Sunday, September 18, 2011

Susan Knox: Baby, Baby

The maternity ward. Alliance City Hospital. Alliance, Ohio. July 3, 1941. A new mother, twenty-five years old, stares out the window.

Is she remembering her lascivious grandfather, the rape, the termination ten years earlier. Is she picturing a small, windowless room, a man in a white coat, the mass of tissue he dangled in front of her face like a warning. Does she believe the sins of the father are visited upon the son and she will pay a penance for her grandfather’s perfidy. Is she worried because the nurse hasn’t brought the infant to her. Was it a difficult labor, a long labor. Was she sedated before the baby was born, a mask clamped over her face. Is she afraid her newborn is not normal, that she will be punished with a blemished child. Will she undo my pink receiving blanket and will she untie the ribbon holding the white plisse kimono and will she remove the safety pins closing the cloth diaper and will she bare my body and find a flaw, a deformity. Will she call for the doctor, show him the stigma, ask him what it means. Will the doctor reassure her, it’s only a missing toenail, nothing to worry about, or, not knowing her deep concern, will he laugh at her silliness.

Questions for my mother that I never asked. 

Susan Knox's book, Financial Basics:  A Money Management Guide for Students, was published by the Ohio State University Press in 2004.  Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in CALYX, Monkey Puzzle, Pisgah Review, and Sunday Ink.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Diane Hoover Bechtler: Do It Yourself Project

It was not the kind of job tackled without help. But we did it ourselves, alone.

We had to. We were the single mothers of sons. Chloe was a widow. Her husband died in a car accident when the child was a baby. When our son was three, my husband left to chase other women.

Chloe received Social Security checks for her son. I collected sporadic child-support. Neither was enough to support us. So it was up to us to both work and raise those small men.

We forged our careers and raised our sons when two dope-smoking draft-dodging former hippies occupied the White House.

We knocked our heads against the glass ceiling as we climbed and left scratches as markers for our sisters to come. We pushed forward in sickness and in health. No one else was going to pay our rent or help us teach our small men to ride bicycles, to sail, play baseball, or later to shave and drive.  When we had to work extra hours or travel, we placed our sons with caretakers often of questionable abilities, so we could do our jobs and make money to feed our growing children. As in the beginning of time, a single cell split and made two. We were mother and father, caregiver, and provider. Chloe was in sales. I provided customer support, both of us in the graphic arts industry.

We brought home the bacon and fried it up in a pan and did not think that commercial was funny. We were tired. In the summers, Chloe sent her son to spend time with her parents. I sent mine to basketball camp, archery school, tennis camp and whatever else I thought could shape him into a good man.

Together, Chloe and I bought tropical wool navy blue suits chosen with the Women's Dress for Success recommendations. Briefcases flapping against our Jane Fonda-firmed hips, we wore our serious suits and muted lipstick  to appointments with our clients. At home, we assembled model cars and studied the scales of train sets.

After late business meetings and only a Powerbar dinner, we attended PTA,wearing those ridiculous ties – like fake silk scarves for women with little anchors and turtles dotted across them. We drank our scotch neat. We smoked an occasional cigar. We already smoked cigarettes. We placed our MasterCards by our plates to signal wait staff that we were paying. Occasionally, we abused our privileges from our places of business by treating ourselves to dinners placed on our meager expense accounts. We took lunch at 3:00 so we could go to school conferences with our sons’ teachers.

Chloe grew her hair to her waist.  My hair was cut in an easy chin length bob quickly and cheaply trimmed at SuperCuts once a month. These were economical hairstyles.

For business, Chloe twisted her hair or clipped it in a barrette.  But on weekends she'd let that hair flow and fly.  It was like wheat.  Mine was black as sin. She was a color like lemon. I was not a color. She had the golden hair. I had the midnight black hair. She looked great standing in a cornfield and I looked great over candlelight. Night and day.

She painted and I sculpted in the bit of free time we had. We never expected our painting and sculpting to put food on the table.

Rather than be second-rate struggling fine artists we applauded the works of others by attending gallery openings. So after a week of doing double duty, Chloe and I drove to the arts district and strutted. I have a photo of us standing on a red carpet after an art gathering.

She and I did not walk.  We swished and bounced. "Thriller" blared in the background and we danced, planting one foot and stomping around it with the other foot. We let go the tensions of the week.

Many boyfriends came and went. Few stayed very long.  We were incredibly picky about who got close to our sons, our best creations.  Some men saw our sons as possibly being their sons. They missed the window of creating a family so looked to us as potential providers.

I eventually married again only to choose another womanizer.

Chloe broke my heart more than any man could have. After vowing to grow old together and sit side by side in rocking chairs staring at ocean waves, until death did us part, Chloe renounced her vow and moved away without me.

Years have passed. I see Chloe occasionally. She comes to my town. Or I go to hers. So in a way we have grown old together, but my rocking chair is here and hers is hundreds of miles away. Our sons have not seen each other in a decade.

Our careers ended. We passed our business torches. We have reverted to one person rather than two.

Our children have grown into men-good men. We did a fine job of raising them alone, of doing it ourselves. Raising our little boys into tall men made us grow taller and stronger.

We still do most things ourselves. The pace has slowed. We have the time.

I miss weekends with my best friend kicking back and having fun. I miss the little boys who now bring home women who may join our lives and provide grandchildren. One and one will equal three. Chloe's hair is very short now and streaked with gray. Mine is too black for a woman my age.

I miss our journey.

Diane Hoover Bechtler lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband, Michael Gross, who is a poet with a day job, and with their cat, Call Me IshMeow.