Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Death By Tongue Lashing

The day after the butterflies hatched. They waffled back and forth from tree to ground to tree. Mom says they look drunk, and I bet they are. I would be if I'd just dug my way out of a cocoon. Blue and brown and bright, bright yellow. This one is the only one that would stay still for me--which is lucky since Spittle loves to lick insects, a loving habit if so many didn't end up dead by tongue lashing.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Calliope and the Fat Boys

This is Calliope. If it wasn't mean to say I have a favorite pet, I'd tell you Calliope is my favorite. She doesn't photograph well--she comes out all shadowy with devil eyes--but she is the smartest and bravest. She loves the park when it floods and once swam across the lake just to get to where I was standing. Her favorite food is carrots.

I haven't even mentioned all the cats around here. My dad says it is an infestation, but he feeds them and helps me name them so I know he likes them. This one is Monkey. He's ridiculous. He has a fat brother named Chester.

These are the fat boys.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Introducing Spittle the Super Amazing, Always Eating Wonder Dog

This is Spittle. He once ate an entire bag of horse feed and had to go to the bathroom every hour for a day or so. I had to pick the piles up myself so I know there were exactly 18. Sorry to be gross but that's impressive, right? He doesn't know how to stop eating. He likes to pull food off the counters in the kitchen so we started hiding food in the oven. But now he knows how to open the oven and can also get into the freezer (we have a fridge with the freezer on the bottom). He likes frozen pees, orange Popsicles, and any parts that come from a chicken. We bought a whole separate freezer on Craigslist to keep in the basement just so he couldn't eat our food. Mom lets me (and dad pretends he doesn't notice) keep the freezer up here stocked with frozen peas so he can have a treat when he gets the notion.
This is Spittle when he first came to our doorstep. He's blurry cause he never, ever stops moving. Not now and not then. He's a chocolate lab but must not be pure or someone would have wanted him back. The first week he was with us he slept on my pillow right next to my head and snored something wicked (people in Boston where my aunt lives say "wicked" all the time so I'm going to try it out). He ate a bag of potatoes he managed to pull off the top of the fridge and the aloe plant we used to keep in the front room, and then he chewed his own collar in half while he was wearing it. He gets so happy to see me when I come home from school that he pees a little. I get pretty happy to see him too but almost always hold it in (just kidding...I don't ever pee myself).

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Island Saint Amelia

I'm not old enough to go to the lake all by myself or so my parents say. Luckily I'm allowed to go if I take my five dogs: Hot Dog, Roundog, Calliope, Spittle, and Cakes. There are a few other strays that I've named in secret, but these five are the most loyal and the ones I'm allowed to let in the house. They nip at the heels of anyone who comes too close to me.

My lake is not a swimming lake. My parents tell me this like a million times a day. It is mucky on the edges, and when it floods, the park guards sometimes forget to move the trashcans and portable potty. When this happens, the cans float and bob and empty their insides into the lake, making the air smell like the time my mother forgot a fruit basket on the top of the fridge. When we finally found the basket, there was nothing left but fruit flies, skins, and goos. That’s what the lake is like after a river flood—all skins and goos. So I understand why my parents say, “Absolutely no swimming. No wading. No reaching in for stones or shells. No pretending you need to dive in to rescue a dog.” Still, I think, what is the good of living near a lake if you can’t go swimming?

Sometimes, when I'm feeling very bad, I hop in right where the river feeds the lake. The water is fast and clear and clean. There is a small island that I can wade to. The island sprouts a few tufts of grass and five tall trees whose roots weave together in hills and hammocks that hold the dirt and sand so that my island stays alive. I love the cool water on my toes then ankles then the pits of my knees. My belly button and chest. I never let it go past my armpits, and if it does, I head straight back to shore. My dogs swim with me--all except Roundog who is actually small and skinny and scared of the river.

I know my parents would be super mad if they knew I got in the water so I bring dry clothes and a towel and clean up proper before I go home (mom and dad, you promised not to get mad about anything you read here cause it could just be fiction and you don't want to stifle my creative juices). I don't like being a sneak but I love my island. I hide objects up in the tallest tree, like dad says you have to hide food from a bear if you go camping. This way the spring floods never wash away my treasures.

Inside the knapsack I hang from the tree, I keep plastic bags, and in each plastic bag, there is a special treat. Some bags hold snacks—I like ginger cookies, and I super like caramels and miniature boxes of raisins. One bag holds books—Watership Down, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird. Another keeps a change of socks. Another underwear. Another a raincoat and sweater. I keep note that the new boy in school wrote to me: “What’s your name? You seem weird.” The rest of the bag holds what the river brings. Other people’s treasures are always washing up on the shores of my island. I collect them: one silver ring, a fork and a spoon, a yellow ping pong ball, a punctured basketball, an old glass soda bottle, a barrette.

From the top of my tree, I can see where the church spire will peek up through the water when the dry season comes. The rains will stop and the air will be so thick with hot that the ground will have no choice but to drink from the lake. That's what I'm waiting for. August. And another glimpse of the spire with its crooked cross and missing shingles.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

How the river spit up my dogs and a few other things.

I can see the Mad River from my bedroom window. Not so much in the late spring or early summer when the trees are full and tall and reaching out every way they can. But, in the winter, I can see how it glistens and moves (fat and fast when the snow melts). I've seen it so full it spills over or twirls in circles around downed branches or gushes into the park so that the picnic tables float like rowboats.

My river has four sister rivers that are all deeper, stronger, faster, angrier. About a hundred years ago all those sisters got together and drank and drank and drank. They sucked so much rain out of the sky that they forgot which places they belonged to. They swallowed and swelled and swept over their shores and ate up so many river banks that they forgot to stop. They kept going and washed up over streets onto doorsteps and into living rooms and kitchens.

That hundred-year-old flood left brown lines of stain on the outsides of houses and store fronts in the old part of the city--my dad calls them "brag lines"--"Look at me! Look-how-high-I-can-go lines!" The rivers played so hard for so long that they chased people up into the attics, stuck them on their roofs, filled up their homes, their hearts, their mouths until entire sections of town were so buried in swirly mud water that they couldn't see or breathe or beg for the rivers to stop.

My dad says I'm the best brag-line spotter he's ever met. We take drives--just me and him--around town and catalog the houses that still show their flood scars. Dad says people have brag lines too. The ones on people are harder to spot with your eyes, but you can sense them. Some are ugly. Some smart. Some beautiful and some nearly altogether invisible. Dad says I've got an instinct for knowing people. For knowing when they are good or bad or just plain mean. It's nice that he says this, but he is showing his own brag line since he is the one who taught me to watch and see when people are too proud or not proud enough. Dad says, "I'll brag about you forever! Until I die and you die and we both die again. You can't stop me." (This is a brag-line I guess you'd call pretty great even if it is embarrassing.)

My river feeds a lake that rushes into a dam. The river comes out the other side bigger and wider and faster. A different river but still mine. In the spring, after a bunch of rain and then no rain and then too much rain again, the lake floods and floods and floods and the dam has to work its hardest to keep everything in its place. The water stays in the park, away from its sisters, and this is when it brings me the most gifts: rotted park benches, beach balls, plastic grocery bags, fence posts, truck tires and bike tires, unidentifiable wildlife that swells up with flies, plastic buckets, coke cans, and my dogs.

We assumed the dogs belonged to families upriver who were missing them something awful. “After all,” my dad declared, “dogs don’t naturally come out of rivers.” This confused me since I was way little and had seen for myself the dogs wash down river to the lake and then climb to shore. I knew for fact that dogs did come from the river, but I also like my daddy to think I understand him so I didn't ask any questions. It only took a few weeks (okay months) before I realized that he meant that the dogs belonged to someone. They weren't born in the river. They weren't tadpoles or catfish or green puffs of algae. They were dogs who had washed down into the lake to swim to the edges and stand on a high dry patch and then climb the big hill to my front door.

We tried returning the dogs. We’d go door to door but no one would claim these still-wet animals. Even when the dog had tags or we found a dogless house with suspicious raw hide bits and a leany dog house in the yard, the homeowner’s would shake their heads “no”. Dad, who doesn't like dogs much at all, said that they'd discovered the glory of no dog drool, no dog hair, no muddy dog footprints, and no vet bills. No need to lug heavy bags of food home from the grocery. No barking. No licking of faces with tongues.

I'm the opposite of my dad when it comes to dogs. I love the smell of dog breath—humid and murky like lake water. I love their hot dog bodies snuggled next to mine. I love the way they tilt their heads when they want to understand me and thump their tails on the bed in the morning to wake me up. Most of all, I love the way they love me. That's one of my brag-lines showing.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Amelia loves Yoshitomo Nara

So I was thinking that people might want to know what I look like, but my mother says no pictures. "No pictures, Amelia. None whatsoever." But then I asked her if I could take pictures of this stick bug on the deck that was mostly dead and she said "of course." I guess it is okay to take pictures of things that aren't me and post them so expect pictures of all the good things I find on the river bank (yesterday I found a tin bucket with a purple horse painted on it and a handle that said "BUCKET"--I love things that are labeled with the exact thing that they are...that's just an FYI). Anyhow, I'm starting this blog to talk about the underwater church--I'll get to that later--but also because mom won't let me have a Facebook page. She says I can get one at the same time I buy my first martini, which I guess is her way of being funny. She said there are too many "pervy wervys" out there. And I said, "If that's true, maybe you shouldn't give them a cute nickname." She said, "You're so funny, Amelia," and patted me on the head. Annoying. She's been doing that lately. The head patting thing and adding a "w" to the beginning of words that don't deserve it as if I am a baby again. She says, "How is wittle Woundog today?" Or "It's time for dinner winner." Weird.

In any case, the long and short of it is no facebook page until I'm nearly dead and no pictures of me on my blog so I thought I'd just tell you what I look like and hope the pervy wervys don't find that too interesting.

I recently discovered an amazing artist from Tokyo. Karen Whitefoot Wilson introduced me to the artist's work--Karen is a new kid at school, not the artist, who has a cool name and excellent taste in art, popsicles, and movies. She's new. Like brand new. She just moved here from North Dakota where she says "life is so boring I almost had to start liking Justin Bieber." She's super cool. But that's a tangent. (I seem to be big on tangents today. Sorry.) The artist's name is Yoshitomo Nara. Anyhow, Karen says I kind of look like one of his characters. She's got postcards of his work plastered all over her school cubby. They are kind of creepy but so, so amazing. Little kids looking bored or sprouting fangs or dressed in dog costumes. Look it up if you want to know what I mean.

If you ask me, I'm pretty average looking. I've got sort-of curly brown hair, and I'm not too short and not too tall. I have too many freckles on my nose and even more on my shoulders, but my arms are a good length. My feet are big, which means I'm gonna be real tall (I can't wait for that). I'm the right kind of skinny and my dad says I've got a great nose. Like a button--don't worry, I don't understand that either. I mean, has he ever seen a button? Sometimes I wish I was more unique looking. I wish I really did look like a Yoshitomo Nara character, but I'm the kind of girl that can blend in, which is sometimes awesome since blending in means grown-ups forget I'm there and say juicy stuff. Most of the time, however, I don't blend in. Mom thinks I do it on purpose, the not blending thing, but I swear I don't. I just have peculiar tastes. If I want to blend, I tone it down, and if not, you get Amelia in her true form.

Let me explain. I love to wear dresses, which isn't too weird for a girl, but I wear them all the time. Long dresses, short dresses, dresses with ruffles and puffy skirts that billow out like mushroom caps. Dresses that hang so long they drag under my feet and the hem gets all gray and rippy. I like those the best.The long dresses that drag under my heels and the toes of my Converse sneakers--I have low and high top Converse in pink, purple, black, zebra stripes, and orange polka dot. I like dresses best if they are at least two sizes too big so that the sleeves can flop long and cover up my hands. I always cut holes so my thumbs can break through--having a fist full of fabric helps me think. I buy short sleeve dresses or no-sleeve dresses too, but I usually put on a long-sleeve shirt underneath or a hoodie over top. It's important to always have cuffs to chew on when I make my plans for the day. I usually top this all off with a pair of swimming goggles my father wore when he was in college. He was a competitive swimmer so he wore them all the time. He had to replace the elastic for me so that they'd stay on my head. We found this rainbow lastic that is super perfect. Anyhow, they help keep my eyes clean. I worry about that, getting dirt up in my eyes. I knew a girl once in school who had a brown spot on the white part of her eye. I felt bad but it was really gross, and Evelyn told me it was because she got dirt kicked up in her eye and it just got stuck. I'm not sure that this is true but it freaks me out so the goggles calm me down if I start to worry about it too much. Also, they were my dad's so they feel good even when they just rest on the top of my head.

The thing about me that makes my mom crazy is that I'm not your typical dress-wearing kind of girl. I love to climb and chase and dig massive holes. Calliope and I love to dig moat-like trenches around our favorite woodsy, treasure spots. I like to rough house (ruff house my dad says--hardy har har) with the dogs and bury the animals that sometimes get hit and killed on the main road--I'm not to touch the ones that are too bloody but I usually do anyway. My mom says: "Dresses are for dressing up! They are for tea parties and church and school. They are not for summer or wading in the river or riding your bike." Mom gave up fighting with me on this one a long time ago. She understands now, even if she won't admit it, that having ones legs free to move about is key. Pants are hot and sticky and clingy. She's a good mom. The best. She takes me thrifting and lets me pick out all the dresses I want as long as they are under $2.00.

Now I've gone on too long about nothing. No one is even reading this blog yet and I'm already boring. I guess I'll just treat it like a diary that way I won't feel unpopular.

This blogspot is gonna be about what went on last summer. I promise. I'm nervous to write about it. It might take me a little while to get right down to it. You won't believe me when I really start telling about it so if you need to believe it's all fiction that's okay too. It's a story true or not. I'll try to make it a good fiction.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

To the Mad River and the church eating sludge of a lake it floods into.

If you don't already know that my name is Amelia, it is because you don't listen. I live between the upper and lower valley near the old coal plant on top of the biggest, roundest hill in Dayton. Mine is the orange house with pink shutters and the lazy front door that sags a sad beige from when my daddy gets angry and slams it open and shut, open and shut. My daddy is not angry often--I don't want you to get the wrong idea--but he doesn't like dogs or cats or deer or wild rabbits or toads or hairless rats or ground hogs or termites or spiders or field mice or wild turkeys or animals with wounds that keep them from seeing or running or eating proper meals or any of the living things that I collect and cherish and let pass in and out of that door without much thinking. Luckily for me and my zoological menagerie of the injured, the made lame, and the previously rejected, my daddy loves me. It is only the door that suffers physically--the animals get the stink eye, but my smiles can undo any Daddy-don't-love-you stink eye.

My mother is the reason you'd know my name (that and my tendency to hold conversations with my five dogs. You see I do their part too: "What shall we do today, Cakes?" I ask. Cakes says back, "I think we should lollygag in the river and swirl smooth stones in our mouths, Amelia.").

My mother stands atop our hill in the doorway for the beige door that hangs funny and hollers: "Amelia! Ameeeeelia! AMMMEEEEEEEEEELYAAAAAAAAAAAAA!" I love the way she hollers my name. My mother the singer. She has a beautiful voice that hums like a guitar, like car tires on a smooth road. My mother calls my name like she wants me, and so it is a loud, long sound that hits the trees and grass and the tall, tall reeds that edge the mad Mad River. My name means love when it's yelled like that.

I am named for Amelia Earhart. Silly, I know and not what you'd guess. My father says Amelia Earhart wasn't the hero people think she was: "She was just a woman manipulated by the media in order to achieve fame." People made a hero out of her to make money, to sell newspapers. They did not name me after her because she was the first or because she was the best or because she was famous. "She was an argonaut," Daddy says. (Argonaut means adventurer in case you don't know and you can remember that because it looks like astronaut and an astronaut is an adventurer.) He says, "She was an argonaut not because she flew a plane, but because she dared to disappear. To fall of the map, if you will. We expect the same from you, Amelia. We want our daughter to create her own world, to fall off this map and into her own." I've tried to explain this to the kids at school, to say, I am named for a woman who disappeared, but Johnny Gruesome and Evelyn say it is stupid. They say: "Amelia Earhart died! She crashed and died! Your parents want you to crash and die!" I've stopped arguing with them. I know what I know, and I know what they don't know so I just shut up about it these days.

Knowing this about my name made me less surprised the day I first saw the church spire pushing up through the water. I knew then that I'd just discovered the off-the-map world I'd been meant to discover from the start. I told my five dogs--Cakes, Hotdog, Roundog, Spittle, and Calliope--"This is it! We have to get to that church spire. Something is under that lake and its calling Amelia! Ameeeeelia! AMMMEEEEEEEEEELYAAAAAAAAAAAAA!"