“Where did it start?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Think about it. Think really hard.”

“I don’t know. It’s always been there.”

So that night I picked up

my pen and traced my path

back to the beginning—

to the ones who started it.

Then I closed my eyes,

took a deep breath,

and let the storm begin.

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I thought, that by now at age 35,

I would have more peace than I do. I’m actually OK with this because while I’m only at peace around 50% of the time, I have more than I’ve ever had before, which might not be much to the average person, but for me, it’s progress. My most peaceful moments are between 6 and 7 AM or 6 and 7 PM when I am enveloped in my pastel green couch (that I got for free), the magically delicious air is wafting through the open window, crickets are chirping, or are those birds? Or it’s raining, like today. The dishwasher is humming through its cycles. Coffee is steaming from my ceramic owl mug, my pen is poised, and energy is pulsating through my veins. I can think clearer these days, especially around 6-7 AM or PM. I look around the room and see that there’s nothing I need outside these walls.  Kevin’s 16 paper airplanes strewn all over the floor, David’s wrestling shoes and smelly socks laying in the middle of the room, the disorder, which used to set me on the edge, so to speak, adds to the peace these days. Then there’s the Battleship game, open and red and white pegs scattered beside the paper airplanes. Insecure, inconsistent and discontent are words that could have described me just yesterday. I get lost in my fear and worry, and sometimes I sleep through the night, but sometimes I can’t, just can’t. When I get up and meet my couch and coffee and fresh air and crickets and paper airplanes, I can’t help but be OK, though. Thunder roars outside, and rain pours. If I can’t have peace, I’ll take rain.

They’re all watching me.

I can’t move. I have to sit here until they don’t notice me anymore. I have to look casual, disinterested. The older boy plays his game; the younger one whines. If they would just stop looking at me, stop talking to me, I could get to it. I stand up, yawn for effect, and creep to the door of the bedroom.

“Bailey, no!” Mom says. My nails on the wood floor. Might as well be a car alarm. I lay down beside the door. Patience. It will have to wait. But I can’t wait! What if it’s gone by the time I get there? Libby will get it — that blasted cat. The worst day of my life was when they brought her home. She’s ridiculous and thinks she owns the place.

They stop paying attention. It was only a matter of time. I stand up. No one notices. Mom is cooking dinner (it smells good; I wonder if I will get a bite). Dad is working on his computer.

I tiptoe inside the doorway. Damn nails. “Bailey girl! What are you doing? Bailey!” the younger boy plops himself right down on me. It’s annoying, but being the patient Rottweiler that I am, I endure it.

“Kevin, get off of her,” Mom says. Thank you, Mom. Kevin saunters off and I put my head down. I’ll try again in five minutes. Maybe four. Maybe three. The dinner smells so good, and Dad is still working on his computer, and the other boy is still playing his game, talking loudly in his headset to someone as he sits in front of the TV.

I stand up. No sudden moves. No one notices. Good. I inch inside the bedroom. No one sees me. Yeeeeessss! There she sits, like the queen she thinks she is — on the bed. I’m not allowed on the bed. She stares at me, and I think she is going to hiss at me, but she just stares. I stare back and inch forward, stop, inch some more until I get to the bathroom door.

“Where’s Bailey?” I hear Dad say. Oh no. They’re looking for me. I’m through the door. I’m in. There it is: Libby’s food. She never eats much of it anyway. I like to think she leaves it for me. Wait, she hates me. Either way, it’s mine.

Someone is moving in the kitchen.

“Is she outside?” Mom asks.

“I don’t think so,” I hear Dad say.

I gobble up all the food I can, not even taking a breath, like one of those hot dog eating contests. There it is. The bottom of the bowl. I scamper out, food still in my mouth, and lay down on the bedroom floor as nonchalant as you please. Been there for hours. The cat looks at me in disgust, and Dad comes into the room.

“Bailey? Did you eat the cat food?” How does he always, and I mean always, know? I look up at him with my eyes, but keep my head down. I don’t want him to smell the hairball formula on my breath. He walks past me and looks into the bathroom at the empty cat bowl.

“Come on. You know you’re in trouble,” he says, and I know, because, honestly, this has happened before. But, I don’t care that I have to sit in my crate for an hour. Solitary. I stand up and head to my crate while Dad follows. It’s all worth it, you see, as I lick my lips and glare at Libby who looks at me with that strange smile.

puzzle-3

Love Poem No 7

The day stretched into dusk

hues of purple, pink, and orange draped

through the sky, swirling, blending.

 

We sat together on the porch;

I rubbed his back.

We spoke of dreams we hoped,

but weren’t sure, would become real.

 

We locked eyes, looked away, locked eyes again,

watched the blending colors.

The dusk stretched into dark—

Stars sprinkled the sky,

some sparkled, others dulled.

 

Still, we sat on the porch

my knees pressed against my chest.

The dishwasher hummed inside;

the clothes flopped lazily in the dryer.

 

The silence settled between us,

carrying an OKness, a rest with me.

There are miracles, even here

In chains, in hollow depression, in fierce loneliness.

In too much work, and restless 3 AMs

In addiction, in discontentment.

In shopping carts with broken wheels.

and weak shower heads.

There are miracles, even here.

In the scorching heat, in the bitter cold,

In the blazing fires, in the angry storms,

In unexpected bills, in ungrateful kids,

In needle pricks, in bad diagnoses,

There are miracles, even here.

Just look.

Close.

Enough.

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She drug the mop over the sticky floor,

and I stood there behind my register in my Chick-fil-a uniform—chicken breading smeared my black pants.

Her bleach blonde course hair was pulled back in a tight pony tail behind her tanned, but weathered face. A spray bottle hung in her left pocket, and as she mopped, she sloppily sprayed a table with the bottle, wiped it with a dirty towel.

“Hi Marlena!” I greeted her from behind the counter after my last customer walked away with his chargrilled sandwich, no pickle.

“Hi honey!” She beamed.

“How are you?” I asked.

“I’ll be great once the truck guy gets here. It’s Thursday, you know.”

“Our truck guy?”

“Yes, girl. Have you seen him?”

I laughed. The “truck guy” as she called him was a hit among the single (and not single) women who worked at the mall. He appeared every Thursday, armed with chicken, waffle fries, cheesecake, and other Chick-fil-a essentials. One of our employees, sometimes even me, helped him unload the truck and load everything into our freezer. I’m not gonna lie…his green eyes sparkled every time he said, “here, let me help you with that box.”

“Marlena, I thought you had a husband. Why are you worried about the truck guy?” I asked her.

“Oh you talking about Wes? Yeah, I do, but he aint worth much. Doesn’t hurt to look, does it honey?” She winked.

I laughed again and then thought of my own boyfriend and how awful things were going. I was 17, he was 18, and he had just moved away to college, nearly four hours away.

“May I get a number 1 with coke and extra Polynesian sauce?” the red-haired woman with the small…what was that? A cross between a rat and dog poked its head out of her purse. “And an extra fry for Scrappy,” she said. Scrappy, yes he was, I thought.

I punched her order into the register, and I noticed Marlena straightening our chairs in the lobby. She was hanging around so she wouldn’t miss the truck guy.

The customer and the rat dog walked away and I said, “Hey Marlena, my boyfriend just moved away. Should I break up with him?”

She frowned, her bluish gray eyes squinted a little.

“Honey, do you love him?”

“I don’t know. We’ve been together since I was 14.”

“Well, if you don’t even know if you love him, and you’ve been together that long, I’d get rid of him. That’s what I did to my first husband. Well, my second and third one too.”

“First, second, and third? Marlena, how many times have you been married?”

“Well…” she picked up a crumb off the table, dropped it on the floor and swept it up.

“How many? Tell me.”

“Nine,” the sheepish word escaped from her mouth, and she looked like she wanted to stick it right back in there.

“Marlena, are you kidding me? You don’t look that old!”

“I’m telling you honey, when I get tired of them, I toss them. Life’s too short.”

“Wow,” was all I could muster.

Right then the truck guy walked up to the counter with his paperwork, and Marlena’s eyes lit up. She patted her hair down, and I swear, she batted her eyes.

“There he is” she mouthed to me. I smiled, as I vowed to never take her advice.

 

 

The four of us pulled into the campground, welcomed by an eerie feeling. The accommodating pictures on the website — the luscious green woods and the thriving camp fires — seemed to have been replaced by broken down 1940s campers, scattered trash, clothes lines sagging under the weight of laundry from the Cretaceous Period, a meteor shower of stray cats darting from site to site and, of course, No Trespassing signs.

“This can’t be right,” I said to Jesse, who nodded.

“Should we check in? Or just leave?” he asked.

“I don’t know.”

“This place is weird,” David, 14, piped up from the back seat. “What’s up with all the cats?”

“Let’s just drive around and see if it gets any better,” Jesse, the optimist, said.

As we drove deeper into Camp Backwater, we saw travel trailers, pop-ups, and live-in year-round campers scattered about. Paint peeled from the small houses sitting between them. A cat streaked in front of our car and disappeared.

“This is nothing, and I mean nothing, like the website said it was,” I said. “And it’s not cheap either.”

Though the primitive amenities of the state park down the road now seemed like Shangri-La compared to Camp Irregular Heartbeat, we decided to check-in and make an adventure of it.Maybe I could jumpstart a murder mystery.

The lady with brown hair and grey eyes peeking out behind wiry glasses at the desk seemed nice enough, until she delivered the worst news David, and his 10-year-old brother, Kevin, could ever possibly hear, “No WIFI for your devices.”

As we cleaned up the trash left from the previous occupants of our campsite, a large, yurt-shaped man shuffled over, shoeless, dressed only in his boxer shorts and what looked like the T-shirt Sonny Corleone must have been wearing at the toll booth.

“Hi! I’m Chris! Welcome to the suburbs! Don’t mind the cats. They’re mine. I’ve lived here for over a year. If you need anything, let me know.” Like what? A bell?

A teenager, who seemed to have already dipped heavily into the catnip, sped by on a bike and exclaimed, “I’m too blessed to be stressed! What about you?”

“Might want to stay away from him,” Jesse muttered to the boys as he put a spike in the ground to pitch the tent.

A couple with a small child and a baby pulled their SUV into the site next to us. The baby crawled around in the dirt, while the dad burned through the data minutes on his smart phone, Googling “campgrounds near me.” They left in seven minutes.

I decided to walk to the bathhouse. The sanitation grade was ‘C’ for cruddy and a blue leatherette front seat from a car sat in the middle of the floor, seatbelts dangling. A cat was curled up ontop. As I was in the bathroom stall, the cat nuzzled my legs. “Oh, this isn’t weird at all,” I said to the cat that meowed loudly.

That night our fire wouldn’t start. Jesse could make cement blocks burn, so if he can’t get a fire to start, there’s a problem. He dumped an entire bottle of lighter fluid onto the wood. It would flare for a few seconds, then go straight to tiny puffs of smoke. He marched down to the camp store and asked for a refund on the $10 pile of wood. That didn’t burn, either.

Our “neighbors,” led by Chris, drank late into the night, singing the lyrics they could remember to the country songs they thought they knew while the cats meowed in harmony by our tent. Shadows passed by every few minutes and Kevin said, “Mom, can I sleep with you?”

In the morning I said a thank you prayer that we all survived. Then we went to a Walmart across the road and bought a board game called “Stuff Happens.” In it each player rates cards from 1-100 on tragic things that might happen to you. It could be as simple as “Lose a Toenail” or as serious as “Lose an Eye.” The other players guess the rating of each card and if you are close, you get the card. The person with the most cards at the end is the winner. I looked through the cards to see if “Stay at a Creepy Campground Infested with Cats” was one of the options.

It was 87.