Saturday, October 25, 2014

Hating Peggy Mack

Is there synovial fluid in the brain? My yoga teacher Joelle regular has us warm up our hands and wrists to get the synovial fluid working. Apparently it’s some sort of viscous fluid in the body, like built-in WD40, that lubricates the joints. I could try spraying WD40 in each of my ears to get my brain working more smoothly, but I suspect that’s an ill-advised decision. But I feel like there are rusty bolts and cobwebs inside my head and I need to do something to get those synovial creative juices flowing. So instead of WD40 in the ear canals, I’ll do a writing exercise. This is sort of free writing. I blindly pick a book off my bookshelves and without looking, turn to a random page and find a sentence. Then I write something off the top of my head that has to end in that sentence that I found. There are no paragraphs, no revisions, just let it rip until I think I’m done. Here goes. The sentence:

 “The greatest part of the tragedy is that Ireland actually had plenty of food.” Bill Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life, p. 85.

You know Mama would kill me for saying this, but I really hate Peggy Mack. Mama has always said that hate reflects much more poorly on the hater than on the hatee. I can accept that it reflects poorly on me, but Peggy Mack drove me to this. She is just so icky. Damnation, I’m into words so I probably should come up with a much better descriptive word than icky. Peggy Mack is awful, abominable (not to be confused with abdominal), deplorable, and undeservedly brilliant. She’s the best speller in the history of the universe. And I will defy Mama giving me the stink eye to say that I truly hate her. Peggy Mack looks like the spawn of vampires, like she has never seen sunlight. Her pale skin is practically translucent. Her hair appears never to have been washed and it hangs over her gray eyes in greasy ringlets. She is at least 6 inches shorter than anyone else in our 7th grade class and she only speaks when absolutely necessary—like when she spells the word parsimonious or when Sister Patrick Joseph calls the roll. When called, Peggy Mack squeaks out a quiet little utterance that indicates she is in her assigned seat near the door, first row, first seat, as far away from the rest of us as Sister could have placed her. And she is the weirdest person I have ever known. Believe me—more than once I have been in the girls’ room and Peggy Mack has been in the stall next to me, sitting on the floor, rocking back and forth and quietly banging her head against the metal divider between the stalls. Sometimes she rocks while sitting at her desk, first seat, first row, near the door. But the bathroom is where the really serious rocking takes place. I worked my derriere off (derriere is a French word—I’ve learned to spell some foreign words too) to win the diocesan spelling bee. Sister Patrick Joseph kept a group of her star spellers after school for two months preparing for the spelling bee. Sorry to tell you that the wretched Peggy Mack was one of the stars. Sister relentlessly drilled us on words, including geographical words like rivers in Africa that I never heard of and medical words like the words for diseases I hope I never catch. When given a word to spell, Peggy Mack would look out the window and very quietly spell every word perfectly, just like someone was outside the window holding a sign with the word on it. Have I said that I hate Peggy Mack? On the day of the spelling bee I was humiliated by misspelling the word accommodate in the third round. The buzzer was louder than ever and I was sent back to my seat like some kind of moron. I know how to spell accommodate but I lost focus and left out an m. Peggy Mack came after me. She spelled it correctly of course and I thought I saw a hint of an evil grin on her wormy lips. She went on the win the spelling bee, took home a trophy that was nearly as big as she is, a bouquet of pink and red carnations, and a big fat Webster’s Dictionary. I was in a funk the whole way home and for days after the spelling bee. Mama got so frustrated with my behavior as a sore loser that she made me sit at the kitchen table and gave me one of her speeches. She told me that it was wrong for me to hate Peggy Mack, that the poor child had done nothing to deserve my scorn. She said I should have some empathy (I know how to spell that too) for Peggy Mack because she doesn’t fit in with the other kids at all. Mama explained that Peggy Mack’s family had moved here from Ireland just after she was born and she suspected that the scrawny, strange child with no friends and odd behavior was a victim of the potato famine in Ireland and that she had not developed normally. I didn’t know there was a potato famine in the late 1940s when Peggy Mack was born but Mama firmly believed that the “residual effects of starvation” had been passed down through many generations of Irish people. So just to prove Mama wrong I went to the library and looked up the Irish potato famine. Seems there was more than one famine, that many people left Ireland because they were starving. Just to prove that Peggy Mack was weird and came from some sort of dysfunctional (I can spell that too) heritage, I read part of the book to Mama: “The greatest part of the tragedy is that Ireland actually had plenty of food.”

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Lessons I’m learning from years of grief and anger. . .

“Life and death were so unpredictable. So close to each other. We existed moment to moment, never knowing who would be the next to leave the world. I was still in it, barely, and as I looked up from the ashes, everything around me seemed so sweet and so beautiful. The trees. The stars. The moon. I was alive -- and I was glad I was.”
Richelle Mead (a writer who writes young adult fiction, in the fantasy/vampire genre)

No matter how much I writhe in pain, scream, curse God, withdraw from polite society, or play the noble martyr, what is still is. I can't read enough books to explain it to myself, can't try to intellectualize or walk in the desert long enough to understand. It's just there and, by its nature, it is beyond my comprehension.

About 17 years ago I began this dance with grief and anger when my husband left me after 30 years of marriage. Then he died. Then my beloved father died after “successful” open-heart surgery. Then my little brother was murdered in cold blood. Then my dearest friend and music partner Mike died from mesothelioma. I was reeling, feeling so lost, betrayed by God, cheated by life. Anger and grief were so intertwined in my gut that I couldn’t find my way out.

Maybe until I stopped trying so hard. Somehow, over time and through the grace of God (thank you, Lord, for staying by my side through all of this nonsense) I began to realize that life had really changed forever. No matter how much I begged, I wasn’t going to get 10 minutes more with Mike. I couldn’t get the Earth to rotate backward and take the bullet out of my brother’s back. I couldn’t bargain with God for a few more years with my dad. My husband was dead and gone—there would be no heartfelt apology from him. These things were written in stone.

What choice do I have? Do I remain forever frozen in the past, cursing my fate, or can I really move on? I must trust that God’s plan will forever be something beyond my understanding. I must be strong and embrace the uncertainty of this life. This was not my plan. But it never was in my control anyway. I have found it incredibly difficult to really accept that fact, to acknowledge that my life is only mine in the sense that I’m occupying this body in this time and place. I have so little control over all the things that happen to me and around me. I’m just along for the ride so I might as well enjoy the view.