“I will not rest ’til I lay down my head. I’m gonna go — in the house of stone and light. I shall not cry for the blind man I leave behind, when I go — in the house of stone and light.” ~Martin Page
As I watch the very real progress on our house from across the field, I can finally see a light at the end of our tunnel. It won’t be that much longer until we can say goodbye to this nomadic existence, to this house that cages as much as it houses. I do understand that even with the progress made, though, it will still be at least a few more months until we can truly call it home.
But it means I no longer feel stuck on pause here. I can look out the window anytime I’m feeling like there’s no hope and I can find that hope in the machines, in the scaffolding, in the… activity happening in waves. So when I’m hiding out in this back room hoping no one yells my name for whatever I’ve done wrong this time, sometimes I’m also humming “Kumbaya” and biding my time.
It’s been easier here in these summer months because the girls get to go outside and swim. With the windows open as well it just makes this place so much more open. I feel like I’m always just a step away from being in that magical place called “elsewhere.” We’ve also been able to get out more as a family, to the Water Safari, to Philadelphia, and just out for the day to Syracuse or Albany. Not being cooped up in this house makes all the difference.
And yes, winter is coming. I know it will be here before I know it, but with the approach of winter comes the rise of the house. We will be in our own place before winter arrives. I have faith in that. It is what sustains me through these last few months being boarders. And once we’re in I never want to leave.
There’s a thin line between wanting your children to be safely quarantined against the harsh world and wanting them to be prepared to hold their own in a landscape that is shifting, and increasingly for the worse. Someone said “MF’er” in front of my children the other day, and I wanted to slap her 10 ways from Sunday.
How dare she expose my children to something so harsh, so incendiary, so soon! After all my time of saying “fudge biscuit,” “shnikey,” and “Jehosophat,” how could someone hand my children the very verbal weapons I was trying to keep from them at all costs?
But after holding my tongue, and thinking about it some more, I realized that it’s not such a bad thing for them to hear such words. It’s the context that those words are in that is important, because then it becomes a teachable moment instead of something full of chagrin.
Pretending that this woman didn’t say what she said would have been foolish because kids pick up things even if they don’t talk about them. The key is to talk about it in the moment. So, five minutes after the incident, I sat my oldest down and talked to her about bad words, about why people say them, and about how we shouldn’t say them. It turns out she had heard what the woman said earlier. She just hadn’t mentioned it.
That’s the glory of having children, honestly. They take in so much more than they let on, hording everything until such a moment when they deem it worthy to share. Most of the time the moments they choose are highly inappropriate. So why not take those times that fall into our lap, instead of wincing and hoping they didn’t hear, to educate them on the words we should use and the ones we should avoid?
My mother was all for leaving it alone, for pretending it never happened, and as I got older I faulted her for this. I knew the whole cadre of words, but I never said them. I held them all inside, until I became a teenager, and I got a few friends. That’s when they call came tumbling out, and at the worst times. That’s how I know it happens. I know what she thought, that she was shielding me from the harshness of the world, and I am grateful for her motives, but the world gets in anyway.
And maybe it’s just the world we live in nowadays too, the widespread belief that anyone should be able to say anything to anyone at any time without fear of reprisal. Perhaps it’s the me-first mentality that permeates our nation and our world. Or it could just be the parents who swear at their children every single day, who see nothing wrong with using that language. Whatever it is, though, our kids are exposed more than we were growing up, so there are more moments to be there for them, to explain why those words are wrong to say, to teach them how to stay on this side of that thin line.
Or we could simply go with our baser instincts and slap that woman 10 ways from Sunday. That’s still an appealing choice to me even though I know it’s wrong. I blame the world we live in.
The sign outside of Felix’s bedroom door said, “Keep Out,” and he meant it. His mother found out the hard way when she walked in without knocking the other night and found him smoking out the window. She believes smoking is of the devil, so she had a righteous fit, and he turned fifteen different shades of red. The next morning he bought a deadbolt for the inside of his door, and she stood outside his room banging on it with her ineffective fists for close to twenty minutes. To no avail.
She had him when she was fourteen, a child having a child, and she had planned to give him up because the father wasn’t going to step up, even though he was seventeen and supposedly an adult. They weren’t going steady or anything, just two drunken idiots who went too far without a condom. Lesson learned. Felix was her only child, but he was more than enough for a teenager to handle. He was more than enough for anyone to handle. Her mother was no help, condemning her and throwing her and her son out of the house when he was four years old.
Felix always loved rap music, and she never knew where he got the obsession from. She and the sperm donor were both as white as chalk, and they lived nowhere near the “hood.” She eventually realized that geography didn’t matter, that if he had somehow heard some of it even on the radio and liked it that was it. Most of it was offensive in several different ways, but she tried to tune it out when Felix played it at high volume in his bedroom. She tried not to kick the door down and throw the stereo out of the same window out of which she had caught him smoking. She had to practice her meditations again.
Other than the smoking, and the dreadful music, and the huge lock on his door, Felix had always been a good child. Not perfect, because no one’s perfect, but good. It was the most she could have hoped for, especially since he grew up for the most part while she was in her 20s. She desperately wanted for him not to be a stereotype, not to fall through the cracks of the same system that had abandoned her when she had been abandoned by her own mother. And when he turned fourteen she gave him the “talk,” hopeful that he wouldn’t continue the cycle of men who fathered children but who felt their commitment ended there.
“I don’t smoke all the time,” he told her when they spoke.
“Smoking kills,” she told him in response.
“It can, but I know a lot of people who are just fine,” he said. “Besides, we’re all gonna die someday anyway.”
“But you don’t want to make it come faster if you can help it,” she said.
He had given her the look, a combination of pity and disdain, what she remembered as the same look she gave her mother when the older woman had given her the talk about sex. That talk was two weeks before she’d gotten pregnant, so she knew Felix was only humoring her by even responding when she told him that smoking kills.
She sighed and looked at herself in the mirror. When had she gotten old? It seemed like just yesterday when she had been his age, when she had given the looks instead of received them, when life had been spread out before her like an open book. When had the book closed? There were crow’s feet in the corners of her eyes, but she was barely 30 years old, so they were testament not to age, but to the sort of hard life that being a single parent entailed. She had grown up quickly without a manual or a blueprint, and she worried more than most other girls her age.
The stairs led her down into the basement where she had stored some items. The apartment had come with the storage space, but the drawback was that there was no way to lock it up, so she worried often that someone would take her treasures. But there had been no recourse since the apartment itself was infinitesimally small, and she was lucky she could afford it on her waitress’s salary. In her storage nook she had the cheap dollar store photo albums that she insisted on having even though all of her pictures were on her phone. Every month she went to Walgreen’s and forked over a few bucks to print the photos out so she could add to those very albums.
Most of the pictures were recent, most of them featuring Felix through his various stations in the growing up process. As she thumbed through the pages her eyes misted over because it was clear that her little boy was no longer little, that her little boy was becoming a man more by the day. It was no wonder he shut her out of his room and blasted the gangster rap that made her ears bleed. He was testing his boundaries, flexing his independence, being the young man that she had raised him to be, not the sheep her mother had always hoped she would be.
It was difficult for her to separate the two — the wild child that she had been, and the good, but not perfect son that she had raised. As she looked through the pictures the tears began to come because she saw the same patterns in expressions on his face that she could clearly see on her own from when she was his age. She wondered if despite her best intentions he would turn out just as she had, but in reverse. Would she get a call one day from some hysterical mother of a girl her son had impregnated? She shut the photo album abruptly and prayed to god it wouldn’t come to that.
Okay, so I’ll admit I hadn’t really jumped on board with all of the challenges that seem to have exploded over the internet in the past few years. All this bandwagon stuff, and whatnot. So I wasn’t dumping ice water all over myself back in 2015 even when it seemed like everyone else was. There’s miles of video to prove it. I don’t think I’ve ever really gotten behind any quick moving movement like that before.
Until now. My best friend was participating in what is called the “Love Your Spouse” challenge, in which you post a photo of you and your spouse once a day for seven days. The photos can be from anywhere and from any time period, so long as they show both of you. Some people do it differently and take photos specifically for the challenge, while others have pictures that include them and their spouse, but aren’t necessarily just the two of them.
For me I felt like if I was going to do it I was going to plumb the depths of photos we have of ourselves (most of which I begged to have her take the shot with me — bad hair days be damned). So that’s what I did, and every day so far I’ve stayed true to one thing and one thing only. Does the photo encapsulate who we are as a couple in some way? If it did then I included it.
Today is Day 6 of the seven-day challenge, and I’m quite proud of the 6 photos I’ve chosen so far to represent us. I’m so proud of them that I decided I don’t just want to post them to Facebook and see how many likes they get. I want to display them out here, in a medium of my choosing, in my own world, and so that you (my dear subscribers) can observe them as well. I’m including my motivations for each one as well. Oh, and I’m sorry you won’t get to see photo #7, but I decided I do want an up-to-date photo of us for that one, so I’ll be taking it first thing tomorrow. You know, if it’s a good hair day…
Writing a book is like raising a child. Both require care in order to grow and flourish. Both are labors of love that are rewarded by tangible results in the end. Each book I finish becomes one more child who has grown up and is now out there in the world on its own, making its way, influencing others along the way. It’s a daunting situation, but a fulfilling one at the same time.
With that being said, 50,000 words is a threshold I’ve only hit twice before when writing fiction, so it’s still the gold standard to me. When that word counter ticks from 49,999 to 50,000 something in me rejoices. It celebrates a milestone that I am not guaranteed I will ever reach again. I am humbled in the presence of so many words that, while spawned from my brain, represent so much more than the sum of their parts.
That was 171 words ago, at least as it relates to my latest novel. I still only have a working title, and I’m still only about 2/3rds of the way through the drafting process on it, but it’s looking more and more like a viable book. It has my writing style stamped securely on it even now. It has my character progressions down. And it is driven more by character emotion and interaction than anything else.
In fact, I wasn’t even watching the word counter when I passed that magical number, when I breezed right on by 50,000. I was focused on the impending meeting between my protagonist and her estranged father. I was lost in the world I created, but that also created me in this moment, when my characters are real, and I’m just as clueless as to what they’re going to say next as my reader will be once it’s published. That’s exhilarating in a way that I can’t even describe. You just have to live it.
So yes, 50,171 words, and counting. And I’ve never felt so alive.