Turquoise

She bought the house because it had turquoise trim, it was almost one hundred years old and had original hardwood floors, and the neighbors on either side were clearly super liberal. She would be safe here. She bought the house because it needed work. So much work. The house would cost roughly two years worth of paychecks to fix, assuming she didn’t touch her savings or go for a loan. The work would save her.

The day she closed escrow was a Thursday. She’d anticipated the close and taken Thursday and Friday off work. Waking at 6 am out of habit and excitement, she had some time to kill before her 9 am meet up with the realtor to get her new keys. Her first stop was coffee. She should probably give up drive thru coffee, it was so expensive and not any better than what she could make herself at home, but it would be her last luxury, she told herself as she took her place in the line of cars and rummaged through her purse for her cards.

Coffee in hand, or rather in her cars cup holder, she proceeded to her second stop. Arriving at the home improvement big box store she grabbed her list from her purse, her coffee from her cup holder, her keys from the ignition, and walked inside. It felt so amazing to be in jeans on a work day. She couldn’t help the bounce in her step or the excitement mixed with fear she felt as she grabbed a cart and turned left toward the cleaning supplies.

She would need loads of wood floor cleaner and the right sort of mop for the job, something good to scrub all the wood paneling with too, and those giant trash bags definitely some of those. Didn’t they sell a giant pack of cleaning rags, cause that would fit the bill. And some generic all purpose cleanser, at least a gallon. Window cleaner, check. Paper towels, check. A thick face mask for when she pulled up that carpet. A good pair of gloves for pulling those weeds. And last, but not least, and certainly the most exciting part, new door handles and locks for the outside doors: front, garage, and side.

She spent quite a bit of time perusing the handles. Choosing the right front door handle was important. This house would be celebrating it’s centennial birthday in a few years and deserved to have a handle that fit that status. No silly newfangled electronic thing or plain round knob. The house deserved an elegant handle. And she finally found the right one. It was copper, which would tarnish with age to a lovely turquoise to match the trim she intended to re-paint but keep. It had scroll work and a Victorian look to it, perfect.

Before leaving, she checked on inside paint colors and grabbed a few samples cards. The wood paneling was awful but removing it would be too expensive and dirty, and it would delay her move-in. She’d been scouring the internet for weeks to see what paneling looked like painted and had found scads of beautiful results. She knew she wanted everything in the house to be bright and cheerful, especially since she was leaving the original wood floors, the wood beam ceiling, and several of the built-ins in all their natural wooden splendor. The painted paneling would help offset all that brown, help make it pop.

With her car loaded up, she made her way to the house. She was still a little early but she figured she’d just sit and commune with the home, enjoy the morning sounds of the neighborhood, get a feel for her future. There was no street parking but she didn’t care, she wanted to pull into her driveway anyway. Hers. This was hers now. Exiting the car to walk around it and stand in front of the house she suddenly froze. The enormity of what she’d just done hit her. She’d bought a house. A house that needed a ton of work. A ton of money. What was she thinking? She’d never restored a house before? She didn’t know the first thing about…anything.

Sinking to the concrete she sat. Staring.

She had planned to lose herself in the work. When you have to clean and scrub and scour and prepare for painting you have nowhere to be but inside your head. Sure you can turn on music to help the time pass and make it a bit more fun, but after the third or fourth hour, after the first and second breaks to pee or grab lunch…at some point you realize the music is on and you’re not hearing it. You’re listening to yourself for maybe the first time in ages. She’d counted on that.

She wanted to fix the house up, sure, but in return the house was going to help her fix herself. The house would force her to exercise. The house would force her to listen to her own thoughts as she pulled weeds for the third hour in a row, or scrubbed the paneling of yet another wall, or pulled up that nasty carpet in the bedroom. The house would be her therapy. Isn’t that how it works in the movies? You start a project that’s too big for you, you find yourself during the work, and by the time it’s all done you have something you absolutely love and you’ve also managed to find love within yourself and somehow magically outside of yourself too, because Mr. Right always makes an appearance. She’d counted on all that.

Her realtor arrived, chirping with the thrill of a house sold and another satisfied client. It wasn’t til their eyes met that the realtor realized something was wrong. Taking the tack that sitting down might be appropriate, she criss-cross-applesauced her way to the cold cement and stared up at the house.

“Did you ever do something you maybe shouldn’t have?”

“All the time. It’s important to scare yourself at least once a day…someone famous said something like that anyway.”

“I think I’m in over my head.”

“Then you’re right where you need to be.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes. The birds were calling in the trees all around and it felt a bit like spring even though it was still the middle of winter.

“Are you going to keep the turquoise?”

“Definitely.”

“Good. I like it, too.” After a beat she asked, “ready for your keys?”

~~~That’s one hour~~~

Stump

“It’s time,” she said to herself, “there are far too many roosters; they’re attacking each other, eating too much feed, costing me money. It’s time.”

She dressed in her old torn and stained jeans, the t-shirt that wasn’t good for much more than being cut up into rags, and a pair of rubber boots. She drank what was left of her coffee, cold now and a bit crunchy with some grounds that’d snuck through the screen of her French press (this might be the country, but good coffee knows no class). Rinsing the mug and setting it in the drainboard she headed down the stairs and out the door.

She walked through the pasture toward the coop. There was a stump of oak in the ground from when the oak beetle had decimated her favorite tree. That stump had been eyeing her for weeks. Calling out to her. Whispering to her. She knew it was perfect for the chore at hand. Knew the minute the tree was felled and the stump appeared. With the rest of the tree cleared away and smoldering under a tarp a few feet away, there was nothing left but to make use of the stump. No other chores to distract her from the task at hand.

It was cruel to leave the roosters this long. It was no kindness making them live for her squeamishness, letting them peck and scratch and attack one another, spilling one another’s blood so she wouldn’t have to. It was time.

She found the ax out behind the barn, leaning casually against it, waiting right where she’d left it after cutting up the oak. The ax normally lived inside the barn, a little tool and tack room that protected the ax from the elements. But she’d been tired the other day, finished with the oak, preparing for the roosters. So tired. Too tired to put it away properly. Plus, she figured the roosters might see her with it and know what was coming. She didn’t want to spoil the meat. She didn’t want their last few days to be spent in fear.

Although how could a creature fear a thing it’d never seen before? She’d read a thing once, or did she hear it on the radio? She wasn’t quite sure. Anyway, it was all about how human babies who have never seen a snake or been warned about them can see the squiggle of a snake and are immediately afraid. Dern things have never seen a snake in their short little baby lives, but you show ’em a snake squiggle and they cry and cry for their mamas. Ever since she learned about that she’s taken more caution with things.

Walking the ax out to the stump she dropped it down in the weeds and mimed the actions to come: if she walked up to the stump this way with a rooster in her left hand, she could hold it down like this and…oh. There weren’t any nails in the stump yet. She’d forgotten that part. Leaving the ax in the weeds she went back to the barn and this time entered the tool room rifling around for a hammer and a couple of nails. Finding what she needed she headed back out to the stump.

Once again standing before the stump, she figured about where she’d need their necks and hence about where they’d need their heads. She drove the nails into the stump in a “v” formation. Once again she mimed out the process: she’d walk up to the stump this way with a rooster in her left hand, she could hold it down like this, slip it’s head into the “v”, pull the body back a bit to straighten the neck, then grab the ax with her right hand, like so, holding the body with her left hand like so, then a quick downward motion with her right arm, and… the stump didn’t move a bit as the ax hit it but the air resonated with the thunk.

She tried not to shudder. She could do this. She had to do this. “It’s time,” she said aloud.

Walking back to the coop she saw two of the roosters attacking one another, wings outstretched, leaning backwards, dancing on their toes. It could have been a mating dance if it weren’t for the sounds they were emitting and the occasional jump, dive, slash movements they did with their spurs. It would have been funny, two ridiculous animals fighting over nothing (she’d moved all the hens to a chicken tractor when the roosters became old enough to be a nuisance to them), if it weren’t for the blood they drew, the eye they occasionally removed, and the brutalization of the losers body that sometimes occurred afterwards.

She opened the gate to step into the coop and the parade of roosters watching the fight ignored her. The sparring partners ignored her. She knew it was mean to let them continue, but it was also the best way to keep the gawkers from flapping around like crazy as she tried to catch them. She quickly and without hesitation grabbed the rooster closest to her around the neck and swept him up into the crook of her left arm. Nobody stirred except the two roosters on either side of the gap she’d just created; they shuffled a little bit, closing the gap, eyes still locked on the two roosters intent on killing each other.

Exiting the coop she wondered why anyone would ever pay to watch such a thing. Her right hand still around the roosters neck and her left arm cradling his body, she cooed down to him hoping to keep him calm. It was no use, of course. His heartbeat had been wild from watching the fight, she felt it the moment he was in her arms. It hadn’t gotten faster since she nabbed him, but it hadn’t slowed since the scenery changed either.

She wondered how badly the meat would be affected by the fighting going on today. Was it even worth it to butcher these creatures today? If not today, when? Tomorrow would be another day of fighting, and the day after that. Plus, she could only butcher so many birds in a day and she had to kill all twenty. Or did she?

She had planned on keeping one rooster. She liked hearing their crowing throughout the day. Most people thought a rooster only crowed in the morning but it wasn’t so. The roosters crowed all throughout the day, several times a day. In fact, a week ago there’d been a full moon the likes of which she’d never seen in her forty years. It’d been so bright and so clear that the roosters had taken to crowing much of the night, too. That night she’d decided she didn’t need to keep a rooster.

Still. Maybe just one rooster.

That left nineteen to kill, gut, pluck, bag, and freeze. That was more than she could get through herself in a day. She thought she could probably get through ten on her own in a day…maybe twelve. She liked the idea of getting through more on the first day so she’d have less the second day. A mini-reward on day two, the reward of having to do less. If she kept one and killed twelve today, she’d only have to get through seven tomorrow. It would still be a full days work, but not quite so full as today.

Quick as she could she held the rooster down on the stump, stretching his neck a bit to get his head on the other side of the “v.” Quick as she could she raised the ax and brought it down hard. The thunk sounded more like a shlunk this time and the echo was a bit muted.

~~~That’s an hour~~~

Achievement

What if I fall?

We make goals all the time. Arbitrary goals, necessary goals, goals based on wishes and dreams. No goals are better or worse than others, and all goals require steps to achieve. It’s figuring out those steps and getting them done that separate those who achieve from those who give up. I am no expert. I’m not even going to pretend to be an expert. I have zero qualifications of any kind, unless you consider a high school diploma, a Bachelor of Arts degree, and reading a metric shit ton of books on this stuff qualifiers. That and when I set a goal I achieve it.

There are tons of books out there about achieving goals and learning to build in the steps and what separates the can do’s from the can’t do’s, etc. Some of those books are really good. Some of those books are terrible. Many of those books are redundant. So to save you the time I’ve compiled what I’ve found to be the necessary information for achieving goals.

Define Your Goal in Specific Terms

My main goal is to become a published author. Sounds specific, right? But it’s not. Technically, I am a published author. I wrote and edited my department newsletter in college. That newsletter went to hundreds of people and institutions of higher learning all over the United States. Therefore, I am a published author. Technically true, but not what I mean. I need to dial in and really define what I mean for myself when I say “become a published author.”

I want to write and publish a novel. That is much more specific. I’ve defined what the published writing is that will mean I’ve accomplished my goal. Defined, right? Nope. What do I mean by publish? Published on my blog? Published by Amazon? Published by a major publishing house?

I want to write a novel and publish it without losing my rights of ownership, most likely via Amazon.

That. That is a defined goal. It shows that I know what I want to achieve. There’s nothing vague about it. If I were to tell someone my goal they would have a very clear picture in their mind. I can’t pretend I’ve accomplished it by doing anything other than what I’ve said I’m going to do. Define your goal in specific terms.

Determine and Define the Major Steps

Where are you now? Where do you want to be? How do you get there? It is often easier to start at the end and work backwards. Visualizing your goal, seeing what it looks like to be where you want to be, can help you see how to get there.

Where I want to be: I want to write a novel and publish it without losing my rights of ownership, most likely via Amazon. Where I am now (the time I made my NYR’s): I write in my journal every night for anywhere from ten minutes to 45 minutes. How can I get from journal writing, which I don’t intend to publish, to a completed novel to publish?

I need to start writing fiction. I need to write fiction that I want to publish. I need to write fiction that I can compile into a novel to publish. You will notice that my end goal is not one of my NYR’s. It’s too large. It’s too daunting. It’s too far from where I am. My timeline, or my list of major steps, looks like this:

  • Be disciplined in my writing
  • Send my writing out for publication
  • Obtain publishing credits
  • Obtain a following of readers
  • Write a novel
  • Determine how I want to publish
  • Get published

You will notice not all of these are on my NYR’s because again, too large, too daunting, too much to accomplish in a year when I also have other goals that include time with my family and friends. Instead, what’s on my NYR’s are the first two steps and those two steps have been more clearly defined

  • Be disciplined in my writing became “write for one hour every day” – this creates discipline and a lot of potential material for a novel
  • Send my writing out for publication became “submit at least one piece for publication every month” – this shows dedication to becoming published in smaller ways and building an audience for my eventual novel publication and involves a lot of learning about how and where to submit

Determining and defining your major steps is awesome, because you now have a path to follow. But the path can be daunting. You’ve got to keep your spirits up and help you get to your destination because nothing worth doing is going to be easy.

Build in Excitement and Reward

There’s nothing inherently exciting or rewarding about “write for one hour a day.” So how do I make it fun? How do I ensure I’ll hit my major step? I need to build in the excitement and reward.

I decided it was most exciting and rewarding for me to write my one hour a day on the computer, on a blog, for the whole world to see. Eep! It’s also terrifying. Publishing a blog is a way to potentially gain followers/readers which is one of my major steps. It’s keeping me accountable for my “one hour a day.” It’s exciting because it shows I’m committed to letting people see what I write. It’s exciting because people might like it. It’s rewarding when I do get “like”s from people, especially people who don’t know me. It’s rewarding because I sometimes get entire comments from people that help keep me excited. It’s become a cycle of excitement and reward.

There’s absolutely zero that’s rewarding about “submit at least one piece for publication each month,” because the odds are I will receive more rejections than I can count before receiving an acceptance. It’s just the way it is. Plus the only exciting thing about submitting a piece is the idea that it may get accepted and since you already know you’ll pull in tons of rejections before an acceptance it just feels super disheartening. I will be completely honest: I have not done one single thing about attempting this goal yet and we are currently just over halfway through the month.

I need to build in some serious excitement around this step or it won’t happen. It has it’s own reward: when a piece is accepted I will have gained some publishing credits (one of my major steps) and will gain potential readers/followers (another major step). So the reward is built in to accomplishing the step, I’ve just got to find the excitement. And it’s not there.

I am going to build in the excitement on this step by appealing to my need for order. It’s crazy, I know, but I love, love, love spreadsheets. I love organization. I am going to make this step exciting by creating a spreadsheet to track every piece I write and submit. The name of the piece, where I submitted it, how I submitted it, when I receive a rejection/acceptance, etc. Not only is keeping track of my submissions essential to meeting my goal, it’s also a form of excitement for me.

Most people are not thrilled by a spreadsheet. So for most people this kind of “excitement” won’t fly. I get it. Feel free to build in excitement with false rewards. For example, when I’ve learned enough Spanish that I can have a conversation with my Spanish speaking friends without using any English I will treat myself to dinner at a fancy tapas bar. Or, when I’ve learned to play my first song on guitar I will treat myself to a new song book. Do not build in excitement and reward by saying, when I hit x goal I will treat myself by taking a day off from y. Taking days off is a slippery slope to failure.

As long as you are building in excitement and reward that continue to feed your goals rather than detract from them you will hit your mark.

Schedule All the Steps

You know what you need to do, you have a path to get there, and you have so much motivation, even if it’s built-in motivation. Now you need to get it on your calendar so it happens. If you do not make time for the things you want to accomplish, you will not accomplish them. Make the time by scheduling it.

For some people this means literally scheduling their lives: 6 am wake-up, 6:30 am jog, 7:30 am shower and breakfast, etc. For other people it is a bit more vague: daily write, monthly submit for publication, annually update NYR’s with next steps. Figure out what works for you and do it.

My days are scheduled such that from the moment of wake up until the moment the kids are in bed I do nothing but kid stuff with the occasional five second of me time thrown in when the kids are occupied by something like story time at the library or playing with grandma or running at the playground with friends. I shamelessly use those seconds of me time for time wasting/occupying things like Facebook or catching up on email, or updating my grocery list, or ordering that thing online that I keep forgetting to buy at the store, etc. Shamelessly.

I’m serious about this step, folks. One of the reasons I’m struggling with my “submit at least one piece for publication a month” goal is that I have not scheduled in the time required to do it. I need time to organize my work, determine where I want to publish and what sorts of pieces they normally publish, and then start submitting. This is a huge up-front time requirement and a smaller down the line time requirement. And it’s not happening because I haven’t scheduled it in because I didn’t have enough of an excitement/reward system in place until just today when I figured out that a spreadsheet would help excite me.

My “write for one hour a day” goal, however, is in full effect because I do it without fail as soon as the kids are in bed. I do it even when I am interrupted every twenty minutes by a colicky baby. I do it even when I am exhausted because I only got three hours of sleep the night before. I do it every, freaking day for one hour. It is scheduled. That said, you will notice I didn’t publish anything last night. That’s because I started two pieces that I didn’t finish, one was nothing but whining and one was too intense for me to continue. And then my older son, who had been cranky all day spiked a fever and needed mom.

I’m making up for yesterday with today. This post has taken well over an hour.

Go!

Get started. Today. Do it. Waiting for the first of the year, waiting for the first of the month, waiting for Monday…all that waiting speaks of lack of motivation and promises failure. Start today. Make a small step: like creating your goal and defining the major steps. Tomorrow you will start implementing your plan. For example: today I will create the goal that I want to run a marathon and determine that from here to there includes scheduling my workouts/runs, downloading the C25K app on my phone, and determining which marathon I want to run. Tomorrow I will begin my workouts/runs using my app. The next day I will continue with my app workouts/runs and also determine which marathon I want to run. The next day I will continue with my app workouts/runs and also sign up for the marathon I picked. etc. etc. etc.

You can do anything you set your mind to, don’t give up on yourself, don’t give up on your dreams. The first step to not giving up: create your steps to meet your goal.

UPDATE: that whole spreadsheet idea seriously revved me up. I have now created my spreadsheet and done some research on publications and submissions for different genres. It makes my heart pound wildly and I’m full of nervous anticipation.

A Date

It wasn’t that she never knew when men were hitting on her, it’s that she only knew when she was also interested in them. When she wasn’t the least bit interested in a man she had no idea he was flirting with her, and was always taken aback when they asked her out. “On a date?” she’d say, surprised. And if that shocked reaction wasn’t enough to cool their jets, she’d give them a try. Why not? She was young, single, and had no idea what she wanted out of life. Maybe these men could help her find the answer.

For some women dating a cop is a turn on. Something about uniforms and guns and power. The whole thing made her shudder. So when she was pulled over she rolled down her windows and tried to keep her anxiety in check.

“Do you know why I pulled you over?” the officer asked.

She shrugged and said, “I figure I have a taillight out or something cause I know I wasn’t speeding.”

“License plate.”

She stared at him blankly, “License plate?” she repeated.

“It is illegal to set your plate in the window. You have to install it on the vehicle.”

“Really?” her eyebrows shot up in surprise. It had never occurred to her that such a thing would matter. If they can see it through the window what’s the difference.

“Is there a reason the plate isn’t installed?” the officer asked.

“I don’t own any tools,” she replied truthfully.

The officer laughed. “Alright, well I won’t write you up for this if you promise to get it installed today.”

“I promise. But not sure how I’ll fulfill it.”

“Head down to that auto shop two blocks ahead. They’ll have a screwdriver you can borrow.”

“All I need is a screwdriver? Huh, I thought it would be some wrench type thing,” she said.

The officer laughed again, patted her truck, and walked away with a “have a nice day” thrown over his shoulder.

She made good on her promise and just like the officer had said the auto shop was happy to install her plate for her, although they too laughed at the situation. The mechanic who installed it was at least ten years older than she was and once again a surprised “on a date?” was escaping her lips by the time he was finishing up. The man blushed and didn’t push it, so she went on her way with her social calendar unedited.

It was later that night at a local bar that she ran into the officer again. Out of uniform it took her a moment to place him. He knew her immediately, however, and asked her to dance. They were out there two minutes later with him pulling her in closer when she reached for his waist and felt his gun. She froze. He laughed, told her it was fine, the safety was on, he was required to carry it at all times. And that was that. She made an excuse to go to the restroom but snuck out through the kitchen claiming there was a man who wouldn’t stop harassing her and she needed help getting out so he wouldn’t see. She never went to that bar again.

It wasn’t long before she’d found someone to flirt with who was flirting back. It wasn’t long before the flirting became a little less general, a bit more focused. It wasn’t long before the flirting was a deep abiding attraction, the conversation devoid of banter and full of the present and the future. It wasn’t long before she’d found someone she wanted out of life. So when he didn’t ask her out she was a bit shocked. A bit taken aback. After drawing out the night as long as she possibly could she finally had to concede that this man was going to go home, without her, and without a plan for a future date.

Standing with him at his car, a position she’d never been in before, she finally asked, “so when are you going to take me out?”

“On a date?” he asked, smiling.

“Well, I dunno…” she kind of mumbled, shy and embarrassed for the first time.

“I kind of thought we were past the dating part, but if you need me to ask you I will.”

She was silent, thinking about this. Did she need a date? Were they past the dating part after only five hours of drinking and talking? Before she could reply he stepped towards her, lifted her face towards his, and smiled.

“I’ll kiss you when you’re sure. I’ll be here again tomorrow night if you need a date.”

He let go of her face, stepped back, and got into his truck. She was just standing there. She couldn’t think to move. Her arms and hands hung limply by her side. What was happening to her? She watched as he put the key in the ignition and started it up. She watched as he looked out at her again, “probably thinking what a weirdo I am,” she thought, as he drove slowly away.

Here, or rather there, was a man who maybe knew what she wanted out of life better than she knew herself. Had she wanted him to kiss her? Definitely, in the way of all things curious. But also, no. She wanted to savor the evening and think of him with butterflies and look forward to tomorrow. A kiss might have ruined all that anticipation. And he seemed to know that.

But “I’ll be here tomorrow” wasn’t any kind of date she’d ever heard of. And yet she found she liked the idea of that much better. There wasn’t any pressure or expectation. It was something she’d say to a friend. And yet he’d made it clear that he thought of her in more than a friendly way, he was simply waiting for her to decide what she wanted.

How very thoughtful. How very gentlemanly. How very unexpected.

She realized she absolutely did not need a date. She’d never needed to date. She needed this, right here. This understanding that had occurred between them. This acceptance that she was in control of what she wanted, even if he knew what it was. She would be there tomorrow. Not for a date. For the continuation of this way of being with someone. She wanted more. She very much wanted this man who knew how to help her find her answer, not by telling her when he knew it, but by giving her the space to hear it.

~~~That’s one hour~~~

Dangerous Woman

She always thought “dangerous woman” had something to do with the height of their heels or the fit of their clothing. She always thought “dangerous woman” had something to do with the state of their mental or moral health. So she always stayed away from “dangerous women” and eyed them heavily when she was with her man.

Until one day she was caught unawares by a dead battery and no one to call for help. The day a “dangerous woman” offered to let her borrow her phone. The dangerous woman wasn’t eyeing her. The dangerous woman wasn’t judging her. Cause that’s what it was, judging, not eyeing. And that was the day it all changed.

Angela and the dangerous woman, Deannie, became friends. Deannie introduced Angela to other dangerous women: Stacie, Halie, Connie.

“You’re all ie’s,” Angela mentioned once when they were all together.

After some giggles and the kind of laughter that turned several male heads, Deannie explained, “We’re all not ie’s. I’m DeAnn. That’s Stacy, with a y. That’s Haley with a y. That’s Constance. She’s actually the only one of us that’s even close to a true ie.”

“So, why all the ie’s then?” Angela asked.

“Cause ie’s have more fun, honey,” said Connie with a sly smile, a wiggle of her eyebrows, and a shimmy of her tits.

All the ladies cracked up, drawing another round of stares from the men in the room.

“We’ll turn you into an Angie yet!” Deannie cried, inciting another round of laughter and head turning.

Later, at home with her now husband, Angela thought about what the ladies had said. Clearly they were aware of the eyeing they received both from men and women. Aware and choosing to step into it. But why? Why choose to be a dangerous woman?

That Saturday night at her company holiday party, Angela was trying desperately not to yawn. “I just need to make it through the gift exchange and I can slip back home to my jammies,” she thought to herself as the plates were cleared and people drained what was left of the cheap wine from their glasses.

The boss stood up and gave his obligatory speech, painful as always, followed by the polite clapping and “ohs” and “ahs” of employees working for a paycheck. And then it was time for the gift exchange. Angela was near the end, a distinctly advantageous position usually, although at an employee gift exchange it was highly unlikely there’d be anything she actually wanted…except maybe what she’d brought. “Who would know if I opened my own gift,” she wondered.

And then it happened. The sweetest woman in the world, old Meredith from accounting, opened a present that was very clearly unacceptable. First, it didn’t meet the monetary requirement that had been set. Not even close. Second, it didn’t meet the company party whitewashing that was unstated but well understood. Third, it was downright juvenile, and these were all supposedly adults here. And of all the people to open it, it was kindly, elderly, quiet, Meredith.

“What is it?” people in the back were asking.

No one close enough to see what she’d unwrapped could say it out loud. Meredith’s face turned the brightest shade of red Angela had ever seen. A hush fell over the party as word finally spread and everyone realized what had happened.

The boss, finally being notified of the gaff, stood up, coughed and loudly asked, “where are we now? Eight? Who’s number eight?”

The party continued. People would have their number called and would open a present. There wasn’t any stealing. There was nothing here anyone wanted, not even the people who brought the gift to begin with. And next thing you knew it was Angela’s turn.

She stood up, walked towards the gift table to take something, and then turned toward Meredith. “I’m going to steal,” Angela heard herself saying. And she saw herself take the vibrator out from the bag Meredith had hurriedly shoved it back into, and say “my husband and I broke our last one.” Laughing the laugh of her friends and smiling the smile of her friends, Angela walked back to her seat.

The room exploded into laughter and after things calmed down a bit, Meredith picked a different gift and the game continued until all the gifts had been opened. The party finished winding down, everyone said their goodbye’s and see-you-on-Monday’s, and that was that.

Later, at home with her husband, Angela told him the story and after they’d both had a good laugh they decided what the hell….

Laying in bed with her husband snoring beside her Angela realized a dangerous woman has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with clothes, sanity, or compunction. A truly dangerous woman is one who has everything. She can’t be coerced because there’s nothing you have that she wants. She can’t be frightened because there’s nothing you have that she needs. A dangerous woman is one with nothing to hide; and it turns out, Angela was one dangerous woman.

Monday morning Meredith stopped by Angela’s desk. “I just wanted to thank you for…the other night,” she stammered, cheeks turning pink.

“Oh, Meredith, it was nothing. You’re welcome.”

“No, no, Angela, really, I couldn’t possibly have gone home with…” Meredith trailed off.

“Honey, it really was my pleasure. And call me Angie, my friends do.”

~~~That’s an hour~~~

Silence VII

This is part of a series. Refer to the Blog Index if you wish to read them in order.

Well now, after the doc took that call and I was free to heave a breath and move on with my work the darndest thing happened. The medics called that they were on their way with a family of three, car wreck. But get this, the family’s name is Easton! What are the odds? There’s no way it’s the same Easton as the old man we got in a drug fog coma in room 102, can’t be, God would never be so cruel. I mean, my God is a vengeful God to be sure, but He’d never lay all that on one man.

I tell you what, those two boys came through here quick as you like looking just like their mama who came through here just as quick. I didn’t hardly have a chance to consider whether those boys looked like old man Easton in 102, we were just so busy. The mama had a pulse that went all across the board, strong when she came in then all but disappeared a few minutes later. Medic said they almost lost her three or four times on the way over. And while those boys would be just fine once the trauma wore off, you never really knew what could be going on internally.

I wasn’t about to tell doc we needed him, not when I knew who he was talking to on the phone, but I also couldn’t not tell him. So I sent Curdish. He’s our weakest link on the unit and I wouldn’t feel a bit bad if he was reassigned. YOu wouldn’t know we were waiting for the doc with all the activity: lines being put in or swabbed and swapped from the medics, machines being turned on and adjusted and readjusted, and the whole time of course you’re trying to keep the kids calm. They’re in shock but not so shocked that they don’t have a thousand and one questions, most of them about where their mama is.

I don’t have any kids of my own. Never felt the need. Their okay, the future and all that, but they also need constant attention. Like a puppy. Only worse. Kids talk back. I’ve never had a puppy, never wanted a kid, and came this close to having a cat before deciding even that would just be too much. Still, I’m pretty good with kids in a nontraditional sort of way. They like my no-bones attitude, I guess. Most people talk down to kids, why? Talk to em like you’d talk to anyone else, only maybe explain a word here and there that they may not know. Easy.

By the time doctor Voss returned to the floor we had the kids settled and sharing a room (usually against the rules on our floor, but I knew the doc would bend em for this), and the mama…well, I just couldn’t tell. It doesn’t happen often this kind of thing where you can’t tell if the patient realizes their still alive or not. Some patients get the whiff of escape from the corporeal and that’s all it takes. They’re flatlined within twenty-four hours. Other patients are taking all your skill and energy and time and smarts to keep alive but you just can’t get em through and their gone, too, only not willingly.

This woman…I dunno. It’s like she she was already regretting all the things she was leaving behind not realizing she didn’t have to. Like she truly doesn’t understand that she’s still alive if she wants to be.

I could tell the call with Easton had shook the doctor a bit more than he’d expected and I wondered how it went. I could also tell the doc was impressed with how I’d handled the incoming Easton’s. He seemed a little surprised that I’d let the boys stay together, but surprised in a “that’s what I would have done” kinda way. Yeah, well, don’t I know it. I’m good at my job, that little dalliance in the break room not withstanding. Seems the doc remembered my worth.

I followed the doc into the mama’s room to await instruction and see where things were going to go. He grabbed her charts and walked up to the head of her bed. Reading and occasionally looking down at her, he finally asked, “is she stable now?”

“Seems to be for now, but medics almost lost her a few times. It’s not their machinery either. We’ve been having a hard time keeping her here. I haven’t notified her emergency contact yet as I wanted to hear from you first but the medic said he found one on her cell …”

“Did he call it?” the doc interrupted.

“He said he did and…”

The doc had dropped the paperwork on the bed and taken off at what we call a “hospital run” for his office. It just means he was going faster than a walk but slower than a jog; fast enough to get there but slow enough not to draw unwanted attention. It was all the answer I needed. This poor family.

In the silence of her room, as silent as it can be with all the beeping and whooshing and droning of iridescent lights, I stopped for a moment to pray for her and her family. In the silence of my prayer I could have sworn I heard her ask me to turn the television off. But when I looked up she hadn’t moved.

~~~That’s one hour~~~

Miscarriage

TRIGGER WARNING: graphic and personal writing about miscarriage follows

When you’ve already told your husband, your son, your family and friends. When you’ve already begun to imagine how another child will affect the day-to-day workings of your life: two car seats, baby-wearing and a stroller or a double stroller, will they share a bedroom…will they share anything? When your first pregnancy was a beautiful and perfect miracle, a second pregnancy feels just as beautiful and miraculous. There’s absolutely no difference. It doesn’t matter how many times you pee on a stick hoping it will be positive, each and every time it’s positive there is a thrill, there is elation, there is pure joy.

We had gone for our twelve week ultrasound. I had been feeling like shit for a couple weeks at this point and figured I was carrying a girl this time since it was all so different than the first go round. We had gone for the ultrasound convinced I was having a girl and all was still hearts and flowers and rainbows and unicorns. The poor ultrasound technician. To have to search and search for a heartbeat that wasn’t there. To have to tell us. To have to measure what was there and estimate when the baby had stopped living. To have to tell us that we could go to a hospital for a D&C or we could “let nature take it’s course.”

I’d had a baby at home. I had used a midwife. I was (and still am) all about letting nature take it’s course. So we went home. Turns out we didn’t have long to wait.

When you’re sitting on a toilet at 10pm hoping you don’t wake your husband and son as blood and bits of flesh come dripping agonizingly slowly out of you there is everything including anger, sadness, emptiness, shock, grief…but there is no more baby.

Did you know that you still give birth? People hear the term miscarriage and have absolutely no idea. You still give birth. I had given birth to a perfectly formed seven pound baby with absolutely zero drugs of any kind and it was rough. I gave birth to a twelve week partially formed fetus the size of a lime and it was rough. Granted the lime didn’t take 27 hours and didn’t cause me to require 13 stitches, but it was no picnic.

I had no idea to expect that. I was completely unprepared. I was so dehydrated because I couldn’t get off the toilet to go get a glass of water. Instead I had to lean over as close as I could to the sink without leaving the toilet and drink from my hand. Now, I could very well have woken my husband at any point in this, don’t get me wrong (in fact, when he later found out that I’d had the miscarriage without telling him, he couldn’t believe I hadn’t told him what was going on, that I hadn’t asked for help). But I just couldn’t make him suffer through it; it was bad enough that I had to.

I couldn’t imagine my husband leaning up against the bathroom counter for hours while I cried and tried to quietly pass this little lime. I couldn’t imagine my husband sitting on the bathroom floor crying while I was crying. I couldn’t imagine having to share his pain when my pain was already too much to bear. I selfishly didn’t wake him because I needed to be alone for the experience. I don’t know if he’s forgiven me, I’ve never thought to ask him. If I’m sick with a cold or a flu I don’t want anyone to take care of me. I want to be left alone so I can focus on sleeping and getting better. The miscarriage was the same for me. I needed to focus on me.

I sat on a toilet for eight hours, flushing repeatedly, before the contractions became more scattered and the blood and tissue coming out of me finally slowed. I was just as exhausted as if I’d given birth. Only I had none of the happy endorphins pumping through me, none of the babies first cries to relieve me, none of the joy to make it worth it. I cleaned up as best as I could, although I was physically and emotionally exhausted, put an enormous pad in my underwear, and I went to sleep in my sons bed (he was asleep with my husband in our bed).

I woke up after about an hour and needed to return to the toilet for about twenty minutes or so. I put in a fresh gigantic pad, cleaned up and flushed again. I went and drank an enormous glass of water. I went back to bed. That was the first miscarriage.

The second miscarriage was pretty much the same but instead of eight hours for the birth, it was “only” four. I was able to go to bed for a couple hours around midnight. Then up around 2am and back to bed. Then again around 4am.

For both miscarriages I was up again around 6am or 7am and back on the toilet. By then it was all pretty much done. Almost like a heavy flow day on your period. Almost. That’s how my husband found me both times. The first time, he came to the door naked and yawning and looking like my entire world and asked if it was starting. I’d never seen him look so surprised or so sad as when I told him it was ending. “Why didn’t you wake me?” How could I?

The first time, I remember being grateful I had a book in the bathroom when it started. I was reading a young adult fantasy book, totally not the genre of stuff I usually read, and it was amazing. It was fantastic. Between the book and googling miscarriage on my phone and reading everything I could find, I got through the night. Through the “event.”

So when the second miscarriage occurred I was prepared.

If you are reading this because you’ve been told you’ve had a miscarriage, please know you are not alone. Miscarriages are unbelievably common. Most women have had them. Most women do not even know they have had them. Most women miscarry before they think to check if they’re pregnant. Whether you know you are pregnant or not, a miscarriage is not your fault, just like having a baby with Down’s, it’s all genetics.

I was extremely lucky to find several women in my circle who, once I disclosed publicly that there would not actually be another baby after all, contacted me to discuss their miscarriages. “You had a miscarriage? How come you never told me?” I asked each and every one of them. Their answers all boiled down to things like: “It happened before I knew you,” “No one wants to talk about miscarriage, people only want to talk about pregnancy,” and “It’s just too sad.” The one that hit me the hardest was a woman in her seventies who said “I haven’t told anyone before now.” This woman had a miscarriage in her twenties and was now in her seventies and had never told anyone. Can you imagine carrying all that pain on your own for fifty years? And why? There’s nothing shameful about a miscarriage. Give yourself permission to talk about it. Give yourself permission to grieve.

Everyone needs to talk about miscarriage. Everyone needs to know that it is common. Everyone needs to know there are people they can turn to who have been where they’re going. Everyone needs a shoulder to cry on or a person to ask for advice. There are tons of resources to help you heal from a miscarriage both physically and emotionally. I’m not going to go into that here. I’m also not going to tell you to get a colander because, frankly, I couldn’t handle doing that so I don’t expect you to (although the scientist in me kind of wishes I had done the colander thing once). What I will do is say you need a checklist if you have the time and ability to prepare, so here it is:

The Miscarriage Checklist

  • water – you will need lots of water so you don’t get dehydrated; treat this like a birth without the happy ending
  • phone – you may want to call your healthcare professional or friend or family member and you probably won’t want to get up to do so. Also, access to the internet so you can google your questions as they come or read about other peoples experience so you’re not scared and also to ground you (believe me, the whole experience can be very surreal)
  • book – something to read to help take yourself away when the experience gets too overwhelming
  • toilet – some people want to save everything and bury it or take it to their doctor to be sure everything came out, more power to you. Remember, this is extremely messy, like the very worst period you’ve ever had times a hundred. I vote toilet
  • toilet paper – see above = messy. Baby wipes are nice because they’re soft, but you don’t want those in your toilet and you probably don’t want them piling up in your trashcan either, but that’s your call
  • enormous pads – you will use many of these for many days. I was not able to use my Diva Cup after either miscarriage because I was too sore internally and my flow was too heavy for the first several days for me to use my Thinx

Finally, please know that while parts of this post may seem a little irreverent and a little tongue-and-cheek, the truth is I was completely destroyed by my miscarriages. They completely changed my personality, and not for the better. It wasn’t until after I finally had a full-term, healthy pregnancy and delivery that I began to heal. I am not in any way trying to make light of what’s an extremely painful experience. And as such, I want you to know that if you are miscarrying I am here for you. You can message me and I will get back to you as soon as I can. Going through the miscarriage alone is not something I recommend, but going through the aftermath is something absolutely no one should ever do alone. Ever.

Your body will heal from this. Your mind and your heart will need help. Please be sure to ask for it.

Irreplaceable

She probably should have stuck it out, it was only four years after all, but it was just so exhausting. The reading and writing were wonderful, but the classes and the discussion groups and the mindless testing, were just too much. After a year and a half she decided to skip college and do something “else.” Problem was she had no idea what.

It wasn’t a problem for long. She knew a fellow student who was going to Spain for a year abroad. After kicking herself for not thinking of this option before dropping out, she decided to use the next eight months to work her ass off and earn the money to go abroad, too. Only not Spain. She had nothing against Spain, how could you: great food, great people, beaches, a language she already mostly spoke. But it just didn’t call to her. Italy. Italy called to her in a soft and subtle siren song she was eager to obey.

The next eight months were spent mostly waitressing and walking dogs with the occasional bartending shift thrown in. Anytime a job opportunity came her way she said yes, assuming it didn’t conflict with another job she’d already said yes to. She didn’t even check to make sure she was leaving enough time to sleep, she just said yes. And consequently there were days where she went without sleep. She learned to take power naps, which sounded horrible, so she called them ninja naps and felt much cooler. She discovered she could breeze through three full working days and nights with only 6 hours of sleep all garnered via ninja nap between jobs or while on break.

She bought the things she’d need as she saved up the money for them. Purchasing one thing and then saving up to purchase the next. She probably could have saved it all and then made all her purchases at once, but where was the reward in that? Or the excitement? First: an airline ticket, one way departing on exactly the eight month mark. Second: a backpack, one of those ridiculously big hiker packs. Third: hiking clothes that would be easy to wash and dry and wear without looking sloppy. Fourth: a good pair of hiking shoes, not boots. And then she just saved.

She’d take whatever she’d saved to the bank whenever she had some free time and change everything into twenty dollar bills. Then she’d stack the twenties into piles of five, then shove the five into an envelope and seal it. She labeled each envelope with a number 1, 2, 3, 4…she wanted to know exactly how much she had as she knew there’d be expenses for lodging, food, wine, museum entrance fees, and who knew what else.

The week before she was supposed to leave she advertised for a garage sale the coming weekend. She began labeling her meager belongings for sale. Surprisingly, her roommate bought the majority of her things: two-shelf bookcase, her favorite books (the hardest things to part with and the things for which she developed a mantra “replaceable”), the majority of her clothes and dishes. The rest she sold cheap the day before she left: a metal bedframe with mattress and boxspring, the few books and clothes and dishes her roommate hadn’t wanted.

Thanks to a notice she’d put up online she was able to get a free ride to the airport, the only catch being that she’d arrive a good five hours before her flight left. That was fine with her, she’d catch up on some sleep. She spent her last three hours before catching her ride stuffing that ridiculous backpack with the scant belongings she’d be taking with her, including a four-year-old guide to Italy she’d bought for a quarter at her local library book store (how outdated could a guidebook be when it was for a country built about a hundred years after Christ).

She thought about leaving a note for her roommate when the time came to leave, but decided against it. Better to send her a postcard when she arrived. She hoisted the unbelievably heavy pack on her back, set the lock on the door after double checking she’d left her house key on the kitchen table, and headed off.

~~~That’s one hour~~~

Silence VI

This is part of a series. Refer to the Blog Index if you wish to read them in order.

This was not happening again. I’d already dealt with my father’s death once. I remember being a little kid, my aunt trying to make me understand that my dad was dead. I just didn’t get it. I kept asking if he’d be back in time for the fair that summer, or for dinner that night, or for my first day of school. She had to keep telling me over and over that dead meant gone forever, not an hour or a day or a year but for always. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. I remember when I was older though and I finally did get it. I remember realizing he’d never be there for my ball games or my graduations or my wedding. I remember grieving the loss of a man I never knew. It felt kind of phony. How can you be sad about the death of someone you never knew?

I remember really grieving after my first son was born. Here I was a brand new father and I had no idea what I was doing. How was I going to be a dad when I had no idea what a dad was? I spent those first two years watching every parent-child interaction I saw with a stealthy intensity I wasn’t aware I had. I saw relationships I was envious of: had my dad been like that with me before he died? I saw relationships I was afraid of: had my daddy yelled at me like that before he died? I tried to forget all the bad stuff I heard and saw and focus only on the good stuff.

Then somewhere along the line my good buddy, Ted told me the best damn advice I have ever heard about parenting: “Be the parent you wish you had.” Well, hell, I could do that. And I did. Until that marriage went to hell and then I had to move in order to keep a job I needed and saw less and less of my kid. Bout tore me up. I never thought I’d be the type to give up my kid, but by the time I was able to fight for him he didn’t much want to be fought for and that was that.

The point is, my damn daddy had never been around that I could remember, and certainly not ever when I wanted or needed him, but now here he was fresh out the grave and at my local hospital? He had some kinda nerve asking for me.

“I’m here,” I finally said.

“Oh. Good. Thought I’d lost you. As I said, you’ll need to come in so we can discuss how to proceed.”

“I’m sorry doctor Voss but I wouldn’t know the first thing about how to proceed with the man you have in your hospital. You might just as well,” and here I was interrupted by my call waiting. Damn these phones and their features! I would have ignored it, too, except I saw it was my wife. Since I could count on one hand the number of times she had actually picked up a phone and called me and every one of them had been an emergency, I knew I needed to answer it. “You’ll have to hold on there a minute, Voss. I got an emergency call on the other line,” and I switched over.

“Glory, what’s wrong?” I asked.

“Hello, sir, you’re the emergency contact in a cell phone we’ve just found at the scene of an accident. We just want you to know we’re taking the victims to Clark County Hospital and should arrive in the next ten minutes.”

“Accident? Is everyone okay? My wife? My boys?”

“I can’t tell you anything more, sir. I’m only authorized to look for and call an emergency contact. You’ll need to speak with the hospital to learn more. You’ll want to ask for Doctor Voss’ unit.”

The line went dead and I heard the phone beep at me about switching back to the other line. The other line! Voss!

“Listen here, Voss, that was someone sayin’ they’re bringing my family to your hospital and I need to speak to you about it. What’s going on? Is my wife okay? My boys? What happened?”

There was no answer.

“Voss!” I shouted.

Silence. And then my phone did that boop boop boop noise it does meaning I’d lost the call.

~~~That’s an hour~~~

Silence V

This is part of a series. Refer to the Blog Index if you wish to read them in order.

“Ma’am, can you hear me? What’s your name, ma’am?”

The voice was so far away. Why was everything dark? She must have fallen asleep under the weighted blanket cause she couldn’t feel her body. Why couldn’t she open her eyes?

“Unresponsive. I’ve got a pulse.”

It was that same voice. Ugh, did she fall asleep in front of the television again? Must have. Geez, it’s been ages since she’s done that.

“I’m gonna notify Voss we’re heading his way. Find a cell phone yet?”

“Got it! Under the driver’s side seat. Musta flown off the dash. Aaaaaand, yes, an emergency contact.”

What the heck was she watching? Maybe it was something Paul was watching? Whatever it was she was glad she couldn’t see it. Probably one of those medical dramas with blood everywhere and people being cut up in an operating room. How was that entertaining?

She felt a breeze on her face and heard metal and the sounds of something rolling.

“We’re all loaded up. Make the call from the road.”

There was the sound of doors being slammed, a siren coming from somewhere close, and then that voice again.

“Hello, sir, you’re the emergency contact in a cell phone we’ve just found at the scene of an accident. We just want you to know we’re taking the victims to Clark County Hospital and should arrive in the next ten minutes.”

There was road noise and that siren still wailing away.

“I can’t tell you anything more, sir. I’m only authorized to look for and call an emergency contact. You’ll need to speak with the hospital to learn more. You’ll want to ask for Doctor Voss’ unit.”

More road noise. More siren. Seriously, why couldn’t she open her eyes?

There was an exhalation of breath followed by some mumbling. She could just make out what sounded like “gonna be okay,” before everything went quiet again. Completely quiet. A unique kind of silence she’d never quite experienced before…no, wait, it was familiar. Newly familiar. Luxurious and terrifying.

She woke to prayer. What the hell? She still couldn’t open her eyes or move her body. She’d never felt so tired in her life. What in the world was Paul watching? He must have fallen asleep too, she realized, because he wouldn’t be watching any evangelical stuff on purpose. She tried to say something like, “turn the TV off,” but wasn’t sure if it actually came out or not.

Ah, silence. He must have heard her and turned it off. Maybe he’d carry her to bed or come snuggle up with her. Something was running. The fridge? The dishwasher? She couldn’t quite place it. A rhythmic mechanical noise. Familiar. Otherwise, it was quiet. Not that thick syrupy kind of silence she’d been experiencing lately, that dangerous kind of silence. This was more of a sounds-of-the-night-as-you-fall-asleep-quiet. Lovely. Heavenly. The perfect kind of silence.

~~~This is not an hour, but the end of this piece.~~~