Slice of Write

Stories & jibber-jabber by Janelle Parmer, Author of The Other Side of the Ledge

It’s almost midnight and Sarah is still awake in her apartment.  She paces the old, brown carpet, following the same step pattern she has left over the last three years.  The dark carpet is shredding and is barely being held together by a few stubborn threads. Sarah has complained to the super many times about that, the leaky kitchen faucet, and the never-ending ant problem, but he stopped answering her calls once she started missing her rent payments.  It wasn’t her fault, Sarah had tried to explain.  Her boss was a jerk and fired her.  She wouldn’t sleep with him so he let her go.  Or was it she was late too many times that caused it?  Sarah had trouble keeping her lies straight at this point.

One thing she could agree on was that none of this was her fault.  It was his fault.  It’s always his fault.  He caused her to lose her last three jobs, yet he still takes the little money she has.  She can’t help it.  He’s a charmer, that one.  Killing her on the inside, but when he fills her, she is complete.  Sarah can’t get enough.  The many nights alone, cursing his name, still haunt her.  He has caused her to lose touch with her friends, family, and she even had to get rid of her dog because she was unable to care for him and Rusty.  He was a selfish son of a bitch and didn’t mind flaunting it.  Sarah had sworn him off many times before over the past two years.   

She came close to escaping about six months ago when she woke up in her dirty bathroom, half-clothed, and bleeding.  Sarah agreed enough was enough and he would eventually kill her if she stayed with him.  She begged her sister for help and explained this time was different.  Sarah promised she wouldn’t go back.  The promise lasted about two weeks and then Sarah was back in that small apartment pacing and cursing as though she had never left.

“Don’t look at me with those deep brown eyes like you know what I’m going to say next.  You are such a condescending son of a bitch and I am done with you for good.”  Sarah wiped tears from her eyes and sat down on the couch, still careful of the small glass shards left over from their last fight.  She keeps forgetting to vacuum them up and tells herself, once again, that she will do it later.

Sarah was barely recognizable from the sweet, happy girl from the suburbs.  Now, she was about ten pounds underweight, either not having enough money to eat or forgetting, depending on the day.  Sarah wasn’t even sure what day it was anymore.  Most of her time was spent in the apartment, pacing back and forth, on the couch, or sometimes curled up on the kitchen floor calling out for her mother. 

Sarah stood up from the couch and walked into the kitchen, looking directly at him.  “What?  What did you say?  I am nothing without you.  Huh.  You are nothing without me!”  She turned around and started pacing again.

“Stop talking.  You’re not good for me! You’re killing me, can’t you see that.”  Sarah yelled out.  “I’m done this time.”  Sarah ran into her bedroom and put her faded backpack on the unmade bed.  She started picking up clothes from the floor and throwing them into the bag.  “I’m really leaving this time!”  She shouted to him, hoping he would come to her.  He didn’t. 

Sarah struggled to zip up her backpack.  The zipper was caught on her old Pantera shirt.  “Fuck,” Sarah said as she threw the backpack against the peeling wallpaper. 

Sarah walks toward the kitchen with her head down, staring at the last layer of what used to be durable carpet.  She rubs her temples and tells him, “I’m sorry ok.  I didn’t mean it.”

He stays silent.

“C’mon. Don’t be like that.”  Sarah smiles at him.  “You know I can never leave you,” Sarah says as she picks up the half empty bottle of Jack Daniels and gently caresses him.  “I know, I know.  I don’t know what I was saying.  Please forgive me.”  Sarah gently pulls the cap off and takes a long swig of him.  Sarah grabs him and starts pacing back and forth in her pattern, happy that everything is back to how it should be. 

Cruel clouds overpower the innocent sun as I witness the sky and the water become one

The waves call my name but the seagulls answer for me

My shoulders roll back as the salty air fills my senses

A soft wind caresses my face like a new lover, and flows through my body like an old one

Light escapes the gray wrath and hits the water illuminating the sea

Tears pour from my eyes and, for one quiet moment, everything seems to just make sense in this incredible but cruel world

Most of us have many epiphanies during our lifetime, or aha moments, as my mom called them.  You know, those times where you suddenly realize your way of thinking about something was totally backward.  Now, I am not talking about when you’re six years old and learn the difference between Washington State and Washington D.C.  I am referring to the important things.  The things that change your life.  The aha moments that stick with you.  Those epiphanies that you look back on and smile, and shake your head wondering how you could have ever been that ignorant.

One of my many aha moments happened the week after my twelfth birthday.  It was another wonderful hot summer August day where all I had planned for the next eight hours was to ride my bike to Jesse’s house and play Nintendo till our fingers cramped, or until his mom threw us out of the house to go play outside, whichever came first. 

“Bye mom,” I yelled as I tried to quickly rush from the side door to the garage to grab my bike before she gave me any chores.  I got out of them yesterday because it had been my birthday, so I knew mom probably would want to double up today if she caught me. 

“JJ, come back here,” Mom yelled from the kitchen.  As soon as I took three steps toward the kitchen, I could already smell the burnt toast and strong coffee. 

I walked into the kitchen and mom was standing over the stove with my baby brother, Corey, in one arm and flipping pancakes with her other hand.  My sister, Tabitha, barely out of diapers, was playing with blocks on the floor.  She left a trail from the old kitchen table we inherited from grandma to the couch mom once said was older than me. 

“Yeah, Mom.”

“Here, come take Corey for a second while I finish your breakfast,” Mom said.

I walked to mom, gently took Corey from her arm, and began to bounce.  Corey loved the bouncing for some reason.  He always got this little smile on his face that was contagious. 

“Where are you off to in such a hurry?  Jesse’s house.”  I never understood why mom would ask and answer her own question.

“Yeah.” I nodded my head. 

“You need to eat something before you go over there,” Mom said.

“Jesse’s Mom always makes us stuff, Mom.  I’ll eat there.”

“No, baby.  You need to eat here.  She doesn’t need to think you don’t eat here.”

I stopped bouncing and looked at my mom.  “Mom, she doesn’t think that.”

“Yeah, yeah.  I see the way she looks at me when I run into her at the grocery store.”

I smiled.  “Mom, you say that about everyone.”

“JJ, sit down – your pancakes are ready.”  I walk to the kitchen table, put Corey in his highchair, lifted Tabitha off of the floor and put her on my lap where mom had already set up plates and silverware. 

Mom brought over a plate of pancakes.

“Wow, pancakes two days in a row.” I smiled.

Mom started to feed Corey his bottle.  “Yeah, the community center gave us each two boxes of pancake mixes in our grocery bags last week.” 

“Nice.”  I nodded.  “Much better than the two boxes of malt-o-meal we got last month.”  I looked down at Tabitha and made a gagging sound.  Tabitha started giggling.

“JJ, that’s not very nice,” Mom scolded.  “We should be thankful for whatever we get.”

I rolled me eyes.  “Even malt-o-meal” I looked down at Tabitha and made the gagging sound again.  She started giggling again.  “See, Tabitha gets it.”  I laughed.  I looked up at Mom and she had that stone cold look on her face.  The face of disappointment I called it.  I had seen it before.  Once after I failed an English test and she had to sign it, another after I broke curfew last month, and then, of course, after dad had to get a second job working nights to help pay the bills.  We didn’t have a lot of money, I know.  I am not dumb.  And it got worse after Corey was born.  My parents would often have whispering conversations that would abruptly end when I entered the room.  Mom still worked a few nights a week at the fast-food place down the street when our neighbor, Lonny, could watch us.  The kids at school would sometimes say, “hey, your mom made my fries too salty last night” or “your mom supersized me last night.”  I still wasn’t sure what that meant.  I was upset and told my mom one time and she seemed to know what it meant but wouldn’t tell me. 

“JJ, that’s not funny.  We could be going hungry right now.  Some people would be glad to have malt-o-meal.”

I could tell from mom’s face and the tone of her voice that I better shut up now.  Tabitha looked up at me, like she was daring me to say it again, so she would have another excuse to giggle.  I smiled down at Tabitha as I started to tear up a pancake and feed her. 

“I know, Mom.  I get it.”

“I hope so, JJ.”

We finished our breakfast.  As I was drying the last dish, Mom asked where my old shoes were.  For my birthday I had received a new pair of converse.  They were awesome.  They were so clean and had absolutely no holes in them.  Best of all, my feet didn’t hurt when I walked.  The left big toe had been pushing up against the inside of the shoe so much lately that it started to throb more and more, which is why I often took my shoes off as soon as I arrived home.  I had asked for a Nintendo game set but received the new pair of converse for my birthday instead.  I have to admit, I was genuinely happy about the shoes.  I was sad about the Nintendo, but not having my left toe pulsate in pain anymore was the best birthday gift ever.  Plus, I could still play Nintendo at Jesse’s house.

“The shoes are by the front door, Mom.”

“JJ, we should donate them.”

“Mom, they are so torn up.  Nobody would ever want them.”

Mom walked to the front door and picked up the shoes.  She started to inspect the insides and carefully examine them like they were a specimen in a science lab.  I couldn’t help but wonder what she was doing. 

“JJ, these are bad for you, but someone with smaller feet may want them.  I should take them to the donation center.”

“Mom, you can’t be serious.  No one in their right mind would want those nasty shoes.  They probably wouldn’t even accept them at the donation center.”

She looked at the shoes again.  “Well, maybe not.”

“I can throw them away in the trash,” I said.

Mom was silent again for a minute.  She then walked over to me and handed me the shoes.  “JJ, you can throw them out, but leave then next to the garbage, don’t put them in the can.”

“What?  Why?  I asked.

“JJ, just do it please.”

“Whatever,” I said as I shrugged my shoulders.  “Can I go to Jesse’s now?”

“Ok, just be home by four because I have to work tonight.” 

“Yeah, ok,” I said trying not to sound annoyed. 

Mom kissed me on the cheek.  “Love you baby.”  She handed me a lunch sack.  I already knew what was in it.  A peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a banana, and possibly a few of those imitation cookies that kind of look like oreos but don’t taste like oreos.  I didn’t have the heart to tell mom that Jesse’s Mom normally made us lunch and I ended up eating my lunch as a snack or throwing it away.  Mom would kill me if she ever found out.  Hmmm, maybe that’s why Jesse’s mom looks at mom weird at the grocery store.  Nah, Mom is always saying stuff like that. 

“Take your old shoes and remember, put them next to the garbage,” Mom said like she hadn’t just told me thirty seconds ago.

“Yes, Mom.”

I took my lunch and old shoes and headed out to start the fun part of my day.  I dropped my old shoes next to the garbage can.  I kind of felt bad leaving them there all alone.  Those shoes and I had been together a long time.  I wore those shoes when I hit a home run playing baseball with my friends last year, when Corey was born and dad took me and Tabitha out for ice cream to give mom some alone time, and, best of all, when I first kissed a girl last month.  I looked down at the shoes and smiled.  I tried not to think about my old shoes watching me jump on the bike with my new shoes and take off.  By the time I made it to Jesse’s house, my old shoes were a distant memory.  The next few days all went pretty much the same.  Helping mom with Corey and Tabitha in the morning, riding my bike to Jesse’s, going home at night to start my evening chores.  I wished summer could last forever. 

Saturday morning came and Jesse and I had made plans to meet up at park.  I was less than a quarter mile from home when I saw a kid walking on the sidewalk in the same direction.  I had to do a double take to make sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me.  I slammed the brakes on my bike and stopped near the kid.  I startled him and he jumped back.  He looked to be around the same age as me, maybe a year or so younger.

“Hey, sorry,” I said.

The boy stared blankly at me.

I looked down at his shoes and immediately knew they were mine.  I knew every scuff mark, every hole, and every scratch on those shoes and they were definitely my old shoes.  The kid noticed me looking down at his shoes and walked a few more steps back.

“No, no.  Sorry, I was just looking at your shoes,” I said.

The kid’s eyes got really big like he was going to cry.

“No, hey.” I said.  “They are really cool.  I like them a lot.”

The kid cracked a smile.  “Really?”  He asked.

“Yeah, converse are the best.”  I smiled.  I saw the kid look at my shoes and smile. 

“Your shoes are really nice.”

“Thanks,” I said and nodded.

**

I arrived home a little after five that evening.  Mom, Dad, Tabitha and Corey were already around the kitchen table.  After dinner, as I was helping mom dry the dishes, she looked at me with that disappointed look on her face again.  “JJ, why are you wearing your old shoes?  And where are your new shoes?”  I told mom the story of the kid on the street and that look of disappointment melted away to a face filled with joy and tears.

Yesterday was a special day because it marked a year from when I started my blog and posted my first short story online.  I have always had a love for reading and writing, but sharing my work with others was never something I had done much of before.  I am very thankful for my sister who kept bugging me for years to start a blog.  I tell her that I am also thankful I am such a great sister and finally listened lol.  In celebration of my one-year anniversary, I am re-posting the short story, Tussle in the Dressing Room, I posted on May 22, 2020.  Let me know what you think 😊 

I took a deep breath as I shut the dressing room door.  It takes the heart of a saint and the gusto of a warrior to thumb through the endless racks of clothes in hopes of finding that perfect fit, color, and size.  The door wouldn’t fully close, so I opened it up again, and slammed it shut.  I jumped back as I startled myself with the loud noise.  The dressing rooms on each side of me shook like an earthquake.  I slid the cheap lock into place, hoping that it remained secure against any overzealous soccer moms or teenagers anxious to try on their own armful of clothing.  I put the potential purchases on the hook and quickly removed my shoes, jeans, and sweater.  I sneak a quick glance of myself in the mirror.  I was reminded of the twenty pounds I had promised myself I was going to lose before my birthday next month.  The navy suit pants felt nice until I started pulling them over my hips.  The pants betrayed me and suddenly they were squeezing the life out of my soul.  The tussle continued and I finally got the exasperated material above my waist.  Before the pants could retaliate, I quickly and forcefully buttoned them.  I looked in the mirror and saw that my face was flushed, I was sweating, and my hair was a mess.  I composed myself and slipped on the white blouse with blue flowers I had chosen to pair with the pants.  It fit perfectly if my boobs were the size of watermelons.  Apparently, wearing size large means I should I have breasts to account for my stature.  I am a size ten with average breasts.  Or, at least, I thought they were average.  In this shirt, they looked like peanuts floating in an Olympic size swimming pool.   I took the blouse off and hung it back up.  I looked down at the pants glued to the bottom half of my body.  The slow removal of the enemy quickly turned into a pulling and kicking match to get him off of me.  Moments later I let out a sigh of relief as I pulled the last inch of fabric from my body and threw him across the dressing room.  Oh, sweet victory is mine!  I sat down on the tiny chair in the dressing room to catch my breath and celebrate my win.  My waist and legs were covered in red.  Collateral damage.  I looked at the remaining clothes on the hook.  I put my mangled hair into a ponytail and wiped the sweat from my brow.  I gracefully stood up, and whispered to myself, “let’s do this,” as I grabbed the next potential threat off the hanger. 

Alexis giggled as they stood in Megan’s bedroom. 

“What is it?”  Megan asked.

“Um, why are you wearing panty hose?” Alexis asked.

“I don’t know,” Megan said as she shrugged her shoulders.

“Are you eighty-five years old?”  Alexis asked, trying to hold back her laughter.

“No.”

“Are you a cast member of the golden girls?”

Megan shook her head no.

“Ok, then,” Alexis said as she stood up from the bed and looked into Megan’s eyes to stress her point to the utmost urgency.  “You need to peel those off of your body right now so that we can get serious and pick out the dress for your date tonight.”

Megan looked down at her panty hose.  “Really, no?”

“Jesus Christ, I know you are old, and the last date you went on was probably with Moses, but c’mon, now.” Alexis shook her head in disappointment.

“Haha, sixty is the new fifty, right?”  Megan smiled.

“Not in your case if you’re wearing those.  Fifty may as well be the new eighty.”  Alexis and Megan both laughed.

“Ok, I know,” Megan said as she pulled her hair back.  “It’s just been a while since I’ve been on a date and I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“That’s why I’m here.  I’m your hip, forty…. errrr something friend to help you not do things like wear panty hose on a date.”

“Yes, that could have been a disaster.” 

“Way of a disaster,” Alexis said as she nodded in agreement with her friend.  “What if things got…you know…tonight?”

“Got what?”  Megan asked innocently.

“Intimate.”  Alexis whispered as if she was passing a note in class.

“Oh my, what?  Intimate?  Are you joking?  On the first date, no.”  Megan threw her hands up and went back into her walk-in closet to hide from this discussion.

“You know, it happens.”  Alexis said.

“Not to me.”  Megan came back into the bedroom.  “And Jimmy isn’t like that.”

Alexis laughed.  “Yeah, Sean wasn’t like that either, but somehow Ethan was born nine months later.”

“Well, the shipped has sailed on getting pregnant so that’s a non-starter.”

“Um, you do know about STDs, right?”  Alexis asked.  “I heard on the radio one out of four people have some sort of STD.” 

“One out of four?!”  Megan exclaimed.

“One out of four,” Alexis repeated in a serious, after school special tone.  “Anyways, in order to avoid you becoming another sad, STD statistic, do you have condoms just in case Jimmy turns into a Sean tonight?”

“No!”  Megan said louder than she or Alexis had been prepared for.

“Ok, ok.  Sorry. I just want you to be safe.”

“No need for that.  He’s lucky if he gets a peck on the cheek after he walks me to the door tonight.” Megan smiled thinking of that moment and started to blush.

“Ok, well, that’s a lovely end to a magical Hallmark movie, but I am just trying to prepare you for the real world.”

“I appreciate it,” Megan said.  “But just because the world has changed, doesn’t mean I have changed.”

Alexis laughed.  “Hmmm, I don’t know how to respond to that.”

Alexis moved off the subject and back to working on getting Megan dressed for her date.  Megan finally agreed to peel the panty hose off of her body, and Alexis finally agreed that Megan could wear the light green dress with the flats rather than the heels. 

The doorbell rang and Alexis ran to greet Jimmy while Megan delicately sprayed the air with perfume and walked through it to get a hint of the sweet scent on her.

Alexis opened the door and Jimmy was standing there in a freshly pressed blue suite, grey hair slicked back, and flowers in hand.  Alexis thought to herself, maybe they are in a hallmark movie.

Alexis and Jimmy exchanged pleasantries as they waited in the living room.  Megan walked into the room and Alexis noticed Jimmy immediately pulled back his shoulders to stand straighter and grinned one of the largest grins she had ever seen in her life. 

“You look lovely tonight, Megan,” Jimmy said as he gently handed the bouquet of mixed flowers to her.

“Oh, thank you, Jimmy.  You look so nice too.”  Megan beamed.  Alexis took the flowers from Megan and told them to have a wonderful evening.  Jimmy opened the door for Megan and said goodnight to Alexis as he shut the door.

“I think that is one of the sweetest things I have ever seen,” Alexis said to herself.  “But, I’m still glad I snuck those condoms in Megan’s purse.  Alexis laughed to herself wishing she could see the look on Megan’s face when Megan goes to open her purse to re-apply her lipstick later and finds three jumbo size condoms stuffed in there with a note that reads, ‘in case you change your mind after dinner xoxo, A.’

The first time I saw it, I thought my eyes were deceiving me.  I was in the kitchen chopping tomatoes at the counter when something caught my attention.  I looked outside my rickety old apartment window and saw my neighbor in the apartment building across from me.  Now, that itself wasn’t a new discovery.  Mr. Jameson, as I liked to call him because that was his drink of choice, I had noticed, was dancing.  Like literally moving and shaking in his kitchen.  He was, as they say, dancing like he has never danced before…or dancing like no one is watching.  Well, Mr. Jameson, I am watching. 

I have obviously seen people dance before so that wasn’t what caught my eye.  The thing was, I had never seen Mr. Jameson dance.  Nor, did he even seem to be the type of person that would enjoy a twirl around the dance floor.  From what I could gather from my previous intel, Mr. Jameson was in his mid-to-late forties, average height, thinning hair, and a husky build.  He always left for work before I did and was usually home before me.  Mr. Jameson always wore a nice dress shirt, tie, and slacks.  I don’t recall ever seeing him in a suit jacket except once or twice.  Probably for an important meeting, I supposed.  He always had his gray laptop bag around him when he left or returned home.  It looked comically small compared to his size.  He should have opted for the larger bag.  He obviously didn’t hear my comments from the other side of the street, or he would have purchased a bag that matched his previous bag.  Why he went with the smaller one I will never know. 

Seeing Mr. Jameson dance every night had become my ritual.  One evening, I even declined a second drink at happy hour with my friends because I wanted to see Mr. Jameson.  I almost told my friends about Mr. Jameson but thought better of it.  They would want to come over and watch too and I didn’t want that.  It was my quiet time to relax.  Besides, I enjoyed trying to figure out what song he was dancing along with.  I started turning on my music playlist and matching songs to his moves.  One night, he was moving his legs and kicking a lot so I assumed he was listening to Footloose by Kenny Loggins, which matched his choreography perfectly.

I couldn’t help but ponder why Mr. Jameson was suddenly dancing out of the blue.  Why on that chilly night in late October he felt the need to dance around his kitchen as he made dinner.  I had also been making dinner that night, but I didn’t have the sudden urge to flash dance around my kitchen. Maybe he had a great day at work, possibly a promotion.  Or, maybe it was his birthday.  That would explain one day, but the dancing continued night after night, so it had to be something else.  Then I thought maybe it was a new woman or man in Mr. Jameson’s life, although I hadn’t seen anyone else visit his apartment.  My curiosity began keeping me awake at night.  I went through hundreds of scenarios as to why Mr. Jameson suddenly started dancing.  Everything from his mother’s health is improving to he robbed a bank.

One night in May, I came home from work a little later than normal and noticed the curtains were pulled shut at Mr. Jameson’s apartment.  That was strange, I thought to myself.  Mr. Jameson never closed the curtains unless he was preparing for his morning shower, and even then, he sometimes forgot to close them.  I lay on the couch that night reading my book, but unable to fully concentrate.  Every few minutes I would glance over at Mr. Jameson’s window.  I hoped I would look over and see him stirring spaghetti sauce and dancing the night away.  Unfortunately, nothing changed and I went to bed disappointed and worried.  I woke up much earlier than I normally did and went straight to the kitchen to check on Mr. Jameson.  The curtains were still drawn. 

I went to work and tried to concentrate on something other than Mr. Jameson.  Luckily, my boss was on the war path so it kept me pretty busy all day.  I arrived home around my usual time and immediately looked across to Mr. Jameson’s building.  The curtains were still closed.  I made dinner and tried to watch some television.  I ended up standing and pacing most of the night.  I poured myself a glass of Jameson to calm my nerves.  Should I call the police?  And say what?  I have been spying on my neighbor and he has had his curtains drawn for a long time so please go check on him.  I eventually fell asleep on the couch and repeated the same day I did yesterday.  The curtains were still drawn when I arrived home from work.  I was really starting to worry that something happened to Mr. Jameson.  Shouldn’t his boss or his mother be calling to find out where he is?  Someone had to miss him, not just me.  He was dancing for a reason…for hope, for love, for something.  That something needed to come find him.    

Around ten at night, I was sitting on my couch in the dark, quiet apartment.  All of the sudden my cell phone erupted and scared me out of my deep thought.  My friend had called to tell me to meet up with everyone in an hour at our favorite bar.  I told her I would but had to make a quick stop before I headed out.  We said goodbye and I stood up to change clothes and comb my hair.  Thirty minutes later I walked out my apartment door and headed to the elevator.  I exited the building and looked both ways before crossing the street.  I looked up at Mr. Jameson’s apartment from here, but obviously couldn’t see anything.  I had made the decision that I needed to check on Mr. Jameson if his stupid boss or neglectful mother wouldn’t bother.  I lurked outside the main door of Mr. Jameson’s building for a few minutes and then somebody exiting let the door go with just enough time for me to grab it before it closed and locked.  I knew from looking at this building many times before that Mr. Jameson was on the 12th floor facing my apartment so it shouldn’t be too hard to find him.  The building was disturbingly silent for a Friday night.  I rode the elevator to the 12th floor.  The hallway was empty.  No sounds of neighbors yelling at their kids to take the trash out or slamming of doors.  I felt uneasy so I quickly made my way down the hall.  This building seemed even older than my building across the street.  The brown and red color scheme here was off putting and the dim lighting made it feel like you were in a movie theatre.  Even the air in the building felt closed off and stale.  I found myself wanting to cough, but tried to hold it in, not to disturb anyone or announce my presence. 

I found apartment 1211.  I did the logistics again in my head and concluded this must be Mr. Jameson’s apartment.  The door to the apartment looked to be old pine.  Very sturdy.  Not like my plywood door at home.  The “1211” marking on the door was faded and you could barely make out the last two digits.  I suddenly noticed the pulsating of my heart ringing in my ears and feared Mr. Jameson would be able to hear it through the door.  I wiped the sweat from my brow and leaned my head gently against the door so I could attempt to hear something.  Nothing but dead silence filled my ear.  The door felt cold and a shiver ran through my body.  I thought about turning back and running, but I was too close now.  I needed to know why the curtains have been closed.  Mr. Jameson may need me and I would feel awful if I didn’t at least try and help him.  I may be his last hope.  I took a small step back and softly knocked on the door. 

I hate weddings.  I know “hate” is a strong word, but I can’t help it.  It is at least one full year of planning, celebrating with engagement parties, bridal parties, never-ending discussions about dresses, colors, food, seating charts, and honeymoon destinations.  None of which truly has any real effect on my life, yet I have to be involved in these events as the sister, friend, cousin, or co-worker of the bride or groom.  The pure exhaustion of having to smile through every different version of pink from champagne to lavender is asking a lot of one person’s sanity.  I didn’t even know there was a lavender pink.  There has always been lavender, and pink, but both together was news to me.  It apparently makes this color that looks like, yes, you guessed it, pink. 

Well, now it’s my turn.  I am the bridezilla stressing out about lavender pink.  My mom has literally rearranged the seating chart twenty-two times…she swears it’s only been about ten, but no.  I counted.  My sister and bridesmaids all tell me to pick the dresses I want them to wear, but all have different ideas of what that dress should be.  Sara wants a v neckline because she says it helps offset her broad shoulders, Amanda is pregnant so wants a high waistline dress to leave room for baby, and Ellen wants a sweetheart neckline because she says it will apparently make her look taller.  I never realized a dress could actually make you look taller; I thought that’s why we wear three-inch heels, but what the hell do I know.

Jared, my fiancé, stays out of it for the most part.  His favorite response is, “whatever you want.”  At first, I thought he was just being sweet, but now I realize that was just his way of distancing himself from all of it, and now I loathe those three words.  Jared’s mom appointed herself wedding planner and has recently become my very own Facebook stalker.  I appreciate the help, but I would have fired her months ago if I could have.  She messages me everything from pictures of perfect wedding bouquets to articles about how to achieve perfect posture on your wedding day.  No, I’m not kidding.  Apparently, good posture is another thing I should add to the one billion things I need to worry about.  I’m so glad.  I didn’t know what else could possibly go on that damn list, but my mother-in-law has been able to add to it without hesitation.

I shouldn’t say it has all been bad.  It has been fun picking out our wedding invitations, cake tasting, and creating the wedding gift registry.  Plus, all of the brides before me give me hope I can do this and will make it on the other side with my sanity.  I keep repeating the infamous quote, “whatever doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.”  If this is really true, then by the time this wedding is over, I should have the strength of King Kong.

Some people prefer chiropractors, others may favor acupuncture or yoga for pain management.  I am not one of those people.  I have tried it all, and massage therapy seems to always benefit my neck and shoulder problems best.  Yes, I have turned into one of those people that happily steps on my soap box to tell any friends, family, or strangers within earshot how wonderful massage therapy is and how it has changed my life.

My first piece of advice is finding the right massage therapist.  See, I prefer to keep my eyes closed, not speak, and try and relax as much as possible during that fifty-five minutes of bliss.  In order to achieve my euphoria, I must avoid three types of massage therapists.

The first type is the talker.  Some massage therapists, albeit probably just being friendly and nice, want to tell me everything about their three kids to planning their mother’s birthday party next weekend.  These people are the equivalent of the passenger on the airplane that won’t shut up when all you want to do is put on your headphones and sleep thru the next five hours.  To the talker’s chagrin, I don’t want to hear it.  I have my own kids and my own mother’s birthday to deal with.  I just want my fifty-five minutes of uninterrupted quiet time, minus the Yanni music in the background, of course. 

The second type of therapist to avoid is the butcher.  My goal is to have complete relaxation; however, there are some therapists that pride themselves on forcing muscles, flesh, and bones into places they haven’t been in decades.   You feel like a piece of meat they are trying to tenderize in the most agonizing way possible.  A word of advice to those who don’t enjoy torture, if you happen to come across a massage therapist who cracks their knuckles before touching you, run fast.  Don’t look back.  Just run, because if you don’t, you are going to endure fifty-five minutes of the most brutal touching, pulling, and rubbing you have ever experienced in your life.  If you ignore that inner voice telling you to run, you will be grimacing and grinding your teeth throughout the next fifty-five minutes.  And, to make matters worse, those fifty-five minutes will feel like an eternity. 

The last type of massage therapist I avoid is the interrupter.  They are sneaky because they can be quiet for minutes at a time.  However, all of the sudden, usually when you feel like a blob of melting butter on top of a warm pancake, this person will cough, change the volume on the radio, move the table up and down, or put a blazing hot towel from hell on your back without notice.   Once is fine, but the interrupter has a tendency to do this at least three or four times during your fifty-five minutes.  I have come to the conclusion they can’t help themselves.  They are one step away from being a butcher.  Their abrupt actions become so intrusive that you are unable to fall back into your happy place because your reflexes have kicked in, and your body involuntarily tenses up to prepare for the next interruption.

The thing I stress to people most is, when you are lucky enough to find that elusive perfect massage therapist, don’t ever let them go.  If they change their schedule, you must alter yours.  If they move to another facility, interrogate whoever necessary to find out where they went so you can follow.  If you don’t, you’ll have to go through the whole process of finding your new perfect massage therapist.  Sometimes you may be lucky and score well on your first try; however, more often than not, you’ll have to go through at least one talker, butcher, or interrupter to get there.

I used to despise my superpower.  Why couldn’t I fly, read people’s minds, or have the ability to fight off an evil army all by myself?  Yes, the ability to be completely invisible can be annoying at times; however, as I have gotten older, I embrace it.  For example, it’s frustrating when I see an attractive man and want him to notice me, but that never happens.  I could light myself on fire and he wouldn’t bat an eye.  I’m not what you would describe as “beautiful”, but I don’t think I’m hideous either.  I’m average.  Everything in my life is average.  I’m of average height, average weight, a mediocre job, and live in an average, decent apartment. 

I’m used to falling into the background because I’m child five of six in my family.  By the time my parents had me, they already had the parenting thing down.  My older siblings helped care for me, and when I was old enough, I was able to help care for our youngest sister.  The eldest is Betty, she was the beauty queen, gorgeous, and always had a date every Friday and Saturday night.  Jack, the second, was pretty much the male version of Betty, except he was a star athlete on top of everything else.  Alex and Samantha are twins.  Growing up, Alex was the troublemaker.  He was always talking in class or starting fights at recess.  Samantha was the nerd.  She loved to read and excelled in school.  Then there was me.  We already had the beauty queen, prom king/jock, wild one, and genius, so there was nothing left for me.  I was just there.  I held the title of youngest, or baby, which I was fine with, until Emily was born six years after me.  She took away the one defining trait I had.  Emily was the baby now and would always be the baby because mom had to have a hysterectomy shortly after she was born.  Emily was the sensitive, sweet one, that got away with everything.  By the time she was a teenager, my parents were in the mid-fifties and had been through it all.  They were done with the screaming and discipline so Emily reaped the benefits. 

I seemed to just fade into the background after Emily was born, and I continued to stay there my entire life.  I am always here, right in front of you, but you never seem to see me.  I am invisible, a human blind spot.  I am the quiet neighbor in the apartment next door that enjoys listening to Frank Sinatra when I cook.  I am the lady on the bus that always sits at the window seat, in the second to the last row.  I am the patron at the restaurant that leaves a generous tip.  I am the co-worker you always see in the elevator, but never say hello to.  I am the friend that always remembers your birthday.  I am the lady at the grocery store that let you cut in line because you only have a few items and I have an entire grocery cart full of stuff.  I am the woman that enjoys wearing skirts and colorful scarfs.  I am the sister that is at mom and dad’s every Thanksgiving and Christmas like clockwork. 

The next time you actually happen to see me, or one of my fellow invisible mates, please don’t hesitate to say hello, smile, or just nod in our general direction.  It means the world to us that, even for just a brief moment, we do exist in the same world. 

Words, phrases, punctuation, conversational flow, plot, storyline, bully my thoughts.  You don’t let me concentrate on tasks that actually pay my bills.  Always flooding my mind with new narratives, or a witty comeback for a character to say.  I can’t even get a full night’s rest anymore without waking up in the darkness and fumbling for the paper and pen I keep under my pillow.  I open my eyes in the morning and vigorously grab the pad of paper to see what ideas interrupted my dreams last night.  Sometimes good ones, other times it’s all gibberish, and I can’t even follow my own thought process.  During the day, I try and work on expense reports and spreadsheets, but all I think about is where my protagonist is going on their next adventure.  Phone calls and emails interrupt my timeline design.  The clock moves so slowly at the office and speeds up at home.  Eating, phone calls from my mom, and personal hygiene interrupt my writing time.  I try and steal as many precious free moments as I can – even in the shower, I’m thinking of the next chapter.  I just want the world to shut down and allow me to do what I am destined to do.  Writing from dusk to midnight is never enough.  It’s become a habit I can’t shake.  I’m an addict.  I have lost complete control and have allowed the desire to write to fully consume my body.  Once a hobby, writing has now become a complete obsession.  I’m too weak to fight it any longer.  I would rather be at home in front of the computer writing about friendship than actually out with my friends at a movie, bar, museum, or restaurant.  My friends and social life are collateral damage in my new life.  The characters I created are my friends now.  We have endless debates about where the plot should go next, and deep philosophical conversations about life.  All of them understand my quirky personality and laugh at my sarcastic sense of humor.  They need me as much as I need them.  I give them life and they give me purpose.  I check the time on the computer screen and heave a big sigh.  It’s Monday morning again and I have not left the apartment in two days.  I’m in the middle of an important conversation between Jonathan and Mason.  They beg me to finish before I leave.  I start to argue, but they are too powerful.  I text my boss and tell him I’m sick and not able to come into the office today.  Jonathan and Mason both smile as I wipe my brow and join the conversation again.