Being Alone

            I loved being alone.

            Whenever my father was home, someone was being punished: my mother, most likely, myself, but also my brother. He never yelled at my sister.

            I never understood why he didn’t slap her about or smack her with his belt or lecture her on her many faults. Granted she was seven years younger than me and had petit mal seizures, but since he didn’t go after her, she’d become a brat.

            I felt sorry for my brother. He was exceptionally bright, a model student, but he had zero athletic skills. He tried to be an athlete, joining one baseball team after another where he never got to play because his lack of skills would have been detrimental to the team. He joined a football team in middle school, but the only purpose he served was to be pounded by the other team’s offensive line.

            He took out his frustrations on me. When our mom wasn’t looking, he’d pinch, kick or slap me until he left marks where they couldn’t be seen.

            It wasn’t until college that the torture stopped, probably because we were both out of the house, alone, no longer under the critical eyes of our parents.

            He was the only son and so he never had to share a room. Me, on the other hand, only had one-half of a room once my sister was out of the crib.

            The lack of privacy bothered me. Sometimes, if my sister was out and about (she had friends whereas I did not) I could hide in my room and listen to my favorite music on my little transistor radio. When I was alone, I imagined it always being that way, that I wasn’t sharing a room, had never shared a room, would never share one in the future.

            I knew it was only my imagination, but it released the pressure in me that built during the times in between.

            College dorm rooms provided no privacy at all. So tiny that only two steps separated my half of the room from my roommates, I was aware of everything she did. I overheard every phone conversation, had to step over her mess, and when her many friends came over, I even lost the privacy of my bed.

            And when I returned home during breaks, I felt unwelcome in the room which now completely belonged to my sister. She had taken over the master bedroom so as to have her own bathroom. There was a bed for me, but she had filled the closet and every drawer with her things.

            After college graduation I set two goals for myself: to buy a car then to rent an apartment.

            I needed the car so as to find a job. My brother had priority using the family car, my mother second. If I needed to go to an interview, my brother drove me if it was on his way, my mother drove as well, but often applied for the same position, at the same time, or my dad would take me. When my dad drove, he’d go inside the business, and if he didn’t like what he saw, he’d grab my arm and pull me out.

            I don’t recall how it happened, but I got a job at a chain furniture store. Someone must have driven me there for the interview, then driven me to and from work. Because I was not told to pay rent at home, I was able to save money for a down payment on a car.

            Even then, I wasn’t permitted to choose the one I really wanted. I was twenty-one, but apparently not smart enough to pick out a reliable car. I ended up with the ugliest Ford Pinto imaginable, only because that was the car my dad approved.

            I now had wheels of my own. When I wasn’t working, I’d take off for the morning. We lived not too far from a reservoir, a forested lake with a paved road that traversed one side. I’d pack myself a lunch, then set off, listening to the radio to my choice of music. I’d sing along, loving the solitude, the ability to do what I wanted, when I wanted.

            Being alone was beautiful.

            Once I’d saved up more money, I found a studio apartment that I could afford. My parents let me take one of the twin beds and a chest of drawers. Using my discount at the furniture store, I sought the damaged goods that weren’t so damaged that they were unusable.

            I didn’t mind the scuffs and dents. What I loved was being alone.

            I ate what and when I wanted, watched whatever I wanted on my tiny TV, went to bed when I wanted. For the first time in my life, I was completely in charge of my life. Of my decisions.

            It drove my mother nuts.

            She thought she could come over without being invited, without permission. Sometimes I pretended to not be home when she rang the bell downstairs. I could feel my blood pressure rising every time this happened: if she discovered I was there and not letting her in, I would have been in big trouble.

            It wasn’t too long after gaining my independence that I got a new job at the IRS. And then only about two years before I transferred to the local IRS office where I met my soon-to-be husband.

            Granted, for the past 48 years I’ve never technically been alone. In our early years my husband did spend some time at other offices where he’d have to live in hotels, but once we had kids, he never went away again.

            My husband is not demanding, no clingy, not possessive. I’ve never had to ask permission to travel on my own, to attend conferences in far off cities, or to take off across the country to visit family and friends.

            Even when we’re both home, there’s no expectation that I be in the same room with him. I can be alone in the front room which serves as my office while he’s in the family room watching TV. We can see each other, talk to each other, yet still be apart.

            The most powerful company I’ve had with me throughout my entire life is God. With Him I am never truly alone.

            He’s walked with me in my darkest days, He’s been with me during my happiest times and He’s guided me when my mind was awash with turmoil.

            It wasn’t until recently, however, that I realized that I am never alone.

            At all times I carry the memories of family and friends, the places I’ve been and the things I’ve done. More than anything, I carry His love.

            Being alone is wonderful, but so is knowing that my shoulders are laden with the wonderful things I’ve done and the people I know.

A Halloween Memory

            The only part of Halloween that I ever liked was the endless pursuit of free candy. From the time my brother and I were in middle school, we roamed miles from home. We walked on streets whose names I never knew, knocking on the doors of anyone with lights still on. It took us hours, and at times our pillow case sacks were heavy that we had no option but to go home, empty them out, then head out again.

            I hated wearing costumes. Perhaps because I wore glasses, masks blocked my sight. I detested makeup and most of all, despised trying to come up with something to wear that could become a costume. My fallback was that of a hobo as all I had to do to play the part was put on my well-worn overalls.

            When I was thirteen my middle school decided that for Halloween, all students had to dress in costume. I immediately panicked. It was bad enough to traverse my neighborhood under cover of darkness, but now I would have to parade about campus under the horrific glare of fluorescent lights.

            I stewed over this for days.

I was a painfully shy, the girl who never raised her hand to ask or answer questions in class. I slithered down in my desk seat, my nose skimming the top of my desk, believing that if I couldn’t see the teacher, she couldn’t see me.

Dressing up at school had the potential to sink me even lower on the social scale, especially if I appeared in an unpopular or outmoded costume.

            When the day arrived, the only thing I could come up with was my mother’s WAC (Women’s Army Corp) uniform from World War II. It fit a bit snug, but I figured I could tolerate anything for the length of the festivities.

            In the morning I squeezed into the uniform, then trudged off to the bus stop. I was used to belittling looks, so the shrugs and smirks had little impact.

However, what seemed like a good idea in the morning, quickly became a terrifying experience at school.

            My teacher, thrilled to see the old uniform, made me stand in front of the class and share my mother’s story. Unfortunately, I knew little about her service.

I pronounced that she enlisted because her family was poor, a fact. That she chose the WACs because her older brother was in the Army, also true. I did know, only because of the few black-and-white photos she shared, that she was stationed in Florida where she learned to work on trucks.

            I figured that when my time was done, I could slink back into my desk. Not so. To make matters worse, my teacher sent me up and down the hall, into every single classroom, upstairs and down.

I was so terrified that I squeaked out only a few words, and wouldn’t have even got them out if it weren’t for the prompting of every teacher.

As the day progressed, the uniform seemed to get tighter and the heavy wool brought out as much sweat as a humid summer day. Perspiration pooled under my arms and down my face. It soaked the collar and the waistband of the skirt.

When lunch came, I was allowed to change clothes.

            It was such a horrible experience that I did not go out trick-or-treating that night and for several years after.

Bearing the Weight

Growing up in a dysfunctional family

I didn’t want to marry.

Ever.

While my dad never hit my mom

That I saw

He dominated her.

Controlled where she went

The money she spent

The meals she cooked.

They screamed obscenities

At each other

Daily

The anger rubbed off on me

Both parents calling me vile names

I cried.

I swore that I would never be trapped

In a hate-filled relationship

With any man

Thinking about marriage

Weighed me down

Sinking into the floor

My shoulders ached at the thought

Of a man not letting me

Be me

I dated some.

Saw nothing of interest

Not even a spark

Until I transferred to a different office

And a blue-eyed man

Smiled.

He didn’t talk much,

But he showed patience

Helping me learn

When he asked me out

My stomach flipped

Could this be?

I yearned for his touch,

A sweet kiss

He didn’t disappoint.

My vision of the future

Changed to include his

Warmth

When he proposed, I rejoiced.

Before I would have run,

But not this time

Marriage is a weight,

But not always one of

Pain.

He taught me to bear love,

To cherish times together,

To rejoice.

Many years later

I gladly carry marriage

And will until death.

The burden is worth it.

Money Woes

            Money was a problem when our kids were young. We had our house, chosen in a price category so that I could be a stay-at-home mom. We never missed a payment as that was a priority, but there were times when the refrigerator was a tad empty.

            No one went hungry unless they chose to abstain from whatever was put on the table. Our meals most often consisted of chicken, ground beef and chuck roasts. Pasta, rice and potatoes rounded out the meal. Oh! And canned vegetables.

            Part of the problem was that I wasn’t much of a cook. I had a trusty cookbook that relied on canned soups. The recipes were easy to follow and tasted good. On top of that, they were hearty.

            When boxed Hamburger Helper came out, they became a staple in our diet. Self-contained meals, simple directions and required adding very little.

            My kids didn’t wear new clothes until they were about eight or nine. I was an expert thrift store shopper. I found nearly new onesies, shirts, shorts and pants. Dresses and slips. Coats, sweaters and light jackets. Even rain boots.

            They usually had brand-new shoes, unless the hand-me-downs were like new. When they began school, uniforms were new, a huge expense.

            I also sewed much of their wardrobes, especially shorts, dresses and anything made out of cotton. The machine was old and not very good. Before I left for college, I bought the cheapest model Sears had. That way, even away from home, I could make me new clothes.

            At some point I upgraded, which was a wise decision. The new machine gave greater variety of stitches, which came in handy for seams and hems. It also had a terrific buttonhole maker. My daughter has that machine now.

            We always had two cars. Mine was the Ford Pinto my dad made me buy when I really wanted a fancy Mercury sports-type model. Mike had an obnoxious orange Taurus. We drove them until repairs were useless.

            We replaced those vehicles with other used cars. Repeated repairs kept them running. I drove the kids to school and ran errands. Mike commuted to work.

            We joked that we had bought the mechanic a boat, a luxury car and a vacation cabin. Many times, we’d pay for one car, then turn in the other the next day.

            When my kids were a bit older, I got a job teaching preschool for the local recreation department. I think I earned just over two dollars an hour. The biggest advantage of the job was that I only paid half the normal fees for any class offered.

            My kids learned to swim at the Plunge. They did gymnastics and my daughter took pottery.

            That salary helped keep milk in the fridge and fruit in the house. It paid for camping trips so we’d have vacations. And it gave me something to do other than be a mom.

            Teaching preschool led to a career as an elementary teacher and then later a high school teacher.

            I remember taking the kids scavenging for aluminum cans. We’d go to construction sites and walk the grounds. We found a lot of cans, and when we were really lucky, dropped dollars. One time I picked up a crumpled bill to discover that it was a twenty! That was a lot of money.

            Money might have been a problem, but we were happy.

My Inheritance

            My mother’s family was incredibly poor. They owned their clothes, which were mostly hand-me-downs from wealthier relatives, a few pots and pans and some utensils. Whatever they had traveled with them as they moved from one farming job to another.

            With packs on their backs, they’d trudge around the Ohio River area, occasionally crossing over into West Virginia.

            My grandfather could not read. His math skills were poor and when his coffee was only available in cans, he’d make the shop owner open the can and weigh the grounds on the scale. He was afraid of being taken advantage of.

            For much of his last years Grandpa was a tenant farmer. The land was way up in the hills, a long walk. He had no wagon, cart, mule or horse. When he worked the fields, he’d walk for hours, leaving early in the morning, coming home well after dark. He was in his eighties, still working as a farm hand.

            My mother explained, often, that she only had one pair of shoes. She’d go barefoot no matter the weather. On school days she’d carry her shoes over her shoulder, putting them on when she reached the schoolhouse. As soon as class was over, off they’d go.

            At times her family lived in the woods, camping under the stars or building shelter out of branches and leaves. If they were lucky, someone would let them live in a barn during the winter.

            It was a rough life. As soon as my mother turned fourteen, she left home, moving to Dayton, Ohio to live with an older sister. That sister helped my mom get a job at Woolworth’s, a job she loved.

            In fact, when I was a teenager, my mom got hired at a Woolworth’s near our home, and despite her eighth grade education, worked her way up to manager where she oversaw purchasing, sales, and some bookkeeping.

            We never lived near my grandparents. Whenever we did visit, we left early in the morning for the long drive, heading south through the countryside. We’d stay for a bit, then make the drive home, arriving after dark.

            I hated their house. The coal-fired furnace terrified me. To me, it represented the fires of hell, only made worse when an uncle would pick me up and pretend to stick me inside.

            There was no running water. The outhouse out back smelled pretty bad, the wooden seat had splinters and huge spiders lived in the corners of the ceiling. Flies circled about, landing on you as you took care of business.

            They never did get electricity. Back then we didn’t have a television, so not having one didn’t seem odd. My grandmother had a treadle sewing machine, something I found fascinating. My grandmother loved showing me how it worked. The rhythmic sound of the peddle mesmerized me. And the things she made!

            My grandmother was a terrific seamstress considering the lack of tools. She hand-sewed squares, triangles and diamonds into the most beautiful quilts. Each one was made of bits and pieces of overalls, shirts, dresses, anything that was no longer wearable.

            She also had made every rug in the house. She showed me how she’d weave together scraps, tying them together as she went. The weave grew longer and longer, turning into a multicolor rope. That would be woven into an ever-lengthening spiral, then sewed together. They were soft on the feet and intriguing to look at.

            When both of my grandparents had died, within months of each other, my mother dreamt of getting one quilt and one rug. Because we lived so far away, my dad had to arrange time off in order to drive my mom there.

            Her siblings lived nearby, so had first access to anything of value. Granted my grandparents owned nothing that, at the time, was marketable. However, those quilts were what everyone wanted.

            Grandma had made at least five. When we visited, I’d beg her to show them to me. She was a shy, quiet woman who didn’t like to bask in the glory, so it took quite a bit of persuasion on my part. Even at my young age, I appreciated their beauty.

            By the time my mother finally got to the house, her siblings had claimed every quilt, every rug. They had taken the metal cup that everyone drank out of. Gone were the clothes, which would have been faded and stained. My grandmother owned no jewelry, or that would have been gone as well.

            My mother was so distraught that she sought solace in the barn at the back of the property. She walked about with tears in her eyes, fingering her father’s old tools. None of them were usable anymore, which was why there were still there.

            Up on a shelf something caught my mother’s eye. Reaching high overhead, she wrapped her fingers around the thing. It was the tool her father used to remove kernels off the cob. It looked like a can opener, which most likely it was when new. Grandpa had attached a leather strap to it.

            He’d slip his fingers under the strap, then rake off the kernels. The strap was stained with his sweat.

            Holding it brought back memories. My mother slipped it into her dress pocket and after saying goodbye, headed home. She never told anyone that she had it.

            I admired it. Imagining grandpa working with it allowed my mind to create original stories. The fact that not only had he created it, but that his sweat stained it, endeared it to me.

            Many years later when my mother’s mind began to fail, she insisted that my siblings and I claim things in the house. My brother got first choice, and even though my sister was the youngest, she got second.

            Every time I’d mention something I’d like, one of them had already claimed it. Until I thought of Grandpa’s tool.

            I was told I’d have to wait until my mother died before I could take it, one day she surprised me by placing it in my hand.

            That was my inheritance: a reminder of where my family came from.

Lesson Learned

We should have known better.  No.  Let’s say that I should have known better than to bring a birthday cake into someone’s home, without asking first.  That sounds a little strange, true, but it’s an unwritten “law.” You should never, ever do anything, no matter how seemingly innocent, without getting permission beforehand.

My birthday is in August.  Now that our “children” are living on their own, birthday celebrations lack luster.  A card and a bouquet of flowers routinely show up on the dining room table.  Sometimes we’ll go out for dinner.  That’s as exciting as it gets.

One summer my husband and I were visiting family. My birthday had passed, but after celebrating a relative’s birthday with a trip to an incredible mountain lake, I thought it might be fun to celebrate mine as well.

After church on Sunday, we stopped at Albertson’s to pick up some needed items.  As we walked the aisles, the idea came to me to buy a birthday cake.  I pictured excited faces hovering around a lit cake, everyone waiting to see if I could blow out fifty-nine candles.  I imagined how happy everyone would be to share the passing of another year of my life.

We found the bakery department, and there, to my delight, was the perfect cake. Tiny blue and yellow flowers danced across the top.  Deep green ivy held hands with the petals, and a pure white garland graced the sides.  Someone must have ordered the cake, and then not shown up.

With pride, I toted the cake to the house, The relatives were still at church, so I placed the cake in the only open space, at the end of the kitchen counter.  Knowing that a hungry family would soon descend upon the house, I fixed my lunch, settled at the table, with the intention of being out of the way.

All seemed to be going according as I hoped until the relative arrived home. When she saw the cake, something went terribly wrong.  Fire shot from her eyes.  Her jaw clenched into a knot the size of Philadelphia, and the hoods over her eyes would have done nicely as capes for a dark knight.  With a mighty sweep of her right arm, the cake flew off the edge of the counter and landed, splat, on the floor.

Then she exploded into a tirade of reasons why the cake was unacceptable.  She screamed for what felt like an eternity, but was probably no more than five minutes. 

This is not a wealthy family and food was never wasted. Yet, the perfectly fine cake was now in the garbage.

I cleared my lunch items off the table, and when the woman went into another room, I removed the cake from the can. The plastic container had not opened, so the cake was not polluted by grime.  It had landed on one side, causing the icing to flatten and smear, but the rest of the cake was intact.

I set the cake back on the counter.

The husband had been watching the entire scene. I looked at him with tear-filled eyes and said, “I only wanted to celebrate my birthday with you.  I apologize for buying a cake without asking first. I’ll carry it out to the garbage after dinner.”

With tears pouring down my face, I went downstairs, to our room. I sat on the bed, speechless. I had no idea what I had done wrong and didn’t know what words to say that would explain what had just happened.

Ten minutes later the husband stuck his head into the room. He had written his email address on a paper and asked me to send him a message. He replied shortly after I sent one off. Apparently, it was a fasting Sunday, something that always triggered explosions of anger. He said that when she’s famished, she often throws childish tantrums.  He apologized for her behavior, and wrote that they would enjoy the cake later.

The next morning Mike and I got up well before dawn, as planned, to begin our trek home.  Despite the husband’s explanations, when we went upstairs to leave and I saw the cake still there, unopened. I felt empty, as if the very air had been sucked out of my lungs.

I learned a very important lesson: never bring anything into the house that has not been pre-approved. 

            I wasn’t permitted to have a voice, to express opinions until I went away to college. My father was a bully who saw nothing of value in me except for the possibility of marrying me off to someone with a bit of money. My mother rejected me because I had no interest in being her. My brother was often a friend and playmate, but he could also be cruel. My sister was much younger, and due to some health issues, the apple of my mother’s eye.

            When I learned about middle-child-syndrome, at first I believed that I had fabricated the ways my family treated me. That I had exaggerated it all, that none of the punishments and constraints had ever happened.

            There is a possibility that my memories are distorted, but not to that extrent. I know that I was a victim of both emotional and physical abuse. Those things happened.

            Because of my low position in the family, I felt that I had no voice. That nothing I said or thought mattered. This was reinforced by laughter, taunts and even commands to keep my mouth shut.

            And it wasn’t just at home that I felt powerless. My teachers seldom called on me and so when they did, my mouth seized up and no words came out. My classmates laughed each time and my teachers would give me a look of derision. I learned to sit low in my desk and to keep my thoughts to myself.

            It wasn’t until a kind high school math teacher saw something in me that no one else ever had that I began to speak. Anytime someone was needed to solve a challenging problem, I was the one he chose. At first he let me work in quite, but after a while, he insisted that I explain the steps.

            It was hard, but I spoke.

            Because of his support, eventually I began using my voice in my Spanish class. I tried answering questions in my English class when called on, but somehow I never got it right.

            There was an incident in Spanish 4. My teacher criticized my ac cent. I responded in a stream of fluent Spanish that got me kicked out of class for a week. After that he called on me with great regularity. By speaking up I had earned his respect.

            When I went off to college I was beginning to develop a voice. I could speak up in some classes, but not all. I managed to major In Russian without demonstrating a mastery of the language. I loved to show off in math, but then the department chair told me I was wasting my time majoring in math. He left me both speechless and distraught.

            After college I got a job as a customer service rep for a major furniture store. Day after day I had to answer the phone and be polite as irate customers yelled at me. I had a script to follow. Without those written words, I would have been mute.

            My next job was with the federal government. I had to go out in the field and knock on doors, demanding back taxes. I was terrified the entire time I held that job. I found excuses to hang out in the office, but I couldn’t do that every day. As time passed, as I gained experience talking to total strangers, my confidence grew.

            It was still challenging, but I did what I had to do.

            I had dreamed of being a teacher since I was quite small. When I had my first child I had no idea of what to do with him. Our city’s recreation department had an inexpensive parent-child education class that gave me ideas of activities. As a participant, I also had to teach the little kids at least once a week. I enjoyed it! Sitting on the floor with adoring eyes gave me the power to speak, to sing, to dance, to laugh.

            From there I earned my elementary teaching credential. When I stood in front of my third-grade class for the first time, I felt at home. I loved being the one helping them learn. I felt a deep responsibility to take them further than the curriculum asked and that meant helping them to find their voices.

            Helping them helped me as well. We grew together.

            I discovered that I knew things that many of my peers did not. I led workshops and spoke up at trainings. My principal considered me a mentor and I took that role seriously.

            Being a mentor at work gave me the strength to take active roles in my church, in my kids’ activities and even to initiate a summer educational program. With each success, my voice grew louder and stronger.

            I’d like to report that my voice is freely used, that I have no problems speaking up, but that would be a lie. When in a crowd, I tend to sit back and listen. When with strangers I revert to my childhood silent self. But when I am with friends, I look for opportunities to add something to the conversation.

            While my voice is not loud, it does appear in comfortable situations. I am still reserved, but I am no longer afraid of sharing opinions and thoughts. I love hearing what others have to say, but I also want them to know what I have to say.

            I found my voice. And I love that.

Being Considered

            Until recently, I’d never given much thought to how many times those words pop up.

            For many of us, it began when we were quite young. “Being considered” to acceptance into a private elementary school. In some religions, you are “considered” for participation in Holy Sacraments.

            You’re “considered” when applying for a scholarship, job or internship. Same when trying to get your first credit card as well as when purchasing a car or home.

            Admittance into the college of your choice requires a waiting period while you are “being considered”.

            Over and over throughout life we sit around, waiting impatiently, as our merits are being weighed. Are we smart enough, talented enough, skilled enough? Even though physical appearance is not supposed to be a defining characteristic, it is if your skin color isn’t right or you weigh too much or aren’t “manly” or “womanly” enough for whatever image the college/job/internship wants to project.

            At my age I thought I was well past “being considered”. I’m a retired wife, mother and grandmother. I’m not trying to join any clubs or organizations. I have my routines that are familiar and comfortable. I’m not looking for adventure. I just want to be accepted as a write.

            This week I received a welcome email from a literary magazine that I’d been longing for. A story I’d submitted was “being considered” for publication, contingent on my making the recommended edits.

            Of course, I made the changes and resubmitted the story, knowing full well that it will still fall into the category of “being considered”.

            Ever since I began sending out stories, I’ve sat, with baiting breath, hoping to “be considered”. It’s what every writer dreams of. Knowing that someone, somewhere, sees value in what you’ve written and wants to include it in some type of publication.

            So, I won’t complain about “being considered”. Instead I will count my blessings as I wait, with fingers crossed, for the next word.

Good Intentions

            How many times, growing up, did I tell myself to keep my mouth shut, stay away from my siblings and hide in my bedroom? Not enough, for almost daily I got myself in trouble for responding to the hurtful words flung by my siblings with ones of my own.  If my sister announced that she hated me, I hated her worse. When she threw her dirty clothes on my side of the room, I’d bury them under her bed. If she refused to do chores, I’d report her. Promptly.

            Our dislike of one another was fomented by my mother. From the time my sister was born, my mother set us apart. My brother’s position in my mother’s eyes was well solidified by that time. Because my brother was smart and not athletic, he garnered my dad’s disapproval for anything and everything he did. My mother became my brother’s champion and protector.

Perhaps she felt that I didn’t need her protection and championing, or maybe she had determined that I was a hopeless cause at an early age., but she never, ever spoke up for me. In fact, when my dad returned from work, my mother would recite a list of my faults deserving of punishment and then command that he shake me or beat me until she was satisfied.

My sister was born while my mother was in the midst of a deep depression. Since she was unable to care for the infant, I had to do it. As a “unloved” seven-year-old, I resented being in that position.

When my sister developed petit mal seizures, my sister now became my mother’s primary focus. Mother still protected my brother from our father’s ire and disappointment, but my sister was elevated to princess status. She not only could do no wrong, she only declared it. She’d set up false situations and then report to our mom that I had kicked her, slapped her, beaten her. After a while, I decided that if I was going to be accused of something I hadn’t done, then I might as well do it.

It was no wonder that we had no relationship to speak of.

            When I was off in college my brother was one year ahead of me at the same college. My sister was now in middle school, getting herself suspended for dealing drugs on campus and other illegal activities. While brilliant, she refused to complete work or turn in what she had finished. Where I would have been beaten for failing classes, my mother excused it due to seizures and other such illnesses that I could not see or understand.

            However, one summer I thought that if I made an effort, I could turn dislike into an amicable relationship. I took my sister for long drives in the country. We’d eat picnic lunches in the back of the car while watching water birds play. I’d take her to movies and out to lunch. Sometimes to the mall where I’d use my limited resources to buy her an article of clothing that wasn’t revealing.

            My intentions were good, but changed nothing. Our relationship is still rocky to this day.

            We grew up poor. My mother was an excellent seamstress and sewed much of my clothes. Her choice of styles was old-fashioned and conservative. I appreciated the skirts and matching vests that she made me, but no one else in the mid-1960s wore such things. I was not a popular kid, and my clothes solidified that status.

            We moved to California at the end of my freshman year. I saw the move as a fresh start in a new school. I knew I’d never be one of the popular kids, but I hoped I could at least have a friend or two. My problems followed me. I didn’t dress like anyone else. My saving grace was that I was an excellent student. My teachers generally liked me, if they even knew I was in the room.

            After the end of sophomore year, my parents bought a house up the hill and across a major highway. It was in a different school district so I had to switch schools. I cried every day on the bus to and fro. Meanwhile my mother was trying to convince the old district that only they could meet my academic needs. I’m willing to bet that she also told them I was severely depressed. I was. But if she hadn’t done that, I would have adapted.

            The new high school wasn’t as academically challenging, the classes were smaller and the campus newer. Because I had enrolled late, I didn’t get the same classes I would have had at the other school, but the ones I did have were all acceptable for college.

            My mom’s intentions were good. She was trying to help me, something that I appreciated deeply.

            The thing is good intentions aren’t always what we need.

            My sister didn’t benefit from my good intentions. In fact, thirty years later she regaled me with how horrible I had treated her and how boring I had been. What I had seen as a chance to pull her away from drugs and the lifestyle she had chosen, she saw as an attempt to remake her into a little me. And no way did she want to be me.

            When my mother paid attention to my distress and chose to act, her intentions were good. She saw herself helping her shy, recluse of a daughter. The homely one, the lonely one.  By getting the transfer to the old school, perhaps she hoped that I would be so indebted to her that I would be forever in her grasp.

            What I learned early on was that good intentions don’t always bring about the results that the doer hopes will happen. I might hold a door open for someone who glowers at me for thinking they needed help. Perhaps I’d go out of my way to help a student who spurned any efforts at assistance and encouragement.

            Despite those early disappointments, I still believe in exercising good intentions whenever an opportunity arises. I’ve paid someone’s bridge toll knowing that they’d never do the same for me. I’ve let go of a garment that I wanted but knew the other person also wanted, hoping that they’d love it more than I did.

            When driving and someone is trying to merge, I wave them in with the understanding that when I needed to switch lanes, no one will return the favor.

            Imagine a life without good intentions. The sun won’t shine as brightly, the sky won’t be as blue and there will be far fewer smiles.

            This is why good intentions are necessary. They bring joy. Smiles. Laughter. A lighthearted wave. Good feelings all around.

Morning Thoughts

I rose before the sun

Crested the nearby hills,

When the nighttime darkness

Blanketed my world

The air, clean-smelling

Like freshly washed clothes,

Energized my newly awakened body

Augmented by a gym workout

The gift of time well spent

Brought immense pride

I visualized myself shrinking

As sweat poured down

Face, back, arms as my legs

Pumped the Stairmaster

Moving in its never-ending cycle

It reminded me of my day-to-day

Existence

Feed, water, take care of critters

Feed my own body and soul

Seven days a week, without fail

Five days a week I stood

Before reluctant high school students

Who were so bored they could barely keep

Eyes open and heads up

I force-fed them an education

That seemed so meaningless

In their social-driven lives.

Yet they learned

Despite a lack of engagement

As the work day ended,

I left with a smile

Knowing that the effort

Was worth it.

The cycle began again.

Getting up early

Rising before the sun

Crested the nearby hills