The Routine

IMG_20171007_174725.jpgI pull out two blue cardboard boxes from my medicine cabinet and blink at my reflection in the mirror. This is it. The routine is near completion. Once I do this I am past the point of no return. Last chance to flake out of training, but I see my thin neck and smile. That’s why I can’t skip this.

As I grew out, I took my big pants to the seamstress. “The hems,” I told her, “- they’re too high.”

But, in reality, my thighs were too thick. My pants bunched up from crotch to knee. I should probably have just bought new ones, but there was a tiny part of me that was still in denial. I’m not fat.

I slide the first contact over my right eye. Always the right one first. I wonder why. Is it because I’m right-handed? Or is it because I always have the right contact box on top of the left? Hard to know. Why am I thinking about this anyway? Just get on with the routine. I blink three times, willing the contact into place.

“It’s my PCOS. I read about it. It causes weight gain,” I told a dietician. “There’s the IBS too.”

No, silly. It’s because you eat crap. Just admit it. But I couldn’t. Not out loud. If I were to admit it, I wouldn’t be allowed cakes, chocolates, or cookies. How could I possibly live without my double fudge chocolate chip cookies?

I press the next contact on over my left eye and blink. I can’t turn back now. These little contacts cost too much to waste them. Now I have to go to boot camp.

In the past six months, the routine has been the same. Come home from work, get dressed, put on my contacts (because I hate sweat dripping onto my glasses), lace up my ankle strap, and slide my shoes on. Once done, the act of getting into the car and driving to the park has already been decided.

“You don’t have to hate food that’s good for you,” the health coach said. “We’ll find the plan that’s just right for you.”

I doubted it, but I paid money so I wasn’t going to be accused of not trying. I will come to their training sessions and eat the meal plans they suggested. What have I got to lose?

I slide my running shoes over my feet and leave for boot camp. The ritual complete for the third time this week. With pride, I strut out of the house with a gym towel over my shoulder. I have beat the lazy-beast for another day, and I’m much happier for it.

I returned to the seamstress. “My pants need hemming again. I lost all this weight.”


The Long Night


Tim paced the bleached linoleum of the hall. The drab walls and neutral chairs seemed to darken at each pass. The twenty-year old associate pastor prayed, but he was prepared for the worst, his faith wavering.

The doctor burst through the waiting room doors. Color drained from Tim’s face as the doctor issued his diagnosis.

Words fell on his ears: wife, daughter, both critical, 25% chance to live.

Not allowed to see wife or newborn babe, he collected his belongings and left the hospital for the night. Certainty setting in. In the morning, he would arrive, and she would be gone – his wife of ten months.

Tim couldn’t sleep. He paced, sat down, rocked in his chair, got up and paced again until the hour he would be allowed to return to the hospital.

He arrived to surprising news. She lived. They both lived. Mother and child were going to be fine.

He bounded into the room with a grin from ear-to-ear, “Debbie!”

Her eyes were on the other side of the room, though, where a man stood over their daughter.

“Good morning, pastor,” Tim said as he crossed the room.

The older man turned and patted the young man on the shoulder. “I came to make sure it was your child.”

Blood rushed to Tim’s cheeks. Before either knew it, his fist met the pastor’s jaw, and he stumbled back into a chair.

The pastor took his Bible and rushed out of the room – no word of apology offered.

Tim ignored the rising anger within and picked up his daughter to hold her for the first time. A tiny drop landed on his cheek. He placed a hand on his wife’s hand. How close it had all come.

“Melony, we love you,” he whispered.

In that moment, he could only think how grateful he was that they both survived the night. His two miracles.

But once the moment passed, he was left to his thoughts, and they consumed him.

It was on that day he decided never to return to his church. He never preached again.


The List

Scrub the crimson from your skin.

In a few days, light one candle at the closed casket. (Try not to smile.)

Offer your “sincere” condolences to the widow. (Don’t rush off after. Stay – share some heartwarming stories about the deceased.)


The Warehouse Mob

IMG_20170822_121016.jpgThe small group huddled in the corner of the postal warehouse. Undelivered packages lay open on the floor alongside blankets, eaten food packages, and flies.

The last of the afternoon light dwindled.

“I can’t spend another night in the dark,” Sarah said with a tremble in her voice.

She wrapped her arms around her legs and wept into her knees. Around her, married couple Lance and Glen put their hands on her shoulders. On the other side, Priyanka and her son, Ashwin, reached up to touch the fading light.

The warning sirens started their nightly ritual, “Woo-woo-woo.” For five straight minutes, it would continue until the timer turned off – a relic of those first few days. It didn’t cover the sound of the agonies of the living, the half-living, outside the tin walls that protected them.

“Make it stop, Mommy,” Ash cried. Priyanka pulled the toddler close and hummed a sweet lullaby. Her gentle rocking settled his tears for a moment.

“Don’t you worry, Ashwin,” Glen said with a slight gruff. “We’ll be saved soon. The army will be here any day now.”

“No, they won’t,” the boy said. “The monsters will get them too. Just like Daddy.”

“Shh, shh,” Priyanka said, covering Ashwin’s ears. “Don’t fill his head with such nonsense. We know we will have to make our own luck if we’re going to survive.”

She picked up her son and laid him down on one of the blankets. She continued to sing a song until the boy’s breathing became steady and slow.

Priyanka inched back to her side of the makeshift bedroom and sighed.

“Dads?” Sarah whispered.

“Yes, sweetie?” Lance and Glen said.

“Can we try the radio again?”

“Only if you keep it down,” Priyanka said with a hiss.

“Yes, yes, of course,” Lance answered.

The teenager fumbled in the dark for a moment before the sound of static filled the room.

She moved the dial, the frequency of the static changed with each turn. She moved it fast and slow from one end to the next for several minutes.

“Don’t leave it on too long, hun,” Glen said. “Conserve the batteries.”

“Okay,” she turned one last time and heard a voice on the other end.

“Repeat, if there are any survivors out there, you are not alone.”

The group gasped in varying states of surprise. Survivors!

They listened intent on the transmission and the words said: their names and their location – an abandoned army base and a laundry list of ways to survive on the outside.

“The key is light. They hate light.”

The transmission ended and Sarah turned the radio off. The group sat in silence for a moment.

“How are we going to get all those items?” Sarah asked.

“I know where some batteries are,” Glen said. “Mr Saunders – ”

“The man with the little dog?” Lance asked.

“The very same… He used to keep a jar of batteries… for the apocalypse.”

“But Dads… he was one of the first to turn.”

“Then he’s long gone now,” Glen said.

For the first time they ignored the cries, the gurgles, and the bangs around the warehouse. They had hope.

It wasn’t until they all stood, like a giant mob, at Mr. Saunders’s door the next morning that they realized the truth. Overgrown grass and weeds covered the once immaculate lawn.

He greeted them from under the front porch. Batteries and a tiny dog head stuck out of the bulbous form.

Their screams were hushed as they became one with the host.

Riding in Cars with… Family

I stare at my hands in the passenger side. Dad’s driving my car through the streets of Dallas. Do I tell him now? Or do I wait until I can have them both together? This is really a family discussion. Maybe I should tell them all at once?

I’m angry. I want to hurt them so bad.

“Did you have a nice time with Aaron today?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I say.

“What did you get up to?”

I’d rather not say. “We signed on a rental property today,” I blurt out.

Well, guess I ripped that band-aid off. 

“I understand,” he says before he goes silent.

I know he doesn’t. He never will.

2 years earlier

“She’s not a very Christian lady,” Daddy says. His fingers are wrapped around the steering wheel, his knuckles white, and the color in his cheeks is red. “How dare she ask you to pay three month’s rent!”

I’m crying in the backseat with Momma quiet in the front.

But… She said you hadn’t paid her any since you’ve been here. I’ve only been here a month.

“She knew my sales business was struggling. I promised to pay as soon as I got my commission check.”

Which will never come if you don’t actually make a sell.

“We’ll use your first pay to get bond on an apartment,” Dad says.

No… no that’s mine. To save for college. Absolutely not!

“Okay,” I say meekly. We’re homeless. I can’t just say no…

1 month earlier

“You’ll like the place we’re staying at,” Dad says to me. “She’s a good Christian woman. We have the entire house upstairs to ourselves. In a few months, we’ll be able to afford to move into our own place too.”

“That’s good,” I say, listening to Pink Floyd more than his words.

“Your mother is getting paid to clean some lovely Christian homes. My sales business is going well.”

That’s the only reason I’m here.

I study my nails for a moment, wondering if it’s too early to say what needs to be said.

“UNT has let me wait another semester before starting. My scholarship money too. I have to use it first semester, though, or I’ll lose it forever. So this is only temporary.”

“I’m so proud of you. Everyone takes a little time off school anyway.”

I didn’t have much of a choice.

3 months earlier

“We have something to tell you,” Dad says as I settle in the backseat of the car.

The worry lines on Mom’s face are more pronounced than usual; her nose redder and cheeks puffier as well. I swallow and clutch my backpack.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

I’m not ready for this. I haven’t even processed the tragedy of the Twin Tower attacks.

“We’ve lost the house.”

The words crash into me with all the force of a football player.


Why did you say that? You heard it. You stupid girl.

I think back to May when August was to be the start of my life. University of North Texas. Film school. I was going to be a screenwriter. A movie critic. Something awesome. Something not here.

“I don’t have any money left,” I offer.

You took everything last time with the promise to pay it back and some.

Mom turns to me and shakes her head, “It’s too late for that. We have two weeks to vacate.”

What did you expect? This was always going to happen.

A queasiness overcomes me. I went back to community college this semester. Am I going to be able to finish? I’m going to be homeless!

The world is muted. I look down at my hands and flex my fingers to make sure my brain was still connected to my body.

Life has to get better than this.

4 months earlier

They’re sitting in the car. Little brother and Mom. Excited, I enter the car. I just got the promotion I’d been after for so long. Now I will earn a whole extra dollar more an hour and get a guaranteed 35+ hours a week. With no regard for either, I start telling about how great it is and how much money I can save for August. I have all these amazing plans. Live on campus. Work at the movie theatre as a manager every night, and go for a run around the campus every morning because I’ve always wanted to do that.


I look at their faces.

“Mel,” brother says, tilting his head to Mom.

Mom’s lips are pursed. She never did have a very good poker face.

“We owe three months to the bank,” she admits.

“How much?” I ask.

“Five thousand.”

Only a month ago, I had decided to not buy a car for $1500 because it didn’t fit into my plan of having enough for my first year of university life. But this… this was almost all of my savings.

“Your tax check?”

“Won’t be here in time. If we don’t pay by next week, they’re going to foreclose.”

I stay quiet for the rest of the car ride home. She doesn’t directly ask me yet. That’ll come later. Life definitely has to get better than this.