Ready to Ride

steep road

I awoke to the persistent rustling of my husband next to me. The room was still dark, and for a moment I thought it was time to get up for work. Then I remembered it was Saturday.

“Honey, we don’t have to get up until 7:30,” I mumbled.

“I know, but I’ve got to get up. I’ve been lying here awake for hours,” my husband said as he jumped out of bed. “You know how I am—just like a kid—when there’s a ride!”

“But maybe I could just lie here a little longer,” I protested to an empty bedroom, as I heard Frank turn on the coffee maker in the kitchen, and start making breakfast. It was no use. We were riding our motorcycle with the HOGs this morning, and I needed to get up and get my gear together. With a sigh, I shrugged aside the mounds of warm quilt and wrapped my long sweater over my tee shirt and yoga pants.

Smiling as I saw the steaming bowl-sized mug of coffee waiting for me, I sat down at the breakfast counter and squinted at the alarming awake-ness of my spouse. He respected my “No talking before the first cup of coffee” rule, and hummed to himself as he prepared our oatmeal in the microwave.

One and a half cups later, and after my brown sugar crusted oatmeal, I was ready to receive my instructions. Frank uncovered Dean, our Road King, and dusted off each painted and chromed surface with a microfiber cloth. I pulled out our jackets, leather chaps, hats, and helmets out of the bedroom closet and staged them in the living room. Then I joined him on the back porch, providing verbal reassurance as he backed the motorcycle out through the narrow passage on the side of the house.

After some colorful language when he hit one of the side mirrors on the wooden gate, my husband parked Dean in the front driveway. The gleaming black and chrome bike seemed to plead with us to take him on the road like our cocker spaniel yearns for a walk.

We dashed back in the house and began layering our gear. Not for the first time did I wish for a squire to assist us as we zipped  and tied up our leather boots, buckled and zipped on heavy leather chaps, added layer after layer of long sleeve shirts, snapped close our vests, and wrestled on our leather jackets. By then we were sweating from the exertion and the warmer temperature in the house, so we exited quickly.

Because you can never have too many jackets and warm clothing, we stuffed extra clothes into the saddle bags. I went through my mental pre-ride checklist.

“Oops! I forgot our waters,” I said, and I waddled back into the house to grab a few bottles. When I returned, Frank was seated on the bike, goggles and helmet on, his body tense with eagerness. Dean was growling as his engine warmed up. I tucked the waters in between the clothes and locked the saddle bag.

“Get on,” my husband said. I put in my earphones and set up my phone for my Flyleaf mix. Then I pulled on my helmet, buckled it, and climbed up on the back on the bike. I slipped on my gloves and gave Frank a thumbs up.
Dean roared with enthusiasm as we drove down the street.

Looking Back at 2015

working

Part of being a good teacher is the ability to reflect and respond. After the kids leave, and you’re sitting in a mess of broken crayons, glue-crusted desks, and overflowing trash cans, it’s time to go over all the lessons that day. “I’ll never do that again!” and “Wow! I can’t believe that worked!” are the thoughts that guide me for future instruction.

But I can’t help being that lifelong learner when I go home. And now it’s New Year’s Eve, and time to clean up the mess and plan for next year.

My husband and I have been going on a planning weekend in January for the past seven years we’ve been married. Besides spending quality alone time together, we have a notebook that we use every year. We go over the goals from the past few years and evaluate our progress toward them. Some ideas make us laugh as they aren’t even concerns anymore. Others make us groan as we realize we didn’t do anything about them.

At the end of December, I have enough free time to start thinking about what I will add to our notebook this year. And to prepare my defense for those goals I didn’t reach.

Financial goals always make me cringe, but this year I want to save more money. I really bombed on this one last year, but my attitude toward spending has evolved. It’s amazing how much stuff you don’t need as you get older. Well, maybe except my phone and computer. And wifi.

In the category of personal goals, 2015 was going to be the year I reached out with my writing. A writing friend suggested joining The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. When I finally did, I had the opportunity to meet with an agent and have professional editing at a writing conference. In addition, I met some great creatives and listened to their stories of being published in the traditional way. But this group doesn’t meet often, so I found The California Writers Club online. The Inland Empire Branch meets monthly in Ontario so I could quench my thirst for literary conversation and learn more about self-publishing and promotion. Both groups helped me communicate my stories in a more confident and professional manner.

Still questing for additional critique of my almost completed book The College of the Crones, I decided to go back to college—University of California Riverside Extension Program. In September I started working on my Fiction Writing Certificate, a 20 unit program to shore up the structure of my writing. Writing definitely stays on the list for 2016.

In the category of shared goals, my husband and I joined the Harley Owners Group in November, after agonizing about it for over a year. Originally we had wanted to start our own motorcycle riding group, but after wise counsel, we decided to see how it was done first. It has been a great adventure, riding the back roads and starting new friendships. We also started riding with The Black Sheep, a Christian motorcycle ministry. Much to our surprise, the HOGs were much tamer than the Black Sheep. But that’s another blog. It will be interesting to see how the miles will add up this year.

As the hours tick down to 2016, I find myself at peace. There were some events I regret, but mostly it has been a year of growth. Each day is a learning experience, and as long as I remain teachable, the coming year will provide many opportunities to shape my life.

 

 

 

College of the Crones- cont.

tonic

Chapter One- The Funeral Part 4

But now it was time for her decision. She couldn’t put it off much longer. All week long, gentlemen had left their calling cards at her house. The cards sat in a silver bowl in the entry hall where the crone had collected them. Erin had ignored them like unpaid debts. Her friends all advised her that it was time to move on, but she just couldn’t picture herself as another man’s wife. She twisted the large diamond ring on her finger, unwilling to remove it.

What was the alternative? She feared the day when her green eyes would turn back to their natural brown color. Then the transformation would begin as she aged rapidly over the next two years until she was a wrinkled, hunchbacked monster. Could she face her reflection each day as she twisted up her hair? She imagined one of the house crone’s wrinkled faces in the place of her lovely one. Nightmares on top of nightmares, and I’m not even asleep!

Without a husband, where would she live? According to their laws, since she was childless, her father would own the shop and blacksmith trade. Her home would be sold to pay the prince’s death tax. Although she could move in with her sister and her husband, they would be forced to hide her because of her hideousness. Forced to disappear from all social life, she would wander as a wraith through the corridors of the house until she perished in her ugliness.

Am I seriously considering becoming a crone? A shiver ran through her as she realized she was contemplating remaining unmarried. She wasn’t a rebel. Her entire life obediently followed the traditions of her people. But her pain gave her courage she had never known. Courage to honor Mikel by allowing her beauty to follow him in death.

If she chose this path, there was another place for her. The College.

She had heard that some widows went there and learned to support themselves. They didn’t need husbands to survive. Erin had always admired the crone healers who came to the village to treat the sick and injured. If she studied to be a healer, she could have a meaningful occupation. Maybe her pain could be buried in her studies so that she could feel like herself again. Her family would not miss her as they rushed to keep up with their social lives. Seeing her would prolong their grief, as she was a reminder of her failed future at the royal court.

With a sigh, Erin stood up and walked stiffly toward the door. Even as she argued with herself she knew her mind was set. The memorial service made Mikel’s death a reality and it set for her a starting point—or a jumping off point, she thought—to begin anew. It was time to leave her locked tower of grief. She would make an appearance at the wake and graciously thank all of her neighbors and friends. After all, they meant well. Then she would return home for the last time. A few items needed to be packed. She would say her farewell to her sister and parents. At one time she had loved them deeply, but her heart was lost with Mikel.  Emptiness drove her to action. She could remain in Riversedge as a shade, but she felt the slightest flutter of hope. It was time to follow it.

College of the Crones- cont.

tonic

Chapter One- The Funeral- Part 3

But the prince was overwhelmingly handsome, charming in speech, and strong in will, and none of the women who joined his court could resist him. Mikel had shielded her, his importance as a blacksmith affording him a few privileges.  But now she was exposed, husbandless. Their ruler could take her as an act of charity, sparing her destruction.

Some of the wives came forward to offer their condolences and admire her fine mourning clothes. Mikel would have loved this dress. It contrasts perfectly with my pale skin and pink lips. Her neighbor Madelin approached her with hugs and kisses, wishing her good fortune in seeking her next mate. Adel, already a veteran of six marriages, tried to introduce her to a potential suitor, one of her distant relatives. How can they be so cold? My dearest friend and husband is suddenly gone, and they choose this moment, his memorial, to begin the matchmaking. 

Mikel was Erin’s first husband. Will I ever bond with another mate only to lose him as well? He carried my heart away with him that night. I have nothing left for another.  In a culture where arranged marriages and third and fourth husbands were the norm, it seemed love was a luxury few women enjoyed. But for Erin, life would forever be divided into two parts: life with Mikel and life without him. Her loss was a fortress surrounding her, separating her from the kindness of others. She refused to be comforted, preferring instead to remain captive in sorrow.

After crone singers opened with a solemn song, the mayor began the memorial, saying many fine things about her husband. He praised their blacksmith’s every accomplishment, from the shoeing of the prince’s famous steeds to the construction of the elegant village clock. After he was finished, the prince’s representative delivered a stirring eulogy praising the marvelous weapons Mikel had forged. Erin’s step-father and sister sat dabbing their eyes and sniffing. Her mother’s striking features were dry, her pale green eyes narrowed slightly as her gaze fell on her eldest daughter. Erin sat next to but far apart from them, trying not to get caught up in their grief, having too much of it herself to take on more.

Next was Old Tong, who shared his memories of training Mikel as his apprentice. Old Tong had been a precise craftsman in his day, concerned with every detail, from heating the forge to shaping a nail. This eye for detail stamped into young Mikel as well, as the elder blacksmith spent many hours insisting that they adopt standards of excellence. “Hot forge, cool head, steady hand, stout heart,” he’d always said. Mikel was the finest student he had ever trained.

Erin listened to her husband’s teacher, brimming with pride.  But her face and body betrayed no emotion at all. She knew if she allowed any feelings to show she would lose all control. It was hard enough to keep the knives quiet in her heart without allowing tears to seep through. She had not cried since she was a young girl. Crying made her eyes look puffy. She kept her eyes on her lace gloves. They seemed to need constant adjustment.

After all the words were shared, songs sung, tears wept, and family members hugged, the crones took the children home to bed while the rest headed over to the pub. After assuring her sister that she would soon join them, Erin allowed herself to relax in the empty room. As difficult as it was to attend her husband’s memorial, somehow some of the crushing weight was gone.

 

 

College of the Crones-cont.

 

tonic

Chapter One- The Funeral- Part 2

Even though his body was never found, Mikel was declared dead, in accordance with the law in Beautiful. Because of her husband’s great service to their village, the mayor wanted to make sure the blacksmith had a proper memorial. It would also serve as the public declaration that Erin’s period of mourning was over and the time for courting had begun.

Every morning she checked her face in the mirror for wrinkles. Although she had celebrated only eighteen birthdays, she had reason to worry. The small brown bottle was empty on her dressing table, reminding her that time was running out for her beauty.

The tonic.

Erin remembered the first time she saw the small brown bottle sitting on her mother’s dressing table, right next to a silver hand mirror. She had picked it up and tried to pry out the cork when her mother entered the bedchamber and quickly rescued it from her three–year-old hands.

“No! Bad girl!” she had cried in panic. “Don’t play with Mother’s things!” Her mother was wide-eyed and flushed of cheek, still beautiful but also frightening enough to make Erin cry. She was too young to understand the bottle’s importance. Only years later, when she was sent to finishing school, did she realize the tonic’s value.

Her training told her she needed to remarry so that she could maintain access to the tonic. The alterative, turning into a hunched over, shriveled up crone was unthinkable. The only cure was the prince’s tonic, which he was willing to sell to husbands at a high price. But Erin knew that a new husband and beauty tonic that came with him would never cover the ugly pain in her heart.

Was it the thought of marrying someone else, or was it the prince who frightened her? She remembered his eyes measuring her every time they attended the prince’s festivities. The prince presided over every birthday and ball and when giving his blessing, if he was taken with the presumed bride, it was his right–and one he exercised from time to time–to take the woman for himself. Their husbands could not reclaim them, but instead must choose a replacement wife.

The prince could command the hand of any woman he chose, even one with a family. If he took a woman with children, she wouldn’t see her children again until they were wives themselves, visiting the castle for parties. To be at the whim of the prince was part of the price the citizens paid for the tonic.

Some were more willing than others.

Silence

lightbeams

“Do you want me to stop at the store on the way home?” her husband asked from the bathroom as he combed his hair. He waited for an answer and sighed. When would he remember?

He walked out to the kitchen and repeated his question as he put on his jacket and grabbed his lunch. His wife, holding her first cup of coffee in her hands, nodded her head, and handed him a list. Her husband read it, and tucked it into his jacket pocket. She followed him to the front door, where he said, “I love you, see you later.” She smiled as he leaned in for a quick kiss.

After locking the door, she settled into her soft blankets on the couch. It was the beginning of another quiet day, the same as the others since she had come home from the doctor’s office. Her Bible and her coffee eased her into the morning.

About 11:30, her phone rang, and she picked it up to see who would call her. Seeing her husband’s face on the screen, she smiled and set down the phone. I wonder how long it will take him to figure it out this time?  A few moments later, her phone buzzed, and she read the text message.

“Hi, honey. Sorry I forgot and tried to call you. How is your day going?”

She typed him a message back. “All’s quiet on the home front. Getting ready to work on my book.”

A message came soon after. “Have a great day. Love you.”

She typed back. “Love you.”

She opened up her computer and began to work. Her mind wandered as she stared at her first draft covered with red strike throughs and comments from her editor. She drank from her water bottle. Ever since the operation, her thoughts ran deeper and more complex. No talking meant more thinking.  She wondered how people lived without spoken communication.

All of her thoughts, these past two days, had belonged to her. Aside from emails and texts, her world had turned silent. At first she had fought against it, texting her husband at the dinner table to simulate communication. But after the second day, she embraced the peaceful quiet evenings, and listened to her husband instead, encouraging him with a nod and a smile. A hug seemed to demonstrate her support more than her words ever had done.

Turning back to her computer, she started into the tangled mess of words that would become her book. Hours passed as she sorted out sentences, hacked away the excess, and reformed the plot. When she looked up, it was time to start dinner.

Even though her doctor-imposed silence would end after a week, she felt peace like she had never experienced. Maybe those monks had it right with their vows of silence. What had begun as exile from the land of conversation turned into a refreshing retreat.

 

 

 

well enough alone

“When will you leave well enough alone?” I could hear the ghost of my long passed mother as I stood smothered by a thick wool full length coat and a fleece running jacket. The air was stale with traces of rotten gym socks as I delicately balanced in the pile of shoes. Hangers kept me pinned to the back wall. I desperately wanted to burst out into the room and breathe cool clean air. But my shame kept me hidden in my former bedroom closet as I strained to hear the conversation from the living room.

“All I wanted was my iPhone speakers,” I answered my mother in my head. I still had my key to the apartment so I stopped by after work. Peter never got home earlier than seven on a weekday night so I didn’t feel obligated to text him that I might stop by. After searching the living room and our bedroom, I dove into our closet, thinking that maybe my ex-husband had boxed up the remnants I’d left behind in the aftermath of our stormy breakup.

That’s when I heard the key in the front door bolt. I pulled myself out of the crammed contents of the closet, and prepared myself for the confrontation.

“I don’t care. Whatever you want to eat,” a familiar female voice answered a question started in the hallway. My entire body tensed as I realized who had accompanied Peter into our apartment. It was Susan, my best friend since the fourth grade and the maid of honor at our wedding. What was she doing with my ex-husband?

I know I should have walked out of the bedroom and confessed. But my morbid curiosity tossed me back into the closet. Closing the door behind me I waited in the darkness, listening.

“Come on, Sue. I always pick the restaurant,” my former husband said. In my mind, I could see his sneering smile that he thought was amusing.

“But you spoil me,” my friend replied. “We’ve gone out to white tablecloth restaurants every night for the past month. Don’t you ever cook?”
Heat started rising in my face. When we were married, my husband kept us to a strict budget, which didn’t include eating out. We barely even got fast food once a month. Where was he getting all this money from? Maybe there was an oil well in this closet.

“I hate to cook,” said Peter. “When Jenny and I were married, she insisted on cooking every night. Now it’s just easier to go out.”

I distinctly heard a low giggle. Really? He’s making her giggle. Not once in our marriage, except for when Peter ran into the bedroom door in the middle of the night, did he ever make me giggle. I tried to take slow calming breaths without making noise or inhaling fluff from my dusty hideout.

“Honey, you know I want to,” her husky voice managed to say.

“Then what, darling? I’ve waited patiently all these years.”

All these years? My husband and my best friend cheating on me for years? I quietly removed an empty wire hanger and started shaping it into a noose. Were there still skiing gloves buried in the bottom of the closet?

“I’m just an old fashioned girl,” Sue said. “I want to see the wedding ring on this finger first.”

“”This little finger?” my ex-husband purred. More giggling ensued from both of them.

Then a sigh that reminded me of a waiting locomotive. “Alright then. Let’s get some dinner.”

The front door opened and closed, the key clicking in the bolt. Alone once more, I emerged from my prison, sweating like a factory worker. Throwing down the hanger I still clutched in my hands, I fell into the soft tangles of blankets on the bed I had shared with my husband for ten years. I wanted to scream. I wanted to text both of them, scathing, searing curses that would burn into their hearts like acid. Instead I threw one of our heavy goose down pillows at the nightstand, where it struck a picture of Peter with his Harley group. The ceramic frame fell to the wood floor and dashed into pieces.

Encouraged by that action, I got up to find the baseball bat Peter always kept in the closet.

“Should have left well enough alone,” my mother said in my head as I started to swing the bat.

So long dear friend

bible

I can’t believe I’m standing here in front of all of you. You know much I hate doing this, but the dull ache in my chest compels me to say something. Especially after I only found out that you were leaving through Facebook. Your husband received a job promotion, and you’re leaving all your relatives and friends to move to a new state.

When you and your husband crossed my threshold six years prior, I noticed your clenched jaw and skittering eye contact. A bulging purse hung from your shoulder and your arms were burdened with a thick spiral notebook, a calendar, and your zipped up leather covered Bible. Not once did you glance toward your husband’s eyes, and then I saw the grey cloud that had settled over your marriage.

You chose a chair that sat by itself so that your husband would have to sit across the room. Refusing my hospitality, you brought in your own sealed plastic cup with a hard plastic straw. From time to time you sipped from it, through habit instead of refreshment. You sat rigidly on the edge of the soft cushioned chair, ready to flee if necessary.

Not once during the Bible study did you break your sullen silence. When your husband spoke, your eyes rolled toward the ceiling and your lips pursed into a thin line. I felt as helpless as an actor who enters in the middle of a play without a script. Several times I thought to say something to you, to somehow put you at ease, but I had no remedy for your unspoken malaise.

Over several months, I sought out opportunities after the study to speak with you and peek behind your heavy curtain. The cautious inquiries I sent your way were returned with one or two words. Every week you came with your hat of storm clouds, plodding your way through the marriage muck. I admit I held little hope for you and your husband. But of course against that grim backdrop miracles often happen.

Admitting his lack of knowledge, your husband apprenticed himself to successful husbands. Doggedly he followed them, soaking up truth to replace the rotten lies. He sat reading his Bible for hours, fashioning a sword to saw through his chains. Laying his failures before trusted men, he managed to sort them out and put them away. You were dumbfounded by the changes.

I remember that May evening, fragrant with gardenia and orange blossoms. Hearing a hearty laugh behind my front door, I rushed to admit our guests. Your curving smile looked strange on your face as your glowing husband allowed you to enter first, your arms empty. His strong arms held your books as well as his own. His eyes followed your every movement, shining with new light.

You accepted my offer of coffee and settled down on the smaller couch where your husband nestled close to you. The two of you formed one organism that pulsed with life. We basked in the warmth of your rekindled fire, hoping that it would spread to all of us.

When I first met you, you wouldn’t have followed your husband into a grocery store, and now you’re packing up your life and your dreams to follow him across the country into a new life.

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