(FREE STUFF – MEMOIR)
I sit in the sand of my Michigan yard, bare legs stretched out in front of me. I snap the juicy stalk of milkweed, a fleshy length whose broken-tipped green immediately swells with white. Tiny capillaries carry the milky sap and then release the sap where the passageway ends … at the break. I watch as the sap collects and pools, bubbling and curving in white liquid tension. I tip the stalk and pour the drops into my palm, feel its sticky thickness.
The milky viscous sap is bitter.
I know the taste.
Someone told me the insects who eat the milkweed are protected from predators because they themselves taste of the bitter sap. The beautiful striped monarch caterpillars gorge themselves on milkweed, ensuring their safety as larvae and as butterflies. I like this idea, and I press my sticky hands and then the stalk itself to my tongue.
I could use protection.
I break off another milkweed stalk and dot the lengths of my legs with tiny sticky circles.
From ankle to mid-thigh, where my shorts end.
I gather a handful of yellow sand and allow it to drift through my fingers and onto my legs, where it sticks to the circles.
Abrasive pathway markers.
Bitter to the taste.
These things I remember.
But other memories are incomplete.
A flash of something … inchoate and fogged.
A happy memory … I reach for it.
Reach grasping mental fingertips through mist … it is gone.
Years and years of this happy something flashing through my mind.
I stopped trying to reach for whatever it was.
Those tiny flashes of remembered happiness were enough.
They brought me comfort.
In recent years, the memory has flashed more frequently, and strangely, the flashes seemed to be tied to our minivan. My hands on the steering wheel brought back something else … a happy powerful something. A memory from when I was very young. I could feel the steering wheel change in my hands. I could feel an electric charge of well-being. A childish softness. A joy.
I remember one time yelling at the girls to be quiet as I flexed my hands on the leather steering wheel and tried to figure out what this happiness was.
I just need a minute. Be quiet for a minute. BE QUIET!
I need to think.
If I could just remember … but then it was gone.
A flash of lightning.
But now I knew there was something there … the memory was there. I just needed to get to it. I just needed to take myself back to that moment somehow and look around … who is here and what is here and how do I feel?
I walked out to our minivan and sat alone.
Put my hands on the steering wheel and relaxed.
I sat silently.
I flexed my hands on the steering wheel.
I closed my eyes.
Emptied my mind.
I came inside, disappointed.
I wanted that happy memory.
I sat down at my computer and blindly typed the words that came to mind.
Magic. Sticky. Hands. Molding. Power. Clay. White. Joy. Electric.
I stared at the words.
And then through tears, I typed a single sentence to myself.
“There are no happy secret memories, Kris.”
And I saved and shut the file.
A lot of bitterness stored up within me.
Damn little protection it has offered over the years.
It may be time to try something new.
I am tired of eating milkweed.