Closed Door

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Part 20

Dear Diary, 

Yesterday was a hard day; lots of memories, the good overshadowed by the bad no matter how I tried to spin it.  I had the old nightmare again last night … I heard crying and crying and crying.  Then I was crying which woke up Feena and she started crying.  Then the sky opened up and it was like the angels were crying. 

Today hasn’t been much better and I’m exhausted but too wired up to sleep yet.  I hope writing it out will give me some sense of what direction I need to take in the coming days.   

I woke up this morning with an awful headache and I craved coffee but too late discovered that I’d run out.  I looked around the house and realized there were a lot of things I was almost out of if I wanted to keep canning and drying stuff.  I also needed to go by the feed store and pick up a few things for the zoo. 

It has been a while since I went to the store.  What I can’t get at the flea market or scratch and dent discount shop I usually buy in bulk and then just use it up and don’t go again until I’m almost out.  I made a list and then got Feena ready for a day of shopping; something that was not a favorite activity for either one of us.  I’ve discovered taking a baby anywhere is like going on safari. 

I had noticed that the flea market food stands and the scratch and dent store shelves were getting a little lean but they do from time to time and then they fill back up.  I never realized the same thing was happening at the regular grocery stores.  And the prices were out-freaking-rageous.  They were so bad all I did was buy a case of Feena’s formula and I almost didn’t get that except I keep the letter from her pediatrician in my purse saying that it is the only formula she can have.  The pharmacist was able to write it out. 

“What’s going on?” 

“Shortages and restrictions,” the lab coated woman explained. 

“On baby formula?  Seriously?!” 

She looked around and then wrote something on a piece of paper and stuck in it a bag with the liquid vitamin drops that I added to the formula.  I was escorted out to the car and told that I should put the formula in the trunk and cover it up so no one could see it, that the store had been told to ration all formula to two cans at a time and that EBT  and WIC card holders had first dibs.  That when I got home I should wait until no one was looking to take the formula into the house and once I got it inside I should lock it up and not tell anyone how much I had. 

The note from the pharmacist was instructions to go to a local clinic and to show them my letter from Feena’s doctor and to take all the formula they offered me and to not let my supply of the formula go down if I could help it.  I drove away in total shock thinking is this the USSR or what.   

I stopped at the gas station and got another shock.  They were limiting fuel purchases to forty dollars per vehicle and at the price per gallon that wasn’t much.  I went in the store to pay because the at-the-pump system seemed to be down.  It wasn’t down, it was off.  They were making everyone come in so that no one could cheat and get more gas than they were supposed to.  The system was rigged to deny any credit card sales if someone had already used that card that day for gas anywhere in the country.    

It was like the place was on simmer – there was even an armed security guard stationed by the register – and I was more than grateful to get Feena and I out of there.  I was happier than ever that Cal had brought several drums out and put them in a partially-buried concrete shed that he’d built in the middle of a palmetto thicket.  Two drums were filled with the special marine fuel that was now mandated by the state that he had to run in his boat and the others were regular vehicle fuel that he’d treated with something so it wouldn’t go all icky and useless.  I thought it was a little strange at the time but Cal told me to think of it like it was an investment.  Buy low, sell high … he saves the extra cost per gallon by buying the fuel when it is less expensive.   

I know it is his fuel but he’s already told me if I need it use it, just replace it when I could, that it needed to be rotated occasionally anyway.  I don’t think so, I’m no charity case.  I’m going to start filling up with gas every day that I can and coming home and emptying the car tank into gas cans with one of that hose thingie that is in my roadside emergency kit in the car trunk.  If I visit several gas stations in the same day and pay with cash I hope I’ll be able to build up a surplus. 

With all of that running through my mind I decided to pull off into a city park, feed and change Feena and try and strategize.  I had thought to grab a bite to eat for myself but a lot of the food trucks that I would have normally chosen from were nowhere to be seen.  After getting a fix on the shortest route possible that maximized the number of stops I could make I headed back out. 

First I hit the big box club.  There was rationing going on there too so while I was forced to pick up fewer of some items, I picked up more overall as I bought into the if-it-is-rationed-then-it-is-valuable mindset.  Diapers.  How can they possibly ration diapers?  I am so screwed.  I didn’t do any fresh or frozen stuff but I’m going to go back tomorrow and get a bunch of bags of frozen vegetables and dry them on Momma’s dehydrator that I got out of storage when Daniel and I got married. 

I bought as much canned milk and dried milk as I had cash for.  Thank goodness the checks had just hit at the bank and I withdrew enough to last me for the month … well, it is almost all gone already so it is back to the bank tomorrow.  I picked up several large boxes of baby cereals.  I’m not worried about baby food, not eating the store-bought stuff never hurt me any and Daddy always bragged that Momma saved the family a ton of money.  Daddy was always bragging on Momma’s memory like that.  I figured if it didn’t hurt me then it won’t hurt Feena to be fed the same way.  At least I won’t have to worry about chemicals and preservatives and stuff in her food. 

I picked up a lot of toilet paper, diaper wipes, and paper towels.  When I got to the head of the check out line a guy with a clip board came by and said he was taking a survey for the store and I’d get a free slice of pizza and a drink from the deli if I would participate.  I was too hungry to turn it down but in hindsight I kinda wonder if I should have.  He asked me about my shopping experience, would I shop there again, about the store’s cleanliness and if the staff had been helpful, and then out of the blue asked me if my baby enjoyed all of the baby products I was buying. 

Alarm bells went off and I gave what I hoped looked like a professional smile before telling him, “Are you kidding?  This isn’t all for my kid.  As part of the tuition the daycare is asking us to bring in supplies for the center.  I’d never go through all of this stuff on my own, it isn’t even the brand I normally use.” 

I’d heard a news story on that kind of thing just last week.  It bothered me at the time, nearly as much as realizing I could lie like a trooper when I had to, lie well enough that the guy in front of me bought it hook, line, and sinker. 

I got out of there as quick as I could – but not without my pizza and drink – and then stopped by the library to use the internet.  I have a smart phone with internet access but the screen is so small that surfing the web is really hard.   Printing stuff is impossible because I don't have a printer that has that feature so I have to make notes long hand … thank goodness I was smart enough to take short hand in highschool even though everyone thinks it is an archaic and unnecessary skill these days.  It sure has come in handy more than a few times. 

I noticed there were a lot of blocked sites; especially news sites, blogs, and vlogs.  It made surfing more time consuming than I had thought it would take and I was an hour longer at the library than I had meant to be.  At least I didn’t have to compete with a lot of other people for computer station.  It was the middle of the day and the kids weren’t out of school yet. 

Before I left I hit the Friends of the Library bookstore.  I couldn’t believe the books they were practically giving away.  There were a lot of the junky books they had a million copies of like those bodice ripper romances but there were also a lot of Mr. Fix-It type volumes and gardening books.  I also came away with some old recipe and craft books that reminded me of some of the books that used to sit on the shelf in Papa’s study.  I don’t know what happened to all of those books, the only ones that didn’t disappear at the probate auction were Papa’s and Daddy’s leather bound biblical commentaries and the family’s handwritten journals, but those had gotten put in a cedar chest and not on the shelves which is why they were probably missed. 

I got one bag of paper backs for a dollar … the whole bag.  Then I got two big paper grocery bags of hard back books for five dollars per bag.  Cool beans.  Not that it was easy getting it out to and then into my little car with Feena strapped to my chest like a time bomb.  Not a single person even offered to open the door for me.  People are getting really rude and surly.  It’s depressing. 

My last stop today was at the carneceria Papa always liked to shop at so I could place an order that I’ll pick up tomorrow.  They still remember Papa and my parents which is nice but freaky.  After being away for so long it is really strange to have someone talk about all the spots you had as a kid or some of the strange ways I used to have because I was raised in a house of older people.  Daddy and Momma were in their forties when I was born … but they never called me a surprise, just a blessing and when my brother died while out fishing with some friends they lavished enough affection on me for two kids.   

Between Daddy and Momma and Papa it was like having three parents.  I remember Abuela but only a little.  She had a massive stroke when I was small and after only three months had another one that sent her to Heaven.  My only other relatives are a great aunt and uncle that live in New Jersey.  They’re … different.  Papa and his brother got along much better so long as they kept hundreds of miles between them but after he died and I was alone they still offered to have me come live with them.  The probate auction was their idea, I was too shook up at the time to understand all the consequences but now I look around the house and see empty spaces where different things had sat or hung for generations and know they’ll never come back.  I still exchange cards with them at the holidays.  They kind of know what happened with Daniel but not really, they’re old and frail and the few times I’ve talked to them on the phone in the last year they keep getting me mixed up with my mother and Feena with me.  I suppose I don’t think of them as much as I should, they are family after all and had been willing to give me a home, but maybe they are happier in their slow dementia that holds the troubles of the real world at bay. 

Wish I could experience that a little bit.  Or maybe not.  I have Feena to think about.  I need to stay on my toes. 

Daddy and Papa used to be completely religious about watching the news and even reading it on the computer.  I think I had one of the few grandfathers that was more on the ball with technology than a lot of the fathers of my friends in school.  After they died I just didn’t see the point in trying to do it … especially since none of the foster homes I was in exactly made that easy.  They didn’t want us watching anything that upset us … but they didn’t seem to mind that the kids all played mindless and violent video games for hours on end.  Hey, I’m just telling it like I experienced it; I didn’t say it made any sense. 

Then when Daniel went overseas I watched and read the news until I was sick and Mr. and Mrs. Lowery suggested I unplug for a while or risk my health.  When Daniel came home I was too … too messed up and then too busy trying to cope.  Or that’s the excuse I used. 

Tonight for the first time in a long time I watched the news.  Broadcast news had a plastic feel to it, like it wasn’t real.  I tried to watch cable news but it had that same weirdness to it.  It was only when I got off the boob tube and on the net that things started feeling real.  Too real.  Very scary.  I only vaguely understood some of what people were frantically blogging.  I’ve got a lot to think about but I can’t do all the research I need to do by phone.  Tomorrow I am going to take my laptop to the library and copy as much from the net as I can. 

I’ve already got a really long list of things that need my attention but for now Feena needs a last feeding and we both need some sleep.  I know I’m going to need mine tomorrow.

Part 19

Dear Diary, 

Had Daniel lived he would have been twenty-three today and we would have been married a little over four years and been together almost seven.  He was my highschool sweetheart and the only guy I’ve ever been in love with.  And despite everything it hurts that that part of my life will never be coming back, that Daniel will never be coming back, that the memories have been tainted by what happened. 

For so long I’ve been pretending.  It helped to keep myself so busy there wasn’t time to think but I doubt I can build the wall any higher to keep it all out.  It is sloshing around on the other side of that wall like high tide during an oncoming hurricane.  I thought I was done mourning, but I guess not.  I suppose I was just fooling myself again. 

I drove to Tampa to put flowers on his grave.  I tried not to, tried not to put myself through it.  But before I knew it was I was putting the animals up and then strapping Feena into her car seat.  I turned around twice, once at the end of the road and once right before I got on the interstate on ramp but I couldn’t make myself go all the way back home.  And once I was on the interstate there was no turning back.   

I know things ended badly for all of us but I still owe him for the good times and he is still Feena’s father.  As long as I can see I’ll never be able to deny that.  She may have my skin tone and hair but she has his eyes.  Sometimes I look at them and can’t help but cry. 

He’s been gone months now but Daniel managed to surprise me again, not once but twice.  I stopped in the Grow Credit Union to close our old account since I didn’t think there was but a couple of dollars left in it when low and behold I discovered there was several thousand in there.  It took a while and several phone calls to track it down but we did.  The military never completed the discharge on Daniel.  Clerical didn’t understand it; it’s like all the paperwork on his Section 8 simply vanished into thin air and now that he’s dead no one seems too interested in pursuing the matter.  By rights all benefits should have ended a long time ago.  And yet, there it is.   

I got the second surprise when I went to visit some friends from the old neighborhood.  I was bracing myself before going to the cemetery and delaying it though I find it hard to admit.  Hueby and his girlfriend  Virginia still have their little audio/video store … they sell used records, transfer and dupe tapes, that sort of thing.  I stopped by their place and after ooo-ing and aahh-ing over Feena Virginia nudged Hueby and said, “You should give it to her.” 

“You sure?” he asked her. 

“Yeah.  I told you the stars said we’d have an unexpected visitor today and we’d finish a job long overdue … well, tell me this doesn’t fit.” 

I let them talk, sometimes that is all you can do with people when they seem to be speaking a language you don’t understand. 

Hueby then went into his work room and came back out with a shoe box in his hands.  He handed it to me and said, “I didn’t know what to do with this.  Daniel gave me this job way back, before his demons carried him off.  I saw how used up you were over everything and just held onto it all.  The end came and I really didn’t know what to do with it then either.  But Virginia says the stars are speaking so here you are and I reckon it’s time.” 

I carefully opened the box not knowing exactly what to expect and it was full of old photos and memory sticks and a jewel case with a DVD in it labeled “To Aria With Love.”   

“He asked me to work something up.  Said something about it being for your anniversary.  Reckon it is late, but maybe it isn’t.  Life doesn’t move by our arbitrary time table.” 

Like I said, sometimes you let people talk because it is in a language you don’t understand … you let them talk because when you finally do understand it is about more than you can handle and you wish you could have your ignorance back. 

It’s like the last bit of something left of Daniel has done his best to continue looking after us, tell us that he loved us.  The good part of Daniel.  The part I miss so much, especially at night when I’m all alone.   

It isn’t the sounds of the night that bother me.  I know every creak and groan this old house makes like an old woman knows the snores of her old man.  It’s the sounds that are missing that want to destroy me.  The way he would get stuffy at night and wind up only being able to breathe through one nostril.  The sometimes embarrassing sounds made when you share one bathroom in a house way too small.  The sound the bed makes when you aren’t the only one in it.  And when he would talk in his sleep and I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing at how silly it sounded.  It is the lack of sound that tells me how alone I am. 

I went to the cemetery and I was tempted to leave the box right there on his grave but something told me I would regret it if I did.  So instead I left the flowers that I had bought at the grocery where I had stopped to get a sandwich and a coke for lunch.  I looked at his headstone and realized he wasn’t there.  Whatever was there wasn’t the Daniel I married; that man was in Heaven with his parents and our boy baby.  Whatever demons drove him while he walked this earth can’t reach him where he is at now. 

Afterwards I went back to the credit union and finalized the paperwork and transferred the automatic deposits to the little bank that I set up an account at that is closer to where we live now.  If I’m smart and careful the benefits will last us a long time.  It amounts to almost a thousand dollars a month between one thing and another.  That’s almost three times the amount of the social security survivor’s benefits that Mack insisted on applying for on behalf of Feena and I.  Part of me feels guilty and part of me is thankful for this “found money.”  I don’t know if we are really entitled to this money but Feena has to have special formula and it costs an arm and a leg.  I never did get my milk back once it dried up, nothing I tried made a difference and all those nursing mothers groups made me feel kind of useless since I wouldn’t pay some other woman to pump milk for my baby.  I don’t guess I’ll ever know what it is like now. 

With that done I tried to stop by and see Lily.  Tried being the operative word.  She wouldn’t talk to me much.  She said she wasn’t mad at me she just didn’t want to talk to me or see the baby.  That I brought up bad memories and that she was cutting herself off from all of that and that if I was her friend and wanted her and Cal to stay together I’d just have to honor her wishes. 

I didn’t have a clue how cutting me off specifically was helping her and Cal to stay together but I didn’t ask the question.  It was like she was looking for an excuse, looking for some way to say that it was not her fault if they don’t stay together and I didn’t want to be the one that gave her that excuse.  She doesn’t care if Cal sees me, she just doesn’t want to see or hear from me, doesn’t want any more phone calls that make her feel guilty.  Certainly doesn’t want to hear a word about Daniel’s spawn.  That’s exactly what she called Feena … “Daniel’s spawn.” 

I didn’t understand and by the time I showed up on Trish’s doorstep I was nearly in tears.  Trish did bust into tears when she saw me.  “I knew you couldn’t stay away.  Let me guess, you went to the cemetery.” 

We boo-hoo’d for a few minutes and then we sat down and she and Mack fussed over Feena and cooed that she was getting so big and we exchanged news that didn’t make it into our weekly phone conversations.  After Mack left to go take a business call I spilled the beans about my visit to try and see Lily. 

“I just … I meant to come here first but then I just had this feeling that I had to go see Lily, that I needed to know why she hasn’t returned any of my phone calls.  Trish, did I do something?  Did I do something wrong?  I don’t understand.” 

“You didn’t do anything wrong Aria.  Lily has been cutting us all off one by one.  It’s like she is testing Cal … testing him to see if he’ll try and force her to do something or say something or go someplace she doesn’t want to go so that they can have a spectacular blow out, but it won’t be her fault because she has warned him all along.” 

“Cal never said anything.  Nothing.” 

“Probably trying to protect you while trying to not rock the boat at home.  You know he feels guilty that he didn’t do more to protect you and Mom and Dad.” 

I shook my head.  “He couldn’t have done anything.  He shouldn’t think that at all.  If it wasn’t for him and Lily I wouldn’t be sitting here, Feena couldn’t be sucking down this bottle like she’s going to turn it inside out.  That’s crazy talk.” 

I could have bitten my tongue but Trish didn’t seem to notice.  “Crazy or not that’s how he feels.  He was out patrolling that night, taking an extra shift; looking in Daniel’s old haunts thinking he might be wandering around lost and confused.  Mack and I both told him there was nothing that he could have done even had he been right there; just get himself hurt or killed too.  What good would that have done anyone?  Whatever occupied Daniel’s body that night, it wasn’t my little brother; he was already dead to us.” 

She saw the look on my face.  “And don’t you go feeling guilty either.  Bad things happen.  We don’t know why most of the time.  I know some of this was the natural consequences of Daniel’s choices but … but between you and me I’ve still got questions come the Pearly Gates.  I’ve decided for my own peace of mind though to file them away 'til then.  It doesn’t do me, or any of us, any good to sit around dwelling on what might have been or could have been.  All that’s left is to find some lesson in it and move on.” 

“What kind of lesson can be found in that mess?” 

“Well, Mack and I have decided that there’s no time like the present.  That we can’t keep putting things off hoping life is going to get better.”  A little mischievously she whispered, “He got unfixed.” 

“He got un … you mean he went and had the procedure?” 

“Yeah.  I love his kids but we want to have some together and since he’s going to be forty pretty soon … he says he doesn’t want to be wearing Depends when our baby is still in diapers.” 

I choked at the normally proper woman making what was for her a rather risqué remark.  Then she grinned and looked at me.  And I knew.  She said, “Baby ain’t shooting blanks these days.”  The tea I was drinking nearly shot out of my nose and I choked so hard I nearly missed hearing her due date. 

Mack came back in and he was red all the way to the tips of his hairy ears.  “She tell you?” 

“Yes!  Congratulations!”  If possible he got even redder but he was also grinning from ear to ear.  I’m happy for them.  Really.  I am.  The feelings just haven’t gone from my brain to my heart yet. 

They tried to get me to stay but I needed to get back here and check on the animals.  I also thought leaving Tampa I would be able to leave the memories behind. 

But when I put Feena down and got up the nerve to watch the DVD I finally admitted that some part of me will never escape the memories.


Part 18

Dear Diary, 

I am soooo irritated.  I spilled bleach on this journal. I was able to save most of it but the last three months of entries are just completely gone.  All of that writing I did on all of the repairs and home improvement projects I’ve been working on just gone like they never existed.  All the nights I spilled my guts trying to understand my life.  All the tears I shed.   Grrrr.  If it isn’t one thing it is another.  It is like the whole world is conspiring against me. 

But I’m not going to repeat all of the complaints that got bleached away.  Maybe this is God’s way of telling me that what is in the past stays in the past and I don’t need to repeat it or dig it back up; that it is just dead bones and I need to learn to let them lie.  So let’s focus on the positive. 

Today I u-picked strawberries again.  The kitchen is full of strawberries, overflowing with strawberries, is flooded with big, bright red, delicious strawberries.  I’ll be capping and canning and drying strawberries for at least three or four days.  I love it.  I better love it, strawberries might be the only thing we’ll have to eat in a few months.   

I still can’t find a job.  The garden pretty much futzed out.  I put it in in a rush and the only thing that made were the collards and turnips … thank goodness I’m not picky but man did it give me gas to have to eat so much of them.   

A freeze killed two of my orange trees.  The porch leaks.  One of the barn doors has fallen off the hinges and I can’t even lift the stupid thing to try and fix it.   

Wait … I said I would focus on the positive.  

Not finding a job has allowed me to stay home with Feena and spend all the time with her that I missed when we were both in the hospital.  I carry her in a sling everywhere I go, even here at the house.  It saves on the heating bill since I haven’t been able to get the propane tank refilled since the new “environmentally safe” tank is on backorder.  If I worked Feena would have to be in daycare and we’d both be miserable. 

The chemicals they treated the yard with pretty much killed all the beneficial stuff in the ground and the nematodes moved in.  But I figured out what went wrong and I’ve put black plastic over the garden area and I’m going to solarize it all summer long so that when it is time to plant this fall, the ground will be healthy and nematode free.  For now I’m growing things in pots in the patio area.  It means a lot of extra watering but I set up these little drip hoses like my grandfather used to and put the hose on a timer so I’m not constantly having to worry that I’m forgetting something.  The iron in the water stains everything and the sulfur makes it stink but at least the house has a water treatment system on it and I have a huge supply of salt and chlorinator tablets thanks to a former tenant that left pallets of the stuff in the barn.  The salt takes out the iron, the chlorinator takes care of disinfecting and the sulfur smell in the house.  Win-win and it hasn’t cost me a penny yet except for some new drip irrigation pipes and fittings that I picked up at the handy dandy hardware store where they now know me on a first name basis. 

I did lose two of the oldest orange trees but they were reaching the end of their lifespan anyway.  I have since replaced them with several fruit trees that I found on sale at the hardware store.  Now in addition to citrus trees and Florida pears I have some Anna apples and a couple of peach trees.  I was able to prune my mother’s Santa Rosa and Natal plums and the Turkey fig trees and they look much healthier than they did when I first moved back home. 

Cal came by one weekend and helped me to prune all of the dead wood out of the grape arbor.  He ran off several snakes but I told him not to run them off too far because they keep the river rats down to a minimum and keep the field mice out of the house. 

I trimmed back all of the dead banana tree leaves and found I had several bunches of both bananas and plantains that hadn’t been attacked by the possums.  Lucky me.  Lucky Feena … she loves rice cereal with a little bit of banana mashed into it.  She’s not a picky eater thank goodness since she can only have formula, rice cereal, and bananas right now but she does have her favorites and mashed up banana ranks really high on her very short list.   

I canned banana pulp so that I can afford to give it to her all year.  The price of bananas at the store had me worried I’d only be able to buy one or two for special occasions.  I wasn’t turning my nose up at fried plantains either; breakfast, dinner, or dessert … it doesn’t matter to me, I love ‘em anyway I can get them. 

The Barbados, Surinam, and Grumichama cherries all are coming back after a good pruning as well.  Momma used to make preserves out of them that were absolutely beyond better than anything you could ever get at a high end gourmet shop.  She used to make a little money selling the pretty little jars at the flea market until they got so sticky about having a license from the health department. 

Speaking of the flea market, there’s a nice little old man that has told me to come by his produce stand Sunday after church and he’ll sell me as much as I can buy of the fruits and vegetables that won’t hold over until his next day open.  I take him up on it every Sunday and he’s never failed to send me home with a trunkful.  I’m grateful for the largesse and he’s grateful to make something on the stuff rather than just throw it in the dumpster.  He said it used to be he could give it to the homeless shelters and food banks but their insurance doesn’t allow it anymore.  That’s crazy I told him.  That’s the government he told me. 

So maybe I was feeling sorry for myself and exaggerated and Feena and I won’t starve.  As a matter of fact I had to convert one of the upstairs bedrooms to a pantry and it is a pain hauling things up and down the back stairs but I’m worried about the floor in the pantry off the kitchen.  The floor in there really squeaks and I think one of the floor joists has rotted through.  I’ve got it jacked up right now with a car jack I bought at the flea market but I know I need to get it fixed … and sooner rather than later.  I just have no idea how much it is going to cost. 

But enough of the scary stuff.  Let’s get back to happy stuff.   

When the property management team was cleaning out the house we discovered that the attic had never been emptied.  Most of it was junk from my grandparents’ day and before but some of it was abandoned property from various tenants that just stuck stuff up there and then forgot it – probably kinda sorta on purpose – when they moved out.  There was like a gazillion and two jars up there and I splurged and bought these reusable lids I saw in a magazine called Tattlers.  My grandmother and mother would have loved them.  I still have the old style lids and rings too but the other ones are kinda cool beans and make me feel like I’m advancing our quality of life for the better. 

Emptying that attic of all the flotsam of by gone days … and getting rid of what wasn’t useful like rotted carpets and shattered silks … gave me a place to store all the stuff from Tampa.  I still haven’t been able to bring myself to go through Daniel’s stuff, except very cursorily, and it was a relief just to put it in plastic tubs so I wouldn’t have to worry about it for a while.  I made myself put away the shoe boxes of photographs and arrange the photo CDs and memory sticks but as soon as I did I shut the door on the glass built in cabinet and haven’t touched them since.  For now my yesterday needs to stay shut away so that I can find the energy for our today.   

As time and money permits I have been changing out fixtures and replacing the cheap plastic things put in by the management team over the years with the antique ones from the bungalow and with those I found in the attic.  It’s a good thing that Papa and my father insisted I learn how to do simple repairs around the house or I’d be paying through the nose for some help or being forced to wait for Cal or one of his friends to lend me a hand when they come out for a day of fishing on the river.  Cal now has his boat docked here and comes out two or three times a month with friends … but Lily is never with them.  I pray for them every night.  I just don’t understand how something that seemed so good has gone the way it seems to be going. 

Cal and Lily are still in counseling but that’s a good thing at this juncture.  I think things are going better but Cal doesn’t talk about it much to me and I haven’t seen or talked to Lily at all even though I’ve called her and left loads of messages.  I hear about it all from Trish who I talk to once or twice a week.  She’s really serious about us staying a family.  I haven’t seen her in a while either though, gas has gotten crazy expensive again and if Cal hadn’t told me to buy a bunch of gas cans and keep them filled I might have been stuck a few times.  I don’t travel any more than I have to, but it’s nice to know I can if I need to. 

Oh, and I have a couple of goats.  I have absolutely no idea where they came from.  I just woke up one morning and there they were on the back porch eating my potted geraniums.  Dude, when they say goats will eat practically anything they weren’t kidding.  I finally had to get really long dog chains to keep them from eating everything in my garden – not that by that time they could really do all that much damage – but you don’t even want me repeating all the damage they did do.  I finally stopped putting signs up asking for someone to come claim them.  Mr. Escudero – the little old man from the produce stand – said that someone probably dumped them figuring that they’d be able to live in the pine groves and palmettoes. 

Different people have had different reactions to the goats.  My neighbors – all of them affluent and slightly worried that I was going to bring down property values yet afraid to quite say it since I’d done so much improving to the property to make it look better than it had in years – just asked me to keep the goats’ poop scooped so it wouldn’t stink things up.  I nearly laughed in their faces.  Goats are not dogs and you do not scoop their poop.  Papa had goats, ornery little goats, and they pooped anywhere they wanted to and Papa was happy to have it that way so so am I.  If they don’t like it too bad.  My family has owned this land a heck of a lot longer than any of them have even been around.  I’m not going to be intimidated by some nouveau riche newcomers.  Ooops, now I sound like Papa and Daddy. 

The local humane society offered to give me a heads up if they got any more goats.  I think they were just looking for a sucker to take what they consider an exotic animal off their hands so they wouldn’t have to kennel them for any length of time.  I have to be careful about going there again though.  That’s how I got suckered into giving a home to a one footed goose and a pig who promptly delivered a litter of seven adorable piglets within days of decorating the pen I built for her with her first wallow.  I’ll never tell that lady at the humane society but at least a couple of those piggies are going to make some mighty fine pulled pork come this winter.  I think they are all religiously vegan and would be horrified at my carnivorous appetites. 

Trish and Amaris both had a few things to say about my new menagerie but it was Cal that made me laugh the hardest. 

“I said their names are Buffy, Willow, and Xander.” 

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”  Cal gave a stupefied look at the beasties that had just tried to eat the seat out of his swimming trunks … with him still in them.   

One of his friends chortled and said, “The way Cal is giving them the eye you might want to rename them rare, medium, and well done.” 

I gave Cal a forbidding look and he held up his hands in surrender.  “You’re going to go broke feeding this zoo.” 

“Nope; at least not the goats.  They seem to really like the brambles and palmetto thickets.  They’ve cleared almost another acre of that mess and now I can mow it with the riding lawn mower instead of with Papa’s old DR.” 

“You stay out of there, it’s full of snakes,” Cal ordered, acting all grumpy and grandfatherly. 

“Stop worrying so much.  The goats drive the snakes deeper into the woodlot.  They’re actually doing me a favor clearing that land; less chance of finding another rattler in the well house.” 

Cal and his friend Josh both grimaced comically.  I didn’t blame them since they’d been the ones to find the rattler.  But I don’t understand why Josh got all wiggy when I offered to cook it since they’d killed it.  Papa and Daddy had taught me how good rattler is so long as you know how to get the spine out without leaving all the little bones in there … about like fish if you think about it. 

And the skins are really pretty nailed to the boards of the old barn too.

Part 17

Dear Diary, 

Trust Cal to come up with a solution so I wouldn’t have to live in motels forever and go broke in the process.  He and Lily have a little travel trailer that they used to use all the time when they first got married … at least until Lily ran into a snake one time when they took it out of storage.  Now she won’t have anything to do with the trailer and considers a night at the Econolodge as close to roughing it as she wants to get. 

“It’s just sitting there on the storage lot.  Someone might as well get some use out of it,” he said sarcastically after he realized it was useless arguing with me. 

“Well, I’m going to pay you rent because it could be three months or more before I can move into the house full time.” 

“Oh no you won’t.” 

“Oh yes I will.” 

“No, you won’t.  And before you start arguing again let me tell you why.”  I shut up but only to give him time to persuade me, I wasn’t stupid, but I was bound and determined to refuse charity.  He cleared his throat and then sighed and a lot of the fight just seem to go out of him.  “Lily and I are in counseling Aria.” 

I sat down beside him in slow motion.  We both dangled our feet off of grandfather’s dock.  “When did this happen?” 

“It’s been coming for a while but we started two months ago.  Don’t be so surprised; we’ve been down this road before.  We were in counseling almost the entire first three years of our marriage.” 

“Um, not that it’s really any of my business but is it the baby thing?” 

“Yes and no,” he admitted.  “I want kids.  But I want my wife more … or did.  Still do I think.  I’m not sure right now.”  Rather more matter-of-factly than I thought any man would say it, he told me, “She slept with a guy.  Same guy she had an affair with six months after we got married.” 

I swallowed and wondered what to say that didn’t make things worse.  “I … um … I …” 

“I know you didn’t know.  Not too many people do.  Not exactly something I want to get out and about.  My parents knew but they took it to the grave with them.  My older brothers know but they kind of washed their hands of the whole situation when I refused to divorce Lily over it the first time around.”  He shook his head like he was confused or maybe shell shocked was a better term for it.  “Uh … the guy … he’s like her first love from high school.  She married me on the rebound when he needed a little space and started tramping around Europe to find himself or some crap like that.  I just … it caught me … off guard … happening again.  I know that she’d been having a lot of second thoughts about our marriage.  She was mad that I didn’t make detective.  I tried to tell her it was just a budget thing but she thinks I did it on purpose to stay on patrol.  She thinks I love my job more than I love her.” 

More than a little uncomfortable about the sudden revelations I asked, “What … er … what does this have to do with the trailer?” 

“Lily and I had a rip roaring fight the other night.  She … uh … she said that if there was a divorce she was going to make sure she got her share of everything and then some for putting up with me all this time.  It … uh … worries me.  Her parents have money.  They could hire a lawyer that would take me to the cleaners in half a second.  I’m thirty years old Aria … I don’t want to go back down to zero, living on ramen noodles and oatmeal.  It’s taken me too long just to get where I’m at right now, and I’ve had to scrimp and save to get this far.  If she does what she threatened it could take me another ten years – maybe longer – to just get back to zero.  I’ll be on the other side of forty and barely have anything to show for it.” 

Still not sure I understood where he was going with this I asked, “You want to hide the trailer out here so that she can’t find it?  I’m not sure that makes sense.  She knows where I live Cal … and aren’t you thinking worst case scenario too soon?” 

He sighed. “If this situation with Daniel taught me nothing else, it taught me that the worst case scenario is exactly what I need to prepare for.  If it doesn’t happen then great; but if it does I don’t want my bare butt hanging out in the wind for the whole world to see.  I don’t want that kind of regret.” 

Worried about his state of mind I told him, “Ok, so bring your trailer out here.  I can’t believe Lily would ever do that to you but if it makes you feel better to do this … and she finds out … you can at least tell her you’re just doing me a family favor.” 

“It isn’t just the trailer.”  He saw my concerned look; I have Feena to think of now and as much as I love Lily and Cal both and appreciate all they’ve done for me, I have to put her well-being first.  “Don’t worry Aria, I’m not talking about money or anything that, certainly nothing illegal.  I just want to cache some of my guns and ammo out here.  A few other things too.  She almost kicked me out of the house during the fight and if she does that the law is on her side and I might wind up losing some of my stuff or having her say that she is in fear of her life or something and … I get a swirly at the hands of some lawyer.  Her parents have never exactly been thrilled with my gun collection, they’d love to have an excuse to … never mind, I’d just lose ‘em, probably never see them again and most of them belonged to my dad and his dad and I … I just can’t take that chance.” 

“Cal, you know she’ll notice if things start disappearing from the house like that.” 

“No she won’t.  Most of that stuff has been put into storage since we got married.  When her parents start making comments about something being in the house, or she made noise about not liking something, I would “get rid of it” by hiding it in the storage container.  She’s never even gone with me to see it; the thing was originally rented by my parents, I just inherited the contract.  I’m pretty sure she doesn’t have a clue what all is in there.  But she knows where it is at and technically it could be force sold at auction so that the cash can be split 50/50.” 

I still don’t think that Lily would ever do anything like that to him but Cal … well he was there – he AND Lily – when I needed them to be.  If this helps Cal not to stress so much then of course I won’t object.  He says it will also save him the lot rent and the storage container rent which is getting more and more expensive.  He says he’ll be able to save that money in case he and Lily have to separate and he has to get an apartment until they can work things out.  I hate to even think about it. 

As bad as things got with Daniel, as horrible as it was, as horrible as the memories still are, at least I can say he was sick and didn’t know what he was doing.  Somehow it seems so much worse when people tear each other up and they know exactly what they’re doing, that there are no excuses for their choices.

Part 16

Dear Diary, 

I have never seen someone’s face go quite that color purple.  I don’t know who was angrier, Cal and Mack or the owner of the property management company when they got done with him.  But it’s not like the guy could say much with a county deputy and a real estate lawyer all up in his face, raking him over the coals, threatening a law suit … especially not when he knew he’d been caught out skimming the account and not making the repairs that he reported making. 

First off, they are going to pay for tenting the house and make good on all of the repairs that they got paid for but never did.  They are also going to treat the half acre lot that the house sits on.  You walk through the yard and your legs are covered black in sand fleas.  They are also going to replace all of the appliances with new ones.  And they are going to paint the house inside and out and then clean everything from attic to crawl space.  And when they are through with that they are going to return, with interest, the money they skimmed.  Even after I pay Mack – not that he has asked for anything – Feena and I will have a nice little nest egg.  At a bare minimum it should pay for the metal roof I want to have installed … fifty year roof, oh yeah, I’m there. 

Now if I can just get the two of them to stop acting like I’ve lost my mind for wanting to live in my own home … “in the back side of nowhere” … instead of in Tampa where they can help keep an eye on me.  I know the value of family.  And sometimes its greatest value is in driving you nuts. 

Poor choice of words under the circumstances but I’m so tired of having to be careful with every little thing that comes out of my mouth.  They’re great guys, and they mean well, but I’ve got to stand on my own two feet.  I’m 22 years old, not a baby.  I wish they would stop explaining every way my plan could potentially fail.  I can’t think for all of their talking at me.  I still haven’t even had time to absorb what came out of the reading of the wills.  

I had no idea Daniel’s parents personal worth was as high as it was.  I just thought they lived well, not that they were necessarily well off.  Maybe I should have given the community they lived in but a lot of people look rich but looks is all it is.  What I found out sitting at that table was a lot to take in. 

Even after all of their outstanding debts were paid off – which they had surprisingly few of – and they left a nice tithe to Edgewater, there was a lot of assets to split three ways.   

“What?  No … uh uh.  That’s … that’s not right.  They were your parents.  I shouldn’t be getting any of this.” 

Trish smiled and Amaris just sort of stared at me like I’d grown a third eye on the end of my nose.  “Relax Aria.  Dad and Mom had been talking about this.  This isn’t a surprise to us.  They kept us in the loop.  Maybe you won’t believe me, but please try to.  They’d come to regret how they’d treated you, come to understand that Daniel was a broken soul and that you were just doing what you did to try and protect him from himself.” 

Quietly I asked, “Did your dad really say that?” 

“Yeah, maybe not in those exact words but that’s what he meant.  You haven’t heard this part of it yet but they set up a college fund for Josefina.  Even if you hadn’t asked them to be part of her life they felt responsible for doing what they saw as part of their grandparently duty.” 

I shook my head not knowing what to say.  It was way more than I had expected.  I thought I was there just as some kind of legal requirement because Feena would technically inherit whatever was left in Daniel’s estate.  That was true but it was a little more complicated than that.  Daniel had inherited some money from his paternal grandfather whom he was named after.  He would have gotten it when he was eighteen but his parents changed that when they found out he wanted to go into the military instead of going to college and that he would have to be twenty-five before he receive it.  At his death, the money now belonged to me and Feena.  In my eyes it was a lot more money than I had ever imagined having in the bank but now that I see all of the repairs and such that need to be made to the house, it doesn’t seem like that much. 

There was also all of Daniel’s belongings to go through.  His stamp collection.  His coin collection.  His rock collection.  All of his sports memorabilia.  His music collection.  Clothes, furniture, the stuff that was left at the bungalow.  I was stunned … am stunned.  Crazy stunned. 

Everything has been put into storage and Trish and Mack have moved into her parents’ paid off house.  Amaris inherited the condo in Gainesville  – also paid off since they bought it at the bottom of the market while Trish was in school – as well as most of the furniture in her parents’ house and she is ecstatic.   She goes to UF now, her serious boyfriend lives there, and all she wants is to finish her degree and go to work at her uncle’s design firm. They already found a buyer for the bungalow – the City.  The house is coming down so that they can put in a retention pond that will drastically improve the drainage in the area and prevent flooding.  I went in and took out some of the antique light fixtures and a few other things … including the old claw foot tub from the bathroom.  There was a little bit of cussing over that one … Cal and a couple of his buddies had not expected the thing to be quite as heavy and unwieldy as it was even though I had told them it was made of cast iron.  Everyone laughed afterwards but only because I rewarded them with hot boliche and cold beers. 

Given everything that is going on, Feena and I are in Tampa as much as we are in Ruskin.  We’d have to do a lot of this back and forth anyway to see our doctors but it is so tiring.  And I’m getting to know the desk managers at the two motels we travel back and forth between on a first name basis.  That’s scary.