Monthly Archives: October 2012

A World Without Social Media

Seven Pillars by Eva Domschot © 2012

This is the place where stones sing in their spiritual houses.

On Sunday, we woke early to attend church. In fact, we didn’t merely attend. My husband read a sermon from the pulpit because we’ve recently lost our pastor to Florida’s more sophisticated medical system. Our pastor handed in his retirement–which he had planned to do, anyway, albeit not under the dire circumstances of a life-threatening illness. Therefore, my husband, being one of a few men left in church, was enlisted to choose from a stack of published Lutheran sermons to read in the midst of the liturgical service.

He chose a sermon on the building of spiritual houses. It seemed a little too apropos for our small body of believers, a group that has shrunk drastically over the past several years due to its members moving away. With approximately twenty-three adults and six children left, we may, indeed, dwindle into an ethereal concept that once met in a church building.

However, I don’t wish to dwell on negativity and loss. Spiritual houses aren’t impervious to the fluctuations of the physical world, but they are certainly less prone to shifting when a cornerstone provides a strong foundation, as well as a reference point for the other stones built into the structure.

The day, itself–Sunday–built its own walls as though it were a spiritual house, one beginning with a roof and no set foundation. Time and space are inextricably linked, creating a foundation for something, in any case. The physical is interwoven with the spiritual, even if we don’t understand exactly how this tight mesh is bonded. I have no intention of mixing metaphors; a decorator has covered the stone walls of Sunday with woven banners. This requires a sole image and no mixing of thought.

The day began with a roof on a chilly fall morning. We sat under the roof of the sanctuary, speaking liturgical words and singing hymns to the organ, and then we sat under the roof of the fellowship hall, where we sipped coffee. Next, we offered a lift home to a church friend; we entered her (and her husband’s) domain so my husband could check out a broken door in need of repair. Meanwhile, the children and I studied magazines and nicknacks and books. Our friends’ house is one of puzzles, fairies and cats, and shelves of books that would give any bookworm a case of the delirious chomps.

Our friend loaned me a memoir about an Oregon family who, one summer, bicycled across Canada. Gratefully, I held the book close in the crook of my arm, knowing it could easily be the kind of memoir I love.

Family and I drove home, under the roof of our car, then entered under our own red roof, under the blue sky. And we ate avacados and other delicacies, and we allowed the house its disarray. I disappeared in my room to read the memoir, but before I’d finished a page, I fell asleep and dreamed that I didn’t have the proper license for fishing and would have to watch as others let down their hooks into the placid waters while I stood by, my lone figure a scrawny child, ageless and pale. I was a pathetic child in life and dreams; I really was. I woke up with my head missing.

The roof blew off–was it at that moment? The roof disappeared, leaving a sky overhead and walls of sliding dirt and stones, of cactus and mesquite, of wild fall flowers blazing in violet verbena, marigolds, orange mallows–all backed up against the desert mountain. Husband and I walked deliriously up to the seven pillars, a quarried place, the dog in a heavenly house where rabbits ran pellmell through the brush. Then we ran, scrabbling down, down, back to our house.

Under the red roof, head restored, I, in a tangible fashion, made tortillas on my press and cleared the house of clutter. If others have domains of fairies and cats and books, I own a mental world whose clutter is so eclectic and bizarrely shaped that I need an outer one that maintains an orderly distance.

And so the spirit house ended with beans and chile and fresh tortillas grilled in a substantial cast iron skillet.

****

But the house with the fairies and books and cats and puzzles is only part of the whole. Remove the roof, discover stone slabs where rocks sit, piles of them, singing and waiting to be set into houses. A hoard of them crack and pop–insubstantial until somebody breaks a tooth on one.

In the center of a slab bench, a seat waits in the middle of two piles of rocks. Sort them, discover their unique shapes, where they might fit, but leave them undisturbed because this is the place where stones sing in their spiritual houses.

A bent tree (I hear it). A patch of shrivelled vines (I know that song). A triangle of grass breathing a different air in the midst of a city where others dwell (I’ve heard it, but have yet to learn it).

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Part V: Oso’s Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Men who demand obedience ought to be disobeyed on principle. After thirteen years—more or less—with Oso, I fully understood this. If I were his therapist, or thought it was my place to pretend such a profession, I would advise him to lend a hand to others rather than expecting others’ hands always to do for him. In case you’ve misconstrued my previous statement, let me clarify: Whatever adjective you might apply to my arrogant prick of a man, laziness doesn’t fit. No, Oso has always had a focus problem, not a laziness one. His work focuses on himself—how Oso can make money; how Oso can keep command of himself and others; how Oso propagates himself in the world.

He asked me to marry him the other week. Thirteen years and three children since our fateful meeting in the supermarket, and he finally asked the question. How could I say yes? How could I live with a man whose name hid inside the adjective overbearing? If you’re weary of these jokes, imagine how much more weary of them Oso is, and then imagine how often I secretly apply them to him.

He couldn’t put me off for thirteen years and then expect immediate elation on my part. Yes, actually, he could. When I failed to comply with his expectation, he demanded we attend couples counseling, and I obeyed, even though the principle required the opposite reaction. That was how I found myself sitting in front of a man with an intelligence quotient twenty points lower than either Oso’s or mine, squirming in my chair and wishing I could flee from the room. Oso was sitting closest to the door (squirming in his chair, too), and I feared he would catch me on my way out. He had the reflexes of an animal.

Last week, Oso and I argued through the entire first session over who was the one who didn’t want to marry whom all these years—Oso insisted I was the one who needed my own space, to which I insisted I would have preferred having my own office in our shared married abode. The counselor sent us away with an assignment to write a list of ten things we loved about each other and, conversely, a list of ten things we hated about each other. It seemed an assignment that could ruin any functioning relationship, but what did I know? This week, I stared at Oso’s scribbles in disgust.

Loves: 1. Doesn’t have chicken legs Good mother; 2. Needs me; 3. Easy to talk to; 4. Gives me space; 5. Cooks my favorite lentil dish better than the Indian buffet; 6. Pays her own bills; 7. Doesn’t enjoy spending money; 8. Intelligent. He didn’t make it to ten.

Hates: 1. Intelligent (Huh? Obviously he was undecided about that point); 2. Dresses like she’s fifty. It’s impossible to tell she doesn’t have chicken legs unless I pull off her baggy pants, which is difficult because we don’t spend much time together; 3. Doesn’t ever tell me she loves me; 4. Doesn’t ever tell me she needs me, even when she does; 5. Doesn’t show her feelings, and I never know where I stand with her; 6. Pretends her job is more important than I am my job.

Thank God he stopped at six.

That record of Janet’s, the one that fit neatly in its cardboard package of shiny golden girl—he played it repeatedly until he flew out to Australia and met up with the golden girl, herself. The song with the refrain, You’ve got to show your feelings, feelings. You’ve got to show your feelings, crooned through my head the entire two weeks he was away. When he returned, I knew immediately she’d turned down his amorous advances. I knew because I knew Oso; I knew he was exceptionally vulnerable to pain underneath his outward demeanor of money-making and pressed shirts.

For nearly a month, he avoided me except to pick up and drop off the kids. He avoided looking directly in my face. But I knew Oso, and I wasn’t particularly sympathetic to him, either, though I did refrain from gloating with the I could have told you so’s. I could have, too, because Janet was even richer than he was and, despite his overwhelming burliness, she was too young for him.

Then one Friday night, Oso toughened up again and set out to seduce me. He found a spare moment to pull off my baggy pants, which were comfortable and cheap, thank you, Oso. I shouldn’t have allowed it—review the principle of disobedience for further proof.

The counseling office was hot and stodgy. It was no place to mull over not-so romantic encounters with Oso. The counselor tapped his fingers and waited, and I knew the stupid little man with his brown suit and flared nose would soon break the silence and guide us through our lists. I watched Oso squirm, and I waited for him to react. The answer Oso needed, if he cared to pay attention to details, was there on the list of loves, which began with 1. Transplanted his start-up tech company to our hometown village (which he swore he’d never return to) so I could accept a job offer. My more humbling answer hid itself under number three: Asked me to marry him.

Finally, Oso raised his eyes from the page. “Really?” His voice cracked, but he cleared his throat in a hurry. A smug expression settled in his dark eyes.

“I’ve changed my mind,” I told him. “I’ll marry you after all.”

Oso rose from his chair, confident and tall—a big bear who always had his way. “I think we’re done here,” he told the counselor. “You can send your bill to my secretary.”

“Oh, I, uh…” the counselor coughed out.

Anger flashed inside, but as usual, I hid it. Oso couldn’t, wouldn’t win this game. Couples counseling? What a joke.

“Are you coming, Julia?” Oso held out his hand.

“No. You wanted me to attend counseling sessions with you, and here I am. I expect to be counseled.”

A nervous grin flitted over the counselor’s mouth area. Perhaps he, too, imagined Oso morphing into a hairy creature and lunging out with sharp incisors and claws.

“Have a seat, Oso,” the man tried a coaxing voice (even I was a little offended by it). “We have more to discuss, I think.”

Obviously, Oso didn’t obey him.

I was all out of patience. “Sit!” I deeply desired to add a few more words, such as you stupid @#%$*&% a-hole, but restrained myself.

Oso’s stare struck a direct path between me and the silly, little man he’d hired to foil me. The counselor gave in to the stare and fiddled with the folder on his desk. I didn’t give in, but stared back. Finally, Oso’s massive shoulders slouched, and he sank back in his chair.

How was I to show my feelings to this beast? I didn’t have a clue, but I suddenly felt things I should have demonstrated–sadness, shame. Oso’s slouched figure said it all. He was sad, too. Having won one round and lost the next, he exuded defeat. Our relationship wasn’t a game, though. Or, if it was, we should have been playing on the same team.

Had our relationship devolved to sports metaphors? How cliche! Sorry, Cecilia.

Let me try again. Our relationship was an image–a mysterious image of oneness, of rents in the fabric, of two people, one whose hand was lost in the pocket of the other, two parts of a fused form.

And we were wreathed in fog halos. We were back in December like a record needle scratched to its outer limit, the wine flowing, my heart breaking–Oso longing for a female on an album cover. That night was the crux. That was it, the deciding moment. It wasn’t a coincidence, just as Claire had said, because here we were.

Oso Part IV
Oso Part III
Oso Part II
Oso Part I

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Part IV: Sundays With or Without Oso

It’s time I focused a little more, tweezed a miniscule piece of my life with Oso and scrutinized it under the microscope. Relationships aren’t my forte, but I have a lifetime of experiences with them for comparison’s sake. For example, my life experiences with my parents have taught me that a (married) couple will spend its Sundays together. They might choose to drink coffee and read the paper, trading sections silently as the need arises, or they might disappear into the bedroom for an afternoon nap, while their children squabble with boredom and wish it weren’t raining for the purpose of running outside, playing baseball, or riding bikes.

It doesn’t rain nearly as often here in the Silicon Valley as it does up in our home state, but by the time our daughter Sara turned three months, Sundays had already fallen into the same distinct pattern of laziness and lethargy, to the point that the grocery store looked like great fun, and I occasionally dared to leave Sara with Oso and rush to the store for anything–ice cream? Coffee? Bagels? Oso didn’t enjoy being left alone with his baby daughter. Too bad for him. I didn’t particularly enjoy grocery shopping, but it was a marvellously exciting time on a Sunday afternoon, and one that brought good things into the refrigerator and cupboards. How efficient I was!

The shade on the window flapped. It was a lazy Sunday of the usual pattern. Oso and I sat at the breakfast table, our toast and eggs long since eaten. The coffeepot was almost empty, and not owing to me, either, since I nursed the baby on a schedule of approximately every three hours and didn’t want her little heart jumped up on caffeine. As a compromise, I settled for half a cup and watched jealously as Oso sucked down the rest.

Oso didn’t read the newspaper, and that left out the sectional trade part. I read the letters to the editor and the funnies before giving up to boredom. Oso read all manner of business and tech magazines, as well as online news sources, a feat of word-pounding he accomplished only on Sundays. He didn’t read much of anything the rest of the week unless the words pertained to his personal business and finances.

You see, I knew all this about Oso because he had moved himself into my apartment after Sara’s birth, had carted over his pressed shirts and pants, and there he remained. Recently, there was a look in his eyes–the distant look he gets when he’s considering the diminished horizons of his world. I didn’t recognize the look, then, but I recognize it now.

Sara fussed, and I picked her up from the bassinet, only to realize her diaper had leaked. I set about to change it right then and there because I was efficient. I kept spare diapers on the shelf underneath the little wheeled bed.

Oso didn’t look up from his laptop screen. “Do you have to do that here? I’m trying to drink my coffee.”

“Why don’t you try changing it yourself? Then you can do the job wherever you want.”

“I didn’t take on that job in our role division plan.”

“I didn’t know I had, either.”

Finally, he looked up at me and gave me his glassy glare that instantly expressed his dislike of me. It hurt. However, in a way–even though I was annoyed–he was right. After moving in, he took it on himself to cook or wash dishes or sweep–just never, ever to change a diaper. And, by the way, he was the one who planned the role division. I had nothing whatever to do with it. In fact, when he first brought over all his neatly pressed button-downs, he demanded that I iron them for him. When I didn’t get the collars just right, he sent them back to his laundry service. But, still, I had nothing to do with it either way, even if I wanted to iron his shirts. And I tried to iron his shirts. I really did. My ironing wasn’t good enough for Oso.

I hid behind Sara, kissing her little cheeks, and cuddling her in her newly clean yellow sleeper. Yellow–that’s right, because Oso wouldn’t allow me to divulge the sex of our child before she was born. He said it wasn’t right. I, as a scientist, valued technology, and asked the ultrasound tech to whisper the secret in my ear. Since our babe’s sweet feminine side was a secret until birth, I graciously accepted the neutral colored clothing our friends sent us. Culture is what it is, and I wouldn’t have my Sara mistaken for a boy because of ill-chosen blue sailor suits.

I clung to her sunny, yellow-clad self, and I sensed something big. I waited for Oso to break the lethargy of my Sunday. I tried to hold the break back–I needed to hold it back for my sanity. Maybe my efforts were as bad as my ironing, never getting the details right. I tried to be normal, and those were the details that were wrong.

“I might walk to the grocery store later. Do you want anything?”

“No. Get what you want. I’m going to move back to my apartment for a little while.”

“Why?”

“I need space,” he said. “As do you, so don’t try to tell me you don’t.”

I opened my mouth to speak, to remind him that we could rent or buy a much larger abode–multiple bedrooms!–for the price we were paying for two one-bedroom apartments.

“Don’t argue with me, please, Julia. I have some big business deals coming up, and I don’t need the stress. I’ll visit when I get a chance.”

And that was that. His word was final. He expected to be obeyed–always. I picked up Sara with a gentleness I didn’t feel inside and walked to the store, Sara in her tummy pack, safe for the time being from adults and their hurtful ways. When I returned, Oso had vanished, his laundered shirts with him.

He needed his space. If he wanted to make money, which was still his primary goal, he needed private time for thinking. That first time he left, he avoided Sara and me for a month, and then visited sporadically for the next two. The following month after that, he moved back in, happy as could be, bearing flowers, groceries, etc.

I threw his flowers in the trash and put the groceries away. Why was he so happy? How could he whistle as he hung his crisp shirts in my closet again? He had made a deal–that was the reason for everything. Money. The game of it. The game I wouldn’t play, that I couldn’t understand.

Oso bears things well, and I apologize for the pun. He bears gifts, annoyances, hurts. I bear the children, but still–he bears life for the both of us. That’s Oso. That’s why we can live together and not live together at the same. It’s not all that complicated. I just can’t explain it! If you’re reading this Cecilia, how would you write about Oso? I honestly don’t know how. (Cecilia told me later that she writes humorous middle grade books so that the antagonists are campy rather than complex. Ha! So Oso is my antagonist. Good to know.)

Oso Part V
Oso Part III
Oso Part II
Oso Part I

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