In this issue, work by
Work from Late Love - nominated for a 2021 Pushcart Prize. All poems are copyright © 2020 by Paula Goldman. From the collection Late Love published by permission of Kelsay Books, Inc.
If Dickinson Had a Husband
I give you my poems to mail—
Later, you call to say
how sorry you are, throwing
in your briefcase first, leaving
the poems on top of the car
before driving off.
I walk to the kitchen window,
unraveling the phone cord
when I see them in the wind—
winged white sheets,
they sail from the brown envelope,
splitting apart like a milkweed pod—
the seeds flying far, far
over the avenue.
push baby carriages,
walk their dogs—
stop and pick them up.
They read sestinas, villanelles, sonnets—
everyone read my poems.
“Of course,” I say and hang up.
You come home from you Marathon
like a soldier limping from a wound—
your Achilles’ heel smarts. Your disc
worn out. You put down your shield,
your spear, your helmet still hanging
from your tanned arm. I take you
in my arms and we begin
the day to day battle, the terrible
grinding of years, taxes to Caesar, tuition
bondage, roof repairs, in care of . . . .
I still love you, What are days for?
You Drew a Blank
When the muse leaves, she goes
through the front door, drops
her key on the tabletop,
takes her traveling laptop,
keeping your desktop
closed and neat, next to her coffee
mug. She admires
your steadfastness, but, of course,
wants more, for you
to leave myths of goddesses
behind the everyday
world and for you to spread outdoors.
She critiques (incommunicably)
your attempts and writes
to replace your work. Admit
you like your own work;
her poems are a bore.
There’s a blank in your heart
where bank tellers
were before, giving out
large bill, no signature
required. The dollars spread like pelicans
over the shore, whatever
they fetched you felt surely
there’d be more. Then
you wrote feverishly:
you loved the way she adored
holding your coffee, the best
she ever tasted.
Van Gogh’s Prayer
after Wheatfields with Crows, 1890
Let the crows fly from my heart
dreams of destruction, exclusion, dreams
of inevitability, fantasies of power
and unreason. They feed of fear
and the feed of the desire
for a certainty, a frame, a skeleton
that fixes all things in the world.
the crows co-exist with heaven, hovering
around me a lifetime, harbingers
of gloom and death. Their eyes are black
as their feathers, bright black.
They fly over sickled wheat fields
with roads going nowhere.
Of the three roads I have painted,
give me the one that leads to the sky
where I have stood unstintingly,
whence comes the peace I find
when I am working. Let the dark blue
heaven have the crows, at once
my relief and resurrection.
From life, no road affords me peace,
only pain, the pain and the search
for peace. Loneliness was my creed
except for my brother, Theo, in whose arms
I shall die. So close, his belief in me. Yes,
I wanted people, turning myself
like a windmill gone haywire, cutting
my ear, swallowing paint, drinking absinthe.
Leave my heart, black crows,
let me be free, or are they coming,
their cawing call, to rescue me?
About the Author
Paula Goldman’s book, The Great Canopy, won the Gival Press Poetry Award and received an honorable mention for the Independent Booksellers’ Award. Her work has appeared in Oyez Review, Slant, Calyx, Passager, Ekphrasis, Rattle, Prairie Schooner, Manhattanville Review, Cream City Review, Comstock Review, Harvard Review, The North American Review, Poet Lore, Poet Miscellany, Hawaii Pacific Review, Caesura, among other magazines. She was the first prize winner in Inkwell’s (Manhattanville College) poetry competition and the Louisiana Literature Award for poetry. She holds an MFA in writing from Vermont College.
The poems below are copyright © 2019 by Mitchell Grabois. From The Arrest of Mr. Kissy Face published by permission of Pski’s Porch Publishing.
My soul is stuck in a snow globe
punishment for excesses of ego and cruelty
There are two hula dancers in here with me
They jeer at the snow and the cold
and at me
They sway their full hips
There is snow on the Maua Loa volcano
There are wild pigs with ice crystals
in their hoary brush
There’s an Englishman lost near the peak
His family is in Hilo
waiting for him to find
his way home
Eel Wrapped in Seaweed
I come back from my gay cure class
with unidentified yearnings
In bed, alone
I chip away at my stony inner darkness
try to break through the walls
Then, restless, I walk for hours
all the light poles phalluses
all the telephone poles
my mouth to your telephone
There’s a reason God littered the world
with so many poles
I stop at an all-night sushi stand
and eat eel and octopus
wrapped in seaweed
The food floats weightless in the subterranean night
as if I were an astronaut in a space shuttle
but the shuttle program is over
my gay days coming to a close
I know it’s irreverent but
I like to imagine Jesus cruising the gay bars of Nazareth
then stopping and saying:
No, I can’t do this
I’m the son of God
Like Jesus, I must cure myself
because no one else can
About the Author
Work by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois appears in magazines worldwide. Nominated for numerous prizes, he was awarded the 2017 Booranga Centre (Australia) Fiction Prize. His novel, Two-Headed Dog, based on his work in a state hospital, is available as a Kindle and print edition. His poetry collection, The Arrest of Mr. Kissy Face, was published in March 2019 (Pski’s Porch Publishing). Visit his website: www.wordsbymitch.com.
The poems below are copyright © 2019 by Bob Holman. From Bob Holman and the Unspoken Word Movement published by permission of YBK Publishers.
I live in the Village
Not just any Village
Not just every Village
Where the City
Become a Village
That’s my Village
Where the intercontinental
Becomes the neighborly experiential
That’s my Village
Uptown Downtown Lowdown Notown
That’s the place that’s Home Sweet Home Town
The Village is where I live
Jane Jacobs is my patron saint
She lived it with her apron paint
Stuff she saw she made you see
The definition of reality
A mix, a mess, a mishegoss
Trees in cement, mental floss
Ideas drip from a faucet
Grew up in a bedroom closet
Circumambulate these concrete paths
Tantric trails evanesce the globe
Centered on this Village energy rocket
Simple pulse of living here
All lands and all peoples living here
Behind blinking windows of stacked buildings
Population froths in undulating syncopation
Utopic and grand, elegantly funked and plastered
Mighty Squat Humanness
The Village where I live
The other day Hal mentioned
We were living on Mars
“We’ve been here all along,” he said
Bijou was pulling us along,
And Minter was nowhere to be seen
“Well, what’s the difference between
Earth and Mars, then?” Hal said,
Bending over to use the plastic bag
“It’s just that on Earth, Bijou can’ talk”
“Right-o,” said Bijou
Minter dropped in
On her flying saucer then
“Bagels all around!” she said.
Poetry Reading in the Jungle
— After Popo Dada
Not sure what I’m doing here in tropical forest in this canoe
I seem to be moving in tiny increments, all around
trees sounds and flights, rustles screeches and blips . . .
The fact is I’m asleep. The truth is I’m lost.
My memory full of last night’s poems right here
amidst crackles howls trills and banshee wails.
Like the one about the crocodiles that were living in an underwater house
where we were drinking rum, some of the guys
smoking to frighten the mosquitoes,
and believe me it’s hard to smoke underwater.
So then they started in on poems,
poems of distant lands, countries at war, green
as Ireland, cold as Argentina, hot as Baghdada,
as Cairo, “It’s quite warm here,” the Irish poet noted.
“In fact the heat makes it impossible to move, thus
(poets actually say ‘thus’) I drink the day away
in this chair.” “ That’s not so much,” the Cuban poet
was heard to mutter. And nobody knows what happened later,
where the poets went. All I do is sit in this canoe as it swishes
round in darkness at 3 a.m. . . . No one is paddling.
I have no paddle. Maybe I’m part of the poem
the Irish guy is still writing, having a beer,
trying to bear up in the topical sun.
A poem that he will read to us very soon,
a poem he does not stop writing.
About the Author
Featured in a Henry Louis Gates, Jr. profile in The New Yorker, crowned Ringmaster of the Spoken Word by the New York Daily News, Bob Holman has performed his poems with a punk band in Kiev, a griot in Timbuktu, a ballet company in San Francisco. As the original Slam Master of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, creator of the world’s first spoken word record label, Mouth Almighty/Mercury, and the founder of the Bowery Poetry Club, Holman has played a central role in the spoken word and slam poetry movements of the last several decades. He is the author of 17 poetry collections, most recently simultaneous publication of Life Poem and The Unspoken, written fifty years apart (YBK/Bowery), and has taught at Princeton, Columbia, NYU, Bard, and The New School. A co-founder of the Endangered Language Alliance, Holman’s study of hip-hop and West African oral traditions led to his current work with endangered languages. He is the producer/host of films including The United States of Poetry and Language Matters with Bob Holman, both nationally broadcast on PBS.
The Love We Keep
The cafeteria leaked a sickening scent of soup stew. A watered down beefy smell with a boiled potato chaser. Yuck, whatever that is, it will taste like it smells, thought Eleanor. Some days the odor held more of a canned tomato pungency, a stark contrast to the slow simmered hearty stew she made when Lana was in school and Ed was still alive. Ed and Lana used to savor that smell waiting for dinner. Back then there was talk of people and places, disappointments, hopes and dreams. Talk of life and living. She let her head hang, plucking at the thin cotton blanket that covered her scrawny frame as she lay propped up in her bed.
Eleanor Lydon was now a Trenton Nursing Home resident. How could Lana have put me here? she asked herself for the hundredth time. No one gets well here. I’m old. My creaking, sagging body is breaking down. I have constant reminders of pain and pills.
She wore a nightgown all hours of the day as if there were no life left to prepare for. The sign at the foot of her bed told the story. FALL RISK in bold red letters. I don’t remember falling but apparently, I did. I seem to remember less and less. My memory comes and goes. I feel like I’m learning about my life for the first time, some days.
Talk wafted in from the hall. A plea from another patient interrupting her thoughts. The non-stop chatter competed with a clank of metal against metal. Orderlies were delivering that foul-smelling stuff. Lying in her bed, Eleanor couldn’t see out the window except for gray sky. The weather did nothing to improve her room or her outlook. She lived in a prison. Her crime was growing old.
An aide ambled into the room, shoes squeaking and the uniform pants making rubbing sounds as she moved. Ignoring Eleanor, she went directly to a closet and began rummaging for supplies.
Turning from the window, Eleanor ranted to the aide’s back, “the ones who don’t know where they are—they’re the lucky ones. The lights are always on. My door is always open. People come in and out all the time. How am I supposed to rest? You should figure out how to help people. I’m so tired. I want to go home.“ With this last plea, she broke down, small sobs escaping. She moved her hands to her face shutting out the view of her cell.
The aide turned, “Try to rest, Mrs. Lydon.“ Eleanor dropped her hands in exasperation.
Raising her head, she continued, “With me out of the way, Lana can spend more time with her new boyfriend.“ Eleanor’s gaze moved back to the window as her voice became softer and trailed off — “I’ve not even met him, but she seems quite taken with him —. We used to be so close. But, now that I’m here ... I miss what’s going on in her life. She says she comes when she can, but I think she’s more interested in what’s-his-name.“ Eleanor turned back to face the aide. She was gone. When had she left? She was talking to no one. No matter. That gal wasn’t going to do anything anyway, but it felt good to say it out loud. Eleanor moved her hands back to her face and covered her eyes and cheeks. Her hands caught the tears she cried for herself and for Lana’s life moving on without her.
“I want Lana to be happy, of course,“ she said to no one but herself. With a mournful sigh she lay her head back again and closed her eyes. She let her thoughts drift to the events that brought her here and the words that sealed her fate.
“Lana, I can rest in bed at home just as well as here, can’t I?“
“Mom, I have to work, I can’t worry about you forgetting the stove or falling. You need regular meds. I can’t rely on you to administer them to yourself any longer. We talked about this.“
The evening after Eleanor fell, Lana came to the hospital to see her mother. They discussed what Dr. Mansfield said. “I know we were both dreading this day, Mom, but we both knew it would come.“ Lana was tearful, sort of pleading. “The doctor has been talking about it for a couple months and we’ve put it off as long as we can. Please.“ Lana laid her hand on Eleanor’s shoulder.
Eleanor grasped her daughter’s hand and looked into Lana’s eyes.
“We’re at that point Mom. I’m sorry. I’m afraid I must be firm about this for both of us. Dr. Mansfield said you need more care than I can give you. This is so hard! I can’t sleep or work for the fear of what might happen to you.“ Eleanor wondered when she’d grown to become the one in charge.
She had tried in vain to change Lana’s mind. But she was already here. This was how it was going to be now. With that last thought, she drifted off to sleep despite the place.
“Mom, I’m home,“ Lana yelled, bounding through the front door. “Boy, that smells good. I’m like starving!“
“In here honey,“ Eleanor called from the kitchen. “How was your day?“
“I stayed after to help with prom planning. Carly’s stopping by later. We’re going to plan what we’re wearing and stuff.“
Lana’s chestnut hair bounced on her shoulders as she plopped herself onto a kitchen chair. Eleanor gazed at her daughter, half listening. She still marveled at Lana. Not exactly beautiful, but her creamy skin and lustrous hair made people look twice. There was a shy streak in her too. Eleanor was okay with that. She wasn’t ready to let go just yet. She enjoyed motherhood still. The teen years as much as those precious toddler years. Lana would graduate high school in a week and seemed to step into new experiences with greater ease.
Grabbing an apple from the bowl in the center of the table, Lana rubbed it on her sleeve and took a first cracking bite. Eleanor continued to watch her daughter with a light smile on her lips.
“I will be so glad to move on from high school!“ Lana exclaimed. “I just can’t wait for my real life to start.“
A mix of pride and fear enveloped Eleanor, not for the first time. She saw Lana’s determination to meet the world head on, developing curves and confidence in equal measure. An only child, Lana came late in life to Eleanor and Ed Lydon. She confided to friends more than once how lucky she felt to have a daughter. Women with sons seemed to lose communication with their children during the adult years but daughters were more sensitive and committed to a mother’s needs. The topic came up often and wore well during book club. She liked to report that she could count on her Lana.
“These years are as real as any others, Lana. I don’t understand your need to move on. Eleanor raised two fingers on each hand to indicate quotes.
“I don’t want to talk about it Mom.“
“Okay. Your dad’s going to be late. He called about a meeting for some big client and said to go ahead and eat without him.“
“Then I’ll eat now if it’s ready,“ Lana said, happy to change the subject.
Carly arrived, knocking on the front door.
Lana jumped up from the table and ran to greet her friend.
“Hi Mrs. Lydon, Carly waved.
“Hi Carly.“ Eleanor watched the girls run up the stairs.
Carly asked excitedly, “Hey, did you decide if you’ll wear your hair up or down?“ The voices faded into the bedroom. The door closed.
“I’ll probably just put in a few extra curls, Lana replied,“ plopping on her bed.
Carly joined her. “It won’t matter what you do, Lana. Your hair looks great soaking wet. I on the other hand, need a magic wand.“
“You’ll look fine, Carly. Did you decide on the pink dress? I thought it hugged your shape and looks good on you.“
“Probably. It layers a bit and doesn’t draw attention to a few extra pounds,“ she moaned.
The girls both sat on the twin bed with the pink comforter. Lana’s mother had made it from fabric swatches, hand sewn when she was in the third grade. The piece had taken months. It was heavy and cumbersome to work with, but worth the effort. Eleanor saw it as a true labor of love. Lana traced her fingers unconsciously over the little puffed flowers, feeling the softness of them.
Scanning the bureau top Carly spotted the eye lash curler. Reaching for it, she turned to Lana and pleaded, “Can I borrow this on Saturday? I want to be able to use it right before we make our entrance.
“I’ll put it in my purse now, so I can’t forget.“ Lana rose, grabbing the small draw string satchel that would be her purse for Saturday night.
Plopping back on the bed she asked, “Did you get a decent grade on the Psych exam? I think Ms. Adams completely abandoned the curve. I’m hearing everyone was disappointed with their score. It doesn’t seem fair. I’m hoping it doesn’t hurt my GPA.
“I know! My dad had a fit because I got a C- and it’s going to bring down my final grade.
Lana pulled two fun size Snickers out of her vanity drawer and tossed one to Carly.
“I made an appointment to meet with a career counselor at the Community College next week. I’m hoping to get some ideas for a major and career ideas. I’m good at artistic things, but I can’t see building a career with that. What are you thinking about? Do your folks want you to go to State?“ Lana asked tentatively.
“I’d rather do what you’re doing. I don’t want to go to State. But, my dad is adamant. He says a Business major is the only way to go. I guess it’s what I’ll end up doing.“ Looking dejected, Carly continued, “The thought of college dorms scares me. What if I’m stuck with some drama queen with cheerleader looks? She’d be a constant comparison to me. I couldn’t stand it.“
“It’s a scary thought,“ Lana lied. “Mom said she wants me to stay closer to home. She’s worried about my dad’s health. Says he always seems tired and is slowing down. She doesn’t want to be alone if something were to happen to him. He’s just 64, but he still works a lot and doesn’t get any exercise. Anyway, I’m sure he’s fine, but I agreed.“ Lana didn’t want to talk about her desire to move away and be independent or the regret she felt when her mom talked against it. Being an only child could feel a bit stifling at times. Her shyness wasn’t standing in her way, her parents were. She loved them, of course, but going away to college was the whole idea. It would have been a welcome departure. But, she couldn’t very well tell them, no.
“It’s nearly five o’clock. I better run. I don’t want to get my dad worked up before Saturday. You know how he gets.“ Carly got up from the bed and put on her shoes. “Bye Mrs. Lydon!“ Carly waved as she hustled through the living room and out the front door.
Alone again in her room, Lana recalled the row she and her mother had had about where she would go.
“Mom, I want to go to State. All the kids with real potential go there.“
Putting down her dishtowel Eleanor had tried to reason. “Lana,“ It’s just for a while. Save some money, live at home, transfer your credits. Just give your dad and I a chance to figure out what’s what.“
Lana raised her voice, “Mom, you’ve known I wanted to go to state since my freshman year. How can you ask me to back out now?“
In the end, it was settled. Two years wasn’t that much time. She couldn’t turn her back on them. They had always given her everything.
As Carly ran out the front door, the garage door went up. She saw Lana’s father, Ed, as he drove into the garage. She waved as she headed for home.
Eleanor greeted her husband. He looked tired. She kissed him.
“They all seem to be lately.“
“Well, sit down, I’ll make you a plate.“
“Mmm, smells wonderful hon, I’m starved.“ As he laid his coat on a chair, he pecked her cheek and sat to enjoy his first moments of the long day. “How’s our girl? Did I see Carly heading out as I was coming in?“
Eleanor laid a steaming plate of her famous stew in front of Ed. “Yes, big doings with prom on Saturday. I’m glad things have changed. Kids go in groups without dates. The pressure to get a date can be cruel!“
“You never worried, Elle.“
“No, but I remember hearing stories of anguished girls who were left on the shelf.“
“I was the lucky one, Elle.“ He cocked his head to catch her eye and gave her a wink. Using a piece of bread, he dipped it into the bowl to get all the stew juices. Savoring every bite, he looked at his wife with appreciation visible on his worn face.
Ed’s smile still managed to warm her heart. His hair was gray now, what little there was of it, but he still looked handsome. Time had flown. There were anxious years, of course, waiting for a child that didn’t come. Then, in their 40’s, as if by a miracle, it happened. A beautiful healthy daughter came into their lives. It was as if a whole new life began for them both. The baby years, the elementary years, the adolescence, the teens and now they were on the threshold of adulthood with Lana. Could that really have been eighteen years ago already?
“Ed, you don’t think Lana is going to Glendale just to please us, do you? I mean, it makes good sense to spend less money, living at home and taking advantage of free meals and your own room, right?“ Eleanor’s hand moved to her throat as if to ward off the fear of those words. She wanted Lana at home a little longer. Was that so bad?
“I don’t know, hon. She didn’t seem to put up too much fuss about it. I wouldn’t worry about it. Kids are supposed to want to move out. Parents are supposed to be excited for them. But there’s plenty of time for her to move on.“
Eleanor wasn’t sure she could ever be excited about Lana’s moving on. “Yes, I’m sure you’re right.“
On Saturday Carly picked Lana up as planned and drove them to the prom. They spent most of the time standing close to each other, looking around, making nervous conversation. Carly in pink with the modified sweetheart top and Lana in a lavender sheath with beaded netting and capped sleeves. Both chose tan pumps. The music reverberated off the gym walls, disguising the lyrics. The decorations produced a festive flair with paper murals along the walls creating an island atmosphere as much as possible in a gym with low mercury lights. A few kids passed them, laughing and offering best wishes for life after high school. “Best of luck to you too.“ The new greeting seemed rehearsed. They were sending good wishes to people they didn’t even like and receiving the same. Everyone was dressed up, kids and teachers alike. The girls people-watched taking in the sight. Were these really the same people they saw each day?
“Good evening, girls,“ said Mr. Wolter, a favorite history teacher.
“Hi Mr. Wolter. I like your bowtie,“ said Carly.
“Thanks, you girls are looking lovely this evening. Have a great time.“
The girls smiled back. He nodded to them and moved on to a small group of kids nearby, trying to greet everyone by name.
Carly leaned closer to Lana, “Here comes Rick Cotter. I think he’s going to ask you to dance.“
Lana turned to see Rick as he headed right toward her. He looked uncomfortable in a black suit with a pastel tie and black shoes.
“Nice gig, hey?“
“Yeah, real nice,“ Lana replied. They had spoken a few times, but she never got the impression he was interested. Besides, Rick never came to any school events, he was always working with his lawnmower business. But tonight, anything was possible.
Lon Cortez came to ask Carly to dance and the pressure seemed to push Rick into action. Lana was relieved not to leave Carly standing alone.
“Shall we?“ he asked.
Lana took Rick’s hand and they moved out toward the center of the dance floor. It was a song everyone liked, but an awkward dance tune, not slow not fast. Nerves made Lana’s limbs feel stilted. Rick struggled too, as if dancing were unnatural. His palms were sweaty. He held her tighter than necessary. Holding her breath, head back to look at him, she managed, “What are you going to do? After high school, I mean.“
“I think I’ve finally convinced my dad to let me try my own landscaping business. I’ve got some ideas and college isn’t my thing. He’s agreed to invest a portion of what he put aside for college into my business.“
“That sounds exciting. What independence!“ Lana replied with envy.
“We’ll see.“ I love working with plants. I don’t need college to do that.“
“I wish you luck. I’m staying in the area too. I’ll attend the Community College for at least the first two years.
“Oh, so you won’t be leaving.“ It wasn’t a question.
They got through the song, both feeling it was better than standing on the sideline. Smiling at each other as they parted, Lana wondered if they would see each other again.
“I’ll call you. Maybe we can see a movie or something,“ Rick offered.
“Yeah, sure, that would be great.“ Lana replied, smiling as she fanned herself.
Carly returned from the dance floor. Lana picked up her punch glass. “That was nice, but I thought he was going with someone.“
“No, she broke that off weeks ago, I heard.
“Oh, I . . . “ Lana was blushing “hadn’t heard.“. She remembered their bodies pressed together during the dance. Was he interested in her? Lana found she was still thinking about him.
After another hour, kids began to leave. Many had other places to go, much longer nights, Lana knew. The girls decided to make their exit. The fewer people there, the more they’d look like wallflowers.
In the car, they rode in silence. The dark New Jersey back roads reflected the mood in the car.
“We were pretty much ignored“ Carly blurted.
“I know, we danced a few dances and smiled a lot, but we were definitely excluded by the clique of people who matter. I felt invisible most of the time.“
“Is high school a prediction of the real world? Carly asked in a rhetorical tone. Some girls get to pick and choose who to spend time with. It isn’t fair.
“I know, I’m glad it’s over,“ Lana confessed. “Truth is, I can’t wait to move out and be independent. I want to change my life and forget about high school. Another week and we won’t need to see any of those people again. I can’t say I’ll miss them.“
Carly laughed humorlessly, turning the car into Lana’s driveway. “Not even Rick?“
“Well, we’ll see.“ Lana swung her legs out and hopped out, keeping her dress free from touching the door. She turned and paused at the passenger window. “Thanks for going with me, Carly. We would NOT have felt better staying home.“
“Guess you’re right. See you Monday. Good night.“
“Night.“ Lana scurried toward the door. The porch light glowed. She inserted her key and entered the cozy house. Eleanor was waiting for her in the kitchen, a cup of tea in her hands.
Lana looked at her mother and frowned. You needn’t have waited up.
“I know, How was it? Want some tea?“
“Sure, thanks. It was okay. You know how cliquey high school is. Kids weren’t all that social. I danced with Rick Cotter, we got some snarky looks. I don’t know why I thought it would be different. Carly and I are glad we went, but it didn’t turn out as we dreamed.“ She laughed, making light of it, covering up her disappointment. She did not want to talk about this topic any longer. And, not with her mother.
“Don’t worry darling. High school is nothing like the real world. You’ll find love and happiness, I’m sure of it. Don’t be in such a rush, you’ve got plenty of time.“ She gave her daughter a hug and a kiss. She turned to take the stairs to bed, feeling close to Lana and hopeful for the future.
Lana drank her tea and followed, turning off lights as she went. In her room, she removed her dress and hung it in the closet toward the back where it would not be a constant reminder of the night’s disappointment. She scrubbed her face, brushed her teeth and put on her nightgown, happy to seek the comfort of her bed and sleep. As she settled in, she recalled her mother’s words. Even more reason to move on, she thought. Better days ahead. Rick’s face came into view.
On Tuesday morning, Lana woke up early, excited to dress for her college interview. Coming downstairs she caught site of her mother, dressed for going out.
“Are you going somewhere? I thought I was taking the car for my appointment at ten.“
“Well, what if you need a check or something Lana? Would it be so bad if I went along? I’m sure I won’t be the first parent they’ve seen there.“
“Oh, all right. But please let me do the talking.“ With her good mood dampened, she moved past her mother to get some breakfast.
“You look nice, Lana. You’ll do just fine.“
On the drive to Glendale Community College Lana gazed out the car window. In a tentative voice she said, “I really hope to come away with a career direction. I don’t want to go to school just for the sake of going to school. You know what I mean? It should be helpful towards getting me a job sooner rather than later.“
“Well, I’m sure whatever they offer, the credits will transfer to the bigger school when you’re ready. Eleanor replied.
Lana did not respond that she was ready now. No sense dragging that up again.
“Lana, Mrs. Lydon, welcome. Thank you for coming today. How can I help you?“ Mrs. Alton sat prim at her desk, smiling, looking academic and helpful. She directed her attention at Lana. Taut nerves made Lana’s tummy feel unsettled. Her hands were wet with sweat.
“Well, I’m not positive what I want to do yet for a career. I don’t want to spend time taking credits that won’t help me with my final major choice, and, I mean, I’m sure it’s expensive, and, I’m probably not the only one who thinks this, and, how do you think I should approach this?“ She drew a breath, feeling as though she rambled on like a middle schooler. Yikes, this woman must think I’m a dolt.
Mrs. Alton waited, nodding her understanding and encouraged Lana with a look of understanding and sympathy. Still smiling, and looking at Lana’s eyes, she reached for a program brochure. She pulled out a sort of electronic scoring sheet and a separate brochure she said might be helpful in narrowing down the search.
“Take a look at this information. It’s a good start and helps new students make decisions with a bit more confidence. The second brochure is a copy of an aptitude test to identify some strength areas that may not yet have come to mind. For instance, you may excel in Geography in high school, but it may not be the strength that identifies a best-fit career for you. Complete the questionnaire on-line and we can set up a second appointment next week to discuss the results of the test. It’s a good starting point for deciding college programs.“
Mrs. Alton consulted her computer calendar and asked, “Does the 18th work for you? Say 9:00 o’clock?
“I’m sure it does. Thank you, Mrs. Alton,“ Lana said, extending her hand in her best professional manner. Eleanor smiled, watching her daughter work through yet another step toward adulthood. She extended her own hand and the two turned to leave. Lana gathered up the forms and they left, walking through the college hallway toward the parking lot, shoes clicking on the gleaming tile floor. Lana leaned toward her mother and beamed, “This was so helpful! I feel better already.“
“I agree honey; I think they’ve done this before, don’t you?“ They both laughed as they made their way to the old Bonneville with the Proud Parent bumper sticker.
On the drive home, Lana was still smiling, feeling independence nearing. She could hardly contain her enthusiasm.
“Maybe Glendale can be a great start, Mom; I can’t wait for my real life to start one day. School, my own apartment, a job —.“
Eleanor looked over at her daughter, her smile fading. “Yes, very exciting, dear.“ She turned her eyes back to the road . .the smile had gone.
Lana did her best to indicate her first response as the instructions implied, not over-thinking the questionnaire. Some of the preference questions were difficult because she wasn’t sure which she preferred. Things like, “If you spend time alone, would it be best to a) go to a movie, b) play music, c) read a book, or d) take a nap.“ Who knows? It depends on the day! She could omit “d“ because she rarely napped unless she was sick, but the rest of the choices seemed a toss-up. She chose “c“ because after thinking about it, that was the most likely. She wouldn’t go to a movie “alone,“ and she’d been reading textbooks for years.
On the morning of the 18th, Lana came into the kitchen. Eleanor was at the stove, stirring oatmeal. “I figured I’d get a good breakfast ready for you.“
“Oh Mom, I’m too excited for breakfast.“ This big step seemed magnified. Finding direction and starting a future.
“At least have some toast, Lana, we won’t be back here till lunch. You don’t want to have your stomach growling at the meeting with Mrs. Alton.
Lana didn’t want Eleanor to go back to Glendale with her. “Mom, you don’t have to come with me this time. I can do this. I want to show Mrs. Alton I’m an adult.“
Lana accepted the plate of toast and said no more. It was not the time to get into a fight with her mother now.
“All right. I’ll be anxious to hear how it went, of course. If they need any payment, you’ll have to make another trip.“
“That’s fine.“ She took her plate to the sink, guzzled a small juice glass and headed out the door.
“Don’t forget to turn off your phone, Lana.“
“Yes, yes, you told me. I know what I’m doing.“
Mrs. Alton was ready for Lana when she arrived. Lana fidgeted, feeling tense. What if her scoring exposed her as unqualified for anything? Would Mrs. Alton find too many shortcomings to welcome her to Glendale?
As if Mrs. Alton recognized her trepidation she offered, “Remember, there are no right and wrong answers on this test, Lana. It’s strictly a tool to help you decide. You can consider it or reject it. It’s up to you.“ Did this woman read minds too? Lana smiled, appreciative for the words of comfort. The printer seemed to take forever to spit out the most important documents of her life. Finally, the noise stopped and Mrs. Alton stood to retrieve her results. She returned to her seat, smiling, with a confident stride, and took her chair opposite Lana. Lana hoped the report didn’t say nothing to recommend.
“Let’s take a look, shall we? You have some creative flair, Lana, with an aptitude for structure and concept organization.“ She paused a moment to let that sink in. I’ll give you a copy of this to take with you, of course, but I’m wondering if you’ve ever considered a career in computer graphics. Your high school transcript shows strength in the computer field, good English composition, and with these other clues, I’m wondering if that might hold any interest for you.“
Mrs. Alton smiled at Lana’s look of surprise. “No, I hadn’t considered it, of course, but it sounds exciting.“
“This is a growing field and could hold a promising career. Would you like to spend a day in one of our on-going classes to sort of touch and feel what’s going on in that or any of our other areas?“
“Y-Yes, I think I would. I didn’t even know that was possible. I’ll talk this over with my parents, but I can say I’m definitely interested.“
“Good, if it’s convenient, come in next Tuesday at 9:00 am for a couple hours and observe Mr. Klein’s class. The students love him, and he does a wonderful job preparing them for careers in graphic arts.“
“I’ll be there.“
Lana arrived home and found her mother waiting anxiously at the kitchen table. For a moment Lana wondered if she’d moved at all from earlier this morning.
“Well, she had a great idea. My report suggested I might try Computer Graphics. Mrs. Alton invited me to spend a couple hours in an on-going class to get a feel for it. Lana sat down heavily on the kitchen chair.
“Oh, when is that?“
“Next Tuesday.“ Lana smiled savoring new feelings of independence sprouting.
In two short years, Lana was ready to receive her Associate Degree in Graphic Arts. The June flowers were in full bloom and that fresh air scent permeated the house now that screen doors could do their job. Lana had excelled in the field. Her instructors were all complimentary encouraging her to further her education. She felt ready for real job opportunities. Every month something new was introduced. Print options, software programs, color techniques, new substrate alternatives for products, it was head-spinning. The marketing world demanded more and more of advertising and packaging options and Lana felt she was on the ground floor of a huge opportunity. She was lining up interviews for real work consideration. There were three companies the college helped to uncover, and her portfolio was ready to show what she knew.
“Lana, not too casual, now, I know it’s a casual industry, as you say, but an interview is an interview. You can always dress down later once you find out what others wear to work. Wear the black skirt with the cream blouse and black jacket. Don’t you think that would work well?“ Eleanor was at the bottom of the stairs, calling up to her daughter. Lana heard her but did not really welcome all of this “advice.“ She wanted to feel grown up enough to make her own wardrobe selection. Really, sometimes her mother could be just stifling!
“Yeah, that’s a good choice,“ she offered back down the stairs. It is a good choice, but couldn’t it just be my choice?
With a last look in the mirror, Lana smiled at herself to share her excitement. Half running down the stairs, she saw her mother standing near the landing waiting to wish Lana well. Not wanting to be mothered, she walked past her mother and out the door.
“Break a leg“ Eleanor called.
“Thanks, Mom,“ she managed to call back.
Eleanor had been a third-grade teacher long ago and received awards for the job she loved. But she quit when she found she was pregnant with Lana, taking no chances during a high-risk pregnancy. She had married Ed when they were both young and they had enjoyed their independence. Why did this seem so different now that it was Lana’s turn?
Lana pulled into the Pen Cue parking lot and took in the appearance of the place. A manicured lawn with pruned trees and bushes left a neat, professional appearance. The sign directing visitors pointed the way to an office door. Lana walked toward the door being careful not to put her heels into any of the sidewalk cracks. She was a little unsteady. Beside Prom, she’d really only worn these shoes to one wedding and one funeral. She sent a silent prayer that it wasn’t noticeable. The receptionist greeted her and asked if she had an appointment.
“Yes, I’m here to see Mrs. Dougherty in Human Resources. She’s expecting me.“ The receptionist smiled and turned to her large phone with lots of blinking lights. She pressed a button and announced Lana Lydon was here. A few minutes later, Mrs. Dougherty arrived in the lobby and looked at Lana seated primly, awaiting her interview.
“Lana, thank you for meeting with me today.“ She extended her hand and Lana rose to greet her. “Follow me; we’ll talk in my office.“ Mrs. Dougherty took a seat behind her desk and waved a hand to indicate a seat for Lana. Mrs. Dougherty had Lana’s application in front of her. She was accustomed to putting newbies at ease and spent a couple minutes chatting about last week’s rain and the quick transition to summer. She invited Lana to display her portfolio and scanned the pages of illustrated work with interest. Mrs. Dougherty raised her eyes to meet Lana’s. “You have much to show for a two-year degree, Lana. Do you have plans to continue your education and pursue a four-year degree?“ The question set Lana back. The job didn’t require a four-year degree and she felt prepared to start her career now. She wanted independence from her mother and father now and the job seemed the perfect avenue and the right time to get it. The question threatened all of her progress. She worked to compose her face and not appear shocked. Was this a normal question they would have asked of anyone?
“Uh, yes, sure, some day, but I wanted to blend some application experience in with my training and pursue the four-year degree a little later on.“ She admitted, “My dad isn’t well, and I need to get a job.“ Why had she blurted all of that out? This woman didn’t care if her dad was sick. And, she sure didn’t care if Lana had financial concerns or struggled for independence. This was strictly a job interview.
Mrs. Dougherty smiled, “Perfectly understandable. Everyone pursues education at their own pace. Life gets in the way at times. I understand your decision. I hope you will continue your pursuit at some point. Your grades reflect a serious student.“
Lana closed her mouth. She didn’t recall opening it. The woman understood, and she encouraged her. “Thank you,“ she muttered.
Two days later, the phone on the kitchen wall rang and Lana ran for it, stopping as she reached it to collect herself and breathe. “Hello, Lana? This is Mrs. Dougherty from Pen Cue. We’d like to offer you the entry level Graphic Artist position if you are still interested.“
“Yes, I am, when do you want me to start?“
“How about a week from today. If you arrive at 9, we can get preliminary things accomplished, introduce you to the rest of the staff and get you going. This position reports to Jane Crew at the salary we discussed. You’ll have two weeks’ vacation, and when you’re ready, you can take advantage of our education reimbursement program after six months.“
“That sounds great, Mrs. Dougherty, I don’t know how to thank you . . I’m so pleased . . . “ Don’t start crying for God’s sake, you thanked her, now hang up. “Good bye, Mrs. Dougherty, see you next week.“
“Great, bye, Lana.“
“Mom, I got the job!“ Lana bounded into the kitchen, hugged her mother, and burst into happy tears. Eleanor hugged her daughter.
“I knew they would love you. Of course you got the job!“
“Oh Mom,“ sighed Lana. “Don’t start.“ But Eleanor’s eyes glistened too.
“What do you mean, you’re moving out? What brought that on? Don’t you want to save your money and eat here for free? I just don’t understand, Lana.“
“I know, mom. Please, don’t take this personally. I only want to have some independence. Don’t you think that’s normal too? Lana put her hands in the air as if to find the answer. “I’ll still see you and Dad on a regular basis, I’m sure. And, I can’t get stew like yours anywhere else. I promise I’ll visit, but I just want to see what it’s like to be on my own. It’s part of adulthood and independence.“ Lana needed to escape the gloom of her mother’s pleading. She would not be steered away from moving out.
“Well, you’ve only been working there a few months. I know you’ve been saving, but I just feel like you’re wasting an opportunity to put some real money aside.“ Eleanor was cutting into a fresh apple pie. She turned from the counter. Lana was no longer there. Eleanor sat at the table, shaking her head. Independence, what does she need that for? Ed’s health was failing, more certain now. He’d applied for disability. Dr. Gruber said his emphysema was treatable, but not curable and he would have to change his activities to fit his body’s revised capability. His last day of work was tearful for everyone and he accepted it like a man going to the gallows after receiving last rites. There was no more to be done. He knew it was scary and depressing for both the women in his life and there was no way to spare them. Eleanor’s demeanor reflected her constant worry. Her life was changing, and he was only in part to blame. She spent her life caretaking her husband and daughter and now it seemed both were leaving her.
Ed Lydon understood his daughter’s need for independence better than his wife. He once relished it himself. He had taken a bold step with a new wife long ago but no one mourned his departure. It had been one less mouth to feed when there was scarce money for food.
Lana scanned her list. Phone, electric rental deposit. Check. Check. Check. The apartment was furnished, and the pieces were acceptable, but she was taking her own bed. It would be comforting. Carly and Rick would help her move. Rick said his pick-up truck would be ample for the job. She and Rick had seen each other a few times, but nothing had come of it when he took up with his old girlfriend again. Now she was out of the picture again? Strange.
On Friday night, Lana’s elation at moving-out remained tempered by Eleanor’s dread. “Mom, please! just be happy for me.“
“I am, darling, really I am. Above all else, I want you to be happy.“
“Thanks, Mom. Is there any pie left?“ I know I won’t eat as well on my own as I do here,“ she laughed. Her laugh bewildered Eleanor. What was funny about not eating well? Lana moved to the sink with her pie plate. She gave Eleanor a hug and squeeze and said, “I’m turning in early, Rick is coming at eight o’clock tomorrow morning to pick up the bedroom stuff. I’ll be back here on Thursday for dinner, you know. I’m still planning on peeling potatoes and making the salad.“ She went to her room, exhilarated but tired at the same time. How would she even sleep a wink? Tomorrow was finally going to be the big day.
The move was exhausting. The bed, the clothes and a childhood of essentials filled the truck and Lana’s car. “Rick, thank you so much. This was a huge favor. I mean it. I don’t know what I would have done without your help.“ Rick hung back a bit. Carly was already in her car, smiling and waving. Everyone was exhausted.
“No problem. Glad to help. Hey, you want to see a movie or something sometime?“
“Yeah, that’d be great.“ Did he mean like a date? “What about Gina?“
“Oh, that’s over,“ he said with no remorse. How about Friday? I’ll pick you up about 6? We can grab a 7:00 o’clock movie.“
“I’ll be ready, and uh, thanks again!“
Her independence felt in full swing. A job, an apartment, a date. Life was good. She walked back into her new apartment taking it all in. Standing in the doorway, she saw the coziness of it all and imagined herself watching TV, doing her own dishes at her own pace and sleeping late on week-ends. The bedroom was visible with the pink quilt. It might be a little young, but it was a favorite thing and made the place feel familiar. She would hang a pink picture or something to try and tie the room together. Another grown-up thing to do.
Lana put her hand on her tummy. It fluttered when she thought about Rick. Looking out the window of her apartment, she thought of his hard work turning yards and flower beds into the beautiful scapes they could be. He said he loved unleashing the beauty of their potential. He smiled when he’d said it hinting at more than the growth in the ground.
Her cell phone startled her from her thoughts and she grappled with her purse to find the thing before it went to voicemail.
Carly’s caller ID was visible as she pressed Answer. “Hey girlfriend, what’s up? Carly was home for the few summer weeks left.
“Just thought I’d try to catch up with you before I head out to my parents. Jude and I went to that concert I told you about last night. It was great fun. Lots of people there but not too rowdy. I like him. We have a lot in common.“
“Well that is news. I’m so glad for you.“ Lana registered a genuine smile for Carly’s find. Carly met Jude at State the first month she was there.
“And how goes it with Rick? You two have been keeping real company for a while now.“
“Yes, I like him a lot. I’ve obviously known him for a long time. And, we do have fun together.“
“To see you two together, it sure looks that way. He can’t keep his eyes off you,“ Carly laughed. “Any hesitation?“
“No, our relationship is picking up speed, if you know what I mean.“
“I do. Say, gotta run, have a great night, you two. I’ll talk to you soon.“
“You too Carly. Thanks.“
Hanging up her phone and tossing it back in her purse, Lana thought about their budding romance.
At first there was no pressure for “more.“ It was an easy friendship that they both enjoyed. Movies, burgers, and no promises. Carefree and adult. Rick was good at steeling kisses. It seemed romantic and harmless. Lana enjoyed Rick’s attention and it was nice to have someone to go places with. Each time they were together, the kisses lasted a bit longer and doing it seemed inevitable. They both wanted a physical relationship and it hadn’t taken long for Lana to rationalize it as a natural next step. Rick expected to come in after taking her home and liked to spend time making out on the couch. She liked it too. He made plenty of compliments about her hair and made funny groveling sounds when he looked at her ample breasts. She got a prescription for the pill, adding to her feel of grown-up independence.
Lana showered and fixed her hair, down, the way he liked it. As she fussed, she found herself imagining him as a husband, a home and children of their own someday. She liked the earthy scent of Rick. The fresh air smell seemed to stay with him. It was intoxicating, actually. He would be by soon, taking her out for the usual. She had a feeling this was the day they would give way to their mutual desires.
With his arm around Lana, he nuzzled her ear and suggested they go back to her place. She could feel the heat rising on her cheeks as she agreed. They may have been giving off sparks. She wasn’t sure, but she could definitely feel the charge between them. On the sofa in her apartment, Rick put his arm around Lana. When she turned to say something to him, his kiss silenced her. Her senses flooded. She forgot what she meant to say. They were both breathing fast. They both knew. Rick pulled her close and all her defenses fell away. His hands seemed to find every place she wanted him to touch. The setting sun lent an intimate shadow to the apartment. Ten minutes later, the bedroom took on a magical glow with moonlight finding slits in the blind. With clothes scattered on the floor, Lana was gasping with her own desire as they consumed each other in a final rasp. Intimacy stayed as they reluctantly let each other go, putting on clothes and cleaning up a bit.
“Wow, that was so awesome. You’re fantastic.“ Rick slipped one more kiss on her.
“You don’t have to leave, you know. No one will know you’re here.
“No, I should go. I’ll call you tomorrow. Thanks for a great night. A really great night.“ His smile was adorable, and she couldn’t help but grin herself, as she closed the door behind him and turned the lock.
Lana was reeling. Yes, it was fantastic. Now she knew what all the fuss was about. But why did he think he should leave already? Was that normal? She made her way to her bedroom, taking her clothes back off and tossing them in the hamper at the bottom of her closet. She took a shower and brushed her teeth. Exhaustion was setting in and she hit the pillow and fell sound asleep.
The next morning Lana went to her parents’ house as promised. “Hi Mom, where’s dad?“
“He’s still in bed, dear. He doesn’t sleep well these days. He has to prop himself up and say’s sleeping like that isn’t natural.“ As Lana leaned in to give her mom a hug, Eleanor looked at her.
“What?“ Lana asked a bit startled.
“You just seem so grown up, that’s all.“ Eleanor raised her hand to her neck, an involuntary response to her thoughts.
“I feel grown up, Mom, it’s progress.“
“Of course, dear, I just miss you being here.
“I’m here now, Mom.“ Why was this feeling like the start of an argument?
“I’m glad for your help today. This bowl of potato salad for the Women’s Auxiliary becomes a bigger chore every year. I think next year I’ll tell them to ask some of the younger women to do it.
“You did your share, Mom. No one could argue.“
“How’s the job going?“
“Great, I got kudos for the way I helped a client last week. My boss say’s I’m an asset to the department.“ Eleanor looked again at Lana.
“Isn’t that wonderful? And how’s things with Rick? You seem to like him.“
“I do. We’re officially dating now. I like being with him.“
“Oh? what does officially dating mean?“
Lana blushed. The pause told Eleanor what she surmised. “Oh, I see.“ Eleanor looked down at the potatoes in the bowl. “Well, be careful dear. You know . . . “
“Yes, Mom, I know.“ Lana blew out a breath of relief she didn’t know she was holding.
“Did you already dice celery?“
“No, get it out of the fridge. The cutting board is clean in the dish drain.“
Ed Lydon shuffled into the kitchen and headed to the coffee pot. His stooped shoulders made looking up more difficult these days. His physical decline seemed evident in so many ways now.
“Morning, Dad.“ Lana took in her dad’s appearance. Can I help you there, Dad?“
“No, No, I’m fine. Thanks. You two look like you’re doing tasty things in here. Ed smiled at his wife. “Eleanor, I’m sure your potato salad will be all the rave once again.“
“This will be my last year doing it, Ed. I’ll share the recipe if anyone asks, but I think it’s time I let the younger set do this. I used to whip this out without any trouble. Now, I do it all sitting down. It’s more of an effort than it used to be.“
“Well, be sure and make enough to leave some here for us to enjoy, hmm?“
“I’ll take some home with me too, Mom. I’ll make burgers for Rick and me. He’ll love it too, I’m sure.“
Ed and Eleanor exchanged quick glances. “Tell Rick we said ’hello,’ won’t you? His landscape business seems to be flourishing. I’ve seen his truck in a number of places around town.“
“Yeah, things are going well for him, Dad.“
“He’s a lucky guy, Lana.“ Ed gave Lana a kiss on the cheek and took his coffee to the living room.
Lana returned Rick’s call when she got back to her apartment. She didn’t answer his ring at her parents’. She didn’t want to feel all glowy in front of them. She was sure there would be some mention of last night’s lovemaking.
She got his voicemail. “Hi Rick, it’s me. I didn’t want to answer your call at my folks’ house. You know. I was helping my mom with potato salad for the Auxiliary Bazaar. Give me a call when you get this. Bye.“
“Hi Babe, got your message. I was finishing up Carne’s garden scape when you called. They wanted it done before today’s family event. Long day. What’s up?“
“What’s up?“ It’s five o’clock already. I thought you’d want to come over.“
“I would, but I’m beat. This job really took it out of us today. I’m gonna catch a quick beer with my helpers and shower, then hit the sack. I’ll call you next week.“
“Oh, well, okay, I guess. I’ll just settle in for the night and talk to you next week.“
“Sounds good. Bye.“
“Bye.“ Bye? Next week? Still staring at her phone, she realized he didn’t even mention last night. But it was so special. Tears sprung in her eyes. She laid down on the couch, staring at TV she didn’t see. At eleven, she took herself off to bed, still thinking she fixed her hair and put on make-up for him. Yet he hadn’t come. Was this love? What was she dealing with? How did a girl know?
Rick called on Tuesday. “Hi babe, we’ll be working late on Friday. Saturday we should knock off at around 3. How about I come over around 4:30. Shall I bring something?“
“Oh. Okay, you bring beer. I’ve been saving my mom’s potato salad. I’ll make burgers. You’re favorite.“
“That’s my girl. See you then. Bye.“
“Bye.“ His girl? What did that mean? Well, he was coming on Saturday. It would be fun. Very grown up. His job made different demands than hers. It couldn’t be helped, right?
Autumn was spending its last gasp in the maples and oaks surrounding Lana’s apartment. In the early evening, the colors were awash with light showing nature’s best effort. As Lana lingered at the window, she worried about the relationship she was in with Rick. Love-making always ended the same. Somehow, the commitment of staying over was too much, but making love was natural and okay. Lana felt abandoned and thought Rick should stay, sort of completing their romantic involvement by sleeping together. It felt wrong for him to leave each time they made love. Even if Rick drifted off for a few minutes, he always got up to leave. Lana was struggling emotionally, unsure how to handle it. She wanted him and loved their intimacy, but always felt robbed when he left.
Later that evening, Lana watched him as he returned to the bedroom having washed up. It was always the same. He put on his clothes and gave her a peck on the forehead before heading for the door. “Rick, I don’t understand. We have such a fun time together. Neither of us is seeing anyone else and yet you won’t sleep over...“ She hadn’t meant to bring it up again, but she was struggling to understand. She felt raw. “We’re missing out on the best part of intimacy. I want to wake up with you.“
“Babe, not again. We’ve talked about this. I just don’t feel right about sleeping over. It’s like moving-in. I’m not ready for that kind of commitment. You know I love being with you.“
It was like getting slapped. Love being with you was not at all the same as I love you. She gave herself to him for the better part of a year and could see he loved being loved. Not the same as being in love. She felt used. Suddenly she could see the relationship for what it was. A physical romp between two willing adults. It was no more than that. She was a fool for thinking it was.
She dressed while he was in the bathroom and rose to face him. “I think I do understand now, Rick. How silly of me to have expected more from you. It was all a dream in my head. But I’m awake now and see this thing more clearly. She was trying hard not to cry. She wanted him to just leave. Rick was standing there; his face reflected the change in her and he realized this wasn’t going to end well. He reached out to touch her, but she stepped back. He pursed his lips and turned to go. She followed him to the door. As soon as he was past the threshold, she closed the door and bolted it. She knew he was still standing on the other side with his hands out in bewilderment. She went to bed knowing her world had just tilted dramatically. She wasn’t a love-struck girl any longer. She was independent, but independence held a downside. Funny, she had only thought about the positive side of being grown her whole life. Breaking into a sob, she threw herself on her bed. In the morning, Rick was out of her life.
Eleanor was in Ed’s room at the Rehabilitation Center. He needed more care than she could provide at home. His oxygen and wheelchair and the house stairs were more than they could manage. He wasn’t really rehabilitating, but it was a place where he could get the support he needed, and it wasn’t yet hospice. She walked into his room, straightening her posture, and trying to put on a positive face. “Hi dear, are you giving the nurses any trouble?“ Her hand straightened the bedspread covering his thin frame.
“I miss your cooking more than you know, Elle.“ His shallow breath made conversation difficult. He was hard to hear. Eleanor bit her lip to stave off facial emotion.
“Maybe I should get a job here cooking for everyone. If folks tasted better food, maybe they would rehabilitate faster,“ she joked.
“How’s our girl?“ Ed managed to ask. His face held no color and the mask was now a constant aid.
“She’s doing great, I talked with her this morning. She got another promotion at work, and she’s looking for a bigger place now. She says the studio is a little too cramped and she would like a little bigger kitchen. She and Rick had some sort of falling out. She won’t talk about it, but I trust she knows what she’s doing. She said to tell you she will see you tomorrow. I think she wants to tell you about her promotion herself, so be surprised. I shouldn’t have spilled the beans.“ Eleanor busied herself at the table under the window, picking the dead buds from the plant Ed’s former employer sent. She turned to look at him. “Ed, I . . . “ he had fallen asleep. The meds that kept him comfortable also took him away. She trailed off finishing her sentence . . . “was thinking about asking her to move back home.“
“Can’t Carly, I’m going to see my dad today.“ Lana held her cell phone between her shoulder and her ear while she stuffed essentials in her purse. “It’s true, Rick and I broke up. I don’t want to talk about it. I’m moving on, end of story. My dad isn’t doing well. Mom said I need to spend more time with him. Yeah, he’s hanging in there, but I don’t think he’s doing any better. I guess he’s doing worse, actually. Thank you. I don’t know how my mom is handling it. She doesn’t seem to be able to be alone. I visit her twice a week now since they put him over at Rest View, but honestly, she only leaves the house to go and see him and goes home worse than when she arrived. I know. It’s tough. I’ll see how he’s doing and perhaps I can join you on Sunday. I’ll call you. Thanks.“ Lana hung up the phone just in time. Whether her lost relationship with Rick or the picture she saw in her mind of her parents, the tears were right there. She did not want to shed them just now. She knew Carly called to ask about the break-up and she did not want to talk about it. The news about her dad put off Carly’s questions. She put on her fleece jacket and headed out the door.
Lana arrived at Rest View and walked past the staff, offering a smile and hello to those she recognized. She was entering her father’s room, and saw he was sleeping. Her mother was in the corner of the room looking a little dazed. “Mom?“ Eleanor didn’t seem to hear her. She moved closer. “Mom? Are you ok? How long have you been here? You look very tired. Have you eaten today?“ Eleanor looked at her daughter, taking time to understand her words and think of a response. “I’ll be right back, she said, I’m finding a nurse.“
“Nurse!“ She caught Nurse Rita in the hall and knew a familiar friendly face. “Hi, say, my mom doesn’t look too good. Do you know how long she’s been here? Can you take a look at her?“
Rita turned to follow Lana back to her father’s room. “I’m sorry; I don’t know when she arrived. My shift just started. “Let’s have a look.“
“Mrs. Lydon, it’s Rita. How are you feeling?“ Eleanor turned to Rita, but again seemed to struggle to answer. “Oh dear. I fear she may have had a stroke. I’m calling an ambulance.“
After leaving the ER with instructions for returning Eleanor to her home, it was obvious Lana needed to move back home to be in charge. With her father failing and her mother’s new health concerns, it was the only way. She called her landlord, gave notice and called Devon, a co-worker to ask if he would move the bed and belongings back to her old room. Devon was always friendly and once asked if she was free to go out sometime. She was seeing Rick then, but that was old news now. Devon was glad she thought to call him for help and agreed to come by with a borrowed van on the weekend.
Lana filled the prescriptions Dr. Mansfield gave her and wrote down all of the dosages along with the other do’s and don’ts to care for her mother. Eleanor would return home on Tuesday. Lana told her employer she needed some FMLA time, perhaps a week, to get everything settled. Mrs. Dougherty gave her the paperwork to give to Dr. Mansfield. All was in order except her life. Her independence was too short lived; her love life was a disaster, and her dream of a bigger apartment would have to wait. But how long?
“Dr Mansfield, will she recover?“ Lana was searching his face for confirmation that her own life could resume.
“Well, yes, meaning she will regain her speech and some memory, but I’m afraid that some of these effects are permanent.“ We’ll have to wait and see how well she does. She has recovered more than some already.“
Her mother needed therapy and assistance. It was too soon to determine how she would respond to medication and therapy. Lana was determined not to dwell on her own fears and misery right now. She never felt so alone. Resigned to her own fate, chastising herself for selfish concerns, she arranged the return to her old room.
Devon was sympathetic and thoughtful. He looked at her when she spoke and seemed genuinely concerned about her. She made them some lemonade after moving her things back into the house and thanked him. He didn’t ask why her boyfriend wasn’t available for this task but seemed to know instinctively something had changed.
At the door, he gave her a hug and made her promise to call him if she needed anything else. He was barely out the door before the tears came. Get a grip, Lana. This isn’t forever. You’re just emotional because Rick is gone, and Mom and Dad aren’t well. It’s just too much at once. But the tears kept coming. Tomorrow I’ll start again, she vowed.
Lana took up cooking duty. Her mother wasn’t bouncing back with strength or know-how to create the meals Lana grew up with. Between cooking, laundry and chauffeuring to Rest View to visit Ed, Lana’s life felt one of constant servitude. She left her mother ready-made meals for lunch, made sure she was showered and could find the TV remote and the phone before leaving for work each day. She came right home to be sure her mother hadn’t fallen or forgotten to eat.
“Lana, what was the program that I watched yesterday? I can’t remember. I’m trying to find something to watch on this TV.“
“Mom yesterday was Saturday. You didn’t watch TV yesterday. Do you mean something from Friday that you want to see again?“ I can go over the channel guide with you. Maybe we can figure it out,“ Lana sighed.
On a cold gray Saturday in January, the landline phone in the kitchen rang. Eleanor didn’t answer the phone any longer. People didn’t call to speak to her. They called her daughter, instead. Dr. Gruber helped to get Lana set-up with power of attorney and it was well known Lana was the responsible party now. It was Rest View, calling to speak to Lana Lydon, the nurse announced.
“This is she.“ Lana’s heart started to race.
“We’re so sorry to tell you your father passed away this morning, Lana. Of course, you and your mother will want to come and spend some final minutes with him before the Coroner arrives. Can you come soon? We’ll need you to sign some papers and make arrangements.“ Her dad’s death wasn’t unexpected, but still a shock. Dr. Gruber spoke to them just a couple days ago at Rest View to prepare them for the worst. Eleanor had cried, taking it all in with the finality it implied. When she stopped she started speaking to Ed as if he were merely resting, having forgotten what they told her. Dr. Gruber looked to Lana with understanding and compassion.
“Yes, I’ll get my mother ready and we will come up. Y ... Yes, thank you. Yes, I’m sure he’s in a better place now. Thank you for calling.“
Lana hung up the phone. She walked toward the living room feeling as though she were walking through a heavy current. She still needed a shower and had planned to collapse today and catch up before resuming work tomorrow. As she walked through the kitchen doorway, she paused, wishing she didn’t have to do this. Eleanor looked up as she walked toward her. “Mom, I have something to tell you.“ Lana moved to the chair where Eleanor sat with the TV remote in her hand, still bewildered. Eleanor saw the tears and should have been able to make the connection without words, but she did not. “Mom, that was the nurse from Rest View. Dad died a short time ago. Lana crouched on the floor in front of her mother’s chair and reached for her hands.
Eleanor’s lips were quivering, realizing what Lana was saying. “Ed? Ed is gone?“ But just as quickly, her expression changed. “Where did he go? Is he at the doctor?“ Lana sobbed on her mother’s arm, stealing her own solace from the news. She felt her mother’s hand on her head, stroking her hair the way she did when Lana was small. In a few minutes, she sat up, blew her nose and looked at her mom.
“Let’s go change, Mom. We need to go up to the Nursing Home to collect Dad’s things and sign some papers and we can see him one more time.“ Lana helped Eleanor up and together they went to freshen up and change. Eleanor’s hair needed brushing and Lana did her best to put a bit of style to it. They both put on a dress with a sweater. It took a full hour before Lana was able to get them both into the car and set out for Rest View. As they pulled up to the building, Lana did not miss the fact that her mother was confused about where they were. Things were not going well. The strain of this news seemed to have a negative effect on Eleanor’s fragile grasp of reality. How much longer could she care for her mother in the state she was in? In and out, she never knew when her mother was in the present or when she was somewhere else.
Most of the arrangements had already been made. There were phone calls to make to the funeral home, the cemetery, the pastor, social security and insurance agents. Lana spent most of Monday on the phone while Eleanor was confused sitting in the living room, listening, but removed from the tasks or the gravity of the situation. At times, when her mind returned, Lana heard her crying, aware of the pain and the loss.
At the funeral, Eleanor sat in the front row where Lana placed her. She didn’t rise to greet people or to look at Ed. She seemed sad and defeated. She waited patiently for someone to take her somewhere next. As family and friends filed past, they spoke to Eleanor. She looked at them but did not reply. It was evident she was not fully aware, and they quickly moved on having made the obligatory stop.
Lana was exhausted. The funeral had been tough. All of her dad’s former co-workers came. She knew most of them as long as she could remember. Carly and her family had come too to pay their respects. They gave hugs and offers of help of any sort from food to spending time with Eleanor, so Lana could take care of any of her own needs. She was grateful for the understanding and attentions but knew she wouldn’t call upon them. When Rick brought up the rear, he paused, uncomfortable with what to say. He hadn’t seen her since their break-up. She had not taken his calls. He also had not changed his mind about commitment. He knew this wasn’t the time to tell her he had started seeing someone from the gym he’d joined. He was her friend, but what did that mean now? He was moving on. Was he really a friend? An ex-boyfriend? He wasn’t sure. He wasn’t sure what she thought he was either. So, instead, he gave a partial hug and words of condolence and moved along with the rest. It was clear to Lana he had also said good-bye.
Devon stopped by toward the end of the viewing, paying respects and giving a hug and asking if she needed anything. She looked at him and saw a confident man, sure of himself with genuine concern for her.
“Thank you for coming, Devon. It was very kind of you.“ Her tears started anew and she reached in her pocket for fresh tissue.
Devon gave her a slow and comforting hug. “Take care, get some rest, Lana. I’ll be in touch soon.“
She hugged back and through the tears thanked him again. She held his hands in her own and smiled.
“Call me if you need anything. I mean it.“
“Okay, thank you.“
The funeral seemed to have taken a bigger toll on Eleanor’s health. She deteriorated further and was becoming a bigger concern for her daughter. In May, Lana came home from work and found her mother trying to make tea. She put the water in the micro-wave, but when she reached for it, the boiling water splattered onto her hand. She dropped the cup which shattered all over. It wasn’t serious, but when Lana reached her she was still in her wet robe and holding her hand where it burned. “Mom, oh my gosh! What happened?“ Eleanor wasn’t sure. But Lana could easily put the pieces together. Lana decided she needed more help. She was determined to find someone to stop in and provide some assistance to her mother while she was at work. But, who? Someone who she could trust; someone who would provide care for her mother. The task seemed impossible.
Lana ran an ad seeking some help for a sever