On My Own

The air was cool and a breeze from out side floated in, ruffling the still curtains against the window. A sliver of moon light pierced the shadows, drawing a line across the beige carpet beneath the window, creeping along as the curtains billowed out and returned against the windowsill. Jasmine and orange blossoms danced lightly through the moon streak and scented the air with my childhood memories.

I stared into the darkness watching the performance before my eyes, breathing in the delicate scent of the flowers surrounding my window and watching the miniscule particles of dust and light play in the silvery moon beam peaking through the trees.

It was the second night in a row that I was unable to find peace enough to sleep. The house was silent and settling after a long day in the heat. Creaking wood and shifting nails echoed dully through the halls and rooms. My son’s gentle breathing and dreaming body rolled slightly under the oppressive darkness of his room.

And there I was, lying in the cool emptiness of night waiting for my turn. For my body to settle down and fall asleep.

Tight skin and muscles, bones and flushing blood, my body was humming slightly, unable to quiet down for the night. Picking up the slightest noise from outside my window, my ears piqued and listened intently to the solid footsteps of someone trying to sneak by without disturbing anyone. They tried in vain to step lightly through the street, making their way toward the community dumpster. My high strung senses followed each step, each turn.

The minutes ticked by and sleep evaded me still. I rolled and situated my long form in the coldest spots on the bed, soaking in the cool air and soft sheets against my too hot skin. Not long after, the spot I was in warmed to my body temperature and it was time to seek out a cooler place. Navigating the large bed and the tangle bed covers, I squirmed and moved about till I found my body in the shadows, cool and comfortable.

My eyes closed and I hoped for sleep. I let my mind settle into its nest, waiting for that shift in thought, when things stopped making sense and I drifted away into a world of disjointed thoughts and feelings. Beckoning the dreams and cloudy numbness of sleep, my limbs began to sink into the pillow top and my eyes drooped heavier.

I yawned, silently and smoothly stretching beneath the blankets and heavy exhaustion, feeling the night drain me of my energy. I was tired and only hoping for sleep. Opening my eyes just slightly, I strained to see into the dark, to feel out for a presence with me there. But I was alone. Cool and still against my bed, I was on my own.

No one was there to comfort me and help ease me into sleep. No warm limbs or body to press against. My bed, my life, was my own.

I was alone.

Closing my eyes again, I settled into the arms of the darkness and rested. My brain turned over and my thoughts dulled. Sounds around me faded into the background and I felt sleep nestle over me, soothing me.

And I slept.

For The Best

Pebbles shifted and rolled silently along the pavement as her shoes struck the ground. The rhythmic in and out of her breathing broke the silent air around her as she trudged loyally along the path she ran daily.

Dusk was becoming her favorite time to run. With the setting sun and the crisp golden horizon behind her, she ran towards the oncoming darkness of the fall night. The air was turning cold and sharp in her lungs as she breathed slow and deep. Her legs, lean and strong, bent and fueled her run along the forgotten path outside the county park.

No one came here. There were no bicyclist to wrestle for lane room and no mothers with their mini caravan strollers hollering for an open lane on the right or left. Little did she see any wild life and anything they left behind, giving her little reason to search the ground or clear space in her path.

It was just her. And her thoughts.

The orange haze of dusk settled around the horizon and hugged the hills as she trotted off at a slow beginning pace. Simple and measured, she stretched her legs and warmed up her muscles, allowing her body to feel the rhythm in her stride as she set out to clear her mind. Her breathing fell into pace with her arms at her side, pumping in time to the fall of her step.

Soon her heartbeat was up and the whooshing waves of pumping blood clouded her hearing and focused her senses. She was running now, a faster pace. Her stride was at it’s full length and her lungs worked harder to breathe in. Breathe out. A steady pace. No one breath bigger or longer than the others.

Her focused mind worked through the file of daily thoughts and regular to-dos. Checking off each as she thought about them, soon her mind was blank as she hit her second mile. The aches and pains of the first mile were behind her and now her legs hit their peak and the path stayed steady and smooth. Strong and forcefully, her steps hit quickly as her pace improved and her mind wandered.

It was for the best.

Decisions to end things were never easy. Even in the hardest of situations, all endings are painful and have some bittersweet qualities to them. This one was no different.

She still loved him, but his feeling for her would never be enough. She knew it and he denied it. And his inability to see the areas that needed improvement, to see the work that needed to be done to fill in the gaps in their relationship, was the crack beneath them threatening to open up and swallow them whole.

Sweat beaded against her brow and her breathing was coming in through her nose sharply, stinging her as it passed through her lungs and forced its way past her lips, whispering into the cooling night air. The ground titled upwards as she began to climb the one hill of the whole course. She was prepared for the steep incline and the change in her pace. Without pause she dug in her toes, pitching slightly forward, her shoulders parallel to the sloping ground.

For months she struggled through the daily niceties, the hugs and kisses, the conversations over dinner about work and friends. The distance between them lengthened as she thought more about what was missing. And what she still felt for him.

And for him, nothing changed. He still viewed their relationship as whole. As complete. He wanted it to stay the same, always. A fact she knew was impossible for no human begin could stop growing, changing. Things would shift and grow between them whether he wanted it to happen or not.

His denial was suffocating them.

The hill reached onwards as her breathing intensified and her legs reached harder for that next step. Every muscle in her body burned and her lungs squeezed tighter. On fire and threatening to give up, her lungs worked endlessly to focus her breath out and draw more of the crisp night air in. She ached and yearned to stop, to quit. To give up. It was too much.

She was too tired.

Then she remember the logic behind this run. By the time she hit the hill, over three miles were behind her, and once she stood atop that obstacle viewing the city from the very peak, there was only one mile to finish, most of it downhill and simple. A breeze after the first four.

This hill, this blockage in her path, was only a small fraction of the whole journey.

Using the last ounce of strength left in her legs, she propelled her listless body upwards. Head down, breathing sharp, sweat pouring into her eyes and leaving small craters of moisture on the dry, dirt path, she felt a yell of fierce determination funnel from her chest and out into the silence.

And then there was the silence again. Her foot met the top of the hill, the dirt wafting up from the print of her shoe on the ground. The creeping night air, cold and comforting hovered over the calm city lights that lay before her. She walked in circles, letting her lung catch up and slowing her heart rate to a steady beat. Reaching up she batted away the sweat and tears mingling on her skin, trickling down her cheeks and hanging from her jaw.

There was no obstacle she couldn’t overcome. The hard part was done. Now it was time to continue on and to finish what she started.

Empty Well

She sat in front of me, restless and fidgeting, her short fingers lightly tapping against her patent leather clutch. The pearly white bag glistened dully under the dim red bar lights, flashing rhythmically to her nervous beat. White with a pinkish hue, the bag caught my attention as it flickered the muted reflection of the lights above.

The bag reminded me of my mother and her closet of things. As a child I played in there for hours in the cool darkness of her linens and shoes, trying on and manufacturing a fashion line for the wildly imaginative. She had a purse a lot like this one, the pearl colored leather gleamed softly with the long golden chain, dulled by time and wear.

A clasp at the top of the bag worked against me as a child with my tiny hands and smaller fingers. It never opened on the first try. With my tongue sticking out and my effort written across my forehead, I struggled against it to expose the soft pink silk lining. The struggle was always worth it in the end as the clasp clicked open and creaked at the small, delicate gold hinges in the corners of its mouth. I stored my trinkets and treasured there, deeply nestled in the belly of the purse that jingled delightfully against my knee.

The cushion beneath her rustled as she shifted in her seat and I shook myself out of my memories. My five year old face faded and before me she sat, anxious and waiting. I apologized for my distraction and flicked my gaze over her full face, flushed and bubbly.

This was our first meeting in years. I didn’t know what to expect. Time had crawled between us and the gap that began our last year of high school was now a cavernous well of unspoken thoughts and painfully memories. She was the first to make contact and I reluctantly reciprocated. My heart had moved on, our friendship only a faded headstone in a graveyard of memories.

Her brown eyes danced wildly, taking in the wood covered walls around us and occasionally swinging back my way, scanning my face for my reactions. Seeing if I really cared or if I was just there to please her intense need for closure.

The beer in my hand began to sweat onto the perfectly square cut cardboard coaster beneath it. A ring of rumpled colors and images was rising beneath the glass, an angry mark of a damaged good. I shifted the beer in my hand, tipping it slightly to swill the foam around the edge.

I swallowed, my tongue unable to move and make words. The shirt at the small of my back clung to the vinyl booth, sticking and shifting against my skin. Tight and unforgiving, my jeans hugged against my thighs and allowed me only small movements against the uncomfortable silence stretching between us.

If the situation wasn’t already unbearable, my clothing was making it more so. The tight waistband of my jeans cut into my stomach and it felt as if every inch of my clothing was lined with burs.

My breathing felt restricted and my skin crawled against the tension between us. Under me the vinyl squeaked with each shift and the table felt sticky beneath my clammy hands.

Yet I sat there, coolly and calmly across from my childhood friend, this stranger before me. My eyes drifted slowly, looking over the face I felt I should know. The dimples resting deeply in her smile. Those thin lips that stretched in a large mischievous grin when she plotted to embarrass me.

Her hair rested in bouncy chestnut waves around her full face, the curls reminding me of the time spent in her room, door closed, MTV blaring. Cable TV was banned from my house so the flickering images of bands and singers, cords wrapped around their feet, their tight jeans and heavy black boots shrouding their taut bodies, entranced me. I stared at them covertly, trying to seem unaffected by the gyrations of the performers and the odd visuals used to portray the songs I sang along with in my car after 7th period.

Instead I acted as though it wasn’t on, just background noise like it was to her. Sneaking peeks at the TV from the corner of my eye, I sat there quietly as she rolled her hair up into hot rollers for the perfect waves. She tamed her hair into submission with her fingertip melting velvet rollers, perfectly round and blistering. They were purple and made in different sizes which she strategically used around her head, smaller ones up top and larger barrels underneath.

Between the music videos playing in the background and her systematic preparations, I was enthralled into silence. I watched her wrist flick and fingers flutter as she quickly rolled up her shiny locks of hair to be pinned carefully in a crown of velvety cylinders around her head. Then, while she waited, she artfully curled the loose strands hanging limply onto her forehead and brushed make-up over her freckled skin, moving at speeds that felt foreign to me.

I drifted back to the bar and the lights, the scent of grease and salt wafting from the kitchen and sticking to the rough walls. The air felt grimy and the conversations around us floated by casually, reminding me that we used to do the same. A long time ago.

I looked down at my beer and lifted my hand to sip, feeling the dead weight of tension hanging around my wrist. Then she coughed, clearing her throat and looked up to speak.

“So,” she began. “How’s your little boy? I bet he’s not so little anymore.”

I smiled. Any mention of my son was a soft spot for me. I loved him fiercely and felt a sense of pride with him that I’d never encountered ever in my life. He was my reason for being.

“He’s good,” I responded, chuckling lightly. “Yeah, he’s really not a baby anymore. Growing so fast, I can hardly keep up with him.”

Her face lit up having hit a on a topic that made neither of us cringe. I smiled into my drink, sipping the cooling wheat colored brew. She shifted her hand bag off to the side and took a delicate sip of water through a long red straw.

Her nerves showed and made me more uncomfortable. It all felt forced and too polite. I waited for it to get real, for her purpose to show. She swallowed her water and looked up, her hands landing delicately on the table.

She waited.

I shuffled my feet under the table, slightly tapping the metal leg beside me with my shoe. It jolted me and I realized it was my turn to speak. All forms of social engagements seemed to be foreign to both of us and the conversation moved on like traffic on a hot, smoggy day through the downtown of a busy metropolis. Stop and go for miles is tedious on the muscles and I felt the strain in my shoulders as I gripped tightly to my glass, trying to steer this conversation away from the elephant sitting in lane three.

“How’s your family?” I asked, looking up to find her fidgeting with her sweater sleeves. Her nervous habit of drawing down her sleeves into her fists to absorb any dampness seemed to still be in effect. Good, I thought. I’m not the only one with sweaty palms.

“Good,” she answered a little too abruptly. Noticing her strict tone hang between us, she settled back into her chair, eyes on the table. “My grandpa’s health is starting to fail but the rest of the family is doing well. I have a few more nephews. Life is good.”

A gleam sprinted across her eyes as she spoke, happiness suited her well. But, the years of questioning her sobriety and whether or not certain people were still in her life, affecting her judgement and choices, made me skeptical. The gleam could be happiness but also the side effect of something else.

I sighed deeply, nodding in acknowledgement of her words. Her family was good, that’s great. But what about her? Was she alright? I took another swig at my drink, the bitter aftertaste stinging the back of my throat at the now warm beer made it’s way into my system.

I wanted to know, and didn’t at the same time. I wanted peace in knowing she was alive and I received that confirmation when her voice echoed through my phone the other day, calling to see if we could meet up, years after our last contact ended so abruptly. The drugs had been too much. And my life as a single mother could only take so much drama and abuse. The nights I waited to get a call back, to hear her voice confirm that she was breathing, unharmed and out of trouble.

“And…” I started, gazing at the knot of wood to the left of my drink. “How are you?” Looking up I found her stare hitting me hard in the face. Those deep brown eyes searching me for the right answer.

It was then I knew nothing had changed. What was left of my heart shattered as I watch her painted smile light up, charged from an unknown source inside. My mind grasped and fought with the idea that nothing had changed. That everything in my friend’s life had stayed the same.

That she was still broken. And that I couldn’t save her.

“Oh, I’m great!” She responded, sitting forward in her seat as proof that her words were true. “Yeah, things are good. I’ve got my own place and I’m working in the school district, you know, as a resource specialist. I’m still doing a little respite care work here and there but mostly my days are filled with paperwork and kids and helping them. It’s awesome, I really love it…”

Her voice trailed off as my mind slipped away. I listened halfheartedly as she went on about school and work and life and friends. Her trip to the Grand Canyon and the great first date she had the other night. Everything rolled off her tongue so smoothly, so seamlessly. Almost without real care. The tears began to gather at the back of my eyes and I blinked to keep them hidden.

“…I’ve been going to church too. Found a great congregation near me. You’d like it. They have a whole youth band play very rock based hymns on Saturday night. Nothing like rocking out to the Lord!”

At this last comment, I almost spit out my last sip of my now room temperature beer. After twelve years of the Catholic faith being pressed against us in school during the week and at mass on the weekends, we had both walked away from the church years ago. Partly in protest but mostly out of duty to ourselves. It was a faith we never felt apart of, no matter how much time we had spent praying on our knees. In hearing her pronounce that she had returned to not only a church but in such feverish interest, I was speechless.

It was the last thing I had expected.

I leaned forward on my elbow, wiping away the drop or two of spilled beer from my glass and looked at her, this time not flinching but really seeing her.

There, in her eyes, I saw the gleam wane. A slight shift and her pain suddenly reflected back. I started to recognize the gaping well of her irises staring back at me, dead and empty. The hidden resource in her system to mask her true feelings peeked out at me from behind her mascaraed eye lashes. She was using again and hiding behind it. She was also hiding in her faith, hoping with desperation that this last ledge was strong enough to hold her up, to keep her from falling.

Leaning back, the vinyl crushed beneath my heavy soul and squeaked loudly. She continued to smile, her mask slightly tipping. She was gone from me, again. And bringing her back was beyond my abilities.

Throughout the night I responded appropriately, nodding at the serious comments and laughing when she made a joke. I watched her hands flutter and expressively tell her tales, all signs to me that she was warming up, losing her inhibitions and gaining confidence in our friendship again. But I couldn’t find in me the ability to give this hurtful friendship another chance.

I left the bar that night, heavy and silent. She spent the rest of the visit chatting about God and music and her future plans, all with a noose tied loosing around her words, waiting.

And I chose not to be there when she fell.

Loss

Life happens.

It happens before our eyes and behind our backs. When we turn it’s there and when we sleep, eyes fastened shut by our dreams, we wake to find it does not stop. Not even for a moment.

Life is constant and flowing.

And as it flows, it ebbs. For every breath in, there is another waiting to be exhaled. Up, down. Backwards, forwards.

Gains…losses.

For every good, there is a bad. And for every bad, there is the good.

Lately, I’m trying hard to focus on the good. The fact that, once everything is done changing in my life, once the dust settles in my friendships and relationships, everything will be good. Everything will be just as it should be.

Everything will be fine.

Lately things have been less than fine. I’ve dealt with many losses that have clouded my view of the good around me. And for now I feel I must continue on with a light at the end of my tunnel just out of reach. The last leaf has fallen and now my tree is bare, I’m left with just me and my naked core.

Fallen Leaves

I’m bare and vulnerable, my scars visible and my broken heart in repair.

Yet somehow, in all the losses and through all the grief, I know everything will be alright.

I’m strong and capable. And I know that for every bad thing, for every loss, something good will come of it all.

I’ll be a better mother. I’ll be a little stronger. I’ll be a better friend and a better partner.

I’ll take from the bad what I hope to improve.

And make the most of all this loss.

Nightmares

In my dreams, I fight for my life.

I kick, scream, bite, tear and beat at the life in front of me to survive.

I take a life to save my own. Only to have it repeat, night after night.

Why am I fighting so hard to live? What in my day to day reality is so draining that in my dreams I fight to take another breath?

The blood and tears choke me. The fear that it may never end, this battle to live, consume me.

I fight for myself. I fight to defend my beliefs. I fight to protect my son.

I am a soldier without armor fighting a never ending battle against a foe that will not die.

A foe I do not know how to defeat.