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.
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 :)
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 :)
“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?”
“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.
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 :)
Eli, over at Coach Daddy Blog, invited me to participate in his monthly 6-word story challenge. This time, he asked for a 6-word memoir title. Wow. Only six words to sum up the colossal mess that is my life in a way where someone would actually want to read it? It took several days to narrow it down, but this is what I finally chose:
My Life: Socks For Christmas… Again
(If you’re curious what others submitted, click here to read the post… but I hope you finish reading here before curiosity takes you away!)
I chose this title because how it’s taken is all a matter of perspective.
I think we’ve all received a gift that we’re less-than-excited about. We put on a smile and deliver our best fake grateful “thank you” in hopes of sparing the gifter’s feelings. Before he was trained to do this, my mom has told the story of how my brother threw a fit because he got clothes for Christmas. To a boy of three or four, it must have been insulting!
Sometimes I feel disappointed when I look at the lowlights of 2015… this year, after eighteen years, I finally accepted that I failed and my marriage was beyond repair; I had to say goodbye to my dog and one of my cats; I’ve chased ghosts (illness) with my younger son… soon, they will confirm if it’s what they think, but there’s no solace in the known or unknown; and the first half of the year was anchored in such darkness, waking up each day was a chore.
That’s my year in a nutshell. Seriously 2015, is that the best you could do? It’s like opening up a beautifully wrapped shirt box and finding a six-pack of crew socks.
Or is it?
I received the socks in the above photo from my younger son for Christmas last year. I had commented on how adorable they were, and he listened. Now, I do realize I’m past the age of being able to pull off the silly sock look, but thankfully, I’ve also reached the age where I really don’t care. (Yep, it’s only a matter of time before I “dress up” in my robe and slippers before heading to Walmart.)
Maybe my life is like gift socks… maybe it’s not so bad if viewed from a different perspective. I’ll look at 2015 again: after eighteen years, I realized that change won’t happen if the person doesn’t see the need… no matter how obvious it is to me; I loved my dog for seventeen years, and my cat for nearly fifteen years- I had to say goodbye to them, but they are no longer in pain; if the doctors have pinpointed my son’s illness, it can be managed with medications and he can start to find a new normal… if it’s not what they think, then they have enough to know there is something going on and they have ruled out another thing it isn’t; and during my extended time of darkness, online and offline friends lit my way with prayers and words of encouragement (thank you to everyone for your kindness!)
It’s the same life, same year, but whether I feel despair or hope hinges on how my mind focuses on the facts. For the first half of the year, I felt despair. It was scary. I want my thoughts to gravitate toward hope.
When I look back on my life, each day, week and month might appear to be the ‘same old stuff’ on the surface, but I want to see more than that. I want to look at the gift of my life and exclaim, “Yes! I got socks for Christmas – Again! Isn’t that great?!”
So, what do you think? Am I as crazy as my socks? :)
Okay, it’s been a while since I’ve posted a collaboration with Emilio, where I write a story inspired by a photo he provides. It’s completely my fault! See, Emilio gave me this photo to write for September. I have no excuse for my delay, other than 2015 isn’t landing at the top of my “best year ever” list :) If you haven’t checked out Emilio’s blog before, you really should – click his name to link to his site…. I gave you three chances here! I’ll stop rambling now – the story begins right after the photo.
I had a knack for finding the broken ones. I would take them in. I would love them. I would lose myself in them. Each time, I thought my heart was full enough to make them whole. Each time, the shine tarnished and I escaped with a little less of me.
My present is made up of their pasts, the cracks in my broken heart filled with pieces of their pain. Desperado, Cat’s in The Cradle, Father of Mine, Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough… their burdens set to music. As I sped down the remote highway, I played each and every one of these songs, over and over. It’s funny how the years of heartaches wrapped in catchy melodies slid along the hardened spaces of my soul with such ease. At least the tears reminded me that I was still alive.
This time, I didn’t care if I lived to give again. Phillip had been my latest broken bird, on the verge of falling into the dark abyss. I scooped him up and nurtured him. For three years, he greedily fed on my love and affection until he was strong enough to fly. And he flew all right… straight to my ex best friend, Sarah. I took his bad and gave him my good. It all cancelled out in the end and left me… empty.
Off to the right, a row of rusted old cars and a seen-better-days ranch caught my eye. On impulse, I pulled onto the shoulder, kicking up a cloud of dust and gravel behind me. When the dust settled, I stepped out of my car and eyed the street sign perched atop a leaning metal pole. I didn’t know which was more ironic; the fact there was a street sign marking a span of dirt that could barely be considered a road, or that the sign read “Opportunity Way.” I doubted opportunity traveled back-roads.
I walked for a little ways until I came to a waist-high wooden fence that encircled the yard. For a time, I perched on the fence, staring at the row of cars. I couldn’t help but relate to them; we had all been shiny and something to look at back in the day. But now… well, I cried.
I didn’t want to think about it, but I suspected I would always see the lost ones, broken, looking for validation and something that felt like love to make them okay for a while. I could see my future so clearly… like beggars pleading for loose change, their eyes would search mine for a bit of my soul they could have. On my strong days, I would turn my head and quicken my pace. “I don’t have any,” I would mutter. It would be true. If God was merciful, they won’t pursue me. They would see I was as broke… broken… as they were. They would sense I had nothing to offer, no hand to grasp in desperation.
I startled, losing my balance and fell back into someone’s arms. I twisted my neck and glimpsed a not-completely-unattractive man, possibly in his early fifties. Exactly what I don’t need. I jerked my weight forward and steadied myself on the fence.
“You’re welcome,” he said.
“I didn’t thank you.”
The wood bounced as he hoisted himself to sit next to me. He shrugged. “I was overlooking your lack of manners.”
I clenched my jaw, but kept my gaze focused on the cactus that took root next to the blue car. “Speaking of manners, it’s not polite to interrupt someone’s thoughts.”
He smiled. “Maybe not, but when the thoughts are thunk on my property, those rules don’t really apply.”
“You’re right. I’ll go.” Before I could slide off the fence, he touched my arm.
“You’re welcome to stay.” He shifted his gaze toward the cars. “Lots of people come here to think. It keeps me in business.”
“Business? What kind of work?” I thought maybe mechanic, but his khaki pants and pastel blue polo shirt didn’t fit.
“I’m a companion broker, you could say.”
“Companion broker?” The words tumbled around in my head as I tried to figure out what that meant.
He laughed. “Lemme explain. I help fix people. This highway is traveled by lots of lonely people; people with heavy stuff on their mind. Sometimes all they need is human connection.”
My eyes widened. “So you’re a pimp? That’s horrible!”
He lifted a rhinestone and gold-plated Zippo from his pocket and lit the cigarette hanging from his pressed lips. “No, not a pimp. I mean, sometimes people are looking for that, but usually, they just want to talk so they don’t feel alone.”
“Not a pimp, huh? That blinged-out lighter says otherwise.”
“Hmph. One of those.” He shook his head and exhaled a trail of smoke.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
He shrugged. “Bitter, disillusioned and bearing scars of past loves. I’m guessing you’ve convinced yourself you’re on a journey to find you, but really, you’re running from who you are.” He paused to exhale another puff of smoke. “You judge me because it makes you feel better about yourself.”
“Listen, Mr…. Mr. whatever-your-name-is, you may think you know my story, but you don’t!” I clenched my eyes shut, hoping it was enough to keep the tears back.
“They call me Big Guns.”
I stifled a laugh. “Big Guns?”
He pushed up his shirt sleeve and flexed, I think. “See what I mean?”
I saw a barely perceptible bulge in his bicep. I shook my head, “I’m sorry, but those aren’t even purse pistols.” I laughed, almost forgetting that moments ago, I wanted to cry.
“Come on,” he said as he hopped off the fence.
I didn’t move. Following him seemed like insanity.
“Trust me. You need to see this.” He held his hand out, waiting for me to grasp it.
Impulsively, I took the invitation and his fingers curled around my hand. “Is it more impressive than what I’ve seen so far, Mr. Guns?” I shocked myself with the flirtatious tone in my voice.
This time he laughed. “I think you’ll be amazed. You can call me Thomas.”
I followed Thomas to the row of rusted cars. With his back to me, I slipped my tinted gloss from my pocket and swiped a quick coat on my lips.
“These cars were my dad’s hobby, but he passed away three years ago. I can’t bring myself to get rid of them, yet I don’t have the expertise needed to restore them either.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.” I didn’t know what else to say.
“I found another way to use them to honor his memory, though.” He opened the door to the first car and gestured for me to look inside.
Paper filled the inside of the car clear up to the windows. “What is all this?”
Thomas smiled. “These are letters from the lonely. We’re all broken in some way and these letters allow those passing through to let go of some of their burdens.”
“What do you do with the letters? Do you read them?”
“I don’t read them. I leave them here so the intended recipient will find them. There’s no such thing as coincidence; our paths cross for a reason. Some people write letters, but others read them and take one with them when they go. All I ask is that writers include their name and phone number, and when you take a letter, you contact that person.”
Companion broker… it made more sense. “Do these people ever meet?”
He shrugged. “Some do. I’ve gotten a few letters thanking me, but really, I’m just doing God’s service.”
Thomas smiled. “I used to be a pastor but disagreed with the human way of organized religion. So, I decided to minister to people on my own, according to God’s word and Jesus’ principles.”
My cheeks flushed. “I-I’m so sorry, I called you a pimp.”
“And you laughed at my biceps.” He closed the car door and led me to the blue car. “I think this one might have what you’re looking for.” He pointed to a notepad and pen on the dashboard. “Write a letter, or take a letter, it’s up to you. Take your time.”
I watched as Thomas shuffled away, dust trailing behind him. A pastor. Unbelievable. I turned my attention to the mounds of paper filling the car. I shoved them aside so I could sit. I wondered why he thought I’d find what I was looking for here. I didn’t even know what I sought.
I grabbed the paper and pen and wrote my first tentative words. The rest of the words followed swiftly and before I knew it, both sides of the page were filled. I hesitated. Then with a deep breath and long exhale, I scrawled my name and phone number. After I dropped the paper onto the pile, it felt like a weight had been lifted from inside me.
The dense pile swallowed my hand, and my arm up to my elbow, before I grasped a page. I held it up so I could focus on the scrawled words. I can’t believe I’m writing a letter to leave in an old car for some stranger to read. I smiled. My letter started similarly. By the time I got to the end, my eyes blurred. I swiped the wetness from my cheeks with the back of my hand.
My breath caught as I stared at the familiar name. A buried past, exhumed and resurrected by one hand-written letter. I folded the page into fourths and shoved it into my back pocket. Twenty years felt like a span of a few breaths. That letter transported me from middle age to mid-twenties. I stepped out of the car and slammed the creaky-hinged door behind me. The thought crossed my mind that the old car was a time machine of sorts.
Maybe Seth had been right back then… that love wasn’t enough. Maybe I was right in my proclamation that time doesn’t heal all wounds. Maybe right or wrong no longer mattered.
All I knew in that moment was that I needed to find out.
Last night I found myself in an unusual position: it was 7pm and neither kid was watching the TV. I decided to nab the opportunity to watch another episode of a series I started a couple weeks ago on Netflix. Apparently, this has the same effect as when I pick up the phone to call a friend, or sit down to balance the checkbook- a few minutes into it, my younger son plopped down on the couch next to me.
“What are you watching?”
“An episode of a TV show I found on Netflix.”
After a few moments of silence. “Is that guy his dad?”
“No, they didn’t meet until just now.”
“Why did he call him Father then?”
“Because he’s a priest and that’s what people call priests.” I glanced over at him. “Did you want to watch one of your shows?”
“No, I want to see what happens.”
So we watched the show, but not in silence. He had lots and lots of questions. I had some answers, but not all. See, I had the benefit of seeing the 19 episodes prior, so I knew the history. History is good, but it doesn’t necessarily give an obvious clue as to the future.
It struck me that this is a lot like life. It would be be nice if life were like Netflix, where I could watch the “good” parts over and over, rate the “bad” parts with one star and remove them from my watch list, and skip ahead when I just can’t wait to see what happens next.
But life isn’t like that. Life is “old school” – I only get to see it real time, as it happens. It seems like the difficulties and struggles linger while the peaceful times are as brief as a single breath…maybe two, if I’m lucky. I know where I’ve been, I know where I’m at, but I have no idea what happens next. I have no choice but to meet one sunrise after another and take it in as it unfolds. I may not like all the “parts,” but with God’s grace, surely I can frame my view so I see each moment as something to cherish.