Month: February 2012

the ticket

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I sat clutching the steering wheel, angry, the car resting in the fringe of snow on the road’s shoulder.

It was a routine stop for him. Just another driver tempted by this Montana backroad with wide margins and straight lines. Truth is, moments before I had no idea how fast I was going.

“Do you know how fast you were going?” He asked, leaning to rest his arm on the window of the car.

I could feel the heat of tears rising to my eyes. I could feel all the pent up emotions of the past five days, well six months, rearing back in my chest. I wanted to scream at him. I wanted to tell him to get his arm off my car. I wanted to spit insults into his face. I willed myself to hold it together. This wasn’t about him, this cocky Montana patrolman who had no context of backstory.

I tried to explain, but it came out melodramatic and insincere. I knew how it sounded, yet I couldn’t make myself stop.

He tore off the ticket from his notepad, as I finished with, “I hope something like this never happens to your family.” I was sobbing my words, uncontrolled.

Yikes, I thought.

That night, I lay in bed fighting the frustration and anger that had balled in my throat. I bathed in my embarrassment. That minor little speeding ticket cycled in my thoughts over and over. In my mind, that Montana patrolman took the brunt of a heavy dose of undeserved hatred.

I wasn’t mad at him, I was mad at the cancer. I was mad that it happened to my mom. I could have controlled my speed. I couldn’t control her illness. A ticket would slip into insignificance in few months. The illness might not. The vast distance of those two events in the realm of what matters was overwhelming. Yet somehow, it was the ticket that boiled my latent emotions to the surface.

In the end, that ticket was $50. I drove my mom to her next appointment and watched nurses stick her with needles. I swallowed back fear and pain and feelings of inadequacy as coughs racked her body. I never knew what to say to make her feel better. I watched her tuck her thin frame under a blanket on the couch as sheer exhaustion pulled her eyes closed. I never knew what to do to make her feel better. I left her there to go back to work in rays of sunshine that spread over my comfortable life while holding onto guilt about the gray I was leaving her to. Never in my life have I felt so helpless and inept.

My mom is better now — the color has resurfaced in her cheeks, the life back in her eyes. That ticket has faded into the insignificance I predicted. Somehow, the two events seemed tied together, one bringing memories of the other.

Every time I drive that stretch of road while home for a visit, I think about the winter that my mom fought cancer.



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He’s asking a lot, and I’m not sure if he realizes it. Or maybe he does, but he knows I need to have this side of me drawn out before I ever will become a great musician.

I’m sitting at a keyboard in a room tacked onto the back of a house as an afterthought. It seems like it was made to be a music practice room. I can’t imagine what else someone would use it for. The space is a Tetrus game of musical equipment — an organ, a bass, a guitar, shelving, amps, books, computers, synthesizers, a drum set. Cords snake from one to the next, their slack resting in coils.

The thing about music is, you can’t play well without pouring a little of your soul out with it. There are parts of me I’ve locked up intentionally during this season of life. I’m trying to find the line between what’s ok to release and what needs to remain dormant.

I close my eyes and play the riff, trying to pour out the feeling he’s asking for. But something keeps catching. I’m got my back against the door, keeping it closed. I’m too afraid to let go. Control is my comfort zone.

“You’re still holding back,” he says.

How does he know? How can he hear the subtlety between full and partial heart so clearly? Once again, I am struck by his talent.

I refocus.

Vulnerability for me was once an dangerous thing. I’m trying to relearn how to do it the healthy way. I’m afraid I still don’t know how. I’m afraid if I do let go, the whole mess will tumble out at once.

So I stand on the borderline and measure emotion out in teaspoons.


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The sun breaking through the clouds had teased warmth, but it’s colder than it looks when I get out of my car. I pull my hooded sweatshirt over my head to push back the cold and bend to loop my key in my shoelaces.

Only a few hours ago, the area drank in a splash of rain, and now it seems to be sighing in contentment. Little beads of raindrops give blades of grass a brilliance previously muted with drought.

The trail through the park is a sticky slide of mud, layered with yellowed leaves that have wiggled into the tacky mess. A slug lazily stretches across the blanket they have patched together for him.

I duck under a tree that has spread its branches horizontally over the path, so that the tips rest on the ground. It as if it has lost the strength to hold those branches upright. Instead, it pulls a moss blanket over its trunk and rests.

I feel the weight of solitude without feeling alone.

The hills are a tapestry of green fringe, rolling effortlessly into the horizon. Above, a feather of clouds lace a sky that is the babiest of blues. The breeze carries the pungent scent of mud and leaves and oak. With each breath, I feel life filling my lungs.

A few days ago, I prayed for God to romance me. As love stories are scrawled all around me in elegant script, mine has remained quietly unwritten. That silence can be painful, especially when it comes from God. So I asked him for a token, really. Anything.

He knows the way to my heart.

This, I think as I crest another hill alive with moss and birds and rays of sunshine through raindrop prisms, is romance.

175,000 miles

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There are 175,000 miles on this SUV. They are a patchwork of youth services and conventions and district councils and meetings. They are small measure of my boss’s commitment to his work.

I have spent 100s of miles in this back seat, my shoes kicked off, my feet tucked underneath me, nestled in the leather upholstery.

Tonight, the heater hums and indicators on the dash glow in warm orange tones. From the each overpass we cross, I watch as the roofs of buildings coast by, the lights pinned on their corners blurring together.

This is one of those times that the structure of our organization becomes less hierarchical, and more like that of a family. My boss’s rich baritone voice adds harmonies to the Beatles songs lilting from our CD player. My co-worker giggles and asks questions she knows will lead to stories. My boss teases me at the unexpected chime of my phone. I close my eyes and tilt my head against the door jam, listening to the murmur of their voices.

Somehow, this doesn’t seem like the typical job that requires obligatory travel. Instead, each trip is an adventure. Each journey is a chance to dream. Each highway is doorway to our future growth.

The miles tick by, one after another, clocking the first of another 175,000.