Slice of Write

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

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.      

It happened so quickly I didn’t know how to react.  Neither did he.  I hadn’t touched anyone in a very long time, let alone a stranger, since the pandemic stay at home orders were instituted, and I assumed he felt the same.  I was at the grocery store checkout line, and accidentally dropped the pack of m&ms the checker had left on the little shelf next to the credit card machine.  It wasn’t like I was going to eat them right that second (I would at least wait till I hit the parking lot), but I guess they put precious items such as candy, water bottles, and greeting cards there on that protective shelf so they don’t get smashed at the bottom of a grocery bag by some unsuspecting cans of soup or, God help me, put in the bag containing raw chicken by mistake.  As soon as the helpless m&ms fell from the counter, my reflexes kicked in and I moved my hand to grab them.  The courtesy clerk, aka bagger, had the same impulse and went to save the m&ms for me.  Our hands briefly touched in the struggle to pick-up the bag of chocolate gems, and rescue it from the carton of orange juice and box of jumbo kitty litter raging down the conveyer belt.  As soon as our hands touched, we looked at each other as if we did something wrong and got caught.  His eyes were wide and I imagine mine were the same.  We both quickly apologized and went on with our business.  On my way out of the store, he said, “have a great day” and I thanked him and wished him a good day too.  We were careful not to touch again or make further eye contact.  We didn’t want to make that wonderful, yet dangerous mistake again. 

It is that time of year of reflection and hope.  Unfortunately, all of that seems to get jumbled up with anxiety filled thoughts of wondering what time the wine shop closes because I need to buy one last gift, or trying to estimate what is the best time to leave my house to beat the traffic on Christmas Eve to arrive at my sister’s house on time, because I definitely do not want a repeat of last year.

I often long for, which I am sure many adults do, the simpler times.  When the biggest conflicts in our lives would be trying to guess what is that funny shaped gift wrapped in green and white paper laying under the Christmas tree, or is Santa going to bring me that new doll I asked for this year.  Holiday parties at school, watching Christmas movies, and helping my mom decorate cookies, pretty much consumed my adolescent self during this time of year.  Now, I stress out from everything to what should I wear to the office holiday party to did I remember to take the price tag off of my nephew’s Christmas gift before I wrapped it last night.

If I could really ask Santa for one thing this year, it would be to go back in time.  To wake up on Christmas morning when it was still dark outside, tap my sister till she woke up, and run to the Christmas tree to see what Santa brought us.  Mom stirring from her bedroom, probably hearing our laughing and squealing from down the hall.  Dad slowly behind mom, making his way to the coffee pot.  My sister and I both shouting at our parents, “look at what Santa brought us!”.

The day would be spent playing with our toys and showing our relatives the gifts we received from Santa.  We would have a delicious dinner, followed by dessert, and spend the evening watching a Christmas movie and playing under the Christmas Tree.  Mom and Dad would tuck my sister and I into bed, and we would be so exhausted from the wonderful day we just had.  Thoughts of my new toys and playing with my friends tomorrow would consume my thoughts and I would fall into a deep sleep.  The kind of restful sleep only a child on Christmas can experience. 

I was watching the news last night and felt myself drifting off to sleep.  I was excited that I might be able to sleep tonight for the first time in weeks.  I shut off the tv, set my alarm on my phone, and turned over in bed.  Within fifteen minutes of waiting for sleep to overcome me, I realized I was wrong.  The small bout of tiredness was all a ruse.  I re-positioned my pillows, turned over to my other side, and tried not to think about the million things I need to do at work tomorrow.  Did I remember to email Sadie the agenda for the meeting on Thursday?  Did Jack plug in those financials I needed for the presentation?  I hoped I wasn’t forgetting anything.  Stop, I told myself.  I let out a deep breath and thought about the snow falling outside.  The two large trees in the front yard would be covered in snow, and the neighborhood would look like a winter wonderland tomorrow morning. 

“It looks like a Christmas card,” my Aunt Shelly would tell me.  She loved the snow.  It always gave us a good excuse to make hot chocolate, bake cookies, and watch old movies by the fireplace.  Oh, how I miss my Aunt Shelly.  She was the best and always made me feel special.  Anytime I was having a bad day because someone said something about my parents, or a group of kids called me names and chased me home from school, Aunt Shelly could somehow make all of those feelings of sadness and anxiety go away – even if only for a few hours.  I remember sitting on the couch, snuggled in that soft blanket with the birds on it, watching actresses such as Grace Kelly or Ingrid Bergman on the television screen, and wishing I could be them when I grew up.  They were all beautiful, smart, funny, and everyone liked them.  My Aunt Shelly would tell me I was perfect just the way I was.  Her words were always positive and a nice change from the words I was used to hearing about myself. 

I turned on the light on the nightstand and walked to the linen closet in the hallway.  Buried underneath some other blankets, I found the blanket with the birds on it.  I rescued it from the blanket prison and took it back to my room.  I gently lay it on top of my comforter and shut off the light.  I got back into the warm bed and grabbed the blanket as tight as I could.  It smelled more like an old bounce sheet than cookies, but the soft cotton polyester blend felt calming against my skin.  Within a few minutes, I felt myself drifting off to sleep.

It’s finally here! The Other Side of the Ledge is available on Amazon via Kindle or hard copy. Thanks to everyone for your love and support. I hope you enjoy reading it, and I look forward to chatting about it with you soon!

Summary: A young widow finds new meaning in life in this empowering novel about the death of a husband and the way mental health plays a role in relationships. Kara McKay, a California paralegal, never expected to be a widow at thirty-seven. Now, as a young woman coping with the sudden death of her husband, Kara reflects on the ups and downs of her marriage while she uses humor to navigate pain. Supported by family and friends, Kara begins to accept the man her husband was and the new person she has become. The Other Side of the Ledge is a witty, heartfelt story about the bittersweet nature of love and loss and the power of family and friendship.