Chapter 6: My Yellow Townhome
January 3, 2008
“Mom . . . Mom . . . Mom . . . Can you hear me?” I almost needed to shout. She began stirring from what seemed like a peaceful sleep. “It’s your birthday mom, we came to visit you.”
She opened her icy blue eyes and looked at me with surprise. Ben and I had come to visit her.
“Whose birthday?” she asked with a blank stare.
“Yours, mom. Happy birthday, you’re eighty-three years old today!” She looked at us with complete confusion and slowly closed her eyes that had lost their shine. “Well, here is your gift, mom.” She didn’t open her eyes, so I laid it on the table. She falls back asleep.
I glanced over at Ben as he arrogantly studied his watch repeatedly.
“Can we go now? This is so pointless,” he rolled his eyes, evidently exasperated.
“I just need a little more time.”
He walked out, slamming the door behind him.
I sat in an old blue-and-gold striped chair in the corner of her small banal room. I bet Ben went outside to make another one of his phone calls. I knew him all too well. Most likely, it was probably for more profit in his pocket.
The nursing home door swung open a few moments later, and Ben defiantly stormed into the room.
“Let’s go—” he demanded, “Now! I have got to meet with a client in one hour!”
His arrogance rung through me like an angry lightning bolt.
“Ok,” I could only whisper.
April 15, 2017
My name is Raines Lawrence. That was the last memory I have of my mother. I never spoke to her again, because she died the very next day. I found the unopened gift I had given her still sitting at her bedside. Truth be told, I had already lost her to Alzheimer’s disease years before that day. She had gradually lost all her memory, and we had to put her in a nursing home, late May, 2001. She had reached the point where she did not even remember her own name. There were years and years of vacant visits. I would brush her hair and apply some makeup on her. Sometimes, she could hold a decent conversation, but she had no recollection whatsoever of who I was. She would think I was one of the nurses working the night shift.
I loved my mom with all my heart. And I mean, ALL my heart. She had a heart of gold. Not a day goes by even now, that I don’t think of her.
She was a selfless, giving, caring, and beautiful soul. She brought happiness to everyone, everywhere she went. She was an artist at heart, and she raised me in a world surrounded by music, art, and dance. She had a real raw appreciation of art. It lived in her very soul.
I was born and raised in a small town called Beaufort in North Carolina. We lived right off the Intracoastal Waterway, and our beautiful white house had a white picket fence. I had an older sister and we spent our extremely happy childhood together. Growing up, I played every sport I could think of—tennis, soccer, swimming . . . and even horseback riding. I love horses. But wild horses were my favorite. There is something about them. The way they prance with their ears straight forward, tail up, head pointed down with an arched neck trotting around in the grass. And I love when their healthy coats glow in the sun. I could watch them for hours, and as a child I used to dream of them.
But I love a lot of things. I love chocolate and peanut butter ice cream, blue hydrangeas, the sound of thunder, stars above the ocean, snowfall, a baby’s laugh, the 88th piano key, left over birthday cake, and the mystery of God, only to name a few.
There are so many great things in life. On the contrary, there is also a lot of bad. And let me tell you, I have dealt with quite a bit. The sad thing is, I let it all control me. So, anyway, let me finish my story. Where should I even start? Let’s see…
I was a happy, creative, thriving child till I reached the age when I could understand that my mommy and daddy weren’t all that happy like I had thought. And sadly, my father did eventually leave her and the house. I was all of thirteen. I will never forget that day. He sat my sister and I down at the kitchen table and told us he would be leaving. After he left, my mom admitted to the horrible things he had done during their marriage—alcohol, drugs, cheating, and so much more. Learning the truth about him was the most painful experience that I ever had to go through. It was then, that I started to cocoon myself. I built a solid wall around me to always be safe.
Every little girl wants to believe that the daddy who swings you around by the arms in your front yard is an honorable, trustworthy, wholesome father. My daddy had turned out to be quite the opposite. After he left the house, his attempts to maintain any form of relationship were futile. There was too much blame, hate, and pain. I shut him out completely. Eventually, he stopped trying to keep up the relationship and moved to Florida. He let go and so did I. Many years went by with absolutely no contact, until one day, he called. We had a quick ten-minute conversation. I felt like I was talking to a stranger. I was still carrying the hate and blame after all those years.
This went on for years. He would call me about once every two years, and we’d have a short conversation. He’d never offer to visit me or my son. But every time without fail, he would tell me he loved me and then quickly hang up.
One time, I hadn’t heard from him in over seven years. So much time had passed I had forgotten about my father. And one day out of the blue, he made his routine phone call. I told him I didn’t believe he cared. I heard him cry that day, trying to convince me otherwise.
As a young adult, I was a mess. I had daddy issues. Inside, I was a big ball of confusion. Even the people who were drawn to me, I pushed away. I made many stupid decisions. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties when I finally started to stand on my own two feet with any confidence. I started living my life with acceptance and truth. It was then, my wall finally started to come down, piece by piece.
Around this time, I graduated from Georgia State University with a B.A. in Studio Art specializing in Graphic Design. For years, my dream had been to become a great graphic designer and have my own studio. Straight out of college, I moved back to NC for my first job as a graphic designer. That’s when I met Ben. Ben had just graduated from Wake Forest University. We actually met at a gym. It surprises me now that I think about it, because Ben has always been an avid smoker. He has cut down to roughly two or three a day though versus a pack a day, which is good. Ben is a type “A” personality. No doubt. When we were first acquainted, he would walk right up to me and ask me out. Ha!….I turned him down the first few times. I thought he was too brash. He chased me around the indoor track every week, asking me out. He pleaded with me to go out with him for dinner and drinks. Finally, I conceded. We went to dinner that night and the rest, as they say, is history. He was charming, smart, and confident. He had that bold personality and the confidence I craved. He would drive through the snow, wind, and rain to come visit me back then. Nothing could stop him. He showed up at my doorstep wearing cowboy boots with ripped khaki pants, his dark hair tousled, and his eyes intense. He was the first love of my life. He broke down the remaining bits of the walls I had created; he was the only one who knew how.
We married, and soon, I became pregnant. However, I had a miscarriage, it was our first baby girl. That was a sad time in our life, and it almost felt like we swept it under the rug, desperately trying to have another child in order to ease the pain of losing the first. I think Ben struggled with the loss of our child more than I did, actually. But he would never admit it. Not too soon after, we had Leo and all our focus was drawn to him.
When Leo was born, things were pretty good between us. We seemed to be the happiest family in the world. We had just enough to be to joyful and not too much that we’d be ungrateful. I worked as a graphic designer until Ben was thirty years old. After he came into his inheritance, I decided to give up my career and become a stay-at-home mom. I shifted all my time and efforts into raising our son and creating a happy home for us. My world slowly revolved around him and only him. Over the years, everything started to collapse. I truly gave all I could to make Ben happy, hoping he would see it is his family that means the most. I put every meal on the table, I kept the house spick and span, I enrolled Leo in the best private school in our area, I volunteered for his school events, I took Leo to all his extracurricular activities and sports, and I helped at local charity events in our town and our church. I gave and only gave.
But, Ben started to change. Over the course of many years he grew belligerent, crass, careless, and cold. Our marriage grew sour, and we both continued to walk on a path leading to nothing but emptiness. Arguments would surface and resurface, the same cycle of bitterness continuing. I have cried so much in the recent years that I have no more tears left. But now, I do have one good thing left, and that’s our son. My son is my refuge, my haven, my sanctuary, my shelter and my reason for getting out of bed every day.
Ben’s relationship with Leo had gown distant years ago. He was solely responsible for shutting it down. His only focus was his brokerage firm and himself. He did not attend school events. He stopped engaging in his social life or meeting his friends. He stopped teaching him. He just stopped caring.
Ben held all the power in our relationship. He was the ruler of our household. He made me feel, every day, like I had nothing to contribute.
You think that’s bad, do you? It gets worse.
As the years went by, things took its toll and I began to spiral downwards. I lived in a very dark place for years. My world was mundane, hard, and cruel. What I saw in the mirror was a worthless and stupid mother who had nothing to give. I went through life on auto pilot, raising my son and taking care of the house, with an emptiness inside, like a hollowed-out tree.
Sometimes, I even dreamed of dying. I wanted to die. This is around the time when I had that esoteric dream—of the white bird.
You probably are wondering why I just didn’t leave Ben. Easier said than done. But I’ll tell you why. Because hidden behind all of my unhappiness, and all of my shame, I held onto a tiny sliver of hope that things would change.
But they haven’t.
And my hope is lost somewhere in the crevices between all my unanswered prayers.
And so today, here I am. A forty-five-year-old mom with no job; a woman with no association with her father; and with a son who has lost the connection with his own father. Where did I go so wrong?
But tomorrow, you see, will be a different day. Tomorrow, a new woman will emerge from this worthless girl, with nothing but a high-pitched annoying voice and blonde hair. Tomorrow, I shall call a divorce attorney. And I will start over. I have already managed to get a job as an account specialist at a small company. And I have already put down the rental deposit on a small townhome over near Leo’s high school. I managed to save a little money when my mother passed away, and I will start a new life without Ben and without his financial support.
This is my last day in this life; I will say goodbye to the life I quietly suffocated in for so long. This will be my last day.
It’s time. Oh, It’s been time for years. I am done. My decision is irrevocable. And I am leaving all of the negative behind.
May 10, 2017
It’s 6:45 pm and I am sitting on the front porch of my new yellow townhome. My son is playing the guitar sitting beside of me, while I enjoy the last rays of sunshine in the day.
“What are you playing, Leo?” I ask him.
He tosses back his sandy blonde hair and smiles his unusual quirky smile. He had become awfully quiet over the years. I look into his twinkling brown eyes and wonder what he is thinking.
“Leo, we can talk about anything you need to, honey. You know that right? I know it is hard moving into this new house and not living in the same house as your father anymore. But you will still see him often.”
He doesn’t respond. He just keeps playing.
Leo has always made me proud. He takes everything in stride. Leo is a quiet, loving, sensitive, and brilliant child. He was never much into sports like his father had hoped, but he was intelligent, did well in school, and he is the kind of kid who doesn’t study and even then makes straight A’s. He claims to have a girlfriend, Becca, but I don’t really know if she is even real. We have never met her.
He may be the valedictorian for his high-school graduation. We will know once the final grades are out. Graduation is right around the corner and I am surprised Ben hasn’t called to check the status with his grades or to see whether any of his college acceptances have arrived. So far, he has applied to Duke, Chapel Hill, NC State, and Clemson.
The truth is, I haven’t heard a word from Ben in weeks. He hasn’t contacted me regarding visitations with Leo or anything. I don’t even know if he will attend Leo’s graduation that’s in a matter of weeks. If he doesn’t show, I know Leo will be crushed.
I wasn’t surprised when he moved the funds out from our joint bank accounts leaving me with nothing. It was exactly the kind of thing I expected of him.
I guess I will have just to wait until the divorce is finalized before we reach any sort of settlement.
I watch the sun break into hues of gold, yellow, and orange across the sky.
As I look at my son’s face, I realize he, too, will grow up hating his father just like I did. The irony that kills me is, exactly what I had wanted to avoid has in fact played out in my son’s life too.
A strange wind picks up in the air; it blows through my hair and ruffles my sundress.
I hear a knock on the wall of my porch. It is connected to the townhome next to ours.
A man appears from the other side of the wall.
“Oh hello,” he says.
“Hey,” I answer without much enthusiasm.
“Look, hey, um, I live next door, so I thought I’d just come over and introduce myself. My name is Dave.” He walks up and shakes my hand awkwardly, holding on to the tip of my pinky.
“Raines,” I reply curtly. I am in no mood to socialize at this moment, but I oblige.
He peeps over at Leo and says, “Hey nice guitar. I have a couple of vintage guitars at my place. You should come over some time and check them out. They are worth about thirteen thousand a piece.”
Leo raises his brow while strumming his guitar, but he doesn’t seem too amused. His father has bought him many guitars over the years.
“Yeah, cool.” Leo’s indifference is clearly reflected.
“Hey, um, Raines, when did you move in?” Dave asks trying to keep up the conversation.
“My son and I moved in about two weeks ago. I really feel terrible about not having met anyone yet, I have been . . .”
“Ok, follow me,” he cuts me short, “I will take you for a quick walk on the block and show you around a little bit.”
“Um, sure . . .” Oh Great. I feel stuck in a request rather than a question.
We walk to the edge of the driveway and stop in front of an old, beat-up, red car. I feel a churning in my stomach. Ugh, nausea.
I look back at my little townhome from the edge of the street and then scan all the identical multi-level units, row after row, winding down the street like dominos. I went from living in a very distinguished home to this? I fix my gaze on the concrete path, trying to brush off my pride.
I look up at Dave. He is wearing a dark-blue polo and khakis that sit just below his waist. He has dark wavy hair and tanned skin. He looks a little bit too snazzy and dignified to be living in a place like this. But there is something I don’t like about him. I don’t like the way he chews his gum. He is chewing it like some sort of privileged asshole.
“Ok, so I will start the tour. You met me, of course. I live to your right. And on the left, is um . . . uh . . . kinda . . . well he is kinda a loser. His name is Paul—or something like that,” he lowers his voice like somebody can hear. “He doesn’t even come out of his house all that much, so it’s hard to introduce him. Anyway, he won’t bother you. He is some young loser that lives with his girlfriend—I think. It’s sad. I think he moved here from out west. His parents died in a car wreck when he was just a baby. He grew up with his aunt, I think, who from what I heard, is in jail.
“But anyway, moving on.” He smacks on his gum.
We walk further down the street, and he looks over and waves to an elderly lady in a corner unit. “That’s Fiona. She is a widowed retiree.”
She waves back, smiling from ear to ear. She is wearing bright fuschia lipstick and a yellow polka-dot dress.
“Oh, that’s nice,” I reply, attempting to cover my annoyance. I tried to fake some enthusiasm.
We keep walking further and he says, “Yeah, I sold her that particular unit years ago.”
“Yeah, I am the builder of this complex. I live here for some parts of the year, and I travel back and forth from my two other homes on the coast. I just come back here so I can check on things.”
“Yeah . . . I made about three million on this land deal here. They all sold pretty quickly, and now, half of them are rentals.” He is quite boastful.
My nostrils flare as I realize that he throws a dollar amount on everything he talks about. I watch him smack down on his blue bubble gum, getting louder.
“Follow me, I want to show you the community center,” he speeds up to a brisk walk with me following behind.
“Dave! Dave! Dave!”
I turn around to a tall skinny pencil-thin man running down the hill towards us, yelling his name.
“Dave, my air condition broke down yesterday, and I need some help!” He runs up to us huffing.
“Raines, this is Leonard. He lives directly across the street from you,” Dave says.
Leonard is dripping with sweat, “Nice to meet you, Raines. Dave, man, I really need your help. I just bought a sweet new car last week. And it’s red—oh yeah, sorry Miss, I think I parked in front of your driveway—and anyway . . . anyway, I am taking my girlfriend out to dinner tonight and ...”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, Leonard. Don’t worry. I will call my guys and have them replace the air conditioning first thing in the morning,” Dave tries to sound sophisticated, a little too hard.
Leonard looks me straight in the face.
“So why was all that toilet paper in your yard last week? Did you get rolled?” he busts out laughing.
“Oh yeah, we did! Sorry! That was a first! I think some of my son’s high school friends did it as a prank, I guess!” I laugh remembering the dreadful sight all over my new yellow townhome.
“That’s pretty funny,” Dave laughs along with Leonard.
I look up to find the sky getting dark. I remember Leo and I have yet to eat dinner. All I know is that I am just about ready to end this little meet and greet with smelly Leonard and this cheeseball neighbor. “Ok, well it’s getting late and—”
“Yeah, but I am just going to show you the community center real quick—” Dave interjects.
I flare my nostrils again.
We walk further down the hill and walk into an area in the middle of the houses and around the edge of the community’s front office building, which I have already seen many times at this point.
“Ok, so this is “THE” community center. It has internet access and everything. I had this built first, before all the townhomes, and the pool cost me about seven grand, because some of my guys messed up the blueprints.” Another smack on his gum.
I look around the back of the building and over the top of the teensy one-foot high bushes that surround a pool about the size of a large bathtub. Blue trash bins full of beer cans are kept on either side of the pool, and there is a very large tattooed woman, lying in a very tight bikini, on a broken blue chair, next to the pool.
My heart sinks to the bottom of my feet, maybe lower. God, I miss my home.
Dave gives a half smirk and says, “Listen, um, you want to, goooo, get some dinner with me sometime?”
He blows a bubble with his gum and ogles at me, pinches my butt, and whispers, “—and it will be an expensive dinner.”
I can’t stand another minute of this. “Dave, I can’t tell you how happy I am to meet you and to be living amongst such diverse people, in this obnoxious yellow complex with that community center over there, with an amazing privilege of a computer that we can use— and by the way—the internet doesn’t work. I tried using it last week.” I roll my eyes. “And I’ll add, I am thrilled to pieces that you built a thin little common wall separating me from my neighbor even though I can still see what my they are eating for dinner through the kitchen window—but look—I just recently separated from an asshole, and I am in no mood to get involved with another one. And I am hungry. So, I will be going now.”
I turn and storm up the hill, humming a tune.
A billowing voice pierces through the air, “Raines, darling!”
I find that women, Fiona, calling my name from her porch.
I walk over to her front step. “Raines, darling, why are you scurrying away from Dave so fast?”
What a nosy old woman.
I inch in a little bit closer, in a full mind to continue my rant, “Because listen, I am going through a divorce right now, and I don’t need..”
“Oh, Raines, darling, come over here and sit down by my side, will you please? Here, have a drink.”
She is drinking Chardonnay, and to be honest, it does look quite refreshing.
“Ok, just for a minute. I need to get dinner going soon. But I will have one glass of wine.”
“What a cute patio!” I notice as I sit back on a red Adirondack chair opposite two large whicker sectionals with navy cushions and a navy sailor rug underneath. There are two large fern pots hanging over the porch, with pink and red pansies that line the walls.
Fiona comes outside with a glass of wine in her hand and places it on the glass table in front of us. She has an eccentric look. She is dressed up in what could almost be an Easter dress. And that bright pink lipstick.
I take a sip of the wine.
“So Raines, darling, I don’t mean to pry in your business, but when did you separate from your husband?”
I released an exasperated sigh, wondering if this woman has nothing better to do but dig into other people’s business. “I left the house a few weeks ago. I moved out. I was unhappy for years. Well, we just weren’t happy together anymore. He became impossible to deal with. He just . . . he just didn’t care anymore.”
“Oh, I see,” she has this far-away look in her eye.
“Can I use your restroom?” I quietly ask.
“Yes, darling. Right through that door on the right,” she points.
“Thanks, I will be right back,” I run to the restroom just to take a few deep breaths. I don’t really have to use it, I just needed to get away for a split second. I do this sometimes.
Her restroom is colored a tacky green with red curtains. There are wooden boards on the walls with pictures of flowers. At least there is a homely feeling to it. I will give it that. I relax my shoulders and look up in the mirror. A lonely, mid-forties, ex-housewife, with a crappy job. I turn slightly to the left and then right, examining my face. I must have lost some 20 lbs through this whole ordeal. It is showing.
I sit down on the toilet and bury my face in my hands. The cold surface of my wedding band brushes against my face. Without thinking twice, I slip it off my finger with disgust and hold it in the palm of my hand. I look back up into the mirror. I can see the white indention around my finger. I stand up and throw it down this nosy woman’s sink.
I start thinking of a good excuse to leave as I walk back out to the patio and sit down to sip her cheap wine.
“This wine tastes so good. Back to our conversation, you see I . . . just . . . I have a lot on my mind. I start a new job tomorrow, and I am scared to death! You see, I am trying to support myself now, Fiona, and to be honest, it’s really tough. I lived under his financial wings for years. I was a stay-at-home Mom.”
“Oh, Raines, darling, I know this must be a tough time for you right now.” She looks at me sympathetically.
I look at her perfectly fixed reddish-brown hair and watch the way she purses her lips when she says “Darling.” She is as southern as it gets, and her girlish feminine demeanor makes me chuckle a little bit.
“Yes, it is hard for me right now. He doesn’t care. He hasn’t contacted me since I moved out. He hasn’t even called to see our son, Leo. I have to put my big girl pants on and focus on supporting the two of us. I have to pay rent, the bills! I haven’t done that in years!”
“Is there any chance you could’ve worked it out?”
“No,” I shake my head.
“Why darling? I was married for over fifty years before Charles died. I almost left him a million times, but I never actually did. I stayed with him through . . .”
“No—” I interrupt, “it’s not that. You see, he changed. Our love grew cold, and he treated me like I was worthless,” I admit to her. I take another sip of my wine and place my arms down on my lap. I look over at her intently and say, “I am done.”
“You’re not done, darling. You’re just at a breaking point,” she says.
I look into her blue eyes wondering why this crazy lady is even talking to me in the first place. And about this too.
“You know why I am dressed up today?” she asks. “This was Charles’ favorite dress. He always told me that when I wore it. And today, I went to visit his grave. I only go to his grave on his birthday. I go so I can remember him and talk to him and tell him that I will see him soon,” she puts her glass down on the table and stares distantly into space.
“You see, nothing is ever done. And I know it’s hard, because I was married for over fifty years. Life had become extremely hard in our forties and fifties, and we were not on the same page for years,” she reminisces.
“How so?” I ask.
“It’s a strange world we live in darling. We are all in a big melting pot with the good, the bad, and everything in between. Life is hard in your forties, you know, after kids. And sometimes, life becomes mundane and repetitive, and you feel like you’re stuck in the same old dream, living it every day. You notice all your partner’s faults, you blame the other for your shortcomings. I know . . . I know—I went through the same thing.”
I brush a mosquito off my arm.
“What’s his name, darling?”
“Who?” I am confused for a moment.
“Your husband, of course. What’s his name?” she asks again.
“Darling, it sounds like Ben is just on a slightly different path. And he is lost. Sounds to me like he is fighting his own demons. And everyone is to some degree, but some people are just able to hide it a little bit better. It is a true challenge, but if you can love someone even when they are lost, now that’s love. But it’s quite the challenge.”
“Maybe.” I look at my glass of wine ignoring her even more.
I finish the last sip of wine and politely excuse myself from our little chat. “Ok, Fiona, it was nice talking with you. Thank you so much for your advice, but I really need to get home now, get dinner ready,” I speak as I march down the steps of her porch.
“Can we exchange numbers real quick?’
Her question irritates me but I still manage to look back at her mannerly.
“It’s always good to have your neighbor’s number, just in case of anything, you know?” she proposes in that irksome tone of voice.
“Right, yes!” I grab her phone and mash my in number and turn back around. I’ve got just one sliver of an ounce left of niceness in me before I snap.
“Bye!” I yell.
“Bye, darling! Just remember it’s forgiveness that keeps the fire burning!” Her southern twang pierces my ear again air as I zip to my yard.
“I can’t forgive someone who isn’t sorry!” I hollar back.
I saunter into the house to see Leo and a half-eaten pizza lying on the counter. Thankfully, he is diligently working on a school paper next to his pizza box.
I can see upstairs and into his bedroom from the bottom from steps, as I start to climb each one. The room is a total mess. The bed isn’t made. Clothes and towels lay all over the floor. Ugh.
I stride into my bathroom and brush my teeth replaying my conversation with Fiona in my head. I look in the mirror and start to mouth the word “Darling.” Within five seconds, I break into a laugh and my pale blue toothpaste splats all over the mirror.
I turn off the water and just as I am about to spread eagle into my bed, out of the corner of my eye, I see an outline of what appears to be a face mashed up against my bedroom window.
I jerk backwards slowly turning to look.
But nobody is there. Nothing.
I prowl up to the window. I see nothing but a dull old townhome window that looks out over top of a teeny yard surrounded by a bunch of dented cars. Nice.
Wow, I must really be tired. I need some sleep! It was probably just a shadow of a tree on the glass, anyway.
I peel down the covers and slide in peering back over to that window one more time. Only a shadow—I tell myself again.
I am so exhausted and my eyelids are heavy. I shut them. I hear those cars whizzing down the street as my world slows and the sounds fade into a soft muzzle. I fall asleep within seconds.
…..The air is perfect. The sky is a calming lavender shade. I am standing in front of a perfectly clear ocean. My emotions are stirred. I am alone. Sand between my toes. The air. The sounds. The waves—swooooosh . . . I walk to the very edge of the ocean. The water is knee deep, and I can see the ocean floor. A starfish—a clam—a shell. Happiness. Beauty. Everything has its purpose. I look up. The sun begins to disappear. Why? Why? Fear. Alone. Neediness. I need to know why. Please. The answer stands far away. I look to where the sky meets the ocean. The horizon. That depth . . . mystery? I know I can never touch it. I will never be able to reach it. I know that all of God’s purpose can’t exist without the sun. I want the sun back so bad. The water rises, submerging my feet. It rises up to my chest. I Panic. Helplessness. I only have hope left now. Only hope. That’s all I have. I can’t breathe. I hope . . . and hope….and hope….
May 11, 2017
I wake up to tiny birds chirping outside my window and sit up in my bed, breathing to a fast rhythm. My dreams are so vivid these days. I can see the birds sitting there right below the bottom window pane. These aren’t the same birds that would chirp outside my old window every morning. They are smaller and their chirps are louder. It’s just not the same anymore. I rub my eyes. I miss my home more and more every day. I hobble downstairs, make a cup of coffee, and go sit on the front porch, which is about the only place I feel at peace in this new home. Ugghhh. Unfortunately, I only have about ten minutes to sit on this porch until I need to start getting dressed for my new job. Today is the day. My first day on the job, and I need to hurry, so I get there early so I can look professional. Early, for sure.
A harsh reality slaps me across the face. I haven’t worked in years, and I literally have zero professional skills. I have been nothing but a stay-at-home mom, since I was thirty years old. And I really need this job now. I am going to have to pull this off somehow, in some way.
I go upstairs and pull on a black pencil skirt and the most professional-looking blouse I can find. I slip my heels on, draw up my hair in a bun, brush on some pink blush on my cheekbones and whoosh out the door.
Luckily, the office is not far from my house. I am there in like two seconds flat. I walk up to receptionist’s desk, and she leads me through a big glass door to a huge room with many cubicles. Whoa. I am so scared, I could pee in my pants.
“This is your desk. Sit here. And the HR manager will be with you shortly,” she says in a confident monotonous note.
This, of course, turns out to be the worst seat in the house. I have no privacy and to my utter dismay, I face the bathrooms. I arrange my stuff across my desk and sit down on a big black fake leather chair, staring at a blank computer screen.
A voice pipes up behind me, almost muttering, “Ok Raines, I am Mr. Fluffle, the HR Director.”
The toilets are flushing wildly.
“Um, ok,” I manage to say. I swivel and turn my neck all the way around to face him.
“You take just a few minutes to get situated at your desk and then come into the second office on the left, just down the hallway. That is my office. I will give you a quick tour of the office, and we will be conducting a quick new-recruit orientation,” he clamors.
I straighten up my shoulders, turning my head around backwards to look at him from an extremely odd position again. “Ok, no problem,” I try to sound enthusiastic. He walks away without another word.
I pull open the bottom drawer of my desk, flipping through fifty puke-green-colored empty folders. Next, I open the middle drawer, and it’s a giant pool of paper clips. There are thousands! Seriously, why would a person need this many paper clips? I slide open the top drawer; a bunch of yellow notebook pads and pens are scattered around, and on top, lies stack of Mr. Fluffle’s business cards. I shut it quickly and open the paper clip drawer again digging my hand into the middle.
“You’re going to need those,” a voice snorts from the cubicle beside mine.
There’s a middle-aged lady with a plain view of my entire desk. She is staring me down like an FBI agent inspecting a lineup of criminals. I try to hold back a chuckle. Her big black bouffant and long-sleeved striped shirt from the 80s is killing me.
She gives me an eagle eye for a few more seconds and then turns back to her computer screen.
I fluff up my blouse and walk down the hall into Mr. Fluffle’s office.
“First of all, welcome to Green Enterprises. I know that you are going to just love working here. We may be small, but we are growing. Look, I have been here for over ten years, and I can tell you we are about to go full speed ahead with an explosive growth in this company. So hold on to your britches. We have doughnuts every Friday in the break room, and we have casual Fridays once a month, so you can wear jeans on those days. Doughnuts are my favorite,” he chuckles.
“I even have doughnuts as my screen saver, look,” he points to his computer, laughing. His laugh is quite ridiculous.
My nostrils flare a little bit. Ooh, the excitement is just too much to bear. I almost roll my eyes. “Well, that sounds great. I am so eager to start this new job. Do you know who I will be training with today?” I ask.
“We will get to that in a minute, but first, I want to walk you around your department, so you can meet the ladies you will be working with,” he says in a loud voice.
What I want to say is “thanks, but no thanks” and walk out the door, but I know I can’t. I’m desperate. I really need this job. This is only job I could find with my lack of experience, and knowing Ben, he will devour me in the divorce. He will make sure I get next to nothing in the settlement. This is all I have to support me through this time.
I drag myself off the chair and follow Mr. Fluffle to the office cubicles next to mine.
Two of the ladies are standing close to each other, whispering. We walk up to their cubicle; the whispers cease. The look on their faces seem to say, “We’ve already pissed on this territory, and we are gonna take you down.”
“This is Suzie Valentino, and this is Heather Bumblehand. And these are the two ladies you will be working with. They are Account Specialists I and II on your team. Heather Bumblehand is the Senior Account Specialist, and she has been here about six years. Isn’t that right Heather?” he asks.
She nods. She has a creepy powerful look in her eyes.
The other woman, Suzie, the one with the bouffant and striped shirt asks, “Where did you work before this, Raines?”
“Um, yeah, well, I, uh . . . I have been a stay-at-home mom for over twelve years now. But um, I used to be a graphic designer and . . .”
“Oh ok,” she replies, not bothering to let me finish. Her eyes are wide open like she is about to enter a war zone. The tiniest morsel of confidence shrivels within me. My shoulders seem to slump lower.
“Ok, well, Heather and Suzie will be training you, so I will leave you guys here then and get out of your way. I have a pile of paperwork on my desk and not enough hours in the day,” Mr. Fluffle laughs, pulling up his trousers and walking back to his office.
“Ok, Raines, meet me at my desk in about five minutes. Bring a pen and paper,” Suzie commands.
She looks at me like she is about to whip out a sword from her hip, “Oh yeah and bring a bunch of paperclips.”
“Ok sure,” I think about how badly I need this job.
I take a second to catch my breath and look into my compact mirror to check my makeup. I take a deep breath, knowing this is job is the exact opposite of what I would have picked had I any choice in the matter. But not a single graphic design company called me back for an interview. They all want up-to-date experience with skills and degrees in the latest technology. I didn’t stand a chance. I was up against candidates with more than twenty-something years of experience over mine.
I look at the gray walls and then down at the gray carpet. There is a certain staleness in the air that inhibits your natural instincts. Why is everything in this office gray? I watch the employees walk past my desk. The same staleness reflects in their faces. It’s in the way they walk and even in the way they talk. I scan the hallway and watch all the employees working diligently on their computers. There is almost a robotic quality in them. I guess this is corporate America. Sit at your desk, don’t say anything, and definitely do not say what you really think. Just work, sit quietly, and comply with your boss’s demands until it’s time to leave. How depressing.
Mr. Fluffle walks up to my desk and hands me my login credentials on a small piece of paper.
Login ID: RainesLawrence1
I put on my most charming expression, “Thank you, Mr. Fluffle.” I log into my computer and dive straight into a spreadsheet that Heather Bumblehand emailed me—“how to start keying invoices.”
My stomach grumbles. I am hungry.
I scoot out of my chair and walk down the halls into the break room, also gray. I walk around the gray table and chairs to the snack machine. I hunt out some loose change from the bottom of my purse.
In walks a sophisticated lady wearing a black top, gray pants and a pink cardigan. I look at the gold necklace hanging perfectly around her neck.
“Hello, are you the new account specialist?” she inquires.
“Yes, my name is Raines—”
“Well, I’m Linda Horne,” she interrupts discarding my words.
“Ok nice to—” I slouch.
“I am the Director of Operations, soon to be Office Manager as well. They are combining the roles, and we are so glad to have you here,” she interrupts again raising her voice slightly.
“Oh and see that coffee machine over there. If you ever see that the pot is empty, please go ahead and make another pot for the whole building. Ok?”
She has a composure of steel. But there is a malicious glint in her eyes, and a real insincerity that I can’t explain. It’s like she isn’t talking to me, she’s talking down to me.
Another lady walks in, dressed in a similar outfit, with similar mannerisms. They flock together like two birds watching the rotating food thaw in the microwave. I watch them roll their eyes, laughing over something. Their words become whispers.
I turn around and hit the Pop Tart button on the machine and grab it from the bottom tray.
“Ok, nice to meet you,” I quickly exit, feeling as important as a speck of dust.
I walk back towards my workstation and see that Mr. Fluffle and another snazzy-looking fellow are walking towards me.
“Hello there, Raines,” Mr. Fluffle turns up the corners of his mouth—I think it was meant to be a smile—then flattens them.
“Hi,” I whisper in a sickly unconfident mousy voice.
“Hey, Raines. This is Cliff Yarborough, our Marketing Director. He has been here over eleven years. Isn’t that right, Cliff?”
“Bingo. And whom do I have the pleasure of meeting this morning. What is Raines’ title?” he asks with a quirky grin.
“Oh . . . oh . . . yeah Cliff, this is Raines Lawrence, our new Junior Account Specialist.”
The words “Junior Account Specialist” ring through every corner of my mind. I didn’t even know I was that low on the totem pole. Ugh.
“Nice to meet you!” I turn to Cliff, biting my top lip, and flash him a smile.
Mr. Fluffle scurries off down the hall, but Cliff maneuvers around kind of propping himself against the wall a bit.
“So how long have you worked here? How you liking it?” he inquires.
I peel the wrapper top off my Pop Tart. I wish I could say what I really felt. This place is boring and everything is gray and stale. I want to quit but I can’t.
I plaster a fake grin across my mouth,“ Not long, maybe a week or two. I like it, yeah, I like, I really do.”
That sounded fake, I bet. I wonder if he noticed. I look down at my Pop Part. I can’t wait any longer, so I bite off a delicious corner.
“Well that’s good to hear,” he says in a slow soothing voice.
I roll my tongue around in the tasty strawberry gel looking up at his face.
His mouth starts to twitch.
“Do you—do you—do you—do you . . .” he begins stuttering.
Another lady wearing dark glasses and a gray dress passes me by without making any eye contact. She floats down the hall like a ghost and into the break room.
“Um,” I try to walk past to get back to my cubicle.
“Do you want to go to lunch sometime?” he asks like a cheesy slime ball shining under the bright lights in a smelly bar at 2:00 a.m.
I chew some more on my Pop Tart.
“Tomorrow, ok? How about 12:30 p.m. I will meet you at your cubicle. I like your shirt. Nice color!” he raises his eyebrows, and, for some reason, they don’t come back down.
“Um, I’ll have to see how busy I am. I have a lot of work to do.”
I take a very sharp turn and walk back to my desk slumping down in my seat wondering if that was a professional type of lunch invitation or was he asking me out?
Within two seconds, a voice booms into the back of my head, “You saved your spreadsheet in the CSV file format, and I can’t get into the file!!!”
I swivel around. It’s Heather Bumblebee, I mean, Humblehand, uh, I mean, Bumblehand. Geez, I don’t remember all these names! Her sharp and sarcastic tone pricks my ears like a thorn.
“You need to save it as an XLS file,” she snaps.
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“I will be right back, I have to change the toner in the printer. Can you please fix the file?” she walks away rolling her eyes at me.
Quickly, I re-save the file, checking the data on the spreadsheet. Oh God, I can’t make a mistake. I start cross-checking all the invoices spread across my desk.
Hours go by.
There is not a peep in the office. Everything is quiet as a mouse. I can even hear myself swallow. Geez. This is almost like taking a Benadryl and watching the paint dry. I look back up at the gray wall beside me and imagine a huge empty canvas with abstract colors and shapes. I draw an outline of Leo’s face in the center. I think of Leo and how this job will help us pay the rent. I focus on the invisible painting as hard as I can, and then I scrounge up a pen, paper, and a handful of paper clips and walk over to my co-worker’s desk. I smile. I can’t mess this up. I need this job.
More hours goes by.
It’s one minute before five, I am out the door, in my car, and heading for the grocery store as fast as possible. And I am exhausted again. Who would have known that sitting behind a desk all day was so tiring! I can’t even keep my eyes open.
A succession of short rings chime from inside my purse.
I pick it up without looking, “Hello?”
“Hello, darling, it’s Fiona.”
“Yes,” I snap.
“Hello, I don’t want to bother you darling, but I saw someone standing on your front porch earlier and he looked rather strange.”
“Okay, well it was probably my son Leo or —someone else—I don’t know, a solicitor, maybe.” I suggest.
“Well, darling, I don’t think so, he was scoping something out, I think. He was looking into all of your windows too.”
I flip it over. Why do I always lose a signal in this same spot?! I will just have to remember to call her back in a bit. I’m sure it’s just one of Leo’s friends. I have got to get some groceries! We have nothing left in the refrigerator, as always.
I whip into the grocery store and roll my cart to the meat section. I pick out a few good rib eyes, roll to the veggies section for potatoes, and then down to aisle 2—into the baking aisle? Oh no. I meant to go down aisle 3—diapers . . . Oh no, I meant aisle 4. I finally find the cereals. Why are there so many damn cereals? Leo likes Captain Crunch. I dump it in the cart. Just as I turn the corner, I see doughnuts. My stomach turns. Ahhhhhh. I think of Mr. Fluffle. I will never eat a doughnut again.
Finally, I walk up to the counter, and just as I reach the cash counter, a lady shouts out to me, “Well, hey Raines!”
I jerk around. It’s Blake Tindall. She lived down the street from us. Super nosy. And a big mouth.
“Hey, Blake. How are you? What are you doing here?” I try to make my smile look as genuine as possible.
“Great, Raines, I was just running errands on this side of town and popped in to get some stamps. How are you?” she asks.
“I’m fine, just busy, busy, busy. You know, the usual,” I pop out the only words I can think of.
“Ok, ok. Well, now I heard that you moved out, and I am shocked to hear that. We will certainly miss seeing you in the neighborhood, Raines,” she shakes her head.
“Yes, I did. I moved out.”
“Where are you living now?”
“And Ben, now, how is he? Is he still working all the time? Is he seeing Leo often?” her prying questions are starting make my blood pressure go up.
“Yeah, he does. Yes. I mean, yeah, he is working and all but he picks up Leo every other week,” I lie through my teeth.
I try to wave off heat that starts to rise through my body by fanning my face with a magazine from a rack next to me.
I start to rummage through my purse. I need out from this conversation before it gets any more embarrassing. I know she is going to run off, gossiping about everything I say with the entire neighborhood. I don’t want to be the wife that got dumped on. I refuse to be that woman.
“Well, we need to get together soon—” Blake keeps talking, but I zone out and focus on her flawless skin. Woah. How does she not even have a single wrinkle? I bet her husband compliments her skin all the time. I need to get on a new facial care regimen. Or maybe, I could try something different with my hair. I can even bleach my teeth. Maybe, I can try to squeeze in to the mall for a bit tomorrow. Oh wait, I forgot. I don’t have money anymore . . .”
“Raines? Raines?” she is curiously peering at my face.
“Oh yeah. Uh, sorry. Um, I zoned out for second. So sorry! I am so tired today, I apologize,” I say laughing.
“Ok, well, it was good seeing you, let’s get together soon, ok?” she says as she darts up to the Customer Service Desk.
I pile all my items on the belt and the guy working behind the counter smiles at me. He has two missing teeth.
“Your total is $121.67. You saved $21 dollars today,” he breathes out through his teeth.
I hate when they say that. You saved $21 dollars today, whatever, I am about to spend $121.67 and that’s all you need to say through those two stupid missing teeth. Well, okay, maybe I don’t feel so bad about myself. I don’t have much money anymore, but at least I have all my teeth. I dig into my purse for my wallet and some coupons.
“Here, take these coupons. These should work,” I hand them to the guy. “These days sure are different. I clip coupons. Massive budget cuts!”
He smiles again, unabashed that his teeth are gone. I wish I could be like that.
“These coupons don’t work,” he hands them back to me after scanning them twice.
“What?!” I raise my voice, my eyes widening.
“What!!!????” I scream again a little louder.
I let out a heavy sigh and look around the grocery store only to find Blake Tindall eyeing me from the Customer Service Desk.
I feel my cheek burning as I fidget around in my purse, pretending like I am looking for something. I look inside my wallet and look at Ben’s old blue credit card. No, I am not going to do it. I will make it on my own if it kills me. His money is what held me back from leaving for so long.
I look at my cell phone. It’s 6:00 p.m.
“Ma’am stick your card in the machine and hold it there, please,” he instructs. His face is frustrated and I can almost feel the wind coming from his teeth as he speaks.
“Yes, yes, sorry.”
I look at the long line behind me and draw out my debit card and stick it in. Oh God. This hurts—my account only has a few hundred dollars. I walk out of the grocery store with my head down.
I toss the groceries in the back seat and race home. I just want to go to bed now.
“Leo, have you eaten yet!” I yell, as I walk into the house.
I put the groceries away and climb up the stairs. Loud music blasts from Leo’s room again. His door is closed. I try to go in, but it’s locked.
He is always playing this loud whiney dramatic music in his room at night.
“Leo! Leo! Do you want me to make you dinner?” I knock a couple of times.
“Nah, I’m good. I ate already!” he yells back.
I hop into my bedroom, flinging my shoes off in the middle of the room. What a day. I think I will just skip dinner. I tear off my clothes throwing them on the bathroom floor and change into my favorite nightgown. I turn out the lights and crawl into bed. I close my eyes, remembering my mother and how I miss all her sweet phone calls, while I slowly drift off . . .
The clouds are blowing down from the sky. Somebody is pushing them down with their hands. I am walking through a maze filled with people. I don’t look at their faces. I notice I am walking with two people I know. They warn me that I need to get out of the maze, because someone is trapped inside the middle. There is a light breeze in the air and it whistles. I ask them who it is, but they won’t tell me. The maze of people turns into perfect green tree hedges, and then into columns of white marble. I run through the maze. A man emerges from the middle. My heart flutters. I am attracted. I am emotionally attached. I can’t speak. I try to, but words do not come out. I am frozen. Suddenly, I start to run. He chases me through the maze. I like that he is chasing me. There are strong feelings between us. I stop and try to speak to him again. But he is no longer there. My heart is broken. I miss him. With my eyes, I fill the white columns with beautiful colors. I carefully paint them all, hoping he will come back and notice. I hope and hope, and I run and run . . . through the maze painting the marble columns red, green, yellow, orange—splashes of colors and designs everywhere. I love them; I keep hoping . . . and hoping that he will see all my colors.
May 12, 2017
“Mom, wake up!”
I open my eyes emerging from a deep sleep. Leo is towering above me.
“Mom, where’s my backpack? Mom, I can’t find it, and I need to go to school, like right now. And don’t you need to start getting ready for work, mom?” Leo’s voice carries through me.
“Uhhh, um, yeah.” I wipe my eyes. “Oh yeah, Leo, your backpack is on top of the washing machine. I saw it in there last night,” I inform him.
I scurry over to my closet in a daze. “What am I going to wear today—” I thought, rolling my eyes back as far as they’d go, “to my awesome new job.” I envision Mr. Fluffle standing at edge of my desk with his stomach hanging over his work trousers itchin’ that little bald spot on the back of his head. And Heather and Suzie are probably standing beside him waiting for me to arrive so they can dump a bunch of papers onto my desk. Uggh.
I throw on the drabbest, ugliest, most boring long-sleeved dress I can find from the depths of my closet. I brush my hair, grab my cell phone, and walk downstairs to make a cup of coffee. I walk out to the front porch with my cell and check my emails, texts, and news in a quick swoop. I just cannot believe Ben hasn’t even picked up the phone and called us.
Just as I put my cell phone back down on my lap, I see a figure of a person standing across the street. It’s a man. He stands perfectly still and stares directly in my path.
A few seconds pass.
The man doesn’t move.
Who is that? How long has he been there?
I stand up veering across the screen porch towards the man but I can barely see his face.
I mash my face into the screen and razor my eyes through the tiny holes. Most of his head is covered in a black hooded sweatshirt and his hands are creepily hanging down beside of his long black pants as he stares directly into my eyes.
I can’t quite make out any of his facial features but it’s definitely not any of the neighbors who live here. Who is that?
“Hello!” I yell anxiously.
A neighborhood landscaping truck drives along the street, carrying a big load of pine straw, and parks right directly in front of my view.
Underneath the middle of the long white truck I can still see his shoes. Boots, actually. They look like big black boots. After a few seconds, I see the sinister boots walk back into the trees behind the yellow townhome and vanish behind a large oak tree.