Posted on | January 7, 2016 | 4 Comments
I always make J hold my hand in parking lots. It just makes me feel safer. Usually he balks at it or gives me a look… but not this time. This time he slid his hand into mine without a single complaint.
Banks was a few steps ahead and we were all talking about who knows what, following him into Target where I picked up one of those red plastic baskets. We turned the corner down the first aisle, and my steps suddenly slowed. Banks plowed on ahead but I couldn’t speed up; something was weighing me down, or perhaps lifting me up. There, tucked forgotten in my hand, was the hand of my child. He was chattering about something, probably the game he was about to play in the electronics section, and hadn’t yet noticed that his hand was still tightly gripping mine.
Banks turned and started to tell us to pick up the pace, but his eyes met mine then trailed down to the twisted love knot of hands and he paused. He slowed his steps to match ours and looked at me over J’s head with a smile.
“It won’t be long,” he murmured, knowing without me saying that this moment would pass too quickly. Knowing as I did that in the swiftest matter of moments he’d be too big, too grown for holding my hand. Because it won’t be long, you know, these moments of childhood where I am his and he is mine? It won’t be nearly long enough.
I was reminded of the conversation I had with a friend as she battled for her life against the cancer that eventually won. She was angry, so angry, and sad… and she said to me that her daughter was her whole world. Her whole damn world. And yet, at only almost three, there was no way her life would ever be shaped by her mother. Her little girl would grow and age and become the person she was meant to be and her mother, my friend, would be just a faded memory in a photo album, no one she ever really knew. It wasn’t long enough for them, those three short years.
But it never is.
I choked back the tears as J noticed he was still holding my hand and sheepishly pulled away.
I watched him run ahead to the video game and felt my shoulders curl with the weight of reality… the weight of understanding that, God willing, his whole life is before him and mine is not. Age tugged at the length of my spine until I felt that I would crumble with the knowledge that I am older than I often believe myself to be, and time is continuing to march its way across my body and mind.
We never really know, do we, how much time we have left? How much time the people we love have left. So we reach for tiny hands, we kiss the tops of foreheads, we yell “I love you” out the window of a moving car so it’s the last thing they hear us say.
Because there’s no telling how much time is left or how quickly it will evaporate into wisps of memories that will one day, all too soon, disappear.
So no matter how much longer I have to hold his hand in mine… it will never be long enough. I will always want one more moment… one more hug, one more kiss, one more squeeze of the hand… one more “I love you.” And I will write those moments down, over and over, creasing them into the folds of my heart so they are treasured and remembered for the special-ness they represents.
Even if it’s just a moment in Target, when a little boy forgets he’s “too big” to hold his mother’s hand.
Posted on | January 5, 2016 | 1 Comment
When I sat down to write a recap post for last year, I didn’t really know where to start. In a lot of ways, it was a quiet year, and in a lot of ways it wasn’t. In many ways, it was a fantastic year, and in several ways it wasn’t. So my thoughts and words were all over the place, looking for something to tie them all together… something that could somehow help me make sense out of such an amazingly magical and sometimes heartbreaking year.
But as I thought back on the year, my mind kept circling around the concept of the Chinese New Year, which… of course… is not until February. I’ve never really put a lot of effort into knowing what makes each animal of the Chinese “zodiac” work or what each represents, except to know that I am, inexplicably, a Snake which seems infinitely wrong on multiple levels. 2015, in Chinese culture, was (and is, until February 20th) the year of the Sheep (or the goat, depending, but for my purposes, I choose Sheep.)
Doesn’t that just seem like an accurate way to knit together this year? A sheep. A peaceful, slightly slow, fluffy bleat of a year, where everything sort of wove into perfection somewhere around November 21, when a certain Snake pulled on a white dress and swept her way down an aisle. A sheep.
Yes. 2015 was both a black and white sheep: the year where I lost my grandmother but gained my husband. A year where I learned that love is many things but above all else it is patient. And kind. 2015 was the year that I asked myself what it was… what it is… that I want out of all the years to come, and it was the year that I answered with a resounding yell that this… all of this… is what I want. This man. This son. This job. This city. This Me. It was the year that finally I sheared away the remnants of the life I thought I wanted before and stretched into the newness of my life now. It is the year that will forever be carved into my soul as the year I held my breath as death crept into a still room, the year I breathed deep the cool winds off the Seine, the year I laughed, breathless, in Barcelona, the year I shouted a “yes” into the thinness of air at the top of Montserrat.
And just like any good sheep, 2015 is now shorn and ready to regrow, rebirth, re-embrace what comes next in the world. Though there are still two more months ahead of weaving the wool of my world into something warm to carry me forward, I have to say that the odds are in my favor for 2016.
After all, 2016 is the year of the Monkey.
Posted on | December 11, 2015 | 7 Comments
I could tell you nothing went wrong.
I could sit here and spin a story of how everything went off without a hitch and the day and night of my wedding were absolutely how I imagined them. And it wouldn’t exactly be a lie. Of course, it wouldn’t exactly be the truth, either.
The truth is, almost nothing was the way I thought it would be.
But then… the truth, also, is that everything was just so much better.
Banks got emotional and recited his vows while staring down the minister. A button on the back of my dress kept popping open so even on the walk down the aisle, there was a little gap in the back of the gown. I never even noticed if the guitar player played the song I wanted to walk down the aisle to. The dance floor stayed covered with 2-10 year olds and I can’t remember if any of the rap songs we wanted were played.
And I danced. And laughed. And cried a few times. And everything, EVERYTHING, was so much better than I thought it would be. If you had whispered in my ear back in 2011 that in four short and long years, I would be right here… I never would have believed you. Because who could imagine that this was around the corner: this type of bliss; this type of love; this type of happiness.
J walked me down the aisle and danced the mother/son dance with me without any coaxing. Banks and I danced our first dance while belting out Tennessee Whiskey along with Chris Stapleton. Most of the wine and almost none of the beer was consumed.
And at the end of the night, I was Mrs. Banks.
Posted on | October 30, 2015 | No Comments
It’s almost Halloween, so it sort of feels appropriate that I’m spending the majority of my days scared out of my mind.
Of course, it’s not the witches and werewolves and vampires that are haunting my sleep… it’s the everyday reality of blending a family. I feel absolutely petrified, frozen in place, unable to even turn my head without the fear that something is going to creep around the corner and remind me that none of this easy. At all.
Banks moves in to the house where J and I live in only two weeks.
Banks officially becomes part of the family that J and I have created in only three weeks.
And I am one shaky breath away from a full and total collapse over all the potential pit falls and worrisome “what ifs” that come along with taking this step back into marriage.
Do I love him?
Does he love me?
Is that enough to make all this work?
Who. The. Hell. Knows.
Because everything is frightening now. Everything is real and scary and rubbing raw the old but still so new skin that has grown in to cover my scars.
Will he love my son the way a father should?
Will he love a second child more?
Will J always feel like he’s an outsider to a family of three when there’s a new child in the picture? Will he feel unloved? Will he worry that he’s not enough for me? Will Banks do everything in his power to make J feel like he’s HIS child just as much as any natural born son or daughter?
I don’t know.
I hope so.
I think so.
But I don’t know.
And the worries and doubts and fears swirl around my head until I’m dizzy and nauseated with the overwhelming urge to run to somewhere where I can know that my child is safe and loved and protected.
But then I remember that this is life.
This messy, dirty, crazy, stupid, wonderful, uncertain path? This is my path. And Banks and I will do whatever we can to make this work.
Would it be easier to say “No?” To turn and run and continue to stitch closed the cocoon of love I have built around my child and I?
Would it be easier to walk away and try for the rest of my life to keep my son sheltered and away from the harsh realities of the world?
But would I be happy that way?
Long down the road, when J has packed away the small clothes and his room no longer boasts ninja turtles and picture books… who will I be then? Who will he be then? And will both or either of us be better or worse people because of having Banks in our lives until then?
I think the answer is better.
I think having Banks makes us better. He makes us stronger. He makes us trust and love and embrace what is outside this soft blanket of a life we’ve knit for ourselves.
And so I bat the fear away again, reminding myself that I can do this. That I will do this. That sometimes the best experiences in life are the ones that scare you the most.
Posted on | October 28, 2015 | No Comments
“All you ever do is clean,” he pouted from the living room sofa. “You NEVER spend time with me anymore.”
I was in the kitchen, unloading the dishwasher and cleaning up from dinner. We’d been from school to karate to a frozen yogurt store and then home and had dinner and I was feeling burnt out and exhausted from all the things I was doing FOR him. Get up, get him dressed, get him to school, leave work to pick him up early, buy a new karate belt, sit through 30 minutes of karate, buy him frozen yogurt, cook him dinner, insist he finish his homework.
“My days are spent doing things for you,” I wanted to shout. “EVERYTHING I do is for you.”
I mean, hell, I don’t watch any shows that aren’t on Nickelodeon or Disney. I don’t listen to music that isn’t kid approved. I don’t even spend my evenings writing anymore because dammit every. last. thing. I. Do. Is. for. him.
But as I rounded the corner with those words on my lips, with those thoughts in my head, with that sheer annoyance in my eyes… I saw him. He was on the sofa with a quilt bunched around him. He was in his pajama bottoms with no shirt, his new favorite way to sleep, and he looked… little. Sometimes it seems I forget how little he really is.
He had a look of annoyance on his face, a look that said he was ready to counteract anything I said with an argument of his own. He was ready to give me a billion and one reasons why he was right and I was wrong… it was the same look I felt on my own face, the same look I felt in my own heart… and it stopped me cold.
In the floor, a lone tennis shoe lay on its side, velcro open and ready to snag. He’d strewn his clothes across the floor when he put on his pajamas, and his plate from dinner was still lying on the table beside him. The living room looked… lived in. I sighed inwardly. He needed to clean it all up. I needed him to clean it all up. Because living in a house that isn’t cluttered is important to me.
But is it important to him?
It was almost seven o’clock. Bedtime was just around the corner. And there he sat, suddenly small and full to the brim with missing me… even though I was right there.
Because even though I’d spent my day doing things for him, I hadn’t really done anything WITH him. And that’s a big difference… a HUGE difference. If I stopped and told him to clean up, he would do it. He would do it FOR me. And we’d continue to circle around each other, each of us doing for and neither of us doing with.
So I went to the bedroom and plugged in my phone, then left it there. I ignored the clutter for a while and just sat beside my son, letting him lean his head back against my chest as we watched a television show. Because even though it’s just television, it’s something we were doing together. Something we were doing with each other … not for each other.
And it seems like I’ve been forgetting the difference a lot lately.
Posted on | September 16, 2015 | 4 Comments
The hotel felt sterile yet safe after the closeted warmth of her mother’s house. Tyler had pitched a bit of a fit over leaving but he seemed soothed by the fact that Des would be just down the hall at the hotel. Kate had thrown their things haphazardly in the corner and then sank onto the bed while Ty ran around opening every drawer and cabinet to see “if anyone left anything cool.” It had been a long time since she’d stayed in a hotel in her own hometown, but she could still remember the last time as if it were yesterday. It hadn’t been this exact hotel and Tyler hadn’t been there, but still this room… this scenario felt oddly familiar.
Greg had been with her then, his hair a mess of tangled curls and wearing that ridiculous floor length trench coat that was half sexy and half stupid. He loved that trench coat, even though Kate told him he looked like a cross between a child molester and one of those park flashers you read about in Central Park. He’d winked at the desk clerk when he asked for an upgrade to a king size bed, and Kate had flushed crimson with delight and mortification. She’d never known anyone like Greg, at least not anyone who had ever paid her any attention. He was so confident, full of charm and oozing with sex appeal.
The minute she’d seen him settle into her section at work, she’d been unable to tear her eyes away. He’d been with two friends, laughing and talking about what she assumed would be ridiculously sophisticated things like chicory coffee and the finer points of the latest art house movie. She had leaned against the bar, self consciously running her hand through her hair and wondering what she could possibly say to interest him. It was the first time she’d every actually wanted anyone, the first time she’d thought about just slipping her number across the table to him with a seductive wink and maybe let him take her home on or before the first date. It had been Allie, the bold and brassy bartender who told her to just do it… to just step outside of her comfort zone and make the first move.
She’d slid a shot across the bar and watched as Kate slammed it back, then coached her on an approach. Kate had tried to look as seductive as possible in the over-sized uni-sex uniform shirt, and sidled over to the table with a smile. She’d shamelessly flirted with him, ignoring his friends, and at the end of the meal, she’d slid into the booth beside him, slipped him her number, and told him to call her. She’d been someone else for the day, someone confident and sexy, and he’d bought it. She had a call from him the next day and two days later, he’d been in her bed.
With Greg, everything was an act. She was able to take on an unfamiliar attitude and unfamiliar actions. She was seductive, free-spirited, totally unconcerned with being proper or anything else she’d spent her life being. Greg took her for her first tattoo, her first piercing, and gave her her first orgasm. Kate had always been regular, like clockwork, and when she didn’t start on the Monday circled in her planner, Allie had taken her to the Dollar Store to pick up not one but seven home pregnancy tests. They’d crouched together, heads down, watching one after the other signal pregnancy until in exasperation, Kate hurled the handful against the wall. She wasn’t sure who she most afraid to tell, Greg or her parents.
It turned out that both were easier than expected. Greg had looked momentarily ashen but still went with her to break the news to her parents. They handled it with the same pale-faced acceptance that Greg had and never once even asked about marriage. When Tyler was a few months old Greg had taken Kate and the baby to dinner where he unceremoniously slid a white box across the table with a “What do you say?” It wasn’t the proposal of her dreams but she nodded and slid the ring around her finger, because it was there, even if there were no other reasons. They were married at the courthouse exactly one month later. They waited to tell her parents after they were married, slinging the news like a wayward skee-ball into the gaping mouths of Samantha and Jackson. They’d taken the pregnancy better than the marriage. So had Max. Kate had watched her mother stand and busy herself at the kitchen counter, wishing she’d say something, anything to acknowledge the news. But in true Samantha fashion, she revealed nothing, only nodding in ascension when Kate asked her if she was listening. Her father had, of course, shaken Greg’s hand firmly, kissed Kate on the forehead, and disappeared to his bedroom, claiming a headache. And then it was over.
The news had been delivered and there was nothing left to say. Samantha invited them to stay for dinner, but they’d anticipated the invite and made plans with Max in advance. Max had been the first person Samantha had told she was pregnant, even before Greg. Max had pulled her aside to discuss the marriage, begging her to get it annulled or go ahead and get divorced. He told her she was too good for Greg, but she didn’t feel even remotely good enough for anyone else. She was damaged goods. She’d tried so hard to be who he wanted that she’d forgotten anything and everything about who she was. She’d just lost all of herself in Greg.
Of course things didn’t work out. Maybe deep down, she’d expected they wouldn’t. She knew that marrying Greg wouldn’t solve any of the problems she’d created in her life, but she hadn’t anticipated the intense loneliness she felt when he began to so fully ignore her. It started so slowly that she barely noticed. First, she was so tired with the pregnancy and then with the newborn Tyler who never slept, that she went to bed moments after the sun went down. Greg complained it was too early and he stopped lying still beside her in their double bed as she tossed and turned into sleep. After that, it was his extra work, picking up hours that kept away well into the evening with the exasperated explanation that “Diapers cost money, Katie.” God she’d hated when he started calling her that, as if she were that yellow lab that lived down the street from her parents, all obedience and desperate for attention.
Slowly, he slipped away from her, forgetting birthdays and anniversaries and every major holiday. And when she stayed beside him, he began to call her names, insinuating that Tyler wasn’t his, pushing her past the point of breaking with the sheer hatred in his voice. And yet she stayed, making the bed she’d chosen to lie in with as cheerful a smile as she could muster. She spent more time than she’d like to admit propped against the coolness of the refrigerator door, begging for some sort of release from the nightmare.
Of course, having Tyler helped, with his sweet smile and his father’s curls. Everything in her life began to revolve around only him, so much so that finding Greg in bed with their neighbor barely brought tears to her eyes. She just stood there, holding Tyler close to her chest, and watched as they scrambled up and around for clothes. She wasn’t surprised when Greg packed his things and moved across town after that, but somehow, she was shocked when he sent the divorce papers.
There wasn’t anyone to really turn to. She’d shut out most if not all of her friends out of fear and she wasn’t going to call Samantha. Finally, she called Max and it was Max who told her parents. They’d shown up three days later and the whirlwind known as her mother whisked Kate’s home and life back into Samantha’s form of order. After the endless abuse from Greg, she was too broken to fight back. She let Samantha walk her through school applications and let her pack and clean and tidy up the pieces of what Greg had left behind.
It was the only time in her life that she could remember feeling glad that her mother was around.
Posted on | September 15, 2015 | No Comments
The bedroom door had barely closed behind her when the tears began. Everything she’d worked to protect against, everything she’d fought so hard to prevent from happening was playing out in front of her. Her little family she’d carefully wrapped and sealed was unraveling at the seams and nothing she could do could stop the bleeding. Around her, the room seemed impossibly perfect: the bed tucked and pressed with hospital corners sharp and pointed, the drawers closed tightly, the furniture arranged just so, and not a speck of dust in the air. If she opened the closet door, she knew what she’d see… rows of neatly pressed clothes and perfectly aligned shoes. Each drawer was perfectly stacked with every item exactly where it needed to be. Jackson liked order; he liked to know where everything was at every moment, and she’d spent so much time learning where his mind believed things should be.
She closed her eyes against the room and wiped at her cheeks, smudging tears and make up across her face. Samantha let the door hold her up for a moment, then she slid down the smoothness, hooking her hand on the door knob and turning the lock. It was her turn to shut out the world, at least for a little while.
She remembered the first time Jackson had shut her out, that night was burned into her memory. She’d been desperate to see him in the hospital, desperate to touch his face and feel the warmth of his body beside her. The doctors had kept her at a distance, saying he didn’t want visitors and that even family was too much for him those first few days. When days turned into a week and then two weeks, she had slipped in anyway, climbing into the bed beside him and resting her head against his chest. He’d stirred briefly and for a moment she thought he was about to hug her close. Instead, his eyes moved over her face as if she were a stranger and the movement in his hand was to grasp the call button and summon someone to take her away. She’d begged and pleaded with him, tried to show him the photographs of little one year old Max and his precious Kathryn, but he’d turned his back to her the best he could amid the tubes and wires, and the last look she had of him before he came home was the dark red patchwork of scars on the back of his head.
After that night, she’d gone to every possible support group and performed every possible chore and service to prepare the house for Jackson’s return. When he’d finally come home, he had just holed up in his room, lying in bed for hours and crying. She’d send Kathryn away to camp, just to get her out of the house so she wouldn’t hear his sobs. Max was so small, that he didn’t know his father before so this was nothing to him. He still gurgled and cooed and crawled his way around the house, never caring if the man he called Dada picked him up. Samantha was his everything and she protected him the best she could. For a while, Jackson’s mother tried to help, but she was so consumed with her own grief, that every time she’d come over, it had just gotten so much worse. Eventually, Jackson told her to get his mother out and never let her come back. Samantha had tried so hard to convince him that Marilyn wasn’t the problem, but he’d glared at her and accused her of not loving him, of not being unable to complete one tiny thing to help him feel better. And so she did it. She told his mother to stop coming over knowing how it would devastate her to be separated from her only child and grandchildren. She looked Marilyn dead in the eye and told her she wasn’t welcome in their home any longer, just because she thought it would help; just because she so desperately wanted her husband back. Marilyn had been like a mother to her and it broke something delicate inside her when she closed that door. But she did it for her husband. She did it because her husband asked her to and she swore to stand beside him through the health before and the sickness now.
She opened her eyes and took in the room around her. Jackson was gone and yet here she was, still keeping everything clean and perfect as though he’d walk back in at any minute, tears streaming down his face with that look in his eyes that said she let him down, again. She stood and stepped purposefully toward the tall chest of drawers that still bore the scratch marks from years of hosting watches, keys and change. She pulled open the first drawer, glaring down at the rows of perfectly rolled socks. She ran one finger across the tops before gripping one tightly in her fist and raising it up to inhale the barest remnant of Jackson’s sandalwood body wash. That stupid rolled pair of socks sat there for a moment, clenched between her palm and nose, until Samantha choked back a sob and threw it against the headboard of the bed she’d long since stopped sleeping in. One by one, she threw the socks, a silent protest against the life she’d lived for the feet and man who once owned them. Even now, she protested in silence, too afraid to worry Max or damage the carefully manicured facade of her life. She’d learned long ago that if she dropped even the tiniest of balls in her juggling act, her entire world would collapse.
When it was empty, she drew in a shaky breath and ran her palm across the smoothness at the bottom of the dresser drawer. Then she held her chin high as though nothing had changed at all, and softly went about the chore of tucking every pair of socks back in their rightful place.
Posted on | September 15, 2015 | No Comments
He watched his sister leave with a mix of apprehension and relief. Being around Kate was always one big top away from a circus; he never knew what to say or where to step to keep both her and their mother happy. He wished he could remember a time when they got along, but he just couldn’t. Dad used to tell him they were close; that Kate and Mom had been thick as thieves when Kate was small, but he just couldn’t see it. For as long as he could remember, they’d been in constant opposition, two polar opposites orbiting in different directions.
There was an old picture framed in the living room, dusty and hidden behind several more recent shots of Tyler in various Halloween costumes. The frame was ornate silver, and there was a small crack in the top right of the glass but you could tell, Max could always tell, that it had been precious once. In it, a much younger Kate was sitting on an unfamiliar porch. She had a popsicle in one hand and the other was draped around another girl. Their mother was squatting down behind the two girls with a wide smile splayed across her face. It looked as though the girls had spent the moments before the popsicles pulling Samantha’s hair into various stages of braids, and they were quite pleased with their handiwork. It was just a snapshot, but to Max, it said so much about the relationship his sister must have had with their mother before he came along. He always wondered if it was his arrival that caused some permanent rift in the family; wondered if maybe Kate secretly blamed him for destroying something that was obviously so good. He found himself returning again and again to that picture, wondering who the girl was in the picture, wondering who his sister had been back then when she was a fresh faced five year old, and he wasn’t even a thought in his mother’s eye. With Kate gone, he and his mother would drop the pretense of mourning his father and the mess he left behind. They’d fall into the familiarity of passing each other in the hallway with short nods and smiles, still tiptoeing around the man who had ruled their lives so completely for so very long. He wasn’t sure he could handle another moment like that, another lifetime of silence in the house he grew up in. Suddenly, he was extremely grateful that Des was here, and he needed to fell his arms round him at that moment, no matter who saw. He moved through the house with purpose, stepping past his old bedroom, his father’s room, and that horrible old laundry room with the haunting memories of his youth.
He needed Des.
He found him on the sofa, positioned depressingly close to Samantha as she smoothed her hair beneath her hand, over and over, like a forgetful and fretful child. Des was watching her closely, as though she might disappear in front of his eyes, but Max couldn’t think about her now. He moved toward the sofa, toward the man he loved more than anything in the world, but then froze as his mother’s eyes focused on him, narrowing slightly as if she were warning him; as if she knew what he wanted… who he wanted… and it wasn’t allowed. He sighed silently and took his place beside her, grabbing her arm at the wrist and pulling her hand from her hair.
“Mom.” It was more of a voice you’d use to reprimand a child, but she still obeyed, letting him lay her hand against her side. She turned and looked at him with almost vacant eyes.
“She’s gone? He nodded and she sighed.
“She would have gone either way, Mom, you know that.”
She nodded again and then stared off into the blankness of the walls around her. Max glanced across at Des and drank in the slow smile he bestowed upon him. If they could just sneak away, just for a moment, he could find the strength to deal with all of this, but who knew when they’d find any time alone. His mother shifted slightly, then stood.
“Well, Desmond, you’ll want to get back to your hotel, I’m sure, and find some place for dinner. Please let us
know if you need any recommendations.” Her voice was dismissive as though she couldn’t or wouldn’t be challenged. Desmond’s face fell slightly but he stood anyway and pasted on a bright smile.
“Absolutely, Samantha,” he began, but Max cut him off.
“I was thinking I’d have dinner with Des, Mom, since he came all this way.” He stood but his voice trailed off as his mother and Des both shot him warning looks.
“That’s alright, Max,” Desmond’s voice was tense but pointed. “I see you all the time; I’m sure your mother would like to spend this time with you.” He moved forward and offered his hand to Max, who grabbed at it as though it were a life boat and he were sinking in the dreary that was his mother’s house. He held on as long as he could before Des pulled away with a quick nod. “Goodnight, you two.”
With less than five steps, his long legs carried him up the split level steps and to the front door, and then he was gone with a soft click of a door. Beside him, his mother nodded quickly and stepped past Max.
“I’m not all that hungry, Max,” she murmured. “You’ll have to fend for yourself for dinner.”
Max watched her walk away, his temper flushing his cheeks. He could have gone with Desmond. She’d dismissed him on purpose. For the first time, he saw the Samantha his sister raged against but unlike her, he found that he didn’t have the strength to leave her. He sank back down onto the sofa and clutched at the remote control, filling the room with the mindless hum of conversation.
Posted on | September 14, 2015 | No Comments
She paced the floors of her mother’s house while Tyler watched television.
“Should we call someone?” Her voice sounded shrill as it rang through her head, tinged with the fear of losing two parents in one weekend. Max shook his head and handed her an opened beer. She took a long, slow sip then did a double take. “Where the hell did this come from?”
“Guilty,” Desmond waved sheepishly from his seat next to Tyler on the sofa. “I figured we could all use it this
week.” Kate raised the bottle in a mock salute.
“Good man,” she turned the bottle up and drained it, holding her hand out for another. As Max stepped to
retrieve another bottle, they heard the familiar mechanical roar of the garage door rising and they turned, expectantly waiting for Samantha to return. In typical Samantha fashion, she waltzed into the room with a surprised look, as if she weren’t expecting them all there; as if she hadn’t seen the cars in front of the house. Kate stepped toward her, angrily, but Max threw out an arm and just missed clothes-lining her to hold her back.
“Mom,” Max stepped forward and wrapped his arms around her. Kate watched Samantha draw up as if to push
him away and then watched as all of the fight seemed to drain out of her body and she just… collapsed. There was no noise, no sobs or anything else, just the full collapse of her mother’s body into her brother’s arms. Max laid his head on top of Samantha’s, eyes closed, and Kate felt suddenly left out, as though they were a family of two and she didn’t exist at all. For a moment, she stood there and watched, feeling like she was almost spying, then she just walked away.
It hadn’t always been like that. Before she left for college, it was she and Max against the world or definitely
against Samantha. She was always the stick in the mud, the one saying “no” when Daddy always said “yes.” But
that first summer after school, it was as though she were a stranger there in the house. Everything was hushed and murmured; secret gestures and languages that only Samantha and Max seemed to know. She’d asked Max
about it but he’d just full body shrugged the way only thirteen year old boys could do and said it was nothing.
But it wasn’t nothing. Max was different, more subdued, more intent on being something big and important for his parents. Everything had changed and no one would admit anything was different.
She sat down on the sofa between Tyler and Des and wrapped her arm around her son, drawing him close. He
wriggled out from her grasp with a half-smile, as though he had to be cool for Des… as though snuggling his mom was SO yesterday. She sighed and turned her attention to the screen until she heard the footsteps move from the kitchen and start down the split level stairs. She looked up to see her mother stepping carefully down the stairs, with Max by her side. Des immediately stood and flipped of the television.
“Hey Tyler, wanna show me your soccer skills?” God bless that man, Kate thought, smiling and nodding as her son looked at her questioningly and bounded outside after Desmond. Once the door closed behind them, she looked expectantly at her mother.
“So…” her voice trailed off and Max cleared his throat. Samantha looked around the room as though she couldn’t
decide on a place to rest her eyes. She moved with purpose over to the heavy blinds against the windows and without warning, threw them open. Dust flew everywhere and Max sneezed unexpectedly. Kate almost gasped; she couldn’t remember the curtains ever being open down here. Her mother had said the sunlight gave her migraines but there she was, standing before the window with her arms stretched out as though she were welcoming in an old friend.
“I always hated these damn curtains,” she spat out the words, then turned with an unfamiliar smile lighting her
face. She looked around briefly and when her eyes landed on the beer in Kathryn’s hand, she smiled. “Max, dear, will you get me one of those beers?”
Kate thought she might actually pass out. She sat down quickly on the sofa while her brother dutifully wandered to the kitchen for what had to be the first beer their mother had ever had in her entire life. She watched,
wide-eyed as Samantha raised the bottle and sniffed delicately at the rim.
“You don’t use a glass or anything?” She wasn’t really asking, she just had that way of almost chastising Kate
with rhetorical questions. Samantha took a tiny sip and screwed up her mouth. “Dear God it’s awful.” She handed it back to Max and shook her head. “How can you drink that stuff?” She shuddered. “Give me bourbon over that nonsense any day.”
It was official, Kate thought, her mother had gone completely off her rocker. She watched as Samantha sank down into a nearby chair and loosen the bun at the nape of her neck. The soft gray curls spilled down around her shoulders and for a moment, sitting there with her eyes closed, she looked fragile. Kate could see the light trace of veins beneath her mother’s skin and Kate felt a sudden urge to press her forehead against the soft powder of her mother’s skin. Max was fidgeting like a bird, on edge and circling the chair that housed their mother as though she might disappear if he took his eyes off her. He paused for a moment in his pacing and Samantha reached a hand up, without even opening her eyes, as though she knew her son was there and knew he would meet her grasp. Kate had to look away; she’d never been comfortable with the love her mother and her brother shared. It was like they lived in their own world, where Kate was more of an outsider than a sister or daughter. Max just seemed to understand Samantha in a way Kate never could. Kate cleared her throat and stood.
“I can’t do this right now,” she mumbled under her breath. Samantha’s eyes flew open but before she could
speak, Kate was half way up the split-level stairs and wasn’t looking back. She just couldn’t do this now.
When she’d come home from college that second summer, all keyed up over her selection of a major and
ready to bounce ideas off her baby brother and the father she adored. Instead, she’d come home to little fanfare,
walking into an empty house and calling out for anyone, even Samantha, to recognize she was home. She’d told
them she was coming, she knew Samantha had to have put it on the calendar; she put everything on the calendar. Kate had wandered through the entire house, growing increasingly more frantic when she couldn’t find anyone.
Something must have happened. Samantha usually had the fridge stocked with Kate’s favorite foods, and her
father always took the day off to wait for her arrival. Yet no one was anywhere. It was impossible not to worry; everything was wrong.
Kate paced the floors, wondering if she should call the police or at least one of Max’s friends to find out where
Max might be. In the age before cell phones, there was nothing to do but wait. After almost an hour, the back door opened to a cadence of laughter and Max burst in with a smile on his long face. Behind him, Samantha stepped in, her eyes sparkling in an unfamiliar way. When they saw Kate, they both stopped short. A bigger smile splayed across Max’s face and he crossed the room in just a few lanky steps, wrapping his arms around her. Kate pushed him away, staring at her mother.
“Kathryn!” Samantha stepped forward with her arms outstretched.
“Where were you.” Her voice was flat, all excitement disappeared in the forty-five minutes of panic and worry.
“Darling. I’m so happy you’re home!” Samantha spread her arms wide, as though Kate would just fall into
them like suddenly everything was fine. “I’m sorry… just forgot it was today, that’s all. Are you hungry?” When she noticed Kate wasn’t coming any closer, she busied her hands with kitchen work, opening and closing cabinets as though something might be discovered there that would make everything better. Kate watched her for a moment, expecting something more. Her anger was replaced with disappointment, and she turned and left the kitchen, with Max following along behind her like a chastised puppy.
There were too many memories like that one; too many times her mother had disappointed her. She’d had to
ask, at dinner, where her father was, and only then did they tell her he was in the hospital. There was no
explanation, no reasoning except that he was sick again. When she asked to visit him, they told her he was
contagious and couldn’t have visitors. She could call him, and she did… sometimes twice a day. And eventually, he came home and everything seemed somewhat normal for the last two weeks of her summer. But that feeling of being left out of some secret club that her brother and mother created never went away. From that summer on, she had never felt at home in her home.
Today was just more of the same. Kate was tossing clothes into her suitcase when she heard his steps on the
floor, and she turned to see Max leaning against the door frame.
“Don’t go, Seez.” He used their old nickname, but she wouldn’t let him talk her into staying.
“I can’t do this, Max.” She wouldn’t make eye contact, wouldn’t stop haphazardly throwing her and Ty’s clothes
back in the large red suitcase she’d only just unpacked.
“Give her a chance to explain, Seez.”
“Explain what? That I’m somehow not part of your secret club? That you and she have this mutual understanding that I’m supposed to just grin and bear through?” Each word was accompanied by the soft pad of
cloth on cloth, as if throwing the clothes would make her feel better.
“You just don’t understand. You need to talk to her.”
“Why.” Kate turned and faced him, her eyes glistening with tears. “Why should I talk to her, Max? She hasn’t talked to me, not really, since I was a kid. She doesn’t give two shits about me and you know it!”
“Kathryn.” Samantha stood in the doorway, her eyes wide and face pale. She looked as though she’d been
slapped hard across the face and for a moment, Kate felt almost sorry for what she’d said. “Kathryn, please don’t
leave.”The words seemed to hurt her mother to even say but she continued. “There is so much that needs to still be done; so many things that need to be sorted through. I,” she paused and reached out a thin, frail hand slightly
towards her daughter before pulling it back and laying it against the door frame. “I need you here.”
Kate turned away, her back solidifying the wall between them and continued her frenetic packing. “I won’t leave town,” she spat the words out, hoping to mask the hurt in her voice, “But I’m not staying here. Ty and I will get a hotel room.”
Posted on | September 14, 2015 | No Comments
Although she wanted nothing more than to be home, Samantha didn’t drive to the house. Instead, she meandered the familiar streets of her town, finally pulling into a parking lot at one of those coffee shops she saw everywhere but never went into. Of all the places in town, this was the last place her children would look for her and honestly, more than she needed to be home, she needed to think. For the past twenty years, she’d done nothing more or less than be at her husband’s beck and call. She’d taken him to all his appointments, made sure his clothes were always clean and ironed, and cooked him three square meals a day. She did everything in her power to keep his world neat and clean, to keep the monsters at bay in the only way she knew how. But of course it wasn’t enough. There was nothing she could do to keep his monsters at bay.
Samantha ordered a tea which inexplicably came with a myriad of questions on temperature, size, and everything short of color of the mug, and then settled into one of the cushioned chairs. She couldn’t stay away forever, certainly. There were so many things that needed to be done now, so many secrets to share, so many lose ends to tie up. She thought about the years she’d lost, the people and places she’d lost, and for the first time since Jackson left, she felt honestly like crying. The tea was luke warm at best and she sipped at it absently. Without warning, a memory crept up on her, one she’d pushed down for so long she hadn’t known it still existed.
Max was only twelve. He’d been up in his room,playing on the computer in that intense way he had. Kathryn was away, off at her first year of college and maybe that’s why it all fell apart. Somehow, Jackson always made more of an effort with Kathryn was there, as though convincing her that everything was okay was more important than actually being okay. When she left, everything just fell apart. But Samantha hadn’t known how bad it had gotten, hadn’t realized how bad it was, until that day. She’d been making tea, that awful smelling tea that Jackson’s doctor suggested because the smell of it masked the taste of the medicine she slipped and stirred in with the organic honey he insisted on. She remembered being so very tired that afternoon, feeling off kilter and exhausted from the mask of her every day life. She carried the mug of tea up the stairwell to the bedroom, where Jackson was having a rest. She could remember each step, the clatter of spoon against mug as the wood creaked beneath her feet. She’d juggled the mug to her left hand and knocked softly at the door she ought to, by right, have full access to. Of course she didn’t, though. It was Jackson’s room, his cave where he retreated at any given moment to be free from their life together. He didn’t answer the knock and when she turned the handle, she realized the door was locked. She’d been so angry at him in that moment. How dare he lock her out of her own room? She sighed with exasperation and, giving up all pretense of being quiet, she marched over to Max’s room and threw open the door.
“I need the key, Max.”
He looked up and blinked, brushing those ridiculous waves of black hair from his forehead. It was like she’d awakened him from a deep slumber and it took him more than a few moments to respond.
“The key,” she held out her hand, expectantly. “Your father fell asleep and accidentally locked me out of the room. I need the key.”
“Oh!” Max grinned in that endearing way he had and stretched his arms up over his head. “I put it over the door, just in case.”
Samantha couldn’t help but grin back. Max had unintentionally locked himself out of his bedroom several times and they kept one of those master keys in the house. Of course he would have placed it somewhere he could easily reach it. He stood up and walked into the hall, pulling the key off the top of the door frame and stretching it out to his mother.
“Want me to? I’m kind of an expert now,” He grinned again, and Samantha nodded.
“Yes, thanks. I’m going to go reheat your father’s tea, tell him I’ll be up in a minute.”
Max nodded and she started back down the stairs to the kitchen. If she could go back, she’d do it all differently. If she could go back and change the past, that was one of the many decisions she would rethink. She’d take the key and handle it herself, if she could rewrite their history, and protect Max from that moment that was before him. As it were, she couldn’t go back, and she remembered hearing the click of the key against the lock, and smiling to herself over how good Max had gotten at breaking into their own house. She remembered the soft pat of her bare foot on the step and then that quiet, that awful, eerie quiet that sent every hair on her body standing on edge. She didn’t hear Max talking. Suddenly her foot stumbled, she dropped the tea and didn’t even hear the sound of the mug shatter against the floor. Something was wrong.
She took the stairs two at a time and pushed her way into the room. Max was standing by the door, his mouth open, his whole body shaking. It took her less than a second to survey the scene before her and then she was screaming. She was screaming and her screams released something inside her. She flew to the closet, desperately positioning herself beneath the dangle of her husband’s feet.
“HELP ME!” she screamed, begging her son to move from where he stood. He moved in slow motion, not towards her, but towards the bedside table where, in her frantic attempts to bolster Jackson’s legs and relieve the strain against his neck, she couldn’t tell what he was doing. Later she knew he was calling for help, begging for an ambulance to come and help her save the man she used to love. But in the moment, all she knew was the sound of her husband’s ragged, fading breath, and the desperation of her hands. He was too big for her, too strong, but Max pulled the chair closer, positioning it under Jackson’s feet as the two of them held him, against his will, on the solid surface until the paramedics came. She watched her son wrap his twelve year old arms around his father’s leg, as Jackson kicked and flailed against him; watched as Max’s face broke and crumbled and broke again as he sobbed with an angst that broke her. She’d spent so many years trying to protect her children from this, from the reality of their family, and now she had failed. She had failed her son. Her hands loosened on Jackson’s leg, wondering for a moment if she should just let him go, just let him have what he seemed to so desperately want.
Her son’s plea pulled her back and she remembered why she did this, why she fought so hard for the life her husband didn’t want. She braced herself against the kicking leg and let the tears fall, waiting for the peace that would come when they took him away again.
Her tea had grown cold while she shuddered through that memory, but after the images faded she realized she didn’t want tea anyway. She stood, tossing the cup in the trash and trying to remember what she did in the days and months and years before the accident stole her husband.
She couldn’t remember one thing, one person, one activity she had engaged in that had been only for her in the last twenty some years and she knew suddenly, without a doubt, that with everything she’d tried to protect her children from, she’d ended up preventing them from knowing her at all. It was time to change that, if there was any way she could. She stretched her arms back, feeling the crack of her shoulders releasing tension. She should go home.« go back — keep looking »