The Four Letter Word: Politics

I don’t always get political on this blog. I have from time to time. Someone left me a nasty comment when I said I was a Nasty Woman. I guess that’s what this snowflake, libtard, gets when she’s honest about who she is. Especially in the Deep South.

I’ve been deeply upset about the events in Charlottesville that happened last week. I waited to hear the president condemn the white supremacists for killing Heather Heyer.with a car.and injuring 19 hours. I listened as the president fumbled with words, as he so often does. I listened as he said, “there’s blame on both sides.” Then as he was criticized finally calling out the KKK, white supremacists, and other hate groups. But then yesterday, he did an about face and called out the alt-left.  Wait, is he talking about the peaceful protesters?

https://static01.nyt.com/video/players/offsite/index.html?videoId=100000005365876

*By the way, I’ve tried to embed this video a million times and WordPress won’t let me. It’s the News Conference where Trump states the Alt-Left is also to blame.

He cites at the end of this clip that the “Alt-Left” came at the other side with clubs. If you read accounts from that day, it seems, rather, that the Alt-Right came in ready for violence. They had guns and torches. They surrounded the peaceful protesters. Then one domestic terrorist ran over the protesters with his car at a high rate of speed. There are many accounts of this. However, I wasn’t there. And there are conflicting stories. So no one can be certain exactly what happened.

There is one thing I’m certain about, and that it’s NEVER OKAY to blame the victim which is exactly what Trump is trying to do in this video. Why? Because he knows that a huge base of his support are Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, KKK members–basically domestic terrorists. He knows if he alienates them he loses support. And honestly, this man wouldn’t know a value or moral if it hit him in the face. He’s struggling. That’s why he always goes to Twitter and writes one-off comments. Heck, when I’m mad I write some of the most divisive things too. He hates having “low ratings,” and he sees his number in the polls as such.

There is, and has been for a long time, a problem with racism in the United States. Our president, our leader, could have condemned these horrible groups but decided instead to support his base. Over equality. Over taking a stand against hate. What does that say about him? The man has no moral convictions. He’s not someone I could ever support.

I pray for the victims of Charlottesville. I pray for our country, that we may become stronger and more united against the evils of racism. I pray that we stop being divided and realize that every person who is born deserves a chance at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I pray that we can say we’ve given that to them instead of just offering lip service.

And meanwhile in Alabama, I’m sitting back to watch a run-off between Roy Moore, the 10 Commandments guy, who has been removed from office twice and Luther Strange, the man who shut down Victory Land, basically killing a county during America’s Great Recession and supported our “resigned” Governor Bentley even after his ethics crisis. I will be crossing my fingers that Doug Jones can pull out a win for the Senate.

In the meantime, I’m raising my children to be loving and accepting people. I’m raising them to know that differences are what makes people unique and that in turn helps our community. I teach them that we all just want the same thing: a roof over our head, food in our belly, love, joy, and happiness. But that some groups have a harder time achieving that because of all the hate and divisiveness thrown their way. I’m hoping to raise intelligent accepting children who don’t judge people by the color of their skin.

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Judgy McJudgersons

Okay. This post is probably going to offend some of you. I mean, we all judge right? Judging is human nature, right? I know I do it. Sometimes I do it, and I reprimand myself for doing it. Because the thing is, you have no idea what other people are going through in their lives.

On Sunday, we went to church. We were looking forward to it, because Sunday breakfast was starting again. I don’t know if you are aware, but the number of young people who attend church has been shrinking. Or perhaps just the number of people going to church is declining for various reasons. 

Breakfast was provided this week, but Sunday School won’t start until a later date. On Saturday night, we stayed out late and Darling Daughter was supposed to spend the night out,  until she didn’t want to at 11:oo PM. She hit the hay in my bed some time around midnight. Perfect storm, right? We should have known and just skipped church, right? Only Son #1 had to acolyte. Duty calls.

So after breakfast my children were acting like wild banshees  children. They were running around, playing tag, and being incredibly too loud. I got onto them, not once, but twice. And then an older woman came up to me and said, “I mean, some people around here are trying to eat breakfast.” Did I respond with grace? Did I bite my tongue? No–I didn’t because I was tired, and Darling Daughter had already melted down once that day, and it wasn’t like I was sitting back and doing nothing. I had disciplined the children! So I looked at her and said, “It’s like you’ve never been a mother before and don’t know what it’s like!” I was bitter. And curt. And her comment had hurt my feelings. But all too often strangers make these types of comments to me and it PISSES me off! And it ticked me off in this instant too, because for a church to survive these days they need young people. And the young people who come with their kids don’t need to be judged. They need to be welcomed. They need to know that they have love and support. They need guidance, not criticism.

She has no idea that my kids were running on fumes. She has no idea that sometimes boys are physical and loud, with my boys maybe being more of both. And that one of my boys has another issue going on. And that emotional regulation doesn’t come naturally for them. And that, for fuck’s sake, they are only children and they only get to run around and act like crazy people for a few years of their life before they have to sit with their hands on their lap and have a stuffy breakfast with people like you who obviously think you could do a better job parenting my children. I’d like to see you try. Not all children fit inside a box, and my children seemed destined to destroy the box all together.

So then the morning went from bad to worse. I had an adult temper tantrum after Son #1 hurt my feelings–I was already on edge. I actually got into the car, drove around the neighborhood I grew up in while I cried and felt sorry for myself, then came back. And Darling Daughter then proceeded to throw a fit, because we told her it was inappropriate for her to lie down under the church bench. Some days, so help me God. By this time I didn’t care who was judging me. I just wanted me and my children to get out of there alive and still a little bit sane.

Anyway, I know I’m not perfect and I judge people too. I’m working on it. I’m working on becoming a kind, more considerate person. I’m trying hard not to judge other parents. I see parents struggling, and I hope them the best. Sometimes I ask them if they need help. Because I know how hard parenting can be. And I know that a one-off comment can make you question every aspect of your parenting skills and make you never want to take your kids out into public (or church) again.

After this incident I thought about our Friday night, out at Dairy Queen, where we were celebrating the first two nights of school. Two older couples came up to us and told us that they just loved seeing our kids talking and enjoying their ice cream. And one mother said, “It brought back those days that seemed so wild and crazy when my five were little, but that went by so fast. Your kids are so sweet.” These are the comments to tell parents who look like they’re on their last rope. Sweet, kind comments that show you commiserate with them, that you understand how hard parenting can be, but that there is a joy in the fleeting days of childhood that can parallel no other.

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The End Of A Play Date

In my alternate life, about 10 years ago, I stayed at home with my oldest child. I look back on those days fondly. I don’t know if that’s with rose-colored glasses or not. I had a good friend, D, and we used to get together for play dates with our boys. We’d take the babies over to her house, or my house, or our other friend’s house. We’d make coffee (that’s when my addiction to coffee took hold) and muffins, talk, and let the kids play.

I loved those moments to reflect on parenthood with my friends. We could bounce ideas off each other, commiserate about parenting issues, laugh, love, and learn. Later, my husband and I moved away. I got a full time job, and I added two kids to the crew. And the play dates stopped.

I’ve had friends, and my kids have made friends. But somewhere along the way play dates ceased to exist. I wonder if this is because I work on the weekdays and somewhere people are still hosting coffee dates with their friends while their toddlers play. But I’ve also noticed that less and less people call up to have their child play with mine. I wonder why. Is it the way I’m raising my kid? Am I just nostalgic for a world that doesn’t exist in this technology-craved world we live in? Or is it because people are too caught up in their own lives to make room for friends?

I think that playing with companions, having a bunch of kids over at your house, and encouraging your children to socialize lets them become better leaders, communicators, you-name-it. They learn how to solve problems and how to listen to one another. If our kids don’t have that anymore, then where are they getting it from? The internet–probably not. I know kids, especially the teenage variety, socialize over the phone, but it’s not the same. It’s not the same for the moms either. We are all much too obsessed with the world of our phone to communicate effectively with each other at this point.

We have our friends at our fingertips, right? But when was the last time, you went out and really enjoyed someone’s company without looking at your phone? When did you go sit at a friend’s house and commiserate about how you’re screwing up your children? Don’t take these types of friendships for granted, because there is something to be gained from having someone who is battling the same storm at the same time as you.

I don’t have very many close friends. I can’t for the life of me figure out why. I’m generally a pretty happy person. I smile and make conversation. I have a hard time saying no. I might come on too strong sometimes. I’m a thinker, and I guess sometimes, I’ve been told, this can be intimidating to other people. I’m not a huge fan of small talk. I tend to make friends with men, because men tend to let the self-conscious go and just be real.  This is somewhat socially unacceptable, especially in the South. People still seem to think along the lines of When Harry Met Sally that a male and a female cannot just be friends. I get it. Sometimes one or both of the people in the male/female friendship develop feelings, but this isn’t always the case. Let’s be honest: adults can be adults and keep their belts buckled, right? It’s called willpower, folks. I think male friendships can offer something that female friendships never can–an understanding of the opposite sex. And so I think that having both female and male friends is important.

I grew up with two sisters though, and so I feel as if I’m sorely missing out on the days when I had a good female friend. I think about D and how are friendship wasn’t competitive. How we loved our kids, and we cared about one another, and that was enough. We had very little expectations of one another, but we were always there for each other when we needed to be. And I wonder where I went wrong from there. Maybe it’s where I live, which seems to be full of cliques. Maybe it’s that I neglected my friendships because I made specific choices not surrounding them. Perhaps I didn’t try as much, because I didn’t always realize how important friendships could be. Who knows, but I know what I’m missing and that makes me sad. I also know that there are a lot of women in my life I’d like to have a closer friendship with, and I hope to focus on making that happen in the next year.

Last night, I lay in bed trying to fall asleep. My mind has been churning lately, hence the uptick in blog posts and hopefully a finished novel before my life ends. I thought about D and how much I enjoyed our friendship. I thought about my friend T with love and how we enjoyed a part of our life together. And then I thought about how I don’t have a close friend to reach out to right now. I have church friends. I have PTA mom friends. I have co-workers who I love and enjoy. But I don’t have someone who I can call up and say, “Hey, what don’t you come over on Saturday, have a cup of coffee with me, and we can shoot the shit.” I don’t even care at this point if that person sees my house dirty (by the way, it is always dirty, so that person if she exists will see my house dirty). I don’t even care if they see me ugly cry some times. Because that’s what friends are for–to support one another.

I think it’s time we all put the phone down for a second and meet up in real life. We need to bring back the play dates. Not only will this help our kids socially, but it will help the moms and dads too. Our community, in the U.S., if not worldwide has become individualized to a fault. But children need other children and adults need friends, besides their spouse, who they can turn to in times of need. Humans, after all, are a social species. We literally need one another.

Instead of the end of the play date, maybe we can begin again.

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Identity and Genre in Writing

I recently read Rabbit Redux by John Updike. I read Rabbit, Run before, and I hadn’t been impressed. In fact, I hated Rabbit a little bit. The book stuck with me though. I’d think about it before I went to bed. I let some time pass (and my life settle down a bit), and I picked up Rabbit Redux and loved it. Updike is masterful at creating a flawed character. Rabbit seemed like he could live and breath as he learned the lessons that come with life.

RabbitReduxbookcover

I read John Updike’s biography, because I was interested in this man who could create such a life-like character. I have been struggling to write lately, and I needed some motivation from one of the greats. I’ve been focusing on reading, because sometimes when I read a lot the writing falls into place. Updike was a prolific writer. He wrote a book a year. He also didn’t let himself be pigeon-holed into a genre. He wrote the Rabbit series spanning from the 1960’s to the 2000’s, character-based writing like mine, that explored topics such as social norms, race-relations, and sexuality. But he also wrote some sci-fi-like, magical realism, historical fiction, and even prose.

I’ve struggled to find my style. I think all too often these days, publishers are looking for genre-based books. I mean, how many vampire books can we have? Romance? Humans love to classify information. Oh, Lauren Greene, she writes women’s fiction. Or, oh, Lauren Greene, she writes Southern Literature (not even listed as a genre on Amazon.com—what’s up with that?). But why? I write because I love to write. I write to solve my problems, the world’s problems (not likely), and because there’s something inside of me that doesn’t feel fulfilled unless I’m writing. I think Updike got that. I didn’t know him personally (I wish I had met him). It seems to me that he wrote what he felt like writing and his audience followed him. I’d like to be that type of writer. The one who follows her creative whims. But in order to do that, I have to sit down and write again. I have got to make it a priority. I have to decide that as a writer, I write, I seek publication, and I do the hard shit like marketing. Because in the end, I kind of want to be like Updike. I want to lead my life doing what I love, and I want it to show in the beauty of my writing. I want to mold a character into someone who feels real. Someone who my reader can relate to or even hate. Someone who sticks with the reader long afterwards in a familiar, comfortable sort of way. Writers are supposed to make their readers feel. And if I can do that then I’ll feel like maybe I’m doing my job.

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5 Second Rule

I’m not one to read self help books. But every now and then I see something motivational, and I feel like it applies to me. Like, remember a long time ago, when everyone was reading The Purpose Driven Life. Then it was The Secret. And I’m sure about a billion others. I never read them. I do have respect for the people who wrote them and who make millions of dollars selling words about how to better live your life. Because that’s what everyone wants to do, right? Live their life better.

Yesterday, I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, and I came across Mel Robbins. She wrote The 5 Second Rule. It’s the latest in self help books to take off. She makes a great point in this extremely long interview:

From the time you decide to do something, you have 5 seconds to launch it. I believe this is true. She is truly funny when she talks about how she goes from staying in bed to being successful. The interview is worth listening to even if you don’t believe in self-help garbage (I don’t really, but I do think there are some tricks and tidbits that people like Mel Robbins can teach us). Plus, for some reason I love writing about self help, even though I probably need it the most!

If your brain is like my brain, it’s brimming with ideas. You want to start something, but you lose motivation. You want to write a book, but you are risk adverse. Let me tell you something: being afraid of failure and success are probably my biggest weaknesses. The most successful people in this world aren’t afraid to fail. They know it takes failure to get things right. We are flawed humans, and we learn from our mistakes. Living by Mel Robbins’ 5 second rule helps with the initiation process. So say you’re thinking: I want to write a great novel, 5-4-3-2-1, pull the computer up. Don’t come up with all the reasons why you can’t write the novel, why nobody will ever read you, why you’ll never get published. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: DO IT! Sometimes, I need to take my own advice.

I’ve been trying to make little changes to my life to be a better person. I’m super messy, and honestly probably was never diagnosed with ADHD as a child. My lack of executive function skills is appalling. This weekend, I’m going to use the 5 second rule to stop procrastinating and to clean up. I’m going to use it to work on my novel that I keep putting on the back-burner. I’m going to use it to set goals of being more present with my kids. Basically, I’m going to trust my first instinct and let all the anxiety, risk-adverse thoughts, and bad behaviors fall by the wayside. I’m going to take the risk to live my dreams.

What changes do you want to make in your life? What goals do you have? How could you apply the 5 second rule to live a better life?

Initiate. Dream. Live. Risk.

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Success

First of all, it’s been months and months since I blogged. I went through a non-creativity period where I was busy and not writing at all. I shirked some of my writing responsibilities, and for that I’m truly sorry. I’ve always been an up and down writer, but in order to be a successful writer I need to learn how to work through those periods of less creativity. Since that apology is out there, I’ll get to the point.

A few days ago, I was sitting in a bored board meeting. One of the many men said, “Successful people usually hang out with other successful people.” This is not news to most people, and it’s true. If you’ve ever tried to get a job it’s all in who you know (despite the fact that the ambiguous they will say it’s not). But it got me thinking, what is success anyway?

The dictionary defines success in the following way:

noun
noun: success; plural noun: successes
  1. the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.
    “the president had some success in restoring confidence”
    synonyms: favorable outcome, successfulness, successful result, triumph;

    Hollywood ending
    “the success of the scheme”
    antonyms: failure
    • the attainment of popularity or profit.
      “the success of his play”
      synonyms: prosperityaffluencewealthrichesopulence

      “the trappings of success”
      antonyms: poverty
    • a person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains prosperity.
      “I must make a success of my business”
      synonyms: triumphbestsellerblockbusterselloutMore

      antonyms: failureflopnobody
    • archaic
      the outcome of an undertaking, specified as achieving or failing to achieve its aims.
      “the good or ill success of their maritime enterprises”

    I work an 8-5 job. I come home to spend time with my family. We make enough money to eat, go out to eat, go on wonderful vacations. The world would probably describe what Rob and I have achieved as a successful lifestyle (in large part because of the lottery of being born to the right families). But is what I have success? I’m not so sure.

    Success is personal. The definition of success I most relate to is a person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains prosperity. Success in writing would be achieving publication, popularity, and being able to live off of my writing. Perhaps if this happened I would feel successful. Certainly, writing The Devil Within made me think of myself as successful, and it also made me think of myself as a writer. However, the dissolution of Booktrope threw a monkey wrench in my plans. This probably affected me more than I let on at the time. The more I think about it though, the more I think that failure often leaves to success. Those who take risks succeed, those who don’t go nowhere.

    The integral part of success seems to be the internalized desire to achieve a certain goal. For a person who is interested in business, that may be becoming a CEO. For someone who is super family-oriented, this may be staying home with their children and raising them to be capable well-adjusted (is that even a thing?) adults. For a writer, that could mean multiple things: writing everyday, becoming a published author, freelancing.

    The more I think about my idea of success the more I think it doesn’t line up with the traditional ideas of success promoted within our capitalist society. As a creative person, I find the hum-drum of a 8-5 job to be draining. Don’t get me wrong: I have a great boss and a great workplace, and hey it pays the bills. So many people would be content or even ecstatic with the life I have built. But to me, success is tied to writing. The more I write, the happier I am. And isn’t that the point of personal success? To be happy, the have a purpose-filled life?

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I’m a Nasty Woman

Yesterday, I was proud to be a woman and an American. I watched as women all over the world protested, marched, and came together in solidarity for woman and equal rights all over the world. I don’t generally write about politics. In fact, I live in Montgomery, Alabama where most liberals are looked at like some scourge on the surface of the earth. But I’m tired of being quiet about my position and what I think is right and wrong. I think the only way to make change is to be vocal about it. Great change happens when we take action, not when we sit silently by.

Women marched together non-violently yesterday. And why did they march? They marched for all sorts of reasons: health care, abortion, diversity, and climate change. Women marched because they’re tired of being objects. Women marched because they believe that it’s the first step toward a united front in the face of hatred. They marched together in love. They’re tired of working hard only to earn a whopping 20% less than a man in the same position with the same qualifications as them. 

I was slayed by the people who said: Why are they marching? Women already have equal rights. This is absolutely not true. There is income disparity. Women are still sexually harassed daily. Women are raped. Men get off from charges so they don’t miss “the college experiment.” Since when is that fair?

But the march was about much more than that. It was a protest against hate, racism, bigotry. It was a reminder that Muslims are people too, and they’re not all terrorists, and they shouldn’t be registered. It was a reminder that we are all human beings and we are all guaranteed certain human rights. It was a reminder that we are capable of change, because there are a great number of us who want it. Power in numbers.

CNN, yes, yes, the liberal news outlet, posted an article entitled Moment or a Movement. I think it’s important for women and men all over the world not to let this moment pass us by. We need to make it a movement. We need to use the energy from the marches yesterday to get involved and initiate change. Show your daughters they have power by becoming politically involved. Call your senator. Get involved at Planned Parenthood or another nonprofit of your choice. Donate to a nonprofit (like Mercy Corps, NRDC , or SPLC, just to name a few) monthly. Start writing letters to your senators, even if you live in Alabama and they send you a letter back saying that they basically will never agree with you or take you seriously. Get involved in education that helps minorities and poverty-stricken students RISE UP and rise above their circumstances. The more people who get involved the more change we can make.We can do it at the grassroots level. It takes one person to make change.

Let’s make this a movement, not just a moment like in Hamilton’s My Shot:

 

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Begin Again

Self-sabotage. I think that little hyphenated word sums me up and a lot of other writers I know. I get into a funk, or I let busy get in the way, and I stop writing.

About a month ago, I started writing, yet another, novel. I wrote feverishly on it for about two weeks. I ended up with about 20,000 words. It was the most I’d written since Booktrope folded and The Devil Within went out of print. And then I stopped. I let the same old excuses stop me: I’ll never be good enough. I’ll never get published. I’ll never make writing my career. Self-sabotage.

The thing is: I will never be good enough if I don’t try. I have two hang-ups. The muddle in the middle where I think all my stories suck. And the end when I have to revise. I have a hard time revising effectively. It’s hard, in my busy schedule (excuses again) to find hour longs stretches where I can arrange, slash, and rewrite. But I’ve done it before. That should tell me that I have the capability. Still the human mind is completely adept at self-sabotage. I think it’s an innate fear or failure or success that makes me put the brakes on. Which is ridiculous. Fear can be a driver and a defeater. I’m ready to use it as a driver again.

So here I am. I promise I’ll blog at least once a month so you, the people, have something to read. Hopefully you get something out of it again. I’m going to stop defeating myself and start winning again.

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Discipline

Lately, the question I hate to hear is, “So how’s your writing going?” This question makes me cringe. This question reminds me that my writing is not going. Yes, I’ve started a hundred things. Like a monster, I leave my characters waiting to feel complete. Because that’s all we ever want, right? A feeling of completeness. But lately I’ve been feeling likeI lack the discipline to be a writer. I’ve been second guessing myself.

I randomly applied to a flash fiction contest for a magazine. I was rejected. I didn’t flinch. I didn’t cry. I thought, “Well, there’s always next time.” But I know there won’t be a next time if I don’t write. I need to find direction. I love writing shorts, but I don’t think I can tell a whole story in a short story. I love writing long, but the muddle in the middle bogs me down and makes me want to stop. I have a love/hate relationship with writing. I need to do it, because it makes me feel complete, fulfilled, and most of all happy and content. But sometimes I hate to do it, or I hate how much it haunts me when I’m not doing it.

When I was writing, really writing, my brain filled up with so many ideas I could barely keep up. Now I don’t even have blog ideas. I had people telling me how I inspired them. Getting up at 4 in the morning to write, then dealing with kids, coming to a full time job, having a kid on a gymnastics team. Where was the time? But if I’ve learned anything about myself it’s that I’m a better writer when I’m busy. I’m a better writer when I have to squeeze it in. I’m also a better writer when I’m a runner.

Lately, I’ve been training for another half marathon. Yeah, I think I said I’d never do one again, but I changed my mind. The truth is, running helps me keep the weight off, even if it doesn’t help me lose weight (Lord—I wish it did—I feel like I will never get rid of this extra 15 lbs). And running helps center me. I listen to music, but it’s really just a beat, and my mind sorts out problems. Ideas come and go, and they don’t stick, but it does something to my brain. It makes my brain more creative. All the problem solving that comes while my feet are hitting the pavement shows up in the form of writing.

And running is a form of discipline. There are times when I’m running and I feel like stopping. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I stop, and I turn around, and I walk to the house. Sometimes when I do that I feel defeated by myself. Mad at myself. Sometimes I feel okay, because I listened to my body. And there are times when I’m running where I push through. I slow down and then I speed up again, and I achieve my goal of completing the run. These are the times I think I can apply to writing. Pushing through the times where the story feels like it’s going nowhere by just writing some crap-words on paper and getting to the next good part. I need to learn how to apply the discipline I have in my running to my writing. Because we all know that without hard work, we don’t get anywhere. Without the hours of sweat and toil, and manuscripts tossed aside, I would never be published.

So for the next few months, I’m going to work on bringing discipline back to my life, not only with my running but with my writing. I started by joining a MOOC over at www.novoed.com called How Writer’s Write Fiction: Storied Women Writers. I’m hoping this will get me started again and allow me to finish something, then revise, then submit, and then hopefully, one day, publish again.

Baby Doll

This is a short story I wrote for the MOOC I’m taking at http://www.novoed.com.

Baby Doll

1673 words

The first time I knew my daddy was a liar was when Shepherd dug up Pulley’s bones. At first, I pretended the newly unearthed bones were dinosaur bones. I told Spitzer that our backyard, next to the blooming blue hydrangeas, had once been the site of an ancient meteor shower that destroyed the dinosaurs and paved the way for us.

Spitzer called me an idiot, dug a little further into the soft black soil, and pulled out Pulley’s dusty, dirty red collar.

“Last I heard no dinosaur ever wore a collar.”

Spitzer chunked the collar at me and stomped up toward the cold air conditioned house to escape the hot thick summer Alabama air.

I wiped my face, smearing dirt under my eyes like the football players I’d seen on Daddy’s big screen. I didn’t cry. I just picked up the bones, the collar, placed it back into the hole and covered it up. Daddy had told me Pulley ran away, but now I knew the truth.

“Bad dog!” I shouted at Shepherd.

He lifted one ear, twitched his leg then laid his head back into the cool shade under the Oak tree as if he couldn’t be bothered with my scolding.

That night at the dinner table, Daddy smelled sticky-sweet. I didn’t confront him. He’d made some crockpot concoction that resembled mush and put canned LeSeur peas with the little mushrooms on the table in one of Mama’s old corning ware dishes. I made it my job to hide the peas under the mush and took one, maybe two bites. Spitzer talked a lot about his day. About the boys at school who he could beat up with one hand tied behind his back. About how he wanted to go hunting over the weekend and he knew he could peg a prize-winning deer.

Daddy interrupted him mid-sentence. “What’s wrong Baby Doll? You’re not eating much?”

“Nuthing,” I said, staring at the peas on my plate. I took the prongs of my fork and mashed, making pea-guts.

Daddy nudged me with the toe of his work boot. I thought about how Mama used to complain that he drug dirt all over the house, even on her Mama’s old Oriental rug. That rug was full of dog hair now and dirt clods were all grounded in. There weren’t anyone to prevent that from happening now. Lord knows, Daddy and Spitzer didn’t care about the finer things in life.

I slunk into my room after dinner. Shut the door and stared at the picture of Daddy and Mama with Spitzer and me, when we were all together. I fell onto my flower printed bedspread and into a fitful sleep.

The next time I found out Daddy was a liar was in November, two years later. I’d grown and was all legs and arms, Daddy always said. Spitzer wore braces, had broken out into a volcano of acne, and was obsessed with girls who somehow found his adolescent-pocked face endearing. Why anyone would like Spitzer was beyond me.

Alice Chambers came over on a Saturday. She brought Halloween candy with her. I couldn’t believe she still had some left, because when Halloween fell in our house, Spitzer and I made a mountain of candy on our living room floor, divided it out, traded, and then ate it until we were sick. Twenty-four hours after Halloween our pillowcases full of sugary delights held nothing but a few empty wrappers.

Alice Chambers had ringlet curls and freckles on the bridge of her nose. That day she wore a white dress with multi-colored polka dots. I grabbed the fabric with two fingers and let the slippery silk slide through my fingers. I loved Alice Chambers and hated her at the same time, because she had nice clothes and a mama.

Alice Chambers and I played dolls in my bedroom. Her doll had a dress identical to hers. My doll had one eye and just a scrap of hair left on her head. Alice and I sat the dolls on the floor on a checkered handkerchief I had borrowed from Spitzer’s room.

“They’re having a picnic,” I said.

“They need drinks and food.”

“I’ll get some.”

I went into the kitchen and opened the cabinets next to the mini-fridge. Daddy had all kinds of tiny cups in that cabinet next to big bottles of alcohol. He barely drank the alcohol, but sometimes when his hunting buddies came over they’d reek of the stuff by the end of the night. I pulled out a big bottle of amber colored liquid and a couple of the tiny glasses. I brought them to the bedroom. Alice Chambers giggled when she saw me struggling not to drop them, but then came to my rescue.

I opened the bottle and poured the tiny glasses full of the liquid.

“I have some food over here,” I said, taking plastic pieces of watermelon from the play fridge I had deserted in the corner of my room.

We sat down, behind our dolls.

“Let’s take a drink,” I said.

Alice nodded. I took a swig of the amber colored liquid, and when I started to swallow my throat burned and my eyes watered. Instead of swallowing it, I let it spill into the cavities of my mouth making my cheeks as big as a chipmunk saving for winter. Then when I couldn’t hold it in anymore I spit it out all over Alice Chamber’s beautiful party dress. All of this happened in a matter of seconds, but it felt like an eternity, and Alice still had her tiny glass full of that vile stuff that I couldn’t believe Daddy drank.

Alice stood up, dripping with alcohol, a big brown stain on the front of her dress. Her face turned red, she looked horrified, but she didn’t say anything at first.

“I’m so sorry,” I said, standing up and trying to pat her down.

“Well,” Alice said, trying to be lady-like. “I—I never. And just so you know, there’s no Santa Claus.”

She shouted it at me, grabbed her doll and ran out of the room, out of the house, and out of my life forever. I stood there in complete shock, feeling dizzy from the little bit of amber liquid I’d drank, then sat down on the floor amidst the ruined picnic. No Santa Claus. But Daddy had said Santa came down the chimney and brought toys. And if there was no Santa Claus how did I end up with a new bike last Christmas? I knew Daddy couldn’t afford that with his no-good damn beggar’s salary. But still, I didn’t ask Daddy. Instead, I marched into Spitzer’s room where he was sucking the face of some girl, and demanded to know the truth. He caved as always, told me the truth, and then told me to get the heck out of his room.

The third time I found out Daddy was a liar was when the letter came from Mama. To be fair, I was snooping. Spitzer always said my dirty snooping would lead to no-good. Daddy’s room had coins on the dresser, and sometimes I took these to buy pencil grips. I liked the way the pencil grips fit in my fingers. They made it so I didn’t get callouses, and I had quite a collection of them. Well that week, there was a rainbow grip on sale at school and I was determined to buy it, but I’d spent all my money on Necco wafers when I’d been in town with Spitzer that past weekend. So I was on a mission to find some loose change in Daddy’s room when I stumbled across the letter.

It was folded on his nightstand into a neat little square. When I opened it, the paper felt soft under my skin like it had been opened and closed a billion times.

James,

I’ve thought about coming home. I don’t know what you told the children when I left three years ago. For all I know, you told them I’m dead and gone. I deserve that after the way I left you. Now I know I wasn’t looking for love. I was looking for an escape. I couldn’t deal with the PTA meetings, the dinners on the table, and the demands of the kids. I didn’t know how to tell you, and when Sam came into my life I took it as an opportunity to move on.

Maybe this apology comes too little too late. I think of Baby Doll and Spitzer so much. I can’t even imagine how they’ve grown. Does Baby Doll still have curls? Is Spitzer still playing ball? I know this letter will hurt you. That’s not my intention. But I want you to know that I think about them. Often. And of you.I I still love you. My address is above. Please write back.

All my love,

Eileen

I traced the words with my fingers. Big fat tears fell from my eyes onto the paper, making it weaker than it’d been before. I sat it down on the shag carpet, and took a piece of my dress and wiped it dry, carefully, so as not to rip it. My mama was alive. Not dead like Pulley. Alive and well and living somewhere without us. Daddy had told Spitzer and I she was dead. Deader than a doornail, I’d thought because I’d been little then.

I didn’t hear Daddy walk in. I didn’t see his face. But the next thing I felt were his big bear arms around me. I smelled his Daddy smell, cologne mixed with sweat, that sticky-sweet smell that always comforted me, and I felt the scratchiness of his beard on my face.

“I’m so sorry, Baby Doll,” he said. “I’m so, so sorry.”

I felt the hotness of his tears on the back of my neck, and I turned around and wrapped myself into his arms and let him hold me and rock me like I was still his baby doll.

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