Letting Go and Holding On

It’s the summer of 2002. I’m twenty and full of bones that won’t commit to anything except having a good time. Through a series of bad relationships and a father who doesn’t call from three states away, I decided that relationships suck and I’m better off letting go and being alone.

Earlier today, a friend invited me to his party to celebrate Justin’s breakup.

Justin, my friend’s roommate, plays bass and spikes his hair. I’ve noticed him before. His band, Stunnd, played at a pub once. I was there by chance with friends. I remember watching in awe as he played bass. He was rhythmical and intense.

I’m always going to shows and interviewing bands because I write for The Glass Eye, a music zine in Toledo. I’ve seen plenty of musicians, but none played bass quite like Justin.

Earlier I agreed to go to the party, but now I’m stewing about what to wear. The friends I called to go with me are all busy, so I consider staying home.

But I don’t. I settle on a mustard yellow shirt from the thrift store with the words Jack’s Attack Team on the front. The shirt is comfortable; it’s my favorite worn-in tee. My Paul Frank belt secures my bell-bottoms in place and shell toes complete the casual look I’m going for. I don’t want people to think I care too much.

When I arrive, I don’t mind that a red party light in the corner emits the only glow throughout the living room. Smoke swirls toward the ceiling, and house music rattles the framed Pulp Fiction poster on the wall. Twenty people crowd the couches and floor. I walk in and hug a few acquaintances.

Someone says, “There’s beer in the fridge, Danielle. Help yourself.”

I drink more beer than usual to fill the space where I should be talking. After I’ve emptied two cans, I move closer to Justin. I notice his ripped jeans and Billabong shirt. His pokey hair reminds me of Brandon from Beverly Hills 90210. I want to touch it and to ask him how he gets to stand so high, but I don’t. Instead, I lose myself in conversation with less-intimidating strangers.

Justin walks by and brushes my shoulder with his. “Sorry,” he says.

“No problem.” I raise my hand to dismiss it.

“You’re Danielle, right?” he asks.

I feel fire radiating from my cheeks because I realize he doesn’t know me. I hope the red light hides my nerves. “I am.”

He nods and smiles. “I’m glad you could make it.”

“Me, too.”

“Who’s Jack?” He points to my shirt.

“Huh? Oh, I don’t know. Salvation Army find.” I wonder if he’ll look down at me for shopping at thrift stores.

Justin nods and motions to my empty hand. “Need a beer?”

“Sure,” I say.

On the way to the kitchen, Justin asks me what I do.

“I work at a used music store.”

“Cool.” He hands me a Coors and tells me about the band. I pretend I don’t already know.

I say, “I also write for The Glass Eye. I should do a review on your band.”

“You should.” He seems intrigued. He seems nice.

Justin cracks a joke and I laugh so hard my gut hurts. I joke back. He says, “You’re funny. I like that.”  

I want to kiss him, but instead I look in his eyes and we both stop talking for a while. It’s not an uncomfortable silence – more of a moment of realization. There aren’t fireworks like in the movies. This is better. Everyone else in room fades into the distance and the music muffles. The smoky space brightens around us, illuminating his angular features.

Somehow I know he’s what I’ve been missing.

He looks away, smiles and says, “You know what? We match because we both have freckles.” He is the friend I needed and partner I wanted but didn’t know existed, and I know I’ll never let go again.

 

Photo courtesy of Pexels.

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Her Bravery

I distinctly remember the day my mom first showed me her bravery.

We were in my parent’s Chevy Celebrity. I think I was five. The corduroy seats itched the back of my knees, so I kept tugging on my skirt hem. I played with the hand-crank on the window, turning it up and down repeatedly. Each time it was down, warm air seeped inside and got stuck in my nose. And despite the floor being out of reach, I kicked my feet back and forth trying to touch my toes against the carpet.

We were car-dancing to Madonna when my mom gasped and slammed on her brakes. Our heads flew forward then slammed against the seats with a thud. I stopped kicking and car-dancing. Stopped playing with the window. Stopped breathing for the shortest moment.

Everything stood still as our eyes connected in the rear-view mirror. There, I saw concern and love, then determination and strength. All before she blinked.

“Oh, God!” she shouted. I exhaled and the world rotated again. “That car hit the little girl so hard she…” her voice trailed off. I heard the clicking and clacking of the car going into park and her seatbelt being unbuckled, then the slapping of the belt raveling up.

She climbed out of her seat, slammed her door, and stopped in front of my window. “You stay here,” she said, using her voice that meant business. Perseverance filled each line on her face in a way that I had never seen before.

I gulped down a breath bubble and scratched the corduroy seat to feel the fibers under my nails. I nodded yes.

“I mean it, Danielle,” she said.

“Okay, Mommy,” I whispered to her, but she was already jogging away.

I craned my head up to peek out the window and the smell of exhaust fumes overwhelmed me. It was a busy street that felt close to home, but I couldn’t tell which one it was. I saw my mom approach a girl lying face down on the pavement. She wasn’t much bigger than me. And behind the girl was a car. Its windshield was caved in and shards of glass glittered against the street. I looked away, afraid and unsure of what was happening.

Time isn’t the same when you are a child, so I don’t know how long I sat there avoiding the scene out of my window, but it felt like hours. I heard sirens and voices just beyond our car. I saw the flashing lights, but I couldn’t bear to lift my head and watch.

Eventually everything slowed. No more sirens, lights, or commotion.

My mom opened her door, sat back down in the driver’s seat, and cradled her head in her hands. “I couldn’t save her,” she wept. “I couldn’t save the little girl’s life.”

Photo courtesy of Pexels

Our Masterpiece 

Baby?

Will you paint me a picture?

Give me red first. Like lust. Then love, and sometimes anger, but always finish with love again. Orange for pumpkins during our favorite season, Detroit Tigers, and the street cone I tossed out of our nineteenth-floor window. Show me yellow like the sun at Coney Island and the hair of the first little girl I wanted to have. Green like the lawn I prayed we would one day own, and I suppose your favorite football team, too. Blues like the ocean in St. Thomas and tears I’ve cried, both good and bad. Purple for the flowers you bought me that one year.

Remember those?

Shadow and shade the death and sadness, because our lives have had that, too.

And please don’t forget gold for the ring that sparkles on my finger, and white for the dress the day I said, “I do”.

Baby? Paint our picture of forever.

Photo courtesy of Morgan Sessions/Unsplash.

The War Was Over – A Micro Challenge

The War was over.

After deliberation, a patterned cotton dress was chosen to wear. Blond curls were begrudgingly folded into place and complaints were made against the necessity of clean teeth.

In the end, we hugged. I straightened her backpack and she boarded the bus joyfully.

My Mother, The Hairdresser

When I was young, my mom worked at the K-mart salon, making a living giving perms to the elderly while they were shopping.  I would go to work with her, watching her flawless beauty as she mingled with clients.  She was elegant then, with long hair that reached the bottom of her shoulder blades in waves like the ocean cascading against the sand.

Her hair, dark and lovely, was unusually long.  On warm days, she would pull it back in a loose braid at the nape of her olive colored neck, keeping her bangs feathered and full of Aqua Net, a style she couldn’t quite let go of.  In the evenings, she would drag me, by the hand, over to the couch so I could brush her long locks as she watched television.  I would fill it with colorful barrettes, pretending I was the stylist and she was my client.  Of course I wanted to be just like her.

One summer day, her Irish temper ran to a boil and she impulsively chopped every bit of it off.  We both stood in the kitchen, a mane at our feet, and cried, mourning the change.

Eventually, and for reasons unbeknownst to me, she left that job at K-mart and started styling hair in our kitchen.  My mom would wash clients’ hair in the same porcelain sink that she cleaned our Tupperware, never once dropping the Virginia Slim hanging from her burgundy lips.  Gold bracelets rattled as she scrubbed, then rinsed the suds with the faucet. I watched her long fingers, painted brightly, as she permed, trimmed and shaved, always in aww of her artistic flare.

After many more years, one more child, and a nursing degree, my mom eventually stopped doing hair.  Though she loved hairdressing, she thought that nursing, and helping people, was her true calling.  And it was.  Her kind-hearted, selfless nature made her the perfect kind of nurse.  Unfortunately, not long after she started nursing, she also found out she had cancer.  By the time the doctor spotted it, in her routine colonoscopy, it had already metastasized, and overtaken her body, spreading from her colon to her liver and her lymph nodes.  Though she was against it, she started aggressive chemotherapy to salvage what she could of her body.  My mom was devastated because she could no longer practice nursing.

In the end, the chemotherapy only delayed the inevitable.

Four years later, on the day that she died, cancer and the poison of her drugs forced everything about her, including her hair, to change drastically.  It was no longer thick and flowing, but instead brittle and matted to her ashen skin.  Her eyes were closed tight, as she slept away the pain with a morphine drip.  I used her brush to gently untangle her thinning brown tufts and move them away from her eyes, though I don’t know if she could feel my presence.  I wanted so much to remember how it was to be on our couch as a child, filling her waves with colors of the rainbow, but the papery, unnatural feel of her hair was forbidding me.  Still, I let my fingers linger there, wishing for a different outcome.

Despite my mom being gone more than four years, I think of her often.  When I think of her, it’s sometimes as the hairdresser, or sometimes as the nurse, but always as the most beautiful woman; selfless, loving and easy to get along with.

And today, more than ever, I want to be just like her.

Nature’s Dance

Photo courtesy of Ryan Moreno

Nature dances its ballet.

Rolling mountains touch the sky,

In this place, my getaway.

 

Blades of green grass gently sway.

Pollen twirls from low to high.

Nature dances its ballet.

 

In the creek, the water plays.

Crickets sing a lullaby

In this place, my getaway.

 

Lightning bugs are on Broadway,

As the moon begins to fly.

Nature dances its ballet.

 

Deer gallop, then grand jeté,

As the sun begins to rise,

In this place, my getaway.

 

The dance, at dawn, breaks away,

And it’s time to say goodbye.

Nature dances its ballet.

In this place, my getaway.

Baby Steps

Arms outstretched; fists white-knuck-ling.

Small feet are stum-bling.

She wants to take steps today.

 

Hair disheveled; voice mum-bling.

Girl starts a’ tum-bling.

Falling down won’t ruin her day.

 

Getting up; she’s still stru-ggling,

Short legs are fum-bling.

Fixed to take first steps today.

 

Crackers out; tummy’s grum-bling.

Wood floor starts rum-bling.

Steps are coming straight this way.

 

She’s close; crackers crum-bling.

And Mom starts bum-bling.

Baby took first steps today!

 

Photo courtesy of Liane Metzler on Stocksnap.io