Monthly Archives: August 2014

Time to Go

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clock 2The day was too warm for such sadness, and the sun was much too bright. She wasn’t sure if she was even there, in that life, during those moments – it all felt so abstract. She had heard the priest speak of her brother at the funeral and had watched as the parade of friends and colleagues shuffled to the podium and said funny and kind words. But it was so unexpected and he was so young that she really hadn’t heard much of anything since he died.

They were in a town car driving from the church, and while there were others in the car with her, she felt entirely alone, adrift in confusion and disbelief. Oh she knew they were on their way to the cemetery where, apparently, other long-gone relatives were buried near each other, family she had never even met. But she wondered how could they possibly leave her brother there among strangers… buried under the dark earth where the light would never reach him again?

Her eyes fixated on the bumper of the hearse in front of them and she stared and stared, losing awareness, trying desperately to tease out what was happening. It had to be a dream, she thought, – it had to be because that was the only way her brother could be dead at the age of 37 – in a bad dream.

Her eyes grew weary and she lifted them to the sky – maybe she’d find an answer there, she wondered, but the sky was so blue it hurt her eyes and she felt angry. It had no right to be such a beautiful day. It was still April and it shouldn’t be so warm, so sunny, so… normal.

Their mournful funeral procession moved ever so slowly through the heart of her small hometown. She clasped her hands and rubbed them together back and forth, back and forth. The car felt stuffy and overheated and for a moment she thought she might retch but, no – it was even too nice of a day for that. She hated the blue sky, the bright sun… even the comfortable seat she sat in. She hated it all.

They were coming to the turn to the main road that would take them to the cemetery. The cars in the procession slowed as they approached the stop sign, and that’s when they appeared – ten police officers dressed in full uniform lining the road around the corner. As the hearse began its turn, the officers raised their hands to the heads, saluting the fallen officer, their friend, a man who had a life and a family and a future… and then didn’t. The funeral had been private but her brother’s fellow officers had found a way to show their respect, their grief, their unity. Her heart caught in her throat at the poignancy of it all and she let out a small gasp.

It was true then; her brother was dead.

He had been shot while on duty, and while he didn’t die immediately, his head wound meant that he would never recover. After an agonizing ten hours he was finally gone. And even though she had seen it with her own eyes, she hadn’t really believed it. Not until she came upon the ten solemn police officers standing straight and true at the corner of Center and Pine, saluting the passing hearse, had the awful truth stuck.

As they pulled into the cemetery the horror and sadness hit her anew and the tears began to streak down her cheeks softly like rain. How could it be?

The mourners exited the cars, a somber and grief-stricken group of people she loved. She looked at her young niece. The full April sun touch her hair, the colors swirling in the light: a kaleidoscope of brown and gold and copper. The effect was so beautiful it was almost impossible to believe anything bad had happened to that twelve-year-old girl, but she could see the grief, the terror, the uncertainly etched on her young face and it broke her heart all over again. She walked to the girl and grabbed her hand.

The priest stood by the open grave, the coffin nearby and said more priestly words but she wasn’t listening. She was thinking of her brother and how her life would be completely different, now. It was hard to know how to go on, how to live a life without him in it.

The priest finished the final commendation and farewell and for a moment they all stood in silence, trapped in their own personal grief.

Suddenly a sound in the quiet: “Beep, beep, beep…”

Her nephew’s watch timer was chiming, set for some previously but no longer important reason.

The boy smiled a sad smile and reached to his wristwatch and turned the timer off. We all  looked at each other, then – my brother’s grief-stricken family – and suddenly we knew: the alarm was one last message from my brother:

“Time to go.”

 

 

The Butterfly

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The Monarch butterfly circled slowly over Ava’s head, its orange and black stripes swirling crazily together as it flew. Didn’t I just read something that said the population of the Monarch was dwindling, she wondered. Had she, possibly, even seen it in the same newspaper where she had come across the birth announcement for his child?

She was sitting on the stairs of her old back porch, face to the sun, trying desperately to get warm. It seemed that for the last few months Ava had been chilled, never quite able to find the warmth of the summer. And now here it was September already and soon the temperature would change. Today, though, it was a balmy 75 and although the fall wasn’t quite ready to show itself, there were hints in the air: the cooler nights, the majestically vibrant colored leaves popping up in the trees, the sun a bit lower in the sky.

sunBut no matter. Summer or fall, Ava just couldn’t get warm. It was probably her heart, she thought. It was so cold, almost frozen. It chilled her to the very bone.

“Come on,” her best friend Jackie would say. “You have to let it go.”

Some days she would shake her head sadly at Jackie – how could she know what it was like to lose your entire future? Other times she would nod her head, yes – Yes, get over it, she would tell herself. And then once, last weekend, she had actually shouted at Jackie.

“Shut up! Shut up!” Ava wailed and ran from the room.

She knew her emotions had gotten the better of her but still, she was horrified at herself, horrified at how she had treated Jackie; Jackie, her best friend, who had been there for her during every raw moment.

As Ava sat in the fall sun she suddenly felt embarrassed that she still hadn’t called Jackie to apologize, yet. Her own reaction, her fury had taken too much out of her. Her energy tank was low. She hadn’t even had the will to do much at all since her outburst and thought it a miracle that she had actually rousted herself the last two days to go to work.

Today, though, Ava had cut out early, her head too fuzzy and her unsettled stomach bundled up upon itself. When she returned home she had headed directly outside instead of to her usual sad-place, the overstuffed chair in the corner. Maybe being outside, Ava thought, could improve her mood. Lord knows that shutting herself up in her small house for the last few months hadn’t helped at all.

Zack had left.

He hadn’t died, he hadn’t cheated. But he had become a father and it changed him more than he ever expected.

Ava and Zack had been friends in college and when they found themselves located in the same city a few years after graduation, their feelings for each other had changed. Ava finally noticed how incredibly smart Zack was, how good he was at his job as City Planner. He had lost his baby fat and had morphed into an amazing athlete. How had she missed all that in college, she wondered?

“Oh, I always wanted to be with you,” Zack told her one day when they first started dating, “but you were hung up on that loser, what was his name?”

“Carl?” she answered. He nodded yes.

Damn that Carl, Ava thought. She could have been with Zack all this time since senior year of college if Carl hadn’t put her mind and better instincts in a vice. She could have been with Zack and he would have never met Veronica and Veronica would have never discovered she was pregnant with his child two months after they broke up.

Ava shifted on the hard stair and sighed. She had been over this so many times – the unfairness of it all, the feeling of loss – and even she was getting tired of the circular thinking. Since the breakup, she hadn’t been herself over these last few months, even further back if she admitted it … really back to when Zack found out he was going to be a father. He told Ava that he didn’t love Veronica and nothing would change between them, but how could he know that? She knew Zack was a man of character and would love and be there for his child; that wasn’t the issue. It was how she could tell he was ever so slightly pulling away from her as the pregnancy progressed.

When Veronica entered her third trimester Ava could see the excitement in Zack’s eyes. She didn’t blame him, she was happy for him. But what did it mean for her?

“Selfish, selfish…” she muttered to herself, thinking back on it all.

When Veronica went into premature labor at 34 weeks, everyone held their breath. There were some scary times at first but then, miraculously, the little boy, whom they named Vince, started to thrive and the light returned to Zack’s eyes.

Ava had actually seen very little of Zack during that scary month when Vince was struggling but he came to her one day after Vince had gotten better and she knew right then that he was going to leave her.

“The thing is, I told Veronica that I’d move in with her to help take care of the baby. I want to give it a try. I love Vince so much it hurts,” he told her and what could she say?

And that was the last time she saw Zack, all the way back in June when the summer was the newest star of the four seasons. And now it was September, on the precipice of fall, an entirely different lifetime, it seemed.

Ava was tired of hurting. She was tired of wishing. It was time, she knew.

The Monarch swooped back through her vision and landed briefly in a nearby bush and she stared at the insect, the orange and black stripes still for the moment. The butterfly was beautiful; incredibly beautiful. She didn’t know how far the Monarch’s population had fallen, but she was glad they were back.

Suddenly Ava felt antsy, as though sitting there was no longer an option. She looked up to the sun again and was surprised when she felt a tinge of warmth on her face.

“Ok, then,” she said out loud to no one. “I think I’ll go for a run.”

Salty’s

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saltThere was this old bar out at the State Park near the water that came off Lake Huron. The place tried hard for the resort-bar look – it was, after all, very near one of Michigan’s Great Lakes – but no matter how many sailboat paintings and glass chimes or colored lights were hung, it really couldn’t achieve the effect. Even so the place did have its own charms. The exterior was sided with old boards from grounded ships, the wood weathered and gray. The plank floorboards inside squeaked in all the right places. The bartender was, dare I say, salty? And those glass chimes and colored lights hanging from the ceiling? Well, they were actually quite beautiful especially when the overhead fan made them sing. My 10-year-old nephew, Matt, was particularly fascinated by the colors they cast against the walls that day we walked into Salty’s Bar.

+++

Strangely enough, I had never heard of Salty’s Bar which was odd in itself because if you lived in Bay City for any length of time, you were well aware that there was a bar on nearly every corner: Smitty’s or Bud’s or, the most obvious one of all – The Corner Bar.

I had grown up in Bay City but still – I had no recollection of Salty’s. I thought it had escaped my attention simply because it was located across the bridge. You see, Bay City is bisected by the Saginaw River and, just like the proverbial train tracks, you were either from one side of the river or the other. Our side was, well – home – and the other side was known as the South End. As a child the entirety of Bay City was beyond my grasp – it seemed huge and endless – and the South End was the other side of the world to me. Returning to my home town to visit as an adult, however, rewrote my perspective; my bedroom was much smaller than I remembered, the high school was really only blocks away (no wonder my parents said I didn’t need a car!), and the South End was merely a five minute drive.

My sister, Linda and I, had returned to Bay City that weekend to visit family, and we were out and about that Saturday with our nephew, Matt. I didn’t spy Salty’s at first; I was focused on the sign that pointed to Bay City State Park.

“Is the State Park really just down that road?” I asked my sister and she nodded, yes, smiled, and took the turn.

I was surprised.

I couldn’t believe how close my childhood home had been to an actual beach/State Park. As a kid I vaguely remember my mother driving past the beach on the way to my favorite place, Funland.  With my best friend, Alice, in tow we would ride the Ferris wheel and circle in the Merry-go-round. There was a pastel-colored confectionary store (Taffy! Fudge!) and a silver diner that served the best Coney Island hot dogs around. To us, it was heaven.

Funland was always the destination when we drove to the State Park; we never visited the beach. I knew that my older siblings went to the beach often when they were young, but by the time I came around, the water was no longer clean enough for swimming. Even as teenagers my friends and I didn’t hang out there – it just seemed too far away and besides, we had a place of our own on our side of the bridge known as The Hill.

The Hill was a small mountain of grass where you could park, climb a short distance up the hill and settle in to drink. My friends and I were there many nights, especially in the spring of my senior year. We would sit under the stars and pass a bottle of Asti Spumate back and forth telling each other we’d be friends forever. That’s how everyone feels when you are but 17 years old. My memories of The Hill were all coated with dramatic melancholy and over-the-top sentimentality that I now no longer felt it deserved.

+++

When Linda pulled over at the beach I could see remnants of past campfires and empty beer bottles scattered about. It looked like teenagers from the other side of the river did use the State Park beach as their hangout, now. Linda, Matt and I stood on the dirty beach and stared at the water for a few minutes in silence. I was still surprised by how very close the beach was to my parents’ house.

When we got back into the car, Linda headed through the park and out the opposite way and that’s when we spotted Salty’s Bar.

“Matt,” Linda said as she eyed the place. “Are you hungry?”

I smirked and she smiled back at me because she knew what I would say: ‘when did the two of us ever need a reason to go to a bar?’ …but then again, we did have a ten-year-old with us. Before I could put too much thought into it, though, Matt piped up from the backseat.

“Sure!”

+++

The three of us sat in that bar for an hour or more that afternoon. It was peaceful inside and mostly empty, and the bartender brought over endless refills of Coke to Matt’s delight. Matt happily ate his French fries and Linda and I savored our cold beers near the windows in the front. There was a prettiness to the place as those sea glass chimes chirped in the breeze and the sun’s pale yellow strokes splintered through the windows.

It was, I remember well, a sweet moment in time.

“We should get going,” I said eventually and the three of us headed through the door and back home to our parents’ house. The minute we pulled in the driveway, Matt’s younger sister, Tracie, marched her eight-year-old self out of our parents’ house, arms crossed. Tracie looked at us with such indignation that Linda and I shrugged our shoulders at each other. We had no idea what could be wrong with such a sweet eight-year-old.

Just then our brother – Matt and Tracie’s father – came out of the old brick house with a grin.

“Her turn,” he said.

Off we went.

My One

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silver heart“Are you coming?” Lily called from the car.

Sylvie stood in the middle of the green grass of her front yard, unmoving. What was she doing? She had been settled in her life for a while, now – ten years. Her days as a college student at Colorado State were well behind her. She was finally established in her career, owned her own house, lived a life that was good.

And then he had called.

Even after all this time, she knew his voice the minute he spoke her name. And that laugh? Well, that was what she had noticed first all those years ago.

++++

“Who is that?” Sylvie whispered to her college roommate, Amber. It was their senior year and they were at a house party on Gilmore near campus, standing outside near the old oak tree out front. The music was turned up high and blasted from the speakers propped in the open windows. Soon Sylvie knew the cops would come and tell them to take the party inside. It was nearing midnight.

She grabbed Amber’s arm to get her attention and asked again.

“That guy,” Sylvie pointed across the yard. “Who is it? The one in the Rolling Stones t-shirt?”

Amber looked to where Sylvie was pointing. There was a small gang of college boys wrapped around the plastic tub that held the keg of beer. Christ, Amber thought; it was as though they were protecting the Hope diamond, itself. The boys – surely not men yet judging by their behavior – all looked the same to her in their Colorado State sweatshirts and ratty jeans. Men were so standard, Amber thought, so simple. Why Sylvie didn’t prefer the complexities of woman she didn’t know. But to each his own.

“That’s Jack,” Amber answered. “He used to be a student here but I think he graduated last year. He’s a pretty good guy – fun. I think he played in a band or something. I kinda remember seeing him on stage at Flippers last year but I was mostly toasted and was hitting on this hot chick.”

Sylvie nodded as Amber spoke but kept her eyes on Jack. There was something about him that she couldn’t put her finger on…something familiar, but not necessarily in a ‘we’ve-met-before’ kind of way. She started to feel a sense of exhilaration building within her the longer she stared at him and then – boom – fear; paralyzing fear. She shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. How is it that a complete stranger garnered such a strong reaction from her, she wondered. When she looked at him again, there it was:  an almost irresistible pull to go to him. She didn’t believe in love at first sight and yet she couldn’t look away.

The boy known as Jack laughed again, throaty and full, and Sylvie poured her beer on the ground. Amber was still talking about the hot chick she had tried to pick up but Sylvie wasn’t paying attention. She hadn’t heard a word Amber had said once she changed the subject away from Jack.

Sylvie steeled herself, took a deep breath and marched over to the keg.

“I’m empty,” she mumbled and soon one of boys turned the tap and the beer flowed into her red plastic cup. She kept her head down as it poured, almost overwhelmed with shyness, something completely foreign to her. She had always possessed an abundance of confidence and could easily talk to anyone. She spoke up in class. She was a singer and had been on stage in front of a hundred or so people, before. But now as she stood by the keg of beer, she found herself in a bubble, numb and silent. She knew the boy with the laugh was right next to her. She could feel his warmth.

It was then that she noticed he was wearing sandals. Sandals, for god-sake! It was mid-October and she was barely warm enough in her sweatshirt, and here this boy – the one she couldn’t even speak to – was wearing silly summer footwear. She started to giggle.

“What’s so funny?” Jack asked.

Sylvie snapped her head up with a smile to answer, but when she met his eyes, the bottom drained out. “Oh, no…” she thought, her heart pounding loudly, her mind whirling into a dervish.

She didn’t believe in love at first sight, no way! She didn’t believe in soulmates. It was all romanticized muck-ruck that belonged in the movies. And yet, just looking at him made her feel weightless and light, and – did she actually feel giddy? It didn’t make any sense to her and she definitely didn’t want to feel this way about another boy. Her plan was and always had been to marry her high school sweetheart, Trent. And even though they had attended different colleges, they had remained together and true through the last four years. After graduation they were to be wed back in their hometown and settle down into a house next to Trent’s parents. It was set. It had always been set.

“Hey!” Jack said again lightly. “You! Pretty girl! What’s so funny?” and then he stopped and looked closely at her. “Hey, I remember you. We had a Botany class together last year.”

No way, she thought. She would have remembered him – his blue eyes that traveled to her soul, his laugh that reached her core. But then she felt relieved. Relieved that she had met him before, even for a second, because that mean this couldn’t be love at first sight. Her rule-following, sensible self had been thrown completely off kilter imaging she could succumb to something so ridiculous as love at first sight, but now… well.. at least it wasn’t that.

But what was it? A passage from a Shakespeare play that Sylvie was made to read by her high school English teacher fluttered into her mind. She didn’t even know she had memory of it; it had meant utterly nothing to her at the time.

But there it was.

Hear my soul speak: the very instant that I saw you, did my heart fly to your service.

She looked back into Jack’s eyes and – there! He felt it too, and a kind of wonder spread across his face, beautiful like the sun.

Sylvie rushed away from the keg and the gang of boys and Jack to the backyard where it was dark and still. She sat heavily at the picnic table and burst into tears. She was so afraid. Terrified.

She heard him padding softly through the grass and soon he was next to her, sitting at the picnic table. As naturally as they had been together forever he picked up her hand and placed it to his mouth. He kissed her palm gently, his lips as soft as a ballad.

“I don’t even know your name,” Jack said. “I can’t believe it, but I don’t and yet here you are. My one.”

Sylvie shook her head, the sadness almost overwhelming.

“Sylvie. My name is Sylvie,” she said and he smiled.

“But why did I find you now?” she sobbed, surprised and also not surprised at such a question to a stranger. “It’s too late. My life is all planned.”

“Oh, Sylvie,” he whispered, holding her hand like a jewel.

Sylvie knew even within her young, inexperienced 22 year-old brain that having your life completely planned sounded ridiculous, but that’s how it was done in her family, in her home town. And she had to admit that it was what made her feel comfortable and safe. She wasn’t a risk-taker. She wasn’t fearless. But she was a great protector of her own heart. And at 22, she didn’t have the nerve or strength to change any of that now. Besides, what sounded even more ridiculous than having your life planned out before you was think you were in love with someone you had really just met.

“I don’t even know you,” Sylvie mumured.

“And I don’t even know you,” Jack answered. “But I do; we do know each other. And you know that.”

She knew she couldn’t stay any longer. She could not let herself look into his eyes again, the place where she tumbled over and over into joy, grace, lightness. She was too afraid.

Sylvie stood up to leave.

“Sylvie,” Jack said still holding her hand. “We’ll see each other again in this lifetime. I know we will. And when we do, it will be amazing. We have an an epic love story to live together.  And I promise you that you will never be afraid again.”

He gave her a crooked smile and she pulled her hand from his and rushed away; away from his words, the unknowns, and yes, the possibilities.

She hadn’t seen him since.

++++

And now it was another mid-October and she was 32.

How he found her after ten years she didn’t know, but when her phone rang last night just before 9 and he said her name, she knew it it was him.

Oh, she had  wed her high school boyfriend after college just as she had planned but not surprisingly, just a few years into the marriage, things had crumbled. Neither she nor Trent were really full human beings then, and as they matured into the people they would become, they knew that being together for life was not in the cards. It had been devastating as all divorces are but, perhaps, not as painful as she had thought. Her ex-husband had stayed behind in their home town and Sylvie decided to take a job in San Francisco. The day her parents drove her to the airport, her mother kissed her goodbye and said, “I know your life hasn’t gone as planned but maybe that’s a good thing. We can’t know how many truly amazing things that might be out there for us, right?”

Her mother had surprised her because she assumed her parents lived a stable life with no real drama – one that had been planned and accomplished down to the letter. But her mother gave her a wink as she walked away and Sylvie smiled.

She ended up loving her new job and San Francisco, in general. She found friends and expanded her world and discovered that even though she hadn’t planned it this way, her life was enjoyable nonetheless. She had never remarried and would have told you that she hadn’t thought of Jack in years, but after hearing his voice on her phone last night, she knew she had.

He had been with her the entire time since that one night years ago.

++++

“Sylvie,” he had said when she answered the phone that night.

It was a statement, just like that. Her name from his voice.

Her brain immediately began to flip through her life; constructing a very quick a roadblock to stop him from spinning her down an unknown path. She was to give a big presentation at work the following day – something that could result in a long-desired promotion. Dinner that night would be at Imu’s with her current boyfriend to celebrate. She was hosting a co-worker’s baby shower the following weekend; her mother expected her to visit soon. Her house needed work – it always did. There was the plumbing appointment to be made, the dry cleaning to be picked up. Her best friend would be by in the morning to take her to breakfast before her presentation. It was a life set in a motion, and a pretty good one, at that.

“Sylvie,” he said again. “I – um. I’ll be in San Francisco tomorrow morning. I have a four-hour layover before I head back to Italy.”

Italy! Had he been in Italy this whole time?

“Will you meet me?” he asked, and when she didn’t answer, he called her name. “Sylvie?”

“I’m here. I don’t know what to say, Jack. I can’t tomorrow. I have to work and I have this presentation and then in the afternoon I am leading a training session…” she began to babble, nervous, afraid.  No! she told herself. Don’t feel excited. Stop it. Now.

She found her voice.

“I don’t even know you, Jack.  And you don’t even know me.”

“Ah,” he responded, “but you know that’s not true. We’ve known each other forever.”

“I have to go,” she whispered into the phone.

“Sylvie, wait,” he said hurriedly. “I’m going to text you information about my flight and an e-ticket to Italy. Having a ticket is the only way to get into the airport to see me during the layover.”

“But you don’t need to purchase a ticket to Italy for me to get into the airport,” she said.  “You should have purchased one to LA or something cheaper.”

“Sylvie. I’m hoping to convince you to come with me during the layover,” he said. “To Italy.”

Her stomach flipped over and she almost dropped the phone.

“I can’t just pick up and leave, Jack. I have to go,” she said and quickly hung up. A few moments later her phone beeped with a text.

The ticket.

++++

“Let’s go,” her friend Lily called to her out the window of her Durango the next morning. Sylvie had stopped in the middle of her front yard on her way to Lily’s car. The portfolio in her hand seemed bulky and heavy, weighing her right side down crookedly. The sun was low in the sky but there was a promise in the breeze. She focused her gaze on the grass and thought absently, “I need to rake up these leaves.”

After Jack’s call Sylvie had made it through the night and through her usual morning routines in a fog, willing herself each minute not to think about Jack. Just continue on. It would be too hard to change everything mid-stream; to let go of her fear of the unknown and try for – what had he called it so long ago? An epic love story. No, it would never work.

But now, moments from getting into the car to drive with her friend to breakfast, she froze. She suddenly thought of her mother, telling her that day when she first flew to San Francisco that there must be a million amazing things out there in the universe for her to try. Sylvie looked down at the cell phone she held in her hand and turned it over and over as though it held the answers to the world.

Wait, she thought. Maybe it did.

Sylvie walked towards Lily’s SUV and stopped at the driver’s side window.

“I can’t go today,” she said. “I forgot. I’m actually going to Italy.”