Safe and Sound

Packing tape rips, the sound raging through the telephone wire, threatening to undo my best attempts not to yell in order to be heard.

“Will you please stop for a minute?” I whisper in a saccharine tone. (I read somewhere if one lowers her voice during a conflict, the other person will listen better.) Tom keeps on clinking and ripping. I imagine his shoulders hunched over a desk, counting hundreds of buffalo nickels. My heart softens. “Call me tomorrow!” I yell. “I love you!”

I’ve been married to a traveling man for thirty years. Like a peddler whose wares hang on hooks from a wagon, Tom’s road-1208298_1280wares are coins which he buys and sells from his briefcase, filling it during the day. When he is racking up miles on asphalt, his office is a hotel room. Every evening he organizes and boxes the day’s purchases for shipping to customers. When he checks in in the evening, I try not to be annoyed by clinks of silver dollar on silver dollar as they drop into plastic holders. After all, he’s settled in, safe and sound.

 *   *   *   *

When he was away working, in the early years of our marriage, before we had internet, cell phones, or caller ID, but we had two small children, I listened for the phone to ring, carrying his voice to me. Call times varied according to where he was: I’m at the Red Roof Inn in Fargo. Our back and forth:

How was your day?

And how was your day?

What did the kids do today?

Taekwondo, homework, and oh, I put a drop of soap on Kendall’s tongue because he called Barbara a penis. Of course, she probably taunted him.

When Tom heard my laughter on the other end, he relaxed. Alexander Graham Bell’s invention helped keep our marriage together in our early child-rearing days, creating moments of intimacy in the ordinary when we were miles apart.

*   *   *   *

It’s 12;30 a.m. on a Saturday night. Tom is out-of-town. I am wide awake in bed, fanning the bodice of my cotton nightgown, trying to recover from a hot, humid day. Add a layer of anxiety from mothering two teenagers; I begin a conversation with myself.

Did I tell Barbara to call me when she leaves her friend’s house…

Cautious and compliant, Barbara will drive home, glancing through her rear-view window to be sure no stranger is following her, but I still want to hear “I’m on my way home.” Sometimes she positions herself in a taekwondo pose and pops a high kick reminding me that she almost earned a black belt.

The quick chirp of Barbara’s car alarm pierces the night. She closes the side door with a gentle nudge. Floorboards creak. The kitchen water faucet turns on, then off. I know she will open the refrigerator door looking for a snack to satisfy her tummy before a good night’s sleep. Her feet tread quiet and quick up the stairs to her room.

My inner monologue turns to Kendall.

Did I remember to pray: God watch over my boy—as if God would not keep Kendall safe if I forgot? Did I tell him to follow the speed limit?

A train whistles in the distance, and I worry that Kendall will pull too close to the tracks, and the train will derail.

Boom ba Boom ba Boom ba. I hear and almost feel Kendall approaching our driveway, heavy bass blaring—beautiful music to a mother’s ears. I inhale and exhale like an expectant mother in a Lamaze class. He needs to turn that thing down when he enters our neighborhood.

Our side door opens. Hinges squeak. Slam.

My man-child lumbers down the hallway with his size 14 sneakers slapping the floor. A looming presence stops at my bedroom door: “Mama, I’m home. Are you awake?”

“Yes, I’m awake.”

*   *   *   *

“I am 56 years old. I am not an old woman,” I say to Tom. “You bought me a safe car, and I can wield this cane like an old woman fighting off a purse snatcher.”

He worries about me. I have physical challenges, and he likes to be my knight in shining armor, but I insist that I have to do as much as I am able.

“Please text me or call me when you get home,” he says with concern, “and I’ll text you when I get settled at my hotel.”

I meet my sister for dinner, something we rarely do. Our menus remain untouched on the table while we begin chatting, catching up, talking over one another, finally stopping to give the server our orders. Diners at the table next to us smile when I choke on laughter as my sister and I reminisce about old boyfriends: the good, the bald, and the portly. Struggling to recover my manners, I avoid eye contact with my sister lest high-pitched giggles conquer me again.

We are the last to leave the restaurant, carrying our conversation out the door.

“We closed the place down,” I say with a merry grin. “Let’s promise one another to do this more often.”

The evening has flown by. I pull out my phone and text Tom.

Home soon. Love L

Back home, I settle under a quilt, with a full belly and heavy eyes. Grown and gone, my children are never far from my mind, but I don’t worry as much when I’m not expecting them to come home.

Instead of listening for a key in the lock or booming bass paving our driveway, my ears and heart are more open to God’s voice. He and I have a history together, and those nights I waited up, wondering, worrying, God heard, God answered.

My phone on the nightstand vibrates and scoots, awakening me from the edge of sleep. I knock my glasses off the nightstand, grope blindly for the phone, and bring it close to my eyes.

I’m in for the night

Safe and sound  Love T keys-233368_1280



Lisa bio YAH


The Sound of Breath, Hard to Come By

There is the sound of a child who is not breathing well, the sound of inflamed airways, the sound of air-gulping. She comes into our room in the middle of the night, and my wife and I both sit up in bed.

“Abra, are you okay?” I ask, and she nods, because everything is always okay in Abra-land, even when things are not okay. But her eyes are open too-wide, and there is a little panic there, hidden in the blue.

“My breathing,” she says, opening her mouth and pulling in air, and we scramble for medicine, for the inhaler, and for the calming oils. There is the sound of her coughing, and the sound of her swallowing her medicine. There is the popping sound her inhaler makes, the misting psht, the ten long breaths.

We have been down this road before. There is a new bed on the floor beside ours. There is the sound of quiet breathing, then the sound of sleep.

* * * * *

We decide to flee the city for a few days, and we pack up the truck with food and a tent and sleeping bags. We drive south and get to the cabin that used to be our house, and we remember those quiet days in the forest. We take trip after trip into the woods, carrying our things like mountain climbers attending to base camp. Lucy helps me set up the tent while the boys make a few more treks and Maile and Abra collect firewood.

IMG_1414It is cold and the wind rushes through the trees like a giant shushing us, reminding us this is holy ground. It was the house where we found our footing again after a long trip, the house where Maile miscarried a baby. It is the place where we were snowed in for three days, where Maile and I shoveled two feet of snow off the deck to keep it from collapsing.

We sit around the fire and my parents and two of my sisters surprise us by showing up and we laugh and eat s’mores and shift around the fire like the hands on a clock, avoiding the smoke. I remember the sounds of this place: dogs barking; a four-wheeler racing through the woods; a chainsaw starting up. But all of these sounds are muffled by distance, and if you’re not careful, you’ll miss them. They are, each of them, little messages from a different isolation.

My parents and sisters leave us as the sun is setting, as the cold rushes in over the hills. We quickly clean up the campsite and retreat to our warm sleeping bags in the tent, hoods up, eyes peeking out. Our son Leo crawls all over us, and our daughter Lucy reads Harry Potter to us. Her voice is like the voice of the last storyteller, clear and clean. When she reads, the faraway voices fade to almost nothing.

When we turn off the light, we can hear the wind, always the wind, rustling the soft spring leaves.

* * * * *

The sound of a cough wakes me up, and I hear labored breathing in the tent.

“Abra,” I hiss. “Abra.”

She rolls over and looks at me, and in the dim lantern light I can see her eyes are watery and tired.

“My breathing,” she says in a quiet, sleepy voice. I exit my sleeping bag, enter the cold air of the tent. I search through the bag, throwing out clothes, flashlights, a box of matches. I find the plastic bag that holds her medicine, her inhaler.

She holds the mask up to her face and !pop! goes the inhaler and then she takes in a deep breath, two deep breaths, three deep breaths, all the way up to ten, and (she knows the rhythm now, knows it without being reminded) !Pop! again, and again breathing up to ten. She takes a small dose of medicine. She crawls back into her sleeping bag, and I do the same.

I lie there for quite some time, staring up at the silhouette of leaves on the tent roof, placed there by the moon. Everything is still and Abra’s breathing calms and then the wind rushes through the trees again, thrashing the leaves around, reminding me to be still again, to listen.