Six Months

Six months.

It’s been six months since I’ve posted here. Six months since I’ve written anything, to be totally honest. Six months since I’ve even been able to locate all the parts of the computer in order to set it up and even try to write.

Six months since the Big Guy died.

A lot has happened in those six months.

Like anyone who passes away so suddenly, so unexpectedly, he left behind a lot of unfinished business. It’s been an avalanche of cleaning up, signing off, sorting through and a whole lot of asking, “what the hell was he thinking here?”

A big part of that “unfinished business” was my fault as well. Ahem. Confession time.

The Big Guy and I never actually finalized our divorce. Oh, we filed. We split up and divided our belongings and set up a shared custody arrangement, complete with child support and all that stuff. But we never actually went before a judge and wrapped things up. We postponed the original hearing date and then the filing expired and we just never got around to re-filing.

It didn’t seem necessary. We both kept what seemed fair and we were better parents as a team that didn’t live under the same roof, so it seemed sort of silly to involve courts and judges and legalese when everything was going so smoothly without all of that.

And then he got sick.

Suddenly, there were decisions to be made and documents to be signed and a lot of hurt feelings all the way around as people in our lives realized that he and I were, in fact, still married. Only on paper, but definitely still married as far as hospitals and funeral homes and finances were concerned.

At the time of his death, my name was still on the deed to the house we once shared. When we split, we didn’t fight over the house; it was his, plain and simple. I didn’t want it because it was his dream home, not mine. He loved the country, the acreage, the trees, the ramshackle old farmhouse that he could repair and renovate and love.

And now it’s mine, as are the cats, the dog, and apparently a snake as well, although I’m still in serious denial about the snake.

I couldn’t bring the animals back to the apartment and I couldn’t abandon them, obviously. And I couldn’t afford to pay both the rent on the apartment and the mortgage on the house, so I cancelled my lease, put my belongings in storage, and moved back into the house I had left four years earlier.

Totally pissed off some folks by doing that.

Over the past six months, I’ve tried to clean out his house and prepare it for sale so I could move into something smaller, less expensive, and closer to civilization. It’s been overwhelming, to say the least. It’s as if the universe has lined up to throw obstacle after obstacle into my way.

I believe it’s what the Big Guy would have referred to as a Cluster Fuck, or at the very least, a Goat Rodeo.

The kids and I had a “family meeting” about a month ago and came to a decision: I’m staying. Rather than investing in a new house, I’m going to fix up this one. I’m going to keep their childhood home, and I’ve hired people to do the work that the Big Guy never got a chance to finish.

So.

Here I sit, at my husband’s old desk, wrapped in an afghan made for him by his great-aunt. Drinking coffee made in the coffeepot I gave him for Christmas a few years ago. There’s a huge eight-point buck’s head mounted on the wall above me, staring at me reproachfully, while three cats and a stressed-out Blue Heeler chase each other around my feet.

I really hope the snake isn’t down there with them, but I’m too afraid to look.

This is not the life the Big Guy and I imagined when we bought this house all those years ago. It’s definitely not what I imagined when I packed up my belongings and left the house behind four years ago. But it is what it is, and I am doing my best to make this home something he would have approved of.

Minus the snake, of course. If I ever find it.

I unpacked the computer and asked my son to set it up for me. I located my favorite coffee mug. I’ve opened up documents that have been gathering virtual dust for six months, and I’m on my way back to my little town of Serenity to get back to work.

I think I’m heading in the right direction, and I have a feeling the next part of my journey is going to be every bit as crazy, convoluted and downright strange as the last part was.

All I can do is fasten my seatbelt and hang on for dear life.

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Letting Go

I believe in ghosts.

Let’s just get that out of the way before I go any further with the story I want to tell today.

I don’t necessarily believe in all kinds of ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night, but I’ve seen and heard too many things that just can’t be explained for me to be a total skeptic. As good ol’ Billy Shakespeare said, “There are more things on heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

And with that out of the way, let’s move on with the story.

When The Big Guy and I bought our big old house in the country, we joked about it being haunted, but there was never any reason to treat that as anything more than a joke for about the first four years. Then, something changed. We’d see the curtain flicker in the kids’ bedroom when we pulled up in the driveway, but the house was empty. We’d catch a glimpse of movement in an empty room, as though someone had just moved through it. Lights and appliances would suddenly turn themselves on with no explanation.

Nothing major. Just a few weird moments that gave us all the heebie-jeebies.

One night, I woke up from a strange dream and looked up to see her standing over my husband’s side of the bed. She was young and blonde, with big blue eyes, and she was just so sad. Waves of sadness rolled from her across our bed and hit me so hard that I couldn’t breathe. I wasn’t really afraid yet because I was still half-asleep, but the enormous weight of her deep and lingering sadness felt like it was crushing me. I couldn’t move or call out to my husband.

Then she looked over at me and smiled, and just like that she was gone. I could move — and you’d better believe I moved. Hauled ass out of the bed, down the hall to check on the kids, and back into the bedroom to wake up The Big Guy to see if he had noticed anything.

Of course, he hadn’t.

I dismissed the whole thing as a dream. A realistic and terrifying dream, but a dream nonetheless. Until it happened again.  And again. Over the course of the next few years, I saw her a total of seven times, always so sad at first and then smiling at me from the other side of the bed.

I started asking around town about the people who had lived in our house before us. As it turned out, there was indeed a young woman matching our ghost’s description who had spent a great deal of time there with her uncle. It sounded like she had a good childhood, but her adult life had been pretty rocky.

I’m going to call her Alice here, and I’ll skip a lot of the details that don’t really matter. It’s enough to say that she struggled as a mom and died much too young about four years after we bought the house from her uncle.

When I found a picture of Alice in an old yearbook at the library, I immediately knew that she was our ghost. And looking back, I realized that every one of her appearances in our house coincided with times that were difficult for the kids or me. I saw her shortly after both of my miscarriages; she showed up when my son had a bad case of Strep or when my daughter struggled with a bully at school.

I never actually saw Alice again after I identified her, but her presence lingered in the house. The TV would turn on in the middle of the night, and we’d come downstairs to find all of the lights on. A radio would suddenly blare out a favorite ’80’s song when no one was around to touch the dial. And always, there was that flash of movement, that presence glimpsed out of the corner of the eye.

Little things. Always when the kids or I were struggling with something. It was like she was watching over us.

She became really active after my car accident. Each night, The Big Guy would turn off the TV and the lights, help me up on my walker, and begin guiding me to the bedroom. About half-way there, the TV would come back on and the lights would start flashing, and I’d have to reassure her. “Alice, it’s okay,” I’d say. “I’m all right. I’m just going to bed.”

And she’d stop.

Years later, after my husband and I split, she made it clear that she didn’t approve. The Big Guy would wake up every so often to the sound of the TV blaring and kitchen cabinet doors banging, and nothing he said would calm her down. Every few months, he’d call me up and ask me to drop by to talk to “my friend” as he referred to her.

“Alice, honey,” I’d say, “Everybody’s okay. The kids are doing well, and I’m good. Could you please leave him alone?” And he’d be all right for the next few months.

It’s been a lot of years now since the first time I saw Alice. Our oldest kids are grown and away at college, and the youngest splits his time between his father’s house and mine. And Alice has become just something my ex has to deal with at his house, like a leaking faucet or a loose floorboard.

And then things changed again.

At the hotel where I work, a familiar-looking woman checked in late last night. She seemed stressed and a bit frazzled and overwhelmed. “I’m in town for my youngest niece’s graduation,” she explained. “It’s just really hard for me because her mom– my sister– died a long time ago. I miss her so much.”

She handed over her driver’s license and I gasped when I saw her last name. “Was your sister…Alice?” I asked. Ridiculous question; the woman looked almost exactly like our ghost.

She stared at me, nodding slowly.

“My ex-husband and I bought Floyd’s house,” I told her.

“She always loved it there. She adored Uncle Floyd. She was always his favorite,” Alice’s sister told me.

I told her everything then. How Alice watched over my kids and me over the years. How she had seemed to emanate sadness at first, but later became more mischievous and even peaceful in her own way.  I worried that I might offend her, that she might feel that I was disrespecting her sister’s memory, but she squeezed my hand and thanked me for letting her know that Alice had been at peace with a family to watch over.

I cried all the way home from work last night. For Alice, for her children, for her sister. For all of the moments, good and bad, that both Alice and I have been through in a house that no longer belongs to either one of us.

I feel like I’ve lost someone.

Because I don’t think we’ll hear from her any more. I’m going to pay a visit to my ex-husband’s house today, and I plan on telling Alice that I met her sister. I’ll tell her that her kids have all grown up just fine and they’ve finished school. I’ll thank her for watching over my kids and me all these years. And then I’m going to tell her that she was a good mom, and it’s okay to let go now.

Because I understand how hard it is to let go and move on.

Rest in peace, Alice. You deserve it.

 

 

Fairly

It’s National Poetry Month, and I have a confession to make: I am a poetry nerd.  There, I said it.

I wanted to talk about my favorite poem here to celebrate National Poetry Month, but I don’t think I can narrow it down to just one. After all, I quote “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock” every morning when I make my coffee and tell myself that “I have measured out my life in coffee spoons.” I think of Ferlinghetti’s “Christ Climbed down” at Christmas every year. Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn” springs to mind every time I lose a loved one, and I start reciting Sandburg’s “The Sins of Kalamazoo” every time I drive through my home town of Kalamzoo, Michigan.

But when I sat down to write this morning, one poem jumped into my mind. It’s one I first heard back in high school and has stayed with me all these years, although I don’t think I ever really understood it before now. It’s “Well, I Have Lost You” by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

You see, it’s been a year and a half since my husband and I split. We talk almost every day now; we are better friends than we ever were as a married couple. Friends and family don’t understand why we don’t hate each other, why our divorce hasn’t been more bitter and angry. I can’t put it into words, but good ol’ Edna did it for me.

Well, I have lost you; and I lost you fairly;
In my own way, and with my full consent.
Say what you will, kings in a tumbrel rarely
Went to their deaths more proud than this one went.

In other words, no one “stole” him from me. I lost him fairly. No one destroyed our marriage. We did this to ourselves. We both allowed it to happen, and I think this past year has been all about both of us growing up and accepting the fact that we did our best. Our best just wasn’t good enough.

At the end of our marriage, he fell in love with another woman. I don’t blame her, and I don’t blame him. We were done long before she came into the picture. Yes, there have been tears and bad feelings and heartache on both sides, but there is no villain here.

The marriage died a natural death.

Some nights of apprehension and hot weeping
I will confess; but that’s permitted me

It hasn’t been easy for any of us, and that’s okay. It’s okay that we’ve cried and raged and said some awful, hurtful, wicked things to each other. And about each other. Like the poem says, “that’s permitted.” We are allowed to mourn the loss of our future together.

Day dried my eyes; I was not one for keeping
Rubbed in a cage a wing that would be free.

These lines remind me of another verse that was popular in the 1970’s: “if you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it is yours; If it doesn’t, it never was.” It’s been credited to Richard Bach, Jess Lair, and even Sting, but perhaps Ms. Millay said it first and best.

Basically, they are just different ways of saying “I don’t want to keep someone who doesn’t want to be kept” or “I love you enough to let you go.”

Or even “I deserve better than someone who doesn’t want to be with me.”

It’s not about slamming doors or marching away in anger. It’s about quietly accepting the fact that the relationship is over and then simply letting go. No one is quitting or giving up; we’re just . . . releasing each other.

If I had loved you less or played you slyly
I might have held you for a summer more,
But at the cost of words I value highly,
And no such summer as the one before.

I could have played games. I could have been manipulative and controlling and begged him to stay. Or he could have begged me for one more try. We could have lied to each other and eventually hurt each other even more under the guise of “trying.”

I’m not saying that either one of us is terribly honorable or any kind of a saint. We’ve both gotten in our digs at each other, scored a couple of hits below the belt. I’ve had my days when I was the perfectly bitter and angry ex-wife, and I know there were days when he couldn’t stand the sight of me. At the same time, I know we’ve both wondered if we should have tried a little harder, made one last effort, given it one last shot.

We “might have held you for a summer more,” but our last summer together was miserable. We weren’t fighting, we were just . . . existing. Avoiding. I look back at my blog posts from that summer, and I see my own desperate efforts to convince the world and myself that we were blissfully happy. Meanwhile, we were running in place, scrambling for traction on an icy road, losing a little bit of ground every day.

Miserable. Lonely. So alone and yet always within arm’s reach.

Friends and family wonder why we don’t hate each other. They ask why we are still apart if we get along so well now. There are nudges and winks and sly looks from those around us, as if to say, “See? I knew you guys would get back together.”

And that, folks, is why the last line of this poem really speaks to me:

Should I outlive this anguish—and men do—
I shall have only good to say of you.

Anguish. Yup, that’s the word I’ve been looking for all this time. Anguish. It’s more than pain, more than regret, more than sadness. Anguish.  But we’re going to survive it – outlive it —  and go on because that’s what people do after a divorce.  We’ll never forget each other, or even really say good-bye, but we’re going to get through this.

And in time, I will have only good to say of him, and he will have only good to say of me. Not because we belong together or even entertain the hope of any kind of reconciliation, but because we once loved each other and thought we would be together forever. Because we’ve both felt that anguish and tried to heal.

Because . . . we lost each other fairly and with full consent.

Well, I Have Lost You by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Well, I have lost you; and I lost you fairly;
In my own way, and with my full consent.
Say what you will, kings in a tumbrel rarely
Went to their deaths more proud than this one went.
Some nights of apprehension and hot weeping
I will confess; but that’s permitted me;
Day dried my eyes; I was not one for keeping
Rubbed in a cage a wing that would be free.
If I had loved you less or played you slyly
I might have held you for a summer more,
But at the cost of words I value highly,
And no such summer as the one before.
Should I outlive this anguish—and men do—
I shall have only good to say of you.

Dream a Little Dream

A funny thing happened on the way to my next novel.

It took me three years to write my first book.  I self-published it before it was ready, and had to spend the next several months playing a game of Learn-As-You-Go as I scrambled to fix all of my mistakes.  My second book took a year to write, but I was much more prepared when I self-published that one.  My third is now in progress, tentatively heading toward a June release, which means it will only take me about six months to write when all is said and done.

And that’s where the wheels fall off the wagon.

First, I wanted to name my heroine Bobbie. I like that name, and it would have worked very well for the character.  However, I work with a woman named Bobbie, and that could become really awkward, really fast when I start writing a sex scene. So I asked Bobbie if she would mind my using her name for this book, as long as I promised that the character was not based on her in any way.

She gave her permission to use her name, but with the stipulation that she wanted the Bobbie in my book to be a villain.  Evil. A terrible, horrible, simply awful creature.

Well, crap. Since my first two books contain a beautiful but cruel female antagonist, I really wanted to avoid doing that again.  So the idea of “Evil Bobbie” had to be shelved for a while, and I went back to finding just the right name for my heroine.

A few nights later, I had a really vivid dream. I dreamed out the entire plot of a new story that was so realistic, so detailed, that it was like watching a movie.  It was the story of a divorcee who has spent the past year living in a sort of a fog, unable to move on from her divorce.  Her children go off to spend a month with their father over summer vacation, and she is at a loss about what to do during an entire month by herself.  Of course, she has a guy friend.  And since this is a romance novel, the guy friend is one hot and sexy studmuffin. Mr. Studmuffin convinces the heroine to make a list of things she’s never done before, and they spend the month working their way through the list as their friendship gradually grows into something more. The big question is whether or not she is ready to let herself take a chance on love, and I think the ending may come as a bit of a surprise.

I woke up and wrote it down.  I even found a place for “Evil Bobbie,” although she’s not so much evil as just unpleasant, and her name lost a letter somewhere along the line.

Some of you know that I’ve gone through my own divorce in the past year, so you may be wondering how much of myself I’ve put into this one.  Rest assured, the story is a work of fiction.  However, in the same way that Her House Divided is a piece of fiction that contains my real car accident and injuries, Love’s Little List is a piece of fiction that contains a few real emotions. Divorce sucks, even an amicable one like mine, and it felt really good to dig down deep and exorcise a few personal demons.

list

If that makes any sense at all.

I am very proud of Love’s Little List.  It turned out to be an 18,000-word mini-novel that may possibly be the most personal thing I’ve ever written, even though it is completely fictional.  I feel like I hit just the perfect tone with this one, somewhere in between the usual serious tone of my romance novels and the lighter tone of my blog. It’s not quite a romantic comedy, but it has a lot more humor than I’ve ever put into a novel before.  It’s not technically a part of my Beach Haven series, although it is set in the same town and even contains a few minor characters from the series.

I’m nervous about this one, especially since I released it with no fanfare, no publicity. I’m afraid I may have made a huge mistake by publishing it as-is instead of trying to flesh it out into a full-length novel, but time will have to tell if I did the right thing or not. This story basically wrote itself; who am I to tell it to grow to 50,000 words?

And just for the record, if there is a real Mr. Studmuffin out there looking for a middle-aged, overweight, divorced mother of three, would he please step out of the romance novel and give me a call?

Milestones

I’ve passed an awful lot of milestones in the past few weeks.  My two-hundredth post.  My second anniversary on WordPress.  The anniversary of the day my marriage ended.

Oh, and I published my second book.

Sort of.

First things first.  I started blogging because I wanted to get into the habit of writing on a regular basis.  I wanted to stretch my writing muscles, so to speak.  Treat myself as a professional so that others would do the same.  I promised myself it wouldn’t become a Writing Blog, because only other writers read Writing Blogs, and other writers aren’t my target audience.

That went out the window pretty quickly.  Although this still isn’t truly a writing blog, and I write about a variety of subjects other than writing, I have to say that I like other writers.  They encourage me.  They build me up.  They push me when I need a push and offer words of sympathy when I’ve been pushed too hard.   In short, they know what I’m going through.  Either that, or they know they will someday go through what I’m going through, and that scares the hell out of them.

I’ve gotten a little cocky about my blog.  I’ll admit it; sometimes I can get pretty full of myself.  Sorry about that.  There’s something intoxicating about gaining followers and getting “likes” or even comments from people I don’t know.  The first time I saw one of my blog posts shared on the Facebook page of someone I’d never met, I very nearly peed myself out of sheer excitement.

Well, that’s not saying much, actually.  I’m a middle-aged woman who gave birth to three 10-pound children. I pee myself over just about anything at this point.

At any rate, I can’t believe I have stuck with this for two whole years or that I’ve managed to write two hundred posts.  And even more than that, I can’t believe people have actually read those two hundred posts!

If I’m going to be perfectly honest with myself, I know that about 20% of my blog’s followers are spammers.  Either that or my blog is really popular in Indonesia.

My friends, neighbors, and family make comments about my blog, wondering if they are going to show up in it.  When I recently mentioned my daughter’s boyfriend, I overheard her telling him that he would soon have a nickname on the blog as well (I’m thinking about Prince Charming, but still working on it).  When the local librarian asks me to speak at an author’s night, or the grocery store clerk calls out across the store that she loved my book, I start to think of myself as a celebrity.  I start strutting.

Believe me, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen a short, fat woman with a crooked neck strut.  It is truly a sight to behold.

Then it becomes a sight one tries desperately to forget.

Then there’s the whole divorce thing.  He’s a good man, I don’t hate him, and we are both different people than we were one year ago.  It’s been an awful year and a great year, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Of course, now I have to think about dating.  Then I have to think about the whole short, fat, crooked neck strutting business again, and I get so nervous and excited that I have to pee, so I don’t think I’m ready to worry about dating just yet.  Honestly, I’m not sure my bladder is up to the challenge.

And I wrote another book.

That’s huge.  I’m so damned excited I think I could just – oh, never mind.

Two years ago, I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to finish my first book.  I didn’t know then that I was going to take a shot at self-publishing or turn my little book into a series.    I had no idea I was going to learn as much as I have learned.

Now for the “sort of” part.

I put His Heart Aflame up as a pre-order through Amazon and Draft2Digital.  What that means is that I am very happy with it just as it is BUT . . . .I want to give myself a little wiggle room for proofreading and editing before I actually publish it.  I have until midnight on December 9 to upload any last-minute changes.  After that, it is out of my hands until December 20, when it will be released for Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBooks, and more.

As I go back over it, I keep finding little things to fix.  Like the fact that I kept writing “four-poster be” instead of “four-poster bed.”  Every single time.  I don’t know why, but at least I’m consistent.

Or the fact that I decided that Ethan, from Her House Divided, needs to be more involved with this book.  And I can’t believe I never mentioned the nosy, busybody Hyde sisters!  Oh, no, no – characters that are that much fun simply must make an appearance, no matter how brief.

And when I’m done, really really done with it, it will be time to start Book #3 in my Beach Haven series.

Right after I take a pee break.

Or two.

Thankful

I prepared my first Thanksgiving dinner the first year I was married.  We bought a very small turkey and I used one of those turkey-cooking bags that are specifically designed for morons, which was really an appropriate choice for me. I went a little bit overboard with the side dishes:  stuffing, yams, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, corn, biscuits . . . basically, the equivalent of month’s food budget in one overcooked meal.

It was hard for us to figure out how to juggle his family, my family, our family, my step-family, his grandmother, his other grandmother . . .

Gradually, I stopped making a meal on Thanksgiving.  It really didn’t seem to be worth the expense or effort since we were all stuffed to bursting already from all of the family gatherings.  In case I haven’t mentioned it before, my ex-husband’s family are simply not normal people when it comes to preparing food.  These people have traveled down from the Heavens above to grace our taste buds with divine ambrosia, with the food of the Gods, with flavor combinations that can make a strong man weep tears of ecstasy.   As I am fond of telling people, even the forks taste good when these people start cooking.

If my former mother-in-law served a plate of bricks for dinner, we would dive right in and enjoy every bite of those bricks.

But I digress.

Over the years, our families have dwindled, and so have our gatherings.  His grandmothers are both gone; my father and aunts are gone as well.  Most of the nieces and nephews have grown and moved on into their own lives, trying to juggle multiple get-togethers just like we did as newlyweds.

And we are divorced now.  This is my first Thanksgiving without The Big Guy.  Without his mom or his brothers and their wives, without his aunts and uncles and cousins who made me one of them for the last eighteen years.  Whether we met at Aunt June and Uncle Fred’s, or at Aunt Jan and Uncle Dale’s, I was never just their in-law.  I was family, right from the start.  They accepted me as one of them.   His cousins became my cousins.

The first time I met his grandmother, I asked her what she wanted me to call her.  I was expecting “Mrs. Meyer” or perhaps “Virgie.”  Instead, she looked at me as though I had asked her the stupidest question ever asked, and instructed me to call her “Grandma.”  Of course.  What else?

Duh.

I don’t think The Big Guy ever realized what a precious gift he gave me by sharing his family or how honored I am by their continued love and support despite the divorce.  My own family was so different.  Grandma lived in Arkansas and made it very clear that I was not her favorite; I can count on one hand the number of times I ever received a kiss or hug from her. My cousins in Arkansas and Oklahoma seem to be very nice people, and their wives are absolute darlings.  One of my greatest wishes in life is to meet them someday outside of Facebook.   My other cousins live less than an hour away, and we are all really making an effort to regain some kind of closeness, some of the camaraderie we shared as children.

Overall, though, my family has become my sister, her children, and my children.  And that’s just going to have to be enough for now.  Someday, I may fall in love again, but I just don’t know if I’ll ever fall in love with an entire family again.

For the time being, I am planning my Thanksgiving dinner for the first time in over a decade.  I have a twenty-two pound turkey, which is exactly ten pounds over my current lifting restrictions, so getting that baby in and out of my oven is going to be an adventure.  I will keep it simple, with only the side dishes that I know my children will eat, and I will follow it up with the obligatory pumpkin pie and my much-requested chocolate-chip cheesecake.

I’m going to set the table with my grandmother’s Depression Glass dishes, and I’ll be setting out an extra plate for the excellent young man who is dating my daughter.  A rite of passage in its own way, about which I am in complete denial, but that’s a subject for another day.

And you know what?  I’m actually looking forward to Thanksgiving on my own this year.  On my terms, in my way, with my family.

As long as I can get someone to get the turkey out of the oven for me.

Cheese, Bees, and Bologna

At the end of each summer, I always feel antsy.  Ready to go on an adventure.  I feel like something big is coming, and I have to get ready for it.

I live in Michigan, so the “something big”” is usually winter, but my sense of restlessness is more than that.  I need to travel, to jump in my car and just go somewhere.  Anywhere.  I want to grab a giant, icy bottle of Diet Coke and a couple of old favorite CDs and bellow, “Road Trip!” with no specific destination in mind.

Maybe it’s because of the old Color Tours my aunts used to take us on when my sisters and I were little.  We’d pile into the family car and just drive and drive and drive all day, looking at all of the beautiful fall colors.  We’d end up lost, of course.  There’s never been a person in my family with any sense of direction, so we always got lost.

Eventually we’d stop for a picnic lunch of crackers, Colby cheese, and huge chunks of ring bologna.  We might stop at a quiet spot on the side of the road, or a pretty picnic area at a public park.  Sometimes, we just rolled the windows down and ate in the car.

One year, we stopped at a scenic little spot beside an inland lake.  I seem to remember an old stone wishing well, but I could be wrong.  By the time we got our food out and ready to eat, we discovered that the place was infested with bees, and that picnic was forever after referred to as the year we ate “cheese, bees, and bologna” for lunch.

We usually ended up in the Allegan State Park at the end of the day, crunching along over the crisp leaves while Aunt Marian tried to teach us to whistle through acorn caps.  My sisters both mastered it, but I never quite got the knack.  That’s all right though, because I can still out-whistle both of them the usual way.

I havent gone on a Color Tour in years.  Fall has become such a busy time for me.  My daughter is a cheerleader, my son is in the marching band, and high school football games are practically mandatory for all citizens in a town this small.  There are back-to-school activities and routines, and getting ready for winter.  Busy, busy, busy.  No time for random drives through the countryside.  Besides, the cost of gas is ridiculous.  We lived on forty wooded acres, for crying out loud.  We could see the fall colors just fine from the living room window, thank you very much.

I told myself that the “antsy” feeling was all about being nervous about winter.  I didn’t need to travel aimlessly around on foolish road trips to nowhere.

This year, though . . . this whole year has been a lot like waking up from a long, restless sleep.  I crawled into a pretty dark cave for a lot of years; depression, an unhappy marriage, and grief will do that to a person.  Coming so close to death in a car accident three years ago should have been my wake-up call, but I don’t think I was ready to open my eyes just yet.  I wasn’t ready to face the world until the day I looked deeply into my husband’s eyes and realized that we both knew it was time to stop pretending.

I’m never going to be the person I once was.  I’m older, wiser, and sadder.  Life didn’t turn out the way I expected it to; the little girl who tried to whistle through acorn caps is long gone, but her restlessness is back with a vengeance.

It’s almost fall in Michigan.  It’s ridiculously hot for September, but I know fall is coming.  It’s bringing cool night air and blustery mornings, crispy orange leaves and the smell of bonfires.  It’s coming, and it’s telling me to go.  Somewhere, anywhere.  Just go.  Grab the keys, cheese and bologna and hit the road for points unknown.

I’m ready for adventure.

 

This post was written as part of Finish the Sentence Friday.

Reunited

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I am freaking out.

It snuck up on me, I swear.  I knew it was coming; it shouldn’t be a surprise.  I’ve had plenty of time to prepare, to wrap my mind around it, psych myself up for it.

So how the hell am I so unprepared?

My class reunion is less than two weeks away.  My thirtieth class reunion.  A reunion that was supposed to be really really special for me, because I was going to show up all slim and successful and in-your-face about how great my life is going.  Instead, I’m fat, unemployed, newly divorced, and scrounging returnable pop bottles for the gas money to make it to Kalamazoo for the big event.

Well, shit.

Some of you may be doing some quick math in your heads.  Yes, I am 48 years old.  I’ve been coy and evasive about my age up until now in my blog, but what the hell.  I am 48.  Things are sagging, creaking, and sprouting hair in places and ways I never would have believed if it weren’t happening to me.

I want to wear something that makes me look spectacular, but I just don’t think there is enough Spandex in the world to squeeze all of the saggy, creaky, hairy stuff into the kind of outfit I envisioned myself wearing for this event.  No, there is definitely no Little Black Dress on the agenda.  Oh, it’s black and it’s a dress, but it’s not so little.  I’m wearing it because it makes my boobs look great, provided I can secure the proper permits and heavy equipment necessary to lift them into the special “cleavage bra” that I reserve for just such an emergency.

I’m hoping that some spectacular cleavage will blind everyone to the enormity of my ass.

In truth, I have to worry about three perfect outfits, because I am attending three events that weekend.  Maybe four.  That’s right; we are making up for thirty years of apathy in one big weekend.   It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that we haven’t stayed in touch over the years, considering that our unofficial class slogan was “Out the door in ’84.”  In reality, it was “Dream and explore in ’84,” but I don’t think anyone really took that seriously.

It bothers me that I don’t know who my class president was.  I think it’s the very tall man whose locker was next to mine for six years, but who never learned that my name wasn’t “Heidi.”  Six years of side-by-side lockers, often standing or sitting next to each other because no names where going to come between “H-Y” and “I-A,” and he never figured out that my parents didn’t name me “Heidi Hyde.”  Seriously, Dude.

I had a crush on another boy, from ninth grade on.   At our graduation ceremony, I finally worked up the courage to approach him and tell him about it.  Now, keep in mind that we were backstage at Miller Auditorium, wearing matching caps and gowns.  I said, “I just want to tell you that I have had a crush on you since ninth grade.”

He said, “Really, what school do you go to?”

I think I may have dodged a bullet.  However, one of my reunion goals is to get a kiss on the cheek from him.  Or at least a hug.  Fine, a handshake will do.  Okay, I’ll be ecstatic if he remembers my name.

I may cry if he thinks it’s Heidi, too.

I wasn’t exactly invisible in school, but pretty close.  I didn’t play sports, didn’t date, didn’t get nominated for homecoming court.   I didn’t even go to homecoming games other than my Sophomore year, when the football team went undefeated and it was easy to get swept up in the excitement.  Even though I was a theater nerd, I didn’t do school plays because they were always Musicals and my last attempt at singing and dancing at the same time has been ranked among Michigan’s Top Ten Worst Natural Disasters.

A few days ago, I whined to a friend about feeling like a failure as I face the upcoming reunion.  She laughed at me.

“Dude,” she said; “you wrote a book.  You survived a tree falling on your head.  Lighten up, Dude.”

Did I mention that this friend holds a PhD?  Back in school, she used to call everyone Dude, and high-fived my face on more than one occasion when we’d had too much to drink and she forgot how short I am.

God, I miss her.

But she’s right.  I’m alive to go to my reunion.  My best, dearest friends from ‘way back then are alive.  And Dude, ain’t none of us where we thought we’d be by now.   I’m not the only one to gain weight or lose a job or get a divorce.  I’m not the only one struggling with insecurities.

I may be the only one packing myself into the super-bra.

Christy and Lori beat breast cancer.  Dee didn’t.  Tosha and Holly married the perfect men and lived happily ever after.  Inger and I didn’t.  Anita became a nurse and somehow became even more beautiful at 48 than she was at 18.  Most of us didn’t manage that.

But the point is that we’re all human.   We’ve all failed at some things, and we’ve all succeeded at others, and somehow we’ve all muddled through and grown to become exactly who we are supposed to be at this point in our lives.  We grew up, despite our best efforts to the contrary.

I’m nervous about the reunion.  If there was a diet plan that could make me drop 80-plus pounds by August 1, I’d be all over it.  But I refuse to be ashamed of the way I look.  I am going to go, and I am going to have a great time, and I am not going to hide every time a camera comes out.  After a few drinks, I may even start bitch-slapping anyone who calls me Heidi.

Afterward, I may end up calling 9-1-1 if I can’t get the bra off by myself.  But I’ll make sure there are no small children or breakable object anywhere in the vicinity so there are no damages when the boobs are finally released back into the wild at the end of the night.

The Language of Food

Whenever my family hosted a get-together and potluck, I was always told to bring the paper plates or cups.  Maybe the drinks.  But under no circumstances was I ever allowed to actually cook anything for my family. I don’t know if it was because I was the last one to remain single and they assumed I didn’t know how to cook or if they took exception to my messy kitchen and assumed my food would kill them.

They were probably right on both counts.

Then I got married to a man whose mother is one of God’s greatest gifts to the culinary arts.  This woman is incapable of making anything that tastes bad.  When she cooks, something as simple as toast can bring on moans of ecstasy; even the forks taste good at her house.

When I married her son, she gave me a box of hand-written recipe cards with all of the family recipes.  And by “family recipes,” I mean recipes from her mother, grandmother, sisters and aunts – people who create the same kind of magic in the kitchen.  It took me a few years to realize what a treasure that little box was, but it eventually became one of my most valued possessions.  In fact, during the divorce, my ex-husband and I argued more over custody of that box than custody of our children.

She gave me everything I needed to become a better cook.  Not just the recipes, but a 24-hour helpline when I screwed up.  Learning to cook with her family was like being admitted to a secret society.  Giving me that little box was her way of saying “Welcome to the family.”

Nobody leaves her house hungry.  Ever.  Not under any circumstances.  It would be a crime against nature to walk away from such divine fare with an empty belly.  But in her family, food is about more than filling one’s belly.  It’s a message.  Cookies can say everything from  “thank you for mowing my lawn” to “I want to remind you that I love you.”  A German chocolate cake on my birthday says “I love you enough to remember that this is your favorite.”   A big pan of chicken and dumplings says “I know you are hurting and I don’t know how to make it all better.”   Even a simple crock pot full of pulled pork says “I want my family to get together so I can see you all!”

A handful of freshly-written recipe cards a few weeks ago meant “I still love you.”

I used her dessert recipes more than any others.  Grandma Tice’s Sugar Cookies.  Aunt Neva’s Peanut Butter Cookies.  Quagmire Bars.  Grandma Goodwin’s Applesauce Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal No-Bakes.

 

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The No-Bakes became my specialty during the summer of 2011, when I was pretty well immobilized in a brace after breaking my neck in a car accident.   I couldn’t do anything by myself, but the one thing I truly missed was being able to bake goodies for my family.  I couldn’t bend over the oven or lift the cookie sheets, so my family ended up eating store-bought cookies.

Which is simply not done around here, so I became the queen of the peanut-butter no-bakes.  Batch after batch after batch.  I made them for my family.  I made them as thank-you gifts for the people who helped us after the accident.  I made them at least once a week, sometimes more.  And a strange thing happened.

People started requesting my no-bakes.  I don’t know why.  No-bake cookies are no-bake cookies.  A simple recipe, easy to duplicate.  And yet somehow, mine earn praise when I least expect it.  And I don’t know why.

I haven’t tampered with my mother-in-law’s recipe.  Good Lord, that would be like trying to edit “Huck Finn” or improve upon the Mona Lisa.  No, one does not tweak perfection.

  • When a local boy graduated from high school and went on a Mission trip with the church, he told everyone all he wanted was one batch of my cookies to take with him.
  • When a friend sponsored a blood drive in honor of her late father, she asked if I would provide a batch of no-bakes for the event.
  • When I asked a new friend if she needed anything for her daughter’s graduation party, she shot me a sideways look and muttered, “I’ve heard about your famous no-bake cookies. . . ?”
  • When parents are asked to bring a dish to pass at different events, I am rarely given a chance to choose what to bring. It’s a given that I will bring my no-bakes.

It took a lot of years and a lot of baking, but I am finally starting to understand my in-laws’ trick of speaking with food.  When I make a batch of my no-bakes, I am saying “Thank you for thinking I’m a good cook” or “I’m so flattered that you like these!”  I’m saying “I’m thrilled to be a part of your special event.”  I’m saying “You are special to me, and I want to do something special for you.”

When people ask for my cookies, they sometimes act as though they are worried about imposing on me.  They offer to buy the ingredients or pay for the cookies, but they don’t realize that they are speaking to me in the language of food as well.  Every request for my cookies is someone saying “I care about you and want to make you part of this event” or “I value our friendship and feel safe asking you for this.”  And as petty as it may seem, I also hear “You don’t have to bring the cups and plates any more.  I trust your cooking.  You’re as good as the rest of us.”

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a T-ball awards party this afternoon, and I have cookies to make.

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Goodwin Family Peaut Butter Oatmeal No-Bakes

  • 1/2 butter (1 stick)
  • 1/2 Cup milk
  • 2 Cups sugar
  • 3 Cups oatmeal
  • 1 Cup peanut butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Heat butter, milk and sugar over medium heat until it reaches a full rolling boil.  Let it boil for 90 seconds. Less time leaves them gooey, more will make them crumbly.

Remove from heat.  Stir in oatmeal until thoroughly mixed.  Add peanut butter and vanilla.  Mix well, and drop spoonfulls on waxed paper.

Here are my “tricks” when it comes to these cookies:  Always use cheap peanut butter (I don’t know why, but that’s what MIL says, and I always obey).  Use butter, not margarine. Last but not least, if you make a double batch, use the whole 18 oz jar.  Trust me on this one.

Ready or Not

Not too long ago, my daughter told me that some of her friends were wondering if I am going to start dating now that I am getting a divorce.

Just so we’re all clear on this, I think we all know that none of her friends care whether or not I ever go on another date.  I assured her – and her “friends’ – that yes, I will probably date again someday, but that I’m not ready yet.  How, she wondered, will I know when I’m ready?

“I’ll just know,” I told her.

I’ve talked about it a few times since then.  Thought about it.  Joked about it, although I was only half-joking when I asked my friends if they thought there might be an online dating service for short, overweight, partially handicapped people in their forties.  Pretty specific, I know, but I’ve seen commercials for some other specific dating sites:  Christian Mingle, Farmers, etc.

I’ll know when I’m ready.

I’ve flirted a little bit.  Flirting is fun.  And harmless.  Well, mostly harmless.  I’ve had a lot of fantasies about Randolph Mantooth, Josh Hartnett and Eric Allan Kramer.  Quite the variety, I know; I’m keeping my options open.

I’ll know when I’m ready.

“You need a man who reads as much as you do,” said my daughter, the matchmaker.  “Who’s into science fiction and comic books and anime and Dr. Who and Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy.  “

Honey, I’ll never meet men like that.  They are all living in their parents’ basements.

However, I think I was propositioned recently.  I don’t know.  It might have been flirting, but it might have been a definite offer.  He’s an old and dear friend from long ago, and his, er, offer is definitely appealing.  I asked a friend what she thought he meant, and instead of answering she asked me a question.

“Is he, you know, worth shaving?”  My friends are pretty blunt.  They have to be; I don’t do well with subtlety.

“He’s worth more than shaving,” I sighed.  “He’s worth waxing.”

She advised me to go for it, and promptly hurried home to attack her husband.  I wasn’t sure if I should be worried for him, or if he owed me a big thank you for planting ideas in her head.

And then I had a panic attack.  A heart pounding, lungs squeezing, hands trembling panic attack.  And not just at the thought of potential nudity in my near future – although my nudity would have been a frightening thing, his nudity would surely be like a work of art. A thing of beauty.  And when  I go into panic mode at the thought of seeing nude and beautiful . . . things, I need to face the truth.

I am not ready.

Some women are able to have a quick, meaningless fling to celebrate being single.  I wish I could; I rather like the idea of a few commitment-free encounters to help ease me back into the dating world, but that’s just not who I am.  I was an old-fashioned girl before I got married, and I’m an old-fashioned woman now that I’m divorced.  Like the song says, I’m “sadder but wiser.”  And still old-fashioned.

So I played dumb and pretended not to question any kind of possible subtext under my friend’s message.  If he meant nothing, we are good.  If he was just teasing, we are still good.  If he actually meant anything more than that, I hope he understood that my stupidity was masking my terror.

I want to fall in love again.  I want to feel beautiful and desirable and cherished.  I want to kiss someone until my lips feel bruised, and I want to drift off to sleep in someone’s arms again.  I want to hold hands in public and kiss goodbye before work in the morning, and I want to mean it when I say, “I love you.”  I want him to mean it when he says it back.

But I’m not ready.  I’m too afraid.

I’ll know when I’m ready.  I don’t know how I’ll know, but I’ll know.