Friday, August 28, 2015

A VERY Straight-forward Counselor

If you want to read this story from the very beginning, please CLICK THIS.
Based on a true story
 
THIRTY-FIVE
COUNSELOR
 
The Counselor we ended up seeing was a gorgeous red-headed woman. I instantly liked her--because she seemed sassy.
    "All I ask, is that you'll be honest with me, yourselves, and each other," she said point-blank.
    Mark and I both nodded.


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    "Well then let's start."  She sifted through mounds of papers before sitting down in a rocking chair that looked older than time. I peered around her room as she set some of the paper on her lap and took a sip of coffee. There was a mishmash of interesting objects and books all around. On one wall hung a humongous dream catcher. Another wall had a colorfully spattered picture hanging a bit crooked. I really wondered what type of woman this was--when she broke through my thoughts.
    "So you want to have a healthy relationship?" she asked. "Then I need to know how you fight--and don't tell me you don't fight, because you should know how someone fights before you marry them!"
    She turned to Mark first, who was obviously taken off-guard.
    "Well..." he paused. "Honestly, Gina can be really loud."
    "She yells," the counselor clarified--it was not a question.
    "Yes, she...yells."
    "And how is Mark when he's angry?" she asked me.
    "He pouts." I liked how direct she was--this was a game I knew how to play..
    "The biggest problem with marriage is discovering how we resolve conflicts."  She crossed her legs and her bright, pleated skirt swayed. I flushed when she said "marriage"--didn't she know we weren't even engaged! "So tell me about a fight you've had." She turned to me, her eyes piercing.
    A sigh left my lips as my thoughts bounced around, trying to remember a perfect example. I decided to pick a time from a few weeks prior, when neither Mark or I had handled a situation well.  "I had hung out with my friends a few days before, and Mark wanted to hang out with his friends later that weekend too. I think it's important for us to have time apart as well as time together. But later I found out there'd been a beautiful girl at the party--one I'd thought Mark had a crush on before he met me. He brought some people over to my house to meet me before going back to the party and when I saw her.... I didn't handle it well."
    "Mmmhmmm," Mark said, putting his hand to his forehead. We both knew where this story went.
    "They were about to head back over to his place, but before they could leave, I pulled Mark to my front door and said 'The two of you make a great couple!' Then I slammed the door in his face."
    "That wasn't the best. How did you respond?" the counselor asked Mark.
    "I knocked on the door and when Gina opened it, I said, 'I don't like her like that. Out of the two of us, at least I'm not the one who's dated a million people! I should be more concerned about this type of thing than you are!"
     The counselor cleared her throat. "So, at least the two of you are honest. What do you think about the ways you both reacted?"
     "I should have thought first before I reacted," Mark said.
     "Me too," I said. "I need to learn to communicate better instead of just accusing people."
    "And why did you say that to him, about the girl you'd seen him with?" the counselor asked.
    "I guess I'm really insecure. I've been cheated on before. I should have told him that instead of accusing him. But I was scared."
    "But you have to trust him at some point. Fear can push people away." She took another sip of coffee. "And Mark, I know it's hard stepping back when someone is being so accusatory, but if Gina does this again, can you try to gently say something like, 'Where is this coming from? Let's talk about it?'"
    He nodded. "It might be hard in the moment, but I'll try." 
    She studied both of us momentarily. "When the two of you learn to communicate and resolve these issues, I have a feeling you could be great together. Mark, you seem to bring a peace to Gina. And Gina, you bring excitement into Mark's life."
    We looked at each other and smiled because it really rang true.
    As we left the counseling session, we promised each other that we'd try to communicate better.
    "Relationships aren't always easy," I said. "But I'm willing to work to be with you. Sorry I can fly off the handle."
    "So can I," he said. "We'll get better at this. You'll see."
    We held hands, and instead of going straight to his truck, we walked down the block to a little Japanese restaurant and continued to talk about what both of us had learned that day. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Was He Cute? YES! Was She?

THIRTY-FOUR
IT'S TIME TO SEE A COUNSELOR
 If you want to read this story from the very beginning, please CLICK THIS.
Based on a true story
 
Mark and I decided that each of the kids needed some extra attention so we started bringing them out alone with us. It was my son's turn and we'd brought him to the Lego store because they had a deal going where kids could build their very own Lego people....
    "Okay, what about this Lego body?" my son asked Mark. "Or this head? He could be an astronaut. Or a ninja!"
    "Or you could make a cop...with an cowboy face!" Mark replied, showing us a really odd-looking face he'd found in the pile.
    And even after we walked out of the store, the two of them went on and on about the Lego people my son had built. Excited, strutting toward the big glass doors leading from the mall, my boy said, "Wait, Mama. Take a picture of me and Daddy! You go on the other side of the doors. I have an idea!"
    My boy said it so fast, he hadn't even realized he'd said "Daddy," but the word wasn't lost on Mark. He'd stopped walking, kind of blinked a few times, then tenderly reached down and patted my son on his back. "What's your idea?" he asked, his voice sounding reflective.
    Watching those two smiling at each other, I wondered how much both of them needed each other--how they'd already impacted one another's lives.
    "All right," I said, clearing my throat on the other side of the glass doors, "you still want your picture taken?" 
    That's when my boy shoved his face up against the glass and said in a mumbled way, "Come on, Mark!"
    I didn't take a picture for a second and when I finally held my phone up, Mark's face was pressed against the glass smashing his cheek and nose into a blob of flesh just like my son's.  I took some pictures, and my son started laughing so hard.  His laughter was darling, completely contagious. I began giggling. The Mark laughed, still pressed against the glass an shaking with pure happiness.  I thought it was the best moment ever, utterly cute. And of course that's when my phone vibrated in my hand--a message from The Schmuck flashed on the screen.
    It's strange, but he was my boomerang. No matter how any times I sent him away, he always swooped back in.

Every time I have a hard time I think of you.

The text said.

I miss you, Gina. I really am getting divorced now.
It's terrible.
We can really make it work now.
I want to be with you.

Mark had pulled away from the glass and noticed that something was wrong.
    "What?" he asked, sprinting toward me with my son,
    "It's the Schmuck." I handed my phone to Mark and let him see the message.
     "Why won't this guy leave you alone?" he asked.
     "I don't know," I said. "We said our goodbyes. I don't know why he keeps trying. I wish you could tell him we're dating now--that he needs to have more respect."
    "You mean that?" Mark asked.
    "Yes, actually. I do. Text him back if you want." And I insisted that he keep holding my phone.
    Moments later, the three of us sat in my car: my boy playing Lego revolution, me driving a little bit too fast, and Mark...texting The Schmuck.
    I bit my lip as I drove, a little worried about what they might be saying to each other.  But I trusted Mark; he'd take care of this, somehow.
    My house was about forty-five minutes from the Lego store, but that seemed like forever. After about twenty minutes Mark set my phone down. "Did you think The Schmuck was really handsome?" he finally asked.
    I didn't know what to say. What WAS the right answer? I decided honesty was best. "He was handsome."  I took my eyes off of the road and glanced at Mark, who looked very sad. "WAS, but then after I knew who he really was, he didn't look very handsome anymore." I went on, trying to rectify the situation. "He wasn't the person I'd expected he would be--that changed the way I'd seen him--I started noticing things I'd ignored before." 
    This seemed to pacify him, until a few more miles sped by.  I wanted to know what he was thinking and I also wanted to know what he'd said to my ex.
    But his silence slowly killed me, like a bad addiction. When I was upset, I was honest and in-your-face. How could he remain so quiet?
    "You have everything," I finally said. "You're handsome and a good guy." He didn't respond. 
    We'd arrived at my house and my son ran inside excited to see his sisters--and probably get away from Mark the Mute.
    I checked my mail while Mark stood staring at the mountains like they held the meaning of life. "Are you okay?" I asked, flipping through letters.
    "I'm just a little upset," he said. "The Schmuck seems like a dick."
    "Yeah...What gave you that idea." I said it sarcastically.
    He didn't laugh though and instead responded with, "It sucks that you dated him."
    What was that supposed to mean? "Well, it sucks that you dated people too." I smiled, but said the words in a rude tone. He glared at me. Oh it was on! "Like that one girl you dated years ago. I saw her picture on Facebook--you thought she was gorgeous!"
    "Yep." He nodded, that man of few freakin' words.
    "What? You said she was gorgeous? At least I was nice with my answer."
    "You thought that was nice?" he balked.
    Not even caring what he'd just said, my thoughts went back to the "hot chick" he'd dated. "Her picture on facebook was cute, even if she does have a huge jawline." I shut my mouth, wishing the words had never come out.
    "Big jawline, huh! I never noticed that."
    "Heck yes you did! Doesn't everyone?" What in the hell was wrong with me? I wanted to stop--at least some part of me wanted to. But I couldn't even quit while I was ahead.
    He didn't respond for a moment, just turned paler and paler.
    "You know what?" I put my hands on my hips and stepped back toward my front door.  Then I stuck my hand out behind me and felt around for the handle. "You and...JAWS, you'd make a great couple!"
    I stepped inside, then slammed the door in Mark's face.


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    It didn't feel great. There was no victory, no satisfaction. I realized momentarily that we were both being incredibly stupid. And after about a minute, I opened the door to see Mark still standing there, appearing a bit confused.
    I couldn't think of anything witty to say, and I didn't feel like apologizing, so I just blurted out the first thing that came to my mind.  "Do you want to go to counseling?" I asked.
    "Yes!" he nodded, and we booked the appointment the following day.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Have you ever had a stupid fight with your spouse?

THIRTY-THREE
DOGFIGHT
If you want to read this story from the very beginning, please CLICK THIS.
Based on a true story

That weekend, Mark brought his doberman to the house. She was absolutely sleek and very well behaved. I knew someday we'd be close, but I shied away, not great with dogs. The kids instantly loved her, petting her, not giving her a moment alone.  My children--and the dog--were so tired at the end of the night that they practically put themselves to bed.
    "You two better get going," I told Mark after a while, motioning to him and his dog, who was dead-asleep in the corner of the front room.
    "I just made you and me coffee though," he said.
    We walked into the kitchen and I had to laugh because even though he didn't live there sometimes it sure felt like he did.
    I went to grab a mug from my cupboard, when Mark sidled up behind me and started tracing my arms with his hands.  I exhaled, hardly able to think. 
    "I don't want to leave any more," he said. "This feels like home. I come here every day after work and spend every chance I can get with you and the kids. I do homework with the kids. I cook with you. I mow the lawn. You guys are everything to me--you're my family."
    "You really love those kids, don't you?"
    He nodded. "They're pretty amazing."
    I threw my arms around his neck, then tip-toed so I could hold him closer. We stood in my kitchen, for the longest time, me slightly crying as I hugged him, and him wrapping his arms so tightly around me, I hoped he'd never let go. 
    You know, life can be so strange--when I'd gotten divorced and later found out the Schmuck was married, I'd never thought I'd find a love like this. It baffled me how Mark could love us so much, selflessly making sure our needs were met, being a father-figure to the children, and the man I so desperately needed.
    I wiped my tears and kissed him on the cheek. "I would like to snuggle with you tonight. I miss you when you aren't here--I feel like you should stay tonight too."
    So we walked up the stairs, hand-in-hand, to my bedroom, and that's when the dog woke up....
    I really don't have a problem with dogs, unless they're sniffing my butt, barking, pooping, farting, or barfing.  Really, other than all of those things, dogs are all right. And I really liked Mark's dog until her face was practically glued to my crotch as I walked up the stairs.  I wiggled away, trying to seem all right, but freaking out inside.  Didn't he notice I was getting molested?  Instead of saving me, Mark laughed--like his dog was hilarious.
    "Oh, how...cute!" I lied, side stepping up the stairs.  I thought once we got to the bedroom we could leave his dog outside, but Mark invited her into MY ROOM before I even got to go in!
    I was fine with Mark staying the night--until he invited his dog to sleep by us.
    I cleared my throat. "You want her to sleep where, honey?" My voice went up an octave, sounding like a pre-teen boy during puberty.
    Mark rolled close to me and started kissing me. I wasn't in the mood, but I tried.  Then his dog was licking my neck!  I swatted her away, trying not to cringe.  
    Seriously, getting licked on the neck while I was kissing Mark--that was sick.  I instantly remember something my aunt once told me: "If a man asks another woman into the bedroom, she better be a "dog!" 
    I never knew exactly what she meant by that, but either way, this felt like a night gone very wrong
    After a couple of minutes--dog free--I slowly opened my eyes while still kissing Mark and saw his dog glaring at me from the other side of the bed.
    "Okay!" I pulled away. "I'm a bit creeped out!"
    "Gina!  I've accepted your kids. You can't accept my dog?"
    I wanted to, but wasn't this fast! It was her first time over and now she was in my bedroom--alone with us--AND she stared at me like she wanted blood. 
    "Yes, you've accepted my kids--and that means the world to me--but at least THEY don't sniff your butt!"
    Mark was livid. I was livid.  His doberman looked back and forth at us, panting--happily!
    "Fine, you want to stay the night in here with your dog? Great!"
    "Gina, you're being ridiculous!"
    "I told you I'm not great with dogs, that you'd have to ease me into this. Now she's in my room?"
    He went to touch my arm.  "Don't touch me!" I said, then I went out of my own room, and slammed the door so loud I was shocked it didn't wake up the kids.

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    Mark didn't come out for a while. So I paced back and forth thinking, I could have communicated that better.... He was finally going to stay the night.... Why can't I just accept the dog?  But I was taught that dogs don't even sleep in your bedroom, let alone your bed.
    I paced and paced. That's when Mark came out.
    "I'm putting her outside," he said.
    "Why don't you two just leave? Maybe we can try this again another time."
    His eyebrows raised, and he looked genuinely heartbroken.  "I really want to stay," he said, then without waiting for a reply, he put his dog outside, and gave her a treat.
    I folded my arms and waited for him in the TV room.  I somehow knew that I'd been wrong, that I could have handled the situation better, but I couldn't quite figure out why I was so mad. 
    After coming back inside alone, Mark remained quiet, waiting for me to say something.
    "What?" I asked.
    "Why are you so upset?" he queried. "I know you said before you don't like to have animals in your bedroom. I didn't think it was this big of a deal though."
    That's when I exploded. "I told you I wasn't okay with something, and you did it anyway." And suddenly my anger made sense. "The men I've dated never listened to me. If I said I didn't want to do something, they didn't care--somehow we'd end up doing it anyway. Their hobbies became my hobbies.  Their dreams had to become mine.  I couldn't be myself, or say what I wanted! I always had to be nice. Did I want Chinese?  No, but I had to eat it and hardly ever got a chance to choose the restaurant.  Could I use conditioner, no because one guy I dated didn't like it!  Could I wear makeup? No, because I looked too pretty and other people checked me out.  Could I get new clothes? No, they cost too much." I paused then fearfully said, "You might be just like them."
    "You can't really think--"
    "You might be!" I interrupted.
    I expected him to yell at me, act like others had in the past. Instead, he calmly folded his arms. "Are you done yet?" he asked.
    I wanted him to yell, be angry. I wanted to feel something other than this uncertainty and fear. If he yelled, then we could have it all out for each other and make up--it would be fiery--and somehow it would feel like love had in the past....
    "Why aren't you angry?" I shouted.
    "Maybe I am. But I'm not going to yell back. I'm not like that.  And I'm definitely not like those other guys you've dated."
    I was sobbing now, so lost in memory. "They knew how to get their way. With money. With time. With...sex."  I cried so hard.  He tried holding me, but I pushed him away and leaned against the wall. "And you!"  I could barely see him through the tears.  "I never have to be someone else with you.  You listen when I say 'no.'  Mark, you never push me.  You respect what I say. But you didn't tonight. I've been through some hard things.  I need to be with someone who respects my choices. And maybe you can't do that! I know this seems like something small, but that's how it starts. Next thing you know, I'm stuck in some shitty situation again, the shell of who I really am, a mirror of whoever I'm with.  I don't want to be a damn mirror anymore. I want to be myself."
    "I'm so sorry," he said, slumping down.  "I understand what you're saying. I'll get my dog and go.  I promise you, though, if you tell me something is a big deal to you, I'll respect what you're saying."
    He went to the back door, but I stopped him. "I'm so sorry, too!  It's hard for me to understand where all of this is coming from. Maybe I need counseling. I just hope this makes sense." I took a big breath. "You...meant what you said; you're not like those other guys?"
    "I just want you to be yourself."
    My body suddenly felt so exhausted.  My arms reached out for him, and he held me close, stroking my hair. Then he gingerly picked me up and carried me to bed.
    "You're tired, baby," he said. "You need some rest."
    "Will you please stay?" I pleaded. "I'm sorry I got so upset. I could have expressed myself a lot better."
    "I'll stay," he nodded, "but if it's okay, I'd like to stay up and drink another cup of coffee and write. Can I use your computer?"
    "Sure," I whispered. And I couldn't believe how tired I was.
    The next morning I woke up really early. Even though we'd fought, it was the best feeling in the world to wake up to feel Mark's arms around me. I gently moved from his arms, then tip-toed down the stairs to the back door and let Mark's dog inside. She seemed so happy to see me that I let her follow me into the kitchen.
   I started making Mark and my kids breakfast.  Mark's dog rested next to me, looking so cute that I had to give her some bacon. After each child woke up and hugged me--and the sausage sizzled in the pan--I realized my computer was open to a Word document that had my name on it.
    Spatula still in my hand, I went over to the computer and read the words as my kids pet the dog and chattered happily. 

    Yes, we both make mistakes. But, Gina, no matter what, I want to be old with you, feeling young 'cause we're together. Love can carry us through all of this. It doesn't age. Its back doesn't go out it doesn't get arthritis, it doesn't need a motor. It doesn't lose its hearing or become forgetful. It is what keeps on when the years get late and our hair is grey. Its what can heal and get both of us through anything. I'll work as hard as I can to be here for you. I want to be old with you yes, but I want to feel young with you forever.

That's why I have faith, 'cause I've grown into the man I am now and I know what I want and need and I choose where I'm meant to be. That's with you.



    "Are you okay, Mama?" my baby boy asked because I'd been covering my mouth with my free hand. as I read
    "Yes." I nodded to him and grease dripped from my spatula. "I just feel like a jerk," I said, then looking up, I spied Mark walking down the stairs.
    My three youngest kids squealed before running to Mark and hugging him. "You stayed! You stayed!"
    Mark's dog ran up too, wagging her tail.
    "I knew he'd stay," my little boy said. "That's why he brought us an awesome dog!"
    "I'm so excited," my middle daughter smiled, hugging him again, making it so he could hardly walk down the stairs.
    "You let the dog in, huh?" Mark's eyes widened. 
    My oldest daughter had remained by me. At this point, she whispered, watching her siblings, "It's weird, Mom, but sometimes I think we need Mark even more than you do."  I wondered what she meant, but I didn't have time to ask because she went over and hugged him too. "Parent teacher conferences are tonight. You promised you'd go!"
    "Wouldn't miss it for anything. All that homework we've done, you better have good grades." He smiled down at her, obviously proud.  And I found myself again, stunned by that man.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

PICNIC ON A GRAVE

PICNIC ON A GRAVE
THIRTY-TWO

If you want to read this story from the very beginning, please CLICK THIS.
Based on a true story
I peered out the window, admiring my favorite mint-green tree. It's a strange thing how certain objects can mean so much to us for previously unforeseen reasons....
    Once, that tree had meant nothing to me; in fact I'd thought it was an ugly color and quite twiggy as well. But my cat had loved the tree, basking in its shade, always rolling or stretching contentedly in the grass at its base. In fact, my cat had loved it so much, after she died I buried her in the tree's shade, knowing there's no other place she'd rather be. 
    Staring out the window that day, I was in a nostalgic mood, thinking about how much I'd missed my cat after she died. How things come and go in life. How much I'd lost over the years: my innocence when I dated the Schmuck, my husband years before we were ever divorced or separated, my resolve at many points.... But just like that tree, new things were becoming meaningful in my life, and I wouldn't trade them for anything.
    I'd nearly lost Mark too--this thought brought a whole other slew of emotions because things were going rather well again with him. We weren't moving fast, but instead enjoying our time together for however long that might last.
    He'd come over to cook for me and the kids. We'd watch late-night shows together, snuggling after the kids had gone to bed. We'd go fishing early in the morning, eating a crappy sack lunch that tasted like Heaven just because Mark was there with me. And even though he didn't stay the night at my house, I gave him a key so he could stop by anytime he liked.
    That particular night, Mark had planned a romantic evening for us. I hired a sitter so we'd have the house to ourselves for several hours that night, just as Mark had requested.
    I didn't know for sure where things would go. But for the first time in my life, I shed many uncertainties--some that had been with me for years--and learning from Mark, I just began to enjoy life.
    It was almost time to drive the kids to the sitter as I stood looking out at my favorite tree.
    "Do you still miss our cat?" my middle daughter suddenly asked me. "Because I do."
    I hugged her. "Yes, I do. I know she didn't pass long ago, but look," I pointed, "the grass is growing back around her grave. You wouldn't even know we buried her there. And at least we can go say 'hi' to her whenever we want to."
    My daughter nodded.
    "You guys almost ready?" I asked, "It's time to go."
     After dropping the kids off, I received a call from Mark. "Can you stay out for another half-hour?" he asked. "I have a surprise at the house for you, but it isn't ready yet."
    "Okay," I said, not even hiding the excitement in my voice.
    When I finally arrived home, the sky had darkened fully and candlelight flickered through my front windows. The main level of my home had transformed into an energy-healing spa or massage therapy office! Mood music played softly from the lit-up computer; flutes and a synthesized keyboard harmonized with soothing tones. Candles lined literally every nook and cranny throughout the house, and the best smells wafted from the kitchen.
    But once in the kitchen, instead of seeing the roast or stew I'd expected, only a bunch of white candles sat on the counter.
    "Mark?" I whispered.
    Nothing.
    "Mark?" 
    A trail of candles led down the stairs, so I followed them to the backyard. My breath caught in my throat as I opened the backdoor--that's when I saw it...
    Mark sat so masculine and handsome, surrounded by a ring of candles at the base of my favorite tree--ON TOP OF MY CAT'S GRAVE. 
   My hand instantly covered my mouth in horror.  What kind of sick joke--I'd never told Mark about my deceased cat; why was he having a séance on her grave!
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    "Gina," Mark motioned me over, completely oblivious to my freak-out. He pointed at two steak meals resting next to him in the ring of flickering candles. But all I could stare at was the slight pool of red surrounding my obviously rare steak.  My cat had bled the day she'd died. It was--that same damn color.
    "Oh!" I choked out the word, taking a seat next to Mark, disrespectfully sitting over my dead cat all because of love. As Mark talked, I wondered if I was sitting on her entire body, or just one part, like her head or butt.  Did it still look like it always had?  Had it decayed already? Was it covered in worms because I'd done a shitty job burying her!
    "Take a bite," Mark chirped, so freakin' happy!
    The meat on his fork oozed blood. His teeth gleamed sharp and white.  
    My throat remained tight, as I tried to stay calm, but every time I took a bite of steak, I thought of how the cow was dead...and so was my freakin' cat. And what would SHE think of us having a party on her grave anyway--how damn sacrilegious was that?! I just knew she'd haunt me forever after this. 
    "Are you okay?" Mark finally asked, getting a clue.
    "Everything is..."  I turned pale like a vamp.
    "Okay?" he pro-offered. "I've tried so hard to make this night special. What is bothering you?!"
    "It's just that..."  I didn't know how to tell him. He'd tried so hard to make this romantic.  "It's just that," I repeated. "Don't hate me for telling you this instead of just enjoying the moment. But there's something you should know... There's a dead body buried...right underneath us."
   "You're kidding?" he asked, and I noticed he'd stopped chewing the piece of steak in his mouth.
    "No," I said.
    Mark paled, then swallowed that huge piece of steak. I watched it slide slowly down his throat. He held so still a bit of reddish steak juice dripped from his beard and his round, rabbit-scared-eyes studied me until he knew I wasn't joking.
    "Who," he cleared his throat several times, "is buried underneath us?"
    "Sam," tears filled my eyes, "my childhood friend. Maybe a foot under--okay maybe six inches!"
    He scooted slightly away from me. 
    "What?" I balked. "You're judging me! I'm not the one who made a picnic on her grave!"  He didn't respond. I would've buried her deeper, but the ground is hard out here!  I couldn't dig farther than that!"
    "Oh, thanks for clarifying."  He cleared his throat--again. "Who cares how deep you dug the hole! Why is your childhood friend buried--IN YOUR YARD?"  Mark wore this I-should-have-know-this-was-too-good-to-be-true face. He stood up and stared at me with laser-eyes. "You aren't going to answer me--oh this is sick!"
    My jaw fell open, appalled. "You're upset I buried her in my yard?"
    He nodded vigorously. "A-huh! I just want to know how she died! You know this isn't normal."
    Well wasn't he inquisitive, Mister Ring-of-Fire himself! "Listen Mark, I buried her where I wanted to. She loved this tree. And I don't want to sit here and tell you all about how my cat died.  I sat on her grave already, I don't want to relive the entire thing."
    "Your...cat."
    "Yeah, my cat. I already told you that--thanks for listening!" At this point, it dawned on me that maybe, I'd been so upset, I hadn't said she was a cat. "Oh my gosh, Mark...you thought I buried a--"
    "Sam."
    "A Sam-person. Not Sam the cat."
    I forgot that I stood on my deceased cat's grave. I forgot that Mark had created the biggest fire-hazard known to man.  I also forgot that I'd probably just scared the shit-balls out of the man I loved.
    "Mark, I'm so sorry." Then seeing his horror-stricken face, I found the misunderstanding so amusing I laughed until I nearly had a six-pack. I snorted and giggled, completely red in the face and almost dripping snot. 
    Then instead of being angry, Mark actually laughed too. 
    "Of all the romantic things I could have done," he finally said, "I made a picnic on your cat's grave and then I surrounded it with candles."
    "It does kinda look like a freaky ritual," I confessed.
    He agreed.  "You wanna move this picnic to another part of the yard or should we just give up on tonight?"
    "Let's relocate!"
    So we moved the entire shebang, candles and all, to the other side of the yard.  We actually had a wonderful time.
    "This is a night we'll never forget," Mark said.
    I looked up into the night sky, wondering if my cat was somewhere up there, laughing her furry ass off.  "You've got that right!" I said, then I blew out the candles and snuggled into Mark's arms.  

Saturday, June 13, 2015

A Camping Trip to Remember: Just Like Jurassic Park


GOING CAMPING
THIRTY-ONE 

If you want to read this story from the very beginning, please CLICK THIS.
Based on a true story


Days and weeks passed. I missed Mark more than I’d imagined; I’d go to sleep thinking about him, and wake up wondering if I’d ever feel his arms around me again. When I thought I couldn't bear the heartache any more, he called.
    “Gina, I want to be with you and the kids. It’s where I belong.”
    I plopped down on my bed, flustered. “But you can’t have a baby with me,” I said. "That's not something you just get over."
    He didn’t respond, and the silence dragged out until I continued. “You’re a single guy who has never had kids, never been married. Why would you want to be with an emotionally-damaged woman who has four kids?”
    “Gina—"
    “Listen, Mark.” I held the phone close, then leaned back into a pillow and closed my eyes. “I wouldn’t choose this situation. Why should you?”
    “I’m not choosing the situation.... I’m choosing you.”
    My heart fluttered.
    “I know we might not get back together, but can we at least try something?” he asked.
    Part of me wanted to just say ‘no.’ We’d already tried and it hadn’t work. But then I was too curious. “Like what?”
    “I want you and the kids to come camping with me. For a weekend. We can see how it goes with all of us together.”
    It did sound fun. And the kids had wanted to go camping. “Okay. We'll leave Friday?” I asked and he quickly agreed.
    So we went camping. The kids had the best time paying Boochie Ball. We all took a hike together. Mark and I set up two tents with more ease than I’d expected. It wasn’t until the kids were “trying” to go to sleep at night that things went awry.
    My eldest girls slept in one tent while Mark and I slept in a separate one with my two youngest kids. I didn’t snuggle with Mark—worried about getting even more attached if he decided this was too much commitment for him. Instead I slept in the middle of him and my youngest kids.
    It was pitch-black, when something scurried near the tent. I immediately pulled my sleeping bag up to my face, eyes darting, and made sure that Mark and the little ones were okay.
    The scurrying continued. And I had just snuggled back into my sleeping bag and closed my eyes, when a hellacious growl vibrated through the air. My older daughters began frantically talking in the tent next to ours. “Holy… Did you HEAR THAT?”
    The growl rumbled again, closer. Then the most terrifying sound of all filled the air—the sound of an animal in the throes of death. I shook Mark, but he rolled over—grabbing my sleeping bag—and snoring loudly.
    “Shit!” I whispered, terrified.
    “Mom,” my oldest daughter screamed. Then, because they’ve never seen Jurassic Park, my oldest daughters turned on a flashlight that was so bright I could see it wavering back and forth even from inside of my tent. “Shut up,” I screamed, an oxy-moron. But seriously—they were about to lure the beast right to their tent! Didn't they know light attracts danger!
    Their high-pitched screamed filled the air as the flashlight continued shining here and there and freakin' everywhere. I unzipped the tent, and had just managed to fumble into theirs when they both rushed at me, nearly knocking me off my feet.
    I snatched the flashlight, quickly brought them over to the big tent and told them to HUSH UP or we’d become bear food!


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    They ended up snuggling into my sleeping bag and I squished next to Mark who had finally woken up.
    “What’s going on?!” he asked, big-eyed, gorgeous and COMPLETELY oblivious.
    “An. Animal. Died!” one of my daughter’s said ominously. "I heard it."
    “And there’s food all over the ground by our tents!” my other daughter said.
    “Well, I didn’t hear anything,” Mark said—since he’d practically just woken from a life-threatening coma.
    “We’re scared,” my daughters both said.
    “Shhhhh! Don’t wake the little ones up. Just go to sleep,” I whispered—a bit terrified myself. “We’re all here together.”
    “And you guys were probably just having a dream," Mark said.
    If that was a dream—we’d ALL had it!
    Mark turned, lying sideways because there were six of us now in the tent.
    I fell asleep, freezing cold and dreaming about bears. When I woke up, it was still the middle of the night; Mark no longer slept beside me, and a fire flickered and popped outside of the tent.
    I covered my kids up, then went outside. Mark slept, balancing oddly between two camp chairs he’d pulled together. I couldn’t help looking around—food was everywhere—we’d been ransacked for sure, probably by an army of squirrels! The marshmallow bag had tiny holes in it. Hot dogs were strewn about in little pieces. Toilet paper was clumped in messy wet piles all around camp. Wow—those animals had had quite a party.
    And there rested Mark amidst the midnight mess. His hat covered quite a bit of his face, but I could see just enough in the firelight. He was such a handsome man, with those dark features and strong build. I studied his face after a moment and realized how truly kind he looked, just as he was when awake. He shivered in his sleep, only using a thin blanket since he’d left his sleeping bag in the tent with the kids.
    I peered back at the tent; those kids were having the experience of a lifetime and so was I. As my thoughts turned back to Mark, I couldn’t help it anymore, I curled up into his lap to warm him up. He instinctively wrapped his arms around me, and I fell asleep next to the fire, snuggle]ing with the man I loved, in the middle of the woods where a bunch of animals had just eaten all of our food.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Eulogy: How You Changed My Life

Chapter Thirty continued...

To read the beginning of this chapter, please CLICK HERE.

Dear Mark,
    I don’t know how to explain everything that’s inside of my heart right now; it’s breaking at the thought of never seeing you again. I’ll miss so many things about you, like your laugh, your smile, or how you look when you know you’ve done something awesome and you want me to notice.
    I’ll miss your deep voice, and all the sweet things you used to say to me, once upon a time when I was your girl.
    I feel bad that I never told you how very much you impacted my life and changed some of my views.
    You see, you’re one of the most genuinely good people I’ve ever met in my life. To think of all the times you selflessly gave to me and my children... I remember when I told you that my ex-husband wasn’t able to spend much time with my kids because of his job. You rushed to your house, and showed up at mine with a faded book. “Can I give this to your son?” you’d asked.
    “Sure,” I said. And even though you didn’t know it, I stood outside of the door, listening as you gave him the book.
    “This book is for one of the most awesome boys in the universe!" you said. "I’ve had it for years, just waiting to give it to someone—then I met you and I knew this book was destined to be yours!”
    My son squealed, so excited.  And even after things weren’t perfect with us anymore, he kept that book on his dresser as a reminder that someone knew he was special—and that made him realize his potential too.
    “How long have you had that book?” I asked you later.
    “Six years,” you said. “I’d planned on giving it to my son someday. That’s why I gave it to your boy.”
    I cried after you left because your words meant so much. You’d touched our hearts that night, in a way I’ll never be able to explain. You'd accepted everything about us, and loved us for it all.
    I remember another time, I called you when my life had completely spiraled out of control. “My ex-boyfriend said the most terrible things about me. My kids aren’t home to distract me. I’m all alone and I feel worthless. I just don’t see the point,” I said. “I’m so sad today…I make everyone miserable just by being around.” I paused before deciding to tell him the truth. “Part of me just wishes I could stop breathing.”
    “Gina! Don’t say that.”
    “But it’s true!” I sobbed, desperate.
    “Tell me everything. I want to hear all of it.” You kept me on the phone; I had no idea that you’d jumped into your truck, and been driving over to my house all the while.
    “Get some cute clothes on—we’re going to coffee.”
    But I wouldn’t get dressed, so you dragged me out of the house in my pajamas. I couldn’t bear to drink all of my coffee, but you didn’t judge me. Instead you drove around with me for hours. When my eyes were too tired to stay open, I fell asleep on your shoulder and woke up to you bringing me into the house and tucking me into my bed. You smoothed the hair from my face and told me the sweetest things until I fell asleep again.  The next day, I opened my eyes and you were still there, dozing off, waiting to make sure that I was okay. And I truly was because you’d helped me through.
    I’m not exactly sure what day or hour I fell in love with you, but I do remember the moonlight. I looked into your eyes and fell hard. And that love hasn’t been some whimsical romance, or a fleeting feeling, it’s the strongest kind of love, when you have a friend--a companion--an equal--who you’d do anything for and it would be worth any sacrifice. Someone who’s worth spending your life with, or giving your life for. I’ve never had someone treat me with such kindness. I’ve never had a man swoop into my life like this and revolutionize how my children feel about themselves and their worth.
    I remember watching you do homework with my daughters, telling them to try again because they’d get it for sure the next time. “You’re so smart,” you told my oldest.
    “Not everyone thinks so,” she said.
    “Well, I can tell when people are intelligent and YOU definitely are.”  You worked with her every night when you came over to visit us after work and her grades went up after that.
    I’ll never forget when you held me for hours, both of us whispering our unending love, me thinking that was Heaven as your fingers traced my skin and I felt your breath on my neck.
    But you already know all of these stories. And there are so many more… I just wanted you to know that every moment I spent with you mattered.
    Knowing you has been life-changing. In the end we had different goals. I wished you’d meet a beautiful girl who could have your darling baby, and love, and everything you deserve. I’d smile, knowing what a good father you’d be. And Mark, even though I couldn't give you a biological child, I’d be so thankful you got your dream. 

    I guess I just want you to know that I’ll always appreciate what you did for me and my four children; I cherish those memories. And because of the impression you made on my life, I will never be the same.


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I folded the paper up, stuck it in the mason jar, and watched as Mark finished the letter he’d just written for the time capsule as well.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

HAVE YOU EVER BURIED THE HATCHET?

Bury the Hatchet
Chapter Thirty

If you want to read this from the very beginning, please CLICK THIS.
Based on a true story

    The great thing about time apart is that you find out how much you miss—or don’t miss—someone.
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    The time spent away from Mark was excruciating, albeit for the best. After all, when it comes to big issues, like having children, if you don’t agree, it’ll never work out.
    Mark pulled up to my house around 9am the next day. His lips hung in a frown. “This whole thing sucks,” he said. “You really think we should quit dating over this?”
    I nodded.
    “But we could keep dating; and not worry about things that aren’t affecting us right now.”
    “And all the while, I’ll grow closer and closer to you; by that time it’ll nearly kill me to let go.” I couldn’t look into his face. I turned away slightly. “It’s best to say ‘goodbye’ now. Unless you want to stay friends?” I hoped he’d say ‘yes’--with everything in me. 
Instead Mark shook his head. “Gina, that would be too hard, watching you date other people, knowing we’d never be together again….”
    I completely understood--this was a cut-and-dry break-up. "Okay," I said. "But just do one last thing with me?”
    “What?” he asked. "You want to go to the place we swung in the hammock?"
    “Yes! But first, you wanna go to The Dollar Store with me?”
    “Ummmm…. What?”
    “You heard me.”
    So we drove to The Dollar Store, and the whole while I felt Mark’s mood changing from completely sad to curious.
    “I wanted to come here because I'd like to make a time capsule with you!” I said.
    “Seriously?”
    “Yep. If we bury it today, we can meet in five years and go dig it up together. Then I can hear about your life.” And his kids. “And how happy you are.” And his beautiful fertile wife-of-the-future. “It’ll be good.”
    “Five years?! That’s way too long. How about six months?”
    “You can’t bury a time capsule for six months. That’s silly. Time capsules have to stay buried for at least a year.”
    His eyebrows raised quizzically. “Okay. A year.”
    “That doesn’t seem like very long”—for him to find a wife and have babies, and see how good it was that we were breaking up—“but I guess it’ll work."
    “What does all of this have to do with The Dollar Store?” he asked.
    “I’ll get a mason jar, two notebooks, and pens. We can write stuff to each other. But I also thought it would be fun to buy a dollar item that reminds us of each other. Imagine how cool it'll be to dig everything up next year!”
    He laughed in spite of the situation, then sounding robotic, said in the monotone, “Who kn-ew brea-king up could b-e so fun.”
    I slapped him on the back. “I’m gonna find something that reminds me of you. Don’t be cheating and trying to snoop on me!" I smirked. "Meet you at the truck in fifteen minutes? Oh and don’t forget, whatever you’re getting needs to be able to fit in the mason jar.”
     I looked everywhere throughout the store. I could buy some soap—‘cause he smelled nice. Or some gum—‘cause he’s refreshing. I went from aisle to aisle thinking about how each freakin’ item could remind me of something good about Mark. At one point tears filled my eyes momentarily before I shook them off, remembering if I had to say goodbye to this man, I would do it with dignity—and it’d be hella fun. Maybe then Mark would look back and remember--even this moment--fondly.
    It wasn’t until the last couple minutes that I finally found the simplest thing that still had profound meaning: a candle.
Mark already waited in the truck. I handed him the mason jar and he quickly shoved in the item he’d purchased, still wrapped, into the sack. I set mine in as well.  “What did you buy?” he asked.
    “I can’t tell you yet." I giggled. The mood had lightened up so much. We were both starting to have a little fun, and I was excited to bury the thing. “can we still go to where we swung in the hammock together? That's where I'd like to bury this.”
    “Okay. We’ll hike in. It’ll take some time though.”
    “As long as I’m back before the kids get out of school, then I have time.”
    “We’ll make it work.”
    So we spent the first half of the morning hiking to the same area we’d visited before. After arriving, Mark sat down on a rock and gazed at me. “Now what?”
    I pulled the two notepads and pens from my pack. “I want both of us to write where we want to be next year—even if it sounds outrageous or we know it would never happen.”
    “Like winning the lottery?”
    “Exactly! Whatever comes to mind.”
    He ripped a tiny piece of paper from her notepad and quickly wrote, then stuck it in the jar.
    “That was fast. Apparently you know what you want.”
    “Maybe.” He looked away.
    I thought for a moment and wrote the first thing that came to my mind. 
    –Next year, I wish I could be engaged to Mark, and that I could have a job at a hospital—
    It would never happen—let alone within a year—and I had no idea what he’d think about it next year, but I was being honest if anything else.
    “Should we also write a note saying why the dollar store thing reminded us of each other?”
    “Sure,” he said.
    We each ended up writing on another small piece of paper. I wrote something about how candles are illuminating and bright. How when burning they provide inspiration. How Mark seemed to make life better, clearer, brighter while in my life.
    After stuffing the wadded papers into the mason jar, we both just sat side-by-side for a long time gazing at the nature around us. Wind rushed past our faces over and over. I remembered his words from the last time we’d been there:“I always want to be in your life. To be your guy, the one person you'll lean on throughout life. But...I have always wanted to have a kid, just one."    Life with me was a dead-end of his biggest dream.

    I finally moved near him. “I wonder… Where do you want your life to be in a year?”
    He laughed mischievously. “You’ll find out, when we dig this up—in a year. Maybe we should wait five years!”
     I gave him the stink-eye.
    “Should we put anything else in here?” he asked.
    “Heck yes. We haven’t put the most important part in.”
    “What's that?”
    “Well…”—this would sound weird—“I figure since we’re breaking up, I want to tell you how much our time together has meant to me. I heard of a couple who did this exercise in counseling and it was really neat; they imagined that their significant other had died, then they wrote them a letter saying everything they’d wanted to say, but never had.”
    He looked like he’d swallowed a live bullfrog—whole. “Oh, wow,” he croaked.
    “Yep.” I tapped his notebook. “So, imagine I’m dead, baby. Let’s do this.”
    He flipped to a new page in his notebook, and said, "YOU are a character!" That's when both of us started writing.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Beginning Without an End

Chapter Twenty-nine
A Beginning Without an End

To read this from the start, please CLICK HERE.
Based on a true story


Breaking up with someone can show you one of two things: how much you need them, or how much you don’t.
    The next morning after Mark and I decided to take a break, I didn’t want to get out of bed. Intense pressure weighed onto my chest, pushing down, making me cry and ache from lack of breath. I didn’t quite know how to deal with this since I’d never known that a mental issue—like a breakup—could affect me like this.   
    After fighting to drag myself from bed, I donned my best smile and got my children off to school and daycare. Some computer-work needed to be finished for the airline; I could barely concentrate. That’s when my mom called.
    “Gina, are you okay?”
    “No. Mark wants to have kids.”
    “Oh, Gina! You can’t have more kids. You know what the doctors said. Mark is great, but your body can't handle any more pregnancies.”
    “I know…. That’s why we’re taking a break--probably for good. He’s thinking about things. It was my idea; I want him to realize that we’ll never work out if he wants a baby. It breaks my heart.”
    She sighed into the phone. I wondered how hard it would be to see one of my own daugthers go through heartbreak after heartbreak. I really felt bad for my mom. “I don’t know what to say," she finally stated, "other than that you’re so strong. You’ll make it through this too. If it's meant to be, it'll be.”
    “I’ve gone through so much, Mom. But to lose him--after finally knowing what it’s like to be with someone who fits me so well, and is kind, and generous, and loves the kids—" Then I was sobbing, uncontrollably.
    After we hung up, that’s when I felt compelled to write our story, Mark. To tell you all of the details, how I fell in love with you, from my stupid job as a security guard, from our little talks and our friendship, to our first kiss in that rocky cave.  I know we might not work out, I know, but I wanted you to realize how much I care, so I can always have these memories to hold dear. And maybe if I write everything down, you won't forget me either.
    I’ve typed, so many chapters that they’ve almost filled an entire book. Not because it's something that makes me rich, or comfortable…it’s just something I've done to cope. And this is the first time I’ve found myself writing a story that I don’t really know the ending to. Most authors, plan the end first so they’ll know where to start. But I couldn’t plot “our” story out, not this time. And I’m hanging on, wondering if you’ll ever even read this….

    
    I thought about all of this for what seemed like an eternity.
    We didn't talk for several days that week, until you finally called me....

    "Gina, I'd like to meet with you, just to talk about how both of us are feeling. It seems only right, to meet in person."
    "Okay," I said, trying to keep my voice from sounding sad. "Can we go where you hung that hammock a few weeks ago?"
    "Sure. That's all right with me."
    And so we decided to meet the following day.
   

Please CLICK HERE to read more.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Do you think absence makes the heart grow fonder?

If you'd like to read this from the start, click HERE
This is fictional, based on true events....  
 
TIME APART

TWENTY-EIGHT


I woke up the next morning to the sound of an incoming text message.
    

Sorry. It's been a busy night. I hope you're well.
    
    It was the most impersonal message I could have imagined, coming from Mark--and that hurt.
    I slammed my phone on the bedside table, rolled out of bed and got ready for the day.    My kids were darling at breakfast, albeit giggling, screaming, jabbering, and only intermittently being quiet. The kids were so precious though; I could hardly keep myself from gazing at them fondly as they stuffed their little chipmunk faces with cereal and kid-flavored oatmeals.   

     "All right, guys. Time for school." I huddled them all together, made sure their backpacks had been zipped, their hair was done, and they looked totally ready. I couldn't help being a bit nostalgic, peering into their growing faces, and thinking how much change all of us had gone through the previous years. But here we were, making it through, and still together.   
    After bringing the kids to school and finishing some of my work projects, I looked at my phone; Mark hadn't sent any messages. It was time for me to solve this whole situation. 
    Before I could really think about his full reaction, or the fact that he'd been working the graveyard, I quickly called him.
    "Hello?" he asked in a groggy, I've-been-sleeping voice.
    "We need to talk," I stated. "How's this afternoon? You aren't working tonight."
    "Oh, this afternoon is good...." he said.
    "I'll head over to your house later."
    His voice seemed a bit more alert. "You okay?"
    "I'm okay. But we really need to talk. I've gotta go, okay?"
    "See you soon," he said, then I hung up. And I'm not quite sure why, but I pulled my hair up into the world's messiest bun, put on some crappy clothes, and got ready to see Mark.
    When I pulled up to his house later that day, he was already waiting outside, lackadaisically leaning against his red truck.
    "The kids are at school and daycare?" he asked. I nodded. "You really want to talk about something, huh? You made me nervous."
    "There's just a lot going on. You know, I went and talked with The Schmuck. I wanted to talk with you about it, but I couldn't really get through to you--you must have been busy?"
    "I really was."
    The statement seemed a bit dishonest. "Anyway, that's beside the point. I need to talk with you now. Meeting with The Schmuck made me realize that sometimes you can date someone and it'll just never work out. It was actually good to see him."
    "Do you ever miss him?" Mark asked, looking so incredibly vulnerable that it broke my heart.
   "Sometimes," I said. "We had fun together, but I don't miss him in the way you might expect. I miss him because somehow through all of his lies and through all of the bullshit, I thought we were friends. It made me think about you...and what we have. I love you, Mark. Really, really, love you, through thick and thin. I think I'll love you for the rest of my life. But I'm not good for you, and I need to let you go."
    "What?! Where is this coming from?"
    "You want to have biological kids. MY baby factory is out of business. I have nightmares about having another child." And it was true. I'd had a recent dream that I had a baby and subsequently died of pure stress.
    "There's no chance that you'll change your mind?" He reached out and held my hand so tenderly. "You're the first girl I've been able to see a future with. The only girl I'd want to have a kid with."
    "I can't offer you the full package, Mark. I think it's been bothering me for months. You deserve someone who can give you everything, a blank slate, a biological family, a lifetime of happiness. All I can offer you is a pre-made family; my kids, myself, and our love. If you want biological kids, we won't ever be enough."
    "But, Gina. You guys are enough. You're more than I ever could've hoped for...." He gazed down at me, so filled with emotion. "You've shown me what it could be like to be a father...and maybe even a husband someday. I've learned so much from you. And I always want to be in your life. To be your guy, the one person you'll lean on throughout life. But...I have always wanted to have a kid, just one." He sighed, deeply. "I'd give up that dream, just to be with you."
    I bit my lip hard, to keep it from quivering as I listened to his words. He wasn't making this easy at all. "You know the worst thing about seeing The Schmuck?" I asked.
    "What?" he asked.
    "It made me realize how I always pick douche bags. I usually go for the bad boys, who could care less about me. But you're nothing like those guys. You're good and kind. You've made me realize that I'm worth a whole lot more than I thought. It's okay to be treated well and to expect being treated that way. You've given me such a gift...." 

    My eyes watched some of the cars driving down his street, and the whole time Mark followed my gaze. "But it's not in the cards for us," I finally said, struggling to keep my voice steady. He kept looking at me with those amazing eyes, and I couldn't help remembering how good he'd been to me and how nice it'd felt being wrapped in his arms, without facing the truth of the situation. "I've realized," my words came out slowly, "how much I care about you. But if we stay together longer this will just get harder and harder. We'll keep coming up against the same issue whether it's on the surface or not. We can't be together. I'm done having children and you haven't even had one yet."
    "If we break up will you even want to talk to me?" he asked.
    "Of course I do." And I understood something then, that I hadn't wanted to admit to myself before. "You are, without a doubt, my best friend. I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't at least talk with you."
    "How about we both just think about things?" he asked. "We won't break up; just give this time. I need to think about everything you're saying."
    "Maybe we can talk in a couple of weeks and just see how things are going?" I asked, "It could be good."
    "All right," he said. Then I gave him the world's longest hug, before getting into my minivan, and driving away to pick up my kids. I cried the entire drive, having no idea what the future would hold.

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CLICK HERE to read more.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

One Man's Heaven is Another Man's Nightmare

MARK'S UNCERTAINTY 
CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN continued

To read this story from the beginning, please go HERE
This is a work of fiction based on a true story....   

I'd fallen asleep, and found myself once again in the same terrible nightmare I'd had several times before....

   The landlord limped, leading me and my four children up the cracked steps of a rickety mansion. "Isn't it beautifully aged?" he croaked, showing us room upon room. It was awfully foreboding with peeling wallpapers and furniture that must have been over one-hundred years old. The place reeked with a musty, unkempt odor, yet I ended up renting the house.
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    The children and I had grand parties there, with friends, family, and various acquaintances. No one ever commented on the smell, or the corroded house and furniture. Instead, everyone seemed impressed--even jealous. And as we sat in the front room, I'd always crawl with nerves: Hoping no one knew my secret. Desperately laughing at ill-humored jokes. Coaxing noxious words from previously dying conversations. Wishing anything would keep their minds from what lay hiding behind the couch--in that same living room--where everyone cajoled for hours, in MY wretched house.
     And when everything was quiet. When my treasured guests had finally left. When my children rested fast asleep in their beds on the second floor, that's when I would creep down the creaking stairs, round the bend, to the couch where moments before, everyone had sat, thinking I led a charmed life.
    The couch was quite Victorian, wooden, old, and impossibly heavy. I grew so eager to move the velvety piece, no amount of weight could stop my ambition. I shoved with all of my might, then after little reward, the couch suddenly slid, and purpose filled my movements. After all, this was no ordinary house. This was no ordinary dream. And what the couch concealed was far more than one would expect. There, inches above the floor gaped a barrel-sized hole. It led completely through the wall, muddy with jagged roots spiraling down, down as if an enormous jack rabbit had dug it himself. Except this burrow was far more sinister than any jack's dwelling. I had traversed its walls many times before. I looked around making sure none of my children were awake, then crawled down into the depths.
    My legs slid several times, becoming filthy, caked with spider webs, dirt, and rat droppings. Yet still I trekked forward knowing that this tunnel--twisting from the bottom of my rented house--hid all of the terrible secrets of my life. No one knew what my romantic relationships had really been like. No one understood the depths that my insecurities rooted from. But here they were, for me to inspect and paw over within the safety of my own nightmare. And as much as I might have wanted to wake up from the most horrid memories of my own life, I couldn't. I saw The Schmuck, telling me he'd been with his wife the same day he'd been with me. I watched myself cowering in the corner instead of standing up in the most trying times of my life. I inspected the skeletons of a past where I could have done more, tried harder, stood stronger. And when I had sufficiently wallowed, it was time to crawl up through the hellacious catacombs, wandering blindly forward, always up, toward the hole in the wall, hidden close, where everyone I held dear would often visit and obliviously sit, as I hoped they would never find out what terrors were hiding under my own home.
    So I would burst from the hole, hair flying, nails coated with mud. And my eyes would dart around, a coward, hoping no one--especially my children--had seen me. And once my fears were eased by my own loneliness, I would shove the couch back against the wall, run up the faded stairs, and take a shower. Only after feeling sufficiently clean, would I kiss each of my sleeping children, and then go to sleep myself, the whole time wondering if anyone else truly knew what rested inside of my heart.

That was the end of my dream....   

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I Think I've Lost Him Forever

MARK'S UNCERTAINTY 
CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

To read this story from the beginning, please go HERE
This is a work of fiction based on a true story....   

I wanted to talk with Mark, but he only sent short replies in response to my texts. I assumed he was upset with me for meeting with The Schmuck, or worse that he'd be rid of me forever--although he'd seemed supportive of my seeking closure in the past.
    That night, I took my kids to get ice cream at a little diner.
The five of us took turns saying how each of our days had gone. My children smiled into their ice creams, and I kept realizing that I was missing the biggest joys of my life by focusing so much on men and tumultuous relationships.
    "How was your day?" my oldest daughter asked me.
    "Different," I admitted. And always being honest with my children, I added, "I went and saw The Schmuck."
    My oldest daughters both nearly dropped their spoons into their desserts. All of my kids stared with big marbled eyes.
    "Why? Why did you see him?" my son--who's only six--whispered.
    "He wouldn't let go until I said goodbye. I think I needed to say goodbye too. Have you ever known someone so well, that if they just suddenly left, you wish you could tell them goodbye."

    "Like my teacher..." My son nodded. "I'd say goodbye to her if she needed to leave."
    My oldest daughter turned red. "Mama, I'll only say this once, but if you ever get back together with that jerk, I'll move in with Daddy."
    "What? Why?"
    "Because you deserve better. You deserve someone like... Someone like Mark."
    We ate our ice creams in silence after that, all of us thinking about what had been said. Me wanting to say that Mark practically hated me, that he wasn't really responding to my texts, that maybe I'd gone too far.
    Street lamps twinkled around us as we drove home. We read a chapter in "The Wizard of Oz," the part where Dorothy and her band of friends finally make it to the wizard only to find out they must first defeat a witch before their dreams can come true. I shut the book and wondered what I must do to achieve my dreams....
I sent Mark one more text before going to sleep, but he didn't respond again.

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    That night I struggled falling asleep, tossing and turning, staring at the screen of my phone, hoping for a response. When I finally fell asleep, I had a terrible nightmare, something I dreamed several times in previous years, something that was far more symbolic than I'd ever realized before.

To be continued HERE: One Man's Heaven is Another Man's Nightmare

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

How do you tell an ex goodbye forever?

GOODBYE SCHMUCK
CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

To read this story from the beginning, please go HERE
This is a work of fiction based on a true story....   

Mark drove me home; I worked a few hours then went to bed. Nightmares plagued my sleep because I knew the following day I'd see The Schmuck. But the hours marched on regardless and soon it was time to meet with my ex. 
    I felt more terrified than I wanted to admit. I couldn't quite tell what drew me there or why I'd meet with a man who had treated me so poorly. I kept wondering if he would meet me or if it would really be his wife waiting maliciously. My thoughts whirred as I told myself this was solely so he'd leave me alone. But part of me wondered if I just wanted to see him one last time.... Understand why I still thought about him. See what he looked like in person again and if things felt different than they did when I was around Mark.
    But as I pulled into the canyon, where we were supposed to meet, I noticed his truck already parked, and him standing next to the driver's side door.  So his wife hadn't come, with her beautiful blonde hair and perfect new clothes. It was actually him, eager to see if I had feelings for him and if I didn't, to finally tell him goodbye.
    Our eyes met and we said a quick hello, then without missing a beat we walked side-by-side up the canyon like we had so many times before.
    It was a warm day and the foliage around us rustled in the wind, absolutely breathtaking. But I couldn't focus much on the scenery because I was in such turmoil.
    "How have you been?" he asked.
    "Fine," I said but then caught his eyes again and couldn't help but become a mess of tears.
    "You're not okay," he said. "Gina, please let me be here for you. I know things are so confusing, but I'm still here for you."
    I backed away--sad and confused.
    "I really thought that I could do this," I gasped out the words, "but I can't. I can't stand here and pretend that everything's all right. I can't act like what you did didn't hurt me."
    He just stared, unblinkingly.
    "I'm sorry if I ever failed you in the past. I really felt like I was good for you and I tried to be, but in the end I wasn't good enough, not really. Sometimes I feel like I'm not good enough for anybody."
    "But you are. You're different than any girl I've ever known."
    I scoffed. Is that why he'd dated me while he was still living with his wife? "I'm hot-n-cold and feisty and full of so much fight. I think underneath I'm 100% piss and vinegar. Which sometimes might be fun, but not mostly... I can be a pain, a nag. Sometimes I might have kept you happy, but that was never truly my responsibility--that was your wife's right. Maybe we were never meant to be together. Maybe it was just one of those times that you look back and remember fondly. I don't know, but seeing you again makes me really sad."

    He sat down on a log along the pathway, soaking up my words and slowly popping his knuckles, obviously deep in thought.
    "It makes me sad too, Gina." He forehead wrinkled with seriousness, maybe even remorse. "I know I didn't say it right when you found out about my wife, but I'm really sorry for everything. Your faults are more than most men can hope for--I know I didn't say that right, but you of all people understand what that means." 

    I sat down next to him, side-by-side with a person who'd betrayed me. "I think our relationship was something totally different to me than it ever was to you."
    "Maybe it wasn't," he said. "Maybe not as much as you think."
    "Doubtful.... I thought we'd end up together, in some little country house that was in the middle of some small town where we could have happiness...and trust... And everything you're supposed to have in a good relationship. Instead I was just a mistress... Second-best. The runner-up in the contest I never meant to enter."
    "You were never just a--"
    His eyes actually pleaded with me, to no avail. Then I was yelling, taking everything out on this man who had not only betrayed me, but his wife as well. "I really loved you. So much I can't even describe it. I would've gone to the grave for you--and damn you I practically did. Here I am...sadder than a conscious death. Crying because I still think about you every day. Crying...because I can't seem to get over what happened, the things you said, the choices you'd made. Maybe I'm just some stupid girl to you, but I know that I matter to someone...I matter to my kids. And I maybe even matter to a good man who's come into my life." I cried so hard, and pulled my hood over my face so he wouldn't see how weak I could be.
    "You've got me all wrong, making me out to be somebody I'm not. And you matter to a lot of people. You'll always be the love of my life. You'll always matter to me."
    I stood and started walking back in the direction we'd come from, wanting to get the hell out of there.

    "You're leaving, just like that. Gina, I feel terrible. You've got to understand, I loved you. I still love you."
    "You are married." I stomped along, unable to calm my nerves. "I've just got to figure my shit out. The guy I've been dating--Mark--he is such a good guy. I don't know where that relationship is going, but he's kind and honest. And he loves me and my kids so much. And I'm falling for him." I slowed, thinking so hard.
    "He's honestly good for you, isn't he?"
    My feet rooted to the ground and I really looked at The Schmuck. "I think so," I said. "I know I'm not good enough for him and I keep telling him, but he doesn't understand."
    He nodded in understanding. "I've told my wife the same thing."

    I pushed the hood off my head, then shoved my hands into my pockets. This was going so differently than I'd expected. 
    "Can I be honest with you, Gina?"
    "Yes! That's all I ever asked for."
    "Well..." he sighed, "my wife is actually trying. Do you think if I tried too, we'd have a shot?"
    My eyes gazed at the trail ahead of us. "You guys have been through a lot together." I smiled from the irony, since I'd been one of their past problems. "You love her?"
    "It might be in a different way than I've loved you, but yes, I'll always love her. But my mom always told me, a woman's love is like a candle, when the wick burns out, there's no going back."

    I'd never heard him use a simile, ever--it surprised me. "But her wick hasn't burned up. She still loves you."
    We silently walked back to our vehicles, me thinking how strange life can be, how answers can be found in the oddest of places. And instead of just saying goodbye, we shook hands.
    The whole thing was so ironic. We had never really been friends when we dated, but finally I felt as if our friendship had begun and then swiftly ended, in the blink of an eye.
    "So this is goodbye?" He asked. "Our wicks have burned out?"

    "You could say that."
    "We can't even check in just to see how the other one's doing?"
    "No," I said. "Because some things are worth saving. Like my relationship with Mark. And your relationship with your wife."

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    "I wish so many things were different," he said.
    "Me too."
    I drove off, wishing him well, but also wishing I didn't know what it was like to be his girl. My wick burned out, and the closure hurt. Also, maybe he wasn't the monster I'd made him out to be previously; he was just lost, like the rest of us.
    I drove toward my home in the city. The farther I sped from that canyon, colors looked brighter, the song on the radio rang clearer, and my thoughts became concise--for once. I didn't know what the future would hold, but at least now I had a better idea of what I wanted.


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