To my favorite soldier…

To my favorite soldier…

Do you ever look at pictures of us and think–why do we ever fight? Because I do. 

A man in uniform. Hot. A uniform crumpled on the floor. Hotter. A cocoon of safe arms. Warm. 

Don’t get up. Don’t go. 

________________________

It must be the Army in his veins. I’m not usually awake at 5:15am these days. I had never been a lucid audience watching Keith when his alarm goes off. It gave a new meaning to UP AND AT ‘EM. 

I think my dad would’ve liked to see me move this way when he would clap his hands in my room late on Saturday morning, “UP AND AT ‘EM!” <CLAP-CLAP-CLAP-CLAP> I am no soldier. “Mo-ommmmm! Tell him not to do that. And why does he always call me Adam?!”

I was playing 2048 on my phone when his alarm went off. Keith JUMPS out of the bed, and I think he must land in his pants, socks, boots. He would have an amazing transition time in a triathlon.

He is quiet and quick and I don’t know what all he did in the dark. I blink twice trying to see him; I can’t figure out where he went. I feel the wind of the fan being blocked, and I sense he is kneeling by my side of the bed. 

“Bye baby. Have a good day.” Smooch, smooch. 

I look at my phone time,”It’s only 5:23am.” He has to be there at 6:30am. 

“I know.” I was thinking he must’ve forgotten to switch his watch back an hour last time we did that.

“Do you always get dressed that fast?”

“Yeah.” And I feel the fan again. 

I know he likes to leave about an hour before he has to be somewhere, but I didn’t know he greeted the morning with such vigor and sense of purpose. It was inspiring. He was completely ready and out the door before most people would have had the time to hit snooze once. 

I slipped back into sleep. When my alarm sounded…well. Let’s just say my soldier mechanic probably wouldn’t have been impressed…
_____________________________

Who will protect us if the US gets attacked? Who will lay his life down to do anything to protect our family if someone broke into our house? What is the face of our nation’s defense?

My love…up before the sun on a Sunday, out the door within minutes, never a hesitation, never a complaint.

Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage.

_________________________

Do you feel the sun beat on your neck, inhale some dust, and wonder if we miss you? 

Don’t remember my daggers. Please forget them. Forgive them. Think of me when I’ve been a cold drink for you, ice clanking to your lip when you don’t want anything to eat, only a drink. Only cold tea down a dry throat. Only me. 

We do miss you. In a messy house, clock ticking, exhausted pile of arms and pjs and ponytails, under a lonely blanket on a creaky couch, we do. 

__________________

Your flaws are not flaws to me. I watch you when you don’t know. 

Did I forget to hug you today? Did I forget to hold on? Did I forget to thank you?

I know I probably did. 

Leave your guns on the shelf. Stare into my eyes. Search them. See me. I will hold your face. I will slide my fingers over your warm sandpaper jaw. Let me see you. Come back to bed. Dim the lights and remember me when I was beautiful. It’s okay. Closer. It’s me. Soften. Find us. 

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Church shoes 

Church shoes 

“Dad. Dad.” I bug out my eyes and lean my head to the side a few times, toward the little girl who has become my shadow at Creekmore Park. She smiles at my dad. 

“Oh did you make a new friend?” Dad doesn’t see well. Are you kidding me? 

“We go to school together.” She makes the announcement proudly. 

She has a buzz haircut. Even as a second grader, I know this means she has lice that they couldn’t get rid of. Dust defines the creases in her elbows and knees. This is not my definition of friend. 

She’s wearing an oversized Rheem tshirt. We get these free from school; Rheem, an air conditioning company in town, is our school’s partner in education. No one wears the free tshirts they give to every student. Maybe as a night shirt. 

She followed me over to my dad, and she’s just standing here, waiting for me to go back to the playground equipment. No chance, Crystalina. Yeah…that’s her name. See what I mean?

Just because we ended up in the same class in public school, you think that means we are friends if I accidentally see you in public? This is also not my definition of friend. 

She rocks back on the heels of her pale pink Easter-dress church shoes, loses her balance a little, stumbles a few steps backward; her shoes tap and scrape loudly on the sidewalk pavement. 

“Do you want to go on the swings, Emily?” She’s scratching some mosquito bites on her ankle, forcing me to examine the condition of her fingernails. 

I feel my face expressing my heart. I don’t try to stop myself. She pulls up her dingy ankle sock out of her church shoe to tuck in the bloody mosquito bites. 

“No thanks. I think we are about to go.” I’m crossing my arms and looking at my dad, still bug-eyed. I’m not being subtle, and the clues are just bouncing off his skull. 

“Nah, we don’t have to go yet. Go play with your friend, Emmy.” Dad settles onto a shaded park bench, crosses one ankle onto his opposite knee. Nicknames are for the house; we’ve been over this. I will have to get Mom to explain it again. 

Crystalina twists her long red and white gingham cotton skirt around, lining up the seams. I’m not certain, but it looks like someone made it for her from a picnic tablecloth. 

“You go ahead, Crystalina. I’ll be over there in a minute.” I know tricks. I get on the bench with my dad.

Crystalina beams. She shuffles across the pavement, slides through the dewy grass, crashes into the pebbles, slams onto a swing. 

“Dad. Let’s go. She’s not my friend. She just goes to my school, and she’s really annoying.” I have to spell it out for him. 

“What’s annoying? Is she mean?She likes you and wants to play. She seems nice to me.” Dad is thumbing through his Bible. Maybe he can’t hear well either. I get the feeling that possibly…I’m already smarter than him, at least socially, for sure. 

“Well…no, she’s not mean. But like…she’s gross. Did you see her sock with the dried blood on the inside from her mosquito bites? Her clothes are always dirty, and like…” I feel like I’m being so obvious. Why isn’t he getting this?

“None of that is her fault. You never know what someone’s home life is like. You don’t know if she has running water or electricity. You don’t know any of that. You have to look at someone’s heart.” Maybe he did see well. 

“Some people don’t have water at their house? Every house I’ve ever been to has a kitchen and a bathroom.” Yep. What house, Dad? You’re making it up. 

“Emily. You have to pay for water. It doesn’t just flow from any sink.” His voice is gentle; he briefly looks up from his Bible at me. 

“Oh.” I remember lots of moments when I learned something that I never knew before. 

Dad never makes me feel stupid  when he teaches me things. I don’t like when someone acts like I should already know something. 

I sat for a while, swinging my feet slowly, letting love melt ice. 

“People are attracted to the Christ in you. You have to look past a lot of worldly values, and always try to see people how God sees them. The world might tell you who is annoying or gross or unworthy, but don’t listen. Get really quiet and listen to what God tells you about them.” Maybe Dad could hear. 

I felt ashamed. I played with the strings of my braided friendship bracelets; I must have had about 40 of them on one wrist. I felt tears well up in my eyes. I wasn’t trying to be mean. I mean…I don’t want to be mean. 

An idea. 

I wiped away my tears very quickly. I picked my favorite green and yellow friendship bracelet, and freed it from the others, wriggled it off my wrist. 

I hopped up and ran to the swings. As she swung, Crystalina had been holding the chain of an empty swing next to her, saving it for me.  She dragged her feet through the pebbles to stop herself quickly. 

“Thanks for saving me a swing. Here.” I handed her the friendship bracelet. It was a wide one, the kind I didn’t know how to make. 

“Thank you!!! This is my first one.” Crystalina eagerly put it on her wrist. 

Listen to your dad. Just…listen. 

Hoard

Hoard

My garage. It was the grossest space in this old house, and that was a hard trophy to win. 

All cabinets were seafoam green, with work surfaces of grimy retro linoleum peeling up in every countertop corner. 

There was dust crusted onto everything, not dry and loose–crusted, 40 years thick. Not “flutter the feather duster over it  in my maid costume” dust, but “powerwash it, scrub with bristley brushes, ruin your jeans, ruin your hair; find out what you’re made of” dust. That kind. 

My dryer vented into the garage, regularly keeping the air steamy, and I imagine…remoistening new dust layers day after day after month after year after decade. Dust, moistened dust, dried dust, new layer dust, moisten, crust over…

I don’t know the exact nuances of making a 40-year thick crusting of dust. I only know the state of my garage when  I moved in. I only know how much scrubbing and scraping it took. 

The rickety garage door, also seafoam green, was not well insulated, was not properly sealed at the bottom. It was freezing in there unless the dryer was steaming it up, or the tiny hazardous gas heater was on. Flames shot out of it several inches high, more than once I saw dry leaves meet their demise to that fiery little beast. 

This is probably dangerous, I would think as I rubbed my cold, bony fingers together in front of flames. When did my knuckles get so wrinkly? I can pinch the skin of a cold knuckle and it will stay pinched…then slooowly, lazily melt back into place. 

The weather-stripping on the bottom of the garage door was flapping off and severely gapping in many spots. They say to build your house on a hill, to sit there majestic and wise. People can lean back and look up to admire it. A shining example on display, make it glass even. What’s there to hide?

My house was built at the bottom of a hill. My driveway serves as a slide for rainwater, nothing to slow its flow toward the busted weather-stripping. 

Muddy rainwater never flooded the garage the 4 years I’ve owned the house, but it would seep in and settle…dry slowly, leaving behind only the dirt residue. Charm…adds a bit of charm, an optimist might say. Dirt is character? Yes. Sometimes. 

I walk into the garage. I feel the weight of this project grip me, pull me under water. 

I need this crusty garage to be usable space. Dear God…where do I start…I look around for a welcoming place. I don’t find one. 

November is too cold. I was born in Wisconsin, lived there til I was 4. No, Arkansas November isn’t as bad as Wisconsin. Think positive, brain, and stop singing “November Rain” by Guns N Roses. 

So I pull everything out of it and onto the driveway. Every cabinet, every rusty paint can, every gritty ziploc bag filled with every jingle of unorganized nail and bolt and crazy unknown bits of metal. Keep these? I should keep all these, right…? I will need these old nails one day…

I try not to think of the old man who lived here before me. He and his wife were the only owners, from 1972 when the house was built until 2012 when I bought it. 

I know he was 86 when he passed. I found his obituary. His daughter gave me the keys to the house at the closing; the keychain has some small, clear plastic prism hanging from a short, beaded metal chain with a cylinder clasp. I don’t know what you call it. You place the last bead of the chain into the opening on the cylinder and press. I should keep this keychain in his honor. 

I shiver. November chill? Or thoughts of which room did he die in? Was it in here? A hospital? What’s with all the plant hooks on the ceilings? Why did one have a thin leather dog collar hanging on it? What is this blackish-brown smear on the textured paint of the wall right next to the basement toilet…? 

I enlist help to clean the garage–to power wash, to scrub, to paint. My nephew and my three oldest daughters spend hours on it with me. I buy wafer board and have it cut to size for new countertops. My dad screws them onto the old wobbly cabinets for me. 

And I don’t care how the paint job looks, anything will be an improvement. I do not care, just get it covered. We use the leftover paint that I already have.  

I have my girls slop espresso-bean colored paint on every cabinet and countertop. The cabinets are sitting on visqueen in my driveway. The paint glues the plastic to the bottom of the cabinets. I have to hold the visqueen down with my old cheerleading Asics and lift to peel the cabinets free. Obviously, I never got rid of these Asics from twenty years ago because obviously I am going to be working on my toe-touches and herkies some day soon. Any day now. 

My nephew and I paint all walls gray–two dark gray and one light gray. Maybe it looks artistically chosen. Ah, my accent wall…yes. And here we have one set of 2×4 shelves nailed together shoddily, we chose to paint these a bright Caribbean blue. It’s beautiful…it was meticulously planned and designed. It was…what we had. 

Nick (nephew) brought his music, and I bumped that shit. I made up my own lyrics and would not be dissuaded. I forget the band name; it was a bunch of letters, like SKBRTKB…you should get their album. I especially enjoyed their song that goes–“My girl’s gonna sit in the mud! My girl’s gonna sit in the mud!” 

Now, Nick who could barely breathe during his explanation, he wanted me to believe they said–“My girl’s got a city to run!” But shhh, shh…shush, Nick. Don’t ruin my moment. I dropped it low and sang along. Me in my old Asics, dropping my ass into piles of dust around the garage–“My girl’s gonna sit in the mud!”

I still got it. Maybe I can do a toe-touch in these jeggings? Hang on. Kick this leg up, then kick that leg up. Okay, they wouldn’t bust. Hop a little…eh…it’s too slanted out here. Otherwise, I’d kill it. 

I leave all the cabinets and crap on my driveway overnight. You don’t really have to be in a hurry to move stuff until you get a notice from the city. Shockingly, no one stole any of it over the two nights it sat out there. 

It was November 2014, and I didn’t sleep a lot most nights since the end of September, when Demetrius left. Might as well get up super early and buy garage floor paint. I got a midnight blue, and some paint flecks to sprinkle on top like Christmas cookies–a variety of grays. 

Nothing like good honest work to occupy a mind in the middle of a divorce, to tire an already tired body and soul. The high-gloss topcoat is moodier than I am. It only wants certain temperatures. But…I don’t have time to wait til Spring. And I suppose this is why it dried cloudy. Good enough. Better than it was. The clouds add some depth, an unexplored galaxy of paint specks. What new adventures are in store for the garage’s next 40 years…

I order a $2700 new garage door. It is so ridiculously out of place on this house. I don’t give a crap. To my credit, I have great credit. If I say I will pay you, you will be paid. I don’t care if my choices make no sense to someone.

A jewel in a pig’s snout: my lovely new well-insulated garage door, I will pay it off before the accrued interest ever hits. There are worse choices to be made in life. I’ve made plenty of them before, and now I’ll leave those worse ones for someone else. 

I put everything back into the garage very neatly. I had a lot of extra furniture, a big tv, all our bikes, bookshelves and books and books and books, sports equipment, lawn mower and crap, paint and hardware. 

Demetrius messages me some days later that he’s going to bring over the last of my boxes. What’s even left of mine there? A truckload. What’s in the boxes, I can’t even imagine or care. He piles them into my newly cleaned, freshly painted, just organized garage. 

Holiday decorations, photo albums, candles, picture frames, the weird platters and dishes, electrical chargers and cords that go to…who knows what… 

Piles and piles of crap. And my irrational attachment to them. NO! I’m going to use that one day! Won’t I? Does this have a good sentimental value to me? 

I can’t do this yet. I can’t look through it.  I just leave it all in there. I know I will hang on to things I need to get rid of. Unopened boxes of memory in my garage, in my heart. I thought I cleaned this place…

______________________

“Emily?? What’s wrong? What is it?” Keith approaches me in my garage. It is March 2015. We just met February 16. 

“This shit is breaking me. I don’t know what to keep, what to burn, what to sell, what to do with any of it.” It is too early in our relationship for a breakdown, but I am who I am, and I feel what I feel. 

He wraps his arms around me, pinning my arms to my sides with an upward, lifting force. I sink onto him. 

“I had to do this, too. It’s hard to go through everything, but you will be glad when it’s all done.” He rubs my back. We don’t hide from each other. 

“I don’t want you to see me like this, but I can’t go through all this stuff and not cry. I know I won’t be able to.” Phony is not my forte, maybe at times in my past, it was. But not now. 

“Well…do you want to be alone while you go through it all? I can go somewhere.” He releases his hold and backs away some to see my face. 

“No. I don’t want do this alone. I need help deciding what I should keep. But I will need you to be understanding, too. I will explain exactly what’s going on in my head or heart, and I will need you to understand and not be upset.” I look at him. My eyes say–I don’t want to go through it alone. And also…I don’t want to go through it alone. 

“Okay. I can do that.” Keith takes me back into his hug. 

He is going to keep me off the show Hoarders when my kids move out. He is better at explaining what needs to go. I trust him. I don’t always listen, but he is right. 

I watch episodes of that show Hoarders, and yeah, these people are extreme cases, but their words don’t always sound crazy to me. Most people who watch are probably like–whoa, they’re insane!

But I have to admit that…their logic often makes sense to me. And when people go through so much emotional trauma in their lives, I can understand that they might revolt in these sad, severe ways. 

We watched an episode recently of this old guy living in his yard instead of his house. He had piles of clothes; he slept on a pile of blankets with a tarp covering him. He was a tough veteran, and I could see myself getting along fine with him over a cup of coffee…in some place other than his home. 

Prideful, stubborn, unconventional, thrifty, resourceful, unconcerned with pleasing society, lovers of personal freedom. I do relate to some personality traits of some of these people on SOME levels. I’m not saying these feelings are all GOOD; I’m just saying I can empathize. 

Bugs, rodents, unworking plumbing, no livable spaces, room upon room of no walking room …now I can’t get on board with any of THAT

My dad always said to us–the order of your bedroom is a reflection of the order of your mind. I think about that a lot, especially when I am holding something, looking at it, deciding if I should get rid of it. 

Keith rallies for me to let go of things. He’s right. Will I ever watch these VHS movies? I mean seriously. 

Keith arrived in my life during a transition period. I guess I could’ve pretended that I had been healed for months, but that’s not how I am. 

A wound doesn’t heal completely when you keep ripping it open together. And that’s exactly what Demetrius and I did September through January, kept it all ripped open. 

Ripped open through his cheating, through my obsessing, through the separation, through the sleepless nights, through the move, through him pushing me away, through me pushing him away, through him clinging o me…trying to keep hold of some part of me, through me clinging to him…trying to keep hold of some part of him. 

Hard to heal with that much overlap of big life events; it takes a lot of honesty. 

February wasn’t long after all of this. I had been slowly facing the truth, but that doesn’t mean Keith entered my life when I was healed. 

I wasn’t entirely healed, but I wasn’t a broken half-person, desperately looking for someone to fill a void either. I was a complete person in my relationship with God, but still a very hurt person. 

I needed a strong man, who has a kind and understanding heart. Someone I could be completely honest with. 

Someone who could help me understand what to hold onto in my life, and what to let go. 

Popular

Popular

Dear God,

You are wise and powerful and good. Your ways are not our ways. Who are we that You consider us and our petty problems? But you do. 

Where were we when you laid the foundation of the earth? Did you need our help to place the stars in the sky?

You bless us every day with gifts beyond our needs or wants. We are so humbled and thankful for all the blessings you pour onto our house. 

God, please help my 5 daughters to be courageous. Let them stand up for injustice. Let them be forgiving to anyone who hurts them, whether intentionally or not. Please comfort them when they are lonely. Please flood their souls with your peace. Let them be kind and wise to any friend in need. 

I hope they grow up thankful. I hope they are always loyal to their friends and mates. I hope they are successful. I hope they find love. I hope they travel the world and learn new things. I hope they all have families of their own one day. 

I hope they always love me. I hope we stay close, and they will ask me for guidance through problems as they grow up. I hope they don’t move very far away. I hope one day they look back and truly appreciate all the heart and soul and sacrifice that I put into raising them.

And I hope that today and every day they feel unique and special and worthy. I hope they never compromise their values to fit in. 

And when they ever feel left out or forgotten or not cool enough, God, please God…let them hold their heads high and squash that devilish lie. 

You will never hear me pray–dear God, please let my daughters be popular with everyone. Please God, don’t let them ever be left out or forgotten. Never. I will never pray that. 

It’s okay to get disappointed. God, please help them build their relationships with you when they feel lonely. 

Let them be gracious and loving and never envious or vain. Let them see the good in everyone. And especially in themselves. 

In Christ,

Amen 

Grin, Glasses, Gravel

Grin, Glasses, Gravel

“Who’s this? Who are you?” Christina’s dad Charlie was all grin and glasses. I stood there with my spend-the-night backpack. 

“I’m Emily.” I am 12 going on 65.  I am not shy. They would find out soon enough. But for some reason his comfortable, forward attitude brought out a somewhat shy side of me the first few times we met. 

“What? What’s that? I can’t hear you. Your name is Beverly? Tina…tell your friend to speak up.” He was standing in front of his TV and huge speakers.

“Dad!? This is my friend EMILY!!” Christina’s voice raised to at least 3 times its usual volume at home. For the first few times I came over, I thought everyone was PISSED because they all yelled instead of speaking to each other.

“Oh Emily. Oh okay. Well why won’t she look at me? That makes me feel like she’s lying. Hey, hey…look me right in the eyes. Right here, Emily.” He was maybe 18 inches from my face, bug-eyed, tapping his finger on his glasses and snapping his fingers with the other hand. 

Soon I would be dancing around their living room in my swimsuit with a bedsheet towel-twisted and wrapped up on my head like Carmen Miranda. Not today, not yet…but soon.

“I am looking you in the eye.” My eyes flitted into 1/2 second eye contact; I couldn’t help laughing. 

“We have to scream because his hearing is damaged from being overseas.” The first time I met her, I might’ve thought Christina’s mom Katy was much more reserved than the rest of them, but soon, maybe even in this first visit, she was yelling right along with the rest of them.

“Beverly…Emily…come here…listen to this!!” The volume up arrow was probably dented in more than all other remote buttons. I forgot to check. 

Charlie’s grin grew even larger as the TV volume grew louder. He nodded along in approval. The windows rattled. We were all covering our ears in pain. 

“Whaddya think of that? Pretty awesome?”

“Oh yeah it’s great.” It was LOUD, but I didn’t mind it then, and especially looking back…yeah, it was great. Charlie was great. 

“What’d you say? What’d she say?”

__________________________

“Dad…let us drive your truck to the store.” We were born to be independent, Christina and I. The way we did math, 14 was close enough to 16. 

Besides, what cop would see us in a bright yellow, full-sized truck? Might as well have been camouflage. 

“My keys are on the table, but I didn’t say you could…but let’s just say I won’t be looking out the window to make sure my truck is there for the next hour.” He handed Christina ten dollars.

“Let’s go.” Christina pushed her sunglasses on confidently. I heard the truck keys slide across the table, jangle off the edge, and quiet into her grip.

“Are we really going to take his truck? We can walk to the store. He didn’t really say yes, did he?” I stepped into my tied shoes, pressing my heels down and flattening the shoe backs. I put my sunglasses on clumsily. 

“Close enough to yes. Let’s go.” Oh, I’m coming. I wouldn’t miss this opportunity, but I just had some nervous questions.

We slid into the hot truck, slammed the heavy doors closed, peeled and repositioned thighs a few times. Christina started it up, much too quickly for my nerves. I felt that a moment of silence for prayer and reflection wouldn’t have been uncalled for. 

I burned my fingerprints off fumbling with the  metal seatbelt. Christina cranked the radio. The few times I had ever driven in my 14 years, I wanted the radio and a/c off, so I could concentrate. 

She banged the transmission into reverse. I looked over my shoulder for her. Her driveway had lengthened itself by miles.

“Wait a second…do you know how to drive backwards?” Cautious spectator, I was full of Nintendo-nerves. Can we handle this level? Are there ditches on the route?

“Yep.” Not even the slightest hesitation.  Gravel crunching. 

_______________________

“Does your dad still fix dryers?” No machine intimidated Charlie. I had three daughters by this time; a non-working dryer was not an option. 

“Yeah, he does. But he’s heading to the hospital right now. His stomach is bothering him again.” Christina’s heart pumped Daddy’s girl blood, always has. Still does. 

“What?! Are you serious?! Oh gosh, I’m sorry. I’ll figure this out.” Christina and I had now been friends for 19 years, since we were only 12, belting out “We are Family” as 7th graders in 9 weeks of sampler choir at Darby Junior High.

“Who is that? Emily? Tell her we will call her back in a few minutes.” Charlie sounded more irritated than anything. If he could’ve willed his body back to how he wanted it to behave, he would’ve rathered that. 

“Oh gosh, girl. Do not call me back.” I think about my own dad. Did they get old? Are we old? When did…

He called back. Of course he called back.  I imagine he shook IVs as he raised the phone to his ear, maybe rolled his eyes…but then smiled. He definitely smiled instead. You could always hear his smile through the phone. 

“Here’s what you do…” He told me where to go to order a heating element for my dryer, told me his friend’s name and number if I needed to get it finished in the next few days. 

Or if I could wait a few days, as soon as the hospital people were done annoying him, then he would be glad to come fix it for me. 

That’s what was supposed to happen.  That’s what should’ve happened.

I shouldn’t have gotten the next phone call I got from Christina. It should’ve been a different conversation. Charlie should’ve gone home.  He should’ve shown up at my house a few days later, should’ve fixed my dryer.

God, I hate it. 

How did we all hold it together watching Katy walk Christina down the aisle? How did they hold it together? Charlie should’ve been there. Grinning all the way down the aisle, shaking Justin’s hand, lighting fireworks and cracking jokes at the reception.

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Cold marble rocks…every one of them is a million stories. I’m honored to pass on the few stories I know personally…