Flash Friday Fiction

Jean L. Hays

Picture courtesy of Jean L. Hays    

Signs, signs, everywhere are signs, blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind…

Now that I’ve dated myself, this picture brings a lot to mind. One, my husband has a traveling exhibit about Route 66. Another, my father traveled west on Route 66 as a teenager as his parents looked for work at the end of the depression. And last, I love Chicago. It is a place near and dear to my heart. It’s a toddling town.

With that, I’m sticking with the theme of stealing song lyrics for this week’s entry.

Word count: 100

A Long and Winding Road

– I don’t care if you ever come back, Joan yelled as the tail lights faded away. She’d kicked him out one last time. This time, she told herself, it was for good.

Postcards began arriving, town names from their past – Springfield, Joplin, Amarillo, Santa Fe, Flagstaff, Needles – places they had travelled before and had been happy.

Memories taunted her, their promises, their history. She wasn’t taking him back. No way.

A phone call, collect.

– Come to Santa Monica. I’ll send you the fare. You know I love only you.

Packing a bag, Joan knew. This time, things would be different.

© Erin Leary

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A letter to family and friends

I wanted to write to you to let you know where things stand in my yearlong effort to sort out my life and relationship.  It has been the year from hell.  I have been hurt, then hurt more, and hurt again.  I have hung on, looking for things to get better in the future.  While I have no guarantees to be free from hurt ever again, I have come to terms with what I have control over – myself. 

My relationship with Seth! and the pain that came a year ago today was the part of this year that was the most difficult to accept.  It was unnecessary and it got in the way of dealing with the real pain of losing my dad and then mom.   It was confusing and hurtful – and unexpected after all we’d been through.  My first reaction was to run.  Then I went numb.  I spent a lot of time and emotional energy figuring out what I wanted to do and what I needed.  My goal, through all of this, has been to stay true to my needs and to move things to a better place, not to go back to what had been.

All along, I said I would know what I needed to know when it was time.  I couldn’t define it any better than that, but I hung in there, listening to my heart and my gut.  It has taken this long because that is how it was meant to be – a full year of seeking and waiting for the direction I needed.  I’ve processed anger, sadness, shock, and more sadness.  In the end, I know this – I am staying true to my needs and I am moving forward.  In that future, I am choosing to stay with Seth!.  I have two basic choices – leave, and know that what is to come will be painful or stay and hope for things to improve.  I am choosing hope and in this choice, I am setting up healthy expectations for our future together.  That includes a solid framework to rebuild trust on and a plan that outlines what happens if there is a breach of trust again.  I have finally felt at a gut level that there was a fundamental change in him that gives me a reason to step out on faith.

Fifteen years ago, I said that marriage was for better or worse.  I did not want to walk away without trying.  We promised that we would not crash and burn again and I revisited the church where we made that promise recently, and all the hope of that moment came back to me.  I can hope again – and still be realistic about how to be safe and protected.  It is something that means a lot to me – to try for the real relationship that I always wanted and have yet to achieve.  Walking away means I won’t get there.  I have to try.

Know that I do this with intention and with my eyes open.  I know the risks involved.  But know also that I am strong – I know that after this year, I am made of stern stuff and will not fold.  I have faith that what grows out of the ruins can be wonderful – the love that I have hoped for and needed in my life.  I am asking you to support me in my choice.  I hope that you can.  I will always stay true to what I want, what I deserve, and what I expect from the person I love.  Thank you for your love and support through all of this.  I know I couldn’t have made it without that. 

Things can’t get any worse, right?

A year ago I returned from Tucson.  Dad had died and mom was adrift.  It was Mother’s Day and I wanted to spend as much of it as possible with mom, to help her get through the first few days.  I was the last child to leave and I felt like I was leaving a part of me behind.  I knew it wasn’t going to be easy for her – but I was coming back in a week to help with the local memorial event.  It was the first of mom’s baby steps on her own.

My family picked me up at SeaTac and I fell into Laurel’s arms and sobbed.  I suddenly realized that all of this pain wasn’t just mine; it hurt everyone.  It felt good being back while at the same time I felt guilty that mom was alone.  But life – specifically, my life – had to go on.  Sitting with everyone at dinner that night, I was thinking how lucky I was to have them all there for me showing me their love on Mother’s Day.  I was exhausted, sad and happy all at once.  I thought I’d been through the worst.  Turns out, it was just the beginning.

Over the next few weeks, life was a blur or comings and goings.  Seth! was off to Oregon for his cowboy adventure, then I left for Tucson to help mom again.  I returned from that trip only to head to Whidbey Island for a planned weekend with friends.  Seth! left for a conference before I returned and was back the day before we left for Denver for Dad’s main memorial service – poignantly enough, on Memorial Day weekend.  Returning from that trip meant our lives would settle down and things would finally feel normal.  I felt hopeful that would be the case.

Except then, the next worst thing happened.  On June 1, I discovered that my marriage, as I believed it to be, was over.  Throughout all my grieving and during all this travel, Seth! had been involved with an old friend and professed his love for her, all discovered in email on Facebook.  Heartbroken at losing dad, I was already in great pain.  This was like a knife in the heart when I was huddled on the floor in tears.  All that I once thought sacred and true was no longer real to me.  I lost both my dad and my marriage in a matter of weeks.  This had to be the worst.

I’d like to say that each month, things got better.  There were more downs than ups this year. Nothing was clear except I had to stick to what I had laid down as my plan before – separate and work on things apart.  It helped me stay sane to cling to the idea that doing what I said I would was staying true to my core beliefs.  I didn’t need to know more at that point.  I just needed to do that one thing. I felt cheated, though.  From the time of dad’s death to the discovery was only a matter of weeks.  My grieving for dad was stalled as I struggled with this new pain. I still find myself thinking of dad, wistful for his calm presence, and know that I miss him more than is possible to convey in words.

Losing mom in February after a whirlwind diagnosis and decline was the icing on the cake.  It felt too familiar – and scary – to go through that before I knew where things stood in my marriage.  I was afraid to trust any comfort or support, because the last time I had, it ended up being false and bad things happened to me.  I had to be very clear in my own head about what I needed, what I could accept, and how it felt to go through this again so soon.  I’m still not completely sure I know how I feel about losing them both so close together.  I long for a dream with both of them in it, as they once were.  To see them again, and to feel, just for a moment, that we can be with each other would be a comfort.  It would be like a warm embrace from the two people who loved me best.  It seems to me that then, maybe, I’d know I was making progress through my grief.

In the past year, I’ve lost my father, my husband’s faithfulness, and my mother.  I know lesser mortals who might have caved.  I am still standing.  Wounded, scarred, battered and worn thin, I am upright nonetheless.  I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.  I wouldn’t wish it for myself.  But it wasn’t a choice, and going through the fire was the only way out.

As this year comes to an end, I can only hope that the cosmic circle is coming to a close and each anniversary or milestone date provides healing and a sense of release.  I have felt held hostage by pain the past 12 months and am ready to stop hurting and be free.  I pray it is so.