Fiction, Flash Fiction, Love, Marriage, Writing

Normal – a Flash Fiction Piece

“I won’t sleep in our bed.”

“What was that, ma’am?”

I glance at the cab driver. “Nothing.”

“It’s alright, ma’am. I talk to myself plenty.”

Do what’s normal. It’s what my aunt advised for after the funeral. After. Everything will be marked as before and after now.

Sliding the clasp of my necklace back behind my tired curls, I whisper at the empty seat beside me, “We’ll talk about this at home.”

Do what’s normal.

Pay the driver.

Nod at the doorman.

Press the elevator button.

It dings its arrival. Is it always that loud? Two others board the elevator with me. Strange since the lobby echoes like a canyon yet I didn’t hear them approach.

I grow impatient once the doors close. “I won’t sleep in our bed, Ian. I can’t.”

My fellow passengers turn, chins over shoulders, then lower their eyes to the floor.

The doors open and I exit before speaking again. “The guest bed is comfortable. Don’t worry about me.” I stop, key in my fist. “Can you worry where you are?”

The breakdown starts in my knees. It will spread to my back and my arms, then my whole body will collapse to the floor. I picture myself curled on the green straw welcome mat in front of the Lancasters’ door. “No.” Digging the key into my palm, I walk.

“Fine. I’ll sleep in the damn bed. Are you happy?”

The question does me in. I shove our door – my door – open and fall down in privacy. When the shaking and the tears pass, I roll to my back; knees up, feet planted. There’s a tiny run in my tights that I pull at with my fingernail until it tears over my thigh. I stand and remove my black heels, ruined black tights, and black dress. When I drop the tights in the trash, I linger two seconds before adding the shoes and the dress.

Do what’s normal.

“That’s why I have to talk to you.” Normal is talking to Ian about the day, the news, the basketball game he’s watching that I don’t care about and the book I’m reading that he doesn’t care about.

In our bedroom – my bedroom – I pick up our wedding photo from the desk. “This won’t do.”

From the bookshelves, I dump a box of photographs on the carpet. With the pictures spread in a half moon, I survey them without seeing details. I can’t endure the details. “Where is it?” I shout a second before my eyes land on it. “Oh, Ian.”

My favorite one. I trace my fingertip over his cheek, his mouth. I ache for a kiss. I haven’t ached like this since our first years together when we still made love more nights than not.

“We’ll talk more tomorrow.”

My black bra and panties go in the trash too. The photo goes on his pillow beside me. I fall asleep flat on my back, hands resting one over the other on my stomach, like him.

Friendship, Love, Marriage

Seven Years Ago

Seven years ago on this day, I went to dinner with my sister, our mutual best friends, and the husband of one of those friends. We ate at one of our favorite restaurants, Good Company, in Appleton, WI. The hostess seated us around a large circular table in the front section of the first floor of the large, two-story restaurant. Later that evening we would attend a concert at a local church. Our conversations probably ran through a gamut of topics. I don’t know. I only remember one.

I told them about a coworker who lately was offering frequent smiles and inquiries into how my day was faring. Occasionally he invited me to join a group of peers for lunch. Sometimes the flirtation was clear but more often he left the impression of straightforward, genuine friendliness. After encountering him each workday, I usually wondered two things: was I assuming too much about his interest and, if not, then why the hell was he interested in me? I’d sit in my chair behind the reception desk, running reports, handling mail, and finding ways to pass the slower hours. He’d walk by to reach our adjacent show room, on his way to fix whatever technical issue had cropped up on one of the machines. Eye contact, smile, small talk or a joke, then the day rolled along.

I consistently turned down the invitations to lunch. I kept the small talk brief. I silently questioned why this guy bothered to talk to me. My skepticism was not because I was clueless – which might have been excusable considering my lack of adult dating experience – but because I was afraid. Oh, how I was afraid. All the seeds for that fear were planted in earlier years, having nothing to do with this man and everything to do with me.

At dinner that night, as we waited for our entrees to arrive, my closest friends listened to me talk about this man. Eventually, one of them interrupted me with a single demand: the next time he invited me to lunch, I had to say yes. I laughed and she asserted the demand more vehemently while the others added their support. They did not relent until I agreed.

I spent the rest of that Saturday evening negotiating with the fears in my head. I spent the remainder of the weekend debating whether or not I hoped my coworker would invite me to lunch just one more time. The following Tuesday I shared a meal with my husband for the first time.

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.
Joseph Campbell

A couple months after that first lunch date.

And 6 1/2 years later.
Catholicism, Faith, Family, Gratitude, Holiness, Intentionality, Jesus, Love, Motherhood, Saints

Apostles of Joy

Yesterday, I witnessed the appearance of pure joy on the rosy cheeked face of my daughter. Again and again, her expression lit up like she was standing in the path of a sunbeam. Her smile flashed as wide as she could make it. Her laughter burst forth contagiously until I was giggling in unison.
St. Teresa of Calcutta stated that “joy is a net of love by which we catch souls.”
“Man cannot live without joy,” according to St. Thomas Aquinas.
Pope Francis advised that all Christians ought to be “apostles of joy.”
What brought on my daughter’s supreme display of joy? Bubbles. That’s all. To her two year old mind, they were wondrous works of art, wrought by magic and created expressly for her. I sat in a chair on our little deck outside the living room blowing bubbles. Even when she was ready to move on to other activities, I kept going. I didn’t want it to end. I needed to witness her joy.
In the hours since, I’ve contemplated both her joy and my reaction to it. That sort of joy arises when something unexpected and incredible appears before us. It’s easy to see why it exists in children as young as my daughter: everything is still new and unexpected at that age. Young children are easily impressed and easily pleased.
 
I am already sad for the days when I begin to recognize in my children a departure from this manner of encountering the world. It will happen though. Fewer and fewer things will feel unexpected or incredible. Must it be that way though? Could I, at 35 years old, experience that uninhibited, simple joy more often? Could joyful become one of my trademark attributes?
 
It’s worth finding out the answer to those questions. Joy adds vigor and spirit to daily living. It inspires gratitude, hope, and contentment – as well as arises from the same. It spreads from person to person, improving the quality of life further and further down the chain of people with whom we are each linked. Rediscovering a way of joy is worth the effort.
 
How do we become characterized by joyfulness in a manner that harkens back to that abundant childhood joy?
  1. Realize every earthly beauty was made for you but you have not earned any of it. Do you realize the world didn’t have to be made beautiful? God could design creation however he pleased. Purely functional might have been the only standard. Beautiful, enjoyable, fun, wondrous, exciting, incredible – God gave creation these aspects for our edification and, most importantly, for us to know Him through creation. He did it for you. He made the colors, textures, scents, and sounds for you. He gave you comprehension of these realities so that you might share in His nature. This He did entirely out of love for you. Encountering your world with this perspective can cast it all in a light that leads to joy.
  2. Engage now and do so without self-consciousness. We are trained to multi-task; to be efficient and productive. We plan. We prep. We do, do, do. We miss so much. Engage in the present moment as thoroughly as you can manage. My husband has been working on teaching me this for years now. Be present and don’t apologize for doing so. A reaction of joy can feel embarrassing, and what a sad statement that is about our accepted mentality! Lose the shame over experiencing joyful wonder at the bits of beauty and goodness that are taken for granted by many people.
  3. Believe your joy is a gift to others. They need it. Your family, friends, coworkers; the person sitting in the church pew with you; the cashier at the grocery store; the elderly man hobbling past you on the sidewalk; the tired parent handling the kids at the park. All of them need your joy. Your children need you to derive joy from their silliness. Your spouse needs to laugh with you and perhaps be reminded of the beauty shadowed by the daily grind. Your friends need a voice that replaces cynicism with joy. It is no surprise we become numb to the goodness available to us in life. Our senses are battered by harshness at every turn and joy is a healing balm.

An apostle of joy is a person who allows joy to be a defining theme of their life and who will carry that joy into the presence of anyone within their influence. If you don’t know where to begin, start with gratitude. Gratitude begets joy. And when you need an extra boost, watch a the face of a child chasing bubbles. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

    Fiction, Flash Fiction, Love, Marriage, Writing Prompt

    The Rhythm of His Heart

    Writing Prompt: I fell asleep to the rhythm of his heart.
    Writing Time: 15 minutes

    She laid her head on his chest, letting her nerves be soothed by his heartbeat. She felt her own heart steady itself. They’d been fighting all week. They’d been fighting for months, in truth. With each burst of regrettable words and cold glares, her heart raced. It pounded against her rib cage in a combination of threat and reassurance: a threat that it could become more than she could handle – more than they could come back from; a reassurance that she had not reached, and could not imagine reaching, a point of no longer caring if they could recover.

    Every couple went through times like this. That’s what she believed. Turmoil was found in every coupling. Sometimes she was tempted to think their particular brand of turmoil could be worse than others but mostly she was confident it was not. It was what their bond, forged in passion and affection and joy, prepared them for.

    Here with her ear over his heart, she hoped he still believed likewise. Despite her share in the mistakes and the pain they caused him, she hoped he still believed.

    As his breathing slowed into sleep, she wracked her brain for how she could convince him that she was still glad she chose him. He needed to know she was still choosing him. That was the way she’d fallen short so often in these months. Her grandmother’s words at her bridal shower all those years ago came back to her.

    “Choose each other every day. Above everybody else, choose each other. Even when you’re busy or you can’t physically be near each other, make sure your hearts are still choosing each other. There are so many things and so many people to choose from. You’ll be tempted to let it slide because you already have each other, but you’ll only have each other for as long as you keep choosing each other.”

    In her naive, bridal bliss, the advice seemed quaint. Here, multiple kids, jobs, houses, and sufferings later, she understood.

    “I choose you,” she whispered into his chest and fell asleep to the rhythm of his heart.

    Fiction, Full of Days, Love, The Hidden Legacy, Writing

    What Is the Book About?

    “What is the book about?”
    I couldn’t possibly count the number of times I have heard this question. Sometimes people want a summary of the plot. Other times they are looking for the genre or a succinct synopsis. Easy question to answer, right? Right.
    As the author, maybe because I am specifically a new author, I find the question difficult. How do I condense this story down to a few simple sentences? This story I’ve been writing and tweaking and rewriting for almost a decade. These characters I created from scratch and know like my best friends. Their relationships, their dilemmas, their pains and victories. How do I answer that question?
    Then I stumbled upon this photo from the online magazine, “Verily.” I saw it and exclaimed, “That’s it!”
    “Do not be afraid when love requires sacrifice.” (St. John Paul II)
    That right there is my book pared down to one sentence. The theme at the heart of Full of Days is the worthiness of love even when sacrifices are necessary for its existence. That truth is the reason I wrote it. Extending from this theme are the additional claims: that love’s worth is essentially increased by those sacrifices and that no authentic love is capable of existing without some sacrifice.
    In Full of Days, the protagonists experience this truth in varied ways. Sacrifice of pride and of approval. Sacrifice of comfort and security. Sacrifice of self. The latter is the only means for love to thrive. Do not mistake it for a pretty, romantic notion. It is the depth beneath the romance. It is the struggle beneath the prettiness. Self-sacrifice is the sustenance of love.
    And, oh, the rewards! Freedom gained when pride and fear are rejected. Joys and adventures experienced when security is set aside and faith is boldly chosen. Strength built by arising from sorrow. Yes, my beloved characters experience these too.
    If there is anything, anything at all, I hope my readers gain from this novel, it is a little less fear of and a little more courage for authentic love.
    Advent, Christmas, Family, Love

    She Would Have Loved That

    Two years ago my last grandparent, my maternal grandmother, passed away. Her death came in the week before Thanksgiving and so inevitably she enters my thoughts a lot in this holiday season. Similarly, it is summertime when my paternal grandmother comes to mind most often as my final memory of her was a family picnic at my parents’ house on a warm summer day. Sunshine warmed grass between my toes, family sitting in chairs in the yard, Grandma Theresa makes herself present with us. Now, in the bustle of family focused holidays and age old traditions, Grandma Evelyn is here with me.

    Grandma Evelyn with my firstborn, a few months before she passed.

    During Sunday Mass last weekend, I leaned over to my husband and whispered, “Grandma would have loved this men’s choir.” The rich, reverent harmonies could have been from any number of old albums of hymns she used to play on her cassette deck next to her favorite chair. I savored every song during that Mass, enjoying it on her behalf.

    Then at the end of Mass, I approached the giving tree set up near the sanctuary. Typically I choose a request for a child’s gift from these trees. It gives me a special kind of joy to know a young child will be happier on Christmas day thanks to a small sacrifice on my family’s part. It was with this same intention that I went to find this year’s star on the giving tree. But what did I find on the first star I read? A little Christmas wish list for an elderly woman that could have been my grandmother’s list pretty much every single year. My eyes filled with tears and I swallowed a lump of emotion in my throat as I plucked the star from the tree. I get to shop for my Grandma.

    When I read that Christmas list and kept thinking, “she would have loved that,” with each item, I realized something I hope I won’t forget. Remembering our loved ones gone from this world is a special thing but loving on others with the very love your heart has marked for the ones you lost is immeasurably greater.

    Faith, Love, Personal Reflection

    It’s Okay to Love Your Country

    For months now, thoughts about my homeland have been crossing my mind. The events that take over the daily headlines have me contemplating America in what she used to be and what she has become. With these thoughts, mixed feelings are felt and levels of hope and despair fluctuate.

    On Sunday, I watched a lot of football. Three times I stood in my living room as dozens of individuals stretched out a flag covering the entire square footage of the playing field. Three times I listened through a moment of silence for the 15th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks followed by a performance of our national anthem. Three times I got choked up.

    Only two times I felt embarrassed. When the feelings of silliness began to rise during the third occasion, they were sent packing with one simple thought: it’s okay to love my country.

    I’ve noticed a tendency toward extremes in people’s statements on America lately. So much of it goes all the way back to our collective reaction to September 11th. That attack felt intensely personal even to those of us who did not know individuals lost that day. I remember the sensation of protectiveness, of “how dare you hurt what is mine!” A new era of patriotism was ushered in, justifiably and beneficially so at the time. The experience awakened in many of our hearts a hibernating bear of attachment to our country.

    As is perhaps bound to happen though, the fierce plunge into patriotism was taken to an extreme by some. A refusal to hear a word against America and its culture; a disdain for most other nations and nationalities; a fear of anything that appeared outside the realm of what we now held so dear about our homeland. Then the last 10 years or so saw a whiplash reaction; a violent swing to the other end of the spectrum where a high regard for our nation is ridiculed as blind and foolish.

    The extremes frustrate me. I see patriotism as a genuine love of home and country. Genuine love is unconditional but it is not naive. Maybe the extremes are rooted in a misunderstanding of unconditional love. To love someone unconditionally is to love them through anything and everything. Highs and lows, achievements and mistakes, rights and wrongs; love them through it all. Unconditional love is not dependent on the other person earning the love. It is dependent on the giver of love choosing to offer it no matter what. However – and this is an important ‘however’ – unconditional love is not a refusal to recognize flaws. It is not turning a blind eye to what needs to change in the beloved. It is loving them despite the existence of those flaws and seeking productive ways to help them make changes in their best interest.

    The extremes aren’t authentic love. One is claiming that because you love your country, anyone who has anything to say against her be damned. The other is a refusal to love her so blindly but then just as blindly treating her as wholly unlovable. Neither are true patriotism.

    It’s okay to be moved by the sight of soldiers, firemen, policemen, and athletes all holding a football field sized flag. It’s also okay to look at the political system with a critical eye. It’s okay to oppose a federal law that contradicts what you know to be morally good. It’s also okay to teach your children to be proud to be American.

    It’s okay to love your country.