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SHE

2. SHE is no longer the understudy.

SHE had been sitting alone at this table for 17 minutes now.  She fidgeted with her dangly necklace, checked her phone habitually, felt her face flush with embarrassment. She stood out in this place like Rudolph’s glaring nose. No, worse. She was the inappropriately naked character in the everybody’s worst dream, wandering around with no place to hide. Could she possibly be more conspicuous?  People were staring at her. And not just people – couples – this was definitely a romantic restaurant. She felt their eyes pitying, wondering, “That poor woman. Surely she’s not eating alone?”  

She second-guessed her decision to come inside and be seated rather than wait in the car, but it was a hot August evening. Getting a table had seemed a better option.

Her husband should have been here a half-hour ago now, but he was routinely late. He wasn’t answering her texts, so he was likely on his way. Should she go ahead and order drinks? No. This is their anniversary. No hurry.  She would continue to wait for him.   

She alone restaurant

The waiter came to the table a second time. She smiled awkwardly and assured him her dinner companion would be there any minute. Then came the message: “Got distracted. Sorry. Don’t have time to meet you now, but you can come here and maybe make it in time to have barbecue with us.”

I’m sorry, WHAT??

He had just stood her up on their anniversary?

Her heart began to race; she felt her face flush with anger and humiliation, and that all-too-familiar feeling of being unimportant.  

She now had the choice to join him for – of all things – baked beans and coleslaw with his buddies, or leave the lovely restaurant, go back to the hotel, and feel sorry for herself.

Suddenly she realized her third option, and this moment would serve as the catalyst for her future. A simple return text, filled with measureless subtext: “I won’t be joining you.” She had always been an afterthought in his life, and his treatment caused her to always put herself in the background as well. That ended with this moment. She would no longer settle for the role of understudy in her own life.

She put her phone away, took a deep breath and looked around the room. Suddenly it seemed no one noticed at her at all.  

The waiter returned a third time. “I’m having dinner alone tonight,” she said, looking him in the eye. She perused the entrees and mustered the confidence to have dinner – very publicly – alone.

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SHE

1. Fully Alive in the Dark

fully alive in the darknessSHE hears voices.

Engulfed in the darkness, she hears voices. Voices giving guidance, offering words of hope, encouragement, inspiration. Voices assuring her she isn’t alone, insisting the depths aren’t as black as she has painted them.

Engulfed in the darkness, the voices try to fix her, change her, help her. Well-meaning voices pervading her with their wisdom, their experience, their truth. Myriad voices, spouting fountains of words that only push her deeper.

Indistinguishable Voices.
Garbled Sounds.
Empty Noise.
Cold Words raining down on her.

Engulfed in the darkness, she huddles alone. Submerged in a pool of tears, drowning in the incessant chattering outside the obsidian walls that drive her soul further inward.

The voices urge:
“Hang on.” But without light, she can find nothing to grasp.

“Things aren’t so bad.” But the death of hope eclipses every good thing.

“Keep looking up.” But in the desolation, her open eyes are blind.

Engulfed in the darkness, the foundation beneath her erodes, day after day, week after week, month after month. Unwillingly, she puts down roots there among the shadows of death. No bloom, no bud, no flower. A colorless weed in the mud.

No desire to survive, yet desperate to live.

The voices continue, but she has long ceased distinguishing their words.

Engulfed in the darkness, a hand slides under her own. No sound, just touch. The warmth softens her forever-numb fingers. The hand clasps her own, unafraid to grip the murky darkness. “Who are you?” she whispers, straining to catch the voice.

But the only sound is silence, collapsed by the comfort of contact.

In the darkness, the hand engulfs her, holds her, lifts her exhausted body – unable to stand independently – but grateful to be upright.

Deliberately, increasingly, the stabbing pain of lifeless limbs regain feeling. She lingers for some time, resting in these hands. Hands that do not diminish the darkness. Hands that do not promise change. Hands that simply hold her until she finds the strength to stand again on her own.

The darkness has not gone, but she is now fully alive in the midst of it.

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Thoughts on not Having Another Birthday

There is always a last time.  The ugly truth about last times is they often come without warning.  The last time you carry your youngest child.  The last time you run and play like a kid.  The last time you feel butterflies in your stomach. The last time you hold someone in your arms…never to be with them again.

stacey-mSuch was the last time I saw my sister’s face. She was twenty-eight. Tall. Blonde. Beautiful. Passionate. Protective. Determined. Spirited. She left me on a Friday. She would leave the rest of the world twenty minutes later.

After her funeral, we mourners sat in the dark together as a forever incomplete family, the light now offensive to us. Staring at the walls, unable to look at one another, the constant threat of nausea chewing our insides, trying to make sense of this new unthinkable reality.

A well-meaning casserole-bearer tried to lighten the mood: “You must stop this!  Stacey would not have wanted you to be pitiful like this!”

Had my body not been surreally numb, I’m certain I would have laughed aloud. Still, I managed the words: “Excuse me??  Did you KNOW my sister? She would be highly insulted and offended were we not sitting here in our metaphorical sackcloth and ashes, completely miserable in her absence. She would scream, ‘Do you not miss me at all?!’” And  that was the truth. 

We didn’t remain in the dark forever. The numbness slowly dissipated and feeling returned, but with the same pins-and-needles stabbing at our very souls to remind us there will always be pain in continuing to live without her.

Tomorrow she would have celebrated her 50th birthday.  She would have loathed the half-century mark, and I would have razzed her about it mercilessly. She would have arranged to get her hair colored, and have her toes painted.  She would have bought a kicky new pair of ankle boots (which she lived in, as she had legs to her neck and hated that her jeans were always too short.) I would have wrapped up a fabulous gift complete with a wildly inappropriate card, and we would have indulged in chocolate cake topped with chocolate icing topped with chocolate ice cream topped with hot fudge. Because, you know, 50.

But 28 was the last birthday I would celebrate with her.  I didn’t know it would be the last one. I don’t remember it. I don’t know if I went to Georgia or if she came home to Kentucky  or if we met in Nashville . I don’t know where we went to dinner. I don’t know what I gave her. I don’t know because nobody told me to pay attention. I didn’t know it would be the. last. one.  

Saturday, a dear friend allowed me to walk with him to the graveside of his sweet wife. His last moment was a year ago.  Mine was twenty-one years ago. Neither of us expected our last words to these precious women would be the last ones they would ever hear. We have regrets. Unfinished business. Uncaptured embraces. Unspoken words. Things we would have done, time we would have spent, words we would have said… had we known it would be the last time. So he spoke to the ground as though she could still hear him, and I fought, somewhat unsuccessfully, to hold back tears. Time is cruel when it comes to grief, as the wounds scab over but never truly heal, and sometimes the slightest bump will cause them to break open and bleed as though fresh.

snow-angel-copyWhen I sat down to write this a few minutes ago, I had no idea what thoughts would land on the page.  I’m not going to edit them, I’m just going to leave this here as an Ode to My Sister: “Thoughts on Her Not Having Another Birthday.” And reuse a phrase I have used before:

“Stacey, it’s hard to believe you would be fifty.  
It’s even harder to believe you’re not.”

So…Happy Birthday from down here.  May you find an angel to paint your toenails a lovely shade of pink, and indulge in some heavenly chocolate.

See ya, sis.

Posted in Family, Just Funny, Parenting, Uncategorized

Saved by the Beef

She sat across the booth from her teenage son in one of those chain restaurants. Dark wod, huge bar, kitschy memorabilia hanging from the rafters, and seven strategically placed big-screens jack-burgerdistracting you from the fact that you are paying $26.94 for a couple of burgers and a glass that contains more ice than tea.

During their burger wait time, the sugar packets offered further diversion with trivia questions:      

The Boy grabbed one and queried, “Who recorded ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’?”
“Billy Joel!” she blurted.

“Jurassic Park was released in what year?”
“1993, the same year you came screeching into my life like a hungry raptor,” she smiled and stuck out her tongue.  He gave her one of those teenage boy looks.  The kind of look that says, “You’re much too old to be as funny as you think you are.”

He continued, “What fictional town is the setting for many of Stephen King’s novels?” She paused for a second to search the recesses of her right brain for this information hidden between Casablanca and Clapton, Eric.  Two words…begins with a C…

The Boy raised an eyebrow and his lips curled into an evil little grin, believing he had stumped her, but this kid was clueless how much Stephen King his mother had read over the years.
“Castle Rock!” she finally proclaimed.

Eventually one of the little white packets posed a personal pop-culture question:
14281587_10153960151916801_1612306825_n-horzIt read, “Who would play you in the movie of your life?”

Oooo, a deep, thought-provoking question…let’s see…she’s too young for Meryl and much too old for Mila.

Tongue-in-cheek she responded, “Easy.  Because of our physical similarities I would have to say…” 14302445_10153960151841801_1489741147_n-horzand before the name “Angelina Jolie” rolled off her tongue, her son spurted out,

“Kathy Bates”?

Ugh.  He was seventeen and REALLY good at it.

She then mumbled something about a sledgehammer and hobbling him like James Caan, but lucky for the Boy, the burgers arrived.

Posted in Down on the Farm, Family, Just Funny, Uncategorized

PipeBusters (episode 3) on The Reality Channel

pipe busters leakWhen we last left our victims, the cowboy-turned-plumber had been made aware of a possible skunk under the house just as a main waterline blew.  He had given up the claustrophic chore of crawling beneath the concrete to conquer the catastrophe, postponing it until tomorrow. But the dreaded “TOMORROW” is now today.  BUT soon there will be water and all will be well.

Well. Water.  See what we did there?

COMMERCIAL BREAK (because our dilemma is like a train wreck and you can’t look away, we dare to advertise earlier in the show, knowing you will stay tuned for more.)

Stephanie begins her day as usual, up at the crack of 8 or 8:15. She meanders to the bathroom, turns the faucet to run her water, and is faced with the harsh reminder: NO water. No hot morning bath. She plugs in the curling iron and brushes her teeth from a dwindling pitcher of lukewarm water. Lukewarm water and toothpaste first thing in the morning. Gag.

NO ONE SHOULD HAVE TO LIVE LIKE THIS!!!

AND, to make matters worse, one of the vanity lights is blown, leaving her face only half lighted. And it’s not the pretty half. She brushes through her hair and begins to curl. But something is not right. Something is quite wrong.  Her hair is flat.  A tragic by-product of sleeping on damp hair the night before. She curls more. And more. Lifting and spraying as she goes. Despite her best efforts, her hair WILL be flat today. Flat. And she has to go out in public. In public. Where there are people. Real people. Who will see her flat hair. The horror.  The horror! (cue melodramatic music)

COMMERCIAL BREAK FOR BUMPITS. “Bumpits -from flat to fabulous in seconds”.bumpits

Back home that evening, humiliated by her bad hair day, Stephanie begins dinner… watermelon, watercress salad, roasted water chestnuts.  The cowboy arrives from work some minutes later, walking deadlooking like a decaying extra from The Walking Dead. He hurts. All over. Neck pain. Back pain. Knee pain. “Bad day,” he comments, “aching all over. Swelling. Pain. Head hurts”

“It might be a tumor,”Stephanie snarks.

“It’s not a tumor,” the cowboy groans. He is in no shape nor mood to go to Plumb-o-Rama, much less do the plumbing repairs.

No shape at all.

Disheartened and dusty, Stephanie must face the reality that there will be no running water again tonight.  She thinks, “So this is how the people in Mississippi feel.”

COMMERCIAL BREAK

bucket flushYet another day without water. The laundry is piling up. The dishwasher is overloaded. The pitchers of water are running dangerous low. The toilet is being flushed with    a 5-gallon bucket of pond water.

Will the promise of a hot shower ease the cowboy’s aches and pains? Will he be able to complete this job with one MORE tomorrow?

After all, tomorrow is another day.

Stephanie raises her fist to the sky,
“With God as my witness, I’ll never have flat hair AGAIN!”

Stay tuned for the thrilling season finale of PipeBusters on The Reality Channel.

Posted in Down on the Farm, Family, Just Funny, Uncategorized

PipeBusters (episode 2) on the Reality Channel

“A water break?  Water is for cowards. Water makes you weak.”
Coach Boone, Remember the Titans


(cue Nintendo music from Mario)
In our last episode, the water had to be precariously shut off at the water meter in the yard, where hopefully a mama snapping turtle had not claimed it as her nesting ground as had been the case in a previous year. Using only a T-wrench and a stiff clockwise (‘righty tighty, lefty loosey”) turn, Stephanie and her son left the residence water-free and, hopefully, leak-free for several hours.

Come evening, Stephanie’s son is now perilously driving the winding highway crossing the Jack’s Fork River in Missouri not to be seen again for some time. Both Stephanie and the cowboy return from their respective days’ work to the mere two pitchers of water.

Two measly pitchers.

For two whole adults. One of whom actually DRINKS water.

How will they manage???

The claustrophobic cowboy knows he must forge the darkness that is the crawlspace under the house. (This would be a great time to run a local plumber’s commercial, alas, it is not commercial time yet.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARemoving the exterior vent cover nearest the central air unit, the cowboy-turned-amateur-plumber-because-heaven-forbid-we-pay-someone-to-do-a-job-today-that-he-can-do-himself-for-free-not-counting-supplies-over-a-period-of-several-days ‘army crawls’ into the damp darkness. Once he is securely wedged under the center of the house, he begins to bang and groan and saw. Stephanie chooses this critical juncture to share important information by yelling through the floor of the kitchen.

“Hey, COWBOY?  You ARE aware that we have a skunk under the house again, aren’t you???”

Yeah. Pepe le Pew has been olfactorily announcing his presence for several consecutive evenings, only the cowboy has not been around to witness said smellevents (cue Looney Tunes music). Stephanie felt it was critical to add to his stress at this juncture in the process. From the deep recesses under the floor, we hear the cowboy holler, “NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

What if the skunk decides to investigate his presence?

What would happen if the cowboy got a face full of eau de skunk?

CUE COMMERCIAL FOR TAYLOR SWIFT’S NEW FRAGRANCE, “INCREDIBLE THINGS”.

Back under the house, lying in a puddle of mud, stressing about the potential threat of a skunk bombing and attempting to repair the leak, the cowboy seals what he is certain is the culprit. All is quiet in the house. The hissing has ceased. The leak is repaired. Sunlight breaks through the windows. Angels begin singing. Then suddenly a whooshing sound and the cowboy’s under-the-house-muffled-exclamatory “SON OF A …bleeeeeeeeep!!!!!!!!!!”

UNSCHEDULED COMMERCIAL BREAK

old-faithfulStop the choir! The rejoicing was woefully premature, and the repair only served to stress the line further toward the front of the house, causing a full-on rupture of the pipe.

A full-on rupture.

Of the water pipe.

Water is now gushing, yea even exploding from the line, flooding the crawlspace with ounces of water per second. The cowboy shimmies to the exit hole and declares his work for the night to be over.

Over.

He will not complete the repair this evening. Not. Complete. The. Repair. Darkness is setting in, the part he needs is inaccessible until Plumb-o-Rama opens again tomorrow, and he is fed up, flustered, frustrated, and covered with muddy goo.

Disgusting muddy goo.

He announces to Stephanie: “Shower. Now. Take up more water. Then shut it back off. I’ll fix it tomorrow. TOMORROW. “ (cue optimistic song from the musical “Annie”).

More water is stored in various kitchen containers. Enough for morning coffee, but not enough for a pasta dinner. 8f08_021Emergency showers are taken.  Legs are left unshaven (and this is NOT November! The cowboy is risking serious stubble burn if he has his sights set on snuggling.)

Will he get it fixed tomorrow? Will Plumb-o-Rama have the needed parts? Will the cowboy bleed out during the night from a thousand tiny stabs from his wife’s leg hair stubble?  Will they ever have linguine again?

Tune in next time for episode 3 of PipeBusters on the Reality Channel.