Forgotten Art: Norman – Newt 12

A reply to: A letter from Newt

normnewt1201

Newt,

Man. I am so sorry I blew it. Meadow tells me that I should have worked through my feelings first, and then written you. She says it’s OK to write, “Hey, I felt angry when blah-blah-blah,” but that should be written after the anger has been dealt with and dispatched, not in the heat of all the messy feelings.  She said I what I did was “unskilled,” but that’s really her code word for acting like a jerk.

I’m sorry. I’m new at this emotions stuff.

Let’s just put it past us, if we can, and move on.

Congratulations on proposing to Janet. Even bigger congratulations that she accepted! Ha! (Just kidding!)

Also, good move on getting your business plans together! Buying that bar sounds like a really smart decision. Finally, you’ll get out of your dad’s business and do something for you. Makes me happy that we’re both able to rework our careers into something that makes sense for us, rather than simply following our fathers’ plans for us.

I told Ira that you were getting married again.

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I thought it might make her upset, you know, given her past experience with her ex.

She got thoughtful and quiet for a while.

Then, over the next few days, I noticed she became more affectionate than usual. She started telling me what a good thing it was for her and Aari to live here. How she wanted it to be permanent-like. I told her she was a permanent fixture in my heart–there was no getting rid of her. I have become very corny; I’m the first to admit it.

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I noticed her and Aari having a lot of really serious conversations. Once, I overheard her say, “How would you like him as a real dad?”

I got the impression they were talking about me.

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She started dropping hints. Nothing too subtle, because, you know. I’m a guy. Subtle doesn’t work too well on me.

But they were subtle enough that I could pretend it was my idea without getting scared about getting rejected. Ira’s smart that way.

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So I thought about it.

I guess when I learned about Ira’s past, I pretty much kissed any dreams of being legit goodbye. It wasn’t that important to me. Her feeling safe and happy, Aari having a good home–those were the things that mattered to me. And I know, there all sorts of ways to make a family.

But, Newt–I gotta admit! The more I thought about it, the more it brought a smile to my face.

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I realized I should probably talk to Aari first, since it involved her, too. I mean, she and I had a pretty good deal worked out, with me being her designated “PCG” (primary care-giver). I didn’t want to mess that up, and I knew she had all sorts of conflicted feelings about her birth dad.

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But she gave me the green light.

“I know it won’t change anything for bad,” she told me. “Besides, I already think of you as my papa in my head.”

I can’t even express how proud that made me feel.

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Next, I had to be certain that I was sure. Was this really what I wanted for me, or was I just doing it for her, because she’d been dropping those hints?

So I talked it over with an old friend who’s a good listener.

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I realized that it was Ira who’d made me happy all this time. It wasn’t just me, making her feel safe. It was her, and all her magic, making me feel alive.

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I thought of Aari, filling our home with the spunk of a brave and sassy kid, and I can’t imagine this house without her.

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I made up my mind. I’d do it. If you can do it, I can do it.

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Finally, I decided the right moment had arrived.

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I called Aari in to join us. You see, since it involves her, too, I wanted her to be there for the big moment. That way, she’d know I was really taking the whole family, her included, and she wouldn’t feel like she was in the way.

She knew what was up and started giggling like a maniac.

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I got cold feet. Could I really go through with this?

What if it changed everything?

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The old Norm would have left it alone. He would have chickened out and rationalized, “Why fix it if it isn’t broken?”

But the new me thought about what his coach, Newt Murdoch, would say. You’re the guy who encouraged and inspired me to make a change in our business so that it fits me and my ethics, not just my dad’s. You’re the guy who inspired me to get together with Ira in the first place, back when Windenburg’s Most Eligible seemed perennially destined to remain a bachelor.

Heck. I would do it. I thought of you, and I felt brave. Or at least, brave enough.

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I walked back into the living room, and I went the whole nine yards.

I even got down on one knee.

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I made a crazy speech, about collecting toys, collecting hearts, being big kids, being fools. Who knows what I said?

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All I know is that Ira’s eyes went soft and she let out this little noise like a purr, while all along, Aari sat and chuckled quietly.

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I don’t know if it was romantic. It was us. It was goofy and family and so over-brimming full of love, and my heart must have burst about a million times.

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“Catch her, Papa!” Aari yelled, as Ira leapt into my arms, just about knocking me off my feet.

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It wasn’t graceful. It wasn’t smooth.

But it was very, very endearing.

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And pretty silly, too. And so, yes. She did say yes. We haven’t fixed the date yet, but we are engaged. Ira, beautiful, strong, spunky, magical Ira, is going to be my wife, and she is going to let me be her husband.

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Ira told me it was because of you and Janet, moving on and moving past it, that she found the courage to give marriage another try. If the two of you could do it, we could, too.

Newt, can you even think back to our first letter, when both felt like we were living someone else’s life that had been handed to us with a note that said, “Take this, or else?”

Well, my friend, we have kicked those fake lives to the curb. I will say that now, for both of us, we have our lives. Thank you for being my hero, Newt. This is all because of you. You have no idea what a good life coach you are.

Thanks for it all. More than words.

Your soon-to-be-married pal,

Norm

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Forgotten Art: Norm – Newt 10

A reply to: A letter from Newt

normnewt1001

Hey, Newt!

Every time I think about your letter, I smile. I know, I know! It’s been ages since I’ve written! But it’s been a long time for good reasons, not bad. Things are finally coming together with the business.

I’ve been smiling because your last letter was just so normal. It cracks me up. When we started writing each other, we were so opposite. I mean, yeah. We both ran our fathers’ companies and felt like we were living someone else’s life. But I didn’t have any women in my life (except my sister, but you know what I mean). You had plenty.

Now, I’m finally turning around the business so it feels like my business, run the way I want it to be run. You’re getting your life together. I’ve got Ira. And you’ve got Janet.

Now, we’re just two normal successful guys. Happy, boring people.

I kind of always wanted to be a happy boring person. It looked so good from the outside.

It feels pretty good from the inside, too.

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This’ll  be a short letter. For one thing, I don’t have much to say. Life’s boring! It’s actually really good. No drama. Everything’s working out OK.

For another, I’ve got a little girl who’s waiting for me to read her a bedtime story.  She’s in the kitchen right now, having cereal for desert. We let her eat the junky kind, loaded with food coloring and all those sweets, but we don’t tell her that the food coloring is natural (beets and carrots and blueberries and stuff) or that the sweetener is malt syrup and honey. She likes it. It’s colorful. That’s what counts. It only matters to me and Ira that it’s healthy, too.

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I was glad to hear that your cousin is OK. It’s been a while since you wrote, so I hope his recovery is still progressing well.

Hope things are going well with you and Janet, too. How’d your Christmas trip to see your aunt go?

It’s a funny thing. When I was young, I always took family for granted. They were there–they were the people who were in the home, always there. Then my mom died and my dad died not long after, and I was out in the world, running Dad’s business, and family were the ghosts who filled the empty corners of my empty house. I don’t know how Meadow kept on, after Mom and Dad died. She leaned on me. She leaned on our uncle Jasper. She disappeared into her books and studies. But mostly, for me at that time, family was the ache around my heart. I tried not to think of them.

It’s so different now. Now family is the chatter in the kitchen. Family is the jokes at the end of the day. Family is that warm feeling of not being alone when I’m home.

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It’s like it was when I was a kid, except I don’t take it for granted anymore.

I liked that sense I got from your last letter that you don’t take it for granted anymore, either. It sounds like Janet really means something to you. Heck, you two are taking it slow! That’s a change!

I know from experience when you’ve got a good woman, she’s worth waiting for.

Whenever Ira takes a long time getting ready to go out, or is late coming home, or keeps us waiting for supper, I always tell her it’s no big deal. I’d wait forever for her.

But I got a sleepy little girl who won’t wait forever for me, and tomorrow’s a school day. I’d better wrap this up and find that sleepy-head so we can read tonight’s installment of Treasure Island.

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Take care, Newt! Maybe next time, I’ll have something more exciting to share. But truthfully? I hope not. I like the boring life just fine.

Be happy,

Norm

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Kaitlin 9

A reply to: A letter from Kaitlin

moremeadow204

Dear Kaitlin,

Thank you so much for writing! I’ve been wondering how therapy has been going, how you are, and how the kids are.

You know me by now: I always have to get to the tough parts first. It might be silly, but I always think that if you only read the first part of the letter–you know, if you get interrupted or if something important comes up–I want to make sure that I’ve written the part that needs saying.

I have to admit that I felt a little uneasy reading that your therapist has a long and close history with your fiancé. In my coursework, the professors have been emphasizing the importance of professional distance as an element of ethical therapeutic practice.

If you feel comfortable with Dr. Bailey, and if you notice continued improvement, then all is well and good. Just remember that you have options. Every city has many qualified therapists, including ones who specialize in trauma and PTSD and who didn’t grow up with the man you plan to marry. You have options.

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PTSD has the reputation in some professional circles of being “untreatable.” The program I’m studying takes the opposite view: people can heal their trauma and PTSD. The approach we use is called Somatic Experiencing, and, through allowing the body to complete the movements that were interrupted during the traumatic event, the brain is able to resolve and renegotiate the trauma, resulting in health. That’s a bit of an over-simplification, and we include many other steps in the total approach (including the art therapy that I’m involved with at present), but that’s the essence of the approach.

It works. I’ve seen it, and I’ve met people who’ve been through this course of treatment–and they’re healed. My friend Micah is one, and Ira is another.

Ira worked with an SE therapist before I met her. I always wondered how, experiencing what she did, she has managed to be so confident, funny, happy, and able to love.

I interviewed her for a paper I wrote on SE, focusing on the experience of those going through the therapy. She told me, “We get stronger. When we crack and then we heal, we touch life. We become more alive.”

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Knowing Ira, I believe this is true.

I can hear that energy coming through your letter, too, when you write about the property and all your dreams for the future. We’re resilient, Kaitlin! All us humans are resilient and full of goodness at our core.

Speaking of the resilient, little Jena is doing great! She is not so little any more. She just turned four! Can you believe it? She loves pink and jewelry and little bows and frilly, twirly dresses!

And she is quite a mischief! Sometimes I catch her with a certain expression, and I just know she is planning something. It usually involves Uncle Jasper–either as partner-in-crime or butt-of-the-joke!

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Jasper doesn’t mind. He is so proud of Jena. Can you believe it? He’s already teaching her how to use the computer to play reading and math games!

I’ve been encouraging them to wait. Jena starts preschool next week, and that’s plenty soon for her to begin formal learning. But Jasper says that Norm and I were both reading, writing, and solving simple math equations by the time we entered kindergarten. And Jena begs to get on the computer and whines when I suggest she shut it down. When I think of how much I love to learn, I guess it’s all right if she enjoys learning, too.

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We got to meet a famous poet the other day, Bucky Duckson. Have you heard of him? I was so thrilled! He’s one of my favorite poets! He’s been traveling and my uncle is putting him up for a while.

Jasper asked him to write a poem for me–a birthday present. I’m embarrassed by the poem. It’s beautiful and so well-written, and if it were written for anyone else, I know I’d love it. But that it was written for me makes me feel shy ten-times over. Fortunately, when I met Bucky, he hadn’t even written the poem yet, so I wasn’t self-conscious and we had a wonderful conversation.

Jena enjoyed meeting him, too.  They had a bit of a discussion about poetry.

“I don’t think poems do have to rhyme,” Jena said.

“No,” Bucky answered. “You’re right. Of course. But just because they don’t have to, that doesn’t mean that they can’t. Some of the best poems employ rhyming couplets.”

“I like them when they go ‘splat,'” Jena said.

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Youssef is still our nanny. I can’t imagine life without him! Even after Jena graduates from high school and enters college, I think I will still have Youssef as our nanny. He just makes life better.

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And I hope that Mizuki Suzuki will live with us forever, too. She’s been a huge help while I’ve been busy with school. She’s a student, too, but she always seems to find time to pitch in with the chores. She calls it a good study break. But I think she’s just got so much energy that she can’t sit behind the books for more than twenty minutes at a time!

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I hope Reid’s trial isn’t too stressful for you and your family, Ben, especially. I’ve been surprised at the ways that children seem to be able to make sense of adults’ complicated lives–they sometimes seem to look past the complications and right into the person. I think that sometimes children can handle a lot more than we think they might be able to. At least that’s what Mizuki tells me, and she’s studying childhood education.

I’ve been so slow in answering your letter that I’m sure that many things have changed already! I hope that each change brings you closer to your dream of your home for you and your family on your beautiful property!

Take care, Kaitlin! And tell all your children and grandbabies “Hi” from me!

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With lots of love,

Meadow

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Forgotten Art: Norman – Newt 6

A reply to: A letter from Newt

newt616

Salut, Newt!

Sorry it’s taken me time to write back. I had no idea having a kid around would keep me so busy. No surprise to you, I’m sure.

The latest thing Aari wanted me to do was to make her a puppet theater. I took an old chest of drawers, sawed it up, put it back together, and now we’ve got a theater good enough for Punch and Judy. And I’ve got splinters to show for it.

Man, I am so sorry to hear about your cousin. I think I read about him in the Gazette. A real hero. Our company has a hero’s fund, so if he needs any help with medical expenses, or even paying mortgage or rent when he gets out, just let me know. I can pass on the word to the foundation president.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said about me being in denial about my feelings.

In fact, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.

When I think, I turn to art. I guess I never mentioned to you that I’m an artist in my spare time, did I? Maybe I did.

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I haven’t just been thinking about Ira. I’ve been thinking about work, too.

Soon, Windenburg Wind and Sun is going to become Windenburg Sun. In fact, we’re going to do it before raptor breeding season. I’ve decided I can’t have another osprey, eagle, hawk, or falcon on my conscience. Even if it means losing money. A lot of money.

I’ve been thinking over the records and plans, over and over. We can do it. We’ve got enough in savings and investments to tide us through for a few years, to cover salaries and expenses, while we complete the conversion. I’ve worked out negotiations with power collectives in other areas to take up the slack until we’re back up to capacity. It’s going to be tough. But it’s also going to be really good.

I wish I could tell you what’s going to make it so good, but we might be going public. You don’t want to get caught up in insider trading scandals. Neither do I. Let me just say this: Imagine Tibetan singing bowls. Now dream big.

So, the other day, business was on my mind. And Ira was on my mind. And I was stuck between the end of the legacy of wind power and the beginning of something really big.

You know how they say some things are worth waiting for? I figure they’re right.

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So I did what I always do when my mind is stuck and I need inspiration–I turned to art. I went to the art center in the city where my sister’s art group meets. Ira’s in that group, too, but she wasn’t there that day. She had to go to a parent-teacher conference. Something about Aari “acting out.”

I tell you, that kid has a mean streak. I love it. To me, it signifies strength. There is no way that what happened to her mom will happen to her. It’s the other guy we got to watch out for. Aari is not going to end up in a shelter for abused women, but anybody who tries anything with her might just end up with broken nose.

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I found my sister in the studio. Class had just ended.

She could tell I was deep in it.

“How’s the painting feeling?” she asked.

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It felt all right. Kinda twisted, actually. I chose all the wrong colors: blacks, grays, and red.

“Here,” she said. She handed me some clay she’d been working. “Don’t look at it. Just feel it.”

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I pounded that clay for a while. I started loosening up. My mind got quiet. You should try it sometime, next time you’re stuck in the thoughts.  Grab a lump of clay and pound it!

I was starting to relax when one of Ira’s friends came up to me. She’s also in Meadow’s art group.

“You’re Norm,” she said. “You know, you should really talk to her.”

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We sat down. She told me that Ira talks about me all the time.

“I don’t know what you’re waiting for,” she said. “I mean, you two live together, right?”

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I told her I didn’t want to ruin a good thing.

She said there was a fine line between not ruining something and spoiling it.

“You know,” she said, “the Rose Petal Festival is tonight. You should ask her. I’ll watch Aari.”

“You’d do that?”

“Certainly,” she said.

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So I called up Ira, and when her friend got to our house, Ira caught the speed rail and met me at the festival.

It had this really hip vibe. Everybody was feeling it.

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Ira and I headed into the karaoke joint across the way. She walked right up to the stage, as if she were some rock star, and started singing.

The way she moved her hips. I’ll tell you. That Ira is something.

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I sat at a table and watched her finish her song. When she joined me, I told her I’d never seen anyone so hot before.

I was feeling it.

She looked at me, and she went white. The whole mood changed, just like that.

“I can’t do this,” she said. “Not yet. I’m just not ready.”

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Now she’s never told me what happened that caused her and Aari to end up at that shelter. I’ve never asked.

Once, I saw the scars on her lower back when she was getting out of the shower. She covered up real quick, and I turned away and didn’t say anything.

I don’t know how to ask about that.

I can understand that she’s not ready to go there. It hurts.

I also know that some things are worth waiting for, and I decided right then that will wait forever for Ira. I decided I would wait as long as it took.

I headed across the way to the festival. I found the easels they had set up for the public art event, and I painted, just so I could release some of these feelings.

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As I was finishing up, Ira joined me.

Pardon moi, monsieur,” she said. “‘Ave you zeen mon petit chat?

It’s our running joke. I realize it doesn’t sound funny at all when I write it. But it cracks us up every time.

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The tension dissolved. We ordered some phở from the vendor and poured ourselves some tea from the festival tea house.

And we started to feel pretty good.

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It got late really quickly and we had to catch the speed rail home.

I slept on the couch that night. I wanted to give her space so she would feel safe. If that’s what she needs, that’s what I give. She’s worth it. Like I said, I’d wait forever for her.

The next morning, we had breakfast together in the study while Aari played math games on the computer.

Ira was full of stories and jokes. It was like she was a different person from that white-faced ghost that sat next to me at the table in the karaoke joint.

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When we finished eating, I did the dishes and then helped Aari with her homework. She’s already doing elementary chemistry, and I get such a kick out of helping her work out equations and formulas.

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When Aari went out to play with her new puppet theater, I joined Ira in the living room.

“I can’t believe it,” she said. “You’re amazing.”

I’m not making this up, Newt. She actually said that to me. I guess the little things make a difference. Things I don’t even think twice about, like making the puppet theater, scrambling eggs for breakfast, doing dishes, helping Aari with her homework–even sleeping on the couch the night before–those things actually mean something to Ira.

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I felt a little weird when she told me how much those things meant.

“Cupcake,” I said, “I don’t do those things to make you think good about me. I don’t do them because I’m trying to get physical with you, if you know what I mean.”

She took my hands then. “I know that, Norm,” she said. “And that’s what makes them special.”

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She told me then that when she’d said that she needed time, I’d given her time. And now, she didn’t need anymore time. Now she was ready.

Woot!

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She was ready.

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I tell you. I gotta tell you. Some things are worth waiting for. And I would still wait forever for this woman.

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Newt, you gave me the courage to talk to her. It blew up in my face. And then once the smoke died down, there she was, smiling crooked at me.

I’ve got a feeling my smiles will never stop. I got you to thank for it. You’ve been here all through that awkward time when I first met her. I’m no lonely bachelor anymore. I’m somebody’s boyfriend. It was a long haul to get her, but with you on my “support team,” as my sister would say, it’s worked out great.

Thanks, pal.

Now: What can I do for you?

–Norm

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Kaitlin 6

A reply to: A letter from Kaitlin

kaitlin603

Dear Kaitlin,

Hi! Oh, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could meet sometime? I wouldn’t stop smiling the whole time! All the hugs!

I’ve had so many thoughts in response to your last letter, and I’ll share them with you. But first, I want to tell you thank you!

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In association with my volunteering at House of Hope, I’ve been examining my support system. And do you know what? You are one of my strongest points of support!

We’ve been using the materials available at the Soul’s Self-Help Central, an online resource center. I filled out a grid listing people I know that I thought could be part of my support team and their capacities to offer support. You came out so strongly in every category! I’m not surprised. You are an amazing person, Kaitlin–brave, kind, generous, and insightful! You’ve got a great sense of humor, too. I’m guessing that everyone who knows you has you on their list of support people.

And that makes me wonder. Who’s on your list?

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I would be honored to be, if you felt I had the skills and capacity. I am so inexperienced when it comes to life, and I’m discovering that my interpersonal skills are woefully undeveloped. I’m starting to suspect maybe I’m not very mature emotionally. But, you know what? I am eager to learn and grow and develop capacity! So, maybe if I’m not a very good support person for you now, I will be later, after I’ve developed more skills, maturity, and abilities with people.

At any rate, you can know that all my good wishes and gratitude circle you!

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Congratulations on Leroy’s proposal and your conditional acceptance! I hope soon the circumstances allow you to accept for real. Congratulations, too, on his adoption of Dakota. I guess, in a way, she’s a new daughter for you, too. Adoption is such a wonderful gift–I’m really happy that you get to experience it, too, and what a lucky girl she is to get to be part of such a big, loving, supportive family. See all the good things that have come out of your brave actions?

I can understand your not wanting to claim the word, “victim.” That word carries so much baggage–and none of it good! I’ve discovered that the women in my art group don’t like the word, either. During one of our painting sessions the other day, the topic came up.

Some of them use the word, “survivor.”

Ira says, “I don’t like labels, anymore. I like saying, ‘I’m a person who’s experienced trauma.'” She says that, since all of us living on this planet have experienced harsh situations, and the trauma resulting from those situations, that descriptor connects us with everyone. I like that insight.

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Jasper’s organ teacher uses the word “hero.”

“It’s what we are,” she says. “I am a female hero who’s made it through my journey of trials and tribulations with the help of all my helpers, and now, I shine brighter.”

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She says that when she read Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, she wept.

“This was my story,” she said. “All the patterns and steps of my journey, described here in archetype.”

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She and I are going to lead a workshop on “The Hero’s Path,” along with one of the counselors. I’m excited that we’ll be leading it together, because that means we’ll be colleagues, and we can become friends! When I only knew her through the painting group, I had to limit our relationship to “service-provider/client” due to policies of HoH, since I’m the leader of that group. But that restriction stops when we lead a group together!

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I’ve learned that when we’ve experienced trauma–and domestic violence is trauma–that any emotion can trigger it, causing us to re-experience all the fear, anger, and danger-signals we felt the first time we experienced it. It’s because when we feel deeply again, all the emotions can come rushing back. So please be gentle with yourself when you think about all you felt during your recent exchange with Leroy. It takes time to learn to trust again, and letting yourself feel whatever you feel seems to be one of the important steps to get there.

I don’t know much at all, but I’m learning. I’ve been researching trauma, grief, and shame and have discovered that they are very interconnected.

As best I can understand from what I’ve read, when we experience a trauma, our mind switches into survival mode. In that state, the focus is on survival–life doesn’t feel safe. In survival mode, the mind focuses all our energy on getting us out of danger, and so the painful emotions associated with the trauma are split off. We just don’t feel safe enough to deal with them.

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When the system works, later, when we’re safe, we’re able to feel and process the emotions, at a time when our very survival isn’t threatened. But what if we don’t feel safe again? Sometimes, we never reach that point, and the emotions remain split off.

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When that happens, we can sometimes develop guilt and shame, especially if the traumatic event left us feeling helpless. Guilt at least offers some illusion of control.

I didn’t really understand what I read about trauma, guilt, and shame, until I began to apply it to the most significant trauma I’ve experienced: the death of my mom.

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It was my first year in college, during finals week, when she died. I just couldn’t deal with it. I remember thinking that if I felt the pain, I would drown. I’d drop out of college and I’d die. I didn’t think I could survive it.

So I didn’t feel it. I focused on my finals. I aced all my tests.

Then, when I got my grades the next semester, and I saw all those A’s, I felt so guilty. “I shouldn’t have studied. I should have gone to the hospital more. How could I earn A’s when that happened? I should have been with my dad. I should’ve stayed with Norman. I should have dropped out of college.” I thought I could’ve prevented her death if I’d just been there more–if I’d dropped out and taken her to chemo. Or if I’d stayed with her in the hospital. Or if I’d brought her flowers. Or if I’d worn red tennis shoes, instead of black ones.

Then the shame came. “I’m a terrible daughter. I’m a bad sister. I’m such a selfish person.”

For about two years, I didn’t grieve, but I was guilty all the time and I felt so ashamed. I could hardly see my dad and brother because of the shame.

kaitlin602

What finally brought me out of it was in junior year when I took an Intro to Comparative Folklore class, and I discovered fairy tales from every culture dealing with the death of the mother. My favorites were about girls who lost their mothers just as they were coming of age. There are hundreds of these tales! I lost myself in them, and then I found myself.

kaitlin611

Around that time, Norman came to visit. We went to the botanical gardens on campus. When I saw a bromelia in the greenhouse, I began to weep. It was my mother’s favorite plant. Norm hugged me, and he began to cry, too. We slumped onto a stone bench, holding each other, nestled in the humid hothouse air, and we finally felt safe enough to grieve, and we cried until we hiccuped. And then Norman looked at me, and he said, “It isn’t 42.”

“What isn’t?” I asked.

“The answer to life, the universe, and everything,” he said.

“What is?” I asked him.

“Damned if I know.” We laughed so hard. We laughed as hard as we’d cried, and then we laughed some more, and then we cried again, and then we ate ice cream in the tea shop, and my eyes hurt and my chest hurt, and I had a knife through me. I cried a lot during the next year. And then my dad died. And I cried a lot more. But I stopped feeling guilty, and I didn’t feel ashamed. I felt safe enough to feel, especially when I was with Norman or Jasper, even when it was hard.

I’m not saying that grief is the same as domestic abuse. I’m just saying that I’ve experienced the splitting off of emotions and the guilt and shame that follow.

Feeling guilty is nothing to feel guilty about, and there’s no shame in feeling ashamed. It’s all part of how our minds and bodies are constructed to help us survive. Call it socio-biology. And when we understand the process, maybe then we can create the safety that we need to be able to move through the process and back into our healthy selves again, to find our own paths back to being the heroes that we are.

kaitlin610

I hope that I can help to create a safe space for you, Kaitlin, so that you can share with me how you feel. I would like to be able to do that. Maybe our letters can be your hothouse, with bromelias and orchids and roses blooming, smelling sweet, and safe, and calming. And then we could drink tea and cry and drink more tea and maybe even laugh.

Speaking of laughing, I have no idea what’s up with Ira and Norm. She calls him “Babe.” He calls her “Cupcake.” And he told me yesterday that they haven’t even yet shared their first kiss. At any rate, it’s plain to see that it’s love.

Kaitlin, I’m sending you all my thoughts and feelings of admiration, gratitude, and friendship.

Love, love, love,

Meadow

kaitlin615

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Forgotten Art: Norm – Mel 3

mel308

Dear Mel–can I use your full name? Semper Ad Meliora,

Always onwards towards better things!

That’s what my life has become since we started writing.

mel311

Did I tell you that my sister is a folklorist? Not just by training and profession, but naturally. She taught me how to listen to a story to hear it true.

It’s with half an ear and a whole heart, that’s what Meadow says.

That’s how I read your story.

Meadow always told me, “Truth comes through. Trust the story.”

She’s right.

I know she’s right because your story hit me that way. I see the difference in my life since I began receiving your letters.

mel307

Do you remember how lonely I was when I filled out my profile?

I wonder if that’s why you chose to write me.

It was after you wrote that my life started always onward towards getting better.

That’s when I met Ira. She’s my best friend, and more. She lives here now, with her daughter Aaradhya.

Yesterday, at homework time, Aari griped, “Why do I gotta do algebra again?”

“Always strive for improvement!” Ira replied, half-hearted with tongue firmly in cheek.

mel306

But Aari laughed. “OK, Mom!”

“No, she’s right!” I said. “That’s it! Always getting better! That’s life!”

I thought of you, though, Mel.

I don’t even consider your sister–I mean, why? When the other force is this–this movement towards improvement–why even give an ounce of attention to the other possibility?

mel305

I am not a lonely guy, anymore. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say.

mel304

And my best friend Ira has a home now.

And so does Aari.

mel303

Do you know what sounds my house used to be full of? Crickets.

Now, my home is full of laughter.

mel302

I’ve never been religious. Are you religious? Are you made of faith or based on faith?

I’ve never had much truck with faith.

I had science. I had business. I had the bottom line.

But now, I’ve got gratitude. And it makes everything else feel like a pale substitute for life.

mel301

The funny thing: I don’t feel like I did anything to deserve this.

I filled out the pen pal profile. You wrote me. I wrote back. My life changed.

It’s like I’ve been playing a video game. (Well, actually, I have. Ira and I play all the time.) But it’s like I have actually been playing my life like a video game. One move. The next. It starts coming at you quick, quicker, you just respond–level up.

Always level up, that’s what it’s like, Mel.

mel309

Always leveling up.

Thank you,

Norm

P.S. When are Zee and Gari’s birthdays? I can see if I can find you llamacorns–or maybe even something better! Aari’s got these sweet rubber ducks made of natural rubber and to squeeze one! I know it sounds weird, but truly. You haven’t lived until you’ve squeezed one of the eco-friendly, fair-trade, Spanish-natural-rubber ducks.

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Forgotten Art: Norman – Newt 4

A reply to: A letter from Newt

newt406

Hey, Newt.

Ugh. You can’t tell from my keystrokes that the tips of my ears are bright red, can you?

Don’t worry. I waited to write. I wanted to make sure I got my cool back. Wouldn’t want you to know I was embarrassed out of my skin.

Dude! Where did you grow up? Antarctica? Didn’t you watch the Lambastic Legends of Llamacorns when you were a kid?

A Llamacorn, my friend, is a cross between a unicorn and a llama, and the vintage Llolicorn edition issues are special and very rare.

newt405

You have no idea how sought-after Llamacorn action figures are today. I’m talking triple–sometimes even quadruple-digits. Those things are keen, especially the Lollicorn editions.

Look ’em up online. And if you happen to notice the gold and blue one for sale anywhere, let me know. I need it to round out my collection.

newt404

That’s something Ira and I have in common. We both collect antique toys. Though she happens to prefer Mistress Mew-Meow.

Stop, Newt. Don’t even go there. It’s not what you’re thinking.

newt411

Ok. Now my ears are red again.

What was I even going to write?

Oh, yeah. My homework. Well. I blew it. Failed the course. It’s not for lack of effort. It just hasn’t been right yet.

Ira came over right after I got your letter. I was ready to do just what you instructed: “When you’re sitting next to her, yawn and let your arm stay around her shoulders.”

The thing is, she sits next to me, but not next to me. I’m in the love seat. She’s in the chair. Adjacent. Next, but not next.

newt403

She’s my best friend, man. I don’t want to blow it with her. Besides, once we get talking, I have so much fun, I forget about everything else.

Still. I gotta admit. She makes me feel… you know. Like, very much so.

newt401

We did almost have a moment the other day. We were playing Party Frenzy on the console. Somehow, our arms got tangled up. Like interlaced. Like linked. Arm-in-arm. I was so into the game, I sort of didn’t notice. I just felt kinda warm on one side.

“Um, Norm?” Ira said. “My arm? I can’t get my guy to the dance floor!”

We were on the dance floor level of the game.

newt412

I apologized and let her go.

I’m kind of not worried, though. I think I’m going to have plenty of opportunities to get close to her.

newt410

You see, I kind of asked her to move in.

Now, don’t go yelling at me about being too fast! Or putting the cart before the horse. Actually. I guess I put the horse in the barn before I even got the cart out. Or. Whatever. Don’t go there.

The thing is, she needed a place.

I asked her one day, “So we always meet up here. Let’s go to your place one day! How about tomorrow?”

“There’s just one thing,” she said. “I don’t have a place.”

newt409

Turns out, she’d been staying in some shelter, all this time. That’s why she always wore the same black outfit. That’s why her shoes are these old canvas worn-out things. Here I am, one of the guys with the most resources in town, and my best friend, the person I care most about, is half a step away from being homeless, living in a shelter for women and children.

Oh, yeah. Did I mention? She’s got a kid. A cute, spunky little girl named Aaradhya.

newt413

Well, they don’t live in a shelter anymore.

That’s right. I asked them to move in.

newt408

So, maybe I haven’t made my move yet, but Ira made her move–she moved right in with me!

I tell you, Newt. I’m starting to understand your feelings about being a family man. I may not yet have even gotten to first base with Ira, but she’s made it to home with me already: literally and figuratively. She’s sharing my home, and she’s planted herself right smack square in the hearth of my heart.

I never thought I had it in me to love this deep.

And I haven’t even yet started to tell you about my new sorta, kinda, maybe-one-day daughter.

newt407

I owe it all to you, man. I never would’ve had the guts to ask her to move in if you hadn’t inspired me to speak up for what matters. If I didn’t know how much a guy like you could have a soft spot for family and a good woman he loved, I probably would have let her go right on living there in the shelter and wished her well. Maybe I would have written the shelter a check from “an anonymous benefactor” and designated the funds for her. But it wouldn’t have brought near the joy that opening my home has.

Thanks, man. I only hope that you get to regain some of the happiness you lost. I owe you, big time.

Your flunking student, who’s learning more than you can know…

Norm

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Forgotten Art: Norman – Mel 2

A reply to: A letter from Mel

mel211

Dearest Mel,

I’ve been thinking about your question every since I got your letter:

“What are your feelings towards reincarnation?”

I’m not sure what my feelings towards it are. Like I said, I’ve been thinking about it.

In fact, I’d say, since I read your letter, reincarnation has been on my list of top-five-things-I-think-about. (The others, in no particular order are: 1) When will another vintage Llamacorn be available on e-Bay? [preferably a gold and purple one to round out my collection] 2 a) Will we ever be able to develop a bird-safe method of harvesting wind power, and 2b) if not, how long will it take us to switch Windenburg Wind and Sun to Windenburg Sun and Sun?, and 3) How can WW&S attract more innovative physicists?  and 4) Why?)

My thinking about reincarnation didn’t get me far, though, except to realize that I’d never thought about it before.

I decided to talk to people. First question: Whom did I know well enough I could ask them about their feelings or thoughts on reincarnation without them thinking I was a nut-case? Or… to reframe: who already thought I was a nut-case and wouldn’t mind talking with me about subjects esoteric and strange?

Of course, my kid sister was first on the list. I ran into her at a party at the Von Haunt Estate.

“I need your educated opinion, Meds,” I asked her. “Reincarnation: Yes or no?”

mel209

“Yes!” she replied. “Think about it, Norm. In every culture, there are references to it in folklore! And I’m not just talking about Hindu, Janis, Sikh, or Buddhist tales. Even in folklore from Christian cultures, you can find modified versions–for example, Cinderella’s mother becomes a dove, another departed mother becomes a juniper tree. There are so many instances!”

“But those are fairy tales,” I told her.

“Sure, yes,” she said. “But fairy tales always point towards experiences so deep in our collective unconscious that they can only come out in story! And, what comes out in story always indicates truth so strong it can’t be suppressed. Not even by religion or science.”

mel208

Then, a few nights later, I made a new acquaintance downtown. OK, so he didn’t know me well. But he seemed open to conversation. We were talking about stars. I said something about stars dying. He says, with no prompting whatsoever, “It is not death. It is the perfect cycle that goes on everywhere.”

“Kind of like reincarnation?” I asked.

“Ah, well. That is. Um, yes,” he replied. And then he had to leave suddenly.

mel210

My uncle Jasper was next on my list. Now, Jasper lives for this type of talk.

“Reincarnation. Yes or no?” I asked him.

mel201

Of course I didn’t get the short answer. First he launched into a recitation of reincarnation in literary traditions. Then he began a dissertation on “what can be known and what can be sensed and the difference between the two.” Then he said, “Now, Bess. She had memories. And Bess’s memories are not to be doubted.”

mel203

Turns out, my aunt had three spontaneous memories of past-life experiences. Each one hinged around a moment of decision, and each decision affected life themes for her in this life. In one, she was a peasant who avowed never to live in poverty again. In one, she was a warrior who promised to protect his family and tribe. In another, she was abandoned by a faithless husband, and she swore never to let that happen to her again.

Jasper said he believed the memories, since each had been made at what he called “a decisive moment of power.”

“The themes,” said Jasper, “these were what were ripe for her in this life: to learn to trust abundance; to protect kin and clan; to choose someone who could be faithful.”

mel202

That got me thinking. That got me feeling. I loved my aunt Bess. She was a good person, Mel. I think you would like her. So, if this was part of what made her good, maybe there’s something to it.

My niece was there that day Jasper and I talked. I decided to ask her.

“Did you have another life before this one, Jena?”

Of course, she had. She’d been born in a refugee camp. Coming here, getting adopted by my sister–that was reincarnation in and of itself. I know it’s not the kind you’re asking about. But it’s dying to an old life and being reborn in a new one, all the same.

mel204

The last person I asked was my best friend Ira.

“I’m taking an informal poll,” I asked her. “Reincarnation: Yes or No?”

mel205

“Oh, yes!” she said. “Most definitely!”

She pulled out Mistress Mew-Meow from her pocket. You see, Ira is also a collector of antique toys.

“Take Miss M-M,” she said. “This was once something very different! What’s plastic made of?”

“Oh, hydrocarbon. Natural gas. Coal. Minerals. Plant stuff.”

“Very different, yes?” She squeezed Mistress Mew-Meow to make her meow. “And now! Here she is, a little cat with a bright smile! If that’s not reincarnation, I’m not sure what is!”

mel206

I’m not sure that’s reincarnation. That’s more like the recycling of matter into another form. But then, that was what my new acquaintance called it. When a star dies, its matter becomes the stuff of life somewhere else in the galaxy.

I thought long and hard. Eventually, I realized what I’ve always known: what my dad taught me when I was knee high. Science only goes so far. I’m a scientist. My scientific training schooled me in the method of proposition, trial, blind-trial, repetition, quantifying, measuring.

I’m a scientist. But I’m also a human. So my feelings, my feelings are that there is so much more that lies outside of the territory of science: there’s folklore. There’s religion. There’s experience and memory and the collective unconscious. There’s feeling. My feeling, when I think of my sister’s bright eyes, when I think of Aunt Bess’s big heart, when I think of my niece’s little scowl, and when I think of Ira’s laughter–my feeling is that there’s more to us that endures and finds its way into a new form–carbon-based or otherwise–than not.

Some things, like the starlight in another’s eyes, simply can’t not exist.

I’m not making sense. But then, that’s why I usually stick to the realm of thought, rather than feeling.

And you, Mel. What are your thoughts–or rather, feelings–about reincarnation?

Is it silly for me to say that I hear your voice–or rather, a voice I imagine to be yours–when I read your letter?

I hope you keep writing.

Sincerely,

Norm

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Forgotten Art: Norman – Newt 3

A reply to: A letter from Newt

newt308

Newt! Hey, man. I hope you like this letter. I’m sending it snail-mail. Throw-back to the past, geek-moment.

Do you think paper letters are geeky? More like retro. I use them all the time for work. We do business with a bunch of old-school folks. Kinda weird, since we’re a new technology. But the investors like paper. How weird is that? We’re a green business.

Ever notice how sometimes values-one-says and values-one-does don’t line up? We see that all the time with our investors.

I digress.

Your letter got me thinking.

Do you want to get back with your wife and kids? Do you want to patch up a marriage you weren’t happy in? I know it’s none of my business, and you’ll do what works for you. But, dang, man. You sound so happy as a single guy, getting to be with anyone you want, anytime you want. No strings. No fuss. No muss.

I just don’t really see you as a family guy.

newt307

Like I say, none of my dang business. I’m just thinking: if you’re happy as you are, and your wife and the kids are off starting a fresh life somewhere, why not just make it official, send them alimony, and be done with it?

Not my business, though.

What is my business is trying out your advice. Dang! You give some good advice!

I went back to the café, alone this time.

newt322

Turns out my uncle Jasper was there, anyway, but he was back in the reading room.

Something crazy happened. Really weird.

This guy, one of the baristas, sort of caught on fire. Spontaneous combustion.

newt321

He expired, man. It’s that tragic.

newt320

See what I’m saying? Life is short. We were all pretty shook up about the expired barrista.

newt318

Especially Uncle Jasper. He was horrified. One guy who’d rode the train from San Myshuno with my uncle thought it was radical, as in cool. Weird and twisted is what it was.

newt319

I’d had enough. I mean, it was really unsettling.

I rode the RapidTran to another café out on the waterfront. I tried to get my mind off what I’d seen with reading.

newt316

I was still shook up. I didn’t notice who was there, who’d come in, who was working, nothing.

newt317

Then I heard somebody humming a song. It was the theme song from Llamacorn Lollicorn–you remember that show?

I turned, and there she was. My barrista. Looking right at me.

newt314

Quick as I could, I tried to remember all your advice.

OK. I had it memorized. Yes. That much of a geek.

“Take your laptop or tablet and pretend to work.”

Dang! I’d forgotten my laptop. I hoped the romance novel would do.

“But watch her enough that she knows you are interested.”

It was kinda hard to watch her because she was watching me.

newt315

“Make sure she sees you checking her out and smile at her when she makes eye contact – maybe act embarrassed that she caught you.”

I was about to smile, when she started cracking up.

newt313

Instead, I went over there to see if I could read her name tag, like you suggested. She didn’t have a name tag.

“Hi, I’m Ira,” she said. “You’re Meadow’s brother, aren’t you? You’re Norm?”

“That would be right,” I said, “Norman Mccumber of Windenburg Wind and Sun.”

Right. Casual, I’m not.

newt310

She giggled. Ira. She’s got the cutest giggle.

We started talking. I guess she knew a lot about me already from my sister.

Man, we talked about everything. Wind power. Photovoltaic cells. Star Trek TNG. Kadinsky. Antique toy collecting.

I told her about my latest acquisition, a vintage Lollicorn edition purple and pink llamacorn.

She actually squealed. “That’s Ramoo! I’ve been looking for him forever!”

newt311

Before we realized any time had passed, her shift was over. It was past midnight, we’d talked all night, and now it was time to go home.

Here’s where you’ll think I’ve got the moves down: I asked her if she wanted to come over the next morning to check out my new vintage Lollicorn. Didn’t even mention I had it in my pocket the whole time!

newt309

She showed up early the next morning. Dude, she wears black even when she’s not in her black barista uniform! Very classy.

newt306

We talked some more. I asked her how she was. She said she was good. We talked about our favorite breakfast foods–she’s a steel-cut-oats-with-chopped-apples-walnuts-raisins-and-cinnamon girl. I like popcorn for breakfast.

newt305

She said she looked on e-Bay, and there were currently no Lollicorns available, anywhere. She said I could get maybe four figures for mine. If I wanted to sell. But we both agreed I’d be crazy to sell.

newt304

Then I remembered to open the door.

Yeah. We’d been talking through the front door for about fifteen minutes. Smooth it wasn’t. We sat on the porch and talked some more.

newt302

I could listen to her forever. I could talk to her for longer.

I told her things I’d never told a soul, not even my sister, and she took it all in, and she didn’t look at me like I was weird. Even when I was weird, she looked at me like I was her friend.

newt303

And then it was time for her to head off for her shift.

“I didn’t even get to see the Lollicorn,” she said, as she was leaving. She had a little pout.

“We can easily remedy that,” I replied.

So guess who came back over after work?

I showed her the llamacorn. “It really is purple and pink!” She said. And she laughed. But she wasn’t laughing at me. She was laughing because she liked it. And I started thinking, wondering, if maybe, she might like me, too.

newt301

So, thanks, Newt. I seem to have a friend. Not a girlfriend. But a friend who is a girl. We’ve got a lot in common, and I think she’s cute. And that’s a start.

How can I pay you back, buddy?

Take care,

Norm

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