by Maggie Schoolar in 1997
My daughter is growing breasts. I remember how proud I was of mine at eleven. Sammie is already smarter than I am and can win people over with her smile. She gets her way without you noticing. I look at her and all I see is a two-year-old in a watermelon jumpsuit. I wonder what my mother sees when she looks at me.
I am thirty-five years old and I don’t recycle, but I did quit smoking. I eat meat and don’t wear a seatbelt. I am fat and middle-aged, but don’t have the luxury of being a housewife. I work, cook dinner and have sex with my husband. When I think I can get away with it, I call in sick to work and watch soaps all day.
When I was thirteen, I was watering the grass with my dad and he told me how proud he was that I started my period. As I stood there making dirt into mud, he said that I was strong and beautiful and as my body and mind developed, to remember what a remarkable person I was. I was furious at my mother for telling him and embarrassed, for him, that he was so uncouth as to discuss it. Now I think back in amazement and know that his honest faith that I was wonderful led me to believe that I could do anything.
Greg kicked me in fourth grade. When we were graduating from High School my mother sneered at him. If anyone dares to cause me pain, she never forgets it. We talk on the phone for hours. We solve world hunger and discuss what we had for breakfast. We argue violently about politics and religion, although we really agree. She is comical in her hypochondria, but rock solid in a crisis. She taught me to be a mother. She has always been my greatest fan and closest friend. We drink beer and gossip.
My husband is a Dallas Cowboy fan. I’ve been in love with Bob since I was seventeen years old, although I haven’t always like him. He sits in his recliner watching football while I run circles around him. He taught me style and music and he corrects me when I am wrong, without me noticing. His favorite Beatle is John. He never has a fact wrong. I used to get mad at him everyday for not helping with the laundry.
When I look at my son Max, I see myself; my face, my humor, my learning disability. When my friend’s mother died, I wrote him a letter about my feelings for my son and the bond that death can’t touch. When I competed for the CEO of Ben & Jerry’s, he acted annoyed, but he still wears the shirt. He says that I talk too much. I think the same of my mother.
Barbara is my confidant, my sidekick, my best friend. We gossip about everyone we work with and about our husbands waking us up for sex. We’ve worked together for almost a decade. Her brother’s death brought me back to the Catholic church. She takes care of her grandmother and feeds her family on 50 bucks a week. Like my husband, she is completely honest and never exaggerates. She doesn’t know how good she is.
Mary is my little sister. God gave her a genius level of intelligence, haunting beauty and a nasty chronic illness. We are both always right, so we try not to disagree. I watch her live her life with elegance and style as her body disintegrates. It sucks.
Margery was desperate to do the job. Skipping down the hall, singing and swinging her little box purse with the plastic flowers. Learning one step, but forgetting another. She taught me that my work as a supervisor sometimes can be life altering. She trusted me and showed me her weakness. Her success has been my greatest work achievement.
I was my sister Rosie’s labor coach. She escaped our family of strong self-esteems without understanding her own. She is creative and funny and has a gift for making people like her. She laughs so hard that she doesn’t make a sound. She used to work for me, but I fired her.
We adopted my little brother when I was eight. The first time I met him, I was in the back seat and he was in the front and we were playing peek-a-boo through the crack in the car’s armrest. “A Bridge Over Troubled Waters” was playing on the radio and we were all singing. My husband taught him to be a man. They play softball together.
I love presents and the Elvis Presley theme is an outstanding beacon for gifts. People who normally wouldn’t even consider buying me something, are irresistibly pulled toward the King and objects that they don’t personally wish to possess.
Bob wants a nicer neighborhood, a bigger house. We’ve lived here for eight years. I know Edna and Serita at 7-11 and the best checkers at HEB. I watch my neighbors in their daily lives and recognize all the cats. This is my cosmic space. Indians have a philosophy about the land belonging to no one and we all just share the earth. That’s crap. This is my dirt. I planted that tree and those bushes. It’s mine. I will never leave.
Ted used to be my good friend, now we don’t work together anymore. Promises of future lunches. A snapshot that leaves you sad and smiling. We believe the best of each other. The brass ring is within his grasp and I hope he decides he wants it.
I went to college with two kids under three. I studied when they napped. We walked miles to Mother’s Day Out and then I took the bus to class. I used to look at people and wonder how anyone could have enough money for accessories. Now money is like water to me, it just runs through my fingers.
We go beach camping. Bob builds a fire hot enough to melt glass and we sit under the stars drinking wine and watching coyotes. Some mornings when the water is smooth enough, we see the dolphins swim by. The days and nights stretch on forever. My favorite picture is of Max and Sam at the beach, wearing nightshirts, sunburned, sandy and windblown. He is lifting her up and they are both laughing. I had it blown up at HEB and hung it in my dinning room.
Bob understands their homework. He gets mad when they talk back to me and is stricter than I think he should be. He shows them how to love by example and cries when they are hurt. He coached Max’s baseball team and taught the kids and parents about sportsmanship. He plays basketball and watches Evil Dead Part II. I couldn’t have invented a better father for my children. How did I know at seventeen?
My mother-in-law is the epitome of style. There is no question why my husband is the man that he is. She is smart and dignified and has never criticized me, even when I needed it. I love her and I don’t know that I have ever told her that.
Before kids my animals were my world. Now they’re yard ornaments. Sometimes they eat, sometimes they don’t. Jude is my poor, sweet devoted dog. I cut off her tail once, just the tip, but she still lets me groom her.
My son is mad at me. He doesn’t like what I wrote about him. He says it is all about me and not him. How do you explain to someone what it is like to see yourself in them? But he is right. I forgot to mention his wild creativity and his rudeness and his soft heart. He is the one who plays with the special needs kids. He is the one who tells the priest Jesus jokes.
I wonder if anyone will be mad about what I write about them, or hurt if I don’t? This is my story, that’s not a story. More like a home movie.
The old woman jolted awake. The air was so still she had trouble catching her breath. A thin layer of sweat covered her body and she could already feel the heat that the day would bring. She rolled over, pushed the curtain aside and looked out over the dunes into the ocean. It always surprised her. She had loved the gulf for over seventy years and she was still in awe of its beauty.
A family had pitched a tent in the night and she saw a little girl peak out the door of the tent. She looked to be about three or four and the wonder on her face told Maggie that it was her first time to the beach. She watched the little girl pick a flower off of the dune and run back inside the tent.
Maggie let the curtain drop and stretched back out in bed. With her eyes closed, she could feel the moment when the little girl woke up her mom with the flower. When her daughter was little she would leave flowers right under Maggie’s nose and she remembered waking up to ants crawling on her pillow. She smiled. It was going to be a beautiful day.
After she had her first cigarette and started the coffee, she went outside to feed the seagulls. She had long since had anyone or anything to take care of, except for herself. Everyone came and went, but her and the gulls, and she like to make sure they had at least one decent meal a day. During the winter she could feed them anytime, but in the middle of the summer, she had to get to them fast, before they filled up on potato chips.
The outlook gulls squealed when Maggie came outside with the bag of cat food and the sky was soon full of gulls screaming and squawking as only gulls can do. She stood patiently until they all landed on the sand in front of her and then she began to throw the food out to them. She looked out over the dunes and saw the little girl in a yellow bikini playing in the surf. Her mom was lying in a chair next to her and her dad was struggling to put up a tarp before the sun got mean.
The little girl stopped playing to watch the old lady throw food at the birds. Maggie tossed out the food, making sure that they all got their share, especially the old one-legged one, who was looking peaked lately. When she closed the bag, they all took off in a big swirl. She waved down to the little girl, who was still watching, and turned to go back into her Airstream for another cup of coffee.
It was still early enough to be alone, before the RV doors began opening and the kids started swarming to the showers. She sat back in her lounge chair and smoked another cigarette. Her family had spent some of their best times here in this campground. They had grown up and old, but this beach seemed eternal. The same place she had awoken to fifty years ago with ants crawling on her pillow. The surf was calm and if they were lucky they just might see dolphins swimming by this morning. She reminded herself to remember that later.
Maggie looked out over the water and decided that those clouds were going to bring a storm today. After one last deep drag, she put her cigarette butt in the can and headed down the path in the dunes to the dad who was still struggling with his tarp. She needed to show him a thing or two about improvising if he was going to keep that tarp up during the storm. Her husband had been a master of tarps and campfires and she loved passing on his secrets.
After they finished with the tarp, she put on her swimsuit and walked over to the showers. She spotted what had kept her up half of the night. There was an old van with the door left open and a trail of socks and flippers leading to an assortment of old tents. She heard them come in last night, car doors opening and slamming, kids screaming and laughing, dogs barking, with their parents yelling at them to be quiet. She needed to remember to move the trash can closer to their campsite.
Last night, lying alone in bed, she had thought about setting up camp in the middle of the night. Remembering her kids running on the beach with their flashlights bobbing trying to trap crabs under their hats, while she and Bob struggled in the wind to get the tent up without getting in a fight. Last night the memory almost made her cry. This morning she smiled.
There were two kids singing and dancing in the shower. She knew they would spend their whole day right there. Before she left, she showed them a small green lizard and some Kangaroo Rat tracks. She could smell all of the bacon being cooked in the RVs and knew that soon there would be a parade of old people heading down to the water to fish. She grabbed her pole and took off, she liked to be the first one out there, to pick a prime spot. She usually caught her dinner.
Maggie loved it how the people all came and went. Just when someone was starting to get on her nerves, it was time for them to leave. What got on her last nerve faster than anything was people with regrets. The way she saw it was you lived it like you decided to. The only thing she ever regretted these days was that her husband was gone. She had spent her whole life looking at him, so much so she knew his face better than her own. Having him dead made the world less interesting and a whole lot lonelier, but she didn’t complain about it.
She saw Ranger Tom collecting money from the campers who came in last night. It was his night to tell the story at the campfire. Maggie hoped he would talk about what people wanted to listen to. When you’re sitting at a campfire with a beer and a sunburn, you want to hear about hammerhead sharks, shipwrecks and naked Spaniards, not about edible plants and pollution.
There was a group of boys who were camped at the end of the beach. They were just at that age where they are almost teenagers, but still kids. She decided to point that out to Tom and remind him about how much kids that age just love cannibal stories with their roasted marshmallows. Maggie knew her advice was growing old on him, but she didn’t care.
She set out her awning and positioned her chair facing the ocean, but behind the Campground Host sign, so that people would know who she was. Mostly she answered questions and pointed out lizards and just made people feel welcome. She poured some ice tea into her covered cup, lit up a cigarette, put on one of her John Prine CDs and opened her latest book. She used to collect books, but now she made weekly trips to the library in Corpus.
After lunch the wind started to pick up, so she tied everything down and looked out over the dunes to see if anyone needed help. The little girl and her parents were all sitting under the tarp. She smiled and went into the Airstream. Maggie had spent her whole life collecting and shopping and displaying. Now she just had what she needed and nothing left over to dust. When her grandson came to visit she set out a tent for him and when she traveled she was never in anyone’s way.
The storm rolled in over the water. Maggie stretched out on her bed, opened up a beer, lit a cigarette and watched the lightning over the ocean. The day turned dark and the rain hit like a wall. She felt the Airstream rocking and she felt all warm and cozy. She could hear people yelling and running for the bathrooms as their tents collapsed and knew that she had better try to get some rest before the storm was over so that she could help out if they needed her. She closed her eyes, listened to the wind and fell asleep.
The day went on, as days do at the beach, in that slow, infinite direction towards the night. She hung the small shark she caught on the driftwood next to her picnic table, lit a cigarette, opened a beer and sat down to wait for the kids.
She smiled as she saw the little boy hiking back to the bathroom, carrying another pair of shorts. He must have gone through four pairs just today. A fact of life about beach camping is that you live with sand in your underwear. He was learning that today. Tomorrow he will learn that you should save a clean pair for another day.
Dinner was one of her favorite times of the day. All the campers bustling around collecting firewood and roasting hot dogs. The heat of the day was lifting and everyone was sandy, tired and happy to see the sun go. She decided to head on down to Dan and Marcus’ picnic table to drink some beer and play a little poker.
The moon was reflecting off of the ocean by the time she got back to her Airstream and the sky was bright with stars. Up and down the beach everything was quiet. She saw one last campfire still burning. She got into bed, opened the curtain and watched the fire. Maggie wished that she and Bob were down there drinking wine and watching for coyotes with the kids sleeping in the tent. She hugged her pillow and wished for someone to talk to.
100 Bucks a Month
Manuel is a 92 year old Mexican preacher who works for us. One day he just showed up and started working. He cuts the grass, rakes my leaves and edges the yard with scissors. There is a small pecan tree growing in my flowerbed and I wanted to pull it out, but he won’t let me. He got mad at us once when my brother mowed the lawn and he didn’t come back until my husband went to his house to apologize. We pay him too much and he borrows when he is low. He is deaf and his English is not very good, but I suspect he understands more than he lets on. He has the biggest ears of any human you have ever seen. Sometimes when he comes for his money he tells us about his life.
Manual grew up in Mexico. A white woman, who spoke Spanish, taught him about God when he was six years old. She prayed with him everyday before school and Manuel would go to church on Sunday morning and night with her. When he was sixteen his father died and left Manual responsible for his mother and seven brothers and sisters. He was their only support and thought at times he would work himself to death.
When Manuel was eighteen years old he went to a tent service and was shocked at the dancing and the testimony. He felt that it was wrong to ask the poor to give away the little that they had. His family didn’t have much, but his neighbors had nothing. Families with too many children and no food or clothes.
When Manuel would finish his day work, he would walk to his neighbor’s homes and give away what his family didn’t need from their garden or the eggs from their chickens. He would talk to them about God and about the stories in the Bible. People started coming to Manuel’s home and listening to him preach. His neighbors built him a tent so that they could gather when he spoke. He talked about Jesus and his love and taught them stories from the Bible.
Today when Manuel sees a man on the street corner, with a sign that says he will work for food, he always gives him whatever he has in in pocket. His son gets mad at him, but he says that Jesus doesn’t care why that man is poor. It’s God’s will to help your neighbor. Manuel has prayed every day of his life. He has never smoked, drank, or fooled around. He established churches around the State of Texas and was a preacher in Austin for sixty years. His son had a heart attack in my back yard and Manuel laid his hands on him and he got up and walked to the car. I saw it happen.
On Sunday mornings there is a small group of old people who arrive at Manuel’s home to hear him preach. We give him a lot of money and hide our beer when he comes to collect. When we bought our van, he asked if it was ours and then told us we needed to be paying him more if we were that rich. I have been blessed by his beauty and I found it in my front yard.
“Two wrongs do not make a right, but three rights make a left.” Bob assures me that this is true, but he will need to draw a diagram for me to believe it.
Die and Let Live
That scene from “Terms of Endearment” with Shirley MacLaine pounding on the nurse’s station to get drugs for her daughter always makes me cry, even on the commercials. The total loss of control, power over a loved one’s life. She could do nothing to stop the death of her only child, all she could do was raise a little hell.
Lisa’s son is going to die. One day he was fine, the next he was terminally ill. I was dying my hair when they called and told me. Now the smell of hair dye will always remind me of Dominic. Everyone talks about how strong she is and how wonderfully she is handling it. I don’t agree. She is just surviving. Her son will die and she will live. One foot in front of the other.
She told me a story that she heard in Church. There was a family who lost their faith in God when they lost their child. They went on a journey to find wisdom from an old monk. The monk told them to go down into a village and get a mustard seed from a family who has not experienced tragedy. They went to the wealthiest home and discovered that, like the Menendez family, the wealth did not protect them. Their quest continued until they realized that no one is spared. It is not that we are chosen to have the terrible happen, it visits all of us without asking.
When my mom came out of surgery she looked down at my three year old niece and said that she flashed back to when her mother was dying and she brought me in to the hospital to say good-bye. It is haunting to think about someone who loved you, who you don’t remember. My favorite old photo is a one of my Grandmother. She is a young mother, holding up her baby, my mother. She looks so happy and proud. I look at it and wonder if someday, someone will look at my picture and wonder what I was like. I think that is what the Queen song, “39” is about.
Truth or Dare
Rossi is my daughter’s Godmother. She was our drug connection for years. There was nothing better in life than a hot summer afternoon in her cool bedroom, eating, smoking and watching soaps. She likes to dress wild and talking about fucking in public. Her lover is as white as she is black and as tall as she is short. She loves life with wild abandon. She taught me that you don’t have to take any of it seriously. She would show up when both of my kids were babies and take us to Barton Springs. We would lie in the sun, laughing and swimming all day.
I love to make people laugh, to shock them. I say things that other people wouldn’t and make some of them uncomfortable. Sometimes I am mean. I am usually sarcastic. I love to gossip. I talk about sex with people who don’t expect it. The whole thing about guys having cute butts is stupid. Women don’t care what a guy’s butt looks like. Gay men are interested in butts but women just use it to make men self-conscious. So I guess it is a good thing.
I drive an expensive van now. I don’t think that material things are important to me, but they are. My husband’s grandmother had a nice house, car and things. Now she lives in a small apartment and cherishes her grandchildren’s letters. The memory that her children and grandchildren have of her is all that she will leave behind. It is really all that is important. Just a very hard place to reach.
People tell me about their child’s sexual abuse, about the removal of their breasts. Sometimes after we have talked I see them look at me and I know they wonder why they told me. I think I know. I am not afraid to open myself up to them. Why do we try to protect ourselves from the people around us? How can we be hurt by honesty? When I tell someone about my pain I never fear that they will hurt me with it. When we talk about our fears and our hopes we put them in their place.
My dear friend David used to be a flight attendant. He told me that the behind the scene’s motto was “A face in every window is an asshole in every seat.” He said that if a customer was really obnoxious they would walk quickly by their seat and say to each other, “What was that noise?” He also told me that they had posters in the break room that said, “Remember to leave the red cone UP. If it is not in the upright position the automatic pilot will not function.” Taco Bell reminds employees to wash their hands so we don’t get sick and United reminds them to put the cone up so that the plane doesn’t crash. Interesting how we all depend on people we don’t even know, without giving it a thought.
My sister Mary, just asked me what I was going to do when I ran out of people to write about. She said next thing I will be writing about is the checker at HEB, “It touched my soul the way he double bagged my groceries.” I am not going to let her read this anymore.
I went on a business trip with some of the women I work with. We got drunk and played “Truth or Dare”. We shared our deepest darkest secrets. We cried and listened to each other all night. I learned that in all of our hearts there are things we are ashamed of. Forgiving ourselves has to be the hardest thing we will ever do. That is why the Catholic church is so rich.
Snakes and Baptists
We had just moved to Texas, I was in fourth grade and outside painting horny toads with fingernail polish. My mother came tearing out of the house, holding my brother and screaming. She ran right out the gate of our yard and across the street to our neighbor’s house. “CALL 911, there’s a snake in my kitchen!” she screamed when Fay opened up the door. “Well Molly, you don’t need the police for a snake. Let me have a look.” Fay got a shovel and we all paraded back to my house. She came out of the sliding glass door with a garden snake the size of a worm. I painted it.
My mother decided to have a party with all of our new neighbors so she bought some donuts at the A&P and cleaned all day. She was nervous and excited and kept yelling at me not to mess anything up. They all arrived and were sitting around talking and eating. Fay was telling some story and said the N word. My mother stood up and told her that she would not allow that language in her home, or around her children. Fay looked at her for a minute and then apologized. The party went on like nothing happened. But it did.
That night she told me that Texas was in the south and backward in their thinking. She warned me to be careful around people who look down on other people and Baptists, who say one thing but do something else. Like Fay getting mad at Daddy for drinking beer, sitting in the kiddy pool in the yard, but not minding it when her husband drank in the garage.
Kinks at Manor Downs
I was stood up for my senior prom, so I went to a party at Todd’s house. I walked in, got a beer and a tall skinny guy with long brown hair and a red beard came up to me and asked why I wasn’t at the prom. I told him. He laughed and said that guy who stood me up was crazy, but that it was his good luck. We flirted all night and then we got into his big black truck and he drove me home. It was the first time I heard the Kinks. He asked me if he could kiss me. He was a gentleman. He knew cool things that I didn’t. So what if he didn’t actually work or anything.
The next day at the lake, I sashayed over to him so we could resume our flirting and let him get a good look at me in my new bikini. He ignored me. He told me later that he thought he looked bad and was too shy to talk to me. He tells our kids now that I farted. Which is absolutely not true.
My mom was in the local plus size lady store a few days later and the woman checking her out asked if her daughter was Maggie. She introduced herself and went on to say that her son Bob had a crush on Maggie.
I asked him to marry me two weeks later. He was the first guy I ever dated who didn’t want sex on the first date. Some times we would sit in his truck in the bowling alley parking lot, read National Lampoon and listen to his music.
One time my mother caught Bob climbing in my bedroom window. I told her I was going to marry him, but she was still really pissed off for a long time.
I wore my mother’s wedding dress and fainted on the altar. My dad cried when everyone threw rice and Jerome, Bob’s brother, mooned us on the way out. We went to the Gulf of Mexico for our honeymoon and spent all of our money. Bob got fired when we came home.
We lived in an efficiency apartment and neither one of us worked. It wasn’t bad unless we didn’t have cigarettes and then it really sucked. Making phone calls from the Laundromat, eating four-for-a-dollar pot pies and counting quarters for gas. We used dishwashing detergent on our hair and the phone book for toilet paper. It was really embarrassing when people would come over and have to look in their car for something to wipe with. I was 18 and Bob was 22.
Three years and two kids later, I went to college so that I could make enough money to leave him and support the kids on my own, but along the way I fell back in love with him. When I needed him he was there. When my father left my mother on their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, Bob held me at night while I cried. He supported me while I supported my mom.
I loved the scene on Hill Street Blues when the Captain’s ex-wife, knew what his second wife didn’t. She told him, “We have history”. History. I love that. Bob never knew my rational for returning to school, until he read this. Now he mentions it all the time.
When I was in sixth grade I wanted to read Jaws. My father gave me his copy, but he tore out the chapter of sex between Brodie’s wife and Hooper. The first thing I did was find another copy. One of the best books and definitely the best movie of all time.
If I could, I would have sex with Jack Nicholson, Gerard Depardu and Nicholas Cage. My husband would have sex with Betty Page, Jamie Lee Curtis and Demi Moore wearing the white uniform in a Few Good Men.
Driving down the old highways in Texas you see old couples riding in their pickup trucks with her sitting in the middle next to her man. That means that she gets in the truck from the driver’s side and scoots over just enough for him to get in. Imagine being together that long and still wanting to touch even while doing the most mundane of daily tasks. Flying down the back roads in Texas, it is all dry and flat. Your head is filled with nothing and it just goes on and on. Do they talk to each other, or just sit there thighs touching?