Thursday, February 21, 2013

I just need one little favor....

Jeri sat waiting for Anthony to show up. He would be five minutes late she knew. He was always five minutes late. It was long enough for the person waiting to think maybe he wasn't going to show up but not so long that they would be angry with him or would leave. She wasn't even sure if he realized he did it, but she knew. She had thought about showing up 10 minutes late just to make a statement but it was a brief thought. The time in her life where she wanted to say anything to him had passed years ago. Now she just wanted to see what he was after and go home.

The bell on the shop door rang and Jeri looked at her watch, 2:05, right on time.

"Jeri! You look great! I can't believe it's been so long." Anthony put his arms around her hugging her tightly. "Can I get you anything? I see you have a coffee already, you must have gotten here awhile ago, I was held up, how had I forgotten that traffic was so bad on this side of town? I don't know how you stand living out here." Typical Anthony to turn his being late into a knock on her choice of where to live. Or maybe typical of her to hear the insult when he was just talking to fill space.

As he made his way to the counter to order Jeri noticed a few women in the shop looking at him over their coffee cups. He was fully aware of the attention and made sure to smile over his shoulder at Jeri, but really it was so the women looking at him could be dazzled by his perfect grin and adorable dimples. Then he turned to flirting with the barista. Most likely she would end up giving him his coffee for free, or at least her phone number. In the beginning of their relationship Jeri would have been proud that so many women found him attractive and he chose to be with Jeri, by the end she would be tired of it. Tired of sharing his attention. Tired of knowing that he craved that attention more than he would ever admit. And never really knowing if flirtation was all he was after.

He came back to the table with his coffee and sat looking at her. Soul gazing he would call it, where you look deeply in to someone's eyes. It used to make her feel like he was the only one who truly saw her. Who understood her. And who wanted to know her more. But then she realized he used it on everyone right before he asked for a favor. He had figured out that he could form almost an instant bond with someone by just looking at them. That was one of the things Jeri had learned from him, that people just wanted to be looked at. To be seen. Though Anthony never really saw anyone. He just liked the reflection of himself he could see in their eyes.

He started to hum along with the song playing in the background, "Oh my God, do you remember where we were the first time we heard this song?"

"Stop it." Jeri told him.

"Stop what? What are you talking about?" Anthony put on his best puzzled face.

"Stop trying to manipulate me. You've been doing it since you called. You knew I wouldn't answer if I recognized the caller ID so you called my office instead of my cell. You knew I would never agree to drinks or dinner with you so you suggested afternoon coffee. And you knew I would never just go grab a cup of coffee with you so you asked for help for Jeanie. Now you are trying to soften me up by telling me how great I look and bringing up good memories. So stop it. I'm here. I'm listening, what do you want?"

"When did you become so cynical, Jeri? It doesn't really become you."

Jeri could see the ice in his eyes this time. He was recalculating his next set of moves. He should laugh and pat her hand and then move on....

Anthony laughed a little and reached out to pat her hand, "Oh, Jeri, don't be so tense. I wasn't trying to manipulate anything. You do look great and of course I would think of the first time we heard that song. You are sitting right here in front of me. Don't try and tell me it's not bringing up a lot of memories."

Jeri gave Anthony a tight smile, "What did you need, Anthony? You said you needed to talk to me about Jeanie."

Anthony sat back away from the table and for the first time that day Jeri saw his real face. The one he rarely showed to anyone. No smile, no charm, no dazzling dimples. Just a normal calm face. Now he would speak the truth.

"There isn't an easy way to say this. Mom's dying. The cancer came back. They didn't catch it until it had spread too far to treat. They think she has three months left at most."

"Oh, Anthony, I am sorry. She was always lovely to me. She even called a few months after we split to see how I was. I didn't go see her, for obvious reasons, but I was touched that she thought of me."

"She always liked you. She thought you were the one for me, did you know that? I told her I thought so too."

And there it was back in place. His show face. This time he was going with soft charm.

"Why are you here telling me this? What do you want from me?"

"Mom has been talking a lot about her life. What she has done and hasn't done. And her biggest regret is that she didn't get to be a grandmother. Felicia got married last year but they haven't had kids yet and there isn't time for her to give Mom a grandchild even if she got pregnant right away."

As he spoke the anger bloomed inside of Jeri filling her with ice. She wasn't sure she could move without shattering. He couldn't possibly be here to ask for that. To want that. To think she would give him that. She took a deep breath to try and keep calm.

"And what exactly does this have to do with me?"

"Look, I know I blew it, okay, I know that I made a bad choice but it was what 6 years ago? I've changed, I've grown up. I want to make it right."

"And you thought that making it right would be what exactly? Coming here and asking me for what, Anthony? What do you want?"

"I know that when we talked about what we were going to do you talked about open adoption. And I thought maybe you had gone through with that? I tried to check at the hospital but they wouldn't give me any information, even though I'm the father."

"No, Anthony, you aren't. Don't you remember? When I refused to 'take care of it' the way you wanted me to you said you wanted nothing more to do with it. There was no 'what we were going to do', you made it perfectly clear that it was my problem and if I wasn't going to take care of it you wanted nothing to do with it. I have a legal document you signed giving away all rights and responsibilities as a parent. You never were the father. Ever."

Anthony reached out to try and pat Jeri's hand again but she pulled away from him like he had burned her. "Jeri, don't be like this okay? I just want to know if it's possible for me to give my Mom the one thing she regrets not having."

"You are unbelievable. How did you think this was going to go? That you would call the hospital and they would be so pleased to hear from you that they would give you all of the information you wanted just like that?"

"Well they didn't..."

Jeri cut him off, "And when that didn't happen you thought you would call me and I would tell you what you wanted? Help you give your Mom a grandchild? Did you think this through at all?"

"I haven't thought of much else since she said this was her big regret. I knew I could give her this. How can you be so selfish to not even consider it?"

"How did you plan on doing this, Anthony? How did you see it going? That you were going to walk in to Jeanie's house and present her with a child? 'Look, Mom! Your grandchild!' and then she would be so happy and pleased with you that she would declare that from this moment forward and forever more you would be the favorite child? That you could hold this over Felicia's head until the day one of you died? That you were the one who gave Jeanie her grandchild. You were the one she loved best."

As Jeri spoke she could see on Anthony's face that this was exactly how he thought it would go. That this was, as it always was, about him. How he could be the one everyone loved. How he could be the best. His mother wanted a grandchild? Well he just happened to know where he might be able to get her one, beat that Felicia.

"Well let me save you from yourself one more time. Not that you deserve it but let me tell you how it would have gone. If you had walked in to Jeanie's house with a five year old child and presented her with her long lost grandchild she wouldn't have been happy with you, Anthony, she would have hated you. Don't look so shocked. You told me her one regret was not having grandchildren, how do you think she would feel knowing that she did have one and for five years she hasn't had a relationship with that child because you didn't want anything to do with it. You wanted the pregnancy terminated. No child at all. And now five years later you want to show a woman on her deathbed that she could have had what she always wanted except you were too selfish to give it to her."

"I didn't..."

"No, you didn't, because you never do. And what did you think was going to happen after your big presentation? This is a child we are talking about not a show pony. Did you think you could just pick up and drop off and not leave a mark on this child's life? Not cause pain and confusion to an innocent child? Just because you wanted to come play the hero? You know that as soon as your mother passed playing at being a dad in any way shape or form would wear thin and what then? Did you think at all about the child? For even a second?"

Anthony sat staring at Jeri, "So you won't help me then?"

"Have you been listening to me at all? Your fantasy of how this would have gone was just that, a fantasy. It would have been a disaster. You would have hurt your mother and the child by trying to be the hero. Just let it go. And besides I didn't do the open adoption so I can't help you anyway."

At this point Anthony's face fell. "I know you don't believe it, Jeri, but I really have changed. I've grown up a lot. And I really did think this was going to be good for her. I'm not the selfish monster you seem to think I am."

"Anthony, I would believe you except for two things. First off do you remember the last time we talked? You called me because you needed a ride home from a party. You were drunk and couldn't drive and needed me to get you. You told me how you could always count on me. I would always be there for you. But when I told you I couldn't come get you, you lashed out. Called me selfish. Spoiled. Mad at you because you didn't want to get married and settle down. I told you again I couldn't come and hung up.That was the last time you called me until this week.

March 23, 2008.  I know the exact date because I had been in the hospital all day. I had just woken up from an emergency C section. My uterus was punctured during labor and if they hadn't gone in when they did I would have bled to death and the baby would have died as well. When my phone rang and I saw it was you I was so happy. You did care, you had to have heard and you were calling to make sure I was alright. We were alright. And then I realized you didn't have a clue."

"How was I supposed to know?"

"You could have asked. Asked a simple question, Anthony. How are you? But you didn't. And that's the second way I know you haven't changed. You haven't asked the one thing any normal person would be wondering. Was the baby a boy or a girl? So I can't help you, Anthony, it wasn't an open adoption. You are going to have to try and beat out Felicia with some other move. Now if you'll excuse me, and even if you won't, I have someplace else to be."

And with that Jeri picked up her bag and left.

When she was getting in her car her cell phone started ringing. Stealing herself to see Anthony's number on the caller id she smiled and relaxed when she saw who it really was.

"Hey, I'm on my way to pick up Joy from kindergarten, do you need me to pick up anything on the way home?"

"No, I'm good, but thanks for asking. I'll see you soon.  And, hun? I love you."

Friday, February 15, 2013

Clean up...clean up...everybody everywhere...

You know that movie or sitcom cliche where the adult goes back home for a visit and has to sleep in his or her childhood bedroom and it's not been changed? The teen idol posters on the walls, the Star Wars sheets on the bed? And then much hilarity ensues. Well this has always been amusing to me but not really identifiable as real. A few months before Brent and I got married my parents moved in to a new place and there weren't enough bedrooms for the amount of people living there. Since I was moving out in a few months I slept on the couch in the living room so I didn't even have a childhood bedroom to go back to if I had wanted to.

So today I was cleaning up C's room in prep for Corrie coming to visit next Friday (yay!) and as I dusted shelves and straightened books I thought, "This really has turned in to a time capsule." C doesn't live here any more, he visits when school is out of session. Home is his apartment in Burlington with his roommates. That place looks like a group of men in their early 20s live there. His study here is like that. Video games, computer desk, comfy chair. But his bedroom has really stopped changing since he graduated from high school.

The books on the shelves are his favorites from growing up so there are books there that he read and re-read from elementary school on through high school. There are pictures of his Benihana birthday celebrations from his middle school years. Pictures of both sets of grandparents. His first set of Mouse Ears from Disney. His trumpet and music. The rocking chair that has been his since before he was born. Now, I've noticed this before and written about it but it was a few years ago and more about how it's like he hasn't really left because his stuff is here. But now what is here is the stuff he's outgrown. It's like a giant memory box.

Brent and I have decided to stay here until C graduates and finds a job someplace then we will either move downtown or find a place closer to the coast or in the hills. Then we will pack all of his things up and send them to his new place and he will decide what he really wants to keep and what he doesn't. What bridges his past in to his future. But until that happens he can come home to sleep in the Shrine of C's Childhood. And I hope that when he does he smiles and feels pride at the awards and the honors that are framed and kept. And I hope he remembers the trip to Disney were he got that set of Mouse Ears. And the trips to Benihana when those photos were taken. And even sitting in that rocking chair silently crying when he heard about his grandfather's death.

And now when I see that old cliche played out in a movie I will smile a sad smile and know what the parents feel like every time they dust those old trophies and remember the time at Bullwinkle's when he and his buddy won enough tickets to buy that silly foam rocket launcher...

But for now, the room is clean, the sheets are freshly washed, everything is dusted and vacuumed and ready for Corrie's visit. Where the adult comes and sleeps in the childhood room and much hilarity ensues....

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Well aren't you talented....

So here is a question for all of my artistic friends. Do you ever wish your talent was in another area? Or that you had more areas you were talented in, for those of you multi-hyphenates?

I can tell a story. I can sit down with you and tell you a story or I can sit here at the computer and write you one, but I know I can tell a story. If I do a good job with the story I am telling I can surprise you. I can make you feel something. I can paint you a picture with my words. But one thing I cannot do is paint you an actual picture. Or sketch you out something that you would recognize. Visual art like that is not my strength. And sometimes that's very frustrating.

Writing books for children would be so much easier if I could illustrate them myself. Kids like pictures you see. Now, I could work with other people, either ones that publisher out there who is going to say yes one of these days hooks me up with or with people I know who I could reach out to. But that's not the same. I have an idea in my head how I want things to look. How I see them. And once someone else is in charge of the visual it's not mine anymore. Because no matter how much I describe them, they will be the one who draws them and it will be different.

And then there are times like right now. I have a story in my head. It came to me the way a lot of the stories I tell do. Whole and complete and just there. The only problem is this one came as a series of pictures. I have no way of getting these pictures out of my head and on to a piece of paper like I do a written story. And it's frustrating. So instead I'm going to tell you the story. Then I am going to describe the pictures for you. And I am going to hope you can "see" what I am showing you.

There was a woman walking through the forest. Feeling the sun on her face and the breeze in her hair. She saw a tree that was larger than all of the other trees around it, with a thick trunk and branches full of leaves. She went to the tree and listened to the birds that were making their nests high in the branches. Listened the the squirrels cheeing at her and at each other. She rested her back against the trunk of the tree and wondered what it would be like to be a giant tree in a deep forest.

As she thought the tree wrapped its bark and branches around her. She leaned farther against the tree and felt the stillness of the center of tree. Hundreds of years old. Then she closed her eyes and you could no longer tell the woman from the tree.

She tilted her head and felt the sun warm her face. She felt the birds start to nest in her hair. The squirrels running up and down her arms. She breathed deeply and slowly feeling the stillness of the tree. And she stayed. The sun warming her face. The breeze cooling her skin. The rain nourishing her. And she stayed.

Then one day she opened her eyes and looked out on to the forest. She shook her head and the birds that had built their nests in her hair flew higher in to the tree top. She stretched her arms and the squirrels ran away cheeing their displeasure at her. And she stepped away from the tree. And walked on through the forest.

(visual in my head)
I see these as black and white simple sketches.

A woman in a wooded area walking up to a large tree. We only see her and the bottom of the tree. It's much bigger than other trees around her.

As she touches the tree you see a wispy branch reaching toward her as well.

She leans against the tree and you see the bark (dark shading) start to cover her from foot to head in a few frames. As it reaches her head you see her hair spread away from her head like the sun.

The next frame see the tree with her eyes peering out.

Then just the tree

Season pass. Birds nesting. Squirrels running up and down the tree. Leaves falling. snow covering the tree then leaves budding again

Then you see the tree with the eyes again.

Then she is stepping out from the tree. She is taking shape out of the shadows, the dark of the tree still holding part of her. Her hair is the last to disentangle from the tree.

The last frame as she is walking away her hair which was all light in the first frame now has dark streaks from the tree and a few leaves are trailing behind her as she walks.

Can you see it? And if you could see it without the story I told would it have meant something different to you? Would you have told your own story?

Oh how I wish I could draw.

And sing.

And dance.

And act.

But mostly I want to direct....

Friday, February 1, 2013

Whispers in the dark....

She had fallen asleep while he was in the shower. Snuggled deep in the tussle of blanket and sheets they had messed up just a few minutes earlier. The lines in her face were smooth. The crease in her forehead and the pucker around her lips that were there when she said, "I suppose you won't be staying the night" were gone now. Her breathing deep and even.  She was lovely but he knew this would probably be the last time he would see her. He had told her at the start that he only had so much to give and she, like the others before her, had said she understood. And she did for awhile. Then the subtle complaints started.

"You never spend the night."
"I never hear from you on weekends."
"Just once I wish we could spend a holiday together."

Each time his response would be a smile and "You know I can't. Let's enjoy what we can have instead of what we don't." And that would work for awhile. Until it didn't any more. He looked at her one last time. She really was lovely but she deserved someone who could love her completely and that wasn't him. He left a note on the bedside table and quietly left her apartment.

In the cab ride to his condo on the other side of town he looked at his watch. The twins would already be in bed by the time he got home. He had called Lindsey earlier and let her know he would be late tonight and to go ahead with dinner and bedtime without him. He wasn't sure if he heard a small sigh from her end of the line or if he was just imagining it. Tomorrow they would take the boys and Stacey to the museum. Stacey had a report to write on one of the travelling exhibits. He would take the boys in to the Little Explorers area while Lindsey and Stacey looked at the exhibit. Then they would all go to lunch and have a family movie night later. Stacey could write her report on Sunday while he and the boys roughhoused in the living room or maybe went to the park. Lindsey would take the day for herself while he handled all of the household things.  

He opened the front door as quietly as he could just in case the boys weren't sleeping soundly yet. He didn't want to wake them and have them get wound up again. It was almost impossible to get them back to sleep after that and the last time it had happened Lindsey had told him he was on his own getting them settled since he was the one who woke them up. It was fair, but it was still exhausting. Two four year olds with just enough sleep in them to have recharged were more than a match for a 40 year old after a long day at work and then out with a friend.

Walking through the living room he picked up a couple of empty glasses to take to the kitchen. Looking at the toys strewn all over the floor he had to smile. When he was a newly married man living in the big city he would scoff at the television sitcoms showing harried families and their disaster area homes. It would never be like that in his family. They would be perfectly behaved children who picked up their toys every night before bed and the house would be pristine. And with Stacey it was easier to keep things mostly clean, but once the boys came along they had given up on pristine and most days slightly tidy seemed like a big win.

Lindsey was sitting at the kitchen table when he walked in a book open in front of her. "Hey, how was your day?"

"Good, long, but good. And you?"

"Not bad. The twins both got gold stars in Miss Diane's class today for being excellent helpers and they also both ate all of their vegetables without any negotiating. I am not sure what they are going to ask for tomorrow from the museum gift shop but I have a feeling they are laying the groundwork for something big. Stacey started work on her project tonight. We did some research together on the internet to get started. I don't remember having this detailed of work to do when I was in the third grade, do you?"

"No but it was hard work to get her in to the best school in the city, I guess this is what we should expect. Is she enjoying the project at least?"

"Oh yes, she is. You know Stacey, she is finding it all interesting and having an excuse to get an extra 45 minutes of computer time was a treat for her. She's looking forward to the exhibit tomorrow. She asked if she could go through it with both of us. Once with me and then again with you. I told her she could ask you and see."

"I notice even optimistic Stacey didn't want to try and go through it with the boys."

"Oh no, not at all. She helped with dinner and bath times tonight. Though they are getting to the point where they can handle pretty much everything on their own. Just a quick behind the ears inspection to make sure they used soap."

"They grow up so fast. Even boys.
Okay, I'm going to go check in on Stac before she goes to bed."

He stood for a second at his daughter's door. She was lying in bed reading a book obviously engrossed in the story. Her face changing expression slightly as she read. When she noticed him standing there she put the book down and held out her arms for a hug. "Dad! You're home! I missed you today. Did you hear I helped with the boys tonight? They were really good today. I have an idea about the museum tomorrow you two could trade off watching the twins and each go through the exhibit with me. That way I can see it once for fun and once to take notes and you both get to see it that way as well. It wouldn't take much longer because the time for fun would be fast, and the boys love to play in the explorer room so they would be happy to be there."

He started to laugh. Once Stacey got talking you couldn't slow her down. All of the thoughts in her head would come out as one big rush. Like she was afraid if she didn't say everything right then she wouldn't get the chance. "Slow down, Tiger, take a deep breath. I think that's a good plan. The boys will be fine and you can soak in all there is to see. Now don't stay up too late, it's going to be a busy day tomorrow."

"Okay, Dad, just one more chapter." Stacey was already picking up her book.

He smiled, "You sound like your mother. Night, sweetie."

He couldn't say how many times he had heard, "One more chapter then I will go to sleep" One more chapter usually meant reading until I can't keep my eyes open anymore. Stacey was definitely her mother's child. Smart, pretty, kind. The boys were him but in duplicate. Action stars in their own heads. Jumping and running and taking everything apart just to see how it works. All three of them were the joys and lights of his life. 

As he left Stacey's room he saw Lindsey coming down the hallway for bed. "I thought I'd make pancakes tomorrow before we left, what do you think?"

Lindsey smiled her patient smile, "You really want to take the boys to the museum after syrup? Maybe pancakes for Sunday?"

"Oh yeah, that's a good point. Eggs and toast tomorrow I think then. We can plan on breakfast around 8 and getting to the museum when it opens at 10?"

"Sounds good to me, good night."

He bid his nanny goodnight and headed off to his room. Even after three years this was the worst part of his day. The kids were asleep. The details of life were taken care of for one more day. One more day living without his wife. One more day missing her. One more day carrying on like her death hadn't killed a part of him as well. He climbed in to bed, took the picture from his bedside table and whispered, "I love you. Good night"