Happy 16th

 

Once upon a time there was a man named George. He was a lonely man. His family left him alone many years ago. To fill his time he worked. He worked to support his children and he worked to fill the loneliness. Then one day, a friend told him about a lady he might like to talk to. She lived nearby with her special daughter. George called her. Her name was Betty. Betty was strong-willed and was able to take care of herself and her daughter. She, too, was a hard worker.  George admired that. George called her for six days and they talked about themselves, their children, and their dreams. They realized that they had a lot in common

On the seventh day, George asked to meet Betty in person. George was cautious. Betty was afraid. They met for breakfast. They talked like they were old friends. George kissed Betty that day. It was a seal of approval and what they both believed was love at first sight. George and Betty saw each other every day after that. They talked. They laughed. They kissed. And they fell in love.

George wanted to spend the rest of his life with Betty but he had nothing to offer Betty. Then he remembered he had his mother’s ring. That’s all he had to give. The ring was a promise and an offer of a lifetime. Betty only wanted his love. Six months later, in front of family and friends, they married.

Sixteen years have passed. George and Betty are no longer lonely. They continue to talk, laugh, kiss, and love.

Their love is what stories are made of.

Happy 16th Anniversary, George.

Love, Betty

11/11/2016

Home-Less

“Your address?” asked the Indiana University Northwest admissions representative.

Think.

“I just moved and haven’t memorized my house number, “I said. I pretended to search for something, anything with an address on it, in my dirty canvas bag.

“Here it is. It’s 3522 Village Court in Gary.” I lied. It was the address on the business card I picked up when I applied for work yesterday at Gary’s Work One.

I lied because I live in an abandoned house a block from the college. I don’t live there by choice, of course. I was downsized.  I lost my job at the windshield wiper factory almost a year ago. After twenty-two years of service, my boss handed me my severance package. He said it was cheaper to make and assemble wiper parts in the Philippines. He added that I was no longer needed.

Never much of a saver, I ran out of severance money in three months. A couple weeks later my unemployment checks stopped. I applied for sixty-six jobs before I gave up. I interviewed for twenty-one positions.  The excuses for not hiring me were many. I had no experience and no college education was the most used reasons. At fifty-three, I figured my age was another explanation.

Evicted from my apartment, I packed my 1980 Chevy Malibu with canned goods, clothes, and my television. I left Indianapolis with no money. My charge cards were cancelled long ago. I drove until I ran out of gas at the exit off of I-65 and Ridge Road.  I was home. I grew up just a few blocks from here on 35th and Washington in Gary.

Carrying as much as I could in my backpack and leaving my beloved television behind, I set out to find my childhood home.  The three bedroom one-story white house that held so many memories was gone.

Weary, I dropped to my knees under the only thing left on the lot, a big oak tree. The tree my mother planted from a seedling.  Leaning up against the tree, I put my head in my hands and cried myself to sleep.

I woke up before the sun came out, gathered up my meager belongings and walked to an abandoned house a short distance away.  I creeped into the unlocked back door. The walls were painted with black symbols. Broken ceiling lights were hanging from wires. The cool May air blowing through the shattered windows didn’t subdue the pungent smell of decay.

It looked as if I wasn’t the first homeless occupant with all the garbage and broken furniture everywhere.  In one of the small bedrooms, I found an empty closet big enough to sleep in. I cleaned out the cobwebs and rat poop with my hands.  I emptied my back pack and lined up the canned goods on the dusty floor. Then I draped my two sweaters and a pair of jeans over the clothing rod. I stacked the dozen pairs of underpants on the shelf above my head with a travel sized bottle of shampoo and a bar of soap. It was home and I was happy to have it.

A block away from my house was Indiana University Northwest. I walked around the school every day for a week looking for food in the garbage cans and dumpsters. I’d sit eating and watching the students. Some carried their books in backpacks and some pulled bulging suitcases behind them. Always in a rush. Smiling. Socializing. That’s when I had a brilliant idea: Why not apply for college admission.  I know I should get a job first, and lord knows I tried. But who wants to hire an old worker who only knows how to assemble windshield wipers?

“Phone?” the admissions officer asked.

“I have no phone,” I said, noticing the college representative looking over her reading glasses at my wet hair. She couldn’t know that I washed it with hand soap in the university’s restroom.

***

“E-mail address?” she continued.

“Nope. Don’t have one of those either,” I said. I started to sweat in her tiny, windowless office. I could smell myself and the fact I had not bathed in days.

Finally, she slid a neat pile of documents toward me.

“Sign here,” she said. “And I’ll need your high school transcript and an admissions fee check to get the ball rolling.”

Holding back the tears, all I could give her was a weak smile and a nod. I stood and thanked her for her time.

Outside I took a deep breath. I smelled a pleasant aroma coming from the college cafeteria. Sloppy Joes. Fighting the urge to sniff out the trash cans, I walked home.  Backed up to the now dangling back door was a City of Gary truck.

Demolition day.

In a Blink of an Eye

In a blink of an eye, life can change.

I have a special needs adult daughter. She has become an independent women living with girlfriends and working everyday in a sheltered environment workshop. But one day, she got sick. Her illness got worse. And her life changed and so did mine.

She was in and out of emergency rooms, hospitals, doctor’s offices, and ambulances. She was threatened, restrained, , and drugged.

I was confused, enraged, exhausted, and frantic for her.

Mothers know their children. They know their needs. Doctors treat what they see and don’t take the time to know their patients. Special needs adults are ignored and isolated because they can’t communicate or understand what is happening. I was her voice.

Five months after the initial illness, my daughter is trying to regain some sort of normalcy, and so am I. She has lost the desire to enjoy life, and won’t allow me to do it either. I worry. I can’t sleep. I can’t eat and am losing my hair.

Fear is the dark cloud hanging over both of our heads. She fears doctors, hospitals and needles. I fear she won’t ever return to that amazing woman she once was.

Two lives wasted in a blink of an eye.

Paralyzed No More

Today I read an article that changed my attitude.  It pointed to my biggest downfall as a writer: I am a procrastinator. Yes, it’s true. I claim to be a writer, yet I can find a million things to do but write. This article summed up the cause of my procrastination in one sentence: I am “paralyzed by the prospect of writing something that isn’t very good.”

How sad is that? It’s true, though. I’ve had this problem since my journalism days. I worked up from editorial assistant, to columnist, to reporter, to editor. Each day I was afraid “they” would find out I can’t write. During my short tenure as an editor, a reader called to ask where I went to school, and who taught me to write. Asking where I went to school and criticizing my writing skills to an insecure writer was numbing. All I heard was my story wasn’t good enough.

I switched careers shortly after that phone call. I can’t fake it anymore. I was a bad writer, so instead of continuing to challenge myself I chose a position I knew I could succeed at. The job was less demanding field and a job I didn’t love but was good at. Fourteen years in a beige occupation. The “fear of being unmasked as the incompetent” was my motivator to do less. Pretty pathetic.

After retirement, I enrolled in several college writing courses. I wrote every day, fiction, poetry, non-fiction, flash fiction, and free writing. I was alive again. Riding high on overconfidence. I faltered though, and stepped back into doo-doo. I shared my stories with beta readers and faceless on-line critiques. They found me out. I was a fake. I can’t write. They liked my stories but don’t understand them, or they liked them more if I added this or that. I read their comments, and I found other things to do.

Paralyzing procrastination has pulled me away from my dream of publication. No more. This amazing, timely, motivating article showed me who I am. I’m turning off the voices in my head now and writing a good story.

What Makes Me Happy?

I am sitting at the breakfast table, alone, wondering what I should do today, tomorrow, or next week. I really don’t have an answer.

What would make me happy? Is it happiness I’m looking for?

I’m tapping the keys of my computer and I can’t think of anything that makes me happy. Isn’t that sad?

Sure, I like to get my nails done. I also like to curl up with a good book. And a hot cup of fresh brewed coffee is amazing. But do these things make me really happy?

Kisses from George brings a smile to my face. Talking with my daughters is definitely a plus. Reading stories and playing with my grandchildren is always fun.

Making travel plans is exciting. Buying new shoes or finding an attractive scarf or a sparkly piece of jewelry is joyful. Hanging with girlfriends is exhilarating, as is attending painting and writing classes. Sitting in the warm sun doing absolutely nothing is this side of heaven, too.

When I read all the above things that make me smile or warm my heart, I know I am happy during each event. And when I looked up “happy” in the dictionary the words: content, lucky, blissful and delighted describe that feeling you get when you bite into a chocolate-caramel-pecan candy. But “happy” is a moment, a nanosecond, a temporary feeling that can vanish like vapor. Happiness is fleeting.

Today, sitting here, alone, with a lukewarm cup of java, I still wonder what makes me happy.  Until I figure it out, I think I’ll take a long, hot shower, rub my skin with lotion that smells like Christmas trees, put on my new lacy underwear, wrap myself up in my pink cuddly robe and take a nap.

 

 

 

An Angry Senior

Have you ever noticed that the only jobs posted on Indeed.com or Career Builder for senior citizens are part-time work at McDonald’s or greeters at Wal-Mart or customer service at Home Depot?

I am a senior citizen and I’m angry.

When seniors retire from their full-time jobs, we become insignificant and unnecessary to the working world.

I worked for over fourteen years in human resources, and eighteen years as a writer, both for local newspapers. After retirement, I tried to get another position in either of these fields. I was only sixty-two years old when I retired, but I missed working. I applied for all the
positions I believed I was more than qualified for and none of the companies called me for an interview. None of them. I received the “thanks but no thanks” letter and the “we have found someone more qualified” letter. I wasn’t interviewed before receiving these letters. I was discarded.

They say there is no age discrimination, but I believe it’s alive. Companies are discreet in their hiring practices to avoid “old people”. Companies today want young newly graduated college students that they can mold. They think “old people” are set in their ways and can’t learn. What’s the saying: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. That’s bullshit!

Senior citizens, like myself, have been discarded and ignored. It’s a fact. We have years of experience and excellent work ethics. We are loyal. What young person is going to work eighteen years at a company these days? Work ethics and loyalty are ignored when hiring today. If I owned a business, these traits would be the number one and number two characteristics that I would look for in a new hire.

I’ve been asked so many times: Why don’t you volunteer somewhere to fill the gap that work used to fill? My answer is: Is it wrong to want to get paid for my time? Is it wrong to want new challenges?

I want to know why companies aren’t scrambling to hire us. If we want to work and are willing to share our experiences to help your business grow, why aren’t you tapping that resource? At the very least, interview us to find out what you’re missing.

Maybe the companies think we are too old to learn new things or that we aren’t willing to grow or take on a new challenge. They are wrong. In fact, we have common sense, expertise, and experience that should be utilized.

I say, hire us, and pay us for our knowledge and experience. What you will get in return is loyalty and a solid work ethic, which most of today’s youth do not have or value. We are significant and definitely necessary. We will be your best employee.

Transparency – Chapter 1 & 2

I received a mysterious e-mail and the subject line read “Everything you know is a lie.” I open the e-mail and read further: “Act calm. Don’t alert anyone. Everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.”
“Alice, Alice, wake up.”
My eyes opened to my roommate, Cindy, shaking me by my shoulders.
“You must have had a bad dream. You were shaking your head back and forth and saying the name ‘Mark’,” Cindy said. “Who’s Mark?”
I grabbed my robe and pushed past Cindy to the bathroom. I am not a morning person.
“How the hell do I know who Mark is? I don’t know anybody by that name. It was just a dream,” I said slamming the bathroom door.
I can’t sleep. I am an insomniac. I blame it on stress and too much caffeine. When I do sleep, I dream.
Standing in the shower letting the hot water caress my head, I tried to remember this dream.
A person named Mark told me in an e-mail that everything I knew was a lie and everyone around me was not who they said they are. He asked me to meet him where I had my first kiss. My first kiss. I had a crush on Tommy Barker in fifth grade at Aetna Elementary School. I hid behind a sand dune behind the school during recess. When Tommy ran by I tripped him and laid a big wet one on his full warm lips. He pushed me away and ran like hell back to the playground. I laughed then but I later cried when he told of his friends. I never regretted kissing him, though.
I live and work in Chicago. Traveling to Aetna was out of the question.
I dressed for the short walk to work. I live a few blocks from the Chicago Sun-Times, where I’m one of the news editors.
I rode up on the elevator to the tenth floor. I pulled out my keycard to swipe the locked entrance to CST. I swiped the card and the door wouldn’t open. I swiped the card again, still no green light. I knocked on the door to get the receptionist’s attention. She walked over to the door and opened it.
“Yes, can I help you?”
My card won’t work,” I said, as I tried to push past her.
Like a brick wall, she stood firm and wouldn’t let me enter. “What’s your name?”
“Are you kidding me? My name is Alice Anderson. I’m one of the news editors here. If you don’t let me pass I’ll be late for my morning meeting.”
“I’ve worked here for five years and I don’t know you. Wait here until I check your employment.”
I started to pace in the hallway outside the door wondering what the hell was going on. Ok, maybe she doesn’t know me. I don’t know her either.
The receptionist opened the door and poked her head out again.
“There is no record of an Alice Anderson working in editorial or anywhere else at the Chicago Sun-Times. If you don’t leave the premises, I will have to call security.”
“This is ridiculous. Who did you talk to?” I said.
“The HR director.”
I can’t believe this. I stood there for a moment and thought about what I should do now. I turned and almost walked right into one of my reporters, Edward Shriner.
“Hey, Edward. The receptionist upstairs won’t let me in,” I said.
He gave me this odd look and scurried past me, “Excuse me, miss. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Edward, it’s me, Alice. Don’t you know me?” I asked as he swiped his card and entered the office. He ignored me.
I stood there with my mouth open. What is happening? My key doesn’t work. The receptionist and Edward don’t know me. I’m still dreaming. Get home and wake yourself up.
I rushed out the door of the building and ran home.
I put my key in my apartment door but it didn’t fit.
“OK someone is playing a trick on me,” I said out loud to no one. “This isn’t funny people.”
I pounded on my apartment door hoping that Cindy was still home.
“Cindy, Cindy, let me in. My key isn’t working,” I shouted.
Mrs. Hansen, the elderly sweet lady in the apartment next to mine, opened her door and peeked out.
“Is there a problem, miss?” she asked.
“Oh thank goodness you’re home, Mrs. Hansen. My key isn’t working in my apartment door,” I said. “Can you help me?”
“Miss, I don’t know which apartment you live in, but that one is rented by two gay men who happen to be in Europe this month.”
“No, no, no. That’s not possible,” I said. “I just left here about an hour ago. It’s my apartment, and I share it with Cindy Paulsen.”
Mrs. Hansen just shook her head and closed her door. I could hear her latch her dead bolt, too.
I was beyond confused. I wanted to cry. Instead I walked outside and sat on the front step outside the apartment building. I pulled out my cell phone and dialed Cindy’s cell phone. She must be on her way to work by now or standing in the line at Starbucks, which is her daily routine.
Cindy answered on the second ring. “Yello, Cindy speaking.”
“Cindy, thank god. I tried to get into our apartment and my key won’t work. And speaking of work they say that I don’t work there. Do you think they fired me and forgot to tell me?” I said without taking a breath.
Cindy asked, “Whoa, whoa! Who is this again?”
“Oh for goodness sake. It’s me, Alice. Alice Anderson, your roommate,” I said.
“I’m sorry, but you must have the wrong number. I don’t know an Alice Anderson. And I don’t have a roommate,” she said and hung up.
It’s a dream. Wake up Alice, you’re dreaming. I wanted to scream.
My only alternative was to call the police. Somebody is playing a cruel trick on me and it’s not funny.
I dialed the Chicago Police Department. The operator answered on the first ring. I told her what was happening to me that my work didn’t recognize me and my keys didn’t work. And my best friend doesn’t know me.
“I know it sounds crazy, but can someone help me?” I asked. “Hello? Is anyone there?”
The operator then asked, “Have you been taking any drugs, miss?”
“No, I haven’t taken any drugs lately or ever. Please someone needs to help me.”

Transparency – Part 2

After the operator then suggested I go to the nearest hospital, I disconnected the call. Was everyone crazy or am I?
I must have sat on the stoop of my apartment building for at least an hour when the mail carrier came by.
“Anything for Alice Anderson?”
He rummaged through the pile of mail he carried, “No nothing for Alice Anderson.”
“How about for apartment 2A?” I asked.
“Yes, I have mail for 2A, but the letters are not addressed to Alice Anderson. One is for Mark Willingham and the other is for Bruce Bishop.”
“No that can’t be right. How long have you been delivering mail here?”
“For maybe five years,” he said as he looked confused.
“And the name Alice Anderson doesn’t ring a bell?” I was desperate.
“No. Sorry,” he said as he walked away.
This isn’t happening. I live in 2A with my roommate Cindy. Someone is playing a pretty impressive trick on me, and I don’t think it’s funny.
I gathered up my purse and lunch bag and started to walk to the Starbucks around the corner. Coffee would fix anything. Sipping my grande coffee in one of Starbucks comfy chairs, I watched the pedestrians walking by.
I must have fell asleep in the chair when an older black gentleman tripped over my feet.
“Oh excuse me, miss. Sorry to disturb your nap.” He said with a smile.
“Oh no problem. I didn’t realize I dozed off. The stress of the day must have got to me.”
The old man extended his hand, “Good morning miss, my name is Albert. Albert Anderson.” His hands were a working man’s hands and most likely a smoker, I thought. His fingernails were yellow and his hands calloused. He wore a gold ornate ring on the pointer finger of his right hand. I thought it was an odd place to wear a ring for a man. It had an insignia on it and a red stone in the center.
He had a pleasant face.
He removed his gray Fedora and tweed top coat and sat down in the comfy chair next to me. He reminded me of my grandfather with his bald head and wire rimmed glasses.
“That’s funny my name is Alice Anderson. I’m pretty sure we aren’t related. Today, though, I am not sure of anything.”
Without hesitation or any encouragement from him, I told him about my morning. He listened, nodded every once in a while, and sipped his coffee. It felt good to talk to someone. He was a good listener.
“And that’s how I ended up here. I have nowhere to go. My roommate, who I thought was my roommate, doesn’t know me. My apartment is rented to two gay guys. And apparently I don’t have a job. I’m not who I thought I was. At this point, I don’t exist.”
“That’s a pretty incredible story, Alice. Let me ask you something. Have you checked your wallet? Do you have a driver’s license or some kind of identification. How about charge cards or debit cards or a check book, something to identify yourself. Maybe you have amnesia or had amnesia. It’s a thought. I’m no doctor, but your story intrigues me,” Albert said.
Good idea, why didn’t I think of that before. I emptied my large handbag on the table between our chairs. I had the usual things a woman carries in her purse: lipstick, comb, tissue, a few coins, hand cream, a mirror, and of course, a wallet. I opened wallet to locate my information and there I was. My driver’s license had a picture of me and the address I thought I lived at. I also had a debit card with “Alice Anderson” printed on it. No check book, who uses those anymore anyway, and no charge cards.
“Well I guess I do exist.”
Albert asked to look at my driver’s license.
“Have any suggestions, Albert?” I asked as he handed it back to me.
He rubbed his chin and took another sip of his coffee.
“Your situation reminds me of another event,” he said. “I think I know what happened.”

to be continued:

The Latched Door

On bright summer mornings, Mom scooted my sister and me outside and latched the back door behind us. When we wanted back into the house, we knocked, yelled for mom and asked permission. When daddy came home from work he didn’t have to knock, the door was always unlatched. Mom greeted him with a kiss wearing a freshly ironed floral housedress and red lipstick.
Today, like all the other summer days, mom scooted my sister and me outside after breakfast. She latched the screened door behind us. Sitting on the back porch, we attached our rusted roller skates onto worn PF Flyers. My sister wore the silver skate key around her neck tied with a dirty shoe string. I could hear the radio playing Glen Miller band music and smelled the faint aroma of bleach coming from inside the house.
Daddy was away on a business trip. Mom said he wouldn’t be home until Sunday evening. He sold Hoover vacuum cleaners. Mom said Daddy was promised a big raise if he sold a lot of them. I think she missed him when he left home because I could hear her crying through their bedroom door at night when daddy was gone.
After fastening our skates, my sister and I skated to the corner store. Mom gave us each a penny to buy candy. She said it was our allowance for drying the dishes last night. It wasn’t often that mom gave us pennies. Sometimes she just gave us big hugs. I liked pennies better.
Entering the store with our skates on, we rolled up to the front counter.
“Hello Mr. Mendez. Sally and I have a penny. Can we buy some candy?” Sally and I held up our pennies to show Mr. Mendez. He reached for a big jar of red jelly beans, my favorites. He dumped a scoopful into a white paper sack. Sally pointed to a purple sucker on the counter. She liked the color purple.
“Say hello to your mother,” Mr. Mendez said as we skated to the door.
We ate our treats on the stoop in front of the store. Then I dared Sally to race me to the corner. My sister, even though she was smaller and younger than me, won the race. She said I let her win but I didn’t.
Holding hands, we skated home. A white pick-up truck was parked in our driveway. It had ladders and paint cans in the back of the truck.
I removed my skates and knocked on the latched door.
“Mom let me in. I have to go to the bathroom.” I really did have to go but I also wanted to see who was visiting us. We rarely had visitors. Sometimes Reverend Miller stopped by after church and sometimes Grandma Jones visited. She didn’t visit often because she lived in the next state and had to take the Greyhound bus. Mom said she was old and didn’t like to travel much anymore. I didn’t like it when grandma came because she stayed a long time and I had to give up my bed and sleep on the living room sofa.
I knocked on the latched door again. “Mom, let me in.” Again, no answer. I put my ear against the screen and listened. I could hear Glen Miller’s music on the radio but no other sound.
I shouted again only this time I kicked the latched door. If she didn’t let me in soon, I would pee my pants. My sister started to cry. “I want mommy,” she said.
I sat her on the stoop and put my arm around her when the latched screen door finally opened. A tall man with dark brown hair wearing paint-covered overalls came out carrying a can of paint.
“Hello girls,” he said as he turned and smiled at mom. The man put the paint can in the back of his truck. He honked his horn and waved.
Mom held the door open for us. She was wearing a freshly ironed housedress and red lipstick.
“How about lunch?” she asked with big smile.
While we ate mom stirred a pot on the stove and hummed to a Glen Miller tune.
“Mom is that man going to paint our house?”
My mom continued to stir the pot, “Maybe.”
After lunch she shooed us back outside and latched the door.

Grandpa

I was in fifth grade when my Italian grandfather moved into our small three-bedroom bungalow on the outskirts of Gary. My father’s father came to live with us after he was kicked out of his home. He lived with my father’s sister, her family and my grandmother. My father’s mother had something to do with his eviction but I was never privy to that family squabble. I remember going with my dad and picking grandpa up, then being chased down the sidewalk by two crazy women yelling in Italian swinging wooden spoons at us.
My grandfather, a tall, thin, thick-white-haired, blue-eyed Sicilian, spoke very little English. He always smelled of Old Spice After-Shave lotion. At first, he frightened me because all he would do is sit and smoke and stare into space. Eventually, though, he became one more person in our home that irritated my mother.
Grandpa was a creature of habit. Daily he would wake up to a breakfast of his own making. He had a special yellow bowl where he would pour a cup of hot coffee, stir in some milk and crack a raw egg. He stirred it up with a fork and slurped it down right from the bowl. Sometimes some of it would hang from his chin. Since I was the oldest and could reach the kitchen sink, I had the job of clearing the table and washing the breakfast dishes. I always hated touching that sticky mustard-colored residue in the bottom of the bowl.
My mother designated grandpa as my companion every Saturday when I had to travel on the bus to catechism in downtown Gary. Grandpa dressed up in his blue pin stripped suit donned his black Fedora hat and splashed on more after shave lotion. He would hold my hand with his slender nicotine-stained fingers, and walk me across the street on Tenth Avenue to catch the bus. Grandpa attended his Sons of Italy lodge meetings while I was in class. After catechism, he would occasionally treat me to a chocolate malt in Grant’s department store. If I was lucky he would also let me choose some candy to eat on the bus ride home. I always picked Rollo’s.
Grandpa and mom had many battles. She didn’t understand him and he didn’t understand her. It was a language barrier and more. But most of their fights were about his bathing habits or lack thereof. He only bathed on Saturday’s. His rule, not hers.
Grandpa stayed in my brother’s bedroom. My sister, brother and I shared a room. It was crowded. Finally, a year later, my parents contracted to build a four bedroom home south of town. Grandpa swore he wasn’t going to move with us. My mother would tease him and say we were going to sell him with the old house. In the end, grandpa got his way. He died just before we moved.

Silence Speaks

She stood with her arms folded. She stared down her nose at me. It was the first time we met. First impressions are lasting.
John and I were married a month when Mary, his teenaged daughter, came to live with us. She had been living with John’s sister since his ex-wife ran off.
“I don’t want to live . . . here,” she said.
My husband was silent in his silence. He gathered up her luggage and assorted belongings. Then he nodded for her to follow him to room. Her new home.
“I hate you,” she bellowed after him. Then followed.
He caught my concerned eyes when he said, “Kids will be kids.” I wanted to speak. Speechless.
Weeks, months passed. We played like family.
He asked her to help with chores. She refused. She demanded an allowance. He refused.
The day he slapped her across the face for calling him a ‘bastard” and she retaliated by spitting on him, I beckoned him to let me help. He raised his hands up to stop me and walked away.
Their battles raged. Not at me.
He grounded her. She gave us the silent treatment. She stole the car and came home drunk. He locked her in her room and she called 911.
One night he worked late. I asked if she would like to go out to dinner with me. She agreed. In the restaurant we sat in silence. We looked at the menu, at the other patrons, but not at each other. Then she asked, “Why does he hate me?”
I looked at her and saw her for the first time. She is a child. She is a woman. She is confused. She had been abandoned. She is finally asking for help. For his love.
“Do you hate me?” she asked.
At that moment the bell rang, the gloves had come off. I could step in for the count.
My first reaction was to jump across the table and wrap my arms around her. Baby steps.
I closed my eyes. Tears welled up.
“Mary, your father has loved you from the day you were born. He may not say it. He may not show it like he should. But I know for a fact, he adores you. Me? I don’t hate you. I don’t understand you sometimes,” I said with a chuckle, “Frankly I don’t always understand your father but I know we both want you to be a part of our family.”
She listened. That was a start. We finished our dinner in silence and drove home.
John came home to the sound of laughter. Mary and I were sitting on the floor in the living room surrounded by family photo albums.
“Look at dad in his prom tuxedo. What a dork!” Mary and I both laughed.
“What’s going on here,” John asked as he stepped into the room and stood over us with a curious grin.
Mary stood up and wrapped her arms around her father’s shoulders and said, “I love you daddy. Welcome home.”