Eddie Van Halen

In the late ’70s, maybe early 1980, I heard Van Halen for the first time. I was a kid in the 8th grade, mostly still listening to top 40 radio stations. I can’t remember my specific thoughts upon first hearing the band but I can tell you exactly what went on in my head the first time I listened to an entire Van Halen album. 

My family had just moved to Plano, a bedroom community north of Dallas, and I was a few days into my freshman year of high school. Loneliness was my only friend, so I was excited when a girl who was in one of my classes and lived two houses down from me invited me over to her place. 

“Do you like them?” she asked me, handing me the first Van Halen album. Vinyl, as all albums were back then. “Um, I’ve heard of them…” I said, wanting to appear cool but unable to back it up. My new friend, whose name may or may not be Emily (I honestly don’t remember), dropped the needle to the record, and “Runnin’ with the Devil” began pouring out of her speakers. Had my ears had the power of speech, I’m pretty sure they would’ve remarked something along the lines of “What. The. Fuck.” 

In a good way, I mean. 

As the album continued to play, Emily said a couple of things to me, but I could barely concentrate on our conversation. I was beginning a relationship with a young band from Southern California. I sat cross-legged on her bedroom floor clutching the album cover and staring at the pictures. Each band member seemed exotic and wild to me. A bare hairy chest, flaming instruments, intense facial expressions, and long hair flying around. I felt like I had stepped into a new portal of something vaguely shocking that the older kids were caught up in. 

Van Halen was loud and they intimidated me with parts of their music and looks, but I knew I wanted to spend more time with them. By the time Side One of the album was over and Emily turned off her record player, I knew where my allowance would be spent as soon as I begged my mom for a ride to the nearest record store.

A year later, I owned Van Halen’s first album, “II”, and “Women and Children First”. The band sold out two nights at Reunion Arena and I somehow talked my parents into letting me attend both gigs with a friend. I still remember how electrifying and enchanting those concerts were. If I forget, I can always refer to the seven-page handwritten entry in my diary detailing every little moment. How intense those recorded songs proved when heard live. How the audience was like a rock-n-roll choir singing along to every tune. How seeing David Lee Roth in person made me feel funny in my pantaloons. How Eddie Van Halen’s guitar playing was like something from an entirely different orbit than the one we mere mortals inhabited.

Eddie began to rack up awards and accolades in lightning-quick succession. Guitar Player and a host of other magazines recognized the Dutchman turned Californian as more than just a flash in the pan. Only in his early 20’s, the shaggy-haired guitar god was busy upending the entire rock music industry and was easily the most innovative thing to happen to an electric guitar since the advent of Hendrix. Immigrants: They get the job done. 

Van Halen went on to sell a slew of albums, concert tickets and merchandise. Eddie influenced untold numbers of guitar players, pushing them to reject the standard guitar licks and approach to playing and instead work towards developing their own style. 

Eddie’s personal life became a tabloid staple after he married actress Valerie Bertinelli. The couple wed in 1981 and ten years later welcomed their only child, a son named Wolfgang. Their marriage ended in divorce in 2007 after several years of separation, but the two remained close even after the divorce. Each of them attended the other’s wedding when they remarried. As a child of parents who split up, I can attest to what a blessing it is for the kiddos when their folks can pull that off.

Many of us watched in wonderment and with full hearts as Wolfie followed in his father’s musical footsteps and became a bass player. At the tender age of 15, he joined Van Halen. Father and son touring the world together, along with Eddie’s brother, drummer Alex Van Halen.

Surrounded by his wife, Janie, Wolfie, ex-wife Valerie, and Alex, Eddie Van Halen passed away on October 6. Bertinelli remained close with her ex, as evidenced by her touching tribute to him on social media.

The news of Van Halen’s passing shocked millions, me included. I read it on my phone and then cried for several minutes. Yes, Eddie was 65. He had lived a hardcore rock star life and spent years gripped by the hellish realities of alcoholism. His nicotine addiction contributed to tongue cancer, and lung cancer finally took him. But still, reading of his unexpected passing was a heartbreaker, especially for those of us fans who were there for the rise of Van Halen, both the man and the band. 

I find myself listening to that first Van Halen album over and over since the news broke. I still get lost in it, some 42 years after its release. “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” remains my most favorite of their songs. I’m saddened that Eddie has left the building, but his music leaves behind a permanent record of his impressive mark on the world. 

More and more, as I age, I’m experiencing the loss of ‘my rock stars’. I could write another piece just on the brilliant music of British rock band UFO, whose bassist Pete Way recently passed. Would it be unoriginal to surmise that the proverbial band in heaven must be pretty rich now that it sports Pete, Eddie and Rush drummer Neil Peart in its numbers? I won’t, because it leaves the singer slot open, and I don’t want to tempt fate. 

My thoughts on all this wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention that I have a friend who adores “Eruption”, the brilliant calamity of an instrumental featuring Eddie Van Halen’s inimitable burst of guitar shredding from the first album. Dan is a United Methodist minister and tells his parishioners every Easter that he likes to think that as Jesus emerged from his three-day nap, “Eruption” burst out loud filling the sky, providing the perfect “Surprise!” musical serenade as the son of God rejoined the living. 

Farewell, Edward. Thank you for the documented literal records of your musical genius, the memories of seeing you live, and that pivotal moment when a kid in North Texas sat on the floor in her neighbor’s house, ears crackling, and discovered just how much one person could change an art form.

Canaries in a Covid Coal Mine

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I’m fortunate to have a lively group of friends who are all teachers. They teach varying subjects, including English, biology, chemistry and horticulture.

I’ve watched with great interest as they dealt with closing up shop early when COVID-19 shut school doors in the spring. I could feel the sorrow permeating a picture my friend took of her abandoned classroom on the day she was allowed to return to it long enough to clean it out before summer began. Emotions ran high for Laura, a high school French teacher in Virginia, as she snapped that photo, unknowingly documenting what may be the last normal school room from which she will operate for quite some time.

Over the past several weeks, my teacher friends have been posting on social media about what their schools expect of them as the fall semester begins. Some school districts have opted to keep their campuses shut down through the rest of the year, relying on distance learning. Not Laura’s school. As I read the updates she has shared online that show her prep work for returning to the class, I looked for at least a modicum of humor in some of them. Laura is an expert at delightful, self-deprecating comedy. She can laugh when others might want to cry.

Yet I find that there is nothing funny about these pictures. I’m not feeling it, and I know Laura well enough to deduce through her posts and comments that worry and frustration are consuming a lot of her headspace. I find myself gripped with anger. Anger on behalf of my friends. And fear. I worry about them being unnecessarily exposed to health risks that are unprecedented and unwarranted.

Laura’s latest post is a picture of a giant white bucket with a label on it that reads ‘Disinfectant wipes bucket’, her room number and instructions on how to refill the bucket. The caption Laura wrote says, “Can’t get quite as excited about school supplies this year”.

And now, I am fucking furious. Laura spent six years in college, including grad school, to become a teacher. She has spent countless hours over the years in more classrooms for teacher recertification. She has banked about thirty years as an educator, and a damn good one. Laura is a teacher. That seems obvious, that last statement. Yet apparently the sort of minds that come together and decide that it’s perfectly fine to reopen schools already are not quite clear on that concept.

Laura is a teacher, not a janitor. Yet when she returns to her place of employment next week, she will busy herself between classes by using the contents of her shiny new bucket to disinfect her classroom, so as to minimize the risk of herself or her students contracting COVID-19.

Laura is a teacher, not a magician. While she is busy playing Virus Maid in between classes, she is also expected to be in the hallway monitoring the students. Her college training did not instill in her the art of being in two places at once.

Laura is a teacher, not a guinea pig. She received marching orders to report to school five days a week, four of them with students in her room. Yes, there is social distancing and masks are required. Many students have opted to do distance learning exclusively, lowering the number of kids per classroom. Yet this is still the great unknown.

Many schools that have reopened found themselves quickly closing down again when it proved impossible to monitor hundreds of kids and teenagers to make sure they follow the new pandemic rules. Too many school districts either bathe in ignorance or cave to political pressure to reopen, forcing their teachers, staff and students to serve as test subjects. Modern day canaries in a coal mine.

Laura is a teacher, not a lunchroom employee. Yet every day, Laura will forfeit time to herself in order to follow new school policy that she must eat lunch with students in her classroom. The teenagers will be instructed to face forward at their desks and speak as little as possible while having their meal break. Sounds like they’ll all be serving detention with snacks.

Laura is a teacher, not a nanny. Weather permitting, she is expected to gather her students and take them outside for some fresh air. She must ensure the kids are compliant and don’t interact too closely. Kind of like a dog walker.

Laura is a teacher, not a crisis counselor. She has already spent a huge chunk of her summer fielding emails and other contact from panicky parents. She expended energy she did not have to spare to soothe frightened students who understandably want someone in charge to tell them what exactly is going to happen, and that ultimately everything will be alright.

Laura is a teacher, not a politician. People from all segments of the general population are getting in the face of educators, whether in person or via online options, to force their opinions on them. Somehow, despite not being teachers or school administrators themselves, they believe they possess the knowledge of what is the only right way to do things. If any proposed plan deviates from that, these self-appointed professionals are only too happy to bypass healthy debate and go straight to name calling and predictions of doom.

Laura is a teacher. She wants to teach. She looks back at the many times she arrived on campus in late summer, sighing at the usual workload ahead of her. How many days until Christmas break, she would joke with her friends in the teachers’ lounge. She now pines for the simplicity of those days. In 2020, in a world gone mad from a virus, and unnecessarily suffering from the appalling lack of action taken when the threat was first beginning, the average teacher’s sighs have turned to tears, rants, and panic attacks.

Their Fall To Do lists aren’t just about budgeting for a few cute new outfits and catching school supplies on sale at Target. They are about ensuring they have the safest mask available. They are about sitting down with a spouse or partner and asking if a career change or early retirement might be their best option.

They are making out their wills. Their goddamn wills. Because worrying they will be victimized by yet another school shooter wasn’t enough of a reason to worry. Now they have to fight obsessive thoughts about if they will get sick and if they will die. Weak, ineffective people from the federal government all the way down to local school boards are playing games with the lives of teachers.

I don’t pretend to have a step-by-step guide to how to handle the educational crisis. What I do feel to my core is that many schools are rushing to try to populate their classrooms, when the jury is out on if this is a good idea. My friends are involuntarily front and center in a puppet show that has nothing to do with their careers.

Laura is a teacher. She is not a volunteer for a military maneuver. She is not a rabbit in a cage in a medical testing laboratory. She deserves better than this. All teachers do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conversations with Ghosts

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Molly was sinking. Floundering like a fish. It’s funny (not funny) how she used to be a chatterbox about this sort of thing. When she found herself mired in a hopeless place, she thrived on the act of sharing her troubles with friends and getting support. She easily blathered about what was weighing her down. Even if things remained bleak, it left her feeling as if she was now walking through her dark tunnel with a Fourth of July sparkler to help light the way.

Now, as the British said with such frivolity, she couldn’t be arsed.

When challenged with a low emotional period, Molly could usually glimpse hope around the corner on some days. Now, not so much. Unbeknownst to even those who believed they knew her best, she remained mired in a hellish vortex of a hopeless future. A precarious financial situation worsened by the mass unemployment brought about by Covid-19 left her mummified in a wrap of bone-paralyzing fear.

Added to that was her poor health, which was not easily addressed when she had access to neither insurance nor the cash to make up for it. There were no easy answers or quick fixes for any of her situations.

And the worst thing? For the most part, Molly didn’t care. She was unfazed by the idea that her time may be short. She accepted it. In fact, exiting Life’s Stage Left sounded like a pretty good deal. Her only real concern was that someone would promise to take care of her cats, and she had managed to square that away.

Molly wasn’t officially planning on checking out. Not by her own hand, in that she would procure a bottle of pills or tie a rope. Yet, day after day, she did nothing to address her poor health. She asked herself if that was not passively checking out, then wrapped herself in the blanket of more slumber when the painful answer filled her head.

The depression and anxiety had encased her like a life vest on a floating Titanic survivor. The strength Molly needed to fight this felt non-existent. Hope, like Elvis, had left the building.

Molly finally reached a breaking point. She knew she needed to reach out, but was overtaken by the cliched fear that she would burden her friends if she told them how bad the traffic in her head had become. It was LaGuardia Airport on Thanksgiving weekend up in ye olde noggin.

In a moment of desperation, Molly decided to open up a conversation to release the waters that were saturating her mind. For this conversation, she needed no phone. She didn’t have to leave her home. Instead, she begged an invisible entity to appear, discuss her situation and offer both comfort and a solution.

Molly sat in her living room as a haze settled over the early afternoon sky. She invited in the dead, served tea and, metaphorically speaking, stripped naked.

“Mom! Hi. Wow, I can’t believe it’s really you! I’ve missed you so much.”

“No time for sentimental greetings, kiddo. Why did you ask me over?” Molly’s mother, who had died five years prior, sat across from Molly in an arm chair, dressed in a powder blue Coco Chanel suit.

“I’m in trouble, Mom. It’s a long story, but it started when…”

“I know the story. I may be gone, but I still watch you. I’m like Santa Claus if he were deceased. I see you when you’re sleeping, all that jazz. Tell me what you want from me.”

“I want you to help me.”

“Help you how? You’re Dorothy, you know. You’ve got the slippers on, but you always did like to argue that you’re barefoot in Oz.”

Molly fought back tears. “Mom, I need you to tell me it’s all going to be okay.”

“It’s all going to be okay.”

Molly loudly clunked her tea cup on her saucer and pouted. “That didn’t sound sincere.”

“Baby girl, I believe in you. I always have. You have to decide to believe in yourself.”

“Tell me what to do, Mom. Where to start.”

“You already know this.” Molly’s mother pulled her teacup close to her face and peered over the rim at her only daughter. She sighed, took a large sip of English Breakfast, and shifted her approach. “You start small. You wash your face. You eat a piece of fruit with your meals. You open your mail when it arrives, instead of letting it collect dust in a pile on your desk.”

“That’s baby stuff, Mom. I need to take much bigger steps than that. And, for fuck’s sake, I don’t even have the energy to wash my face most days.”

“Language, child. I did not come all this way to be cursed at,” Molly’s mother said.

“Where are you, anyway? I mean, in the afterlife,” Molly asked.

“I’m not sure, but it’s quite nicely decorated.”

“Is it heaven?”

“Well, your Aunt Muriel isn’t there, so it must be.” Molly’s mother moved over to the red velvet sofa and sat next to her daughter.

“Oh, Mom…” Molly began, ready to spew every fear and dark thought she had shouldered for so long.

“Shhhh,” her mother said quietly. “It’s not about confession right now. It’s about beginning a habit of using baby steps so that the burden of those thoughts and feelings you have becomes lighter.”

“Will you help me with the first one? Please.”

Molly’s mother took her daughter’s face in her hands and delivered a soft kiss to her forehead. Molly felt static electricity; the result of a soul no longer encased in flesh touching a soul who was still earthbound.

“Come with me,” her mother said. Molly followed her mother to the master bathroom. Her mom adjusted the tap for warm water, plucked the bottle of face wash from the glass shelf just below the mirror, and rummaged around in the linen closet for a washcloth. “Here, Molly. Wash your face. Do this once a day. It will add up. Just like doing any other tiny step adds up as time passes.”

Molly watched her mother stroke the colorful, striped bath towel hanging just outside the walk-in shower stall. She turned to face her reflection in the mirror and dutifully scrubbed her face clean. The water felt like a baptismal. Inspired by such a simple act, she rubbed astringent into her skin with a cotton ball, wincing a bit from the sting of it. She closed her eyes and applied a generous amount of moisturizer to her tingling face.

Molly turned to show off her work to her mother, but she had disappeared. A cleansing had taken place that went beyond the borders of just her clogged pores. One baby step taken, perhaps while sporting a slipper that at least had a faded red tinge to it.

As the sun rose the next morning, Molly sliced a Granny Smith apple into small chunks. She stood at her kitchen counter, speared each piece with a toothpick, as if she were enjoying hors d’oeuvres, and delivered them to her mouth. She planned to wash her face again today, as well as tackle the pile of bills, donations requests and colorful advertisement circulars that had sat dormant for way too long in her office.

The conversation with her mother had impacted her quite a bit, but Molly wanted more. She craved another ghost at her tea party. She had already brewed her usual half a pot of dark roast, so she changed the menu to coffee klatch. She fastened her robe tightly around her body, set two cups of coffee on her breakfast table and took a seat. She summoned her next guest. Molly did not specify who should arrive. She asked only that it be someone who could build on what her mother had given her the day before.

With no fanfare, the next guest appeared across the table from Molly. A white-haired man in his mid-60’s dressed in a department store label suit pulled a small notebook from his breast pocket and flipped through it.

“Which one are you again? I saw so many clients. I don’t appreciate being summoned like this with no time to prep,” he said.

Molly nearly dropped her coffee mug. “Dr. Munder? You look so much older than when I saw you.”

“You’re seeing me at the age I died. I treated you twenty years earlier. Molly, is it?” Dr. Munder squinted through his glasses at a page in his notebook. “Yes, here you are. Garden variety patient riddled with anxiety. I’m assuming you haven’t conquered that yet, if you have to make another appointment with me two decades later. Is this decaf?”

Molly looked at his coffee mug. “Uh, no. You can’t have caffeine… where you are now?”

Dr. Munder ignored her question. “What do you need from me, Molly?”

“I miss our sessions sometimes, Dr. Munder. I know I didn’t have all my shit together when I stopped seeing you, but our therapy really did help me. I was hoping you could say something to help me. I’m in real trouble.”

“Are you utilizing what you learned in our sessions?” Dr. Munder asked. He looked as if he already knew the answer would disappoint him.

“Yes, as much as I can. It was just so long ago. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this and…”

Dr. Munder cut her off. “Ah, yes. I remember more now.” He read aloud from his notes on Molly. “In her head way too much. Her motto should be ‘Hang on a minute while I overthink this.’ I would tell her that but she would spend the next six weeks dissecting what I meant.”

“Maybe I do still overthink things sometimes, but I don’t want to get bogged down in details here, Dr. Munder. I need you to give me one of your patented pieces of advice that used to help move me forward. You could be such an inspiration to me at times.”

“Where are you living these days?” Dr. Munder picked up his coffee, sniffed it and took a small sip. He mimicked pouring milk into his drink. Molly quickly snagged a to-go creamer cup from the condiment packet drawer and a spoon.

“I’m still in the same town,” she replied.”Or did you mean my actual place? It’s a three bedroom house near, um, you remember where the old Saw Mill outlet mall was?”

“Not where do you live physically. I mean emotionally.” Dr. Munder tore a sheet from his notebook and ran his finger under each line on it as he read aloud from it. “Patient lives in the past, constantly shaming herself for past decisions and lost opportunities.”

“I remember that, Dr. Munder, but I worked hard on that. You said I stopped living in the past.”

Dr. Munder flipped the page over and read the notes at a whisper level.

“What?” asked Molly.

Dr. Munder stirred the powdered creamer into his coffee and explained. “Yes, you did leave the past, but apparently you packed up and moved to the future. You became afraid of being a failure. Of being successful. Of making wrong choices that you would later regret. As I recall, it was quite the fight to get you to just live in the here and now.”

“I can tell you exactly why I got that way,” Molly insisted, disappointed in the attitude she felt coming from her latest ghost party guest.

“Of course you can, Molly. As I recall, you could spend weeks going on and on about why something happened. You’re asking me to give you some meaningful advice that will have impact? Stop doing that. Don’t dwell on why you aren’t doing what you need to do. Just focus on doing it.”

“But how can I fix bad habits if I don’t understand why I developed them?” Molly moved quickly to the kitchen counter, retrieved a coffee cake swimming in cream cheese frosting and one fork, and set them on the table. She sat back down and held her hand motionless over the lid of the store-bought confection, like someone threatening to fire a gun if they didn’t get their way.

“You already know why you do what you do. I have upwards of seven thousand dollars in receipts from you that prove we spent a lot of time going over that.” Dr. Munder deftly slid the coffee cake over in front of him and removed the plastic lid. He picked at it with his bare hand, delivering a succession of small bites to his lips.

Molly stared at her former therapist. Had he really helped her at all in the past or was she romanticizing their weekly sessions?

“Alright, you want bumper sticker philosophy, Molly? I can do that. Treat your life like you just inherited it from a previous owner. Think of it like it’s a new company you just purchased. Business is slow, the accounting books don’t add up, the employees are thinking of forming a union, and the warehouse is on fire. You cannot back out of this deal. This is your company now. You can sit around pontificating on how the business got so bad and deciding who you can point your finger at, but the place will burn to the ground by the time you’re done indulging in that luxury. What you need to do is grab a shovel, a fire extinguisher, a bullwhip – whatever it takes. Get busy fixing what’s wrong now.”

“My mom was here yesterday. She told me to take baby steps, not this baptism-by-fire thing you’re talking about,” said Molly.

“She and I are talking about the same principle. One step at a time. It’s your life, Molly. No one else can fix it. Assess immediately and act quickly. Start putting out the fire. Then go through the books that were cooked. Then do this task, then that one. It all adds up, like a paint-by-numbers kit. One splash of color at a time in a tiny shape will eventually deliver you a full painting.”

Molly felt like a pin in a bowling alley being bowled over with great force. She had not misremembered Dr. Munder’s talent for giving her a big idea for a new way to look at her life.

“Thank you, Dr. Munder. I will try to save my company, and I promise not to overthink it first.”

Dr. Munder took a final bite of the coffee cake, jotted something down in his notebook, and promptly disappeared.

Three days later, Molly sat at her laptop updating a spreadsheet she made to mark her progress with her steps. Like a toddler earning gold stars for going potty, she checked off each daily task that helped move her closer to her goals. Whether it was baby steps or Big Foot leaps, she counted them all.

A sound from her back yard startled her. She glanced at her computer clock and saw that it was just past midnight. She gritted her teeth and hoped the sound came from a raccoon family her neighbor had complained about, rather than, for example, a serial killer.

Molly grabbed her bottle of Snapple and went to the back door. She flipped the weak outside light on and saw a person on the patio standing at her whiskey barrel planter full of red and white petunias.  Molly could not tell if the shadowy figure was a man or a woman, even after they turned to face her, smiled and beckoned to her with a crooked finger.

Without fear, Molly unlocked the door and walked outside. A cool breeze dusted the night sky. The figure stepped off the patio and sat down on a tree stump Molly had chosen to leave in her yard after the elderly pecan tree had to be chopped down. She dragged a metal chair off the patio and took a seat across from her visitor. She understood this to be the latest guest in her Conversations from the Beyond series, although she did not recognize this person.

Molly took a swig from her Snapple bottle.

“Ooh, gimme,” her guest said. They held their hand out. Molly passed the cold drink over and watched her guest drain the entire bottle, then wipe the fruity sweetness from their lips with the back of their hand.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“I’m God.”

Molly sat perfectly still, unable to think of a single thing to say. God handed the empty bottle back to her. “Don’t forget to recycle,” God said.

“God? Really?” Molly stammered out her words. “I pictured you more…”

“Old man? ZZ Top beard? Tunic down to my ankles? That’s the white bread image of me. Besides, these are so much more comfortable.” God indicated the hunter green flannel pajamas he sported. Or she. Observing God’s flattering pixie haircut, Molly really couldn’t detect a gender, which made absolute sense. Sort of a Bowie as deity image.

Molly leaned back in her chair. “I confess I did want another conversation like I’ve been having, but I never expected this.”

“I’m just a ghost, like the others. A Holy ghost, if that makes you more comfortable,” said God.

“What steps do you think I should take?” Molly hoped the answer wouldn’t be complicated. She would hate to get advice from such top level management and forget some of the details.

God replied, “It’s not what you should do, it’s what you should have.”

“Have?” Molly asked. “You want me to buy something?”

God snort laughed. “No. I want you to possess something. Something I have, your mother has and your old shrink has.”

“Which is?”

“Faith.”

“Faith,” Molly repeated.

“Faith. In You. You see, you can invite every spirit you know for tea and scones, but unless you foster faith in yourself, nothing we say or do matters.”

“How do I begin, Father? Or… is it Mother? I’m sorry, I can’t really tell.” Molly momentarily expected a bolt of lightning to split her open for what was surely a blasphemous observation.

“Either is fine, Molly. I’m both and neither.”

“I don’t know how to have faith. I don’t trust myself to fix everything that’s wrong before it’s too late. Maybe it already is too late. Even if I try my hardest, the rug is always pulled out from under me. Faith is a pipe dream, God.”

Molly rose from her seat, desperate for any busy work for her hands so she would not have to see her companion staring at her. They must surely pity her. She filled a plastic pitcher with water from the garden hose and replenished the bird bath. She picked out dead leaves that had fallen from a tree into her hanging basket of thyme. Molly could hear the swishing sound of pajama legs rubbing together as God quietly trailed after her.

“Well, if that’s all you need, I’ll be going,” God said.

Molly turned quickly to face them. “No, wait! It’s not enough. I need more.”

“Faith, my child. Not just in yourself. Have faith that every time you wash your face or sit in the sun instead of a darkened room or take one more brick down from your wall, you are doing something valuable. It all totals up, Molly. Have faith that your mother is right about you having power as yet untapped. Have faith that Dr. Munder taught you lessons that are worth revisiting. Have faith that I am here, walking through your garden with you whenever you tend to it.”

“God, everyone feels so far away.”

“Have faith that you are loved, Molly. Even when you feel an ocean between you and those who love you, have faith that you can teach yourself to swim.”

“I can’t share this darkness with anyone. I wouldn’t know where to begin,” Molly said.

“Tell those who care for you. Tell it in a Molly way and they will hear you.”

“What if it’s too late anyway?”

“What if it’s not, my darling?” God turned and walked off into the starry sky.

Molly stood motionless. A symphony of music cascaded from her ears, filling her yard. Classical music mixed with edgy punk rock. Weeping violins and writhing electric guitars.

The ghost party had concluded. Like most parties, it hadn’t gone exactly as planned, and you could always count on a surprise guest. This party proved to be a housewarming of sorts. Molly had been gifted with tools she needed. It was too early to tell if she would do what she needed to do with them all. It might be too late for the tools to save her. But they were there now, sitting in opened gift boxes around her home.

Molly walked slowly to the side of her house and dropped the Snapple bottle in her recycle can. She went inside, turned off the patio light and locked the door. She took baby steps down the hall, and one big leap into her warm bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Working From Home During Quarantine

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Covid-19 has presented the world with numerous challenges, some of them quite sad and harrowing. One unifying event that millions are experiencing is learning to work from home. For someone used to driving or taking public transportation to and from the office five days a week, being away from home most of the day, and having fellow employees around while on the clock, the pandemic has served up a complex and often daunting test of how to make the switch.

I have worked from home for fifteen years, so being home all day is old news to me. Like many who have long managed careers from their home office, I always watch with interest when others adapt to this transition in their own lives. Since some of the adjustments are common to all, I’d like to offer my own experiences, as well as advice to those who might benefit from it.

Many people are experiencing a decided change in how glamorous they look on a daily basis. Women who are used to applying full-on war paint for the office and embracing their fashionista side often find it difficult to make the switch to having no one to impress, save perhaps a couple of eye-rolling teenagers or a disinterested dog.

It hasn’t been an issue for me, because I gave up long ago. On any given day, I look like I just somersaulted out of the dryer after 20 minutes on tumble dry.

My best advice to my friends entering the work-from-home world is to skip the usual hopeful steps, such as “Continue to dress for success!”, and go straight to accepting that pants are actually optional during the work day. As long as you don’t stand up during a Zoom or Skype call, your secret is safe. You will also discover that, while a scrunchie may be verboten on Sex & the City, it’s your new bestie in Corona World.

I mean, it’s fine if you want to continue engaging in dress-up decorum, but just know that some of us old timers will snicker and whisper, “Look at Ms. Fancy Pants, wearing a bra on a Monday!”

I normally maintain a rule of no eating at my desk while I’m working, but let’s face it: comfort food and eating out of boredom are the new black. I have developed a compulsive need to have potato chips no further away than arm’s length. All kinds of brands and flavors. Right now I’m on a Sun Chips kick. I tell myself with a straight face that they make an excellent addition to breakfast.

I’ve also developed a co-dependent relationship with cookies. I have gone through bags of old favorites and several store brand selections. I am currently working my way through the entire Keebler inventory. I had no idea Elfwich sandwich cookies existed before, and now I can’t imagine my life without their fudgy goodness.

If I had extra money, I’d buy stock in several weight loss companies. I think it’s a safe bet that once we start returning to our old lives, plenty of people are going to rush to try to counteract the results of months of stress eating.

I don’t normally give financial advice, but I believe I have come up with a winner. I opened a savings account to buy presents for all the baby showers I realize will result from people who are spending the spring knocking homebound boots at a much higher rate than usual. Sometime around Halloween, the invitations for these events are going to start rolling in, and this will help me cover the avalanche of impending gift grabs from parents of the Covid Babies.

As any boss will tell you, it’s important to make sure that you maintain a quiet, professional work space at home. This is especially vital during on-camera work meetings. To prepare for these, people turn off televisions and music sources. Parents bribe and threaten their children to behave and stay out of sight. We all do our best to isolate house pets.

But the reality is the most interesting part of any digital work gathering is when the unexpected happens. Mike’s adorable tabby cat hops up on the desk and wanders across the keyboard, adding gibberish to everyone’s screen. Abby’s toddler throws open the office door and streaks through the background whipping a used diaper in circles over her head. Hope’s up-to-now unheard of boyfriend can be seen wandering into the kitchen butt naked and pouring a cup of Folgers.

Screw the third quarter projections and stock portfolios: these moments are the glue that holds your company together now.

If you are new to working from home, and only doing so because a horrible virus has seized control of your work habitat, hang in there. You will get used to it. You will figure out the best way to make it work for you. Odds are that when this is all over (let’s assume it will all be over at some point), you will probably have to be dragged kicking and screaming back to a cubicle or corner office.

I believe it is likely that many people will not be required to return to a brick and mortar setting to earn a living. Bosses and CEOs alike are busy right now learning that working from home can often result in employees who are happier and more productive. Employees can rejoice in no more rush hour commutes, no more co-workers stopping by their desk and interrupting them with time-wasting conversation and, best of all, no more pants.

All The White Horses

 

abreyer2

I saw her today. My former best friend.

Our parents were friends before she and I even came along into the world. We ended up in the same first grade class, beginning a friendship that often proved to be my rock. We spent countless hours playing at each other’s houses, preferring our Breyer model horses with which to exercise our imaginations, rather than the more traditional Barbies and baby dolls that most girls chose.

I can easily access many treasured memories of weekend sleepovers. If it was Friday, we stayed up late to watch the 1970’s music stars perform on “The Midnight Special”.  If it was Saturday, we sat down on the floor in front of the tube with a snack and tuned into “Project Terror”, a rerun of some scary B-movie too old for us to recognize.

The teenage years saw us catapult deeply into the waters of angst and rebellion. We ran around in our black heavy metal concert t-shirts, carrying cigarette packs and whatever weed we could score in our purses.

I could write volumes about Ethel. That’s not her real name. Nor is my name Gladys. Those were nicknames we gave ourselves as we laughed about what kind of crazy old ladies we would evolve into, certain we’d still be best friends.

Like I said, I could write volumes. There are memories of days and chunks of life and strings of sentences shared between us that saved my sanity, made me laugh until my sides ached and soothed my soul. Our friendship helped shape the woman I became. But that’s not what this is about.

Ethel hated conflict. If we had a fight, she’d just stop talking to me for awhile. If she had built up negative feelings about our friendship, rather than open up a discussion and work through it with me, she’d cut and run. Just after high school, she cut me out of her life for about six months. No discussion, no warning. Just stopped taking my calls or talking to me. When she finally contacted me again, I was so lonely and desperate to have her back in my life, I acted like it was no big deal and welcomed her back.

It happened again a few years later, and I’m sorry to say I reacted similarly. I had no idea how to stand up for myself, and was frightened of losing the most important friendship of my life again. After several months of the reborn friendship, she ghosted me a third time. This time, it lasted for five years.

I knew Ethel’s parents had an influence on her, despite her not being fully cognizant of it. After we hit adolescence and began to rebel, especially when I introduced their precious daughter to the music of the rock band KISS, her mom and dad began to blame me for screwing up their kid. I remember Ethel telling me that her mother called me ‘white trash’. That cut me to the core. It took me years to ask myself why Ethel would even relay such a painful comment.

My belief is that Ethel used me as a scapegoat at times, too. If she could see me as less than her, it gave her some self-esteem she couldn’t find in other ways. I think she saw herself as the more educated and well-rounded one, while I was still the same misfit stuck in her teenage years.

After those five years of no contact passed, I received a letter from Ethel.  She wanted to talk again. She wanted to apologize.

Ethel was now married, living in Chicago and going to grad school.  I wrote back, telling her I would tentatively correspond with her via letters. I needed time to test the waters and see if I could extend trust not born of my youth and former loneliness.

After several weeks of snail mail, I supplied Ethel with a caveat. If she ever pulled her act of just taking away the friendship without even discussing it with me first, then she needed to understand it would be the final straw. Don’t ever contact me again, I said. She accepted my terms.

We became close again. It was a rewarding, much more adult friendship this time around. I was thrilled I didn’t miss out on her giving birth to two beautiful daughters. Her family moved back to the area, and I got to see them more often. I thrived as a pseudo aunt. Those girls were the be-all-end-all to me.

After twelve years of having Ethel back in my world, we got into a fight. The details are unimportant as far as this writing goes, but I can say that it began with me telling her she had said something to me that hurt my feelings, and I wanted to discuss it. Suffice it to say her old habit of being unable to handle disagreement with me reared its ugly head yet again. Despite now having a graduate degree in a counseling field, she couldn’t deal with conflict. Ironic, don’t you think?

She cut. She ran.

Ethel still had some of my things, like CDs, DVDs and a book. I found my items in a small cardboard box that had been surreptitiously tossed on my front porch. It was raining, but the box was left open, allowing water to do some damage. Thanks! So kind of you to offer one last gutless wonder maneuver. My guess is it wasn’t even her that performed the drive-by. She likely handed off the task to her husband.

That was thirteen years ago. As I said at the beginning of this, I saw her today.

Not in person. It was during a middle of the night Google session conducted when I couldn’t fall back asleep. I searched various people I used to know, catching up with neighbors and old school mates. Then I thought of her and started poking around. I mainly hoped to see what her daughters look like all grown up. I still miss them.

I found recent pictures of Ethel posted on social media. There she sat having a meal out with her extended family. I did see what I believe are both of her daughters. But what I could not take my eyes off was Ethel herself. No longer the six-year-old sprite running around our elementary school playground. No longer the teenage girl applying purple eye shadow and puffing on a Marlboro. No longer the thirty-something new mom.

I could say I felt an instant longing for our closeness again. I could say I had to fight the desire to try to find her phone number and see if we could work this all out. But neither of those is true. I found myself awash in bitterness.

That face – my God, how much she looks like her father. Ethel’s dad was one of the most judgmental men I ever knew, and I was often standing in front of him as he brought down his gavel in contempt of me.

It wasn’t just her face. It was her expression. I knew it like I knew the back of my hand.  Ethel was never comfortable being photographed (neither am I). She often expressed fear of being seen as ugly or fat. I could see in these photographs the discomfort she tried to hide behind a grin. The way she sat, the placement of her hands, the tilt of her head. Her body language still proved familiar to me. I saw that she wasn’t happy about her picture being taken, but knew she had no choice.

She sat next to her mother-in-law. The one about whom Ethel often complained to me, but she couldn’t (wouldn’t) stand up to her. She sat across the table from her sister-in-law. The one about whom Ethel often complained to me, but she couldn’t (wouldn’t) confront her either.

Yet these people were still in her life, because Ethel had no choice. The very fact that they were in-laws meant she couldn’t pull her Ghost Routine. I was different. I was disposable.

I saw something else in those pictures. Ethel had gained weight. I knew her well enough to know what a number that must do on her self-image. In a flash of pettiness, I briefly took pleasure from knowing this. The anger at her goddamn audacity to throw me away time after time proved strong.

Taking in her physical changes, including how she has aged (as we all have), and seeing that patented I Am Uncomfortable Ethel body language and frozen smile posed some questions.

Has she changed in the past thirteen years? Does she face her fears about conflict and know how to resolve it now? Does she regret trashing our friendship? I don’t know. I never will know. I sure can guess, though. Pictures vs. a thousand words and all.

I took twenty-four hours to consider it all. Who and how she is now, as well as my reaction to seeing her in digital form moving through the current day world. My former best friend.

I spent the majority of the last several years being a caretaker for my mother, who had dementia. My entire life came to a halt while I did my best to ease her through her last years. I lost ground in terms of my career, my savings, my social life and my sanity.

When it was all over, I felt like I had spent ages on the side of the highway with a broken down car. My friends in my age group had all whizzed past me. After taking months to properly grieve the death of my mom, as well as the loss of the years of my life, I found myself in a depressive state. How on earth was I ever going to catch up?

In processing my reaction to seeing Ethel, I turned a corner in understanding something. We all spend time broken down on the side of the road. It’s not that I didn’t already know this on a cognitive level. I just needed a ghost from the past to stop in and remind me that I need to relax. I needed a revelation to give me a gentle shove towards getting back out on the road.

For months now, I’ve felt this favorite old Tori Amos lyric about feeling left behind summed up my life:

“All the white horses have gone ahead”

Now I’m realizing that I need to also hear the rest of that stanza:

“When you gonna make up your mind
When you gonna love you as much as I do?
‘Cause things are gonna change so fast”

And they have changed quickly. I actually started writing this piece some two months ago, then set it aside because my focus was suddenly diverted. I created a major opportunity in the creative writing field that, if it pays off, will change my life. I’m also now more at ease that being a menopausal woman with problems is not only okay, but matches me well with a group of friends I have in the same boat.

I released Ethel, that ghost from my past. That old haunting feeling of ‘She must be way happier than I am’ is gone. How she is, what she’s accomplished and what she weighs is none of my concern.

I’ve got my eyes on my own lane. I may be in a jalopy moving forward in fits and starts, but I am on the road again.

avw

Home for the Holidays

amomtape

 

My mom came by to visit me yesterday. Not in the flesh, owing to the fact that she died summer of last year, but she found a way.

Back in 1994, I decided to record a conversation with my mother. I treated it like I was interviewing her, with the purpose being to achieve a sort of life history for her. I caught the whole thing on cassette tape, as this was back when dinosaurs ruled the earth and people weren’t armed with smart phones and digital video recorders.

I spent forty-five minutes asking her questions, going chronologically from when she was born through when I was a little girl. My mother was 71 years old at the time I interviewed her, so less than an hour was nowhere near enough time to cover all the bases. I did manage to get in a lot of factual questions, along with ones with a more emotional base to them.

One of my biggest problems is that I procrastinate like it’s an Olympic sport. My intention to record more was put off and put off, and eventually the tape was relegated to its plastic cover and shelved with my hundreds of musical cassettes. I had not heard it since I created it.

Shortly after my mother died, the tape resurfaced. Not ready to deal with it yet, I put off listening to it. The day finally came when I wanted to hear it. More accurately, I needed to hear it. I cued it up in my ancient boombox. I was disappointed to find that the sound quality was so poor that I had to start and stop every few seconds. I could just barely hear her, which served to frustrate me and make me cry. I put the tape back up.

Yesterday, I decided to try again. The volume was still way too low. In desperation, I smacked the side of the boombox with my hand, as one does when a television, computer, kitchen appliance and host of other machines fail us.

Voila! The sound roared to life and my mother’s voice filled the room.

I listened to a twenty-seven year old me play journalist, sorting through the details of an elderly woman’s life. And it was beautiful. An early Christmas gift created by both my mother and myself to be delivered twenty-five years in the future.

The first thing that hit me in the face was that I never realized my mother had a Texas accent. How is that possible? The voice definitely belonged to her. The younger voice I remember, not the woman with dementia I knew for the last several years of her life. Yet it had a subtle but noticeable twang; sweet like a little sugar in a glass of iced tea.

Startling as well was a fact about my grandfather I had long forgotten. He was forty when he married my grandmother. She was only twenty at the time. My grandpa became a father in his mid-40’s. My mother entered parenthood in her mid-40’s, too. This means my own grandfather was born in 1880.

1880! When Laura Ingalls ran barefoot through the prairie, my grandpa was alive. Edison patented the light bulb the year before my grandpa entered the world. The invention of the car had not yet come to fruition. I simultaneously feel like I’m touching a piece of living history and that I myself am older than dirt.

I asked my mom about World War 2. She relayed how she was riding in a car with a couple of friends when the announcement about Pearl Harbor came over the radio. She spoke of the ration books she used to purchase things like meat, sugar and gasoline.  She was unaware of the atrocities of the Holocaust until the war was over.

When asked what attracted her to the man she married before my dad, she exclaimed that he was “oodles of fun”. The fun stopped when it was clear he was a raging alcoholic. Tired of living with him in Waterloo, Iowa, she left him and came back to Texas. I asked her who filed for divorce and she replied that she did. She told me at that time, most women were the ones to do the filing. If the man filed for divorce, it marked the woman as ‘unmarriable’, and was a black mark on her social record. If the woman filed, it just meant it must not have worked out. No Scarlet “D” for the man.

I learned about most of the cats my mother owned. (Shut it! Like mother, like daughter.) She reminded me of the multiple places she called home in San Antonio and Corpus Christi, Texas. She told of my father’s proposal to her when they were out with friends drinking and dancing.

She spoke of so much more, happily answering all my questions. Yet there were so many I did not get to. I wish I had gone back to this project, but I am grateful that I achieved what I did. This precious testimonial has lived on, and it has allowed my mother to do the same, at a time of year when I really needed her to come to life in some form.

While listening to the tape, my eyes only watered a couple of times. I didn’t go into the full-blown grieving cry, which delightfully surprised me. It felt like my mom had stopped by for a visit at Christmas. As if she were just sitting next to me on my bed, painting little portraits of her life experiences.

If you have relatives whose life stories you’d like to relive down the line, I encourage you to document them now. It’s much more personal when it comes with their voices and faces, as opposed to just jotting down a timeline. There is so much more technology available for this today.

I meant to talk to my father, too, but he died a few months later. Time waits for no one. Make a piece of living history with your mom, dad, grandparents, spouse and others while you can. It will pay you and other family members back down the line.

On a similar subject, I wrote a piece last Christmas called “Red”. It’s about the last Christmas present my mother ever gave me. For those interested in an update, I unwrapped the red package to find a beautiful ornament.

aornament.png

You might think I rushed to hang it in a place of prominence on my tree. I did not. I let it sit on my desk for weeks, afraid of breaking it while handling it or finding it had fallen from the tree and shattered. Weeks turned into all year, and it was only when I put up a tree this month that I was forced to make a decision.

I asked my friend to put a beautiful green bow on the top of the box and set it under my tree. Thus, a new tradition was born. I like the idea of placing the boxed ornament among the other presents. It feels like I cheated time and am able to enjoy that single present from my mother long past the one Christmas. Now every year will contain a gift from my mom.

I can’t decide if that is charming and clever or merely a cloyingly sweet idea fit for a horrid Hallmark holiday movie. Time will tell, but for now it feels right.

I wish a Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah or whatever applies to all my readers. May the new year bring you the peace I felt for forty-five minutes yesterday.

Trick or Treat

ahalloween

 

I love me some Halloween. The usual reasons come to mind: dressing up, costume parties, decorations, the spooky atmosphere and the candy. Especially Smarties. If you don’t understand the cult love some of us have for Smarties, I feel sorry for you. If, in addition to that ignorance, you also love candy corn, I will fight you.

In some ways, the best part of Halloween is seeing kids dressed in their costumes. I love seeing imaginations in action. Comic book heroes, princesses, witches, ghosts, Harry Potter, and on and on. I’m particularly enamored of kids who are too young to have chosen their costumes, so they are sporting what Mom or Dad picked for them. There’s nothing cuter than a toddler wandering around looking somewhat confused, yet also confident that, ‘Yep, I’m a tiger” or “I don’t know what a Buzz Lightyear is, but apparently I’m him.”

For many years, I lived in a neighborhood that didn’t have trick-or-treaters. There were a lot of empty nesters living there, as well as the streets had no sidewalks and did not lend themselves to walkability for the kiddos. I moved to a new home last year, and was quite sad when my neighbor said we don’t really get trick-or-treaters in this area. Still in the process of unpacking and setting up my house, I didn’t bother to buy candy.

Foolishly, I turned my porch light on for the big night without thinking.

Around dusk, the doorbell rang. I was in my bedroom talking on the phone. I checked my alarm system’s front porch camera and saw a darling little girl dressed in a pink kitten costume. “No!” I said to my friend on the phone. “It’s probably just the one. Go turn your porch light off”, he replied.

But it was too late. I would have to cross in front of the open living room windows and look like a Samhain Scrooge signaling that I was just kidding, no goodies here for you younguns! A steady stream of kids and families kept trudging up my driveway for the next ninety minutes. I sat in my bedroom watching them on cam, my eyes actually watering at one point because I had missed out on something I love so dearly.

candy halloween

 

I vowed that this year would be different. I bought new decorations to add to my old ones and put them up. I bought a giant bag of the good candy. (I would not be stuck with a bowl of leftover Dum Dum lollypops or Dollar Store candy I don’t enjoy). I bought stickers, monster temp tattoos and tiny plastic bat rings. I put two pieces of candy and one prize in a sandwich baggie and tied it up with green ribbon, for a total of sixty bags.

I was not only going to hand out Halloween candy this year, I was going to be the cool house.

I pulled a muscle in my thigh the day before Halloween, making it difficult to get around. Getting up constantly and moving around was painful, but I was not going to have another Halloween be thwarted. I decided to set a bowl with all the candy bags in it on a chair just outside my front door. I wrote a sign that said, “Happy Halloween! Please take one bag per person”, and taped it to the door. I planned to watch the kids on my porch cam so I could enjoy the costumes and excitement of participating in handing out candy again, even if from my gimpy spot on the couch.

I knew the risk. I was warned by a couple of friends, too.

“You’ll be robbed blind by the first kid that comes to your door.”

“You can’t trust people. Don’t do it”.

I was willing to take the risk. I believe in the good of people, even if that good doesn’t always come through. It’s the Anne Frank in me. So I set the bowl out and waited.

The first visitors featured a mom dressed as Maleficent, her husband and two kids. I watched my cam as they read the sign, politely took one bag each and left. Then came a little unicorn accompanied by a cowboy. They did the same. Then skeletons and fairies and some in costumes I could not identify, all cute as can be and doing as my sign requested.

I almost melted from adoration when a hot dog and a pirate, both boys about ten or eleven years old, showed up. The hot dog read the sign to his friend, and told him, “Be sure to take just one bag.” As they walked off, they turned and looked at my door and said, “Thank you!”

My faith in humanity was fully charged at this point.

Next up was a group of four teenage boys. The first one up to the door read the sign, screamed to his buddies, “Oh, look!” and grabbed as many bags as he could. His friends joined in, emptying my bowl.

I yelled out the window, “What the fuck?!” They laughed and took out running. I screamed, “You fucking assholes!”, and one returned fire with, “You shouldn’t have put the bowl out!” They tore across my lawn and down the street.

I just sat there, saddened and angry. My porch cam captured an image of two of them, and I contemplated posting it on the Nextdoor website (each neighborhood in a city has a section on the site), asking something like, “Are these your kids? They’re also thieves.” The hope would be to get them in trouble, but realistically I knew the greater risk was they would come back for revenge. They may be ‘just kids’ to some, but I don’t need the fear of four high school males cooking up ways to scare or harm me because I got them in trouble with their parents.

I was half-dressed and in no condition to go open the door, tear the sign down, collect the bowl and turn off the light. It was getting late anyway, so I knew only a few more visitors would come by. A couple of girls walked up, read the sign, expressed confusion at the empty bowl, then made off with the last two bags that had hit the porch before the shithead hooligans teenage thieves made off with them.

I stopped monitoring the cam, instead focusing on sitting on my couch trying not to dissolve into tears (spoiler: it didn’t work). I know that in the grand scheme of things, it was just some idiot boys playing a trick on Halloween. I was out about twenty bucks worth of merchandise, so it wasn’t some headline grabbing crime. But still.

I checked the camera one more time and literally screamed when I saw this.

clown halloween

 

I am not kidding when I say that from the day I first got my new alarm system, I have had a fear of seeing some scary ass clown on my front porch when I checked my camera. That night, my nightmare came true. Turns out it was just some poor kid reading my sign and realizing there was no candy to be had. He turned and skipped across my lawn to the waiting car I assume his parent was driving. He definitely won my award for Scariest Costume of the Night.

I thought about those kids that took the candy a lot that night and the next day. I made a conscious decision not to go all glass-half-empty over a prank done on the spur of the moment by some kids whose brains aren’t fully formed yet. Which is not to say I didn’t also express a wish that they all choke on my candy. I’m no saint.

My takeaway from the experience is this: Up until they showed up, eighteen people read my sign, respected it, took one bag and left. They were the treats. And I will not allow one pack of tricks to overshadow that.

(But seriously, choke on it.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comfort Zone

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He called me when I had just climbed into bed to take an afternoon nap. We talked for a while, my head sinking into the memory foam pillow, and I could feel sleep overtaking me. I fought it but … ZZZZZ. The next thing I knew, I was waking up with my phone still perched on my chest. I could hear the sounds of traffic and the gentle purr of an engine.

“Am I in the car?” I asked, still not fully cognizant.

“Yes,” he replied.

“Oh my God, I fell asleep! I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine, really.” His soothing baritone voice assured me he truly didn’t mind.

“Why didn’t you just say something and wake me up?” I asked.

“I know you needed the sleep. At first, I muted myself so I wouldn’t disturb you while I took the dog outside and did a couple of things around the house.”

I was mortified at this point. “Holy cow, how long was I out?”

“About half an hour.”

“You should’ve just hung up!”

“I didn’t have the heart to do it,” he said, and I could hear the hint of a smile on his face.

My mind seized up with all the embarrassing possibilities. Had he heard me make mortifying sleeping noises? Sweet Moses, had I snored?! I had trouble falling asleep when my cat was staring at me. How could I let this happen?

I heard the rhythmic clicking of his car’s turn signal as he waited at a traffic light. Feeling touched and a bit curious, I asked, “Where are we going?”

“I have to go to the grocery store, so I’m taking you with me. I must’ve accidentally unmuted myself. I’m sorry.”

“You were prepared to cart my sleeping ass on the phone through the entire store and back home, if necessary?” I asked, feeling incredulous.

“Yes,” he replied. “I didn’t want you to wake up alone.”

Involuntarily clapping my hand over my mouth, I searched for my next words. Before I could choose any, his own words wrapped me in a comforting blanket.

“Go back to sleep, if you want to, baby. I got you.”