The Vacation that Wasn’t.

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Let me tell you a story about how I’ve been living in a hotel for two weeks.

I’m not currently homeless, so don’t worry about that. I have a home, I just can’t go there.

A few weeks ago in the process of moving a file cabinet in our bedroom, we found mold. We called our insurance, who sent out a guy, who sent out a different guy, and then we heard nothing at all for several days. And then one Friday about three in the afternoon, they called and said we had to go, they had People coming out to Do Mold Removal Things.

While it’s probably typically not a hard thing to find a hotel room to stay in, our adjuster had a bit of a problem because our family is larger than what is allowed by law to stay in one room because of fire code hazards, so they had to find a place with two adjoining rooms.

And we needed a place that allowed dogs, because I’ve got two of them.

After much back and forth, the insurance found us a couple rooms at a Holiday Inn Express about a half an hour away from our home. It’s a nice enough place, don’t get me wrong, but the glamour of living in a hotel rubs off pretty quick when you’ve got six people and two dogs in an enclosed space for a long length of time. It’s not that my kids don’t love each other.

It’s that having to share beds and breathe air in the same room together for so many days in a row is turning them into zombies who crave the brains of their siblings.

The additional drive time whenever someone needs to go to school or work is draining our gas money in an insanely fast manner, and while at first it was kind of fun to eat dinner out every night, after two weeks I think we are all craving some of my own spectacular home cooked Burnt Food, or maybe just some cheap spaghetti that I make way too much of and cook way too long.

As a writer and human being who spends probably an unhealthy amount of time in my house and alone, it’s painful to be trapped in a hotel with strangers who want to start random conversations with me. I take my dogs to go out for a pee, someone strikes up some small talk. I sit in a dark corner alone in the morning for breakfast, people bring their conversations over to me and try to pull me in. It’s really a ridiculous amount of talking, to be honest. Like, in the hallways at 7:30 a.m. people smile at me and yell GOOD MORNING like they are some particularly horrible kind of monsters. One early morning as I was sitting alone, eating a biscuit and reading a Stephen King novel, some strange man in Very Ironed Clothes suddenly stuck his face in mine and yelled HAVE A NICE DAY! for no good reason at all. How am I supposed to respond to that kind of nonsense?

It’s a very clean hotel and housekeeping must come in every couple of days to make sure we haven’t trashed the place like the drunken rock stars we are, so every time I get things settled into some semblance of comfortable chaos, they come and straighten and fiddle and scrub until everything is back in order again. Not gonna lie, it’s pretty awful. I cannot create while trapped in this stark, overly organized space. And can we talk about how horrifying it is when housekeeping actually comes in to clean? The night before, my husband and I take out the trash and pick up and try to make like we are halfway decent human beings. Then when the lady does come in to clean, I sit or stand here awkwardly because it feels bizarre to have someone else cleaning up my mess but if I offer to help or give her, I don’t know, a pudding cup or a muffin or something she looks at me weird.  Today when I answered the door, the housekeeper lady asked me if I was going to let my dogs bite her.

Yesterday, the toilet backed up. I waited nearly an hour before I amped up the courage to call the front desk (because hello, it’s more talking to strangers) and then the maintenance guy came and I had to talk more to someone else I don’t know and apologize for making him do this Terrible Thing.

Not one to dwell on doom and gloom, I will admit there are perks:

There is a swimming pool.

The complimentary breakfast is delightful. I’m not certain the eggs are really eggs, but the biscuits taste like they were stolen from the kitchen at KFC, which is not an entirely impossible notion, as there’s a KFC across the parking lot here.

I haven’t had to wash dishes in two weeks.

But I find the idea that I don’t know when I can go home makes me feel really stressed. People keep telling me to treat this like a vacation, but I think those people have likely never been abruptly stuffed into a hotel room with six people and two dogs for an extended period of time.

Last week, my son got really sick and had to spend some time in the ER. He’s doing better now, but I felt I had to ask the universe what bad thing was coming next, because I think we all know that Bad Things come in threes and I like to be prepared.

That was right about when we found out my daughter’s cosmetology school closed, three weeks into her first semester, with no warning. Just a post on the school’s Facebook page stating they were very sorry, don’t come to class tomorrow, they were closing down all 79 campuses. Of course, she’s distraught and we are left trying to find her a new school and deal with her loans and in general, it’s an entirely unpleasant experience.

BUT THEN

It got worse.

When my husband went to pick up dinner last night, we found out that Little Caesar’s is discontinuing their cream cheese dip.

I know. I KNOW. It’s okay, I cried a little bit, too.

I have been working, though. In addition to my regular freelance writing, I’ve gotten a few thousand more words on my current novel, and the other day fiddled around a little bit with a New Shiny Idea, which seasoned writers advise we shouldn’t do when we are writing a novel already, but I don’t understand how to get the voices out of my head if I don’t get them out on the page.

We had a meeting with the contractor a couple of days ago, who cheerfully announced it would likely be another two weeks before we can go home, and that’s barring any problems.

I’m beginning to feel a bit like Bilbo Baggins. This little adventure has been nice and all, but I really just want to go home where I have all my books and my yarn and mountains of dirty dishes in the sink.

By the way, does anybody have a pair of ruby slippers I could borrow?

There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s…

See what this nightmare has done to me? I’m already mixing up fictional characters. I’ll be utterly daft by the time I get to go home.

Probably not the worst things that could happen. I hear all the best writers have lost their minds.

 

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Kiss of Pavement

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Last year, you might recall we took the kids camping for a few weeks and ended up living through our own version of A Series of Unfortunate Events. There was a terrible sunburn for me, weeks of miserable hives (also for me), and among other things, a myriad of parts that broke on our trailer. We also found a leak that invited bugs under the floor in one area, and had to cut that piece of linoleum out. Given that, it may seem bizarre we’ve decided to do it again, but we are.

I may be mildly (okay, horrifically) bad luck prone, and my sense of coordination has never been the sort that made athletics a smart idea, but still, we were excited to pack up and travel that ten minutes from home to the campground. Campfire pizza pies and s’mores called to us. Thoughts of swimming, kayaking, and family picnics drew us in. Ever optimistic, I took precautions so I wouldn’t burn and break out in full body hives like the freak of nature that I am. SPF 70 is surprisingly difficult to find, but I hunted until we located a couple bottles of it. I have a thin, silky jacket to help protect me from the sun. Picked up a couple large and ridiculously gaudy sun hats. Two different types of antihistamines.

We brought only our oldest son with us to help set up, since we were close enough to home to run back once we were finished. Found a nice site with nothing but woods behind us, which is more peaceful than when your rig is surround by others, and what we prefer when camping. Lady Luck, it appeared, was on our side. I knew this trip was going to be great. I even had a new swimsuit I was looking forward to trying out. After we set up the trailer, we went home to finish getting the kids’ things together, and as they were all complaining about their imminent death by starvation, we ordered a couple of pizzas, ate at the house, then left the kids and dogs home while we ran up to buy some groceries.

We’d gotten a rather late start that first day, so we didn’t make it to the grocery store until around 10 p.m., but we were full of adrenaline and happily making plans for cooking out over the weekend. Everything was working out perfectly for us. Even the weather forecast was on our side.

Nothing could possibly go wrong.

Right?

We were back to our house by 11, and it was pitch dark outside. We had purchased some extra food to leave at the house, and our plan was to just drop that off, pick up the kids and the dogs, and get back to the trailer. I hopped out of the car, thought my husband was likely getting exhausted from his long day of work, then setting up the campsite, then grocery shopping, so I decided I’d help him carry in the few groceries to the house.

That’s where it all went wrong.

I turned, rounded the driver’s side of the Yukon, felt a horrendous hot pain going from my right big toe and straight up my leg.

Next thing I knew, I was airborne.

I had forgotten about that part of our driveway that’s got an uneven spot, where some of the concrete has settled down lower than the rest. In the darkness, I didn’t see it.

I struck that part with my right foot, and felt something crack. My first thought was that I had broken my big toe. I felt some kind of crack in the center of it.

My second thought was that I was about to land face first on the pavement.

There was nothing for me to grab on to so I could break my fall. I was too far away from the Yukon to catch hold of anything. My daughter had her back to me and was walking toward the house. My husband was behind the vehicle. No help from any direction.

I landed with a thud on the concrete. I felt the skin rip off my knee and the palm of my left hand.

A single inelegant and rather grunty-sounding word escaped my lips. “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.”

My husband hurriedly came around the corner of the vehicle. He stared at me for a moment, then asked, “What are you doing?

(Kissing the pavement, it looked lonely) “Um, I fell.”

“You fell? Over what?”

I begin laughing like a hyena with a dime bag who has just gotten busted by the cops. “Um… think I broke my toe.”

He helped me up and into the house. Once we were in the light, I caught a visual of my mangled right big toe and immediately wished I hadn’t. I plunked down into the part of the couch that has the recliner in it, and put the leg rest up. Ow, ow, ow, ow. The kids crowded around me, worried.

My left hand and knee were scraped up pretty good and my knee was good and bloody. Those were things that hurt, but not terribly. My toe, however, was in an awful lot of pain. I was thinking back to times I have broken other toes, attempting to remember the exact feeling or what the signs and symptoms of a broken toe might be. I closed my eyes, trying to think, but doing so was difficult because, A: jolts of hot pain were biting up the nerves in my legs, causing me to shake, and 2: three of my kids were crowded around me, shouting at me things I guess I have said or maybe yelled at them over the years in the aftermath of an injury.

Kid 1: “I think we need to take her to the urgent care clinic.”

Kid 4: (patting my shoulder frantically) “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay! It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, everything’s okay!”

Kid 3: (plunks his hand down on my thigh, affects a deep and manly voice) “Here, Mom, squeeze my hand. Put your pain into it. I can take it. Squeeze as hard as you can.”

Kid 1: “Get a wash cloth! Somebody get a wash cloth! We need to clean her up!”

Kid 4: “Does anybody know what kind of music she likes? Let’s put on Pandora! Mom, what Pandora do you like?”

Kid 3: “That’s stupid. Shut up. She doesn’t need music right now!”

Kid 4: “MUSIC IS VERY CALMING, I READ ABOUT IT! I’M NOT STUPID!”

Kid 1: “I don’t like the way she’s shaking. I think she’s going into shock.”

Husband: “Just go run her foot under some water, then dump peroxide on it. Kills the germs.”

Kid 1: “She can’t walk! We need to take her to a clinic!”

Me: “Clinics are closed, and I’m not going to ER for this. Just give me a minute here.”

Kid 4: “Parts of her toe are hanging off. Does she know that?”

Kid 3: “Squeeze my hand, Mom. Somebody get her some water! We need water over here!”

Kid 1: “She’s still shaking. I’m worried. Mom? Mom, can you hear me? We need to take her somewhere.”

Husband: “I don’t know. You wanna go somewhere? Your toe is pretty messed up. Needs to be cleaned… and uh, I can’t do that. Um, I think you ripped the nail off.”

Kid 4: (frantically patting my shoulder, my head, my leg) “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.”

Kid 3: “Here, Mom. I got you some water. Can you sip it? That’s good, that’s good. I got her to take some water!”

Kid 1: “Could she be having a seizure? Did she hit her head?”

Me: “I’m not having a seizure. I just need a minute to calm back down.”

Kid 1: “Okay, I’m going to help you clean up your knee. There’s a lot of blood, but I’ll be very gentle, okay?”

Kid 3: “It’s gonna hurt, Mom. Go ahead, squeeze my hand hard, I can take it.”

Kid 1: “Somebody get a bowl of water to put her foot in. There could be dirt up under that nail.”

Husband: (brings enormous salad bowl full of water)

Me: (gingerly dips foot into water while trying not to look)

*phone rings*

*husband answers*

Apparently kid 2 and her boyfriend are sitting in the dark at the campground getting hassled by security because we thought we would be right over there, but we evidently aren’t, so they are sitting there at midnight with no key to the trailer and no membership card to prove they are actually supposed to be there.

Husband: “Just tell them to call my cell phone then! Oh my God! Why can’t anything ever just go right!”

Kid 4: “Cool. Look at all the blood in the bowl!”

Kid 3: “Shut UP! Don’t tell her there’s blood. It’s okay Mom. There’s hardly no blood. It’s fine, it’s fine.”

Husband: “What bowl do we need for the party tomorrow? For you to take that dessert in?”

Me: “Uh, the blue one. With the lid.”

Kid 1: “Mom can’t talk about making dessert right now! She’s INJURED!”

Kid 4: “Can I play Pokemon Go at the campground?”

Kid 3: “Step back, let me take care of this. I was a Boy Scout. I have first aid training!”

Someone has brought Band-aids and some gauze, so we dry off the mangled toe and hurriedly cover the mess. Once I don’t have to look at it, the pain begins to diminish. The shaking settles down. I’m running through a list in my mind of what medication I have on hand that might help. All I can think of is Motrin and some of the heavy-duty antihistamines, both back at the trailer.

We have three vehicles to get back to the campground, so I know I have to drive. After I get myself composed and my husband has gotten the rest of the stuff we need packed up, I hobble back out to my vehicle. We form a little caravan as we drive through the night. It takes me a little longer to get to the campground than usual, but finally we make it.

Eventually I sleep. I dream of meeting new people and all of them are missing a hand or a foot.

The next day was busy. We had a party to get to, and some shopping that still needed done. I clutched the cart through Wally World, thinking gratefully of the evening, when I could sit in my lawn chair with my throbbing foot up and work on a blanket I’m crocheting. My husband says, “Let’s go look at the bikes.”

Bikes. Sure.

Over the winter, we had been talking about buying new bikes for us. The last time we bought new bikes for ourselves, our 20-year-old daughter was 3 months old.

Sure, I said. Let’s go. I was thinking we could look quick before we left. What could it hurt? I was watching the time, though. I had promised the party host I would come back and help clean up.

Leaning against the cart, I shuffled around the corner to the bike aisle.

And that’s when I saw it.

The most glorious bike that ever happened.

Turquoise and bright yellow, with a matching basket on the front (obviousy to put my yorkie in), it said, “Margaritaville” down the middle bar, and had a small parrot on the handle that squeaked when pushed.

The seat was flowered.

“This one,” I said. “I want it.”

“Are you sure?” he asked, wary. “Are you gonna fall off it and get hurt again?”

“No, no. I’m fine. Get this one. It’s beautiful.”

And it is.

I love it.

But I have to admit, with my history of poor luck and general clumsiness, I was a little worried when I took it for my first ride.

So far, so good.

And I don’t even need that big toe to balance on my bike.

I hope the rest of this trip is entirely uneventful.

Is there some sort of “Uneventful, boring trip” dance we could do, you know, like a rain dance, to keep things smooth and chill for a while? I mean, obviously I can’t do the dance, I’ve got a mangled big toe. But surely someone could be willing. My youngest son seems to suddenly have more energy than he knows what to do with.

If I withheld Pokemon  Go from him for a while, I could probably bribe him to do it.

If my luck suddenly turns around, you’ll know I’ve got an adolescent I’m forcing to dance for me like a little marionette, taunting him with promises of catching a Snorlax if he just dances for me one more time.

Things that go Bump in the Dark

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One thing I resolve to do more of each year are things that frighten me. I worry (I’m an excellent worrier, really, I could win trophies) about letting scary things hold me back in life, so I tend to force myself through them whether I enjoy them or not. I just like to know I’ve done the thing, whatever the thing might be.

This year so far, I’ve done a few scary things. I’ve given a talk in front of a room full of highschoolers, I’ve been accepted to do a podcast this summer on a horror show, I’ve had a couple of short stories I wrote that pushed me way out of my comfort zone accepted into anthologies. And there are more scary things on the horizon.

I was doing a book signing at a book store in Flint ( yes, THAT Flint, the one with the water) a couple of months ago, and during a lull in traffic I was wandering the store, checking out the shelves. Came across a shelf chock full of Stephen King novels. Now, I read horror, sure, and I’m a great lover of weird Tim Burton films. I write horror and dark fiction, and readers often feel comfortable telling me my brain is twisted and bizarre. I can’t disagree. But there are some lines even I can’t cross, and one of them has always been the Tommyknockers.

I picked it up that day in the bookstore and stared at the cover for a minute. Then I bought it. Hey, it’s important to do the things that frighten you, right?

I first tried to read the Tommyknockers when I was about fifteen. I remember reading the poem at the beginning, somehow immediately memorizing it, and then taking it back to the library. The poem, just that tiny little poem at the front of the book made me sick with terror, and I can’t even express why it did. The lines just ran through my mind on a loop, infesting my waking hours with things better left to the night. Over the years, I have thought about trying to read it again, but even decades later, I’ve never forgotten that poem. Something about it just makes my spine shiver.

Late last night and the night before

Tommyknockers, Tommyknockers,

Knocking at the door.

I want to go out, don’t know if I can

‘Cause I’m so afraid

Of the Tommyknocker man.

Honestly, I can look at the words of the poem and see there is nothing even inherently scary in them. That doesn’t make me feel less scared, though. It’s not something I can explain. But I’m all grown up now, nearing up on forty-one and with adult children of my own. I’ve braved my way through marriage, parenting, family deaths, chronic illness, job losses, appliances breaking, bill money shortages, and one night this year I let my husband drag me to a wild game dinner where I ate a piece of kangaroo. I decided this was the year I would go back to that old fear and smack it in the face. So I bought the book, brought it home and shoved it up on one of my many (many, many, many) bookshelves, and there it sat. Laughing at me. Mocking me. For more than a month. I read a couple of the other books I’d picked up that day at the bookstore first, Dreamcatcher and Bag of Bones. And then, despite my lingering reservations, I picked up the Tommyknockers.

I’m a pretty heavy reader, truth be told, and generally a fairly fast one at that. But this book has taken me about a month to read, and I’m not certain why. Adult responsibilities are one thing, I suppose. With a daughter nearing the end of her senior year, there’s been prom, graduation, and the open house to get ready for, and that’s time consuming. There have been deadlines for the anthologies I’ve agreed to be part of, and all the other things that go along with being a parent. Dishes, laundry, bills, work, chauffeuring, etc. But those things are always there, and I usually read about a book a week. This one just took me longer. I like King’s style, and I liked the book. It’s not my most favorite book of all time, but still a good read.

The weird thing is, I’ve always thought this book was about men in a mine. I don’t know why. I’ve read so many books in my life, it must have just gotten mixed up in my head with something else I’d read. But it’s not about that at all. And it isn’t that scary of a book, really. At least to me. All this time, I’ve been afraid of it, but I was much more terrified reading The Things that Keep us Here by Carla Buckley. So the book, itself, is just not the giant terrifying thing I have always believed it to be.

It’s just the damn poem.

I would read it for a bit at night before going to bed, and then lie there in the darkness, with the words again repeating on loop around my brain. An insistent train on a neverending track. Over and over and over. I’d try counting backward from 100, or focusing on the new book I’m writing, or planning costumes to sew for Ren Faire, but the words of the poem simply echoed louder and louder until that was all I could hear.

I finished the Tommyknockers last night. FINALLY. I picked up The Night Manager from the library yesterday and was itching to start reading it. But I had to finish the Tommyknockers first. So I did. It felt a little anti-climactic, like everyone should notice I’ve done a BIG SCARY THING and applaud me, but I didn’t even feel that excited about it myself.

Life is that way sometimes, I guess. These frightening things we make up in our minds just keep getting bigger and bigger and eventually become a mountain so enormous it seems impossible to ever climb. And then we are left with a choice: either we let the mountain of fear continue to grow, or we summon our courage and decide to start climbing only to find it was really just a little hill, after all.

So I’ve conquered the Tommyknocker hill. Now I’m on to the next mountain.

Sixteen Tomorrow

I decided a while back to write a birth story for each of my four kids. I wrote one for each of my girls within the last couple of years and since tomorrow is my oldest son’s sixteenth birthday, today I’m writing his.

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My due date was April 2nd, 2000 and I was already four days past that. My two little girls were two and a half and almost four and my husband worked third shift a couple of towns away from where we lived. We had planned to drop our daughters off at my sister’s house when I went into labor, but it felt like it had been so many years since I had passed my due date that we had sort of given up thinking that might ever happen. Clearly, I was just going to stay pregnant forever. And ever.

On April sixth, my husband left around ten p.m. for work and I waddled to bed to try and sleep. I couldn’t get comfortable, and just about quarter after eleven realized I was having some contractions. For some idiotic reason I can’t even explain other than I read it somewhere in some magazine, I got up and decided to take a shower. This was a poor choice on my part, because this labor started out really fast and strong and within just a few minutes I was in so much pain I could no longer stand up. I was stuck in the shower and had nobody home to help me other than my little girls, who were sound asleep.

Eventually, I was able to crawl out of the tub and to the kitchen to the phone (remember, this was back before we all had a cell phone attached to us every second of every day). I called the factory where my husband worked at the time and gave a breathless message to the person in the office. Several minutes later, he called me back, listened to me shrieking for a minute or two, and headed home. It never crossed my mind to call my doctor. Again, I have no way to reason that out. It was dumb but I was tired and in a lot of pain. I very seriously thought I might have the baby on the living room floor, before my husband ever made it home.

Finally, he arrived and called our family doctor. She asked him to time my contractions, then listened to me screaming for a few minutes and told him they were WAY too close together for me to still be at home. Get going, she said. Go fast.

During a brief break between pains, I woke up my daughters and packed them a bag. Clearly out of my head with agony and excitement, I packed them a bunch of licorice. Can’t tell you why, only that in the moment, it seemed absolutely imperative. Then we called my sister, because that was our plan.

Problem was, she never picked up the phone. We called over and over again. No answer.

Instead, we drove the (very sleepy and confused and tightly gripping their licorice) girls to my husband’s parents’ house. At that point, I really, really thought I was not going to make it to the hospital in time.

One thing I knew I wanted to do was get some pain relief. I had had an emergency C-section with my first child, and my morphine line had a hole in it so I was in a lot of pain for a lot of hours after I woke up. With my second child, I requested an epidural, but it failed. This time, I was determined to get some wonderful pain meds, the kind I’d heard friends describe as “heaven”, which would reduce the hip-shattering agony I was currently experiencing to something along the lines of mild cramps. I thought about this all the way to the hospital.

When I shuffled in to the labor and delivery triage area at the hospital, I was breathless and barely able to talk. There was nobody at the desk, and I was certain that if I sat down in one of the chairs I would never get back up, so I just leaned forward on the desk, propping myself up with my elbows, and stood there. Shaking. After what seemed an eternity, a nurse found me and got me into a room.

“Tell me what’s going on,” she said.

“I want pain meds this time,” I replied.

She laughed. I didn’t.

After a quick check that told her I was already well past eight, she told me I was too far gone for any sort of substantial relief. Sorry, kid. That baby is coming too fast.

Things went pretty fast after that. I was moved down to a regular room, my doctor arrived, and so did my mom and siblings. My sister, as it turned out, had taken a few Tylenol PMs before bed and didn’t hear the phone ring when I called.

My first son was born at 2:52 a.m. on April 7th after just about three and a half hours of labor. He shares a birthday with my sister’s daughter, just fifteen years apart.

He was a big boy. Eight pounds, thirteen point two ounces.

My doctor looked up at me and said, “All right, Val, I need you to push again, get that placenta out.”

I looked back at her and replied, “I’m done. If you want anything else, you can go in and get it yourself.”

I wasn’t kidding. Fast labors are kind of cool but the thing about them is, you end up feeling a lot like you’ve been run over by a semi truck once everything is said and done.

We had considered naming him Andrew, but couldn’t decide on a middle name. My husband went out to the nurse’s station and borrowed a baby name book. He came across the name Donovan and asked what I thought of it.

Andrew Donovan.

We thought about that for a few minutes, and then turned it around.

Donovan Andrew.

It fit him perfectly.

And tomorrow he turns sixteen.

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The Thing I Hate about April Fool’s Day

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Seven years ago on this date, my youngest son Bean was up early, telling me he had jokes planned for his friends at school, laughing already because he knew it was going to be so much fun.

He was six.

I took the other three kids in to school (Bean was in afternoon kindergarten) and while I was gone, my mom called and told my husband my dad had collapsed while brushing his teeth in the bathroom and had fallen against the door, preventing her from being able to get in. She called 911 and then us. We hurried little Bean into the car and took off.

All the way there I kept thinking but he’s not sick and maybe he needs CPR, I can do that and Mom must be so scared but never in my mind did I think he was dead.

He was, though. When we arrived at the house, the ambulance was there and I ran in the door to see my dad on the floor in the hallway and my mom was screaming, “He’s not breathing! He’s not breathing!” I stumbled back out the door, fell on the cold garage floor and cried for my daddy. My brother and sister came just then, my sister with a half drunk bottle of orange pop in her hand, and she promptly bent over the grass of the front yard and threw up.

The EMTs loaded my dad on a stretcher and put him in the back of the ambulance. I could see the vehicle bouncing up and down in time to the CPR compressions, could count out the amount of time while they stopped to give breaths and the ambulance held still. Then compressions would begin again and the ambulance would bounce along.

As we drove to the hospital, I felt hysterical inside but outwardly I kept whispering It’s okay, It’s okay and I wished with all I had within me that I had signed Bean up for morning kindergarten, if I could have gone back in time I would have done just that, because he was far too little to have to be in the speeding car with frantic me, far too little to have to lose his only Papa. Far too little to have to witness our raw grief.

When we pulled into the hospital lot, the song that was playing on the radio was one called, “Dead and Gone.”

And I knew.

When the doctor came and told us that despite their best efforts, my dad was gone, my bones shook within me like they were going to explode and I felt so lost, so inadequate for the task set before me.

I had to start calling people.

My voice shook and seemed to echo in that terrible, stark room they had us in at the hospital. I hated that room so much. And the tissues provided were terrible, thin and scratchy and did not help much at all to sop up my tears.

I ran through the list of contacts in my mom’s cell phone and called my aunts first, then on down the list of people who needed to know.

One of those people asked me, as I spoke through muffled sobs, if this was an April Fool’s joke. Was I trying to be funny?

I’m not sure anyone would use death as a way to be funny, but no, I said, this is real.

Oh God, was it ever real.

It’s been seven years, now. Seven years without my dad.

I still kind of hate April Fool’s day.

 

 

Waiting on Eggs.

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Some women wait for roses.

Some wait for jewelry or expensive date nights.

Me? I wait for eggs.

Our first date was in January of 1993, and I can’t recall exactly when Easter fell that year, but I know I must have said something about Cadbury eggs. Or else he saw me hoarding and devouring them, which is a distinct possibility. Either way, he remembered.

By the time the next Easter had rolled around, we were already married (yes, it was quick), and I thought it was sweet that he thought to bring me a couple of Cadbury eggs when they first came out in stores that spring. I expected he was looking to impress me a bit; after all, our relationship was still fairly new. “Give it a couple of years,” I thought. “He’ll forget.”

But he hasn’t. Every year when spring rolls around, he’ll come home from work one day and slip me a couple of Cadbury eggs. I put them in the freezer because I’m weird like that and nibble on them when I’ve got an hour to kill and a good book to read.

The last several months have been touched heavily by sickness and death and the aftermath of each, and the fact that we are still together after so many years and so much struggle seems almost impossible, yet here we are. I haven’t been expecting much lately because I think we have both been on autopilot for a while, pushing ourselves through day to day routines as we recover from dual family funerals just before Christmas. Actually, I hadn’t even realized Easter was so close until last week when someone asked me when my kids’ spring break was going to happen. It struck me then that for the first time in more than two decades, I hadn’t gotten any Cadbury eggs.

I didn’t say anything about it. There’s been so much going on, life is busy, and we are still trying to get everything taken care of since his mother’s death. It’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of it all.

Twenty-one straight years of getting eggs was a pretty good run, I thought. Besides, I’m working at eating healthier and though I’m not certain what actually is there in the center of those delicious chocolate eggs, I’m certain it’s not broccoli or carrots.

Last Saturday night we had a family game night. I made tacos, my teenage daughter had her boyfriend over, and my husband picked up one of his brothers to come hang out with us and play a few rousing renditions of Old Maid. (Look, I know the game says for ages 4 to 9 but we are all immature and plus that game is just plain fun. Don’t judge.) I was busy cooking when my husband arrived home with his brother, and he caught hold of my hand and asked me to follow him out into the hallway.

“What’s up?” I asked, thinking whatever it was had better be quick before the taco meat started to burn. I mean, it’s not like my family isn’t used to me burning meals, but I was making special effort not to do it that night.

He grinned. “Got something for you,” he said. “But you’ve got to find it first.”

I waggled my eyebrows. I know how this game goes. We’ve played it a time or two over the span of a twenty-three year relationship. I detected a waft of singed beef coming from the kitchen.

Rolling his eyes, he stuck my hands in the front pocket of his hoodie, and I found two oval-shaped goodies for me there.

Eggs. They were my Cadbury eggs.

“I’ve been looking all over for these!” he said. “The dollar store only had two left when I stopped there tonight, so I grabbed them both.”

I squealed, thanked him, and stuck them in the freezer.

I ate the first one Monday night, while I was reading a great indie book, Forbidden, by Lisa Clark O’Neill. (I’m name dropping this here as a subtle hint for you to buy her books. They are great. Support indie artists!)

Twenty-two years straight of Cadbury eggs.

Who needs roses, anyway?

The Spaghetti Principle

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The truth about mistakes is, I make a lot of them.

Especially when it comes to this writing gig. I can look back over the last few years since I’ve been writing seriously and want to just kick myself in the face, but I can’t because I’m forty and my hips don’t swivel the way they used to.

The truth is, I often feel as though I’m just flinging spaghetti at a wall and seeing what sticks.

Sometimes, the pasta that stuck stays there a couple of weeks, and sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes I think the way it stuck there at first was nothing but pure luck, and I should just scrub the wall and start all over again, new pot, new spaghetti, new wall.

Looking back, one of the biggest mistakes I probably made was working backward.

I started this blog, and then I went forward from there. So I’ve got this blog with a decent amount of followers and I love that you guys stop in and read and leave me comments and all, but I should have started with a website.

I started the blog, and then I wrote books, and then I made a website which I later deleted, because it was frustrating to have it separate from the blog. And the blog name is not my name, so it doesn’t always come up in searches. Now I seriously need a website, and I’d like to set it up so that this blog is attached to it, and eventually since I’ve got more books out now, start a mailing list. But I suck at techy type stuff, and I can’t even seem to get my gravatar on the blog to change, even though I’ve changed it six million times, so the thought of starting a website on my own is intimidating. (side note: anyone willing to help me do this, I would love you forever and gift you ecopies of all three of my books).

I wish that I had saved every interview I’ve ever done about writing, but I didn’t, because organizational skills are a thing that I’ve always lacked. I wish I had been more organized about the things I did save, instead of saving things randomly in weird places, because now when I try to find them sometimes I cry a little.

I wish, I wish, I wish…

I wish I was a more linear thinker, but I’m not. I’m a creative thinker, and my thoughts are usually everywhere at once, and this doesn’t seem to be anything I can change. I cannot force myself to write only in one genre, though that’s what all the marketing articles stress I should do. My brain is impulsive and always has been, and science has come pretty far in recent years but not far enough that I can swap my mind out for another. I cannot go backward and undo this blog, though even if I could, I probably wouldn’t, because I’ve met so many cool people through it.

I wish I could get back every article I’ve given away my rights to, especially the ones I didn’t get paid for. What was I thinking?

That’s just life, I guess. You try things and learn and cringe about your ignorance, and try more things and learn.

I’m not certain what forward looks like from here. I don’t think I’ll delete this blog. I do want to get a website up and running. I am going to delete my ello account, because it does nothing but make me feel stressed that I’m not paying enough attention to it.

I will eventually set up a mailing list. In the interim, I’ve started a reader’s group on Facebook. You are welcome to come on in and join Valarie’s Voracious Readers. https://www.facebook.com/groups/931457066949510/

I wish, I wish, I wish…

That all the spaghetti would stick.