LINDA L. ZERN
GRIST: A Personal Essay
Man, sometimes these college creative writing classes make me wish I’d been taken hostage by Somali pirates, offended to within an inch of my life, and saved by Seal Team Six. That would put the razzle in my creative writing dazzle. Let’s see; what have I got? Malignant cancer at twenty-six. Blah. Writing about cancer around here is the equivalent of writing yet another drink-drank-drunk tale of giggly good times and party trouble—mostly party trouble. Cancer is so pass'. Crap, I don’t know how to spell pass'. Okay, what else? When I was twelve we lived in the Bahamas in a two-bedroom duplex next to a croupier, and the woods burned down next to our side of the duplex while the Bahamian firemen watched. The croupier didn’t wake up; he worked nights, slept days. My dad worked as a “manager” at the one and only oil refinery on the island; that’s what he said. I think he was a spy. We lived in bathing suits. That’s probably where I got cancer. No murders. No mayhem, other than the fire. No vampires. A few mobsters with huge get-away-homes, but they never bugged us. My brother got poison oak. I stepped on a sea urchin. Next. I guess I could write about my dad shooting up crap, when I was a kid. He shot that Blue Heron, shot up the barn trying to kill rats, shot my calico kitten in front of me. That’s pretty poignant stuff. Creative writing classes eat that kind of crap up with a spoon, but I’m not sure what the point would be. He was quite the drinker, my dad. Started young, kept it up. Liked to wet the boar’s ball sack down with water and then shock him in the testicles with an electric cattle prod. Good stuff. Gritty. Raw. Honest. Horror and shock and the worst kind of uncertainty. Am I ready to take all that on? If I am, I’d better hurry, because I’m halfway to dead. I can write funny. Sure. But I’m no David Sedaris. Not gay. Chose DNA over New York City. Never did dope and I only use alcohol to clean my glasses. I’ve had to wipe my butt with a plane ticket before and cut bubble gum out of my husband’s bottom hair but nothing hip or cool or stoned. You can tell I’m not hip, because I used the word bottom instead of ass when talking about my husband’s ass. So, what else? Let’s see. I’ve only had one sexual partner in my entire life, and sure, he’s Super Man and adores me and we still can’t get enough of each other even after thirty plus years but the cutting edge of sexuality—hardly. No skeletons, no closets, although we have done “it” in a closet and a hayloft and . . . Okay, so I watched the Apollo rockets rumble towards the moon from my front yard in Titusville with all the other kids whose dads worked at the Cape, and I went to segregated schools in the South, once upon a bad old time. And I know a Polish woman with a tattoo she got when she was a small girl—at Auschwitz. I wrote a short story about her but the community college kids thought the story was about a woman who got old and saggy and her tattoo got ugly. Sigh. So I fell into the generation gap and drowned. Well, what did I expect; I have scars older than most of the students I go to school with. It’s not their fault. Maybe, the war stories? I could write about getting that phone call from Iraq, the one where my kid is so stoned on synthetic morphine, he can barely speak. But he’s fine he slurs and on his way home—just an accident. Don’t cry, Mom. The magnesium burns aren’t that bad, he tells me. And suddenly I’m learning more about magnesium flares than I care to know. Magnesium burns at 3200 degrees Fahrenheit. It can melt engine blocks. It melted his Kevlar body armor. It takes him five days, flat on his stomach to get home: Bagdad, Germany, D.C., Chicago and the world’s premier burn doctors telling him at every stop that he’s looking at skin graphs, potential infection, potential rejection, and months of hospitalization and therapy. But all along there have been prayers and fasting that have gone up to our God’s heaven like incense from the tabernacle in the wilderness of our afflictions. Finally he reaches Brook Medical Center in San Antonio where the doctor’s tell him, “SSG Zern, we can’t explain it, but you’ve begun to heal and healthy skin is growing over the third degree burns. We’re releasing you to the barracks to recuperate.” Ah, but that smacks of faith and religion and miracles and we all know how that plays in some circles. Damn. What I wouldn’t give for a good Somali pirate kidnapping. Okay, that’s it; I got nothing. Nothing to write about. **Grist: Ground grain. Something that can be turned to one’s advantage.