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Love and Leather

I met a guy last weekend, an artist, who travels back and forth to New York: his jacket alone was probably worth 3 months rent downtown..but this isn’t about the quality of grey tooled leather, but about love. I don’t write about love directly, I like writing about memories and feelings, and summarizing that big rush of emotion when you find yourself in a wonderful or terrible situation – take your pick.

This guy looked me in the eye and told me He didn’t believe in love.

He wasn’t talking about teenage vocabulary, or saying “I like, totally love this jacket, right?” He had, somehow, convinced himself that love did not exist.

Myself, being the stellar linguist that I am, managed to blurt out after a pause: “But, what about pizza!”

I mean honestly: How can you not believe in love but enjoy pizza? How do you describe the feeling of elation when the waiter/waitress walks over with a slice piled with banana peppers, or ham and pineapple, or whatever else? The warm, soft crust, and gooey cheesy saucy goodness sliced in a perfect triangle..

I digress. My first thought was that this guy must have had a rough go of it, He left home very young, so that can’t have been a good situation. Whenever I think of love, or feel love, or attempt to describe it (yes, sometimes it is pizza) I do think of my family, because they are the best example of consistent love throughout my life.

To be loved is to be known. To be seen for your strong qualities and weak ones, and be accepted regardless. My family loves me the best because they know me the best – sometimes better than I know myself.

People do throw around frivolous examples of what they love, or cannot live without, or would die for (i.e pizza) but the commonality remains: people want to be known. Somehow, He did not equate love with being known, being recognized and accepted, but perhaps defined those characteristics in another way. But what does he say to show affection? I remain puzzled by his insistence.

Some chase love, hoping to grasp it momentarily. Some know after a few moments. For me? Love was like the snow thawing to give way to Spring. It was a slow, sometimes painfully slow, realization that I was known. To reach that point with someone in a friendship, to understand you are appreciated for exactly who you was, at your best and worst, at your most honest self – well, there’s a reason they have so many books, movies, and songs about it.

Loving and losing does something funny to people – and maybe that’s what happened to leather jacket guy. Opening up to another person in that vulnerable way, and either being rejected, or losing that love, is detrimental. We over compensate: we swear off men/women forever, we vow to never let ourselves become that open again, and attempt to salvage whatever pieces of our hearts remain.

Some drive away the ones they love the most, and blame themselves for years. Pain and regret dominate their waking and sleeping hours. Endless letters, emails, and texts are written, attempting to repair the damage with tape and glue. Maybe the side effects of love are not worth the feeling of falling, the ones the movies, books and songs try to describe?

No, I don’t believe people have that one special person in the universe just for them, that some people find theirs and others don’t (although the Greek Mythology thought on that is stunning: look it up sometime). I truly believe love is a choice, it is little choices made every day, decisions to be vulnerable, to be honest, to be yourself. And, if you’re rejected, having the courage to try again tomorrow.

All that to say, I believe leather-jacket guy is wrong. This is not meant to be some grand defense of love, plenty of other, more qualified people can argue that day and night. I’m just telling you what happened to that guy from the gallery, and what happened to me.

I loved and lost my best friend of many years, and understand the pain that makes you want to believe it didn’t happen. People tell me it was the distance, that we weren’t right for each other, that our lives were on different paths. But I was there, and it was right – it was great. And losing that was painful. But more painful would be to never try for that again. The greatest loss would be for me to experience that wonderful feeling, and then avoid it forever. And it took me a while to understand that.

So if my thoughts ever get passed along to leather-jacket guy, this is what I would have said to you between mouthfuls of pizza. I think you’re wrong to ignore it, to decide not to love. Plus, there have been plenty of reviews written about how amazing Vinny Van Go-Go’s is, and that many people can’t be wrong. If you don’t believe me, you need to try it for yourself.

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Spiced Cherries

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I drove to Knoxville for Thanksgiving break – it was the first time I had ever spent time away from my immediate family, but I had a dream a few nights before that I was riding down Huffaker Ferry, a road near my Grandfather’s farm that they used to herd the cattle down when my mother was young. I could smell the grass, see the bend of the river between the trees: I called my mother that morning and told her I needed to go.

I left directly from Statesboro after work with a few books on tape and drove through the mountains, into the night, to the farm. Walking in my Aunt Sadie’s kitchen was the same that night as it was every other night, as far back as I can remember, ever since I could walk. The lights spill out of the windows out onto the lawn, drawing moths and cats to the warmth. The glass door slams shut behind and you stand on a linoleum floor, mud in your boots, breathing the aroma of biscuits and brownies, so relieved it looks just as it did when you left.

My hat hangs on an old bell that hooks out from the wall, a halter and lead-rope just underneath. I’m always greeted by the dogs and “Well Caroline!” with bear hugs and smiles and “Go see your horse, he’s in the front pasture.”

I pet the dogs and slip a candy bar in my pocket, walking back out into the cool night, under a sky lit with stars, to the fence line and the whoosh of breath and whiskers.

That has to be my favorite moment – the feeling that you are exactly where you belong, with the people who matter most. Feeling dead tired on your feet, weary from all the strains you have had to put up with since you last left. And yet unable to pull away from the night, the mountains, the free air and the temptation that you could saddle up right there and ride until dawn, and the horse lipping your palm is just as ready as you are, He knows the mountains like you do.

I give him and the Mule a last goodnight pat and walk back up the hill, through the kitchen to my Nana’s room. Her blue eyes widen in surprise – she knew I was coming, but she is always so happy to see me. I take off my boots because I know once I lay in her bed I won’t be getting up. I get hugged up again and Sadie brings in Popcorn or Pie or all of the above, and we three sit on her bed and catch up. And the dogs are there and the cats sneak in, and someone is staying in the guest room, and Uncle Jack is watching a western with the volume so loud, I heard it before I reached the state line.

Someone brings in a jar of cherries and offers me a spoonful – I cough and choke, looking up to see smiles and grins: They’re a special recipe that have been in the freezer all night. We pass them around and laugh at my Nana’s reactions. The cherries go down smooth and warm, filling me with a sweet, spicy flavor. A new tradition, a new story to tell.

And then, I drift off to the sound of Sadie’s laugh and the smell of my Nana’s perfume, with popcorn on my lap and a dog under my hand. In the morning, there are chickens to feed and ducks to water, horses to hay and cats to pet. The dogs will be up, waiting, and Sadie will make coffee and cheese toast. And then, maybe then, it will be time to take that trail up the mountain.

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Lady Charlene

There is this familiar feeling I get when I walk into my Mother’s kitchen, painted green like her eyes, with the gleaming wooden floors and cabinets, and cream counter-tops that wrap around the room. Whenever I go home, all the lamps in the house are on and there will be at least one candle burning next to the coasters I gave her for a Christmas or Birthday. All the lights in the kitchen are certainly on, and if it’s cold outside, the window above the sink is open because she is warm from hovering over the two ovens that Dad gave her for Valentine’s Day, which each have different and amazing things inside. There is something delicious on the stove, she’s there in her apron and the counters are spotless, although you know she is preparing enough food for an army. She’s standing there, with her hair up, and her makeup on, wearing wedges, stirring something that makes all of her bracelets crash together, and she offers you a glass of sweet tea, which she has somehow found the time to brew fresh that afternoon.

She makes you a glass of ice, and fills it with delicious tea that has enough sugar in it to send a diabetic over. She always makes mine with a lemon wedge or puts a straw in it, because she knows that’s what I like. She lays a napkin down on the table and puts it in front of you, and some of her hair is escaping the nine barrettes that are holding it down, and it floats away from her head in a peaceful kind of way. She will sit down for a minute, with all the lights of the whole house shining in her eyes, and she has this dazzling way of smiling that kind of makes you smile back. She might reach for your hand, her nails shine with a soft pink polish, or brush imaginary crumbs from the dark wooden table. Then she will tell you about the new lamp she found at that one antique store at the beaches, or how her neighbor brought over fresh cut lilies and she can’t decide if she wants them in the kitchen or on the coffee table and what do I think about it?

My mom will ask you how you are, and she looks you in the eye and you know that she means every word she says, and you start to tell her things you didn’t quite realize until that moment, and she nods and smiles – but she smiles in a reassuring way, not in a patronizing or humiliating way. And pretty soon, you’ve finished your tea and and she knows about that weird dream you had that didn’t make any sense but made you feel sad anyway, and it’s something you would never tell another living soul, but you can tell her because she cares, and it feels good to get it off your chest.

After a moment, she will uncross her legs and say “Well, it’s almost ready.” She stands and faces the oven as the digital timer blinks “4..3..2..1..” and beeps – she says “Oh BOY” and pulls out the most incredible, delicious dinner with a flourish, and sets it near the stove. She turns the vent fan off, and moves whatever is on the stove to the back eye, stirring and tasting it in one, practiced movement.

At this point I tell her how amazing she is, and my Dad walks in from whatever project he was executing and we bring him up to speed on how amazing she is. Sometimes they dance – right there under all the lights and steaming dishes, sometimes he makes her laugh and she slaps her knee. Sometimes he sits down and talks about the weather, and she brings him a glass of tea (with light ice, and no lemon) and places it on a napkin.

She tells him “It’s ready” and within a few moments, the table is set with beautiful plates of pork chops, or chicken and dumplings, or salmon and rice, and we hold hands to pray: My dad’s hands are strong, they are always clean, and his wedding band rests loosely on his ring finger. My mother’s hands are soft, her nails are always painted, she may twirl her diamond before giving yours a good squeeze.

After the “Amen” we raise our heads, and she will give you another quick, brilliant smile, and say “Let’s eat!” It’s good to be home.

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Coffee, Croissants, Cork

I am starting to see a pattern, a routine,

a glimpse into what this year may be like:

It’s smelling like fresh croissants from the bakery every morning-

the lid cracked in the back seat as I drive under oak canopies

with the smell of flaky beautiful butter wafting around.

It’s going to taste like fresh brewed coffee

(because everyone is a connoisseur)

steaming between my hands, filling the

white porcelain cup with swirling goodness.

This year feels like fresh cut wood, and the

possibilities of cork stoppers in every shape and size

in tan and honey and mottled browns.

This year will smell like sawdust on the chairs

on the floor, on my pants and shoes

it will become ideas and sketches drawn

on oak cherry maple pine tables

grown and fashioned in another life.

This year will fly like a yellow bike

zipping through traffic

taking the long way to see that sight of

downtown lit by streetlights and sunlight,

and I think, my, what a beautiful

city to live and love in.

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