I was heating a Marie Callender's TV dinner--country fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy--and for some strange, inexplicable reason I suddenly remembered this little snatch of a moment from my childhood. I guess I was maybe thirteen, fourteen then, just starting to rebel against parental authority. Actually, by then I was just starting to really rebel. I'd been subtly rebelling for a while. But anyway, the point is for some reason my parents and I weren't getting along all the time anymore, especially my mother and I. We used to be really, really close...and we still are, I guess, but it's different now that I've grown up and the change came in my teenage years when I sort of pushed Mom away and tried to stand on my own.

The way I say it makes it sound justified and normal, but it's really not a time I'm proud of. Now that I think about it, it must've really hurt my mother. Impatience, surliness, snappishness, all that great teenager stuff...

I've drifted off the subject again.

My memory: thirteen, fourteen years old. Lotsa tension most the time. My mom's a pretty frugal person. Now my parents are pretty well-off, I'd have to admit, but they weren't always like that. When I was a toddler we lived in a two-bedroom apartment and worked our way up from there. I won't say how much my parents' house is worth now, but I will say I'm damn proud of my parents. My father's really a pretty brilliant guy, and incredibly hardworking, and my mother is the glue that holds the family together. They've come a long, long way in the space of twenty years.

And I've gotten off topic yet again.

Anyway, my mom's always been kind of frugal. If she wasn't, we wouldn't be where we are today. But along with that is this sorta curiosity to try new things. As a result, when she sees a big sale at the grocery store for something she isn't really sure of, she usually buys it and takes it home to test out hoping we'd like it.

Anyway, this memory comes from this time when my mother bought these instant mashed potatoes home. Actually, they weren't mashed potatoes. They were seasoned potato flakes, or something. I think my dad was on a business trip, and my sister was at a sleepover, so it was just me and my mom. We were making these potato flake things, mixing milk and laughing and talking.

I don't know why it suddenly came back to me, or why I'm even writing (so disjointedly) about it, but I think I should write it down because it's a very bittersweet experience. The memory itself is beautiful. My mom's one of those people who deserves more joy than she has. Not that she's depressed, or anything--just that if we're proportionate, then for all the good that she does, she should be repaid with more joy in her life than a human life can hold. But the memory was one of those times I like to think my mom was really happy. And that's why it's a beautiful memory.

It makes me so sad to think about this, but sorta in a good way. I can't even really explain why. It has something to do with the fact that she was trying to save money, but still hoping that her family wouldn't get the short end of the stick because of it, or something...and I really can't put it into words, the whys of it all. It just is.

I think I'm also sad because it reminds me of an earlier, better time. Early childhood. Best friends. Nowadays she's my mother, and I love her for that, but way in the beginning when I was little she was my mother, my best friend, and my hero. That's how it was like in this memory of mine. She was my mom, my best friend and my hero for a little while, but then the general timeframe of the memory was when I started pushing her away, and by the time I woke up and realized what I was doing I'd already distanced myself too much for her to be a best friend and a hero anymore.

Argh. I think I'm kind of rambling in circles. It's pretty irrational, how much I miss my mom right now. I almost wish we didn't have to grow up. Didn't have to go through the teenage years where we start exploring independence.


I'd like to call my mom right now and just say, "Hi, Mom. I love you." --and really mean it. I'd really like to do that.

But it's 3:30am. So I'll just write in here and go to sleep. When I read this tomorrow I'll probably wonder what was wrong with me tonight...heh.

Well, okay. Bedtime. Goodnight.

long way home.

We all have sleepless nights sometimes. It's nice to remember the days when you could pad down the hall to Mommy's room and wake her up. And then she'd make you some hot chocolate, tuck you into bed, and read you a story.

Well, let's pretend you're having a sleepless night. One of those nights when all the world seems asleep, except you. Let's pretend you've tried everything, and you still can't sleep. So I'm going to tell a story now. It's a scary story--only not really. You may think you've heard it already.

But you probably haven't.

So turn out the lights. Snuggle up in a quilt. Warm your hands on a big mug of hot chocolate. And listen:

You know how it begins...long cold country road in late November. The trees are bare and frosted. The moon's full. An owl's hooting somewhere in the distance and there's a car coming down the road. An old sedan.

There's a guy inside, getting pretty tired because it's 2am. So he turns up the radio as loud as it goes and tries to sing along but his eyes keep drooping.

But then he sees her--long black hair and a pale white gown, barefoot at the side of the road. He blinks, because he can't trust his eyes anymore--is she real? What's she doing out this late? He gets closer and closer and she turns and she's beautiful, utterly exquisite, and she raises a hand to hail him.

So he slows and stops and rolls down the window on the passenger's side.

"Need a ride, miss?"

"Yes. I live far away, though, so you can just take me as far as is convenient."

"That's all right, I'll take you home. It's no trouble."

"Thank you."

And she gets into the backseat and he starts driving, and she speaks only to give him directions.

And it gets later.

And the night gets colder.

And he's driving opposite the direction he needs to go. He's turning down roads he's never seen before, and the forest is thickening around him until he could only see the moon above and the branches clawing at the sky, and the road stretching away. Every mile is a mile farther from the world he knows. Every mile is a mile further into a world bathed in blue-white and scored with shadows.

And that's when he takes a look in the rearview mirror--just out of habit.

And she's not there.

So he turns around, and there she is, smiling gently at him. It must be my imagination, he tells himself. I'm up too late.

And he looks in the mirror again.

She's gone.

He turns around.

She's there.


He's scared now; he's heard the stories, just like you have. The ones about the women that wander lonely country roads just like this one. The ones where they've been dead for twenty years, killed on their prom night...or their marriage night, or...

...or even the ones where they drag unsuspecting travellers to hell with them in their loneliness.

His hands tighten on the wheel. The radio's still blaring, but it's breaking up because they're so far from the station and the static comes in ear-shattering bursts. He's sweating, breathing fast, scared shitless--and he dares to look into the mirror just one more time.


That did it. He SLAMS on the brakes and the car goes into a tailspin, tires screeching, smoke billowing. He hears a scream and can't tell if it's him, or her. The car goes into a ditch and he turns around, half-mad, and he screams, "I DON'T KNOW WHO YOU ARE BUT PLEASE, JUST GET THE HELL OUT--"

--and he breaks off.

Because there was the girl, sitting in the backseat...


...with her finger up her nose.

fields of barley.

Ya know, I think I'd like to live in the 1800s, when the west was still wild. I'd like to be a farmer in Oklahoma. Grow fields of wheat and barley, just like that Sting song, beneath a sky made all the more dazzling blue by all the gold on the ground. Get up with the dawn, work all day, come back and eat dinner by firelight, every night, tumble into bed with my laughing bright-eyed wife, whom I'd love with all my heart.

Except I think some nights when the October moon is full and the wind's blowing across the fields, making the wheat bend, making it bend like waves on the ocean--

I think then, I'd remember some other woman I've loved from afar in my youth. Someone highborn, above the station of a humble farmer. I think I'd remember her and I'd dream of her and when I'd awake I'd go to the window, which is probably a hole in the wall we'd cover up with boards and paper in the winter, and I'd look over my autumn fields and I'd think how much they looked like her hair in the moonlight, because she's a blonde.

And I'd know how her hair looked in the moonlight because I'd known her before for just one night, on some other October night years and years ago before I left to go west, on the edge of her father's plantation in Virginia while the cotton bloomed all around us and fell like snow.

I think that's a good way to spend a lifetime. Or a heartbreaking one, depending on how you see it.