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

When Safety is on the Line

I back out of my driveway when I first see him. The stranger is meandering down the street strangely close to my property. He’s tall, white, and dressed mostly in black. In my rear-view mirror, I watch him get closer and closer to my house. It isn’t even lunch time.

My antique-white colonial sits on two acres of rolling Virginia hills in a small subdivision filled with dense, mature trees and a small creek that weaves in and out of the yards like a thread. We are several miles from the busy part of town, and I know most of my neighbors by face.

My van is halfway down the block when he glances in my direction. His face is unfamiliar. He dips into the woods, just over my property line, causing my heart to skip a beat, then quicken.

What do I do?

I’ve always been the kind of girl who chooses flight over fight. In gym class, I remember ducking every time that red ball came my way, and wincing at the sting on my skin as it bounced off my body.

I also remember getting in trouble during my years as a paralegal. I’d hide under my desk biting my nails, waiting for the lawyer’s backlash to ensue after transposing address numbers or misspelling names like Shwartzman and Agostinelli on important contracts.

In my rearview I see my toddler’s tiny hands swaying back and forth to the beat of “Let it Go,” as Elsa belts it out from her DVD player. This house is where my girls will grow to women.

Flight isn’t an option.

I stop contemplating it, and attempt a U-turn, but my palms are so clammy they can’t grip the steering wheel. I rub my hands across the tops of my thighs hoping the friction helps, and it does. Slowly, I press on the gas and my van turns, then lurches forward down the street.

In front of my property, I watch the stranger walk back and forth through our brush, just beyond the tree line. He keeps getting farther and farther from the street, and closer to my house. I almost can’t see him anymore. I can feel my stomach tighten.

I need a Tums. 

“Hey!” I shout. “Do you know you’re on private property?”

He pivots to look at me. His hood is tightly drawn, so I can’t see the color of his hair, but I know I won’t forget his face. He has a smattering of pink acne scars on his cheeks, and his light eyes are darting back and forth erratically.

He starts walking towards me.

Oh shit. Now what?

As the distance between us closes, I can see the muscles in his forehead twitching nervously, too.

He looks guilty!

I glance at his hands and check for any kind of movement that would indicate he might be reaching for a weapon. I’m suddenly quite fearless in my Grand Caravan.

“I’m looking for my phone,” the kid says. He appears to be in his late teens or early twenties. “My girlfriend tossed it in your woods last night. I was just trying to find it.” He puts his hands up defensively.

“Do you live in the neighborhood?” I scrutinize him. I keep my car in drive and my foot on the brake, ready to run him over.

“Yeah, I live over there,” he says, waving a hand in the direction behind me. There are only two streets in my neighborhood, a dead end cul-de-sac and a horseshoe shaped street that intersects the dead end in two places. He didn’t mention either street by name.

I don’t believe you.

“I’m calling the cops,” I say.

“I’ll leave,” he says. “It’s no big deal.”

It’s a very big deal, asshole. You’re trespassing!

I watch him hustle past my van before I roll down the window to take a picture of him on the sly. He turns left into the horseshoe and disappears. Once air returns to my lungs, I call the cops. Minutes drag before the sheriff finally arrives in his cruiser.

“Without a getaway car, a break-in is unlikely,” says the cop. “But you can’t rule it out. I’ll see if I can find him in the neighborhood for a talk right now. And we’ll start patrolling here more frequently.”

What if you don’t see him? What if he comes back?

I taste my morning coffee mixed with bile at the back of my throat.

That little shit.

My home is more than simple brick and mortar. It’s memories of my children racing down the stairs on Christmas morning. It’s sleepovers with friends and moms’ nights in. It’s kitchen dance parties and summer barbecues on the back porch, catching fireflies in a mason jar at dusk. It’s the place I walk barefoot and bra-less with yesterday’s eyeliner staining the skin beneath my eyes, and everyone accepts me just the same.

And some little jerk in a black hoodie is going encroach on that?

I don’t think so, buddy.

Maybe I’m a ‘fight’ kind of girl, after all…

 

 

Photo courtesy of Jordan Whitt/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.

When Anxiety Strikes Your Fruit Bowl

I’m typically an easy going person. I try not to raise my voice above speaking level. I volunteer occasionally.  I’m tolerant and understanding. I am, for the most part, level-headed and kind. But every person has her breaking point and, well, mine was the stupid fruit bowl.

It wasn’t an extraordinary day, by any stretch of the imagination. My one-year-old was teething, AKA not sleeping and mostly just screaming bloody murder. I skipped my shower when she skipped her nap. Then I opted for extra caffeine as I consoled her, which, in hindsight, was probably not the best idea.

When my five-year-old came home from school, we struggled to complete her homework. She would scribble and erase, scribble and erase until her letters were just how she wanted, making my blood bang furiously on my eardrums. All the while, I had a red-faced baby cradling my my left hip, as I tried to simultaneously throw a meal together. I could feel the lump in my throat getting bigger with each breath. Tears were brimming my eyelids and my hands starting to tingle. My anxiety was in full blown attack mode and I was on the defensive.

With homework finally finished, I served up my half-assed dinner at the kitchen bar, so we could eat. I opened a craft beer, savoring its bitterness as it touched the back of my throat. It was cold and delicious. Silently, I prayed for my heart rate to slow down, so I could enjoy quality time with my kids. I didn’t want the day to get any worse.

Almost immediately, my oldest started playing with something in front of her, a pencil, a stray gem from our jewelry making supplies, I don’t remember. Whatever it was, I took it away.

My prayers weren’t answered.

“Eat your dinner,” I said. I could hear the lack of patience seething out of my voice.  I checked out, done adulting for the day.  She didn’t listen. Instead, she picked up her fork and started tapping it on the fruit bowl.

Ding!  Ding, ding! Ding, ding, ding, ding!

She was willing to do whatever it took to get attention: good or bad, it’s all the same to kids.  I should’ve realized what she was doing, but my head was too clouded from exhaustion and anxiety.

“Enough,” I said through gritted teeth as the baby hurled a half-eaten nugget across the room.  “Please eat your dinner.  And no throwing your food,” My youngest swept her arm across her highchair tray, sending peas flying everywhere.  My five-year-old giggled and I snapped my head back in her direction.  “Your dinner,” I pointed my fork at her plate of food.  I took a deep breath, in through my nose and out my mouth.  I needed a moment, just one single moment, to-.

DING.

My peripheral vision went blurry and my hands started sweating.  Suddenly the only thing that my mind could comprehend was the fruit bowl and how much it always got in the way. I hated how gray it was. I hated how the bananas always bruised from touching the rough edges.  I couldn’t stand how it sounded as the fork gently tapped against it.  My teeth were grinding back and forth as I thought about how the events of the day had led me there, to the fruit bowl.

I needed that stupid bowl GONE.

Without any more thought, I picked it up and threw it on the cork floor.  Just like that. I thought maybe it would bounce.  

It did not.

The sound of the clay bowl crashing against the floor and separating into hundreds of tiny shards was enough to make all three of us jump.

I thought to myself, what have I done?

I swallowed hard, noticing the symptoms of my anxiety begin to dissipate. I blinked and my vision cleared, my shaking hands were no longer sweating, and the fog started to lift. I turned back to my children, both staring at me with wide-eyed bemusement.

They were frightened by me.

“I’m so sorry, you guys. Mom made a really big mistake.” I lightly kissed the tops of both of their heads, smelling their lavender shampoo.  Calm yourself.  

“Mommy will clean it up,” I assured them.

I grabbed the broom and dustpan, took a deep breath, swallowed my pride, and reminded myself that I’m not perfect. I’m only human and sometimes humans break stuff.

Photo courtesy of Sergey Zolkin

 

Kindergarten Memoirs

Hi, my name is Reagan and guess what?  I finished kindergarten today!

Even though it’s a really happy day, it’s been kinda sad, too.

When we were waiting for the bus to pick me up, Mom’s face was red, and her eyes were a little wet.  I asked why she was crying, and she said they were the good kind of tears.  I don’t know about that.

Her face looked the same way on the first day of school – all wrinkly on her forehead.  When she worries, it gets that way.  Squishy in weird places.  Stretched in others.

Anyway, on the first day of school, I was a little bit nervous.  What if I couldn’t open my applesauce?  Or if my shoes came untied?  Or if I missed Mommy?

I didn’t want to tell Mom that, because she kept hugging me so tight.  If I told her I was scared, she would be sadder, and the wrinkles would just get worse.

Plus, I was kinda excited for school, too.  Just a little bit.

When the yellow bus got there, it was REALLY big.  I almost couldn’t reach the steps, but I did, and Daddy was so proud!  He took lots of pictures with his phone.  He said he had to put one on the Face-thing for Omi.

Mommy covered her eyes.  More tears, I bet.

“Bye!” I yelled, at the top step.  Miss Melody, my bus driver, was nice.

In my seat, I looked out the window and waved at Mommy.  I smiled, to tell her I was okay.  She smiled back.

That was so long ago, and you know what?

I think this was a really, REALLY big year for me.

Last month, Daddy took the training wheels off my Minnie Mouse bike.  He helped me learn to ride on two wheels in the backyard, and I did great even though my knees kept bumping the handles.  I think maybe I grew so much because I eat my protein (Mom makes me).  I still had fun, though, and I always wore my helmet.  SAFETY FIRST, you know.

And last week Mommy started teaching me how to tie my shoes.  I watched closely.  She made bunny ears that looped, and ended with a neat bow.  She always double-knotted them.

Just in case, because she loves me.

Today, I tied my own shoes.  I was really careful.  I made both bunny ears, just like Mom, and tucked them in the right places.  Can you believe it?  I TIED MY VERY OWN SHOES!

I climbed onto the bus, and sat down next to one of my BFFs (I have a lot), Summer.  We talked about our graditation.  I didn’t look out the window to smile at Mommy, but she knew I was there.

And I knew that she knew.

Our recital was pretty fun, because I was a ladybug.  It was my very first choice.  I got to sing & dance with all my friends, and my moves were perfect!  We practiced a whole lot, because we all had family there to watch.  Then I got a special certificate from my teacher.

That was the sad part.  I will miss my teacher and my friends.

But after graditation, we got cookies and juice.  They were yummy, so I wasn’t sad anymore.

Mom was crying again, so I went and got a cookie for her, too.

Finally, after school, Daddy bought me a new bike.  One with bigger tires, and no training wheels.  It’s shiny, and bright, with a sparkly bell that looks like a gem.

I LOVE gems.

We practiced a little in the grass, but it’s a big girl bike.  Dad says it will take more time, and practice, before I’m ready for the street.

Mom thinks I’m growing up too fast, but I can’t wait to be a big kid.  I like being able to do stuff by myself, like tie my shoes.  It’s fun!  I still need Mommy and Daddy for some things, like making my dinner (pasta with red sauce is my favorite).  And maybe I’ll always need them, even when I’m big.  After all, Mom says, “I’ll always be her first baby.”

You know what else?  Sometimes I think they need me, too.

Photo courtesy of Krzysztof Puszczyński on Stocksnap.io.

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