I look around my modest Brooklyn apartment and exhale. It isn’t extravagant, but it is all me. A slew of well-placed bookcases hosts my collection of literary classics. I won’t lie—when I say literary classics, I am referring to the romantic-themed kind. Still, I would describe myself as a voracious reader. I love the escape books provide, and since I haven’t seen any action since the Clinton administration, it’s nice to see someone is getting some, even if they are fictional.
Picture windows frame the living room where I have a prime view of the street below. Cozy, oversized chairs provide a place for me to read or write. I love the energy of our Brooklyn neighborhood. It’s so full of life. It became a soft place to land after my mother died.
A month after my mother’s passing, I was let go from my duties as a freelance columnist for a local newspaper. I should have known something was up when my editor approached the conversation as a sympathetic counselor would.
“Addie, how are you doing?” my editor, Joyce, asked me as we sat in her office, her brow furrowed.
“I’m doing okay. Adjusting to our new normal.” I twisted my hands in my lap, a lame effort to ease my anxiety. To be completely honest, the only grief I felt was for the mother I deserved but didn’t get.
“Good. It will take some time. The reason I called you into the office is that we are making some changes, and I thought it was only right to tell you in person since we’ve worked together for so long. Unfortunately, we aren’t using a freelancer anymore for your home section. As you know, print is suffering, and we feel that an in-house person would save us money. I’m sorry that we have to let you go. If you need a recommendation letter, I’m happy to supply that. You have been an asset to the paper, and we are sad to lose you.” She didn’t make eye contact with me, and an awkward silence fell over the room. There goes ten years down the drain.
“Oh. Wow. Umm, well, okay. Thank you for the opportunity. I’ve enjoyed the last ten years working here.” I seriously sounded like a robot. In my mind, I was going out in a blaze of glory with my middle finger raised in the air. Instead, I stood, shook her hand, and left her office in a daze.
I wallowed, consoling myself with ice cream and wine as I sat around in my favorite pair of pajamas. Darkness became my friend. And not just in terms of my mood. I literally didn’t turn on any lights. By the seventh day, my apartment was littered with empty food containers, and an ineffable stench permeated the air. After some investigation, I found the source of the smell. It was me. Showering hadn’t even been on my radar.
In actuality, the monotony of writing about home design week after week was getting tedious. I had grown to hate it, but it gave me purpose. It gave me an identity. After being let go, I was plagued with thoughts that I wasn’t good enough and wondered where to go from there.
I inherited a considerable amount of money from my mother, which provided a generous cushion. On the eighth day of my reclusiveness, I realized that this could be the moment to step out of my comfort zone. You know how we all talk about taking a goal to task, and then we add, “Someday I’ll do it”? That day was my someday. Well, In fairness, I postponed that someday to the next day; I still had some more ice cream and wine to consume, but not together, of course. That would ruin them both.
But after that, instead of waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel, I lit that bitch up myself. In my head, I am a badass. However, in reality, I am fearful of change. Fearful of not being accepted. So instead, I take care of everyone else to simply avoid the possibility. That’s me: the caretaker. After days of mourning the loss of a job that, quite frankly, was lacking inspiration, my attitude began to shift. Instead of looking at the loss of my job as a bad thing, I decided to see it as an opportunity. Incredibly healthy of me, don’t you think?
Writing a book has always been in my peripheral vision. The idea of creating a fictional novel about a forty-something woman navigating life seemed to speak to me. As a single woman, society deems me a spinster or a lesbian. I hold nothing against either, but I simply do not belong in either of those groups. Still, according to society, I should be hoarding cats by this point. And for the record, I do not have even one cat, but I do have Owen, who is as moody as any four-legged feline.
People are immediately drawn to Owen—to his infectious grin and laughter. We have the same blond hair, but his is coarse and thick while mine tends to be thinner, hence the reason I keep it in a short pixie cut. His low muscle tone could be a detriment, but he never lets it stop him. His exuberance for life is inspiring, and when he says, “I love my life,” it makes all the “big” stuff that I worry about seem so unimportant. He is open to any possibility.
He adjusted well after Mom died, but the reality is that it has always been just the two of us anyway, so we quickly settled into a rhythm. He is employed at a neighborhood grocery store that happens to be down the street.
“What are you doing today?” he inquires, breaking me from my memories.
“Writing,” I respond.
“Again?” He rolls his eyes.
“Yes, again,” I state, my voice dripping with annoyance.
“Maybe Mr. Schmitt will hire you at the store. You could work with me, and I would be your boss.” He grins and giggles.
This is our conversation every day. He doesn’t understand that I’m really writing a book and have been for quite some time; that writing is my job even if, at this moment, it isn’t lucrative; and that someday, someone and maybe several of their friends will want to read it. I watch him walk to his job.
For the first few months, I walked him to work every day, which elicited innumerable complaints. “Addie, I am thirty. I am a man. I can walk alone.” Whatever. So instead, I watch from the stoop of our apartment building, asking him to text me when he gets there. His text always reads, “I’m here. Get a life.”
He’s right, you know. I will get a life after I complete this book. The finish line is on the horizon.
I was ten when Owen was born; he was a late “oops” baby. Since my parents opted out of raising him, I became his caregiver, advocate, mother, and sister; and he—well—he became my everything. When he was younger, I walked him to school every day, his chubby hand connecting with mine. His smile was infectious. Once we would reach our destination, he would turn to me, open his arms, and give me the best hug I have ever encountered. There was never a better way to start my day.
My life is so much better with Owen in it—even when he gives me the finger (which happens regularly). His developmental delay has never been a hindrance. It doesn’t define him, and if anyone feels sorry for him, they are missing the bigger picture. He is thriving, appreciative of the present moment. While the rest of the world stresses about mundane issues, Owen lives his life with ease. He is a contributing member of the community, and most of all, he is loved. He is a walking example of living life in the moment. I want to be like him when I grow up (but without the attitude).
I shuffle over to my laptop, settle into my writing chair, pray for some creative mojo, and delve into the project at hand. My book, Finding the Light, centers around Sherry, a forty-something woman on a quest to find herself, even with the layers of baggage that bind her. Along the way, she opens her heart to love while uncovering secrets that have plagued her family for generations. Sounds nice, right? There are some characteristics that we share, but I shape her into being a lot of things I don’t see in myself. She is poised and beautiful but still struggles with finding her way in the world. That latter part is what we share. I want to fit. I want to find a place where I belong. I want the happy ending.
Lost in thought, I barely hear my cell phone ringing. The name on the screen makes me grimace. It’s my cousin-in-law, Dorothy. Dorothy is married to my cousin, Matthew, a passive, unmotivated individual who uses me as his personal ATM. Dorothy, on the other hand, has a penchant for not asking and simply taking items that don’t belong to her—like jewelry. Yes, Dorothy is a shoplifter and has been caught on numerous occasions. She seems to skate through the court system and is never accountable for her actions. Oh, and she might also be a hoarder. However, she maintains a façade of success with her designer duds and perfectly coiffed blond hair. I suspect that the money I “loan” them goes toward Dorothy, always looking like a million bucks instead of toward their bills. Color me surprised. Her willowy figure and manicured fingernails complete the illusion. She is a real piece of work.
Why do I continue to participate, you ask? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because, besides Owen, this is the only family I have left. It’s toxic and dysfunctional, I know, but I crave acceptance and love. My hope that people will change and start to care about me consumes me. Logically, I know it’s not going to happen, and yet I continue to play the game, thinking that one day, people will treat me the way I deserve. I am sure a psychiatrist would have a field day with my issues.
Anyway, like a dumb-ass, I answer the phone. It is simply the next stage in the cycle of insanity.
“Hey, Dorothy.” My voice is emotionless.
“Addie, I’m just calling to check in with you. Are you doing alright? I miss you.” She sounds loving. Her tone is so overly saturated in sweetness that I might actually get a cavity. But it’s a lie, just like everything else about her—cue my exaggerated eye-roll. There was a time when I thought we might have a nice familial connection, but what I have learned is that under Dorothy’s compassion, an ulterior motive is always at the root. She’s the type of person who presents herself as someone she’s not. People gravitate to her. She spins lies like cotton candy—and they believe her. It took me a long time to figure out that she wasn’t a safe person, so I disconnected, except for the “loaning” part. Somehow, it keeps them from inserting themselves into our lives. It gives me a slight reprieve—family in name only, but family, nonetheless. This process is exhausting, and so are my mixed feelings about them.
“We’re doing well. How are you all?” I ask, but I don’t care. I am currently having an inner argument with myself for even answering the damn phone.
“You are so sweet to ask. We’re struggling. Matthew lost his job, and it’s really hard for us.” Whenever she is trying hard to put on her “sweet” personality, she tends to use her fake Southern accent. I sigh.
What a surprise. Matthew loses jobs like water through a sieve. I wonder if the ink has ever dried on any of his applications before he’s been let go. I don’t take the bait. I know she wants money. The suggestion is there.
“Gosh, that’s too bad. I’m sure he’ll find something else.” I say it with such conviction that I almost believe my own bullshit.
“Of course. I know you’re right. It’s just so hard living in a place where I don’t know if we can even make our rent. It is so scary. But we can’t move to another place with lower rent. Those places are sketchy and riddled with crime. No matter how badly off we are, we simply can’t put our lives at risk. And even so, if we…”
At this point, I am no longer listening, and I’m itching to end this conversation. But with Dorothy, it’s difficult. She talks endlessly, and I often wonder how she accomplishes it when she rarely takes a breath. It is a talent. She is completely self-absorbed and irritating.
I listen to her chatter, and when I feel a pause coming, I jump in with a resounding, “Dorothy, I have to go. Someone is at the door.” Okay, label me a liar, but I prefer to call it self-preservation. Don’t tell me you’ve never done the same thing. Anyway, she reluctantly releases me from the current hostage situation and promises or threatens—depends on your outlook—to be in touch soon. I can’t wait.
On the bright side, I didn’t take their financial crisis bait.
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