Monday, August 19, 2013

i was here

"The hearts I have touched will be the proof that I leave that I made a difference."

Andie felt so tired but she could see the schoolhouse less than a mile in front of her and soldiered on. She thought back to twenty years ago, the first time she'd made this journey, and how tired she had been then. Life comes full circle like that, she guessed. So Andie trudged on, hoping that her legs wouldn't give out on her before she got to the door. Hoping that if they did, the kids inside wouldn't see her. Hopes that became obsolete as a sudden flood of children swept out of the door of the schoolhouse and began charging towards her.

Despite her fatigue, Andie found herself grinning ear from ear and picking up her pace to meet the kids. As she walked, she did a quick head count. Fifteen. Today, they were all here which was a bit of a miracle. The kids reached her and the hugs pulled her down to the ground. Andie didn't have the energy to get up, so she just let the kids smother her down and drown her tickles. Once again, she marveled at the joy these kids could have when they had so little. The instructor, Mr. Joe as the kids called him, followed by the kids and gently began pulling them off of Andie. 

Joe, of course, fully realized that Andie was exhausted. Andie had handpicked him to secede her after she could no longer count on making the trek everyday. Joe had been one of her star pupils and one of the few that remained in the area. There was so much potential in him. She knew he would do amazing things and every time she saw him, she only could hope she had given him enough of an academic foundation not to get drowned in the big bad world.  He certainly had the bravery and intelligence to handle anything that came at him. 

Joe helped Andie to her feet, pulling her up into a strong hug. He pulled back but let his arm remain around her waist, practically carrying her into the schoolhouse and to the seat at the front of the room. Andie looked around the space fondly while Joe tried to calm the children down some. To most people, there wasn't much here to look at. Bare dirty walls. No real door to speak of. Falling apart, ancient desks. No books. Just a room full of eager children and their weary teacher. But the kids that had come through this door had changed Andie's life. Including this fifteen, there had been over 150 kids that came through this door at some point, although only half had "graduated". 

Andie had tried to keep tabs on as many as she could. She would check on the girls from time to time, play with their kids, and help them cook dinner. She would eye their babies to make sure they weren't falling prey to any number of sicknesses that pervaded the area, and if she saw the slightest sign quietly leave whatever medications she happened to have with her. She would also check out their husbands, looking for any signs of domestic issues. But, for the most part, her girls had heeded her lessons. Their children were healthy and their husbands were respectful and kind.

The boys, of course, had succeeded in ways the girls were not able to in this country. Just a fact of life that would take more than a simple schoolteacher to change. Her boys were well-respected everywhere they went. Leading people with their voices, inspiring people with their talents, or simply raising a new generation of thoughtful children. 

Andie had never married, never had her own kids. Her friends and family never seemed to understand this. At her age, they all seemed so concerned about her missing legacy, that she would leave nothing behind to stand as a testament of her existence. But Andie knew better. She looked around this room, its dusty but sturdy walls, at these children so ready to learn, and she knew that her legacy would last lifetimes. That these kids and all the ones before were changed by a simple girl that had walked into a quiet village twenty years ago, approached a group of kids with a stack of old books, and offered to teach them how to read. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

with arms wide open

"If I had just one wish, only one demand, I hope he's not like me. I hope he understands that he can take this life and hold it by the hand."

Just as she suspected, Jo was terrified. Her pain tolerance was always high and the labor wasn't very intense yet, so the terror was the only thing really bothering her. The contractions were nothing compared to the terror racing through her mind and heart. A fear that had been intensifying throughout her pregnancy, but she kept pushing it to the side. After all, she was on the pregnancy train now. No getting off.

Her husband knew of her fear and mostly dismissed it. He, like her doctor, recognized it and attributed to the fear of giving birth and handling parenthood. And Jo had let them then that rather than address the real heart of the issue. Jo wasn't scared of giving birth. She had been in the delivery room with her sister during the births of her two nephews. She was well aware of what would happen and felt prepared to persevere through the pain. She wasn't afraid of being horrible at parenting. Jo had grown up around kids. She wasn't delusional, she knew it would be the hardest thing she'd ever done and she knew she wouldn't always make the right choices, but she was sure she had the tools to raise a child.

The truth was buried deep inside Jo and now that she was facing the inevitable, she couldn't hide from it anymore. But still she tried, chastising herself in vain for even being in this situation. She had told her husband, even before their marriage, that she didn't want kids. He had worn her down, convinced her of the magic of a baby with their shared genes. Honestly, Jo had never cared about that. But she knew he did, that having a kid meant the world to him. She loved him and this was one piece of the world she could give him. So here she was. Love could make a fool out of anyone.

And this fool was having the baby she'd never really wanted to have. Not because she didn't love kids. In fact, it was maybe because she loved them too much. The only thing she could be sure of was that she loved this baby, but it terrified her that she couldn't assure it anything more. She was responsible for bringing this life into the world and she couldn't assure it good health, or a good life, or anything beyond each moment as it occurred. The fear was paralyzing. Her husband would have called it irrational, and maybe he was right. But it was a fear that Jo had held for as long as she could remember. Something like that is difficult to let go of. She remembered how her sister had been, excited about bringing a new life into this world. All Jo could think of was how messed up this world was and how selfish it was for her to bring a life into it.

Yet here she was, preparing to birth a child that she would feel guilt over until the day she died. Jo rubbed her belly and tried to hope. Hope that her child would never be so fearful, that her doubt and guilt and fear wouldn't permeate their life.

teach me how to be loved

"Will you leave me lost in my shadows or will you pull me into your light?"

Evan knew he only had one job here. To keep her wine glass full. And, of course, to listen. This had been a night long coming. Five months into dating Shannon and the epiphany had only occurred a few days ago. Well, epiphany was a generous word. Since basically Shannon had told him what was going on with her. But once she did, the ups and downs of their relationship had all clicked into place. The fights that seemed to materialize out of thin air, the days of silent treatment he never understood the cause of. Not to say that Evan never played a part in it but he was pretty sure that his small mistakes and bad moves were blown out of proportion by Shannon.

It was a few days ago when she mentioned her "yellow dress" day as she called it. Evan remembered that day because it was the first day he'd seen Shannon. She hadn't met him that day but the next time their mutual friend had a party, he'd made sure to be there on the off chance that she would be. And she was. Evan was surprised to hear that was the day she'd made the decision to really start dating towards a relationship, to try to let go of all the things that had been holding her back from trusting someone and committing to someone. Maybe it was destiny.

Evan had invited Shannon over tonight for the sole purpose of getting all the stuff she'd been holding onto out in the air. He didn't know much about what she was going through, and was a bit nervous it might be some horrible tragedy he wouldn't know how to handle. But he wanted this relationship to work, because when things were good, they were amazing. So he'd brought out two bottles of her favorite Merlot and started pouring. It took one full glass and Evan sharing one of his own heartbreaks to get her to open up. But when she did the flood gates broke. Evan had put down his own glass to focus on what she was saying. To really hear her, to understand her.

And he did. Shannon talked about the people she'd lost, but when she spoke of the grief it was full of so much guilt it was shocking. Guilt over not being closer to the people she'd lost, guilt over letting them go too quickly, guilt over not remembering all the moments they'd spent together. Shannon talked about never fitting in with the other kids and being bullied as a child. Again, she placed the blame on herself for not figuring out how to be more social, more likable. She talked about the men who'd ran through her life and broken her heart. And how she should have been stronger, should have seen it coming. It was all such everyday stuff, sad and unfortunate undoubtedly, but the things that so many people go through without shutting down the way Shannon had. Evan had lost people and had his heart broken a few times. But the difference here was the guilt that Shannon held, as though every bit of it was her fault. And the way she bore her burden alone.

So Evan did what someone, anyone, should have done for Shannon all her life. The tears were streaming down her face and she had fallen silent, just staring into her empty glass. Evan walked over to her, placed the glass on the table, and sat down on the couch beside her, pulling her into his lap. He wrapped his arms as tightly around her as he could and let her cry. They stayed like that for nearly an hour, Shannon clinging to him like a life raft and Evan never letting go.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

i can't let go

"If I hang on to this heartache, then my soul will not be free. So I keep trying..."

Four months and eight days after her realization and nothing had really changed for Shannon. Except the crushing truth that was her life. The constant replaying of relationships since she was sixteen years old. She could see the missed opportunities, the doors she'd closed, and a few hearts she was pretty sure she'd broken. She realized that she had been blind. And now she was lost, a grown woman with the relationship experience of a child.

Shannon continued to prepare dinner for Evan while she stewed over her predicament. From the outside, things were going well. Her friends had even commented on her new outlook on love, her newly found eagerness to date and to look forward to the possibility of commitment. It was a lot of bravado, more of how she hoped to soon feel rather than how she really felt now. The last few weeks dating Evan had been nice. She smiled even now just thinking about his dark brown eyes and sweet, sweet lips. Shannon wasn't delusional and knew things weren't supposed to be perfect, but she also didn't think it should be this hard this early on.

And she was pretty sure it was all her. Her mood swings, from frantic happiness to raging doubt to sobbing in tears, were hard to separate from Evan since they were mostly caused by him. Even she couldn't predict how she would react to the things he said and did, things that were mostly neutral but that she spun into her own craziness. Shannon could look back, logically find the point where she had gone too far, but she couldn't seem to stop it as it was happening. As though her emotions she'd finally let surface were in control and, worse than that, in overdrive.

But mostly Shannon was concerned because she knew. Her talk and her actions covered up an ugly truth that she could no longer bury. The moments that had broken her, that had trapped her in this fear and pessimism and unwillingness to hope were constantly on her mind. She used to ignore them but if she wanted to get past this, she couldn't any longer. She wanted to let them go but she couldn't. The moments were as raw and painful as they were when they happened. The tears and frustration and anger were fresh each time and it felt like her heart was being shredded every time she thought of them.

It was those moments keeping her from Evan. Those moments causing her wild mood swings. Those moments leaving her unsure what was the right thing to do at any given moment of time. She was still afraid, afraid of repeating the past, afraid of being exposed as an unhealed fraud. Those moments had passed and she'd never dealt with them emotionally, just buried it. Now it was all surfacing and she wasn't sure how to even start to let that kind of deep-seated pain go.

The doorbell rang and Shannon wiped the tears from her eyes. No, she wasn't sure where to start or if she would ever be able to let it all go. But the alternative of not trying seemed ridiculous. So Shannon opened to door to once again try to let Evan in.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

ooh oh

"I've been hiding all my life and I've been trying to keep me safe. But I've been healing and I've been thinking I am ready finally for something more than this."

Shannon smoothed down the front of her sundress and glanced at her reflection one more time. She wondered if they would think she looked difference. Probably not. She was just wearing a simple yellow sundress and brown flat sandals. Cute, pretty even, but nothing particularly spectacular. But when Shannon looked in the mirror she could see the difference. A light in her eyes that wasn't there yesterday. She wasn't sure if it was even there a few hours ago. It was amazing how a few hours could change a person's life.

Nothing dramatic had happened. No momentous, life-altering events had occurred. Just a particularly eye-opening therapy session. One of those dramatic a-ha moments she had been waiting for the past year. Shannon had never really been sure about this therapy thing. She found the time interesting, found it refreshing to get some things off her chest. But the sessions had never really done much to change her outlook until today. Today Shannon had talked about an ex. A guy that she had casually dated a few years ago, and happened to run into again recently. He was married now with a daughter on the way. Shannon was glad for him, he was a good guy. But it made her realize her life was stalled.

The therapist had dug in here and really earned his money this week. Shannon had gotten to the heart of what was holding her back. Fear. The smug expression on her therapist's face told her that he had known this for awhile. Shannon was surprised at this revelation but it made sense. Looking back at the relationships she'd watched her mother have with a string of jerks. A pattern her sister repeated. A pattern that Shannon was so determined not to fall into that she was pushing people away and keeping herself closed off.

Shannon had set in her bedroom for two hours after the session, letting this information sink into her. Fear. She was afraid of being hurt, afraid of loving someone unworthy, afraid of having to pick herself up after the heartbreak. She was living in a state of fear. An easy life in some ways but completely unfulfilling. A gaping hole had been exposed that she couldn't cover back up now. Her fear had pushed her into this lonely, bitter life that she didn't want to lead anymore.

Yesterday was the last day she would lead this life. At least that's what she told herself and that was the first step. Realistically, it would be hard. Probably the hardest thing she'd ever done. She had at least the last fifteen years worth of behavior to overcome. Shannon imagined there would be a lot of doubt and second guessing and setbacks, but at least now she was going the right way down the path. At least now she had a little bit of hope for something more.

Monday, July 29, 2013

i told the storm

“Go away. I command you to move today. Because of faith, I have a brand new day. The sun will shine and I will be okay.”

Mommy always took me to Church on Sundays. We would get up early and could only eat cereal for breakfast and had to put on uncomfortable clothes and tight shoes. Then we would to go to Church. She said it was important that I go and so it must have been even though I didn't really like it. There were lots of people I didn't know but they all acted like they knew me. People that liked to pat my head and give me hugs. Mommy always gave me a special smile when I didn't squirm away from the people. And Church was long. People talking and people singing. On and on and on. Mommy would never let us leave early no matter how nicely I asked.

But I always tried to listen because Mommy said Church was important. Whenever I looked at her she was listening hard, watching the Preacher talk or singing with the Choir. The only time she wasn't watching was during the Prayer, when Mommy said we had to put our heads down and close our eyes. The Prayer was special time because that was when we talked to God. That's what Church was all about. God. And his son Jesus. Whenever I listened hard like Mommy, the Preacher was always talking about God and Jesus. About how God created the world and how Jesus saved us. I wasn't really sure what he had saved us all from but it must have been pretty bad. The Preacher also told us that God would protect us if we said the Prayer to him. I remembered that from the last time I was at Church and listening hard.

And last night I said my first Prayer alone. I did it quiet so Mommy wouldn't hear me. We were squished in the bathtub, me, Mommy, and my dog Basil. The rain was was so loud on the roof that it sounded like a hammer. And there was a lot of wind too. There weren't any windows in the bathroom but I could hear stuff banging against the side of the house. Mommy was holding my hand so hard it hurt and was using her other hand to find a signal on the radio. It was all staticy. So while she was doing that, I closed my eyes and said the Prayer. I did just like the Preacher said and asked God to protect us. And Jesus too, after all he had saved us once before. I did the Amen at the end just like in Church.

I remembered falling asleep on Basil in the bathtub and when I woke up there was no rain or wind. I woke Mommy up when I tried to get out of the bathtub and she got out first. The door was stuck at first but we both pushed together and finally got the bathroom door open. All the stuff in Mommy's bedroom was all over the place. The window was open and there was stuff in here that looked like my toy car parts, except for real-life cars.  Mommy looked out the window, then ran outside. Me and Basil followed behind her. All the other houses looked bad. A tree had fallen across two of them. There was truck sticking out of one of them. Big chunks of some of the houses were missing.

But our house looked the same. No trees or cars or missing pieces. I guess the Prayer worked.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

bottle it up

"Soon as you start to make room for the parts that aren't you, it gets harder to bloom in a garden of love."

The cup shattered all around her with shards coming to the edge of her feet. Claire looked down absently, only registering the broken glass enough to tiptoe around it. Her eyes never left the view of the backyard through the sliding doors leading out from the kitchen. As she walked, she tried to remember the last time she had even opened those doors. Too long.

Maybe to the common observer, the yard looked okay. The grass was cut low, flowers were blooming, birds chirping and all that nonsense. But she wasn't a common observer and she was not pleased with what she saw. Claire had created her oasis her, had spent hours happily constructing her own Eden in this yard. What she was seeing was decidedly not Eden-like. Misshapen bushes along the walkway, weeds growing mightily in the flower bed, overripe vegetables in the garden.

Claire remembered the bright, early morning she came out here. Her routine had been so simple yet so satisfying. Early morning rising, a grapefruit and iced green tea, a.m. yoga at the studio down the street followed by scrambled eggs, then at least an hour in the garden. Claire came out even when it was ice cold or foggy or slightly drizzly. The only thing that would stop her was an actual rainstorm, and even then she would sometimes sit at her kitchen table fervently hoping the rain would end soon. She would get more done before 8 a.m. than any of the people she knew. Her friends thought she was crazy for starting her days like that, even the days she had to go into the office. But they didn't complain when they were munching on the vegetables and herbs from her garden. Nor when she hosted birthday parties or cookouts in the backyard.

How did this happen? Claire considered the question briefly but the answer was obvious. She just didn't want to face it. Her nights used to be filled with quick chores like loading the dishwasher and ironing tomorrow's clothes, reading in bed, and falling into sleep at a reasonable time. Now her nights were late, filled with pool halls and movie theaters and bars and bowling alleys. Her beautiful, blissful mornings filled with yoga and light food and cultivating her yard were now consisted of hitting the snooze button, strong coffee, and hastily made stacks of pancakes. Now her nights and mornings were preoccupied with Connor.

Connor, whose kisses were like rain, but that was the only thing light and airy about him. Claire remembered that her whole life used to be light and airy. Then came Connor and those kisses. Now she had been sucked into his world. It had all been so fun and new at first, new places and people and adventures. A whirlwind. But the fun vacation feeling had ended a while ago and Claire was now faced with the realization that what she had mistaken as a vacation was actually her life. And she couldn't live like this.

There were a lot of things Claire wasn't sure of as she walked through her yard to the small tool shed. She wasn't sure if the squash in her garden would be edible. She wasn't sure if her roses would recover from weeks of neglect. She wasn't sure how long it would take her to get this backyard back into shape. She wasn't sure when was the last time she had sat out here after work with a glass of wine. She wasn't sure how Connor would react to early nights and early mornings. But Claire was absolutely certain of one thing as she put on her gardening gloves. She was sure she was about to find out.