I had always heard that we often find ourselves when reflected from the eyes of someone we love. It’s there we see if we are true and honest and yes – if we are loved. We had been sweethearts off and on since grade school. I was amazed at how much I chased after this fool in front of me now. His belly too round and bulging over the rolled down waistband of his jeans. I smile thinking about how much he looks like the truck that he loves so much. Engine rough, in need of repair, fenders and wheel wells bulging.

I guess he knew I would come to this meeting alone – I always WAS the predictable one. Lordy, lordy, I wasn’t expecting the 40 year old plasticized woman shoved into Daisy Duke short shorts and a 50’s halter top. Pump up the breasts. Suck out the fat in the gut. But not much you can do about the wrinkles from too many cigarettes and too many days in the sun. Mismatched faces and bodies. Reminded me of Mr. Potato Head. New eyes. New nose. Same old wrinkled potato.

“Here’s the shit you left” he said as he tossed the brown paper bag onto the drugstore table.

“Ah, spared no expense in wrapping it up for me, eh?”

“You’re lucky you got it back. Won’t fit Harmony here. The hips would be much too big.”

I had never noticed that smirk before, but it had surely been there. I could see how the smirk wrinkled his skin and caused the deep furrows around his eyes and across the bridge of his nose.

Oh, yuck. Had he always picked his nose? I watched as he pulled out the blue bandana handkerchief, folds sealed together by hardened boogers – that’s what he called them. At least he wiped his finger on the tiny clean space of the blue cloth rather than the side of his jeans. I felt a wave of nausea overtaking me. Suddenly those cheese fries didn’t seem like such a good idea.

“Don’t be a’callin’ him. He’s a spoke for man.” Ahhh – Frankenstein’s monster spoke.

“Oh, goodness, no. He’s all yours. To the victor go the spoils.” I could hardly contain the smart assed smirk drawing up the corners of my mouth. “I just don’t have a chance with you around.”

I suddenly felt like I was in the front row of an awful Saturday matinee – punishment – just like in Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Bad movies. Bad plot. Horrible dialogue. But funny in a sick sort of way.

The creature woman interlocked her fingers with his. Hers long and drawn from endless nights with too little food and too much Jack Daniels. His short and chubby highlighted with last week’s engine grease. They turned and walked away.

His ass would sag. Yes. It would – most definitely. In a couple of years – his ass muscles would fail and his ass would sag. Old man ass. And he was only 50 years old.

Then came the second wave of nausea. That was ME not too long ago. I walked outside and felt the heat of the noon sun hit my face as I dropped the brown paper bag with my favorite jeans in the trash can.

It was time for a change. Yessirree. A big change.


Death of a Dream

The sickening sweet of smell and taste of paregoric invaded my senses.  It was the only comfort I found in the scene laid out before me.  It was odd that I found comfort in that observation.  It whisked me back to my childhood at a time when my grandmother rubbed this intoxicating brown liquid across my gums to ease the pain of a sore tooth.  Why could I taste it?  I found myself dizzy as I tried to breathe through my nostrils – I had subconsciously started breathing through my mouth.  In a strange way it helped me think about something other than the fallen trees that crossed the street ahead of me.  It was as if I was alone in the universe just for a brief moment.  That familiar licorice smell snapped me back and I began to see my friends and family emerge from the old town hall.  The dazed expressions choked the remaining oxygen out of the smoke-filled haze.

“What will we do now?”  I looked up at the confused face of my beloved aunt as she spoke.  I had no answers and I knew in that moment she didn’t expect one.

Most of the buildings lay in shambles.  The town hall was one of the few brick structures in town and even it was charred.  I saw tiny lines the tears had left on the faces of the people I loved.  Little clean rivers running down faces covered in soot.

We fought the construction as hard as we could.  This place – my home – was one of the few places left where generations lived and cared for one another together in the same house.  We treasured the rich history of our ancestors and respected all they worked for to create this place for the generations that would follow.  To lose it now – in this way – crippled all of us.

I had been elected as the one to talk to an attorney and try to fight the impending highway.  Why wasn’t I here?  The fire started in the middle of the night.  Butch went house to house knocking on doors.  The weather had been so dry the fire was spreading fast.  There was no time to get out.   As fifty people dressed in their pajamas and slippers walked into the street, they were shuffled into the only place that might provide shelter.  The town hall had been built on Mrs. Kramer’s old farm so it set back near the lake.  Sam Bishop had donated brick to ‘make it a nice gathering place’.  The fire roared around the building but luckily it withstood the heat – charred but still standing.  Sam told me they could hear trees falling and unusual popping sounds.  No one screamed.  They just huddled together and prayed.  My heart broke as I listened.

It took a long time for fire engines from surrounding towns to reach the town.  It was easily a thirty minute drive during the best of conditions.  The firefighters worked hard to put out the flames.  By morning, the smoke hung heavy and wet.  The smell was overpowering – the smell of dreams dying and hopes crumbling into dust.   I couldn’t help but wonder what my forefathers thought when they first saw this place – a place green with hope and promise was now charred and broken.

The Red Cross came in with supplies.  We had water and blankets and food but there was nothing that could nourish the souls and fill the void the fire left inside all of us.  We stayed in the town hall now supplied with donated cots and pillows.  We continued to pray when we heard the fire was the result of a poorly planned blast from the construction of the new highway – a highway none of us wanted or needed.  We had been told to just accept that progress must continue whether we were on board or not.  This did not feel like progress.

On Sunday, we gathered in the street and resolved to rebuild.  The attorney had found a violation that would prevent the construction of the highway regardless of anyone’s idea of eminent domain.  Some would say it was too late, but we felt differently.  It had become so easy to lose hope.  We were surrounded by sad news of death and destruction from all corners of the earth.  If we could resurrect the hopes and dreams of a few, then we knew we must.  It had been a daunting task for our ancestors and would no doubt prove difficult for us, too.  The fulfillment of dreams is not always a perfect path, but it is a beautiful path.  We lost a lot, but we didn’t lose everything.  Everyone we loved survived and that was, after all, everything.

Skeletons – A Halloween Story

She was so familiar with the clanging of the metal door that she scarcely paid it any attention any more.  It protected the world from her as surely as her mind had learned to protect Lydia from the world.  Each and every day of her isolation started with the scene replaying over and over in her mind – she saw herself standing by the window.  She took out match after match and set the curtains on fire.  She watched the flames rise as she walked out of the room then shut and locked the door.  That’s when the screams began.  She saw it all in extreme detail.  It was only when she banged her head against the wall that the movie stopped.  The doctors had managed to take that control away from her as well.  It started with straps across her arms, legs and chest that confined her to the bed.  ‘So much easier to protect you with, my dear….’  Yes, she often visualized the doctors as wolves torturing their prey.  One day the straps came off – everything unfurling in slow motion as some potion was slowly and methodically eased into her veins.

“Lydia, you feel better now, don’t you?”  The doctors congratulated themselves as they left the room.

Lydia could only nod; Her world now moved at a snail’s pace.  The minute hand on the glass-encased clock took hours to tick from one minute to the next.  The echo from the slamming door reverberated in her head most of the day.  There was scarcely room in her head for any thoughts.  The movies still played over and over, just in slow motion now.  She could feel the drugs moving through her body and attacking her nervous system.  Her feet wanted to move, but they could not.  She wanted to feel her hair to see if the tangles were gone, but there was no longer any way to move her arms to lift her hands.  Sometimes she could make a finger move which intrigued her as she watched the tiny shadows on the crisply starched bed linens. 

Lydia lived her life in 4 hour increments.  That’s how long the slow IV drip took.  Near the end of the four hours, she had moments of lucid thought.  She remembered where she was, but could not quite remember how she got here.  Today was Wednesday.  She only knew that because the new nurse told her.  She watched as the bag was taken down.  She looked at the new bag of poisonous liquid lying on the tray.  She could see the faces of the tiny demons anxious to take flight through her veins.  She felt a tear roll down her cheek – a rather unfamiliar feeling.  She saw her arm and her hand, battered from all the needles and the drugs.  She was defeated.  As she lay there waiting for the onslaught that would follow, she tried to see the nurse’s face.  Her dark brown hair shielded her features, but she did see a wisp of kindness there.  Then a strange thing happened.  The nurse gave her a shot and left the room without starting a new IV.  Lydia’s eyes closed and for the first time in weeks, she fell into a deep sleep.


When Lydia woke up, she spun into a momentary panic.  She was no longer accustomed to having thoughts of her own.  She glanced around the room.  It was different somehow.  The glass-encased clock was gone and she was aware of soft sheets beneath her body.  As her eyes managed to focus, she saw the sheets were a pale sky blue.  Something had definitely changed.


Lydia drifted back to sleep.  She did not hear the sound of the skeleton key turning in the lock nor did she hear the door open.  When Lydia awoke, the movie again played out in her mind.  It was no longer in slow motion, but it also did not have the frantic pace she had once remembered.  She slowly opened her eyes and saw the kind nurse standing by the window.  Window?  There had been no windows at the state hospital.  As the nurse spoke, her features came into focus.

“Welcome home, Lydia”.

Home?  Lydia could feel her heart race.  She saw the scars.  She felt the panic.  She saw flames rising and she heard screaming.  Then everything stopped.  This was no longer playing in her head.  This was real….

“You look chilly.  I thought I’d start a fire.”

The Quiet Storm

As he laid on the couch, he could hear her crying in the other room.  He kicked off his muddy boots in disgust.  Sam had always thought himself an understanding and compassionate man, but after 5 years of tears almost every night, he was at the breaking point. 

It all started a few weeks after their honeymoon.  She cried all night one night, saying nothing was wrong.  He was sick with worry.  The next morning he made coffee and tried to be a good husband.  He caressed her back and asked her what had been wrong the night before. 

“I miss my mom”, she said quietly.  “I know you cannot understand because you and your mom don’t get along.  My mom was not like your mom.”

Melody’s mother had been killed in a car accident a few years before we met.  It hit her hard.  As she grieved her mother she spun out of control.  She met a guy who said all the right things and meant none of them.  A few months later they went to the Justice of the Peace and got married.  They were together a year when he committed suicide.  I don’t think Melody ever grieved for him.  In a way, I think she hated him.  He brought out the worst in her.  When we met at the coffee shop that afternoon, my smile was met with disgust.  She wanted no part of me – that was obvious.  I had been given the cold shoulder before and I wasn’t going to give up that easily.  After a few chance meetings, we started to date.  Movies and popcorn.  Dinner and dancing.  Walks under the stars.  It was so romantic and effortless.  We were married a year to the day from that chance meeting in the coffee shop.  It was a breath of fresh air for both of us.

The church was beautiful.  Everything perfect.  We flew to the Bahamas for our honeymoon.  It was a fairytale romance in every way.  Five weeks of bliss, then the other shoe dropped.  For the next two years, Melody would cry herself to sleep almost every night.  I could never console her – she wouldn’t let me in.  All she ever said was that I just could not possibly understand.

Then one night we went to dinner and actually laughed.  We danced our way back to the car and went home and made love on the couch.  This couch.  That was the first time in two years she didn’t cry herself to sleep.  She curled up in my arms and slept like a baby.  It stayed that way for almost six months.  Then, one night she locked me out of the bedroom and cried herself to sleep.  To this day I still have no idea why.  Another two and a half years had passed and the tears came every night.  A year ago, I just couldn’t take it any more.  I started sleeping on the couch. 

It was fortunate that we never had children.  It makes me sick to think about such an emotionally unstable woman raising a child.  After all, I was a bit of an expert on that subject.  I learned how to tiptoe through my childhood at a very early age.  My mother never cared about anyone but herself.  No, Melody was right about one thing.  I would never shed a tear for my mother, nor could I understand crying for anyone for years on end.

My mind spun almost out of control.  I started to think about the possibility that Melody would finally lose herself.  I thought about being tied to a woman I didn’t really know for the rest of my life.  I had said the words, ‘for better or for worse’…but I had no idea at the time just how frightening that promise could be.  I knew I wanted out.  Tonight I wanted to scream and run.  Instead I went to the kitchen and opened a beer.  I watched the head form as I poured it into the frosted glass.   I took a sip.  Oh my God.  That tasted good.  Too good.  I walked across the kitchen and poured the rest down the drain.  No, I would not do this to myself. 

I clicked off the light, walked back to the living room and laid down again.  I pulled the afghan over my shoulder and closed my eyes.  The crying hadn’t stopped.  I reached over my head and pulled my iPod off the end table.  I turned the wheel to my favorite play list – Songs of Escape.  I put the ear buds in my ears and drifted off to sleep.  Finally the crying had been vanquished.

Saturday morning I slept much longer than I anticipated.  All the worry and thinking were exhausting.  I walked into the kitchen about 9:00 am.  Melody was singing and smiled brightly when I came into the kitchen.

“Pancakes?”  she winked and spun back around to the stove. 

We ate pancakes and drank coffee as Melody laughed and acted as if life was normal.  It was all I could do not to stand up and scream at the top of my lungs.  She talked and laughed and didn’t even notice I wasn’t engaged in any conversation with her.  She was living life with me without me.

“Melody?”  I said as she stopped and turned toward me.  “Melody, I’m leaving.  Today.  I won’t be coming back.”

Suddenly she stopped and sat in the chair opposite of me.  “Why?”  She acted as if she honestly did not know why.

“Melody, you need professional help.  I cannot live this way any more.  I’m a married man who has slept on the couch for over a year now.  It’s not right.”

“Sam, just move back into the bedroom.  I never knew why you left in the first place.”   She smiled and walked back to the stove.  “Oh, by the way, did I tell you my mom is coming by tonight?”

I didn’t know what to say or how to react.  I just kept saying the words over and over in my mind “……for better or for worse…….”    I was trapped and I knew it.  I had nowhere to turn.

I stood up from the table and walked toward the pantry. 

“Where are you going?” Melody asked in her upbeat tone.

“Just checking to make sure we have beer.  I feel like having a few tonight.”

Melody chuckled.  “Don’t worry, honey.  I’ll pick some up at the store.  Now what would you like for dinner?”


She giggled as the sand worked its way up through her tiny toes.  It made me wonder if I had experienced the same awe?  If so, did daily life push everything aside so there was no longer room for such a memory?  Somehow I felt this tiny little soul was going to open the flood gates to my heart and maybe even to my childhood memories.

I clicked the shutter on the camera and caught the moment.  I was determined that Bella would remember life’s simple pleasures.  I did not want her to become an emotionally hardened woman like I had been.  I wanted her to live her life with an open heart and as a willing participant.  My mind immediately raced to the beautifully adorned cardboard box that held all these photographs.  I knew today would be the day.  I would start Bella’s Heart Journal while my memories were still fresh. 

“Mama, look!”  Bella’s voice whipped me back to the present.  This beautiful little girl looked to the sky and pointed, “It’s a barroon.”   I chuckled as I saw the brightly colored balloon drift across the horizon over the breaking surf.

I closed my eyes and tried hard to remember anything new.  Of course I had memories.  A lot of them.  Just nothing magical.  No memories of wonderment.  I wanted to believe I was as curious and as excited about life at that age as my daughter was.  No matter how hard I tried, nothing.

“Let’s go, Bella darling.  It’s time to pick up Daddy.”

“Yipppeeeeeee.  Dadddy!  I take him this treasure, Mommy.”  I smiled as I watched her bend and pick up a tiny white seashell.

“Okay, my love.  Daddy will love it!”

Don had always been the perfect husband.  He provided for me in every way.  He loved me and supported every career decision I made.  As I was promoted up through the corporate ladder, he applauded my success.  We were the perfect couple.  Until the day he told me he wanted a family.  Every fear I had come alive.  I was angry with him for even suggesting this because we had talked it through so many times.  This world we live in is no place to raise a child.  What if something happened to us?  Who in our families could we trust with a child?  What about our jobs?  I had not worked 12 years to become an Executive Vice President just to throw it all away.  We had the perfect condo.  We had white carpet in the living room with a beautifully upholstered couch.  No place for a child.  I think a little piece of him died the day I told him ‘Absolutely not.  It’s my body.”

When I told Dr. Gwynn about my period and how I was experiencing perimenopause, he insisted on doing some tests.  Mom had gone through menopause early and while I wasn’t ready for this transition, I would just have to adjust.  I thought about Susan, the Vice President down the hall and I knew I would not allow myself to grow a moustache.  I would wax every day if necessary.

I sat in the dark waiting for Don to come home.  I knew it would be hard, but I knew he would agree with my decision.  This was not the way we planned it.  As he walked through the door he called out my name.  “Molly?”  Then his glance turned toward me.  I must have been a sight.  A 34-year-old woman, sitting among saturated Kleenex at a beautiful hand-made table from Bali.  “Molly, my God.  What’s wrong?  Did someone die?”

He held me and rocked me in his arms well into the night.  He held my hand and my heart while he told me over and over everything would be okay.   I’m not sure what happened, but by the time the sun rose Friday morning, we had decided we would keep the baby.

As I loaded Bella and her treasures into the Volvo station wagon, I chuckled to myself.  It wasn’t a red Ferrari and my flip-flops weren’t exactly corporate, but I was on vacation after all.  I knew I had missed so much, but I had to work.  These little mini-vacations were a God-send.  As I pulled out of the parking lot, Bella let out a giggle-filled squeal.  “Mommy, ice cream!”  As I started to say the words, ‘no we can’t stop now’, I felt a wave of memories rush over me.  Suddenly I was a little girl sitting in the back seat of an old panel station wagon.  I could remember everything about the old ice cream truck and how the music faded away as Mom drove in the opposite direction.  “Not now, Molly.  I have to get home and get ready for work tomorrow.”

We were a few minutes late as I pulled the car into the parking lot.  I saw Don sitting on the bench in front of the office.  He was smiling as always.  I knew Don would understand.  He always did.  He would support my decision no matter what changes we would have to make.  He loved both his little girls.

Who needs a title anyway?


I always hated that poem.   Most likely because I was born on Wednesday.  I can remember so well when we read it in elementary school.  I rushed home to find out what day I was born – Wednesday.  Somehow I think I never shook that moment – it helped craft the life that followed.    ‘Wednesday’s child is full of woe.’  Talk about your self-fulfilling prophecy.

Things hadn’t gone well for me from the beginning.  I was the sickly child.  I spent weeks in the hospital the summer everyone went to camp.  While Sharon was learning to swim, I was learning to be afraid.  While Sharon was making smores at the campfire, I was eating sickly green jello in a sickly green hospital gown.  Every night I cried when Maria’s parents came to visit.  Every morning I woke up hoping this would be the day someone would bring me flowers and balloons.  I just imagined how it would feel to have the nurses come in and ‘shoo’ off all the visitors that packed the room.

The blessing of high school was even worse.  I got hand-me down dresses – faded like Grandma’s wallpaper.  I got hand-me down shoes that were already formed to fit Sharon’s feet.  I also got all the wounding remarks about being a ‘Hand Me Down Rose’.  I never knew what it meant; I just knew by the accompanying voice inflections it was not good.  My hair was thin and stringy.  Even when I washed it every day, it just looked horrible.  My life, my grades and the promise of my future could all be described in the same way.  Hopeless.

I finally graduated.  Two years later than I should have, but I had my diploma and that was all I needed.   Sharon left before she graduated.  She was somewhere in New York I heard, but it didn’t matter because she was only a sister in name.   Mom and Dad left me with Aunt Meredith the year Dad got offered the big job in Texas.  I was just as glad they left, too.  Little by little I was becoming independent even if by no work of my own.   I knew Aunt M would not care when I told her I was leaving.  She would not ask me all kinds of questions about where I was going and how I planned to make a living.  I didn’t know and she didn’t care.  I just knew I was leaving.

The first bus out of town was scheduled for 7:00 AM Saturday.  Friday night, I packed what few clothes I had into Grandma’s old canvas bag and left Aunt M’s house at 5:00 AM.  I had saved the obligatory money that Mom and Dad sent me for my birthday.  It wasn’t much, but I knew it would get me out of this place and fed until I found a job.  A job?  Sigh.  Dare I dream someone would look at me and offer me a job?   Too much to think about right now….that would come later.

“One way ticket on the 7 o’clock bus please.” 

“Where you headed, little lady?”  I was startled by the kindly old voice.  I had never known anyone to refer to me as a lady.

“Out.  On the 7 o’clock bus.”  I liked the kind face that looked back at me.

“Don’t you think you ought to have a plan about where you’re gonna lay your head tonight?”  His eyebrows raised as he waited for my answer.

“I’ll lay it the same place I lay it every night.  On a pillow.”  I dug around in my purse not wanting to look in his eyes.  “Ticket please.”

“Okay, one ticket to Paris.  That’ll be $859.50.”  He smiled.  “Unless you’re not goin’ that far.  Maybe just a ticket to Atlanta?  That will only run you $32.”

I didn’t know if I should be angry or chuckle.  I just handed him two twenty-dollar bills and asked for the ticket to Atlanta.  Paris would have to wait.

I climbed aboard the bus.  The smell of fuel assaulted me to the point of nausea.  I headed toward the back of the bus when suddenly a leg covered with faded denim raised in front of me. 

“I wouldn’t sit back there if I was you.  That toilet will sure enuf stink long before this here bus rolls into Atlanta.”

I looked up to see the most amazing blue eyes I’d ever seen looking back at me.  He was young.  Maybe 16 or 17 at most.  The old button up shirt struggled to cover his chest.   When he smiled I felt my face flush and decided to be bold and take a step over his leg and just walk right to the back of the bus where I was intent on sitting. 

About half an hour into the ride I felt myself drift off to sleep. In the background I could hear the faint strum of a guitar rise above the mix of traffic and air brakes.  I did not open my eyes but I knew it had to be coming from him.  The song matched his look – simple and reassuring.  I felt all my sorrow fall away.  I could not help but smile. 

At last I was free.  Who knew I would find Paris right here on a bus bound for Atlanta?


Straight black hair could be a nuisance obviously – especially when there were no colorful ribbons to tie it into a neat and tidy place.  I would soon learn that cascading hair might have a purpose I had never imagined.

Destiny had been a rescued child.  She was brought into the states from Vietnam.  She lived in a stately brick home with thick carpet and cream-colored walls that held too many secrets.  She never really knew what happened to Mr. and Mrs. Danvers, except that they just disappeared one day.  She was whisked away in the darkness by the housekeeper.  All she could hear were sirens piercing the night air.  The old blue car rattled in the opposite direction until the sounds were simply a faint memory.


Destiny rose to the rocking chair.  The morning sun was warm but it wasn’t late enough to really be hot.  She looked to the floor and pondered the objects that lay at her feet.   “Destiny, what’s to become of you if you cannot make every day special?”  She moved the objects around with her toes before she rose and again rested on the floor among the disconnected objects.

She placed the dominoes end to end.  All the black was facing out except for the center domino.  It was a double blank and would be the gate to enter into the palace.  In front of the domino would be the long skinny book with words she did not understand.  It would make a perfect drawbridge.   The chess pieces were sorted.  The horses would be the guardians of the gate.  She mixed the black and white men with the pointed hats to use as guards to the kingdom.  Gently, she tore the cup into long strips to use as a carpet toward the throne – a large book that rose above the kingdom.  The queen rested on the throne looking out over her subjects. 

There were treasures all around her, shiny stones that sparkled – the only riches that made it into the old blue car those many nights ago.  The other books fanned out to create a labyrinth of places that even a queen could hide when the enemy came to the castle. 

Destiny heard footsteps approaching.   She quickly collected her rocks and looked around for a place to hide them.  Gently, she placed them into her pillow.  She knew it would be uncomfortable, but at least she would feel SOMETHING.

This was the time of day that dreams were put aside and reality crept in.  The miracles she wove in her head created a blanket she would use in the future to cover and protect other children that had no one to love them.  The tears started to roll down her cheeks. 

Slowly, Destiny used her ebony black hair to dry away the tears.  For if there was one thing she had learned, crying just gets you hurt.

Going Home

The screech of metal against metal sent chills up my spine as the train drew to a slow but forceful stop. I could smell the smoke in the air even before the doors on the train were opened. The cold damp air carried the black dust from deep in the earth into my lungs. I felt myself choking. In some ways I knew it was an emotional choking rather than something physical. Suddenly I was 17 again and almost paralyzed at the thought of setting foot on this rocky terrain again.

No one would be at the train station to greet me. I had not told anyone I was coming. Everyone knew how to reach me, but I had been extremely clear that I had no desire to talk to any of them. If I loved and acknowledged these ‘people’ – my family – then I had to accept that this place was somehow part of me. That was more than I could bear.

I had been so precise in all my planning but I had overlooked the most important concern. Transportation after leaving the train. I had walked these hollers many times, but not in $200 shoes. Que Sera Sera. I stepped onto the platform and picked up my small bag. One didn’t need a lot of excess clothing when there was no intention of staying for any length of time. Get in and get out. That was my plan.

I could feel the moisture sitting on my face and knew that the black smoke was already invading my pores. It took 10 years to get that black feeling out of me – I had forgotten how quickly it staked its claim. God, I hated this place. I stepped off the platform, bent over, unclasped my shoes and slung them across my shoulder. I was amazed at how comfortable this red clay felt as my feet moved against the ground. I had forgotten how many times I had done this as a child. And I had forgotten how good it felt.

I passed the house where I grew up. Dad passed away several years ago and I had not come home for the funeral. I sent a card but didn’t call. Mom would just have to understand how hard it would be for me to come back here. I remember feeling so right about that decision then – but I had come back now – because Granny was gone. The thought of being a gold digger crossed my mind. Was I here because she left something for me? No, no. That wasn’t it. I ‘had’ to be here now. This was my chance to finally exorcise the spirit that held me to this God forsaken place.

I was shocked when I started up the old rocky drive that led to Granny’s house. In my mind it was in disrepair. The shutters were falling off and half of the floorboards on the front porch were missing. Instead I saw a beautifully maintained house. The clapboards were painted a beautiful pale yellow and the shutters were a deep forest green. The small walkway that led up to the porch was lined with flowers. Portulaca – in all the colors of the rainbow. On either side of the steps leading up to the porch were bleeding heart bushes. I wanted to sit on the steps but I was drawn to the front door. A small engraved plate was now somewhat discolored but you could still make out the letters that said WELCOME. I bent down, lifted up the corner of the braided rug and picked up the key. I held my breath as I put the key into the lock.

“So you DID come?” The voice was familiar yet distant. I turned to see an old woman that I didn’t recognize. A small smile formed on this stranger’s face and suddenly I realized it was my mother. It had been 28 years.

“Mama?” I choked on the word. “Is that you?” I could not believe the years that were etched in the lines of her face. I wanted to cry.

“Let’s sit.” Mama said.

I put my bag down as she walked up the steps and across to the old porch swing. I sat beside her and she put her arm around me as if we had seen each other yesterday.

We talked and cried and even sang the song that Granny sang to me when I was a child. The woman I thought I hated was lost in the body of an old woman. Her hands twisted and stiff. She held my hand and I suddenly felt such sadness for all the years that I had been gone. For the life that I had not shared. And for the price I paid for my freedom. It wasn’t until now that I realized the price was too high.

“She didn’t leave you the house. She was afraid you would feel she was trying to force you to come back here. There’s a small box on the kitchen table. I haven’t touched it. I do not know what is inside.”

Instead of inquiring about the house, I released the hand of this old woman and walked into the house. It was clean and remarkably I could not feel or taste any black dust. It was not like I remembered. As I walked into the kitchen I could see the dotted swiss curtains move in the gentle breeze. On the table was a rather large cardboard box. There was no note, no card, nothing. As I opened the flaps on the box I felt the tears roll down my cheeks. Inside I saw four books – old bookkeeping ledgers. I opened the cover on the first one. Granny had left me her journals.

I could hear the creaking of the old chains that held the porch swing. The wind moved the trees outside the window as I looked at the first paragraph and started to read.

“I wasn’t angry at her because she ran away. I was angry at myself for not doing the same thing many, many years ago.”

Finally, I knew I was free.