I once lived in Normal, Illinois.  I was a tech writer at a big insurance company, and I didn’t belong there, and it wasn’t normal at all.  I didn’t know anyone, didn’t know how to meet anyone, and for the year I was there, did not make a single friend. The only person I talk to, my cube mate, is an ex-military MP.   I am a graduate of the University of Iowa Writing program.  I’ve read the work of famous poets, and I’ve studied language theory.  My co-worker, we’ll call him Dick, and I are about as divergent in every belief as two souls could be.  He brings in books by Rush Limbaugh, and a Tom Clancy novel, I think.

I bring in books on Texas Hold’em strategy and literary journals.  Poker is my diversion, and no, it’s not normal.  Only 10% of poker players are women.  Dick doesn’t gamble. Dick tells me he won a lot of money one time at blackjack and vowed never to go back. He is afraid he has gambling tendencies.  He clearly was a master of blackjack.  He tells me he gave his wife 30K to start a dog grooming business.  (No one has ever given me 30k for anything. I’m so jealous I could spit, and he is oblivious.)

Here we are, sitting side-by-side every day at a desk about 7 feet long.  I don’t know how I got in this situation.  He greets me with the latest horror story from the newspaper every morning.  It just gets worse as the day goes on.  Every few minutes, there is an interruption.   Dick gives me status updates on our co-workers who work on a different floor.  Yolanda isn’t at her desk, she must be working from home.  Bill is in a meeting.

“I saw on the news there was a car crash on Highway 94.  I bet it was a suicide, four people killed, a man and his family, ” he says.   I nod.  This is terrible.  Where does our conversation go from here today….

We are different people.  And there is this constant talking.  I give cues to try to politely let him know I don’t want to talk.  (For example “I just need to finish this thing I’m doing…”)  I wear headphones….sometimes I dramatically rip them out of my head when he says something.  My feet are itching for no reason.   I don’t think he knows or cares much about me.  He’s never asked about my family, where I grew up.  I’ve spent the last six weeks with this man for eight hours a day, and I would say he hasn’t the slightest idea of who I am.  He tells me that he goes to church.  He’s very involved.  There was a sex scandal there a few years ago, and they lost a lot of parishioners.  He tells me the story about the ties three times.  He wears Disney characters, or funny ties with comics on them on Sundays for the kids.  That’s the story.   You see, I can’t really dislike that.  But I sort of do.  It’s nice.  He’s trying to be nice.  Why can’t I appreciate that about him?  What’s wrong with me?  I just need some space.

“Bill is back at his desk.  Yolanda won’t be here Friday. ” I have to tell you, we’ve seen Bill and Yolanda three times in the last six weeks.  I think they are avoiding us.  I don’t know why he is concerned with their whereabouts.

He repeats the same stories, and I begin to ponder what is wrong, it actually isn’t normal to talk this much.  He must be lonely, maybe he’s a got a bit of Asperger’s?   His wallet is lined for EMI.  He’s told me this three times in the last month. He uses a website to store all his passwords, it’s encrypted.  He doesn’t like the druggies.  He follows sports.  His wife runs the house.  She’s Korean. They have — I could’ve guessed — a chihuahua named Minnie.  He “loves his Keurig, and uses the one cup serving twice through.  The K-cup holder I gave him is getting a lot of use.”   My own daughter’s Keurig broke, she decided it was too expensive, so we got our money back and didn’t replace it. So I gave him the holder for the little bitty coffee servings.

I am constantly annoyed, and am beginning to wonder if some new form of military psychology is being tested on me.  I do not know what makes him happy, or makes his life fulfilled.  By the end of every day I am nearly having panic-attacks.  I have developed a rash on my feet.

After the Orlando shooting, I was deeply, deeply sad….I live in Colorado, home of the Columbine high school massacre.  Two of the people I play poker with were wounded in the last Planned Parenthood shooting.   Dick lives here too.  The very next day, after the Orlando shooting, I post on my Facebook page, statistics on the number of mass shootings in U.S. History.   Dick tells me that he’s going to go get an A-15 assault rifle.  I mean are the bodies even cold?   “Before Obama takes away my guns.”   I just can’t help but wonder if he couldn’t be more of a stereotype.  The wounds are raw.  I have had a lot of gay friends, from theater, writers, even when I worked at the Post Office.  How different our normals are.

Again and again he brings up guns in conversation.  After the third day, I ask him why he really needs this kind of weapon.  “Why do you need an assault rifle?”  I ask him if he’s planning to go shoot up a movie theater.  Clearly, I’ve lost all patience.   He says, no he’s more afraid of the cops coming to pound down his door.   (He’s afraid, and I’m the single woman in this conversation. Let me say it again, he’s the one who is afraid.)  I say, “Wow, I should get one too.  And so should my 70 year-old neighbor.”

I don’t think I really hate this man, I think I just don’t understand him.  I’m forced into a normal that isn’t my own, a culture I don’t understand.  I have a rash on my foot.  I almost run out the door to get to my car after work. I sort of dash out the door, trying not to glance back. Trying to get as far, far, far as I can get from normal.


Little hidden things

I’ve written something for you. I started my new job, in the last…fortnight.
been reading Hopkins & Dylan Thomas…. tip of the hat, as they say.

Softening Blow

Throw down your green hospital gown,
(they call it a gown), your paper ball gown,

you’re shimmering hospital royalty, wear sequins
at midnight…. throw down your glass, Cinderella’s
slipper slips from the gurney….

I limp to a windowless building, six months
seeing no one. Gates close behind me, phone silent
in my car. Swirls of prairie sunflowers, a Van Gogh
swirl of sky, clouds drop, mountains distant chopped
by frantic sheets of rain.
Red blood screams up the needle,
in the windowless wall, I see you again, in pain.
Forced to a silent briefing, a meeting, once more, from
before, from a time ago. Loud and hollow, memory
a yellow bulb.

I am signing my name, I am pressing buttons to enter
a door.  I am king of the doors, my fingers make gold
from microbes in the air. Seven clocks rest

in the windowless screen,
rest.  Pull up!

like a fighter plane, pull up
the sheets, blanket, curtains, the patient needs
rest. Pull up,
dreams of flying, of wings on

small horses. Dreams of white sails.
Dreams of men charting constellations.
Dreams of drums & firelight dances.
Dream wolves wait at the treeline.
Dreams of time machines & blue satellites.
Dreams of voices yelling, embraces, dancing
in our business suits, our war heels, our plastic faces.
Nurses run to the sound of your voice, nurses

I grit my teeth. Crisp winter, empty screen waiting
for someone
To yell my own name. Show me
faces in mirrors, my face twice, chains
wrap my neck, weighted or faces
dark, behind glass?  (My heart is uneven.)
Reflections turn green as the day young,
with withered apples, how serious we become.
My pen bends, my mouse runs up the clock…hickory,
dickory, tick, tock. Hickory, dickory, dock.
Uneven as a day. Guards
quick-step past the bus stop. Wait, I must
wait.   My prison is my hospital, is my bus ride home.

My black slipper falls from the steps of the bus….down
(down the steps of or with)
Your heartbeat. Your heartbeat, your-
My long shadow precedes me at the portal.
Keypad whispers, I put in numbers.
I cut off my ear for your call.
Poem for the sick,
patient at a military base.

You sparkling morning grass
at the parking lot’s end.   Sunflowers
climb bright in the distant fields.