Sunday, May 28, 2006

Pretend You're Not Here

Little Michelle wasn't me even though she had my name and even though we were both pretty little by most standards. Little Michelle had lived on our block for years, one of the children who was "touched," a gentle southern term that can mean anything from eccentric to autistic to deeply mentally ill. The neighborhood kids were kind to her, which seems odd to me now, given how cruel and vile children can be. Her parents didn't groom her well and she never appeared to have had her hair washed. Neither did her mother. Her father was an air-conditioning repairman and said next to nothing. I liked Little Michelle because in some deep way I saw that she was me, the me nobody saw past the clothes and the hair and the way I was holding it together, but not really, the way my fingernails betrayed me, about how I felt when I didn't have enough paper at school and had to "borrow," about every shortcoming that I would die to have people to see.

As time went on, Little Michelle dropped out of sight, going to a different school. Kids stopped playing in the neighborhood when we got older, and I didn't hear anything about Little Michelle until I heard that her father had shot her, her mother, and himself. My mother said it was about all that unwashed hair, pushing him over the edge. Other people had theories, none as inventive as my mother's (she was very big on clean shiny hair!), but nobody really knew why the family had come to such an end. People wondered what they could have done to stop the dad -- Pretend you're not here, they could have done that, a few dumbasses decided. The house had always seemed haunted in a way, but I never went inside, just watched as her dad worked on their air-conditioning unit, like all the other dads in the world.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Who knows why we do the things we do?" Raymond Carver

Pretend You're Not Here
vodka, vodka, and more vodka

Benedictions and Maledictions

I Eat Here All the Time

Our establishment is clean, the waiter
says to my friend Hank. You will find
no bugs.
Hank looks up from his menu,
setting his magnifying glass aside and rolls
his mostly blind eyes at me, as if to say, not
this shit again. I know, Hank tells him, I eat
here all the time.
I remember in high school when
our French teacher taunted him during class.
Can you spot land with that eye-glass, Pop-Eye?
she’d ask almost every day. The next year
her husband dove into a pool and came back
up to the surface paralyzed from the neck down.
When he saw her wheel him around campus,
he’d take out his eyeglass and watch, saying
I think I can see land, Michelle, I think I see land.


Cheri said...

My god thats horrible. Reminds me of the man who blew up his house on my street the day after Christmas because his wife left him and told him to get help. Sometimes people do irrational things thinking that it will solve everything. Really, I'm drunk right now. I shouldn't be on here haha.


Tom said...


How sad. I too brood about such tragedies. They help me cry when I can't figure why I feel like crying.


cindy said...

that's SO sad about Little Michelle's end -- why couldn't her father have joined the Army, a travelling circus, or just shot himself? Why do men always have to kill everybody in sight when they decide to go violently crazy? Poor Michelle, you were a sweet smart girl as a child, about that I'm certain.

Keith Hood said...

Did every neighborhood have a "big" and/or "little." In my neighborhood I was Big Keith and there was a Little Keith.

Wichita-Lineman said...

Wonderful poem and good post. And yes, Vodka, vodka, and more vodka. As long as you don't have a bastard son who trys to steal it and leave you an easter egg while you're gone.

John said...

Dear Michelle,

Bravo on another excellent, tragic post. I can see exactly why you're Catholic. Hope you have a thoughtful, good Memorial Day.

JR's Thumbprints said...

Hey Michelle,
For some reason your post reminded me of a Joyce Carol Oates story. The children ask their father where mom is. He says, "You'll know when you find her." That reply has always stuck with me; now, too, will Little Michelle. Awesome post. --Jim

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