Saturday, May 21, 2011

Notes in a Bottle

This is a piece I wrote some time ago, and I am ready to take it public for some feedback. In my classroom I like to use books kids can connect to. I was looking for a good story that dealt with divorce and couldn't find one. So, I decided to write one. So, understand this is written as an idea for a children's book.( It would be more like the style of Patricia Polacco or Eve Bunting length and style for older adolescence.) PLEASE give me some feedback. Thanks in advance!

Life brings change. Katie and her mother were in the midst of another one of those changes. Katie was whirling with thoughts, like a lightning bug in a jar right before its light goes out. Katie and her mother were driving down the long country road. So much had recently happened, so much had changed. At age eleven her life had already seemed so full of emotions and confusion, continually she was trying to figure out why things happen the way they do. Katie’s grandmother was packing up the contents of her home…moving in with them.  Katie’s mom had made the decision based on the life-interruptions that had recently occurred. Only months ago Katie’s dad had moved out of their home and into an apartment in town. Then a short time later, they received the phone call saying that her grandma had fallen when she was alone. So it was decided… Grandma and mom would journey through these times together, in Katie’s home.
Katie wasn’t sure how she felt about it, how she felt about anything right now. Disorder seemed to take residence in her mind. She couldn’t figure out how what she thought was such a happy home, had become such a miserable place for her parents. So miserable in fact, that they had decided to live separate.
At her Grandmother’s home they started sorting, packing, deciding where all her “treasures” would be sent. A pile for Goodwill, a pile for the local thrift store and though we didn’t talk too much about it in front of Grandma, but a pile for the dump. All her memories were held in the contents of this house, and little could be brought with her to our home. Katie wondered how hard this was for her grandmother. Her grandmother had lived in this home since Katie’s mother was just a small girl.  To Katie it seemed they were all letting go of things they thought would be with them forever.
“Katie?” Mom stirred her from her questions. “Want to come help me sort some things in my room?”
Katie found it strange that after all these years her mother still called that bedroom ‘my room’. It hadn’t been her mother’s room in over twenty years.
“Sure…” she looked up into her mother’s eyes, seeing beyond her mother’s smile she knew that mom had a few questions of her own swarming around in her mind. Her look had changed the day Katie’s Dad had carried the first suitcase full of his belongings out of their home. Katie continued to wish her mother’s look would return to what it had been; Katie wished everything would return to what it was.
“Mom, you were a weird kid,” she chuckled as she glanced around ‘her’ bedroom. It was a history lesson of her mom’s teenage life. Grandma had left it virtually untouched.
“Not weird Katie, in fact very much like you!”
“I can’t see how you can compare Mom! Are you ready to bury these things?”
There were posters on the wall, shoeboxes of old letters and pictures under the bed and in the closet, and in the drawers were hidden remnants of her strange taste in clothes. Nowhere did Katie see anything that resembled her.
As they began to gather and pack Katie could tell Mom would get lost in her memories. Katie would call her back into reality holding things up laughing or questioning, “What in the world is this?”
It was when her mom pulled a bottle off a shelf when Katie saw a cloud pass over her mother’s face, a storm brewing. Her mother brought it down, looking from Katie to the bottle…wondering.
“What’s that? A secret love note?” Rolled up inside the bottle was a yellowed piece of paper.
“No…it was a school assignment, I was about your age.”
“You saved a school assignment in a bottle Mom? You are an odd one!”
“No, that was a part of the assignment.”
“Okay, you have my curiosity, why would your teacher assign that?”
“We had read a story about a message in a bottle. Then we wrote our own. Most of the kids actually released theirs, but I saved mine.”
“So, it is a secret love note?”  Imagining her mom with a high school sweetheart really made her laugh.
            “No, the teacher asked us to write a note telling something we might not want to say aloud, to an audience who we knew may never see it.”
            “So, did anyone ever read it?”
            “Only me, I pulled it out once in a while. In fact, there are two letters in there. You might be interested in reading them.”
By the grip she had on the bottle Katie knew she was still deciding if she wanted her, or anyone to read it.
“That’s okay Mom, you can keep your secret,” Katie assured her.
“No, I think it might help…us. I wrote this letter when my parents broke up.”
Katie had always known her grandparents had divorced long before she was born. But suddenly, she realized Mom had gone through this. Katie wasn’t sure she wanted to read that letter. Katie and her mother were very close; she had always easily shared secrets with her mother. But it didn’t feel right that she would now be the first to read this letter, a letter her mother kept protected in a bottle, from everyone.
            Her mom placed the bottle in Katie’s lap. “I’m going to make us lunch.” She left the room, leaving Katie permission to be the first to read her letter.
            It took Katie a few minutes to decide to twist the cap off. Even with permission she felt like she was invading her mother’s privacy. Inside she found two rolled up letters- one obviously older than the other. Katie decided to read the oldest letter first. She slowly read her mother’s words,

“Dear Mom and Dad,
It has been two weeks since Daddy pulled
me into his lap and with tears in his eyes had told me he is moving out. The pain of that moment still stings the deepest part of my heart. But today it isn’t pain I am writing about-it’s confusion.”

She stopped reading at that point and laid the letter in her lap. Tears clouded her vision. Katie was reading her mother’s words; and realizing at the same time that her mom knew the pain and confusion too. She couldn’t believe she was reading her mother’s heart, and it read just like her own heart. It took longer this time to want to go on, to read more. But she did.

“How could this happen? How are you so unhappy in the home I find so happy? Don’t you remember the camping trips, the holidays, even our dinners around the table? Why does this have to end, why can’t you make this work?
                                                                                    Your unhappy daughter”

Those lines Katie read over and over. She let them roll around her mind, into her heart, sometimes sinking in her stomach.  Each time realizing these were her very same questions …her same pain. Katie’s mind was bombarded, “How could my mother feel the same thing? And worse yet, how did she allow this to happen to me, knowing how much it hurts?”
Katie twisted the papers together and returned them to the bottle. She didn’t know what the second letter was about, and didn’t care. The bottle lay next to her as she lay down on the pillow. Katie’s tears fell as she released all that had been bottled up inside.
Mom came in to get her for lunch. At first sight of Katie, her mother knew her words, that had been hidden for so long, had now been read, but they didn’t talk about it that day. They didn’t for a while. It was not the time. But one day they would. When Katie was ready to talk, to move beyond this. Right now Katie felt stuck here. The lightning bug at the bottom of the jar, light out.
As time passed by, Katie spent a lot of time with her Dad, and her mother as well. They took turns over the holidays and summer vacations, both spending time with Katie. Things were different, but Katie adjusted to the change. As the days and months moved on, the hurt and confusion cleared some. Katie and her Mom began to talk. Katie’s mother asked questions, and so did Katie. Some could be answered; others were never answered. They carried on through many of life’s twists and turns, experiencing them both together and separately. The hurt changed too. It never left completely. The confusion gave way to acceptance.
On the day Katie was moving out, about nine years later, her mom came into her room to help pack. Over time Katie’s mom had found out that Katie had never read the second letter. Katie saw the bottle in her mother’s hand when she came in.
“Before you go, there’s something I want you to do for me.”
Katie knew what it was before her mother ever said it. She knew her mother wanted her to read the second letter. Though, this time her mother stayed there with her, this time her mother read the letter to her,

“Dear Mom and Dad,
It’s been many years since I wrote that first letter. I made it through. Today I am headed out on my own with many memories, and I just want to thank you. Thank you for the camping trips, the holidays, and the dinners around the family table. I will cherish them always.
                                    Your daughter

Katie hugged her and whispered into her ear, “Thank you, too!”
With Katie’s arms around her mother’s neck They now knew how much alike they were; both aware that change will happen- life-interruptions, but their memories remain protected, locked away like notes in the bottle, ready for them to visit and revisit whenever they needed them.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Missing in Action

This is in response to the inspiring site of the Red Dress Club's latest prompt: Sloth. 

 Hannah slumped on the couch, feet up, and her finger triggered the remote to move through the channels. Not really aware of the images that flashed before her, she would pause and then move on.
As she faded from one channel to another she heard the faint familiar words she once knew...but she was so different now.
Faith...she has lost it to unanswered prayers. She no longer knelt to her knees, no longer spoke to a presence she couldn't see. A divorce, loss of her father to cancer, and missed opportunities, where was this so called god in all this?
Words....yes, she once flipped through the pages, studied and searched for answers. Now it sat dusty and untouched.
Church...full of people who live two lives, deceitful, prideful, too busy with plans and not enough time for her and her problems. They offered sweet smiles, occasional hugs...but had not time to listen, no time to help with the hurts.
God....where would or could he fit in now? He took a lot of time, too much devotion. She seemed to be okay without him. Maybe a little empty. But her needs were met.
As she continued to shuffle the images...the words she heard echoed in. "A hardened heart...a hardened heart...a hardened heart...."

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ashtrays and Love

This is in response to a prompt on The Red Dress was a photo prompt. The photo showed an ashtray.
Read on to see why I posted my photo.

It was a small little place, holding too many hands and feet within. But I was grateful for a roof, and my mom who opened this space to us, our family of four. At the time, I referred to him as her husband, not my dad. Rough around the edges, as kind, as he was mean. The home was a cacophony of sounds.  Screaming children, television blaring, neighbors in and out, dog barking, leading to conversations loud with Long Island accents.

Always something special being prepared in the kitchen. Onions,garlic, peppers, tomatoes spreading from the frying pan....or bananas, chocolate, and peanut butter rising from the oven.  We were surrounded by each other, and how J, our little explorer on wheels, ever got away from us, I couldn't tell you.

But she would scoot away in her little walker. Pony tail bobbing on top of her head, right arm swinging like a baby gorilla. She had a mission. Her wheels would spin against the hardwood floor...

The rest of us lost in the noise and odors, wouldn't notice her absence immediately. Her older brother was always in the midst of us. Curled up on the belly of his favorite dog. Or sitting at the heels of one of the adults, lost in their conversations.

But not J. She was always on the move. So off to find her I would go. Many times I would find her in the kitchen with Grandma. Banana in her mouth, pasted on her cheeks, sliding down her chin, or wedged in between  her fingers. But Grandma was close by with the cloth to clean her. Other times I would find her stuck in a corner unable to turn herself around. Those times were easiest to locate her, her scream of frustration rang through the house. Followed by, "Would you shut that kid up!" from the head of the household.
I'd spin her around and off she'd go again, as happy as could be.

I wish I could say it only happened once...but I fear it was more. I would search and find her out of everyone's sight. Face black, and tobacco hanging from her lips. Fingers happily digging into one of his ashtrays. She had a look of pleasure and mine was of disgust. No matter how many times I asked and pleaded, he wouldn't keep them out of reach. It was his home and he would live in it as he pleased.

I never understood why she was attracted to those nasty things. But now years later it is one of those stories we share of her childhood with laughter. The image is one we would not forget.

As for my mother's husband, the head of the household. I grew to love that man and I miss him dearly. He never quite smoothed his edges, but I learned to love the roughness that edged his heart that could not have been bigger. There were days that left a bad taste just like his ashtrays...but many more days that I look back at with laughter and of love.

A note from the author: my first few comments I received mentioned this as my childhood memory, and of my sister. This is a story about me as a mom. Do you think I need to do any more revision to make that clear, or do you even think it needs to be clear? Thanks for leaving feedback, I really appreciate it.