V is for Vocation

v is for vocation“I see you’ve stopped smoking,” Mother Veronica Mary said.

The air was charged; molecules brushed against my skin singing for joy.

“Yes,” I replied. Tears pricked my eyes.

“How was it?” she asked.

“So easy,” I whispered.

Her forehead rumpled. I took a breath and repeated myself in a louder voice, “So easy. I just forgot to smoke.”

“Forgot?”

“Yes. I’d plan to have a cigarette at lunch and forget them in my desk. Or I’d forget while I was waiting at the bus.” I shrugged. “At first I was afraid: How could I forget to smoke? Then I realized it was a good thing so I just stopped.

“It’s what we discussed,” I said.

“Yes?” she asked.

“If I have a vocation, then quitting would be possible,” I replied.

“True,” she nodded. “Most young women find it more difficult.”

I lowered my head. How do I tell her? I mutely asked my Friend. The air sang about me. Oh well. I suppose just the truth.

“My life often goes that way,” I replied. “I pray and want and pray some more and even try to make myself be different. Then I just forget to poke at myself and one day, the change I want just happens. How varies. But the change happens.”

Mother Veronica Mary smiled, “How are you doing with your biography?”

“That’s hard,” I said shaking my head. “There’s so much. It’s daunting.”

“Perhaps Sister Justin Mary would be of help,” she suggested.

I shuddered. “Perhaps,” I said.

“Think about it,” she said. “And don’t be afraid to ask her for help. Remember, if you really have a vocation…”

I gave her a tight-lipped smile and nodded, “Yes. If I don’t get it in a few days, I’ll ask her.”

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U is for Unapologetic

“Totally unapologetic,” I answered.

“But doesn’t she know what she did?” Jenna asked.

“I think so,” I shrugged. “But she can’t apologize.”

***

“Mel!” a voice cried out.

Confused, I scanned around me until my eyes focused on Caroline, her bag tucked under one arm, a cigarette in her other hand.

“Oh,” I said. “Hullo, Caroline.”

“How are you?” she gushed.

“Okay,” I answered.

“How was the surgery?” she asked.

“Fine,” I nodded.

“You’re okay?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“No cancer?” she asked.

“No,” I shook my head.

“You got a clean bill of health?”

“Yes,” I nodded.

“I’m so glad,” Caroline gushed again. “I was really worried about you.”

“Oh?” I inquired.

“I thought you might have cancer,” she said reaching out one hand towards my shoulder.

I stepped back a few inches. Her fingers did not reach me.

“No cancer,” I replied.

“How was your recovery?” she asked.

I looked into her eyes then moved my gaze to the growing leaves on the ginkgo tree at the curb.

“It must have been difficult,” she said.

My eyebrows raised. “Yes,” I said.

“Well…” she began. “I don’t do sick…” Her voice trailed off.

“No?” I replied.

“Did Jenna help?” she asked.

I shook my head, “She was still away,” I said.

“Oh,” Caroline replied. “Yes. She was in England.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Who helped?” she asked.

“I hired someone from work,” I said.

“Not Paul?” Caroline asked.

“He was away too,” I said.

“But you were okay?” she asked.

“I survived,” I said.

“The girls were going to help you,” Caroline remarked.

I nodded.

“I didn’t tell them,” she said.

My hands splayed out; I shrugged.

“But you’re okay?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

Caroline looked at me. I turned my eyes back to the leaves growing on the tree. She puffed her cigarette.

“I’ve got ice cream.” I said.

“I won’t keep you,” Caroline replied. “I just wanted to say hi.”

***

“Unapologetic,” I repeated.

“What did she mean, ‘I don’t do sick’?” Jenna asked.

“Just what she said,” I answered.

Jenna shook her head, “How does she ever expect to keep any friends?”

I shrugged.

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T is for Treachery

t is for treachery“How are you?” Jenna inquired.

“I’m healing,” I said easing myself into an upright chair.

“I wish I had been here,” she said pouring cups of tea. “At least Caroline and the girls were right down the street so you weren’t alone.”

My eyebrows lifted.

“What?” she asked, her voice terse.

“Caroline disappeared as soon as she learned I needed surgery,” I replied.

“What?!” she shrieked. “Something happened to her?”

“No,” I shook my head. “As far as I know she’s fine. Her car is there.”

Jenna’s brow furrowed, “So what happened?”

“I called her from work the day my gynecologist decided she had to open me up,” I said, then sipped the delicate Lapsang Suchong brew.

“Tell me,” Jenna insisted.

“She told me to call her when I had a date and then didn’t answer her phone; didn’t return my messages” I explained.

“Did you stop by?”

“Yes,” I nodded. “But she was always away.” I shrugged. “After a week, I gave up.”

“Oh Mel,” Jenna cried, rushed to my side and hugged my shoulders.

I winced.

“Ooh,” Jenna shied. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“Oh no,” I shook my head. “I just reached up too high.”

“What did you do?” Jenna asked as she returned to her seat.

“What could I do?” I shrugged again, “I filled my spaghetti pot with water and left it on the stove, bought frozen entrees and stuff that was already cooked, and cooked vacuum sealed packets until I could open and close the oven.

“I paid our part-timer to collect me from the hospital and come and buy groceries for me. She was the only person I saw for a week.”

“Caroline didn’t check in at all?” Jenna asked. “Not at all?”

I shook my head.

“What treachery!” Jenna cried. “You’ve done so much for her. I can’t believe she did that.”

“She was afraid I had cancer,” I said shrugging.

“What if you did?!” Jenna demanded. “You’d need her even more.”

“She’s afraid of illness,” I replied.

“That’s no excuse for treachery,” Jenna said.

“No,” I agreed. “But that’s why she did it.”

Jenna traced a pattern in her place mat with the tip of her teaspoon as we sipped our tea.

“You know,” she mused. “You should call and tell her… Oh, I don’t know… Tell her something.”

I shook my head, “No. I’m not going to call her.”

Jenna opened her mouth. I interrupted before she spoke.

“I’ve been Caroline’s friend,” I said. “But she’s never been mine. This…” I stopped for a minute, “treachery — that’s a good word — I don’t need it in my life.”

“No,” Jenna agreed.

“So that’s that,” I said.

“And the girls?”

“Perhaps I’ll see them in the neighbourhood,” I shrugged. “But I can’t ask them to choose between me and their mother.”

My eyes smarted. I blinked a tear away.

“It’s bloody awful,” Jenna said.

“Yes,” I nodded.

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S is for Songs

From childhood, I’ve made up and sung little songs to myself for comfort, cheer, and to try to find ways to express the inexpressible. Here are a few of them for which I’ve not yet found a place:

When I hold Your Hand
Where are You?
Where are You?
Though I’ve tried my best, I can’t stand alone
I need Your love to still the fear inside of me
There’s no terror I can’t face
When I hold Your hand

Am I blind?
Am I blind?
Am I in Your arms? Are You really here?
And if it’s dark only cause I’ve closed my eyes to You
You’ll restore my sight again
When I hold Your hand

I’ll make it through the night
Through the angry raging storm
When I hold Your hand
And though my dreams may be a long time coming true
I can see the rising sun
When I hold Your hand

s is for songsSuddenly
I’m the one who always sees light hiding inside the darkest rain
I’m the one who can always find joy waiting inside the deepest pain
I’m the one people travel to hope hope
A journey they have never made in vain
But suddenly, the sky has gone all grey
I don’t want to be here any more
Suddenly, the stars have all gone dim
The sun won’t shine like it did before

Can it be that I’ve taken on the world?
That the earth’s weight is on my head?
I’d heard love makes the sun shine brighter still
Makes stormy seas grow calm instead
But I guess those were only pretty words
That lured me into crushing waves of dread
And suddenly, the sky has gone all grey
I don’t want to be here any more
(2nd voice) Hold tight there is a ship upon it’s way to you
Suddenly, the stars have all gone dim
(2nd voice) You’ll be alright
The sun won’t shine like it did before
(2nd voice) Hold tight you’ve got the courage to wait out the dawn
The sun won’t shine like it did before
(2nd voice) The sun will soon shine

These last two songs are comic rhyme. I’ve written other songs about the mice the exterminator rang, getting frozen dinner for my birthday, and many other subjects. At one time, I sang indexing, programming, and coding to the tunes of the arias I was learning. (Made the day more interesting.)

My Favourite Foods (to the tune of My Favourite Things)
Baked potatoes and scrambleded eggs
Knockwurst and noodles and fried chicken legs
Pizza, spaghetti, and cold salmon mousse
These are a few of my favourite foods
When I’m hungry and I’m starving and my stomach growls
I simply cook one of my favourite foods and then stuff it in my mouth

Oh You’re Now A Whole Year Older*
Oh you’re now a whole year older, yes indeed!
Oh you’re now a whole year older, yes indeed!
Oh you’re now a whole year older, there’s a hump upon your shoulder
Yes you’re now a whole year older, yes indeed!

Better do your celebrating, oh yes do
Better do your celebrating, oh yes do
Better do your celebrating, by next year you will be ailing
Better do your celebrating, oh yes do

Better hope you get a walker, yes you should
Better hope you get a walker, yes you should
Better hope you get a walker, fore your knees begin to totter
Better hope you get a walker, yes you should

*A co-worker about to be 27 complained that she was getting old. I warned her not to tell me such thing and told her of previous songs. She continued to complain. This song came to me complete while I was in the shower the next morning.

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R is for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Caroline stopped scrubbing the sink and asked, “Why are you limping?”

r is for rheumatoid arthritisI leaned against the counter and handed Jenna my bag. “My ankles are swollen,” I replied using my right quadriceps to slightly raise my foot and show her the angry red joint. “They both hurt but I can’t even stand on this one.”

A wince overspread my face as I lowered my toe back to the floor.

“Let me help,” Jenna said.

“You’re too young to have arthritis,” Caroline said as Jenna supported me while I hopped over to a chair.

“What?” I ejaculated and bumped my ankle. “Damn!”

“You’re too young. My mother has arthritis. You’re just a kid.”

I sighed.

“Rheumatoid arthritis attacks young women,” Jenna told her. “Your mother probably has osteoarthritis.”

“Do you hear yourself? Attack! Why would your body attack you?” Caroline lit a cigarette then put the kettle on to make another cup of coffee.

Jenna helped me rest my feet on another chair then replied, “That’s what actually happens with autoimmune diseases. The body attacks itself.”

“It doesn’t make sense that your body would attack you,” Caroline said. “You’re body is made to be whole.”

Lord? I silently pleaded.

“And this is a fallen world,” I replied aloud. “There’s illness and accidents and death.”

Caroline thumbed through a paperback book that no longer had a cover. Looking up at me she said, “Every day you should repeat, ‘My mind and body are in perfect balance. I’m a harmonious being.'”

Jenna’s mouth opened. I shuddered.

“That’s how you’ll heal your body,” Caroline.

I huffed out a loud breath.

“W-W-What good is that?” Jenna sputtered. “She needs a doctor.”

“I’m never sick,” Caroline said.

Another huff escaped. “You had the flu last month?” I said in a shrill voice. “You were so sick, I took care of you and the girls.”

“That’s not sick, sick,” Caroline replied. “Nothing like rheumatoid arthritis.”

Please? I mutely begged my Friend.

“Affirmations are words. Good words,” I said. “But you actually have to do something to reap the benefits.”

“You think you’re so smart,” Caroline said. “I know some things.”

Again, my head shook of it’s own accord.

“What makes you so rigid?” Caroline asked., her nose wrinkled as if she smelled something distasteful.

Another loud sigh escaped.

“Reciting some magic words won’t make this go away,” I said. “Eating better, more dance classes, more sleep, following my doctor’s instructions — those work. Positive thoughts help me feel better but they’re not magic.”

“Then you’ll just be sick,” Caroline retorted.

My head shook again.

“I’ll help you upstairs.” Jenna said.

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Q is for Quixotic

q is for quixotic“She called me quixotic,” I fumed. “Me? Quixotic?”

Before answering, Jenna placed her Spode teapot on the table and added a plate of lemon shortbread.

“At least it’s a nice word,” Jenna said.

Through narrowed eyes I glared at Jenna.

Well it is nice,” she insisted.

“It was an insult. She was calling me strange, a fool.”

“Probably,” Jenna agreed pouring the tea. “You probably seem strange to Caroline.”

“I’m not strange when she needs someone to babysit,” I replied. “Nor when she wants to borrow money, nor when she needs someone to talk to for hours and hours, nor when she expects me to pay rent for space I can’t even use.” I let out a deep sigh.

“Did you tell her yet?” Jenna inquired.

I nodded, “That’s when she called me quixotic. She blew up. Said I had to rent both rooms.”

“B-bloody hell!” Jenna sputtered. “She expects you to go on renting space you can’t use?”

I shrugged. “She needs the money.”

“She ought to have considered that sooner and made the space livable,” Jenna retorted. “You’re not going to continue paying for both rooms?”

I shook my head. “I told her to get a second housemate. She said no. She likes things as they are.”

“Of course she does,” Jenna said. “She’s got a live-in friend, spiritual director, babysitter, and cook who pays rent.”

I chuckled. “I said I would be only be paying for one room after this month.”

“She’s fortunate you gave notice,” Jenna said.

I nibbled a biscuit and sipped my tea.

“You know,” I said. “Caroline is the quixotic one.”

“I’d call her something else entirely,” Jenna snorted.

I smiled. “She lives in a dream world.” I took a sip of tea then continued, “It never occurred to her that I would stop paying for the whole floor.”

“Why did you wait so long?” Jenna asked.

“I didn’t want her to get a second housemate,” I answered. “The three of them are enough.” I took another sip of tea. “But I don’t care anymore. I need to save money to move.”

“I’d have moved sooner,” Jenna said.

“Yeah,” I nodded. “But money’s been tight and I love the girls. It seemed a good decision at the time.”

“But not now?” Jenna asked.

“No,” I said, “not now.”

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P is for Perfect Pancakes

p is for perfect pancakesCaroline stopped beating the contents of the mixing bowl, blew a lock of hair out of her eyes, and said, “Have some pancakes.” She continued to beat cradling the bowl in the crook of her left elbow and using quick, intent strokes.

Farrah’s eyes met mine. She snickered.

“No thanks,” I answered. “I only have time for a quick bowl of cereal.”

“Why don’t you make us pancakes?” Adhita asked.

“Your mom’s making them,” I said.

“You make perfect pancakes,” Adhita sighed. “Mom, why don’t you make pancakes like Mel?”

“I make good pancakes,” Caroline answered pausing in her labour.

“Mel’s pancakes are like corn muffins or biscuits,” Farrah said. “Yours are tough. The butter doesn’t even melt into them.”

“I make them from a mix, like my mother did,” Caroline said. “I don’t know how to make them from scratch.”

“Even when Mel uses a mix, they’re soft and fluffy,” Adhita replied.

“I make good pancakes,” Caroline insisted. “They’re just like my mother’s. I beat them just as she did.” Caroline continued beating.

“Why aren’t yours tough?” Farrah asked me.

Caroline stopped beating. My brow furrowed. I willed it into smoothness again, took a breath, and said, “I don’t beat the batter. I just stir the liquid into the flour until the dry ingredients disappear.”

“Nonsense,” Caroline said. “You have to beat them or there’ll be lumps. That’s what my mother always said.”

“Lumps are good,” I squeaked. I took a breath and continued at a  lower register, “They make pancakes tender. Beating the batter develops the gluten and makes them tough.”

Caroline lit a cigarette and said, “I don’t know anything about gluten. My mother never said anything about that. They’re delicious pancakes. They’ve always been good enough for you girls. You should be grateful to have a mother who’s makes you breakfast.” She took another drag on her cigarette. “You could be forced to eat cold cereal, like Mel.”

My eyebrows raised. I lowered them before speaking, “They asked. I answered. You needn’t like the answers.”

“I’m not stupid,” Caroline said. “I make perfectly good pancakes.”

My forehead furrowed. I stared into her angry, blue eyes.

She looked away and took another drag of her cigarette, “If you want perfect pancakes so badly, then get Mel to make them. But she can’t, can she?” she asked the girls. “She has no time.”

I took a deep breath, got up, put my bowl in the dishwasher and said, “If I can’t answer simple questions about making pancakes without offending you, there’s something really wrong.”

“I’m not stupid,” Caroline said.

“Why do you keep saying that?” Farrah demanded.

“Mel behaves as if I don’t know how to do anything,” Caroline said.

“I asked Mel how she made perfect pancakes,” Farrah declared. “She answered my questions.”

I shook my head and left the kitchen.

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O is for Opposite

o is for oppositeOpposite me, separated by the sealed window, her dark eyes and mine lock in a gaze. We share similar golden skin, dark hair but her dress is soiled, ripped. Dirt streaks her face. Her bare feet stand on piles of refuse amidst shanties made of cast off wood, plastic, corrugated aluminum.

“Huh. Huh,” I whimper leaning against the solid warmth of Papa’s hand. Traffic has halted our car. The scents of leather upholstery, air conditioning, aftershave, and pipe tobacco comfort me; the smell garbage heap on the opposite side of that pane of glass cannot intrude. Her face reaches in through the glass; I touch my smooth cheek, my cheek not hers.

“She is poor,” Papa tells me. “Her mother and father don’t have enough money to feed her. She is searching for food.”

I want to look at his face, to see in his eyes the meaning of his words. But I must not look away and lean farther back against his hand to feel his touch.

“Maybe we can find a way to help her,” Papa says and leans forward to speak to the driver, Pablo.

The car begins to move again. Our opposite pairs of eyes remain tied together for a few seconds more.

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N is for Nightmare’s At An End

Comes a moment when light shines and the nightmare’s at an end
When shadows fail and wounded hearts rejoice to see the dawn
Comes a moment of laughter and our spirits sing with joy
When Love shows Love is stronger than our fears

Beloved,

n is for nightmare's endDawn has come but I’ve only got the beginning. I’d like to have the whole song. But the nightmare’s at an end, isn’t it? And doesn’t that deserve a glorious song?

I get whole days when my heart doesn’t hurt. Everything is richer, clearer, brighter. Colour is more colourful — the blue in the sky flirts with me, asks to be touched. Trees and grass smell green — the way it did when I met the cow. That was a dream or so I imagined. It seemed so far away. Now, it’s all around me.

A Grief Observed comes to mind.

The terrible thing is that a perfectly good God is in this matter hardly less formidable than a Cosmic Sadist. The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. A cruel man might be bribed—might grow tired of his vile sport—might have a temporary fit of mercy, as alcoholics have fits of sobriety. But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless. But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us? Well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren’t.

Either way, we’re for it.
What do people mean when they say, ‘I am not afraid of God because I know He is good’? Have they never even been to a dentist?
Maybe the nightmare’s at an end but I’m still for it. Maybe the song won’t be finished for a while: dawn isn’t noon. But I know the sun has risen. I know laughter and joy. Just keep me close to You, Beloved. Just keep me close. We both know me, how impatient I am, how I hate suffering and think I’ve payed my dues in that area. If You must continue to cut, keep me close else I create a new nightmare.

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M is for Maybe

“I’ve been thinking that maybe…” I said.

“Yes?” Dr. Vogwall prompted.

“Well, the woman,” I began. My head tilted forward, my eyes strained as if I searched for something.  “When she was alive, things got done.”

“What sort of things?” he asked.

“The bills were paid. There was food in the cupboards. We weren’t allowed to eat it,” I emitted a snorting laugh. “But it was there. Whenever the cupboards were open, even on Saturday morning before they went shopping, there was food.

“The kids had school clothes and coats. Even my hand-me-downs were clean, pressed, and mended. And the housekeeper came every week day; I was never kept out of school to take care of the younger kids.”

“And after she died?”

“Chaos,” pain seized my face. I pushed it away. “The power was cut off several times because he didn’t pay the bill. We nearly lost the house when he didn’t pay the mortgage. The cupboards were empty until I was caught stealing. He went through housekeeper after housekeeper. Just chaos.”

“Maybe he didn’t have enough money,” Dr. Vogwall suggested.

“He had enough before she died,” I replied shaking my head. “She never worked.”

“You think the woman kept things stable?”

“Maybe,” I said. “Maybe she made sure things were done. Maybe, just by being there, she made life better for us.”

“So what does that mean to you today?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I answered. My forehead furrowed, “Maybe she took better care of us than I’ve thought. Maybe she mitigated his craziness somewhat.”

I pushed my hair away from my forehead and pulled up my sleeves, “She should have taken me to the police. That was a serious failure: you can’t just keep a child. I don’t know if he prevented her but she found ways around him — like with the ballet lessons. But maybe, just maybe, even with her own craziness, she did her best to give us a normal life.”

Dr. Vogwall nodded, “Maybe she did.”

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