gift, this child of ours.

And that poor little face, marred by skin sucked dry
Still handsome in our eyes, our precious boy;
Cognizant were we to the milestones of being,
Tiny fingers grasping tight, edentulous smiles
Accompanied by sweet giggles, cooing like music;
From roving hands to sturdy legs we watched him move
Mirth sparkling from his dark eyes
But his words, incomprehensible.

Wait–we said, hope in our hearts
Until the consensus was made: Something is not right;
Objects of play lined up with startling efficiency
And garbled language incited alarm–
Fear took over, and I would be remiss if I denied it;
Knowing presents a remarkable weapon
And to deny this special child–a heinous crime.

But his heart, that little thumping organ
Bigger seemingly in figurative terms;
Taking up the spoon, making sure the smaller one ate
Ruthlessly, forgetting himself and his own appetite
Until presented with a notebook, a blank canvas;
He colored till his fingers stained
Only to pause to ask us, How was your day?

Out in the world is he now, with others his own size,
Lining up to have a work of art fashioned in his hand
With depth and splashes of color that belie his age;
He meets me at the door with tiny arms outstretched
And reads a short tale from a hand-made book;
How far he’s come, I muse, our little man
And further he’ll go, us propelling his burgeoning wings.

Poetry Corner – “Lonely Girl”

“Lonely Girl”

Materialize they do, the stars
On your ceiling tonight
Live vicariously, no harm
Through them to shine so bright
Whatever the whiteness becomes
Taking form as your heart thrums

This is how lonely girls take their fun

Out the window paradise looms
Hues more vivid than ever met the eye
Imagination is a cherished boon!
Never in reality would this have been right
Ill-met in translation of this land

Making the others understand
Leads the outsiders to disband

And rueful this may seem
A solitary adventure of one
One girl’s hell is another’s dream
Depending on how the tale is spun
So when she weaves a tale for your mind
Take the time–realize!
What you perceive may be most entwined.

Poetry Corner – “Dictionary”

“Dictionary”

You scratch your head
As if you’ve never seen
The likes of me
I’m something
Worthy of study
In classrooms
Across the country

I’ve got a strange swagger
That men and toads
Have all
But when I speak
My diction seems
Like fiction
A tongue that you
Have never heard
Before

I transcend meaning
Beyond your understanding
Is where I reside
There are so many words
That have fallen
From your vocabulary
Your concept of me
Is out in space

I am incomparable
There is
No precedent for me
In imitation
No one has tried
To flatter me
And don’t try
You’ll come up short

I am undefined
And if you try
You cannot find
Me in your dictionary
You cannot pin
A name on me
I’m a moving target
With no visage
Unknown assailant
Here without warning
I am unrestricted
You cannot find
Me in your dictionary

Poetry Corner – “Story of My Life”

“Story of My Life”

I’ve got no fairy godmother to light my way
No glass slipper to fit upon my foot
To find me some prince charming
That is not as charming as he seems
I’ve got no gilded forest with chirping birds
No theme song filled with pretty imagery
That gets stuck in my head when I’m unhappy

I wake up and close the book
Can’t be the princess sleeping her life away
Once upon a time I bid adieu
Because the story of my life is through
The story that’s full of pretenses
Oh no, I can’t continue this story anymore

I’ve no need for a wicked witch to mess with me
I’m having too much trouble with reality
I can’t spend my time to wonder where
Have all those charming princes fled
I can’t waste time looking for a crowned head
Because through my life I have learned
Royal or common, men are bred the same

I wake up and close the book
Can’t be the princess sleeping her life away
Once upon a time I bid adieu
Because the story of my life is through
The story that’s full of pretenses
Oh no, I can’t continue this story anymore

I’m through with thinking that
The magic is worth something
I’m going to get my own ride
And not wait around for a magic pumpkin
To whisk me away to paradise
Where the story of my life begins

Oh no, I’ve no need for happily ever after
My life begins wherever I set my feet
You don’t need to fade out on me
Waving goodbye on a majestic steed
Because I’d rather have that open ending