Sisterly Escapades

June 4, 2010

Growing up, I was a selfish brat.  My sister, Geri, on the other hand, was everyone’s sweetheart.  When my sister was born, I was four, and the entire universe revolved around me.  Like most first-borns, I was doted upon, and my mother may have unwittingly told me (in a desperate attempt to make a smooth transition when the new baby arrived) that she loved me more–at least that’s the way my four-year-old brain saw it.  I’m sure that was the icing on my cake; the sparkler on my 4th of July; the M&Ms in my grubby little hand.
 
Therefore, our relationship was always a love/hate thing.  Geri loved me, and I hated her.  I would get two candy bars and eat both of them.  She would get a candy bar and ask for another one for her sister.  And actually gave it to me!
 
It is a sad thing, so go ahead, and feel for her.  It breaks my heart now, to see how this whole thing played out during our growing-up years.  But it all changed when I moved away from home.  I began to see her for the beautiful heart she has. When I taught in a classroom next to where she was a teacher’s aide, I saw what a wonderful, natural, teacher she was.  My respect grew immensely for her.  She became my best friend, and I trust her with my children’s lives.
 
About the time I first began repairing our sisterly bond, we shared a booth at an old Dog ’N Suds restaurant.  After we had eaten, we stayed a while longer, to chat, reminisce, and laugh.  Time escaped us, and when we became aware of our surroundings once again, we worried it was closing time and that we were holding up the cleaning and locking-up crew.  We scanned our bill and began to gather our money to pay.  Together, we came up 83 cents short.  We joked how the restaurant staff would probably make us do dishes for our meal, and continued to scrounge for loose change.  We examined the bottoms of purses and every pocket we had between us.  Not an extra penny could be found.  We found the situation hilarious, and kidded that maybe we could find it on the floor.  One of us found a quarter under the table.  That was too funny.  The staff had every right to wonder if we were drunk, because our volume was increasing with every coin we continued to find in the seats and on the floor.  We were uncontrollable.  We were obnoxious.  It was just ludicrous.  By the time we counted our last found coin, we had–and I’m dead serious–exactly 83 cents!
 
Our Dog ‘N Suds experience was over thirty years ago, and the escapades have continued.  School was out for the summer yesterday, and Geri helped me pack up my classroom so I could help her run some errands.  At one point, she walked over to me and showed me her red toes.  They looked like they were oozing blood.  Before she put her flip-flops on that morning, she attempted to remove her red nail polish.  It must have been one heck of a good brand, because it was still furiously clinging in and around the nails, even after using lavish doses of polish remover.  I thought we needed to go for pedicures, solve her problem, and celebrate the last day of school.
 
In between errands, we found time to go to a nail salon.  The nail techs wanted us to choose our particular pedicure from a small binder.  The names and treatments were as exotic as tropical islands.  I just wanted the basic pedicure.  My tech, Addie (whose English was beautifully spoken), told me I didn’t need much work, which pleased me to no end, and she selected a simple little number which included a mini “pina colada-type” treatment and a paraffin bath.  Geri was sitting in the massage/soak chair next to me, and was told by her tech, Ben, that she needed a lot of work (red toes?).  My treatment would absolutely not be the one for her.  She needed the “Hawaiian.”  At least we thought that is what he recommended.  Ben went to great lengths to describe to Geri what he would use, and Addie often translated.  Geri just smiled and bobbed her head in agreement. Addie stopped her filing at one point, looked up at me, and said, “If you are going to have ’pedicure envy,’ it is not too late to change your mind.”  “What? Pedicure envy?  You mean feel jealous of the treatment she is getting?” “Yes.  It is not too late to change your mind.”  “No, I’m good.  Not envious at all.”
 
I was, however, envious of her chair.  You could visibly see those rollers move up and down my sister’s spine, causing her eyes to roll back in her head.  If I wanted mine to move, I had to turn it on, let it roll up, then turn it on again, and let it roll down.  I gave up, after a few minutes.  The first tray Ben brought out, had bowls of lush, pureed fruits, sorbet, and sliced oranges.  Some of the pureed fruit looked like it was topped off with pistachio sauce.  Scrumptious. I was hungry, but not envious.  I thought Geri might get to eat the luscious tray of food while having a foot massage.  That thought was short lived, when Ben began dumping globs of the desserts upon her legs and feet.  Before long, he was bicep high in mounds of fruit and was expertly rubbing sliced oranges up and down my sister’s legs.  What a waste!  A guy I presumably identified as a manager walked by and told Addie I did not need the paraffin bath after all–I was to get the “sport.”  The “sport?”  I don’t even play sports!  No exotic pedicure for me.  Sigh.
 
I had also planned to get a manicure, but Geri had not.  Before we knew it, Ben signed her up for one, when she inadvertently smiled and nodded at something he said.  I am pretty sure I received the “sport” manicure to match my “sport” pedicure (a very sensible choice, even if it wasn’t my choice).  Again, Geri must have “needed more work,” because she also received the “Hawaiian” on her hands and arms.  I mean she got the royal treatment.  Ben kept saying something about “feel beautiful,” “relax,” and was getting what I thought was way too excited than he had a right to.  If he had been the one in the chair, I could understand his giddiness.  He kept asking her, “How you feel?”  That was sweet, but I wanted to ask him, “How YOU feel?!”  The woman getting the vegetable rub-down with cucumbers, never even looked up from the book she was reading, and her tech did not have an ecstatic expression on his face, either, because I checked.  It was all business.  Kenny Chesney or Jimmy Buffet singing to us about the islands might have made for a fitting climax–the pistachio sauce on the sorbet if you will–but it also might have induced Ben‘s big moment, and none of us needed that–slathering the fruit on already seemed to be doing the trick.  I had never seen anything like it. I’m definitely going to be more observant in the produce section of my local grocery from now on–oh, oh, he’s buying a pineapple–wait, she picked up a cantaloupe!  I’m considering ordering my fruit online, in the privacy of my own home, and having it delivered in a plain brown wrapper.  Who knew?
 
As we left the salon and went outside, Geri said, “Oh my gosh, there’s Ben.”  Sure enough, he was leaned up against the building, with a knowing smile on his face, enjoying a cigarette!  He frantically waved at my sister like she was an old acquaintance, as we walked to our car.  It was about this time, she secretly confided she had felt awkward using the word b-e-e-n in his presence–as in, “Have you been to the new Kroger, yet?“  She said it felt too intimate!

It has b-e-e-n a day since we left Geri’s tropical paradise, and I am still stunned. She suggests we should get a pedi and mani every month.  Really, now.  Aw, heck, maybe I’m just going to have to get over this.  After everything I put her through during those early years, she deserves the royal treatment.  At least she is willing to go to a different salon, next time.

Angel FallsI didn’t mean to make trouble.  I really didn’t.  I figure when you visit Arizona, you go see the Grand Canyon.  Going to Paris?  See the Eiffel Tower.  When we were invited to Venezuela, it seemed natural to ask if we would get to see Angel Falls, right?

For six years, my family placed foreign exchange students into homes in southern Illinois, and during the last five of those, we had four students live with us.  The students would come and stay for an academic year and go back to their home country.  One stayed with us three years.  It was unusual, since we were restricted from asking him to stay, or assisting him with college plans that would keep him in the U.S.  Being the high school guidance counselor at the time, I also had the duty to disseminate college information to all high school seniors, and Rafael was one of them.

The circumstances surrounding Rafael coming to stay with us were downright bizarre.  We had committed to hosting a German student, and picked him up at the airport a few days before school was to begin.  Two or three days later, one of our sons and his girlfriend were home while my husband and I were out.  When we returned, the girlfriend told us she had taken a call from someone who didn’t speak native English.  She made enough out of the conversation to believe he said he was coming to our house, tomorrow.  We immediately called the exchange agency, and they confirmed we were to be his exchange coordinators, and were to find him a home.  It was customary to request to be someone specific’s coordinator, and then the agency, student, and coordinator would all be in contact, long before a placement. Rafael called again the next day.  He said he had e-mailed us a couple of times in the last month, but had no response—the crazy thing was, we never received a single e-mail from him!  He was to fly out of his country that same day, and wanted to make sure we would be meeting him at the airport.  My husband explained we would be his exchange coordinators, rather than his host family, and we would of course pick him up and find him a nice home.  He sounded deflated he didn’t have a host family, but he and his family consented he would fly to the U.S. and trust us to get him in a home as soon as possible.  We went to work immediately, contacting friends and acquaintances about possible living arrangements.

My husband, Jim, picked Rafael up at the airport and brought him to our house that night.  He was going to share bunk beds in the bedroom of our German student, Ben, for a few days.  Because it was time for school to start, we needed to enroll him in our own school as soon as possible, but kept praying we would soon find a family for him.

We recognized Rafael to be really sad.  He was obviously feeling unwanted.  We were doing everything we could do to make him feel a part of our family, but it must have been very awkward to be in a home where one exchange student was welcome and the other had to move on.  We were not having any luck finding an acceptable home.  Within a week, we couldn’t stand it anymore–we just had to keep him–we wanted to keep him.  He was such a great young man.

We didn’t have an extra bedroom.  Would Ben be willing to share his bedroom permanently with him?  Would everyone in the family be okay with it?  Would he be okay with it?

Ben and Rafael were both more than okay with the new arrangement because they were fast becoming buddies.  The rest of the family thought it was exactly what we needed to do, as well. We knew it was a “God” thing anyway—not being notified by the exchange organization was just weird; not receiving Raf’s e-mails was equally strange.  There was no question—it was “meant to be.”

Raf became our son, and teasingly became the “exchange student who never left.”  He received a two-year scholarship to our community college upon graduation from our local high school, and he continued to live with us a total of three years.  After receiving his associate’s degree, he enrolled at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, and moved into his own apartment.

When Raf graduated with a bachelor’s degree in microbiology, his parents and siblings came to southern Illinois.  We all had brunch together as one big extended family, following the graduation ceremony, even though we couldn’t speak Spanish and they couldn’t speak English (except for the usual dirty words).  We wore Rafael and his sister Adrianna out, making them interpret for the other seven of us.  Then, his parents laid everything out on the table.  They wanted Jim and me to come to Venezuela that summer.  We were touched by their generosity and compassion. They were grateful we had taken their son into our family for the last five years, and we were grateful they trusted strangers enough, to share him with us.  Now they wanted us to meet our son’s entire extended family.

Between hugs and kisses in the restaurant parking lot, I offhandedly asked if we would get to see Angel Falls.  His parents looked at each other, and said maybe.  I was just curious.  Visitors come to southern Illinois, and we take them the short jaunt to Garden of the Gods.  Rafael had always told us Venezuela was a small South American country, so it seemed logical to me, that we could jump into the car and drive to a lookout above the falls, and say we had been to the largest waterfall in the world.  Cool.

We packed for Venezuela a few weeks later, and caught a flight out of St. Louis, to Miami.  On a connecting flight from Miami to Caracas, as we were flying over Cuba, Raf told us the exciting news that we were indeed, going to Angel Falls, in two days.  Alright!  He nonchalantly added we should bring things like sturdy shoes, insect repellant, and a day pack.  He again casually added there would be a flight from Caracas to Ciudad Bolivar on a smaller plane, and then a puddle jumper to Canaima.  I bolted upright in my seat, and inquired why it would be another flight to Angel Falls—can’t we just drive?  I got, “Ah, no, Carlucha, it is because it is in the south of my country.  It is about 750 miles from my home.”  Uh oh.  What had I done?  So much for a short drive to the falls.  I had inadvertently asked his family to send us on another major excursion once they had graciously brought us to South America–like traveling to Venezuela and staying in their home eleven or twelve days was not enough.  “No, no, no. Let me fix this,” I pleaded.  “We cannot possibly let them send us to Angel Falls.”  I had Raf call them and see if the trip could be cancelled.   I must have sounded like an ungrateful American—1) for asking to go to the falls in the first place, and 2) then for trying to refuse the trip they so generously planned.  I found out the family had never been there themselves, and only Jim, Raf, and I were going.  The trip was set in stone, and they would not or could not change the plans.  Man, I felt terrible.  That trip surely cost more than the initial trip to their country did.  I was embarrassed.  All I could do was thank them and tell them how very much we appreciated everything they had done for us.  And figuratively kick my own butt.

In the next two days, I would learn more about our trip.  After the two flights to reach Canaima, we would board a dugout canoe and be led by native guides to the waterfall.  I packed a small backpack for three days, based on this information.  Raf left out a few pertinent details, but heck, he hadn’t made the trek before, either.

We woke early in Canaima and hiked a few short miles across a savannah, to reach the dugout canoe.  Once in the canoe, we traveled about 30 miles upstream on a river that reminded me of the Colorado or Columbia Rivers of the western US.  The country was breathtaking—dense, plush jungle, with incredible rock formations jutting into the sky.  The luxury was that our canoe, holding seven Chileans and the three of us, was navigated by natives who would guide us up the falls.  The way they maneuvered the treacherous rocks and rapids, was amazing.  June is part of the rainy season (their winter), and the weather was warm (90+ degrees Farenheit), wet, and green.  With rain squalls occurring sporadically in the rainforest, my canoe attire was swimsuit, shorts, and flip-flops.  Rather than pull rain gear on and off as our Chilean counterparts did, I chose to enjoy the warm downpours, interchangeably getting soaked and then drying out in the hot sunshine—when would I ever experience this again? The first day was full of wonderful sights, no other travelers, sounds of wildlife foreign to us, and wonderful mini-waterfalls where we ate, swam, and sunned ourselves.

When we reached the mountain we were to climb, we were told it was a short, easy walk to our first campsite.  That wasn’t too far from the truth.  We made it to our campsite, to find a nice pollo dinner and hammocks waiting for us in the middle of the jungle.  I still had my flip-flops on, because the two canoe guides had taken our canoe with my hiking shoes in it.

I have read and played in hammocks; maybe even dozed in one, but sleeping an entire night in one, would be a new adventure.  It was an adventure, but it wasn’t a pleasant one.  I could find no way to get comfortable more than ten minutes, in one position. This scenario continued all night.  It was, therefore, a long night, and I’d had no idea my body could contort into so many configurations—each one more uncomfortable than the previous. Morning came just as I was dozing from exhaustion.  It was time to hike to the falls.

While the canoe guides had come back to cook our meals, they brought nothing of ours with them.  My hiking shoes remained in the canoe and there was no way to access them. I had no choice, but climb the mountainous trail with two-inch, wedgy flip-flops. How tough could it be–our native guide was barefoot (did I really say that)?  I stayed right behind the goat-like man-boy for the first hour.  Over huge roots, through streams, and clamoring over rocks, I held my own.  The closer I stayed to him, the better I liked it.  Not only did I pretend to be in shape, but I didn’t embarrass myself by being the last hiker on the trail.  The two women bringing up the rear were much older than I, anyway.  It was motivating, to be second in line.  The second hour of hiking was coming upon us, and the slope of the trail had been getting increasingly steeper. I began falling more and more behind.  I looked around and duly noted I had become the very last hiker on the trail, and would never again regain my position as second.  My poor husband, who is quite the hiker, and can walk circles around me even when I am in great shape, obviously felt it was his responsibility to babysit me.  Maybe it was the pretty, metallic gold, wedgy, size six flip-flops that made him feel sorry for me; maybe it was the fact I hadn’t backpacked in years, and was grossly out of shape; maybe it was the fact he wanted to see Angel Falls before sunset—or at all.  This was a new predicament for both of us.  He wasn’t in the habit of babying me, and I wasn’t in the habit of letting him.  Maybe with a little resentment on both our parts, we each gave in, and completed the climb together.

Angel Falls was the most spectacular sight.  It is most often covered by low-lying clouds beneath an overcast sky, but for a few minutes, once our entire party reached our destination, the sky opened up and the sun shone, giving us an incredible sight.  The drenched sandstone backdrop was every color of the spectrum–turquoise, magenta, tangerine, violet–breathtaking–a geological wonder.  The falls was monumental–a beautiful, sacred, spiritual place that only Venezuelan natives had experienced, prior to the 1930’s, and we did not take its beauty and significance lightly.

Our trip down the mountain took a lot less time.  I still had to take up the rear and Jim had to continuously serve as a backstop, to keep me from crashing down the trail when I picked up too much momentum.  Going in this opposite direction, there were many more wet roots and rocks to slip on, and I was still wearing my wedgy flip-flops.  The amazing thing was, they stayed intact the whole trip.

Hiking back across the savannah, I walked in step with a 17-year-old Chilean, and we struck up a conversation about his schooling, future plans, and the falls.  He asked if I worked at IHOP.  I told him no, I was a school teacher.  I chatted about my school, as a perplexed look grew across his face.  In a very frustrated tone and broken English, he asked, “What that have to do with IHOP?”  I became as perplexed, as it hit me he was talking about the International House of Pancakes!  I tried to explain it had nothing to do with my being a teacher.  In slaughtered English, and no Spanish, we bantered back and forth about why he thought I worked at IHOP.  This was the first conversation in which I wished I was something other than a high school teacher.  He seemed to lose interest in me, and possibly even respect, over the fact I was not a server at IHOP.  I don’t know why he held such a fascination for that career, but if I’d had the good sense to affirm I did indeed work at IHOP, I believe our conversation would have continued to evolve.  As it was, it ended abruptly, and we hiked on in silence.  Go figure.

The only regret I have about going to Angel Falls, is not taking pictures of my delicate AVON hiking “boots” during the trip.  I could surely have become a spokesperson for AVON’s quality footwear.  I could see their slogan changing from: AVON, The Company for Women, to AVON, The Company for Women’s Rainforest Travels.  They lasted another year before I had to finally throw them in the trash.  The best part of our trip?  The love and hospitality we experienced from every Venezuelan we met; particularly our Venezuelan family.  They will forever be part of our hearts.

Within this next year, Rafael is going to graduate with his master’s degree in microbiology.  He will no longer have an excuse to stay in southern Illinois.  He will be off in a lab in Germany or some other country, continuing to research viruses, while working on his PhD.  That “exchange student who never left” will take a big part of our hearts with him, wherever he ends up.  Hey, isn’t The Black Forest in Germany?

 

What a beautiful, precise slice.  The blade in the X-Acto knife had just been replaced, and it made a smooth, clean line.  I knew my picture frame mat had been cleaved at the perfect angle, and I was going to be happy with the results.  Simultaneously, I watched the blade slide down the side of my finger hanging too far over the metal straight edge, and knew it couldn’t be good.  When I lifted my left hand from the T-square holding the mat down, I neither felt pain nor saw blood.  Better go to the sink and run cold water over it, just in case.  At the turn of the faucet, the side of my finger separated from itself, and went into the sink.  Instinct led me to quickly grab the piece before it was lost down the drain.  Within seconds, the blood came.  Soon after that, the throbbing began.  My father drove to the ER while my mother applied pressure to my finger.  Once there, the ER staff wanted to know where the severed piece was.  In our excitement, we left it on the kitchen counter, fully intending to bring it.  My sister was home, so she and her boyfriend were called, and given the task of placing the flesh into a glass of cold water or milk, and transporting it to the hospital.  Milk would have been the more sensible choice.  Transparent glass, transparent water, a bobbing, floating piece of appendage, and a weak stomach, do not make for the best combination.  The ER staff took time out from prepping my finger when my sister walked through the door, to making sure she would not pass out.  They then proceeded to re-join together what no man should ever have put asunder.
 
Who would believe something so small would be so painful, could hold a dozen or more stitches, take many months to heal, and take more than a year to have even the slightest twinge of feeling return?  Sounds familiar.  Reminds me of some relationships.
Being a high school teacher, I have the most opportune times to observe relationships, on a daily basis.  First love makes me smile.  It can be so sweet and innocent.  It takes me back to my own first real love.  It can also be hilarious.  Sometimes, the most unusual couples get together, because it is all so new and experimental.  Trial and error; presumably practicing for a permanent relationship.  At other times, teens are totally on the wrong path.  It is the toxic relationships I want to give advice on, but I know it is not something either party wants to hear. Just like I didn’t want to hear it, at their age.  We have to make our own ways.

Kids watch their own parents, to initially form ideas about relationships and love, and my own 23-year-old son blew me away the other day, when he told me how important it was for him to find a spouse who also came from an intact family.  He recognizes the importance of struggling through the problems that often come within a marriage, compromising with one another, growing together, sticking it out, and staying committed to working to make it better.  I don’t believe I ever lectured him about the importance of finding a spouse who comes from a family that has not experienced divorce, but I have always reinforced the policy that we are not quitters; whatever we commit to, we see through, to the end.  This sometimes came up in conversations about wanting to quit a club, sports team, or job.  I love that he is carrying this over into other areas of life as well, and has found his future wife to hold the same values that are important to him.

If kids initially look to their families about how to form relationships, they next look to peers, movies, music, etc.  That can be a frightening thing.  I’ve seen abusive relationships, manipulation, games being played, and twisted senses of reality, when it comes to teen relationships.  Coming from an alcoholic home, I was subjected to untruths, manipulation, and game-playing.  I had friends from homes that seemed perfectly normal and happy, and I always knew there was more to life, but the crazy thing was, I based my own ideas of love on another extreme: soap operas!  I thought the self-centeredness and drama that kept me tuning in to ABC were “normal,” and I practiced them with the same preciseness of the X-Acto knife slicing my photo mat.  Both caused me to walk away from one relationship and almost destroy another, because I didn’t recognize a good relationship when it smacked me in the face–until I learned to have realistic expectations and how to compromise.

I realize I have been one of the fortunate ones.  Most of my students come from split families, and while I wonder how they might have been impacted if their parents had stayed together, I am not so naïve as to believe all relationships should be forever.  I have dear friends who are survivors of tragic marriages and divorces, and through faith and healthy love, have been able to put the pieces of their new lives and marriages back together–after much pain, many “stitches,” and lengthy healing.  When I recently asked one friend if she remembered an event we shared long ago, she said, “No, I have had to put memories involving my abusive ex away, and not go there.”  I thought that was an interesting way to deal with it, and it seems to work for her.  So, like some relationships that should never be re-visited, it was not worth it to me, to touch an X-Acto knife, again.

Just Say NO. . .

April 17, 2010

Who ever coined the phrase “Looks don’t matter?”  Were they buying a car? Picking out a pet?  Choosing a friend?  It is an absolutely admirable thought. . .we should not discriminate. . .but yet, we should be discriminating.

When I was almost eighteen, I broke up with a long-time boyfriend of almost three years.  I was about to graduate from high school, embark upon college, and write new chapters in my life.  I wasn’t interested in becoming intertwined within another long-term relationship, but felt out of the “dating loop,” since I hadn’t been “available” for such a long time.  I know what you are thinking, but three years is an awful long timea lifetime, if you will, in adolescent years.

I worked at a local five-and-dime with a childhood girlfriend of mine, two young men about my age, and several seasoned veterans of the store.  One of the guys was tall, lanky, short hair-cut, wore high-water blue jeans, white socks, and dress shoes.  Not cool, in the seventies.  When he asked me out, I consulted my girlfriend who also worked there.  I think I was hoping my friend would tell me something like, “You don’t want to do that, haven’t you noticed that third eye in the middle of his forehead?”  She didn’t.  I was searching for a reason to say no. An easy way to say no.  He seemed nice enough, but there was no attraction whatsoever for me, and this was long before I had learned to tell anyone no, about anything.  There was just something weird about him.  Just not right.  Other than that, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  When he asked me to go to a movie with him, I was caught completely off guard, panicked, told him sure, and immediately started beating myself over the head with an imaginary two by four.  I feared hurting his feelings.  I ignored my gut feelings.

So, my friend and I discussed it.  We even considered he’d possibly never had a date before.  Maybe I had been picked by the powers that be, to be the martyr.  I felt sorry for him.  I swallowed hard, and in a blind moment, even went so far to say, “Looks don’t matter, right?  I might have fun.  Only once.”  Once I’d resigned myself to giving it a try, I was determined I would go through with it.  I still wanted to eat bugs. . .be sick. . .fall through a crack in the sidewalk.  Wouldn’t all those things just prolong the inevitable?  Every time he spotted me in the store, he would grin a knowing grin.  I got the feeling he was much happier with himself and this date than I was.  I had to bear this for two more days.  It didn’t get any easier.  It actually got worse.  I literally worked up a nervous stomach.  Why didn’t God make us to only be attracted to who are attracted to us?  Everything would be so much easier.  No one-sided love affairs; no stalkers.  Free will sometimes has it’s downside! 

Friday night came, and he picked me up for the drive-in movie.  An indoor theater would have been safer, I reasoned, quietly to myself.  I don’t remember what movie we saw; I remember wanting the night to come to a rapid end, and clinging to the passenger side door without trying to be too obvious.  “Popcorn and Coke?” “No, thank you.”  He wanted me to scoot over, so he could put his arm around me.  I wasn’t having any of that, either.  On the way home, I was so delirious with the anticipation of getting out of his car, I didn’t anticipate anything else.  “Hungry?“  “No.“  As we pulled into my driveway, he asked if he could kiss me goodnight.  Hadn’t calculated that one into the equation.  Ugh.  It was a night full of “no.”  I don’t know what possessed me, but I let him kiss me.  In a twisted kind of way, I felt like I could give him that much.  After all, I was in my own driveway, could jump out of the car, lean into the window and say,  “It was fun. Thank you.”  In his defense, I have to say he was a gentleman.

When he asked me out again, I quickly said, “No.” I did add, “Thank you!”  No, looks might not matter, but my goodness, weird does.  Recognize it.  Know it. Don’t give in to it.  Listen to your gut.  And never, ever, feel like you owe someone something when you really don’t.  A few years later, I read his name in the newspaper for domestic battery. I knew something just wasn’t quite right. I guess, in another twisted way, I should be grateful to him for setting me on the path to learning to say NO.

Gullible

April 9, 2010

(Names have been changed in this story)
I hadn’t seen Tony for several years.  I had moved out of our hometown after high school and had recently come back to the area.  I heard he had moved away as well.  We had grown up on the same street, and our families had been friends, so I was extremely happy to spot him on the other side of the merry-go-round at our local fair, the Old Soldiers and Sailors Stonefort Reunion.  It was a place to go annually and see faces you hadn’t seen in years.  I am not sure if everyone does this, but often I would see someone who looked vaguely familiar, and wonder how well I had known them.  I would rack my brain for some tiny fragment of memory–I might convince myself they looked familiar because I had poured over the pictures in my school yearbook, or maybe we actually spent a couple of Saturday nights cruising town together.  I didn’t want to be rude, but many times, I just couldn’t remember how or how well I had known them, so I was careful in my interactions.  I mean, I didn’t want to run up and hug a virtual stranger, and I always felt they probably knew me even less well, so it was safer to just smile and say hello.

This wasn’t the case with Tony.  I knew him, I knew how I knew him, and I was interested in knowing what he had been up to, so I ran over to him and threw my arms around him.  I was careful to be in his line of sight as I talked to him, because Tony read lips.  We hugged, chatted, and spent a little time catching up, while we smiled all over ourselves–both obviously tickled to see each other.  Then, terror struck.  Something just didn’t seem quite right.  I slowly removed my arm from around his waist, told him how good it was to see him again, and walked quickly back to my husband.  I told my husband what had occurred and that I wasn’t sure who I had just talked to.  The problem was Tony didn’t speak with the usual tone a non-hearing person often has.  Jim rolled his eyes, shook his head, and had that familiar look that said, “Yep, here she goes again,” as he so often does, when I entertain him with my actions.

I couldn’t just let the situation go.  I can never just let the situation go.  I had to prove to myself I had either talked to Tony or a complete stranger.  I grabbed the first familiar person in the vicinity who would both know Tony, and possibly know the stranger I would point to.  It happened to be Garth Brooks (no, not the country performer), and that should have been enough of a warning.  Unbeknownst to me, Garth had seen the whole event, and had commented to my brother-in-law, “What is Carla doing hugging that ex-con?” So, when I asked him if the guy by the merry-go-round was Tony, he nonchalantly looked toward the amusement ride, and in typical Garth form, said, “Well, hell no, Carla, that’s not Tony.  You just hugged yourself a convict.”  To know Garth means you never, ever, expect a straight answer from him.  You never know if he’s telling you the truth or pulling a prank, and do either, without cracking a smile.  “Oh, Garth, really,” I protested.  “I mean it, Carla, that is John Q. Inmate, and he just got out of prison a couple of weeks ago.”  After arguing back and forth that he was lying to me, and he continued to stick to his story, I freaked out.  Still as serious as ever, I could tell he got a real kick out of telling me how I had run up and hugged a convicted felon.  I reluctantly asked what John Q. Inmate had done.  “Rape,” he said with a somber face.  I swallowed hard and steered my husband away from the kiddie rides.

I was shaken.  Great.  All I need is some sexual pervert hunting me down after I all but threw myself at the guy.  Before I went to bed that night, and was beginning to calm down over the incident, the phone rang.  The voice on the other end asked if I knew who it was.  When I said no, he identified himself as John Q. Inmate.  My jaw dropped, my mind raced, and it took a few seconds to realize Garth was playing a prank on me.  So typical.  I assured him I knew it Garth.  He kept the ruse up quite awhile, until I began doubting myself.  Then, something in his voice gave him away.  It was not Garth, but my brother-in-law, the friend of Garth‘s who was also at the Stonefort Reunion, loving nothing more than carrying the story Garth shared with him, as far as he could.  Also typical.  It’s days like these, I have to do a double-take in my mirror, to make sure “gullible” isn’t written on my forehead.

Game On

April 2, 2010

For years, the daily routine was that Calen and Wyatt would come home from school and get a game on in the front yard.  It didn’t matter if it was hot or cold, football or baseball, or two or more brothers, cousins, friends, or neighbors.  It was most often some combination of the two Kirklands, the three Morgans, the four Johnsons, the two Gulleys and the lone Dillard. . .no girls allowed.  The air would be full of voices and laughter wafting into the house through open windows.  Balls were always bouncing off the roof or picture window.  When a baseball hit the front window one day and he could tell it was powered by muscles that were becoming a little more developed, Jim flew outside and said, “No more baseballs. Here’s a tennis ball!”  On rainy days, the venue changed–sock baseball or Nerf basketball was whole-heartedly played in our long living room–perfect, if a player didn’t mind leaping over couches and darting around tables, TV, or bookshelves.

Calen always knew the importance of uniforms.  He spent almost as much time cutting sleeves and necks out of white T-shirts and drawing team logos on them as he did playing.  He regularly played as the star of the Seattle Mariners or New York Yankees.  He wouldn’t think of playing without wearing one of his designs.  Football jerseys filled the gridiron one day, and baseball gloves, pants, and cleats would be present the next.  If the game’s genre changed within the day, uniforms would quickly be shed and replaced with something more appropriate.

The older boys would pick sides and make the younger ones play against them.  The younger boys had to pay their dues. . .slack was never cut; concessions were never made.  Little brothers had to go for balls landing in the poison ivy and tick-infested weeds, and they readily complied–a small price for exclusive membership into the most coveted neighborhood sports club.  Rules were rules, and they were sticklers for them.  There would be arguments, minor injuries, hurt feelings, and wrestling holds executed.  Someone might be tormented until they went home mad.  Life lessons were grasped and boys would gather again for a repeat, the next day.

The veterans emulated their favorite professional players, while the rookies secretly admired the older boys.  When the vets would be called away for a birthday party or a game of paintball elsewhere, the rookies would be out on the field organizing teams and barking orders like they were old pros in charge of the events, everyday.  Such was the day Wyatt and some of his younger buddies decided to chalk the baselines with flour.  There was only enough flour to mark halfway to first base, but they very deliberately and painstakingly traced the line until it suited their liking, ending up with more flour on themselves than the ground.

This ritual of getting up a daily game went on and on for years, and I’m not sure when it ended.  I didn’t see it coming.   I must have blinked. One day, I missed hearing balls hitting and rolling off the roof above my head.  Home-made bases cut from old truck mud-flaps, juice boxes and fruit roll-ups, and foul lines cut shorter with a mower, gave way to cars, girlfriends, high school games, proms, and military training.  Once inseparable, neighbors moved away.  Baseball bats leaning against trees, were mowed around and left to weather; foul balls lying in the woods have since been covered with fallen branches and poison ivy. Dogs that chased little boys around those bases and into end zones, lovingly nuzzling legs, have been laid to rest at the boundary between lawn and woods.

Friend Mikey, Cousin Luke (Mohawk), and Wyatt Chalking Baselines with Flour!

I look out the front window and see trees, planted when we moved into our house nineteen years ago, when Wyatt was two weeks old and Calen five, aging along with us.  The lump growing deep inside my throat makes it hard to swallow, as my lips and chin begin to quiver.  I hold the scalding tears back as long as I possibly can, until they insist on blurring my vision and escape their too small reservoirs, seeping down my face.  I slowly turn to walk away, when movement out of the corner of my eye causes me to linger and hold my breath.  I strain  to hear the cheers on the other side of the closed window, and see arms frantically waving a runner home.

Chances are, if you have teeth in your head, you are going to need to floss during a really inconvenient time, and you will come to regret the rash decisions you feel are necessary to make, to get the job done. Such was the night of a very public party in a local restaurant’s banquet room.

It was a dress-up affair, and the guests were from every walk of life. We were eating usual banquet fare: baked chicken, steamed broccoli, fried apples and salad, when a piece of broccoli became lodged in the center of my bottom teeth. I very calmly and discreetly tried to unhinge it by using my tongue of steel, as a pry bar. My attempts were unsuccessful. I used another equally secretive method: the mouth vacuum. I knew this would work, because Dyson has nothing on the sucking action generated by the phenomenal human orifice. As a matter of fact, I had heard through the friend of a friend, the bright yellow machine had been modeled after the human mouth–but I diverge.

I checked my purse for floss. I asked my sister floss. I didn’t know any of the other women there well enough to ask them for floss. Half an hour later, when using the above two techniques, tripled with finessely prodding a fingernail into the tight little crevice still didn’t budge the broccoli, I panicked. Maybe the remnant of the green side dish couldn’t be seen by the untrained eye. I checked the bathroom mirror. Nope, there it was, smack in the middle of my lower teeth. I had an ah ha moment, and went for the old strand of hair trick. I delicately placed a thread of my own hair between my teeth. Yikes, it wasn’t strong enough. That broccoli wasn’t moving, and now there was a piece of brown hair lodged on top of it, looking like a piece of Spanish moss hanging from a Live Oak.

I finally went back to the party to find everyone dancing. The food had been removed, which served to add to my agitation, because I was still hungry. Two bites of broccoli did not a meal make. Suddenly, I spied the solution to my problem. My unsuspecting husband thought I was tenderly caressing his derriere, and turned and smiled at me, as I lifted the most perfect specimen of floss from his back pocket. Okay, ripped is the more appropriate verb, but he still didn’t know what the heck I was doing when I snatched the thread hanging from his black jeans. Yes, it was a dress-up affair–hence his black jeans rather than blue jeans. I quickly took my treasure back to the bathroom.

Looking into the mirror, I carefully placed the precious thread between my two lower front teeth. It was a tight fit, but voila. As I attempted to pull it through the gap, the darn thread broke. From both ends. The thread was too short and too wet to grab hold of, and it was now keeping the broccoli more snuggly in place. Good grief. The black rope stuck now in my mouth, was much more obvious than the green vegetable. This was getting serious. I needed back up. Since my sister was at the event, I went out, lips tightly clinched, found her, and guided her toward the bathroom. I didn’t have to say a word. I just flashed my toothiest grin, and she started howling. I tried to tell her everything, between laughter and gulps of air, but all we could do was bend over and hold our stomachs. Good thing the music was so loud. We remembered there was at least one dentist within our midst, and we argued, giggling, about which of us should go get him. He was the dentist of neither of us–we didn’t even know him. Clarity finally overtook us, and we saw the truly ludicrous situation before us. What does one do? Say, “Excuse me, but my sister is in the bathroom with a decomposing stalk of hairy broccoli wedged between her teeth and a piece of black cotton rope is finishing off the top of her compost heap. . . and we thought, with you being a dentist and all. . .”

It was about that time, with our shrieks bouncing off the four bathroom walls, a cocktail waitress came in. She readily joined our dilemma and promised to go off to the kitchen to see if anyone there, had floss. The best she could do, was bring back one of those little plastic, red swords they spear maraschino cherries and oranges with, before they stick them into a drink. I didn’t think twice when she placed it from her hand into mine–did not think about how many hands it had touched before it reached my mouth–and instead, gratefully, gleefully, speared enough of the green/black mixture to return to the dispersing party guests, pick up my coat, and leave.

I heard I missed a great party, but they missed quite a night, too. My husband just smiled and predictably shook his head when I relayed the story to him as he drove me through Hardee’s drive-thru. If you look in my present-day purse, you will always find two–count them–TWO containers of dental floss.

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