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  February 2006
volume 4 number 1
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  Karr Stratynberg
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Karr Stratynberg February 2006



photo by jerry garcia

    A writer with a passion for poetry and short stories, Karr Stratynberg writes and lives in Southern California with her husband.



The Nonexistent Conversation

    Mother always had delicate hands. Thin hands with elongated fingers tapered at the end and with natural long nails. They were elegant hands and I was lucky enough to inherit them from her, instead of the thick doughy hands that characterized my father’s. Tonight as we ate dinner at Felix’s Cuban restaurant, those delicate hands were dexterously careful to cut the steak, dip it into some mashed potatoes and enter it into her mouth without ruining her lipstick.

    “So you’re finally going through with it,” she said as she masterly ate another piece of her steak.

    “Well, I’m at the age where I should.”

    “Oh, honey, it should never be because you should. You should do it only because you want to and because you’re in love.”

    “I didn’t mean it that way,” I thought. But, I never could take back my words with Mother.

    "I hope you’re not too nervous,” she put down her utensils and hailed our waiter. “Could I get more wine? Lucy, do you want more?”

    “Uh, no, I’m fine. On both accounts,” I added.

    “Since you’re not nervous with your wedding tomorrow, let’s do a toast?” We waited for the waiter to return. He finally did and slowly poured the wine into Mother’s glass. “To you and John!”

    “To happiness,” I responded. We drank our wine and sat in thought for a few seconds.

    “Wow, my daughter is getting married,” she smiled. She picked up her utensils and made a strange poking gesture to her steak. “Making sure it’s not that well done.”

    The gesture was enough to bring to my mind an event that happened when my family lived briefly in Utah while I was four. It was an event I never mentioned to Mother. I’m not even sure if she knew that I had witnessed it and remembered it vividly. It was the type of episode that changed the way you looked at things. In my case, it made the world more serious and an awkward place for children to live in.

    As a child I was always dreaming. Fairytales came to life and I used to spend long lengths of time imagining the world of Aladdin. His story involved real adventures and courage, versus the stories about women who were stuck doing chores or being locked up in an eventless tower. I was dreaming because my parents were young and started fighting early in their marriage. We came from California and their fighting became more apparent in Utah—where we were far away from any relatives who could’ve helped them.

    We arrived in Utah during the fall and in time to see this land become a land of snow. In this land of snow, we moved often, and made few friends of our neighbors. I was usually indoors and when I wasn’t, I was in daycare. I wore thick jackets and shivered on my way from the bus to daycare and from daycare to the bus.

    Then one day, my grandmother from California called. She was an affectionate woman, who in the future would later baby me into my teens. However, the land of snow was all I knew at that point and I had forgotten who she was when I picked up the phone.

    “I’m your grandmother,” she kept saying in a gentle tone. “Have you forgotten your grandmother?”

    “Mommy!” I yelled, in fear that I had done a naughty thing. I dropped the phone and went looking for her.

    “What’s wrong?” she asked as she held my head. I pointed to the phone. That’s how things started to worsen and the discord between my parents escalated.

    It never ceased to make me wonder what exactly went through Mother’s head.

    Later that night, after dinner, I was in my bedroom coloring with my one year old brother. I was teaching him to color without eating the crayons. Loud voices emerged from the dining room where my parents were arguing.
    Their voices were piercing the night, and a chill ran down my back. My knees started to wobble and I got the sense that things weren’t right. This feeling grew stronger when the yelling suddenly stopped. I walked towards the door and saw that Mother had a long knife in one of her delicate hands. She was walking towards Father with menace seething through her teeth. He was shaking, vulnerable, and with his arm exposed limply to his side as he walked backward and tried to reason with her.

    I turned around and shut my bedroom door. I started crying, but on seeing my brother my instincts took over. I stopped crying, wiped the tears away and walked steadily to him. “Everything’s going to be all right,” I told him. “Keep coloring.”

    I gave him another crayon and changed the picture he was coloring. “You’re doing great.”

    A man’s scream shrilled through the door. I covered my brother’s ears and without knowing it…I started praying. I thought of Aladdin and wished I had a genie to take me away from this land of snow.

    I don’t remember exactly what happened after that. The winter days were short and Father disappeared for awhile. The next time I remember seeing him, he had a bandaged arm in the hospital. Mother was holding my brother and she nudged me toward him, but I didn’t want to go to him. He looked lonely and weak. His gurney was a sickly green and was the only color in the stark white room. He looked at me and glanced away. Mother told me to go to the door and stay there. They mumbled to each other. After that we moved back to California. They never mentioned that event again, and it would take five more years before they got divorced.

    “Mother,” I tried to approach her as gently as I could while we walked back to my car. “Do you ever think about the past?”

    “Dear, the best advice I can give you is to remember the best parts. I’ll see you tomorrow.” She kissed me on the cheek and I watched her as she meandered through the parking lot to her car.

    That was not how I wanted to end the night. How easy was that? Just remember the best parts and forget about the past?

    I drove home and tried preparing for bed. I quickly went to my closet to look at my wedding gown. John and I were still living in separate apartments. We had decided to search for a house after our honeymoon. The wedding gown was simple and modern with little lace. I went to so many stores to find this one and tomorrow I was going to wear it once.

    Mother really had no idea how much that night in Utah affected me! There were many times when I could tell she wanted to escape from my world—to stop being my mother. That day made me serious, so serious in fact, that I’ve spent all these years learning how to have fun.

    She wanted to escape the adulthood she immersed me in at the age of four. Only now have I had the courage to take my life to a new level: marriage.

    If only I spoke to her about it. How would she respond to my questions? This is the only way I could imagine the conversation:

    “Mother, I was there right before you stabbed Father.”

    “Were you dear?”


    “Well, what do you want me to say?”

    “Can’t you explain why?”

    “Why? I thought it was obvious. Your father and I got married at a young age. We weren’t ready for marriage.”

    “Yes, but why did you stab him? Don’t you know that’s crazy?”

    “What is crazy, the idea that there could be something else to my life? I wasn’t that different from you. You were doing the same. Studying Aladdin, hoping that magic rubbed onto you. It never did.”

    “Stabbing is still an inexcusable and violent act.”

    “Yes, but when you’re young and don’t know any better, you do silly things. Stabbing your father was one of them.”

    “Yes,” I thought. “She would admit it was wrong.” I took another hard look at my dress. The reality of not being single any more came to me.

    Maybe it wasn’t craziness that caused Mother to stab him. Maybe it was something else. I could admit there were times when I wished I wasn’t so lucky with John. He was a lovable man, very affectionate and easy to talk to. The only thing I concealed from him was my anxiety to dedicate the rest of my life to him. It wasn’t that I didn’t love him, I did. It was that I had lived a single life all these years because I had choices.

    I had always dreamt of living an extraordinary life of some sort, one filled with traveling. I wanted to immerse myself in different cultures and live the pages of National Geographic magazines. I learned about the Buddha statues in Thailand, the bead decorations of Africans and Velasquez paintings in Spain. Instead, I got into advertising for a small firm. Right when I started to make enough money to afford some travels I met John through business and, well, got engaged.

    Suddenly, through making a life with him, I postponed those dreams of traveling and became tied to Orange County. I drew anxious about those dreams disappearing and dreaded the day when I regretted waking up alone with two children in the house to take care of while he was away at work. I wanted children and knew that I only had so much time to do this, but at the same time will I regret giving up the dream of traveling while I was young? Marriage and children are things one can’t take back. It would be cold to divorce a loving husband and hand over the children to him so that I could have fun in Rome. Sure, I could do this after the children had left my home, but after they’ve drained all my resources and while I’m old and unable to walk long distances. This scared me.

    At the same time, I would miss those quiet times alone, times where I could think about the world, think up alternative futures in other countries or alternative careers. Creating a life with John prevented that. With John I have to make a commitment and go through with it. I could understand where Mother was coming from.

    “It was because I was in a hard place,” Mother would explain. Her delicate hands folded neatly in her lap. “There was a whole world out there and I was stuck indoors taking care of two children all alone. I had no idea what I was doing, and I was stuck there. It was like being stuck on an island by yourself and without the right tools for survival. The night I stabbed your father I had wanted this world to disappear. I wanted to pretend like it didn’t exist and start all over. Anywhere was better. I could be a roadie girl from Texas, or a rancher in Montana. I didn’t care as long as I wasn’t in that house. It was too early for a divorce and that’s why I stabbed him. He survived and we got divorced five years later. What more do you want?”

    Suddenly, she wasn’t crazy and the world became more lucid. Fear is a terrible haunt and if you listen it can make you do stupid things. At this moment, a simple white wedding dress has become frightful to me, but I know that this fear will subside. For there is the fear of loss: the loss of John’s love, not being able to enjoy his company, and not being able to enjoy myself with anyone as much as I do with him.

    I peered into my set of delicate hands. Who knows what the future holds for them? I closed the closet door and went to bed. Tomorrow I will say my wedding vows and what will be, will be.

copyright 2005 Karr Stratynberg