In Our Head

Musings, thoughts, experiences…

Don’t Bank on It July 29, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — heidi @ 5:28 pm

NYC flash challenge – group 47: thriller; blood bank, poker chip

Momma works at the casino so she gives me and Billy a couple of poker chips every time we do our chores, or don’t get in trouble at school, or wash our faces and smile when the folks from Child Protective Services come to check on us. When Momma has extra cash (which ain’t often), we can trade in our chips. Billy always gets his money right away. That boy’ll do anything for a pack of smokes. He’s only nine, a year older than me, but he’s been smokin’ since I don’t know when, maybe even before Poppa left. And round here, they’ll sell ya’ anything.

Me, I been saving my chips, hiding them under my bed so Billy won’t get ’em. When I get to fifty, I take the bag to Momma. She’s a bit strapped, she says, but she’s good for it. Sure enough, the following Sunday she gives me fifty bucks. She’s proud of me, I can tell, even though she doesn’t say much. She ain’t the kind that says stuff.

Billy’s eyes grow large as moon pies when he sees my loot, and I realize that keeping this money at home just aint’ safe. Soon’s Billy gets his hands on it, he’ll buy himself those smokes, and he might pocket some chew tobacco, too. He’s like that, Billy is. So I stash my money in the pink backpack I got at the Goodwill when school started and I head out to catch the bus. I ain’t been to town but once, on account of we ain’t been livin’ here all that long. But I listen good so I know where folks go. I heard ’em talking ’bout the number five bus if you wanna go to the bank.

It’s a long ride into town, and hot, too. There’s a lady at the front of the bus with a big shopping bag and she’s talking to herself so she scares me a little, and a man in the back that smells real bad. But I keep my eyes on the window and nobody bothers me. When I see the sign for the bank I jump up and my thighs make a zipper sound cuz they’re stuck to the seat. They’re probably red back there but I ain’t got time to worry ’bout that.

I ain’t never been inside a bank and it ain’t like I imagined. There’re lots of recliners and a few people laying in ’em. There’s a lady serving cookies and another pouring OJ into Styrofoam cups. A woman with bright orange hair looks up from behind her desk. “Can I help you?”

“Yes, m’am. I’d like to deposit my money.”

Her gold tooth sparkles when she smiles. “Honey, this ain’t no cash bank. People come here to donate blood, and we pay them in return.”

Before I can think to answer, a man bursts through the door. He’s dressed in black from head to toe, including a stocking cap pulled low over his eyes, and he’s waving a gun in the air. “Don’t nobody move,” he says. He walks up to the woman I’ve been talking to. “I want whatever money you got, lady.”

Very slowly, she opens a drawer and takes out a wad of cash, hands it to him with a trembling hand. He puts it into his pants cuz it’s too big for a pocket.

“Anybody else got cash?”

The room’s so still I can hear the clock on the wall ticking. The guy with the gun moves closer and presses the barrel to my temple. “Do as I say or I blow your brains out. Got it?”

I nod. I don’t cry, but a stream of pee, warm and sticky, snakes down my leg and into my shoe. “If anyone follows me,” the man says to the folks around us, “the kid gets it. You all go and call the sheriff, tell him I got me a hostage.” With that, he pushes me out of the building and into a beat-up old Dodge idling outside.

The getaway car’s driver frowns when he sees me. “What the hell, Jerry?” Jerry? I figured he’d be called Snake, or Colt 45, or some kinda badass movie name. Jerry sounds like a geeky clerk at the Stop N’ Shop with a paper hat, a lopsided nametag and a forest of zits. But I can’t think about it for too long. Jerry shoves me into the front seat between him and the driver. “Go,” he yells. Once we’re on the road, Jerry relaxes a little. “We need a hostage, man.” He sounds angry, like it’s so obvious he shouldn’t have to explain. He reminds me of Momma when Billy leaves the front door open and flies get in the house.

“What’re we gonna do with her?” the driver asks. I picture Jerry shooting me and the pee starts up again. Jerry looks down and points at my crotch. “Shit,” he says, “the kid’s pissing herself.” The driver sees it, too. “Sonofabitch!”

It’s coming hot and heavy now, a river with the dam broke, yellow wetness seeping into the front seat, dripping into the floor mats. The driver jerks the wheel and pulls over. He jumps up, throws me out like an empty fast food bag. I land on my knees, the prick of gravel digging into my skin. In a plume of dust and smoke, the Dodge screeches back onto the road, taking with it with my backpack, my fifty bucks and the entire contents of my bladder.

It takes a little while before the sheriff’s car finds me. By then my shorts have mostly dried, so now it’s just tears making me wet. Sitting there in the back of the cruiser, I promise myself that from now on I’ll cash in my chips as soon as I can, cuz a pack of smokes is a much surer thing than some damn bank.


on kindness February 27, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — heidi @ 2:55 pm

Sometimes Starbucks can be bad for you. No, not the stuff they serve. I actually like their coffee. And they treat me well. If I order my favorite – a watered-down version of an Americano – at other coffee shops, the barrista will very likely give me that raised eyebrow, half-amused, half horrified look of someone who’s just been asked to commit a crime. But at Starbucks, they repeat my order without missing a beat, without so much as a blink. They make me feel as hip as the guy who’s just ordered a triple shot of battery acid, no whip.

No, it’s not the coffee. It’s the inadvertent proximity to certain patrons. These people rub me so wrong I‘m left with carpet burns. And in certain shops, where the tables are arranged in such a way that if you and your neighbor get up at the same time, you WILL do the rump-bump, you just can’t help but overhear random bits of conversation. Ugly, awful words that get louder despite your best efforts to tune them out.

So it was yesterday, when I ducked into a shop in a rather well to do part of town. Less than a foot away, a woman sat across from a snub-nosed, red-faced man whose tie seemed to cut off his air supply and whose bloated ankles bulged out of his penny loafers like overfilled muffins.

“You suburban housewives,” he said, his voice louder and more grating than the hum and spit of the cappuccino machine, “you’re the ones that get hurt. They’re jealous of your mansions, your big cars. They want to take these things away from you.”

Bristling with anger, the woman sat up, puffed out her chest and made angry clucking noises. In her black outfit, she reminded me of a wild turkey seconds before the hapless bird realizes that it’s about to be shot.

The man smiled and nodded as the woman spat out phrases like, “It’s my money,” and “I’ve never been this angry.” She sounded as if someone were indeed aiming a gun at her, or as if a great and horrible danger were looming just around the corner. And all because of the so-called “Public Option.” This woman truly believed that the government was scheming to take her hard-earned money just so it could pay for some alcoholic’s detox, a welfare mom’s baby formula or an old man’s hip replacement.

“We were perfectly fine before Medicare,” the woman said. How could she know this, I wondered. She didn’t look old enough to have been around all that much before Medicare.

Fueled by the women’s heated responses, the man continued to spew rhetoric about the sins of the government, most notably about the selfish ways and malicious intent of “that socialist president.” And, as if she’d been parched for months, the woman drank his Kool-Aid.

Feeling like someone had dumped a pail of sewer water on my head, I packed up my laptop, threw on my coat and hurried out of the shop. My next stop was an unassuming little nursing home located smack in the middle of a run-down, sometimes intimidating part of the city. Soon, I found myself sitting across from a wheelchair-bound woman whose hard life had culminated in a crippling injury. She pointed to the scratched armoire in the corner.

“All my stuff fits in there,” she said. “Would you believe it?”

With the exception of a vase with plastic flowers, a box of tissues and a large Styrofoam cup filled with water on her nightstand, a pair of fuzzy slippers tucked beneath her bed, and several pieces of chocolate neatly displayed in a plastic dish atop a small side table, her room was threadbare.

“Would you like a chocolate?” she asked, smiling as she struggled to reach for the dish.

This simple act of kindness rendered me speechless. It seemed the very antithesis of my experience in the coffee shop. Before me sat a woman who had so little, yet she was eager to share with me, a total stranger. She offered what she could, just because.

On my way home, I confess, I fantasized. In my mind’s eye, the woman in the coffee shop suddenly came upon circumstances that left her utterly helpless, that forced her to rely  on the good will and selflessness of others. I imagined her receiving the kindness of strangers, and hanging her head in shame.


It’s Personal November 5, 2009

Filed under: Lesbian Life — harriettnelson @ 11:12 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

I don’t live in Maine.  I’ve never even visited there, so why did it feel like a punch in the gut when I heard that they had voted down gay marriage there?

It means that a lot of people went to the polls just to say that people like me are inferior, that we do not deserve to be treated like normal people, that we are so despicable that it’s right for murderers and rapists to have more civil rights than we do.

It doesn’t matter what kind of life I live.  It makes no difference that I tutor children after school and volunteer at our local hospice.  It’s irrelevant that I’m active in my church and in my neighborhood, that I’m a good neighbor who shovels the sidewalk of the elderly man next door.  Nothing I do can atone for who I am.

It doesn’t matter that I’m a middle-aged white woman, that I have a disability, or that I am a teacher.  No other aspect of who I am can override my indelible scarlet L.

A lot of people went to the polls in an off year to say that people like me are not valued.  That hurts.  It’s personal.



Chicken October 30, 2009

Filed under: Dogs — heidi @ 12:16 pm

I’m loading my groceries onto the cashier’s counter when someone taps me on the shoulder.

“I’d steer clear of that if I were you,” says a middle-aged woman in Birckenstocks and a shapeless brown dress. She stands just a little too close, rocking slightly from heel to toe, heel to toe. With her long face and closely cropped hair, she looks more like a cattail than a human. She points to the frozen chicken breasts I had just placed on the belt, staring at the innocent yellow package as if it contained, in flash-frozen form, the very essence of horror.

“It’s not past the sell-by date,” I assure her. “And it doesn’t smell spoiled. I think it’s OK.”

She inches closer still. A pungent mix of pine and underarm odor wafts from her. Her mouth opens but, for a moment, no sound emerges. Then she mouths the words: “It’ll kill you.”

I step back. “The chicken’s for the dog,” I tell her.

She grimaces and shakes her head. “Oh no, no, no! Chicken is much too intense for a dog.”

Pardon? I’ve heard many words attached to the ubiquitous bird: fried, shit, even choking, but intense? Never. Especially not in relation to canines, who are after all creatures that devour rain-soaked road kill as if it were a communion wafer.

I turn away from the advice-doling woman and pretend to search for something inside my purse. Thank heavens for that feedbag I lug around with me. There’s always an excuse in there for ending a conversation, for ignoring somebody, for being overtly rude. “Chapstick,” I mumble, “where’s my goddam Chapstick?”

I can feel her eyes boring into me but I don’t dare look.

“Thirty two fifty four,” the cashier says. I swipe my card and steal a furtive glance over my shoulder. The woman in the brown dress presses her lips together; her nostrils flare. She doesn’t utter a sound, but I know exactly what she’s thinking.



Good things October 25, 2009

Filed under: hard times — heidi @ 2:00 am

I’m holding on, with every fiber of my being, to the notion that good things come to good people. My heart clings to this antiquated idea while my brains scoffs. It’s a load of bull, I know. A fantasy. But I’m desperate for something to believe in. I’m searching for a sapling of hope in a charred forest.

Hope. Hope that in the end, everything will be Okay. Copasetic. Just. When the neurons responsible for gloom and darkness, those that live in the rational part of my brain, begin to fire, my irrational brain responds with dogged repetition of that familiar old refrain: good things come to good people.

Every day, in nursing homes, in assisted living facilities, in any nook and cranny of this city where the aged loll, I meet genuinely good people. They tell of pasts filled with backbreaking work, or with nothing to eat, or of surviving unspeakable horrors, or battling illnesses that no longer exist, that ravaged their bodies and left them forever scarred. But these very same people, whose bellies ached from hunger, shared what meager morsels they had with anyone in need. Those same people sacrificed what little they had, without giving it a second thought, and they did so only because helping their fellow man was the “right thing to do.”

I’m fortunate. For brief moments, I immerse myself in stories of kindness, of goodness, of caring and selfless acts that came so naturally, they were almost reflexive. But things are different now. Younger people, people my age, people who should have gathered enough life experience by now, don’t seem to care about others. They turn a blind eye, walk away, change the channel, tune out.

You know what bums me the most? When that guy who fiddled while Rome burned, when that guy walked away from the smoldering ashes, he found a brand-spanking new violin waiting for him. And the little man below, he just kept getting burned.

Still, I cling to the notion…


H1N1 October 22, 2009

Filed under: hard times — harriettnelson @ 6:11 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

So my partner  caught the virus at work and, predictably, I got it from her.

Day 1: I think I’m coming down with something.

Day 2: I’m sick.

Day 3: I’m sicker. Fever and aches. No energy. Cough.

Day 4: I’m really sick and I’m not getting out of bed.  Fever, aches, bad cough.  Energy?  What’s that?  Rolling over is a project.  Watching TV is too much work.

Day 5:  Slept (not rested, slept.) until 4:00 pm, then laid on sofa.  Fever gone.  Cough worse. Back to bed at 10:00.

Day 6: Slept until noon. Feel ok as long as I don’t move. Cough a little better.  Watched the news this evening.  Schools are closed because half the kids are out sick.  Pictures of children in hospital beds.  Interview with a man whose life was saved only by use of an experimental antiviral drug.  All the reporters are shocked and amazed. They seem stunned that people are dying from influenza.

Hello?   Has the world forgotten 1918?  Was anyone at all listening last year when public health officials told us that there was going to be a dangerous outbreak?  Am I living in some kind of alternate reality?  Yes, influenza kills people.  This has been going on for centuries.  Why are we shocked that it’s happening yet again?

Then came the news that really was shocking: reported, of course, very matter-of-factly.  70% of people in my state say they do not plan to get the H1N1 vaccine.  70% oblivious to the danger!  70% putting their children at great risk.  Now I was the one who was stunned.

Looks like we’re in for a doozy of an epidemic.  Hope I’m wrong.


Catch 22 September 25, 2009

So, here I am, unemployed, chronic health problems, no income, no health insurance.  What to do?  Look for a job obviously!

As an indigent, I receive basic health care through the county.  It’s not a lot, but it keeps me alive, and that’s a good thing.

Jobs are very scarce around here.  Our state’s economy is 50th in a nation that’s not doing so well.  A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to get an interview for a job in my field.  The work sounds interesting.  They seemed to like me.  They called me back for a second interview.  Looks like they’re going to offer me the job.  What a relief!  It’s only part-time, but it will be great to be working and to have a little money coming in.

But wait, part-time means no benefits.  I won’t be able to get health insurance through this job.  Once I start working, I won’t be eligible for care from the county.  Because of my health status, individual health insurance is only available from the “insurer of last resort.”  It costs much more than I would be making.

Will I have to turn down a job offer in order to have access to health care?   I’ll try to negotiate, but it’s not looking good right now.