Sandra Adams Leatherwood, RIP

Today at 5:30 pm, my beloved sister-in-law, Sandra, died.
I talked to her yesterday on the phone and told her I loved her and would see after her three grown girls.
Today, all day I have thought about her and then late this afternoon, I received the phone call.
Sandra is one of my oldest friends.
Enough said.
May light perpetual shine upon her.


Prompt: The Word Resistance, Which I Have Seen in Three Places Just Today

It wasn’t the resistance that bothered Jane, it was the pressure that went with it. She expected Philip to resist her suggestions, but she had not anticipated his attempt to relentlessly persuade her to do the exact opposite of what she was advising.

“Give up your job,” he kept saying every time she gently but firmly entreated him to become more responsible in his own chosen field.

“Just quit,” he’d say, then grin. “That’s much better than what you’d have me do – knuckle down and embrace work that I detest.”

“I can’t quit,” she said. “How would we pay the electric bill? And by the way,” she added, “that is why I think knuckling down isn’t a bad idea for you.”

Philip had a way of raising one eyebrow to quite an impressive height. “I am telling you what I want to do and you’re telling me what I should do. There’s an inequality there we might need to explore.”

“I am simply focused on survival,” Jane snapped. “Something you seem to have decided isn’t all that important.”

“I have decided that our current manner of survival is untenable,” Philip said, opening the fridge and reaching for the orange juice. “I am dying here – metaphorically, of course, but perhaps physically as well if I keep doing work that I loathe – and you won’t even think of shifting and changing. I say let’s both quit our jobs and head off somewhere new.”

Jane glared. “I think this is not the time for such a flight of fancy. The economy is in the toilet and we are barely holding on to our house and our cars and this life we’ve built for the past 23 years and you’d have us pretend we’re teenagers off on an adventure. That is just plain irresponsible.”

“What’s irresponsible is to spend another day living this miserable existence. We have plenty of time left to rebuild and have some actual fun. Let’s just stop this madness and begin anew. What is wrong with a little adventure and hope, after all?”

“What about our children?”

“Our children are grown. We are free now.”

“What about our friends here?”

“Our friends are as miserable as we are. Maybe it’s time to shake things up.”

“But what about our health insurance? We could get sick and then what?”

“We will do what half the country does. We’ll head off to the hospital, get treated, and then pay off our debt slowly.”

“But where would we live?”

“Our van is plenty big for an extended camping trip.”

“But why can’t we just continue to do what we’ve been doing? Is it so bad?”

“We can’t because it’s all stopped working. I hate my job because it’s dead-end at this point. It’s only a matter of time before I’m either fired or laid off. Yours is one step behind mine. Let’s be proactive, not reactive. It could actually be fun.”

Jane stared out the window. “Where would you want to go?”

Philip strode over to the desk, pulled out a map, and folded it in half. “Close your eyes and point. We can go anywhere in the Southern U.S. Up north is out because I hate the cold and the heating bills will be too high.”

Jane opened her eyes to see where her finger had landed. “The coast of Texas? What’s down there?”

Philip hopped up and danced around the room. “Perfect. It’s warm there almost year round. Now go get a suitcase, darling, and I’ll grab the dog. It’s time to go.”

Jane was shaking her head when she rose from the chair. “Will I need a coat?”

“We’ll buy one at Goodwill, if need be.”

“We could actually do this?” Jane was surprised at the excitement in her voice.

“Look at you,” Philip said, hugging her. “You’ve shed ten years in seconds. Now, off you go.”

Jane headed for the bedroom to gather up her clothes. She wouldn’t take much. Philip was right. It was time for them to make a change before time and circumstances made the change for them. She reached into her drawer, pulled out her swimsuit, and smiled.

Prompt: Tootsie Roll

My daddy called me “Tootsie Roll,” and though I was a normal sized little kid, I realize now that it didn’t take too long before I saw myself slightly reminiscent of how a tootsie roll looks – rather thick. It didn’t help that when I was in junior high and I asked Daddy if I was fat (which I wasn’t since I remember weighing 98 pounds in 8th grade at 4’11”), his response was, “A man needs a woman who can pull a plow in hard times.” Now granted, my dad was from a different era. Born in 1902 and fifty when I was born, he was in his early 60’s when I was asking those questions. I knew he loved me and I knew he thought I was as sweet I could be, but at that age, you want the one man in your life to say, “You are perfect.” Now I must admit he did say things like, “Not fat, not thin, just right.” But I guess when you’re growing up in the Twiggie era, thin is all that’s in and if you’re 4’11” with a slightly stocky build, thin is simply not in the picture. When I tried again to elicit the “thin” answer, my Dad’s response was, “You are perfectly proportioned.” This poor man did not know what I needed or wanted to hear. He was telling me the truth as he saw it and all those answers were absolutely correct. I am slightly tootsie rollish, and I could pull a plow if need-be, and I am fairly well proportioned for this short stature. But thin? No, never, not once, never did happen, never going to happen unless I get very ill in which case I will not be very happy to finally have the body that I have always longed for but have never been able to achieve.

It didn’t help that my two best friends in junior high and high school were not only tall and thin, but also exceptional pretty – beautiful – is the word that really describes both of them. And I, seven inches shorter and not too different weight-wise from them and not ugly, but more cute than pretty and certainly not beautiful, got a big dose of three’s a crowd with the boys in school. My old friends who were boys – most of us started in K and stayed through 12 together – were particularly fascinated with my well-developed breasts at the ripe old age of eleven – ah, now wasn’t that quite a gift for a girl who would rather be climbing trees than buying that necessary undergarment? But after everybody figured out that I wasn’t interested in them being interested, I went back to being just good ole Len. That was the deal. Good ole Len as the side kick to Jane Anne and Mary Anne who honestly could have been gracing the cover of a fashion magazine by the time they were thirteen and who were enjoying the spoils of that kind of beauty early on with good-natured laughs about it all. But me, I was that other girl, the one who was nice, had the good personality, but who was not, well, as fashionable in that super thin late 60’s mini-skirt kind of way, which also included super straight long hair parted in the middle. Of course, mine was short and curly, wouldn’t you just know? And I had the glasses – oh yes – those lovely cat-eye glasses in middle school that my hometown friends even today still tease me about when we’re going through a yearbook and who wouldn’t? They were god-awful.

Oh, and the complexion. Did I mention I had a standing appointment for three years with the dermatologist? This was arranged before my 8th grade English teacher pulled me aside one day and asked what my parents were doing about “my face.” Yes, and then I gained almost 20 pounds between eight grade and ninth and so I was no longer even perfectly proportioned. Oh Lord. No wonder I headed straight to the doctor for “diet pills” and was encouraged to do so by my mother AND my dad. Three years later and down to a regular size, Miss Peppy, as I was often called, watched as the mother of my best friend had a stroke in her early 40’s. Beautiful Mary Anne’s mother – Mary Anne who was also taking diet pills for no good reason – said to us, “This is what’s going to happen to you girls if you keep taking those pills.” Alas, I went cold-turkey and for the next six months my hands shook. I didn’t gain weight, though, much to my happy surprise. Probably because Miss Peppy was a cheerleader by this time and getting a fair amount of exercise.

The gist, I battled an imaginary weight problem – and a real self image problem – for years. Many years. I look back now at pictures taken when I remember thinking, “Oh not a picture today, I weigh 114 instead of 110.” Now I see that I was slim and healthy and pretty and I didn’t even know it. I had no clue. Instead, I thought I was chubby and slightly homely.

Now, I weigh 129, down from 140 and I still feel overweight though Weight Watchers puts my ideal weight at my “older” age at 125. I want to get there. I plan to get there. Still, I’m happy at where I am.

How do I see myself now? It’s tough to say. I can’t say I think of myself as pretty. I wish I did, but I don’t. A man at Starbuck’s just the other day took my coffee order and said, “Oh, you have such a nice face.” I thanked him and felt that moment of elation. A nice face? He thinks I’m pretty. By the time I got to the car, I’d decided he meant you have a “nice” face, as in you’re a nice person, a decent and kind human-being. Not pretty at all, simply one more variation on “Good ole Len.” How very sad to even admit that inner monologue at this late date in my life.

I have three daughters and of those three, one looks a lot like me. Through her, I am able to see real beauty. She has the same clear olive skin as I have (yes, the dermatologist did work, thank god), and she has dark brown, oval shaped eyes that give her a slightly exotic look. She has a big open smile and a slightly square jaw and beautiful cheekbones that give her face lovely definition. She is also smart and funny and laughs a lot. She is more aware than I will ever be of just how pretty she is though she isn’t haughty or overly sure of herself or remotely vain. She simply has a more accurate sense of self-image than I do. And I hope I have helped make that so though all three girls say that I have spent too much time and energy on thinking I was fat.

Alas, here I am at this age and I must say that I am not quite to the place where I can say, “Oh, yeah, I used to have this problem, but not anymore.” I still have it and want to let it go and embrace this body that carries me around. I want to be proud and pleased with what I see and though it might be hard to believe from what I’m writing, I don’t feel overly neurotic about all of this – I simply have never really gotten to that next level of self-acceptance. I am grateful that I am healthy and I am strong and can still pull that plow if need be. And I do know that I am loved.

I also to this day love Tootsie Rolls, so surely that’s symbolic. I know my daddy loved them, too.

Prompt: Tough Night to Write

I would be lying if I said that it’s easy to write tonight. I’ve tried three different times with three different stories and nothing is striking my fancy after ten lines or so. Nothing suits tonight. This is just the way it is sometimes with writing. Some days, I can write with a one word prompt without a pause – the words just flying on the page – and other days, like tonight, it is painful, like walking across rocks with tender feet.

The reason? Tonight is emotional for me because my sister-in-law is slipping away into death. My sweet friend who I’ve known since I was four and she was five and who has been in my family for almost thirty years. This is not a new situation. Sandra has been fighting cancer for a long time, but she’s always managed to beat it until now. At this point, her body is worn down and her defenses are gone and the doctors have said no more treatment, call hospice. Those are not the words you ever really want to hear.

But she did hear those words almost 2 months ago and she still has fought not to let this illness win. But it is winning; it will win. There is just not much more to do when you’re down to 70 pounds and not interested in food anymore.

To say I’m sad is too much to the point. I am firmly in denial, just as Sandra has been. No, she will make it one more time. No, she will not let this bring her down. No, she will survive and probably outlive me.

The truth is that all those statements are blatantly false. She will not make it this time. She will be brought down. She will not survive this and she will absolutely not survive me unless I fall victim to an accident in the next hours or day.

I can’t even begin to say how I feel about this. My capacity for hard-core denial is astonishing, particularly when it comes to Sandra. She has been a stable force in my life a long time. She has brought humor when there was nothing funny in the situation she has faced. She has insisted on a basic down-to-earth attitude regarding this illness from herself and those closest to her. There has not been time devoted to the woe-is-me sentiment that I suspect would prevail heavily if I were facing what she has faced. Alas, Sandra is a Korean war baby, adopted from an orphanage at the age of five, and that start has made her pragmatic, stoic and a person not overly impressed with less-than-responsible behavior. Except when it came to my brother, who was completely irresponsible with the help of alcohol for the first years of their marriage, then a decent and hardworking husband and father after the intervention that was organized by my mother, but required Sandra more than anybody else to say to my brother: keep up this drinking and don’t go into treatment and you will forfeit your rights as husband and father. Period. No equivocation. Just the plain simple truth. My brother heard that tone and he knew life had shifted. He went to treatment and never drank again. A miracle, pure and simple.

So, here I sit, fifteen hundred miles away, mourning the loss of my friend. I can’t make this situation be any different. I can’t change Sandra’s fate. I can’t fix the pain that her daughters will feel once their mother finally allows herself to go.

I can, though, recognize that I deeply love this woman, and I hate cancer, this “silent” killer that has stolen her middle years away.  I also know she is very tired of fighting and well she should be.

I can only surround Sandra with white protective light – her and her sweet daughters – and send my love over the airwaves.

I expect I’ll be headed to Texas for a funeral in the next days.

If there is a heaven, then my brother, George, dead now for seven years from his own cancer, will be waiting. If there isn’t one, then at least this dear sweet woman can stop her fight and rest.

As for me, I just want to offer my love to my nieces and do my best to provide support for them. They are good girls, all in their 20’s at this point, and this has been a long road for them to walk.

I believe in the cycle of life and here it is again to let me know that there is definitely something much bigger than I am.

People get ready for the train of glory…

It’s on its way and there is nobody and nothing to stop it.

That is the cycle of life.

I will hold Sandra close in my heart.

Now, it’s time to sit quietly and wait. And to know that all is as it should be. Or, more accurately, all is as it is.

Prompt: A Jewish/Christian Romance

Clarisse sipped on her cup of hot tea and contemplated what to say to Roger. How could she explain her position on Christianity to this man who was such a wholehearted Jew? Their relationship was doomed. How would he ever understand that for her, her belief in Jesus did not in any way impinge on his non-belief in Jesus. That her faith was private and inclusive and that she could only hope that his was the same.

Clarisse had met Roger after her husband of fifteen years left her for a 22 year old. Left her with apologetic eyes, as if he knew that his choice was absurd, but that he just couldn’t keep himself from acting on such whimsy. As for Clarisse, this was the final in a series of deceptions and disappointments, so after a brief period of mourning over the divorce, she was ready to get on with her life. That’s when she met Roger, a mild-mannered man of 40 – she was 36 – who was not nearly as handsome as her ex-husband, but who was also not nearly as prone to drama. Roger was an accountant with an MBA and he worked every day in an office in a tall building in downtown LA, with other accountants for whom business casual was as natural as putting on sweatpants and tee shirts to go to the gym, which he did everyday precisely at 5:30, right after work. The only problem with Roger was that he was a Jew, reform, but devout, nonetheless, and Clarisse was a devout Christian, a Lutheran, to be exact.

The first few times they went out, first for coffee, then for dinner, then for dinner and a movie, the “religion” question hovered off to the side, ever-present, but not making its noisy whine heard over the surge of positive emotions that flowed like ocean waves throughout their conversation. They liked many of the same food, movies, and books, and even political candidates – a huge relief – and, on top of that, they were both seriously looking for a real life partner, not one that would glide away with the gentlest of nudges. Roger had never been married, but had been in a long-term relationship with a woman who simply drifted off into her own interests, which included other women, before he actually registered what was happening. He awoke one morning to find that she was gone. A note on the dining table informed him that her life “had taken a different turn,” and she needed to see “where this new direction would take her.” Roger had been devastated, given that he had been planning to ask her to marry him right after Yom Kippur. Three years passed and he’d reluctantly agreed to go to a party thrown by a work friend, only to discover Clarisse sitting in a corner, looking rather awkward. Since she looked like he felt, he immediately struck up a conversation, and now here they were.

Clarisse rummaged through her desk drawer trying to find an article she’d brought home from church a few weeks before. It was entitled “Walking into the Difference: A Theology of Enabling Interfaith Understanding” by Lucinda Mosher and it encouraged dialogue between people of different faiths. “To love our neighbors as ourselves,” was the basis for much of what Mosher had to say, and those “neighbors” were people from diverse religious beliefs and doctrines. Was this article something Clarisse could show to Roger to bring up the religion topic? Should she leave it on the coffee table that evening when he was due to come over? Was she too chicken to simply say, “So, you’re Jewish and I’m Christian. How do we make this work?” She decided on the direct approach.

That night, over dessert – homemade chocolate cake with vanilla butter cream frosting – Clarisse popped the question. “What do we do about this religious difference?” she asked. “I think we need to discuss this before we get any more involved.”

Roger, taking the last bite of cake, said, “What if we just agree to respect each other’s beliefs?”

Clarisse looked surprised. “You mean it could be that easy?”

“We can make it that easy.”

“But what if we get really serious and decide to get married? What about then? The marriage, our children…”

“Can’t people share each other’s religion? One week at temple, the next in church?”

“You’d be willing to do that?”

“As long as you were there,” Roger said, reaching over and taking Clarisse’s hand.

She smiled. “I don’t think you’ll need to worry about that.”

Flash Fiction, Memoir and Essay

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