The Book Groupie, aka Doug’s mistress, is coming back to my town this weekend.
Her travel is paid for as part of a grant she won, when he was still alive.
The first stage of the grant brought her here from 2700 miles away and I certainly could have lived without that stress!
The facility I now direct houses a historical archive of the publishing event person that was Doug’s friend. The mistress was a huge fan of publishing event subject, which is how she met Doug.
She and Doug planned to use our mutual friend’s home as a place to be together under the nose of his unsuspecting wife, but his condition worsened and he was lifeflighted to another larger city while she was forced to remain in classes at a nearby university to fulfill the requirements of the grant.
Our mutual friend lives near my office and the mistress stayed with Mutual Friend for a few days.
I prayed and fasted over that situation and begged God, “Lord, please, I absolutely can’t deal with this. Please protect me and make it so that I never have to see the mistress.”
At the time, I didn’t think that was even possible. I thought I was foolish for even asking God for that favor.
I don’t deserve the life I have, I’ll tell you that upfront.
My beloved Mr. Conrad Acorn celebrated his 83rd birthday with me Tuesday. He’s the volunteer art teacher at the facility I direct and he is truly one of my life’s most interesting and endearing characters.
I went all out for him, for this birthday.
I can often be oblivious to the needs of others but somehow I knew in my heart that recognizing his special day would mean the world to him.
And it did.
I’d managed to keep the party a secret and find the most elaborate chocolate cake you can imagine.
I came in early to decorate and everything looked so festive.
So he of course cried. Then I did too, because I just love him so much.
After the party wound down he asked me to grab a bag he’d stored in his locker.
I noticed him walking in with with a Chico’s bag but I didn’t pay too much attention. He’s always shuffling supplies back and forth.
My intern Destiny grabbed the bag and handed it to me.
“To Angel: Thank you for everything.”
Inside was a beautiful leather purse to which he’d attached three charms.
I was shocked.
1. I adore leather purses but I never purchase them because I always think the money could be better spent on someone else.
2. I love charms. I just do. Of course, I never buy any and in fact don’t own a single one. Until now.
He took one look at the expression on my face and rolled his eyes. I started to protest and he gave me his fiercest stare.
“Don’t even start. I had no ideal you were throwing me a party. This isn’t because of that. You need a good leather purse for your trip.”
(I’m speaking at a conference in a neighboring city in April.)
He continued, “If you’re going to represent us, I want you to look nice.”
I thanked him over and over again. Until he gave me “that look” and said, “If you don’t stop I’m going to take it back.”
I leaned over and kissed him on the cheek and whispered one last thank you.
“You’re welcome my dear.”
It’s very hard for me to accept gifts. I’ve hardened everyone in my life to this and it’s been that way for years. I very rarely ever receive a gift.
That’s one thing my late friend Doug always fussed at me about. I have a hard time ever thinking I deserve anything at all, especially gifts.
I don’t think I deserve the gift I received from Mr. Acorn.
But for some reason this is different. It made me happy instead of guilty.
It wasn’t because it’s an expensive leather purse.
I’m the one who said no. I did care about him though.
Part of that care found me leaving his house Wednesday and stopping at the Walgreens on the corner to try and contact the other woman.
Yes he is married. I’m not defending what they did. I didn’t like her one bit and she was truly (mostly) bad for him.
But he asked me to “tell her.”
I knew what he meant.
I also knew (but hated to admit) that she brought him joy in those weeks between his cancer treatments.
He buried his reality and traveled through several states and into Canada with her. They stopped at every river they crossed and took selfies, lighting up their individual Instagrams like the 4th of July.
She was young and alive with love for him. He was staring down both barrels of death.
It was probably easy to rationalize their affair by believing that what the wife didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her.
Well you really got me this time
And the hardest part is knowing I’ll survive
I’ve come to listen for the sound
Of the trucks as they move down
Out on 95
And pretend that it’s the ocean
Coming down to wash me clean, to wash me clean
Baby, do you know what I mean?
I would rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham
I would hold my life in his saving grace
I would walk all the way from Boulder to Birmingham
If I thought I could see, I could see your face
If I thought I could see, I could see your face
He’s still little, Aidan is. Six years old and only started kindergarten in September.
We bonded over the summer when I introduced butcher paper and bright markers into his world.
He drew towns and cities and worlds for hours on end. Cars, ships and houses.
“Draw your house here Midth Angel.”
He didn’t talk much then, and still has a hard time with words. But he can draw, and tells complex stories with his drawings.
“Dith is me and MidulAngelo. He prodects me at home. We met on de Ditantic and daved people.
[Met on the Titanic.]
Aidan loves me. I know that he does and I don’t know why. I love him right back.
When his family of five arrives at my facility he he’s always the first in the door. I see him before he sees me and I don’t deserve the look on his face as he scans the room to find me.
He runs to me like a whirling dervish, yelling “Hey, Hey!”
Heads turn at the noise of him, but I don’t shush him. Not this golden child.
Hands out for a happy high-five, I say, “hey buddy, how are you?”
As is with most kids, the niceties are lost on him and he launches right into what he wants to talk about.
“Somethingsomething, we saw it! Indiscernible and dis is Baby Groot.”
Brushing dark hair out of his big brown eyes, he looks up at me with complete trust. Plastic Baby Groot is offered with outstretched hands.
Oh sweet little one. Did you know that I can’t always understand what you say? Is that why you started bringing the Target ads, to show me your favorite super heroes?
“Dis is de Iwon Man Wego but Twny Start is not weally in dere-a-uh.”
(In Aidan’s vocabulary, some words at the end of a sentence have two and often three sing-song syllables.)
You funny little fella. You roll your eyes at me when I tell you I’ve never seen the movies you bring and place in my lap.
The Avengers. Guardians of the Galaxy. Captain America. Thor.
“My sons have seen them though,” I say.
“Ou can’t have doose boys. I’m woure boy,” he proclaims, pointing at his chest.
“Wake the deal-uh,” Aidan insists, holding out his hand to shake on it.
“Ok buddy, you can be my boy while you’re here today.”
Then for the briefest of moments I allow myself to remember another boy who was mine for a day. The newborn son who lies in a cold grave near his grandparents, his birth and death dates the same.
It seems forever ago, but it wasn’t. It’s just that the girl I used to be was also buried that day.
“Would my son have been like Aidan? Overjoyed with the smallest of attentions? Elated with a big empty piece of paper onto which he could draw his own universe?”
“Is he mad at me that he died? Does he think it was my fault? Does he love me?”
“Does he know that I was so young and afraid? That I thought the doctors knew best when they sent me home that night?”
“Who would he be now?”
I still ask those things, the questions without answers. This side of Heaven, I’ll never know.
I do know this though, grief paralyzed me after he died. Then shame strangled me.
“Her baby died. I’m not sure what happened. But she’s not even taking care of her two-year old. Her younger sister comes every day and stays there most nights.”
The gossip was right. I didn’t take care of anyone then, not even myself.
All I did was lay in bed and relive over and over not fighting back when the doctor said, “Oh you aren’t in labor. It’s too early. Go home and rest.”
I relived giving birth with just my husband in the room, him screaming for help when I told him what was happening.
Relived how peaceful it felt when the baby moved against my legs and I thought for a few seconds that he might not die.
The flashbacks of holding him never stopped. He struggled to breathe, before they took him to “see if there was anything that could be done for him.”
“He’s little though. Don’t expect a miracle.”
But the worst thing was constantly reliving my sister entering the room 45 minutes later, holding the baby.
“I found him next to the sink, on the counter. They said he died and nothing could be done. They were waiting for the doctor to finish stitching you up before they brought him back. But he’s moving. He’s not dead.”
I relived reaching out for the baby. His chest slowly rising and falling. Then faster frantic breaths, his tiny fingers jerkily grasping, his head moving from side to side as he fought for air.
My husband screaming again at the call button speaker.
Then, the baby just didn’t take another breath. I relived the deathly silence. Over and over again.
For months afterward I stayed in my dark bedroom clutching the blanket he was wrapped in, my wet tears mingling with tiny drops of dried blood. (My blood, not his. He was perfect.)
One day my two-year old son came in and patted me on the cheek. Silently, he touched my face. Sweet little fingers tried to gently pry open my eyes.
“Mommy get up. Mommy come back. Mommy come play.”
So I did.
The empty shell of me tried to live a semblance of a life. I mostly failed. But I was up walking around and to everyone in my life, that seemed to be a huge improvement.
I prayed for months after my son died, that God would give me a dream of the baby.
I so desperately needed to see him somewhere besides that tiny casket. Somewhere besides being lowered into the hard red dirt.
Over a year later God answered that prayer.
I dreamed I was in church when a laughing toddler with wavy dark hair and big brown eyes peaked over the pew in front of me. His chubby little arms stretched towards me, smiles wreathing his face.
I reached for him but before I could hold him, the dream ended. I awoke with full knowledge and memory of my baby as I saw him, his soul alive.
I started the long journey of healing at that moment in time. Bitterness of soul lingered, but my wavering faith was completely replaced with sure knowledge that I will hold my son again one day.
Since I started writing again, I’ve also started listening to music again, so the lyrics challenge is right up my alley. (It seems strange today, to think that for several years I didn’t do either. Depression, ugh.)
I also wrote a poem today, and one of Stevie Nicks songs seemed to fit the mood of the poem, so “Has Anyone Every Written Anything for You” is featured.
I know I can’t get to all three days of the challenge, but I am going to nominate the very musical blogger ArtisanX at Proscenium.Me.
After the awful kerfuffle with my teen girl volunteers, I think I mentioned that Destiny came back.
They have all come back, but it’s Destiny that shines the brightest, of that group anyway.
(Josh, 14, is far and away the very best volunteer ever.)
It took Destiny and I a few weeks to somewhat trust each other again. I’m not sure that’s all the way fixed. But she comes every day and sets herself up in a smaller auxiliary office.
At first, I wanted her in the main part of the facility, but then it just seemed so needful to her, to have her own space. I told her to stay there, unless Jake comes in. Then, his seniority dictates that she abdicate what she seems to view as her throne.
However now that Jake feels more comfortable around me (as long as I’m at least a foot or two away), he will stay in the main room most of the time. I increased the font on my computer and showed him how to do a needful admin task, so Destiny more often that not keeps her space in the private office.
I however lose my space and computer access during those times and operate solely from my phone. Thank you Steve Jobs.
Back to Destiny…
She is a very talented artist who has never had any instruction past what her rural school provided.
The supplies and tuition for art lessons are out of her family’s reach.
Her father is disabled with a brain injury (he functions but has very little short term memory) and her mom works to support the family which includes her brother, who is bipolar, and his three children.
So she has a few strikes against her on the home front.
And the personal front:
The one day I brought a sandwich she asked if she could eat it, instead of fixing her own.
(I started purchasing food for my teen volunteers once I realized they were hungry. I usually don’t eat very much during the day and just constantly drink coffee. I’m no paragon of virtue in buying the food. I just realized that they all got very moody when they didn’t eat lunch, which was EVERY DAY. So yeah, took my self right over to the Walmart across the street and loaded up on whole wheat bread, sandwich meat, milk and fruit.)
I gave her gas money to pick up another teen volunteer and she kept the money and never gave the other girl a ride. Destiny says the girl wasn’t home. The girl said she was.
She uses my headphones without asking.
She does not bathe that often.
She takes off her shoes in the office, with attendant odor problems.
She likes to eat pretty much constantly and leaves crumbs everywhere.
She never cleans up behind herself.
I introduced her to the chairman of our board last week and she hardly looked up at him. She just kept cutting her huge sandwich in half. Which was strange in and of itself, because I know she is going to eat the whole thing and will fix another one for the road before she leaves.
She dresses inappropriately for our setting. When the boys from the local boys home come in, I have to close the door to the small office she stays in.
I’ve tried to kindly explain to her that shorts shouldn’t be short enough to show the world your panties.
She pouts about that, and a lot of other things.
But I love her. She honestly makes my heart swell ten times bigger. For the past two weeks, I can tell she is opening the doors again, to me, to trust.
She’s started coming into the main room more frequently, seeking me out to show me something. Her dress from Comicon. The boots she is saving to buy. Her new false eyelashes. A makeup tutorial she is doing in between answering the phone and doing filing tasks in the small office.
She’s pulled away from the drama and gossipy activities of the younger three teen girl volunteers. (YAY, so much.)
Last week she told me that she broke up with her boyfriend in Atlanta. She’s not ready for where he wanted to take things. I’m glad to hear that.
But most of all, I’m so glad the trust is returning. I don’t think I have something magical to offer her, just a safe place where she is accepted and encouraged (I need to do more of that). And a place where she can feel like she’s needed.
I introduced her to Josh’s grandmother a few weeks ago. Grandma is retired from a local college and immediately saw in Destiny what I saw. She bought Destiny an ACT study book and spends some time with her about once a week, talking about college and making it real to her, making it seem possible that she can climb out.
We hired a part time art teacher last week (really part-time, one class a week), named Conrad Acorn. He’s working for an obscenely low amount. He has one caveat, NO KIDS. And he’s serious. 21 years old or older.
“I’m just too old to have to put up with that sh*t,” he told me.
He’s right, he is old, 82 to be exact.
However, he’s the youngest 82 year old you will ever meet. He carries a fantastic Grateful Dead “Truckin'” tattoo on his right arm, which he waves around for emphasis. If you are within ten feet of him you’ll instantly know that he wears that patchouli stuff that Dead Heads used to douse themselves in.
I had to strongly stop myself from reaching out to touch the Dead tattoo, which is still very bright and colorful.
“I didn’t get it until I was 68, after my mother died.” But that’s another post.
“Mr. Acorn, before you go may I show you something?”
I pulled Destiny’s work portfolio out of my files and handed it to Mr. Acorn.
(I started a folder for all my volunteers to get them in the habit of saving their work, with an eye towards college and future employment. Destiny brought in her art notebook from the past few years and asked me to copy and print some of her better drawings to add to her portfolio. She is so good I ended up copying almost the entire notebook.)
Mr. Acorn pores over the folder and after about 2 minutes says, “Whose work is this, I must have this angel in my class.”
I explain to him that the drawings are by Destiny, my intern and she’s only 18 years old but I would love it if he could make an exception for her. “Please don’t feel obligated though.”
He grinned broadly and said, “Honey, I make the rules, I can break the rules. Tell her I’ll supply the supplies, she just needs to show up.”