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Lord, you have touched me,                  
And you have known me.
You are there when I sleep,
Still there as I rise.
You understand my thoughts.
You light the turnings of my path
And speak meaning to my days.

No word slips from my tongue
That you first have not heard.
You challenge me on every side.
Your hand is laid upon me.
Such intimacy confounds.
It is more than I can bear.

Where can I hide from your spirit?
Where can I flee from your being?
If I scale the vault of Heaven,
You are waiting for me there.
If I turn spitted over coals in Sheol,
Your blessing cools
And soothes my brow.

If I soar pink and purple
On gilded wings of dawn
Or sink with groans and bubbles
To the ink black
Bosom of the sea,
Even there your hand reaches for me
And draws me to your way.

If I drown in darkness,
You fill me with the light
That darkness cannot hide.
Night shines as though it were day.
Your darkness and your light
Are both the yin and the yang
Of my soul’s complex desire.

You called my soul to life
As I floated in the womb.
Thank you for this my form,
So exquisitely wrought.
My bones and my flesh,
My blood, all are yours,
Though made in mystery
And knit in pulse and blood.

You trace my geometry of form,
The secret alchemy it hides.
My formulae were writ upon your mind,
Encoded there before I ever was.
It was your dream that made me, God.
Can I be aught but good?

You who dare to ply such skill
To make this miracle of me,
Can you not arrest the grip of rage?
Silence voices taut with pain?
Heal the leper, lame and blind?
Guide the crazed back to sane mind?
Declare the Brotherhood of Man?

But must you do it all?
You’ve done your part.
The rest is up to human kind.
What shall we say to those
Who offer up your name in praise
But wander from your way,
Who chant your song from choir stall
But chase the beggar from the gate?

Look deep into my heart, O God.
Is selfishness my game,
Or is my promise really yours?
These hands you made for me,
This mind that toys with rhyme,
Can they ever learn to do your work,
Or are they only meant for mine?

Biome

It was your dream that made me, God.
You called my soul to life
as I swam,
fluttering gills and twitching tail,
recapitulating the phylogeny
of the ancients, wet and
naked in my mother’s womb. 
My DNA spirals in your thought,
a twining universe of suns.
When I sleep I dream of you,
grasping tangles of raw force
that throb and pulse,
energy that summons thunder
to the palms of your hands
and sends it cavorting
out across the darkling plain.
I hear you toast, “To Life!”
as your face incandesces
the radiance of a million suns,
and you hurl nascent galaxies
out beyond the swirls of yearning
that grip the Milky Way. 

Then the darkness of the cave
replies, “To Death!” a blessing on
the gentle peace to come.
But that’s another day.

This day I live!  I breathe!  I recall
with thanks my Cambrian ancestor
exploring an ancient shore, its gills
reaching for air as it rides the tide up
a sandy beachhead.
Curious, it persists
and evolves at last
a better tool for tasting air,
pure free-wafting air,
not captive to watery depths,
but gasping to be freed
from its primal watery grave.

Eons skate the aching curve of time,
and gills become alveoli. 
Lungs are born to capture air.
My ancient uncles breathe,
and now do I.
Breathe deeply upright hairy biped
I have become.
Breathe and cry and shout!
Give voice to Bach, Mozart, and Beatles.
Oh Fortuna!  Carmina Burana
shouts of brave fortune
that gave us tools to sing with angels
and join the rowdy music of the spheres.

Daedalus tried to fly on air and fell,
but other winged phyla soared.
Air offers a multiplicity of uses.
Birds can sing and fly. 
That’s hardly fair.
When I return to spirit,
I will fly—and sing.

For now I sleep and dream and hope.
When morning comes
and dream gives way
to thought, wrought solid,
but leaving in its granite wake,
a cheerful crack of whimsy. 
From such splits in ancient truth,
spring-fed streams of fancy
feed the flow of thought at play,
a Holy Spirit prattling
even to the dreams of day.

See now, as morning dawns,
and shadows flee, I am newly thankful
for all God has created
and declared it “Good.”
His living eyes tear up with love
for all I am and ever hope to be.

Come spirit God,
inventor of all burbling blood,
and stalwart bone.
Join me in my paean to ecstasy. 
Sing with me in heavenly harmony,
as worlds implode
and galaxies are born
to spiral, gasp and die.
We scintillate in laughing arcs
of love and light and joy,
while time implodes,
and all that was and is
and may ever yet become
thread the needle eye of Now.

Xenophobia

Sitting at my friendly computer desk last night in my cozy flannel PJ’s, lining up lovely words into erudite phrases, I was lulled into a relaxed state of wellbeing.  Then something wiggled inside my right pajama leg.  I was up in half a flash.  It’s good the blinds were closed as I shrieked and tore off the entire bottom half of my sleepers.  I only stopped my frenzied jig when I spied the instigator of my terror, a big black cricket, creeping away to hide hopefully behind a white wicker wastebasket.

Why was I so afraid?

First: Things that wiggle don’t belong inside my pajamas.

Second: Things with exoskeletons are unnatural and meant to be observed from afar.

Third:  Things without any skeletons at all are weird and inspire a natural revulsion.

By deduction:  The more different a thing is from me, the more I am repelled by it.

It just may be the case that we are hard wired to fear the other.  Xenophobia is a feature of not just being human, but of being a sentient life form.  No wonder we assume racial differences to be perceptive demarcations.  But just because the big X is a natural feature of being a living creature, that doesn’t mean we should accept it as a fixed and irrevocable cognitive error.  We are intelligent.  We can undertake a fine tuning of our perceptions to make them more accurate and more loving.  We must try.

I can begin by acknowledging that it was actually a tiny black cricket—not a big one.  Why is it so easy to jump to the conclusion that scary black things are big?  Our subconscious always so readily connects for alliterative possibility, big black bugaboos vis-à-vis white wicker wastebaskets, easy to hide behind and restore hope, given their whiteness and their dainty thoughtful interlocked pattern of construct.  In my confrontation it was the cricket who demonstrated the enlightened intellect.  Bless him!  No doubt his perception of me was big, pink, and butt-ugly.

In retrospect, having calmed myself, I remember that this particular arthropod, so typically given to singing with gusto, was undertaking a studied silence while scaling the inner mystery of my pajama leg.  Perhaps it was because his music isn’t actually song.  It is more accurately an exuberant scritch-scritching between hinged parts of his scary exoskeleton.  Those induced vibrations author the happy reverberation we enjoy as cricket song.  Soft cotton flannel no doubt had a damping effect on the acoustics of his music.  Empathy is always a good approach to rivalry, whether inter- or intra-species.  How frustrating it must have been for his urge to expression to be muffled by my fusty old flannel.  When you gotta scratch you gotta scratch. When you gotta’ sing, you gotta’ sing.

Finally, I need to make the acquaintance of the individual cricket before making unwarranted conclusions about his character, motives, and personal integrity.  He might have actually been Jiminy Cricket, of Disney fame, personifying high conscience in the physiognomy of a bug.

October 28, 1958 began inauspiciously enough, a clear cool sweater kind of day, not unlike many others that fall.  Deciduous trees had done their annual best to make me happy to have landed in a quiet West Virginia hollow with the silent intent of making a family.  I had always wanted one, and it seemed reasonable to assume that the best way to have one was to make one.  But since it was a hidden agenda, I didn’t like to make a big fuss about such things.

When I set out that late afternoon to the monthly meeting of the Ritchie County Farm Women’s Club, I had a lovely setting for my trek to Josephine Wilson’s house in time for the official call to order.  There’s no telling where Jim Taylor was.  My husband wasn’t much for farm work.  It was I who always helped my in-laws with the milking night and morning.  He would probably wonder where I had gotten to when he finally made it home, but Garnie would remind him that I was off to my monthly meeting.  She had blessed my evening off.

There was nobody to see me as I set off across the hills, making for the Wilson Place.  I was a sight.  My belly had gotten way too big to hold just a baby, and I wondered what else could be making me so excessively rotund.  Two of them?  It didn’t help that I had to carry so much stuff.  There was always a load to take to meetings, program materials, project paraphernalia, and of course there was my purse.  Even out in the boonies, a girl can’t leave home without her accouterments.

The first hill wasn’t all that bad, especially since I was used to running up and down chasing cattle, and I made that one in good time.  The next one was OK too since I could cut across the hay field.  Last month all the hay bales had been stored in the high barn for wintering beef cattle.  The only thing that slowed me down was the electric fence that kept the dairy herd out of the meadow.  The gap was right at the bridge of the hill, the barbed wire stretched taught across the lane.  I typically didn’t bother to open the gap.  Too much trouble.  Unless it was muddy, I always just ducked down and rolled under.  It never occurred to me that maybe I wouldn’t roll so well this day.  I was already down and halfway under before my belly got caught on a barb.  It snagged the soft wool of my hatchin’ jacket, as it was called in WV parlance.  I was in a fix.  There was no room left in me to suck it up and pull loose, and I couldn’t touch the fence and risk a painful shock.  I doubted it would have killed me but you never know.

So I lay there assessing the situation.  The meadow larks kept me company, swooping repeatedly across the field collecting late persisting insects for their winter fat potential.  Finally I decided to study the contour of the barb and make minute adjustments to my own position until I might wriggle free.  It worked.  With a sigh of relief, I scooted out from under the fence and gathered myself for the rest of the trek.  The sun was getting low, and I needed to get moving to make that call to order.

Since Josephine’s house was on my side of the river, I didn’t need to cross the swinging bridge to get there.  That river crossing would have been another complexity, climbing steps on each side and balancing all the way across.  My route was on through Uncle Paul Headlee’s pasture and down Lynn Camp Road a mile or so, and I would be there. 

I was getting hungry with all that hiking and toting.  The meeting was to be a potluck, accounting for yet another thing I had to carry that day.  I had baked Minnesota Harvest Bars.  They were my favorite autumn dessert, rich with farm butter and redolent with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and pureed pumpkin.  Yum!

My stuff and I made it to the meeting with no additional excitement, and I set about filling my plate with enough for two of that farmer’s wife cooking.  It was always a treat at these meetings to leave a casserole for the farmers and feed each other instead.  Of course we talked non-stop since we were all isolated on separate farmsteads and relished the opportunity to see each other and exchange gossip.  Most of us were on the same party line and everybody knew pretty much what was going on, but this was a celebration.

I enjoyed the meal and was no worse for the trip except for a bit of a twinge in my back, but that was understandable given the length of the hike and the enormity of my load.  I must have eaten a bit too fast, since I began to experience a bit of gut discomfort.  I kept quiet though.  Nothing of concern here.  The meeting proceeded, and eventually I asked Josephine for a spoon of sodium bicarbonate.  She complied, and we moved on to new business.  But the anti-acid didn’t seem to help much.  I was having a hard time sitting still in my chair and focusing my attention on the trip we were to take to a coal fired power plant in Ripley next spring.  Finally, this group of very experienced mothers rounded on me and accused me of being in labor.

“What?”  I squawked, denying the assuredly improbable.

“When is your due date?” Bessie Barnard demanded.

“I dunno,” I muttered—“Sometime soon.  Dr. Santer said early November.  But this is only a stomach ache.  And besides, it’s still October.” 

But one thing led to another, and within the hour I was packed into Nancy Collin’s Buick and barreling down US Route 50 for Parkersburg and St. Joseph’s Hospital’s Emergency Room.  Around eleven o’clock, Dale Warren Taylor made his unscheduled appearance on the scene.  His exuberant expression concerning the situation more than made up for my own reticence.  He was late to the meeting, but once present and accounted-for, he offered more than recompense for his tardiness. 

Later I found out that if my taught belly had made contact with that 10,000 volt charged barbed wire fence, I would have delivered him right there on the hilltop with the cows and meadow larks as midwife attendants.

Racist

I loved Lillie-Mae.  She was my second mother and owned a very special place in my psyche.  She made the best liver and onions in the world.  When we talked, she would look at my face, her eyes going deep, trading her intelligence with mine.  She must have understood how eyes speak to each other.

She nursed me through measles, back before there was a vaccine, piling the covers deep and waiting for the sweat.  Months later, spying the forbidden gloss on my mouth, she handed me a Kleenex and warned me to “take off that color before your Aunt Judy gets home.”  I could tell her anything and could trust her to keep my secret.

It was Lillie-Mae who advised Aunt Judy it was time to buy me a training bra, when new and tender nipples responded to all that starch in my blouses.  I’m remembering a time when she loved me well enough to iron pretty ruffled blouses for me to wear, so I could head for school, all that starch and cotton announcing to the world, ‘Somebody loves this girl.  Pay attention to her.  No matter what you think, she is worth something.’

It’s no wonder that world wobbled when one day Aunt Judy announced, “Lillie–Mae says you think you are better than she is.”

“But I’m not,” I squawked.  “I’ve never said anything like that.  It’s not true.”

Judy explained that it was because of my attitude toward her.  “She can tell from the way you talk to her, as if you know more that she does.”

Lillie-Mae doesn’t love me anymore, was all I could think.  I must be a monster.  I never asked Lillie-Mae what made her decide I wasn’t her sweet girl any more.  It was too much to face.  I just kind of hid inside myself and waited—for what I don’t know.  When would it be safe to come out and ask what I had done that was wrong?

In 2012 Cincinnati I attended a meeting designed to heal racial differences.  It seemed simple, merely a scholarly update, especially for me, a person who loved black people just on principle, having so adored the Lillie-Mae of my youth.

The meeting leader announced that all white people are racist.  When I corrected her, she insisted that just because I loved my childhood nanny and liked “The Help,” I wasn’t pure of heart.  She said that I appreciated that movie because it reminded me of my days of privilege as a daughter of the south.  I walked out of the meeting—seething.  So much pain!  How could—how can—we live with it all?

In 2019 my Episcopal church worldwide began a year-long journey of addressing our country’s original sin—slavery.  They named the journey ‘Beloved Community.’  I find myself asking some new and difficult questions:  If our congregation becomes truly diverse, how much will we have to change?  Can I enjoy worship in a style different from what I have always treasured?  Why does it seem that I like black people as long as they behave as if they were white?  Does that make me a racist?  Our country has elected a black president—twice.  My votes helped.  The Anglican Communion has chosen a black leader, the Most Reverend Michael B. Curry, and I—I must face my Lillie-Mae quandary.

Somewhere in that place where loved ones wait silently upon the wind, Lillie-Mae wonders when I’ll say, ‘I’m sorry.’  She has a big hug waiting—one shaped just for me.  We are sure to share a good talk, and an even better listen.  Maybe I’ll finally be a big enough girl to hear her own dear story, and give her the hug she has earned, and waited through both our lifetimes to wrap her arms around.

In October I told my Lillie Mae story to the ‘Sacred Grounds’ group at our first Beloved Community meeting.  The man who led our group, a Xavier professor, cautioned me to not make it personal.  He said it was systemic—institutional.  I didn’t know what to think or feel, or even if I could take another meeting on those terms.  If it’s about love, how can it not be personal?

When I later asked Redeemer’s Minister of Communications to help me unpack this conundrum she responded, “I don’t think any of us can go down this path towards reconciliation and redemption alone, and yet, of course, it is personal.  Both/and.  We can’t avoid how our lives have influenced our very beings.  And yet, perhaps what Adam meant was a kindness.  Maybe he wanted to reassure you that the problem ultimately lies in the system and that together we can begin to address that system.  But there is no way to avoid the pain and the guilt and the bewilderment we will feel along the way.  Stick with us, Dorothy, it is going to be really hard, but we will all need each other to find our way to the other side.”

Yes it is hard, but worth turning our insides out and asking some soul questions.  The answers may put each and every one of us on Sacred Ground—together.

Fertility

I’ve spent the last sixty years complaining about getting kicked out of Carnegie Mellon.  It was the end of everything.  When my Dad’s business went bankrupt, and he couldn’t pay second semester tuition and fees, it was all over for me.  I convinced the Dean of Students to let me sign on personally to the debt in return for permission to take final exams.  I sat for them, then packed my bags and took off for parts unknown.

In retrospect, losing my place in that very conservative engineering diploma mill may have been the best thing ever to happen to me.  After recovering my stance as a viable though modest bread-winner, it was time to get back to school.  Opportunities were limited.  The only four-year possibility within Greyhound commuting distance was Salem, a West Virginia teacher’s college tucked into the Appalachian foothills, between Parkersburg and Clarksburg.  Engineering Physics wasn’t even offered.  The closest thing to my one-time dream was Divisional Science, available to secondary level teachers of Biology, Chemistry and Physics.  I signed on and didn’t look back. 

Salem was a liberal arts college.  That meant, I later discovered, that I would be exposed to a whole gamut of ideas, not just technical facts.  There were many courses in a lively continuum of scientific subjects, but also with my minor in English, I enjoyed all the richness of our language spread out as a table of linguistic delights.  For fun, there were spiritual electives, wherein I broadened my appreciation of what can be believed, how, and why.  French and Art fell by the wayside.  I was sad to see them go, but you can’t learn everything.  As I look back over the way that crazy-quilt of education overlaid the world of work, I see that Salem curriculum as key to becoming an inventor in a way that fulfilled my dream as well as my prayer.  The dream was that I become an engineer my father could be proud of; the prayer was that he might love me even though I was only a girl.  One thing led to another, and I packed up with just one semester remaining, returning to Texas—and home.

At Texas Instruments, Apparatus Division, I had plenty of opportunity to see things uniquely vantaged.  Hired on as a lowly Assistant Assembler, I soon reached back to the technical drawing learned at Carnegie and proposed a device to improve my workstation performance.  Promoted, I got to write assembly instructions until, repeatedly proposing work saving jigs and fixtures, I was promoted yet again to Tool Designer.  All that was fun, but I had hit the ceiling.  Even though I was assigned to teach every new-hire engineering school graduate how it was that I did what I did, no more money was possible without a college degree, and I was still one semester short of that achievement.

I quit and went across the street to TI’s Corporate Research and Engineering Division.  It was a wonky place where they understood my frustration and let me work while earning a bit more money, even without the sheepskin.  I worked for Dr. Linda Creigh who was doing research on 2-chloro-2-nitroso-butane, a photo reactive chemical, to demonstrate its use in working with a ruby laser as a research tool.  This was chemical research—not physical.  My job was to mix the required reagents to produce our compound, set up a distillation apparatus, and heat the slurry until it began boiling.  As temperature elevated, different fractions evaporated, were condensed and caught.  Each fraction was subjected to a spectrophotometer to precisely measure its purity.  The 2-chloro-2-nitroso-butane we were after was a comely royal blue fluid that when very pure could be exposed to laser light demonstrating a wide variety of amazements.  But it wasn’t all that easy.  No matter how much care I took in isolating a fraction, there always remained enough impurity to spoil its use in the little glass photo cube that waited.  The laser lurked alone and lonely.

I have been often amazed to find that the most innovative breakthroughs happen at the interstices of things.  This was a chemical problem, but the solution I found was a physical one.  We had been successful in producing very pure fractions of our chemical, but the impurities always seemed to be extremely volatile, evaporating at a very low temperature, and carried over into fractions where they didn’t belong.  Remembering Halloweens spent over boiling kettles while wearing witches hats and croaking, ‘When shall we three meet again?’ I picked up a hunk of dry ice at the local ice house and brought it to work.  I proposed my idea to Dr. Creigh, who listened with interest.  I put a nearly pure fraction into a beaker and dropped into it a small lump of the dry ice—frozen carbon dioxide.  I counted on the dry ice not reacting to our compound, and the doctor agreed.  No chemical interaction.  I was using the CO2 as an inert physical broom to brush away all those volatile impurities.  It worked!  The beaker frothed with CO2 being sublimed into the fluid—going direct from solid to gas and making a big froth—as the gas escaped, dragging volatile impurities up into the air and away.  The project was saved, and when it was written up for publication, I had earned a footnote mention for my invention of “a method for removing volatile impurities from a fluid.”  This was actually unremarkable, except for being one of many instances where innovation reached across demarcations between specialties and fertilized the process of invention.

This kind of approach served me well in a variety of situations.  A typical example was working for Varo Inc. where I migrated since that outfit allowed technicians to work flexible hours in order to accommodate illusive degree programs.  I was a technician by day and attended advanced biochemistry classes at night.  I was amazed at how many drums of flux remover that Varo bought and used, and at what great expense.  So, I took some to school and analyzed it in the chem lab.  It was mostly dry cleaning fluid, with a dollop of amyl acetate (an ester that smells like banana).  Varo started making its own flux remover and saving a bundle.  This wasn’t a healthy or environmentally friendly idea since perchloroethylene  isn’t something that should be continuously inhaled any more than Kester flux remover should.  But it was a mile post on my march.  It was also another shoulder rub from physical to chemical that earned me an ataboy—girl.

Yet another reach across as engineer after I had acquired that elusive degree, was at Varo Static Power Division.  It was a Sherman Texas facility devoted entirely to manufacture of night vision power supplies.  Powering a night vision unit required a high voltage multiplier.  It was a string of diodes cleverly arrayed to step up to the extremely high voltages needed to see in very low light.  It was necessary to stabilize the component connections to prevent disastrous internal arcing.  An obscenely expensive potting compound was used to achieve this electrical isolation.  I replaced the compound with cheerfully cheap high tech beeswax.  It worked just as well and saved Varo a ton of bucks.

Later at TRW while working on military aerospace proposals, it was often when experts in different specialties met and argued that the creative work got done.  My most satisfying personal contributions to those efforts seemed often rooted in that Salem College ambrosia of science as art.  It was then that I decided getting booted out of Carnegie Tech was not all that bad.  I’m told that this is one of the blessed truths of Kabballah: It’s where the wounds of life open you up that the light gets in and creates your beauty.

Reincarnate

Ever since I was able to string words together, I was certain that something was very, very wrong.  People thought I was a child.  I knew, with certain integrity, that I was an adult caught in a child’s body.  While this smacks of a fixed delusion, it could also be compared to a common problem accruing to reincarnation gone awry.  My mother exacerbated this defugalty by taking me to every old lady’s clabber-klatch she attended, including me in any and all palaver, and using me as her confidant and running buddy.

One of my first memories is of visiting an out-of-town church service where I was parked in a baby nursery while the adults departed for the sanctuary.  They put me in a play pen.  Can you believe it?  I was put into a cage with “babies.”  It was the first time I remember being genuinely enraged.  I didn’t cry—just lay there and stewed in my frenzy.  One of the babies was dressed in only a diaper.  I was sure he—or maybe it was a she— might wet the nappie and rub the stink off onto me.  My memory doesn’t extend to being picked up and restored to my rightful place as a person, but it must eventually have happened, because weeks later I can remember the ceiling in my sick-room going all funny.  I began screaming for help.  Adults paid me no attention.  I screamed to absolutely no avail until finally the ceiling collapsed pouring water all over everything, even my bed.  I warned them.  They ignored me, insisting I was just a child.  Serves them right!

I didn’t like to converse with children.  They didn’t understand things.  I remember a restaurant luncheon with my mother and her friend who had a daughter near my age.  It did not go well.  The daughter was intent on deriding my B17’s.  I used them as patriotic decoration fastened onto my braids.  Sure, other girls used ribbons, but my daddy was overseas during the conflict.  I wanted to celebrate his work and telegraph my pride in our country’s war effort.  After I took her blather from her long enough, I turned to her mother.  “Your daughter is a mighty big girl to have such a small mind,” I sniffed, fists on hips, with a nod toward the silly girl.  The mother didn’t choose to respond.  She was busy chattering with my mother about my odd behavior.  Nobody took me seriously.  They just ignored me and jabbered among themselves about how eccentric I was.

As a five-year-old. I worked hard to help my parents feel good about themselves.  One night my dad came home with a grocery bag that rattled suspiciously.  It was surely a puppy brought home to surprise me.  That put me in mind of the baby duck he brought me the Easter I was two.  Daddy sure did love me.  I pretended that I didn’t notice and waited to see what transpired.  The next day was my birthday, and I was careful to evidence proper amazement when presented with a new Cocker Spaniel pup.  I named him Ginger and enjoyed riding with him on Mommy’s bike—him in the basket—me on the back fender, until he and I got too big for Mommy to make it up hills with all three of us.

Daddy and I had a man-to-man understanding.  One particularly contentious flap with Mommy culminated in a creative resolution that reverberates as an almost Akedah event.  Daddy and I were to be shut together in the bathroom so he could do the spanking for that day.  Mommy was tired of administering the hairbrush.  I was prepared for the worst, but Daddy sat on the lidded commode and told me to start crying.  Whaaat?  I protested, but then Daddy began applying the hairbrush to his own flanks, making lots of noise.

“Go on,” he stage whispered.  “Yell!”

So I yelled—loud and long.  We did a great job of mimicking a sound whipping to a naughty fanny.  And Ginger yapped his canine accompaniment, punctuating every blow.  I did love my Daddy!

It was when I started to school that I learned more than letters and numbers.  I was ready for something wonderful.  Mommy had been to Jordan Marsh and brought home five dresses in exactly my size.  She could not have known that before the year was out the boys would be singing, “I see London; I see France; I see Dotty’s underpants!”  This was the beginning of some serious growing.  Never again have I enjoyed five new dresses. The other girls started with dresses way too big so they had room to grow. We all had things to learn.

It was in the classroom that I had to face the enormity of my reincarnation error.  Every day we learned a new number.  I was OK with that, but Miss Chater did her best to string it out forever.  How many ways are there to draw a one?  Two was more interesting, but by the time we got to three I was disappointed in the whole affair.  I drew my three and then rummaged up some crayons to illuminate it. The two loops suggested special areas for coloration.  The color lighted it up and made it something worth feeling some pride over.  But then Miss Chater spied the miscreant!  “What is this?” she barked.  “I told you to write a three, not color it!”  She ripped the paper off my desk and held it up for all to see.  “This is not the way to do what you’re told!”

I may have been an adult in a child’s body, but mature confidence wasn’t part of the deal.  I was terrified.  Cringing seemed to be the most appropriate response.  I tried to shrink beneath the desk, but Miss Chater wasn’t having any of that.  The next day I rendered a proper four without embellishment, and continued in like manner for the remainder of the school year.  I did a lot of questioning of my motives.  I guess it could have been a problem if everybody began waxing artistic.  Miss Chater would have had to control too much at the same time.  If I cut across the lawn it doesn’t make a difference, but if everybody does it, the lawn would die.  I taught my creative self to ask my caring self that question.  What if everybody did it?

But Miss Chater wasn’t finished with me.  I was a speedy reader.  That earned me a spot in the fast reader’s group.  I would read aloud my paragraph and then continue silently through the story while the others recited their read-alouds.  When my turn came around again, I was into the next chapter and didn’t know where the group was.  This must have been a certified abomination, because Miss Chater proceeded to stage a foot-stomping conniption.  “You can’t do that!” she screamed.  “You have to stay with the group!”  Different Drummer be damned.  For her, there was one pace—the group’s.  She grabbed my arm and dragged me to the back of the room where the very slow readers kept their table.  She pulled up a chair and threw me into it.  “See if you like that!” she croaked.  Of course Mommy was notified that I had been demoted from the fastest-of-the-fast to slowest-of-the-slow.

Things got worse.  At recess a boy approached me and told a ridiculous tale about trains that ran underneath the schoolyard.  We ran around listening under various shrubs for the prevaricated underground trains.  He must have been lying.  Trains don’t run under ground.  Sure, I was new to Massachusetts.  In Texas I was very sure that trains ran above ground on tracks.  You can’t trust anybody!  I asked Mommy, but she didn’t know about tracks and trains.

Newtonville, Mass had more surprises for me.  It snowed.  It kept snowing until it formed huge drifts.  Another trip to Jordan Marsh netted a snowsuit for my small but insistently growing  child body.  As I walked to school one morning, I encountered a big noisy orange monster.  It was huge, and it even blew smelly smoke into the air from out of a pipe.  I didn’t dare go past it.  It was moving the snow into big piles and clearing the way for cars to move down the street like they were normally wont to do.  Fearing that it might scoop me into one of the piles, I considered returning home, but that was impossible.  Mommy would be more than mad.  I turned down a side street and floundered through the drifts to somewhere I hoped was safer.  Memory doesn’t always serve us well.  The next thing I recall was being handed over, wet and cold, to Miss Chater at the schoolhouse door, by a big helpful policeman.  Of course Mommy heard all about my “stunt” and was mad anyway.  I might as well have returned home and faced the music.

I was almost grateful to be safe in the classroom away from gargantuan snow movers, but not for long.  It was time for morning break.  We all gathered around the giant earthenware crock that stored our crackers as they got soggier by the day.  It was so big it got to sit on the floor.  As I waited, eager for a cracker to go with my milk, the weird girl—that’s what everybody called her— crept up to us.  She scared me.  She had thick glasses that made her eyes look funny, and she walked around with her mouth open.  As she came up to the crock she just stood there and wet herself.  The pee ran down her legs onto the floor and around the base of the cracker crock.  We—every one of us—ran back to our seats.  If I tarried anywhere near her, people would think I was like her.  I wasn’t the only one who understood that basic premise.  I had finally learned the benefits of functioning as a self-confirming group.

Lest I assume that insight had transformed me into a groupie, the next year after Mommy bought me a size seven snowsuit, one of the boys brought white shoe polish to school and during recess he poured the whole bottle all over my outfit.  It was a lovely navy and green plaid wool and sported whimsical buttons that were curled up on two sides to look like little Stetsons.  I was proud of the suit but didn’t say so.  He must have read my mind and punished me for my prideful attitude.  The bible says pride goeth before a fall.  Even God was mad at me.  I had to keep my adult status a secret or no telling what might happen.

While in bed with chickenpox, I several times dreamed of being an Indian brave and recalled many intrepid battles with other feathered leather-clad adversaries.  When I recovered, the dreams ceased.  I forgot about the Indian connection until years later a psychic advisor announced that I had had a recent lifetime as an American Indian male.  That made sense.  I was always good at running around and hollering.  When I grew up and finally brought some adult confidence to the mix, it didn’t feel so awkward expressing a warrior brave from within a robust female body.  Finally I had “A Fighting Chance.”  Elizabeth Warren would have been proud!  She got her autobiography published.  I’m praying that mine makes it too.  I hope her Injun tale doesn’t cost her the presidency and that mine doesn’t net me worse than a few jeers and chuckles.