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.”

GratiTuesday: Packing a positive attitude

Travel, as gratifying and life-enriching as it can be, also includes a certain amount of stress. Unless you have Oprah’s money, you have to manage getting from Point A to Point B (and then C, D, E, etc.), consume food that isn’t part of your regular diet, sleep in beds and on pillows that may not be the most comfortable, and deal with situations that are well out of your comfort zone, often while living out of a suitcase that is only slightly larger than a toaster oven.

Even before 9/11, travel—especially air travel—was getting more and more challenging. Long gone are the days when flying on an airplane was considered sophisticated and an occasion to dress up. Now, many modes of travel are over-crowded and frustratingly convoluted due to bottom-line corporate decisions and the need for heightened security. On top of that, with the ever-shrinking size restrictions airlines are putting on luggage, it can be difficult to get everything into your luggage that you need for your trip.

Who would want to interact with these grumps?
Who would want to interact with these grumps?

But, despite the stress and hassle, travel can be rewarding and even addictive. Often after being home for only a few days, we are starting to think about our next adventure. No trip is perfect (thank goodness—where would the adventure and grist for subsequent stories be in that?), but I find that our perception of each experience is much more positive if we remember to pack just one more thing in our suitcase: an attitude of flexibility, patience, and understanding.

By maintaining a positive attitude in the face of stress, your blood pressure remains in check and, often, you can influence the outcome. The person who is behind the counter usually isn’t the one who caused the problem, but they can help resolve the issue to your satisfaction. Long waits in line can seem much shorter if you strike up a conversation with others in the queue.

I am so very grateful that my husband and traveling partner routinely packs his positive attitude. He is always polite and empathetic even when dealing with a less-than-ideal situation. He can usually coerce a smile from someone who is determined to be crabby. And, he is a master of starting simple, but interesting conversations with strangers. I have witnessed the ugliness when someone brings a bad attitude to a stressful situation; I am so grateful that we don’t make room for any of that negativity in our luggage.