Personal Journey

A (True) Love Story

photo credit: Israel Palacio

Once upon 1982, I stood on a stage with a few girls who actually had talent and choked out the Christmas carol, “Silver Bells.” I did not know this would be one of the defining moments of my life.

Weeks before, I crashed the hand-picked ensemble simply by showing up to the practice. Our music teacher, a Mr. Komenski, had exactly zero penchant for conflict, even with the eleven-year-old tuneless neophyte who lived a few rows down from his own trailer and when bored, would shut off his electric at the main. (All the boxes were together in a central location behind the trailers, easily reachable. Duh.) My friend said singing in the little group was fun and I should come. So I did. It never occurred to either of us that Mr. Komenski had a say in it.

This is how (true) love stories begin. WIth a girl who can’t sing, a friend who can’t discern, and a music teacher who can’t say no.

Besides my unlikely moment in the spotlight, another rare incident played a part in this (true) love story: a teacher strike. I can thank a savvy administrator, who funneled two elementary schools into one, for dodging a district-wide shutdown and guiding me to my date with destiny.

I didn’t get bussed to a different elementary school, but my friend Tony did. He lived in the trailer behind mine, and together we often cut off Mr. Komenski’s electricity. Tony was in the audience on the day of the concert. Because of the teacher strike, he’d made many new friends. One of them was the intensely blue-eyed, exquisitely chiseled Bob—Bobby. BOBBY Griffiths. No one calls him that now, but this was 1982.

Bob’ll tell the story that he and Tony sat on crowded benches in the darkened auditorium, that Bob’s breath caught, that he was completely enchanted. He’ll allege there was a beautiful creature on the stage with a few other girls singing “Silver Bells.” Bobby thought perhaps his new friend Tony would know the girl, so he leaned in and asked.

“Oh that’s just Kelly Seyer,” Tony dismissed me with a wave. To Tony, I was a guy in a girl’s body before it was fashionable, before gender dysphoria. I was a tomboy when tomboys still existed. And Tony was unimpressed. But Bob would not be swayed by Tony’s (at best) 3-star rating of Kelly Seyer. Something happened to Bob that day, the soul-quickening poets try to capture in verse. To hear Bob tell it, he loved me at first sight.

I sang my Christmas song, unaware.

When shutting off Mr. Komenski’s electric became blasé, Tony and I moved on to other pursuits, one of which was finding “dates” for each other. I found the lovely Janet for him, and Tony remembered I’d somehow hypnotized Bobby at the Christmas concert. Tony’s mom drove the four of us to the mall for the afternoon. This is how I met my husband: all nerves and angst and…and we were crushed in the backseat of a wee little car. I remember that.

I remember his blond, curly hair and the red bandana around his wrist. And his veins in relief against his skin. We shared a banana split at Friendly’s. We fell into a wormhole and for three years were Bobby&Kelly. Just before tenth grade, I moved to Ohio. We wrote and called, and when I could make the seven-hour drive to Allentown, I’d visit him, even if it was just a quick lunch. When we were together, it was as if no time had passed. We talked about everything. I told him I had no friends at my new school. He couldn’t believe it. He told me his mom had cancer. I will never forget hearing that news.

Bobby became Robert. I became Mrs. Somebody Else. No fortune teller worth her salt would prophesy the us we are today. But (true) love stories are prickly mazes. Love is patient, says the Bible. The Bible means that a would-be lover ought to be patient with his beloved, but I mean that for us, Love was patient. To us, Love has been kind. Not perfect, but kind. After I moved to Ohio, we did life as best friends, worlds apart. For eight years, actually.

January 2020 is our 25th wedding anniversary, and I still think of Bob as my very best friend, my fun friend, the friend who-WILL-dance-with-me, the strong arms I fall into, the smile I crave. How did I get so blessed, you ask? How did we go from childhood sweethearts to far-away friends to Mr. & Mrs. Griffiths? That is a long story, a post for another day…

Decorating Easter eggs together 1985
Bob ran my first 5K with me 1985
Days before my craniotomy 2018
My favorite chef – Thanksgiving 2018
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fiction

Fiction: The Colonel’s Last Wish

In the bombed-out shell of a Starbucks cafe, he sat at a buckling and tilted table. What the colonel wouldn’t give for a green-smocked barista right now. A US Army truck painted over with his familiar insignia passed by, likely headed to the dump. Halfheartedly, he returned salute, then covered his nose. The dead Americans stank.

A familiar voice whispered, “You have one more wish.”

“I know.” He was afraid to say more. He’d already been tricked into wasting two wishes.

***

“I wish we had more recruits,” The colonel had mumbled. To himself. Barely aware of the vaporous and negligently-clad genie behind him. All he did was tap the kettle spout on the relic that had mysteriously appeared on the desk. No one saw who left it. The colonel’s words were barely out when a crowd of youths showed up, eager to don the newest nuclear plastique vests and pay the highest price.

Next, it wasn’t even a wish, just wishful thinking. “Oh, that they’d all fall– every major city…” The new recruits departed in unison, waited till all were ready. A thousand magic-controlled minds depressed the igniters… boom.

Thankfully, the colonel was in the underground bunker when it happened, else he might have wished himself dead. Everything good was gone. How could he tell the genie he wanted it back, just, sans Americans? What did he want with cornfields and rural towns of gun-toting Republicans? The colonel wanted the cities, the nightlife. The Starbucks. The pretty young baristas.

But these genies, they were black souls. They sneaked up on you and gave you exactly what you asked for, not what you wanted.

All the colonel wanted was a cup of espresso. “Can I wish for more wishes?”

“You know the answer to that.”

He spat at the genie’s feet.

 

 

fiction

Last Touch

A tire spun, the one not furrowed by speed and thrust. Smoke wheezed from the buckled steel hood. Engine guts, half-erupted and splattered with oil, steamed in glossy, iridescent blackness. Beside his twitching foot lay an unwrapped breakfast sandwich. The smells of sausage, cologne, and sharp copper ghosted the car, floated out the broken windows, past the craggy blades. If his eyes worked, they would still see McDonald’s in his rear-view mirror. They had looked, in fact, cost him precious reaction time. That, plus a novice driver’s penchant for overzealous turning.

A deer in the road. Nothing had ever been so surprising. A deer. Right there. Where a second before had been open road.

He took the wheel too hard over and flipped the Subaru his parents gave him for his sixteenth birthday. Dumb luck his side hit the pole. The last thing John saw was wood grain, dark and deep like the lines on his mother’s eyes. And some rusty staples. A triangle-shaped scrap still clinging to one. He had time to recognize Death. First his skull hit the glass window, then the telephone pole.

John’s focus had been behind him, on McDonald’s drive-through. Even as he fished in the bag for the breakfast sandwich, he glanced behind and conjured her. Emma had said, “For you,” kissed it, and dropped it in the bag. “Pay me later.” She winked. The feathery touch of her hand as they passed the bag would be the last physical thrill John would know. As he gazed dreamily in his rear-view mirror, it was her face he saw, her lips against the paper wrapping.

John couldn’t wait to devour that sandwich. But when the unbending glass and wood splinters entered him, it was Death who laughed and opened his arms for a sweet embrace.

This flash fiction was inspired by the weekly Microcosms prompt/contest.

 

fiction

Blind at 40,000 Feet & Beyond

Bentley was blind from birth, and he played it right. Flight attendants took pity and if an extra first-class was available, would usher him into the plush leather seats. Bentley would compliment her on how good they felt and drop the line: a touch in the dark’s better than a smile in the light, as he traced the soft skin on her arm. Sometimes the arm was snatched away, sometimes not.

Blindness also paved the way for Bentley to realize his dream of becoming a writer. Right about the time seeing-people were having their midlife crises, Bentley decided his mind was a gift, that his revolutionary thoughts were the world’s prescription. He revealed his opus to anyone who would listen.

Bentley was high on writers’ conference. Plunked into first-class, Bentley discharged his mind on the gentleman next to him. An oldish guy, Bentley figured, based on the voice, on “fine, thank you. How are you?” Those were the only words the man spoke. By 40,000 feet, Bentley had already relinquished his bio, his book idea, and how Oprah Winfrey had plagiarized portions of his memoir.

At some point the gentleman asked Bentley what sort of writing he did.

“Oh, you mean, like, genre?” Bentley felt so smart using that word, genre. “Romantic comedy.”

“Have you ever tried horror?” The man asked.

“Oh no. Disgusting stuff. Gore is for amateurs. I work hearts, my friend. Just watch.”

To prove it, Bentley stroked the flight attendant’s arm as she set down his soda water with lemon. She made a slight gasp, the kind that’s smiling.

Finally, when Bentley finished unloading every awesome facet of himself with the exception of his name, he extended his hand for a shake. “Bentley,” he said. “Ferguson”

“Stephen,” said the man. “King.”

 

Many thanks to Microcosms for their weekly prompt/contest.

 

 

on writing, Personal Journey

Words Bridge the Gap: Cesar Egido Serrano Foundation $20K Prize for #flashfiction

Could you write a hundred-word flash fiction by Thanksgiving? How about for a $20,000 first place prize? Runners-up get a thousand bucks. And it’s legit. I checked because you know what they say about things that seem too good to be true.

This year’s theme is the word, bridging the gap between different cultures and religions. Four languages are accepted: Spanish, English, Arabic, and Hebrew, and the contest is judged by an international jury. Reflecting on how words can bring us together is time well-spent, regardless of the prize money.

The way I see it, the Powerball costs $2 to play. This costs nothing, and you get a piece of flash fiction out of the deal. It’s a win-win.

Want to enter? Click here. Happy writing!

fiction

Zer0flash Fiction: Absolute Camouflage

Assignment from Zer0flash: create spine-tingling flash fiction inspired by this tranquil video of a dam in Cambridge.

Absolute Camouflage 

The lake floor was crusted over with garbage and cans and the slimy brown bones of a dying tree. Long, leafy willow locks writhed over the water’s edge, and even the gentlest breeze could slough off a confetti of brittle branches.

In the shade crouched a grasshopper, stock-still until a boot slammed into the spongy ground beside him. Startled, the creature performed his usual crescent jump. Not even the boot-owner noticed: at the highest point of the arc the insect crashed into an invisible obstacle. His cracked and oozing exoskeleton plopped into the water.

No one noticed the frogs either. Right off the lily pads a phantom hand plucked their shiny bodies and squeezed until their insides burst from their mouths in a sticky cornucopia. Ducks dipped their iridescent heads, popped their spade-shaped tail feathers into the air where they bobbed on the surface. And were abruptly sucked down.

You’d have to be looking dead on or you’d miss it.

At sunrise a jogger noticed swan feathers floating like opals on the dark ripples. He shrugged and continued on his way. Later,  Jimmy came with his mum to float his paper wax boat. By then the feathers were blown to the shoreline. Jimmy pushed them into the mud with his shoe.

When he got too close to the edge, chilly water seeped into his shoes. His boat, his very own creation, gloriously heaved and dipped. With a bounce he tugged on his mum’s coat, thrilled by his own awesomeness.

Then he frowned and yanked hard on his mother. The vessel caught a gust of wind and headed toward the curling punch of overflowing water.  Just before the boat crumpled under the force, Jimmy’s mum snatched it and held it high. The water reached her thighs.

“It’s ok, Jimmy,” she said.

 

 

Personal Journey

P is for Paul, Katae’s Paul

Eccentric at a formal dinner.

I used to think I was open-minded. Then I had teenagers. And they were… let’s just say their tastes veered into the eccentric. My kids, my first two, simply would not play by the rules. And by rules I meant wearing dresses and liking it, using utensils at formal dinners, begging to sing in the church choir or at least running the soundboard…

I believed with all my heart I was completely nonjudgmental. Book covers meant nothing. It was the inside that counted. I was so avant-garde and educated and free thinking–

Enter my daughter’s boyfriend, Paul.

Paul was a walking Picasso painting: you weren’t exactly sure how to take him. The first time I met him was homeschool theater class. Paul was ten years old and a holy terror with a ton of talent– that’s what I remember.

In his teens Paul dressed in loosely fitting black clothing that hung off him like his many silver chains. He was funny, flamboyant, sassy, rebellious, creepy… That’s him in the middle.

… and he came to church at 7AM on Sundays to make enough coffee to fill the Boston Harbor. (That’s what it took to slake the thirst of Grace Churchgoers every Sunday.) So here’s the grim reaper barista and he’s in love with my firstborn daughter. Turns out I wasn’t as open-minded as I thought.

One day I was trundling around my homeschool book sale, chatting with moms and feeling all righteous and Rocky Balboa about my calling to educate my children… like I had holy dust scattered in my hair, so homschool-proud. I was talking to an ultra-conservative friend whose tastes (I thought) ran Amish, when who should sally up to us? Jack Sparrow/my son-in-law.

Love those moments when a freight train full of my own self-righteousness runs me down. Jack’s scream there, that’s how I felt upon seeing Paul, dressed for Halloween in June, at my homeschool book sale. My “Amish” friend thought Paul’s theatrics fun and creative and, hadn’t I better loosen up?

Those who know me, know I have.

Katae and Paul live in a lovely house they make lovelier by the day. Paul’s a visionary and super-handy, and Katae has an artful sense of style. They’re living happy-ever-after with their five cats, two dogs, one lovebird, and lots of love.

Paul

This goes out to Justin Smith, by request. “P” is not for PERFECTIOSIS. P is for Paul.

Posts about my other children: Katae, Tory, Luke, Gabe.