Chapter 4 – Doing It Our Way
Jane called Grace later that night. Here’s how the conversations went:
“Grace, you’ll never believe what I’m about to tell you.”
“Then, why are you telling me, if you don’t think I’ll believe you?” said Grace.
Jane ignored Grace’s comment, “I called Ellen and invited her to the barbecue. Ellen asked me who else is going. I said, a few friends and there will be someone to play with Tommy. Then she said, if your friend Grace and her bully son are going, we’re not going.”
“What did you say?” Asked Grace.
“I said, “what happened?” That’s what I said. And, do you know what she said?”
“No,” answered Grace.
“Ellen said, “you’ll take her side. I’ve seen you two paling around with one another. Take this as a big, fat no.” And, she ended the call. What happened, Grace?” Asked Jane.
After Grace finished providing the details, she added, “It’s okay to cancel the barbecue, I understand.”
Jane said, “Not so fast, girlfriend. I have an iPhone and I know how to use it. The party is on 3:30 p.m. Saturday, at my house. Look your best, I’ve handpicked the one for you.”
“Who is he?” Asked Grace.
“Let’s say he’s a year older than you. He drives a BMW. He’s tired of playing the field and wants to settle down. And, his looks? If I wasn’t happily married to Fred, I’d tell you not to come and take my best shot at him. He’ll make you drool. Drop the gym clothes. A bit of makeup and take a trip to the Salon, please? It’s my last best shot for you,” pleaded Jane.
Grace chuckled, “I’ll drop the gym clothes, one out of three is pretty good, right?”
The friends had a good laugh. Grace went into the bathroom and began searching for gray hairs and seeing how noticeable the tiny lines were around her eyes. She walked out of the bathroom and into her bedroom, she stared at a photo of Mike and she on her bedside table and said, “Mike, what should I do? Can you help me? I’m so confused. I know Matt needs a good man in his life. I can’t imagine meeting another man like you. After all, you were the best. You always told me not to settle for second best. Please Mike, send me a sign. I’m running on a treadmill and going nowhere.”
Grace went back into the bathroom, played a bit with her hair, then went back to the dining area. Matt was sitting at the table texting on his phone. Grace said, “Who are texting, Matt?”
Matt turned at looked at Grace, “Tommy texted me and we’ve been going back and forth.”
“Yes, he apologized. He said he was out of line. I told him it was okay. Now, we’re trying to figure out where to play basketball since his mom is made at you and me. He said it’ll take her a week, but she’ll get over it.”
“What about his tooth?”
“The dentist saved it. Tommy wants to be on my team the next time we play two on two.”
“I don’t understand you boys at all,” said Grace.
“I told you, Mom, it was nothing. I can take care of myself. Dad always told me I was strong enough. Remember when he got deployed the last time, he told me, I was the man of the house. So, you don’t have to worry about me anymore.”
Grace took a deep breath, fought back the flood of tears that were threatening to overspill her emotional dam. She walk to Matt and gave him a hug and kiss on his forehead. She said, “Thanks, Matt.” Grace quickly turned away and went to her bedroom and cried.
Chapter 3 – Doing It Our Way
Grace’s stomach was upset. Oh sure, she thought, boys will be boys. But a bruise under his eye, possibly a black eye? And, Matt knocked a tooth out of his best friend’s mouth and gave Tommy a bloody nose to boot. Now, Ellen is mad at me and I didn’t do anything. Her mind was so busy she didn’t realize she grated an entire ball of mozzarella cheese. She opened a counter drawer, and pulled out a box of sandwich zip baggies. She used a table knife to scoot three-fourths of the cheese into the baggie.
She stopped what she was doing, placed both hands palm down on the countertop and took a deep breath. Get a grip, she said to herself. He’s only a boy trying to be a man. Listen to him before you lose it.
Grace took another deep breath, opened a cabinet door and reached for the tortillas. She knew Matt’s favorite lunch was a bean and cheese burrito. She laid out of a tortilla, opened a can of retried beans and spread the retried beans on the tortilla. She hollered, “Matt, do you want tomato slices on your bean burrito?”
A moment later, “No thanks, Mom. Just bean and cheese and and salsa on the side.”
Why did I bother asking? She thought. She laughed to herself, I wanted to hear him and make sure he was okay. Grace sprinkled the mozzarella on the retried beans, rolled it up, put it on a plate and put it in the microwave. Before she set the timer, she made herself a salad, opened a can of sardines, took the sardines out of the can and put them on a plate. She made two place settings on table. Grace walked to the refrigerator and poured a glass of milk for Matt. She grabbed a can of sparkling water for herself.
“Lunch is ready, Matt. Make sure you wash your hands,” Grace called trying to sound cheerful, but she knew Matt would see right through it.
Matt walking into the eating area, his hands still dripping wet. He saw his mom look at him and he wiped his hands on his t-shirt.
“Matthew, how many times have I told you to use a towel and not your shirt?” Asked Grace.
Matt stopped, put his right hand to his chin, tilted his head toward the ceiling as if he were thinking, then put his hand down and said, “I think eleven. That’s it, eleven times, because the last time was ten.”
Grace looked at him, bruised face and dark spot growing under his eye, red bruised cheek, an impish grin, and sparkling blue eyes. God, he reminds so much of Mike she thought. She couldn’t get mad at him, no matter how much she wanted to. Grace shook her head, “I’m going to buy you a shirt made out of towel. How would you like that?”
“That’s great, Mom. Then I can put it on right after I shower and I won’t have to waste time wiping myself down,” said Matt pulling out a chair, sitting down and taking a sip of his milk.
Grace heard the microwave beep, she walked over to the microwave and retrieved the burrito. She stopped by the refrigerator and said, “What kind of salsa?”
“The usual, dad’s favorite.”
Grace’s heart plummeted to her stomach. She opened the refrigerator, and reached for the hot, Texas Diablo salsa. “It’ll burn your stomach out.” She said.
“No it won’t, Mom. Dad said its good for you. If it was good enough for dad, it’s good enough for me,” said Matt.
Grace wondered how Matt could be so cheerful when he talked about Mike, and when she thought of Mike she wanted to cry. She carried the salsa and burrito over to the table. She placed the plate in front of Matt and put the salsa next to the container of milk. They joined hands and Grace prayed, “Bless us oh Lord and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounties through Christ our Lord, amen.”
Matt took hold of the salsa, opened the jar, and poured a generous portion on his plate. Grace rolled her eyes.
“You know you could have used a spoon for the salsa and it would have been much neater,” said Grace.
“I save time this way, Mom. Besides, I’d lick the spoon and put germs in the jar. You wouldn’t want that to happen would you?” Said Matt bitting into his burrito.
“No, definitely not. I wouldn’t want that to happen. Now, Matthew, what happened with Tommy? Don’t leave anything out. I want the whole truth,” said Grace.
Matt pointed to his mouth, it was full of burrito and salsa. Grace watched and waited. Matt took his time chewing.
“I can wait all day. Not another bite until you tell me everything.”
Matt swallowed his food, took a drink of milk, and said, “Mom, really, it was nothing. Stuff like this happens all the time.”
“When was the last time you came home with a black eye and bruised cheek?”
“It’s not really a black eye, yet. Besides, I think it looks kind of cool. Tommy started it. I didn’t have a choice.”
“What do you mean, Tommy started it. You have to do better, Matthew.”
Matt took a deep breath, “Here’s what happened. Tommy and Jimmy and Todd and me were playing basketball. Todd and me were on the same team. We were playing to twenty baskets. It was a tie game and I stole the ball from Tommy and drove past him and made a layup. We won.”
“He got mad because you won?” Asked Grace.
“No, he said I fouled him. I said I didn’t. He pushed me. I pushed him back. He said, ‘Admit you fouled me.’ I said I didn’t foul him, then he said, “You’re a liar like your old man. I bet he never earned his medals. He took a swing at me and hit me in the eye. I rushed into him and knocked him to the ground and hit him a few times until he screamed something about a tooth. I let him up and he ran into the house holding his mouth and nose. That’s the whole story. Nobody puts dad down to me, nobody. Can I eat now?”
Grace nodded. She wished she had something to say. She didn’t want to tell Matt he was wrong. She didn’t want him to be baited into fighting. Why did life have to be so damn hard, she thought?
We all want to be successful. It’s what healthy people want to do regardless of their endeavor. Not everyone, however, wants to pay the price to be successful. It takes hard work. It takes facing down discouragement. It takes the courage to struggle against the pain and press on. You have the right stuff inside you to be successful. YES, you do. Call on it. Fight on. Fight on. Enjoy this brief Vimeo video to inspire you.
My family and I lived near the center of a small, western Massachusetts town for ten years. The center of the town perched on top a steep hill. The road running north and south was Jabish Road. We all dubbed the hill, Jabish Hill. It is a very steep hill that stretches for nearly a half mile on either side of the center of the town.
We were a physically active family. If we weren’t walking, or hiking in a nearby state area, we were riding our bicycles. Riding our bicycles up Jabish Hill taught me a lesson that stays with me today and sustains me in times of struggle.
When I took our five daughters bicycle riding, I rode in the rear keeping an eye on them and hollering out directions – they might say commands or orders. The one ride they didn’t like was a circle route that ended up with us cycling up Jabish Hill. The first time we went on the ride, I said as we began the climb, “Don’t quit, just count ten pedals. That’s all. Ten pedals. You can do it.” We all made ten pedals. Then I said, “Ten more pedals. I know it’s hard. But doing ten pedals is something we can do.” We did ten pedals over and again until we made it to the top of Jabish Hill. We all felt good about our accomplishment. The girls gained confidence. After the first bicycle ride up Jabish Hill, the girls knew to do ten pedals over and again. It was the way you made it to the top.
Ten pedals, over and again, is the way I am learning to live alone, move forward, and enjoy life and tell suffering and grieving, they won’t have the last word with me.