Whisper 2.34

Dear me,

I wish I had my mom’s wisdom! Or I wish that Riley had somehow had a chance to meet my mom. She could really use some of my mom’s special words of kindness right now.

Her heart’s broken, and I don’t know how to make it better.


Argus called her up for a date. They hadn’t been seeing each other much, and I’d been receiving these weird sort of come-on letters from Argus, so I assumed they’d broken up. But after he called, Riley said, no, they were still together.

She left for the date before I had a chance to tell her about Argus’s weird letters.

I could tell she was upset when she got home.

“How was the date?” I asked.

“We live in such a beautiful valley,” she replied. “The sunset was mystical.”


But when I saw the shadow behind her eyes, I figured she wasn’t telling me the whole story.

“And the date? Was it mystical, too?”

“If betrayal is mystical, then yes,” she replied.


“Oh, Riley! What happened?” I asked.

“Argus happened,” she replied.


I surmised that wasn’t a good thing.


“He’s a… he’s not for me,” Riley said. “He was with someone else when I got there. On our date. That he arranged. Did he want me to see him flirting with that woman?”

I wanted to give Riley a hug, but she was maintaining this boundary around her. I let her keep her space. In the quiet moment, she told me she’d been suspecting he was interested in other women. Now she knew.


I had to tell her about the letters he’d been sending me. I told her I figured they were random, signifying nothing. I told her I figured they weren’t serious about each other. I told her I threw them all away and didn’t make anything of it.

She said she didn’t want to talk about it. If she did, she’d say something she’d regret.


She’s been so quiet. She’s thinking, I can tell. All I can do is give her space for her thoughts and feelings. I tell her I’m here, if she ever wants to talk. She doesn’t even look at me. She just rocks and thinks. She’s not crying, but I can see she’s hurt.


She completely lost it with Bo. He was just being his usual goofy, mischievous, obnoxious self, and he was teasing her about having a broken heart, and she snapped. She accused him of being evil and of getting joy out of her sadness.

He tried apologizing, but she just yelled, “Get out of my face! I don’t want you anywhere near me!”


I felt torn. I don’t want anyone talking to my brother like that. And at the same time, I can’t stand that Riley feels so sad. I can’t blame her, and I can’t blame Bo, either. I want to blame Argus, but he and Riley had never agreed to be exclusive or anything. I ended up blaming myself. If I hadn’t gone to college and left Riley to take care of Bo and Patches… If I’d mentioned Argus’s letters sooner… If I’d been a better friend to Riley…

In the middle of my blame-fest, I heard a whisper:

Sometimes, life just gets messy, and it’s no one’s fault. It’s simply part of life.

I let the words settle into the quietness that spread through the house.

“Let’s hire a maid,” I suggested to Riley.

“What?” she said.

“You like a clean house. Let’s hire someone else to help us clean it.”

“But I clean it,” Riley said.

“And you could still clean it. But now you’d have someone else who could help out. It might be fun.”

“Would she clean the kitty litter?”

“If you wanted. You could be in charge, and you could be the one who delegated the tasks to her.”

“I wouldn’t want her to do anything she didn’t want to do,” Riley said.

“Of course not,” I said.

So we hired this really cute maid. Riley seems to like her a lot, and I notice that she perks up around ten o’clock each morning, which is when the maid is scheduled to arrive.

Usually, she cleans the house before the maid gets there. I put on a fresh pot of coffee, and Riley and our maid sit at the table and chat. When I hear them laughing, I realize that Riley will be OK.


Bo’s been on his best behavior, and he’s convinced Patches to go along with him.

I told him I was proud of him. He’s earned an A in school, and with his help, Patches has, too.

“You’re a good little brother,” I told him.

“Really?” he asked.

“Truly.” He’s my brother. He’s weird. He’s got a strange understanding of social behavior. But in spite of everything, he’s got a good heart.


Keep remembering that.



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Whisper 2.32

Dear Mom,

It’s been a while since I’ve written you, hasn’t it? Do you feel when I think of you every day? Sometimes, I feel that warmth of home you always brought me, and then I know you’re still around in spirit.

Tonight was Patches and Bo’s first prom.

Do you remember how excited I was for my first prom? I felt like I was splitting in two from grinning so hard! Man, it feels like a lifetime ago. I suppose it was, for it was back when Bo was a baby, and now he’s a teen, going to his own prom.

Patches didn’t look excited. She said she was nervous. There’s this girl she likes in her class, and she was hoping she might be there.


Bo looked a little scared, actually, when he raced out to the limo.

“Your shoes!” I called to him.

“Naw!” He called back. “I wanna dance in my bare leaf!”

“You mean barefeet?”



I poked my head in through the limo window to wish them well.

“Have a great time, Patches,” I said. “You look lovely. Remember, if you like someone, it’s perfectly OK to tell them so!”


Bo climbed into the furthest back seat.

“You ready, Bo?” I asked.

“Not really,” he said. “I think Ethan will be there. I hope so. What if he doesn’t notice me?”

“Bo. You’re the handsomest, coolest guy there. He’ll notice you.”

“I’m not so sure,” he said.


Both of the kids were sitting there, lost in their own worries and thoughts. I tried to think of something you’d say, Mom, to boost their confidence and spirits. I mean, this was their prom!

All I could think of was “Have fun!”

Neither looked like “fun” was on the horizon.


When I came back in, I found Riley sitting at the table, looking pensive and wistful, like she often does. Once again, I regretted that she never got a chance to meet you, Mom. I’ve got a feeling that, with your own quiet, gentle heart, you’d be able to understand her.

I have a hard time understanding her depths. She’s always thinking, and she seems to notice so much.

“What’s up, Ri?” I asked as I came back inside.


“I’m just thinking about families,” she said.

“What about them?”

“Their shapes,” she said. “The shape of ours is really quite traditional, in terms of dynamics. You and me, we’re like the parents. Bo and Patches are the kids. Even their fights are the kinds of fights that siblings would have.”

I asked her if she liked it like this, like a regular family.

She said she did. She’s a home-body and tuned in to family by nature, and she said that this way, she could do what she does best and still be useful.

“That’s all I really want,” she added, “to be useful to others.”

Do you think a life can be made out of that, Mom? Out of service?

I like taking care of everyone myself, but I also feel I need to do things for me, too, like going back to school when I wanted that second degree.

“Isn’t there anything you want for you?” I asked her.

“Honestly?” she replied. “I want to feel good inside. And being useful to you and the kids is the best way I know to do that.”

I told her she should try petting Hatbox because, since this cat came to live with us, I get all sorts of happiness from that cat.


Riley and I talked until the kids finally came home.

“How was it?” I asked Bo.

He growled.


Then he started cackling.

“I was coronated,” he said.

“A flower crown?”

“No,” he replied. “Cardboard. But I’m the King! His Royal Highness the Prom King!”


Mom, I guess you know. Bo is weird.

Patches came in looking a little scattered.

“How was it?” I asked.

“Oh,” she replied, “it was great, I guess. I got named Prom Queen, and Bo King. And I got into two fights, and Bo got into one. And I sort of got together with that girl I like, and Bo watched Ethan dance all night. I don’t know. Did we have fun, Bo?”

He just cackled.


I guess some things never change. My own first prom was a lot like that, remember, Mom?

I remember how you told me that my prom night was just like me: beautiful, wild, crazy, lovely, and magical.

What would you tell Bo and Patches about their prom night? Is it just like them?

I think you would tell them it’s just like life: full of friendship and enmity, triumph and conflict, excitement and boredom.

Maybe you’d tell Bo not to get too full of himself and to take his success in stride. That high times and low times are both part of life, and if he’s up now, to remember tonight the next time he’s down. And that now, it might not hurt to remember the times when he hasn’t been the winner. A little moderation! Wouldn’t it be something if we could teach that to Bo? Especially since moderation has never been my strong suit!


And what would you tell me, Mom, if you were somehow around and able to talk to me?

I hope you’d tell me that me and Riley are doing a good job with these two kids. I know we’re not perfect on everything, but we’re trying hard. We’re trying to think about them and what they need to be able to grow up strong, resilient, and kind. I’ve got a feeling that’s the kind of people you’d want them to be, and so Riley and I are doing our best to raise them to be kids you’d be proud of.

I hope we make you happy.


Miss you,


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Whisper 2.30


Dear me,

The gnomes may be celebrating my return from university…


but I’ve come home to a mess.

I walked right into the middle of a fight between Riley and Bo.

“But you can’t keep pranking everything,” Riley was saying.

Bo screamed. “It’s just a whoopee cushion!”


Riley was being so reasonable, explaining all the ways somebody could get hurt.

“But I have to!” screamed Bo. “You’re limiting my self expression!”


She grounded him.

He wept. Mr. Drama King, my baby brother.

“It’s not fair,” he cried.


“I’m home!” I said, once the ruckus died down.

“Thank God,” said Bo. “You won’t believe how impossible your IF has been to live with.”


I tried to offer another perspective. “Maybe she’s had reason to be a little strict?”

“ARGH!” screamed Bo. “Nobody understands me! I hate imaginary friends! You’d think, if we imagined them, they’d have some compassion. But NOOOOO! Nobody loves Bo.”


I suggested he head out for a cup of tea.


“Feeling better?” I asked him after he’d downed three cups.

“Hydrated,” he said. “And the phytonutrients are awesome.”


When I was getting ready for bed, I noticed that the faucet in the kitchen sink seemed to be pointing in the wrong direction.

I called Bo over.

“Do you know anything about this?” I asked him.


He said he didn’t know sinks from rocket launchers. Then he snickered.

“Bo! What did you do?”

First he denied everything. Then, when I said he’d have to fix it if anything broke, he finally confessed. He’d booby-trapped it. The sink would blow the next time anybody turned it on.

“How’re we supposed to cook? How’re we supposed to wash dishes? What about washing veggies?”

“Don’t eat veggies,” he said.


Bo! What’s gotten into that kid?

I grounded him.

“The prom is tomorrow,” he said. “Me and Patches were going. Not together. But separately. In the same limo.”


“You’re so grounded,” I said.

“I just want to kiss the world,” he said, “and then watch everyone die. Poison flower kisses.”

“You’re so weird. I just want to work on my novel.You think I want to spend my evening yelling at you?”

“You don’t?”


“Not really,” I said. “I don’t like being mad at you.”

“Then don’t be,” he said.

“All right,” I said. “I won’t be.”

We both started laughing.

“Poison flower kisses!”

He exploded in laughter.

He asked me about all the pranks I did as a teen. I’d only done a few. And I never got in trouble for them.

He said he shouldn’t get in trouble for them, either.

I realized that the only reason he got in trouble was because he’d gotten caught; whereas, I’d never gotten caught, so I’d never gotten in trouble. Which made me think about what kind of lesson we were teaching Bo. Which was, don’t get caught.

We made a deal: I’d let him off the hook, if he’d promise to clean up any messes that his pranks caused, including fixing anything that got broke.

We shook on it.

“I’m so glad you’re home,” he said. “All I want is a little self-expression.”

Good grief!

Welcome home,


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Whisper 2.15

Heya, Shan. Thanks for the postcard you sent. I love the painting of lava you did on the cover, and the one word you wrote on the back made my day.

“Radical” has always been one of my favorite words.

We had big drama at home this week. You like drama? Naw, me neither. But with a rebel teenage brother and a law-abiding IF helping me raise said little brother, drama is bound to happen.

I was out for a long nighttime run. I love running at night. There’s hardly any traffic, and I can feel the frost creep up as the temperature drops, and the stars! Well, the stars look like ice crystals, but I know they’re suns for other worlds. So there I was, running under the suns of other worlds, when the whole three act drama plays out at home.


See, Bo went over to the Wolffs’ house after school. It’s sort of a tradition, since I always went home with Waylon after school, and now Bo goes home with Gator. Our family kinda likes hanging out with the werewolves.


Bo said he had a great time over there.  He did his homework–before playing video games, I might add! Then he listened to Dwayne playing the guitar.


And then, before he knew it, it was late. He got a courtesy ride home–from the cops. He persuaded the cop to let him off down the street so he could walk home as if nothing had happened.


But he wasn’t counting on Riley waiting up for him. She’s got a thing about following the rules.


“Um. So. I’m home?” Bo said.


Riley let into him. Of course, knowing Riley, I’m sure she was sweet about it and never even raised her voice. Let’s just say that she read him the riot act in sotto voce.


She told me that he actually applauded her speech.

“That was awesome!” he said. “You used about twenty of the best why-follow-rules cliches ever! Even the classic: ‘rules are for following!’ Duh! I bet the rule-makers paid you big bucks for using that one!”


He was mad. She was hurt.

“So, how much do I have to pay you to keep you from grounding me or telling on me to Marigold?”

She said that was the final straw, and she grounded him for a week.


When I got home, there was such a fuss waiting. Bo was upstairs, rocking as fast as he could in the rocking chair, and Riley was downstairs, rocking as slowly as she could in the rocking chair, and the upstairs floor was creaking lickety-split, while the downstairs floor was groaning and moaning!

I had to pry the story out of Riley, for she really didn’t want to tell on Bo. We talked a bit. I told her the story about when I was out after curfew and got a ride home in the cop car. That was also at the Wolffs’ house! And I got grounded, too.

“But then Mom ungrounded me,” I told Riley. “It’s a stupid rule, anyway, and we were never meant to follow stupid rules! Besides, having to ride home in a cop car is punishment enough.”

“Bo thought it was cool,” she said. But she agreed that we could let Bo off the hook. She was too mad and too hurt to speak to him. “I’ll talk to him tomorrow,” she said. “If he apologizes.”

So I went upstairs to tell Bo he wasn’t grounded, after all, but that, all the same, it’s probably a good idea to be home by ten.

Oh! But I left out the best part!

On my run, I swung by the festival grounds.


And guess what I saw? Puppies!


There were two of the most adorable, bouncy puppies!


Are you sure you don’t want to move to Moonlight Falls with me? We could get our own house and adopt puppies! They’ve got two! One for me and one for you!


Think about it?

I miss you.



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Whisper 2.14

Hey, Shannon.

Well, I made it home. And, guess what? It was still snowy when I arrived! My worries that I’d miss the snow melt were for nothing!


Remember how you said it was important for me to get back home because people here needed me?

You were right.

When I arrived, Bo and Patches were both standing in their room, not speaking to each other. Patches looked mad, and Bo, he just looked forlorn.


I’ve never seen my little brother look that way.

They both broke out in smiles when they saw me, and, for the moment, their troubles seemed forgotten.

The next morning, though, I made sure to spend a little time with each of them. I’ve been gone for a while, and a lot can change in a family in the time it takes to get a degree.

Bo and I worked out together. It gave us a chance to catch up while doing something–kind of took the pressure off of talking about difficult things.

Eventually, Bo came out with it. “She hates me,” he said. “I deserve it. I’m rotten to the core. But it still sucks. I thought she’d have my back to the end.”

It was Patches he was talking about. I thought about it while we continued working out. My IF Riley and I are so close–even though we’re different, I feel like she can read my mind.


I bet Patches can read Bo’s mind, too.

Shannon, have you ever been so close to someone that you could read their mind? If that person has friendly thoughts, it can be nice. It can bring the two of you closer. But what would happen if that person didn’t always have the most generous of thoughts? What if some of those thoughts were even destructive or mean?

I found Patches playing chess on the computer.

She and I aren’t that close, so I wasn’t really sure how to approach this.

“You ever get inside your opponent’s mind when you’re playing chess?” I asked her, cringing at how obvious I thought I was being.

But Patches was interested in the question. “I can’t really read their minds,” she said. “But sometimes, it’s as if I can, because I can figure out the lines of possibles moves, and then based on my analysis of their play, I can predict which one they’ll choose, so it’s as if I can. But in truth, there’s only one person whose mind I can read, and that’s Bo.”



I wasn’t really sure how to proceed. What would you have done, Shannon? Would you have even gotten involved?

Part of me felt like not intruding, but when I saw how sad Bo looked, I couldn’t just ignore it. I feel like if I notice something, it’s for a reason. So if I notice that there are problems between my brother and his IF, then it seems like it’s up to me to say something. I mean, what if I didn’t say anything and they just went on being miserable? At least if I say something, the worse thing that can happen is that they get mad at me for interfering. And that’s not so bad!


Bo and I headed out to join Riley at the tea table. I figured it might help to have Riley’s perspective.

“So how did you all get along while I was gone?” I asked. Yeah, you know me, Shannon–I’m not really subtle.


“Beautifully,” Bo said.

“Well,” Riley confessed, “Sometimes we got along beautifully.”


She poured a little more tea and looked at Bo.

“And sometimes not,” she said. “It’s natural for teenagers to be moody, and I guess sometimes bad moods can be taken out on other people.”

“I keep it to myself,” Bo said, “when I feel that way. I don’t see what the big deal is.”

I remembered how angry I’d felt sometimes when I was a teen. There were days when I wanted to stop being friends with my mom, when I wanted to skip school, and when the whole world just sucked. I tried to keep it to myself and not act on any of it, but my mom was pretty good at figuring it out, anyway.

“Riley,” I said, “You know how you always say that you can read my thoughts?”

“Oh, sure,” she replied. “It’s that way with all IFs and their person. I mean, after all, it was your thoughts, initially, that brought us to life.”

“Uh-huh. I guess it was pretty lucky that you spent most of my teen years in my mom’s closet. What do you think it would’ve been like for you if you’d been around when I was having rotten thoughts and feelings?”

“I wouldn’t have minded,” Riley said. “I would have understood. Unless they were mean thoughts about me.”

“They might have been,” I said, “unless I learned to reel it in a bit when I was feeling hormonal.”

“Can you control your thoughts?” Bo asked.

“You can be aware of them, at least,” I said. “And then if you end up having a thought that’s ungenerous, you can not fuel it with emotions by just watching it pass.”

Shannon, do you think that was an OK approach for me to take? I thought about being more direct and letting Bo know that when he thinks mean thoughts about Patches she picks up on them, and that’s what causes the distance between them. But I also thought that he might be more responsive if I came at it from an angle. I don’t know. I’m not very good at helping my brother with complicated interpersonal relationships. What would you have done?

It might have been OK that I took that approach, for you know what he said next?

“That sounds like an art. An art of the mind. I’m not sure I can only have beautiful thoughts. In fact, I’m pretty sure, no, I can’t. I don’t even know what comes first, the thought or the feeling.”

I told him that not knowing was a start and he could watch to see what did come first.


I don’t know, Shannon. I’m not sure anything I said made a difference or helped at all. But I did notice that afternoon that he and Patches were talking, then they were joking, and then they were sitting together to play a game of chess.

That afternoon, I found Riley standing at the upstairs window looking out over the back meadow.

“Your feelings were right,” she said, just as if she’d read my mind. “Letting Bo discover on his own how his thoughts and feelings are intertwined and how they affect those he lives with, that’s the right approach.”

I joined Riley, and together, we watched the snow melt.


Shannon, what’s a family? We share all these tangles of emotions and habits in this shared space, and we have all this history and tradition. We get defined by the thoughts we hold of each other. I think part of what drew me to you was a sense of freedom I felt from you–you define yourself. But didn’t you say to me, shortly before I left, that you found something of yourself when you were with me, something you had never known existed?

Riley leaned against me and smiled while we watched the grass showing itself for first spring. “Everything’s right,” she said. “Now, when it all feels good, and even before, when it felt messed up. The whole of everything is right.”

Life’s not really simple, is it, Shannon?

I’ve just been home a few days, and I miss you already. What do you say to coming to Moonlight Falls for a visit? I’m sure this valley would love to see you! And the valley is not alone in that wish…



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Whisper 2.08

Dear Mom,

I took my college entrance exams, and guess what? I got accepted! Guess what else? I qualified for full scholarship in three subjects: phys ed, communications, and fine arts. Guess what else? I earned 18 Advanced Placement credits in each! I’m so excited! I’m going to college.


I was still trying to decide what major to pick when I asked Riley how she did.

“I didn’t take the exam,” Riley said.

“Well, you’d better hurry. We’re leaving soon.”

“I’m not going to take it,” she said. “I’m not going.”


“Not going? You have to go!” I said. “That was the plan! That’s the dream!”

“It’s your dream,” Riley said. “It always has been. I’ve never wanted to go to college. I want to stay home.”

“But Riley!”

“It’s true,” she said. “Remember when I was voted ‘Most likely to never leave home?’ That might seem like a joke to some, but to me, that’s my dream.”

“But Riley!”


“Not everyone wants what you want,” she told me. “You go, because it would give you joy. But what’s more important? Just doing something because it’s expected, or because it’s someone else’s dream? Or doing what you want, even if it lets down someone else’s expectations, because it’s your dream?”

“Is this because of Argus?” I asked her.


“No,” she replied. “I talked with Argus about it. He was all ready to support me in going away to university. But I’d already made up my mind, even before Argus and I went out. I just didn’t know how to tell you.”

“I wish you were so afraid of me that you’d go anyway!” I said. “Just because it was what I wanted. I imagined you, after all.”


“I’m sorry. It’s just. I was so looking forward to rooming with you in the dorm, and going to parties with you, and studying all night! Now! Oh! It’s like my dream’s been torn in two.”

“I’m sorry. I hate disappointing you. But a dorm? With strangers? Who don’t wash their dishes and leave dirty towels laying around and forget to bathe? And parties? I hate parties! And studying all night? I’d hate to have to study. I hate all those things.”


Oh, Mom. It was so hard to listen to Riley. I felt so sure that college was the best thing for her. Half of me still feels that way. But I had to listen when she told me what she loves: taking care of our home, caring for Zoey and Roxy, being here for Patches and Bo. And, yes, she admitted that she was looking forward to spending more time with Argus.

“Women worked hard and fought for equal rights so we’d have a choice,” she told me, “not so that we’d all have to march to the same drummer. I’ve looked in my heart, Mari. This is what I want.”

She’s right. Even I can see that. It breaks my heart to leave alone, Mom, but I guess I’ve got to do it.

On my departure day, the shuttle arrived in the early morning to take me to the airport. Riley had gotten up with me so we could have breakfast together.

“Write me, ” she said.

“Of course!” I replied.


The kids were still asleep, and I was hoping to have lucked out and avoided having to say goodbye to them. I worried it would break my heart.

When I got into the shuttle, I looked back at the house. There was Patches, coming out to wave goodbye.


And then Bo came racing out, waving his arms and making crazy faces! I was laughing so hard I couldn’t cry! Oh, Mom! I am going to miss this nutty family.


Good thing I got advanced placement–it means I’ll only be away from home for two terms.

And when I come back, I’ll have a degree!

Oh! I forgot to tell you what program I chose! I’m going for fine arts. I figured that phys ed came naturally, and communications fits with my career–so both of those, I’ll be working on anyway. So I decided to challenge myself and major in fine arts. Just like you did! I want to be well-rounded. That’s why I chose what would be most difficult.

Oh, Mom! I’m going to your alma mater, and I’m majoring in your degree! Maybe I’ll even live in your dorm!

I’m going to miss you so much, too. I wonder if I’ll feel your spirit there on campus…



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Whisper 2.07

Dear Mom,

It’s been a while since I’ve written. Things are going great! The kids are both A students, both smart, and both staying out of trouble, for the most part.

They’re in high school now. Patches is going through a bit of an awkward phase–at least I think it’s a phase! She keeps dropping dishes, bumping into things, and tripping on the treadmill. I tell her it’s probably from growing so quickly.

Bo has become a daredevil–no surprise there. He’s so gruff on the outside, but inside, he’s sweet as ever, and our family, plus Zoey and Roxy, are the most important things to him.

With the kids growing up and everything going so well, I’m starting to think that we’re ready to head to college, Riley and me.  Bo and Patches say they’ll be able to hold down the fort while we’re gone, and Mara says she’ll look in on them.

I’ve started preparing. I’ve been fixing everything. It’s still a little early, but I’ve waited so long for this that just doing something related to leaving for college–like making sure the house is in good condition–feels productive and helps me not feel so antsy to just go!


Patches had her sweet sixteen party in the snow. Oh, Mom! She’s so adorable!


You’d be so proud of Bo, too. He’s a handsome leaf, and so smart.


Of course, he’s still crazy as ever. We were talking at Patches’ party, and he started saying something about missiles.

“How much do you think they can carry?” he asked.


“Never mind,” he said. “I’ll look it up in the science lab.”

I don’t know who his science teacher is this semester, but I hope we have teacher conferences before Riley and I leave for college.


“Do you think Bo means well?” Patches asked me the other day.

“What? Patches, you’re his IF. If anybody would know, you’d know!”

“Yes,” she said, “but you’re his sister. I’m just looking for a reality check.”

I told her not to worry. He’s got crazy ideas, but deep down, he’s still the same little Bo we’ve always loved. Just bigger and more handsome.


“Do televisions emit radiation?” Patches asked me when I was fixing the TV.

I had no idea. “It’s turned off while I’m fixing it,” I told her. “I think I’ll be OK.”


Bo will still sometimes hum his weird song and then destroy Patches’ snowmen or snow angels or kick over the flamingo.


But then the next minute, there he is, having a Snow Tea party, with the sweetest grin on his face.


“He’s just Bo,” I tell Patches. “We’ve all got all these sides to us. Bo’s sides just happen to be a little extreme.”

Mom, Riley’s been a little bit mysterious lately. The other afternoon, when I came into the kitchen, she hastily put her phone away.

“I was thinking of going out. Is that OK? Do we need anything from the store?”


“Go! Have fun! I just went shopping, so the fridge is stocked. Where you going?”

“Just out!” she said.

She had the biggest grin when she got on her bike and rode off in the snow.


She was gone for a few hours, and she came back home with an even bigger grin.

“Did you have fun?” I asked her.

“Mmmm hmmm,” she replied, still smiling.


“Where’d you go?”

“Oh, just out to the parking lot by the theater.”

“Did you see a movie?”

“Um, no.”

“Were you alone?”

“Not exactly,” she replied. “Argus was there. You know, Argus Brown.”


“Oh,” I replied. “What did you do?”

“We just talked,” she said.


I poured us some tea. I wanted to know everything, but I also didn’t want pry, and I felt like I’d already asked so many questions.

As Riley sipped her tea, I got the idea that she really wanted to tell me about it, but she wasn’t sure how.

“Is it OK if I keep asking you questions?” I asked her.

She broke out into a huge grin. “Please do!” she said. And she blushed.

It turns out that Argus was in his werewolf form, and she really liked it! She said she thought about getting into her doll form, but then she remembered how sometimes dogs would grab ragdolls in their mouths and shake them, so she thought maybe she wouldn’t.

When I asked her what they talked about, she told me that Argus confessed a fear of having his heart broken.

“Well,” I said, “if there’s one thing you’re not, that’s a heart-breaker. You’re loyal as a snowfall.”

“Is a snowfall loyal?” she asked.

“Do we need to ask that when it’s snowed every day for three months? Just like it does every winter? Point is, you’re loyal.”

“That’s what I told him!” she said.


She said it was the best date ever, very romantic.

They built snowmen.


Lots and lots of snowmen.


They made two igloos.

“Did you use them?” I asked.

“Oh, no!” Riley said. “We just built them, for something to work on together.”


“But you had a good time? And Argus was nice?”

“Argus was a dream,” Riley said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been happier. Can you believe it? I’m always happy. But this. This felt like heaven.”


Mom, it looks like Riley is in love.

I wonder how the romance will fare as a long-distance relationship. Won’t be long before we’re heading off to college.

Don’t worry–I’ll still write! And of course, you’ll still be here to haunt the place. (Just kidding!)



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Whisper 2.06

Dear Mom,

Remember those gift exchange parties you used to throw when everyone would jostle each other trying to grab a spot on the loveseat?

Ours was just like that, only worse! We invited everybody: Chet, Joe McDuff, Argus Brown, Mara, Pip, Faith and Felicity, Waylon and Gator. And, just like always, everybody crowded into the room. To make it worse, Riley was there in the midst of the crowd. I don’t know if you knew this about her, but she hates being around lots of people, especially if she doesn’t know them well yet.

But guess what? All the guys fell for her! “Oh, I love a woman who cares about developing her talents!” “Oh, we have so much in common!” “Hey, what’s your sign?”

I was glad it was her, not me! Seriously!


And I’m also not surprised. She’s sweet, inside and out. You know what she does all day? She cleans house! She walks around, putting away Zoey’s toys, shelving books, washing dishes, making beds, doing laundry!

I tell her to have some fun, and she says, “This is fun!”

After the party, she finally felt relaxed enough to eat. I asked her if she enjoyed herself during the party, trying to gauge how she felt about getting so much attention from the guys.

“I had fun watching you having fun,” she said. I did have a great time. After we opened all the presents, we all danced, even the kids, and it was a blast.


After Riley and the kids went to sleep, I came in to get a glass of water. I found Zoey and Roxy watching TV with Dante. I asked him how you were, and he said everything was good, for him and you and all your friends. Is it good, Mom? Are you doing fine? Bo says you’re happy, too, but I wonder. I miss you, and I wonder if you miss us, too, even though you come around. Do you know we always think of you?


I really could’ve used your calmness the other day. You always seemed to know what to do, and the other day, I was so worried and helpless feeling. You see, the kids didn’t come home after school and, like always, it was snowing. I got really worried as it started getting dark, and they were sill gone.


Riley said not to worry, that they were probably just playing in the snow in the school yard.


But Patches hadn’t slept well the night before, and she’d been sleepy when the school bus came. I was planning to suggest that she take a nap before supper even, and then have us work on her homework together after we ate.

I couldn’t bear thinking of her out there in the cold, feeling sleepy.


Bo came home first, racing his bike up the street like he always does, humming his song.


“Are you OK, Sprout? I’ve been worried sick!” I asked him.

“Yeah, sure, Sis. Didn’t Patches tell you I was coming?”

He was surprised to hear that Patches hadn’t made it home yet.

“We better go find her,” he said.

He was cold, wet, and tired, so I sent him inside to get some supper, then I headed out on my bike, retracing their route.

As I was crossing the bridge, I looked out over the meadow and saw the lights from the Red Velvet Lounge. It looked warm in there.

I heard that whisper, the one you used to talk about.

Follow your hunch.

So I followed my hunch and went to the Red Velvet, and there, sleeping on one of the sofas, was Patches. I’ve never been more relieved in my life. I let her sleep for a bit, and then I gently woke her up, and we rode back home.


Mom, I thought that caring for kids would be as easy as caring for Zoey. You know, play with them, feed them, help them brush their hair or give them a bath. That’s all! But it’s so much harder! I don’t know how you did it! And you were all by yourself. I’ve got Riley, and it still feels like the hardest thing in the world.


You know what, though? It makes me appreciate you all the more!



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Whisper 2.02

Dear Mom,

Riley had another melt-down. She said it’s ’cause you won’t see her graduate.

We got a call from the school, saying that she was going to be allowed to walk in the ceremony, and she’ll even receive a diploma, with full credit. I don’t really understand this, but I didn’t argue.


The graduation ceremony was in the afternoon. While I talked with Riley, trying to get her to calm down, Patches and Bo played.

Patches told me she’s practicing with Lamber, so that when she finally holds Roxey, she’ll know how and won’t get scratched.


Heading to the graduation ceremony felt bittersweet. Mom, I agree with Riley–we both wish you could see her receive her diploma.


“Will you be here when I graduate?” Patches asked me.

“Of course, Patches,” I said. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“What about college?” she asked.

“Oh, we’ll talk about that later.”


Riley, sitting in the cab waiting for us, looked so sad.  When I slid into the seat next to her, I whispered that this was supposed to be a happy occasion.

“I’m just praying to get through it,” she replied.


She did get through it. When we looked at her diploma, we saw that she’s graduating with honors. Mom, she’s so smart! Her classmates voted her, “Most likely to stay home.” She laughed. “This is so me!” she said. “That’s all I ever want to do!”

When we got home, we discovered Zoey and Roxey playing in the living room.


We all stood and watched them. Patches started laughing first. Then Bo joined in. And soon, their crazy games had us all giggling. Oh, Mom! It felt so great to laugh as a family.


“When are you leaving?” Riley asked me as we had a snack.


“I’m not going anywhere!” I replied.

“Um, college?” Riley said.

“Um college what?” I replied. “I’m not going.”


“You’ve got to go,” she said. “All your life, that’s what you’ve been dreaming of, planning for. You can’t skip college! Mom wouldn’t want that.”

“Look,” I said. “I might very well go to college one day, but I’m not going now. Not when we’re all going through this. Not when Bo and Patches are still kids.”

“But I’d stay to take care of them,” Riley said.

“Nonsense,” I replied. “When I go to college, you’re coming with me. We’ll just have to wait. It’s that simple.”


“You’ve got to think of what Mom would want,” Riley continued. “I know she’d want you to go. You know how she always arranged with Mara Nix to be ready to help out? She’d want you to go, with me staying here to look out for the kids, and Mara Nix coming around when we need extra help.”


“It’s not going to happen that way,” I said. “I’m going to get a job so we know the family is taken care of. Then maybe later, after Bo and Patches become teens, or after they graduate, even, then I can think about going to college. Heck, maybe we’ll all go to college together! And you’re definitely coming with me!”

“Mom would hate for you to put aside your dreams,” Riley said.


I know Riley has a point, Mom. You always did want me to go to college straight out of high school. But I know you understand that dreams are flexible. Sometimes, other things come up that are more important–like being here for Bo and Patches while they’re littlies that need extra care, and keeping the family together while we move through these seasons of grief.

Mom, I know you’re not disappointed in me. Or even if you are, you’ll get through it once you realize I’m doing what I feel is right, just like I always do. And if what I feel is right doesn’t quite match what you feel is right, that’s OK. I know you trust me.

I won’t give up on college for good, Mom, just for now. For now, I’ve got more important things to do as a means of being the daughter and the big sister that you’d want me to be.


Growing up is hard, Mom, but I’m ready. I’m ready to make the tough decisions. And this decision isn’t even a tough one. Family comes first, Mom. That’s a no-brainer.

Love forever,


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Whisper 2.01


Dear Mom,

You know how you always said to listen to that quiet voice inside whenever I was feeling sad, confused, or troubled, and it would never lead me wrong but always provide the guidance I needed? I never knew what you meant, for I never heard the voice, until today.

Today, I heard it.

I was going for a run down to Lower Beach, and I heard the whisper speak.

Write to her. You will feel better.


So here I am, writing to you. I know you’ll never get this letter, but that’s not the point. The point is to write it anyway.

Mom, it hurts so much.

Riley and I waited for you and Zoey to come back in, and when you didn’t I went out to find you. And you were gone.


Then the kids came home from school. One of the Wolff girls came with them.

I could tell they knew something had happened.

Oh, Mom. I’m so glad you couldn’t see Bo’s face.


The kids did their homework right away, all three of them. You would’ve been proud.


When Bo finished, he asked me where you were.

Mom, I had to tell him. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, and I hope there’ll never be anything harder.


But the worst of it, Mom. The worst is how Riley is taking it.

She says that now you’ll never get to know her. She could see you, Mom, all along, even though you couldn’t see her. And she says that she thought of you as a mom, kind and nurturing and loving, like a mom. And she was looking forward to you getting to know and love her, the way that she knew and loved you. And now it won’t happen.


She tries to be strong. When she thinks no one is watching, that’s when she breaks down.

But when she’s with me, Bo, or Patches, then, you have to look closely to see the sadness in her eyes.


She says that she doesn’t want Patches to feel alone, because she knows how deeply a rag doll can love, so she spends extra time with her.

I heard her telling jokes about your eye sketch the other day.

“It’s all in the eyes!” she said. “Every emotion you could see!” And she went through each eye you’d drawn, naming the emotion: happiness, sadness, anger, wonder, until she ran out of emotions and had to get silly. “When you’ve eaten a hot pepper! Looking for your lost keys. Your cat steals your last ball of yarn!” Patches was laughing so hard. For that moment, I felt hope that we might get through this, after all.


Mom, you’d love Riley. She’s the kindest, most sensitive, sweetest person I’ve known–well, next to you, of course. If you could see her eyes and how tender they are. We’re so lucky, Mom. We didn’t get to thank you for making that dichromate cocktail, so I’ll write it now: Thank you. Of all the things you could do on your last morning, that was a good choice.


(I shouldn’t write things like that. It just makes me too sad.)

I was most worried about Bo, but he’s doing OK. Mom, you’d be proud.

Remember when Stray Dog disappeared and I spent days looking for him from the club house? That’s what Bo’s doing–he’s looking for you. He says he knows you’re still around. He can feel you. And so he’s keeping a look-out. I don’t have the heart to tell him you really are gone.


Even Dante knows you’re gone. I saw his ghost in the garden, right by your memorial, and Mom, for the first time ever, Dante wasn’t smiling.


It’s when we wake up in the morning that it’s hardest. We’ve been sleeping so soundly. We forget when we sleep. And then we wake, thinking we smell pancakes. But it’s a trick of our memory, a conditioned response. And when we realize that the house is empty–empty of you–that’s when we break down.


Patches asked if we could get a cat. I decided why not. I remember how I happy I felt when we got Zoey, and how I stopped missing Stray Dog then. Maybe a kitten would help all of us by providing a diversion, something we could love in that sad, empty spot we all now carry inside.

So, now we have Roxy. Oh, Mom. You’d love her. She’s all spotty and she’s got the cutest little bob tail.


The only thing is, Patches says it doesn’t make her feel any better. I hope with time it will.


I watched you grieve lots–for Chauncey, for Frank, for Shea, for your other friends from college. And just when I thought you’d always have that shadow of sadness around you, you surprised me. I’d tell a joke, and you’d laugh.

So, I know. We’ll get there. It will just take time.



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