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.

Eighties Ski Jumpsuits Make Gnarly Conversation on the Slopes

We are on a four-day, adults-only ski-cation in Vermont. My daughters are six and one, back home with my mother-in-law. I’m stoked because it’s the first time I’ve been away from my youngest child, who is recently walking and hellbent on killing me. I love my kids and I’ll miss them, but I’m ready to take a chill pill and throw all caution to the wind as I sail down icy trails if you know what I mean.

Unfortunately, all my female friends bail on the trip. Too expensive? Too far? Too many loud dudes with stinky feet in a small house? I have no idea their reasons, but I do know I’m the only girl at this gorgeous chalet with a private sledding hill in the middle of two iconic ski resorts, Stowe and Smuggler’s Notch, in upper Vermont. Like I’d miss all this because of some stinky feet? As if!

We spend the entire first day in below zero temperatures on a two-chair lift that s-l-o-w-l-y spans one of the biggest, if not the biggest, mountain on the east coast. It takes longer to go up than it does to go down.

So, day two my butt has freezer burn and my lips are dry and cracked like the Sahara Desert. I need a laid-back, go-at-your-own-speed, drink-peppermint-schnapps-from-the-flask kind of day.

Everyone else agrees, so we dust off the eighties ski jumpsuits and prepare to make a rad video with mountains, neon colors, vintage sunglasses, and big hair. Unfortunately for me, I forgot my crimper at home.

I have to say, Wes has the best jumpsuit. He says he bought his online from some specialty Italian retro-thingy-online store. He also paid more than $200 for his dayglo white, green, and pink ski suit. That’s just bananas. Justin, my husband, found his butt-huggers online as well. It’s a woman’s jumpsuit and, as the loving nickname suggests, it’s rather tight on his bum. I do like the blue and yellow, though. I kind of wish it fit me. Then there’s Jay’s. That thing is just heinous. I can’t believe he paid a hundred dollars for his black, purple and Ecto-green outfit. Gag me with a spoon. Even in the eighties, I bet they thought it was grody.

Mine, however, mine is glorious.

It’s turquoise with a pop of purple and an elastic belt with one of those plastic clasps we used to pinch our fingers in as kids. Totally tubular. And, the best part, is that I found this baby at Goodwill for $9.99. My new nickname on the trip is Goodwill Queen. I aint’ mad about it either. These boys can go ahead and spend stupid money on their used eighties ski jumpsuits. Looking at the four of us, you can’t tell who paid top dollar and who got hers for a steal. We all look like idiots.

I go the entire day with a wedgie that spans my supposed-to-stay-put undies, my base layer, and the jumpsuit. But the mild pain is so worth it when the ski lift operator says, “you guys are winning the week.”

Screenshot_20181112-205539_Facebook

After we bounce, I pick the song Jump as our home video’s background song, because it’s pretty much the best eighties song ever. For more fun, you can watch our home video here.

Comfort

In sixth grade, I strode into your bedroom to find you situated on your bed with your Stephen King book in hand. Eyes almost closed, but not quite.

Settled.

Still.

Scruffy flannel pajamas snuggled your body. Antique quilts swaddled the bed. Your glasses had slipped to the bottom of your nose, like always, and you hadn’t yet shoved them back up.

Snug.

Safe.

Soft white light whispered to the shadows in your corner of the room. I didn’t say anything. Didn’t have to. But I needed to be close to you. At your side. A daughter needs her mother.

So I slid into your bed. Opened my R.L. Stine book. Exhaled.

It would have been different had we known what was to come; cancer.

Chaos.

Chemotherapy.

At that moment, we would’ve had conversations about life. About close family I never had the chance to meet. About what you were like as a child.

You’d show your candor, your true colors. But that knowledge, that experience, would’ve come at a cost.

No quiet.

No calm.

No comfort.

But we didn’t know. Not yet. Instead, only our steady sighs and the shooshing of turning pages swept against our ears. Everything else turned silent because it was our space, our time.

Serene.

Sound.

Had we known, we would have gained something. But we would have lost so much, only to watch the clock.

Photo by Umberto Del Piano on Unsplash

Ready to Go

“Are we ready to go?” My husband looks at me with excitement. In most other ways he’s a grown man full of reasoning and intelligence, but his eyes are round and child-like. It’s one of my favorite features of his.

We both have our Snowshoe, West Virginia hoodies on and beanies hugging our heads. Our SUV is packed for our bi-monthly three-day trip to our ski house, tucked away in the Appalachian Mountains. It will be a weekend of fun in fresh powder.

Socks, coats, kids, and dogs are spilling out of the car’s various doors. We are as close to machine-like as possible with our packing; we are so good at preparing and getting there. Of course … there are always hiccups. That’s life.

“We’re ready.” I nod.

I give him a quick kiss on the cheek, and I notice the stubble accumulating. One day without shaving for his job as an attorney and his facial hair is already taking over.

I climb in the passenger side and Justin takes the wheel. Once seated and buckled, I turn to check on both girls, who are also buckled safely with smiles anchoring their faces to the backseat.

“You excited, Reagan?” I say, but my seven-year-old with blond, bouncing waves and freckles dotting her cheeks like confetti is humming along to Taylor Swift on her hot pink iPod. It’s loud enough for me to hear. I tap her leg.

She lifts her headphones off her ear. “Yeah, Ma?”

“Excited?”

“Sure.” She looks down, then back to my face with alarm. “I forgot Pinky Lou in the house!” Pinky Lou is her favorite stuffed panda bear that only leaves her side on rare occasions.

“I’ll go get her,” I say and reassure her with a smile. “Can I have the keys?” I ask Justin, who is setting up the navigation. He hands them to me without looking up.

I climb out of the SUV and unlock the door. Inside, I find Pinky Lou on the counter, legs up, and looking pitifully alone. I laugh to myself, grab her and run back outside.

Inside the car, I toss the stuffed bear into Reagan’s lap and re-buckle.

“Thanks, Mom.” She smiles.

I look at my almost-three-year-old. Straight wisps of brown hair frame her round face. “How about you, Ashlyn? Are you excited?”

She nods at me and runs her fingers along the soft fleece of her Frozen blanket because she is always finding fun. If she doesn’t have a toy close by, she plays with whatever she can get her chubby fingers on. “I need a snack, Momma.”

“Sure. What would you like?”

“Apple!”

“You got it.” I look at Justin, scrolling through his Spotify playlists. “Where are the snacks?” I ask.

He looks over and grimaces. “In the very back of the trunk.”

“Well, that’s a terrible place for them.” I roll my eyes. “Hang on, Ashlyn. Mommy is getting you a snack.” I unbuckle my seatbelt for the third time.

“Don’t stress,” Justin says while plugging his phone into the USB. “I’m excited to get there too, but we’ll get there soon enough.”

 

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

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

My Brown Barbie

I stood in the Barbie aisle beside my mother in Kmart with a crumpled green ten-dollar bill secured in my grasp. Choosing a doll from the hundred pieces of plastic perfection posed between cellophane and cardboard with my own hard-earned money at ten wasn’t easy. I imagined buying all of them and how I’d play with each. There was blonde Peaches and Cream Barbie – a doll with a cream-colored gown who smelled like dessert, an Island Fun Ken doll with a Hawaiian swimsuit and a pink and orange lay, and Rollerblade Kira. She had long, dark hair like mine and yellow roller blades that sparked when they moved across the ground. I had seen commercials for each.

“Which one do you want?” Mom asked.

“That one,” I said, deciding. I pointed to Kira. “She’s pretty.” I liked her turquoise top and biker shorts, and her neon yellow knee pads. Her skin resembled Mom’s in the summer after she tanned, golden-brown. When I grabbed her from the shelf, the plastic crinkled beneath my pale fingers. I imagined what it would be like to push her along on the kitchen floor and watch her roller blades ignite.

“That’s a great choice.” She smiled. I interlocked my fingers with hers, and we walked to the cashier with the doll pinned between my side and my arm. She was my new favorite, different from any doll I had at home. Special.

In line, an elderly white lady smirked at me from behind her bifocals. I could smell the mothballs on her stuffy pink polyester pants. “Hmf,” she said as she curled the left side of her lip and crossed her arms over her flowered smock.

I clung to Mom’s legs and hid behind them. I didn’t like strangers, especially smelly old ladies with nasty looks on their faces.

Mom tightened her grip on my hand and encouraged me to ignore her. When it was our turn, I placed my doll in the middle of the conveyor belt with my wad of money on top and looked away from the lady behind us.

“Shouldn’t she buy a white doll?” the lady demanded.

“That’s a silly question, isn’t it?” Mom said, her voice sweet like syrup. She batted her eyelashes and gave the old lady a phony smile with too many teeth showing.

The lady huffed and rolled her eyes.

The cashier handed me my new doll in a grocery bag and put the change in my palm.

Mom nudged me towards the exit. Outside she said, “Remember –  don’t let people like that influence you, Danielle. Be smarter.”

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

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.”