Road of Change

Road of Change: Santa Fe Morning

Santa Fe Morning

When I awoke the next morning, the sun streamed into the bedroom and already the blanket was too warm on top of me.  I wiggled my hand out of Chris’s grip and looked at my watch. It was 7:30 already.

I slid out of the bed and made my way to the bathroom.  After brushing teeth and hair, I went back into the bedroom to find Chris stretching like a lazy cat.  “Is the bathroom empty?” he asked.

“Yes,”  I told him while I removed my suitcase from the closet.

He rose to his feet and exited while I found a pair of jeans and a blue tank top.  The jeans felt a little sung, so I peeled them off and put on my black traveling pants.  More work was needed to get rid of my fast food belly. I put on sneakers and went to find Snow, sure she would be ready for a walk.  She spent the night with Barbara and I was happy she found Barbara such good company.

Matt sat at the dining room table with a mug of coffee in front of him and the newspaper spread across the top.  “Coffee’s in the pot. No maids in this house.” He didn’t look up from the paper.

I grabbed a mug from the cabinet and filled my cup.  

“Any good news?”  I asked him when I returned to the dining room.

“No new countries invaded and no schools shot to shit.  I’ll settle for that. How did you sleep?”

“Quite well, actually.  And did Snow bother you?  Where is she, by the way.”

“I let her out this morning and she did her business in the sand.  She dined bountifully and then got into the bed with Barbara. We have a king size, so there was plenty of room for me and Snow.”

“It’s amazing how she has taken to Barbara.”

“Do you want to leave her here while you and Chris continue your voyage?”

I had not occurred to me to leave her behind, but when Matt mentioned it, I immediately warmed to the idea.  Leaving Snow would make it easier to get hotel rooms and to eat in restaurants.

“Leave who here?”  Chris asked when he joined us at the dining table, steaming coffee in his hand.

“Snow,”  I said. “She has become quite infatuated with Barbara.”

“Make things easier for us, if we did.  You really don’t mind do you, Matt? I mean, having a pet is a big responsibility.”  Chris grinned.

Matt looked at Chris over the top of his reading glasses. “Yes, Mother, I know. Snow is very welcome to stay, if you want to leave her.  We can ship her back to you once you two get back home. Maybe Barbara will be well enough for a road trip and we can drive her to Virginia.”

“Done,”  Chris said. Then, “Now, about the Cayenne.  We are supposed to leave it with you. We have the signed title.  Anne and I can go car shopping today. I think I would like a smaller car to the one we have been driving.  What do you think, Anne?”

“Sure.  Maybe an Audi Q2 or maybe a Mitsubishi Eclipse.  The Eclipse has better horsepower and is heavier than the Q2, but it runs on plain old regular gas and is cheaper to buy.”  I said.

Both men stared at me like I had just grown two heads.  “How do you know that?” Chris asked me.

“What do you think I have been doing in all those hotel rooms?”

“I would have guessed watching pay-per-view porn,”  Matt said, laughing. “Not researching cars.”

“I like the Eclipse, too,”  Chris said. “I haven’t been watching porn, either.”

“That settles it, then,”  Matt said. “Mitsubishi after breakfast.  Julia should be here any minute. I need help in the kitchen with breakfast.  You,” he said as he pointed at me, “Go visit with Barbara. She’s awake and sipping tea. Chris, you came help me in the kitchen.  You’ll be ready for an episode of America’s Top Chef before you leave here.”

“Just don’t make me do the dishes,” Chris complained as he followed Matt into the kitchen.

I rose from my chair, and headed to Barbara’s bedroom.  She looked small on the huge king size bed. She wore a frilly pink bed jacket and had a cup on tea on a bed tray beside her.  Her reading glasses rode far down her nose and her paperback book rested on a pillow she put over her thighs.

“Snow is a great bed companion,”  Barbara said. “Does she sleep with you?”

“No.  At home, she normally sleeps beside the bed.  I think we are going to leave her here with you while we finish our journey.”

“Great idea!  I haven’t had a house pet since I was a child.  I’d forgotten how nice it is to have a cuddly animal around.  Really, she was no trouble at all.”

My phone whistled at me and I looked at the text from Lily:  Hi, Mom.  How’s Aunt Barbara and Uncle Matt?  The party at the end of classes was great.  Posted pics on Facebook. Tell them I said, Hi!

I told Barbara, “It’s from Lily.  She is out of classes for the summer, so she’ll be able to help Carolyn with the boys.  She says, hi.”

“Hi, back at her,” Barbara said.

I typed, “Barbara says, Hi.

Lily’s next message said,  Austin broke his wrist last night when Ham ran over him with a bicycle.  They will never get off the time-out step.

Me:  Oh, my goodness!  Is he in a cast?

Lily:  No.  Just a splint.  Aunt Carolyn says he can still make his bed and help around the house one-handed.

Me:  Carolyn has more stamina that I do.

Lily:  Those little guys keep us busy.  I taught Jackson how to do a spit-take.  Just like Grandma Lillian taught me. Uncle Louis got pissed at both of us.  We were in the yard and didn’t make a mess. He made me sit on the time-out step.  For an hour! He gave me a book to read, so it was all good.

I laughed and told Barbara what Lily said.  

“What is a spit-take?”  she asked.

“When a comedian takes a drink of water just as someone else says something funny and they spit water out of their mouth and spray it everywhere.”

“Oh, yeah.  I know what you mean.”

I typed, Well, I think it’s pretty funny.

Lily:  Uncle Louis told me later he thought it was cool.  He had to act mad so Jackson wouldn’t spit all over everyone. Then, he asked me to show him how to do it.

I laughed. Then,  Your Dad and I are going to buy a new car today.  I will send you a pic. I love you. TTL.

Matt stuck his head in the bedroom and asked, “Barb, are you eating in here or are you breakfasting at the table?”

“Table.  Just give me about five minutes and I’ll be there.”  Barbara slowly got out of the bed and headed toward the bathroom that was part of the master suite.  

“Do you need help?”  I asked her.

“Nope.  Just going to pee.  Be right out.”

I waited for her and grabbed her elbow to escort her to the table in the dining room.  She sat, just as the front door burst open. Julia ran into the dining room and said, “French toast!  I smelled it from the street.” She placed a huge basket of laundry on the floor beside the back door.  She pulled me into a giant hug and then, Chris.

Julia closely resembled Charlotte in appearance and both displayed an unbridled exuberance for life.

“I see you brought your laundry,”  Matt said to her. “They have washers at the dorms.”

“Yeah, and you have to guard your clothes with an AK47 or someone will steal them or dump the on the floor in the middle of a cycle.  No, thank you. I prefer to waste your water and electricity, Daddy.” She kissed his cheek and hugged him tightly.

“How can I say no?”  He kissed the top of her head.  “Studying hard?”

“Hardly studying,”  she replied. “I have a paper due on Monday, so I have to finish it up while my clothes wash.”

Charlotte came into the dining room and said, “You all are making a racket.  How’s a body supposed to sleep in?”

“You wouldn’t have to sleep in if you didn’t stay out all hours with Ernie,”  Matt said to her. He pulled her into quick hug and said, “Good morning, kitten.”

“You, he calls ‘Kitten,’” Julia said.  “Me, he calls Fool.”

“He’s just in a good mood because Uncle Chris is here,” Charlotte said.  Then, to us. “Most of the time Matt Archer has three daughters, Moron, Retard and Fool.”  She pronounced them Moe-ron, Re-tard and Fool.

“No respect from my offspring.  Breakfast is ready,” he said.

During the meal, I heard about Julia’s classes, Charlotte’s date with Ernesto and Matt’s detailed explanation about the proper way to make French Toast.  For the first time since leaving Virginia, I felt like I was on vacation.

Road of Change, Writing

Road of Change: Santa Fe at Night

Santa Fe at Night

The moment I had been dreading arrived.  Barbara retired early. Ernesto and Charlotte went out together and Matt spent some time chatting with Chris and me.  Finally, Matt asked if we needed anything and I told him no. He said, “That’s me off, then. You two sleep well. French toast for breakfast.  No special time to get up. Sleep as long as you like.” He disappeared into the room he shared with Barbara.

“Do you think you can stand to spend one night with me?”  Chris asked.

I didn’t trust myself to speak, so I merely nodded and headed toward the bedroom.  I grabbed my pajamas out of my suitcase and told Chris I would be back in a few minutes.

I went into the bathroom and closed the door.  I sat on the closed lid of the toilet and buried my face in my pajamas. So many thoughts swirled in my head.  Earlier, no time presented itself for me to ponder the things Barbara said to me. I felt properly chastised for ignoring my husband.  Chris said it to me when he told me I didn’t spend time with him. Because of my anger, I didn’t pay attention to what he said. He told me what he wanted; me wanted me to pay attention to him.

All day, every day.  Big things don’t destroy a marriage.  Little things do. My husband and I needed to spend every single moment possible together to get over the hump.  Kathy was not the problem in my marriage.

Chris was on the right side of the bed when I entered the bedroom, bedecked in my pajamas.  He always slept on the right side of the bed. The lamp on his side was on, so I didn’t bother with the one on my side of the bed.

“This bed is pretty comfortable,” he said to me.

I pulled up the blanket and slid in next to him.  The bed was a full size and we slept in a queen size at home.  I felt the warmth of his leg beside mine.

“I was kinda dreading this,”  he told me.

“Me, too,”  I confessed.

“Matt gave it to me with both barrels,”  Chris said.

“Barbara did the same thing to me.”

“Matt told me if I wanted you to come with me somewhere, I should just ask instead of waiting for you to invite yourself.”

“Barbara told me I should get you involved in projects like getting you to help me make dinner.”

“Please don’t make me do the dishes,” he said.  My first knee jerk reaction was to get angry with him until I saw the smile on his face.

“You don’t load the dishwasher correctly, anyway,”  I told him.

He was silent for a few moments, then said, carefully,  “Is it really that important how the dishes go into the dishwasher?”

I looked at him for long moments before I said,  “No, not really.”

“Maybe we should listen to Matt and Barbara.  Maybe,” he said, “We need to get to know each other, all over again.”

I held my hand out to him and said, “Hi, my name is Anne.”

“Chris Archer,” he said as he shook my hand.  He held onto it and didn’t let go. “It’s very nice to meet you, Anne,” he whispered.  He kissed my lips, slowly and softly. Then, as I felt the panic rise in me again, Chris said,  “Sleep well, Anne Archer.” He released my hand, reached up to turn off the light and turned onto his side.  Just like he always slept. How odd to be so familiar with him and to feel like I was in bed with a total stranger.  Of its own accord, my hand snaked over his belly as I spooned him from behind. Just like it always did. Habit. Chris grabbed onto it.  Out of habit. Soon, he snored. Just like always.

jorge-mulchi-cossio-637981-unsplash
Photo by Jorge Mülchi Cossio on Unsplash
Road of Change

Road of Change: Santa Fe (cont…)

“Tell me about your proposal to Anne,”  Charlotte said to Chris. For a moment, I thought Chris would decline, but he nodded and said,  “I bought the ring about two months before I actually asked her. I had been thinking about marrying her almost from the first time I saw her.  We met in a bar, believe it or not. She was there with a couple of her friends and I was there with some of my fraternity brothers. I caught her eye.  She was the prettiest girl in the bar. I had a couple drinks, so I had enough courage to talk to her.

“Anyway, about six months later, I bought the ring and waited until the perfect time to ask her to marry me.  We went to a Fourth of July celebration in Virginia Beach, walking up and down the boardwalk, looking at the water and the tourists.  I had the ring in my pocket and almost asked her at least twenty times that day. Finally, during the fireworks, Anne said she loved to watch them, because they were exciting and beautiful.  I said, “Just like you are.” I actually got to one knee beside her and pulled the ring out of my pocket. She didn’t notice at first because she was watching the fireworks. Anne turned to say something to me and saw me beside her.  I couldn’t speak because I was afraid I would start crying or something.

“She looked at me, at the ring, and then she said, “Are you asking me to marry you?”  All I could was to nod. She didn’t say anything for a couple of minutes and I thought she was going to turn me down.”

I laughed.  “I was waiting for Chris to actually ask.”

He smiled at me and said, “I finally figured out what she was doing.  Then I said, “Will you be my wife?”

Charlotte said, “That is a lot more romantic than Ernesto.  We were at an art show and looking at a painting by some local guy that looked like that painting by Klimt, called The Kiss.  The artist told us it was called The Proposal.  Then, Ernesto said to me, “I don’t suppose you want to marry me, do you?”

Ernesto blushed and then said, “She said to me,  “That’s the way you propose marriage to a woman? Where’s the ring?”  Then, the artist guy says, “I would have sprung for the ring if it was me.”  I told them both, “I have the ring. I just didn’t bring it with me.”

Charlotte said,  “Then, the artist guy says, “You have that ring,” and pointed to Ernesto’s class ring.  Ernesto said, “I’m asking her to marry me, not to go steady.” The artist guy says, “It’s temporary until you can give her the real ring.”  Then, Ernesto looks at his class ring and says, “I like that ring.” Then, I told him, “You ask a girl to marry you, you should offer her a ring of engagement.”  Ernesto says, “It’s a class ring. It’s stupid.” Then he said. “Wait right here. Don’t move an inch,” and he ran away from me. He was gone almost an hour, then he finally came back and took the engagement ring out of his pocket and asked the artist guy, “Will this work?”  The artist guy says, “That’s a much better ring than the class ring.” Then, Ernesto turns to me and says, “Do you like it?” And I said to him, “Yes, I like the ring. Can I have it?” And Ernesto said, “Of course you can have it, you daft woman.”

We all laughed and I found myself wiping tears from face, again.  “That is the most romantic story I think I have ever heard,” I said.  Then I raised my Margarita glass and said, “To Charlotte and Ernesto.”

My family replied with, “Slainte.”

Matt said, “To Lillian,” and we said Slainte again.  Ernesto said, “Arriba.”  

Matt rose to his feet, picked up Lillian’s urn and walked out to the desert behind the house.  We followed, one at a time. He stopped about 100 yards from the house and we lined up, shoulder to shoulder.  Chris stood to one side of Matt and Charlotte was on the other. She held Barbara up on one side and Ernesto held her on the other.  I stood beside Chris.

The evening was chilly, as evenings in the desert tend to be.  Barbara visibly trembled even with my afghan wrapped around her.  Stars peeked out from behind the high clouds and the half moon sailed across the sky.

Matt stared at the urn a long time and then said to it,  “Mom, I am so sorry I didn’t make it to Virginia before you died.  I feel like I should have been there just like you were always there for me.  You listened patiently when I called you on the phone. You never pulled any punches when you told me where I was screwing up.  You always told me what I needed to hear, even when I didn’t want to hear it. I will always love you, Lillian Archer, my beloved mother.”

Chris stood beside Matt and took the urn from Matt’s hand.  “Mom, I am so sorry I wasn’t a better son to you. I resented you telling me what to do.  Many times I thought you were nothing but a certifiable old woman who had no clue about my life or about living in a modern society. I laughed at your attempts to use an iPhone and a VCR. But, you always told me what I needed to hear, even if I didn’t like it.  Even if resented it and got pissed at you for weeks afterward. Now, I just want to hear you tell me anything, good or bad. Now, you are gone and I cannot tell you to your living face that I love you and I will miss you more than you can know.”

Toward the end of his soliloquy, Chris had tears streaming down his cheeks and his voice broke and cracked.  That was all it took for me. I started crying, myself.

Chris opened the urn and up-ended it.  Lillian Archer floated away on the cool evening breeze.

Chris pulled me into a warm hug and we held onto each other as we cried together.  

Road of Change

Road of Change: Santa Fe

Matt and Chris returned to the house after spending nearly two hours at Starbucks.  Matt held a bag full of food he got from a local grocery store. “No need to worry about dinner, ladies,”  he said. “I have taken care everything and the punk and I will cook. You two keep on gossiping.” He kissed Barbara’s head without spilling any of the food out of the bag when he leaned over and then disappeared into the kitchen.

A few minutes later, he came back into the living room, this time wearing a frilly apron that I was certain belonged to Barbara.  “Just to let you know, we are going to have a little ceremony for Lillian after dinner. A final farewell.”

“What are you making?”  Barbara asked.

“Nachos.  With everything.  But first, do you ladies want a margarita?”

“Tea for me,” Barbara said.

“Yes,” I told him.  “Light on the tequila.”  

“Coming right up,”  Matt said and he vanished back into the kitchen.

“Cooking is something Matt has started in the past couple of years.  He only works two or three days a week now, so he spends his time trying to make things that I can eat.  He researches recipes and has joined a couple of online groups for caretakers of cancer patients to get ideas for food and fun.”

“That is so thoughtful of him,” I said, wondering if Chris would ever do anything like that for me.

Matt brought the beverages to us and said, “I need to get back to the kitchen.  Chris is chopping up some tomatoes and making a mess of it.”

I laughed.  I could well image the mess he would make.  Chris never showed any interest in anything happening in the kitchen.  I said as much to Barbara.

“Have you ever corralled him, like Matt did?  A cooking project? Something the two of you could do together?”

I hung my head and shook it slowly from side to side.  “Not really. The only major project we ever worked on together was learning the tango for our wedding.”

“Working together is important.  Maybe that is something that subtly pushed Chris away.”

Could Barbara be right?  Is that why Chris and I drifted apart?  We lived in the same house, but we lead different lives.

Barbara continued,  “When a marriage starts to falter, both people are at fault, at least to some degree.  Marriage is not easy and it takes a lot of hard work. Every single day.”

As if I weren’t beating myself up enough already.  But, maybe Barbara had a point. It wasn’t because I am not twenty, or not a size 2 or 4 or 6.  It wasn’t because my hair was cut short and practical instead of long and flowing. All of those things are totally superficial.  Maybe the break-up started a long time ago. It was easier for me to just make dinner rather than including Chris in the project. It was easier for me to do the laundry, to take Lily to her dance class, to do the grocery shopping than it was to include Chris.  He likely would have gone along with me, after the obligatory protest. But, I didn’t insist. If he wanted to do with me to the grocery store, I felt like he could just get in the car with me and go.

Life with Chris isn’t that simple.  He was likely waiting to be invited rather than offering.   

“Now, you and Chris are involved in a major project together,”  Barbara said. “You are driving all over the United States in order to get something you both want–Lillian’s house.  That is a huge start.”

Any further conversation was interrupted when Charlotte bounded into the front door.  “Aunt Anne!” she said and she pulled me into a hug. “I was so excited when Mom told me you were coming to visit.”  

A man followed her into the living room and Charlotte said, “This is Ernesto. My future husband…”

“Husband in training,”  he said to me. “Ernesto Ontiveros.  I’ve heard alot about you. Especially lately.”  I shook his hand. “Anne Archer,” I said by way of introduction.

From the kitchen, Matt shouted, “Ernie, get in here.  We need some help!”

“Duty calls,”  he said, with a smile and vanished from the room.

“How are the wedding plans going,” I asked Charlotte.

“Come see my dress,”  she said as she grasped my hand and pulled me to her bedroom.  

In her room, decorated like the one Chris and I were assigned to, Charlotte my beautiful niece pulled open her closet door to remove as very pretty wedding gown of white flowing chiffon.  “Oh, Charlotte, it is beautiful,” I told her.

“You are coming to the wedding, right?”

“I wouldn’t miss it.”

Matt’s voice echoed from the kitchen.  “Come and get it, while the getting is good.”

Charlotte and I returned to the living room and Barbara moved from the chaise after gently moving Snow’s head from her thigh.  Snow followed us to the kitchen where Matt, Ernesto and Chris spread all the ingredients for nachos. Matt handed me a plate and said, “Pile on what you want and I’ll pop it in the oven to melt the cheese.”

I put some taco meat, and cheese on a bed of chips and Matt put the plate under the broiler for a couple of minutes to melt the cheddar jack cheese.  I added lettuce, tomatoes, jalapenos, guacamole, and sour cream and took my plate to the table.

The six of us sat at the tile covered table in boy-girl-boy-girl order. We ate and chatted and it was the first meal I truly enjoyed since we left Virginia.  

To begin the evening with Lillian, Matt said, “Tell me about Lillian’s wake.”

“She had lots of friends in attendance.  We toasted her life with telling stories of our favorite memories of her,” I said.

“What is your favorite memory?”  Matt asked me.

“There are so many… Let me see… Lillian invited me to lunch at her house about three months after Chris and I married.  It was the first time I had ever seen inside the house. Bits of Lillian’s life were everywhere–photos, figurines, doilies.  A beautiful hand-crocheted doily was on a round coffee table in front of the green sofa. I asked her about it and she told me she made when she was caring for Mr. Archer before he died…”

“I remember her working on it,”  Matt said. “She was pregnant as a pelican with Chris and she crocheted with thread to make the doily.  I think it was a way for her to keep her mind off of things.”

“Like being pregnant at her age,”  Barbara said.

“Anyway, we instantly formed a bond because of our shared love of needlearts. Lillian and I went to craft shows and yarn stores pretty frequently.  When I opened my store, Lillian was a regular shopper. She would keep us fascinated with her tales of learning to sail a boat, building a dresser, and weaving rugs.  Lillian lived a very full life.”

Barbara said,  “When I first met her, she told me, “I’ve never had a daughter until now.”  That is the way she always treated me.”

Charlotte said, “She came her to Santa Fe to visit us when I was a kid and she taught me how to ride a horse.  I fell in love with horses after that. I pestered Dad to buy me one and he finally did.”

“I blame Lillian for that,” Matt said.  “She was a very accomplished horsewoman.  I remember one time she bought a new horse and we went to the stables to visit the beast.  She was big and white and gorgeous. But, she had a mean streak. Lillian named her Jezebel.  The first time Lillian saddled her up, she fell off of her. The horse exhaled and the saddle slid around until Lillian fell of and landed flat of her back on the ground, gasping for air.  The horse turned her head and looked at Lillian like she was laughing at her. Lillian said to her, “You are an evil woman, Jezebel,” and the name stuck.”

“I wish I had met her,”  Ernesto said.

I picked up the urn with Lillian’s ashed and handed it to Ernesto.  “This is Lillian Archer. Lillian, your grandson-in-law, Ernesto Ontiveros.”

“”Nice to meet you, Lillian,” he said and he kissed the urn.

“Chris, you tell us a story about Mom that you love,”  Matt said.

Chris looked like Matt just kicked him in the stomach.  Matt said, “SHe’s your mother. You surely have a good memory of her.”

Chris nodded and said,  “Right after she met Anne, Lillian told me that I would be a stupid person if I didn’t marry her on the spot.  We weren’t even engaged at that time.”

9

Road of Change

Road of Change: Santa Fe, New Mexico

The border to New Mexico meant we were only a few hours from Matt and Barbara. There was no question.  We would stay with them for a day or two.

The road to Sante Fe seemed endless, when we would actually arrive shortly after lunch.  Rather than taking a more scenic route, we followed I 25, opting to arrive sooner to Matt’s house.  We broke our own rule and grabbed a quick burger and fry lunch before jumping back into the Cayenne.  Both of us were very eager to see Matt and Barbara.

Chris and I visited a few times since our marriage and the house looked very much the same as I remembered–a sand colored stucco house with a bright blue door and blue window frames.  Matt had rocks for his yard and flowers growing in huge clay pots. The walkway up to the front door was glazed ceramic tiles of blue and white.

Matt opened the door for us before we got out of the car and met us in the driveway.  He pulled me into a tight bear hug and kissed my hair. He hugged Chris, who endured the torture for a few moments.

Matt and Chris were cut from the same mould.  Both had blue eyes, a narrow nose and firm chin.  However, Matt’s hair was totally gray and Chris only had a few wisps of gray at the temple.

“It is so good to see you,”  I said, then, “How is Barbara?  Is she inside?”

“Yep.  She is waiting for you,”  Matt said. “You go. I’ll help Chris with the luggage.”

I left Chris and Matt to catch up and I went inside to find Barbara with Snow at my heels.

Barbara lounged on chaise in her living room right off the tiled foyer.  

Snow ran past me and jumped onto the chaise with Barbara.

“Snow!”  I called sharply.  She turned her head and looked at me, but didn’t come to me.

Barbara laughed and said, “She is welcome!  What a beauty she is. Snow, don’t you listen to Anne.  You just have a seat and you and I will become good friends.”  Snow licked her hand and settled onto the chaise beside Barbara.

My sister-in-law looked frail and drawn.  She had lost at least forty pounds since I saw her last and she was never a huge woman to begin with.  Her head was covered in a colorful scarf and I suspected she was bald underneath. Even with the sickness that pervaded her body, she gave me a huge smile.

“Anne, you look well, considering all you have endured the past couple of months.”

I sat in the chair beside her, feeling the tears sliding down my cheeks.

“Now, what’s all this?”  she asked me. “You are not crying for me.”

“Not at all,”  I told her. “I am crying for me and for Lillian.”

“How about making us some tea.  You know where the kitchen is. The tea is in the cabinet beside the refrigerator and the kettle is on the stove.  Cups in the cabinet on the right side of the sink. I want Earl Gray.”

I nodded and rose to me feet.  I gave her a gentle hug and said, “I am so happy to be here.  Can we stay for a day or two?”

“Only if you let Snow stay with me.  I get so cold and she is incredibly warm.”

The day was far from chilly and Matt had the windows open.  I bit my lower lip and nodded. I went to the kitchen before I started crying in earnest.  The sight of Barbara in her infirmity was shocking so I cried for her along with crying for Lillian, and myself.

Matt found me in the kitchen.  “The lady of the house sent you off to make tea for her?  Such a cruel taskmaster she is.”

“Tea for you?”  I asked.

“Hell, no.  Tea is nothing but slightly flavored water.  I drink coffee. Black and thick.” He paused and assessed me with an up and down look.  “None the worse for wear, I see. And the punk is still alive. Progress, I would say.”

Matt looked fifteen years older than the last time I had seen him.  His hair was longer than I remembered and his face a lacework of wrinkles.  The stress of caring for Barbara had not gone well for him.

“Do you have help with her?”  I asked quietly.

“Yes.  A nurse comes in every day for about four hours.”

“Good.  She looks… sick.”

“I think she will weather this storm.  Only one more treatment and then she is done.  She will get better after that.”

Matt reached up with gentle fingers and wiped the tears from my cheeks, then busied himself with making a fresh pot of coffee.

Chris came into the kitchen before the brew cycle was done.  “I put our bags in the spare room,” he announced.

I looked at Matt.  “Only one spare room?”

“Yes.  Charlotte is here until she gets married and Julia is here on weekends when she comes home from college.  You two get Ann’s room because she is away at Northwestern for Med School and won’t be back until her winter break.  Julia will be here tomorrow morning.”

I turned away from the two brothers and made myself busy with the tea.  I took the two mugs back into the living room and gave one to Barbara. She sipped and said, “This is wonderful. Very warming.”

“I have an afghan I crocheted for you in my luggage.  It is made from alpaca and is very soft.”

“Thank you, so much,”  Barbara said. “I just can’t seem to get warm, even in 90 degree heat.”

“I’ll get it for you.  First, I need to walk Snow.”

“Take her out the back door.  Nothing in the backyard but sand.”

I called to Snow and she jumped down from the chaise to follow me outside. A huge glass door opened to a covered patio and a sand trap beyond.  The air was comparatively cool under the ceiling fan right outside the door, but it felt like a blast furnace when I stepped onto the sand. Even through the soles of my shoes, I could feel the heat.

Snow squatted, peed quickly, and trotted back to the door to be let back in.  Chris had put her water bowl and her her bowl of food by the back door, so Snow paused long enough to slurp several mouthfuls of water. She trotted back to the chaise and hopped up with Barbara once again.  She lay her head on Barbara’s thigh.

I asked Barbara where my room was and she gave me brief directions.  My bedroom had a queen sized bed covered in a brightly colored Native American blanket.  The plastered walls gleamed with white-wash and the red tiles had two fuzzy rugs covering part.

A girl’s room.  My niece, Ann, gave us her space without ever knowing it.  I opened an empty closet and saw the suitcases in there. I pulled mine out and put it on the bed.  The afghan was kept carefully clean by a plastic bag. I removed it and put the suitcase back into the closet.  

Out of the window I looked at the mountains in the distance and the swathe of scrub between them and me.  The scene was shockingly peaceful and beautiful. Such a contrast to my life.

Moments wasted while I considered what it would mean for Chris and me to be trapped in the same bedroom.  If I had to, I would slip out and sleep on the couch in the living room. I sighed, picked up the afghan and returned to Barbara.

I crocheted the afghan from lightweight alpaca wool in earth tone shades I remembered from times I visited Matt and Barbara.  Rows of taupe, sand, blush pink, beige and white were interspersed with sky blue. The blanket was soft and lightweight enough to ward of the chill of sickness without being too heavy for the desert summers.

I handed the blanket to her and she buried her face in the soft folds.  “It is just gorgeous. Thank you, so much, Anne.”

“Where are Matt and Chris?” I asked her.

“They went to gas up the car and Matt told me that he and Chris are going to Starbucks for coffee and a stern talking to.”

“Maybe it will help.  He still texts her and talks to her on the phone whenever he thinks I cannot hear.  He talks to me a little bit, but…” I let the sentence trail away. Barbara had enough to worry about without me burdening her with my troubles.

“Do you think you can reconcile your differences?”  Barbara asked.

“I just don’t know.  I am so angry at him.  I feel completely betrayed and completely alone.  Worse, I keep thinking this is all my fault. You know, if I had been a better wife, a better housekeeper, a better cook, was 60 pounds lighter, 20 years younger.”

“Stop that, right now,” she admonished, her voice suddenly stronger.  “Chris is the one who is having an affair. Not you. Blaming yourself for this is pointless and debilitating.  Blaming him is proper.”

“I get the feeling that I can’t get over this, ever.”

“Maybe you can’t.  You two may end up separating.  Then, you may end up together, forever.  I understand what you feeling. I did, too, when Matt had an affair years ago. Betrayal.  Breach of trust. Breach of promise. All of that. Plus, like you, I felt like it was my fault.  Finally, one night, I was so angry, I hit him in the head with a wooden spoon and told him to get out of my house.  He only made it to the front door before he came back and apologized. He promised to never to have an affair, again.  I asked him, “How can I believe you?” He said, “Only time will tell.” That was twenty years ago, and sometimes I still feel the hurt and the betrayal. Sometimes, I wonder if he is seeing someone, especially, if he is late coming home or has to go out of town for a medical conference.”

I felt the tears, again.  First, I never knew Matt had an affair.  Second, I never knew Barbara had to deal with the same things I am dealing with.

“So, you are saying, this will never go away?”  I asked around a sob.

“It may not.  You have to decide if you can live with the pain and the doubt or you have to cut your losses.”

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Road of Change

Road of Change: Kansas to Colorado

Lunch in Wichita, in which we got salads at a fast food restaurant.  The pernicious odor of burgers and fries overwhelmed, so I took my meal out to the car to avoid temptation.  Chris followed a few steps later.

“I had to get out of there.  I was one step away from ordering a bucket of fries,” Chris said to me.

I nodded my agreement because I had a mouthful of lettuce.  Then, I said, “The lounge entertainer, Joey Bishop, who was a favorite of Mom’s, said once that he lost weight by cutting everything in half and eating only half what the restaurants served him while he was on the road. Something to think about.  Mom even met him when she was younger.”

“Did she meet any of the others in the Rat Pack?” Chris asked.

“Most of them, from time to time.  She spent her summers in the Hamptons and celebrities were always available for parties.”

“Who had the money in your family?  Lilith or Andrew?” Chris asked. He had never seemed particularly interested before, so I readily answered his questions.

“It was Mom’s money.  Dad is a good investor, so he took advantage of Mom’s inheritance and more than quadrupled her fortunes.  My grandfather on Mom’s side was a second generation railroad magnate.”

“What was it like, growing up in a mansion, having everything you ever wanted?”

“Money isn’t everything Chris.  Mom and Dad were always someplace else anytime I needed a parent.  I was raised by nannies and servants. I saw my parents a couple of weeks in the summer and sometimes during the Christmas holidays. Once in a while, a nanny would take Carolyn, Ian and me to meet them in some far-flung exotic location for a few days, then back to New York we three kids went.”

I spent a lot of time with my grandmother on Dad’s side.  She was a kind little lady who taught me the art of crochet. She could talk for hours on the topic of yarn and yarn making. The first project I crocheted was a sampler afghan in which every 5 inch by 8 inch square had a different crochet stitch. I spent a lot of time pulling out stitches that were done incorrectly or too tight or too loose.  Grandma had a keen eye and could spot an error from across the room. I was determined that she not find even one.

She lived in the house with us, so I always had a parental figure around.  I adored Grandma and always wanted to please her.

My siblings and I seemed to get along very well without Lilith and Andrew.  If they didn’t show up for Christmas or birthdays, they always sent lavish gifts.  I think they checked with the nannies or maybe the nannies made the purchases and just sent the bills to Dad.  Grandma always made sure we had a birthday party or a Christmas tree. She ran the house I lived in until my marriage at the age of 20.

I don’t recall being lonely, but I didn’t feel loved by my parents.  I wasn’t lonely because I had Carolyn as a companion, a little brother to terrorize, and Justice, the butler, who became my father figure. Between Justice and Grandma, I always had the discipline I needed to grow.  I brushed my teeth, did my homework, studied for tests, cleaned my room and generally behaved.

Carolyn was the rebel who was always jumping off of the porch roof, after climbing up the rose arbor to get on the roof to begin with.  She snuck out of the house as a teenager, was caught smoking by Justice who grounded her for a month, was caught drinking by Hannah, the chef, and again she was grounded.  She didn’t study, she never turned in homework, never followed the rules.

Carolyn went to a local community college to study nursing-a subject in which she excelled-much to the disappointment of Lilith. Carolyn refused to go to an Ivy League school to study medicine where Lilith wanted her to go.

She met Louis who was studying HVAC at the same school during her final year.  They got married a year later, after enduring Lilith’s insults for the entire time they dated.  Lilith finally cut her off, completely, if she agreed to go ahead with her marriage to Louis, but Carolyn was undeterred.  She and Louis got married in a small chapel with just me and a friend of Louis’s, and Louis’s mother and father and his brothers and sisters in attendance. Mom refused to attend. Carolyn wore a simple white wedding gown that belonged to Louis’s mom and Louis wore his one and only suit.  They went to Olive Garden for their wedding supper and stayed at Louis’s parents’ house for their honeymoon.

It seemed her boys acted exactly the way she acted when she was a child. That same spirit pervaded their bones and they would probably grow up as happy as Carolyn is. She has no money, but she had a ton of love from Louis’s family, her boys and from Louis, himself.  A lot to envy, there.

Chris smiled at me and said, “It can’t have been terrible to not have Lilith around on the holidays.”

“She generally ignored her children either way.  If she was home, she would throw a huge Christmas party to impress her wealthy friends and I was never invited.  The nannies or Grandma would have a party for Carolyn, Ian and me in the nursery wing if Mom and Dad had one of their soirees.”

“The nursery wing?”  Chris asked.

“Yes.  It had five bedrooms, a living room, a playroom, a classroom, four bathrooms, a pool, a kitchen and dining room.  It was the wing in the back of the house. I think Lilith uses it for a guest house, now.”

“I was never in that wing,” Chris said.  “In fact, Lilith barely allowed me in the front door.”

“You didn’t miss much,”  I told him. “The house was huge and cold.  It didn’t feel like a home. It felt like someplace I slept as a kid.”

“I am surprised you didn’t grow up as snooty as Lilith,” Chris said.

“I wasn’t raised by her or I may have.  I was raised by my Grandma and Justice.”

“What was it like for you when your Grandma died?”  Chris asked, he voice carefully neutral.

“It felt like a gunshot wound to my heart.  You know, I haven’t been back to that house in New York since Grandma died.”

Then, Chris said something that surprised me addressing his mother in the urn in the back of the Cayenne.  “Lillian, I know just Anne feels. A gunshot to the heart. That’s what happened to me when you died.”

We pushed on toward Colorado.  From Wichita to the Colorado Border was 8 hours and we decided to spend the night in Colorado.  We didn’t quite make it and stopped at a small hotel 20 miles from the Colorado border. We ate fruit for breakfast and bought coffee at the Colorado welcome station. The selfie I took to send to Mr. Cartwright showed Chris and me, neutral faced and facing more of our adventure with mixed feelings.

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Road of Change

Road of Change: Kansas

It was after 5:00 pm before we reached Oklahoma City, choosing to drive along the famous Route 66.  We stopped at Waylan’s Ku-Ku Burger for lunch, getting our meal to go. We ate in the car, surprising Snow with the meat from a hamburger.  I got a Frito Pie and an Oreo Cyclone and Chris ate three chili dogs. We shared the fries.

Because we were so close to the attraction, we visited the Blue Whale. Interesting, but not incredibly impressive.  Kind of like the world’s largest ball of twine. But, still, if anyone asks me if I have seen the blue Whale, I can say, “Yes, I have.”

Snow became an attraction herself at the Blue Whale when every child who saw her reached out to pet her soft white head.  Her tail wagged furiously every time she received attention.

The walk did all three of us good as we were all beginning to suffer from the excess calories we consumed on the highway.  All my pants were getting a little snug and apparently Chris had the same problem when he announced that any coffee we got on the road should be just black instead of flavors and sugar.  That was okay with me because I like black coffee. We decided to eat more salads and to eat less often when we stopped to use the bathroom or to fill up the car.

Chris agreed to walking every day, too.  

In Oklahoma City, we left Snow in the hotel room and went in search of  bathing suits because most of the hotels where we stayed had pools. Another source of exercise.  

I had never been an avid exerciser or dieter.  I knew many women who were perpetually dieting and always announcing right before they ate three eclairs that they “shouldn’t” or “this isn’t on my diet” or “I should apply this directly to my hips.”  In actuality, they were not dieting, but making a show for everyone else and making it seem as if eating an eclair was a huge sacrifice.

I mostly tried to moderate what I was eating.  For example, I would eat a handful of potato chips as opposed to a bagful of potato chips. At work, I usually subsisted on coffee and a sandwich from the the deli next to my shop. At home, I rarely ate a second slice of pizza and birthdays didn’t consist of a whole cake, but one cupcake for each of us.  We rarely had dessert after dinner. We also, didn’t exercise very much. None of us. Even with a pool, I didn’t swim laps on a daily basis. Maybe once a week.

We found bathing suits in a chain department store and I picked up two beach towels, too, all compliments of Lillian.  At the same store, we bought some bananas and apples for snacks, pre-made salads for supper that evening, and small bottles of juice to drink instead of fizzy sodas.

Anything to stop the endless flood of fast food.  

Chris and I changed into our swimsuits when we got back to the hotel and within minutes, we plunged into the cool water of the pool. After swimming the length of the pool a few times, I was tired, so I climbed out and wrapped the towel around my shoulders to stave off the gooseflesh.  The sun set and the air grew chilly, so I rushed back into the hotel to get out of the breeze, to shower off the chlorine and get into dry clothes.

My dinner salad tasted better than I anticipated and so did the banana I shared with Snow.  I took Snow out for a final walk before going to sleep.

That night, I slept better than I had in a long time.  Maybe the key was getting really tired before retiring instead of just sitting in a car all day.

The next morning, I ate breakfast-a single whole wheat bagel with low fat cream cheese and black coffee-compliments of the hotel and then went for another swim, consisting of several laps of the pool.  Another shower, back into travel clothes and I took Snow for her morning walk. Just as we got back to the car, Chris was already putting his things in the back. His hair was still wet from his shower and he held a bagel with cream cheese smeared on the top in his left hand.

“You ready?” he asked.

“As soon as I get my suitcase out of the room,”  I announced.

He held onto Snow’s leash while I went in to grab my things.  My beach towel was wet from my morning swim and so was the bathing suit, so I left them out of the suitcase.  A quick double check and I was ready, again.

I spread the wet towel across the back of Snow’s back seat and hung the bathing suit over the headrest in the back.

Chris drove, again, and he picked up Interstate 235 until it met with Interstate 44.  Due north to Wichita, Kansas.

We stopped at the Welcome to Kansas sign and I took another selfie for Mr. Cartwright.  I sent the image into the ether and we took to the road, again.

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Road of Change

Road of Change: Kansas

It was after 5:00 pm before we reached Oklahoma City, choosing to drive along the famous Route 66.  We stopped at Waylan’s Ku-Ku Burger for lunch, getting our meal to go.  We ate in the car, surprising Snow with the meat from a hamburger.  I got a Frito Pie and an Oreo Cyclone and Chris ate three chili dogs.  We shared the fries.

Because we were so close to the attraction, we visited the Blue Whale. Interesting, but not incredibly impressive.  Kind of like the world’s largest ball of twine. But, still, if anyone asks me if I have seen the blue Whale, I can say, “Yes, I have.”

Snow became an attraction herself at the Blue Whale when every child who saw her reached out to pet her soft white head.  Her tail wagged furiously every time she received attention.  

The walk did all three of us good as we were all beginning to suffer from the excess calories we consumed on the highway.  All my pants were getting a little snug and apparently Chris had the same problem when he announced that any coffee we got on the road should be just black instead of flavors and sugar.  That was okay with me because I like black coffee.  We decided to eat more salads and to eat less often when we stopped to use the bathroom or to fill up the car.

Chris agreed to walking every day, too.  

In Oklahoma City, we left Snow in the hotel room and went in search of  bathing suits because most of the hotels where we stayed had pools.  Another source of exercise.  

I had never been an avid exerciser or dieter.  I knew many women who were perpetually dieting and always announcing right before they ate three eclairs that they “shouldn’t” or “this isn’t on my diet” or “I should apply this directly to my hips.”  In actuality, they were not dieting, but making a show for everyone else and making it seem as if eating an eclair was a huge sacrifice.

I mostly tried to moderate what I was eating.  For example, I would eat a handful of potato chips as opposed to a bagful of potato chips. At work, I usually subsisted on coffee and a sandwich from the the deli next to my shop. At home, I rarely ate a second slice of pizza and birthdays didn’t consist of a whole cake, but one cupcake for each of us.  We rarely had dessert after dinner.  We also, didn’t exercise very much.  None of us.  Even with a pool, I didn’t swim laps on a daily basis.  Maybe once a week.

We found bathing suits in a chain department store and I picked up two beach towels, too, all compliments of Lillian.  At the same store, we bought some bananas and apples for snacks, pre-made salads for supper that evening, and small bottles of juice to drink instead of fizzy sodas.

Anything to stop the endless flood of fast food.  

Chris and I changed into our swimsuits when we got back to the hotel and within minutes, we plunged into the cool water of the pool. After swimming the length of the pool a few times, I was tired, so I climbed out and wrapped the towel around my shoulders to stave off the gooseflesh.  The sun set and the air grew chilly, so I rushed back into the hotel to get out of the breeze, to shower off the chlorine and get into dry clothes.

My dinner salad tasted better than I anticipated and so did the banana I shared with Snow.  I took Snow out for a final walk before going to sleep.

That night, I slept better than I had in a long time.  Maybe the key was getting really tired before retiring instead of just sitting in a car all day.

The next morning, I ate breakfast-a single whole wheat bagel with low fat cream cheese and black coffee-compliments of the hotel and then went for another swim, consisting of several laps of the pool.  Another shower, back into travel clothes and I took Snow for her morning walk.  Just as we got back to the car, Chris was already putting his things in the back.  His hair was still wet from his shower and he held a bagel with cream cheese smeared on the top in his left hand.

“You ready?” he asked.

“As soon as I get my suitcase out of the room,”  I announced.

He held onto Snow’s leash while I went in to grab my things.  My beach towel was wet from my morning swim and so was the bathing suit, so I left them out of the suitcase.  A quick double check and I was ready, again.

I spread the wet towel across the back of Snow’s back seat and hung the bathing suit over the headrest in the back.

Chris drove, again, and he picked up Interstate 235 until it met with Interstate 44.  Due north to Wichita, Kansas.

We stopped at the Welcome to Kansas sign and I took another selfie for Mr. Cartwright.  I sent the image into the ether and we took to the road, again.

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Road of Change, Uncategorized

Road of Change: Missouri to Oklahoma

In Arkansas, we saw Texarkana and then on to Little Rock. So much of the scenery flashed by us because we were so deep in our thoughts and hurts. We did the usual bathroom breaks.  We ate fast food in the car, adding to the crumbs already there.  We would have to get the car cleaned at some point because it was rapidly reaching a point where it was too disgusting to ride in.  

Outside of Little Rock, we picked up state road 65 that would take us to Branson, Missouri.  We just need to cut across the southwest side of Missouri, so we wouldn’t spend much time there.  

Dinner in Branson consisted of yet another burger and fries and a chain hotel for the night.  At this rate, I would likely gain 50 pounds before the trip was over.  What was Lillian thinking making us do this?  How can anyone eat without gaining a ton of weight while on a road trip.  In my hotel that night, I looked up information about how to lose weight while on vacation and found some great ideas.  And I had a perfect alibi traveling with me–Snow.

That morning, after dressing in my traveling pants, a tank top and my sneakers, I ate a whole wheat bagel at the complimentary breakfast buffet in the hotel.  I grabbed a banana and a coffee and took them back to my room.  I packed up my things and took them out to the Cayenne.

Snow eagerly awaited her morning walk, so I took her to the back of the hotel parking lot to allow her to poop.  Then, we walked to the lobby and I asked for a walking map of the area so I could walk my dog, and of course, myself.  Chris called me when we were about four blocks from the hotel to ask me when we were leaving and I told him I was walking Snow and would be back in about thirty minutes.

“Where are you walking her to?  Colorado?” he asked.

           I blew out a sigh and then answered him.  “Sitting in a car all day and eating nothing but hamburgers and fries will not do anything for my school girl figure.  I felt like going for a walk this morning.  I will call you when I am ready to go.  Smoke a few cigarettes and get some breakfast.”  I hung up without saying goodbye.  I didn’t really care if Chris had to wait for me.  The time I spent walking the dog was well worth it in my opinion.

Of course, he was impatient and fuming by the time I returned to the parking lot with Snow.  I made him wait a little longer while I went back into my room and used the toilet.  A quick survey made sure I had not forgotten anything in the room. The car was running and Snow was perched in the backseat when I closed the door.  Chris stopped by the front of the hotel and I went in to return the room key cards.  We hit the road by 9:30 a.m.  The next stop: Oklahoma City.

Chris plugged in his iPod to the sound system and turned the music up.  The music played loudly enough that we couldn’t talk if we wanted to and I am certain that was the object.  I am the one who made the rules, so I couldn’t renege.  

After about an hour of emo tunes and 90’s rock blasting through my head, the song we danced to at our wedding came on and I saw the slight smile on Chris’s face.  I hoped it evoked a fond memory from our past.

We learned a tango for our wedding dance and danced to Asi Se Baila El Tango by Bailongo! and Vero Verdier.  We spent several days in a dance studio with a small man who had the incongruous name of Mr. Carlton.  When he told me his name, I instantly got a mental image of him doing “the Carlton.” He stood 5’4” in two inch dancing shoes and weighed about 100 pounds.  His straight black hair never moved on his head because he used so much pommade.  But, the man could tango.

Lillian bribed Chris by promising him enough money for a down payment on a house if he went through with the dance lessons.  As usual, he pouted and complained about having to do anything out of his comfort zone.  But, he wanted a house badly enough to suffer the humiliation of dancing with me.

Mr. Carlton dimmed the lights in the dance studio on the day of our first dance lesson and put on a deeply dramatic song.  A tiny Oriental girl came out of the back dressed in a black leotard, spike heels, and a skirt that only covered her bottom.  Mr. Carlton pulled off his coat and tossed it aside and jerked on the girl’s arm, pulling her in closely.  They writhed and swirled and posed on the dance floor.  Everything except the two people dancing vanished from the earth as I watched them maneuver their way across the floor, never losing eye contact with each other.  I was mesmerized.

Chris said, “I can’t do that!” as soon as the dancers completed their routine.  

Mr. Carlton shouted at him, “Of course, you can’t.  That’s why you came to me.  Jasmine and I wanted to show you what you will learn over the next few weeks.”  He murmured a thank you to the girl and she vanished from the room as quickly as she arrived. “Now, we begin.  You have your shoes?”  

Lillian brought dancing shoes for both of us that we would wear at the reception.  Although mine had heels, they were comfortable to wear.  Chris’s shoes were shiny black and he would wear them for the wedding and the reception.

We put on our shoes and Mr. Carlton inspected the fit.  He announced that they would work perfectly and then commanded we stand for our first lesson.  Chris kissed my hair and said, “You have to know how much I love you if I am willing to do this for you.”

I countered with, “You are doing this for a house.”

Chris said, “I do love you, house or not.”

I blushed and Mr. Carlton told us to get to work and to stop flirting.  For the next two hours we practiced our posing, getting our frame correct, staring deeply into each other’s eyes.  At the end of the session, I felt like I had just ran a marathon.  I was sweaty and tired.  My arms and calves ached.  My head ached.  My feet felt swollen inside the shoes. Chris looked very much the same.

As we drove home after that first dance lesson, Chris told me, “I have a new respect for anyone who dances.  That is a lot of very hard work.”  He was silent for a few moments and then he asked me, “Do you think we can do it?”

“I hope so.”

“How long have we got to learn this stuff?”

“The wedding is four months away.  Mr. Carlton has scheduled us for two lessons a week.  Yes, I think we can do it.”

“You know, we have to get this perfect.  It’ll impressed the hell out of Mom.”  

It bothered me a little bit that he was learning the tango to impress Lillian rather than me, but I kept my mouth shut.  At least he was going to try.

The next lesson was dismal.  Mr. Carlton yelled at us for being stiff as a two by four.  He flailed his hands and ranted.  The muscles in my arms ached terribly from the first dance lesson and I felt like I was moving through glue.  Chris didn’t say anything, but I imagine he felt much the same.

The third lesson went a little better and the fourth even better.  We discovered we could judge our progress by how much Mr. Carlton yelled.  Less yelling meant better dancing.

I progressed with my wedding plans in the midst of all of the dance lessons.  Six months before the dance lessons, my mother and I went to Kleinfeld’s in New York to get a wedding dress.  As usual, we clashed terribly.  Mom wanted me to wear a mermaid gown and I wanted something a bit more vintage.  We settled on a dress that was reminiscent of the beaded dress that Ginger Rogers wore in the movie Top Hat.  The Hollywood Golden Age themed wedding moved ahead at warp speed.  Mom wanted to impress all of her friends from the Hamptons, so we got married in Mom’s backyard.  Neither Chris nor I knew most of the guests, but we only had eyes for each other, anyway. The money Mom and Dad spent on the wedding was embarrassing.  We got through it.

I had a second dress of the wedding reception; one far more conducive to dancing a tango in that it was similar to my wedding dress but without the train and missing most of the beads. It conjured images of Ginger, again wearing a white silk gown.  Chris wore a top hat and tails. Matt, Chris’s best man, introduced us as we entered the tented pavilion my mother had erected in her yard for the reception.  “Ladies, gentlemen, honored guests.  May I introduce Mr. and Mrs. Archer, Chris and Ann.”

The orchestra cued the music and I slowly walked out to the dance platform.  From the opposite side of the platform, Chris appeared and tossed his coat aside, just like Mr. Carlton did that first day at dance lessons.  Our bodies molded together as we went through the well-rehearsed steps of the tango.  We received a round of applause which would have happened even if we danced poorly.  Mom beamed and Chris blushed.  I caught a glimpse of Lillian and she shook her head slowly from side to side.  Later she told me that entire wedding was pretentious and I agreed.

Of course the wedding was pretentious, but few people could say no to Lilith Weaver.  So, the lavish and pretentious wedding proceeded, and Chris and I had fun.  And so did my six bridesmaids and Chris’s six groomsmen.  That evening, I danced with a Senator or two, a Hollywood producer, a couple of Wall Street Millionaires, and an actor who was famous for creating a superhero on the big screen. We dined on lobster, Beef Wellington, caviar, and a wedding cake decorated to look like a white top hat with Swarovski crystals and white roses to garnish.  Just like my wedding bouquet.  White roses, Swarovski Crystals and silk ribbons.

By the time I danced with my Dad, I had my shoes off and Mom was scandalized.  She informed me as she and a famous TV chef danced by that only tramps and hobos went without shoes.  Dad whirled me a way and told me to ignore Lilith and to enjoy myself.  Chris and Lillian danced closer to us and Lillian pushed Chris into my arms and grabbed my dad for a spin around the floor with him.  Mom fumed at Dad for dancing with the indefatigable Lillian Archer.

Other than our tango, Chris was a terrible dancer.  He was just barely able to do a box step.  I only danced with him two or three times during the night.  Matt, on the other hand, was accomplished and lithe on the floor.  He graced me with several dances while Barbara smiled at him in approval.

Around midnight, the party started to wind down and Carolyn, my maid of honor, announced that it was time for me to go so everyone else could go.  Matt instructed the orchestra to play a slow romantic song and Chris and I had one last box step dance together.  We went upstairs to stay overnight in Mom’s guestroom.

I was happy to have a lavish wedding, but afterward, I knew Mom had over spent.  All I had remaining were some memories and an album full of photographs.

Chris pulled the car over so we could get a selfie of the Oklahoma Welcome sign. I smiled because I was still thinking about our tango and Chris just looked annoyed.  I sent the photo to Mr. Cartwright and to Lily.   I also sent one to Matt.  He would enjoy the image of Snow with her two front paws on Chris’s leg, begging for a pat on her head.  Maybe that’s why he looked annoyed.

OKLAHOMA

Road of Change

Road of Change: Arkansas to Missouri

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.

missouri