We stopped for lunch in Texarkana at a place called Pop’s Place because they featured outdoor seating. Snow lay quietly beside my chair while I ate bacon wrapped shrimp.
Chris remained silent until we relaxed with coffee at then end of the meal. “Do you feel better?” he asked me.
“Yes. I do. It hits me sometimes, at weird moments. Something will trigger a memory and it is like Trip died just yesterday.”
Chris nodded and then, surprisingly, said, “It happens to me, too. Sometimes.” He focused on his coffee and not one me. He stared into the cup like he expected to find the answer to the meaning of life in the dark liquid.
For my part, I was just shocked he said anything at all about Trip. He never mentioned our son. He never talked about him. He never cried, at least not when I was watching. Lily and I spent a lot of time talking about him right after it happened. When we started, if Chris was near, he would get up and leave like he didn’t want to be reminded of the tragedy.
Death is hard for anyone to accept. When someone we love dies, we all go through a lot of mental changes. We cry, we scream even if it just in our mind, we wonder if it is our fault, we get angry, we get confused, we sit in a corner and try our best to not think about anything. I have lost my son, my husband and now Lillian. I hoped I never had to deal with the feelings of loss again.
We got into the car, found Interstate 30, again and continued toward Little Rock. We passed towns, forests, farms and fields. We stopped every couple of hours so Snow could pee and we could get something to drink to keep us going to out next overnight stop.
About halfway to Little Rock, I propped my feet on the dash and responded to a text from Lily:
Lily: Hi, Mom. How’s it going?
Me: Okay. We’re in Arkansas.
Lily: How’s Snow?
Me: She is very happy. Sleeping in the back seat right now. How’s it going with Carolyn and the boys?
Lily: Ham jumped off the garage roof because he said he was trying to fly and sprained his ankle. Aunt C grounded him so he will stay off of his foot long enough for it to heal.
Me: Did she take him to the ER?
Lily: She did. You could hear him scream all over the hospital when they X-rayed his ankle.
Me: I’m glad it wasn’t more serious.
Lily: One of the dogs got ou. Austin and I chased her all over the neighborhood before we caught her. Jack got grounded for letting her out. Austin got grounded for calling Jack a shit head. So far, I am the only one Aunt C hasn’t put in time out.
Me: Sounds lively over there. Are you alright?
Lily: Sure. Carolyn says Hi, btw.
Me: Hi to Carolyn.
Lily: Grandmother Lilith called me and apologized for not taking me for the summer. She and Grandfather are in the Hamptons.
Me: What a piece of work she is!
Lily: I am so glad I could stay with Aunt C. Going to get a pedicure and nails done in a bit. Maybe get our hair done. Will send pics. Love you.
Me: Love you, too.
I closed my messenger and told Chris, “Ham sprained his ankle when he jumped off of the garage roof. Jack got grounded for letting one of the dogs out and Austin got grounded for calling Jack a shit head.”
“So everything is pretty much normal at Carolyn’s house.”
“Sounds like it.” I smiled.
“They all got grounded when we were there for Christmas Eve dinner.”
“Yes, they did.” I smiled at the memory.
We arrived at Carolyn’s house about two in the afternoon and the boys were wound up because they were anticipating Christmas. Carolyn had made some marzipan and cookies and they were all hyped up on sugar. Carolyn chased the boys outside by swatting their fannies with a broom and Lily went with them to organize a game of football: Lily, Ham and Louis against Chris, Austin and Jackson.
Instead of football, mayhem resulted.
Jackson pushed Ham into a rose bush and Ham hit Jackson in the head with a plastic baseball bat. Austin jumped on Ham to keep him from beating the crap out of Jack and punched Ham in the face. Ham played the baby card and screamed like he was dying. Austin ended up with a bloody knuckle where Ham’s tooth sliced it open. Ham lost his front tooth, but Carolyn said it was loose anyway and ready to come out.
Louis put all three boys on a timeout step on the stairs and then told the Elf on the Shelf everything that happened.
Carolyn yelled from the kitchen, “What, now?”
Louis replied, “Our three feral boys are in time out.”
Carolyn walked into the living room and looked at the stairs that were littered with pouting kids. “They aren’t feral,” she said.
“Yes, they are. They run around like puppies, chewing on everyone’s shoes and peeing on the leather couch,” Louis said.
“They haven’t done that,” Carolyn protested.
“That’s only because we haven’t turned our backs on them, yet.” He said and she laughed. Louis soundly kissed his wife in the living room and then he said, “Go finish dinner and I’ll keep them all caged and hopefully we won’t need an emergency room before dessert.”
Carolyn is my younger sister and we look like twins. Her blond hair is longer than mine without a trace of curl. Our faces are identical and our eyes the same color. She stands about an inch taller than me and weighs about 40 pounds less because of chasing her boys all day, I assumed.
Louis has straight dark brown hair and brown eyes and is absolutely sexy. His Latino heritage glowed in his perfect brown skin and his bright white teeth. Carolyn is nearly three inches taller than Louis, but neither one minds the height difference.
“Carolyn has her hands full,” I said to Chris. “I can understand why she decided to be a homemaker instead of working.”
“But Louis keeps things ticking over most of the time,” Chris said. He genuinely liked and admired Louis Aragon. “Those kids just get out of hand in a second. Even with a roomful of adults watching. They will probably all grow up to be multi-millionaires. That kind of spirit is hard to tame.”
“The Aragons make be glad we have a daughter.”
“Do you think Carolyn will use her degree when the boys get older?” Chris asked.
“I don’t know. There is a high demand for nurses, so she may get back into that field.”
“They would certainly have more money. Louis doesn’t make that much installing air conditioners and heaters.”
“I think for them, it’s not about money. They have enough to keep a roof over their heads and to feed everyone. Neither one seems interested in a huge house or a huge mortgage payment, despite Lilith trying to influence Carolyn into buying a house in the Hamptons.”
“I find that hard to understand,” Chris said. “How can they not want to better themselves?”
“Carolyn has a lot less stress than I do and she and Louis are very happy together. How can her life be somehow less than ours? They concentrate on integrity and honesty and love. Louis is very spiritual and he makes certain that the boys are getting a good spiritual education. He is also a firm and fair disciplinarian. He adores Carolyn and deeply loves his kids. He is involved in every aspect of their lives. Louis is a good, decent man.”
Chris fell silent for several minutes and then said, “Louis is everything I am not.”
“Jeez. That is not what I was saying.”
“You didn’t have to. Why do you think I looked around for someone who appreciates me for what I am?”
“And what are you? A philanderer? A liar?”
“See? That’s what I’m saying. You never give me credit for the things I do. Look how much money I bring home. That should count for something.”
“You are a good monetary provider,” I conceded. “But, Chris, there is more to life than making money. That is all I was saying. I wasn’t trying to compare you and Louis.”
“Yeah, right.” Chris said and fell into another pouty mood. And we still had 38 states to go plus Washington D.C.
Again, pouty faces greeted Mr. Cartwright when I emailed the selfie in front of the Welcome to Missouri sign. Next stop, Branson Missouri.