The Hard Question

goodbye.jpg

~*~

“Which, of all the goodbyes in your life has been the hardest so far?” Manda, my inquisitive 12-year-old niece, has asked the impossible.

Good grief. How do you tell a child, albeit an old soul, about the painful goodbye to lost youth?

How do you get the young to understand that all that lies between youth and old age is time? Time well spent, or time squandered or lost, it’s the same. One way or another getting from point A to point B involves the loss of youth along the ever-flowing river of time ~ until it opens into the vast ocean of death that awaits us all.

For saying goodbye to my youth has been the hardest goodbye … so far. The transit to middle age a shock like none other as I realize that what time lies ahead is undoubtedly less than the length of life I’ve already lived.

Jeepers!

Sure, I’ve said my farewells to the living and the dead; to a bad marriage (good riddance), to a self-absorbed parent and to those who’ve used and abused my trust and good faith. Many more glad goodbyes, than sad ones, to be honest. Nevertheless, all painful in the moment.

Still, the transition that has proved most troublesome; the goodbye that’s taken the longest and still haunts, is that bade to lost youth.

Where did it go?

I look in the mirror. When did the crevices deepen; the hair lighten; the skin get loose and lumpy?

As my outer aspect fades and the bones and sinews and flesh succumb to the ravages of gravity and wear and tear it is, at times, poor compensation to witness the joyous expansion of my inner landscape as it learns to embrace the new reality. As it endeavours to pull together the threads of my life into a woven tapestry that celebrates the path and not just the now ebbed youthful vitality of the mortal coil that walked it.

Why can’t I have both? And not through cosmetic surgery which proves a desperation to which I cannot cleave. No! Why can’t we have youthful beauty and mature wisdom at the same time, and by-pass the carping, and griping, and complaining about creaky joints,  hair loss and exhaustion that plagues those of us who make it to the golden years? The years when society least appreciates our contributions and the wisdom we have gained through hard work and experience.

Youth forgets they will, one day, be one of us. Rejecting our wisdom, they must stumble into middle age and beyond like the rest of us who thought that day would never come. Eyes wide shut and feet wandering in an overwhelming wilderness of aging unknowns.

Youth forgets you cannot run from the past. That it is recorded in the deepest space of our inner knowing. And not just our past … that of those who have gone before. The corrupted lives that were not healed and passed their pain on down the generations. Youth forgets. Until they, too, are old.

The advantage of saying goodbye to lost youth is, of course, that we are not so easily manipulated. We do not bend, as before, to the will of those who abuse, so they no longer look to bend us. At best, they ignore us. At worst, they will try to break us.

As well, since as we grow older we tend to recognize more readily, and reject, the narcissists amongst us, we can gather to our bosom the will to heal the wounds they so selfishly inflicted.

“Goodbye, lost youth, goodbye,” she said with a sigh.

And though it has been the hardest goodbye, I would not go back there. I would not want to face the fears and trepidations of early life again; feel I am never good enough and must yield to a commercial standard of perfection which none can meet without the selling of their soul. The pain of being corrupted by lies is, perhaps, one of the greatest of all.

Saying goodbye to my youth has been the hardest, yet I cannot linger in that space now dead. I embrace the new path. Not all make it this far … and who knows how much farther this path will take me.

Manda would not understand these things. She, who still has her whole life ahead of her does not need to hear about this hard goodbye.

“Manda, sweetie,” I ply her with a homemade chocolate chip cookie and wrap my arm lovingly around her shoulder. “Ask me another question. That one’s too hard for me today.”

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016

 

 

 

 

Fanny

“What are you thinking about?” Manda plops down beside me on the window bench and follows my gaze to the paddock. The sun is setting. It’s a perfect time for reflection. “You seem so faraway.”

“I am, sweetie,” I sigh. “I am.”

“Why?”

“Oh, I’m thinking about your great grandmother. If she were still alive she’d have turned 100 years old today.” I watch Fanny, the new bay filly, cross the paddock to visit old Molly mare ~ her mentor of sorts ~ and smile. “You know,” I begin, “your great grandmother had a bay mare named Fanny.”

Manda’s eyes light up. She’s particularly fond of this new addition to our little herd. “She does?”

“Did, dear,” I correct. “Yes, she loved horses, and on the family farm she was the only one, out of eight siblings, to have a horse.”

“Do you know anything about her … Fanny, that is?” Manda asks. I love how she cares about family stories. It’s so important to understand our roots ~ it helps us to know ourselves. Still, I’m not sure I can share the only story I can recall gran ever sharing with me about her dear, old Fan. It’s sad.

“Well? Do you?” Manda prods.

“I have only one story,” I respond, “and it’s sad.” I register the look of disappointment in Manda’s eyes. “Are you sure you want to hear it?”

My niece looks at me assuredly through big, brown, beautiful eyes. “I can handle it. It wouldn’t be the first sad story you’ve ever told me.”

“You’re right, of course.” I smile weakly and reach for her hand. “Well, your great gran was a teenager when she had old Fanny. From what I know they spent many happy years together. Having her own horse was a pleasing distraction from a hard life on the family farm. Our mutual love of horses was one of the few things gran and I had in common.”

Manda’s mouth is beginning to twitch. I better get to the point or she’ll interrupt.

“Great gran got married when she was 18 …”

“Eighteen!!!” Manda squeals. “That’s only six years older than me!!”

“Yes, that’s true,” I sigh, “it was common practice to marry young in those days. People didn’t live as long as they do now and they got on with their lives quickly. Just as a side note,” I add, ” … your great gran was the only one of the five girls in her family who didn’t have to get married, if you get my meaning …”

“Ewww … that’s gross …”

“That’s life, sweetie. We live by our choices. Anyway …” I give her hand a squeeze and continue with the sad story. “She … her name was Mandy … you’re named after her.”

“I knew that,” Manda smiles.

“Of course, you did, sweetie … anyway, she married a handsome, but troubled, young man from a well-respected farming family in the same area. They met at a community chicken supper.”

Manda tilts her head questioningly.

“Those suppers were the social event of the week. Families from all over the farming community would gather on a Friday night at the local hall for a great potluck dinner, and after eating they’d dance, gossip and drink their cares away. Your great grandpa Louis was was a talented musician. He could play any instrument handed to him. He just had the knack and was particularly well know for his trumpet playing. It was one of the things that attracted Mandy to him. That and the fact he was quite the athlete. A pugilist, in fact.”

“Oh, he sounds dishy.” Manda pauses and then looks at me with uncertainty. “What’s a pugilist?”

“Oh, right, why on earth would you know what that is?” I laugh, “It’s an old term for professional boxer. Boxing was a popular past time in the early 1930s.”

“A professional boxer!!!”

“Yes. He was tall and lanky and athletic. Somewhere around here is a menacing-looking photograph of him sporting a pair of boxing gloves. Quite, quite handsome. In fact, your great gran, a diminutive and petite young woman, had to fight the other girls off to stake her claim. He was a popular guy.” I stop for a moment and think back to what I know of their history. It would have been so much better for gran had she lost him to one of those other girls. But then, I wouldn’t be here, and neither would Manda. I squeeze my niece’s hand and continue, “He had a flaw, however.”

“He did?” Manda’s attentive, but her gaze has shifted out the window to rest on Fanny.

“He was mean.”

“Oh …” Manda turns to me and pouts. With these three words her mood has shifted somewhat. “Why?”

“His narcissism … you remember how we talked about that word before?”

“Yes … it means the inability to see the world beyond your own self-indulgence … or something like that.”

“Very good!”

“See! I do listen, you know,” Manda’s face glows with triumph.

“I’m glad to hear it.” I smile and squeeze her hand again. “Anyway, his narcissism got the better of him. He was very hard on your great gran in many, many ways. Still,” I pause, “that’s a story for another time.” I turn my attention to Fanny where this train of conversation started. “Shortly after they were married Mandy and Louis visited her parents on the farm. Before leaving they ventured out to the paddock to see old Fanny who walked over to the fence to greet them. They visited with her for a while. Gran told me it was a really sweet moment.” I hesitate. “And then, as they were leaving, the old mare wandered back into the middle of her paddock and fell to the ground … dead.”

“No!” Manda shrieks with disbelief.

“Yes, Manda. I’m sorry to say it’s true.”

“But … oh, that’s so, so sad. Poor, ol’ great gran.” Manda wipes a tear from her cheek with the back of her sleeve and leans on my shoulder. “She must have been devastated.”

I let Manda stew in her sadness for a moment while remembering how spare gran had been with her feelings when sharing this story with me. I know she loved Fanny, so I have no doubt of her sadness. I’ve often wondered since if the timing of Fanny’s unfortunate death was a foreshadowing of the terrible marital years to follow. A shiver runs through me. Time to change the subject.

“Well, sweetie, I dare say she was. But that was long ago and far, faraway and we must now attend to our own little herd. I’m pretty sure they’re ready to go inside and have their supper.” I give Manda a hug and together we draw ourselves up from the bench. It’s starting to get dark out and her parents will be here soon to take her home. “Come on, let’s do chores and then we can have a quick snack before you go. Uncle Bill’s going to meet us in the barn. Oh look! … ” I point out the window as his truck pulls into the driveway, “there he is.”

Manda hesitates before following me. “May I spend some alone time with Fanny?” she asks, politely, as if in the asking she’s honouring that sad, faraway memory.

“Of course you may,” I smile. “Of course.”

~*~

Daily Prompt: Faraway

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016

 

In the Pink

It’s 4 o’clock of an early spring afternoon and the mood in the kitchen is blue. As Manda and I both stare out the window to the paddock and survey the damage wrought by a spring ice storm we are rendered numb; speechless.

Mother Nature was reckless with her pruning shears. By the light of a full moon her inner were wolf violently slashed and crashed through our area’s tender woodlands and random old trees, leaving in its wake tree carnage as I’ve never before witnessed.

“Why did this have to happen?” Manda sniffs while interlocking her arm through mine. “That old maple was so beautiful and healthy, and now it’s gone.”

I sigh. I don’t really know what to tell her. I could give her the whole El Nino reasoning, but scientific explanations seldom soothe the broken heart. Cold reason does not conjure warm feeling.

“Sweetie, come away from the window and let’s have our tea by the fire.” I take Manda’s soft hand in mine and guide her to the living room where a pot of camomile tea is cosily brewing on an old cedar chest, a family heirloom, that acts as a coffee table. Two cups and saucers and a plate of homemade oatmeal cookies rest beside it. Tea in tea cups always tastes better, for some reason, and I’m trying to instil in her these little niceties for which her parents have no time. They’re lovely people, but always so busy.

Manda slouches into the sofa and Abbey the collie, all fun and fur, jumps up and flops over the unhappy girl’s legs. She rolls onto her back as if she’s not too big to be a lap dog (which she most certainly is) and demands a tummy rub. Manda buries her hand in the dog’s hair and begins the slow back and forth of rubbing the one who has made herself most vulnerable. Abbey groans with approval.

“If you were a colour right now, what would you be?” I ask while pouring tea and observing the gentle scene unfolding before me.

“What kind of a question is that?” Manda snarls.

Hmmm … I don’t need to ask. I know. Black. She’s in one of those rare black moods that distorts thought and reason. A mood that’s particularly challenging when you’re teetering on the teenage years and trying to understand your place in the world. A destructive event like an ice storm is enough to send me over the edge, and I have some life experience. For Manda, my sweet, sensitive tree hugger, there is no sense to what she’s witnessed. Her tender soul is black and blue with grief for the beloved maple snapped in half by a vicious storm. I understand that for now, at least, there can be no consolation.

“Nevermind, love. Here’s your tea. Have a cookie.”

Manda pushes the sated dog to the other end of the sofa and takes the tea cup and saucer roughly from my hand.

“Careful, sweetie!” I protest.

She slides back into her spot and takes the cookie from the saucer. Dunks it in her tea until it’s good and soaked and then takes a bite. Her tea is now, of course, full of crumbs, but she doesn’t seem to care. She sighs, and sips, and sighs some more. I understand this mood.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“What?”

“Whatever’s bothering you.” I don’t want to put words in her mouth. Perhaps there’s something behind the broken tree that’s really at issue here. I want her to feel safe to say so, if there is.

There’s no immediate response. Another sip. A purple sulk, and then a free fall of tears cascading down cheeks reddened by the warmth of the fire. I know she won’t share. She just wants me to hold space. She just wants me to be here to witness her sorrow ~ a sorrow she doesn’t understand; a sorrow for which there are no words; a sorrow for which there is no solace.

I move over to the sofa and wedge my way in between her and Abbey. Take the teacup from Manda’s hand and place it on the chest. And then I hold her while she weeps ~ weeps for the broken willows and birches and maples and pines. Weeps for the little animals and birds who have lost their little homes. Weeps for wanton destruction for which she has no reference in her happy little world.

After several minutes sobs turn into sniffs. I give her a clean tissue from my pocket so she can blow her nose.

“I tell you what,” I try to sound hopeful while hugging her tighter and whisper in her ear, “why don’t we call that fellow who does all the carving of old tree stumps in town and have him create something beautiful out of the maple stump? We can honour its place in our hearts and the joy it gave us with something meaningful.”

Manda leans back and looks at me, desperate for a happy outcome. “We can do that?” she pleads, wide-eyed with wonder.

“Of course!” I confirm. “Don’t you think it would make a wonderful rearing horse? You know, that symbolizes our ability to rise to the challenges that come our way?”

“Oh yes!” Manda sits up straight, her mood brightening as she begins to see a silver lining. “And can we plant a few trees, too? Another maple?”

“Absolutely, sweetie. There’s nothing I’d like more.” I hand her another cookie. “So, may I ask … what colour are you now?”

She smiles. “In the pink!”

That’s my girl.

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016

Daily Prompt: Colourful

 

 

 

Alfie

remember-from-we-heart-it
Credit: We Heart It

#FWF Memory Prompt:

Write about your earliest memory. Good, bad, happy or sad. Before you begin, take time to dwell in that memory. Absorb everything you can about it. What you see, what you smell, what you hear and mostly, how you feel. Let it resonate. Marinate your mind in that one moment. Then begin.

~*~

“You want to know about my earliest memory,” I confirm with my 12-year-old niece, Manda, before travelling down that perilous road.

Manda, covered in a warm throw, slouches in the leather recliner across from me, my 20lb black cat, Indy, sprawled without apology across her lap. “Sure, if you want to share. I mean, it’s another school assignment ~ you know, interview an adult about their earliest memory and write about it.” She pauses, trying to act nonchalant, like it doesn’t really matter, but I know it does. Somehow she has the idea that I have the best stories. I don’t know why she doesn’t ask her parents these questions. “You know,” she continues, “like, do you remember what it was like before the telephone, that sort of thing.”

I throw her a sharp look. “I’m not that old,” I bark, playfully.

“I know,” Manda teases while scratching Indy under the chin, “I’m just trying to get you going. So, what is your earliest memory.”

“Give me a moment to think about it.”

“Okay.”

While Manda continues to cuddle the cat I’m abandoned to the past. I’ve been on the planet a half century and complex-PTSD has buried my memories beneath layers of trauma I’ve been working to heal. I don’t want to share something that might hurt her tender heart, notwithstanding it may be my earliest memory.

“Excuse me, sweetie, I’ll be right back.”

“No problem,” Manda responds absently.

I get up from my rocker and head to the kitchen to stare out the window at the horses quietly grazing in the paddock beside the house. It’s early spring and the grass is greening up. Soon, my equine friends will need to be on limited turnout to prevent them from getting sick with the high sugar content. Horses love sugar, and the grass is rich here in the spring. Old Molly horse is cranky, lifting a leg as if to strike the rambunctious yearling who keeps pushing her boundaries. Boundaries, yes, boundaries. My earliest memories reflect crossed boundaries. Not going there with Manda.

Ol’ Moll buries her nose in the round bale. Junior has moved on to pester someone else. In the massive maple the robins flit and flee. Birds. Charlie. Charlie the canary. My first pet. A bird cage. Newspaper lining the bottom. Bird seed all over the place. I’d rather muck stalls than change tray paper. Still, it’s not the memory I want to share with Manda.

Max, the ginger and white barn cat, perches patiently on the fence post, his eyes half closed as he basks in the early season sun. He’s my fourth orange and white cat. They just seem to gravitate to me, for some reason. Such characters, those red-headed boys. My first one, Alfie, could catch a pigeon before it touched ground and …

“Aunt Sal, where are you?”

“I’m in the … “

“I know you’re in the kitchen,” Manda notes with a hint of impatience, “I mean, where are you? Can I be there, too?”

I turn to face my lovely niece who’s standing in the doorway looking a little worried. She’s still unspoiled by the world and growing more mindful by the day, and I like to think I’ve had something to do with that. I’m the de facto baby sitter while her parents earn their bread and butter. They’re good people, too, but children can always benefit from the loving attention of an objective third-party. I love to pick her up after school and bring her here ~ her home away from home.

“Aunt Sal?”

“Yes, okay … sorry …” I reach for the biscuit tin filled with chocolate digestives and offer her one. Manda helps herself.

“So?”

“So, what?”

“Where were you?”

“With Alfie.”

“Who’s Alfie?” Manda gives me that quizzical look with which she’s always so generous when something doesn’t make sense. Her eyes half closed, head tilted, lips slightly pinched.

“Alfie was my first red-head,” I say pointing at Max.

“You mean you had another cat like Max?” She asks between nibbles of biscuit. “You’ve had more than one red-head?”

“Yes, in fact Max is number four.”

“Four!!!” Manda exclaims, amazed.

“Yes … Alfie, Gus, Oskar and Max,” I affirm. “But let’s focus on Alfie.”

“Why was he named Alfie?”

“Actually,” I grin as memory recalls, “his full name was Alfredo Raffaello di Verdi ~ Alfie for short. Your grandma named him after operatic characters. And a character he was. He used to follow me and the dog when we went for walks around the neighbourhood. He invaded the vicar’s summer garden party once and helped himself to the salmon. He slept on the kitchen table beside my pile of books when I was doing my homework. He … “

“How old were you when you had Alfie?” Manda asks, confused.

“Hmmm … we got him when I was seven years old and he died when I was … 21?” I have to think about it.

“You were seven?” Manda asks, disbelieving. “And this is your earliest memory?”

“It’s the earliest memory I’m going to share with you,” I wink while offering her another biscuit.

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016

Tea Time

Daily Prompt: Leap

~*~

“Leap’s a funny word, isn’t it, Aunt Sal?”

“Why do you say that?” I ask while brushing the mud off my boots before entering the house. We’ve been out at the barn feeding the horses. Such a mucky day as the seasons transition.

“Well,” Manda pulls off her boots and shoves them in the corner by the door. “It’s such a small word that can mean so many things. And it sounds funny. Leap!” She says it over and over as if to make her point.

I give her shoulder a playful shove as we move from the mud room into the kitchen. Manda flops down in a chair at the wobbly kitchen table while I put the kettle on.

“You really need to get Uncle Bill to fix this,” she says, annoyed that it’s still a topic of conversation after several months.

“Your uncle has other things on his mind … I’ll get around to it in due course,” I respond, my own annoyance bubbling. She’s right, of course, but it’s not a priority. I settle down at the wobbly table and plant a plate of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies in the centre of it. We both reach for one. “Tea or chocolate milk?” I ask.

Manda doesn’t answer right away.

“What’s going on in that pretty little head of yours?” I ask, curious.

“Well, I usually have chocolate milk, but I’m wondering if I should try tea instead.”

“Oh,” I exclaim, “you want to take a leap and try something new, then?” Manda rolls her eyes. “What’ll it be?” I ask, “Earl Grey? Lavender? Peppermint?”

“What are you having?” she asks.

I get up from the table and head for the cupboard where the tea caddy is kept. Take it out and return to the table. I place the antique wooden box in front of me and carefully open its fragile lid. It’s really too delicate for everyday use, but if it’s not used it’ll simply gather dust and get forgotten in the interest of preservation. I prefer things to be used up in gainful employment. Then they always have a purpose.

Manda looks on and asks, “Why haven’t I seen this before?”

I smile. “Oh, you’ve seen it. You just haven’t seen it.”

“It’s beautiful!” my 12-year-old old soul exclaims as she examines its intricately carved details. “Where did you get it?”

“It’s been in the family a long time. My grandmother left it to me. She used to love her tea in the afternoon. We’d sit together, much like this, and shoot the breeze.” I sigh. It wasn’t quite like this. There was a lot more tension, but she doesn’t need to know this. “Would you like to see what’s inside while I deal with the boiled kettle?”

Manda nods and I slide the fragile box carefully across the table cloth to where she’s sitting. “Oh look,” she notes, “the packets are all pretty colours! Like jewels!”

I return to the table with my Royal Albert china tea pot and two matching cups and saucers.

“Oooh, those are pretty!” Manda squeals. “I haven’t seen you use them before.”

“Yes, you have, you just haven’t seen them.”

“Why do you keep saying that? What do you mean I haven’t seen them?”

“Your eyes are opening, darling, that’s all.”

Manda looks at me funny.

“A lesson for another day. Now, pick a tea,” I suggest. “Anything you like.”

“But how do I know what they are?” she moans, confused.

“Well, you don’t, and that’s part of the fun. This is a leap of faith moment, albeit a small one.”

“What’s a leap of faith?” she asks.

“I’m so glad you asked,” I respond. “Pick your tea.”

Manda surveys the 12 flavours all stored separately in little compartments, their fragrances commingling to a heady sense of well-being.

“How do I do that … pick a tea?”

“Well,” I lean over and pull my favourite, though I don’t tell her that, from the box. I bring the mauve and sage packet to my nose and take a big sniff. Hmmm … delightful. “Smell this.” I give Manda the packet and she takes a whiff. “No, not a whiff … inhale it’s fragrance.” Manda takes a deeper whiff. I guess that’s as much as she can commit right now.

“Oh, that smells sweet. What is it?” Manda turns over the packet. “Lavender.” She reads aloud. “What does it taste like?”

“Do you want to find out?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Well, smell them all, if you like. Maybe there’s something else you’d like to try.”

Manda scans the box ~ rose hip; Earl Grey; camomile, peppermint, roiboos, et al. She picks up each packet and sniffs it. Her face registers delight or dismay accordingly and she separates them on the table into two piles. This takes several moments.

“Come on,” I chide, “I’m thirsty.”

“These smell nice,” she points to four possibilities in a pile to my right. The lavender we started with, green tea, liquorice and a citrus blend.

“Okay, so which one?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” she moans.

“Okay, so this is where we employ a leap of faith. This is when you take a chance on something not knowing what the end result will be and hope with all your heart it turns out in your favour.”

“It’s make my mind up time,” she states.

“It’s make your mind up time,” I affirm.

Manda eeny-meeny-miney-mos it. The tiger in my tummy is rumbling in time. Finally she lands on liquorice.

“Is that the one?”

“Yes,” she responds with certainty.

“Let’s see then. Open it up and put the tea bag in the pot.”

Manda tears open the packet, takes another whiff of its sweet, exotic aroma and then drops the tea bag into the pot filled with hot water. “I like liquorice,” she declares.

“I know.”

“How long does it take?”

“To steep?”

“Is that what they call it?”

“Yes.” I smile. I love these impromptu life lessons, especially when Manda’s of a mind to engage. ” A couple of minutes, that’s all.”

We wait. Manda takes another cookie and puts it on her saucer in anticipation. “Do we need sugar or milk?” she asks, hesitating.

“Not with liquorice,” I smile.

The Victorian Regulator ticks and tocks in the hallway. Abbey, the collie, lies beside her food dish and groans. A nor’easter wails against the windows. More rain to come.

“There. That should do it …” I pick up the tea pot and pour some liquorice nectar into Manda’s cup. “Wait for it to cool just a little,” I warn, “and no dunking.”

Manda nods and waits for me to pour my tea. The tension is surprisingly high for this little leap of faith moment. She sniffs at the steam as it rises from her cup. “Smells good,” she admits.

“Okay, you ready?” I ask after a couple of minutes of thumb twiddling and worried looks.

With utmost care, Manda picks up her cup and draws it to her lips. Takes a sip. “Oooh, hot!” she squeals, but then takes another, this time more prepared. Her eyes get wide as she savours the exotic flavour of anise while it tickles her taste buds.

“How’s that for a leap of faith?” I wink over the rim of my cup while taking a sip.

“Hmmmmmm …”

~*~

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016

Perish the Thought

Daily Prompt: The Road Less Traveled

~*~

I shudder to think about that alternate road while Manda, my 12-year-old inquisitor, continues to draw in her journal awaiting an answer.

Indeed, where would my life have taken me had I stayed with her uncle Ted?

We were ships that passed in the night, by the end, caught in each others’ wake of misery in a sea of lies. He’d never really loved me, and told me as much when he returned home after completing his Masters degree. For five long years I worked to glue the relationship back together again. I was committed ~ or perhaps I should have been committed ~ because I was beating my head against the proverbial brick wall of his narcissism. He no longer had eyes for me. I served no useful purpose to him anymore. But how do I tell a 12-year-old about failed love without making her jaded?

“Well, sweetie, that’s a really good question,” I delay while sipping on soothing chamomile tea and looking across the table to peek at her drawing of a horse under a willow. Such a good little artist, my Manda. “And I’m not sure how to answer it, to be honest.”

Manda stops drawing and puts down her green pencil. Evidently the grass will have to wait. She reaches for a small bunch of grapes from the ceramic fruit bowl in the middle of the kitchen table and plucks one from its stem. Pops it in her mouth. She’s thinking. Oh, dear.

“Why?” she asks with the nonchalance of youth.

“Why?” I repeat with the desperation of age.

I never understood his side of the story, because he wouldn’t talk about it. Why does anybody fall out of love with someone they promised to spend eternity with, and why would anyone want to stay with a person who’d fallen out of love with them? We’d had nothing to keep us together either. No children because blessedly, as I was to find out later, I was unable to get pregnant. The longer I stayed with him the more I became lost in his narcissistic need for everything to be about him. It was always about what I could do to keep him happy; never about what I even needed to be happy. So much so, in fact, that by the time we parted I had no idea what made me happy anymore.

“Sweetie, as you get older you’ll realize that relationships are only as functional as the people who are in them. If I’d stayed with your uncle Ted you and I would not be sitting here having this conversation, for one thing. We’d still be a one-car family which I’d never have access to, and the only time we would see each other is if your mom or dad came to get me. Before your uncle Ted and I parted ways we lived in a tiny town isolated from friends and family. I was stuck at home and,” she may as well know this, “cried a lot.”

“You cried?” Manda’s eyes light up in surprise. I don’t know that she’s ever considered my feelings beyond what she knows of me now  ~ the happy, smiling auntie who loves life. I did not love life so much back then.

“Well, Manda, when you’re unhappy that’s what you do, right?” I confirm. “Remember when those so-called friends of yours excluded you from their group and you ran away crying your eyes out?” She nods and absently pops another grape into her mouth. “Well, my experience with your uncle Ted is just a more complicated version of that. I was desperately unhappy. He’d cut me off; excluded me from his life. Everything I’d ever considered to be true about our relationship turned out to be completely false. I’d been living a lie with a man who’d lied about ever loving me.” I stop to register the effect of my words on this young mind. She seems okay, so I continue, “If I’d stayed with him … well, to be honest, it doesn’t even bear thinking about.”

I take another sip of tea and for a moment we become lost in our own thoughts. Oh, the journey I’ve taken since leaving that sad man. I recall the tipping point. We’d been out shopping in early January, spending Christmas gift certificates, I think. Went to lunch. I’d asked him what his plans were for the year, digging, I guess, and nothing in his answer included me. It was telling, but I didn’t say anything at the time. And then on the long drive home his seeming indifference began to eat away at me. I started asking those suppressed questions. His answers got defensive.

“So what do you want from this relationship?” I finally asked as we pulled into the driveway.

“A furnished house.”

His answer floored me. I was so flabbergasted by this strange response I had to ask him again. Certainly our new home had a few empty rooms in it, and my work as a writer, artist and riding teacher was not so lucrative, yet. But, could it be that all he wanted was for me to be a conduit of financial resources for his precious lifestyle at the expense of my own dreams?

“I want a furnished house,” he repeated without apology.

Nothing about love, or family, or shared dreams … just a house with furniture and his travel plans mentioned previously over lunch. I did not fit into his scheme at all.

“Auntie Sal,” Manda’s loving voice brings me back. I shudder away the memory and take another sip of tea.

“Yes, my lovely Manda?” I respond, glad of the present moment.

“Really, it doesn’t matter to me what your life would have been like if you’d stayed with uncle Ted. I love that you are happy now, and don’t want you to be unhappy thinking about all that other stuff.”

I reach for a grape from the bowl and throw it at her playfully. Her reflexes are good. She catches it as it hits her chest and puts it in her mouth.

“Well, all I can say is thank goodness for that. Now, let’s have a cookie.”

~*~

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016

Never

Daily Prompt: Never Again

Have you ever gone to a new place or tried a new experience and thought to yourself, “I’m never doing that again!” Tell us about it.

~*~

“So, what was it like, Aunt Sal?” Manda begs to know what it was like to dine in the dark.

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

“Just that. I never did eat in the dark.”

“But you went, didn’t you?” She sits up abruptly, knocking popcorn from her large bowl onto the floor beside her. Now she’s getting frosty.

“Yes.”

“So?”

I sigh and lean back in my nice, comfy, floral arm chair. The fire’s roaring in the hearth, barely beating the chill of this brutally cold February day. Manda’s sprawled again on the sofa opposite, munching on her popcorn and waiting for me to begin. So, I guess I better get on with it.

“Well, let me begin from the beginning.”

“Sounds good,” she munches and slides her bare feet under the sleeping collie curled up at the other end of the couch.

“We had planned a trip to Paris several months in advance and I’d heard about this interesting dining experience where you eat in the dark.”

“Yeah …” She already knows this. Twelve-year-olds know everything.

“I checked with your uncle Bill and he agreed that it would be a novel way to spend an evening, so I made a reservation … for three as his daughter was going to join us.”

“You mean Mary?”

“Yes, Mary.

“Okay … then what?”

“You know, if you’d stop interrupting I could get on with my story.”

“Sorry,” Manda crunches contrition.

“Well, the much anticipated evening arrived. It was pouring rain as only it can in Paris, so we were pretty soaked when we arrived at the restaurant.” I take a sip of Malbec, a favoured wine I picked up on during a drip to Argentina, and then continue. “When we entered it looked like any other fine dining restaurant you might frequent. It was warm; inviting; had a bar, and ambient music … you know, that sort of thing. However, when we were greeted by the Maitre D, well, that’s when things began to look a little different.”

Manda finishes a mouthful of popcorn and sips from her glass of homemade lemonade. She’s all ears, and I’m grateful for a break from the crackling of corn. Then she grabs another handful.

“Do you think you could stop eating that stuff long enough for me to tell the story … please? It’s most distracting.”

Manda puts the bowl to the side and hunkers into the couch. She’s a smart, obliging kid, this one, not prone to arguing even if she can be a bit petulant at times. “So, what changed?” she asks.

“The Maitre D showed us to a wall of small lockers and assigned us one. Then he asked us to leave our bags, and anything we had that might emit any kind of light, inside it … you know, watches, cellphones, that sort of thing. Of course, it made complete sense that we would do that. It’s not in the dark if there are watches and cellphones lighting up all over the room.”

Manda giggles, as do I.

“So we did that, and then they gave us each a flute of champagne, reviewed the format of the dining experience and showed us the menu offerings. We weren’t going to be able to see our food, but we did have a say in the kind of food we would eat. For instance, as you know I’m not a fish eater, so they needed to know that. The point of dining in the dark is to get an amplified sense of taste for the food. If I don’t like fish by the light of day, then eating it in the dark would be … well, it doesn’t even bear thinking about.” I sip my wine.

By the quizzical look on Manda’s face I can see she’s chewing on this new bit of information.

“You mean you had no idea what you were going to eat?” she asks, amazed.

“Nope.”

“I don’t know if I could do that.”

“Well, maybe we ought to do an experiment of our own at home, some time.”

“Maybe …” Manda responds with caution.

“Anyway,” I return to focus, “next thing I know a blind waitress …”

“You mean vision-impaired,” admonishes my politically-correct niece.

“Okay, vision-impaired waitress has us forming a congo line, one hand on the shoulder in front of us, the other holding the flute of champagne, and is guiding us through three sets of heavy curtains into a pitch black room. I mean, there’s not a stitch of light anywhere even though my eyes are searching for it. In fact, it’s so dark in there I can’t see my hand in front of my face.”

Manda gasps. “You mean you couldn’t see at all?”

“That’s right.”

I let her sit with this notion for a moment while I grabbed another sip of Malbec and reached for a handful of popcorn.

“So, how were you going to see your food?”

“Huh?”

“How were you going to see your food?” The look of abject horror on Manda’s face is priceless.

“Well, that’s the whole point, we weren’t supposed to see our food.” It’s then I realize that, like me at the time, she hadn’t thought the experience all the way through.

“Oh no, so what did you do?”

“Claustrophobia kicked in. I had a panic attack and was gently escorted out of the room to the bar downstairs. I ate there … alone … and wrote about my experience on a napkin. My notebook was in my purse which was in the locker, and Bill had the key. I felt like a colossal fool, to be honest, forgetting about my fear of enclosed spaces. Maybe somewhere in the back of my mind I thought I’d managed to let it go. Maybe.” I sigh and stare at the fire. There are lots of things I don’t do because of claustrophobia.

Manda moves to the other end of the couch and wraps her arms around Maggie’s voluminous, silky haired body. Comfort in an uncomfortable moment. I know her to be claustrophobic, too. She moves the moment along. “Did Uncle Bill and Mary eat in the dark?”

“Yes, and I understand it was quite the clumsy adventure. And noisy because, remember, all the other senses are heightened. So it’s not just about the food, the whole ambiance is altered as well. But they seemed to enjoy the challenge.”

“Would you ever give it another go, Aunt Sal?” Manda wonders aloud while giving the dog another squeeze.”

I drain the last of the Malbec from my glass.

“Never.”

~*~

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016