Stuck—the short story

Below is the short story I wrote for the competition referenced in the “Cliff Diving” post. I hope you enjoy it. I had fun writing it.

PS…I couldn’t figure out how to indent the dialog, so I just gave up.

Stuck

A composer has lost his away along with his music. Two music preparatory students try to help him find his way.At the top of a winding staircase, is a window lined, round room. Dust motes are swirling in time with snow falling outside. A grand piano sits in front of a window on the side of the room furthest from the door. Pictures of a couple in old fashioned clothing start on the left of the music ledge and run into tattered sheet music. The musical score is filled with ink stained notes that end in a fury of scribbled dots and dashes—the music had lost its way.

The composer sits on a stool in front of the piano and his lost music, chin touching chest, iron gray hair flowing over and obscuring his face. His spirit is traveling to a church on a hill, brightly lit where others are gathered. He wants to enter but the doors are locked and he can’t breach them, no matter how hard he bangs on the door.

Back in the round room, the composer gathers his hands into fists and suddenly he is banging on the piano and screaming.

Three floors below the round room, Esme hears the discordant notes and the screams. She looks at her classmates to the left and the right. They are unbothered, staring at the professor in front of the room. He is reading, without animation, a lecture about music theory from his podium. Esme sometimes wonders if he is actually alive, or if he is some sort of automaton that clicks on and begins speaking when brought to artificial life by the sounds of students gathering.

She leans over to the boy on her right, “Chester, did you hear it this time?”

“Shh…I need to hear what the professor is saying. It might be on the test.”

“Just take your phone up after the class and take pictures of his notes.”

“The professor lets us do that?” Chester asked.

“I do it all the time. You just have to be careful. The paper is so old it almost crumbles when you handle it. So, did you hear it?”

“Esme, for the 1,000th time. No, I didn’t hear it.”

“It’s getting worse,” Esme sighed.

“Then why can’t I hear it?”

Esme exhaled. “I don’t know. I think someone is trapped up there or something…he sounds like he’s being tortured.”

“Now it’s a ‘he,’ last time you said it was a cat.”

“I said maybe it was a cat.”

“Esme, God…get a grip. Maybe you need to start eating breakfast. You’re light headed from hunger or something.”

“Those nasty eggs they serve here. No way.”

A bell clanged from the hallway. The professor said, “That’s all for today. We’ll pick up with the Euclid/Pythagorus debate next time.”

“Damnit, Esme.”

“Damn yourself. Give me your phone.”

“What?”

“Give me your phone,” Esme said emphatically.

Chester pulled his phone out of his pocket. Esme grabbed it, walked down the steps of the lecture hall to the podium, where the professor was standing, frozen in place. She carefully took the sheets containing the lecture from the podium, snapped several pictures, and replaced them. The professor never moved. Esme waved her hand in front of his face, testing a theory.

“Esme, what the hell?”

“I think he’s a robot,” Esme explained.

“First phantom cats and now robot professors. You should visit the health room.”

“Why?” Esme asked.

“Because you’re going crazy. The stress of music prep school has scrambled your brain.”

“This place would make anyone crazy. I’m going up there tonight.”

“Essmeeee….” Chester’s voice rose in warning on the last syllable.

Esme interjected, “I think he, it, whatever, needs help.”

“If you get caught after light’s out, you’ll be expelled,” Chester reminded Esme.

“I don’t care. If I’m not already crazy, I will be by this time next week if I keep having to hear that poor dude scream and crash on the piano keys.”

“Shouldn’t you call an exorcist, Esme?”

“I don’t believe in that baloney.”

“But you believe in ghosts haunting towers in 21st century music prep schools?” Chester asked, incredulous.

Chester had been following behind Esme as they dashed down the hall to their next class. Other students were marching determinedly with them. Esme came to a sudden stop, turned and faced Chester who narrowly escaped bumping into her.

“Yup. Are you coming?” Esme asked.

“To class or your ghost hunt?”

She replied, “Both. Class now, ghost later.”

“You’re impossible.”

“I’m incorrigible, not impossible.” Esme clarified.

“Do you know how cliche this is? Ghosts in towers in prep schools?” Chester asked.

“Yes…that’s what makes it fun. Like Madeline L’engle starting A Wrinkle In Time with, ‘It was a dark and stormy night.’ I hope it storms tonight.”

“It’s storming now.” Chester said.

“Hot damn!” Esme replied.

“You are incorrigible.”

Esme flashed Chester a grin as they arrived at their classroom door, entered, and took their seats. Floors above them, the composer’s chest heaved, but one hand began picking out notes on the treble side of the piano, like a butterfly chasing a flower in the wind. Something had shifted in the air around him, and it felt like hope.

Later, Esme barged in on Chester’s practice room as he rehearsed his solo for the school’s upcoming concert.

“How did you know I was in here?” Chester asked.

“Why? Are you hiding from me?”

“No,” Chester replied.

Esme glared at Chester.

“Maybe,” He said.

Esme intensified her glare.

“Ok, yes,” Chester replied. “But how did you know I was in here?”

“You’re always in here.”

“Bassoons rarely get solos. I have to practice so it’s perfect in time for the concert.”

“It’s always perfect, Chester. Come on. It’s time to go.”

“Go?” Chester said, pretending he didn’t know that Esme was planning to drag him to the top of the tower on some kind of ghost hunting mission.

“Come on, Chester. It’s getting worse.”

“Let me just pack my bassoon and lock it up.”

“Chester. No one wants your bassoon. How did you end up playing that thing anyway?”

“I’m a musical prodigy. I can play pretty much anything. If you’re a girl it’s the flute or clarinet. If you’re a boy, it’s trumpet or saxophone. Unless you have ADHD, then it’s some percussion or other instrument. I wanted to be different.”

“Chester, I’m a percussionist.”

“That tracks,” Chester replied.

Esme rolled her eyes, “So you chose to play something that sounds like a dying goose?”

Chester looked up at Esme wild eyed. “Maybe I should let you go alone and keep practicing.”

“I’m sorry, Chester. Please come with me.”

“Just let me drop this off in my room. It’s on the way.”

Esme put her hands on her temples, her eyes closed, “Let’s just go.”

They walked through the halls of the school, dropping Chester’s bassoon case in his room on the way. The door leading to the tower was wooden and imposing with a sign that said, “Do Not Enter.”

“Esme, you know it’s probably locked.”

“I doubt it.”

“It says, ‘Do Not Enter.’” Chester said.

“That’s just a suggestion and I don’t see a keyhole anywhere, so how can it be locked?”

Chester whispered to himself, “A suggestion.” Then said to Esme, “But there must be a reason…like, it’s dangerous or something up there.”

“Probably,” Esme said. And then opened the door, jumping as she did so. “You had to hear it that time.”

“Hear what?” Chester replied.

“Loud piano chords. Like someone banging and in pain. It sounds tortured.”

“Esme….”

“Come on!”

Esme pushed the door open, glanced knowingly at Chester, started up the stairs, and then abruptly stopped.

“Give me your phone,” Esme said to Chester.

“What? Why? Are you going to record this for TikTok?”

“No. I forgot a flashlight. I need your phone so I can use the flashlight app.”

“Oh my God, Esme! Another cliche.”

“Chester, just give me your phone. Or, do you want to go first?”

Chester reluctantly handed over his phone. Esme pulled up the flashlight and lit the stairwell in front of them.

“Damn,” she said, as they stared at the dark and winding staircase, cobwebs stretching from one side to other.

“Esme…”

She jumped again. “Can you still not hear it? We have to go up there. I don’t know why, but he needs me to come.”

“Ok, Esme. I want to send a text to let someone know where we are.”

“No. No—I don’t know why, but no.”

“Esme,” Chester’s voice was now a scared whisper.

Esme turned to face Chester. “It will be Ok.” Esme grabbed his hand, gripping it tightly as she pulled him up the stairs.

They stopped abruptly at another door. Esme placed her hand, palm flat on it, and closed her eyes, almost appearing to be at prayer. Another tortured chord came to her ears. She looked back at Chester, then forward, her shoulders squared as she pushed into the room, revealing the piano, dimly lit by the moon peeking through the dying snow storm that had settled across the campus.

“Can you see him?” she whispered, staring across the room at the piano.

“No,” Chester replied.

“Oh, God. He’s so old.” She dropped Chester’s hand and started across the room.

The composer jumped from the stool in front of the piano and started gliding towards Esme. She stood frozen in place as he moved towards her. Chester felt himself almost pulled across the room towards the piano. He still couldn’t see the composer, but the music sheets spilling from the piano called to him.

The composer continued to make his way across the room towards Esme who was now frozen in place. Terror had finally overtaken what compelled her to be in this room.

Chester, now in front of the piano, saw the sheet music, but his eyes were drawn to the photos to the left. He slowly leaned forward, and pulled one closer to examine it, tilting it towards the window so the scant light could illuminate the surface. When he saw the photos, Chester inhaled sharply.

“Esme…there’s a woman in this picture who looks like you. She’s standing next to a man…”

“A man in a dark suit with long hair?” Esme said, voice shaking.

“Yes.”

“It’s him then.” Esme said, still rooted to the spot.

The composer was now standing directly in front of her, reaching forward to touch Esme’s face. She shivered as a jolt of cold worked its way through her cheek, down her neck, filling her entire body. Esme stared at the figure in front of her as the composer’s face began to grow younger and the room brighter, illumined by lamps long unlit, the smell of ozone entering the air as they ignited. The composer placed his left hand on Esme’s shoulder and took the other in his right causing her to drop Chester’s phone. She was still shaking lightly until a thought came to her.

“Chester, the music on those score sheets? Could you play it? You’re like some sort of musical prodigy, right?”

“I, I think so.” He was unnerved by the lights beginning to glow. He glanced in the direction of Esme’s voice and sucked in his breath. He could now see the composer, embracing Esme..

“Play it please. I think we need to dance,” Esme said.

Chester glanced back at Esme, and then began to play falteringly.

“Start over,” Esme said, “Relaxed.”

“Esme, this is weird. I’m terrified.”

“I know,” Esme replied. “But we have to do it. He needs us to do it. He’s stuck.”

“Stuck?”

“Stuck in this plane of existence. I don’t know. It has something to do with the music. Play.”

Chester started playing again with growing confidence. It was a light tune, joyful even, and Chester might have enjoyed playing it under different circumstances.

The composer began leading Esme around the room in an old fashioned contra dance. Esme did her best to keep up, hoping this was the right thing to do. Her curiosity at what might come next was starting to overtake her fear.

“Esme, the music is ending.”

“You have to keep playing, Chester.”

The composer began to hum the next notes, his face growing younger and less tortured as he danced with Esme. Chester, truly a musical prodigy, matched the Composer’s notes on the piano and added a counter melody underneath. They were all on this mission together, bound by music, and perhaps love.

“It’s beautiful,” Esme said to the composer. “She was beautiful too, wasn’t she?”

The composer closed his eyes, dancing, and humming, Chester playing, until the music reached it’s dénouement. As the music ended, the room exploded in light, and then went suddenly dark. The composer was gone.

Unstuck, he was now back at the doors of the church. The composer pushed through them and walked down the aisle to meet a woman waiting for him in a long white dress, her eyes like Esme’s.

“Finally,” the woman said. “You let go.”

“I finished it.” He replied, “Did you send her?”

The woman answered, “She found you. I missed you.”

“I missed you too.”

“Let’s get on with it then,” the woman said.

“With what?” the composer asked.

“The next part of eternity,” the woman answered.

“With you?”

“Do you want to do eternity with someone else?”

“No,” he replied. “Always and only you.”

She smiled at him. They turned toward the front of the church and walked through the other side, hand in hand.

Back in the tower room, Esme shook herself, as if coming out of a trance. She walked back towards the spot where she had originally met the composer to find Chester’s phone.

“Esme, what was that?”

“I think I looked like some sort of lost love of that composer guy. He was stuck here by the music and wouldn’t let go until he finished that piece,” Esme said, as if this observation should be obvious.

Chester shook his head, then his eyes widened as he saw Esme.

“Your hair, Esme. It has a white streak.”

Esme tilted her head, letting her hair fall forward to see it better.

“Oh yeah. Another cliche. They come in threes, you know. Come on, let’s get going before we get caught up here.”

“You did look like her.” Chester brought the picture he had found on the piano to show Esme.

“Yeah, that’s weird.” Esme took the picture and hugged it to her chest.

They started back down the stairs.

Chester asked, “How are you going to explain your hair?”

“I’m not. People already think I’m abnormal and will suspect I did it on purpose.”

“They’d be right on both counts.”

Esme rolled her eyes, “I’m going to pour water on our music theory professor tomorrow.”

“Esme, what the hell?”

“He’s a robot. I want to prove it.”

“A robot?” Chester asked.

“Come on, Chester. I was right about this whole ghost thing. The cliche clock starts now.”

Chester groaned, and followed.

Just a cool picture of the moon that has nothing to do with anything.

Chapter 13

Yesterday morning, I came to “Chapter 13” in the story/novella/whatever it is I’m currently writing. I’ve never gotten to an official, “Chapter 13” in anything I’ve written in the past. My NaNoWriMo project is one long document with em dashes in between the scenes/chapters…nothing is numbered.

It brought to mind going up an elevator in a tall building. Often, there is no 13th floor. Since number 13 is by suspicious tradition, an unlucky number the elevator buttons go from “12” to “14.” I suppose at this point it’s more tradition, than superstition to skip over floor 13.

This made me wonder if books ever skip “Chapter 13.” I googled, but came up empty. All of the articles referenced in the search mentioned either “Chapter 13” bankruptcy or were YouTube videos of a Chapter 13 read aloud. I’m going back to watch Neil Gaiman read Chapter 13 of Coraline after this. You should too.

What a fun horror genre that could be—having a character get to Chapter 13 in a book, and things start going bump in the night…the monster under the bed goes for the ankle…the closet creature awakes and begins to moan of imminent demise…the possibilities are endless—and it’s so meta—like really meta, not some social media enterprise with an inflated sense of self worth. A book adventure inside a book adventure.

Are we all locked in our own private “Chapter 13?” It almost feels like it after two years of pandemic living.

At any rate…I don’t think I’m much of a horror writer. When I was given the prompt of “ghost story” for the story contest, I ended up writing something not so scary, and more romantic/comedic in nature. I didn’t say I wrote it well, but that’s what I wrote.

What would happen in your Chapter 13?

The moon was especially spooky yesterday morning…

Say Something

A dear friend of mine shared a link to a couples’ ice skating performance. Not having cable any longer, I rarely watch any of these, unless someone shares one on social media somewhere. I do enjoy them—what people can do with talent, grit, and imagination never ceases to amaze me. I clicked on the link to watch, saw the name of the song that would be accompanying their performance, and nearly closed the window.

“Just watch,” I said to myself, “face it.”

The song was, “Say Something,” by A Great Big World. It’s a heartbreaking song. For me, it captures one of the most painful moments contained in one of the most painful times of my life, and I haven’t listened to it since I last heard it. Grief never seems to run a straight line, and as much as I didn’t want to circle back to this experience, I thought maybe it was time.

When I discovered my ex-husband’s infidelity, it broke me. Up to that point, it was the most painful thing I’d ever lived through. I walked around raw, feeling like an open wound that would never heal. My ex-husband tried many different tactics to manipulate me into taking his side. At one point, he asked me to help him heal from having to “break up” with the other person.

God.

Anyway, during this period, the song, “Say Something” was experiencing a surge in popularity owing to one of those singing competition shows (maybe it was The Voice?). Christina Aguilera recorded a version of it with accompanying video. There are several different scenes and one of them shows one half of an older couple saying goodbye to the other as she lay dying in a hospital bed.

My ex called me down to the basement, where he was watching the video and sobbing. My gut told me it was all a show. But still, I listened to him, “Laura, I wanted us to be like that. You have to believe me.”

I didn’t believe him then and I don’t now. I don’t even remember what I said to him, but I do remember feeling astonished and somehow ambivalent at the same time. Astonished at his audacity, but ambivalent towards the emotion he was showing. Normally, I will reach out, even to strangers, if I think they are hurting—I’ve stopped crying women on the street to make sure that they are OK. Here in front of me was the man I’d pledged to stay with forever, in sickness and in health, good/bad, all that…displaying what he said was undying love for me…even though he had let someone else in into our private world—allowed her to usurp my place in it.

I didn’t believe the emotion was real (I still don’t—there was more, to put it mildly, f*ckery to come in the ultimate unraveling of our marriage). Too much had already been expressed to the contrary, back and forth, up and down…it was just all too much. I think I shook my head at him and walked back up the stairs, feeling numb and cold but refusing to give in to this latest attempt at manipulation.

I’ve never been able to hear that song again. The opening notes start and I change the channel, or turn off the music, or do my best to tune it out if I happen to be in public. It opens up a channel in my heart that I don’t want to flow into.

This morning though, I stayed with it. I watched this ice dancing couple move in sync to the music that depicts a love that is out of sync—it was a beautiful dissonance. I cried. And now I have something else to remember should I ever hear that song again. I don’t think it will ever be a song that I’ll choose to listen to on purpose. I do hope that I have finally closed the curtain on that scene.

Cliff Diving

Earlier this month, a friend and co-worker sent a link for a short story writing contest sponsored by NYC Midnight. I’d never heard of it, of course, having lived under a rock for the last 20 years or so. Recently, I’d begun sharing my blog posts on facebook and twitter. Some of them were pretty raw. If this is your first time here, there’s even one called “Naked,” but the most naked-y naked one, is called, “Shame.” I also shared the first “scene” for lack of a better term, of a project I wrote for NaNoWriMo. This friend never commented on any these links, but did encourage me to try out the contest, saying something to the effect of, “You’re a talented writer.”

When I looked at the details, I was really interested in the idea of feedback. The contest has three rounds…the first one is underway now. If you somehow impress whoever’s reading your work, you get to advance to the next round. However, everyone gets “feedback,” even those who don’t advance.

I was in a writer’s group via the meetup app earlier in 2021, but unfortunately it fizzled. I’ve been looking for another group, but haven’t hit on one yet. There was something about the idea of feedback from a “professional” writer/editor that really appealed to me. It was worth the $59 that I didn’t really have to sign up for the contest. I decided it was an investment in myself of sorts. So, I did.

Last Saturday morning, I woke up to find a link to my first round assignment in an email. My genre was “ghost story,” my subject was “preparatory school,” and my character was, “composer.” This is way out of my comfort zone. My project for NaNo was autobiographical, so autobiographical that I wouldn’t share it beyond that first scene—because my kids were in it. I needed to write it for myself—I fell in love with the main character, based on me…her resilience, her sense of humor, and her voracious love for her children and her students.

I haven’t even looked at the NaNo project again, except to post that first scene, and almost immediately began working on another project. This is a long shelved story idea from my first experience with blogging and writing. It’s based squarely in the real world and I have fallen in love with the characters and their family’s origin story. This week, I had to set it aside to write the piece for the contest. I’m looking forward to diving back into it.

I thought about the NYC Midnight prompt for most of Saturday, did some brainstorming/dumping on Saturday night, and wrote the first draft on Sunday. I say all the time that I don’t write these stories the right way—there are no outlines or plot points. I have an idea, and I let the movie play in my head—and I write what I see. That’s just how it works for me. Back when I first started trying to write fiction, I tried the whole outline thing. It felt like wearing a pair of shoes that didn’t quite fit right—I could walk in them but it wasn’t comfortable. Perhaps I should’ve stuck with it longer so that I could break in that method. But I didn’t and a whole lotta life got in the way. So, when I started writing again, I just did it the way that felt right. I suppose my success moving forward and whatever feedback I do get will let me know if it really works for me.

Anyway, I wrote a first draft on Sunday, and immediately decided that I hated it. Then I sent it to my daughter, who told me that if she had read my story on the back of a book as a sort of an intro to a novel, she would’ve bought it in order to keep reading the book. Then, I had another friend read it to help me with editing out my typos—she said she loved the story. Finally, I read it to one of my evening high school students—she liked it. After reading it aloud to that student, I started reading it aloud to myself once a day because I found it helped me fix the dialog where it was janky—and also those pesky typos that cropped up as I edited.

This morning, school was canceled here due to an ice storm that frankly never materialized. I was relieved as work has been overwhelming lately (see the “Skinny Dipping” post for details on that one). It also gave me a chance to sink into some final editing. I must’ve read that story aloud 3 times in my bed this morning, sipping black coffee and wondering if the neighbors in the apartments next to and above me could hear, “do they think I’m talking to myself?”

Finally, I decided it was finished. At some point this morning, I took a notion to record myself reading it in video form, for posterity or maybe to post here, or something or other. I’ve been reading aloud to kids—my own and my students—for years. While I’m no trained voice actor, I’m pretty good at it and can keep kids engaged.

But, I took forever to get around to getting the story formatted correctly for the contest requirements. I read it aloud…again…to the room. I stared out the window at the rain. I was terrified to actually go through with the whole thing. To put this story out there and have it read and critiqued by someone who might actually have an informed opinion about fiction writing. It felt like I was diving off a cliff—so not kidding.

What a wimp! I’ve broken up middle school girl fights in stairwells and was less scared.

Finally, I did the screwing up my courage dance…the story has been uploaded and turned in, hopefully in the proper format—there was a little snafu with that on my end. I also decided to submit it for copyrighting as I fell in love with my characters—I couldn’t help it. Just on the off chance I was actually up to something with them, I wanted to make sure they stayed mine and didn’t become someone else’s to control. For some reason, I had to submit more than one “unpublished work,” to the copyright office, so my NaNo project will also be copyrighted.

I took a two hour nap this afternoon after all that. I’m soo ridiculous…but really sort of proud of myself…I went the distance, just like Rocky.

Once I get an official “you have submitted your story” email from the NYC Midnight people, I will post the story here, and perhaps the video. You’ll get to meet Esme, and Chester. Tomorrow morning, I’m going back to Helen, Henry, Gary, Portia, Maria, and Frederick. Perhaps someday you’ll meet them…

Screen shot from the video recording of my story read aloud. So professional—those blue rectangles reflected in my reading glasses.

Falling in Love and Letting Go

When David was born, his head remained round. He emerged looking like a little beat up old man, dark hair lining only the sides of his head, and bruises around his eyes. Later, that dark hair would fall out, and be replaced by hair so blonde it looked white in certain lights, and non-existent in others, making David look like Charlie Brown.

In a pile of hand me down clothes someone gave to me were a pair of “Peanuts” themed pajamas. They were my favorite for him and when he outgrew them, I cried. Eventually, I was able to find the perfect family to pass them down to. My heart hurt giving away those pajamas. I knew that David would be the last child I got to grow from scratch under my heart, and by the time he outgrew those pajamas, his hair was already beginning to darken into the sandy brown it is today.

Being a parent is full of falling in love and letting go, and falling in love, and letting go as the kids move through their ages and stages. At one point, I despaired that David would ever walk…he never crawled, but rather scooted around on his butt, one foot tucked under and the other extending and yanking him forward. He managed to traverse the wooden floors of our home with surprising speed and agility. Having spent some of my professional life working with physical and occupational therapists, I worried about what effect this odd method of getting around might have on his ability to walk. Our pediatrician assured us that as long as David could get around well enough to explore, I had nothing to worry about.

Ana, David’s older sister, walked right on schedule at about a year of age. She was also fierce on the playground. If I didn’t keep a close eye on her, Ana would be at the top of the monkey bars, giggling with glee and not at all concerned about gravity and that from the right height, it could seriously maim or kill her. Ana was determined to ride a bike without using the training wheels…and she did. I still remember that moment when she took off on her own, pig tails flying behind her, matching the ribbons streaming from the handle bars as she pedaled forward.

There she goes. I thought. Her first real taste of freedom and exploration. Riding away from me.

At 15 months, David finally took his first tentative steps on a playground in our neighborhood. We lived in a row home community just south of Baltimore. Surrounding the jungle gym was some of that weird, rubbery, springy material. I suppose it was there to cushion falls from enthusiastic climbers like my Ana. I don’t know what got into me that day…it was cold and a little cloudy, but I was determined that he should walk. I set him upright on that springy surface, made sure his feet were firmly planted under him, and then let go, taking a few steps backward and squatting with my arms extended.

“Come on David! You can do it!”

And he did. He took probably three whole steps before crashing into my arms. I clapped and shouted “Yay!” A man sitting on his back porch with a view of the playground, also applauded and congratulated David. It is a sweet memory.

Ana was always the forge ahead-er, and David tended to trail behind, a little tentative. Long after Ana tired of listening to books read aloud, I continued to read to David, at his insistence, until he was in high school. For reasons neither of us wanted to articulate, I think he needed that connection. I always expected Ana to be the one to fly the nest first, and David to linger on with me, still needing that connection. At times I wondered if I might have to forcibly kick him out of the nest. Of course, I would never actually do that.

When my ex-husband and I separated, David seemed to think he needed to be the man of the house. I never consciously placed this idea in his head, nor am I sure where it originated. It did however begin a shift in the dynamic between us…from him needing to connect with me so forcibly. There were some resultant emotional repercussions for him that we had to deal with…David had to deal with. And he did.

Still, I expected that David would be the one that stayed at home longest, and Ana would be the one that flew first. And then one day last June, he announced that he would be moving out in July—before I even knew that the owner of the home I was renting for us wanted to sell, necessitating a move. I thought he might delay once he knew we would all have to move out. He didn’t.

Every night for a week, before his move, he loaded up his car with stuff from his room to take to his new apartment. Saturday that week, Ana’s boyfriend arrived with a truck and he took his bed, and other large furniture with him and that was it…he was gone. I wouldn’t hear him singing in the shower any longer, or hear his laughter as he joked with his friends playing video games late into the night…no more impromptu duets when “Piano Man” played on the Pandora station I liked to listen to in the house.

Our whole little family ended up moving into the same complex where David works and lives…all of us in our own apartments. When one of us has a maintenance request, David is often the one to take care of it, and he does so proudly and with care. Yesterday, he dropped by my place, just to say, “hello.” Somehow, the topic of him moving out this past summer came up.

“That must’ve been really hard on you, Mom. I’m sorry.”

“Of course it was, son, but I didn’t have you to keep you forever. You’re supposed to grow up and move on. You were never really mine…just entrusted to me for a while.”

Parenting is full of falling in love, and letting go, and falling in love and letting go again. I’m finding that it doesn’t end when they get big and move out, but the nature of the relationship changes—the letting go and the falling in love again. I love the man David is becoming and that he spares a thought for his Momma’s sometimes sore heart.

I still miss my little Charlie Brown in his “Peanuts” pajamas though…

I ran into David, walking BeBe, on a “snow day.”

Skinny Dipping

You know, I’ve never actually been skinny dipping “in real life.” The opportunity never presented itself and up until this point in my life, I likely wouldn’t have jumped in. However, now…under certain terms and conditions and with just the right person, perhaps.

Now that I’ve gotten your attention…this post is about metaphorical skinny dipping. It’s cold as witch’s you know what around here. Nobody, and I truly mean nobody, is going skinny dipping under any terms or conditions.

A few posts ago, I shared about getting naked, also metaphorical, in which I attempted to equate physical immodesty with emotional vulnerability. It mostly worked, but I am an un-workshopped writer, so perhaps not. Regardless, in the spirit of continuing emotional vulnerability, let’s go skinny dipping.

Ever since I moved house and became an empty nester, I’ve felt on the verge of some new transition. It’s not fully formed, but whatever space this is in my life seems to be drawing to an end, as if this space is just a way station—a round house if you will, and I might soon be headed down a different track.

Tuesday morning, I woke up early and tried to work on the story I’ve been writing, but was struck by a thought, “maybe it’s not an external change, but a reaction to the internal growth you’ve been feeling. Perhaps, how you interact with the world is going to change…the internal change will drive the external change.”

I put down my story, and took out my journal and wrote about this idea instead. It left me feeling refreshed and I went to work with a renewed spirit and a new attitude.

Here comes the “but.”

I’m a school based speech-language pathologist this year has just about broken me. It’s been a pressure cooker for most of this school year, with some periods of release. My caseload has increased to a size that feels unmanageable, especially with the increased paperwork, extra testing demands, and a few complicated cases. Because of confidentiality, I can’t go into details.

This week has been particularly hard. My stomach has hurt all day every day while I fought not to cry. The only relief is the part of the job I like, the students. Building relationships with them and fostering their communication skills and thus increasing their chances of success in life is a joy for me, even tough students, the hard to reach students, the ones that seem like they never will make progress.

Still, yesterday morning, I woke up early as usual to work on my story…and instead, burst into tears when I thought about having to go to work. After ugly crying in bed for a few minutes, I got myself together enough to request an appointment with a counselor. Apparently, they are swamped like the rest of the world, so I’m still waiting on a call back…my introverted self may have to do one of my most hated things and make a phone call to follow up.

I really have to do this…learn how to manage this stress figure out if it’s time to move on to something else. It kills me (figuratively) to think about leaving the schools where I work. I love the students and the staff I work with is exceptional. It seems crazy to give that up for something unknown, but this pace isn’t sustainable. There are a few plates that I have let drop, rather than keep spinning in the air, and I don’t think I have the strength to pick them up again.

I’m crying uncle…and I’m sharing it with you, in the interest of full frontal nudity, so that it is out there in live and living color. Laura is asking for help.

Thanks for skinny dipping with me.

Naked face (no makeup).

10 Years

There is a “10 year challenge” making the rounds of social media. If you’re not in the know, the idea is to find a picture of yourself from 10 years ago and post it side by side with a current picture. I gather that the point of the challenge is to show how much you have, or haven’t aged physically.

Curious, I searched my phone for pictures from 10 years ago. Mine start at 2013–one year short of the challenge. I suppose there might be a picture or two of me from 10 years ago in a photo album somewhere, but I’m not sure I want to take the time to find one.

I did take a stroll down memory lane through the pictures from 2013. There were a few of me, always with one or both of my kids, fuzzy and out of focus. Most of the pictures from 2013 are selfies taken by my kids. They would’ve been 11 and 12, prime “get Mom’s phone and take lots of goofy selfies” years. Many are taken with an app that distorts the photos, so you come out looking bug eyed, or like you’re at the end of a dark tunnel…surrounded by rays of light.

I miss picking up my phone and finding those pictures.

To be honest, I don’t need to look at picture of me from 10 years ago to know that I’ve aged. The grey in my hair is now noticeable, and the worry lines between my eyes are deeper (I think everyone’s have grown deeper since 2020!). In some ways, I wish I could give that woman from 2012 a warning, “In a couple of years, your life is going to change. It will be a huge left turn, but you will survive and at the end of a decade, even find yourself personally thriving. It won’t be perfect, but you are learning to embrace the big beautiful mess of it all…and that makes all the difference!”

I was still married in 2012. Posts show up in facebook memories from those years where I mention “my wonderful husband.” Even then, I knew he wasn’t wonderful, but I wanted everyone to think so…to think my life was picture perfect…and underneath those words, I can feel the sadness and the heaviness of a life that didn’t feel full, or real, or true to me.

There were many desperate moments between then and now. I sometimes still feel guilt about the decisions that woman made and how she chose to stay in a marriage that was unhealthy and sometimes disastrous for her children. I’m learning to look back on her with compassion…she was only doing the best she knew at the time.

Today, I’m in growth mode, and I hope I always will be. Long dormant sides of me have re-animated, and the more I feed them, the more alive and real I feel. 10 years ago, I would look at a picture of myself and pick it apart—the crazy hair, the bags under, and the wrinkles around my eyes. This past Christmas, I took pictures of myself with my kids and thought, for the first time, “I look beautiful.” Frankly, it took 50 years to get to the point of thinking I look more than “alright” in a picture, and this new way of seeing myself probably has much to do with this re-animated life, and the compassion I’m learning to show myself.

I never thought I’d be in this space I’m in, single, happy, still not sure exactly where I’m going, but unwilling to settle for “just ok”…I think I may have become just a little bit badass, if you want to know the truth. God willing, I’ll get another 10–and I sure hope I will have grown more into who I am meant to be while living with my heart fully open to whatever challenges are next. I hope that for you too…wherever you are!

Photo shoot from this morning. Look at all that bad ass woman.

La Bella Luna

I share a “joy” post every day on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter that has evolved over the course of the last year. Initially, I started sharing them during Lent as a way to focus more on what brings me joy less on the hardships and the resulting aftermath that ensued over the last few years of my life. The “joy” posts get some love on Facebook, a little less on IG, and basically none on Twitter—it’s twitter, and I’m not good at self promotion. Just when I think, “I’m going to stop doing the stupid joy posts,” someone comes along—someone that never “likes” or comments, and says, “I just love your joy posts. I read them every day.” So, I keep doing them, and some days they are definitely better than others, but they keep me in a daily writing habit, and that is a good thing.

I normally write these posts in the evening, and proof and post them in the mornings. They’re still full of typos, for which I occasionally apologize and are made up of pictures of what brought me jolts of joy, wonder, or inspiration during the day. I wrote tomorrow’s joy post earlier this evening, and then I took my dog for a walk and was struck by the beauty of the moon.

It was shaped like a banana tonight.

I am most definitely a “sun” person—which is about the only “Leo” thing about me, aside from my voluptuous hair. Almost always, I am up before she rises and I love the feel of her radiating warmth on my skin. But sometimes, on a clear cold night, when I am listening to music and dancing along to keep warm as I walk the dog, I look up, and there is the sun’s little sister—gloriously defiant in her cool beauty. The moon doesn’t care if you love her back…she doesn’t have to…she knows how mesmerizing she is. I took this photo with my phone and it in no way does her justice. She was a “banana moon” tonight—one of my students called her that rather than a “crescent” and I’ve never been able to look at her the same way.

Moonlight through a tree

If you’ve ever wondered what greyhound tracks in the snow look like—this is it. BeBe, my greyhound, loves the snow and sometimes dances in it. Here, she was bounding along, looking for the best place to mark her territory. That’s my shadow…I am not that tall or thin. My hair isn’t the only voluptuous thing about me.

When we arrived home, I checked the mailbox to find that a ring I had ordered from Etsy had arrived. It’s so pretty!! And fits perfectly!! Every ring I try to wear on this finger results in eczema underneath—largely due to the copious amount of hand washing we’re all presently doing (you’d better be). I’m hoping this one is thin and airy enough to avoid that problem. I adore silver jewelry, Celtic stuff, and I’ll admit it…hearts.

So…Wordpress community, you have my dog BeBe the greyhound to thank for this “evening” joy post that I thought would be silly to post on the usual social media outlets. For the past few days, I’ve been signing these posts with a heart and my name. Is it cheesy, yes—but cheese goes well with wine maybe you need a glass and here I’ve gone and set you up perfectly. Even though WordPress is a serious community with real writers, you’re getting an evening joy post today with my adolescent, heart embellished signature. I’m only going to read through it once for typos, which means they will be legion…oh well!

To this, I will only add—share your joy. The world today needs all it can get!

Broken Metaphors

I posted a link to the “Naked” entry on Facebook the other day, as I do with all of these posts. I’m not very good at self promotion, having a very strong case of “Imposter Syndrome,” but just in case my pondering might help someone on their worst day, I take a deep breath and push publish, every time…hoping it gets to whoever needs it in that moment.

A friend of mine commented on the line, “I love to stretch a metaphor till it breaks,” with “I love you so much.” I countered with, “I love YOU so much!” And, I do. We should really normalize the idea of telling our friends that we love them.

But this isn’t about love so much about the idea of being broken and the idea of metaphors. Leonard Cohen told us to “forget your perfect offering,” because, “it’s the cracks that let the light in.” Truer words were never sung, but you know what else is true? If we don’t cover up our cracks with acts of false bravado or elaborate costuming and make up, the cracks can also let the light out. That’s what getting naked is all about.

I’ve been thinking about the idea of broken metaphors and broken people and how the two might go together. Today, was supposed to be a work day, but I’ve been gifted that most magical of reprieves that has thrilled me since childhood…a snow day. I’m sitting here in my little basement apartment, somewhere in the Mid-Atlantic, watching the snow fall thickly while tree limbs sway in the force of this little storm. It’s beautiful, and awe inspiring; scary, and wistful.

My parents told me that I was never afraid of water. At bath time as a toddler, I would fill a teacup and pour water all over my face. When we went to the beach on family vacations, I would swim out way past safety, lost in the waves and the serenity of it all—but look up to see Mom and Dad waving frantically for me to come back in.

From the ages of 9-13, we lived in a coastal city in Maine. I remember one trip to the local beach when the tide came in very strong. My younger brother was having a hard time making it back to the shore. I made my way to him, hitched my arm around him, and drug us both back to safety, only I don’t remember being scared. I do remember a woman standing on the shore saying to me, “You’re a strong swimmer.”

I was never really athletic. Grace and coordination have escaped my gene pool and frankly I’m terrified of anything resembling a ball coming at my head. I was also last in line when chosen for volley ball and basketball teams in gym class. I can’t blame the team captains, I was terrible.

When we lived in Maine, I learned to water ski in a deep, cold glacial lake. I was scared then, not of the water, but of the power of the boat pulling me up. My father, wearing a ski vest, stayed beside me, steadying the skis and positioning my hands on the rope handle between my legs until I finally got the feel of “getting up.” Once I could get my feet under me, I loved water skiing. Here, finally, was something athletic I was good at. It required power and determination, and the only thing flying in my face was my old friend, water.

By the age of 13, I only needed one ski (slalom). There really is nothing more marvelous than leaning over as if you’re going to kiss the surface of the water and igniting a sparkling spray of water behind you. I haven’t been water skiing in probably 30 years, but I still remember that feeling of slicing through the boat’s wake and the joy it gifted me.

I went to college at James Madison University which is sandwiched between two mountain chains in western Virginia. Close by was a small ski resort called, “Massanutten,” which true ski buffs called, “Mass of Nothing.” Several of my friends decided we should try skiing, so I went along with it, although the idea of hurtling myself down the side of a mountain did not thrill me, I thought I might be able to handle the beginner slopes.

JMU is surrounded by Mennonite communities, some of them “Old Order” mennonites that are similar to the Amish. During one snow storm, my roommate drove us around in her Ford Bronco and we passed a pond, filled with skaters and rimmed by buggies. It was a window to a magical time gone by and I remember both of us sighing and squealing in turns at how beautiful and quaint it all was. Then we went to the Waffle House because somehow we always ended up at the Waffle House. But, I digress.

Back to that day at Massanutten, I rode up the swaying ski lift and watched as Mennonite children skied down the mountain as if they had been doing it all their lives—they probably had been. The girls were wearing their dresses, granted they had sweatpants underneath, but still, if little girls could ski in dresses, surely my 18 year old self could ski in a snow suit.

I thought that my experience with water skiing would benefit me somehow in snow skiing.

Nope.

Here’s the thing if you’ve never done both. When waterskiing, you lean back away from the boat. In snow skiing, you’re supposed to lean forward and trust those ridiculously uncomfortable boots to keep you from falling all the way over into the side of the mountain. I tried so hard to get the hang of it…even managing to snow plow my way down the bunny slope a few times. But I didn’t enjoy it at all.

I decided to give it one more try and maybe be a bit less cautious. And then I hit a patch of ice, fell all the way forward onto my face—earning myself a nice black eye. It was at that point that I decided, “I am going to be one of those people that does not like snow skiing, and it is OK.” I haven’t been since, except to accompany friends and later youth groups. I don’t snow ski, no sir, ma’am or non-binary honorific. Instead, I settle myself happily in the lodge with a hot drink of my choice and a book, quite content thank you. Y’all have your fun…I’m having mine.

I suppose that day on the mountain, my old friend water in it’s frozen form tried to stretch me to a breaking point. I have to admit that my lack of instantaneous skiing prowess stung, in the form of a black eye and humbled spirit. To be honest, I’ve never regretted not giving it another go. I’m just not someone that likes to snow ski. It left me cracked, but not broken.

Looking back on all the times I’ve been stung and humbled through bad decisions and ignoring my gut when it told me to stop or avoid something, I’ve often called myself broken. Perhaps that’s not the most apt descriptor, because I always got up again, realizing some truth about myself and making changes that led in a different direction. Cracked and sore and unsteady on humbled feet, but not broken. At times, I did try to cover up those cracks with words and masquerades to keep others away and from seeing them.

When I humbled myself and let the cracks show…that’s when I started living true—so cracked I had no choice but to let the light shine.

(How many metaphors did I crack?)

Ghost Trees

Naked, a year in review

I have often remarked that I lost all of my modesty after experiencing child birth. If you happen to be a woman reading this, you know exactly what I mean. Everybody, and I mean everybody, gets a good look: doctors, interns, nurses, assistants, people that happen to be passing by the delivery room and glance in the open door…humans are naturally curious animals. We can’t help it.

In my case, this absolute loss of modesty was not an altogether bad thing because I wanted to breast feed. Before Ana was born, I went to a useless breast feeding class. They handed me a doll and encouraged me to position her, with my clothes still covering my breasts, to “get an idea of what it might feel like.” Right.

A living, squealing, furiously hungry baby is very different from a doll and Ana and I had a little trouble figuring it all out. There was a lactation consultant on staff at the hospital where I gave birth to Ana and having just bared my nether regions so shamelessly in the delivery room, I had no difficulty baring my breasts to this new stranger for help. In fact, every nurse that brought Ana to me for a feeding got an eye full, “Am I doing this right?” And they would patiently help me, trying different ways to hold her, showing me how to pull her lower lip down and literally smash her mouth onto my nipple to get her to latch properly.

Ana and I eventually figured it out. I still suffered from sore nipples and a bout of mastitis. We got there, because I was willing to get naked and keep trying till I got it right. One of the few pieces of advice I will give to an expectant mother is to get all the help you can before you leave the hospital if you want to breast feed, and don’t be shy about it.

Giving birth is an incredibly messy, life altering experience and after you’ve been through it there really isn’t much modesty left to be had.

(Laura, what the hell? I thought this was a year in review?

Hang on, I’m getting there. I love to stretch a metaphor till it breaks.)

When I was growing up, I internalized the idea that the picture we are to present to the world should not show any blemishes. Don’t let people see your weaknesses, your fears, your hurts, your messiness, your shame. Life became a masquerade show.

Even over the last few years, when things really fell apart, when I fell apart, I managed to hold back some of that pain and insecurity, making the haphazard puzzle pieces appear to be a cohesive picture. I tried to be the “strong” person everyone said I was. With only one exception, all my ugly crying was done in my car, in the parking lot before work, or in the shower where my kids couldn’t hear my anguish. It was hard…so, so, hard, but, “never let them see you sweat,” right?

In social situations, I could be a chameleon. Whatever anyone needed me to be in the moment, that’s what I would be—funny, quiet, Martha washing dishes in the kitchen…that was me. At church, I would say all the right words, even while doubting their earnestness in my heart. It was performative, not transformative. It was what I knew to be—what they wanted me to be, not necessarily what I wanted me to be. I let everyone, but myself, off the hook.

Did anyone really know me? Did I know me?

After participating in a storytelling group this year and finding that I did have my own voice, not just an echo of everyone else’s, I started slowly sharing the bits of myself that I have kept mostly hidden. I started writing again, sharing it on a blog. I shared “joy” every day in order to encourage myself to look for the good in life in order to endure the hard stuff. Towards the end of this calendar year, I started undressing myself.

I shared some of the real trauma in my marriage, rather than just alluding to it. And it was scary. Pushing, “publish” on those posts and then knowing that people I work with, people I go to church with, my own two kids (who follow me on twitter) might read them. I felt completely off balance walking into work after I published the “Shame” post. I felt naked, but I survived the experience and I felt more “me” than I ever have.

The oddest thing has started happening as a result of all that vulnerability, because that’s what it really was…learning that it’s OK to be vulnerable. After shedding that costume of perfection I wore for so many years, it’s easier to love people, and to tell them that you love them. I’m not a sociologist or a psychologist—so I don’t know why it works that way, but it does, at least for me. I think it’s the biggest gift this year has brought me.

My son was born 15 months after my daughter. I didn’t even think twice about my nakedness in this delivery room, having already practiced so recently with Ana. We knew David was going to be big and my doctor told me to just keep pushing once he started making his way out into the world. Then, she screamed for me to “stop!” The umbilical cord had wrapped itself around David’s neck. Child birth is a messy business, full of scary surprises.

Once the cord was cleared, I pushed two more times and David emerged safely into the world. Poor child…he came out looking like a beat up old man with no hair on the top of his head and bruises around his eyes. Frankly, he tore the hell out of me on the way out, but the pain and the mess were all worth it!

After briefly checking him out, they handed David to me. I cut that nuisance of a cord myself and then brought David, already hungry, to my chest. While some intern whose name I didn’t even know stitched me up in tender places, I gave David my breast and got him latched on perfectly. I had lots of prior practice having bared my body so shamelessly with my daughter. I knew what to do to love him, no matter how messy it was or would be.

I had to get naked to learn how to love and care for my children, and now I know naked is how I need to be to nurture me.

Let’s all go skinny dipping.

My inspiration for getting naked.
Not naked, what kinda girl do you think I am? Yes, that’s lipstick on my teeth and my eyebrows are a mess. So, figuratively naked…and literally messy.
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