How To Find What You Came Here For

Welcome to the worlds that populate my brain!
The short stories you find here are the product
of a vastly overactive imagination
powered by coffee and M&Ms.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Anchors Aweigh, My Boy

Source: via  Pinterest
When my first son was born, I have to admit that I didn't really give a great deal of thought to what he would be when he grew up.  Mostly I was concerned with navigating the suddenly slippery track of parenthood, and at the time it seemed like college and adulthood were entirely too far away to concern me.

That was about five minutes ago.

It was also nineteen years ago.

Time, in a mother's mind, is amazingly malleable as it turns out.  Something like emotional Silly Putty: it stretches and bounces and picks up impressions as it goes, and it cannot be counted on to be a reflection of reality in any case.

Last night my little blond-haired boy sat on my lap so I could read "The Hobbit" to him.  *Boing* goes the Silly Putty...and today he finished his third semester of college.

It may be his last semester of college for a while.  It may be his last semester of college ever.  The first year and a half of college didn't exactly go according to plan.  And by plan, I mean the vague idea I'd nurtured that my brilliant offspring would breeze through college, find his dream career, meet a nice girl, get married, give me beautiful grandchildren, and live happily ever after.

You know, THAT plan.

The "breeze through college" phase of the plan hit a snag almost immediately.  He had trouble with his roommate, who was apparently majoring in partying.  Then, through one thing and another, he effectively failed most of his classes despite being exceedingly smart.  He made some questionable choices with what little money he had, so by the time he got to the end of this last semester he didn't have enough to pay his portion of tuition for the spring semester.  We don't have it either, since that winning lottery ticket continues to remain elusive.

Which leads to the reason for the title of this post, and the cute little Lego sailor picture.  My baby boy is joining the Navy.

I have mixed feelings about this.

On the one hand, he's my baby boy and I don't want anybody yelling at him but me.

On the other hand, someone else yelling at him might make an impression where I have, apparently, failed.

On the one hand, I don't want him to be put into a position where he might be in danger.

On the other hand, it seems extremely hypocritical to say that I support and appreciate those who serve our country in the military and then turn around and say, "Not MY son!"  Why not my son?  Is the love I have for him somehow more intense or valuable than the love of those mother's whose sons have already chosen to serve?  I don't think so.  Love isn't something to be measured or compared; it is what it is.

Regardless of my mixed feelings (Silly Putty in a blender comes to mind), he's talking to the recruiter tomorrow.  If everything works out, he'll be heading off to boot camp in the next few months. 

I have high hopes and deep anxiety in equal measure...which, now that I think about it, is pretty much how I felt on the first day of kindergarten, the first day of middle school, the first day of high school, and the first day of college. It's probably how I'm going to feel on the day he gets married and on the day his first child is born.

Anchors aweigh, my boy. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Home For The Holidays

A friend on Facebook posted this picture of her three-year-old daughter talking to her dad today.

The kid is adorable: a curly-haired moppet that you see from the back, proudly showing her daddy the picture she drew that day.

Her daddy is a handsome man, smiling and clearly enjoying his daughter.

The little girl, her older sister, and her mommy are all right here in North Carolina.

Her daddy is in the Middle East somewhere, serving in the military.

The wonder of technology lets them talk, and enjoy some sense of closeness during the holidays.  It's not the same as being together - he won't be there to help put toys together (and for some reason girl's toys seem to need a lot of putting together), he won't be there to watch them unwrap their presents, he won't hold them in his lap at church on Christmas Day.  They'll see his face and hear his voice, and that will have to be enough.

I look at this picture and I know that it doesn't matter how I feel, personally, about any military action.  How I feel won't make it possible for the Daddy in this picture to be with his family on Sunday morning.  It won't make the separation easier for them.  So, whether I support the decisions our politicians have made or not, I will support the men and women who have chosen to serve in our military...and know that there is no expression of appreciation that could possibly be enough.

I'll be saying a special prayer for my friend this year, while she copes with a Christmas without her husband.  I'll be praying for the families of all of the men and women serving in the military, who can't be together for Christmas this year.  And I'll be giving thanks that we have families willing to make a sacrifice I can barely imagine, to serve our country.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Party Time!

As many of you know (or might have guessed by the badge on my blog), I participated in the NaNoWriMo challenge this year.  I started writing on November 1, stopped writing on November 30, and somehow (don't ask me how), I managed to produce a little over 50 thousand words.  *cue party music*

Here's the thing, though.

Since I've started this blog I have discovered something about myself:  It's not enough just to write.  I want someone to READ what I've written.  I want a reaction--and it doesn't matter what kind, either.  Positive, negative, just plain weird...I covet them all.

I have other creative outlets.  I crochet.  I will knit under duress.  I sew very occasionally.  I can embroider and do counted cross stitch.  I love to take photographs.

But in none of these endeavors do I crave the viewpoint of anyone else.  I am happy to finish a project and send it off without another thought.  Exclamations of appreciation are nice, but not essential.

Not so with my writing.  An audience (appreciative or otherwise), is vital to my process.

This has proven to be a challenge in regards to NaNoWriMo.  For the first time I have produced what might be considered a "novel."  (In fact, it is a novel, albeit one that is a few chapters short of resolution.)  But, if I want to follow what I consider to be a natural progression toward actual publication (coming to a bookstore near you!), I can't post it here, on my blog. 

Since I can't post it here, I am forced to turn to the captive audience authors have relied on since the first hieroglyph was carved into a cave wall:  family and friends.  Unfortunately, it is turning out to be surprisingly difficult to find friends or family willing to read a 30-35 chapter novel (roughly the length of the average romance).  I strongly suspect this reluctance stems from the fear that what I've written will be absolute crap, and they'll have to find something positive to say about it.

Point in fact, none of my family or friends have read it, although not through lack of trying on my part.  Which  means that the only feedback I've gotten from this point is from my poor, long-suffering husband...and he wants to keep his eyebrows badly enough that his objectivity may be questionable.

There has been a tiny break in the clouds, however!  Tonight was the wrap party for our local group of NaNoWriMo participants.  We brought excerpts from our novels and read them over dinner and a fair amount of laughter.  I was able to read the prologue to my novel, and hear what others have written. 

For that moment...brief, and fraught with the tension of an extreme dislike for public novel enjoyed a taste of freedom. 

It was enough.  For now.

I can go back and finish those last couple of chapters, in which my plucky heroine successfully hosts Thanksgiving dinner for friends without burning down her house, resolves her issues with her family (maybe), ends world hunger, and brings about world peace.  Well, the first two, anyway!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Not Exactly Hallmark

That’s it, we’re done.
No more chances,
No more glances,
We’ve had our fun.

We started hot,
But now we’re not.
Cooling desires
Turned us into liars,
Neither thinking we’d be caught.

Good-bye my lover,
No need to hover.
Let’s both be on our way,
Nothing more to say,
We’ve no secrets left to discover.

I’ll think of you fondly,
I could say,
But that would be a lie.
Rather I’ll note,
That as regrets go,
You’re fairly far down the line.

This post is a response to a writing prompt from Write On Edge:  "This week, we’d like you to write a post – fiction or creative non-fiction – which begins with a countdown. “Three, two, one.” You pick what the countdown is for. The ideas above are just suggestions. Use your imagination and have fun with it!"

In this poem I was aiming for a sense of cold dismissal at the end of a relationship between two people, neither of whom have behaved particularly well.  What were your impressions?  Let me know in the comments! 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Nothing Like Family

“Hey, can we come get the boys for a play date?”

A simple request from my husband's sister-in-law, one we were eager to agree to.  The next day was Michael’s third birthday party, and we still had some things to pick up—which meant a long walk to the store in cold January weather.

We got home exactly at 7:00pm.  The kids were supposed to be back at 7:00, so we were expecting to see my brother-in-law or his wife waiting for us.  We called to see if we’d missed them.

Dan’s brother answered the phone.

“No, we’re not quite done yet.  We’ll have them back in a little bit.”

When the knock came, Dan opened to door to see his brother and our two boys standing on our step.  Aaron’s little five-year-old face was streaked with tears, and his breathing was jagged.  In front of them was a stack of toys…the obvious detritus of a birthday party.

Dan sent the kids upstairs.  When he turned back to his brother, I saw the unfamiliar flush of anger on his face.

“We’re having a birthday party tomorrow—we’ve already got the cake made.”

His brother shrugged.  “We took care of it,” he remarked, and walked away.

Later, after the worst of the anger and hurt burned away, cold reality set in.  Our oldest had begged to call us, upset that everyone was at a party his mom and dad weren’t invited to…they’d ignored him.
“I’m done,” I said.  “I’m sorry.  You can keep dealing with these people, they’re your family—I won’t stop you—but the boys and I can’t.  Not after this.  I can’t trust them, and that’s not healthy.”

“I know.  I never thought they’d do anything to hurt the boys, but they just did.”  Dan met my eyes.  “We’re all done.”

This post is a response to a prompt from Write On Edge to write a memoir piece about cleaning house, figuratively speaking.

Up until this incident, everything my husband’s family had done had been directed at me or Dan, and we thought we were handling it.  (We were SO wrong!)  This opened our eyes.  Aaron’s tears started up again the next night when we had the birthday party we’d planned, and it was just us and a LOT of homemade cake and ice cream (we'd planned on having Dan's parents, his grandfather, his brothers, and his sister-in-law there, but of course, they'd all been at the other party).  It seems so minor, I suppose, but we weren’t waiting around for major.

We were done…for a long time.  We cut off all contact with my husband’s family.  We moved from Wyoming to North Carolina without telling anyone except my family.  It wasn’t until my husband’s grandfather passed away a few years ago that lines of communication were opened again.  We’ve forgiven them, even though they've never apologized and I doubt they see anything wrong in what they did that night...much less everything that happened before.  We will never trust them completely.  We can’t.

People ask, “How can you just cut yourself off from family like that?”

Simple.  You clean house.  We wouldn’t keep toxic mold around our kids, why would we keep a toxic relationship around them?  My only regret is that we gave them the opportunity to hurt our kids first.

Once again, thank you for stopping by and sharing my life with me!  Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.  Have you had to clean house to evict a toxic family member or friend?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Ghosts of Christmas Past

The doorbell rang, sending the idiot dog into a frenzy of barking.  John reached for the paper towels and followed the cheerful golden retriever to the door, mopping up puddles of liquid excitement as he went.

“Hi Dad,” his daughter greeted him.  “Sorry about the doorbell.  I just…I guess it still feels a little weird to just walk in.”

“No problem…gave the dog a thrill.”  He gave her a one-armed hug.

“So how is Toby doing?”  She leaned down to pet the dog, just barely a year old, relieved that her dad had company in the new house.

John quirked an eyebrow at the grinning dog.  His daughter had talked him into adopting him, naming him Toby after a cartoon dog she’d loved as a child.  He had to admit, the idiot was keeping him busy, mostly buying shoes and drywall to replace what the dog destroyed.

“He’s fine.  Cheerful,” he said.  And dumb as a box of rocks, he added to himself.

“We’re planning on having Christmas dinner about seven, and I was thinking you could spend the night so you’ll be there when the kids open their presents, OK?”  She watched him closely.

“Sounds good,” he agreed.  He could feel the awkwardness between them, but he was helpless to change it.  His wife had always been the link that helped them connect.

Her task complete, his daughter hugged him and let herself out.  John stood at the window and watched her drive away. 

“She’s worried about me, Becca,” he spoke, staring out at the bare trees shivering in the wind.  “Our first Christmas without you…I guess we’ll figure it out.”

He ran a hand over the head of the dog leaning against his leg, lost in the memory of happier times.  Outside the window, snow began to fall.

This post is a response to a prompt from Write On Edge:
"We’d like you to craft a piece of fiction or creative non-fiction around the holiday season, keeping in mind that for some people “the holiday season” begins around Halloween and doesn’t end until well after the New Year is underway.  The piece should begin with “The doorbell rang” and end with “snow began to fall.”  The middle is up to you, and the entire thing should be under 300 words."

Thanks for stopping by, and please let me know what you think in the comments!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Get The Number Of That Truck, Please?

I can't remember what we were talking about.

We'd just dropped our youngest son off at the elementary school, and we were waiting to turn left to head up the road to the middle school to drop off our oldest son.  Dan and I were both working at the high school, so we might have been talking about work.  Maybe.  I can't remember.

My turn signal was on, and I was waiting patiently for a space in oncoming traffic so I could turn.  The road we were on is a busy two-lane highway, but we were half a block from the school so we were still in the school zone.  The route we were taking is the same one lots of parents had taken and were planning to was familiar.

I chatted with my husband, sitting in his usual spot--the passenger seat.  Our oldest was quiet in the back seat right behind Dan, he might have been dozing.  He did that in the mornings once he became a teenager.  He might have been.  I can't remember.

I am a safe driver.  I maintain a constant vigilance, fully aware of the idiocy of my fellow drivers.  My driving record was perfect; the only accident I'd ever had involved accidentally backing into a car less than a month after I'd gotten my driver's license nearly two decades earlier.

I saw a gap ahead, so I took my foot off the brake.  Our Taurus was heavy, I wasn't worried about rolling.  We'd just paid it off a couple of months before; it was the first car we'd owned that was almost new when we bought it.  It was my dream car.

My round of mirror checks, one of several while we waited to turn, took me to the rear view mirror.  I might have seen the pick-up truck.  I think I did.  I can't remember.

The volunteer fireman waiting at the stop sign at the same intersection did.  Experience had him reaching for his cell phone and dialing those three little numbers.  By the time he finished dialing, it was over.

I didn't have time to warn my husband.  I didn't have time to reach for my son.  I had time to tighten my hands on the steering wheel and turn it to the front yard of the house on my right and pray I could keep us out of oncoming traffic.

I can't remember what we were talking about.

I can remember hearing the briefest squeal of panicked brakes...too brief.  I can remember hearing a noise so loud, it seemed like the world was ending.  I can remember saying a thousand wordless prayers in the brief gap between.

Everything stopped moving a fraction of a second later.  Time stopped, shock chased every sound away.  I looked at my husband, who looked back at me without speaking.  I spun to check on our son, sitting dazed in the back seat and covered in chunks of safety glass.

Sound rushed back, and I popped out of the car and onto the front yard.  The little Toyota pick-up truck, raised up on a lift kit for mudding, sat dead center in the intersection.  Its knobby front wheels tilted out drunkenly on a snapped axel, dropping the front end so that it looked like a puppy ready to play.  The teenager who'd been driving opened the door, still talking into his cell phone.

If the truck hadn't fishtailed when the kid had slammed on his brakes, his high speed and lack of bumper would have carried it up and over the trunk...and into the cabin of our car.  Instead, he'd soared up and over the corner, leaving paint from his truck on the roof along the driver's side.

PhotobucketWe lost the car.  We could have lost a lot more.  I thought every moment of that crash would be imprinted on my brain forever.
But now...

I can't remember what we were talking about.

This prompt is a memoir piece in response to a flash prompt from Write On Edge, to write about a memory the word CRASH evokes in ten minutes or less.  This memory is never far from my mind, even though it happened six years ago.  How about you?  What event from your past did you think would be permanently engraved on your brain...but now is fading?

Thanks for stopping by, and please tell me what you think in the comments!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Waves Of Grace

The hair beneath her fingers was incredibly soft and baby fine. She pulled the comb through the silvery white strands, carefully working out knots, taking care not to yank or press too hard on a scalp made tender by age.

The powder of the dry shampoo she'd used was worked out as she combed, leaving a dingy snowfall on the bright pink towel she'd draped over thin shoulders.

As she worked, she hummed an old hymn under her breath, sparking a rare flash of memory.

"You gonna sing in church on Sunday, Grace?" the shaky voice asked, pale blue eyes meeting hers in the mirror.

Her name wasn't Grace - that name belonged to the woman's daughter, gone almost fifteen years now - but she smiled and nodded anyway, and kept humming.

Strands of hair were worked over soft foam curlers. Hard plastic would have worked better, but they left bruises on a scalp that was easily damaged and long to heal.

The conversational dam had been breached; words flowed freely, if not always coherently. The nurse in the corner had told her that the woman was silent every other day of the week, so she enjoyed the sound of the light voice even if she couldn't always understand what was being said.

She sprayed a watered-down setting solution on the curlers and moved to sit in front of the woman, gently taking each hand and working lotion into the parchment-paper skin while they waited for the solution to dry.

When the timer dinged, she rose to remove the curlers and comb out the waves into a style the woman had favored over sixty years ago.

"Am I beautiful now?" the woman asked, peering into the mirror.

She kissed the wrinkled cheek. "You're always beautiful to me, Grandma."

This post is my response to a prompt from Write On Edge to write about hair.  This is a fictional story - coming off 30 days of fast and furious writing for NaNoWriMo, it was nice to settle back into the stricter craft of a short story!

Thanks for stopping by...and please let me know what you think in the comments!