The 38th Floor

She liked getting to work early. There was something about the peaceful elevator ride to the 38th floor that she loved. Maybe it was the view of the city. It could have been the multitude of sunrises she experienced. Perhaps it was the quiet before the storm. She knew by the time she stepped off the elevator, triggered the light sensors and brewed her first cup of coffee it was only a matter of minutes before the chaos of her busy work life would begin. 

Before she left for work in the mornings she made sure to double check herself in the full length mirror. She had nightmares of panty lines, stray lint and well hidden stains or tears in her impeccable clothes. She never wore a shoe that had even a slight flaw. Her hair was the perfect shade of brown. She paid a lot of money for her stylist to create this shade just for her. Her face was perfectly powdered, lips lined filled with the perfect shade of red plum and her shadow evenly applied on each lid. Her eye lashes were lengthened and water proofed, not that she ever cried but she had gotten something in her eye once causing agitation which led to her rubbing it and triggered a watery reaction in her eye. Needless to say she began purchasing waterproof mascara. She also has two sets of identical makeup for home and office. 

She intentionally selected the 38th floor of this building for her office. It held a special meaning to her. Thirty-eight was the number of times she remembered being called trash by Roberta when they were eleven. Before she could call her that a thirty ninth time, she moved to a different neighborhood. Her dad lost his job and her mother was diagnosed with cancer. They moved in with an elderly aunt in a rough neighborhood. Her mother told her all of this much later. At the time she only told her that a bitch named Karma had gotten Roberta’s family. For years after that she thought Karma was the girlfriend of they guy who sold handmade cigarettes on the corner. 

The Nights

I hated the summer nights more than anything. It had nothing to do with the long, hot and humid nights. Growing up in the Deep South I was as accustomed to the heat as anybody could get. 

In the winters all of the shutters were pulled to and latched. The windows were closed. The heavy curtains were drawn at night to keep out the draft. Three layers of wood, glass and the best material this side of the Mississippi kept the house silent at night. But in the summers, sometimes in the late springs, curtains were pulled back and windows were open and the shutters no longer blocked the night sounds. This was the beginning of my sleepless nights each year. 

The land we lived on and the house we lived in was my granddaddy’s and his daddy’s before him. My mother was the only surviving child of six. When she married the land went to my daddy. Since my mother only birthed girls this beautiful land went to my husband when poppa died. It helped that I had married well and he proved to be a good business man. Poppa loved John like a son and better than his own daughters. 

I never paid much attention to the sounds until I was older. It was after John and I married that realized what was going on. I went to momma. I cried tears of despair in her lap. She stroked my hair and told me it was not my place to ask John any questions. This was business and the best way to keep a plantation thriving was through the labor of the negros working the land. The way we kept cost down was by creating our own laborers. That’s one of the reasons we had huge profits. She tilted my chin up until I was looking her in the eyes and she said, “Never mention this conversation or cry another tear. This is our way and has been for generations. Now get up and make yourself presentable to your husband when he walks through the door.”

I did as I was told. In all the years of marriage I never said another word. But the night cries kept me awake. The seasons held me hostage. No amount of singing, cotton in my ears or strong drink could drown out the night.

It was not love, she told me. It was business. It was how we as a family continued to thrive. It was necessary. 

I believed every word until I saw a mulatto baby boy toddling around the quarters. He was an exact replica of John. Only with brown skin and curly hair. I had yet to give him an heir. Much like my mother I was cursed with girls. Three beautiful girls who adored their father as much as he adored them. But still, only girls. 

5:37 PM

There it is, the garage door is opening. I glance at the beautiful clock on the mantle. It was a wedding gift from one of my friends. I am not sure why I bothered to look. It’s always the same time everyday, 5:37. I sit there wondering. How does he manage to get home at the exact same time. I wonder if he ever gets home early and just sits around the corner waiting until it’s time to open the garage door. He never runs late, never. It’s always the same time.
When we were first married we would commute together, well to the bus station at least. He would drop me off in the mornings then pick me up in the evening. It was a great time to get to know each other better. We would talk about a variety of things, there was no limit to the conversation. When he picked me up from the bus station in the evenings, he would hop out of the car, greeting me with a kiss then and open my car door . He asked about my day and listen to me as I filled him in on the ins and outs of my daily adventures.
When the first baby came, we agreed I would stay home. That was the same year we moved into our first house. I was always excited when he arrived home. The sound of the garage door opening meant so much to me back then. It meant adult conversation, somebody else to hold and change the baby and time with my honey. It was great. We were a happy family of three until the other baby came along. Then we were a happy family of four. 

The kids and I would run to the back door when we heard the garage door open. I would lead the way yelling, “daddy’s home!!!” and they would follow saying the same thing in their cute little toddler voices while clapping and smiling. He would walk in the door with a big smile. After kissing me he would pick them up and kiss them. Daddy was home. 

Then one day or maybe over the course of a few months, something changed. I no longer led the charge. I did not feel like being the head cheerleader. I stopped running to the door. Without me leading them and encouraging them the children stopped too. 

I looked at the clock, 5:39 pm? He’s late? He’s never late. I wonder if something happened to him. 

The land of What If

It’s built like the kingdoms of old. Fortified by high walls, guards, a real moat with dangerous looking fish that have sharp teeth and are always looking for a nibble. When you enter its gates it is understandable if you are overwhelmed by the sights and sounds. There is one way in and one way out. Maybe. Creative exits and entries are allowed and encouraged. That’s how the town got its name, What If. 

Like most settlements you have the naysayers and the yaysayers and then there are those who quite honestly don’t care. It’s the people who make the town what it is. What is it exactly? I’m getting to that. As the narrator it’s my job to weave a tale of mystery and intrigue. There I went and added more pressure to myself. What if you don’t agree that I’m intriguing or what if you decide that I’m only slightly interesting. 

Where was I? Ahhh yes! The town. Some of the town is rather bland and unassuming while other parts are colorful and bold. There are no rules or associations setup for neighborhood dictatation it’s merely your imagination that opens or close the door to your mind’s elaboration. The bland and the bold intermingle throughout. There is no set pattern, nor rhyme or reason just whatever was pleasing to the purchaser and dweller. They decide quite naturally depending on their reasons. What if I’m not accepted or what if I stand out? What if I have to repaint? What if I get to recreate something magical? It’s your outlook and perception that act as your interjection. 

Do the dwellings reflect the owners garbs and gowns? Not necessarily. After all, one could live in a home without color but choose to dress like a beautiful rainbow and accessorizing  with things that shine or sparkle. There is no rhyme or reason it depends on what they consider pleasing. 

What if  you take a moment to walk about town take time to breathe in the aromas of the markets’ fresh wares? Fruits, vegetables, fresh seafood and meats. Boiling soups and desserts freshly baked will flirt with your senses and draw you in like the sirens. Feel the texture of the clothes and become awed by their colors. Or you can walk past the market with a swift foot not indulging in the sights or sounds. What if you have an important meeting or want to go home after a long day of working?

What if you get to decide how to live? What if you get to decide what to fear? What if your glass is half empty and another’s half full and yet others celebrate with the chance to add ice or rum to theirs? What if you what if yourself into a tizzy? What if you have so many brilliant thoughts and ideas that make your brain dizzy? What if indeed the never ending tale. It’s been around for centuries and will continue until the end of ages. 
We had a rough Mother’s Day of 2015. We spent time off and on all day in our closet due to tornado warnings. When I put Little Dude (9 year old and #3 of 4) to bed he said he was scared. “What if a tornado comes while I’m asleep?” My response was, “I don’t live in the land of what ifs unless it’s full of positive thoughts.” We then began to what if some hopeful and silly things. He slept peacefully with his mind full of cheer and not fear. 

What is a mom?

The answer to the question depends on who you ask. The answer is created in the mind and woven in the heart and is based upon perception, experience, comparisons, actions and words. When we hear the word mom some want to bow down and worship and others begin to cry for the heartache the word envokes. 

What is a mom? It could be the person who birthed you or it could be the person who paid thousands of dollars, jumped through legal hoops, answered the social study questions correctly and attended parenting classes before bringing you home. It could also be the one who agreed to take you when you were abandoned and had no place to go. 

A mom is not defined by activities such as homemade cookies, homeschooler, biggest fan, protector, supporter, chef, chauffeur, admirer, worshiper, or spoiler.

So, what is a mom? She’s you, she’s me, she’s a coworker, she’s a friend, she’s your neighbor, a teacher, a bus driver, a clerk, an addict, a CEO, a homeless person, broken, healed, she’s any female and she’s imperfect. 

She shaped you and molded you in action or lack thereof. She’s a person not a goddess. She’s real not imagined. She has hurts and challenges. She has triumphs and victories. 

Well, what is a mom? She the person you choose to honor one day a year. 

Mrs. Pauley (Day 18)

Dear Diary

I’m ready for school to start. I miss my friends. I can’t even believe I said that. But I am. Since we moved to this new neighborhood away from my  BFF I’ve been bored to tears. I really did cry yesterday after my mom said I couldn’t spend the night with Jessica. Why do I have to stay home to take care of their kid? I deserve a life. I’m only twelve!!!! I should be biking to the ice cream shop with Jess instead of sitting in this stoop again while the little brat watches Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles and plays stupid video games. At least out here I can write without him bugging me. 

Dear Diary

Mrs. Pauley is the best thing about this street. She makes the best cookies ever. She’s the reason why I haven’t run away from home. Well, those cookies are. She offered me some cookies one day. I was all like stranger danger at first but all she wanted to do was talk. I can’t leave my stoop in case the brat breaks his leg pretending to be superman and jumps off of the top bunk again. I need to listen for his landing. Anyway, Mrs. Pauley comes over here every morning at 10:30 and leaves at 11:25. She has to get home in time for her stories which is some tv show that’s been around longer than I have. She’s tried to get me to watch with her but I reminded her of my invisible barrier. 

Dear Diary

I’m not sure how much of her stories to believe. She says she and Mr. Pauley have six sons. They all moved away from this place a long time ago. I understand why. I’ve never seen one of them. Who doesn’t come visit their parents every once in a while? They are always walking to the corner store together. They make a cute couple. Man, I wish Jason and I could be a cute couple. He’s definitely got the cute part down. But he’s 14 and thinks I’m a kid but I’m not. I’m officially a woman now. Which is kinda scary. What do I know about being a woman? But I can’t go up to him and say, hey Jason I’m a woman not some kid. Who does that?

Dear Diary

Last night I heard sirens and saw these lights on my wall. I looked outside and saw an ambulance. All I knew is it was parked outside their building. The next morning when Mrs. Pauley didn’t wave at me on my way to school I got scared. I thought something had happened to her. She’s always in the window in the morning and on the stoop when I get home. I run extra laps during PE so I don’t gain weight eating all those cookies she greets me with after school. But it wasn’t her. It was Mr. Pauley. Nosy Rosey told me after the second day of no Mrs. Pauley. Who names their kid Rosey? When Jason and I get married I’m naming our kids Katherine and David. Who can make fun of those names? Mr. Pauley died. Mrs. Pauley would not answer her door. I watched neighbor after neighbor go to her door with food or flowers but she never answered the door. Guess what? She really does have six sons. One of the other neighbors told my mom the bums didn’t show up for their dad’s funeral. I’ve never been to a funeral. Well let me tell ya just take the f-u-n out of that word. There was nothing fun about it. I cried for Mrs. Pauley. She looked so sad. 

Dear Diary

It’s been about a week but when I got off the bus yesterday there she was. Cookies in hand. Really on a plate but you know what I mean. I gave her a big hug when I saw her. She talked until dinner time that night. Mom let me stay out longer cause she knew Mrs. Pauley was probably lonely without Mr. Pauley. So she told me that she’s never worked before. She spent her years being a wife, mother and volunteer. Now that Mr. Pauley is gone what is she going to do? I hope he stuffed the mattress full of money or invested in Apple. Maybe her boys will come to her rescue like Jason did on Wednesday. Jess and I were walking down the hall when that stupid Roger bumped into me making me drop my homework folder. Ugh!!! Papers were flying everywhere. But I looked up and Jason was there with a handful. His hand touched mine and I wanted to scream, cry and kiss him all at the same time. Instead Jess said thank you cause apparently all I could do was look at him like a dork. What woman does that? I need to work on my surprise face in the mirror. I’ve been working in my, hi Jason but I guess practice doesn’t make perfect. 

Dear Diary

I’ve been crying all day. The dumb police came and took Mrs. Pauley away. She couldn’t pay her rent since Mr. Pauley died. I offered her my runaway fund but she said no. I can’t believe they threw her stuff on the curb and put her out. All she did was hold on to a picture and her cookie sheets as she watched that jerk of a landlord change the locks. It was so sad. I can’t believe she’s gone. She lived in that apartment since before the Internet. Her son’s ain’t loyal. She said she and Mr. Pauley invested in them hoping they would help take care of them when they were older. Now she’s living with her sister in another state. Mrs. Pauley sent me a letter and a care package, she refuses to text me. Guess what? She sent my favorite cookies. 

*****The neighborhood has seen better days, but Mrs. Pauley has lived there since before anyone can remember. She raised a family of six boys, who’ve all grown up and moved away. Since Mr. Pauley died three months ago, she’d had no income. She’s fallen behind in the rent. The landlord, accompanied by the police, have come to evict Mrs. Pauley from the house she’s lived in for forty years. Write it in the first person.*****

Fears (Day 17)

Spiders, snakes, being old(er) and alone and living a life without purpose. Those are my top four fears. I have other things that make me fearful but I don’t want to go on and on about things like Stephen King’s books and movies. Have you ever read Tommy Knockers? Shudder, that was my last scary book. Then there is that red rum scene in the Shining that make me want to hide in my closet. 

Last year my ex took me back to court to change custody. Some days I was very afraid. The financial impact and the possibility of him winning the case caused me anxiety for many months. 

I refuse to live the rest of my life in fear. I had plenty of fears growing up. I feared too many things and people. I was concerned about what people would say to me, if the mean girls were going to threaten to beat me up, were they going to make fun of my clothes today? Those are big deals to middle school girls. 

When thoughts come to my mind or I’m having too many negative conversations with myself I repeat two of my favorite quotes. “Only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” Franklin D. Roosevelt and “God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power, of love, and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7.