Exerpt #14 Dukin’ it out with God

 

 

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I craved passion. I longed for a man who could engage me in meaningful conversation. I wanted someone who looked good, was loyal, someone with a great sense of humor…well, why am I telling you this? It’s what we all want, isn’t it? You’re not surprised. So why is it so hard to find? As hard as I searched, years of my life remained empty of companionship, let alone love.

In 2002, I met a man on Yahoo singles (yes, I was that desperate!) and started dating him. He worked for NASA in Cleveland and was a professor at Akron University. He had won almost every award NASA had to offer at the age of 46. I thought, well, this is a departure from my “bad boy” phase. Maybe this one will actually treat me right.

I figured I would at least get to go out and have some fun. It would be a nice switch to have some sort of social life. So I gave it a go.
One day I pulled up his page on the internet to show my mom the new man in my life. She looked stunned, then said, “Cindy, are you sure this man isn’t mentally ill or something? I mean, he could have a beautiful woman half his age. I’m sure there are plenty of women where he works who are after him…” So, in other words, why would he want ME?

Yeah, that hurt, a lot, but I’ve come to realize that she said that because of how she feels about herself, not how she feels about me. I kinda think my mom sees herself in me, and that maybe she feels inadequate, and…it’s a whole thing. Your parents may favor you because you remind them of themselves, or they may not like you much because you’re like a mirror for them. But back to the guy I was seeing.

He was a towering man, nice looking, but not my type. He made the trip down to Marietta every weekend to see me. He knew I was a single mom and respected the way I doted on my children. He was intrigued by the fact that I’m a writer; he loved the children’s stories I wrote.
The problem was, he wanted me to ditch Chelsea every single weekend so we could have privacy. For a while, I did leave her a lot with her sister or dad, then I couldn’t bear it anymore. When I told him it was over, he wanted to reform his ways and get back together, but my heart just wasn’t in it.
It had taken me six months to realize that a good, “respectable,” well-paying job didn’t mark him out from all the other guys I had known. He was still just a guy.

I kept up my search, and met some very interesting, handsome men, but only one who fit most of my criteria. We had a “whirlwind romance,” but long distance. We tried to make it work, but he couldn’t move to Ohio, and I wasn’t about to pull up stakes and go to Florida, so the relationship dissolved on friendly terms. He’s still a very dear friend. Sigh.
Unfortunately, the breakup came about the time my dad died. The timing stunk. But I had a lot to occupy my thoughts and help me move on.

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The house I bought with some of the money Dad left me

 

Dad’s estate was settled quickly, and the money drizzled in over the coming year a few thousand here and a few thousand there. All four of his kids bought nice houses and furnished them. We got new cars, boats, trucks… whatever we wanted.
I took my family and friends out for expensive dinners (more pricy than what I could usually afford, anyhow), whenever I pleased. I made some car payments for Nathan and paid for his divorce from Wanda.

I bought gifts for everyone, spoiled my kids, went out to movies, and did whatever else I had only been able to dream of doing up till that point. I had not owned a bed since I was about 20 years old, only an old mattress thrown on the floor, so one of the first things I treated myself to was a bedroom suit. Granted, I did still shop at Big Lots and the Dollar Store, but I shopped a LOT. It’s sorta like drinking up an ocean one cup at a time. It can fool you how fast it disappears.

It says in the bible that an inheritance gained quickly at first will not be blessed at the end. Proverbs 20:21 A truer word was never spoken.

 

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My sister, Tammy,  me, Great-great Grandma, Brenda, and Becky

Way back in the 50s, my mom’s brother married my dad’s sister, and the two couples proceeded to have four little girls in stair steps: Me first, “the boss,” three years later, in June, came my cousin, Brenda. In December of that same year my sister was born, and seven months after that, my aunt and uncle had their daughter, Becky. They lived across the street from us, so we were literally and emotionally very close. Since we shared all the same DNA, we often joked with people that we were technically sisters, not cousins. Some of them believed us.

After Grandpa and Grandma died, my whole family fell apart. We meant to stay close. Our love for each other didn’t grow cold; neither did the longing to restore what was lost. We promised to keep in touch every time we ran into each other at Walmart. Somehow, we just got too busy.

Then in 2004, my cousin, Becky, was diagnosed with cancer. She had battled the awful disease twice before with poise and dignity that I’m sure I would not have possessed facing the same ordeal. She was a strong one; I knew she’d be ok. However, “cancer,” is a very scary word. I sent up many prayers on her behalf and tried to cheer her up with cards, but otherwise I was helpless to intervene.
Meanwhile, Nathan got custody of Justyce in the divorce settlement, and Wanda got every other weekend to visit. That meant I had Justyce quite a bit while Nathan worked.

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Me with Justyce

She was a quiet, clingy little thing with sad brown eyes and golden curls. She toddled along behind me wherever I roamed, and nestled in my lap for nearly the entire time she was at my house. If I went to take a shower and left her with Natali for a few minutes, or ran to the store, Justyce would greet me when I returned like an excited little puppy, as if she hadn’t seen me in years! She knew it made me smile to see her dance, so she’d grab the hem of her dress in her dimpled little hands and twirl around and ‘round, beaming at me all the while.

When it was bedtime, I’d place a praying doll in her arms and kiss her goodnight. “…now I lay me down to sleep…” She would lie there staring at me, wheels turning, as if she wanted to tell me something, almost like she felt sorry for me. I think I know why now.

The money kept trickling in, and I was determined to take a portion of it to fulfill a life-long dream: visiting the ocean. Over the summer, though, we got bad news; Becky was not going to make it.

No one had told us exactly how long she had left on Earth, but I somehow got the idea that we were looking at about six months. When we got the news, the long awaited trip was already in the works. Jess, Chelsea, and I were to drive down to Virginia Beach in a 15-seat van with my sister, some of her kids, and my mom. We would be gone for one week. I asked Becky’s mom if I should go or stay, not wanting to be gone when I was needed, and she said that Becky would feel terrible if I didn’t go, knowing I had waited so long. So we squeezed ourselves into the big white vehicle, and headed out for an adventure in the sand.

 

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Hurricane Charlie headed up the east coast and turned into a tropical storm just about the time the wheels of the van crossed over into Virginia. We were not about to be deterred, and headed straight into the mighty wind and rain.
My heart swelled at the sight of the awesome water crashing against the shore. I couldn’t wait to run along the beach, like everyone always did in the movies, maybe find some shells, and get a bit of a tan. However, tropical storm Charlie had other plans. He blew in just as we did; rocking the van as we pulled into the Seahawk motel’s parking lot.
The Seahawk’s manager warned us about the threat of tornadoes, so we stayed close by, but it had taken me all my life to get there, so I wasn’t about to be stuck in the room for one minute longer than necessary. First we decided to explore the little shops along Atlantic Avenue. The wind was really gusting now at about 50 miles an hour, whipping my hair across my face and tugging my big red and white umbrella out of my hands.

 

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Jess and me as starfish

Now, I’ll tell you, I can be really silly anyhow. Sometimes I actually ride the shopping cart to my car after shopping at Walmart, or sing in the aisles as I go along. I embarrass my kids something awful. But life on Earth is too short to be bashful, don’t you agree? And during my vacation, knowing we were losing Becky, mortality was on all of our minds. Somehow, it gave us a sense of freedom we had never known. Even cellulite was no match for our newfound courage. So when I busted out with, “Singing in the rain,” and started dancing around lampposts in true Gene Kelly style, my mom joined right in.

There was a Dairy Queen about half a block from where we were staying, so after perusing the stores and getting some knickknacks for the folks at home, my sister and I headed on over for a treat. I ordered a “Brownie Batter Blizzard,” and the guy working behind the counter turned it upside down to show how nice and thick it was; it wouldn’t even fall out of the cup.
Treats in hand, we headed back to the motel’s indoor pool, where the kids and Mom were swimming. There I was, trying to hold onto the Brownie Batter Blizzard, keep my hair out of my face, and hang onto my umbrella for dear life. When the wind started blowing the ice cream back onto my clothing, I tried shielding it with the umbrella, leaving me exposed to the monster rain. The umbrella tried to surrender to the wind and go WHOOSHING up into the sky; my hair was whirling, and swirling and stinging my face, rain blinding me so I could barely see where I was walking. My hair dipped into the ice cream and back into my face so that my cheeks and nose were now covered with the sticky dessert.

Tropical storm Charlie dipped his finger into my ice-cream cup, took a scoop, and threw it on the sidewalk at my feet. Correction, ON my feet. But there was still some left in the cup and now we’d made it back to the motel. Victory was in sight! My sis opened the door to let me in and SHWOOOOOOP, my umbrella turned inside out! Now I was standing there with my clothes matted to me with rain, the ends of my hair dipped in Brownie Batter Blizzard, my clothes dotted in chocolate, my inside-out umbrella, my sis laughing so hard she could barely breathe…
We made it into the pool area. The kids looked at me like they were witnessing a train wreck. After a second or so, my niece, ever so casually said, “Why didn’t you just ask for a lid?”
A lid? Who woulda thought of such a thing?

Chelsea Rose and Jess enjoyed riding the waves as much as I loved romping on the beach and exploring the nightlife. After soaking in the sun and breathing in the atmosphere, the Fibromyalgia even took a vacation. I felt healthier and more energetic than I had in years. I thought about selling my house and moving there with Chelsea Rose and Jess, but I couldn’t bear to be so far away from Nathan, Natali, and my grandbabies. Justyce needed me, and there was still hope that Allie and Gabe would return to my life. Natali now had three little boys who were dear to me. So that was that. I would be returning to Ohio at the end of the week.

In the middle of the week, we got a call from my brother, Andrew. Becky had slipped into the next life. She would be cremated; a memorial service was scheduled for Friday.  We packed up the van and headed back full steam ahead, trying to make it on time. We did make it, but barely. The services had started before we arrived.
Everyone looked up as I awkwardly flip-flopped my way across the floor and found a seat. Pictures of Becky at different stages of her life flashed across a screen as someone gave a eulogy. I fidgeted in my chair, feeling awkward and detached from myself. It was hard to reconcile myself to the reality that my vivacious younger cousin could be gone.

I thought about what I’d say if I were the one eulogizing her. I decided I would’ve told about the song she made up as a kid while cleaning her bedroom, “Row, row, row your bed, gently ‘cross the room! Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, rowing with a broom.”

A week later, my maternal grandma died. It seemed like it happened that way, in pairs or groups. Over the next year, another of my mom’s brothers died of a heart attack, as Aaron had, and her only remaining sibling and his wife were killed in a car accident.
My whole family was reeling from such profound loss. It seemed we just got one person buried when another one left us. And it wasn’t over yet.

When the summer of 2004 came crashing to an end, and Jess turned 18, he had been free a total of four months. Then he and a friend committed a violent crime and Jess got locked up pending his trial. Meanwhile, he learned that a one-night stand was about to make him a father.

 

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