Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Kindness is the most romantic gesture

HAND WARMERS

NINETEEN

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


The following Friday, I was just about to tell Mark that I'd agreed to meet The Schmuck, when he whisked me off to his truck and said he had a surprise.
    As I sat there in the cab of his vehicle, my conscience ate at me.  With hands clenched and unclenched on top of the jacket I'd taken off momentarily, I said, "I need to tell you something.... I'm a wreck of a woman."
    He glanced over at me, then continued driving. "You don't seem like a wreck to me. I'm so in love with you, Gina."
    I blushed before scooting into the middle seat so I could rest my head on his shoulder.
   This wasn't the time to talk with him about The Schmuck. This night was about us, not cutting ties with exes. I WAS moving on.
   "Where are we going?" I asked.
   "It's not too far. You'll see." 
   Mark drove down 25th, a historic street in Ogden. Lampposts held glimmering lights high into the darkening sky like peasants holding offerings up to God. The wind whistled past the truck, and I heard faint music drifting from one of the many shops. The town had fine dining, coffee shops, antique stores, art shops, and bars--and all of them had come to life. As I studied the brick buildings along the street, I wondered what Mark had in mind. Maybe a fancy dinner? Or a show at the comedy club?
    But he didn't take me to dinner or a comedy show. Instead we drove on and on until hitting a "T" in the road.  "We're not going somewhere on 25th?" I asked.
    Mark shook his head, rounded a corner, and parked the truck a few blocks down.
    "Come on, Gina. There's something I have to show you."
    Mark grabbed my hand and began jogging along so quickly I didn't even have time to put my jacket on. The air was bitter cold and my cheeks flushed, as my legs struggled to keep up with Mark.  But I didn't have to run long; before much time passed, Mark stopped.
    "Isn't she beautiful?" he whispered, pointing to an old, yellowed train in front of Union Station. "They keep her here on display."
 photo train_zpsxgvhgtv8.jpg
    And she truly was beautiful. Nice and firm. Tall and majestic despite dents and rust. I felt the cold sides of her and breathed deeply. How many different people had seen this train over the years?  How many souls had she carried to new adventures, to loved ones who hadn't seen each other in ages, to people who wanted a fresh start? The train had been used and worn, but here she stood strong and powerful. I wished I could be like that train, someday; battered but never broken.
    "Can we climb her?" I asked.
    Mark took a couple of steps into the train and reached down for me to follow.  We wandered around, me gasping over the details, Mark happy I enjoyed this as much as he did.  
    "I feel as if we're part of the past right now. Two people taking the ride of a lifetime."
    "And so we are," he said, gazing at me with such kindness.
    I could never figure how he could make my heart beat so fast. I grinned up at him, then shivered in the cold.
    "Gina, you must be freezing! I just realized you don't have your jacket on."
    I quickly slid my jacket on and zipped it up.  "This really is amazing. I love trains."
    "You haven't seen the best part!" Mark started climbing a ladder on the caboose, and I followed right behind him.
     He rested lying on top of the train, back against the metal, hands clasped behind his neck.
    Another wind rushed past as I steadied myself and sat near him, my legs dangling over the edge.  
    "Look," he pointed at the street lamps, then the sky, and the train station. "Kind of pretty, isn't it." 
     In that moment, I soaked everything in: the handsome man next to me, the rusty train, the bustling city surroundings, and the crisp air.  If I imagined hard enough, I could envision that same town in the previous century, when the train station meant everything to the people living there.
     Although it was gorgeous, and even magical in a sense, I felt awfully cold. My teeth chattered as I gazed around thinking how Mark had opened my eyes to seeing things in such a different way.  
    "It's pretty cold."
    "Why don't you put your hands in your pockets?" he suggested and sat up, watching me the whole time.
    My hands slid into my pockets, and I gaped. "What the...? What's in my pockets? Hand warmers!" I laughed.  "You put these in my pockets?" I held the two tiny hot packs out to him.
    He chuckled, then put his hands behind his head and leaned back onto the train again. "I figured you'd get cold."
    "When did you put these in my jacket?"
    "When you weren't looking."  His eyebrow raised and he smirked, obviously thinking he was amazing.
    "THAT was pretty thoughtful."  I squeezed next to him on the train and rested in his arms. "Thanks, Mark."
    His hand combed through my hair over and over as we rested on the train and listened to the enchanting city sounds around us.      
    "Doesn't this make you think about the past?" I whispered after a while. "I wonder if our parents ever did anything like this."
    "I don't know. Somehow that's hard to imagine, but maybe they did. Now we're snuggling on the train. Maybe someday my own son will meet a girl and fall in love like I have."
    "Your own son...."
    "Yeah." He kissed me on the forehead, and squeezed me closer to his chest as my heart sank. "Gina, you're the only girl I've ever loved, at least like this."
    "I love you too, Mark." But I would never have another baby and that meant we'd break up sooner or later. Plus there was the issue of The Schmuck--I still hadn't told Mark about it.
    I closed my eyes, and held him so tightly. His arms felt strong and safe, protecting me from the wind. My hands clasped the little hand warmers he'd slipped into my pockets. "We aren't getting too serious? Are we?" I asked.
    "We're just taking it a day at a time."
    "Yeah. And if we don't work out, we'll both be okay?"
    "I'll love you for the rest of my life. And I'm thankful I'm here when you've needed me most. You and your kids have changed my life. I hope we'll be together, always."
    "I know what you mean. You've changed our lives too." And I couldn't help realizing how much all of us really had needed each other: Kids in need of a guy who could be around every day. Me, in need of a man who loved me for the right reasons. And Mark, in need of having a little family who adored him.
    Cars whirred past the relic of a train--moving much faster than it ever could have even in its glory days. People laughed, and music played in the distance. But as I felt the hand warmers in my hands, all I could think about was the kindness of a man who came into my life when my children and I desperately needed him.    
 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Are there certain pictures that make you feel beautiful?

.
    I'm taking two days off from posting my story. :)
So here's what you get today.


 photo CBFB427A-CEA0-4612-BBD2-D283E94C1C93_zpsjfug3quu.jpg
    Do you have any pictures that make you feel beautiful? I'd love to see your pictures if you decide to post some.
-Elisa

P.S. Tomorrow I'll resume the story I've been posting.
Have a great day!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

I felt bad for his wife; I felt bad for myself.

THE "TALK"

EIGHTEEN

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


As time passed, my fears festered within me. I finally called Mark, "We need to talk."
    "Oh, no. Here it comes," he said so quietly I nearly didn't hear the words. "Where do you want to meet?" he asked.
    "I'll come to your house. See ya in a sec."
    So I drove over to Mark's, deciding I'd have to tell him about The Schmuck.
    "He's still texting me," I said. "One text said he won't leave me alone unless I get a restraining order. I've been forwarding most of the texts to his wife. But he's told her I'm making the whole thing up. She doesn't know who to believe. She's hurt…."
    "Gina, there's more to this, isn't there? Do you miss him?"
    "Honestly? Maybe sometimes. But not because he was good for me, because I'd gotten used to being treated poorly.... Sometimes it's comfortable staying with what you're used to, even if it isn't good. You're so kind to me, it's almost too good to be true. Don't get me wrong, I love it, but it's different. There aren't accusations, or fights. I'm used to a roller coaster, not normalcy." Half of the time I expected Mark to tell me what clothes I could and couldn't wear. I was terrified that he'd accuse me of cheating. I'd think he'd flip out if a guy "checked me out" at the grocery store…but Mark was a different sort of breed.
    "So you miss him because you miss being treated badly?" he asked, flabbergasted.
    "I miss what I've known…if that makes any sense." And from the look on his face I knew he didn't understand. "But the other thing that kills me about this… You know how The Schmuck was married?"
    He nodded.
    "It took me a whole month to get away after I found out they were still living together. Why did it take me so long?"
    "We all make mistakes, Gina. All of us do. You're away from him now. Maybe you didn't do it at first, but you've done the right thing now."
    I suddenly started crying. We stood there in front of his house and I sobbed. "Mark, he's never going to leave me alone! My friend said she saw his truck in my driveway the other day—I guess he'd come to see me? Luckily I was gone!" I paused, wiping a tear away.
    "Why does he keep coming over?"
    "I broke up with him over a text. He doesn't think I can actually say goodbye if we're in person."
    "Well, then maybe you should tell him goodbye in person."
    My eyes grew wide. "You want me to say goodbye to him? You aren't worried!"
    "If he'll leave you alone. If you both need some type of closure, then go for it."
    I had never even thought of it as a true option, and it bothered me that Mark seemed fine with the whole thing—wasn't that some type of red flag? Maybe he was right though. If I just told The Schmuck, to his face, he would have to stick to his promise and never contact me again.
    As I drove from Mark's that night, I decided to unblock The Schmuck. It was time to face this demon, and tell him I didn't feel a thing for him. But even as I decided it, I worried that maybe the texts weren't always from him. Maybe some of them were from his wife. What kind of a crazy situation had I gotten myself into this time? What if I told him to meet me somewhere and his wife was there, waiting with a gun?
    My ex-husband was bringing my kids home that night, so I went and waited for them to arrive. I pulled up some homework and studied as I waited. It was a class about child development and communication. The chapter I currently read detailed what factors could hinder a child's ability to progress. "Divorce," I read the word aloud, "how to help counsel children through hard times." I immediately devoured every word I could: How children with single, dating parents are more likely to be abused. How a child sees their own self-worth projected through their parents' failed marriage.
    My thoughts mulled over everything my own children had been through. I knew I'd had to work and get through everything I had, but I wondered if I'd started dating too soon, not tried hard enough, not spent enough time with my kids when I wasn't working or studying. The Schmuck had been terrible to them, and now things probably wouldn't even work out with Mark because he wanted a baby I could never give him. It was such a mess, and my poor babies had been dragged through it all.
    When my kids got home I hugged each of them hard, gave them some buttered bread and milk. Then I asked my oldest daughter to stay up with me so we could talk for a while.
    "Are you doing okay?" I asked, mixing up some hot cocoa for her.
    "I'm okay." She nodded.
    "Are you sad that Daddy and I got divorced?" I asked.
    "No. Not really. You guys fought a lot. And now we see Daddy more than when you guys were married," she replied, her defenses completely up.
    "You're just okay, baby?"
    "Yeah. I'm not great or anything."

    I frowned and handed her the warm mug of cocoa. 
    "I'm worried that things won't work out with you and Mark," she said after a moment.    
    "Why?" I was literally shocked; I hadn't known she liked him that much.    
    "Well, I heard you talking to someone the other day, about how he wants a kid of his own." She grew so teary-eyed. "I really like having him in our lives. He's good to us. He's not like The Schmuck."     
    "How do you know you really like Mark? I thought you liked The Schmuck at first. He took you shopping for your birthday. You said he was awesome." I reminded her. At first all of us had liked him. 
    "But toward the end... Mom, he scared me bad. They talked in school about that 'bad feeling' you can get when you know someone is 'bad.' I got it from him."     
    A chill ran up my spine. "Honey, why? Did something happen that I don't know about?"    
    She stared at me unflinchingly. "He used to tease me—when you were cooking and he was alone in the room with me. One time his face almost touched mine…. He smelled gross, like beer. I thought he was gonna...I don't know. He'd always back away though, after saying how much I looked like the best parts of you; he'd always back away.  It scared me, Mom. Really it still scares me."     
    I held a mug of my own, and my knuckles had turned so white around the handle, it should have broken. "I saw it one time. Remember, when you begged me to break up with him, after you overheard him saying how he wanted to buy us a house in a small town, and take us away from here? That's when I finally broke up with him. It scared me too." 
    "You never get scared. You're an adult."
    I tucked a piece of her hair behind her ear. "Grownups get just as scared as kids do, maybe even more scared. I'm the only adult here, babe. If something goes wrong, I don't have anyone to turn to here. I'm a young mom, trying to make a way in this crazy world for you and your siblings. I'm just learning myself that we can't trust everyone." She nodded. "Life is so much work, and I'm responsible for all of you. I'm so sorry that I haven't..." A sob broke through my voice. "I haven't been strong enough to be alone. I've been selfish. Lost. Sad.... I love you kids more than anything. I'm just trying my best to get back on my feet. I'm like one of your puzzles, and while putting myself back together, I've realized I'm a mess." 
    "Why didn't you tell me about all of this before, Mom?" 
    "I want you to think I'm strong, working graveyards before, now working from home and going to school. I'm supposed to be a good example!"
    "It actually makes me feel better knowing you're having a hard time too."
    "Oh, really?" I said, and we suddenly both laughed.    
    "Mom, can we always be this honest with each other?" I nodded. "And you are strong. I've seen it this whole time. I knew you and daddy weren't good together, but divorce is still tough sometimes.  I'm just glad that we can talk about things now. I stopped telling you stuff after what happened with The Schmuck. You just seemed so into him, like you wouldn't believe me over him, or listen to anyone else. Now you'll listen."    
    I hugged her tightly and rocked her as we stood in the kitchen, tears falling from my eyes. "I am so sorry, baby. I got so lost in my own sadness, I wasn't being a good mom. I should have been looking out for all of you better. Paying attention to the signs."         
    "Mom," she sobbed, "you wanna know the worst of it? He came to the house the other day. You were at the store. He rang the doorbell and none of us answered. He scares the crap out of all of us!"    
    She went to bed soon afterward, and I realized the truth of the situation. I had to get that man out of my life. I'd called the cops, one of whom turned out to be his relative! They'd eventually told me to take him to court; that seemed more dangerous than leaving things be—he'd retaliate for sure. It seemed my only chance remained: tell him face-to-face that he needed to leave me alone.      
    It was time to defeat my own demons and be strong for myself and my kids. I can do this, I told myself, hoping I was right.
 

This needs to end…. When do you want to meet?     
    I texted. 

    A reply came within a couple of minutes. 
Glad you finally came around sunshine.
My wife and work has me pretty busy.
How's two weeks from Monday.


That far out? LOL! You act like you need closure—
you even came to the house.

Then say let's meet in two weeks?
Forget it. Just leave me alone.


Not until we've said goodby in person.
I said I'll never leave you alone until you say goodby. 


Why won't you just quit?
We had something once, but now I've moved on.
I have a boyfriend. 

YOU are married.

I won't take no for an answer.


    I felt bad for his wife; I felt bad for myself; I felt bad for Mark, being tied to someone with baggage; I did not feel bad for The Schmuck.

Fine. Two weeks from Monday.
But you better hold up to your end of the deal.
No more contacting me after this
.


Agreed.


Where do ya want to meet?


Text me that Monday morning.
I'll tell you the place then.


    This last bit sent a shiver up my spine. Was I really texting The Schmuck, or was I texting his wife? The cops hadn't helped me. How else was I supposed to get him to leave me and my family alone forever?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What Makes A Man? AN OLD-FASHIONED LOVE LETTER

AN OLD-FASHIONED LOVE LETTER

SEVENTEEN

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


Mark worked a lot of graveyards that week, and we didn't see each other much.
    One day while Mark worked and the kids were busy doing homework, I called my cousin. "Gina, I'm worried about Mark because he's so young," she said.
    "He's not that young. Only three years younger than me. He's awfully responsible. You know he bought his first house when he was twenty-two?" I asked, trying to make a point, any point that would make him sound super old and mature.
    "That's not what I mean." She paused. "It's just that he's never had kids. He's never been married, or in a long relationship for that matter. You're in two different places in life."
    "But he seems willing to take on the family life. With time he could be ready…."
    "Does he want kids of his own...and has he had enough time to think this through? You seem like you're getting pretty serious about him already."
    "We haven't been dating that long," I admitted. "Doesn't it seem kind of early to talk about all of this anyway?"
    "Not if you're getting attached. You're in your thirties now. You need to ask these things. If your goals don't line up, it's easier to end things now rather than later."
    "I know." Damn it! She was right. And what if he did want a biological kid, my baby was four. I didn't want to do that to my body, or to my kids. Maybe they'd worry that I loved the new baby more. What if Mark didn't love them as much as the baby? What if I got really sick and my body finally gave out from too many pregnancies? What if... "Rachel, this is way too far into the future. We just started dating. It's silly thinking about this now."
    "Well, maybe it seems silly, but if things keep progressing like I think they will, you need to ask him. Even if it's just subtly, you've got to ask."
    So since I was never great at being subtle, when we got off the phone, I sent Mark a text while he was at work:

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Hopefully with you.

Lol. You always know the right thing to say.
Anything else? In five years?

What about kids…you want kids?

Ummm. One kid would be nice.
To see what they'd be like.
If they'd be like me at all.


    My heart dropped. I'd already decided, having another kid would not be the right choice for my health or my kids.

I can see that.
Any kid of yours would be darling.
Well, gotta go. Have a good night.


Okay? You too.
You all right, babe?


Yep. I'm fine. G'night.

    I texted the lie, then I cried. See, things were so wonderful with Mark, except for two things: We couldn't be together in the long run because it wouldn't be fair to either one of us—compromising on such a big issue. And secondly, I hadn't told him how even though I'd blocked The Schmuck's number again, the guy would still text me from random phones, just to send messages about how he'd never leave me alone because he still "loved" me.
    The Schmuck was a thorn in my side. And I somehow thought that if I told Mark about the texts, I would lose him. I'd told my cousin. She insisted that I change my number, but I felt that was extreme. Why wouldn't The Schmuck just leave me alone and be happy with his wife?!
    I put on my pajamas and rested in bed, really sad that night. I felt like I'd met the one person who I'd want to spend the rest of eternity with. He hadn't texted me again after my final lying message, so I'd tried reconciling myself to the fact that he was pulling away.
    That's when I got another message from The Schmuck. It was from Tony's phone (our mutual friend)…again.
You know who this is….
Please unblock my number.
I just want some closure.
We need to say goodby.


I groaned and threw my phone at the fluffy, king-size pillow on the bed next to me. "What an asshole! Why can't life be easy—for two seconds? I always find creeps. And the one good guy who I actually fall for…it turns out I'm not good for 'cause I shouldn't have another baby!" Luckily the kids didn't hear my rant. I decided to go to sleep and not press my luck further.
   But I didn't sleep well at all, waking up constantly, until it was nearly one in the morning. I finally got up, made some coffee, and sat at my computer in the crisp night air. I knew I should end things with Mark. 

    My computer slowly booted up as I thought of how I couldn't go through another pregnancy. 
    Forget my friendship with Mark, all those early-morning and late-night talks, the avalanche, how when he held me I felt so at home, how much he'd come to mean to me AND how much my kids were starting to care about him.  It all needed to end. 
    I'd decided to write him an email, resolved myself to it really, when I noticed a new message in my inbox.

Dear Gina,

    The email began. It was from Mark.

I didn't know how else to tell you what's inside my heart, my words fall short.     

    How I feel plays out like a famous composition of notes, played by the greatest musicians who've lived or will live, but I'm not a musician. I can't paint you a painting describing how much being with you makes my days brighter than they ever could be, or sculpt something that shows so solidly how everything melts away with the moments we spend together, till there is just the space between us shared. No serenading you outside your window, expressing how much your inner beauty intensifies your outer beauty, because my voice cannot do it justice.
    The moment I felt my heart again was the moment I felt you. I play the moments together in my head throughout the day, every day I'm not with you. These are in the past though, and though it's a lovely story, that's what the past is...a story we tell ourselves. What matters is the present moment, even though what brought us here are all the moments that have happened before it, it's where I want to be with you, in the present. 

    I want to share the present with you, every moment of it, writing the greatest story of my life. From the exciting chapters, how being together makes the ice melt and crash to the earth, or how everyone who sees us together feels the happiness that emanates from us, or how the flowers bloom along the path we walk down together. To the everyday entries like you telling me how your day was, which I want to hear every day, or what adventure you think we should go on next, which we should. 
    You make me smile more than I ever have, and I love spending time with you. Seeing life through you feels like my life has more purpose now. Loving you excites me more and gives me more of a rush than falling all the way from the moon to the earth would, unrealistic, raw excitement.

“The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”
-Eden Ahbez, 'Nature Boy'


    All my heart,
              Mark


    Tears filled my eyes when I read it—especially the end.  It reminded me of an old-fashioned love letter, the kind women would pray would come across the continents, words of love; something to hang onto forever. 


 photo old-love-letters-pictures-4_zps969cec7b.jpg

    And I couldn't help but respond to his words as I sat there, sobbing into my coffee. 
    Some music played quietly on my computer, just loud enough I could hear the notes without waking up my kids.

What Makes A Man?

    I typed, and then the words just flowed from me.

When you were having a hard time with the puppies, you called, saying maybe I'd cheer you up. Tears edged your voice and my heart dropped when I heard what you were upset about. That's when I knew you had compassion.
    Months later, we stood at the edge of some icy waters. I took off my socks and shoes, jumped into the stream and looked back, wondering if you'd do the same. You followed without any hesitation. That's when I knew you could be spontaneous.
    I remember huddling together in that avalanche. You cradled me against the rock, trying to protect me, leaving your own body vulnerable to the onslaught of ice and snow. That's when I knew you could be courageous in adversity.
    When you answered my cousin's questions in Southern Utah, every reply was about the bigger picture, not even just me and you, but the kids as well. I knew you were thoughtful.
    And as I sit here thinking "what makes a man," all I can suddenly think about is you. The love you've shown me and my children. The joy you've given me throughout our time together. The peace that inevitably has followed. The gentle kindness and goodness I've seen from you day-in and day-out. And I think, "This man…Mark, is the epitome of a good man."
    Mark, I love you so much, not only for who you've become to me—someone irreplaceable who makes my heart flutter and makes me want to be yours and yours alone, always—but I love you for the man you are. I'm proud to be with you. Proud to be your girl. Grateful to be experiencing life with you, seeing things through your eyes and enjoying the beginnings of our relationship because getting to know you, is one of the most amazing adventures I've been on in my entire life.


    As I typed the final line, a lump formed in my throat because I was still so worried that we wouldn't make it in the long run.

And I can hardly wait to see what our future will hold.

Love always,
Your Gina


    And in that moment, I knew what I'd been running from, that I would love him forever. No matter if we were together or not, he'd branded my heart. 

    I sent the email, then clicked on the letter he'd sent me just so I could revel in the words one more time before going back to bed. I wouldn't break up with him, couldn't yet. But I knew we wouldn't make it in the long run. He needed to have a child, and that was one blessing I wasn't meant to give him.
    A few more tears slipped into my coffee before I set my cup down and turned out the lights. 
    No matter how hard I tried to quiet my mind, I just couldn't fall asleep, instead daydreaming about a perfect world where pain and suffering weren't rampant and each woman could have the man she'd always hoped for.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Fractured Fairy Tales: Little Red Riding Hood

LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD

SIXTEEN

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


Mark and I decided to hang out the following weekend. My ex-husband had the kids and so I brought Mark to one of my favorite hidden trails. The pathway started between overgrown bushes just behind a playground at the base of the Rocky Mountain Range.
    "In there?" Mark asked.
    I grabbed his hand and pulled him in. I felt as if going through the wardrobe to Narnia. But when we emerged from the tangled leaves, the two of us found ourselves in a wooded spring forest instead of an icy winter.
    I glanced back at Mark, then started dragging him down the hill to the bigger trail. Birds chirped, leaves rustled, and Mark laughed.
    I tromped along. "You are such a spitfire!" he said.
    "You're the one who does this to me! I was quiet and sweet 'til I met you."
    "Quiet, huh? I doubt that."
    "Mark, I WAS quiet—still can be when I want... The kindest person you've ever meet, like a fairytale creature, or a princess or something."
    "I can only imagine. You're a redhead for a reason, my little Gina."
    "Hold up! Your little Gina?" The fact that he'd called me "little"—well, that made me angry. "I'm not little! I'm tall, and intimidating, and capable, and…"
    He breathed in, his eyes widening before he chuckled so hard I thought he might die from laughter. "And quiet? And sweet?" he asked, merriment filling his voice.
    I wanted to wipe that grin off his face. "You, are offensive. Mark, you better make up for this."

    "And how am I gonna do that?" 
    I thought of something fast. "Tell me a story." I grabbed his hands. "Something romantic and fun! Something with us in it?"
    "You are such a kid."
    "Come on, Mark, live a little," I said, knowing he hated hearing stuff like that from me. He took the bait almost immediately as we walked along the sunlit forest floor.
    "Well, once upon a time, there was a beautiful redhead, named Little Red Riding Hood."
    "This is supposed to be about us!" I objected
—sheesh—didn't he know how to stick to the plan.
    "This is about us. Didn't you hear me say little and redhead?"
    I groaned. "Fine. Go on."

 photo little_red_riding_hood_by_evanira-d64guu7_zps0397ee0e.jpg

    "Well, Little Red hadn't found her one true love yet. And her granny thought it was about time. So she sent for Little Red and asked her to walk through the scary forest. Granny had heard stories about a charming prince who lived in the woods nearby."
    "You're ridiculous." I scoffed.
    "Why?"
    "'Cause real princes don't just live in the woods."
    "I didn't say one did. I said Granny had heard that rumor." Suddenly Mark was right in my face. His blue eyes stared down at me as his voice went low and terrible. "But a prince did not live in the woods. It was really a big, terrifying WOLF!"
    This was getting real. "Wait a minute. If you're changing the story, you can't send me into a forest with a terrifying wolf."
    Mark turned to me so fast—I hadn't expected it—that's when a deep growl left his throat.
    "Holy shit!" I screamed and jumped without thinking about it. "You're the wolf?!"
    "You better run, Little Red! Or I'll huff and I'll puff."

    This was not the fairytale I remembered, but it was kind of hilarious because for some reason, I did feel a little scared, and silly, and young...again. Mark chased after me. We ran past a dried out stream and into a darker area of the forest. Twigs snapped and birds stopped chirping as we ran by. I treaded through some weeds and jumped over a fallen tree. 
    But Mark wasn't anywhere to be seen when I finally looked back. "Mark?" I yelled after a minute. "Mark?!" Something crunched near me and I turned, but nothing was there. The forest loomed, quiet in fear. My heart beat fast and hard, and I honestly felt like Red Riding Hood, in a forsaken forest, being hunted by a wolf. 
    I shook my head, thinking about Mark. His sense of play and the way his eyes lit up when he teased me. Where was he? "Mark?" I cried out, actually starting to worry. He should have been able to hear me.
    "Mar—"
    Another twig snapped and I turned just in time to see Mark grabbing my hands and holding them behind my back. "Are you Little Red?" he asked in an even deeper voice than normal.
    "Are you the Big Bad Wolf?" I asked, melting, feeling his strong arms against the sides of my waist as he continued holding my hands behind my back.
    "This isn't about me, Ma'am. Are you Little Red?"
    "Ummm, yes?" I giggled.
    "You're under arrest, for trespassing in the Forbidden Forest."

    "What? That's not how the story goes!"
    "Too bad. What are you gonna do about it now? You've just been taken hostage by the Big Bad Wolf."
    "Is there any way you'd let me off with a warning?"
    "Hhhmmm." He thought for a moment and let go of my hands. "How about a kiss on the cheek?"
    "Close your eyes," I said.
    He closed them. I went on tip-toes, about to kiss his cheek when I had another idea. I suddenly slapped him on the butt so hard my hand hurt. Then I ran off into the forest.
    After a second, I slowed to a walk and Mark caught up to me, limping and holding his butt as if he'd been kicked by a horse.
    "Oh, dear, sweet, Mark—I mean—Big Bad Wolf. Are you gonna be okay? Did you run into the badass of the forest?"
    He grimaced at me. "No more stories for me!"
    The farther we walked, the more I noticed how trashed the area became. "Look at all of this litter."
    "It's terrible. Looks like a lot of kids have been up here recently. Did you see the tagging up ahead?"
    I shook my head and squinted up the trail. It was a dismal sight; someone had spray painted rocks and trees, everything near a place where the canyon's runoff used to come straight from the mountains under a bridge. The water had been rerouted though, probably due to all of the trash.
    "I can't believe someone would do this," I said.
    "It's disgusting how people don't care."
    "I've been let down more times than I can say. I still can't understand how easily people can do things like this to our world, or each other. It's hard knowing who to trust these days."
    "Well, I hope you know you can trust me," he said.
    "And you know you can trust me too?" I asked. "Unless someone does something unforgivable to me, I'll have their back for life."
    "Same here," he said.
    We started walking back after that. Seeing all the litter was too depressing especially after being in the untainted Forbidden Forest.
    Mark held my hand as we walked slowly along the path. I thought of him running through the forest and chuckled without noticing.
    "What are you thinking about?" he asked.
    "Just about how much fun you are. I've never met someone like you before."
    "Gina, I'm just an average guy."
    "You…are not!"
    "Ya know, sometimes I worry. You've been in so many bad relationships, always dating the 'bad boys,' I don't think you know what it's like dating a normal, good guy. What happens when you find out I'm a dime a dozen?"
    "You are the rarest kind of man, the kind who is capable, hardworking, but can still play and be a kid. The kind of guy who is willing to spend time with me and my four kids, making me think you might care about us even though I don't have a ton to offer you right now. All I have to offer is love."
    "And that's what I want. That isn't some little thing. Gina, to love and be loved…that's the most anyone can hope for." I hugged him so hard.
    A few leaves fell around us. Birds sang. And scant light cascaded through the branches of the overhanging trees.
    "How did I get so lucky?" he whispered in my ear. "Even if things don't work out between us, I'm thankful for these moments with you. But really I hope this'll never end."

    "Me too," I whispered back, and kissed him on the cheek. "But, Mark, I'm the lucky one."
    His arms slid gently across my skin until they rested on the small of my back. He leaned down and softly kissed me.
    "You know," I said, breathless. "For a Big Bad Wolf, you aren't so bad."
    "You liked my story, didn't you?"
    "Maybe a little too much!" I smiled.

Monday, January 19, 2015

If you could think of one word to describe yourself, what would it be?

.
NINE MILE CANYON

FIFTEEN

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


But I didn't tell Mark about the texts. Every time I'd start, he'd say something hilarious, or snuggle with me—or something infuriatingly cute! I was so worried though: Would every guy—given the chance—really cheat? And would Mark break up with me if I told him about the texts? After all I had more baggage than he'd ever dreamed of.
    In an effort to talk with him about things, I asked him to take a road-trip with me. "It's time for you to meet my cousin, Rachel," I said as we loaded into my van. "She's like a sister to me. And she has the best intuition about people."
    Mark seemed amused. "Oh, really. So she's gonna ask me a lot of questions, huh."
    "Sure is." I smiled; this would be fun.
    We arrived in Price nearly four hours later. The drive had gone relatively fast. Mark and I had gotten to be such good friends in the previous months, we didn't need to always talk. There was a certain peace to the quiet times sitting next to him—I'd rather be quiet with him, than talking with anyone else. Too bad the silence was so comfortable that I didn't tell him about the texts.
    It was spring and as we drove through the winding desert canyon, bunches of wildflowers peaked out of the sagebrush hills. I cranked up the music and Mark and I caught ourselves singing the lyrics at the exact same time. I looked at him once and blushed—he made life feel like such an adventure.
    After we got to Rachel's, she and her three daughters hugged me hard. Then Rachel pulled her sunglasses down her nose and gave Mark a quick once-over. That's when they told us to get into their car. Mark shot me a questioning look, but I just shrugged—I had no idea either.
    Rachel and her gorgeous daughters claimed the front and very back of the three-row vehicle, so Mark and I took the middle seats. "Umm…. What's going on?" I asked Rachel as she handed each of us a packet of papers.
    "We're going to Nine Mile Canyon. You're stuck in here with me." She locked the doors and hit the gas so hard we flew into the seatbacks. "Those packets have all the cool facts about the place. But the real reason for this is so I can ask some questions."
    Mark looked at me and whispered with mirth in his voice, "I can see why you like her so much."
    "There will be no whispering," Rachel said. And I expected her to start asking questions, but she didn't for a while. Instead we drove straight into the desert where sandstone walls loomed and new petroglyphs waited around every corner.


 photo ninemile01_zps710b5bcd.jpg

    She pulled over at one point and we all got out to explore the petroglyphs up close. I spotted little buffalo, bighorn sheep, horses, and people painted onto the rock-faces. Mark visited with Rachel's daughters, and that's when she pulled me aside. "You really like this guy?"
    I bit my lip and nodded. "But I have so much baggage, Rachel."
    "It's that idiot you were dating before! I didn't like him from the very beginning."
    I'd brought The Schmuck down there for a wedding. "He practically met most of our extended family. Rachel—he'd been living with his wife the whole time."
    "I know," she said in a monotone, "you've told me—a million times." She smiled, teasing me. "You know why I didn't like The Schmuck at first?" she asked.
    I shook my head. "Why?"
    "Well, when I met him, I asked him if he could think of one word to describe you. Wanna know what he said?"
    I wanted to shake my head "no"—a bit scared to hear the truth. I studied my cousin. She's absolutely gorgeous with dark brown hair and green eyes. She turns heads wherever she goes, but the thing is that she has one of the best personalities out there. She can make anyone laugh. She's super down-to-earth AND you know if she has your back, she has it forever. I finally nodded; Rachel wanted the best for me, and I could handle whatever she had to tell me. "One word to describe me, huh? What did he say?"
    "He looked you up and down from across the room, then said in a really gross voice, 'One word? I'd say she's too much'…that's not love—heck it wasn't even one word! The man was a user. A narcissist. He told me all about his past. Gina, don't feel bad you believed his lies. He was just one of the jocks who never grew up past high school—his best days will always be when he was playing basketball, the star of the team, getting girls, and being the center of attention."
    I touched a petroglyph on a wall near us; it was of a horned man who held a bow and arrow, pointing it at a big buck. 

    "And Mark, what do you think of him?" I asked.
    We looked at him; he'd just said something to Rachel's daughters and they all laughed.
    "I'm not sure yet. But I want you to pay attention on the way back to my house. When he answers questions, do they sound like he cares about you, really cares? If he answers poorly, maybe he isn't the guy for you."
    So, that was pretty intense. As I watched Mark marvel over the rocky walls, climb over boulders, play with the girls, and smile at me whenever our eyes met, I hoped he'd answer the questions well when we got back into the car. But honestly, I didn't know what he'd say. Maybe Mark thought I was "too much" too.
    Copper-colored dust swirled as we opened the car's doors. Mark sat down, smiling, not knowing what was about to hit him. Rachel locked the doors and drove much slower than she had on the way into the canyon.
    "What are your intentions with my cousin?" she asked, suddenly.
    Mark's eyes widened. "Well, I'm looking for a companion, someone who's willing to experience life with me, who makes life better for me—the same way I want to make it better for them."
    She nodded as if waiting for him to go on.
    "And I feel like Gina—and her children—make life better. They inspire me. Give me more of a sense of purpose. And all I can hope is that I enrich their lives as well."
    My heart swelled. I had been through so much with my children. Somedays I felt like we couldn't take on any more stress, that one more trial would break me. My life could be a mess of chaotic moments between balancing time with my children, work, school... I didn't feel like a "catch," but instead looked at myself as a husk of shattered dreams. 

    I stared out the car window and tried keeping the tears from my eyes. I could hardly believe Mark had come into my life and that he saw me as someone much stronger and worthwhile than I felt—a companion, a life-mate, someone who could even be enriching. But his answer hadn't solely touched me because of what he said about me; tears brimmed my eyes again because I thought of what he said about my children. They needed a caring man in their lives. As much as it shocked me to admit it, we needed Mark, and maybe he really needed us too.
    Time passed. We talked about life and how strange it can be. Rachel shared some stories about her past and how people should look at relationships as a team effort instead of individual achievement. I nodded.
    "It's kind of like a two-legged race. If you're tied to someone, wouldn't you want to be tied to someone who you are the most compatible with, who makes you better, who you know you can actually finish the race with?" I asked.
    Mark and Rachel both agreed that few people look at it that way anymore, even if people should.
    Right after we pulled into Rachel's driveway, she turned off the car and asked Mark one last question. "If you could think of one word to describe Gina, what would it be?"
    I waited, terrified for the answer. This single answer wouldn't tell much about me, but it would tell nearly everything about him. It could show his true motives.
    We all waited quietly, even Rachel's three daughters. Finally Mark looked at me and said, "Indescribable." Then he paused as if that wasn't good enough. "Unbelievable."
    I hugged Rachel and told her girls goodbye. Mark said his farewells and waited for me in the van.
    "So?" I whispered, on her front porch.
    "Call me sometime next week," she said. "I think this one shows some promise, but there are a few things I'd like to talk with you about him."
    Mark and I drove home, chattering the whole way about the beauty of southern Utah. But I kept wondering about what my cousin wanted to talk with me about. Had she seen something in Mark that I couldn’t see yet?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Hard to stick to your word....

IT'S OFFICIAL

FOURTEEN

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


Shortly after the interlude on the tramp, I sent out a mass message—again—to everyone I knew:
You know how I said I wouldn't get in a serious relationship for a year?
    Well, I always meet my goals, stick to my word, and try my hardest.
    When I said I'd work every day for a year straight, I did. When I said I'd lose 60 pounds after having my first daughter, I lost the weight in a few short months. I pushed and got my college degree in record time.... I pride myself on making goals and meeting deadlines.
    But suddenly I don't think I can meet my new goal—to stay out of a serious relationship for a year—'cause I met someone so wonderful that I'm actually willing to bend the rules for him...
    And that alone tells me more than anything.
    Dating is like going skydiving; it's so hard jumping out of that plane, but if you have the guts, it can be AMAZING.


    I was completely ecstatic—over-the-moon in love. Mark and I went everywhere and seemed to do everything together on his days off. And I thought my children might love him even more than I did—which was nearly impossible! It wasn't until one of his days working, that I wondered if I'd made the right choice by dating him.
    My mom and I sat at a quaint Mexican restaurant. I ate a smothered burrito oozing with cheese. I was just about to take another bite when my phone dinged, notifying me of a new text message. "It's from my friend, Tony, who knows The Schmuck," I told my mom. "I wonder what he's up to." I opened the text and read the words aloud to my mom. "Some men don't like it when a girl who was theirs starts dating someone else."
    "What is that supposed to mean?" My mom looked irate.
    "He's referring to me and The Schmuck, but what I don't understand is that he never sends messages like this. If he ever texts me he sends silly quotes and jokes. Plus, he knows about Mark and he sounded happy for me the last time I talked with him."
    "That's weird."
    "Maybe it isn't him! Wait, I have an idea…."
    "Gina, don't text him back! I really don't think you should respond—he's just as bad as The Schmuck, they're friends for a reason."
    I ignored my mom and texted back:
Where are you?
    My phone dinged with a response. It was a picture of a horse in the mountains. 


 photo horse-top-mountain_zps699287bc.jpg

    "Oh my gosh," I gasped, "I think The Schmuck is texting me from his friend's phone! Look—remember the text I told you about back in February?"
    "How The Schmuck sent you a picture of a horse in the mountains?" she asked.
    I showed her the picture on my phone.
    "He is so weird! Gina, don't reply."
    "But what if it is his friend?"
    "You know it's not!" She looked ready to strangle me from the other side of the table. "You're encouraging him if you text back!"
    But I typed regardless….
I don't belong to ANYONE.
Why won't your friend leave me alone?


    A response came rather quickly again.
He said your cut from the same clothe, you and him.
You know his divorce will be final in two weeks?


    "It is The Schmuck—he doesn't know the difference between your and you are, but our mutual friend does. Look at how he spelled cloth!" I said. My mom gasped—because grammar is a big deal. 

    After reading the message aloud, I turned wide-eyed to my mother. "You don't think it's true about his divorce? I hope I'm not the cause of it. Once, his wife called me…a home wrecker."
    "Don't think that for a second! If they're getting divorced it's because he's a cheater. He lied to you, honey. You didn't know." My mom paused as if not wanting to say something. "I hate what a small world it is sometimes."
    "Why would you say that?"
    "You know the lady who dyes my hair?"
    "Yeah." I nodded.
    "Well, I've been telling her about The Schmuck for months. I was telling her something last week and, come to find out, she knows him—she's a good family friend."
    "Mom, you're kidding me?"
    She shook her head.
    "Why does everyone know each other in this stupid town?!" I slid my plate away and stared at the ice in my drink. "You've got me curious now; what did she tell you?" I asked, nearly breathless.
    "She didn't say much, just that The Schmuck and his wife have both gone crazy. And that he really was living with her the whole time."
    "Mom, is there something wrong with me? Why would someone do this to me? Or maybe it's just men? Maybe they're all cheaters." I thought about Mark and could've cried wondering if he'd ever cheat on me too.
    "Not all men are like that, sweetheart. You can't judge everyone just because you've had a few bad experiences. Your new guy seems like a keeper."
    "But what if he hurts me? Mom, I'm starting to care about him more than any guy I've ever been with. The way he looks at me. How he plays with the kids and spends so much time with me—we like all the same things. I can't go through all that pain again."
    "Maybe it's time for you to have some faith."
    I hadn't responded to the texts for a while, but still my phone dinged after a time.

My friend is a good man. And he knows your better
with him there to protect you.
Why would you settle for someone else?


    My mom watched me fume from across the table.
Tell "your friend" that I would never settle.
The guy I'm dating is AMAZING, a genuinely good man.
He would never cheat on anyone—unlike some people I've known.
Plus, my boyfriend seems to love me and my kids too.

    I continued typing, growing more furious by the minute….
I don't need "your friend." If he has something to talk about,
he needs to talk to HIS WIFE!!!


    The reply was unnerving.
He wants to keep you safe.
He won't leave you alone unless you promise
to see him one last time to say goodby.


And if I do this?

If you can look him in the face and tell him your really done,
if you don't have feelings for him anymore,
you'll never hear from him again.


I'm telling you now that I don't have feelings for him.
No thanks.


I don't believe you.
He'll never leave you alone,
Unless you tell him in person.
And one last thing, Sunshine,
every man cheats.
You might think you've found yourself
a nice guy,
but this "good" man your dating,
he's just putting on a "good" show.


    I read the entire thing to my mom, slammed my cell on the table, and cupped my face in my hands. "Why won't he leave me alone?"
    "I don't know, Gina. But maybe you should take a screenshot of that and send it to his wife? From everything I've heard, they're still married with no plans of getting divorced. You still have her Facebook info or email address?"
    I nodded. "I just need to unblock her. I think you're onto something." I sipped some of my diet coke. "Remember how you train dogs; keep spraying vinegar in their face and soon enough, they'll stop doing bad things? This'll be like spraying The Schmuck with vinegar."
    "Right!"
    So I quickly took screenshots and emailed them to his wife. "I can't deal with this stress! What if she responds blaming me for everything—what if she shows up at my house again?"
    Another thought must have hit my mom. "Gina, you would never meet with The Schmuck again? You don't even know if that was him for sure. For all we know, it was his wife."
    "I know—they're like freaky characters in Grimm's Fairytales! I don't wanna see him for as long as I live."
    "I'm glad," she said. "I think you have a good thing going with Mark. I'd hate to see The Schmuck ruin it."
    "I think that's what he's hoping for. I better tell Mark on his next day off and see what he thinks about all of this."

Saturday, January 17, 2015

How to Know When You're Ready For a Relationship

 Continued from yesterday....

THE TRAMPOLINE (Part Two)

THIRTEEN

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


Mark and my kids sounded as if having a frat party. The scented richness of boiling spaghetti sauce hit me as soon as I entered the front room. I thought about Mark. My twelve-year-old hadn't hugged him yet, but she'd told me multiple times how much she liked him AND his cooking. That kid was cautious; I could trust her instincts even more than my own!
    I studied Mark and my kids throughout dinner. They laughed, joking about how the noodles looked like sea creatures and how the spaghetti sauce was really red goo from the planet Goo-land. Mark could be such a kid, which my children loved, yet he could also be so responsible, make me feel safe, even protect me—in the avalanche. What an interesting man, I thought as he helped me clear the table and do the dishes later that night.  Maybe I was finally dating "the good guy." It wasn't the roller coaster of a relationship that I was used to, and although life no longer had drastic highs and lows, this change could be fun.

    My ex-husband picked up all four children while we'd been doing dishes. My three youngest kids hugged Mark goodbye, my oldest waved enthusiastically and smiled. I always had a hard time seeing them go, but realizing how excited they were to visit their father, that made things a little easier.
    After they left, I continued washing the dishes. Mark sang as we worked side-by-side loading the dishwasher. At one point I turned to him. "You. Are. So different from what I'm used to! Goo-land? Nice."
    I held a pan up, trying to hang it from a hook on the ceiling, but I couldn't quite loop the handle because of the height. Completely tip-toed, I almost had it when Mark reached up and hooked it quite easily. He grinned down at me; his bushy beard looked even longer as he smiled at my still-extended arms. That's when he slid his hands tenderly around my waist and turned me toward him. 

    Goosebumps raised all over my body; his huge (albeit soapy) hands made me feel tiny when he touched me. "Gina," his eyes shone when he said it, "I love watching you play with your kids—you're such a good mom." I blinked and turned my face down shyly. I'd been given some compliments, but none quite like that.
    I bit my lip. "How is it that you always know what to say? You…. You're so damn likable!"

    "Likable!" He had this gruff way of talking when he teased me and it drove me crazy.
    "Yeah! I'm minding my own business doing dishes, when suddenly—" But I never finished the sentence because his lips met mine. His left hand wrapped around my lower back, pulling me toward him, and his right hand grasped the back of my neck, reeling me in.
    His lips were so soft. His touch so warm. I couldn't even think as he gently lifted me onto the counter and continued kissing me. My fingers clutched the side of his shirt as I yanked him closer to me. Before I knew it, my legs wrapped around his waist, and I couldn't have let him go if I'd wanted to.

    With our lips barely touching, we breathed eachothers' breath in and out, and I felt him smile. 
    "You!" he sighed. "I'm falling too fast for you," he said.
    He backed away after a moment, breathing hard, looking wild with his dark brown hair messy from his hand just running through it. His blue eyes filled with mischief; his boyish sense of fun yet hypnotic masculinity took my breath away. 

    Maybe neither one of us were ready for a relationship, yet here we were. Him, coming over every chance he got. Me, realizing he embodied everything I'd ever wanted in a man; at least I hoped that's who he truly was. I never wanted him to change....   
    We were all alone in the house—for the first time since Valentine's Day—and it was nerve-racking being alone with him. "Wanna...watch a movie?" I asked nervously.
    We went to the front room, but I never made it to the TV. Instead he twirled me into a sitting position on top of him; we kissed forever, me kissing his ears, him kissing my neck over and over until I felt like I might burst. At one point he stood. "I've gotta go to the bathroom. Don't go anywhere?"
    "Okay," I whispered. But as soon as he left, I had other plans. I found a thick blanket, wrapped it around myself, and ran outside to where the tramp nestled against a huge wall on the north side of the house. 

    I'd left the backdoor open in the hopes that Mark would know where I'd gone. So I rested in the warmth of the fleece fabric, biting my lip anxiously the whole time I waited.

 photo Cloudy_moonlit_sky_by_Fallen_Pearls_zps63440c8f.jpg
    It was so cold that my breath swam around. The stars peered down knowingly, they must see so many shivering souls out at night. 

    I sighed; it was hard to believe I was in my thirties, yet falling in love as if it were the first time.
    My nerves overcame me as my eyes kept watch over shimmering constellations.
    After a time, Mark sauntered from the back door. Once he'd realized where I was, that man laughed; it was such a deep sound echoing toward me, I grinned in the darkness.
    He jumped onto the tramp in one motion, then instead of being romantic, he started bouncing me in the blanket!

    "You're gonna bounce me to death!" I hollered, wrapped like a freakin' cocoon, shooting up into the air sideways.
    Gathering my wits, I finally stood, still wrapped in my blanket and ready to take his bounce away.  I shed the blanket, grabbed his hands and felt the air rush past me as we bounced together higher and higher. Memories of jumping on the tramp as a kid came to my mind. I remembered what it felt like being so young and free.  I couldn't believe how long it had been since I'd done something like this, without worrying about a thing. 
    My eyes met Mark's. He really did bring out the best in everyone, make them remember what it was like to be a kid.  He was already enriching my children's lives, just like he'd begun inevitable to enrich mine.
    I tripped him, actually tripped that man, then fell on top of him as he grabbed my hand and pulled me on top of him.
    A snort left my mouth, I belly-laughed so hard.
    "Oh, really!  You're gonna trip me!" I could just make out his eyes in the moonlight.  His skin seemed so pale and his lips extra light against that dark beard.  

    I looked down and felt the bare skin of his stomach, where his shirt had flown up when he landed. I slowly traced his skin and his eyes widened. 
    Mark gently flipped me over and gazed down at me so tenderly, like he cared about me more than anything in the world. I thought about that concept and truly understood how much he'd come to mean to me since I'd known him.
    So many emotions went through me as I was honest with myself...about my fears, my hopes. And how being there with him, was the most natural thing I'd ever done.
    We held each other for a long time.  His heart beat so strong, not like a raging storm, but smooth and constant like a wintry wind. I put my hand against his chest, just holding it there forever as if discovering a safe-haven for the very first time.
    I curled into his arms, the two of us entwined, and I felt "one" with someone for the first time in my life.
     At one point my fingers warmed as they traced his chest. He peered at me wistfully, lying on the tramp, still so utterly handsome in the moonlight. And I thought he was the most gorgeous person I'd ever seen in my life.
    "I love you," I said under my breath.
    "I love you, too," he said, and as the words left his mouth, tears brimmed in my eyes. "I've loved you for a long time," he whispered.
    I laid on him, clutching his strong shoulders. We moved slightly, the tramp swaying beneath us. A gust of wind tickled my back, and that's when I completely cried in Mark's capable arms.

Friday, January 16, 2015

HOW TO BREAK THE CYCLE OF ABUSE


THE TRAMPOLINE (Part One)

THIRTEEN

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


Things with Mark Marrucini deepened after the avalanche. I couldn't seem to get enough of him—and I think the feeling was mutual. He'd come over and hang out with my four kids while I did homework, and then after I got a job booking flights from home.     
    When neither of us was working, we'd play card games for hours. He'd take me out to eat or—since he was an amazing cook—he'd buy groceries and create gourmet meals for me and the kids. After the days would nearly end, when the kids were completely tired and sleeping, Mark and I would stand in the kitchen and kiss goodbye, for hours.
    It was on one such evening that Mark showed up at the door, holding enough bags of food to feed an army. "Who wants spaghetti?" Mark yelled and all four of my kids came running to the door. My three youngest hugged him, but my twelve-year-old stayed back a few feet and waved. I didn't know if she'd ever hug Mark, even if things got serious someday, but I held out hope.
    He asked all of them about their day at school. Even my four-year-old wanted to tell him about preschool. "And all those kids missed me! They hadn't seen me in a long time. They love me—like you love me, 'Arrucini!" she spouted, missing the "m" in Marrucini.
    He grinned. "Yep, I do love you, baby girl!"
    His words made me blush, and my twelve-year-old looked at me questioningly.    

    As Mark started removing onions and garlic from the grocery sack, my five-year-old boy asked for my help in his room. "Mama?" he said, trying to yank some new pants from his drawer. "We're going to see Daddy tonight?"
    "Yeah. Are you so excited?"
    "Yep," he said, then without missing a beat, "Mama, are you gonna marry Mark?"
    I nearly fainted. "Oh...baby—no!"
    "But, Mama. I like having another guy around!"
    I thought of how he has three sisters. "I really like Mark, but I don't want to get married again…for a long time." As I picked up some papers from his floor and set them on his nightstand I said, "Mark is pretty neat though."  Then I got an idea
—I could distract him, "Why? Are you gonna marry a girl at school?" He turned white. "I bet you do like a certain girl in your class!"
    "Listen, Mama. I'm surrounded by girls all the time. At school, I want to hang out with boys."
    I opened his door, only to find my two oldest daughters, eavesdropping. "Oh… Hi, Mom." They waved.
   "Ummm hmmm! You two eavesdroppers wanna help us cook?" I asked, but it was not a question.

    "Sure...." my oldest said drably.
    As we cooked, I really watched Mark with my kids. I'd just started cutting up some onions when someone knocked on the door. O
ne of my best friends, who happens to live down the block, stood there. "Gina, do you still have jumper cables?" she asked.
    "Sure do. Hey, Mark, I'll be back in a second. Are you guys okay?"
    "Yep!" My four-year-old sang before anyone else could answer.
     I went outside to grab the jumper cables for my friend. She quickly broke the silence, "You really like this guy?"    

    "I think so," I said. "There's so much to this, though…. But maybe it's good for me to be treated well?"
    "Absolutely. After everything you've been through, you need to know what that feels like. So what's the hang-up?"
    "You know how I'm going back to school to be a counselor?" She nodded. "I'm taking a class that deals with issues children may be facing." I opened my garage and began looking for the cables. "One of those issues is divorce. I've heard that over a third of children, with a single mother who's dating, will end up being abused."
    "That many?"
    "Yeah." I'd located the jumper cables and handed them to her. "I just need to be careful. That last guy I was dating, The Schmuck, he wasn't very good to my kids."
    "I hated that guy. And I hate that I know his sister-in-law."
    They'd gone to high school together and had talked in the following years. I kind of hated it that they knew each other too—sometimes small towns suck!
    "But this guy, Mark, he's good with kids?" she asked.
    "Yeah," I nodded.
    Before walking down the block to her house, my friend acted as if resolved to say something. "Gina?" she asked. "I don't want to tell you this, but about The Schmuck…. I'm in a mother's group with his sister-in-law. She found out we're friends. Now she, and The Schmuck's wife, have been messaging me on Facebook asking about you, wanting to know if I've seen The Schmuck's truck over here. I know you haven't even talked to him in a long time, but just be careful, thing whole situation could be on Jerry Springer."
    "He's still sending me texts every once in a while. I got one on Valentine's Day."
    "I thought you blocked him!"
    "I deleted his number and I guess that unblocked him. I didn't even want his damn number in my phone!"
    "Doesn't he get it? It's over? He's—the biggest creep ever!" 

    "I looked at his wife's Facebook page," I confessed. 
    "Gina!"
    "But I couldn't help it. She goes on and on about how perfect their marriage is, as if he hadn't been with me constantly for months!"
    After she'd jumped her small car off of her other dependable vehicle, I walked back to my house. 

    I thought about my very last straw with The Schmuck. 
    We'd been in the kitchen, talking about his day at work. "Usually I don't like talking about work, but I can with you," he said. Then when he was just about to say something else, my twelve-year-old bounded up the stairs and interrupted.  
    "I need to tell you something, Mama!  I had the coolest thing happen. When I went—"
    Her voice screeched to a halt as The Schmuck stood, tall and menacing. He was a person of size, over six feet and where he wasn't pure muscle, a bit of fat filled in everything else. 
    He barreled forward, backed my twelve-year-old against a wall and said, "Interrupting me? Try getting away now, kid. Try it. Try it!" He acted manic, then laughed, thinking it was hysterical. But it made me feel sick...helpless as he laughed, chin pointed at the ceiling, mouth twisted into a sneer that made him look far more devilish than I'd imagined he could be. 
    I wanted to scream, tell him to get out, but I couldn't. "Well, let's call it a night," I tried to keep my voice even.
    I walked him to the porch—he had no idea how much he'd upset me.  "Gina, I feel so at home with you guys. I just realized it. It's like your kids are my own."
    Great.  How terrifying was that?  
    "This just shows, things'll be perfect with us.  Remember how you want to live in a small town?" he asked. "I'm gonna start saving. It'll just be me, you, and the kids. You won't have to work. I'll do everything. We'll have a white-picket fence going around our house. We'll have a deck. Everything you want! And you can spend all your time with your kids and my kids, cooking and taking care of the house. You're everything I've ever wanted. This is the first time in my life I've gotten what I wanted...you."
    I waved "goodbye" as he drove off in his big, expensive white truck.  That man had more money than God.  He'd always buy beautiful clothes for me and take me out to nice dinners.  With him, I wouldn't have to worry about money.... But the cost was still too high.  I crumpled onto the porch and hung my head in my hands. Even if his words weren't filled with empty promises, I was shocked with the way he'd treated my oldest daughter.  
    For a moment I tried reasoning his actions away. He'd been tired.  He wouldn't do it again, not if I asked.  
    But when I went inside, I heard my poor preteen daughter crying in her room.
    "Can I come in?" I asked, knocking."
    "Y-y-y-yes," she sobbed. "Mama, he scares me so bad." She shook, and I'd cried too. "Please don't date him anymore….  Please don't marry that man. I heard what he said. Please, Mama. I don't need a big house. I can help with the kids while you work. We'll make it. We just need you." As she pleaded, I realized I'd put my baby
—all of my babiesin danger simply by trusting the wrong man. "Please?" She asked again.   
    That was the end of it for me. I'd hung onto an asshole for my own self-esteem, for promises of stability, in a last-ditch effort to feel worth something if someone could love me after my failed marriage. But the fact remained, I didn't need a man—not reallythe people in need were my kids, needing me.
    After all of that with The Schmuck, I vowed to never put a man above my kids again—no matter how much I needed validation and love. I also resigned that if I ever caught signs of an abuser in the future, I would leave immediately, no looking back. And my kids would always be safe.
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BREAK THE CYCLE OF ABUSE

    I sighed, standing straighter, walking back into the house where Mark and the kids were making dinner. Could I trust this man who I'd known so long as a friend and was currently dating? Was he who he'd presented himself to be? Or was I making another mistake?

To be continued tomorrow....