Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Today is the day! Mandy is finally coming back today!

Lara woke up and bounded out of bed. She rushed to get dressed, excited about her impending visitor. It had been years since Lara had seen her best friend Mandy; Mom had seen to that. Lara's Mom never seemed to approve of Mandy much. It's the kind of thing that Lara couldn't place. She simply knew that Mom didn't want her being friends with Mandy. For years, Mom had gotten her way. But today, Mandy was coming back. Or at least, she would try to.

The big dilemma is: will Mom catch on to Mandy's imminent arrival in time to stop her? And what will happen when Mandy shows up? Will Mom's inherent politeness stop her from sending Mandy away? Or will Mom's worries over Mandy's influence on me take precedence? Either way, I better watch my step. I will have to prove to Mom that Mandy has changed in the last couple of years, just as I have. We are no longer those two kids who hide frogs under her pillow. We are grown up now. I am sixteen already!

As Lara's socks slowly made their way onto her feet, Lara pondered the best course of action.

A grand welcome is in order for a friend as dear as Mandy, but on the other hand, if I make it obvious, Mom might catch on. Then she might stop Mandy from coming. I wonder if Mom remembers that Mandy and I love peanut butter cookies. If I bake them, will she take that as a sign Mandy is coming? Maybe I shouldn't.

Lara nixed the cookies. She figured that if she had enough savings, she would stop at the store and buy a box of them. Meanwhile, as she brushed her teeth, she schemed.

I should make a sign, so Mandy feels welcome. I don't want her to think I forgot about her, or about what a special friend she was to me. I can't write her name though, Mom might see it. Perhaps a simple "welcome back" will do it. I wonder if I have any posters left from last year's science fair.

Lara skipped down the stairs, and headed for the kitchen, where she met up with Mom.
"Good morning Lara dear," Mom chirped.
"Good morning Mom!" Lara beamed. She skipped to the pantry to get a box of cereal. Removing the frosted flakes, she called out, "hey, Mom, do you remember how me an-"

No! Don't discuss Mandy! Not today! Too dangerous.

"Sorry honey, what did you say?" Mom looked up from her coupon book. "I was a little distracted."
Lara shook her head. "Whatever Mom, forget it."
"Sorry sweetheart! Are you going to have milk with that?"

Lara poured milk over her cereal, Mom poured milk into her coffee, and there was a momentary lull in conversation.
"Do you have any plans for today?" Mom doesn't like lulls in conversation. It's too abnormal for her. "Are you doing anything exciting?"
Lara's face had alarm written all over it. "N-no. No mom. Why do you ask?"
"Well, for starters, its a sunny Sunday, and you should get out, visit some friends, enjoy the weather. It will start getting cold again soon, then you will wish you had taken advantage of days like these. Also, I think your room needs a cleaning. A thorough one."
"Ok Mom. I'll clean my room. Happy?" Lara suddenly seemed eager to get away from the breakfast table. "Uh, I think I will go clean my room now."
Mom, head back in her coupon book, didn't even look up. "Make sure to clear your bowl."

Gosh, I can't believe I didn't think of that. I better clean up my room if Mandy is coming back to stay. Good thing Mom thought of it first. I wouldn't want her getting suspicious.

Lara bounded up the stairs two at a time. She threw open the door to her room, and surveyed the scene. It wasn't pretty. Wanting to impress her old pal, Lara started systematically sorting through piles of laundry, throwing out garbage, and organizing her things.

It's a good thing Mom doesn't come in here more often. She would probably have a heart attack. Maybe I can sneak Mandy up here, and she can stay over without Mom noticing...No, too risky. That would make Mom blow her stack. Plus, she would think that means we are back to our old tricks. I want her to know that we are no longer those two kids that dug up her tomato garden in search of buried Indian treasure. We have matured! I mean, I did, Mandy must have matured too, right?

It was under the pile of last year's school books that Lara found the poster board. She immediately sat down, happy to plan a beautiful sign, one worthy of a great friend like Mandy. Suddenly, a noise at the door startled her. "Whose there?" she called.
Mom poked her head through the door. "Hi Lara, I just wanted to make sure that you are following through on your promise to clean your room."
Lara moved her old algebra notebook over her sign as she spoke. "Of course I am Mom! I promised you, didn't I?"
"Good. I'm proud of you Lara." Mom smiled. "I am going out now, I am volunteering at the charity book sale. There is lunch in the kitchen, you can eat it when you finish cleaning in here. I will call you from the sale to see how you are progressing."
"Gosh, Mom, I'm not a baby. You don't need to be so on top of me all the time."
Mom was already halfway down the hall by then. "Sure Lara, have a great day. Get together with some friends!"

As if she really cares about me having friends. If she did, she wouldn't have made me break all contact with my only true friend. It's not my fault that none of the kids in school like me. I wish Mandy and I could have stayed friends. She is the only one who ever really understood me.

Lara hummed as she worked. As she finished the sign, she started feeling squirmy.

I don't know when Mandy will get here. Maybe she will come before Mom gets back. That would be convenient. I better get my room looking good, then I will head over to Pathmark to see if they sell peanut butter cookies. I want to show Mandy that despite the years of separation, I haven't forgotten her, and I still miss her.

Meanwhile, at the book sale, Mom was feeling nervous. Something about Lara's behavior that morning had disturbed her. "Perhaps it was her willingness to clean her room," she mused. "Normally, I have to beg and plead before she agrees."

Mom decided to call home. When the answering machine picked up, Mom's unease increased one notch. "Hi Lara, it's Mommy calling. I just want to make sure you are ok, and that you are cleaning your room nicely. There are some kids from your school here, volunteering. Maybe you should come too? Give me a call back, thanks."

Lara returned from buying the cookies and saw the machine blinking. She listened to her mother's message in disgust.

Mom never gives me any space. Why doesn't she get it? I don't like the kids from my school! They all think I am weird. Oh, I forgot to clear my lunch dishes. All I need now is for Mom to get angry about that too. Gosh. I wish she weren't so on top of me all the time. I wish she could accept Mandy for who she is. I wish she would stop trying to turn me into a copy of her.

Back in the security of her room, Lara surveyed the scene. This time, she liked what she saw. The bed was made, the clothes were hanging in the closet, and last year's schoolbooks had even been dragged down to the basement storage room. The sign looked great, hanging over the desk, and the plate of peanut butter cookies provided the finishing touch.

I hope Mandy realizes how hard I worked to prepare for this reunion. And I hope she still likes peanut butter cookies, or I might have to eat the whole box of them myself! Oh, sounds like Mom is home. Strange, she wasn't there very long.

"Lara?" Mom called as she walked in to the house. "Lara, are you here?" The solid red light on the answering machine told her that Lara had heard her message, and chose to ignore it.
"What Mom?" Lara called down the stairs. "Whadaya want?"
"Oh, hi Lara, how come you didn't call me back? You listened to my message, didn't you?"
"Mo-om!" Lara's frustration was apparent in her voice. "Do you have to act like some detective? I got home a few minutes ago, listened to your message, and was going to call you back in a couple of minutes. I was just taking care of something first. Is that a crime, Detective Mom?"
"No, of course it isn't silly. I'm coming up to check on your room. Did you finish cleaning it?"

No, she can't come in here! She will ask me who the sign in for. And I will get a yelling for taking food out of the kitchen. I must stop her. I must-

"Oh wow, this room looks great Lara! I'm proud that you've cleaned it so nicely." If Lara's face had a slightly ashen tinge to it, Mom was oblivious. "But who is that sign for Lara? Who is coming back?" Mom glanced at her speechless daughter, then at the sign, and once more, at her daughter. "Is it Mandy?"

NONONONONO! She isn't going to let her come! After all my work! I can't believe this is happening. Why is Mom looking at me like that? Why can't she bug out of my life already? Oh gosh, that's the doorbell. I'll bet it's Mandy now. What is Mom gonna do? Yikes!

"Erm, she is here already Mom. I am going to get the door now, ok?"
"L-Lara, I don't know what to say. I mean, you know I don't approve of Mandy. You know I don't let her come here anymore. You know-"
But Lara was already down the stairs. She no longer cared what her Mom said. She had waited too long for this moment to let an overbearing mother spoil it. She yanked open the front door, face wreathed in smiles. "MANDY! I'm so glad you've come!"
The two embraced, as only a pair of long lost, and inseparable best friends can.

Mandy hardly changed at all! I can't wait to catch up, to hear what she has been up to for the last couple of years.

"Mandy, we must catch up! C'mon up to my room, I have a surprise waiting for you." Lara was nervous. The moment of truth was imminent. What would Mom do when she sees their guest?
"Lara old pal! It's been so long, I missed you so much. Forfour years - nothing. No calls, no letters, not even a birthday card or anything. But it's ok, we can still have a ball together." Mandy was the same old Mandy. "But why do you look so nervous?" Lara looked down. Mandy shook her head sympathetically. "It's your Mom, isn't it?"
Lara just nodded. "C'mon upstairs, let's see what she says."

The pair walked into Lara's room. Mom was waiting on the bed. "Lara, will you please explain what is going on?"

Trust Mom to mess this whole thing up. All her nagging that I should make friends, and when my real friend comes, she doesn't even allow her to stay. Some Mom I have.

"Mom, can't Mandy just stay here for one night?" Lara looked at Mandy, then back to her Mom. "Please?"
Mom just gave her daughter a look. "Ok, Lara, promise me that it's just for tonight, ok?"
Lara nodded, beaming. She threw her hands around her mother. "Thanks Mom, your the best!"

Wow, I can't believe she lets. Maybe Mandy and I can stay friends this time around.

Lara waited for her Mom to make her way downstairs before taking out the carefully concealed peanut butter cookies. "Look Mandy, our favorite!"
Mandy took the plate. "Wow, Lara, you remembered! I am so excited! Me and you, together again- just like in the old days!"
"I better get some milk to go with these, huh?" Lara's mother would be proud of such hostessing skills. "Wait right here, I'll be back in a minute."

Lara raced down the stairs, and stopped just short of the kitchen door.

Mom is on the phone. I hear my name. I should probably listen and find out what she is saying about me.

"Clarissa Graber, calling for my daughter, Lara Graber. Yes, I'll hold." The voice streaming under the crack in the kitchen door was poised, yet nervous. For a minute, Lara debated barging into the kitchen for the milk, but something held her back. Then her Mom continued talking. "Thank you for taking my call Dr. Walker. I am nervous about my daughter, Lara. It seems like her medications are not working properly. She is back to hearing and seeing things. And her imaginary friend is back."

Lara stood next to the door for a few seconds, stunned. Then she turned around and ran back to her room. Panting, she threw the door open. But it was no use. Mandy was gone.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

First Time In 18 Years

I don't have a reputation as a tough traffic cop for nothing.

People who find themselves in front of my car's flashing lights don't find themselves driving away scott-free a couple of minutes later. No, these people always drive away the reluctant owner of a traffic ticket, signed simply, "Officer Hines."

I've been a policeman for many years, and I thought I had seen it all. I once pulled over a man with a pink floppy hat decorated with life size fruit replicas. Let me tell you, his bright yellow Jeep Wrangler helped his image along too. But floppy hat or no floppy hat, the man hadn't signaled when he changed lanes. I gave him a ticket.

Then there was the woman in the purple Cadillac Escalade pickup truck. She looked to be at least 100 years old, but according to her driver's license she was only 87. She must like purple a lot, because her lipstick, her hat, her shirt, and even the streaks in her hair were purple. As I wrote out her ticket for talking on her (purple) phone while driving, I apologized that we don't give purple ticket slips. She took that one in stride.

I have also heard every excuse in the book. "I didn't see the speed limit sign" just doesn't cut it for me. "Maybe you need glasses? I don't know if anyone has ever told you this, but driving is an activity which requires you to see. Everything." People always tell me that they need the bathroom desperately. I tell them that we can hurry the ticket process along so that they can get to the bathroom as soon as they can. But speeding to a bathroom is just not a good idea. You can get killed with a full bladder too, you know.

It's the personal tragedies that make me stand firmer than anything else. Some people get really angry at me. They think I don't understand. Sometimes I want to tell them that it's they who don't understand. That woman who was driving home from her mother's funeral shouldn't have been speeding. Yes, I know she was distraught, but so was I when I was driving home from my son's funeral. And I wouldn't have needed to bury my nine year old son if some other driver hadn't thought he had an excellent reason to speed.

After thirty one years on the job, it's uncommon for me to see a sight that I've never seen before. And it's even more uncommon for me to see a sight that makes me blink back tears. Today's traffic stop did both.

I was doing a routine patrol on one of my favorite roads. Hidden on the side of the road, behind a pole, I had a good view of the cars - before they got a view of me. It was about 5:15 pm when the car came careening down the road. As I put my car into gear, I wondered if the driver was drunk. I positioned myself behind the car, then turned on my lights. Business as usual, something I have done thousands of times before. The car in front of me, a dark blue Ford Focus, swerved a bit as it pulled over to the side.

I parked behind the car, and got out of my vehicle. I put my tough guy face on, and I went to face my latest law-breaker. When I arrived at the window, I saw that the woman inside had rolled it down, waiting expectantly for me. Her suit was neat, starched and pressed. Her hair was perfect, her makeup looked great. I cleared my throat and began. "Do you know what you were doing wrong?" The driver shook her head. "No. No sir, I don't." I glanced pointedly at her speedometer. "Do you know how fast you were going?" Once again, the woman shook her head. "No sir." "According to my radar, you were driving 48 miles per hour in a 30 zone." She looked shocked, but I continued. "And, worse than that, you were driving recklessly. People get killed every day by reckless drivers!" Wordlessly, I added, people like my son. My Jon. She looked horrified, as if she didn't know what to do with herself. I didn't wait for an explanation before I continued. "I'll need to see your license and registration please."

Suddenly, she snapped out of whatever reverie she'd been in. "Excuse me please officer, can I please explain?" I smiled at her in a way that could only be described as condescending. "Ma'am, I have been a traffic cop for over thirty years. Do you really think I haven't heard your story yet?" Her eyes became steely, determined, as she answered me. "Perhaps you have, but I ask you to listen to me anyway." There was something about her manner that bespoke urgency. I don't fully understand why I did it, but I nodded for her to go ahead.

"Sir, I was once like you. I had a successful job, a career that I loved. When I met my now-husband, I assumed I was about to live the dream life. We got married, and the two of us continued at our jobs. We were so happy. When I gave birth to twin girls, we were the happiest people on the planet. Our family was complete. My husband and I decided that I would stay at home and bring up our two little angels. It was about a year ago that my younger daughter was diagnosed with cancer. The medical bills began piling up, as our savings and energy were depleted. It was just a week before my daughter died that my husband's company downsized, and he was laid off. Suddenly we were left with no income, no Ally, and no hope. After searching unsuccessfully for a new job, we decided that I would look. I found a great job, and my husband started staying home with our one remaining princess."

She paused, took a deep breath, and continued. I was a little bored, I didn't know why I needed to hear her entire life story, but I didn't have the heart to interrupt her. "It was going really well at my job, even though it was so hard for me to work, when all I wanted to do was be with my Jen, my only daughter left. But we needed the money so badly, and I had no choice but to get up each morning and go to work. But today..."

She broke off and bit her lip. She blinked a few times before continuing. "Today my company announced their own downsizing. I was laid off too. And I haven't had the courage yet to tell my husband. In fact, you are the first person I am telling this to." With that, she burst into uncontrollable tears. It was an astonishing change from the put-together, professional looking woman I had pulled over. She sat and cried for a minute, perfectly applied mascara running down her cheeks, as I stood and waited uncertainly. I didn't know what to say. I didn't know how to react. I didn't have to. The woman continued. "Are you a father, officer?" It took me a minute to realize she was talking to me, then another moment to compose my thoughts. "Yes, I am. Why do you ask?" She wiped her eyes, reached for a tissue, then continued. "Imagine your child lying there in the hospital bed. The doctors, the medicines, the surgeries, the home-health care nurses. Would you not tell the doctor that you want no expense spared for your child's life?"

I did picture that. Jon lying in that bed, bandages and casts covering most of his body, tubes and wires protruding from the rest. The doctor came in to discuss an experimental surgery. "It very well might not work," he had said. "And it's very expensive." I shook my head violently. "No! Listen to me Dr. Vicelle, it doesn't matter how much it costs. This is my son's life!" I nodded at the woman. "Yes Ma'am." She started crying again. "But those surgeries cost money! I was supposed to make it, but now I can't! I let my husband down! I let my family down! I don't even know how I will face him." A fresh wave of tears accompanied the last line, and I had to wait a minute for the woman to continue again. "Be glad officer," she started. "Be glad that you have a job. Right now, if my only other daughter were to fall ill, I wouldn't have any way to pay for medical treatment for her."

In thirty years of being a cop, nobody had ever spoken to me quite so brazenly. And nobody had ever made quite such an impression on me. I have been so caught up in the tragedy of Jon's death, I forgot about all of the good in my life. My job. My wife. My daughter Stephanie. My lovely home. My friends...

"Listen carefully Ma'am, I am going to tell you something important. My son Jon died 18 years ago in a traffic accident. A reckless driver, speeding down the road, hit my son. The doctors fought for 2 weeks to save my son. Then they gave up. Ever since then, I have never stopped a car and let them off the hook. Until today. Have a good day Ma'am. Good luck with your husband, good luck finding a new job. Oh, and do me a favor, enjoy your other daughter."

As I walked back to my car, I watched the first car in 18 years drive away without a ticket. Then I smiled to myself, because I walked away with a lesson.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What are you doing here?

Do you have any ideas....? 
One day, when an idea hits me, you will see a masterful story being spun on this very blog. Till then....well, if you have any ideas, let me know. ;-)