Order of the Good Write

That Magic Feeling When the Words Flow. A Blog by Debi Rotmil


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The Voices Told Her So

patricemolinardphoto

Photo by Patrice Molinard

August 28th, 1965

Ana looked at her son’s white denim pants and wanted the grass and the blood to go away. No matter what the television commercials told her, no matter how many magazines advertised the wonders of laundry detergent, the grass stains created by a violent fall to the ground and the blood that came at the hands of other boys who didn’t understand her son’s pain made her freeze with anger.

The voices screamed in her head. They told her she couldn’t erase the hatred. They told her his anger was her fault. The voices shouted that his biological father was right to leave her for another woman, that he was  right to replace the clothes in her closet with the wardrobe of another woman’s.

The voices told her that being a single mother with a career and fulfilling her dreams of a store filled with her own fashion was selfish.

“Look at your son!”  The female voice said. “He hates you for not being there for him, back when you spent your days in a working in a store. He hates you for putting your dreams before him. He hates you for leaving Havana. He hates you for bringing him into a world where everyone hates him for his accent”.

The voices crowded her head. She told them to shut up, but they wouldn’t. The grass stains and the blood glared at her.

Then she heard the words, “Gasoline will take out those stains.”

It was a voice with a melodious tone, as if she heard it on the radio in between songs.  All the other voices stopped, letting this voice say it out loud, again and again. “Gasoline will take out those stains.” It grew louder and softer, as if the voice was teasing her. Then it became a jingle, sounding like the the Texaco commercials on the radio.

The black hole. The nothingness after an explosion. The silent black screen in between commercials. The gasket was blown, the fuse destroyed. After that moment, she was unaware of what she was doing.

She threw her daughters diapers into the machine. She threw back her son’s soiled wet jeans into the lid of the washing machine. The previous load filled with her husband’s shirts were turning and drying in the dryer. The hissing sound of the pilot light flame beneath the machine sounded off.

She thought of the plantains she had so longed to make, but the local store did not have plantains to buy. She longed for the soft, sweet corn flavor of a tamale in a banana leaf, and Arros Con Pollo, papaya shakes and Cuban steak sandwiches, pork marinaded in vinegar and garlic. He mouth watered for the kitchen of her childhood, the cool tiles on a hot day where she’s lay her head down. Her mother’s kosher work space, but her mother often turned a blind eye to tradition.

But now there’s  Rice a Roni and Julia Child recipes. She learned how to make ‘Chicken a la King’ from the Ladies Home Journal. She tried her hand at Cherry Rouss and Baked Alaska. Her new husband was delighted. They were made to perfection, but they weren’t as good a the caramel flan she made with dozens of eggs, condensed milk and burned sugar.

She didn’t remember going to the garage. She couldn’t recall the moment she saw the canister of gasoline her husband had bought earlier in the day to fuel the lawn mower for his afternoon of yard work. Her nose didn’t smell the acrid, dreamy smell of Sunoco’s premium regular as  she poured it on the stubborn grass marks and those pesky blood stains.

Anita had things to do. She had to wax the kitchen floor. She had to feed the baby. She had to wash the dirty grimy jeans off the knees of her growing son who was getting dirtier and smellier every day as hormones created a miniature version of the man she married when she was eighteen, whose face was ripped off of every old family photo, who name was erased from records and family mementos.  Anita had to erase the dirt because that’s what commercials said. That’s what the Readers Digest said.

She didn’t remember the moment the gas touched the white jeans. The dryer flashed the pilot flame as the gas touched the fabric. There was a quick roar and everything went white.

She wondered where the baby was.

In her cradle.

She wondered where her son was.

With the neighbors.

Her brother was with her husband, in a car following the ambulance.  Her sister in law took her own children and left the house, bound for Bay Ridge after the trucks left.

It ended there. The white jeans and the stains didn’t matter. Hospitals and skins graphs, insurance coverage and lives blown apart and put back together again all in the name of love.

And so it began. Life within the aftermath.

 

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Wednesday Writing Prompt: Dreams Deferred

green dangling beaded dress

‘Ana La Habana’ Fashion

My mother came from Havana Cuba after a member of Castro’s staff told her to take her son and leave the country. This was 1959.

Ana Srebrenik was a single mother and shop owner. She ran a little lingerie store in the lobby of, what was then, the Havana Hilton. Castro and his team had their offices in the building, and every day (as I remember her telling me), she’d see he and his minions walk through the hotel after their day in the mountains.

She got to know his side men casually. One of them gave her the heads up about the revolution and how her capitalist ways were no longer going to cut it in post Revolution Cuba.

My mother immigrated to the US and settled in New York and built another business. This time it was a dress shop in White Plains. This time she designed some of the clothes and hired a tailor to run them up for her store. I believe she had a partner in this venture because I used to hear about a couple with whom she had to settle  when the store closed. Their names are forgotten.

Ana placed her career on a shelf, met my father, got married and had me. Maybe it wasn’t all in that order. I’m never sure. Details got fuzzy. When she was alive, she wouldn’t go into detail. I only knew she always thought she’d get back into her own store again. But she never did.

When she passed away unexpectedly in November of 2009, I had to do what we all have to do once in our lives: clean out the family home, send things to donation, organize estate sales, sell off property.

Among her things, I came upon a portfolio of her fashion sketchings.  They were likely done after she gave up her store. She always loved clothes and good fashion although she never allowed herself to buy many things. Mom would re-purpose old clothes, re-design a skirt, or use a scarf as a belt. Like Little Edie Beale of ‘Grey Gardens’, she’d find a perfect outfit for the day.

fitted orange dress

Smart business attire for the day. ‘Ana La Habana’

While going through these drawings, I see a creative side to my mother I had never explored. To me, she was the mom in the kitchen, the mom in the car driving me to school or to the store, the mom in the dark room. Her dreams stunted by responsibility placed upon her as a woman of a certain generation.

bluedrapeddress

Cocktails? ‘Ana La Habana’

Each dressed devised by her hand evoked glamour and chance situations. There was a bit of glory and opportunity with each sash and button. The lines and shading promoted a dream world she wish she could step into, or to allow a potential customer to live empowered through a frock devised by her own vision.

Yet, those ideas were left frozen on a page, hidden in a binder sitting at the bottom of a trunk. So many years ago, measured by the passage of time where she wouldn’t allow her true creative self to flourish. That it was her duty as a wife and mother at the time. That her way of handling a career and motherhood as a young single mother in Cuba caused a riff between her and her son.

Not this time, she likely thought when she had me. So she shut the dream down.

She encouraged me to be successful.

She was proud of my athleticism and independence.

I think back at the times she never brought up marriage and grandchildren. Never guilted me about it.

She once even told me I should run my own business.  But the everyday corporate life seemed like a societal obligation, having seen my father find security at IBM for entire career.

How wrong I was. The world isn’t the same.

I think of the song *”Days and Days” from the musical “Fun Home”.  It’s sung by Helen Bechdel to her daughter Alison after dealing with her husband Bruce’s closeted life for so many years. She had just asked him for a divorce.

Although the family circumstances are not the same as mine, the feeling of wasted days due to what was expected of her comes to light.

She sings of the ordinary, mundane things, “…lunches and car rides and shirts and socks. And grades and piano…and no one clocks the day you disappear,” and “bargains I made because as a wife I was meant to, and now my life is shattered and made bare.”

Days and days and days. Just like my  mother, married to a very nice, sweet, adorable man whom I worshiped, but held her to what was expected of her. He was likely resentful of her depression, not understanding what she needed.

There is no one to blame really. But lessons are learned. Parents strive for their children to have a better life than the one they leave behind.

I can hear my own mother say it in my ear.

“Don’t you come back here. I didn’t raise you to give away your days…like me.”

Writing Prompt:

What are your dreams? What have you sacrificed in order to live a certain way? What creative activity have you allowed to sit on the shelf?  And if you brought it out of the darkness to make it a part of your livelihood or your hobby, how will you continue to use that talent and never give up?

 

‘Days and Days’, from the musical ‘Fun Home’. Music by Jeanine Tesori. Words by Lisa Kron.