The Cost of Choice

“Happy birthday, my sweet Angel,” her mother said smiling, handing Emily a few coins and a cup of black tea.

The summer of 1882 was the warmest season the twelve-year-old felt, yet. She sipped her tea beside her mother in the garden beside their living quarters at the Boyd’s Manchester summer home.

Emily gazed across the lawn to the patio where Dubby and his father sat, playing cards. Seeing that paternal bond wasn’t the first time the little girl thought of her own father. But she couldn’t restrain her curiosity any longer.

“Mum?”

“Yes, love?” her mother asked.

“Why didn’t daddy come to England with us?”

Avery paused mid-sip and sighed. She knew this day would come, but she wished it wouldn’t come so soon.

She glanced at the little inquirer, sitting tall in her chair with her chin tilted to the side like an inquisitive puppy.

“Sometimes, love,” Avery said slowly, choosing her words cautiously. “Mummies and daddies come from very different worlds. And sometimes those worlds don’t mesh.”

The mother recalled long days and nights, nursing Emily in the basement of the Donoghue mansion. If she even thought about taking the baby upstairs, she would risk everything. She would risk someone suspecting that the child’s distinct brown eyes mirrored those of Avery’s master.

“So you and daddy didn’t get along?” Emily asked, pulling Avery away from the memory. The question, however, yanked the mother back into another recollection.

She pondered the first time his lips ever pressed against hers so softly and so gently. She remembered the warmth between her legs and the longing to be in his skin, to feel every crevice of his thin, unyielding body wrap around her and consume her.

Colin had quietly crossed the barrier into her quarters as to not wake his mother sleeping in her bedroom on the floor above.

“No, dear,” Avery replied, snapping out of the scrumptious memory and returning to her daughter’s question. “We loved each other deeply. We loved each other very much.”

Avery took a deep breath and decided to protect her daughter from a broken promise.

The birds continued to chirp in the sunlight on that afternoon as Avery allowed her memory to drift back to those delicious nights when   he crept into her quarters and laid with her in the candlelight.

“I promise to love her,” he whispered sweetly in Avery’s ear. “I will make sure she is treated like a princess and has the life she always wanted.”

*

Emily’s birthdays seemed to be the mark of external change. On her seventeenth birthday, her mother fell ill and feverish.

She laid in bed, unable able to swallow broth or medicine. She grew thin, as if her own skin sucked into her bones. Avery felt drained from coughing up blood into her handkerchief and required Emily to take over caring for the Boyds.

“My love,” her mother whispered to her between coughs. “You are meant for greatness.”

Emily Donoghue, with long, braided brunette hair secured into a bonnet, gazed into her mother’s pale and perspired face.

“Shhh, rest now,” Emily cooed, pulling the bed covers over her mother’s shoulders. “You need to keep your strength.”

“Listen to me,” her mother argued, shaking her head. “I never told you the truth about your father.”

The mere mention of him was a shock to Emily’s bones. Her mother refused to speak more of him ever since that summer in Manchester.

“He was a good man,” Avery continued. “He wanted to take care of you. To give you a good life in Ireland.”

Her daughter’s brown eyes grew wide at the thought of living with him there. She could hardly picture the land they sailed away from when she was a wee Lass, swallowed up on that crowded, odorous vessel.

Emily recalled the salty scent of the green island that was lined with cobblestone roads and hills speckled with sheep.

She saw the dark skies they sailed beneath. The skies were even gloomier when they arrived on England’s soil.

Avery brought her back to the present, uttering softly and assuredly, “The choice is yours, Emily.”

The daughter watched as the light left her mother’s emerald eyes, and fell back into eternal stillness.

*

Emily could hardly rest peacefully that night of her mother’s burial. She couldn’t help but to feel the tugging pull of remorse for the loss of her mother and the news of her father.

She imagined that if she stayed in London, she’d die just like her mother: sick, too young, beneath a blank headstone.

Emily tried to repress the thought. When she finally stopped picturing her own death, she imagined, for the first time in her life, a future with her father. In the land she was born in.

Just the idea of sailing back on a ship away from the shackles of duty excited her.

She tossed and turned, her mind at war.

Duty, Em. Duty. You can’t just leave.

The sun peeked through her dusty window, signaling the time to rise and begin another day.

*

Emily carried on, folding sheets and preparing breakfast for Dubby. She remembered to grab his medicine this time on her way upstairs to his parlor, where he usually sits in the morning.

He lingered in the floral armchair, contemplating the reason why his third mistress left him in a fit of urgency.

Questions and concerns reeled through his mind for a moment… just a moment. Then it turned to his stomach which growled ferociously.

“Mr. Boyd?” Emily inquired from the doorway. The back of the chair faced her, but she could smell the thick scent of tobacco. “It’s time for your medication, sir.”

Dubbinger Chester Thomas Boyd III yawned loudly and dubiously, holding his long pipe before him, avoiding Emily’s calling.

“Mr. Boyd, are you in here?” called the young, fair-skinned woman dressed in her heavy, burgundy dress that she sewed together herself. She approached his side with a glass of water and the three red pills in her palm.

“Unfortunately, I am here,” replied the solemn bachelor. “I won’t be taking that with water today,” he said matter of factually. “Bring me the finest scotch we have – on the rocks.”

Dubby took a puff of his pipe, casting swirls of smoke toward the window overlooking their empty curb where his mistress had stolen their only horse and carriage.

Emily realized he was commanding her to walk three miles to the nearest liquor store.

“Scotch?” she asked. “I don’t believe we have any left in your father’s cabinet, sir.”

The young man with a curled mustache, dressed in a velvet robe, reached for his wallet inside his pocket. He elicited all of the pounds he had and handed them gingerly to her.

“Then buy me some,” he ordered in a low growl that sent shivers down her spine.

Emily bowed and took the money obediently. “Yes, sir.”

She slid the few pieces of bills inside her white apron along with the three red pills, and quietly exited the parlor, preparing for the long trek ahead.

*

Stepping onto the wet, muddy street, Emily clasped the money in her apron pocket. She wondered why she didn’t follow behind Madame Colette in an attempt to free herself from Mr. Boyd’s household.

She strolled down the dark, bustling avenue toward the Old Bell Tavern and counted the bills he had given her.

The young woman folded the bills over in her palm, weighing out the cost of whiskey in comparison to the cost of time she would be cleaning the mess he would make.

Emily considered another option.

But what about Ireland? My father?

The funds would be enough for one passenger, plus food and anything else she needed to travel and survive for one month. Emily Donoghue was ready to meet her family and cross the sea to her destiny.

She redirected her route towards the shipyard.

It took joining the army to grow up.

Looking back on old Facebook posts and photos, I discovered one jarring fact about myself before I joined the army: I didn’t know what it meant to be an adult until I arrived at my first unit.

Before I was a Soldier, I was ambitious and eager to excel in English, following my love of writing and literature. Receiving feedback on my essays was almost addicting; I couldn’t wait to figure out my professor’s standards and exceed them with every draft.

I was a dance instructor, pushing myself out of my comfort zone of simply being the student. It was one thing to make it to a dance class and follow, but it was another to lead. Simultaneously, I studied and taught yoga.

Then I was a performer, joining a small dance company and participating in late night ballroom dance rehearsals.

I was a traveler. My best friend and I joined a tour group, enduring two fast-paced weeks of visiting seven European countries. Before then, I traveled to Ireland for one week with another tour group, having met no one before the trip. On domestic soil, I flew to Nebraska to read a research paper I wrote for the 2015 Willa Cather Conference.

I was a journalist, an editor of a local newspaper and intern at a Los Angeles based yoga and Ayurveda magazine.

All the while, I was still living under my parents’ roof and reaching my mid-twenties. Despite my hunger to embody what I loved doing – dancing and writing, I could never support myself or keep more than a few extra bucks in my checking account.

Flash-forward to now, I am still struggling financially. I predict that I will be struggling for at least another year, before I finally have it all figured out. I’m no longer under mommy and daddy’s roof; I’m under Uncle Sam’s.

I have much more growing up to do, milestones that have yet to be crossed. The journey isn’t black and white, though. I didn’t leave my childhood behind and begin adulthood when I joined the military. A new chapter began, furthering the tale of my existence that I hope to pass on to the children I hope to have one day.

Even then, I’ll never stop learning and exploring who I am, who I was meant to be, and who I am supposed to be with. I have faith in the journey and everything that is beyond my control.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abort

“What’s wrong?” he asks, glancing at me, sensing my loathing from his computer chair.

I’m lying on the couch with a James Patterson novel in my hand. A full glass of red wine that he poured for me sits on the coffee table.

“Nothing, babe,” I say, keeping my eyes on my book.

He turns back to his computer. I look at him longingly, hoping he would pause his work, but Jared’s hands remain glued to the keyboard.

*

He worked graveyard the night that little red ‘plus’ sign revealed itself. I leaned on the sink and glanced up at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. I caught the horror in my hazel eyes rimmed in charcoal eyeliner. My chest rose and fell with every audible exhalation.

I can’t afford it. I can’t be a mother… I can’t….  

I vomited my breakfast and spit out every last piece of scrambled eggs.

“Oh God,” I said into the toilet. I wiped my mouth and brushed my teeth.

My thin, long fingers trembled as I grabbed the stick. I placed it inside its small cardboard box. I wrapped it inside a Walgreens plastic bag, walked outside, and tossed it into the dumpster behind our apartment. I wrapped my arms around myself and shivered in the snowy November darkness.

I stepped inside, closed the door and leaned my forehead against it in agony. The weight of this thing growing inside me dragged me down. I sat with my back against the door, hugging my knees tightly to my chest.

“I’m so sorry, little one,” I whispered. “I can’t keep you.”

The following morning, I picked up my phone and called Planned Parenthood.

*

Today is the day that I scheduled the abortion, a Friday afternoon in December.

I glance at the clock above the couch.

2:59 p.m.

One more hour.

I lay the book on the coffee table and pick up the glass of wine, chugging it before heading to the bathroom, leaving Jared at his desk. Coming into the bathroom, I catch my reflection in the mirror.

Good Lord…

My dry, wavy hair is sticking up in every direction imaginable. Red blotches are scattered across my entire face. My eyebrows are bushy and misshapen, framing my eyes that have dark shadows underneath. The lines on my forehead trace the lack of sleep.

I turn on the shower and step inside, standing underneath its warm cascade. The water trickles down my skin, warming and massaging my aching muscles. Standing still, I let the drops fall on my shoulders and back.

My eyelashes, drenched and heavy, remain open as I gaze down and caress my soft, flat belly. I circle my hands around my navel, pausing a moment to see if I can feel any stirring. Nothing. I don’t know why I think I could feel something. It’s not even a month old, yet.

I close my eyes, imagining it growing bigger and wider into the size of a watermelon. I envision my skin stretching, carrying the little person. I feel it bumping, kicking and flipping. It flips until it pops out.

I see her evolve. The cycles continues as she becomes me, I become my mother, and Jared becomes my step-father.

I had long, brunette hair and danced in little dresses that she bought from the dollar store. He came home from work with a six-pack of Coors Light and ignored our existence. He touched me when mom was down the street, selling gas and lottery tickets.

I turned seventeen and dropped out of high school. I stole cash from her wallet to buy a one-way train ticket to become someone else.

Standing underneath the water, I wrap my arms around myself.

She never even searched for me…  

*

Stepping out of the shower, I shake off the memory by drying my hair with a towel and using it to wipe off the fogged mirror. My lips are dry and purple from the wine.

Wrapping the towel around my waist, I walk into the living room to retrieve my tumbler of water sitting on his computer desk.

I try to avoid distracting him from his work as I grab the tumbler.

“You’re beautiful,” he says sweetly and surprisingly.

I pause and hold the tumbler awkwardly. These words, although he says them often, catch me off guard after imagining him one day becoming the man who ignores his daughter.

“Thank you, babe.” I take a drink, still standing beside him in my towel.

“What are you getting ready for?” he asks.

Tell him… Stop being a coward…

“Abby invited me to pizza,” I say, recognizing my own shaky voice when I try to hide something.

His fingers pause from typing.

“You know you can talk to me about anything, right?” he says, his green, almond-shaped eyes looking away from his screen and into my blank expression.

I smile and nod nervously, not realizing I’m locking my knees and my thighs are shaking.

Tell him!

“Megan, you’re turning pale.”

Suddenly, I feel nauseous. My stomach turns as the room spins. His face goes blurry.

“Come on, let’s lay you down. Wrap your arm around my shoulder. There you go,” he says, walking me over to the couch.

Jared places a throw pillow underneath my head and swings my legs on the couch. My head pounds like someone beating my temples.

“I’m sorry,” I say, my words sounding more like a croak. “I’m sorry.”

“Shh, it’s okay.”

He picks up my tumbler from the floor and fills it from the kitchen sink. Coming back to my side, he orders me to sit up and drink. I wrap my lips around the bottle and sip down the cool water. The liquid feels refreshing along my throat. Goosebumps spread across my naked arms and legs.

Jared grabs a blanket from the bedroom and throws it on top of me. He brushes a few loose strands of wet hair from my face. He places the back of his hand against my forehead. “You’re not feverish.”

I take another sip of water and look at the clock.

4:06 p.m.

I missed the appointment.

“You need to rest,” he says worriedly.

He has always taken care of me.

He’s not going to leave me. I’m not going to become my mother…

“Jared… I’m pregnant.”

Remembering the Good Times

For those reading who have gone on deployments and have years of military experience under your belt, you should be forewarned that I’m about to talk about my baby Army moments in AIT.

As for my fellow comrades who suffered the stupidity with me – the strict TRADOC regulations of limited cell phone use, formations, curfew, never walking ANYWHERE alone, etc. – this one is for you.

I’m not gonna sugar coat it – Advanced Individual Training (AIT) had its tough moments. I think I sprouted more gray hairs and several wrinkles after trying to follow every damn rule at Fort Meade than I did in Basic Training. I feel so fortunate to be in a much better place now at Fort Lewis and out of TRADOC!

It warms my heart to know that I’m still connected with wonderful individuals who made the time in AIT fun and enjoyable. It’s also cool to look back at the things I did (like interviewing a NASA astronaut!) and learning some lessons (like turning up my ISO inside).

There are more of you out there in Social Media Land who aren’t mentioned below (this would be too long of a post). You know who are you, and know that I love you and I’m thankful for our friendship.

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Specialist Tricia Andriski, AKA “Driskis,” was the best battle buddy in the world! I don’t know what I would’ve done without her!
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Private “Vidro One-Thousand,” always ready to rock ‘n’ roll.
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Private Kirk, eating a pine cone, being weird and always making me laugh.
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Timothy L. Kopra, NASA astronaut who came to speak at DINFOS Sept. 13. I had the honor of interviewing him and getting an article published on the school’s website! (This is the photo I was referring to when I learned that I need to work on my ISO adjustments…)
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Specialist Claire Charles, a wonderful battle buddy who kept everyone in check and set an example for the young-uns.
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Private 1st Class Danyelle Thompson and Seaman Morrissey putting a smile on my face in the hallway at DINFOS when practicing with bounce flash.
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Our company commander’s puppy cheered me up after a long day!
*reflection
Private 1st Class Amanda Stock was an excellent Platoon Guide and awesome friend.
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Private Josh Weaver, a fantastic photographer and ruck march motivator.

stream of consciousness

When the sun and moon meet.

Friday April 14th, 2017

3:34 p.m.

 

I checked-off one of my four-year goals this morning when I opened the Northwest Guardian. My article about the Gladiator Challenge was published.

Another milestone crossed.

I’m a journalist, and now I finally feel like one. I’m a storyteller. I get paid to write.

Okay, okay. I’ll stop bragging. But I’m that woman! I am making a living off of my writing. Not rich, no. Money isn’t the best thing in the world, but my resume is pretty impressive as it builds, as the stories pile up and as I have the pleasure of writing them.

There are so many untold ones.

But what’s so satisfactory about telling? Why must a something go somewhere and do a thing? Why can’t it just be internal and unshared?

Connection.

We all want something to connect with, to connect to. Right? In a world where many find solace and sanctuary in disconnect, I find satisfaction and strength in connecting. In building relationships. In knowing.

My mentor once said, “The reason I know something is because I wrote about it.”

I feel the same way. I know things because I heard the story, transcribed it and shared it.

Why must I know? What’s the power in knowledge as the cliche goes? Is it dangerous to be knowledgeable and aware?  

Maybe there’s respectability in knowing and passing it along to someone else. To someone who has never known or never seen or never heard.

You tell me. And I tell you. Who tells someone else. It goes round and round and round, like the sun and moon chasing each other; one day they’ll meet and that is when it all begins

The story begins when the sun and moon finally meet.

 

My First Book

I was too impatient to find an agent, especially for my first book. The 51 page novelette is officially live as an eBook on Amazon! My first book. I’m super excited to share my story with the world. I hope my story inspires you and sheds some light on alternative forms of psychological, emotional and spiritual recovery from a traumatic event.

If you’d like to read a sample of the first few pages and see what it’s all about, here you go.

 

fighting through healing

The Drive

The air felt cool and crisp on her naked glowing skin as she drove along the I-5 South toward Oregon. Johnny Cash strummed his raspy melody on her ancient 1998 stereo in her blue Grand Cherokee. Her thumbs pounded along to the beat. She breathed in the rare appearance of the sun on this Sunday morning she had off of work from the restaurant. Taylor felt tempted to go off-roading, but obediently stuck to the route.

She had removed her dirty jean jacket and rolled her window down, allowing her strong biceps to tan in the warm light. Her long cascades of true brunette falling into artificial mossy green tips tickled her pale shoulders. Her hazel eyes hid behind aviator sunglasses. She glimpsed toward the towering pine trees that lined the road.

Seattle had recently been hit with a snow storm that cut off half of the power in some neighborhoods. Luckily, Tacoma hadn’t been affected; they just received slosh and less business at the restaurant.  

Taylor wasn’t ready for this trip. Unlike any other 25-year-old girl, she couldn’t wait for her Spring Break to be over. She hated leaving the restaurant behind to manage itself. But even more, she felt no remorse for the death of her stepmother.

When she found out the woman had cancer a year ago, Taylor felt only guilt for her father who would care for her and pay the medical bills. It was bad enough he practically did everything for that woman.

Taylor didn’t care to go to Roberta’s funeral, but she was making the trip for her father. She knew he was in pain, but learning of her illness reaffirmed Taylor’s decision to move up north and start a new life for herself after high school.

The cancer wasn’t caused by genetics or bad luck. It had spread from the years of drug use.

Before she showed signs of addiction, Roberta was a successful businesswoman. She owned four car dealerships, one in the state of Oregon, two in California and one in Nevada. Roberta was sweet in the early days before the marriage. Taylor had just turned ten.

A year later, Roberta and Taylor’s father were married. They were the happiest trio anyone had ever seen in Salem. They went on hiking trips together, cooked together, and sometimes even fell asleep together on the couch watching episodes of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”

Taylor noticed that Roberta was gone on business trips more frequently. When she came home temporarily, she brought other guys over to the house. Taylor thought they were just friends, always having parties. She was thankful that her father was happy again, but Taylor didn’t understand why Roberta would have parties and not invite her.

“I love your spirit, child,” Roberta said with her perspiring glass of scotch in hand, shoving Taylor into her bedroom. “But you’re still too young for these kind of adult things.”   

In 2008, Roberta lost two of her stores to the recession. A year later, another one closed down. Her job, along with hundreds of others, dwindled. She spent less time with Taylor, and more time seeking comfort from her husband and other men.      

Taylor was reaching her senior year of high school. Her grades were above average, but she didn’t plan on going to college. She had no direction.  

Her father never mentioned her birth mother, or any other family member for that matter. If Taylor ever asked where she went or who she was, especially in Roberta’s presence, her father’s lips grew into a tight, straight line. His voice fell low and his sea green eyes became stern, sending warning shots to let it go.

No one else seemed to matter in his life during this time, except Roberta. He was focused on two primary things: doing well at his job and taking care of his wife. He knew that Taylor was a good, responsible kid and could handle herself. Although he took her out for ice cream on occasion and went to the movies with her, he spent less time bonding with her.      

Taylor compensated from the neglect in relationship with fighting. She took up boxing at a private, local gym. She had a trainer and met him three times a week. As graduation day approached and Roberta spent more time at home, Taylor took the bus to the gym every day.

She loved the independence. No one could hurt her, or push her away. And if they did, she could push them right back even harder.

On this drive down the freeway, she adored the final few hours she had on her own before meeting her father at her childhood home and reopening old wounds. Taylor cranked up a new song. Cash was getting a little too dull.

James Brown’s “This is a Man’s World” came on. She let it play, even though she didn’t know all of the words.

The song struck something deep in her chest, something burning and aching that she never felt before. It stung, and it lingered. Pain shot deep into her belly, and it crawled lower between her legs to a darker, intimate place. Tears spilled over her eyelids. Goopy mascara and eyeliner stained a perfect line down each cheek.

Man made electric light to take us out of the dark

Man made the boat for the water, like Noah made the ark

She felt his weight pinned against her. His grip on her hair, pressing her face onto the kitchen table, the other hand clutching onto her skirt.

“Relax,” Roberta’s friend moaned into her ear. Taylor wiggled and moaned as his fingers dug into her. “Stop fighting it, girl.”  

Whenever the nightmare haunted her, she would usually reach for a glass of wine from her cabinet to relax. Sometimes, she didn’t know what was a reliable source to help her decipher between dreams and reality. That was when she would turn to a punching bag or jump rope to sweat out the idea of her stepmother drugging her and allowing one of her guy friends to touch her.

When she finally beat every breath out of that imaginary woman on the punching bag, Taylor recalled that moment vividly.

The smell on Roberta’s breath was incredibly potent. Taylor’s innocent eyes glanced back and forth between the bag of needles and powdery mixtures, and her stepmother’s hungry eyes. She remembered that shove against the front door and feeling completely powerless against this woman she trusted and once admired. Taylor felt the incision of the needle in her forearm.

“Don’t worry,” Roberta growled. “This’ll only hurt for a second.”

The woman entered Taylor’s life and exited it with a suddenness that she could never explain, but just accept.  

She wiped her face with the back of her hand and shook off the memory of the drug hitting her hard, the way it made her muscles contract, her veins explode, her stomach ache. She remembered hanging her head over the toilet bowl the next morning and Roberta holding her hair out of the way.

“You poor thing,” she said. “I told you that you shouldn’t be messing with mommy’s things.”

Taylor felt a shiver down her spine and changed the song once again. Nina Simone woke her from the sickening trance.

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me,

And I’m feelin’ good

She still wasn’t ready to face her father’s pain, but she was ready to see him without her. Without the woman who corrupted their relationship and brought a tornado of disaster into their lives.

She’s gone, Taylor told herself. She’s really gone. 

Taylor was ready to begin again now that she was older. Now that she was stronger. Now that she and her father were finally free.  

She sighed a breath of relief as she continued to drive down I-5 South and let go.