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....  


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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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

One Man's Heaven is Another Man's Nightmare


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....   

CLICK HERE to read more or this story.

I Think I've Lost Him Forever


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?


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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Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Romantic Date Idea: Win Her Heart


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

Mark came over at the butt-crack of dawn the next day.  Two kayaks were strapped into the bed of his truck. "Hop in," he said, wearing a hat—and a mischievous look—I'd never seen before.
    "Kayaks, huh! What are you up to?"
    "A surprise. Just enjoy it, Gina."
    I closed my eyes and breathed the cold air, deep into my lungs. I'd worn some daisy dukes and a tank top—which I soon regretted, after starting to shiver as we drove high into the green mountains.     

    Mark threw his coat onto my lap and grinned. "It'll warm up once we get where we're going. No worries. The sun will be rising higher soon."
    After emerging from a canyon, Mark stopped by the sole gas station within a valley. He bought us each a canned iced tea, sunflower seeds, energy bars, and some beef jerky. "Might be a long day, we'll see."
    I couldn’t help but smile as he put the goodies into an enormous backpack. “You’re going to bring that thing?” I pointed to the pack.

    “What’s inside of here," he patted the bag, "well, that’s the biggest surprise of all.”
    “A bigger surprise than kayaking?" I asked and he nodded. "I’ve never been kayaking. I’m pretty excited.”

    “I have a feeling that you were made for this." And about an hour later, as we set the kayaks in the water and both climbed in, I thought maybe he was right. 
    He'd brought me to a huge reservoir, with glistening waters and spawning salmon. We followed the water to a point where it narrowed off between high rocky walls lining both sides of the water. We paddled farther and farther, neither of us saying a word. I watched Mark’s strong arms as he paddled so slowly, magestically gliding much faster than I could even with multiple strokes.
    Birds sang; the sun shone down; water dripped from our paddles, and a breeze wafted through my hair. As the rock walls loomed even higher, Mark slid his paddles into his kayak—where he’d stowed his pack near his feet—and leaned back, the vision of relaxation. Our kayaks drifted several feet apart. The scent of pine and fish seemed to invigorate him. After a time, the current picked up enough that I set my oars on top of the kayak and simply drifted too.
    "Catch," Mark yelled under-handing a can of Arizona iced tea to me. I snapped the drink open and grinned—it seemed like forever since I’d had a day like this, no pressure, no time limits, just good times and nature.
    I leaned back, closing my eyes, and feeling the sun on my face.
    "Damn—I’d forgotten what this felt like, to be in nature like this. When I was in high school, I’d come to the mountains all the time. I just don’t get to come up anymore. It’s strange how we can forget what we love, if we get stuck in the monotony of life. Sometimes I feel like I’ve dated people, and I’ve tried so hard to be a good fit for them, that I stop doing the things that really make me happy. Instead I try making them happy."
    I remembered all my crazy trips to the mountains, climbing, hiking, discovering everything I could about certain trails.
    "I knew you'd like kayaking," Mark smiled. “But I hope that you’ll never have to change for me. I want to do the things that you love too. We can learn to enjoy different things together. I just love being with you.”
    We drifted for hours, sometimes paddling closer, sometimes not. The serene mountains beside us offered watery caves and crevices that we inspected at our leisure. I smiled watching the brilliantly red salmon beneath us, twirling and spinning as they spawned.
It wasn’t long after, that Mark motioned for me to maneuver near a bank on our right. Then, sticking his paddle into the mud, he stepped from his kayak and helped me out as well.
    “Gina,” his voice deepened as I stood on the ground next to him, “I always hoped someone like you would come into my life. Always.”
    My heart beat faster at the sound of his words and the heat emanating from his hand that still held mine. "I've never met someone as purely good as you are--I always wanted to meet someone like that...." Then he was leaning down, throwing his pack over his shoulders, and hiding our kayaks with such expertise I almost had to take a second look just to see where he’d shoved them behind some brush.
    Mark hiked up a steep trail and I followed, studying him the whole time. He was such an interesting man, gruff looking--with his mountain-man beard and bachelor-past--yet so soft-hearted, intelligent and thoughtful.

    We walked near a rounded bend in the path, marked with jagged rocks, quakies and pine trees. "I need you to wait here," Mark pointed to a rock and threw some jerky to me. "Promise you won't come over here until I tell you?"
    "Promise!" I smiled so wide that my cheeks hurt.  I curled up on a rock, and could hardly believe the sight in front of me. So many pines rose up, water glistened far below, and the green-crested Rocky Mountains dotted the horizon majestically.  
    "Come on over!" Mark yelled.
    I suddenly felt so nervous.  What in the world did this man have in mind for me?  Around the bend, Mark waved at the bottom of a tiny trail to the left.  "Down here."
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    He stood in the midst of a Bob Ross glade, complete with little purple flowers, a tiny brook, and the greenest grass. In between two pine trees, Mark motioned to a hammock he'd hung next to a rock that had all sorts of snacks and some beer on it.  
    "Mark! A hammock?"
    He nodded, then held the hammock so I could easily sit down.  The fabric was pretty wide, large enough for both of us.  We swung side-by-side, drinking beer, snacking on jerky, and kicking off of the rock by us, for hours.  It was the closest thing I'd felt to Heaven in a long time.  
    After a while, I leaned back and he held me in his arms.  We rested in the silence, me staring up through the canopy of trees, while listening to the squirrels, Mark rocking us by pushing against the rock over and over without complaint.
    "Mark, I need to tell you something. But you might be mad," I blurted without thinking.
    "Okay. What's going on? You can tell me anything."
    "I'm meeting The Schmuck tomorrow. You know, my ex."
    His arms tensed for a moment and he quit rocking us. "Because?"
    "Because I need to say goodbye in person."
    He held his breath before quietly exhaling. "I understand," he said. "You broke up with him through a text. He's still having a hard time letting go...and sometimes so are you."
    I looked up into his eyes. "I'm not."
    "Gina, I know you. We were good friends before we started dating. You're having a hard time healing and letting go too. I get it."
    "I guess so. I'm don't quite understand though.  He cheated on me. We had some terrible times."
    "I know it wasn't all bad. And you have a hard time dealing with friendships that end, let alone break-ups like this past one. I just hope you're willing to move on from all of that. I want a future with you. I want to be with you through the ups and downs of life. I want to be the guy who has a chance to make you happy. But you need to let go of all that stuff from your past."
    "I know," I said.  
    Mark started rocking us in the hammock again. 
    "I've never felt like I was dating my best friend," I said, hugging him.
    "It's kind of fun," he said, then he kissed me on the forehead.
     So this is what it felt like to trust someone.  I closed my eyes, completely secure, then I fell asleep within his arms and the heat of the descending sun.

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