4

Tears and Easter Have All The Same Letters

It is 1 a.m. here in Southern California. It has been Easter for one hour. And I have been crying for a little less than that. True, I did stay up too late, and true, I do have that most awful of female conditions – the period – and true, I have been emotionally strung out in other ways recently. But, still, I am crying. Because it is Easter, and that makes me feel incredibly lonely.

As I enjoy these perfect 75 degree and gently windy days I find myself constantly wondering what the weather is like in Minnesota. I see my children running outside in their bare feet and imagine them in heavy boots and hats. I flinch as the cars flip by me and zig zag on the ten lane highways and I begin to wish for the slow crawls of northerners on a snow day.  And don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining about my life in God’s little perfect bubble of ocean breeze and hiking trails. It’s just that, I feel so far from home. The time has come for me to set down roots for my own little family, to be the mom that guides the traditions and establishes patterns for my kids to miss when they are older. And I feel wholly unprepared for that.

I asked a friend if she wanted to do an Easter Egg Hunt and have dessert with us at the park today. She said, “You mean worship a fertility goddess? No.” And I get that she has her own ideas and that is fine. But this cut me deeply. Easter to me is precious. And for her to just slash it down like it was some ridiculous joke I was stupid to care about got my blood boiling. Easter is awesome. And I didn’t realize I felt that way until it changed for me. Perhaps gathering a basket of eggs is somehow related to a former pagan ritual. And maybe chocolate bunnies are just a way for Hallmark to get me to spend more money. But who the freak cares? A basket of colorful plastic brings me back to that feeling of security when, what seemed like countless family members, would surround me. And eating the waxy ear off a chocolate bunny brings me back to my grandmother handing one out to each of us grand kids.

It was on an Easter that my great-grandmother wore my huge purple monster slippers cause her feet were cold. And then she shuffled outside while the rest of us cheered like she had saved the world and we took a big family picture right then. With the purple, hairy slippers front and center. And everyone was smiling so big because a 90 year-old woman looked ridiculous in those slippers. And I wasn’t particularly close to her, but that doesn’t matter, because she is part of my family, and she is a permanent part of Easter to me now. I actually remember all of us cousins discussing the weird wrinkly feeling of her cheek when we gave her the obligatory kiss. I hope she never caught on to us.

In my family. You would walk in the front door of some relative’s house. then whoever was first to see you would yell “The Downings are here!” and from the other room you would here “Hey!” and “Hello Downings!” and “Finally we can eat!” and “What took you so long?” And there would be some bickering between my mom and dad about whose fault it was we were late, and then we would all settle in and the day would fly by with grandma trying to feed us all like we were chickens in need of fattening before she could cook us.

Of course, there was the Easter Egg Decorating Competition. This held the most weight out of any other competition in my family. The winner received a perfect, smooth egg carved out of marble by my grandfather. To be prominently displayed on its own sacred handmade wooden pedestal for the rest of the year. Whoever won the Egg Decorating Contest was revered as some sort of god for the rest of the year. This was the big papoola people.

And then there would be an Easter Egg hunt on my grandparents huge lawn. And there was one golden egg with a five dollar bill in it and, oh boy, we would hunt. It got intense. I distinctly remember people tackling each other one year. It wasn’t a real holiday until at least two kids were in an ace bandage and the landscaping had been ruined. And that went for every gathering. I seem to remember my cousin Sam usually being the injured one. And I know Sophie was like a rubber band and could be hit by a wrecking ball and laugh about it. And I remember the impression that my grandpa thought we were all a bunch of gooses who needed some time in the American Military.

I just wish I could go back to who I was in those times and appreciate them more. I didn’t see how lucky I was to be that person in that moment. And I guess that’s life, especially the adolescence part. You’re too busy being dramatic about everything to see that what you have now is good and it won’t last forever.

I got two Easter pictures this weekend. One showed the Egg Decorating Contest submission of my sister and her daughters. The other showed the smashed up mini-van of my sister and her sons. Both made me cry. I love my life in California and I know I am blessed. But I miss my family. I miss having to converse on the impossible task of giving an egg curly brown hair, and then working hours on building a magical department of mysteries as a set for that egg. And I hate that when I hear my nephews were in a car accident I don’t get to squeeze them and thank God all bones are still in place.

I just miss my family. And that is the simplest way to put it.

Thank the Lord for Winnie the Pooh, who said the things we all feel. “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” (You gotta love that bear.)

And so while I miss my family so much, and I miss loud holidays with yelling and crying and laughing and begging grandma to put the food away, I am going to try really hard not to make the same mistake twice. I have learned my lesson. And I have to calm down enough to realize that who I am right now, with what I have in this moment, is not going to last forever. Soon my kids will not want to search for eggs in the backyard, and they will be too old to want a picture with the Easter bunny, and one gummi bear in a plastic egg is gonna start to look cheap. So I will take this Easter that I can get.

And I will think of my family back home. And I will squeeze the one I have here, in this strange magical land where the days are all perfectly the same.

And I am gonna cry. But I am also gonna smile. Because it’s Easter. And that is just how it has always been.

 

3

When You Become Your Mother

ked29 (2)If you were anything like me, (self-proclaimed awful, horrible, ungrateful swine of a teenager) then you probably hated your mother at times. Especially during your formative years.

I always viewed my mother in her attempts to protect us, or teach us something, or flip her lid when she just couldn’t handle another eye-roll, and thought she was so unfair and naive and unbelievably out-of-touch.

And, if I am not mistaken, this happened to you, too. Because I feel like it has happened to about 99% of the female population. Heck, I know it happened between my mother and her mother.

It’s just something that comes with having a daughter.

IMG_20160118_145412328And my turn is coming.

I remember saying, “I will NEVER do that!”

I probably used that phrase for anywhere between 5 and 10 habits of my mother. (Now she is gonna call me and ask me what those 5 to 10 things were and it’s gonna be a lovely Skype meeting.)

Anyways. I saw those things and they were HUGE. They were the end-all of her legacy. But little did I realize, in my impaired teenage brain, that to have 5 to 10 things you couldn’t stand was not a bad percentage for the 100’s of other things she passed down. Through her looks, and her manner of sitting down, and the way she ordered something at the drive-thru window, and the way she sighed when she got red sauce on her shirt. (She will probably bring up those examples in the Skype meeting, too.)

me and momAll in all, I sigh the exact same way when my kids have pushed me to my mummy limit. The sigh that means “I should have been an artist and moved to Barcelona.” And I mutter under my breath in the same way when someone on the road won’t let me in. And I become completely deaf to my children when reading. Just like her.

But there are other things, too, in my life. Things I see today that I saw through different eyes as a little girl. To me it comes as a surprise when the things I cherish in my new family are the things my mother upheld for us in her own family.

the famTonight, as I was loading the dishwasher and listening to Jo work her heart out on her piano, I realized I became my mother in a way that I never even knew I wanted to. But this new home in this new place felt like the home I grew up in because my mother’s habits were here.

Then I saw the way I kiss Jo’s forehead and rub her hair back before turning the light out as a legacy from my mother. I saw the egg-salad sandwiches with potato chips and watermelon as a Downing staple. And I realized that my way of saying “hm?” in a bored manner when reading is just an echo of my mother’s voice.

mom making flowerThen I understood that for all my youthful promises of rising above the “horrible” ways of my mother, I had become more like her than I even once feared. And it made me happy. Really, really happy. Because she was actually pretty dang good.

Moms are never gonna be perfect. My grandmother wasn’t. My mother wasn’t. And I’m not. And on and on it goes. And on and on daughters go moaning and groaning. And on and on we go, eventually realizing how ridiculous that was.

You can never really leave your mother behind. Her shadows fall on your life in a million different ways. And that’s what makes your own attempts at building a life so beautiful. Because you don’t start alone. You start with her.

me nad momAnd you may love it, or you may hate it, but your mother is the jumping point. And your flight is her legacy.

2

Post-Christmas Card

I know that the tradition is to send out cards yabi-jabying about the whole family before Christmas. But honestly, who has time for that? It’s like, what a dumb tradition, let’s take the busiest time of year for Mama Clauses and then tack on a writing assignment where you have to convince everyone your lives are ideal without coming off as show-offy or snooty.

Mmmmm. Not for me.

So I’m doing the family update now. Because now I have tons of leftovers in my fridge (whew), and I have given up hope on the house. It’s ideal.

IMG_20150213_093250077As you all know, we moved to California in July. JJ’s face here pretty much sums up how we feel about that. He either looks like he is uncontrollably happy, or he is about to birth a small asteroid. And that is how we feel much of the time.

We go on LOTS of adventures. Some good. Some ending with us carrying two 45 lb kids on our backs from bus stop to bus stop at 10 o’clock at night. Either way, they’re all adventures. And if we can get a 75% success rate, then I would say we’re doing all right.

California is SUPER family friendly. And they host a TON of free events so you don’t have to balance your budget when you’re done. Bonus! 2015-11-21 16.48.00

 

We go to the park at least once a day.IMG_20150727_181039858_HDR

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We do a lot of hiking.IMG_20151017_175643568

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We participate in all the local festivities.

Light Shows

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Train rides

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Slip and Slides

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And even pirate attacks!

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We go to the model train museum and ride the trains.

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We do a lot of yoga.

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And we’ve made a ton of friends.

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And Jordan is doing GREAT at his job.

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Jo is finding lots of things to climb on.

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Grandmas came to visit

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We play a lot of games.

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We walk to school everyday. Sometimes we are late because of butterflies.

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We do a lot of baking.

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Sometimes it doesn’t work out quite so well.

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And. Of course. We LOVE the beach.

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So, there you have it.

Life has treated us well in 2015. And we hope the next year can keep the momentum going. Because we are on a ROLL!

It has been a blast.

January is bringing its own craziness. But. More on that later.

As of now, we have had an awesome six months. YAY for Awesomeness! Let it reign!

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4

Catchup

Ho There, 

Long time no read.
I would apologize to my unwavering fandom for the absence, but let’s be honest, if Adele isn’t gonna apologize for randomly dropping off the face of the earth, then I probably don’t need to, since my absence is much less catastrophic. 

Let’s see . . . a short recap. 

Um. Jordan got a job offer from California State University. After much fiery debate involving podiums and Hillary Clinton hair, we voted for California, throwing cost of living out the window and making close friends with the sun.

The kids and I stayed in the Minnie-Soda for a couple months while Jordan drove his desk and my absurd book collection across the country with his sister Rebekah. Shout out to my Dad, for letting the leech live on. He really is the Gandhi of frozen tundra. But with mahatma_gandhi21more hair. 

Then the kids and I flew out, and instead of crying my eyes out this time, I screamed uncontrollably as I donned my sunglasses and saw that ocean sparkle out my window.

Next was filling in the bookshelves and decorating the walls and laying out the new quilt and pillows I had made. Jo and JJ have awesome rooms filled with Tinker Bell and Dinosaurs and I have my very own private yoga studio. Not that I really need one since there are three, I repeat THREE, great yoga studios within walking distance of my house. Oh, and just to clarify, people in California are serious about their yoga. I have never seen so many handstand push-ups. 

Here are some pictures of the house.

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I was being vigilant about sunscreen for awhile but I finally just said, “Screw it!” because there is no fighting it here — you will be tan. Even Jordan is tan. JORDAN! He’s brown as a dairy cow. 

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Jo has found a home for her dare-devil ways and is California’s newest rock-climber. There is no cliff she will not scale. She is 100% California through and through. She does yoga every morning, she is obsessed with organic produce, loves to feel the waves crash at the ocean, and spends her life barefoot, growing tanner and blonder by the minute. She is making tons of friends at Kindergarten. Her new pet is the world’s largest and freakiest spider and she talks to her sunflowers every morning. She screams and rolls around in the driveway every time it rains and is hunting for a bear she can live with – in the cave. She is Jordan’s other wild canary. IMG_20150909_131552145_HDR

JJ. He is a big hunk of work. I thought all this exercise out here might lighten him up a bit but he just gets heavier and heavier by the banana. That kid is nothing but muscle. I never knew bananas were the secret to sumo status. He also does yoga, but only the poses he likes, otherwise he just rolls around on the mat shouting random things that don’t have anything to do with anything. He follows Jo’s lead and is determined to fall from some great height, but is more nervous about the ocean since he sinks like a rock. He has a great group of friends, all of them blonde little boys who like to bash things. And he will argue with you until you can’t remember which is what. Now when he points to the moon and calls it the sun I say, “Yep,” because at three he has already worn me down.

IMG_20150806_130410336Jordan is great at his job. I don’t mean to brag, but he received the highest student ratings possible his first term here and people are flocking to his classes like they’re Huntington Beach on the 4th of July. Not to be rude, but I was surprised. Then again, Jordan doesn’t do anything unless he is serious about it and will only give his best work. He’s inspiring and exhausting at the same time. He bikes up and over the highest lookout in the next three cities on his way to work every day and can beat me in any race now, but I can still stand on my hands longer so he hasn’t won yet.

And me. I got a bike trailer that has a trunk, that’s right, a trunk, because California is the land of the two-wheel free. I’m half-way through my yoga teacher training and am very sweaty, but also happy. I am also taking tap. Like with tap shoes. AH! I eat a ton of food because the restaurants are numerous and incredible, the farmer’s market is like a weeklyIMG_20150918_191238406_HDR festival, and produce is CHEAP. Every day that I say “I’m bored” I’ve found something else to do within ten minutes because Orange County was made for the hyper-active. I have gone to more festivals in the past month than I had in the ten years prior. Saturdays can be frustrating because it’s hard to choose between a music festival or a pirate festival, an author reading or a writer’s conference, free yoga on the beach or free yoga at the arboretum, going to a fireworks show or seeing a play, or grilling at the beach and spending the day building castles and watching the surfers. There is a reason the authors that come out of California don’t bother with periods or rereading something before having it printed. There is only time to scribble and run.

This is the first thing I’ve written since moving here. And that’s only because I have to sit here to make sure the house doesn’t burn down while the kids are sleeping. 

But. 

The hammock is calling. That ocean breeze has reached my back porch and the scent of our orange blossoms is something you could never find in a bottle. The garden is thirsty and the crickets are singing. And I have a bowl of raspberries and a book waiting for me.

So once again it is off to the outdoors for me.  

One of our favorite beaches

0

Chapter Sixty-Two

When Binny got back from the cabin, she felt like the whole world had changed. Walking into the house, she went up to Mom’s bedroom and gently knocked. Mom was inside resting, but she asked Binny to come in and tell her all about her vacation. Binny sat next to her on the bed and told her all about their hilarious adventures and the bald eagle and the way the sky lit up just before the sun went down. She told her about tumbling down the island and dancing on the dock and Jason holding her hand in bed every night. Mom nodded and laughed through all of it and told Binny how lucky she was to have a friend like Jason. Then, Rebekah came into the room with a bowl of popcorn, and the three of them laid on the bed together and watched Sense and Sensibility.

After the movie, Mom decided to go to sleep, so Rebekah and Binny cleared out. Rebekah went into her room to call a friend from college, and Binny stood in the living room, alone for the first time in a week. She looked around her. All over the house she could see Mom. Her books were on the coffee table; her glass of tea and the cordless were by the yellow chair. Pictures of her sat on the china hutch, and a stock pile of her pills sat on the counter.

Binny went out the front door and stood on the porch. It was getting late, and the sky was a shy pink tucking itself behind the trees and houses. She looked at the rocking chair, then looked around to make sure no neighbors were in their yards and the front door was closed tight. Binny stood in front of the rocking chair and leaned down toward it, putting a hand on each of the arm rests. “Now, you listen here,” she whispered. “This is my mom’s chair. You have to go find somewhere else to sit because she is gonna need it.” Then Binny stood up, turned around, and sat herself in the chair. With a puff, death evaporated behind her, and Binny rocked back and forth to clear the fog. Then she laid her head back and closed her eyes.

Binny laughed.

James was right. She could be a little crazy sometimes.

0

Chapter Sixty-One

On their last night, Binny sat in her kayak while Jason canoed beside her. It was getting late. The sky was one big swatch of gray. The water, too, was still and looked like a sheet of metal with dark blemishes here and there. They watched the sky for eagles, hoping to get another glimpse before heading home tomorrow morning. Jason, to Binny’s surprise, liked bird watching. It was getting cold out, and Binny shivered in her life jacket. Jason teased her about wearing one, but Binny refused to be one of those freak accident deaths. She always wore her seatbelt, always wore a helmet, and always wore a life jacket in water deeper than six feet.
She breathed in the abundance of oxygen. “You know what’s awesome?”
He kept his eyes on the line of towering pines circling the lake. “Huh?”
“The trees take our carbon dioxide, breathe it in, and then breathe out more oxygen for us to use. It’s just so amazing, you know? We’re the only planet with trees. We’re the only planet that has humanity’s greatest ally.”
“You think about a lot of weird stuff all the time.”
“Well, don’t you think that’s cool?”
He laughed. “It is cool, but I don’t sit around in my kayak thinking about mankind’s tree relationship.”
“I’m in a kayak! What else am I supposed to think about?”
Jason’s hand shot up. “Look! There’s one!”
Binny looked up. She didn’t have to shield her eyes because the sun was incognito for the evening. “Dang, those birds are so freaking huge.”
“They’re like crazy bad-ass.”
“You’re crazy bad-ass.”
Jason’s head snapped in surprise. “Binny! You just swore!”
She shrugged. “It’s not like a real swear word. It’s in the Bible.”
He laughed at her.
“What?”
“I was just thinking about that time when you threw your mashed potatoes at your loser ex-boyfriend.”
She laughed, too. “That was pretty funny.”
“Remember when we smashed our lunches all over Joe and his stupid friend Mark?”
Binny laughed harder.
“I mean, little, quiet, innocent Binny, who never does anything wrong, who still wears life jackets. You just stood up and threw them across the room, in front of everyone.”
“Yeah, it was kind of out of character. I don’t know what came over me.”
“You came over you.”
“Okay?”
“I mean, you finally, for one second in your life, weren’t controlling yourself. You just let yourself out and did something awesome.”
She tilted her head back to the sky again. The never-ending gray was so beautiful. It wasn’t asking her to be happy and optimistic like sunshine and fluffy clouds. It wasn’t telling her to be sad like rain or to hide like snow. It was simply blank. It was the most accepting sky she had ever seen. “I love this sky.” She reached her hands up to touch it. “Isn’t it amazing how many different colors the sky can be? Even all at once. Sometimes the sky has every color in it all at the same time. It’s unbelievable.”
“What, are you William Wordsworth?”
“Who’s he?”
“A poet. He writes nature poetry.”
“Cool.” They sat silent for awhile. Binny stared at the massive concrete ceiling above them while Jason watched the trees for birds. “You can see why people think God lives up in the sky somewhere.”
“Huh?”
“I just mean because the sky is like this whole other existence. It doesn’t even belong here, really. It’s such a fluid part of nature, like a soul.”
“You really believe in God, Binny?”
She looked at him. “I didn’t think I did, but now I think I do.”
“Why? I don’t get it. Your pastors tell you the craziest things. Your friends there are completely worthless.”
“No one’s worthless.”
He tilted his head at her. “Whatever. I just mean, church is so weird, and the people there can be so stupid. You’re always so afraid that God is gonna strike you down for every little thing you do wrong.”
“I used to be afraid of that, but I’m not anymore.”
“You’re not?”
“No.” She closed her eyes and sighed. “I don’t really know about the things my pastors say. I definitely don’t believe what they say about gays.” She looked at him. His head was down; for once, he had forgotten about the Eagles. “I do believe God loves me, though.”
“Why?” It sounded more challenging than curious.
She turned her face up again. “Because he gave me the sky.”
“He didn’t give you the sky. He gave the world the sky.”
She shrugged. “Well, maybe he loves the world.”
He scoffed. “John 3:16, huh?” He dipped his feet into the cold water. “That all men might have everlasting life.” He laughed. “I freaking hate being Catholic. It’s such bullshit.”
Binny didn’t say anything.
“Everlasting life for everyone but me, the degenerate freak.”
“Everyone’s a degenerate freak, Jason, in their own way.”
He looked at her. “You know what I mean.”
She sighed. “Yeah, I do.”
“Do you think I’m a freak?”
“Of course not!”
“Even though your pastor says that if I pray enough I will stop being this way? I could just magically stop being myself? God would fix whatever thing he royally screwed up on when he made me?”
“He didn’t screw up.”
“Your pastor -”
“Screw the pastor!” Binny threw her hands up into the air. “Screw the priest! Screw the freaking rabbi and all the Muslim leaders, whatever the heck they are called. Who needs ’em?”
“Church does. Church. God’s holy house where you can go to sit around and yak it up with the big guy.”
Binny shook her head. “Oh, don’t give me that crap. You know God doesn’t live in any of those stupid churches.”
“No? Then what the hell have we been doing there for the past fifteen years?”
“I don’t know. Trying to find other people who think the same things that we do, I guess.”
“Even though we don’t agree with any of the things they say.”
She laughed. “Kinda dumb, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know.” He took a deep breath, then quickly stood up, almost tipping his canoe. He threw his head back and screamed, “I am just so FUCKING sick of the whole thing!”
“Jason!”
“I’m serious! I’m so sick of this whole God-damn world telling me what a freak I am! What a stupid, worthless, sub-par freak I am!”
“Jason!”
“My whole life, Binny! It’s my whole sucky life. Who gives a shit about the stupid sky? Who gives a shit? The only thing people give a shit about is how I’m not good enough for them.”
“Jason.”
“I hate it!”
“I know!”
“I hate it! It’s bullshit!”
She screamed. “I know!”
He sat down. His boat lurched and rocked, making small waves in the still water. He didn’t cry or keep swearing. He just laid back in his canoe and moodily stared at the sky.
Binny looked up too. “Does the sky want you to change?”
“What?” He was still mad.
“Does the sky want you to change? Is there anything in the huge, blank sky that says it thinks you’re a degenerate freak?”
He glared. “No.”
“Do I want you to change?”
“No.”
“Does your family want you to change?”
“No.”
Binny paddled closer and gingerly crawled into his canoe. She laid her oars so that one hooked onto the side of his canoe and one snagged underneath the elastic straps on her kayak. She looked at Jason, who was still looking at the sky, then laid back against his chest, snuggling up in front of him. She rested her head against his shoulder and pulled both his arms around her. “The whole world doesn’t want you to change, Jason. Maybe some of it does, but there is nothing, and no one, who is within three-hundred feet of you right now that wants you to change. Right now, you are completely loved.”
They watched the sky together. Suddenly, the sun finished setting and it turned the space hovering above the coast a brilliant orange. It flared up and glowed just for them before tucking beneath the horizon.
Binny smiled. “See? Even the sky loves you.”
“The sky loves everyone.”
“The sky doesn’t do THAT for everyone.”
He shrugged. “Maybe you’re right.”
Just off to the right, they heard a huge splash. Binny screamed and grabbed onto Jason’s arms, and the boat rocked.
Jason held her close and yelled, “Look!”
Right in front of them, not more than twenty-feet away, a huge bald eagle beat its unbelievable wings and rushed away with its catch.
“Oh my God!” He looked at Binny. “Did you see that?”
She nodded.
“That was the most incredible thing I have ever seen!”
“Scared the poop out of me.”
“I can’t believe it!” He laughed. “I can’t believe we just got that close to a bald eagle – like, a real, live bald eagle and not that sad, depressed one at the zoo.”
Binny agreed with him, “That was pretty crazy.”
“Pretty crazy? Getting in a car accident is pretty crazy. That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience! That was like a once-in-every-one-hundred-lifetimes experience!”
She laughed. “You’re right, it was pretty awesome.”
“I still can’t believe it happened.” He slapped his thigh. “Man! I wish I’d had my camera.”
“If you consciously think of the details and replay it in your mind again and again, you won’t forget it. You have to make it stick.”
“Okay, let’s close our eyes memorize it so that we won’t forget it.”
“Okay.”
They closed their eyes, and he rested his cheek against her crazy curls. Binny memorized the awkward feel of her life jacket and Jason’s warm arms wrapped around hers. She replayed the sound of the water gently nudging the side of their canoe and the taste of the oxygen fresh from the trees. She thought about the smell of the pines and the way he had forgotten everything else when that bald eagle flew by. Binny knew that God loved her – not just because he had given her the sky, but because he had given her Jason.

0

Chapter Sixty

Three days later, Binny left with Jason’s family for their cabin up at the lake. It was a warm spring, and already there were a few flowers blooming here and there. All through the car ride, Jason kept reminding Binny not to get her hopes up because the cabin was more like a shack the family had built together. When Binny got there, she fell in love. The shoreline was covered in tall reeds that made you take notice of even the smallest breeze. There was a dock for diving and a sandy patch for launching the canoe and kayaks. There was a fire pit, a porch off the front of their cabin, a picnic table, and a circle of curtain that you could hide in while you dumped a bucket of water over your head.

Jesse hung out with them for much of the time, which Binny didn’t really mind, but Jason kept telling him to go away. They practiced their routine every morning on the dock, and Jason’s dad didn’t tell them it was too sexual to do in public. During the afternoons, Binny and Jason took the kayaks out to explore the lake, and in the evenings, they sat around the fire every night and talked and laughed.

One afternoon, Jason and Binny pulled up onto a small island and climbed the steep hill that was the shore. At the top, Jason grabbed hold of a tree for balance while Binny struggled up behind him. All of a sudden, Jason screamed and threw his hand back. It was covered in hundreds of bugs crawling up and down his arm. The flying hand hit Binny in the face and sent her rolling backward down the hill. She landed in the water with a bloody nose. Tears streamed down her face as Jason tumbled down the hill to her.

When he had pulled her out of the water, they rolled in the dirt together, laughing and holding their stomachs and gasping for breath. When they got back, Binny had blood dried on her face. They were so covered in mud that Jason’s mom had screamed and come running. The story made the whole family laugh that night as they sat around roasting tinfoil pies in the fire.

Jason and Binny ran to the store to pick up glitter, sequins, tulle, and puff paint. Jason bought pants and a button-up, while Binny bought an old dress to embellish. They spent one afternoon laying in the grass by the cabin, decorating their costumes for the ballroom competition. Binny added layers of tulle underneath her dress. They cut Jason’s shirt so it had a deep v-neck, just like all the dancers they watched online. They still didn’t have ballroom shoes, but Binny sprayed glitter glue on an old pair of high heels, and Jason was going to borrow a pair of her jazz shoes to make himself look more legitimate.

In the evening, they modeled their costumes for the family and practiced their routine a couple times. All of them clapped their hands and told them how wonderful they looked. They couldn’t really rely on Jason’s parents since parents always think whatever their child does is amazing. They couldn’t rely on Jesse’s opinion, either, because Jason had been right – Jesse was pretty much head over heels for Binny. Still, it was good to have some admiration to boost morale before their big dance.

Binny lived through that week like she was in a paradise. Being at the cabin with Jason meant being far away from all the things Binny didn’t like about her life or herself. Binny had noticed it the first time she hung out with Jason, that night he threw the egg at her head and they went back to her house for Chinese. To him, she was a person. He didn’t objectify her into something he could use or willingly shave off some of her dimensions in order to make her more of what he thought she should be. Jason had a gift that she figured most humans never developed or even encountered. He appreciated people for who they were. He wasn’t always looking for something better. When he met a person, he took them all in and just went with what was there. He rolled with the punches instead of punching back.

Jason’s parents let him and Binny sleep on the same air mattress. Binny knew that if Jason had been straight, they probably would have made him sleep five miles away. Since they were positively sure no flaring teenage hormones could cause a teenage pregnancy, they didn’t make a big deal about them sharing a blanket at night. It was the first time Binny slept next to someone in her life. For one thing, Jason made the bed a lot hotter. Sometimes, she could feel his breath on her neck or face. At the same time, he held her hand in bed. While they stayed awake to talk in the dark and laugh about all the stupid stuff they had done that day, he held her hand. Binny went to bed every night and woke up every morning feeling like someone loved her.

On the fourth night, Binny lay on the air mattress with Jason holding her hand. It was dark, and they were both getting sleepy. Binny turned to look at Jason’s outline in the light coming through the window. “I changed my mind, you know.”

He yawned. “About what?”

“About getting married.”

“You did?”

“Yeah. I’ve decided I do want to get married.”

Jason laughed a little. “Huh. How come?”

“I want to be able to fall asleep holding someone’s hand.”

“It’s nice, isn’t it?” Jason squeezed her hand. “I’ve said it before, and I will say it again. I love you, darling.”

Binny smiled. “Will you always love me?”

“Forever and ever.”

“Good.”