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Apr. 25th, 2017

LJ Idol, Week 16: Thunderclap

We traveled to the edge of the word, to where the sidewalk ends, and there, on a beach of sand and shell, we settled for the night.

Sea oats rustled behind and the ocean crashed in front and we built a fire in a ring of smooth stones to push away the coming darkness.

Sunset blossomed before us, reflected on the water in a prism of tropical hues - coral and tangerine, hibiscus, mango and flamingo and then iris as the daylight finally drifted away. Soon, all that was left was the faintly glowing sand, warming our feet, and the purple-black of the moonlit sea, white caps rising and reaching toward us out of the darkness.

We curled around the fire, around each other, the heat of the blaze and the push and pull of the tide drawing us closer together.
Kissing in the sand, an echo of our wedding day, we held each other close while the sea rose and fell, rose and fell, flames illuminating our faces beneath the vigilant eyes of a faithful moon.

When distant lightning split the sky, we pulled apart, growing watchful. We stared expectantly upward as a breeze rose, whipping palm fronds into a manic dance. Clouds scudded in a rush past the moon, a frenzy of sharks come to tear apart the night. The roiling clouds gathered above our heads and blotted out the stars. Air crackled with electricity and the low growls of thunder crept closer.

Lightning crashed close and the sky broke into a million raindrops, so we dashed for the cover of our tent, falling through the flap in a tangle of limbs and laughter. We were young, and surviving a storm on the beach was novel, exhilarating.

On my knees, I peeled my soaked shirt over my head. In the light from our tiny lantern, you reached out and ran one finger between my wet breasts, down my mermaid-chilled belly and down lower still, hooking the waistband of my denim shorts. You reeled me in to you, the moon pulling upon the tide. Mouths met, hands explored rain-cooled skin and we soon left our clothes to puddle in a corner of the tent. The rising storm blessed our union. Together, our bodies rose and fell, in a rhythm as old as the sea.

Lightning flashed outside the thin walls of our shelter and thunder crashed mightily around us and you my child, you were created that night, on a bed of sand and shells in the midst of a summer storm. Such a surprise. A perfect souvenir from a primal night.

I look at you now, 13 years later, with your golden-red locks and aqua blue eyes and I know you are made of sunsets and seafoam. And when you reveal your striking passion and dauntless determination, I know, you too, are a child of lightening and thunder. I love you for your warmth and strength, your bravery and electricity. You are perfect when you when light up a room and perfect when you rage.

Just look at how you were made, my beautiful girl.
How could you ever be any different?

Apr. 23rd, 2017

Thank You.

Seriously, sincerely.

Thank you to all who voted for my Idol entry this week. I really thought I was out, especially after reading some of the incredibly creative and well-crafted entries I was up against. I'm kinda surprised to still be here, but it gives me renewed enthusiasm for the game!

Now I need to brainstorm (HA!) for this Thunderclap topic.

Apr. 18th, 2017

LJIdol, Week 15 : Patchwork Heart

My birthday falls on Valentine's Day, so hearts have always been my favorite symbol and, as a love baby, my heart has always been wide open.

As I've gotten older, the door has slipped shut a bit. Enlightening experiences - encountering deception or duplicity for example, can mean the difference between leaving a door standing wide and putting up a screened panel so you can still enjoy the fresh air but protect yourself from bugs.

I know now though that once I have loved someone, let them slip through that door, they will always have a piece of my heart. No matter how brief the time we were together, or how bad the breakup, when I look back over the years, each man I have loved has indelibly left his name on my heart.

There are precious memories - sweet Clifton, in the sixth grade, who gave me my first love note, a folded sheet of notebook paper proclaiming me the "sweatest" girl he ever met, who danced awkwardly with me in the gym at the Valentine's Dance - his mom was a chaperone and I wore my mother's red courderoy skirt, oh what a night!

And Creed,  the most patient lover I've ever known, who laid me down on his bed, Spanish guitar music on the stereo, lowered his head between my thighs and told me I would not get up until I came for him. It took nearly three revolutions of the c.d. for me to relax enough to submit, but gently, insistently, he pushed me over the edge for the first, delicious time. The result was revelatory - an emancipation. It still gives me shivers to think of it.

There are bastards in there too - Levi, who made out with me in the sunny daybed at my parent's house. When I got up to get some water, he quickly wrote down my two best friends' phone numbers from my Rolodex on my nightstand and systematically checked all three of us off his to-do list.

And Michael M., the college guy I dated when I was a senior in high school. He'll go down in history as my greatest mistake. Handsome and terribly smart, but also terribly cruel, he was the guy who told me he wouldn't marry someone like me because I'd get fat when I was older, who nonchalantly told me not to visit him one weekend because he had a "friend" coming down for a couple days and she'd be sleeping in his bed and the guy who promised me a limo ride and romantic dinner when I turned 18 but dumped me over the phone one week to the day before my birthday, my Valentine's birthday. As a parting gift, I discovered a few weeks later that he was also the guy who gave me a "chlamydia-type infection." At least I learned those lessons young? At least penicillin could fix part of what he broke in me? Bastard.

Stitched delicately on my heart is the moment my ex-husband held our babies for the first time. His joy at meeting our tiny bundles radiated from him in waves.  Although our marriage didn't make it, he will always have a place in my heart because I know he loves our kids, even if he doesn't always know how to show it.

And of course, my husband now, who loves my children like they were his own and lets me plan crazy vacations to go white water rafting in the Grand Canyon even though he'd be perfectly happy to just stay home with our dogs watching the DVR.

From the day shit got real, early in our relationship, when I told him I understood if he wanted to stop seeing me because it promised to turn his peaceful existence upside down and he said "I couldn't leave you," to last weekend, at a Braves game, when he told the vendor at the nothing-but-french-fries booth that "I know you don't make the menu, but you might want to tell your managers it's crazy that a french fry place doesn't have chili cheese fries. My daughter was really looking forward to chili cheese fries today and she is seriously disappointed." I know, it's a silly example, but he takes what's important to us and makes it important to him. I love him for it.

The good and the bad, they are all stamped on my heart. And for the ones I left brokenhearted, I wonder if it would be a consolation to them to know I will always carry a piece of them with me. I won't forget their efforts, how they made me feel, and I wish them all the best in life and love, even now.

Well, except for Michael M. I kinda hope he gets genital warts and a disfiguring facial scar and a house full of fleas. Ok. Maybe not the scar, but definitely the warts and fleas.

(See, there's that screen door, protecting my heart just a little these days.)

Apr. 10th, 2017

LJ Idol - Week 14 - Campfire Stories

(This one is completely true, folks.)

The Okefenokee Swamp is the darkest place in Georgia. The park is comprised of 438,000 acres of trembling earth, Spanish moss, mosquitoes and of course, alligators. Lots of alligators. At last estimate over 12,000 of the toothy reptiles were thought to be creeping, nesting and swimming around in our local swamp. And I decided to take my kids there, just the three of us, for a surprise spring break trip.

We left home around 10:00 in the morning with three suitcases, a cooler of snacks and some card games because I knew there'd be no WiFi and we'd need something to do after dark. I had reservations for us at an eco-lodge just outside the state park. My husband couldn't go, he had to work, so I thought, easy peasy, the kids and I would drive down together, arrive at the park just in time for a sunset cruise in the swamp and then check in to our cabin in the pines after dark. The next day we'd get up and go canoeing, see if we could spot some gators up close. I figured it wouldn't take more than a tank of gas to reach our destination.

The six-hour drive zipped by as we sang Weird Al and ate beef jerky and wondered if we'd really see some alligators when we got to South Georgia.

Turning off the state highway on to the back roads that led to the park, it was quite obvious we weren't in Atlanta anymore. After leaving the usual interstate exit jumble of fast food restaurants, tire stores and gas stations, civilization quickly faded away to sun-dappled stretches of longleaf pine forest. Here, an overturned boat that had become a nest for creeping kudzu, there, a burnt-out mobile home camouflaged by aggressive underbrush, before us, a foolhardy possum darting across the pavement.

We were in the swamp. There were few cars on the road and live oaks stretched their limbs over the patched asphalt, the leafy canopy giving the claustrophobic impression of driving through an endless tree-lined tunnel. The farther we went, the more spotty my cell reception became but, just before I began to question my sanity, driving down here on a whim with no man and no map, we began to see signs for the state park, big signs with grinning gators, and we all got excited.

Within minutes we made it to the Okefenokee visitor's center. We jumped out of the car and liberally applied bug spray - you would not BELIEVE the variety of bugs that want to dine on you in a swamp - and headed...to the bathroom (Of course, I mean, that's where any road trip with kids inevitably leads, over and over again.) After a stop at the facilities we bumped and jostled into the visitors center like excited puppies and bought our sunset tour tickets.

We had half an hour before we could board the pontoon boat, so we wandered the raised walkway around the cove where the boats were docked and came face to face with our first gator! It was a juvenile, about five feet long, sunning itself in the grass right off the path, and as it heard us approach it took a few rapid steps backward and slithered into the swamp, disappearing for a moment beneath the tannin-stained water and then surfacing, staring right at us with huge, unblinking eyes. Just those calculating eyes and snout poked above the water, the gator sizing us up from a distance, deciding if we were food or foe. It was creepy and unnerving and seriously magnificent! The kids and I fell all over ourselves in excitement, taking photos from the walkway, talking in breathless whispers as we observed this awesome predator in nature from just a few feet away! I tried to text my husband, to show him what fun he was missing, and quickly realized I had about as much of a phone signal as if I was on the bottom of the ocean.
Damn! No service. Of course they don't build cell phone towers in gatorland!

Soon we boarded the boat, one other family out for the twilight trip with us. The guide, a bearded, beer-bellied survivalist-type with a serious Southern drawl motored us deeper into the swamp, Spanish moss swaying from cypress trees and the setting sun glinting off our wake in the dark water. He shared some history - how the swamp had long been inhabited by people that wanted to escape from society - runaway slaves, Civil War deserters and the Seminole Indians to name a few. He talked about how convicts were brought in from the nearest state penitentiary in the late 1800's to clear the canals so people could travel through (Can you imagine being told to just hop down there into that gator-filled swamp with a machete and start clearing, man, cutting cypress roots below the water level, not knowing WHAT you were reaching for?? I cringe.)

We stopped in a large clearing and watched the sun set over the lily pads, a blazing orange ball disappearing into the blackwater like it was being drowned by the swamp itself.
Around us, a thousand frogs peeped and croaked and grunted out a marshland Taps. It was beautiful, in a post-apocalyptic way.
"Day is done, gone the sun..."

On the ride back to docks, the guide gave us flashlights to shine along the shore line. Alligator eyes glow red in the dark and everyone on the boat would squeal when our beams crossed a pair of reptilian pupils, glowing red as coals in the darkness, staring, ever watchful, from the cover of marsh reeds. We got back to the dock and climbed out onto the planks, following close behind our guide and his flashlights until we reached the parking lot.

Did I mention the swamp is dark? In the humid nighttime, it was like walking through a neverending blanket of black fleece. Even the two, small street lamps illuminating the parking spaces seemed to be wrestling with the all-encompassing night, as if their light was desperately holding the darkness back from our vehicles until we could escape it.

The guide had told us that this was a national wildlife refuge, so at 9:00 p.m. they closed the gates and locked them until morning. That was 50 minutes from when we hopped off the boat.He said you wouldn't want to get locked in after closing because the only person who could come get you out was a sheriff from the closest town, thirty minutes away. We all assured him we were heading out of the park and drove off into the pitch black night.

The father driving the other car shot out ahead of me. No way was he getting locked in a swamp park after dark. Behind us, the lights in the parking lot blinked out as our guide headed home, and the visitor's center was devoured by a blackness so complete it was as if it never existed.  I drove slowly, knowing pitch black country roads were the perfect cover for wandering animals.A deer could do quite a number to the hood of a car. Soon the other car's taillights were fading from view and we were rolling alone.

The children chattered happily behind me. I came to an intersection.
An intersection?
I didn't remember making any turns when we drove to the visitor's center.

There weren't any signs illuminated in the small circle of brightness my headlights were making to direct me one way or the other. I screwed up my mouth.
Maybe, make a right now? Maybe I did turn when I was heading to the tour? I had been so excited to make it to the swamp I hadn't really been paying attention right then!

I turned right and we drove on. Soon, the open, starry sky above us disappeared and those damned, oppressive oaks were all around us again. The trees looked malevolent in the dark, their black branches reaching toward my car. Was I on the right road? This felt like the right road...
"Hey! Look guys! A bunny!"

A small, brown bunny had hopped to the right side of the road and was nibbling the wild strawberries growing there. It was illuminated briefly in my headlights and the kids offered up some pleased "awwws" and "how adorbs" as we slowly drove past. I passed a picnic shelter made of logs and later, a parking lot with a trash dumpster and it felt like the night was growing even darker.

It had been 15 minutes and now I knew we weren't going in the right direction - and I knew we hadn't made it out of the park. I had just driven us deeper into a pitch-black swamp.
I pulled into the parking lot and turned around.The coolness of the night air was causing a gentle fog to roll in, adding a surreal haze to the scene.

At this point the kids realized something was up too.
'Why are we stopping, mama?" they ask. "Are we lost?" they ask.

Well...no need to panic the kids.

"Nawww, we aren't lost. I think I just took a right turn where I needed to take a left back there. (I hope I hope I hope) I'm just gonna drive us back to the intersection and we'll head on to the eco-lodge."
We drive on through the darkness, my heartrate is picking up a little.
We aren't lost. I'm sure of it, we'll just make a left turn at that intersection and...
"Hey! Look guys! A bunny!"

On our right, a sweet little brown bunny is nibbling wild strawberries.
Wait...

"Um, mom, I think that's the same bunny. Isn't that the same bunny?"
My breathing is coming a bit faster now.

'How the hell was the bunny in the same place? Weren't we driving in the opposite direction now? Back to the intersection?
I turned the car around back there. We should be going the opposite way!'

In front of me was the parking lot with the trash dumpster again. Holy shit. Ok. Um, ok.

"Mom..." my daughter's voice comes worridly from the back seat. Not a big fan of the dark in a perfectly safe house, I realize this sweeping swamp darkness is getting to her.
"We are lost, aren't we mom?"

"It's ok. I mean, we haven't gone that far. I'll just turn us around. You know, I bet there's a map online..." I pull out my phone and attempt to pull up a map of the park.
There is no service here, just NO SERVICE AT FREAKING ALL. And it is pitch black and I'm all alone with my kids! Maybe there is a map at that picnic shelter...

I drive back in the direction of the picnic shelter. On the way I see the damn rabbit again. Still on the right side of the road. WHAT IN THE ACTUAL HELL??
"Mommm....there's that rabbit again..."

"I know. I KNOW!" A hard edge is creeping into my voice and I attempt to not panic. I pull into the grass by the picnic shelter and get out of the car, using the flashlight on my phone to scan the ground in front of me. The last thing I need right now is to lose my leg to an alligator I trampled accidentally as I wander around in a swamp in my sandals at night. Beneath the picnic shelter there IS an information board...with a bulletin of animal tracks and an ecology of the swamp poster. Shit. SHIT!

I stab accusingly at the screen of my useless phone again and head back to the car. As I slip behind the wheel my daughter leans up through the front seats.

"Mom?" She looks really worried in the green dashboard lights.
"Put your seatbelt back ON!" I yell at her, pulling back on the road.
"Mom...have you looked at the gas?"
I glance down and oh, holy fucking shit, the empty light has come on.

"Oh, wow. Yeah, we are almost out of gas." In my head I am now berating myself. What the hell was I thinking, driving down to this swamp with my kids? And not paying attention to directions? Or the gas gauge?
I am so irresponsible! My husband would never have let this happen! Lost in the Okefenokee in the pitch black night with no gas and no cell and gators everywhere and there's probably freaky swamp people creeping up on us in the blackness...

My son begins to sing quietly to himself "There's a murderer in the woods, a murderer in the woods..."

For a moment I am horrified. Had he read my mind?
"Son! What the hell are you singing?"
He and his sister start giggling and, as we pass the freaking bunny AGAIN I start to wonder if we might not have slipped into a Twilight Zone episode.

I stop the car in the middle of the road.

"Ok. I am done wandering around in the dark. We are getting out of here NOW."

I make a U-turn in the middle of the street and start driving backwards on the wrong side of the road - it's not like there's another SOUL out here to crash into.
I figure, if driving this way got me out into the swamp, it will damn sure get me back, unless I really AM in an episode of The Twilight Zone and if that's the case, we are fucked regardless.

The kids find this mercenary attitude hilarious.
"Whoohoo! Go mom!" they are chanting.
Ahead of me I see a sign, a SIGN!, and slow down. I realize we have been driving on a loop, oh my God, a loop! and there is a little spur that gets us off the loop and back to civilization!
I take the spur, zooming fast in the wrong direction and fly toward the front gate of the park, bursting out from beneath the trees where I can now see the night sky again. Glorious and ten minutes to spare until they will lock the gate!

The gate was locked.

Seriously. I get out of my car, shake the gate. Shining in the highbeams from my car is a big chain looped through the metal slats and padlocked together. I look back at my kids and throw my arms up in the air in a "What can I do?" gesture. I pick up my phone thinking there is no way I'm going to have a signal but somewhere, someone is smiling down at me, because weak though it may be, I have about a bar of service. I quickly call the number on the gate, and inform the Folkston, Ga Sheriff's Department that we have been locked in the Okefenokee Swamp Park after dark and can someone PLEASE come let us out. They tell me they'll send a deputy our way and then there's nothing left to do but sit, and wait. I turn off my car to save my rapidly dwindling gas and we sit in the dark, talking about at what point we all felt the most scared out there in the swamp and laughing like we survived the Titanic disaster.

"It's ok babies, you are safe with me," I tell my kids, at this point not completely believing it myself.

Nearly 45 minutes later we see headlights cracking the darkness. We all cheer, and I flash my headlights to let him know we are still here. Then I see my daughter has put on her best campfire story face.

"Hey...what if that car isn't really the deputy?" she says. "What if it's just some crazy park ranger serial killer? He locks the park gate and comes out here at night to see if he can find hapless tourists to take back to his swamp lair and barbecue them or something?"

We all turn to look back at the car, headlights steadily growing closer, now looking rather more ominous.
This night has been way too much like a scary story.

"Oh, oh! Or what if it turns out we are actually trapped in some kind of time loop?" I ask them. "He'll open the gate and we'll drive off down the road and think we are heading to the eco-lodge and then suddenly...we'll see that brown bunny again!"

The car stops in front of the gate. A kindly looking, white-haired man gets out so I get out to greet him.

"How'd yall get locked in here?" he asks. "The rangers told me they saw two cars leave together after the tour so they closed up early."

"Oh, yeah, no. We got turned around when we left the visitor's center and got a little lost in the swamp."

"Yeah, it's awful dark out here if you don't know where you are goin'" he responds.

"You're telling me!" I cried.

He opened the gate and we all waved and called our thanks to him as we drove on, so relieved to finally be headed to our cabin.

Now, don't ask me how scary it was then, trying to find a gas station that was still open in the hinterlands at 10:00 at night!
Let me tell you, the thrills never cease when you're with mama.




Mar. 28th, 2017

Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here

Stepping on to the school bus that first day of high school, I felt a little sick. I'd woken up late, rushing around to get ready with "What the world needs now, is another folk singer, like I need a hole in the head..." stuck on repeat in my brain.

When the bus doors opened, a blast of over-warm air, humid and a touch fetid with thigh sweat and spotty deodorant application rolled over my face like an atmospheric slug. It was the Friday before Labor Day - why the hell did school always start on a Friday, anyway? - and late August in Georgia saw temperatures climb into triple digits.

I looked around and, surprise, surprise, none of my friends were riding today. Considering I didn't HAVE many friends on the bus, this meant that, like, the one person I actually wanted to squeeze next to on a sticky pleather seat was being driven to school by their parents. My mom had wanted to take me too, but, God knows, she'd have probably tried to take my picture in the carpool line and I might have DIED of embarrassment then so, yeah, I was riding the bus with the cool kids for my first day as a pre-freshman.

Yeah, I said pre-freshman. So what? Are you calling me little? When I was growing up, you started high school in 8th grade here.

It was terrible. I was barely out of a training bra and I was walking down the aisle with these Senior girls that looked like porn stars applying mascara and fluffing their two-story waterfall bangs in little compact mirrors. And the guys seemed huge, HUGE. Big football players in Varsity jerseys, asses level with my face, elbows flying as they wrestled in their seats, jostling me and my overstuffed backpack full of binders and notebook paper and brand new mechanical pencils...I must have looked a nerdy mess.

I made my way to the center of the bus where an empty seat waited, or so I thought. As I turned to drop my bag, I realized there were, in fact, two horny teens locked in an embrace, scooched down below eye level of the oblivious bus driver. I froze and the guy looked over his shoulder at me.

"What do you want, kid?" he growled, angry pimples marring his face.
'Gross,' I thought. 'He looks like his zits would pop all over you if you got close enough to kiss him!' And his girlfriend was really pretty too! Why was she with this loser?

"Aww, leave her alone," his girlfriend said. "She's just a baby."

I half smiled at the girl but rolled my eyes as I turned away. Lovely. Just a baby.
'Hey, I'm headed to high school like the rest of you,' I thought.

One of the football players called out to the bus driver "Hey, Mr. Brown, your speakers still work?"
"Yeah, they work." Mr. Brown responded.
"Will you play the radio?"
"Aight," says Mr. Brown, "but I get to pick the station." I steeled myself, expecting the goal and twang of country music.

At a stop light Mr. Brown turns the stereo on with a pop and Ozzy Osborne pours out of the speakers.

"Times have changed, and times are strange. Here I come but I ain't the saaaame...Mama, I'm coming home."

So, I believed in signs, name one Catholic who doesn't, and I often sought meaning in the music that randomly popped up on a radio - I still do. This song seemed like a good omen to me. A good start to this next phase of my life.

I settled in, looking out the window as the scenery bustled past. As we crossed the bridge over the lake, the sun barely over the horizon, I took a moment to appreciate how beautiful my hometown was, how often I forgot to just look at all the beauty around me.

"Theeese are the days...To remember..." Natalie Merchant crooned. Not bad, radio prophet, not bad. I'll take that message too.

We drove north toward the school, into the Appalachian foothills, the houses becoming more sparse and the hills denser.

Then it was a commercial break, and I started to get worried. I didn't want to arrive at school on a commercial break! That's no way to start the year! I held my breath as we paused at the stop sign a block away.

The bus trundled the last hundred yards toward the school entrance and the first song I'd hear as I started high school pounded through the speakers.

Axl Rose gleefully screamed into the bus "Welcome to the jungle, we've got fun and games! We've got everything you want, honey, we know the names!"

Seriously? This is my scared, little, pre-freshman, welcome to high school ballad? Perfect. At the time I had no clue just how appropriate an anthem it was.

If this was what I was given, I'd just have to go with it. I could rock some Guns n Roses attitude. I grabbed my bag, sauntering off the bus, rock and roll spilling out behind me.

"In the jungle, welcome to the jungle, watch it bring you to your na na na na na na na knees, knees..."

I don't think so, Jungle.
Challenge accepted.

Mar. 15th, 2017

LJ Idol Week 12: Salty

My daughter broke up with her boyfriend and he told her he was going to kill himself.

I'd like to wring the little shit's neck myself, but I'll have to settle for giving him the stink eye when I chaperone field trips instead.

For clarification, my daughter is 12, her ex-boyfriend, 13. They are in seventh grade.
They "dated" for four months - a pretty good run for a middle school romance.

The kids had a strong base for attraction. They shared a mutual love of singing and the ukulele and they both hated cafeteria food and their third period social studies teacher.

The sum total of their relationship adds up to this:
10,000 texts on Snapchat
10 phone calls (Who actually TALKS on the phone anymore?)
5 hugs in the hallway during class changes
2 blushing admissions of true love
1 box of fruit flavored candy canes (his Christmas present to her)
1 giant Hershey's Chocolate Bar (her Christmas present to him)
1 moment at a chorus rehearsal where the boyfriend sang Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas is You," on a day that my daughter was home with a stomach virus. A million girlish whispers went up that he was singing about Mickey, Mickey, Mickey...AND everyone captured it on their phones and sent the videos to my daughter - which cheered her up and embarrassed them both greatly.

There was also one actual "date" where they met at a theater to see the movie Sing over Christmas holidays.

While they had their date, I took my son to watch Assassin's Creed. I wanted to give the middle schoolers some space for God's sake! I guess his mom was terrified about what might happen if she left her baby boy alone with my tween siren in a PG-rated cartoon though so both she AND his big brother sat with the mortified couple - they even shared their popcorn. SNORT.

By February, it was obvious things were headed south. My daughter's face didn't light up when I mentioned Drew's name anymore. The boyfriend had lied to her more than once, like the time he told her he didn't text her all weekend because he was at a Kung Fu tournament, but then his brother spilled the beans that Drew hadn't even done karate "except on a video game" in years.

Then he stopped texting. And calling. And saying thanks when she bought him an Icee at lunch.
Soon, for her, all that was left was some lackluster hand holding during 10 minute break.

My daughter said she wasn't into it anymore. She was bored. He was being a jerk. What was the point?
Indeed.

I told my daughter that even when you are an adult, relationships take work.
Work and effort to stay connected, to keep it exciting.
And that the amazing, tsunami in your stomach, heat in your cheeks, finger tip tingling love feelings you have for someone at the start of a relationship gradually fade over time to gentle eddies, even with the strongest loves, and that's ok! Because no one could live for years on that kind of emotional roller coaster - it would be too exhausting!

So, we talked about the kindest ways to break up with a boy - gentle things to say to let them down easy because one day that would be her on the receiving end of a dumping and it really hurts. Oh! And to TALK to him about it, no texting, because breaking up over text is just cowardly.

She did it when she got home from school on a Thursday. I was driving home from work. Drew reacted in a spectacularly dramatic fashion, crying and yelling and telling her she couldn't do this, he wouldn't let her do this...she told him she needed to call him back.

She called me, upset. This wasn't going very well. I let her know that she is in control of her decision - NOT him and that no man (or pushy little boy) gets to tell her what she can and can't do when it comes to her life and her heart. I told her to call him back and stick to her guns that it was over.

Five minutes later my phone rings again. I fumble for the cell as I drive. When I answer she is in a panic, sobbing. I can hardly understand her.
"He said he is going to commit suicide! I told him it was over, that I meant it and he said 'Fine. Then I'm going to kill myself' and he hung up.
Mama, he's going to kill himself! What do I do?" The doooooo was a wail.

As a mom, I had to think fast. What do I do? What do I do?

"Mickey, Mickey, I need you to calm down, Mickey, honey..." She was just completely freaking out in the background. She couldn't even hear me over her anxiety. I needed her to be still and listen.

"Shut up, shut UP, SHUT UP!" I yelled at her.
Great parenting moment, that. I never say shut up to anyone. But, my verbal equivalent of a slap hushed the panicked babbling.
My face felt hot, my hands numb.

"Calm down, baby. Take a deep breath. He is NOT going to kill himself," I told her - and I believed it. "He was just saying that to make you stay with him, to get a reaction from you."

'And it's certainly working,' I thought. From what I knew of the boy, this seemed like a nasty little ploy. But, you never know. Just in case...

What to do? What to do?
"I'm calling his mom right now. Is she home? Mickey, is his mom home?"
She didn't know.
"Ok, I am calling his mother. He is not going to hurt himself but I need you to calm down. I'll call you back in a second."

I called his mom.
What to say? What to say? Sometimes you don't have time to write out a lovely script before speaking words like this.

When she picked up - thank God she picked up - the first thing I asked her was whether or not she was at home. If she wasn't in close proximity to him, I was afraid to drop the bomb on her that her 13-year-old said he was going to commit suicide, you know, if she was at the Kroger with a full cart of groceries or something. She was home, thank God she was home.

"Mickey just broke up with Drew," I told her. "She was as gentle as possible but he is not taking it well. He told her he was going to kill himself and hung up on her and now she is really worried about him. I wanted you to know, so you could make sure he was safe. I'm so sorry."
She was super calm. SUPER calm, which leads me to wonder if he hadn't done something like this before. She assured me she would check on him and everything would be fine. I apologized again, feeling a bit helpless and hung up.

I took a deep breath and called my daughter back.
"Is he okay?" she answered, still crying.
"His mom is home, she is going to keep an eye on him. Everything is going to be fine." I told her. Her hiccuping cries slowed a bit.
"I'll be at the house in five minutes" I told her. "I love you. Have fun, be safe." I hung up.

She met me in the entry hall the moment my key turned in the lock, red-faced and puffy-eyed.

"How are you doing?" I asked.
"I'm ok, now" she responded.

Looking at her beautiful, miserable face with her little braces and her cheeks still rounded with a touch of baby fat I wondered 'What do you say to a child, just a child, who thinks she just pushed the button that made someone she cared about want to off themselves? A child who now fears she has the dark power to make someone so sad they want to die?'

Adults don't know how to handle this kind of heavy shit, let alone a little girl, for fuck's sake! What if this made her afraid to ever date again? What if that little asshole screwed her up for life? I pulled her in for a hug for a long moment, stroking her hair and then pushed her away, held her by the shoulders so she had to look at my face.

"Mickey, I need you to listen to me. Here is what I need you to know. This is NOT your fault. Even if Drew killed himself, that would NOT be your fault. If you break up with someone and they hurt themselves, that is because there is already something broken in THEM, something that is bigger than you - bigger than you can control. You may be the last straw, but someone who wants to die because of a broken heart and ACTS on their sadness is someone who needed more help than you could give them."

"I have to tell you, of all the boys I dated, (and here I started counting) of all of them, not a single one, not ONE of them ever said he was going to kill himself when I broke up with them. One guy in college did take to drinking pretty hard for a while and another joined the military soon after we broke up, but now they are married with kids of their own. Breaking up did not ruin their lives. And NO ONE threatened to kill himself."

"This is not a NORMAL thing for a boy to do when you break up and I hate it that you are having to deal with this when you are 12 years old. There is something wrong with DREW, if he was seriously thinking about hurting himself today. And if he wasn't, and he was just using that to try and manipulate you into dating him, well, that is just sick. What decent guy would try to keep a girlfriend with him through fear?"

Her eyes were wide, but she took it all in.

"Ok, now we need to get you to dance class. And afterwards, we'll get ice cream? OK?"

"The brownie sundae?" she asked.

"Whatever you need. You've had a rough afternoon, sweetie pie."

A smile spread across her face and she scampered off to get her dance shoes.
Luckily, when you are 12, you are crazy damn resilient, bouncing back like a rubber band on a trampoline and, after two hours of dance and a giant sundae, and a lot more talking before bedtime, I could tell Mickey was going to be just fine.

Too bad the little boyfriend can't seem to move on. That weekend he texted her and told her that even though he knew she was a liar, he was going to forgive her and be her friend. And he keeps talking to all his friends - and hers - about what a "lying bitch" she is. I'd like to wash the little prick's mouth out with soap. He says she lied about ever caring about him (For FOUR months? Sure.) Luckily everyone's getting sick of his lip.

At lunch the other day, when Mickey strolled up with her tray, there was just one seat left at their table, next to Drew. Middle school, what hell. A pot stirring drama queen had purposely sat in another seat that day to force my daughter to sit by her ex. When Mickey asked the girl to scoot over, she said with a look of pure innocence, "What's the problem with you sitting next to Drew?"

Drew looked at her mockingly. "Yeah, what's the problem, Mickey?"

Mickey replied "Why don't you tell me. I'm not the one that can't get over being dumped by somebody. Why you gotta be so salty? I don't want any drama with you, but you can't stop bad mouthing me to all your friends. It's over. It's been over for six weeks. I just want you to leave me alone."

This raised a chorus of appreciative Ooohs around them and another young man moved his tray so she could sit where she wanted.
Good for her. Standing up for herself, not taking shit off a rotten boy. I'd like to believe she gets that from her mama.

I think, for a 12 year old, she's got this covered.
Now if I can just convince her not to date anyone else until she's 30. I don't know that my heart can take the drama!

Mar. 10th, 2017

LJIdol - Week 11 - The Blue Hour

Heart hammering, I hid in the closet.

I heard screams from the hall and pushed myself further into the crush of coats, hand over my mouth to quiet my breathing.

The air was stifling as I crouched in a box of winter hats and scarves. The space was too small, barely large enough to fit the clothes it contained, let alone a person, but there I was. Trying to squeeze in fast, and do it quietly, had been nearly impossible, but I'd slid the door closed just as footsteps pounded by my hiding place.

Then all was silent. I strained to hear a sound - the creak of the floor, the cries of my children, something that would give me a clue as to what was happening outside my refuge - but the stillness was complete.

In the closet blackness I waited, eyes wide, imagining what was creeping toward me, searching for me in the dimness of my home.
Time stretched. My feet began to go numb.

Until there it was, that creak I'd been anticipating.
The creak of a careful foot on the hardwood floor. The scratch of the latch retreating as someone turned the knob slowly, stealthily.

I pressed my lips together. There was nowhere to go as the door swung open and the blue of the twilit house poured into my refuge.

I'd been caught. I grinned.

My son let out a joyful laugh and smacked me on the shoulder.
"Mom's it!" he cried and dashed away to hide.

I tumbled out of the closet laughing, shaking my legs to get some feeling back in my feet.

The game was twilight tag, and I invented it, or at least, invented our family's version (I discovered later lots of people have a variant!) - one long afternoon during Spring Break.
It required little preparation - just a house suspended in the near-darkness between day and night and the patience to wait out bordeom until dusk fell.
If there's prep time, you throw on your darkest clothes as a twilight disguise but sometimes a game breaks out unexpectedly and you are left hiding in a closet in your zebra-print pajamas.

My daughter was here somewhere too. Under the computer desk? Squeezed in next to a toilet in the bathroom? She was pretty sneaky.
Once I'd found her lying across the tucked in chairs at the kitchen table - Only the dog pawing at her head had given her away!

I crept around the first floor of the house, biting my cheek to keep from laughing, peering in the dark places that might conceal a hidden child.
I checked the usual spots but the kids were besting me this time. I pulled out my old defense.

"Hey!" I called into the quiet. "I can't see you, but I can SMELL your stinky feet!"
A cascade of giggles rolled from the laundry room.
Gets em' every time!

I strolled in that direction, squinting into the darkness. As I walked by a window, I saw my son, illuminated by the blue glow, hiding under an overturned laundry basket. Nice.
We made eye contact and he looked ready to bolt - in twilight tag you CAN run away - but he wasn't my prey.
I placed my finger over my mouth and pointed to the laundry room.

Across the kitchen floor I tiptoed on kitten's feet, hugging the cabinets, sticking close to the walls.

Sometimes, surprise is the best weapon. I flung the laundry room door open, hoping to catch someone just behind it, but it banged the wall ineffectually.
I was perplexed. There weren't a lot of places to go in there, and I knew I'd heard laughter. I squinted around the room.

Then I saw her, or at least, the top of her head, peeking out from behind the dryer. I had her cornered!
I sauntered to her hiding spot, where she was scrunched in a tiny gap, perched OVER our kitty litter box like some demented cat.
"HOW did you get back there?" I asked incredulously. Told you she was sneaky.

She started to laugh maniacally.

I swatted her arm.
"Your sister's it!" I screamed into the darkening house, and took off at a run.  

Mar. 1st, 2017

LJ Idol Week 11 - Take A Hike

You know the meme made from a 1950's ad that features a lady lounging in a bed piled high with pillows, arms raised over her head in a luxurious stretch? She's smiling a beatific smile, her face suffused with the satisfaction of a good night's rest... right above the caption "I love NOT camping."

That's me. Seriously.

I hate camping. I love nature, for short periods of time, where climate control and hot showers are a given at the end of the day. I love a long walk in the woods, feel closest to God while wandering in the forest, in the foothills of the Appalachains where I live. A perfect day is a leisurely hike topped off with a good meal served to me by an attentive waiter in a cozy lodge with a big stone fireplace and 800 thread count sheets in my room.

Sleeping in a tent, on a tiny camp pad, my hips and shoulders grinding against the ground all night, out in the elements, spiders surreptitiously creeping along the tent poles, waiting to drop in my mouth as I snore, while I sweat or freeze or get rained on...Christ. That's pretty much my idea of hell.

So how did I end up in this damn sleeping bag in late October, freezing my ass off in the 40 degree chill at 3 a.m., wrapping a pair of sweatpants around my HEAD because I didn't even have a hat, you ask?
HOW?? Because I love my son just a tiny bit more than I hate camping.

It was time for the annual Cub Scout Fall Family Camping Jamboree. A two night "getaway" (getaway from what? Plumbing?) at Scoutland on the lake. And this year it was freaking freezing!

Don't laugh, Yankees. To a Georgia girl, 40 degrees is flannel and fleece weather if you're sleeping INDOORS, under a quilt, with your slipper socks on!

My little boy really wanted to go though, there was going to be "like, BB guns and archery and a haunted trail and everything" so I bought some tents, and a campstove, and a big-ass pack of hot dogs and told my husband to quit whining and get in the car, because by God, we were going to the great outdoors!

Now it was 3 a.m. and I regretted everything. I lay awake, sweat pants around my head, trying to sleep while shivering in the cold and listening to the night sounds around us. Soft snores from the other tents in our clearing. Some moonlit geese calling to one another on the lake, the gentle susuruss of the wind through the pines and to my surprise, a much more familiar sound echoing in the stillness.
My childrens' raised voices in the night, coming from the tent beside mine.

Daughter, annoyed and sleepy: "Hey, you're kicking me! Quit moving around!"
Son, indignant: "I have to pee!"
Daughter, unmoved: "Well, get mom. Mom, MOM! Will has to pee!

Me, irritated that they are yowling like everyone's tent is soundproof: SHHH! Y'all are gonna wake everybody up! Hush!

Daughter, stage whisper : Mom! Will has to pee!
Son, stage whisper: Mom, I gotta go to the bathroom!

Me, freezing cold, not wanting to exit the sleeping bag: WILL! Can you not just use a tree? They are everywhere around here!

Son, horrified by the thought: NO mom! It's DARK! I'm not going out there alone! There could be BEARS!

Me, EXTREMELY dubious: Son. There are 2,000 campers out here this weekend. I highly doubt there are BEARS around here.

Son, urgently: Mom, come on! I gotta GO!

Me, resigned: Sheeeeesh. Fine, fine. Let me get my shoes on. Meet me outside the tent.

From a few feet away, I hear the sound of a tent zipper opening, closing, opening again...closing...

ZIP, zip, ZIP, zip, ZIP, zip, ZIP!

Son, panicked: MOM! MAMA! I'm trapped in the tent!!

Me, choking back laughter: Oh my god, just wait a second! Stop the zipping!  I'll be right there!

At this point my husband wakes and adds this eloquent comment.
Husband: Snooore, snort, whaa?

Me, gently: Go back to sleep, babe. I have to take Will to the bathroom.

Husband, rolls over: Snuffle, snooore.

After rescuing Will from his tent flap prison, we began the grueling hike to the bathroom.
Ok, it was probably about 200 yards from the campsite to the concrete block box that served as a restroom - but it was cold, Man! - and ankle-turning dark, even with the flashlight blazing on my phone.

Stoically, I marched in silence through the woods but in my head I was grumbling up a storm.
Damn camping trip, damn cold night, gonna be damn daddy longlegs in that damn bathroom, and then my son took my hand.

Whether it was to steady himself as we walked over the uneven path or fear of the dark or just the urge to take his mama's hand,  we quietly walked through the night together.
The sudden warmth of his soft-knuckled, little-boy fingers curled around mine did a 180 on my heart.

I looked down at the top of his head, chestnut hair faintly glowing in the moonlight, and wrapped my arm around his shoulder.
His head was nearly level to my chin. 'When did THAT happen?' I marveled. My little boy wouldn't be little much longer.

He glanced up at me and I noticed our breath crystalyzing in the chill autumn air.

Me, enchanted: Hey...I'm a dragon! Giggle! and I breathed a lungful of steam into the night.

Son, with laughter rising in his voice: I'M a dragon! and, all smiles, blew his breath out to mingle with mine.

Me, feeling tears start to prick my eyes and getting all mom-emotional: I love you, baby.
Son, all matter of fact: I love YOU, mom.

Yeah, so I seriously love NOT camping, but if moments like this come from a few nights in a tent, I suppose I can handle it - once a year, anyway.

Feb. 10th, 2017

LJIdol Week 8 - No Comment

Mickey stood in the driveway, backpack slung over her shoulder, cell phone in hand. Her zombie hoodie was pulled up over her ears because February is cold, even in Georgia, and it sucked to be cold.

'Looks like Sierra is going to miss the bus again,' she thought. Big surprise. Sierra's parents were hard drinking rednecks and if they'd had too much the night before nobody was getting up at their house early enough to go to school the next day. Instead of caring, setting her own alarm or something, Sierra took advantage of their hangovers to skip school whenever she could.

'What was that her mom said?' Mickey thought. "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree."

Mickey'd almost missed the bus that morning too. Her alarm hadn't gone off and when her mom threw open her bedroom door - "It's late! You've got ten minutes to leave for school!" - she bolted out of bed in a foggy panic, throwing on some jeans and feeling around desperately under her bed looking for her Chucks.

'Where is my shoe? The puppy must have dragged it off again...'

Pulling her hair into a ponytail as she ran, she'd clattered down the stairs at breakneck speed.
"Mom! Mom! Have you seen my black Converse?"

Her mom zipped around the corner. "How did you lose your shoe?" She asked in exasperation.
"Wait, I think I saw it under the kitchen table..." and she hurried off to look.

Checking her phone, Mickey saw she had one minute before she needed to leave. Her old sneakers were waiting under the entry bench.

"Mom, did you find my shoe yet?"

From the other side of the house her mom called "It wasn't under the table. I think the dog got it. I'm going to the basement to look."

Mickey couldn't wait. She pulled the old shoes on.
"I've got to go, Mom! Love you, bye!" she yelled. She grabbed her backpack and rushed outside and down the street to the bus stop.

Standing in Sierra's driveway, she realized her mom hadn't had a chance to give her their usual goodbye. Every day, when Mickey left for school, her mom kissed her and said "I love you. Have fun, be safe!" Her mom said this was her talisman, her way of protecting Mickey from all the bad in the world when she couldn't be right there with her.

Alone in the early morning dark, cars zooming by her, Mickey suddenly felt naked without it. She was just 12 but she knew all sorts of bad things could happen - car crashes or creepy men with vans, or drug dealers or just nasty kids at school...She saw the lights of the bus and exhaled in relief. It was early for once.

The bus stopped in front of her, brakes letting out a pneumatic gasp as the door slid open. A man sat in the driver's seat. Not her usual bus driver she noted, and not her usual bus number either. Mickey climbed on. The driver stared ahead like a zombie.

Hers was the first stop so she had her choice of seats.She picked one in the middle - not the front with the goodie goodies or the back with the delinquents but the center, where she could observe both but not be either.

Realizing she was alone with the stranger driving the bus made her feel weird. She put her headphones in and texted her mom.

"Just so you know, the bus driver that just picked me up was not my regular driver, and this is a different bus number too."

No response from her mom. She must be in the shower.

The bus bumped down the road, and skipped the next stop. She could see her friend Carter throwing his arms in the air in a "What the hell?!" gesture as they passed. Should she tell the guy? Would he get pissed if a kid corrected him? Then the driver turned away from the regular route and the bus picked up speed, headed for the highway.

She texted her mom.
"Mom...I'm alone on the bus and this bus driver isn't picking any other kids up. I don't know what he's doing."

"Mom, what do I do?"

"MOM OMG"

"Mom, I'm scared."

"MOM????"

"I love you."

"PLZ txt me!!!!"

"MOM WHERE ARE YOU?"

Her phone rang. She nearly dropped it, it startled her so much.

"Mickey, where are you?" Her mother asked, tension in her voice.

"MOM! I'm so scared!"

"It's ok, baby. Where are you?" Her mother asked again, more insistently this time.

"Almost at the big green bridge," she responded.

"Why are you all the way out there?" her mom asked, voice rising. "Your bus doesn't go out there! Ok, I want to talk to the driver NOW. Go give him the phone."

"But mom...I'm scared..."

"No. You go give him this phone right now so I can figure out what the hell is going on. You have to be brave, sweetie."

Mickey began making her way up the aisle, one hand on the phone, the other on the green pleather of the seats, as the bus rushed down the highway.

The bridge was looming in front of them when the driver suddenly swerved, taking the bus off the road into the dirt lot where fisherman parked on the weekends. It lurched to a stop and Mickey fell forward, crying out as she lost her balance and dropped her phone.

As she scrambled beneath the seat looking for her cell she heard the driver say "Where the hell am I? Hey sweetie...Uh, sweetie, where'd you go?"

Mickey slowly stood up, cell in hand. She could hear her mom yelling "Mickey!! Mickey, what just happened? Are you ok? Mickey, answer me!"

The bus driver was sitting with a large map in front of him. "I hate these sub jobs," he said. "Sweetie, did you fall down? I'm sorry! Listen, I think I missed a turn somewhere. Do you think you could move up here and help me with the route?"

Mickey laughed, but felt like crying she was so relieved. "Sure. Uh. Yes, sir," she said and went to get her backpack.

"I really need some coffee," she heard the bus driver mutter.

She lifted the phone to her ear. "Mom?" she asked quietly.

"What's going on? Are you ok? I am calling the police!" her mother cried.

"No mom! Mom, it's ok. I think he's just lost. He got out a map with a bunch of addresses marked on it and asked me to help him find the other stops."

"Oh my God. Idiot." her mother breathed. "I swear to God I'm putting in a complaint to the school board about the imbeciles they hire to drive your busses. Jesus! Are you ok?

"Yah, I'm good." Mickey moved her bag to the seat behind the driver. "I've got to go, mom. Love you."

"What a morning! Ok, sugar. Have a good day. I love you. Have fun, be safe."

Mickey smiled. Talisman in place, she knew that now she'd be just fine.

Jan. 22nd, 2017

LJ Idol: Week 6 - Heel Turn

In life, I have found, there is very rarely a true "heel turn," a time where someone you think you know suddenly becomes evil without any forewarning.

In movies, the turn is immediate, shocking. The victim - and you, the viewer - are left completely blindsided by the change because that is the magic of fiction. The writers control what you see and what you do not. For dramatic effect, they intentionally don't show you the telltale signs that betrayal is imminent. Hiding in the wings, waiting for the cue to strike, completely unbeknownst to the victim.

No, in real life there are always signs. A voice quickly raised when a quiet conversation should have sufficed, a nasty comment that, when mentioned, elicits a laugh.

"Oh, I was just kidding," they say, while your heart smarts at just how un-funny it was. You make excuses for their flare of temper, their harsh words.

"They were just having a bad day. I was being too sensitive..." But deep inside, the part of you that is truth, that is YOU, pokes insistently at your gut.

"Wake up," it whispers.
"Open your eyes," it pleads.

But we turn our faces away.

We don't want to see. We don't want to believe that a person we love, or even just someone we admire, harbors a fatal flaw, a darkness, a Judas heart.

If the damage doesn't come often enough, doesn't cut deep enough, you heal quickly and move on in the meantime. We humans are resilient like that, determined like that, forgetful like that.

Until it comes again. If you care enough, you still look away.

This latest indiscretion isn't indicative of a larger problem! How could it be? Not with someone so wonderful in so many other ways!

"They just had too much to drink. There's a lot of stress at work right now..."

Your stupid, hopeful heart can go on for years like this, wearing barbed wire blinders and blundering into danger, focusing solely on the ever-shrinking positives.

Until the day comes when it cannot be ignored. When the curtain is thrown back and the emperor stands before you, exposed, and you cannot look away any longer.

The day you find yourself being dragged through your living room, clawing blindly above you at the fist holding you by the hair, desperate to escape the Jerry Springer hell-night you are suddenly living.

"This is not my life!" you think, as you run for your car, barefoot and fumbling keys. "What the fuck is happening here?!"

And it's the little voice inside, the one you have shushed for so long that cries out "You knew! You fucking knew all along! Why didn't you LISTEN?"

In the movies, the heel turn really is a surprise. That's how movies are written. But in life, we are given signs.

Watch for them, and if they come, when they come, LISTEN. Because you know the truth.

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