Memories: A Memorial Day Story

I close my fingers around his small, warm hand, and we move closer. When he was born screaming, and I along with him, I promised myself I’d bring him here one day.

That day has come.

I have tissues in my pocketbook. I’ll need them, though he won’t. He’s still too young to understand, but he knows things are not as they should be. From his first birthday, with a single candle on his cupcake that I blew out as his eyes questioned mine, I think he knew. Those deep blue eyes continued to ask, with stares at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other holidays, when two-parent families arrived.

His grandparents are here too, and they run their fingers along the monument’s chiseled edge, speaking in low tones. She pulls her own Kleenex from a worn purse. He turns away. His head drops and his shoulders shake.

That day was horrible, like a nightmare but real. Dressed in black, I sat in front of his flag-draped casket. Hot tears streamed down my face as my heart pounded at the thought of living without him. Of my son living without a father. My heart threatened to burst from my chest and some selfish part of me wished it would.

But only for a moment because of what was left behind, as true a blessing as I’ve ever known.

Now we’re here. We hold hands and I have to explain, but I pause as he points at the leaves on the old oak.

“The wind is talking, Momma. Could that be him? You said he might tell me … tell me things if I listen?”

I nod and smile and squeeze his hand. “You never know, sweetheart, it could be.” He releases my hand and steps to the tree, touches the course gray bark with tentative fingertips and looks up again. He steps closer, wraps his arms as far around the tree as they will go, and closes his eyes.

“Momma showed me your picture, but I wish you were here.”

He walks back to me. “Can we talk to him now?”

I can’t answer. I hold the third tissue to my eyes. Should have brought the box.

“Give me a minute, sweetheart, okay?”

He takes my free hand, tugs it to his cheek. “Okay, Momma.”

God, how hard this is. How hard the first years were. I’m—we’re better, and I’m grateful, but what I wouldn’t give to not be doing this, not because of how it makes me feel, but because of the reason we must.

Before coming here, I’d promised my reflection in the bathroom mirror I wouldn’t cry. I swipe at my eyes, the tears just enough to keep my cheeks damp, and shove the tattered knot into my pocket.

“Okay, Momma’s ready.”

We step forward and I put down the quilt. Its threadbare patchwork is full of memories, one of which is the night my son was conceived. With him standing in front of me, I kneel and hold out my hand.

“Give me your hand.” He puts his hand in mine, and I place it on the first letter carved into the cool stone. “What’s this letter?”

Those eyes … they’re his dad’s. My cheeks grow damp again, nearly to sobbing, and I swallow. Fighting. Screaming inside to stay strong, but the tears sting as alcohol on an old and open wound, one exactly five-and-a-half-years-old.

“S, Momma, it’s an S.”

“That’s right.” I move his finger. “And this one?”

He traces the letter. “G?”

“Right again. One more.”

He touches this one on his own. “T, and that’s a period.” His faint, blonde eyebrows rise. “What does it mean?”

“Your daddy was a Marine, and that means he was a Sergeant.”

“Like my toy soldiers? I named one Sergeant Smith.”

Nothing like that at all, I don’t say. “You’re right.”

He drops his head. “My soldiers never get hurt … not really.”

“No, and I wish your daddy never got hurt either. He would be so proud of the big boy you’ve become and how you’re taking care of me.”

He leans against me and pulls my hands around him. Though he’s not a baby any more, his hair is baby-soft, and it smells of the shampoo I used last night during his bath, when he played and splashed and when we laughed. His ears are pink, chilly against my face from the morning November breeze.

We stay there silently, until he glances back at me.

“Can I tell him something?”

I nod, and his single fingertip touches the white marble where my head had lain, where my tears had fallen, and finally, where I had kissed goodbye.

“I love you, Daddy.”

 

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Yet another novel done, and I’m still loving this thing called writing.

After twelve weeks and almost 106,000 words, I’ve finished my seventh novel’s first draft. Now for the editing, which I happen to enjoy almost as much as the writing. It went over by quite a bit because of a few interesting aspects, but I’m extremely pleased with how it turned out. Now to see how much fat I can trim without trimming the lean.

Fingers crossed, toes too.

I’ve taken a break from writing to edit, write synopses, and write “blurbs” (that’s what you read on the back of a book that makes you like it or not) for all the novels other than what an agent requested in December.

I did all that for a portfolio of sorts I’ll put together for a March workshop when I meet her. I’m hoping they’ll all create further interest, which might land me an agent this year. Cross your fingers and toes so I can make this happen.

I’ll likely start on a new novel soon, one in which I’ve completed the first chapter in December, before things started getting exciting concerning that agent.

Quote for … life?

Leaves bear the seasons as we bear life. Yet they remain true to themselves, even sharing beauty as they pass into forever, imprinting their colors into our hearts and souls.

Let not foul words or deeds, especially words not meant to harm, alter your colors.

For when we blame something or someone for our lot in life, we make excuses. It’s how we react to outside forces that define us, not outside forces.

 

Novels and queries and synopses, oh my!

As anyone who aspires to publish their writing knows, not only is it hard work, it’s work that’s hard on you. I continue to dream the dream, working that forty-hour grind while trying to be grateful all the while for that forty-hour grind.

I am grateful, but I’m more grateful for being able to write. Penning a story, characters, places, conflicts, and resolutions is an enjoyable thing, likely within the top two personally enjoyable attempts at a creative pastime I’ve ever attempted. And having beta readers enjoy my work is great also. Recently, a woman said her sister came into her room and asked what was wrong, because the reader was cursing. Her answer? She was angry with one of my characters. When you can illicit emotion like that with mere words, what a thrill.

At the moment I’m working on a synopsis for my fifth novel, and it’s (they all are, right?) special. With great characters, a great hook, a great conflict, and a great (I’m a romantic at heart) love story, what’s not to love?

Fellow writers, you know how it is. We hope for that break, but it only comes with hard work, not only learning the craft of writing but learning the craft of storytelling so the reader stays engaged. My mantra is this: If I write something a reader skims, I’ve failed.

Here’s to us, the hard workers, the writers.

Best.

 

Why We Write

Recently, someone on a writing site I belong to posed this question: Why do you write? This is my answer:

I write (what I consider to be) literary mixed with genre (upmarket). The themes among them so far are perspective, perspective, and perspective. Why? Because too many people these days (myself included at times) lack it to the nth degree. I like to put the proverbial shoe on the other foot; I like to make people think; I like to hope my writing is eventually published, if for no other reason than to give both sides of my character’s–and their protagonist’s–stories.

In today’s volatile environment (yes, I left out the “P” word): wouldn’t it be great if those on the far sides of each argument remembered each other’s humanity rather than focusing on why they hate each other?

Hey, I can still wish.

It’s Not Often

In the canoe, in my heart, the dark of her curls blend with the gold of sunrise.

With water glassy we paddle, unison’s time, rhythm’s endearing.

Over her shoulder she smiles. Hope leaps. Love pains at future’s parting.

It’s not often colors blend such as these.

Mercurial silver of water. Hazel of eye. Red of lips.

It’s not often to welcome falling into depths like those below …

… when she must leave.

 

Neither Knew

Beside the river, they met within the shade of the old oak.

With huge limbs hanging low over the sloping bank, its trunk towered toward the sky, leaving small spaces that allowed sunlight to flicker and dance within the lush, cool grass against bare feet. They spread the hand-stitched quilt, shaking its blue, green, red, and yellow patchwork in the spring-scented afternoon air, sharing smiles.

With slow steps, they hesitated onto the inviting softness, where they sank, embracing.

He’d never known such as she.

She’d never known such as he.

Neither knew if he’d return from war.

To all mothers…

Mothers come in all forms. Mothers, of course, are mothers. Single father’s exist who take their place as best they can, and so do grandmothers and great grandmothers. Though motherly love occurs across many boundaries, because love has no boundaries, it is undeniable that blood, DNA, whatever you care to call it, provides a truly special link between biological mothers and their children. At the same time it saddens me how too many mothers are anything but mothers, choosing self over child, ignoring physical needs and care as well as emotional, which, I think, is why so many children are raised without the sense of self-worth necessary to believe they can reach lofty goals in life.
Thankfully, I don’t personally know any mothers like that…anything but. Yes, I miss my mother. Miss her smile, her knowing looks, her grin and chuckle. However I am proud of the mother my daughter has become, and I know where many of her motherly traits come from.
To all mothers today, your day, happy Mother’s Day. Thank you for all you do, including your sacrifices. May this day be filled with peace, and if you must kiss a scraped knee, wipe a runny nose, or comfort your tearful child for some unknown sadness, I am sure you will do so with a heart full of love.

A few writing tips, thoughts, conjectures I have learned along the way.

You’ve no doubt heard variations, and some will be present, but if not, here you go.

A writer without imagination is like a musician without rhythm; it’s doubtful anyone will enjoy either.

MC needs to show someone a vital phone pic? Break the phone. Needs to get somewhere? Break his car. Don’t make goals easy.

Don’t tell your readers he smelled the coffee. Instead: With rich coffee aroma, steam rose in lazy swirls from the dark brew.

An important part of writing is in the details. Yes, your character may taste, touch, hear, see, and smell, but does the reader?

You know you’re writer if you love editing. Well, you might not be a sane writer. Polish that passion–make it pop.

Dialogue: Never boring. Constantly use tension, whether anger, humor, fear, or sexual. Unexpected is great too.

I love it when an unintended character pops into a scene, taking the plot in a different–better–direction than I’d intended.

Friends ask how I write. My answer? By knowing my character’s perspectives; their hearts, souls, & struggles.

Recently made three women cry. It’s okay…actually, it’s great. They were reading one of my short stories.

Let characters interrupt. Hey, did you see– Yeah, it’s– Don’t interrupt me when– When what? Arrgghhh! (You get the idea)