The Circle Home (2)

As I stated in Monday’s post, this week I am unplugged and decided to post a little fiction.  This weeks posts are excerpts from the novel I wrote titled The Circle Home.

Chapter 1

My mother died on January 2, 1979, a few months before I turned four-years-old.  She held on long enough to bring in the New Year, but not long enough to celebrate my birthday.  Most of the memories I have of her before she died aren’t really mine.  They’re stories my dad or grandparents told me so many times I began to feel like I was really there.  My first real childhood memory is the day of her funeral.

It was a cold day in January.  We rode silently to McEwen’s funeral home.  We were in Maw Maw and Papa’s light blue Pontiac.  Papa drove with both hands on the steering wheel in a white knuckled death grip.  Dad sat beside him, in the passenger seat, running his hands through his red hair the way he always does when he’s nervous.  I was in the middle of the back seat between Uncle Brian and Maw Maw, perched on the hump which was as close as you got to a car seat in those days.

“Hey Emily, punch bug!”  Uncle Brian gave my arm a little tap.  A yellow Volkswagen Bug had just turned at the stoplight in front of us.

“For God’s sake Brian, we’re on the way to Janet’s funeral not an amusement park.”  Maw Maw pulled a tissue out from her sleeve and dabbed her eyes.  Her hand shook.

“I like to play punch bug, Maw Maw.  Why can’t we play?”

“It’s just not a good time for games, that’s all.”  Dad spoke from the front seat.

“Daddy, when are they bringing the bed back?”  I asked.

“What bed?”

“The special one, that Mommy had in the living room.”

“They’re not bringing it back.  It’ll stay at the hospital now.”

“So, where’s Mommy gonna sleep when she gets back from Heaven?”

Maw Maw reached over and pulled me to her chest and patted my back.  I struggled to get back onto the hump and avoid having my eye poked out by the huge rose brooch she wore on the lapel of her black polyester pantsuit.  Dad lowered his head and shook a little.  Papa reached over and squeezed his freckled neck.  Uncle Brian just stared out the window with his chin resting on his fist and his forehead pressed against the glass.

We got to the funeral home early.  There were only a few cars in the parking lot, including Grandma and Grandpa Lohing’s burgundy Oldsmobile.  Papa pulled into a spot as close to the door as he could get.  Uncle Brian stepped out and reached for me.

“Come on butterfly, let’s dance.”  He lifted me over his head and twirled me around.

He had been calling me that since I had dressed up like a butterfly at Halloween.  Mommy was really sick that night so Brian and his girlfriend, Jennifer, took me trick-or-treating instead of Daddy.  I felt special having a nickname.  “Wheeee!”  I squealed as he spun me around.

“That’s enough Brian.  Put her down and act civilized.”  Maw Maw straightened her Dorothy Hamill haircut with one hand and pulled the glass door open with the other.  I held onto Daddy’s hand as we followed his parents and brother into the funeral home.

Maw Maw walked straight over to Grandma, who was sitting in a metal chair staring glassy-eyed into space.  She was fiddling with the cross around her neck and her mouth was twitching to one side.  Grandpa stood behind her with his hands gently resting on her shoulders.  He was a really tall man, but on that day without his bright smile he seemed too far away to reach.

“Oh Sylvia, I’m so sorry.”  Maw Maw knelt down beside the chair and Grandma fell over into her arms.  They both started crying, making sounds that I’d never heard before.  I kept my distance from them.  I was scared to move closer.

“What’s the matter with them?”  I whispered to Dad.

“They just miss Mommy, Sweetie.”

“But Daddy, she told us she was going away.  I thought they knew it too.”

“It doesn’t mean they don’t miss her.”

“Am I supposed to miss her too?”

“You can feel whatever you want.”

“Is it okay if I’m not sad?”

“Yes.”  Dad replied with tears forming in his eyes.

We stood outside the entrance to the chapel.  The smell of flowers filled the space.  There were arrangements shaped like horseshoes, hearts, and crosses.  I had never seen so many flowers before.  Grandma and Maw Maw stepped through the maze of flowers, pressing their noses to each display and carefully reading the cards.  I followed behind, mimicking their behavior until my dad called me away.

“Emily, come here, I want to show you something.”  He was standing by a portrait.

“Who’s that?”

“That’s your mommy.”

“She looks so pretty!  Where am I?”

“That’s our wedding day.  You weren’t around yet.  You were just a twinkle in her eye.  If you look close I think you can see it.”  Dad pointed to Mom’s eye in the picture.

As the minutes passed I watched more and more people file into the funeral home and fill up the seats in the small chapel. Dad positioned himself at the door to the chapel.  I skipped around the sanctuary, stopping to say hello to Mom lying in the coffin.  She looked like Sleeping Beauty; except I’m pretty sure Sleeping Beauty didn’t wear a wig.

I noticed that everyone wore black and carried tissues.  There were some kids like me.  One boy skipped towards me.  He was smiling and I knew he wanted to play, but his mom pulled him back and gave him a spank.  No one else came near me, but they all watched me skip, even the grownups.  When it was time for the service to begin there were no seats left and all I could hear was sniffling noises.



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The Circle Home (1)

This week I am unplugged.  In order to do everything I need to do to prepare for unplugging,  I decided to have a “fiction week” on the blog.  This will be the first of three posts sharing some excerpts from the last novel I wrote (the one that is shelved indefinitely…or permanently).  The novel is titled The Circle Home.

Prologue

Someone once told me when you can’t go any further; you’ve come to your edge.  When you come to the edge a breakthrough is about to happen and you must go further.  I want to remember the person I was and the road I’ve traveled.  If peace has found a place in my heart, it’s because I crawled over the edge and found my way home.

The house is silent, outside still dark. It’s my favorite time of day when the only light here is the 60 watt bulb in the lamp beside me.  The only sounds are the creaking of the house and the coffee mug landing gently on the side table as I set it down.

The Christmas tree is still up, though not lit.  It is almost New Year’s.  I walk over and gaze at the tree, stopping at my favorite ornament, picking it up.  It’s one of those macaroni wreaths.  We made it the last Christmas my mother was with us.  I am pulled away from my thoughts by the sound of tiny footsteps.  I look up and see Janie Beth rounding the corner.  Her wild blonde curls are shooting out in all directions and she is rubbing her eyes.  She looks at me and smiles.  Suddenly the room and my life have more light in them.

“Good morning, Sweet Girl!”  I place the ornament back on the tree.

“Mornin Mama.”  She holds her arms out to me, lips poked out.  I lift her up and give her a kiss.  “Hey, it’s our ornament.”

I learn so much watching the way this little girl moves people.  She’s breathed life into me and everyone around her. Even the dog forgets how old he is in her presence.  We all call her JB, except for my father.  He calls her Janet two, because even at three-years-old she’s the only person who can make him laugh the way my mother could.  Last month, right after he found out my stepmother had been diagnosed with breast cancer, JB said to him, “Gammy Beth’s gonna be okay, Pop.”  He smiled when there shouldn’t have been a smile left in him.  I think he believed her more than the oncologist.  I believe her too.  My little girl knows things, even if she doesn’t remember why.

Once when she was just a year old she pointed to the scar on my chin and said “boo-boo”.  It was a scar I had gotten when I was a baby too.  My father had told me the story many times; it was his last tangible memory of my mother and me together.  She was teaching me to walk and I got too close to the hearth.  When I started to fall she didn’t reach me in time and I hit my chin on the bricks.  Dad ran out of the room for a towel and some ice and when he came back Mom was using her favorite sweater as a compress.  She held me tightly and rocked me as I cried.  Dad said he saw tears streaming out of her eyes.  He’d joked that he’d get her a new sweater if that one was ruined.

Losing Mom was hard.  Grandma and Grandpa were never quite the same, at least that’s how the story goes.  I was just grateful that Grandma lived long enough to meet Janie Beth.  I think in the end she knew the truth about her great-granddaughter.  It’s a truth I’ve known since I gave birth to her and have only ever shared with my best friend, who happens to be her father.  What I love most about him is that he believes me.

Change Measured By Beer

I was at a party last weekend digging through the cooler.  The host noticed and asked me what I was looking for.  I pulled out a Miller Lite and unenthusiastically said “This will be OK.”  He quickly responded by doing a little uncovering until he found the Fat Tires that were also in the cooler.  My “this will be OK” turned into a “Yippee” as I made the exchange.

In college I drank a lot of beer without actually liking it.  It was a means to an end.  Once enough were consumed it turned dull, quiet Leslee into a fun girl.  Over time I acquired a taste for it.   But ultimately my relationship with beer was all about the buzz.  It was not to feed my senses but rather to dull them.  It was that thing I did to pass the time until conditions arrived in which being the real me all the time (not just with my closest friends) felt right.

Today I sent Mark a grocery list.  On it I wrote “beer” followed by a happy face.  He will not come home with a six pack of Miller Lite like he would have years ago.  He’ll bring home something rich, dark and delicious.  After the girls are in bed and a movie is in the DVD player I will drink a beer or two.  Actually I won’t drink it, I will savor it.  In recent years Beer has become the new chocolate for me.  I like all different kinds, but dark is my favorite.  I know that it isn’t a “healthy food” so I indulge in it in moderation.  I now understand what it is to be a “beer snob” (although I’ve been told we’re not supposed to call ourselves that).  I laugh thinking back to the me who sat in the Taproom and ordered a Miller Lite.  What a waste…

So why, you may ask, am I writing about beer?  Well I think it is a good metaphor for my current lease on life.  There was a time when I kept the vision of my life pretty simple.  I believed I was very limited.  I didn’t veer very far from the norm.  I didn’t consider myself to be creative and I lived each moment with some far off end goal in mind.  “I’ll enjoy life when I get XY or Z…”  The thing is eventually I reached those goals.  I’m a happily married, mother of two living in the perfect town.  Now that I’m here I have to branch out a bit.  I’ve added new flavors and become more creative.  I’m focused on savoring the moment, planting the seeds for dreams but trying to relax and give them space to grow.

Absent from Cyber-space

I am going to be unplugged for a week (mostly).  As always,  I have things scheduled and ready despite my absence from cyber-space.

I am a bit unprepared for blogging tonight.  I was hoping to have a click story from a new friend but she ran out of time (the window I gave her was very small) and couldn’t get it to me before scheduling time.  You will hear from her in the future though.

Next week I’ve decided to do “fiction week.”  I will be posting scenes from my second novel, The Circle Home.  I was inspired to write this novel after attending the funeral of one of my sorority sisters who died a few years ago.  I watched my Zeta sister’s 3-year-old daughter at the funeral and hoped that she was still connected to her mom.  I imagined that maybe she could even see and talk to her.  After that I decided to write a novel about a girl who lost her mom but stayed connected to her.  What you will read is the prologue and parts of chapter 1 from the story.  I queried a handful of agents with The Circle Home and ultimately decided to shelf it indefinitely.  It’s not all bad though, which is why I decided to share a little bit.

Have a great week and if I ignore your comments just know it’s only because I am not online.  And before I send you on your way without giving you much to read, here is my favorite (of what I’ve read so far) post from Alisha @ Stories of Sommer.   Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Namaste!

Authority

This week I watched Ghosts of Abu Ghraib and of course it caused me to start analyzing human behavior again.  There was one line in the movie that really got me thinking.  One of the soldiers said something to the effect that we all have this darkness in us and once you let it out it’s easy to get caught up in it.  Basically once you get the green light from some form of authority that it is OK to do something harmful or hateful you are inclined to do it and when any doubts arise you can remind yourself you have permission.  This is what happened to the soldiers that were working at Abu Ghraib.  They engaged in horrendous acts of torture and humiliation of prisoners.  On their own accord they would not have thought to act in this manner, but the chain of command permitted them to.  Once they pushed through the initial fight put up by their consciences it became just a part of the job.  Eventually they documented it on film just like they would any other normal aspect of life.  As we all know the photos were their downfall.  In the end it was the men and women at the bottom of that chain that took the heat for committing these acts.  And of course they were the ones who did it, but they were only responding to a command placed before them by the highest authority.  (It was Rumsfield who signed the first order that ultimately resulted in the photos we’ve seen of Abu Ghraib.)

At the intro and conclusion of the documentary they showed footage of an experiment done in the 50s (I believe).  Average citizens were instructed to administer shocks to people (who were actually actors).  The people would press a button and hear the actor screaming on the other side of a wall.  The “authority” would tell them to give a stronger shock.  A few argued but ultimately they all administered the shocks despite the cries and screams from the “victim.”

The lesson I learned from watching this documentary was that it really is vital that we teach our children and ourselves to listen to our inner guidance.  I believe that within us all is a connection to something divine and loving.  I believe that something speaks to us and inspires or encourages us to do no harm.  If we follow it we will be at peace.  If we do not we will be out of integrity with ourselves.

In some cases authority dangles a carrot of power in front of us.  A leader may make demands on his/her followers using the threat of losing something valuable in order to maintain power.  An organization or establishment may promise power to an individual in exchange for cooperation in some manner.  Where ever it is, whether on the elementary school playground or the military battlefield, it is all about defending or acquiring power.

So the next time a demand is made of you get quiet and ask your inner guidance what you should do.  If it feels terribly wrong it probably is.  Don’t discount your instincts, they’re there for a reason!  In the end the outer power will probably not be worth the inner conflict of selling out…

Listen Up Kids!

A friend has invited me to help her write an article for a local publication.  The theme is nurturing your children’s spiritual life.  We talked last night about choosing three points to make that would be most valuable in the lives of our kids.  The first thing that popped into my head is the importance of intuition and listening to yourself.

I have a terrible, terrible memory so it may be that I just don’t remember BUT I don’t think I was ever told to listen to myself and the feelings that rise from within me.  I knew to listen to my teachers, my parents, other adults in my life, and even my friends.  It never occurred to me to listen to ME.  In fact, I’d say I was often even afraid to listen to myself.  When I knew the answers to questions in class I was terrified to raise my hand and respond for fear I’d be wrong and look stupid.  I remember times when I went with the pack and joined in on not so nice behavior b/c following others was easier than not.  I’m sure there was a little voice or a tug at my heart reminding me to do no harm, but I ignored that voice until the deed was done.  Then I had to deal with the consequences of either getting in trouble, losing a friend, or feeling guilty.

I believe that teaching our children to stay connected and listen to the voice within is vital to their emotional health.  I caught a few seconds of an Oprah episode yesterday.  It was long enough to hear Oprah speak to this idea.  The show topic must have been sexual abuse.  She said that our kids need to pay attention to those “this doesn’t seem right” feelings and speak up when they have them.  Too many kids stay silent when they are being hurt because somewhere along the line they’ve learned that they should listen to everyone else but themselves.  We are wired with this protective instinct for a reason.  We know when something isn’t right.  Instead of listening to the outside pressure, whether from peers or “trusted” adults, our kids ought to be encouraged to listen to the quiet inner voice or feeling that is saying no, no, no.

So if I had any parenting advice for myself and others I would say to teach our children that they have an inner compass and how best to use it.

Human Behavior

I’m laughing a little as I title this post because there is a Bjork song with the same title and Mark teases our dog by singing it to her.  Lilly is now pretty much conditioned to switch into attack mode as soon as she hears him belt out a note of it.  There was also a period of time where the girls would watch the video on YouTube and Bella found it quite frightening.  In most areas Callee is more like me then her father except when it comes to teasing.  For a long time Callee would say “Hey Bella you want to talk about human behavior?” and Bella would immediately get scared.

But quite frankly, human behavior is scary and I’m not talking about the Bjork video.  We’ve been watching the series The L Word on and off for the last year.  After finishing season 2 we decided it was too cheesy and melodramatic, but ultimately we got reeled back into it and just finished season 3.  During season 3, I just kept thinking and asking “is this how people really are?” The show is focused around a group of women who are all either Lesbian or Bi-sexual.  The real heart of the show lies in their human-ness and the way they react to their life experiences.  Sometimes it is just plain difficult to watch…which is what brought me to my question.  Are people really like these characters?

What seems to dominate the character’s lives is FEAR.  Almost every move they make comes from that place.  One character sees her girlfriend flirting with some men and she runs over to her ex’s house and spends the night.  When the truth comes out she apologizes by saying that this is just who she is.  Her MO is to be an insecure womanizer…change isn’t in the cards.  The girlfriend is terribly hurt but instead of communicating and forgiving she seeks revenge by also cheating.  You watch these two characters react, react, react until they have completely undone all the good between them and have no relationship left.

Another couple has a daughter and are deciding to split up.  They scream, yell, and curse at one another as the little toddler sits on the floor and watches.  They each threaten the other with getting sole custody of the little girl.  They can’t seem to find any peace, they are too busy blaming one another for the demise of their partnership.

In this show the characters make all sorts of decisions trying to make themselves feel better.  Each one seeks outside of themselves.  When faced with the loss of a friend they cling to the nearest warm body and make irrational commitments.  At times when meeting their fears they give up, too unsure of their ability to follow through.  When people challenge them they defend themselves with anger as their uniform.  They let every emotion lead them down a different road.  And still in the midst of the chaos, it is never their own choices that led them there…always someone else’s fault.

I do believe that the show illustrates what a lot of people are really like (although with some added Hollywood drama).  I know that I’ve been like this at various times in my life.  I have been guilty of seeking revenge.  I’ve been guilty of making assumptions about what other people were thinking or saying in respect to me.  I’ve been incredibly insecure at times.  I’ve been clingy after experiencing a loss.  I’ve lashed out at people who love me.  I’ve been a quitter and at times even a little self-destructive.  I’ve looked to the world to fix me.  And I’ve probably, at least on an occasion or two, blamed someone else when it didn’t.

Luckily I now have a tool that helps to lift me, even if in brief intervals, out of the madness of my humanity.  Because I seek within and find moments of silence, I’ve learned to see my old patterns and break them.  I’ve learned that I don’t have to have an MO that stays with me forever.  Life is about growth and change that cannot be found outside of us…