Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Last Walk-Through

The friendly little girl pointed all of them out to me.

“And that’s Kool-Aid, that’s Play-Doh, and I don’t know what that is – glue, maybe, that’s where we do crafts – oh, and that’s chocolate milk!”

I pretended to be interested in the brown and pink spots that dotted what was once my new carpet.  Our tenants had lived in our little three-bedroom house for going on two years, longer than we had after we built it.

It was our first house, and we lived there for four months before my husband got a job that relocated us over 500 miles away.  We couldn’t sell it right away because we were among the first residents in a new housing development and nobody wanted to buy a slightly used house when they could buy their own new one.  The best we could do for a while was rent ours to families who for various reasons couldn’t or didn’t want to buy their own home, families with so many children that one of them slept in the hall.

We were on a trip to do a walk-through with our real estate agent before putting it back on the market to sell.  We hadn’t been there in over two years.

You have a soft spot for your first house.  We had exciting memories of sitting in a showroom, choosing tile and carpet and siding and shutter paint, deciding on transom windows and nine-foot ceilings and cabinet color.  We visited it while it was being built and took pictures of each other witnessing its progress.  Friends helped us move in when it was finished and we ate our first meal out of pizza boxes on the dining room floor. We thought we would raise babies in that house.  I knew every inch of it, even after only living there for four months.

And it was wrecked.  Lived in.  Hard.

I wasn’t angry, really.  They were nice people and paid their rent, and never complained about anything.  We had only one child at the time, but I knew what seven people – five of them rambunctious kids – could do to a house.  I certainly didn’t expect them to care for my first home like we did.  It was just a rental. They weren’t even the first tenants to live there.

As I moved through the rooms, stepping over the stained carpet, trying not to stare wide-eyed at the scuffed walls, the filthy baseboards, and doors hanging askew, my shock at the mess and weepy nostalgic feelings faded with every step.  All of this dissipated when we said goodbye and shut the door behind us.  Still, the agent was professional and matter-of-fact in a way that I couldn’t be.

“We have to get them out of there if you want to sell this house.”

His words hit the mark.  This wasn’t our home anymore.  Soon this house would be vacant, all evidence of a messy life – and our new, once-promising one – gone, replaced by new carpet and paint and trim, memories of former lives power-washed away.  It was just a structure that we needed to unload financially.

We never visited our first house again.  It eventually sold, and we washed our hands of its debt and continued upkeep.  It was someone else’s home now, ready to be filled with new life.  All we owned of it now were a few memories.  Sometimes, I look it up online, to see how our old neighborhood grew up without us.  I see mature trees and flowerbeds and evidence of lives well-lived.  I’m glad to have those years behind us, our first house experience in the past. 


This post inspired by:

Mama Kat's Writing Workshop

Prompt #5: Write a blog post inspired by the word stain.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Comfort of the Cliché

There are hard events in my past, things that I don’t talk about anymore, but that once held all the words inside their boundaries.

I have felt all the inappropriate feelings about these things, gone through their cycles and repetitions and levels of strength, tried them out in different patterns, and have abandoned all of them for healthier and more manageable ones.

Time heals all wounds.

Years soften the blows of the past; corners become rounded and worn.  The paint is chipped in places – lines are blurred, edges melt away.  Feelings, once so hard and severe, are muted like watercolors.  Rage and grief turn to angst and melancholy. We fold into more comforting versions of the extremes, and they become old friends who gave us specific personality characteristics.  In time they may only be mere tendencies.

Chalk it up to experience.

I like knowing that no matter what happens to me, there is a precedent that I can lean upon.  All the things I’ve heard, all the things I’ve done – someone else has been there before.  When life is hard, there is comfort in knowing that life runs its course in ways that at least one other person on earth has experienced before.  My life is mine alone, but it’s familiar.  I exist in this place and in this time, but this is also true for everyone else.  We watch world events and note the pace of history and watch it unfold before us. The human experience isn’t so unique. 

You are not alone.

I’m better today than I ever was.  Age and the settling of time are welcome balms on old scars.  Things that used to bother me don’t bother me anymore.  New conflicts are approached differently than they would have been twenty, ten, five years ago.  I gave up caring about things that don’t matter, and care more about things that are important.

Age is the mother of wisdom.

Thankfulness and gratefulness are words that mean a lot but aren’t the same.  We are thankful for home, family, freedom.  I am thankful, but haven’t been grateful enough.  Feeling thankful and expressing it go together.  The knowledge that you can’t go back becomes real, and the sense that today is a good day to start is significant.

You never stop learning.

All of our lives are small and short. We are each only one, can only do one person’s work at any given time.  We may want to do big things and accomplish great goals, or we may want to erase the dark spots that we’ve created and hide.  We may be successful at each of these things.  But we all have the same end.

Death is a part of life.

Another year is coming to an end, and with it come all the old patterns.  Time flies by so fast now that just yesterday I was doing this very thing – preparing for end of year holidays.  Marking my calendar, shopping for gifts, noting old traditions and trying out new ones to shake the dust off of life – wasn’t I just doing this?

Time marches on.

Toward the end of her life, my great grandmother peered at me and said “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”  As my life continues on without her, I realize her wisdom.  Instead of considering that life is just a hamster wheel of inevitabilities, I realized that I can make it what I want, but that humility is key.  Her familiar words have clear meaning.

They wouldn’t be clichés if they weren’t true. 


Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Worst Punishment

I was a pretty good kid. 

The middle child, I spent most of my childhood watching my older brother invite trouble for pushing boundaries and trying to get my younger one to walk them.

I said I was pretty good, not a saint.

Our parents were no-nonsense disciplinarians – we knew right from wrong pretty clearly, and knew what was expected and what wasn’t.  I felt insecure when I got in trouble, and for an emotional kid who felt pretty insecure most days anyway, staying way behind the line was my deal.

But something happens in adolescence, doesn’t it?  Something churns within each of us and dares us to go beyond expected and safe.  We notice risks we can take in school, relationships, and free time, and think about bucking the system within which we were previously so lovingly and carefully nurtured. 

We toe the line for a little while, and then one day we take a giant step right over it, chin jutting high and arrogance blazing.  After that first transgression, the line fades.  Before we know it we’re passing over what’s good and right for what’s illegal figuratively and sometimes literally.

* * *

I had never gotten in trouble for doing something really bad before.  But one night my girlfriend and I had a plan.  We wanted the night to ourselves, free from parental chains presenting as curfews and locked doors.  We wanted to fly without obstructions.  No matter that we didn’t know our flight path – we wanted the world to be ours for one night.

Most people are only of average intelligence when it comes to getting away with something, and as small town teens, we were hardly special in the street smarts department.  We performed the old sleepover switcheroo, telling our own parents we were staying at each other’s houses.  Our parents were only acquaintances, and as we always made our own social plans, it was unlikely that they’d contact each other for anything save a grave emergency.  We took that risk.

As we headed out into the frigid night – it was the dead of winter, not really the best time for a stroll – we decided to head to a friend’s house in town, shivering the whole way there from adrenaline as well as the air temperature.  Approaching our destination, our shouting and laughing had by now quieted; our voices, previously emboldened by the thrill of sneaking out, were now silenced by the threat of freezing to death.

* * *

We had been warm for hours in the living room of that friend’s house, whisper-chatting and giggling when the knock on the door made us all jump.  Our fun little trip ended at three o’clock in the morning with that knock.  My friend’s dad was red-faced and without many words as he drove us back to their house.  Unbeknownst to us, our parents had been communicating with each other after all.  My mom, standing in her winter coat in their kitchen, said “You’d better hope you don’t get pulled over on your way home” and I realized I’d be driving home at a time that was legally forbidden according to my junior license.

I walked in the door of our house, head and spirits low.  I hadn’t been drinking or doing drugs, just wandering free.  But I had lied, and made my parents worry.  I was so stupid.  It made me feel terrible, and now I was facing punishment.   What awful thing was in my future?  Mom had already gone to bed; she wasn’t there to see me home safely.  How did they know where we were?  Who called who?  How long am I going to be grounded?  I didn’t sleep well that night.

* * *

The next morning, my mother informed me that I was to tell my father what happened. After hearing my story, my dad asked me what I thought was a fair punishment.  I didn’t know.  They left it as that.  I wasn’t formally grounded, but I do remember not seeing my friends for some time.  During that time, chores were completed without complaint and homework was finished immediately after school.  My punishment was self-inflicted.  Nothing more was needed.

It may sound like I got off easy, but I never snuck out again.  I learned my lesson.

Sometimes the worst punishment is disappointing yourself.


This post inspired by:

Mama Kat's Writing Workshop

Prompt #2: Tell us about something you were punished for.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Greenest, Most Glorious Grass In All The Land

“Did you water today?”

I stole a glance out the window.   The sky was a little bit overcast. 

It was sort of misty that morning.  The sidewalks were wet when I went out for my daily walk, my hair damp when I returned.  There definitely hadn't been a downpour, but not quite a shower either.  Eh.  The ground appeared to be soft and muddy. 

Be casual.  “I didn’t have to.  It rained today,” I blithely replied, waving my hand.  Too much?  I inhaled slowly, holding my breath.


“Uh-huh.”  I paused, but barely.  “What’d you do today?”  Good job.  Total interest.

Twenty minutes of soaking a day for seven days, then about every other day for 14 days after that.  That was the prescription the lawn service gave my husband when they reseeded the bare patches he made by tearing crabgrass out of our small front yard ten days ago.  The prescription he passed on to me, the keeper of the house and apparently now also the one responsible for the front lawn.  Twenty-one days of watering.  That’s three weeks of doing a chore that he chose, one that I loathe.  Wild animals probably poop and pee on our lawn in the dark of night, a hopscotch square that the neighbor kids cut through from their house to their friends’ houses every day.  If we had a million dollars to burn, a good portion of it would be buried in the yard, home to hundreds of bugs and worms.  I hope they enjoy it.

We live in a part of the world where it rains regularly and grass grows naturally and sometimes there are dandelions.  Yet we pay for the promise of perfect grass and no dandelions, and we water that promise for twenty minutes a day for seven days and then every other day for 14 days after that. 

This isn’t even the first time we’ve done it.

I regarded the greenish 15-foot path that hints at the lush lawn that we will see in the spring.  One that I pray will take.   This time, please take.

Praying for green grass is not new for me.   Specifically, I pray for green that perfectly matches the current green, because if this green isn’t the right shade of green, this project will begin yet again.  I wonder if he is praying, or if he’s laying the responsibility all on me just like the watering.

Perfect and glorious green grass, please take.  And take with it all the conversations about grass and weeds and why does our yard look like this and what are these brown spots and how can we get every blade to lie just so and appear like carpet and be completely flawless every single day and I hate this #&%! crabgrass and what did the lawn guys say when they came today and I don’t think they’re doing a very good job with the fertilizer.

Meanwhile my eyes glaze over as I fantasize about cement trucks and front yards full of mulch and river rock and how much is blacktop, again?

Please take, grass.  Grow long and lush and banish the weeds and the conversations about the grass and the weeds.  Grow unlike any grass has grown anywhere else.  Make our front yard a destination on a sightseeing tour exclusively for those who get jazzed about thick, green, perfect grass.


Don't even get me started on the mailbox situation.


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Borrowing Daylight

Fumbling in the dark, I open and close four different drawers to get to the clothes I’ll wear in the morning.  Each drawer makes a raspy sound upon opening, gives a thick clunk as I try to shut it quietly.

Still in bed, he flips over.  It would annoy me to be awakened by those sounds first thing every morning.  The anticipated rssssp-clunk-rssssp-clunk- rssssp-clunk-rssssp-clunk in the dark of each new day would drive me crazy.  He’s never said anything about it.  He must not mind.

I creep to the closet and flip the switch.  Light floods the small space and I grab a sweatshirt, a pair of pants, and flick the light off.  His snooze time is up – the alarm buzzes for attention.

Quickly, I get dressed, brush my teeth.  He stumbles into the bathroom to do the same.  He reaches around me for his own clothes.  They are on the side of the tub; he always puts them there the night before.  His habit is to prepare; mine is to rssssp-clunk my way through the dark.

Morning, we say.  Neither is fully awake.  The light is glaring; we are squinting.

I’m still in that half-asleep phase of waking where interrupted dreams still take over much of the brain’s attention.  As I brush my hair I replay the last scene, where I climbed through a dark men’s prison dormitory up dirty, plastic stairs, trying hard not to wake inmates while making my way through a maze of passages and narrow hallways that made up their sleeping spaces.  The stench of sleep and sweat and uncleanness there is somehow still in my nostrils.

Why am I always lost in my dreams, trying to find my way out?  Meandering through potentially dangerous places is a common theme.  My dream-self takes a lot of risks.

Finished with our toilettes, one of us turns off the light.  We plunge into darkness again, but only for a second.  He flips another light on to grab something, then flips it off.  I do the same.  What follows is a popcorn of light-dark-light-dark-light-dark all the way downstairs.

I find him in the kitchen, overhead light harsh in its singleness.  I flip two more on, knowing that the lights he needs to get out the door will be turned off very soon.  When he leaves, I sit at the table and press the power button on my in-need-of-a-replacement laptop.  It hums to life lazily, the screen’s glow adding to the existing illumination.

The kids wake eventually, each of them with their own rhythm of light-dark.  As they move through the next hour before catching the bus to school, the sun rises and asserts itself on the horizon.  Sometimes I am called to the window to share in witnessing the pinks, purples, oranges, and yellows just above the rooftops of our neighbors’ homes. 

They leave.  It is a cloudless morning; we don’t need the artificial lights now. I turn them all off. 

Today, I will borrow the light.


This post inspired by:

Mama Kat's Writing Workshop

Prompt #1: Write a blog post inspired by the word light.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Double Dipping is Fun For Everyone

Hey, you!

A story:

Once there was a wife and mother who lived her life and wrote about it.  One day she wrote about her husband and another day she wrote about her kids.  Both were the work of a genius; this woman was the smartest person anyone she knew had ever met.

Soon after writing about her husband and children, two separate websites decided to published her work on the very same day.  She was thrilled, and so were the hordes of her adoring fans.  She humbly accepted each honor with a grace and poise unmatched by any other published writer before or since.

Today, she shares her honor with you.

* * *

I'm amazingly, humbly, and thrillingly thrilled to be featured on both Bonbon Break AND Coffee +  
Crumbs today!  I swear I didn't arrange this to happen.  The universe is just that kind to me.  Don't be jealous.  Or do.  I can't help what you feel.

On Bonbon Break:  Why I Hate My Husband (previously published here, on About 100%), a humorous post about hate and love and how sometimes they are confused but only by some husbands.

On Coffee + Crumbs:  I Won't Miss You, about kids growing and moving through the stages of life and parents trying to be all cool and zen about it despite the inevitability that they'll fail miserably.

I'd love for you to visit me at both places today, tomorrow, and forever.