Tag Archives: friends

Averting a Mid-life Crisis

black-eyed susans

All along I’d told myself not to measure the effort only by mileage. Yet that last 17 miles was perhaps the toughest thing I’ve ever physically done. It came after, as I later reflected with astonishment, I heard myself say, “There’s only 17 miles left?” I finished day one of the Bike MS Ozarks, so that’s what I consider a half-marathon completed at my own power on a bicycle on a very humid 90+ degree day up and down some hellacious Ozark hills. 

Mentally floundering after that treacherous incline just before rest stop #5 where my husband and son were working, the most fun one with shaved ice, bubble machines, donuts I couldn’t stomach by then, and loud music — which my team sponsored and posted wonderfully signs to that point — I was ready to quit. Stop. Finito. Done. I’ve never been so grateful for calories in my life. Peanut butter and cherry Kool-Aid, go figure. 

I met an amazing 62-year old woman along the way who’d taken this journey 20 times previously. She, honestly, is what got me through that last 17 miles. I’d listened to my music, gotten emotional a few times, doubted myself, gotten mad, swore profusely several times. You know, much like I do life itself. My new acquaintance talked me off the proverbial cliff to make me finish, though. 

Emmy asked me if I was okay right before the last quarter-mile, to which I replied, “I think I’m gonna throw up.” A bright orange balloon arch loomed in the distance, and she asked me, “You see that? That’s the end. You throw up at the finish line.” 

complaining

Laughter is what it took to get me to that end. I thought I lost her after crossing it, that maybe she’d traversed my imagination as an apparition, but she showed up a bit later, showered and still supportive. This existence is funny. I’m still in awe of how we meet the right people at the right time to help us cope and conquer.  

biking reality

How did Kezia talk me into this thing?

Alas, I finished the first day and clocked 79 miles all told. Just day one, but that doesn’t matter. My personal goal was attained. I’ve kept mentally repeating that I’m getting stronger, physically and mentally, throughout. Now it’s time to maintain that momentum. 

The next leg of that metaphysical journey happens this weekend in another, much shorter, bike ride. Oddly enough, I’ve even looked up a local spin class option for the late autumn and winter months. My hope is to keep these endorphins flowing. 

difference

Possibilities, possibilities. 

 

Back where it all began:

https://katybrandes.blog/2019/09/04/full-of-something-maybe-metaphors/

https://katybrandes.blog/2019/08/26/too-close-for-comfort-aka-dos-and-donts/

https://katybrandes.blog/2019/08/04/practicing-gratitude/

https://katybrandes.blog/2019/07/23/flat-straightaways-easy/

https://katybrandes.blog/2019/07/11/back-in-the-saddle/

https://katybrandes.blog/2019/07/04/lets-get-fired-up/

https://katybrandes.blog/2019/06/22/what-else-can-we-do/

https://katybrandes.blog/2019/06/14/ebony-irony/

https://katybrandes.blog/2019/06/03/farm-road-wisdom/

 

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Full of something … maybe metaphors

curved road

I find myself coming somewhat full-circle, or perhaps at least semi-circle, on these training rides. Now I feel like I can actually say “training” instead of “so-called training” because doing what I’ve been doing is preparation for what lies ahead this weekend.

Monday, my 52nd birthday, I found myself laughing instead of “riding negative. I had to snicker upon hearing Mike D. rap on my playlist about letting the beat drop at the exact spot where I did that earlier this summer. I fell off my then-new road bike onto the pavement, though it’s been a minute since that happened, and howled at my own expense.

I’ve been learning along the way. First of all, there’s a process to watching what I’m doing instead of worrying so much about what’s going on around me; i.e. the trash on the road that drives me to distraction. Sometimes there’s a price for being distracted.

An overarching lesson I’ve learned is to tuck in the elbows from these T-Rex arms and coast downhill as fast as possible to gain momentum on the next one. I think of that every time I’m trying to surmount an incline and hope to ride out most of it. 

Monday gave me the simple epiphany of, “Don’t look up that hill.” I approached from a slight incline, grasping to gain that extra tiny burst of energy it’d provide, perked my ear up for any oncoming traffic, then braved a corner to slowly creep up to the top of that next mountain (actually, a hill). And I conquered that damn hill for the first time. That’s when I accepted the metaphor for the whole marathon. Just. Quit. Looking. Up. The. Hill. You’ll get there somehow.

Just like Sunday will get here somehow.

I’ve been having fun as well, even if I didn’t think I might at first. My friend and I have learned we can at least laugh at ourselves. Those hills look so much easier from behind the wheel of a car.

The marathon going to happen whether I dread it or not. But I can do it. There’s no use in being afraid of what’s to come. Much like eating an elephant, you take it one bite (hill) at a time. I’ve often used that analogy on my students and now have to own it.  

My favorite part so far has been when I’ve listened for approaching traffic, thinking I’ve heard approaching tires, and then realizing it’s the sound of my own. My own tires and my own power propelling me forward. It’s happened twice, much to my delight. 

While this hasn’t been easy, there’s no EASY button from Staples like I’d wish, it’s gotten easier. Not much in life is easy, but seemingly requires less stress-filled effort with time.

My muscles being stronger, the slow emergence of quads and calf muscles, has made those hills do-able. Monday’s ride through the park was my cool-down instead of the first leg of each short journey like it was back in May.

So in hopes I’m not full of shit, just metaphors, I stare at this weekend full of hope and a little less fear, dare I say maybe even excitement. 

Jimmy Dugan

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Flat Straightaways = Easy

Last weekend’s 26-mile ride taught me something that should already be innate knowledge. It’s easier to breathe in through one’s nose when it’s not full of mucus. Blowing snot rockets the week prior became less humorous when done out of necessity. I keep learning on this journey, albeit at a fear of not being able to make it 150 miles in September. The breaks every 10 mile lead me on a hopeful path, but the hills scare me to distraction.

I keep telling myself each small trip will keep building my strength and not to get overwhelmed with thoughts of, “Well, I might be tough but …” I’ll keep going until I can’t, bottom line.

One of the great pleasures of my life has been in meeting some wonderful friends. Just like the Beatles said, we get by with a little help from our friends. These are some brave, resilient, bad-ass women.

Joedie, for whose honor I chose to attempt the MS150 in the first place. She was forced into early retirement way too young because of the disease. Years ago she laughingly warned me how she’d wake up slowly in difficulty while moving first thing in the morning. She’s the same person who, regardless of any physical challenge, helped clean my house before my baby was born. She advised me to take it easy after a surgery, with her first-hand knowledge coming from cleaning her OUTSIDE house windows after having the same procedure done years prior. Family is everything to her, and I hope she has many years left to enjoy them. She is one of the toughest women I know.

My friend, Kezia, mom of a blended family, proves a woman CAN have it all. She juggles her family life with professional responsibilities while honing a balance of the two and grieving the lost her best friend/sister just over a year ago.

Not everyone has the good fortune to have sisters and a niece like mine, three super strong women. Jeanna, Christy and Audra inspire me on a daily basis in everything they’ve endured and overcome. Christy amazed me with her strength in triumphing over health problems the last several years. Days when I’ve felt like a physical wreck reminded me how much of a wuss I was for thinking anything was tough in comparison to Christy teaching exercise classes while going through chemo treatment. Jeanna’s a runner who sticks with her passion regardless of aging’s indiscriminate attempt to slow her down. Audra seeks her adventurous la vida loca with courage I wish I still possessed.

My tribe extends to a family I’ve developed along the way. Alexis and Amy helped care for their ailing parents, served as their caregivers, but have still shouldered the societal judgement of choosing a childless life, which is their right as human beings. These amazing women rise above that nosiness with a class I could never muster.

My oldest and dearest yayas include Dena, Karen and Lisa. The other Karen, left this earth in 2011. We miss her like crazy but carry on our antics as often as possible. These girls, and I can say “girls” because I’ve known these women since we were girls, are part of my foundation and especially important in that regard.

Rhonda and Shelli support their friends even when their own self-care may wane. They’ve nurtured both the physical and emotional wellbeing of many a friend and family member.

My friend, Kay, recently introduced me to her delightful daughter, Jess. This plucky pair has endured a bout Jess had with breast cancer after losing their beloved husband and father. They did so with a style and grace I can’t imagine ever being able to encompass, and I admire them both greatly.

Marci, Shannon, Tina, Amanda, Robin, Amy & Dianne all manage households with smiles on their faces, many of whom lost their parents entirely too young. And, as everyone surely knows, Boy Moms can totally take anything thrown at them.

Another Amy friend searches for a treatment to works for her congenital heart condition while an unsuspecting person would never know there’s anything the matter with her. She’s also a Boy Mom who takes on the mental health care and sustenance of hundreds of high school students in her job and claims to love every minute of it. Who can love their job that much? I’m so jealous of her satisfaction there and the grace and hope with which she accepts the health hand life has dealt her. 

Last but, much like Baby, never ever put in the corner or last in line, is Sandy who motivates me and cheers me on, regardless of my latest hair-brained scheme. She packed her car full of sound equipment and TDed my “Brace Up, Girl” spoken-word showcase in May. Even on her own birthday, she spent the day “working” and called it fun. Not many will do that shit for somebody else AND drive them to the airport at the drop of a hat! Y’all should be jealous of me if she’s not your friend.

These women help enrich my life on the daily. They keep me grounded and grateful with where I’m at in this world. Yet I must also acknowledge those who got me here in the first place.

My mom labored harder than any woman in my life. She literally worked herself to the bone. I heard evidence of it through that grinding in her back with each agonizing step she took in the last months of her life as she struggled to maintain even an inkling of mobility and independence.

sorghum

accidental sorghum patch

The toughest person I will probably ever know was my dad. Beyond working a full-time manual labor job, he broke horses to ride, plowed gardens for people, grew row crops, and raised some livestock from time to time. He took care of that livestock until his cancer-ridden body would no longer allow him his labor of love and wracked his slight frame and he died at the “ripe old age” of only 55 years. I often sense his presence, even if it’s simply seeing a cattle salt lick in a field I pass or an empty cigarette pack that just happened to be his brand, and the love he instilled in me of the outdoors through which I pedal my bike.

Completing a 150-mile ride over two days this autumn is a lofty goal, but I’ll keep going until I just can’t any longer. That’s all I can try to do. The words in my head, “I might be tough, but …” need to stop. I can only try to keep getting tougher, similar to the people I admire.

I just look forward to the point when I can find some riding Zen and enjoy the process. In the meantime, my path makes me smile in rare fleeting moments.

Chicory growing along the shoulder of the road reminds me of my mentor, Bill, who served as a surrogate father for me at a time in life when I needed one. I spy other glimpses in the woods that make me think of my parents and them reassuring me how I can do this.

chicory

Those fleeting times may get me through when the other times suck and I can’t get out of my head. Much like life, this “bike-athon” (what we’d call it back in grade school) will be full of ass-kicking hills instead of the flat straightaways I enjoy so much. Kathy tells me each person’s ride is her own. Coach Cass says she turns on her favorite song and enjoys the day. Maybe one day I can, too.

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I Feel Fine

Day 1.jpg

Sherrell bid the year adieu at midnight with a resounding, “Good riddance!” as she gulped the dregs of her gin-and-tonic in a final act of defiance against the year now finished. Gripping the highball glass in her hand, she resisted throwing it against the wall to drive home the point. Surviving the prior 365 days, regardless of its physical and emotional difficulties wracked upon her, required all the willpower she’d been able to muster.  

All other party-goers around the room raised their drinks to toast the incoming new year, circled noisemakers in the air, and blew paper horns in celebration. She silently envied their jubilation and wished she shared such a sense of optimism. The next 12 months surely held a more positive outcome, if only she could imagine it.

Her friend, Frank, grabbed Sherrell’s hand to swing her around. “Come on, Sher, let’s dance! ”

Frank talked her into coming to the party regardless of all her excuses meant to avoid it. “No, thanks,” she told him. “I’m going to just grab a drink.” She turned her empty glass upside down to emphasize the point, suddenly glad she hadn’t catapulted it into the wall after all.

He wouldn’t let go of her hand, though. “You’re divorced now. It’s time you had some fun!”

If that springtime change hadn’t been enough, a car accident in late June caused so many lost days at work they let Sherrell go. “I’m too exhausted, Frank. My new job has me worn out. I just want another drink.” 

Frank’s arms swung akimbo while his pelvis gyrated violently and eyebrows also pranced quickly up and down, as if those motions might convince her to join the fray of other people in relative expressions of excitement. He waggled a finger enticingly toward where she stood on the sideline listless and brooding. 

Sherrell couldn’t help chuckling at Frank’s dorky invitation. He could’ve asked someone else to come with him who, most likely, would be a much funner companion. This was one night in the earth’s last full rotation of the sun that allows complete abandon of all seriousness. Life provided her enough seriousness in that time frame. 

“Oh, shiiiiit, girl! That’s my jam!” Frank bellowed when REM’s “End of the World As We Know It” blasted through the speakers. His body went into a wild spin, head whirling on the axis of his neck, arms now floated askew.

Sherrell recognized those old chords and Michael Stipe’s voice from the past, what seemed like a lifetime ago, when she had far fewer serious concerns than now. The portent of those lyrics mirrored the past period of existence, a stage now — thank God — behind her.

Her shoulders collapsed in capitulation, and her feet moved forward, seemingly of their own volition. “Screw it! Let’s go, Frank. I wanna dance!” 

→→→→→ Here’s to a better 2019! ÷←←←←←

Day 1 photo courtesy of Matt Preston via Flickr through Creative Commons license

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Silenced Song

trumpet

Norman actually bragged on his body’s ability to create such an incredible level of stench. “I damn near ran everybody outta the bathroom at a bar in Dallas,” he laughed and hooked both thumbs in belt loops to hike up the waist of jeans trapped under his burgeoning girth. “That’s what they get on burrito night!” The man had no shame.

People joked about those generous bodily functions, even when they were canvassing the shoulder of the road for trash along a stretch emblazoned with a highway cleanup sign that read, “Sponsored by the Friends of Norman Blevins.” When the fellas down at the MFA heard about his passing, one commented, “That ornery ol’ cuss had a heart of gold. We all just loved him.” They’d slap him on the shoulder and laugh at his bad jokes. Many people felt the same way and ignored his flaws in favor of his endearing, if not slovenly, charm. He’d help anybody if their dead battery needed a jump or give them a hand with livestock.

Norm’s entrance at the tavern seemed an episode of that old show Cheers, with people calling his name when he walked through the door. He’d holler, “Lemme buy you a beer,” upon seeing a friend. Someone else would show up, so they’d have a few more. Most patrons thought the world of Norman and thought nothing at all of his getting behind the wheel to drive himself home.

They couldn’t believe the tragic newspaper headline announcing the accidental deaths of Norman Blevins and Brian Johnson..

Mrs. Johnson didn’t know Norman. She never met him since they lived in different parts of town, she on the opposite side where mostly black folks lived. The white patrolman who told came to deliver the news of her son’s death didn’t know her either. He’d only been in that neighborhood on past calls. If not for a few boys from there playing high school ball, cops only knew the ones who caused trouble.

Brian was a shy kid who made good grades. He hadn’t arrived home from band practice when his mother opened the door to find a state trooper who asked, “Are you Mrs. Johnson?” She didn’t hear anything else he said after he first uttered those words every parent dreads they might. They felt like a blow to her stomach.

Brian died at the hospital after being hit by a truck on his way home after school. A witness going in the other direction saw Norman Blevins’ truck tires drop off the shoulder and him swerve across the road and over-correct. A black teenager walking on the opposite grass shoulder got struck, thrown into the air, and propelled into the ditch. Much like the discarded bottles thrown out of vehicle windows and strewn along the road. The boy’s trumpet case lay hidden in the tall weeds until his younger brother found it while searching a few days after the funeral.

Norman had been headed back to town, set out for home from a bar he frequented out on the highway. His friends said with the twilight at that time of day he may not have realized he hit anything. The man they knew would never even hurt a fly. Blevins’ friends had the highway department put up a memorial sign within just a few weeks.

It disappeared in a couple days, though. Blades of foxtail later grew up through holes in the metal “Friends of Norman Blevins” signpost that stayed there in the ditch where Brian’s brother threw it in desperate anger and grief. His brother replaced it with a cross made of sticks, wound together with handles torn from Brian’s backpack he would never carry again. The boy meant the marker as a clarion so people might notice his brother’s absence from the world.

Brian didn’t hold a position like Blevins or his friends, but Brian’s brother wanted to show that he’d still been there. He just didn’t have the time to make as big an impression as the man who killed him. Only his teachers and their neighbors knew Brian, but his brother wanted everyone else to remember him, too. Although he would never play his trumpet again, it would still be heard.

*Writing prompt – ornery from Our Write Side

photo: Karen via Flickr

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In Over Her Head

underwater.jpgThey watched the house through heat vapor that rose up from the road and waited impatiently as the family got ready to leave for vacation. First the fifth wheel emerged from its long metal carport like a snake shedding its skin, and the wealthy family began loading coolers and supplies. All the markings of those folks being out of town for quite awhile.

Terrance and Larry watched from the tree line beside the Thompsons’ driveway, far enough away to not be seen, as sweat ran down their foreheads. The juvenile delinquents knew exactly when the neighbors drove away for their extended holiday, and the backyard swimming pool was no longer off limits to them. With temps well above 100, they’d sweltered the summer away and couldn’t wait to cool off in the decadent water.

Larry screamed, “It’s ours now!” The other two followed his lead and scrambled over the wooden fence behind him. Any splinters gained would soon be soothed in chlorinated coolness. The boys stripped down to jump in wearing their Jockey shorts, and Haley took swam in her tank top and undies.

She dove in the deep end and distanced herself from the boys as quickly as possible at the opposite side of the pool, kicked her thin legs up over the side, and lay back in the water with her rear end resting on the concrete side wall. That position left her ears submerged to muffle the noise of those idiots as they splashed and dunked each other. The liquid muted their sluicing around and brought sweet relief from both the barrage of heat and constant volume of nonsense. Their tussle became a far off sound, another thing she could pretend wasn’t happening.

Reclined like that, the world faded away. Haley stared at the clouds as they drifted across her line of sight. One billowy mass formed the shape of Italy, the heeled boot across the great ocean, which made her smile. She closed both eyes and the image stayed imprinted inside her lids. I wish I could go there, she thought.

Haley wanted to stay in the water, enveloped in the sense of security it gave her. No worry about lack of air conditioning at her house. No thoughts of whether her mom and dad would be fighting when she got home.

Poolside, the boys argued about their plans for later. Terrance warned that a prolonged stay might raise the attention of other nosy neighbors and possibly the cops. He cautioned, “We better not stay here too long. ‘Sides, we got that party to go to across town.”

“I don’t think it’s no ghetto party,” Larry replied. “They might even have some free beer.”

Terrance gave the concrete beside Haley’s legs a hard thwack with his flattened palm. “You listenin’ to us, girl? We gots to go.”

Her eyes popped open with a start, and her calves scraped across the pavement to splash back in the water. “Whydya do that? You made me hurt myself!”

“Oh, boo hoo,” he told her. “That ain’t all that’s gonna hurt if you don’t hurry up. We gotta get outta these wet clothes. Come on!”

Haley pushed back off the side of the pool to go under water again and let its briskness embrace her one last time.

Our Write Side writing prompt – thwack

photo: Piscina by Daniel Lobo

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Reunited

punch glass

final installment in Reunion series – following New Old Friends

Gwen and Jennifer continued their conversation with Gwen’s husband, Cameron, while sipping vodka-spiked punch that kept the trio in a celebratory mood. They rose glass after glass to toast health and friendship, and the awkward confrontation with Jennifer’s ex earlier in the evening was soon forgotten.

Other classmates stared from adjacent seats, perhaps jealous of their lively exchange, and seemed catatonic in comparison. Laughter exploded from their table and even caught the attention of Matt’s young wife. Despite her bedazzling appearance with no lines emerging  on her face like everyone else’s there, the poor woman looked trapped in a dutiful gloom of boredom. Anyone watching the scene would feel her palpable disappointment at coming to his 20-year high school class reunion.

She could’ve used a drink if not for her husband’s self-proclaimed, if not pretentious, victory over his alcoholism. Jennifer remembered their teenage dalliances during what seemed a short time but actually happened over two decades ago, how she and Matt practiced anything but safe sex. They, as stupid kids, drank a lot and took more chances than other not-so-lucky couples.

What she couldn’t recall was how she and Gwen ever became friends. Was it in class, at lunch, maybe even in the principal’s office? Jen saw enough of the administrative wing back when she spent several days in detention for skipping school with Matt.

Gwen seemed to read her mind. The woman confessed, “We only had one class together, Jennifer. Gym in freshman year. Back when so many girls bullied me because I was big. Bigger than any of them anyway.” Jennifer looked down at her lap in hopes she wasn’t one of them.

“Oh, no,” Gwen said efficaciously. “Not you. You were the only one nice to me in P.E.” Jennifer exhaled, glad to know she hadn’t been one of the culprits. “Or at least took up for me, though you didn’t really know me. You told them to shut up and leave me alone.”

Jennifer nodded, relieved. “I have to admit I don’t remember. Some of those girls were such jerks, I tried to not act like them. They could be so mean. At least I didn’t participate in that.”

Gwen’s husband sat quietly listening to their conversation and reached over to clasp his wife’s folded hands as she stared blankly across the room. Cameron sensed the subject’s obvious sensitivity, as Gwen absentmindedly rubbed the inside of one wrist. After the awkward silence, she nodded toward a group of people standing beside the dance floor. “A couple of them are right over there.”

Cameron and Jennifer turned to look at the bunch, and Jennifer recognized two girls she’d ran around with back in school. Gwen continued, “I was pretty torn up about all that for a while. Even into college when I met Cameron.” She squeezed her husband’s hand, and he smiled at her reassuringly.

“It was hard for me to come tonight, but I vowed to never let people like that bother me again. To be proud of who I am.” Gwen shrugged and laughed, “Cameron always tells me I’m beautiful, even though I know he’s exaggerating.”

“You are to me, hon,” Cameron said. He got up to refresh their empty punch glasses.

A brief silence followed his leaving before Jennifer finally said, “I’m really glad you came up to talk to me tonight, Gwen. I was pretty nervous about coming here myself because I didn’t want to see Matt. You’ve made it fun, and I forgot all about that despicable person. So thanks.”

“You’re welcome. And I want to thank you, too. You made my freshman year a lot more tolerable. Even if you didn’t remember me tonight.” She winked at Jennifer.

Jennifer’s mouth fell open in fake shock. “Was it that obvious?” They laughed.

“No worries,” Gwen told her. “It doesn’t matter, because we’re friends now.” She glanced up at her husband’s return to the table. He held three partially-filled glasses of punch, and Gwen pulled a bottle of clear alcohol out of her purse to fill the remaining space in each. “Let’s toast to that!”

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – efficacious s30p

Image: blogto.com

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New Old Friends

Part three of Reunion series: previous installment – Dying Embers

pink drink

Almost everyone was dressed to the nines, most likely to try and impress each other. A high school class reunion is the opportune time to pretend to be someone a person is not. Matt had no pretense, though. The ragged jeans and faded polo shirt he wore made him resemble a ragamuffin, and he probably felt overdressed. Jennifer wondered if he owned any other clothing than a blue work shirt with his name stitched on the pocket.

She tried to make her mouth move as she stared at him, willed herself to come up with a snappy come-back to his rudeness, to say anything. Instead, she stood there slack-jawed and stammering while he looked at her expectantly. His bimbo wife joined him, having followed him across the ballroom like a lost puppy. Or just a jealous young wife. Jennifer looked beyond Matt’s shoulder at the woman clicking awkwardly on stilettos, which was easier than looking Matt in the eye.

Her old love was right there in front of her, and he waited for some type of response. He asked, “Are you already drunk? I’d say it’s pretty early in the night for that.”

Jennifer was stunned into silence, but the classmate friend whose name she couldn’t remember spoke for her. The woman was so tall she towered over Matt’s head. Unfortunately, her embroidered attire was almost as atrocious as Matt’s. Sweater Vest asked him, “What kind of hello is that, Matt? Pretty judgey coming from you. I remember you being quite the drinker back in the day.”

“Not any more. I’ve been in recovery for six months now, in fact,” he paused, staring at the woman. He moved the pair of sunglasses that rested on his balding head to a front shirt pocket. It had been dark outside for a few hours, so maybe he left them there instead of getting a hair transplant. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t talking to you,” he went on. “Jennifer …”

Standing next to Matt, his petite wife’s eyes flashed between him and Jennifer as if they volleyed a tennis ball back and forth. Hands on her hips in indignation, she clearly didn’t like being ignored by them.

“Oh, forgive me. I’m Gwen Collins,” Sweater Vest told Matt. “Of course, you wouldn’t remember me. You never spoke to me in school, but I’m a friend of Jen’s.” Gwen gripped Jennifer’s shoulder with a protective arm. She suddenly liked having the long limb around her in solidarity.

Gwen continued, “Congratulations on your new sobriety, but you don’t have to act so superior. We all remember how you used to act when drunk. Don’t be such a downer. This is a party.”

Jennifer finally found her voice. “It’s good to see you, Matt. And your wife.” She tossed her head in the wife’s direction, and the woman smiled at finally being acknowledged. “I was just reminiscing with Gwen, so please excuse us.” She got a tiny rush turning her back on Matt. Damn, she thought, is that all I could come up with? 

She waited a moment until the couple retreated across the dance floor and then told Gwen, “Thank you so much for that.” Jennifer felt a twinge of guilt at initially not remembering the big woman.

“Don’t mention it,” Gwen said. “Now, let’s go get a drink.” She grabbed Jennifer’s hand, grinned widely, and pulled her toward the table where her husband sat waiting. He lifted a glass as if to toast the women’s approach.

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – ragamuffin  s30p

photo: Sheri Wetherell (Flickr Creative Commons)

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Dirty Tricks

cemetery

Gravel-road cruising while getting drunk was not her favorite weekend activity, but stopping at a church cemetery off the beaten path rated even worse. Blythe agreed to go with a friend because the duo had been invited by boys, one on whom Caroline had a crush, and his buddy didn’t want to be a third wheel.

“Caroline, you are going to owe me big time,” she whispered in the girl’s ear when the driver turned to head out of town. Cute or not, these guys seemed up to no good. Alcohol only exacerbated their fiendishness.

Dylan and Bradley laughed, as if sharing an inside joke, and practically fell out of the truck when it slid to a stop. “I’m gonna go take a piss,” the driver announced. His friend chuckled knowingly and agreed, “Yeah, I gotta go, too,” and trailed after him. The two took off at a sprint and disappeared into the darkness beyond a line of decrepit grave markers. Whatever they aimed to do, Blythe wanted no part of it.

She grabbed Caroline’s arm when she started to slide across the seat toward the door. “This is not a good idea, Caroline,” she warned, but the girl jumped out anyway. “Oh, come on! Don’t be such an old lady, Blythe.”

Caroline pulled Blythe unwillingly out of the truck and across the grass, wet with dew, and headed toward the church. Blythe’s feet became soaked and grew cold, and she began to shiver. “This place is giving me the creeps,” she said. “I don’t think we should be here. It seems disrespectful.”

“Let’s go, Blythe! We should look for the guys. See what they’re up to,” Caroline urged as they crossed the cemetery gate. She could be such an airhead when she liked someone, especially a goofball like Bradley.

Blythe replied, “No way. I don’t care where those jerks went.” She regretted her decision when she gaped out at the emptiness surrounding her and suddenly felt scared. All she could see was a mist obscuring most of the landscape. A mishmash of tombstones stood in the distance, some upright and others leaning in disrepair.

Half expecting a revenant being to emerge above the monuments, Blythe crouched down behind one to hide. Her hands shook as she peeked around its rough stone edges to see if anyone else was near. Touching the grave marker chilled her fingertips even more. “Damn you guys,” she muttered under her breath, not daring to make any noise.

The vista lay menacingly in front of her. She felt in her bones that nothing good would come of the situation, and a chill ran down her spine. She thought of an old superstition about how a shiver meant someone walked across your grave.

“Come back, Caroline,” she whispered into the blank night as loudly as she dared. Blinking back tears, she squinted her eyes tightly in disbelief at the frightening sight a hundred yards or so away from her position. The girl froze in horror.

Spectral images floated above the lowest level of fog hugging the ground. She had a hard time believing her eyes and wished she hadn’t accepted her friend’s invitation to come out. Being back at home beneath warm blankets would’ve been so much wiser.

“It isn’t real! It isn’t real!” she kept repeating to convince herself while mentally berating Caroline for talking her into coming on such a hair-brained roadtrip. She felt a breeze rush past her that gently glided across her body and rose goose-bumps on her skin.

Blythe parted her lips slightly to call out for her friend but dared not bring the wraiths’ attention her way. She could hear the boys laughter echoing from out beyond the church yard but had no idea where they could be. Caroline was nowhere to be seen either, so Blythe decided it was now or never.

She jumped up and ran back to the truck to discover the keys still in the ignition, which solidified her decision to abandon them all. She felt bad about leaving Caroline, but it was every woman for herself.

Fleeing the scene as quickly as she could, Blythe glanced into the rearview mirror. She felt only slight remorse at seeing either Dylan or Bradley, but not knowing which one, running down the gravel road after the truck. His arms pin wheeled in the air as if grasping for help. Although slightly blurred by dust spun up from the tires, several wavering figures appeared to be following closely behind the boy.

“Sucks to be you,” Blythe groaned. She stepped on the gas pedal and sped away.

 

– photo: Garrett Gabriel via Flickr

s30p*writing prompt – revenant

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A Representative Fissure

2253163393_b73f8c5457_o.jpgIt can take a lifetime to figure out what makes another person tick. Even someone you’ve known a since childhood. Despite the quirky persona, in spite of the long relationship, even though you’ve always felt a fondness for him. You never expected such from a friend. Especially not a person from your same parish, who grew up on the same block.

We all know the dude, the one whose consternation makes him stick out like a semi-conspicuous sore, if not arthritic, thumb. He’s camouflaged under an image, but getting to know him better sometimes shows the inner workings of his mind and an inconsistent attitude about humanity. He’s the guy from Sunday school class, the one who still goes to Bible study, the good ol’ guy. But he can still surprise me.

We take a road trip now and then. Once he offered, “You know I’m glad this term is finally almost over. It’s about time to ‘Make America Great Again.’ You know, like they say.”

“Who’s they?” I ask him, shaking my head in dismay.

“Oh, you know what I mean. New blood. Somebody in office more like you and me, brother,” he replies.

The furrow of my brow and head waggling back and forth surely affirms my disagreement. Just in case he doesn’t get it, I tell him, “Not me. I like the guy there just fine. Personally, I think this country is already great.”

Our paths went in different directions in adulthood, but he’s not a complete rube. We’ve known each other forever and agree on some matters but other times not so much. My friend must think I concur on the subject. He says, “We need a good, God-fearing man in there, I tell ya. You get me, right?”

I guffaw. “We’re going to have to agree to disagree on that one, buddy.” The interior of the car becomes awkwardly silent at that point.

Gallivanting down the Interstate, I turn away from the conversation at that particularly cringe-worthy moment and take in the leafless branches of spindly trees along the road. They reach up to pull the milky sun out from behind blurry clouds in what Johnny Cash must’ve surely meant by an “atomic sky.” My thoughts get mixed there among the haze, my mind grasping to forget the bromide from the passenger seat.

The granular landscape doesn’t save my senses from the rant’s residue.

I don’t want to be all judgy and pigeon hole my old friend as a total mossback. It’s hard not to when times like this reveal exactly how far apart our worldviews are, how fundamentally different we’ve become. I’m sure he senses the divide between us widening as much as I do.

As we reach our final destination the air between us yet hangs ominously heavy and still. He asks, “We on for dinner after church on Sunday?” I shrug. “Sure, man. See you then.”

s30p

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – quirky

Image: Natalie via Flickr

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