Exit 21

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Her hands held the steering wheel as a ray of sunshine glinted off her silver bracelet, catching her eye. It was a Pandora that her kids had chipped in to buy her for Christmas a couple years ago. She looked at the book charm that her husband had added to the bracelet. There was also an apple from a former student and a little boy and girl representing her grandchildren. On a whim, for her birthday she had bought herself an airplane and suitcase charm. These were her favorite although she would never tell her family that. She realized that she usually didn’t even remember the drive to work anymore. It felt like one of her favorite books, A Wrinkle in Time. She got in her car in the morning stowing her big bag and settling her coffee in the cup holder. Then before she knew it, it would be like the road folded up and she was already pulling into the parking lot at work.

Today seemed different. What if? She thought. What if I just got off at a random exit and had an adventure instead of going into work today. She’d driven this same route for ten years, every single day, driving past all the exits she had never taken. Maybe today I’ll take exit 21, she thought and started making up stories about the cars that took exit 21. She decided that they’re probably going up to the mountains to a little cabin in the woods to sit by the fire in their pajamas, reading and drinking hot chocolate as they watch the snow fall outside. They don’t even care if there’s a storm because they don’t have to get up an hour early to shovel the drive and scrape the ice off the car windows. Or if it’s summer, she pictues those lucky exit 21 people heading to a lake to sit on the dock sipping white wine and snacking on expensive cheese and crackers. I could be those people. Maybe today’s the day. My car will veer off at the last second. To hell with exit 54. Where has exit 54 ever gotten me? Exit 21 became the stuff of dreams.

I’m doing it she decided. Exit 19, 20, 21. She steered her car off the exit, her heart beating fast. She seemed to be the only car on the road. I wonder where this will take me she thought. She followed the winding mountain road until she saw a roadblock ahead. As she got closer she could read the sign, “Road Closed”. She stopped her car, climbed out and started laughing. “Figures, “she said out loud. She plucked her coffee mug out of its holder and leaned on the hood of her car, sipping the coffee and contemplating the sign. After she took her last sip, she got back in her car, turned around and thought, well maybe tomorrow I’ll try exit 38.

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To Panic or Not to Panic

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I have been in Texas for almost exactly one year, and I have noticed that Texans do not panic. And as a newcomer, this is quite problematic for me, because in new and unfamiliar situations, I look to those around me in order to know how quickly and to what degree I should be freaking out. Here are a few examples.

I am sitting in a nail salon watching the sky outside darken, and I hear phone alerts going off around me. Ladies are calmly checking their phones for the latest weather advisory as they continue chatting and sipping fancy lemon-water. The phone warnings keep getting louder and more urgent. I look at these women’s faces. Help me out here ladies. I’m new to tornado warnings. Are we supposed to panic? Should I be heading to the basement? Oh crap! There are no basements! I sit with my pretty red toenails under the dryer and continue to look at my fellow pedicurians for the slightest sign of worry. I don’t see it! But as the phones continue to alarm and the rain comes down harder and the wind is whipping the trees around, I decide to be my own woman and panic to the very best of my ability. To hell with my pretty, not-quite-yet-dry nails. The nice salon workers calmly check me out and tell me to have a nice afternoon.

A co-worker tells me that there was once a snake in her office. Um what? Did you say a snake? “Oh-my gosh! What did you do?” I ask horrified, thinking she must have called some special Texas dangerous reptile hotline.
“I caught it in the recycling bucket and took it outside,” she says.
Pardon me? You what?

I overhear another co-worker, a single young lady; telling about a coyote that was near her house and acting abnormally the previous evening. It was getting too close and didn’t seem at all scared of her, or her dogs. She couldn’t get it to go away. Again, I ask, “Oh my gosh! What did you do?”
“I shot it,” she says.
“You shot it?”
“Not to kill it. Just to scare it.”
Oh of course! Just to scare it.

See what I mean? Texans do not panic! I am pretty sure that even if a tornado were actually in sight, headed straight for her house, a Texan would just look calmly at her kids, tell them to climb in the bathtub for a few minutes, and to bring some snacks while they were at it.

Listen. I am from the North and I am not used to venomous creatures, tornadoes or shooting stuff. So be assured that in situations of which I am unsure, I will panic. Just to let you know, if the TV says there is a tornado warning, I will be in my closet with my bike helmet securely fastened.

And co-workers, if I miss work for a few days, you can assume that I have barricaded myself in my house because there is a rattlesnake in my yard and I am waiting for it to leave of it’s own volition.

But I’ll tell you what, if there is ever a zombie apocalypse, I want to be with the Texans. I’ll be running around freaking out yelling, “ZOMBIES!!!”
They’ll be like, “Yup.”
“Don’t panic.”
“Just climb in the bathtub for a few minutes.”
Then they’ll shoot the zombies and stuff ‘em in a recycling bucket.

If I ever do see a Texan panic, I’m throwing in the towel. It will mean the end of the world has truly come. No doubt about it.

Graduation

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When I was pregnant with you
I couldn’t wait for you to be born
Because I was so excited to meet my baby boy

When you were born and I held you
You looked at me with those big eyes
And then peed all over
I smiled and said, “Hey Kid, nice to meet you. I’m your mom.”

Hey Kid, I remember you in your baby seat and our cat Ellie
Doing some silly thing
You looked over at me and we smiled at each other
Sharing our first joke

Hey Kid, we spent many hours exploring the world together
I got to see through your eyes as we fought dragons with sticks
And collected beautiful rocks and looked for crawfish in the pond
Coming home muddy and tired and so happy

Hey Kid, I comforted you when you were sick, or sad, or hurt
A snuggle and a Band-aid
Band-aids were magic
Able to heal any broken heart

Hey Kid, today I watch you walk across the stage, ready to leap into your next adventure
I am so proud of you and excited to see where you will go
But I am the one who today
May need a magic Band-aid and a snuggle

Swimming in the Rain

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Friends for so long

Most every summer a girls’
Weekend at the lake

This past year has seen quite
A variety of weather

Bright sunshine as
Kids graduate from high school

A downpour with moves
Across the city and the country

And a tornado with
The unexpected death of a parent

But here we are
Together still

Swimming in the rain
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Sugar Face

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Fall

“Sorry! Maggie, down!” said a tall man in sweatpants and hoodie as he ran to grab his dog’s collar.

“S’ok. I like dogs,” said another man who was being slobbered over by the large black lab.

“Well apparently they like you too,” said Maggie’s owner pulling her away from the bench.

“My name’s Theo,” said the man on the bench.

“I’m Mark and you’ve already met Maggie. Sorry again,” said Mark as he noticed the Maggie drool on Theo’s heavy black coat.”

“It’s really okay,” said Theo leaning forward to pet Maggie’s head.

“Well, we’d better finish our run. Have a good afternoon,” said Mark.

“You too,” said Theo leaning back on the bench and watching Mark and Maggie jog away crunching through the piles of fall leaves.

****

“Hi Maggie!” Mark heard and turned to see Theo on the bench where they had met him a few weeks before.

Mark slowed down and walked over so Theo could pet Maggie who immediately put her paws on the bench and started licking Theo’s unshaven face.

“Mind if we sit a minute?” Mark asked joining Theo on the bench. “Maggie and I are both kind of tired today.”

“Help yourself,” Theo said. “You know, I used to have a dog named Buddy. He was a really good boy. I miss him.”

“Dogs are pretty great, said Mark. “How long ago did you have Buddy?”

“When I was a little boy. He would play hide and seek with me. I would tell him to stay and then go hide. When I called him, he would come find me and lick my face just like Maggie.”

“I’ve had Maggie for about 11 years. I got her when I got my first apartment after college. She’s getting to be an old girl,” said Mark scratching Maggie under her chin.

“Yeah, she’s got a sugar face,” said Theo looking at the coating of white fur on her muzzle. “Did I tell you I used to have a dog named Buddy? We got him when I got married. It was my wife’s idea. She said she’d be lonely because I was working so much. We found him in the pound. He was a really good boy.”

Mark looked at Theo. “Oh you named him Buddy after the dog you had when you were little?”

“What? No. I’ve only had one dog. My parents never would have let me have a dog when I was little. My dad hated animals.” Theo turned away from Mark and Maggie and pulled his coat tightly around him. Mark noticed a big rip along a seam in the coat.

“Well, I guess we’ll head on Theo. Nice to see you again.” Theo looked down, studying the peeling green paint of the bench as Mark and Maggie took off.

Winter

“Hey Theo!” called Mark as they ran past the bench and slowed down.

“Hi Sugar face,” said Theo to Maggie as Mark let go of her leash and she ran to give him her typical full body greeting.

Mark sat down on the bench blowing in his hands to warm them. “Getting cold.”

“Yeah, probably have to head into the shelter soon. I don’t go unless it’s freezing because I don’t like all the stupid rules. But in the winter, it’s too cold to be sleeping out here.”

Mark looked closer at Theo noticing how he always wore the same worn pants. He also noticed for the first time how tired Theo looked.

“Whatever,” said Theo noticing Mark looking at him. “I’m living my life how I want to. No one is telling me what to do. Except when I have to go to the shelter but I guess that’s better than freezing to death. The only thing I miss is my dog Buddy. Did I ever tell you about my dog? When I got my first job and first apartment, I got Buddy. I had just graduated from college and was working in my first real job as an electrical engineer. Buddy was my best friend. I worked near my apartment and could come home to take Buddy for a walk during lunch. He was such a good boy.”

“He sounds like a great dog,” said Mark standing up to go. “Stay warm Theo.”

“Don’t worry about me,” said Theo smiling and giving Maggie one more pet.

****

“Theo! What are you doing out here? It’s freezing! Maggie and I are just doing a quick walk today since it’s so cold.”

“Hey Mark. Hey Sugar Face,” said Theo smiling. “I’m staying in the shelter mostly but still need my alone time. You know what I mean?”

“I sure do,” said Mark smiling back. “Why do you think Maggie and I are out here almost every day?”

“Did I ever tell you about my dog Buddy?” asked Theo. “He was my dad’s dog. When my dad died, I took him. He was such a good boy.”

Mark was shifting his weight from foot to foot trying to stay warm. “He sounds like a nice dog,” said Mark.

“He was,” said Theo giving Maggie a hug and getting a sloppy kiss in return.

“Be careful out here Theo. It’s really, really cold!”

“I’ll head to the shelter in a little bit,” said Theo pulling a black wool hat far down over his ears.”

“See you soon.”

“See ya’. Bye Sugar Face.”

Spring

“Theo! We’ve missed you,” said Mark plopping down on the bench, Maggie drooling freely and putting her chin on Theo’s leg, her brown eyes gazing up into his.”

Theo’s face lit up. “Hey there sweet old girl,” he said. “I’ve missed you. You too of course Mark,” said Theo laughing and looking over at Mark.

Mark laughed back, “Yeah whatever. I’m forever Maggie’s sidekick. Robin to her Batman. But we’ve been worried. Haven’t seen you in awhile.”

“I got sick and spent most of the winter in the hospital. But spring has sprung and I’m all better now and glad to be out of there. Back in the fresh air.”

Mark and Theo sat, both enjoying the spring sunshine. Theo was still wearing his heavy coat although he had unzipped it. Mark could see his hat peeking out of his pocket.

“Did I ever tell you about my dog Buddy?” asked Theo as they watched Maggie sniff around the bench for all those things dogs love to sniff.

Mark looked expectantly at Theo. “I found him when I was traveling across country with my son. We took a trip after my son’s senior year of high school. We traveled through the West. It was a great trip. Buddy showed up at a campsite where we were staying for a few days. We tried to find out who he belonged to but no one claimed him. So he joined us for the rest of the trip and came home with us to join our family. He was such a good dog.”

“He sounds awesome,” said Mark. “Well enjoy the sunshine Theo. See you soon.”

“See you soon,” answered Theo.

Summer

“Phew it’s hot!” said Mark joining Theo on the bench. Theo was finally without his coat but was sitting on it.

“Maggie’s moving slow,” said Theo waiting for her to join them and give him her joyous greeting.

“Here age is really catching up with her this summer. We are just doing some slow, short walks now. She loves it but just can’t make it too far. How are you doing Theo?”

“I’m great. Loving the hot weather,” said Theo. He started petting Maggie from head to toe slowly massaging her sore old muscles. “Did I ever tell you about my dog Buddy? I had him when I was in college. He was a great friend and helped me stay calm when I was freaking out about my classes. He was such a good boy.”

Theo, Mark and Maggie sat for a good hour just enjoying the sun and each other’s company. When the shadows grew long, Mark said he and Maggie had better head home.

“See you soon,” said Theo giving Maggie one last pet and smiling into her sweet brown eyes.

Fall

Theo looked up as Mark joined him on their bench. Something was different. It took him a minute to figure it out while Mark sat quietly looking out into the park.

“No Maggie,” said Theo finally looking at Mark.

“No Maggie,” replied Mark quietly. “We had to put her to sleep last night.”

“That’s really sad,” said Theo.

“Yes it is,” said Mark.

“She was such a good girl,” said Theo.

“She sure was,” said Mark.

They sat quietly together for a few minutes.

“Did I ever tell you about my dog Buddy,” asked Theo.

Mark looked over at Theo and smiled, “No, I don’t think so.”

Theo’s voice floated outward to join the colorful leaves swirling in the wind.

Mark leaned back into the bench and turned his face up to catch the fading autumn sunshine.

Starbucks

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The green and white mermaid is on the door.
She’s lured me in and now won’t let me leave.
“Stay,” she says.
“Drink some coffee.
Then a little more.
We have Wi-Fi.
We have caffeine.
What more could you want?”
“You’re right,” I say.
“What more could I want?
Fresh air? Sunshine?
All overrated.”
Open the laptop.
Read something.
Write something.
The mermaid that looked so kind
When I arrived,
Now looks fierce.
I cannot leave.
Oh-well.
Not to panic.
I’ll just go order
Another Trenta.