Archive | December, 2011

Too Much To Hold

24 Dec

I once had  a family.

In this holiday spirit I lasso the lessons I learned about loyalty, love and kindness. In these values there is a generosity of heart, of spirit, the willingness of giving, that I take forward.

Someone taught me that if I were to give, I should never expect. I learned that lesson well.

There’s been times that I did expect, that my complaints resounded with the words “I wish.”  Now I rely on my absolute right-brain knowledge, but oftentimes my heart gets in the way.

I was brought up to believe that everyone would welcome me. How hard that brain muscle had to work to find out that wasn’t the case. But I press on.

As I grew, as I came into the world, my own woman (gee, I was forty-something),  I called upon the values I received as a young girl because these were the values my family members gave to me.

I held onto them like a dog on a bone.

In 2012 “it’s all about me.”  See, I bought a couple of good bars of soap; I didn’t eat the pizza pie alone; I bought a new pair of hiking boots and gave the old ones to charity; I told the lady next door, “Look, if you hurt my dog, I’m not going to say hello to you anymore – you gotta’ like my dog.”

I once had a family.

My family,  in the short time we had,  taught me the lessons of giving, of giving with your heart.  In conversation, time – time of listening – to welcome friends over, to cherish their time, I love the people in my life. I have developed my friendships  – but I’m nobody’s fool.

In 2012, I know exactly what to do:

because I have too much to hold, because I’ve learned the lessons of humility, because I thank God for giving me everything I have –  my cup runneth over, because I’m older and without the guidelines of mortality, but moreso the timeline of mortality –

I give you my love, but I can’t give so much time.

The Fruits of Labor – Paulie and the Blueberry Letter Part 1

10 Dec

Paulie Arcevita is a nineteen year-old out of Brooklyn, a rogue and a ruffian, he got chops from the “school of hard knocks.”  Cut fresh and edgy, with an attitude as sharp as a butcher’s knife, he’s still got a heart of gold under that metallic hard surface. Everything Paulie does he does the hard way.


Every time I walk somewhere I look at the ground, but there is no money on the ground. I know for a fact people lose money, but I walk everywhere and I never see any lost money – and forget about a wallet. Man, how I’d love to see a wallet with some money. Or a bag with some money. I’d be crazy with excitement if I ever found a bag of money.

I’m walking like I do on some avenue that’s kind of dirty with houses that don’t turn on their lights at night and during the day their blinds are shut. They gotta’ keep it out, you know. I know behind those blinds is some kind of dysfunctional shit going on. People who leave the door open, lights on, they seem more normal.

Several months, you know, after this, like what I’m telling you, I’m walking – again – and one day, I’m walking, right, and I pass near a forgotten lot and these bushes are enormous like no one, and I mean no one –  has ever trimmed them or taken care of them in any way, right. So in the bushes is a bag. The bag is small and it’s ripped just a little so I pick it up. The rip in the bag reveals a little piece of paper with a paisley design and, at its end, where the white creamy border is, is curled just a little so you know it’s packed tightly. I’m thinking, Oh, Jesus, it’s money, Oh, Jesus, it’s money!  My balls are itching with excitement. I ignore the marsh-like mud that creamed one of my boots, and I grab the bag. I’m excited and I wipe the mud off my boot on the back of my other leg and get my jean leg dirty, but I don’t care. So I’m holding this bag and then all of a sudden I feel angst! Now I feel kind of criminal and figure it’s normal and I begin to walk with the bag detouring my original destination. I go behind the bakery and sit way back behind the garbage and I open the bag. Sure enough, there’s a roll of twenty dollar bills wrapped in a rubber band and a deposit slip for $2500.00. The address on the deposit slip reads “Van Vranken Avenue Garage.”

I keep the money in the bag and take out two twenties. I go into the local DVD store – one still left that hasn’t been hit by Netflix and Blockbuster. Don’t ask me how this guy is still making it.  Anyway, I’m taking my time, spinning through the store, and I feel like the clerk is rushing me.  He knows me as a customer who usually goes to the back room where all the porn is and where the kids aren’t aloud in.  Today he’s surprised when I pull out cash and pay for two movies instead of renting them.

At the counter he says to me, “Popcorn?” like he knows I always take the popcorn, and I could see he’s wondering how come I didn’t get no popcorn for free.

“Because, man,” I wanted to say, “I don’t eat your lousy heat lamp popcorn no more. Only when I got these shit-ass movies for rent did I want your heat-lamp popcorn because I felt like that was part of the deal. But now, now, I’ve got no deals to make with anybody because I’ve got money on me!” But I don’t say anything, no. I just tell him, “No, thanks.”

Then I pass George the mechanic. He hasn’t seen me in a while. I never pass that way, that street, whatever way you want to say it. And I like George and all, and him and I get along good and he’s a good mechanic. He’s surprised to see me and we shake hands.

“Man,” he says after I hand him the money I owed him from, God knows how long ago. “What? Did you hit the lotto, Paul?” he tells me.

George got a greasy face and greasy hands and grease under his fingernails.  I like George, but George knows a lot of people, and he’ll stand around in his shop for hours talking about people and I’ll probably be one of them. I don’t need that.  George fixed my car almost a year ago right before I got hit with a DUI and lost my license. Then I had to park my car and that’s when I owed George money.  “No, George. I’m working now, and I’m doing good. I didn’t hit no Lotto.”  That’s what I told him.

It was good to pay off George.  It was an old debt – $150.00 bucks.  Now I can walk on this street again.  When I said goodbye to George he was standing under the shop’s sign: Van Vranken Avenue Garage.

This one guy I know parked his Miata in a garage and somebody broke into the garage and stole his freakin’ hard top. That’s lousy. So even though my car’s in a garage and I can’t drive it for another three months –  and it kills me, because it’s gonna’ be summer soon and I won’t get to the beach, and I won’t get to show up for softball practice because the park is way out of the way, and I’m gonna’ have to hoof it everywhere, even with this freakin’ money – and me, like a jerk, gives it to the video guy, and then back to George.  Shit man, what am I gonna’ do? What if George catches on? Holy shit. I’m gonna’ be in so much freakin’ trouble it’s not funny.

So I keep walking and I know I got to be home. I got to feel safe. I feel uptight. I want to watch the movies. The bus is coming, that’s good. I get on the bus, and I could tell it’s a new driver but I can’t tell if this driver is a man or a woman. The black girls are sitting way in the back. The same girls – I’ve seen them before; they go up to the community college and take the bus pretty regularly. The three of them, here they go, whenever they see, they start singing.

© Terry Rachel, 2011

Money in my Pocket

4 Dec

            I needed a job and I needed one yesterday.  So I put out an ad in a local Pennysaver and this is how it read:

            “Woman, $10/hr.  Can do computer work, clean, landscape, help you with groceries.  Anything, really, for $10/hr.  I am going to be unemployed soon and just wish to parlay my income.”

When I met Heather she walked me into her formal living room, and in her living room was a wooden cross – no lie, it was 10 x 3 feet – the biggest cross I’d ever seen.  Heather said it was a replica of the cross Jesus carried before His crucifixion.

So I’m sitting there with Heather, in Heather’s living room, with this big cross, wondering how I’m going to make $10 bucks an hour from her and she offers me a cup of tea. I drink the tea and then she tells me she needs help with her files, her church files to be exact, and I’m to come back in a week and organize all her client files because she’s very unorganized with the congregation material and for a pastor of a local church, Pastor Heather, found that to be a “sin in the eyes of God.”  In my own odd way I liked Pastor Heather and told her I’d take the job.

Meanwhile, another call comes into voicemail from a guy who says, “My wife travels a lot. And I want to surprise her, so she doesn’t have to cook. Can you make lasagna?”

I call the guy back, tells me he’s a paraplegic. I feel bad for him so I made the lasagna at my place and took it to him at his place. That dish cost me $24 dollars to make. When I delivered the lasagna, he rang me in. Sure enough he couldn’t get up. There he was in bed, wheelchair beside him. He said, “Put it in the downstairs refrigerator!” And I did. At first I couldn’t find the downstairs frig, but then I did. Inside the refrigerator was like 60 cans of beer. So I shoved the beer around and I remember thinking to myself, ‘Jesus, you need a party.” But I suppose before his accident he entertained a lot. I guess no more.

He paid me $45 dollars for my time and said, “Thank you so very much.” I never thought about it after that but I wonder if they liked the lasagna.

            I got another call from a guy who wanted a blow job, another guy wanted to know if I could take care of medical insurance, and write letters on behalf of his aging mother. I said no to both of them.  The Pennysaver ad had its ups and downs but I was making money, and maintaining my car and my rental.

One day, about a week into the ad, a call came in from a very elderly man and his wife. They were living in a house that was their first and only home and they had lived there since being newly wedded. They raised their children there and were now great-great grandparents. The house was three miles from my apartment and I thought what the hell. With the winters being so tough in the northeast, three miles was a cinch.

I arrived on a sunny, crisp morning and I could see the driveway and walk needed shoveling badly and I thought, ‘Well here’s twenty bucks right here.’

The guy answers the door and he’s old. He’s the oldest old man I’d every seen. His wife is sitting on the couch.  She’s old, too. Come to find out, he’s 96 and she’s 94. And the first thought I get is, ‘Wow, these people need a nursing home.’ She can’t see, she’s blind; he can see and is the peppier of the two.

My first assignment was to scrub the kitchen floor and take out the garbage. The woman says, “Can you give me a manicure?”

There are photographs of them on the mantel and on bookshelves and I’d taken a peak. So I give her a manicure and do the best I can, but because she’s so frail, I don’t clip close, I just tone it up a little bit. The old lady had her nails polished in every picture on that mantel. So I polished her nails–just with clear polish, and told her she had pretty nails. She smiled and I smiled back.

The guy talked about his years at General Electric. He was there nearly fifty years, started out of high school. GE was huge employer in Schenectady, New York and a lifeline for many old-timers. I was listening as he went on and on about his time at GE.

“Is there anything else I can do? Do you need me to go to the store? Have you got groceries?  I gotta’ get going.”

He said, “Thank you, no. We’ll be in touch.” He paid me $15 dollars for exactly an hour and half of my time and I went home.

Five days later he called me and said his wife passed away, that he needed a ride to the bank.  He needed to take care of monies and his mortgage, change a few things.

I drove his car to the bank because he was too nervous. I waited in the bank’s lobby. Afterwards I drove him home and spoke with him a little while at his house. Before leaving a phone call came in from his great-granddaughter.  I tried not to overhear thinking thoughts of the old lady, his wife, and wondered if the funeral parlor repainted her nails, or did they look good enough by my doing, and  that maybe I really was the last person who had polished her nails.

He said, “Here,” as he handed me the phone, “my great-granddaughter wants to speak with you.”

The great-granddaughter was nice. She was just checking on me to see if I was normal, and if I really had her great-grandfather’s best interest at mind. “Of course,” I assured her, “I’m just trying to make a little money.”

Three days after taking him to the bank he called again. He said he’d like a ride to the cemetery to see his wife. I drove him to the cemetery all the while thinking about my phone conversation with his great-granddaughter.

She lived in California and she was friendly in that laid-back, California way. She said she appreciated my time and that many of her aunts had passed on, and that she wished to be there, spend more time with her grandfather, but she had a family of her own, and she just couldn’t. I told her it was okay and she said if I needed anything I should call her.  I was to let her know how her great-grandfather was doing. We exchanged e-mails.

After he visited the cemetery I drove him back home. While there he said he hadn’t bathed for a week and could I give him a bath. So I got out a bucket of very hot water and sponged him down. I handed him fresh clothing, and helped him get dressed. I said, “Well, that’s it, I have to get going.” He said – before paying me, “You know, if you treat me right, I’ll treat you right.” I laughed and said, “For the bath I want $50 dollars.” He paid me readily.

After that he called several times but I didn’t call him back.

About one week later his great-granddaughter e-mailed asking if I’d been to see her grandfather because he wasn’t picking up the phone. I replied that her grandfather was a ‘dirty old man’ and signed off with an LOL! She called me right then and asked me what my e-mail meant, why I could no longer visit with her great-grandfather.

After relaying what happened with the bath and how, for about five straight days he was calling and leaving dirty messages on my voicemail, there was a silence between her voice and mine.  When she spoke she sounded mortified and apologized for him. I told her, “It’s no big deal. I just don’t want to deal with him anymore.”

Who knows what happened with him after that. Maybe he did get legitimate nursing care. Maybe he got a nurse who was buxom and blonde; I hope he did. But I’ll never forget the willingness of his frail and skinny body trying to get a hard-on, wanting his testicles played with, when he said the words, “You treat me right and I’ll treat you right.”

I had to find a legitimate job.


            Working part-time for Pastor Heather, working in her office filing her files, helping her organize things, she asked, “Are you a Christian?”

I said “I went to Catholic school; I was raised Catholic and I used to go to church.”

“Do you go to church now?”


It was the truth. I hadn’t been to mass in years. My family was dead and I was pissed off at the world. I’d been working these weird $10 buck an hour jobs and my former employer was contesting my unemployment. I was now out of work two months with a monthly income of maybe, eight hundred dollars, maybe; but nowhere near the $1,000 or even $1,200 I really needed to live. Half of that eight hundred went to rent. I was eating boxed macaroni and cheese and meatloaf. By the 7th day of eating meatloaf I forced myself to throw up.

Pastor Heather said, “I don’t understand why a woman like you doesn’t have a good job.  I will pray for you.”

I was aggravated myself, wondering why with having just graduated with my four-year degree in English, I wasn’t working a professional job. “Come on, Heather,” I said, “It’s just the way it is. Things will change. They will. They have to.”

She said, “That’s good, because God loves you. Ask Him for the things you need.”

I said, “Heather, when I pray, I don’t pray for me, I pray for others.”

She said, “You have to ask. Have you ever asked?”

I said, “Listen” as I’m filing her files, “Jesus Christ came to me once, blessed me over my bed. He rose from the foot of my bed and blessed me. It was the most perfect morning of my life. I was blessed in a dream and I’ve never slept so peacefully. I guess you could say I’ve seen Jesus Christ.”

After I told her about my visit from Jesus in a dream, she got really preachy. One day she  tried doing something called tongues on me – freaked me out.  I figured I’d get scarce for a couple of weeks.

I was so broke and so ashamed of my life. Where I was once hanging with all these women and feeling pretty high on myself, I was now living in such a shit-ass apartment with, of all things, mice. Thank God for my two cats at the time, they were good mousers. I was looking for work on Monster, on all the Web career boards, but still couldn’t find a full-time job and working at $10 dollars an hour off the books. My unemployment never went through. The employer won saying I was not eligible because when I was offered a job for $8 dollars an hour, I lied and said I was sick. But I wasn’t sick. It’s just that I was making $18 dollars an hour before I lost my contract and his offer was an insult. So I filed a claim and when they asked if I’d turned down work, I said I hadn’t and it all came back and unemployment called the employer and said that they’d offered me work, but because I lied, the claim was disqualified.

Two weeks later I called Pastor Heather begging for work.

I painted both the men and women bathrooms at the church and cleaned the church toilets and urinals. Then Heather asked if I could take care of her parents when she went to a religious conference in Las Vegas. I took care of her parents for three days. I changed her mother’s sheets, cleaned her father’s bedroom, vacuumed and cleaned their house and cleaned their separate bathrooms. One bathroom toilet had over spilled and created a big mess and was running down into the basement and I cleaned that. I made them dinners and gave them their separate medications before tucking them in and saying a goodnight prayer.

It was April and I couldn’t make my rent. I bargained with the landlord to sell my refrigerator. He said, “Okay, how much?’ I said, “I’ll pay you one hundred fifty cash and the frig cost me three hundred. Keep it and we’ll call it square.” I had $1800 in savings, that was all I had, and I wasn’t touching it. I was waiting for my way out.


            When Heather returned from Las Vegas she thanked me and paid me $140 dollars for taking care of her parents and $200 dollars for painting the church bathrooms. I was so grateful. I filled up my truck with gas and I bought groceries and food for my cats and new litter. It was Sunday morning and I was going to church with Heather.

Heather said, “Are you ready to accept Jesus Christ into your life?”

I said, “Yeah, but what do you mean? He’s already in my life.”

“That’s not exactly true.”

I didn’t know what she was getting at and I must have sounded like a fool when I asked her,

“He’s not in my life everyday, I guess, but He’s kind of busy, don’t you think.”  She started to laugh, but not laugh at me and I could tell the difference. She said,

“Oh, I see.” And with that she stood from the couch in her living room and came across to where I was sitting and knelt before me. She took her hands in mine and said,

“Are you ready to accept Jesus Christ as your savior and Lord?”

“Yes,” I said, and she blessed me. She prayed for several moments and then she handed me a box.

“Open it up,” she said, “it’s for you.”

It was a Bible and she’d inscribed it, ‘Jo Battle, Reborn, December 4, 2011.’


            At mass, at Heather’s church, it was so different from what I’d known. Everyone was singing and raising their hands and holding hands and a couple of people knelt before the pastor asking, in some way, divinity of grace, and I remember thinking,        ‘Oh, man. I just need a confessional booth,’ I just wanted a priest. Evangelical Christianity was unknown to me.

But I’d sang the songs and found myself crying at one point because I was stunned by the faces of those who believed. I felt sinful, selfish in my wants and desires, having hurt others in my life, looking across at the faces of those who were so believing, those who may have had less than I had and yet who were still rejoicing, where I still sat brooding, I’d felt like a heel. I thought, “Is this my ‘born again’? Is this what Heather meant?”

At the time I was volunteering for Big Brothers and Big Sisters and I’d asked Heather if Yvonne, my ‘little’ could come along to mass. Yvonne was so pretty in her blue dress the color of a robin’s egg.  I was Yvonne’s ‘big’ for four months during the time I’d lost my job and working these odd jobs. She agreed wholeheartedly and invited us to breakfast after mass.

I hadn’t been out to eat anywhere in weeks and I ordered a big breakfast of eggs and bacon and sausage and the breakfast plate was big and delicious and, being self-conscience not to gobble my food, I slowed down waiting for Heather and Yvonne to catch up, but Heather still noticed my hunger. She said,

“Jo, I don’t understand why a woman like you doesn’t have a good job. If you don’t ask for it, then I will.’

I smiled and looked into Heather’s eyes but I felt ashamed and looked away and turned to Yvonne instead.

“Yvonne, do you think I need a good job?”

Heather stood, paid for breakfast and said, “Yes, just say yes, Yvonne.”

Yvonne smiled a toothy smile and hunched her shoulders, “Yes,” she giggled, “but I’ll miss you.”


            I had $1800 in the bank and I kept an eye on it. It was now May. I had been out of work for five months, still working odd part-time jobs, trying to meet routine expenses. I didn’t have credit card bills; it was just the lights, a basic cable hook-up, my phone, car insurance, my car loan and my rent. I was extremely careful about spending. Thank God the cats didn’t get sick during that time.

My buddy Nan, an Internet pal, contacted me. I told her things were tight, that I couldn’t find work as a tech writer in Upstate. The entire upstate area was depressed. If you didn’t work for the state in Albany, NY or GE, as a contractor, you weren’t working. There was little technology opportunity.

I asked Nan, “Hey what do you think if I use your Kannapolis address and put it on my resume? Would that be okay?” Nan liked me and we had had a little phone sex.  We’d never met and she said, “That would be fine, darlin’!” She was real sweet-talking. She’d sometimes call me ‘sugar’. That’s so southern. I’d chuckle every time she’d use expressions like that. God knew I wasn’t sweet as sugar, but Nan thought I was.

As soon as we hung up I went back into the job boards and I prayed to God as I was changing my address from Albany, NY to Kannapolis, NC, “Please help me, God. I need work. I’m dying over here.”

I finally asked God for help.


          That Memorial Day weekend, flying into Raleigh, I looked out the airplane window and thought of all the people I’d met working for $10 per hour and how only five days before today, I received a call from Brian Adamson of Luxen who liked my resume and needed a tech writer and was delighted I lived in Kannapolis, NC. It would be a short commute, I might hit some traffic, and could I be there the Friday before the Memorial Day weekend started.

‘See, Jo, this is what you get for lying, ‘a voice came over me as a stewardess handed me pretzels and a glass of seltzer water. I’ll just have to tell Brian the truth if I got the job,

I had a sister in Kannapolis, and that I really only stayed at my sister’s once a month and that’s why my resume said NC and not NY and that I was actually living in NY, twelve hours by car, and could the company possibly relocate me?

I wore a tight top, uncharacteristic for me, but it looked sharp, with its different shades of green and it enhanced my breasts, under a beige well-tailored suit. The suit was too much money, but it looked good off the rack and it fit. I got my portfolio together three days before the interview and when I arrived in Raleigh, I rented a car right away. Until that day I hadn’t used my credit card in nearly seven months.

Before July’s rent was due, I packed up my things, called my friend Carl, and he got his buddy Chris, and they helped to move me. By leasing a truck through a non-popular trucking company, I spent $300 dollars because the truck was being returned to Albany. I secured an apartment on line and made arrangements over the phone, taking a virtual tour and sending off a check for $700 dollars to secure the place. I gave Carl $200 and Chris $150 dollars for helping. Some odds and ends like gas, food, and a cheap hotel, cost me a little over $200. I spent less than $1800.00 to move and to secure an apartment. On Monday, June 28, 2004, I reported for work at Luxen. On that first Friday at the job, I filled out an expense report and two months later received a check for $1,500 for my relocation expenses. No one asked about Kannapolis, NC.  I never called to thank Nan.


            Those days marked my character, those days when I couldn’t rub two nickels together but learned about people in ways than I would have never learned had I not received the lesson of grace and humility. During that time my faith was there but hidden. And I remember how, in my desperation, in my most absolute most desperate of pleas, and with all my heart, I asked God for help.