Once a Thief

Novembers in Toledo were dark and dreary. This Saturday in particular was no different. Temperatures had fallen from crisp to crap it’s friggin FREEZING. Dark clouds and high winds had settled over our city for the season. Because of the frigid air outside and our bad insulation inside, my stepdad had a fire going in our wood-burning stove with wood scraps from the backyard and old newspapers from the neighbor. Brittany, my sister, had plopped herself in front of the television to watch reruns of Full House, munch on knock-off Doritos and sip Sierra Mist from the can with a neon bendy straw. Brittany loved those Olson girls and bendy straws, as I’m sure most seven-year-old girls did at the time. I only watched because I had a crush on Uncle Jesse.

Mom stopped her needlework to look at me, freshly fourteen, full of angst and bored out of my damn mind. “Wanna go to Meijer?” She asked. For those who don’t know, think Midwestern Walmart, a mega-sized store with everything from groceries to electronics and discount clothes. It was a boring place to spend a Saturday, but better than my current situation on the couch.

“Sure,” I said. There was this new CD I wanted. Not to hang with my mom or to help her budget our weekly menu. “Coolio has a new single out,” I added. What I really wanted was to steal something.

“You have money?” she asked.

“Yes,” I lied. Until that point, I’d only taken Bonne Bell Dr. Pepper lip gloss and Designer Imposters U from Target. I liked the thrill of being bad, liked the feeling of having some kind of otherwise unaffordable luxury at my fingertips. Shoplifting was cool in junior high, and at the time I tried so desperately to fit in with my peers.

But other kids at school stole way better than me. They swiped Nike shirts and Levi jeans from Dillards when their parents dropped them off at the mall on the weekends. Put their own clothes on top of the stolen ones they tried on in fitting rooms and walked out like nothing. Not fair. Those kids already had nice things. If anyone deserved to steal, it was me.

Right?

As soon as we rushed through the doors of the massive retail chain with chill in our bones, we parted ways. Mom thought she was helping, letting me have freedom. She had no idea.

My feet mosied to the music section where I pondered my approach and went back and forth about my decision. Mom wouldn’t buy it. No extra money. I knew stealing was bad, but my id told me I needed it. I skimmed through the new releases for a while before I got the courage to finally shove the disc in my pocket. My right hand worked on ripping the cellophane while I occasionally flipped through the posters with my left.

I glanced over my shoulder on the sly. Behind me, there was suddenly a lady with feathered hair tamed beneath a Detroit Red Wings cap. She was reading the back of Mariah Carey’s newest album. Crap.

I left the aisle with the CD still in my pocket. The stubborn glue wouldn’t budge to let my fingernail slide in.

I ducked into the Hallmark aisle. Rows of paper apologies, thank yous, and celebrations in neat order lined both sides. There wasn’t a piece of paper there that could save me from the mess I was close to. I turned. Detroit Red Wings lady had followed, and she stood there seemingly distracted by the birthday cards. But I knew better. I’d heard of people like her. She had to be a loss prevention agent, and I was about to get snagged.

My heart raced, face flushed. I walked faster, out of the cards. Weaving, thinking, weighing the consequences of my impending actions. I desired a bit of naughtiness under my skin, not criminal status. That wasn’t me.

In the shoe aisle, I dumped the still – wrapped disc on top of a pair of work boots.

That’s when I jogged, almost sprinted but not enough to draw attention, until I found Mom bagging oranges in the produce section on the other side of the store.

“Hey, Mom,” I said.

“Find that CD?” she asked, examining a piece of fruit.

“Yeah,” I shrugged. “But I can’t afford it.”

Photo courtesy of Pexels.

Advertisements

Lesson in Murder

They exchange secrets. Women dripping in diamonds and designer labels smirk at Jane. Formality meant they had to invite everyone, even her, to these events. She didn’t fit.

Jane gulps her glass of merlot.

Soon, this cavernous house will spill with wine-stained bodies.

Photo by Skitterphoto from Pexels

Bit by Bit

Tonight, my daughter is having a sleepover with a friend. It’s not her first sleepover. She’s had several this year. But this pang in my heart, loss of breath in my lungs, gets no easier with time.

I worry about her, miss her laugh, and wish to hold her while she’s gone.

It’s not any different from the first time she slept through the night with no need for milk or snuggles at three a.m.. And just like when she didn’t need me to catch her at the bottom of the playground slide anymore.

I’m sure it’ll be the same or harder when she goes on her first date, drives the car alone with her new licence, or moves into her first apartment.

Little by little, she grows up and away.

And bit by bit, I have to let go.

Knowing this, I look forward to tomorrow when she sails through the front door sharing sleepover stories about the brownies they baked and the front walkover she finally had the courage to complete. I’ll bend to smell her coconut shampoo.

At least for now, she still lets me brush her hair.

Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

Red

A holiday toast to my husband:

Brighter than the shade of rubies in my ears, deeper than the scarlet smeared on my lips, richer than the aged merlot in my glass, is the love my crimson heart carries for you after sixteen Christmases together.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

Betrayal

It’s the summer after seventh grade, and my best friend is Haley, a tall blonde full of moles. There are ten of them shaped like a soda bottle on her back. I wish my freckles could be as cool.

“Don’t be jealous,” she says. “You have so many. I bet we could find something there if we tried.”

Haley lives at the end of my street in a yellow Tudor. It’s massive compared to my parents’ bungalow. I walk to her house every day, and she teaches me to fit in.

“These jeans don’t fit me anymore. Want them?” She tosses a pair of Levis on the bed.

“Wow. Thanks!” I have never in my life owned a pair of brand name jeans.

We swim in her pool during the day and play Ouija board in her parents’ pop-up camper at night. Some nights, we summon so many spirits I make my step-dad pick me up in the rusted minivan instead of walking home. The single-wide trailer park on my street gives me the heebie-jeebies at night. Half the trailers have boarded-up windows, but others have foldable lawn chairs and little pots of annuals out front. It’s a strange addition to our otherwise bland street.

One day while waiting for Haley to get home from her boyfriend’s house, I meet a new girl in the neighborhood. She stops her bike in front of my house, anchors it between her legs and says, “Hey.”

I stop the porch swing. “Hey.”

“Wanna be my friend?” she asks, chucking a pop-it onto the ground. She tosses another, and it snaps as it connects with the pavement.

“Sure. Can I have a pop-it?” I hop off the swing and jog down my steps to her.

“Sure.” She hikes her leg over her bike and parks it on the sidewalk. Then in one graceful swoop, she flips her crimped blonde hair over her shoulder and dumps sawdust and pop-its into my hand. “I’m Kristin.” She flashes a big smile.

“I’m Danielle.” I smile back.

“Cool.”

“You just move here?” I ask, throwing another onto the sidewalk. It doesn’t pop, so I stomp on it.

“My dad did. He lives in a trailer down there.” Kristin nods sideways toward the trailers. “I’m here for the summer.”

“Are those dangerous?”

“The pop-its or the trailers?” She jokes.

I laugh. “The trailers.”

“Nah.” She shrugs. “Mostly old folks.”

“Cool. Where you from?”

“Florida. With my mom.”

“I’ve never been there,” I say in awe. Kristin has a special magic, a glue that draws me toward her.

I find out she’s the same age as me, we both like to ride bikes, and we’re both poor. Or at least her dad is.

When Haley gets home, I invite her to come with us on our bike ride to the park.

“It’s too hot,” she says. “Go play with your new friend. We’ll catch up later.”

Haley invites us to come swimming that afternoon, and Kristin won’t go.

“I only swim in the ocean,” she says.

I have just a month with my new friend, so I don’t go either. I figure Haley has her boyfriend, and now I have Kristin. It’s even.

Two weeks fly while I spend every waking minute with Kristin. I don’t see Haley at all, and I miss her.

So, when she calls and says, “I need to talk to you … Alone,” I go.

My fingers graze the diamonds of the chain-link fence along the front of the last trailer in the trailer park making a soft clinking sound. I’m thinking about how my skin will smell dirty and metallic when Haley startles me by screaming “You’re a terrible friend!” She’s suddenly in front of me and so close to my face. I’m worried she may punch me for no reason.

“What?” I ask, freaked by the level of her voice. “What did I do?” I don’t know. I really don’t.

Her face is flushed and eyes are wet. She’s been crying. I wonder why she’s so sad. Haley pulls photos of us from her pocket and rips them.

“You picked that girl over me,” she says. She turns and stomps away, leaving me with shreds of our friendship at my feet. “One day you’ll get it.”

At the end of the summer, when Kristin goes home, I do.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay on Pexels

Sunshine – for all the mommas out there

I couldn’t tell you my age but I know I was young: a toddler in Mom’s arms. She sat with me in our shared bedroom at my grandmother’s house and rocked me in the old wooden chair while singing nearly in a whisper.

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine …”

It was probably after she left my father. She packed a few of our things in a suitcase and we returned to my grandparents. She tried so hard to shield me from feeling broke and broken.

It must’ve been cloudy outside, because of the soft dewy light that hung in the air like mist before a rainstorm. I now know that there is an empty field outside of that window where neighbors parked their cars, a place where I searched for lucky four-leaf clovers as a six-year-old. But on this particular day my world was so small and focused. I only saw Mom surrounded by the light reflecting from dark clouds.

“You make me happy when skies are grey …”

Her voice was like a blanket warmed on the line. There were tears in her eyes over having to be both mother and father. Maybe she didn’t want to move back home with my grandpa and grandma. Maybe she didn’t want to give up on her marriage or admit to being wrong about the man she loved. She had to do what was best for us.

“You’ll never know dear, how much I love you …”

Mom had the softest touch. She tucked loose hairs behind my ears as she sang the words. Just the first verse, because it was her favorite part. Or maybe that was all she knew by heart. I can’t remember anymore.

There are other memories from Grandmother’s house: the claw-foot tub, the hutch with all the Avon bottles, Grandma cooking stuffed cabbage in the kitchen and the smell of onions and ground beef sifting through the house. None are like the memory of Mom rocking me. The biggest lessons come in the smallest moments.

My life is quite different from Mom’s. Justin, my husband, and I are best friends. And we don’t have financial problems like Mom did. But that isn’t to say we don’t ever deal with stressful situations. Right now we are in a transition stage: house is for sale, and another is under contract. We aren’t sure exactly what the future holds, but I know staying strong for my daughters is most important.

“Please don’t take my sunshines away.”

Living in Bushwick

I loved New York. The screeching subways, the sidewalk Mariachi band members wearing shoes made of real alligators, the shopping in SOHO, the twenty dollar drinks at the hole-in-the-wall pubs, and the high-paying jobs by Midwest standards, the good, the great, and the crazy: I loved it all, at least for the moment.

Our first place in New York was a railroad style apartment, which means one room follows the next in a very open style, long and narrow. The apartment had end-to-end original pine floors, exposed brick, twenty-foot ceilings, and it sat on a slant. Like such a bad slant that round things often rolled from one end of the kitchen to the other. The tile in the bathroom had little pink roses on it and was probably the worst feature of our apartment at first glance, other than the four kitchen cabinets we had to cram our things into.

Bushwick, where we lived, was predominantly a Hispanic area renamed East Williamsburg to gentrify it and attract more young, white people. I liked Bushwick better. East Williamsburg mocked the hipster-friendly Williamsburg, where posh restaurants shared walls with dive bars and boutique clothing stores, nestled under the famous blue Williamsburg Bridge. My neighborhood wasn’t anything like Williamsburg.

We bought our vegetables and fruits from cash-only stands on the side of the street. We walked our dog through Maria Hernandez Park where guys played handball and girls watched from outside the court, laughing and chatting. Hands slapped balls, sending them thumping into the cement wall. Back and forth, they played all day long. Sneakers squeaked. Dogs barked. Upbeat Hispanic music blared from boom boxes. 

A thin, elderly man with leathery brown skin who often perched himself on the stoop next to ours became my first New York friend. He always smelled like tequila and cigarettes. Originally from Puerto Rico, he vowed to teach me Spanish. 

“Say hola.”

“Oh-la?”

“Spanish for hello.” He nodded and pulled a Marlboro Red from his linen shirt pocket.

“Hola!”

He struck a match against the brick building and lit his cigarette, taking a long, slow drag. “Muy bien,” he said through a cloud of smoke. He reminded me of a gangster from an old movie: so cool without trying.

More often than not, he told me stories about Bushwick.

“They used to call this street Vietnam,” he said. “Garbage cans with fires in the middle of the street. Drugs. Killings. Muy mal.” 

“Moo-ey mal?” 

“Very bad.”

“I see.” I tried to imagine the streets of my new neighborhood on fire, but I couldn’t. Instead, I saw a stream of people walking by. Some on their way to work, others out shopping or on their way to the bodega: hard-working, middle-class folks trying to make it in one of the most expensive cities in the country. Dreams can come true in New York if your skin is thick enough.“Why’d you stay?” I asked. 

He shrugged and squinted his eyes toward the park. “It’s mi casa.”

Photo courtesy of Niv Rosenberg on Unsplash