Papa Eaton

Papa Eaton

Disclaimer: This story about my grandfather is written as I remember it. Not every part of it is aboslutely factual, but rather written from the perspective of a young girl (me). That being said, while some of my family may have different accounts, this is my story of an amazing man that left my life too soon.

There’s a story that my mom loves to tell about my grandfather and me. She says that when I was a young girl, she told me that my papa was part Indian (meaning part Native American). I told her that it just couldn’t be so because I had never seen Papa doing an Indian dance or making an Indian call like I had seen so many times on television. She told me that he did do those things, he just didn’t do them when people were around because he was shy. My mother must have recalled this story to Papa, because I remember well going to my grandparent’s house some time later, getting out of the car and seeing my papa dancing in the window and making his Indian call. I remember the feeling of awe and excitement when I snuck up to the window (they lived in a trailer) and peeked inside. It is one of my most memorable childhood experiences. And, for the record, my grandfather’s family history traces back to the Iroquois Indian tribe, so he truly was part Indian.
Another fond memory that I have of my Papa takes place during the days when we used to spend time with him at work. Aptly named “Papa’s Exxon,” Papa ran his own business as a mechanic. He worked hard and was well respected by his clients for his honesty and fair prices. In fact, I remember being at his wake years later and hearing one client telling my mother that Papa had put a whole new set of tires on her car so that it would be fit for the road, and he hadn’t charged her a dime. He had told her to keep working like she was working to “keep her children in school and off the streets” and that would be payment enough. Anyways, my mother would often help Papa out at his Exxon by taking care of his bookkeeping and pumping gas. That meant that my sister and I would be right there with her. I remember so clearly watching him work with precision, a white rag tucked in his back pocket to wipe his greasy hands with, and a brown ball cap that matched his uniform sitting on top of his head. On his break hour, he would gather my sister and I up in his arms and sit us on the counter so that he could feed us red hotdogs from the steamer that he kept running for such occasions. He’d crank the country music up loud and dance foolishly until he made us roar with laughter. I still can’t eat a red hotdog or listen to Patsy Cline without pictures of those wonderful days running through my mind.
Some years later, my immediate family, along with my extended family, was attending a vow renewal service for my grandparents when my papa started to act very odd. First, he couldn’t speak without fumbling his words and one side of his face was drooping. Nan and Papa made it through their renewal service, at Papa’s insistence, and then an ambulance was called. Soon after, Papa was diagnosed with a cerebral hemorrhage. In other words, he had a bleed on his brain that had caused a massive stroke followed by several more, which did irreversible damage to his brain. He was 58 years old.
All of a sudden my papa’s whole life changed. He went from a man who owned his own auto mechanics shop, to a man who was incontinent, couldn’t speak, and had the aptitude of a five-year old. He was a man who had smoked since the ripe old age of twelve (which was probably the cause of his ultimate demise) to a man who had no recollection of what a cigarette was. As it turned out, most (if not all) of his recent memories were gone and would never be recovered. He still had many of his long-term memories, but would need extensive therapy to regain the most basic of life skills. My mother quit her job to help take care of him.
My nanny struggled to come to terms with Papa’s condition. It was as if she was mourning Papa’s death while he was still right there, and instead of finding the strength within herself to carry on, she started to revert to her own sort of childish ways. She used to lock herself in the bathroom and smoke (we knew this because we could see the smoke wafting out from under the bathroom door (and did I mention that Nanny had never smoked before this?). She would stay in there for hours. Once in a while the sound of muffled sobs would come from her direction. But, who could blame her? Nanny and Papa had had the sort of marriage that many only dream of. This man that she had borne five children with barely remembered who she was. It was as if he died suddenly, changing completely without warning.
I remember one day, in particular, a while after my Papa’s stroke, that we were at their house and Papa got angry with my sister- for what I can’t recall. He grabbed her by the arm and got ready to swing at her before my mother saw him and yelled for him to stop. This man, my Papa, who used to sit us girls on his lap and smother us with love and terms of endearment, and never said a word in anger to any of us as grandchildren, couldn’t even seem to understand why what he was about to do was wrong. My same Papa who, in the past, had shaken his finger at my mother for talking crossly to us girls at all, now felt that corporal punishment was acceptable. After that, things in the house got very quiet and it was my own mother’s muffled sobs I heard coming from the bathroom. I think it was in that moment that she learned how much her role with her father had reversed, from child to caregiver.
Because Papa still had most of his long-term memories, not all was lost. We heard many stories from the days of his childhood that he had never wanted to share before. He talked about his time serving in the Korean Conflict (as it’s called now), which had been a taboo subject prior to his stroke. Papa had a brother who was in his unit that was actually shot and wounded. Turns out, my grandfather held him and cried as they waited for medics to show up, holding pressure on a gaping wound from Uncle Newman’s chest (he survived, and lived long after my grandfather did). He would cry as he told of the fear of being so far away from his family in a foreign land where he didn’t speak the language and lost his friends to injury and death nearly every day. While Papa had always been a loving man, the shedding of tears was a new thing for him. He had always been very reserved and would never have dreamed of shedding a tear in front of anyone or even accepting a handout. However, after his hemorrhage, he loved to go shopping and would whoop with glee if my mother bought him anything, or if he got anything for free.
But every time my Papa would make progress, he would have another stroke. There was nothing that could be done to stop it from happening. And every time, we lost a little more of him. In one moment of clarity, he begged my mother not to ever put him in a nursing home, and she promised she would not. It was a promise that became hard to keep.
When I was fourteen years old, Papa had his last and worst stroke. A family meeting was called, and against the wishes of my mother and my aunt, but in line with the wishes of their brothers, my papa was sent to a nursing home. There are many things about my papa’s illness that I don’t remember, but I remember the day he went to the nursing home with absolute clarity.
While my mom was talking to one of the nurses, I went into the room to see him and before I could open my mouth he looked at me with an unyielding look on his face and said “You get out of here you bitch.” He was angry to be there and he thought I was my mother. And although I know that wasn’t really him, it was his illness talking, I can’t even write about it today without tears clouding up my vision.
My father was a good dad when we were children, but he was not present. He spent hours and hours at his job so that my mother could stay home with my sister and I. He was usually home long enough to eat and sleep, and was gone by the time we got up in the morning. And while he did spend some quality time with us on the weekends, Papa had always been my father figure. He was the kind of man that showed his affection openly and without having to say a word. He was the first man in my life that showed me what it felt like to have a man love me without conditions.
The day he scorned me was one of the worst in my life to date. The days after that were long. Papa was having many hallucinations. One night we went into his room and he was hauling traps and banding lobsters. Another night he asked my mom to take the cat off of his feet that wasn’t there. And the last night I saw him he pulled his Johnny off, flashing everyone in the room. To this day, I’m not really sure what my mom was thinking, having my sister and I there to witness these things, except that she didn’t have any other place for us or maybe (and this is the more likely scenario) my mother was so distraught, she just couldn’t think clearly.
On the last day of his life Papa was restless. His fever was high and systems seemed to be shutting down. My mother sat by his bed, along with her sister (as the brothers seemed to disappear after they made the hard decisions) and waited to help usher Papa out of the world that he had helped to bring them into, until a kind, elderly family friend reminded them what a proud man my Papa was. He told them that Papa might have been holding on because he didn’t want them to watch him go. After much discussion, and tears, they decided this family friend might be right. We all said our goodbyes (although I don’t remember this part, but I’ve been told), and everyone left.
Very soon after he was gone.
Mum knew before we did because she said she had fallen asleep and had dreamed he was there in her dream, waving goodbye and blowing her kisses. She knew as soon as she was awakened by the ring of the phone. He was 63 years old, only one year older than my own father is now.
At family gatherings (which still include my eighty-four-year-old grandmother), Papa’s absence hangs in the air. He would have been so proud to see his grandchildren grow up to produce a whopping twenty great-grandchildren (with more on the way). I wish he had been able to meet my husband, witness my high school graduation and see me walk down the aisle. I wish that he had been able to meet my three wonderful children and bless them with the love that he gave to me, telling them stories and showing them his Indian dance. I have hope that somewhere in the great unknown he sees these things and knows how our lives turned out.
I believe that every person we come into contact with leaves an imprint on our lives, regardless of how much or how little time we spent with them. My Papa was no exception. It has been twenty years now since his passing and I have never been to pay my respects to his grave. I don’t believe that he is there. He left that body long before his death. The person who swore at me and acted aggressively towards my sister wasn’t the grandfather that told me his fingertip was missing because it got stuck up his nose while he was picking it (and not because he cut it off with a table saw, which is what actually happened). That was not the same papa who sat and watched The Sound of Music with me for hours while I sat in his lap and took in the scent of him; motor oil and Old Spice. When I want to pay respects to my Papa I don’t think about going to his grave. I close my eyes and think about all the wonderful memories he left for me, and thank him silently for teaching me what unconditional love is.

Summer is Almost Here!

With just over a week left of the school year, I can honestly say that it has been a wild year for us.  In September I was excited and sad to be sending my youngest and final child to school after homeschooling for three years. I was excited because I was finally going to be getting some much-needed time to myself (and after being a SAHM for twelve years I think I earned it) and sad because I had gotten so used to being around my kids twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I thoroughly enjoyed the quality time that homeschooling gave to us, but knew that my kids needed to move in a different direction. I decided to put my name in as a substitute teacher.

I was home alone for two days when I got my first call-in. Barely enough time to even get the house cleaned up (especially considering that I spent the first day crying like a baby). By the next week, I had a job offer. After an interview and a few weeks waiting for a contract, the deed was done. After twelve years of being at home I was back in the workforce and it was completely unplanned. I am a firm believer that God has a way of putting things into our paths even before we can see them coming. This job was that for me.

I won’t sit here and say that it’s been easy. I won’t say that I have been completely on top of things with dinner in the crockpot every morning so that we could have delicious, home cooked meals every night. I won’t say that I have taken the evenings to get the house in pristine condition. It just hasn’t worked out that way. In fact, the nights that we have eaten cereal, pizza, or grabs have doubled (or maybe even tripled) compared to previous years and I have had to lower my standards drastically when it comes to the condition of my house. On any given day one could walk into my house and be attacked by dust bunnies and the smell of dishes that have been sitting in the sink for too long. But that hasn’t been the hardest part.

The hardest part for me has been the things that I have missed and the change in my priorities having to do with my kids. Even though I work at the school that my children attend, I have missed nearly every party, field trip and special event. This week, I went on a field trip with my youngest for the first and only time. I have sent my kids to school when they weren’t feeling so great, when if I had been home, I would’ve kept them with me. I have also let my mother and my mother-in-law have a much more active role in the lives of my children. I have to hand it to moms (and dads) that have been doing this so much longer than me. This working thing is hard.

However, even though I have felt mom-guilt I have to say that I think this year has been worth the tradeoff. Going back to work has opened up doors inside of me that I didn’t realize I had let close. Being in a place where I have daily interactions with adults has meant the world to me. Bringing home my own paycheck has made me feel empowered in a way that I haven’t felt for so long. And while I haven’t been there for many of my children’s events, I do get to see them every day (even in their classrooms) and I have lunch with my youngest every Friday. When my daughter broke up with her boyfriend, I was able to sit with her in the bathroom and hug her while she cried. When my oldest son came out of his shell and shared with his classmates, I had to opportunity to witness it. It has meant the world to me.

Not only have I gotten the opportunity to spend so much time with my own children, but I have also gotten to be involved in the education of so many other children that I can honestly say I love and care about. I am very much looking forward to my summer vacation, but I am also looking forward to another year at my job.

I think as parents it is so easy to compare ourselves to others. I’ve been the mother that has glared at those “working mothers” thinking that they put their kids ahead of themselves (which of course isn’t true. Most parents would gladly choose their kids over their jobs if it was an option, but children need to eat). I have also been glared at by those who thought I was lazy and incompetent when I stayed home with my kids. Why don’t we buoy each other up? Everyone has got a battle they are fighting. Mine this year has been finding balance. Why can’t we all remember that everyone is doing the best with what they have to work with? I am a far cry from perfect. I hope that by near September I am more organized and inclined to do housework (I don’t see that happening). But mostly I just have to remember that my children need to see me being happy with myself in order for them to be successful adults.

Seriously?

Seriously?

We are all humans living in this same space, breathing this same air, sharing this same land. I would think that this sharing part of us would vastly effect the way we treat each other, but that isn’t always the case.

Take the grocery store, for example. The other night, I was standing in a rather long line at the grocery store. Luckily, I was stuck in my head as I always am and the time went fairly quickly for me. Finally, when I had two other people in front of me and one behind me, a cashier opened another line. Before that cashier could open her mouth to say anything, the person behind me had walked right up from behind and snatched that first place in the new line. I was disgusted. Here we are, there is a person in front of me who has been waiting the longest, and then myself, and this rude guy decides that his time is worth more than both of ours. Really? The proper thing would’ve been to at least offer the person that was next in line the chance to go next, then myself, and so on. And yet, that didn’t happen.

I am not a perfect parent by any stretch of the imagination, but I do take pride in knowing that I am trying to teach my children that simple rules like this one are just as important as stopping at a red light or paying for services rendered. I want my children to grow up to be adults that hold the door or those who are coming in behind them, say excuse me when they step in the middle of a conversation, and wait for the person in front of them in line to go first. These skills are not difficult to learn, they aren’t complicated to do, and they can make or break someone else’s day.

It is this reason that makes me hate shopping in certain department stores. I have seen adult shoppers nearly run my children over because they are in the way without muttering so much as an “excuse me.” I have had my parking spot snatched up by another car just as I was lining my car up to back into that same spot. I have seen a person shopping on a Black-Friday snatch up every one of a certain product that were available for purchase (what does a person really need with that many of one toy anyways?). And here I sit, trying to teach my children to have respect for other people when even adults can’t show respect for them. End rant.

Motherhood

Motherhood

 

They warned me about the sleepless nights.

They told me about the best brands of diapers and diaper rash cream,

Pacifiers and teething rings.

They shared advice from bassinets to cribs,

Discipline to first aid,

What to expect.

I felt prepared for your arrival.

 

What they didn’t tell me was that my heart would swell out of my chest in the

First moment when your warm body was placed on it.

Or that I would make myself sick with worry to the point of

Watching you sleep at night just to make sure you were breathing.

That I would never feel worthy enough to be your mother.

 

They didn’t say that your pain would cause actual pain in me.

That one day you would no longer need me to kiss away your tears,

Calm your fears or sing you to sleep.

 

I didn’t know that one day I would see you as the woman you would one day become

And be awestruck by your beauty.

I wasn’t prepared for the day you would no longer share your secrets with me

But with a friend who hasn’t known you your whole life like I have.

That your losses would be my losses.

That your heartbreak would be my heartbreak.

Your accomplishments would be my accomplishments.

 

Training pants to training bras.

Baby dolls to boyfriends.

Tea parties to telephone calls

Baby to girl, to lady.

Mama, to mommy to mom.

Closing the Window (short story)

Closing the Window (short story)

 

She had left in a hurry for fear that she would lose her nerve. The contents of her suitcase were evidence of that fact. As she slid the zipper around the edge of her cheap luggage and pushed back the cover she saw what her life really consisted of in that small rectangle of space. On the top sat her favorite Red Sox sweatshirt. She hadn’t bothered to fold it, or anything for that matter, because she was in too much of a hurry. Below that was a pile of sexy underwear. They were a wide array of red and black lace. They had been the only pairs clean. They had never even been used. Next she hauled out two pairs of denim Bermuda shorts, a striped sundress, and tank tops. They were all the same style in three different colors: purple, blue and black. What mother had time to shop for herself? The only bra she had packed was the one she was presently wearing.

At the very bottom of the suitcase was a picture that Nelly had drawn for her just that morning and Dani’s iPod. Danni wasn’t going to be impressed, but honestly, it wouldn’t hurt the kid to have a break from that thing. Maybe she’d get some fresh air or even socialize with someone.

After putting what little she had in her suitcase in the dresser in the small, mildew-smelling hotel room she collapsed on the bed. She wasn’t even sure what town she was in. She didn’t even care. Once her foot had dropped onto the accelerator of her blue minivan, she had just driven. She had no memory of the landscaped she had passed, or what songs had been playing on the radio. The only noise she heard was the buzzing in her head that had told her she just needed to get out.

It had been another one of those mornings. Chad had left without so much as a goodbye. The only evidence she had that he had been there was his coffee cup and the creamer spilled on the countertop. When had they gotten here? She used to get up with him, and on the days when she couldn’t, because a baby was snuggled in their bed or someone had been up all night with a stomach virus, he would always wish her goodbye with a long, passionate kiss that made her wake up wondering if she had been in a dream.

Waking up to him gone for what seemed like the millionth day in a row made her feel very lonely and irritated. They used to be a family of four, with two parents and two children. Now it felt as if they were a family of three, with one parent and two children. Although most days it felt like she had more than two. Lately Dani had been impossible. This morning she came down over the stairs wearing what looked like a tube top as a skirt and makeup applied to darkly around her eyes that she looked as if she were dressing up for Halloween.

“Dani, head right back up over the stairs and change your clothes. You know that’s not appropriate for school or even allowable according to the dress code.”

Dani grunted in disgust. ‘Only if someone notices. Most of the girls get away with it.”

“Go change Dani. Where did you get that thing anyways? I don’t recall approving that. Also, was that makeup off your face. You have such beautiful eyes and skin. When you put on that much makeup it overpowers how beautiful you are.”

This time the grunt turned into an all-out scream that was shrill and made the hair on Izzy’s arms stand up. “You don’t understand me! I can’t wait until I’m eighteen!”

Enough was enough. She put the dish towel she had been using to dry dishes over her shoulder and let out a huge sigh. “As long as you live under this roof you will follow my rules Ms. Thing! Now get up there and change. You don’t have much time.”

The pictures on the wall shook as Dani stomped her way back up over the stairs. Izzy could see her white underwear with pink polka dots as she headed up. Dani was still so young. But at fifteen, she was searching for independence. The school had called the other day because she had skipped one of her afternoon classes. When I asked her what she had been doing she told me she was just hanging out with some friends like it wasn’t a big deal. This added to the skunky smell on her clothes. I’m old but not ancient. I know that smell. Her grades on her progress report had been terrible. School was almost out and Izzy wasn’t sure how many classes Dani was actually gonna pass.

When Izzy had brought the subject up to Chad, one late night after he had finally returned home and was in the shower at the time, he had said “She’ll learn. If she doesn’t pass, she’ll stay back a year.” He offered nothing else to me. I am the housewife. It is my job to deal with the kids. ‘Nough said.

At least Nelly wasn’t at that stage yet. Thank God they had waited a few years before their next child. She couldn’t have handled two teenaged girls. But Nelly had other challenges. At eight years old, she was involved in nearly everything extra-curricular that a child could possibly be involved in. She was in ballet, gymnastics,         tennis (her current sport, though in other seasons it had been cheerleading, soccer, rugby) not to mention art club, drama club and girl scouts. Izzy had a calendar on the side of the fridge just full of Nelly’s events. When she had asked Chad for some help bussing the girls around he had simply told her to cut them back. She needed to make them choose just a couple of things if it was too much for her to handle. That wasn’t what she wanted. She had wanted his help.

But it wasn’t just the girls that had caused her to finally give in. Yesterday was their 17th wedding anniversary. Perhaps it had been childish of her to think that Chad would remember and surprise her with some wonderful gift or a night out. Even a pizza from Antonio’s would have sufficed. She waited all day for a call, a bouquet of flowers, something to let her know he remembered or even cared but nothing ever came. He had called her at 5:05pm and she had answered the phone after one ring. Thrilled at the idea that he hadn’t forgotten after all.

“Hello?”

“Hi Izz. It’s me.”

“I know who it is.”

“Look, I’m gonna be late tonight hon. We are so behind schedule on this build and the electricians are supposed to arrive Friday. There’s stuff that needs to be done. I’m sorry I won’t make it home on time for dinner.”

It had taken all of her strength to swallow the lump that had formed in her throat. It was a lump that if it came up, would bring with it a sob. A tear escaped and trickled down her cheek. She wiped it away with the palm of her hand.

“Izz? You still there?”

Izzy decided to fight the lump with anger. “So you’re gonna miss dinner? How is that different from any other night?” And she hung up the phone.

She heard the diesel engine roar to a stop as his truck pulled in the drive at 9:30. Long after daylight had ended. She laid in bed silently as she heard the sound of the door opening and closing and the microwave firing up. She smelled the scent of her lasagna as he took it out to eat it. Finally, at almost 10:00 she heard his heavy footfalls as he made his way up the stairs and into the bedroom. It took every ounce of concentration she had to make sure that she looked like she was asleep. She had washed her face of the tears that she had finally let flow an hour after she put the girls to bed. Her belt buckle made a clinking sound as it hit the floor and the bed gave way as he fell into it and sighed. He rolled over with his back to her and she let the tears flow again.

That next morning, she had gone about life as before. Helping Nelly get dressed for school, packing lunches, picking up the neighbor children for carpool. She had dropped the kids off with a kiss from Nelly and a grunt from Dani.

When she got home she had climbed the cement pathway to the porch, climbed up the stairs and opened the big red door to their house. The door that Chad had insisted on having. When she opened the door she saw immediately that the dog had had yet another accident on the floor. To her left, in the kitchen, there were dishes from breakfast spread all over the granite countertop. To her right the throw pillows had been pushed onto the floor, yet again. The dog hair was taking over the carpet, as was his poor attempt at making it to the bathroom. Poor old boy. They’d had him since Dani was a baby. His days were numbered. Especially if her kept destroying carpets. Why couldn’t he ever crap on the hardwood floors?

Izzy had no desire to deal with any of it. What was she doing? This wasn’t what she had signed up for. When she and Chad had gotten married seventeen years and one day ago they had been mad for each other. They had practically run over the wedding reception guests just so they could sneak home to make love. Chad had built the house himself. It was everything she had wanted, right down to the doorknobs. That house had kept them from being able to afford a honeymoon but it didn’t matter. They would do that on their tenth anniversary, when they had more money. Chad had brought Izzy flowers every other day just to make sure she had something to look at during the day. Of course she had been working then, but she loved seeing them when she got home from a long day at school. He had always been home in time to eat dinner together. They would clean up the kitchen together and sometimes snuggle and watch TV until bed, or spend the evening in the oversized tub.

Like most marriages, things had changed after Dani was born. She had been their prime concern. Flowers only came once a week, and then not at all. Chad’s business had gotten wildly successful and his hours were later, but it didn’t matter. They worked around it. Izzy would make dinner when she knew he was on his way and they would eat at the table as a family. He was too exhausted to help her clean up and she was too exhausted to care. It was during this time that Chad had suggested that Izzy stop working to stay home. He was making more than enough money to sustain them and couldn’t be enough help with his busy schedule. Dani was six months old.

A few years later and Nelly came along. Things between Izzy and Chad got worse. It wasn’t the fault of the girls. It was what happened when families grew. Izzy knew that. Soon, Chad’s hours got even longer. There weren’t any flowers coming home. Izzy couldn’t remember the last time she had received any. Chad was coming home so late that dinners were just her and the girls with Chad’s sitting in the microwave. And when their tenth anniversary rolled around, they had been too busy with their babies to go on that honeymoon. But still they made it work. They had gone out to dinner and a late-night movie while Izzy’s parents watched the kids. Izzy missed Chad terribly but knew that he was doing this for their family. One day, when the business got bigger, he would pay someone to do his job and he would have normal hours again.

Five years later that hadn’t happened. Somehow their marriage that had once been full of passion and laughter had turned into a roommate situation. They saw each other in passing and on Sundays. Conversation was limited to the girls and what was going on with them. Also, Chad had lost his mother and Izzy had lost her father, which was a terrible blow to each of them. Dani had gotten harder to deal with and Izzy’s to do list just kept growing. With Chad’s mom gone, and her own mother so overcome with grief that her sanity could no longer be depended on, Izzy was on her own.

Maybe she had never properly grieved. Maybe hearing what a terrible mother she was from Dani for the hundredth time had pushed her over the edge. Or it could’ve been that Chad had really, truly broken her heart but all of a sudden Izzy just felt the terrible urge to get out. It would just be for a few days. They would get along without her.

Izzy’s mother had always told her that when the good Lord closes a door, he opens a window. This time Izzy couldn’t help but think that the Lord had closed a door and then she had closed the window.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

I can’t believe that 2016 is coming to an end already. It’s been a quick one! Like many people, I used to make resolutions for the upcoming year, but I always failed them. After all, isn’t that what they are for?

It has taken me thirty-four years of life to realize that change is not something that happens because you make a resolution. Change is something that must happen within one’s self, and it can only happen when that person is ready. This is just my opinion. There might actually be those out there that make New Year’s resolutions and stick to them (no one I know). It just doesn’t work for me.

As for me, I am going into the New Year thinking about all the plans we already have in place. Our kids still have to finish out their basketball season, my “baby” girl will become a teenager, my husband and I will celebrate fifteen years of marriage, I will FINALLY graduate with my Bachelor’s degree after six-plus years of blood, sweat and tears, my husband will begin his new journey as the captain of his very own boat….and those are just the things we know about. I can’t wait to see what 2017 has in store!!! Bring it on!

Have a Happy and Safe New Year everyone! God Bless!

 

Across the Divide (short story)

Across the Divide (short story)

 

He could hear the swishing of the ventilator as it moved up and down, providing air to a body that wasn’t his.

It seemed like it had been months since that terrible day that had started out like any other. He had gotten up, made himself a pot of coffee, and watched the morning news. Afterwards he had put on his uniform and kissed his sleeping wife goodbye. They hadn’t seen each other in days except in sleep. They had made a pact that their children would always be taken care of by their parents and no one else. Since then, he had worked the early shift as a police officer and she had taken the afternoon shift as a nurse. Their pathways never crossed, as their times overlapped when she began to work at three, and returned from work at four. On ‘lucky’ days, they would get to see each other in the ER, when he was investigating a stabbing, homicide or something else along those lines. But of course it wasn’t really lucky for them to both be involved in jobs in which people died at the hands of others. And while they did get to see each other once in a while at work, it certainly wasn’t quality time. That came on weekends. Weekends that were filled with baseball games, church, and catching up on the housework. At least on weekends they were breathing the same air. It’s funny how we made a pact to protect our children, but we never thought about the fact that never seeing them together wasn’t good for their children either.

On his way to work, Jeb listened to the 80s on his satellite radio. It always seemed to put him in a good mood. When he arrived at work he was greeted by his sergeant who clearly wasn’t feeling the same way.

“Eaton, you are way behind on your paperwork. You won’t be working in the field today until you get it finished.”

So that was his morning. His favorite part about police work was being able to help people and to make sure that the world around his family stayed safe. The part about his job that he disliked most wasn’t the names he got or the death that he saw nearly every day though it was heartbreaking, it was the paperwork that kept him from being out in the field. As he filed his last report a little before three o’ clock he heard a call come out over his radio.

“Suspicious activity reported on Miller Drive. White male, early sixties, around two hundred pounds, wearing a navy-blue stocking cap seen handing off parcels to patrons.”

It sounded it like Percy. Jeb thought Percy was clean. It had been a while. Jeb pushed the bottom on the radio affixed to his shoulder.  “This is lieutenant Eaton. I’m in the area. I’ve got this one.”

Lieutenant Ballou, Jeb’s partner, looked up from the game of solitaire he had been playing while Jeb did his paperwork. “Jeb, Sarg said to stay put.”

“He said I needed to get my paperwork done and it is. Time to stop wastin’ the taxpayers’ money. Let’s go. Sounds like Percy.”

“Okay then.”

The two men headed to Miller Drive with their blue lights flashing. When they arrived they saw Percy, standing on the sidewalk nearest the laundromat with his hands in his pockets. Jeb exited the car in a relaxed manner and Lieutenant Ballou took his place leaning against the front hood of the cruiser with his arms crossed over his chest. There was no need to be on the defensive with Percy. He was harmless. He had come across some hard times in the past, okay, maybe several hard times, and they had brought him in for solicitation and possession of various drugs with an intent to sell.

As Jeb neared the sidewalk he noticed that Percy was jiggling something in the packet of his baggy sweatshirt. “Percy, man. What’s up?”

“Lieutenant Eaton. What are you doing in my neck of the woods?” As Percy spoke, the two officers could see that he was struggling to make eye contact, a sure sign that he was up to no good.

“Well Percy, we just got a call that there was some suspicious activity happening over here with a man that matches your description. Want to tell me what you’re doing?”

As soon as Jeb got within a couple of feet of Percy, Percy took a step back.

“Percy, I’m gonna have to ask you to empty your pockets for me.”

At that point Percy seemed flustered as he looked left and right as if waiting for something. Then, in a flash, he took off down the alleyway behind him past the laundromat that led into the street behind them.

“Call for backup” Jeb yelled to Ballou over his shoulder as he ran off behind Percy. He had no doubt it would be an easy race. Percy was old and used up. In fact, after just a few seconds Jeb was right on his heels. He gave a final push, lowered his body, and took Percy out at the knees. He didn’t put up a fuss. Jeb had him face down as he reached for his cuffs. What he didn’t expect was the man that came out from behind the staircase that led to the upstairs apartment.

Jeb recognized the man’s frame before he even saw his face. It was Clarence Byard, the drug lord that Jeb had helped to put behind bars a couple of years back. In the process of Byard’s capture, Byard’s younger brother had also been apprehended, but not before a brutal gunfight with police that took young Will Byard’s life. All of a sudden Jeb could picture that cold November morning sitting in the courtroom when Clarence Byard had been pronounced guilty.

Byard had turned right around and looked Jeb straight in the eye. “Don’t think this is over” he said in a hissing voice that was barely audible. “I will get out and when I do I will come after your family the way that you came after mine.”

The memory of that day sent a shiver rush down Jeb’s spine and he knew he was in trouble. “Byard” he yelled across the alleyway as he struggled to hold Percy in place “You don’t want to do this. Stay where you are and we can work this out.”

The smirk that made its way across Byard’s white wrinkly face was the last real memory Jeb had of that day. The next second he heard the loud snap of a gun that had just been fired and felt the roar of pain that followed it as the bullet entered his chest. He felt himself falling backwards and he looked down to see a red stain spreading out over the front of his dress blues. Then there was a distinct feeling like he couldn’t feel his limbs and he was extremely tired. And soon, there was nothing.

What happened after that Jeb can’t recall. All he knows is what he’s heard the nurses say. That the “new nurse” was the wife of the cop who was killed in the line of duty. That this nurse, his wife, had performed CPR on him until the on-call physician had pulled her off his body.

“He left behind a wife, two kids, and no life insurance. Such a shame.”

Apparently the administration felt that after everything that had happened, the ER wasn’t the best place for Elizabeth. She would be starting her first shift in intensive care this morning.

But Jeb knew there was more to it than that. He knew from the moment that he had woken up in another man’s body and, tried to run his hands through his once curly, unruly hair and found hair that was thin and straight. Lieutenant Jeb Eaton was dead, but his spirit had stayed so that he could warn his wife about the promise that Byard had made to him on the day he was incarcerated. That had to be the reason he was still here. The safety of his family was all he was able to think about. And in this body, he had a lot of time to think.

Maybe he would even be able to tell Elizabeth how truly sorry he was that he ran into the alley that day all by himself. He should’ve know better. He wished he had it all to do over again. He’d always been around for his kids when they’d needed him but he certainly hadn’t been father of the year. And while he and Elizabeth, “Bethie,” hadn’t been unhappy, they hadn’t been very involved in each other’s lives over the past couple of years. Some days it had felt more like they were roommates than a married couple. They had always assumed they’d have time for the romantic stuff again once the kids grew up. Little did they know they’d never get that chance.

As he lay there thinking he heard the door to his room open and the familiar sound of her breathing. It pained him to do so, but at that moment he opened his eyes and scanned the room for her. She was at the bottom of the bed checking his chart but at first sight he wasn’t entirely sure it was her. She was still blond and beautiful with legs up to her chin, but she had clearly lost a significant amount of weight, her green eyes had visible bags underneath them, and her once-perfect hair was plopped in a messy bun on top of her head.

She must have felt him looking at her because she lifted her eyes and returned his stare. “Hello Mr. Peterson. I’m glad to see that you’re awake. My name is Elizabeth Eaton and I will be your nurse for the next twelve hours. I see that you’ve already had a bath this morning but we still need to do your range-of-motion exercises. Is that okay with you?”

Of course she didn’t really expect him to answer. He had a ventilator shoved down his throat. Plus, he couldn’t have answered her if her were the healthiest man on earth. Though Jeb was uncertain of the time frame, it felt like it had been an eternity since he’d laid eyes on his wife. It paralyzed him to see her, knowing that he couldn’t touch her and knowing that she didn’t recognize him as who he was on the inside, but as a patient she was here to care for.

A moment later she pushed back the thin, white sheets that had been covering him and lifted up his left leg gently, supporting his knee with one hand and holding his ankle with the other. He felt a jolt of electricity go through him at the feel of her touch. She’d always been able to do that to him. He guessed it would always happen, even in death. He closed his eyes to try to numb the pain that was creeping into his chest. It wasn’t the pain of a dying man, but the pain of a man who knew that he would never truly hold his wife again. He didn’t realize, however, that he was clutching his chest.

“Mr. Peterson, are you experiencing some discomfort in your chest?”

He shook his head ‘yes.’ Maybe she could give him something to help the pain so he wouldn’t have to think about the life he had left behind because of his own ignorance.

“I’m going to check your vital signs, okay?”

She placed the sheets back over his body and pulled the tall cart from behind the door. She placed something on his index finger to read his heart rate and a blood pressure cuff on his right arm. He could feel the pressure as it squeezed his upper arm. She ran a thermometer over his forehead like he’s seen her do dozens of times with the kids.

“Hmm. Looks like you’ve spiked a fever. I’m going to page your doctor.”

He shook his head as she stepped out and wondered if the pain in his chest was more than he had initially thought. The pain was getting more intense and going down his left arm. He started to panic and could feel himself gasping for air, even with the ventilator going. He knew what was happening. He knew if he was going to say anything it had to be now but he wasn’t going to be able to say anything with the stupid ventilator down his throat. He used every muscle in Mr. Peterson’s body to pull the ventilator out while the room was empty. It hurt like hell. Just as soon as he started to pull he could feel the pain like the tearing of flesh was happening in his throat but he had to rally.

As he was throwing it to the floor Bethie and another nurse entered the room, probably because the alarm was going off.

“Mr. Peterson, what are you doing?” Bethie rushed to his side scrambling to help him, hearing that his breathing was labored.

The other nurse, a redhead, came to her side and gently put her hand on top of Bethie’s. “Elizabeth, he’s DNR. There’s nothing we can do now but wait.”

Beeping started happening all over the room. The redheaded nurse pushed a few buttons and things quieted down. Then she stepped out of the room.

As she stared at him with that look that she gave the kids when their hamster died, Jeb tried his best to speak. “Bethie,” he said in a scratchy, breathless voice.

She knelt down closer and held his hand. Her familiar scent attacked his senses. “Wow Mr. Peterson, I haven’t been called that since my husband died.”

It hurt him to hear her say it, that he’d died. “No Bethie. It’s me.” He tried to take a deep breath but couldn’t quite fill his lungs. “I. mean. It’s. not. me. but. It’s me.”

“I’m sorry Mr. Peterson. I don’t understand. Please, call me Elizabeth.”

He sighed. This was hard. “Elizabeth. Marie. Eaton. I met you in homeroom in eleventh grade. I was the new kid. You were the brain.” His breath was coming stronger now. She was looking at him blankly. “I came into the restaurant every night where you worked and ordered a coffee milkshake, extra thick.”

She let go of his hand and stepped back. Her mouth formed into a straight line across her face.

“I’m gonna go get one of the other nurses okay? I don’t think I can do this.” She turned on her heel and headed for the door.

“Bethie no. Remember the night of our honeymoon? We didn’t want to go anywhere but home so we rode around for a couple of hours until we were sure nobody would see us. I know you Bethie. You gotta believe me.”

She stopped but didn’t turn.

Jeb coughed again for what seemed like an eternity. When he took his hand away from his mouth, it was covered in blood. He wiped it on the sheets and continued. “Honey, I know about the heart-shaped birthmark on your left outer thigh. I know that when Claire was born you were afraid to be left alone with her for days, so afraid that you would become the terrible mother you had.”

She turned around then and stared at him with tears in her eyes and flowing down her cheeks.

“I’m sorry Bethie. I’m sorry that I messed things up so badly. I love you and the kids with all my heart. I wish I had done things differently. I should never have gone after him that day. I knew better.” This time when he coughed it lasted for about five minutes, without him being able to catch a breath. Time was up. He could feel it. When he finally gained control and looked up his vision was blurred.

“Jeb?” At some point she had moved closer. Right down beside him, in fact. He could see her even though her features were fuzzy.

“Yes Beth. I don’t think I have much time. My breath. It’s harder.”

“No, don’t go.”

“Listen, the day I died I was shot by a man that I had seen before. Clarence. Byard. He warned me that he would hurt me and my family. You need to get away. Take the kids and get out of here. Call…”

More coughing. “Call. Ballou. He will know. He will know what to do.”

Bethie started to sob and then buried her face in the neck of Mr. Peterson’s body. He tried to hold her but his arms felt numb, like they did that day. And he could barely keep his eyes open. “I. love. You. Beth.”

“I love you Jeb.”

Then Jeb saw his mother. It had been nearly 15 years since he’d seen her face and here she was, younger and as beautiful as he’d ever seen her. “Hi Jeb” she said, “welcome home.”