More Than Words– part 5 (#7)

(Part 1 Here) (Part 2 here) (Part 3 here) (Part 4 here)

Shoes. Jacket. Keys. Wallet and Phone. Sunglasses. Work Badge to bypass the witches at the receptionist desk. Lock the Door. Get in the Car. Drive the car. Go FAST.

Steph. It was Steph. Almost as bad as Jer. But thank gawd it wasn’t.

The closest hospital to the stadium was about 15 minutes away from my apartment. I careened through back roads, my emergency flashers going and I shamelessly ran red lights if I saw it was safe enough.

The first text in a week and it was an SOS. It was so petty of me to run away. I saw that now. What if it HAD been Jer? How much more of an ass would I feel right now for not being there, for not seeing something might be wrong? Gawd I was so incredibly selfish.

I screeched around a corner, setting a couple of dogs off. Their ski jacket humans put their arms up in a “WHAT THE FUCK?” gesture.

“Sorry!” I yelled uselessly.

I felt my phone buzzing in my pocket. I ignored it. I was half focusing on the road and half trying to crank my brain into giving me answers to a problem. Did Steph have any pre-existing conditions that I didn’t know about? Was he hung over today? Did he have a blood clot? Did he have an arrhythmia? I couldn’t remember. I didn’t know because I wasn’t there. I hadn’t BEEN there. I couldn’t ask the question I needed to.

Left. Right. Light. Wait; now go. Almost there. I saw the flashing lights of an ambulance. It pulled in just before me.

I squealed into the emergency parking lot of the hospital and slammed the car into park. I shoved all my junk into my over-sized jacket and kicked open the door, scanning the lot for familiar cars. Jer wasn’t there? Or did he ride with the van? I disentangled my phone from my pocket and checked messages.

Alma. Alma. Gale. Jer!

-Going to the hospital with Steph-

So he WAS here. I pressed the call button and hurried out of the biting cold into the warmth of the lobby, snowflakes instantly turning to liquid on my hot skin. I waited breathlessly by the door. Jer wasn’t picking up. Dammit! My heart beat was choking me, anxious about damn near everything. My eyes swept over all the faces waiting in the lobby. Not there.When they started to blur I pressed the heels of my hands hard against my sockets and took a deep breath. It’ll be okay. Jer’s here. It’ll be fine. Steph’s in good hands.

I waited in line at the receptions area, shifting from foot to foot. I rapidly responded to the texts blowing up my phone.

Alma: “WTF Jac?! CALL ME YOU ASSHOLE!”

Alma: “OMG!!! STEPH! UPDATE ME!”

Gale: “Just saw the TV honey. Give Steph and Jerry our prayers and love.”

“Can I help you ma’am?”

I swallowed a few times, swiping at the tears in my eyes and leaned down to the clear plastic window at the bored nurse.

“Yes, a man was just admitted into the ER. His name is Stephen and I need to see him right away—”

“Jac.”

My head whipped around at the sound of my name. And then there he was. The face I’d loved for years tense with worry and no trace of his easy smile. But it was a face more familiar than my own. The beauty mark next to his left eye. The creases around his eyes from laughing. Cinnamon brown irises that revealed everything he was feeling, but only to me. Just now they were a storm of emotions and I couldn’t keep up.

A balloon rapidly blew up inside my stomach and floated up through my chest and stopped at my throat, trying to inch its way up and out. It was the same reaction I had when he told me he loved me. Was this PTSD? Panic attack?

No. This didn’t feel bad. It felt wonderful. Jer was here and he was okay.

I didn’t feel my feet hit the floor as I rushed to him. I teleported into his arms and tried to fuse him into my anatomy, burying my face into his chest. His arms went mechanically behind me in a return gesture. I clung like an adult monkey to his torso and squeezed until he grunted. My brain fought over what to say first but I still couldn’t speak. Not about what happened anyway. I was here for a reason.

“They’re doing a CT scan now,” Jer murmured in my ear. “I didn’t see what happened. I was in the locker room when he went down.”

I latched my arms behind him and was silent for a moment. I knew he was beating himself up for not being there.

“Did he tell you anything on the ride?” I managed to squeak out.

“He couldn’t really speak around the oxygen mask. I don’t know anything except he was stabilizing on the ride here.”

We stood there in the lobby wrapped around one another for a long time. Tears leaked out of my eyes and slipped down my cheeks. Tears for what Jer must be feeling and for my own sorry self. I wanted to say I was sorry for putting him through hell. I wanted to explain why I did it more than anything but I didn’t even KNOW that. I wanted to open my mouth and tell him it had been the most horrible week of my life, including pledge week for my sorority and that bad case of food poisoning I got when he tried to cook me rancid scallops.

I could only cling with all my strength. Slowly, he returned the pressure with his arms and laid his chin on my head.

“Goddammit Jer. You asshole,” I cursed softly.

“I know.”

When Jer knocked on the door to alert the nurse on the other side to open it, I was firmly gripping his other hand. He took me to a curtained stall where I saw a pile of Steph’s clothes were on the corner of the bed, neatly folded, his prized sunglasses setting on top and his yellow sneakers waiting down below.

“Do you have any suspicions?” I asked.

I looked up at the tall man and my eyes instantly went to his beauty mark. It always seemed like a bull’s eye for my lips. I would drag his face down to mine and kiss it before he left me for the day. He told me jokingly once he was going to get lip prints tattooed there since I was leaving my lip stick marks there all the time anyway. It was “Jac’s Mark”.

He looked down at me and my pulse leapt, throwing off my breathing rhythm. He probably heard the catch in my voice. Warm Tiger’s eye brown. Red brown honesty tinged with distrust and hurt.

“When we were going to the locker room after warm ups he was going on and on about a weird thing that happened at the bar. I was only half-listening but I did catch that he felt like he’d been running a marathon as soon as he stepped inside.”

“Had he been?” I wondered. This was Steph at after all. If someone dared him he would jog to the next city and back for a beer.

“I don’t know. I was distracted. I didn’t ask.”

I bit my lip and looked away. Passive-aggressive anger. I deserved it. I knew I did but it still hurt. I didn’t say anything else for a while. I stood there like a human statue, gripping Jer’s hand and refusing to let go even when he twitched to signal me to.

“You’re impossible,” Jer said.

Yes, I know, I thought.

He took his phone out and started to speak into it. Probably a mass text to let everyone one we were still waiting. I should have done the same but I didn’t reach for my phone. There was pressuring building inside me and I was focused on it. I felt it bubbling up like a geyser about to blow. What was going to come out? I didn’t even have a clue. There was a week’s worth of big things and little things I wanted to tell Jer about and I wanted to scream at him for being an idiot and ruining things. I wanted to hug him again and tell him it would be alright, that I was there even if it wasn’t.

I wanted–

“You’re in love with me?”

I felt Jer’s gaze shift to my face. It was flaming hot like a sunburn. Why the fuck did I have to start this NOW? Jesus Jac, you ridiculous moron–

“Yes, I am.”

I inhaled slowly and I felt hot warmth behind my eyes again. He squeezed my hand to try to turn my head around to look at him directly but I couldn’t. Not yet.

“Why now?”

“It was time.”

He had all the answers ready. That wasn’t fair. I still had none. There was more tense silence. I could hear my heart beat in my ears and I tried more deep breaths to calm it. What next? What could I say next that was true and honest?

“I–”

“Jac, nothing has changed for me.”

My word vomit hit the brakes. Goose flesh rose off my skin with the effort to hold it back.

“What?”

“Nothing has changed for me by admitting this to you. I’ve felt the same way for years and I’ll continue to do so for a long time. If we remain friends, I’ll still love you. If you decide you’re okay with this, I’ll love you harder and better than anyone ever has or could again. But I’m here with you, no matter what. You are my life, Jac and I will give you all the time you need to figure it out.”

“You would stay,” I asked, “Even if we can’t be more? Isn’t that kind of masochistic?”

“I’m a glutton for punishment. You’re worth it. I’m not going anywhere until you’re done with me.”

God fucking dammit. Everything rested on me now. The ball was in my court entirely and he waited patiently for an answer. He stared down at me, not asking for anything more than I was willing to give. Who DOES that? Who WAITS for someone for years, sitting on a massive secret like this and pretending everything is normal for MY sake because he knew I would flip out? He said it knowing he might lose me.

I slowly loosened my death grip on him and ran two shaky hands through my disheveled hair. Dammit, I thought. DAMMIT! I reached out, finally turning my face fully toward his and I dragged his head down to mine. My lips did not touch the beauty mark this time. They landed with irritation and desperation right on top of his and I heard his sharp intake of breath.

“I have had the most horrible week of my life,” I murmured to him, my lips brushing his while I spoke. “I hate you for putting me through it and I demand compensation.”

“And what is the price for one week of horribleness?”

His hands slid around my back and I saw his mustache elongate, parallel to his lips. He was laughing at me.

“Don’t leave.”

His eyes jumped to mine. Naturally, they were already tearing up. Why break the trend?

“I don’t have answers for you Jerry. Not good ones anyway. But I know that being away from you felt like I was going through the nine circles of Hell and I absolutely hated it.”

I paused, hearing my words and deciding I agreed with them. It wasn’t just emotion talking. It was me. I continued.

“You said you’re willing to give me time to figure it out. I’m going to hold you to that. It might be a long time though.”

“I know. You’re pretty thick in the head when it comes to this kind of thing.”

I pursed my lips at him and he finally gave me his crooked lazy grin. A tiny bit of pressure eased in my chest. There he is. At last.

“Shaddup! That’s the compensation I demand. Give me time.”

“So it’s not a no?”

The hope in his voice sent a fresh wave of goose-flesh down my body.

“It’s not a no.”

“Then I demand compensation as well.”

I raised my eyebrows at him, daring him to be ridiculous. He didn’t say another word. He rushed in and covered my mouth with his in a passionate, rough kiss. He punished me with tenderness and pressure, sliding his hands up to my face to keep me immobile while he nibbled my bottom lip and rolled the tip of his tongue across it to ease the dull ache. He demanded entrance into my mouth and I gave it, too surprised and lost to think about what this meant.

He gave me a week’s worth of frustration and sorrow when he crushed my mouth to his. There was an apology within his kiss when he brushed me so softly it felt like butterfly wings. And there was promise when he drew me close and lined his body up with mine, warming me down to my toes with pleasure.

Goddammit.

My lips felt tingly and bruised when he finally pulled away. I tried to focus disoriented eyes on him and frowned when I saw his smirk.

“You asshole!”

“That was my compensation. And maybe a little persuasion. A taste of what you could have.”

I turned away from him, face burning again, eyes bulging. My hand came up to cup my mouth holding the feeling of his promise against them. My other hand reached back toward him and he took it. We stayed like that until the curtain was drawn open and a harried looking doctor walked in holding a clip board. He looked at us and blinked. I wasn’t sure what he saw but he managed to keep his composure.

“Jeremiah?”

“Yes, that’s me.”

“The patient said I should relay everything to you so you can alert his family.”

I took a step back so I was shoulder to shoulder with Jer, giving him strength as his best friend to hear whatever news came. We held tight.

“It turns out that the patient has been diagnosed with WPW, or Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome.”

I looked up at Jer, who nodded. He knew what it was. He also looked relieved which allowed me to finally take a deep breath.

“He doesn’t require surgery then?”

“No, not yet. We’ll try medication and Vagal Maneuvers first and work up from there.”

“I can work on it with him. Thank you Doctor. Is he free to be discharged?”

“It’ll take a bit of paper work on my end but he can go home today, yes. Make sure he rests.”

The doctor exited the curtained stall and I immediately shifted around to hug Jer.

“Relief!” I said, sighing.

“In more than one way.”

I blushed and smiled into his chest.

“There’s one more thing though,” Jer said and I felt my shoulders sag. I waited for the other shoe to drop.

“Steph said when I talked to you again you owe him a box of coconut macaroons.”

I burst out laughing.

“He can have all the macaroons he wants! Idiot man. He might get a poisoned one though for what he put us through.”

“Maybe lace it with a laxative. It’s what he deserves after all.”

I laughed until my abs ached. This was Us. This was how life was supposed to be. Side by side with our lives stretched out before us. Who knew that it took something more than words to make me figure out it was what I wanted all along?

 

They

One step.

It is not the first step. She’d been on this path for years, suffering the injustice of detours and blockages and deserts where there was nothing. Just nothing. Only her footfalls and the vague notion to keep going. Even if it was only an inch a day, the way must be forward.

Why? Because it was where They told her to go, just like they told you.

You know, the They that starts as a feeling when you’re little. “I want to be a grown up!” You don’t know why the words come out of your mouth but it seemed to make sense and everyone laughed and patted your head. Rewards. Child-like mentality morphed this veiled self-deprecation from the adults into a Good Idea and so it tried to get more pats on the head. You dress in slacks and dresses, putting on dad’s ties and mom’s lipstick. They approve. The adults laugh some more. It’s so FUN to be an adult!

Then They shove you into a classroom for 14 years and you really begin to wonder why you ever wanted to grow up. Oh no! Throw something shiny out there! Distract! Distract! Oh phones. Oh cars. Oh wonder! This is worth it. Now it is not your parents that pat your head but your peers. You’re in with them for having the newest and best; you’re in with Them too.

Go forward, sheep. Let us shepherd you. Have we done you wrong before? Here, have a little treat.

They smack us with sex and love and desire. Now there’s a new kind of shiny in our eyes and it’s a tangled web we lay down in the middle of. Be careful, They warn, showering us with condoms and birth control and lectures of abstinence. How dichotomous. They smirk as we walk away blindly. We’re content with the knowledge that we’re doing the Right Thing. We lay down on the web, spread our legs as the chemicals mingle with our heated blood and a thin tube of latex slides over and then in. We give up our last shred of innocence for it. Shiny, happy sweaty bliss.

It’s natural! They say. God says it. Science says it. Chemistry and Physiology say so too. It’s supposed to happen. Don’t blame Us if accidents happen.

What was that? We hear whispers of the girl who dropped out of school because of an “accident”. Her friends don’t know what happened to her. She just got quiet one day and left. That boy in the locker room too. He has bruises in places boys should not have bruises. He winces when he moves and he won’t meet your eye. What–

Shhh! Shh! It’s okay! Let’s move on! See here? See that shiny seal on your diploma? That’s your ticket out kid. Ticket to better!

There’s better? Show us!

Okay. We won’t look back. It didn’t happen to us so we should look ahead right? Right. And now we’re free. Free to pursue our dreams! We’re grown ups now! But…what do we do? In the board game of Life we can either start with a career or go to college and pursue our dreams. Money is the new shiny. Do we want money now or potentially more money later with the added bonus of having our dreams come true (and thousands in debt but it’s worth it, right? Right.)

They don’t care. As long as its money. It’s the ONLY way to go. We have green blinders on with dead men’s faces glaring at us. Make money to get your own place They say. It’s freedom from your parent’s entrapment. Key word here: Freedom. No more oppression. You are your own boss! Only figuratively though. They know who the real boss is but they’ll let you believe other wise for a little longer.

Progress will be slower now. They sigh in sympathy and pat our heads again as our faces fall. There won’t be instant fame and riches like the story books say? Like Instagram and Twitter say? No, little sheep. Only work. We accept this because it’s comfort. Billions have walked this path before us and paved the way. It’s easier for us now than it was back then. It’ll be worth it, They say. Just wait and see. This is freedom! This is Life and we can live it within the parameter’s of our own determination. Go get your own place and fill it with Our stuff. We mean YOUR stuff, but really it’s our. You can make it your own though. DIY art work for the walls and cover the stained second-hand couch with crochet blankets. Call your chipped and cracked mugs “shabby chic” and display them on a shelf you made by yourself. Whatever you need to tell yourself to feed the machine.

What machine…?

We mean your soul! You SOUL. Slip of the tongue. Never you mind.

We’ll forgive you, They said, for having the thrift store crap because we know you’re just starting out. But you need to keep up with the times! New! New! New! Here’s a perk to put a smile on your face. You’re a freshly sheered sheep, bewildered and lost so here, let us give you a security blanket. Have a credit card or three. It’s free money! Why don’t you try it out, hmm? A little present for yourself. How about that laptop? You’ll need one for sure.

College or career? Money. Either way it’s still slavitude. Oh but don’t call it that! Having a negative attitude won’t do anybody any good. You’ll do your job and be happy about it or back to your parents you go. Remember that cushy hell? Remember the curfew and the fights and the oppression? Smile! Work for Them and you’ll surely go farther than you’d ever dreamed. Surely! Determination! Only you hold yourself back. Pay no mind to those shackles on your ankles. They’re just another convenient shiny to make sure you don’t lose Their way. Look, if you save enough money you can even get them in diamond and gold. Shiny.

After our shifts at the factories and after classes are done we sit tiredly with our new computers and browse the web with hate-filled eyes turning greener by the second. We stare longingly at pictures of fish faced models and rookie super stars discovered right out of high school. AMAZING!  We start thinking too much then. I Wish (insert chosen words here). Wish I’d stayed in that rock band. Wish I could have that car. Wish I could fuck her every night. Wish I could back pack through Europe. Wish I had that much money. Wish I could get breast implants.

Greedy sheep! Greedy menial sheep!

They’re furious. They scold us for wanting more. They have a plan for us and we’re going to follow it dammit or else They’ll–

No. No no, this is fine. Okay. You’re unhappy. Let’s revisit. They spread the silvery silky web out over our beds again and fill our eyes with love and lust. Little Beautiful flies. Intimate fantasies playing in our strange heads. Heart pounding and heat building. Suddenly our hands aren’t enough anymore. We have money now. We have our own place. We don’t have to hide anything or be quiet or leave the minute he’s done out of fear. Hey, your old boyfriend is single. Facebook says so. And that girl at work looks pretty cute. Wonder if she’s into threesomes.

Money and sex. Free. New. SMILE.

They steeple their fingers in front of Their Cheshire cat grins. We don’t hear their sadistic laughter. It’s drowned out by the moaning, grunting and cursing; the boss yelling and the parent’s complaining they never hear from you anymore. Our eyes are filled with tanned firm flesh and glittery gold and sculpted perfection.

When they yank away the blinders, Real Life rushes in like a starved succubus.

She fucks us like no tomorrow. She flays us with reality. There are accidents and lay offs and evictions. What? What? Help! We can’t blame them remember? They warned us. Everyone warned us. We were just too overwhelmed to hear; too blind with the shiny. Too full of wanton. We wanted and we got. Congratulations.

“Give em’ the ol’ Razzle Dazzle…”

She found out what happened to the girls who stopped coming to school. It wasn’t her fault, or his. Accidents happen. She had the chemicals and he had the latex. Bad day was all. Circumstances. They warned us. Can’t go back. Only forward along the path of millions of heart-broken and shattered.

They shook their heads and folded their arms. Fucked up didn’t you? There’s  away out you know. One easy procedure and you’ll never have to think about it again…

NO! NEVER! Moral high ground kicks in. Dreams get trampled under the crushing weight of disappointment and fear.

They take her shoulders and turn her down another path. Is this what you want? Take a good look. 18 years of that. Can you deal? We offer so much more opportunity. Work for us! Get the procedure. Forget. And when you’re ready, when you’ve paid your dues; try again.

She looked back and forth. They looked the same.

Now the truly hard grown up decisions have to be made. The ones that make us want to be a kid again. What to do? She called out. What to do? They were silent.

“I’m keeping it,” she said stubbornly and they thrust her roughly down the new path, disgusted. She landed on her knees and was scarred forever.

“Useless! Moocher! Stupid!”

They are angry now. Now THEY have to support HER. One less drop in the bucket for them. They withdrew. Now she was in their shadow, their backs turned. Forgotten like all the other girls. No more Shinies to distract. They were done investing in her.

She was alone now.

This is what she got for wanting too much. Being greedy. They told her. They showed her. Now life begins again from the other side and she will see with new eyes. She will be shackled thrice over. Ankles and breast and left ring finger and they will weight on her like a solid steel yoke. A cross to bear; a scarlet letter that in nine months will forever be walking beside her, a reminder. In its tiny newborn eyes she will see the last vestiges of her dreams die. “I do” sounds like a knell to her ear. She was round like the earth in her long cream silk dress.

She tried to slough off the cross in the beginning. They had one thing right; determination was everything. She railed against the ring bearer, blaming him. She secretly loathed the milk sucker but fear kept her mouth shut. What monster hated her children? And she didn’t really hate them. But it took away her choice; her freedom. Her dreams.

One foot in front of the other. Forward and more forward.

Years blended together. Same scenes. Sun rise and sun set. Bottles. Sippy cups. More sex and another one came. Another milk sucker but she was less scared this time. Less everything. She became comfortably numb. This wasn’t so bad. The path wasn’t as bad as she thought. There were others walking with her, bent over, eyes on the ground. Nobody wanted to look around, even for comfort. What was the point? There was no hope here. But there they all were, together.

Broken record. Broken record. Broken rec–Yes she knows this was her fault now. Hind sight is 20/20. It’s not so bad. She is beaten. They are smug. She travels deeper into their shadow.

She learned a new kind of strength, carrying her yoke around. She learned patience and acceptance. She learned it wasn’t so bad having her heart being torn; half on the inside, half outside walking around. It wasn’t bad being comfortable; being taken care of. She learned to master a new kind of role as Mother. They pigeon-holed her into it and her shoulders fit snugly into the metal machines and shiny screens that flashed numbers and dollar signs. Too little. Never enough. More! They molded her to it.

Step. Step. Step. Stumble. Knees. Get up. Dust off the scars.

Step. Stumble. Knees.

She knelt there for a minute, eyes still on the path. The others shuffled around her, stepping in time to a dull march like useless soldiers in a war they’re going to lose. Grow up, grow old, grow dead. Feed the machine. Make money. Who cares about happiness and dreams. Those are for shiny-eyed children and idealists. The rest of them…keep going. Up, Old, Dead.

She didn’t rise. She didn’t rebel. She didn’t think. She just knelt. She didn’t wait for or expect anything. Her path was laid out for her. It was easy. In a minute, she’ll get up again.

“Can I show you?”

A blue bird landed on her shoulder and she stilled. So beautiful…not shiny at all.

“Can I show you?”

“You can’t. My path. My choices. There is nothing else.”

“There is. I can show you. Let me show you.”

She shrugged and the bird flitted away. She didn’t watch it go. But she did get up and step again. Same as she’d always been; same as the others. Why her? It came back but was silent and she tried to shrug again. It fluttered and his wing brushed her cheek. For a moment, the glaze over her eyes shifted and she saw neon. The bird settled and she settled as well. Months more. She grew to accept this trifling burden and grew accustomed to saying “no” when he asked.

“Can I show you? Will you see? Let me show you.”

“No. No. No.”

“Why?”

“I chose this. This is my life.”

“Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?”

She stopped. Yes or no. It didn’t fit. It was always yes or no. Yes the path. No the walker. Yes the walker, no the path? The glaze shifted again and she saw a glimpse. Jewels. Not diamonds and facets and shiny. Colors. plants. Flowers. Where?

“Where?”

“Look over there. Look! Look!”

The bird flew from her shoulder. Her neck was stiff and ached to turn. The yoke gripped tight and it was almost too much to bear. But from the corner of her eye, she saw. A break in the path. A dark tunnel and a speck of rainbow. Her heart thudded once, very loud and then her head was forced back around and down. Back into position. She relaxed back into the mold; the effort was tremendous.

“It’s fine for now. Let me show you.”

There were more words. Not just no? She tried.

“Give me time?”

He was pleased. He ruffled his feathers in contentment. She didn’t know why.

“All you need. I am here.” And he was.

Everyday she stretched her neck farther and farther around, wincing against the yoke but deciding the pain was worth it. She tracked the blue bird with her eyes as he flew circles over her head and hid in the dull scenery of her life path. Wherever he touched seemed to glow and become alive. Brown became ocher. Green became emerald. Red became crimson. Always he would fly back to her shoulder. He would bend his wing out and tickle her cheek in greeting and her mask cracked a little more with every smile. Step by step he drew closer to her. Step by step, together, forward.

Sometimes she would return to her glazed state and plod along in line with the others. The bird knew these were times for introspection for her and he remained by her side instead of flying, ready to draw her out if she’d been under too long. She didn’t see it, but he ever so slightly loosened the bolts and screws holding her yoke in place so that every time she came awake again, she could move a little more freely.

They did not see. They did not care. She was a drop in the bucket, unworthy of Their attention. She was a Mother, not a worker. She did nothing for them. Why would They care?

He cared. He watched. She stumbled that time and paused. He saw it was time. Slowly; so slowly, she was beginning to see. There were paths hidden in plain sight if she would only look. He could show her. He could lead her. But he was only so small in her mind. A tiny voice. A pretty distraction. He needed to be bigger. So he became a child, full of dreams and ideals.

“Let me show you.”

The shock of a warm and tiny hand sliding into hers jolted her awake, the glaze leaving her eyes permanently. She was a mother. She knew instinctively what to do. She picked him up and carried him and he laid his head on her shoulder, clinging to her. She kisses his cheek and raspberried his neck to make him laugh. Her arms never grew tired of carrying him and she didn’t complain. That was what They taught her to do. This was her life. But it was more now. She began to feel joy again.

The boy watched over her shoulder as she left a trail of seedlings and sprouts in her footsteps. Bright little footsteps of green moss like a beacon against the brittle thistles. The others trampled it almost immediately after but he saw it. She didn’t but she would. Soon it would be in front of her and she would be amazed at what she could create. He would wait.

The happier she became, the bigger he became. Soon she couldn’t hold him on her hip anymore and instead, decided to carry him on her back. The yoke slipped off. It didn’t make a sound as it hit the ground and disintegrated into dust. She didn’t seem to notice. He laid against her back and watched the gold in her hair flicker in the light as she walked. Step. Step. Step. Now tireless. Strong steps. She was getting stronger.

“What do you have to show me?” she finally asked one day. It wasn’t any kind of special day. But she asked.

He rejoiced and danced and ran away and then back, carrying flowers with such brilliant shades they stung her eyes.

“What are these?” she asked, running a finger along a graceful petal. She remembered this shape. She remembered this color. There was dew on them as if a spring rain had come through when she wasn’t looking and coated them in liquid crystal.

“They’re yours,” he insisted.

“Why are they wet?” she asked.

“It’s your tears.”

She smiled at him and stood. Her eyes looked away though and were sad.

“Not mine. They’re pretty but not mine. You keep them.”

He did but he became just as sad. She still didn’t see. They didn’t speak of the flowers for a long time. He started to go away for longer and longer periods of time and she fretted. She tried not to show it. Kids will be kids. She stepped in time; kept the line. Step. Step. She was used to this.

Step. Stop.

She looked left. Looked for him and then looked right. She needed to find him. Which way? All ways were wrong except forward. No one deviates. No one sees beyond.

“Just pick and I will be there.”

She wished the Blue Bird would come again and show her which path was safe. Paths were safe and not safe. She’s stumbled before and gotten hurt. But always going forward. What kind of pain would come if she went sideways?

“You can do this. Take a step. One step not forward.”

That voice. So clear. So sure. She chose Left. She interrupted the path of the person beside her but she didn’t seem to care. Step Left. Step Left. The shiny shackles caught at her, trying to trip her, trying to re-correct her. She was almost free of the Path. One more step! The shackles dug in like a bear trap around her ankle and jerked her leg back, pitching her forward. Always forward. She would have hit the ground except for the strong pair of arms caught her. They pulled together and she felt the agonizing grip of the shackle biting into her leg. Blood dripped and tears dripped and sweat beaded on her brow.

“I WANT TO SEE!” she screamed.

And suddenly, she was free. The arms swung her up as if she now, were the child. She rested her head against the man’s neck, her ankle burning, her chest burning and the ring finger on her left hand burning. Her slavitude chains. Warning! Warning! This is not the way! Turn back and go no further. Beware. Beware! They stood there for a moment and watched the sheep-like zombies move forward.

“It’s time.”

“Yes.”

They turned away together from the forward path. She was keenly aware of her chains and it made her afraid. She buried her face in his shirt and closed her eyes. What if They saw? What if she was ripped away and sent back to follow? Could They do that? She almost wanted to turn back. The fear of the unknown haunted her and gripped her heart painfully.

“Let me show you. Look.”

The man set down and settled her in his lap, one hand on her face, coaxing her to see. Soft, like a bird’s wing. Like a child’s fingertip tracing her cheeks. She fisted a portion of his shirt in her hand, like a scared child might do, and cautiously opened one eye.

Flowers. There were Everywhere. Bright perfect blooms as far as she could see. She opened both eyes and finally Saw. There was a tiny break in the chain. She didn’t notice. She was enthralled.

“They’re yours,” he insisted.

“What?”

“You said I could keep them. I planted them and they grew.”

She climbed down off his lap now and moved toward the blossoms.

“I remember this one,” she whispered.

The shape and color of it were so familiar but she could barely remember why. When she touched it and it opened, she saw dew inside.

“Look closer.”

She bent and cupped the blossom in her hands and squinted in at it. And there it was. Once upon a dream. Her dream. She caught another flower and it bloomed in her palm, showing her another.

“All mine? You’ve kept them all?”

He smiled and came forward to take her hand. They walked through the field. Before her eyes, more and more flowers grew straight and tall, revealing their delicate blushing insides. Tender dreams and hopes, cultivated and grown with loving care.

“I thought they were lost.”

“Only forgotten,” he said. “You had to see to believe.”

The chains around her chest softly slithered down her body and disappeared into the field. She sprinkled the flowers with the tears from her eyes and they grew bigger. Hand in hand they looked and saw.

“Where are your dreams?” she asked.

“Can I show you?”

“Yes.”

The word felt alien and sumptuous on her tongue.

“Yes. Show me. Yes I want to see.”

If he can do this to her dreams, how much more alive and beautiful are his? Did everything he touch grow so fantastically? She wanted him to touch her more. They started moving uphill toward a Honolulu blue sky. She struggled a bit and he helped, boosting her up. One foot in front of the other they leaned on one another, struggling until finally coming to rest on a precipice.

Out in front and above was a clear cloudless forever. She could fly out there now. The yoke was gone. She could build herself wings from the colorful dreams in her garden and she could fly higher than she ever imagined. No anchor. No chains. Only her and the air and the sun. The thought appealed to her so much she nearly stepped into it from longing.

But then he caught her and pressed her close and she looked down. She clung to him as she looked down in terror at the dark abyss of unknown below.

“What’s down there?”

He squeezed her tighter and she felt his heart pounding against her back.

“You can’t see it yet, but I can. It’s dark for you but I see my future clear. It has you in it.”

He turned and cupped her face in his hands, kissing her forehead, her cheeks, her nose. She closed her eyes and tried to see.

“Can I show you?”

For the first time in a long time, she wanted. Wanted to dream again, wanted to lead her own life, wanted to explore this man and what he had to offer. Not follow. But be at his side for whatever he wanted her to see. It was just…

“Can I take my dreams too?” she asked.

He understood. He saw the fear of replacing one shackle with another. She didn’t know him yet, but she would and she would see everything clear. Make her own decision. He bent down and plucked a brilliant orange flower and tucked it behind her ear.

“We can plant them beside mine and they’ll grow together, if you like.”

Her heart raced with fear and excitement, alive again in her garden of eden. No Shiny. No Them. Just him and her. Organic, home-grown, love and hopes and dreams. Could she leave it for him? Could she grow another one alongside him, cherish his dreams alongside hers?

“Are you ready?”

She clasped his hand and looked only at him, trusting.

The ring from her hand tinkled on the rocks as they dove down into her unknown. It tarnished, disintegrated and blew away and she never thought about it again. She was free.

More than Words– Part 4 (#7)

Part 1 HERE  Part 2 HERE  Part 3 HERE

5 minutes till game time. My kitchen was clean, the trash was taken out and I took a record breaking short shower. 12 texts from Alma, demanding to know why she hadn’t been informed of my sickness. 1 text from Gale, making sure I really didn’t need anything. Nothing else on my phone though. Even though it had been with me in the bathroom where I could hear it clearly, I still checked. Dammit.

I sat back on the sofa, brushing my hair, the TV remote in my lap. My blanket would be done by half time. Rather, the blanket I stole from Jer would be done. It was the blanket that started me on the path to being an Registered Dietitian for a sports team. It was a “lucky” blanket now, forever immortalized in my mind and forever on the “do not throw away” list (much to Jer’s relief I imagine. It WAS his favorite after all.)

I was not a football fan by any means growing up. My mother was a die hard Packers fan. She had the Farve jersey, the cheese head and everything. While she hollered and screamed at the refs, I would hibernate in my room with head phones in, blasting music whenever a game was on, happily oblivious. I only came out for snacks. The first thing I said when I stepped foot in my dorm room at college was “THANK GAWD NO MORE FOOTBALL!”

Jer laughed at me hearing this. I didn’t know it was a sadistic laugh until later.

He figured out early on in the friendship that I would basically do anything for food. Every time a game would come on he wanted to watch he would try to convince me to watch too. Always it started out being a firm “NO” with me. I would rather do Calculus than watch grown men chase after an elongated brown ball and I despised math. My mustachioed friend would try to bribe me or threaten me sometimes but he knew he could always get me to agree with a good snack platter. Food was my downfall. So shameful.

Plus, it was Jer. Being with him was second nature.

In the early days, it was awful watching football on his little TV and being completely oblivious. Nothing made sense to me, no matter how much Jerry tried to explain. But he was a die-hard fan and so I became an honorary fan by extension as his best friend. He made me wear the fleece Lion’s blanket every game to mask my “unhealthy dislike of his future career prospects”. He thought I might absorb some football appreciation from it or something. He had some weird superstitions.

One day before a game while wrapped in his stinky blanket we were talking about his career and he had mentioned possibly getting a minor in Nutrition.

I laughed at him.

“Seriously Jer? You cook vegetable soup every night for dinner. EVERY night unless I cook for you. Your team would hate you.”

The look on his face made me laugh. It was sad puppy mixed with indignant playful man. I swear only he could pull it off and be handsome and adorable at the same time.

“Leave my soup alone! It’s healthy and satisfying.”

“Whatever you say, darling.” I tried to keep the smirk off my lips and failed. He sighed dramatically for my benefit.

“It’s NUTRITIOUS Jac and it’s tasty.”

“Kale is NOT tasty.”

He ignored me.

“Career-wise it never hurts to have more knowledge. I need to take care of my future team on and off the field and learning to keep them on track with their diet helps achieve this goal. Besides, I would just be advising, not actually cooking. Leave that to a dietitian.”

I gave him a sarcastic look and watched him flick more chili lime popcorn into his mouth. He raised his eyebrows at me, waiting for my rebuttal.

“Plumber has a leaky faucet. Nutritionist has a limited diet?”

“Impossible woman.”

He tossed a kernel at me and I snorted, feeling I had won the battle and grinning accordingly.

During the game while he was engrossed, I researched careers in nutrition and educated myself on earning the Dietitian degree. It was supposed to be for Jer’s sake but my interest was more than just peaked by the end. I was enraptured by the possibilities.

“It would be kinda cool to be an RD,” I admitted a loud, over Jer’s mumbling about flags and unnecessary roughness. “For you and I to be on the same team with our careers. Athletic trainer and Dietitian Besties. We would see each other every day!”

“We already do,” he said, only half listening while he watched. I nudged him with my foot and demanded his attention. I got a half glance for three seconds.

“But we could travel together. We could wrangle gorilla men like people from the circus! Crack the whips. I like being bossy. It might be fun.”

He made affirmative noises and then started absently massaging my foot, absorbed in the tv. I sighed and pursed my lips. Impossible indeed.

“In the off season, I can consult with restaurants on their menus and teach children about health and proper diet. It sounds pretty amazing.”

“Yep. Sure does. Go for it Jacquie.”

I was already learning to become a chef anyway. It was what I was going to school for. This made my career choice broaden quite a bit and it sounded so appealing. I could take my job anywhere and didn’t have to be stuck behind a counter at a restaurant. I could educate people and cook and travel. So much win.

I talked to my counselor that week and we made a plan to alter my major and that was that. Why wouldn’t I follow Jer into a sport I disliked and cook for a bunch of stinky, ball toting behemoth lug heads? Duh.

Of course I would.

Why?

3 minutes.

With an irritated sigh I powered on the TV. I had no discipline. My heart tapped an erratic rhythm against my ribs while the commentators rambled on about team updates and player bios. My eyes were glued to the screen. I couldn’t seem to help it. I scoured the snippets of field shots they showed, backing up my DVR to see if I could see him. AT’s don’t usually get much air time unless there was an injury but Jer always said he would try to wave at me from the field if there was live coverage.

My head grew annoyed at my heart for being ridiculous and my heart railed at my head for being so…well, pig-headed. I leaned against the cushions and huffed at myself. Impossible.

“And here’s the coin toss–!”

_______________________________________________________________

Tears for Buddha

I chose to become homeless.

Yes, you heard me. I didn’t stutter. I chose to become homeless. I gave up 99% of my possessions, got a divorce, bought a truck with a camper shell, and I live in it.

Yes I’m a moron.

Yes I’m crazy.

Yes I’m scared.

No I don’t care. Because I’m free.

We grow up living for the dream of a big house, a career, a partner and maybe a dog or some kids. This is the current american dream. It’s what people should strive for. I had that. Or, tried to have it anyway. The redneck poor people version of it. I was on government assisted living so rent was super low.  I had food stamps and the kids had free lunches from the school. I had a husband for 15 years. I’m not going to say they were “good” or “bad” years. They just were and that was the problem. I got tired of living in monotony. There was a rut we couldn’t or wouldn’t get out of and I realized if I didn’t get out, I would be living this same life for another 50 years.

Um, no.

“Just wait until the kids are gone,” my husband insisted. “Then it’ll be just us.” HA! Likely the kids wouldn’t be gone until they were 30 with their own spouses on government housing. That’s just how the economy was right now. I didn’t have any investment in the “kids move out at 18” mentality. It was an antiquated notion. Besides, if we couldn’t find ways to make it work with the little time we have–the important “us” time when the kids go down for bed– why should I believe that we would be any better with whole days at our disposal?

My husband is a good man. Just not the man for me so I left. It almost hurt he didn’t try harder to keep me but it wouldn’t have made a difference. I needed freedom from the comfortable cage so i picked the lock and pushed open the door….into a dark blue beat up Toyota with a camper shell and extended cab.

Yes, a truck. Why? Because I was morally affronted by vans. They were the symbols of soccer moms and large families, neither of which I ever wanted to claim. A truck meant I could only have me and the kids. It meant I could pack a box of food, a cooler, a bag of clothes, and a box of essentials and GO. I didn’t have to imagine it anymore. I was doing it and it felt great.

At least for the first month it did.

So what about showers and bathrooms? What about cooking food? Where would you stay? What about BOREDOM?

The first and second ones were easy. My ex husband wasn’t home during the day so I could use his house at my leisure when I wasn’t working. It helped him too since I could still clean and do laundry in return and I always made extra food for him and the kids until he could fend for himself. Bathrooms? Duh, there were public ones everywhere.

The third question was trickier. It seemed like it would be easy to answer since I should be able to say “anywhere.” Literally could just pick a street and settle down. Well, not all neighborhoods were created equal. I used to live in the ghetto where a stray bullet could kill a fool and even a beat up truck was prime chop shop fodder. So for the first week I kept myself parked right outside my old house within screaming distance of my ex-husband’s rifle. Then I got my own gun license and relaxed enough to drive myself up to a camp ground for a few weeks. Because of the ridiculous closed in heat from the camper shell mixing with my breathing and warmth, I kept the back hatch open and draped mosquito netting over it. I slept relatively comfortably when I wasn’t stressed out about bears or murderers. I kept my handgun within hand’s reach. I’m a little ashamed to admit how many raccoons almost bit it because of my nerves.

But a campground was expensive these days. $30 a night. Barely better than the cheapest hotel rooms. So then it was basically wherever my rump wanted to rest, I stayed. Sometimes it was randomly in front of somebody’s house on a random street. Sometimes it was in a Walmart parking lot or at a hospital or near my work. This was what I wanted. The freedom to choose. Having no rent to pay meant more money to save and more money for the occasional splurge, like the thumpin’ sound system for my truck.

But what about boredom?

This was probably the most difficult and the easiest question for me to answer. Boredom was never really a thing for me. If I had books, I had endless entertainment. I could grab a few from the library or change out the small collection in the truck for new ones at the house. I was also pretty artsy so I re-learned out to crochet and cross-stitch. Whenever I could manage it I would park it next to the beach, prop open the back to let the breeze waft in, fluff up some pillows and relax. But the thing about working with my hands is it left my mind free.

I had little responsibility now except to my kids and my job. Books only helped to distract and fiction became monotonous; predictable. I became restless. Suddenly freedom choked me and I was a vessel of discontent.

The instant gratification of acquiring new things through shopping didn’t help. Well-meaning friends with their jokes and teasing couldn’t console me. Rowdy bars with fried food and tequila didn’t numb the nagging Even long luxurious showers didn’t help (and I DO love showers). I glared at the southern California sunny skies through the darkness of my sunglasses and rain left me surly as a wet cat.

What to do now? What does a drifter do with her time alone? I went for a lot of walks. I went to the gun range. I got a new tattoo. Needle therapy. Nothing was helping. One night, after sleep eluded me, I filled up my tank, turned the radio off and drove. Just drove.

And I went back.

No, not back to my ex. That would defeat the purpose. As I continued to think about my situation and really contemplate how I got there, I went back to the catalyst. What GOT me here? What was the spark of understanding that lit my dark world? I drove on the empty streets with blurred eyes. I was crying. Then crying turned to sobbing and I had to pull over. I gave half a thought to the fact that I was lost in a city I didn’t know and then broke down.

When was the last time I cried? Really cried? Years ago probably. It was a book that did it, naturally. I cried for days while reading it because it described my inner most desire so perfectly I felt it had been written for me.

It was a biography of a woman who was unhappy in her marriage, who looked around and realized that the shelter she had built for herself was a cage. So she left it. She traveled and got her appetite for life back. She found love with another man and she found love for her spiritual guide. She became the best version of herself that she’d ever been and she did it all on her own. She went out and LOOKED. She had the bravery to face everyone’s criticism and her own guilt and come up out of the ashes of her life-like a phoenix reborn.

Her written words mimicked my pain and lust for life back then and the memory brought everything back up in me like emotional vomit. I could feel the damn breaking inside me and the hot tears gather in my eyes. I let out a soft gasp in the dark interior of my car and lost it.

This was where her journey started. Crying and praying for guidance at ground zero, the rubble of her life around her. Yes I had shucked the responsibility of a marriage but now the burden of my own self was entirely on my shoulders.

I think this is the part where I was supposed to start praying. But to whom?

My husband was raised religious and I had been part of his flock for a while. They sheltered me and guided me until I stopped drinking the kool-aide. I developed a fondness for Jehovah thanks to the church but there were too many issues I had with the Bible and the antiquated rules to commit myself seriously. God was simply the nameless deity I could direct my thoughts to. He was the closest I came to a religious Father but I discovered early in my childhood I didn’t need a father.

Most of my life I had actually been drawn to paganism. I believed in energy and good karma and being kind to the earth and others. I understood that for some, using rituals and spells to focus the mind and put intent out there in the universe was their kind of prayer for luck and love. But even with that religion I never felt any connection to a higher power. It was just energy and feelings. I didn’t get names involved.

The woman from the book practiced one of the eastern religions. She followed a guru and went to one of the temples to learn more about it. I didn’t have much experience with eastern religions except the odd Buddhist phrase and fortune cookie proverbs but it seemed pretty peaceful.

I believe it was human instinct to throw their problems on somebody wiser and older. We’d been doing it since birth. Children were taken care of by their parents. Teenagers were counseled by teachers and bosses. But who did adults turn to? Grandparents maybe, if they were still alive or other adults. The blind leading the blind there. But adults were supposed to have the answers. They were supposed to have built themselves a safety net of friends and family by now to catch them when they stumble on the hard questions.

I felt utterly and completely alone. I cried harder than I had in my life, hysterical gasping sobs pouring out of my throat as if I’d just gotten the news one of my kids had died.

It didn’t occur to me that when I jettisoned myself out of the familiar comfort of my home and family life that this would be an issue. I enjoyed being alone. I was comfortable enough with myself that not talking to anyone for days or months didn’t bother me. I was self-sufficient in that regard. Proud even. I didn’t understand the need for religion or gods. Prayer only made you feel better; it got everything off your chest so you could sleep better at night. It didn’t usually get shit done.

So why in the hell was I having an emotional break down in the middle of nowhere at o’dark thirty in the morning? My head pounded with a raging headache and I could barely breathe from the snot clogging my nose and throat. I leaned over and cracked open my glove compartment to grab napkins. I groped inside, blind still with tears and got a handful. While I dabbed and blew, choked and cried some more, I tried to have a conversation.

Universe, I began, attempting to form rational thought, I need your help. We’ve been on good terms I think. I recycle and try to be nice to people and plant trees on Arbor day. I’m sorry for the times I didn’t but I hope you can help me now. 

“I don’t know where to go.”

I said this out loud. Admitting it to myself and the Universe. If I said it out loud, it was true. Not just a secret inside my head anymore. The first step in so many of those programs is to accept you have a problem right?

I’m happy with my decision to leave my husband, even if no one else is. They don’t matter anyway. I’m making it work with my kids. I have the ultimate freedom. No rent. No bills. I was happy for a while. Why not now? I need a direction. Can’t you just…point me? 

“I’ll do the hard work,” I said, my words muffled by the twentieth soggy napkin. It was the last one I had. “I just need a direction.”

I didn’t expect a flash of inspiration to enlighten me or a ghostly figure to appear in front of my truck, pointing me east or west. I think religion and I were too different for any kind of divine intervention. I did brave the chance of getting shot or raped by sliding out of my truck and grabbing a roll of toilet paper from the back, finishing clean up duty on my face. Maybe something divine was watching out for me. I kept my gun close just in case though.

I did feel better, a little. Soul-rending crying jags usually do. I sat there on the tail gate, swinging my legs a little and peering up at the stars. I breathed in the cool night air. I was getting back to normal. That’s when I heard it.

Miiiiiu?”

At first I thought it was my ears misinterpreting a bird call or something it was so squeaky and faint. But it sounded like a very young kitten.

Miiiiiuuu?”

I grew very still, trying to figure out which direction the sound was coming from. Left? Right? Was it in the bushes? Up a tree?

“Hello?”

MIUUU!”

“Omg. No way…”

It was a kitten. Where?

“Kitty kitty!”

Miiiiiiuuuuuuiuuuuuuu!

Below. It was coming from below. I slid off my truck and crouched on the ground, my eyes trying to pierce the darkness to find a furry body. It’s cries grew louder seeing me and I inched nearer, still unsure. It was over by the engine where it was warm no doubt where was it? How did it get there? Was there a mama cat anywhere?

I finally saw it huddled next to my front right tire, terrified and crying out. I sat cross-legged at little ways away from it, trying not to scare it but keeping it in view. It was mostly dark I think. I don’t know how much was dirt or real fur. I saw flashes of white stripes on it’s face when it turned toward me.

Miuuu? Miuuuu?

“It’s okay baby. I’m here.”

MIUUUU!

I didn’t know if it was scared of me or wanted me to pick it up. It screamed whenever I spoke to it. I wanted to badly to reach under and pick it up off the cold ground but I knew better than to play chase with a small dark fluffy in the dark. Counter intuitive. So I sat there for an hour, occasionally talking to it to make sure it was still alive, waiting to see if a mama cat came or if there were any other far off meows.

“I’m here sweetie. Auntie loves you. It’s okay. C’mere!”

I wasn’t an expert on kittens but this one didn’t look old enough to be away from its mother. It could barely waddle around. I tried putting my hand toward it but it backed away and meowed pathetically.

I am here. I love you.

The thought came at me like a sucker punch to the face. I felt my face grow slack in shock. It was a line in the book. It was the line that made me cry for days after reading it. I am here. I love you. And here I was, repeating it to a cat. A CAT. I felt a hot jolt electrify my spine and I straightened with indignant.

So this was it huh? A sickly kitten that needed rescuing? THIS is my sign?

Miiiuuuuuu.

Yep. The Universe had a sense of humor. Asshole.

I didn’t wait. I grabbed the squeaky terrified thing and wrapped it up in one of my dirty shirts from the truck, ignoring it’s complaining. It was 3 am. Nothing would be open except maybe a CVS. This thing needed some sort of food. I’m sure I could use baby food in a pinch. Then I would take it to a vet when they opened in the morning.

Now I did say I would be willing to do the hard work. So I carried this raggedy smelly thing into CVS and got a bottle of infant medicine for the syringe and a jar of lamb puree baby food. It pooped in my shirt. One of my favorites, naturally. Annoyed, I threw it away, wrapped it in another one and forced the food down it’s throat.

While it struggled to figure out the syringe, I looked at its tiny face. It looked like a tabby cat, mostly brown with black stripes and little patches of orange here and there mixed in. On its face though, it had two white stripes coming out from its eyes and a single white patch on its forehead.

“Got your make up on wherever you go huh?”

Miu.”

It complained less after it had eaten a syringe full of the lamb and managed to fall asleep. I kept it wrapped and clutched to my chest while I drove back to familiar streets and parked in front of the first Vet’s office I found.

4 am. I had to be to work at 9. I set my alarm for 4 hours and climbed into the back of my truck. The kitten slept in the crook of my arm near my chest where it could hear my heart beat and we slept fitfully.

The kitten, I found out, was only 4 weeks old and it was a male. It was likely born outside as a feral (which explained the hissing and screaming) and had been abandoned because it was the runt or it had wandered away from its mother. It had been homeless as long as I had. It had also wandered away from the only warmth and comfort it had ever known in its life to explore the scary dark.

It was just as lost as I was and was probably crying just as hard as I was last night for comfort.

The Universe may be an asshole but it certainly made things happen when it wanted to.

I told the vet’s office I would pay for all the kitten’s medical bills and vaccines. Just make sure he’s healthy. I did happen to have a month of pay checks in the bank. How fortuitous. I didn’t know how I would keep an overactive kitten in the small space of my truck but he was already mine. When you ask for a sign and you get one, no matter how stupid it seems at first, you take it and run.

After work that day I purchased everything a kitten could possibly need and then some. When I went to engrave the tag for him, I stood at the machine for a long while, trying to think up a name.

I am here. I love you.

Ah. Of course.

When I got him back with a clean bill of health a week later, I put the collar on, which he hated immediately and tried to wiggle out of.

“I feel you man. I hate collars too but get used to it.”

I was already talking to him like a crazy cat lady. Awesome.

“Buddha?” the vet tech asked, eyeing the tag and entering the information into the computer for his microchip.

“Yep. I think he’s supposed to be the answer to my prayers,” I said, rubbing my face on his soft clean baby fur. He attacked my forehead and we laughed.

“Seems more like a fighter than a philosopher to me.”

“Well, if you knew me at all, you would know I can be pretty stubborn about things. I need someone with attitude to get through this thick skull.”

Buddha. Our tears brought us together. He sneezed on me and bit my hair. I laughed again.

I chose to become homeless. Yes, I’m a moron. Yes, I’m crazy. Yes, I’m scared. But at least now I’m not lonely.

More than Words – (Part 3) #7

(Part #1 HERE) (Part #2 HERE)

In the very beginning of our friendship, that first summer in fact, Jac put a muzzle on me. She told me that if I were to ever fall in love with her that I had to keep it to myself. She couldn’t know about it or everything would be ruined. I was taken aback by her sudden request. Who even says that kind of thing? I was alarmed until she followed it with a cheeky smile and I raspberried her, waved her off, sure it would never come to that.

What I didn’t know until later was that it had happened before. A good friend of hers had confessed his love for her but she didn’t feel the same way. She thought he would be able to deal with her rejection and be cool. Turned out not to be the case. The friendship became strained and they couldn’t talk anymore without fighting. Eventually the relationship died out. She muzzled me as a precaution, afraid it would happen again, but neither of us really thought it would need to be employed.

Until I fell in love with her of course.

It was around the time she was dating a guy she was pretty serious about. We were freshmen in college then, young and free from parental control and she had a long queue of guys after her. I didn’t understand then the burning feeling in my chest was jealousy. My experience with girls until Jac had been pitifully short. I ignored the ache because I knew Jac would always be with me, no matter what fool tried to take her away. #Bestiesforlife. That’s just how close we were.

Once I realized what was going on though, I felt that I didn’t have enough romantic influence over her to make her leave her boyfriend for me. Friend-zoned for the win. It became a painful cross to bear when she came to me sobbing because of her break up one night. There was nothing I could do though in the face of her tears. Words wouldn’t work. So I hugged her and bought her pints of ice cream and a box of tissues. It’s what best friends did.

“You know, I’m an Athletic Trainer, technically. I know a body’s weak points. Wouldn’t be to much trouble to debilitate him and make it look like natural causes.”

She laughed weakly and wiped her nose again, giving me a pathetic, watery smile.

“I could poison him with Belladonna and you could hide the body.”

“There you go. Team work!”

I could have told Jac that night. I could have made her forget that her heart had ever been hurt over the mongrel. “I LOVE YOU.” That’s all it would take. But it would have been a hollow victory. I wouldn’t do that to her on the heels of a bad break up. Plus such a declaration would most certainly push her away from me and that was the last thing I wanted. So I remained muzzled.

I stroked her hair as she curled beside me under our favorite fleece Detroit Lions blanket and let her soak my shirt with her tears, holding my tongue. She didn’t see it but my heart bled all over her that day and stained her. She had it all now. My blood, sweat, tears and now my heart. She had become, in so short a time, my life’s purpose. Whatever else happened to me, I had to keep this woman by my side.

“I’m sorry Jerry,” she sighed, on the verge of sleep with her puffy eyes and chapped lips. “I love you. What would I do without you?”

She never had to find out. Not for the next 5 years. I was there for everything, internalizing my agony over every new boyfriend and suppressing my jealousy with my own attempts at dating. It never ended well because Jac was still #1 for me. No woman likes to be told she’s second best. So I made the decision to be alone and focus on my career, being content as the best friend. Until now. I don’t know why I did it now. Maybe I couldn’t hold it in anymore. Maybe I thought the risk of losing her was worth her finally knowing.

I turned my face up to the iron skies above the stadium and let the snow flakes sting my skin. What are you doing without me now Jac? It was strange not to know. Between us there were hundred of texts a day when we weren’t together. Small things like what we had for breakfast to what we thought about global warming. The radio silence from her was killing me. But I couldn’t think about it too often; my anxiety would flare. Staying busy was my only sanctuary.

“Ready champ?”

Steph set a hand against my shoulder and pushed, breaking my day dream and my balance.

I saw the team and coaches start to head to the locker room to dress and I nodded, trying to get my head into the game. I jogged along beside Steph, half listening to his story about his crazy night at the bar last week while I made a mental list of injuries I needed to ice and rub out.

In the locker room I set my phone in my locker and snapped the lock in place. There. Then I turned to the fridge and started to dole out ice packs and do my job. Focus. Focus…

More than Words– Part 2 (#7)

–Part 1 HERE

I’d been staring at a black TV screen for the last half hour, wrapped in a ratty fleece blanket with a pint of chocolate ice cream melting in my hand. It was a puddle now. I didn’t notice. Half an hour till game time.

“Jac, I’m in love with you.”

In my mind’s eye I saw his lips form the words. I saw the curve of his thin mustache rise and fall in sync with his top lip. I watched his teeth briefly scrape his fuller lower lip when he said the word “love”. I watched his eyes, seeing the truth there in the depths of the brown and red streaks. So steady. So sure he knew exactly what he was saying, which is exactly how Jerry was so I knew it to be absolute truth. His pupils dilated and I felt him tense, waiting for me to say something. Anything.

What could I say? The words that wanted to come out log jammed in my throat, which had clogged with tears. I started and stopped for a minute, my eyes flitting to the buttons on his shirt,  the stubble on his rounded chin, his slightly pink earlobe, the pulse throbbing in his neck; anywhere but his eyes. Not those honest as a prayer eyes. 7 years together, oblivious, and he tells me this NOW? WHY now? My head exploded. I ran away, leaving him standing there without an answer.

It had been radio silence between us for the past week and I still haven’t glued the pieces of my mind back together.

It was killing me.

I felt ridiculous, acting like I had broken up with a boyfriend; ice cream binges and all. I was crying my eyes out. Eating everything my nutrition professors said was the devil. My chest was a mess, tightening painfully whenever I head the NFL theme (which was also Jer’s text tone) and then feeling hollow when I realize it was just the TV. RIDICULOUS! I tried to tell myself. You weren’t even dating! Why the hell are you freaking out?

I kept staring into the black abyss of the TV screen, wanting answers to float across like some psychic news headline.

Jacqueline Maden, best friend to Jeremy Owens, your heart is conflicted because you’re an idiot and can’t handle sudden changes. Mercury is also in retrograde, inhibiting your communication skills and because your sign is Cancer you find it difficult to face conflict head on…”

Ha. Definitely true but I suspected it was only a small part of the problem.

Why WAS I freaking out? My brain recoiled from the possibilities, refusing to pony up the truth. Instead, my treacherous heart ruled my body now and made me an utter mess. I hadn’t showered in three days. Yeah.

The phone rang behind me and I jumped out of my skin, dropping the ice cream and cursing out loud. I scrambled out of my nest, knocked my foot into the coffee table with another loud curse and lunged for the handset on the side table. I didn’t look at the caller ID, I just pressed “talk”.

“Hello?” I jammed a fist into my chest, willing the inflating balloon inside to stop and desist.

“Jacquie honey, where are you? The wives are all here and we’re sure missing you and your yummy treats!”

“Oh.” My response fell flat. “Hey Gale.”

I didn’t bother masking the disappointment in my voice. The chest balloon shriveled instantly. My second mother, who also happened to birth my best friend, was sweet as can be but a little insensitive and self-absorbed. She didn’t wonder where I’d been all week or why I hadn’t called or come by. She only cared that I wasn’t at her party and I hadn’t brought anything to munch on. I closed my eyes took a deep breath as an ugly ball of ire started tap dance along my ribs and make it’s way up to my mouth. This really was getting to be a problem.

“Get yer cute curvy ass over here Jac! Yer gonna miss it! Got a berry margie waiting for ya!” I heard someone yell in the background. There was a chorus of cat calls and greetings for me as well.

Ughhhhh…

Traditionally, the wives/girlfriends attached to the team would all try to get together for “girl time” and make margaritas whenever there was a game on that we wanted to see. It was usually a twice a month thing, barring schedules. Some women would skype call and video chat and we’d have a grand ol’ time hollering and cussing at the coaches as badly as any rabid male sports fan. I wasn’t often a part of these since I traveled with Jer’s and my team as their registered Dietitian.  It was my saving grace. God love Alma and Gale but there was a reason I traveled with a gaggle of sweating hulking gorilla neanderthals. They were less complicated. At least I assumed they were until recently.

I sighed into the phone and sniffled dramatically, deliberately clogging my nose to make it sound stuffed up.

“I’m sorry Gale, I’m sick. I haven’t been to work in a few days and I feel gross.”

It wasn’t really far off from the truth. I just wasn’t physically sick. My heart ached like it had been vomiting for a week though. Which it had.

“Aw, honey that’s terrible. Did you need anything? Some OJ or hankies? I can have them delivered to you.”

How very Gale. She lived across town from my apartment and she was going to have groceries delivered. Bless her germophobic southern heart.

“Nope. I’m gonna nap right now and try to sleep it off. Thanks though. Love ya. Kisses to the girls.”

In other words, don’t call me again unless you’re dying. I clicked off, not feeling regretful at all. Alma would blow up my phone as soon as the news hit her ears and I was tempted to turn it off. But I just couldn’t. Just in case. I cleaned up the puddle of chocolate from the blanket and then threw it in the washer. 25 minutes till game time.

The guys would be getting ready now, hydrating and horsing around, helping each other into their gear in that gawd awful smelly locker room. Jer would be there, icing  injuries and massaging out muscle strains with his long cat paw fingers. I’d always told him he had acupressure hands and he couldn’t massage my back without me giggling like mad.

“You NEED it. If it tickles, the muscles are too tight.”

“I’m FINNNNEEEEEE. Nothing a hot shower and a shot of whiskey can’t cure. I’ll let you massage my feet though.”

And he always did. He would attempt to tickle me and I would attempt to kick him in retaliation. If he had time he would do my calves as well. If there wasn’t a game I would commute to colleges and schools to lecture about healthy food and give cooking demonstrations. Often, heels were required since I had to impress school boards and big wig money makers. My calves became tight in an un-sexy way and more often than not I was driving barefoot home and limping to my apartment. In return for his massage services, I would make Jer his favorite lemon cookies. “The Healthy Kind” of course.

I sighed and flopped back on the couch, flinging an arm over my face. I let the phone onto the floor and the clatter was cathartic. I hadn’t resorted to flinging things across the room in frustration yet but if answers weren’t forthcoming I might start.

Why did you have to change things? I demanded in my head to the ghostly image of Jer that haunted me like a shadow. Why couldn’t you have let it BE?

I missed his presence in my apartment, his tea pot whistling on the stove, the comfort of his thigh against mine as we read on the couch. It was all fine the way it was. Now my rose colored glasses had been cracked and I couldn’t repair or replace them. Ever.

What the hell was I going to do?

Sweet Sweat Lady

“Are you ready?”

“Bet your sexy ass I am!” I murmured, closing my eyes and taking a breath. I focused in on my body, stilling my thoughts and preparing myself for what was to come. I forced the problems and worries of the day ahead to shut their yaps and leave me in peace. This was me time now. Time for just me and this deep timbered, ripped man who looked absolutely incredible in everything I’d ever seen him wear.

“Don’t push yourself. Remember to breathe.”

“Don’t worry about me baby. I’ll let you know if you’re going too fast.”

“Slowly now. There’s no rush…”

I started to move. He guided me with confidence, so sure in the knowledge that he’s done this before and he would be with me every step of the way. This wasn’t our first rodeo together but I wasn’t an intermediate at it either. Being a fatty most of my life it was painful to open up and be myself with anybody. I’d tried it with others but I always quit on them within the first month. We didn’t connect and they definitely didn’t understand. Until Dan. With him, it was straight-forward, no games, tell you like it is. What you saw is what you got with Danny Boy. He was refreshing and genuine with an ass I wanted to take a bite out of.

RAWR.

He began by telling me to move my arms up over my head and I obeyed without question, stretching my toes down in the opposite direction and giving myself a nice stretch. I bowed my back and pelvis upward, closing my eyes and enjoying the sensation.

“Ohhh that feels good,” I whispered.

“Feels nice doesn’t it?”

“Yes sir it does.”

His voice vibrated in my ear, guiding me into another position. It took me a minute to get there, heaving myself up and sitting up on my large bum but the transition was smoother today than it was last week. My joints didn’t complain nearly as much since Dan had been helping me “lubricate” them, generous and patient man that he was.

I could see my hunky eye candy better from this position and I took a deep breath. I placed a leg on either side of him and bent forward until I was almost touching him. In the distant recesses of my mind I was amazed I could do this. Before I was too shy, too stiff, too willing to give up in the face of my previous failures. Experience taught me that things rarely differ from man to man. Fakey assholes. Too full of themselves to understand that everyone has levels and layers to them and it takes time to get where they wanted to be. I’m so glad I was proven wrong.

My body followed his directions with ease and it gave me satisfaction that I could complete them. He didn’t say it aloud to me but I know Dan was pleased as well. My progress meant we were working out and able to advance at a good clip. The more confident I was, the happier I was and that pleased him. What woman could ask for more?

I tried to move fluidly from each movement to the next without too much impatience, knowing what was coming. Dan kept having to remind me to breathe (I always got light-headed because I held my breath too long) and to hold on for just a little bit longer. Sometimes I think he liked to torture me, stretching my limits a little too far because he was a sadist. I still adored him. All he had to do was groan at me or puff out an exacerbated breath and I was putty in his experienced hands. He was on my level. He was having to put his all in as well and not over-do it before it was time. His effort made me forgive his pushing and I submitted to his commands.

“Now I want you to spread your legs about shoulder width apart and push your hips up into the air–”

“Dan!” I cried, sweat already beading at my brow with effort.

His frank statement left my face red as a tomato but I did as he said, still facing him and feeling like an absolute hussy opening up this way to him. I stayed there, trying not to move or let my breath come too fast. Sometimes that would get me light-headed too. Maintain breath control, he said. Endurance is key, not strength.

“Just another few seconds–”

“Come on Danny Boy,” I whimpered. “I can’t keep this up all day. Just finish me!”

“Release and relax for a second, then move back up and squeeze. Pulse. Don’t lose momentum if your legs get tired. Try to keep going.”

“Yer killin’ me Smalls!” Or maybe I should be calling him Bigs?

Dan knew I would try to follow his directions to the very letter but sometimes, like now, it was too much. I sank back and eased my aching thighs down to rest flush with the floor again. He immediately switched to a more comfortable position and I felt relief. He knew I was at my limit. Such an attentive man.

“Move over onto your side now and keep the bottom leg straight. Bend the one on top over the straight one…”

Ohhh sideways huh? One of my favorites. Danny Boy was buttering me up for the grand finale now. My heart was racing. It was almost here. I could feel it. He was bringing me the ultimate pleasure.

“Switch sides.”

“Dannnnnn!”

“Bear with me. One more to go. Lay on your belly–”

“Yes!” I gasped.

I waited, listening to his breathing, trying to ignore the muscles already whining at me they’d had enough. They were done but I wasn’t. I wanted to earn my reward!

“Annnnnd…”

Beep Beeep beeeep.

Work out complete!”

I collapsed into a sweaty disgusting mess onto my yoga mat, feeling like I’d been chewed up and spit out. I was smiling though.

“Damn you Dan. I love those words.”

“You’ve just finished twenty-minute Yoga and Pilates total body workout. See you next time.”

“Oh yes you WILL Danny boy. Same time Thursday?”

God love hunky muscled men with stubble and free work out videos.