dodging the bullet

My mother wondered out loud why I wasn’t married.

We were standing in the window of her country kitchen, watching her fourth husband hunt small birds in the driveway. The California cul-de-sac coiled around the sleeping suburbans while Rick stalked his petite prey.

The streets were empty. I was two hours in on a three-day visit.

My stepfather, a man who hated anyone with an opposing opinion, was wearing a camouflage tracksuit and a Nascar hat turned backwards. He crouched in the gravel with the neighborhood fowl caught in his cross hairs.

“You could get married,” my mother stated as if nuptials were on discount.

I focused on the mailbox. The dull red flag drooped as if beaten by its owner. Was it up a few minutes ago, signaling the sky for a rescue? Or was it stuck like that, abandoning its duty, refusing to meet the mailman?

My stepfather inched forward like a lizard. I wanted to strangle the clock.

“You can always get divorced,” my mother said.

My stepfather’s elbow scrapped the rocks. The birds froze. I craved wine and a way out. It was 10am. My mother had started cooking lunch even though no one was hungry.

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“It’s just a little paperwork,” my mother replied, mindlessly checking the oven.

My mother loved to reduce the joining or separation of lives to a scribble and a stamp. She was a City Hall veteran. My father was the opposite, stating people should just be “friends” instead of getting married.

I stared through the homemade curtains and seethed at the situation. My mother’s husband, the horizontal hellion, slithered closer to his target. I closed my eyes. My mother sighed and sipped coffee from her ‘Home Is Where The Heart Is’ mug.

In the silence, the smell of meat hung on us like beefy sweaters.

shark and tell

Mrs. Lewis sat behind her desk, staring at us third-graders with contempt.

She did not like how show-n-tell was going even though she had dictated our theme. Instead of stuffed animals and spelling trophies, she demanded we bring a piece of our pet. Not the animal itself or any seething scraps but something that symbolized Rover or “whatever” we owned.

“I don’t want to see anything live in here,” she said.

Her voice was like gravel eating itself.

“Nothing that crawls and if it sheds in any way, you get an F.”

Mrs. Lewis hated teaching. Mrs. Lewis hated us.

“Bring something worth looking at or we won’t be doing this again,” she hissed.

We knew it was true. Mrs. Lewis never lied and Mrs. Lewis never laughed. Our teacher, built like a wall of angry polyester, never moved without venom and a cigarette.

The last time she took a smoke break and told us not to get out of our desks, we all suffered. Timmy Leach decided to moonwalk from his dunce corner to the chalkboard. Mrs. Lewis returned just in time to see him backslide into our tilted globe.

She made us stand on our chairs for fifteen minutes while she skimmed Reader’s Digest. Laura Stickler cried and then we had to write “I will not disobey Mrs. Lewis” one hundred times in cursive before we were allowed to go out for recess.

Now after Suzanne Stambough had shown the class Mr. Sneezy’s hand-knit Christmas sweater and Marcus Stein had passed around Ken the Wonder Weasel’s ashes, it was my turn to present a pet-related relic.

I stood at the front of the class. Pigtails, flared Wranglers, Tom McCann buckle ups. I took a deep breath and reached into my back pocket. I pulled out a shark’s tooth as big as my fist. The great white that lost it must have been twenty-feet long, six-feet wide cheek-to-cheek. A leathery man in cutoffs had given it to me on the shores of Honolulu after I asked him if he had ever seen a shark. He had closed his eyes and patted his heart as if he had survived a beating from the beast. He handed me the tooth without words and walked away.

I considered the tooth my greatest gift. I held it up over my head so everyone could see my piece of a predator. No one moved.

The classroom was silent except for Laura’s choking tears. Mrs. Lewis looked at me like I had blown my nose in her ashtray.

“Jesus,” she said. “If there was something bigger than an F, I’d give it to you.”

pumpkin head

My head is Charlie Brown round.

The rest of my body is not but the organ attic fits my neck. Most of the time I don’t think about its size or shape until I need to borrow someone’s hat or October comes calling.

It is the month of gourds and goblins. It is the season of my head.

Just last week, a doctor “friend” mentioned the shape of my head in reference to brain matter and my birth.

He pointed to my cranium and salivated for science.

“A lot of research could be done on a head like that.”

Since I wasn’t forced through the off-ramp, I left my mother’s uterus with a round, robust hat rack but this should not be cocktail conversation. No one wants to flip the organ donor card over c-sections and canapés.

I am sure the doctor and I had been talking about Alzheimer’s but I don’t really remember. I could only think about my keeping my head.

In theory (unsubstantiated but true), I do have a big brain and therefore need a large carrying case to support it. But with super size comes stupid storage.

My extra headspace contains almost too much room, too many cerebral cells. My daily thoughts range from non-Nobel Prize notes such as lint as a food source to how to iron my knees.

Big heads of the past and present have given us the theory of relativity, a couch to cry on and smizing as a global concept.

Me, I think about wine and quick-dry pants.

When I was acting, my dome was a Hollywood asset. On the set of a loan default industrial shoot, the makeup artist shrieked, “You have so much face to work with!” I took this as a compliment as she applied “nagging wife” spackle to my wide visage.

Now when I look at my big head, I often think of lost opportunities and the eternal pressures of a pinhead. Then I reach for the carving knife and my candy corn.

No hat needed.