My heartbeat was taking up all the space in my body. There was no room for air, no room for thoughts.
“I mean, you're right,” I continued. She glanced up at me and I blinked at her image. The brown eyes looked like a strangers’ now, not the same girl I had just walked around with for three hours. Her hands seemed fidgety and unstable, not the ones that fit perfectly in mine.
“Oh,” she said. “I see.” The way she said that made my heart lurch. Although my heart was beating faster than ever, it stopped for a second. And I went numb. My brain and my hands and thoughts and everything. Went numb. I offered a smile emotionlessly at her when she looked down. It all felt so surreal.
"Not that it's important now, but I thought you should know."
"I guess." She sounded unsure. "But you're over me. I'm sorta annoying and weird anyway. Right?"
"Well," I hesitated. How could I tell her I still loved her. And her "annoying" texts every hour about anything. Her quirky hoodies and dedication to soccer. Her ridiculously curly hair and sweetness. Her personality and every line on her hand. All our memories and how she made me feel like I was on fire, alive and truly here.
Her face said it all. I couldn't tell her.
"What do you think?" I asked her instead.
"Honestly, I liked you too." She shrugged. "But I got over it. I love you still, I mean, but you've already broken my heart so I can't pretend this relationship will ever be okay."
My heart leaped, cracked, repaired itself, and shattered all in the span of a few seconds.
"Would you ever-" I picked up all the courage I had.
"No." She interrupted. The pain in her eyes cut into mine. "No."
Looking back, she was right about one thing. Our relationship would never and will never be okay. It's healing, reforming and growing. But it isn't okay.
If she had said yes, maybe we would've been that couple. The one who has movie marathons on snow days and eats too much junk food together. The one that does all the cheesy things and holds hands just because we don't want to be apart. Yes could've led us down so many paths and opened so many possibilites. It could've changed us and opened the world. But sometimes, "No" can also change the world.
The kids at school called him “Lurch.” The worst part was, she saw it. He was a tall kid, all arms and legs, who walked on his toes with a forward lean, as though there was a forever wind against his sail. He was growing so fast. She couldn’t afford to keep buying clothes at the rate he was growing, so his sleeves and cuffs were going to have to ride up for awhile, but what was she to do? Her clothes were not nearly new either.
They weren’t beating him up yet, but that would probably come. He was one of those gentle kids who was so easy for the others to pick on. All he had going for him was that his height was somewhat imposing. What would she do if they did start beating him up? Again? A single mother in a strange town? God knows she would do or give anything to make the child happy, but he seldom was, following her lead. And he was still such a good boy despite all that! He did all that she asked, which was quite a bit, while asking for nothing in return. He wore the shirts with the too short sleeves, and the high-water pants without complaint. His grades were good. He helped around the house. There was only the one thing she had ever seen him want, and he never even asked her for that.
But she saw him looking at that one thing. She saw him at the store, reaching out a gentle hand to touch it. He had touched it lovingly, as a woman touches her baby. That was how she’d known. Seeing it had brought a tear to her eye. She vowed then and there that he would have it. She knew a way.
The man behind the counter at the second hand store would only give her $200 for her $2,000 engagement ring. Benjamin had given her that ring directly after her pregnancy, and directly before his accident. The ring was all she had left of him, but Benjamin wouldn’t mind it; back then he wouldn't have minded, and certainly not now.
She took the money for the ring from the clerk and immediately set it back on the countertop. There would be missed meals in his future, but she would give her boy this. The rest of the money she had gotten from Adam. She didn’t love Adam, and he did not love her, but there were times when Adam needed a woman, even a pear shaped woman like her, so she gave herself to him during those times. In return he helped her with bills, and such. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement that wasn’t so terrible. Adam hopped on her quickly and hopped off as fast, like a rabbit, as though he was afraid someone might see him on top of her. She had stopped dressing up for Adam, stopped trying to be pretty for him, but he did not seem to notice either way. It was not prostitution, she told herself. They were just friends helping each other, only they weren’t friends in any of the other ways that people were friends. Still, it was not prostitution. She was not a prostitute. She would marry Adam if he were to ask, but he wouldn’t ask.
It was a bright red Gibson Firebird. It's fret board was worn. The paint was scratched up pretty badly, and the neck had been repaired. There was a name scratched on the back that she couldn’t make out; the name of another boy with another dream, no doubt. She knew from her research that the Firebird was a really good guitar, even if it was old. The man behind the counter threw the amp and pickups in “cheap.” Even so, it had not been easy to take the money out of her purse, knowing what she'd had to do to get it.
But all of that was only memories these many years later. She had not been with Adam in ages, and no one called her boy “Lurch” anymore. He was rich now, that son of hers was. He wore only the most stylish clothes as he climbed from the backs of the limosines, or down the steps of the jet planes, and those stylish clothes always with a tailor-made fit. The way the quiet, defenseless boy had turned out was a miracle, is what it was!
And he still played the old Firebird that had cost her so much, the one whose sounds she knew so well. That old guitar never failed to break her down to prayer whenever it's soulful wail sang from out her radio.
Three letters, and yet one of the most powerful, life-changing, single most meaningful words that exists in the English language. I mean, think about it, I asked my now wife to marry me and…well, actually, the first time she didn’t say “yes,” but she didn’t devastate me with “no” either. “Not yet,” she said. Which, to be honest, as much nerve as it took me to ask, was rather devastating, but not life changing. Nothing changed. We kept dating and next time I asked, she said “yes.” Woah. Now that was powerful. You go from single, self-centered “I” to what-God-has-brought-together-let-no-man-turn-asunder-till-death-do-us-part, “we.” Life-changing.
And then we had the ‘let’s have a baby’ “yes.” Well, actually, the first time I proposed it, she didn’t say yes, but she didn’t say “no” either. Just, well, at the risk of repeating myself, “not yet.” But I won that battle of wills. Our son was born 2 years after I asked and 3 years before she planned. We went from happy-go-lucky-bicycle-built-for-two, to, why is he crying why won’t he stop crying why am I crying parents of the cutest, smartest baby ever who never slept until he was three. Life-changing.
The years pass, and I ask a lot of questions that receive resounding no’s but it’s no big deal. Life continues.
Then one day, when we’d been married 18 years, I explained to my wife that I was unhappy and I really wanted to start my own business. I had been working for a carpet company for 15 years and their future looked bleak so I wanted to start my own.
Now, to be honest, I expected a resounding “no.” I had asked various job-related questions over the years - to relocate to Georgia or Texas to take on a new position – same field, more money. The answer was always “no” for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was “our son needs stability” but also included we would find it really difficult to fit in in the south with our very modern family of mixed races, religions and cultures.
But this time, when I asked if it was okay to start my own business, she smiled at me and said, “Yes.”
I may have shit my pants.
Part of me asked assuming she would say “no” so I didn’t have to worry really about trying and failing.
But, she said, “Yes.”
So, I resigned, I cashed in my meager 401K for $50,000, I spoke to one of my esteemed colleagues to see if she wanted to join me, she did, and her husband invested $50,000 in us, we bought a truck, I designed a line of carpets, my manufacturer consigned us our first line, within six months, I was on the road for a six-week trek around the continental United States visiting possible retailers for my carpets.
My partner called ahead each day to a potential customer to confirm the appointment and time. I would go and show my wares while also deciding if the location was a place where I wanted my rugs to be shown. We wanted only high-end stores. Some wouldn’t even deign to see me. Some I drove by, holding my nose.
Have you ever traveled across the country in a box truck for six weeks by yourself? I know every Comfort Inn from Virginia across the south to California and back across the north to New Jersey with some spattered across the middle. Longest six weeks of my life.
I saw three seasons in 24 hours one day. I have never seen such beautiful and varied nature in one country as I have while traveling across the states in my truck. And I met some really nice people. So many waitresses gave me extra food in my doggie bags for the road. Some offered me their beds but I just showed them pictures of my wife and son. (To be honest, that did not always put them off, but I just smiled and went on my way.)
In Mississippi, I had a seafood platter at a little out of the way place with no empty seats. It was unlike any seafood platter I had ever encountered: frog legs, alligator, crawfish, oysters, blue crab, gulf shrimp. One of the many great meals I had while traveling. The waitress sent me on my way with my leftovers, an extra can of Coke, a smile, and I think her number scrawled on the side of the bag.
While driving along the border with Mexico, a police officer stopped me and asked what I had in the truck.
“Rugs,” I replied.
“What?” he screeched.
“Rugs,” I said again, confused and more than a little concerned.
“Get out of the truck! Now!” He screamed. “Open the back!”
I did as he demanded. When he saw the rugs, he started laughing hysterically. “I thought you said ‘drugs’,” he said, still laughing. (I’m not certain that anyone actually carrying drugs would admit that, but, whatever.)
You should know, I have a fairly strong accent. I was born in Turkey, and although I have lived more of my life speaking English than Turkish, I’m clearly not a native speaker of English. Hence, the “drugs” “rugs” fiasco.
We laughed and I continued down the road. A few miles later I was stopped by another border cop. I had learned my lesson. When he asked me what was in the truck, I said “carpets.”
In California, my wife and I had a one-night stand in Monterey. She was on a business trip and I was visiting a potential client in the area. We had a nice dinner, stayed in a much nicer hotel than I had been accustomed to in my travels, and I was off in my truck early in the morning while she flew home.
Towards the middle of the return trip, I was in a restaurant in Montana one day and people were looking at me (perhaps slightly worried). Finally, a guy at the next table said, “You talking to me?”
Oops. Yes, you got it. I was talking to myself. Out loud. I hadn’t even noticed.
Getting gas for my truck the next day, I accidently gave it diesel fuel. I still don’t know how the truck didn’t die on me right then and there.
It was definitely time to get home.
I did two more six-week trips over the following years: one causing me to miss my son’s high school graduation, the other with a friend who thought I was his travel agent rather than his being there to help me with my business. Disaster. I knew I was done with road trips after that. (By the way, I did NOT miss my son’s college graduation.)
Now, 10 years later, I don’t have to drive anywhere except to my showroom. I fly to visit clients and some come visit me. My rugs are in about 23 states and some 10 foreign countries. I have won multiple awards for my designs at international competitions. I have taught workshops for a new generation of designers and have been honored as Carpet Man of the Year.
All because she said, “Yes.”
He’s not Mine
I hear a knocking at my door.
"Coming, hold on!"
This was very strange. I lived alone. I focused day and night on my new book. I only went out to see my parents. I have no friends. I am not expecting a delivery.
I walk toward the door with a strange feeling. I am not afraid. But I have a feeling that my life was about to change. Or at least that's what I think it is. I've never had a life changing feeling.
I open the door.
"Hello, can I help you?"
A young man stands there with a smile and tears in his eyes. He is holding a piece of paper. He stares long at me. Should I tell him I'm not interested? Or at least that he's being a bit rude?
"Um, can I help you?"
"Oh, yes! I am so sorry! That's why I brought this paper. Silly me."
He held up the paper. He was going to read it to me. What was happening?
"Dear Rachel Torres, my name is Cody Hart. I am nineteen years old. I know this seems strange but please bear with me as I tell my story.
"I grew up in the foster system. I was found at a police station at 6 months old. I had a blanket wrapped around me with the name Rachel Torres on the corner. They looked around for the lady but never found her. They sent me from home to home. I loved the people but I never felt at home. Especially since a few did it for the the money.
"After I grew out of the system, I began my search. It took me two years but I finally found you. I just have one question. Please help me. Are you my mother?"
His eyes glance up and back down. He really wants an answer.
I have never had a boyfriend. Let alone a chance to get pregnant. I can't lie to him. But he's been looking for so long. His mom didn't want him. I am in my early 40's. My chances of having a family were slim. Neither of us have a family, and clearly, a life. I don't know what I will do.
"Yes. I couldn't take care of you. I'm so glad you found me, Cody. I never thought you'd want to see me."
He hugged me so tightly.
"I will always want to see you, Mom."
Rightful remedy will not encase in glass, the lit hallways leading away. Up into a staircase entry;
won before , and signed many times racing the starlight chase.
Burgeoning outside, the crescent Moon; in almost full make-up. He sends the spot beams, around an arena of mirror ball perfection.
Performing , a Mouse bloused creator.
(With the price of Mouse Heads these days!)
Enter the show!
Rounds of audient pressure,
A vocal repose . . .
Let’s call it, “Dead In Center”
Billboard activity streaming:
Her (Part 1, I Can’t Say)
“Why,” I ask as I pick up my backpack.
I walk along the road, all the way to school.
“Why,” I grunt again. “Why did I say yes?”
I was a scrawny 9 year old with sandy blonde hair and sea-green eyes.
Covered in freckles.
I called myself ugly, though no one agreed.
“Say yes to what?” Dusa asked me as I walked into school.
“Yes to-” I was cut of by a horrible spasm of shivers, and my throat tightened.
“YeS tO doINg chOrES,” I lied mierably.
“Nuh-uh, your lieing,” Dusa stated. “I can tell.”
“Oh,” I said, without my voice shaking. “I’m sorry, but I can’t tell.”
“But we’re BFFs! We share everything,” Dusa exclaimed.
“Dusa, It’s for your own safety,” I responded angrily.
“No, it’s not! I’ll hit you if you don’t tell me now,” Dusa wailed. If I was mad, she was furius!
"I don't care," I choked horribaly, not being able to speak.
That's when the slap came, sending me to the foor. I was already bruising.
"Dusa!" Mrs. Coman exlcaimed. Mrs. Coman was our art teacher- super strict. "Dusa, that action is inexusable!" She scribbled furiously on a notepad and shoved the paper into Dusa's hand. "Go to the princable's office, now!"
Dusa didn't argue-she didn't want to get in more trouble. She stormed off in tears.
I noticed the floor began to rumble, and I began to scream loudly in my head, so loud that a wail escaped my lips.
"Shh, Leena, it will be okay," Ms. Elsie said. Oh, Ms. Elsie! The school councilor, and the fairest teacher in the school. "We'll get you to the clinic."
"ABAndoN scHOOL," I cried out to the students. "I'm wrong, somethings- ugh" I was cut of by my own coughing.
There was no time for Ms. Elsie to help me, I was already floating upwards.
"Leena," Mrs. Comen gasped.
I gurgled inaudable screams of protest as I standed right side up in the air. The ground rumbled, and walls colapsed, trapping everyone inside.
I gasped as the thin cord around my neck began to glow, trapping me in shadows, untill I swirled among them, my hair black, my jacket a black cloack, and my clothes black armor.
My eyes glow red- and I'm stuck inside my own body.
All of my actions aren't truly mine- their her's.
All I can do is watch the destruction like a television.