Joe

Was the last straw

They used to chain smoke together on her balcony and laugh at the morning dew

Make cocktails in the early evening and talk about the future

I used to watch them and think

Maybe this is it

But he inevitably disappointed her

With his bad cocaine habit

Joblessness

Unreliability

Weight gain

She said no one would play with her like he did

I said better men were everywhere

But she did not believe me

So she took her mango salsa recipe

Homemade curtains

Bread baked from scratch

Her psychology degree

Left me in Los Angeles

And went home to the country

Where disingenuous city boys could not find her

And her friends had more to offer than drowning her bruised, bloody, young heart in whiskey or sitting by the toilet at the end of the night

Eric

He was irritated, she could tell, and she said not to worry, but I have actually slept with 69 people, as of this day, June 9, and can you feel the syphilis eating away at your own brain?

Myself, I have less thoughts these days. All the better as I deliver this morose letter to the front door of a fraternity house, to a boy who cares less than he should because he does not know any better.

As she stood on the front steps of the house, contemplating his stupidity, it suddenly occurred to her she was once in his shoes, on the receiving end of an over-zealously maudlin letter, which she hardly cared enough to read; she half listened as her roommate rattled off pages of complaints, heartbreak, and insult, and might have even laughed. The letter ended up in a trash can under her desk. This was but a fleeting thought when he came to the door to accept the missive, and she turned to leave him to his poor choices and to comfort her friend in a night steeped in cheap whiskey.

Driving

We were interchangeable from time to time,

Occasionally marbling and entangling until

The swirls of color were infinite and inextricable

 

Under the bridge

You browsed the newspaper

With a cigarette hanging from your red lips and I laughed

On the veranda we floated under the sun

Golden from dawn and youth

You stood next to me as he slithered by, his eyes boring through me

On the cafe patio

You touched my hand

When his unexpected footsteps wrenched my heart, chilled my nerves

In a quiet hallway

Alone with worry

I cried a little when you set it ablaze

Though the very next week

We lay melting on concrete in foggy night air

Moongazing translucent white halos

 

But eventually

 

While we bled ink into small books

I leaked colors with an unparalleled hardness and

You bitterly wandered and lost your fury

Until my tongue was stone and your visions gray

We found ourselves consumed with counting creeping wrinkles and tedious failures

Remembering this

A drop of rain humming, swimming across the windshield

Became a quivering lake in my eyes

But I did not know how to turn around

Books for Children: Reviewing the Moral Lessons of the Giving Tree

I’m going to a baby shower tomorrow, and I actually remember what I bought off the registry. Typically, when I browse a baby registry to decide what to buy, my head starts swimming at the unfamiliar, and admittedly boring, products: bottle warmers, bottle brushes, diapers, nipple cream, butt cream, baby shampoo, drying racks, other products I could not even begin to explain if I tried, etc. This has not changed since I became pregnant. I can feel my eyes glaze over as I scroll through these items, and I vaguely dread the day I will have to make a list of my own. How do you know what you really need? This shit is hard!

Except, for the baby shower I’m attending tomorrow, there were some items that got me excited: Books. There were many fantastic ones listed, and I ended up getting The Giving Tree, Where the Sidewalk Ends, and Where the Wild Things Are. Aside from these books, I also bought one other thing. A mat or seat or tray or something that might go in a car possibly. I have forgotten already. But that is of less importance.

Seeing children’s books had me contemplating what messages these books actually convey. While I love both The Giving Tree and Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein, the contents of these books differ drastically. Where The Sidewalk Ends is a collection of short, fun poems that serve as a lovely introduction to poetry for children. My own father, who writes poetry, bought me this book when I was 7 years old.

The Giving Tree is where things get a bit more complicated. It’s wonderful in terms of illustration and story telling, but I do have reservations about the message it imparts at times. I remember being 15 years old and loitering at a bookstore with my best friend (one of our favorite pastimes), when I came across this book after not having thought about it in years. She told me she loved it and that it always made her sob. “Really?” I asked incredulously, because I literally had never cried from reading a book, much less a children’s story. She must have thought me equally strange, because she looked at me like I was the weird one for being skeptical of anyone crying at this book.

“I don’t believe you,” I insisted, and I opened the book and started reading aloud to her in the middle of the bookstore. Sure enough, to my genuine surprise, by the end, she was in tears and her face was red and puffy.

“Dude, fuuuuuck you,” she said. I looked around the bookstore awkwardly and felt pretty bad.

The Giving Tree is compelling because it is a tale of unconditional love and giving on the part of a tree, over the lifetime of a boy who eventually becomes a man. The boy/man takes everything the tree has to offer, until the tree has been stripped of her fruit, her branches, and her trunk, and she has nothing else left to give. Her love is apparently unrequited, because he never gives her anything in return. Seriously, he is sort of an asshole. I don’t think the book so much as depicts him watering her or providing fertilizer or anything.

When he is old and decrepit, she is nevertheless happy to see him, but laments she no longer has anything left to give. He states he does not need much at this point, and simply wants a place to sit and rest, to which she cheerily offers the only part of her left – the stump of her trunk that remains.

The ostensible moral of this tale is one of giving love without keeping tabs, which no one can deny is a positive way to go about life. Yet, something about the story never sits quite right with me, perhaps because the cynical part of me thinks this story glorifies suffering, martyrdom, and maybe even victimhood.

We are moved to tears until our hearts ache when we read stories or watch movies about unrequited, unconditional love, whether on the part of a lover or a parent, but the way it plays out in the real world is sometimes painful and ugly. Healthy relationships cannot endure an insistence on rigidly or constantly keeping score, but I would never want my child to be on the giving end of such a one-sided relationship. It’s not a recipe for a happy or healthy relationship of any sort. Letting someone constantly take without reciprocation at some point becomes a form of emotional abuse, doesn’t it?

Of course, this does not remotely mean I won’t buy this book for my child. In fact, I probably will, because it is stories like this that make life a bit more colorful. But as far as moral lessons go, it does leave one something to think about…