please remember, this is a story. This is not my life. It may have similarities but it is still not me
She moves slowly from room to room, wondering how a house so full of objects could feel so empty. No one would have heard her as she wandered, just like no one heard her when she wasn’t alone. She never wanted to be a silent partner but somehow that’s what she became. He wasn’t cheating on her, that she could understand. He just forgot about her or figured maybe she’d understand. After all she always understands. It’s a part of her, her whole life was spent tending to others, being the rock, and not making a fuss. It’s who she was, who she is.
From her earliest memory her job was to take care of the household while her mother took center stage. Mental illness wasn’t talked about back then and whenever her mother was taken screaming and kicking by ambulance back to the hospital no one in the neighborhood said a word. The next day casserole dishes would appear and Mrs Rietano would come over from next door to keep an eye on them while their father was up at the hospital. She could’ve told someone why having a deranged mother to keep track of was so much better than the quiet nights when her mother was in the r-wing. She could’ve stood up once in a while and begged someone to notice her but she didn’t. She just did what needed doing and never complained. Complaining wasn’t looked at too kindly in her home and being noticed wasn’t always a good thing. She doesn’t tell anyone about her past, she’s only told two or three and the first she told was her first husband. She can still feel the horror and the humiliation when he used it in court when they divorced. After that she learned to not mention it. No one likes pity and people will hurt you with what they know about you. The second person she told is the only person she trusts with it. She knows her secrets are safe and it’s a good feeling. She won’t tell the one she’s with now. She just doesn’t trust him and he isn’t the sort to be trusted. Her childhood makes her ugly and that ugliness is too personal to share.
She was a quiet child, her escape was in books. Readers Digest Condensed books, Norman Vincent Peale, anything she could get her hands on. She’d hide behind the red chair in the family room and read. The stories she read gave her a chance to be someone else, to live in happier worlds. It was a safe place, no one ever intruded. When she was young she believed it was a magic spot because in a house with twelve rooms no one ever hurt her there in that little corner behind the red chair. She was taken away when she was thirteen and in her mind that was when her life started. She swore the parents she was given and then the set that she was given to would not destroy who she was. She would win, she would not let their legacy go any further. And she did, but some things are so ingrained that you don’t realize it’s a pattern until it’s too late to change it. She married once for love. They had a son and she believed her happily ever after was there up until the very second that the bottom fell out and she saw she’d believed in what is not real. She married a second time for duty. Trading taking care of someone for not being alone seemed a good deal, at first. He changed her name, he made her a nothing and she let him until the day his anger at life turned on her son. A third time she started over, this time with two sons and little else. Those days were hard but she and the boys had fun. They played yard Yahtzee and Whiffle ball. They took movies out of the library and watched them together late into the night in the living room with pillows and blankets. They told jokes and went for hikes. Life was tough but it was fun. They added in a dog who seemed perfect for thier family. A stray nobody wanted that just showed up in the yard one day and followed the boys into the house as if it were sure it was home. She whistled for that same dog and headed up the stairs comforted by the sound of paws walking up the wooden stairs with her.
Lost in thought she filled the bathtub, adding oils and lighting candles she moved by rote, her mind still on who she used to be. Sinking slowly into the warm fragrant water she closed her eyes and let Hootie fill her ears. She lay like that for a long time, just letting her mind empty and concentrating on the music. She started to unwind and she felt renewed.Maybe life wasn’t so bad, maybe she was just being selfish. Maybe it was all just silly and maybe she was over reacting. With a small grimace she decided it was all in her imagination and she laughed a little at herself. A good night’s sleep and she’d be in her right mind again.
Stepping out of the tub she looked at herself in the mirror, dropping her towel to run her hands over her body, she turned from side to side. She noticed the wrinkles and signs of her age. Stretch marks on her belly, lines beside her eyes, too many grey hairs to count. But all in all not too bad, a few scars now familiar to her, a tiny belly starting, still she was proud of how she turned out. A chill snapping her out of her trance, she threw on an old football jersey and a pair of pale pink silk panties. Anyone seeing her during the day would never guess what she wore close to her skin.
It made her smile and she decided a night like tonight was best spent with old friends, so she stood at the door waiting for the dog to finish sniffing the garden and locking up, they went up to bed to read and watch some old classics. As she listened to the dog’s panting and laughed along with the TV she slowly drifted off to sleep. She’d rather sleep alone at times than be lonely in her bed with him. She hates that she feels that way but can’t avoid it. Dreams are funny things. One night they’re off the beaten path with aliens and new worlds, other times they’re so steamy that falling back to sleep is an effort, and sometimes they’re a reflection of our biggest fears. Luckily her’s were run of the mill and she woke up the next morning more refreshed than she’d been for a while.
Life got busy again and she relaxed her mind. Things had to be done, house guests in for a bit, promises she made that needed to be fulfilled, time went fast and her problems seemed so small. She was lucky and she knew it but that only made for guilt over feeling like something important was missing. She turned to the faith of her childhood and savored the time she had with her son. Home for a short summer, she knew she’d miss him. Of all her family members, this boy was closest to her. Her good traits showed up in him and they easily discussed anything and everything. He was one of the few people who didn’t look through her. She loved watching him turn more and more into the man he was going to be. Her older son was off on his own and things were still tense between them. His silences hurt her but she knew he needed the space to learn to be responsible and to stand on his own feet. Hitting your lowest of lows is tough at any age, for her older son it was a harsh lesson. Too many times in his life he was allowed to get away with things because he had a pretty face and a beguiling smile. Similar to his father, lovable but frustrating. And so angry when she’d had to tell him “no”. Life’s lessons. Painful to live but worth the end result. He was realizing it now, proud of what he’d accomplished, proud of who he was. At a cost to her heart, still that’s part of being a parent or so she thinks.
His brother took the falling out worse. Too many years of being in his brother’s shadow and listening to his brother’s excuses made him miss him less. They’re so different from each other. One with a bright smile and a temper that blows over fast, the other more deep, less open with people but more loyal to those he lets into his life. As children they were so different that she gave up her bedroom to separate them so that the younger one might survive to see adulthood. She wishes her children were closer but understands why they aren’t. She followed an older sibling who seemed to shine and she knew it was hard. It made her feel guilty to think that it was a small relief not having her older son around. He required so much energy and her younger boy needed time to shine too. When they were younger their roles were reversed and she was closer to her eldest. After he left the nest the household shifted and an easy calm took over. TV was enjoyed and discussed, no one fought over anything, everyone pitched in. It was nice and she was happy.
Now her oldest is engaged and planning his future and they talk again, slowly getting back to their easy affection. They say the day your children move out and start their lives is when you pick your’s up again but it isn’t true. When you’ve been pretty much a solo parent, and not by choice, you get a little closer than a two parent home. You invest more of yourself in them because the time you spend with them is double. You do homework, got to chess club meets, sit through plays, learn about sports you knew nothing about and cheer like crazy for everything. You punish and stand firm, you sometimes are the bad guy very rarely the hero. You get cried at, whined at, and sometimes even yelled at but you do double duty and you don’t miss a thing.
And maybe because the other parent drops the ball, maybe that’s why you put in a little extra.
And she loves looking at her grown son and she loves that he’s shaping his life. She just aches because she put so much into them and now she’s not sure what’s left. She feels off balance some days. Her life revolved around her children, without them needing her she feels lost. She misses being a full time Mom, she loved being Mom. In the next thought she’s glad they’re getting ready, she thinks she did her job well. It’s just that being Mom was like breathing, it was part of life. It’s a pretty big chapter to try to close, one that’s harder than she thought it’d be.
If the people around her knew the thoughts in her head they’d make her get help she doesn’t want or need. If they knew she was making lists and not planning to be alive for much of the future they’d have her locked up and the key thrown away. It’s not that she wants to die, it’s more that she knows her job here is almost done and she’s gotten tired of trying. Pros and Cons. Live or die. Black and white with no grey in between. It was never her idea to plan her death, it was the people around her that planted the seed and over the years her lonely tears watered it and let it grow. It started so small and now it overshadows everything.When they no longer needed her they ignored her. When there wasn’t a crisis or an emergency they looked right through her. When their ego’s needed a lift they were there but when she sat alone and little no one noticed at all. When the pain felt so strong that she could see it radiating off her yet no one ever looked at her long enough to notice, she tried to find a reason why life was worth bothering with. She isn’t depressed, she doesn’t have any fancy psychiatric term, she doesn’t need therapy or medication, she’s just fading away. She always held onto her “some days”. Someday someone would actually want her. Someday she’d matter. Someday some man would look at her and see her, not see through her. But someday never came and it began to be replaced by “someday I’ll be gone and it won’t be so bad”
She knows that someday isn’t here yet, she still has a few things to do. She still has two sons to send off into marriage. No parent can rest easy until they know their children are safe and happy. It’s just that she knows where her path is going to end and she isn’t afraid or upset. She’s got to finish what needs finishing and she puts her mind back to it.
Planning a party is easy compared to planning your death. It’s easy to look at a calendar and think “The last Saturday in January is free” and order the cake and the flowers and address the invitations. The gathering she envisioned wasn’t going to have cake and the flowers would be more subdued but it was time and she knew it. She’d fought these thoughts for a long time and she was very tired. She’d had children to raise so whenever her mind wandered she’d pull it back to her job. And when the thought of no longer being got strong she’d find new strength inside of herself because she had parents to tend and people who still needed her.
One day she’d know no one really needed her anymore and that it was time to go. “A guest should never overstay his or her welcome” she thought wryly, her mother’s lessons still with her after all these years. The humor in it made her rock back slowly laughing softly as the dog lifted his head and woofed in her direction. Silly old dog, not long for the world either.
It was an unplanned gift on her son’s birthday years ago when it wandered into the yard then into the house. The dog he always wanted but she’d always had to say no to. Never enough money or time for a pet or so she’d thought until the dog decided the time was right.
Stupidest dog ever but that just made him fit in. The dog was her companion. Suffering through the coming and going of people and feeling lost and confused as one by one those who left stopped returning every day, week, month, year. They’d work together during the day, her with her tools, the dog always busy chasing bugs and critters or things only he could hear. They’d walk in the evening a few times a week. Along the canal, both just happy to enjoy the world around them. And at night the dog would follow her up the stairs to sleep curled up by her side of her bed, protecting her from unseen enemies who might come in the bedroom door while she slept. Over the years they’d found a comfortable balance. Companionship with an animal is special. Some human and animal bonds go as deep as the heart and her’s with the dog was one. No matter what went on the dog was there to greet her when she came back. Wagging her tail in delight even on those times she’s just gone out to the mailbox, never out of the dog’s line of view.
They watched the sun rise from the deck every morning and looked at the stars together every night. Both were greyer and slower now and the dog had days when it hurt too much to walk too far. Recently the dog had guarded her sleep from the bottom of the stairs, still shielding her from unseen harm but not able to climb those stairs any more. It made her sad to see her this way and her plans included that silly animial. They were a team after all.
Still it seemed that life was just busy enough to keep her interest and she held off on making her final plans.
Winter was coming and she had a lot to do. Every year she made costumes for the Nativity pagent at church. She knitted mittens for the mitten tree in the sanctuary and she made sure she always kept a dollar or two in her coat pocket to put in the red kettle outside the stores. When her children were young they’d fight over who got to drop the money in and ring the bell. She used to give them each a dollar and let them both enjoy the spirit of giving. As they grew older they didn’t like it anymore and even though they’d grumble and mutter she’d still take the time to do it herself.
She remembered last year, at the store with her son, she saw him slip a dollar from his pocket into the kettle and walk away quickly. He didn’t know she’d seen him and she never planned to tell him. Knowing he understood the lesson she’d taught was enough for her. As Christmas came closer her phone began to ring. So many people she’d forgotten about calling to say hello and share stories of their lives. A steady stream of friends popped in and one night her sons showed up together to put up her tree and decorate it with her.
to be continued’