The clouds hung low in the sky yesterday as I drove toward a little coffee shop to meet my friends from school with the intention of communal writing. I couldn’t help thinking, “During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens…” I had been teaching Poe and started drawing parallels. Except yesterday—the clouds weren’t oppressive, and the day wasn’t dull, dark, or soundless. Traffic hummed, and the sky beyond said clouds was clear, bright, and blue.
“…I had been passing alone…” this was true… “on horseback…” and by horseback, I mean in my Mazda CX-5… “through a singularly dreary tract of country…” if you consider downtown Houston the country or deary. Perhaps, it was opposite day… “and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on…” I mean, I found myself as the morning sun shone brighter… “within view of the melancholy House of Usher…” at my destination, anyway, a packed parking lot at 1111 E. 11th street, hardly melancholy.
Just inside the front door, A 2nd Cup teemed with the aroma of good coffee, the sound of Indie music, a vibe of creative energy, and three of my friends. I wondered if Poe had friends. I bet not. His House of Usher was melancholy from the first sentence. Mine included coffee, friends, and writing…a purpose. Is it all a matter of perspective? If you dwell on the melancholy is your house destined to fall?
*This post was inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” and brought to you by A 2nd Cup, a non-profit coffee shop and café that raises awareness of human trafficking issues in Houston and develops resources that help create a second chance for survivors.
In a lovely little chapel on the campus of Houston Baptist, I received kind words, a pen, and a pin. This was the last Friday night in May. I had taken the classes, put in the work, and completed requirements for my MFA.
Now, I hear Frank McCourt in my head, and he says, “Stock your mind. It is your house of treasure and no one in the world can interfere with it.” I notice his two polysyllabic words and the strength of his monosyllables. Now, I will work with my tools, read books, study language, and hone my craft. I will put my bloody manuscript in a drawer and let it rest. Same for me, sans drawer, just rest. I’ve learned that good art takes time.
Even though my angel mother grew up in the Baptist church, the “B” in HBU filled me with trepidation. I leaped with faith anyway. God played a role in my story, and I wanted to do Him justice. Still, I never imagined I would find my tribe of like minds at HBU. Now, I see God’s plan. I’ll be forever grateful for these people—my cohort and professors. They became my friends and family, encouraging and inspiring me with their ideas and insight, persistence and growth, love and prayers. All of this without judgement. Even their criticism was kind.
At HBU, I’ve learned to make time and space for my writing and for me. And I’ve realized we all feel like imposters sometimes. I’ve learned to be scared and do it anyway. And I’ve realized the power of continued progress. Anything is possible with belief and persistence. I’m still learning trust and patience in God. At the same time, I believe He is using my story in a way I never could’ve imagined.
I love new beginnings—the opportunity to start over—to get my mind right. May March bring you joy, fulfillment, perspective, and hope.
A few weeks ago when I stayed with my daughter in Dallas, my bestie Denise let me do some of Lauren’s laundry at her house, which was awesome. Even better, what comes next. Our conversation started like this. “Blah, blah, blah…I’m angry,” I said.
She sat in her chair beside me, listened to my woes, and said, “Do you know where your thoughts are when you’re angry?”
I thought for a moment and said, “The past?”
And she nodded her beautiful face up and down and launched into some sound advice.
I said, “Wait, could I video this?”
Denise coaches golf. And for me, life. She should have her own YouTube channel. Our backstory goes like this—I crashed her birthday party when she turned five. I went uninvited with another friend. That’s how we met. The year was 1975. Later, we shared homerooms—first, second, and third grade. I was always happy to see Denise’s name on the list for my class. Flash forward through twelve years of school, and then I didn’t see her for almost twenty years. We became besties closer to age 40 when we realized we lived within twenty minutes of each other. There’s something about having friends who know exactly where you are from, and I’m just lucky to have a few of those.
Have you ever opened the bible at random to find a divine message from God? Perhaps I have. If so, it’s been awhile.
A day or two after Thanksgiving, my daughter Lauren called to tell me about her encounter with God. I could hear her smile and energy through my cell phone. “I opened the Bible and ended up in Amos, and I was like, ‘Amos, where am I?’” She laughed her twenty-eight-year-old laugh. “And this is what I found, I’m going to read it.” She hesitated through the words. “‘Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is’ (Amos 5:14). The words were bolded. They jumped off the page. I was like, ‘Seek good, not evil.’” She paused. The way she phrased the scripture sounded more like a question. “Of course, that makes sense.”
And I said, “No matter what you believe, the Bible has some good advice.”
Lauren agreed, and eventually we said our goodbyes, and a day or so later while Facebook scrolling, I found this:
I texted the image and a message to Lauren: I saw this today. I think I’m going to do this.
She texted me: Oh that sounds good maybe I should do that
Me to her: We could read it and talk about it. New tradition.
And so I read Luke 1. If I ever knew the story, I didn’t remember that the angel Gabriel appeared to Elizabeth’s husband as well as Mary to announce immaculate conceptions for both. Two immaculate conceptions. One for a menopausal woman. The other for a virgin. I love a good miracle. Miracles keep my hope alive.
On December 1, my friend Denise called. Denise, my friend since age five. I told her about Luke, and she wanted to join Lauren and me in the new tradition.
Later she texted me and some friends: I’m reading Luke – a chapter a day. I hadn’t remembered Mary going to Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist). All we need is that one friend right!?! God knew.
And I texted: Love that perspective.
And Cheri texted: Same here. I’ll join you.
And now for Luke 2. Let me tell you, Luke is not messing around. He jumps into the story. Jesus is born, and within the chapter he is twelve. Sitting among teachers at the temple. Listening. Asking questions. Growing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
And no matter what you believe, Jesus was a good guy. We could all learn a little something through him. Who’s in? New tradition. The reason for the season.
Back in July, Monday the 13th to be exact, I made a friend while walking in my neighborhood. I remember the date because the previous Friday I had a doctor’s appointment, and I saw an unfamiliar and frightening number on the scale. Though I had walked every day in April, I nursed an injury in May, and then June and July rolled around. Summers in Houston are a sweaty hot mess. My walking habit suffered leading up to my visit with Dr. Fong. On July 13th, I resolved to walk every day and make headway on my weight situation.
I don’t remember how the conversation started. She probably said something like, “Do you walk every day?” or “Is this your house?” That morning around 7:30, we stood sweating on the street near my driveway, and she asked me if I wanted to walk with her the following day. I swear, God places people in my life. I needed some accountability.
“Okay,” I said.
“6:30?” she said.
“Um, that’s a little early for me,” I said. I had just met this woman. Since I’m not currently working, I couldn’t remember the last time I had set my alarm.
“6:40?” she said. “I have a five-year-old. I have to be back before my husband leaves for work.”
“Okay,” I said. “I will try. My name is Crystal.”
“My name is Rosa. See you tomorrow,” she said. From my house she walked north to her home at the opposite end of our street.
Rosa is my age, fiftyish. With a five-year-old. Her oldest is thirty-three. Another one, twenty-eight. Another, twenty-one. And a stepson eighteen. Can you imagine? She moved to Houston from Mexico, a child bride at seventeen. She knew NO English, and she had babies in this country with no other family except for her husband’s brother. For the next thirteen years, she did not learn the language, and her husband was a drunk and had a girlfriend in Mexico. Pregnant with her third child, Rosa realized she held the future in her own hands.
I’m not sure of all the details. Rosa and I have a slight language barrier. But this I know. She divorced him and chose to stand on her own two feet in the USA with no other family here. She sucked it up. She had to be strong for her kids, and the United States held opportunities. She took a job cleaning while her older kids Cesar and Jackie were in school, and she carried her baby Kimberly with her to work. Rosa attended classes to learn English, and she studied to become a citizen. She told me about driving round trip from Houston to Iowa and back in a car with her children and parents visiting from Mexico. Throughout the vacation, she listened to CD’s in English to help her prepare for the citizenship test. Her dad said, “Do you know what they’re saying?” He spoke in Spanish, of course.
And Rosa shook her head and said, “No.” The same word in either language. Rosa kept trying and kept taking classes, and her English improved. She supported herself and her kids with no help from anyone. Then, she passed her citizenship test. In English, of course.
Eventually, Rosa remarried. Her husband has a successful painting business, and Rosa accounts for the money. She owns and leases a couple of condominiums. She makes home-made tortillas every week. Flour one day. Corn on another. She has lunch on the table for her husband at noon, and supper on the table by 6:30. Since I’ve known her, Rosa had some sort of electrical problem at her house, and she fixed it herself by Googling help. She takes an online upholstery class, online nutrition, and online cake decorating. And last week for Independence Day in Mexico, she cooked enchiladas and posole and shared with me and my family.
Meanwhile, I sit on my couch and read books and write words and let my husband cook for me. I know I’m spoiled and a little complacent. I’ve never had to work that hard in my life. Is this white privilege? You better believe—Rosa inspires me.
Since it’s dark now at 6:30 in the morning, Rosa and I have moved our walks to a beautiful little park with a walking path and lights. She picks me up in her Infinity QX something at 6:15, and we drive a short distance to walk and watch the sunrise. I failed to mention that we run some. If she can run, so can I. Even if I have never claimed to be a runner, I decided it’s not too late to give it a try. Like I said, she inspires me.
Sometimes Rosa’s daughter Kimberly comes along for the workout. Now Kimberly is a real-deal runner. Anyway, last Friday Kimberly was in the car, Rosa and I chatted, and Kimberly said, “I don’t know how you can understand what she is saying.”
I said, “I just understand about every fourth word and somehow get the gist of it.” I was exaggerating. Kimberly and I laughed.
Then she translated for her mother in Spanish, and we all laughed.
“Seriously,” I said. “I just listen and try to understand.”
And do you know what I understand most of all? Good energy.
Some of you might have noticed I left out the Monday Re-Make. I had an idea and scratched it— “Jolene” by Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus. I like the song and both versions, but I never understood the woman who fought so hard for her cheating husband. I’ve officially concluded the Monday Re-Make Series. Sometimes, life calls for a new song entirely.
In August the Rocky Mountains beckoned, or maybe it was my friend Cheri in Denver—Girls Trip 2020, Telluride, Colorado. Cheri has a Telluride connection, and she invited me and three other friends for a complimentary weekend at a posh three-bedroom condominium in the heart of the action. We grew up together in the Oklahoma panhandle. We’ve all known each other since fifth grade or before. I had never been to Telluride. AND we all rolled up to fifty within the past eight months or so. This was a celebration of empowered women and a new decade, the ultimate slumber party and the feat of forty-year friendships, hot tubs in the mountains and an offer I couldn’t refuse. COVID, shmovid.
One Thursday, after sitting on my ass for 155 nearly-consecutive days with minimal human interaction since mid-March, I made my way to and through George Bush International all masked up and onto an airplane that touched down at Denver International. Denise from Dallas, my friend since age five, arrived ahead of me and waited with Cheri to pick me up. The three of us worked really hard to stay out of trouble before Starla, my friend since age seven, landed later that evening from California. On Friday morning, we three road-tripped into the Rockies and picked up Pamela, who flew from Austin to Montrose, sixty miles or so from our destination. Pamela has been my friend since age ten. Do I realize this is rare? Grown women, who grew up together, now staying connected, and still growing?
I’m sure I could tell some stories, but I would prefer to keep our secrets, just like I know they will keep mine. At the end of our time together, we shared photos and take-aways and one last hug. I can’t stop thinking about how the gondola carried us up and over the mountain, just like the best of friendships.
You see, when I returned home, the sky fell off my life, again. My son Drew, who lives with paranoid schizophrenia and dysfunctionally depends on his dad and me, returned to the hospital for the first time since 2015. An overdue hospitalization. His medication of the past five years, no longer effective. His doctor has been telling me for three years there’s nothing he can do. Me—after living through the 2017 hurricane, and in a hotel for ten months while rebuilding home, and starting a new job in 2017, another in 2018, and then a long-term sub job in 2019, and finally returning to school as a graduate student in 2020—well, I’ve stayed too fucking exhausted to look for a new doctor. Besides, Drew is an adult, and so he must agree to any changes. That’s the problem with seeking help for a person who doesn’t believe he has a problem. Meanwhile at home, Drew shouts at the voices he hears in his head most of the days of the month. His words. Terrible and angry. Racist and sexist. Filthy and threatening. His body odor vile. I don’t care to dive into further detail. All of this is an ongoing battle, Drew is now safe in the hospital, and of course, he wasn’t always this way. This brain disorder has transformed my son and stolen ten years of his life, and of course, I’m sad. In no way do I mean to imply schizophrenia is worse than cancer or Alzheimer’s or drug addiction or Lou Gehrig’s disease or any other infirmity leading to ultimate death. Wow. This post suddenly turned dark as tends to happen when I go down the path of what is wrong. Therefore, I focus on gratitude. Otherwise I may remain in fetal position for the rest of my days. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
And so—I continue to count my blessings. When I don’t even care to put one foot in front of the next or speak a single word, I am so very thankful for the friends and family I have who carry me and for their prayers that lift me like a gondola up the mountain I continue to face.
“Who is set up for the tragedy of suffering? Nobody. The tragedy of the man not set up for tragedy—that is every man’s tragedy.”
And by the way, if you are the type who prays, please join me in believing Drew will understand there is better for him and that his dad and I are here to help and that we love him and that God will direct our steps and give us wisdom in dealing with this illness and that there will be a helpful, hopeful outcome to this hospitalization including a new doctor who believes along with me.
Truth be told, I’ve always wanted to run away. I was five when I loaded my Radio Flyer red wagon with a few necessities and made it as far as my next door neighbors’ house before my mom showed up to check on my plan. When I was thirteen, I thought my life couldn’t be any worse, and I wrote my Granny and Gramps in Oklahoma City and asked if I could move in with them. My parents put an end to that fantasy. I suppose it only makes sense that I’ve run away from my adult life a few times. It takes so many years to learn how to adult properly. I’m still not sure I know.
In 2007, Misti moved to Sitka, Alaska for the sake of adventure. She had visited a friend who lived there, and a teaching job manifested itself. We always stayed in touch.
In 2008, my marriage teetered on the brink of demise, and I felt that urge to run. At Misti’s invitation, I booked a flight to Sitka through Seattle. Misti is one of those people (it must be the teacher in her) who makes everything seem easy and leaves a person feeling empowered. During my stay, we hiked mountain trails and chased waterfalls. We boated all around and cast our lines. I caught a fifteen-pound salmon and (mostly) reeled it in. We spotted eagles soaring and whales breaching. We hot-tubbed and karaoke-ed. Every time I hear Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” I smile and shake my head at the memory of Misti with the microphone.
As a teacher and a mom of two teenagers, I hadn’t had the opportunity to book flights and travel solo much, but Misti talked me through everything including a layover in Seattle on my return. At Seattle-Tacoma International, I stowed my carry-ons in a locker and hopped a bus downtown to Pike Place Fish Market. I entertained myself for hours, and I found my way back via taxi unscathed and on time for my flight.
In 2009, Misti moved back to Texas and drove her car home, the first leg via ferry. I flew to Sacramento and met her there. The last half of Misti’s move was a road trip adventure across the American West for both of us. First stop Napa. Then San Francisco.
In 2012, thanks to our friend Michelle, Misti and I both landed jobs in the same new school in another school district just north of Dallas where suburbs meet country and kids greet teachers in the hallways. We had waited three years for open positions, and we took them together. And so our friendship continued with lunch daily and outings to Shakespeare in the Park and dinners and concerts and art museums.
In 2016, my friends from school threw me a farewell happy hour. Kody’s job had been transferred to Houston, and so had we. The occasion called for a martini—dirty. Bourbon on the rocks for my friend. I like Houston regardless of some bad luck here, but I miss my friends made over the course of seventeen years—like my friend Misti. But you know what? If I ever need to run away, she has a room to spare.
I jumped on to this A-Z blogging challenge at the last moment and without a plan, and it looks like gratitude has brought me to the half way mark. Thanks so much for reading! All posts are clickable below:
Do you have a favorite apple? Mine is the Honeycrisp. Pricey for an apple, but worth every sweet and juicy bite. And we all know the saying about apples and doctors, so I picked some up on my last run for groceries.
I drove over to Austin back in December for a birthday celebration with my lifelong friends Pamela and Denise. Pamela was in Mr. Hale’s fifth grade class with me, and I crashed Denise’s five-year-old birthday party uninvited. We grew up together, and we continue to grow together by sharing cool things like skydive simulations and apples.
Before I left Austin that weekend, Pamela packed me a snack of assorted nuts in one Ziploc bag and apple slices with a squeeze of lemon in another. We hugged and said our goodbyes, and I hopped back into my car for the return trip home. I sped down Highway 71 lined on both sides by barbed-wire fences and open pastures, and I slowed down in the small, one-stop-light towns all while enjoying some good apple love. The lemon adds a freshness.
Yesterday, April 1st, I came across the A-Z blogging challenge. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had some extra time on my hands. This seems like a good month to take on a challenge. So for April I’m committing to blog each day using the letters A-Z as inspiration, skipping Sundays, and sticking to a gratitude theme.
I’m sure I need a master plan, but for now I’m taking it day by day. After my morning walk, I headed to the kitchen to cut up a Honeycrisp. But lo and behold, I had lemons in my refrigerator, too, and so…