In Ordinary Time


Catholics are going to hell.  I know this because the second Southern Baptist phase of my mother’s religious evolution coincided with my formative years, and she told me so.  Repeatedly.  This alone would have made catholic boys wildly attractive to me, had I known any in my small Appalachian town.  As fate would have it, I didn’t actually meet any until years and years later, after my mother transitioned into her Extra Terrestrials Created the Universe phase.  And wouldn’t you know it?  I married the first one I met.

While engaged, we sat before a vicar who unwittingly blew the starting whistle on what became, for me, a seventeen year wrestling match with Catholicism.  By that time, I didn’t believe in marriage or God, but since both were important to the man I intended to spend the rest of my life with, I thought, what the hell?  This was before I learned the important lesson that things you don’t believe in can still eat you right up.  Correction:  This was the beginning of that lesson, and another story for another time.

The vicar emphasized that the Catholic Church would never recognize my marriage to my catholic fiancé unless I had my first marriage annulled.  I had so many questions.

The first being, the church recognized my first marriage, the one where two non-Catholics got married outside of a catholic church?  Yes.  They did.

Secondly, but the church won’t recognize a Catholic’s marriage if it takes place outside of the Catholic Church?  That is correct.

Third, how does that make even a little bit of sense?  Cannon law.  But for the low, low price of some tens of hundreds of dollars, the Church can erase the first marriage, write the second one, and we could live holy ever after.  Happiness not guaranteed.  Installment plans available.  Must be over the age of reason.  Offer invalid outside of the continental U.S..

In the end, we hired a retired pastor who ran a wedding chapel beside a laundromat and imported him to the North Raleigh Hilton where we intended to have a non-religious ceremony.  Our plans were foiled when the father of the groom slipped the reverend a twenty to insert a reading of one of the Corinthians and the Lord’s Prayer.

Yea.  That’s where our plans went awry.

For the next decade I continued to butt heads with the Church through a botched conversion and then at every point along the arc of our marriage; birth, death, infidelity, divorce….  And then it was over.  When you’re not catholic and find yourself no longer married to someone who is, all of that just falls away.   But not quickly if you’re a Virgo that just doesn’t let shit go.

Almost another decade has passed and I find myself remarried, this time to a man who converted to Catholicism in order to marry his ex-wife.  He remains mum about how much he ever believed, but he stopped practicing when that marriage ended.  And like the beliefs of my mother before me, mine have also evolved.  I still don’t believe in marriage, but I believe in mine.  I do believe in God now, but not in an institutional kind of way.

Last year I began a pilgrimage to unravel the mysteries of passion, something my mother had, but that I lack.  It started with an itinerary to put myself in the way of passionate people in order to better understand them.  I’m still processing what I did and did not get from my trip to Graceland for Elvis’ birthday last month, and happily planning for my trip to St. Peter’s Basilica for Easter mass next month.  It has occurred to me that unlike my trip to Memphis, maybe I should prepare a little for my trip to Rome.  So in addition to meat and all beverages that are neither water nor alcoholic, this Lenten season I am giving up my long grapple with Catholicism.

On this Ash Wednesday morning I sat in St. Catherine of Sienna’s parking lot and silenced my cell phone to the best of my ability.  I ran through the mental checklist of rituals from all those years ago when we attended St. Raphael every time we visited my in-laws in Pittsburgh.  I remembered to cross myself, but forgot to genuflect.  For the first time ever, I did not feel like an imposture.  I wasn’t there out of some familial obligation.  I was there seeking understanding, just like everyone else; even if not understanding of the same thing.

The music was simple and the ritual of it all was quite moving.  The priest read the Gospel, then in the brief silence between the Blessing and the Distribution of Ashes, my phone received an e-mail – a sound that apparently does not turn off with any of the settings I adjusted in the car.  The perturbed look on the faces of the elders around me was no match for the horrified look of the little girl sitting immediately to my left as the four notes of the Mockingjay whistle rang out loud and true from my purse sitting between us on the pew.  I volunteered her as tribute and gave her a perturbed look of my own.  On the outside, it might have looked like a frown and wrinkled eyebrows, but what I was trying to convey on the inside was, Hey kid, thanks for taking this fall for me.  I owe you one.

If by any chance my mother was right about where these people are headed, I’m probably going to be spending an awful lot of time with them in the afterlife.




It’s almost lunch time and the lobby is full of frenzied parents.  My cell phone rings. It is Madison, calling me back.  Ten minutes ago she huffed and hung up on me because I didn’t have time to talk about her pancakes, which I can’t see or taste from eighty miles away.  She desperately needs my validation, except I tell her that she doesn’t, and that she should enjoy her pancakes if they are enjoyable, or make another batch if they are not.  That’s how pancakes work, even for me.  I answer her call not with, “Hello,” but, “I’ll call you back during lunch.”

The secretary has a phone to each ear; one she is on hold with, the other she is asking questions of while relaying information to the frightened parents in front of her.  Their children never made it to school.  She tells me my children never made it to school.

Where is the bus driver?  Drivers.  Multiple.  Four buses never picked up the children.

But Jack and Cate didn’t come back home.  They didn’t call.  Nobody’s kids did.

I hurriedly retrieve my purse, coat, books, and white pashmina from the detention classroom where I’ve been volunteering.  Those kids are fuck ups.  How did they manage to get to school?

I am nearly running down the hallway with my arms full and heavy when Jack’s ringtone plays from my cell phone.  I drop all of my belongings to answer it.  My mother is on the line, telling me that she has stopped by the school to have lunch with us.  Then I am not on the phone with her, I’m in front of her, explaining that she can eat at my house.  We have to go.  I don’t know where my children are.

The day is grey and the air is charged with a looming storm.  I am frustrated with her for showing up on this day.  I am frustrated that she isn’t moving fast enough.  I’m frustrated that she doesn’t know where she is going in the parking lot because she doesn’t recognize my rental car.  I’m frustrated that I have to help her buckle her seatbelt.

I’m finally ready to back out of my parking spot when I see it – a giant tornado off in the distance ahead.  But then I realize it is flanked by skinnier tornados; seven in all, in a row.  My mother hasn’t seen them, so I nudge her and point.  Just a tad bit closer to us, another row of seven columns of smoke and dirt grow out of the ground into the sky.  That’s when I know they are not tornados.  They are missiles.

Every few seconds, another row of missiles goes up, each marching closer to us, growling and grumbling louder and louder.  My mother asks if we are being bombed.  The bombs are being launched from here, our ground, I tell her.  Are we bombing us?

I try to calculate if the next row will miss us or erupt from directly underneath my car, but we don’t have to wait long to find out.  We feel the next explosion twenty feet behind us.  Our ears are ringing and the air is too smoky and dusty to see beyond the windshield.  And I don’t know where my children are.

Panic grabs for my chest, but I awake just out of its reach as it brushes me with its burning, icy fingers.  My chest is frozen, but it is not squeezed.  It’s been so long since my last nightmare, maybe weeks.  I lie awake dissecting what I know wasn’t real.  My bad dream is my insomnia’s chew toy and it wrestles with the detail of my mother.  Why was she there?

It is 2:38am.  Flashing blue lights dance on the wall I don’t recognize in front of me and a loud truck rumbles down Broadway.  It is my first night in Nashville.



MonellsSusan Ann, with her curly brown hair piled on top of her head, told me that Nashville is known for their meatloaf so while I’m here, I have to eat at Monell’s.  It was almost one and I hadn’t even eaten breakfast, so that’s where I went next.

Monell’s is family style country cooking.  I worried a little bit about dining alone in a family style restaurant, but I needn’t have.  I was seated at the end of a very long table and left to occupy myself with big bowls of coleslaw and cucumber salad.  Then my waitress brought a basket of biscuits and cornbread; then she brought me some family.

To my left, she seated a husband and wife.  They met and married while stationed in Germany twenty three years ago.  To my right, she seated two paralegals; best friends who work at different law firms.  One of them recognized the couple to my left.  When she was a senior in high school she worked at a drycleaner they owned.

Further down the table to my left, the waitress seated a retired couple from Australia.  When asked where in Australia they were from, they only said, “the south.”  Across from them, a young couple was taking grandpa, or great grandpa, or the crypt keeper out for lunch.  He sat opposite me at the other end of the table, but I could not see him over the lemonade pitcher.  The young man with him also recognized the couple to my left.  The young man’s brother was a firefighter with him a few years ago.

I had to ask, “Is Nashville a small town?”

They all agreed heartily that it is.

Fried chicken, baked chicken, pork chops, green beans, mashed potatoes, cornbread stuffing, macaroni and cheese, and fresh preserves were all passed around the table.  Eventually I realized there was no meatloaf.  It was Wednesday.  They told me meatloaf day was Monday.

We ate, we talked, we laughed, and some of us even caught up on old times and how the kids have grown.  Nobody asked to borrow money or brought up politics.  There were no loud drunks or stoned hipsters.  Nobody judged me for having three husbands, or acted like I might as well have had eight.  I didn’t bite my tongue bloody or worse, let it fly.

It’s going to be pretty hard to top that family dinner.  I wonder who they were.


There is a Fort Pillow.  I want so badly to believe there was a civil warfort pillow battle fought from behind overturned sofas, with war weary soldiers taking refuge in bunkers built from the couch cushions and blankets.  I want to believe it so much that I refuse to read this plaque.  I can infer from the picture that furniture doesn’t provide the best cover in a musket fight, and since I never plan to be in one, this information isn’t really relevant to me.



Merle is a child of God with only two bad habits and perfectly straight teeth – the ones that are accounted for, anyway.  Two bad habits.  He smokes cigarettes and he drinks beer, but he’s not going to ask me to buy him any beer, he says.

I am fine as fuck; Merle said so.  Repeatedly.  I think he misread my lack of response and apologized for his language.  He didn’t want to offend me so he amended his compliment, “Girl you is fine as a sandcastle.”

It’s stupid, but it’s novel and I cannot help but laugh.  He misreads this and tells me again and again, I am fine as a sandcastle and can I please buy him a pack of cigarettes?  He just came back from Chicago and they’re $15 a pack there.  walk dont walkI’m in luck because they’re only $5 here.

I tell him he should either stay away from Chicago, or quit smoking.  I want to tell him to learn some manners and get a job.  I decide to jaywalk instead.



I entered Arkansas on the old I-55 bridge, which afforded me no opportunity to see the mighty Mississippi overflowing his old banks.  I was going to West Memphis to look for Lucinda Williams’ Joy!

What I found instead was a rusted town that smelled like giving up and sewage.  If there was joy anywhere near that town it would stick out like a sore thumb.

I looked for her joy a few years back when I was in Slidell; all I found was alligators.  They look happy when you toss them marshmallows, and happy is close to joy.  I think she should focus her search there.



It was nineteen-seventy-something on the eighty-something inch TVSweatyElvis3 screen in front of us.  There is no characteristic hip swivel or lip snarl; Elvis is sweating profusely, disproportionate even to the jumping and thrashing he’s doing on stage.  Here, in two thousand sixteen, a woman in her seventies is draped over the hand rail, chin in hand, weeping at the sight before her.

“That,” she pauses, “was the Elvis I loved.”  Her voice is scratchy.  Maybe she spent the morning wailing somewhere, or the last half century smoking Marlboros.  I can’t say.

After an appropriate number of silent beats, her slightly younger companion says to her very sincerely, “I’m so sorry.”

The mourner’s reply is not automatic.  Finally, she says, “It’s alright.”



It’s very early and I roll over to hold Mike, but it’s not Mike.  It’s just the decorative bolster I pushed to the side last night.  Disappointed, I fall back to sleep.

I awake at 6 a.m. to a Celebrity Death Beeper notice.  It’s been blowing up since the holidays; a couple a week.  But I’m weary.  There have been no thrilling and earth shattering celebrity deaths in a long time;  Since Robin Williams, I bet.

It is David Bowie.  It is early and I am devoid of coffee.  I think about the rash of copycats we will soon experience as more baby boomers die of cancer.  And then I worry that we might stop even trying to cure cancer anymore because what’s the point?  It already got David Bowie.

I dress and hunt for coffee.  For reasons I can’t explain, A Case of You is stuck in my head the rest of the morning; Diana Krall’s rendition, not Joni’s.  I miss my husband.   My plane doesn’t leave until 9:30 tonight and guess what?  It’s meatloaf day at Monell’s.


The Twitch is Back!

blogLast night I uploaded the following blog post titled, Twitch.  Early this morning I had an email notification of a comment that needed moderating.  It was some advice from my friend, Graeme about which Elvis movie I should watch first.  I approved the comment and a little while later, I had notification of another comment.  When I logged in to moderate that one, the blog post was gone.  GONE!  It wasn’t in my published, drafts, or trash folder.  Kablooie!  I suspect my mother had a hand in this because she doesn’t appreciate when I write about her ghost.  

I put out a call for help and my lovely friend Jan just happened to have a copy of this post in her email!  Can you believe it?  When you subscribe, WordPress (who as of this writing still hasn’t replied to my frantic note to customer support) drops a copy of my blog right into your email account!  It’s a great time to be alive, folks (sorry, mama)!  The lesson in all of this, of course, is that one should always subscribe to their own blog.  And save a local copy.  And just maybe not to stop caffeine, cold turkey.


If this unrelenting twitch above my left eye is any indication I’m presently being haunted by my mother’s ghost.  As much as I could really do without that in my life right now it’s still preferable to the more plausible possibility that I need to lay off the coffee again.  For days I’ve been walking around with my left index finger trying to pin my eyelid to my skull to hold it still and apologizing to friends and strangers whom I’m afraid will think I’m winking.  This weekend I switched back to decaf, but just to be on the safe side I’ve started quietly inquiring about exorcists who may be practicing in my local area.  So far I’ve turned up nothing but concerned looks and one panhandler who claims he can not only see my mother’s ghost, but will banish her in exchange for a bottle of peppermint schnapps.  ‘Tis the season.

elvisBut forget me.  Do you know who had a great twitch?  Elvis.  And this time next month I will be haunting Graceland myself, attending his 81st birthday party.  In order to gain access to this soiree I’ve had to join a cult called the Graceland Insider’s Club.  There is no test of Elvis knowledge (thank goodness!), or bloodletting required for entry, just a $21.99 membership fee, which includes many monetary benefits; if I visit Graceland eight more times in 2016 that membership will have paid for itself with the money I’ve saved on parking alone.

I can see how someone might mistake me for an Elvis fan.  I was married by an Elvis.  The first lie I ever told was about Elvis.  I’ve got Elvis ornaments hanging from my Christmas tree and I also happen to think he’s incredibly handsome when his lip isn’t doing that thingwoodyelvis that my dog’s sometimes does when he’s irritated, but not enough to growl.  But the truth is, I know almost nothing about the guy.  I’ve never seen one of his movies.  And while I recognize his voice when I hear it, I can only name a handful of songs he sang.  I do know there is a difference between an Elvis impersonator and an Elvis tribute artist because I accidentally insulted the first guy I called to inquire about officiating our wedding.  It turns out he wasn’t ordained anyway.

This trip is just the tiny, first step of an assignment I’m sending myself on in 2016 to try and figure out what makes some people capable of being so wholly devoted to one person / object / idea; and conversely what makes me so incapable of such passionate devotion.  There’s a lot to be nervous about here but the one fear I’ve not been able to calm is this trepidation about trying to pass myself off as an insider.  I can see me being left standing just outside the inner circle in my new blue suede boots, just my spectral mama and me, winking at all the Elvis-y people.  That by itself isn’t so terrible.  I’ve met a lot of very nice people by winking at them.  But what if I go through the rest of my life never understanding what it is I’m missing?  And what if that’s actually why I’m twitching?