Today I did something I’ve been thinking about for almost a year. No, it’s not finishing my first novel. That’s something I actually worked on regularly, although there have been a lot of days where I did just think about it.
It’s also not self-publish one of the many children’s stories I’ve written, though I certainly have spent a lot of time thinking about that and I’m pretty sure I’m going to make self-publishing a 2017 goal.
No, this achievement, may in fact be one of my greatest, based on how ridiculous it is that I didn’t accomplish it sooner.
Last year at this time I was pet/house sitting for my friends in Durham, NC, while they attended their future daughter-in-law’s wedding shower in Florida. From Durham, I was heading directly to COP-21, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris, France, for two weeks, then flying back to Chicago which is where I was living last year. So, I had a rental car in Durham because my car stayed behind in Illinois waiting for me to return.
Driving around the Chapel Hill-Raleigh-Durham isn’t that big a deal for me, because I lived there for 9 years. I still occasionally get lost, and that’s what happened one fateful day while driving around the Triangle area. I ended up on one of their new toll roads without my trusty iPass sensor because it, too, stayed behind in Illinois waiting for me to return.
When I got back from Paris, I found more than just my car and iPass waiting for me to return. I also now had an invoice from the rental car company explaining that they had been billed for my illegal use of the tollway. I did what any jet-lagged narcoleptic would do in that situation: I put the bill aside, took many naps over the next few weeks (it honestly took me months to recover), and then I completely forgot about it.
In the meantime, I discovered the stylus pen to my tablet was missing upon my Illinois return. Turns out I left it in Durham. My friend put in an envelope, weighed it, and put what she thought was appropriate postage on it. The stylus showed up in my mailbox with a yellow envelope attached from my mailperson saying the postage was short $2.06. I was surprised that the post office didn’t send my stylus back to Durham and I should have used that appreciation for momentum to act. But, again, I put this envelope to the side, took one of my many naps, and promptly forgot about it.
For the next several months, I would come across these two outstanding bills, think about paying them, and for reasons that seemed valid at the time (e.g., no cash to leave for the mailperson, couldn’t find my checkbook, time to take another nap, etc.) I ended up shuffling the papers around and not doing anything about them.
This decision should not surprise anyone who knows me because one of the greatest challenges in my life is how I handle paper. I suspect this is a genetic condition because everyone in my family except my oldest brother has a paper problem. Apparently, the only thing my brother keeps on his kitchen table is a bunch of bananas. I, however, have been known to keep notebooks, mail, magazines, and various other paper items that can be neatly stacked (or not) on any flat surface, such as a table, to then be completely ignored for months if not years.
Which brings us to today. After holding on to these two outstanding debts since last December, packing them up and moving them with me from Naperville, IL, to Oak Park, IL, to Johnsonville, NY, to Norfolk, CT, I finally paid them off!
I think I may have just heard angels singing Hallelujah in the background.
What finally prompted this action? If you read my post last week, you’ll know one of my end-of-the-year goals is to devote 20 minutes every day to reading or listening to spiritual material. I picked up Debbie Ford’s book, The Best Year of Your Life, when Amazon offered it for free in a daily Book Bub deal several months ago. I started reading it last week and one of the main points in one of the earlier chapters is in order to have your best year, you have to go back in your past and create closure for anything holding you back. So that’s what I’ve been doing.
And you know what? It felt pretty dang good! As I left the post office today, it felt like a huge weight had lifted off my shoulders. I felt free and unencumbered and I also gave the post office employees a good laugh as I explained the situation and begged them to help me so I could finally be free of this debt.
I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to circumvent problems like this in the future. In addition to having gained a husband who does not have a paper problem and who has more organization of his sock drawer than I have in my entire life, we have become more mindful of what we pack every time we move housesitting jobs and we are actively trying to reduce any and all excess, including paper. Plus, I think Debbie Ford made an excellent point in her book and I need to recognize that when I procrastinate on completing daily tasks, it’s the same as holding negative energy in my life and why on Earth would I want to keep that floating around?
For now, though, I celebrating this victory. It may seem small and trivial, but really I could not feel happier about getting it done. And I would love for you to join me in the celebration – feel free to send me congratulatory remarks in the comments!
Sea Gull perched on the rocks. Flecks of ocean foam sprayed him as he considered where to dive next. Soon he was joined by several other gulls from around the bay. Their heads bobbed along with the waves as they watched another gull swoop into the air, spiral down, and then dive into the water in one swift, sharp movement. A second later, the gull emerged victorious as he ascended into the sky with the largest fish any of them had ever seen in his mouth.
Accolades punctuated the air as all the gulls squawked in raucous approval. All the gulls, except one. Sea Gull ruffled his feathers, but remained quiet. He cast his gaze upon the gigantic fish and snapped his beak imagining what it would be like to have that much food.
Sea Gull had never caught anything so big, nor had anyone ever cheered for him. The fish Sea Gull caught were always puny and he often spent more time hunting than he wanted to. He found it unfair that he worked so hard for so little. Bah, he thought. If that other gull can catch such a big fish, there’s no reason I can’t too.
Sea Gull took to the air and imagined the moist mounds of flesh that would soon be his, the wild praise he would receive from the other gulls, and the pride he would feel as a hunter. He swooped and dived, swooped and dived. But his only catch was so tiny, Sea Gull released it, embarrassed his prey so inadequate.
Sea Gull perched back on the rocks. He watched as the other birds feasted, then took to the sky again. The gulls who had been unsuccessful zeroed in on the fleshy remains, picking apart the bones. Sea Gull huffed. Just like he was not satisfied with a paltry catch, he did not want anyone’s leftovers. Sea Gull wanted the biggest, juiciest fish he could find and when he got it, he would be the one leaving food behind.
It was time to hunt again, and Sea Gull flew into the air. Disgusted as he heard fighting over the remaining fishy dregs, he flew further and further away until the other birds were specks in the distance.
Sea Gull redoubled his efforts as he dove into the water. Only once did he almost catch a fish worthy of his standards. Nearing exhaustion, he looked for rocks on which he could perch, but there were none. Sea Gull’s only choice was to land on the beach.
The sand was thick and muddy. Sea Gull’s tracks followed him as he looked for a good resting place. Then he saw it. Through the pebbles and broken shells was a clam – it was the biggest one he had ever seen. Despite the ache that raged through his body, Sea Gull snatched up his new prey and made for the sky.
He flew through the air in jubilation. Sea Gull could not wait to show off this find. But as he started his descent to the rocky island where his fellow gulls perched, he swerved away and started a new ascent.
The only way to get this clam open would be to shatter it on the rocks; if he did, he would risk the other gulls scavenging his find. Sea Gull had no choice but to fly away from everyone. He found an isolated parking lot a few hundred feet away.
From high above, Sea Gull opened his beak. He watched as the clam plummeted to the concrete below, the shell shattering into tiny pieces. Sea Gull descended. There was more meat in there than he imagined. He gorged himself, looking around in triumph.
Only there was no one to witness his victory. The clam, which had started off tasting rich and succulent, turned to rubber in his mouth. Sea Gull could barely stomach to eat the rest as he realized his greatest victory would remain unknown to everyone but himself.
Sea Gull took to the sky, leaving the half-eaten clam on the beach. As he flew back to the rocks, he heard a ruckus behind him. There on the beach, several birds now fought over the rest of the clam. He changed his course to return, so he could boast to the other gulls it had been he who left such a feast. But by the time he got there, the clam had been gobbled up and the birds had flown on. All that was left were the broken shells and Sea Gull’s empty stomach.
We are back in Norfolk, CT! My husband I enjoyed it so much here that when our next pet and housesitting job ended up being canceled, we accepted an offer to return for the holidays. But now that we’re back it’s time to set some new goals based on what I learned the last time we were here.
One of the things I’m trying with these goals is to make them S.M.A.R.T.(er) than my previous ones. For those of you who don’t know, I spent several years conducting program evaluation research. One of the keys for measuring success is that objectives must be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
1) Write 6,000 words per week specifically for one of my novels
Rationale: I want 2016 to be the year I start and finish a novel. If I stay on track with this goal, that gives me an additional 36,000 words. Since I already have 35,000 words written for my middle grade novel, this should be more than enough to finish and make substantial progress on some of my other unfinished writing.
2) Attend a weekly writer’s group
Rationale: Writers’ groups are invaluable for providing feedback and connection to other writers. I cannot say enough good things about them and I’ve been blessed to belong to some outstanding ones (Durham Writers’ Group, Schenectady Public Library, United Church of Christ Congregational Norfolk, and SCBWI Eastern CT). Attending a writers’ group on a weekly basis will also keep me writing a variety of projects.
3) Listen to at least one Brandon Sanderson lecture on writing each week
Rationale: From my 8 years of teaching research writing, I have good technical writing skills. Imagination and creativity are also two of my greatest strengths. But after reading Libbie Hawker’s Take Your Pants Off: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better, Writing, I realized I still have a lot to learn about fiction to take my writing to the next level. One of my good friends highly recommends Brandon Sanderson’s lectures and my husband reads his books. Since I write a lot of fantasy, I thought this would be a good fit for me. Plus, he’s got a lot of material freely available on the internet.
4) Read at least five chapters of a novel every week
Rationale: It’s simple – if you want to be a better writer, you need to read. A LOT. This is something I don’t always prioritize, especially when I’m reading a book that has slow pacing. If I can learn to identify the strengths and weaknesses of others’ writing, though, I think this will make me a stronger writer in the long-term.
5) Complete 3 sets of PT exercises every day
Rationale: My right hamstrings, hip, and quadriceps are much weaker than other muscles in my body. I know, weird, because my left hamstrings, hip, and quadriceps are doing just fine. What these weaknesses amount to is, however, is pain. As a big believer in prevention, these exercises should help me stave off any long-term issues.
6) Spend 20 minutes every day on physical exercise
Rationale: I’ve gotten blobby both physically and cardiovascularly. I’m only 39. I should be able to walk up a hill without getting winded. Last November, I LOVED how I looked and felt. I even kept up with my workout routine when I spent two weeks at the UN climate change conference in Paris. I have no excuses. I let myself go by making choices that did not honor my health and body on a regular basis. I will always love myself unconditionally, but that doesn’t mean I won’t hold myself accountable for risking my health in this way.
7) Eat one salad every day that contains at least four colors of the rainbow
Rationale: See points above. We cannot do it better than nature and that includes food choices. I love rainbows, so I might as well start eating them.
8) Meditate twice daily for 20 minutes each time
Rationale: Nothing has improved my life as much as meditating on a regular basis. It started in November 2013 with Oprah Winfrey’s and Deepak Chopra’s Desire and Destiny Meditation series. I started making some real life changes after I started meditating and I can honestly say I’ve never been happier.
9) Spend 20 minutes every day reading or listening to spiritual material
Rationale: With my meditation time, this gives me approximately one hour per day devoted to spiritual health and my relationship with God. In all honesty, I don’t think seven hours a week is actually enough and there have been times when I devoted two hours a day to spirituality. Once I am successful with recreating these life goals as habits over these next two months, I’ll check in to see if I can amp up my spiritual time because time spent reflecting and connecting with God and the Divine is never wasted.
10) Explore someplace new every week with my husband
Rationale: My husband and I like to go on adventures and we especially like to be out in nature. This will ensure that we actually do the things we say we’re going to do. As an added bonus, I get to spend time with my husband and he’s super fun and cute.
So there you go – 10 goals and two months. You may be thinking oh my goodness, that’s a lot! I thought the same thing when I typed the list out, which is why I limited it to only 10 goals (believe me, I could have come up with a lot more). The truth is I do a lot of these activities on a regular basis already; the only difference is now I’m trying to measure and quantify them to help me manage and be more productive with my time. I am confident I can do it! I will keep you posted and in the meantime, please send me all the love and support you can.
Kayak startled awake. He thought he heard voices in the distance. Unlikely, he told himself as he drifted back to sleep. It had been months since anyone had even come around.
Sometimes Kayak thought about calling out to remind everyone he was there. He never did, though. Kayak decided he would rather wait for them to come to him. They know I’m here, Kayak reasoned. Besides, what if they decided I’m a burden and got rid of me?
As Kayak shifted in his sleep, the voices seemed to be getting closer. Suddenly, he was jolted awake as he was being hoisted on top of a car. It felt surreal at first, in his groggy haze, but the rush of wind on his body shook him out of his stupor.
If that hadn’t been enough, the shock of cold water certainly would have done the trick. It took a moment for Kayak to let the realization sink in; he was back in the water! As he glided through the lake, he soaked it all up: the warmth in the air, the brightness of the red, orange, and yellow leaves that dazzled despite the cloudy skies, and the feeling of peace that settled over him. Yes, this is where I belong, he thought with a sigh. I don’t know why we don’t come out here more often.
After some time, he was pulled up onto an island shore. A man and a woman stood up from him, stretching and stepping out, leaving Kayak alone. He watched as they explored the island, calling to each other and taking pictures. Kayak could feel their happiness, for it was his happiness, too. It made him regret staying silent all those months alone as he waited for them to remember him.
An idea began to form in Kayak’s mind. He It would certainly shake things up and maybe it would make them realize just how much they needed to be out here, too. For his idea to work, the wind would have to pick up a little bit more and so would the current.
NO! Stupid idea, came a little voice inside his head. You’re just asking for trouble. What if you make the situation worse? What if they never bring you back out here again?
Kayak considered this warning. Yes, he would be taking a risk. It could backfire. But what was the alternative? Stuck behind a shed for the rest of his life, growing old and dusty? He had already spent months like that, alone, waiting for someone to remember him. Now that he was out here, reminded that this was where he belonged, he didn’t ever want to go back to waiting for someone to notice him. He needed to take action and it looked like today might be his only chance.
As he was becoming more resolute in his decision, the little voice again interrupted him, this time more loudly. You’ll be making a mistake. If you do it, that’s it. You can never take it back. The damage will be done. Is that what you want? To never come out here again?
Words of fear and anxiety continued to slip in and out of Kayak’s mind as the couple returned. They were now back in the water, but Kayak found his enjoyment of the day ruined as he wavered in his mind about what to do.
Just then, the wind started picking up. The current grew stronger. The rocking in Kayak’s mind echoed in his body as he was tossed among the waves. It was exactly what he needed for his plan to work. This was his chance and if he was going to act it had to be now.
But Kayak did nothing. The uncertainty of the situation paralyzed him. He couldn’t move, he couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t steady himself.
THWACK! As Kayak tried to stabilize himself, he was hit in the side with an oar. The blow shocked Kayak out of indecision. He already knew what it felt like to sit around, waiting, hoping for something to happen. Now was his moment. He was not going to waste it.
With the next gust of wind, Kayak leaned in. Then he let go in the opposite direction. SPLASH! As Kayak flipped himself over, a moment of panic flooded through him as he felt like he was drowning. He could see oars floating in the water and arms and legs thrashing about.
Then he was upright and it was over as soon as it started. He felt another wave of momentum, then one more, as the couple both climbed back into him.
Kayak held his breath. The little voice inside him said nothing, as it was stunned into silence by what he had done.
First there was panting intermingled with coughing. Then came the laughter. Kayak couldn’t believe it – the couple seemed to delight in what happened. He heard one of them say, “Didn’t we used to be better at this?”
“Yep,” said the other one. “Serves us right for not coming out here enough.”
“Then we’ll have to make sure we come out here more often.”
Kayak felt as if the sun suddenly burst through the clouds. His plan had worked! Kayak knew it might not be so simple – maybe they would come out here more often, and maybe they wouldn’t. But he would no longer sit around in silence waiting for that day to come. From here on out, he would make sure they remembered him.
At the beginning of September, I wrote about a socialization plan I devised for my time in Connecticut and a little over a month ago I evaluated my progress at the halfway mark. Our initial stint in Connecticut has now ended and it’s time for my final grades – drumroll, please!
1) Spend three days a week writing at the library to get me out of the house
Midterm Grade: F
Final Grade: F
Rationale: In the 63 days that my husband and I lived in Connecticut, not once did I spend time at the library writing. So, not just a fail, an epic fail (I’m giving myself a ZERO).
Reflection: I accept this failure because I learned something valuable – I prefer writing at home. As much as I like the idea of writing at a library or a coffee shop, going to these places require several additional steps in the process, like showering/getting dressed and then walking (driving) somewhere. For a procrastinator like myself, these steps fuel my fire of distraction and before I know it, I’ve wasted a ton of time with nothing to show for it. Thus, getting out of my house from here on out will need to come through other means.
2) Volunteer at the library (that is, if they’ll have me for just two months)
Midterm Grade: F
Final Grade: C
Rationale: I ended up spending my service time elsewhere (see point #3), but my husband and I gave a financial donation to the library before we left.
Reflection: Even though I didn’t write anything at the library, my husband and I spent a lot of time utilizing their wonderful (and free!) resources. We both read some great books, watched some great (in my husband’s opinion; meh in my opinion) movies, and used their printers for personal use. Since we both believe that 10% of our income should go to charity, it seemed like the Norfolk Library deserved a good chunk of what we earned while living there. Money is not the same thing as service, so that’s why I went with a “C.”
3) Seek other short-term volunteer opportunities as they present themselves
Midterm Grade: A-
Final Grade: A
Rationale: In addition to continuing as a social media team member for the Young Adult Review Network, I managed to find some short-term volunteer opportunities as well, including contributing some of my writing to the Norfolk Church of Christ Congregational’s Christmas pageant, donating food to the church’s food pantry, and entertaining children at the Colebrook Community Center’s Halloween party.
Reflection: These small service opportunities are a great way to get out of the house, meet people, and feel like I’m actively contributing to society. I just need to keep my eyes open for them.
4) Attend a weekly writers’ group
Midterm Grade: A+
Final Grade: A+
Rationale: I attended a creative writers’ group every Wednesday and I attended a children’s writers’ group every time they had a meeting (which ended up being three times).
Reflection: I cannot recommend writing groups enough! In addition to being a wonderful opportunity to socialize with writers and get out of the house (which is important to me; see point 1), my stories have improved based on the feedback from the groups. There’s also a lot of utility in seeing and hearing people’s response to your work as you read it out loud. I found both groups using Google searches, but I’ve also used meetup.com. It is my sincerest hope that wherever my husband and I end up wandering to, we will always have a writing group to attend (yes, sometimes he comes with me).
5) Work at short-term, limited employment jobs where I can see my contributions to society
Midterm Grade: B
Final Grade: B
Rationale: It’s official – I love making sandwiches! I think it’s because people truly appreciate a well-made sandwich and appreciation is something I did not experience on a regular basis as a teacher of statistics or research methods. I spent hours editing and evaluating students’ work and most of the time I felt like my efforts were wasted. That is hardly ever the case with working a café!
On the downside, though, I’m still having difficulty managing my time. I started working on one of my novels again (YAY!) but then my exercise fell by the way side (BOO!). Then, there’s Halloween, which certainly did not help my sweet tooth, especially because the library had a huge candy supply, and finally we discovered Dee’s One Smart Cookie Allergen-free Bakery, which may be allergen free, but not sugar, calorie, or fat free.
Reflection: Blargle! I don’t like being dissatisfied with how I treat my body. This is the one body I get for life, so I need to do better at prioritizing it while I’m working. I have a plan for that, though, which I’m going to share next week when I lay out my goals for the remaining two months of the year (and if you have any suggestions/recommendations for my November/December goals, feel free to let me know).
6) Find a spiritual community that encourages self-reflection and growth.
Midterm Grade: C+
Final Grade: C-
Rationale: Although I actively worked on my spirituality and connection to God daily, I didn’t commit fully to any one community.
Reflection: This might have to be something I accept as my husband and I continue wandering around. When you’re only going to be in one place for a set, limited time, it can be hard to motivate yourself to make commitments of this sort. I enjoy connecting with others, especially those who center their lives on love, compassion, generosity, and service. It may be that I modify this goal to reflect a more global community than local one.
Overall Grade: C
Reflection: WOOHOO – I passed! If it wasn’t for that ZERO, I might even have been above average. Oh, well. Gives me something to work towards until the end of the year.
“Hallelujah.” Sophia repeated the last word of her father’s favorite song seven times as the music faded. She closed her eyes on the last few, then allowed the final note to wash over her. It did not bring her renewal or a sense of hope as it usually did and as Sophia made her way back to her seat she could not bear to look at anyone.
Tears lingered on Sophia’s face so she brushed them away with an errant hand. She reached out for support, imagining she had someone next to her whose hand she could hold. It was times like this Sophia second (and third and fourth) guessed her decision to end things with Colin.
Sophia had dialed Colin’s number several times that morning; yet every time she went to press call her father’s words of “never settle” ghosted through her mind. So now she sat at her father’s funeral alone.
Oh, this is stupid, she thought to herself as she continued wiping away tears. Sophia was not really alone, as she was surrounded by her mother, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. Her heart beat full of love. It just occasionally skipped a beat as there was one small piece of it missing.
Sophia had hoped Colin would fill that hole. And he did in some ways. Colin had many of the values important to Sophia, including honesty, determination, and intelligence. What he did not have was a passion for the arts, particularly music, and that made Sophia feel like there was still room for someone else. Thus, she ended their relationship. Sophia did so with kindness and appreciation for what Colin had brought to her life because that was her father’s second life lesson – Never settle, but don’t be a jerk about it.
Maybe it isn’t settling, Sophia thought as she watched her mother dab away her own tears with a handkerchief. Maybe that’s just what love is – to find someone who helps fill the void. It could be my fault. Maybe I’m the one who made the hole too big to begin with. Maybe it’s up to me to fill some of it on my own?
Sophia’s mother reached out and grabbed Sophia’s hand, jolting Sophia from her ruminations. Here she was at her father’s funeral thinking about Colin. Yes, she would call him tonight. As she came to this decision, she felt the emptiness in her heart consume her and it felt like the moment she watched her father’s life pass from his body.
Oh, Dad! she cried from her heart and then she heard his words echo again, “Never settle.” Sophia knew he was right and even though she craved even the smallest amount of intimate comfort, she would not call Colin. That would do both a disservice, not to mention it would make her a jerk to reach out when she had no true intentions of rekindling their relationship. She would honor her father that way, too.
For the rest of the day, Sophia stuck with her decision as she watched her father lowered into the ground and then celebrated his life with her loved ones over casseroles, sandwiches, and cakes. She began to waiver as she gave her mother one more hug goodbye in the parking lot, and so she decided to pick up some work on her way home to hopefully keep her mind occupied.
Sophia’s heels echoed down the silent and dark hallway of her school as she made her way to the music room. She felt small and lonely. Dad, I need your help, she thought as she again considered calling Colin.
As Sophia opened the door and flipped on the light, she blinked a few times and then her eyes settled on the four beautiful sunflowers perched in a blue vase on her desk. A card sat propped up on it and she reached out to open it.
Her eyes shined with unfallen tears as she read the contents:
Dear Miss Maxwell,
I’m so glad we found such a talented music teacher – hallelujah – I didn’t think this position would ever get filled! Let me know if you have any questions about the school. I was a newbie last year, so I know what it’s like and I’d be happy to show you around.
Peter Cohen (English Department)
Sophia read the card two more times. She did not know who Peter Cohen was, but she could not help but notice the one word that tied him to her father. In the quiet of the room, she started singing again. It soothed that empty place in her heart and Sophia knew whatever happened, she would not settle. She would find what she was looking for and in the meantime, she would sing.
Garden Victory Part 5
Before Peter knew it, he and Sadie had walked two blocks. He turned around as she sniffed at a fire hydrant, trying to recount the steps they had taken that got them to their current location. In the distance, he could hear the bells ringing from St. Michael’s steeple. Peter sighed as the sound reminded him about the new music teacher at his school.
“Come on, Sadie, let’s keep walking.” Peter tugged on her leash as they moved down the street, but the distance did not separate him from his thoughts of Miss Maxell.
He didn’t even know her first name. She had started at the school last week. Peter overheard her singing in the music room one day on his way to the teacher’s lounge. He stopped outside the door and listened as she sang a Beatles’ medley to herself. At first he stopped because the Beatles were his favorite band. A few moments later he was hooked as her voice seemed to reach the very depth of his core and when she started in with Here Comes the Sun, a desire ignited in him to find a guitar and start playing along.
“But we don’t play the guitar anymore, do we, Sadie?” Sadie ignored Peter as she was now sniffing a bench. He let her sniff away to her heart’s content as he remembered the last time he played his guitar. It was before his divorce three years ago. Peter had just gotten back from an open mic night at the local pub when he found a note on the table. Dear Peter, it began and then in a way so generic Peter wondered if she had copied the letter from the Internet, he found out his wife left him.
Since then, Peter turned into a shell of a man. His day to day motions were simply to get him through to the next day, then week, then month, then year. As he and Sadie ambled on, he felt a jolt inside him as he realized just how long it had been since he had even talked to another woman in that sort of way. I don’t even know what I’d say to her, Peter argued with himself as he made the case for doing nothing. I’d make a fool of myself.
Or doing nothing would make you the fool came his own retort. Peter tried to ignore this sentiment, otherwise that would mean putting himself out there and possibly getting hurt again.
“We don’t want that, do we, Sadie?” he asked to reassure himself. Peter, expecting no response, was unprepared as Sadie pounced on something laying on the sidewalk and he felt himself tumble over.
As Peter straightened himself up, he saw Sadie struggling to get four long-stemmed sunflowers into her mouth. Their bright yellows and reds burst through the gloom of his heart like a beacon of hope.
Peter gently pried them from Sadie’s mouth. He dried them off with the side of his shirt and examined them. They seemed no worse for wear and Peter looked around to see if anyone appeared to be missing them. He stood up and held the flowers in his hand, staring down at them as an idea formed in his head.
“Good girl,” he told Sadie with a smile as they turned around to make their way home. Peter knew exactly what he was going to do with these flowers and now he just had to find a card to write on so he could welcome Miss Maxwell to the school.
Garden Victory Part 4
Arthur watched from the back of the church as the congregation processed up the aisle. Some of the people went back to their pews, where they belong, thought Arthur, and some of them headed for the exit. As they walked past him, Arthur grunted, disgusted by the lack of respect these individuals had for the Body of Christ. Damn you, he thought. You’ll burn in hell for your sins. Even though a large part of Arthur took comfort in this judgment, a smaller part pitied the fools. Such a stupid price to pay, eternity in hell, just to avoid traffic.
Arthur checked his watch. Mass had gone over long. It was now six o’clock and they still had fifteen minutes to go. It was the windbag priest. “Anything extra goes back to St. Michael’s,” he repeated a dozen times discussing the bishop’s annual appeal. Finally, the priest got to “The Mass has ended. Go in peace,” and Arthur headed for the nearest exit.
On the way out the door, Arthur made sure not to make eye contact with the woman collecting change for the parish’s refugee resettlement program. Stupid immigrants. He hated that St. Michael’s contributed so much money to these foreigners. Why should a complete stranger get his money?
The woman tapped him on the arm. “We could really use your help,” she said.
He ignored her and started walking faster. As he headed across the street to his car, Arthur prayed the woman would leave him the hell alone. He looked up just in time to see the look of horror on the young girl’s face as she slammed on her brakes.
“Watch where you’re going!” Arthur yelled.
“I’m sorry!” The girl looked shaken. “Are you okay?” she asked, getting out of the car.
“No thanks to you,” he huffed.
“I was just trying to help.” Arthur didn’t say anything and started towards his car again. The girl seemed to dither on the spot, then reached into her car and pulled out four sunflowers. They had long stems. “Here, take these,” she said as she shoved them into Arthur’s hands. “To make up for almost hitting you.” The girl seemed to think she was doing Arthur a great favor what with how she smiled getting back into her car.
Arthur threw the flowers on his front seat. What the hell am I going to do with these, he thought as he drove away. He hadn’t driven too far, when he noticed a flyer on his windshield. It was asking for donations for refugees. At a stop sign, he grabbed one of the flowers and tried to use its stem to remove the flyer. It didn’t work, so he tossed it out the window. He chucked the other three out after it. There, he thought. Maybe a refugee will find them. He drove away leaving the flowers behind. Arthur chuckled to himself. Now, that’s the kind of charity I can get behind.
Garden Victory Part 3
Kayla sat in the parking lot. Twice she opened her car door, but each time slammed it shut. She kept looking through the restaurant window, seeing the girls clustered around a table. They laughed and smiled, scooping up ketchup with French fries and slurping on sodas. It was no different than the cafeteria at school. Not one of them seemed to have a care in the world.
Kayla sighed, looking at her body. She never knew what to feel about it, what with half the posts on her Facebook feed celebrating a big and curvy female body and the other half telling her she could get rid of her muffin top in as little as 21 days. But Kayla liked her muffin top. It gave her something to hold on to when she was feeling shy – she could cross her arms and hold herself tight – and then maybe she could get through whatever it was she needed to.
For right now, though, Kayla felt sure that getting past the girls inside was not something she needed to get through. So she stayed in her car, turning it back on. As she headed to the drive through she put down her window. Just then, two of the girls came out, drink cups held in their hands like trophies. They snickered as Kayla drove by and stopped a few feet ahead of them, waiting for the cars in front of her.
Kayla pretended not to notice as the girls strode past. But she couldn’t ignore their calls of greeting. “Hey Kayla,” one said. “Watcha gonna get?”
Kayla shrugged, but the girl didn’t give up. She pulled a dollar out of her pocket. “Here,” she said, throwing it through the window and laughing. “Keep it to their dollar menu. Maybe then you won’t get so fat.”
The girl didn’t wait for Kayla’s response, which was good because Kayla didn’t have one other than to turn bright red. Once the girls had gotten into their own cars and driven away, Kayla pulled her car out of the line and drove off in the other direction.
After a few miles, Kayla realized that she was lost. She hit the GPS button on her phone and waited for its instruction. “Turn left onto Hummingbird Lane,” it commanded, so Kayla did.
A quarter of a mile down the road, Kayla stopped. There in front of someone’s yard was a beautiful display of cut flowers. They were all propped up in paint buckets with the words 25 cents each written in black marker. The buckets spanned the entire length of two picnic benches. At one end was a metal box with an opening. Honor System it said.
Kayla grabbed the dollar bill on her seat. She picked four sunflowers in various shades of reds and yellows and gave the dollar in payment. She smiled as she got into her car, thinking that flowers were better than French fries anyway.
Garden Victory Part 2
Margie dragged the last of the empty paint buckets to her garage. She would take them out to the curb later. Back inside, she flopped on her couch and stared up at the ceiling. She nodded in satisfaction. Painting all her ceilings had been the right choice. It took three long weeks, but what else would she have done with that time?
A little voice told Margie exactly what she could have done with that time. For a second Margie considered knocking on Stella’s door. They had been neighbors on Hummingbird Lane for over 10 years and best friends ever since. Well, except for the last month.
Margie still wasn’t sure what happened. Half-hoping, half -joking she asked if Stella would consider chopping down her weeping willow tree. Margie’s new pool turned out to be one big hassle, especially the daily cleaning of debris. Most of it came from Stella’s weeping willow.
“How dare you,” Stella yelled. “Matthew planted that tree 30 years ago when we moved in!”
“I’m sorry,” Margie told her. “I didn’t think….”
“That’s right you didn’t. Just like you didn’t think when you decided to get that piece of shit pool in the first place.”
Their fight escalated after that with a lot of sweeping generalizations, over-exaggerations, and dredging up of the past as is wont to happen when two people who have a long history and love each other get into a fight. Margie and Stella had not spoken since then, so Margie had plenty of free time on her hands. Enough, to paint her chipped and cracked ceilings which Stella had pointed out made her house look run down. As Margie continued to stare at her ceiling, her phone rang.
“Margie? It’s Sophia. Listen, I know you and my mom haven’t talked much lately, but could you check on her?”
“Is Stella okay?
“No. It’s my dad – he was diagnosed with cancer a month ago.”
“Jesus,” Margie breathed. “I had no idea. I’ll call her.”
“Margie, it was fast spreading. The doctors said there was nothing they could do. Dad died this morning.”
In a split second it was as if their fight last month had never happened. “I’m going over there now,” Margie said and she hung up.
Margie found Stella laying in her garden, only it wasn’t a garden anymore. Every single plant was hacked to shreds with the colorful blooms scattered everywhere. She saw the weeping willow high above Stella’s house swaying in the breeze. Margie’s own tears now echoed its sadness.
“Come on,” Margie said as she picked up Stella from the ground. “Let’s get you inside.” As they walked to the house, Margie lamented the flowers they trampled on. Then she remembered the empty paint buckets in her garage. They could hold dozens of flowers. Perhaps their beauty wouldn’t have to be wasted after all. Margie gave Stella’s shoulder a squeeze. “And don’t you worry, I’ll take care of this mess.”
Garden Victory Part 1
Stella stood among the sunflowers, daisies, peonies, hydrangeas, and roses. The tears that rolled down her face hit the ground. She looked around to see if her sorrow had been absorbed into their roots. But the flowers didn’t wither and die. Instead, they stood tall and luscious; the sun showering them with vibrancy and life.
“Traitors,” Stella muttered. “It’s like you don’t even care that he’s gone.” Stella reached down and pulled her gardening apron to her, wiping the remaining tears from her eyes. As she did a pair of shears fell out of the pocket. She knelt down to pick them up, but stayed on the ground paralyzed by the flowers towering over her. Were they really as callous as they seemed?
Stella turned the shears over and over in her hands. The ground felt hard underneath her, but somehow that did not encourage Stella to get up. What would Matthew say about her sitting in the garden, she wondered. Would he behave in typical Matthew fashion and call her silly, laughing as he pulled her up? Give her a hug and a kiss on her forehead?
Well I’ll never know, Stella thought. Matthew is dead and I’ll never know what he would think about this. I’ll never know what he would think about anything again.
Stella continued turning the gardening shears in her hands. As she did, the words, Matthew is dead, turned over in her mind. The words and movement both seemed involuntary and she didn’t know how to stop either. She started squeezing the shears together, just for something different to do. Then, as another torrent of tears was unleashed, Stella began hacking the flowers closest to her. Down came the roses.
“Bravo,” they seemed to shout, taunting her with every snip of her shears. “Now you’re getting somewhere.” So, she kept going. Down came the hydrangeas, then the peonies, and the daisies. Last, came the sunflowers. She did not stop until every flower laid on the ground, their remaining foliage and stems at half-mast of where they had once been.
Stella looked at her work. “There,” she cried, sobbing into her hands. “Now you’re dead, too.” Stella wasn’t sure if she meant the garden or herself. She sank to her knees again, but this time the ground wasn’t so hard. The flowers cushioned her like a bed, soft and welcoming. Stella laid down. Maybe if she lay there long enough, the summer sun would somehow bring her back to life. So she closed her eyes and waited.