Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Forcing the Hand of God: Chapter 23 (part 2)

“I know, good knight, I know,” Adele murmured back. She dropped his hand and went back into the kitchen, leaving him and Aunt Carrie facing one another.

“Oh, Rodgie, how can you let yourself be beaten so!” Like a pampered squirrel, she nested into the chair, worrying her question.

“Don’t know. It’s funny, but you don’t even feel it,” Rodger gulped at his beer, “until later. It’s not as bad as it looks.”

“It’s bad enough. You should see yourself!” Carrie pointed at him. “Is that any way for a man of your age and rank to behave?”

“Only if I win, Aunt Carrie,” he grinned. “Then I’m the hero of the hour.”

Madeline appeared. “Would you kindly prepare for dinner?”

Rodger nodded to the girls’ room. “I’ll call them.”

Adele bustled into the living room, then up the stairs. “No, the baby’s asleep. I’ll bring Heather and Rachel down.”

He drained the rest of his beer. The uncomfortable silence in the room pulled at him like over-stretched elastic. He wished this part of the night over so that he could relax with Ada and Adele.

Dues. He had to pay the family dues.

Rachel and Heather ate side by side, sneaking glances at him. Madeline silenced them with a reproachful look before either could question him. Rodger put down his fork and wiped his mouth with a linen napkin.

“I’m curious whether Captain Midnight goes after those Japs tonight. Last night he almost bought it.”
Madeline slapped down her napkin. “Isn’t it bad enough there’s a real war raging all over Europe without a silly, make‑believe hero?”

His jaw tensed as he stared down his mother.

“I’ve known a dozen Captain Midnights, Mother. Real guys.” He pushed away from the table. “I’ll be back, girls. Warm up the radio.”

He let himself out the back door, walking up towards the riverside, pounding out his anger in every step. Over and over in his mind, he sought a way out from the endless arguments. He stopped by a sycamore tree and leaned against the rough bark, twisting his head back and forth, trying to ease the tension.

He bent down and picked stones to skip across the river, thinking of Tommy and the days they had played on rafts down here. The summer days he had fished. The picnics with Dee Simmons. Skinny-dipping. And making love on a woolen blanket. And a dozen things he had wanted to tell his father.
He flipped another smooth stone across the water, counting the ripples from three centers. Then he took his time strolling back to his mother’s house. He checked his watch. Just in time for Captain Midnight.

Adele sat on the edge of his mother’s bed, nursing Jonelle as Rachel and Heather hovered around the crackling radio. Rodger leaned over between his sisters and twirled the knob until the announcer’s voice barked, “The makers of Ovaltine® sponsor the following program.” He sat cross‑legged in front of the radio with Rachel and Heather, engrossed until the very end.

He turned to Adele. “Now, radio, that’s a worthwhile past time.” He stretched, raising his arms. “I’m going next door to talk to Ada. Come with me.”

Like a startled katydid, Rachel jumped up from the floor. “I think I hear Ada at the door now.”

“Let’s go down and see her!” sang out Heather. Both girls darted out the bedroom and down the stairs.

“Jonelle’s finished nursing.” She handed the gurgling baby to her husband. “Go see Daddy. Here.”
With Jonelle on his shoulder, he led Adele down the stairs.

Madeline rushed over to Rodger and scooped Jonelle out of his arms. “Ada look! Don’t you think she has John’s eyes?”

Rodger swiped the baby out of his mother’s hands. Her eyes bugged out, but she didn’t make a sound. He presented Jonelle to Ada, who opened her arms to receive the squirming bundle.

“I…I think,” Ada stammered, “that Jonelle has your hands, Madeline. Her fingers are so long.”

Madeline bit her lip. She examined her nails.

“I hope she has Adele’s personality.”

Rodger gathered his bag in his left hand.

“I do, too.” He marched to the door, turning to see his aunt emerge from the kitchen. “And Aunt Carrie’s smile.” He held the door open for Ada and Adele to exit. “Good night, Mother. Good night, Aunt Carrie.” He blew kisses to his sisters.

“Thank you for dinner, Mother. The casserole was delicious!” Adele stopped by his side. “I’ll talk to you in the morning.”

Madeline looked to Carrie, who held onto a pie dish in her chubby hands. “Won’t you stay for dessert? Ada brought us a strawberry cream pie.”

Rodger nudged Adele with his elbow.

“No, thanks. Maybe tomorrow.”

Out on the sidewalk, Adele snatched his shirt sleeve. “Just what gives you the right to be so damn rude to your mother?”

He threw off her hand.

“She irritates the hell out of me!”

Adele put her hands on her hips. Ada went on into her house with Jonelle. Fireflies sparked the evening air. “Your mother is scared, Rodger. Try to understand.”

He tore the wrappings from a new pack of cigarettes, punched one out, stuck it between his lips, and fished in his pocket for a match. He lit the match and held it away from the tip of the Lucky until it burned half‑way down. “So now you want to play the peacemaker?”

Adele’s raspy breathing, timed to his own, linked them in an odd agreement. She pointed her finger at him, stabbing the space between them.

“You’re a brat.”

He batted her finger with his right hand. “You sound like a granny.”

She laughed. “Maybe I’ve been around them too long,” she jerked her head backwards, indicating the house. “To be truthful, I understand why they get on your nerves.”

He stepped to her side, clasping her about the waist. “Don’t start that nagging. That’s one of the things I loved you for. You never were a whiner or nag.”

Adele hugged him. “But, Rodger, you can’t get your way all the time.”

“Why not?” He flicked away the cigarette stub.

“Because!” Adele shot back. Rodger opened the screen as Adele pushed open the front door of Ada’s house.

Ada sat on the couch, pillows propping her elbows as she held Jonelle and sang a lullaby to her. She had a surprisingly deep and gravelly voice.

Rodger watched her stroke Jonelle’s cheek, seemingly lost for a moment in the mystery of the baby and her song. Adele waited for Ada to finish the lullaby before picking up Jonelle.

“I’ll feed her once more, and maybe, just maybe the walk home will put her asleep for the whole night.”

Ada settled back into the couch. “Don’t count on it. Those night feedings might go on for another month or more.” Adele padded down the hall to the bedroom, leaving Ada and Rodger alone. He drummed the arm of the chair with his fingertips.

“I could rig up your sewing machine so that it’ll be easier to use.”

Ada massaged her hands, shaking her head so that her fine gray hair trailing from its chignon swayed like miniature streamers.

“You’ve done quite enough, mister.”

When Rodger frowned at her, she gave a dismissive a wave of her hand.

“Oh, all right. If you insist and have nothing better to do with your time, I’d be pleased to have you do it.”

“I have the time.” He avoided her eyes, until he could stand it no longer. “What’s the matter?”

“You.” Ada inched closer to him. The fine material of her flowered dress stretched taut against her bosom. “Tell her the truth, Rodger.”

He bolted upright. “Goddamn it! Why is everyone ragging on me?”

Ada pursed her lips. “It’ll not be right between the two of you if you keep secrets.”

“I don’t keep secrets.” He stared fixedly at her.

“I’ve known you too long, Rodger, not to know when you’re hiding a piece of the puzzle.”

He blushed, remembering how important it used to be to him to put in the last jigsaw puzzle piece. Ada never scolded him for keeping it in his pocket for a day or two, but she always made him put it in, finally.

“I have to go back,” he lowered his voice. “I have to square things for Mary Elizabeth.” He leaned down and smacked the kitten as it leaped for his shoe. “I have this dream. Every night. Running away from Mary Elizabeth and LinChing as they stand in front of the mission, begging me to take them home. Only there’s no home.”

The kitten sought refuge in Ada’s lap. She petted it absent‑mindedly.

“But Jonelle...,” Ada’s voice cracked.

Rodger searched Ada’s loving face.

“She’s in good hands.” He looked away, out the window at the dark shadows of the leaves on the tree. “I’ll come home.”

Adele came out of the bedroom, Jonelle asleep on her shoulder. Rodger hurried to the buggy by the chair and wheeled it over to Adele. Ada smoothed out the blanket, her hands working around Adele’s as she lay the baby down. Rodger propped the door open and took the buggy down the steps onto the sidewalk. He waved to Ada as Adele hugged her goodbye.

Adele hopped to catch up with him, clutching his hand as they walked side by side. The wheels of the buggy squeaked. He sighed as they came upon their brightly lit porch.

“Must cut the grass in the morning,” he said as he opened the door.

Adele pushed the buggy indoors. “Let’s just take it easy tomorrow, honey,” she pecked his sore cheek. Rodger winced. “Oh, sorry.” She went to touch it, but he pulled away.

“I’m tired tonight. Are you?”

“I haven’t boxed in the ring,” Adele faced him, the tartness of her voice betraying the comfort of her words.

“What is it you want from me, Adele?” Rodger crossed his arms and leaned against the wall.

“I don’t know,” she paced in front of him, wringing her hands. “Maybe that’s the question I should be asking you.”

“Jesus, Adele! I want you to be happy. The baby to be happy.” He chewed his lip. No, this wouldn’t wash; she wouldn’t be compromised with a vague truth. “I don’t know. Something inside of me.”

“What? Losing your father? Sam? Mary Elizabeth?”

“None of that. All of it.” He closed his eyes. “I thought today about how LinChing busted his bones to do the right thing all the time. On top of those planes like he was personally responsible for them, he had his kid, too. Trying to do the right thing.” His left cheek and ear throbbed, shooting pangs along his neck. “You’re on me lately about every damn thing I do.”

“I want you…you,” she stumbled over her words, “to want to stay with us.”

“It wasn’t my idea to start this war.” He watched her through slitted eyes.

“No, but it seems to be your game.”

“I’m a flyer, honey. You knew that before we married.”

She sighed in defeat. “I know. I guess I thought because I changed after having Jonelle, you would, too.”

He grabbed her by the hands and embraced her.

“I’ll always provide us a good home and be a great daddy. You wait and see.”

Adele hugged him hard. “I’ll be here. I’ll wait.”

“And,” he pulled back to look into her eyes, “I’ll bring you more silver, marble and silks from China.”

She stared long and direct at him. “Just bring yourself back in one piece, mister.”

Soft mewing sounds came from the buggy as Jonelle awoke.

“There, there, hush, hush,” Adele cooed as she lifted Jonelle from the buggy and took her to the nursery.

Rodger watched them disappear into the room and then turned into the bedroom. He hastily undressed and crawled between the cool sheets.

He heard the sheets rustling and felt the warmth of Adele’s body when she climbed in bed beside him. She encircled his waist with her arms and snuggled into his back. Sleep enfolded him.

In the middle of the night, a pocket of coldness where Adele should have been shocked him awake. He listened for her above the pounding of his heart.

She moved through the hallway, to the door and paused.

“Rodger?” the alarm in her voice distressed him. “What’s the matter?”

He sat on the edge of the bed, cradling his head in his hands.

“Nothing. Come to bed.”

She slid in behind him, hugging his shoulders, pressing her face against his back.

“Are you in pain?”

“No.” He sat still, then turned and lay down, pulling her into his side. “I have to tell you something.”
Hiccupping cries pealed throughout the house. Adele sprang out of bed and ran down to the nursery. Minutes later, she returned with Jonelle nestled against her shoulder. Rodger reached over to the bed stand and flipped on the light, illuminating Adele’s face etched in worry. He patted the edge of the bed.

“Come here. It’s not that bad. And you probably know anyway.” Adele sat down beside him, and he put his arm around her shoulder, pulling her in a gentle hug, careful of the nursing baby. “I’ve put in for a transfer for China. The Flying Tigers.” He shrugged. “May or may not happen.”

Adele cradled the baby against her shoulder, patting her on the back and nodded her head in time with the taps. Jonelle burped, sighed and closed her eyes, whispering baby snores.

“Sooner or later, I knew you’d go back.”

“I want you to understand I have to go back.” He sighed, pulling her close to him and kissing her ear lobe. “You know, for God, motherhood, apple pie, and all that.”

Adele pressed her forehead against his.

“No,” she muttered, shaking her head back and forth. “For you, Rodger.”

She took the sleeping baby back to her bed. He thought he heard muffled sounds of Adele crying. He waited, his shoulders aching from being tensed.

She tripped into the room, dancing in front of him with her nightgown fanned in her hand, and pulled taut, her body outlined by satin. He watched, fascinated. She dipped and swayed, inviting him with a wave of her hand. He rose, accepted her hand, crushing his body into hers, moving in time with her undulating hips. Her eyes closed and her head tilted back, she parted her lips and waited for his kiss. He met her lips. They waltzed. He pressed his cheek against hers, thankful for this hour. In the light that cast their ghostly shadows about the room; all else forgotten, they danced.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

On and on and on…

There is yet another killing spree at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, with 49 killed and 53 wounded. In recent memory there is Sandy Hook, Isla Vista, Columbine, Charleston Church and Virginia Tech, the Boston Marathon bombings, San Bernardino Inland Regional Center. And it does not end there. We only have to look over our shoulder at international tragic events like the November, 2015, Paris massacre that claimed 137 lives.

It is not a safe world to live in. I was born in 1952, and during my lifetime, the United States has been engaged in wars—all but three years, 1976-1978. I remember earthquake and bomb shelter drills in grade school. I grew up in San Bernardino, California, having moved from Oklahoma City to Oregon to California. During my childhood and school years, there were gang wars and rampant drug dealing often on campus; Los Angeles Watts riots of 1965, leaving 34 dead and thousands injured; October 1969, San Bernardino High School was in lockdown for riots, several people injured; May 4, 1970, Kent State shootings, 4 dead; the Vietnam War, 1959-1975, five of my friends did not come back; April 19, 1995, the Oklahoma City bombing with 168 confirmed deaths. The worst imaginable was 2001, the Twin Towers terrorist attacks, with 2,996 dead. Unfortunately, I could go on and on and on…..

How can we go about our daily lives without constantly dwelling on the horrific? How can we give our children a sense of safety and security with the constant bombardment of media exploiting the fear and immediacy of events in the news? We cannot turn off the media; ignore the radio, not peruse the newspapers or not read our news feeds on the computer and smartphone; we cannot arm our children with weapons to protect them from everyday life.

What we can do is provide a haven in our family and home, giving them a safety net to catch their fears and worries by reassurance that their world is stable and by example, the people in it are kind and nurturing. Parents and caregivers are important and integral to a child’s sense of his and her environment as either benign or hostile, embedding confidence, enhancing a child’s natural curiosity about the world and people and one’s place in the scheme of life. If the home is not a safe place to be, the outside world is not either.

Parenting is an awesome responsibility. Each one of us needs to examine his or her attitudes toward those in our immediate community and the global village, to ask oneself if, by example, am I exemplifying values of trustworthiness, kindness, compassion, empathy? Will my children see me as someone who is mean-spirited, petty, vicious or bigoted? Or as the parent whom they can trust to tell the truth, treat everyone, young and old, animals, too, with kindness and respect and dignity?

I have written articles about bullies that children have to contend with in their lives; siblings, peers, parents, emotions and world events. I emphasize once again that parents and caregivers are the center of the universe in a child’s life. If a child has a core sense of rightness, safety and trust, the outside remains just a place to be in and not someplace internalized—in other words, the child can be okay because the awful events occur outside and not inside. We do not have to live in fear; and we do not have to teach our children to live fearfully. We can give them advice, warnings and admonitions and social skills but more importantly, if a child is treated with respect and love and kindness, this will be part of his and her armor to face the scary and threatening place ‘out there’ with mean people and uncontrollable events and disasters. We can feed our children with healthy foods, and by example, respect the needs of the body. If you smoke, do not smoke in an enclosed area—I can remember how embarrassing it was for me to get out of the car and smell like an ashtray. Pay attention to how a child’s shoes and clothing fit and how teeth look and if your child squints; dental, eye and physical checkups may be unpleasant and costly, but they are necessary.

But most importantly, know your child. When you are about to make a point again, lower your voice and speak deliberately. Expect your children to respect you by voice intonation and actions—as you respect them by never resorting to name calling or humiliation or sarcasm as a disciplinarian tool. Speak your truth softly and it will be more effective than a slap in the face. We live in an imperfect world. But we have choices about how we live, and what we make of this world for our children. And their children. And on and on and on…

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Helping Children Feel Safer

Easing Kid Worries About Our Unpredictable World
By Dr. Michele Borba

Terrorism. ISIS. Bombings. Beheadings. War. School shootings. Pedophiles. Cyberbullying. Kidnappings. Global warming. Tsunamis. Earthquakes. Sexual abuse. It’s a scary world out there for us, but how do you think the kids are faring?

Let’s face it-we live in frightening, unpredictable times. But if you are feeling a bit jittery about violence, turbulent weather conditions, current events, or a troubled economy, imagine how our kids must feel. Talk of uncertain times permeates the world around them. Graphic television images of real disasters and terrifying events just reinforce their fears.

Think about it: this is the first generation of children who have watched broadcasts of war, terrorist attacks, natural disasters and school massacres in their own living rooms. Make no mistake: the image of the world as a mean and scary place is affecting our kids’ well-being. In fact, George Gerbner coined the term “Mean World Syndrome” describe a phenomenon when violence-related content in the mass media makes viewers believe that the world is more dangerous than it actually is. And that syndrome seems to be one that our kids are catching.

Read the entire article>>

How to Help Kids Feel Safe After TragedyBy Grace Hwang Lynch
PBS Parents

In the days and weeks following a high-profile tragedy, kids may have a lot of questions about whether something like this could happen to them. In fact, parents themselves may have a lot of worries about the safety of raising children in this world. It's normal for both adults and kids to feel anxious after such a publicly devastating event, but there are things you can do to minimize the stress and maintain a sense of normalcy.

Here are some tips from psychologists.

It's Normal to Be Concerned.
Youngsters who have heard or seen news reports about disturbing events may be reluctant to return to the classroom and other public spaces. Moms and dads may even feel anxious about dropping their kids off at day care or school, after hearing about tragedies that happen to children. "Parents are following instincts to be alarmed and to be fearful," says nationally certified school psychologist Eric Rossen, Ph.D. But Rossen stresses that we need to remember these are isolated incidents. "It's important to continue to remember that this is such a rare event, statistically and objectively speaking. It's hard to bear because it's so rare."

Read the entire article>>

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Penny in Time Chapter 4: I Do, Again (Part 2)

I didn't bother answering, for I'm sure he wouldn't have heard me anyway.  He carried one box into the house, all the way to my bedroom where I sat down at my desk and studiously began to ignore him.  He finally left, but I don't know how long he stayed in the living room talking with my Mom.
Mom came to my door and stood until I looked over at her.  "What happened, Dusty?"

"He let Sylvia paint my bed, dresser and replace all my stuff with cute pictures of kittens and calendars of kids with big eyes."  I took a pair of scissors and cut geometric shapes out of some construction paper.  "He doesn't listen to me, anymore.  It's like he's got this image of me and when I don't fit into his scenario, he gets mad at me, because I won't change.  He knows I don't like him calling me Princess or Elizabeth, but he does it anyway; so does Sylvia.  It's like when he met her, his brain went to mush and he forgot who I am, or got me confused with someone else I haven't met.  I don't want to be around him anymore, not at all.  He's not my father," I threw down the scissors and crumpled the paper into a big ball.  "He's an alien creature using my father's body.  He's not making any sense to me anymore.  I don't ever want to see him again!"

I was too mad to cry, too mad to do anything but sit and stare at the wall with my Star Trek™ calendar on it.  I was grateful my Mom left me alone for the rest of the evening, because I didn't want talk about it anymore.  What could she possibly understand about me and Dad?  She hadn't lost her father like I had my Dad.  She'd had the "perfect" childhood, according to Nana and Grandpa.  She and Nana took cooking classes together, and she and Grandpa went fishing, every opening day since Mom was five.  I know she still missed her Dad, she talks a lot about the fun times she had with him and how much she loved him and he loved her, sometimes choking on tears, but she lost Grandpa when he was old.  What did she know about not having a real, full-time Dad?  I listened to some tapes, and read for quite awhile before I fell asleep with all my clothes on.  I even forgot to brush my teeth.

The next day, Dad came over to the house.  "Dusty, can we talk about this?"  He sat down on the couch and waited for me to answer him.

"I talk but you don't hear me."  I twisted the hem of my shirt into a wad.  "Why did you let Sylvia paint my bedroom set, when we were going to do that together?  That's not my style, that fluffy stuff, and you know it.  Don't you?"

There was a long, long moment of silence.  I thought maybe he wasn't going to say anything.
"I, I...." he stammered, "I thought you'd outgrown all that other stuff, that you were more interested in being a young lady than a tomboy.  After all, you're fifteen, not eleven."

"That's what I mean, Dad.  You haven't heard me at all.  I'm me, the way I am.  You're not the same father that I had a year ago.  Have you forgotten I don't, and have never, liked pink?"
"Oh, honey, can't you see that Sylvia is trying to please you?  She worked so hard and you hurt her feelings when you left like that, not even a thank you."

"Dad!" I shouted, "I don't like pink!  And I want everyone to call me Dusty, until I'm ninety-nine and a half!"  My hands were shaking.  "And you had no right to lie to me about Victoria!  Why don't you just live your life and let me live mine, okay?"

"No, I'm not going to go away.  And you can't wish me away.  I admit I was a total jerk about Victoria, but I didn't know how to say I was.  Or to tell you I was sorry I disappointed you."  He came over to me and hugged me.  "Come on, spend the night with us.  Sylvia has a great dinner planned for us and we can get a DVD for later."

It was his way of apologizing, and he's the guy that's never wrong.  I felt bullied by two different feelings.  I didn't want to give in, but I didn't like being mad at him, either.  "Okay, but I'll bring my sleeping bag and sleep on the floor." I threw my sleeping bag into the trunk and watched it mushroom open as the bungee cord popped off.

He was irritated, but conceded.  "Maybe you'll like your room once you get used to it." He pulled into his parking slot, got out of the car and slammed the door.

I hugged the billowing sleeping bag close to my chest as I trailed behind him into the condo. Get used to it? I thought looking in the room.  Never.

But we all tried hard to be cheerful and I did have a good time, somewhat.  Sylvia didn't feel well, so we had take-out pizza.  She held my Dad's hand the whole time we watched "Star Trek V" and broke out in tears all the way through it, which annoyed me to no end.  It was only a movie, and why get so worked up when you know the good guys are going to make everything all right in the end?  Sylvia was just too sentimental to be real.

Which maybe explained why she was sick in bed with the flu the next weekend.  I called Slinky up and asked her to a movie, but she had a date with a new guy. Dean and Fran, and even Annie were doing volunteer community cleanup.  Mom offered to take me bowling, but that didn't appeal to me.
"How about," Mom sat on my bed, while I sat at my desk, sketching a drawing of the 'Enterprise', "doing a 'Star Trek' mural on this wall?"  She pointed to the wall which had some faded posters I had meant to take down anyway.  She got up and looked over my shoulder.  "You could draw the 'Enterprise' and I'll superimpose faces of the crew, with a background of the galaxy.  What do you say?"

"All right!"  I could see it so clearly, almost as if the wall were all ready done.  I pointed to the spot where the galaxy would go.  "The Sombrero galaxy is classified as "Sa", which means it's a galaxy with a large, central bulge, with spiral arms winding around its outside.  That's how it got the name.  It's really does look like a gigantic hat!"  Mom nodded, looking excited, too.  I grabbed her and gave her a big hug.  "You sure you have the time?"  I asked, but prayed that I hadn't reminded her of something else she should be doing instead.

"I have the time, Dusty.  Let's get to work."

She and I worked all day Saturday afternoon, until six that night.  It wasn't as easy as I thought it would be, as I had to keep redrawing the starship to proportion on the wall.  It seemed Mom looked at a picture from the 'Star Trek' calendar, and reproduced the faces of Captain Picard's, Riker's, Data's and Counselor Troi's faces without any effort.

"I can't get it right!" I wailed, throwing down the sketching pencil I had been using.  "It's so easy for you!"

Mom stopped a moment and grinned.  "I've been doing this a lot longer than you have.  And you'll get it," she stood back and examined the wall.  "I'd say you almost have it.  We'll finish tomorrow."
Which we did after our pancake brunch.  The mural was the neatest thing I'd ever seen, and to think I did a fair share of the work!  Sitting in my room made it seem like I was in the center of the starship, and I could imagine voyaging across the Sombrero galaxy to unknown worlds of adventure.

At three o'clock on Sunday, Dad called.

"Hi, babe!  I have to tell you something, something real important."

He had that nervous pitch to his voice, which meant I wasn't going to like what he had to say.  "I'm listening."

He took a big breath, then plunged in.  "We've wanted to tell you for a couple of weeks, but the right time never seemed to come up.  I'll just say it straight.  Sylvia's going to have a little baby girl."

The puzzle pieces fell into place!  Sylvia's "flu"--and that's why she had fixed up my room the way she wanted it to look--for her kid!  "I hope the three of you are happy!" I snarled.

"Don't get nasty, young lady.  We're all going to have a major adjustment and I'm counting on you to be mature about this."

The pocket full of lies and hurt burst, and I was through with stuffing it all in.  "You've got your new life, why don't you just leave me alone?" I shouted, dropping the phone.

I stormed out of the house.  I jogged up the street, then fast-walked until I could breathe without hiccupping.  Two hours and ten minutes later, I came home.  When I opened the front door, Mom looked up from her book.

"How are you?"  She closed the book on her finger, and waited for my reply.

"I'm okay, I guess."

"Your father dropped by and left you a note.  I put it on your desk."

"I saw his car."

"We had a long talk.  About you."  She slipped a book marker in between pages and set the book on the coffee table.  "Come sit a moment and hear me out."

Geez, this was strange, like I was her guest invited for afternoon tea.  She didn't say a thing about me flying out of the house and staying gone, although I had sat across the street in the park for the last forty-five minutes.  I suppose she could have seen me if she'd looked out the window.

I expected a lecture, and I guess I should have felt gratified that I was going to get one.

"It must seem like your father only considers his viewpoint, that the changes our divorce put you through didn't hurt.  Am I right?"

I shrugged, but the words had hit a sore spot right in the middle of my heart.  "Yeah."

I didn't want to change things anymore, not for the better or back to the way they were.  I just wanted my life free of my Dad and Sylvia.  "I don't care if I ever see Dad again.  I don't like him."  I took a tissue and shredded it, then balled it up.  "He doesn't care what I want, and how many times do I have say I don't like the color pink? I doubt he thought about me at all, because pink is for babies, right?  Besides, he'll get along fine with another kid, won't he?  And I'm not going to babysit for them.  Ever." 

Mom chuckled!  "I don't know that I blame you."  I focused on her moving lips.  "He wants you to like Sylvia, so he wants you to be like him, or at least agree with him."  She left a pause, working her tongue across her lower lip.  "Loving your father is not the same as liking him; and liking him is not the same as getting along with him, is it?"

"No," I blurted, willing to talk things out with her.

"Dusty, there's something I'm going to tell you about my father that made me face some of the very feelings you're having now."  She stopped for a moment and I could see by the frown lines between her eyes that she was having a hard time choosing the right words.  "Like loving your father and thinking he would always be there for you, then he isn't.  Saying he'll do something special with you, then leaving you high and dry, making excuses for all the many broken promises."  She laughed, like you do when you feel like crying.

"Daddy had a gambling problem."  Mom looked at me and I saw her lip tremble.  "He lost a lot of money at the race track.  A lot of money."  She swept the air with her hands, as if erasing everything in front of her.  "There was no money for my senior prom dress, no promised car, no college tuition."  She looked off into the distance, maybe seeing something beyond the window that no one else could.
"I hated him so much for taking everything away from me, for his selfishness and weakness.  I had to work two jobs to finish college and even though my mother went back to nursing, I helped pay some of the bills.  I couldn't understand why she stayed with him.  But she stayed with him through the bad years and the good years after he recovered in therapy."

Her voice was soft but urgent.  "It took me a long time, Dusty, a long time to forgive him."

Mom folded her legs beneath her and sat back.  "It also took me a long time to understand my mother's advice:  you have to accept the one you love, in spite of the bad, because of the good.  It wasn't until after you were born that my father and I talked things out.  Nothing happened overnight, either.  Things got better day by day, in little ways."  She leaned forward and although I sat too far away, I felt like she had hugged me.

It would have been nice if I could have gone over and comforted her with a hug, but I felt cast in lead on the outside, and a bag of pieces inside, trying to sort out everything.  Boy, Grandpa really must have changed.  He always had some little surprise, or something that made us laugh when he came to visit.

Maybe Mom did understand how I felt, but I still didn't see how I could work it out with my Dad.  "Dad and I are not like we used to be, you know?  What am I supposed to do if I can't like the color pink?"

"I don't know, Dusty," Mom whispered.  "What color is love?"

I stood up, choking back my tears, grateful she understood so much, but feeling lost that she didn't have any answers either.  "I don't know and I don't think you or Dad know, either."

She picked up her book and settled back into her easy chair.  "Maybe you'll find the answer and tell us."  She began reading as I went back to my room and sat down at my desk, staring at my newly painted mural.

I wish I could be like Data, logical without emotions making everything so confusing.

I cuddled my raggedy stuffed bear, Sparky as I looked at the envelope my Dad had propped against an old notebook.  I batted the envelope, upsetting the notebook which burped papers all over.  I got a paper cut across my thumb that bled and bled, until I put a bandage on it.  After awhile, I fished out the envelope from the mess of papers and opened it.

Out fell five pennies with his note:  "Dusty, let's talk.  I'll try to make sense out of things."

It was just like my Dad to use a stupid pun.  I scooped up the pennies and Sparky, pressing my face into his soft belly.  A fierce and terrible pain sucked the breath from me.  There was a huge, black hole inside of me.  I was falling, falling into an abyss. Away, away, down down, down.