Category Archives: life

The Chosen Ones

“Why is this jerk hanging around here?” Timmy wondered aloud. He realized the inevitable certainty his sisters would become interested in boys but still eyed their neighbor with suspicion when he showed up at the door. The visitor didn’t suit him one bit.

Luck brought the trio together by chance, finding a forever family within the foster care system never a guarantee. Timmy being younger than the twins didn’t keep him from feeling protective of their little nest of a home and hovered near them from the next room just like a mother bird.

The guy wouldn’t have a chance.

100-word challenge prompt – nest

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“Now I lay me down to sleep” (re-posted in consideration of everyone without the luxury of warmth)

via Maureen Sill on Flickr
via Maureen Sill on Flickr

Walking the dog was never so harrowing before. An unseasonably cold chill in the air that morning sent my hands directly into my coat pockets for warmth. Finding no comfortable gloves there meant my hands stayed put and my canine companion ran off-leash. His sharp Setter nose zoned in on a smell that led us into a landfill and on an adventure like no other we’d had or hope to experience again.

Max barked to signal he’d found his prize. It was one for which there was no requital. Only the dog’s olfactories had paid off, but the much-sought-after scent offered little reward. Except perhaps to friends of the person discovered there if he’d been missing. A middle-aged homeless man’s remains were amidst the rubbish. He met his final demise in a mound of debris, and his perfectly still body was unmistakably that of someone long-perished from this life. Maybe his family hadn’t known where he was and longed to see his face again, its features weathered and worn since the last time they’d visited each other.

An immediate call to the authorities didn’t erase the image from my mind or lift the weight off my heart. Their investigation revealed he was apparently crushed in a garbage truck before being dumped at the trash transfer station. No detail of the circumstances could possibly bring closure to the guy’s family.

I wonder where he was resting to preserve body heat. It bothers me to imagine having nowhere else to go under those unbearable conditions. The bitter, miserable cold that could cause someone to sleep in a dumpster for warmth or what other dire conditions might have driven him there. Such utter desperation.

My hands didn’t feel so cold after all.

Odd, how all of humankind’s refuse ends up in a landfill somewhere. A person isn’t trash, though. I can think of no one who deserves such a place as their burial plot.

Everything seems so disposable. Except people. We pollute the planet with both the items we discard and the beings we ignore. So much is discarded that it may build up enough one day to ultimately destroy this place, our home.

Earth is an interesting place. I’ll hate to leave it one day.

–for Steven, a man I didn’t know, who lived but 44 years on this planet

s30p

*This fictional post is based on a true story in the newspaper. writing prompt: planet

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Mother’s Helper

north lincoln

She hit the t.v. remote volume button thinking she heard a faint sound from the hallway and jumped up from the couch. Her instinct proved true.

“Hey, Tea! Tea, come here!” Her father sat atop the toilet, bluejeans pooled around his ankles, his right arm in a sling. His voice was low-pitched and barely audible, so she was glad she had heard it.  

Marty lived on her own but stayed overnight on weekends at her parents’ home to help keep an eye on things when her mom had to work. Make sure he didn’t burn the house down with an errant cigarette, a lit match on short-shag kindling. Smoking had started it all, so his lungs were the impetus but inoperable by that point.

Phillip called her “Tea Bag” ever since she was a baby with tiny drooping eyelids he claimed looked like saturated linen packets. Her father’s pet name for the youngest girl seemed to fit, so the moniker stuck.

Her birth certificate read Martha in honor of her paternal grandmother, but it was days before they settled on calling the baby Marty instead. By age 13 her mother insisted he use the diminutive instead of Phil’s pet name for her. “Come on, Phil. Other kids are going to tease her about it at school if they hear that. I’m surprised they haven’t already done it,” Mom practically begged.  

“I can’t reach the holder there. Grab me some t.p., would ya kid?” Phillip scratched out the question and jerked his head sideways to point toward the wall. Its close proximity meant nothing without a working appendage, the ulna vulnerable from a childhood break and recent radiation that rendered the arm useless. It hung limp without support, the now brown skin turned to leather, as if burned by 1000 suns.

His voice sounded like it dragged through gravel. Doctors blamed an electrolyte imbalance, so she almost hadn’t heard his weak call from the other room. Guilt feelings rose up from Marty’s imagined shirking of duties. Mother counted on her diligence. Somebody had to pay the bills. Dad’s early retirement sprang out of disability and employer insistence. He’d never work again.

“No problem, Daddy,” Marty answered and tore a strip of tissue from the roll dispenser while looking elsewhere. “That had to be embarrassing,” she thought. “Adds insult to injury, as if everything else wasn’t enough.”

Having cancer must be humbling.

Marty left him to finish business with tissue in his non-dominant hand in private. She stared out the living room window at dried Johnson grass rimming an adjacent field in a singular row that a mower must’ve missed. Its pale yellow hue resembled her father’s skin color, his liver affected among sundry body parts. The row, lit by a bright full moon, waved lazily in an early Spring breeze. Its motion lulled Marty’s anxiety. She couldn’t help mentally ruminating. “I’m glad Grandma doesn’t have to see her son like this.”

His mother came to see Phillip a day before he passed when his body resembled that of an Auschwitz prisoner, cheeks sunken and sallow, the disease having ravaged his body. When a mother outlives her child, an image of her beloved on his deathbed stays emblazoned on her mind’s eye until she reaches her own. The figurative retina remains forever scarred.

Noisy static and the television test pattern buzz disturbed Marty’s reverie. She followed the breaking story all night of a terrorist car bombing in an underground parking garage at the World Trade Center, what seemed millions of miles away from their farm but with damage relatively close to her aching heart. That national catastrophe seemed to parallel Daddy’s medical tragedy, personal calamity mirroring a relatively bigger catastrophe. The news day’s end meant she had to finally shut off the set and resolve herself to restless slumber on the couch.   

When the Twin Towers’ fell in 2011, longer after he was gone, she’d reminisce how that night spent with her father seemed so prescient in retrospect. The two NYC events co-mingled in a way that almost felt identical. She’d even later muse, “Was that in ‘93 or the “9-11” bombings?” Memory blurred by then.

Days later, loud barking outside startled Marty back to reality. Their beagle usually warned if someone pulled in the driveway, but she found no one there upon inspection. “Hush, Tyrone,” she admonished. “Daddy’s asleep. He needs his rest.” An epiphany later convinced her that had been when Phillip’s spirit took a last tour of his beloved farm and said goodbye to his dogs as he left. They bellowed in reply, bidding their master, “Salut … we’ll see you over the rainbow bridge, friend.”

All his kids called Phillip “Daddy,” at the risk of their peers thinking it weird and razzing them about it. Maybe it was a southern endearment or simple country slang. Marty thought how pride over the likes of that seemed so unimportant when her father asked for help with such an intimate task that night.

But the previous undertaking paled in comparison to a chore Mother demanded she assist with doing later when Phillip became comatose. A dying person’s body expels its last bit of waste before the lungs perform final functions.

“I can’t do it,” Marty begged her through tears and sniffed-back snot. “Don’t make me. His pants … I don’t want to see him that way.” The smell didn’t bother her as much as seeing her father’s nakedness.

Mother replied, “Well, we can’t clean him with his pajamas on. You don’t have to look. Just get over here and help me lift. Brace up, girl!” Daddy would’ve been mortified to know Marty helped with that job.

Tough love is a bitch. Dying is worse. Being there when to witness her father takes his last breath proved more personal than either of those duties.

He’d wanted to die at home, though, on the farm for which he still owed the bank, but in the house he’d helped build. His home, nonetheless. He died the next day on a hospital bed hospice workers set up in the dining room. A nurse warned it was just a matter of time, maybe hours.

Marty remembered the raspy, “Hey, Tea. Come here  a minute.” But Daddy wasn’t in the bathroom any more, and he’d never call for her help again. He’d never again sleep in front of the VCR tape’s 100th-plus “Smokey and The Bandit” viewing with “Eastbound and Down” lyrics blasting but never rousing him.  

Sometime prior she recalled learning about a “death rattle,” but had never heard one before. The nurse informed her, “That’s just his last breath being expelled, honey.” The elucidation didn’t soothe her.

The prognosis had been six months, but Phillip lived for only six weeks. His son was on one coast following in Phillip’s military footsteps while the oldest daughter lived on the opposite coast when he slipped into death. All his children had visited as he rested in that makeshift hospital room in the last month, though. They spent very few family meals in that room except at a birthday or Christmastime. The kids staged a dance party for him with James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” trying to coax the lyrical into becoming truth. A self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts.

“Turn that off, girls. You’re making him nervous,” Mother admonished.

They kissed him as he lay on those sterile sheets where he’d withered away to nothing, cancer having eaten away at his already slim frame. He died in that house as he’d wished, the hospital bed soon afterward removed from the dining room.

Phillip’s family never ate in there again.

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A Mother’s Guilt

Kindergarten

Peer pressure could dictate what happened within those classroom walls every day, what she couldn’t see and dare not imagine. She feared what happened in those hallways, in the locker room.

Secure entrances obscured what potential danger threatened to hurt the child she sent on a yellow bus every morning, away from her loving care and protection. He might get in trouble, get suspended, but nothing weighed heavier than the everyday threat of lockdown, sending  kids scrambling to hide if one of them sought revenge on another.

Who would stop them from inside?

 

100 Word Challenge – writing prompt: trouble

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Family Values

70s bike

My fuchsia bicycle with the flowered banana-seat conveyed me all over town, my travel unrestricted. Stranger Danger didn’t get forced on a kid in the ‘70s like the present day. I pedaled pretty much anywhere the strength of my legs could take me.

I got to ride that bike to visit my friend, Veronica, from school. My mother knew where I was going and said, “You can go but only if you don’t tell your daddy.” I could ride my bike there by myself, but my father would’ve forbidden me from going. I’d never been to a black family’s house in my nine years of life.

This was the 1970s, not Jim Crow, not the segregated South, although the Midwest wasn’t exactly a cozy nest of inclusion. Few of my elementary school classmates were black, whom I could count on one hand from amongst three third-grade classrooms.

Our home may have been typical in a small town, but I didn’t know since kids didn’t compare notes. While my mother didn’t condone our dad’s racism, her inaction was complicit. She’d also been raised to think the races need to remain separate, to “stick with their own.” She must’ve fallen into a torpor from the seeming normalness of that environment. Almost as if you can’t beat ‘em, so join ‘em in their prejudice.

My dad was inexorable and felt totally justified in his behavior. We’d been raised with this example as normal, but we knew better inside. Such an ugly secret we hid behind closed doors felt wrong. The balance of our blooming consciences grew lopsided to what seemed right, no matter what we knew as normal in our own home.

Me and my sisters were warned to never bring a black or Asian guy home or we’d have no home. We’d be disowned, which scared me enough to never date outside my race. As a teenager, I realized what bigotry meant but that my father wasn’t even a consistent bigot. He would’ve been fine with one of us dating someone Native American, but he would’ve lost his shit with any of us dating an African American guy.

He once said, “I know one at work, and he’s okay. He’s a hard worker.” Like that was a bonus, as if the man would otherwise slack because of being born black. I have no idea what caused his negativity about other races. It didn’t seem personal. His parents never acted that way. Their rural background likely didn’t involve much, if any, interaction with anyone other than white people. Maybe isolation simply took its toll on him.

My dad’s racist attitude and language overshadowed his other virtues. Being a hard worker who provided and care for his family didn’t weigh as heavy as the hatred and inconsistencies I witnessed. Someone who claimed, “Never think you’re better than anyone else,” was the same person who told us who could be our friends. I remember him saying, “Nobody is any better than you either, no matter how much money they have.” Such mixed messages.

He didn’t like Jews and gave running commentary on the nightly news, especially if it included the likes of Henry Kissinger or JFK, although he never gave a reason why. Astonishingly enough, I think he voted Democrat. We couldn’t watch videos of Eddie Murphy’s comedy routine without a hateful diatribe if our dad walked into the room. Why demonize people we didn’t even know?

It was personal for me. Veronica was my friend, and going to her house excited me. Everyone there welcomed me. With its unique decorations and varied kitchen aromas (as in anyone else’s home), theirs was an average middle-class household. We lived on the north side of the railroad tracks that delineated the poorer side of town. Ironically, I crossed those tracks to go to Veronica’s house not five or six blocks further down the same street.

I came home afterward to report, “Mom, Veronica has three mamas. They all live at her house.” Looking back, I imagine extended family lived there with them. My mom made sure to explain how that couldn’t be right, that they must be different.

Always different, never the same. Making folks different could keep us separate. Twenty-three years after his death I still wonder what stemmed my father’s antipathy.

I’m lucky to have learned a different way of living by moving to a bigger city and meeting individuals of all races, nationalities, religions and lifestyles. My own life experience is richer for it. I know people are ultimately just people.

Some of those people are good and others bad, regardless of skin color. Unfortunately, indifference exists in all human beings. A generation later, I could cross railroad tracks all over the country — or the world — and find the same wherever my wheels take me. But making it personal seems makes it better.

Photo: deer_je via Flickr

*Studio 30+ writing prompt: bonus

Studio30

With a sad spirit, these thoughts are dedicated to a transcendent artist now missed by the world – RIP Prince.

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The Birds & the Bees on TV

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The clunking sound of pans and plates being rocked by the spray of water in the dishwasher covered an annoying chatter of television sports announcers emitting from the adjoining room. Fortunately, the rotating whoosh sound fairly drowned out the strange mentions of “dog legs” on golf courses and commentators’ snappy banter about ball scores and one another’s tie on the cast that day. Her son’s attraction to such boring fare was beyond her understanding.

She asked him, “Why don’t you go outside and play, honey?” Apparently the boy was in rapture of the reporting and didn’t answer. She raised her voice to get his attention. “Hey, there! It’s a beautiful day outside. You ought to go ride your bicycle,” the woman suggested. Imagining the silence in the house, she relished the idea of sitting at the kitchen table with the enormous cat dozing in her lap at the chance of reading the final pages of her book.

“Oh, come on, Mom. I’m watching ESPN,” he told her. Personally, she’d rather listen to the sound of jackhammers outside the door than the squeak of athletic shoes on a basketball court or another jaunty jingle in a beer commercial. The same stereotypical advertisements filled the network’s breaks between segments. Maybe programmers knew their market, but her boy didn’t need to choose shaver brands quite yet.

“I just can’t fathom what you get out of watching that stuff,” she said. “Can you explain it to me?” No reply came. He was lost to the eagle putt again.

Back in her childhood, she loved roaming the neighborhood. All the other kids played in their yards and waved at her walking their dog around the block. Sometimes they’d join her to place pennies on the railroad tracks, which they’d flock to retrieve later in hopes a train had smashed the coins flat. She stayed aloft and out of her parents’ sight in the tallest oak tree if sought for causing trouble.

Remembering those shenanigans made her smile. Being outdoors had been her absolute favorite pastime. Why didn’t kids feel the same way nowadays?

Barely within her realm of acknowledgement, she heard an ad announcer say, “A healthy erection will not last more than four hours.” “Great,” she thought, “here we go.”

Her son called, “Mom?” She closed her paperback and froze in fear of the next question. Being out of his line of sight, maybe he’d think she left the room.

“Mo-om,” he persisted. “What’s an erection?” She remained silent. She’d dreaded this day coming. He was too young to know about these things yet. “Damn, you Golf Channel marketing department,” she pondered. “Why did you make this conversation necessary so soon?”

She remained perfectly still. Maybe she didn’t have to respond. Looking out the window, she wished she could climb the nearest tree and hide.

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – shenanigans s30p

Image: Katy B.

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Fresh Wounds

IMG_0923.JPGAn azure sky promised a blistering hot day as the first canoe broke the water’s surface that morning. The women knew the temperature and humidity would be soothed by the icy-cold river and rushed to get their float underway – 15 miles being the goal for the day.

“Let’s get this show on the road, ladies. I’ve got a cooler full of beer to drink,” Casey belted out, always ready to pop that first tab. “I lost my watch, but it’s happy hour somewhere,” she said. Used to her brand of merriment, the others laughed and joined in her toast with drinks raised in the air.

They got together for such adventures as often as possible, maybe from some strongly-held friendships over the years since high school, or perhaps simply from a collective longing to rekindle the nostalgia of their shared past. Whatever the impetus, they enjoyed escaping the responsibilities of everyday life, and for a few short days other adult commitments be damned.

All fairly adept at navigating either a canoe or a kayak, the group went at the oars with great vigor and followed the current between deep green deciduous forest lining both banks. Most had some background in outdoor expeditions from growing up in the Midwest region. The beauty of such a place sometimes still got taken for granted, but plush reminders surrounded them on either side of the waterway. Rushing rivulets beneath their boats replaced the concrete confines of work and traffic, drudgery of lawn-mowing and trips to the grocery store, and the monotony of laundry and checking kids’ homework. Laughter became an elixir for any lingering worries about life.

“There’s no way you girls are gonna finish off that mess,” the van driver from the outfitter company warned them at drop-off. Their unanimous laughter scoffed his prediction, as drinking on the river practically became an art in their youth, and their big jug of Kansas City Iced Water already  began to diminish by lunchtime. Denise commented how much lighter the container already felt when she lugged it onto a sandbar where they pulled off to eat.

Smaller coolers of sandwiches sat on rocky nest of the riverbank — a tapestry of gray, tan, some darker brown, and even pink quartzite among the riprap there keeping the shores from eroding away. Schools of tiny minnows nibbled at toes left dangling in the water as the women ate potato chips crushed in the dry bags stowed aboard. Kay threw the small fish some crumbs to keep them from nipping at her feet.

She tossed a few fragments downstream hoping to draw them away when an airborne scuffle there caught her eye. “Whoa .. you guys look at that,” she exclaimed, pointing to the opposite bank.

Their attention shifted to two birds that swooped at each other in a swift but embittered battle, with a long-necked heron getting a beating along the way. A smaller bird resembling a hawk yanked at the other’s wing with its sharp beak, tearing away feathers in the process. The larger one’s long neck stretched away in a desperate attempt to escape the slighter but mighty predator.

Their flying fight ended with the more aggressive bird, an osprey, taking to the air after when the rowdy group of women whooped in shock with varying shrieks loud enough to scare off any animal. The heron’s right wing flapped clumsily to flee them as well, although it only scuffed the water’s surface, fresh wounds impairing the ability to flee any other potential danger.

Its injuries kept the majestic bird from escaping the group of boaters, or perhaps the animal instinctively sensed no humans there meant it harm. Marie clambered toward the bird, thinking something could be done for it, practically capsizing her canoe. The woman then realized her own helplessness. She lost a whole beer in the process, and the half-submerged can sailed past the heron’s resting place beside a water-logged walnut bough. What did she know about helping an injured wild bird?

A bale of turtles sat sunning themselves on the downed tree limb but scattered off in different directions when the heron settled near them. Kay said, “What a unique-looking bird. It’s beautiful in it own way, huh?” The women sat ruminating on the notion until she commented, “Surely there’s something we can do for it.”

“You better leave that thing alone,” Casey warned. “It’s hurt and scared … and might hurt you, too.” The others either sat atop beverage coolers or rested on their own rocky nests by the water’s edge, the bunch studying the heron, a sudden pall cast over their otherwise exuberant day.

Marie made her way back to the others on the shore and joined them to reverently study the silently suffering bird. They watched as it hid behind the big limb, wings ruffling, almost trying to shake off its wounds. Kay broke the silence. “My husband hates those things. He says herons always bug him when he goes fishing. They try to steal all the fish,” she said.

Casey shook her head and countered, “Well, that’s just them doing what they do. You know — eat. Everything’s gotta eat. That’s natural.” She usually made a lot of sense even though she might drink too much on occasion.

“It’s beautiful,” said Marie. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen something act so graceful under the circumstances. Can’t imagine how much pain it’s in.”

A distant shriek echoed off a cliff bank further down the river, perhaps even from that same osprey that caused the damage. Maybe it meant to remind them of its power. At the sound, the heron stretched its wings and launched itself from the water. A few of the women gasped at the sight.

“No way,” remarked Denise as a wistful smile crossed her face. “I wondered if maybe it might give up … but look!” They watched it soar off into the air, graceful regardless of the harmed appendage.

Casey popped open another beer and held it aloft. “Here’s to you, bird. Keep flyin’.”

A few jaws still agape, the group lifted their drinks in salute. A tear slid down Kay’s cheek, her being the softest-hearted of the bunch, and she swiped at it with her empty hand. “Some wild things are just too much for this world,” she whispered.

Casey grasped her around the shoulder and motioned toward the canoes. “Come on, now, girl. We’ve got beers left to drink.”

___

Studio 30+ writing prompt – aggressive Studio30

Thank you, Mary, for always reading and commenting on my writing. You will be forever missed.

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The Price of Pain

Waiting-Room-Chairs-300x225

It smelled as if a janitor tried to clean up someone’s sickness in a school hallway and only managed to mix the stench with Pine Sol to a harsher concentration. The odor overwhelmed them upon entering the gray waiting room.

Jewel asked the receptionist, “You take walk-in appointments, right?” As a mother, she was torn. Her daughter’s illness made going to the doctor a necessity. Their lack of health insurance and no expendable income, however, drew that same old feeling of dread from her center. She had no choice but to take Marissa to the free clinic.

This was the first, and she hoped only, time she had to enter the building. She’d seen the sign outside before but thought it a mystical conclave with which she hoped to never become acquainted. Once when Marissa asked her about the place as they passed it on the street, she told her, “That’s where poor people go when they’re sick.” Now, they were the proverbial poor among whose ranks she’d previously never imagined being.

“Yes, the doctor will see you without an appointment,” the woman behind the desk told her. Jewel shook her head, stating, “Actually it’s my daughter who needs to be seen.” She pulled the girl closer to her, hugging Marissa around the shoulders in a grasp of protection.

The receptionist leaned closer to Jewel, nodded toward the young girl, and asked sheepishly, “Does she need a pregnancy test?” Marissa was appalled and blurted out, “NO, she doesn’t need a pregnancy test! She’s 12 years old, and she’s sick! It’s probably the flu.” Jewel didn’t try to disguise her indignant tone.

The woman simply raised an eyebrow in reply. She waved a clipboard toward the waiting room and said, “You can fill out this form and have a seat over there until we call your name.”

Jewel snatched the paperwork away from her and led Marissa toward the scantily-furnished area. Plastic chairs that may have once been white offered little welcome, and she hoped their uncomfortable stay there proved as short as possible. A faded landscape framed on the wall looked as lonely as their surroundings.

While filling in the required information, Jewel looked at the other people around the room. An older couple sat silently in the next line of seats appeared downtrodden and serious, their gnarled hands clasped in one another’s grasp. Further down the row, a mother scolded the toddler clad only in a t-shirt and diaper who circled her seat and whined. Jewel noticed a brown streak running down the child’s leg and onto the linoleum floor and hoped the liquid might only be melted chocolate.

An elbow nudge in her ribs brought her back to the moment. “Mom,” Marissa whispered to her. “Why did the lady ask about a pregnancy test?” The confusion in her daughter’s face saddened her even more than their environment.

She brushed Marissa’s warm forehead lightly with the back of her hand and told her, “I don’t know, sweetheart. Some people just take certain things for granted. Don’t worry about that now. I just want you to feel better.”

**

Studio 30+ writing prompt – conclave Studio30

Image via Erich Ferdinand – Flickr Creative Commons

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Frenemies

imagesR2TX8I3R Team sports were never my thing. They seemed to be for the goody, goody kids. The ones who studied all the time and still went to church as teenagers. Not that I was a bad kid. We just partied too much for our own good. Truthfully, it probably took more effort than I was willing to expend.

My son’s a likable little fella. When he was starting Kindergarten a couple years ago, I asked him how he thought he might go about meeting classmates on his first day. He said he would walk up to someone and propose, “Hey, you wanna be my friend? I’m a pretty good guy.” So sweet, and so naïve.

It wasn’t long before he was in full-on sports mode. He wanted to play all varieties of ball, which is fine until kids start getting hurt. Both physically and emotionally.

The concept of becoming a team was innocent enough at first. They learned the basics of the games, supposedly got schooled on sportsmanship, but also quickly fell into the dynamics of society at large — the fundamentals of not only the sport being played but how people act in groups. Groupthink. Behavior that became another lesson to learn along the way.

These boys already split off into factions that gang up on each other, pair up and pick on someone else they sense as weaker. A more sensitive boys perhaps, like my son. He tells me things some kids say that break a mom’s heart. I thought the stereotype fell on mean girls and didn’t appear until around middle school.

Some of the kids are great, and he excitedly went to a teammate’s 8th birthday party at a pool. Other teammates being there meant he felt a little less out of place with the birthday boy’s unfamiliar friends from school. I watched my boy making his way around the water, looking for a trustworthy playmate.

One of those so-called buddies didn’t act like one at the party. He pushed him up the stairs to the slide to make another boy laugh. My son told him repeatedly to stop it, but the other kid just mockingly parroted him. What a friend.

My gaze drifted in the direction of an older lady who ambled into the pool area in a terry cloth swimsuit cover-up. Her struggling gait made me doubt whether she could wind her way through all the short scrambling legs that rushed to the poles where pails showered water down on their heads. I wonder if the woman had a child she had worried about the way I do mine.

I realize kids can be crappy. My own son may act bad when I’m not looking. But this isn’t the first time that particular kid was a little shit as soon as his parents, whom I like well enough, had turned their heads. He curses, calls names. I kind of hope he’ll be shiftless and still living in their basement one day instead of going to college. Maybe not.

My immature and more uncivilized side urges me to suggest retaliation. Another part of me says situations like these will help guide his moral compass in the right direction and build my guy’s character. As a young girl, I had no coach tell me about being a good sport or give instructions on how to not let it bother me when people you think you know don’t act like you’re on the same team. I wish I could simply give my son a game plan to help him in all the gray areas. If only there was such a thing I could buy for myself so we could both learn how to come out victors in life.

**

This week’s Studio 30+ writing prompt “shiftless.” (image from zoomwalls.com) Studio30

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Role Reversal

imagesI8336AGI

The bathroom faucet ran full blast while Ann Marie scrubbed her hands with antibacterial soap, wringing them over and over and willing the foam to cleanse her system of any germs she might happen to miss washing away. All the water being wasted never entered her mind as she muttered to herself, “Gotta get under the nails.” Her obsession to get them clean overrode even her previous distraction with the tasks that first dirtied them.

She swore she’d never admit it aloud to anyone. Not her mother or even her friends. She didn’t feel any natural inclination toward caretaking whatsoever and was ashamed of herself for it.

Fully realizing she wasn’t cut out for this type of work, she felt a responsibility to help out anyway. Ann Marie just loathed the aroma of it all. Such a noisome bother to her delicate sensibilities.

Cleaning up after other people’s bodily functions made her almost sick to her stomach, no matter how close the familial connection. Nursing was not Ann Marie’s forte.

Even a faint whiff of vomit or just the sound of another person breaking wind triggered her gag reflex and sent her scrambling for a waste basket. So helping care for her grandfather, at her mother’s insistence, exceeded her comfort level. She begged for any other task than his personal care – manicuring the lawn, cleaning out gutters, dusting the ceiling fans – anything except clipping ear hair or rinsing bed pans. Hearing other people’s bodily functions was just too intimate, especially at such close range in his tiny little house.

It broke her heart to so loath such closeness. The sights, the sounds, the smells.

Tears flowed from her eyes as water rushed into the kitchen sink. Having her hands submerged in floating food particles and dinner’s remnants didn’t compare, because she couldn’t see anything gross. Soap suds across the surface made washing dishes a thoughtless and impersonal action, one that lacked any human offal. Only imperceptible organic leftovers. No gas, urine or mucous.

She would willingly complete any other menial chore, clean the house or take out the trash. Flashes came to mind of how her parents left her with her grandpa when she was a toddler. He read her stories and helped teach her to ride a bike. No doubt he’d changed his share of her diapers, but she couldn’t fathom doing the same for him. Life’s circle brought her around to reciprocate nonetheless.

He called from the bedroom, “Ann Marie, come in here please.” His voice resounded with the pain that wracked his withering body, no longer the sturdy frame that previously towered above everyone throughout her comparatively short life span. An overwhelming odor took over her senses in crossing the door’s threshold. She blinked back a reaction so he couldn’t sense her disgust.

She feigned a smile and asked, “What do you need, Grandpa?” His kind eyes and gentle smile reminded Ann Marie how much he meant to her, how much she loved him. That’s why she was there. The phrase repeated in her head, “I can do this. I can do this.” Flipping on the table-top fan to sweep the smelly air in the opposite direction, she told him, “Let’s get you cleaned up.”

*The writing prompts “noisome or smelly” came from Studio 30+.

Studio30(top image: goodhusbanding.com)

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