Lightning in a Jar: Saturday in the Park with James

 

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photo credit: Jean Marcelo

Chapter 10:

I will never forget that day in the park with you and Sam.

A clear, warm day in May, filled with the scent of black-eyed Susan and primrose flowers.  We sat on the grass, and you plucked two puffy dandelions, handing me one to make a wish upon. How many wishes did we make that day?  I remember mine, and refusing to tell you, even when you tickled me until I squirmed and cried uncle. I so wanted my wishes to come true.

I wished that day would never end. I wished you’d kiss me, and ask me to be your girl, and I wished us to be okay, unfettered by the perceived thoughts of others.

I also wished I could be as good to you as you were to me. Kind, sincere, James. I fell hard for you that day, as we wandered through the park, aimlessly chatting. Sam seemed happy, too, ignoring our flirtation and, instead, he kept cracking us up with his jokes.

There was much laughter that day. Laughter and mirth.

But stop for a moment and think. Did you know? Could you see what I was harboring inside? Not all the time, mind you. Sometimes I was truly happy, as I was that day in the park, and I could forget. But it was always there, James. Inside me. I was crumbling, finding it hard to cope with–

life

school

heartbreak

moving on

It was the moving-on part I was dreading most, what with senior year looming for me. But, first there would be summer and all that it would bring. After that, the thought of what lay ahead–the unknown of it–was frightening. I wanted things to stay the same, but with each passing day, that appeared less likely.

Sometimes I felt as though my skin was made of tempered glass and if I moved the wrong way, I’d fall and burst into a million pieces. Other days, I’d stay in bed, fearing if I stood up, I’d find my feet sinking into quicksand.

But then I’d go to school and smile and kid around, like the best of them, feeling happy and joyful, seeing you and my friends, and singing. How I loved to sing! I’d flit through the day, dancing like a sprite, and singing. And sometimes, the sadder I was, the louder I’d sing.

There was also George. Silly George. Drab George. Why did he keep coming back for more? He had a crush on me, I don’t know why, and I could feel nothing in return. Though I tried, I really did.

But, that was a good day, our day in the park with Sam. A fine day. I remember noticing the sun on your hair, flickering like stars flitting about your head. Your skin so pale and smooth, your black, soulful eyes, inviting, and your smile that still gave away the layer of shyness beneath. I drank them all in.  My heart pulsates, remembering.

I was punch-drunk giddy that day, for you brought out the best in me, and I was deliriously taken with you. We were happy, James, the three of us together, bantering, teasing, and you, no longer shy around me.

I won’t forget how every conversation and every story I shared, I’d use as an opportunity to impishly touch your hand, your shoulder and yes, even your leg, on the pretense that I was making my point. I’d leave my hand on you longer than needed, for I craved the feel of you.  And, you smiled, all the while, knowing what I was up to, reminding me of a Cheshire cat that had swallowed the fish whole. Ah, the folly of it all, we were kids in a game of love.

When it was time to part, we lingered as long as we could. A sideways glance, a forlorn gaze–now I knew why I disliked goodbyes. Out of earshot from Sam, you softly said,

“Meet me here next Saturday. Just us.”

Eagerly, I nodded. Without hesitation.

The following weekend was even more magical. We met soon after breakfast and, meandering through the park, you took my hand. It felt so right, talking about everything, except the future. Only the now. When we reached a clearing, we stopped and sat on a bench.

And, that’s when you looked at me. I mean, you got all serious and looked at me, and I felt my blood rush through me. A little scared, a little sense of anticipation. Right then, I wanted to say, I love you, James!

But, the words hesitated on my tongue, held back by a fleeting fear. And, that is when you kissed me. Your lips brushing against mine, delicately and sweetly at first, then more intense and I lost myself in the moment.

That day would be the beginning of a relationship filled with sultry kisses, looks of longing, and endless passion. Oh, yes there was passion, James–and joy. But, there was also pain. We’d meet after school, most often at your home, in your bedroom, in the shadows of our solitude. Wrapping ourselves in each others arms, you were my panacea, for all that ailed me.

And, yet…

When I’d head home, I’d be overcome with guilt, and the next day I wouldn’t show up. You’d wait for me and I wouldn’t come over. You were a tenth grader, after all, and I was too mortified to tell a soul about our relationship. And, that was adding to the ache gnawing inside me. You must’ve felt it, too.

Loving you, James, brought me unbridled joy. It also chipped away at me, exposing the rawness beneath. Though you swore age didn’t matter, it did, James, which is why I kept you a secret.

I was leading a double life, and I needed to make things right. For this reason, I accepted George’s invitation to the prom.

Only I couldn’t tell you, James.

Secrets. They sure can mess you up.

(To be continued.)

Missed an installment? Catch up by visiting the page, Lightning in a Jar: High School Years.

James at 16

Last week, I opened the door to high school memories when I posted about my first love. Well, with every first love, there’s also “the one that got away.”  Can you think of someone in your past who might fit this bill? I can.

In fact, I have very few regrets in my life, but if I’m honest with myself, I know that this is one of them, for I have never forgotten James. (Note: no real names, other than mine, are used in the telling of this story.)

Photo, courtesy of my high school yearbook.

Photo, courtesy of my high school yearbook.

Like anyone else, I’ve had my share of highs and lows. That’s a fact. And, while some might say you should have no regrets about the past, and that everything happens for a reason, I believe we are active participants in our own destiny just by the paths we choose. So, please read what I’m calling, James at 16 (not to be confused with the old TV series by the same name, by the way). Set during those last years of high school, before we all part company and move on, it is based on truth and yet sometimes, the truth is stretched and re-imagined.


James at 16

Prologue:  This is where I screwed up. The scene of the crime. Twice. With James and then later with me. I can kick myself. I can feel the pain in my shin the instant I do. Take it back, I cry. Take it back. I want to take it back. Thank God, the execution went poorly. It was a poor act to follow, anyway.

And yet, I got a second chance. A second chance, but not with you, James. Maybe once, yes. But, coulda, woulda, shoulda, right?

James, I’m sorry. If you’re reading this, I’m sorry. Know I feel bad, so bad, I wish I could take it back. Put me in the game, Coach, I need a do-over. This time I’ll get it right. No mistakes. I won’t blow it. One for the Gipper, and one for me. Just one.

The more I live, the more I see. How gentle you were. How incredibly kind. You were there when others turned away.

Yet, I did this. I did this to us, snuffing out the sparks of our love because I didn’t think anyone would understand. Now I know what I didn’t know then. Who cares what they would’ve said? Who cares?

I guess I cared.

You’re so handsome, James, right down to that schnoz on your face. So exquisitely chiseled, bump and all. I see you, and you haven’t changed. Exactly the same. The black hair, shiny long against your pale skin. The way your hand keeps coming up to your face to brush the strands out of your eyes. Those narrow hands of yours. I want to touch them again, so gentle, so loving. I want to kiss each fingertip and call you my angel. You really loved me, didn’t you? I could see it in your eyes. Unbridled, innocent, offering it to me with your open heart. And that mischievous, half smile of yours. Was I your first love?

I think I was. And, what did I do?

I snubbed you and did all those horrible things. I was cold. Screw you, James! It’s how I felt, and couldn’t help it. That was me, and I was on fire. No, I was desperate. So lonely, too. My heart, James, my heart. I was embarrassed by my feelings for you. Ashamed, really. Did I tell you how much I loved your soulful black eyes? They took me in. Twinkling, hypnotic eyes.

I fell for you and couldn’t live with myself because of it. It wasn’t right. My 17-year-old self, James, and you barely 16. It wasn’t right. How could a junior like me date a sophomore? It was absurd to even suggest! Can you understand? It was the times. Have they changed much? Is it that different now?

Can you forgive the choices a dumb fool like me makes? Still a child myself, not seeing the big picture. There was nothing practical about my choices. Do you have any regrets, James?

Look at me. Look at me right now, James. My hands open, I have nothing left. Nothing to hide, but what I did. And, what happened with Max, that was not my doing. I know you believe me. He was my friend, yes, but I should never have introduced you. You’ll never know how swiftly I became your fierce protector.

Come closer, James. I want to see you. Feel you. Wrap my arms around you. Lay next to you again, this time wearing my heart on my sleeve. I can almost smell the scent of you on my skin. Burnt sienna, musky and dark. I want to be next to you, in the crook of your shoulder, the way we used to be, spending hours upon hours before your mother would come home. Thankfully, she never caught us, and I would’ve been mortified if she had. She never knew what we did in your room after school. Nor did mine. Our secret rendezvous. No, no one knew except Max, and also Sam, funny Sam who made me laugh when the three of us were together. They each saw the signs–how could they not? But they didn’t know it all.

It should’ve been you, James. My beautiful boy. It should’ve been you. Can we be honest? No more games this time. Let’s go back to where it all began. Let’s ride our bikes to Eisenhower Park as fast as we can–top speed!–with the wind in our face and the sun on our backs. And, when we get there, let’s lay on the grass together, as we once did. But, this time with renewed spirits, as we take in the scent of blue indigo flowers and apple blossoms, so strong this time of year. We’re almost there, James! I can feel it. Side by side, you and I. Breathlessly happy once more.

Lightning in a jar.

(To be continued.)

Second Saturday (aka, Divorce 101)

The funny thing about divorce is that it’s not something you learn how to deal with in advance. Sure, my high school taught me all about Home Economics–how to bake cookies, set a table, and sew a stitch. We had Driver’s Ed classes, too. But, I don’t recall any classes on the in’s and out’s of untying the knot. No siree, Bob!

Candace Bahr and Ginita Wall. Photo credit: Jim Spadoni.

And, if such a class had existed, who among us would have signed up for it? After all, don’t we all want to believe that when we marry, it’s for good? Happily ever after, till death do us part, and all that.

Had there been such a class, I might have been ready when my marriage hit the skids. Maybe I wouldn’t have been free falling, and feeling like it was the end of the world.

And, it wasn’t. More like the end of a dream. The dream of a house with the proverbial white picket fence, a dad and mom with kids, a tail-wagging dog and perhaps, a fluffy cat in the yard.

Instead, my reality was a husband with cheating ways, a house with a crab-grass lawn and ants wreaking havoc in the kitchen, and one over-flowing toilet. Plus, we didn’t have a dog—royal or otherwise—but we did have a cat that loved peeing on everything. The only part I seemed to have gotten right were the kids, and I don’t know what I would have done without them.

Ah, divorce. Suffice it to say, I was miserable during that time. And, I was flailing. But then, I learned of a workshop, called:

Second Saturday Divorce Workshops

I signed up and, I will tell you, taking that workshop was the beginning for me. It gave me an inkling of hope, something I hadn’t felt in a long time, and made me realize I wasn’t alone, as I sat in the classroom surrounded by women facing the demise of their marriages–and their dreams. It was like discovering there was a manual all along, on how to get started, figure out finances, family law and also, on how to get through the emotional roller coaster that comes with divorce.

They say knowledge is power, and I certainly felt empowered after taking the class. I even found a therapist through the Second Saturday workshop, one who offered a group therapy that focused on connecting with your emotions through–

WRITING!!

Talk about tailor made for me! I loved, loved, LOVED my therapy and looked forward to each session. Today, I thank my lucky stars that I enrolled in Second Saturday, a workshop that, to be honest, I haven’t thought about in years. Not until I sat down to interview two financial experts, and soon discovered that they are the brains behind Second Saturday, which is now available in over 40 states!

Candace Bahr and Ginita Wall have dedicated themselves to helping women with their finances, through their nonprofit website, WIFE.org (Women’s Institute for Financial Education). Not only are they responsible for creating the divorce workshops, their website is a must for any woman.

WIFE.org offers countless tips and free resources, such as:

  1. The 21-Day Makeover, where you can sign up to receive daily tips for three weeks, that will help you get on track for being debt-free and saving; and
  2. A Money Club, in which you and your friends can get together and help each other improve your finances. The tools to get started are all there—and it’s free!

In honor of March being Women’s History Month, be sure to check out my interview with Wall and Bahr. I think you’ll agree, their motto is a sound one:

A Man is Not a Financial Plan

Walk for Animals Update: In other news, you’ve been so generous in making contributions for the upcoming San Diego Humane Society’s Walk for Animals and, because of this, I’ve decided to hand out two awards, not just one.

So, congratulations to Valentine Logar and Susan McBeth!

You will each receive a Kindle copy of Little Boy Blue by Kim Kavin. Please contact me at monicastangledweb@gmail.com and let me know the email address you would like me to use in order to gift you the Kindle book.

And, to all who have contributed to the Walk for Animals, Henry and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

The Road Taken: Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

When I was young I wanted to be a cowgirl. I wanted to live on a farm and ride horses all day long, milk the cows and chase after the piglets. Of course, later, I realized I was allergic to hay and grass, and just about everything in between. Besides, as a Latina from Queens, what did I know about living the farm life?

As Pam drove down the freeway, passing the exit for the SeaTac Airport, I thought about my other dream. That of flying away. I loved flying, and had been doing so since birth. Getting on a plane was second nature to me.

I fantasized sometimes about embarking on a journey, with no care or concern as to where I was going. It felt thrilling to imagine taking off without telling a soul I was leaving, let alone whether I’d be back. I could be somewhere else, relaxing in Paris, along the Seine, with Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Expatriates, we’d be, clinking our glasses, brimming with champagne, and laughingly toasting to our good health. We’d be joined, by Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, for a scintillating conversation about whatever novels we were working on. Then, Zelda would ask me to read one of my poems aloud.

These were the dreams that excited me. In each, I was doing something, making my mark, for I was sure there had to be more to me than this: being a married lady with a husband that was gone all the time.

But so far, I hadn’t figured it out. All I knew was that my entire life had led me to this point. Marriage. It was supposed to be the end all, starting with my Barbie and Ken dolls, and all the wedding scenarios I concocted for them. It continued through the Doris Day movies and Donna Reed shows on TV. Marriage, marriage, marriage.

The problem with marriage was the focus on the happily ever after part. It didn’t tell you what was supposed to happen after the vows. The road to marriage was like this big, amazing ride that builds and builds to this incredible crescendo and then you reach the other side and nothing. There is no manual on what to do. Just an abyss, and suddenly there you are, having to create your own rules, your own version of how it’s supposed to be. Only I was flailing.

Back to reality, I flipped through the latest copy of the Ladies Home Journal, one of the magazines I’d brought along for the drive. I had started buying it as soon as we tied the knot. Perhaps, I was expecting it to be my marriage road map, as all the articles seemed focused on helping young wives deal with their relationships.  So far, it wasn’t working.

The best part of the magazine was the monthly feature, titled, “Can This Marriage Be Saved?”  I immediately opened to it, and offered to read it aloud to Pam. We both loved reading these seemingly hopeless stories of marital discord. The more futile the better and the editors of LHJ seemed to know that, too, because each story always seemed bleaker than the previous one. And yet, no matter what, the marriage could always be saved.

In this particular issue, the husband kept telling his wife he had to work late, but really he was having an affair with his secretary. And when the wife found out, she cried, but in the end she forgave him. The marriage counselor gave the wife instructions on how to revive her marriage and keep him close, and recommended to the husband that he avoid being at the office late at night with the secretary. The counselor, having put the burden of keeping the marriage together on the wife, now concluded that everything would be fine, as long as the couple followed his advice.

Pam laughed, “That guy’s a total jerk and the wife should leave him and leave him now.” Looking at me askance, she added, “I’m sure she’ll be happier and better off.”

Better off? I pondered this for a moment. I thought about G and my momentary lapse with Rick. A heavy dose of guilt pored through my veins, making me feel sheepish. I wasn’t sure which of us, if any, would be better off.

Looking outside my window, I noticed the skies were turning. Clouds were beginning to form to the south the direction in which we were headed.  It would start raining soon. As we approached the Washington State border, Pam got off the freeway.

“Let’s stop and get a bite to eat.” I nodded.

We pulled up to what Pam would refer to as a cheesy restaurant. The kind that had a flashing sign that read, “Cheap Eats,” only some bulbs were missing, so it only said, “Cheap.” Pam turned off the ignition, but I made no attempt to get out of the car. She seemed a bit agitated by my lack of movement. Raising one eyebrow, she looked at me skeptically, she said in a raised voice,

“Well? Are you going to snap out of it or what?”

Leave it to Pam to give me an ultimatum. She knew it was always the “or what” that stymied me. I knew I needed to pull myself together and make a decision about what I wanted, but the idea of taking any action was outside my comfort zone and made me numb. There was safety in staying the course. And then it hit me. Without realizing it, I had settled for the tried and true, and that was G.

I could no more get on a plane and fly to parts unfamiliar, than I could become a cowgirl and live on a farm. I was me, 26 and tethered to the path I’d chosen with G, whether here because of succumbing to societal pressures of marriage or because of decisions I’d made by my own, damned self.

How I wished I had one iota of Pam’s grit, and her tenacity to stand up for herself. But these weren’t mine for the taking. Sigh. Who needed dreams, anyway?

I opened the door and got out of the car, feeling a flicker of light extinguish inside me.  You know what they say, even cowgirls get the blues.

Read past installments, by visiting the page, The Road Taken.

The Road Taken: Readers Weigh In

In last week’s post, Key West Redux, I mentioned that I needed to take a break from The Road Taken series, because I wasn’t sure where I was heading. I asked for your input and two of you offered it. I found this very useful, so thank you, Bella and Debbie. I’ve included your comments and questions below and, after giving it a lot of thought, I’ve added my responses, too.

Debbie:  As for your Rick saga, would it work to delve into your mixed feelings at going back home, wondering if you’d done the right thing, waiting for G to say or do something that would make you question your choice even more?? Just trying to help!

MTW:  Not really, because, at the time, I didn’t have mixed feelings. I never doubted, for a moment, that I was doing the right thing by parting ways with Rick. Hindsight is 20-20, after all, and I didn’t have the benefit of hindsight then. It was still early in the marriage and much was yet to unfold.

My brother said G was a cross between actor Alan Alda and...

The way I saw it, I hadn’t been married long enough. In my heart, I believed I needed to give my relationship with G a chance. I balanced the knowledge that Rick was a gorgeous, romantic adventurer with a shared love of writing, against the fact that I already had ties with G, who I considered to be a good guy, with a great sense of humor.

My brother used to say that G reminded him of a cross between Alan Alda (think, M*A*S*H) and the comedian, David Brenner. I think he was right. G was affable, intelligent and witty. If you recall, it was his humor that first attracted me to him. What’s more, in my estimation, G had the advantage, because he had already made a commitment to me through our marriage vows.

...comedian David Brenner.

Bella:  Regarding The Road Taken, I’d love to read about your emotional state when Rick exited the picture. Did you feel despair, regret, blame your marriage for standing in the way? What prompted G to go from loving husband to philandering jerk? Did you see the signs? But more importantly, once he exited the picture, how did you pick up the pieces? Would you have taken him back once you knew of his infidelity? I want to know!

MTW: When I said goodbye to Rick, my emotional state was one of quiet sadness, which I revealed to no one, then. I felt an ache in my heart, coupled with the knowledge that I had to go forward. Yes, I felt bad about Rick, but I felt worse, feeling that I had neglected G (although he wasn’t around much at all during this time, because of his studies, so if I did neglect him, he never let on).

What prompted G to go from loving husband to a philanderer? Good question. I cannot pinpoint “the what,” but I think it was a series of things and of moments. Looking back, I have a recollection of a time he actually tried to warn me about a dark cloud hovering over our future.

He had just completed his doctorate and we were about to move across country for his new job. My plan was not to find work right away, but to stay at home for a while with our newborn while enrolling our oldest in kindergarten. G looked me in the eye and said that if I went ahead with this plan, he would surely lose interest in me. That, as a stay-at-home mom, I would become uninteresting to him. Surprised at first, I actually shrugged this off, convincing myself he didn’t mean it. I would show him I could be interesting and yet not work. It was our children that I’d be taking care of, after all. Well, he turned out to be right. Within two years, we’d be seeing the beginning of the end.

There were about 12 years between Rick and the demise of my marriage, and how I picked up the pieces after G exited is a whole other story. A series of You-Will-Not-Believe-It moments. One devastating shock after another.  I lost my way for a while. I lost the will to eat. I hit rock bottom. It was one of the darkest, most difficult periods of my life. But I’ll get to it, in good time.

In the meantime, these comments have given me food for thought. Please continue to weigh in, and I will work on the next installment of The Road Taken.