The Time is Now
“The time is now!” Albert boomed in a clear, forceful voice.
Thelma hefted her considerable weight out of her chair. The tattered, thrift store romance novel she’d been absorbed in flew from her hands and landed on the floor with a soft plop.
“Almighty Jesus!” she exclaimed, clutching a fist to her ample bosom. “Lord, but you gave me a scare, Mistuh Albert! I ain’t never heard your voice before, in all the two years I been takin’ care of you! I didn’t think you could talk no more!”
If Albert had heard or understood Thelma’s outburst, he gave no indication. He fell as mute as he’d been a minute ago. His milky eyes stared up at the ceiling.
Thelma’s hands were shaking as she reached for her patient’s medical chart. This most unusual event must be written down for his doctors to read, come morning. But when she glanced at her smartwatch to notate the time, she was startled to see that its digital face was blank.
“What’s wrong with this thing?” She tapped the watch’s face in frustration.
“The time is now!” Albert said again, even louder this time. He turned his head in Thelma’s direction. Although he was nearly blind, due to cataracts which obscured the color of his eyes, he seemed to look directly at her. He flashed a one-tooth grin, which made Thelma’s blood run cold.
Her watch came back to life, emitting two loud buzzes. A gasp escaped her throat when she gazed down at it. The word “NOW” was flashing, in capital block letters. Thelma held her wrist as far away from her face as possible, as if the watch were a snake in disguise, ready to jump at her throat. It felt like the strap of the device was cutting off her circulation.
“What’s happening here?” she asked, addressing no one in particular.
The room seemed to rock from side to side. Thelma, who’d suffered from motion sickness all her life, began to feel both nauseous and dizzy. She was going to faint, she knew it. All she could do was to reach out, in hopes of breaking her fall.
Thelma’s eyes snapped open at the sound of her name. Where was she? What had happened? Slowly, she began to remember…
“Hrmmm…” She couldn’t command her mouth to form any words. A stroke? Lord, have I had a stroke?
“Be calm.” A masculine voice said, seemingly inches from her ear.
A blurry face hovered above her. Slowly, it came into focus.
“Mis- Mistuh Albert?” Thelma stared in disbelief.
The frail, withered nonagenarian whom she’d nursed over the past twenty-four months, the very man who could no loner walk or talk, nor control his bodily functions, stood tall and strong before her. His face had less than half the wrinkles as before. Its slack, non-expression had been replaced by a look of eager adventurousness. The thin, white wisps on his age-spotted scalp had been replaced by a full head of wavy, silver hair. His vacant, colorless eyes were now a piercing shade of blue. Most astonishing of all, Thelma thought, was his smile.
“Mistuh Albert… You got all your teeth!” she blurted.
Albert laughed. It was not the dry, papery cackle of an elderly person, but the hearty laugh of a man in robust health. Thelma’s cheeks grew warm with a bashfulness she hadn’t felt since she was a schoolgirl. But… how? Was she dreaming?
“Are you ready?” Albert’s deep voice interrupted her thoughts.
“Ready?” she repeated. “Ready for…?”
Albert extended his hand.
Thelma looked back at the heavy, middle-aged woman in a nurse’s uniform, slumped in her chair, a paperback novel laying at her feet. Her eyes traveled to the pathetic form of the old man, lying perfectly still in his hospital bed.
“Are you ready?” her new friend repeated.
She took Albert’s hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.
“I am now,” she said.
Here is a picture of my Dad letting go of me as I took my first wobbly baby steps.
Last night, at 10:30 PM, Dad let go of the strings that bound him to this earthly world.
For the past decade or so, Dad struggled in the cruel grip of Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and Parkinson’s. This was how I found him, after searching for him for thirty years. So… I don’t know if I ever really got to know the real Him.
About three days ago, I got word from his Social Worker in his Boston nursing home that he was declining; he was having trouble breathing, was non-verbal, and couldn’t swallow food.
Last night, before I fell asleep, I asked God to please take him, quickly. Enough suffering! When I awoke, I somehow knew. But rather than sadness and grief, I felt a lightness of heart and a buoyancy of spirit. This is how I knew he’d been set free.
Dad’s nursing home was over 300 miles away from me. His very large family, most of whom I’ve never met, lives 2,000 miles from here. But in the spring, God willing, we’ll all be together, and he’ll be laid to rest with his parents… who didn’t even know their wayward son was was still alive. It’s complicated!
But it’s all good.
“You sure you’ll be okay?” My wife, Jill, looks uncertain as she lingers by the door, car keys dangling in her hand.
I’ve already answered the same question a dozen times today. “We’ll be fine.” I hope my voice sounds more confident than I feel. I plant a quick kiss on her forehead, before she can spot the fear in my eyes.
“We” refers to myself, and our three little smidgins: Ellie, six, Tess, four, and Pax, who just turned two.
“Maybe I should just…” A wave of doubt washes over Jill’s pretty face.
“Hey.” I cut her off. “It’s not every day that your sister has a baby.”
“I know.” Jill drags out the last syllable so that it sounds more like a moan. “But it’s Christmas Eve…”
“YAY!” the girls shout in glee at the sound of the ‘C’ word. Pax echoes them, although he has no idea why he’s happy.
“There’s Christmas books and DVDs in the living room. And a list of emergency number on the fridge…”
“Don’t worry, Babe.” I gently nudge her towards the door. “I’ve got this. Now, you better get going. Your soon-to-be niece isn’t going to wait for you.”
“Alright.” Jill consents. She gives a mock salute. “Aunt Jill, reporting for Delivery Room duty!”
“Take pictures!” Tess shouts. She gives the same orders whether Mommy is going on a routine grocery run or Daddy is getting a kidney stone removed.
“You kids be good for Daddy. Don’t eat all the cookies that are for Santa, and make sure you’re in bed by eight-thirty, or…”
“Santa won’t come!” The girls finish for her.
“Okay.” Jill gives me a quick kiss and finally heads out the door. “I’ll Skype you in the morning!”
And with a click of the lock, I am alone with my children. The nearly forgotten sound of silence fills the void left by Jill’s departure. The kids look bewildered by this turn of events. They’re accustomed to Mommy and Daddy together, and Mommy without Daddy, while he’s at work. But Daddy without Mommy? This is a new one.
Ellie is the one to break the ice. “Let’s make Oven S’mores!” she shouts, and her younger siblings cheer in agreement.
Fortunately, this is a request I can easily accommodate. Jill has stocked the cupboards with all the necessary ingredients: graham crackers, marshmallows, and milk chocolate bars. Three ingredients and a cookie sheet. So simple, even Daddy can do it.
S’mores are assembled, baked and rapidly consumed (half of them by me). I help the kids wash their chocolatey hands and faces, and get their teeth brushed.
“What now, Daddy?” Tess pulls on my sleeve. “It’s too early for bed.”
“Can we watch a movie?” Ellie, as always, makes her question sound like a demand.
“Not tonight. I have a better idea.” I have to raise my voice to be heard over the kids’ chants of: “Moo-VEE! Moo-VEE!”
I wrangle the troops into the living room and deftly hide the TV remote behind a throw pillow before any of the little ones can get a hold of it.
“Plop your butts on the couch, kids! It’s storytime!”
“I’ll get our books!” Tess makes a run for the stack of holiday books that have accumulated atop their toy box since Halloween. Basically, it’s a collection of modern Christmas “classics” featuring characters such as Dora the Explorer, Doc McStuffins, and the Paw Patrol crew.
“Not so fast,” I say, attempting to sound mysterious. “I have something special… and here it is!” I produce a large, elderly tome that I’ve been hiding under a stack of Jill’s magazines.
“What’s dat?” Pax asks in his adorable toddler lingo.
“A book, dummy-head!” Ellie snaps.
“I know dat!” Pax’s intelligence has been offended. He raises a pudgy fist and waves it at his big sister.
“This isn’t just any book,” I say, sitting down. “This is a very old, very special book. Your Grandpa read it to me when I was a little boy, and before that, his parents read it to him when he was young. Now I’m going to read it to you. And maybe, just maybe, someday you’ll read it to your own children.”
The kids, looking equally incredulous and intrigued, sidle up to me. They take their places on the couch, Ellie on my right, Tess on my left, and Pax in the coveted spot on my lap.
“What’s it called, Daddy?” Tess points at the worn cover.
“THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS!” Ellie shouts, like she’s solving a puzzle on Wheel of Fortune. (She’s two whole grade levels ahead of her class in reading. Gets it from me.)
“Very good, Ellie. The Night Before Christmas, by Clement Clarke Moore.”
“There’s a boy in my class named Clark,” Ellie pipes up. “He picks his nose and eats the boogers.”
This prompts uproarious laughter from Pax, and it takes time to get him settled down enough so that I can start reading the story.
“Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.”
“What about Harvey?” Tess interrupts, referring to the hairy pet that resides in a cage in the girls’ shared bedroom.
“Harvey’s a hamster, not a mouse!” Ellie is quick to correct her.
“The point is, everyone, all people and animals, were fast asleep. Now, I’ll continue with the story, if you don’t mind.
“The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.”
“Who’s St. Nicholas?” The girls ask in unison.
“It’s just another name for Santa Claus,” I explain. St. Nick, Kris Kringle, Santa Claus, they’re all the same person.”
“What about Jack Frost?” Tess asks.
“No, Jack Frost isn’t in this story. Moving along now… The children were nestled, all snug in their beds, while visions of sugarplums danced in their heads.”
“What’s a sugarplum?” the girls want to know.
“I… I’m not sure.” It strikes me that for the thirty years I’ve been alive, I have never encountered an actual sugarplum. Were they even a thing? “I’m sure they’re very sweet.”
“You should Google it, Daddy,” Tess advises.
“Later. Back to the story. Mama in her kerchief and I in my cap…”
“Kerchief?” Ellie is always intrigued by new words.
I manage to suppress a sigh. Barely. “Look at the picture.” I point. “See what the lady is wearing on her head? That’s a kerchief.”
“Oh, it’s like a do-rag.” Ellie nods.
“Why would anyone wear a do-rag to bed?” Tess giggles.
“To keep her hair neat,” I improvise. To diffuse another interruption, I change the wording of the next line from “just settled our brains” to “just settled down for a long winter’s nap.”
By some miracle, I manage to get through an entire verse without interruption. I knew I was in for trouble though, as the next one came to a close.
“Ew! He threw up the sash?” Ellie makes a disgusted face.
“Thwow up!” Pax says, and makes such a convincing retching sound that I hold the book away from him, in case he really is going to puke. He doesn’t.
“Wait, sash?” Tess asks. “Like that stuff in a can Mommy makes when she doesn’t feel like cooking real food?”
“I’d throw up the sash too,” Ellie says.
I don’t bother explaining the difference between a curtain sash and corned beef hash. Instead, I resume the story. I don’t get far.
“Wait!” Ellie slams her hand into the page before I can turn it. “Eight tiny reindeer? Eight?” And my bright little girl rattles off the names of Santa’s reindeer, while counting each one on her fingers. “What about Rudolph?”
“He wasn’t born yet,” I say, aware that my voice is starting to sound as testy as I feel.
“I guess this is an old book,” Tess marvels.
I am tempted to skip over the next few lines… or even pages, but I know that eagle-eyed Ellie would never let me get away with it. So I read on, and the children, apparently tired of asking questions, are soon caught up in the rollicking rhythm of the poem, even if they don’t understand every word of the fancy, old-style language. Their eyes are sparkling as I describe the rooftop commotion as St. Nicholas (“Santa Claus!” Tess reminds her siblings) and his reindeer arrive.
“He was dressed all in f.. um, all in red from his head to his foot.” (I stop myself from saying “fur” to avoid a protest from animal-loving Ellie.) “And his clothes were all covered in ashes and soot. A bundle of toys he had flung on his back, and he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.”
“What’s a peddler?” Tess inquires.
“Someone who rides a bike, dummy-head!” Ellie snaps. “Now shut up and let Daddy finish the story!”
“Watch your mouth, Princess,” I warn. I begin reading again, describing Santa’s rosy cheeks and merry dimples and cherry-red nose. The children are all smiles. Until…
“Santa smokes a pipe?!?” Ellie isn’t just shocked, she’s outraged. She leaps off the couch and stands with her arms akimbo. She looks like a miniature warrior, despite her Hello Kitty pjs.
“Well, see, uh…” I stammer. “Again, this story was written a long time ago, before people knew smoking was bad for them. I’m sure Mrs. Claus made him quit. In fact, I think that’s in the sequel.”
“Well, I’m gonna make a ‘No Smoking’ sign before I go to bed,” Ellie said. “Just in case.”
“That’s fine, hon. Now sit back down by me.” Reluctantly, she does, and I read: “He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, and I laughed when I saw him in spite of myself.”
“Hold up!” It was Tess’s turn to interrupt. “Santa’s not an elf! I think this author was very confused.”
“This has got to be the worst Christmas story I’ve ever heard.” Ellie folds her arms across her chest and pouts, bringing my attempt at creating a holiday tradition to a screeching halt.
“The end awready?” Pax frowns.
I scruffle his mop of blonde hair. “Well, at least for this story,” I say, closing the book and setting it down on the coffee table. So much for instilling a love of classic literature into my rambunctious crew. “Girls, go pick out a book you can both agree on, and Daddy will read that instead.”
My daughters race to the pile on their toy box. It only takes a few seconds for them to pick out a book from the stack. They run back, Ellie clutching the book in both hands, and settle into their former positions on the couch. Ellie hands the book to me.
“Read this one, Daddy!”
I take the book and clear my throat.
“Pete the Cat Saves Christmas…”
The Twelfth of December by Holly Gaskin
364 days had passed, sometimes creep-crawling, other times sprinting, until the calendar page once again screamed “December 12.” I’d been conscious that it was creeping up, as I ripped page after page off the calendar at the end of each day, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11… now, here it was. Still, the date stood out like an insulting, bold-faced lie, occupying a small space on the corner of my desk.
It can’t really be here… it wasn’t supposed to come again!
I had considered not tearing yesterday’s page off, and letting it be December 11th forever, but I knew I didn’t really have the power to freeze time. I’d had one whole year to prepare for this day.
They say “it gets easier,” as if the healing is a guarantee, but really, it’s not so simple. I will be fine and strong for weeks at a time, and then a dream, a photograph, or a song will rip open that wound, rendering me into the weeping, mourning daughter of twelve months ago.
That it had happened smack dab in the middle of the holiday season made it especially painful. I could still picture her gifts, all wrapped up in festive reds and greens with elaborate ribbons. It wasn’t until the following June that my husband convinced me to unwrap them and donate the contents to Goodwill. And he was right; it felt good to pass the things on to those who needed it. It’s what Mom would have wanted.
Shortly thereafter, my husband and I decided that on December 12th, we would visit The Spot, and leave a red rose there. It was her favorite flower, although her name had been Lily.
Sitting in the passenger seat with a single, red rose clutched in my lap, I felt nervous. The anxiety was similar to the feeling I’d get whenever I had to make a public speech. Like I was going to freeze up and get tongue-tied. Except, I had no audience and no lines to remember today, so my nervousness was irrational.
I stepped out of the car, and into the frosty December air. I took in my surroundings, which had changed so much since Mom passed away. New stores, new restaurants and a reconfigured highway to accommodate the heavier traffic. It might be hard to find the exact spot. Even the sidewalks had been rebuilt.
My husband squeezed my hand and we started walking. It was in the single digits; the wind chill made it feel like well below zero. Snow coated the ground. It was as winter should be. One year ago today, it had felt more like spring, with temperatures in the 50’s and bright sunshine. That weather had been as much a freak of nature as Mom’s accident.
We stopped. Or, actually, I felt my husband stop, so I did, too. I’d been staring at the ground as I walked, lost in thought. When I looked up, I saw that we were a couple of yards from destination.
But… what was this? Somebody was standing by the side of the road, right where I needed to be. It was a young man, in a long, dark coat. His hands were crammed into his pockets and his head was bowed. He paid no attention to the traffic whizzing by, nor did he notice us watching him.
Was he waiting for a ride? Was he high? Lost? What was wrong with him?
Suddenly, I just knew.
I locked eyes with my husband. As always, he seemed to read my mind, and he, too, understood. He asked me, in a whisper, whether I wanted to do this alone or if I needed him to go with me. I indicated that I wanted to go by myself and he released my hand.
I silently made my way over to the young man. He didn’t notice me until I was right next to him. He jumped a little, startled out of his trance. His expression of surprise was replaced by one of shock, and I knew he realized who I was. He looked scared, and I thought he might bolt, but he didn’t.
Instead, he bowed his head and stared at the spot where the car had come to rest, one year ago this morning. I’d long ago accepted the fact that the accident had probably changed this young man’s life almost as much as it had changed mine. Neither of us was the same person we were 365 days ago.
I never harbored any anger toward “the other guy.” It had been clear from the beginning that the accident had been nobody’s fault; that’s why it’s called an accident. It was just another sad story in the news, one that would quickly be replaced by another, then another, and soon forgotten by the fickle masses. I’d often wondered about the person behind the name that appeared in the newspapers. Now here he was, looking more boyish than I’d imagined, tormented by a twin of the ghost that haunted me. In a way, I wasn’t surprised to see him there.
I was dumbfounded, however, when I saw the rose in his pocket. Its red head was peeping out at me, a bright contrast against the black wool of the man’s coat. I held its sister in my hand.
He saw the flower I was holding and immediately his hand flew to pat his coat pocket. He looked almost astonished when he retrieved the rose, as if he’d thought I had somehow slipped it out of his pocket without him noticing.
Two strangers, two roses, one purpose. I held out my hand and let the rose fall to the ground. The young man did the same a second later. We stood still for a minute. He stared off into the distance, his eyes following the five-lane traffic as it disappeared into the western outskirts of the city. I looked up at the sky, trying to spot the opening to Heaven among the clouds.
My attention was diverted back to the young man, when he made a sound alike a strangled gasp. I followed his eyes to the ground, and my breath caught in my throat.
The two red roses had landed together, forming a perfect cross in the snow. There was no mistaking it for anything else. We stood and stared at it, committing the picture to our memories.
The honking horns, car radios, and morning rush hour noise slowly brought us back to our senses. Our eyes met once more, just for an instant. We didn’t speak; we just nodded and parted ways. There were no words to be said.
You will not find this fact in any textbook, or even on Wikipedia, but I can attest that October 31st, 1979 was The Worst Halloween Ever. Of course, we don’t know we’re making history while we’re making it. All I knew at the time was that I had the worst luck of any kid in the world.
Halloween fell on a Wednesday that year. My mother had wed my stepfather the Saturday before, and they were on their honeymoon, on a cruise to Bermuda. I was temporarily living in the back of a bar. Okay, to be fair, it was a cottage that was built on the same property as the tavern, a little ways behind it. I guess this scenario calls for some backstory, so here it is…
The bar was called The Blue Top. It was owned by an ornery fellow named Red. His always-cheerful wife, Weezy, tended bar and traded raunchy barbs with the patrons. How did I know this? I was there on a weekly basis. Mommy would bring me along on dates with her best friend, Helen, and then with Bud, the man who would eventually become my stepfather. Red didn’t approve of kids in his bar, but Weezy loved me, so his protests were over-ruled. I’d sing for the customers and they would reward me with quarters, which I’d divide equally between the jukebox and the shuffleboard machine.
Red and Weezy had an adult daughter named Lucinda. She was twenty-something, single, and pretty. Her long brown hair reached her waist, and she wore eyeglasses with huge frames, which were the style back in the day. Lucinda was my designated babysitter for the duration of my parents’ honeymoon. I was delighted at the opportunity to spend time with this effervescent, young woman, who doted on me. I got to take a different school bus to get to my second grade class, and there’d be hot cocoa and homemade cookies when I got home in the afternoon. It was all a great adventure, until Halloween day rolled around.
It wasn’t until that day, during lunchtime and recess, when all the other kids were excitedly talking about the costumes they would be wearing for trick or treat that night, that the terrible truth hit me… my mother had forgotten to pack my Halloween costume when she dropped me off at Lucinda’s!
Some more backstory is needed here. Growing up, my mother and I were on Welfare. I didn’t know that we were poor. To me, “on Welfare” meant that my books were mostly secondhand, with pages scribbled on in crayon, by some naughty child who owned it before me. My stuffed animals had been pre-loved as well. Freddy the teddy bear was eyeless, and Raggedy Ann was missing an arm.
When it came to Halloween, my mother could only afford a cheap plastic mask for 99 cents at Woolworth’s, never the whole costume. I was so proud of my Woody Woodpecker mask in kindergarten… until I got on the school bus, only to have all the other kids laugh at me. The scenario repeated itself the following year, when I wore a nurse mask (because that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up). I was very pleased with myself, until Joanna Rhinebeck boarded the bus wearing the same mask… along with a white nurse’s uniform and matching white shoes.
This Halloween was supposed to be different. My new stepfather, Bud, made good money as a fire inspector. So this year, not only did I have a scary witch mask, but a pointy hat and a black dress to go with it! It was to be my first Halloween in full costume.
I jumped off the schoolbus and raced across the yard to Lucinda’s house in a tearful panic. After I explained the situation, we hopped into her car and she drove us to 325 Howard Avenue. She parked in the driveway of the little log cabin that I’d called home for less than a week. We peeked through my bedroom window. The closet door was open, and we could see the box containing my witch costume resting high on a shelf. So close, and yet so far! We tried both doors and all the windows, probably looking like a pair of cat burglars to the neighbors. Everything was securely locked.
My heart was a lead weight in my chest during the sad ride back to Lucinda’s house. But I noticed she was smiling. Why?
“You’ll have a witch costume by trick or treat time,” she assured me when we got back to her place. “We’ll improvise!”
At seven, I had no idea what “improvise” meant, but I found out soon enough. I watched as Lucinda rummaged through her closet, in search of a black blouse or dress. Alas, there wasn’t a single black item in her wardrobe. The closest she had was a long, navy blue skirt.
Seeing my frown, she said: “Don’t worry. It’ll be dark when we go trick or treating. It will look black. Trust me.”
I stood still as she pulled the skirt over my head and tied it under my armpits with a belt. It matched the dark blue turtleneck I was wearing.
Next, Lucinda found some black construction paper that she used for craft projects. Her hands fluttered like hummingbirds as they busily rolled and glued sheets of paper together. My eyes widened in amazement as the paper took on a cone shape… a witch’s hat! Lucinda plopped it on my head. Next, she handed me a small whisk broom, and a pillowcase to use as a trick or treat bag.
I was a happy little girl as Lucinda took me from house to house along the busy Main Road. But, after we’d gone to only six houses, she uttered words that shocked me.
“This will be our last stop tonight,” she said, as we ascended the steps of a fancy stone house.
“What?!?” My jaw dropped. “I’ve gotten hardly any candy!”
“I’m only taking you to the houses of people I know,” said Lucinda, as she rang the doorbell. “Not strangers.”
To add insult to injury, the man who answered the door didn’t drop candy into my bag. Instead, he gave me a toothbrush!
“He’s a dentist,” Lucinda explained, as we made our way back to the car.
I was fuming as she snapped my seat belt into place. Halloween hadn’t been saved after all!
I thought of Halloweens past, when Mommy drove me to house after house, not knowing or caring who lived there. She’d take me to “rich” neighborhoods, where the houses looked like mansions to my young eyes. (Please note that we lived in a single-wide trailer at the time.) Best of all, once my trick or treat bag was full, she let me dump it out in the backseat of the car. Then she’d drive me to even more houses, until I filled it up again! The candy lasted for weeks, with Mommy taking the Snickers bars and anything with coconut for herself; everything else was mine.
Lucinda let me have one piece of candy before bed. Then she watched as I brushed my teeth with the toothbrush the dentist had given me.
I hope someone eggs his house, I thought as I brushed.
When Mommy and Bud returned from their honeymoon, I recounted my Halloween horror story for them.
“You needed a new toothbrush anyway,” said Bud. Ever the jokester, he was.
Mommy genuinely felt guilty though, apologizing profusely. “I have something that might make you feel better,” she said. “Wait here.”
I sat on the couch, wiggling with anticipation as she disappeared into her bedroom. She returned with a large plastic bag.
“This is from Bermuda,” she said, and handed me a tiny bottle of what appeared to be pink fairy dust.
“What is it?” I turned the bottle around and around in my hands.
“Sand!” Mommy said. “The sand is PINK there, Holly! Can you imagine?”
I could, but I wasn’t particularly impressed.
“And… be very careful with this.” Mommy handed me a gift that needed no explanation. It was a necklace made out of seashells!
I beamed, and put it around my neck right away. I noticed that there was still something in the bag. It looked big and kind of lumpy.
“I did something really silly,” Mommy said, as she reached into the bag. Ever so slowly, she pulled out the surprise. “I was so excited about the honeymoon, I wasn’t thinking straight. I forgot I wouldn’t be home for Halloween. I bought candy to hand out to trick or treaters!”
With that, she whipped out not one, but two big bags of sweets: a package of miniature Three Musketeers bars, and another of lollipops! “Only a couple of pieces a day,” she warned, as I pawed at the candy. “And… what else?”
I rolled my eyes and sighed. “I know,” I said. “I’ll brush my teeth afterwards!”
AUTHORS NOTE: Some names in this true story have been changed. Others have not. I have my reasons.
Every two or three years, the sickness hits me. My heart starts to feel heavy, my mind drifts off to a faraway place, my lungs cannot fill with adequate air. The walls seem to be drawing closer, and the ceiling lower, by fractions of millimeters each day, until I’m struck with an almost paralyzing fear that I’m living in a coffin. I run outside before the lid can slam shut. However, the air outdoors isn’t breathable; it is stagnant and suffocating. The faces I see are familiar. They have names attached to them that I should know, but just can’t seem to recall. They smile paper smiles and wave their mannequin hands at me, in gestures of false friendliness.
And I know I have to go.
The inevitable question people ask when I tell I’m going back home for a visit is: “Do you still have family out there?” The answer is “no.” I have zero family members back home, me being an only child, and my parents and grandparents being deceased. The asker will look confused when I tell them this, but I don’t bother to try to ease their confusion with an explanation. They’d never understand.
Home IS my family. My family IS my home.
When I set foot on the sidewalks of my childhood, my heart is filled with a euphoria that I thought I would never find again. Twenty years of disappointments, illness and loss disappear. My body feels young and strong. The whole world seems so much brighter, it hurts my eyes to look at it. My smile returns.
It doesn’t matter that strangers now live in the house where I grew up, while other unknown souls dwell in the houses that belonged to my neighbors. Or that only two of the ten shops on the quaint Main Street of my little town still bear the same names. My old school is much bigger, but those are the doors I walked through as a teenager! This is the curb where I stepped off the schoolbus! The same concrete under my feet.
The very air is different here; unlike any other in the world. There is no way to replicate the salt air smell that arises from the Bay and the Sound. It’s my favorite smell in the world. I swear, it has healing properties, like a vitamin. It soothes my soul, calms me to the core, and lulls me to sleep at night.
Look! The ice cream parlor is still there, where my father used to take me to get a sweet treat in a Dixie cup. And there is the theater, where I saw so many scary movies with my best friend. And the pizza parlor (with a different name now) where that same friend and I would argue over what songs to play on the jukebox. My dad and my old friend, are both gone from this world, but Home is still here. No matter how much it changes, I’ll always recognize it.
I’m not so sad when I must leave, to fly back to the Place Where I Now Live (I’ll never call it “home”). I’ve dusted off old memories so that they shine like new, and taken countless snapshots of the scenery with the camera of my eyes. I’ve collected so much joy that I have an abundant supply of bliss, which I can eke out in small doses over the next couple of years. Just enough to keep me going…
Until it is time to go Home again.
“Homesickness is nothing. Fifty percent of the people in the world are homesick all the time.” ~John Cheever
I’ve been going through boxes of family mementos, unearthing a hodgepodge of my own memories, and mysterious, black and white photographs from long before I was born.
One item I found caught me by surprise. It was a poem I had written long ago. I haven’t thought of it in years. Although there were no notations, including a date, I remembered exactly when I wrote it, and who it was about.
In the summer of 2001, a dear friend of mine took his own life. We used to write songs together and record them. He was a brilliant musician & recording engineer, and a dear friend. I loved him. I’d harbored hopes that someday he and I might be more than friends. Unfortunately, his demons stole him from this world.
I’ve edited the original poem. I’m sure there are many of you who can apply it to someone dear in your life.
Go On Living ©2001 Holly Cordova
It was a shock to lose you
No one was prepared
You were everything to everyone
Then suddenly… not there
In my broken heart
I know you haven’t died
For as long as my heart’s beating
You’ll always be alive
I’m reminded of your smile
When the sun is shining bright
And I think about your eyes
When I see the stars at night
You live on in my conscience
I clearly hear your voice
Giving clarity and guidance
So I make the wisest choice
Since you left this world
Each day I take the time
To count blessings, and not worries
And cherish all that’s mine
Although the words “I love you”
Weren’t often said aloud
I know you did, and so I’ll live
In a way to make you proud
I know that you are happy
In a Paradise above
While here, you go on living
In the hearts of all you loved