It was last Sunday morning, and I was sitting on the loo when she called.
“Hey Rosebud!” Grammy’s chipper voice chirped into the phone.
“Heyyyyy, Gram! I’ll uh — be right back. What’s up?” I then pressed the mute button on my phone, expecting that she would catch me up on how the road trip down from Tennessee was going so far while I inconspicuously spared her from hearing a loud and recognizable toilet flush.
“….Rosebud? Hey girl, you still there?”
I pressed a number on my phone — any old number, which produced a “beep” — the universal code that says “I’m busy doing something I don’t want you to hear, but hang on, bc I AM here.”
“Damn it,” I whispered to myself, waiting for the whirring sound to end. I’ve got one of those old-fashioned (out-of-date) loos where you have to physically hold the lever down for like 15 years in order for the flush to end “successfully.”
“Ohhhhh, I didn’t want to talk to her anyways,” Grammy’s voice muttered as it trailed off. The speed of the pan told me that she was passing the phone off to Sierra who was, of course, driving (Grammy’s never gotten a license).
Finally ready to speak into the phone (and, at this point, laughing heartily), I un-muted myself.
“HEY GRAM! SO… you don’t wanna talk to me, but you’re driving five hours south to see me, eh?”
She was so flustered that the next five minutes of our conversation solely consisted of her wonderfully contagious belly laughs and fervent promises that “oh, it’s not YOU… I’m just not a phone person — you know that!”
Sierra and Grammy drove down to visit with me last weekend, and we all had a wonderful time together. We spent a good deal of time in the living room, watching the puppies zip around and taking turns adoring their perfectly adorable bodies and personalities. We took the GSD pup squad to the dog park twice, which delighted Grammy and stressed Sierra out.
“I’m just so worried that other dogs are going to get into a fight with them!” she stressed.
Tycho (my baby German Shepherd) watched curiously as Silo flew up and down a maybe 4.5 foot-tall ramp, and after a few failed attempts of her own, she succeeded at climbing up and then charging down the ramp. I was so proud! It was as if my child had just brought home a flawless report card AND a personalized note from the teacher that read, “I’ve just never met another student like her.”
The Shepherds were definitely the stars of the show, but we also ate while Sierra and Grammy were here.
Abhorring most chains (with the mighty fine exception of Chipotle), I took them to a few locally-owned cafes and restaurants: Redcat, Rojo, Mandarin House and Devinci’s — and at each place, when the meal would arrive and I’d watch them eagerly (for reactions) from across the table, I’d ask how the meal was and receive an answer like:
“It’s okay!” (Sierra)
“Mmmmm… it’s not terrible.” (Grammy)
“I like the bread,” Sierra offered once, brightly.
“It’s not very flavorful without cheese.” (Grammy) “I TOLD you to order it with cheese,” I replied, exhausted.
The best meals (most enjoyed by them) seemed to be the home-cooked ones, where I’d collect a basketful of tasty, healthy items at Whole Foods and then prepare them back at the house. Grammy loved these, and Sierra seemed to like them, too.
At our last restaurant (the evening before they departed), I commented: “You know, the next time we all get together, I think you should let me cook at home more! You guys seemed to enjoy those meals the most.”
“Oh, but eating out is more fun!” Sierra protested.
“REALLY?” I wanted to laugh. “FUN? More like STRESSFUL and DISAPPOINTING!”
Day #2 of our trip, I took Sierra and Grammy to one of the biggest thrift stores here in the Birmingham area: America’s Thrift Store.
Before leaving the house, I leaned in, close to Charlie, and whispered: “You should just stay home.”
He raised his eyebrows at me, as if to ask why?
“You enjoy 20-30 minute visits to the thrift store… NOT 2-hour ones,” I explained.
“Oh —- yeah… I’ll stay home,” he agreed.
Visiting the thrift store with my 1st- and 2nd-generation pals took me back a little. I remembered Wednesday mornings and afternoons in Tampa, Florida in the early 2000s.
Wednesday was Salvation Army’s official “half off” day, and when its doors opened at 8 AM Eastern time, hordes of middle-aged and older women (who were already parked outside, with their spider-veined hands claiming dibs on carts) would stream hurriedly into the store… Grammy, Sierra, Bobby and myself included.
“Alright — it’s the blue ticket today,” Grammy would call out, indicating a flyer stationed near the front of the store. “Look for as many blue tagged items as possible!”
We’d all spend the next two hours ransacking the thrift store as thoroughly as if it had just been given a search warrant, and then we’d mosey on over to Olive Garden afterwards, waiting out in the car for “a few” to “many” minutes until the chain restaurant opened its doors at 11 AM. Sometimes, when we were all seated together at a booth, my brother Bobby would eat too many bread sticks, start hiccuping, and end up throwing up during the meal. I remember eyeing him suspiciously on one occasion when the hiccups started (as I was eating ravioli) and then sprinting out of the restaurant to hide in the car so I could miss the embarrassing event. Sierra and Grammy later reported that yes, he did end up vomiting, and how nice it was of me to desert them all.
So LAST Monday, I spent some time browsing the racks, mostly in pursuit of work blouses. I dress casually on the weekends — faded shorts, black jeans, over-sized tees and tanks and – now – cool skirts and dresses — but it’s always been difficult for me to find work-appropriate attire that I “agree” with or “enjoy.” Button-up shirts and corduroy pants are always a safe bet, but even so, it’s still hard to find button-ups that really “resonate” with me. A lot of professional attire comes off as looking somewhat “stuffy”, and I want to maintain my authenticity.
But I really lucked out at the thrift shop! I left with three clean and classy-looking button-up shirts (each of them featuring sleeves that were long enough to cover all of my tattoos), and then I spent the remaining time in the store wheeling Grammy around as she searched for loose-fitting shirts and long skirts, as well as shoes, hats, and undergarments.
As I wheeled her over to a rack of sports bras, I couldn’t help but make a face, because when it comes to secondhand clothing, outer wear is where I, personally, draw the line. “Now Grammy, there’s a Target right down the street — I can take you THERE for THIS stuff.”
“Oh, no thanks, Rosebud… I don’t like to pay full price for those things.”
While we were perusing the shoes (which was slightly less upsetting), I glanced ahead (absentmindedly peering into another person’s cart) and saw an adorable Siberian Husky stuffed animal lying inside of it! It was black and white and fluffy, with a striking mask and bi-colored eyes… and it was SO realistic-looking. Seeing it caused me to remember the day when mom, Gram and I had visited a thrift store that was WAY out in the boondocks, back when I was a child, and the owner had offered me 100 stuffed animals for $1.
“God is rewarding you for double tithing,” Grammy had told me as we stuffed plush toy after plush toy into big, white trash bags and then tossed them into the backseat of mom’s yellow station wagon. I’ve never forgotten it.
Present day, I smiled at the memory, and then the husky inside of the cart moved. The fuck?
“Oh, Grammy — look! There’s a real, live pup in that cart!”
We called Sierra over, and all of us adored the little thing. The person pushing the Husky through the store (I didn’t know you could bring pups to the thrift store!) wasn’t actually its owner, we discovered; the owners of the Husky – who also owned a Chinese restaurant – were on vacation for several weeks and had asked this cart-pushing friend of theirs, a trusted neighbor, to watch their pup while they were gone.
We said goodbye to the pup and then, while moving Grammy from one aisle containing size 7.5 shoes to an adjoining one, my eyes settled upon a pretty pattern that was nearby in a plastic, white sales bin.
I stepped away from the wheelchair to investigate, and discovered that it was a purse. I looked up and around to make sure no one was watching me and then removed the purse from the bin, holding it and turning it over in my hands.
“Wow — this is gorgeous,” I thought to myself. “I should buy this and give it to someone who would like it.” I started thinking of the friends and co-workers I knew who liked such girly things, and realized that they’d all likely turn their noses up at a friend or co-worker gifting them with a secondhand purse. I sighed, disappointed. Then, I furrowed my eyebrows.
“Hang on a second… I like it, so why don’t I get it for myself?”
“Because it’s a DUMB PURSE, and only GIRLS carry DUMB PURSES,” an old voice rattled menacingly in the background.
“Ha… whatEVER. I AM a girl, thank you very much, and while some purses ARE stupid, this one isn’t. It’s absolutely beautiful, it’s $1.49 (which is criminal), and I like it very much.”
I returned to Grammy’s wheelchair and Sierra’s cart, holding the purse awkwardly in my left hand.
“Hey guys — check this out!”
Sierra eyed it critically. “Hmmm… it’s interesting…”
Grammy beamed. “OH, I love it! It’s very YOU, Rosebud!”
I smiled at her. “I think so, too.”
Sierra and I painted the kitchen a magical lavender during the visit (I chose this color for three reasons: 1. purple is Grammy’s favorite color, 2. I had a delightful vanilla lavender latte while adventuring in Denver this spring, 3. Jinx wears a purple-fringed jacket in my upcoming novel and it’s the first clothing item she really likes) and we saw fireworks together while they were here, and then I woke up for work Wednesday morning and they were just gone. Poof. Just like that.
I’ll see them again, of course… we might meet up for a “half-way” afternoon outing in Chattanooga sometime in the next few months, or one of us may decide to drive up or down to the other person’s neck-of-the-woods for a 3- or 4-day trip, but it’s honestly terrible, living so far away from people you love to see and love to spend time with.
The rest of my week passed pleasantly enough because I kept nice and busy at work, directing my attention to this project and then that one and enjoying every second of productivity.
But when I woke up this morning, I felt inexplicably depressed. I showered, got dressed, loved on the pups, got in the car, drove downtown, parallel parked my car, and dismounted my bike from its rack. I began pedaling down 1st Avenue South, turning left onto 19th Street North to take one of my preferred routes, and in my head, I was whispering the words, “I’m depressed today. I don’t want to be here. I miss everyone who isn’t here — Melissa, and Christopher, and Bobby, and Bruster, who are all VERY far away, and my family, who is far away enough…”
And then suddenly, right before I began passing through the rainbow tunnel, I looked up and saw a train barreling down the tracks above me. It looked so grand and wonderful that it was stunning to behold.
I love trains. Before my divorce (it’s been almost two years now — isn’t that CRAZY?), when things we’re getting heavy inside of myself and back at the house, I would spend all of my free time either inside of a cafe, writing as I am now, or sitting cross-legged in the observatory at Railroad Park, watching the trains pass. Sometimes, if I was feeling brave and I happened to catch the very beginning of the train, I’d wave to the “driver.” Sometimes, they’d see me and wave back, and whenever they did, it made me feel so special. I felt like I was visible for just a second… like I was a part of something; as if whether or not I was here in some way mattered. Like — somebody waved back because I was here. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have waved, and they also wouldn’t have waved. Like that.
And this morning, watching the train pass made something click in my brain. “I… am seeing trains today,” I whispered inside of my head. “I am getting to see trains. How fortunate!”
“And I am… cruising along inside of this amazing rainbow tunnel,” I continued. “It’s so pretty!”
“I am… smiling at pedestrians,” I whispered a moment later, a bit louder.
“I am feeling the sunlight on my skin, I’m about to enjoy a delicious coffee drink and some alone time, and I am above ground today.”
In short: My inner dialogue, or monologue, changed, and when it did, my mood also changed… my outlook changed… my perspective and my gauge of my own self-worth and my entire freakin DAY changed, ALL as a result of my words changing. Brilliant, isn’t it? We control much more in this world than we give ourselves credit for, INCLUDING our own happiness.
And then, like what happens in the movies sometimes, I broke out into a big smile and pulled up at my favorite cafe, happy, happy to be here, and grateful for my own companionship. I can’t, after all, really count on anyone else’s. Only a fool would do that, and I’ve discovered, in my 25 years, that hope tends to make us all a bit foolish.
SHAMELESS PLUG: My original novel, Jinx the Rabbit, is now undergoing its THIRD REVISION! Ahhhhhhh! My Kickstarter campaign reached 100% of its goal on the 4th of July, which is positively thrilling, and it isn’t too late for you to join in on the fun! If you’d like to pledge a donation to my campaign and score some EXCLUSIVE Jinx swag (bookmarks, t-shirts, signed copies of the novel and even a personalized shout-out IN the novel), click riiiiiiiiight here. 🙂 We’ve got 14 days left! That’s 2 weeks, or a fortnight… so ya better hop to it!