September 2018: I Am
November 2018: Lunchtime Amongst Pots of Color
January 2019: The Waitress
March 2019: The Ice Cream Stand
May 2019: The Ring
Joanie Chevalier lives in her RV, traveling the United States as a workamper. She is an Indie Author, a Content Editor, Founder of the RAC: Promoting the Reader/Author Connection, and Founder of Our Indie Author Room FB Group, a place where writers in all stages of their career can go to learn, inspire, and teach.
Joanie loves the outdoors and nature, reading and editing, and she thinks her two Chihuahuas are adorable (her grown son is kinda cute, too). Her writing is a blend of everything she likes to read: suspense, horror, crime, psychological, non-fiction, and a good short story.
I am . . . invisible. I listen as you argue about who will have to care for me when I’m finally discharged. It may end up that I won’t get out of here anyway. I have an inkling to simply die this afternoon, say before dinner. But my body won’t give up just yet, disobeying. My breath, labored yet steady, continues to expand in my lungs. My blood miraculously flows through old-lady veins. My heart, although weak, is still beating. Whatever happened to the theory of mind over matter? I miss my bed; the dip in the left side was my cocoon. Why couldn’t I have just broken a hip? You know the old saying: Once they break a hip, you might as well count the days.
I am . . . a woman. I remember myself young and blonde, my eyes bright with anticipation, with a lust for life. No one looks at me anymore. Yes, people are kind, but in a “be kind to old people” way. Here, take this seat; here, let me help you. I’d rather be sexy, vibrant, beautiful. My ankles are weak. My knees hurt. My bones are brittle. I am a mess.
I am . . . a wife and a lover. I have conflicted memories of love and marriage – how I laughed because I had a mate I could connect with – and how I cried with sadness and loneliness, and that was before the divorce.
I am . . . a mother. I remember the day we first met you. You were born to a teenager who couldn’t take care of you and you were swaddled tightly in a blue baby blanket, cozy and content. We instantly loved you.
I am . . . a friend. I cried over your death. Life brought you heartaches and cancer’s death grip finally took you down. You were strong to the end and I admire that. It’s funny how we admire people once they’re gone but never say “I admire you,” to their face. I wish I could have been a better friend to you. Social media wasn’t invented until it was almost too late for our generation. With social media at my fingertips, maybe I could have been a better friend to you…kept in touch, known what you’ve been up to, remembered your birthday. My gut feeling is that you can’t force friendship though. I miss you, but I have a feeling I will see you again, very soon. And we will hug and cry… this time with tears of joy.
I am . . . grateful. I listen to the rustling of paper and the soft swish-swish of fabric nearby. I feel a gentle cool touch on my forehead and then my hand is tenderly caressed, similar to what butterfly wings or kitten whiskers would feel like, against my age-spotted bony hand. I feel goosebumps as my body reacts and my face scrunches up in thankfulness, thankfulness that I’m not totally invisible. My body is fluid; it feels like a waterfall now. The atoms holding my body together finally give in and the brain takes over. It commands presence and it’s barking orders – Stop flowing, blood, right this minute! Heart – I demand that you stop pulsating!
I am . . . at peace. I listen to my slowing heart in my ears as if I were underwater. It sounds like a lonely drummer on a foggy seaside cliff, missing a beat every now and then. Warmth engulfs me like a cozy soft blanket and I see stars and planets, and my past. I see your smile, your first steps, the day you gave me a potted hydrangea for Mother’s Day; I cried tears of happiness. I see your dad and I running down the court’s steps giggling, our youth energized and feeling that that day was our best day ever. But then days after are our best days and then there’s more best days. The favorite days come and go and we kiss and laugh. And then, just when I think it’s over, that I had no more to give, redemption and another special day. The days blend into one, faster and faster, to the point where I can’t keep up. It’s as though I’m on one of those old-fashioned playground merry-go-rounds where the big kid pushes us around and around in circles, running as fast as he is able as we all tightly grip the cold metal bars; some of the kids fly off randomly when their lazy fingers lose their grip, while others become so dizzy that we stumble off, laughing and holding our bellies as we fall to the ground. Yes, life is often like a playground merry-go-round; we stumble, we get sick with dizziness, yet we giggle.
I am . . . celebrating. I feel safe and I’m not afraid. I feel my Maker’s touch and it’s soothing and welcoming. I hear my own laughter and it sounds like the gaiety of a young girl, delighted with the tickles in the field of knee-high sunflowers. I become a sunflower in an instant and I’m kissed by the sun. I hear music, the melody familiar and soulful. My spirit reaches up to it as I listen to the harmonious voices blending like soothing waves on the shoreline. I realize that it’s my favorite hymn and I start humming. My eyes water because I’ve never heard anything so beautiful, so exquisite. I want to pop my eyes open just one more time to tell someone, anyone, that angels do exist. But my eyes are glued shut and refuse to open. Hummingbirds fly around me, protecting me, ready to give me nourishment. They carry me the rest of the way home. I relax in my Father’s arms. I rejoice.
I am . . . a friend, a woman, a wife, a mother.
I am . . .
a rainbow, a falling star, an angel.
The hardness of a concrete bench
Windows looking down at me…
people inside, oblivious
Coveted city-filtered sunshine stolen
Until it fades,
Motorcycle, siren, beeps of horns meld,
A symphony of sorts…
rising up from the asphalt below
Sandwich eaten, apple crunched, it’s time to return…
To the cubicle with no sunshine,
my back still warm from its yellow embrace
Tomorrow will bring another
affair with the sun
Where I shall sit and eat my sandwich
With sounds of hectic around me…
amongst the pots of color.
He fell instantly in love with the waitress as soon as he walked onto the patio. It wasn’t her voice; he hadn’t heard it yet. It wasn’t her family lineage, or her financial situation, or even if she snored; he knew nothing about her. It was the way she smiled, despite the afternoon rush and demanding customers. She hurried from table to table, laughing, touching a shoulder, all the while bringing out her customers’ orders with efficiency, the tray of food and drinks expertly balanced.
“You’re new here?” he asked, after she stepped up to his table, the faint scent of lilac surrounding him, arousing his senses.
She blew at her long bangs to get them out of her eyes and her ponytail bobbed as she nodded. “Yes, love, two weeks now.”
He must have been staring at her for a few seconds too long because he jumped when she spoke again.
“What’ll you have, love?”
“Oh, sorry,” he mumbled, clearing his throat, “I’ll have the scrambled eggs, bacon, crispy, and wheat toast.”
“Excellent!” The waitress smiled, her dimples appearing.
He watched her bounce away to the waist-high counter where she rang up his order before sliding it over to the cook behind the open brick partition.
After that first day, he was officially mesmerized and infatuated with the waitress. Every day he arrived at the bistro on the patio, every day she cheerfully acknowledged him. She had even memorized his breakfast preferences.
“Bacon, crispy, scrambled eggs and wheat toast today, love?” she’d ask as soon as she saw him enter.
“Yes, please!” he’d respond, rubbing his hands with excitement. He’d noticed that since meeting the waitress, he seemed lighter somehow, and saw the world with new eyes. The bistro patio was bright with the morning sun, and its rays cast beautiful shadows. The waitress’s eyes sparkled too.
He eventually had enough courage to ask her name.
“Oh, honey, can’t you read my nametag?” A hand fluttered above her heart and her short pink painted nails touched a small white rectangular-shaped plastic badge.
“Oh,” he said, laughing nervously behind his hand, “I am very near-sighted, you know. I’ve always wondered about laser eye surgery, but my wife told me to study all the facts first. Never can be too careful, she used to say.”
“Yes, it always pays to be careful, especially with your eyes, love. So, you’re married, then?”
He scratched his ear and his brows furrowed. “Was. My wife died many months ago.”
The waitress rested a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “It must be tough, hon, to lose a loved one.”
He hadn’t been touched with such compassion since his wife died. He blinked back tears of loneliness.
“Ah, so sorry for your loss.” The waitress bent down and placed her cheek on his and gave both shoulders a squeeze. “I’ll go get your food and even bring you an extra order of crispy bacon, how’s that, love?”
He could only nod. He couldn’t trust that his voice would be steady at the moment.
“Oh, and my name’s Angel.”
Over the next month, he visited the bistro every morning, and every morning the waitress was there, waiting to serve him. Eventually, she anticipated his arrival time and had his order ready the moment he sat down.
As he ate and watched the waitress, he began to notice familiar gestures and facial expressions. She reminded him of someone, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on who it was.
Every day, the patio seemed to become brighter. It must be the earth’s rotation and the changing of the season, he thought. Brown crispy leaves began to fall from the tall maple tree in the center of the patio and he and the waitress had laughed when a big leaf fell into his scrambled eggs.
Later, he examined the leaf he had placed in his pocket. He had a sudden memory of a crisp sunny day of him and his wife at the park. It was fall and he was rubbing her arms to warm her. They were picnicking on a bench in front of the pond and giggling at the ducks and geese gobbling up the bread thrown by a small child. He closed his eyes as he recalled the weight of her body up against his chest and he remembered that he had wrapped his arms around her. She sighed, and he heard tenderness in her voice when she said, “You are a good man, love.” She turned and blew her bangs out of her eyes. Her dimple deepened as she smiled at him.
“You know I love you more, Angel,” he said as he kissed her cheek and nuzzled his face into her warm neck, breathing in her scent. “My precious Angel.”
The head nurse led the men to the patio out back. “Here you go, guys. Mr. Ben Reynolds.”
The men in white uniforms were silent as they placed the body of Mr. Reynolds on the gurney and then strapped him in.
“Didn’t we pick up his wife not too long ago?” asked one.
“Yes, so sad. They were inseparable. Angel and Ben. Their kids say they had the perfect romance. She, a waitress, he a navy man. They were married for over sixty years.”
The gurney bounced over leaves and cobblestones. “When are you going to fix this patio up, Marge? You know, it’d make a perfect bistro, with the brick walls and that old pizza oven in the corner.”
Marge tugged at her sweater and looked up at the grey sky. “No sun shines through because of the angle of the hospital and retirement home roofs, Bob,” she said, shaking her head.
“Waste of space, if you ask me.”
“Well, Ben loved it. Rolled out in his wheelchair every morning and talked to himself. He seemed happier because of it.” She shivered. “Come on, let’s get Ben’s body out of the weather. His family is waiting for him.”
I’ve been going to the Big Top Carnival every year for as long as I can remember, beginning when I was a toddler. I’m fifteen now, and every year it gets better and bigger. Businesses can’t compete with opening day so most of them close after lunch. Even the school board decided to allow the kids to leave early. They wouldn’t be concentrating anyway.
There was always gaiety in the air on opening day. The carnival emitted other sounds other than the frantic hammering, men yelling and the usual noisy organization during the three days of set up. Now, masked men walking on stilts, street magicians, clowns, and ladies with feathered hats walked about at the entrance, handing out sour green suckers and discount codes for the amusement rides.
I waved to my parents upon entering under the red carnival banner filled with balloons of every color. Every child who have been here before knew to run to the right, which is the gravel path to the rides. The adults veered toward the left path to walk around the arcade area and to mosey through the Arts & Hobby building, and my dad, to the tractor tent to dream about owning another one. Me, even though I’m almost an adult, still veer to the right out of habit.
“Meet you at the ice cream stand in an hour,” mom reminded me. Of course, that’s the routine. I didn’t understand why she had to shout that every year.
The ice cream stand had been operating at the carnival, they say, for almost 50 years. It wasn’t individually owned, but owned by the carnies, and maybe that’s why it didn’t have a name, other than “The Ice Cream Stand.” Each carnie had a shift or two, but that was doable since there were hundreds of carnies, from animal trainers to the trapeze family to the ticket takers, to the popular balloon ride operators, and the list goes on. They all had a part in it.
The Ice Cream Stand had the usual flavors: chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, rocky road, chocolate chip, etc. But every year, they’d have a special of some sort: Strawberry Freckle, Huckleberry Sprinkles, Vanilla Toffee Swirl. Every person all over the country, in every town the carnival’s been, have raved about the ice cream. It’s been featured on local television food channels, famous chefs have tried to figure out the secret that made it special, even a hotshot news show interviewed the carnies. Investors have tried, and failed, to meet with someone to propose the carnival team up with them to open a factory and ship ice cream to households across the nation, but the powers of the carnival always refused. “The ice cream stand stands” was their motto.
On opening day that year, I felt a little old veering to the right, but I was too young to be slowly strolling through the carnival with my parents. I shot past the kiddie rides and the haunted house but hesitated at the House of Mirrors. I have always loved the House of Mirrors – the hallways that seemingly went on forever, holding my arms out so I wouldn’t hit my nose on the mirrors, watching boys cry when they couldn’t find a way out… On a whim, I reached into my pocket and tore off three tickets and gave them to the lady at the booth. I ventured in.
I was laughing and having a good time – they’ve added strobe lights this year to make finding a way out more difficult – when a man collided with the mirror on the opposite side of me. His cheek was flat against the glass, and his one eye was bulged and bloodshot. The most awful part was that he was screaming, snot and drool making a trail on the glass as his legs collapsed from under him. I saw shadows behind him, and I swear it was the bearded lady and the sword swallower who was chasing him. I didn’t wait to find out though. I was spooked so I lit out of there, not even stopping to dance on the giant piano keys on the way out.
I didn’t think much about that incident until almost two weeks later when I caught notice of several posters in front of the police station on my way to the library. And then I remembered about the annual phenomenon known as “The Carnival Itch.” The posters were of missing men from our town and its vicinity. The locals called it The Carnival Itch because there seems to be missing men from about a week before the carnival arrived to about a week after it left. The police never solved these cases, and since they were transients or men without family, the search often stopped abruptly, police figuring they had joined the carnival. As I quickly purused the poster, one man in particular looked vaguely familiar, and my mind flashed to the House of Mirrors. I was late meeting my best friend Steph, so I rushed on and again forgot about it.
As my family stood in line at The Ice Cream Stand a few days later, before the carnival packed up and left, I had time to read the special ice cream flavors for this year: Coffee Whopper; Strawberry Delight; Pistachio Mafia. And then it clicked. The flavors coincided with the missing men. Strawberry Delight: John Doe51, a redhead with big ears; Pistachio Mafia: John Doe62, an Italian with piercing green eyes. Finally, the man from the House of Mirrors: Coffee Whopper, the round chocolate whopper imitating his bulging eye and the coffee, the color of his skin.
“Next!” the girl at the counter screamed. We shuffled to the counter, viewing all the flavors under the glass. My parents ordered and then it was my turn. “Coffee Whopper, triple scoop.” I hated little boys who cried when they couldn’t find their way out of the House of Mirrors. I took a lick. It was delicious.
After my divorce, I bought myself my first expensive piece jewelry—a ring. It was a ring of three silver bands welded together, with blue stones of different hues. I wore it proudly and to me, it represented my independence and the sudden freedom of making my own decisions. It gave me confidence to be the new me.
Before, with a growing family and money going elsewhere, I’ve never thought about buying myself anything of value. It was my own beautiful ring and I was proud of it.
Fast forward more than ten years. I’ve been through several relationships; a major move to a new job, city and state; and the sudden death of my ex-husband. My son was seventeen years old. It was a time of crisis, loss, and soul searching, but like all things, time slowly healed.
Now, it was the time for my biggest transition of all: the world-wide law firm where I was employed offered a voluntary buy-out for all their legal assistants. It was following the trend of law firms, to outsource, creating more money for the partners.
I was ready for a change. The four-hour commute to and from work was wearing me out (five hours on stormy days). Yes, it was good money, but I felt trapped in a box, the box being the high-rise where I worked. My work days were becoming 12 to 13 hours. I was becoming bitter and depressed.
When this opportunity arose, I was ready to sign on the dotted line before the meeting was even over. During the last few days at work, I was busy clearing out my area, taking home what I wanted to keep, and giving away what I didn’t. At home, I was involved in yard sales, giving items to Goodwill, and hiring a handyman to take trips to the dump. My son was now 24-years old and would be able to live on his own.
I had purchased a Class C RV, and was planning on hitting the road, relaxing, workamping, editing and writing. For the past six years, I’d been camping and traveling on weekends and vacations in my teardrop trailer and I loved the life of the open road, to go where I wanted to and enjoy the peace and quiet of nature.
The day I lost the ring, I didn’t feel it slip from my finger. Earlier that day, I had noticed that it was loose, but I didn’t think much about it. I was at work and I had just gone down to the lobby of the next building’s promenade for my break, when I noticed my ring wasn’t on my finger. I panicked. I only had a few days left at work and I didn’t want to lose it forever. I was stressed about getting everything done and this was one thing I didn’t want to happen. I went up and down the escalators twice, looking for the ring. I checked the elevator, I went to the lobby and told the guards to contact me if it was found. I left word at reception.
The ring was my sense of freedom, individuality, my sense of self. Now it was gone. I felt loss and some desperation. It felt like my security was gone, my confidence. I went into a restroom stall and cried. It wasn’t all about the ring, a bit of silver and three stones. It was a cry for the last ten years of my life. A journey of self-discovery, acceptance, self-confidence, love and loss.
Deep down, I was ready for my next adventure. I missed my ring, but after my cry, I felt acceptance and a sense of peace. I knew somehow that this next stage in my life would work out. I had faith.
Now, in the present, a year after I had lost my favorite ring, and after taking off into the world, instead of looking at jewelry or ‘stuff’ for my self-acceptance and confidence, I sit outside my RV and enjoy nature. I feel the breeze on my face. I’m not stuck in rush-hour traffic, but enjoying an awe-inspiring sunset. I hear birds, not train tracks. I smell earth, not pollution. I see my dogs beside me, not strangers. I can take naps, read, write, discover new places, and meet new people. My freedom is not limited to memories and a piece of silver… it extends all the way to the universe and back. Nature is what unlocks my passion and my sense of self. I am one with nature and happy to be here. It’s a new time, out with the old and in with the new, someone had said. That someone is wise.
Every so often I do think about my favorite ring, and I miss it. It was not the ring itself, I now realize, but my world when I purchased it. I have grown so much since that time and when I look back, I see myself as a baby, emotion-wise. Even though I was a woman, I had a lot of growing up to do. I know I still have a lot to learn, and I’ll never stop learning and growing. Of course not. But the difference from that time to now, is the self-acceptance. I’ve learned to forgive myself for past mistakes. I’ve learned to love myself as I am, and not mold to anyone’s expectations. I guess that little bit of silver did teach me something after all.