Categories
Creativity

Star-crossed

A 100-WORD STORY

I suppose I was a force to be reckoned with, even then at 19, when we stood in his driveway and I explained how my world was just bigger than his, drawing circles in the air like the orbits of planets. But he loved me then, loved how we could talk for hours when only the stars were listening, loved that I loved him back in those sweet moments we traveled around each other. In the end he was the only one with courage enough to ask me to marry … and I wonder what if maybe every blue moon.

©2021, Jen Payne. IMAGE: 1892 Solar System, Orbits of Planets.

Categories
Creativity Storytelling

Memory Vended

A 100-WORD STORY

Downstairs, along a neon-lit hall of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, there’s an Art-o-Mat. From it, for $5, you can purchase small, original works of art. But I confess, my fascination with Art-o-Mats is more about their past lives than their brilliant creativity. You see, their artwork resides in old cigarette vending machines, and with each purchase I am transported to the Route One Dairy Queen, 1984. That very first pack of cigarettes. The sound of quarters dropping, the brazen pull of the lever, the musical-mechanical delivery of Marlboros on the offering plate below. The light. The smoke. Magic.

For more about Art-o-Mats and where to find one near you, visit www.artomat.org.

Categories
Creativity Storytelling

Silly is as Silly Does

A 100-WORD STORY

I met a man in the woods. He was going for a walk with his frogs…two Sonoran Desert toads, actually, along the green trail on a rainy afternoon. He had them in a cat backback, facing forwards so they could see as they went past the pond and around to where the stream crosses the trail. “What if he lets them out,” I ruminated. “They would die, it’s too cold.” “But is it? Gloabal warming.” “What if he’s conditioned them? Got them used to colder weather.” “This is silly.” “More silly than a guy on a hike with pet toads?”

Categories
Storytelling Writing

Hindsight is 2020

A 100-WORD STORY

In my version of the 2020 apocalypse, I lit incense and whispered fervent prayers to Saint Anthony and Ganesh. I started meditating. He bought a gun safe. It’s as definite in his living space now as the altar to Buddha is in mine. This should not come as a surprise. I have loved on the cusp of the yin and yang all my life, and it has been no different with him these past seven years. Of the first gift I gave him, he wondered: Speartip? Pestle? Arrowhead? “It’s a heart shape rock,” I swooned, our end-time a forgone conclusion.

Categories
Family Memoir Writing

Life Lessons from Dad

Study hard, be smart.

Weigh the pros and cons of your decisions.

Stand on your own two feet.

Hard work is a key to success.

Dream big.

Love what you love with passion.

When you fall off a horse, get right back on.

Laugh a lot and often…

and you’ll come out on the other side just fine.

That’s my dad and me, college graduation 1988. Today would have been his 78th birthday. Life is fleeting — perhaps that is the biggest lesson of all.
Categories
Memoir Poetry Writing

Identity Theft

I look
in the mirror
and see nothing.
Pieces of familiar fall away.
Sticks poke at what’s left.

Start from scratch
or use a box mix?
Put square peg
in square hole…
that’s never been my style.

I take a walk
to get answers.
Insert A into B, get C.
But all I see is ocean.
Vast and unresolved.

IT doesn’t seem
to need answers.
In. Out. Back. Forth.
Up. Down. [Repeat.]
I take my cue and leave.

It’s OK. Really.
I was bored with me anyway.
If you please,
may I see something
in a polygon?

Poem ©2008, Jen Payne. Image: Girl in front of mirror, Pablo Picasso

If you like this poem, you’ll LOVE the Divine Intervention issue of MANFEST (zine)

Categories
Family Memoir Writing

The View From Here: August 31

The View From Here: August 31

The view from here today is this: a shelf in my office. A still life snapshot: longtime friend Winne the Pooh, introduced to me by my Dad when I was a baby; my UMass diploma; the when-in-Paris photo with my friend DeLinda; a Wonder Woman mug; and the very last photo I have of my Dad.

He died less than two weeks later, August 31…twenty-five years ago today.

I always think: I’m glad I asked him to take off his sunglasses that day, because you can see his eyes in this photo. How they connect up with his smile, mirror his laugh.

I always think — if I look hard enough — I’ll see an angel hovering above our heads, hidden in the shadows, waiting.

I remember that day: a cousin’s wedding, the whole family together for the first time in 20 years, his laugh while he played on the floor with his great-nephew, the feeling of not wanting to leave, of wanting just a few more minutes with him.

Now it’s a photo that says more than I can ever tell you. And it sits on a shelf, next to the love he introduced, next to the education he encouraged and the travel he inspired. On a shelf, and on shoulders strong enough to carry all of that forward.

And more: me, Wondering through this life without and yet so very much WITH him. Every day.

©2020, Jen Payne
Categories
Memoir Poetry Writing

Memoir

In the pieces of memory
and scraps of conversations
transcribed in situ
I will tell you about
the headless groom
and the dead dog,
about the failure of Saint Raphael
and the irony of the phrase
“you could get hit by a bus.”
I’ll tell you the 15,000 words that broke me
and the ones that almost put me back together
until I realized my heart was better
cracked wide-open like that anyhow.
Now all I need to do is type

Happy Ending.

on the last page
and hope it will suffice.

Poem ©2017, Jen Payne. Image: Woman writing, Edouard Manet.
Categories
Memoir Poetry Writing

The Afghan

For Dorothy Reitbauer

“This,” my friend says, “is lovely.”
Lovely is never a word
I use to describe the ugly afghan
crocheted by my grandmother
and dragged out of storage
when guests sleep on the sofa.

It is avocado green and orange,
milk chocolate brown,
and amber gold,
like the gold my parents
painted the kitchen
of our new house back then.

“She picked each color herself,”
my friend explains,
as she carefully runs her fingers
up and over the zigzag pattern
with awe and affection,
though she never
met my grandmother.

It is the color palette
of my seventies family,
when Mom and Dad
were almost-happy still,
my sister played with Barbie
by the sliding glass window,
and my bangs were
appropriately feathered
away from my face.

“She thought about
you and your family
with each stitch.”

I could see her then,
sitting in her green recliner,
counting stitches like
the beads on her Rosary.
Love Boat on the Sylvania,
drinking instant iced tea
while a cigarette smokes
from the ashtray.

It was after her husband died,
and she traveled with her dog Coco,
bringing Shoo Fly Pie and
Moravian Sugar Cake from
Pennsylvania to our house
in Connecticut.

That Christmas,
she crocheted ponchos for us, too,
and took me to Hawaii
to see my Grandfather’s name
carved in marble at the
Pearl Harbor Memorial,
watch as she traced his name
with her fingers, slowly.

The same deft hands
that crafted this blanket
raised a son and daughter
independently in the fifties;
folded in prayer
for neighbors and friends;
prepared feasts
with love
for grandchildren.

“So much thought went into this,”
my friend continues,
as we carefully fold the afghan
and place it on top
of the antique hope chest
in the corner.

“Each stitch, each row,
holds love and memories.”

 

©2009, Jen Payne. Written for my grandmother, Dorothy Reitbauer. Seen here in 1943/44.

Categories
Creative Nonfiction Living Memoir Quotes Spirituality

Flexible Flyer

This week, I learned that Nicholas Koutroumanis, an old friend of my family, died recently. I thought I would share this piece I wrote about him 8 years ago.

 


 

Don’t believe what your eyes are telling you.…All they show is limitation. Look with your understanding, find out what you already know, and you’ll see the way to fly.

– – – – –

We call him Pappous, or Nicholas.

He and my mother became fast friends five years ago while neighbors at the their senior-living apartment complex. They went for walks, grocery shopped, and sat in doctors’ waiting rooms together. They listened to each other’s stories — her two daughters, growing up in Pennsylvania, the divorce; his life in Greece, the war injuries, his son.

He is old enough to be her father, really, but they seem to find comfort in such differences. Her patience with him seems endless, and his with her. He speaks broken English and Greek, she nods her head; she talks forever, and he nods his. He picks a piece of lint off her sweater and she waves him away; she kisses his cheek and he waves back.

The first Easter he spent with my family, he sang hymns in Greek — his voice so pure and beautiful you would cry at the sound.

Nicholas has been a frequent companion with my mother for holidays and birthdays and family celebrations over the years. He always brings pears, or grocery store pies, and tells stories about wild turkeys, God…and spirits. On my nephew’s first birthday this summer, he sat on a folding chair in the shade wearing a Hawaiian lei watching his little “Cowboy” enjoy the festivities.

– – – – –

And then you will be ready to begin the most difficult, the most powerful, the most fun of all. You will be ready to begin to fly up and know the meaning of kindness and of love.

– – – – –

My friend MaryAnne and I saw Nicholas today. He has a nice room at Yale, overlooking the hospital’s parking garage. Outside of a little high-blood pressure, he seems no worse for the wear of his 88-years, except…

“You’ll have to forgive me” he says for the fifth time in 20 minutes, “This is my first time getting old.”

For six weeks, Nicholas has been in this holding pattern — somewhere between his old life and his next one at a yet-to-be-determined nursing home. But he makes do. There are photos of his families taped to the window — his son and granddaughter, my sister and her son. A Greek newspaper is half-read and folded across the arm of a chair next to his favorite hat and familiar tan jacket. He makes easy, flirty conversation with the nurse who arrives to take his blood pressure. He tells old jokes and hugs us each with full and firm resolve.

A dry-erase board in front of the bed reminds him that TODAY is Friday, NOVEMBER 23. It includes the names of his doctor, the nurse. The blue magic marker notes that he is INDEPENDENT, but he is as much aware of the confines of this new life as we are.

“What are you going to do?” he shrugs his shoulders. “This is the day you have.”

In one moment, he is tangled in loops of conversation — “So, how are you?” he asks four, five, six times. And the next, he is as lucid as the day he fixed me up on a blind date, and sat as chaperone over tea and pear slices.

As we drink coffee from paper cups in the hospital cafeteria, he moves effortlessly from 40 years passed to last week to 10 years ago. My mother is his wife is his daughter is my sister is me. The details are off, the timeline is skewed, but the meaning of what he wants to share is clear.

“I woke up at 4 a.m.,” he says, “because there was a bright light. When I opened my eyes, I saw Stella. My wife. She was so bright. I told her how much I miss her.”

Stella passed away three years ago.
He is trying not to cry.

“I told her ‘I miss you Stella, come here’ but she would not come. I asked if she is in heaven and she said no. No.”

It is not heaven, he tells us, just a different side of the atmosphere.

“Here,” he says, holding his heart, “is heavy because we are here,” he points downward. “But there, on the other side of the atmosphere, everything is light.”

– – – – –

Your whole body, from wingtip to wingtip, is nothing more than your thought itself.

– – – – –

In and out of the conversation, I am reminded of the pages in Jonathan Livingston Seagull, which I read for the first time earlier in the day.

Nicholas, my elder and my Pappous, teaching me as wise Chiang taught Jonathan.

The trick… was for Jonathan to stop seeing himself as trapped inside a limited body.…The trick was to know that his true nature lived, as perfect as an unwritten number, everywhere at once across space and time.

Nicholas seems to move that way now — effortlessly across space and time. If he is bothered by his current situation he doesn’t let it show too much, and then forgets soon after. Besides, what are you going to do? This is the day you have.

 

©2012, Jen Payne. Quotes from Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull.