I don’t know what’s appropriate




I’m petitioning to become a member of the Order of the Eastern Star. (Exclusive, have to be daughter or wife of a Master Mason, you can’t sit with us). I will receive a home visit, my life will be thoroughly researched. Which is profoundly easy considering how much of it I splash around the internet. I don’t know what the initiation will be like: I’ve heard it’s quite theatrical for our Brother Masons.

Gus began laughing. “It’ll probably be you have to share some personal secret or something but it won’t work for you because you’ll have already told them every possible inappropriate thing about yourself over tea.”

“I’m curious and open, not inappropriate.”

“You are the Nietzsche of inappropriate. He did “Beyond Good and Evil”? You’re beyond-propriate. You’re infra-propriate. You’re outside the spectrum of propriate.”

I was not being in appropriate today, though. Plowing through garage sales like Augustus Gloop in the Chocolate Factory. CAST IRON PIGGY BANK!! YES! TWO PLAYBOYS FROM THE SEVENTIES! I NEED THOSE!! MY DAUGHTER WILL LOVE THOSE GREY SILK JAMMIES WHEN SHE CAN FIT THEM IN THREE YEARS!!

The last sale was an accident, my neighbors across the street had their short driveway filled with odds and ends. LE and I trudged over before going inside our house; the compulsion of the addict.

I don’t know them well. The man’s name is John, same as my father, so that always stuck. He’s a working man and a football player; a fierce torso of pure brick balanced on dancer’s ankles. I asked them if they were moving, said I’d miss knowing my badass neighbor was in shouting distance. When my daughter sold him Girl Scout Cookies last year we talked about the various times I’d listened to him screaming what I thought were enraged disciplinary lectures to his teen kids from my yard. We reconnected on that note.

“You must mean the time the cops came and I was fighting that asshole in the street.”

“No…it was something about sneaking out or sneaking in…”

“Oh you’re talking about that time moron dating my daughter hit me over the head with his skateboard.”

“It really sounded like it was your own kid…”

“Oh, hey, then who knows, right?”

I like John, and his slender silent wife, though their imperfections have been forced to the surface more than most people’s. I like him particularly because I know all about men who lose their tempers in a hostile world. And because I will always love my father no matter what happened, I am predisposed to enjoy their company. To say the right things to show I’m not one of the assholes. To be one of the good ones. My father’s highest compliment to a female was to declare her “a woman with some goddamn sense.” And so I try and become that woman when I feel it is needed.

I bought some incredibly old, dirt-filled bottles he’d found buried in an ancient pile of garbage on the Indian reservation.

And the dollhouse.

It was a good dollhouse. The kind where the fire lights and crackles if you push a button and the sink gurgles if you push another. His wife saw me and LE sizing it up. She is very quiet, dressed and poised to near invisibility, barley there at all.

“Later we’re going to have more girl things,” she whispered. “We’re going to have another sale.”

“Was this your daughter’s?” I asked, conversationally.

“We had the grandkids…” she said. Which was surprising until I learned that she and John had their first child at age 16. I respect a man who stays and tries to be a husband and father that young, even if it doesn’t go smooth.

“Did they all turn out to be boys?” I laughed. “I can’t believe you’re parting with this.”

“No. Two girls.”

“Outgrown it already?”

“Well…one died.”

I didn’t think to regret my questions. I never do. No point.

“I am so sorry,” I said, putting a hand on her shoulder. “I am so, so sorry.”

“And the older one…her dad got custody when our daughter went to jail for it, and he hates us…so we don’t get to see her.”

Silence is agony to a person like me. But even I know when it’s the best option. The only thing to do is shake your head, let the empathy you’re feeling show clearly, and let more words come from the other person, if they will. If they don’t, a gentle change of subject. When she fell into silence, I smiled sadly at her and touched her arm again.

“Oh honey, show me something I can buy that won’t make us both feel sad!” and she laughed, a little.

It turned out I didn’t have to ask questions. John carried the dollhouse across the street and laid it on my blue recycling bin. John does the talking. I recognize this not because I had seldom chance to speak, or because his wife only whispers, but because I am just like him. (What is writing after all but trying to get people to want to hear your soliloquies?)

The child was two. She suffered seizures. Her mother, their daughter, went to watch TV while the child was in the bath. The child drowned. The daughter was sentenced for manslaughter, though at one point in the long hot talk we had in my drive-way, he slipped and said “murdered.”

The sale that day was a desperate attempt to raise enough money for a balloon payment on the house. They needed to stay in our county so their daughter would have a place to go after her release.

LE popped in and out of our house as John talked, her mussy hair, purple t-shirt and jean shorts, and which she topped off with a teal cap too big for her. Haphazard beauty. She was polite, saying nothing, just hovering next to the dollhouse for as long as possible then running back in when the boredom demanded a break.

I want to find an excuse to bring…I don’t know…a cup of sugar? Something over to their house. Get to know the silent wife better, be her friend. And tell her how much LE loves the dollhouse. But I don’t know if the sunshine LE throws from her loose limbs and hopping step, her chipmunk voice and lopsided smile is just a scorch to them. It would be for me, I think.

I don’t know what’s appropriate.



2 thoughts on “I don’t know what’s appropriate

  1. When my girl was young and I wanted to reach out to someone – but didn’t know how – sometimes I’d sort of ummm… manipulate? her into doing it. Like having her write a cute childlike note, or draw an adorable childlike picture. And then present it… “Look what J made for you!” Smile. Because people are more receptive to awkward overtures of friendship from children than they are from middle aged women. And then we’d bond over the cuteness of children. Now she’s nearly eighteen and I’m on my own where it comes to making friends. Luckily she has taught me some skills.

    I think “infra-propriate” is an absolutely wonderful word.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s