When the box came in the mail, he stared at the return address for a minute or two. His mother hadn’t sent him a package in at least a year. He wasn’t even sure how she’d come to know his address, but his curiosity got the better of him, and he ripped off the label and tore into the box.
“Holy cow!” He exclaimed as he peered at the contents. He didn’t know any of this stuff was still around. Lying on top was the letterman jacket he proudly wore in high school. He pulled it out of the box and marveled at the leather sleeves, and deep purple felt.
“What’cha got there, roomy?”
He found he had to clear his throat to talk. “It’s my old jacket from high school. My mother sent this box somehow. Did you give her the address?”
“Sure did. She hit me up on Facebook. She said she desperately needed to find out if you were okay. Seems like she hasn’t heard from you in a while, dude.”
“Well, that clears up that mystery. It looks like she cleaned out a closet or something. Wow, I forgot how much stuff was on this jacket.”
“Looks like you were a busy boy in high school. What is all that stuff?”
“A letter for Drama and the pins on it are for the additional years. Another letter and pins for Choir, and other things for my activities.”
“Since when did Drama qualify for a letter? It isn’t a sport.”
“It was in my high school. And, look at this; my jacket from FFA is in here, too.”
“What is ‘FFA’?”
“Wow, you really didn’t do anything in high school, did yuh? FFA stands for Future Farmers of America.”
“I thought you grew up in a city. What farms were around?”
“Vancouver, Washington is a pretty strange place. It is one sprawling place with farms on the fringes. My high school was built on what used to be an old orchard. I raised a lamb one year and built a flower garden in another.”
“Did you have to slaughter the lamb?” his roomy asked excitedly.
“No. But I had to sell it at the county fair. It was hard to give him up. I cried and everything.”
“You really were a pussy, weren’t you, Greg?”
“Here’s my medal for Knowledge Bowl, and the ribbons for my lamb. Holy crap – she even put all of my badges and pins from the Boy Scouts in here.”
“You never told me you were a Boy Scout. You know they don’t approve of homosexuality.”
“Yes, I’m well aware. That’s why I didn’t finish my final project for Eagle Scout. I came out right before I was finished and the troop leader kicked me out.”
“Could they really do that?”
“Of course, they could.”
“What did your parents do?”
“My mom went and threw a huge fit. She ended up cursing the entire board of directors. She wanted to sue the pants off them, but my Dad’s cooler head prevailed. He thought the whole thing would be worse for me in the end.”
A silence fell over the room. Tears were flowing down Gregory’s face.
“What’s the matter?”
“My mom sent me my baby blanket. Either she’s done with me, or she misses me very much.”
“Nah. She loves you, dude. She went through an awful lot of trouble to track down an address for you.”
“I missed the deadline.”
“I was supposed to go into rehab by the end of February, or she would cut off our communications until I could call her and be clean and sober.”
“Oh. That’s tough. What are you going to do? The number for that rehab place has been stuck up on the refrigerator for months.”
“I don’t know.”
Greg looked deep into the box and found a small box. He opened it to see a Saint Jude medal. He turned it over and read the inscription, ‘Always remember you are loved.’
He hung the chain around his neck and reached out for his crack pipe. She would still be there when he was ready. He knew it like he knew he would quit…someday.
Behind the Couch
Sleep wouldn't come. She had lain there for as long as she could. Resigning herself to another sleepless night, she headed towards the kitchen.
After making a cup of instant coffee, she grabbed her pack of cigarettes, turned off the lights, and headed to the living room. Bone tired, she settled on the couch. Drawing her legs up and making herself comfortable, she lit her cigarette. She brought her wrist up to her face and barely made out the time on her watch. It was three-thirty.
With a sigh, she settled in to wait. One of the few perks of the sorry situation was getting to see the sunrise. The glowing ash was the only light in the house. The kids were all asleep. Thinking about them only brought more misery.
How would she be able to do this on her own? Would the job at the Pancake House be enough to support all of them? She had never graduated from high school, so finding a better job was out of the question. What else could someone like her do besides waitressing?
Groaning inside, she went through the mental checklist of woes. He was in jail. The house had been sold because they were in the process of buying another one. She was left with three kids to raise. Joe was eighteen, but Billie and Patty were still just mouths to feed.
The sellers of the new house had let her out of that contract, but there was no luck in canceling the sale of their house. She needed to move into something big enough for the four of them, but cheap enough for her to afford. Inhaling deeply, the glow of her cigarette increased in intensity. How on earth would she get through this?
He had been thrown in jail for messing with Billie. Apparently, it had been going on for years. How did she miss it? Was it her fault? There were plenty of people who thought so.
She went to Bingo twice a week. Was that when it happened? But Patty had been home – shouldn't that have stopped it? Billie was supposed to be keeping an eye on her. Had Patty seen anything? Shutting her eyes tight, she could only shake her head.
Crushing the cigarette butt in the ashtray, she quickly lit another. Coughing, she covered her mouth to muffle the sound. She really didn't want Patty to wake up. Her barrage of questions was just too much to handle. She needed this time to herself. It was quiet. It was dark. She could organize her thoughts and come up with a plan.
Maybe Joe could use his paycheck to help? He had already been giving her some money. There was nothing wrong with a son helping his family. Wasn't it his duty?
Feeling the enormity of the responsibility that sat squarely on her shoulders, tears stung her eyes. The stub of her cigarette glowed as she left it on the edge of the ashtray. Feeling a good cry coming on, she wanted her hands free. She stuffed her fist in her mouth to stifle the sobs.
Unbeknownst to her, Patty was hiding behind the couch. She heard the sobbing and wished she could come out. It sounded as though her mommy could use a hug. Holding her little hand over her own mouth, she cried for her mother and herself.
Author's Note: This story is about my mother. I know she tried to do her best. I think life just got the best of her. The picture was of her when she was around fifty years old. She died when she was seventy. The cause was lung cancer.
I realize there isn't any dialogue in this piece, but she couldn't be talking to herself, so I wrote to give a voice to her inner thoughts. .
Sitting on the barstool, he swiveled to look at the door. Sunlight tried to shine through the dirty square of a window. The dimly lit bar smelled of stale beer and desperation. Swiveling back to his glass of beer, he squinted at the amber liquid barely covering the bottom.
He couldn't remember how many beers he'd had, or how long he sat at the bar. Glancing at the dwindling pile of bills sitting in front of him, he calculated it must have been quite some time. He was still thirsty.
It didn't seem to matter how many beers he drank. The thirst still parched the back of his throat. No amount of beers could heal the aching in his heart. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. Thumbing through the items stashed in the crease, he found what he was looking for.
Three smiling faces looked up at him. He always remembered them exactly as they were in this picture. But he knew several years had passed. They were much older than the cherub faces of the five, three and two-year-old he left behind. All in school, he wondered if they even remembered him. Did their mother speak of him? Or was he a dirty secret pushed from her mind.
Pushing her from his mind, he gazed at the beauty of his children. He could remember their laughter. The only sound that brought him joy. Of course, the laughter dwindled down as he brought his drunken voice into the mix. His temper was quick, and he pushed them all away. He had no time for play; he needed to get more money and return to the bar. She would put up a fight, and his response was to hit and punch.
He sent money every week. It was court-ordered. He didn't go to visit. They were better off without him. Or were they? He was their father. He should have a place in their life. She would have to let him in. She didn't have a choice.
Motioning to the bartender for another beer, he came up with a plan. He would drive over to their new place and visit his kids. They would rejoice at his arrival. There would be hugs and the sound of laughter. Taking another look at their worn picture, he smiled for the first time in days.
Downing the beer in one long gulp, he had his resolve. He would go and see his kids. No one would stop him. He needed to hear their laughter. Staggering from the stool, he went to retrieve his coat.
Hefting its heavyweight, he stuck in his arms and pulled up the collar. He slipped his hand deep into the right pocket. Grasping the butt of his gun, he knew he would see his kids one last time.
Author's Note: This story was originally written when I was twelve. My greatest desire was for this to be my father's thoughts - that he would do ANYTHING to see me. I never saw him after 1970.