About anniefreewriter

I have three grown children and two grandchildren. I'm a writer of blogs, short stories, memoirs and now fiction. I recently married a man named Dav, who is also a writer. I had adamantly declared for 23 years that I would never marry again. Life is unpredictable. I love the details of life that make up who I am. I am a follower of Jesus as God the Son who desires to have a relationship with anyone willing. Grace is freely given. My story is about grace.

Remember Daddy When…

Remember daddy, when you made a radio from scratch. A small light yellow box with an open back containing a fascinating array of tubes, wires, and the string with a safety pin dangling down by a thumbtack so we could tap it back to life with a sizzle. I remember the smell of warm tubes as they struggled to stay alive through at least one hour of broadcasting. You took the trouble to round out the corners, perhaps because you had at least one daughter who was accident prone.

I remember when you were kneeling by the icebox in the kitchen. I was six or seven then. I knew you were inventing something.
“Daddy, what were you doing to the icebox. I remember you fiddling with it when I was a little girl.” You said, “Oh yes. The block of ice would melt so fast that it had to be emptied often. I rigged up a tube for the drain pan and put a hole on the outside of the house to drain it.” Simple. You fixed it.

Daddy remember when you built a cage in our backyard for my chickens at our first house in Orange. The first one was a banty hen that fell off a chicken truck as it sped through town. A man in the neighborhood found another hen, a black shiny one, and gave it to me. At the time I didn’t know it wasn’t wise to let chickens free-range in the backyard. A dog got the black one. I saw. I screamed. Too late. My banty hen Belinda moved to Almond Ave. with us.

I remember daddy, when we lived on Almond Ave. in Orange. You would play checkers with the neighborhood kids. You let them win. However, Scrabble was another story. You always won that game. You memorized the dictionary on the Navy ship as well as the Bible.

Remember daddy, when you taught me to drive our Chevy Bel-Air with the big wings on the back. Mother remembers. I decided to take it for a solo drive. When I got to our slanted driveway, it seemed too steep. I hit the long pedal and lurched forward over the neighbor’s bush into their bedroom wall. They didn’t like the remodel. You fixed it.

I remember when you and mother attended separate churches. I was twelve. She liked to wear her furs and jewelry like the other women in the glass-domed sanctuary. At the church you attended the women wore long sleeve dresses and no make-up.
To bribe us to go to church on a Wednesday, you’d say, “I’ll get you an ice-cream at Thriftys.” We couldn’t resist. My sister Becky would wrinkle her face until the freckles bumped together and her curly red hair would bounce as she said, “Let’s see who can eat the slowest.” We licked our hands more than the cone. I always lost.

Remember when you would take us for hikes in the “wilds” of the San Bernardino Mountains. You led the way with your walking stick. You were in your own zone, so we had to help each other up the craggy sides and balance like birds on logs over streams. You didn’t talk. Mountain goats don’t talk. You took us to secret places where a knotted rope hung from a high tree, swung us over a bowl-shaped gully where a rock pool shaped from water erosion in a stream invited us to swim you would keep going and later come back by then we were dry.

I remember when I asked you about the drink mixer you made by hand for your Ovaltine and Postum. You made it out of some kind of motor, a pear can and a hand-carved wooden handle with a screw as the power button. You said, “I made that on a Sunday afternoon at home in Canada. The boss of the bible college, Mr. Maxwell, knocked on my door to check on me. He saw what I was making and immediately rebuked me,”
“This is a day of rest, you are breaking the Lord’s Sabbath.” I said, “I wasn’t working, me and the Lord were having a good time putting this together.” I’m sure glad I asked. I still have that mixer.

Remember when you called me from Corona. “Hello daughter,” You spoke with a cotton-soft voice. “Can you help me pick up a table that was thrown in the trash. Is your car big enough?”
“I don’t know daddy, how big is the table?”
“What kind of car do you drive?”
“A Subaru Forester.”
“It should fit. When can you get here?”
“I’m just under an hour away, depending on traffic.” You never called me for help. I jumped in my car and drove. You fixed the broken leg and gave it to a Mexican family. That was the kind of broken thing you could fix.

I remember daddy when you looked at me with your little boy face and said, “I’m at the end of my path.” You were a shell stretched over a skeleton by then it barely held you upright in that wheelchair.

“Daddy, I’m going with you to the end of your path.” Your eyebrows pointed upwards and your eyes grew round.

“You will?”

“Yes daddy, I will.” And I did.

I AM FROM

Image

I am from a sister sandwich, I’m from the middle, the peanut in peanut butter.
From a Navy ship gangway, a mother with two arms and three children and a leash that held me in range.
I am from two sisters in silk-lined coffins. I will see you in heaven, Heidi and Debbi.
I am from a Navy chief father, a square jaw and a high forehead under a proud hat. From the language of dash dot dot dash.
I am from Dorothy, not the Oz, but from a river of logs. Tiny in triple-A shoes, straight-A student, as fiery as her hair.
I am from President Grant and Buffalo Bill and before the cry, “the British are coming, the British are coming.
I’m not from God Save the Queen, only sung when she appeared
O Canada is not where I’m from, but a citizen I was.
I’m from a safe place inside a pungent hay bale on the prairie
or burrowed in a tunnel of snow, quiet like a marmot.
I am from a ground-level window seat for a performance of Symphony in the Sky with special lighting effects.
I am from the Watchbird is watching you. And Big Brother is watching you.
I am from God the Eternal One is watching me under a Banner of Love.
I am from Grandma Esther with coiffed hair and elegant piano fingers. Needlepoint pricks and yarn needle clacks and bonsai forests.
From her husband who died too young, followed by a son.
From she had to sell the family home, her farm and antique shop in Nebraska.
I am from her dainty tuna sandwiches cut in fourths, sliced apples, and a cookie.
I am from Grandma Susan with loose bun hair and stooped shoulders.
From canned food in jars and powdered milk, a house built by two that held eight.
From a banana-shaped bench smoothed by years of children’s rears.
From a hiking club, neighbors honey in gallon jars, slivers of soap in gallon jars
From her husband who died too young, from married again to a high school friend.
I am from San Diego, a native island in Hawaii, Long Beach, Wilmington, Three Hills, Los Angeles, Orange, Hawthorne, Torrance, Cypress, Yorba Linda, Garden Grove, Buena Park
In my childhood alone.

My Grand Adventure

My fingers gripped the cold metal railing as I peered down at the yawning hole in the most amazing sight I had ever laid eyes on. My stomach tightened and I sucked in my breath. My father stood next to me, his thick wavy black hair rippling, his hands  pushed into his pockets. My older sister, Colleen was standing next to him, her nostrils flared as she sucked in the scents of pungent pine and sagebrush. She threw her hands skyward in a sweeping motion, “I want to see the river, why can’t we see the river? Let’s hike down there.”

The year was 1962 and this was our first and only family vacation. 

Our dad was staring through his own viewfinder.  My sister leaned to glance at me behind his back, she winked with one eye and sent a mischievous signal with the other. 

I took her cue. “Daddy, can we go down there?”

“Ahem…uh…uh…sure, go ahead.” He shrugged.

My mother was back at the camper with our younger sister, Becky. 

We were standing next to a large sign anchored in the cement next to the railing; for tourists. We had a mountain goat dad, who taught us that no preparations were necessary for excursions into the unknown. So, donned in light summer sweaters, capri style pants, supply-less and clueless, we headed down the upper rim trail; skipping and singing. 

The beginning of the trail was wide and easy going. My sister stopped often to snatch a piece of sage to rub between her fingers or twirl a wildflower on the tip of her nose.  Soon, the gently sloping trail became snaking curves which slowed us down, but didn’t soften our resolve to reach the river. Occasionally we would pass hikers coming up the trail but no one seemed to be going – down. We finally reached the bottom of the trail and began to walk on level ground. There were a few trees and shrubs, and tables with benches.

“I’m extremely thirsty; I hope we get to the river soon.”  Colleen pulled her sweater tight against the chill.

I never complained out loud but my stomach was speaking for itself. My special order saddle shoes were beginning to feel like horseshoes. We had been hiking for a couple of hours now and we saw no sign of a river.

Then we saw it – this sign was impossible to avoid: IF YOU PLAN TO HIKE TO THE RIVER: BE PREPARED TO SPEND THE NIGHT.

I glanced at my sister for a cue. What was the next act in this play?

“That means the river must be close by – Let’s go!”

I shrugged and trudged onward.

Then we saw it. On a table oasis sat a paper cup with some kind of drink. My sister grabbed it and began to gulp. I drank the last gulps quickly before it could get snatched. It tasted like lemonade.

We pushed forward with prairie girl determination. Fortunately for us, two hikers returning from the river appeared on our path.

“Where are you headed?” They asked. “Are your parents with you?”

“No,” my sister replied. “Our dad let us come down to the river. How close are we?”

“You won’t get there before dark. You should head back. It gets very cold at night. Don’t you have food and jackets?”

Then they added. “There was a sign at the top of the trail warning people not to hike to the bottom of the canyon unless you are planning to spend the night. Did you see it?”

“No.” My sister looked defeated. Too hungry and thirsty, she threw her hands up in surrender.

They threw in a final warning. “You should hurry.”

We began our hike back to where we started. Our prairie spirits were left on the dusty trail.

Going up was twice as hard, especially without nourishment. Why did the trail seem so much steeper? We didn’t see another soul for a long time. Our breathing became raspy and our footsteps sounded hollow in the silent dimming light. We didn’t speak.

My sister began to moan – softly at first – then her moans became cries of anguish.

“I can’t make it, I’m going to lie here and die.”

“We have to make it. We can’t just give up.”

My sister laid down on the trail, to prepare for her coming fate. “The coyotes are going to find us and scatter our remains across the Canyon, never to be found again.”

But, along came two “trail angels” to partake in the next scene of our ongoing saga. They stopped and lifted my sister off the dusty trail and began to carry her. I was relieved. I no longer felt I might have to resort to dragging her body by the arms inch by inch up the trail.  Our dad met us a little further up and took over carrying my sister the rest of the way. We thanked our angels and continued on the rest of the way to face the wrath of a very worried mother.

Two Cells in One

The Fleshly Cell

The cell was as sound-proof as my life had been. I wanted to scream. Maybe someone would hear. But all that came out was the scream of my nightmares. The scream that pulled all of my broiling emotions so tight against my chest that I felt my ribs would crack, but no sound came out; not even a sigh.

How many years did you get locked up for being incorrigible? I didn’t feel hunger, even though I hadn’t eaten for two days. Circles pull down the flesh under my eyes which feel like two fireballs. The socks they forced me to wear, rub against my blistered feet.

I was still riding my bike to the park with my dog running alongside, just a few months ago. I was escaping into other worlds through books. I read about escapes through underground railroads, I could be taken down a rabbit hole one day and drink strange shrinking stuff, or be carried away to a world of Oz through a hurricane – I went through twenty-eight books of this adventure. My world was happy and carefree. How did I ever become “Incorrigible.” “A Bad Girl.”

***

A metal bed with a thin mattress, a sheet, a lumpy pillow, a scratchy gray blanket, and a sink were the only other objects in the room. I was just another object; a thing. Why mother? Why did you want to shave my hair off? I would let you do it now. I would just wear a scarf to school. The other kids always gawked at me anyway and snickered to my face.

Was it because I became a shame in the neighborhood? That day, about a year ago, when I followed a neighbor girl to a house where she was pet-sitting a skunk. The girl, who I will call Merrilee, attended my school but hung out with the “cool girls.” She would turn her back to me as she stood; arms locked inside her tight circle of friends. I was only her “friend” when no one else was around.

When she brought me to the house, she had reached up in a cupboard for some of the tiniest glasses I had ever seen. She took orange juice from the refrigerator and mixed it in the glasses with a clear liquid from the cupboard. “Go ahead and drink this, it’s really good.” I followed her actions as she tossed the drink down her throat in one swift motion. Oh, how it burned in my throat and stung the lining of my nose. My nose and eyes scrunched tight on my face. She offered me another, which went down much easier this time because I held my breath. Just one more she said. I complied, and this time I didn’t feel or smell a thing.

We began to walk home, but my body was acting weird. We stopped at a liquor store to buy sen-sens (those tiny little licorice squares that could hide any scent.) The store owner watched as we swayed and laughed and slurred. We left the store, but a few minutes later a squad car pulled up and some men in uniform shouted for us to stop. We stopped They asked us to walk in a straight line. We walked like we were playing hop-scotch. “Stop now,” an officer said firmly. I kept going. “Halt, ma’am, right now.” “Ich okay, shee I cn do it.” They put cuffs on us and put us in the police car. They drove Merilee to her house first. Her mother came out and sat on the edge of the seat. “I want you to stay away from my daughter. You’re a bad influence,” she spat those words at me. Without looking back, she led Merilee away, with her arm tight around her shoulder. I slid down in the back seat.

Even though I didn’t understand what this liquid had done to my body, I knew that I was now, “A Bad Girl.” The neighborhood children gather around the squad car, to point and jeer. “Ooh, she’s in trouble. Do you think they’ll lock her up? I turn my face away. The burn of shame colored my face. I am “A Bad Girl.” I had wanted to tell you my side of the story mother, but you didn’t listen. You rarely did.

I pace in a tight circle. I had always had a choice of free and open spaces. Just a few years ago, I was running barefoot through the prairie grass, and holding grasshoppers in the cup of my hand. Would this room crush my spirit forever? Was I forever, “Incorrigible?”

I sat on the edge of the cot, my forehead pressed against my balled fists. I couldn’t even pray. God didn’t listen to criminals, did He?. At least that’s what the tight-lipped adults had taught me. They didn’t talk to me the way my Daddy in heaven did. I would talk with Him at night as I was drifting into dreamland, like a child being cradled in their parents’ arms. I talked to Him while I held the pillow over my ears, counting to fifty, and waiting for the screaming to stop. I felt His presence as I skipped carefree and content in my silent world.

I don’t know how long I sat. I wished the floor would open up and suck me into the ground. Down there I could burrow my way out like a prairie dog. I wished a tornado would rip the walls open and carry me away to adventure land. This was no adventure land and my wishes weren’t coming true.

My body felt like a stone statue, and the only thing that moved was my thoughts.

The sound of metal in a keyhole snapped me back to the present. The heavy door slowly opened and in stepped a girl, with glowering eyes and tight fists. She had medium-length wavy hair, intense eyes, and smooth brown skin. She squirmed away from the guards and let out a growl. The guards pushed the door shut and turned the key.

This girl didn’t pace, she stomped. Words I never heard, spat through her lips, and bounced against the wall so hard, I cringed.

I tried to be quiet, like a frightened hare hiding from a hound-dog. But, soon she noticed me, and said, “Hi, my name’s Marie.” I think my lips moved.

She looked away from me but immediately went on another tirade, yelling obscenities, letting the walls know just what she thought of them, her family, and the mean “blankety-blank” guards. I forced a smile, hoping to deflect her anger. She was acting how I felt I wanted to but was afraid to.

So this is what it’s like to feel like an animal in a cage with claws stretched sharp and teeth bared; ready to kill if need be.

Soon Marie’s pacing and cussing ran out of steam towards the guards. The guards were long gone. She looked at me and seemed to assess me in one glance. A scared, naïve kid, huddled with knees to chest as a barrier of protection.

“Hey, let’s tear this place apart.”

She didn’t wait for me to join in, she grabbed a pillow off the bed and tore a hole in the bottom of the pillowcase and then pulled the torn case over her head, wiggling to pull it over her neck. She tore the sheet off the bed and tied it around her chest and then removed all her clothes.

I had been humiliated enough by undressing in front of the guards so I left my clothes on.

“C’mon,” Marie urged, “Take this pillow apart.”

She threw the pillow against my face. I was afraid not to join it. I had never seen a young girl’s face so distorted with rage.

I tore into the pillow, letting all my fear and frustration, tear with me. Feathers began to fly around the room. I choked and spit as small bits flew up my nose and mouth.

Marie laughed – wild-eyed and flailing arms – laughing. I began to laugh too. Better to join in than be the object of this crazy rage. She began to sweat and grunt like a wild boar rooting in the woods. She turned the metal bed frame on its side to give her more room to vent. She put the feathers in the sink and turned on the water.

Marie’s raging was interrupted by a loud clang, as a baton hit the door from the outside and two angry eyes filled the door slit. Marie didn’t break her pace.

The heavy door of the cell swung open and a trio of sturdy-bodied guards rushed in and took Marie by the arms; they shoved her against the wall and yanked her arms behind her back.

One guard took me by one arm, since I was quietly subdued, and led me out. She opened a new cell door; this one barren except for a cot. I slump to the floor and my spirit slumps with me. INCORRIGIBLE.

***

I was given a carton of milk, a lump of meat and a dry roll for dinner on a metal tray. I couldn’t eat, but I drank the milk. I was let out to use the bathroom while a guard stood next to the stall. I was self-conscious about peeing. I tried to be as quiet as I could, but the hollow stall only increased the volume.

The next morning I was given a clean set of juvenile hall issued clothing. After I got dressed, I was given a breakfast of slightly burnt toast, a runny egg and a small glass of orange juice. My knotted stomach couldn’t handle more than a few bites.

I was ordered to follow two guards to a county car. The courthouse was on the same street. I was led between the guards to a stuffy room. The room was lined with golden lacquered wood paneling. A long table sat under a judge’s podium, an American flag was standing unfurled to the right. A defender sat in a chair next to the one I was directed to. He shuffles through some official-looking papers but doesn’t glance my way. I feel very small, like Alice in Wonderland after she drank the shrinking stuff. I lift a strand of hair to my mouth. The crunchy sensation soothes me.

Soon, a stoic-looking judge walks in from a back door, adjusts his robes and sits down on his lofty seat. The overhead lights bounce off his balding head, as he lifts a pair of thick glasses, hooks them over his ear to rest on the bulb of his nose.

The judge glances at the papers in front of him.

“Sheryll Annette Skarin,” he said, “Will you speak up?”

The defender turns to face me. “You must address the judge as Your Honor.”

I had never been in front of a “Your Honor,” so I was clueless.

“Your Honor,” I repeat.

“I’m reading here that you’re in detention for being “Incorrigible.”

“Yes, Your Honor.”

“I also see that you were destructive after being detained in your cell. You have destroyed county property, therefore I am sentencing you to two more months in juvenile hall, and after that, I deem it best for you to be placed in foster care.” “Do you understand young lady?” Before I can answer, he drops his gavel, “That’s all.”

My mouth opens but nothing comes out except the strand of hair. A guard steps forward and takes me by my arm and leads me back to my cell, in the facility where juvenile criminals were locked up – to keep society safe – safe from the likes of me. I feel a huge invisible stamp sear into my heart, leaving a permanent scar with the word, INCORRIGIBLE.

***

Cell Living

The guard leads me to the main living quarters, where the other offenders were housed. He took me to what would be my cell bedroom for three months to come. I shared a cell with another girl, who made no attempts to befriend me.

A lady, who was one of the day workers, asks me to follow her. She has a slightly softer mannerism than the other personnel I met so far, but she only makes brief eye contact.

She says, “I will show you what’s expected of you while you’re here. You will be issued a clean set of clothes in the morning. I will show you where you take your shower. We only allow two at a time in the shower.”

She leads me into the restroom with two shower stalls and four toilets. Two girls were in the toilet stalls and I respectfully avert my eyes. The stalls were only waist high and there were no doors.

“If you need a shaver for your legs, you must shave while someone is watching, and then you give the razor to the guard in charge.” You have ten minutes for a shower. You must ask permission to use the toilet.

In the morning, when it’s your turn, you’ll make the toast. Other times it will be your turn to iron the clothes. You’ll be shown how to iron correctly. If you don’t do it right the first time, you will be asked to redo it. You will help clear the tables and sweep the floors. You will also take turns cleaning the showers and toilets.”

Some of the girls stare in my direction while others whisper with heads down. I suppose they didn’t want their lips to be read. Their eyes held a look of pain that frightened me.

I see the girl, Marie, standing with two of the meanest looking girls. She glances up and smiles. I realize now that I was accepted by her because I had helped her vent her rage. I wave timidly. She says something to the other two and then walks toward me.

Now what? Not in front of these other girls and ladies supervising us. I pull a strand of hair into my mouth.

Marie walks up and nonchalantly exclaims. “The other girls won’t hurt you. I got your back.” She saunters off without further explanation. The strand of hair slid out of my mouth.

Later I learned through the other girls, that all the new girls were initiated, by either being cut or beat up. No choice on your part. I was grateful that I was being looked out for, but I was also being locked up for two more months for joining in with Marie. I guess one way I could look at it – at least I’m not getting beat up.

One particular girl, who I will call Anna, was so filled with rage; it seemed to ooze out of every pore. She had a pretty face but it was edged by her short dark hair and a taut jaw. One night she led a riot by refusing to go in her cell. She yelled for everyone to join in while she began pounding on the walls. Her wrists began to bleed and every tendon in her neck bulged. The lady guards and supervisors tried to drag her into her cell but she just stretched out her hands and feet across the doorway and leaned with face towards the floor. The other girls were following her lead, making it impossible for the guards to maintain control. They finally were able to drag Anna back into her cell and slam the door, but she continued to beat the walls and scream obscenities.

The guards were red-faced and beads of sweat were forming on their upper lips. One of the guards had been calling for back-up over the intercom. A group of armed guards burst through the door with a loud bang, batons held high. “Go back in your cells right now,” they ordered.

I was already in my cell, watching through the window, silently, like the timid little uprooted prairie girl, I still was.

The girls realized they were out-numbered and overpowered. One by one they began to slip into their cells. The guards walked down the row and turned the keys in the locks.

I lay in my cell with the day’s events repeating themselves, one broken scene at a time. I ponder everything until the early morning. Why were these girls so hardened? Why did they have to scream to be heard? Why did they want to hurt themselves? I discovered why over the next few months, in jagged bits and bleeding pieces.

I tried to find my rabbit hole at night as I crawled onto the cold cement floor under my bunk. The guards would come by and order me back on my cot. After they left I crawled back. The silence of the girl on the cot next to mine, terrified me.

We Were not Forgotten

Tuesday was the day I met Jesus in juvenile hall.

The first time I met him was as a young girl in a private place in my heart, when I told him I believed in him and who he was. I read about him through the words in my Bible storybook. He wasn’t afraid to touch lepers or talk with a woman by a well. He gathered the children around, spoke to them and loved them. I knew He loved me in my fishbowl world.

The chaplains were a husband and wife team. They came every Tuesday. I saw them in action. They stood out in the dark hopelessness of the forgotten ones. They made eye contact.

I was in prison and you came to me. Mt. 25:36 (Msg) Jesus words.

“Hello, young ladies,” they started the meeting at one of the tables. “How have you been? We’ve been thinking about each of you this week. Would anyone like to talk?

I am touched by this genuinely loving couple. I see the Jesus of my bible storybook in their faces. They don’t preach. They just listen and care.

They notice me standing quietly behind the other girls.

“Hello,” they say. “You must be Annette. Would you care to join us?”

They smile warmly. I move from the edge of the group and sit on the corner of the bench; I almost slid off. I still hide behind a strand of my hair, but they notice me.

“We’re, Jeanne and Bob. We’re the chaplains here. If you need anything or just need to talk, let us know. We’re here for you.” They smiled grace into my heart. I knew then, that God did care about criminals.

Most of these girls had been runaways, drug abusers and gang fighters. They were all very broken.

I was shocked when I learned that Anna had been abused by her dad, but they locked her up, because, she was told, “You were at fault, you must have done something to make your dad do those things. He needs to take care of his family.” So, she was put away.

I heard many broken stories over the next few months. Girls who had been lost and discarded were girls that Jesus loved. I know. I saw him in the faces of the two chaplains that day.

When I was finally released, the chaplains were my first temporary foster parents and I saw Jesus in their home.

I’m Going Home At Five


I was tagged with a plastic wristband, then wheeled upstairs to a room. After my children left, I was bored and asked if I could walk around with my dangling bag of saline on a pole. They let me walk the halls, but wouldn’t allow me into the waiting room.

That night as I listened to the chirping of machines, the low rumble of cart wheels, and the clank and swish of mop buckets in the hall, all I could think was, “I need to get out of here.” A man across the hall was hacking so hard it sounded like his lungs were going to come up his throat, and a lady’s moans sliced sharply through the quiet. “I don’t want to catch something from some resistant bug scouting the halls, and I don’t want to walk the halls while the chorus of snores and squeak of nurse shoes were the dominant sounds. Besides they will just tell me to get some sleep, again.”

The next morning before the limp breakfast sausage, dry scrambled eggs, burnt coffee and warm juice, hit the trays, I stopped at the desk on my morning walk to bug the  receptionist who was rubbing her eyes and holding a cup of coffee. “Where is the doctor who said he would see me this morning? When do I get the MRI?”

“They’re busy, it might be best if you wait in your room.”

“Well, just to let you know. I’m going home at five. There’s nothing wrong with me and I need to take care of my dog. Please let the doctor know.”

I picked at my cold breakfast, looked out the window at the lazy clouds, paced the halls some more, and asked the nurses hourly, “Where’s the doctor?”

Sarah and my best friend Margaret came to visit before noon, giving temporary relief to the nurses. One nurse who came to check my vitals, had a very kind mannerism which helped put me at ease, so my guard was down when she mentioned, “You might as well get some sleep because the doctor probably won’t be able to see you today, it’s Saturday.”

“But, I’m going home at five because there’s no reason to keep me here. My blood pressure is normal and they’ve already said my x-rays and e.k.g. were fine.

The nurse shrugged and threw her hands in the air, and then turned to my daughter. “Tell your mom she needs to stay.”

“Oh no, I can’t tell my mother what to do.” Before she left, my daughter said to call when I was ready.

The doctor never arrived. I heard the nurses talking to him on the phone about me saying I was going home at five. He told them, “She will have to sign against medical advice papers.”

I said I would sign if they weren’t there by five.

The MRI tech appeared around 3:00pm. He said he was pulled out of an E.R. and told to go to Community to give me the procedure. I still needed to see a neurologist, who supposedly wasn’t available that day. I began to get my things ready to leave. I called my daughter and asked her to come get me.

A few minutes to five, a neurologist arrived, and did a complete exam. I said, “You sure were thorough, have you been doing this a long time?” “No, this is my first time doing this alone. I just finished my residency.”

Finally, I heard the nurse on the phone telling the E.R. doctor that I passed the exam. But he wanted me to stay one more night to get the results from the MRI. I told them it was after five and I was leaving. He gave in. I went home.

They never found out what was wrong.

A few days later I was helping Sarah with a poetry event at Fox Coffee House. Dav walked in as we were setting up.

I walked up to him and said, “Hi, do you still want to go out for pie?”


A few months after we were married, I was in the front yard trimming the hedges. I felt the bushes sway and sounds become muffled. I climbed down and made it into the house. I plopped onto my office chair and began to look up my symptoms. I was sweating and nauseous when Dav walked in.

“Are you okay?” he asked “No, I’m not.” We barely made it to the bathroom. My reflection in the mirror was white as a sheet.

Conclusion: I was once more taken by ambulance, but to a different hospital. Hours later a doctor came in and said I had acute vertigo. I was sent home with a prescription. I finally was diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease by House Clinic in L.A.

Who Will Take Care of Joey

Who Will Take Care of Joey

 

A few days before the date Dav and I had made to go out for pie, I woke up feeling a little off, so I ate oatmeal and blueberries for breakfast thinking it was just hunger pangs. Then I drove up the hill to Costco for gas, but as I began to pump I suddenly felt the earth swaying like I was in a small boat in a wild storm. “I need to get home,”  was all I could think.

 

On the drive home I believe that I had angels guiding the car because I sure wasn’t. As I parked in the parallel space in front of my garage, my car seemed to bend like a slinky. Somehow I knew to keep my cell phone in my right hand as I opened the front door with my left. I let my dog Joey go in ahead of me. My legs buckled under me as the door slammed behind me. I couldn’t stop my descent and my head hit the floor. My little dog sat nearby while I made a few attempts to lift my head. I was able to call 911 and tell the operator I needed help. She connected me with a fireman who asked if I could get up and retrieve some papers from my room. I believe this was a test to see if I really could get up.

 

“I can’t even lift my head.”

 

“Turn on your side in case you throw up.”

 

I did as instructed and promptly lost my breakfast.

 

I heard the fire truck and ambulance sirens within minutes. I was the only person on the block with a door facing the alley. They quickly checked my vital signs and determined I needed immediate transport to the hospital. I could hear Joey barking anxiously. I asked one of the fireman to get on his level and call him. I heard him say, “Come here buddy, it’s okay.” My dog calmed down as the fireman picked him up and shut him in my room. I asked them to leave the door unlocked so someone could reach him if needed.

 

At the E.R., I was unable to lift one leg to cross the other or touch the doctor’s finger as instructed. Everything became a blur of rectangular lights  and far away voices as I was hoisted onto a cold metal table and slapped all over my head and chest with round sticky objects. I didn’t stop throwing up.

 

I could see white uniformed figures coming and going for what seemed like hours while a nearby machine beeps incessantly. Finally I was able to keep my stomach fluids inside, and the little pills that were supposed to do that job. I heard the garbled sound of people asking me questions which I was unable to answer. It was like being in a nightmare where you’re yelling but no sound comes out. Slowly I began to recover enough to answer questions and I was finally able to touch the doctor’s finger and cross my leg.

 

“Ms. Skarin, we need to keep you overnight for more tests.” The doctor said.

 

“What kind of tests, I’m fine now.”

 

“We are concerned that you weren’t able to lift your leg or touch my finger. We need to do a neurological assessment and an MRI, even though your x-rays and e.k.g. were fine.”

 

“But, I need to get home and take care of my dog. He’s home alone.”

 

“Is there anyone you can call?”

 

“Yes, my daughter lives in Lakewood.” My cellphone was brought to me.

 

“Sarah, could you go over to the house and feed Joey and let him out ”

 

“Why, where are you?”  I never asked her to take care of Joey.

 

“I’m in the hospital.”

 

“What? Why?”

 

“I fell and I couldn’t get up. I had to call an ambulance.”

 

“Mom, I’m coming right now. Which hospital?”

 

“Community. But, what about Joey, who’s going to take care of him?”

 

“I’ll call Jeremy and ask him to take care of Joey.” (I later found out that the firemen had locked all the doors with my dog still in the bedroom. My son didn’t have the keys so he had to pry a window open and move my microwave and toaster oven off the stand to squeeze in through the narrow opening. My son is 6 feet 3 inches tall.)

 

Gentlemen May I Serve YOU?

I thrust out my hand to grasp a yellow-stained one
I looked deep into eyes filled with blood-red haze
Gentlemen, I said, “may I offer you a glass of cold water?”
Toothless grins crack wide open face
“Why yes mam, yes!”

Please sir will you set the table, set it nice, and set it pretty
Put three pastries on the plate and an applesauce and banana too
Place the coffee cup in a left-hand reach and a milk right next to that
Place a water glass on the right-hand and fill it to the brim
Place a napkin atop the pastries, thank you sir, and thank you ma’am

Who’s coming to eat? Someone important?
Someone with status, with clout, someone squeaky clean?
Can we get an autograph, a picture standing next to him?
We’ll bring a group from church, and praise them for their service
We’ll put their name in our bulletin and ask for a special offering

Oh no! You won’t know him when he comes, perhaps no one will
He’ll sit down among them and break and bless the food
He’ll help fill the water cups and even wash their feet
But what does he look like and what will he do?
He’ll say, “Would you like a glass of cold water gentlemen?”
He looks like me and you. Mt. 25:34-40 &; Luke 12:37

Pull Off The Street

I glanced in my side-view mirror as a line of police cars and motorcycles tore by me, filling in the left turn lanes as they wove across the wide lanes of Imperial Highway, and a loudspeaker command “Pull off the street, pull off the street now”, filled the cab of my camper truck.

 

My heart skipped a few beats as I looked  in my rear view mirror at the backs of the two men sitting stiffly on their haunches inside the camper shell.

 

I pulled to the curb, and once again  heard, “Pull off the street.” I glanced at Ahn sitting next to me. She was faced forward and motionless.

 

Before we could blink, the figures of two armed guards, with rifles pointed, filled the side windows. I rolled down the window and said, “Wh-what do you want?”

 

“We told you to pull off the street.” “Why didn’t you follow orders?”

 

“I didn’t understand what you meant.”

 

I could see the back door of the cab lift up and two more men with rifles pointed at the men inside who had automatically raised their arms. Just as quickly as they came the men retreated while barking one last order to, “Pull around the corner.” I finally understood and complied.

 

We parked around the corner and I quickly ran to the back and lifted the door. Tran and Thanh, the brothers of Ahn sat like statues. Their hands hugging their knees and their eyes rounded and still. I said, “Are you okay?” When they didn’t answer I knew they weren’t going to. I closed the back door and we left for work at a construction site a few miles away.

 

Neither Ahn, nor her brothers spoke the rest of the day. They worked like robots and ate their lunches with heads bowed.

 

I left them at their doorstep after work, but didn’t go in as I normally would to greet the rest of the family. I waved and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.” They nodded.

 

I heard on the evening news that Mondale had come to town with a motorcade. He was there to visit L.A., because he was going to run for the office of the President of the United States. I think most of us have forgotten about you already Walter, except those of us who were traumatized by your pompous entry. Next time, please take a cab.

 

The two brothers and the sister who worked for me were also friends of mine. Our church had sponsored them in the early 1980’s, after living in Camp Pendleton California after they fled Vietnam during the Communist takeover in 1975.

I was asked to volunteer to help the family adapt to California culture. The entire extended family all lived in a two-bedroom apartment. There were three brothers, a sister, and sister-in-law, the mother and father, and grandparents. One of the brothers was married to the sister-in-law and they had a one year old baby. So, ten people in one household.

 

The oldest brother was the cook and he would invite me over when they had barbecues. That was definitely the best Vietnamese food I have ever tasted. Barbecued meat thinly sliced and tender that was wrapped in mint and then lettuce leaves and served with savory bowls of noodles. They laughed at my attempts to sit on the chair on my haunches and slurp the noodles directly into my mouth.

 

When we went to work at a construction site the brothers, Tran and Thanh, would gather scraps of wood to make furniture for the family. They made me a very intricate table with an attached display shelf from the wood. I kept it for many years.

 

I took Tran and Ahn to a mall one day. Tran wore shorts and Ahn wore long black pants and they both wore flip-flops. They walked with hands clasped lightly behind their backs. They didn’t enter the shops, but instead stayed close to the rails away from the shops and just glanced sideways with eyes wide as they walked past.

 

One day Tran asked me to go with him to the laundromat. He brought the families clothes in a drawstring bag. He asked me how to use the machines.

 

“You put your clothes in the machine, then you put the soap in the slot for soap and it mixes in when the machine turns. The last thing you do is put your coins in the coin slot and push it in.”

 

He looked puzzled. “You put water in. You wash like this.” He held a piece of clothing up and rubbed it together.

 

“Oh no, you let the machine wash them. The agitator swishes them around in the soap.”

 

I knew how difficult it was assimilating into a culture that was so different then theirs but I think understanding how we spoke was the biggest hurdle. They were fast learners and good friends. Eventually they moved to an area where many other Vietnamese had settled.

The Birthday Party

My daughter Sarah’s birthday party was going to be a poetry gathering event. On Facebook, all her poetry writer friends and musicians were invited to perform at an open mic. I was the “mom” of these events. I would help her set up and clean up, but most of the food was potluck style. There was generally from 40-50 guests and family members.

 

My daughters house in Lakewood was fairly small but it had 2 bathrooms and a large deck that expanded to a large yard and driveway area.

 

I was not expecting Dav Pauli to show up because the last time I saw him was on a 1st Friday event on Atlantic Ave. in Long Beach. I was helping my daughter Sarah set up her poetry table in the Expo Arts building. Dav dropped by to view the table. I knew Dav casually from my daughters poetry events. I turned to him and blurted out, “Hi friend.” He looked like he just got caught crashing a private party. He stepped back and muttered, “I..I..need to go listen to my friends band, down the street.” He did a quick swivel on his heels and blended with the crowd who were slowing trickling downstream from us. I looked at my daughter and shrugged. Dav told me later, “ I didn’t know how to handle such a friendly greeting. It took me by surprise.”

 

When he signed up for the open mike at Sarah’s party, I heard people commenting with affection. “That’s Brave Dav.” He sang two songs which I don’t remember the titles and neither does he, but he said he sang them for me.

 

I was always flitting about, greeting people and being a gopher of food and drinks. I was going into the kitchen to check on something when I came face to face with Dav. I normally don’t feel comfortable talking with men I don’t know very well, but a little “safe person” detector gave me a green light. We engaged in a two-way conversation that felt natural in it’s flow. All the bodies squeezing by us were unnoticed as we became lost in our private space. We would have gone on much longer until I heard a voice call out my name, “Hi, Annie,” I turned to see the friendly face of Frank Kearns. I thought I would greet him briefly and return to my conversation with Dav. We did the usual, “Hi, how ya been and what’s new.” After I was done engaging with Frank, I turned to get back in the flow with Dav. He was gone.

 

I shrugged and then loaded my arms with my daughter’s food requests. After I set her food on the table I asked, “Hey, do you know where Dav went”?  

 

“No, why?”  

 

“Well, I was talking with him and he just disappeared.”

 

“Oh, he does that,” she remarked matter-of-factly.

 

I shrugged again, but couldn’t shake off the feeling of connection I had in our conversation.

 

Dav and I became friends on Facebook after our encounter at the party. We talked about our likes and dislikes until one day we began to feel more comfortable with going into deeper more intimate exchanges. For a couple of months that continued. I still was not going to give him my phone number or address.

 

Until, one day he asked me, “say, would you like to go out for some pie and maybe take a little walk after.”

 

“Sure, I said, I’m free this Tuesday afternoon.”

 

I had been seeing a therapist for about a year at this time. I had prayed in desperation to be connected with someone who would see my heart. I was surprised when my prayer was answered. I immediately connected heart-to-heart with Kathy and I was finally on the road to healing. I had mentioned to Kathy several times that I was content being single. She would smile.

 

But, this time when I walked in she had a knowing smile as she said, “I detect a glow on your face.” I giggled. “A friend asked me out for pie and I felt it would be good to have a male friend.”

“Sure, there’s nothing wrong with that.” She winked.

 

My Haikus

Dandelion

Comfortable bed
A tiny dandelion
Enjoying the thread

Dog

Unfriendly April
A faithful, sticky dog drops
Enjoying the tree

Smile

I don’t like haikus
But I will do one for a
Smile on someone’s face

Heather

I think of you in
The soft heather of my heart
Rest gently tonight

Sunlight

Into the blue bowls
Of my eyes coins of sunlight
Spread through my body

Breeze

Lilac crushed by toes
The scent of you in the breeze
Brings me to my knees

Caresses

Like a birds feather
A hand caresses my neck
My eyes close softly

J.F.K.

J.F.K. was shot
in black and white my cake was
in color – it sank

(this is a freestyle haiku)