Graves on Howard

There didn’t use to be graves on Howard.

Howard Road, it’s the only connection between my house out on the lake and anything close to civilization. A ribbon of black asphalt underneath cobalt Texas sky, it used to snake through the hills without care.

Then one night, when I was driving home on Howard, I was stopped.

Twilight was falling just then, I remember. It had been a long day of friends and wakeboards and surfboards and Arizona iced tea. The salt of the lake was still in my hair and the taste of the sun on my lips as the sunset sank dying into the lake’s purple lap like a picture straight out of The Lion King.

But I had to come to a stop on the road. Lights were glittering in my eyes in the dusk, red and white and blue. The kind nobody wants to see. Ambulance lights. Police car lights. Fire truck lights. And flares lay flickering across my path. Must’ve been one heck of a crash.

There’d be no taking Howard home tonight.

Had to take Old Italy ’round instead.

A day or so later, the crosses showed up. Simple white wooden crosses nailed up to a chain-link fence by the roadside—a little white scar on Howard’s shoulder. I barely noticed. Wondered for a half a second why I’d never seen them before, then forgot about them.

I drove by them every day. I should have known there was a reason there were fresh pink flowers always carefully placed underneath.

I just never stopped to think.

Weeks passed, and the silent crosses faded into the rest of the landscape cradling Howard. I ceased to notice them at all, though I passed them every day. I passed them to go to work, to church, to the bank, to the movies, but I didn’t see them anymore.

Then one afternoon, there was a man standing on the side of Howard.

A cowboy if ever I’d seen one, he stood with his bare head low, the back of his neck deep red and beaten hard with a lifetime of honest outdoor work. His arms were strong, his hands thick and hard where they hung at his sides. Square-toed boots poked out from beneath his sun-faded Wranglers.

I saw him as I drove by, saw him standing there with the gangling sturdy stance of a true Texas man, and I wondered. What was he doing, this strong man in his prime, standing by the side of Howard with his head bowed?

He should have been playing an old acoustic guitar or barbecuing brisket or drinking sweet tea on a back porch somewhere. Maybe horseback riding with a pretty Texas girl with cobalt eyes just like the sky, or making plans to go to the Rangers game tonight.

So what was he doing standing there looking down at those white wooden crosses?

Then all at once, I knew. I knew what he was doing.

The crosses were grave-markers, I realized with a tightening throat. Grave markers that had shown up since that night I’d had to take Old Italy around. I remembered that night, remember how it felt to be driving home, and it hurt to remember, because I realized that I had been slightly inconvenienced while this man had had his heart gutted out.

Whom had he lost? Mother? Sister? Daughter? The pretty Texas girl with the cobalt eyes?

And here he was, coming back to say goodbye again, bringing new pink flowers, standing over the graves to protect them because he could no longer protect those who’d been laid in them. He was grieving.

For one sacred broken moment, I was the only guest at a mute funeral for people I didn’t know. For an instant, as I drove by without stopping or slowing down, that stranger and I, we grieved together.

Because there didn’t use to be graves on Howard Road. But now there are.

The Sandwich Problem

“I don’t mean to rob you of your free will, Randi,” a friend said to me recently. “You can pick whatever type of bread you want to make me a sandwich. White, wheat, rye, sourdough—even ciabatta. I’m open to anything.”

Needless to say, he didn’t get a sandwich from me.

Ah, the perennial Sandwich Problem. Little did I know back in the olden days when I was a little girl that one of the complex issues I would come to face as I reached adulthood would be the web of half-joking confusion and prejudice surrounding one of the First World’s simplest and most unassuming menu items: the sandwich.

In theory, a sandwich is only (and I quote from what Abraham Lincoln once said was the most reliable resource available: the internet) “a food item commonly consisting of two or more slices of bread with one or more fillings between them.” In practice, however, through no seeming fault of its own, the sandwich has become a cause of strife, at times frustrating and offending both men and women depending on the stance taken. With all the tension surrounding the sandwich, it’s only a matter of time before somebody writes an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice—Sandwich Edition.

Common jokes on the issue vary from Why should women be paid to work at Subway? Isn’t that their civic duty?—on the male side, to Anytime I see a hot guy I think, “Man, I’d love to make his sandwiches.”—on the female side. But sometimes the situation is a bit more serious.

Let us examine the conditions.

For the most part, men who wish for female-made sandwiches tend to channel their attentions one of three ways:

1. “Woman, make me a sandwich.”
2. “Would you like to make my sandwiches?”[i]
3. “If I bought you ingredients, would you make me a sandwich?”[ii]

In turn, most women tend to react one of three ways:

1. “OH MY GOSH HOW DARE YOU INSULT ME THIS WAY. Go make your own sandwich, you misogynist beast.”
2. “Psh, sure, I’ll make my man a sandwich. But why would I make you a sandwich? You’re not my man.”[iii]
3. “Oh, absolutely. I will gladly make any man a sandwich. I believe it’s a woman’s place to respect men and make them sandwiches.”

This post does not presume to advocate which approach or response to the problem may be correct. There are enough angry and offensive written opinions online already, from both sides of the situation. (Because everybody knows that shouting and cursing at the other side is always the most logical way to win a rational argument.)

However, it is my concern that we are greatly, terribly, overwhelmingly missing the point.

Think about the sandwich in its innocent simplicity. Think about how incredibly disproportionate its seeming unimportance is with the magnitude of the conflict, the tension, the division surrounding it.

That, my friends, cannot be a coincidence.

As famously stated by Abraham Lincoln, “A house divided cannot stand.”[iv] Could it be that the simple sandwich is actually a tool in the hands of a powerful enemy who is even now plotting our destruction? Could there be a force hoping to divide us by sandwich just as Lincoln hoped to divide the Confederacy by capture of the Mississippi River in the early days of the Civil War?

Legend has it that the sandwich was created in 1762 when the 4th Earl of Sandwich demanded in the middle of the night that a piece of roast beef be put between two pieces of bread so that he could eat it while continuing to play a gambling card game without getting his fingers greasy.[v]

Let that sink in.

The Earl needed the brand new sandwich—which some say his cook invented to appease his vague demand for a snack he could eat while playing—to give him the strength to keep playing so that he could win and thereby assert his dominance over the other gentlemen against whom he was pitted in gambling battle.

Winning.

Dominance.

Power.

Division.

The very existence of the sandwich is rooted in a spirit of warfare. Small wonder, then, that the sandwich has continued cutting its rift in unity through history to the present day, where it continues to be one of today’s most divisive and tense topics of debate. The only difference is that now the sandwich conflict is between men and women at large instead of between gamblers.

Here’s the scary part. Who was the cook who presented the Earl of Sandwich with the first sandwich in history? Nobody knows. The name is shrouded in secrecy, lost forever in accidental obscurity.

Or was it accidental? Could there have been something sinister happening in the kitchen that midnight over 250 years ago, that somebody would prefer to keep hidden? Somebody who cleverly planted the sandwich in our midst as a deliberate tool toward our division and subsequent ruin? Somebody who is even now waiting and watching as the sandwich festers among us?

With the facts in mind, I am forced to conclude that the sandwich is, and has only ever been, a deadly instrument of war. The implications of this conclusion are frightening.

I’m not the biggest proponent of conspiracy theories, but there’s nothing like a good sandwich to make me wonder about the Illuminati. Or the aliens. Or even the vampires. But I’m not implying the sandwich is a gamepiece of a deadly and possibly otherwordly conspiracy.

It’s just that the facts are implying that.

 


[i] This is basically a proposal. Proceed with caution.

[ii] This is the most complex approach, involving multiple considerations regarding friend zones, attraction levels, and social obligations. Proceed with caution.

[iii] This is commonly known as a rejection. Proceed with caution.

[iv] This Abraham Lincoln really did say in 1858.

[v] Though sources vary slightly, this also is the real history of the sandwich.

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on curling irons and sexually exploited children, among other things

Warning: this is a very serious post in the midst of a generally lighthearted blog. Sorry for the rather sharp discrepancy. Since I believe very deeply in the power of Story, especially with all its happy and funny moments as much as its sad and dark ones, I’m sure with following posts the temperature of this blog will rise again. I guess sometimes happy blogs just need reality checks, as overall happy lives need them too.

 

Her silky brown hair slid through my fingers. She asked me a question, but in the commotion of the moment I didn’t hear it.

“What?” I asked, leaning in closer, the curling iron still in my hand.

She was looking straight into my eyes as she repeated herself. This time, her small voice reached my ears.

“Can you get into heaven—can you get past the gates of heaven—if you have cuts?”

And standing there in an old college dorm room, surrounded by women helping pamper little girls from abusive homes in preparation for an Alice-in-Wonderland-themed ball, my heart fell apart in two pieces.

I don’t remember the name of the little girl whose hair I was curling for the ball, but I will never be able to forget her question.

And I will never be able to forget the trouble in her eyes.

A heavy trouble, a dark trouble, the trouble of a spirit in turmoil, churning up inside her and spilling out through those wide brown eyes. It was the trouble of trauma and violence, of memories darker than anyone should have to bear.

She was only six. About to be seven, she told me. And she was in agony over the question of whether or not a person with a history of cutting could get past the gates of heaven.

She wasn’t the only sad story who sat patiently in our chairs, getting her hair done for the evening. There were others, drastic ones. Girls who shied away from makeup as if the thought of it were a waking nightmare. Girls with burns from causes that make my skin crawl to think of them. Girls whose hair was loaded with weeks’ worth of grime and food and grease. One girl was terrified to even lift her chin.

There’s something about the thought of that little girl being raped that makes me angrier than I can decently express here.

I didn’t cry then, in front of them. We couldn’t. Tonight was a special ball at Royal Family Kids Camp in Waxahachie, Texas, and we handful of volunteers were preparing the girls for the festivities. We just smiled and curled their hair and sprinkled them with glitter and painted their nails and told them they looked stunningly beautiful.

But what was breaking my heart was that before the girl in my chair sat there, before my hands were working with her still baby-soft hair at her request for Princess Aurora curls, there were other hands on her. With different intentions. She has no defender. She has no safety. She has no idea what a good man looks like. She has been violated in every way.

And here I am, getting ready to graduate college, meandering through my life focusing on that elusive thing we Americans are all supposed to look for at this stage: What Interests Me. And I think I have a lot of troubles, but heck, I don’t.

I’m so ashamed of myself.

This wasn’t the first time I’d come across child abuse, and I know this cause isn’t the only war zone in the midst of our broken society. And yet it was a brutal reality check.

Because as long as there is one more precious little innocent girl in danger of sexual exploitation, there is absolutely no reason why I should live in only the pursuit of my own happiness. As long as one more child has a chance of having burning cigarettes pressed into his skin for the sadistic pleasure of his parent or whoever else, I have zero excuse to coast along in the current of my own profit.

These children have no hope.

God help us. Let’s give them some.

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