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Eastward

To any pair of eyes, it would seem the road ahead stretches into emptiness forever. Barren lands reach out to the horizon all around me, except for the road ahead and the road behind. There, hot and unforgiving asphalt shines under the summer sun. When I was young, having a summertime birthday was more than I could hope for. Pools, beaches, Disney World; it didn’t really matter where I celebrated my birthday, but it always ended up being somewhere fun.

Had I kept my young eyes, the brown land around me would be an adventure. I’d be a passenger in this car, staring out the window, imaging myself astride a horse and galloping towards the setting sun. But my eyes were old before I, as a whole, could be named in kind. Death followed me too soon and too close, but always skipped me. I buried my parents while in my 20s, just after returning from Vietnam. It’s a child’s duty, I suppose, to bury their parents. I just hadn’t expected it to come so soon. When I was blessed with the company of a smart, beautiful woman who became my wife, I had to part with her earlier than I wished, too. The only child we ever conceived together died in my arms shortly after being born. Some kind of heart condition, the doctor told us. That gave us a heart condition of our own. My wife, especially. I tried to find and hold any light I could grasp in that dark place, but Catherine was never the same after that. A logical person might think it dramatic to say she died of heartbreak, but that’s what I believe. She passed away at 32 years of age on what would have been – should have been – our son’s fifth birthday.

Her green eyes haunt my peripheral vision. We used to drive this way together every summer, even after the baby, to see the coastline the one time a year we were able to. It had become tradition somewhere along the way. There were years we could barely afford it, but my wife always made sure, somehow, that we saw the ocean for my birthday. After she died, I kept the tradition on my own. I sorta figure she’d like that. My first year alone, I took her ashes with me. I buckled her into the front seat, where she belonged, and even talked to her on the way. The ocean took her remains and my tears.

So my old eyes stare out at the empty road ahead. It’s a long and lonely path without her, but I’ve done it so many years that driving there is automatic. Like a bird flying south for the winter, I steer east for the summer. I find myself wondering who will bring me here when I’ve died. I want my ashes in the sea. I want my ashes with her. But I have no one now who’ll add their salt to the sea over my passing.

I see stars beginning to twinkle in the sky as the sun disappears. As if on cue, an exit sign pops up on the side of the road where a moment ago there was only horizon. I bet it’s for the Days Inn we always stopped at. Moments later, I see that it is. This is my stop for the night.

The blue eyes of the man at the desk greet me without emotion, but I smile at him anyway. There’s someone new here every single year, but they all seem to possess the same exact disdain for their job. Can’t say as I blame ‘em. So, I smile, even though I can’t really think of a reason to.

My eyes meet their reflection in the mirror of the bathroom I will, for twelve hours, call my own. I think about how we should have stayed in the same room every year. I’m not sure why it’s important. I think again about selling everything I have left back home and moving out to the beach, or at least closer to it. But then I’d lose the journey. I sit my old bones down on the bed and reconsider how much journey I have left in me as my joints protest my every move. Gingerly, I recline. Softly, I sigh.

Tears form in my eyes. I’m a day behind schedule. I left too late. Today is my birthday and I’m still miles from the ocean. For the first time in a long time, I don’t feel wet sand between my toes as I age another year. Sitting back up, I look towards the ceiling. In my mind, I can see the stars I know are there. In my mind, I imagine my lost loved ones looking down at me. “Will it be all right?” I want to ask. I know the answer. I clean up for bed and set an early alarm for tomorrow morning. Then I creak and crack my way into the most comfortable position I can manage.

I close my eyes. And, although I have just turned seventy, I feel I have been this old for a very long time.

Purple Milk

Short, creative nonfiction with a single fictional element, revealed after the story concludes.

***

One of the most significant lessons I ever learned as a child was how much I loved to laugh and, even more importantly, how much I enjoyed making others shake their bellies and showcase their teeth. While I am not one for pranks on most occasions, one memory in particular centers around a childhood trick I played on my parents.
I was indoors, painting at a folding table in the living room. The Florida sun beat down on the roof of our home and tried to greet us though every available millimeter of window space. In spite of those cheerful rays, the tone of the day felt dreary. My mother and father did chores in and out of the apartment as needed, and I kept myself occupied with whatever strange creature, landscape, or horse I was painting that day. I swirled my brush around my cup of water, turning it blue. Once satisfied that it was clean enough to proceed, I went for my next color. On and on, until my water turned into a mucky purple.
To this day, I cannot tell you where I got such a wicked little idea. Looking at the purple water, I thought about the chocolate and strawberry syrups in our refrigerator. I much preferred chocolate milk to strawberry, but we kept that on hand for my nephew, who I think enjoyed it more than the chocolate. Making sure the coast was clear, I crept into the kitchen and grabbed one of the glasses I was allowed to use for paint water. I filled it with milk equal to the amount of dirty water in my glass in the living room. Then I added a little bit of each flavored syrup until the color of my milk matched my water almost perfectly. I giggled softly, quite pleased that the first stage of my plan went uninterrupted.
Sneaking back into the living room, I tucked the milk away where I knew it could not be seen (but where it also wouldn’t fall over). I resumed painting and waited patiently for my parents to pass by me. I needed at least one of them to see that I was still painting, and hopefully take note of the color of my water. I heard movement and, though I was not done with the area I was working on, I slipped my brush into the water and stirred. My father walked by and smiled at me, glancing at my work and, surely, noticing the water I was still spinning my brush in. When he’d gone and the coast was clear, I swapped the water for milk and set my brush aside. With timing more perfect than I could have asked for, my mother came into the living room. Seeing that I was no longer holding my brush, she asked, “All done painting?”
“Yep!” I exclaimed, tossing my messy curls aside and grinning mischievously. “Guess I don’t need this dirty water anymore!”

Scamp that I was, I picked up my dreadful looking milk and, in one big gulp, I downed the whole thing before plopping the glass down on the table as theatrically as possible. My mother’s eyes widened farther than I had ever seen before and she yelped a combination of my name and my father’s name. I couldn’t help it. The act was over. I burst into a fit of giggles and, between breaths, I moved towards my hidden paint water.

“Don’t worry, don’t worry!” I laughed some more, terribly pleased my joke was a success. “It was just milk! Milk and colored syrup!” Another fit of giggles threatened to have me spill the glass of water I was now holding.

My father had entered the room by now and began to inquire about what was happening. To my delight, Mom started to laugh along with me. “Our daughter is trying to give me a heart attack,” she joked, before telling him about my little prank.

The dreariness of the day burned up in our laughter and it didn’t dare return; even after sunset.

***

Fictional Element:  Continue reading Purple Milk

The Path Most Traveled

Written on January 16th, posted now after being delayed by an adventure.

***

Sections of cloud glow orange beneath the plane carrying me back to my home state. By the time we arrive in Orlando, it will be tomorrow and I will have officially spent every moment of my 29th birthday at an airport or on a plane. Fifteen of these twenty-four hours were claimed by YYZ; flying standby has its risks. Fortunately for me, I was stuck in a confusing, noisy, uncomfortable situation with probably the only person I could stand to share such frustration with.

Tomorrow, my niece marries. Not until four in the afternoon, quite thankfully, because I very much miss sleep at this point. I remain undecided, however, if I’m more excited to collapse into bed or take a shower.

Yes, I’m 29 and I have a niece who’s getting married. It does sound a bit strange, I admit. Even though she is more of a little sister for our small age difference and upbringing, it’s odd to prepare to attend her wedding. I still don’t feel like a grown-up, except when I’m paying bills or buying toilet paper, so whenever anyone else does something “real” adults do, it makes me shift my mental weight.

On this flight, my significant other and I were moved to Plus – this airline’s equivalent of First Class. It’s a nice treat after the night and day and night we’ve had. A little more leg room, some free food, a row to ourselves. The satellite system is giving the airline trouble, so we get to watch The Martian for free. Quite fitting; we both enjoyed the movie immensely and will be at the Kennedy Space Center in a few days. A “Finally!” for both of us, which is especially odd for me as a Florida native. There’s so much of my state I’ve yet to explore, despite it being my residence for almost all my life. Even as a child, I felt it was odd to have such an astronomical number of people who’d come for a week see the things I hadn’t seen year after year.

I should be sleeping instead of writing. Achieving a cat nap is the best I can do on a plane, but I’m not even trying tonight. Matt Damon has such a small fraction of my attention that it’s almost absent entirely. The window keeps asking me to glance outside. Faint, cloud-covered lights below set my brain jogging on any path willing to beckon my attention. I’m tired. I’m excited. I’m dirty. I’m restless. But, despite all of today’s trials and all of tomorrow’s uncertainties, I can feel my heart is content.

Amanda Maureen & 2016

A long time ago, in the mystical month of November and the fabled year of 2015, I started blogging again. I managed one whole post before drafts piled up, half written, and dust started settling over my good intentions. Being busy with work and life in general is as poor and as good an excuse as any, but I was sick, too! Surely that makes a difference in realizing my shortcomings.

Nondenominational depression (‘Twas the season!) played a healthy part in my absence as well, exacerbated by the death of a family member and so many other little details. Suffering from depression becomes its own advent calendar in December.

On the first day of Christmas, Depression gave to meeeee: A heaping dose of leeeth-arr-gyyyy!

I’m so funny.

The new year has gotten off to a decent start, though, and I’m hopeful for the future. I learned a long time ago that resolutions aren’t my cup of tea, but I do have some goals I’d like to work on; the start of which just so happen to coincide with the beginning of a new calendar. (No, splitting hairs isn’t one of them.)

The one most relevant here is my pledge – which I’m almost a full 24 hours late for already, whoops – to write one blog per week for the entirety of 2016. I’m hoping it will be a good way for me to collect my thoughts and pull back from the scatterbrained state I’ve been in. I also sincerely miss writing the way I used to and would like for this to be a way I can breadcrumb back to that plane of existence. I have a lot of other things I’ve started working on, but those I’ll be keeping mummified until I’ve had time to develop them further. I’m very excited about where it could lead!

Pour Paris – et pour le monde

There are times when this world fills me with warmth and love I cannot measure. Today, I am unfortunately filled with an equal amount of sadness and despair. I feel I am at a loss for what to do with my empathy for Paris.

I am not at a loss for words, however.

We need to stop hurting one another. We need to stop fighting. The knee-jerk reaction to put down the rabid dog is not quite the path I believe we should be on. We are expected to react with additional violence and hatred. That’s what keeps this particular machine running. The cycle has to break. If you grow up in an abusive home because your parent grew up in an abusive home and you raise your children in an abusive home, what good comes from that? None. You have to be conscious of what is happening around you, to you, and with you in order to make the effort of cutting out that negative pattern.

We do NOT need to close our borders. We should NOT condemn Muslims. Caution and intelligence – not fear and prejudice – are what will triumph if we put them to use. We should embrace one another and, while we must stand strong against terrorism, remember that an eye for an eye will blind us before we even begin. Let us be just but kind; strong but tender. We must be the ones to promote tolerance and acceptance if we ever hope to receive that in return. Be the change you want to see in the world, treat others the way you want to be treated. All those clichés exist in truth.

Let me be absolute in my stance: ANY amount of intolerance is WHY this shit happens. Terrorists and extremists are not refugees, they are not any proper representation of the religion they claim; they are nothing but terrorists/extremists. That is the beginning and the end of their description. Stop letting them pit us against one another.

To that end, there is nothing wrong with praying for Paris if that is your inclination. My personal qualms with religion have no place here. We cannot simply pray in the stead of taking action (be that donating your time or money to help, speaking out in support, etc.), but we should also not jump to condemn those sending positive thoughts (which is what prayer amounts to) to those most directly impacted by yesterday’s attacks.

I am not saying no action should be taken. I’m not saying we should cuddle ISIS until they fart rainbows and turn into Care Bears. But any blind approach to the world is no approach at all. A revolution is long overdue and it is my hope that we start that path on the right foot and not the same one that has lead us to where we stand now.