The Aftermath

What a difference a week makes.

The sun is shining and the breeze gently stirs the salted trees branches. Traffic moves at a brisk pace across our city’s drawbridge. Trains whistle as the cross the bridge trestle and the smell of Maxwell House coffee drifts across the river once more.

One week ago we woke up to 70 mph wind gusts and driving rain. We watched the river crest the walkway in front of our high rise, lapping against the lobby doors. We saw canals instead of streets, and we heard nothing but the scream of Irma’s wrath.

It’s been a week of worry and grim preparation. The days of uncertainty- should we leave, is there anywhere to run? We laid in supplies, we made sure our five kids were hunkered down in safe places, and we waited.

We played rummy, started a jigsaw puzzle, read, played the piano, and tried not to watch the Weather Channel 24/7.

I made soup, and meatloaf, and creamy mashed potatoes. We drank beer, and we went on walks while the skies only misted; amazed at the white caps on the river. We watched movies and calmed the cat.

I got up at 2:30 a.m. to watch the green glow of power transformers blowing across town. I watched lights blink and palm trees bend and water sluice down the stairwells of the parking garage outside our window. I put in my earplugs and tried to sleep.

After the storm anxiety levels only increased as we called and texted family and friends. Were they safe?

The Weather Channel moves on, the local reporters go around town recording the damage. You’re ready to get back to normal, You even miss going to work. But there’s more.

The part no one tells you about- the aftermath of a natural disaster. There are trees down, and no power for many. You’ve seen it on t.v. before. Poor souls, I will write a check. Then it hits closer to home. One kid with no power, one has a flooded street and can’t return to their apartment. And one, has knee high water in her college apartment.

So you help. Anyway you can. You save what can be salvaged. You wear gloves and you sanitize the stuff that can be saved. You toss the rest in the growing pile of insulation and dry wall and wet mattresses. You watch them square their shoulders and box up their few belongings. Your heart breaks.

You swallow your tears and take the next call. No power after five days, can we sleep in a/c tonight. You clean the sheets and hang up fresh towels. You just want to lay your head down and sleep for the next 48 hours.

But work calls- the office flooded. All your stuff is being moved out so they can dry it out. Now you begin to fall apart. You wonder if you reached the tipping point. You wish you could sit down and have a good cry. But, your boss is calling and there are tasks to complete, decisions to be made, plans to change.

This morning you pull up the news- another hurricane, Maria is bearing down and you have no more emotional energy to care.

©annettealaine2017

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Nice Girls

I’m angry.  I’m upset. I’m heartbroken.

Another young woman was murdered in Florida. In my city.

In the parking lot of busy suburban shopping center, in broad daylight.

She was twenty-one; two classes ahead of my daughter.

Worked at a restaurant in this shopping center- beautiful, kind, loving, and an excellent worker.

She lived at home. She was close to her parents.

She was killed by a co-worker. A man who I gather had feelings for her.

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Another young woman killed by a man who would not take no for an answer.

I read something this week about how Black parents give their kids “the talk.”

About living and surviving while being black in this country.

But what about the women who sit their daughters down and give “the talk?”

You know the script:

How to deal with the cat-calls, the crude invitations called out as you walk down the street.

How to  deal with sexual harassment on the job,  and at school.

Be careful when you are out- don’t accept a drink from a stranger.

Be firm, be clear, be direct- be careful with guys who stalk. Trust your gut.

Lock your doors, watch the street, don’t walk alone, make sure no one is following you home.

Be aware if the guy you are dating becomes to possessive- know the signs of

  • physical
  • emotional
  • sexual abuse

Stay in groups. Watch out for each other. Text me when you arrive and when you leave a place and check in with friends.

And the cycle of fear continues, because we can’t trust some men. It’s the twenty-first century and I’m giving my daughter the same talk that I got, my mother heard, and on back in history. Beware of men who can’t control their impulses. It’s the women’s job to keep them in check:

  • be sweet and kind, but not too easy
  • watch how you dress
  • watch what you say
  • don’t be a tease
  • don’t lead them on

I’m angry, frustrated and scared for my daughter. I’m sad that I had to acknowledge that being female in this world is difficult and being vigilant is a burden she will bear her entire life.

©annettealaine 2017

 

Easter Eggs

Easter Eggs

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I stood behind a man at Walgreens buying two dozen eggs today. His children bounced up and down beside him. When, Dad, they asked. When do we get to dye our eggs?

I remember my mother trying to clean the house for Easter company, prepare the large ham for baking, all the while fending off our constant refrain: When are we going to dye the eggs?

She would send us out to play, to clean our rooms, to take a nap. Finally a dozen and a half eggs would be boiled. Two for each of us to dye, two for her to dye for herself and my father, and a few extras just in case.

Old chipped mugs and cups would be set on newspaper lining the picnic table in the backyard. McCormack’s colorful hatted liquid food colorings would be dropped in the vinegar scented boiling water: Robin’s egg blue, purple, orange, yellow, green, scarlet, as we discussed among ourselves which colors we would choose this Easter.

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One sibling would drop her egg in all the colors. In the end the poor egg resembled the color of weak coffee. We were fascinated and horrified at her choice to ruin one of her precious eggs.

We fought over colors and bickered over how much time each person took to achieve the perfect shade of orange. Our fingers turned various shades and someone always cracked an egg as they dropped it off the spoon into the cup.

When we had finished and our masterpieces were ready, we trooped to the dining room where seven baskets sat waiting for our artistic treasures. The eggs soon nestled in the green cellophane grass next to a hollow chocolate bunny or lamb, jelly beans and yellow marshmallow peeps.

As I watched the dad leave with a child in each hand, I thought of my own three, all grown now, wondering if their own memories of dyeing eggs was similar to mine.

Do they miss asking mom: When do we get to dye our eggs?

©annettealaine2017

No Regrets

No Regrets

In my line of work, you experience death. We go on the death watch journey with a family as someone’s loved one goes into a decline. Or it’s an unexpected shock- and we must be the calm in their tumultuous storm of shock and grief.

I have answered the phone when someone calls with the news. I have sat and listened as a family sits and waits for their appointment with clergy to plan the funeral. And what I hear over and over again is:

Don’t waste a moment.

Tell everyone you love them.

Hug often.

Fill your days with things that bring you joy.

In a week that in our biz is filled with more tedious busy-ness and mind-numbing details than is the norm, it’s easy to forget those wise words. But this week was the perfect time for me to repeat the sage advice like a mantra as I drove to work each day.

For my children- they are ready to leap to the next adventure. Perhaps my concerns have some merit, but this is the time to fly. I have few regrets, but can look back and wonder how my life would have turned out if I had boldly picked choice A over choice B.

For myself- I’ve already started 2017 with a bang. Our radical lifestyle change has reaped many blessings and giving both of us an appreciation for another chance to turn the page and start something new.

As the grieving widower sat speaking quietly to us with a smile on his face and tears in his eyes,

We had a great life, but the last ten years was more than we were promised. And we did everything she wanted to do, and had no regrets. We loved, we played and we lived every moment.

©annettealaine2017

The Long Journey Home

The Long Journey Home

The first few months of 2017 have been quite eventful. The decision to sell the house and downsize has been accomplished.

Although my mind was made up to move forward and finally shed myself of this last piece of my past life, the emotions and memories it triggered were somewhat surprising.

I knew the sweet memories would flow as I packed up and sorted through my kid’s stuff- childhood memorabilia that brought good memories flooding back. Taking them to the pool, fixing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for picnics in the front yard, doll strollers and razor scooters, deflated basketballs and footballs that were used up.

Each closet, drawer or cupboard contained something from the past- bath toys, notes, legos and books. Watching my older sons sort and purge was like watching them grow up all over again. Their faces lit up in recognition as they uncovered some artifact, a memory recalled, then the item was packed into a storage bin, or placed in a pile to be given away.

The final week after moving out was sorting through the attic. The place we put all of the stuff we aren’t ready to part with just yet. If I thought sorting through the garage was a trip through the past, the attic was the place where broken dreams reside.

There were the usual holiday decorations, and the forgotten baby paraphernalia, along with a bin filled with nuggets saved from high school and college days- an unexpected treasure box for me to sift through later.

But, there were a number of boxes filled with personal items from the ex- left up in the attic to molder for the past ten years. I did not intend to open them, but they got wet in a sudden rainstorm. Sifting through the damp articles from his teen/young adult years, I realized I don’t know this person- and perhaps I never did.

I read some of his words, and my own, when we went on a weekend to try to salvage our relationship many years before we finally divorced. I heard the pain of my loneliness in my journal from that time. As I read some of his writing that weekend I recalled how disconnected he was from his wife and son.  Work has always been at the top of his priority list. And that never changed.

This house is the last tie we share. But it was never his house. We were relocated to different cities four times due to his job. This was the only move that was my choice. I wanted this house for my kids, and myself. A place chosen because it was a neighborhood filled with families and kids. . A place that felt like my own for the first time in our marriage. A place to call home.

And the dream was sustained for a while longer.  The house served its purpose.  My kids are filled with great memories, but the marriage did not survive. So I’ve packed up and moved on to a new dream,  leaving the past behind.

©annettealaine2017

 

Postscript: I’ve been writing and re-writing this piece for a number of days. I hesitated to write about my ex, out of respect for my children. But, in order to bring the last ten years to a close, this final act of shedding the past is significant to all of us. For my kids, the selling of a childhood home is a definitive end to childhood.  For me, it’s the last shackle to the past, a place and time that has influenced my writing for many years. Thank you to my husband for opening my world and filling it with so much love.

Saying Goodbye

We’re at T- minus five days until the move.

I’ve collected seventeen garden bags of stuff given to charity,

given away a dining suite, sofa, chairs desk, table and more assorted furniture.

Taken one load to the storage unit and there’s at least one more trip before everything is tucked neatly away.

The walls are denuded, some rooms are bare.

Curtains are packed away, the garbage and recycling cans are overflowing.

My back is aching and I’m bone weary. There is no rest on my days off, there’s too much to do.

But I need to keep moving, keep wrapping, and sealing boxes.

If I stop I will have time to think,

to feel the wrenching pain of putting a dream long-lost away for good.

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These rooms are filled with memories- of birthday parties, and Christmas trees, Easter egg hunts, and a Halloween haunted garage.

Loud basketball games on the driveway, playing catch in the grass. Riding scooters and bikes down the hill. And hot summer days splashing in the community pool.

Sidewalks for skating, and backyards for playing hide and seek. Trees for climbing and streets wide enough for kickball and football games.

My dream was to provide my kids with a neighborhood- a place where they could wander and play with friends. That was my gift to fill their childhood with great memories.

Now it’s time to pursue a different dream- this one is for me. City life for a change.

©annettealaine2017

 

The Magic of Christmas

It is the day before Christmas, and all through my house, the only creature stirring is my crazy cat.

It’s in this deep silence that I contemplate, the blessings that surround me this day.

The foggy skies wrap my house in stillness. The birds are quiet and the squirrels stay warm in their nests. The coffee pot burbles and ham sizzles; the grits create a sigh as they bubble on the stove.

I am grateful for feeding those at home today. Oldest son is already here, and the college girl has been home for a week. Husband will be working until late tonight, but for now he is enjoying a long winter’s nap.

I treasure my time to sit and write. To reflect on Christmas past, and anticipate this day. We will bake and watch Christmas movies, and enjoy a good dinner. We will dress up and make our way to the little church with its jeweled windows glowing. Fresh cedar greenery and wreaths hung with red bows surrounded by ruby colored Poinsettias will fill the space with beauty.

Families will greet one another, and we will sing all the beloved carols. We will light candles, and in their glow sing Silent Night.

We will drive by the lighted houses filled with decorations, slowing down to enjoy the spectacle. Back home in our pajamas, we will eat cookies and watch the Christmas Story again as we tell stories from our separate lives.

We will wait up until my husband comes in very late from the midnight service and then crawl off to bed. Santa no longer stops by this house, but there will be filled stockings in the morning, and just as eager as a child, the young adults will rub their eyes and thrust their hands into the depths to find out what goodies are inside.

And all of this reminds me that the magic of Christmas never dies.

Merry Christmas.

©annettealaine2016