April 05, 2005 – A Story   4 comments

My latest story and the final one for my writing course. You can read all my assignments and comments while taking this course here. (I just don’t know why you would want to.) 🙂

Joyce by Grant Lindsay

When I opened the door and walked in, I knew my life would be a living hell. At least for the rest of the weekend. My heart sank when I heard the charmingly acidic voice of my mother-in-law, Joyce.

“Well, there she is,” she said with a smile to hide her annoyance. Turning to the kitchen, she announced needlessly, “Timothy, Michelle’s home.”

“Perfect timing, Sweetheart,” my husband called back from the kitchen. “Dinner will be on the table in ten minutes.”

Joyce rose from the living room couch and started towards me in the foyer. As always, she looked every bit a lady. Her graying brunette hair was elegantly styled to frame her lightly made-up face. A modest, but attractive dress covered her slim body. As Joyce approached, I just stood there unmoving, with my arms at my sides like some kind of a poorly positioned mannequin.

I had forgotten. Tim had told me his Mother would be visiting this weekend but, that was what? Two weeks ago? So much had happened at work since then and it had completely slipped my mind. I wish he had reminded me. But, it wasn’t his fault. I easily could have set a reminder in my PDA. Damn it! I wasn’t prepared for this.

As Joyce met me in the entranceway, she placed her hands on my shoulders and kissed me on my cheek. It was her usual greeting, somehow both polite and insincere at the same time.

“We were wondering if we’d ever see you this evening, Michelle. Was traffic bad, dear?” This was her way of chastising me for making her wait.

“No worse than usual, Mother.”

To be fair, I wasn’t late. Six thirty was my usual time getting home. But, if I had remembered Tim’s mother was coming, I would have made an effort to be here earlier than usual. Joyce, however, felt that a mother should be home to raise her children. And, since I had gone back to work while Tim was job searching, in her mind, I had all but abandoned them.

It wasn’t that my mother-in-law was a terrible person. Really, she wasn’t. Joyce was pleasant, polite and, at times, even helpful. She had raised three children, mostly on her own. Tim, her middle child and only son, had turned out to be a wonderful husband and father. I had to credit her with no small contribution for that. But Joyce’s best quality, in my view, was that she was a loving grandmother to Jessie and TJ.

But, it seemed that she simply did not like me. Over the last seven years, I had tried without success to change her opinion. I would forever be the woman who had stolen away her only son. With that indictment, how could I ever do any good in her eyes? With a sad reluctance, I had come to realize that Tim’s mother would never hold a good opinion of me.

Still in the foyer, I had finally begun to move. I put my briefcase and purse down on the bench by the door so that I could remove my coat and hang it in the hall closet.

Without thinking, I asked, “Where are the kids?” I cringed as soon as the words were in the air.

“Well, are you not their Mother, dear?” Joyce spoke each word with careful precision, stabbing me with them. Then, she paused to let the rebuke fully settle in. A mother should know where her children are, after all. I took my medicine like a good little girl.

Then she answered, “Timothy sent them upstairs to play while we waited for you.”

Another dig. While we waited for you. I realized that is was just the beginning of the living hell this weekend was going to be. I heard a door close upstairs and the sound drew my eyes to upper landing. Soon, a pair of legs rumbled down the stairs. They belonged to Jessica, my six-year-old daughter.

“Hi, Mom.”

For a moment, the sparring with my mother-in-law disappeared from my mind. I grinned widely as Jessie rushed to my arms. I squatted down to her height so that I could receive a full hug. I must have I lingered too long for Jessie’s taste.

“Uh, Mom…?” she said, evidently feeling that the hug had served it’s purpose.

I relaxed my hold and let her go. She ran to the kitchen. “When’s dinner, Dad?”

“Right now, Pumpkin,” He said. “Go wash up.” Then he added, “Where’s your brother?”

“Upstairs, I guess.”

As if on queue, Timothy Junior’s little feet appeared at the top step. At four years old, the steps were still an adventure for TJ to negotiate. His little arm stretched to its full length over his head to reach the railing. This made me smile. He wanted to do it the “grown-up way.” TJ could have made his task easier by simply grabbing the balusters. But, he was in so many ways his father’s son. No short cuts just to make it easier.

“There’s my baby,” I called.

He glanced up from his careful descent for a moment to look at me. His whole face beamed and it melted me, like it always does. As Joyce looked on, I placed myself at the bottom of the steps to encourage TJ on and catch him, should that become necessary. But, I had learned earlier not to try to help him. “No, Mommy,” he would say. “I can do it. I’m not a baby anymore.”

At the next to last step, he let go of the railing and surprised me by jumping into my arms. I caught him and held him to my chest, absorbing as much of him as I could.

“Mommy missed you so much, Tiger,” I heard myself say. My eyes were closed as I stood with my son still in my embrace.

“C’mon,” I said as I opened my eyes and kissed his forehead. “Let’s get you washed up for dinner, okay?”

TJ nodded as I carried him past his grandmother and into the hallway restroom. With help from me, he washed his hands as he stood on his “helper box.” When finished, I followed him to the dining room table and helped him into his seat.

I took my usual place across from Tim. Though they usually sit across from each other, on this occasion the children were seated together to my left with TJ closer to me. Joyce sat across from them with her back to the kitchen doorway.

Tim smiled, showing his pleasure, as he looked around the table. “It’s great to have everyone together, isn’t it?” Then, without waiting for an answer, he turned to his mother and said, “Mom, help yourself to the beans.”

We took turns passing the various dishes around. I helped TJ with his, cutting the larger pieces of food into manageable sizes. This was done to some extent against his will, since his sister was allowed to serve herself.

“Well, everything looks so delicious, Timothy,” Joyce said as she added a helping of chicken casserole to her plate.

“I just followed the recipe. I hope it turned out okay.”

“Oh, I have no doubt, dear.”

I just sat quietly eating my dinner and watched over TJ’s attempts to transport bites of food from his plate to his mouth.

“How was your day, Sweetheart?” I heard Tim ask.

I didn’t answer right away. Normally, I would have been very open in discussing my day with him. We had close communication and I enjoyed talking with him. But with Joyce here, I was hesitant. I knew she’d be listening for something to hurl back at me.

“Not bad,” I finally offered, more to break the silence than anything else.

“Okay,” Tim replied cheerily as if I had said something far more interesting.

“I’ve been busy with the Fiserv account,” I said, trying to give a more thorough account of my day. “Jim and I were brainstorming this morning. Then, I was catching up on email and phone calls most of the afternoon,” I said, as I took a mouthful of chicken.

“Right,” my husband said, seeming to recall our previous conversations on this subject. “How’s the presentation shaping up? That’s coming up soon, isn’t it?”

I nodded. “Wednesday. Jim’s happy with what we have, but I know we can — I can — do better.”

“Well, I’m sure it’s going to knock their socks off,” Tim said in support. He has always been supportive of me in every undertaking. He’s like my own personal cheerleader. It’s an incredibly endearing quality. “This is a pretty big account, isn’t it?” He asked for his mother’s benefit, since he already knew Fiserv was our small marketing firm’s biggest client.

Before I could answer, Joyce said, “Well, I’m sure it must be important if it keeps Michelle away from her children.”

There it was, the dart I was expecting and dreading. It was the last straw. Dropping my eyes to my plate, I could feel tears beginning to well up. Damn it! I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of breaking me. But, I was worn and she wouldn’t stop kicking.

“Mom, Michelle only went back to work until I find something,” Tim said in my defense. “She’d much rather be here. Isn’t that right, Sweetheart?”

I couldn’t answer. I just placed a green bean in my mouth and chewed mechanically.

“Well, you’ll remember dear,” began Joyce, “that after your father died, I managed to raise three children,” she nodded across the table, “no older than Jessie and TJ here, all by myself. Mind you, it wasn’t easy. But, I sacrificed and worked hard and I made sure that I was always there for you and your sisters.”

I was wiping the tears that were freely running down my face now. TJ had stopped eating to gaze at me with some measure of concern.

Joyce continued, still speaking to Tim, “Your father’s pension helped some, but not nearly enough. We just didn’t know to plan for those kinds of things back then. So, we had to move into that small apartment and I took a part time job at the Pharmacy—”

“Yes, Joyce,” I finally said, “we all know what a wonderful mother you were. Like Wonder Woman or something. But, you know what? The rest of us mortals are trying our best. We love our kids, too. No less than you. They are fed and clothed and…” I stopped as my throat tightened.

I had never talked back to Joyce, never told her how her constant digging affected me. I just bottled everything up. Now, at the moment when I felt like unloading years of frustration and hurt, my voice failed me. Before anyone could respond to my outburst, I rose and quickly moved to the kitchen to sob in relative privacy.

After a few moments, I heard someone get up from the table, but I had my back to the doorway and didn’t see whom it was. I was surprised to hear Joyce’s voice, “Michelle, dear,” she said with remarkable softness.

“Come to gloat?” I asked, glancing over my shoulder.

“No,” she said. “No, dear. To apologize.”

This brought me spinning around to face her. I was unsure how to respond to that. She was looking down at her clasped hands.

“You were right. I…” she faltered, looking anywhere but at me. Then, looking me in the eyes, she said, “I’m sorry if I implied you are a bad mother, Michelle.”

I sniffed, still holding my napkin to my nose.

“I know that you and Tim are doing your best. And Jessie and TJ are…” she paused as she looked back to the dining room. “Well, I’m so proud of them. They are so adorable, and I know, that doesn’t happen by accident,” she said as she returned her eyes to mine.

“Um…” I tried.

“It should be clear to even a dim wit like myself that you love your children intensely. You are a good mother, Michelle. And a good wife to my Timmy.”

Just when I thought I had regained my composure, I started balling again.

“I’m don’t know why I didn’t notice it sooner,” Joyce said. “I guess being older and alone now that Susan’s off to college, I have more time to reflect on things. I had meant to tell you all this on this trip, but I fell into my old habits when you walked in,” she said with a pained expression on her face. “I’m sorry, dear. Can you forgive a foolish old lady?” she asked as she held her arms open.

“Yes,” I blurted as I rushed to hug her.

We held each other for what seemed like several minutes until my sobbing quieted. Then we parted and looked at each other smiling.

“Now, let’s go finish dinner, hmmm?”

I nodded still wiping my face. “I’m just going wash my face, first,” I said.

“I’ll let everyone know you’re on your way.”

After washing and drying my face, I returned to my seat at the table. TJ looked at me with some worry. “Are you okay, Mommy?” he whispered as he gently patted my arm.

“Yes, dear. Mommy’s better, now,” I replied, running my hand over his head. “Grandma helped me. Now I’m all better. Okay?”

He nodded and seemed reassured by my words.

Smiling at him, I said, “Now let’s finish up so we can all have some ice cream.” This thought brought cheers from the children.

I looked at Tim and he threw me a wink as he resumed eating. At that point I changed my mind. The weekend was going to be just fine, after all.

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Posted Tuesday, April 5, 2005 by Grant in Random

4 responses to “April 05, 2005 – A Story

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  1. You are an awesome writer Grant! Thumbs up!

  2. Thanks, Jen.

  3. That was an excellent story. I felt like a visitor sitting at the end of the table watching the events unfold. I hope you aced your writing class!

    Blessings in Christ,

    Shelly

  4. Thanks Shelly. I didn’t really get a grade, since it was a “Community education” type course, but I learned a lot and had a great time.

    — Grant

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