the hearing

When the man in baggy orange prison scrubs and handcuffs shuffled into the hearing room, I looked down at my hands in my lap. I took a deep breath and focused on stopping my handwringing, on staying calm. The bailiff seated him on the opposite side of the table from me and then returned to his position to the left of the judge, seated at the far end of the T-shaped table arrangement. I sensed the prisoner’s eyes on me, but I could not look at him. I felt nauseated just being in the room with him, and I didn’t want him looking at me. My attorney, seated to my right, reached her hand under the table and patted my leg, offering this small measure of comfort. It helped, knowing she was beside me and had this all under control.

The prisoner, in his mid-50s, was disheveled, with a long, thin face framed by shoulder-length brown hair that looked as if it had not been washed in a week. It probably hadn’t, as he’d been in jail since his arrest one week earlier for violating the temporary injunction order that prohibited him from any contact with my mother. This man was one of the two men who moved onto my mom’s property shortly after my grandmother died in March 2018. The second man would be brought into the hearing room soon, once this first part was over.

We were sworn in, and the judge began the hearing. She read the details of the injunction to him – a final injunction for protection against exploitation of a vulnerable adult. He mumbled his consent to it and an apology, but I continued to look only at the judge or her clerk. The clerk occasionally looked my way, and I believed I saw compassion in her eyes. When the judge stopped talking and paused to sign three copies of the injunction order, the man spoke again, clearly directed at me this time, not just to the judge.

He told me he was sorry, and he said it several more times, in slightly different ways. I ignored him. He was speaking, these apologies coming out of his mouth, but I did not look his way. I could not look at his face. I pretended he wasn’t speaking, wasn’t even in the room. My heart raced and my breathing quickened. He continued to apologize as the bailiff led him out of the room. When the door shut behind them, I let out a sob and covered my face with my hands. I will not forget the judge getting out of her seat and walking to the adjacent bathroom I had not known was there to grab some paper towels. I won’t forget her kind smile as she handed them to me.

One down.

The second man, B, was soon escorted into the hearing room, taking the prisoner’s place across the table from me. For this hearing, though, my mother wanted to be present. As the victim – the vulnerable adult – she was allowed to there, but the complicating factor was that she liked this man. He was her friend. He took her places and had the only vehicle on the property. He took her out for lunch and for drinks. She wanted him to stay.

i let it linger

I remembered the show when I opened my phone’s calendar to check my meeting schedule for the afternoon. Friday night at 7 o’clock, I had three tickets to a show at the university’s Performing Arts Center. I had a sinking feeling, if for no other reason than I had been imagining how nice it would be to get home from work, change into my pajamas, order takeout for the family’s dinner, and not move from the sofa until it was time for bed.

Halloween had been the night before, and it’s always a huge event in our neighborhood. I’d rushed home from work in time to help both kids into their costumes and set up the candy dispensing station on our front porch: rocking chair positioned in the center, just at the top of the steps, a small table nearby piled with a pillowcase filled with a few bags of candy (with extra bags stashed nearby), a bottle of hand sanitizer (because a trick-or-treater’s mom asked me for some one year), a handmade “OUT OF CANDY” sign, and a roll of scotch tape to use to hang the sign at the end of the night. And a glass of wine. Trick-or-treating started a few minutes before six, and for the next two plus hours, I handed out multiple pounds of candy, one piece at a time, to a parade of costumed children and teenagers and parents of bewildered infants in strollers.  It was a lot of fun but exhausting and a bit overwhelming for this introvert.

On Friday, all I wanted to do was hibernate, and I began looking forward to this after my first two meetings at work that morning. Until I checked my calendar and remembered the show.

I sighed, gave myself a pep talk – you can do this, you’ll have fun, it’s only a couple of hours – and made peace with the idea of going out that evening. I could relax after, and I could sleep in a bit on Saturday. It would all be okay, I told myself.

I’d bought three tickets to the event months before, after showing my son the brochure for the upcoming season of events at the Performing Arts Center. He plays trombone in his middle school band, and he was interested in hearing bands with a trombone player. I’ve learned from him that the trombone isn’t often highlighted in a piece of music, and we have encountered this when we’ve tried to find sheet music that features the instrument. We read the description of the band in the brochure – Sammy Miller and the Congregation – and we both noticed that the jazz band had a trombone player. I bought the tickets as soon as they went on sale – one for him, one for me, and an extra.

One of Oliver’s friends, another 7th grader who plays the tuba in the same middle school band, joined us for the evening. We weren’t sure exactly what to expect when we sat down at a little cocktail table to the left of the stage. It was crowded – everyone had clearly arrived before we did – and we’d taken three of the last open seats in the darkened performance hall. Oliver and his friend were the youngest in the audience, and I may have been a close second.

We weren’t sure what to expect, but when the music started, what we got was magic.

As the band played and entertained the audience, I looked around the room and watched men who could have been my father’s age nodding their head in time with the music. An older woman with white hair and hearing aids tapped her hand on the table to the beat. A couple who had to be in their 80s smiled and swayed in their seats, moving their upper bodies in synchrony. My own feet were tapping on the floor, and I couldn’t will them to stop. I also didn’t want to.

The trombone player had some solos during some of the songs, and I sneaked looks at Oliver during these. He watched the tall musician intently, a faint smile just beginning to turn up the corners of Oliver’s mouth. He was captivated, and because he was, so I was also. I was filled with a sense of joy in that moment – in so many moments over the 75-minute performance – and I silently kicked myself for my earlier hesitation in attending the event.

I kept thinking, as the toe of my boot kept the beat of the music, and as I saw the joy on the faces around me, that my father would have loved this. My father loved all music, and he loved listening to live performances. I have memories of him with his eyes closed, face turned heaven-ward, listening to an album in our living room, smiling to himself during a particularly intense guitar riff. He would have loved sitting in that performance hall with us, and he would have been so proud of Oliver for his love of music, for playing an instrument, for wanting to attend a jazz show with his mom.

When the set ended, it was hard to stop smiling and feeling that joy that had so permeated the room, an intangible presence that I could feel in my heart and in my soul.

So I let it linger.

hello, it’s me

houseplants | merrygourmet

Hello again. I’ve missed you.

Earlier this month, exactly two years since my last post, I got the urge to write here again. Actually, that’s not quite the entire truth. I’ve had urges to write, but the content I wanted to write about didn’t seem quite right for this open space. I turned to journaling instead, something I always go back to when my anxiety is high or in times of crisis. But earlier this month, I wanted to share openly again. I wanted to come out of hiding and be vulnerable in public, the way I used to be in this space.

When I sat down to write that day, though, I learned my blog had a flaw on the back end, some error that occurred sometime in the last year or more. The comments at the bottom of any given post were not linking up to the right post. I reached out to my hosting company, and then, through them, to a website developer. During those couple of weeks while I was trying to sort out the issue, I realized (again) how much I love and miss this space. I’ve not written here for two years, but now that I couldn’t actually write here because of website issues, all I wanted to do was write. Journaling has filled some of that void, but it really isn’t the same as posting here. I’m not sure how or when the glitch happened, but it’s now fixed, and my sense of relief has surprised me.

I do wonder whether anyone is still here to read my words. Two years is a long time for people to stick around, waiting.

I used to be able to count on my mom to be my eternal reader and blog cheerleader. I used to hit publish on a post and within minutes of sharing it on my personal Facebook page, she would have shared the post on her own page so that her friends could see. Almost without fail, she would call me that evening or within the next 24 hours to talk to me about what I wrote, or to just let me know she liked it. I could always count on her. Until I couldn’t.

She is always on my mind these days, and I find myself forcibly turning my thoughts to something else, anything else.

Work is a wonderful distraction and has filled my life with meaning and purpose. I’ve been spending time nurturing my son’s horticulture interests, shopping at Home Depot with him for potting soil or seeds starting kits or looking at Instagram accounts filled with beautiful houseplants and succulents in perfectly lit living rooms. My daughter is in the thick of high school theater, and we just hosted about 35 high school kids for the fall show (Seussical!) cast party on Friday night. That was a great diversion and my kitchen is still overflowing with trays of cookies and bags of popcorn. I’m traveling for work fairly regularly, and we had some lovely family vacations this year. I have a solo trip in the works for early 2020, a vacation where I hope to jumpstart my creative side again. That trip is a gift to myself, and it has given me such pleasure to daydream about. I’m burying myself in two books at any given time, preferably fiction. Right now, I’ve got Alice Hoffman’s The World That We Knew on my Kindle and Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows on Audible.

I have become skilled at distraction.

So, hello again. I think I’ll be back to share more in the weeks ahead. I intend to. It won’t be pretty and happy and shiny, because that’s just not real life. But it will be real, and it will be me.