BUCKLES AND BOWS

(I don’t write many poems that rhyme unless they are funny little ditties. However, this has been in my head for two days and would not go away.)
IT STARTED WITH BUCKLES.
IT STARTED WITH BOWS.
IT STARTED WITH WORDS BEGINNING TO SOUND LIKE PROSE.
IN A ROOM WITH A DRESSER, A MIRROR, AND A FOUR POSTER BED
I RECITED THE PHRASES GATHERING IN MY HEAD.
IMAGINATION, EXPRESSION, AN AUDIENCE OF ONE,
I WAS THE WRITER, THE CRITIC, THE HEROINE. 
I DANCED WITH THE RAIN.
I DANCED WITH THE SUN. 
HOLDING THE SCRIPT IN MY HANDS SO SMALL
SELF-POSSESSED. STANDING TALL. 
CONTENT IN MY SPACE
WHERE MY DREAMS WERE MADE.
WITHOUT CHAGRIN I SEE MY FACE. 
THE IMAGE BEFORE ME
MY REFLECTION IN THE GLASS. 
WOULD LIFE BE KIND TO ME?
WOULD THIS BE THE STORY OF MY PAST? 

CLEARLY YOU

CLEARLY YOU
You have a front row seat.
To the madness.
You are a witness.
To the method.
You are not even aware.
The proscenium separates us.
You are always observing.
A critic of experiences.
Not even your own.
Life is our stage.
Tears, laughter, silence, audible rage.
The show is sold out.
We are still in this cage.

The Silence of My Thoughts

I am sitting here in grief.

Grief that is not mine to possess.

I can touch the memory of laughing with my son last night.

Talking about his future.  Memories from the past.

Enjoying the moment between us two.

He sits with me now in the quiet as I write. 

He is working.  I can reach out.  He is there. Breathing.

I see life.  His life.

My heart is heavy for the mother. The father.  They belonged to him. 

He was theirs.  His heartbeat. 

Anguished.

All they have are the memories.  Palpable. Grief. Life. 

That space in between.  Disbelief.

Primal. I can feel them.  

I must hold my head.  I can hear their piercing screams.

It is my imagination. The cries.  They belong to me.

I reach out. I hear silence now.  I see life.  I see my son. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Immigration Journey

Antonio Grimaldo came to the U.S. in 1997 as a 17-year-old. He had friends who had come here who were working hard to build a better life. Antonio knew he wanted a better life too. He spent his first seven days in America in the back of a van with sixteen other people in the heat of August. That trip started in Arizona, on to Chicago, then NYC, and lastly to Antonio’s stop in Arcadia, Florida, where he immediately began working in the fields picking oranges. When that job ended after a month, he traveled to North Carolina to work as stoop labor picking tobacco and cucumbers for a few more months. He soon learned he had an uncle living in Athens, Alabama, who would help him find a job and a place to live. Antonio arranged for transportation to Athens, Alabama, but was dropped off in Atlanta because the driver mistakenly thought he meant Athens, Georgia. Antonio then had to buy a bus ticket to Birmingham, Alabama so he could finally make his way to Athens, Alabama. Remember he was only 17 years old, had been in the U.S. for just a few months, and spoke limited English. After boarding the bus in Birmingham, he realized as the sun was coming up, he had taken the wrong bus. He said he still does not know where that bus took him, but he had to get back to Birmingham. He made it back to Birmingham, and this time he was assured he was on the bus to Athens, Alabama. Each stop, he would ask the driver, “Is this it?” The driver would say at each stop, “Not yet, but you are on the right path.” Antonio remembers stopping at the bus station in Decatur, Alabama, on Grant Street which was around the corner from where our office is today. His next stop after Decatur was it. His destination – Athens. The bus stopped at a store in Athens.  Antonio looked for a bus station but the driver said, “This is it. You are here. You have arrived.” Indeed, he had made it, but did not realize his American journey was just beginning.  He now had to work hard, pay his bills, and stay out of trouble.  His first step proved to be the right one – he got a job in Decatur in 1998 where continues working today.

 

Antonio started the immigration process in 2005 with an immigration lawyer in New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina hit, Antonio’s immigration case stalled. In 2007 he was asking friends if anyone knew an immigration lawyer in the area. A mutual friend told Antonio about Allen Stoner. In 2007 Allen began working on Antonio’s case. It has been a long labor-intensive process for Antonio, his family, and Allen’s law office team.  In 2008 Antonio returned to Mexico where he was required to wait six months to complete the visa process.  He stayed in the state of Jalisco with family and then journeyed on a nineteen-hour bus ride to the American Consulate in Ciudad Juarez. This was the final step.  The next day Antonio returned to the United States as a lawful permanent resident.  From 2008 through 2018 Antonio continued to work at his job, build his fluency in the English language, and assimilate into the American culture.  In early 2019 Antonio applied for U.S. citizenship.  On December 20, 2019, Antonio was sworn in as a U.S. citizen – 13 years after his first meeting with Allen.

 

January 17th, 2020 was Antonio’s 40th birthday. He came to our office for a visit holding his mini American flag and Certificate of Naturalization presented to him at the citizenship ceremony.  The bus station is no longer around the corner, but he can walk out of our office, take a few steps, and see where it was located. Antonio reminisced that as a 17-year-old, he could not have dreamed that he would be visiting his immigration lawyer 22 years later as a U.S. citizen. Immigration law may be our business, but it is also a labor of love for our team. We are committed to all our clients, and we are honored to do what we do.  It has been a privilege for us at Allen R. Stoner, P.C., Attorney at Law, to be with Antonio on his American journey.

 

Coming Back, Again

I think too much. What if? Or, I don’t give a flip what you think. The extreme. Recovery tells me that alcoholics do this. The extreme. I wonder if there are people who don’t descend into Alcoholism who do a 180 when the mood hits them.

That’s what happened to me. I did a 180, which took me on a vertical decline. Declines can only be vertical? Is that right? See, there I go again. I think too much. What if I tell this story, and my insurance drops me? I have to trust that sharing and helping others is what I am supposed to do.

In August 2018, I had been in recovery, again, and sober for two years and almost ten months. My husband and I were at the grocery store. We were pissed at each other. He was going in to get the few items we needed. I told him in a concise commanding voice, “And, get me a bottle of wine too.”

I still remember the physical movement of his head and his eyes when one is taken aback. “What? Are you sure? You think you can do that?” I think he was relieved that maybe somehow we would be nicer to each other that night if we shared a bottle of wine. Isn’t it romantic to share a bottle of wine? I told him to go ahead and get two bottles so we would have a backup. In my experience, I would always need a backup. And I was always prepared, especially when I was drinking.

So, on a beautiful hot summer evening, my husband and I shared a couple of bottles of wine. We talked about life. Solved some of the world’s problems, and for a night, we both forgot about our most recent conflict.

Then, as I have heard many times in recovery, I was off to the races. That was August 7th, 2018. One week before my 56th birthday. I had this. I could drink successfully. Something else recovery teaches is that Alcoholism is a progressive disease. Each time an alcoholic relapses, the drinking gets worse- faster. According to my experience, this is a correct statement. I won’t tell you the stories in between August 7th, 2018 to December 25th, 2018. I will tell you that the police had to come to our home two times that evening of the 24th because my family was concerned about me. This was the first time the police have ever been called to our home. Ever. Not proud, but it happened. I ended up being taken away by ambulance late on Christmas Eve and spent Christmas Day 2018 in the hospital. In all of my years of drinking, this was the first holiday I had ever ruined.

Let me tell you about recovery. I have been in a 12 step program that encourages anonymity, which I respect. When I reentered recovery that time in 2015, there were people in recovery who did not appreciate that I was public about the 12 step program, though I never announced it by name. Some would tell me they didn’t like it, and some would passive-aggressively mention it in meetings. But, I did not let that deter me. I believe it is essential to be honest about Alcoholism. I would never want anyone to think that recovery doesn’t work. It does. I also think there is more than one recovery program. Each person must find what works to keep one sane and sober.

This is my coming back essay. Yes, on December 25th, 2019, this past Christmas, I eased into my one year birthday, again, in recovery. What I have learned is that I can’t drink without ending up in an awful place. I want it to be all romantic and elegant, dry red wine in crystal glasses, but it is not. Red wine, my friends, will kill me. That’s the truth.

The recovery program Allen and I entered July of 2019 is Recovery Dharma. It is working. I have found peace there. The 12 Step Program works as well. For me, it does not matter what I do or what happens to me; I have this voice that thinks that I can drink a couple of drinks and stop. I can’t. So, I will continue to share this information, this struggle, because I can be happy, joyous, and free, but I still want to drink. But I’m not going to drink. I like who I am when I am not drinking. I like me, sober. 

I WANT TO HAVE A DRINK, DINNER, AND HANG OUT WITH LINDA HOLMES

 

THIS IS AN ESSAY IN RESPONSE TO AN ARTICLE WRITTEN BY LINDA HOLMES IN JUNE 2011.  I AM RECYCLING IT BECAUSE IT IS ONE OF MY FAVORITES!

Linda Holmes writes NPR’s entertainment and pop-culture blog, Monkey See.  After reading her post about the Oxford or Serial Comma as it is also known,  I wanted to call her for lunch.  I remember when I learned in a journalism class that I shouldn’t use the Serial Comma or the Oxford comma.   You know the comma I’m talking about.  The one before a coordinating conjunction. I was in a class where I was learning AP style.  I am certain this was when I realized that I could not be a news reporter.  The kind of person who could write a concise “who, what, when, where, why, and how” article.  I wanted to write alliterative stories with ample appealing adjectives.  The kind of stories which painted pictures for my readers.  Once I decided I was not going to report news stories, I welcomed back that petite punctuation mark.  It is great to know that the folks at the University of Oxford are keeping our comma.  Yes, “our” comma.  It must be “our” comma because since reading Linda’s post, “Going, Going, And Gone?:  No, The Oxford Comma Is Safe…For Now”  I have seen countless (I could probably count them I just don’t want to) articles about the survival of this stout little character.
There is even a Facebook group dedicated to preserving him and a song by Vampire Weekend (I’ve never heard of them either)  aptly named, “Oxford Comma.”   I feel like this little guy needs to be more than just an it.  I now think of this petite purveyor of order as a small friend…almost like a pet rock.  Of course, my little friend actually does more than just sit there like a rock.  He can make a list a little clearer or as Linda explained the Serial Comma can actually create life (you will actually have to read her post to understand this one).
I’ve read the arguments for the survival of Blip (I always name my pets…yes, even the rock) and the arguments for why we don’t need him.  It seems to be a pretty even debate.  Irregardless (I’m just kidding, Linda) I will continue to honor Blip by including him in my notes, letters, and my blog.  Even if he doesn’t make things clearer, Linda seems like she would be a great friend.  She would tolerate my fragments, my occasional placement of the preposition at the end of my run on sentence, my…, and any infinitives that I might happen to split.  And, we would share our fondness for Blip!  Yes, I hope to make Linda’s acquaintance someday because I do like a writer who starts a post with a confession.

DOWN THE HIGHWAY KIDS

I WAS A “DOWN THE HIGHWAY” KID.  GROWING UP IN SANTA ROSA SHORES FIVE MILES DOWN THE HIGHWAY FROM GULF BREEZE SAID SOMETHING ABOUT WHERE I WAS IN THE HIERARCHY OF LIFE.  ONLY I HAD NO IDEA WHERE I WAS IN THIS HIERARCHY UNTIL SOMEONE TOLD ME WHEN I WAS IN THE 8TH GRADE. 

DURING CHRISTMAS BREAK OF 4TH GRADE, MY DADDY TRANSFERRED TO PENSACOLA, FLORIDA FROM MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA WHERE WE HAD LIVED FOR A LITTLE OVER A YEAR.  HE WAS IN BANKING; WE MOVED TO ADVANCE HIS CAREER.  MY SISTER WAS BORN IN 1970.  AT THREE MONTHS OLD SHE HAD HER FIRST BOUT WITH ASTHMA AND PNEUMONIA.  THIS WAS THE BEGINNING OF HER STAYS IN THE HOSPITAL WHICH MEANT MY MOTHER WAS GONE, AND I WAS AT HOME WITH DADDY.  I MISSED MOTHER, BUT DADDY TOOK GREAT CARE OF ME.  MOTHER STILL MANAGED OUR HOUSEHOLD FROM THE HOSPITAL AS BEST SHE COULD. 

WHEN WE MOVED TO PENSACOLA, MOTHER SCRAMBLED AND FOUND US A HOUSE TO RENT EVEN THOUGH MY SISTER, AND MY MOTHER WENT TO THE HOSPITAL.  AFTER CHRISTMAS BREAK, I STARTED A NEW SCHOOL.  MY SECOND SCHOOL IN 4TH GRADE.  AT THE BEGINNING YEAR, I ATTENDED SCHOOL IN MONTGOMERY.  THIS NEW SCHOOL IN PENSACOLA WAS MY ONLY MEMORY OF BEING MISERABLE IN MY CHILDHOOD.  THE CHILDREN WERE MEAN; THE TEACHER WAS MEANER.  I HAD A STOMACH ACHE EVERY MORNING AND BEGGED DADDY TO LET ME STAY HOME.  DADDY KNEW I WASN’T SICK.  SO, OFF TO SCHOOL, I WENT.  I DIDN’T WANT TO WORRY MOTHER AND DADDY, BUT I FINALLY CONFESSED MY MISERY.  I THINK WE ALL FELT OUT OF PLACE AT THAT LITTLE HOUSE.  MOTHER PROMPTLY FOUND US A NEW LITTLE HOUSE IN SANTA ROSA SHORES.  I STILL REMEMBER THE NIGHT WE MET MR. LD DRANE AND HIS WIFE TO PAY OUR DEPOSIT AND 1ST MONTH’S RENT ON OUR NEW HOME ON MAPLEWOOD DRIVE.  THIS HOME WAS MY REFUGE, A NEW PARADISE FOR ME.

I TRANSFERRED TO GULF BREEZE ELEMENTARY, MY THIRD AND LAST MOVE IN MY 4TH GRADE YEAR.  I CAN STILL REMEMBER THE COOL POD ARCHITECTURE AND THE NEW PEOPLE I MET.  I WOULDN’T SAY  WAS INCLUDED IN THE COOL GROUP, BUT I CERTAINLY WASN’T SHUNNED.  WHAT I DID HAVE WAS THE KIDS FROM MY NEIGHBORHOOD, SANTA ROSA SHORES.  MY FIRST FRIENDS WERE LAURA JOHNSTON AND THERESA MARKHAM.  LAURA AND THERESA WERE NEXT-DOOR NEIGHBORS; THEY BOTH LIVED ONE STREET BEHIND ME.  I COULD SEE LAURA’S HOUSE FROM MY BACKYARD.  WE PLAYED OUTSIDE.  WE JOINED GIRL SCOUTS.  LAURA’S MOTHER WAS OUR GIRL SCOUT LEADER.  WE WENT ON AN OVERNIGHT CAMPOUT ONE TIME, MY LAST.  I REMEMBER EARNING BADGES.  WHAT I REMEMBER MOST IS  THE FRIENDSHIP AND PLAYING AT HER HOUSE AND HER PLAYING AT MINE. THIS FRIENDSHIP WAS THE FOUNDATION FOR MY HAPPY MEMORIES IN SANTA ROSA SHORES. 

IN 6TH GRADE, MY PARENTS BOUGHT A HOUSE ON REDWOOD LANE DOWN THE STREET FROM OUR MAPLEWOOD RENTAL.  I HAD FRIENDS ALL AROUND ME.  WE RODE OUR BIKES. WE SWAM IN THE CANALS.  WE WENT TO OVER TO THE BEACHSIDE. WE PLAYED SOFTBALL IN MY BACKYARD AND OUR ADJOINING NEIGHBORS, THE DUGAN’S BACKYARD.  AMANDA CARRIGAN WAS OUR BEST HITTER.  SHE HAD ONE ARM- THE RESULT OF A CHILDHOOD ACCIDENT. 

GROWING UP I DIDN’T  HAVE MANY CLOSE FRIENDS WHO LIVED IN GULF BREEZE PROPER.  DADDY TOOK ME TO SCHOOL IN THE MORNING.  IN THE AFTERNOON, I RODE THE BUS HOME.  THE BUS STOPPED AT VILLA VENICE, WHISPER BAY, ORIOLE BEACH, SANTA ROSA SHORES, HOLLY BY THE SEA, LAGNIAPPE BEACH, AND LASTLY THE KIDS IN MIDWAY GOT OFF.  MIDWAY IS WAS HOME TO THE LANDFILL. THEY DIDN’T EVEN HAVE A POETIC SOUNDING NAME FOR WHERE THEY LIVED.  THEY JUST LIVED IN MIDWAY.  IT WAS MORE OF USEFUL NAME DENOTING MIDWAY TO SOMEWHERE DOWN HIGHWAY 98. NO ONE EVER SAID ANYTHING NEGATIVE ABOUT THE MIDWAY KIDS, BUT I DO REMEMBER WONDERING WHAT IT MUST FEEL LIKE LIVING NEAR A PILE OF TRASH.  I DIDN’T REALIZE IT AT THE TIME, BUT WE ALL DID HAVE OUR CLIQUES. 

EACH NEIGHBORHOOD THOUGHT THEIRS WAS THE BEST.

WHEN I WAS IN 7TH GRADE, I BECAME BEST FRIENDS WITH A GIRL WHO LIVED IN THE CITY LIMITS OF GULF BREEZE.  SHE WAS PART OF A COOL GROUP; HER OLDER BROTHER PLAYED FOOTBALL AND HAD MANY POPULAR FRIENDS.  I WAS 12, AND SOON I STARTED SPENDING QUITE A BIT OF TIME IN GULF BREEZE.  I NEVER FELT LIKE I DIDN’T BELONG, NOR DID I FEEL DIFFERENT. UNTIL ONE DAY WHEN I WAS IN THE 8TH GRADE SOMEONE SAID TO ME, “OH, YOU ARE A ‘DOWN THE HIGHWAY’ KID.” 

AT THAT POINT, I FELT SEPARATE.  I WAS AN OUTSIDER IN THIS GROUP OF KIDS.  I WAS A DOWN THE HIGHWAY KID.  A SAFE SPACE FILLED WITH A MULTITUDE OF KIDS WHO RODE THEIR BIKES TOGETHER, WHO PLAYED OUTSIDE TOGETHER DAILY, WHO SWAM TOGETHER WITHOUT ADULT SUPERVISION.  WE ALL HELD EACH OTHER ACCOUNTABLE. WE WERE GOOD KIDS.  WE WERE FAMILY.  I DON’T HAVE ONE NEGATIVE MEMORY LIVING IN SANTA ROSA SHORES.  I LIVED THERE FROM 4TH GRADE UNTIL WE MOVED IN MY 9TH GRADE YEAR.  IT WAS THE PROVERBIAL IDYLLIC CHILDHOOD SPENT AMONG CHILDREN FROM A VARIETY OF FAMILIES. DIVORCED PARENTS, A MOTHER WHO WAS A COCKTAIL WAITRESS, A FATHER WHO SUFFERED FROM DEPRESSION RESULTING IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD CHILDREN NOT BEING ALLOWED IN THEIR HOUSE, HIPPIES, CHURCH GOING FAMILIES, FAMILIES WHO DID NOT GO TO CHURCH.  WE WERE ALL PART OF SOMETHING SPECIAL IN THAT PLACE DOWN THE HIGHWAY. 

Chronic Sorrow. Chronic sorrow. Hard to explain. The lump in your throat. Gulping your sob. The strain in your eyes demanding the tears not to fall. The smile hiding sorrow. Chronic. Loss. The good thoughts trying to take the place of you. Chronic. Long lasting. I want to bid you adieu. I’ve done all I know to do. I’ve tried to let you go. Sorrow. I’m moving on. Please take your cue. I plead. I beg of you. Until then, I swallow. I smile. I keep moving on. My work Til the day you leave alone.