Monthly Archives: December 2009

The Security Question

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“And what’s your mother’s maiden last name?”  The bank teller asked mindlessly.  I hated that question.

“Umm, funny story.  I don’t have one…a mother, that is.”  I hated that answer.

“Oh, I’m sorry.  It says that right here.  It’s just a security thing you know.”

I nodded.

I don’t know how it came to be that my mother gave me up.  I was told I lived with her for a while before she came to that decision, but I was like eighteen months or something, so I don’t remember her.  I also don’t know why I was never adopted.  I lived in several foster homes, but it was always temporary, like staying at an aunt’s house.  You never really unpack.  I remember just feeling like I was waiting to be picked for a basketball team.  The teams were formed and playing and I was still sitting on the bench.

After you’re eighteen, you’re out of the system.  It’s sink or swim then.  I’ve tried my hardest to keep from sinking.  I’ve seen some of the others:  addicted, homeless, dead on the streets, and a few who joined the military because it was a sure job.  I didn’t want to kill anyone –especially myself, so I got a job as a nursing assistant in an old folks’ home.  You don’t need special education or experience, you just have to be strong and know how to listen.

After I cashed my check, I walked back to work because my lunch time was almost over.  One of the perks of working at the Golden Lake Rest Home was free food, so I could always grab something if I walked through the kitchen.

“Hello, Georgia!”  I said as checked on my first charge.  “How are you doing today?”

“Oh Mandy, I am doing fine, just fine.  Why don’t you sit a spell?  I’ve been dying for someone to talk to.”  Georgia’s family lived over 100 miles away and they were pretty poor, so she didn’t get many visitors.

I’d love to,” I told her.  “Just let me check on the others, and I’ll be right back.”  Homer was napping.  Betsy needed a pitcher of ice water, but she was other-wise happily chatting on the phone, and Diana was downstairs playing bingo.  I got Betsy her water, and returned to Georgia’s room.

“So what have you been thinking about, Georgia?”  I said as I sat in the straight chair near her window.

“I was thinking about when I was your age.  Some things were harder and some things were easier.”

“I’m sure that’s true.”  I agreed.

“But sometimes it’s all about our attitude and our choices.”  She said slowly.

“I have to agree with you there too.”

“Take us for example,” she said leaning forward in her rocking chair and patting my knee.  “How old are you now?”

“I’m 19.”  I told her.

“When I was 19, I was married and pregnant with my second child. –Now, I’m not saying that’s the right way –no, not at all.  But times were different then.  That’s what a young woman did.  But now, you have so many choices.  I watch these soap operas and I think Mandy is more beautiful and so much more smarter than the women on them.What do you want to do, Mandy?”

“I don’t know really.”  I said.  “Sometimes it’s hard enough to think past the next rent payment.”

“Whatever you want is out there waiting for you.  If you want to go to college, there’s a way to find the money.  If you want to own this place,” she said sweeping her hand across the room, “there’s a way.  Just don’t limit yourself.” She said sternly pointing her bony finger at me.

“I have something for you.”  She got up and opened the little treasure box on her dresser.  She kept the object that she pulled out enclosed in her hand before she placed it in mine.  It was round and gold and looked like a pocket watch with a very detailed engraved design of schooners sailing on high waves.  When I opened it, I saw that it was a compass.  “It was my grandfather’s.”  She said.  “So you can imagine how old it is.  He was a merchant marine and he kept that compass with him.  It has been to Africa, and India, Japan, Peru, Brazil, China –you name it.  All you need,” she said patting my hand, “is a little direction.”

The thoughts that ran through my head about sailing and flying and far-off places swirled around until I was dizzy with them.  I couldn’t think of anything to say right then, except a quiet “Thank you.”  It was time for my shift to be over and time for Georgia to go downstairs for dinner.  As she got her little white cardigan out of her closet, I turned around in the middle of the doorway.

“Georgia?”  I asked,  “I was wondering…What’s your maiden name?”

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Birthmark

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“Ay mates, let’s get some pub grub.” Katie decided. “Ya with me?”

It always seemed like her group of friends followed any idea she threw out. If she decided it would be a good idea to go swimming in the ocean in October, they’d be right behind her, and then tell stories about it at the pub for weeks.

“Will we be goin’ to The Barking Spider or Flannery’s t’night?” Colm asked.

“I’m leanin’ towards Flannery’s because their boxty is brilliant.”

So the six college seniors headed towards Flannery’s on a well-deserved night off after a week of particularly difficult final exams before the Christmas break. As they burst onto the premises, they saw an announcer facilitating pub games. That was a bonus, because a night with pub games always ensured a good time.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I have something a little different for ya t’night. Rather than your typical trivia or drinking game, I would like to demonstrate the mystical magic of hypnosis.”

Katie leaned over to Bridgette and whispered, “This ought to be great craic!”

“So do I have any victims –I mean…volunteers?” the man said sweeping his arm over the audience.

Katie got up. “Sure, I’m game.”

“Beautiful! Now then have a seat here.” He said patting the back of a black leather chair in front of him on the stage. “And just relax.” So she sat down, gave a smile and little wave to her table of friends, and closed her eyes.

The man leaned down to her left ear and whispered, “Now, I’m not going to do anything dodgy, and I promise you’ll remember everything.” She gave a quick nod in acceptance. He smelled like soap and lime juice and the clean scent lingered with her bringing another little smile to her face.

“All right my dear, what’s your name?”

“Katie. Katie McGinty.”

“Great! Well Katie, I want you to just close your eyes and relax.” He motioned for the whole pub to hush, and they did.

“Just listen to the sound of my voice, Katie. You are feeling very sleepy…and so relaxed…Your breathing is becoming steady as if you were sleeping…you couldn’t possibly open your eyelids for you haven’t the energy or need. When I count backwards from five to one, Katie, you will be asleep. Five…breathing steady…four…so relaxed…three…sinking deeper…two…one. Katie, whatever we do, you will remember.”

Someone almost began to speak, but the man waved his hand. “Katie, you will only hear to my voice.” The man said quickly. “No one else is here, so there are no other sounds except my voice. Now let’s go back to your third birthday. Are you there?”

“Yes.” She said meekly.

“And what do you see?”

“There is a pink cake with butterflies.” She said in a high little voice. “I can count the candles! One, two three!” The audience gasped and a few giggled a little.

“Very good, Katie. Is that how old you are?” He asked.

“Yes.” She said with a big beaming smile.

“Let’s go back even further, Katie.” There were murmurs and questioning in the audience. Where was he going back to? Her birth?

“All right Katie, what’s the first thing you remember? What do you see?” The man asked.

“I’m in a big bed. The walls are white-washed and there are flowing curtains over windows with no glass. The breeze feels so good on my face… I think they want me to focus on the air, the cool air, breathe.”

The man seemed a bit startled. At first he thought she might be describing the hospital where she born, but it wasn’t any hospital. “Go on…What is happening? What are you doing?”

“I’m holding on to the bedpost and squeezing it when the pain comes because I don’t want to scream. There are four other women in the room around me in colorful saris. One of them is his wife. She is standing in the corner with her arms crossed, looking at me with contempt and maybe jealousy. She’s had no children yet.”

The man was amazed and had no idea where this story could be coming from, so he just shrugged his shoulders to the audience, and encouraged her to go on. He was careful not to say her name now because he was quite sure she was no longer Katie.

“They’re talking so fast! I can’t understand them. I smell curry. It’s really strong. I used to love it, but now, here, it makes me want to throw up! They look scared. They’re talking so fast, it’s making me nervous. What are they saying? I’m giving birth! Oh my God, I’m having a baby! Oh, it hurts! IT HURTS! But the women are trying to help me. The woman in red and gold with the painted hands gave me some herbs…it’s coming so fast…but everything is… floating away…I can’t feel them…the voices…the smell…it’s fading …it’s turning white…” Her voice trails off, into voicelessness.

The man wasn’t sure what to do, so he took her out of it as quickly as he could. “Ladies and gentlemen, let’s give a big hand to Katie!” There was a round of applause from the audience and the man immediately decided to go back to the usual fare of trivia/drinking games.

Katie had managed her way back to her table in what her friends thought might be a slight daze. She couldn’t speak, because there was nothing to say. She downed the rest of her Jamison and grabbed a few chips off of Bridgette’s plate.

“Hey mates!” She said putting on a somewhat forced smile. “I’m done in. I’m gonna
head back. It’s been a long day.”

Bridgette thought she should go with her. “No, no, I’m top notch.” She assured them. “Really. Enjoy yourselves. Sláinte!”

As soon as Katie crawled into bed, she fell into a heavy, dreamless sleep, as if she hadn’t slept for days. And even though she forgot to set her alarm and subsequently slept in, she managed not to miss her noon appointment with her Anthropology professor, Dr. Singh.

“Hello, Katie.” He said in his British/Indian accent when he saw her in the doorway. For some reason, she almost couldn’t recognize him.

“Hello, Dr. Singh,” Katie said as she handed him her research paper. “Can I ask you something?”

“Of course, Katie. What is it?” Katie noticed that he had really large eyes with long eyelids that didn’t really go all the way up but made his eyelashes even more pronounced. It was hard for her to look away from them.

She sat down in the big soft chair in front of his desk. “In your religion you believe in past lives, right?”

“Yes, reincarnation is a tenet of the Hindu faith.” He replied.

“As Catholics, I think we believe that only Jesus had the power to come back.”

“Yes, it’s an interesting little snag in Christianity.”

Katie laughed a little nervously. “So how does it work exactly?”

“Well,” Dr. Singh began leaning back in his chair and touched his long, bony fingertips together. His fingers showed his age much more than his face did. “For those who are interested in these things, they may see the details in a meditation or a dream perhaps. Most often they remember their own death first, because it’s usually the most traumatic thing they experience.”

“Really?” Katie looked up with big eyes. “How do they know it’s real?”

“Sometimes they carry something with them: a favorite food, a fear, an allergy, even a birthmark.” He explained.

“How can you keep a birthmark?”

“Sometimes you chose to have one to remind yourself. Listen,” he said as he stood up and grabbed his jacket. “I was just about to go for lunch. Would you like to join me?”

“Ok.” Katie agreed, and they walked to the local curry house. Dr. Singh ordered food and talked to the waiter in Hindi. Somehow Katie could tell that what he ordered wasn’t on the menu, but the waiter just nodded without question.

“So as we were saying…if there is something to be remembered, the spirit will find a way to remember it.”

Katie watched Dr. Singh take a hollow ball of crunchy fried bread and put a potato and pea mixture in it. Then he added a teaspoon full of a spicy green water inside and popped the whole thing in his mouth. She imitated him. The taste was unexplainably shocking. It was delicious, but she could feel the white walls and flowing curtains swirling around her in a dizzying wind.

“Tell me, do you have a birthmark behind your left shoulder?” Dr. Singh asked breaking the spell.

“Yes…yes, I do, but how did you know?”

He looked up and focused his big eyes directly on her. “All my life I have lived with the guilt of my mother’s death, and now…finally…I can redeem myself to her.”

“When I get bigger…”

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My daughter Rumi Li is a very talkative, precocious two year-old, who is obsessed with being “bigger.” “When I get bigger, I’ll type.” That’s how it started. She said this every time she saw us typing –or anyone typing for that matter. Then it began to grow.

“When I get bigger, I’ll drive.”

“Yes, Rumi, when you are bigger you can drive.”

“When I get bigger, I’m going to wear a bra just like you –a blue bra.”

“My bras are white, because they don’t make them pretty in my size, Rumi, but you can probably have a nice blue bra.”

“When I get bigger, I will take a shower just like you and daddy. But now, I take a bath.”

“You’re right, Rumi, when you get bigger, you can take a shower.”

“When I get bigger, I can wear lip gloss.”

“When I get bigger, I’ll go to the school with all the kids.” She might be shocked when she finds out she will be home-schooled even though I”ve tried to explain it to her, and so far, she thinks it’s a good idea.

“When I get bigger, I will eat beef and drink coffee.”

“Ok, Rumi, when you get bigger you can eat beef and drink coffee if you wwant.”

“When I get bigger I can have an iPod, and I can listen to music.”

“When you get bigger Rumi, they will probably have better things than iPods.”

“When I get bigger,” She said once during a documentary, “Can I go to faraway places like Thailand like mama?”

“Sure Rumi, but you probably should take me with you.”

Then things started to get more complex.

“When I get bigger, and I can read, I can play Anais’ games.”

“You are right Rumi, but Rumi, you have to be big enough to wear underwear. Can we work on that first?”

“Ok, but when I get bigger, and I wear underwear, I’m going to type.”

Dream big, Rumi, Dream big.

A Momentary Lapse

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The Bohemian etched-glass stemware must have been at least a couple hundred years old, but they were in perfect condition;  well taken care of by their owners and their owners servants, being passed down from the oldest child to the oldest child.  In the set, there was also a wine carafe, a pitcher and a fruit bowl.  It was easy to imagine these being the focal point of a well-set dinner table for a high-status dinner party.  “Oh, yes,” the hostess would gush.  “These were handed down from my great-grandmother.  They were a wedding present to her grandmother.  They remain perfectly pristine, don’t they?”  And the guests would “ooh” and “ahh” and look at each glass closely as if they were museum curators.

And for such a party, Elizabeth set her table with Martha Stewart precision and flair.  The bowl contained an uneven number of fruit arranged as if they were randomly placed there, but actually painstakingly arranged so that nothing of the same type, color or shape was near another.  The pitcher had a simple gathering of miniature sunflowers to represent the late summer season, and placed so that the face of each flower faced each guest.

She picked the perfect white wine that she poured in the carafe early to give it ample time to breathe before the guests arrived.  She thought of everything.  The first course would be Asian Carrot-Ginger soup with black sesame seeds and diced green onions on the top, served in Chinese tea cups she had bought in a market in a small village outside of Shanghai.

She chose Cornish hens as her main entrée, marinating them for twelve hours in a beautiful marinade that was handed down from her grandmother who was not only extremely efficient in a time of few luxuries, she was an amazing cook.  Elizabeth loved the moment that she walked into her kitchen because the smell of potatoes, onions, sausage, and pastry was always overwhelmingly comforting.  The hens marinated in her big cooler because there was no other way to soak all twelve.  Glazed carrots and smashed garlic potatoes would be on the side of each china plate.  Smashed potatoes were the “new” thing now, but it’s so much easier than peeling all of those potatoes and using a mixer to whip them.  Dessert would be bread pudding with custard sauce like you can get in any pub in London, for no other reason than it was her favorite dessert, and should she make one, it might as well be her favorite.

It was nearing six o’clock, and everyone should be arriving soon.  In fact, usually her daughter, Linda and her family often arrived a little early, so it might be considered unusual that she wasn’t there yet.  But that left time to take off her apron, check her hair and face, and tidy up the kitchen so that it looked like no one had even been in there.

She sat on the sofa to wait.  There was no other detail to attend to.  She could take a few minutes to catch up on her reading.  There was that article in Redbook she was aching to read about and easy way to make the burnt sugar top on Crème Brulee.  She looked up from her article and it was ten after six.  Was there a traffic accident that she wasn’t aware of.  This was very uncommon behavior of her close circle of family and friends.  She wanted to go to the bathroom, but was afraid that she would be in there when someone rang the doorbell.  She checked on the hens to make sure they were staying warm, but not drying out.  There is such a precision to the time management of bringing together a dinner such as this.

At twenty after, Elizabeth called Linda’s cell-phone.  “Where are you?”  She asked her daughter.

“What do you mean?”

“Dinner’s been ready for twenty minutes and you are not usually late.”  Elizabeth said.

“Mom, I’m not sure I know what you are talking about.”

“Didn’t I invite you and your family over for dinner tonight?”

“No, and I’m sorry, but Michael’s not home from work yet, and Kevin has soccer practice so we couldn’t possibly make it now at the last minute.  Are you sure you’re ok?”

“Yes, I’m fine, but I remember so clearly inviting you, and Joey, and Marianne, and April to dinner tonight.”

“Joey’s in Chicago for work.  The kids are at Lisa’s parents’ house and Lisa went with him.  And isn’t it Marianne’s bowling night?”

“What day is it?”  Elizabeth asked feeling even more confused.

“It’s Tuesday.”

Now Elizabeth began to wonder why she would ever even think of planning a dinner on a Tuesday night.  Had she forgotten the night she planned?  Had she forgotten what day it was?  Was it really a simple mistake?

“Did I invite you over at all, for any day?”  Elizabeth asked?

“No, but we’d be happy to visit on Sunday.  Are you sure you’re ok?  Do you want me to come over right now?  I’ll have Carrie in tow, but she’ll be good.”

“No, no, I’m fine, really.  But if you don’t have dinner made, I have twelve Cornish hens if you want to pick some up.”  Elizabeth laughed in a way that she tried to sound flippant but came off as a bit nervous.  “Anyway, you go take care of your things, and I’ll see you on Sunday.”

She sat there on the sofa in a slight daze for a minute before her eyes caught the sight of the envelope on the coffee table.  She picked it up to remind herself of the guest of honor for this party: the diagnosis.

It was happening faster than she expected.

Small Change

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When Kristy woke up in the morning, something felt different, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.  She heard her mother call her for breakfast, and even getting out of bed felt weird.  Maybe she was sick or maybe she was still dreaming.  Even running down the stairs didn’t feel quite right.

When she got to the kitchen, she saw her mother hunched over the table crying.  “Oh, mom…What’s wrong?”  Kristy ran over to her and put her arms around her, but she couldn’t really “feel” her.  It wasn’t actually a hug, it was a weird sensation.  And then Kristy remembered…her death.

“Oh, mom, it’s ok.  I don’t feel anything.  I’m ok.”  But her mom didn’t hear her.

It must have been about a year ago when she remembered walking down the street with her mother while they were running errands in town.  They were walking past Florshien’s Shoe Store and her mother found a penny on the sidewalk.  She bent over to pick it up and said, “See Kristy, this is a message from grandma to let us know that she’s ok and watching over us.  When you find a penny it means someone who has passed is ok and still with us.  That was right after her grandma died and right before she was diagnosed with some rare form of terminal cancer that she didn’t really understand, but her mother soon became an expert in.

Immediately, Kristy began looking for a penny to give to her mother so that she’ll know that she’s ok now.  She found a penny in the change dish on the counter and put it on the table right by her hands as she was still collapsed over the table top.  Kristy watched and waited for any movement.

After a few minutes her mom lifted her head and looked around the room.  She knew she had to get ready for all of the visitors coming and she didn’t want anyone to know that she had made Kristy’s breakfast out of habit.  How would that look?  She picked up the plate because she had no appetite to eat it herself, so she dumped the food in the trash and put the plate in the sink.  Kristy continued to just wait and watch.  Her mother turned around and stared at the table for the longest time, then she grabbed the silverware and placed it in the sink with the plate and headed to the family room.  On her way past the table, she absently picked up the penny and put it back in the change dish.  She didn’t hold it in reverence like the one from Kristy’s grandma.  She didn’t even look at it.

Kristy’s mother couldn’t remember the last time she had vacuumed.  No one would fault her, of course, but at least it would give her something to do before all of the well-wishers blanket her with sympathy.  She was already suffocating in it and no one was even here yet.  Kristy was all she had.  Her mother died a year ago, and Kristy’s father had moved on to a new wife and new kids twelve years ago right after they divorced.  He barely even came to see Kristy in the hospital, because he just couldn’t handle seeing her sick like that.  He didn’t know how to deal with her pending death, so it was just easier to stay busy or distant.  Don’t look at it and it’s not there.  He paid the bills –thank God for that, because by the final few months, Kristy’s mom had to quit her job and use her retirement savings to live.  There wasn’t much to begin with, but now, after the funeral expenses; she would have to find something right away.

She got out the vacuum and mindlessly pushed it back and forth.  She had no energy to put into anything.  She just wanted to curl up in Kristy’s bed and smell her on the pillow.  How she wished she could just be alone with her grief.  Just then, she heard something get caught up in the vacuum.  It busted the belt!  She sat down to take it apart.  It was a damn penny!  She couldn’t stop herself from crying.  Why now?  How and when was she supposed to get a replacement belt?  She took a deep breath.  There was nothing she could do now, it would have to go unvacuumed.  She put the vacuum away and went upstairs to get ready.

Kristy watched all of this longing to take her mother’s sadness away.  She looked so alone, she couldn’t see clearly.  She couldn’t see the pennies Kristy had left for her.

The gathering was an interesting spectacle.  People came streaming in carrying flowers, or covered dishes.  Kristy thought that was a good idea, because her mother probably wouldn’t want to cook, but maybe she may warm something up.  Some of her little cousins and the neighbor kids were running around a bit.  The adults tried to shush them out of reverence or something, but Kristy just thought “let them play.”  Everyone was sharing stories, and pictures, and laughing and then feeling guilty for laughing.  It was so strange and awkward and uncomfortable.  There’s something so different when a child dies.  Kristy wanted to tell everyone she was happy.  She wasn’t in pain anymore.  She was deeply happy.

She went back to the change dish and took several coins.  She placed them on chairs and coasters; they appeared everywhere.  Then she waited and she watched from the corner of the room.  Who would notice first?  For the longest time everyone seemed caught up in their own sadness and melancholy.  And then she saw her pudgy little cousin Joey find the first one on a chair, and a second on the end table, he went around collecting all of them like they were Easter eggs.

After everyone left, and Kristy’s mother was finally alone, she did what she had wanted to do all along, without worrying that anyone would think she was crazy.  She walked up the stairs to Kristy’s room to “feel” her for a while, to remember what it was like holding her in her first few moments of life, her perfect little mouth, and those tiny little fingers and toes.  Everyone thought she spoiled her because she carried her around everywhere, but really, she just didn’t want to put her down.  Her babyhood wouldn’t last forever.  And then she was seven and lost all four of her front teeth at the same time –just before the school pictures.  It didn’t stop her from making the biggest smile for the photographer.  And then when she lost her hair from the chemo, and the first few clumps came out in her hands, they both fell on her bedroom floor crying together in each other’s arms.

When she stood in the doorway, leaning against the frame, she could smell the fruity smell of Kristy’s favorite soap.  And her eyes turned to the dresser where pictures that had gone unnoticed for so long, suddenly became a focal point of other memories.  And then her eyes glanced over to her bed and saw the words “I’m OK” spelled out in pennies.

Oblivious

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Grace was overcome with regrets and disappointments.  The rain outside was pounding on the windows.  It wouldn’t even snow.  Why, why couldn’t things ever just work the way she wanted them to –just once.  Just once, couldn’t she have something –anything that she really wanted?  Feeling sorry for herself began to swallow her up, suffocate her.

Not one thing in itself was too much to handle.  The four of them were trying to live on her very meager teacher’s salary which put them $27,000 below the poverty level.  Even if her salary were doubled, they’d be below the poverty line, but it would feel so much better.  The only man in the whole neighborhood who had a job was her boss, and he was oblivious to the world around him, which is why he overlooked her for a higher position and hired a younger outsider, whose wife is a doctor.  He had no interest in uplifting those around him.  He probably thought that even though Grace was more qualified, other teachers would be upset.

By itself, that wasn’t that bad, but this was going to be her daughter, Amelia’s third Christmas with no toys and no Santa, and at her age she understands what Christmas is.  Before, they could just pass it off as just another day.  But this year, her grandparents and aunts and uncles are going to ask “What did Santa bring you?”  And she’s not going to understand the question.

No one even came to baby Autumn’s first birthday.  It was as if she were no big deal at all.  Grace’s husband lost his job when she was still pregnant with Autumn and it took him almost a year before he would finally agree to get public assistance.  The electricity had been cut off three times, once for a week, before they could get the money to get it back on.  The phone had been cut once, and the gas twice before he could admit they needed help.

Maybe if her sister-in-laws weren’t so clueless, she could have had a normal, joyous baby-shower before Amelia was born.  Grace told them that she just wanted a small wedding, nothing special.  She didn’t even want a bridal shower, but asked them to put all their effort into the baby shower.  No one had told her that she couldn’t get married, but fifteen doctors had told her she could never get pregnant.  If they had planned a baby shower half as good as the ones she had planned for them, she would have been happy, but only two people from work came and she got absolutely nothing form the registry.  Why couldn’t her babies be showered like all of the babies she had showered?

Maybe if her maid-of-honor had planned her baby shower, it would have been spectacular, but after the wedding, she was never to be seen from, or heard from again –unless she needed a job reference from some far off place.

Why didn’t Grace pick Jamie to stand up for her at her wedding?  Who cares if everybody thought it was weird that he was a guy?  Her husband didn’t care, and Jamie is still her friend –not that he would have held a spectacular baby shower or anything –but he certainly would have come if he had been invited.  He did buy the most spectacular gift (later): the crib and mattress.

Grace thought back to the thousands of dollars that she spent on other people’s kids, and still for the third year, she couldn’t buy her own children Christmas or birthday presents.  It felt so unfair.  Grace’s mother-in-law had a habit of sending great presents –about a month late.  But this year, she completely forgot baby Autumn’s first birthday altogether.

All Grace wanted was to put presents under the tree for her two perfect little girls; presents that she picked out and bought.  Not a lot, just one or two.  She just wanted to see their faces when they realized that it was not just another day.

Grace, herself, hadn’t received a present so many years, it didn’t even matter anymore.  It didn’t matter that she only had two pair of thread-bare underwear.  It didn’t matter that she sewed up the holes in her socks.  The greatest present she could have would be the one she could bring to her girls.  The one they would remember.  It wouldn’t be this year, but she could hope for next year.

She got the girls tucked into bed and sat on her broken couch to find something that would distract her.  Flipping through the stations, she saw that The Grapes of Wrath would be on PBS, maybe that would do it.