Ordinary Thoughts, Essays and Short Stories

Month: October 2022

Cheers to Ears


[Disclaimer: The essay below is in no way meant to show disrespect for individuals with physical anomalies. It simply describes my own tendency to initially focus on the negative until I remind myself how inconsequential that perceived negative truly is.]

My husband recently had a spot on his ear diagnosed as basal cell carcinoma, and he underwent a procedure to have the malignant tissue removed. The dermatologist cut out the lesion, tested it, came back and removed more tissue, tested that, and then came back to remove even more. That last removal, fortunately, got rid of all the cancerous cells. It also left a quarter-size hole through the upper portion of the ear, creating the need for reconstruction. That involved a cartilage graft and a skin graft over the course of two separate surgeries. Considering the extent of the work that was done, the surgeon produced a great result. Hopefully, no one – my husband included – will dwell on the fact that his ears are no longer an exact match.

Witnessing all of that not only brought home the importance of regular skin cancer screenings, but it made me super aware of ears in general. I mean, have you ever paid attention to ears? They’re sort of weird. Or weird looking, anyway.

Don’t get me wrong…I have great respect for the function of ears. But I wonder, why do they have to look the way they do? I have a vague recollection of a school assignment – it might’ve been for middle school health class – in which we had to draw a diagram of the ear.  It involved canals and stirrups and all sorts of whatnot. While I clearly don’t remember the specifics, it seems the ear is strategically designed to bring in sounds that reverberate and help us hear. Without a doubt, an ear’s shape is very important, hence the reason for its appearance. So, in thinking that through, I guess I pretty much answered my own question.

My newfound interest in ears has nothing to do with hearing, though. I just seem to notice them more now than I ever did before…like the other day when I was binge-watching a week’s worth of my soap.

Unrelated Side Note: Have you ever noticed that the majority of actors on soap operas are ridiculously good-looking, appear to be super fit and have flawless complexions? It begs the question, are those characteristics prerequisites for the job?

Anyway, I was watching an episode in which this drop-dead gorgeous woman’s silky black hair was slicked back into a perfect ponytail. Much like her skin, it was flawless. She was super deep in a serious conversation, but I was distracted from whatever earthshaking dialogue was taking place because all I could focus on were her ears. With her hair pulled back the way it was, the ears of this model-perfect specimen reminded me of Alfred E. Neuman. Physically, she’s an absolute beauty, but it was the wingspan of her ears that caught my attention that day.

Initially, I found the whole thing a little off-putting. It was like those ears didn’t belong on that woman. But the more I looked at them, and then looked at her as a whole, the more I realized her protruding ears didn’t seem so out of place after all. Before I knew it, I’d forgotten the distraction, I was back in the dramatic groove of the moment, and nobody’s ears ever became the topic of discussion. Nor should they. They were just…you know…ears. We all have them.

So, you might ask, what does all that have to do with anything? Well, for me at least, it’s a reminder that dwelling on a few imperfections has no place in a well-lived life. Not one among us is physically perfect, nor can we be, so perfection should never be the goal. Striving for perfection is a fool’s game, and my mama didn’t raise any fools.

I have, though – for most of my life – suffered from a severe lack of respect for my physical self. The mirror has always felt more like an enemy than a friend and rising above my brain’s negative chatter is a daily struggle. But it’s a fight worth fighting and, on some days, I can almost convince myself I’ve come out the victor.

While it’s not easy to look past our flaws, when we manage to do it, we find out we’re just like everyone else. We’re not the crooked nose, or the overbite, or the Dumbo ears. We’re not the round tummy, the crepey skin, or the big feet. We’re the sum of our parts and, in the end, they all work together beautifully in our favor. We might not always see it in ourselves, but our family and friends do. The trick is to learn to view ourselves as lovingly as they view us (and as we view them).

And, as far as ears go, I’ve decided it’s a good thing they’re shaped the way they are. Otherwise, we’d have to find some other place to dangle our earrings, and that’s a challenge I don’t think any of us wants to take on.

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It’s All Good


When I was a Weight Watchers leader – many moons and pounds ago – one of the visual aids I used in a meeting consisted of nothing more than a black dot in the middle of a large white flipchart. I asked my members what they saw when they looked at it, and they all agreed they saw a black dot. When I asked if they saw anything else, they just shook their heads. I then pointed out the expanse of pristine white paper all around that gnarly little dot, and I asked, “What about all this?” You could almost hear the light bulbs popping on in their heads. The nearly perfect paper hadn’t even hit their radar because their minds gravitated toward that one tiny imperfection.

For whatever reason, it seems to be human nature to focus on the negative in any given situation. At least initially. If you’re like me, you can generally find an upside, but it’s not always automatic. Seeing the good in something often takes effort because the bad tends to jump out and grab our attention first.

I experienced this recently when I noticed a flaw in the appearance of someone on TV. It was a very minor thing, and my brain quickly moved on to other thoughts, but it did spark something in the back of my mind that later drew me into a bit of introspection. To find out where my psyche traveled, just click the button below to read Cheers to Ears.

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The Wait Is Over

Have you ever gotten all wrapped up in a story only to discover the ending isn’t actually…well…the end? You’re happily reading along and, just as you’re getting into it, the last three words are “To be continued.” Blast it all! It’s beyond frustrating. The sense of abandonment is downright palpable.

Well, if it seems you’ve been waiting forever for the second half of The Journal to go live, you can put your skin back on. Melissa and Brett are back. All you have to do is hit the button below to find out how the story ends. And, for those of you who haven’t yet read the first half, you’ll find a link to that at the beginning of The Journal – Part 2.

To paraphrase the late Paul Harvey: Very soon now you’ll know…the rest of the story.

So go on! What are you waiting for?

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The Journal – Part 2



Melissa bumped the car up over the curb and, as she drove through the gravel parking area, she noticed a figure down by the creek. When it turned and ran, she realized it was Brett. Throwing the car into park, she whipped open the door and jumped out, yelling his name. He didn’t stop, so she tore off after him. She never would have caught up if he hadn’t tripped and fallen by the edge of the creek. She reached him just as he got to his feet and, before he had a chance to make another run for it, she grabbed the hem of his tee shirt.

“Brett, stop it! Turn around here…and…look at me!” Melissa yelled between puffs of breath. Lowering her voice, she said, “Please.”

Brett stopped struggling, but he wouldn’t look at her. Melissa took hold of his shoulders and gently turned him toward her. “Sweetie, I know what happened. I know you read my journal. We need to talk about it.”

“I don’t want to talk about it. Not to you. Not to anybody!” He tried to jerk away, but she held tight.

“I don’t blame you. What you read was some pretty bad stuff. You were never supposed to see it.”

Brett’s resolve melted and he started to cry. “I wasn’t snooping, Mom. Honest. I just needed some old magazines, and so I got into that drawer, and that’s when I saw it. I know I shouldn’t have read it. Please don’t be mad. I’m sorry.” He was fairly sobbing at this point and they both dropped to their knees.

Melissa tentatively reached for Brett’s face and, when he didn’t pull away, she wiped his tears. “Brett, I’m not mad at you. I’m not thrilled that you went through my things, but I’m not mad. You know what you did was wrong, but that’s not what’s important right now. What matters now is what you read. I need to explain it to you.”

“No, you don’t.” A little of his fire returned. “I’m not a baby. I know what you were talking about. What Dad and Aunt Kat did. I don’t need anybody to explain that.”

“Well, we still have to talk. It goes way beyond what happened between them. But, come on, I don’t want to do it here. Let’s go home and I’ll do my best to help you understand this.” Melissa stood and held out her hand. To her relief, Brett took it.

As they strolled side-by-side toward the car, she glanced up at the soft clouds and breathed a prayer for guidance.


The ride back to the house held a funereal silence and, when they got there, Brett went inside first. Melissa called out to him as he headed for the stairs.

“Brett, don’t go up to your room yet. I meant what I said about talking to you. The sooner we get this out in the open, the easier it will be.”

“Mom, why do we have to talk about it? I mean, it doesn’t have anything to do with me, right?” He followed her to the sofa in the family room. “Or…are you guys getting a divorce? That’s it, isn’t it? Dad’s not hunting with Uncle Jake. He’s not coming home!” Tears sprang anew as Brett allowed himself to be drawn into his mother’s embrace.

“Brett, no…no. We are not getting a divorce. I don’t want you thinking that. Dad will be home tomorrow afternoon, probably with a half-dozen squirrel carcasses.” She tried to sound light and cheerful but didn’t quite hit the mark.

“Well, I just figured, if Aunt Kat was Dad’s girlfriend, you guys would be getting divorced and they’d get married.” His voice sounded small and frightened, and he rested his chin against his chest while he picked at a hangnail.

Seeing her son so dejected broke Melissa’s heart, and she had to push down the old familiar anger that sprang up in the back of her mind. “Brett, nothing like that is happening. I don’t know where you got that idea, but Dad is not leaving, and he most certainly is not going to marry your aunt.”

Brett looked up into his mother’s eyes, as though searching for the truth…something safe to latch onto. “For real? I mean, one of the girls at school got a new stepdad when her mom cheated on her dad.”

“Brett! Where did you learn such talk?”

“I told you, Mom, I’m not a baby. I know what…well…what sex is. And I know you’re only supposed to do it with who you’re married to, and if you do it with somebody else, you get divorced. At least, that’s what happened to Mindy.”

Melissa sighed heavily and leaned her head back against the cushion. “Sometimes, in some families, that is what happens. Because sometimes the mom and dad can’t fix the problems that led to the…the cheating as you so aptly put it.” This time she gave Brett a genuine smile. “But that’s not the case with me and your dad. We’re not getting divorced, and nothing bad is going to happen.”

“How can you be so sure?”

With a quiet, controlled voice, she said, “Because your dad doesn’t know that I know.”

Brett’s look of incredulity came dangerously close to making Melissa burst into laughter. What must this kid be thinking? That his mom has gone full tilt bozo? That she’s been living in the “Land of Denial” for the past four years? She reined herself in and said, “It’s true, Brett. If you read that entire passage, then you read what I said about not wanting anyone to know what I’d seen.”

“But why not? Aren’t you and Dad always telling me that if someone does something wrong to me, I should let you know?”

“Yes, but…”

“Well, what Dad and Aunt Kat did was wrong, and if you didn’t tell anyone then you just let them get away with it. You just let them think what they did was an okay thing to do and so they probably did it over and over. If Aunt Kat hadn’t moved away, they’d probably still be doing it!” He was getting excited again, and Melissa pressed her hand down on his knee as she shushed him.

“Honey, it’s different with grown-ups. I mean, yes, you’re right. We do want you to be open with us if someone is doing something that upsets you or could hurt you. We’re your parents, and it’s our job to look after you.” At this, Melissa’s stomach knotted a bit because it was her own written words that were hurting her son now. She pushed the guilt aside and continued. “I can’t explain everything to you so that you’ll completely understand, but I can tell you this. I felt that, in order to protect you, I had to keep what I had seen to myself. It was hard, Brett. Really hard. I won’t kid you about that. But it was what I knew I had to do. And even though you found out about it, I still believe I did the right thing. Way back when it happened, if I had let it fill me up and control me, it might have destroyed our whole family.”

Brett was quiet for a moment, and then he asked, “Did you forgive Dad? And Aunt Kat? I mean, you wrote that you hated them.”

“Yes, that’s true. I wrote it and, at the time, I felt it. Maybe when you’re a lot older, I’ll tell you more about that. The important thing for you to understand now is that I learned some things that helped me accept what had happened. Not to like it, mind you, but to accept it. And, yes, in time I was able to forgive both your dad and your Aunt Kat. Now I’m hoping you’ll be able to do the same thing. Not only that, but I hope you’ll forgive me for hurting you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Hey, buddy, just because you were reading something that was never meant for your eyes doesn’t mean it didn’t affect you. You discovered some pretty disturbing stuff today about people you love. I know how hurtful that is, and I’m so very, very sorry you had to find out. If I hadn’t left that journal there, you would have never read it. But, right or wrong, you did. And now we have to deal with it. So,” Melissa said as she chucked Brett under the chin and placed her forehead against his. “I need you to promise me something.”

“What…what do I have to promise?”

“When Dad gets home tomorrow, don’t let on that you know any of this.” She could read his confusion and hurried on. “I don’t mean ever. I just mean when he first gets here. Like I said, I never told Dad that I knew about what happened between him and your aunt. You don’t want to blindside him the way you were blindsided when you read my journal. I just want you to give us some time alone so I can tell him everything. It’s going to be a lot harder for him than you realize. That journal entry made your dad out to be an awful monster. It’s not a fair description of how things really were at the time. So, can you promise me?”

“Yeah, sure. But Mom…after you talk to Dad, do you think he’s gonna make me talk about it with him?” Brett had a look that bordered on nausea.

“Probably so. But it’ll be okay. Dad loves you very, very much. And no matter what you think right now, he loves me, too. Trust me on that.”

“Okay. Can I go back outside now?”

“Of course. But stay in the yard. I’ve had all the adventure I can take for one day. I’ll call you in when supper’s ready.”

They both walked to the door and Melissa watched as Brett ran to the middle of the yard and grabbed his football. Then, she turned and went upstairs.


Brett was far too young for the details, but everything Melissa told him was true. Incidents and events that transpired after that dreadful summer day had allowed her to come to a sort of peace with her husband’s infidelity. She didn’t like it, but she was able to move past it.


That first evening had been brutal. James came home totally unawares and, while he and Brett teased each other over pizza and corn chips, Melissa forced herself to toss in playful little remarks. After enough time had passed to make it appear normal, she excused herself, using the oncoming cold ruse. Back upstairs, she readied herself for bed and settled down with a book.

She was still staring at the same page she’d opened it to when James came in a half hour later.

“Brett-Man is all settled in for the night. You want to go make sure I tucked him in right?”

“What do you mean by that? I’ve never criticized how you take care of Brett!” Melissa felt a blossoming fire deep in her gut.

“Whoa, there! I didn’t mean anything by it. Man, you really don’t feel good. I think you’d better take something for that cold and get some sleep.”

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you. You’re right, I’m just feeling lousy.” Melissa slipped out of bed and went down the hall toward Brett’s bedroom. As she got closer, she could hear the faint melodies of Mozart. From the time he was an infant, they’d played classical music to help calm him at night. It was something she was glad he hadn’t yet outgrown.

Tiptoeing to his door, Melissa peeked in. Brett’s eyes were shut, and his breathing was steady. Already sound asleep. She crept in and knelt beside his bed, gazing at his perfect seven-year-old face. She would lay down her life for this child. Putting up a front…even if it was denial…was something she could do if it meant saving Brett from growing up without both his parents.

As she headed back to her bedroom, James came out and said he was going out to his workshop for a little while. He kissed her on the forehead and went down the stairs. She stood there until he got to the bottom and turned out of sight, then she went into their room and sat on the edge of the bed. She didn’t cry. She was cold and confused, but she was also all cried out. Turning out the light, Melissa started to climb back into bed but then stopped and turned toward the bedroom window. She walked over and looked down at the garage. The light shone through the garage window, and she watched James walk into view. He simply stood there for a few minutes, and then he picked up the phone on the workbench and punched in a number. Melissa raced over to the bedside phone and quietly lifted the receiver. She held her breath and listened.

“Kat, it’s me. We’ve got to talk about this afternoon.” James’s voice sounded almost hoarse.

“Oh, James, I’m a mess. I can’t even wrap my head around what we’ve done to my sister.” The unmistakable sound of weeping surprised Melissa, but her anger was full throttle. Holding her palm firmly over the bottom of the receiver, she continued to listen.

“Kat, I’ve never done anything like that before. I swear. Things haven’t been great around here for a while now, but it’s not Melissa’s fault. Work’s been crazy, and we’ve been putting in ridiculous hours with nothing to show for it. I know she wants me home more. Hell, I want to be home more, but I’ve been stuck at the shop night after night. Then, today when I ran into you outside the shop…I don’t know. Something just snapped.”

“James, it was obvious you were upset about something. What’s happening with your dad is terrible. You just needed someone to be there for you.”

“That may be true,” James said. “But that someone should have been my wife. Not her sister.”

Melissa could hear Kathryn’s choked sob. “I know…I know. My god, what have I done? What if she finds out? Oh, James, she’ll never forgive us. Just the other day, she was confiding in me, telling me about her doubts and concerns because you were gone so much. I just…I just…” At this point, the sobbing was uncontrollable.

“Kat, hey, listen to me. We’re equally guilty here. Neither of us had any right to do what we did. Not only are we married, but we’re married to good people. People who don’t deserve this.”

“Well,” Kat said, calming a little, “Melissa is a good person. Todd’s another story. He left me, James. A couple of weeks ago. Melissa doesn’t even know about it. I’ve just been floundering and, I don’t know, maybe that’s why I was so drawn to you today. But still…it’s no excuse.”

“I am so sorry. I’m sorry about Todd, I’m sorry about what we did, and I’m sorry I didn’t call Melissa as soon as I found out about my dad. Nothing like this would have happened if I’d just picked up that phone. She’d have been there for me in an instant.” Melissa watched as James paced back and forth, running his hand through his hair. “You know what’s even worse? She actually did come by the shop today. Randy told me after I came back in from…well, you know.”

“Oh, James. What if she’d seen us together? Oh, God…” Another fit of crying.

“Hush, now. Listen, I have to go. Melissa’s not feeling well, and I want to get back in there and check on her. I just wanted to call and tell you we’ve got to keep this to ourselves and put it behind us. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost Melissa…and Brett. I couldn’t live with that. I love them both so much.” Even though Melissa couldn’t see his face, she could tell James was crying now, too.

“I’ll die before I say anything. If I could, I’d turn the clock back and never come by the shop at all.” Then she asked, “Did you tell her about your dad?”

“No. I put on this big show of being the happy working stiff. I just have too much going on in my head tonight. If I’d started telling her about Dad, I might have blown it all and told her everything. No, I’ll talk to her tomorrow. Put some space between what I did to her today and what I have to tell her about Dad. That alone is going to wreck her. She loves my dad like her own.” With that, he hung up the phone. Then there was a click as Kathryn’s line disconnected.

Melissa stood frozen for a few moments, the receiver glued to her ear, before her wits returned and she hung up. She turned back to the window and looked toward the garage. James was standing at the workbench. Hunched over, was more accurate. She could see his shoulders heaving as he continued to cry. She felt a sudden release of tension and was struck by the dissolving anger that had, just moments before, nearly consumed her. She was hardly aware of returning to bed and climbing under the covers. Her last thoughts before drifting off to sleep were of her father-in-law and what possibly could be so traumatic that it would drive her husband into the arms of another woman.

The following few days put things into a clearer perspective. James’s father had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and his prognosis was bleak. Six months at best. James was right when he told Kathryn that Melissa was devoted to her father-in-law. The news devastated the entire family. She shoved the episode between James and her sister into the furthest corner of her mind. She’d deal with it later. Right now, her family needed her.

A couple of weeks passed before she heard from Kathryn. After making a perfunctory call to tell her about James’s father…she couldn’t let on to anyone that she was aware Kathryn already knew about it…she’d wiped her sister from her mind. So, when Kathryn did call, Melissa was taken aback.

“Hi, Melissa, it’s me. Listen, there’s something I need to tell you. I’ve been putting it off, especially since I learned about your father-in-law, but I really need to let you know what’s going on.” Melissa’s chest tightened as she realized her sister was about to confess everything. She couldn’t face this. Not right now. But before she could change the subject, Kathryn went on. “Todd left me a few weeks ago. He filed for divorce yesterday.”

Relieved to know her sister was not about to make a pronouncement of her brief liaison with James, Melissa warmed a bit. “Kat, I’m so sorry. What happened?”

Kathryn told her about Todd’s supposed need to go off and find himself, and how he had never really been happy in the marriage. Supposedly no one was to blame, but he just couldn’t be tied down. Kathryn went on and on, but Melissa only half-listened. Her thoughts returned to her father-in-law and how she needed to end this conversation so she could get on with the important business at hand.

After deftly extricating herself from the phone call, she realized her feelings toward her sister were rather hollow. She didn’t hate her anymore, and she wasn’t particularly angry. She just felt a sense of apathy. Considering where she needed to be directing her energies, she decided that was just as well.

Four months later, James’s father was laid to rest. As the cold November wind cut through the tent at the cemetery, Melissa stood between James and Brett, holding both their hands, and she promised herself that she’d do everything in her power to keep her family together.

Time and quiet contemplation assisted Melissa in her quest for normalcy. Eventually, she was able to put that summer, and all the pain it evoked, behind her. Shortly before James’s father died, Kathryn took a job out of state. As far as Melissa knew, she and James were never again alone together. At family gatherings, they acted like polite strangers. Civil, but aloof. That made it a bit easier for Melissa to let go of the memories. After a year or so, it seemed as though the entire incident had happened to someone else. Every day, it became easier to be just James’s wife and Brett’s mom. No pretense. No paranoia. She had almost been successful in convincing herself that she would never have to confront James with what he had done.


Melissa walked into her room and picked the journal up off the bed. She started to open it, then reconsidered and went to her closet. Way back behind her out-of-season clothes stood a stack of boxes labeled “Shoes” and “Purses.” She took down the top two boxes and removed the lid from the third. Lifting out a couple of purses, she came to a bundle of old journals and notebooks with curled edges. She put the incriminating journal in with the rest, replaced the purses, and closed the box. After putting the other boxes back, she closed the closet door behind her and walked out of the room.

Sounds drifting down the hall told Melissa that Brett was back inside and playing a video game. She went into the bathroom, shut the door, and opened the linen cabinet. Reaching behind the large stack of towels, she retrieved her current journal. As always, her trusty ballpoint was attached.

Dear MAT,

 This has been the hardest day of my life. I would have sworn that nothing could have been worse than that awful summer day so long ago, but I was wrong. Today I let the most precious person in my life get hurt. Because of my carelessness, Brett had his world thrown into a tailspin. I think he’s going to be okay, but it’s not over. Tomorrow, I have to tell James that I know. That I’ve known all along. I’m not sure how he’ll react. My guess is, he’ll feel ashamed and humiliated. And probably very, very scared. Four years ago, I might not have minded that so much. Might have even relished it. But now, I need to assure him that as hurt and disappointed as I was, I’ve long since reconciled myself with it.

 I always thought I’d be afraid if I ever had to confront James about this. I thought it might spell the end of our marriage. But I’m not afraid now. If anything, I’m kind of relieved. I love James, I know he loves me, and we both love our son. We’ll work through this together.

 I realize tomorrow’s going to be tough, yet I feel more at peace than I have in years. It won’t be the end of our marriage, but it will be the end of one thing…the hidden secret. Getting it all out in the open is going to make our marriage, and our family, stronger than ever.

 And I don’t just hope this. I know it.

Care to Share?

The Journal – Part 1

From the time she was a gangly 12-year-old, Melissa had allowed her private thoughts to fill notebook after notebook. She was always careful to keep them hidden. Those journals were secret places where she recorded her feelings…her thoughts. No one else had a right to read them. Even when her girlfriends would share their diaries with one another, giggling over adolescent confessions, Melissa kept hers to herself. She manufactured a little lie, telling her friends that she didn’t even own a diary and, if she did, she’d probably just forget to use it. Sometimes she felt guilty about that…as though keeping her journals a secret was disrespectful to the bonds of friendship…but she stuck to her guns. And it wasn’t simply because the entries were for her eyes only. She didn’t want to risk being judged by how others might interpret her thoughts.

She never began her entries with “Dear Diary.” She wrote “Dear MAT” because those were her initials. Even after she got married and those initials changed, she kept the salutations the same. MAT was who she was addressing…then, now and always.

Melissa’s journals were constant companions throughout high school, college, a stormy engagement and a shaky marriage. Tattered notebooks detailed the highs and lows in her life:

Her first prom – Brian was 10 minutes early picking me up and had to sit in the front room with Daddy. I almost laughed out loud when I got down there and saw how scared he looked. He gave me the most beautiful wrist corsage. It has little pink roses and baby’s breath. And when he brought me home, we snuck around to the dark end of the porch and he kissed me!

The crush on her psychology professor – I’m gonna ace this course. I just know it. Professor P. really likes me. I can tell because he always asks me if I’m enjoying his class. And he is so, so cute!

Her confusion about whether to marry – I don’t know if James is ever going to understand me. He keeps saying how great our life is going to be, but he never wants to listen to my thoughts on the kind of house I want, or kids, or anything!

And her doubts about her husband’s fidelity – This is the third time this week that James has called to say he’s working late. I just don’t believe him. They’ve never had this much extra work before. And he’s been so distant lately.

Some of her journals held questions as to how her life might have been different if she’d made other choices along the way. She allowed herself to wonder, in the confines of those pages, if becoming a wife and mother had kept her from pursuing a career that might have made life more interesting. Of course, those thoughts were transcribed on the days when the baby wouldn’t stop crying or the water heater burst or the casserole dried out waiting for James to come home. Cheerier moments produced entries written in an upward, flowing script that exuded her excitement about Brett making the Honor Roll or when she finally got her hyacinth to bloom or James surprising her with tickets to the theatre.

These books were Melissa’s therapy. They provided a haven where she could say anything, think anything, wish anything…with no fear of reprisal. After an argument with James, she’d close herself up in the bathroom and draw her journal out from behind the stack of towels in the linen cabinet. She kept a ballpoint pen clipped to her notebook, having learned long ago that tears cause felt-tip ink to run. Sitting on the floor, she’d hastily scrawl the thoughts that crowded her mind. When finished, she’d lean back against the tub…close the journal without reading it…and then stash it back in the cabinet. Only then could she return to the world outside of that little room, prepared to face whatever waited on the other side of the door.


Returning from a long walk on this wondrously warm fall day – where the crackle of leaves underfoot caused her to smile, and the high noon sun made her cheeks glow – Melissa’s thoughts focused on how she could put it all into words. What exactly could she say to adequately paint this perfect picture? Once inside the house, it became a moot point. When she entered her bedroom, she stopped short with eyes wide and mouth hanging open. Lying in the middle of her king-size bed – splayed like a woman offering herself for consummation – was one of her notebooks. Momentarily unable to breathe, she approached the bed and stared down at the words on the pages. She knew immediately that this wasn’t one of her recent journals.

Melissa’s hands were shaking, and her heart felt like it might beat out of her chest as she bent to pick up the notebook. She sat on the edge of the bed and read the entry.

 Dear MAT,

 I don’t even know how to begin. Part of me knew this was going to happen, but I guess I didn’t really let myself believe it. No one can ever know about this. Since Brett is visiting my parents, I decided to swing by the shop to see if James was free for lunch. Randy said he was out on a job and didn’t know when he’d be back. As I was driving away, I saw James’s truck parked in the back lot. That made me suspicious, so I drove up a little way and parked out of sight. I walked back and slipped around behind the little work shed at the rear of the parking lot. I could hear sounds coming from inside the shed, and when I peeked in the window, I saw them. James had his shirt off and a woman was up against him, kissing his neck. I ducked down before getting a look at her face. The window was partly open, and I could hear them shuffling around and moaning. I still have a bruise from biting my fist to keep from sobbing. And then, when I heard her voice, I nearly fainted. It was Kathryn. Kathryn! I couldn’t help myself and looked in the window again. Neither of them saw me. I probably watched for five full minutes before I got my wits about me and ran back to the car. I cried and cried while I drove, not even thinking about where I was going. I just now got home, James is due in less than an hour, and I still can’t stop crying. How did this happen? And with my own sister! I don’t know which hurts more…James being unfaithful or Kathryn’s disloyalty. I’ve always turned to her whenever I needed to talk to someone. She sat right at my kitchen table, not three days ago, and let me pour my heart out to her about James. She knew I suspected he might be having an affair, and she just kept trying to convince me that I was imagining things. Now I know why she was defending him so hard. It’s been her all along! Right now, I hate them both so much! If it weren’t for Brett, I’d leave James today. But I can’t do that. Brett idolizes his father. What’s worse is, he idolizes his Aunt Kat, too. Damn them both!


Melissa let the journal drop to the floor and stared across the room at nothing in particular. Tears coursed down her cheeks and she felt paralyzed. Each heartbeat struck like a hammer, and for a moment she thought she might pass out. The light dimmed around the edges of her eyes and there was a loud buzzing in her ears. Lowering her head between her knees, she willed herself to breathe. When she felt steady enough, she raised her head a bit and looked again at the journal. She picked it back up and turned it over to look at the date, although there was no need. The passage she read had brutally propelled her back to that summer four years ago. She tossed the book onto the bed.

A quick scan around the room revealed that her bottom dresser drawer was partially open. That’s where this journal had been. Not stored away in the back of her closet with all of her other old notebooks, but underneath some old magazines in her drawer. For the life of her, she couldn’t remember why that particular journal hadn’t been with the others. The reason wasn’t important, though. After all these years fiercely protecting her innermost thoughts, she’d gotten careless. And there was only one person who could have found this. James was away on a hunting trip with his brother, so it had to be Brett. Precious, trusting Brett.

Melissa found her legs and ran from the bedroom, calling out her son’s name. She threw open his bedroom door, but he wasn’t there. Running down the stairs, she tripped and fell the last couple of steps. She ignored the rug-burn on her knee and ran into the family room. The television was on, but Brett wasn’t there. She halfway registered schoolbooks spread out on the coffee table as she whipped around and sprinted toward the kitchen. Empty. She ran back through the house and looked into the dining room and the living room. No one. Standing in the living room doorway, she listened to the house. It screamed silence. Melissa realized she was holding her breath and began to feel dizzy again. She stepped into the living room and dropped to the sofa. Where had he gone?


Brett finally stopped running when he reached the creek three blocks from his house. He bent over, hands on his knees, and surprised himself by vomiting. He wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his tee shirt and stumbled over to the edge of the creek. Leaning against an old poplar, he squatted down and crossed his arms over his knees. He stared at the rippling stream of water and tried to clear his head. A loud caw drew his attention to the treetop where he saw a crow perched on a broken branch.

“Go away!” he shouted. The bird stared at him.

“Go!” Brett picked up a clod of dirt and chucked it up toward the branch. It fell far short, but the crow took heed and flew off.

Brett’s mind kept replaying what he had read just minutes earlier. He hadn’t been snooping in his mom’s things. He was working on a project for school that required pictures to be cut from magazines. He knew she kept her old ones in that drawer and he didn’t think she’d care if he took a few. It was when he was taking out a stack of magazines that he saw the journal. He grabbed it and dropped the magazines back into the drawer. He knew he shouldn’t look at it. Even an 11-year-old kid knew better than to go reading someone’s diary. But he couldn’t seem to help himself. He was, after all, an 11-year-old kid. It wasn’t as good as finding his dad’s Playboys, but it still tugged at his curiosity.

So, he opened it. The first couple of pages were pretty boring. His mom wrote stuff about her garden and about some shopping trip she’d taken with his aunt. She also went on and on about how hard she was trying to stay on a diet because summer vacation was coming up, and she wanted to look nice in a bathing suit. He began flipping through the pages and was just about to put it back when his eye caught his own name. It was at the end of a long entry. It said something about how much he idolized his dad. And it mentioned his Aunt Kat, too. He decided to go to the beginning of that entry and see what his mother had written about them. Now he wished he hadn’t. He wished he’d never gone up to his parent’s bedroom. He wished his mother didn’t keep her old magazines in that drawer. And, most of all, he wished he’d never seen that journal.

Brett sat there, picking at his lower lip, and uttered all the curse words he could think of. All the words he’d get grounded for saying if his parents could hear him. Right at that moment, he didn’t much care what his parents liked or didn’t like. Well, his dad, anyway. He wasn’t sure how he felt about his mom. He was at that age where he was hell-bent on earning his way into teen-hood while still needing occasional hugs of reassurance from his folks. The two people he had counted on all his life. Now he didn’t even know them. How could his dad do that? How could he hurt his mom that way? And with Aunt Kat, no less. Brett may have been young, but nothing in his mother’s entry got by him. He knew exactly what she was referring to when she wrote about what she saw in that shed. His stomach was a gnarled chunk of hatred toward his father. There was no ambivalence there. If he’d been face-to-face with his dad at that moment, he would have hurled himself at him and pummeled until there was no fight left. What he couldn’t identify was how he felt toward his mom. He didn’t know why but, for the life of him, he felt like she’d let him down somehow.

The cawing was back and Brett glanced up to see what looked like the same crow sitting on a branch just a few feet above his head. All his anger and confusion came boiling out of him. He stood up, grabbed a fallen limb, and slammed it against the branch where the bird was perched. The crow took off a split-second before impact and disappeared up through the leaves. Brett knelt down at the base of the poplar and laid his head on the ground, sobbing.


Melissa realized she was accomplishing nothing by simply sitting there in her living room. She had to figure out where Brett might have gone. As she ran a mental tally of his closest friends, she decided that Justin wasn’t an option because he was away at his grandfather’s funeral. Seth might have been a possibility if he and Brett hadn’t gotten into a fight yesterday over a soccer game. Maybe he went to Tanner’s. Brett was closer to him than the other two and would probably feel most comfortable confiding in him than anyone else.

Melissa had a cell phone but, out of habit more than anything else, her family still used a landline in the house. She ran to the phone in the kitchen and rifled through the notes tacked up on the small bulletin board. Finding Tanner’s number, she shakily punched it into the keypad. After the third ring, his mother’s voice came on announcing that Robert, Lisa, and Tanner were unavailable at the moment and to please leave a message. Melissa slammed the receiver down and started searching for Seth’s number. She dialed, and he answered immediately.


“Seth, this is Brett’s mom. I’m trying to find him. Is he over there, or have you talked to him this afternoon?”

“Nope.” A boy of few words.

She ignored his cool tone and hung up.

Pacing back and forth across the kitchen floor, she wracked her brain for ideas. Then it hit her. From the time Brett was allowed to venture alone beyond their front yard, he’d taken to going down to the shallow creek that ran through Marlow’s Park. He loved to explore along the bank, digging bugs from the soil or capturing crawdads at the water’s edge. She couldn’t count the times she’d found mud-caked creatures in his dirty pockets. That creek was his favorite hangout, and Melissa was suddenly certain that that’s where she’d find him.

It was only a few blocks away, but the car would be quicker than running, so Melissa grabbed her keys and charged out the door. As she backed out of the driveway, she made a concerted effort to calm herself. If she did find Brett there, the last thing she wanted was for him to see how shaken she was. She had no idea what she was going to say to him, or what he might say to her, but she knew she had to find him. No kid that age should ever have to try to digest the ugly information that was contained in that journal. He’d obviously read it, though, so it was going to be up to her to guide him through to some level of understanding. This thought did nothing to ease her shattered nerves. After all these years, even she wasn’t sure she understood it all.

Melissa couldn’t stop her thoughts from diving back to that summer, that awful day when her life turned black and cold and completely unfamiliar.


Icy fingers clutched her heart as she heard James’s truck pull into the drive. The opening and closing of the kitchen door announced his entrance and she pulled herself to the bathroom sink to assess the damage. The mirror reflected a red, swollen face with dirty tear tracks down each cheek. Without thinking how odd it might appear, she grabbed some facial cream and slathered it over her face. She blew out a big breath and, after taking one last look in the mirror, left the bathroom and headed down the stairs.

James turned his attention from the contents of the refrigerator when he heard her come into the kitchen. His eyes got wide and he started to laugh. “What in the world is that?”

“This? Oh, I read about a new skin care treatment and thought I’d give it a try. I have to keep it on for another half-hour.”  She surprised herself by how calm she sounded. Her voice didn’t betray her fragile heart the way the man standing before her had done just a few hours earlier. He didn’t suspect a thing.

“So, what’s for supper? I’m starved.”  James shut the refrigerator door and leaned against the counter.

“I haven’t started anything, yet. I thought maybe we’d just order pizza. Brett would get a kick out of it and, frankly, I just don’t feel up to cooking. I think I’m coming down with a cold or something.”  Amazing how quickly her brain was working to make all of this plausible. Little did he know the time she would have spent preparing dinner had been occupied by mindless driving and hysterical sobbing.

“Yeah, sure, pizza sounds good. But I’ll call. You’ll get that junk all over the phone if you do it.”  He laughed again and grabbed the phone book.

“I’ll be upstairs.”  Melissa said as she turned and headed for the hall. Unbelievable!  He acted as though this was just any other day. Of course, now that she thought about it, maybe this was just any other day to him. Surely this wasn’t his first little escapade. He’d probably been at it so long it was becoming a natural state of being. The hate that boiled up in her throat scared her a little. She never knew she could feel this way about anyone…least of all the man she’d promised her entire future to.


Brett raised his head and brushed the leaves out of his hair. He looked around to be sure no one had been watching him and was relieved to find himself completely alone. Even that stupid crow had finally gotten the hint.

He stood up and walked down to the creek’s edge, gazing into the water without really seeing anything. His jumbled mind was on fire. He didn’t know how to separate his anger from the confusion, so he just stood on the bank and let the breeze wrap itself around him. Were his mom and dad going to get a divorce? That’s what happened to Mindy Everson’s parents when her mom got a boyfriend. He remembered how she’d sit in the back of the classroom and cry. Oh, she tried to hide it, but even kids their age could figure out when someone was messed up. Mindy stayed messed up for what seemed like forever. Now, she only got to see her dad a couple of times a month and her mom was married to that other guy. Mindy made no secret of how much she hated him.

Once again, Brett heard cawing and he looked up into the tree branches. There it was. Like a soldier standing guard on top of a castle. He didn’t try to chase it away this time. The crow wasn’t the problem. His dad was the problem. His aunt was the problem. And maybe even his mom was the problem. But not the crow. It was just a dumb bird. And a hundred rocks thrown at it wouldn’t make him feel any better. He turned away and started to walk along the bank.

The crunch of gravel got his attention, and he looked back in that direction. When he saw his mom’s car pull into the parking area, he swung around and took off running in the opposite direction.

[To be continued…]

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Careful What You Say

When it comes to communicating with others, we learn at an early age that employing certain filters is often beneficial to all involved. Our words can have an immense effect on others and, while honesty is important, it doesn’t have to be brutal. Not only that, if what we want to say has no socially redeeming value, it may be kinder to fall back on that old adage, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

In much the same way that we can’t unthink a thought, we can’t unsay what’s been said. One of my favorite lines from an old Law & Order episode is when the captain tells a rather blunt detective that it’s okay to have the thought, but you don’t always have to voice it.

I’m not saying we should make a habit of stifling our opinions but, if we insist on freely giving them out regardless of their impact, we must be prepared for whatever backlash they may create. 

In addition to choosing our words carefully, we’re sometimes cautioned against putting anything in writing that we aren’t willing to say out loud. This can be especially important when it comes to keeping a personal diary. Unless you have a foolproof method that guarantees no eyes but yours will ever see what you’ve written, you’ve got to decide if what’s on your mind is important enough to document. If it is, then you also need to figure out how you’ll deal with the possible fallout should your most private thoughts be read by someone else.

This all got me thinking about how reading a person’s diary might affect a curious, yet unsuspecting, mind. Depending on what the diary contains, the reader may be delighted, amused or devastated. For a glimpse into such a scenario, click the button below and read The Journal – Part 1.

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