Date Night

In the passing lights of the highway, the glint from his wedding ring catches my attention as we drive to the coast for a quiet dinner together. A dinner with no children, no diaper bags, no whining. Just us.

I tuck my hand into his as he speaks of his clients that day. Of the menial details of his Monday. The conversation is light and airy, flowing between us as we share the little things we forget during the weekly hustle at home due to the homework assignments that need to be checked and the bathtime antics that need to be mediated.

I lean back against the headrest and let his voice carry me down the motorway towards the grey sky of November hanging above us. He hasn’t told me where we are going but I know. It’s our place. A little harbor restaurant tucked away between the boats and jetties where we can dine on seafood and wine with real linens and a small candle lit between us. Tonight there is no worry of little curious fingers finding their way into the glass sconces or markers making a permanent drawing of Big Bird on the snow white table cloth.

Tonight there will be no kid’s menu and no macaroni and cheese to cool down with our gentle whispers. No hamburgers to order with only meat and cheese between two buns, preferably without seeds. No sippie cups or lidded cups of any kind to avoid spills. No fighting over the crayons brought to the table to placate the children as they wait for their food.

Instead I’m in my purple sweater dress. The one that hangs perfectly off my curves that are usually hidden beneath my comfortable, worn jeans and careless tee-shirts. I managed to dig up a pair of black nylons and heels to match so that I’m warm yet dressed up. And though we rushed from work to the bathrooms to ready ourselves to sit in traffic on our way to the shore after the exchange of offspring from parents to grandparents, I managed to put on makeup and let down my hair.

His smooth voice brings me back and I realize I miss hearing him speak without whispering after bedtime or raising his tone to be heard over the din. I laugh at his jokes and he asks me about work. He shares his opinion about a song on the radio and I joke about the video I saw at lunch. Then, without warning, a silent blanket falls around us as we coast along the ebbing sea of glowing taillights. Small rain drops pitter against the windshield as the tires beneath lull us into a comfortable silence.

And there between us, our hands clasped casually over the center console full of nurse rhymes on CD and pacifiers, we fall in love all over again. In that brief moment of silence with only our palms resting together do we remember why we are here. Without a word, only a sigh from both of us, we find our romance tucked within the crumb covered seats, a lone shoe, and the toys that have been “lost”.

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Letter To My Son: The Adventure

Jacob,

Today I read back through some of the letters I’ve written to you over time. Letters about your strong-will and intelligence. Letters about my feelings on raising you alone. A letter about what your birthday means to us, especially to me.

I hope you’ve had the chance to read them. To know that in those moments, it was important for me to stop, write to you while my memories are still fresh and to share what was in my heart at that time. I hope these letters mean as much to you as they do to me, these little pieces of our past.

I thought about all our time together as mother and son. We’ve had 7 years, just us. 7 years of stories, heartache, lessons and lots of love. It’s been an incredible adventure.

The Two Of Us

We’ve run races together and dipped our toes in the Black Sea. I took you to your first symphony concert and introduced you to The Beatles. We’ve seen wild animals at the zoo and pretended we were on safari together and discovered some of our favorites books during our bedtime stories.

Together, we’ve learned how to love through the tough times and how strong we are when we are side by side. I watched you huddle against me, listening to my breathing and heartbeat as you slept peacefully, so close and so trusting.

Then, slowly, I watched you venture away from me with tentative steps. Your small feet would carry you away but after discovering something new, you always returned for comfort and to share.

Now you walk away from me with confidence and I couldn’t be more proud.

Being your mom has been an amazing adventure. One I will cherish and share with you over and over, even when you are grown and able to read these letters yourself.

In a few short weeks, you and I will begin a whole new adventure. We will become a bigger family. Our journey as mother and son will come to an end and we’ll cross over into unfamiliar territory. While change in general can be unnerving, this is an adventure we won’t go at alone. We’ll still be together, still mother and son.

But when we walk down our new path, you’ll no longer only have one hand to hold, there will be another. We won’t be just us but a family of three. You will have two parents to kiss you good night and two parents to hold you when you are scared. Two parents to teach you how to be a kind and strong human. Two parents to listen when you have concerns.

Us Three

Our first adventure together may be coming to an end, but just over the horizon is a whole new one.

Know this, my son, that this new adventure never diminished anything we went through on our own. When you read this, I hope you know that what we had was special and just ours. It was our foundation and our beginning. It was a chapter in our story. A long story for us, I hope, with many chapters and new characters along the way.

I loved you more everyday which to me seemed impossible. I thought the day they handed you to me, my heart would explode from the deep love I felt for you instantly. It didn’t and still to this day, I love you more and more. No matter how grown up you are reading this, you are still my little man.

Now we turn the page and start off fresh. Off to discover new things to share with each other and laugh together the whole way.

Together on our new adventure.

Your partner in crime,

Mom

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.

Just A Little Murder

It happened on a cool, Spring morning. The sun was barely rising. No clouds were overhead. The dusty blue of the morning sky covered the sleeping land with a blanket of chill and crispness. It was time to get up but the land laid still and sleeping as I wished I could.

But the duties of a mother called and I lifted my head from my warm pillow and trudged to the depths of my cool, dank garage where the laundry of yesterday waited. My barely opened eyes struggled to focus on the brown carpet beneath my heavy feet. The stairs dropped before me and I slowly slinked my way down, down, down into the belly of our home.

Upstairs, in his small bed, my son slept on. His parted lips snored gently as his matted head of hair hung slightly off the edge of his train and truck blankets. In his quiet slumber he looked so innocent. So serene.

I should have known better.

Rubbing my weary eyes, I stopped before the door to the garage and reached out to grab the knob when my hand touched the cold metal of the door. I reached back, stunned by the heartless sting of the cold metal against my warm skin. It sent a chill up my spine as I reached again and turned the knob every so gently to open the heavy old door. I was awake now, my senses all on fire and alert to the iciness around me as I entered the bottom level with its unforgiving cement floor and the bare walls.

There was no life here. Just cold, hard forms lying motionless in the bleak air below. As my warm body broke the stillness, I knew I had to get out. Quickly.

Stepping lightly, I padded my way across the stone-cold floor to the dryer. My bare feet ached against the cement slab beneath me and my breath caught in my throat. I had to get what I came for and get out, before I was lost to the biting air.

That when I noticed something was…wrong. I slowly opened the door to my dryer and reached in, expecting warmth and comfort.

Suddenly I drew my hand back! The sickly sight within caught my breath and held it captive. A scream bubbled up but never broke free. The sight before me was too horrid to imagine. Too awful to believe.

Streaks painted the pristine insides of the dryer leaving stains of blood red running down. I stifled another cry of horror as I threw my hand against my mouth hanging agape. I tried to look away but my eyes were drawn to the lives lost in the bloody mess.

They never had a chance. The poor innocent victims of this deadly massacre laid beneath my outstretched hand. I looked beyond my fear and tried to spot any signs of life.

Everything was ruined. Stained and streaked beyond belief. Lives shattered and tone asunder by this wicked and heinous crime! I reached again, turning over the countless victims, trying to salvage something…someone.

Then I knew…it was over. There was nothing I could do. I raised my stained hands to my face and wept. Gone…lost…forever.

As I reached down to lift our loved ones in a last embrace, I heard a tinkering. Something had fallen and hit the ground. Fear raced through my veins. I was almost too afraid to look.

Was it a dismembered piece so violently shaken from its owner? Was it a hideous clue to the crime committed? What was it?

I took a deep, shaking breath and looked down to find…

The weapon of choice laid before me, motionless. Heartless. Taunting me with its innocent look. Fear…rage…sadness…grief…It all bubbled up and I choked them back. This clue, this piece left behind could mean only one thing…

Then, in the din of my grief I heard the small thud of feet touching the ground and the rustling of movement upstairs. A small voice called out for me.

The voice of the accused.

If you don’t know the post title reference, it’s from The Uninvited (1944). A great film, check it out.

Your Story

Everyone has a story.

There is a beginning, a climax, some foreshadowing and lots of characters.

Many are straight yet narrow and without changing or winding paths. There may be no surprises but a comfort in that fact that there are no twists. No turns. The horizon is always visible and always in sight.

Then there are others with a surprise at every corner. When the path veers and the plot thickens with every turn of the page. Characters come and go, the story line changing constantly. What will the end hold, not even the main character knows this. Though there is rarely a moment of comfort, the excitement in this story is always there.

After 30 years, my story goes on. It has changed and veered. The road has buckled and crumbled only to be rebuild and my journey to continue.

My story has no end in sight. Though I know it will some day, for now I continue to turn the page in anticipation. To continue on.