Anita K. Rosenberg
and Jane Hulstrunk

Jane Hulstrunk
Inspiration Piece

Open Your Hand
By Anita Rosenberg

Response

“Hi Mom, are you here? Nina has something she wants to show you. A surprise. Where are you?”

His footsteps became heavier and his voice grew louder as they walked through the kitchen towards the hallway, warning her they were in the house.

Early in the day her son Paul and her three year old granddaughter Nina, stopped by for a

quick visit. Nina is a fearless little girl who could bring Vivian, her grandmother, aka Bubby, out of the deepest slump. Even at times when she was certain she wanted no company an unannounced appearance could pull her out of a dark hole. The dark holes came less frequently now; the last two years had been so much easier.

“Mama, where are you?”

Her children knew she was skittish about unannounced visitors, crawling critters, bridges and a million other things. It was just how Mama was.

“I’m back here, in the den, uh, sorry, my writing room.”

Four years later and still she stumbled over the name of this room. The room, once his “den,” was now grassy green and white gauzy curtains floated on the windows. Twenty seven years in the same house is a long time.

It took Paul a year to go into ‘Mom and Dad’s’ room to say good night. Vivian painted the bedroom a deep desert umber soon after his father moved out. He couldn’t enter the room that was no longer familiar. He’d stand at the door and say goodnight. Gone were the late night chats with him sitting on the end of their bed; often the best part of a marriage going sour. One of many layers of the family, collapsing. Identities don’t change over night.

There were times when Vivian thought: I wouldn’t have broken the family if I’d known. But she knew it wasn’t true. In the end, she thought she might die in the house of cards.

“Come back here and don’t look at the mess in my bedroom.”

Nina skipped down the hallway and in the doorway to her den-uh-writing room proceeded to do the happy dance, up down, up and down, up, and down.

“Bubby. Bubby, look what I founded.”

She was nearly breathless. Vivian stooped down to eye level and pulled Nina in for a kiss and nuzzled her neck. It was then she noticed the little sandy hand was in a fist. A curled up hand was always cause for suspicion; a fist was either coming in for a punch or contained something scary. Vivian was a certified fraidy cat. The boys used to make a game of ‘let’s scare Mom,’ hiding behind a door then jumping out. Boo! They thought it was hilarious. After they separated Vivian pronounced a ban on the game, among other things, and surprisingly, they just stopped. After all the years she  had begged them not to scare her, they just stopped.

“Nina, what’s in your hand honey? John, get in here- NOW.”

The pink fingers opened in slow motion exposing a caterpillar, waiting.

“Paul, get in here-NOW.”

Vivian maintained her calm. Nina’s arrival had given Vivian the never before opportunity to be perceived as brave, from scratch. Creepy crawlers were the only phobia left, but conquering the others was paying off.

“Bubby open your hand. She’s tickly. C’mon, c’mon. Do it.”

She was laughing and whining, a funny combo. Vivian was awed by her courage in the face of creepies.

Nina lifted it closer to her face, the bulging eyes of the furry monster glared, waiting to attack.

Where the hell was Paul? Paul had drifted upstairs to his old room, looking for CD’s and books left behind when he married June.

“Sweetheart, it’s really cute but only you should hold it. We don’t want her to get scared do we?” Just like that, she fooled her. All by herself.

She fixed a snack, and it was time for them to leave. Thank you God, thought Vivian.

At the car he whispered,

“Mom you were great with the ‘thing’ back there, I’m impressed. You’ve changed a lot.” Kisses were liberally distributed, then goodbyes. She practically pushed them into the car. Paul had held fast to the ‘don’t call them by name’ rule. The ‘thing.’

The sun seemed to set faster than usual that evening. Vivian didn’t feel like herself. Was it the change of seasons? The darkness was blacker, closing in on her. A long forgotten sadness crept in under her heart, heavy and foreboding.

She needed to crawl into bed early. In the bedroom she kicked off her shoes and saw it; the furry monster, wiggling towards her from under the bed. Any composure left disappeared in a flash. It might as well have been a snake for the terror and dread that made her feel faint.

In the narrow hallway she sat against the wall and cried into her knees, all strength stolen. Her voice frightened away her dog.

The neighbor came over; he heard her crying and thought someone had broken in. How nice of Bill not to laugh. Rather, he went into the bedroom, found the thing, and took it away in a plastic bag. Her open window let in the sound of his door closing. She had forgotten to tell him not to look at the mess in the bedroom.

Eventually there was calm. She sat through the night and read her journals of the past two years, reflecting on all that had changed before this night.

“You’re doing so well, it’s amazing,” her friends praised her on a weekly basis.

“We’re so proud of you.”

The entire first two years she spent shepherding the kids through the landmines. Two more years had passed and she began to believe the friends might be right.

She traveled to the places he never wanted to see, Italy, India, Romania and The Czech Republic.

“I could never travel by myself, how do you do this?” her friend Mary said one night over dinner.

She never actually traveled alone; she went with a very hip travel company that limited excursions to ten people. They performed community service wherever they traveled and stayed a night or two with the locals.

Vivian loved meeting new people so it wasn’t brave at all.

“Every person has a unique story all their own.” Vivian said that to her kids over and over.

Brave? No. Well perhaps. Her life was livable now, expanded. Once in a while a little darkness came to call.

“Mom, we are so happy for you. You are so alive and filled with energy. We hope the next year brings you more of whatever you’re doing!! Happy Birthday!!

Love from all of us, Paul, Gracie, Jack, and Jesse, June and Nina.”

After, Happy Birthday to You, she blew out the six (for sixty) candles and opened the gift. A one hundred dollar gift certificate to Nordstrom.

Gracie whispered in her ear, “I’m so proud of you Mama.”

Shopping two weeks later, trying to stay at the sale racks, she saw it. It was a silk shawl across the aisle but it might as well have been a Monet at the Metropolitan.

The silk was raw. Countless shades of green raining down the length and at the bottom, cheetah spots creeping along the border, running from the zebras, chasing blue-green peacocks.

Another customer sidled up next to her.

“Can you believe this? Two hundred dollars and the dye is running the colors together. Jesus. This place is so pretentious.”

After the stranger stomped off, Vivian dared to touch it. Just like that, it owned her.

It stayed in the silver Nordstrom bag, wrapped in weightless tissue. How could you have spent this much money on yourself? She pushed the bag under the bed.

After the caterpillar, in the quiet, she saw it clearly. The panic had followed her home, crept in on the green silk, two weeks ago. It had lurked, waiting to come in for a punch.

Vivian pulled herself up off the couch and went into to her room, barefoot. Out of the silver bag, with a whoosh, came the silk shawl. She wrapped herself in it, a cocoon of raw heat. She cried again but this time not in fear. She wiped the salty tears with it, on purpose. Now she owned it.

The old things come to visit, unannounced. Over and over they hide behind curtains, jump out, and shout boo.

You are not the same Vivian as you were, before you walked through landmines. Open your hand, come on. Do it.

2 Comments

  1. Gracie Burns
    Posted November 5, 2010 at 2:40 am | #

    This is wonderful. It is an inspiration. Thank you.

  2. Susan Gordon
    Posted November 9, 2010 at 11:54 pm | #

    Dear Anita,

    I’m seeing it and I’m loving it. Great story; great truth true and truer.

    Susan

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