Love is the Guide

Sometimes things happen in life that force me to reflect.  Reflection isn’t always easy…. just like looking in the mirror and acknowledging the cumulative effects of years in shades of gray and crevices along once-porcelain skin, reflection sheds light on ingrained patterns that led to some of my darkest days.

My weakest moments have shown me that faith is hope, and love is the way.  Not romantic love.  Instead, the love that is friendship and genuine caring for others; the kind of love that prompts me to do something just to make someone else smile.  Because, when I can’t find the strength to smile myself, seeing someone else smile is enough.

Love is the guide.

Love is seen when it's least expected
Love is seen when it’s least expected

This weekend, I visited friends that I haven’t seen in a few years.  I can think of many excuses reasons, but all of them are selfish.  I showed up on their doorstep unannounced, Easter Lily in hand, and they welcomed me without any hard feelings whatsoever.  We visited for hours, she shared some chocolate cake and hugs and we will go to lunch next month when I’m in town again.

This last year has shown me that when the passing idea to do something kind happens, don’t ignore it.  When the thought turns into an urging that keeps resurfacing, I should definitely do something.  With faith giving me strength and love as my guide, I’m ready to embrace the lessons that life has for me.

Have a beautiful Monday!

Solitude (Fiction – with Photo by Emilio Pasquale)

It’s been a while, but it’s that time again… another collaboration with Emilio Pasquale!  He supplies a photo and I provide a story inspired by the photo.  If you haven’t checked out his photo blog, I’ve made his name a link so you can check it out… I don’t think you’ll be disappointed:)

20160116-DSCF3663-HDR-Edit-Emilio

I pulled my tangled hair into a ponytail at the base of my neck and wrapped a rubber band around it.  As I plunged my other shirt into the creek to rinse it clean, I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between two young men, probably in their early twenties, I guessed.

“I can’t wait to start at Reichter and Schmidt.”

“We don’t graduate for two more months.”

“Yeah, but I’m ready now.  I’m thinking I’ll get promoted and make the real money in no time.”

“I haven’t started applying for jobs yet,” the other responded.

“You can’t wait for life to happen, Danny.”

“It happens anyway.”

I lifted my gaze to Danny.  I didn’t know him, but felt his kindred spirit.  I could attest to the fact that life resembled a desert wash after torrential rain.  Unable to soak into the hardened soil, the excess water paid no mind to the boundaries of banks, much like life progressed regardless of “plans” or dreams.   One day, you were in control and the next, it slipped away like liquid through oily fingers.

“You can’t get pissed about where you’re going if you don’t steer the boat.”

“Who says I’m pissed?”

The go-getter snorted.  “You will be when you’re middle-aged, living with mommy and daddy, and still trying to figure out what you want to do with your life.”

“Whatever,” Danny said as he flicked a rock across the water.

The ripples expanding from the place where the rock sank mesmerized me.  At first, pronounced and defined, then tapering off into stillness, they reminded me of my late middle-aged view of life.  The problems and struggles were all rocks thrown into my pond; at first disruptive, but gradually they disappeared.  No matter the rock’s size, I remained.

People like Danny’s friend really got under my skin because I used to be one of them.  When I was in grade school, I knew I wanted a husband, two kids and a couple dogs, living in a huge suburban house with an expensive car in the driveway.  I dreamed of schmoozing at networking dinners in fancy restaurants and traveling all over the world.  I wanted the big corner office with the floor-to-ceiling windows, even though I would hardly be there to enjoy the view.  I had faith in the myth that a woman can have it all.  I got everything I ever desired, but I still had nothing.  Ironically, I didn’t find meaning until I had nothing.

I wanted to tell Danny it was okay to be still and listen for life to beckon you.  But I knew I wouldn’t because I hadn’t spoken a single word in 2,853 days.

“I can’t help you if you don’t want to help yourself.”

Danny flung a rock into the water.  “I’m sick of your stupid clichés, Mark!” He hurled another rock at the same spot.  “Can you, for once, say something that isn’t a quote from some motivational book?  Or is that thinking too far ‘outside the box’?”

My gaze shifted from Danny to Mark.

“I guess not.  I’m going back to camp.”

Danny rested his forehead in his hands.  I knew how he felt.  I had also thrown daggers with deadly accuracy.  I left in my wake too many corpses to count; relationships that would never be restored.  Now, I traveled alone, unarmed, by necessity- so no one else would suffer.

I twisted the water from my shirt and hung it on a sturdy branch of a nearby scrub oak.  Danny never lifted his head or acknowledged me, even as my footsteps crunched the leaves and pine needles covering the ground.  I was used to that, as the years had made me invisible.  Only a few people noticed me, in the form of spare change dropped at my feet.  Humiliated, I always accepted with an averted gaze and a nod of my head.  God provided.

Danny stood and dusted his jeans off.  He walked in the opposite direction of his friend.  I thought a quick prayer that he might not be so stubborn and choose to make amends.  I hoped he wouldn’t know the pain of surviving alone.

I lowered myself to the ground beneath the tree and leaned back, resting my head on my pack.  As soon as the sun rose, I would stuff my few belongings inside the bag and head west with my life carried upon my shoulders.  I had a destination in mind, but no timeframe in which to get there.  I never thought beyond what I would do when I got there because I think I knew, deep down, there wouldn’t be a beyond to concern myself with.

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This story was obviously inspired by Emilio’s photo.  He sent it to me back in January but I just haven’t been able to write.  When I saw this photo, I saw immense loneliness, and it was more the emotion that I took from the photo than the image itself.

Thanks again to Emilio for providing another photo for story inspiration.  I hope we will collaborate again soon!  And thank you to everyone who stopped by to read the story.

Have a beautiful Tuesday!

Worthless Commodity?

Never peace between darkness and light...
Never peace between darkness and light…

I refuse to believe

That time is money;

That each breath is calculated

In dollars and cents,

That what I thought priceless,

Is essentially worthless…

It doesn’t make sense.

I cannot concede

That my value is monetary;

That my worth is determined

On an hourly basis,

That there is no light in darkness,

An eternity spent in stasis …

Life must be more than this.

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First of all, I have to say that I’ve missed this place- and reading what others have been up to.  I knew I’d be gone for a week, maybe two, but my absence extended and I began thinking my writing thoughts were done.  Since my last post in January, I endured a 3.5 hour trial so a judge can determine my fate in my divorce (nearly a year after filing), I unloaded the burden of ‘too much house’, lived with a neighbor for several days while in between houses, moved into a much smaller house that I selected on my own, and got knocked down by a nasty cold.  Things are nowhere near where I’d like them to be but that will take time.  And the things I want to do to make this house my “home” take money.

And this is what started the poem I’ve posted.  As I was patching nail holes throughout my house, wondering how someone could possibly have so many things to hang on the walls, I contemplated the idea of having someone paint the interior.  I quickly nixed that idea because I don’t really have money for paint, much less the luxury of someone to do the work for me.  I thought, I don’t have time or money, but right now, I have more time than money.

That realization sent me thinking about how everything seems to come down to dollars and cents these days.  I’ve spent the last year and over $18,000 fighting a soon-to-be ex who seems to view me as his meal ticket.  I could rant about that but I won’t, because I’m tired.  And besides, there’s no point.  My fate is now in the hands of God, and the judge who will determine how much I will lose.  As I look back on this last year, I’m most disappointed that my value seems to be, well, in my value… as in my salary, my savings, etc.  If I didn’t have the kids to care for, I would quit my job and live nowhere… and everywhere. I’d earn enough money for my necessities, but not enough for anyone to bother to take advantage of me.

But this is the real world.

I feel more hope than I did a year ago, but honestly, I still struggle with lows that make me wonder if I will battle darkness every day of my life.  I wonder if I will always cry when I should be happy, or feel this weight inside me when I should be soaring.  Only time will tell.

Although I’m more realistic (cynical?) than I’ve ever been, I still want to believe my thoughts, ideas and dreams cannot be appraised and converted to currency.  I have to believe that darkness isn’t a certainty and there is more to hope for than whatever this life brings.

Those are the thoughts/inspiration behind the poem.  Have a beautiful Wednesday!

The Beast

01-21 Flower

It slithers through

subconscious caverns,

slinking around the darkest

corners cloaked by repression,

nourished by denial;

the sweetness, addictive-

the hunger, insatiable.

Shrouded in ignorance,

the beast dances the host

into quick-stepped slavery

in jeweled shackles of depravity…

The beast thrives,

while humanity dies.

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Bjorn Rudberg invited me to check out the First Quadrille at dVerse. The challenge invites us to write a piece in exactly 44 words, using the word “dance” as a verb including an object.  If you’d like to join in, the prompt is still open.

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For those of you who read the poem and are thinking, “huh?” this is where I normally help by explaining what I was thinking when I wrote it.  Unfortunately, I can’t be so specific as to name the addiction (and I can’t say why, either), but I can say I was writing about the  impulse (beast) that lives within, unchecked.  It thrives, hidden by our own denial, gaining strength as it consumes us.  Left alone, that impulse/behavior becomes us and we lose who we used to be.  The frightening thing is, others can see this happening, but the afflicted person is often clueless.

I’m sorry I haven’t had as much time to read and comment on blogs – I have about a week before I need to be out of my house, so things are crazy right now.  It will probably be a couple more weeks before I am able to really get back into things – please be patient with me!  Have a beautiful Thursday:)

The Cruise (Fiction – With Photo By Emilio Pasquale)

Well, I did it again… Emilio Pasquale (at Photos by Emilio) gave me this photo to write for December, but I’m a tad bit later than I hoped I’d be.  If you aren’t familiar with this collaboration, Emilio sends me a photo for inspiration and I write a story… my story follows immediately after the photo.  Oh, and if you aren’t familiar with Emilio’s work, you really should click the link above to check it out:)

Photo by Emilio Pasquale... story, by me
Photo by Emilio Pasquale… story, by me

“You can’t do it?” Nikki laughed.  “Oh, it’s too late to back out now, Laura.  A deal is a deal.”

I cleared my throat.  “Look, I had too much to drink and I over-committed myself.”

Nikki’s eyes narrowed as she handed me an envelope.  “The cruise leaves at five o’clock on Friday.  You’ll have about 24 hours to accomplish what you promised.”

“I just told you, I can’t do it.”

“You’ll get the $500 when you bring me proof that you took care of business.”

“Do you want me to bring his heart back in a box or what?”

Ignoring my sarcasm, Nikki smirked.  “No proof, no cash.”

“So when do I find out who he is?”

“You’ll know when you see him.”

I grunted.  “So that’s it?  Nothing else to go on?”

“Nope.”

“And why a cruise?  You know how I feel about boats.  And water.”

“Good thing it’s a ship then.”

I stared at the cruise ticket and itinerary in my hand.  “Fine.  I’ll do it.”  I stood and stomped from the restaurant, fuming that Nikki’s laughter taunted me all the way to the front door.

***        ***        ***

I’d learned a valuable lesson on New Year’s Eve that business and friendship didn’t mix, and deals should never be made over cocktails, behind the cloak of new years and fresh starts.  I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s how the corporate world had gotten so messed up.  My new policy is that alcohol should be consumed alone (if ever), and if others are present, complete silence is preferred.  I’d only had a few days to prepare, but somehow, I crossed the gangway fifteen minutes before departure; make-up and hair professionally done, wearing a knee-length party dress with enough sequins to make a dance mom envious.

I scanned the room and immediately realized I was over-dressed- as in wearing too much fabric.  I’d long suspected it, but this just proved that imagination had become endangered through evolution.  I remained determined to not let it go extinct.  I lifted my chin in protest, proud that I was not one reach away from a wardrobe malfunction.

The conflicting scents in the room made me dizzy.  Musk, floral, citrus- they all smelled like desperation to me.  But the dusting of glitter on too-exposed bodies made it pretty, I guess.  I winced.  Nikki might’ve been right:  I’m too sarcastic to socialize.  I reminded myself that this wasn’t a social event, per se.  I had a task to accomplish.  I shook my head to clear the perfumed thoughts and searched for anyone who appeared like they were looking for someone else.  Isn’t that everyone here? I wondered in frustration.

“Hey, sweetie.  Looking for someone?”

My nose involuntarily wrinkled as I turned toward the male voice right next to me.  I forced my gaze away from the silky sheen of his gelled hair; the lights literally glared off it.  I shook my head and stepped away.  “No.  Actually, I’m not.”  I almost laughed at the stunned effect of my honesty, so I walked away before he mistook the reaction as a come-on.  I happened upon a staircase leading to the upper deck.  As I climbed, I smiled; thankful I had sense enough to wear ballet flats rather than pinchy, strappy high heels.  They have rhinestones, I reminded myself, as if to justify my shunning of fashion.

I leaned against the railing that had been strung with white lights.  The golden lights from nearby vessels seemed magical against the backdrop of the darkening sky.  They almost made me believe in fairy dust, unicorns and love, but when I closed my eyes, I could still discern between fantasy and reality.  My shoulders slumped when the thought occurred to me that gazing at lights did nothing to complete what needed to be done.  I turned toward the stairwell and tried to make myself move, but my feet remained firmly planted.

Then I saw him and gasped.  It couldn’t be.  But his profile looked just like Chas Spencer, my ex-fiancé.  From a distance, one might view him as cunning, even clever.  But I knew better.  I knew there was no substance behind his too-white smile- or beneath the knock-off designer clothing and Calvin Klein boxer briefs- I could see the waistband peeking between the top of his slacks and the bottom of his untucked shirt when he leaned over to tie his shoelace.  I knew he tried to project the air of casual wealth, but the message I got was:  I’m broke and make bad decisions.  I spent all my money on underwear so I couldn’t afford a belt.

Certain he was the real deal and not a doppelganger; I became furious at Nikki and grew more determined than ever to succeed at what I came here to do.  More than the $500, I needed to prove Nikki wrong.  I could do this.

I would rather have been at home wearing fleece pajamas and eating Häagen-Dazs while watching movies on Netflix, but I pasted on my best smile in hopes of hiding my true feelings.

“Chas, is that you?”

His eyes widened.  “Laura!”  His gaze darted from one side to the other, and then back to me.

“Are you here with someone?”

“Well, uh, sort of.  Oh, man, this is awkward….”

My smile became more genuine.  I truly enjoyed watching him squirm.  “Oh, I’d love to meet her.  Where is she?”  I raised my eyebrows.  “It is ‘she’, right?”

“It’s a blind date.  I haven’t found her yet.”

“I think maybe you have.  Nikki sent me here.”

The color drained from his fake-tanned face.

I shrugged.  “Sorry dear, but it looks like it’s you and me tonight.”  I wasn’t really sorry.

“I-I was supposed to start the New Year with a fresh start.”

“Isn’t that kind of hard to do when you’re the same old you?”

He glared at me.

“Look, we’re stuck here, so we might as well make the best of it.”

“What’s your game?”

I tilted my head to the side.  “Game?”

“Yeah, when you found out I cheated, you told me to drop dead… and some other things.”

“You never did listen very well.  Hey, how about we get a drink?”

After several seconds of skeptical scrutiny, he headed to the stairway.  I followed and exhaled a relieved sigh.  Once upstairs, I told him I’d get the drinks.  He started to protest, but I pretended not to notice and walked away.

I handed him his usual: vodka gimlet.

“What did you get?”

“Rum and Coke,” I raised my voice so he could hear over the band that just started playing.  Minus the rum.

Fifteen minutes later, I plucked the empty glass from his hand.  “I’ll get you another.”  He didn’t argue.  His attention was focused on the band’s lead singer; a busty blonde sporting strategically placed swatches of black leather.  This is almost too easy.

After the fifth drink, I noticed it was almost midnight.  I asked, “Do you mind if I take our picture?  You know, for old time’s sake?”

He looped his arm around my waist and pulled me toward him.  I snapped the picture just as his lips landed on my cheek.  I extracted myself from his grip and offered to get him another drink.

I lost count of the drinks, but I was down about fifty dollars when I noticed Chas struggling to balance on the backless stool.  “I think you’ve had enough.  I’ll walk you to your room.”

He smiled; a sloppy grin.  “You just want to get me alone.”

“You got me figured out.”

Using me for balance, Chas managed to get to his room, falling only once.

“I need your room key.”

He leaned against the wall by the door.  “It’s in my pocket.”

I sighed.  “Which one.”

He winked.  “I don’t remember.”

Five hundred dollars, I reminded myself.  I guessed right and found the key in his left front pocket.

Chas fell onto the bed and pulled me on top of him.  I scrambled away.  “I need to use your restroom.”

“I’ll be right here, baby.”

His slurred words made my stomach lurch.  I stayed in the locked bathroom until I heard his rumbling snores.  I slipped out of the bathroom and searched the duffel bag by the bed.  I found what I needed and stuffed it into my purse. I ran from the room, relieved when the door latched behind me.

I did it.

***        ***        ***

“I don’t believe it,” Nikki said, mouth agape.

“I think you owe me $500.”

“I-I didn’t think you’d do it.”  Nikki handed me the envelope.

I lifted the flap and counted the bills, then shoved the envelope in my purse.

“You don’t trust me?”

I smiled.  “I used to.  Before you and Chas.”

Nikki stared at the table.  “I regret that.  I wanted to make things right again; to get you back together.”

“Not in this lifetime.”

She lifted her gaze, puzzled.

“Nothing happened.  After he passed out, I took a pair of underwear from his duffel bag.”

“You cheated!  The bet was that you had to spend the night with someone I set you up with.”

“No, you cheated. I just played your game and won.”  I smiled.  “And I did spend the night with him- a very long evening of observing who he really is.  You know, I hated you for what you did, Nikki, but you actually saved me.  I don’t know if I can trust you again, but I do forgive you.”

This time, I strode out of the restaurant in peace; leaving Nikki in stunned silence.

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The obvious inspiration for the story was Emilio’s photo.  But I’ve had other stuff on my mind that may have affected the story that developed.  Mainly, I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness, and how hard it can be to reach that point where you can truly release a hurt and heal.  I also think when we’ve hurt someone, sometimes our attempts at “fixing” things are misguided (like Nikki), and might be more for the benefit of easing our own guilt, rather than for the person we’ve hurt.  Now, I’m thinking I just might think too much… so I’ll stop now:)

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful week!