RAIN

Gray, ballooning skies break through a crackling roar, Threatening to extinguish all life with a pounding pour; 

Pelting on shattered roof, puddled land, and drowning car, Selfishly holding hostage yesterday’s bright sun and twinkling star;

The storm’s fury secretly casts a spell of healing, so intense and melodic, The electrical dance instantly resets the frenzied and chaotic; 

No escape needed, just be brave and very still, Surrender to the cleanse, for the purification is nature’s will; 

Then come watch the waves crash and wickedly play, Soon trading their moment to praise the glowing sunshine of a brand new day.

I’m Still Here

So, I’ve been away, hiding, healing

From you and your big city territory

Rebuilding a life, a home, a sanctuary

And now I am ready to share my story

 

I have several stories, of wild crimes

Close encounters of chaos and chance

Of lusty and superficial love

Embraced in twisty, fun, flirty dance

 

Somber, darkened days behind me

Your heartache no longer my fuel

Clouds parted, lifted and sacrificed

For bright blue, sunny skies of renewal

 

I’ve been living, dreaming and climbing

Moving mountains and moving west

Paving new paths and making new friends

Reconnecting with myself, alone, a lifelong quest

 

So, it’s been a while since you’ve seen me

Even longer since you’ve heard my voice

I had to go away and surrender to change

Now rewired, my reckoning is your doing, your choice.

 

***

 

Bitter

I would have torn you with my bare hands

Had I wandered upon you, embraced with her

I would have gritted my teeth until they broke

Biting into hatred, I would soon acquire a taste for bitter

+++

I would have screamed a thousand curses

Had I seen the gentle look you once gave me, given to her

I would have thrown rocks until you slowly bled

Now living my old life, and you moving on to things newer

+++

I would have set fire to your soul and watched you burn to ash

Had I witnessed your caress on her cheek, that once was mine

I would have raged a war on the universe and the gods

For you offered yourself to temptation, and left me behind

+++

I would have cried endless tears of sorrow and pain

Had I known the guilt behind your eyes and beating pulse

I would have pushed you off the roof and watched you crash below

So I could never again know that you love someone else.

 

Done.

You want to scream, but you can’t. You won’t. You know that if you start, if you dare let go, you will never find yourself again. And then, you will lose. You will, for certain, lose.

Time only moves forward. You can’t go back. You can’t make it right. You can’t make it anything. It’s not a silly life lesson, or a minor bump in the road. You naively think that you can shake it off, in proper time. But, it lives inside you, it festers, it breathes. You cannot deny its existence, for it has formed mold onto your soul, and it’s here to stay.

You should know better, but you don’t. You’ve lived. You’ve loved. You’ve been there, done that. Maybe twice. Maybe even three times over. You might think you have it all figured out. But, you don’t. You never did. And you never will.
The years will pass as time brings you more bounty of opportunity and pleasure. But, the bounties promise nothing. Keep guarded and ready, because you will need to run and hide. Sooner than you think, or ever reasoned.

The perpetual denial you project is almost laughable. I can see and hear that old, stubborn optimism of yours! You masterfully convince yourself to hold on… to just hold tighter and get through it, to have faith. You’re always hoping and wanting for better and believing that you deserve life’s bliss. That it’s finally due. That it’s coming for you.

So you wait, and you pay close attention. You observe. You then start to participate. You’re back in the game. Some things look good, appear promising, and packaged quite nicely, luring you in. But, you’re being led. Don’t be gullible… don’t be fooled… again.

It’s quite unfortunate that you will likely make more mistakes and forego all sensibility, in the name of love. You’re human, so you will falter. It’s sadly expected. You will accept what is presented to you in your trusting, loving way. Your heart will blossom again, and you will stand proud and confident, cloaked in your false sense of security, while the universe keeps you guessing… keeps you entangled, just waiting to show its hand. You will have a lot of patience. You’ll be so strong, so committed, so admired. You will endure. And then, you will die. Congratulations! You will finally win once you’re dead. You will have outlived the next heartache.

Now, imagine you’re dead. But, really, you’re not. The opposite is true!  You are just born. You draw in your very first breath, and you look around, taking in your surroundings. It’s beautiful… it’s unbelievable. It’s Heaven! Thank goodness for Heaven! You are home! You are saved!

But, wait! Don’t sign up for harp lessons just yet. Don’t, for one second, think you can’t be baited in Heaven. Those sweet, protective angels rush to you, encircle you, they sing for you, and they guide you along. But, should one of those cupid-looking, doe-eyed angels ask if you want to come back to Earth, be sure to smack their halo to the ground, and kick their winged ass straight off their cotton-puffed cloud.

You are done.

Rosie (1)

 

“Well, this is awkward,” I say aloud to no one, as I fuss over the black sheath dress I am determined to wear today.  The baby bump is too obvious, but I don’t have another dark dress that’s appropriate for the funeral.  Besides, Rosie loves this dress.  I think she even borrowed it once or twice, without my permission of course.  I stare at my reflection in the standing oval mirror in my dressing room.  I attempt several poses at different angles, but I still look pregnant, and today is not the day to make a public announcement.  Besides, Ted and I have decided to wait until after the first trimester before sharing our news.  I have just two weeks to go, but the baby is growing so fast, we may be outed sooner.  I grab an oversized ivory silk scarf and lay it across my shoulders so that it falls perfectly around my bump, concealing it nicely. “Well, there we are,” I admire my brilliance at buying more time. 

 

I call mother for the fifth time today. I wish we lived closer so I could be more helpful to her and daddy, but Ted and I have made the city our home while he’s contracted with the New York Philharmonic.   Besides, we both enjoy the culture and diversity of the upper west side, and feel it is more conducive to raising well-rounded children.  After three rings, mother finally answers with a strain in her voice that I’ve grown accustomed to since Rosie’s passing. “Hello, darling,” she says.  “Hello, mother. How are you doing?” I ask, fully knowing the response before she speaks.  “I’m okay, love.”  My heart breaks for mother, and I want so badly to lift her mood by telling her that she will be a grandma by April, but instead, I say, “We’re leaving the city shortly. We’ll come to the house first, then go together to Woodburn’s.  How’s daddy?”  She replies, “Okay, we’ll see you in about an hour then. We’re alright, love. Just drive safe.”  We say our goodbyes, disconnect the line, and I stand in silence concerned for her, for my brothers, for myself, and especially, for daddy.

 

I apply the finishing touches of makeup to give me a bit of color, when my eye catches a framed family photo taken over Christmas holiday when we were kids.  The photo hangs amongst several by my vanity.  I draw closer to the photo, reliving that day in my mind. Ollie and I were laughing our heads off playing in a snow pile in the backyard, while Richard was trying to get his sled down a small hill a few feet from us. And there was Rosie, wearing blond pigtails, watching us. She wasn’t engaged in the fun. Maybe she was too small. Too timid.  Perhaps, she simply enjoyed watching us have a good time. As I stare more closely at the photo, I am reminded that Rosie spent a lot of time on the sidelines of life. Withdrawn. Disconnected.  My face is suddenly wet. Tears are streaming… unstoppable tears.

 

In the car ride to Westchester, I enjoy the foliage that lines the Henry Hudson Parkway.  Ted and I don’t say much as we have his classical playlist filling up the 4-Runner.  I sit stoically, admiring the magnificent colors of Fall in deepest thoughts. For the past week, I’ve been haunted by the last image I’d had of Rosie, from almost a month ago.  She knew that Ted and I were “trying” for a baby for several months. When I learned I was finally carrying, I was so excited that I had to share the news with someone other than Ted, or I was going to explode.  I knew I could confide in my baby sister.  I was going to make her an auntie, and I wanted to give her something hopeful to look forward to.

 

Rosie was the youngest child, the cliched rebellious teenager, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer with so-called friends.  I remember her midnight confession about losing her virginity at fourteen.  I was truly disappointed in her, and my reaction was not one that was congratulatory, but I feigned enthusiasm, for her sake. It was already done, and she barely knew the kid. I was twenty-one at the time, and had just returned from NYU. Rosie thought my college life was so cosmopolitan and adventurous, and I think she resented me for not visiting home more. Indeed, I left her behind when I moved to the city for school, embracing my newfound adulthood and independence. I could not properly explain, to a ‘then’ eleven-year-old, this desire, this need I had to spread my wings, without sounding like an obnoxious and self-centered college snob.  I strongly believe that that was the turning point, when she started seeking out a fast crowd and isolating herself from the family.  The guilt I now feel, about abandoning her during those awkward pre-teen years, is something I must live with forever.

 

The day I last saw Rosie, I was bubbling with early pregnancy hormones and an elation I’d hadn’t known before. She was living in Westchester, about a twenty-minute drive from the family home, in a downtown section not considered safe.  Rosie never invited me, or other family, for visits. We’d all known she was very private, and kept secrets, but we also assumed she was embarrassed by her living situation. We only saw Rosie at the family home during holidays, special occasions and sometimes for Sunday dinners.  It was early September when I’d asked Rosie to meet me at Café Chloe on Brand Street, just a few blocks from where we grew up on Benchley Place. “Is everything alright?” Rosie had asked me in a groggy, concerned voice, when I’d asked her to meet me for a coffee. “Yes, of course.  Everything is great!”  I’d assured her. “I just want to talk. I have some news to share with you and I want to tell you in person.  Can you meet me at 3:30?”  There was a long pause. A very long pause before she finally said dully, “Yeah, that’s fine.”

 

Rosie shuffled into the café and I barely recognized her. Her skin looked rough, and her small expression lines appeared deeper.  I could tell that she’d attempted to apply concealer to the dark circles under her eyes, but it didn’t seem to help. Her hair was thin, dry, and the black coloring was completely wrong on her. She was a lot thinner than the last time I’d seen her, which was late Spring when we’d all celebrated Richard’s 30th birthday.  At the café, Rosie and I greeted each other with a hug, and I could feel her bony structure through the oversized sweater that hung off her frame.  I pulled back and stared at her.  “Rosie, you’ve lost weight. You okay?” I asked, in my overly concerned, big sister tone.  Rosie quickly dismissed my question and flagged down the server to request a double espresso.  “So, what’s going on? You’ve got big news, huh?” she deflected.  “Um, yeah, but I… I’m just concerned about you. How’s work?” I pressed her for more information. Rosie, uncomfortable then, shifted in her chair as she craned her neck, looking out for her espresso, but nowhere to be found. “It’s good. It’s all fine.  Tell me your news. Should I be excited?  Are you having twins or something?” she cavalierly blurted out, baiting me to switch the focus off her.  She fidgets while still wondering about the server.  The moment I couldn’t wait to finally share had completely flatlined, and I felt uncharacteristically solemn.  The presentation I’d rehearsed on the drive up has been mentally shelved. “Ted has renewed his contract with the Philharmonic and we plan to have a celebration next month at the house, with everyone there.”  The server places the espresso on the table then, but Rosie didn’t even notice. She was fixed on me… curiously.  She knew I was lying.

The traffic was backed up on I-95 as I made my way back to the city that day.  I replayed the conversation with Rosie in my head over and over.  Have I lost my sister forever?  Is this our new normal?  What will become of her?  Of us??   I felt I’d let Rosie down in some way, that I had not been a good sister to her over the years, and was now living with the consequences.  We don’t go deep anymore, we don’t share like we used to. She keeps everything in her life so close to the vest, all her secrets and plans.  She’s completely unreadable.  I can’t even follow her on Facebook anymore because she never posts anything. Her life is a mystery and I have no place in it. All the surface conversation at the café felt forced and after about an hour, I pretended that Ted had texted me for something urgent, which required me to get back to the city.  Rosie seemed relieved for the interruption.  My disillusionment was pushed aside as I tried to think of how to get us onto a different course.  I would need to think more strategically. Traffic was now starting to pick up, and I was on the Bruckner Expressway when I decided to call mother.

“Darling, don’t worry. Rosie gets moody sometimes. She’s not as strong as you and your brothers,” mother rationalizes.  Her attempt to soothe me doesn’t wash away my feelings of guilt and worry.  “I feel that we’re losing her, though,” I say, my voice cracking.  I think my hormones are making me feel more emotional and I’m about ready to cry.  Mother, considerably attuned, tells me that she will check on Rosie later and make a plan to go shopping with her next weekend, so they can have some ‘girl’ time.  I’m hopeful that mother will be able to get Rosie to open up, to allow her family to be more of a presence in her life, including me.  Especially me.

The phone call I received on the morning of October 8, 2017, changed my life forever.  The fragments of the call are still not properly pieced together, but the words “Rosie is gone” spoken from my daddy’s deep, gutted voice still plays in my ear.  Everything else that was said during that call flew past me.  I stayed stuck on “Rosie is gone” and within seconds, I’d dropped the phone and fell to the ground after my legs completely betrayed me. I was in the bedroom, so I’d fallen, uninjured, onto the plush carpeting. Ted was in the master bathroom without any knowledge of the call, or any idea that I’d fainted.  He was shaving, preparing for a show later in the afternoon. It was a normal day… just a regular, ordinary day… until it wasn’t.  I came ‘to’ on my own, still hearing Ted in the bathroom, the sound of running water, and his phone plugged into the speaker he uses, listening to Mozart’s Serenade No. 101.  Momentary confusion dissipated when I saw my phone laying near me.  “Rosie is gone.”  Daddy’s voice was reverberating in my head, and as I tried reaching for my phone, my eyes started to well up.  Just at that moment, Ted’s phone rings, silencing Mozart.  I hear him answer and within seconds, he’s saying, “No, no… NO!  Oh God, no.”

 

“Grace, I’m so sorry about Rosie,” says our neighbor, Liz Lockhart.  Mother, looking poised and even, gives her a hug and soft smile, clearly appreciating the gesture.  I stand beside mother, holding her hand, while my brothers stand on the opposite side of her, forming a bond of family, of unity.  Daddy has not been holding up well and I fear that he’s back in the men’s room, isolating himself so he can cry.  Rosie, his baby, is laying in a casket, dead.  Ironically, she looks beautiful today, the healthiest I’d seen her in months.  But, she is lifeless, gone. It’s so utterly tragic.  I turn to find Ted and ask him to check on daddy again.

 

Richard and Ollie are so different from each other.  Richard is shut down in his grief, while Ollie is very present, engaged.  As for myself, I don’t know yet. I think I’m just going through the motions. It’s all surreal.  There are still unanswered questions about Rosie’s passing. What we know is that she died in her apartment.  The reports show that she may have fallen and hit her head on the corner of the kitchen bar countertop. The impact alone would not have killed her, but her neck twisted when she hit the ground.  Other factors included evidence of alcohol and marijuana in her system at time of death. I imagine she was stoned and lost her balance when she fell and hit her head, rendering her unconscious. The neck twist would have killed her instantly and she would not have felt any pain. I think of Grandma Lena greeting Rosie as she passed, and that gives me great comfort.

 

Mourners approach us to give their condolences and we all try our best to spend proper time with each, receiving their blessings, and listening to their memories of Rosie.  I spot Ted as he returns from the men’s room and he looks ‘off.’  I break away momentarily to have a chat with him, to ask about daddy.  “Babe, how is he?  Is daddy alright?  Is he coming out now?”  I implore my husband, who appears to be shaken.  “Ted, are you ok? What’s wrong?  What’s wrong with daddy?!”  I ask him urgently.  Ted takes my hand and leads me outside of Woodburn’s to the parking lot, for privacy.  He tells me that daddy is not doing well, that he implied something about Rosie’s death being NO accident.  Ted continues, “He kept saying, over and over, that ‘she’ did this to his baby girl. ‘She’ killed Rosie.”  I’m blindsided by this revelation.  “She!?”  I urge him to disclose more.  “Who… who is ‘she’!?” I press him hard to tell me.  Ted, looking defeated, says “I don’t know. He wouldn’t say. I couldn’t get him to say. I tried, Mags, I did. I tried. He’s so broken. He was crying the entire time.”  I tell Ted that it’s okay as I see him getting upset, getting nervous.  I suggest we get back inside the funeral home, as we fix ourselves.  I tell him that daddy is having a breakdown, he hasn’t been sleeping, he’s lost about 15 pounds.  He might be delusional.  We just have to get through the next couple days. We have to be strong for him, for everyone.  Back inside, Ted takes his seat in the first row, next to his parents, who flew up from Fort Lauderdale.  I go back to mother, where she is standing with Richard and Ollie, receiving mourners by the casket… the casket that holds Rosie… the only one who has all the answers.

 

“I’m sorry, Maggie.”  Daddy has taken my right hand into his firm, steady hand.  “It’s okay, daddy.  It’s a difficult day.  We’ll be fine. Let’s just stay together,” I whisper back.  Let’s just stay together.  These words mean so much to me right now as I contemplate the future of our fractured family. Does daddy know something about the night of Rosie’s passing?  Is he just rambling on about conspiracy theories because he’s in shock, or denial?  Why did he say ‘she’ instead of ‘he?’  Who is he protecting?  I look over at my brothers, wondering if they know anything.  I look at mother, and she turns to look back at me with swollen eyes and deepening frown lines.  It’s then that she smiles, and I suddenly feel like someone has punched me in the stomach.

 

 

The End

 

 

 

Rosie (2)

She is flawless. Her skin, porcelain and wax-like, properly decorated with neutral contouring and eyeshadow.  Her lashes light with a brown mascara, not at all thick and heavy by the weight of falsies… like the ones she used to wear out to nightclubs. Her lips are painted with a coat of muted, matte red lipstick, not too bright as to offend or to give an improper impression, but just the right shade to balance her facial tone.  The dusting of rose blush helps to accentuate her bit of cheekbone, which she inherited from her late Austrian grandmother, Lena.

I recall a time when my Rosie was almost five years old, running straight into Lena’s outspread, inviting arms when she’d come to the states for a visit one year.  They had an immediate connection that I never quite understood, since Rosie was always so shy around strangers, even family members she didn’t know well.  Lena had come for her first visit in almost six years and the two had not even spoken by phone. So, I was amazed at how Rosie so easily gravitated to her, and I confess I was a bit jealous while observing their chemistry.  Twenty years later, and I still feel that pang of jealousy.  Rosie and I lost our chemistry sometime during her pre-teen years, when she developed a sharp, dismissive attitude toward me.  Slowly, or quickly perhaps, she distanced herself from me.  If I’m honest, Rosie and I never had that special mother-daughter bond. She was daddy’s little girl from the moment she was pulled out of me and handed to Rob, with me laying there in a pool of sweat and weary from eight hours of intense labor.

My relationships with my other children are very different.  Maggie is our first-born. Sweet and industrious, she and I share similar styles and interests, and our weekly conversations are always fruitful. She is an elegant beauty, married to a violinist. Maggie recently confessed that they’ve been “trying.”  I instantly imagined Rob and myself as grandparents, and got all flushed and soggy with emotion.  Our second born, Richard, is a travel blogger and an adrenaline junkie, though generally low-keyed.  He is quite handsome, though he barely recognizes this quality. Richard is a dutiful son, calling home every other day to “check in.”  Oliver, or Ollie as we call him, is our third-born, and was a child prodigy.  He is the most successful of all our children.  After graduating from Harvard Medical School with a PhD, Ollie took up residence at a local hospital close to home and soon started his own practice. He currently lives a block away from us with his ‘nurse’ girlfriend, and our visits are routine.

Maggie, Richard and Ollie stand on either side of me, each gripping the other’s hand firmly, interlocked like a chain necklace. Maggie stands to my right, and Richard and Ollie to my left.  Rob has disappeared, again.  He is probably in the men’s room, trying to gather himself.  He is so emotional today, and I can barely muster the strength to console him. My poor husband.  I remain standing with my children, supported by them.  I wear a respectable black dress, shapeless with capped sleeves and high neckline.  A string of pearls, gifted to me by Ollie a few years ago, are tastefully draped around my neck. My smart-looking pumps, however, are mercilessly cutting into my bunions, but I don’t care.  Perhaps, it’s my penance. I did try to schedule my monthly root touch-up, but my colorist was on vacation. Thankfully, Maggie was able to style my hair nicely and complement the look with some make-up tricks to hide the grays. I feel presentable, almost proud.

Rob finally emerges from the men’s room, looking pale and gaunt. He’s dropped fourteen pounds this past week.  I kind of admire him for that, but keep all admiration boxed, noting the inappropriateness. He makes his way to the four of us. Maggie is weeping in her graceful, polite way. Richard is broken, quiet and slouched. Ollie is strong, staying focused and engaged.  As for myself, I am a sack of nerves under a veil of contemplative sadness.  Rosie is gone. At twenty-five, she is gone from us. The darkness is undeniable, but there is a light I can see, a small tiny light, barely visible.  I know I must stay focused on that light, and will it with all I have in me, for it to get bigger, though it will take time.

When I’d gone to meet Rosie at her studio apartment last weekend, I’d brought the four hundred dollars she’d reluctantly asked of me. She said it was for rent, but I knew she was lying. We didn’t hug during our initial greeting. Why would we?  “Does daddy know you’re here?” she asked pointedly. “No, of course not!  You asked me not to tell him!”  I retorted, defensively.  Honestly, I always felt awful lying to Rob about my visits to Rosie’s, so my defensiveness was actually more about my own guilt.  “Don’t shout at me!” Rosie snarled. And there we were, at odds with each other again.  This vortex of misguided animosity, defiance and resentment, on both parts, was truly tiring.  Rob could never see Rosie in this state of addiction, with her unwashed hair and body odor, tattooed arms and chest, and her yellowed teeth.  Rob’s image of Rosie was unblemished, through a doting father’s filtered lens. He would be devastated by this reality. He couldn’t handle it.  He wouldn’t.

“Here’s the money!” I tossed the bills of twenties onto her unmade cot, which laid waywardly on the cold floor of the studio. “I’ll tell your father that we shared a nice evening, enjoying your signature-style spaghetti and meatballs, with extra garlic,” I said, sarcastically. Rosie ignored my comment, but I knew it burned her, nonetheless.  She busily gathered up the money and started counting it, without even as much as a gesture of gratitude.  No snarky comeback to the dinner comment, either. Nothing.  I felt sad for Rosie, but even sadder for myself.  And far sadder for Rob, who was at home, blissfully clueless.  Protected, rather.

I collected myself and started for the door to let myself out.  Through the corner of my eye, I discovered a giant cockroach climbing the wall adjacent to the door and I jumped at the sight, gasping out loud. “Oh please, mom. Stop being so dramatic,” Rosie scolded.  “God, I hate you.” Those last four words were casually whispered, almost not wanting to be heard. But, loud enough to catch me.  “What!?” I asked Rosie, bewildered and half-daring her to repeat it directly to my face.  I was now staring at her eye to eye, woman to woman, mother to daughter, enabler to addict. “What?” Rosie replied uneasily.  “I didn’t say anything.  You must be hearing things.”  She then brushed me off after her nonchalant response, expecting me to just ignore her and leave.  But, I didn’t.

As I stand here this evening in solidarity with my family, I project strength. It’s a façade, of course. How can I be strong when our baby is lying in a casket, a mere ten feet away?  There are more than a hundred people here tonight at Woodburn Funeral Parlor paying their respects:  Former school teachers and classmates, friends, ex-lovers, former co-workers and neighbors. About thirty of Rob’s colleagues and closest friends are here, along with members from my Bridge club, and the ladies from my weekly Krav Maga class. Everyone is here to support us, to support me.  I’m the mother, the most fragile of the family. Condolences are well-meaning, but no one could know the gravity of my pain and the years of turmoil I’d endured:  How I helped hide Rosie’s drug addiction and poor choices in boyfriends; how I helped bathe her on days when she couldn’t help herself; how I cleaned up her apartment of garbage of paraphernalia almost weekly; and how I tried getting her help more times than I can count.  I’m physically exhausted and emotionally tapped. My eyes are glazed, absent.  I hadn’t had a proper night’s rest in almost ten years.

Maggie leans in and confirms to me that the navy dress I chose for Rosie is perfect on her. It covers all her tattoos and only reveals the exquisite ivory skin around her clavicle. Rosie is picture-perfect. She is innocent all over again, just like she was on the day she was born.  I embrace this image, accepting that the baby of our family is now gone forever.  Admittedly, she was gone a long time ago.

Rob takes Maggie’s free hand, and the five of us stand united, interlocked.  Giddily, I’m fairly certain I detect a slight bump under Maggie’s dress, but I refrain from any probing questions. For now, anyway.  And, I’m curious about Richard’s next adventure, even though his answer will undoubtedly cause me anxiety, I muse inwardly. Ollie’s girlfriend is here, and I fantasize about a possible impending wedding. I glance over at Rob, my loving, hardworking, loyal husband of thirty-four years, and I want to hold him close.  I want to tell him that we will be fine. We will all be fine.

I truly want, and expect, all to be fine, but I stare at my youngest child, still and peaceful, and I question everything.  My fiery, rebellious and incorrigible daughter, Rosanna Lee. I brought that little spitfire into this world, and then removed her with my own bare hands.  I quietly pray and ask for her forgiveness and to allow us to move on as a family without her… to allow me to move on… without her.

The End

Sobering

Loretta stares out into the midnight fog, taking in the passing fields, vacant and eerily quiet. With her right hand cradling her round belly, she thinks about the names she and Mick had settled on just earlier in the week: Lillian and Michael Jr.  Nearly seven months along and neither she nor Mick have yet to learn the gender of their soon-to-be firstborn. They had made a pact to keep any future pregnancies a surprise until the time of delivery, after suffering a cruel six-month miscarriage a couple years ago.

The brutal late January chill is sobering, which explains why Mick insists on keeping the windows cracked open. Loretta feels goosebumps rising and wishes she had brought along her wool poncho. Mick reaches across to her, clasping his hand over her left thigh, a loving check-in he routinely does during car trips. She delights in his touch, closing her tired eyes, and starts to dream about everything Spring: Tulips, warm weather, and her due date.

“What the Hell?!!” screams out Mick, as he swerves the Camry from right to left, across the double yellow lines, then back to right, before finally regaining control of the vehicle. He stops the car on the grassy shoulder. His right arm firmly locked against his wife’s belly, all of Mick’s protective instincts had properly activated. “Holy Shit!” Mick lets out, fixing his eyes into the rearview mirror. “What the hell was that?!” Mick questions aloud. Loretta, cradling her belly with both hands now, glares at Mick and yells teary-eyed, “You HIT something! OR SOMEONE!”  Mick, frozen in his seat, feels offended by the blame in her tone, although he knows she’s right. Shaking, he puts the car in reverse and carefully lifts his foot off the brake, allowing the car to drift backward.

They live just four miles from Bruce and Ann’s, so the ride home would have been just mere minutes. They’d driven this road countless times, during daylight, late evenings, through thunderstorms, heavy snow, thick fog, and the occasional beer buzz. Both Mick and Loretta know this backroad intimately, with its twists and turns, its minimal traffic signs and sparse street lighting. His ingrained knowledge of this road, however, didn’t make Loretta feel any better after Mick had downed six Heinekens earlier. She’d asked him to pace himself after the third, but he was having too much fun celebrating Bruce’s 50th.

“I knew you were too drunk to drive!” Loretta scolds. Mick is defenseless, and scared out of his mind. The thunderous blast is still radiating through them both. They are terrified and know that they must retrace the Camry’s path. As they continue drifting back, they observe the area looking through all the windows in the vehicle. Loretta, crying in disbelief, rubs her belly anxiously.

The fog appears to thicken, and within seconds, neither can see anything at all. Mick reaches for his phone to dial 9-1-1. Loretta, quick-thinking and completely sober, warns against calling the police. “You’ve been drinking, remember?!” Loretta reprimands sharply.  Mick concedes, shamefully, and steps out of the car briefly for a better look around. Cautiously, he walks past the front hood, bending down to note any damage to the vehicle. He is fully cognizant of a potentially gruesome discovery as he carefully assesses the entire front of the car. After a couple minutes, he straightens his torso, and exhales. No blood.

Mick checks on Loretta through the passenger windshield. He nods, giving her a thumbs-up sign. Loretta appears nervous. He wants to get back to her right away and just drive home.  But, he can’t.  Mick looks around the perimeter of where he stands, unable to see beyond the scope of his immediate location. The fog is denser now, whiter. He doesn’t give up, though. He doesn’t care that the Camry has not one scratch or dent or trace of blood. He hit something in the road and won’t abandon his efforts now, though he starts to reason that whatever was hit, must have been catapulted a far distance from the point of impact.

Several minutes pass as Mick continues to look for any evidence along the barren road. He is only about fifty feet from the car, but Loretta no longer sees him.  She grows concerned. Looking through the windshield, desperately trying to find Mick or anything else for that matter, Loretta sees an unusual image forming in the fog. She goes stone cold.  She stares, entranced, as the image shapes itself into a silhouette, a giant dark figure moving toward her, with a wingspan that stretches out just beyond the width of the Camry. Loretta is motionless, her mouth agape. “Mick! Mick!” she fails in her attempts to scream out Mick’s name. Instead, only a soft whisper is pushed out. Loretta rationalizes that she is dreaming. “This is not happening. None of this real,” she mutters under her breath.

Loretta shuts her eyes tightly, disregarding the image. Perhaps, she will awaken to find Mick snoring beside her in bed, his body warm and inviting, draped in cotton flannel.  But, her racing pulse jolts her back to the inside of the Camry. Her eyes open, reluctantly, and widen. The formidable figure quickly envelops the car. Mick, finally defeated by the oppressive elements of darkness, chill and fog, returns to find Loretta convulsing in fear. In that moment, the fog lifts, and the giant image suddenly dissipates.

Loretta folds and lets out a guttural cry, prompting Mick to rush in panic to her side. She clutches onto him, meeting his worried eyes with her own bloodshot eyes.  Her hoarse voice whispers to him that she has lost the baby.  Reactively, Mick asks, “What baby?”

Do Away For Today

My wish for you, is a true wish indeed

To do away with the thorns that make your heart bleed

Those thorns of pain, dressed in red roses

Hidden beneath the beauty and served in small doses

For what seems kind and presented in peace,

Unravels slowly and complicated to show its disease

Its method lures you with a simple, pure image of love,

Easily fools the cynic who knows the dragon before the dove

So be careful with your eyes to see beyond their view

And do away for today the damage done to you.

 

 

 

 

 

The Window

“Jeez!  He’s taking me to see a foreign film with subtitles!?” Adele frets in her mind, while feigning enthusiasm through her signature toothy smile. She quite honestly finds foreign films to be too heavy, too serious, and waaay too much work. “All that reading!” she fusses inwardly. “This movie won awards several years ago, and the director is genius and really quirky… a bit out of his mind, actually,” Jesse tantalizes.  Adele keeps smiling, with her blue-colored contacts gazing up at him, through spidery black mascara, and wispy platinum blond bangs that tickle her eyelids. She holds her gaze trying to be adult-like and cultured, and seemingly interested, but she’s secretly hoping the movie isn’t one of those 3-hour-in-dire-need-of-an-intermission type movies.

Jesse hands off the large basket of popcorn to Adele to carry into the theatre, while he totes their drinks and giant Twix bar, after having charged $28.50 on his platinum Amex.  Adele makes a mental note and is immediately impressed, sensing that he must be making a good enough salary to be a platinum cardholder. She quickly catches herself being shallow, and averts her attention toward a little baby in a stroller, looking directly at her all big-eyed with a gummy smile. She reacts with her own big-eyed, smiley expression, hoping that Jesse will register her natural inclination toward children and her ‘wifey’ potential.

They seat themselves in the second to last row, near the entrance.  The trailers are about to begin, when Jesse realizes he’s forgotten napkins.  He darts out, and Adele quickly assesses if he’s worth remaining in her seat. She fantasizes about running out and never seeing him again. It’s only a first date, and she’s got the jitters for sure. Before she can decide, he’s back in his seat with the napkins. She unconsciously coos when he returns, flashing that toothy smile at him once more, and realizes that he’s a nice guy who seems normal… mature.  From what she’s learned of him so far, he’s well-traveled, was raised by both parents who are STILL married, and is a bit of a geek. He’s a far cry from other guys she’s dated, AND he does Crossfit!  She quietly commends herself for remaining in her seat.

The film begins. “Life Is Beautiful” is an Italian film. Adele does not speak any Italian, but tries her best to follow the story, reading along while watching the characters do their bit.  She’s initially suffering through it, fidgeting during the first thirty minutes, then she gets pulled in and is totally invested.  She surmises that it’s political, a charming tale inspired by historical events, it’s romantic and suspenseful, a story of survival and death, it’s happy, intense and heartbreaking. At the movie’s end, Jesse and Adele are both teary and gripping each other’s hands.

Adele makes a stop in the ladies’ room before leaving the theatre while Jesse waits for her in the lobby. She wonders to herself if she’s made a good impression tonight, with the jitters and all. She fixes her eye makeup, and confronts the fact that Jesse got teary-eyed over a movie.  “How sweet” she thinks, and reminisces about past boyfriends who never felt comfortable expressing such vulnerability. Adele finds this sexy about Jesse. She emerges from the restroom and finds him waiting for her with a tender expression. She hooks her hand into his and they stroll together out of the theatre.

As they approach her bus stop, a bus is seen just about a block away. Jesse asks Adele if she’s got her metrocard ready, and if she has her keys and phone, etc.  Adele holds up her purse and says she’s fine, she’s got everything. As she retrieves her metrocard, Jesse sweeps in for a kiss.  Not a ‘lip’ kiss though. Not a messy, tongue-in-her-throat kind of kiss, no.  Just a simple ‘brush her hair to the side, press a soft peck against her cheek in a respectful, gentlemanly way’ kind of kiss. It was sudden… and it was nice.

Jesse flags down the bus to be sure it stops, looking back at Adele with a warm smile.  He tells her “I’ve had a great time with you. I hope to see you again. I’m free this weekend. Can I call you?”  The bus stops and Adele steps on, giddiness reaching every cell in her body. She dips her metrocard to pay the fare, then turns around swiftly, realizing she has not yet replied to Jesse’s offer of a second date. She hasn’t even gestured a proper goodbye, when she observes the bus doors closing, completely separating her from Jesse.  The bus starts pulling away from the curb as she rushes to the window of a nearby seat, eagerly trying to find Jesse in the darkened evening, amidst a swarm of other pedestrians.

The bus is now turning at the corner and Adele literally has her forehead pinned against the window. She doesn’t see Jesse anywhere. All she sees is her own reflection staring back at her. But, it’s not her. It’s not ‘her.’  Adele was born Adeline, and went by Addie until she turned eighteen, the same year the singer Adele became a household name.  Addie took the liberty to align herself with the superstar by simply altering her name when she started freshman year at UCLA, and has gone by Adele ever since.  She continues staring at her reflection, bypassing the platinum streaks in her hair and remembering a plain, ordinary girl with raven hair, frizzy with curls. Addie used to view the world through deep and soulful, dark brown eyes. She was a nerdy kid in her elementary school before bullies toughened her, and before the cool girls gave her a lesson in getting boys to like her. Addie used to read books and newspapers, she used to draw and write poetry, and History was her favorite subject.  She dreamed of one day having a big family and becoming a meteorologist.

Adele is embarrassed by the facade looking back at her, and at twenty-four years old, vows to make changes. She is aroused by an emotion deep within her, and doesn’t understand why this is happening right now. Perhaps the movie has stirred something within her, as she suddenly finds the need to be more authentic.  “Maybe it’s Jesse’s effect on me,” she wonders.  “What must he be thinking right now?” She remembers their last encounter just before she climbed up the steps of the bus. “I hope he doesn’t think that I don’t want to see him again,” she anguishes. “What if he likes only ‘this’ me?  This dolled-up Barbie persona? What if he won’t want to see me again if I am plain and ordinary-looking? A dark-eyed brunette??” she cringes at the thought.

The bus window fogs from her warm breath, and when the bus stops at a red light, she hears her name faintly called.  She focuses her eyes on a tall man out in the darkness, waving his arms frantically in the air, yelling out “Adele! Adele! Listen to phone message!”  Adele is shocked by the sight. It’s Jesse! “He must have run all this way!” Adele feels elated.  She waves back at him excitedly, and blows him a kiss through the window.  Just then, the light turns green and the bus proceeds.  She pulls her phone out of her purse, which is still on vibrate since the movie. There is a voicemail message from Jesse.

“Hi it’s me, Jesse. Sorry I’m losing my breath; I’m chasing your bus. I see you looking out the window for me.  There’s something so angelic and light about your face now; beguiling, sort of. Please tell me you’ll see me again. I feel like there is more to learn about you.”

Ten years later…

Announcement appearing in Il Gazzettino dated 14th June 2017:

Jesse and Adeline Belladonna are the proud new parents of Adela.
Born on the sixth of June, weighing 8 pounds, 6 ounces.
She has lots of dark wavy hair and big brown eyes, just like her mamma!
Baby Adela joins big brother, Guido 6, and older sister Dora 3.
The family is doing wonderfully and is grateful to everyone for their well wishes!
La Vita E Bella!

 

Email

I am not writing this note as your enemy
Nor do I write to you as a friend
Hidden truths unveiled for you
Not seen with eyes of your own unless, until… I dare press ‘send’

I love a man who loves you, calls you his own
Yet he brings to me his passion and burning desire
I should say no and turn him away
But I’m defeated by weakness, and here is where the stakes go higher

I’m not writing this to cause you sorrow
For I myself have been there too, oblivious and naive
The other woman does not matter without face or name
But truths find their way, regardless of what you choose to believe

I need him in a way that you do not
My own heartbreak, loneliness and utter despair
All lead me to his smile and charming ways
For him, I leave my groom, the man I married, for someone I must share

There is no logic, no excuse, no simple reason
Just two marriages teetering, living a lie
And our children on the cusp of marital doom
Betrayal exposed by my fingertips, and I cannot justly explain why

Maybe he appeared at the right moment, as I did for him
We selfishly harbor a secret love meant just for us
What good could come from revealing all, I wonder
There really is nothing to gain, so nothing to discuss

I write to you as your enemy and as your friend
I am your worst pain, unknown dormant in your gut
And I note that blissful, content lives could suddenly halt,
If my conscience should win, because no longer can I stay shut

But his arms hold me close, keeping me strong
His love nourishing my mind, my heart, my soul
My legs firm and tight around his torso
Together we are unleashed, we are brazen, we are whole

Intimate fantasies compelled into our reality
Without harm to anyone if kept discreet
So… I shall keep this secret… and keep it forever
And you shall never read these words, for it is with shame that I now press ‘delete.’