Online Dating

I just typed that.

I’m not really thinking of doing it, I just wonder what it might be like. I’ve heard some success stories, but I’ve extremely wary of the whole idea. Does that make me old fashioned? I don’t know. I also am completely against the idea because I’m completely against dating.
That’s why this small town is perfect.
That’s why I can sit comfortably in my comfy clothes in my comfy trailer and take pictures and edit pictures and remember WHO I AM!

By the way, I did happened to google around a bit to find picture editing tutorials AND I maybe might have priced some online classes. I just think a bachelor degree in photography would be amazing. The thought of it makes my heart get a little jumpy and giddy, so it must be love. But can I support my family as a photographer? A few years ago, I would say “NO!” But now? I’m starting to realize that I can do anything if I really want to badly enough.
FOR EXAMPLE, I fixed the toilet yesterday. With a little help from google, it turns out I can do stuff.

I might even build something if the urge strikes me. Build what? I don’t know! Whatever I want! Do I have tools? No! Will I let that stop me? No! I’ll buy some! I’ll start a program. The Tool of the Month, and in three years, I’ll have enough tools to build something.
Okay, that’s a dumb idea. But just the fact that I CAN do things is so liberating!
Anyway, I can’t buy tools when I’m saving up for photoshop. Want to know how much I have? Do ya, do ya?
I’m well on my way.

I did an article on the town’s food drive last week. Apparently, the entire town pitches in for ONE big food drive. They put the box in the lobby of the town hall, and every one contributes. The girls get the biggest kick out of it, and once a week we take a trip to the store and I give them each a dollar and let them pick out a can. You would not believe how full the box is getting. This town is amazing in so many ways. It’s sometimes hard to believe I haven’t lived here my entire life. Is that strange?

No one (yet) has ever made me feel like an intruder. Ed and Dorothy are always right there when I need anything -they even invited me to stay and have Thanksgiving dinner with them. I honestly wanted to accept, but I knew my mom wouldn’t hear of it.

Oh, excuse me. I just realized that the title of this post is “online dating.”
I guess I should get back to that.
Anyway, over Thanksgiving my sister mentioned that someone we grew up was single. I didn’t mention it to you because I didn’t think about it. At all.
Well, she called me last night. She found him on facebook (lovely. and gag), and now that they’re friends she wants me to reactivate my account and connect with him.
That sounds too much like online dating to me!

Besides, I know I’ll spend approximately 60% of my time obsessing over stupid things. Facebook has a way of making you obsess about stupid things.
I told her no.
I’m not very good at telling people no, but when a HUGE portion of your SOUL feels as if it’s rising OUT OF YOUR BODY and SCREAMING HELLFIRE!!!!… you find out it’s not so hard to simply say, “no.”

I’ve really got better things to do than facebook. Aside from the girls and work, I’m still hammering away at Ann’s book which, by the way, is turning out SO much better than I had anticipated.
I get giddy thinking about her reaction to it.
Mason comes over at least twice a week during the evening to help out. Last night, I was feeling a little tense after my sister’s phone call. To unwind, I sat down at my laptop and started editing Ann’s book. The girls were getting stir crazy, and I can’t blame them. I wasn’t paying much attention to them, and they were getting restless. I didn’t mean to, but I accidentally snapped at them in front of Mason. I wanted to kill myself.
We know each other pretty well by now, but not well enough to whip out our ugly sides yet!

I apologized to him and then quickly related the story of what happened to me earlier that day. It went something like this:
“Sorry. I’m so sorry. I’ve just had a hectic day. My sister called and had some guy lined up…” Then I groaned. Or moaned. Or growled. Or hissed. Or something.
Whatever it was, he got the point. Three minutes later, he had all three girls loaded up in his truck and one hour later they all returned with their bellies full of ice cream.

Ice cream has a way of fixing everything.
Come to think of it, Mason has a way of fixing everything too.

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Holidays are always fun when you’re in the middle of a divorce.

I just got back from Mom’s house. Because I’ll have the kids for Christmas, Ryan and I agreed he should have the girls for Christmas. Thanksgiving sort of lost it’s zeal for me. Having the girls around always makes every holiday better. Kids in general make every holiday better. Without them, I felt… I don’t know. Stupid?

“Hi, Mom. I’m home again. Will you feed me?”

I know it wasn’t really like that, but it felt like that.
Being home always has it’s charms, though. I was able to spend time alone in my old room, thinking.

I looked at the pictures still on the shelves in my room. They were of me in high school. I was never the head cheerleader -or a cheerleader at all, actually. I was never the intellectual kind either. I just sort of… was. I always felt like I didn’t have any talents of any kind, but I always had a lot of friends. I don’t remember ever going through any really rough patches. My lightly dusted my framed prom pictures with my fingers.
I could still remember each of those nights like they happened yesterday. I ran my finger over my teensy waist and laughed how thick I used to think it was. I laughed thinking of all the time I spent styling my hair and applying what felt like POUNDS of make-up…
Looking back, I didn’t really need all that. I had youth beaming out of me. I was vibrant.
NOW I need make-up.

I looked at the boys standing next to me in all of the pictures. It’s strange to think they’re out there somewhere being MEN. They’ll always be boys to me.

I only ever had one real boyfriend in high school. He was my first kiss. It was my first Prom, he was a senior. I was junior. I was completely floored when he asked ME to be his date. We kissed that night, and it was perfect. Every first kiss should be like mine was.
I was dressed in a beautiful dress. He was wearing a tux…
When he dropped me off at midnight, it felt like I was getting home early. It felt like the date wasn’t nearly long enough. We’d danced a few songs, but mostly we had just talked.
Joe was genuinely interested in what I thought -what I had to say. And of course I was interested in him. He was… older.
I laughed thinking of it. I picked up his picture and smiled. He was just a kid.

We had dated for 5 months -nearly an eternity in high school years. We broke up when he left for school. I didn’t have another boyfriend until college. Joe served a mission, and I wrote to him a little while he was gone. By the time he got home, I was dating Ryan.

I went down to the kitchen Thanksgiving morning. I knew mom would be the only one awake at 6 am.
It gave me a chance to sit and talk with her a little, to assure her that I was fine. I could tell by the way she’d been looking at me that she needed some reassurance.
“Honestly,” I had said to her, “I’m feeling the loss of the girls more than anything. I’m coming around to the idea of life without Ryan. Anyway, I think you could tell things weren’t going so great with us.”
“I could,” she nodded, “But I still worry about you.”
“I’m doing fine. I promise.” I said, putting an apron on and starting some dish water. My mother never did do the dishes before she went to bed the night before.
“You look good. Have you been losing weight?” She asked.
“Yeah, a little. I’ve started walking a lot more, doing a little exercise. Eating much better…”
“You look great.”
“I’m about down to what I was before the divorce,” I laughed, “So that’s something.”
“Have you been making friends in Mulleneaux?” She asked.
“It’s impossible not to,” I said.

I told her all about Ed and how he’d insisted on my getting to know the entire town. I even told her about Ann, and we both teared up when I told her Ann was terminally ill.

It was a good talk, all in all. Mom relaxed for the rest of the weekend and quit watching me, and I tried to relax for the rest of the weekend, but it was hard.
I had sisters-in-law who “knew the perfect guy” for me.
And I had brothers who thought I could watch their kids while they took their wives shopping because “I wasn’t doing anything else.”
Honestly, I did feel the selfish pang of not being able to shop the Thanksgiving sales. Ryan had always let me go out and spend as much as I liked. I could get most of our Christmas shopping done in that one day.

I stayed home this year instead and spent time with my nieces and nephews, and we ended up having a great time. The great thing about kids is they don’t care if you’re going through a divorce or dying or whatever. They treat you just the same, no matter what.

I was glad to come home to Mulleneaux. I drove home Sunday morning, picking up the girls on my way home.

We got started immediately on Christmas decorations. We don’t have much to go on this year, but the girls are being awfully sweet about it.
Thanksgiving wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t horrible. HOWEVER, I’m not looking forward to Christmas. At least I’ll have the girls. That will make it a million times easier.

Tomorrow night, we’re going tree shopping. Ryan always insisted we have a fake tree. He didn’t like the fire hazard of a real tree.
So guess where we’re going tomorrow night? Mulleneaux’s Garden and Nursery. I’m going to get the fattest tree I can find.

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How Dinner Went


And wowwow.

The girls and I got to the diner first. I sat down and started looking over the menu, and the girls took off to play with the vintage arcade machines. I wonder if the people of Mulleneaux even realize their video games are vintage. It’s apparent those same machines have been in the same spot in the diner for years. They’ve always worked just fine, so why change? I love that about this town.

Mason walked in and sat down across from me. I started to say “hello,” but something about the look on his face stopped me. He looked… I don’t know, concerned. Distracted, maybe?
So instead of saying “hello” I said, “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, it should be.”
“Should be?” I asked.
“It’s just mom. It’s happened before…” His voice trailed off.
“What’s happened before?” I asked, confused.
“Mom.” He shook his head and took a deep breath, “You might as well know.”
“She’s sick, isn’t she?”
“Yeah,” for the first time since he’d walked through the door, he looked at me, “How’d you know?”
“I could just tell.”
“She’s been sick for awhile. She just had a bad spell tonight.”
“What is it?” I asked, softly.
“Cancer,” he spoke the word like he’d been holding it in for months.
“How long?”
“She was diagnosed last year. She went through treatments for a few months, but she was miserable… said she’d rather die than…” his voice trailed off again.
“Do you want to go home? Mason, you didn’t have to come.”
“No,” he shook his head, “She’s sleeping now. There’s nothing I can do but worry, and I might as well get something to eat while I worry.”
“I’m so sorry,” I said, not knowing what else to say.
“Thanks,” he picked up a menu, “Me too.”
There was a silence between us that didn’t feel awkward, but I felt like I needed to break it anyway.
“You know the pictures I took for your mom?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he studied the menu intently.
“I actually took…” I reached down under the table and pulled a gift bag up, “… a few more than she asked for.”
“What’s this?”
“It’s for you under one condition.”
“What’s the condition?”
“You can’t breathe a word of this to Ann. I promised her I wouldn’t hand out any of the pictures I took.” While I spoke Mason opened the gift bag and pulled the framed picture out.
“Wow,” he whispered, reaching out to gently touch the glass.
“She didn’t want anyone to see… but I couldn’t help it. It’s so beautiful. I just couldn’t keep it to myself.”
Mason looked up from the picture. He locked eyes with me, and when he did I could see his were full of tears.
“Thank you,” he said. Normally, I didn’t like to keep eye contact with anyone, but I couldn’t look away from Mason. There was something about his eyes that sort of pulled me in.
Don’t get the wrong idea -it wasn’t as if they were SO dreamy that I couldn’t look away. It was almost as if there was so much love behind them -so much of…. something… I just couldn’t look away.
It was Mason who looked away first. He cleared his throat and sort of chuckled.
“I’m sorry,” he said, quickly wiping his eyes with his dirty, long-sleeved work shirt.
“No, don’t apologize.” I spoke softly.
“I guess you’re probably starving.”
“I’m okay,” I shrugged.
“Well I’m starving. How ’bout your girls?”
“Are you kidding? They couldn’t care less about the food. They just wanted to come play the games.”

And so we ordered. And ate. Mason seemed much more relaxed after telling me his mother had cancer. It was almost as if he’d been bearing the burden alone until last night. After we ate, the girls were begging to play the arcade games for a few more minutes. I told them they could, “Just remember, you’ve got exactly 30 minutes until you have to be in bed, and if you stay and play, you won’t have enough time to eat ice cream.”
That did it. One mention of ice cream before bed, and they all ran out of the diner before I could even stand up.
I hurried to gather up my keys, bag and phone. Mason stood up and offered me a hand.
I took it.
And when I took it, I realized that I couldn’t remember the last time a man had offered to help me out of a booth. or into a car. or anything, really.
It was so nice to be noticed. It wasn’t as if Mason did it because he felt compelled to take MY hand. He just did it because that’s the way he is. He notices people and he notices needs.
It’s nice to be noticed.

As I unlocked the car and let the girls pile in, I asked him if he wanted to join us. He said he didn’t want to intrude, but I pressed the issue.
“I actually have something I wanted to show you to see if you could maybe help me out.” I said, “Can’t you see I’m using ice cream to try and lure you into helping me?” I joked.
And so he came.
I let the girls stay up while I talked to Mason about the photo book project. He was really impressed with it, and we were able to work a little on it right then, which I hadn’t expected.
But when he saw the pictures, he couldn’t help but start telling little stories about where some of the porcelain dolls had come from.
Before I knew it, it was creeping up on 10 pm, and little Kenzie was falling asleep on the couch. I woke her up and sent the girls off the change into their pajamas.
“Come back for prayers,” I said.
“I should go,” Mason stood up.
“No, stay for prayers,” I insisted. “It would be nice to have the company.”
“Are you sure?” he asked.
“I’m sure,” I said. I didn’t actually say, “It would be nice to have a priesthood holder around while we pray” because that sounded MORE than a little crazy, but that’s what I meant.
So he stayed while we all knelt down and Kenzie prayed. Kenzie always has the sweetest, most honest prayers. She’ll always pray for whatever she feels she needs most to pray for. Even if it’s her dad’s new wife. And “Sparkler,” her new puppy at her new house…
I try not to let things like that irk me, but sometimes they do.
Okay, MOST times, they do. I’m trying to get over it, honestly I am.

After the girls toddled into bed, Mason stood up and walked toward the door.
“Thanks so much for your help Mason,” I said.
“No problem, I think it’s a great idea,” he pointed to my lap top that was still open to the book project, “Mom’s going to love it.”
“I hope so. I hope you don’t think I’m overstepping my bounds. I know I haven’t known your mother long.”
“But you know her well enough,” he shrugged. He put his hand on the door knob and then he stopped and turned to me, “I think you should know something. It doesn’t matter much, I guess. But Ann isn’t the woman who gave birth to me.”
“Oh?” I asked, trying to sound surprised. But I wasn’t much.
“My real mom is Ann’s daughter. She died when I was a baby in a car accident. Ann wouldn’t let anyone else have me. She’s always been my mom.”
“She’s such an amazing woman.”
“She is,” Mason nodded, “I’m glad you’re getting know her now.”
“I am too,” I said, and listening to him say “getting to know her now” sent a sort of sadness up from my heart to my eyes, and I started to tear up.
“Look,” Mason said, not looking at me and not realizing I was on the verge of bursting into a full-blown tear fest, “Don’t treat her any different. She doesn’t like people knowing about her cancer.” I swallowed hard, trying to mask my emotions.
“I understand. I won’t.” But my voice betrayed me. Surprised, Mason looked up at me. I was furiously trying to blink the tears back into my eyes.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “This is ridiculous.”
“No, I’m sorry.” He moved away from the door and stepped in closer to me, “I shouldn’t have told you.”
“I guess I knew already,” I said, “I just didn’t ‘know’ know. You know?”
“I know.” Mason slowly nodded, smiling.
“I know it sounds silly, but I really feel close to her. I wish I had more time to spend with her, to really get to know her.”
“You’ll get to know her more than you know through making that book,” Mason pointed to my computer again.
“You must think I’m crazy. Some crazy city girl who busted into your town and fell in love with your mother.”
“She’s easy to love,” Mason stepped in a little closer again, “And she really likes you.”
“Did she say that?” I looked up, the tears slipping silently down my cheek. I’d quit trying to wipe them away.
“She does say that. Quite often.”
For some reason, hearing him say that seemed to fix everything for the moment. I smiled.
“Thanks,” I said.
“For what?” he asked.
“For telling me that. For not making me feel like a fool for crying. For helping me with this book… just, thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” he nodded. I was looking down at his boots, and I noticed them taking another step toward me. I hadn’t realized how close he’d gotten to me because I’d been too busy crying. When I DID realize it, my instinct was to back up, but I couldn’t. I just looked up at him and found him looking at me, and I couldn’t move.
I was rooted to the spot, wondering all at once what he was thinking and if my mascara was running. In one seemingly slow motion, he brought me in for a hug. A REAL hug -one of those hugs that makes you feel like summertime in the middle of November.
“Thank you for the picture,” he said. And then he stepped away.
“Anytime,” said, and then immediately wished I could take it back because it made ABSOLUTELY no sense. But honestly, I couldn’t really think straight at that point. Any woman who hadn’t been really hugged by a man in ages wouldn’t be able to think straight.
“When do you want to work on the book again?” he asked.
“Any evening usually works for me. Just call me sometime when you have a few minutes, and we’ll try to make it work.”
“Sounds good.” He said. Then he put his hand on the doorknob, turned it, and walked out.
But I didn’t move. Even when I heard his old truck start and pull out of the drive way, I didn’t move. I could still feel the warmth of the hug, and I didn’t want it to leave.

It left me feeling a lot like the kid in that one cartoon who invented a hugging machine to feel loved. What cartoon was that? I don’t know. Anyway, how sad is that? All Mason did was hug me. All I did was give him a picture. And yet, I suddenly realize just how rotten my marriage really was.
There wasn’t any hugging.
Tomorrow morning, the girls are getting hugs.
And tomorrow before bed, they’re getting hugs.
And they’ll continue to get them for the rest of their lives.

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Overstepping Boundaries

There’s a really REALLY good chance that I’m about to step out of bounds. I’ve told myself this over and over and over, but I can’t seem to stop myself from doing what I’m about to do. which is… give a gift.

It isn’t a big deal, really. I mean, if you don’t have time to sit and THINK about it, it’s not a big deal. Here, I’ll show you:
I’m giving Mason a framed picture of his mother.

See? Easy enough. But then you think about it, and:

I printed off an extra print from the pictures of Ann I SWORE I wouldn’t give to anyone. Then I sent the print off to a framing company in the city (I’m good friends with the daughter of the Framer, and I’ve never ever framed anything myself because they’ve spoiled me. I’m an admitted Frame Snob), and it came back today. It. Looks. Amazing. Without Ann knowing it, I’m going to gift it to Mason.
Someone I barely know.
Hey! Come to think of it, I barely know Ann!
Hey! I’m a freak!

But the thing is: I can’t seem to stop myself. I feel like Mason would really appreciate it. I don’t know, maybe the only reason I feel that way is because I would kill for a picture like this of MY grandmother, but she passed on a long time ago. It still strikes me as crazy that Mason is SO much younger than his mother. I have to catch myself over and over because I find I think of her more often than not as his Grandma. But she’s not. She’s his MOM.

Something feels iffy about the whole situation, but who am I to care?
I barely know them!

And yet, and yet, and YET: I have a burning desire TO know them. Which is why I’ve been stopping by to visit Ann every so often when I get off work. I don’t stay long because I have to pick the girls up from school, but I stay JUST long enough to see how she’s doing.
And speaking of overstepping my bounds, I’ve got a project in the works.

After leafing through the pictures of Ann’s house over and over and over, I got an idea. A few years ago, Ryan’s sister made a book for every sibling in his family. She had taken pictures and stories of his grandfather and compiled them into a fantastic book. It was so professional looking! I wish I had it right now because I’d love to use it as an example, but I’m going to do the best I can. I’ve downloaded some software (totally worth the cost), and I’ve started compiling her pictures in a book. I’m adding descriptions as best as I can, trying my very hardest to remember everything she told me that day as we walked through her house, but I’m having trouble remembering everything.

The book is turning out great. I’ve had to leave some pictures out, but I’ve been able to use most of them. I’ve cropped and collaged and added borders! I’m impressed with myself. It’s downright gratifying.

But I’m also stuck. I need help to finish the book. I want it to be a surprise to Ann, so I don’t want to ask her for help. And so I’m going to ask Mason.

Tonight when he meets me and the girls at the diner, I’m going to give him a framed picture of his mother and ask him to volunteer his time and knowledge to help me finish the book.
I’m feeling yards of awkward about it, but my desire to finish the book is absolutely crazy. It will be my Christmas gift to Ann.
A woman I barely know.
But we’ll fix that.

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Saving Cash

When I was growing up, my mother always washed her plastic bags. It utterly humiliated me. I thought she had no pride! No sense of self-respect! I mean… what if the neighbors had looked across the way and SEEN my MOTHER washing BAGS in her SINK?! Of course as I got older, I realized my mother washing bags wasn’t the worst thing that had ever happened to me, but the humiliation I had once felt seemed to cling to a permanent spot under my skin. Never in all the years since I’d moved out of my mother’s home had I been able to bring myself to wash a ziploc.

Until just now.

I might also add that when I was married to Ryan, I had no need to wash my bags. We always had plenty of money to buy whatever we needed and then some.
And some.
And some.
And a little more than that.

Things are very important to Ryan. He never had many toys growing up -his parents, though not especially poor -were of the saving type. They were frugal. They were practical.
They had two used cars, one small house, no yard to speak of (“upkeep would cost a fortune!” his mother always said), and a HEFTY amount of money in their bank account.
When Ryan was of age, they gave him a big chunk to pay for his schooling. His schooling paid for his career. His career paid for my life.

And now, after what might have once been deemed “a good run”… I’m washing my ziplocs. By hand. There’s a general lack of dishwashers in trailers the world over. It pains me to the soul.

I’m not embarrassed to say it, either. It pains me to the SOUL because for the past 13 years I’d gotten used to a certain way of life and now it’s gone. I’m having to get used to one that is buckets less comfortable and loads more embarrassing than my mother washing bags.
Or hadn’t you heard my husband left me for his old girlfriend via facebook.
Oh, sorry. I always seem to spit venom when I say “facebook.”

I’m obviously not quite over the anger yet. That’s okay for now. That’s okay. It’s getting better and it’s getting easier.

For example, I’m learning that when it comes to saving money I’m getting to be pretty awesome. I haven’t had to save money in years, so this is all new and fun for me.
Okay, really it’s total garbage, but I’m trying to look on the bright side. Sorta like when your mom dished up lima beans on your plate for the first time and told you they were a “new adventure!” instead of what they really were: pasty, green hell.

Well, it just so happens that the pasty, green hell is also some kind of super food that nourishes your body in ways other foods just can’t.
And so my new lifestyle is my pasty, green hell.
Awful and sometimes gag-inducing, but also good FOR me. Aside from slowly but surely shedding poundage on account of spending less on food, I’m thoroughly BASKING in the fact that I don’t love things!

For the first time in 13 years, I’m not drowning toys. I’m not getting meaningless plastic gifts and BEST OF ALL, I don’t have to worry about GIVING silly EXPENSIVE toys to Ryan. I always wanted to get him practical, useful tools, but he balked at the idea.
I would have given anything for him to have bought me a useful gift. Now -lack of cash aside -there’s nothing holding me back from being practical. Is it sad how much of a thrill I get just from TYPING that? Yes. And no.

The worst and best thing about lima beans is the more you eat them, the less you notice how awful they are. And so it is with my pasty, green experience.
Saving money isn’t so bad. I’m coming around to the idea, and I’ve got the drainer full of ziplocs to prove it.

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One of these days I’ll break down and buy Photoshop. I wish I would have had it on hand Sunday. I spent the entire day (church aside) editing photos. I went to bed with a throbbing headache. I really don’t think photoshop would do anything for the headaches, but I DO think that I could have learned a lot about the program just by spending an entire afternoon and evening AND night dinking around on it. I’ve always been a hands-on learner, and no matter how many online tutorials I read… I still want to just get my hands on the program. For now I’m contented to use Picnik to the best of my ability (which isn’t all that great, but it’s getting better).

I edited a huge chunk of Ann’s pictures. She didn’t ask me to edit them. She only asked that I print them out for her. She has a little stack of photo albums sitting by the side of her couch -one for every child -and she is so excited to fill them. Ann seems more like a grandmother than a mother. It seems a little weird that Mason is her son because he’s so much younger than she is. I don’t want to ASK about it, though. It just seems a little nosy. Okay, a LOT nosy.
The fact is: she is his mother and he is her son. That’s all I NEED to know (it’s not all I want to know though. Have I mentioned that I’m a lot nosy?).

Also: while I spent most of Sunday on the computer, I almost reactivated my facebook account 6 times. I miss my friends. I’m not talking “facebook” friends. I’m talking about my real friends -the ones I left behind in the city. I feel them sort of slipping slowly out of my life. I really just wanted to log on and get lost in a few chat conversations. What kept me, you ask? The fact that I knew “a few chat conversations” would end up being a few chat conversations about how I was doing and how the girls were doing and divorce divorce divorce! I don’t want to hear about how strong I am. I don’t want to hear about how stupid Ryan was (is?). I don’t want to hear about what a great job I’m doing as a single mom. I just don’t! Does that make me a bad person? I feel like I should feel bad. I should let people in and hear what they have to say, but I don’t want to. I just want to leave all of that shmuzz (hey, that’s a much nicer word than the other) back in the city with my old house. or maybe in the dumpster with my old clothes.

Anyway, life in the city was so fast-paced. Life here in Mulleneaux is much much MUCH simpler. The simplicity is healing.

As I edited the photos of Ann’s house, I was amazed at how simple her life had been. It doesn’t seem great to say it like that, but if you could just see the pictures! Her life has been so blessed, so full, so outstanding … because it was so simple. She knows what matters, and it shows. In her living room, the biggest item on the wall is a big painting of Christ. All around it in mismatched frames are pictures of her children and their families.
She has five children. I could hear you asking.
Yes, they’re all older than Mason by quite a few years. The pictures are all up-to-date save one. One of the children is pictured young, much younger.
Sylvie. Sylvie couldn’t have been much older than 25. Her beautiful golden hair looked something like Farrah Fawcett’s. The picture looks like it was taken sometime in the mid to late seventies. Ann told me she had been killed in an accident. She left it at that, and I didn’t ask any more. I only told her how sorry I was.
I can’t imagine losing my girls. It’s hard enough leaving them with their dad for a weekend.

Anyway, it was easy to see what was important to her by the way she treated her possessions. The center of her life is the Savior, next was her family. Everything else seemed dim in comparison. As the day wound down, I edited the pictures I took of Ann in the garden. My favorite picture of her is breathtaking -not on account of my photography, but on account of who she is. Unedited it is breathtaking. You should see what it looks like edited. I went against my better judgment and printed a 5×7 of the picture onto photo paper. I’m sure it sucked up most of my printer ink, but I don’t care. I don’t even know what I’m going to do with it, but I couldn’t NOT print it. I had to have it.
After the ink dried completely, I cut the picture down a little and clipped it to my bathroom mirror to help me remember what’s important. It’s inspiring.

There’s part of me that wants to share the picture with Mason, but I don’t know how exactly. It would be one thing if it was a picture of his child, or something. But it’s his mom. Is it common to hand people pictures of their mothers? I don’t know. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I promised Ann I wouldn’t leak the pictures to anyone.

Ugh, is it that late already? I’ve got to get in bed. Thanksgiving is next week, and the paper wants to run a special on the Milton’s family poultry business. Apparently everyone has bought their Thanksgiving turkeys from them for as long as anyone can remember. I have to wake up early if I want to catch an interview with Merle Milton, so they say.
What kind of name is that anyway? Merle Milton. It sounds like something right out of a black and white movie.

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Capturing a Home

Ann is Mason’s mother.  She is -by FAR -one of the most amazing women I have ever met.  It seems like this town is practically bursting with amazing women.  Rubbing shoulders with women like Ann and Dorothy has sparked a sort of flame inside me.  It hasn’t caught fire yet, but I can feel something stirring in my soul.  It feels almost like… inspiration.  Crazy as it may sound, I don’t even remember the last time I felt inspired by anything!  I have to say: I’m loving it.

I’m standing here after spending the last few months at Rock Bottom… and I’m finally looking up!  Not moving up, mind you.  Just looking.  But I’ll take it.
I learned a lot from spending the afternoon with Ann, and I’ve been dying to get home to tell you about it. Strange, isn’t it? I’ve got a burning desire to share my experiences with you and none whatsoever to share them with anyone who isn’t a complete stranger. You’re safer, that’s why. You’re quiet and a good listener and you never, ever offer advice.
THAT makes you sacred.

Ann is so frail. When I met her, she gently pulled me in for a hug and I was seriously afraid that if I touched her she would somehow break in my arms. But she didn’t. When she hugged me, I felt something go through me. I can’t quite put my finger on just what it was… its was almost as if her soul was so much bigger than her bones that it sort of wrapped you up in a warm invisible blanket of comfort. I felt instantly at home with her. I wanted to brush past all of the formal meet and greet blabber and get straight to talking about REAL things with her.
What has life been to you, Ann?
Who do you think about?
What have you seen?

Most all of my curiosity about Ann was answered by working on the project she had in mind for me. Apparently, she’d been reading something in the newspaper under the Dear Abby column. A reader had written in about an idea he’d gotten after his parents passed away. Before dividing up his parents belongings between the siblings, a photographer was hired to come and capture the house JUST as it was. Pictures of the house were distributed among those who would treasure them most and only THEN was the house cleaned out.
Ann didn’t have to say out loud that her time was drawing close -even without knowing her very well, I could see it in her eyes.
“Take pictures of everything. Absolutely everything!” she had said, following behind me in her little wheelchair. As I made my way through the house with her at my heels, she told me all about her porcelain doll collection, her mother’s wedding dress (and how the beads on the neckline had browned with age), Mason’s Eagle Scout plaque, her husband’s military flag…
NEVER IN MY LIFE has an afternoon flown by so rapidly. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to sift through absolutely everything. Isn’t that awful? I wanted to know more! More! I was positively hungry to get wrapped up in someone else’s completely lived life.
Probably because I presently feel my life isn’t as lived as it should be. But at least I’m starting to feel like maybe I’ll get there someday which is a far cry from how I felt four months ago (“MY LIFE IS OVERRRR!”).

After we had gone through the entire house (save one room… Mason’s) and I had taken -I kid thee not -182 pictures, we both went back to her living room and sat down. In the course of one glorious afternoon I went from being complete strangers with Ann to feeling like I was maybe one of her best friends in all the world. I have a hankering that Ann makes pretty much everyone feel that way. After we had chatted for a few minutes, I looked outside and saw the sun was about to set. I asked her if I could take a few pictures of her outside in her yard. She refused, but I begged. I promised her she wouldn’t be disappointed if she would give me a chance. I also promised her that I’d only give the printed pictures to her and if she hated them, I’d help her burn them.

I wish I hadn’t made that promise. I wish I could share every single picture with you because they are each absolutely stunning. My favorite is one of her sitting on a garden bench her husband built for her when they had only been married a few years. Time has aged it beautifully, and it sits proudly under a willow tree. The sunset is peaking through the soft leaves, and I caught Ann’s profile. Ah, that picture! It makes my heart sort of swell. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever captured through my lens.

I wheeled her back into her house and she was obviously tired. I knew I should probably leave, but I felt sort of funny just walking out. So I didn’t. I sat by her on her couch and we watched television together until the last of the natural light faded from the house. Before I could get up to turn any lights on, Mason walked through the front door. He hadn’t been home since he’d dropped in for lunch, and I almost forgot he even lived there. In a way, he crashed the little world I had mentally created for Ann and I.
“Don’t care for lights?” He had joked when he walked in.
“I was just about to turn them on,” I said, and started to get up, “I should go anyway.”
“Why?” Mason asked and sat down comfortably in the recliner next to the sofa, “Just because Mom fell asleep?”
I hadn’t even noticed.
“Oh…” I said, “I really should go.” I tried to get up softly from the couch.
“Don’t bother trying to be careful. Mom can’t be woken up for anything. How did it go today?”
“It went really good,” I said, trying to be quiet, “I think we got pictures of everything she wanted to.”
“That’s good.” Mason tipped his head back and rocked in silence while I gathered up my camera and cell phone and keys… I should probably invest in a purse.
I started to say that I would see him around when he cut me off and asked me if I’d had dinner.
“No,” I said, “I was just going home to -”
“I was just going out to -” he copied my tone, “If you’d like to come along.”

It sounded exactly like he was asking me on a date, and I didn’t know what to say or how to say it.
I knew what I WANTED to say, and that was…
“Look, I was married once. I mean, I was married 7 months ago! And that man messed with my head so badly that I’d rather not go out to dinner with anyone ever again because it’s much safer to stay home in my trailer and eat chick food and watch chick movies. So if it’s all the same to you, I’ll be going.”
What I did was worse than that.
What I did… was nothing. Nothing except STARE at him with my mouth sort of gaping. I mean, I really stared at him! My heart was pounding so hard that it distracted my entire being and kept me from actually speaking! or moving!
And finally he stood up, put his hat on -that he had taken off when he’d walked in -opened the front door, took my hand and literally JERKED me out.
He followed, just so you know.
I tried apologizing for staring at him, but I didn’t quite know how to do that either. What would you say?
“Sorry about that whole ‘staring at your face for what felt like the longest, most-awkward minute of BOTH of our lives. But you see, about seven months ago I was married and the guy really messed with my head …”
Forget it. All I got out was, “I’m sorry, I just… I mean… it’s not…”
He finally just held up his hand and said, “You’re tired. You’re hungry. I’m tired. I’m hungry. Let’s not make a scene of it. Let’s just eat.”

So we did. And you know what? I lived. I lived and learned a few things about him. The most important of which I’m going to share with you now:
Mason used to be married.
Mason has a 13 year old daughter who he rarely gets to see on account of her mother living in Florida.
Mason used to run a successful business in the city while he was married.
After his marriage failed and his wife and daughter moved away, he wasn’t happy staying in the city to run a successful business. While weighing his options for change, he got a call from Dorothy telling him his mother could use an extended visit.
So Mason moved back home. Back in with his mother.
Mason now works as the town’s accountant and is able to keep up his mother’s house and small acreage which includes several horses, one milk cow, a coop of chickens, two friendly dogs (one of which is very old), a barn cat, and two tractors for 6 fields.

Okay, honestly… he only told me about the accounting, acreage and tractors. His mother told me the rest. Minus the animal population which I counted for myself.

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Evening In?

After dropping the girls off at school this morning,  I headed into work.  I’d almost forgotten how Fridays feel in a workspace.  I haven’t worked in so long that I’d forgotten how wonderful they feel.  They’re energizing.  Being alone for the weekend is something I’ve been dreading, but coming to work on Friday somehow helped.  It made me realize that this weekend is definitely going to be good for me.  I can do anything!  Well, not ANYTHING given the local limitations… but that’s okay.  Like I said before, there’s nothing weirder than a 32 year old MOM alone at a nightclub.

I don’t even have any nightclubbish clothes, and that’s the dang truth.

Anyway, I’m writing this at work.  My work for the week is done, and I’m just hanging around to help Ed if he needs it.  I was planning on renting a few movies and hunkering down for one fat relaxing weekend, and if I had just gone home when my work was done I probably could have pulled it off.  But I didn’t.  I stayed here.

And Ed asked me what my plans were.  I told him I planned to just relax by the television, and I also made a point of telling him how excited I was about it.

So when Mason came in and asked me what my plans were for this weekend, ED answered before I could make any excuses.  As it turns out, I won’t be staying in.  As it turns out, I’ll be spending Saturday with Mason.  He needs help with a photography project his mother has in mind.   I’m glad, in a way, that it isn’t a date.  Honestly when he walked in and said, “what are your plans tomorrow?” I sort freaked.  I mean, my stomach sorta freaked.  After I found out he just needed my help, I felt much better.  Much much.

I’m picking the kids up from school in a couple hours and then taking them directly into the city to spend their weekend with Ryan.

Someone please try and explain to me why I have this insanely driving desire to look my best when I drop the kids off with Ryan AND when I spend Saturday with Mason.  You know what?  Never mind.  I don’t think I really want to know.

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The Phone Call

Ryan called.

Do you know what it’s like seeing his name pop up on my cell phone? Gut-wrenching. I think, ‘Oh it’s him (meaning my husband)’ and then I think, ‘Oh it’s HIM (meaning my ex-husband).’ It’s surreal and awful and it makes me want to flush my cell phone down the toilet. I didn’t pick it up right away. I’ll admit: I stared at his name for a good three rings before I finally took a deep breath and answered it.
Have you ever had someone rip a band-aid off your arm hair while you weren’t looking? Well, me either, but I imagine it feels a lot like hearing your nearly ex-husband’s voice on the other end of the phone. What a way to shake up my Wednesday. He was calling for two reasons.
#1) He’s finally going to be able to take the girls this weekend. I don’t like to see them go, but I’m glad they’ll finally get some time with their dad. They need it.
#2) He’s listing the house on the market.

Okay, sounds good. Thanks for calling. Goodbye.
Aaaaaand… teensy meltdown.
Our house, the one we worked for and in, was being sold. Forgive me for being so stupidly sentimental. Forgive me. Every time I think I’m getting tougher -more callused and all that -something comes up and throws me right back into the Kleenex box and I commence to building a sobbing Everest of snotty tissue. I thought I didn’t care about the house, but I do.
It’s not that I want it. I don’t. I don’t want to have anything to do with it, really. I’m just sad over what it stands for, if that makes any sense. Someone else will be cooking in my kitchen and dusting our banister. They’ll enjoy the trees we planted together and the lawn Ryan slaved over.
Part of me wants to say, “Great! Good for them. Have fun with that.”
The other part of me wants to say, “Ryan, you’re an idiot for giving up your lawn. You worked so hard on it! You invested time and money in it! You manicured it and loved it and did everything you could to keep it alive and thriving!” But you and I both know I’m not talking about the lawn.
And obviously he didn’t do everything he could to keep our marriage alive. Then again, neither did I. I guess. I’ll have it all figured out someday.
Thirty years from now, when I’m 62, I’ll maybe understand. Even if I don’t, what does it matter? This is my life now. This is my trailer and this is my baseball jersey.
On the bright side, once the house sells Ryan won’t have to pay the mortgage on it anymore and my month check will increase a very little. I don’t like taking his money. I hate that I can’t just independently jump from one lifestyle to another, but it is what it is. I don’t take the money for me -I take it for the girls.
The girls. The sweet girls. They’re bearing this better than I thought.
Kyra, my oldest, told me the other day that she knew something had been not right between her Dad and I for about a year. Even before Amy and her chewing gum came in the picture. I guess I was blind.
I’m going to miss the girls this weekend, and it will be interesting to be totally alone.
Funny isn’t it? When I was married with three girls at home, I would have given anything to have a weekend all to myself. Now that I’m getting it, I’d almost rather die.
The grass isn’t all that greener, but it’s still green. Actually, to tell you the truth, we don’t even have a hint of a yard, so there isn’t any grass at all on the other side -forget about greener. But I’m still okay.
To tell you the truth, there’s something gratifying about traipsing over the dirt in front of my house without worrying if Ryan will get irritated by my “tearing up the grass.”
There. See? Things are looking up already. It’s going to be a great Thursday.

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Getting To Know You -Delia’s Story

I hate being a girl and I wish I wasn’t so bloody good at it.  I cry over movies, sentimental Hallmark commercials and sappy country songs.  Over half of Mulleneaux’s radio stations are country, by the way.  There’s no getting around sappy country songs.  Aside from being prone to blubbering spells, I’m also prone to analyzing.  One of the many great things about marriage was that the analyzing pretty much quit.  I mean, I analyzed things on a small scale, but if I wondered what my husband meant by what he said or did… I just ASKED him.

But when you’ve got plans to spend an entire day with someone you’ve only met… you can’t call them and ask them anything you really want to.  For instance: what should I wear?

I opted for jeans and a v-neck t-shirt.  I’ll be honest… the idea of dressing up to impress someone (a MAN, even) was repulsive unto me.  I feel like I’ve been playing the “dress to impress” part much too long.  Forgive me if I take a sabbatical for, um, ever.

Anyway, I loaded up the girls in the van that’s soon to be traded in and I took them with me to meet Mason for breakfast. Dorothy promised to keep the girls while I did research with Mason, but I wanted treat them to breakfast first. Mason was great about it. He could have easily been really awkward with the girls, some men are. I appreciated how comfortable he made them feel, especially little Kensy. He sat next to her and helped her build a small fort out of her waffles. Having the girls there made for an easy start to the day and erased any “I-don’t-really-know-you-what-the-devil-do-we-talk-about” weirdness.
After pancakes, I took the girls to Dorothy and Ed’s house. I left my van there and got in Mason’s old truck.
“How long have you had it?” I asked him, pointing to his silver beater.
“Since high school,” he laughed, “I mean, it hasn’t been the only vehicle I’ve ever owned, but it’s the only one I drive around Mulleneaux.”
“Oh! That reminds me,” I said, “What do you know about the Rittmann’s truck?”
“The Five Generation Truck?”
“That’s the one. Ed mentioned it the other day. Do you think we could take a look at it?” I asked.
“That’s as good a place to start as any,” He said, getting into his truck.

Easy. Ease. Easy easiness. That’s how the day went. There wasn’t any strain or analyzing. He took me to the Bed and Breakfast to read up on the town history -each bedroom was named after a prominent member of the town’s history. We spent over an hour in the library. Mason knew better that I what books were worth checking out and reading. I came home with a small stack, and I feel like the college student I never got to be on account of my getting married before enrolling in college of any kind.

Did I mention it was easy to be around Mason? There was no tension, no “where’s his hand?”, no awkward silences… he didn’t ask me anything too personal and was honestly more interested in teaching me about his town than anything else. I appreciated that -not that I expected him to drive me around town and drill me about the details of my divorce. I guess I’m self-conscious enough to think that people have been wondering. And maybe they have, but the more I get to know Mulleneaux, the more I realize that the people here really don’t care about that kind of thing. More than anything, they just want to know if they can help you in any way.
It makes me want to stay here forever.

We did make one stop that didn’t have anything to do with The Tour De Mulleneaux: the small car dealership in town. I’ve been procrastinating stopping by because I’m no good with those kinds of things. I’m not ashamed to admit it was nie to have Mason there to ask the right questions and get me the right information.
I’m proud to announce that as of next Saturday, I’ll be rid of Ryan’s Mountain Dew stain in the car. I’ll be rid of the minivan we bought “just in case” the family grew. I’ll have a little gas-friendly car with three seats in the back and one seat by my side. Who’s going to fill that empty spot in the car?
My camera, that’s who.

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