1-2-3 I SPY A FLEA

Yesterday I had to take my cats to the vet. My normal vet was closed, so I ended up taking them to another that I had never been to before. The receptionist and veterinary techs were wonderful, as was the Doctor. It took a little longer than expected because they were so busy, so as I waited for the test results I decided to read. When they finally came back, everything was clear so I grabbed the cat carriers and walked to reception to pay my bill. I was quite relieved about the results and felt like a burden had been lifted off my shoulders. I had worried about it the entire drive to the office.

As I stood in line and waited to pay my bill, I noticed a cute, elderly lady standing at the counter. She seemed so distraught. She asked the receptionist if the kitten she brought in the day before was doing ok. Of course, my interest peaked at the word “kitten”. That’s the equivalent of the word “coffee” in my book. She noticed that I had started to pay attention so she took out her cell phone, and started to show me the pictures she had taken of the kitten. I had to giggle when she started to flip through her cell phone gallery. She kept commenting “oh, you don’t need to see that”. It was completely innocent but it made me chuckle.

The kitten had wandered into her backyard so she brought her to the office after consulting with a rescue organization. Unfortunately, her visit yesterday was for another reason entirely. Her mother’s dog was incredibly ill, and had to be mercifully relieved of the pain. I felt such compassion and love for this stranger that I hugged her. I understood completely. She needed that comfort and peace.

She told me about the loss of her mother the year before, and how she took care of her. I said to her “And now you feel like you are losing her all over again”. She nodded. I knew and understood that too. I shook her hand, and introduced myself. The bridge had already been formed, all that was needed was a flag on top. Her name was Eva.

She went on to tell me that she had been born in Portugal, prematurely. She never knew the story of the loss of her mother, so she called her sister for an explanation. Her mother had a burst appendix, and when help arrived, they found Eva. She wasn’t abandoned, she was found; just like the kitten. I offered to sit with her. Poor Brian was in the car waiting on me but I couldn’t help myself. She politely declined.

As I left, she thanked me and blew me a kiss as I walked out the door. My personal belief is that every single thing that occurred that morning led me to that moment. That office was open. The wait was longer than usual. It wasn’t a coincidence. I think hope can spring from the most unexpected of places; sometimes it might just be in a veterinary office.

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WV: Dyer Straights

 

My boyfriend’s family is from West Virginia. Every year they have a reunion and it’s a “come as you are” sort of event where if you walk away hungry, it ain’t no one’s fault but yours! I love the slang there because it reminds me so much of my younger days, running barefoot through wet grass and laughing my head off. There are no formal “which fork do I use?” moments. I’m grateful for that. Sunday dinners at my Grandmother’s house were filled with table etiquette, complete with a “proper use of a finger bowl” demonstration. I didn’t care about finger bowls, or napkin placement. I just wanted to eat! That’s why I love West Virginia so much. It’s just a comfortable, kick off your shoes and listen to the rain on the tin roof kind of place.

I wanted to leave on the Wednesday after the flood because an animal shelter in Charleston was in need of food for displaced animals. I did volunteer animal rescue work for about a year, and I can tell you from experience there is always a shortage of food and supplies. Because of the amount of items we planned to bring, it was impossible for me to leave early. We needed two vehicles to haul everything. I knew that I needed a haircut so I chose to tackle that instead. It was last minute. P.R. at Partners Salon and Spa had a location near me so I booked there instead of my usual location. Little did I know at the time it would prove to be a fateful choice.

My new stylist Jackie was bubbly, and precise. I was so incredibly impressed by the haircut and her wealth of knowledge that I actually did something that I never do; I bought the products she used. I thought nothing of it until the morning of the trip. Brian, my dog Rex and I set off with our walkie talkies in my car. Those were my future brother in laws idea. Drew is quite honestly one of those people that you meet and you think to yourself “I’m the dumbest person on this planet”. He doesn’t make you feel that way at all, but when you hear him speak the things that he says are quite astounding. He’s also one of the most honest people that I know. Don’t ever ask him if your ass looks fat in a certain pair of pants. If you are looking for some reassurance, he will in fact give you the run down. I suggest asking that question at least thirty minutes before the departure time. I love him for that though.

Drew is the voice of logic, reason and hope when all seems lost. When Brian was in the hospital last year, I was truly in despair and at my wits end. I said to him “Drew, if they put me away will you come visit me?” He looked at me completely stone faced and he said “That depends. Do I get to leave?” He’s just amazing that way.

Drew rode in the other car with my future mother in law. As we set off, the conversation between Brian and I turned to the animals in that shelter. For some reason it made me think of those hair products. Heaven knows why.  I google searched the product line, and discovered much to my dismay that Wella is a subsidiary of Proctor and Gamble. I think I uttered every expletive known to man after I read that on PETA’s “tests on animals” list. Brian, true to form just looked at me and said “calm down babe”. That scene from “Horrible Boss’s” popped into my head “You don’t hit the driver!” Safety first!

It took an extra hour and a half to drive there due to road closures. Brian’s GPS lady is just as sadistic as mine. “Get in the left lane and make a right”. I lost it! Rex perked up from the back seat and stuck his face next to my elbow. I just looked at him and said “she’s insane!” He thumped his tail against the back seat in agreement.

As we drove through Cowen West Virginia, the thing that absolutely astonished me the most was the amount of debris lined up along the side of the road. Couches, trash, wood, bags, and lamps were thrown into huge piles. I’d seen the news footage but to see it in person was another level entirely. I was speechless. My heart just broke as we drove along the windy roads. People were everywhere, carrying items. I knew immediately what I wanted to do with those salon products. I had to donate them. I just had to. If there was ever a situation where doing the wrong thing could be made into doing something right, it was this one.

When we finally got to Brian’s Dad’s house we unloaded everything, and my mind was racing. Where were the FEMA trucks? Where were the volunteers? Where were the tents, and the water supplies?  I was dumbfounded, and to be perfectly honest, a little irritated as well. I knew that the National Guard was there because they had used Brian’s family air strip to land the supply planes.

The rather ironic thing about that air strip is that it was just a simple field where potatoes grew. During the war, Brian’s grandfather landed in that field accompanied by an African American co-pilot. They had engine trouble. It was the field or nothing. The family went to great lengths to get that Pilot out of the area. His safety was the number one priority. Having a black pilot in the foothills of WV was exceedingly dangerous for everyone concerned. Outsiders were not welcomed, and to have a person of color there meant only one thing; guns or worse. They somehow managed to get him to safety without incident though.

I thought about that story as we made the short journey to the Smith family reunion the next day. The Smith’s are Brian’s Grandmother’s relatives. They are truly wonderful and amazing. To sit in a lawn chair and hear people swappin stories makes you smile. I quickly learned a couple of years ago that one way to break the ice with strangers is to talk about his or her dog. There wasn’t a shortage of them there. Some people may find that difficult, but I’m the kind of gal that just goes barreling though. This trip was no exception. I can’t help it!

People began telling me about the flood, and the absolute disorganization that followed. It was genuine and heartfelt, and at one point it made me tear up. One family member told me that when he called FEMA, he was told that he would have to go there in person and fill out a form. He would’ve happily complied, had his car not been in a tree 100 meters downstream. Another person told me that when she finally got through to speak with someone, she asked them how long it would be before some of the less familiar roads would be given aid. The answer she received stunned me “I don’t know. You’re just going to have to keep calling I guess”. I left the reunion with a pretty heavy heart.

The next morning, I went rushing through the doors of the Church directly across from the house. I stood in the corner, and just listened. There seated on the stage floor was a woman who looked positively defeated. She said to the woman leaning over her, “All I did was come and open the Church doors this morning, and now everyone thinks I’m in charge!” A man standing there said to her “I’ve got a truck, so I can help haul. Where does all this stuff need to go?” It was at that moment that I walked up the aisle to her, and introduced myself. I said “I used to work for the Government, so trust me, I absolutely can understand and appreciate your frustration right now”.  She smiled faintly, then stood up, sighed and started directing the volunteers.

I turned to the two women to my right, and asked if they were from FEMA. The young woman smiled at me, said no, and introduced herself to me. Her name was Stephany Westfall, and her companion was Roxanne White. They were both volunteers with the Webster County Long Term Recovery Team. The problem as Stephany explained was that the backroads are known only to the locals, and weren’t being as closely inspected as the more popular areas. With that, a loud woman’s voice piped up from the back of the Church. “That ain’t the only problem! These folks are just plain stubborn!” We all laughed at that remark. I found out later that her uncle and his family refused to leave their house and waited the storm out in the attic, completely surrounded by water. She kept saying “the dang fool” over and over as she recounted the story to me. She was wonderful. I thanked them all for taking the time to speak with me, and left with Brian to go to the Cowen Volunteer Fire Department.

We arrived there, and it was full of activity. I stood outside the doors and listened to the stories going on around me. In my hand was the fabric salon bag and those infamous products. I began to feel smaller and smaller. I almost turned away, but then I heard a voice next to me with that familiar drawl “Honey, did you need something?” I turned, and there beaming at me was a beautiful gal wearing a EMT Shirt. I knew that I turned bright red, but I somehow managed to find the words. Frankly, that was a miracle because I was hugely embarrassed. I explained that I had shampoo ,etc to donate. She just smiled as big as she could and said “This we need. People keep bringing water!” We both laughed at that one. Her name was Beth Bragg, and she introduced me to Lance Bragg, also an EMT. They both told me that the Lowe’s in Summerville had donated a lot of totes, but they were in need of volunteers to haul debris. They needed carpenters, contractors, electricians, and general construction people because the task was so overwhelming. Beth went on to tell me that everyone was extremely grateful for Brad Paisley and his “Go Fund me” page. At the mention of his name, everyone in that Fire Department chimed in with praise and gratitude. I left there amazed because amidst the chaos, somehow all of those EMT’s and volunteers found a way to smile. I thought about that as we made the long drive back to Virginia.

This past weekend we returned once again. We chose a route through White Sulfer Springs, and what I saw there amazed me. All along the road were signs that read “White Sulfer Strong” , “West Virginians Helping West Virginians”, and “Neighbors Helping Neighbors”. They were everywhere! It was really amazing. When we finally got to the house later on that night, I stepped outside on the porch. I heard laughter, and the familiar sounds of fireworks. As I stood there listening, I looked up into the sky. Directly above my head was a cloud in an absolute perfect shape of a Dove. Its wings outstretched across the sky, and its nose pointed towards the earth. Directly below that was another cloud in the perfect shape of a bull’s head. The head of the bull touched the beak of the Dove. It was so moving and poignant. For me, it was just confirmation of what I already knew; West Virginia may be down, but they are certainly not out.

*EDIT

We set off looking for our favorite swimmin’ spot, and found instead an officer guarding part of the road. We got out to speak with him, and found out that the road was closed for the remainder of the 15 mile stretch. Don’t ask me how I managed to get this footage because I honestly couldn’t tell you. It’s probably for the same reason that complete strangers in grocery store lines tell me his or her life story! Apologize for the poor quality.

Footage of the Air Strip.

What About Bob Part II

I thought about that article and Bob all morning. There were so many elements that bothered me. The one thing that stood out immediately was the words on the sign. It made me wonder. If the sign had been written by the captors, why were the fonts different? Why even have a sign at all? Why not just create a YouTube video and say “we’ve got your man” and then give a list of demands? That’s usually how those terrorist groups operate. They love to brag, and instill fear. I just knew as soon as I saw that sign that Bob was the one who wrote it. I simply can’t explain that. It was a gut feeling.

For some reason that tv show “What Would You Do” hosted by Don Quinones popped into my head. What would I do if it were me? I started to picture myself in Bob’s shoes. If I were working with the C.I.A. and I questioned my safety on a mission, I’d have some sort of “proof of life” on my person that also sent a message that wasn’t obvious. I could only make up so many signs with hidden messages. How could I possibly know how long I would be held?

It was time to put my theory to the test. I had to tackle each element of the picture that bothered me, so I started with the font. On my lunchbreak, I opened up MS Word and changed the compatibility mode to 2007. Bob disappeared in 2007, and if the sign was written by him as I suspected, it was important to be accurate in locating the correct font. I typed out that first sentence and changed the font until I found the match. It was Bodoni MT Black. Why? Why that one? I scrolled through all of the available fonts once more and noticed something; Bodoni was the only one in that entire list that had a font called MT Black. Odd. I wrote that in my notebook. It was important, but I wouldn’t find out until much later how it fit.

What was so great about Bodoni?  I opened up Google and started to research the history of the font. Ironically enough, I got my answer on the Cambridge University Website. Bodoni was from the U.K. He followed the font practices and teachings of John Baskerville. Bodoni’s font was considered “extreme” in his day. The boldness of the letters and the curvature were considered “cutting edge” back then. It was a new form of written communication in a modern society, and it became almost as popular as the Union Jack.  When I saw the name Baskerville I immediately thought of Sherlock Holmes, and “The Hounds of the Baskerville”. That research just proved to me that Bob was indeed the one who wrote that sign, and he had an amazing sense of humor. The idea of “old school” sleuthing made me giggle.

The fonts used, Holmes, and Baskerville were all U.K. based. Strange. Even the sentence typed out was odd; “I am here in Guantanamo do you know where it is”? Guantanamo is located in Cuba which is an island, just like the U.K. That was significant to me but I didn’t know how or why. That puzzle piece would come to light later as well. The facts gnawed at my brain with tiny, prickly teeth. What did the U.K. have to do with Bob? How did Guantanamo fit? What was the bigger picture?

Over the next several weeks, I google searched every single article that mentioned him. I spent countless hours reading story after story. Several articles I found said that the C.I.A. denied any involvement with Bob, and his mission. Now there’s a shocker! The reason given was that they had no email proof. There was nothing on the server to confirm the story. The article went on to say that emails and investigative reports from Bob were sent to his boss Anne Joblonski at home. That struck me as odd. I love a good conspiracy theory as much as “Munch” from SVU, and I found that part of the article significant. If Bob was working on a mission that involved British Intelligence, it would make sense that nothing concrete was sent to the US Government e-mail server. It is certainly no secret that the U.K. feels the American Government is lax when it comes to securing electronic intelligence. That would certainly explain the use of the font called MT Black. Black op’s mission. MT is pronounced as “Empty”. That word was written in caps to Bob from Anne Joblonski in an email. The coffers were empty, and his consulting work would need to be on hold until a budget was approved. He wasn’t an “official” C.I.A. spy. He was an independent contractor now without a source of funds.

That word contractor brought up many memories for me, and shed some light as to Anne Joblonski’s motivation. I myself was hired as a Government Contractor back in 2000. I quickly learned that it was a dirty word. I had zero credibility and was often referred to as “the girl who is trying to take my job”. Long time Fed’s felt threatened, and when I was finally hired in an official capacity in 2002, numerous people filed union complaints.

The problem back then was that work wasn’t getting done and the only way to achieve goals was to outsource the work. If I had a nickel for every time I heard another federal employee say “that’s not my job” I’d be so rich that I wouldn’t be writing this article. I’d be on a beach somewhere. I’ve little doubt that Anne felt frustrated, and saw Bob as a way to get some real work done, and produce positive results for the agency.

Did she cross the line by hiring someone without authorization to run ops? Yes, but it is extremely foolish to think that her chain of command was clueless. I myself am familiar with “blind eyed management”. I asked myself “why”?

When you are a Fed and believe whole heartedly in America, and the ideas and beliefs that the Country was founded on, you quite often run up against opposition. If you are intelligent, and hard-working you are often viewed as being arrogant. Add in a willingness to shed light on things regardless of Politics, and you can pretty much count on ending your career in a basement sharpening pencils or taking inventory of Government supplies.

Every article that I read brought me a clearer understanding of who Bob was as a person, and it motivated me that much more to find the truth. I started to feel like I knew him. I already knew how Washington worked, so I started there. I had to look at the facts, motivation, and truths.

The most glaring fact that stood out to me immediately was the C.I.A. claimed that there was no budget. Bob’s work wasn’t being funded by them. Did I believe that? Yes. My knowledge and experience regarding the budget process told me that was in fact true. I had another “What would you do” moment. If I were Bob, and I had no money from the C.I.A, what would I do? I’d do what any retired Federal employee does, I’d go back to the original source. In Bob’s case, it was the F.B.I.

I truly had a “eureka” moment when that thought occurred to me. Suddenly every article that I read made sense. The worst part for me though was the acknowledgment of history repeating itself. I was seeing 9/11 all over again. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of 9/11 was the fact that the C.I.A. and the F.B.I both had credible intel about the attacks, and failed to communicate that intel with one another. Suddenly, the word Guantanamo on Bob’s sign and the connection to the U.K. made sense. It was right there in front of me, and the only thing that I could do was sit there watching my blinking curser and utter the words “Holy Shit!” My research suddenly took a new direction, and my notes in my notebook grew. I had arrows everywhere. I just needed to figure out which one to follow, though I had a pretty good idea where to start.

What About Bob

Transparency is a word that gets thrown around in the Government like a baby blanket casually placed in a bassinette. It’s supposed to make the American public feel all warm and fuzzy. It wraps around us and keeps us safe. It’s a lovely thought, but the greatest irony is that very thing that keeps us warm, also shields our faces from the truth. That word truly is an amazing misnomer.  

Like most commuters, I used to board the morning train into D.C. I’d sit in silence. On off days, I used to play “spot the Fed” in my head. It was a game I made up one day out of sheer boredom. Military backgrounds almost always meant perfectly shined shoes and crisp, neat and tidy clothes. Government Contractors -depending on the news from the night before, were always glued to the newspaper or smartphones. If the news was exceptionally awful, the look of panic and speedy texting was always prevalent. You could almost see the beads of sweat forming as he or she frantically flipped fingers over his or her device. If the person I was observing locked eyes with me, I’d smile and give my empathetic nod as if to say “You are in for one hell of a shitty day my friend, and I’m sorry!”

It was on one of those furiously frantic news days back in January that I sat with my coffee just watching. I hoped that there would be at least one nice thing that happened to those people that day. I finally realized that if anyone else was looking at me, I might look a little odd so I quickly pulled up my news app and loaded up The NY Times. That morning, that moment, and that article would forever change me.

There looking back at me in that article was a man with haunted eyes. He wore an orange suit, and held up a sign that read “I am here in Guantanamo, do you know where it is”? His pale complexion and thin, haggard face said it all, “Help Me”. My heart was instantly broken.

That article bothered me for many reasons. I thought about his daughter, and his family. It was just gut wrenching to me. It made me think of my dad. He passed in 2001, and the anniversary of his death was approaching. We buried my dad on Valentine’s day, and every year since then my hatred of the month of February grew; except this year. I can’t explain that. I somehow knew on New Year’s Eve that this year would be different.

My only comfort is that I know where my dad is. He’s just one more angel on my team. What I found most upsetting was that Bob Levinson’s daughter doesn’t know. Her words haunted me and that bothered me too. That man in the orange jumpsuit was one of our own. He was retired F.B.I. He was one of us, and he was just gone. There were no answers, but I had questions. There were several things that I noticed immediately in that article. I tried to flip between my MS Office App and the article but due to spotty cell coverage, I took out my handy notebook and favorite pen and wrote notes instead. There were numerous things that nagged at me, and just seemed “off”. There were arrows that pointed to various key words that I had scribbled in the margins. I have a great love for the double underline when it comes to a key theme. I was lost in thought, and immediately pictured my great Aunt Anne, in that smoke filled apartment in Rosslyn.

The spelling of my middle name was in honor of her. She worked for the F.B.I. too. I used to sit in her apartment in Rosslyn and listen to her tell my great-grandmother about her day. I always paid attention to adult conversations but for some reason Anne fascinated me the most. She used phrases like “mission specific”, and “we got the information from Intel”. For the longest time, I thought that “Intel” was a magical entity that spit out answers like a fairy godmother or a crystal ball. My great aunts and uncles were extremely amused that I used to ask Anne to ask Intel for specific presents on my Christmas list. I just figured that Intel, Santa, the Easter bunny, and the tooth-fairy all knew each other. I’d ask her questions about subjects, and more often than not she would say “I can’t answer that, it’s classified”. That always frustrated me.

Once during an exceptionally exciting conversation, Anne’s voice suddenly dropped. I had been found out. I had bumped into a table and knocked something over. The adults came around the corner and found me in my “hiding spot”, next to a pile of wet coats. My covert op was blown by a rather large umbrella with a carved wooden handle in the shape of a horse with a flowing mane. I’m pretty sure that is why to this day I rarely carry one in the rain. I instantly hated that umbrella!

I was immediately scooped up and told to go play. I ran back to Anne and said “but what happened?” I had to know. I had to know! She just simply said “that’s classified”. I folded my arms, forced myself to the floor and screamed as loudly as I could, “ I HATE CLASSIFIED”! Classified to me was some mean bully that had the last word, and I despised it. It stood in the way of my question of “why”?

That article brought up that memory of my Aunt, that apartment, that kitchen, and the smell of wet coats. Bob’s daughter pled for justice, for answers, and for peace and it seemed no one was willing to give that to her. It made me that much more interested in finding the truth, as one human being to another, one daughter to another. Someone had to help. Too many important issues are lost to apathy, and being the stubborn gal that I am, I wasn’t willing to give in. It wasn’t going to happen, not on my watch, and thus my journey of “What About Bob?” began.

IF IT DON’T GLITTER, IT AIN’T GLAM

Red, Sky and I were like the three musketeers. You hardly ever saw one without the other two.  Red and Sky had much more in common. They listened to heavy metal, and liked the band Slayer. That music just freaked me out, and they made fun of me for it all the time. I liked Heavy Metal too, but my tastes leaned more towards the “Glam Bands” of the eighties, and Punk like The Ramones. Our friendships despite that were complimentary. Our personalities just mixed well. Red’s mom was very involved in the Church as was my mother, so the two of us were thrown together more often than not.

Red and I were forced to attend church, something that both of us rebelled against. Red even went to the extreme of shaving the back of her head and the sides. She dyed the newly shaved parts black, just because she knew her mother would have a complete stroke when she saw it. Red was a wicked genius and I deeply admired her for that. She was never afraid to push the limits, and she quite often did.

My phone rang one afternoon and Red was on the other end of the line, completely in a panic. “Beth, did they tell you yet?” she asked, utterly furious. She didn’t even say Hi first.

“Did who tell me what?” I had no idea what she was talking about.

“Your parents. They are making us go on that Religious Pilgrimage to Medjugoria for two whole weeks! This SUCKS!” She sounded like she had just been handed a death sentence.

“NO WAY!” I screamed into the phone. “How in the hell did I get dragged into this?” I was in shock.

“My mom told your mom about it and now you are going too! Can you believe it? Two weeks in Yugoslavia. What the hell are we going to do there?” Her voice had suddenly gone soprano.

“Remind me to thank your mother personally” I said sarcastically. “I could kill her!”

“Yeah well, get in line. This blows! I can’t believe this shit! Mom is off on one of her religious crusades, and we’re stuck with her. We even have to climb Mt. Krizevac.” Her voice was really high pitched now.

“SHIT! Seriously? They are going to make us do that climb? What is that, like five miles?” Now I started to panic. Imagine being a fat kid having to hike five miles in staggering, hundred degree weather. Yeah, that sounded like a dream vacation! Not even Dolvette, or Jillian could have motivated me enough to be excited, and that was saying something! I did feel like “The Biggest Loser” at that point!

“I think it’s two and a half miles up the mountain.” She replied.

“Umm Red? That’s five miles up and back, unless there is a helicopter waiting at the top.”

“Oh yeah, you’re right.” She laughed.

It was actually nice to know someone with poorer math skills than mine; though in that moment, it offered no comfort. I said nothing. Breaking the silence, she said “Mom should be back any minute from prayer group. I’m sure your mom will break the news tonight! I gotta go. I was supposed to have the kitchen cleaned before she got home, and I haven’t even started it yet.” Red was like me. We both waited until the last minute to do things that we were given plenty of time to do.

“Ok then. I will call you later and tell you what happened. In the meantime, hit those encyclopedia’s you have at your house, and find some contagious disease that will get us out of this. Seriously! DO IT!” I shouted into the phone. That’s what we had. There was no internet back then. If there had been, I’m sure Mad Cow, Bird Flu, and Ebola would have been at the top of our Google list. We probably would have spent countless hours on the Center for Disease Control’s Website looking for a way out. The words “Zombie Apocalypse” would have been thrown in there too, but only because it made me laugh and I thought it was cool. Nothing beats a failure but a try, even if the idea was ridiculous and highly improbable.  We said goodbye to each other. After I hung up I stared at the wall, and waited for my mom to come home to tell me the “good news”.

When she finally came home, she flew up the stairs and excitedly screamed my name. I begrudgingly walked down the steps and drug my feet the entire way. THUMP-THUMP-THUMP. I did it on purpose, because she hated it when my brother came up or down the stairs sounding like a herd of elephants. How did she know what a herd of elephants sounded like? She was born in France, not Africa. I was pretty sure there weren’t elephants in the orphanage. If there had been, she would have found a way to work that into one of her lectures. My mother was brilliant like that. She had a way to make one feel guilty about the tiniest indiscretion while reiterating relevant, worldly issues at the same time. In a weird way I was hoping for that noise lecture, though none came. She was just too excited, and apparently that trumped elephants. Hannibal made it through the Alps with only a few elephants and unfortunately for me, my mom shared that same stubborn philosophy.

  She acted like I had won the lottery when she told me about the trip. She kept saying things like “Oh, what a wonderful opportunity this is!” “You are so lucky!” She just looked so genuinely excited. It was all that I could do to keep my smartass comments to myself. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings but this was not good news at all in my mind.  I was pretty grateful actually that my father had conveniently slipped away to his office halfway through “the good news” announcement.  He was a smartass too, but he at least he had the good sense to keep those comments to himself for the most part, where my mother was concerned. Mostly!

If he had been there, I’d probably would’ve gotten grounded for life. My dad and I had a secret, unspoken language. It was almost as if we just knew what the other was thinking, though no words were ever spoken. We mostly got in trouble together at the dinner table. He’d make some obnoxiously loud and inappropriate bodily noise and that would send me into a fit of giggles. He’d look over at me and start laughing because I was laughing. That would pretty much send my mother over the edge. “We do not appreciate that at the dinner table” she’d say, as she slammed her silverware down on the plate. “What is wrong with you two”? Was that a trick question? How much time did she have? If she needed an immediate answer, I was pretty sure that I’d have to go get my “list of reasons I’m going to hell” checklist. I thought sins were supposed to be between the person and God. Did she expect me to read it out loud? If I had to read it out loud, I’d be in big trouble in addition to whatever penance Father gave me on Sunday. I may not have been an honor student, but I was pretty damn sure that there was a clause in the fifth amendment of the U.S. Constitution that prevented double jeopardy. Boy was she tricky! My dad and I ended up just mindlessly staring at our plates for the rest of the meal. It was better that way. If we looked at each other, we would’ve started the laugh fest all over again. That would’ve ended with a suspicious looking pile of dirt in the backyard, and a missing persons report.

My mother continued her excited utterances about the trip. “We just have so much to do!” I just sat in silence listening. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in God. I did. I just hated the fact that I was being forced to believe. I happen to be one of those people that thinks that true faith is just something that you have to achieve on your own, and I just wasn’t quite ready yet to accept it yet. I had no evidence then. Little did I know that my first clue would be found there in that tiny village, on top of a mountain.

The next few weeks were filled with shopping, packing, and child abduction lectures. Sometimes the lectures overlapped the shopping. My mother was great at multi-tasking. It was the act of trying on clothes that I hated the most. I was the fat kid. There was nothing worse than standing in a dressing room, looking at yourself in the mirror wearing the fabric equivalent of a circus tent. All I needed to complete the ensemble was a big red nose, and floppy shoes. Knowing my luck though if I did have the shoes, I would have tripped and broken my leg. I’m horribly uncoordinated. If I had a broken leg, I would need crutches. You can’t possibly climb a mountain on crutches. That would just be cruel and unusual punishment, and I’m pretty sure that even my mother would have to concede on that one. Hmm. Maybe there was a chance that I’d get out of going on this trip after all! The worst part was that the clothes that we ultimately bought were off limits until the trip. Those were “special clothes”. My mom treated them like they had super powers. In my mind the only thing magical about them was the fact that they fit my huge ass.

Up until I was eight, I was skinny as a rail. I was so thin that I used to have to hold onto the sides of the toilet to prevent myself from falling in. My grandmother was always saying to my dad “But she’s so thin!” and my grandfather would pipe up from his wheelchair and say “Just leave her alone, she’s fine!” It is because of him that I firmly believe to this day that blind people can see things no one else can. My granddad was the wisest man I knew.

The night before I was to leave, my mother sat on my bed in front of my mostly packed suitcase with her list, talking to herself.  At first I started to respond to her questions, but I was met with “Shh! I’m thinking”. I didn’t understand that at all. Isn’t thinking supposed to be done quietly in your head? I resisted the urge to stand there while I pointed at her head and shouted “Mom, I know that it makes sense up there, but I’m out here!” That would’ve been the end. She would’ve pulled out some ninja move and killed me with one punch to the throat; all without looking up from her list. Jackie Chan had nothing on her! When she got to the bottom of the paper, she finally said “The electricity converter”. I didn’t respond, and that irritated her. “Beth, do you remember what I said about the converter?”

“Shit!” I thought to myself. I thought that her out loud comment was another “shh, I’m thinking” moment, but apparently it wasn’t. I just shook my head no. Exasperated, she demonstrated for the fifteenth million time how to use the electricity converter.  I should’ve paid closer attention, because that demonstration was the most important and significant lesson of my life, and I totally blew it because I was lost in thought. It would later prove to be extremely costly.

CONSEQUENCES OF WICKED GENUIS

The worst part about being grounded was not being able to spend time with Sky and Red, though I still saw Red in Church on Sunday’s. She’d make faces at me from her pew. I’d snicker and then turn, only to get the look of fire and brimstone from my mother. I heard her voice in my head as she stared at me. “What on God’s green earth is wrong with you, snickering in God’s house? IN GOD’S HOUSE NO LESS! We’ll just see about that when we get home, Miss Irreverent -if you even live that long! God might just throw a lightning bolt at you any minute now, and I wouldn’t blame him at all! Not one little bit!” I was pretty sure that wasn’t going to happen, since I wasn’t wearing jeans. I did say a quick prayer of apology though, just in case. Better safe than sorry was my motto! Red’s mom ended up re-seating her family in the back of the Church, after she exchanged exasperated looks with my mom. It was an enactment of the unspoken “Mom Handbook” pact, though Red and I weren’t privy to which rule it was. My mom as part of the “Mom Handbook” team, would’ve slammed the gavel and passed the act immediately. She believed in efficiency. I was pretty damn sure that Red’s mom had concocted and buried the rule deep within the “Mom handbook”. It would’ve taken a team of NASA scientists to find it, and it would’ve only come to light after years of research. I knew where Red got her “wicked genius” from. There was no further explanation necessary after that maneuver. 

 Sky and Red were both my lifeline to the outside world. They knew things that I didn’t, because my mom had decided that I was going to attend a Catholic High School.  They both attended public school. I was none too keen on that idea! I loved All Saints, but the thought of leaving my friends behind to go to a Catholic High School was just too much! For me, it was a sentence worse than death. 

The first couple of days were mind-numbing. I was forced to wear a deep navy blue skirt, and a blue, button down oxford shirt. Of course the uniform didn’t fit properly because I was so large. Every morning that I looked in the mirror I wondered if that day would be the day that I popped right out of it. It reminded me of those biscuits that would only open if you gave the package one hard whack on the kitchen counter, and then the gooey contents spilled out the sides. I could’ve shot Ralphy’s eye out with the top button of my shirt alone; no BB gun was needed! It wasn’t “A Christmas Story”, it was more like “A Nightmare Before Christmas”. Contents under pressure. POOOOF! Hmm mmm, poppin fresh fatty! The impossibly skinny, navy tie completed the hideous ensemble. It was utterly humiliating as well as unflattering. 

 The jean-wearing going to hell conspiracy was there too. The teachers all felt the same way about it. Jeans were invented by Satan plain and simple, and God help you if you openly admitted that you owned an acid-washed pair! That meant you had to pack a lunch for confession, as well as a light snack.  I personally wanted to find the person who started that rumor and flick them in the forehead for being so foolish! I wouldn’t have though. You can’t be a good street fighter if you are uncoordinated. That was just reality.  

I thought that it was more important what you did when you wore the jeans that mattered the most, and I said so in class. My rebellious and outrageous idea didn’t go over too well. Fellow heathen Bryce and I ended up on our hands and knees in the teacher’s lounge. Our punishment for such insubordination meant that we had to scrub the floor with a toothbrush. That sucked! What made it a little more bearable though, was Bryce started to hum songs from Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” album. The irony of it sent me into a fit of giggles. Bryce just looked over at me, grinned, and threw up his index and pinky fingers and banged his head. “ROCK AND ROLL!” He whispered to me. That sent me over the edge, and I let out a squeal of laughter that could be heard all the way down the hallway.  We were promptly separated.  

Mr. Carter, our Theology Teacher, changed my punishment and told me to memorize Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”. He just sat there at his desk across from me with a smug look on his face. He thought that he had gotten to me, and he enjoyed every moment of it. He said in his most authoritative voice, “Perhaps this will open your mind to the possibility that genius can only be found in the words of the true literary masters, and not in that God awful music that I know you listen to!” I just rolled my eyes and said nothing. What he didn’t know was I had already memorized Poe’s poems by the time that I was eleven, and had read “To Kill a Mockingbird” by the time I was twelve. I played along, but I took tremendous satisfaction in knowing that the joke was in fact on him! Some “punishment”! 

There was the one thing that I excelled at in my new school. I filled up my demerit card faster than anyone else. I was a pro! My mom didn’t think that was an achievement to be proud of at all, and she promptly told me so at the end of every month when she read my progress reports.

“Elizabeth Anne! Why can’t you just buckle down and focus?” she’d say to me, after she read about my latest heinous act of heathenism. “This is shameful!” Sometimes she would throw in “I know that I raised you better than this!”  It depended on how horrible the atrocity was that was listed in the report. In her mind, not only was I headed straight to hell, but I was also driving the bus to get there. All aboard! Beep Beep! I did have the good sense at least not to make the beeping horn noises during her lectures. One had to draw the line somewhere, and I figured that was as good a place as any in which to do so. It also kept me out of trouble. I liked to write down all my sins in alphabetical order so they were easier to remember. My “B” slot had been filled earlier that week. I might not have been that accomplished a student, but I knew that blasphemy was worse than beeping! By keeping that beep to myself, it shortened my sin list for Saturday confession. It was a win win for all involved; me, my mom and the priest! 

The only comfort that I had in my new school was the fact that Bryce was there. He had gone to All Saint’s too. He was just cool, and he knew how to play guitar. He also threw the best parties. It was at one of his cool parties that I learned a rather embarrassing science lesson. I had chosen to wear a beautiful teal knit sweater. As I walked down the stairs to his basement, I noticed that it was completely pitch black. The only light that was on glowed purple. You couldn’t see a damn thing! I heard someone yell “Well, Beth’s here”! How could anyone possibly know that it was me? As I stood there next to that purple light and pondered that, I happened to look down. I got my answer. My entire bra glowed through my sweater! I was a human walking bra with glowing white teeth. Social tragedy had struck once again. I wanted to run out of there, but I was frozen in that spot like a deer in headlights, only the headlights cruelly belonged to me! There was no escape. The last thing that I wanted people to remember was the image of the bra running up the stairs. I chose to stay and suck it up. I couldn’t decide whether that either was bravery, or foolishness. Perhaps it was both. The only relief that came out of it was that I did get to dance with a lot of people, although I couldn’t turn off the circus announcer voice in my head. “Step right on up folks! Step up and dance with the amazing, glowing walking bra! One night only! Here’s your chance to be a part of it!” My luck! 

My mom didn’t mind me going to parties over at Bryce’s house because she knew that his parents would be there to supervise everyone. It got to be a little tricky when it came to going to parties at Sky’s house. It definitely took some creative, “outside the box” thinking on our part to convince my mom to allow me to go over there. My mom was not a fan of her mom to say the least. Sky’s parties were the best though! Her mom would buy us beer, and let us listen to loud music. Red and I could do things over there that we never in a million years could do at our houses; not if we wanted to live to see seventeen! Our mother’s would’ve killed us and buried our bodies in the back yard, and no one would even know. They would’ve driven right over to Church and attended prayer group afterwards. They would’ve gotten away with it too, because they were scary. Scary and smart. No one would even think to question either of them. 

One Saturday night, Sky had a party planned. We told my mom that it was just a weekend sleep-over. Of course, my mom drilled us with a million “mom” questions. “Who exactly is going to be there?” she eyed us suspiciously when she asked the question. “Just me, Red and Sky mom” I answered. I should’ve let Sky or Red answer her. I would later come to regret that decision. Reluctantly mom agreed to allow me to go. We grabbed my stuff, and walked out the door before she could change her mind.  

When we got to Sky’s house, the party was in full swing and there was booze everywhere. Red and I high-fived each other as we walked into the kitchen to grab a beer. We talked, and drank, and laughed, and drank some more until both of us were completely shit-faced. Hours passed. Sky was a little more sober than we were, but not by much. Suddenly the phone rang. I heard someone yell “turn down the damn music! I can’t hear” as I walked out of the bathroom. The room was suddenly very quiet. Sky came around the corner of the kitchen and held the phone, looking positively panicked.  She put her hand over the mouthpiece. “Beth, it’s your mom!” she whispered, only it came out a lot louder than she intended. One thing that drunks are not good at is whispering. “Holy shit!” I yelled. I was completely incapable of being quiet sober, and being drunk amplified my voice to the equivalent of a drill sergeant.  We had reached def-con four on the “up shit’s creek” scale. “What’d I’d say her” I slurred. Sky just looked at me and rolled her eyes. She whipped the phone cord around the wall, said “Damn it!” and walked back into the kitchen. I couldn’t hear the rest of the conversation, so I just slid down the wall. There were only two things that I needed in that moment; sobriety and a prayer. Since I was capable of neither of those, I just sat there like an idiot and waited for Sky to come back. When she did, she had Red with her. They pulled me up to my feet, and shoved me up the stairs to Sky’s bedroom. It was a labor of love. “Beth, your mom is on her way over here right now to pick you up” Sky shrieked. Red interjected with “But she’s drunk!”

“Yeah no shit! Tell me something that I don’t know!” Sky shot back, and she began to walk around her bedroom. Sky thought better when she walked. Some of her most brilliant ideas came to her when she paced, and she was definitely pacing now. I couldn’t watch her, because it was hard to stay focused. “What are we going to do?” Red asked. “She smells like a damn brewery! There’s no way in hell that her mom is not going to know that she’s completely hammered!” That’s when it happened, Sky had the moment of brilliance that she was known for. She reached up on top of her dresser and grabbed the bottle of perfume she had sitting there. She untwisted the top, and threw the contents of the bottle at me like she was a priest performing an exorcism.  

“I can NOT believe that I am wasting a forty dollar bottle of perfume on your drunk ass!” she hissed as she splashed me. That was definitely a prayer that I had never heard of before. She was livid! Red just laughed. “Well, look on the bright side. At least she smells better!” Sky was not at all amused. I couldn’t help but laugh at that one myself.  It did nothing to ease the tension. “You owe me a bottle of perfume” she breathed as she finished. On top of being drunk, I smelled like a walking perfume ad. I already had a headache, and that smell made it much worse. I wanted to yak, but I chose to swallow hard and think positive thoughts. It didn’t help, but it gave me something to focus on. 

At that moment, we all heard the doorbell ring downstairs. Sky and Red balanced me as I tried my best to walk down the stairs. I saw people as they frantically jumped over furniture, and ran around trying to find a place to hide. One of our friends ran smack into the sliding glass door. He was too drunk to realize the door was closed. Damn that glass cleaner and beer goggles! I started to laugh hysterically until the front door opened, and I saw my mother standing there. It suddenly wasn’t so funny.  

If looks could kill, I would’ve been dead right on the spot. I had never seen her so angry in my life, and that was saying something! The only thing that she said was “Elizabeth Anne, get in the car. NOW!” The def-con level on the “up shit’s creek” scale shot up to ten. We were at nuclear levels at that point. She was eerily calm. Frightfully calm. As drunk as I was, I knew that it was bad. I pictured the witch from the “Wizard of Oz” in my head. “I’ll get you my pretty! And your little dog too!” She didn’t say one word on the way home, and that truly scared the shit out of me. I tried not to think about it, because the motion of the car and the blur of the trees whizzing by made me nauseous. I was more focused on not puking in the car. No sense in fueling the fire! It took every ounce of consciousness that I had not to throw up.  The only thing she said to me when we got home was “Get upstairs, get undressed, and get into bed.” I was too drunk to argue. 

 I crawled on my hands and knees up the stairs, and into my room. The perfume smell was so strong that I made a half assed attempt to get undressed, just to get away from it. It was completely overpowering. With my abandoned clothes on the floor, I crawled into bed and prayed that the room would stop spinning. It was hell on earth! Maybe there was a connection between wearing jeans and going to hell after all. I made a mental note to debate that further as I drifted off to sleep. Sometime during the night, my mother brought in a large trash can and placed it next to my bed. I didn’t notice that until the next morning.

Very early around 7 am, I smelled bacon frying. I rolled over, looked at the clock and cursed its existence. Why was anyone up at this ungodly hour, and why were they making breakfast? The smell was so powerful that my mouth started to fill with saliva. Nausea didn’t even begin to cover it. I slowly sat up, rubbed my eyes, and tried to adjust to the obnoxious morning light that poured into the room from my window. At that moment, my bedroom door flew open. There stood my mom with a huge grin on her face. “Wakey, wakey! Eggs and Bakey!” she said, as she walked towards me. In her hand was a plateful of bacon, and runny eggs. She held it under my nose. “Look what I made for you” she said, as she took the fork and cracked open one of the yolks. It oozed across the plate. She knew that I hated eggs over easy. Wicked genius! That was all it took. I started to dry heave immediately. She slammed the plate down on my nightstand, grabbed the trashcan, and put it under my mouth right as the first wave of vomit came out. She always had perfect timing. When I was done, she said “That plate is part of your punishment. You had better eat every damn morsel, and be grateful for it. There are poor, starving children everywhere in the world who don’t go around getting drunk. They have more important things to think about, and drinking isn’t one of them! I hope that you feel like hell! Maybe next time you’ll think about that!” Needless to say, I was grounded yet again.

God Punishes Those Who Skip Church

It’s every teenagers dream to wake up and find a nice car in the driveway to celebrate the sixteenth year of life.  My parents and I had already had the discussion, and there was no way in hell that it was going to happen to me. I guess there was a little part of me that had hopes they were only pulling my leg, and that we were in fact secretly rich.  I had this elaborate scheme in my head that they had a trust fund in my name somewhere and were making me work to teach me a lesson on how the common folk lived. None of that was true, though it was a nice thought.

My parents sat me down in the living room to discuss transportation “options”. My mother sat on the couch looking quite stoic as my father began his lecture about how a car was a death trap on wheels, that driving was a privilege and not a right, and carelessness resulted in loss of limbs. He folded his arms, looked at me sternly and in a completely serious tone said “It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye! You should have seen what happened to this guy at my high school. He was careless. Long story short, now he’s in a wheelchair because he was too busy trying to impress his friends by goofing off behind the wheel.” I just stared at him. “His poor, sick, elderly parents had to wheel him up the aisle at graduation because he was paralyzed. FOR LIFE!  I’ll bet he doesn’t think it’s fun and games now!” He exclaimed, looking at me with one eyebrow raised for emphasis.  The only thing I wanted to know was just who was this poor bastard, and how come he was never mentioned before now?

Dad went on to say that I could only drive our ten -year old family Chevy Malibu under very close supervision and tom foolery would not be tolerated. It probably did not help my case much that I could not stop giggling at the mention of the words “Tom Foolery”. What the hell exactly was that anyway? It also did not help my father’s lecture either that in the sixteen years on the planet I had witnessed him cursing, speeding, performing illegal U-turns, providing justification for running a red light – “I was already in the middle of the intersection!”, and his infamous “Oh fuck I dropped my cigarette!” maneuver where he balanced one knee on the wheel while he simultaneously reached between the seats in an effort to snuff out the butt, because pulling the car over would have been too inconvenient.

Ironically enough he was the one to teach me to drive, though he made me nervous as hell. He was always squirming in the passenger seat while grabbing the “oh shit bar”. My dad and that glove compartment strap became best friends during my driving lessons. He would grab it, make a face, and shout “Elizabeth, WATCH! WATCH !” while lifting up his legs and flinching.   I was watching. I was watching a grown man practically piss his pants in terror!

 I never understood that because I was actually a pretty decent driver. In fact, I wouldn’t have even hit that cop car two months before getting my license had he not been yelling at me. My mother knew nothing about the entire incident until the police showed up later that night to arrest me for hit and run. “DAD!” I screamed down the stairs as the policeman was standing there. “You told me to go into work, and that you were going to leave a note.  I can’t believe you didn’t!”  I was practically hysterical! I wouldn’t last five minutes in Prison. I am not mechanically inclined, and I definitely would have had to ask someone for detailed directions as well as a demonstration on how to make a shank. My friend Skylar would last though; anyone who knew how to patch drywall to cover up a butt print after a handstand mishap had my vote.

My mother shaking, screamed down to my father “What on God’s green earth ever possessed you to leave the scene of an accident?” Her voice went up an octave every other word.  “What kind of an example are you setting for our daughter?”  Thank God that banister was there because it was the only thing at that point holding her up. Dad finally emerged from his office knowing full well that he would have to face her sometime. I guess he thought that it was probably better to do it with witnesses present, especially one that had a gun. “What?” He asked sheepishly, avoiding her gaze as he came up the stairs. “I looked. There wasn’t any damage. So I left.” That’s when it happened. My mother’s head exploded, right on the landing.  The policeman after seeing that decided not to charge me. He did however give my father the lecture from hell, as well as a ticket.  Her timing could not have been better!

The only solace in not getting a car was that my two best friends didn’t get cars either. Skylar, aka “Sky” was my friend from the second grade. She had a boyfriend who had a Camaro. Rebecca, aka “Red” was my friend from the seventh grade. She was given the ok to drive her parents Sunbird. Her nickname came pretty easily because she had long, dark red hair. Between the three of us we managed somehow to get around without relying too heavily on parents.

Red was over just hanging out at my house one Sunday. We both had managed to get out of going to church, but we were nearly out of excuses. My parents had finally given in and left us alone. After they left, Red looked at me and said “I’m starving”. Those were two words that never needed further explanation because I was the fat kid among us, and I was always up for food. Smiling wickedly, I said “Hey, I know where mom and dad keep the spare key to the Malibu.”

Red was a few months older than me, and she already had her learners permit. The sub shop was about a mile from my house and between the two of us we had enough money to each get a sandwich. She looked at me and said “Let’s go!” Red was fearless. Lady, my Siberian husky followed us to the landing as we made our way out the door. She looked at us as if to say “This definitely won’t end well.” In my mind however, our plan was flawless. The last thing I said to Red as we pulled out of the parking space was “For the love of God be careful”.

We had at least an hour until the parents came home, even longer if Father Thomas was giving the homily, less if it was Father Mike during football season. Luckily it was almost summer, so we were guaranteed Father Thomas would be lecturing the heck out of everyone. Although he was a kind man, he was probably the most stern among the Priests at All Saints. He was definitely “old school”. Women should cover their heads during service. No jeans allowed, or God would smite you. I would often sit in the pew and count the number of parishioners standing in line for communion in jeans and wait for someone to be smitten. I just wanted to know what that looked like! He would always give the raised, one eye brow look of discontentment at the jean wearer. Why even bother to receive the Eucharist when surely they were doomed to hell? 

     He didn’t understand the younger generation because he was in his seventies by then and set in his ways. Father Mike was the complete opposite. He was young, vibrant, handsome and full of life. He didn’t care if people showed up in jeans for mass. His only concern was that they came at all. His only complaint was with the mothers of the screaming babies during mass. To this day, I still remember that the sound proofed cry room took well over forty thousand dollars of donations, though no one used it. I thought we should have kept the forty thousand and invested instead into tiny bottles of vodka. That would have kept them quiet for at least two hours! That idea landed me an extra ten Hail Mary’s and five Our Father’s in confession on Saturday. I should have known better and waited for Father Mike, but his line was too long.

Father Mike encouraged the Youth Group to participate more in the masses. He even allowed us to form a youth choir and liven up the songs with a guitar and a tambourine; although, there is only so much that one can do with hymns. My idea of adding an electric guitar was promptly vetoed. Of course, Father Thomas was more than against the idea citing that our Youth Group did not take church seriously, and that our song interpretation was a sacrilege. Father Mike however won the argument and everything went swimmingly, for a while.

     Father Thomas’s theory on us was proven shortly thereafter when our lectern arrived for mass late, hung-over, and read a part of the scripture as “flaming brassieres” instead of braziers. The entire church erupted in laughter. Father Thomas just looked at us as if to say “I hope you still find it funny when you’re in hell!” Suffice to say, the lectern position was given a minimal age requirement of forty, and our choir was disbanded.

    The other residential Priest in our Parish was Father Viviani. He also did the Sunday homily, and he took the late shift. He wasn’t that big on football. He was perhaps five foot five, round, jolly, and Italian. He spoke with much vigor and humor. He was however, absent minded and very impatient. He never remembered to turn off his microphone prior to the service. The congregation was subjected to “No! What are you doing? Come on! Come on! You boys are trying my patience” and “remind me to tell Dorothy that the cleaners put too much starch in this collar again. I will be scratching throughout the entire service!” My favorite was his every other weekend comment “Does the red light mean it’s on?” Tap tap. “HELLO? HELLO?” The microphone sound check routine hadn’t made it yet into Church practices.

     I liked it when Father Viviani did the service, but only because his pre-mass routine was hilarious. I did find it irritating though that for years he called me Betty, no matter how many times I corrected him. I finally gave up.

I was wondering which Father was doing the homily as we drove to get our food. The trip was uneventful. I was confident we would beat my parents’ home. We paid for our subs, and made our way back to the car. I made note of the mileage, and figured my folks would think nothing of two miles being added. Little did I know that the mileage would be the least of my worries. We made it home without incident, and Red managed to park the car exactly how my parents had it. No one was going to be the wiser.

I took my house key, got out, and started to walk to my front door when I heard Red behind me exclaim very loudly “OH SHIT! OH SHIT!” Those words are never good to hear when you have just finished committing a multitude of crimes including driving without a licensed driver, and unauthorized vehicle use. I slowly turned to look at her. She was pale white, paler than usual considering that she had a beautiful, creamy complexion that was set off by her gorgeous red curls.  I was always jealous of her hair, although she hated it. “What the hell?” I said looking at her. “What’s wrong?”

“Shit! Damn it! Beth the key! Beth the car key!” She could barely even get any words out. My first thought was that she dropped it down the sewer drain. There was no way in hell my fat ass would fit through the opening of the manhole, so I had already made my mind up that she would be the one going down the sewer ladder to retrieve it. If only that were the problem!

“Beth the damn key snapped off in the ignition!” Her words did not register. “WHAT? What in the hell are you talking about?” I asked. My voice started to shake with panic. I honestly thought she was joking. “Stop messing around, let’s go eat” I said. Red had a weird and twisted sense of humor like me.  She replied “Beth I ‘m not kidding.  LOOK!”  I poked my head into the passenger window and sure enough, there was the key completely snapped off in the ignition. There was no getting out of this one. We were caught red handed literally. “How in the hell did you manage that?” I yelled.

“I don’t know. I don’t know! It just snapped!” She was near tears. “It doesn’t just snap. The key just doesn’t magically break off.” I retorted, utterly annoyed. The weird thing was at that time, she and I were the only ones capable of the cosmically impossible. Skylar had a party once and gave a demo of “shatterproof” dishware. Ten of us stood in her kitchen and threw a bowl at the wall. The dish bounced off the floor, the counter, and the wall and yet there were no visible cracks. After everyone had a try, it was Red’s turn. She threw the bowl and the damn thing shattered into a million pieces. A loud voice behind me said “Shatterproof maybe, Red proof definitely not”. If she and I had been horses at the Kentucky Derby we would’ve been the long shot that had a million-dollar payout.

I thought about that party as I stood there peering through the passenger window at the ignition in absolute disbelief. “Red proof” meant not “fool proof”. I wanted to laugh at the irony and yell because there was no covering up this teenage blunder. She looked so guilty and upset though that my anger didn’t last long.

     We needed a plan, and a good one! Sky was the planner. She was the brains of our little operation, but as usual she was over at her boyfriend’s house. I was happy for her, but also ticked because she would’ve come up with some detailed lie that would have outlined a perfectly thought out explanation that was not only plausible, but incredibly believable. She had once managed to convince a guy she didn’t want to date that she had a wooden leg. She made him feel like a complete jackass when she caught him staring at her pants.  I’m sure he was trying to figure out which leg it was. She read him the riot act! It was an Oscar winning performance. He ended up apologizing profusely and leaving abruptly, completely red faced and embarrassed. We never saw or heard from him again.  

     I have often said throughout the years that she would have been brilliant and successful either in politics, acting, or being a well-paid hit woman. Sky was like Bill Nye the science guy, MacGyver, and every winning contestant of “Survivor” rolled into one. She was resourceful. If Sky had been there she would’ve tearfully recounted to my parents how the three of us were forced at gun point to the car for an attempted carjacking. She would pause dramatically, while Red handed her a tissue so that she could blow her nose. I however, would bury my head in my hands and nod, but only because my facial expressions give me away. I am a terrible liar. She would’ve looked my mother in the eye and told her how a struggle ensued. During the chaos, the key broke off in the ignition. Unable to commandeer the vehicle the scared, drug crazed, masked assailants fled the scene, leaving us in shock and unable to move.

     She would’ve certainly played up the “Drug crazed” part, as my mother was convinced that everyone was on drugs. She would’ve then slumped rather dramatically on the couch, exclaim how incredibly sorry we all were for the terrible inconvenience, and insist that the three of us pay for the replacement key. My mother would’ve thrown her arms around us and told us how happy and relieved she was that we managed to walk away unscathed. The money would’ve been the last thing on her mind. She would have certainly refused Sky’s offer, and insisted instead that everyone stayed for dinner. After all, dinner was the least she could do considering our harrowing ordeal and narrow escape from death. Yes, Sky was really that good!

     That day however Sky wasn’t there, so it was every woman for herself. “Man that sucks!” Red said sighing. “Well, umm Beth, I am so so sorry! I guess I should probably get going then.” She just looked at the ground. “I don’t know what else to say”.  Neither did I. “Call me later, and let me know what happened.” She said as she walked towards her house. I already knew that the only way I would be speaking to her anytime soon would be either at school, or secret notes delivered via Owl. It’s too bad that Harry Potter wasn’t around. I could have used him. If we had cell phones back then, it would have definitely been confiscated. The only thing I could think was that the sub had better be the best damn sandwich I had ever eaten because my ass was grass, and I wouldn’t be enjoying take out for quite some time. I ate in silence waiting for mom and dad to come home, and the wrath I would most surely face. 

     When my parents finally walked in the door my mother announced that she had a “honey do list”, and one of them was grocery shopping. The four of us would not have fit into Dad’s truck, and I knew what was coming. “Umm Dad? Can I speak to you downstairs please?” I whispered to my father. He nodded, then sighed heavily as we made our way downstairs to his office. I am a terrible liar, however it was ten times worse where my father was concerned.  He just knew! He could take one look at me and just know what I had done. I didn’t even need to say a word. We weren’t even in the office door two seconds when he looked at me and said “Elizabeth Anne, what is it?” The use of the middle name is always a killer. He was trying not to smile, though like me, he was not very good at hiding facial expressions.

I slowly took a deep breath, sighed heavily, and spilled my guts. “Ok well um, it’s like this. Red came over and we were hungry so I grabbed the spare key and we took the car and went to the sub shop and now the key is broken off in the ignition and she left me here to take the blame alone and I am so sorry! I will pay for it!” It all came out as one long run on sentence. He just stared at me. Silence is never good. I was certainly not expecting what came next. He just stood there with a smirk on his face and started laughing. When he regained his composure, he managed to utter “Boy, your mom is going to be PISSED!”

“Tell me something I don’t know!” I muttered, rolling my eyes. “Beth Anne!” was his prompt retort. At least we had dropped the formality of the first name.  The middle name reference still meant that I was in trouble, however, it was not as serious as I had originally thought. I did the walk of shame up the stairs to tell my mother, and my father followed. We found her in the kitchen rearranging the contents of the cabinets, muttering to herself about how no one ever helped out. “Perfect” I thought glumly. “Umm, Mom? Uh, I have something important to tell you. First, let me just say how incredibly sorry I am. Honestly, I’m really, really sorry.” She slowly turned and looked at me with a pot in her hand. Bracing for impact, I spilled my guts and recounted the entire event.

     She just glared at me with one eye furrowed. It seemed to bore into every fiber of my being. My mother is five foot one, and back then she was a hundred and ten pounds. She had a gaze though that would’ve stopped anyone in his or her tracks. She didn’t even need to say a word. All of my friends were scared of her, and rightfully so. The term “Stink eye” didn’t even begin to cover it. It was almost as if she had super powers. Wonder woman and her invisible plane didn’t have anything on her. She was the Justice League! One look from my mom and you would be weeping and curled up in the fetal position in a corner sucking your thumb. Secrets would’ve been revealed, and there would be no place to hide.  

     If she had worked for the Government ISIS would have surrendered the first day, no questions asked. She would have made an excellent CIA interrogator. She had a way to get to the bottom of any situation.  

     Everyone says that moms are the best at laying guilt. I disagree. Everyone is an amateur compared to mine. If there was ever an Oscar Category for “Best Guilty Lecture”, she would win hands down. After all, how could anyone compete with “I grew up in an Orphanage in France, came to the U.S. with nothing and didn’t even know the language!”

I braced myself because I knew what was coming.  She immediately launched into the mother of all lectures. This time, she really out did herself.   “I just can’t leave you alone for one hour. Not one hour! I should have MADE you go to church! It certainly would do you some good; running around here, acting like the world owes you a favor. You should have been in church, praying for those who are less fortunate than you.” She barely took a breath before continuing. “All those poor souls in purgatory who need your prayers, and you decide to go gallivanting around town to get food while there are people out there that go days without a meal!”

At that moment, I had to bite my tongue. I disagreed with her word choice. Gallivanting to me meant traveling more than two miles from the starting point. For some reason Henry Wadsworth-Longfellow’s poem popped into my head, and I began to imagine myself on a horse carrying a sub in one hand and a lantern in the other as if I were Paul Revere. “The Parents are coming! The Parents are coming!” If we had gone on horseback, I wouldn’t be in this situation! Where was Secretariat when you needed him?

 My mother apparently noticed that I had tuned out so she slammed the pot that was in her hand down on the kitchen counter.  I was very grateful for that because she would have begun to hand me my limbs when she was done had she had not noticed my blank stare.

 When she saw that she once again had my full attention she continued, “And who exactly will be paying for this little fiasco? Hmm? Did you even stop to think about that?” She picked up the pot once more “I bet you didn’t did you?  DID YOU?” She pointed the pot at me. I dared not interrupt her.

     She was on a roll. “Your dad and I work our fingers to the bone just to put a roof over your head, and this is how you repay us? You certainly have a lot more than I did growing up. I considered myself lucky that I even got an orange for Christmas! I came to the U.S. with nothing.  I should be able to trust you. You betrayed that trust while we were in church. AT CHURCH NO LESS!” She made it sound like I had held up a liquor store, forced some illegal aliens to work in a sweatshop while denying food and water, and drowned a bagful of defenseless kittens just for good measure; all while she innocently sat in church, praying for my very soul. We could have had t-shirts made up that said “Got guilt?” Needless to say, I was grounded.