Friday, January 30, 2015

And the greatest of these is love

ANTELOPE ISLAND


TWENTY

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


Mark didn't come over one Saturday, and I decided to take my kids to Antelope Island. We sped along the causeway while my children talked about the smooth saltwater spreading on either side of us.  
 photo ANTELOPE20ISLAND20CAUSEWAY_zpsebgvym21.jpg
    "Isn't it crazy; we live by this place?" my little boy said.
    "One minute we're in the city, the next we're driving to an island," my oldest daughter said.  "Mama, isn't it strange how we can go different places, but still be the same people?"
    I nodded. "I hope all of you will always stay the same, no matter where you go."
    "We've changed since you and Daddy got divorced. That changed us!"  She was suddenly so irate, I didn't know what had caused her mood-change.
    "Baby, what's wrong? Talk to me."
    "You'd never understand. You do want us to change!"
    "Change isn't always bad. Take Antelope Island for example.... We were in the city, which is great in its own way, but look where we are now. THIS place is amazing. We never would have seen it unless we left the city."
    "This place sucks. It's dead!" She practically spat the words at me.
    Her three younger siblings rallied around me. "Don't be mean to Mama! You know they had to get divorced. Things were bad when they were together and you know it. Mama is trying to have fun with us."
    But my oldest refused to concede or look at any of us for that matter. Instead, she remained glued to the passenger-side window.
    After reaching the island, I curved to the right and followed the bumpy road, moving quite slowly despite my eagerness to reach the salty beach. "Look hard, kids. You might see some deer, antelope, a buffalo."
    "We won't!" my oldest said. "We won't see any--"
    Then the van was screeching to a halt, and my hands tightened against the wheel. A blur of brown had jumped high in front of my van. My heart raced. My teeth gritted, and I involuntarily threw my right hand out and pushed my oldest daughter hard into her seat.
    "Oh. My. Gosh!" my oldest said, breathlessly looking ahead. 
    Dust swirled around the van, as if the five of us had been taken up with Dorothy in her Kansas cyclone. My youngest kids quickly unbuckled themselves, stood up and stared out the front windows, waiting for the dust to clear. 
    And when the dirt dissipated, every single one of us gasped. In front of us--right in the middle of the road--stood the largest brown and orange fox I'd ever imagined.  Its ear eternally perked, he eyed us at an angle and then studied us straight-on.  He stayed there, breathing deeply, and it wasn't until moments had passed that I realized he wasn't looking at me or my three youngest children; he was staring directly at my oldest daughter.  I glanced at her and tears had brimmed her eyes.  "Wow," she said. "Who would have thought we'd see him, in a place as crappy as this."
    I couldn't help but smile.  The fox whipped his tail high, turned his head and jumped into the brush, leaving our sight forever.
    I drove really slowly after that, and although we looked hard, we didn't see any other wildlife.  We parked at the edge of a sandy beach. "Come on, guys. You're gonna love this."
    "But we don't have swimsuits," my boy said.
    "And we don't need them!  Come on, guys, let's live a little."
    They each looked at each other with confusion and then excitement.  "Okay!" my youngest said. "Let's go, guys."  
    We grabbed hands and ran.  My oldest followed, albeit slowly.  We spent the day splashing each other with water, and catching brine shrimp in our hands.
    My babies giggled, wading in the foot-deep water, so excited to hold some of the thousands of shrimp swimming around our legs.  "Mama! Mama! I'm a fisherman!" my boy said.  
    And I couldn't help thinking of how good it felt finding myself enjoying my kids. The water swayed against my calves and I stood rooted so long, watching my kids play, that sand covered my feet.        
    But as I studied each of them, their worries seemed to fall away.  For that moment, everything was perfect. I wasn't thinking about a failed marriage, a job that didn't pay well, an ex-boyfriend who wouldn't let go, a love that might not last. Instead I marveled over my youngest daughter's bright eyes. How delighted she looked, with those poor shrimp dangling from her chubby hands.  I watched my son--acting so brave, tromping through that water like he was Superman.  My second oldest daughter, whose hair glistened like sunning honey, dripping from a hive.  And then just as I was about to look at my oldest, a handful of brine shrimp was flying at my face!
    I moved to the left, trying to dodge it, but my feet were so completely immersed in sand, my body smacked hard into the water.  
    "Oh snap!" My oldest gasped, stifling a laugh. She sloshed over and held out her hand. "Mama, I am so sorry. Let me help you up."
    I grabbed her hand and pulled her onto my lap before splashing her.  We laughed so hard, both of us completely forgetting everything as her siblings dog-piled us too.
    "Mama, I love you so much." She suddenly hugged me--seemingly out of nowhere.  "You work so hard for us.  I'm sorry I take things out on you. You're so much fun."
    After the sun began descending into the western horizon, we carried our soaking shoes and walked back to the van.
    "Mama," my second-oldest said, "I knew you were fun, but I never knew you were that fun.  What's happened to you?"
    I thought of the fox and smiled. "Remember how I told you change isn't always a bad thing? How we went from the city to here, and how if we looked for it, we could find the good in both places?"
    "Like the fox," my oldest said.
    "Exactly."  Just like that gorgeous fox. "We're entering a new time in our lives. Maybe Daddy and I aren't married anymore, but we can find the good in this. We can become better people. We can even be a better family."
    My second oldest hugged me. "I don't know how you became this fun, but I love it."
    She skipped by her younger siblings and I did wonder what had happened in my life, for me to blossom like I had. I just felt so free, so happy. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but something had changed my outlook.
    "Wanna race?" my second oldest yelled. "One, two, go!"  My three youngest kids began running across the sand, but the ground was so soft, they moved as fast as beached turtles.
     I put my arm around my oldest daughter's shoulder and laughed, watching her sisters and brother struggle to run. But my oldest wasn't laughing, instead she looked riddled with regret.
    "Baby, what's wrong? Are you okay?" I stood and looked her straight in the face.
    "I'm sorry that I can be mean to you."
    "I forgive you, but what I don't understand is why I'm the only person who you're mean to. What did I ever do to deserve that? Are you still mad I dated the Schmuck? Are you still worried things won't work out with Mark?"
    "No, Mama. That isn't it at all. You don't understand." Her eyes took on the most concerned look. "I don't want to tell you."
    I glanced at her siblings who were now running in circles, making trails in the sand.  "You can tell me anything. I won't judge you. I'll try to understand."
    She bit her lip and gazed up at me, looking so much like me the day I'd decided I needed to get divorced. On that day, which seemed like an eternity before, I'd clutched a mirror and stared at my tear-stained face, just trying to gain my composure. I'd told myself to be strong, quit crying, go get a good job and support my kids.
    "Be strong, baby-girl," I said to someone else this time. "What's bothering you?"
    "I have so much anger inside of me. I'm mad that life isn't perfect. I'm mad that Daddy isn't around all of the time. I'm angry that you have to work so much.... Everything can change--everything.  I barely see Daddy, but if I'm mean, maybe Daddy won't want to see me at all. He'll leave. I won't see his side of the family." She sighed, then pointed to her brother and sisters. "And if I'm mean to them, they won't want me around. The only person who never lets me down is..."  She suddenly hugged me so hard and sobbed, I could feel her tears soaking through my shirt.  "The only person who will never leave me...is you. You love me when I'm mean. You love me when I'm nice. You love me so much. I can treat you like anything, thinking you'll leave me someday, but you never do.  Mama, I'm so sorry."
    I cried then too.  And I brushed my hand through her hair the same way Mark had brushed his hand through mine days before.  And it hit me, how love can bring so much light to situations.  When you love someone, really love them, they know, and that love can make you cry, or laugh, test it, hope it'll never go away; and that love can even help you blossom.
    We drove home. Although we didn't see another fox, or even an antelope or buffalo, I'd seen something I'd never forget. 
    I'd seen how much my children needed me, and I'd realized again how very blessed I am.

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