Ordinary Thoughts, Essays and Short Stories

Category: Essays (Page 1 of 3)

Charge It!

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After recently reading a Facebook post about music, I commented that I like to listen to ‘70s rock while doing stuff around the house. When I do that, I generally use earbuds so I don’t disturb my husband if he’s not in a particularly musical mood. I also mentioned that, at that very moment, I needed to clean the bathrooms, and I hoped my earbuds were charged. 

They were not. 

As I went about the oh-so-fascinating chore of cleaning the bathrooms – sans music because I didn’t want to drown out my husband’s TV program – I got to thinking about all the different wireless devices I own. There are the earbuds, of course (actually, I have two sets), but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Besides my phone, I have a face massager, a neck fan, a facial cleaner, a neck/back massager, an iPad keyboard, a cordless bathroom scrubber, a set of heated knee massagers, three iPads (excessive, I know), a hair trimmer, and even a heated eyelash curler. Oh, and don’t forget the portable power units that have to be kept fully charged in order to juice up my devices if the electricity goes out. 

I threw that list together off the top of my head, and when I realized I probably left out a few things, it made my head spin. And not in a fun way. 

I know many of the devices on that list come across as unnecessary luxuries, but as someone who enjoys spending a lot of time at home, it’s nice to have them at my disposal. What’s not so nice is the inevitable disappointment when I go to use something and find it’s dead as a doornail. 

Keeping the devices plugged in all the time would solve this issue, but having a lot of clutter around makes me anxious. Considering how many of these doodads I’ve got, they’d be scattered all through the house, and the very sight of them would eventually make my head implode. Still, I want to find some logical way to keep them charged. 

I think I’ve finally come up with a simple solution, and it was as obvious as the nose on my face. I already keep a daily planner for tasks and appointments, so I’ve entered “device charging” as an ongoing task. I’m staggering two or three per day throughout the week, and they can be done using only one or two outlets. That way, they’ll all get charged – and stay that way – and I won’t be faced with the bitter angst of not being able to use my earbuds. Or worse…not being able to curl my lashes. 

Am I aware that what I’ve got here is a First World problem not worthy of this level of concern? Why, yes. Yes, I am. But there are times when even trivial molehills turn into mental mountains. At least they do in my brain. So…First World problem or not…if I can come up with a doable solution, I consider it a successful day.

And can’t nobody take that away from me.

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Birthdays

I will turn 69 next month, effectively putting an end to that same number of years on this planet. As I get ready to embark on my 70th trip around the sun, I can’t help but think back to previous birthdays and what they meant to me. 

While my sense of recall is flawed at best, a few birthdays over the years have left their marks. The first one I remember was when I turned nine. I was in the third grade, and my mom had agreed to let me have my first-ever birthday party. Nothing extravagant, of course…we didn’t have the money for that…but I was excited by the prospect of inviting a few friends over for cake and ice cream. Before we had a chance to even start planning, though, another girl invited all of our classmates to her birthday party. That might not have been a problem, but ironically, we shared the same birthday. Since she’d already invited everybody, Mom decided it would be in poor taste for me to have a party at or around the same time, so mine was canceled before it even got off the ground. And to add insult to injury, Mom said it would be impolite not to accept the other girl’s invitation. So not only did I not get to have a party of my own, I had to go celebrate someone else on what should have been my special day. Not gonna lie…that was a tough pill for this former nine-year-old to swallow. 

The next birthday of note was my 18th. My first husband and I, along with our infant daughter – yes, I was quite the young mama – had just moved from Indiana to Rhode Island. I don’t know if it was morbid curiosity or just my way of letting off steam, but since the legal drinking age there was 18, I decided to celebrate that birthday by getting plastered for the very first time. My husband started me off with sloe gin and Coke. At some point, I foolishly switched to straight gin, and the last thing I remember from that night was reading the TV Guide out loud to my husband. The next day was one of the sickest, most wretched days of my life. And deservedly so. I can say without reservation that I reaped what I sowed. To this day, I can’t even entertain the thought of drinking sloe gin.

The next twenty or so birthdays weren’t particularly memorable. Don’t get me wrong…my family has always made me feel special…but we don’t tend to throw big birthday bashes.

My 40th, though, kicked off a personal annual tradition. I took off work that day, had the house to myself, and did whatever I wanted…slept in, read, watched TV, and basically just chilled out. A lot of people seem to dread turning 40, but it didn’t bother me at all. 

Birthday 45 came a week before my mom passed away. Her final year had been filled with excruciating pain, and my dad, brother, and I pretty much lost ourselves in our efforts to keep her as comfortable as possible. She was our only concern. The last thing on my mind that year was my birthday, but it got celebrated anyway because that’s just the sort of loving family I have. One of my daughters even gave me a gift that held a unique meaning for me…a tambourine. Surprisingly, a birthday I didn’t think I cared about turned out to be extremely special. 

As I mentioned earlier, turning 40 was no big deal. But 46? That was a whole other story. I still remember standing in front of the bathroom mirror muttering to myself when my husband came in and asked what I was doing. I swung around and said, in a rather unfriendly tone, “I’m 50!”

“No,” he said. “You’re not. You’re only 46.”

“Everybody knows that 46 starts the downward spiral to 50,” I countered. “So that’s what I might as well say I am now. I’m 50.”

There was clearly no point in trying to convince me otherwise, so he wisely walked away and let me stew in my own grumpy juices. 

Funny thing is, when I finally did turn 50, it was totally anticlimactic. I’d already mourned my youth at 46, so when 50 officially showed up, it was a non-event. I didn’t feel “old.” I just felt like me. I do remember wondering how I might feel when 60 rolled around, but I was pretty sure I wouldn’t consider myself old then, either. I had a feeling, though, that 70 might be another matter. 

And now, nearly two decades later, I’m almost there. Yes, technically that birthday is still thirteen months away, but my 70th year will launch when I hit 69 in a few weeks. 

As I revisit the thoughts I had back when I turned 50, I wonder how I’ll feel in a year. Physically, I have to confess I’m noticing the ravages of time. My joints started betraying me years ago, and they don’t seem to have any intentions of reverting to their glory days. And intellectually, I think I’ve been left in the dust when it comes to technology…something that’s pretty important to stay on top of these days.

Mentally, though, I don’t feel much different than I did in my 30’s and 40’s. The biggest change is that I finally feel emotionally settled. I worry less about things I can’t control, I try to notice and appreciate the little wonders in any given day, and I’m fully aware that I’m blessed beyond measure.

So, physical and intellectual issues aside, I’m feeling pretty good about approaching 70. The looming question now is…how will I feel when 80 is right around the corner?

I guess only time will tell.

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Happy Christmas!

Countless years ago, I was listening to a tape by motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, and one of the things he said that really hit home was that the average person goes to his grave with his music still inside his head. I realize he meant that in the broadest of terms – as in, all of our creative gifts, not just music – but I took it rather literally because most of my writing at that time was in the form of song lyrics. I didn’t know how to write music or play an instrument (and I wasn’t about to sing them to someone who did), so I knew those songs would eventually be buried with me. It was a rather sad acknowledgment, but one I came to accept…until now.

When I created this blog a couple of years back, I let my guard down and began sharing my writing with anyone willing to read it. Those posts have always been in the form of essays or short stories. This month – with Christmas hanging in the air – I decided to let my guard down even more and share one of my songs.

I penned the following back in the ‘90s, and it continues to creep into my head every Christmas season. I’m only posting the lyrics because no one deserves to be put through the torment of hearing me sing. It may read like a badly formatted poem, but hopefully, its spirit still comes through.

Jesus is Born

 

Joseph and Mary rode into the town

To find no room at the inn

Calmly, patiently they bedded down

Among the cattle, and then

As the bright star glowed

Overhead it showed

Where the babe lay safe on the hay

Praise Him!

Praise Him!

Angels proclaimed

Jesus is born today

 

Shepherds who watched o’er their flocks in the fields

Saw the heavenly light

Hearing the news of the birth of their King

They took off in the night

And they found the baby

In swaddled clothing

Asleep and warm where he lay

Praise Him!

Praise Him!

Angels proclaimed

Jesus is born today

 

Bearing their gifts for the new baby King

Wise men came from afar

Frankincense, gold, and myrrh did they bring

As they followed the star

And they found the child 

In a rugged stable

And knelt before Him to pray

Praise Him!

Praise Him!

Angels proclaimed

Jesus is born today

So, there you have it…my one and only attempt at a Christmas carol. 

If tuneless lyrics aren’t your thing, perhaps you’d prefer a story instead. And not just any story, but a Christmas story. Well, it so happens, I can give you that. It’s a rerun from last year, so you may have already read it. If that’s the case, feel free to log off and find something a bit less stale and a lot more entertaining. I promise I won’t be offended. 

But if you haven’t read the above-mentioned story and think you might like to check it out, simply click the button below. Christmas with Frank is one of those sappy, feel-good tales that just might revive your belief in love and hope. Even if it doesn’t, it still provides something wonderful because one of the characters is a sweet little dog. 

And let’s be honest here…who doesn’t love a sweet little dog?

Wishing you a Very Merry Christmas

and a Fabulous 2024!

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Appreciating It All

I devoted November to NaNoWrimo – that nifty online challenge to write a novel in 30 days – so I had no plans to post an essay this month. But my thimbleful of followers will be delighted to know I finished the challenge a couple of days early, giving me time to throw something together for this blog. 

Of course, I’m embellishing my number of followers. Pretty sure they’d all fit on the head of a pin…with room to square dance. 

Anyway, my subject this month is far from original. Since November is best known for Thanksgiving, it’s only logical that gratitude would be at the forefront of most people’s minds. I’ve no idea why we tend to narrow that emotion down to a single month, though. Honestly, we ought to be grateful for every day we wake up breathing. But I’m not going to hop up on that particular soapbox today. I’m just here to share a sample of some things I’ve been thankful for this month:

  1.  Every day…I woke up breathing. (I figured it was best to get the obvious out of the way first.)
  2.  I successfully gave up sugar. Again. 
  3.  I remembered to pay the property taxes. 
  4.  Our casino trip didn’t involve taking out a second mortgage. 
  5.  My writing challenge was successful, and it produced a first-draft novel in a genre I’ve never attempted before. 
  6.  The lights on the garlands and Christmas tree all worked when I plugged them in. 
  7.  We didn’t get any snow.
  8.  I lost three whole pounds.
  9.  I found a new home for the unused sewing machine that mocked me every time I walked past it. 
  10.  I got to spend a pre-Thanksgiving dinner with – and I say this with zero bias – the most fabulous family in the entire world. 

While I may not always succeed, I do try to live with an attitude of gratitude. And not just in November, but all year long. Some days it may be hard to find much to be thankful for, but there’s always something…even if it’s just the fact that, as mentioned previously, I woke up breathing.

On a more serious note, when I take into account the amount of unrest in other parts of the world, I’m immensely thankful to live where I do. 

As we go into the Christmas season, my wish is that we all learn to hold onto that which makes us grateful. Regardless of whether it’s grand or insignificant, it all matters.

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Pop on That Writer’s Cap

Courtesy of NaNoWriMo

In a few days, I plan to open the proverbial vein and try to create something intelligible out of whatever spills out. November 1st kicks off NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month — and the objective is to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. There’s no time for research or editing. You just pound out the words until there aren’t any more words to pound…or until the end of the month…whichever comes first. 

You might fall significantly short of that 50,000-word goal — like I did the first time I participated — or you may end the month with a full first draft of your very own book. It’ll likely be rough, sophomoric, and downright cringe-worthy, but it’ll be something of your own creation. A part of you.

The books I published earlier this year were the results of two different NaNoWriMo challenges I completed well over a decade ago. Once those challenges were over, I set the manuscripts aside with vague promises not to forget about them. And while I didn’t forget entirely, I did let them sit untouched for many, many years. Work, family, and life in general had a tendency to take priority. There always seemed to be something else vying for my attention, and let’s face it…I’m nothing if not a skilled procrastinator.

When I finally did drag those manuscripts out for proper rewrites and editing, it was like getting reacquainted with old friends. Editing isn’t a particularly enjoyable task, but revisiting the stories and characters made it almost fun. Bringing both books to fruition and releasing them out into the world has been just as fulfilling as I’d hoped, and neither of them would even exist if not for NaNoWriMo. I think that’s sort of cool. 

It’s said that everyone has a story to tell, and November could be the perfect opportunity to get it told. While novels are works of fiction — which is the intended goal for NaNoWriMo — I see no reason why a person couldn’t use those 30 days to put their life story into words. When participating in this challenge, we’re really only in competition with ourselves. If someone would rather write a memoir instead of fiction, I say go for it. The bottom line is that you don’t need anyone’s permission to write whatever you want, so there’s no danger of being hauled away by the NaNoWriMo Police.

So, what do you say? Feel like joining me for a month of insane, unfettered creativity? It can be daunting, but it can also be a lot of fun. Sure, there’s a fair chance you might throw in the towel by the third day — and there’s no shame in that — but there’s also a chance that, if you stick with it, something wonderful and uniquely you will present itself on November 30th

Unleashing your inner storyteller may not be your cup of tea, but hey…you’ll never know unless you try. 

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The Potential Down-Fall to Autumn

Autumn is, hands down, my favorite season. The spring rains are over, the blistering heat of summer is past, and winter’s frozen fingers haven’t yet snared me in their grasp. 

I love watching the foliage change from green to orange to yellow. I love the smell of burning leaves. And I love the anticipation of our family getting loud and boisterous around the Thanksgiving table. 

As a woman who’s endured hot flashes for three decades, I live for the cool days of “sweater weather.” My idea of a perfect afternoon is wrapping myself in a cardigan and watching squirrels chase each other through the trees while I sway back and forth on the porch swing. I don’t even mind listening to my husband grouse about the never-ending chore of raking and mulching because it’s all part of this magical season. 

There are those, though, who do not share my enthusiasm for this time of year. A long time ago, I was going on and on about the beauty of fall, and a friend of mine made it abundantly clear that she absolutely hated everything about it. In her words, autumn was the gateway to “death, dying, and destruction.” When I asked what on earth she was talking about, she explained that it was because fall led to winter. And for her, winter was nothing short of abysmal. While I thought her assessment seemed a bit harsh, there was no doubt she was dead serious.

That was my first real experience with the depth and severity of seasonal affective disorder. Up to that point, I didn’t realize the changing of the seasons could have such a negative impact on a person’s emotional well-being. For those folks, it’s a real struggle to make it through to the other side where they can once again feel the hope and promise of springtime. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it isn’t uncommon for a lot of people to experience short-term mood changes when the daylight hours start getting shorter. Fall may very well lead them into what can be described as the “winter blues.” Luckily, their symptoms are rather low-level and abate naturally with the onset of spring when flowers begin to bloom, trees start to bud, and daylight hours gradually increase.

There are others, though, who don’t merely have the blues. Their unwelcome emotions significantly impair their ability to handle day-to-day life. What they’re likely dealing with in those instances is seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression. When it comes to SAD, mood changes are more serious than simply feeling down, and they can have a severe effect on how a person feels, thinks, and handles daily activities.

Symptoms of SAD follow those of other major depressive disorders. Changes in appetite, sleeping excessively, low energy, feelings of hopelessness, and difficulty concentrating are just a few of these symptoms.

Without getting too science-y – which I couldn’t if I tried – it appears that SAD is induced by low levels of serotonin, a brain chemical that regulates mood. Also, while serotonin may be too low, melatonin – a brain hormone that causes our bodies to become sleepy – may be too high. And from what I’ve read, SAD sufferers are generally people who experience other types of mental disorders as well, such as major depression or bipolar disorder. Whether that’s always the case, I don’t know. I just know SAD is a tough row to hoe.

If you notice a negative change in your emotions at this time of year, and you suspect it’s more than just the winter blues, please seek the advice of your doctor with regard to diagnosis and treatment. Light therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, antidepressants, and/or Vitamin D may help alleviate some, if not all, of SAD’s symptoms.

Until my friend so bluntly laid it all out for me, I had no idea what a downer autumn and winter could be for some people. I’ve never dreaded the onset of falling leaves, snow-covered roofs, and icicle-draped branches. That means I’m extremely fortunate to be able to add “I don’t suffer from SAD” to my long, long list of blessings.

Sadly – no pun intended – I’ve learned that not everyone is that lucky.

For more information, click here to visit the National Institute of Mental Health website .

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Fantum & Foster

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My second novel is out! Fantum & Foster sat on the shelf gathering dust almost as long as my first book did – which was well over a decade – and there were times I wondered if I’d ever find my way back to it. I did, though, and I’m so glad. It was an emotional but fulfilling ride.

A weary boy.

A broken mom.

And a very special dog.

Foster grew up seeing, hearing, and feeling things no child should ever have to see, hear, or feel.

Dahlia was thrust into motherhood when she was much too young. She did the best she knew how but in all the wrong ways.

Fantum, a scruffy little terrier, was sometimes the only light in Foster’s often dark and dreary existence.

Together, they navigated the slippery slopes of their shaky life, until inevitably, it all came crashing down.

FANTUM & FOSTER

SAMPLE

PROLOGUE

2004

Foster prayed the baby wouldn’t wake up as he grabbed the phone on its second ring. Shooting a glance at his gently snoring wife, he whispered, “Hello?

A cough on the other end of the line was followed by the voice of a seasoned chain smoker. “I’m calling for Foster Monroe.”

Speaking,” Foster said, still whispering as he slipped out of bed. He padded into the master bathroom and eased the door shut behind him.

“Mr. Monroe, this is Detective Chuck Tennon from the 3rd Precinct. I’m calling about a Dahlia Waters.”

Foster plopped down on the edge of the tub, unconsciously rubbing the back of his neck to assuage a not-yet-there migraine. His fingers tightened around the receiver, and he asked, “What about her? What’s happened?”

Another cough into the phone, and then there was that gravelly voice again. “Mr. Monroe, are you any relation to Dahlia Waters?”

Foster sighed and said, “Yes, Detective, we’re related. She’s my mother.” He leaned his head against the cool tile and asked, “What’s she done this time?”

“I’d rather not go into this over the phone. I know it’s a god-awful hour, but can you meet me at St. Pete’s?”

“The hospital?” Foster’s knuckles grew white as he squeezed the phone tighter. “Has my mother been in an accident? Is she all right?”

“Mr. Foster, if you’d just be kind enough to come on over to the hospital, I’ll meet you in the emergency room and answer all your questions.”

“I’m on my way,” Foster said as he disconnected the call and started back into the bedroom. He softly slipped the phone back on its charger, but not softly enough. He sensed Emily shift in the bed, and when he looked up, she was lying there staring at him, her brow a triple row of faint but uneasy lines.

“What is it, hon? Who was that on the phone?” She sat up and pulled her knees to her chest. “No good ever comes from a call in the wee hours like this.” Emily looked more closely at Foster. “It’s your mom, isn’t it?”

He sat on the edge of the bed and began stroking the back of his wife’s hand. He was vaguely aware of how velvety her skin felt. It always did, and it always gave him a sense of calm. “Yeah, it’s Mom. Again. That was a police detective, but this time she’s in the hospital instead of jail. I’ve got to get over there.”

“Well, what happened?” Emily asked as she got up and reached for the clothes she’d draped over the chair the night before. “Was she in an accident?”

Foster shook his head and said, “He wouldn’t tell me anything over the phone. Just said he wanted me to meet him at St. Pete’s…in the emergency room. That can’t be good.”

“I’ll call Inez to come over and stay with the kids.” Emily was already pulling her jeans on under her night clothes.

“No, no, you need to stay here. Jacob has swim class in the morning, and there’s no reason for him to miss out just because his grandmother has managed to get herself into yet another bind.” He fastened his pants and kissed his wife, pulling his sweater over his head as he walked out into the hall. “I’ll call you as soon as I know something.”

_____

Foster carefully maneuvered his car through what felt like endless darkness. It was one of those pitch-black affairs that challenged your headlights and made you question whether the sky ever truly hosted a moon and stars. To make things more interesting, it was raining, so the lights from the oncoming cars were more blinding than usual. Foster pulled into the hospital parking lot and found a space close to the emergency room entrance. He locked the car, dashed through what was quickly turning to sleet, and then all but skidded through the automatic doors. There was an empty waiting area to his right, restrooms to his left, and an admittance desk directly in front of him. A short, chubby nurse was standing with her back to him.

“Excuse me,” Foster said as he leaned on the edge of the desk. “Can you help me?”

The nurse slowly turned around and eyed him with the weary interest of someone who’d spent about four hours too long on their feet. “What is it you need, son?”

“My name is Foster Monroe. I’m supposed to meet a Detective Tennon here. It’s about a patient who was brought in tonight. Dahlia Waters?”

The nurse’s bored expression was replaced with one of grave concern, and she said, “Oh, of course, of course, Mr. Monroe. Yes, that policeman has been expecting you. He’s waiting right down this corridor.” She shimmied out from behind the desk and started down the hall, motioning for Foster to follow.

“What can you tell me about my mother? Was she in an accident or is she ill?”

Avoiding eye contact, the nurse shook her head and said, “Right now, you just need to talk to the detective. Here we are.” She stopped in front of a room that looked like a small private waiting area, and the sign above the door read Consult Room #2. Foster vaguely recalled hearing someone say it was never a good sign when a doctor asked the family to gather in a consulting room. He wondered if the same held true when the summoner was a cop.

The nurse, Adina Oakes according to her name badge, cleared her throat and said, “Detective Tennon? Mr. Monroe is here.”

Nurse Oakes patted Foster’s arm and then shuffled back up the hallway. A tall white-haired man, drowning in a faded overcoat, stood up and approached Foster, right hand extended.

“Mr. Monroe, I’m Detective Tennon. Why don’t you have a seat?”

Foster shook the man’s hand and noticed how cold it was, as though blood circulation and his body had yet to make their acquaintance. “Detective, what’s this all about? The nurse couldn’t seem to give me any information.”

Tennon gestured toward the chairs, and as both men sat down, he said, “Before you can see her, I need to ask you a few questions.”

Foster didn’t like the fact that he still had no answers about his mother’s condition – or why she’d even wound up in the hospital in the first place – but he’d long held a deep respect for authority, so he simply nodded as an indication for the officer to continue.

Tennon leaned forward resting his forearms on his knees, and he looked directly into Foster’s eyes. “Mr. Monroe, your mother was found in an alley over on West Baker Street, back behind the Frisky Inn. A customer had gone out to the alley to take a…,” Tennon dipped his head toward Foster and smiled slightly. “Let’s just say, the bathroom was occupied. Anyway, he found your mother lying behind the dumpster. She’d been severely beaten.”

“Oh, my god,” Foster swiped his hands over his face and peered at Tennon. “How badly is she hurt?”

“We’ll get to that, son. I just need to make some sense out of a few things first.”

“What kinds of things? What are you talking about?” Respect for authority aside, Foster was beginning to lose patience.

The detective reached into one of his jacket pockets and pulled out a plastic bag. Inside was a filthy billfold that looked as though, decades earlier, it might have been made from some type of floral quilt. “Does this look familiar to you?”

Foster took the bag from the officer. He held it up to the light, turned it over a couple of times, and then said, “Yes, it’s my mother’s. She made it when I was little. She used to make a lot of things like this. Sold them at flea markets to make extra money.” Foster handed the bag back to the detective but hesitated a moment before releasing it.

“Okay, we thought this was probably hers, but the picture on her driver’s license is so old…expired, you know…it was hard to be sure she was the same woman in the photo.”

Foster nodded his head. He often found it hard to believe the woman his mother had become was the same one who worked well into the night creating purses and wallets out of recycled clothing and bedspreads just so she could put food on the table when he was a kid. He looked at Tennon and said, “You mentioned some other things you needed to ask me about. What else?”      

The detective nodded his head and pulled another plastic bag from his jacket. This held a small glass vial with a white powdery substance inside. “Have you seen this before?”

This time, Foster did not reach out for the bag. He had no intention of touching it. He didn’t know if he’d ever seen that particular vial before, but he’d seen plenty like it in his mother’s possession over the years. “I can’t say for certain, but my guess is it belonged to her. My mother’s been an addict for about as long as I can remember.” That old familiar knot began to tighten in the pit of his stomach, and he couldn’t help but wonder how many more times he’d have to come face to face with his mother’s ruination.

Tennen offered an understanding nod and said, “Well, the only other thing she had on her when she was found was this.” He held up a larger plastic bag that was filled with something gray and matted. This time, Foster didn’t hesitate when he reached for it.

“Oh, my god. I can’t believe she still has him.” He felt tears burning the corners of his eyes.

Him?” The detective asked, confused.

“Yeah. Fantum. My dog.”

  

Chapter 1

1976

“Kid.”

Foster’s fingers froze mid-tie over his right sneaker as he slowly turned his head to look over his shoulder.

“This yours, kid?” A dirty, overweight man with a gin-blossom nose held a gray ball of fur up over his shoulder.

“Give me my dog, mister.” Foster stood up, stretched to his full five feet, and stared directly into the man’s eyes. “He’s mine. Give him.”

“How’s that, now? This nappy little piece of turd is your little doggy, is it? Well, now, let’s just see if he’ll come when you call him.” The man hefted the little terrier up over his head and lobbed it into a nearby dumpster.

“HEY!” Foster spared just enough time to kick the man in the groin before running to the dumpster and scaling over the side. He was barely aware of the string of profanities and groans coming from the man he’d just ball-busted. His fingers scrambled through takeout containers and wadded newspapers until he caught hold of something furry and pulled it up out of the trash. “Fantum, it’s okay. You’re not hurt. I won’t let him get you again.”

Foster hugged the dog to his chest and stood up, peering over the side of the dumpster to see if the man was still there. All he saw was the backside of the creep as he limped across the street and disappeared inside Bailey’s Tavern. “Come on, fella,” Foster said. “Let’s get outta here.”

After running three or four blocks, Foster finally slowed to a walk until he came to the city park. Spying an empty bench under a huge sycamore, he sauntered over and sat down, carefully placing the dog on the bench beside him.

“Seems like some folks just don’t know what’s good for them, huh, Fantum?” He rubbed the little pooch behind the ears and smiled as he snuggled him against his leg. The dog hadn’t uttered a sound. Not when the man tossed him into the trash and not when they were running down the sidewalk. Fantum was probably the quietest dog anybody would ever come across. Except when he and Foster were alone. Then he’d speak his mind. Now, though, in the public view of anyone who chose to walk through the park, he silently lay there…seemingly happy and secure just to be close to his master.

Foster let his gaze drift over to the playground area and noticed a couple of classmates on the monkey bars. School had been out a little over a week, and he hadn’t run into many of his friends lately. Funny how he had plenty of people to do stuff with when school was in session, but it was hard to find anyone to hang out with during the summer. Hard for him, anyway. Foster wasn’t the type of kid to just pop over to somebody’s house and ask them to go for a bike ride or shoot some hoops. Whenever he did that, it felt weird…sort of like begging someone to spend time with him. At school, kids had to see each other anyway, so joining a kickball game at recess or right after school didn’t seem to be asking all that much.

Now he was met with that familiar dilemma of whether to stay where he was or go over to where the other kids were playing to see if he could join in. He couldn’t just leave Fantum here on the bench, but he also couldn’t risk the guys making fun of him. No one understood Foster’s connection with his little dog, so for now Foster decided they would just head home. Maybe he’d come back by himself later and see if his friends were still there. They wouldn’t bust his chops over Fantum if the dog wasn’t with him.

_____

“Foster, honey, izzat you?”

Foster blanched at the thick slur drifting out of his mother’s bedroom. Dahlia Waters had been living more in the bottle than out lately. “Yeah, Mom. I’m just going to get something to eat and then go back outside.” He hoped for no response, but instead, he heard her slippers shuffling down the hallway toward the front room.

“Let Mama fix you sumpin,” Dahlia mumbled as she reached out and pulled him into a stinky embrace of Heaven Scent and Jim Beam. She didn’t seem to notice him tense up as she held on. “You need to eat more, baby. You’re all skinny bones.”

“I’m fine, Mom. Look, why don’t you sit down, and I’ll make us both some sandwiches?” Foster guided her to the ratty sofa and held her arm as she plopped down onto a stained cushion. He grabbed a little book up off the floor and put it on her lap. “Here’s the TV Guide. Pick something out and I’ll turn on the TV for you when I get back.” As he turned to go into the kitchen, he heard a sad little laugh.

“Wonder who’s the parent here…” she said as she let her head fall back against the sofa.

By the time Foster had the bread and peanut butter out on the kitchen table, he could hear Dahlia’s soft snores. He tiptoed to the doorway – although stomping his feet wouldn’t have roused her – and looked in at the specter of the mother he loved so deeply. Her hands lay limp at her sides, the TV Guide was on the floor again, and her legs were stretched out in front of her. The dark circles under her eyes had become a permanent reminder of how wrecked she was. He may have been just a kid, but he feared if his mother didn’t change soon, she’d be dead before he finished high school. That was a thought too hurtful to linger over, so he went back to the table and got to the business of making their dinner.

_____

Foster ate his sandwich and walked down the hall to his bedroom. He tucked Fantum away in his own little bed by the chest of drawers, and then he went back to the front room and slipped outside. When he got to the park and saw that his friends were no longer there, he sat on one of the swings and pumped back and forth, getting as high as he could. He quickly got bored with the swings and started searching for bugs or unusual rocks under the hedges along the perimeter of the park. The most interesting thing he found was an empty Trojan package. He had no personal experience with those, but he knew some of the older boys kept them in their wallets. The only reason he even knew that was because, when he was little, he’d asked Billy Abbott what the round lump was in his billfold, and Billy took the package out to show him. He didn’t explain much about it, other than to say he really hoped he’d find a girl pretty soon who would let him try it out on her. Then he winked at Foster and told him that was just their little secret. He said if his mom ever found out he was carrying that around, she’d kick him three weeks from Sunday.

After spending a few more minutes looking under the bushes, Foster walked back home and found his mother splayed on the sofa pretty much as she’d been when he left. He went into his room and picked Fantum up, then climbed onto his bed and laid down with the little dog on his chest. Stroking his fur, Foster looked into Fantum’s eyes and said, “Feels like it’s just you and me tonight. Just like most nights, huh?” Fantum merely stared back.

Eventually, Foster decided it was probably time to rouse his mother, although he wasn’t sure why. It just seemed like the right thing to do. Maybe she’d be feeling better and would want to do something with him. They could play a board game or maybe make some Jiffy Pop and watch TV together. They used to do that a lot before whatever was wrong hit the fan.

Foster wandered back to the front room and saw that Dahlia had shifted to where she was half-sitting, half-lying on the sofa. She let out a soft groan as he lifted her legs onto the seat cushions so she’d be in a more comfortable position. Opening one eye, she gave him a crooked smile and then was out like a light again. Foster took the old torn quilt from the back of the rocker and spread it out over his mother, pulling it up just under her chin. It wasn’t the least bit chilly, but doing that made him feel better.

He didn’t need to check the clock to know Dahlia had been out for a good four hours. Light from the streetlamps filtered in through the living room window and cast a soft glow over her hardened sandwich. Foster started to reach for the plate so he could take it into the kitchen, but reconsidering, he simply sat Indian-style on the floor by his mother and waited for nothing in particular.

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Playing Catch-Up…Or Not

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A couple of decades ago, I worked as a receptionist in a large law firm, and I recall the not-so-fun experience we all went through when they upgraded the phone system. Compared to what we see today, the new one was only semi-impressive. But at the time, it was several technological steps above what we’d been using. The learning curve was steeper for some than it was for others, and I can still remember one of the firm’s partners barreling past my desk all red-faced and muttering, “I want my rotary phone back.”

The introduction of all manner of hi-tech equipment, software, apps, and whatnot through the years has often left me feeling the same way. I’m not saying that electronic calculators, home computers, and cordless phones weren’t exciting – and I’m certainly not willing to trade my cell phone for the cute little princess phone I had back in the ‘60s – but the rapidity with which new advances come out makes it clear that technology is swiftly passing me by. I think it’s safe to say some of my peers are experiencing this same sense of being left in the dust.

Many years ago, my husband and I were dragged kicking and screaming into the land of smartphones. Everyone kept telling us we needed to get on board because texting was essential and those phones made it so easy. We dug in our heels for as long as we could, but we finally had to admit our flip phones simply weren’t cutting it, and we succumbed to upgrading to smartphones. It was shocking how quickly we embraced the convenience of not only communicating with friends and family without actually talking on the phone – something neither of us has ever enjoyed doing – but of communicating between just the two of us when we were in different parts of the same house. Yes, as embarrassed as I was to admit it at the time, we would resort to texting instead of getting out of a chair and going to wherever the other person was in order to talk face-to-face. We’ve aged a bit since then, and our joints aren’t what they used to be, so I’m no longer embarrassed by that practice. I now justify it by saying we’re working smarter…not harder.

As comfortable as we’ve managed to get with our cell phones, other aspects of technology don’t seem to come so easily. My husband has been out of the workforce longer than I have, so he doesn’t really need to use a computer anymore. And what they say is true…if you don’t use it, you lose it. He openly admits he struggles more than I do when it comes to handling our various devices. For better or worse, I’ve become our household’s tech guru. It’s a term I use so tongue-in-cheek that my face is lopsided. Still, if we’re going to live in a world where we need Wi-Fi to watch TV or surf the net, someone has to know how to hook stuff up and make it spring to life. I’m just questioning how much longer I’ll be able to muddle through. Because that’s exactly what I do. I muddle.

During the time I was setting up the website for this blog, there was some question as to which of us was going to survive…me or the laptop.  I feared the frustration involved was going to cause me to either stroke out or hurl my little Acer into the reservoir. Fortunately – and, to this day, I believe there was some Divine Intervention at work there – I managed to get the website up and running without any casualties. My blood pressure is still acceptable, and the laptop didn’t end up in the drink. It was a win-win.

But there is so much more to deal with than figuring out how to send texts or stream movies or bank online. There are hackers and cyber-thieves and bitcoins and AI and God only knows what else out there. I can’t help but wonder when I’ll turn a corner and be faced dead-on with a technological problem that I absolutely must solve…but absolutely can’t. My brain cells aren’t getting any younger – or sharper – and the thought of sitting down and trying to learn about all those things is beyond daunting. Not to mention the fact that I have no desire to put myself through that sort of torture.

Maybe the trick for those of us of a certain age is to do our best to keep up with what we already know how to do, go the extra step in learning about things we’re truly interested in, and then be content to let all the other stuff float on by.

The way I see it, that’s not giving up. It’s letting go. And as time marches on, I’m becoming more and more okay with that.

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Shifting Priorities

It’s Mother’s Day. Well, it is if you’re reading this post the same day it goes live. If you’re not, then it isn’t Mother’s Day. Unless you waited a year to read it. Then it is. Mother’s Day, I mean. A year later.

Okay, now that I’ve got you thoroughly confused, I’ll get on to the subject at hand…mothers. Today is that special day set aside each year to honor them. And they deserve it. Without mothers, none of us would be here.

Yeah. Let that sink in. Even if you had a mom who wasn’t all she was cracked up to be, she still brought you into this world, so there’s that. Love her or not, she did do you that one solid.

When I think about moms, it’s natural to reminisce about my own. She was, in my mind, inarguably wonderful. She wasn’t a perfect individual, of course, but she was the perfect mom for me. Not everyone gets to have that sort of experience with their own mother, so I know how extremely lucky I was to have her…and how lucky I still am to have all of my treasured memories of her.

As time goes on, I see more of my mom in myself than I did when I was younger. Sometimes it’s in the things I catch myself saying, and sometimes it’s the reflection staring back at me from the mirror. I used to cringe at the thought of turning into my mother but, the more I acknowledge it, the more okay I am with it. Pleased, even. I may not be the extraordinary woman she was, but I’m content with being a half-way decent replica.

In addition to timeworn phrases and a head full of gray hair, I also inherited my mom’s inclination to write. Now that I’ve gotten that first novel out there in front of God and everybody – and I’ve begun the process of editing the next one – it occurs to me that the whole “mom” gig isn’t necessarily limited to rearing little humans.

There’s no doubt about the fact that my daughters will forever be my crowning glories. But my books, stories, and essays also fall into the category of beloved babes I brought into this world. Clearly, they’re nowhere near the same level as my flesh-and-bone offspring, but they’re still a part of me. Not only that, but nurturing them requires a fair amount of devotion…just like real kids. And that devotion takes a lot of time and effort. It’s just a different kind of balancing act.

With real kids, especially if you have more than one, you have to find a way to spread yourself as evenly as possible so none of their needs go unmet. Each child is just as important as the other. But there’s more leeway when it comes to writing. It’s okay to backburner some things so the lion’s share of the attention can go to the project requiring the most work. And that’s what I’m setting in motion now.

This is my long-winded way of saying I won’t be posting essays or short stories every other week anymore…at least not until I get this second book finalized and on the market. My plan is to publish it before the end of the year so, if I stand a chance of making that happen, that’s where I need to focus most of my mental energy. While I realize no one out there will lose any sleep over this little announcement, I felt I should explain up front why future essays and stories will be fewer and far between. The book has to take precedence.

I’m not putting the blog on pause completely, though. I’ll continue to post something once a month or so and, if you’re already subscribed to my blog, you’ll still receive emails when that new content goes live. If you haven’t subscribed but are interested, just scroll to the bottom of this page and complete the form. I’ll also put a post on Facebook when new content is available.

Now that I’ve brought you up to date, it’s time to make myself scarce. Mother’s Day has reminded this mama that she has a literary baby in need of some major attention. I can almost hear it caterwauling in the background as I type this.

Ciao for now.

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It’s All a Balancing Act

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A long while back, I posted an essay about finding ways to tolerate doing certain things that, frankly, I simply dislike doing. The target irritant in that post was dusting. While it’s still not a favorite chore, I’ve been surprised by how much more palatable it’s become since I adjusted my outlook. Instead of viewing the chore as a necessary evil, I’ve been doing my best to consider it an opportunity to appreciate the items I’m dusting. I let myself think about their history and what that history means to me. Simplistic, I know…but it seems to do the trick.

While dusting recently, I started fiddling around with a whimsical toy my husband got back when we were dating. At least, I think we were dating. We might have already been married, and I may or may not have been the one who got it for him. That was about a hundred years ago, so you’ll have to forgive my lack of accuracy.

Anyway, the toy consists of a clown or a jester — or maybe just some guy in his pajamas — that’s suspended on curved wooden bars. When you tap his head or foot just right, he twirls delightfully back and forth from one end of the bars to the other. But if you’re off even a tiny bit when you tap him, he goes all wonky and can twirl himself right off his platform.

Noticing how easy it is to throw this little guy off course got me thinking about the importance of balance for us real people…both physically and mentally.

From a physical standpoint, personal experience has proven I can get knocked off balance in the blink of an eye. I’ve always had a special talent for falling up steps and tripping on air. As I age, that gift just keeps on giving. Fortunately, good bone density has prevented any disasters. Fingers crossed that doesn’t change.

In an attempt to stay as upright as possible for as long as possible, I make sure to incorporate some balance work when I exercise each morning. It’s not a lot, but it seems to help me feel steadier as I go through my day. As a matter of fact, even though I know my klutziness can rear its ugly head at any moment, I have to say that I haven’t tripped on air or fallen up (or down) any steps in quite a while. I attribute that monumental feat to those balance moves. Of course, just to be on the safe side, it might not hurt to throw some salt over my shoulder to keep up the good juju.

From a mental standpoint, the whole concept of staying on track gets trickier because I don’t always know exactly what needs to be balanced…let alone how to go about doing it. This generally occurs during conversations. Sometimes I’m not even aware it’s happening until I’m a mile down the road of some unintended brain tangent. By then, it takes major recalibrating to get back to the present. It’s particularly off-putting when it happens during a discussion that suddenly requires my input. I start off focusing on what’s being said and, without warning, my mind flits to something totally unrelated…and often completely insignificant.

I’ve got ADHD and realize it affects the way I think, but I’m pretty sure this can happen to almost anyone, regardless of their mental fortitude. I’m not talking about technological distractions, although there’s no argument that those are annoying little devilments. I’m talking about more innocuous attention thieves. Sometimes the least little thing can send us twirling off-kilter just enough to make our thoughts wind up somewhere we didn’t expect or want them to be.

My above-referenced diagnosis is fairly mild and, since it doesn’t terribly disrupt my life, I don’t take medication for it. I’m not crazy about pharmaceutical side effects so, for the time being, I’m content to manage my condition on my own. Sometimes it works…sometimes it doesn’t. But even people who don’t share my specific disorder can occasionally find their minds wandering off unattended. It’s like trying to restrain a toddler who just spotted the monkey cage at the zoo.

So what can we do to stop these cerebral jaunts from jacking up our thought processes? I don’t have any solid answers, but I’ve been giving it a lot of thought lately. My usual methods of staying on track require tactical exercises inside my head…like silently repeating what someone says so I can keep a grasp on it, or throwing a lasso over each fugitive thought and then mentally dragging it back where it belongs. Sometimes, these are just occasional hiccups. Other times, they seem to happen nonstop and leave me utterly exhausted by the end of the day. It would be nice to find simpler, less cumbersome, ways to tame the wandering beast.

A quick Google search gave credence to at least one of my tried-and-true practices – that of mentally repeating people’s statements in order to ground them in my head. But I came across other suggestions, too.

One recommendation was to maintain eye contact during a conversation. Not constant, unblinking eye contact, of course. That’s just creepy. But creating a sort of eye-to-eye relationship may help a person stay focused on what the other one is saying. I must confess that this is something I struggle with because introverts aren’t generally all that keen on eye contact. But, if doing so can strengthen the connection, it’s worth that little bit of discomfort.

Another tip was to ask questions related to what the person has said. Not only does that show interest, but it can help to mentally cement the conversation. And that makes sense. If our thoughts have concrete feet, they’re a lot less likely to stumble off on their own.

It was also suggested to find a way to surreptitiously make some notes about what was just discussed. If you’re like me and have trouble remembering, jotting it down can serve as both a memory anchor and future reference…just in case that “anchor” somehow gets cut loose. Lord only knows how many anchors are rusting at the bottom of my cranial ocean. Luckily, I’m no stranger to sticky notes.

Although the above ideas aren’t earth-shattering – or even all that original – they’re doable, and I believe they can be effective. I’m actually looking forward to seeing if they’ll help me stay in the here and now when I’m talking to someone. It would be amazing to stop getting mentally waylaid so much.

When it comes to successfully navigating conversations, what I really want is to be like that wooden guy in his PJs. All I have to do is figure out how to perfectly tap myself so I can twirl back and forth along my own little track without the constant worry of falling off.

Right. No pressure.

 

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