Back in October I decided I’d try to write my mom a novel in time for her Christmas present. She’s been the biggest fan of my romance novel Forever and Farewell, so I wanted to write something along those lines. I had a plan early this year for a novel inspired by It’s a Wonderful Life, and decided now was the perfect time to dust that idea off and polish it up. Thankfully, I was able to finish the novel, clean it up some, and deliver it to my mom Christmas morning. I plan on releasing A Shot at Us towards the end of January on Kindle and sometime later this year on paperback.
Thank you all for your support in 2018, and I hope you enjoy this first little taste of A Shot at Us, a love story.
Despite the despair prying its way into her heart, Gwen marveled at the way the lights from their old apartment building made the snow seem warm and inviting. Or was it the snow that made her old home inviting, calling out to her not to do this thing she was trying to avoid thinking about? Her cough crept out of her again, leaving her bent nearly double in the middle of the street as she crossed to take a closer look. A car slid to a stop just feet away, the driver hammering its horn. Still bent, she held up a hand as she staggered forward, her hospital gown flapping around her clothes. Her coat was probably still at home, snug and warm on its hanger next to Malcolm’s.
The thought brought a smile to her face even as the chill night air spiked the tear tracks staining her cheeks. This had been their first place together. Well, if you didn’t count her brief stay at his old house just before Malcolm was evicted, and Gwen didn’t. That place had been transitory, a way station to get them where they belonged. And where they belonged was this apartment building.
The woman in the car rolled down her window and called a question. The question on that dreadful night. Was she all right? Gwen laughed and coughed and fuzzed out for a moment. No. No, she was not all right. But this woman didn’t need to know that. She probably had happy people to go see, a happy job to go to every day, a happy life free of the continual fuck-ups that defined Gwendolyn Irving. Gwen turned, gave her a wave, and said she lived right there, but thank you anyways. The woman nodded uncertainly, rolled up her window, and rolled away once the tires finally got a good grip on the road again.
The apartment building. God, what had it been? Fifteen years? Before the three little beans, before the nice rental they couldn’t afford. Far, far before the No Good Hellhole. It was here Gwen’s seizures worsened. Here she’d broken her leg. Here she’d begun the horrible backslide that led them all to this, to what she was sure was the end of everything, one way or another.
There on the stoop, she’d sat on Malcolm’s lap, both of them sipping from a cheap jug of wine a few days after they got married. It had spilled down her chin and he’d licked it off before carrying her upstairs to make deliriously slow, pleasant love on their mangy old mattress and box spring. Why that bout of lovemaking stuck out in her mind, she didn’t know.
The fever scalding her skull had abated somewhat, or had at least met its match in the night air. It would get colder still that evening. The news had predicted with its usual grim apocalyptic direness the temperatures would plummet that night down into the single digits. Lower, if you counted wind chill, and considering the breeze was sliding towards a full gust, Gwen most certainly did.
She was counting on it, if she decided to go through with this.
Already, her feet and ankles were numb, and her calves weren’t far behind. Her shoes flapped through the downy blankets of powder. There had been no time in the hospital room to tie them. Only a skeleton crew was working so close to Christmas, and no one thought one of their patients would make a run for it. Why would they? Gwen was a frequent flier at Rankin Flats Memorial. It was practically her home away from home, given the way her luck had run the last decade or so. Why should they think she’d pick this night of all nights to slip away? To…
Gwen refused to give a name to what she was thinking. To do so was to acknowledge the darkness of it, the finality of the choice before her. She had a sliver of time but given her pneumonia, she didn’t believe she’d last an hour out here in the cold if she just trundled off somewhere and sat down, waiting to go to sleep one last time.
She brushed the tears away with the back of her arm, still kneeling in the snow, and doodled a pair of stick figures into the puffy white. Only after a moment did she add three little ones. They would be the ones to suffer most from this. They’d blame themselves, they’d get angry, they’d spend the next sixty or seventy years wondering if it was something they did, something they could have changed. A note wouldn’t matter. It would still tear them apart.
Malcolm would agonize over it too, but he’d understand. He’d know that this wasn’t emotional, that it was born of calculation and pure mathematics. Their family needed, and Gwendolyn took and took and took until the taking broke her.
Sometime in the last few minutes, her involuntary shivers had stopped. That was not a good sign. She rose to her feet, coughing again. It was softer this time, muffled, and her chest hurt with it. This wasn’t time for the end, though, not yet. She still wasn’t sure about this.
The apartment building beckoned her, but the doors were locked. Even if they weren’t, someone there might see her sitting in the hallway and call the cops. Or even worse, recognize her and call Malcolm. Not that she didn’t want to see her husband again – her heart ached for it, despite the way she’d ended things earlier, the horrible things Gwen had shouted at him. They never shouted at each other. Never. It had taken her by surprise as much as him. He’d looked so forlorn then, so lonely and lost even as she stood right in front of him, one hand on the wall for balance. It hadn’t been his fault. Not really. She’d known she wasn’t really screaming at him, but at… well, everything.
“I’m sorry, Malcolm,” she whispered. It wasn’t an apology for this, or for the fight, but for all of it, for making him love her, for making him suffer her every quirk and problem. And there were so many problems.
Her feet worked as Gwen thought. With the shivering gone and a false warmth spreading from her stomach through her spine, she regained a little of her composure, walking fast despite the wet bedding filling her neck and throat. Pneumonia was all too familiar to her, and she recognized this as a calm in the middle of the storm. It wouldn’t last. Soon she’d be nearly delirious with the fever again. She had to sort this out, and fast.
The basketball court. Pickup games with Malcolm and his friend Ian. Hot dogs fresh from the neighbors’ barbeque as they sat on plastic chairs outside the chain link fence watching two youth groups play on the cracked concrete. Games of tennis with a nonexistent net, marked by ribbons they’d tied on the fence. Pastor Dewey, showing them yes, he really could dunk. Pastor Dewey. The church.
Her course changed, and Gwen staggered back across the street. Dewey had moved on, was preaching somewhere else now, Missouri or Mississippi or one of those other M-states, but the church, that might still be there. Maybe someone was around who could let her in. That would be a good place to sit and think, especially if she could just be left alone for a while. And if it was locked… well…
There. Yes, a block away, and not too soon. The cold shaved away little bits of her, leaving parts numb and others burning. Another ten minutes or so and Gwen wouldn’t have a choice in this at all anymore. The church was unspectacular in every regard, boxy and ugly, set just off a parking lot that lost the fight to gravel and dirt long before she’d gone there. Someone had once decided to paint the walls on the side brown, but didn’t have enough paint to finish the front, leaving a small strip at the base around the door brown while the rest was a cracked, faded white. Maybe some of the other churches in the area were prospering from the string of catastrophes in Rankin Flats, but here, faith was on life support.
Her knock thundered, and she waited, pulling the hospital gown tighter around her as she tried to stay upright. No one answered, though, not the first time, not the third.
“Please,” Gwen whispered. “Mercy.”
Her hand fell on the doorknob, and she closed her eyes, knowing it would be locked just like the apartment building. But no, the knob twisted in her hand, and she nearly fell into the foyer, the snow blowing in with her. She could only close the door again with effort, leaning her whole body against it to push it shut again against the small drifts. It took all her energy and Gwen sank to her butt on the ground against the door, panting like a dog as she contemplated the wet floor. It seemed almost sacrilegious. The lights were off and she was too exhausted to climb back to her feet, so she stripped out of the hospital gown, leaving her in her sweats and tee shirt. The gown was a terrible excuse for a towel, but she managed the best she could, eventually wadding it up and stuffing it behind her head.
Sleep took her, uncomfortable, uneasy sleep. She flinched at echoes of herself shouting things, of the fight at home and the worse one later in the hospital. The doze only lasted a few minutes – her shivering returned and woke her up. A second wind hit her feebly, and she managed to rise shakily to her feet.
Light switch, light switch… ah, there it was. Her numb fingers battered at it like claws, and she finally managed to flick the lights on. The foyer was friendly, but largely chintzy in feel and in decoration. The potted plant in the corner was fake, a box for holding worship leaflets was plastic, and even the “stained glass” was really just hard plexiglass with colored strips overlaid. One of those strips had fallen to the floor. She knelt and picked it up, putting it back into place as best she could. This place had always been the Charlie Brown Christmas tree of churches and she loved it for that.
The nave was empty, save for the pews, podium, and the cross on the far wall. Gwen fell into one of the pews, the last of her strength gone. Her wet clothes might do something to the fresh polish on there. She wasn’t sure but couldn’t afford to worry about it for the moment. If God was going to smite her for a damp pew, then He’d surely have hit her with lightning for a few hundred other offenses in her lifetime.
Her head lolled back, and she started to drift away again, aware of it this time. Before she passed out, Gwen murmured, “Help me. Please. Because right now I’m terrified I know what the right decision is. We can’t keep going like this.” One of her eyes slid open, and she stared at the ceiling. “Help me figure this out, God.”
She cried again, the tears sapping at her consciousness, and Gwen slipped back down, fighting for every breath.
* * *
Malcolm closed the door to the office behind him. If the phone’s screen hadn’t already been broken years ago, his grip might have shattered it. If he was careful not to cut himself, he could just barely swipe the answer button. This time, he failed, hissing and sucking his thumb as he said, “Hello?” he said, trying not to snap.
“Malcolm, hey, it’s Nina.”
The name took him a moment. “From the hospital?”
“Yes, and that’s why I’m calling.”
Malcolm came to a dead stop. “Is Gwen okay?”
“We… don’t know, actually. I was checking call lights, and when I came back, she was gone.”
“Gone?” he squeaked out. No. No no no, not now, not when he was trying to set things right. Not from stupid fucking pneumonia. And certainly not after they’d left things so badly. His heart threatened to rise up and choke him out. What would he tell the kids? How could he? “I… I…”
“Crap, no, I’m sorry, Malcolm. I mean, she’s left the building. We don’t know where she is.”
“You…” He was not a man given to anger, but it burst inside him, firework blasts of white-hot sparks. “That’s what you should have led with!”
“I know, I’m sorry, I just… did she contact you?”
“No. You’re sure she’s gone? She didn’t just go to the bathroom or something? Or hit the cafeteria? She likes the cookies there.” He was desperately grabbing at solutions. Gwen didn’t drive anymore, Malcolm had their lone car and they’d learned better to leave her purse there at the hospital, so she wouldn’t have money for an Uber. Not that they would have had that money anyways, even with her purse there.
“We’re sure. Ike’s reviewing the tapes. We’ll know in a few if she’s left with anyone, but…”
“I’m heading there now.”
“Thanks, and I’m so-”
He cut Nina off in mid-apology, and shoved the door back open. The man behind the desk saw Malcolm’s panicked face and half-rose. “She isn’t-?”
“Not like that. She disappeared. I gotta go.”
“I have no idea. Can we finish this later? I’m so sorry.”
The man dropped back into his chair. “Of course.”
“Thank you. I’ll call when I know more.”
That surprised the man, and he nodded almost imperceptibly. “Good.”
Malcolm fled, racing first to the elevator to jackhammer the call button, then to the door leading to the stairs when that didn’t come fast enough. But as he threw open the door, the elevator dinged, and he sprinted back. On his way up, the elevator seemed to be a sterling example of its kind and he’d even thought about how fast it had whooshed him to the third floor. Now though, it seemed to lollygag, and only deposited him on the first floor when it felt damn good and ready.
Outside, Malcolm had to fight every instinct not to run across the fresh snow. There was black ice underneath that powder, and they couldn’t afford for two of them to land in the hospital right now. Hell, they couldn’t afford the one of them that already had.
Thankfully, he didn’t have far to walk. The van was only one of a handful of cars in the lot. The old Mack Machine, he called it, making his wife and oldest daughter groan. Once upon a time, the thing had felt like a smart decision, purchased in that slice of time before crossovers and SUVs became popular. Now it was a sluggish beast on the roads even under the best of conditions, and on ice, it was a raving lunatic hellbent on killing all of them.
It was also the only vehicle they had, so Malcolm was careful not to piss it off too much by talking ill of it.
He slid behind the wheel. Despite the radio being off, one of the speakers popped when he turned the key, as it had since months after little Winnifred was born. A short somewhere, one he couldn’t figure out and damn well couldn’t afford to have fixed by a professional. It was the Irving clan’s version of backfire, and it sometimes amused him. Now, though, his mind was squarely focused on the hospital and his wife.
The weather in eastern Montana was never entirely reliable, even in the middle of winter, and lately they’d been experiencing a mix of unusually warm stretches followed by hard cold snaps. Case in point, two days ago there’d been rain, and now Malcolm suffered for it. Even just easing into the street led to the van’s ass end swinging wide, and he grimaced as he righted it. Balding tires didn’t help either, but he could fix that. He just needed time.
If Gwen would give it to him.
Their argument replayed in the forefront of his mind as he drove. Money. They’d argued before, sure. Fifteen years of marriage, that happened. But never with that intensity. Never with that anger. The fact was, Gwen was right. They needed to talk to her parents, to eat crow and admit they needed help. Pride blinded Malcolm to the truth he knew all along, that their kids were at risk without a firmer foothold. Between the hospital and a maxed-out credit card, any and all of their disposable income was gone. Sure, Rankin Flats Memorial had forgiven almost all Gwen’s debt, but the portion left they needed to pay was enough to gut them for a year. Something had to give.
The kicker was, the whole argument started because Malcolm was scared for her. Gwen refused to go to the hospital for her pneumonia. They’d been in that position before, she told him, and she knew how to treat it from home. But when he saw the number on the thermometer wasn’t dropping that day and she still refused to go in, Malcolm flipped. Things were said. Shouted. Finally she caved, but there had been an unfamiliar dissonance to her voice, an almost calm acceptance. Malcolm thought it was just the fever, but now his mind tried to reverse time, to make it so those weren’t the last moments he spent with Gwen, that frigid wall between them as he tried to get her to smile, to come back to him. He’d been such a fucking asshole.
In the dumbest move of his whole life – and there had been plenty of those – Malcolm left her to head to the meeting. Gwen didn’t know about it. No one did, apart from the two men. It was a grasp at hope. She’d be upset about it, that much was for sure, but he hoped she’d see the reasoning. It was time to mend bridges.
If it wasn’t too late.
There are a few quotes from Shakespeare that people tend to misunderstand, the most egregious of which is probably “star-crossed lovers,” which actually means lovers whose relationship is doomed to failure or ended in tragedy. The second, “now is the winter of our discontent,” is often used to mean that things can’t get worse, when in fact it’s a parallel of our more commonly-used saying “the night is always darkest just before dawn,” meaning that things will get better. It’s hopeful, though it does stem from the gloom of current affairs.
This, then, is the winter of my discontent.
It’s been a strange year. My last remaining grandparent passed away. I had a (very minor) heart attack days after peeing rocks. I fractured my pelvis and slept in an armchair for the better part of two or three months. I am now sleeping with a machine to help me breathe because I very likely will choke to death some night without it thanks to the angle of my neck.
And I’m coming out of it feeling… okay. Bit more scarred, I suppose, but particularly since October, I think I’ve healed up a bit. I can’t explain why, exactly, but I feel like I’ve got a little bit of my swagger back, something I’ve been missing for a decade. Part of that’s been my work output. I’ve published over 500k words this year. Over half a million. That’s insane. Even crazier is that I’ve finished and published a series of books people seem to like. Seven books, all done, the story complete. I’ve got another novel done and in the editing phase, a standalone that should be publishable by February on the outside. I’ve got another novella on pre-order and set to be released in a week. Sales are all over the place, but paperback sales from the few events I managed to get to this year really took off, and while my ebook sales have never been great, I’m seeing some positive numbers and am poised to enter into some new genres and try some new series next year.
Saying all that juxtaposed next to words about losing someone important to me feels more than a little weird, but right now, I need good things to cling to. I need to pat myself on the back because holy shit, I’ve survived some years but this one takes the cake. I’m ready for 2019. We’ll get thing started with what promises to be a polarizing novel (we’ll talk more in a few weeks), and then… I don’t know. I have a gorgeous cover for my fantasy novel that’s been in limbo since my heart attack, but I’m kinda feeling the need to revisit my post-apocalyptic start. It was a great concept and time has given me some ideas as to how to improve the basics. Or maybe I’ll work on my YA novel. I don’t know, and frankly, that excites me. I’m ready to try some new things, explore some new worlds. Some new characters will say hello soon. I hope you’ll say hello back, and enjoy the places you’ll go.
So long, 2018. It’s been a hell of a ride.
Folks, there’s a war on our beloved holiday. Tinpot dict-haters are rising up and demanding we, the faithful, hate what they hate, despise what they despise. They’ll use subjective things like “science” and “facts” to point out that our great holiday love isn’t real, that it’s all artificial nonsense put forward by marketing execs looking to make a buck off the suckers. They sit upon their thrones of lies and slander and spew forth so much vitriol it’s hard to keep the faith. The faith…
…in pumpkin spice.
Well, true believers, I’m here to bring you the good word. Despite the hate, despite the armpit noises from those who thumb their noses and say, “Nyah, pumpkin spice isn’t even really pumpkin, nyah, so you shouldn’t enjoy it, nyah,” I am here to tell you the pumpkin spice spirit is here to stay if you’re just willing to believe in its goodness, its rightness with the universe. Not only is pumpkin spice alive and well in our hearts, but it’s in the stores on the shelves, in the cappuccino dispensers at your gas station that probably haven’t been rinsed out and properly washed in five years, in your drive-throughs along with a coked-out Charlie Sheen or an irate Jim Cornette (go look it up).
We’re not here today to bash our pumpkin spice hating brothers and sisters, though. The Great Pumpkin Spice loves us all, regardless of if we have good taste or not. Instead, I’m here to tell you about the 2018 Pumpkin Spice Cereal Extravaganza, in which I detail for you – yes, you! – just what the best pumpkin spice cereal is from the three I found at the grocery store.
PUMPKIN SPICE FROSTED FLAKES
We’re going to start things off with a winner. I don’t particularly dislike any type of cereal, but there are a great many I’m largely ambivalent towards, and Frosted Flakes is usually one of them. I’m certainly happy to have it if it’s on sale or it’s what there is, but I don’t particularly go out of my way to buy it.
Pumpkin Spice Frosted Flakes are probably the strangest of the bunch, in that up front, it doesn’t have a distinct flavor at all. There’s a bit of cinnamon, but mostly it just tastes sweet. It takes a second for the pumpkin spice flavor to really hit, but when it does, it’s pretty fantastic. It’s neither as overbearingly strong as the Cheerios we’ll talk about in a minute or as understated as the Frosted Shredded Wheat. Of the three, the pumpkin spice flavor is probably the best in this one, though I do think the initial sugary taste can come off as a bit strong.
So is it good? Hell yes. And it makes the milk even better, so that’s a bonus. Also great? The smell when you first open the box. It’s sort of a musty nutmeg smell and it’s fantastic.
PUMPKIN SPICE CHEERIOS
Of the three I tested, I’m probably down on these the most. I’d rank the other two as great, but Pumpkin Spice Cheerios are mostly okay, and that’s thanks to an almost overbearing amount of cloves and a strange lack of blending of flavors.
It’s immediately apparent when you bite into these that they didn’t change the formula too much from pre-existing Cheerios and pretty much just tossed on the pumpkin spices as an afterthought. These still very much taste like Honey Nut Cheerios at their core, but now have been dusted in cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice. None of it comes together very well until it’s had a chance to soak in milk a bit, but when it does, it works.
Along that same line, the milk it leaves behind is definitely the best of the bunch and it makes me wonder if we aren’t far off from pumpkin spice milk being a thing on shelves. I’ve seen it in egg nog form, so why not?
PUMPKIN SPICE FROSTED SHREDDED WHEAT
These were my favorite of the bunch. Both the other cereals were, by nature, based on already sweet cereals, and didn’t try to curb that in favor of the pumpkin spice, leaving some awkward mixing of flavors and overbearing sugars. Frosted Shredded Wheat has the advantage in that it’s normally a very subdued sweetness – sure, there’s sugar there, but it’s not as up front as Frosted Flakes or Honey Nut Cheerios.
Plus, the shredded wheat benefits from a certain understatement to its pumpkin spice. It doesn’t try to throw the spices in your face. Of all three, it seems to recognize that too much of a good thing is a hindrance, not a boon, and instead it goes for a classier taste. It’s the one that tastes the least like traditional pumpkin spice flavors, but in this case, that plays to the strengths of the cereal itself.
So there you have it. In the great Pumpkin Spice Cereal Wars of ’18, Frosted Shredded Wheat is your winner. I should also note that Wal-Mart’s pumpkin cream muffins are fantastic. That’s probably been my favorite pumpkin spice purchase of the year. The price doesn’t hurt either – you can get two for $2.50.
Thanks for reading, and have a happy, fun Halloween, everyone.
My latest novella and the season three closer to the Adamanta series, Cutthroat, is now available for pre-order! When a Beltine mining facility is found in the midst of an asteroid field, the Lady Contessa and her crew are tasked with destroying it. But they’re beat to the punch by an industrialist and a weapons designer intent on studying the Beltine. What should have been a chance for humankind to give the Beltine a black eye instead turns into a brutal rescue mission as something new and malevolent is unleashed in the mining facility, something even the Beltine are terrified of.
Pre-order your copy here for just $1.99! And if you haven’t, check out the rest of the series. The first episode is free, so hey, you’re not out anything by giving it a look.
I was not the grandson my Grandma Betty really wanted.
That’s not to say she didn’t love me, or that she even particularly disliked me. Grandma and I, especially between about 2005-2008 or so, were the very definition of friends. We went on road trips together. We helped each other out with the unpleasant crap in our lives just by keeping each other company. We tried and succeeded 95% of the time to be amiable.
But the fact of the matter was simply that we were two very different people who shared an irritability and general owliness that could, at times, be a bit of a subdued powderkeg.
I’m going to back up a second and iterate that I loved Grandma Betty, and I admire her dedication to certain things. She had an absolutely amazing work ethic, and her frugalness is a bit of an inspiration in an era of over-indulgence, of which I’m particularly guilty. She lived simply, she cared deeply, and she always handled her business. Even in the end years of her life, when her mind was starting to go a little bit, Grandma tried to keep her bills and medical needs in order, and even if that wound up being a nightmare sometimes for the family (she insisted over and over again she needed to get down to the DMV for new tags, even when she’d been called and told she had permanent plates), it is still something I respect and admire.
But Grandma lived and breathed in a different world than me. She was raised on a ranch, living her days here in White Sulphur Springs. Certainly, she traveled to a few others places, but traveling with Grandma always felt a bit like she was being pulled back by a great big rubber band around her waist. This place was her home, her sanctuary, her fortress against a changing world she stubbornly refused to understand. Here, she fought against using computers or anything more complex on her land line than the answer or hang-up buttons. Cell phones and computers were nearly magic to her, and I can’t think of a single time in the last twenty years she knew how to operate her various cars’ radios, often times just leaving on whatever the grandkids had put on simply because she didn’t know how to shut it off. I never saw her pick up a book, and until the last few years of her life, she never cared much for television.
She loved local sports. Loved ’em. Cheering on the football team was her idea of a party. Going and watching the basketball games? Slightly less so, but still her jam. She lived for her kids’ and grandkids’ games. I can’t tell you a time I’ve seen my grandmother happier than when one of my cousins was running a football into the end zone.
Compare that to me. I am a technophile. My dream of traveling the world spurs not just my day-to-day existence but the work I do. I’ve lived several different places across the US and I plan on living in more someday. In terms of sports, I was a complete disappointment on every level. There’s not a physical game I’m good at, and so Grandma never really had the same kinds of highs with me. Even my brother, who generally gave as much of a wet fart about sports as I did, was a hell of a baseball stud and she could root him on when he was managing the football team or playing in the pep band.
I was none of those things to her. I was a geek, and she was a woman to whom geekery was completely incomprehensible. I read and read and read, and apart from a token attempt to get my interest in some old Louis L’Amour books that gathered dust in her spare bedroom, Grandma just wasn’t a reader or a conversationalist when it came to fictional stories in general, save for the Westerns she loved on TV. I played sports solely to piss off coaches (that’s no exaggeration). She attended some of my extracurriculars, and to Grandma’s credit, she was great at trying to support me, even if what I was doing obviously wasn’t her cup of tea.
The most important divide, and here’s where we start to dive into Grandma Betty’s greatest and most terrible character fault, is this – I never really needed Grandma in a way that a lot of my cousins or family members did. Oh sure, I had a temper on me, and more than once I walked down to her house from my parents to sleep off my mental poison. There were times I’d get so mad at my family I thought about running away, and she was there to patiently take me in, let me blow off some steam, and then talk me back down in the morning.
But apart from that? I didn’t get in trouble with the cops. I didn’t need money from her. I didn’t need to store stuff at her place, or crash at her house at any point while I got on my feet, or need her to take care of my kids. I was, pretty much, a boring, good kid who kept to himself. My grandma, on the other hand, was a woman with a very real psychological need within herself to take care of people. To worry about things.
I didn’t realize this until I was well into adulthood and beyong the point of being legally blind, but apart from when I was a very little kid, the happiest moments for my grandma when it came to the two of us were two-fold: one was when I’d travel with her to visit her nursing-home bound second husband Bob, a task few people really wanted to do for a lot of reasons. She was human, and having someone with her on those expeditions was something of a balm for her. Maybe that’s tooting my own horn but I do think it made it easier for her to have someone there with her, and she could rely on my regularly going with her. The fun we had on those trips was tempered by the situation – Bob suffered from a stroke and could be cantankerous at the best of times and downright mean to Grandma at his worst, as well as being wildly illogical at times and unrealistic as to his situation. But we did enjoy each other’s company, even if we drove the other a little bit nuts sometimes.
The second time Grandma was really content with me was when she helped me with rides or drives around town, something I’m not able to do by myself. I didn’t quite figure this one out until recently, but those trips weren’t for her. Not in her mind. The chance to help me out with something like going to the vet or getting groceries or whatever the case happened to be made her feel a connection with me she didn’t often get to have. I’m stretching there – she never said as much – but I think I’m right. She was a different person on those rides – happy in a way she generally wasn’t under other circumstances talking to me.
However, that came with an ugly price when it came to other family members. Grandma protected her own, always, and maybe sometimes when family shouldn’t have been protected. Sometimes blinders could go up, particularly when it came to her grandchildren, who she knew could do some serious wrongs and yet she still took them in, helped them out, and seemingly always took their sides until other family members interjected on her behalf.
It sounds odd, but Grandma needed that worry. She clung to it. If something wasn’t wrong, she’d invent something in her mind to worry about, and no amount of reassurances would convince her otherwise. It’s wrong to say that Grandma was blind to the drug usage, the alcoholism that fueled brushes with the law, or the general dickbaggery that comes with having so many family members. She was perfectly aware of what was going on and tolerated it because she thought by accepting those people in her life and taking them in no matter what, she was doing the right thing.
And at times, that hurt to watch. And it happened over and over and over again. I wish, just once, I hadn’t listened to her when she turned down my offer to stand up for her. I wish I’d done what I almost certainly would have done for anyone else and just gone full asshole on people. I didn’t. I watched, as she requested. And lo and behold, the age-old adage of “give a person an inch” kept coming true.
That was Grandma for you, though. She took care of us even when she probably shouldn’t have, when she should have thrown up her hands and said enough. She loved and loved and loved, for better, for worse.
The rest of this blog is going to be rather sort of scattershot. I apologize – it’s late, I’m tired, and I’m working on a huge undertaking that’s left me mentally exhausted. But I wanted to share some minor tidbits that maybe aren’t so minor to me.
- Grandma was ornery and frustratingly stubborn – unless you happened to have genitals and had “M.D.” behind your name. She was gaga over several of her male doctors, and would listen to their advice even when it went against the grain of her insanely hard-held beliefs. For example, her dislike of anything even remotely spicy went bye-bye for a day when her doctor in Great Falls recommended Chili’s to her as a place to eat. Another doctor here in town received a treat every day he was around unfailingly because she was such a big fan of his. Not another soul in town could claim that (apart maybe from my dogs).
- I don’t think I realized until I was fourteen or so that Grandma actually knew how to fart. In an elevator visiting family in the hospital, someone squeaked one out, and it wasn’t me. She looked down slightly, and this big, dopey grin spread across her face like she was a little girl again – and she giggled. Every time afterwards, and it wasn’t often, when I’d catch her farting again, she’d get that same grin and giggle fit. Seriously, it was adorable.
- When she had earwax, Grandma wouldn’t just jam her pointer finger in there like a normal human being. This is going to require a demonstration, so follow along at home. Hold up your hand next to your ear, your thumb splayed out, your palm facing forward. Now pop your thumb into your ear and start waving your hand down and up repeatedly. Again, this woman was damn adorable.
- Grandma was the worst driver I’ve ever known. Worse than me. She didn’t know how to turn on her high beams, and on a trip home from visiting an uncle in Livingston, I had to have her pull over so I could show her how to work them. This wasn’t when I was a kid. This was only about ten years ago. Same with her turn signals. She spent the better part of her adult life not knowing how high beams worked or how to kick on the turn signals in her car. She also never parallel parked, opting instead to just park on the street. I am utterly mystified as to how she passed a driver’s test.
- I will miss her baked beans and her mashed potatoes. I will miss her calling Yoda “Yoga” unfailingly and insisting he was a she. I want to forever remember being a kid and riding under the carts when she worked at Circle V or Mathis Food Farm. I want to remember the Christmas Eves I could spend at her house and learn to let go of the ones where I couldn’t due to other familial issues. I want this town to forever remember her as the one who took care of their elders in the nursing home and who always made sure their kids had an Easter Egg hunt at the park or at the hospital.
- Perhaps most of all, I want to repeat the words Ryan said to me when I asked him if he wanted to pass on a message to Grandma when she was in the hospital for her last hours here. He told me to tell her thank you for giving us the best mom in the world. This whole post I’ve stayed dry-eyed, but this one hurts the most to admit it. I wasn’t able to say those words. I choked. But Ryan meant it, and Grandma knew it in her heart, that she had, through her love and compassion, provided the world with an absolutely amazing daughter and mother.
I miss you, Grandma. And I love you. Thank you. God bless you.
Today’s entry is going to be super brief – my grandmother is in the hospital and I’m in a hurry to get back there to visit. Please don’t think that this in some way is a comment on the quality of the writers I’m about to talk about, because all of them are top notch.
My highlight for the week is Last Night in Montreal ($2.99 on Amazon), written by Emily St. John Mandel, she of Station Eleven fame. If you’re new to my blog or haven’t heard me shout it from the rooftops yet, my heart thumps a little bit faster thinking about that book and its gorgeous writing, heartfelt characters, and its beautifully haunting plot. It’s the sort of book I look at as a writer and I’m humbled by the sheer amount of talent on every level that went into it. Have I thrown enough hyperbole her way? No? How about the ability to make a viral apocalypse somehow a bittersweet, hopeful thing (at least for a few of its characters)?
I haven’t read Last Night in Montreal, but judging from the blurb, it’s a more traditional literary piece about a girl abducted by her father and who now lives a life on the move as a woman. That’s a solid premise, and it’s a book I look forward to reading soon.
I’m just going to say it one more time – Emily St. John Mandel is well worth your time.
Other books worth mentioning this week:
Floating Dragon (Peter Straub, $1.99 on Amazon) – Straub is one of those horror greats I chewed up in junior high and high school. Ghost Story was a seminal book in my quest to read everything ginormous and horror-related, one I really ought to revisit sometime soon. I haven’t read Floating Dragon (I wasn’t aware Mr. Straub was still writing, and I should have been), but it looks like one of his traditionally solid horror novels. I look forward to seeing if it has the same sort of delightful ichoric feel of Ghost Story.
The Afghan (Frederick Forsyth, $1.99 on Amazon) – If you’ve never read Day of the Jackal, Odessa File, or Dogs of War, you owe it to yourself to check out Forsyth. His political thrillers hold up well under modern scrutiny. I haven’t read his more modern novels like The Afghan, but if it’s anything like the ones mentioned above, you can expect a punchy, well-informed thriller with a lot of forward motion.
Buck Fever (Ben Rehder, free on Amazon) – In the interest of transparency, Ben is an online acquaintance, but since his novel’s free today, it’s not like you’re out any great sum by giving it a shot. Ben is a terrifically funny guy, and while I haven’t read Buck Fever, judging from the Look Inside feature, this looks to be proof of that. A texan comedy sounds like good medicine to me. Give it a shot!
And that does it for this week. What are you reading?