I originally went to school to be an English major. I had a love affair with reading and writing from a very young age and I often took solace in the days were were encouraged to free write. It used to clear my head like nothing else so eventually, I started journaling.
One of my favorite classes has always been Creative Writing. I took it in high school and then again in college. College pushed me because I began writing stories that were actual fiction rather than pulling details from own life.
I haven't written in anything besides this blog in a very long time. I don't keep a journal anymore, mostly because I don't really have time, but I should make it a priority. Regardless, I wanted to share a part of myself that years ago, I would have been mortified to share. So, I'm putting my brave pants on and sharing a story I wrote for my creative writing final in college back in 2005. And now I'm going to go run and hide somewhere dark in the fetal position.
the daisy reflected
It’s early November in the park. I’m sitting on a bench close to home, watching the kids run in circles and jump off of the swing sets. I can see my daughter Gillian running with the rest of them; she’s beginning to climb a bit too high on the jungle gym. I yell to her, “Gillybean, not too high!” and she obeys, but not before smacking Joey in her violent initiative of tag, and he begins to chase her. I’m laughing now, and Gillian decides that Mommy is home base. I stand, and she runs into my waiting arms, sticking her tongue out at poor Joey.
“Gillian, you’re covered in leaves,” I laugh, as I begin to detangle the Earth out of her dark, curly hair. “Are you ready to go?”
“Nooo…not yet Mommy,” she begins to whine. It’s getting late, almost 5 o’clock. I sigh and tell her, “Fifteen more minutes,” and she runs into the setting sun to play with Joey again.
As I watch her stumble through the wooden play place, I notice Adam leaning up against a tree watching his son Ian, the oldest his two. He must have just gotten off work and came straight to the park. I admire that and it makes me sad that he’s the only father here. He gives me a faint wave and smile. I wave back subtly and pray that I’m not blushing.
I rejoin my place on the bench with the other mothers, some with baby strollers. I know a few of them closely. Anna is a widow who lives next door and has 8-year-old twin girls. Jen lives on the corner and is the ‘soccer mom’, who constantly has her house full to max with boys. Then there’s Elsie, Adam’s wife. Elsie is the power mother. The “I-can-maintain-a-9-5-work-day-and-still-be-a-great-mom” mother- the mother who refuses to let sexism affect her. She and I are less than acquaintances. We speak civilly at functions or dinners, but I know behind closed doors she would never think of me. She owns a Prada diaper bag. She’s holding her newest baby,
Ada, and screaming at a new executive in her office. By the way it sounds, the newest edition to her magazine won’t last long.
Elsie makes me feel inadequate. She runs with her kids in high heels, and wears the clothes I dreamed of wearing when I was in my twenties. I glance down at myself in my Keds sneakers that feel like heaven when I have to chase after Gillian, but now look like fashion disasters. My sweater has a small hole in the armpit, and my windbreaker is from Kohl’s. My hair is a tangled, blonde mess, I can’t even remember if I was able to brush it this morning. Even if I did, you wouldn’t be able to tell. I’m staring at Elsie now, admiring her wool black skirt, and silk top. She wears such bright colors; her blouse is deep pink, and it suits her dark hair. Her black jacket is a soft wool, cashmere- knee length. I feel like she has stepped out of Vogue and somehow wandered into real life, she shouldn’t be stuck on a playground with a screaming baby and a defiant toddler.
I’m brought out of my daze when Elsie snaps her phone shut, looking more irritated than ever. It’s only when the other mothers start looking at me strangely that I notice poor Gillian sitting on the opposite side of the playground near the swings with tears running down her face. Oh no, has she been calling me? I ask myself, Now I look like such a terrible mother!
I run to my little girls’ side and see, thank god, that she just has a small scrape. I can see she’s getting cranky so I pick her up gently. Her arms are wrapped tightly around my neck; she’s so upset I feel as if she might strangle me. She’s doing the double squeeze with her legs tied around my waist. She’s only four, but God is she heavy. I finally gain my balance when I see Adam again, this time pushing Ian on the big tire. Gillian usually spots him first, but she’s still crying. He’s in a suit and grinning at me.
I’ve known Adam since high school. He was a star basketball player and I was a homework nerd. Our paths crossed a few times over the years; I tutored him in math occasionally, and Adam even introduced me to my first boyfriend, a boy from a town over that his sister was friends with, Steve. A boy that eventually became my husband. Adam was at my wedding, and I was at his. It didn’t surprise me when he got married to Elsie. She’s very high maintenance and was exactly what he dated in high school. They ended being the perfect power couple- a high-end lawyer and a magazine editor.
Adam still comes over to the house occasionally; he’s pretty close with Steve, but I assume it’s to get away from family life. He plays poker with Steve or they go out to a bar together. He complains to me about Elsie. It makes me wonder if Steve complains about me to Adam. At least I know he would never talk to Elsie. Unless the conversation is about her, she isn’t interested.
I can see Elsie getting impatient from the bench. She stomps out a cigarette and furiously lights another one, I’m guessing she’s catching up for all the ones she missed while being pregnant. She finally stands up and walks Ava in the stroller over to Adam, her mouth in a firm line. She is not happy. Adam gives me a last nervous grin, making a pistol with his hand and bringing it to his temple, pretending to pull the trigger.
I smile back and begin my way to the car.
When I pull into the driveway, I can see Gillian is fast asleep in her car seat. Her head is slumped slightly to the side and her juice bottle is knocked over on the tray. It would be spilled if I hadn’t remembered to pack her sippy cup; I’m very glad I did today. Even though she looks so angelic, I wish she wasn’t napping now, especially since it’s almost dinnertime. It’s going to be a huge chore getting her to bed tonight.
The other space in the garage is empty- Steve isn’t home yet. I feel a little relieved since I have a little time to cook some dinner now. I’m so sick of eating pizza and Chinese. I swing my huge, filled to the brim purse over my shoulder and remove Gillian from her dreams. She looks at me sleepily, and she lays her head back on my shoulder while I hitch her on my hip with one arm. The other arm is free, now keys…keys, where are my damn keys? I find them and clumsily feed the correct one into the lock while pressing the button to lower the garage door.
The kitchen smells bare and looks dusty; I put my purse on the counter.
“Hey, Coop,” I coo lightly at the dog, who is sleeping in a patch of remaining sunlight on the floor. I don’t want to stir him but Gillian is now fully awake and screams, “COOPER!” at the top of her lungs. She wrestles out of my arms and jumps onto the puppy, who immediately begins barking and licking her face. Gillian is dissolved in giggles and I have to smile. Cooper is only 2 years old, but he’s the biggest golden retriever I’ve ever seen. He towers over Gillian, but they make quite a cute little pair.
I pull a large pan out of the fridge to heat up some lasagna, but I’m interrupted by a little tug on my pants.
“Mommy will you put on my movie? Cooper says he wants to watch too.”
I groan inside. “My movie” meant “The Brave Little Toaster”, and I’ve seen the toaster, lamp, vacuum, and every household appliance embark on their dangerous adventure to find the boy they belong to about 8 million times.
“Don’t you want to watch anything else, Gilly? We have so many movies,” I try to sway her, just so I don’t have to hear the opening credits.
“No,” she says sternly, “I have to watch the toaster.”
I comply, but warn her that its only until Daddy comes home. She seems satisfied with this answer and I put in the movie for her in living room. She lets Cooper hop up on the couch, and I sigh. He isn’t allowed on the furniture because he sheds like crazy, but I’m too tired to object.
The movie begins and I want to kill the toaster, but the phone saves me. I see it’s Steve’s cell number and I groan because I know what he’s going to tell me.
“Hey Mel, I’m stuck in traffic, I’m going to be a little late,” he says in broken static.
“That’s fine, I’m just heating up some leftovers so just let me know when you’re almost home.”
“Okay, give Gilly a kiss for me, I’ll be home soon, I love you,” Steve hangs up with a click. I sigh deeply and let the phone drop from my ear to my waist.
“I love you too.”
I’m preheating the oven when the doorbell rings. Cooper starts barking and I have to shut the kitchen door to keep him from jumping all over the prospective company. I pull open the door and Adam is standing on my porch. He’s still in his suit, and I suddenly feel self-conscious again of my pilling sweater and fading Levi’s. I still haven’t brushed my hair either.
I gather myself and toss my hair to the side, “Hey Adam, what’s going on?”
He gives me a sheepish ‘I’m in trouble but I don’t think I did anything’ smile, and scratches the back of his head.
“Eh…well, I was just around and, well, you know Elsie. Apparently I can’t do anything right, and she’s always screamin’ about something that I’ll never be able to understand because I’m a man, I’m the enemy, you know? But anyway, is Steve around? I wanted to know if he was heading into town with me tonight for some drinks.” He looks embarrassed, and I can see a little pink spread across his cheeks and into his dimples. He never stopped being cute. I’m about to tell him Steve isn’t home yet, when Gillian scoots from around my legs yelling, “Uncle Adam!” Adam picks her up for a hug.
“Hey Gillybean! How is my favorite girl today?” Adam asks, poking her belly to make her laugh. As Gillian unfolds the story of her day, I watch Adam with my child. I marvel at how he treats her at neighborhood get-togethers, or if we have his family here for dinner. He always seems to focus all his attention to her, and she just adores him.
Gillian is starting to jump out of his arms as quickly as she got in them, and before I realize it, I’m inviting Adam inside.
“Steve’s not home from work yet, he said he’d be late, but you’re welcome to wait for him. There are toys everywhere, I apologize for the mess. We just got home,” I say as I lead him in the front door. The oven is finally ready and beeps. I put the lasagna in and turn around to Adam. He’s sitting at the kitchen table twirling his wedding ring in a circle. He does this over and over until he slaps his hand over it. He looks to me and says,” I don’t know if I’m happy anymore.”
I’ve heard this a million times before. It’s the same old story.
“What do you mean?” I feel stupid after asking, but it’s the same question I ask every time he makes this statement. I know what he’s going to say.
“You know, with Elsie,” he replies. “I just don’t feel like I’m making her happy anymore. Everything I do is wrong. She tells me I need to put in more hours at work to make more money, then when I make more money, she yells at me for not spending enough time with the kids and that she can’t handle it all on her own. It’s like she can’t make up her mind. I can’t be in two places at once, I’m not a super dad. I want to be with Ian and Ava, I really do, but it’s impossible to be there whenever she needs me.”
“And it’s not even like she spends all her time with them, she’s always on her goddamn cell phone, yelling at everyone who defies her like she’s the queen of
England. She treats people like shit, Mel, including me. I can’t handle it anymore. I’m not happy, and I’m sure as hell not making her happy. She’s probably sleeping around with that dumb guy who gets her coffee, what’s his name, John? The guy who was the underwear model? Yeah, that’s probably what’s going on…”
The words just kept spilling out further and further until I felt Adam might be in tears. I don’t know what to do or say anymore, and it’s hard to follow him since he’s rambling on so fast. I sit down next to him at the table. I’ve never seen it this bad before.
“Why can’t Elsie be more like you?”
My ears perk up at that last sentence. He’s still going on, but I stop him.
“Wait…wait. What?” I’m being nosy, but my curiosity is over the roof now. He takes his hands out of his face and looks at me.
“You know what I mean…I just can’t see why Elsie can’t be more like you. I look at you and I see the perfect wife.”
I can’t believe what my ears are hearing now, but he continues, “You are so caring and sweet. I look at you with Gillian, and it’s the most loving relationship I’ve ever seen. Elsie can barely even put her phone down to make Ian a sandwich, it’s like she uses them as barrier to move her career forward. I would quit and stay home with them but she refuses to let me. God forbid if she couldn’t buy a new pair of Dolce and idiot whatever sunglasses. But you, you’re different.”
He’s smiling at me now, and turned his body towards mine in his chair.
“I look at you, and I still see my cute little math nerd, teaching me algebra. Remember your glasses? They were enormous!” He starts laughing. We haven’t talked about high school since, well, high school.
“Yeah, but Adam…” He interrupts me.
“You know, I had a crush on you back then.”
Now I’m really astonished, this is something new.
“No way!” I interject, “There’s no possible way. I was so goofy, you always dated those bimbo’s.” Now I’m the one laughing, but I notice he isn’t.
“I’m serious,” he says softly. “I never thought you would go out with me because you were so much smarter than me. You always were. I figured you just thought I was a dumb jock who needed to pass his math class. I know I seemed confident, but I was always so scared to ask you on a date.”
I’m so confused now. “Why didn’t you ever tell me this before?”
He shrugs, “I don’t know, there was never a time, I guess. I got married, you got married…” he trails off. His face is in his hands again. He looks so sad, and I feel so terrible for him in this moment. I grab his hand, give it a reassuring squeeze, and rub my other hand on his back.
“Well if it makes you feel any better, I had a crush on you too. A BIG one!” I smile at him and laugh a little, “I used to write ‘Melanie Baker’ in little hearts all over my notebooks, I was crazy for you.” I’m feeling a little nervous now, revealing so much. “But I mean, that was high school, you know? High school was crazy.”
He lets my words sink in but then sits up suddenly. Turning towards me and looking at me so seriously, “Melanie, I’ve been meaning to tell you…I-I don’t know.”
I’m getting scared now, and my mind is on fire with what he might say. He’s moving closer to me and I’m feeling a little flushed. This is all so surreal to me. I mean, sure, I had thought about Adam in a romantic way, but I’m married now. That was then, now is different.
Even though he’s holding back, I want him to continue. “What,” I ask, “What do you want to say?”
He pauses for what seems like forever. The toaster is almost home by now, and I can see Gillian mesmerized by the TV, even though she knows what’s about to happen. It’s the only time in my life that I’m happy it’s keeping her occupied. I look at Adam inquisitively and he finally speaks.
“You just…I don’t know. You look really great.” He’s staring at me now.
“Adam, I….I don’t think that-I haven’t even had time to brush my hair today!” I’m in disbelief. I want to say more but he cuts in.
“No, no,” he interrupts, “Don’t give me any of that housewife woman bullshit. You just, you look really great, okay? You are a beautiful person, Mel. Don’t let anyone make you feel differently about yourself.”
Yeah, like your wife, I think to myself. He takes my hands in his and holds them tight. There’s a heavy tension in the air, I feel like I can almost grab it and make it tangible. And then he says it.
“I just think that, that I love you, Mel. I…I always have.”
I’m blushing like crazy now. My high school crush, no, my married high school crush is telling me he loves me. This isn’t real. I’m making this up in my mind, there’s no possible way. I look at Adam, and I realize he’s clinging to my every breath, waiting for me to respond. But he doesn’t let me. I see it happening and I can’t stop it, he’s leaning into me, his arm is on my shoulder. I’m panicking inside and out, my palms are sweaty and my legs lock up tightly. My mind is screaming out loud, I don’t know what to do or think- I’m frozen.
And he kisses me. It’s soft at first, and everything I’ve ever dreamed about.
His hands are caressing my face lightly, holding it and not letting go. He holds me there immobile, and I have no choice but to kiss him back. I’m in shock, its Adam; this was my dream for four terrible, long years of high school. He’s better than Steve, and I feel horrible for thinking it. I wonder if he kisses Elsie this way, gives her butterflies in her stomach, touches her so gently.
I stop panicking, it’s over now. He stands up and runs his hand down his face in exasperation… he’s pacing. I’m still sitting, breathless and inert. I look up at him, and he stops. He knows what happened, and I watch him leave, his footsteps heavy and full of misery. The door closes behind him and I’m left alone in the kitchen once again until I hear, “Mommy, when is Daddy coming home?” from a little voice peeking around the counter.
The oven timer beeps.
Around 8 o’clock, I finally get Gillian settled into bed with Boobear, her favorite stuffed animal. Now fast asleep after reading a story, I try not to disturb her as I slip off her bed silently. She’s half out of her covers already, so I pull her pink ballerina comforter close to her chin. She looks so peaceful; she’ll never know the day I had today. I kiss her forehead and smooth her hair back. “I love you, little Gilly Bean,” I whisper into her ear. I switch on her moon nightlight and turn out her light. She likes the door open a crack, so I leave it ajar in case she has a nightmare.
When Steve came home, dinner was waiting on the table. He walked in and gave me a small kiss on the cheek, squeezed my arm. Gillian ran to him and gave him a large hug while he blew raspberries on her cheeks and tummy. With each silly blow, the guilt inside me increased. I know I didn’t do anything wrong, maybe I should just say something. I can never admit that I enjoyed it, no one would understand.
I look at him and my mind screams Adam, Adam, Adam kissed me, he kissed me, Adam, Adam. He asked me about my day and I told him about Gillian’s scrape in the park. I don’t mention Adam’s appearance on our doorstep and I pray that Gillian will keep her innocent silence.
Steve passed out slightly after dinner, he’s always so tired from work. His days must be so boring and long. I’ve always felt bad about how mediocre his job is, and I know he only stays because it’s decent pay for our family. I wonder if he feels happy that he comes home to me every night. Even after tonight.
I turn out the hall light outside our bedroom and go to my dresser to grab some pajamas. I choose the flannel ones since it’s getting colder outside. Early November- I have to start Christmas shopping soon.
I’m wide awake, still wired from Adam in the kitchen. I wonder what he’s doing at this exact moment- working on a case, rocking Ava? Arguing with Elsie? I wonder if he told her, if he smelled of me when he walked in the front door. I never had a Prada diaper bag, used $100 skin exfoliant, or did power yoga during my pregnancy. I am so ordinary it hurts.
I miss his scent. He wears the same cologne since 10th grade. I remember the first time he leaned in close enough for me to smell it. I can remember thinking This is the way a man is supposed to smell.
I think about him while I brush my teeth, and when I wash my face. I pull my crazy hair into a ponytail finally, although I question why I’m trying to make myself look good to go to sleep.
When I climb into the covers, my side is cold. I read for a little bit to warm it up, but not for long because Steve is starting to snore loudly. I roll him over to make it stop, but it never stops. I give up eventually and slide down into my sheets. Steve is loud, obnoxious, and sleeping as far away from me as possible. I look at my husband, the husband Adam introduced me to, and I smile into my pillow. Steve can snore all he wants, because across town there is a man thinking about me. A man who thinks that I am beautiful.