Your breath feels like cigarettes and whiskey,
And it’s careless when it says my name –
Honey, I don’t want your arms around me.
This bar’s too damn hot and making me thirsty –
You haven’t bought me a drink to this day
So I light my cigarette, order my whiskey.
Not nearly as drunk as I seem to be,
But my pride suffered along with my shame
We leave the bar, and your arms are around me.
It’s natural when I’m the bird, you’re the bee,
But this perfume on your sheets ain’t the same,
Drowning me worse than cigarettes and whiskey.
It’s sloppy and quick but you find relief,
Pressing my chest to your back ends the game –
“Honey, I don’t want your arms around me.”
It’s so hard to hate what I’ve come to be –
I guess you can say being lonely’s to blame
for my breath tasting like cigarettes and whiskey.
I hate myself with your arms around me.
I hope that all is well in heaven, ‘cause it’s all shot to hell down here. I hope that I’ll find you in heaven, ‘cause I’m so lost without you down here.View From Heaven, Yellowcard
Even I am sometimes surprised at just how venomous my own tongue can be.
It’s a terrible thing to be horrifically ashamed of yourself.
Sunday afternoons are when I think about you most, whoever you may be.
For some reason, I have vivid memories of us that I’ve yet to make.
But for us, if you end up being anything like I think you’ll be, Sundays are the best days.
It really starts on Saturday night. We try to have date-night at least once a week, and sometimes all that means is getting dessert at Applebee’s (because, who gives a fuck if it’s trashy as hell and the blacks in town treat it more like a bar than a shitty American chain-dining establishment? No one has anything on that Triple Chocolate Meltdown), and coming back home to share a bottle of wine.
And you know how I get when I’ve had a bit to drink.
So on Sundays, I wake up still tangled up with you. And once again, we’ve slept through the early church service. We have the best intentions to go, but when you’ve got the option to sleep just a little longer so you can stay up just a little later loving on your best friend, it’s hard to turn that offer down. And we’re not very religious, either; our picture of “God” looks a little different than that of our parents and some other couples we go to church with. But, it’s still something that you and I want in our lives (mostly because spirituality is something we want to encourage with our some-day-children), and we’re happy to go together.
Plus, I love dressing up and wearing good heels, and what better place to do it than somewhere you’ll make the older women blush and the younger bitches jealous? Bless their hearts.
And we sit pretty snuggled in Sunday School, and I spend most of my time daydreaming about lunch and trying to subtly kick your shoe off your crossed foot instead of caring too much about the “Seven Major Stumbling Blocks of Spiritual Growth.”
Bet your ass we’re out by noon, and it’s your turn to pick lunch this week.
We have our few favorite places here in town, but every now and then I like to choose somewhere adventurous. Sometimes, I make bad calls, but I always make it up to you by having dinner at Olive Garden. That’s your favorite, if you’re like how I think you’ll be.
But the best part is what comes next; the napping is the highlight of every Sunday. With full bellies and warm hearts, it’s back to the bedroom. We leave a trail of clothing from the front door of dress shoes, ties, sport coats and linen pants until we finally make it down to our skivvies as we fall into the sheets.
And that’s where I am at this moment… daydreaming about a life I can only hope to one day have with a man who gets just as quietly excited about Sunday afternoons.
But I haven’t met you yet and you aren’t here, but if you’re anything like me, then it must be naptime.
Goddamnit, I hate writers.
She had never been much of a homemaker, but the cake looked damn good: pink strawberry frosting over yellow cake (followed straight off the recipe from the back of the box), “Happy 6th Birthday, Tim!” elegantly piped in white along the face, with the crudely drawn Cowboy heroes of Tim’s colorfully exasperated imagination chasing feather-clad Indians across the long, expansive sides of the dessert. Mildred, who had knelt to her knees in front of the wood grained, turquoise-tiled counter top to get on eyelevel with her current piece of culinary art, rocked back onto her heels and used the back of her flour-coated wrist to nudge back the big auburn lock of her bangs that had somehow escaped from behind her tightly-knotted red bandanna. The light, high PING! of the oven brought her to her feet, and she licked the icing from her fingertips before grabbing the oven mitt to retrieve the miniature shepherd pies from the sweltering heat. They weren’t much the type of chow you’d expect at a birthday party, but it was one of her stronger dishes, and Tim had made a request “e‘specially for my birthday.” Her skills in the kitchen were never anything for her husband to write home about, but by the way she swirled so gracefully in her gray gingham tea-dress, filling cups with ice, pouring lemonade into pitchers, adorning favor bags with curled ribbons, and settling a Western inspired table cloth atop her late mother’s old dining room table, there was no doubt that there was something special about this woman, even down to her very core. She was radiant. Her gentle spirit seemed keen and sensitive to the needs of those whom she loved, and was no more fine-tuned than to her sons, Tim and older brother, Michael. The pitter-patter of soft, bare feet trickled down the hallway and into kitchen, and Millie whirled around frantically as she panicked trying to find a place to stash her second, smaller cake, inscribed with three simple words: “Welcome Home, Daddy.”
“Mama, we’ve got a problem.” Tim had harrumphed himself into the doorway, and the contrast between his scowling, snarled baby face and the smiling, wrinkled Mickey Mouse on his tee shirt brought a light smirk to Millie’s face, but she was able to keep the chuckle locked in the back of her throat, making it easy to mistake for the cough she normally greeted this time of year when summer finally got around to rolling into town.
“Well, I have been a-telling ya’ for a good long while now not to put my pants in the laundry! I’ve been workin’ to get ‘em just the way I like ‘em. Muddy at the bottom, that’s the most important part! Now look here,” he lowered his head and raised his pants up with a tightly clenched, small fist, “these are clean. And now I don’t even know what I’m gonna do. Jesse’s gonna be here and’ll wanna wrestle with me, but how in the heck am I s’posed to play in nice pants? I bet Jesse’s mama never warshes his pants…” In Tim’s mind, clean clothes were straight from the Devil himself, and whenever he wore them, all he could think of was that stiff, hot, humid feeling gathering at the nape of his neck and across his small eyebrows when Big Mawmaw and Pop would sandwich him and Michael between them in the hard, judgmental Southern Baptist pews on Sunday mornings. As much as Tim dreaded the nauseating smell of Big Mawmaw’s musty floral perfume Pop got on sale at Macy’s for their anniversary two years prior mixed with the wet heat of impending summer showers, he and his brother always sat attentive and wondering whether or not their underwear drawer full of stolen baseballs, unrightfully-earned loose change, and cutout pictures of dogs they were forbidden to have (because Daddy was allergic) were safe from eternal damnation and hidden from the prying eyes of the Lord. During one especially convicting sermon on the eighth commandment, Michael noticed the tensing of his baby brother, but lovingly reassured him that “that dang Elliot Farr had it comin’. An’ I mean really, he was the one who ended up with that glove – it don’t matter if you’re the one who took the godforsaken thing in the first place. He’s got the blood on his hands now, not you, Timmy.”
But the issue at hand wasn’t guilt-ridden Sunday mornings; the issue was that Tim had clean pants instead of dirty ones, and his party was less than an hour away. Mildred tried her hardest not to smile, matching her son’s stone-hard countenance, and making them look even more uncannily alike.
“Well, child, what you don’t seem to be understanding is that when it’s your birthday, you’re supposed to dress your best. You have all your sweet friends come to celebrate with you. But I’ll tell ya what. When that Jesse gets here with everybody else, and y’all go out to the yard and play whatever it is you want to, because remember, it’s your birthday, you get those darn pants as dirty and messy as you want. I’m pretty sure Aunt Gladys is sendin’ ya some nice new ones anyway.” She kissed the top of his messy, brown hair, and squeezed his small arm three times – I. Love. You. Tim smiled a snaggletoothed grin and blushed brightly.
“Okay. But nex’ time this happens, just ask me first before you go warshin’ my things, okay?”
“And will ya tell Aunt Gladys to stop with the pants? Like I ain’t got more use for a pocketknife or harmonica or somethin’…”
Mildred smiled proudly as she watched Tim disappear back into the hallway, and she began to tidy up the mess in their small kitchen. She hummed a medley of all her favorites from Ella Fitzgerald as she returned the milk to the fridge, finished setting the table, and went to retrieve her wedding band from the small ceramic rose-shaped bowl beside the kitchen sink where she had put it for safe keeping while washing a few dishes before she had to go to prepare her own self for the party. She rolled the band back and forth in her palm, eyeing the dimming shine of the diamond. Not nearly as bright as it’d been in 1952. She lifted her eyes to survey the quiet backyard, and remembered the first picnic they’d had out there as a family. The open window swept in sweet smells of honeysuckle and magnolia blossoms growing beside the house. They’d planted that tree together, she and Phillip. She let the wind roll gently across her collarbones and her head rolled back in quiet nostalgia; many times, she could almost swear she heard his voice. There were the typical ways in which his presence still filled the home: Michael looked just like him when he smiled that particular crooked grin that made his nose scrunch up too far on one side, and there’s no way in hell that anyone could deny his stubborn attitude that had found itself in their youngest. She inhaled deeply, knuckles white, and with a soft, anxious smile toying at the corner of her lips. She missed him. There’s something strange, she thought to herself, about what happens to a woman when her husband has to leave… but there is nothing more rewarding and fulfilling then that moment he comes back home.
She trotted softly back to their bedroom and situated herself at the vanity. She sat and looked for what felt like the longest time, her eyes fixed on that handsome man with the sharp jaw and soulful eyes shining even in black and white who was tucked securely against the fold of the mirrors.
She wore the kohl around her grey eyes a little thicker than normal, brightened her cheeks with blush she bought from the department store especially for this occasion (the expensive kind, too), and painted her lips with red, red lipstick, parted with bright white teeth as she listened through the walls to her boys force each other off the plank from the top bunk.
… the top bunk….
Millie threw herself up, knocking over her chair in a hurried fit of maternal instinct, and she burst into the boys’ room right as a patch-eyed Michael, donned in one of her bandannas and clutching a broken broom handle had Tim poised precariously on the wrong side of the top bunk’s railing, and of no surprise to her, he was bound by a jump rope and blindfolded with one of Phillip’s old socks. Millie let out a heavy, yet relieved sigh, having gotten to the ship right in time to stop the scoundrel from being sent to the depths. Thanks to these scalawags, she was convinced that, due to unrelenting stress between worrying over these two as well as her husband, she was convinced her life would be drastically shortened. A woman can only endure so much. A groaning Michael was extremely disappointed to watch Mama unwind his shark bait right before his very eyes. This was no way for a captain to be treated.
“Now I want you two to listen to me,” she said in her sternest voice, “this party is starting so soon, and I need you two to start getting ready and stop giving your poor mother so much grief.”
“But Mama, listen, we were just playin’ is all! I wussnt really gonna hurt him.”
“Yeah, Mama! Hell, I even asked him to tie me up!”
“Tim!” Mildred was horrified, “why in the world did you say that? What makes you think that you can just say such awful words?”
“Uhh,” he began timidly (Tim had a way about him where he always got his feelings hurt when he got in trouble; he never meant anything by it), “well I mean, it is my birthday, y’know.”
She rolled her eyes.
He was most definitely Phillip’s son.
“You better be glad Daddy isn’t here to hear you say such things, especially in front of your momma. You best know that he would tan your hide to hear that.”
“Well,” Phillip interjected, “he’s the one we learn it from!”
And ain’t that the damn truth, she thought to herself.
Millie brought down both the boys and began to help them dress for the party. Michael was much easier to convince to dress nicely – even from a younger age, he had never been fussy when it came to dressing for special occasions. In fact, on more than one occasion he had happily referred to himself as being, “as doggone handsome as the day is long.” With ironed khaki pants and a hand-me-down dress shirt from Eric down the street, Michael smiled widely and was proud to be polished for the party. Tim, on the other hand, was much more of a fighter. Millie had made the first mistake of telling him that the Mickey Mouse shirt was “cute,” so after that, Tim wasn’t having it. Six shirts later, he finally decided on a hunter green button down.
“Okay, now let’s get your shoes on.”
“What? Ya mean I gotta wear shoes, too? Whose party is this?”
“It’s your party, baby, but even if you end up taking them off later, you still need to have your shoes on at least until all your friends get here.”
At four o’clock sharp, all the friends started arriving. Millie sat on the front porch ducking back and forth around the large American flag to keep an eye on children as they walked down the street from their homes, toting bags and boxes, baseballs and bats. And while her eyes were watching for guests, she kept her ear tuned for the distant, yet familiar, rumble of that candy red Oldsmobile.
It wasn’t after too long, though, that Jesse did in fact show up for the party, and was more than ready to get into good, dirty trouble. The boys at the party ran circles around the house and exhausted Cops and Robbers, Capture the Flag, Hide and Go Seek, and another rousing (though plank-less, thank God) round of Pirates before finally settling on Cowboys and Indians. Millie watched proudly from her spot on the porch swing, rocking back and forth with several of the other neighborhood moms who had stayed to keep company, help keep the boys in line, and of course to get and share their fair portion of gossip. Millie sipped lightly on her sweet tea and bourbon, and laughed wholeheartedly when June Farr told the story of how she and her husband, Scott, had found their middle son, Elliott, with a stolen baseball glove.
“He tried to make up some story about how he had just been riding his bike down Sloan Street when two other fellas, one wearing a football helmet and one in a Batman mask had actually been the ones who took it. He said, now y’all aren’t gonna b’lieve this, he said that they were runnin’ like their britches was on fire, and they just decided to toss it in the basket at the front of his bike. You can bet your sweet fanny that we lit him up good with the switch after lyin’ to us. But I tell you what, now, at least the boy’s creative.”
Millie smiled and sipped, glancing lovingly at her two boys, one of which was currently pretending to be dragged behind a horse, and the other trying to pitch a teepee with firewood and a tablecloth. She looked down at her watch. Her heart rose anxiously, blushed for the first time, and closed her eyes quickly – he’d be here so soon. Things had worked out so wonderfully for him to make it home today. Millie felt her soul brim expectantly, and for the second time that day, thought she heard his voice tickle across her ear. She spun her ring around her finger before noticing that her skirt needed soothing so that when she stood to greet him. Everything had to be perfect. She noted that the sun had started to go down, and decided that it was time to round everyone up for cake. The stampede of starving cowboys took of recklessly into the house, and she followed quickly behind – glancing over her shoulder one last time before heading inside.
Mille managed to find both her boys and give them a quick hug, excited for their sakes for what was coming, and could hardly contain herself with elation for the surprise. She brought the cake and set it down in front of her beaming little Tim, and watched, with no shock whatsoever, really, when he slammed his open palm right into the top of it, grasping a handful, bringing it to his lips, and proceeding to tell everyone it was “the best darn cake this cowboy could ask for.” Millie decided to cut her losses with the candles, shaking her head as she returned to the kitchen to grab the second cake; it was chocolate on chocolate, his favorite. As soon as she picked the cake up, the doorbell rang, and almost dropped it out of sheer adrenaline. She immediately set it down back on the counter and tried her hardest not to bolt to the door.
“I’ll be right back, y’all,” and she dismissed herself.
A nervous smile flooded her cheeks as she threw open the door, but slowly, slowly faded.
The red Oldsmobile had been replaced by a shiny, black streetcar.
The calloused, familiar hands she’d been expecting were exchanged for long, white gloves. Two men in uniform stood before her, a folded flag where her husband should’ve been.
“I’m so sorry, ma’am.”