Just a place

I’m on my lunch break right now, taking a class where the teacher is really into breaks. “Shall we take a break?” he asks every 30 minutes, which sounds awesome, except I’d rather get out early than take frequent breaks. Our dinner break is an actual 1 hour and 40 minutes (it’s an 8-hour class), and so I left campus and am now parked across the street from the courthouse so I can eat my dinner and read in the shade until it’s time to return.

This is an interesting place to pause. There was a time when the courthouse gave me panic attacks. I spent months in and out of this building, working out details to a messy divorce that included custody, child support, and eventually a restraining order. I was lucky to be dating a law student after some time, as he set me up with a pro bono lawyer when things took a turn for the worse. It was likely the only reason he crossed my path, as we were incompatible as human beings. But in this, I owe much to that connection.

Still, the courthouse was a place filled with scary memories, one I stuffed way down deep. I hadn’t realized how much this place bothered me until a few weeks ago when faced with jury duty. I got the call-in option every day, and I almost forgot to check for Friday. Last minute, I realized I’d been summoned.

The drive there, my stomach did numerous turns. It never occurred to me why I was so nervous until I was almost there.

Oh. Oh yeah. That’s why your nervous.

The memories flooded back as I walked the steps to the courtyard, recalling moments of unrest and fear I wouldn’t be heard. Before I had a lawyer, I was ignored. Nothing I said mattered. The threats. The fear. The phone messages. The bruises. It all fell on deaf ears. But with a lawyer, I was no longer invisible. I didn’t even have to speak, which was good because I was too afraid to say much of anything. The case closed with two years distance granted between us, allowing me the time I needed to heal and give our kids a solid foundation.

I wasn’t alone as I waited to find out if I’d serve on jury duty. One of my coworkers was also called to be there, and we both waited around a few hours together. I kept a book handy, and took turns reading and sharing conversation, along with occasional glimpses at a woman quilting on the TV. The longer we waited, the more this menacing courtroom became just a room with chairs. Nothing to be scared of, unless boring PBS shows freak you out.

We were eventually dismissed for the day, told to return Monday. When that day arrived, the two of us waited in line for security to check us through. They confiscated my dangerous water bottle, and we were sent upstairs. I was just around the corner from the courtroom I sat in more than a decade earlier. But this time, my fears stayed away. We filed into a different courtroom to await our personal verdicts on whether we’d be part of the jury or not. The judge went through his speech, fifteen minutes to be exact, and then he dismissed us. All that for nothing, my coworker grumbled.

But it wasn’t nothing for me.

In those two partial days, I received a new memory of the courthouse. The bad taste I’d last experienced was washed down by two very ordinary days. It took away the scariness and made this place a building. It became so ordinary that on my hour and forty minute lunch, I’ve chosen to spend my time here, finding solace in the shade of a tree while facing this place. It’s just a place, just a building, and I happened to experience both scary and ordinary moments here.

And that is all. I just had to share.

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He’s leaving home…

“Damn it, Sam!  You don’t have a lock because then I’d never see you!  Why can’t you just do what I tell you to do?” John shouted.
I could see the sparks in the air as Sam broke, something snapping inside of him after months of walls upon walls being built up between them.
“Because you’re never here! Even when you are here, you’re not! You don’t want to see me, you don’t even talk to me. And tell me what to do? It’s not like you’ve even been a parent to me at all since Rachel died. It’s like you’ve locked yourself up in that room with all her stuff and have nothing left for me. But Dad, I’m not dead, I’m here!” Sam stormed, clenching and unclenching his fists as he yelled at his dad. It was the same argument from a few weeks earlier, the unresolved emotions flying up between them after having been pushed down and ignored for too long. “I’m sick and tired of this house, this city, YOU! I can’t stand it here any longer!”
John held his breath at the words, realizing what was coming next. As much as he’d thought this eminent plan of action would bring him relief, he was suddenly faced with fear at the thought of his son moving out. At the forefront, he knew he’d miss his son. But underneath this fear was the knowledge that once his son was gone, John would be faced with my presence in every wall, on every surface, and in the air he breathed despite the fact that I and all my things were locked behind Joey’s door.
“What are you saying, Sam?” John asked, his body rigid as he waited for what they both knew was coming.
“I’m moving in with Mom.” – Excerpt from A Symphony of Cicadas, Chapter 11, pages 147-148

It’s ironic, really, that this passage made it into A Symphony of Cicadas. At the time I wrote this, I had no idea that my own teenage daughter would also have this conversation with me – telling me she wished to live with her father. In our case, it was not done in anger, like with Sam and John. But it was because she wanted to escape the changes that had occurred in our household (my new marriage to her stepfather) and wondering what life would be like on the other side of her family.

When she asked me about it, I told her no. Not even an “I’ll think about it” or anything like that. It was a flat out no. However, my daughter is nothing if not diligent. Over time, she calmly talked with me, giving me some very good reasons as to why she would be okay to move over there.

I wasn’t so sure about that. Ever since I left her father, I had been the primary caregiver. Even during the marriage I was more like a single parent. And then there were the questionable choices he kept making with his life. His home was no place for a teenage daughter who needed guidance more than ever.

But my daughter’s persistence paid off. I finally ran out of reasons to say no, and realized that I needed to just cut the apron strings. She was old enough (14 going on 15) to survive if I wasn’t the main parent.

My daughter moved out the week after Christmas. My family thought I had gone nuts. I was fighting the urge to take it all back and tell her not to go. But I didn’t. Instead, I helped her pack everything she could fit into my car, and drove her the three hours it took to get to where her new home was.

Two months later, I was packing my car again to bring her home. It seems there is no place like home… She had spent the few weeks at her father’s house being able to do anything she wanted, unlike she could at our house. But she also felt practically invisible, another difference from our house. She craved being taken care of.

In A Symphony of Cicadas, things are not going well in John’s house. When Rachel was alive, she became the glue that held things together. But when she died, the tight unit they had become went with her. John was so caught up in his misery over his loss, he forgot how to be a dad to his son. And while Sam, as a teenager, appreciated being able to get away with pretty much anything, he also craved being taken care of.

I think that every teenager, even when they don’t admit it, crave the very same thing. We all just want to be taken care of.

This is just one of several posts to come that dives into the chapters of A Symphony of Cicadas, and the inspiration behind the story. For all sneak peeks at the novel, CLICK HERE. To purchase the book, go to http://amzn.to/17ayBAP.

Stay tuned for more!

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