“You know we don’t have to do it. It’ll wait.” Vee’s forehead creased with concern.
I shook my head as I stared at my cell phone, the screen still lit from the ended call. “No, I will feel better if we get it done.” I glanced at my phone: 8:39pm. “I would like to wait until morning to start, though.” I thought it strange that I didn’t cry. I knew the heart was a muscle, and it seemed mine had become taught like the limbs of a champion body-builder- if not a chunk of stone.
We spent the next two hours watching videos on You Tube. Immaturity took over as we doubled over with laughter several times during the Squatty Potty Infomercial. Something about a unicorn pooping rainbow-colored ice cream cones is just wrong… I may never think the same about unicorns or soft-serve ice cream cones. When the conversation lulled into stretches of silence, Vee said goodnight and prepared for bed.
Sleep didn’t beckon me. It hardly ever did. To distract my mind, I played word games on my phone until I began nodding off during finger swipes. Like many nights, I don’t remember exactly when sleep took over.
*** *** ***
I woke before the sun, as usual. I picked up my cell phone and played the same word game. It passed the time. For a split-second, I wondered why I tried so hard to pass time even after the stark reminder that eventually all the grains of sand have settled and there’s nothing left to pass. A person in touch with their emotions might have devoted time to pondering it. I, on the other hand, shifted focus to getting to the next level in my game.
After a couple hours, Vee sat down on the couch beside me. “I heard you get up this morning.”
“I’m sorry. I tried to be quiet.”
“What time was it?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I woke up several times. I just get up when I get tired of chasing sleep.”
“Would you like breakfast? We have sausage, eggs, potatoes- -“
“No thank you. I’m not really hungry.” I omitted the fact I’d already eaten half a bag of potato chips and chased it down with some iced green tea. Oh, and chocolate covered blackberries made a fine breakfast dessert.
“Are you sure we have time to put it together? Really, it can wait.”
“Nope. We’re doing it. You’ve wanted that dresser for a while and I promised I’d help you.”
“But that was before…” Vee looked away. “I’m sorry I keep bringing it up. I still can’t believe it.”
“Neither can I.” After a couple seconds of quiet, I stood. “I’ll get the box so we can get started.”
“It can wait.”
“But it won’t have to.” I left before she could protest again. She wanted the 9-drawer dresser from IKEA put together so she could finish organizing her closet. I needed to assemble it because busy hands meant a busy mind. Everyone has at least one coping mechanism; something they fall back on when life knocks you on your back. I didn’t smoke, drink alcohol or gorge on Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia. Instead, I ate copious amounts of dark chocolate and stayed busy.
“Are you sure we have time to do this so you can go home before the storm?”
I checked the time: 9:34am. “Yep. Snow isn’t forecast til around 4, so if I leave by noon, I’ll have plenty of time.”
We sorted the drawer pieces and the contents of the big bag o’ hardware included in the flat box. I found satisfaction in the orderly stacks surrounding us. The more chaotic my mind, the more I sought order outside of me. I shoved that nugget of self-revelation to the side as I turned the instruction diagram so the picture matched the angle of the pieces spread out in front of us.
For the next two hours, we kept our focus on the dresser (named “Alex” by IKEA). I was a little sad when the last of the screws were tightened and we placed Alex in the new home inside their walk-in closet. My mind searched for my next project- my next fix.
“I love it!” Vee smiled as she slid the drawers open then closed. “And you’ll be able to get home before the storm, too.”
It was almost noon. I didn’t want to go, but I couldn’t stay. I would have my kids the next day so we could spend Christmas together. Five cats needed me to feed them. And while my Civic might handle snow just fine, I had no confidence in my winter storm driving abilities. I blamed that on living in the Valley of the Sun for twenty-five years.
I hugged Vee outside my mud-caked car; the remnants of an off-road excursion the day before. I noticed the brownish hue to the sky. A dust storm loomed to the south.
“I need to stop at Walmart, but I think I can make it out ahead of the storm,” I said as I jerked my head to the south. Even with my glasses on, I could feel grit under my eyelids.
“Let me know when you get home.”
“Yes, mom,” I teased.
This was our usual goodbye routine whenever we visited each other.
*** *** ***
Twenty-three miles outside of town, my solitude betrayed me. On Christmas Eve, many people would be together, unwrapping presents, but I struggled to keep dusty memories packed in their forgotten places. Against my will, I saw my chubby toddler self, rested on her hip with my cheek pressed against hers. Her right arm hugged my brother, who stood in front. His thick white belt and my plaid pants screamed 1970s, but we all smiled big in spite of that. I didn’t know back then that happiness had a shelf life and withered with age, just like the ones we love.
A chill ran through me even as the heater blasted hot air at my face. I shivered as deeply as the last night our family camped near the lake. She invited me to climb in her sleeping bag and wrapped her arms around me tight, absorbing my shivers into the warmth of her body.
I squinted to see through the blurriness and turned the windshield wipers faster.
My stomach quivered as I took a curve faster than I realized. I remembered myself at five years old in the backseat of their car. My angry stomach had lurched and I heaved in the backseat of their car for the umpteenth time. Ever-patient, she soothed me as my uncle pulled over and ranted in utter frustration over my habit of getting sick on road trips. His threat to leave me there seemed very real.
I swiped the back of my hand across my cheek and wiped the wetness on my jeans. I craned my neck to see if mascara darkened the circles under my eyes. Instead, my gaze traveled outward to the wisps of curls unrestrained by my hair clip. As a child, she had added highlights to strands of hair surrounding my face. I smiled, thinking of her horror when she realized she left the solution on too long and I had nearly blond highlights in my chestnut colored hair. She worried my mom would be furious, but I liked it…. It was 1987 and this was as close to “cool” as my nerdy self had ever been.
Just like that, the storm engulfed me. Unable to see or focus on the yellow lane lines, the torrent forced me to pull onto the shoulder and wait it out. It’s weird how denial, distraction and distance eventually all fail me.
I should’ve known better; I could never outrun the storm.
I was finally able to channel emotions into writing a story. I have been in a writing drought for many months now, so I know there’s room for improvement, but it’s a start.
My aunt passed away on December 23 at age 63. It was unexpected (death usually is) and I am sad because we had planned to visit when I came to town on December 30. My uncle informed me there will be no funeral service- just a graveside service for him and my cousin. So, this is my goodbye of sorts.
In little revelations, I’m realizing there is no writing because I’ve become adept at not feeling. When something emotional happens, rather than deal with it, I tend to throw myself into “doing” something to avoid feeling. I think I’m so afraid of plunging into the darkness again, I avoid feeling altogether. This is a problem. I pray that God will see me through this; that I give up control, allowing myself to experience highs and lows, while trusting He will extract me before I’m swallowed completely again.