Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Part Two: exPOEse'

Part 2: exPOEse'
Elizabeth Willis Barrett

The evil of this day had started with the month. On October first, which happened to be a rainy, depressing Sunday, one of the football team parents had called with a distressing bit of
information. Nancy was her name. (The name of the parent, of course, not the name of the information.)

“My son, Jefferson, just told me that he saw your son, Mark, smoking weed on the canal bank the other day. I don’t like being a tattle-tale but just thought you’d like to know.”

Betsy got the feeling that Nancy did like being a tattle-tale and that she looked for opportunities to snitch, but thanked her anyway. Betsy felt pretty certain that her son would never be dumb enough to do any kind of drugs. He came from a model family and everyone knew that children from model families didn’t do drugs.

On October 3rd, however, a crack started down in the corner of her veneer. While in Mark’s room looking for dirty dishes to put in the dishwasher, she saw an apple with a hole in it. What was that all about? A pen was nearby under some putrid socks. Well, not a pen exactly. A shell of one, though, with the insides out of it. What use would that be? She had seen a similar apple and pen in his room before and had thought nothing of it. But another set? Hmmm, things were looking a little fishy. She wished she had gone to the school meeting that informed parents of what drug use looks like. But, as she had thought then, why take valuable time learning about someone else’s problem? Now she was wondering.

On the sixth of October, which was not a P-Day, Betsy received an e-mail from her missionary son, “Mom, this is too hard. I really don’t want to be here anymore.” The crack was growing.

On the ninth of October when she was into a great deep-cleaning mode trying to get ready for the Book Club ladies, the school had called to say that Benjamin, her youngest and most lovable, was having too many difficulties in the regular classroom and could Betsy come that afternoon to discuss putting him into some special needs classes? Betsy felt the crack in her armor continue its upward creeping.

On the eleventh of October, her wonderful, hardworking husband sat Betsy down at the table, strewn with the remains of dinner. “I got news from the top today,” he said, “and it’s not good.” Betsy wanted to put her hands over her ears and go running into the night, but she’d only have to come back. “You know they’re downsizing ,” he continued, “so when I get back from New York on Friday….Did you remember that my plane comes in really late on Friday night?...well, I might not have a job . Just wanted to give you a heads-up.” The crack was growing and Betsy didn’t know how to stop it.

And on the twelfth, Elise had eaten her breakfast and run to the bathroom to throw it all up. She didn’t look sick but suddenly Betsy was aware of how thin Elise was looking. And Betsy wished she had gone to another school meeting that informed parents of what eating disorders look like. That school was busy. There could be a meeting a night talking about all the maladies waiting to afflict her children. The crack continued “with a low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe.”

And now it was Friday. Friday the 13th. Someone should have taken all the thirteens out of the calendar long ago to save humanity from days like this. The disappointing meanness of the month climaxed on this day and this hour of 5:00 in the afternoon with her house cleaner, Nelda, calling in sick. Nelda might have been sick, but she couldn’t be as sick as Betsy felt. “All sensations appeared swallowed up in a mad rushing descent as of the soul into Hades.” She had specifically arranged for Nelda to come in at 5:00 after the kids got home and were assigned out again to friends and activities. Now what was she supposed to do? The ladies were coming. She was supposed to have refreshments ready. Her house was a disaster. She was a disaster.

What had happened to this last precious day? She had been called to the school for Benjamin. Elise had forgotten her homework. Betsy’s sister had called and they’d talked for an hour. A repairman had come to fix the ice maker. She had made the mistake of walking outside to bring in the garbage can when Mr. Phillips was retrieving his. He then took up thirty minutes of her prized time to delightedly tell her all about his new grandbaby. Then she had gone shopping at Costco for the groceries, but since she had failed to return her wallet to her purse when she’d paid the repairman, she had no money. She had to go all the way home to get it and by the time she had paid the disgruntled cashier and finally returned home again, Betsy and all the day’s allotted time were completely spent. She thought about canceling the Book Club due to tuberculosis or some other horrible made-up disease, but that was something wimpy Sister Sheffield would have done and Betsy couldn’t stand to be compared to her.

She considered pulling herself up by her bootstraps. But what did that even mean? How does one pull oneself up by bootstraps? What are bootstraps anyway? She gave that personal conversation up and just planted her feet firmly in front of herself where she had been slopped on the family room couch and with the help of the arm of it, pulled herself up. Who needed bootstraps?

“Ok everybody,” Betsy bellowed as she gathered her strength and clapped her hands together as a sign of authority. “They are coming. The Book Club ladies are coming. Let’s get things done around here.” She walked past the piles that had grown around the sink, on the counter and by the stairs. “You have got to take care of your stuff.” That sentence started out like a trumpet and ended like a piccolo, for there wasn’t anyone around to listen to her tirade. They had already disappeared as planned, leaving their residue to be hauled and re-dumped by a frantic mother. “As usual!” she yelled at the walls with great emphasis. The walls didn’t comment. “As usual!” she yelled again, even louder this time. Silence.

It was growing. Betsy could feel it. The crack. She had held herself together for a good twenty-five years and now she could feel the fissure and the repercussions were going to be terrible.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Part One: exPOEse'

Elizabeth Willis Barrett
May 31, 2010

Betsy Woodward was the kind of woman that every woman envied. Well, at least the women in the LDS 7th Ward of Gilbert. Her home was spotless, her children well behaved and popular, her husband handsome and successful. When her visiting teachers came each month, Betsy’s home smelled of homemade bread and her living room, which is, of course, the only room that Visiting Teachers ever see, looked like a Thomasville showroom.

While waiting at the front door—totally devoid of cobwebs—her Visiting Teachers could hear Betsy singing a very cheerful ditty. This proved that along with everything else in Betsy’s favor, she didn’t have an ounce of depression. Here was a woman polished to perfection and untouchable by anyone in the boundaries of the 7th Ward. It was a bit intimidating.

When Betsy went to her son Mark’s football games, she looked more like one of the students with her slim body and fashionable clothes. Mark was, of course, the quarterback and the greatest reason for the team’s success. Her daughter, Elise, was excellent at ballet or so everyone said and her youngest son, Benjamin, had the sweetest personality in the whole Primary.

The women of the 7th Ward Relief Society didn’t know Betsy as well as most of them knew each other since she had only been in their ward for a year. But they knew enough. They knew that besides the aforementioned kids, Betsy had three older children—two at BYU and one on a mission. If that didn’t signify parental success, what did? They also knew that she lived in the most beautiful home in the ward, that she drove a very nice car, and that she could sing like an angel. All of this excellence made Betsy quite unapproachable, so she didn’t have any close friends in the ward and didn’t get invited to go to lunch at Flancer’s or to go shopping for curtain or pillow fabrics at Mesa Sales. And she and her husband never got asked to parties at ward members’ homes nor did their family ever get invited to Family Home Evening. Betsy said she didn’t care. But she did—a little.

Actually, Betsy exerted a conscious effort to create a façade of perfection. Impressions were important to her and she worked hard at keeping hers favorable. It wasn’t difficult to impress her Visiting Teachers because they always called ahead. She could make sure the living room was picked up, dusted and vacuumed and smelled like Bath and Body Works’ Coconut Lime before they came. And timing it just right, Betsy could pop some frozen Rhodes Cinnamon Rolls into the oven with their tantalizing aroma at its peak when the sisters sat down to give her the lesson.

Betsy loved to hear comments like, “Your home is so lovely.” or “How do you do it?” or “You’re amazing!”
Betsy made it a specific point to look terrific when she went to Church each Sunday as she smilingly led her attractive children down the aisle to the second row on the right, giving a little smile and lift of the head in greeting to her husband, Nick, who sat on the stand as a member of the Bishopric. She’d scoot the three kids in first, always glad when they got there before the elderly Brother and Sister Johnson. Betsy had to put on some extra speed at home so she could beat the Johnsons out of that particular pew. The Woodwards had been sitting there for some time now and the Johnsons had become usurpers. No one needed to know that on most Sundays, Betsy’s family had had a miserable morning of quarreling as each searched franticly for just the right Sunday clothes and hurriedly downed a bowl of Lucky Charms so they could be there seven minutes early, much to the annoyance of the children.

No one had ever seen Betsy Woodward looking less than her best because Betsy made sure they didn’t.

Betsy didn’t participate in too many ward activities, but she did join the Book Club which met once a month. It had been an enjoyable enough activity until this month. This month of October. Someone had thought it would be fun to read The Selected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe and have the meeting on October 13th, which happened to be a Friday. Friday the Thirteenth. So fitting, they all thought. Way back in January, Betsy had thought it was a good idea, too, and had even signed up to be October’s hostess. But the calendar pages had whipped off as in a hurricane and October had arrived way before Betsy’s plans for purging and perfecting every single room could be accomplished.

Because of found minutes during ballgames, dance lessons and in the bathroom, Betsy could actually say she had read the book. But it hadn’t been pleasant and as the raven quothed: “Nevermore!” Life was definitely too short to read Edgar Allan Poe. She discovered that many of Poe’s words would come back to her with amazing clarity and at odd moments.

And now today, Friday the 13th of October, Betsy wished she had never heard of Poe or the Book Club and definitely wished she had never put her name on the line to be the hostess. Her house wasn’t as ready as she had wanted it to be and she knew that several of the women had planned on her giving them a tour. That’s what happens when you live in a beautiful home—everyone wants to see it. And she had wanted them to see it but now that today was here, this was not the day.

In fact, this wasn’t a day for anything. Betsy would have chosen to take a few sleeping pills, crawl back into bed, scoot her knees up to her chest in a fetal position and wait for the Second Coming. It was definitely not a day for company. In the words of Poe, she had “a strong desire to lapse into insensibility.”

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Day 3: The Cruise Peruse

Day 3: The Cruise Peruse
Monday July 11, 2011
Elizabeth Willis Barrett

Another great day. Didn’t spend much time outside. We went touring the ship. Every day we will get a detailed newsletter that lists all the activities for the day. There seems to always be something to do.

When I saw that there were a few classes that you could sign up for, I was ready with a pen. I love learning.

At 10:00 I went to a class called Face Lifting Without Surgery. Doctor Noreen told us all about Botox, Restylane, Perlane and Depport. I could see immediately--probably because of all my learning--that this was really a sales pitch for procedures that could be done right there on the boat by Doctor Noreen herself. Since she was 38 and looked 18, it was enticing. I even signed up for a free consultation at 2:00. Free--that was the magic word.

At 11:00, I went to a class called “Flat Stomachs for Dummies.” Well, it wasn’t called that, but it should have been. The very charming, Australian accented, young and handsome, and flat-tummied presenter told us the shocking news that if you want a flat stomach (who doesn’t), exercise can only get you 15% of the way and nutrition can only get you another 35% of the way. The last 50% must come from detoxification. Ahhh--detoxification. “Here it comes,” I thought with great discernment. “Here comes another sales pitch.”

He told us that we daily ingest many impurities and that they must be flushed out with a good cleanse. Yep! I was right. Get out your ship charge card.

When he related the well-traveled story of John Wayne dying of colon cancer and having 64 pounds of fecal material rotting in his intestines, I not only got suspicious of this young man’s credentials but I almost chortled out loud.

I went to a colonoscopy doctor once for that rather discomforting procedure and truly thought I’d come home at least 5 pounds lighter. But the doctor informed me that that is not what happens in one’s colon. It doesn’t store years’ worth of excess muck in there. So if you want to lose weight, a colonoscopy isn’t going to help get you to your goal, because it is impossible for the colon to collect that much residue. And in John Wayne’s case, did someone actually weigh it?

Furthermore, the last time I heard the John Wayne story--also from someone who would prosper by potential pill buyers believing it--it was only 40 pounds of rotting fecal material. So someone, somewhere is lying or exaggerating to promote their own cures and frankly I’m not buying it--the story or the product.

The young man then proceeded to tell us that we shouldn’t mind spending $150.00 a month for the 6 months it would take to become completely detoxified. I didn’t stay for his total revelation of the stomach flattening medication, but as with so many other things--I’m sure there is a better and cheaper way to get in shape.

Brad met me and we went back up to Raffles for lunch. More excess gorging followed which will make repentance necessary as soon as we get home. When food is in such abundance, it makes me want to take advantage of the situation--so I do.

At 2:00 Brad went to the Star Dust Theater to save us seats for the 2:30 Magic Show and I raced to my face-lifting consultation. Dr. Noreen made me wait in the waiting room for 15 minutes so I got a little shortchanged on my 30 minute appointment. When she finally ushered me to her examination bed, the Doc was very ready to point out my facial flaws. I am already well aware of them, but it is a little difficult to hear of them from an expert. She suggested some Botox here and some Restylane there and in 12 minutes she had created a vision of a new me that would only cost $1200! A pittance for the great change it would make. I would have had her procedure me then and there if I didn’t have many other uses for my money, if I knew it was an excellent price and if Brad wasn’t waiting for me at the Magic Show. But I did, I didn’t and he was.

So off I ran, my wrinkles still intact, to see a fabulous Magic Show--in the dark where no one could see my face or my belly. Temporary oblivion. For the moment, what a nice place to be!