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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.

Jan. 15th, 2017

LJ Idol Week 5: Fear Is The Heart of Love

We sat in the canoe, watching a heron pick its way across the spongy loam at the edge of the lake. My son was transfixed when it plunged its spiky beak into the water and came up with a frog.

I was desperately trying to be in the moment, to soak in the beauty of the morning sun filtering through the mist on the water, the joy on my son's face as we paddled carefully beneath the pilings of a bridge.

But, as I would find myself approaching happiness, I would remember. Remember that this might be the last time we ever canoed on this lake together. Remember that I might never go on another "End of Year" trip with him and the Scouts. Remember that by the next spring I might be gone from my son's life entirely.

Remember that the day before, my doctor had found a lump in my right breast and was concerned enough to make an appointment for me to come back Monday to "check things out" at a deeper level.

My annual "lady" appointment was late in the day on Friday, and everything had been business as usual until she asked if I had any concerns.

"Well, I have noticed this little bump on the side of my breast" I responded. "I really don't think it's anything, it hasn't changed size or shape in a month or so..." I trailed off.

I was trying to act casual but frankly, I had been so freaked out when I felt it in the shower that I'd spent the last month poking it and squeezing it, obsessively trying to decide if it was SOMETHING or just me allowing my anxiety to run away with my imagination.

She examined my breast carefully, in that gentle, exploratory manner doctors have. The least sexual touch in the world reaching for your most private parts. Her cool hand cupped my breast, fingers pushing at the sides, around my breastplate, the nipple.

Her forehead creased when she found the spot I was referring to. "There is definitely something here," she muttered, poking with more intensity as I had myself done so many times.

"I'd definitely like to get you in for a mammogram first thing Monday."

Mammogram? I'd never had one before. I was just 38 years old. Now, she was worried enough to want me to get one two years early? Panic gripped me in a sick hug.

'It's cancer,' I thought. 'My god. I knew it. Cancer. Why didn't I come sooner? I'm going to die. Die. And my children...Oh god!"

Wait..Monday? MONDAY?!? She was going to make me wait THREE days to find out for sure? I took a deep breath to modulate my voice.

"Isn't there some way we could do that today?" I asked hopefully, fearfully.

She called the imaging center but there wasn't a way to get me in so late in the day, on a Friday.
Their next availability was early Monday morning and that was that.

"I'm so sorry. I know you are concerned" she added (The understatement of the century!) "But it probably is nothing. We just can't be too careful, you know?"

Oh I knew. I have seen what cancer does to a family.

I knew she might have just discovered a death sentence living inside of me. She might have just doomed my family to years of fear and uncertainty, of dealing with a sick mother, pale and bald from chemo, showing up at their school functions, a shaky ghost of the woman she had been. Of my children having to grow up without a mom if the cancer turned out to be more aggressive than I was, or the chemo was, or our prayers were.

I made it out to my car, cold tingling spreading across my chest and shoulders. I fumbled with my keys to unlock the door and then sat heavily in the driver's seat, quietly falling to pieces.

I debated calling my husband, not wanting to frighten him prematurely. But, I couldn't handle this alone. With shaking hands I dialed his number. I wiped my eyes and tried to pull myself together to talk to him.

When I heard his voice on the line I rushed to tell him the news.

"Hey," I managed to croak, throat constricted. Then I began to sob.

"They...found...a...lump...in...my...breast," I haltingly cried, terrified for myself, and heartbroken that I had to share this with him, to pull someone else into this hellacious vignette.

He is a good man and said all the right, comforting things, asked good questions, was caring but "sure it was nothing," which is exactly what all husbands through the ages have said when their wife drops this bomb in their lap.

And then he asked "Are you still going camping this weekend?"

Oh god. In just a few hours I was supposed to leave with our son for his Cub Scout Pack's end of year trip. Which I had organized. Which he was so looking forward to.

That grounded me. Dried my tears. "Of course," I said, because that's what you do when you're a mom. You suck it up, you squash your fear and move forward because there are little people that need you.

And I did go, but, instead of the the trip being one of pure happiness, I frequently found myself thinking I needed to make this time count, needed to make these memories be beautiful, so that if something happened to me, if there never was another mother-son camping trip, at least my boy would have THIS canoe ride to look back on, THIS campfire song, THIS cuddle with his mom before bedtime.

On top of our sleeping bags, his sturdy little boy body spooned against me, we settled down to sleep, giggling and whispering in the dark.

His head tucked beneath my chin, I breathed deeply, relishing his puppy dog, sun-warmed, sweet little boy smell. And when he was finally still, and his breathing even, I cried into his hair.

...It wasn't cancer. It could have been, might one day BE cancer, but that time, it was just a cyst. Thank you, Lord.

But the fear stays with me, that I am not immortal but my children need a mother who will live forever. So my greatest prayer is that I live long enough to raise them to adulthood, to be here as long as they need me. After that, everything is negotiable.

Jan. 6th, 2017

LJ Idol - Week 4 - “I don't skate to where the puck is. I skate to where the puck is going to be. "

“I’m gonna kick Kurt Sanchez’ ass.”

That’s what I thought, all day long, that fateful Yearbook Day my freshman year of high school. I was going to find him in the gym at the Yearbook Assembly during 6th period and KICK. HIS. ASS.

See, every fall the Yearbook Committee ran a photo contest, encouraging students to turn in summer vacation photos. Whoever they deemed had the coolest shot got their picture in the annual. That summer, my family went to the Grand Canyon. I turned in a pretty awesome photo of me, standing right on the edge of the sandstone precipice, wearing cut-off blue jean shorts, a Western print tank top and cool sunglasses.

Unbeknownst to me, they picked my photo and, when they handed out our yearbooks that spring morning, I squealed for joy when I realized I had a full-page spread! April B., my very best friend, was just as thrilled as I was and threw her arms around me in excitement when she saw my picture, in full color glory, there near the front of the book. For a freshman, this was big time!

Well, Kurt Sanchez, popular and preppy, apparently didn’t view my win the way we did. Kurt and I had never really seen eye to eye. This was 1993, and I had always been a little too alternative for him, in my plaid shirts and Doc Marten boots. A little too mouthy – Southern girls were supposed to be demure - and certainly not one to back down when he tried to throw his “My daddy’s a rich-ass lawyer” attitude around at school.

Kurt was also known to be a fairly talented cartoonist. In true, satirical style, throughout the day, in every annual that he signed, he flipped back to the page sporting the picture of me on vacation and, with his brand new Sharpie marker, he drew giant boobs on my chest and, beneath my feet, a fat arrow pointing directly up between my legs with the caption “The GRAND Canyon!”

What a dick.

I might not have found out, except that he happened to get his hands on April’s annual too. When she saw what he had done, she came to me in tears. See, Kurt didn’t know April very well, probably wouldn’t have cared even if he DID know, but April’s family life sucked. They were seriously poor and her mom told her that if she wanted an annual, she was going to have to pay for it herself. April had been babysitting for months to buy that yearbook he just trashed.

To add insult to injury, this was April’s last year at our school. Her parents were getting divorced and over the summer she would move away, transferring to a different school on the other side of the county. We had spent many a Friday night that spring crying on my bed, brokenhearted that we wouldn’t be together anymore. Kurt had just destroyed a picture of her best friend and ruined her hard earned yearbook in the process.

I was pissed for April and I was pissed for ME. Fuck that preppy asshole. I was about sick of that whole damn crowd treating everyone who wasn’t a football player, a cheerleader or a groupie with complete disdain. Who did he think he was?! Who did they ALL think there were?! It was about time someone taught him and the whole nasty bunch a lesson. You can’t fuck with people and think there won’t be consequences!

I told April I was going to punch him in the face. In his sneering, leering, disrespectful face. That spring I had taken a self-defense class so I knew I could do it too. Kurt wasn’t much taller than me, and he was wiry, so I knew I had a chance. She told me not to hit him. Even with eyes still red and puffy from crying, she asked me to calm down. To leave it alone and not get myself in trouble. But, she was a lot sweeter than I was and I had the fire of righteousness burning in my chest.

I bided my time until 6th period and marched to the gym. My friends kept up a will-she or won’t-she banter the whole time, so now I knew I HAD to hit him.

Throughout the whole yearbook awards ceremony and the Senior/Faculty basketball game, I waited. I sat on the bleachers in the sweaty, overcrowded gym, heart hammering, jaw tight. I needed to do it when the time was right, when it was less likely to be noticed. I could feel that my chest had gone all splotchy as I watched Kurt laughing with his cronies, carefree, unaware that someone just a few rows away wanted his head on a platter.

And then, too fast, the assembly was over and people started pouring out of the gym. It was now or never. I yanked April’s annual out of her hands and stalked over to Kurt, shoes squeaking on the waxed wood floor. He stood with about four other guys but I squared off in front of him. He looked at me quizzically.

Jerking the yearbook open to the offending page I stared him down.

“Did you do this to April’s yearbook?” I asked him, lowering my head like a bull about to charge.

For a second he looked embarrassed, unsure what to do when so blatantly confronted about his juvenile behavior, but then I could see the cool guy veneer virtually wash over his face and he hid his discomfort with a grin.

“Yeah. So what?” he responded.

I dropped the annual to the polished floor with a resounding thump. My fist balled up, thumb on the outside, just like my self-defense teacher had taught me.

“So, you can’t go around ruining other people’s stuff!” I yelled and I hit him square in the jaw.

It was a solid hit – it seriously hurt! - and I’m sure I looked about as shocked as he, and everyone around us did that I – an Honor Roll student, the editor of the school writing journal, a GIRL – had actually punched someone in the face!

Kurt Sanchez reeled back a little, hand to his jaw, and his friends gasped, completely unsure how to react. Then he came up spluttering, furious.

“What the hell!” he cried. And, leaning toward me menacingly, hissed “You wouldn’t do that again.”

Wrong. At this point I was committed.

“Oh, wouldn’t I?” I smarted back, head tilted in surprise that he’d think I was done.

I pulled back and socked him again, aiming for his nose this time, but getting his cheek.

Now he was really pissed but I was ready for him. He took two steps in my direction and we were a breath apart. I think he was about to grab me. In my mind’s eye I was going to take him down, knock his shit head on the gym floor for all the times he and his friends had acted like they were better than everyone else, like they could treat people like dirt with impunity. But his buddies had other ideas. They grabbed him by the arms and started jerking him backward, away from me, urging him to calm down as he fought them off.

“What, are you SCARED??” I taunted as they dragged him back toward the gym door. The look in his eyes was napalm. Honestly, if they hadn’t grabbed him, I probably was about to get MY ass kicked.

Now my friends grabbed me too. April picked up her yearbook from the floor.

“Leave him! Come on!” they were saying, dragging me out the other door as the bus bell rang.

It had to be serendipity that there were no teachers around for that “fight.” No administrators to drag me up to the office, call my parents, suspend me from school. When I stepped into the sunshine I was damn near breathless with exhilaration. I’d done it. Stood up for my friends, for myself…and I wasn’t even going to have detention! Talk about getting away with some shit.

Word spread quickly about what I had done. The A-List boys started stepping out of my way in the hall and the cheerleaders looked at me with a touch of fear and a hint of respect. They might not have been inviting me to their sleepover parties, but they weren’t tittering at me behind their pompoms anymore either! I feel like they kept their mouths shut and their eyes down a little more, those last weeks of school. I was just a nerd girl with a point to prove, but I think they’d all suddenly realized that they didn’t know what ass kicking lay behind the eyes of any of the band geeks and drama freaks they’d been picking on since middle school.

Fast forward three years, to when Kurt and I were seniors, about to graduate. We had pretty much avoided one another since I hit him in the gym. But, fate wasn’t going to let us stay apart anymore. He and I were the winners of the senior superlative for “Most Talented” students that year. I told you he had some art skills. And we had to get a picture taken together…for the annual.

The Yearbook Committee invited us to a local park where they were taking all the pictures. It was a fall afternoon, sun shining through the golden leaves when we arrived. Kara, the yearbook photographer, looked from me to Kurt as we stood next to each other on the path.

“Now, I’m not going to have to break anything up am I?” she quipped.

Gawd. I could feel myself blushing for being so batshit crazy three years before. I raised my eyebrows in chagrin and looked at Kurt. The funny thing was, he was looking at me with embarrassment too. I think we both knew our behavior had been less than stellar.

“Naw, I think we’re good,” I said, and bumped him with my shoulder. He laughed, a quick nervous laugh and we both grinned. Too funny that after all those years, he was still afraid I might go all Chuck Norris on him again!

We walked together, a little awkwardly – everything is awkward in high school - to the covered bridge at the center of the park. When the photographer asked me to hop up on the railing, Kurt smiled shyly and offered his hand for support.

“Well, would you look at that!” Kara exclaimed. Goober.

At the yearbook assembly our senior year, we had come full circle. Kurt and I stood side by side at the front of the gym when they announced our award, laughing, on even ground.

As we left for the busses that afternoon, one of my friends said “Do you remember…” and, rolling my eyes, I thought “How could I ever forget?"

Dec. 3rd, 2016

LJ Idol Week 2 - That One Friend

I got dumped. Friend dumped.

I'm an adult, a married adult, and I hadn't been dumped by anyone in decades! So, when I got dumped last September, the mingled feelings of rejection and indignation that often come with being dumped had all but been forgotten in my short memory. It stung.

Anyway, this friend, we'll call her Sue to protect the not-so-innocent, had been one of my two best friends for about four years. And when I say "two best friends," I mean one of the two people, other than my family and the people I work with that I spoke to more than twice a year. I'm stupidly busy, gregarious but guarded and kind of reclusive like that.

We met early one morning when our kids were playing baseball at the YMCA. She was wearing a Star Wars shirt and sitting on her own, looking uncomfortable in the Georgia spring humidity, avoiding the baseball groupie mothers in their matching team jerseys and chirpy, over-bright voices. I was sweaty, bleary-eyed from having to be up so early on a Saturday and sporting an "Inconceivable!" Princess Bride shirt.

Our eyes met across the crowded bleachers and we were drawn to one another by mutual feelings of social anxiety, fandom and the desire to find some respite from the sun. We ended up under the one shade tree in our corner of the park, making fun of the other moms for being so damn serious about a bunch of six-year-olds playing bad baseball and geeking out about books and movies. It was the start of something wonderful.

Sue was fun and she didn't take herself too seriously. That was important to me because I'm an overgrown kid myself and often feel like a middle-schooler masquerading in the world of grown ups. I had such a great time when I was with her. One night we went to Goodwill and bought flashy dresses and stripper shoes. We are SO not cool, but, wearing our fabulous outfits, we went to a trendy Mediterranean place with tapas and belly dancers and drank Ouzo and pretended we were flawless. Another time we went to a canvas painting class and slurped wine while awkwardly painting peacocks, bumping elbows and giggling the whole time. It was perfect.

No, it wasn't. Sue had issues. It made complete sense from a psychological perspective but sometimes her behavior shocked me.

Growing up, Sue was a cute little hippie chick, free wheeling but smart. She accidentally got pregnant when she was 16. I don't judge, but for the grace of God, that could have been me too. She loved living things too much to do anything but have the baby, so at 17 she became a mother.

Dad was a high school dropout dishboy that Sue met when they worked at a pizza parlor together. She married him and then at 19 they had baby number two. They lived in a crappy apartment above a busy street. Two babies in two years is tough for anybody, but they were just kids themselves, you know? Broke and tired and so very young. Things did not work out.

They divorced. For the next several years Sue went back to her hippie lifestyle, dating bartenders and band members. She and her girls had very little structure in their lives but they did have a lot of fun.

And then Sue met Adam. She went to a Red Cross blood drive one afternoon and left with a husband. Well, it wasn't quite that simple. They dated, where they realized he was 15 years older than her but they had chemistry so decided it didn't matter. Get this, at 40, he was also still a virgin! He was super-religious, from a very Christian family and that sex-before- marriage thing just wasn't done. Apparently, with Sue he felt the fire though because they got physical a few times - skin-on-skin physical - but they never had sex. And she got pregnant. This was truly one of those horror stories your high school health teacher tells you to scare you abstinent. They never had intercourse, but they had been close enough that one strong swimmer made it to the finish line.

Adam was ashamed. His family was aghast. He asked Sue to marry him, even though he was unhappy and wasn't ready, but that was the "right" thing to do. Sue and the girls moved into his home, which he ran with a heavy hand, the way he had been taught. It caused years of resentment between him and her daughters.

They had the first, then a second child together. Adam was spending almost all his time away on Red Cross blood drives across the state and when he was home, instead of wanting to do something with Sue, he encouraged her to go do things for herself. This was both sweet and heartbreaking to her because she felt he didn't care to see ever her - just his kids. Behind the lovely face and big smile, she was lonely. This was where I met her.

We talked on the phone and texted pretty often at first. Went on mom dates, or play dates with our kids, It was good, and when we got close enough to get real, even better to have someone to open up to.

And then she "felt the call" to be a foster mother. She is such an incredibly kind person but why would you do that when you already have four kids and a bad marriage? I judged her.

Sue went through the application process and was quickly given two foster children. I hurried to her house one night because a placement had happened so fast that they didn't even have a room ready for the foster kids. We needed to convert a basement room overnight for her older girls to move into so two babies could come home! Adam and Sue and I stayed up all night painting to make the space live-able.

So now Adam was gone all the time, and she had SIX children to take care of. I know taking in foster children is important, but it made her life and her marriage that much harder. Her older children started having behavioral problems at school. Her eldest started cutting. She was at the end of her rope when she met a handsome tax accountant one March and fell for him. "How did this happen?" I asked her, wide eyed.

She had gone in to get her taxes done and, when the accountant asked how many dependents she had, she fell apart. He gave her tissues, and a pep talk, and his private phone number. They started meeting a few times a week, sometimes with the younger children in the car, eating ice cream while they talked and held hands. She had him over to her house - the house she shared with her HUSBAND.

He was handsome and very smart, told her how beautiful she was, how patient. I got it, I could see the attraction. But he was also from South Africa, not a citizen, and he said he wanted her to leave her husband and marry him - he would take care of her and all those children. I said "Really? REALLY?" and begged her to go to counseling with Adam, if just for her babies. And I judged her.

One day she called to tell me she had used me as an excuse to see her boyfriend - had told Adam she was with me when she was with her lover. And on another occasion, when her lover sent a romantic Valentine card to the house, and Adam intercepted it, she told him that I wrote it - that it was me, trying to remind her how she should be treated as a wife. WHAT?? I was horrified. I did not want any part of her lies. Now I avoided her. And I judged her.

She nearly divorced Adam. He confronted her about the cheating and they had a dramatic blow up and then reconciliation. In the days before they made up, she would call me crying. One afternoon I listened to her agonize for three hours, while I steam cleaned my carpet, about the crazy situation she was in. Amazingly, they worked it out. They went on a couple's vacation, They renewed their vows.

I started spending time with Sue again. And then she cheated again.This time it was with some tight-jeaned handyman she met while dancing. This prize was a worthless redneck with a nice ass. When she told me what was up with him it was all I could do for my jaw not to drop. Here we go again.

In the fall, I attended a Civil War ball with Sue, it was the 150th anniversary of Sherman's March through Georgia so Atlanta had a slew of commemorative events. I bought a gorgeous, peach-colored silk dress with a hoop skirt and elbow length gloves and we headed to the ball for a girl's night out. The new stud was there when we arrived! She hadn't told me he was going to be at the ball and was brazen enough to act like it was no big deal when I brought it up. He was there with his mother who gave Sue wholly disapproving looks the whole night as she swirled around the dance floor with her son. When it was over, he walked us to my car. We got in and, when I looked over, they were making out through her open car window like teenagers. I'm no prude, but my God, really? I had never been so uncomfortable. And, I judged her.

That was pretty much it for me. She is a stay at home mom, but I work full time so it was easy to beg off due to family commitments or work. Then I got a new job and that gave me further excuses to stay away. She got dumped by the redneck and when she called I tried to tell her it was really for the best, but that perhaps, if she was that unhappy in her marriage that she would stray twice, she should start working toward a divorce.

The last time we spoke was after another ball she attended out of state. She called me in the middle of the night, a wreck, because she ran into the redneck there, and his mother basically called her a whore and told her to stay away from her son. She was shocked. I thought "What did she expect?" And I judged her.

I couldn't do it any more. I just quietly backed away, not answering texts, trying to fade into the shadows.

But, we were still Facebook friends, and over the next year I watched the drama play out on her page. I could see when her relationship went from married to "It's complicated," and back to married. Could see when she changed her cover photo from one of her and Adam to one of just her children, could see when she moved out of state, could see how things were falling apart. Did she think their wouldn't be a price to pay for what she had done? I judged her.

It wasn't until she sent me and several other friends a private message that her 15-year-old daughter was pregnant and due in the next week that I contacted her. Her girl had chosen to have the baby but give it up for adoption, which, to me, is about the bravest thing a young mother can do. My heart ached for all of them.

I wrote Sue and we started a conversation after eight months of silence. She asked where I had been for so long and I decided to tell her. To be honest. To heal our friendship. I said I knew she had been through a "crazy time," and I used those words because, in case her husband was reading, I didn't want to get her in trouble. I told her that after a while I couldn't handle the excess of drama, didn't know what to say to her any longer when I felt she was making crazy choices and hurting so many people. I said I was sorry I didn't know what to say and sorry I disappeared when I did. I told her I was sorry for not being able to put my family aside in order to be a better friend. And I meant that sincerely.
With the honesty I felt a weight lift.

She wrote back and told me I was a bitch. Dismissive for thinking what she was going through was just a "crazy time." She said I had never been important to her. That she had real friends who were actually there when she needed them. She told me I was a shitty friend because I was only around to have fun but not to carry the real weight of friendship when things got serious. She told me it was pathetic that, in the two years she had her foster kids, I had never met them. She told me she didn't want, nor did she accept my judgement for her "behavior."

I called her, hurt and angry and left her a voice mail saying I was sorry that she mistook the tone of my email. She called me back and said I didn't sound sorry, I sounded angry and she wasn't going to speak to me again. At that point I gave up. I wrote her back on Facebook. Apologized a final time, said that although I hadn't meant much to her, she had been one of my best friends, and that I wished she and her family good things in the future.

I cried. And I thought a lot about what she said. All weekend I thought about it, and realized she was right. I didn't take the time to be the friend she needed. I don't take the time to be the friend ANYONE needs. I felt both guilty and indignant about that though. I work 45 hours a week, commute 90 minutes each day. I have two kids who are in dance and karate and Cub Scouts and a husband that I want to spend quality time with them when possible. It isn't like I'm fucking having a party every day with all my OTHER friends, my life is just that taken up with taking care of them! THEY are my priority right now. There is nothing more important to me than them. And yeah, because I've made this choice, it makes me a crap friend..

It hurt me to realize this about myself, but I am glad she pointed it out. I ached inside, but I needed to move on.

Two days later she actually called me to apologize. Said she was in an awful place with her daughter's pregnancy, said she and Adam had been trying to get back together but that he was doing crazy things. I told her I was sorry for all that, got off the phone as fast as possible and never called her again. Hid her posts from my Facebook feed. I may be a shitty friend but I'm no idiot. You don't get to break my heart and then apologize like what you said was nothing more than small talk. Fuck that. Good riddance.(And...I was judging her again.)

I have a new friend now. She is the mom of one of my daughter's classmates. She is fun and funny and geeky like me. On our first mom date I warned her that I was a crappy friend, like one of those commitment-phobic guys that says "Don't get attached to me, baby." I told her that I'm busy as hell and frequently absent and absent-minded. I just wanted her to know what she was getting into. She said that was cool, she was busy too.

Although I know she won't be there to cry with if something terrible happens - not fair for me to lean on her if she can't depend on that from me - she is my friend.

Sometimes I see the things she does with her REAL friends on Facebook and my heart hurts a little that I don't have someone like that. But, I can't be someone like that right now, so I get it. Like our mothers taught us, I don't deserve a friend if I can't be one.

I'm simply being pragmatic when I think "Ok, in eight years my kids will be out of the house and then, THEN I can try this friend thing again." I don't ever want to be "that one friend" again.

Nov. 23rd, 2016

LJIdol 10: Topic 1: I Need the Struggle to Feel Alive

My daddy always told me I liked to do things the hard way. He'd say I didn't "listen" to him, which meant I didn't obey. Didn't do things the way he insisted was right, didn't believe what he believed.

And why would I? The man was a greaser and a bruiser back in the 60's. Too hardheaded to bend to the authority at school, he dropped out halfway through 8th grade and never went back. The world would be enough of an education for him.

My daddy was smart but not dedicated to anything. Not to the Army, where he got a "less than honorable" discharge for going AWOL, not to my mother, who he let support us his entire life while he "explored his options" for 40 years or so, not even to God. He was fond of saying "God and I have this agreement. I won't get in the God business and God won't get into my business."

And he certainly wasn't dedicated to my brother and I. My dad stayed gone six days a week. He left early and stayed late at work, at a mini-storage place one of his friends owned, hanging with the boys, drinking cheap beer in cans from the mini-fridge and flirting with the skanks that wandered in looking for help moving their wood veneer bedroom suites into their unit after they divorced Jimmy or Bubba or Ray and were "staying with their mama" for a while. He was at his best with the boys, intensely social and gregarious and more than a touch sexist.

I'd catch a glimpse of him in the morning, when he stuck his head in to make sure I got up to catch the bus, and then he'd slide in each night just in time for dinner. When asked about his day, he'd give the same response, a tight "Just another day in mini storage" and, glowering, tuck into his dinner.

Then Sunday would come, and he was home all day. This was his cut the grass day, his paint the deck day, his "Stop nagging me, Shirley," bark and snap at the family day. I hated Sundays.

When I was young, I'd eat lunch in a blur and run outside, head to the woods where he couldn't find me to pick on me or bitch. Where I wouldn't have to see the disappointment on my brother's face when my dad turned him down for a game of catch so he could sit like a slug on the couch, eating Bugles and watching cable. Couldn't feel the tension radiating from my mom as she stood making dinner with her back to him at the stove in the kitchen.

When I was older, I worked weekends, let my employers know I'd be available for shifts on Sundays and avoided the house all together.

But I couldn't get out of Sunday dinner. My mama insisted we all eat together each Sunday and, if you love your mama, you don't deny her this. She always made a great meal and we'd gather around the table for a quick blessing, the passing of the food, chew...chew...chew, and then my father would start with the "intoning of wisdom." Loudly, insistent with his message.

We lived in Georgia and, although the man wasn't Southern by birth, he was the biggest bigot I've ever met. If you weren't white, straight and Christian you could take your brown ass back to whatever 3rd world hole you came from and stop taking our tax dollars, raping our daughters and taking our jobs. The gays were out to turn us all into homos and the Muslims wanted to kill us and take over America, the greatest country in the world! Sunday was his opportunity to play head of the household, point out our personal faults and inscribe his worldview on his impressionable children, a captive audience. Thanks dad.

What an ass. What an ignorant, hateful, hard-hearted ass. That's about all I got from those dinners. I'm sure it bites his butt when he looks at me, a public librarian who holds dear the rights and freedoms of everyone in my community, who loves underdogs and immigrants and refugees and gays. Who emails him Snopes articles when he forwards undocumented hate speech to me and 100 of his closest friends.

But...he's still my dad. After all that, still my father. My father who took one Sunday to teach me how to ride a jet ski on the lake - exhilarating. My father who always told me we were survivors, that the world was tough, but I was tougher, a mantra that has sustained me through some truly hard times. My father who may not have always liked me, but who grudgingly respected my stubborn nature - told my mom not to "break my spirit." Saw it for what it was - a strength that would carry me when I was away from home, a determination that reflected his own. A father who, for all his faults, truly believed I could do whatever I put my mind to and made me believe it too.

My dad is in his 70's now. Diabetic, obese. He is also 90 percent deaf. He sits silently in a room full of people, a serene expression as he just watches everyone, reads lips, removed from the conversation.

There's a meanness in me that whispers that it's poetic justice that he's finally been muzzled, that a lifetime of bad karma led him to this lonely place.

Still, it breaks a daughter's heart, when I call him on his birthday, that my daddy can no longer hear me say "I love you."

Nov. 14th, 2016

LJ Idol Week 0 - Veteran's Intro

This is not my first time around the LJIdol carnival.

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Nov. 10th, 2016

Entering the LJIdol Arena With Purpose

After much rumination, I've decided I don't want to miss out on another incredible season of being forced to write on command, expose my raw places and bend to Gary's whims.

This not my first time in the Green Room, but it has been a while and it IS my first time with this name. If you are curious as to why, message me and all will be revealed! I'm not trying to be mysterious, but for...reasons...change was a necessity.

I went ahead and added all my friends and favorites from years past. When I show up in your feed, know I'm not a complete stranger! I've missed you and don't want to accidentally skip any awesome writing!

Looking forward to it all.

Nov. 7th, 2016

New Journal

To me, the first entry in a new journal always feels like wearing a new pair of shoes. The shoes look really great and there's the confidence that comes with wearing cool new kicks but they're also a little uncomfortable until they get broken in, not to mention surprising, every time you look down and go "Wait...those aren't my shoes! Oh, I suppose they are now."

Until I go hunt down some old friends, this shoe's just too squeaky-new.