Bitch, Please…

 

 

 

After too long being devalued and disrespected, anyone will start feeling they have no value and nothing to offer. Turns out, they are, in fact, freaking unicorns. They are chosen for their unique experience, talent and insight. And they get paid as a unicorn should. Today was a great day.

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Last Breaths

‘You always bugged me about not walking enough,” Ralph looked over his should from his wheelchair at Ben. “Sure enough, now you’re carting my ass around.”  They pulled up to the closest bench by the pond.  Ben braked the wheelchair then sat on the bench beside it.

For an August afternoon, it was not too hot.  The crepe myrtles were in full bloom. Heart shaped clusters, pink and fuchsia, bent branches to shade them.

“We should be off fishing somewhere, not sitting at this pond waiting for one of us to die,” Ralph said breathlessly.  Death was too close.  Ben’s Jill, his beloved wife, passed in January.  His best friend for the last sixty years was taking last breaths through an oxygen tube.

“We fished our fill, Bubba,” Ben replied using the nickname generated over some beers at some bar listening to some band some years before.  “Great trips.  Remember the salmon in Alaska?  We could almost just reach in and grab them. So many fish, the river looked pink.”

Another resident from the home was wheeled around the pond path, a woman hunched over in her chair, pushed by a young mother and her little girl.   They parked at a bench nearby. The girl bounced for her box of animal crackers, some to eat and more to toss to the ducks now lining up for their treats.

“I think the Yellowstone cabin trips were the best,” Ralph commented. “Great rivers, hike and camp some nights.  Remember when we shared a campsite with those buffalo?  You opened your tent to see that bull’s balls nearly in your face.”  They both laughed at story told many times.

“Never made it to the Everglades.  Remember, you and Dan always wanted to go down there to fish for I don’t know what.  Gators?  Mosquitos?  I never got on board for that one.” Ben chuckled.

“Same thing with survival hiking in New Zealand. Was that Clint’s great idea?  Take three weeks off to hike with only dried food and a sleeping bag?  We talked about that one for so long.  It just died out when we all hit fifty.” Ralph repositioned the tube under his nose.

“We never did get to bike Route 66.  We were going to take off for a few weeks, go cross country.  Fish a little, find great dive bars, stop to see some sights.” Ben reflected.  “You never got your motorcycle license, so that dream went down in flames.”

“Didn’t help that neither of us actually ever had motorcycles,” Ralph harped back.

They sat silent for several minutes. Ralph licked his dry lips and looked over to his best friend, “Any regrets, man?”

Ben stared out over the pond, his eyes filling with tears, “Only that I didn’t die before my Jill.” He wiped his eye.  “How about you, Bubba.  Any regrets?”

Ralph nodded and cleared his throat, “Only that I never loved a woman like you still love Jill.”

It’s All Me

The early morning gentle waves frothed her feet.  She glanced up and down the beach.  She was, as she wanted to be, alone.

She met him in October, at a pub watching the Redskins lose to the Cowboys.  She wasn’t from DC, so didn’t really care.  He was, and took solace in her smile and her southern drawl banter. She was with her swim team friends, but they slowly moved along to another bar or party.  She stayed, and he served her another beer and more smiles.

At last call, he told her to wait for him to check out, and then he walked her home to the townhouse she shared with friends. She gave him her phone number so he could text her he made it home ok.  And he did.  And they talked until the sun took back the night.

He was a senior at Howard and was waiting to hear from American University Law for enrollment next semester.  He still lived at home.  His bartender tips helped pay for books and his mama’s load bringing up his two little brothers.

She was at Georgetown, swimming her final year and studying communications.  Her parents in Charleston paid for her off-campus housing and her monthly allowance for necessities like food and Ralph Lauren jeans.

Over the phone, the banter stopped and they talked about the election coming up. They had similar taste in politics, music, movies and running.  A date was made to run the Mall the next day. And they kept running, and dating, and over the next months, loving ensued.

At her last swim meet, her parents came for the ceremonial senior recognition.  After, they went to the Harbor for lunch, and he met them there for the first time.  Polite, empty questions.  Awkward silences.  White hands shaking a black man’s with curt “Lovely to meet yous” through emotionless faces.

“Not what we expected.”

“Are you getting serious? How serious?”

“Might be ok here in DC, but can you imagine in our family?”

He came to her graduation a few months later along with his little brothers and mama.  Her parents didn’t reply to her invites.  She started a job at a PR firm soon after, and they found a little apartment near American where his classes would start in the fall.

He was shot in the alley behind the bar while he took the trash out at closing time.  No suspect, no motive except he was a black man in the nation’s capital.

The funeral was yesterday.  She sat with his mama and the boys.  She drove to Bethany as the sun was coming up over the Eastern Shore.

She dove in and swam as hard as she ever had.  The words she had always used for motivation ringing in her ears: It’s all me. It’s all me.

Her arms became heavier and her legs slowed. She stopped and looked to the sun and screamed, “It’s only me, but I need you.” She let herself sink.

Princess Like Me

Sparkle pink sneakers. Ruffled ankle socks. Tulle skirt and lace top. Now for the hair.  Rich, her daddy, sat on the third staircase step. Em sat two stairs below, between his legs.  He ran the brush through her blond curls, formed a high pony tail and then placed the tiara.  Emma was ready for her cousin’s seventh birthday party.

Just the day before, Rich and this princess had been down to the creek, hiking along muddy trails, fishing in shaded pools and looking for frogs.  Those days were easy for him.  Jeans, ball caps and boots.  Frilly skirts and bows really made him dig deep, tap into what Maisy would do if she hadn’t died last year.   Emma helped him figure out the clothing stuff. The hair?  That had taken a lot of practice. He missed his wife with every twist of a hair tie.

It was a backyard barbecue with just family.  Em had a half dozen cousins around her age, all of them boys except for Em and the five year old Stella.  Rich looked on at the kids playing, amazed at his girly-girl scampering up the jungle gym.  A tomboy in glitter.

Mitchell, the oldest cousin, decided they should play truth or dare around the sand box.   They sat on the edges as Mitchell explained the rules.  Since he was the elder, he would pick the first person to choose to either tell the truth about something embarrassing or take a dare of unknown risk.

“I pick Emma,” Mitchell jeered.  “Truth or dare Cuz?”

Em sat up straight.  “Dare,” she said bravely.

Mitch dug in his pocket and held out a plump, dirty earth worm.  It curled up reflexively in his palm.  “I dare you, Emma Clark, to eat this worm!”  Stella gasped.  The other boys nudged each other and fake gagged.

She and Daddy walked in the woods yesterday.  He told her she was almost old enough for them to go backpacking and camp out for a weekend.  Maybe next summer, if she grew stronger and could hike with her own gear.  He’d get her a pair of real hiking boots, like Mama’s that were in the front closet.   As they walked along the trail, Daddy showed her what berries she could eat and not get sick.  He knew what mushrooms wouldn’t make your tummy hurt.  Daddy even knew you could find food in a dead tree.  He smashed the rotted trunk with his boot, and crawling inside were big, ugly grubs.  Pink and squirming. Daddy popped one in his mouth.  “Tastes like McDonald’s,” he said to her, making her laugh.

Emma took the worm from Mitch’s palm and swallowed it.  “Tastes like McDonald’s,” she told her awed crowd.

“Truth or Dare, Mitch” she challenged.  Mitch, needing to regain stature, picked Dare.

Emma took off her tiara and took out her bow hair tie.  “Mitchell, put these on Stella and make her a princess, like me.”

Lockdown

“Officially the worst vacation ever,” Tess glared at her mother.

“Oh, com’mon.  It’s day one,” her mother, Julia, replied while looking up from digging in her satchel for a hair tie.

“I have to share a room with him,” the moody fourteen year old pointed at a boy a few years younger.  “He farts all night. And that’s just to start with what sucks about this trip.”

“Okay, then you can bunk with me,” her stepfather, Gary, countered.  “I fart and snore.”

Todd, her stepbrother, chuckled. It was the first sound he had made since breakfast in their room when they were told to leave their cell phones for the day.

Tess huffed loudly.  “Dad was going to take me to Cancun.”

“Well, that didn’t happen, did it?” Julia craned her neck to see the length of the queue ahead.

“Nope.  Your dad ended up in jail,” Todd sneered.  Tess took a swat at his arm, but he ducked behind Gary. Tess lunged for another go, but Julia caught her midsection.

“Cut it out.  I’m not refereeing you two for the next week,” Julia growled, looking at Gary for backup.

Gary pulled Todd from behind him, holding him firmly on the shoulder.

“Kids, here’s the deal.  We’re in London, one of the world’s greatest cities.  We’ve been here all of eighteen hours, and you two are making us all miserable.  If you can’t get through waiting in this line for the Eye without being civil, it’s back to the hotel for Lockdown.”

The line to the massive Ferris wheel inched ahead.   “What is Lockdown?” Tess asked, all three of them looking up at Garry’s solemn face.

“It’s a new feature at Marriotts, for their Platinum Guests like me.  If you have kids older than twelve, you can leave them locked in their room for up to eight hours.  You just have to leave them a bit of food, and then the hotel secures the room.  No getting out until we come back. And they shut off the tv and wifi.   It’s perfect for kids who don’t want to enjoy a new city with their parents.”

They had reached the boarding area.  Todd and Tess had gone silent, arms crossed as they shuffled toward the open doors to their capsule.  “How long does this stupid ride take anyway,” Tess grumbled.

“A half hour,” Gary said handing her his guide book. “Enough time for you and Todd to find two things you want to see or do this afternoon.  If you don’t figure it out by the time you get off, then Lockdown.”

Gary took Julia’s hand, and they backed off quickly from the capsule as the doors closed. Tess and Todd look at them in surprise from inside the glass carriage now rising toward the London sky.

“Lockdown?” Julia looked up at Gary.  “Good one.”

“Coffee?” Gary asked.

“Sounds lovely.” They walked down the pier in search of a café.

Timing’s Everything

“Timing’s everything, right everyone?” Glen raised his glass of Cabernet, and the six of us lifted ours in agreement.  A deal was made – exactly what Glen, a senior partner at my consulting firm, did better than anyone else.  Over dinner he had enchanted buyers and sellers, calmed their fears, made the impossible possible.  How? Not with oozing charm or slick suits and a slicker tongue.

Glen was not an overtly handsome guy.  In his early fifties, he was a teddy bear type, big hugs, chuckles and an incredibly memory for your child’s age or your favorite movie.  He could bring people together, and over dinners with endless hysterical stories from his global travels, he made everyone comfortable, connected.  And his closing line about timing was my sign to say, “I think we all know how to proceed.  I’ll have the revised contracts to you in the morning.”

Glen was the vision, the energy.  I was the signatures on dotted lines.  We made a great team.

After we bid good night to our enchanted clients, Glen took my arm, “It’s too early to turn in.  Just a little walk.  I’ll show you the Latin Quarter.”

We turned left at the Pont Neuf, strolling next to the Seine glistening from a full September moon. I had been in Paris once before, a cranky pre-teen more interested in what tshirt to buy than in the glorious relevance around each corner.  Glen loved Paris, knew the history and had his own hilarious memories to entwine.

I was in my thirties, delighted to have been selected as his right hand account director. He envisioned the deals.  I cemented them.  We were both smart and admired each other for it.  We made each other laugh.  I was proud I could get a full belly laugh out of Glen.  Not many people could.  I think he cherished that ability as much as my ability to craft the contracts he concocted from thin are.

We settled at a bar with a few bistro tables set outside.  We sat next to each other, not across the table, sipping wine and watching the diminishing night life pass by.  A breeze caused me to shiver slightly, and Glen put his arm around my shoulders, pulling me in close to him.  For the first time, I felt a spark pass between us. I stood up, rattled.

“I’ve got the contract to fix, so time to head home.”  He laid some Euros on the table, and we headed back the way we came.   He put his suit jacket over my shoulders.  “Maybe someday you’ll come back with Steve?”

“That will be in years.  The kids are just so little.  No time or money for Paris,” I replied.

“Laura wants us to come for Christmas.”

“That would be lovely,” I replied as we reached my hotel.

“Timing’s everything,” Glenn said. “But tonight, maybe, I wish the timing had been better.”

“Me, too. Good night, Glen,” I handed him his jacket.

 

Not in Play

“I’ll never understand why a beautiful girl would tear her nails apart,” her mother shook her head looking at her ragged cuticles and peeled nails.  She pulled her hands off the booth table and tucked them under her slender thighs.

She was more than beautiful.  Both men and women stole glances at her on the subway, street or bus.  It didn’t matter if she was in baggy jeans and a sweater, like she wore today, or in the skin tight black mini she had to wear serving cocktails in Soho. She was breathtaking.  Her auburn hair, now in a messy bun, when let loose framed her green eyes, high cheekbones and fell to the top of her ample bust.  The copper tendrils, teasing as they swayed over her cleavage, helped with tips.  She put the hair up when tips weren’t in play.

“Thanks again for coming.  I know it’s a pain,” she said after taking a bite of her sandwich.

“At least it’s Saturday.  Only took us an hour. On a weekday, Christ, we’d be driving for an hour more,” her father wiped clean his chin of hamburger grease.  “You living in Jersey City’s a whole lot easier than when you were over there in Queens. Cheaper, too, right?”

She nodded, taking a sip of water. “But not cheap enough for you to afford your own medicine,” her mother harped.

“Mom, I go off your insurance in just a few months.  You can get my inhaler for like what? Twenty dollars?  I really need it now. The fall kills me.” She sat back on the bench seat.

“Like it would kill you to come to the shore every once in a while,” her mother stabbed at her salad.

“You know I can’t get down to see you.  I work, like all the time.  I’ve got two jobs now plus going to auditions.” She dug in her purse. “How much for the inhaler?”

Her father reached over, holding her hand still in her bag.  “Hey, we can cover your medicine. Don’t sweat it, doll.”

“Save your worry for your student loans,” her mother stabbed again.  “Four years at some fancy school, and you’re what? A fancy waitress.  Hell, why not get a job at this diner.  Save you subway fare.”

She pushed her half sandwich to the side, biting her lip.  “I don’t think the tips are so great here.”

“Pete, time to go.  I want to make the four o’clock mass.  I guess we’ll see you next time you need something,” a final stab as she scooted out of the booth.  Her father paid the check at the cashier then came back to tuck some singles under his saucer for their waitress.

“Here’s your inhalers. I had them fill the max, so there’s three.” he kissed her forehead and handed her a plastic bag as he turned to leave. She wrapped her leftover sandwich, opening the bag to take it home. Inside, a wad of twenties from Dad.