READ LOCAL SUNDAY is your glimpse into the working minds and hearts of Utah’s literary writers. 15 Bytes regularly offers works-in-progress and / or recently published work by some of the state’s most celebrated and promising writers of fiction, poetry, literary nonfiction and memoir.
Today we present Salt Lake City-based Melissa Bond, a poet, blogger and memorist. She has also been called a “provocateur” for reasons that extend beyond the fact that she started the capital city’s first poetry slam. Today she favors us with an excerpt of her forthcoming memoir Blood Orange Night. You can watch a short film here based in part on the content of her memoir and which premiered last year at the San Jose International Short Film Festival.
So . . . curl up with your favorite cup of joe and enjoy Melissa Bond!
BLOOD ORANGE NIGHT (excerpt)
by Melissa Bond
Please see me. Please don’t avert your eyes. I was a woman like any other woman on any other street. I pushed a stroller with two tow headed toddlers, a boy and a girl. The boy had lost a shoe and his eyes were slightly crossed. He took the shoe off a mile back and it lay on the sidewalk in front of a house with signs that said Democracy is Not for Sale and Free Speech Zone. The shoe was brown and outdoorsy with Velcro straps and Keen printed on the side. His father spent $40 on the pair at REI. His boy deserved the best. The boy would be walking soon, the father was sure. His boy would walk.
If you could see, you’d notice a slight glaze to my eyes. I stopped often for flowers and hunched over the bar of the double stroller. It was a way to rest. I placed the flowers between the children. Lilac stems and columbine. Lupine and a grand hollyhock. I was making a bouquet between their legs. I was making something pretty. They squirmed and threw the flowers out. I pushed on, legs dragging like those of a wounded animal.
I pushed Finch and Chloe for a mile or more. His eyes were glacier blue, hers like dark honey. I listened for birds. It was spring, after all. I used to love spring.
“Look,” I said to them, “that’s a sparrow. And that loud one? That’s a magpie.” Their brains, I knew, were being constructed at an impossible rate. Neurons were growing and firing, making thousands of connections a second. And I had responsibility for this architecture. Every sense was being registered and a corresponding tower was being built. Input lilacs and whole cities would rise in their brains. Input names and fragrance and touch and a continent would emerge where there had been only a vast soup of small, hungry tendrils. Their brains were magnificent creatures. I must help them see beauty and language. I must give them the tools so they could build a strong world behind their eyes.
Finch and Chloe didn’t talk although Chloe had begun making the same chirping noises as Finch. They chirped together and occasionally Finch launched into a diatribe that could be Swahili. I encouraged. I wanted my boy to talk. I wanted my boy to say, “Mama. Papa. Love.” I waited for this. Day after day I waited. Day after day I sat while he had speech therapy. And on this day, walking through the neighborhood, I named things. I said, “Tree. House. Dog.” I wanted him to construct me in his world. I wanted him to own me with his words. Mama. Papa. Love.
If you could see closely, you’d notice me stumbling in the street and over small rocks. The stumbling is meant to be both literal and metaphoric. The sidewalk buckled in places because of tree roots or inattention. Fingers that long ago dug into wet cement made the sidewalk rough. I tripped in these places, tripped in others. Blood sprung from my knees. I stood and absently swiped at the blood. Something was wrong but I didn’t yet know how far I’d fallen. I didn’t know that the sky would seem to pull away, growing distant and murky over my head. My eyes grew loose and unfocused. I shook my head. I swiped, gathering more flowers and placing them between the children. “Honeysuckle,” I said, trying to gain footing. “Rose.” I hoped for cities of fragrant beauty. I stopped for the blood and then bent down to grab both of their feet. “Love,” I said, squeezing. I stood up and leaned against the bar of the stroller. This body was so weak, as if the very air was growing thin around it. I continued pushing and told myself that tired was simply the weight of this new world I inhabited. Motherhood. It was heavy. It was so heavy right now but I must move forward. If you looked closer, you’d see ominous clouds in the distance. You’d hear the roll of the earth. Cave-in, you’d say. Black. You’d better run.
That summer, I called several times to get an appointment with Dr. Amazing but Babs said he was unavailable. I started crying. I’d stuck to Dr. Amazing’s protocol for four months. “I’m almost out of refills,” I said. “What am I supposed to do?” Babs tsksed and hummed. She told me not to worry. A wonderful nurse practitioner was taking Dr. Amazing’s clients while he was gone. I made an appointment.
When I went in, the nurse practitioner and I talked for nearly an hour. She was a mother too—had insomnia issues. She refilled my script for 4 mg Ativan nightly despite being uncertain about the dose—you’re sure it’s four?—and when I began sobbing, she placed a soft, warm hand on my back. “It’s okay,” she said, my shoulders shaking under her fingertips. “It’s going to be okay. We all get out of balance sometimes.” She gave me only one refill and urged me to return the next month to talk with Dr. Amazing. When I left, she placed a large note in my chart:
“Patient is taking 4 mg Ativan/night. Has run out and needs a new Rx. That (dose) is really high. We need to talk. Something is going on.”
I wouldn’t know about the nurse practitioner’s note until years later, after I’d retrieved my file from Dr. Amazing’s office. I’d return to see Dr. Amazing two more times and he would never mention the note. Like me, it became buried. But for now, I had another month of Ativan. Dr. Amazing had said my adrenals were upside down. This is why I couldn’t sleep. I needed to hang on until they resumed their proper function. I looked at the pill bottle. It was ugly, I decided. A vague evil emanated from the yellowed cylinder. The evil seeped out and into the earth under my feet. It crawled up my legs. No, I told myself. Do not think these things. These were the thoughts of someone racked with paranoia. I was just a dead tired mother. I must push on. I must get up and go. I left the bathroom and walked into the thin air. I must have patience. My body would find itself again. Until then, I thought, take the pills. Just take them. There’s no other choice.
Melissa Bond began her literary career in Salt Lake City 1995 by starting the city’s very first Poetry Slam, despite the death threats and the claims that she’d be escorted to the border for such heresy. In 2002, she won the Mayor’s Artist Award for the Literary Arts. In 2006, Melissa went first to Biloxi, MS and then New Orleans, LA to help tear out Katrina soaked drywall with her bare hands. She later helped put together a multimedia show about said drywall and the people that no longer lived inside it. She was a finalist in the Western Publisher’s Association Maggie Awards for Profile writing. She’s published three chapbooks of poetry but only her friends and daring family members have read them.
For the past several years, she’s been working on raising a hilarious kid with Down Syndrome and another with the normal number of chromosomes, both of whom play a big part in her newest book, Blood Orange Night. You can read more work by Melissa at Mad in America where she is a regular contributor and at www.melissaabond.com.