Lisa Perry

October 2021 | Prompt #1:

If The Shoe Fits

Suite Seventeen Twenty-Seven was displayed in an elegant calligraphic font on the door of the most lavish suite in the hotel. Appointed with rich fabrics, the expertly crafted furniture was welcoming after a long journey. The suite opened onto an expansive balcony offering breathtaking views of the the city and the bay, the perfect place to take in an autumn evening. The pièce de resistance, however, was the enormous bedroom with the imposing Alaskan King bed that was draped in luxury bedding woven from Italian organic flax yarns, and covered in silk pillows in a palette of soft orchid and lavender and smoky grey. There was enough room on this bed for a playful party or a stay-in-bed-all-weekend staycation for one. Either way, it was magnificent and she liked entertaining both options.

While this was the first time she had been inside this suite, it was not her first time in or around the hotel. She had passed it often on her trek to see her doctors as her medical transition progressed. Sometimes she walked by slowly, taking in the beauty of the architecture, and the colorful hydrangeas and bedecked doormen posted at the front entrance. Other times she passed by in a taxi and hoped they would be stuck in traffic so she could get a glimpse of the roof garden. From time to time, if she had an afternoon appointment with her surgeon, she would stop in at the lounge afterward for a cup of tea, long since having eschewed alcohol in favor of her sanity. It was the bartender who had told her about the luxury suite and all its grandeur on the seventeenth floor. She knew that someday she would see it.

Now here she stood. The hard work behind her and nothing to do but celebrate. She had booked the suite to commemorate the journey and to look forward to what was to come. As she stood there, she closed her eyes and could still see that 14 year old boy in the middle of the country, nervous but sure, coming out to his parents that he was transgender. Hoping they would love him and help him navigate his way.  She smiled at how brave he’d been.  She remembered the pictures on the courthouse steps when she changed her name, her parents by her side. And her first pair of high heeled shoes.

Now, in this moment, as she was going out to celebrate with friends and family she slipped on the designer shoes she had bought months ago for this very occasion — black peep toe stilettos.  Was there any other shoe that could capture the moment as well? She thought not. Sitting back on the massive bed she took a moment to admire them. They were the punctuation at the end of the long journey to becoming a woman. Comfortable yet elegant, which is exactly how she finally felt in her body. She was ready. 

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October 2021 | Prompt #2:

A Bird In The Hand

I had held on to those Börn ballet flats for years, long beyond when they were presentable in a professional setting. They were just perfect, though, with the sensible elastic strap that went across the top of my foot and plenty of support for my high arch. The color, a pearlescent black reminiscent of a faintly oil-slicked puddle after the rain, had begun to look a bit tired, but I kept them “just until I could find a suitable replacement.” This is the story I told myself. They gathered dust on the shoe rack; I grew complacent. I had something and that was good enough for now.

Then there’s the matter of the coffee grinder. Years ago the lid clattered onto the kitchen floor and the button that controls the motor shattered. I still use it, but I have to cover the lid with a cloth to depress the jagged button with the handle of a screw driver. It’s all very high tech. It works. I live with it. The coffee gets made. I could buy a new one, but I haven’t.

I am notorious for keeping things beyond their proverbial expiration date. Maybe due to an ingrained family habit of making-do with what one has. Or maybe I just hate shopping. But this can also be about an unconscious belief that one’s lot in life is merely to survive instead of thrive and to not expect too much. It can be about resistance to feeling deserving of something better, and that can find expression in seemingly innocuous examples like worn out shoes and broken coffee grinders.

It calls into question the wisdom of the old saying, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”  Is it nothing more than a poetic packaging of fear passed off as prudence? Does it suggest that it is better to accept the safe zone of mediocrity over true fulfillment and living large? It’s worth pondering.

I finally threw out my Börn shoes last week. Now it’s time for a new coffee grinder.

Look out.

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October 2021 | Prompt #3:

A Stitch In Time

They didn’t have much, just a modest house in a working class neighborhood. Art was in the business of floor covering  — a tradesman in a busy industry now that housing was booming after the war. Each morning he would lift the heavy rolls of padding and carpet onto his shoulders and load them onto his work truck. His knuckles were thick with calluses from countless days spent crawling around on his hands and knees, and his back was perpetually sore. He hammered down the tacking strip, installed the padding, measured and cut the carpet, prepared the seams, stretched it with the knee kicker that would ultimately give him arthritis in his knees, and then finally used the new power stretcher.

Sewing the seams is where Lucille came in. She was in the business of helping her husband. He was her life. Every morning she packed his metal lunch box with lunch meat sandwiches on Wonder bread, chips, and cookies, and there was always a thermos full of coffee. Many days she accompanied him to work, and on those days she would pack the brown wicker picnic basket for both of them. She brought along a folding chair to sit in while she waited, listening to the radio and embroidering her handkerchiefs while he worked.

Sometimes she sang along, which he loved because she had a voice like a bird, and when the mood struck them they launched into a duet, harkening back to their days of singing on live radio programs. Those were the years when tent revival meetings were sweeping the country and they had been caught up in the fervor. 

When it was time to sew the seams in the carpet she would get out her big needles and get down on the floor beside him on her hands and knees where they would work together. They fussed at each other. He would tell her how to do it and she would tell him to hush. Then when it was done she would look up at his aging but still athletic frame and her eyes would sparkle, and she would kiss him three times in quick succession. Always three times. 

This was her contribution to his work, their work, this stitching together the pieces of carpet to make an imperceptible seam just as she had stitched their lives together over the years. She was good at it, and it kept them close.

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October 2021 | Prompt #4:

Early To Bed

Night after night, the walls billowed in and out like an accordion, bringing waves of panic. 

She was five. She couldn’t communicate it; she didn’t have the words. No one understood what the problem was. Every night there were tears and big gulping breaths, and fear of going to bed.  The adults, dumbfounded, tried to reason with her. They told her it was alright. She cried harder. No, no, no … don’t leave! But they did. They clicked on the night light and left the bedroom door ajar. Exhausted, her little body finally slept, only to wake up sobbing in the middle of the night with all the grown ups gathered around her. She didn’t know why she was crying or why going to bed was so scary.

She was twenty-five. She kept herself busy — too busy. During the day, she didn’t think about the panic.  She still didn’t have the words to explain it. She stayed up too late at night, putting off going to bed as long as she could. She drank wine so that when her head hit the pillow she would pass out and not feel the old familiar wave of terror that threatened to crash over her for reasons that were still unclear. The walls had stopped billowing in and out, but now the waves were internal. When they showed up, her whole body pulsed and her heart raced. She kept the night light on. She was old enough to have strategies now: Stay distracted. Self-medicate with alcohol and caffeine. Keep moving as fast as she could.

She was forty-five. She was tired. The nameless fear that pursued her when darkness fell was relentless. She knew she needed to find the words to articulate it and usher it out of her body. Insomnia had been part her identity for years. Avoiding sleep until it was impossible to keep her eyes open was the only way to steer clear of the crushing distress that visited her on more nights than not. It grew louder, more persistent, as if it were saying, “Look at me! I am still here. The only way out is through me.”

Slowly, piece by piece, she put it together like a puzzle. They had left him. She was three years old and they left her father and his dysfunction. Nobody talked about it. Nobody acknowledged it. Nobody told her why. They just escaped.

“She’s three,” they thought.

“She won’t remember,” they said.

“She’ll be fine,” they agreed.

But her body grieved the loss of him, and it screamed to be heard and comforted.

Slowly, piece by piece, she put it together like a puzzle. They had left him. She was three years old and they left her father and his dysfunction. Nobody talked about it. Nobody acknowledged it. Nobody told her why. They just escaped.

“She’s three,” they thought.

“She won’t remember,” they said.

“She’ll be fine,” they agreed.

But her body grieved the loss of him, and it screamed to be heard and comforted.

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October 2021 | Prompt #5:

Many Hands

With her left hand she held the small slip of paper in front of my face, and with her right hand she signed, “Go call.”

I looked at the phone number on the tiny scrap of paper that my American Sign Language teacher had torn from an advertisement on the bulletin board on campus. The ad read: “Room for rent with Deaf family, $300 per month.” 

It was 1993, and I had just been accepted into the ASL/English Interpreter Training Program and I was taking a Level 4 ASL class. I was accepted to the program conditionally, with the requirement that I continue to strengthen my language fluency. In retrospect, I was lucky to get into the program that year at all, but the stars aligned in my favor. Still, I knew that just taking more ASL classes wasn’t going to get me where I needed to be. I needed real live Deaf people in my life, up close and personal, everyday, to teach me what I needed to learn. 

At her urging, I made the call through the text relay service which, at the time, was cutting edge technology but still a painfully slow process. As I spoke into the pay phone (like I said, 1993), a relay operator typed what I said to them on a TTY.

“Hi, I’m calling about the room for rent,” I said.

“Come over,” the operator read back to me.

“Well, I’m in class and I won’t be done until late,” I answered.

“Come over,” the operator said again, and then she read their address.

I laughed and said okay. Better to have the conversation in person in your first language than through a relay operator in your second language. I got it. This is what I wanted, but I was nervous.

At 9:30 that night I knocked on their door. I didn’t know it at the time, but my life was about to change forever. They showed me the room and we stood there talking, the room only dimly lit by the hallway light making it hard to see. I told them I was a student. Yes, they nodded, they had had students live with them before. I asked if they wanted my rental references, and the husband, whom I would learn was a jokester, said, “No, we’ll just keep you for six months and if we don’t like you, we’ll kick you out.” Alrighty then, it was settled. I moved in that weekend.

I soon realized that I had hit the language learning jackpot with this large, multigenerational Deaf family.  Their door was never locked except when they went to bed which meant people came and went freely and there were always new hands to watch.

Evenings and weekends were for gathering together, with everyone crowded on the sectional sofa in the living room having multiple conversations at the same time. At first, I only let myself sit on the step leading into the living room. That brought me close enough to watch their conversations and build my receptive language skills, but far enough away that I could escape if it was too overwhelming. None of my classroom experiences had exposed me to this level of ASL and Deaf culture.  It was exactly what I needed, but it was challenging. Still, I could not believe my good fortune at being ushered into this community by so many hands.

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