Grandpa’s Garden

Before his stroke, Grandpa was my favorite. I would sit on his belly, round like Santa’s, and ask him if the battery above his heart hurt. I’d lightly press my fingers against the square shape protruding from his chest, and Grandpa would smile wide, toothlessly.

“Naw, Baby Girl. That’s my ticker,” he’d say. I imagined a tiny clock inside his chest, sort of like the Tin Man.

Grandpa was a self-proclaimed botanist, without using so many words. He planted tomatoes and other vegetables, mostly for canning to keep Grandma and him fed through the harsh winter months when the junkyard didn’t need his help sorting metals. I used to walk behind him. I watched Grandpa whisper to his green babies and touch the leaves carefully. He taught me about them, but I can’t remember his lessons.

After my grandpa’s stroke, between first and second grade, we moved in with my grandparents. They owned a duplex, and we lived on the second floor so my mom could care for him.

There were times I wanted to climb back on his belly, but Grandpa’s new oxygen tank made my belly do flips. I thought I could catch whatever was making him so sick. If I get too close, I’ll need one of those tubes in my nose too.

I don’t have a single picture of the stairs in my grandparent’s house, but I remember them perfectly in my mind: hand carved wood painted the same shade of red as fallen leaves just before they turn brown and crumble. I wasn’t allowed to play outside, so when I wanted to get away from everyone I would sit on the landing. I could hear my mom on the phone above and my grandparent’s television below. I sat there playing with dolls or staring at the cracks and chips in the yellow walls pretending they were a part of a roadmap to someplace magical where Grandpa wasn’t ill.

His ticker stopped that autumn. I was in school when it happened. He was there when I left and gone when I got home, crumbled and blown away with the leaves.

All I kept thinking was that I didn’t get a chance to hug him once more, or to really listen to his lessons.

This year, I planted an herb and vegetable garden. It’s nothing like Grandpa’s, small in comparison. I thought about him while I was out there with my hands in the dirt. I touched the plants with care like he used to. Small bits of food have managed to grow, regardless of my natural knack for killing anything green. Although, some of them are limp, hanging on for dear life. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, or right for that matter. If only I could remember what he taught me.

If only we had more time.

Photo courtesy of Pexels

(be)tween

We wore wide-leg jeans, baby-doll shirts, and Doc Martens (only when we found them on sale). Brown liner outlined our natural pink lips and Rave Hairspray sealed our big bangs in place. It was after elementary school, before high school. T.L.C. taught us about friendships and sex. Boyz II Men taught us about love. When Tupac died, we hugged and cried. Our generation lost an artist who spoke his mind. We had a connection to him. I remember bike rides to the park at dusk when we were too cool to swing. Instead we coughed smoke from our first cigarettes while leaning against the monkey bars. We were mallrats too. Kayla’s dad drove us there in his four-seater every Friday night. Someone always got hump. No one buckled. We hung out at the mall until it closed, getting only colored gel pens and butterflies in our bellies from holding hands with boys. We always let go because of the sweat between our palms. At school we used our new pens to write notes back and forth signed with messages like T.T.Y.S and L.Y.L.A.S.. Paper was folded into tiny triangles and squares and traded at lockers. Friends forever. On Thursday nights, the school held dances in the gymnasium under disco lights. The Macarana, The Tootsie Roll, and C’Mon N Ride it (The Train) were our favorite songs to dance to because we all knew the moves. We wanted to be included in something, even if that something was a song. When Biggie died, we hugged and cried again. Another artist gone. The violence couldn’t be comprehended by our young minds. There was the time my poetry book was stolen and shared around the school – assholes – and the time I senselessly and stupidly got grounded for dating a Mexican boy. We were in the middle – not children, not teens.

We didn’t care about who we were meant to be, because we were transitioning from what we were.

Photo courtesy of Brooke Cagle/Unsplash

Flight of the Monarch

I was asleep on a bench outside my mom’s hospice room when someone startled me awake by lightly tapping me on the shoulder. It was Easter morning five years ago. I opened my eyes and saw my dad’s best friend hovering over me. He said nothing, but the sadness in his eyes told me everything I needed to know.

My mom died.

My knees knocked together and stomach acid raced up the back of my parched throat. As I put my feet on the floor, the ground swayed, so I half-stumbled, half-ran down the hall to my mom’s room. I pushed my way past twenty somber faces, stopping between my sister and my aunt.

I stood over my mom’s body and waited impatiently for her next breath to come. Waited for her chest to rise and fall. Waited for movement of any kind, but nothing happened. Her body was still, too still. Minutes passed and I knew that there wouldn’t be another exhale from her cancer-stricken body.

The vice around my throat and the fist against my gut forbade me from breathing. And I couldn’t hear anything except for my heart thudding against my ribcage. Then there was the sudden ringing in my ears. Or was that my imagination? I couldn’t tell. My mind was scattered. Nothing was real and everything was wrong. 

The walls of the hospice room spun around me and the ringing in my ears intensified. It was too much too handle, so I screamed. I grabbed my sister and together we tumbled onto the icy tile. I gripped the back of her head, holding a handful of her silky hair. “It’s just not fair!” I shouted. I buried my head in the crook of her neck, rocking us back and forth. “Not fair,” I repeated in a whisper.

My entire world was crumbling around me like rubble after an earthquake. I would never again hear my mom’s voice, see her dance, or smell her perfume. She was gone. Gone forever and I couldn’t make any sense of why. Why her? Why would God take such a beautiful soul? Why would He cut her life short? My mind was grasping for the answers to questions that I’ll never understand. 

After four long years of chemotherapy and weeks of knowing the end was near, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I don’t know if anything could’ve prepared me enough for her death.

Later, when the tears finally stopped falling I mopped myself off of the floor and went outside to collect what was left of my sanity. I looked up to dry my cheeks under the April sun.
It was the kind of spring day that was warm enough for a light jacket and open windows. My mom loved days like those: where the breeze would gently blow her hair around, where we could work in her garden without breaking a sweat, or swing on her porch drinking lukewarm coffee and talking about whatever crossed our minds.

It was the kind of day my mom would have hand-picked as her last.

I looked at my sister, the only person in the entire world who understood exactly how I felt in that moment, standing beside me. Her face was tightly drawn and her vacant eyes stared at some point in the distance, but she said nothing. I wanted to be strong for her because that’s what big sisters are supposed to do and that’s what my mom would have wanted, but I couldn’t be strong. I was much more unraveled than she looked.

I took a deep breath in through my nose and closed my eyes. It smelled of fresh-cut grass and pond water. I exhaled and opened my eyes to see three Monarch butterflies fluttering in the distance. My mouth tugged at half a smile, because they reminded me of a lesson my mom had once taught me.

In second grade, my teacher brought in small caterpillars for the class to have as pets. We raised them, fed them, and cared for them. The caterpillars eventually wrapped themselves in a chrysalis, went through metamorphosis, and turned into colorful winged creatures.

On the last day of school, we released them back to nature and I was heartbroken that I would never again see them. After school, I ran off the bus, down the street, and into my mom’s arms. She held me tight. Then she wiped my tears and said, “oh, sweetie, setting them free was a good thing. Butterflies have to spread their wings and fly. They will never be truly happy while trapped in a cage.”

My mom wasn’t much different than those butterflies. Sickness caged her, preventing her from a career she loved. It kept her on a regimented twice-monthly chemotherapy schedule that she despised. The constant debilitating pain drained her energy and made it hard for her to remain hopeful for recovery.

It may sound crazy, but I believe those Monarchs were a message from her. Cancer and pain and chemotherapy couldn’t hold onto my mom anymore. Yes, I would grieve. I would scream and punch and curse because she wasn’t there on solid earth with me anymore. But somewhere she was smiling.

My mom was free.

Photo courtesy of Mathias Reed/Unsplash

That Time I Thought I Was Going to Die Parasailing

I should’ve climbed out of the boat when Captain Ron’s doppelgänger had me sign my life away on that little piece of paper, but I didn’t.

“You’ll be fine,” he said. “We make sure we take you far enough out to sea.”

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Captain Ron
Far enough for what? I should’ve thought. But not a single alarm went off in my brain.

Why? I’ll blame it on the blue drink.

***

We were on vacation in St. Thomas and I couldn’t just sit there on the beach and relax. NOOOO. I wanted excitement and action.

So, after our second day of lounging around on the sand, my husband and I looked into fun island activities.

“How about parasailing?” Justin asked.

“Sounds great!” I exclaimed.

Truthfully, I had no idea what parasailing was, but it sounded leisurely and fun. I thought perhaps it would include me sipping a special island cocktail on a boat, letting my hair get tousled in the salty breeze.

Boy, was I was wrong.

***

“Why am I signing this?” I asked. The contract mentioned things about death and injury. DEATH! What?! “Are you sure this is safe?” I asked Captain Ron.

“Dude we do this all the time. You should be fine.”

“Should?” I asked. “Well that’s relieving.” Justin and I were new parents. We had a four-month-old daughter at home and all I could think about was leaving her parentless.

Despite my fear, I signed the contract. After that, Captain Ron suited us up with strappy, blue contraptions that went over our shoulders and under our butts. Then he attached some ropes to what looked like a parachute.

The only things that would be keeping me from the sharks were a thin piece of fabric, some rope and a couple of buckles.

“Crap!” I said. “Do we have to do this?”

“We’ll be fine, Danielle,” said my husband. But I think he was trying to convince himself more than me, judging by the crackle in his voice.

“Sit down, legs straight out in front,” said Captain Ron. I listened and quickly assembled myself on the boat floor. The boat accelerated and before I was ready to fly, we were airborne. At first, it was alright. We were hovering just above the boat and the ocean sparkled like a blanket covered in loose diamonds.
“This is nice,” I said as I looked around at the green Caribbean Islands. I liked the way they sliced between the waves.72347_1673462715545_4468506_n

The boat accelerated again, and I felt a
pang of nausea. Suddenly we went from comfortably high to OMFG. The boat wasn’t more than a dot below us. The rope seemed so impossibly thin and possibly frayed, and I was certain it would rip at any second.
Clearly, I was having the time of my life.

Actually I hated it.

I thought I was going to vomit and die from choking on my puke midair just before my rope had a chance to completely unravel and send me plummeting to the ocean below where I would, instead, be savagely ripped to death by the sharks I couldn’t see.

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“Smile for the camera,” my husband said. I squinted my eyes and opened my mouth to expose my teeth, but it didn’t resemble a smile.

“Try and have a good time,” said Justin.

“But I’m terrified!” I whimpered.

“Just try,” he repeated. I tried. And I tried. And it didn’t happen.

Instead, I closed my eyes and waited for it all to be over while I whined like a puppy dangling over a pit of hungry lions.

“Hey,” said my husband. “He’s lowering us. You can open your eyes now.”

I opened my eyes and saw that we were definitely being lowered. But we were also coming in fast and hot. The boat was getting bigger and bigger. The ocean waves were getting closer to the tips of my toes; it didn’t seem like we’d make it. I braced myself, because there was no way this would be a Southwest Airlines clap-your-hands kind of landing. No.

We skidded.

To. An. Abrupt. Stop.

My ass slammed against the boat floor and left bruises for days.

“Sorry about the rough landing, dudes,” said Captain Ron.

I was so happy to see solid-ish ground that I didn’t care about my sore bottom.

“No worries,” I said. I’d had enough excitement and action for the rest of the trip. “Just get me off this boat and give me another blue drink.”

Sea Glass Mosaic

you.

you are a seaglass mosaic.

don’t be fearful of your imperfections. they are what make you.

i know the resiliency of your skin is being tested. a seemingly never-ending current of depression is sweeping up, splashing the places you’ve reassembled many times.

let the wave reflect your courage rather than shadow your beauty. stand strong. let it wash over you. embrace the tide rather than bracing for it.

your finish will crack. maybe even break. but it’s okay. each crack represents new wisdom and love for life. each break will expose a new facet of your Self.

let sadness rinse away anything unnecessary, leaving only the important pieces.

after the tide, pick up what’s left, rebuild, and glisten in the sun once more.

photo courtesy of Seth Doyle/Stocksnap.io

If Confidence Were a Balloon

Slumped beneath the weight of her backpack, my daughter slinked from the school bus steps. Her ocean-blue eyes had faded to stormy skies and her skin was muted.

“How was your day?” I asked. I was concerned. Most days she raced off the steps with a grin so wide her eyes were shut. This day, she didn’t even wave.

“Fine,” she said. The word pushed out of her lips unwillingly, like the last puff of air leaving a balloon. She was deflated.

“Are you sure?” I pressed.

“Yep.” I watched her kick an invisible rock across the driveway.

“You know what?” I said as I cupped my hand around her small shoulder. “I think we should get some ice cream.”

“Really?” she stopped and looked up to me, squinting her eyes against the sun. I realized, in that moment, how fragile she still was. “Before dinner?”

“Yep,” I winked. “Let me get my keys.”

Ten minutes later, we were sitting at the table with bowls of pink frozen yogurt in front of us and I asked again, “Is everything alright, Hun? Did you have a bad day?”

My daughter stuffed her spoon deep into her cardboard bowl and swallowed a mouthful of creamy treat. “Sorta,” she shrugged.

I lowered my eyes to meet hers, pushed my bowl aside, and whispered, “wanna tell me about it?”

She looked away and tears started to gush from her eyes. “Mama, they chased me,” she sobbed. “I wanted to collect rocks and they chased me.” Her chest heaved, catching breath in spurts, and every bit of my heart crumbled.

“Who chased you, Hun?” I scooted my chair closer and wrapped my arms around her. I prayed that somewhere in my embrace she’d find strength, and a that my arms would take her sadness so I could store it under my own skin.

“My friends at recess,” she pressed against my heart like she did as a baby and continued to bawl. “I just needed some alone time.”

“Aww Sweetie, I think you were so brave for standing up for yourself. It can be hard to not give into the pressure of our friends,” I encouraged my daughter and inflated her balloon.

“I don’t know,” she said, then looked down at her sparkle-covered sneakers.

“Trust me. Sometimes our friends don’t understand when we need personal space,” I explained. “We have to tell them when we need to be left alone.”

“I did that Mama, but they kept chasing me!” she stuffed a spoonful of frozen yogurt into her mouth and wiped her face with her shirtsleeve. The parent in me wanted to scold her for staining her shirt, but the mother in me couldn’t. Instead, I handed her a sticky napkin to wipe the tears beneath her eyes.

Conversation comes easy for my little girl when she’s with family, but sometimes large groups of people drain her batteries. An only child for the first five years of her life, my daughter recognized at an early age that alone time helps her recharge. It’s especially necessary during the flurry of a long school day, when staying focused is so important.

“I know it can be frustrating. I need my personal space, too.” I took her soft cheek into my hand. “I get grumpy if I don’t have time to just be quiet and write each day.”

“Really?” she asked.

It is my job, as a mother, to ensure my daughter has enough air in her balloon, enough confidence, to succeed.

“Really,” I said. “Just keep reminding them. And if they don’t get it, it will be okay. At least you know what’s best for you.” I half-hugged her shoulder, then took a bit of my melted yogurt. “Mmm! Is this tomato flavor?”

My daughter laughed and straightened the slump in her shoulders. “Mama, you’re so silly. It’s strawberry!”

Photo courtesy of Seabass Creatives/Unsplash

When a Friendship Burns

After high school, I moved in with the person I considered to be my best friend. She and I had the same blue corduroys, pixie haircuts, and infatuation with Brandon Boyd from Incubus.

We were inseparable. We’d go out dancing three nights a week, get wasted, and take turns vomiting in the bathroom after too many margaritas. We screamed Linkin Park songs as we drove around aimlessly in her little white pickup truck smoking cigarettes. She was my soulmate, the Thelma to my Louise.

During the height of our friendship, we made a promise that if we never found love, we’d be there for each other, no matter what. We thought we’d end up two old kid-less ladies in a flat downtown with one cat and two dogs. We’d be chain smokers with curlers in our hair and sparkles on our cheeks. A couple of cougars on the prowl, we’d hit the bars night after night getting trashed and having fun.

Oh, the dreams we have when we’re young and stupid.

Our wild behavior only managed to last so long, before we ran out of money. When that happened, I regretfully returned home to my parents. She started dating a guy she met at the club, and stopped spending time with me on the dance floor. There were no longer midnight cruises with our favorite rock bands. Instead, she stayed home watching movies with him.

I’ve learned over time that one person cannot be the sole communicator in a friendship. Without taking turns listening and talking, without being there emotionally, there isn’t much left to hold it together.

Our friendship was losing importance to her, and our communication was dwindling. Each time I asked her to hang out, she claimed to already have plans. It was a sign that she didn’t want me as her friend anymore. I kept trying, leaving her message after message, but she stopped returning my calls.

Eventually, I stopped dialing her number.

Cherie Burbach, a friendship expert, says lack of communication is “one of the biggest reasons” why friendships end. I didn’t understand why we couldn’t figure out how to put the pieces back together. Especially after we had already put each other through hell, and made it through without a single burn.

She took boyfriends from me and lied about it. I took jewelry from her and kept it. We fought over who got to wear the neon pink leopard halter almost weekly, and who got the last beer in the fridge every time we were running low. But we always picked the friendship over the fight. Nothing could tear us apart, until we didn’t have that willingness on both ends to communicate anymore.

Then we had nothing.

Today, we both have kids roughly the same age. We’re both married. We both have our version of white picket fence perfection. Our paths have been similar, but in opposite directions.

I wonder if our relationship would have lasted, had she and I had been raised today. If she could have texted me when she didn’t feel like talking, or messaged me on Facebook, would we have been better off? Or would it have only delayed the inevitable? In my heart, I know even in modern times with better access to communication tools, she would have eventually stopped responding.

So many times I’ve sat in front of my computer with a half-typed message to her, asking simple niceties. But my fingers hover over the enter button, never quite ready to reopen that line. We weren’t destined to be forever friends.

Our relationship was like throwing kerosene on a bonfire: it was intense, fun, and full of energy. But a fire like that can only get so crazy, before someone has to suffocate it. 

Maybe after all these years, I don’t want to find my matches.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Earle/Stocksnap.io