Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time



I can’t believe it is Christmas Eve and I haven’t had the urge to cry…..even once,

This has been the most relaxed Christmas season ever, well, since last Thursday. That was my last day at my retail job. I just couldn’t take it another year. My last two Christmases have been a blur.

Two Christmases ago I sat in stunned disbelief after witnessing a store manager hound a very knowledgeable and beloved employee until she cried. A temporary hire had quit on the spot. We were all beyond exhausted and on edge. After the store closed, we were all herded to various departments to straighten the mess only retail workers can imagine. By the time I finally clocked out and made it home to my family they were returning from Christmas Eve services without me and were ready to open sibling gifts and put little ones to bed. I had basically missed it. Christmas Day was spent sitting on the couch too tired to participate in the fun. The next day, bright and early, I was back in the store as if nothing had happened.

I can’t believe retail. I am over it. It is a false god. Nothing at my place of employment is necessary for the survival of a single human being, yet, the managers act as if you are committing treason if you want two days in a row off with your family. It is despicable and has left a nasty taste in my mouth for retail……even “Christian owned” retail. 

This year I turned in my notice three weeks before Christmas. I just couldn’t subject my family to another motherless holiday season.

The company I worked for has a policy, all full time employees have to close two nights a week. I hate this policy. I believe it discourages moms to work for the company. I don’t understand why part time people aren’t hired for the evening shifts. Anyway, I asked my manager to let me work one of my closing shifts the same day as the freight day. These days are often twelve hours long anyway. My other “regular” closing night was Saturday. I explained to him that I have young children at home and need to be here at night but if I had to work two nights, per company policy maybe those nights could be Monday and Saturday. He said he would look into it…..he never changed my schedule. So, I closed Monday, Tuesday and Saturday nights for several weeks.

My sweet, long suffering husband couldn’t take it any longer. He asked me to quit.

I am fifty-four and tired. I have three young adopted children at home with special considerations. They deserve better than what they were getting.

So, today has been wonderful! So was yesterday! I have laughed, and played and watched with amazement how my children and grandchildren have grown these three years. It is beautiful to calmly approach the most magnificent of all days with peace. 


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Lost and Found

I was talking to a friend the other day who announced he found a classmate of ours through the internet. None of us had heard from this man since we were all still kids, although several people tried to find him.
We were part of a very small school, there were only sixteen in my senior class, you would think it would be easy to stay connected to that many people.
My friend said he looked up his name on some sort of information site and sure enough, he was right there. Turns out, he is a mayor of a small town. We were all hooligans back in the day. There were things our mayor friend did that made us chuckle at the thought of him sitting behind a desk, wearing a suit, making decisions for a town.
It's funny to me how we watch ourselves age in the mirror but the people we have lost touch with remain eighteen. I can't imagine some of my former classmates as grandparents. I had an equally hard time imagining some of them as parents. It would have been doubtful when we all graduated that any of us could keep a goldfish alive much less children! We were good kids, but the seventies were pretty much carefree for us.
Now, we have all recieved our AARP cards in the mail. Most of us are at least starting to feel more room in the nest (I am an exception because I keep adding little birdies to mine).
Thankfully, the internet has become the way to locate long lost friends. I have discovered several classmates I would have never found, without access to the social network I enjoy.
My friend said he called our fellow classmate with the number the website provided. He had to leave a message with a son. He has not heard back. This makes me wonder if some people just don't want to be found. I can't imagine having a gold mine of old friends seeking me out and not responding.
For now, our mayor friend remains a mystery. We don't know if he is happy and content with his life or if he really aspires to bigger things. Perhaps I will get a call from a reporter someday asking questions about a particular presidential candidate, someone I knew back in the day when we were eighteen. I'll have no choice but tell what I know...he was a hooligan, then he was gone.

Dumpster Diving

Ordinarily I try to keep a clean column. But this week I must warn, I'm talking trash.
Now that I have your attention, let me explain. I have rediscovered dumpster diving. I say "re" discovered because a few years ago my artist friend, Pam and I used to hit the VanNostran's cabinet shop dumpster after hours to dig out prime pieces of wood to paint on. And yes, on occasion we actually got IN the dumpster and pilfered through the sawdust.
Of late, I have been on another dumpster mission. Yellow Pepsi caps and Pepsi twelve pack boxes. These particular items are worth their weight in gold to BigHouse Foundation, the charity near and dear to my heart.
The Pepsi Company offers incredible grants to organizations willing to solicit votes online and through text messages from their supporters. BigHouse Foundation won a $25,000 grant in 2009 to buy equipment, start an afterschool program, pay for improvements to the building and otherwise help run the organization day to day.
This year BigHouse has applied for a $10,000 grant to provide packages for children in twenty Alabama counties who are new to foster care. These packages will provide emergency items: New pajamas, underwear, shoes, hygene items, school supplies, a toy and various other age appropriate needs. These packages are needed because more often than not children are brought into foster care with only the clothing they have on. It is common for a foster family to welcome a new child as an emergency placement and it is impossible to have everything a child needs in appropriate sizes at any given time. It is the desire of BigHouse and case workers as well as foster parents to make these children as comfortable as possible quickly. Having a care package to give them will help.
The way to win the grant is to collect the most votes on the Pepsi website.
It is free to vote but you can power vote by purchasing Pepsi products and looking for the code on the yellow caps and on the cardboard can packages.
My family bought numerous bottles of Pepsi this past weekend but could not be happy with our own collected codes. My daughter and son-in-law suggested we revisit my dumpster diving habit. We loaded the old Suburban and hit all the recycling bins in Lee County.
We drew the line at mixed trash, but found the recycling bins surprisingly clean. We collected a few yellow caps but hunted to no avail for crushed cardboard twelve pack boxes. We laughed about what we must have looked like to the few recyclers who actually came to drop something off.
I won't ask you to join us in dumpsters. But, I urge you to please buy Pepsi products this month and save your yellow caps for BigHouse. The contest is over at the end of the month. You can drop your caps off at BigHouse on Samford Ave in Opelika next door to the Onion Bookstore or at Integrity Auto Service on Geneva Street, or you can vote! This is a great way to support BigHouse directly. You can find all the information you need by going to www.ourbighouse.org or "friending" BigHouse on facebook. Thank you, Your help will keep this woman out of the trash.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Merging Traffic Ahead

The other day a lady used her horn to voice her opinion of my driving. If she had seen the situation from behind my steering wheel she would have seen me avoid an accident under a red light at a busy intersection. I moved into the other lane which unfortunately disappeared after a hundred yards or so onto the interstate. My only choices were to stop or merge. I chose merge, thus the unfortunate honking incident. I didn't cut her off, by the time I was in her lane traffic was moving again. It was just that she would have preferred I stay in the back of the line where she thought I belonged, under that red light with cars and trucks zooming by at ridiculous speeds.
I wanted to pull the honker over in Barney Fife fashion and give her a piece of my mind. But, I had to remember, she could not see the possible accident I was about to cause...she just saw that I merged in front of her. I doubt she even had to brake, I may have made her one second later than she already was. I was actually only in front of her for maybe half a minute. I turned into McDonalds. She sped on her way.
We went on an adventure this past weekend with almost our whole circus. We drove to North Atlanta to float on innertubes down a part of the Chattahoochie. It was great fun, but I noticed something while we were there. People don't like to wait. I'm not even sure that waiting was the problem, I almost think just being behind the next group was what got blood boiling. We squeaked in by the skin of our teeth. The family waiting in line in front of us turned and told my daughter they were already sold out of innertubes for the day. We stood there looking at each other for a minute then I voiced what she was thinking, "Let's beg!"
She assured me she could handle it and vanished into the sea of grumbling, whining, cussing patrons emptying out of the ticket area.
It reminded me of Dorothy, when she got to Oz, and was first turned away. She could handle the disappointment for herself but, dang it, she was not going to disappoint her fellow adventurers.
My daughter went to the window and found a sympathetic ear. She told the lady she had been trying to make reservations for three days and could not get an answer, then she told her she had talked to her earlier in the day, and as nicely as anyone possibly could she told her we had driven two and a half hours with children to float down this river and by golly...well, she didn't really go that far. The lady in the window told us we could be the last group of the day.
So, we sat and waited. We were so thankful we were "in' we didn't dare complain that it was hot or there were no real bathrooms. We all kept our attitudes in check knowing we would probably be the very last people on the bus with "$10 Tubes" painted on the sides, that hauled people to a drop off spot. After a while we started noticing other groups getting impatient. One dad puffed out his chest in front of his kids and demanded to go next or get a refund. Another group's designated complainer was a young woman in smart expensive sunglasses. She held a clipboard and wore wedge heeled flip-flops, tapping her foot as she interigated the little teenage worker with "Event Staff" on her t-shirt. It was not so much that it took so long.It was just the anticipation of being next. I think they felt they were being merged in on. I rarely care if I am first at anything. I probably get this from living with a mild mannered man for thirty years. His children are pretty much the same. We are all just glad to be there.
It was Jesus who said, "The first shall be last and the last be first", a good thought anytime, but especially if traffic calls for merging.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Oh my, I am finally getting what I've been belly achin' about for months now...a girls weekend! I sat with a group of moms the other day at Chik-fil-a lamenting how busy we all are and how we need to take time for ourselves and somebody mentioned leaving town...this weekend!! After the necessary calls to our sweet husbands (and I mean that!) we were set. It was funny and probably more a "God Thing" that we all have plans for weekends to come but had this very one open!
None of us cared where we were going, we just wanted a couple of days where we didn't have to make plates or cut up someone elses food...where ever that is.
Angela G. was our travel planner. She got on the phone and after a few hours had a grand resort booked. Now that is the ticket for worn slap out mama's.
We are all "readers". We are all most likely taking a book to devour by the pool because we won't be listening to our own little darlings yell, "Hey Mom, watch this!" I hope no one else has little darlings in the pool at the lovely resort wanting to share their every belly flop with their moms...because if the rest are like me, I HAVE to look anytime someone says "Maaaaaahhhhhmmm" or "Mom,mom,mom,mom!" Like a swimsuit wearing two legged revolver.
I am planning on packing my tiny fan for beside my head, earplugs for anyone else staying in my room, benedryl, prozac (yes, I have a prescription, and no, I probably won't be needing it), some fun "who cares if I look fat" clothes, chocolate, flip-flops and my camera. I will want to have pictures to make sure I remember that I did get away...back in June of '11. It might not happen again for a long time.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Fun with Friends

Recently I found myself in a church parking lot with three other moms, looking a bit lost having just dropped our children off at Vacation Bible School. My three little ones were graciously invited by our sweet neighbor. I gladly accepted the invitation and signed them up leaving them in wonderful company at the Methodist Church across town from the Baptist Church we attend.
The three other moms are all friends of mine, all younger than me by more than a few years but since I am a "start-over" mother I am accepted into the mothers with young school children society.
When it finally sunk in that our children were busy for the next three hours somebody suggested we grab a quick breakfast.
I had a list of errands and grocery shopping to do but I jumped at the chance to sit with these girls and enjoy some grown-up company. We decided to meet at Chik-fil-a in a few minutes. On the way I had a hunch this meeting would be fun, and that it was no accident.
I knew all three of the women, two knew each other but one started out as just my friend. It took under a minute, thanks to the absurdities in the news of late, for us all to be laughing hysterically. I believe great friendships are built with laughter as the foundation. It's just good for us.
One of the women at the table has battled cancer for a while. She is serious about beating it but she has the most joyful personality. It's her faith that God is very much aware of her problems and is working them out that makes her free to laugh it up. Who can argue with that? She actually makes people around her feel more healthy by making them laugh with her.
Another woman at the table is pregnant, a happy time for sure, but she has had one problem after another with this pregnancy. She has trusted God and been loved by her friends through the days of bedrest and fear. She is a major source of joy and humor in my life. She told us all about an elderly woman she has befriended who is from the same part of the country she is. We were all in stitches listening to her tell how the woman would be declaring her devotion to her one minute then ask how she knew her the next.
The third woman, is such an encourager that she has kept my feeble dream of becoming an author singlehandedly alive for several years now. Rarely do we have a conversation that doesn't leave me saying, "I think I can, I think I can".
Everyone should have friends like these. People who inspire, encourage and induce laughter just by being themselves. I am blessed indeed.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

~It has been said the opposite of love is not hate- but indifference~

Ailene pulled her SUV to a stop and rested her head on the steering wheel. She wanted to cry but there were no tears. She was past the point of crying. She had done all that years earlier when she realized she married the wrong man. Now, she just wanted a way out.

Gary put away his woodworking tools and closed the door of his shop. He spent most of his time restoring furniture, fixing things for family and neighbors and tinkering with his old junk car. His shop was his little piece of calm in an otherwise tense environment.
Aileen and Gary married when she was too young and he was too immature. The fact that he had a good job was attractive to Aileen at first. She was proud to be engaged to someone six years older who had direction and knew what he wanted. His proposal was not very romantic. He bought a ring and gave his sales pitch. He could provide a good life for her; she could stay home and raise children or anything she wanted. The anything she wanted part had been the hook. Aileen did not know at the time what that was.

Soon after the wedding, Aileen found herself pregnant with her first child. This was a happy surprise and she kept busy preparing the nursery and doing the day-to-day things an expectant mother finds herself doing. She cooked for Gary and did laundry, she wallpapered the dining room and painted baby furniture. She was happy enough. Sometimes she would watch Gary at night while he read the paper or flipped channels on the television. She wanted to say she loved him passionately but she did not. She wanted to find something interesting in him but the truth was she found him very flat and boring. He would not talk about anything. She wondered if he talked to people at work, on the street, anywhere. Maybe it was that she was so boring he could not relate to her.
He started teaching a Sunday School Class at their church. She sat quietly and allowed him study time during the weeknights then he would stand before a group of young adults on Sunday morning and act as if he knew what it was like to live a fulfilled life. He lived a dead life to Aileen; she could not stand to hear him get all happy about the Bible when he was such a dud at home. At least, when the baby was born she would have her own little person to love and talk to. She was determined to be a good mother, if she could not in her heart be a good wife.
There were times in the marriage when Aileen and Gary almost enjoyed each other. They took walks when Josh was born, people in the neighborhood saw them and commented to Aileen how cute they were. She was happier than she had ever been but she still had a lifeless marriage. What would people think if they knew her good Christian husband was sullen and silent at home. She didn't want to hurt his image or her own so she made up a life. In this life everything was fine. She talked herself into believing it would all work out. She was not lonely and Gary really loved her somewhere down inside. She hoped she would grow to love him in time.

When their daughter Abby was born Aileen finally told Gary she thought they should see a counselor. He asked what for. She told him she didn't think he loved her. He remarked that she had no grounds to say such a thing. Once again he reminded her of the agreement they had, he would provide and she would take care of the family. He felt he was holding up his end of the bargain. He had advanced in his job and was making decent money but Aileen never felt it was theirs to share. She handled the checkbook but bought little for fun. She knew Gary worked hard and she didn't want the disapproval of spending his paycheck on frivolous things.
As the children grew Aileen spent more and more time with them and forgot she had an empty relationship at home. Josh was involved in sports and Abby loved dance and music. Aileen wanted her parents to be involved in her children’s lives but they showed little interest. She tried to make it up to them by always being the mom with the camera on the front row. Gary was obviously proud of them too. Aileen never implied that he didn't love their kids, he seemed to naturally relate to them.
So why was she so left out. She knew the day would come when no one at home really needed her.

Today she had come to a decision. She had to do something to find real love. Not a cheap impression of the real thing but a real relationship with a real man.
She knew this was going to be a hard pill for Gary to swallow. It would certainly strip him of his Sunday School Teacher image. She was a bit sorry for what she was planning but she knew she had to change or die.

Aileen devised a plan. She would get a job, save some money and then tell Gary she wanted a divorce. This would be her last chance at a life she dreamed of.

On Monday morning she put on her white blouse and navy pants applied makeup, brushed her hair. She noticed a few silver strands and wondered if a new cut would help. She wasn't old but she sure felt like it. Maybe a bright colored lipstick or a makeover at the mall cosmetics counter would make her feel young again.

Most of the businesses she applied to wanted more work related experience. Aileen thought taking care of a home and family was quite a bit of experience but she was refused several times before a girl in the coffee shop told her of an opening she knew about. It was a job with city government. She knew it was a long shot but she gathered all her confidence and walked into the office. An older woman greeted her and gave her an application. They made small talk for a minute and the woman asked Aileen what kind of experience she had. When she lowered her head the woman spoke,
“Hum, a homemaker I suppose? I know that look…tell you what, there is a section on the back of page two that asks for skills that may apply…you write down everything you did in a day when your children were small...don’t leave out a thing! The man who interviews for this position will be very interested in your experience.”
Aileen smiled at the woman but wondered if she was serious or just making fun. When the woman stuck out her hand and introduced herself as Joan, the administrative assistant to the mayor Aileen smiled. “Good city government is a lot like running a home“. Mayor Carpenter says that himself. If he had not given me a chance a few years ago I would still be at home cleaning my bathtub grout with a toothbrush.” Aileen laughed.

As she filled out the application her confidence wavered again. She had no references, no prior employers, no education beyond bookkeeping at the junior college. What would they see in her? Joan took the almost blank paper and looked at page two.
“Atta girl”. Aileen had done what she said and listed everything from changing diapers to counseling teenagers at church.
Mayor Carpenter was younger and less stuffy than Aileen had expected. He asked her a few questions about her training at junior college. It had been so long ago but Aileen knew how to keep a checkbook balanced to the penny. She was a master coupon clipper and could squeeze a weeks worth of meals out of a pound of hamburger.
As they talked, Aileen grew more comfortable about the subject matter. Mayor Carpenter set her at ease. Finally after a few minutes he stood up and asked Aileen if she could start on wednesday. She was so excited she forgot to ask what she would be doing.

She could not wait to tell someone she had a job. But, she didn't pick up her phone. She had no one to call. Her almost grown children were both in college and had busy lives of their own. She had no real friends to speak of, she didn't dare call Gary.

On Wednesday Aileen was at work early. She was greeted by Joan and another city employee, Chris. Chris was a young man who looked like he might be right out of college. Aileen thought he looked like he may have partied there in the middle of the week. He was nice but not very talkative. It was okay though Joan made up for him.
Aileen learned quickly that Joan was a hugger. When someone came in the office Joan knew she would come out from her desk for a big old bear hug. This was strange to Aileen but she soon got used to it. Joan was actually the person training Aileen for her job. She was to help coordinate events the city provided for the public. This was quite a challenge compared to the birthday parties and occasional dinners Aileen had planned. She picked up all the responsibilities with no problem and loved every minute of it. One of the perks of the job was a laptop of her own. She would finally have something to do while Gary flipped channels. She had heard of all the social networking that was going on but had never seen any of it. She had to take a crash course in technology from Chris before she could even log on. Chris asked her if she was interested in joining one of the networking sources. When she asked him what that meant he explained how she could talk to friends and post thoughts and stories, she could even blog. She did not have a clue what that meant although she pretended to. Chris set up her networking account and took and uploaded a nice picture of her. She felt so savvy and up to speed. Chris smiled behind her back at her excitement.
“Now, Aileen, beware of stalkers on here…a lady as pretty as you might get in trouble.” Once again Aileen did not understand what he was talking about but she nodded and smiled as if she did.
When she pulled out her laptop at home that night Gary looked up from his paper. He asked what she was going to be doing on that and when she said social networking he got up and went into the kitchen. Aileen expected him to protest but he didn't. She opened the networking site and realized she had three friend requests. They were Joan, Chris and Mayor Carpenter. She laughed to herself that these would probably remain her only “friends” for a long time. She was wrong.

Night after night Aileen enjoyed going online, looking up articles to do with work and getting on her social site. She added a few more people she met through work. She felt as though she had a real life for the first time ever. Gary noticed how much time she spent but never said much. He had his woodworking shop with several projects going. Aileen didn't really care what he was doing as long as he didn't complain about her new found freedom and fun. More requests began to come in from friends from high school and the short time she spent at junior college. A woman named Sandy messaged her asking if she would like to get together for coffee. Aileen remembered her from a couple of classes they shared. She agreed to meet her on her lunch break later in the week

It was so nice to have people interested in her for a change. Gary asked occasionally how she was liking her job and even commented on how nice she looked in a new outfit she bought. Aileen thanked him but reminded herself that it was too little too late to get her attention. She was bent on that hard earned money paying an attorney, just a few months and she would be on her own.

One afternoon as Aileen sat at her desk Joan noticed she had not spoken in a while. She walked over and commented on her pretty wedding ring and asked how Gary liked her working outside the home. Aileen told Joan what she had planned. Joan was obviously disappointed to hear this.
“You know darlin’, we make people out to be whatever we want them to be. Maybe Gary has never felt that you were happy with him…instead of knowing how to fix it maybe he’s just tried to stay out of your way.”
“Well he’s done a good job at that”, Aileen replied.
“You just never can tell about those quiet types.”
Aileen knew what she meant but she didn't want to think this may have all been her fault. What if Gary was just lost in this relationship. She had never made him listen to what she wanted. She just always assumed he didn't care. Besides, he was dull. He would never understand what drew her to this job with the city or the fun of social networking.

Months passed and Aileen grew more successful at work, the mayor gave her more responsibilities and she earned raises. She had been able to save a good little nest egg to use to set herself up when the divorce was done. Gary started spending more time tinkering in his workshop so she was almost independent already.

One night she was checking her email and her networking page. She noticed a friend request from someone she didn't know. She knew Chris had warned her to be careful with this kind of thing but the man looked really friendly. She clicked on his info…name; Stephen Banks, Age; 40, Hometown; Columbus, Ohio, Marital status; divorced…red flags went up when Aileen saw this. Why would a divorced man she didn't know be interested in her. They had no mutual friends…then she saw his “interested in” status, it said friendship. She liked that he said that…not “women” or “networking” but “friendship”. Since she only had about fifty friends she thought she would accept his request and just be careful from there. He was very nice looking, but not overly handsome. She still wondered how he found her, she did not live in Ohio and she had never even been in Columbus. She got up the nerve and asked.
When the response came back it simply said. Saw your picture, thought you looked nice. Aileen felt kind of sorry for the guy. Then she realized he only had ten friends. She asked if he was new to the site, he replied that he was. She accepted his request and the two started chatting.
Stephen- Hello, I know you probably think I’m a stalker
Aileen- Well that remains to be seen I guess.
Aileen-So what are you then?
Stephen- Just a lonely guy.
Aileen- Ha, so you come here often?
S-You are cute as well as pretty
A- Uh oh, sounds like a stalker already
S-Sorry, to answer your question, no I am new to the place.
A- I’m kinda new myself
S- Didn’t see that you were married or not?
A-Don’t give out that kind of info, lets keep it simple okay?
S-Ok, do you like root beer? Is that too personal?
A- LOL, no…hate it.
S- Uh, yeah…me too
A- How about coffee?
S- Never touch the stuff.
A-Okay…Fries or onion rings?
S-Fries….Summer or Winter?
A- Summer…you?
S-Winter…what about the fries/onion rings?
A-Oh Fries for me too.
S- Well, I feel as though we are old friends already.
Aileen laughed. She looked at the picture in the corner of his page. It was hard to make out his face, he was standing in snow somewhere holding a bucket. It was an odd picture but it looked friendly. What could talking to him online hurt. She was not going to get involved with anyone before she told Gary it was over between them. Having anyone to chat with at night was nice. Gary sure was not trying to start a conversation.

At work Aileen told Chris about the new friend she had added. He looked at the picture, clicked a few keys and asked her if she realized there were 250 Stephen Banks listed on the network they were on. He told her to have fun but not to give out personal info like addresses or phone numbers. She assured Chris he had adequately warned her about giving any personal info out to strangers.

Later that evening when she got home she saw Stephen had left a message…“Chat at 8?” She washed dishes and folded a load of laundry before grabbing her laptop and settling into her chair in the living room. Gary had gone out to feed the dogs and sweep out his old truck. At least now Aileen didn't feel alone.
Stephen instantly showed up on her chat
S- Have a nice day?
A-Yes, it was good, you?
S- So so, I don’t love my job but it pays the bills
A-What is it that you do?
S-I’ll tell if you’ll tell
A-Oh yeah, we don’t ask personal questions do we.
S-It’s a good job, I just don’t get the chance to interact with people much….makes it boring.
Aileen thought to herself…sounds like my marriage, she would have never typed that though.
A- Sorry, I think maybe I understand, I have had experience with boredom.
S-Ah ha, so you ARE married!
A-I did not say that! But, if you must know…
S-As I thought, the good ones are always taken.
A-Nevermind, can I ask what you do for fun?
S-I read, I study people, I like to do things with my hands.
A-Sounds interesting….
S-You mean boring…LOL
A-No I didn’t mean that. You just sound like someone else I know who never has a thing to say. I mean I have had it with the silent, serious, uninterested…
S- Whoa girl, didn’t mean to get you upset.
A- I’m sorry, I sound like a psycho don’t I?
S- Yes, a little LOL
A-Ok, well, truth is I am married…to someone who hasn’t talked to me in years. We don’t have a marriage we have an arrangement.
S- So this is why you are online at 8 o’clock. I just thought you liked the looks of me.
A-It is good to be able to talk to someone. Let’s go back to something fun…favorite color?
A-…Action or comedy?
S- Westerns, apple juice or orange?
Aileen and Stephen chatted for two hours. Every now and then a touchy subject would come up but one of them would steer the conversation back to something light. Aileen found him to be charming and quick witted…she thought about Gary. If he had just a little bit of Stephen’s personality maybe there would have been a chance.
Later when Gary came in from his shop Aileen was asleep on the couch. He covered her up with an afghan and left her there. He had no idea.

The job at the city required Aileen to attend the functions she helped plan. She asked Gary if he wanted to go to the first one. It was a dance in the town square. He didn't look very enthusiastic but he said he would go. Aileen was surprised but thought it would be nice for him to meet Joan and Chris and all the other people she had befriended over the past few months. She warned Joan in advance that Gary did not know she was planning to divorce him as soon as she could. Joan gave her a sad look and assured her she would never say anything. In fact, the only thing Joan ever said was that she was praying for them both. Aileen just rolled her eyes and told her she better pray that Gary wouldn’t starve to death once she left. Joan was serious, Aileen was not.
At the dance Aileen led Gary around like a puppy. He did look rather handsome in his navy suit and red tie. Aileen bought a new dress and shoes and had her hair swept up in a young updo. They danced once to a slow song and she thought she heard him say she was beautiful but wasn't sure, they were interrupted when the mayor stepped up to the microphone and cleared his throat. When he announced that the city had raised enough money to put in the fountain they had been planning for in front of the revolutionary war monument everyone broke into applause. He credited it to the hard work of several people, one being Aileen. Gary smiled at her and winked. She could not believe her eyes. He actually looked proud of her, for her. She choked back tears as the crowd continuing their applause. Later that night Gary hung up his suit and put on his coveralls, he told Aileen he had to put a quick coat of varnish on the table he was restoring for the church foyer. Aileen was glad to see him go out so late because she needed to check her chat..
Of course Stephen was there.
S-Hi, where ya been?
A-City function
S-Oh yeah, how’d it go with the Mr Personality?
A-Stop it, you don’t know anything about him.
S-So we are getting defensive, are we? I was just repeating what you’ve called him…
A- I have not.
S- That’s right, you called him boring.
A-I didn’t do that either…anyway, it was a nice event lets talk about something else.
S-Okay, how about you come out here for the weekend.
A-What? No way!
S-Why not? I won’t hurt you.
A-I have no intentions of meeting you anywhere.
S-I knew it…you are just stringing me along.
A- I am certainly not…I am still married.
S-But you are not planning on staying that way are you?
A- I have never told you that..!
S-No, but I sense it. A woman as free spirited as you…still young, you are planning to make a break for it aren’t you.
A- Well, as a matter of fact, I have been planning…oh stop! I do not want to talk to you about this, I don’t really even know you.
S-Yes you do, you know me better than you know your husband…now, don’t you?
Aileen had to stop and think for a minute, this guy had a point, she had spent hours talking to him over the last few months. He knew her taste in books, television shows and movies and she knew his. Gary had no idea what she liked.
A- Well, I suppose you are right. Yes, I am planning a divorce. As soon as I have enough money to hire an attorney.
Minutes passed.

S- Can I ask you a question? It may sound strange coming from a guy who just asked you to come spend a weekend with me but have you told him how you feel?
Aileen waited and thought how to phrase her answer.

A- No, not really, we don’t talk about anything. All he ever says is “I’m out of socks, or I’m playing golf with Glenn on Saturday”. I don’t get much more.
S- Do you have any love left for him?
A-I don’t know, I mean I don’t want anything bad to happen to him but we just don’t have anything between us. I feel nothing….just indifferent.
S-I think you should face him. Give him a chance maybe.
A- A chance to what? We have been together forever. He has had plenty of chances.
S-Well, I just had to ask. You can‘t fault a guy for trying to help.
S- Hey, what’s you favorite food?
A- Italian
S-I hadn’t asked you that one…

Aileen didn't feel like talking about her favorite food. She was a bit irritated at Stephen for pressing her to talk about Gary. She had not even told him about the event tonight or the mayor recognizing her. She didn't feel like bragging anyway.
Aileen answered but felt deflated.
A-It’s Italian, of course we don’t have a good Italian restaurant here. My favorite downtown is a little place called Dori’s, they serve really good lasagna…but they aren’t Italian.
S-That’s funny. I like lasagna too.
A-Why’s that funny?
S- I don’t know. We just have not usually liked the same things.
A-Do we seem like opposites to you?
S-Maybe, but a lot alike to.
A-How so?
S-Both want love but can’t figure out how to find it.
A-I think I hear Gary closing up his shop, gotta go.
S-Good night.
Aileen was feeling uncomfortable about the turn their conversation had taken.
She had not really heard Gary. She thought for a long time about what Stephen said. She knew this person online so much better than she knew her husband. And he knew her. It would be so nice to have easy conversation with someone. She wished she had that with a real person not just a fuzzy picture on a screen. Did she owe Gary another shot? She just did not see how after all this time anything could change.
When Gary finally came in from his shop Aileen was sitting on the couch in the dark.
“What? No laptop tonight?” Gary sounded slightly annoyed.
“No, just got off.”
"Did you enjoy tonight?” Aileen could not believe she was hearing Gary’s voice.
“Yes, it was special…Did you mind going, I mean did you like being there?”
Gary stood there in the dark for a moment.
“I didn’t mind, you know that kind of thing is not me but I was glad for you.”
With that he turned and headed for bed.
Aileen called out, “Thanks for going.” Gary didn't respond this time, typical.
For at least two months Aileen had been sleeping in Abby’s old room. She claimed Gary’s snoring kept her awake. He didn't question it since he had a history of this, and Aileen had a history of sleeping on the couch or in one of the kid’s beds, when they were little anyway. She had always been the one who got up with them during the night, watched them when they were sick, she was a light sleeper and could not stand the thought of her children needing her. Gary was oblivious to all of it.
This night was no different. Aileen tried to get Stephen’s questions out of her mind but could not. She wondered if Gary felt the same way she did. He never complained about his life with her but he sure never gave out compliments either. She wondered how she would tell him it was over, how he would respond. She didn't look forward to splitting up years of dishes and towels. She figured Gary would either just get really angry and tell her to leave or he would walk out himself. She didn't expect much in the way of argument. Why would they start now? They had never fought. She was not the confrontational type and he certainly was not. They were a lot alike in that area. She was definitely the more adventurous of the two. She wondered about Stephen. Was he the type who argued with his ex-wife? How had their marriage ended? She might just get up the nerve to ask those personal questions. Maybe he had some insight.

Monday at work Joan came over to Aileen’s desk as she did every morning and gave her a hug. She had to tell her she thought Gary was a handsome gentleman. Aileen thanked her but she was not sure why. Maybe it was because he was after all her husband of twenty five years. She did have something to do with how he looked at least the clothing part. This made her wonder what he would have been like if he had spent that much time with someone else. She had spent many hours pondering what she would have been like with someone else but never how Gary might have been different without her. She had to ask Joan what it was that made her say that. Joan’s response surprised her.
“Aileen, a wife’s roll in her husband’s life is far more than washing his clothes and cooking his meals. Any housekeeper or maid service can do that. The job of a wife is far more important than those things. God gave us instructions in the beginning. We are to be our husband’s helper. I don’t see that as just ’helping’ him have enough to eat or a clean bed to sleep in. Our responsibility is to help him discover who he is. To be a mirror for him to look into and tell him the truth, only tempered with love.
If he is good at something, it is likely his wife who sees this. She should encourage his gifts and abilities. Sometimes it's necessary to tell him hard things he may not want to hear but it is better coming from the one who knows him best. I really believe that is what God meant when he said we are his helper…not to just meet his ‘needs’ in a physical sense but meet his needs in an emotional sense.”

Aileen could not believe how wise Joan was. This was the first time she had ever heard this concept. She was always taught by men in church that a wife’s roll was to be the helper but the definition of this word always came around to being his doormat. She wanted no part in that. She had seen those “submissive” wives. She had even tried to be one at first when she and Gary started out. But Gary was not bossy like those men. He just didn't respond either way. She took his behavior as an indication that she was doing an okay job and that was all Gary expected. Now she was hearing that maybe she was partly responsible for the way he was. She had never thought about helping him find his gifts and abilities. She had never complimented him on his woodwork or the way he kept the yard. She really had no idea what he liked or disliked about his job. She didn't even know if he ever thought of doing something different with his life. Aileen knew she had a lot to learn and Joan had the information she needed.

When Aileen got home that night Gary was heating up two pot pies in the oven. He gave a weak smile and told her he was hungry. Aileen felt a little guilty for staying at work late to finish up a project. She rummaged through the fridge to find something to make a salad. She wanted to tell him she was sorry for not being there sooner to take care of him but she figured the sooner he learned to do that on his own the better off he would be when she left or he left. She could not get Joan’s words out of her mind…”We are to be his ‘helper’….”
Aileen wondered where they had gone wrong. Maybe they just had been incompatible from the very beginning. She thought about their children. She would not have traded being their mother but she just didn't see anything else positive from the marriage. What had she missed with Gary? What gifting, abilities had she let him leave undiscovered? She watched him peek into the oven to see if the pot pies were ready. He was rather handsome. The graying around his temples was very distinctive. He looked like a wise man but the only time Aileen ever heard him speak was in their little Sunday School class and that was rare now. She had stopped going some time back. She could imagine the talk at their small Baptist church but she always had an excuse. Now that she was working she spent that time catching up on household tasks. Gary went to church alone. They rarely left the house together.
When dinner was ready they sat down and Gary said the blessing. This was as stale and routine as all the other things Aileen hated about her home life. They ate in near silence. Gary asked once if her pot pie was done, she responded that it was. They cleared the table and went their separate ways, he to his shop and she to her laptop.

A-Hi There, been on long?
S-No, just got here, you?
A-Just finished up dinner.
S-with the Bore?
A-Don’t call him that…I feel sorry for him now.
S- Whatever for?
A-Well, I think it is partly my fault he is like he is.
S-Haha how so?
A-Well, I think I should have asked more questions, tried to discover what his strengths were.
S-Hum, playing with junk?
A-You know I don’t even know what he does at work…I used to ask and he said it was not something that would interest me so I stopped asking.
S-Because it’s not….interesting!!! Hey post some more pictures of yourself…I only have this one and I need something more to dream about during the day.
A-I don’t have anymore that I can put on here…you only have one and it’s terrible!
S-Thanks for the compliment!
A-No, that’s not what I mean, you can’t even tell what you look like in yours…at least mine is a big smile, up close.
S-ok, I’ll work on it. How close are you to getting your finances in order for your break? I want to see you face to face.
A-I don’t know, I’m not able to take care of myself yet though so I am not ready to say anything.
S-Why don’t you use a little of the money for a vacation…like to see me?
A-You already know the answer to that.
S-Can’t blame me for….
A-I know, for trying. You try too much.
S-Well let me know when you think you are ready, I can’t wait to take you on the date of your life.
A-And that would be? Just humor me.
S-Dinner at a quiet little Italian place, a nice wine, a beautiful dessert….then, dancing! And conversation until who knows what else…
A- I have to say, that sounds very nice.
S-Has your husband EVER taken you on a date like that?
A-Not that I remember.
A-I probably would not have appreciated it if I had been with him.
A-Because, we would have sat there staring into space with nothing to talk about.
S-Has it always really been that bad.
A-Yes, I’m afraid it has.

Aileen thought about Stephen’s offer. She thought about what Jean had said too.

The next morning when Aileen got to work there was something noticeably wrong. Jean was not there. She had never been out sick while Aileen worked for the city. Mayor Carpenter was not in his office either. Chris came down the hall talking on his cell phone. He commented that he would take care of something and pass the word. When he dropped his phone on his desk he told Aileen that Joe, Jean’s husband had a heart attack the night before. He was in intensive care at the closest cardiac hospital forty miles away. The mayor had gone to be with the family, they were afraid he was not going to make it.

Joan talked about Joe all the time. Aileen felt so bad for them. She would have to go see her friend after work but for now she and Chris would be the skeleton crew that kept the mayor‘s office open. She fielded calls all day, talked to Joan twice and Mayor Carpenter several times. She felt connected, like family with the other members of the Mayor‘s team. As soon as they could get away she and Chris locked the office door and left for the hospital. Aileen wanted them there and they were happy to do what they could. Aileen left a message on her house phone because Gary didn't pick up. It was just as well. He might not understand if she had to talk to him. She just said Joan’s husband had a heart attack, she was going to check on him, she would be home late. Aileen was still not accustomed to her cell phone but times like these were what she had it for.
Gary didn't mind that she hadn't come home. When he got the message he said a quick prayer for Joe and Joan…he wondered what Aileen would do if this happened to him. He didn't like that picture.

When Aileen pulled up in the hospital parking lot she saw Mayor Carpenter and his wife walking out to their car. Chris rolled down his window and asked what Aileen was afraid to.
“Is he still alive?”
Mayor Carpenter smiled and said he was hanging on. He had an excellent team of cardiologists working with him. It looked like if he made it throught the first twenty-four hours his chances would improve. Aileen could not wait to get to Joan.
When she saw her other two work buddies Joan started to tear up again. She had tissue stuffed in the sleeve of her sweater. She hugged Aileen then Chris and thanked them for coming. She told them she had two hours to wait before she could go back to be with Joe again. She was positive and talked about God’s provision for them. Aileen had a hard time believing God was being kind in this situation. Joan obviously adored her husband and was in danger of losing him. Aileen was a stranger to hers and wouldn't be near as strong if something like this hit closer to home.
No one was allowed in to see Joe when the visiting hours permitted except immediate family. When the next hour approached she and Chris would leave. Joan walked them to the hospital entrance holding Aileen around the shoulders. She spoke in a soft voice.
“Aileen, how are things with you and Gary?”
Aileen didn't know what to say. Joan didn't give her a chance.
“You know I have been praying for you. I wanted to get an opportunity to tell you how I came to have the opinion on husbands and wives that I do. Things were not always good between Joe and me. When we were young we fought like tigers. I was headstrong and he was just plain stubborn. We had to find our common ground when I nearly lost him before. He was in an accident years ago. The doctors told me he hung on by a thread but would not let go until he got the chance to make things right between us. They said they’d never seen anything like it. Everyone thought he was a dead man. He managed to tell them to call me, then passed out and was in a coma for days. When he came to and saw that I was there with him he cried for the first time I had ever known of. He told me he was sorry for the things that he’d allowed to come between us and if he lived he would make life better for me.” Joan began to cry again. “Aileen, he has been just the sweetest blessing of my life since that time. I realized what I’d be losing if he died then. I know what I would lose now because he’s lived out that promise everyday for thirty two years. I had to change too. That is when I learned what it meant to help him. He needed to hear from me how precious he was. I try to always encourage and bring out the best in him now. Please Hun, go home to your Gary and make things right. You may never know the love you dream of if you let your marriage die.”

Aileen was shattered by Joan’s words. She had never thought about Gary changing that much. She didn't know if it were even possible. Chris broke the silence with a question. “Hey Aileen, you and your husband have been married a long time right?”
Aileen answered, “Yes Chris, twenty-five years.”
“Are you happy?” Chris didn't seem too interested really, Aileen thought he was just trying to make conversation.
“Why do you asked?
“Well, you know I’ve been dating Kaitlyn for about a year, I love her and all but I don’t want to make the same mistakes my parents made. They were married until I was about three then they divorced and I have never felt part of a real family since. My dad remarried and my mom was bitter most of the time. I felt caught in the middle a lot.”
Aileen hadn't heard Chris talk about his family before. She felt sorry for him. She wondered what her kids said about their parents’ relationship, or lack of.
Aileen heard Joan’s wisdom come out of her mouth.
“How do you and Kaitlyn communicate? I mean do you have an easy time talking about anything? Everything? Does she make you feel smart, or strong or important?”
Chris smiled, “Yeah, all those things.”
Aileen looked straight ahead. Chris continued. “Kaitlyn ‘s parents are divorced too. We don’t know what a healthy relationship looks like really. I just figure anyone who has been married as long as you and your husband must know something we don’t.”
Aileen thought to herself, she knew plenty but none of it would help Chris and Kaitlyn have a better relationship. Not yet anyway.

When Aileen’s SUV pulled into the driveway Gary was sitting on the porch. She walked up the path and sat down beside him.
“How is he?” was all Gary said.
Aileen burst into tears. Gary didn't quite know what to do. He thought Joe had surely died. Aileen finally spoke.
“He is going to be okay they think. Joan is afraid but she has very strong faith.”
Then Aileen said something that shocked Gary.
“I am so envious of her.”
Gary asked quietly, “Of who, Joan?” For a second he thought Aileen was envious because Joe was near death and he was sitting there as well as he could be.
“Gary, where did we go so far off course? Joan adores Joe. They have such a bond, why are we strangers?”
Gary was caught off guard. He didn't know what to say. Aileen was not surprised.
As hard as he tried he couldn't speak. Aileen took this as insensitivity. She got up to go inside. Gary grabbed her hand. He held it against his face. She could feel tears.
All he could say was “I’m sorry.” She sat back down and wrapped her arms around him. He pulled her close to him and held her tight for the first time in what seemed like years. They didn't say another word.

Aileen waited until the next evening to open the website. When she did she found that Stephen Barnes account had been deleted. There was a message from him in her mailbox. It said.
“Aileen, I am not the person you think. I know you will make the right choice about your future. Hope you get that great date someday and many more. My best to you, Stephen

Aileen decided she wanted to give Gary a chance. She didn't know him because she didn't ask him what he thought.. She never tried to discover his gifts and abilities. He was hard to talk to but not impossible. He showed her he had feelings for her and for others the night she came home from the hospital. She felt embarrassed for all the silly talk she had shared with Stephen and was glad he put an end to it before something terrible happened. Joan was back at work and Joe was recovering nicely. Aileen was thankful for all the encouragement Joan had been to her. She had arranged for Gary to go over and help with some projects at Joan and Joe’s house. He really enjoyed helping them.

On Friday afternoon Aileen’s cell phone rang at work. It was Gary. He asked if she thought she might like to drive into the city for dinner. Aileen was surprised but happy to say yes. He told her he would pick her up at work at five.
When she walked out with Joan she couldn't believe her eyes. There was Gary, standing by his car dressed in his blue suit holding a bouquet of flowers. Joan grabbed her arm and said something about a prince.
Aileen didn't know what to say. Gary opened the door for her and smiled at Joan. She waved and yelled out , “Have a great time you two”
When Gary got in the driver’s seat he said.
“I have reservations at the best Italian restaurant I could find, online…of course, I’ve never been there but we’ll see.” Aileen looked puzzled. “We will check out their Lasagna and buy the best bottle of wine on the menu…then a beautiful dessert…after that maybe a walk somewhere…and after that who knows.”
Aileen froze. These were words straight from her computer, from Stephen…had Gary been reading her chats, no, that was impossible, she was very careful about deleting old chats and she knew he didn't know her password. How did he know what Stephen had said to her.
“Gary, is everything alright?” Aileen was a little worried.
“How did you know I would like to go on a date like this?”
Gary looked at her with sad eyes. He pulled the car onto the side of the road.
“Aileen, I know you like Apple Juice and I know you like comedies over action movies, I know what you like in your coffee and how you prefer your eggs.
I know the last book you read, the last time you had ice cream at lunch, the places you want to visit, and I know you are planning to divorce me.
Aileen was horrified.
“Gary, it was you?”
Gary lowered his head.
“I am so sorry I deceived you Aileen but I didn’t know how to reach you with my voice. I thought if I could get to know you online I would know what to say to you. I am not good at conversation, and I guess communication. But I don’t want to lose you over this.”
Aileen’s fear and hint of anger melted.
“I just made up a better me.”
Aileen smiled. “I hope you took notice that I didn’t like the way you talked about you.”
“I did, and I also noticed that you were not willing to give up completely when offered something to run to.”
Aileen reached out and took Gary’s hand.
“Well, I was told by a very wise woman that a man needs his wife to help him discover his strengths and abilities. I think we have some work to do. Gary steered the car back on the highway, Aileen talked and asked questions the whole night. She learned all sorts of interesting things about her husband.
She changed her mind about his “boring” image. He was now a man of mystery. He got around to telling her about his job, his dreams and how he really felt about her. It was like a huge curtain opened and she saw her life on a giant screen.
Months later Chris and Kaitlyn slipped into Gary’s Sunday School Class. Aileen waved to them and Gary stopped his lesson to welcome and introduce the newlyweds. He offered this piece of advice.
“Life may not always be as exciting as it is right now for you, but let me challenge you to turn toward each other when you start to get bored, stay close through communication…send each other notes and always talk it out.
The opposite of love is not hate…..the thing that will kill a marriage is indifference…don’t let it creep in and steal your relationship.”
With that Gary winked at Aileen. She was so proud.