Category Archives: Story

Lucky Girl

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Lucky (Copyright Writing Wahine, Living off Island 2017)

 

Lucky was a strawberry blonde Cocker Spaniel. I bestowed upon her the title, “The Sweetest Thing God Ever Made.” She made me a believer in all the incredible, corny pet stories that people tell.

When my son was about eight years old, he wore me down asking for a dog, so one day during summer vacation, I took my son and daughter to a city animal shelter.

Lucky was in a pen with several other dogs that were dominated by an alpha female that would not let the dogs approach the gate to meet humans. A shelter worker brought Lucky out to meet with us at a grassy area of the shelter. He told me Lucky was two or three years old. Her recent adoption by a family with young children failed. Her spotted tongue and coloring might make Lucky part Chow Chow.

Shell-shocked by the circumstances that led to her stays at the shelter and by the aggressive barking of the alpha female in her pen, Lucky was friendly but subdued in her interaction with us. We went home, I talked to my husband about Lucky that evening, and the kids and I went back to the shelter the next day.

Lucky was still timid, but her sweetness won us over. As I was filling out adoption paperwork, a gentleman in a postal service uniform came to check on Lucky. I learned that he was also interested in adopting her. The disappointed look on the man’s face touched me, but I was glad the kids and I had come back that day.

Over the course of the next nine years, Lucky blossomed into a tomboy older sibling to my kids. She wasn’t a cuddler. She liked her space. She slept with her legs in the air like a dead bug. She was afraid of the ocean – I think it was the noisy waves moving toward her. She liked to herd us and watch us from a short distance. Unlike our current Cocker Spaniel, Lucky didn’t like swimming or playing fetch. Also unlike our current Cocker, she loved snow, navigating snowdrifts by hopping, sinking, and launching herself back out only to sink into another spot. She liked digging shallow holes in the dirt under shrubs and lying there when it was hot. Most of all, she loved to roll over on her back and ask for belly rubs.

In early 2012, we took Lucky to the vet because she had a persistent cough. Lucky’s vet noticed a heart murmur and ran tests. Then came the diagnosis that made my knees buckle: Lucky had congestive heart failure and could live a few more months with medication. Our son was in his senior year of high school, but our daughter was away at college, and I wondered if she would get to see Lucky again.

Three months later my daughter came home for my son’s high school graduation and saw Lucky one last time. After a long weekend visit, my daughter took an evening flight back to her summer job. Lucky passed away at dawn the next day. My son, my husband, and I were with her.

I like to think that Lucky needed to herd us one last time before she left us. Seeing us all together, she might have felt that we were safe, and if she needed to leave, we would be okay.

Believing in irrational, sentimental stories about the things that dogs do for their humans isn’t about believing in preposterous things, it’s about believing in love. Pets help us exercise our ability to love and to experience being loved.

So on this day, June 13, 2017, the fifth anniversary of Lucky’s passing, I celebrate The Sweetest Thing God Ever Made. I celebrate Lucky, I celebrate love.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.

 

The Teddy Bear

Teddy Bear

A woman I’ll call Ana was tried for the murder of her 18-month-old son in Sacramento, California. A teddy bear should have been the least of her concerns, but it was always somewhere in the back of her mind.

Ana was the breadwinner of her household. She supported her infant son, the boy’s twin sister, their older sibling, and her boyfriend who was the children’s father. Ana worked in a restaurant in San Francisco where the minimum wage was higher. Because she didn’t own a car, commuting from Sacramento to San Francisco would have entailed a costly, twice-daily, six-hour ordeal involving the Sacramento light rail, a commuter bus, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), and walking. Ana made the difficult decision to sleep on friends’ couches and commute home to Sacramento only when she had days off – two to three times per month.

The coroner determined that when he died, Ana’s infant son had pneumonia, sepsis, and broken ribs that had healed. The infant was also malnourished. Police investigated for almost one year before prosecutors charged Ana and her boyfriend with murder.

After Ana and her boyfriend were arrested, social workers from children’s protective services removed the two remaining children from the home. As often happened with abandoned units, Ana’s apartment became an easy target for break-ins.

At trial, the prosecutor argued that Ana and her boyfriend were negligent in failing to get their son medical care that would have prevented the malnutrition and infection that led to his death. Ana’s attorney presented evidence that Ana saw the baby for only a few days each month, pointing the finger of neglect toward Ana’s boyfriend as the primary caretaker.

There was also testimony from experts that Ana was a battered woman who was not psychologically capable of standing up to her boyfriend’s decisions regarding the care of their children. Like most battered women, Ana had unconsciously recreated her past; her boyfriend was not the first man to abuse her.

Ana and her boyfriend were ultimately acquitted of murder, but her boyfriend was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sent to prison. Ana was released from jail but would not be reunited with her two young children who were now living with a relative in another state.

Weeks later Ana was at a store and saw a man and a woman who were her neighbors at the apartment complex where she lived in Sacramento. She approached them and asked if they recognized her. Not only did they recognize her, they were excited to see her. “We have your bear!” they told her.

What this couple really had was the urn containing the ashes of Ana’s son. Knowing that the urn was inside the teddy bear, the couple had taken it from Ana’s abandoned apartment for safekeeping. These neighbors never visited Ana in jail and never took time off from work to attend her trial, but they managed to perform an important act of kindness that brought someone who had been through hell a needed dose of comfort and happiness.

Long after Ana’s pain, anguish, excitement, and joy have faded, she will need hope to rebuild her life. Whenever Ana looks at her teddy bear, she will think of her son. She will also be reminded that goodness and kindness endured as she went through hell. And she will remember to hope.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.

 

 

 

Red Padlock in Paris, Part 2

Red Padlock Part2

My favorite photos are those that tell a story. Copyright: Writing Wahine, 2016. 

Fantasies of a dramatic reunion melted away as they stood frozen at the sight of one another. The stillness belied their racing minds as they wondered what to do. An embrace might be presumptuous. A cold handshake seemed equally wrong.

He spoke first and breached the awkwardness between them. Although she felt a rush of infatuation as he spoke her name, she did nothing to give herself away. He leaned toward her, and they managed a stiff hug and polite pecks on both cheeks.

Looking to put their clumsy start behind them, they waded into the preliminaries. How nice it was to see one another… How well they looked… How long ago she moved to Paris… The assignment that brought him back… Aided by wine, they gradually became more comfortable, and for the rest of that evening, they journeyed back through the last eight years of their lives.

Trading stories about universities, jobs, moves, romances, travels, families, highs, and lows, they never noticed the parties of friends and lovers that came and went at the tables around them. Their server knew it was safe to ignore them after he brought their second bottle of wine.

As they talked, each made a conscious effort not to get caught staring. They studied each other secretly.

     Her hair, darker and shorter. Her face, still exquisite. Her hands, still so small and delicate…

     From cute to handsome. Not as shy, now more poised. That smile, still boyish…

It was risky to be so preoccupied. One nonsensical response or question could amount to a tacit confession: I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening. I was too busy adoring everything about you.

By the time they noticed that chairs were stacked on the tables around them, the only question left unasked was the one that mattered most. Not daring enough to venture down that road, they were relieved that it was time to go.

Outside the cafe a taxi pulled up quickly, and the driver’s gaze made them self-conscious. Robbed of their private moment, they hurriedly exchanged polite kisses on both cheeks and said goodnight.

As she sat alone in the back seat of the taxi that he watched drive away, they both felt a familiar twinge of heartache. But there were no tears this time, just thoughts of the red padlock on Pont d’Arcole and the promise they made that day.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

Red Padlock in Paris

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My favorite photos are those that tell a story. Copyright Writing Wahine, 2016.

They met as teenagers spending a summer in Paris, he with his grandparents, she with her father and stepmother. What each dreaded at the start turned out to be a summer of first love. Sweet innocence. Desperate pining. Carefree afternoons on the lawns of Sacre Coeur. Strolls along the Seine. In those long days of summer, they had magic before they even knew what magic was.

But as summer drew to a close, a quiet came over them. A careful avoidance of the subject, a purposeful attempt to stretch out time. Moments of childlike laughter became punctuated with uneasiness, each trying not to upset the other. Their hearts were breaking, and they did not have words for the pain.

On their last afternoon together, he held her hand as they walked to the Pont d’Arcole. His other hand was clenched in his pocket, wrapped around the summer, holding fast to her. They promised to love each other forever the way young lovers do, then he reached into his pocket for the red padlock with a white heart. Wiping the tears from her eyes, she smiled and laughed softly when he held it out to her. They fastened the padlock on the bridge where they shared their first and last kiss and said goodbye.

Years later he sat in a quiet corner of a cafe, nervously tapping the empty glass in front of him. Life and distance had made it easy to leave her in the past, but now he was back in Paris. Suddenly he glimpsed a figure making its way past the crowded bar. The figure hesitated before it started walking toward his table. Gradually the flickering candlelight revealed the girl from that summer who frequented his dreams, and he was once again the boy clenching a red padlock in his pocket.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.