Missing Old Times

The basement ceiling is still streaked with marks from when we used to play football. Made-up goal lines, just in front of the bar. I really don’t know how we didn’t break the glass case, shelved with wine and beer glasses, in the corner behind the bar. It’s a good thing. Grandma would have lost her shit.

How many touchdown passes had been thrown in that basement from when you kids used to live here? So many the Bears would have been envious.

The bin of swords we used to fight with, sometimes against each other, other times against imagined zombies, has been packed away a long time ago. That time I took your swords from you and hid them in my closet because you scared the dog, chasing him with a raised sword in your hands.  Phil didn’t understand the game. You were young, but old enough to understand the innocence of a dog. You were just being mean, because you were the youngest and used to being a menace.

So, I had to take your swords away. Not forever. Just for a little while.  Your older sister, always the protective Mother Bear, tried to sneak and steal them back, but I wouldn’t let her. She was mad at me. Her little brother could do no wrong. Ever. I used to always say that you could burn the house down and she’d yell at me if I gave you the slightest sideways look.

She used to knock on my door late at night. Two o’clock in the morning was nothing to that nine-year-old girl. I’d stop writing and we’d talk on my bed, mostly about the divorce, sometimes about other things. But we talked. The divorce happened when you were so young, and you were forgetting the memories you had of your mother and father being together. That was sad for you.

So, we talked through some memories. Popcorn movie nights with your parents. Watching Elf with your dad. That Thanksgiving at your house, when I came covered in puke because I’d thrown up with my head out the window, while Grandma sped down I55. A mixture of motion sickness and being hungover.  Your oldest brother, just a young boy then, yelled out “Auntie!” and ran to greet me at the door. I shot my arm up and stopped him like a traffic patrol.  “Don’t! Auntie has throw-up all over her.” Your father hosed the car down in your driveway, as I hosed myself down in his shower.

Birthday parties at the house you grew up, with the backyard you missed so much. The giant trampoline. The swing set you loved to hang upside down from that always pulled at my nerves. But you were fearless.

The day you came home from school after learning I was writing a lesbian book, because you’d crept up behind me the night before and read over my shoulder as I wrote on my computer, and shouted, with your backpack on your shoulders, “How’s your lesbian story coming, Auntie?”

I laughed. Your mother laughed. You were a funny nine-year-old girl.

Your other brother, just a few years older than you, was a homebody. He loved nothing more than cuddling on the couch with me watching sports or shows, mostly Pitbulls and Parolees and the Friday Night Lights series. “Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose.” You loved that.

In public, you were never the kid we had to worry about running off. You were a scared and anxious kid at times. You never strayed from my side. Ever. But your older brother, I’d lost him once at a Blockbuster on a busy Saturday night, and it was the most terrifying thirty-seven seconds of my life. I eventually found him kneeling at the end of an aisle, going through stacks of videos and DVD’s.

But you would never scare me like that. You were the boy who would take my hand in a parking lot before I even had to tell you, because you were scared of getting hit by a car. You told me your entire school schedule so that at any time during the day I could look at the clock and know what you were doing, what class you were in. You then wanted to know my daily schedule so that you could do the same with me.

That was the cutest thing. Well, maybe not as cute as the love notes you would write me when you happened to be over, and I wasn’t home. Sometimes you’d leave the notes right on top my desk, so I’d see it right away. Other times, you’d put it into a drawer and sometimes days or weeks would go by before I found the note telling me you love me. How happy you are to have me as an aunt. You’d tell me that I’m a great writer. I have all of them. All your notes. You’d ask me how many nephews love their Aunties as much as you love me. I’d say, “Probably not many.”

But you’ve all grown up and moved on with grown up lives, as children tend to do.  We can’t go back in time or relive the past, but if we could, 2014 was a good year to live again. You guys still lived here. We were so close and spent so much time together. I was healthier. Happier. I hadn’t yet known the stress of a Donald Trump presidency.  And covid was nothing but a word.

We can’t go back in time and relive the past. We can only hold our most cherished memories close to us and relive them in our hearts by never forgetting them.

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Looking Back

Cold, dark, January nights are hard to cope with on any occasion, but they’re practically unbearable when you’re already down. It was late. I’d already done my reading for the night, and I didn’t have another page in me to write. I was tired, but not tired enough to fall asleep fast on my pillow, and I knew my mind would wander too much into thoughts I’d rather not have, so going to bed wasn’t an option. 

I was fiddling around in my room and came across some old journals I used to keep. It had been years since I looked through them. They begin in 1995. I was nineteen years old. I still keep a journal. It’s therapeutic, but I discovered that night, as I read about the days of my life from twenty-seven years ago, journaling is also a time-travel machine.

I was suddenly transported to the home I grew up in and in the bedroom I dreamed of being a rockstar, and, much later, a writer. Most of the entries from my college years, and into my twenties, mention a lot about the writing courses I was taking and the stories I was writing at the time. 

Which was a bit surreal since I am currently working on one of those stories right now. It was my first completed novel. I was twenty-three years old, three years after coming out and writing about the love between two women that was still so new to me. 

The novel itself wasn’t very good, but I kept it and decided it was worth a revision. I have since turned two short stories I wrote in college, that also wasn’t very good, into two published novels. The first, A Penny on the Tracks, and the newly contracted novel, Annabel and the Boy in the Window

Little did I know then, as I wrote those stories, that they would be kept for over two decades and rewritten by the older, but not always wiser, and somewhat jaded forty-five (soon to be forty-six) year-old self. 

I miss my younger self. I often wonder if the nineteen-year-old me would be happy with where her life ended up. In reading my old journals, I didn’t live up to everything my younger self had wanted, but of course, nothing then could have warned me about health issues that would get in the way of work, love, life. 

So, I didn’t get everything checked off on my “life list,” but I am a published author, and as I spent my twenties at some dead-end jobs, that was all I dreamed of being. 

 

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Remembering Betsy

I keep a journal, and every so often I like to look back in time and read entries from years past. A recent browse through old pages brought me to a summer day in 2014. I was at one of my favorite reading/writing spots — my local Starbucks. I know, so bland, so prosaic, but at the time it was one of the places I felt creative.

I was sitting in a comfy chair near the window, reading a book, when a woman with a cane and a man, later sixties, were looking for a place to sit. There were tables available, but all seats next to the windows were taken, and apparently I was sitting in the woman’s favorite chair.

There was something childlike about the woman’s lack of inhibition, in the way she freely and unreservedly showed her disappointment at the prospect of not sitting in her favorite place. Apparently she liked sitting near the window.

The woman didn’t act in an entitled, bratty kind of a way. There was a smile on her face when she commented to the man (whom I found out later was her husband) that all the seats were taken. Though she was smiling, I noticed it was the forced, strained smile one makes while trying to make the best of an undesired situation.

I don’t remember who spoke first, her or me, but I ended up giving my seat to her, and sat at a small table close by. She was so thrilled and so appreciative, she kissed my hand and pressed it against her cheek. A sweet gesture six years ago, but horrifying to fathom someone doing that now during Covid nation. I really miss these little human interactions.

She smiled at everyone, and there was something so simply content about her that I found comforting.

We talked for a while. Found out her name was Betsy and that she had MS, which was why she needed the cane. Her husband was a retired professor, and his love for his wife was apparent in the patient way he talked to her and helped her steady the cup of coffee to her lips.

I remember fondly how my encounter with Betsy affected my day. I feel lucky to have met her and know that a person like her existed in this world. I would see her at Starbucks again a short time later, and she was as happy to see me as I was to see her. We hugged like old friends. Her husband read a newspaper as we chatted. We talked about movies, books, mediums — anything we could think of. She was so easy to talk to because she was curious and interested in everything. It was refreshing to talk to someone so open.

She made an impact on me. She gave me a memory I can always look back on and remember as being good. I didn’t need to stumble upon a six-year old journal entry to remember Betsy, but having a reason to remember her brought a smile to my face.

There aren’t many people you randomly meet in your life who six years later can still instill in you a feeling of contented happiness when you remember the short time you spent with them.

Imagine how awesome this world would be if there were more Bestsy’s out there. I hope that now, six years later, neither her illness nor life, has wiped that beautiful smile off her face.