Be the Change

Here’s my latest short story to start the new year. I hope you enjoy it!

Be the Change

Crystal burrowed down into her comforter and peeked out, scanning her room. She wasn’t sure what she hoped to see, but clearly nothing had changed. The same mess of papers were scattered on the top of her dresser and yesterday’s clothes—and maybe clothes from the day before—littered her floor. Sighing her disappointment, she closed her eyes and rolled over.

At midnight, the whole world had collectively kicked 2020 to the curb. Leading up to the last day of a dreadful year, Crystal’s Facebook feed had been full of words of hope and clever memes heralding the dawn of a healthier, happier, kinder year. Crystal had her doubts, but she was willing to play along.

As she debated the merits of staying in bed where it was warm and cozy versus getting up and starting her day, Crystal’s mind drifted to her best friend, Annie, and the huge argument they had two weeks before. The force and ugliness of the words that were exchanged still stung but Crystal felt a satisfying comfort as she basked in her righteousness. A friendship that began in college was most likely finished.

When the need for coffee won over the warmth of her bed, Crystal threw back her covers and shook her head, trying to clear it of the unpleasant memory. If Annie was so pigheaded that she adamantly dismissed the facts and figures of Crystal’s argument, then she wasn’t worth thinking about. Annie could continue on her stupid path, and Crystal would continue on hers. Screw her.

Later, as Crystal worked on her first mug of coffee, she opened her laptop to begin her morning ritual of perusing her favorite news sites. Even though she knew better, she hoped that—somehow magically—the world really had turned over a new leaf at midnight. What if, suddenly, the political discord stopped, Black lives really did start to matter, and people chose to listen to scientists over talk show hosts? Yeah, right. Her news feed looked very similar to the one from the day before. The only difference was the pictures of large, boisterous crowds ringing in the new year; unmasked and close together. Idiots.

As much as she tried not too, Crystal thought once again about her blow-up with Annie. The harsh words they said to each other couldn’t be taken back or forgotten. It was clear that Annie wasn’t the person Crystal thought she was, so maybe it was best to part ways. How could she continue to be friends with someone so obstinate?

They both had kept pretty close to home since the original lockdown in March. Each had made occasional trips to the grocery store and pharmacy, but their interactions with friends and family were only by phone, text, or Zoom. Crystal had missed seeing her friend in person, but they agreed that it was for the best—not only for their safety but, the sooner this thing was over, the sooner they could resume their lives. Crystal knew this was especially hard on Annie because she had a granddaughter that she ached to be with.

Their blow-up happened mid-December when Annie let it slip that she was planning to spend Christmas with her son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter.

“How could you do something so stupid?” Crystal asked incredulously. “You’ve sacrificed for so long and now you want to throw it all away?”

“But I need to see them,” Annie replied. “All three of them have been isolated for a week so we are pretty sure everyone is safe.”

“PRETTY SURE? What if they aren’t? What if one of them is asymptomatic? What if you get sick and end up in a hospital, alone and on a ventilator? Are you pretty sure you’ll survive?”

That was the most civil part of their argument. From there, it devolved into heated accusations, personal insults and, finally, tears. When Crystal and Annie ended their phone call, their parting words held no hope of reconciliation. Crystal spent the next two weeks nursing her anger and disappointment. How could she have been so wrong about someone she thought she knew so well?

Stop thinking about it! Crystal admonished herself. Her ex-friend was stupid, selfish, and definitely not worth her time. She had plenty of other friends to hang with when this was over.

Crystal forced herself to re-focus on the New Year news. Among the stories of continuing virus surges, political fighting, and vaccine distribution challenges, a local story caught her eye. A young boy was in the hospital clinging to life. Covid, of course, Crystal thought. But, as she continued to read, she realized it wasn’t the virus, at least not directly. The boy had attempted suicide. According to his grief-stricken parents, the months of isolation, during which he wasn’t able to be with his friends or extended family, had made him depressed. Although he was expected to survive, his parents were distraught, knowing they had to continue to keep him away from others because of underlying health conditions.

Crystal was surprised at the sudden, overwhelming sadness she felt for this family she didn’t even know. She also thought about her own solitude, that of her parents’ who lived two states away, and Annie’s desire to see her granddaughter. On this first day of a new year, at the beginning of a new decade, Crystal thought about the kindness and empathy everyone was hoping for and realized that it could start with her.

After two rings, her friend answered, “Hello?”

“Annie, this is Crystal. I am so, so sorry. Please forgive me.”

The girl I never knew

scan0009Today is (was?) my mother’s birthday. She passed away back in 2000, after having a series of strokes, but seldom a day goes by that I don’t think of her. Sometimes it’s a memory of a conversation we had, or a place we visited, or a question that I would like to ask her. Each time I write a blog post, I wish I could rely on her excellent writing and editing skills to proofread my words before I hit “publish.”

My mother and I were close, but we weren’t best friends. I depended on her for love, emotional support, good advice (even if I didn’t take it all the time), and help with my homework. She taught me to work hard, revere nature, nurture a positive outlook, and not to take myself too seriously. We didn’t share all of our secrets or spend hours talking on the phone. I loved her very much and I know she loved me but our roles were fairly well defined.

Now that she is gone, I am often struck by how little I know about her life before I was born. I have a lot of tangible memories of my mother: many of her favorite recipes, magazine articles she wrote, and some beloved tchotchkes. I also have a lot of photos of her; what I don’t have is the comfort that I really knew the women in those photos. I love hearing stories from relatives who grew up with her and I treasure the diaries that both she and my father kept in their twenties and thirties. But, looking back, I wish I had asked her more questions about her childhood, her teenage years, and when she was a young woman – before and after she met my father.

I know that her mother died just days after my mother was born, but I don’t know how the loss might have shaped her as she grew up. I know where and how my parents met, but I don’t know what she thought about when they decided to get married after just three months of knowing each other – and just a few weeks before my father was shipped off to Europe for his Army service during WWII.

scan0003I think many of today’s mother/daughter relationships are different. Many of my friends who have kids talk about how close they are and they seem to be more open with them about their past. Some mothers and daughters share clothes and Facebook updates. A few discuss their sexual histories and past drug use. One friend even shares Botox appointments with her adult daughter.

If I had a daughter, I’m not sure where along the closeness spectrum we would sit, but I’d like to think it would be somewhere in the middle. I understand the desire to be “best friends,” but I also appreciate the need to maintain a certain amount of separation. Although I wish I had asked more about my mother’s past, I appreciate that she had pieces of her life that she wanted to keep private. Just as her past shaped her, mine has shaped me, and my relationship with my mother is one of the parts of who I am that I most cherish.

**

Mom and Me1Although I don’t remember many of my dreams, every once in a while I have a vivid one about my mother. It is usually the same: we are sitting together on the sofa in my parents’ living room chatting about this and that and enjoying each other’s company. Everything seems completely normal when suddenly I realize it is just a dream. When that happens, I reach over and hug her tightly to me, knowing she won’t be there when I wake up.

I hope I have that dream again tonight.