Charlie and I had actually known each other since I was in the fourth grade and he was in the sixth grade. He picked on me and my friends on the playground during recess but whenever his friends weren't looking he'd play jump rope with me or talk to me at the water fountain. But only when his friends weren't around. For my part, I mooned over him. Heart fluttering whenever we crossed paths. Daydreaming about him during class. I wrote about him in my little diary, the way only ten-year-old girls can.
We were never more than friends, though. I "went with" other boys and he had girlfriends. He offered to kick one boy's butt for me when I found out he'd cheated on me. It was all very sweet.
My friends hated him, though. And honestly, he wasn't all that nice to them. I think he sort of hated them, too. He had a chip on his shoulder a mile wide and he was only ever truly nice to me. Things were tough for him at home. His parents had split up and his mom remarried a man with two sons of his own who weren't all that easy on him. Not that that made his attitude okay, but the tenderheart that I am, I gave him a pass and defended him to my friends.
He played baseball in high school and I went to all of his games. My friends and I huddled under blankets in the cold night games and I'd cheer until my throat hurt and lungs ached. He looked so good in those tight uniform pants and since he was the catcher for our team, I'd always make sure to sit in the bleachers behind him.
Kinda pervy, right?
Everyone thought we were an item since he'd walk me to my first class every morning and sit with me during 2nd period gym class. He'd let me babysit his baseball card collection while he played basketball and then we'd walk back to the main building together, him all sweaty and victorious from the game. When he could sneak away from his friends at lunch, he'd end up at my table. But we never dated. Never kissed. Never even held hands. And when he saw a notebook where I'd stupidly written "Jana Loves Charlie" he freaked and hardly spoke to me for a week.
Yes. I was one of those girls who shouted her love from the cover of her notebooks. Didn't we all.
He moved away when I was fourteen. For a few weeks after we wrote to each other (actual letters!) and he sent me his school photo with "Love, Charlie" inscribed on the back. I poured over that photograph for days trying to decide if he meant the inscription and trying to decide if I should send him a photo of myself. This was all pre-internet, pre-social media, pre-everything modern when sharing photographs was a big deal--if I even had one to share.
In the end, it didn't matter because he stopped writing me back. I tucked his photo away in the back of an old photo album and tried to forget him.
I succeeded for a while in the sense that I fell in love with another boy and dated him all through the rest of high school. Then I met a guy in college who I fell in love with when my high school boyfriend and I broke up. I dated my college boyfriend, Andy, for several years until he took a job in another city after graduation and didn't ask me to go with him. By that time, I had established my career at the library and rented a sweet little house by the lake. As much as I loved Andy, I let him go because I was young and wasn't ready to be married anyway.
Six years passed and I dated here and there. Mostly first dates. Mostly because it was expected of me. I'd pretty much decided that I didn't want to marry. At 29, I really enjoyed my freedom. And if the men I dated didn't inspire me to fall in love, I was okay with that.
Until I ran into Charlie again.
I'm not going to lie and say I'd never thought of him during the years since we lost touch. Every now and then I'd pulled out his photo and thought about what might have been. If he hadn't moved away. If we hadn't lost touch. If we'd ever cemented anything other the chaste friendship we'd shared. So when he ran over my foot with his shopping cart at the grocery store, I wasn't entirely surprised that my heart gave a little blip.
Of course he looked different. His hair was speckled with strands of gray and there were lines around his eyes that hadn't been there when they'd take that long ago school photograph. But he still looked like him. Same dark blue eyes. Same mischievous grin. Of course he'd run over my foot on purpose to get my attention, much like he'd done in elementary school--teasing me and my friends just to get me to notice him.
I sort of panicked. My tongue felt as though it were glued to my the roof of my mouth and I'm pretty sure I yelped when he spontaneously hugged me in the middle of the frozen foods section. To this day he teases that I was struck dumb with love but what I was really struck with was sheer terror.
Standing in front of me was the boy I'd long pined over. The boy who's image had lingered in the back of mind all these years even as I forgot about him and fell in love with others. The boy who I realized in that moment I had held every other man up to and found them lacking. It was ridiculous how much I feared the crushing disappointment of having all those fantasies ruined in the face of the flesh and blood man standing in front of me, gushing about how great it was to see me and could he take me to lunch.
Of course I said yes and then bolted from the store before we could settle on a place to meet. I was home, car parked in the driveway, ice cream melting when I realized what I'd done. I'd essentially ran out on him in a blind panic.
I felt stupid, yes, but I also felt such relief. I'd dodged that bullet thus protecting my childish memories of my first young love.
It was two weeks before I ran into him again. Two weeks to kick myself as I congratulated myself. Two weeks of wondering if I'd ever see him again and wishing I never would while praying that I wouldn't get my wish. What can I say? It was confusing! I wanted my Charlie back in my life, of course I did. I wanted all those what if's to result in romantic love story. Even as I feared that I'd be crushed in disappointment.
The second time we ran into each other was at a church. Not my church but the church my sister's family attended. My niece and nephew were participating in a little church play and of course I went. My sister had neglected to tell me that Charlie had been attending the same church for several weeks so imagine my surprise during the fellowship greeting ritual to find Charlie grinning at me as he approached my pew.
I swear I almost cried with the relief in seeing him and realizing that he wasn't angry that I'd basically ditched him. He reached for me in what I'm certain was meant to be a friendly church greeting hug but when our bodies met and his arms wrapped around me, I lost all sense of place and time and clung to him. I don't know how long we stood there like that, wrapped up in that hug but I'm pretty sure a couple of hymns were sung.
After that morning Charlie and I were inseparable. We talked every day and saw each other nearly as often. We talked on the phone into the wee hours of the morning about everything and nothing. For months this went on and just as in elementary and high school, we never kissed. Never held hands. We weren't dating. He introduced me as his friend and the only time he ever touched me was whenever we were about to part--he'd hug me. Not the same clinging hug we'd shared in church that morning but just a brief tight hold before letting me go.
It drove me crazy. The relationship that wasn't. I loved him. I was in love with him. I saw my future with him in it. Marriage, kids, house, dogs, the whole enchilada. I craved a physical relationship with him and longed to hear him say the words I feared he never would. My family kept pestering me about it. "When were you getting married? You're turning thirty this year, the ol' clock is ticking. What are you waiting for?"
Of course they didn't know that we weren't an 'us.' They saw Charlie and me as a unit. Joined at the hip. It never dawned on them that they'd never seen us demonstrate any physical affection. They assumed that what Charlie and I had was a romance.
I never pressured him about it, though. Never even said the words aloud to him, though I thought them every time I saw him, spoke to him or was anywhere near him. I knew if I made the first move it'd be the high school freak out redox. For two years, I waited. Waited for him to make a move. To open his heart to me. To realize that we could be everything to each other.
And then one day it happened. I came home from work and he was waiting for me on my front porch, back braced against the front columns, one knee drawn up with an arm resting on top of it. For all the world, he seemed relaxed but as I approached him I sensed his tension. Something was up.
I smiled at him as I made my way to the porch and he smiled back as I sat on the porch beside him. We didn't speak for several moments and with each tick of silence I felt the breath in my chest still.
"I'm in love, Jana-girl."
And just like that all my dreams imploded. He had finally used the "L" word and my name in the same sentence but I knew he didn't mean with me. I felt the tears well in my eyes and I looked away from him, trying desperately to blink them away.
Her name was Marcia. They had been seeing each other for a several weeks and he wanted me to meet her. I didn't ask why he'd never mentioned her before. I already knew. He'd known how I felt and he'd been trying to spare my feelings. It dawned on me then that he had probably been seeing women the entire past two years. The whole time I was waiting on him, he was giving away the affection I craved to women who would never love him like I had. I wanted to scream at him. To rip his hair out by the roots. Mostly I just wanted to be alone to cry in private. The marriage, the kids, the house the dogs--all those things I'd seen in my future--those were dead and I had the urgent need to grieve.
Of course I agreed to meet Marcia. If he was telling me about her there must be something special about her and I wanted--no, needed--to know who this woman was who had managed to do the one thing I'd never been able to do. Make Charlie love me.
Of course she was wonderful. Beautiful, gracious, intelligent. And of course she knew. She knew that I had loved him all this time. The sympathy in her eyes, the careful way she spoke to me about him gave it away. She knew and she understood how hard it was for me. And I couldn't hate her. As much as I wanted to, I couldn't.
They were married six months later, a tiny little baby bump barely noticeable beneath the layers of white silk and lace. My heart, fragile thing that it was, sat in the audience with a clear view of them as they made their vows together and I thought I might never find a glue strong enough to keep the fractured pieces of myself together.
Almost a year to the day, I met the man who would accomplish that very task. I was crouched in the hardware aisle of Wal-Mart searching for a wrench to loosen the pipes of my bathroom sink and he offered to help me. At first I thought he worked there so I told him all about the clogged sink and my refusal to pay a plumber to do something I should be able to tackle myself and how I'd watched countless youtube videos and felt confident but had no idea what sized wrench I needed.
He helped me pick out a wrench and then offered to help me use it. To this day I don't know what made me accept his offer because, hello--he could have been an ax murder! But it's been three years since that first day he rescued me and he hasn't killed me yet. Not to say that he probably hasn't wanted to at times. We are both human, after all, and nothing in life is ever easy. But he is exactly the future I always dreamed of--better, even. We fight, we make up and we make each other better people for the struggle. And this time next year we'll be bouncing our very first baby on our knees.
Thank God, for knowing who and what we need better than we do.
Of course the above is a total work of fiction. No husband here and while Charlie and Andy are both real people--both boys who meant something to me--my relationships with them were never all that intense and most of the described events are entirely made up. But it was fun imagining "What might have been."
I'm spinning. Spinning my wheels and spinning out of control. Each day I wake up and I feel as though I'm scheduled to face the firing squad and it's really showing. Showing in my waistline. Showing in my credit card debt. Showing in the amount of work that's piling up on my desk. Showing up in the disastrous state of my home. Heck, it's even showing up in my relationships with other people.
Stress is a hell of a thing. It ruins you. Or maybe that's just me. It ruins me. And I'm not sure what to do about it. I've taken all the long hard looks at my life. I've recognized the problems. I've searched for alternatives. I've prayed. I've angsted. I've made promises to myself and others. I've cried and fussed and made myself miserable. I reach for happiness and maybe feel it for a day and then it's gone. I don't even remember, really, what it felt like to have my shit together. To wake up and not feel like crying because I have to get out of bed.
I have this very deeply rooted fantasy that someday I'm going to meet someone who will sweep me off my feet and whisk me away from all the crap that has taken away my joy. He'll be financially secure and beg me to stay at home and pursue things that make me happy because he doesn't like the things that are happening to me where I am . And then magically I'll lose all the weight I've gained and then some. I'll stop driving myself into credit card debt. I'll bake and write and get serious about photography and I'll be insanely happy.
A true pipe dream. But some nights, it's the only way I can get myself to sleep. Or the only way I can talk myself into getting out of bed in the morning. We probably all have our own version of this fantasy. Sometimes mine alters into me being independently wealthy and being able to quit my job but I kinda like the whole "sweeping me off my feet" scenario because it means that for once I don't have to do it all myself. Which, don't get me wrong--I'm thankful for my independence. I'm so thankful that I, for the most part, can take care of myself and am not fully reliant on another person. But sometimes it would be nice to not HAVE to handle it all myself.
Anyway, ya'll, I'm just about at my breaking point with no solution in sight. And if it were just me experiencing this level of misery I might think that I'm just creating problems for myself. That maybe I am the problem. But I'm not alone in this frustration boat. I have co-passengers and we are all paddling upstream against a strong current and taking on water. If something doesn't give soon, I fear we are all doomed.
For my part, I do all these self-destructive things in an effort to sooth or distract myself. I eat to feel better. Which only makes me feel worse because, hello. Fat! I shop to distract myself. But then I get my credit card statement and want to cry. I say ugly things about people to other people and spread the misery. But then I feel like crap because, you know. It isn't kind or Godly to say ugly things about people. I snap at the people I love and then hate myself for being hateful. I go home and instead of cleaning the kitchen or straightening up the house, I sit on my ass and watch mind numbing TV or play on my phone. And then I feel like a lazy failure because my house is in shambles and I have no clean forks to eat my feelings with. And it's all just this vicious cycle because the harder I try to find something to me feel better, the worse I feel because it's all so self-destructive. And even knowing this--understanding what's happening, I can't seem to shake myself out of it because there is NOTHING that is making me happy. Not deep down where it counts. I'm becoming a bitter, mean spirited, joyless old hag.
Something has got to change in my life because if it doesn't? I'm not sure how much longer I can keep this up. And that isn't a cryptic way of saying anything. That's just straight up, "I don't know what the hell to do to make this better before I explode." I can't seem to get a grip on anything and it's driving me insane and I hate it.
While I hate that being sick derailed me from my writing challenge, I must admit--blowing my nose, hocking up a lung and sleeping off a night-time cold medicine hangover was a small price to pay for a few days to stay home and refresh my mind as well as my body. In case you've any questions about my mental state where work is concerned...have you been reading the short story I've been posting here? haha It's a lot of wishful thinking in the category of what I'd say if I didn't want to keep my job.
Sure, it's fiction but they say, "Write what you know," so...Uh-huh. Now, if only George Montgomery were real...
Anyway, yeah. I stayed at home and nursed a (literally) bloody cold. Watched a lot of daytime television. Went through a lot of tissues. Took plenty of naps. Ate a LOT of KitKats. (Comfort chocolate at it's finest.) Put in plenty of snuggle time with the DP and relished the fact that I had a very valid excuse to ignore all the crap on my desk.
But alas, I am feeling better. Physically, anyway. Back to work and back to stress. Dreading an upcoming meeting (in 30 minutes) because I already know what's going to be asked of me and while I could say no, it wouldn't score me any points with a person who already mostly dislikes me. Rock? Meet Hard Place.
I had a glorious weekend, though. The weather was fantastic, I felt well enough to work on a furniture project for Mama. I read Kristin Higgins' newest book and flipped through the three new cookbooks I received in the mail Saturday. I went to a church homecoming where I sang two solos (and miraculously didn't cough through them) and ate a lot of yummy church potluck food. In essence, it was exactly the perfect conclusion to an unplanned break.
Now I'm off to face the firing squad. As we used to write on our notes in high school, Longer letter later!
Don't let me mislead you. I am not writing a cookbook. However, our library is putting together a cookbook to sell in support of our "Friends of the Library" program and the editor is currently taking submissions. It's a little embarrassing how many recipes I've sent her. I want to send them all! It is, after all, the closest I'll ever come to actually publishing a cookbook--or anything, really!
I think it's going to be a neat cookbook, though. Unlike a lot of the "contributed by" fundraiser type cookbooks I've seen--You know the ones put out by churches or other organizations--our editor has insisted that we include notes about our experiences with the recipes we contribute. And she has also insisted that whatever we contribute be something we've actually cooked as opposed to simply copying recipes we think are interesting but haven't ever made for ourselves. I'm excited about being a part of it. For once, I get to share my cooking experiences in a medium that might actually care!
That being said, I know I'm no expert. There are still cooking techniques I've never tried and I fail more often than I succeed when it comes to creating my own recipes. I'm no food blogger. But I do enjoy cooking things that I think will be delicious because, you know, I like to eat.
Here's what I've been making lately:
I made the filling from Pioneer Woman's Chocolate Pie and it was delicious and not all that complicated. I shared it with the folks and they seemed to enjoy it, too.
Then, of course there were the paw print sugar cookies. That recipe really does make the best rolled out and cut sugar cookies.
Then there were the jalapeno poppers I made and ate for supper Saturday night. Like these, but brushed with BBQ sauce prior to baking.
And then there was last night. *swoon*
On the way home from work as we outran the giant thunderstorm that moved through the area last night, I dreamed up the following concoction based on my desire for cream cheese, the mushrooms I needed to use ASAP and the fact that for once I had some yummy Italian sausage in my fridge.
Cheese Sausage Mushroom Casserole
8oz block cream cheese, softened
cup mayonnaise ½
cup sour cream (I used fat free) 8
oz. shredded Mozzarella, divided (I used
part skim) 4
sweet Italian Turkey sausage links, removed from casings 1
carton white button mushrooms, sliced.
oven to 400*
and cook sausage in medium skillet until just starting to brown before adding
mushrooms. Cook until sausage is cooked through and mushrooms are lightly
cream cheese in the microwave for just a couple of seconds until it is creamy
enough to stir with a spoon but not melted. Mix mayonnaise, sour cream and half
the mozzarella with cream cheese. Once sausage and mushrooms are done, stir
into cheese mixture. Pour into an oven safe casserole dish and cover the top
with remaining mozzarella and bake for 15-20 minutes, switching to broil for
3-5 minutes or until the cheese topping is brown and bubbly. Allow to rest for
a few minutes before serving.
recipe is actually based on a recipe for baked spinach dip that my sister
uses.I just used sausage and mushrooms
instead of frozen creamed spinach. For a lighter/healthier version, you could
use fat free cream cheese and light mayo and reduce the amount of mozzarella
cheese mixed in. You could also add whatever spices you like to flavor this up
to taste. I liked it with just the sausage for flavor. You could also add
whatever other veggies you wanted—bell pepper, jalapeno, spinach, artichokes,
or onions for example. And of course, if you’re not into turkey sausage, you
could use sweet pork Italian sausage or even go spicy. Breakfast sausage would
also be good. Let your palate (and your fridge/pantry) be your guide here.
For submission purposes I doubled the recipe from what I actually made last night but let me tell you...next time? I will be making a giant full on version of this because oh my cheesy sausage goodness was this stuff scrumptious. And I'm not even bragging on myself because, hello, how difficult is it to mess up sausage and cream cheese? But this stuff was soooooo good that I ate a little more than half of the small casserole dish's worth for supper and then when I went to pack up the rest of it I stood there and ate a good half of what was left. Tiny portion for me at lunch today. Sad.
I wish every day was filled with cream cheese inspired goodness. Just think how scrumptious life would be.