Category Archives: Life’s honest moments

Kismet and Love

I met Diana a dozen years ago, at a week-long science fiction and fantasy writing workshop on Martha’s Vineyard. It was kismet, and love at first sight. She’s been my soul sister ever since. We’ve been through a lot together, heart to heart. One of the top ten favorite days of my life was spent walking Central Park with her on a glorious September day, handing out (begging people to take) flyers for a book fair. She lives in the wilds of Pennsylvania; I live in the wilds of Connecticut. I had an orange Jeep Wrangler; she has a purple one. She is part of my every day, even if we don’t talk or see one another online. She’s just always there, a part of me. That’s what a soul sister is.

We do Virginia Beach together, and Christmas in NYC. But we don’t spend all that much time together, face to face. The day after Christofer died, I was on my way out of the house to take my daughter back to Brooklyn, and Diana walked in the door with a box of donuts, and a box of my favorite chocolates. Three hours in the car, not even knowing if I’d be home. “I just needed to see you.” We didn’t get to spend much time together, but it was–gads–I’m not sure she even knows how much it meant to me. That gesture of love, of sorority, that burst of brilliant light in one of my darkest days not only helped me get through then, it sustains me even now.

There have been a lot of really…insane events over the years. Kismet. A psychic link of some kind. Just KNOWING what the other needed, when. We connect in ways that prickle under the skin and raise the hairs on the back of the neck. It happened again, just a couple days ago.

I’ve been contemplating a tattoo since Chris died. He designed a beautiful tree of life bear paw with my amazing tattooist, and had it tattooed on both biceps. When he died, I wanted to get the same tattoo, but I really didn’t know if I could handle having HIS bear paw. So I waited.

Now, Diana–she has no tattoos, but has wanted one for almost as long as I’ve known her. The right inspiration just hadn’t struck.

Until last Friday.

She texted me: “Figured out my tattoo,” and then sent me the poem, I think we need a password by Daniel Ladinsky. (translated, Hafiz.) In it are the words, love kicks the ass of time and space. She wanted those words, in a heart.

And then, so did I, but not in a heart, underneath Chris’ bear paw. Without coordinating, or even discussing it beyond, “Oh, wow! I want this before we meet in VAB!” we both ended up getting them today. Me this morning. Diana this afternoon.

 

 

I didn’t want to steal Diana’s mojo by having the whole text. And, more importantly, the anagram (which also appears in the poem) just seemed more right. A sister tattoo to my soul sister’s tattoo. This woman who was there for me, not just after my son died, but in all the time before. Through the years of his pain and addiction, his anxiety. And I was there for her through…so much. You know what they say about friends made in battle–they’re bound in a different kind of blood.

And here we go again–as I was writing that last line, she texted me, “Now we’re blood sisters!” And that’s what I mean about skin-prickly-hair-raisy. Things like that happen all the time.

Virginia Beach is only 28 days away. We have about ten hours in the car together, just my soul sister and me. DB fries, Diana! Here we come.

 

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Flowers From A Friend

I got a card in the mail last week, from a friend I hadn’t seen in years. I was so happy. We set up a coffee date. That was yesterday.

We met as volunteer Daisy moms when our girls were in kindergarten. Those girls–who once went around her neighborhood “raising money for Girl Scouts” by selling rocks they painted in her garage–are now twenty-six. We didn’t stay close, despite those Girl Scout years. Our kids went in different directions, and thus, so did we. There are hugs when we see one another in town, what’s news and how ares. The regular stuff of friends grown apart.

During those Girl Scout years, both our boys were unofficial Girl Scouts. Her son was a few years younger than Chris, so Chris got to be the “big boy.” They’d play, sometimes do activities with the girls. As they got older, they stopped coming to meetings, but that connection remained.

Not long after Chris’ accident, while he was still wheelchairbound and trying to process what life was going to be, I saw an archery competition set up to take place nearby. It was a local club thing, but open to the public. Chris had an eye! Whew. First time I ever took him to shoot, he got a bulls-eye. He could still shoot from his wheelchair. I thought it would be good for him. And it was. He out-shot all the other archers, grown men who’d been shooting most of their lives, and won two pumpkin pie trophies. It was a great day for him.

My friend’s husband and son were there that day, too. It was the first time the boys had seen one another in a few years. It was adorable, watching the old dynamic reassert itself. Her boy’s little bit of hero worship; my boy showing hers how to do something with his bow. My friend’s husband and I watched them a minute or two, chatted. There was nothing significant about the moment. Or so it seemed, at the time.

It wasn’t long after that her son died. Chris took it hard. He would have, anyway, but he’d recently seen him, and that connection was still there, and he was trying to process the death of his own identity. How he cried.

Fast forward ten years, and Chris was gone too. I’d seen my friend as I always had over the course of years. At the gym, in the grocery store, at Village Fair Days. As it had been with Chris and her son, the connection was always there. And now, we’d both lost our boys, those boys who used to be unofficial Girl Scouts. No one wants to have that in common.

She brought me flowers, and cookies she’d baked. We sat together over coffee, talking about this and that. Every now and again, one or the other of us would say something about our boys. They were tentative steps toward sharing deeper hurts neither of us can quite express. I might do fine on these pages, but only because the brain to fingers connection is far more adept than the connection brain to mouth.

And maybe we don’t have to actually say anything. We both understand the other’s pain, and sometimes just being in the presence of someone who truly knows is enough. It’s a relief.

This thing we have in common sometimes makes interactions with family and friends uncomfortable. They don’t know what to do when we’re sad. Do they talk about our missing sons? Pretend there isn’t an empty place at the holiday table? Talk about their own kids, thriving and growing up? Downplay all their familial happiness to spare us? They act from a place of kindness, of course, and that ramps up the pressure, because we’re the cause of their discomfort. And while I’m so very, very grateful few of them will actually understand, they will, nevertheless, never understand.

We all need those people who get where we are, with whom we don’t have to explain things, or tip-toe around, or endure getting tip-toed around. It’s not about like minds, but like experiences. Whether a mommy/daddy group or a writing group or a survivors-of-something group, those who understand our experiences intimately are vital to navigating this world. It’s not a place to dwell on the pain, but a place to be liberated from it.

Find your group. Free yourself. And in the process, free others.

Peace.

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She Wakes in Beauty…

 

 

home2It’s going to be very difficult to leave here. There isn’t a season in the whole wheel of the year I don’t open my eyes each morning to insane beauty right outside my bedroom window. In the spring, I wake to lilac blossoms. Come summer, it’s a swathe of yellow, brown-eyed-susans. Autumn is a blaze of sugar maples that go from amber to russet  to scarlet. And this is what I wake to in winter. White. A fresh canvas. The silence of snow.

I’m the country mouse heading back into town, where there are all sorts of perks I don’t get out here in the back of beyond. As I said to my Frankie D yesterday, I’m still equal parts excited about and dreading the move. I can’t imagine the last night here. Just trying to seizes me up inside. To never see those lilacs, the brown-eyed-susans, the autumn leaves and untouched snow. To never hear the peepers across the street in the marsh those cold first days of March, the cacophony of crickets in August and September, or the owls hooting in quiet October. To step out of this house, away from this land, and know it’s no longer mine; the memories made are finite after all.

I’ll never look out on Christofer’s tree again, and yet, I’ll never look out on Christofer’s tree again. The splatters on the wall, the roof he built, the little reminders of him every day will no longer be right there where I can see them–and yet, they’ll no longer be right there where I can see them.

There is always a before, and an after. Before Brian died, and after. Before Frankie D, and after. Before Christofer’s accident, and after. Before he died, and after. There are hundreds of before and afters in all our lives, some joyful, and some shattering. This before leaving the log house on the river and after comes with equal parts. There is no better, no worse to it, but a balance of both.

I am aware that staying here is remaining static, while moving away from it is going forward, and so I move forward. I promised my bear, my amazing children, and myself. I’m ready to leave, it’s just not going to be easy.

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Coming to Terms

Here we are. 2018. What will it bring? I find myself looking forward hopefully, rather optimistically, despite the fact that our financial situation is precarious.

I can’t hate 2017, despite getting kicked in the teeth yet again. We went to Spain, France and Italy. Frank and I enjoyed the best summer we’ve ever had together. Relaxing. Rejuvenating. An all around peaceful time. Jamie and her family moved back to Connecticut. Two years had gone by since we lost our son; there had been time to reflect, to heal. To get used to him not being here, though that’s not an accurate way to put it. I wish I had one. After five minutes staring at the cursor, trying to figure it out, that’s just the closest I can come.

I sold (what was then The Pen) The Bar Harbor Retirement Home For Famous Writers (and their muses) to William Morrow, and Bastei Lubbe. The experience has been sublime. Every step has been familiar, and yet entirely different from my past experiences in publishing. I could go on citing all the good stuff of 2017 of, but there is only one best.

Since my bear dream, I’ve found the sort of peace I didn’t think I ever could, concerning Christofer John DeFino. My son. My beautiful, chaotic son. Deciding to leave this house was directly related to that dream. Whether it was Chris giving me a shove, or my own brain sorting through things in its mysterious way, it worked.

Chris is gone. Really gone. Since bear-dreaming, I haven’t felt his presence the way I used to. I truly believe he “went north,” to where dream and reality mix and merge, to find his next adventure. Wherever that is, I can’t follow him. I can only send him off with all the love in my heart, because it’s what I’d have done had he lived. That’s what mothers do.

This life didn’t work out for him. I can toss all the whys and why nots through my head a million times between now and my own end of days, but there’s no way to know if there was anything I could have done to change his fate. If only. Maybe. I could have. Should have. Didn’t. Wishing does nothing. Crying doesn’t either. I’ll have to stop wishing, even if I can’t promise not to cry anymore, but I’ve come to a point that remembering him doesn’t bring instant tears. And while I write this, my eyes are a bit wombly, but I’m not crying. I can smile, knowing he’s off doing whatever it is he needed to do, to be. I miss him. I’ll always miss him. I just can’t be sorry he’s no longer here, suffering. Causing chaos that caused him even more suffering. I don’t know what he’d have become, had he stayed. I never will. But I do know my Bear is okay where he is, even if he misses us, too.

And now come the waterworks making the screen blur. But I’m smiling too. My boy. My sweet, brilliant son. I’m off into new adventures too. A new house, new town, a new phase in my life he’ll never be part of. I can’t wish him near me in spirit, because that only holds him back. Life held him back in more ways than anyone knew. Death won’t. I believe that in depths of my heart I never knew existed.

He’s gone north. How funny, I’m heading south. His journey is going to be way longer; I’m only moving to the next town. I won’t anticipate our paths crossing, but if they do, I’ll know. And I’ll be able to cherish whatever fleeting moments I get, then let go again without holding too tight, holding him back. Holding myself back.

Here’s to 2017. And three cheers for 2018. May the ups sustain you through the downs.

Peace.

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Homecoming

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I just watched a “soldiers coming home” meme on Facebook, meant to draw a few tears, a sad smile, a thank goodness. I cried, not over those soldiers and their families, but because I felt what they felt, once. In a dream. I was sitting at my kitchen counter, and I felt him walk in. I turned, and there he was, standing in the doorway. There he smiled. There he held out his arms for me to launch myself into. Watching that stupid meme, I remembered the mindbending joy of those people in it. And I remembered how empty my arms remained as I launched.

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It’s been hard to post in here, lately, ever since my weighted house and bear dream. My days are full of so much happiness, so much happening. It’s not all fucking rays of sunshine, but who can let the heaviness devour when your son and his lovely girlfriend come home to visit, when you see your family more than usual, when your grandkids are adorable, and your oldest daughter makes you tea, and your youngest one has a new puppy and a one-eyed cat? When all your literary aspirations are, daily, happening and happening and happening? And so I don’t leave any of myself here, because there’s just too much to contain, or set loose.

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The weight of this house still presses on my shoulders, but I’m better at bearing it now. Deciding I’m okay leaving has built up some sort of muscle, or muscle memory, that keeps me from going down on my knees. Bear is gone north, without even a glance over his shoulder. He can’t. I know he couldn’t. But still it skewers me, a kebab on the fire roasting low and slow and inexorable. Maybe he’ll be back. Maybe he won’t. I never did like kebabs all that much.

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I want to be done here, to be in the new, to leave behind (only a safe distance) this dream of life I’ve led all these years. Turn the corner, the page, the bend in the road, the wheel of the year. I’ll be patient, faithful that things will work out in a way I’ll be able to work with. It’s what Tiggers do best, after all–roll with the punches, make lemonade out of lemons, always look on the bright side of life.

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The Weight of This House

I first stepped foot onto this property a little more than fifteen years ago. It was dusk. There was no driveway. Just an undeveloped two acres of wildflowers, forest, and the river. Thrills ran up the back of my neck, prickled my brain. “This is where I’m going to die.”

Beside me, Chris said, “So am I.”

He was eleven. All that was to come was still years away, not even a momentary consideration of a path on our horizon. I laughed. “I sure hope you’re not still living with us by then!”

I don’t remember exactly his response, but he said something about it being his house by then. We were moving into this new adventure, into this dream come true–a log home on the river, in the woodsy mountains, in this town we love–with every expectation of those in the prime of life with nothing but more good stuff coming our way.

Things don’t always turn out the way we anticipate. The weight of this house and all its echoes rests so heavily on me now.

ambivalent: n. in psychology, ambivalence is defined as the mental disharmony or disconnect a person feels when having both positive and negative reactions regarding the same individual, situation, or object.

This is what I am. I want to leave here so badly, leave behind this shattered dream, this too big house, the expense, the echoes of all the good and bad that happened here. But the thought of leaving rips me apart. How can I leave this beautiful piece of land, this house I dreamed of all my life? How can I leave Chris’ tree, the roof he built, the splatters on the wall from the chemical explosion that stunk up my house for days? How can I stay with those things, and not feel the weight of them forever? I want to go. I want to stay.

We need to go.

This house is too big. The property, too much. With Frank possibly retiring, our expenses need to narrow down to what we need, while still having some semblance of the life we’ve worked so hard to live. I WANT small. Cozy. A place just mine and his. No echoes of kids’ laughter in the rafters, or bangs in the night that meant catastrophe had fallen…again. I know this is right. And yet…

Ambivalence at its most visceral. It hurts. And it’s heavy. And I need to let it go. I know that underneath all the churning in my gut, my heart, my brain. In writing this, all that churning makes the computer screen blur and my flying fingers skip keys.

I know it’s right.

I know it’s right.

It’s time for a new adventure. We just have to take that leap.

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Deifying the Dead

Saint Anthony. That’s what I call my late-father-in-law whenever my husband waxes poetic about his wonderful dad. He was a good man, he had a good heart. He could also be an ass of epic proportions. He didn’t believe in sparing the rod, or spoiling the child. “Love them while their sleeping” was one of his catch phrases, whenever I hugged my children in his presence. He was also a raging misogynist.

But he visited every Sunday, and brought the kids donuts or lollipops. Jamie and Scottie were his grandchildren from day one. I loved him. We all did.

Just like I don’t downplay my brilliance or deny my less than stellar traits, neither will I do so for my beloved dead. Loving a person means doing so because of and despite their many quirks.

But today? I’m going to deify my beloved dead just a little bit, because it’s so very easy to remember the turmoil, and the sorrow they caused.

I see Brian every time I look at our GrandWilliam. The swing of his hair. The dimple in his chin. I know Will looks just like his daddy at that age, but I see what I see. I imagine the child Brian was, because I raised his son and now watch our grandson sometimes wander sometimes rage through his days. Sensitive. Sweet. Prone to indecision. Affectionate. I remember this Brian so well, and lovingly.

And Chris.

I know Chris’ facets, better than most. Today, I’m not dwelling on the chaos, but the calm. He was just so brilliant. A chemistry savant (not my words, but I agree.) He could discuss complex medications and how they work, why and why not, without ever having studied. Just show him the compounds, and in his head they created themselves the way composers see music.

He had a spark, that something that made him stand out in a crowd, and not just because he was 6’1″, built like a god, and gorgeous. It was in his smile, his charm, his great big heart. There was one time, during his bouncer days, an extremely drunk patron causing a ruckus had to be escorted out. Somehow, he wiggled lose and chomped down on Chris’ thigh so hard he ripped through his jeans and drew blood. The other bouncers called out for him to punch him in the face to get him off, but Chris didn’t. He didn’t want to hurt him.

He. Didn’t. Want. To. Hurt. Him.

It reminds me of when he played soccer, as a little, little boy. If the ball came to him but someone on the opposing team wanted it, he stepped aside and let him have it. His coach thought it was the sweetest thing. Like when he walked his little sister to her classroom every day, and gave her a kiss before she went in. All four teachers in that hall would stand outside their rooms just to watch.

He befriended every misfit, defended the picked on, patiently and competently taught others when they just didn’t understand. He shared his brilliance, not to show off, but because he loved to share what he knew, and see that spark when someone else understood, too.

Chris was insatiable. (Grace’s word, and the perfect one for him.) No  matter what he did, he did it completely. Obsessively. Until he’d mastered whatever it was he did. If he loved you, he loved you entirely and without boundary. When he took up hunting, bowyering, chemistry, growing marijuana, beading, bodybuilding–he had to have all the right tools down to the smallest chisel or brush. All or nothing. That was Chris.

There is a negative side to everything. Both of these beloved dead ended up just that–dead, and way too young. I always thought Brian was too wild for this world, and Chris was too brilliant. Both of them were extremely sensitive souls who hurt as big as they lived.

I don’t deify the dead, as a rule, but once in a while, it feels nice. Necessary. And right.

Peace.

(Feel free to deify your beloved dead. I’d love to know them.)

 

 

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One Hundred Eighteen Beaches

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I have sand from many islands–St. Tomas and St. Maarten; Aruba and Antigua; Jamaica, and Bahamas; so many more. There’s pebbley sand from Villefranche, the fine sand of Anguilla, and sand from the bottom of the Mediterranean off the coast of Capri. Sand from Walden Pond in Massachusetts, and Muskegon on Lake Michigan.  I have sea-washed pebbles from Africa, Italy, France and Spain; Precambrian quartz from North Carolina. Sand from Ireland and Maine that you can’t tell apart without the labels on their glass containers. I have volcanic sand from Guatemala, and Hawaii. Red sand from Prince Edward Island. White sand from Fort Meyers Beach in Florida. Pink sand from Bermuda. Black sand from Maine and Washington.

And seashells. So many seashells. And prehistoric shark teeth, some the size of a baby tooth, others as big as my thumb. I have ocean-going pods called Sea Hearts, in a jar there on my shelf.

In my loft, in my log house, on the river, in the woods, I have 118 beaches, some sent or brought home to me by friends and family. They’re memories of days spent waterside. Mine. Someone else’s. Someone who sat on a beach and thought of me, who gathered a handful up in a ziploc bag or empty water bottle, and carried it home.

These little glass tubes and jars make me happier than one might imagine such things could. I look up from my computer, and there they are. Memories and love and sand.

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Modesty really is for suckers

I’ve decided it’s time for me to re-commit myself to my motto, because it recently slipped a little bit.

Modesty. Is. For. Suckers.

I won’t hide my light. Ever. I won’t concern myself with others seeing my confidence as conceit. I absolutely will not downplay the positives just in case it all goes awry.

Many of us were raised in a world where girls not only didn’t boast, they were taught to be “modest.” (Thus my choice of that particular word.) Cross your legs. Don’t speak out. Don’t make waves. If you share how good you are at something, others will think you’re conceited. Being a child of the 60’s and 70’s also made me a child of constant conflicting messages. All the old mores were being rebelled against. Hindsight shows me my own parents struggling with tradition vs. how they actually felt.

I’ve always been an optimist. The notion of not getting my hopes up in case something doesn’t pan out never seemed logical to me. If all goes well, you’ve spent time needlessly worrying. If it goes south, you spent extra time in that worry when you could have been daydreaming of better outcomes. Whether I plan for the worst or hope for the best doesn’t alter the outcome, so, for the most part, I choose to spend my energy in a more positive mindset.

But once in a while…

Last weekend, I shared a worry that strikes me now and again, but–truly–doesn’t linger. Because it’s writing related, I have uttered this worry more than once among the same people. After saying it the other day, I said to myself, “They’re going to think this is really eating at me!” And when I mentioned this connected thought to a friend just yesterday, her response was, “We’re just not used to seeing you as anything but confident.”

Well…me either! On the way home from lunch, I pondered why I keep speaking this worry aloud when I rarely even think it. Honestly? Even if the worst case scenario does become reality, it’s not going to change the way I look at myself, my writing, my anything. You know what I realized? It’s because I’m downplaying my talent, my accomplishments, so others don’t think I’m arrogant about it.

How ridiculous is that? Seriously. I am a talented writer. I’ve accomplished a lot in my years in this publishing world. Anyone who knows me, who loves me, will celebrate along with me. Having confidence doesn’t mean I never make mistakes, that I never fail. It just means I won’t wallow in doubt and despair if I do. I’m not going to ever preemptively doubt myself, because I know there is nothing I can’t do when I set my mind to it. Successfully? Maybe not, but doubt is never going to be the reason I fail.

I accept my faults, my failures, my less-than-stellar moments–whether personally or professionally–with an open heart and open eyes. I accept my confidence and all-around brilliance the same way.

It took me a long time to adopt my motto and embrace it with everything I am. I’m never going to downplay my own fabulous self because “people” might look at me askance. As the saying goes, “What other people think of me is none of my business.” It says more about them than it does me. There’s two adages for the price of one.

Modesty is for suckers, baby.

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The years, they fly by

In 1982, I turned eighteen, graduated from high school, got married, and had my first baby, all between March and December.

In 1985, I turned twenty-one, lost my husband in a motorcycle accident, and had my second child, all between March and December.

In 1988, I went on my first date after my husband’s death, fell in love, got married, and lost a baby, all between June and November.

Life comes at me in rather large and speedy chunks, hurled like snowballs I can’t always dodge. I’ve had precious few completely smooth years in my life. There have been. The first five of our Country Farm years. It was like a dream I still take out and relive now and again. Moving to the house on the river, until Christofer’s accident (2003-2006.) After Chris’ accident, life revolved around his recovery, or lack thereof, but they were also good years–just not smooth and carefree. Jamie and Joshua got married in 2007, ah, the joy! Outside of the regular stuff like graduations and high school musicals, I can’t remember anything especially momentous or dire. 2008-2010, aside from ongoing procedures for Chris, were very good years. He was at his best, and that allowed all of us to breathe easier. To hope. To heal along with him.

In 2010, I sold my first book, and found out my son was using heroin. It’s been a fair bit of chaos shot through with absolute joy ever since. The births of my grandchildren. Christofer’s ongoing struggle with pain, addiction, and anxiety. Gracie’s deepening sense of invisibility. The more horrendous my family life, the more momentous became my writing career. And then in 2015, we lost our son. The tailspin experienced by my family took a good couple of years to pull out of, but here in 2017, we’re all breathing a little easier. Hoping. Healing.

This year, I sold A Thousand Different Ways to William Morrow, as well as to Bastei Lubbe (German translation,) and my husband lost his job of eighteen years. Phased out. At sixty-seven years old. The up. The down. It’s a bit dizzying. Maybe it’s true for everyone. I could wish for a little boredom now and then.

Twenty-nine years ago today, Frankie D and I got engaged. We already knew we were getting married, but weren’t doing the engagement ring thing. In an impetuous moment while stuck in traffic, Frankie D saw a jewelry store in a strip mall on the highway. He pulled in. “I’m buying you a ring!”

If my future self came to me, back when I was eighteen, or even twenty-four, and told me, “This is the path of your life; do you want to change it?” Wipe away all the bad? Does that mean I also wipe away my kids? My grandkids? Brian and Frank? My career? Of course, future self could never answer those questions. That’s why I’d probably have to punch her in the face, because who does that to a person?

The years fly so fast. Another summer is coming to a close. August begins my favorite time of year–crickets and cooler weather; Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas; Scottie coming home for a visit. There’s no way to know what joys and sorrows I’ll find on my path. I just know they’re there, waiting.

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