Kathryn, Rachel, Irma & Torrence

This will be the fourth in a series of 5 short articles.
Irma blew through on September 10, 2017, the eye-30 miles east of our location.
We met Torrence just 1 day before Irma.

Previous articles:
Kathryn
Rachel
Irma

Torrence-#4


Torrence is tall. Intimidating. Large build. Emotionless face. Stone-cold stoic. Big guy. His face is like a smooth rock with dark gems shining from behind his modern frames. He is Navajo.

His voice, though. His voice. Soothing. Simple. Soft. Un-panicked. Unhurried. Reassuring. Masculine and strong, but sweet as a baby’s breath on your cheek. Ten thousand harps plucked at once. I’m sure Torrence has been trained to speak this way, but if you’re an angel, it probably comes naturally. Torrence was our voluntary angel.

We met Torrence during Irma. Sitting on a tile floor in a school cafeteria, staring up at towering Torrence. I felt like a scared, little kid. Looking for hope. Terrified that my apartment (just a town away) and all the tiny scraps of my life were about to blow away. Or drown. Or even worse, my life and the lives of my husband and daughter were in immediate danger from the impending storm. No one knew how bad Irma would be, but the weathermen all guessed (for days) it would be the worst storm in this century.

Torrence, however, gave us peace, information and cookies. 🙂 Cookies do help make a person feel normal somehow. Thank you, Cookies. But really, thank you, Torrence.

Torrence wore his Red Cross vest, cargo pants, sturdy boots and an invisible pair of wings. He took care of everyone around him. Without sleep. Without comforts.

While we all lounged around on the floor, trying not to complain about school lunch, hard surfaces or sharing bathrooms with 2,000 people, Torrence attended his flock. He would make his rounds with pertinent information, handing out treats and tranquility.

Torrence spoke so frequently with our family that I began to feel bad. Unworthy of such care. Our cafeteria floor neighbor even remarked at his attention.

“Do you know that guy?” she asked.

“No. We just met him. He’s Red Cross. He’s just nice.”

Torrence embodied Christ. All of my childhood and adult education about Jesus and his intention were summed up in Torrence’s actions. Christians all talk about being more Christ-like, but Torrence is doing it.

He’s calm. He’s caring. He puts others first. He had a pregnant wife at home and he’s 1,000 miles away helping strangers in a dangerous situation. When other people are leaving the state entirely, Torrence is rushing toward the storm. Thank you, Torrence. Thank you for your time, your dedication, your sacrifice and your skills. But most of all, thank you for your gracious care and protection. You were there in case things got crazy. I’m sure we didn’t see the full potential of your capability, but I’m so thankful to have met you.

When you meet someone who acts the way you want people to act, how you aspire to be? It’s a good feeling. It’s meaningful. It’s important.


From the first moment I met Torrence, I couldn’t shake the feeling that he looked exactly like my German grandmother, Kathryn. I mentioned it to my husband. He just looked at me like, “Huh?”

They look nothing alike. He’s a tall dude. She was a short white lady with blue eyes. He’s nice. She was a hard-edged crone. But I had this ethereal, wispy connection to her spirit through his rugged features. I don’t know why. I just don’t. But she was there in his face. Strange how we connect the dots.

And as I thought more about his face, he reminded me of my friend Rachel from high school. But in my mind, she’s a petite African-American teenager. Torrence is in no way feminine. But these two women from my life are there in his face.

All completely different. All there together. What does it mean?

Kathryn, Rachel, Irma & Torrence

This will be the second in a series of 5 short articles.
Rachel was one of my closest friends in high school.
When we were seniors, she was probably my best friend.

Here’s the first article, if you missed it. Kathryn

Rachel-#2


Rachel is short. Really short. I’m very tall for a girl. We are friends. We are oddballs. In every possible way. I’m overweight. She wears glasses. I have a two-tone mullet (okay, maybe I was the oddestball). But we both like Duran Duran in a small town where Country is king.

Rachel has an athletic build and powerful legs. Small face and, impossibly, the same metallic eyes as my grandmother. It might be the glasses, it might be the hardened edge against a chaotic life. It might be the soulful stare of a mind that’s lived ten thousand lives before this moment. It might be she’s a guardian angel or ancient shaman and no one, not even her, knows it.

It is worth noting that Rachel is the only African-American girl in a Midwest farm town. Not because she’s different, but because it’s the late 80s and the middle of the country. We are only 30 miles east of Kansas City, but we might as well be in the Ozarks. We grow up with red necks and racists. Bigots and brutes. Ignorant sons of bitches who say mean things, do mean things. Inherited thoughts from an even more unenlightened generation of drunks and dullards. Alcoholics give birth to alcoholics. Idiots give birth to idiots. Mean people give birth to mean people. Ignorance begets hatred. Not always, but a lot. Not everyone in this small town is a bigot. But a lot.

I remember meeting Rachel’s mom. She was so funny. One of the nicest moms I ever met. She started telling me about the bias they encountered. Over and over. Walking into the local bingo parlor and every white face whipped to see who just opened the door. (They probably would have done the same to any outsider, honestly. The bingo crowd was a small enclave of smoker gamblers. Hell, I was shot some looks in the bingo parlor for talking over the number call. But I’m sure it didn’t help that they were black.)

“Do I have chocolate pie all over my face??” she quipped. I died laughing. So did Rachel. No one had ever been so open and direct with me. That’s the kind of mom I want to be. Drop-dead honest and funny.

Rachel was smart. Whip smart. Just like her mother. She was clever, full of jokes and laughter, and worldly. She knew and cared about the things that I loved. Or the things I didn’t know I loved until I met those things.

She let me borrow her Rich Hall Sniglets compilation and I almost lost the book in study hall when I burst out laughing at one of the entries. The Sniglet in which Hall (et al) describes someone sharpening their pencil. Specifically, the movement and perfect synchronization of the Sharpener’s butt to their hand as they crank the tiny handle. (Can’t find the actual entry, so I forget the word. 😦 Ack! Please comment if you remember!)

I believe I spit all over myself and almost peed my pants in a totally silent room. I nearly lost all bodily fluids and control. I shook violently at the stifling. My face contorted. Flushed with blood. Anyone who couldn’t see what I was holding might have thought I was having a seizure. I was definitely shot a look from the study hall teacher attendant, much like those bingo hall side-eyes. Although, this look had also a small touch of concern for my well-being. I was embarrassed and hysterical all at the same moment.

Rachel always knew about the coolest thing. She was the coolest person I knew. She changed my idea of people. She stood everything I knew on its head. She taught me to be confident in the face of fear. She taught me to be fierce. Loyal. Brave. Nice to those who weren’t. Assertive to those who required it. And honest. Even when it’s difficult or embarrassing. Not by lecturing me, but by example.

She taught me I could be myself without having to apologize for it. She accepted me. I accepted her. For whatever we were.

I don’t know how I made it out of that one-song town. I don’t know how I had a black friend.

My dad was an alcoholic, a racist. Not always bright and definitely crazy. He would come home and complain about the n****** at work. He said he even stabbed a black man at work one day with a screwdriver. I don’t know if that’s true? He said a lot of crazy things.

He said the man attacked him first. He had a stab wound in his leg to prove it. (That could have been from anything! By his own hand even.) I was personally ill and deeply concerned by the description, but you just didn’t question the man. It is humiliating to even hear this story, relay this story or be related to someone capable of this act. To know someone who is willing to hurt another human being physically. It’s disgusting to me. It is humbling and worrisome to be powerless in changing your life, the life of your loved ones or the world. You would think my father would lose his job if that actually happened. But in this culture? I don’t know now.  I do know this: my dad was completely capable of stabbing anyone and the meanest human I personally knew.

And Rachel was the nicest. I’m glad I had Rachel. She changed me. She taught me something my dad couldn’t. Or wouldn’t. Embracing something or someone different than what I grew up to know wasn’t difficult. If all you know is pain? The first person or opportunity that looks like something other than pain is welcome. Appreciated. Loved.

We understood each other. I was understood for the first time by a smart person. For the first time I loved someone different. If I did nothing else for anyone ever? I at least did not carry forward the burning torch of racism for myself or my daughter. And I’ll never forget Rachel’s eyes.

Courage is Required

An excerpt from Volume 2 of my book, Present Tense. I haven’t published Vol. 2 yet, but here’s a taste. Find Volume 1 here this week for free!


We move into a small, cold, temporary house just in time to celebrate my Christmas #5. Christmas includes new nightgowns, an Easy Bake Oven for my sister and a “courage” (carriage/baby buggy) for me.

I can’t say carriage. I also can’t say commercial or spaghetti. Mah-ker-shull and pa-sketti.

This is the house my mother wallpapered for my grandmother. This is house where I pooped on the floor. This is the house of smoke and blood. This is the house of clawfoot-tub swimming.

There are Tarzan cartoons, Peanuts TV Specials, Hee-haw overalls, jingling reindeer hooves on the roof, cold winter mornings, mattresses on the living room floor. There is laughing/choking at late-night dinners. There are ABC-TV special presentation family movie nights of Deliverance, urine-stained pillows that I fall asleep on, cradling parents who tuck children who fall asleep on wet pillows in bed. And there is falling out of the top bunk at night.


At some point, my grandmother bought this home as a second, third or fourth property to build her empire of real estate. She buys many properties and rents or sells them for profit. She also runs a coin-operated laundry mat and washes people’s clothes for money. She is a woman who works hard and seldom rests. She does not tolerate humor or fuss. She is a force of will.

Grandma’s hair is yellowish white, faded from stress, time and negativity. She keeps it tight in a bun and hairnet. Her face is just as faded. Her beauty quickly spent on marriage, children and hard times. She always wears a dress. Not a fancy frock, but a well-worn print. The only days she didn’t wear a dress, were those spent in a factory during the war.

She has a large, round nose and large, droopy Buddha-like lobes. Those earlobes were made for clip earrings, but she never wears them.

Hard, metallic eyes that saw her father’s mistreatment of her mother. Grandma saw his fortune taken away as well. She saw her comfortable childhood home revoked and replaced by a dirt-floor shed.

She marries, only to quickly lose her husband’s farm to the tax collector. She rears 3 children through the depression, Dust Bowl and WWII. She raises and kills chickens, she milks cows, she sews, she cleans (not well), she cooks.

She hardens; she resolves. She is determined to forbid fate from having its destructive way again.

She works hard because she doesn’t know anything else. She works hard because she learned that you can’t rely on anyone except God and yourself.  She works hard because that is her pathway to happiness.

If I stop moving, I’ll die.

These are her lonely, driven thoughts. She is an ever-swimming, scarred-up shark who’s tired of the frenzy and bloodbath.


Grandma lets us live in the house on 15th Street while we wait to move to the country.  Our home near the lake has sold and the new house is not ready yet.

We lose our cat during the move. We drive for the last time from the lake to town with all our things. Grandma is holding the cat in the station wagon. Shark holding a lion. We arrive at the new place: the car door opens, cat scratches, takes off for parts unknown.

Never seen again. Tiger is gone.

Lucky cat.

Present Tense (Excerpt 3)

Work-Around (Chapter 1)

This is the house of my first through fourth Christmases, shark-jumping Fonzie, corn-eating contests, black vinyl swivel chair spinning, lipstick wall drawings, measles and melee.  This is the house where I ironed my fingers, melting the baby flesh from my tiny knuckles, forever scarring my left hand.  This is the house that leaves many wounds and scars.  This is the house where I came into being, came to my conscious mind, came to the realization that I was in danger from the people who loved me.

I like to hide.  I hide in an accordion trunk.  I hide in the dryer.  I hide in a closet.  I hide in a hole in the yard by the basement window, dug by my mother.  Because it’s there.  I hide inside a plate of food and I eat all my peas because it makes their voices stop.

If I eat enough, deep down inside, I can’t hear their voices anymore.  I feel peaceful.  It’s quiet.  I’m happy.  The pathway to perceived happiness gets laid by the chemicals in my brain and I am helpless to stop it.  I’m not even aware of the biological processes that are creating a life-long addiction.  It has formed and that path will be worn over and over and over again.  Food equals love.  To survive this chaos, I have found my work-around.  I will survive this.  But just barely.


Read the rest of the book here. If you’re a member of Kindle Unlimited it’s free! It is free for everyone from time to time, I’ll let you know when it is. Or if you’re an impoverished author like me, email me at martha.maggio@sbcglobal.net for your free copy. But you have to share your story with me as payment. 😉

Last Day for Free Stuff!

Remember, free download of my book ENDS today! Thanks. 🙂

Crafty Beaver

My book, Present Tense, is available on Amazon tomorrow for free. February 9-13! Normally $2.99. Check it out. It’s a quick read; probably finish in one go. Or if you have Kindle Unlimited, it’s free anytime. It’s a vignette-style memoir with a glance at PTSD and how it starts. It does not answer the question of recovery, but it gives an emotional starting place.

View original post

Present Tense

My book, Present Tense, is available on Amazon tomorrow for free. February 9-13! Normally $2.99. Check it out. It’s a quick read; probably finish in one go. Or if you have Kindle Unlimited, it’s free anytime. It’s a vignette-style memoir with a glance at PTSD and how it starts. It does not answer the question of recovery, but it gives an emotional starting place.

The Ravine

This story was composed for a literary competition celebrating Ray Bradbury. Obvs, they didn’t pick mine. So I’m publishing here. Rules: 451 words or less (Fahrenheit 451) and in the style of Bradbury. Mine was exactly 451. Also, one was to pick a theme. Choosing a word from the stream-of-consciousness string of nouns that Bradbury would use for his stories. I chose “The Ravine”.

My body is in the ravine. On my back. Legs twisted and broken. Flesh is taken from my side by dogs. Stones and leaves are taking blood from my injuries. Life is a stain. Draining away. Being stolen. I’m almost gone.

I’m not sure when I came into being. When I came to my conscious mind. I just have memories. Like anyone. No one remembers being born. I just am. But not for long.

I like to run. I’m good at running. That’s good because I have to run. From them.

They are afraid of me. They don’t like me. Always yelling. Always pursuing. Always. They aren’t kindly calling me, looking for the lost. They are mad. And I know, because I exist.

Tug-tug. Tug. I can feel my body moving left-right, left-right, left-right. The dogs are almost done.

  1. That’s my name. I know my name because it was called every morning at work.

451, move forward.

I enjoyed my work. For as long as I did it. Mainly because I was good at it. I was designed for it. I haven’t been at work for several days. My teammates won’t ever know what becomes of me. My death will be a secret to keep.

My brown, muscular legs are losing their power now. Winding down into the earth. I raise my head to look at the men standing over me. They click their cheeks against their teeth. One man has tears in his eyes. The others have steel. All have regret.

What a waste.

I wouldn’t go back. Not even if I could. The world is too sweet. Colorful. Warm. I would die anyway, if I went back, knowing what I know. Seeing what I have seen.

They didn’t expect me to know things. I tried to keep it inside. I tried not reading in front of them at all. Or, if I couldn’t help myself, pretend to be curious, but dumb about papers and pages and books. Eat and nibble at them. Nudge and slobber on them. But also read them.

It worked. Until I spoke. In anger and frustration.

They froze. I froze. We paused in that enormous moment and wondered about more than work, deadlines and productivity. We thought about life. The door was unlocked. I kicked. And ran.

Now. Here. This is where my intelligence has brought me. Bleeding out in a lonely, lovely dry river bed of wild taste and feeling.

They stroked my tangled mane and rested their palms on my cold, barely-beating chest.

They said, “We’ll take you back.”

Please, bury me here. Please don’t take me back. I want to live and die on the out.

“You were our best horse.”

Present Tense (Excerpt 2)

My memories erupt like dead-gray trees out of the dark depths where feelings feed.  I am a stone at the bottom, seen through the swirls.  I want to rise, but am unmoved by the ceaseless currents of the past.  The only place that these things, water and relationships live are in my mind.

I give them life.  I continue their being.  The runoff from the past floods around my chin.  It’s rising fast.  My feelings spill out, spill down, splash and crash, there’s no stopping them.  Play in them.  Drown in them.

This water should baptize and bless me.  But it threatens to sink me.  I still bend to his will even though his will does not exist any longer.  He has possessed my spirit from this sunken tomb of emotion.  I drown.

Dear Reader,

This is an excerpt from my short vignette-style memoir. Available on Amazon.  Check out my book.  FREE for a limited time.  http://www.amazon.com/Present-Tense-1-Martha-Maggio-ebook/dp/B00N6R7R8C/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1453467630&sr=8-1&keywords=present+tense+by+martha+maggio  Enjoy!

Sincerely,

Martha Maggio