65 DAYS OF SUMMER
A Writing Challenge
JUNE 30, 2018
What is there, really, to say about a first break up? As far as human experiences go, they're relatively harmless, and yet, they live with you for years after the fact. They are so simply, almost non-events. The feeling is still the same though, that devastating loss.
As an adult, you go back, try to figure out the reason it happened. For me, it fell apart because of my own ignorance, which got in the way. The boy was wonderful, sweet and kind, but I was so hopelessly naïve, he had to get away from me.
We dated for three weeks. Nothing, in the grand scheme of things. Three weeks in which we chatted over IM, lay on his futon and watched movies in his basement, ate cheap Italian food. He taught me how to shoot a bow and arrow. I let him grab my boobs, barely existent though they were.
We never kissed.
And that was the problem. Not once in all of those movie watching, boob groping sessions did it ever occur to me to turn around and kiss him. And surely he wanted to. He wouldn't have been grabbing my boobs if he didn't. But I was too stupid to see it. I lamented that he never made a move, and he no doubt wondered why I never picked up on the hint.
He ended it over IM. He told me there was a girl at his work that he was talking to. He told me he asked her out. And that was that.
Of course there were the hurt feelings. The pleading for him to reconsider, and the eventual blocking him on IM. Hell, there was even the awkward "date" with his best friend to make him jealous that only left me feeling gross and worthless.
Then eventually, there were no more feelings about it at all. I drove past him running many years later, my husband rode in the seat next to me, and he waved. I waved back.
"How was that?" my husband asked.
"Nobody," I responded, "just a kid I knew in high school."
What we all become over a long enough time, nobody.
JUNE 29, 2018
“I can quit any time.”
Oh, I’ve heard that one before.
“I just don’t want to.”
Sweetie, you can’t. You’ll never be able to quit me. You’re not strong enough. You never have been.
I’ve been a part of you your whole life. I was there when you were born. Sure, I stepped away for a couple of hours to shoot the breeze with your dad, until he was too wobbly to walk straight. And yeah, a few years later, when he got pulled over, I sat in the seat next to him while he breathed into the machine.
I laughed when they clapped handcuffs on him.
That should have been the wake up call, except Daddy is weak, just like you. Why worry when it’s so much easier to crack open a 24-pack of Coors Light? Yeah, I was there. I saw it all. You can’t hide those bruises from me.
Do you remember at sixteen when you swore you would never go down that road?
Oh how I laughed.
And at nineteen, when you chastised your boyfriend for drinking too much? Ha! Did you think you would turn him against me? By then he was one of my closest friends!
Do you remember that first taste? Because I do. Apple vodka. Potent, but it tasted so good. You took it slow. That’s okay sweetie. I have your whole life ahead of me.
And it didn’t take long. I had heartbreak on my side. Desperation. You were so innocent. It doesn’t take much to push babies over the edge. A rum and coke, or two, or four, or more.
Now look at you. You’re useless without me. You think you’re an artist? Because you’re not. You’re just a female version of the person you swore you’d never turn into.
Another victory for me. No sweetie, don’t put the glass down. You can’t waste it. That’s the good stuff. Better finish it up. You can always stop tomorrow. Right?
Because you can quit anytime?
JUNE 20, 2018
When making a soup, the first thing one must decide on is the base. It seems only fitting that we use a red wine base, but as money may be an object, any cheap bottle from your locally sourced grocer will do. Or, I suppose, if you are desperate two-buck Chuck from Trader Joe's.
Naturally, you'll have to include some Bob Dylan, pre-electric guitar. Vinyl is best, but if you can't find that, a CD will do. You'll need to let that simmer for at least half an hour. Use this time to prep herbs and vegetables.
Seasonal vegetables only please, bought from the farmer's market. From the Mennonite booth, preferably. It's important to establish an appropriate level of open-mindedness. Truthfully, the vegetables are only there to add substance, because little else will.
Some things to add flavor:
* Alan Ginsberg poetry. Not Howl, that's been overdone and lost its flavor.
* Black eyeliner
* A turtleneck
* Some joints, of course
Spice to taste, give it a good stir, then a few snaps. Turn the lights low, to better appreciate the concoction.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you...
JUNE 17, 2018
“Do you think she’s starting to show?”
“I can’t tell.”
“Her dress is too loose.”
“Smart move on her part.”
I turned in my pew. “Could you stop?”
“What?” The woman behind me straightened her neck with condescension usually only seen in Jane Austen novels. “Is she a friend of yours?”
“Not particularly. But that doesn’t mean you should be rude. It is her wedding day, after all.”
“Hmph.” She tossed her hair over her shoulder and looked away, nose pointing in the air away from me.
I turned back to the front and crossed my arms.
“She’s not wrong,” Carl muttered next to me, “she is starting to show.”
“That doesn’t mean we should gossip about her.”
“Not everyone is as full of morals as you, Susan,” he argued. “Gossip is this town’s life blood.”
We lined up outside the church with the rest of the crowd. Carl pushed me to the front and handed me the envelope of uncooked rice.
“It seems a shame to waste it.”
He scoffed. “The birds will eat it.”
“Won’t it bloat their stomachs and kill them?”
“That’s just a myth.”
Bells rang, and I turned toward the doors which opened outward. Cheers rose up around me, half-hearted. Steven wrapped an arm around his new bride’s waist and kissed her on the cheek.
“Isn’t my wife beautiful?” He shouted to the crowd.
Cheers rose again, more enthusiastic this time. Steven’s natural charisma could carry a crowd. His bride blushed and hid her face in his shoulder as he pushed her forward. Rice descended on the couple, sticking in her heavily sprayed hair and landing like little flecks of dandruff on his collar. My hand twitched, instinctively wanting to reach out and brush his shoulder clean.
Not my shoulder to brush. Not anymore.
I looked down at the unopened silver envelope in my hand. Too late to throw it now. Steven had already opened the door to the limousine and ushered his bride inside.
Carl’s hand found the small of my back. “We don’t have to go to the reception if you don’t want to.”
“No,” I said, “We should go. It’s the right thing to do.”
We followed the crowd as it walked across the street to the town banquet hall, the only building in our small little nothing of a town that could fit every citizen, and consequently where every wedding reception, funeral service, and town meeting was held.
Carl opened the door for me, and guided me inside. I gave a grateful smile.
“How long do you suppose they’ll make us wait before they feed us?” he asked.
“I don’t know. I suppose they want pictures.”
“Yeah, better to capture this monumental moment in their lives.”
“Don’t be a jerk.” But even as I scolded him, my mouth twitched in a grin. I could count on Carl to turn a sour occasion sweet.
He found our seats at the table in the back corner of the reception hall, and we sat. I fiddled with the napkins while he sipped iced tea.
“Do you want something to drink?”
“No thanks.” I crumpled the napkin and tossed it back on the table. “They won’t be serving alcohol anyway, with her condition and all.”
“Not even for the guests?”
“I doubt it.”
“God,” he leaned back in his chair, “You grew up in the most backwards town I’ve ever seen, Susie Q.”
“Please don’t call me that.”
He grinned and elbowed me playfully. “I’m just messing with you. You know that.”
He stood. “You think they have any appetizers coming around?”
I looked around the hall. It didn’t look like it. “I don’t know. Probably not.”
“Geez, I’m starving.”
“I could run down the block to the convenience store.”
“No, don’t worry about it.”
“Here,” a wrinkled old woman at the table behind us turned in her seat. “I keep snacks in my purse.”
Carl jumped gratefully at the opportunity.
I grimaced. “Thanks, Aunt Marge.” Not my Aunt Marge, Steven’s, but I had grown accustomed to calling her Aunt as well when we were in school.
“Oh, Susie? Is that you?” She squinted up at me.
“Oh, deary. I think we were all hoping to see you up there instead of that little tart.”
I drew a breath and looked away. Carl cackled at the joke as he ripped open a pack of Belvita snack crackers and popped one in his mouth.
“Well,” she hooted, “Looks like you found yourself an upgrade. Can’t say the same for my nephew.”
I forced a smile. “Thank you, Marge.”
She turned back to her own table and leaned over to whisper to the frail lady next to him. I sighed. More gossip to go around the town.
I hid my face in my hands. “I can’t wait to be back at school.”
“Oh yeah?” Carl swallowed an enormous bite. “Want to start heading back now?”
“No, let’s see the reception to the end.”
The dance was the hardest part to watch. They had chosen the sappiest love song they could find. Even though I knew for a fact Steven hated country music. He had told me a thousand times. He held her close, closer than necessary, pressing her rounded belly into his body.
Carl ran his fingers through my hair, and I closed my eyes and focused on the weight of his hands on my body.
“Do you want to dance?” he asked as the couple’s first dance came to a close, and the floor opened up to guests.
“Not at all.”
“Do you want to leave?”
I turned in his arms, away from the dance floor, away from Steven, and I pressed my lips to Carl’s.
“Let’s go back home.”
We gathered our things as quickly as we could, making only one stop on our way out of the hall, to drop a generic card into the basket at the gift table.
Carl guffawed, and I looked to where pointed. “Who do you think gave them that?”
My eyes widened, and I grinned for the first time all evening. “I don’t know.” There, in the middle of the table, sat the largest gift basket I had ever seen in my life, filled to the brim with jars of Gerber brand baby food.
Our fingers entwined and our laughter rang loud as we walked out of the hall for the final time.
JUNE 15, 2018
His voice dropped to a guttural moan. He cradled his friend’s mangled heading his lap. “Oh… oh…” The words weren’t words at all, just incoherent groans.
The boy inched forward, his feet took on a will of their own.. He stopped instinctively just out of the man’s grasp.
He must have felt the boy’s presence. His head whipped up, and he snarled animal-like, sending the young boy scrambling backward.
“What have you done?” the man cried, his voice ringing sharply like a dented bell.
“I… I’m sorry.”
“You’re sorry?” The man rose and the boy was struck by how short he was, only a few inches taller than himself. “You’re sorry? He’s dead!”
“i was just playing a dumb game.” The boy edged backward, his voice dropped to a whisper. He backed away, stopping only when he felt the cliff’s rocks against his back.
The man stumbled forward and pointed deliriously at the body crumpled only feet away. “Look at him!”
“Look at him!”
The boy whimpered and cast his eyes briefly at the body. His stomach roiled at the sight, blood seeping from the wound in its head, matting the dark hair and mixing with the sand below. He turned his face away.
“Please, I’m sorry.”
“Oh, you’ll be sorry.” The man raised his hand to strike, and the boy ducked under his arm and scurried away.
“Get back here, you little snake!”
The boy scrambled for the path, running as fast as his legs could take him. “Get away from me!”
“Come back here.”
The man gave chase. The boy ran faster, feet beating on the steep path as he ran for cover. He could hear the man’s footsteps behind him, thundering along the rocky path.
“Please!” The boy climbed faster, dropping to his knees as he tripped over a loose stone. He felt a hand grip his upper arm.
“Please,” he sobbed, “It was an accident.”
The man yanked him to his feet, without a word, and climbed the rest of the way, breaking into the sunlight at the top of the cliff.
The boy’s eyes widened, and he yanked against his captor’s grip, screaming wildly, but the man continued on as if he hadn’t heard. He walked to the precipice , paused, looked down at the broken body below him, then jerked his arm forward, sending the boy stumbling over the edge.
The screams stopped less than a second later, and he fell to his knees.
“It was an accident.”
JUNE 13, 2018
My great escape.
I would love to be able to tell you about a beautiful serene locale on this Earth that only I know about. The quaint little log cabin tucked away in the woods, or a hidden beach where I spend two weeks every year. Truly, I would love nothing more than to be the owner of such a sweet getaway.
But I am not a billionaire with endless supplies of money and time and not enough responsibilities.
I am a mom, living in Suburbia, in the Midwest, on a middle-class income. Everything about me is average. When I need to escape, I go to the one place in the house I know no one will follow me.
I've come to love the bathroom. For quick breathers, I can sit on the toilet and play games on my phone. To decompress after a hard day, I turn on the shower, strip off my clothes, and hide in the steam. When things are really bad, when the kids have pushed me over the edge, and my husband is driving me insane, when work was awful and nothing seems right with the world, I can pick up all of the toys out of the tub, run a bath, and hide for thirty minutes or more.
And if I close my eyes, and tune out the toddler cries from the living room below me, I can pretend I'm on that Hawaiian beach, that my children are laughing as they run around barefoot on white fine-grain sand. that the crabs are scurrying out of their holes and back to the sea as the sun rises on a new perfect day.
And I am floating in the clear blue salt-water with not a care in the world.
JUNE 12, 2018
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Phillips
By now, you are no doubt aware of the fact that your son, Jordan, has quit the cross country team. I know we are al very disappointed to see him go, especially as he was one of our fastest runners and showed great promise for college scholarship opportunities. I was hoping to be able to shed some light on recent events and how they may have informed his decision.
I first noticed a change in Jordan’s behavior about a month ago, during one of our summer conditioning sessions. As you know, I design the sessions to be deliberately taxing, hoping to push the runners to take on new challenges. Most of my students run the bare minimum, the tasks being so grueling that even the bare minimum can leave them exhausted. Not Jordan. On that day, and many days after, he ran the assigned distance, then pushed himself even further. To the point where he threw up at not one, but three separate practices.
Vomiting is not uncommon in the running community, especially on hot days. I encouraged him to drink plenty of water and thought nothing of it. Haven’t we all seen kids throw up during races?
When school began, he kept mostly to himself in the hallways. I have him in my fourth period History class, and he often asked if he could eat his lunch in my room, which I allowed. It took me nearly a week to realize the Styrofoam tray was getting tossed into the trash with few if any bites of food missing. I confronted him about it at practice, and he told me he brought his own lunches. When I asked why he continued to purchase school lunches, he said that he likes the juice.
Last Thursday, he collapsed during our meet. I called you to pick him up and voiced my concerns. Jordan dismissed them. I have since met with him on multiple occasions to discuss healthy eating and exercise habits, but I have failed to convince him. I confess, I issued an ultimatum. He will not be allowed to rejoin the cross country team, or track in the spring, until a doctor has cleared him.
I urge you to take this matter very seriously. Eating disorders are no small matter and must be handled delicately. Please urge Jordan to see a doctor and to take care of himself.
JUNE 11, 2018
Based on True Events
Your father insisted that we camp as far away from the main entrance as we could. It was his favorite spot, you see. I begged him, I pointed out the communal restrooms at the front.
“Do we really want to walk a mile and a half, just to take a shower?” I asked, but he would hear nothing of it. In the end, arguing about it on our first family vacation in over three years didn’t seem worth it.
But how many things had to go wrong that day?
As soon as we parked the car, you demanded to go to the bathroom.
“Why didn’t you go when we asked you?” I demanded, annoyed, “There were restrooms right there!”
“I didn’t have to!” Your voice pitched high in a whine only dogs could hear.
“Okay,” I sighed, “Okay.” I grabbed your hand and walked with you to the Porta-potties twenty yards away, but you balked.
“She won’t use this!” I hollered back to your father.
“Then go to the front!”
“Can we take the truck?”
“It has the tent in it.” He leaned into the cab while he spoke. “If you take both kids, I’ll pitch the ten while you’re gone.”
So we walked a mile and a half back to the front. Thirty minutes of me yanking you along as you grew increasingly uncomfortable. Tears gathered at the corners of your eyes by the time we made it, and a steady stream of urine told me we had made it just in time.
I turned to your sister. “Do you need to go? Because we won’t be back again for a while. It’s Porta-potties from here on out.”
She shook her head.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes!” with a stomp of the foot to boot.
We refilled water bottles and started the trek back. But we had only made it half way when your sister began dancing in her tracks.
“Mommy, I need to go potty!”
“Oh, baby.” I sobbed.
She doubled over. “My tummy hurts!”
I scooped her up, though at four, she was becoming too big to carry, and we rushed back to the bathrooms. But too late. Her underwear was soiled, and when she lowered her pants a little hard poop rolled out onto the cement floor. You scrambled back.
“Sit on the potty!” I cried, desperate that she should not get any dirtier than she already was.
“I poopied in my pants!” she wailed and collapsed onto the filthy floor. I scrambled to grab toilet paper and pick up the stray turd which had rolled under the divider into the next stall, which was thankfully empty at the time.
You started complaining and stomping around the bathroom while I fussed with your sister’s pants. I pulled them off roughly and she cried harder.
“I’m sorry!” I cried in my desperation. “I’m sorry!”
I yanked the filthy underwear, pink with frills, from the legs of the pants and tossed them toward you. “Throw those in the garbage.”
But you darted backward with your hands in the air. “I’m not touching those! Gross!” At that precise moment, the door to the restroom creaked open and a middle-aged woman with capri denim pants walked in, stared at the three of us in varied states of disorder, then turned and walked out.
I crawled across the cold cement, snatched the panties, and threw them in the trash.
“Okay,” I ordered. “Both of you, sit on a pot and try to go. Now!”
My voice had bypassed stern and gone straight to demonic, and you both jumped to obey.
I scrubbed my hands in the sink while you and your sister pulled your jeans back on and prepared to leave. Hand in hand, we made our way back to the campsite, where a pitched tent and fire awaited us. I sank onto the log and hid my face in my hands.
“What took you so long?”
“Don’t ask,” I grumbled.
Not fifteen minutes passed before your sister piped up. “Mommy, I need to go potty!”
“Honey,” your father asked, “Why are you crying?”
JUNE 9, 2018
“It’s traditionally tin or aluminum,” she said, eyeing the package warily, “but I think that refers to the actual gift, not just the wrapping.”
Her husband shrugged cheekily. “I thought it’d be funny.”
I thought it’d be funny, story of their marriage. How many times over the year had they gotten into a fight because he had thought it would be funny to do this or say that? More than she could remember. But still, they had lasted ten years, plus the three before when they were dating and engaged, and they had built a happy enough life together.
She raised an eyebrow and tore into the aluminum foil wrapping around the small rectangular box. “Is it jewelry.”
“You don’t like jewelry.”
At one point in their life, when they had still been dating, she had said she didn’t like to wear much jewelry, and he had taken that as a sign he should never buy her anything. Besides her engagement ring and subsequent wedding ring, he had only bought her one other piece, a necklace with a heart-shaped pendant set with three birthstones, representing their three children. Opal, emerald, yellow topaz. In that order, her babies.
But now, she wished for more. She could ask, of course, but there was something lovely about the idea of a surprise, an unwrapping of a little velvet box containing diamond earrings, or a new bracelet. Even if she didn’t wear it much. Just the joy of owning.
“Hmm,” she guessed again, “Plane tickets?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” She glanced hopefully at him. “We always talked about going to Rome when we had a chance.”
He smirked. “Open it and find out.”
Not a no. Maybe she had guessed correctly. She tore the last piece of aluminum away and crumpled it into a tight ball, thinking with regret only after she had tossed it into the garbage pail, that his use of it had been a waste and maybe she ought to have saved it.
Too late now. It was already touching a dirty diaper.
Inside was a little old cigar box, still smelling of tobacco, and of him. His cigar habit, something he had started just before they got married, and still indulged from time to time. A few times a year, he and his friends would sit on the back porch and puff away. She simultaneously hated the smoke and loved the smell that lingered on his shirt collar when he came inside. Earthy and sweet.
She flipped up the lid. “Oh.”
“You said you needed a new one.”
“Yes, I suppose I did.”
She pulled the can-opener out of the box.
“It’s one of those state of the art ones, so it won’t leave sharp edges, and you don't have to keep gripping it closed.”
“Thanks.” She forced a smile. “You really shouldn’t have.”
JUNE 7, 2018
No one knows how to raise children better than a person who has never had them. Everyone has opinions about every aspect of parenting. Normally those opinions are worthless. They completely miss the nuance of childhood behavioral and emotional development, and the sheer exhaustion parents feel from having to deal with life-altering decisions a million times a day. Suggestion like "Don't let him throw tantrums in public." "Don't let her eat so much candy." will fall on deaf ears. Because tantrums can't be helped, and sometimes candy is the only way to motivate your little rascal to put her shoes on.
But then, every once in a while, someone has a good suggestion.
For me, it came from a friend who has no children of her own. Her advice was to be mindful of the things my children want to communicate, even when they are not able to. Of course, she didn't say it in those exact words. Rather, when I complain about this tantrum, or that fit, she simply asks, "Well, what did your son want?"
At first, it's easy to scoff, to say that, like all non-parents, she is oversimplifying the situation. That she doesn't understand that what my son wants doesn't matter.
Except, that it does.
He is a human, capable of thinking and feeling just as much as I am. Sure, his brain is still growing and developing. Sure, he's still learning about big ideas like safety and love and respect. But every issue I have with his behavior stems from a single thing. I want one thing, he wants another. We disagree.
Simply being mindful of what he wants, even if he cannot communicate his wants, helps alleviate a lot of problems before they begin.
Do I magically avoid every fit and tantrum? Ha, I wish.
But now, when he gets out of bed for the bazillionth time every night, I ask myself, "What is he wanting that he doesn't know how to ask for?" Often, the answer is more attention, he's feeling jealous of his baby brother. And I try to find ways to fill those voids and build his own sense of security so that he doesn't feel the need to act out.
And like all parents... I find it works occasionally, and doesn't work even more occasionally.
JUNE 6, 2018
“You have a year to live.”
“Funny,” I say as I square my shoulders, “I always expected those words to come from a doctor.”
It doesn’t matter who says the words. I’ve been preparing for my death since I was born.
He takes a step toward me. “Most people are frightened.”’
“I’m not frightened of Death.”
I watch him step out of the light, into the shadow. His black hoodie looks torn and loose when no longer illuminates. His face grows gaunt and pale.
“Maybe, you should be.”
“Death comes for us all, right?”
“So what’s the point of fear?”
I wake with a start, heart racing in my chest. Death comes for us all. Words bravely said in a dream, but awake, not so much.
My husband doesn’t budge. He never used to sleep so soundly, but his doctor has him on new meds. Now he falls off within ten minutes and won’t wake until the alarm sounds the next morning.
Even so, I try shaking him, to no avail. I slide out of the bed, pull my bathrobe around my frame and tiptoe into the bedroom next to ours, where our daughters sleep on matching twin beds. I stand in the doorway and watch, mesmerized by their even breathing - in, out, in, out - and the innocence with which they threw their bodies onto their beds. Arms flopped over faces, bodies curled awkwardly. They are still young enough, their bodies haven’t memorized sleep habits yet.
I tiptoe into the room and kneel over each of their forms. Claire first, the younger by only twenty minutes, I kiss her forehead which is damp with the sweat of sleep, then Lara, who stirs when she feels my lips press against her cheek, but doesn’t wake.
They wouldn’t wake. Not for another two hours. And in that time, I won’t sleep. I never could fall back under. Once awake, then I’m up for the day.
I trudge downstairs to start a pot of coffee and to sit in the sunroom to watch the sunrise.
“I had the craziest dream last night.” I say over pancakes. As early as I woke, I had plenty of time to make them.
I explain, about the seemingly normal teenage boy who had transformed into the Angel of Death.
“And he said you only had a year left to live?”
“Yes, isn’t that odd?”
Sleep is harder and harder to come by these days. I can drift in and out of it, but it never lasts for long. Always the boy appears in my dreams, reminding me of his promise.
“Polly, you’re sleeping again!”
I jolt awake. “Sorry!” I cry, straightening my desk. “I’m so sorry.”
“Is something going on?”
“What? No.” I turn to face my boss. Howard. His boring name suits him. Never in the history of the Earth was there a man so boring as Howard. I push my hair behind my ears. “I just haven’t been sleeping well lately.
“Maybe you should see a doctor.”
He’s genuinely concerned, but all I feel is annoyance. That my health has been called into question.
I wait for Howard to leave. I watch his form as it meanders down the hallway toward his own office. Once he is safely out of sight, I drop my head to my keyboard again. Sleep. Sweet sleep.
“It’s not uncommon for people to need sleep less as they age.”
“But I’m exhausted.” And frustrated, that I should have to argue the point with my doctor, who I’ve seen every year, should doubt my need.
He sighs. “We try not to prescribe sleeping medication unless it is a dire need.”
“My husband takes Ambien.” I argue with him, though I know he doesn’t hear me.
He keep talking. “They can become additive, and in rare cases, patients have been known to overdose accidentally.”
I stare at him, dumbfounded. “An accidental overdose?” I ask skeptically.
“It has been known to happen.”
I lean forward and put my forehead in my hands. “So what to I do?”
“Try melatonin,” he suggests. “You can get it in the vitamin aisle at your drugstore. Sometimes people just need to jumpstart their natural processes.”
I look up. “You’re prescribing me a vitamin.”
“Give it a couple weeks, then check back in with me.”
I stand at the check out counter in the waiting room. The receptionist smiles at me. “That’ll be $30.”
Thirty bucks to be told that my problem isn’t a problem. That I just need to jumpstart my natural processes. I force a smile as I dig through my wallet and hand her the cash. “Thank you.”
“Have a wonderful day.”
“You too,” I mumble as I turn away. But my heart freezes in my chest before I take a single step. He’s there. The boy from my dream. Black jeans, black hoodie - an insane choice in the middle of the summer. He’s sitting next to the fish tank, his elbows resting on his knees, looking right at me. My lip shakes, and I blink. Then he’s gone. Or perhaps he was never there. Sleep depravation can do crazy things.
“Are you okay?” the receptionist asks.
“Yeah,” I shake my head to clear it. “Just tired.”
The melatonin worked for a few days. Then it didn’t. When I called my doctor to ask if I should take two pills instead of one, he advised against it.
“We can get you in for a sleep study.”
“I’ll write a referral. The lab should call you within a week.
I set my overnight bag on the floor and sit in the chair, waiting for a nurse to come in. Twenty minutes pass, and I debate pulling out my book and reading, but just as I reach into my bag, the door opens.
The nurse has curly red hair and a bright smile, neither of which I see at first, because just over her shoulder, the boy is there. His tattered black hood whips around in invisible wind. He looks up and meets my eyes, and his face ages. Smooth skin gives way to wrinkles and liver spots. Bags form under his eyes which turn gray and cold. His hair thins and grays. He raises a single finger to his lips, pantomiming silence.
My eyes widen, and I scramble out of my chair, but just as quickly as he was there, he is gone again.
“Goodness me!” The nurse rushes over to me, placing knowledgable hands on my elbow and guiding me back to the chair. “What on Earth?”
“He was here,” I whisper.
“Who was here.”
I shake my head. “No one. No one.”
She takes my racing pulse and my blood pressure. “Higher than we’d like to see.”
“Have you been stressed out lately?”
“Maybe a bit.”
She nods and says nothing, only begins applying probes to my head, so that the clinic can monitor my brain activity while I sleep.
“Does anyone have a hard time sleeping because of these things?” I joke, but I can tell from her expression that she’s heard it all before.
When she’s finished, she stands up, pulls her latex gloves off of her hands and packs up the cart. “The doctor will be in shortly.”
Sleeping at the clinic is impossible. The bed is comfortable, but almost too comfortable. As if they are trying to lull me to sleep, and I can’t help but think it’s a trap. They suggested I follow my typical bedtime routine, so I try reading. But my mind won’t focus on the words, so I turn the light out and stare at the ceiling. The ceiling which is not my ceiling, with its familiar cottage cheese paint job which casts tiny little shadows. At home, I find shapes in the shadows, faces. The faces become characters. They have names and lives and families that will miss them when the lights come on and the shadows disappear.
This ceiling has no such life brewing in its flat surface. I stare and think about Clair and Lara. Would their father have remembered to give them a bath? Did he make sure they ate a vegetable for dinner? I debate calling, but the clock reads 12:30, and even if I did manage to wake him, he would be incoherent.
Eventually I drift off.
“I don’t know what to tell you, Polly. Nothing is wrong with you!”
I look over the charts in front of me. Healthy BMI, healthy heart rate, healthy blood work. Two sleep studies, and neither came back with anything of interest to report except that I seemed to toss and turn a lot.
“Perhaps a new mattress.”
I gape at the doctor. “A new mattress?”
“I need to be able to sleep!” I feel like crying. I feel like I’m going insane. The world has blurred at the edges. Without sleep, I cannot focus on anything except what is right in front of me. The charts which tell me I am healthy.
“Your mind is what is keeping you awake.”
“So give me something to turn my mind off!”
He relents, but grudgingly, and writes a script. “Start with the smallest dosage. Half a pill. Go up to a whole pill if after a week it doesn’t work. Don’t go any higher without consulting me.”
“Thank you!” I cry, grabbing the paper out of his hand.
Sound sleep after going so long without. And two months of it. I’ve never felt so rested. I have been reborn. I am new again, clean and fresh. I have the energy to run around the backyard with the girls. I have started cooking again, instead of bringing home McDonald’s every few days so I can rest on the couch while the girls eat Happy Meals.
The girls are still asleep. It’s a weekend. They stayed up too late the night before. But I don’t mind, because I wake up now feeling healthy.
My husband rolls over and wraps an arm around me, pulling me close. He kisses underneath my ear and runs a hand over my hips and stomach.
I can sense his desire, and I don’t push him away. For months, I had been too exhausted to do much more than lie there. All joy had drained from the act.
But now… I pull him closer. I kiss his lips. I take him inside me.
I close my eyes and experience every moment. The rise and fall of the act. The racing heartbeats inside our chests.
When my eyes open at the climax, I see, not my husband before me, but Death himself, all in black, his face inches from my own.
I scream and pull away.
“What?” He has transformed back into my husband. It is as if He had never been there
“Nothing,” I say, but my heart races with fear now instead of passion, and neither of us feels able to continue. “I’m sorry.”
That night I cannot sleep.
I take a full pill tonight.
Sleep has returned to me.
I meet the boy in black again on the subway. He sits in the seat across from me. I keep my eyes on him, and he watches me the entire ride. He sharpens a scythe without breaking eye contact. I miss my stop and have to get off on the next one. I am late for work, and Howard lectures me on the importance of punctuality.
I can’t sleep. I up the dosage to a pill and a half. What’s the harm? Just another half pill.
The dosage wears off sooner this time.
The boy watches from the sidewalk as I drop the girls off at preschool. He is still there when I emerge again from the building, and I stumble across the road.
He doesn’t move.
“Yeah,” I cry, pointing wildly, “You. Why are you doing this to me?”
The boy says nothing, but he pulls his hood up and turns away before I can get to him.
I reach out a hand and grab his shoulder. “What are you —”
As he reels around to face me, I realize my mistake. Not the boy in black. Not Death. Only Tommy, the kid who lives in the apartment below us. I sometimes see him skateboarding in the courtyard.
“Oh, Tommy,” I mumble, withdrawing my hand. “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay, Mrs. Tilney.” But I can see in his face that it’s not okay. That I’ve frightened him. I try to make amends, but it only makes it worse. I have become a crazy person in his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” I say again as I turn toward the subway entrance.
I didn’t sleep last night. I resolve to try two pills tonight.
Two pills did nothing. I stared at the ceiling all night. The faces came alive. They turned into Him.
Three pills maybe.
I examine my face in the mirror while I wait until my husband has fallen asleep. It’s longer, thinner. The skin is loose and translucent. My hair looks brittle. I look like I’m dying.
I hear the snores rising and falling behind me, then I empty the rest of the pill bottle into my hand.
“I just need to sleep.” The tears trickle down my chin. “Please, just let me sleep.”
I swallow the pills, and the world fades around me.
The boy is waiting for me. He holds out a hand.
“Am I dreaming?” I ask.
I fall to my knees, grateful. “Thank you!”
JUNE 5, 2018
Why I write.
* Sometimes I get bored.
* To stop the conversations playing around in my head.
* Because TV is too predictable
* Because I have something important to say.
* Everyone should have a hobby that uses the creative part of their brain.
* And I'm a mediocre artist.
* And music will wake the kids.
* Once you get started, it's almost impossible to stop.
* The characters you create are so much more real, more important than any character in any other book.
* I like to cry. It's soothing.
* I like to think that love is real.
* Every point of view is unique. Mine too.
* And every novel has a reader.
* I've been journaling since I was 13 years old.
* And sometimes the only moment of the day that I actually get to think straight is when I'm putting words on paper.
* Making stories not only entertains me, but it helps me work through my issues, helps me understand and appreciate the world around me more.
* I may never get published. I may never make a single buck, but that's okay. Because I do this for me. So I can be a healthier, happier version of myself. So the ugly parts of me can escape in ways that don't hurt the people I love (or hurts them less) and so the beautiful parts of me can come through. So I can accept and learn to love all of me, the ugly and the beautiful know that together, they make me complete.
JUNE 4, 2018
That was the warning. Men in all shapes, sizes, ages. Men were a thing to be feared and loved at the same time.
It wasn't a fear of rape, like so many mothers of daughters worry about at some point or another. Or even a fear of accidental pregnancy, because that could be taken care of. Fixed and forgotten.
It was a fear of dependency. Like a commandment carved into stone, we memorized it from an early age, "Thou shalt not become dependent on a man."
Like she had.
She never added that part, I did.
Following this rule was easier said than done. In high school, I was a hopeless romantic way, a nicer way of saying hormonal teenager. If a boy smiled at me, I was in love. If he spoke to me, I planned our wedding. But the commandment demanded that I focus time and energy on studying, not dating. At any rate, boys don't want a smart girl.
In college, the commandment kept me hyper-vigilant to any show of chivalry that might lead to unwanted expectations for more. I kept myself at a distance then despaired my own ignorance.
And when I fell, I fell hard. Into the arms of a boy destined never to grow up. A real life Peter Pan who only wanted the fun of a girlfriend but none of the commitment. I grew dependent, then clingy, then undesirable.
Then I was tossed.
"Thou shalt not become dependent on a man."
Because it only leads to hurt feelings.
The problem with the commandment, besides its inherent hetero-bias - my gay sister successfully avoided falling prey by instead becoming dependent on a woman - is that it demands other sacrifices I was unwilling to make.
Namely - never getting married.
Because marriage is essentially contracted dependence. Even if both partners make enough money to support themselves. Even if they are both perfectly healthy - physically and emotionally. Even if nothing ever goes wrong. They are still dependent on each other.
You find yourself depending on each other for things you never knew you would need.
You depend on the other to provide a listening ear when the day was unexpectedly difficult.
You depend on the other to take over with the children when they are driving you up a wall and you just want to hide in the shower for a few minutes.
You depend on them for a good laugh - that shared sense of humor that only long-term couples have.
For knowing that you're not alone, even when you feel completely alone.
And even if you've told yourself for years that you don't need a man, when the prospect of losing him hangs dark and heavy over you, your whole world starts slipping through your fingers, and you realize. You were dependent on him the whole time.
JUNE 3, 2018
Ping. Ping. Ping.
The Amber Alerts sounded simultaneously on every phone in the diner. Clark looked around, watching as his fellow patrons pulled out their cells and checked.
TWO CHILDREN MISSING - James Holmes, 7 - Jenny Holmes 7 - Last seen walking home from school at the intersection of NE Shady Lane and Flora - Call the TIPS hotline if you have any information.
Clark didn’t need to look at his phone to know what it said. He had the case file in front of him, and his sergeant breathing down his neck to solve the case and solve it fast.
“Two kids this year, Henderson.”
“Same everything.” Sarge took a gulp of his coffee, black. “Two days before Halloween, kid goes missing. No sign of foul play. No clues. Nothing. Then bam, on Halloween night, we find the body. Or what’s left of it.”
It’s the “what’s left of it” that churns Clark’s stomach. He stares at his own coffee, unable to bring it to his lips.
Sarge continues. “The clock is ticking. I want those kids home alive. And I want whoever’s been doing this stopped. This is the last year a kid goes missing on my watch.”
He snatches the case file from the table and tosses a handful of bills onto the table, then walks out. Two days. He’s got two days to find these kids and bring them home. He climbs into his car and backs out of the parking space. Damn parking lot is too crowded. Too many people know about Kate’s biscuits and gravy. Hell if he’s going to find a new place to eat.
He zips down the street toward the Holmes’s house. He’d have to interview the parents. Even though he knew they wouldn’t know anything. Waste of time. But standard procedure is standard procedure.
He slowed his car to a crawl as he drove down Shady Lane. Habit. Everyone knows they’ll pull you over if you even think about going a mile over 25 on Shady Lane, and sure he’s in a cop car now, but he’s been slowing down on Shady Lane since he was sixteen with a brand new license. Muscle memory is hard to break.
Plus, he wanted to see the house.
The witch’s house, he always called it. When he was a kid, he was terrified of it. Everyone was. There was no reason for it. But it was… different.
Stucco and red tile shingles, straight out of the southwest. This house didn’t belong in Kansas City. No sir. The grass had all been replaced with rocks, statues and succulent plants. Everything about it felt off. Out of place. Wrong for this town. This part of KC, people liked things neat and tidy. Beige houses, trim lawns, a couple of trees, and a chain length fence around the back yard. But the witch’s house. Different.
Of course no witch actually ever lived there, witches weren’t real. But he had believed it when he was a kid. So much so that when he walked the streets collecting candy on Halloween, he skipped over this house.
He didn’t skip over the house that day. Corner of Shady Lane and Flora. What are the chances that that house just happened to sit right on the intersection where the two Holmes kids disappeared? A little too convenient. He pulled his car into the driveway and parked it. Checked his badge and his gun, then he was off.
The man answered before he got the third knock in. Like he was expecting it. His face fell when he saw Henderson.
“Sorry,” he coughed, “Detective. What can I do for you?”
Clark leaned into the doorway. “I’d like to ask you a few questions.”
“Is this about the two kids that went missing yesterday?”
The man stepped backward to make a path. Clark licked his lips once, then stepped through the threshold.
It was surprisingly normal, the inside of that house. Pictures of family members hung on the walls in the foyer. In the living room, he passed by a piano and sat in the armchair closest to the door.
“Can I get you something to drink?”
“No thanks” Henderson pulled the file onto his lap. “Did you happen to see anything funny yesterday afternoon, around 3:30?”
“I wasn’t home.”
“Still at work.”
“Where do you work?”
“Cerner. You can call my boss and ask him.”
“Am I a suspect?”
“Right now we’re just gathering information.” Henderson flipped open the file. “Did you know these kids?”
The man nodded. “I’ve seen them playing in the neighborhood a bit. Riding bikes and such.”
“They seem like normal kids?”
“Yeah. You know, sibling squabbles and such. But mostly pretty normal.”
“Squabbles? Over what?”
“Normal kid stuff. Arguing about whose turn it is to ride the bike, stuff like that.”
“You know their parents?”
“I think they just live with their dad.”
Clark raised an eyebrow and jotted down a note. Single dad. That is odd. “Do you know if their dad would have been home at the time?”
“I doubt it,” he said.
“Does anyone watch them after school?” The kids were seven. Someone sure as hell ought to be watching them.
The man shrugged. “No idea.”
Henderson sighed. “Okay, thank you for your time.” He stood and handed him a card. “If you think of anything, give me a call.”
“Yeah, will do.”
Clark sat in his car. Two kids this year, instead of just one. That was different. And a single dad. Kids didn’t have much supervision. In this day and age, when parents hovered over their children, constantly worried about this and that. Strange to have a couple kids like this with no one watching them.
He interviewed a few more neighbors, but didn’t get much else. Everyone said basically the same thing. The kids ran around the neighborhood, no one really watched them.
Well, Henderson thought, someone had been watching them. Someone knew they wouldn’t be seen. But who?
By lunch time, he had nothing except cramped legs and an aching neck. Time to walk the scene the crime. He parked in the school parking lot and walked down the hill toward the children’s house, they way they would have walked home, and looked for clues. Anything to point him in the right direction.
He had made it about thirty feet before he came across the first number.
Written in blue sidewalk chalk on the edge of the concrete. He wrinkled his nose. Weird. He walked another thirty feet.
Someone was marking distance. But why. He pulled out his phone and dialed his sergeant.
“Hey, Sarge, your kids go to St Charles, right?”
“Did they know James or Jenny?”
“Naw, the youngest is a grade above them.”
“Hmm.” Henderson stared at the blue chalk. “I think I found something.”
“Numbers, on the side of the sidewalk. Like someone was marking distance.”
Sarge chuckled. “That’s the size of a foot assignment.”
“Every year, the second graders do this thing where they all go out and measure how far they can get in so many steps, you know? To teach them about how big a foot is. Sandy did it last year.”
“Oh.” Henderson looked at the sidewalk again. “I think the Holmes kids were doing it.”
He got to the intersection where they had disappeared. Number 125 was marked in the corner. He looked to the left, where their house sat, three doors down, then he turned and walked, staring at the sidewalk. But after thirty feet, he didn’t find a number. He walked a little further, still no number. He went back and checked. No number anywhere.
“Did they stop?”
He went back to the intersection, and followed it up the hill, away from their school. But still found no markings. Back to the intersection, and to the right, toward the orange stucco house he hated so much. And there it was. thirty feet on, a little blue 150.
He kept walking.
He started running.
He called Sarge back. “Hey, the numbers go away from the kids’ house.”
“Could be any kids though. We don’t know it’s our kids.”
“Could be. But I got a feeling.”
He kept running.
He skidded to a halt.
“The numbers stopped.”
“Where you at?”
He told him the address. “Looks normal.”
“You can’t go in without a warrant.”
“I know, Sarge.”
“Or probable cause.”
He stared at the house. Normal, sure, but decorated to the nines with Halloween stuff. And not the scary shit some people like. This house was decorated in… there was no other word for it… cutesy Halloween. Sweet little pumpkins with cheery smiles, cartoon ghosts, and…
A big bowl of candy on the front step.
“Who puts out candy two days before Halloween?” he muttered.
“Someone who wants the neighborhood kids to steal it.” Sarge answered. Henderson nearly dropped the phone. He had forgotten he was still on the line.
“Or someone who wants the neighborhood kids to come to him,” he replied.
He stared at the door. No warrant. No probable cause. No getting in, unless he got an invite. He rang the bell, and waited… and waited… and waited… He had just about turned to leave when the main door swung open, and the tiniest elderly woman he had ever seen in his life answered. His shoulders dropped. No way this frail little thing had kidnapped two kids.
He turned back around, “Hello, ma’am. The name’s Detective Clark Henderson. I’m currently investigating two missing children. Perhaps you’ve heard of them? They went missing yesterday afternoon on their way home from school.”
“Oh… no,” she shook her head. “I don’t know anything about any missing children.”
“Do you mind if I come in and ask a few questions?”
She didn’t budge. “No, I’m afraid I can’t right now. You see, I’m preparing a roast, and I have the oven on.”
“It’ll only take a few minutes.”
“I’m afraid it really cannot wait.” She made to shut the door and Henderson craned his neck to see inside. “I’m sorry, officer.”
The door shut and he wrinkled his nose. “Detective.”
He stood on the stoop and stared at the closed door. No judge in the county would issue a warrant for the flimsy evidence of sidewalk chalk numbers and a bowl of candy. He’d be a laughing stock to ask for it. Especially to search the house of a woman who was clearly pushing 90, well on her way to be pushing daisies.
But still… something didn’t feel right.
He turned to leave, and then he heard it. A scream. He froze. He had to be sure. If he barreled into the house and gave that poor woman a heart attack over a TV turned up too loud, he’d lose his job for sure. But then… those charred remains from last year.
Yes, he was definitely sure.
He raced up the steps and whipped open the screen door. He tried the door, maybe he’d get lucky. Not a chance. Locked. Damn.
Another scream erupted from inside, and he stepped back and aimed a kick just to the side of the lock. It failed. Fuck. He tried again, this time, feeling the give as the deadbolt snapped and the door slid open. He drew his gun and stepped inside.
“Ma’am, this is Detective Henderson. I’m coming into your home. If anyone in here is armed, put your weapons down now.”
He stalked around the room, making his way to the connecting kitchen. Nothing. Clean counter tops. Clean table. Oven off.
Oven off. Hadn’t she said she was making a roast?
He kept moving through the kitchen into the dining room, past the dining room into the den. Empty. Everything empty.
“Hello?” he called, “Is anyone here?”
A scream from below answered him. “Help! We’re down here!”
Below. The basement. He checked doors until he found the one in the kitchen that opened to stairs down. “James? Jenny?”
“We’re here!” A little boy’s voice.
“I’m Detective Henderson. I’m coming to get you. Is there anyone else with you?”
“She’s dead,” he replied.
He paused on the stairs. “Dead?” His heart sank. Jenny. He hadn’t been able to save Jenny. He gulped. He just had to get James out. It was still something. He got to the bottom of the stairs and opened the door.
“I’m coming in,” he called, “Keep your hands visible at all times.” He stepped through the door.
Ten years in law enforcement, and he had never seen anything like it. Cages lined the walls, and in the center of the room stood a stand alone stove with its door wide open, a fire crackling inside. He looked around. He recognized James from the file, his face was significantly more dirty. He sat curled with his knees to his chest and his arms wrapped tight, shivering inside a locked cage. Henderson rushed over.
“I’ll get you out.”
James nodded, “Please hurry.”
Henderson tried the lock, but it wouldn’t budge. “Get as far back as you can, and cover your ears.” He waited for James to retreat, then lifted his gun and aimed.
The shot rang out, and James jumped and started to cry. But no matter, the lock crumpled and Henderson yanked the door open. “Here.” He put his gun back in its holster. “Here. I’m here. It’s okay.”
James crawled out, clinging to Clark like a monkey clinging to a branch. Henderson hoisted him up on his hip. “Where’s your sister.”
“In the corner.”
Henderson drew a breath. He had to check. He inched slowly to the corner and found the pile of dirty clothes, the St. Charle’s uniform. He knelt down and touched it.
The pile jumped, and he fell backward. “Argh!”
Then the pile started to cry.
“Jenny?” James pulled away from the detective and crawled to his sister, wrapping arms around the thin frame hidden in the clothes. The crying intensified, and Henderson recognized the face that emerged from beneath folded arms.
“I’m here to help.”
She nodded but said nothing.
Henderson looked around the room. “Where’s the old lady?” he asked.
Jenny sobbed and pointed at the oven in the middle of the room.
“I had to,” she whispered.
Who knows whether your first memory is really a memory, or whether it is just a suggestion, a story told a thousand times over the years, until it feels like a memory. I have a story like that. I think we all do.
I have a story, a scar, and a lingering sense of resentment. And a sister.
The story goes like this:
Once upon a time, my family lived across town in a house that was a smidgen too small. Our driveway - in my mind it only fits one car across, but I have no way of verifying that - sloped down at a steep angle into the backyard. This I do remember, or my parents remember. Same thing right? Collective memory.
My sister, a good three and a half years older than me, had a scooter. Not one of those sleek silver ones you see kids on these days. Hers was plastic. Blue base, where she rested her left foot while she kicked off with her right, and yellow and white handlebars. She was permitted to walk her scooter to the top of the driveway and skate down it into the backyard. Minimal supervision for the older child.
I, on the other hand, had a pink tricycle, specially weighted with a low seat and enormous front wheel. Guaranteed never to tip. Not that I didn't try. I got staples in the back of my head from popping a wheelie on a tricycle. But that's a different story. That happened earlier. I have no memory of that.
I was relegated to the bottom of the driveway, where my parents could keep an eye on me as they did yard work. Yard work meant picking up the myriad of sticks that littered the yard after the storm the previous night. I assume one of those springtime Midwest almost-a-tornado specials. But who knows?
Sometimes I get this memory confused with the stories I've heard of the "Great Flood of '93" but I don't remember the flood. Not at all.
I do remember the feeling of unfair. Unfair that my sister had the better toy. Unfair that she had the freedom. I cycled around the flat pavement, watching my parents bundle larger sticks and throw smaller ones in paper lawn bags. But I longed for more. The feeling of wind against my face, free falling down a steep driveway. Almost like flying.
Was there ever a time in my life when I wasn't obsessed with flying? No, probably not. Another fun story - on that informed my mother's decision to enroll me in swim lessons - involves me attempting to leap over the railing of a riverboat as we toured down the Mississippi. Mark Twain style.
I don't know how it happened. My parents turned their eyes at just the right time. I suspect my sister goaded me a bit. Bragged that she was having more fun, no doubt. But at some point in time, I found myself at the top of the driveway with my own left food planted on the flat blue plastic. I pushed off, and I flew.
Figuratively. The first time, I flew figuratively. But after one has experienced such bliss, how can they be expected to give it up?
How many times did I fly down that driveway? How many times did I hurtle down that dangerous slope while my parents cleaned the yard?
One time too many.
On the last time, I hurtled down the slope and right into the waiting pile of sticks. Did I lose control or did I purposefully land there? Did I think it would be soft, like a pile of leaves? Maybe a little scratchy? No one knows for sure.
What I do know is that one of those sticks happened to pierce the skin just below my left nostril. That it got stuck there. That my mom had to rush me to the emergency room. Not the first trip. Not the last.
I do know that I have a tiny scar under my nose and if anyone asks, I tell them, "I got a stick stuck up my nose."
It's a story I've told a thousand times.
My first thoughts at 3 am were not unlike my first thoughts any other morning. My brain sings along with the alarm clock tune. Doo-do-do-do-do. I think it's nice how music rules my subconscious. Did I spell that right? Shrug. My handwriting is significantly worse.
Now that I'm up, I'm hungry. And I have to pee.
You know how some people say things like, "It's bad manners to talk about money?" Yeah. I was raised by one of those. Money? Not a common topic of conversation around the watering hole when I was growing up.
I learned all of the important things. Net Profit = Earnings - Expenses. Etc... etc... My mom taught me to save, opened up an account for me when I was a baby and strongly encouraged me to put half or more of all birthday money in it.
See, children are expensive. Young children especially so. Unless you stay home with them, which many women do very successfully, then you have to pay for daycare. And here in the grand old US of A, with daycare, you really get what you pay for.
Want someone cheap? You could be leaving your baby with five or six others ranging anywhere from 6 weeks to 5 years old in the overstuffed living room of the stressed out mom down the street.
But if you want someone quality, someone state certified, someone who not only provides excellent loving care but also curriculum specially designed to give your kid an extra boost before he hits kindergarten...
Honey, you're gonna pay. A lot.
In America, it's not uncommon for a household to spend $1,000-$2,000 a month on early child care. More in expensive cities. Kansas City is pretty low on the cost of living spectrum, yet I pay close to $2,000 every month to send my boys to the best - or what I view is the best - daycare and preschool in the city.
And I love them. I literally cannot think of enough wonderful things to say about this facility. They are so good at what they do. My sons are loved - genuinely loved - at their school. My oldest wants to learn. He loves learning. To me, it's priceless.
But oh so expensive.
It wasn't bad when we only had one kid. Once he hit preschool, his cost of tuition went down. We were doing just fine. But Baby #2 arrived last summer, and ever sins, the overall balance on our bank accounts has been steadily decreasing.
For the first time in my life, my net worth is going down not up, and I am freaking out. Even when I was unemployed right out of college and had to work side jobs wherever I could find them, I still managed to put away some cash here or there.
I can't blame the boys. They are expensive, sure, but they do not choose to be so.
NOTE: When I began this project, I promised myself I wouldn't cheat by changing prompts or editing my work before posting it. I wanted readers to see the original ideas as they emerged from my mind. However, the rest of this entry is personal, and I have decided to keep it to myself. I wrote it out in my notebook, and in my notebook it will remain. I hope you understand.
I'm a teacher, so I make all my appointments during summer break. School ended the previous Wednesday, I saw my doctor less than a week later.
It had been over four years since I went to the doctor. I was purposefully avoiding it. Not because I don't like my doctor - I do - but because I don't particularly enjoy PAP smears. "Who does?" you may ask. And you've got a point, but once upon a time, I read a study that said for people who don't have a family history of cervical cancer, one PAP every three years is sufficient.
But this story isn't about PAP smears. No one wants to read that. It's about depression.
Because the only reason I even went to the doctor on Tuesday was to get a refill of anti-depressents.
I started back on them four years ago, around the time my first son was born and I felt so much built-in anxiety and fear that I couldn't leave the house without crying. Prior to that, I had only needed them in college, and had been forced to quit when my parents' health insurance dropped me and I couldn't afford them on my own. That was pre-Obamacare.
I got that post-partum prescription from my OBGYN and to game the system, I visited my general practitioner and got a second prescription. For six months, I filled the script twice and stockpiled pills. After the first six months, I called the GP, got the script renewed and was well on my way.
I did this for a few years, until my GP insisted I visit the office to get it renewed. Instead, I returned to the OBGYN and got a new script there. Long story short, I made a habit of returning to the doctor who asked the fewest questions.
Then I had baby #2. A miscarriage in between kept me off the meds for long enough that I managed to store almost a year's worth of anti-depressants. I even tried staying off them postpartum, but the suicidal thoughts came creeping back and I bit the bullet - figuratively - and went back to popping pills.
Unfortunately, the OBGYN office, about that time, started pushing therapy to encourage new moms to have actual discussions instead of merely medicating.
Now I know I should have done it, but dammit, I just wanted the meds. I got a few months worth to tide me over, then got back in to see my GP.
Which is how last Tuesday, I ended up in the doctor's office for the first time in several years.
It really was a perfectly normal visit. Blood pressure, pulse, height and weight. I always tell myself not to look at my weight when they write it down. I always do. And I always feel bad after.
I put on the gown. I answered the questions. Th nurse was new. She kept getting flustered over forgetting to do this or that. She stumbled over simple questions.
"Have you ever been pregnant?"
"How many full-term births?"
She forgot to ask how many that didn't make it. One, by the way. Normally they ask.
"When was your last period?"
Fuck if I know. I'm terrible about keeping track. And having kids throws it all off anyway. I used to be a solid 7-day flow. Two heavy, two medium, two light, and a little spotting, and I was done. Now, the damn thing goes off and on. Two weeks of being unsure. Am I? Am I not? A day or two of flow, a day or two of spotting. I'll think I'm done, then it will come back like a monsoon. A bloody monsoon.
But I answered all the questions agreeably, because I want to get out. I want to move through the unnecessary aspects of the visit and go straight to the important part. The prescription pad.
After she leaves, Doc comes in and does a general once over. Light in the eye, throat, ear, nose. Listen to my breathing. Maybe a little raspy. Pollen has been bad this year.
She was overly bright, and her voice grated on my nerves. But she holds the key to salvation, so I smile and nod and force a laugh or two.
Then she asks, "Is there anything else you need from me today?"
I always wonder if I will chicken out. If the obviousness of my visit will make me feel impolite, or as if I am using her, and I will shake my head and say, "No." I didn't, not this time. But I have in the past.
"Yes. I've been taking Lexapro, but I ran out of refills."
She agreed readily. I wonder if she suspected it all along. She filled out the script in seconds, then reached into a drawer.
"I need you to fill out this questionnaire before you leave." She pauses, "For insurance purposes."
Ah, the dreaded depression questionnaire. I've filled out a handful in my time. And I've always been honest. Even though my answers always earn the concerned expression, and the reminder that, "This is serious."
Do you think about death?
All the fucking time.
Do you think about suicide or hurting yourself?
Yes. (Who doesn't?"
Who doesn't? Apparently most people. I didn't realize how abnormal my normal was until I started asking around a couple years ago.
Do you have a plan?
This is the hard one to answer. The truth is yes, but I hate admitted it.
Do you have the means to carry out your plan?
No. Hard no. I'm smart enough to know not to keep matches around a pyromaniac.
There are other questions, but it doesn't matter. Honest or no, all they do is make me feel like a freak. Like there's something inherently wrong with me, just because I answered the questions a certain way. I know that's not the point, but I still walk away feeling wrong.
I died on a Tuesday. It rained al day. Thank the Lord, because the grass needed watering. But also, the rain is what killed me. The rain, plus tires that I had intended on replacing three months ago.
Death, it turns out, is not much like the movies. Or it's like some movies, but not others.
I had the sense of waking in a field full of flowers, surrounded by beauty. My first words were, "Where's Jacob?" My three-year-old son had been sitting in the back seat. I was alone. No one answered me.
Time flashed forward in those first moments. I was lying on the ground, then I was walking along a tidy brick road, but I had no recollection of standing. The field of flowers late just out of my line of sight when I came across the littler girl, standing over a broken jar of cookies.
"Oh," I whispered, repeating the words that were once spoken to me. "What have you done?"
"It wasn't me," she sobbed, "It was the ghost."
"Maisie wanted one. I was trying to get it for her."
"Ah well, these things happen."
I gazed upward to stare at the sun. Blinding hot. Too hot. I needed water, but there was none in sight. Perhaps if I moved onward. I pulled my coat off and left it at the side of the road.
A tree cast a shadow over the road. I stumbled over a loose brick and caught the eye of a group of preteens playing in the branches.
"Do it, Jane," they egged me on.
"Do what?" I asked.
I looked around and saw her. Little Maddy. Not so little. We used to call her fatty Maddy. All through school, we teased her. The usual stuff - tripping as she walked by our desk, name-calling at recess. Harmless stuff. Until fifth grade.
She had been so big then, but now she looked tiny.
"No." I said. But even as the words left my mouth, my hands reached forward and gave her a shove. She toppled down the hill, landing with a sickening crunch at the bottom. I didn't need to look, but I did. The blood gushed from her mouth, half a tooth lay on the grass in front of her.
"I'm sorry." I whispered. "I did it to fit in."
I walked down the path, past Fatty Maddy with her blood and her tears. I kept my eyes on the broken bricks before me, unable to face her pain again.
The path led to a door. I opened it without seeing. The noise greeted me, blaring music. An arm fell over my shoulder.
"Jane! You made it!"
"Where are we?"
Kasey, my college roommate, tilted her head back and laughed. "The part of the century, baby." She grabbed a plastic cup from the table and forced it in my hand. "Kappa Kappa Chi."
Time jumped forward and I wobbled as the room tilted.
She was no where. Except, I knew where she was. Maybe I could save her. This time. I ran for the stairs, but stumbled over my clumsy drunk feet.
Which door? Which room? I slammed open doors in my search for her.
"Kasey, where are you?"
Too late. Again.
She sat at the top of the stairs. A bruise already forming on her shoulder. She clutched her stomach.
"Why did you leave me?"
She hadn't asked that before. She had been grateful.
"I wanted to hang out with Pete." I had wanted him to like me. To find me interesting and cool. "I didn't realize."
"Just go away."
I fell backward. Down the stairs, out the door, back to the mangled path of chipped rocky brick.
"How much more?" I cried. There was no answer.
The path turned steep, rocky, impossible to navigate. I watched myself marry Pete, have our first kid, fight, cry, make up. Repeat.
Why had we fought so much over stupid stuff? Because I wanted to be more, do more, experience more.
Then it was Tuesday. My Tuesday. The road had turned smooth, slick with the rain.
"Shit," I muttered, turning the engine, "We're late."
"Shit!" Jacob repeated in the back seat.
"Don't say that word, baby." I backed out of the driveway. "Daddy's earning a big aware tonight. Are you excited?"
I maneuvered past slower drivers, passing them on the way to the banquet hall.
The highway would be quicker, but packed from early rush hour.
"Don't do it," I told myself, but my hands had a will of their own, and I pulled onto the entrance ramp.
45 miles an hour.
60 miles an hour.
"Slow down," I said, even as my foot pressed on the gas, and my hands steered the wheel.
65... 70... 75 miles an hour.
Then the little black Beetle pulled in front of me and I slammed the brakes and spun the wheel.
"NO!" I screamed, landing on the pile of shattered brick, glass, and garbage.
I looked up.
He wore a suit and tie, but I still recognized him. Satan himself.
"Where's Jacob?" I cried.
June 16, 1956
Another chicken got eaten by a fox last night. I found the feathers in the grass as I was walking to the coup to feed them. Mammy says we ought to wring the necks of the rest of them and eat fried chicken for three weeks straight, but Pap won't hear of it. He likes the eggs, and he says the rooster will be sad. He winked at Mammy when he said it, and she turned bright red.
I don't know why. Charlie says I'll learn soon enough. I said, "Ain't older brothers supposed to teach kid sisters stuff?"
Then he chased me out of the barn with his pitchfork filled with horse manure and str and said he was teaching me to mind my manners.
Mammy says I have to start settling down. That I need to learn to be a lady. She's set me to embroidering kerchiefs all afternoon for my hope chest.
But at thirteen, I already know there's no hope for me. I'm two inches taller than Paul Henderson who lives in the neighboring farm. I stood back to back with him at church last Sunday, and we measured. No one wants to marry a giant.
Mammy says I should wait for Paul to shoot up. She won't let me stoop. If she catches me at it, she snaps her broom handle across my shoulders. "Stand up straight." she says.
She says God wouldn't have made me tall if he didn't think I ought to be it. "Tall girls are closer to Him." She reminds me to always think on that. That He wanted me close.
Still, tall is cumbersome. I feel like my head pokes up above everyone else's at Sunday school. Like I'm a corn stalk in a field full of soy. Like I don't belong.
I spent all afternoon on those silly handkerchiefs, putting in my first initial and a daisy, because a daisy is all I really know how to do well. Mammy tried to teach me others, but they don't look so nice.
When Charlie came in from milking the cows, he pulled my braid and teased me mercilessly. Little does he know, I snuck a special surprise into his bed while he was about his chores.
Mam says to put the candle out and go to bed, so this is all for now.
May God watch over the soul of the sweet little hen who will no longer be laying eggs for Pop.