Is Winter Coming To A Close

Dragonfly. Sm2019

I have been on hiatus in so many respects in life for a while now. In my lack of posting we know writing and photography are included. However, life has seemed to stand still in an uncomfortable slumber for the past two years.

Life would move along as it seemed to be changing and awakening. Then things and/or people would fall away again. I wondered if it would ever return to the way it was. My heart was saddened, but kept its hope.

Optimism is not always an easy task. I just take ‘my moment’ before latching onto it again. My mind chatter can be so infuriating as it spews thoughts from ages gone by. It has not learned that all thoughts are not pertinent to life today. Mind chatter wants what is familiar; truths no longer true or valuable. Please listen…I am no longer that person and these thoughts or beliefs no longer concern me.

As a winter storm finally moved across our area the tide changed. It is as if I am in an aligning cycle. The people seem different as they converse with me and I feel different. There is no anticipations in life and communication. It is, it happened, and the day was lighter; maybe even a little brighter. Maybe my long winter season is finally changing.

Whatever the case, I am back to writing and photographing a little. Even in these there are no expectations; just enjoyment. Could that be it? A step back to enjoying life as it is, on its terms.

As you read this post I hope you have an Enjoyable day.

Battle of the Seasons

As the signs of a winter storm are just memory, spring tries to push forth. But my dear, I do not think Winter is ready to leave just yet. You might be a little premature.

The seasons battle as they stand side by side trying to be victorious.

No signs of winter as the flowers stand back up to show off their color again.
The brown and drab of winter still stand their ground.
Buds open to bask in the sunshine.

Change Is Inevitable

Just as the seasons change,
Just as dawn turns to dusk,
The sun moves & the stars shine.

Change is inevitable…

As the flowers bloom & die away,
As the trees bud & fall asleep,
The colors turn from bright to gray.

Change is inevitable…

We are born & grow old,
From youth to elder we learn,
Seeing and living life exchanged
For memories and presence felt.

Change is inevitable & necessary.

Sm2020

Love’s Saving Grace

DEDICATION —

My intention for writing these words is so that none of this is ever forgotten. I want our love to be remembered for its human qualities and its exceptional ones. No person is perfect as that would be boring. And yet Love can conquer all trials if it is truly unconditional. We were no exception to this universal law. We loved and I lost; the tragedy would be to forget.

Ironically our life together began with “Best Of Intentions” (Travis Tritt) and ended with the same. We had come full circle. Luckily, he had playfully recorded his rendition of this song 3 days before he passed from this earth. His voice will always be there singing this song whenever I need a reminder of what I am eternally grateful to have experienced.

I am fine!

I will live this life on my terms…

I will learn to do what I cannot,

I will enjoy all the little moments,

I will live life to its fullest,

I will never forget the memories or the love,

For each success, big or small,

I will celebrate,

And without regret

I will allow all of these to fill my heart

with gratitude throughout my journey.

In honor and gratitude for the love & strength you bestowed upon me,

The connected parts of our souls will enjoy each breathe I take.

Always…

In my heart, whispers in my mind, & part of my soul ♥

I am Fine!

Love’s Saving Grace

CHAPTER ONE – The Beginning-

*EXCERPT 1*

The flood gates opened through the numbness of the exact moment I saw his soul depart this world. Unbearable pain opened up from depths I cannot explain. So much pain as my heart tore into a billion pieces and a voice begged me to follow so the chasm would close and the pain would cease.

There was no one and nothing visible to my eyes or my mind for the next seventy-two hours. Honestly, still today, I can remember with vivid detail the moments preceding his departure, but nothing about those ensuing three days. I have all the memories before and since; the ones keeping me going. In the past four years, I have moments which enter the brain fog and come out the other side with very little recall. All of this makes my timeline so skewed in my mind’s eye—it seems forever ago, yet at the same time, it seems moments ago.

I found myself standing in the middle of the storm feeling abandoned, alone, and scared. Pete was suddenly gone at 41 years of age. I, at 52 years, no longer fit into the lives of those we knew. “Too old to believe in a second fairytale and too young to have friends who shared a similar circumstance.” So, alone I tried to make sense of life. Circumstances would dictate a time of loss after loss. I could no longer afford what Pete and I had. I was not in the frame of mind to begin searching for something new. So, I did what I could and began dismantling our life. Piece by piece I got rid of or packed up our life. It was all very mechanical in its approach. I had no idea what or why—I just did it. Looking back, I see it was a form of denial in a frightened sort of running away. I touched, smelled, and clung to everything that was him. I lost more of myself with each item I touched. I lost a husband, friends, family, a home, a lifestyle, and most importantly ME!

I began wandering through life into the arms of friendly angels willing to help me find my feet again. With so much of myself gone, I became dependent on the mercies of those Angels in my path. It was during this time I finalized matters and began to remember a little of what was. It was also a time of donning a brave face. During daylight hours I would try to convince everyone I was fine; or maybe I was trying to convince myself! But at night I would sink back into the grief, stepping backward forcing myself to begin again with each new dawn. It was all a vicious cycle of doing, being, and existing. Nothing seemed stable or permanent anymore. It was an exhausting insubstantial balancing act. I began to believe his death would destroy me. I could not possibly withstand this deluge.

During this part of my journey, I had friends and I lost friends. Some had good intentions, but they never quite understood the pain, suffering, or confusion. Some wanted more from me than I had to give, some just wanted to be the miracle cure that made me instantly let go and become whole again. None of them understood how little of me was left or how much searching I had to do. No one understood that without him, I had to transform into a new me. Maybe that’s one of the biggest reasons I missed our friendship and love – he knew, he understood, and he supported even when I exhausted him. So maybe his shoes were too big to fill in the state I was in. Regardless, the emptying made space for the new… the new friends needed for each new chapter and also the new pieces of me which were being seeded to grow. Whatever the reasons, I appreciate them all. It just makes the love grander with deeper feelings of gratefulness for what we had.

Love`s Saving Grace

CHAPTER ONE – The Beginning-

*EXCERPT 2*

At first glance he looked like a fifteen-year-old rebellious teen. His hair long, a disheveled pair of dirty looking jeans, a wrinkled shirt which had probably never been folded, and a chain dangling on his hip attached to his wallet in his back pocket. Nothing more than curiosity struck me as I watched from my third-floor window as he moved in downstairs. At first glance I thought the woman was with the older gentleman and he was their child. In time I discovered he was the man of the home taking care of the elder gentleman who was his step- father and the woman who was his ex-girlfriend who had not quite moved on. This book could not be judged by its cover.

It seemed a strange family arrangement which seemed to work for them most of the time. His step-father was rarely seen except when we caught a glimpse of him getting in the car with Pete to run his errands. I can honestly say the ex-girlfriend was the square peg in a round hole because she did not have an attitude or personality that integrated well with anyone in the building. Eventually, Pete and his friend became neighborly acquaintances. His friend had only been accepted as part of the package when she was in the mood to follow him around like a shadow. We all would share coffee, cookouts, and movie time, mainly because all of the children became fond of him.

He was nothing more than a big child himself. He played outdoor games with the children and helped the younger ones learn to roller blade or ride bikes. He was helpful to anyone who needed helping. He was the residential jokester, yet privately reserved. Over time we learned it was the carefree play time outdoors and walks in the woods which helped him rebalance after the loud stressful outbursts we would hear coming from their apartment. He was actually the misfit among the roommates. He had none of the elusiveness of his step-father or the phoniness of his girl-friend.

He came with a past as we all do. He never was outspoken about it nor was he dishonest if asked by anyone he considered a true friend. In his words he explained, “He had always been a troubled youth looking for attention. His Mother had to leave him with his step-father and his step-grandmother, who were both alcoholics. He had always caused nuisance trouble until one evening when he had been with a best friend and want-to-be girlfriend. Young, stupid, and out to impress, he was driving too fast. In an attempt to pass a slow vehicle, he had moved into the center lane on a hill as another vehicle going the opposite direction had been doing the same. As they crested the hill, they hit head on resulting in his best friend and the other driver becoming instant fatalities while everyone else had been severely injured”…..The consequences for Pete, beyond physical injuries, had been mental anguish and imprisonment.

His honesty explained some of the family dynamics we were witness to. But it never changed anyone’s feelings about Pete. The situation remained unaltered for almost a year–until something in the air began to change.

Love`s Saving Grace

CHAPTER ONE – The Beginning-

*EXCERPT 3*

When we started out it was very heady, like something from a fairy tale. A middle-aged woman did not have these giddy, little girl emotions. – I was a 30-something single mother of 3! — It had to be a mid-life crisis or a desperate cry to be desired. Then again maybe one spawned the other. He was young, virile, handsome, and willing to please and all I knew, for whatever reasoning, is he set my heart to fluttering. I became a woman filled with unexplainable passion and desires, imagining what could not possibly be true. Yet, the more I fought the idea the more connected we became. We could finish each other’s sentences, knew what the other was feeling, and became best friends who could share everything.

One afternoon, (the first time I realized this was bigger than us) Pete had made up some lame excuse to knock on my door. He stood there silent for a few seconds before he asked if he could get something of his I had stored in the closet in the common hall. It was his stuff so of course I agreed and he made small talk for a few more minutes. During this short time the air heated up, the world began to fade from around us, and the space between us became electrified. I would like to say, out of common sense I finally spoke breaking whatever spell this was; however, I knew it was fear of what was happening to me. I needed to regain control and composure over this overwhelming craziness. It took me a couple of hours to clear the haze from my head even as I admonished myself about the insanity of a woman becoming emotionally involved with a man 11 years younger. To make matters worse, his ex-girlfriend (girl-friend here on out) was living with him and his step-father, which was another taboo reason for controlling the insanity.

There were more than a few of these emotional moments, either intentionally or divinely orchestrated, which happened prior to our verbal acknowledgement of our blossoming love affair. This time was filled with concentrated denial interspersed with simultaneous hope of running into each other. Exhilaration was brought on by a random encounter or accidental touch. There was one such evening Pete enjoyed himself way too much given the torture he was crafting. It began as the result of a thunderstorm. I had gone down to do some wash in the basement laundry room (a room all residents believed to be haunted). Once he discovered I was down there he happily offered to do his and his roommates’ laundry. Innocently, we conversed about our day and my children until a crack of thunder was quickly followed by lights-out. Then his sense of humor showed up, as he played on the room’s haunted stories and his willingness to be the knight in a dark dingy basement of ghosts. He did his best to frighten while assuring and touch while not touching in a tantalizing game. His intention was to free me from the logic and fight in my mind; to break down the walls of my self-made prison and allow my heart to soar. I stood at the edge almost ready to jump when all of a sudden the lights came on. I was glad for what I believed was divine intervention which kept me from leaping into a big mistake.

We continued this dance between friendship and love. Pete constantly hinted at his feelings and I silently fought mine. Just like the day his car broke down and he asked if he could borrow mine for work. I agreed knowing he would be home before I had to leave for work unaware of how uncomfortable the day would become. As I got housework done and the children ready for the sitter, his girl-friend came up for coffee that day explaining how she had planned to sweep Pete off his feet now that she realized she loved him AGAIN. I had actually been thankful when Pete returned from work and bounded into the room to return my keys. He had been startled, talked a few minutes, turned to leave, and mumbled something about possibly having dropped his box-cutter on my seat in the car. His friend followed him out the door and down the stairs like a little puppy dog. I had been so relieved at that moment and yet, I had had feelings of …omg! Jealousy. Putting the realization out of my mind quickly, I had taken the kids downstairs to my friend’s and proceeded to leave for work. As I opened the door to my car my heart had skipped about three beats – there on my seat was not the box cutter he spoke of, but a single red rose with a note saying “Thanks”. I had quickly moved it to the passenger seat and drove away. My mind had definitely been elsewhere during work and somewhere in the course of that day I decided I just had to stay away from him so I could gain proper perspective. And so it had been–successful avoidance for about three weeks.

In those three weeks, the holidays had begun and avoidance had been easily disguised as busy-ness. But upon returning home after a Thanksgiving dinner I had been greeted by flashing lights in the driveway. I quickly ushered my children upstairs and phoned my girlfriend downstairs in hopes of figuring out what had been going on. I had been shocked to discover they had arrived for Pete.

Pete had put himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. And given his history, he was found guilty before being proven so. This situation abruptly ended my avoidance. I found myself going downstairs to check on him. I had found him in his room alone visibly scared and shaken. He had been aware that his parole officer, once notified, would probably come and take him away. All I could do at the time was offer my sympathy and return to my apartment. That night had been eerily quiet and heart breaking.

After a sleepless night my children and I were having a quiet breakfast. Each of us lost in thoughts about Pete. He had won their hearts months ago and they were saddened to think he might be going away. Then a knock on the door broke the silence. Pete was standing there with an envelope for us. He had handed it to me and disappeared down the stairs. Inside the envelope had been the written words of a Travis Tritt song, “Best of Intentions” and an apologetic note from Pete. He had apologized for ‘messing things up’ and for the first time admitted to some of his feelings.

For the next few days we just waited…

Surprisingly nothing happened until a few days before Christmas when he received a notice of a hearing in January. The next day his parole officer had called him into his office to explain he would go directly to prison as soon as the judge returned a guilty verdict. Tensions mounted and everyone’s true colors began showing. The children and I felt bad because he was a good person trying. Both his step-father and girl-friend were self-absorbed and angry. Neither had been sympathetic to the man who was prepared to go to prison out of loyalty to a friend and had tried to care for both of them up to this unfortunate point. Outside of my home—Christmas had been miserable and the New Year had been ushered in with arguments and violent outbursts.

I had been preoccupied during the holidays as I had received an announcement that my work situation was about to change. As I prepared to begin hunting for a new job, Pete asked if I would take him to run errands as I ran mine. It had given him some time to vent. We had talked and shared our fears. He had told me he gave his friend an eviction notice, how violently she had reacted, his step-father’s unwillingness to support him and he explained his reasoning for remaining loyal. The day had been emotionally draining, but I decided I would help him the only way I could. I had gone home, made some calls, and had found him a lawyer. I had been proud and excited to tell him in the morning. Except when I went downstairs Pete was outside with his parole officer. After a serious looking conversation, Pete explained why the officer had shown up and was mad. His parole officer had made a surprise visit at the exact time those professing love for this man were downing their woes in alcohol while Pete was walking to the store. The court appearance had become secondary to taking away his freedom. He had been given twenty-four hours to secure new residence or serve the rest of his parole in prison on top of the looming accusations.

In that moment, I had announced he could stay with us until he could get his life back on track and he now had a lawyer. A short debate later he had begun moving his stuff into my apartment. Simply Divine intervention and a willingness to be a friend? I have come to realize the answer to that question was a resounding Yes. I acted out of loyalty in friendship. Friendship was something pure and simple to me. It eliminates the questions pertaining to matters of the heart because friends did what was best for their friend’s well-being no excuses — and that cracked open the door.

It was little moments of friendship which pushed my heart through the door and began to change our precious friendship into so much more. He may not have fully voiced his deepest feelings in the beginning, but he was capable of showing, sometimes in a simple yet substantial way, exactly how he felt.

The tide of friendship turned when he requested a drive to the “Lookout” which overlooked the City of Scranton the week before his hearing. It was a peaceful and reflective place where you can see the lights of the city twinkle under the dark sky. It had always been an inspiring place to me and after that evening has held beautiful memories. That was the first time he showed me exactly how he felt and expressed his feelings beautifully. I received a ruby and diamond bracelet of his grandmother’s “in honor of a friendship, the likes he had never had, and a person whom he believed he was destined to be with for the rest of his life”.

That day marked the beginning of our love as we cried happy tears looking down over the city below.

Love’s Saving Grace

CHAPTER TWO – The Journey-

*EXCERPT 1*

And so it began…

Our new journey began January 2001, moving slowly forward. Matters were settled, innocence proclaimed, and life began to take shape. As it is with life, ours came together and occasionally fell apart. It never completely came unglued as our friendship held us together adequately for transformation through life’s changes. We always seemed to emerge wiser and stronger than before. We were certainly gifted with something precious and I am forever grateful for our love.

Our transition happened naturally out of friendship. Friendship seemed to move up levels progressing into love without thought or action. It just happened over time! We spent countless evenings talking and learning each other’s secrets and dreams. We discovered we had a lot in common and yet, there were things we each did or liked the other had never experienced. Early on we introduced each other to different things. Sometimes it would expand our commonalities and other times it taught us respect for our differences.

This being my third attempt at love, I was amazed how genuinely love and family evolved. Disagreements were met with communication and compromises when necessary. There were no judgements or physical reactions in any situation. It was just peaceful, mature, and truly loving no matter the circumstance. I have since giggled about my first impressions of him being a young immature person and came to discover he was an old soul in every way.

Although I fought and ridiculed my emotions in the beginning, I became so grateful for this love. It began on a solid foundation and grew out of that friendship. A friendship initiated ‘because of’ and a love evolved ‘despite of’.

Each day came with a discovery of new insight about each other; new jobs, a larger home, and an effortless unification of a family dynamic. Synchrony in life created a perfectly imperfect world we all thrived in. It was a time of stress-free living filled with an inner happiness that permeated into our world and our hearts. One year later, we finally made it official with the promise of ‘love until death do us part’. Through the good, the bad, and the ugly our promise to each other stood. It was not something either of us took lightly even when it seemed so at times.

This part of our journey was our lessons in love, friendship, empathy, understanding, strength, selflessness, support, trauma, and sadness. The day I said I do, I believed in the fairytale and that Pete was my knight in shining armor: who I affectionately referred to as “My Frog Prince”. There was only one time in all our years that my belief in the fairytale waivered and our world trembled.

Love’s Saving Grace

CHAPTER TWO – The Journey-

*EXCERPT 2*

The Wedding….

Although I had received a ruby and diamond bracelet as a symbol of Pete’s admission to love, my initial engagement ring lacked the grandeur of it. However, it by far exceeded it in value and memory. My children were ready to make our family official and could not understand why Pete had not yet asked me. So, they interrogated him to discover he did not have the money yet to buy me the ring he wanted. In her innocence my daughter went to her room and appeared with a ring. She explained to him “my Mom loves dolphins and would love this one. You can have it if you really want to marry her.” Being they were all in agreement about loving me and the ring, Pete called me into the room. Bent on one knee he officially asked me to marry him with a wink and mischievous smile as he produced my engagement ring! It had been made official.

We announced our engagement to my family and his mother. We had planned on a simple courthouse ceremony and a dinner for family afterward. In her excitement, his mother took over the simple wedding plans before we could confirm any arrangements. She decided we shouldn’t go to the courthouse because both families would want to be present at the ceremony. Within days she had confirmed her friends were willing to let us use their restaurant bar for both the wedding and the dinner afterwards. She had secured the magistrate who had been excited to be there to perform a ceremony ‘for this young man’ on such a joyous event. The Brookside Inn had prepared the menu, she rented Pete a tux, and she had given me a gift card toward the purchase of a new dress. Being that I was not extremely close to my family, I was surprised when my one sister offered to help decorate the dining area we had utilized for the ceremony. So, we were well on our way to having a wedding.

Our only job had been to find outfits for the children, find a dress for me, and buy wedding rings. Other than an initial disappointment when the boys found out they had to wear a suit everything went smoothly and we were ready for the big day 2 months later. This afforded us the time needed to move into our new more spacious home while we waited for our big day. So when the day arrived we could hardly contain our excitement. Although nothing was actually changing the world seemed intoxicatingly different. Maybe it was my wedding gift of a small diamond ring he placed on my finger the night before the wedding! In any case we were certain of our friendship and our love which we could not wait to announce to the heavens.

We started the wedding by separating the night before per his mother and my mother’s requests. Our married life began with our families putting away differences and coming together to help in getting the children ready as well as ourselves. When I arrived at the Brookside a thunderstorm started as I was ushered into the bathroom for last minute primping before the music queued my entrance. Once it started my sons walked me in to Pete and took their place next to him as our daughter stood for me. Due to their age, they were accompanied by his mother’s husband and my mother to make it official. After whispering a few well-advised words to Pete as I approached, the magistrate began. He recited an Apache wedding poem in his English professor tone and accent followed by our teary “I do”. It was simple, elegant, solemn, and beautiful as we once again felt like the only two people in the world. Pete kissed me and whispered “even the angels are crying and clapping”. A moment I can never forget!

We turned for our “Mr. and Mrs.” introduction to discover about 30 people crying back at us. Most of the people we didn’t even know, but were later assured they were family in some degree or another. All of them from Pete’s side because no one responded with names from my side. Given the wedding reception was meant to be a gift; Pete and I were not asked who we would want there. Our wedding had gone from intimate gathering of immediate family to an actual celebration. Although it may not have been the exact wedding with all the people we would have shared this day with, it was still magical… Regaled with good food, adorned in flowers, lit with flickering candles, serenaded by deep feelings of love, and garnished with a little excitement … It had enough little touches and tons of happiness to carry us through years of remembering.

Our choice of dates happened to coincide with a St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the area. The bar area overflowed with happy Irish people meandering in to continue their celebrating after the parades. One group of bag pipers wanted to help us in celebrating the joyous occasion by playing an Irish wedding song. They actually played three songs in honor of our marriage and probably would have continued playing if they had been a little steadier on their feet. As they continually got within a fraction of an inch of the burning candelabras they were thanked and politely escorted back to their own celebration. Crisis adverted and a special memory created. We all went home elated, exhausted, and satiated after a wonderful evening. Mr. and Mrs. Peter M. were now officially two souls with one life before them.

Love’s Saving Grace

CHAPTER TWO – The Journey-

*EXCERPT 3*

The honeymoon years…

Our family came ready-made which meant we did miss out on some of the tender miracle moments others are privy to. This didn’t seem to matter to Pete as he accepted this fate with grace. We were his family and he was proud to say so to everyone. Occasionally it gave rise to a few curious looks and for the brave, curiosity resulted in him being questioned about starting a family so young. It became clear our initial fears were unsubstantiated. No one ever shunned us because of the age difference, his parenting ability came naturally, and past mistakes (for the most part) did not hinder our progress. Our issues were the same as every other couple encounter…. whose turn was it to do the wash, pick up the kids, make dinner etcetera.

Our long deep discussions as friends gave us respect and common ground of unspoken standards for how to best avoid major arguments. We thought the most important thing any two people living a life together should do is to effectively communicate. This includes not only the dreams, visions, and happy things, but also the hard, uncomfortable issues. To effectively communicate does not mean one person is always talking and you must also listen to each other: Not just hear the other person speaking, but listen with all of your senses. Engagement wholly and respectfully.

Sometimes– listening meant accepting advice from those who had gained wisdom before us. In our marriage we tried to always live by my Grandmother’s words – “never go to bed mad because tomorrow is never promised. You want to wake with love, not regrets.” Our total fifteen years together -14 married- brought disagreements, but not what I would call fights. We said what we had to say honestly, but never screamed or yelled at each other. We were each secure enough in our relationship to respect the difference of opinions or we spent an entire night discussing it until we came to a common ground. It was a habit blessed with avoided regret and heartache.

As life carried on these conversations became more numerous over the years. It was the private time gifted to us by tradition for deeper, more meaningful discussions. We engaged in conversations about raising our children, life’s travesties, the past, the present, the future, and the meaning of life. Some of these sleepless nights became the fondest memories as we openly and honestly communicated. During these times we discovered secrets, fears, and dreams.

It was during those nights that I came to appreciate Pete’s off-key singing talent. It was a talent because it was how he would explain his feelings…” this song is my song to you, this song is how I feel, this song says how much I love you”! Old or new songs, he had an amazing filing system in his brain for knowing the lyrics that would explain just what he couldn’t seem to express eloquently enough for him. It wasn’t just those nights either. We could be taking a road trip, eating, or chilling and he would begin searching ‘just because’ he wanted me to know something he was thinking or feeling. The romance did not begin or end there either. I have enough cards, whether they marked a special occasion or ‘just because’ days, to have warranted taking out stock in Hallmark and American Greetings. Add to that the collection of doodles he created for me for no particular reason… He was a romantic at heart in little meaningful ways.

Crazy things like that accompanied by expressions of our love in simple wordless touches and glances throughout the days solidified our connection. The paper certifying our marriage had not changed our love, but became more a statement in black and white. It was tangible evidence to what we already knew in our hearts….” we would do this love and marriage thing until our time on earth was over!

Love’s Saving Grace

CHAPTER TWO – The Journey-

*EXCERPT 4*

The years between…

Those first few years created beginnings of traditions, unification of family, bonding, and love strengthening. It is all of this that carried us and our love throughout the coming years. Love that eventually would reach beyond, travelling infinitely through and forward in time.

Our life was filled with so many little adventures that run through my mind now. It would, however, take too many pages to list them all. In this presence of mind, they all seem to be equivocally important; good and bad alike. Our time together was marked with laughter, joy, happiness, tears, frustration, sadness, disappointments, and disagreements as is everyone’s. It was life and it was love which is a miracle of mysterious simplicity. Love is one of the hardest jobs ranking top with parenting. Why it sometimes works is a mystery. But when it does, it seems so effortless to the unknowing eye.

Behind closed doors we struggled to juggle the necessities of life, parenting, and loving each other. Time was a precious commodity you strive to balance. When the balance is inverted you need and want to rely on your other half for support, yet at times you come up short on energy for yourself let alone for someone else. Lucky for me, Pete was always good at shifting the balance. (He was always a child at heart) Sometimes this meant being nonsensical and letting the inner child rule!

Rainy days could drive anyone crazy when your wits were at an end. But not Pete. A good spring rain and a bar of soap was an engaging way to prepare for bedtime in his mind. Of course, the children were young enough to play along and their enthusiasm was infectious. So, we donned bathing suits and went outside under the gushing gutters. Bath time took on a whole new adventure and sanity returned through the giggles and silliness. Simplistic innocent fun dissolved the issue. Although, bath time was not always so funny until later when stories were retold. As it was one evening while we shared a shower (to save on water!). Our daughter was thoughtfully bringing us each a coffee to relax with as we exited the shower. While wrapped in towels Pete moved one step too far and my grasp that was meant to ensure the towel remained in place was well…..The mortified look on my young daughter’s face said it all. But it was the non-chalance of his attitude that made it seem natural. Of course, it demanded confronting with conversation after the fact, but as usual the open communication rectified the scarring event. It is now a humorous tale instead of embarrassing avoidance.

We believed fun was an integral part of the balancing act. Sometimes we could afford vacations like taking Pete for his first ever trip to the beach. Other times we had to become creative in our attempts to find fun. Impromptu camping trips in the backyard, bike rides around the neighborhood, fishing, sleigh riding, game nights, and sleepovers. The moments didn’t seem so grand at the time, but are very fond memories now. It was in those moments of being true to our inner child that we were able to decompress and remember we loved each other. Some of these times have little secret stories I know are gentle reminders of a love story of five; meaning more to the two of us than words can convey. Oh boy, I could sure use that musical filing system of Pete’s right about now!! Then just when you believe you have life figured out it throws its infamous curve ball.

We sometimes became complacent about our abilities to maneuver through life. Unfortunately, hardship was not a once in a lifetime adventure. Otherwise: What lessons would we have learned? What little idiosyncrasies about each other would we have missed? They are after all the necessary evils you believe won’t touch you’re perfect little world until they happen. Although unwanted, we all have experiences whether good or bad which are necessary evils by definition within universal law in some religious context or another.

My first ordeal was hard not only on myself, but the family as a whole. I had felt unexplainably broken somehow. Anxiety had become a force to be reckoned with. It appeared from nowhere and complicated my everyday functioning. This monster invaded our perfectly imperfect world without reason. It took its toll over the course of years not days. It had left us feeling helpless and confused at times. First course of action was medication with the side effects compounding the problem. Next came therapy which cast blame onto past experiences I had long since forgave or let go. This spiraled downward into over-analyzing everything in my past. It had been an exhausting time that tested our conversations, patience, and understanding. Even Pete’s attitude of last resort; “fuck it, it all works out in the end” couldn’t banish my anxious fears. As fast and intense as it would appear, it would vanish only to rear its ugly head with less intensity again and again, even more recently.

Our creative problem-solving skills and patience were put to the test. There were times when it became overwhelming for either of us to even talk and listen. Pete had been trying to understand the answer was not simply switching off certain thoughts as all I did, was grasp for comfort and reassurances. Our marriage had taken on a whole new dimension. It required hard work the likes we had not endured prior to this. I must say Pete had had the resolve needed even in regard to his manhood during the times when side effects crippled parts of our relationship. This was my first stepping stone toward inwardly assessing my deepest core beliefs resulting from past experiences. I had begun to skim the surface of healing the scars. We as a couple now had strengthened our patience while acquiring new insight into who we were deep below the surface. The bad and ugly revealed itself for the first time and we survived.

As I continually combated anxiety with different approaches throughout our life together, we kept our life balanced with more flexibility and adaptability. We made a major move that lead us in a southerly direction landing us first in Virginia with a promise of greener opportunities. Green, however, was not what we first encountered, but instead a thin blanket of white. We were welcomed by 6-8 inches of snow that crippled Fairfax, Virginia for three weeks. In Pennsylvania snow was only a small nuisance, so this was a foreign concept to us. But the children were elated by the break it gifted them. We realized from the moment of our arrival we were in for some changes in lifestyle. First and foremost was the winter seasonal clothing we brought…it was a thing of the past!

We acclimated to our new home and its environment rather smoothly. We shook of the winter doldrums of northern living happily. Our lives moved forward quickly as we secured new careers, found a home by mere happenstance, and got busy with being outdoors without freezing. We gave up sleigh riding for bicycling, shoveling for croquet, and frost bite for sunny breezes. We adapted well and we were enjoying our new found home. Our life was enriched by those we met, the jobs we held, and the new activities we enjoyed.

It was a relatively blissful two years. The children made friends, our eldest son graduated from a new high school and entered the Air Force, and life was rebalancing and stabilizing. We had turned a page, or so we thought. Then all began to change when we started receiving numerous phone calls about Pete’s step-father. He was spiraling deeper into his alcoholism toward its worst chapter. And out of nowhere Pete received a call about a job (cable company technician) he had applied to two years before. The plate of decisions had become fuller.

We had come full circle in two short years as we found ourselves back to long discussions, pros and cons lists, and worrying about how to best serve all of us. The decision would ultimately affect dreams, friendships, family loyalties, and our home life. Long nightly talks accompanied by music searches were once again our comforting habit. We devised scenarios and talked through them in an attempt to cause the smallest amount of upheaval to our immediate family. I (as I can only speak for myself) have no regrets by the directions we took. Maybe we could have found an easier route, but the one we chose, taught us many lessons interspersed with many valued rewards.

We had discussed moving his step-father to Virginia to eliminate impromptu trips to Pennsylvania every few weeks. Due to his manipulative stubbornness that plan was eventually given up on. All the while Pete longed to accept the job with the cable company. We just hadn’t worked out how moving to West Virginia would benefit the majority. The children would have to re-establish themselves in yet another school, my commute would change to a 2-hour drive in one direction, and the distance between us and Pennsylvania would only decrease by 45-50 minutes. Needless to say, no one was very happy with any game plans we had come up with and Pete had to make a decision about the job soon. The closer to our deadline, the more frequent and intense my anxiety became. None of this was helping and bliss became a thing of the past.

As if God had grabbed the reins to guide our direction, things began to seem as if they were falling apart. My job was whispered to be in troubled water, his step-father had finally taken a drunken fall landing him in the hospital with additional diagnoses, and medication was beginning to turn me into an emotionless being. Our world was less than certain and had become overwhelming rapidly. But God walked with us through the hell were in. Out of chaos and confusion, Pete made the decisions to move to West Virginia. He felt it would offer better advancement opportunities for creating a better life and a hope that a slower paced living style would benefit my health. So, with some angst we moved once again.

He found us a beautiful home in a serene country setting. It was new and larger than anything we had had to date. Spirits picked up a little as we moved our things in. It was however short lived though as tragedy struck. Rains began backing up septic into the homes in the development due to construction negligence. We immediately salvaged what we could out of the basement and began a search for a new home. The peaceful surroundings came to an abrupt end.

This became a wandering period in our lives. Some things would stabilize while others fell into chaos. We would move into five different homes within four years until we found a resting place in West Virginia. I still would not say it was a wrong decision, but definitely a chaotic one. I know if my health had been more stable, it would have made a big difference in the lengthiness of the chaos. However, we were not done dealing with tragedies during this period.

Immediately after our first house mishap, we settled into a townhouse that was comfortable, quiet, and conveniently located. This honestly felt like we had discovered our place in West Virginia. The children adapted to the changes, Pete’s job had been the right choice, and even I found a new job. Life was returning to normal in all aspects. We formed new friendships and adjusted back to a cooler country living. Life was good.

We found peace and contentment once again. We were all establishing long standing friendships. Our new found jobs were advancing and establishing a stable financial foundation with hopes of a secure future. Not that life had been less than normal previously, but we talked about how this felt like what a normal life involved. We had begun making roots albeit differently than being born in a place with its familiarity and constants. This was our creation and it felt good.

I began writing and photographing more. After a long time of neglect in these areas, I felt alive again. Maybe it was attributed to a change in medication or mind, but more likely a little of both. With Pete’s patience and tenacity I hurdled the worst periods of my anxiety. As I resurfaced from zombie land, we were stronger individually and as a couple. Maybe that was the whole point of the chaos; to strengthen, so we were capable of handling what came next. And it seemed like it came without breathing room.

The first upset came one evening with a phone call about an accident Pete’s step-father (John) had after going home that evening. We were informed he had passed out in his home, fallen, and was bleeding pretty bad. They were taking him to the emergency room. We made arrangements for the children and within a few hours proceeded to drive to Pennsylvania. During the four-hour ride, John had been seen, diagnosed with diabetes complication due to too much alcohol, and dropped back off at home. Discontented to just recoup, he had gone over to the VFW. We arrived as a crowd gathered in the parking lot of the VFW. Instinctively we knew the attraction had something to do with John.

We pulled in and Pete jumped out of the car before it had a chance to completely rest in park. John laid on the ground comatose with blood running down his face, elbows, knees, and head. The sound of the siren caught my attention as I stood there listening as several people simultaneously explained what had transpired. Everything was a surreal movie played in slow motion. We stood back taking it all in as the EMTs triaged John, loaded him into the ambulance, and informed us of their hospital destination. Somehow we managed to decipher all the information and show up at the correct location. A few hours later we had an adult man with a teenaged brain and diabetes exacerbated by alcohol not willing to follow any instruction from anyone. Our choices were clear; leave him to die an early death or take him back with us against his will to a place not large enough for another person.

After a day of attempting to reason with this man child we packed up his belongings, cleaned his apartment, and said good bye to continuous trips to Pennsylvania. The next morning the ride home was quiet except for the calls we made ensuring things were being prepared for our return. The ride seemed incessant. No one was happy about this new turn of events. The air was filled with trepidation and dread reaching from Pennsylvania to West Virginia. Eventually we arrived and the atmosphere had been stifling and accusatory.

Although we quickly found a large, beautiful new place, once again by happenstance, we could not get anyone in a celebratory mood. The home was a large 4 bedroom, 3-1/2 bath home with a garage, finished basement, and apple orchard on a quiet cul-de-sac. It was however situated across district lines meaning the children would have to change schools once again. Our new roommate was an unwilling participant in alcohol recovery considered to be an intruder in our midst. Pete and I did our best to rectify the silent war waging under our roof to no avail. We lost the battle as tragedy number two hit before we were able to relocate to the new home. Pete was at work when then call came. Our son thought it better to contact him first although I am not sure that had made any difference.

It was October 17th, 2006, as I stood in a checkout line in Kmart when I had received the call from Pete as he was being driven home. Our eldest son, who had been stationed at McChord Air Force base, was hospitalized for a brain malformation that had started leaking into his brain. All I remember from those next few minutes was the lack of air getting to my lungs, the crushing weight on my heart, and the tears running down my face as I paid. I ran to the car gathering some semblance of rationale as I drove the short distance home to wait for Pete to arrive. The next few weeks we functioned on auto pilot as we had tried to make sense of everything.

Our son had been getting ready for work when something went drastically wrong. He paraded across the compound thinking he was dressed and ready for work when he passed out at the dining hall only having partially dressed. He would come to realize he lost four hours in his life he would never regain. Against all parental instincts, we were told by the Air Force he was stable and we were not required at that time. So we busied ourselves with tasks at hand while continuing daily communications with our son and his doctors.

We had become oblivious to the silent war as we struggled to get all of us situated in a new home amidst figuring out how we were getting to Washington State. We did our best at focusing on the tasks at hand such as moving and working. The days slid one into another in a mechanical fashion. The word came from our son initially and continued as such except when I specifically reached out to his superiors. We were told that as long as our son was stable and in no immediate threat of dying, we could only come out on vacation. If we chose to wait for further tests and his condition was then deemed a threat to his survival, the Air Force would actually bring us to Washington State. Our son continued to reassure us that all was well for now. His health had created the illusion of normalcy and he had been functioning the same as before, although the Air Force had placed restrictions on his activities. He was aware that surgery was eminent and he preferred we waited to be there during that time. So, all we could do was remain hopeful and optimistic living life as it was before his call.

Our new home was put together and decorated for the upcoming holidays. We prepared with open-ended plans and contingencies. Our life became about doing, interspersed with the word “if” quite a bit. The children adapted as well as they always did; a blessing even when they held a grudge. They spoke their mind and then would begrudgingly adapt to the new situation. John settled in with a belligerent attitude. He refused to adapt well. He thought he could control the situation by combining petulant teen and angry old man attitudes. He had no respect for anyone or any animal within our walls. He could be nice to outsiders if he believed they could be manipulated into getting what he wanted from them. Otherwise, his daily mission had been to derail peace every moment of every day.

Our life continued in much the same fashion for two months. That is until I had a reason to take the bull by the horns. Our communication with anyone in our son’s squadron was nonexistent until I made calls. One such incident tossed me over the edge. The hospital called after failed attempts in notifying his superiors of a situation arising from the cerebral angiogram; our son’s blood pressure was not stabilizing. No one from the base had remained at the hospital or noticed he had not returned from his appointment by 9pm in the evening. To say the least, I had been furious and scared. Although our son’s condition stabilized within a few hours the same could not be said for my temper.

Mom’s wrath was in full swing as I made phone calls for two days. I finally received confirmation of dates, conditions, and follow through. It was times like this when Pete gave me ‘my moment’ by allowing me to complete what I started with very few words. He would only utter occasional words of gentle warning regarding consequences or well being. Slowly my protection mode would lose its ferocity and full communication would begin again. In this particular instance, conversation was about travelling, job security, home, and children. Everything was in place and schedules confirmed by the New Year.

By the end of January, we were in Washington state preparing for our son’s brain surgery. We took turns bolstering each other’s spirits in an attempt to keep positive vibes flowing. The surgery which was supposed to have been eight hours turned into thirteen. At around ten hours uplifting spirits were diving and panic was taking a foothold. At the point of no return, we were finally given news that he was doing well in recovery. A relief washed over us until we walked into his room for the first time.

We walked in to see an ashen young man connected to an array of tubes and wires hooked up to him everywhere. Tears streamed down both our faces as we looked to the doctor. He assured us everything went well especially considering the malformation was larger than the anticipated size (from that of a quarter to larger than a silver dollar). As if to prove the medical team correct, a couple of days later our son proved his strength and resolve by becoming agitated with the intubation tube. Once removed, he healed and recovered in record time with minimal residual effects. Except for the occasional confusion between left and right, his healing progressed magnificently. It was time; we were able to return home March 10, 2007. In our hearts we believe we were given the gift of a miracle.

Coming home had been both joyous and saddening. Our hearts were divided between home where we belonged and leaving our eldest son after such an ordeal. Once home, we were thrust back into familiar routines while playing catch-up after our absence and regaining control of our adult child. So often these days, life seemed more stressful than before we had gone to Washington state. None of our creative solutions seemed to relieve tensions. For now, this was the new normal.

Time came and our other son, graduated and he too prepared to enter the Air Force. No matter the conditions, life was changing regardless of how many things remained the same. The only thing remaining stuck was John’s behavior. He must have been getting bored or impatient because he was becoming more creative in his disruptions to our lives. He would throw out all our food to feed all of God’s creatures in the wooded areas around the house, make crude comments to myself and my daughter, and improperly use the bathroom. If these were not enough, we began finding pee on the front door and back of the couch. We were having difficulty in figuring out how the dog could pee that far up until we inconspicuously moved our camera around to catch the act. When conversation failed, we knew new living arrangements had to be made.

Our home of 3400 sq. ft. was becoming too large as the number of occupants was decreasing. We would try different living arrangements with John in our home, then in his own place close by. In our home he would disrupt our family. When away he would find a way to fall off the wagon causing injury or illness to himself. Life was filling with constant drama during these times. It seemed the only answer was to bring him back in the fold and treat him like a child. This marked a dark time and at the end of 2008, life had gotten to us. This was the time when my world was rocked and the fairy tale was in question.

Love’s Saving Grace

CHAPTER TWO – The Journey-

*EXCERPT 5*

The final years…

During the beginning of this period, we discovered how right my Grandmother had been and how important communication was to a relationship. We both became exhausted as John conquered and divided us. I seemed to do nothing but scold him and complain. Pete had tried to ignore in hopes John would eventually concede. We found ourselves at opposite ends.

I tried to understand Pete’s need to keep peace in an attempt to conjure love, but I was beginning to see it as him taking someone else’s side. That is when communication stopped. There did not seem to be a point if all I would hear is how I had to deal with it because I was home all day and Pete was not. He firmly stood on the conviction that he did not see or hear any of it and John’s only responses were to lie to him. Pete had effectively taken himself out of the equation. We stood near the edge of the precipice; slowly we walked toward it, in jeopardy of falling completely apart.

The air between us was changing. We stood apart instead of walking the road together. I took care of the house, my daughter, checked on our son, and argued with John daily. Pete worked and took more on calls as well as overtime whenever possible. No one seemed to notice our distance and at the time I am not sure we did. We assumed it would all turn around in time. We forgot about the work it took to keep it together. All of our old habits for maintaining our love and friendship forgotten. Maybe more accurately put, it had been pushed aside because keeping everything together had become too much work. We took for granted love would hang in the balance until life was quieter. We waited, taking care of life’s daily concerns.

By the time 2008, was ending we had individual concerns we never mentioned. They hung between us like a wall partitioning the road we walked down. One day it had begun as Pete walked a thin line between honor and distrust. The original intent had been to create a friendship replacing the communication we had lost. Although with persuasion and ego, he finally found himself crossing over. A slow unexpected decision had our life trekking down a dark road of rationalization, deceit, and disloyalty.

For a short time, I had been unaware of the changes in dynamics. I had long since quit complaining when he walked in the door and he had busied himself with extra workloads to avoid the tensions. Although I could not put my finger on anything tangible, I felt a shift in our dynamics. Simple things like separate showers and bedtimes, increased attention to video games, increased phone conversations, even less moments of touching, and agitation over simple questions gave me a nagging sensation. Eventually this prickly nuisance in the pit of my stomach had to be acknowledged.

I had begun by making inquiries regarding his conversations, his whereabouts, and his workload. It turned a strained relationship upside down. For the first time we actually had arguments. They were not loud screaming matches, but harsh words without compromise. Conversations became determined, accusatory, and frustrating. Neither of us believed the other was truly listening or understanding. We had let the wall become strengthened by estrangement. We no longer knew the other person standing before us.

There was little faith, no music, no compromises, and no honesty. We were holding back feelings of abandonment and silently placing blame on each other. Neither of us could see it takes two to make it AND two to break it. Nor could we see our choices had been to shut down or run away. For the first time we held back and our communication became broken. Communication had quickly become words without substance, questions without answers, and it effectively widened the gap between us. Unhappy thoughts turned pessimistically grim; our love felt destined to end.

Without admission from Pete and brutal honesty from me, we were going down a road to nowhere. We tried to keep our superficial attempts at communication behind bedroom doors donning a neutral façade in the light of day. Finally I had enough and went searching, or more accurately, I secretly followed him. I found him to be lying about where he had been. At the same time he was beginning to let his guard down by leaving his phone unattended again. Something was once again shifting for no apparent reason other than we each had come to the end of our rope. The defenses were disintegrating and the secrets were in danger of being discovered.

It was the most devastating beginning to a New Year. On the eve of New Year’s eve we were expecting an impending storm and Pete was on-call. Out of nowhere after receiving a call, he states he was heading to the office to avoid getting stuck thirty minutes from his coverage area. As he left, a chill ran up my spine. I sat with the feeling for about an hour before I got in my vehicle and headed in his direction. Out of misguided loyalty he had been warned of my arrival and he met me at a neutral location. This conversation was eerily calm without full admission, but no longer in full denial. We had reached a point of trying to rationalize definitions.

It was on this evening I received the answer that destroyed my belief in happy-ever-after. Weeks went by as our conversations finally opened wounds we had not personally acknowledged. The discussions ultimately became more open and honest; We would discuss the definition of cheating with regard to sex-ting, how actions spoke louder than words regarding loyalty and abandonment, how constant silence could be construed as retreating, and finally, the reasoning behind our choices in dealing with the turmoil. Herein we discovered, no one person was guiltier than the other in the breakdown of our relationship which began as we stopped talking. Where we differed was at the time of choices; walking outside the marriage for friendly comfort and soothing the ego was the hurdle we had to overcome. At this point it had been more than I could digest, so I had decided to remove myself by taking a trip to Pennsylvania to clear my head. Once again distancing did nothing to solve the issues and I returned determined to let him go if this was his choice or fix it. He swore he had never stopped loving me and going was not an option. So, we began the long arduous task of putting ‘us’ back together. From this point we stumbled, cried, fell, and got back up for too many of the years we had left to share together.

Two years passed too swiftly, bringing us to the time when our daughter was to graduate and begin her new life. The whole situation with John, I believe, had played too heavily on her also. After graduation, an old friend stationed in California invited her to a military ball. (A place she had always longed to go to.) That trip in 2010, had been her good bye to living at home. She had stayed in California; married, divorced, went to school, and still lives there today.

Our nest was empty of our children, except for the adult child we were at a loss for controlling. All the years in our home and he never settled down. We still had one more move left to endure. This one was a personal choice (no reason other than a change of scenery that had felt like home during a visit) and it finally left us completely empty nested. John refused to move to Georgia with us. With no other option, we decided it was time to situate him in a home back in Pennsylvania where he had always wanted to be. Although he didn’t stay in the assisted living home, he did stay in Pennsylvania until his death in 2012. We finally had time to put our life and our love back together. We could breathe again!

Our time in Georgia gifted us with a few people who would become family, new friends, and new activities. Life’s pace had slowed in our new home and we were slowly returning to ‘what had been’. Our traumas seemed to have dispersed into the winds as life was once again filled with only the daily trivial annoyances. It was time to get reacquainted with who we each had become. It was also time to discover if our love remained intact as we exited the storms of the previous years. We, as does everyone, had changed in the course of our lives. We had just changed for a time separate from each other. The time of consequences arrived; requiring us to determine if were still two souls with one life before us.

We revisited some old habits in an attempt to go back to grab the old feelings. The problem is life does not travel backward. Forward is the flow of life, so old habits needed adjusting to fit into the new reality. I do not believe any of us can go back to find what we lost because what is ours never truly leaves. It just changes and we do not recognize it at first. Therefore, the way we perceived old habits had to change also. We had to find the love of the present not the one of the past. We realized we could build on the past years of love and expand it, but we were different and so was our love. Our music seemed to echo pleas of forgiveness and promise of change. Our love was now unperfected by a few scars called distrust; Love had been easy to grow…love challenged was a test of fortitude.

Originally openness had begun naturally without any thought. Now every day it was a conscious thought in an attempt to hurry along the processes of trust and forgiveness. With all of our time together this part of the journey had required the most patience and resilience. Traversing our ‘speed bump’, as Pete would call it, was not a one-sided journey. We both felt pain, remorse, and fear. Ultimately, we had realized the road to choices had blame on both sides and fortunately the choice was a side-step without full engagement. (fortunatelybecause otherwise it would have been a point of no return) Our love would be perfectly imperfect in the end as we actually became more than we had been. Our eyes opened wide to the awareness that love took work, bad things happened, nothing should be taken for granted, and unconditional love could overcome being challenged. With time and determination, we were finding our way.

Living in Georgia from 2011 – 2015, was mostly uneventful. Life had slowed down and our speed bump was dissipating into just memories. Our location in Georgia was a transient area due to the military installation. Friends obviously were much the same; always moving on. We accepted that our journey for the moment was about meeting people. We had circled back to unpretentious gatherings of friends as we explored new and new-old activities. It became a time of quiet drama-free living; Life was simple once again. A simple life however did not mean empty or boring.

Beyond working and adult responsibility, we enjoyed games of Spades and car club meetings weekly. Although the group changed faces occasionally, it gave us a chance to interact with different people who brought new dynamics to our circles. Our card games took place in our homes on a rotating basis and car club meetings where held at various fast food places. Occasionally we would take trips to car competitions or 4-wheeling adventures. None of these was lacking in fun, laughter, or comradery. Inevitably, so many faces changed that the groups started to disband only to be replaced by new activities.

Life commands change to some degree or another, but for this moment in time it was never stressful or hurried. One thing transitioned slowly into the next. From games and car clubs we found ourselves involved in playing pool or golf. Surprisingly, I had become very good at billiards. Pete on the other hand was extremely good at it. To my credit I did acquire trophies in State team competitions though. When it came to golf my ideas of the game differed from Pete’s. I took my camera to capture the golf game or, more likely, to capture the surrounding fauna or wildlife. On extremely hot days I would stay at home and capture thousands of shots of the flowers in our own backyard. Life and love had become easy again. Time had even healed our hearts enough that we rarely had occasion to think about what almost happened.

The years passed as we dreamed about our older years together and the things we would like to do. As if we were being reminded we were getting older, Pete injured his knee which required surgery. During his convalescence he decided to look into a different career. He had been offered a transfer to West Virginia again or North Carolina, but he wanted something different. Something less brutal on his body. He grudgingly admitted he wanted to slow down. I had become restless with the heat and the transient friendships, so different was promising. I was open to any solution, but Pete was adamant about staying put. He wanted to find a new career locally and I was not sure that was the answer to long standing friendships. He, on the other hand, was sure we already had them. Seeing I had no real ideas or locations in mind it was not an issue. In anticipation, we began looking and preparing for the second phase of our life.

A few months later he was offered a new job locally with the gas company. He was more excited about this new prospect than he had ever been previously. Immediately he accepted and prepared to give two weeks notice. Pete was so happy; like a child on Christmas morning. He smiled more, seemed lighter, and more energetic. We knew a more stable future was just around the corner.

AND….

What seemed to still be the same day, Thursday, but was actually Friday 2am —

My heart shattered into billions of pieces as I screamed at him to come back.

Our love was discovered and denied, but in the end grew anyway. It blossomed, fell apart, and grew out of its ashes to be all it was. It was a perfectly imperfect affair of two hearts walking one road. We were friends because of so many things and loved each other unconditionally despite just as many. If everyone could happen across such a glorious gift… this world would be a better place.

Love’s Saving Grace

CHAPTER THREE – The End and The Beginning-

*EXCERPT – THE ENDING*

My journey….

He had been out playing in a pool tournament which would end too late for me with work in the morning. I had been lying in bed waiting for his return. As he entered our apartment, he called out for me. The man before me looked anxious and ill. His answer to my inquiries; what’s wrong, why didn’t you call me, why did you drive…. “I just wanted to say I Love You one more time” started our final conversation. Conversation not exactly the correct word because we argued for the majority of it. I was determined to get him in the car to go to the hospital. All the while he argued it was just anxiety over a bantering at the pool hall that escalated a bit. I had breezed right past his declaration of love straight into convincing him of my assessment of the situation. This final discussion would be our last words…the ones in which I never answered his proclamation. My world catapulted into darkness.

Pain was excruciating as it squeezed the desire for life right out of me. Over the next seventy-two hours life would be a dark blank spot in memory. The only thing I can recall is the pain. Yes, if I allow myself to walk through the memories of that night, I can still feel….

The difference today from that night is the pain is not as devastating. There is a surface scar numbing the brutality of it. From the moment I watched him leave this world I embarked on a new journey. Not one I asked for nor dreamed of, but I guess necessary for the changes and experiences to come. Movement for an interminable amount of time was simply mechanical. I merely did what was necessary to get through the day and finish tasks.

My earliest memories are of people, KFC, and tears, but no details surrounding any of it. Fear gripped me controlling my beliefs. My only belief was one of having memories of foreboding pain filling the rest of my days. I could not see past this. I maneuvered through my life, a new life, tortured and half dead. Half of my heart seemed to be dead and my soul was darkened.

I am not sure how I managed his cremation and Celebration of Life in those first two months. As was the norm, I do not remember much. Snippets of these events rest in memory and expand only by the memories of others. Holidays are only memorialized by photographs and trips taken to finalize matters are vague. This was life for the first year. In memory, it was a very small year.

During the next year, my heart began to come alive. It was alive in conjunction with my tear ducts! I was sad and crying every time I turned around. It definitely was no longer numb, but I think I could have filled a child’s swimming pool. In these first two years there is not much to write because memory does not serve to fuel a story. This time was only beneficial in mindlessly finding my way through the grief and the emptying of a life I once knew. When one’s spouse passes on you do not realize how much else follows behind. People, possessions, and dreams fade away as life dissolves in many aspects.

Honestly, early in the process my thoughts scared me. There was a boogie man behind each one. I checked under the bed and in all the closets in an attempt to confront my fears. I became aware the boogie man was only my own self-doubts fueled by the fears hidden in the darkness of grief. I had been defined by Pete’s presence for many years and now half of me was gone. Away to a place just beyond my ability to see. I believed I had no clue how to do this ‘alone’ thing. Out of necessity, I came up with a plan, put one foot in front of the other, and I was on my way. I eventually landed a job in North Carolina as the original plan completely fell apart after arriving. Once again, my strength would be tested as I found myself in a strange world alone. No matter how many little situations brought solitude into my life, I carried on addressing my fear. As long as I have a safe cozy place to come home to, I no longer consider ‘alone’ a foreign feeling, so I am consciously confident in the knowledge that I can do this…

Love’s Saving Grace

CHAPTER THREE – The End and Beginning-

*EXCERPT – THE BEGGINNING*

My journey….

Eventually in year three, I would begin to come back to the land of fully living. Prior to this, my life was a jumbled mess of unrest. I had moved around from place to place trying to find the where, what, and why of belonging again. Currently, I have found me- somewhere, doing something without the why. It is in this questioning I started to think in singular again. I finally needed to know what “l” wanted or needed. This sent me inward and began lighting up my soul.

I have found pride in the fact I am surviving and supporting myself. I have let go of assumptions on how this grieving process is supposed to unfold. I am just looking inward to things I think I would like to do. I have learned to accept that some things work out and others do not. For those things not meant to be, I choose again and again and again!

Choosing became a pattern. I would become restless and confused. Panic would set in as I believed I would never figure this crap out. My decisions would change from moment to moment. I was overwhelming myself. My mind in chaos and confusion became my own worst enemy. Although on the outside life seemed to be moving, my mind and body were in a turbulent war with itself. Pro and con lists were numerous during this chapter of life. Second guessing everything became a habit. What I wanted was a life full of family, friends, and dreams; what I had was a shattered foundation I did not think was ever coming together. I realize now, I wanted and had no patience in waiting for it to become. I wanted yesterday not tomorrow.

The little things were overlooked. The people who were there for moments in time were only dreams fading in the daylight. Nothing seemed to stick. In my mind, it was all a dangling brass ring just out of reach. I was frustrated with all the tiny steps. I just wanted to leap to the finish line. I thought all the answers to my prayers were there – solid and permanent. I believed happiness was at the end of this part of my journey. I lost sight of the little things along the road which lead us to the happiness which always resides within us. I became angry at my circumstance and the work it was taking to find myself again. I forgot to be grateful… I have life, memories, and love. These discoveries or admissions gave me some days of peace.

As year three turned to four I was filled with unrest again. I was not sure if I wanted to remain in North Carolina. In an overwhelming desperation I decided I would give my decision to the Universe and God. Whatever was to be is what would work out! When things fell into place here, I chose to believe there is a purpose or lesson still to be learned. In answer, I will do what I do making the best of the situation. My mind still occasionally questions my destination, but my life has delivered everything I need in a timely fashion. This continues to remind me of gratitude in living and breathing while it strengthens my spirituality. I try to remember the lesson – no matter how empty a space may seem I am never truly alone.

As I venture outside of my comfort zones my small world in enlarging. I am driving to unfamiliar places, enjoying local events, and telling myself daily “I can”. My life has officially become about me. I am no longer defining my circumstance with the story “I am because my husband has passed on”. I remember Pete always, but I am finally focused on me. I am planning trips, believing it will all work in divine time, and attempting to dream a different dream. I am beginning to see there are steps needed to strengthen my weaknesses before I can move to the next level of discovery about myself. I am me; so this means I will be excited for what is coming and fear it a little at the same time. It also means I will have good days and bad days requiring me to be gentle with myself. Success is not created overnight. Maybe the best things are the things sowed and nurtured slowly and carefully .Okay, I guess I will not be let off the hook; I will have to learn this “patience” lesson. I am not sure why after 57 years it is a requirement for moving forward, but it seems to be a necessary character trait I must acquire. So be it…I want to move onward!

My steps forward occasionally make me feel drunk as I stumble and swerve on my way to why. I may have been lacking patience all these years, but I never lacked stubborn resolve. No matter what is thrown at me, after my moment, I will not be beaten. Through my grieving process I learned my moment can be defined by a second, hours, days, weeks, or years. No matter what others may believe, this is me and it is okay to just be me. This new simple belief shows me a glimpse into my happiness that resides within — Another part of me emerging to further expand my own world.

I continue on with all that seems to be me – much heartache, great sorrow, many fears, infinite love, tremendous joy, and undying hope. My world is now mine alone to create. The loss and sorrow have not stopped, but have increased within these years. It is a certainty it will continue for the rest of my life. I have discovered however, I can carry on through them even though I stumble with each one. For in between them, I transform my world and myself as my heart expands in memories and love.

I feel Pete’s presence and I am aware of signs as the Universe reminds me there is something much bigger than this world in which I am part of. I am trying my best to believe and listen. In my human nature I do not always, but…In moments of openness; I heard the nagging words that whispered to me, noticed the subtle signs sent when I paid attention, and felt a personal song beginning to fill my heart….

The words began to flow. The ideas came to me as I slept. The grief turned to gratitude. My heart began to expand.

From loving and being loved – it was the unbearable pain which set me free. It forced me to face my demons and finally begin to heal! His love saved me from loneliness and the belief I was unlovable. His death –which I thought would destroy me – actually opened my heart, taught me strength, lead me to me and Saved Me!

From beginning to end this is a beautiful journey. I never realized how much Pete and his love had taught and strengthened me. As I look back feeling, mourning, loving, and cherishing our time and love I know what a gift I had received.

It is Love’s Saving Grace I give credit to in pushing me inward and onward. It has shown me I have (and always had) the strength, talent, wisdom, and determination to move through life’s storms. After each storm I will see the sun, breathe the air, feel gratitude, and love the new me regardless of the silly, crazy, fiery, subdued person I may become.

It is my journey continuing until my last breath… I pray I will always remember;

The storms make me strong enough to be grateful for the gifts in my life.

—-© Sue M.

Phantom

I (my thoughts) wander the dark halls of my mind. Gathering emotions from all I have seen or done. Trying as I might to feel the next step, the action I should take. This home is not quite right. No one has come here in so long. The halls are empty and echo the intentions of what I want. The laughter has not returned. Playful fun and dreams are fleeting: Only appearing long enough to keep the embers burning, but never quite igniting into beautiful dancing flame. I meander through- gathering memories of times when I stood full of life, eager to try, and filled with love. A tear touches my heart , never reaching my eye, as I wonder about that woman able to do and see so much. I reach for her and she slips through me like a phantom residing somewhere just beyond this reality. She is there; Elusive and tempting. A smile plays on her lips and a longing dances in her eyes. She too wants to come home reunited with all that was good and all that is waiting to become.

Go Into The Night By Your Guiding Light

In the dark recesses of the mind are the answers and confusions. The truths hidden in the darkest shadows where life struggles to shine, whereas the confusions have light cast upon them readily available to be brought forth as truth in disguise. Our truths have been buried by words and experiences throughout our lives. We tend to see the light on the easiest path to attain; by being agreeable and malleable to what others say, what others expect, and the consequences of how we handle situations because of these.

It is our job to be sure we see the real truths and not those disguises. To question what we know in the silent moments of the night; a time when it is just ourselves and the world is sleeping. Search… search for you, let the light of your soul show you the truths and quiet the ego.

SILENT WHISPERS

And my first story is told…

No coverage, not even one bar, the battery was dead anyway. It was still daytime, but there was an overcast and the sky had a perfectly even dullness, so there was no way to tell what time of day it was, much less which direction was north or south or anything else for that matter. A two-lane blacktop road snaked up into the distance and disappeared into some trees, or a forest if you wanted to get technical about it. It also snaked down toward some lumpy hills and disappeared there as well. What sounded like a two-stroke chainsaw could be heard in the distance, but it was impossible to tell whether it was up in the forest or down in the lumpy hills. This had been happening more often lately. Two different ways to go, with a dead battery and no bars, and nobody left to blame.

Theoretically up would seem the right way to go, but they questioned or more accurately argued about what there could possibly be to find in the forest. Her argument won because Nick figured she was correct about there being more trees and darkness but he was not 100% sure either way looked promising. It was typical of their life lately as they seemed to disagree about everything; always two diverse paths literally and figuratively. Even being here at the crossroads was a result of arguing about how he had put the clean clothes away. Of course she said he had done it because he never listened and he said it was how she had explained to do it. Just petty arguments seeming so important in the moments. This one led them to making one wrong turn, blaming each other, and now they couldn’t agree on the direction to take to get back to civilization in her words. They most definitely needed to ask directions to find their way back and who would they ask in the forest, a little birdie?

Rayleigh and Nicholas are not just a young couple unmeant for each other. Their love was real and they are best friends, but life is full of experiences both good and hard. Their life is no exception. At thirty-something with two children, a home, an ill parent they care for, a four month layoff, a new job, and oops! a pregnancy you could say it’s full! With all this going on they are both tired and scared while trying to remain strong and unaffected. This trip was supposed to be a long weekend to rebalance, rekindle, and refresh themselves and in turn their relationship. So far the trip was only becoming more of the same.

Following suit, they drove down into the lumpy hills in silence for about 4 miles hearing the sound of the chainsaw growing louder, but still at a distance from the road. As they both tried to pinpoint the direction of the sound, they came upon a driveway with a sign for H & H Garden & Landscape Center. The drive was lined with smaller lighted Christmas trees and nutcracker soldiers leading to a building with the most beautiful pots of poinsettias on staggering size pillars at the door in front of what looked like old gas light posts. It was actually a very warm inviting feeling driving up to the door. Both Rayleigh and Nick smiled despite themselves and had the same thought about only needing falling snow to complete the post card perfect scene.

They were still smiling in silence as a woman they guessed to be about ten to fifteen years their senior came out the door smiling back as she greeted them getting out of their car. She introduced herself as Helen, one of the owners. She told them to go in and look around while she took the coffee she was carrying to her husband who was cutting lumber for the Winter Festival stage. With that she disappeared around the corner of the building. Rayleigh and Nick looked at each other and walked inside. It was an amazing place all ready for the Christmas holiday and winter gardeners. Tables held planters already filled with beautiful arrangements, flats of small plants ready for crafting winter displays, and simple, beautiful decorations strategically placed enticing of the unwary shopper. They were still mesmerized as the jingle bells over the door announced Helen’s return. She offered them assistance as she ushered them to a cordoned area in the center of the room. The area was setup with a coffee buffet including hot chocolate fixings, cookies, and small stools. It was decorated with tall candles, lighted deer, and, of course, candy canes. Beautiful, but in the same easy natural way as finding themselves making hot chocolate.

As they sipped their marshmallow topped hot chocolate, Nick explained they had gotten lost and their need for directions back to the highway. At this moment, Helen’s husband, Henry, came in telling his wife how they are all ready to begin hauling the lumber to the square when he noticed she had customers. He apologized for bursting in and asked if they were in town for the festival. Helen explained their dilemma to her husband who offered to write down the directions while boasting of the upcoming events in town. Rayleigh responded in kindness explaining how it would be fun if they didn’t have reservations already.

Once Henry wrote down the directions making sure they understood his scribblings, he poured another coffee, grabbed a cookie, wished them well, and exited to pull the truck around to his wood pile. Rayleigh looked at Nick as he walked over picking up a small hand-carved wooden ornament of two deer with three tiny stars above their heads and took it to the counter. Afterward he handed it to Rayleigh who smiled because she had silently admired it on their walk-thru. It fondly reminded her it was typical Nicholas fashion to be tuned in to her thoughts when things were balanced in their relationship. They thanked Helen, wished her Happy holidays , and unwittingly held hands on their way back to their El Dorado.

Helen followed them out as she headed toward the pickup making sure the boys were there to help Henry load up. She felt the confusion as Nick sat behind the wheel trying to start their vehicle which seemed to be uncooperative. Helen glanced in Henry’s direction seeing the boys and turned back toward the couple in the car. She could not help but feel the overwhelming feelings as she approached the vehicle. Nick threw his hands up and she knew the car was not starting.

She told them they should go back inside in the warmth until she could have Henry see if he could figure it out. They followed her to the door where she turned to head out back to the guys. Helen explained the couple’s new dilemma and Henry said he would check before he headed to the square. Helen returned to the garden center, told Nick, and went about some daily chores. Rayleigh and Nick took a left toward a bench sitting amongst a winter snowman display talking about the luck they were having or lack of.

It was about 15 minutes later when Henry walked in and asked Nick if he wanted to have a look at his beast. Nick got up and followed him outside. As Helen passed by, Rayleigh told her how sorry they were for the inconveniences. Helen smiled and the women started talking as Helen made lists . The women each learned their lives were basically similar…..2 children, beautiful homes, jobs they loved. The major difference was the fact that Helen and Henry could be their parents. In the manly version of conversation outside, they learned they each had an affinity for older vehicles and the shared sentiment of having one passed down. A well rounded conversation on two fronts.

The men returned inside after they had listened, tapped a few things, and were sure the alternator and battery were good. On the way inside Henry offered to call Joey, the town mechanic, to see what he thought. As it was the only option from where he stood, Nick agreed and thanked him before informing the women. Henry then informed the group Joey would be up in about 2 hours after he finished up a job. In an attempt to distract the couple Helen suggested they go into town and grab a bite. With nothing else to do all four got into Helen’s Jeep and went to town.

On the way there was only one turn off before they arrived into town. It was something like small town USA you saw on the movies Rayleigh liked. One market, bank, antique shop, ice cream shop, all looking like small mom and pop places. Then as they went up another rolling hill the street was lined on both sides by small specialty shops giving way to the town’s garage and fire station flanking both sides of the street just before the road forked around the town square. Right before the fork a small quaint restaurant was situated across from the town square. Helen parked and they all got out. They walked across the parking lot up to a porch with some small tables adorned with evergreens and flameless candles to one side and a couple of rockers to the other. The entrance had a Christmas wreath, and was flanked by picture windows with candles glowing in the dullness of the day illuminating the name Izzy’s just above them.

Once inside it was cozy, warm, and seemed to breathe a tangible life into the spirit of the holidays. It was not something easy to explain, but felt deep within. Rayleigh knew Nicholas was feeling the same by the look of awe as she put her arm in his and the foursome picked a table swathed in the same décor as outside except the tables in here had linen table cloths. As soon as they seated themselves, a younger waitress brought glasses of water with a bowl of lemons. As she set them down she said hello to their benefactors and turned to introduce herself to Rayleigh and Nick. Unconscious of his relaxed state of mind Nick introduced himself while referring to Rayleigh as Lei Lei, a name he affectionately called her. The waitress, Andy, smiled and rattled off the lunch specials waiting for them to choose. Once they ordered they sat back for a few minutes taking in the relaxed atmosphere.

Henry picked up his phone calling the boys to let them know he’d be over shortly to help with the constructing. Then he turned his attention back to the others at the table asking the couple where they were headed. The conversation was easy and relaxed as they explained they were heading through West Virginia to Delaware. Rayleigh chimed in describing how their best friends were relocated to West Virginia and this was the first holiday their families would not celebrate together. Nick concluded by saying his family had property in Delaware because his grandparents loved it there and how they believed it would be a peaceful place to decompress from life’s stressors. Then the couples bantered back and forth getting to know things about each other as they finished their lunches.

Joey came over and met them as they were leaving Izzy’s. He told them he saw them pull in as he was working on a car. He extended his hand to Nick and Rayleigh as Henry introduced them. Helen relayed what had transpired and Henry filled in the diagnostics he and Nick had done prior to calling him. Joey agreed to meet them at H&H as Henry said his goodbyes before crossing the street to go back to work.

Once they returned to H&H, Helen went inside with Rayleigh as Nick went out to catch up with Joey. Once Nick appeared with the keys, Joey tried to start the vehicle a couple of times listening to determine what sounds he could hear. He heard a clicking, but no engine noise. He got out of the car and went to his truck to get his battery tester, and diagnostic scanner. Meanwhile Helen told Rayleigh to make herself comfortable and let her know if she needed anything, telling her she would be around the shop if she needed her. Rayleigh only needed one thing right now which was a place to charge her phone so she could check on the home front. Helen pointed toward the bench they had sat at before, but also said there was another outlet in the coffee buffet if she would rather sit there. After being sure her guest was comfortable, Helen returned to her duties leaving Rayleigh alone.

Rayleigh plugged in her phone and wandered among the plants and Christmas displays. It warmed her as she began to feel the holiday spirit creep into her. She thought about each of their children as she looked at the ornaments hung on the trees throughout the shop. All were either painted, carved, or ceramic with a delicate man-made quality. Just then she spied one of a little ballerina swirled up in ribbon from the big present with star covered wrapping she was dancing on. It reminded her of her daughter Lexi and how much she loved dancing and Christmas. As she wandered back in the direction of the bench, she found a painted ball depicting a little boy in front of a Christmas tree playing with his trucks with a happy puppy joining in. It reminded her of the Christmas when they first adopted their dog, Maverick, and how he adored their son Austin. As she carried them back to the bench she couldn’t help thinking how this run of bad luck seemed strangely right.

She laid the ornaments softly on her jacket and was about to sit down when something caught her eye. It was a display of angels carved and simply embellished. One stuck out and she went over to it. It was a man and woman holding a baby swaddled in a blanket… but it was not just any blanket though, it had been painted blue with teddy bears. The exact same as Nick’s baby blanket his mother had saved. Weirdly the blanket was the only embellished section. Then Rayleigh gasped as she noticed next to it was another with a pink blanket with teddy bears like Nick’s sister’s. She was still standing there awestruck as the jingle bells made her jump.

Nick and Joey walked in chatting animatedly about old cars. They smiled at Rayleigh as she turned around with a gray color still in her cheeks. Nick came over asking her if she was okay and she just said something about looking at ornaments and being reminded of something. Then she changed the subject by questioning about the car. At that instant, Nick’s face got serious as he explained Joey was going to tow the car to his garage to test the starter which he believed was the problem. Joey quickly reassured her he should know within the hour. Rayleigh looked at Nick with a concerned puzzled look wondering what they were going to do now. They both knew this delay would upend their plans and they would have to adjust them by having less time at Alex and Carly’s. It was all disappointing and disheartening for them both.

Joey offered to take them into town so they could walk around a bit or relax in town. He even mentioned Manning’s had the best ice cream for miles especially the ‘date night’ milkshakes. Neither Nick or Rayleigh wanted to intrude any longer on Helen and Henry so the accepted the offer. As they gathered their belongings and started off to find Helen customers came in. Helen appeared from a backroom to greet them. She directed the customers to a room off the back of the shop explaining she would be there in a few minutes after they had a chance to look around. The customers nodded and left as Helen turned to the somber looking group. It was Joey who spoke first explaining he had to take the car to the garage and had offered Nick and Rayleigh a ride into town. Then Nick and Rayleigh thanked her and told her how grateful they were. Helen told them to enjoy the town and to stop by the square to let Henry know what was decided about the car. She said she would call him to tell him what was going on and waved as she turned to go find her customers.

The other three got in Joey’s truck and headed into town with the El Dorado in tow. The ride was quiet until Joey asked them if they wanted to be dropped of at the garage or somewhere else in town. Neither had really thought that far ahead but said the garage was fine. Once at the garage Joey said he would call if they liked when he was finished. Nick nodded, gave him the number, and they headed in the direction of the restaurant while Joey unhooked the car. They both made their way to the porch of Izzy’s and just plopped into rockers not really sure what to do. Rayleigh remember she had charged the phone a bit knowing they had to make calls. They really had no definite answers yet, but figured checking on the kids should be first. Besides she wanted to update Nick’s sister, Madeleine, Maddie as they called her. This whole experience so far was pleasant but eerie, so she thought someone should know where they were. The thought made her turn to Nick who understood the question without her saying a word as he got up to go in and find Andy to ask her where they were. Even he realized they hadn’t been very attentive especially given their situation.

Nick found her as soon as he entered, walked over, and asked her what town this was. She giggled and told him they were in a town near Greenbrier state forest called Briarwoods. He felt silly at how unaware they had been while arguing and since arriving, but he had to be sure they had crossed out of Virginia. Again she giggled as she nodded. He thanked her and went back out to Rayleigh. She was talking to Maddie as she looked up as he repeated what Andy had told him. He could hear the rise in his sister’s voice but could only imagine the conversation. He sat next to Rayleigh and waited for their children to come on the phone. The were excited to talk to their parents and let them know they were having a lot of fun too. After a few minutes the phone passed back to Aunt Maddie who made them promise to call as soon as the car was fixed. They thanked her and promised before hanging up. Then they called their friends to update them. The conversation began with all the necessary information they needed to share and ended with the easy bantering between long time friends.

At the end of the call Nick questioned her about what she wanted to do to fill up an hour. Rayleigh thought they should do something where they could both charge their phones. Nick remembered then he had put his in the glove box when it had died, so they only had hers unless they went over to get his. Rayleigh made a face expressing her frustration with him and the car. She did not want to interrupt the mechanic risking any further delays. Her frustration fell onto Nick which he read loud and clear without any words between them. They left heading down the hill they had just driven up. She suggested going to the ice cream shop because she was not hungry after having eaten not too long ago. Nick agreed, but did not say anything else. He had no idea what was wrong with Lei Lei. She had moments when nothing satisfied her anymore. He realized they had been lackadaisical, but knew he could not change the circumstances. His attitude was to make the best of it because they were away, they were together, and who knew what they might experience on their ‘little detour’.

He was walking and thinking on their way down the hill past the shops when Rayleigh stopped. She seemed to be looking at the pretty Christmas decorations which he had not noticed in his current mood. He quickly took in all the Christmas trimmings when he spotted the art store. He knew it was what caught her attention. She was a graphic artist by trade who had not done anything but work in her studio since the children were born. He knew she missed just being artistic for the fun of expressing herself. He gambled on the sentiment she was currently having and asked if she wanted to go in and look. She answered him with a wanting in her tone yet the words denied her desire as she thought they should probably get the phone charged. So they continued to Manning’s in hope of charging her phone some more.

Manning’s was a typical ice cream parlor when they walked in. There was only a tree decorated for Christmas in the corner. Comically appropriate, it was decorated with tractor, truck, and farm animal ornaments as if they had bought out Tractor Supply’s inventory. They made their way past the tables and chairs to the counter to pick out an ice cream flavor. Once they had decided they asked about a plug to charge their phone and were directed to a table in the front corner by the tree. Once she plugged in the phone they sat down to enjoy their cones of chocolate marshmallow for Nick and butter pecan for Rayleigh. Neither said a word, but noticed the older man behind the counter watching them. It made Rayleigh move her chair a little closer to Nick right before the man asked where they were from and if they were here for the festival this weekend. They both shook their heads while he continued to talk. He introduced himself as Fred Manning inquiring more about what brought them there and for how long. They only explained they had made a wrong turn and would be leaving shortly. He chuckled as he told them his children graciously let him work the ice cream shop to make him feel needed. This eased some of the tension making conversation a little lighter. Finally Rayleigh answered explaining they were only there until the mechanic fixed their car. He responded by telling them how lucky they were to be amongst good people instead of being on the side of the road or in a deserted rest area. The couple didn’t respond as they began to understand how much worse their situation could be when her phone rang. Fred returned to working after telling them to enjoy their ice cream and their detour.

Joey said hello and asked where they were. She told him and he said he would be there in a few minutes. She turned to Nick looking puzzled and a little scared. Nick told her maybe he was bringing the car to them or more likely he was being courteous by going over the cost before starting the work. Within a few moments Joey walked in and sat down. He got right to business explaining how the starter had gone bad, was not a stock part so it had to be ordered, and it would not be there before Monday morning. After learning he had tried calling a man up the road who has some old cars he had restored to see if he had one without having any luck, Nick gave him the okay to order it as if they had a choice. Joey went outside to make his calls; including one to Helen to let her know they would probably need some help both in finding a place and getting there. He returned to confirm he placed the order and to let them know he also called Helen. Joey then excused himself so the couple could have some time to discuss their situation. Once Joey left, the couple just sat there trying to absorb their run of bad luck. It was Rayleigh who spoke first deciding they needed to make arrangements before calling and upsetting anyone. Nick agreed as Fred explained they had choices. The bed and breakfast, which he assured was best, was down the road or they could follow the road further around where they would find a couple of ‘big town’ motels on the strip. Then he made a comment about how sometimes getting lost isn’t really getting lost at all before leaving them to figure things out.

They proceeded to called Helen to ask for her advice while apologizing again for being such a bother. Helen was cheerful in response as she offered to show them their options after she closed up the shop. Rayleigh explained they would walk back toward the restaurant so they could gather their belongings from their car when she arrived. With that set up they paid, grabbed their things, and headed out back up the hill past the shops. This time however, they entered the art shop to look around. They both needed to clear their heads and relax to be able to think more clearly about this mess. Nick found a beautiful set of watercolors, some new brushes, and canvas he knew Lei Lei would love to get lost with in her studio, so he purchased them while she was wandering the aisles. She caught up with him with a beginner art set she knew Lexi would enjoy. Since Christmas was approaching quick and they were stuck in this little town she decided she would try to get in the spirit by buying a few little gifts while there. Obviously, Nick had decided the same she thought, as she noticed the bag in his hands. They left continuing up the hill noticing what other shops lined the street on their way toward the restaurant.

Once Helen showed up, they loaded their things into her vehicle and she drove to the left of the town square right past the inn toward the strip as the locals called it. She showed them the two motels then explained she would circle back to the inn so they had an idea of distances and available commodities. She came to the inn and explained they had a botanical garden on the backside of the property. The couple decided to go look around the inn as motels were pretty much the same. When they walked inside it was like coming home even though they were nowhere near home. After discussing it, both Nick and Rayleigh decided they would stay here. They both thought being at the inn might salvage some part of the vacation they had started out to have. They checked in and Helen told them she had an old vehicle they could borrow to get around town if they wanted. Once they were checked in she left promising to talk to them in the morning.

Rayleigh and Nick settled in only to discover they were feeling exhausted. They called everyone to give them the new details, apologize for the cancellations and inconveniences before saying good night to their children. Afterward they just laid on the bed comfortably discussing, venting, and planning. Rayleigh remembered to tell Nick about the ornaments with the blankets and he told her that Joey had vacationed near his grandfather’s as a child. Then they both commented about Fred’s off-handed comment as the day’s troubles seemed to slip away as they fell asleep in mid thought. Surprising themselves they slept soundly until eight the next morning. Once awake they looked around noticing the suite was decorated for the holidays including a pencil tree with glass ball ornaments glittering from the colored twinkling lights. Neither of them could believe they hadn’t noticed it or the gas lighted fireplace last night.

They admired the cozy room as they continued to get ready quickly becoming hungry from the smells wafting up the stairs and into the room. They tried to discuss plans for the next few days while they were stuck waiting on the starter. The conversation between them bounced from happy tones to accusatory as they silently attempted to deal with all that had happened in their life lately. Neither one of them really believed the situation was the other one’s fault, but it was easier than thinking they may be taking the other for granted. In the awkwardness they retreated back to silence as they headed downstairs to discover the smells responsible for their hunger pangs.

They made a coffee, grabbed a homemade muffin, and found a seat next to a window overlooking the gardens. Nick started the conversation by apologizing for their ruined vacation. He thought he should have taken Rayleigh’s SUV and maybe they would be waking up in their friend’s home this morning. Rayleigh had thought the same, but had also liked the idea of taking the El Dorado back to Delaware like the old days. They both had a need for some nostalgic thinking wishing it would bring back the old sparks in their relationship… Like stepping back would conjure up life as it had been. Finally they slowly began expressing these long kept secrets tucked away in each of their hearts.

As they began to touch the tip of the iceberg of emotions within themselves, Helen interrupted with her promised phone call. She explained she had to gather things for the festival and wait on her youngest son, Dominic, to arrive to manage the Christmas tree sales before she could come by. She would bring his old Ford for them to use and if they weren’t at the inn, she would leave the keys at the desk. The couple was very appreciative thinking they might wander the gardens until she came by. First they decided to have a French toast platter with another coffee before heading outside. Their conversation covered Christmas shopping, the strange feelings this town caused, and revealing some of their own feelings as they wandered the gardens. They were finally relaxing and enjoying each other when a woman about the same age came up the path from the other direction. The woman introduced herself as Madison, the owner of Home Fires Inn. She inquired genuinely how their stay and breakfast were so far. They smiled while confirming their satisfaction and introduced themselves. Madison thought she remembered their names from a conversation with Helen and asked if they were friends of her mother-in-law’s. They stood on the path a few more minutes talking about little trivial formalities regarding their connections to Helen and Henry before continuing on in their respective directions. Nick and Rayleigh held hands and continued a sincere conversation as they walked until they found themselves back at the Inn.

They went to their room to freshen up and dig through their little treasures making mental notes of what other things they may want to buy while there. They laid out the ornaments and art set as Rayleigh questioned where Nick’s package was. He smiled mischievously eluding to Santa’s secrets at this time of year then questioned whether she had purchased the angels. She shook her head while she carefully wrapped the other ornaments and carefully placed them in her suitcase alongside the art set. Both were lost in reverie as the ringing phone made them jump. Nick grabbed it to answer it as they wondered who it could be forgetting momentarily Helen was coming by. He hung up and they headed downstairs to meet her. Helen handed them keys as she led them to the parking lot to show them the car. She told them to enjoy themselves making the most of their spontaneous vacation and she would see them later. She mentioned there was a lot of work to do to get ready for the festival that evening and they could meet for dinner, but it would have to be a late one. It was Rayleigh who said they’d be happy to help if they needed it because they only planned on checking out the shops which they could do tomorrow afternoon. Nick nodded enthusiastically in agreement as Helen happily accepted the offer as long as they didn’t mind working on vacation. With that, Nick got in the truck with Henry who was heading to the square while Rayleigh drove back to the garden center with Helen in the Taurus. Everyone was excited and fully caught up in the holiday spirit as they began working to finish up the decorations and concession setups.

Helen and Rayleigh decided to use both vehicles to haul plants to the square so they could make less trips in the end. They were impressed by how many of the concessions were already setup on their second trip. They figured even they would only have to load the jeep for the next one. As soon as they setup this load of poinsettias, Helen checked to be sure all the Christmas tree lights worked; especially the big one in front of the square. Rayleigh gave a wave and smile to Nick as they turned to leave for the last load. He acknowledged her with their private ‘I love you’ sign before going back to work. The women headed back chatting a little about everything from the decorations to their families. Helen explained to her how Madison turned her parents house into the Inn after they were killed in a car accident when she was nineteen and then married her oldest son, Donovan. He was the one who cared for their greenhouses and the botanical gardens at the Inn. Rayleigh loved the story and how they had both done something to honor both their parents while combining their passions. As they talked they were loading the last few plants when Rayleigh starting feeling off. She headed to the bathroom, but wasn’t back after what Helen thought was too long of a time.

Helen found Rayleigh sitting on the bathroom floor crying with pain and clutching her abdomen. She tried to understand what had happened, but it seemed Rayleigh wasn’t really sure beyond the excruciating pain in the lower middle of her abdomen. Helen helped her up and into the jeep explaining they were going to the hospital. Rayleigh was frightened and realized she forgot her phone on the bathroom sink. She began to panic realizing she could not get hold of Nick. Her mind started whirling making the pain worse. She couldn’t stop herself from panicking being in a strange place without Nick. Helen continued to try calming her as she maneuvered the winding roads on Forest Drive while trying to get hold of Henry to let him know to bring Nick to the hospital and explain she would call back once she had Rayleigh inside.

As Helen took Rayleigh inside, Henry was racing toward the stage where Nick was helping hang lights. Rayleigh was checking in as Henry was explaining to Nick the little he knew. As Nick began to panic Henry told him he would bring the truck around and took off running. Nick whirled around as if to get his bearings and figure out where he was. As he turned taking a leap toward the stairs, he felt himself go airborne then crash to the stage with a resounding thud. The pain in his wrist made him sick to his stomach and the other men working came running as Henry pulled up. Henry’s son, Donovan, helped him to his feet asking if he was alright. Nick said he was fine and headed to Henry’s truck with Donovan in tow. Donovan explained to his father what happened before letting them leave and then the men disappeared around the side of the square.

Before Henry could completely stop the truck, Nick jumped out and raced through the emergency doors in search of Rayleigh. He saw Helen coming out of the back and she began to explain they took Rayleigh for an ultrasound, advising him the nurse would come get him as soon as she was done, and explained what little she knew before noticing him holding his swollen wrist. Henry caught up with them in time to catch her explanation and then filled her in on Nick’s accident. Helen promptly escorted him to the check-in desk all the while he argued. He was escorted back while he continued to argue he was okay and only wanted to see his wife. The nurse promised she would bring him to his wife as soon as her test was done, but in the meantime he needed to be checked. He sat on the bed in the room pouting like a young boy while she wrote down his rendition of events and symptoms as the doctor entered.

He was examined and set up to have an x-ray done, but refused to go anywhere until he could check on his wife. The nurse exited to gather information on Rayleigh and came back in a few minutes later to take Nick to Rayleigh. When they entered her room he noticed she looked a little green, but she immediately stilled his fears with her sheepish smile. The nurse explained to them both the ultrasound showed nothing worrisome, but the doctor was going to run a few routine blood tests. She also told them it was time for Nick’s x-ray as Rayleigh looked confused and worried. He passed it off telling her he tripped and may have sprained his wrist when he fell hurrying to get to her. Both of them now alone having tests and their only thoughts being of the other. Once Rayleigh’s blood tests were done she requested to wait in Nick’s room. The nurse saw no problem with it, so she escorted her around the corner and down the hall to an empty room where she sat in a chair impatiently waiting until Nick returned.

Nick was finally brought in after what Rayleigh thought was an interminable amount of time. She had had blood work and results before he came back. She understood perfectly when she saw him and tears stung her eyes as she looked at him. He had a cast on his wrist which meant the accident was worse than he let on. Only he didn’t want to talk about his obvious injury, he was more concerned about his wife. He looked at her with a questioning look and she just gave him an impish girly smile before telling him she was okay and so was the baby! He stood completely motionless until a smile broke across his face and he walked over to awkwardly hug Lei Lei. All he could think was how lucky they had been in the middle of all their bad luck. Child number three on a spontaneous vacation springing from a detour which put them in the safest place they could have been amidst a run of bad luck. He felt tears sting his eyes as he realized it all and felt his love for Rayleigh overwhelm him. She thought similar thoughts and decided the angel ornament was the first gift she was buying tomorrow. Everything about this whole town seemed to be silent whispers sent to them on angels wings to remind them of the little things which all together created the greatness in their lives. She said as much to Nick before the doctor came in to consult with each of them.

Nick received instructions which included a follow up when he returned home and Rayleigh was told she had just over done after being distressed. They both left surprised when they saw Helen and Henry still in the waiting room walking toward them as the exited the emergency rooms. They were upset they both had a calamity while helping them, but both couples were ecstatic over the pregnancy now that both Mother and child were okay. They all left in the same vehicles they had arrived in and headed into town. They saw the lights from the square before they actually saw them as they approached town. In separate cars Nick and Rayleigh were in awe of the town square. It was amazingly beautiful… a beacon and tribute celebrating their understanding of how sometimes getting lost was a blessing! In that moment, they individually understood Fred Manning’s statement.

Everyone pulled into an overflowing restaurant parking lot. People were milling all around as Helen asked if they were hungry or if they would rather go back to Home Fires. Rayleigh and Nicholas were standing arm in arm dazed by the sight and could not have rested if they went back, so they all went for dinner. The dinner was enhanced by laughter, excitement, and gratitude as Henry explained everything the festival had to offer. Rayleigh questioned if Nick was really up to hanging out, but he seemed to be feeling no pain right then. He assumed it was dulled by all the excitement in their life and the festival. Whatever it was he knew all he wanted to do was experience this with Lei Lei. She was just as excited as long as he would tell her when he needed to go. Once he promised the four new friends headed out to enjoy an evening of festivities.

When they finally went back to the Inn, Nick and Rayleigh were satiated and relaxed beyond any expectations they had had for this trip. Once they found a way to prop Nick’s wrist comfortably on pillows, they snuggled together and slept soundly dreaming of babies, angels, and their families. Both of them knew they had to call their family and friends tomorrow, but for tonight they just wanted to enjoy the peaceful togetherness they had rediscovered.

The sun rose the next morning, but the couple did not rise until ten. They lazily stretched and laid in the bed enjoying the quiet that would be over soon. It was a sunny Sunday morning smelling of fresh cooked breakfast and coffee. They were contemplating getting ready to go enjoy the Inn’s breakfast when the phone rang. This time Rayleigh answered it, hung up, reached for her robe, went to the bathroom and unlocked their door as Nick curiously admired his wife. A few seconds later a waiter rolled a cart in set with a generous sampling of breakfast foods. Nick sat up in bed as Rayleigh explained it was a complimentary service from the Inn’s owner Madison. Over breakfast Rayleigh explained the connection between the Inn, it’s owner, and her husband to Helen and Henry. As the conversation continued they even expanded on the previous day’s conversation in the garden. This time however, there were no accusatory tones just an eagerness to understand each other’s feelings.

After breakfast they lounged around before getting up to get ready to begin their day. Rayleigh wanted to go by the shops if they were open, but was worried it would be too much for Nick although he was ready to go before her. He convinced her he would be fine and promised once again to let her know if he needed to come back. Before they left they called Maddie and talked to the children. Next they called Carly and Alex. Although they did not want to tell Maddie or Bryan about the baby yet they did tell their friends who were happy for them. Their friends had to admit even though it was not the planned vacation it seemed to be just what they needed. Once their calls were done they headed downstairs eager for their adventure through Briarwoods.

Lei Lei drove the Taurus into town to the ice cream shop to park. They figured they could walk up the hill to the shops and possibly get ice cream when they came back for the car. The first shop had sweatshirts in the window with a picture of the town square Christmas tree all lit up and Santa in his sleigh flying over… a perfect souvenir for the children so the gifts they would buy remained Christmas presents. Once inside Rayleigh found t-shirts with the phrase ‘friends are angels we have on earth’ with a cute design which she bought for Helen and Henry as a token of gratitude. Nick teased her as he was picturing Henry in one, but agreed the words said it all. They continued from one store to another finding the perfect gifts as they went along. Even finding the small hand carved train set for Austin who wanted his own train like Pa Pa’s for under the Christmas tree. They agreed it had been a great afternoon as they headed back down the hill.

They went into the ice cream shop looking specifically for Fred who was all questions as they walked in. They explained the details from yesterday as he offered them a complimentary flying saucer; which in this shop was a round ice cream sandwich. Before leaving Rayleigh stated although he confused them the other day, they finally understood his comment– “sometimes getting lost isn’t really getting lost at all “. He smiled and was glad they had come to figure it out so quickly although maybe not so easily. They all laughed, then said their goodbyes before heading to H&H hoping the shop was open.

Sadly it wasn’t open so they decided to take the other road, Forest road, back to Home Fires. As they pulled into the lot they realized both paths led here! They took the new treasures upstairs, folding the shirts into bags Rayleigh had picked up, and putting the rest on the dresser in their bags. Nick was feeling a little pain so they decided to snuggle on the bed for a little bit before deciding on where to have dinner. They drifted off still amazed how accidentally finding this place became exactly what they had needed. Nicholas’ phone ringing woke them from their restful nap making him nervous when he read Maddie’s name across his phone. He quickly answered with an anxious tone wondering what was wrong. His sister’s voice was excited as she said they needed to call someone to share the news she just received. Nick instinctively put her on speaker as she shared the news she was pregnant. At the news Nick and Rayleigh announced they were pregnant too. When they hung up Rayleigh commented about the angel ornaments being a sign like everything they were encountering on their impromptu vacation.

They spent the rest of the day and evening walking the gardens and eating right there at the Inn until they went to bed that night. The next morning they woke early and prepared to go to H&H to pick up the last few gifts. After making their purchase they gave their new friends the presents they bought them with an attached note they had written last night. It thanked them for everything and told them how they hoped to remain in touch. It made Helen misty and Henry was even touched by the thoughtfulness. Helen knew then they would enjoy what she had planned.

Helen had already decided she would leave the shop in her manager’s capable hands today so they could hang out with them before they left to return home. They all left heading into town to check on the El Dorado and were surprised when they saw all of Helen and Henry’s family and friends waiting at the restaurant for them. Even Joey finally came to join them before handing over the keys to the El Dorado. It was a warm send off as they had lunch with their new friends… it was a wonderful way to end a beautiful vacation they had not planned but needed.

They made their way through the crowd, and back to the El Dorado. And as they approached it, a crow flew directly over their heads and landed on the hood and then looked at them. They stood some distance away and watched the crow watching them. Another crow flew directly overhead and landed beside it. The first crow squawked and then both flew away. They watched the crows disappear, looked at each other, and then got in the El Dorado. Only one way to go this time, with five bars and full battery. By SM2018