A sweet melody joined by an equally captivating harmony fought together, a small army, lifting their battle cry in an effort to break through the roar which filled the sky surrounding their safe house. Each one singing as though their note, line, was the headliner meant to steal the show. Together they formed a formidable force to be reckoned with and yet, unheard by all, save two. These two having honed the magical power of tuning out all sound that dare combat the notes high and low – on key and off – which began no more than a whisper and grew no greater than a gentle breeze – this was all their ears could hear. Soaring through the wind above, around and under tree branches. Diving low to the soft soil turned and watered in hopes seedlings would take root and nourishment would spring forth. Ears pricked by sound, their mission cut short, they retreated. The volume increased by intensity as the tiny army overtaken by impatience heightened by the need for sustenance hit a crescendo. Beaks open wide – a gaping hole exposing the need coming from the very pit of their stomachs. Satisfied, filled, as warm juicy sustenance was lovingly passed from mama and papa to babes. The nest grew still as the sweet sound of silence gave way to the hub-bub once again filling the air around their home.
His gaze pulled her from across the crowded room. The constant hum of conversation growing louder as the guests consumed more wine. Their voices blended together in a symphony of highs and lows mixed with laughter. She tried to focus in on what those close to her were talking about, to be a part of the topic at hand, but their words jumbled together with the race of thoughts spinning through her mind. It took all her restraint to keep her feet from walking over to him. What was she thinking? She didn’t know him. Had never met him. Hadn’t even heard anyone speak of him. Who was he? How did he come to be at their company Christmas party? As a matter of fact, what was she doing here? She didn’t celebrate Christmas. Not anymore.
Kaiyah loved her job. More than anything she adored her boss, Mr. Johnston. He and his wife were the most generous couple Kaiyah had ever known. If she could be so lucky as to meet a man and have the long-lasting marriage that the Johnston’s had she would be one lucky lady indeed. Unfortunately, she had only known heart break up to this point in her life. The most recent having been devastating, to say the least. Luck would have it she was working for the Johnstons when her life came crashing down. They had taken her in under their wings, in more ways than one. There was no way in the world she would ever be able to repay them let alone thank them for all they had done.
Heat rose in her cheeks as she felt herself blush. Lost in her own thoughts, Kaiyah hadn’t realized the gentleman holding her captive was looking at her as well. Her eyes dropped to the empty glass in her hands. A waiter passed by holding high a tray mixed with etched crystal glasses holding Prosecco, white and red wine. He glanced her way as she lifted her head, his eyes met hers with a question implied but not spoken.
“Oh, thank you, no, none for me.”
Thankful for the interruption giving her cause to move, Kaiyah excused herself from the circle of conversation and went in search of water.
Head up, shoulders back, walk slow, she coached herself to cross the crowded room. Having no clue where this inner confidence came from, Kaiyah’s new motto was,’Fake it until you make it’. She had written it in her journal and now she had to live up to it. It was either that or go back. There had been many moments, countless, in the past few days where defeat overwhelmed her, consuming her thoughts and sending the message that going back would be so much easier than going forward. How could she do this, live this life on her own? How would she ever make it?
Mary spotted her and waved her to come over and join the office girls huddled in the corner of the room, exchanging the latest on all of the crew no doubt. Kaiyah raised her finger indicating she would join them in just a minute. She had eyed the door to the patio was opened and decided a moment of fresh air was just what she needed. Placing her empty glass on a small table with other glasses, small plates and napkins, she stepped outside. Winter was in full swing this year with temperatures in the low 30’s for over two weeks now. Snow was inevitable if only moisture heavy clouds would roll in.
Kaiyah welcomed the chill she felt inside and out as she took in the night sky. Stars sparkled over the valley below. The only constellations she knew were the big and little dipper. Admonishing herself for not paying more attention in school or taking time to beef up on the stars – the ones in the sky and on the big screen, politics, the world around her, all topics of interest that adults talk about at gatherings such as tonight. Just one more reason to the ever-growing list of why she wasn’t cut out to succeed on her own. Anxiety welling up within her, the very reason she had come outside in the first place. Between holding her own in a job she had only been trained to do over the past year and struggling to drown out the over-bearing voice reminding her of the simple fact she had not even earned a diploma, there was no time for the multitude of new worries entering her mind.
Fear had a way of holding you prisoner or pushing you to make rash decisions. What had her therapist called it? Fight or Flight. Hers had been more of an endless relinquishment of self or run. Fighting back had never turned out to her advantage the few times she had tried that avenue. And running, well running hadn’t turned out well either. Until now, if you could count this as turning out well. Every ounce of her being hoping that it would turn out more than well. Her bank account, bills coming due, collectors calling her at work, lack of a car and so much more taunting her dissipating all hope. She wrapped her arms around herself hugging tight as shivers overtook her body.
Being alone wasn’t something she did very often. Alone meant silence and silence meant a storm was on the horizon, silence was something she had grown to fear. Stepping away to the emptiness the outdoors provided felt right. It was hard work to pretend to understand the conversations around the room at the party. One can only smile and nod for so long before someone inquires, about your thoughts, your point of view on the subject. She had tried moving from group to group in hopes of falling onto a topic allowing her to chime in, only to find there wasn’t much she could chime in about. Sports? No. Presidential elections? Having once volunteered to make calls for Republican Candidate, George W. Bush, brought shock and then nervous laughter when those listening realized she wasn’t joking. Ballet, Opera, performances at the 5th Avenue or Benaroya Hall? Kaiyah had never been. As uncomfortable as silence had become, tonight it was a welcomed reprieve.
In this moment, although alone, she felt safe, fear held at bay as she took a break from the conversations overwhelming her. Standing here on this patio, looking out over the valley that went on for miles, she could dream of the life she had always hoped she would have. Gazing at the tall trees that swayed in the winter winds, high above the farm land below, their sway like a dance, a winter’s dance the trees had in celebration of their life and all they had seen over decades of living. They looked over the barns, the livestock, the fields producing crops and the farm houses that held the families whose love, care and hard work kept the cycle of food and life going year after year. Kaiyah longed for the love and care she envisioned in the farm houses below.
A soft luxurious covering fell over her shoulders. Kaiyah turned her head to look over her right shoulder.
“I thought you might be cold out here without a jacket.”
Her hands pulled the cashmere throw around her accepting the warmth it provided. Her lips parted awaiting the words caught in her throat to come out.
“I watched you leave. When you didn’t come back in right away I thought I would bring you a blanket. I hope that’s alright. That I followed you out here, I mean.”
It was him, the man who had held her captive in the crowded room. His gaze having the power to hold her still and draw her to him, now stole her ability to speak. And yet, his presence felt safe and warm, not threatening or harmful in any way.
I sat in my office in front of my laptop, facing the screen listening to the voices coming out of the speakers sent magically around the world through the air no less, on what is called wireless or wi-fi. Two voices came from Edmonds, WA, another from Portland, Oregon, and yet another from all the way across the United States of America in a small town in Virginia. I, here in Seattle, could also be heard when it was my turn to speak. All of our voices sounding as though we were in the same room together, talking, sharing, commenting, laughing, and sometimes catching our breath, our hand at our throats, our head shaking as we tried to convey the grip what had been read had on our hearts.
The pocket door that separates my office/writing room from the rest of our home rattled as someone on the other side slid it open. They were hesitant, not rushed and I could tell they held the hope that they were not disturbing me. My head turned to find my sweet son, a smile upon his 9 year old face with his father close behind so that I could see the apology in his eyes for their interruption. The corners in my mouth already turning up and I hoped they could see the sparkle in my eye as I watched them slide their feet across the hardwood flooring without a sound. My attention went back to the laptop as one of my fellow writers once again was speaking and I thought I heard my name.
It was my turn to share my thoughts on the second piece submitted to the group for critique, unless I wanted to defer as they had all just critiqued mine. Maybe a moment to let their words dissipate was a good idea. I jumped at the chance to go last, muted my microphone and turned back to where my son and my husband were donning their jackets. Michael, my sweet little boy, mouthed coupled with a very soft whisper, “We’re going to the mall so I can shop for you for Valentine’s Day.” His father behind him raised brow, lips moving without sound, “He insisted.” I nodded and waived a good-bye before turning my attention back to the group waiting for me. Having not heard my acceptance to go last they awaited my thoughts, I fumbled to pull up the word document and forged ahead.
Drawn into the Galapagos Islands and the adventure my writing partner was on, my thoughts held no room for what the boys were off doing. Easy for me as I am not one to try to figure out or guess the gift another may be giving me. There is something in not knowing, not expecting, that makes a gift that much more delightful to receive. I find myself unwrapping what the giver wanted to portray in the gift rather than the item itself. At times it is where they went or what they went through to find and purchase the gift. The place they chose having meaning from our or their past. Other times the gift itself reminds them of me, something I have said or expressed an interest in, or so they thought. Then there are times that there is no real rhyme or reason, it is just that, a gift, purchased and given. And yet, without expectation, even these gifts bring a joy to fill the space within me that had opened as my fingers removed the tape or tissue that held a covering over the item inside.
Our online group came to a close with the promise of two more pieces to be submitted via email by the morning for our critique meeting the following week. I savored the final sip of my soda water and rosemary vodka as I lingered in my chair, comfortable with the cushion beneath my bum, the aroma from the diffuser continuing to waft through the air around me, and soaked in the silence of our quiet home devoid of the usual hustle and bustle. A light rap on the side door window pulling me from my thoughts. On the other side out in the cold of the now dark evening, stood my sweet boy who had knocked with restraint we often think he knows nothing of. I leaned to remove myself from my chair then settled back in as my husband, Tom, approached the door key in hand.
“Hi guys. Perfect timing my class is over.”
Taking in the relief in Michael’s eyes, I turned my chair towards to the door and sat watching him remove his shoes and jacket. Pushing himself up to his feet, Michael grabbed the bag which held his gift to me. Standing there across the room from me as his body wiggled, feet shuffled, and his eyes danced.
“Come on Mom! I’m giving you my present right now!”
I got up out of my chair, turning off my computer and essential oils diffuser, and gathered my things to shut down for the night. My back turned to him I said, “Oh no, honey that’s okay. You should save your gift to give to me tomorrow night when we have our special family dinner with Sissy. Besides tomorrow is Valentine’s day.”
I have this thing about gifts. First I am a not a huge fan of them, I do not need gifts. Not a true minimalist, but a follower of the idea that I only want to have things I actually use. Not a collector of things, I have a hard time giving gifts as much as receiving them. If you are going to give me a gift though that is meant for a particular holiday, anniversary, birthday, I prefer to receive the gift on the day or at least at the event in honor of the day. Not before.
“No, mom. I won’t hear of it. I am giving you your gift now.”
My back still turned, the small voice inside of me spoke. ‘Let him give you his gift. It’s what he wants to do. Don’t squash his excitement and make him wait. We don’t always have to wait for the right time, the right place, do the right thing, do we?’
“Alright, let’s do this.” I smiled overwhelmed by the feeling welling up inside of me, this was right and for once I was going against all things me and just letting the moment unfold as it may.
“Yes! Okay, come into the living room. Come on dad, let’s go.”
Michael hurried into the other room, whether from excitement for the gift he was about to give or to be certain I would not change my mind or his dad would not step in and decide that we were in fact going to wait until tomorrow, I do not know. As I stepped through the doorway into the living room I caught sight of Michael already on the sofa, one hand holding the bag from Macy’s the other patting the seat next to him.
“Here mom, come sit here next to me on the couch.”
“Okay, okay, I’m coming”, laughter bubbled up in my throat as I went to sit next to him.
“Dad, tell her the story.”
Tom chuckled before responding, “Well, I have to say I tried to talk him out of it, but his mind was set on what he was going to get you before we ever left the house. I tried to get him to go to Ross or Fred Meyer but he wouldn’t have it. We got in the truck and he said he wanted to go to the mall. To Macy’s in fact. He was resigned, wouldn’t listen to anything I had to say, so I said okay. You can tell her the rest buddy.”
Tom looked at me once again with those eyebrows raised. I’ve come to know that look from him when it has to do with Michael. It’s the ‘Hey, I tried to talk him out of it but you know how he can be when he has his mind made up about something’ look. The corners of my mouth remained turned up as I soaked up the excitement radiating from every pore in Michael’s body.
“Okay, Mom, I went to Macy’s and got you this. Here open it. Then I will tell you what happened.”
He handed me the white paper bag with large red star on it. Not a wrinkle in sight the only fold being the one at the very top, the sales lady having turned the top down and creased the fold tight before handing his purchase to him to bring home. I sat holding the bag for a moment, my hand stroking the smoothness before unfolding the top and reaching inside. A receipt slipped out and fell onto the couch as I pulled out the square box inside. I raised my hand to my lips and glanced at my son as he picked up the paper.
“I’ll show you it in a minute.” His eyes sparkled as he held onto the receipt and looked at me.
Savoring the excitement he was feeling and the joy I was receiving, I held the box before lifting the top off. There lay the most exquisite silver chain on a pillow of white batting.
“Feel it mom. Isn’t it heavy?”
I picked up the thick rope chain. It was heavy with a coating that made it smooth as silk to the touch. Breaking up the monotony of the rope chain were round circles snug on the chain every two inches or so. The clasp. also unique, was a larger circle on the one end and a bar at the other.
“Put it on mom! Do you need help?”
I held the two ends in my hand and they met behind my neck as I put the chain on. My right hand positioned the bar so it would go into the circle and through, then releasing it perpendicular it was held through the circle so the necklace would stay put. As I did, my mind flashed back to another necklace that I have upstairs in my closet with the same clasp. It was my mother’s. A bit flashy, layers of black beads that hold a charm that hangs in the middle of chest. The charm is a clear glass square that has several diamonds, fake, the gems float in the square that is edged with diamonds all around it. I have worn it a few times with a cocktail dress, otherwise it stays hanging in my closet.
“Do you like it mom?”
Without waiting for my response he goes on.
“Look at the tag.”
Ignoring my thoughts that want me to explain how it isn’t appropriate to look at the price of a gift nor is it appropriate to tell someone the price you paid for the gift. I instead listen to the small voice that is telling me to do as my son is asking of me. Grant him this moment. I pick up the tag and look at the front and then the back. Eyeing my husband who once again has that look on his face followed this time by raised hands of mercy hovering just above his lap, I tell me son the sales lady covered the price with a return sticker. I explain they do this so the gift recipient doesn’t see the price of the gift. Then I hush my own voice reminded by that small voice that I am saying too much.
“Oh, okay, well here, look at the receipt.”
My eyes grow big and my fingers caress the thick chain laying against my neck. I look at Tom, a look of disbelief as he nods his head.
“Oh honey! You spent sixty dollars on me? Wow! That is so very generous.”
“I tried to talk him out of it. In fact, even the sales lady who wasn’t all that, let’s say good-natured with kids, she even tried to persuade him to buy a different necklace that was on sale for less. He made his choice.”
My fingers remaining on the chain, I handed the receipt back to Michael as I looked into his eyes. I saw a flicker of hesitation.
“It wasn’t all of my money. I still have over seventy dollars. The sales lady did show me another necklace after I found this one. It was a silver chain also. It was more dainty. I had her get it out of the case so I could look at it more closely. It was real pretty. And it cost forty dollars. Even the sales lady said the other one was more fancy, special. She said this one was more ‘every day’ kind of chain. That’s what I wanted, something you could wear every day. And I didn’t spend all of my money. I still have plenty.”
His eyes looked at me as he finished his last word. My heart caught in my throat as I removed my fingers from the chain and reached out to touch his leg.
“Hey buddy, I want to tell you something. I completely get what you are saying. You want to know what this makes me think of?”
“Two things actually. One is a very special necklace that I have upstairs. It is a thin dainty silver chain that has a heart on it made of tiny little diamonds. One year before Mother’s day a radio station ran a contest and asked listeners to call in to share a story of why their mom was the best mom. The stories were on the radios web page for a few weeks where listeners could go and read them again. Then people would vote on the story they thought was the best. The winner would receive this beautiful necklace to give to their mom for Mother’s day. Well, your sister called in and told a story about me and she won! I love that necklace and every time I wear it I think of what she did for me. It is fancy and dainty and I wear it now and then with special outfits.”
“Wow, that’s cool that she won it for you.”
“Yeah, but you wanna know what other memory this makes me think of?”
“Well, several years back before you were born, Mother’s day was coming up. Something inside of me really wanted to buy my mom a pair of diamond earrings. I had never bought my mom anything extravagant like that before. I wanted her to know that I loved her more than anything, wanted to give her something out of the ordinary, different than say your typical Mother’s Day gift of flowers or a candle. The only thing was, I was a single mom at the time and couldn’t really afford too much. I asked my boyfriend, your dad was my boyfriend then, what he thought and he said although it was genuinely a good thing to want to do it, my mom knew how much I loved her and didn’t need diamonds to express it. I believed what he said was true.”
Love threatening to spill out and poor down my cheeks welling up inside of me, I squeezed my son’s hand and smiled before telling him the rest.
“I spent time with my mom that Mother’s Day and gave her a card telling her of what I had wanted to buy her but hadn’t. My mom cried silent tears and hugged me close, telling me she knew how much I loved her. We sat and enjoyed lunch together on her couch until she was tired and needed to go lay down and rest. A month later my mom died. We didn’t know at the time that she was that sick. I didn’t know it would be our last Mother’s Day together. The thought never crossed my mind. What I did know was that I had wanted to express to her in a tangible way, a gift, the love that I held inside for her. To this day, there is a part of me that wishes I would have thrown caution to the wind and purchased diamond earrings for my mom. Not because she needed an expensive gift to know I loved her that much, but because I wanted to give them to her.
It means so much to me that you wanted to buy something very special, and spend your money, no matter the cost. You knew what you wanted to buy me and you did it. Thank you my sweet bugaboo. I love this necklace and I will wear it all of the time. There is a time to be frugal, to buy things on sale, to not buy gifts when we can’t afford them. And then there is a time to go ahead and be generous, be extravagant, and buy what we want for the one we love.”
I reached out and drew my son close to me. Wrapping my arms around him I felt the love from him that I so longed to give to my mother on that Mother’s Day so long ago.
And then my son, being the nine year old that he is said,
“Okay mom, now you have to put the necklace back in the box. Tomorrow at dinner I am going to give it to you again and you have to act surprised. Just like you are right now, you have to do all of this all over again for Sissy. You have to tell her the story you just told me and everything, okay?”
The small voice inside of me spoke once again, ‘Do it. Give this to him, it’s all part of his gift. Let him have all of this as silly as it seems.’
“Okay, honey.” My eyes met with Tom’s one more time, it was my turn to shrug my shoulders and raise my palms up in open willingness.
Michael took my necklace and placed it back on the cloud of batting, closed up the box and delicately returned it inside the still perfect, without wrinkle or crease, white paper bag. He folded the top down as the sales lady had and placed it on the dining room table where it would await the re-unveiling.
No sooner had I lay the sticker on the window sill and I was back in my grandmother’s kitchen. Her kitchen window that looked out upon the back yard amidst the crowded view brought on by vases of dandelions, wishing weeds, and other long since died flowers. Gifts from her many grandchildren, all of which Grandma cherished. The window sill itself covered from edge to edge with vases, rocks – some painted, some not, stickers and other treasures. All framed in by simple cotton curtains that Grandma had sewn herself.
The cupboards were a dark wood, darker still around the edges where they were opened time and time again. In each cupboard resided an array of colorful dishes, burnt orange, avocado green, lemon yellow and chocolate brown ceramic mixing bowls in one. Tupperware containers with an assortment of lids, silver metal bowls, clear glass bowls, all used for the many foods that Grandma made for breakfast, lunch and dinner, whether it be for herself, us grandkids or for when she had c’mpany. The silverware drawer a hodge podge of utensils where a complete matching set was a treasure to be found. Many of the matching pieces long since buried in the backyard where the pirates kept their treasure hidden from the scoundrels that came searching.
The vinyl floor beneath my feet bearing the evidence of a well lived in and loved home. A place where one was always welcome no matter the reason, the length of stay, nor the conversation or lack thereof you were to give. Crumbs from graham crackers scattered in a trail leading to the back door, drips of bacon grease from the stove to the kitchen counter where an emptied pickle jar now full with hardened grease awaited to be used for fried eggs, brussels sprouts, and other things that tasted better when fried in bacon grease. A red stain, most likely Kool-Aid, that would never come clean, not even if Grandma were to get down on her tired well used knees to scrub it.
The washer and dryer at the end of the kitchen covered with baking pans, cookie sheets, and more bowls looking for a home, waiting to be used. I look closer, there on the right were two pans being used. Covered with linen dish towels. Quietly sneaking over, not making a sound as my sock feet slid one step length at a time, I lift the towel to reveal pies. The steaming warmth wafts the heavenly smell of freshly baked strawberry rhubarb into my nostrils as I inhale, deep, slow.
A noise startles me and I glance to the window in the back door. I sweep back the curtain, also made by my grandma but with a fabric that does not match the one over the sink. I see myself, a younger me all of about 8 years old. My hair is a much darker auburn red, thick, bushy, frizzy, not curly but not straight, a mass of deep fire framing my freckled face. I am running breathless across the back yard being chased by my cousin, Mikey. My sister, Lisa, and my other cousin, Bobby, are both running in the other direction. I dash through the clothes drying on the line just barely out of Mikey’s reach. A smile spreads across my face as the warmth of remembering time with my cousins wells up from within.
I turn and walk through the kitchen to the living room knowing what I will see. The TV is on with the sound turned down low, almost off. There is my grandma in her rocking chair with two large bowls vying for space in her generous lap. Her slippered feet just touching the ground gently nudge the floor to keep the rhythm of the rocker going as she snips the ends of green beans fresh off the vine from her backyard garden. The trimmed beans being prepared for canning. I listen closely so I can hear the song coming from my grandma’s mouth.
“Blessed assurance Jesus is mine!
Oh, what a foretaste of Glory Divine!
Heir of salvation, purchased by God
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood
Oh, this is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long……”
I can hear her voice, the one that soothed my fears, my worries, my broken heart, lulled me to sleep, and filled my life with so much unconditional love. The safe haven of my childhood remains in my mind and in my heart.
I look again and I see the sticker on the counter next to my kitchen window that overlooks my backyard, so different than my grandma’s. My counter is clear of dirty dishes that I just washed and put in the drying rack. As I look around I see a few objects that at times I think of putting away to remove the clutter. A ceramic dish that holds my rings created by the young hands of my son, painted in shades of green and red, it does not fit the decor but it fits my heart. An empty bottle formerly filled with Smoking Loon Cabernet, now holds lamp oil, a wick threaded through a cork, the memory of a weekend away with the one who would one day become my husband, the father of my son and the adopted father of my first-born. A noise pulls me from my thoughts to look out my kitchen window upon my own backyard.
There I find my son running through the yard, a soccer ball at his feet. The neighbor boy, a few years younger than he, eagerly trying to steal the ball away before Michael can score a goal. He slides and they both tumble to the ground in a fit of laughter. A smile spreads across my face as new memories fill my very being.