XXXI. You've Got A Fast Car

There are certain conversations you have with the fruit of your loins that are repeated so many times as to become rote like the Lord’s Prayer.  One such conversation in our house starts when the offspring turns the magical age of sixteen and continues until, well, their death.  This is the Reader’s Digest condensed version of that conversation:

“No matter what happens, if you are broke and haven’t spoken to me in years, if you are living in a foreign country under an assumed name, if I have told you never to darken my door ever in this lifetime, if you fear I am on my last breath, if I am indigent and living in a stylish cardboard box on Broad Street, if I have lost my mind and don’t know who you are anymore, no matter what the circumstances are, if you are unable to pay your car insurance I will pay it for you.”

We have these conversations, during what I like to call The Vehicular Years of Terror, because to drive without insurance in the United States of America is beyond folly; it will be your undoing. I like my offspring to be prepared for the many ways life can kick you in the teeth. I manage to articulate this on every white knuckled, Xanax enhanced driving lesson I ever give them.  I reiterate this on a quarterly basis for the rest of their lives.  Apparently though, I had not made myself clear.

She has given you the encapsulate version of what happened last year, I’m going to provide the details, then she’s going to come behind me and correct your impressions of the situation.  As much as I want to blame her for everything that went down, I really can’t because she was trying to do the right thing on so many levels. She was trying to be a good roommate, a good friend and a responsible adult.  Unfortunately, she chose to cut the umbilical cord at a most calamitous time.

As I found out at brunch that beautiful autumn afternoon on Meadow Street, the roommate had issues.  His Mom was out of prison, again, wasn’t that great?  And he thought he had a job, well maybe he did, I mean, he dropped off an application somewhere.  They were sure to hire him, wasn’t that great? He was off the drugs, only drinking, for, like, a whole week, wasn’t that great? (I suspect this was only due to the fact that he couldn’t afford drugs.) He had invited a friend to stay, who also consumed groceries and hot water, but it was great to see him. He was getting his testosterone from a dealer to keep his period at bay and his mangy whiskers full. Apparently, if he didn’t have money for food or rent it was okay, but he’d do anything to avoid menstruation, even picking up a little cash selling his transitioning body on the street.  Great. Just great.  I've got to tell you, the peach pie was really good that day.

So she paid his share of the rent. She paid the utilities. She bought the groceries. She worked two jobs, often working from 7am to 10pm, seldom having a day off.  By December she was strapped, exhausted and sick.  She called to tell me she was coming home for the weekend and I was overjoyed. I missed her. 
As I’m sure you recall, we are from Buffalo, New York. It snows there from October to June.  We live in Richmond, Virginia where it snows once or twice a year, some years not at all.  We know how to drive in the snow.  The rest of the people in Virginia don’t.  It was the second day of the snowfall; I had driven the twenty miles home from work and found the highways clear enough for navigation.  I gave her the green light to make her way out of that freezing apartment and onto the interstate.  It should have taken her twenty minutes to get home.

She called to tell me she had difficulty getting her car out of the alley, and while she was hanging up I heard her address some male voices, telling them she was fine.  I stared at the dead phone in my hand and had the distinct feeling something was wrong.  An hour went by and she hadn’t arrived.  I called her phone, no answer. I remember being curled up in the recliner in front of the television with the dog in my lap and sitting up so abruptly I knocked him to the floor.  He turned to look at me, as if to say “What in the world was that for?”  I turned down the television so I could think.  (Does anyone else do that, or is it just I?  If I’m driving to somewhere unfamiliar and I get to a tricky part of the directions, I will turn down the volume on the radio so I can concentrate.  As I write this I think of my Mother saying, “Turn down that idiot box, I can’t hear myself think.”  I guess that’s what I do.)  I tried her phone again, no answer. I was thinking every-Mother’s-worst-fear-scenarios when the house phone rang.  It was the hospital.
Night had fallen by the time we reached the hospital; the long drive made in stony silence while I texted the Boy for support to avoid having a blame placing conversation with the Husband.  “Remember I love you,” he saidI would remember. I still do remember.  And be forever grateful he was there for me that night.  Unbeknownst to me, in the coming hours I would fear for her life, learn she had a girlfriend and was in fact bisexual, and discover she had paid his share of the rent and let her car insurance lapse ten days before. 


XXX. The Return of Braticas

Dear Readers,

Nearly two months have passed since my last post.  When we started this, the words spilled out effortlessly, but as I healed from all the emotional and physical trauma endured this year, it has become difficult for me to write.  I abandoned you and I'm sincerely apologetic.

She wrote on my behalf because I refused to despite requests from our readers.  Truth be told, she angered me with her opinions on my inner most thoughts.  Mother's always think they know everything but there was a bit of truth behind what She said.

I am disappointed in this blog; but not for the reasons She stated.  Yes, people I thought would support me in this, simply haven't.  At first I bombarded them on Facebook, pleading to share our beautiful blog by posting it on their walls.  When that didn't work, I sent personal emails asking for help and support with a glimmer of hope that out of their hundreds of Facebook acquaintances, we would gain a few more readers.  Most of those letters didn't even merit a response.  That hurt.  Even if they didn't like it, or enjoy reading, I had hoped that they would share it just to help us.

She needed to tell the world how She changed whereas I needed something else.  I desired a sense of community, to feel connected to complete strangers simply by the power of our words, our tragic stories, creatively weaved together.  Just as I enjoy catching a glimpse of someone else's life via YouTube (Nerimon, Charliesocoollike, ElectricFaerieDust) I wanted to give strangers a glimpse of my life. We have done that, but I had hoped for more.

She thinks my writer's block is from lack of comments and overall disappointment.  She's wrong.
Recently, I was chatting with our friend via Skype in which I discovered the real reason.   She inquired about the blog and I hit send before I really processed what I had responded.  I typed that it now seemed like a chore.  It's true.  She wants to hold onto every memory of the Boy where I want the exact opposite. I want to forget. Everything.  Writing about all those things now glorifies all my failures and mistakes.

 I wish I could forget about the Meadow Street house, my deadbeat roommate that got us evicted, the car accident that screwed me financially, and most importantly forget about the Girl who shred my heart into little pieces.  Writing about the house isn't just writing about the tangible house.  I think about how I was finally able to be independent, to have my best friend only a few blocks from me, and to have a life away from my parents.  Most of my memories from the house have the Girl in it, unfortunately.  It started with me laying in bed, watching movies, texting her until I couldn't keep my eyes open.  Then as we progressed, memories of laying in bed with her, watching her as she slept were made. My house was the only place we could really be ourselves.  At work, we had to hide our relationship, at my parents house my Step-Father  made mean spirited comments about her, at her house I was never welcome because of a hostile ex girlfriend/roommate.  Most of our good memories are in that house, hence why I hate it. It's all connected.  The truth is everything that has happened to me this year is because of my roommate and The Girl.

 I trusted my roommate and he took advantage of me.  He lost his job, I paid the rent, he promised to pay me back but that money never came.   My personal bills fell behind.  The weekend of the snow storm, our heat kept shutting off.  Overworked, exhausted, and stressed I became horribly ill.  I was working 12-15 hour days and begged for my roommate to call the landlord to fix the heat.  He claimed he'd called several times but only called him once. (Something I found out months later)  In fear of catching pneumonia, I headed to my parents, but a part of me decided to drive home because I knew I'd be snowed in.  I wanted to be closer to the Girl.  I knew it would be easier to see her if I was down in Chester.  I knew the roads would be plowed the next day whereas in the city they wouldn't be at all.  On the way to my parents house, I got in the accident.  Then the next day we find out my car insurance lapsed less than two weeks before. Knowing these two people has put me where I am today.  Knowing them, destroyed my life. All the progress I had made to be independent was snatched away in  seconds, as my ford focus crumbled into a massive tangled web of metal with me trapped inside.

As difficult as things have been it's all lead to where we are now.  A year ago I never would have imagined that I'd be writing a screenplay with Her and our lovely friend from Indiana.  It's brilliant and I'm excited to be a part of it; however,  I fear as time drags on, that I'll lose the motivation and give up.  I fear that it won't ever come close to completion and that it will be just another thing that I fail at.



XXIX. DazzledGirl Doesn't

The first time I saw Her apartment she and her roommate were well and settled in. I remember driving downtown with the help of my GPS, programmed in United Kingdom mode with a sexy male British accent and words like petrol station and motorway, with final direction by cell phone as She stood on the side walk and motioned me through a parallel parking exercise. One of the hazards of living in suburbia too long is that one loses the ability to parallel park. (Since I’ve given up the suburban housewife mantle, clearly the next step for me is to purchase an automobile with the built in parallel parking feature. I’m much too old to relearn the traditional way.)

I had so hoped that moving into Her own place downtown would be her salvation, that she would settle into a routine of biking to work, having picnics in Hollywood Cemetery and sitting on her stoop talking to her neighbors on lazy Saturday afternoons. I wanted her to have a life without me, a life far from the shadow of my deteriorating marriage. Her little house on Meadow Street seemed the perfect place to start.

I have said for the past twenty six years that I would never win Mother of the Year but do admit to being particularly gifted at mothering through the eyes of my child. I can become a five year old at her ballet recital, realizing after the tutu has been tied on that she needs to use the potty. I can become a thirteen year old not wanting to take gym class because she has her period. I can become a seventeen year old with a gay prom date who forgets a corsage. I can become a twenty five year old with her first dilapidated rental house. I remember the feelings of my childhood more so than the events and I have always tried to keep them foremost in my memory when parenting Her. I don’t ever want to be the parent that can’t remember the foibles and mischance of their own youth.

Her house was charming as I looked at it through the eyes of the twenty year old living deep inside me. I remembered my first apartment in downtown Buffalo, just across the street from Canisius College, where I was in my junior year as an English major. It was a two family house; I was living upstairs with three girlfriends and four football players were living on the first floor. You can imagine its appeal. My share of the rent was sixty five dollars, an utter fortune, and I was bartending at a place my landlord owned, to pay my share.

The apartment didn’t have a refrigerator. The reason being: the staircase was too narrow to navigate a modern fridge up, something that, I assure you, never crossed our minds. But it had hardwood floors, built in book cases and beautiful bay windows that ran the length of the living room. There was a third floor attic room that had no heat but was a great place to escape to with a thick novel and the afghan my grandma had crocheted for me. In the summer I would wallpaper part of those slanted walls with an oriental floral paper and cut out individual dogwoods, pasting them to the ceiling where I could enjoy them while lying on the floor of the furniture-less room.

I knew She saw Meadow Street through those same idyllic eyes. She didn’t see the faulty plumbing, the inadequate kitchen or the furnace that wouldn’t heat and would force her out into a snowstorm and into a hospital that coming December. I knew she saw the hardwood floors, the pretty moldings and the fenced in yard. I smiled brightly and enjoyed the brunch She and the Baker had made that morning; fresh fruit salad, a vegetable frittata, French toast, sausages and peach pie with Mimosas to celebrate the day. It was a perfect Sunday afternoon; She was content, I was happy in love, my Husband was at work. The only thing to mar that perfect day was meeting her roommate.

I knew as soon as I saw him. Between my precognition and a well developed judge of character, I knew immediately that he spelled trouble. At the time I thought he was a gay boy; very slight of build and mildly unattractive. He turned out to be something else entirely but I trusted Her judgment and swallowed the bile rising in my throat. ~DazzledGirl

XXVIII. Braticas Takes a Break

A few times in the past I have let you know that I was waiting on Braticas, that sometimes she had trouble getting her story told and there was a delay in our posting. I skipped her once, it was supposed to be a post about her father but she couldn’t quite get herself to do it. This time it was supposed to be about moving out. That subject certainly isn’t the emotional time bomb the other subject was, so what’s the problem?

The problem is she expected too much from this blog. She expected her friends to read it and they didn’t. She expected to get hundreds of followers and comments; the truth is we get emails and tweets and Facebook chats but very few followers and very few comments. She’s a bit disappointed. I could tell you why it bothers her when it doesn’t bother me, but it would just be conjecture. All I can say is that, for me, telling my story was a necessary part of surviving what happened in my life.

Falling in love with the Boy changed me so completely that I desperately needed to tell someone why I wasn’t the same person anymore. I needed someone to know who I was now and who I used to be and that somebody turns out to be you. Who are you? You are my family. You are friends I’ve reconnected with that I hadn’t seen in thirty years. You are coworkers. You are neighbors. You are people I gave my card to on the street somewhere. You are the beautiful new friends I have made on the internet these past months. And you are the Boy. Yes, him also.

I understand why she wants comments. When you write like this you want to know that you have been heard. That someone out there is listening. If anything we have said has meant something to you, please tell us. I think it would help her. In the meantime, I’m going to continue my story until she feels ready to catch up. ~DazzledGirl


XXVII. Regrets. I've Had A Few.

What I remember of last August are scattered images of stolen moments and shyly given kisses. The first time “Love u” lit up the screen on my phone; weeks later sitting in my car on the side of the interstate sobbing as I read his first declaration of real affection. I don’t remember seeing him more than a couple times, and only for a few moments at that, but I remember the dizzying effect of his words and the slightest brush of his fingers along the side of my hand. I spoke to him a few days ago and I don’t think he remembers any of that, I think he only remembers the tragic end. The part I wish to forget; the part I wish, more than anything, that I could take back.

Our home was still fraught with tension and stony silences back then. My Brother had visited briefly from Texas and I recall him telling my Husband to lay off me, something decidedly out of character. My brother had lamentably inherited the Italian view of marriage and thought that the man ruled the roost. For him to admonish my husband for the way he treated me was tantamount to treason. My Brother knew I was working hard, long hours and was being greeted by complaints and accusations when I arrived home each night. I think he saw that I had reached my limit. My Husband did not see.

In no way am I excusing my own behavior; I am not blaming my Husband for the way I acted. I fully understand that I had no business falling in love, that that part of my life should have stayed buried deep within me, where I might occasionally hear the rumblings from a distance but they would never be loud enough to turn my head. But when the man that is supposed to love and cherish you does not do so, those rumblings rival Niagara Falls in sheer volume and force. It’s impossible to keep your head straight.

It was nearly impossible for me not to draw comparisons between the Husband who had clearly grown weary of his wife and the Boy who needed me. Looking back, I cannot decide if it was God or Satan illuminating those stark differences. If Satan is indeed the great deceiver, how did I, with my broken cage, stand a chance of knowing the difference? I remember the Boy calling me from the store one day. We chatted while he walked around the music department until he excused himself to ask the clerk a question. I listened as he inquired as to where he might find an Andrea Bocelli CD. With a sharp intake of my breath a single pained syllable escaped my lips:”Si.” I loved Bocelli. My Husband thought it was stupid to listen to a CD in another language. I’m sure it seems stupid that something as seemingly insignificant as that could mean so much to me but I assure you, it brought me to tears. A marriage of opposites is a painful thing. Each time the light shone on another common point of interest between the Boy and me, I felt healed. I felt my heart coming back to me.

It wasn’t until late August that my Husband finally found a job and went back to work. The breath we’d been holding for six long months whooshed out in one giant sigh of relief. Financially, we were in bad shape by then. It had become such a sore topic of discussion between us that I refused to even participate in the conversation. He was bound and determined to keep a house that was rapidly deteriorating in value; a house that we had no equity left in; a house that was strangling us. I let the conversations go and celebrated him finding a job.

While he was acclimating to a new company and I was fantasizing about a life with another man, She was plotting to move out. I was so overwhelmed by the maelstrom of emotions around me that I didn’t pay attention to what She was planning. I know, secretly, in my heart, that I wanted Her to move out for one reason only: If I ever found the courage to leave my husband I wanted Her to be safely settled somewhere else beforehand. I did not want Her to be caught in what I assumed would be a vicious parting. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine what would really happen months down the road. Never once did I imagine being pinned in a chair while the man I married screamed violently just inches from my face. Never once did I imagine the cold steel of the shotgun barrel clenched in my fists. Never once did I imagine losing the Boy who started it all.

I understood Her reasons for moving downtown and for wanting to be on Her own. I, myself, had grown weary of suburbia and longed for the chicness of the city. How I would adore Friday nights on the terrace of our local corner restaurant, sharing a fish fry and a cold beer with our neighbors and walking home slightly tipsy on a warm summer night. I might have even reached the point where I wanted to enjoy the labors of others by walking the magnificent gardens of the city parks rather than toiling in the soil of my own backyard. Aside from wanting to escape the tension that was our home, I think She sought to explore Her lifestyle out from under the watchful stare of her parents. I understand that now. Back then, She could have never brought a girl home to my Husband’s house. He would not approve. I don’t know what I would have thought back then but I do know the rose colored glasses of love and the Boy’s soft words would have taken the edge off anything for me.

By September, She was moved out and our house became even quieter. I worked long days, often coming home at nine o’clock at night. My Husband worked second shift and left the house shortly after ten o’clock. Each night my cell phone would vibrate silently, tucked away in my bra, with the same question: “is he gone yet?” As soon as my answer was yes, the phone would ring. We would talk for a few stolen moments as I curled up in bed, cradling the phone as if it were him and tucking it under my pillow after we said goodnight, where I could easily feel the vibration of his “love u” delivered late, late in the night.

In retrospect, I wish I had stopped Her moving out. I wish I had asked more questions. I wish I had cared about anything other than that Boy, but I didn’t. It’s no excuse, but what I felt for him was so strong, so consuming, there just wasn’t anything else left.

XXVI. The Good Things Never Last

The expedition North had indeed cleared my head. Being in Buffalo had provided me with the motivation to move on and move out but, unfortunately, it hadn't provided the funds to do so. I knew from the Cincinnati debacle that I couldn't afford to live on my own, but I couldn't bear to live in that house much longer. Any semblance of a home life there was rapidly deteriorating. I knew about the Birthday kiss and I knew things were changing.

Back when we moved into the new house, it had been a breath of fresh air. Our pale yellow Colonial was nestled in the center of a cul-de-sac with a heavily wooded back yard and manmade pond for a view. My parents had spent the spring assembling a brick wall like the one my Grandma had in Rhode Island. It ran the front of the house and bordered a bed overflowing with Piñata Roses, black eyed susan's, pansies, and daisies. The daisies She planted for me, right at the corner of the bed, closest to where I parked my car, so I would see them every day when I came and went. The wall led you around to a set of brick steps and black front door.

Moving meant I was further from my friends, but I didn’t mind so much because this house gave me a bit more privacy. My bedroom faced east and was the largest of three bedrooms on the top floor. With my parents’ room being downtown stairs, it was easy for me to sleep in; I no longer heard the dishwasher clinking and swishing at 8am. It was peaceful.

The yard we sought out when building the house, we rarely used. The dogs were excited at first, exploring all the new scents, digging up chipmunks and scaring squirrels, but that soon lost its appeal. They preferred taking long naps on the couch versus chasing an old tennis ball around in the heat.

She had envisioned this house to be her last, the one She grew gray in with The Husband, and the one where her grandchildren would come visit her. She imagined summer dinner parties in which we'd open the French doors and people would meander through the house and flow out into the porch, drinks and food in hand, conversing until late hours, soft music drifting through the trees and twinkle lights looking like fairies in the night. But this never happened. In fact, any time the doors were open it caused Her Husband to bark that he wasn't paying to air condition the outside. To everyone on the outside, I’m sure it appeared to be a happy home. But it was far from it. Sometimes I think Her dreams started dying that first year in the house.

I wasn’t getting along with Her Husband. He didn't understand me or any of my interests and spent more time criticizing my actions and my likes than anything else. Even though She made this family for me because She thought I needed it, the truth was that all I needed was Her. It seemed like he just tried to come between us. When he tried to discipline me, I rebelled. In my eyes, it wasn't his place to do that. Needless to say, we fought over everything.

Since I’d returned from Ohio it was even worse. He resented me being there. Losing his job made it worse. He had to take out his anger on someone and it was me. I was trying to repair my head, heart, and my finances and getting in fights over the vacuum or how I did my laundry wasn't helping. Any shot at privacy I'd once had ceased to exist. My friends were no longer welcome to visit. Moving out was becoming essential to preserving my sanity.

I began by searching in the Fan, an area of downtown Richmond sought after by trendy 30 something's, college students, and indie hipsters. With it being late August, and the university back in session, housing was sparse and roommates sparser still. That was a sign that I should have noticed but ignored instead. Being idle wasn't an option anymore, I had to change, I had to be free, and if I made a mistake or it wasn’t the ideal situation, I would at least learn from it.

Out of desperation I posted my need for a roommate on Facebook. I had one reply: an acquaintance I hadn't seen since college. We had a few conversations on the phone about living together and met up to discuss it further. I knew he wasn't a fantastic choice but I convinced myself that it was only for a year and I could deal with that. I sensed he had a rocky past like me but he portrayed himself to be on a new path with a new frame of mind. I was ready for positive changes and a plan for self improvement and he echoed this.

Once again I packed up my Gnomes and left home.


XXV. Baby, You're Not Lost

Yesterday was the first time I blow dried my hair in two months. With record breaking heat and oppressive humidity nearly every day, it seemed like an exercise in futility to try to straighten out the waves and curls I was born with. My hair is much longer this summer; the financial devastation of the previous months has whittled away the luxuries I once enjoyed. Salon days for a cut and color with a spa pedicure and French manicure are far and few between. He would have liked my hair like this but he’s been gone for many months and never saw the many ways he’d changed me.

My Husband was the first one to see the connection between me and the Boy, to see something that I thought was just a small spark hidden deep inside of me, awareness on my part but nothing more; to see the palpable energy between us, the emotional magnet drawing us together. He saw something as the Boy and I had a casual conversation of no consequence. He saw what my steel cage would never let me see, never let me hope for. He saw something in the Boy. With his primal instincts aroused, he called me out and accused me of having an affair. He put it in such vulgar terms even I was affronted. How could he possibly think this younger man I had just met had any interest in me? But he clearly thought his territory had been encroached upon and he was on high alert.

For my part, I felt something at the first handshake but I would have gone to my grave with that feeling safely locked away. I might have taken it out a time or two and wondered about it, but I wouldn’t have acted on it and I certainly would never have expected it to be reciprocated. To me, my Husband’s jealousy was a ridiculous reaction to a non-existent event. It was an overreaction to nothing. Or so I thought then.

I couldn’t say when the exchange of phone numbers happened, but it was innocent, probably an emergency contact number. I can say that I have that first text message memorized. We talked and we texted, that was all, but it was enough. Little by little information volleyed back and forth and I came to know him as the other half of myself. Habits and hobbies, likes and dislikes, needs and wants matching up in a way previously unknown to me. The casual conversation of two people getting to know each other acted as the perfect foil for my marriage. He and I were synonyms; my Husband and I were antonyms. I was aware of this, even though at the time my precognitive sense was screaming danger to me, I couldn’t stop myself.

I wish I could say that he was perfectly handsome, a flawless Adonis, that tempted me into a licentious affair that petered out when we were sated and became a secret between us that never saw the light of day. I wish I could say that, but I can’t. What I can say is, he wasn’t particularly handsome. He wasn’t a man of great position or wealth or status. He wasn’t a scholar or a poet or a great thinker. He was just a regular guy that, for some reason, became the air that I breathed.

The word love never entered a conversation in reality or in my head back then. I was fascinated by this man that had broken through the last of my defenses. Why him? Why now? After eighteen years of guarding my heart and blinding myself to the attractions of all men, why did this one break through? There was something connecting him to me that I could not define, months later the best I could do to explain it to him was to say it was like a nylon thread between us; transparent but nearly unbreakable. I could awaken in the middle of the night, pick up my cell phone and within moments a text would come through from him. I could sense his moods from miles away and accurately tell you what kind of boxers he was wearing though I hadn’t seen him or didn’t even know for sure if he wore boxers. He was a very secretive person but to me he was no great mystery. In the following months I would sense those secrets, some lies, some betrayals but I let him keep them. I never thought they were mine to explore.

Oddly enough, I never guessed for a moment that he could have real feelings for me. He had clearly made remarks that let me know he was interested, remarks that always seemed to cut directly to the questions and excuses rattling around in my mind, as if I had directly asked him if he liked older women or plus size women, which of course, I never would have asked.

We were in a crowded room, surrounded by friends and strangers alike, when he stood too close to me and I let my guard down for just a moment and said, “Please take your pheromones over there, I can’t stand this close to you.” I was horrified that I had betrayed myself so, but the look in his eyes as he turned his face toward me was all I ever needed to see. The tenor of our relationship changed critically in that moment, the connection was undeniable. I didn’t know the depth of what he felt for me, but I was surely in love with him.

As the days and weeks turned into months, the physical attraction and the emotional and mental attachment became central in my life. The trip to New York that She told you about would be the first time we were apart, even though, as I told you, we were not having an affair in the strict sense of things. I was only going to be gone for thirty six hours so we said our goodbyes on the phone the Friday night before my early morning flight. He said he would talk to me when I got home Sunday afternoon. I couldn’t say for certain but I think I looked at a picture of him every few minutes, while my romance novel sat unread in my lap. He didn’t even make it twenty four hours. I had just checked into the hotel room when the first text came through, “How is NY?” Across the room, She rolled her eyes as I flopped on the bed with my phone in one hand and his picture in the other, smiling ear to ear.

Yesterday was my fiftieth Birthday and I was surrounded by well wishes from so many lovely people in my life. My thoughts idly strayed to last year’s Birthday and the very first touch of his hand on the side of my face, his fingers in my hair; the small sound of resignation under his breath as he turned his head and lowered his lips to mine. I cannot tell you that any touch ever meant more to me.

A full year later and I am so angry at him for tarnishing those memories and letting me destroy the life I had built, that I still scream and cry in frustration nearly every day. My heart is surely broken. I thought I had read somewhere that a heart once broken is absolved of all that a heart must be. But mine still beats just for him and I cannot tell you that any love ever meant more to me.  ~DazzledGirl

XXIV. I Feel You In My Heart, But I Don't Even Know You

Everyone loves a Quinn; or in my case a Quin, spelled with one ‘n.’ I fell head over heels for one just last year. My Quin is half of the Indie rock/pop sensation Tegan and Sara. The girls, (as I affectionately call them) are nearly identical twin sisters from Canada. I say nearly, because I can always tell them apart, and although they share the same face, they have slight differences. Unlike Her, I seldom remember dates, only events. The first time I heard Tegan and Sara would be an unforgettable event; it was on interstate 64 during a snowstorm, on my way home from a visit to The Artist.

He was my best friend freshman year at college. We practically lived together in the dorms, we were inseparable. He came from a very traditional family in Christiansburg, Virginia where it was customary to don Ralph Lauren cable knit sweaters, oxfords, and loafers. I, on the other hand, sported short spiky jet black hair, facial piercings, and wore pink fishnets with sneakers and skirts whenever possible. We weren’t exactly bookends but we had forged a strong bond. We both loved art but were not art majors. He was an extraordinary painter and our home showcases some of his great pieces. At the end of the year I was devastated when he decided to transfer to a school back home. I was so afraid we’d lose touch and he’d end up being another seasonal friend in my life. But that didn’t happen; instead we both traveled the four hours to see each other and kept our friendship alive.

I actually enjoyed the drive, the solitude. I always began the trip armed with my overflowing CD booklet tossed on the passenger seat, spilling its contents all over the floor. I would abandon it, however, as soon as my radio would pick up the college station around Charlottesville. Back then, I’d only have reception for an hour or two and I’d listen to it even with horrible static. Richmond radio stations just didn’t play music like that. Typically that was the only station that would play anything I’d like or recognize. It was mostly Indie, not quite mainstream, and they showcased artists like The Faint, Rilo Kiley, Iron and WineElliott Smith, and The Decemberists.

During a long weekend in Christiansburg, I awoke to that soft light of morning only a blanket of snow creates and knew I needed to get on the road. Back then I didn’t trust myself driving in snowy conditions, so it was a cautious, if gorgeous, drive home. Although the snow wasn’t sticking to the roads, white flurries danced around the moving cars and the sky was covered in a thick blanket of clouds that promised more to come. Periodically, I’d turn off my CD and check the progress of the Charlottesville radio station, debating if I could stand to listen to it with static just for the chance to hear something good. It finally tuned in clear. And that was the moment I first heard my Quins. Their song was buried in the middle of a five or six song set, but as soon as I heard the first few chords I was hooked. I kept praying I wouldn’t lose reception before the DJ announced the songs in that lineup. Luckily I didn’t and a few minutes later he spat out “That was Tegan and Sara’s Walking with the Ghost” so fast I could barely catch it! I made myself repeat “Tegan and Sara, Tegan and Sara” aloud in the car so I wouldn’t forget the name. It worked and as soon as I got home I downloaded everything I could find by them.

It wasn’t then that I developed my attachment (some might call it an obsession) to the Quin Twins. It was months later in Ohio, ironically enough. The Boyfriend had bought me tickets to see Death Cab for Cutie with Tegan and Sara as the opening act. At that performance, seeing their interaction and playful banter, watching their personalities unfold before my eyes, I began to adore them as individuals, not just their music. A passion ensued.

After I moved back into my parents house, and planted myself on my Her couch, when I didn’t have a Twilight novel in my hands, I had my laptop. On that little screen I watched every YouTube video, both music and interviews, I could find on the twins. I adored watching their live performances just to hear the girls tell amusing and surprisingly intimate antidotes about their personal lives. To me, Tegan stood out as the one to fall in love with. All the while She teased me about the Canadian lesbians and plaid shirts, I was developing a tendre for Tegan that I never shamelessly cast aside, not even when I met the Girl.

My fascination with the Quins was something no one at that time understood. They intrigued me, Tegan captivated me. One day, I stumbled upon a quote by Tegan that sincerely affected me. I don’t remember the source but it’s etched in my mind.

“I think I’m a very emotional and sensitive person. I day dream, cry and imagine the worst a lot. But I’m also a romantic, the kind that would bury a love letter in my back yard.”
Breaking up with the Boyfriend was sad, sad enough for me to need Edward Cullen, but having my heart torn apart by the Girl was something else entirely.  Only the soft harmonies of another girl, another romantic, could ever make right what had been so carelessly destroyed.
  "And that's all I need."


XXIII. Taking Tea With Violet

I fell in love in June of 2001. It was a hot, humid afternoon, the kind where a blanket of haze obscures the tree line and gives the city the appearance of having a fine film of grime settling from above; a typical late afternoon in Richmond, Virginia. I was still on the fringes of the embroidery business, in sales to be precise, and had some time to kill between appointments. I was on the side of town that didn’t have a Starbucks, heaven forbid, the side of town that didn’t have much of anything. These were the dark ages before texting and tweeting by phone became my source of wait-time amusement. I was bored, so I pulled into a CVS drug store and went inside in search of something to read.

I am not a big fan of television. Through the years certain series have held my attention for a season or two but usually lose me to a good read instead. Notable exceptions: I adored Ally McBeal, especially with the arrival of Robert Downey Jr., and was captivated by Grey’s Anatomy for a short while but eventually lost interest as characters died off and plots became implausible. My source of entertainment has always been books. I had a good education and read the classics through my formative years. During college I was particularly enamored of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Irving. As the pattern of my life settled into working mother and wife, I escaped into the world of historical romance, partly for ease of reading, partly for a glimpse into another reality. A world of ball gowns, gloves that button to the elbow and handsome gentlemen on horseback.

With the tendency in this country of branding, where Kleenex means any tissue and Tupperware means any plastic container, I was often branded a reader of Harlequins. In fact, I had not read Harlequins in over twenty years. If I were to brand myself, I would have to say I was an Avon reader: All of my favorite authors were published by Avon. I noticed that one day when I was arranging a new book shelf in my office. The authors were alphabetical (sorry) and with the spines all lined up the Avon symbol was quite an obvious occurrence. I do, however, have one shelf particularly set aside that does not pay homage to Avon, it is the final resting spot for the works of Jasmine Cresswell, published by Harlequin and Mira. Jasmine is my brother-in-law’s mother, and I would read her no matter who published her. Her historical time travel romance Timeless is one of my favorites; escapism at its best.

In case you are wondering, I did not meet the Boy at CVS that day. I stood in front of a meager paperback book section perusing the titles and spotted one with a bit of wit: An Offer From A Gentleman by Julia Quinn. Nice title but I wasn’t familiar with the author. I picked it up, read the back, read the first page, and then looked at the spine: Avon. I bought the book and never made it to my appointment. Instead, I sat in my car in the parking lot for two hours reading then drove to Barnes and Noble where I purchased everything they had by Julia Quinn. I didn’t leave the house much for the next week or so. I had fallen head over heels in love with Julia Quinn and the Bridgerton Family.

In the event that you are among the ignorant, the Bridgerton family, headed by matriarch Violet, consists of eight children in need of spouses. Each year Quinn spins a tale of one the children’s quest for matrimonial bliss. I cherished her characters and her delicious dialogue and freely admit to being addicted to her writing.

What does any of this have to do with falling in love last summer? Every June Avon releases another Julia Quinn novel, and for eight of the last nine years I have awaited the publication with the fervor of a zealot. I have gone so far as to make Barnes and Noble employees go into the stockroom and find the case of books that should have hit the shelves that morning. Again, the retail manager in me knows no mercy. Last June the publication date came and went. I was so busy falling in love myself I had forgotten about Quinn. It was the middle of July when I was packing for the trip to New York and looking for reading material that I remembered.

I had a conversation with my eldest sister about this some time ago. She is much like me in her love of the garden, a beautiful home and an elegantly laid table and manages to have those things despite a very stressful job. More so than anyone else in our family, she and I would have loved to grace the parlors of Mayfair for a currant scone and a cup of Darjeeling tea with the Bridgertons. For years she and I had swapped books to read. I can remember occasions when we would both exclaim we had found a good read and each pull the same book out of a bag! She got a Kindle for her birthday year before last and book swapping came to an end. My sister had had two unhappy marriages, and like me, had encased herself in steel and just dealt with it; until she started living her happily-ever-after and stopped reading about someone else’s.

It was through her job that she met her Prince. You may have noticed we use few names in our story, most of the titles are obvious but as much as this one seems to be, I chose it for another reason. My Grandmother never met him but without a doubt, if she had, she would have raised her veined Italian hands in the air and exclaimed: “He’s a Prince among men!” And she would be right.

My sister tells me the day she fell in love with the Prince she had to board a plane for home and had brought the requisite reading material: a romance novel. When she arrived home the binding had been cracked but she had only read the first page over and over. She couldn’t concentrate. She had found that elusive love she had read about for years. The books had become superfluous. She kept that copy of It’s In His Kiss, unread, as a reminder of a life changing day.

I owe Julia Quinn an apology. For years she kept my heart primed and ready, just waiting for that little bit of magic that might save me. Much to my chagrin I cast her shamelessly aside when the thunderbolt struck last June. That beautiful blue eyed Boy had come along and made her superfluous.

If you suspect that I am stalling, that I have promised a story about falling in love and have not delivered, you are correct. I so fear getting it wrong, that words will fail me and you will not fall in love with him as readily as I did. I so want you to.


XXII. T'was All So Pretty A Sight It Seemed

It had been hours since I’d polished off the last of my venti triple shot caramel macchiato. I was crashing. I was crashing hard.

I had worked a fifteen hour stretch the previous day, and several long days leading up to it, all in preparation for a “visit.” In the world of retail a “visit” is when those above you on the corporate food chain come by your store to see if they can eat you for their lunch. Your goal is to make them get their lunch across town at one of your sister stores. I had no intention of feeding anyone, so I worked like a dog to get my store perfect.

What perfect looked like to me went beyond the corporate visual merchandising manual. They gave me the tools and rules, I brought the jewels; I made the store shine. There are so many little details a customer doesn’t notice: blouses arranged by size, collar type and sleeve length making clean lines that are positively delectable; displays that show a perfect balance of color, print, and texture; walls that draw the eye through the store in a well thought out flow of seasonal color; crisply folded and level stacks of knit shirts arranged by size; and accessories complementing every outfit and helping create a look you’ll take home with you. A beautiful store shows a customer how to dress beautifully for the body they have, not the body they want. My store was as close to perfect as it was ever going to be. I was ready and waiting.

I spent the majority of my wait walking figure eights around the store, greeting every customer, and straightening every crooked hanger. I could spot a tin soldier out of line seconds after it had broken ranks. With each circle I made I would glance out the front windows, looking for my guests. When they finally arrived they stood outside analyzing my window dressing while I stood inside fighting the fatigue and anxiety, just waiting for it all to be over. Ten minutes later it was. One quick loop around the store, the territorial manager and regional vice president spat out a “Store looks beautiful, well done girls” and they were gone. They didn’t even nibble on me. I had survived unscathed.

Unfortunately, I was terribly understaffed at the time so I had to stay till closing, another eight hours away. I was so exhausted I feared that if I paused to lean on a four way or lingered to engage in conversation with a customer that I’d slip into a coma right then and there in the Misses’ casual department; cocooned in a nest of denim and plaid. Thankfully, the flow of traffic began to die down, as shoppers started turning in for the night. The front window displays glimmered in a red-orange haze as the sun began its descent. Slowly, it crept out of view and slipped behind the tree line across the busy turnpike. Night was fast approaching and my bed was beckoning. Twenty miles away the covers were already turned back on my four poster and I was fantasizing about slipping between those smooth sheets, I wasn’t going to need any lullabies from Her to get to sleep tonight.

Just a couple more hours to go but I was finished! I gave up straightening for the night. I stopped refolding table tees that careless customers had opened, examined, balled up and tossed back, destroying my beautiful crisp board folded little stacks, all sized and level. I waited until I thought the store was free of shoppers and I meandered to the back of the cash wrap, where my favorite sales associate stood at the register beaming her bright smile at me. She was the daughter of one of Her favorite employees so naturally when I hired her, she became my favorite! We chatted for a moment when suddenly, I interrupted her and said, “I’m sorry…I just have …to…” and plopped my body down on the carpet behind the cash desk. She roared in laughter, as I sprawled out on the floor dressed in my best black suit and kicked off my Coach loafers. “Dee, you run the sales floor. I’m gonna stay here.”

I had never been so tired in my entire life. I closed my eyes and began to relive the events and conversations of the day while images of my comfy bed and plush body pillows floated in the periphery.

Moments later, my thoughts were interrupted by a familiar voice, "Baby, what are you doing on the floor?"

I knew the voice and didn’t even open my eyes. "I've worked over 80 hours this week; we had a visit.”

I started to push my tired twenty-two year old body off the floor but that compassionate regular customer of mine that shopped with me every week and must have known exactly what a visit was, she stopped me. "No honey, you stay right there! It's almost over."

I could have kissed her.

I started a new job a couple weeks ago and had a visit from the visual merchandising director. I so much enjoyed getting ready for that visit and for the positive feedback it earned me that it reinforced how much I had missed that kind of work since I left my store in Cincinnati. The characteristics of film editing mirror visual merchandising in beauty, order and detail and I suppose that is why I am drawn to both. I could possibly find happiness in either world; unfortunately the mistakes of my youth have hampered my progress. I hope to right that situation.

She and I have both been retail store managers, both passionate about the visual part of our jobs. If you saw our closets, you would know precisely why: color coded, arranged by sleeve length, everything buttoned, zipped, and snapped. Just don’t open any drawers in our house, for some reason our sense of order stops there; for now anyway.  There seems to be an air of change about us and I am hoping for everything to fall in to it's rightful place. ~Braticas


XXI. Hush-a-Bye, Don’t You Cry

I was five months shy of my thirty fourth birthday when my step daughter committed a most heinous act against my person. I had been married to her father just over a year, she was living with her mother and though we saw each other little, we were always warm and cordial. Her parent’s divorce had been rough and siblings had been torn from each other, I was naturally much closer to her brother that lived with us but I loved her none the less. I could not understand her betrayal.

At the time it happened I was screaming for empathy. Would someone please, please take my side in this travesty? Could anyone possibly understand the ramifications of what that nineteen year old girl had done to me? I knew in some ways it was a cultural thing, a life in the South verses life as I had known it in the North. But it was wrong, very wrong, and no one could see it but me. In the audacity of her youth she had made me, at thirty three years old, one generation removed from the newest member of our family. She had given birth. She had made me the G word.

Just fourteen months later she did it again. Thank God she had her tubes tied or there would have been be no telling how many times she would have done that to me. Sure, they were cute; a girl and a boy. I spent many hours practicing my baby whisperer skills on them. If you have a child that will not go to sleep, hand them over to me. For some reason, babies and small children fall asleep in my arms quite readily. I usually tell people it’s my ample bosom acting as a live pillow, but I really think I just bore them to sleep. I can sing All the Pretty Little Horses in a flat monotone for hours.

My toughest case to date: my youngest nephew Harrison. He is the family’s only red head; a stubborn, willful child that fought sleep as hard as I rocked. I wish I had kept score for posterity but I believe I won most of the battles with Harrison and the sandman. I rocked him to age five. I’d probably still be holding his wiry, tense little body close to mine but his mother and I don’t speak anymore. Not since she sided with my Husband and told everyone that would listen about my egotistical, stupid attachment to the Boy. She washed out of my life in January and with her went her two boys and my mother. There’s a much larger story here, but I’m not sure it’s mine to tell.

Aside from performing as baby whisperer, having another generation gave me reason to start sewing again. Halloween, of course, with its Indian, clown and pilgrim costumes and pretty little dresses with smocking made for school and special occasions. In my eyes I was ridiculously young to be cast in that role but I endured. The only thing that saved my step daughter from a lifetime of scornful glances and derision from me was the fact that she gave birth to the two smartest children in the world. Never once in the past sixteen years have either one of them used the G word. Nor did they make up hideous countrified names such as Me-maw or Nan-Nan. They simply called me by my first name. If they were feeling possessive, they added my. Those are some smart kids.

The reason for this story: they are also being torn from me. Last summer, when I was falling in love their family was falling apart. By September, my son in law had moved out and moved on. They were a family in crisis and I was useless to them because my world was crumbling at an amazing rate. Truth be told, I had hardly seen them in the past few years even though they lived just a county away. There was strain in their house and strain in ours and it just didn’t make for happy times.

They have decided to move back to Georgia, a good ten hour ride from here. As sad as that is for me, I completely understand her reasons for going. She longs for home, for the place she comes from, for the extended family that is her blood. I can only hope that they find peace there. Sadly enough, that leaves my Husband with no one here but an estranged wife, two nearly dead dogs and a step daughter he doesn’t understand. Part of me wishes he would go back to Georgia with her. I think he would have been happier with a Georgia girl, I think this Yankee girl just couldn’t ever be called Me-maw, couldn’t ever be the wife he wanted.

I have to say that I was extremely close to my son in law. He was very young when he joined our family, just eighteen, and I became a mother to him also. Last September I had a long conversation with him as he thanked me for playing that role and gave me credit, deservedly or no, for changing his life; for getting him out of Georgia and seeing the possibilities of life in the rest of the world. I shared my story about the Boy with him, months before I told others. He understood. As much as it hurts me to see their little family torn apart, I have learned a very valuable lesson this year: judge no one. No one can see into the hearts of men and for us to be so arrogant and presume that we know what is best for others, is the height of egotism.

I will miss them all: My step daughter, my son in law, my sister, my nephews, my mother, my husband, and those precious G children. But I will humble myself and say that they can all have beautiful lives without me, that they deserve the best no matter what path they take.

I can’t say that about the Boy, I still cry most nights longing to be on the same path as he and rocking him to sleep in my arms.

XX. Now She's in Me, Always With Me

In The Most Dangerous Year, She writes about me “coming out” on a morphine drip after my horrific car accident. Let me clarify, I never came out as anything. Perhaps In Her eyes I did, but to me, I wasn’t in a closet. I was never ashamed or tried to keep my attraction to women a secret; I simply never had the desire to talk about it with Her.

She had spent years building a life with Her Husband and his views overpowered the household. He and I battled enough over gay rights and the women’s right to choose. He openly criticized my circle of friends and didn’t understand why “gay people flocked" to me. I knew my bisexuality would never be accepted under that house so I chose not to let them know certain things about me. The last thing I wanted to do was fight with him, it seemed like that's all we ever did. We could blame it on the morphine or the trauma of the evening for my confession to leak out but perhaps it was just time. I thought my connection to The Girl was important, just as Her connection to The Boy was. I wasn’t in love with The Girl yet, but we were already going down that road. I knew she would be special to me.  And she was.  But she also hurt me more than anyone else ever had.

My accident was December 19th 2009. Truth be told, most of the details of that evening are blurred. I felt paralyzed lying on the gurney while I waited for Her and the Husband to arrive. I lie there alone, tears steadily streaming down my face, and I was terrified my legs were broken. If I moved the slightest, excruciating shooting pains caused me to wince and cry harder. I feared the worst. I knew this was the last thing I needed; my life had already been hard enough in the months prior.

All the while, my phone kept beeping and buzzing. I knew it was The Girl.  Between the snowy driving conditions and her anxious nature, I had promised to text her the moment I arrived at my parents house safely.  I never made it there, a patch of ice and an old guy not paying attention to the truck he was driving, made sure of that. By the time She arrived the nurses had already loaded with me drugs. When the sobbing subsided, I heard Tegan and Sara's Like Oh, Like H resonate in my ears; it was my ring tone in the distance. I frantically pleaded for someone to give me the phone. I was injured and scared yet all I wanted to do was ease The Girl’s anxiousness. All I wanted to hear was her voice. Even then, I put her first above everything else, a pattern that would continue for the next few months. She was the type to text around the clock and expect an answer within a few minutes; it had been hours since she’d heard from me, I knew she was worried.

I pleaded with Her to text The Girl for me, “Please just tell her I’m okay, I know she’s freaking out”.

“Texting your friends isn’t important right now!” She insisted.

With a heavy sigh I spat out, “I’m sort of dating her Mom.”

I couldn’t see her face, all I heard was the word “Nice” in a bitter sarcastic tone,  and then they wheeled me off for tests.

It was days later before we talked about my confession. She made a few assumptions and accusations that bothered me, but She took it way better than I had imagined. I suppose The Boy helped with that.  I don’t remember the car ride home or where I slept but I do remember texts The Girl sent me that night. I had saved them and about a hundred others over the course of our relationship. They documented the rise and fall of our relationship, starting with confessions of love and need; ending with  confessions of betrayal and selfishness. As trite as the expression, like mother, like daughter may be, we do share our love for words. I held onto those words The Girl had said to me, even after I knew we’d never be. I saved the texts and voice mails to prove that she really did say those things; she wanted to forget them, I did not. I wanted to remember, to know that it was real, not something I had imagined.

The one I cherished most from that snowy December night was, “I don’t know what I would have done if I had lost you”. It’s almost July, nearly eight months have passed and the saddest part is, The Girl and I are strangers. Any love we had was thrown away and forgotten, but that’s a story for another day.   ~Braticas


XIX. The Words She Knows, The Tune She Hums

Sometime in January the visual display on my cell phone began distorting and I knew I had mere days before it would have to be replaced. We live in a world now where things don’t get fixed, they get thrown away. It was a few weeks after I had left the Boy but before the shotgun incident. I was spending the better part of every day in tears, not just gentle weeping but screaming in pain. I had made the worst decision of my life and was regretting it with every breath I took. A malfunctioning cell phone was not something to be borne; the phone was my only remaining link to the Boy, I would not live without it.

I dragged myself to the Verizon store to get my phone checked out. It was indeed dying. The clerk handed me my SD card and told me it would be a few minutes while he swapped over my address book. I remember the moment when I realized what that meant: I would lose my text messages. I reached for my phone on the counter and felt my chest tighten and my body start to tremble. I could barely pull in a breath and I was biting through my lower lip to keep back the tears. I had humiliated myself so many times in the previous weeks; I just could not lose it at the Verizon store. I also could not lose the only remaining words of love he had spoken to me and that I had saved in my locked text messages.

I consider myself rather techno-savvy but I had not been myself in awhile and I ridiculously asked the clerk for a pen and paper so that I might transcribe those meaningful words. I could have emailed them to myself but I didn’t think of it at the time. I sat on the floor and began writing. I scrolled back to the beginning to his first declarations, through promises and plans, and finally to fights and betrayals. It was impossible for me to hold back the tears, I was reliving our entire relationship with an audience of retail cell phone employees and I didn’t even care. Humiliation was the least of my problems. I finished seven pages of the legal pad, folded them in thirds and put them in my purse.

It is possible that words mean more to me than to the average person. I would tell you that I like music but what I really like is lyrics. My high school crush wasn’t really on Elton John; it was on Bernie Taupin, his lyricist. I listen to my favorite movies in bed at night with my eyes closed, drifting off to sleep with dialogue rather than pictures. My alarm clock is the voice of Stephen Frye as my personal butler, gently clearing his throat and waking me with witty words in his British accent. For years I lost myself in the richness of language in historical romance novels. I’ve committed to memory the words of Edna St. Vincent Millay and Carl Sandberg so that they flow off my tongue unrestrained. I don’t know where it would leave costuming, but if I felt I’d had anything to say, I would have been a writer. The ordering of words from chaos to poetry would be an enjoyable occupation for me. It only stands to reason that I would treasure His words. Those seven pages would become night time reading material, the most important words of my life. Now that I ponder it, seems I have plenty to say these days.

That day, out in the car, I pushed the seat all the way back and lie down. When I could breathe again, I called him. I babbled out my story through the tears and listened to his response. He said, “You know I said those words. That’s all that matters.” I knew he was right, that I would never forget one syllable but I still felt their absence. For months I could flip open my phone and read “wont” and know that it was his answer to “don’t ever leave me.” It gave me comfort and made me feel like he was still there.

I pulled out of the parking lot and pulled into the sporting goods store down the street. I got out and went gun shopping. I’d done my internet research and had my heart set on a Charter Arms Pink Lady. I was the kind of woman who had a mani-pedi twice a month; I certainly wouldn’t end my life with a less than stylish weapon. Unfortunately, I was also a retail store manager and lived by one simple shopping rule: if you didn’t speak to me when I walked in your store, I wasn’t buying anything. I expected to receive the kind of customer service that I gave in my store. That day I left without a gun simply because no one waited on me. In the bigger scheme of things, perhaps God tipped them off; perhaps it wasn’t my time to go?

I was not considering suicide because of the electrical impulses of my LG ENV3. I just thought I’d had enough. Earlier that week my Husband, who had gone back to work a few months earlier, was in an accident at work. His head was caught in a machine and part of his face was crushed. He would require a couple years worth of bone grafting, implants and reconstructive surgery. The icing on the cake: The company fired him three days later. Before you become filled with righteous indignation on our behalf and demand that we call an attorney, I will tell you that we already have. Seven. In the state of Virginia you cannot sue for a workplace accident or for wrongful termination, had we known, we would not have been living in the state of Virginia. One attorney had the audacity to say, if my Husband had died I’d be a rich widow but since he lived, nada.

Maybe I could handle everything God threw my way but at the time, I wholly disagreed. I considered myself a strong person, those layers of steel served their purpose and I did not fall apart as I got that late night phone call from the emergency room for the second time in two months. I stood at the foot of his hospital bed while the oral surgeon picked shards of bone and pieces of teeth out of his face and dropped them onto a stainless steel tray. It goes without saying that I had caused my Husband much pain in the preceding weeks. Even though we had our problems, I certainly never meant to cause him any pain at all. I can ask forgiveness but I know my Husband and he is not the kind of man that can forget. I just thought my dying would be better for everyone.

I went home that night empty handed, the Pink Lady still locked in her display case. I thought of all the different ways to die and could only commit myself to one plan: no matter what happened, His face needed to be the last face I saw in this life.

When I sat down to write today I had intended to talk about the deliciousness of falling in love with the Boy and of how I fall in love with Him all over again every time I hear his voice. About the magic of last summer and how he plucked the last of my steel petals and set me free. But we live in a world now where things don’t get fixed, they get thrown away and that’s exactly what happened to us. It’s been five months and the pain of it is still as raw as it was last winter. I’ve been told to get over it. He wasn’t worth it. I need to move on. Cliché after cliché, but if the pain is all I have left of him, then I will live with the pain.
~Dazzled Girl


XVIII. He Loves Me, He loves Me Not

About three things I was absolutely positive. First, I’m the one that introduced Her to the vampire. Second, I kind of wished that he thirsted for my blood. And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with Edward Cullen before She was. This is how it happened for me.

It had been four months since I'd packed up a Budget truck and drove over the mountains and through the woods to Cincinnati, Ohio. It started off wonderfully. I loved the idea of exploring a new city, of creating my own home. I found a sweet little walk up apartment in Forest Park and decorated it with treasures found during date nights at IKEA. I drove the quaint neighborhoods surrounding the city and spent an afternoon photographing statues of giant black squirrels wearing charming outfits that I would send to my step father. He was that rare hunter who had aged into a squirrel and bird feeder after years of popping them with pellet guns in our pecan orchard. I knew the photographs would amuse him. It was starting to feel like home and I was positive I had made the right choice by following my heart to Ohio.

When I’d first arrived I had immediately started developing a new team at work and impressing my superiors with my strong merchandising and people skills. I was putting in a lot of hours but it didn't bother me. I was content to come home after a long day at work to find my boyfriend playing Tony Hawk's Underground on the Play Station. He had come to Ohio eight months before I had taken a giant leap of faith and followed him there. After being separated for so long, the short distance between our apartments was refreshing. My job didn't leave much time for socializing but we made do with date nights strolling around town or seeing movie after movie snuggled up in posh leather seats at the upscale theatre minutes from my house.

As summer dwindled down, I took a promotion to Store Manager and he began preparing for his second year of graduate school at Xavier. Everything seemed well but as my 24th birthday approached I felt lonelier than ever. I'd never been away from my family. Having a boyfriend wasn't enough for me. I thought by moving there that he'd be enough, that I'd meet friends and adjust in the same fashion I had when I moved to Virginia. Unfortunately, I failed to realize how difficult making friends would be. I wasn't in school being surrounded by people my age. By being the boss at work, I wasn't allowed to befriend my employees. My neighbors were senior citizens and families. I longed to be around people that knew me but I didn’t know where to build those relationships and I spent so much time at work, I didn’t know when I’d ever find the time to. He tried to be understanding and helpful but he couldn't relate. He had grad school and an instant circle of friends.

I expected he would gather those friends of his to celebrate my birthday but he did nothing of the sort. Instead, it was a lovely dinner and a Labor Day fireworks show on Newport on the Levy across the river from Cincinnati. Labor Day is more celebrated in Cincinnati than the Fourth of July. I joked about how wonderful the city was to honor my birthday with such a display and I put on a brave face. It was a nice idea, but my escalating depression prevented me from enjoying it. When we arrived at the Levy and the swarms of people pressed in around me, I felt panicked and filled with anxiety. Families were camped out with bright colored coolers of alcohol and snacks, kids ran around with noise makers and balloons. Everyone was excited and having a wonderful time; everyone except me. When the fireworks show started and the sky lit up in a rainbow of colors over the Ohio River, the Cincinnati skyline winked back at me and I just sobbed. I ached for the companionship, love and support of my family and friends back home. He knew I was upset yet made no effort to console me. That was the night I realized just how alone I was. My job demanded my time. School and social obligations demanded his. It was the beginning of the end but I didn’t want to acknowledge it.

Of course, I told Her about the dreadful day at the Levy and the distance growing between The Boyfriend and I. Knowing how upset I'd been that I'd only been able to visit home once since leaving, She planned a short trip up with her Husband. Seeing Her was just what I needed, my loneliness abated for a weekend. I showed them around Cincy as best as I could, barely having seen it myself! Both Vegans at the time, they enjoyed the famous Jungle Jim's; a locally owned giant supermarket full of exotic, ethnic, international foods, live fish and local vegetables. I braved going back to Newport on the Levy, pushing my horrible birthday memories aside to take them to my favorite Turkish restaurant. We meandered through the outdoor mall peeking in the specialty shops. It was there at Barnes and Noble that I met Edward Cullen.

Being an avid reader and vampire enthusiast, I had heard about the Twilight Series long before the movies caused a stir but hadn't committed to reading it. With my parents lost in search of The Deathly Hallows on audio book for the long ride back to Virginia, I wandered over to the Young Adult section, picked up Twilight and combed through the pages. The book art had always intrigued me and in fact, I'd had Twilight in my hands several times before but never bought it. This day, that would change. I walked the aisles of the two story bookstore searching for my lost parents, book in hand and I noticed a young blonde girl, around my age staring at me. I made eye contact with her and she approached, stating simply: "You will love that book. You will." I giggled awkwardly, clearly caught off guard and said, "I think so." I started reading that night.

The next day my parents headed home and I headed to work, Twilight book in hand. It was a Sunday, never a particularly busy day for my beautiful plus size fashion boutique and its upscale outdoor mall. The team and I noticed it was unusually dead that day. We stood at the glass front door watching the wind bend the trees along the walkways. There had been talk of a storm heading our way but we hadn’t expected this severity. As the hours passed, the wind increased, so much so that it picked up a metal trashcan and tossed it around the parking lot, hitting cars. I feared that one would hit our glass store front and shatter it. The power went out in the entire center. After a few frantic phone calls to my District Manager, I was instructed to try to wait it out for the sake of business. With my safety, and the safety of my girls foremost in my mind, I disobeyed those instructions and closed shop. By that time, it was already unsafe for driving. That thirty mile drive to the other side of town, going 15 miles per hour, was the scariest of my life. I was terrified.

Winds were up to 80 miles per hour, street signs were uprooted, power lines came crashing down, and limbs littered the streets. I stopped at a store close to my house in search of one thing, candles. I knew I had a few at the house, but not nearly enough to read by and being able to read was my main concern. The massive windstorm, losing power, food, survival, were all secondary to reading Twilight. For five days I raced home from work each night to read by candle light, staying up until 3 or 4am to finish the entire four book set. I didn't sleep that week. I didn’t need to. I had fallen in love with Edward Cullen. I had fallen hard, I'd become a Twilighter.

The writing is simple and repetitive, yet I honestly fell in love with the characters. I caught myself laughing out loud at Edward's wit, and getting teary eyed at their confessions of love. I'd never had a book move me to that extent. And this was a young adult book! That's what shocked me most. I'd heard this book was popular among teens, why was it affecting me so?

On the other side of town my Boyfriend sat comfortable in an apartment that never lost power watching sports on television and drinking with his college friends, all the while making fun of my choice of reading material. Looking back, the timing was right for me to fall in love with a fictional character because I was already falling out of love with the character that had lured me to Ohio. I was reading by candlelight to escape into a fantasy world as a distraction from the reality of my mistakes. The desire to make the best of things, to prove to myself and others that I had made the right choice, was leading me down the same paths She had taken. We had fallen out of love.

I showed up at my parents house that New Years Day with the Twilight Series on the top of my suitcase. Its pages dog eared and the spines cracked from my rereading the story that would help heal my broken heart. I’ll never forget that autumn and the winds that blew change through my life. Just as it had been my time to fall in love with Edward then, her time would come that spring. ~Braticas


XVII. A Steel Magnolia Loses Her Petals

The Husband had been out of work two months when I accepted a job offer promising a pay increase and a much better bonus plan. It was a job that had crossed my path four times in five years, the timing all wrong until the last. The first time, I had been referred by a colleague and phone interviewed by an angry administrative assistant that left me with a bad first impression. Two years later I was contacted by an outside recruiter that had been making random field calls. She was a delight and left me with a much better impression, but I had just started a new job that week so I tucked her name and number under my blotter and forgot about it. Every once in a while I’d clean my desk and find it there but I never dialed the number and I never threw it out. Last fall she called again and I listened to her pitch. I was interested enough to have a face to face interview but the company decided to promote from within, which didn’t ruffle my feathers because I was happily employed elsewhere. When she called back just two months later with yet another opportunity, however, money talked and I walked. The Husband had been out of work long enough for me to know the future was uncertain and if I could do something to better our situation, I had better do it.

I had mixed feelings about the training program; it was six weeks long and out of state. On the one hand, I didn’t travel well. On the other hand, the thought of getting out of that stressful home had me packed and in the car with no qualms. I was in my hotel room in North Carolina a week into training when I realized something was terribly wrong. I did not miss my family. I did not miss my home. I missed one of my dogs, but not the dog hair. Each evening I came home to a friendly desk clerk greeting me by name and a clean, quiet room. No arguing, no blaring television, no one following me into the bathroom. It was a peaceful time that I spent reading the entire Twilight series and falling in love with Edward Cullen. I confess that some nights I forgot to make the obligatory phone call home. When I did make that call, I found myself at a loss for words. I had nothing to say. By the time I finished training mid May I realized that I could very well live alone. That I could envision a very different life from the one I had created. I had found the first chink in my armor.

There is no doubt in my mind that I had spent the better part of 30 years encasing myself like a steel armadillo, becoming impenetrable to any outside interference. I didn’t get close to people anymore. I didn’t look for friends. I had no interest at all in looking at men. I was focused solely on family and work. My Husband will tell you that I made all the decisions; that everything was done as I wanted, and in his eyes I’m sure it was. What he couldn’t see was that I controlled the pieces of our life that would make me comfortable, but never truly happy. I had made the decision to stay married no matter what and with that decision came the layers of metal that would keep my creative urges, my romantic nature and my yearning soul safely hidden away. I had a role to play as wife, mother and provider; to deliver an award winning performance I would have to harden my shell and I did.

I have only reached the beginning of the fourth month in our story and am fearful that I have been misunderstood. I did not meet a man, have an affair and leave my husband. That’s a common story barely worth being told. That is not my story at all. I found the chink before I met The Boy and I was forced to bend back that steel cage and deal with the woman inside. The Husband and the rest of my family, other than Her, will always blame him but they are wrong. What She knew and the other’s had missed was that I had reached my limit and it had made me vulnerable. The sadness deep inside me was bubbling to the surface and seeping through the cracks; dissembling my armor and changing the way I looked at everything. I had emerged from room 428 at the Holiday Inn a different person and just a little bit frightened.

I was also quietly dealing with another fear during that time. I would lie in that hotel bed with Stephenie Meyer propped on a pyramid pillow and my fingers would stray to that little pebble in my breast. My thumb would absently stroke the skin, trying to determine if it had changed any from the previous day. I was making a tactile memory to compare with tomorrow and the day after, trying to determine how many days I had left before the pebble became the end of my life. Not two years before I had lost my uterus and one ovary to a tumor the size of a small football, a comparison made by my beautiful Indian doctor. I had waited too long to go to the doctor that time, ignoring the discomfort and heavy bleeding until I was terribly weakened by anemia and nearly too exhausted to withstand surgery. That tumor was benign but those who have been there know the fear I speak of; weeks waiting for appointments and biopsy results. But I couldn’t go to the doctor this time; I was the only one working. If I lost my income, we’d be finished. I kept telling myself and that little bump that we’d be fine. I never told myself or that little bump how scared I was.

Back home the seedlings had been transplanted and my perennials were blooming. Every year we had anxiously awaited the April return of our hummingbirds. I had been away when two made it back from their long sojourn to South America and nested in our backyard. The feeders hung from the rails of our deck and we watched them with delight during our morning coffee. I had a hot pink sleep shirt they were particularly fond of and would fly within inches of my face looking for my nectar. In moments they would forget me and turn their attention instead to the window boxes; overflowing with red petunias and the basil I would let go to seed just because they enjoyed the flowers. Most days the gentle hammering of a lone Pileated Woodpecker would set the staccato beat I would drum my fingers to on the wrought iron table top; a habit I inherited from my mother.

There are two places for me that are always full of my mother: the garden and the kitchen. I cannot be either place without the thought of her coming quite unbidden. She was an early riser and would be in her garden before the coffee was finished brewing and the household began stirring. I could be in her kitchen by six o’clock and find a colander of freshly picked green beans in the sink, yellow zinnias in a cobalt blue vase on the counter, and my mother out on her brick patio sipping her black coffee and reading the morning paper; her garden clogs and pruning shears stowed by the back step.

I don’t have enough confidence in my writing to convey the true beauty of the home my mother built. There are hundreds of images that come to me in unexpected moments with many unshed tears. I find myself choking back the memory of orange juice served at breakfast from a small pink glass pitcher, of delphiniums tied to a bamboo stake against a Rhode Island stone wall, of iridescent clamshell plates lined with Bibb lettuce and chilled shrimp resting on Battenberg lace with a mahogany tabletop peeking through. There was loveliness in everything she touched. I wanted so much to recreate that in my home but I always fell short. Those first weeks back from training I would sit on my deck watching the hummingbirds play, unable to put my finger on exactly what was missing from my life. Why didn’t I feel the same peace in my garden I had felt in my mother’s? The answer didn’t come to me that spring. It came to me many months later when I finally told Her that I had fallen in love.

I told my sister first, quite by accident. I had not meant to but the words flew out of my mouth in a torrent of their own volition, my steel cage not strong enough to contain them. She had known something was different, had seen the subtle changes and had wondered at their source. I realized I could not keep the secret from Her, that She knew me the best and would notice. I didn’t quite know how to tell my daughter that this life I had built for her, this step family, was in jeopardy; that I had done something so selfish and out of character that her life could be drastically altered. Just days before we left for Buffalo I screwed up my courage and told her. Her immediate reply was, “I know.” When I asked her how, she answered “I’ve never seen you this happy.”

That was my answer. I had never been that happy. I don't expect to ever be that happy again.



XV. The Masks We Wear

All this talk of costumes, Halloween and the paths we take, brings me back to my earliest memories. I’m sure I have the timing wrong and the details are fuzzy now but there’s no one to ask, no one to set me straight; my mother’s memory has been gone for years now.

I was one of six children, in that naturally Catholic way, but we didn’t really have a large family. My father lost his mother when he was sixteen and his father, the year before I was born. He had no siblings and referred to himself as an orphan. My mother had just one brother and my precious grandmother, a story in her own right. Her father had been gone for years. Mentally ill, he and my grandmother lived separate lives, in that naturally Catholic way, without getting divorced. They lived in separate cities for over twenty years until my father pointed out the fact that if she died, her husband would inherit her property. The church be damned, she was divorced lickety-split. While growing up my family included grandma, my aunt and uncle and my three cousins; a tiny family by Italian Catholic standards. It was my grandma and my aunt that taught me the needle arts.

With my aunt I learned needlepoint, crewel and embroidery. Gift giving occasions were marked by wonderful needlework kits that became wall hangings and pillows around our home. My grandmother taught me the proper way to hold a crochet hook and count stitches on a circular knitting needle. I was gifted her leftover balls of wool and angora to make mittens and potholder squares. She always had an afghan in process on her lap that I would examine each time I visited and remark on her progress. Imagine my surprise when I opened my eighteenth birthday present to find my own ivory, brown and rust crocheted throw ready to make the trip to my dorm room that fall. She had managed to hide its construction for months before.

Earliest memory of sewing I am about seven years old watching my mother sew a blue and white damask Martha Washington costume for my sister. She didn’t have a great love of sewing, she learned because it was expected as part of her training to be a good housewife. Apparently the sewing gene can skip generations. My grandmother came from a long line of professional tailors on her father's side. Most of her family sewed expertly, my mother learned but never really enjoyed it.

My father's great grandfather owned a factory that made school uniforms in Leeds, England. As I researched our ancestry, census after census showed professions associated with sewing on both sides of my dad's family. Clearly, I had inherited something because I was fascinated by the process. I loved the feel of the fabrics and the hum of my mom's Phaff sewing machine. It seemed magical to me. Back in those days sewing patterns often came with pieces in the edges of the marker for doll clothes. In an attempt to keep me from underfoot, she gave me that pattern and enough scraps to start me sewing. A passion ensued.

I lived in the same house from my fifth birthday until the week I left for college. All that time I had a best friend living right next door; she was my sewing partner, so to speak. Together we learned to thread a needle and make Barbie outfits by hand. We scrounged scraps from our family sewing baskets and turned rags into doll clothes and costumes. What we couldn’t teach ourselves and my mother was too busy to teach, we learned by riding bikes to the Clearfield Library and checking out books. On lucky days I had the joy of spending an afternoon at my grandmother’s being taught the rudiments of how to work the machine.

Eventually we took classes and saved our nickels to buy yards of cotton seersucker and bits of rick-rack to make summer tops. By the time we reached home economics class in middle school, we were already quite accomplished. By high school we could stitch a lined navy blue blazer with a sailor collar and soutache trim. It only followed that she would go to the Fashion Institute of Technology for a degree in design and I would go to Nazareth College for a degree in business management. That would be the first big hiccup in my life plan.

My father pretty much chose my major. I believe the conversation went something like: “I’m paying for it; do as I say.” Needless to say I hated it. I loved English and History classes and anything in the arts. Everything else bored me. I relieved that boredom by spending my every free minute in the costume department sewing everything and anything for a crazy Head Costumer while eating mint Milano cookies and wearing a blue net hairpiece from the nineteen forties. My parents thought the lousy grades were a result of too much beer and sex, in reality it was the theater costume department.

I met the Costumer my first week at school. There had been a sign posted in the student union looking for volunteers, sewing experience welcome but not necessary. I went over to the workshop one afternoon and asked if they had anything for me to do. She was making witch costumes for a play I’ve long since forgotten, and was wrestling with a huge bolt of black taffeta. She asked if I could cut out a pattern if she laid it out, she was extremely busy and needed all the help she could find. She handed me the actress’s body measurement sheet and a simple pattern for a gathered full length skirt with a set in waistband and a back zipper. Childs play. Little over an hour later when she came to check on me I was ironing the finished skirt and getting ready to pin the hem. Needless to say, she was surprised and delighted. She threw her arms around me and sang, “I am so in love with you; don’t ever leave me.” I didn’t leave her for the two years I was there. I was in the costume department my every free minute; much to the detriment of my school work.

Anyone who knows me now will shake their heads in disbelief when I tell you I was quite shy back then. I didn’t have the courage to stand up to my father and change my major. I had such insecurities about my abilities that I mutely followed the path I was pushed down, no matter how disastrous that would turn out to be, rather than forge ahead on my own. I’m reminded of that every year on October 31st when the worlds of textile and make believe collide and I am afforded one more chance to sew something wonderful for my little girl to masquerade in. I imagine I'll be doing it for quite some time since She refused to learn how to sew; apparently She doesn't have the sewing gene.

I’ve been told, and rightly so, that I have spoiled Her. I have been too easy, I have paid too many of Her bills, I have given Her too many opportunities that She has squandered away. I do it because I want Her to have every chance to find Her calling; to not be stuck in the wrong life. This year, more so than ever, I am cognizant of what’s gone wrong in both our lives and am determined to set things right.

The night of Her accident when I found out about the Girl I was shocked. It seemed so odd to me that we could be so close, yet this huge piece of who She was had been hidden from me. The Husband hadn’t heard, he had left the room; a good thing because he would not have been supportive. There would be blaming and accusations and derogatory comments. None of which I cared to hear. I stood in stunned silence looking at my broken, bruised baby with her clothes cut off and the cervical collar forcing Her head back at an odd angle. I needed a minute to digest the words She had spoken, God granted me a time out in the form of an orderly, come to wheel Her down for an MRI. I was left alone to my thoughts when my phone buzzed. It was The Boy. He had been my support all night, texting me to keep me sane on the long drive to the hospital and answering my frantic texts with just the right words. He was a master at reading me and saying exactly what I needed to hear. I text him: “She has a girlfriend.” His instant answer: “Who cares, Baby, as long as She is happy?” Indeed.

XIV. The Notion Of The North

After spending two weeks rearranging the twenty six letters of the alphabet into meaningless ramblings, I've realized it's not time for me to write about Cincinnati; at least not yet. I'll head North in a different direction.

A week before She kissed The Boy, the two of us traveled to where our union began: Buffalo, New York. We spent the better part of two months planning our trip to the homeland. The travel arrangements were a nightmare, airplane versus automobile being the major issue. She chose airplane. I chose automobile. When given the option to carpool with the Aunts, I weighed the pros and cons. On one hand I wouldn't have to drive or pay for gas and I could spend time with them. On the other hand, I would be confined to a mini van with five children and the thought absolutely terrified me. If I had to listen to two twelve year old boys debating the merits of Family Guy and South Park for several hours, surely I'd throw myself from the moving vehicle and become yet another inconvenient bit of mess for the highway patrol. Verdict: it would be a solo drive.

When the day arrived, I started out excited and early enough, armed with my music and cell phone. Four hours later I was barely out of Washington, DC; I'd hit stopped traffic at every turn and, of course, rain! Glorious. After much cursing and several phone calls to Her it was decided I'd spend the night in Pennsylvania and drive the second leg in the morning. As soon as the sun began its descent I snatched up a hotel room. I could barely sleep because of the anticipation.

The second leg was effortless. Beautiful weather. No traffic. The scenic countryside, rustic barns and windmills reminded me of my love for road trips. The moment I crossed over the New York state line, I cheered at the top of my lungs and clapped just once before planting my hands back on the wheel. I was ecstatic, at the same time, when I entered the Buffalo city limits, nostalgia washed over me. It had been over a decade since I'd been to the city where I, as well as my entire family, came from and the previous visit had been a somber one. It was the last time I saw my Great Uncle before he passed, the last time I communicated with any of my Father's family; but the most tragic of it all, it was the last time I saw my Father. But that's another story for another day.

This visit would be a joyous one. My Great Aunt's 80th birthday, not that she looks a day over 60! Her children had planned a tremendous party to celebrate and we had all assembled from the corners of the globe. She knew my Aunts were coming but My Uncle, myself and She were a "surprise" gift. I was shocked not even the young cousins let the secret out of the bag. The moment she saw us, she held out her arms, clung to us and started weeping. It was difficult to keep my composure. That entire day was full of hugs, smiles, laughter and catching up with family we hadn't seen in years. Being around my Great Aunt and seeing her interact with her grandchildren made me miss my Grandparents even more. I felt blessed to have such a wonderful, loving extended family and wished that I could be closer to them all.

Unfortunately, we only spent a few days in Buffalo. She didn't want a stressful, rushed agenda with sight-seeing, nor did I. Our days would start by having Starbucks in our beautiful hotel lobby with My Uncle from Texas. Then we'd simply drive. Saw the hospital I was born in, restaurants my Grandparents frequented, Delaware Park and the Buffalo Zoo. We found our old neighborhood and casually parked outside our first home, knowing we looked like stalkers and didn't care.

Oh and there was food, lot's of it. Roast beef on salty kimmelweck rolls, pizza from Santora's, Canadian beer on tap. Salen hot dogs with sauerkraut and mustard from Ted's. Friday night fish fry at the old Pine Lodge. And lastly, real Buffalo Wings. I am certain I had wings every day I was there. She fell head first off the vegan bandwagon the day we got there.

Even though I had no memories of the places she showed me I felt as if I was channeling my Father the whole time. It had only been five years since I lost him and just knowing that he had been on the same streets not too long ago, somehow helped with my grief. Our last stalker drive was my favorite. It was the morning of Her flight home. We visited the house She grew up in. Aside from the trees doubling in size and the removal of a swimming pool, according to Her it was all exactly the same. Age hadn't changed the neighborhood a bit. It astounded me.

Lastly, we visited the only place in all of Buffalo that I had real memories of: my Great Grandmother's house, my Nana. It was perfect. I eyed the small little cottage with its detached single car garage and fenced in back yard. In my memory it was still blue, the basement still smelled of bananas and freshly laundered linens, and my Nana was still alive sitting in her kitchen, legs crossed, hands in her lap, smiling. How I wished I remembered Nana's Christmas Eve feast in that house, listening to the family stories told while they had their after dinner coffee and played cards. How I wished I had seen the fish swimming around in the bucket.

After She left I spent the day with my Uncle. It was the first time we had spent any time together without the rest of our family busily chattering around us, I couldn't help but be amused by my Uncle chain-smoking and cursing between inhales and exhales at the plethora of car dealerships along the route. We had day tripped to Rochester to spend time with my cousin and his young family and celebrate his birthday. Then it was on to Niagara Falls because even though I'd driven past it numerous times in my childhood, I didn't remember seeing it. Beautiful is an understatement. The real draw, of course, being the casinos! The Casino: even more beautiful especially because I won $300! I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent with him and thanked him for making me richer.

The next day I left Buffalo before the world and the sun had risen. I reached the Pennsylvania border by dawn and pulled into the welcome center. It was desolate. Silent. At sunrise I stood outside the car, sipping my morning coffee, and breathed in the cool air. I was only an hour and a half away and already I longed to go back. I ached for my family to be whole again, my Grandparent's to be healthy, my father to be alive and free from addiction, and to be a part of the history and memories of Buffalo that I was too young to experience or remember.

A long drive gives you a lot of time to think. I was still stuck on Her couch and I needed to get off it. It was time for me to start making my own history, whatever that may be. ~Braticas