Chapter One – Life after my book
Every choice we make can result in an unknown amount of results. I felt pulled backwards in life, always returning to the house I grew up in, looking for poems that were burned long ago. I looked through journals, yearbooks, and what poems I could find trying to piece my life together. When I stepped back to look at what I made there was a book. I sent it to a few literary agents and found one who was interested. I wonder now if wiring my book was selfish and the results of my book are more than I can bare. Here I am again writing, bearing my soul and secrets to the screen as I type and sharing what happened in my life after I published Lives I’ve Lived, my first book of a shattered life survived.
I guess you could say being a Young Adult Author took over my summer in 2013 when I published Lives I’ve Lived. I came to see myself as a phoenix after completing my book. I called it Lives I’ve Lived inspired by the same sort of idea. I feel like I burn bridges the same way too after looking back. Each life I wrote about seemed more difficult than the last, if I were to lose everything now, to be burned again, I’m scared I wouldn’t survive. I lost more and more of myself – that true north feeling or calling. There is no feeling of home within me. No happy memories warming my fear filled, tainted memories now twisted into the book that was meant to sort it all out.
I was getting ready to market to the local colleges starting a new freshman class in the fall. My agent and I were trying to get Lives I’ve Lived on campuses. I wanted to keep things local because Isabella will be in third grade this year, a crucial year for making and keeping friends. I also wanted to be a best seller. Before I knew it, I was buying cool new shoes for myself, coloring my hair and styling it to be more relatable. I had a flashy new bag and toted around copies of my book everywhere I went. I never left home without at least ten copies to hand out. My agent thought that was cute and liked my optimistic idealism on marketing strategies.
Back at home things were difficult finding a balance as both mom and new Author. My own mother had edited one draft before I sent it to anywhere. She advised I cut a whole chapter before it went to print. She also encouraged me to better disguising who the characters were based on. She knew who a character named Maggie was in a heartbeat, or at least thought she did. Maggie was actually based on a few of my childhood friends and whereas Logan was my high school sweet heart. Maggie and Logan were set to be married after reconnecting thru facebook but when Lives I’ve Lived came out Logan’s fiancé called off the wedding hating the idea that she was Maggie or people would think she was Maggie. I wanted my book to be real but maybe it was too close for the truth for some people. I thought about writing it as Non-Fiction, a true life autobiography so help me God. I changed things a lot when I edited it though and wrote it to be a better story, now today I am facing a defamation of character lawsuit from said Maggie and she has called off the wedding the Logan.
My agent says getting sued is good publicity but I don’t know, I’m a little worried about it. Not to mention the guilt I feel from their wedding being cancelled! Logan came to me during everything and asked if I still loved him. Based on what I wrote about being high school sweet hearts feeling he was meant to be my husband back then but it had been years since I felt that way, so much had happened, I was a different person. When Maggie found out he actually tried to rekindle an old flame based on a book she already loathed her gloves came off and she started speaking to the press about my poisonous words. Unfortunately this was only the tip of the ice berg that was crashing into me as far as life changing ramifications go.
One of the last book signings for the summer was coming to an end on the weekend of my five year wedding anniversary with Steven. September 27, 2013 I would be in New York City talking at a small book store with a local news crew there, probably more interested in the real life drama than the success of my book. Steven was coming to join me for the first time to show I had my family’s support after I signed a few books. He had stayed away from the modest attention my book and I were getting saying, “This is your thing, I don’t like getting attention.”
Althea, Steven’s youngest sister, agreed to babysit for the weekend so we could spend the weekend in The Big City for our anniversary. We needed a weekend for just the two of us. Steven was so great these past few months and I was so scattered. I was really looking forward to a whole weekend just us.
At first I thought he was running late. I took a break to call Althea but she said he left on time. New York traffic can be crazy, maybe he drove instead of taking the train, or the subways could be running behind, any number of things could be keeping him. I went back and the store owner let me know the news crew was ready so I did the Q&A on my own. As I answered questions about how much of the book was real and how much was fake, how people reacted when they identified with the characters they were based on, how my family felt about the story I had to tell, I saw a breaking news headline on the TV across the room. People’s phones were getting text message alerts, and the crowd seemed distracted, something big was going on.
There was an attempted robbery at one of the stores in Grand Central Station that took a turn for the worst. They are referring to two men: a shooter and a hero. My stomach dropped and I was drawn to the live footage. They were showing interviews with witnesses who saw what happened. People are saying one shooter tried to rob the cashier, turned his gun on the people around him, asking them to empty their pockets and purses. One women started to cry and murmur in hysteria. The gunman got agitated and approached her putting the gun right to head. A man stood up and told the shooter to take it easy, he tried to talk him down they said. Witnesses recalled he was tall, a big guy with a calm deep voice. They described him as having authority in his voice, like he was a police officer or something. The gunman pointed the gun at him now and accounts vary on how the “Hero” got to him but shots were fired and both men are being taken to the hospital, one of the men is presumed to be dead. They don’t yet know if it is the hero or the gunman but families are being contacted and they just kept cycling thru different accounts gathering details as I looked at my phone expecting it to ring that moment. My agent looked at me. She knew what I was thinking. Our eyes locked together as tears welled inside mine. She said thank you and dismissed my event as I stood motionless, frozen in that very spot, fighting myself in my mind about what to think. I found enough courage to call Steven’s cell phone but there was no answer.
Just then my phone rang, it was Steven’s number thank God. I answered in relief, “Oh my God, I was so worried…” I began to say.
“Hi Ma’am, this is NYC Emergency response unit. Did you just call this number?” A strange voice asked me.
“Yes, this is my husband’s cell phone, what’s going on?” I asked suddenly fearing the worst had happened and Steven was the hero from the footage.
“Can you please come to St Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center to identify whether this man is your husband?” The EMT asked.
“I don’t understand, what happened?” I asked becoming frantic.
“Ma’am there was a robbery, everyone’s wallets are scattered at the scene. We need to identify the men shot and believe this phone to be one of the victims. You will be given more information once you arrive at the ER.”
The news crew hadn’t left my signing and were watching my face as I spoke on the phone and even crept closer to try and hear. As soon as I hung up they asked, “Wasn’t your husband supposed to join you today, where is he?” They were thinking it too. Steven might be the Hero from Grand Central Station shooting.
They raced to the ER in their news van as I took a cab that my agent hailed and ushered me into. When we arrived the staff was not allowing anyone to enter and a news crew yelling, “We’re with her” wasn’t helping matters. I was screaming inside myself but silent to all of them. My agent tried to explain what happened and finally someone listened to her and let us in, just the two of us. As I sat there waiting for them to come get me I was thinking of all the bad things that happened since this book started getting more popular. I hoped this wasn’t another horrible suffrage because of my book. I had put Steven through so much starting with being away from our home to going back to my childhood home and then the Logan-Maggie drama.
I flashed back to when I saw it again. I was silenced then too and it felt familiar to this moment. Horrors and fear lived there it seemed, the house I was raised in that is. It was for sale, run down and left as spare parts. The electrical box was torn from the side, the shed was ransacked and the porch was falling off.
The ER attending called for the Grand Center Station families to please follow her. I had almost forgotten what I was waited on my mind had drifted so far. They matched a few in shock patients with their loved ones and had belongings being tagged as evidence. People were asking for their cell phones and wallets now but that’s not the way it works. I didn’t see Steven but I did see a drunk homeless man which reminded me again of April vacation.
My father only read the first chapter or so. I don’t know how far he got but he told me it wasn’t right what I wrote about. He sounded drunk which wouldn’t surprise me. I knew dad was drinking again from the family vacation took in April. I saw him drinking at dinner. He once told an alcoholic is someone who cannot stop drinking once they start and that is what I saw, him not stopping once he started. Even though I didn’t want to upset anyone during vacation I had to at least ask my mom if she noticed. I was surprised when she said, “He drinks casually every now and then, it’s no big deal.” She assured me he was under control and said she would let me know if it got as bad as it was 25 years ago. What happened 25 years ago!? I would have been three then. I didn’t know what she meant and I thought about calling her.
I looked at my phone and had missed calls from Althea, text messages, and voice mails. I looked around for Steven and my agent was talking to the person at the desk. There were more people in the hallway that claimed to be fine but were brought here anyways to be looked at. She put her hands on my shoulders and led me, almost pushing me, towards a very crowded and emotional section out of the room, into the hallway. She never met Steven and asked what he looked like. Just then my eyes caught new footage they were showing and it was him, it was my Steven.
“That.” I said. “That is my Steven.”
Someone heard me and came to me saying “God bless you” and telling the crowd I was the hero’s wife. Everyone turned to shake my hand and thank me. I lost my breath for a moment and felt the room slip away as I passed out and nurses ran to get me a bed in an already overcrowded ER.
When I sat up in bed my head felt foggy and I was confused as if I had just woken from a bad dream. I thought that must have been what happened. I was only imagining the worst possible outcome because I was afraid from all the other bad things that happened since my book.
I remembered getting the letter from Timothy’s wife after she read my book. She wrote saying she never knew I was so resentful and filled with hate. She told me my family was nothing like the family I described in my book. She was disgusted and offended that I would write such horrible lies about such wonderful people who she had come to know and love as her own family and wanted to defend them. I agree that my family now is not the same as the family I grew up with. She didn’t know them then, there was something bad we went through, and I still didn’t have all the answers like what happened when I was three?
Suddenly I realized this wasn’t a dream when I saw my agent. She said the Doctor was going to take me to the morgue to see if the hero who died was in fact Steven as the witnesses are claiming him to be.
Dead bodies freak me out. Seriously, I have a sever phobia, even in movies I look away and get nightmares about zombies. That was the first thing I thought of. I am very truly, honestly afraid of dead bodies not actually being dead and waking up when I look at them. I can’t even handle funerals with open caskets and now they think Steven, my Steven is a dead body? I couldn’t see him like that. I agreed to go mustering all the courage I could as tears poured unstoppably soaking my blouse.
I talked to Steven about buying the house I grew up in so I could walk through each room and try to remember more about my life. I looked in the rooms of the hospital like I looked in on the rooms of that house for some reason. I kept thinking of the shed dad built that was caved in and decaying but I remembered when we got it and watching him put it together. It was the first time I ever saw my dad build something. I was amazed with him putting together this silly little shed that was now rusted and caved in. You could see old belongings rotting inside and I was nervous to get too close because it looked so rank I thought it would smell. The hospital reminded me of this so I looked down at the floor and saw a small chipped tile.
I told Steven about the uneven sidewalk where I tripped when mom did stay-at-home-daycare. I was playing tag, running from three bothers when I tumbled head over feet scrapping every part of my body pretty much. It was summer so I had shorts and a tank top on. My knees, ankles, elbows, and face were all bleeding as I shook walking to the front porch to tell my mom. She was shaking too when she saw me covered in blood. Thank goodness the boy’s mother was there to pick them up for the day. She got wet paper towel to clean me up and put one in my mom’s hands to calm her down too. I don’t know which one of us was shaking more. I chipped a tooth that day too, you can still see it a little but only if I point it out. I also had gotten a scar on my knee. Isabella always traces it and asks me what happened. Isabella! Ann! I thought of the girls and what would happen to them.
I was shaking now, like I was back then, in the memories that were trying to distract me from something I already knew. I felt like I was bleeding everywhere. My whole body was tingling like that day playing tag. I looked for my mom or a familiar face to find comfort in. My agent was still with, Sarah is her name, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that. She really isn’t very kind normally. She is pushy and a number cruncher but today she was kind. Especially now I realized she was holding my arm as I walked.
Turning the corner of the hospital hallway I peered in front of me eager to see what was ahead just ahead of me when I smelled feces. I remembered Toby, my first dog, would get out of his cage where he had pooped. The smell almost made me vomit at the time but the memory made me smile for a moment.
We arrived at the morgue. There was only one body bag. The mortician asked if I was here to ID the body as he got ready to unzip the top. His hands were opening the bag but I looked away, peering around the room, too afraid to see who was inside that bag.
“When you’re ready.” A voice sad….
I knew the bag was open. I knew it was him. I knew I had to look. I didn’t know how I would survive this. Our girls, our amazing wonderful children. I finally looked, my eyes just accepted that they needed to see who it was… it was him.
Chapter 2 – Outlets and In Roads
It amazes me how the sun comes up each morning. I’ve been watching it since September happened. Its June now, the school year is coming to an end. We made it this far, the girls and me, but it hasn’t been easy. There are many small comforts I cling to in order to survive my grief. I remember feeling like every time my life apart before I would come back transformed, with a new drive or purpose, but this time it feels as if I am still covered in the ashes of my late husband. Everything is grey. Every day is a burning day. I cannot recover and take flight but I have to fight. Joshua has claimed duress when he signed Isabella’s termination/adoption paperwork and with Steven gone now, things are complicated.
Bella hasn’t made life any easier. She blames me for Steven’s death. She hates when she finds me in my half empty bed with a journal, or worse, my laptop. “You care more about your blog than you do your own daughter!” She yells at me as she stomps and wakes the baby. I should say toddler, Ann is two now. Ann doesn’t say anything anymore. She was already in a birth-to-three program for delayed speech but now there are no words. They wonder if maybe the delay is caused by Autism although they can’t be sure. It could be the loss we all suffered silencing her. Bella more than makes up for Ann’s silence.
Every year around Thanksgiving Isabella reminds me she is, “the only brown one in the family” and states her preference would be to live with our neighbors who are all brown, there she would “fit in”. Without Steven here anymore I reached out to Joshua. I knew he had two other daughters and thought meeting them might make Bella feel better. She did have brown family out there, she just never met them.
Joshua was elated and brought his girls to McDonald’s for lunch and a play date. Hannah is three years older and Celia is three years younger than Bella. Hannah is dark black like her dad, my Bella is medium brown, and Celia is light. Obviously all three girls have different moms. Joshua lives with the last child’s mother and has joint custody with the other mother. They take Hannah thru the week and for weekend sleepovers. I asked Althea to watch Ann at our place. I thought I had done the right thing at the time but it was the fuse that lit Joshua’s mission to get joint custody of Isabella.
It was February when we saw them all again, for Bella’s birthday when she turned nine. Joshua brought his mother and sister Cora who had finished law school. Cora took notes on how well the girls played together and the lavish gifts their mother, Mrs. Johnson, brought Isabella. It made me realize how much I missed when my parents were close to home but dad’s job moved them further away to Atlanta, Georgia. At least I had Althea. She missed her late brother dearly and the girls made her feel closer to him. She offered to move in but I didn’t want the girls to have to share a bedroom so I declined. I also didn’t want Althea to see how truly depressing our home had become.
It was March when I received the official notice from court for a custody hearing. I didn’t tell Bella at first. I knew she wanted a black/brown family and I was scared she would choose to go live with them over me and Ann. Suddenly Althea’s offer to move in was more tempting.
As a show of good faith I brought Isabella once a month to visit Joshua and the girls. Cora and Mrs. Johnson were also there. It was like a Johnson family party every month when Bella came over. She loved all the attention. They’re even talking about bringing Bella to their family’s annual trip to Barbados to visit even more relatives for Bella to bond with. The idea is terrifying, what if they don’t bring her back?
I wish Steven was here. He was so strong, I feel lost without him. I know I need to be strong for the girls but I look at his side of the bed, at his pillows where he laid his head…I hold my breath and put my face in imagining a smothered death of my own. Ann would go to Althea and Bella could live with Joshua and I could see Steven again…Death would not connect a hero with a coward who commits suicide and leaves her children behind. Death would hate more than I do myself and create something worse for me to endure. I would be even more helpless to stop what would come. Still, my face is here, in his pillows…
“You’re doing it again.” Bella says pulling me back to reality.
“I’m sorry, it still smells like him.” I say wiping my tears
“It’s creepy and weird.” She concludes and walks away. I hear Steven’s laptop power on. Isabella uses it now. They have iMacs in the classrooms at school so she likes his old MacBookPro. I never got used to apple, although I like them better, I see no harm in letter her use it. She even asked me to help her set up her own blog in the beginning and I let her have my Facebook account. It only had a few family connections. They were surprised to see when she friended Joshua and some of his family on the account.
Bella was doing well with computers. She was in her room working on her blog a lot actually. She said she was even making some links for her friends. I thought it was great for her to have something to do, a hobby to get into, but she never plays with Ann anymore. I don’t want Ann to feel like she lost her father and her sister.
Trying to balance the relationships of my children is more challenging than I expected. I want to reach out to someone for support and comfort but who? It wouldn’t be fair to try and be friends with Logan after he lost his fiancé trying to rekindle our old flame, we can’t just be friends where we are, we can’t be anything. Maggie will never forgive me so friendship is definitely not an option. Ryker I haven’t spoken to years expect for the condolences he sent after hearing about September, besides he would side with Joshua because he believes in strong black men ruling the world; and then there’s Joshua. I called once but Celia’s mom answered so I spoke to her about the next get together instead. I don’t want to be the reason another couple breaks up. Who else is there? Where do single moms go for support? Church maybe? God feels like another ex-boyfriend or disappointed father-figure I crawl back all apologetic and asking for help and feeling worse about the situation. I feel ashamed and even dumped when it comes to God but it would be good for the girls to go so once to twice a month we make it to church. I’ve made no connections personally. Maybe I’m not trying hard enough, just going is such an effort; being happy about it hasn’t come yet.
What should I do? I feel like I can barely survive. The isolation is like an enclosing force field caving in on me. Bella knows better than anyone. I visited her blog, Bella Beautiful, only to find she was writing about me in a not so beautiful light. There was an understanding and maturity level I had not seen in her until I read her words there on my screen where I pour my secrets into now seeing hers was such an awkward and unfamiliar sensation.
When Bella started second grade the school guidance counselor recommended we see a family counseling to work more with her since Bella was impulsive and a little aggressive. Once we started the family counseling we were told Bella has ODD or Oppositional Defiant Disorder. I took it to mean she was strong willed but it’s more than that. There is a sense that she always needs to be right, things need to be done her way, and she can overcome anything that gets in her way. As I read about ODD I could see similarities between the diagnosis and her behavior but I also thought it might have been because of all we had already gone through getting to that point in her life. I thought if I could just keep things normal for her, maybe she would be normal. After reading the posts she was writing on her blog I could see she was using it as a place to justify her way of thinking. She was not only posting about her life at home but what was going on in school as well. It reminded me of a show I once watched about gossip spread thru text messaging only Bella Beautiful a blog instead.
I worried this might not be the best outlet for her like I thought it was when she started. I don’t want her to feel like I betrayed her trust or privacy by reading her blog so I didn’t talk to her about it. I’ve emailed the family counselor my concerns and the link so I’ll just have to wait and see what she says.
Here is what she said on Bella Beautiful: “Intro to my family- My dad died but he wasn’t my birth dad. He married my mom and adopted me. My mom acts like she died too with her head in the pillows or her computer all day long. I get to see my birth dad every now and then but I call him Joshua, not dad. He has other daughters so I got new sisters. My sister is still a baby even though mom calls her a toddler. She doesn’t talk and always cries. She takes my toys and mom lets her have whatever she wants. Here are some pictures of my new sisters, we’re all different shades of brown.” (She posted a pic of them)
Bella Beautiful went on with an Intro so school section listing the kids in her class that she liked and didn’t like. She wrote about them calling names and making fun of her hair and smell. She’s already started wearing deodorant and I have feeling puberty might hit in fourth grade for her. I remember I developed in fifth grade but let’s get back to the part of her blog that concerns me the most. Bella Beautiful came up with a how beautiful are you post where she featured her new sisters Hannah and Celia saying reasons why they are beautiful and that got some comments which was nice. Mostly the girls and their family members that followed Bella’s blog. I wonder why she never shared it with me.
Then she posted about her friend Lizzy from her class and had a picture up of her. She was trying to get kids to write things about Lizzy in the comments. The idea was the more comments you had the more beautiful you were but only Bella and Lizzy commented which hurt Lizzy’s feelings. A lot of third graders aren’t allowed to go on blog sites so there wasn’t a lot of traffic until Bella asked Hannah to help. Hannah, being 11, had more resources to spread the word about Bella Beautiful and there were a few likes that appeared. Still the idea of putting a picture of a kid online and asking how beautiful they are had a bad vibe to it I wasn’t comfortable with. I didn’t want to over react but I didn’t want to do nothing. As I waited for the weekend to go to counseling I got a reply message from the main office saying Miss Sally was sick and we would have to skip this session and see her next week. Now what do I do? Feeling weak and worried I picked up the phone and hating myself I called Joshua.
He answered and was out without Celia or her mom so I asked if he would come over to talk about it after the girls were in bed. I cleaned the condo top to bottom in the hour it took Joshua to get here. I argued with myself about calling him back to cancel the whole time. There was a knot in my stomach and tears on and off as I wrestled with my decision. When Steven was alive he said he never wanted to meet Joshua so I never imagined invited him over but with Steven gone, Bella shutting me out, and my parents a million miles away it felt like only choice. I thought about calling Althea as a friend but I didn’t want her to think I was betraying Steven. As I scrubbed the floors, counters, cabinets and floors again my phone went off.
“I’m here.” Joshua text so he wouldn’t wake the kids with the doorbell or dog barking. Roscoe did bark a little as I let him in which took some pressure off letting him cross the threshold into my home. No one woke up so I seated him, opened my laptop to Bella Beautiful and shared my concerns. It wasn’t five minutes into the conversation that Isabella turned the corner or the stairwell into the living room where we seated and asked, “What’s going on here?” I stood up in a panic.
“Your mom invited me over to talk, that’s all.” Joshua said calmly but in his guilty voice. I didn’t know if Isabella knew he had a guilty voice. I knew it from all the nights he was out with Celia’s mom when we were still together and he lied to me. My stomach tightened as I looked at her face trying to figure out what she felt. I couldn’t read Bella like I could Joshua.
“Why, what are you talking about?” Bella asked as she took a few steps into the room as I closed the laptop.
“You silly, I wanted to know if I could see you more often and you know your mom needs a calendar in front of her to plan anything so I came over to make it easier for us to get together more.” Joshua said.
“Oh, I didn’t know you were allowed over our house.” Isabella told him.
“Allowed? Why wouldn’t I be allowed over?” Joshua humored her.
“I don’t know, you’ve never been here before.” She said. “Let me show you my room!”
“Bella wait, Ann is sleeping. Let’s plan that another time.” I intervened.
“Yea okay, maybe Celia and Hannah can come too and we can play here?” Bella asked.
“Sure, let us look at the calendar like Joshua said while you go back to bed. Good night, I love you.” I told her sending her back upstairs. She hugged both of us and said goodnight. I only heard her go up a few steps so I looked around the corner to see her squatting as if invisible trying to listen.
“Bed!” I said and watched her to up all the way. I turned to Joshua and asked, “Now, what do we do?”
“Plan a play date.” He smiled.
As I considered it I thought this might be a good idea. I can invite only the girls and not have Joshua’s sister and mom there all the time. I wouldn’t have to ask Althea to babysit Ann and maybe Bella would even include Ann while playing with Celia and Hannah. I could do a movie and popcorn. Suddenly my mind drifted from Bella Beautiful to Isabella being happy in our own home.
Joshua and I talked for almost an hour about all the things we could do. When I walked him to the door we hugged goodbye as we usually do only this time I cried. I wasn’t sad, I was relieved.
“What is it?” He asked.
“I’ve been so afraid you’re going to take Bella away from me, it just feels nice to be on the same side making Bella happy.” I blubbered.
“I’m not trying to take her. I just want to be a part of her life, of both of your lives. I still love you Lillie, I want you back.”
Motionless and suddenly no longer crying from the shock of his words I looked at him. He rubbed my arm, wiped my tears and leaned in…
Chapter 3 – Hiding a Monster in the Mirror
When I was finishing Lives I’ve Lived I went back to the house I grew up in for inspiration. What I found I shared briefly in my book as I walked around the exterior but I never shared what I found within. Yes, I went a second time. Having had so many memories flood my mind from just waking the yard I had to go in. I had to know. Since the house was seized by the town with no one currently residing there; honestly I don’t think anyone could live there in that condition, well it was easy to set up a showing. As I impersonated an interested buyer I became one. The idea of fixing up this shack of a house was appealing. I thought perhaps I could find healing in myself by helping this house along. The idea was only entertained for the time prior to me actually entering the house I grew up in for what I saw in each room was remarkable how my mind found memories in the reality of going back through it.
The porch is up a few steps, say five or six where Ryker and I stood attempting to love one another in middle school. A fate we were too young and each too stubborn to take on. I saw him there as a boy then my brother in the doorway just as before. I saw Timothy looking out on us as he did when I ushered another friend quickly away in innocence but he made me feel dirty about it. As if having male friends was cheating on my brother. I saw when he locked me out there on that same porch as I was half dressed in the fall. I knocked so hard on the glass my fist went through it and I scarred my wrist giving accusations at school I was a cutter. I touched the door to open it and saw all the times I stood there holding it in my hand hating that I had nowhere else to go when I had to come home. This house here before me, under my feet, in my hands again, has been a tormentor in my mind with secrets locked inside I was about to face all for a book I wanted to write.
I didn’t share in Lives I’ve Lived about what I saw room by room as I am about to confess here today, I didn’t see it as clearly as it is now that I returned. I went in and was greeted with images of the stay-at-home daycare my mother started when I was young and in grade school. There in the entrance foyer we would take our shoes and coats on and off smiling and laughing as they came and went. It was called the Sunshine Club and it was a place of fond memories that washed over me kindly until I turned to our living room. In the moment I saw it was it was; the furthest corner looked charred from a fire perhaps and the carpet half torn exposing hard wood floors. Then I remembered mom asking dad to take the carpet off so she might see the hardwood floors but he went on about the finishing process and condition it might be in. He would have been right I think because it was not pretty. As I stepped into the room I turned to my right where the recliner was that was tossed as I hid ducking there trying to hide from dad’s drunken rage. As if working two jobs wasn’t bad enough he had to come home to a list my mother recited of all the things I did wrong by her. I was stubborn even then. I glances thru the foyer into the kitchen where she hung her wooden spoons she used to beat our behinds with but turned back because I knew there was another corner in this room I had to face. It was the other half of the room and as I think about typing this I am losing my nerve. There is where Timothy and I held our sleepovers when he requested we have one but not with our friends, no, it was just us two alone there and there I see it now.
I was in my sleeping bag zipped safely and excited at first. Sure Timothy had been curious about the difference between our bodies before, aren’t most brothers and sisters interested in those differences? You hear about it even today and to some regard it is considered normal curiosity to show or pet, when is it too far though? There it went too far. In a game of truth or dare when I wasn’t allowed to pick truth twice in a row and had to follow thru on my dares or he would wake up mom and dad. I’ve already briefly explained I was not the favorite child growing up. Mom hated my resistance towards her and dad hated hearing about it. I bent down to my knees and touched the floor wishing I could somehow be there now in those that moment and intervene. I wept and went on.
The kitchen was without cabinet doors. The sink where I stood washing dishes every night was the same. I don’t think it could have gotten any worse honestly. Going straight was the only bathroom we had where we hung laundry to dry out the window since dad hung a pole across the lawn and made a laundry line. I loved sitting in that window until I found the attic window which was in my parents’ room. This was actually my room for a little while. I had a water bed until Timothy popped it. I also had a fish tank. I would watch the fish and imagine sea worlds to live in trying to drown out the fights I heard after my parents put us to bed.
There was just one other bedroom which I always hated. It was near the back door and in the doorway I saw images of shadows watching me when I slept there as a child. Now the windows were missing and boarded up so it was dark and I got that same vibe that someone was watching me. I still shutter and left quickly. The basement was boarded too so I couldn’t go in. Dad had turned it into a bedroom by adding a bed and calling it a bedroom but it was an unfinished cement basement which I had thru middle school and high school. This was the room he pinned me to my bed in when he pushed me over in a fit screaming and spitting in my face. That was the of course my most vivid memory but then came the mirror. I had forgotten that mirror. It was part of an old dresser. I stood there staring at it in the basement, this was after I already had the marks on my arm. I thought about actually cutting myself for the attention of it, as a way out maybe? I stared until my face reflected a strange distorted image that felt like it might just out at me. I wanted it to. I wanted to be taken by evil and I called for it. I learned to pray to God as a child and that demons can hear our words as well so I called to them to challenge them.
I imagined myself as having a supernatural twin stuck there in a separate world behind the mirror. I thought she and I were connected and she would attack like actually take over my body and fight with great skill in it. I imagined becoming her and looking to fight. I started many fights not only at home but in school.
As I looked at this blocked off basement I realized I was the monster I was so afraid to find. I provoked and instigated the fights, I stormed off and ran away, it was all my fault, I was a monster.
Now standing the back doorway where I ran out so many time I felt caged in and ran out once more. There under the bathroom window was the crawl space. As I muscled it open I saw myself as a child trying to open it and braking a stick trying to wedge it open. I think I found a metal rod of some sort back then although I didn’t one this time. It was dark and webbed like I remembered and there was the metal paint tin my dad burned my poems in. It was as if no one had gone in there since I was a child. I went on to investigate and found something I barely recognized. It was the missing journal from my youth, it was what I was looking for through this walk about. Although I had an idea of what it would reveal I needed to read it so I took it and left looking up at the roof as I went. The roof was where I believed I could one day break free from this place and see the world. I wanted to be anywhere but here and finally feeling free I left, hopefully with answers.
As I read through the poor spelling and grammar of my younger years I was surprised to uncover the stories were mostly made up. I wanted to be the monster from the mirror and wrote about what I wished I done to people in school and at home. Nothing was written about what was done to me. I was more focused on what I wanted to do. I was an angry, resentful, spiteful little girl. This was not what I expected to find at all. Is this who I am at the core? All this writing all these years was it all out of bitterness?
As Joshua leaned in towards me I chose to say no. I am not going to hurt myself anymore. I am not going to give in to my unchecked emotions and let lose some monster that only leads to self-destruction. Joshua knows me as her, the monster in the mirror. He knew me the year I finally let go, held nothing back, and set out to set the world on fire. As much as I wanted to feel alive and passionate again this was not a good idea so I said goodnight and closed the door.
Flooded with new material I started to write a poem called Trailing Riddles which goes like this: I am screaming in my sleep. I wake up drenched in a panic. I look for you as if you are near but you are not here.
Flashes of the dream appear as I close my eyes. I don’t want to know what I see inside. I dry myself off with the tissues by my bed and try to get these memories out of my head. The baby cries, did I wake her up? My racing heart and hastened breath worry her while I try to bring about a calm. She comforts me more than I do her some nights. My mind drifts to old battlefields where I lost so many fights. I lost so much and have come so far. Would they see a difference if they saw me now or would I look the same? Do my day to day passing make me appear tame? Heart break can cut just as deep as the scars worn in shame. Here he touched my back and said the way it dips in the middle is his favorite feature I possessed. Another preferred my neck and he kissed and caressed. Yet another there in my legs wrapped himself. I too made a claim once as I traced your scars and marks, kissed your skin and tattoos, finding my favorite spots on you, the way these lovers thought to do. There are nights I remember each moment I ran my fingers along the raised ink of old tattoos. A dragon here, an arm band there, initials by a blank place for a wife to add hers. We did talk about those things then. When we were young, foolish, and lounging about in bed. I remember many nights of the times we shared then I wonder why we stopped. What was it that she said? She knew you when I loved you and you lied when you were caught. If you would just admit it perhaps I could move on. I am stuck here holding my ground because you protest. I am stuck here in my head left alone now when I return to bed. Until I dream, reminiscing makes me scream, and I wish you knew what you did to me, what you lost in me. Does it haunt your mind as it does mine from time to time? Waking you beside the next affair you lay unfairly beside? It riddles my mind how one can seem so real and be so unkind. It riddles my mind how you left me behind.
Life astounds me as I search for the words to express sorrow and pain and wonder, does passion always lead to rage? I needed something to fuel me, to help me carry on. I can’t keep looking back. I look in on the girls sleeping in their separate rooms and think maybe getting them bunk beds and having Althea here would help bring me out of my shell and encourage the girls to reconnect. I’ll draft her an e-mail to distract me from tonight.
With Isabella finishing school and being home all summer I thought about having the extra help you once offered if you would still consider moving here. Bella has a twin size bed you could have and I could buy the girls bunk beds. They love going to IKEA and I’ll even let them redecorate. Bella’s room has wall decals from when we first moved in. You could have Ann’s room. It’s sky blue with fluffy clouds outlined in lavender so it looks like a nursery. The butterflies are decals too and easily removed. I don’t know if I can paint over the clouds though. Steven and I were trying to get pregnant when I made it a “spare room” painting it sky blue. He wanted to wait until we knew we were pregnant to make it a nursery but I had to add the clouds. It was an empty room for so long where I went to cry maybe I’ll take Ann’s room and give the girls mine. It is the biggest and there will be two of them. Plus that way every one is getting a new room. I think it will help us all move on, at least for the summer, if you still want to.”
I know, I ramble when I type e-mails but believe me my voicemails are worse. With that in place I tried to go to sleep. I kept telling myself this will be good for us over and over as I thought about leaving the room I shared with Steven for the years we lived here. I remember when we were first married he moved into my apartment and told me he felt like everything was mine and he was a guest. When we bought this place we bought almost everything together. Our bedroom set was new, the living room furniture was new, we build this modest condo in a home and haven’t changed much since we moved in.
Maybe I should paint the downstairs, Steven always wanted green in the kitchen. I’ve always wanted to organize and fix up our basement too. This could be just the project I needed to perk up and pull myself back to life. A little house renovation to recharge and hopefully rebuild my life. His dresser is still full and half our closet. I never got rid of his clothes. I just cry when I touch his things. Moving into a different would help me move on. There was so much to think about.
I had also given thought to a part time job if Althea did come stay here. Book sales for Lives I’ve Lived have been slowing and I can’t imagine going back out promoting it. I don’t know if I will publish another book or just write here on my blog. I guess I could make a poll, I’ve seen other bloggers do that.
That’s it! I can make a poll about Isabella’s blog Bella Beautiful! Why didn’t I think of it sooner?! Who has time for sleep I was rejuvenated with ideas until I looked up and saw myself. That moment caught me like a trap. I was almost happy. Suddenly the room turned grey again and I shut down. I looked again into the mirror and saw my face change then as I remembered it did when I was a teen. I stood there hating myself once more, letting the self-destruction flow thru me like a familiar song. As much as I might have wanted to change and move on, the idea of hope was being taken away by the monster in the mirror.
Chapter 4 – Parenting in your Twenties
I had Isabella when I was 19. It’s easy math when people ask how old I am and I saw 27 and she is 8. All the other moms with daughters in third grade are older, richer, and seemingly more well established. I feel like a train wreck with my messy buns and sweatshirts trying to find time for make-up or a shower even. Maybe all the moms feel this way no matter how old they are. You’re first one is always the steepest learning curve. Being a pregnant teen certainly felt something to be ashamed of. Even when I went back to college as a single mom people would say how strong I was but it felt like how ashamed I should be. Now with Isabella being half black, Ann not being black at all, and being a single parent all over again with two girls with two different fathers which is even more obvious than the math I dreaded for years, I am not ashamed, I am simply aware. It is an awareness that does not leave me. It is as un-fleeting as the need to breath and as involuntary as a blink.
When Bella was diagnosed with ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) it felt like my world expanded into obstacles and mazes more than I could have guessed were in front of us. I also felt targeted like the only one she was opposing was me. This past year accepting I need to treat her like an adult at age 7 and 8 felt like living with a teenager. I thought the years of screaming at each other were further off than this. When she wanted to meet her birth father, Joshua, because he was black and I wasn’t it felt like he could give her everything I couldn’t just because of skin color. He was less than enthusiastic though so there was no instant bonding there but his daughters and Bella bonded and sure enough she wanted a brown family. I was so wrapped up in me and Bella’s relationship I didn’t give much thought about what it was doing to the man I married, putting him through the possibility of being replaced as dad must have been on his mind as being replaced as a parent was on my mind. Now with Steven gone and Bella looking to Joshua, Ann not talking, and a sorrowful aura in our home I a drowning in self regret and reflection. As I look into my more recent past for the answers to “where did it all go wrong?” it feels so familiar like a life’s mission was looking back.
When I wrote Lives I’ve Lived it wasn’t a “where did it all go wrong” undertaking so much as it was “where did it all go?” Meaning my memories. There was enough trauma and questions to literately feel dead over and over again each time a new level of pain and making the later seem distant. What could be worse than this to make my life now feel distant?
I remember when I heard Sammie died. Falling to the floor crippled and silenced. There was n breath to breathe, no thought I had. I see that moment as I see Steven’s corpse when they showed me. I stood when I saw him and had many thoughts, mostly of him somehow coming back to me.
They want me to pay attention to Bella and Ann now more than ever. Bella’s website has taken a whole new level of social networking and gossip. She now has her a page for each classmate which lists who they have a crush on, who they are friends with or hang out with and when, and the initial concern of how many “likes” they get on their page. Only Bella and her older sister have the administration password to lord over the students as to what goes on each page.
I wonder if I still see it as an outlet for her or if I’m just saying that over and over again because I can’t pay attention to the moment, to life. Maybe that’s why Ann isn’t talking to me, because I have nothing to say to her. Her especially looking so much like Steven and his family. They call, text, and leave facebook posts. They ask for pictures and updates more than actual visits. I don’t know when I took a picture of the girls lately. I had about 1,000 for every year since Bella was born but I must have inadvertently stopped taking them at some point. I don’t see the moments I used to want to catch on film anymore. Everything is the same somehow.
As I write I wonder if there is any reason to post anything from my blog anymore. Will there even be another book? Do I have enough material to fill a whole book? I mean the first one, Lives I’ve Lived, had research to it, actually materials to utilize to make a book from journals and years of life experience. I was actually surprised when it was all done and had enough content to make into the Young Adult Novel it became. I’m told most writers need to write many books before they are even known and here I am a one hit wonder if that. I wonder how many books I actually sold?
Am I so self-centered to be concerned with books sales when my daughters have lives of their own that need a mother, a supportive mother to comfort them. I don’t know how to do it all. Bella is in a group session, weekend sessions and once a month treatment checkups now. It’s over $200/month in counseling expenses. I am on a payment schedule with my electric company and some old medical bills. My credit cards are mostly at zero but I keep getting billed fees just when I think I’ll $50 bucks left over to do something nice for my girls another annual service fee bites me in the ass. We go to a few free things like a playgroup for Ann to have some social play time with other kids since I cant afford daycare. I see the other parents there. They look so together, so much older and wiser. Someone at my job said, “You have kids, I thought you were a teenager!” when I was talking about a loose tooth. Isabella wanted $20 for a molar she lost, can you believe that?! Some right parent gave their kid $20 to she thought she would get it. I barely found $1 the tooth didn’t give much warning. It was loose in the morning and came out that night. They normally jiggle for a few days, I used to go to the bank and get those gold coins, Sacagawea coins worth $1 and leave one or more of those if the bank had more. It was cuter when she was little. Getting a gold coin for a tooth was the good old days I guess.
I feel like I’m lost. I’m doing okay parenting and I like my job enough. Life hasn’t completely defeated me but it has changed me enough to claim my spirit and leave me feeling darkened, drained, and mildly done. I’m just done.
Sometimes I think about talking to Joshua but even that idea feels lame in a word. He doesn’t even give me butterflies in my stomach anymore, I’m just over it. I’m without meaning, an empty shell, a lost soul going through the motions for my children; hoping they will live fuller lives.
Honestly I don’t even know if I believe they can. Money is not something I can provide for them, they are on their own for college and look what happened to me. I finished community college to go from $15/hr at 40 hours to $13 at 15 hours… Life feels smaller, the world feels smaller.
I see these kids during the school year as my work as a Paraprofessional. I can tell which ones are going places and which ones will be in this same town their whole lives mostly by the shoes they wear. I’m not kidding. My kids have Target sale shoes that were $8 a pair or hand-me-downs from the neighborhood families who have sympathy for us. When I go to the different classrooms I see Jordon’s and Mary Janes, even some brands I’ve never heard of but the kids will tell me they cost close to $200 for one pair and they pinch their toes or thy aren’t allowed on the playground at recess or they don’t know how to tie them yet! I kid you not. Some parents send their kids in laces who don’t even know how to tie shoes! I guess that’s what I am there for though. To tie the laces of these kids who will see more and do more with their little hopes and dreams than I did in all of crushed hopes and dreams tumbled every time I bend down to tie their laces.
It’s summer now and my parents paid for Isabella’s summer camp for three weeks and are taking her to Kentucky to visit my brother and his family another two weeks. Ann and I have had the condo to ourselves with Roscoe, our dog, whom she sits on most afternoons watching Barney or Sesame Street. We go outside and play in the water or paint rocks. Silly things mostly. I try to talk to her but I mostly just label what we see; tree, rock, sidewalk, street or road… and so on. She is starting to repeat some of the words after me and I’ve been getting better eye contact. Being two and having no one in your life but your hollowed out mother after having such a happy family before must be hard. I look at her and cry sometimes. How she will never know Steven. I didn’t take that many pictures of him either. He wore a baseball hat a lot.
When Ann and I were at play group I noticed she was giving toys to a dad there who was wearing a baseball cap like Steven. He wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. I couldn’t believe I looked for one but I did. For the first time since Steven died I wondered if I should take off my wedding ring. I thought about wearing them as a charm on a necklace so I could still have them but not as a sign of being married since I was a widow now and needed to accept that.
I’ve been slowly cleaning Steven’s things. When Bella is back from all her summer endeavors Althea is going to move in. I will give my girls the master bedroom where Steven I were, I’ll move into Ann’s room since it’s the smallest and I painted it so special with clouds and butterflies that no one else will love as much as I do and Althea will have Bella’s room which I imagine they may end up sharing at one point. We may even try to get some heat in the basement, I hear some type of stoves can be very good at low cost so that could be a bedroom if we needed it.
I am trying to not plan too far ahead. I don’t expect each day to end well I suppose. There is a tragedy looming out there waiting to knock me down in my already defeated state. I imagine the next blow to be Bella asking to go live with Joshua and his family. He is engaged now and seems happier than I remember knowing him to have been ten years ago when our youth romanced us into each other’s arms. I think about our time together and my folly. I even go flip through my book, Lives I’ve Lived, to reminisce on how hard I thought things were then compared to life now without the rage I had fueling me on then. I almost wish I could get mad but I just don’t care enough to. It’s like Ann and I share a quiet understanding of sorrow. I enjoy having a silent soul mate to feel the same loss as me but am I holding her back?
How do other parents do it so well? How can they afford those houses with the wonderful yard and garage for their two new cars? Steven would say they work hard and went to college, got a good degree and are making good money. I can hear his voice in my head. Then he would ask if I wanted to go back to school. I did not enjoy classes, maybe a few select topics of interest but by the end of the semester I was ready to never see most of those kids again. I tried online classes too which were ok but I fell behind a lot then crammed to catch up over and over again, I need more structure than open ended “just get it done by “
Besides the girls really do need me even though I’m not sure I’m doing that well. I remember going to college while Bella was in daycare and trying to put her to bed so I could study. I think half her lullaby’s ended with “mommy needs to study so go sleep” Bella hated sleeping, we had to double gate her in her bedroom at night because she would climb over or under one gate alone. Steven and I were dating then and Bella and I had our own place in Waterbury just us girls. She often says she misses those days but I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t say she missed those nights. I was so afraid of what people would think if I let her sleep in bed with me like she wanted to. I let Ann some nights, then I move her back to her crib and she is fine. Parenting is something I just don’t seem to get.
***Go to Amazon.com to buy LIVES I’VE LIVED on Kindle and in paperback to find out how Lillie came to be here today***