Walking In Rain

I like walking in the rain for two reasons. No one can tell when you’re crying when you walk in the rain.

My mom died 14 years ago. I don’t know why but the past couple of weeks, the grief has been close to the surface. There are obvious triggers like birthdays but sometimes, it’s just the general disappointments life brings, coupled with the realization that I cannot pick up the phone and talk those over with her, that makes the sadness bubble up.

On April 17, 2004, I told one of the biggest lies of my life and to my mom of all people. I held her hand while she was taking her last breaths and told her it was okay for her to go. Every fiber of my being was silently screaming against the words coming out of my mouth, raging against the unfairness and injustices of life. And she knew I was lying.  When her breaths would slow, and my dad would yell her name, she would struggle to breathe again because she knew how much losing her was going to hurt us and change our lives, forever. But nonetheless, outwardly calm, I held her hand and in a quiet, soothing voice, without tears, I told her to let go, that we would be okay. That was a lie.

My mom and dad made the choice that she would stay home with my sister and me and the loss of a second income certainly meant sacrifice. New clothes were a rarity and were usually gifts for birthdays or Christmas. When I was younger, a lot of my clothing came from my cousins, and as I grew older, from the Agape Mission Store that our church had, and my mom volunteered at. I knew that it bothered her that we didn’t have new clothes, but it never did us because we were always certain that no one would show up to where we were wearing the exact same outfit as us. I held her hand and thanked her for teaching me, through my cousin’s hand-me-downs and mission store prom dresses, that a person’s value is measured by more than what’s on their back. That was the truth.

We never went on vacation. There wasn’t money for that, but I remember the one trip we did take and stopped by several of Kentucky landmarks. We were gone for two days. She packed all the food we would eat, we got up early, and had a long day of touring. We stopped along the road at the little picnic areas that used to dot the highways to eat. We stayed at a little motel that had a swimming pool. Karen and I swam until way after dark. As best I remember, we were up early the next morning, drove to various places, ate along the road again and got home late. I held her hand and I told her that this trip was one of the best “vacations” I have ever been on because it wasn’t about the destination but rather, it was about being together. That was the truth.

At one point, my dad’s company went on strike and he had to walk picket duty. We ended up on food stamps for a few months. My parents would drive outside of our small county to the “city” grocery stores to buy what we needed because they were embarrassed. The funny thing was, these trips to the big grocery stores were like an adventure to me and my sister. One week, after much begging on our part, she relented and bought a fresh pineapple (which we loved) and a coconut (which we didn’t). I held her hand and told her that being on food stamps was a fun adventure for us and how something as simple as a pineapple and coconut made it even more so and I thanked her for not passing along adult worries to us. That was the truth.

I wasn’t an easy daughter to raise. I was headstrong, stubborn, moody. I didn’t use the best judgement and did some stupid things—thankfully, none of them caused lasting or permanent damage. I challenged authority and walked the edge of what my parents would tolerate, often crossing that line. And as I aged, I was embarrassed for some of the things I did and apologized to my mom and dad for my behavior. I was so surprised when they couldn’t remember the things I was talking about. I figured they thought of them every single time they looked at me. They didn’t. When it was over, it was forgotten. I held her hand and thanked her for loving and caring for me and how blessed I was to have her as my mom and that through her example, I would be a better mom to my daughter. That was the truth.

And nine years later, on December 30, 2013, I told the same lie and truths to my dad.

Today was rough. As the tears mixed with the rain, during the worst of it, I looked down and found a dime. I’ve been told that it means a loved one that has passed is looking out for you. And that slowed the tears but when about a mile further I found the second dime, the tears stopped. I figured that was mom and dad’s way of telling me, enough was enough. And for today, it was. Like the rain, the tears dried up and the warmth of the sun filled the voids where grief had been but moments before.

Oh, and the second reason I like walking in the rain, it’s the easy way to wash off bird shit because yes, that happened today too.

Swag Killers

Several years ago, I had one of the most uncomfortable experiences of my traveling life which resulted in my husband and I inadvertently committing various crimes against swag.

After a full day of walking the Mall area of Washington DC and Arlington Cemetery with Billy and Donna, we went to eat a late supper.  When we travel, we have a rule of not eating anywhere that we can eat when we are at home.  Given that we were visiting such an ethnically diverse area, we added an additional rule of no “American” food until we headed back home.  With those perimeters in mind, we decided to try an Ethiopian restaurant.  Billy and I have eaten that kind of food several times and enjoyed it and knew Donna would as well.

Billy had Googled an area, not a specific restaurant so when we arrived at the strip mall, there were several places to choose from (or so we thought!)  The lone buffet was closed for the day, so we decided to go to the restaurant next to it–the one that said “restaurant” on the sign and had pictures of food in the window.  When we walked in, it was a bare room full of men playing table games. They all immediately stopped what they were doing and turned to stare at us. I know we looked like tourists–sunburned faces, tennis shoes, and cameras–but even so, it’s common in DC.  I was ready to turn around and leave but my husband, bless his heart, with nary a morsel of food in sight, decides to block my exit and ask the lone woman in the place if they served food!!!!  When she replied, “What kind of food?” I pushed past him and left.  I didn’t want to be rude, but the dead silence and stares made me more than a little paranoid and frankly, if they were giving away food, even as cheap as I am, I wouldn’t have stayed to eat!

By this time, I was ready to chuck our rules and get a Big Mac, but we ended up at a “cafe” a few doors down. This place also had food pictures on their windows. Surprise! It wasn’t a cafe. It was a hookah bar. (For those of you who don’t know what a hookah is, it’s a big water pipe that holds flavored tobacco that has several tubes coming out of it that you can sit around with people and smoke. In simpler terms, it’s a fancy, ornamental bong that contains legal substances!  And although in certain cultures it’s been around for thousands of years, hookah has become the new “thing” of the college generation.)   Donna said when we (meaning Billy and me) entered the hookah bar, we (again meaning Billy and me) brought the “swag” factor down a few notches. (And in case you don’t know what “swag” is, according to the Urban Dictionary, the term “swag” is used to describe anyone thought to carry themselves in a way considered by some to be sexy and/or cool.)  Well, if our mere presence lowered the hookah bar’s swag, you can only imagine how it plummeted when we ordered food!

The waitress was friendly and wanted to know what brought us in since it was obvious to everyone within a 20-mile radius that we (meaning Billy and I) didn’t fit in there.  When I told her the story about the restaurant just a few doors down, she laughed. And she continued to do so every time she walked past us!  It was so dark and smoky in there from the hookahs that the Main Swag Killer pulled the worst dad move in history. He had to break out his keychain flashlight just to see the menu!  I’m pretty sure when we ordered, the waitress walked out the back door, down the street, and got food from another restaurant because we were the only people eating.  Why she just didn’t direct us there is beyond me. And as we got up to go, the manager, in an extreme gesture of kindness, came and asked us if we enjoyed ourselves and stated she was looking forward to seeing us again–SOON.  I smiled, nodded and muttered something about “if we’re ever back in the area” but what I really wanted to say was, “when hell freezes over!!”

And, in case you’re wondering, we never did get the Ethiopian food we were hoping for, we (meaning Billy and I) never stepped foot in a hookah “café” again, and yes, he still carries a flashlight on his keychain…