Wednesday, June 27, 2012


(A fiction piece written for the GBE2 blog prompt)
Harry cracked a smile as his second attempt at pouring a glass of cranberry juice yielded more in the glass and less on the counter than the first one.  Damn Alma and her love of things proper.  He would have just as soon used a tumbler to have his morning juice in.  In fact, could have done so for the last three months since she passed, but he’d stayed with the damn little ones, continuing their morning tradition of juice and meds before setting the table for breakfast. 
Back in the day he could have filled a shot glass from three feet with her favorite bourbon as he whipped her up a batch of Whisky Sours or made himself a Manhattan.  But that was then.  And this was today, hopefully his last.  If he could pull it off.  He didn’t need accuracy now; just the strength to make it happen.    
94 days now he’d sat down to breakfast alone.  It was enough. He’d shopped and cooked for one, gone to church each week and tried to find a balance of space in the pew without her.  Each night, told himself to crawl into their bed, but instead, settled into his recliner, her worn green terry robe all the cover he needed.    All this with his back, growing more painful by the day, as he popped Extra Strength Tylenol like M&M’s instead of his Valium. 
He stacked the caps of three amber pill bottles on the table and dumped the light blue pills into a pile, the cutouts in the middle resembling hearts to him more than a V for Valium.  Fitting…as today he wasn’t looking for back pain relief, but the release from the pain in his heart of spending one more day without her.  270 little cut out blue hearts.  How many would it take?  How many little blue hearts to equal her one?
His index finger drew two pills from the group, one for each of them, beginning a separate pile.  That was a start.  The “dynamic duo” she always called them, and nearly every day managed to work the reference in, reinforcing their connection with those two little words.  Two more pills followed, one each for the twins lost in childbirth, the only chance God granted them at being parents.  It was a dark time for them.  For years, each carrying the shadow of the boy and girl, lost hopes and dreams their only common ground.  And yet, they made it through, with six decades passing of celebrated anniversaries.  Harry moved 6 more pills to the pile.  Certainly over a maximum daily dose for him.  Enough?  Of course not…
Her lucky number?  23.  He had a ways to go.  His finger pulled more pills over – four letters he’d written her before they were married, saved in the folds of the Psalms in her Bible.  Seven more pills to the pile, one for every year she stayed and supported him as he slipped into the grip of alcoholism – and one more for the grace she carried herself with through it all.  Damn, she’d saved his life by staying and had made each day worth living sober for since. 
The drunk driver that killed her pled guilty and would be sentenced next month.  Harry didn’t need to be there. The courts would determine the punishment and he’d been assured it would be the maximum sentence with the level of his blood alcohol and his prior DUI convictions. He wondered if the driver had an Alma in his life that would stand by him though this.  He thought of his own “rock bottom” - losing his job, Alma picking up second shifts in addition to her day job to save the house, and the worst time, the one and only time he’d struck her. She’d found the nerve at that moment to place the ultimatum of her or the bottle at his feet.  The resolve in her eyes told him she would only give him the choice once.  He moved another pill from the large pile; one more for his choice. 
That made 23.  Surely that little pile couldn’t do it?  How many more would it take?  Were there enough to cover the life they’d shared?  The picnics at sunset on the river, the walks after dinner, and the paintings he loved, five in all that she had done during her adult education nights in ’73?  How to bundle the nights of lovemaking, the tender snuggles at dawn and the naps that had led to lazy afternoons of passion? 
Tears fell, as the years flashed through his mind of dinner parties, vacations and hiking excursions.  Holidays, birthdays and days they called in sick to work together and watched black and white movies in their pajamas all day. They’d practically rebuilt the house with the renovations they’d done, learning as they went.  They’d been a good working team, a secret pride they’d carried in their relationship that they didn’t often see in friends and family around them. 
Oh, they fought, both stubborn as mules sometimes, but not counting the seven years of his alcoholism (most of which he didn’t remember), it never lasted long and through everything, they never disrespected each other.  Retirement was their reward, life at a pace they could savor.  Every evening the nightly news with discussion and a running game of backgammon after lunch that had lasted for two years, three months and 1 day, the last game being just one hour before the accident.
He picked up a handful of pills from the big pile and slowly trickled them from his palm over the little pile.  He knew there weren’t enough.  There’d never be enough to overpower what they had. 
“I don’t need to find enough strength to escape the memories Alma”, he said out load.  “I need to find just make it through one more day without you.  And I know, I know, then tomorrow morning I have to do it all over again”.     
He leaned back in the chair and winced at the back spasm.  He dried his eyes, picked up two of the Valium and tossed them back with the cranberry juice.  It had been a long morning and a nap was in order before he went to the grocery store. 
As head headed for the bedroom, he picked up her terry green robe off the back of his recliner.  He gently eased his body onto the bed, pulled her robe over him, and laid his head on her pillow, hoping for a dream of the dynamic duo. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Set a Goal and Exceed It.

Many moons ago, when my now 23 year old son was little, I wrote him a children’s story titled Meadow Adventure.  It grew from a drawing he did of a bunny sitting at the top of a hill, looking at a sunset.  It tells a story of survival and compassion through a chance encounter between an aged bunny, a young fox and its mother. That story (and many other finished pieces) has sat for years, waiting for me to find the courage to send any of them out for publication. 
It doesn’t matter really why I haven’t done it, whether it’s fear of rejection, lack of confidence in my writing ability, or a busy life where I didn’t make time for my writing on a regular basis.  I thought of it often and even occasionally researched some possible markets, yet never took the chance and initiative to do it with this particular story, even though deep down  I have faith that it’s a good piece. 
Then, June 7th my oldest brother Craig, who is 61 and 11 years older than me, had his third heart attack and emergency triple bypass.  I love and respect him more than I can say, however I thought that the opportunity to learn “life lessons” from him were past.  His philosophy on life, his point of view and his “live for the moment” are all lessons I hold dear, but hold no surprise for me anymore.
Leaving his privacy intact, I will just say that events and complications on the day of the heart attack and surgery as well as previous health issues make his current status of recovery nothing less than remarkable.  He is a medical marvel!
So eight days into his medical ordeal, and just one day after coming off the respirator, he looked at me and said his new motto was… “Make a goal and exceed it.”  Wow.
There’s a LOT to come back from after a health event like he’s had.  Each day, sometimes several times a day, there is a new hurdle to be faced and overcome.  And he’s continued to do that.  Goal set. Goal met. Goal exceeded.  And without a doubt, that same drive and determination that had him live such a hard 61 years will serve him well in sustaining his new motto. 
As I sat at his bedside, and then drove the five hour trip home, my mind drifted to many parts of my life, my writing in particular.  What did I see?  Goal dreamed.  Goal planned.  Goal executed….sort of.  Earlier this year, I committed myself to making this the year I was going to strongly pursue my writing.  The craft of it. The sharing of it.  The publication of it. I’m not negating the strides I’ve made.  I have written a lot, I began my blog and I’ve gotten my appetite back for reading.    
But I could do better.  I recognize that there should always be a hurdle, whether natural or one I seek out in front of me to overcome.  Challenges to drive me forward, strengthen my skills, improve my confidence and enable me to reach heights I haven’t dreamt of. 
So I’ve set some goals to keep my writing active and moving forward.  Get Meadow Adventure submitted to a couple of places within a week.  Then, choose the next piece to get submitted or get finished by mid-July.  Keep submitting pieces.
Last month, my husband challenged me to write a story about my mom (who passed away a little over three year ago) and I in the setting of Maine, where we are vacationing this summer.  It’ll be a creative fictional piece and on the two trips back and force to my brother over the past few weeks, I began to flesh that story out in my head and started research on it this evening.  My goal is to have it outlined by the time we vacation, so it can be a working document during our travels – a writing first of its kind for me. 
What’s all this made me realize?  Goals are good.  Brothers are better.  Thank you for giving me another lesson Craig.  I can’t wait to see where your goals take you too!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Living With and Writing an Honorable Character

This past weekend two men in my life collided and I didn’t even see it coming.  See, there’s this honorable man I live with every day – that would be my husband Steven. Then there’s this other man who lives in my head every day – that would be the honorable man of my writing.  I suppose it was inevitable they would meet; I just wasn’t prepared for what I learned about our little triangle. 

Steve on the big night.
On Saturday, Steve was honored by DeMolay International with the Legion of Honor; the highest honor given by them.  It’s conferred on a Senior DeMolay not only for outstanding leadership in some field of endeavor, but also for service to God, to country and to humanity, including adult service to DeMolay.  I couldn’t be prouder and there’s no one I know more deserving. 

For Steve, it started in 1975 when he joined Isle Chapter, Order of DeMolay and began to live a life based on what is taught in DeMolay as the seven cardinal virtues: Filial love, Reverence for sacred things, Courtesy, Comradeship, Fidelity, Cleanness and Patriotism. He never looked back and the lessons he learned became a way of life that’s permeated every facet of his life privately, professionally and with his community since.  I came on the scene in 1977, so I’ve been around him for most of the journey.

I thought a lot this weekend about honor, what it means and how it relates to Steve.  A look in the dictionary defines it as “honest, fairness, or integrity in one’s beliefs and actions”.    Another definition brings it a little sharper focus with “a keen sense of ethical conduct”.  Wikipedia gives a nod to the abstract concept and my favorite line from their definition: “honour is adherence to what is right”.  Eureka! I’d hit on it.  Steve is a blending of all those things and the key for me is in the consistent adherence of them in his life. 

Don’t get me wrong, he’s no saint.  I don’t see him that way and he certainly doesn’t see himself that way.  His friends, coworkers, fellow Masons, DeMolay brothers and family wouldn’t describe him that way either.  And yet, there’s just something about Steve.  I don’t know anyone else who lives every day of their life with an adherence to what is right.  Ironically, that same quality can be very exasperating at times as well and is why we wouldn’t call him a saint.  He’s one of the most open minded people I know, and willing to admit when he’s wrong, but the standards he places on himself in following the lines of what he views as right and wrong are very black and white.  Something is either right or it’s wrong.  There’s no gray area. 

Over the years as I’ve written the man that lives in my head, he’s always fallen short of how I envision him.  And I now realize it’s because I’m trying to write Steve.  And frankly, I’m just too close to do it justice. When I draw on his humor, honor, positive outlook and giving nature, the character is just downright unbelievable – too good to be true.  When I write about a rigid stance in the belief of what’s right or an inflexible personality trait, he’s just not likable.  I’ve not been able to find the right blend. 

And yet, Steve is that blend.  Most days I look at him and can’t fathom what it’s like to have that honor so ingrained that it is just a part of who he is and how he lives every day.  The list of what he’s done for others is too long to write, but boils down to the fact he doesn’t think “that would be a nice, or the right thing to do” ~ he just does it because it IS the nice or right thing to do.  And hence, he is this person that I totally admire, and at the same time can be so terribly exasperated with when his black and white world clashes with my very shaded gray one. 

Writing a character, blending the honor and the black and white is like exposing Steve. It feels like a betrayal of the knowledge and the trust of intimacy afforded to me as his wife, lover and best friend that lets me understand how the two parts of him find a balance.   

So now they’ve collided, and I need to find a way to have the two men actively in my life while also finding a way to be faithful to both of them. It should make for a very interesting journey.