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.