Monday, March 16, 2009

MM: A Picture's Worth

The prompt: I was awakened at the crack of dawn...

What came out of my head:
"I was awakened at the crack of dawn by my husband's snoring. I couldn't take it anymore! So I called our doctor and he recommended...Si-Lens! The specially formulated patch that unclogs nasal passage and helps my husband sleep sound free!"

Jayla rolled her eyes and pushed the hot red button on the remote that gave her ears freedom from the inanity of daytime television.

"There's your Si-Lens, you stupid commercial. Bad enough I have to be here all day in this house. The least they can do is create some entertaining commercials to wrap around that tripe they call day-time programming." Jayla waved a T-shirt at the screen that had come from the freshly laundered pile on her bed. "We aren't all mindless freaks, ya know," she yelled at the invisible television programmers whom she imagined were off somewhere having a fancy lunch at an expensive restaurant laughing at all the fools who suck up the drivel they air daily.

Jayla snapped the T-shirt into submission and messily folded it, dropping it on the bed as she reached for the next one. She hated laundry. Hated rooting through her children's dirty clothes because you never knew what she'd find in there. She didn't hate the actual washing part too much or the drying but just knowing that a pile of clothes to fold and disseminate was coming her way, gave her agita. And it was never ending.

Her husband worked out incessantly so there were always sweaty clothes waiting to be cleaned. Her children had active social lives. Her 10-year-old son James was on the town football team. Instant mud bath most days. Her 15-year-old daughter Jade worked at a fast food restaurant after school. Just entering that joint made her uniforms and even regular clothes smell like a less than happy meal. Then there was her 5-year-old son, Jake, who was in kindergarten and could never get home fast enough to share every, tiny detail of his day. Sometimes there were even visuals on his clothes depending on what the art activity was that day. They were all quite busy.

The only one not so busy was the 1-year-old bundle of tears Jackson with whom she shared the house during the day. And night. And weekends. And holidays. Actually he was busy - busy driving her out of her mind. The boy was colicky, she diagnosed one day. What else made him cry so relentlessly? So excessively? So endlessly? It was just too much to bear.

Jayla folded up the rest of the laundry as quickly as she could and stuffed them in their respective assigned places in her husband's and oldest son's bureaus. Jackson was still in a lunchtime stupor. She quickly calculated that she had a good thirty minutes before he would be up for real and then only 2more hours after that before the first of the children started to arrive home.

She walked slowly down the stairs, her hand running along the picture-laden wall. The family in those pictures looked so put-together, coordinated beyond their matching clothes. They looked like they had the ideal life - loving parents and their happy offspring all sharing in each other's lives and loves and successes and failures.

"If only I were," Jayla thought. She was happy at that time, before the round of cuts at the marketing agency where she had worked for 12 years as the Senior Marketing Manager. She loved her job and had fought hard to be there. But Jason had thought she was too wrapped up in her job. Jayla explained that sacrifices had to be made sometimes. Didn't he know that? He was a lawyer, for goodness' sake. OK, yeah. He worked for the state and didn't get the private money a lot of his counterparts did but he knew about sacrifice, didn't he? He just never seemed too willing to make as many as he seemed to ask of her.

Jayla continued down the stairs and saw the picture of Jason being awarded for his help in the trial and conviction of some slumlords who had gotten away with mistreating one too many tenants while taking the state money for their rentals. Jayla had a huge presentation the next day and had to miss it.

She stepped down two more steps and saw James posing with his football team after they won the state championship. Even Jade couldn't stop talking about the plays James made. Jayla hated missing it. She really did, but that was the time her boss was on vacation and she had to step in for him. It was her chance to show she could run things. It was for her family after all. Surely they would understand.

"It doesn't matter," Jayla said to the pictures. "It's done. You all wanted me home, I'm laid off and I'm home. Happy now?"

Jayla loudly huffed to herself , knowing she needed to go into the kitchen to clean up the lunch dishes but she turned instead to head into the office she shared with Jason. She was always so happy in that office. It had an air of pending success which sometimes exhilarated her, sometimes suffocated her when she thought about what she couldn't do just yet. Maybe never get to do again.

She looked at the wall where Jason's desk was placed. His degrees and various awards decorated it along with more pictures of family. Her wall was more noticeable though because of the color of the marketing ads that she had helped create that adorned it. And then there was the life-sized painting of her that a friend had done of her years before her family became her prison. Her friend had loved the light and the hope in her eyes and wanted to capture it. It was a sunny Spring day that and she wore a flowing floral dress, thinking of the wonderful lines it would give her friend to paint. Her hair was in two french braids then and perched on her shoulders.

She was a selfless giver in those days for sure. She had dared to dream then that she could have the family, be a loving wife and mom, have the successful career and have time to enjoy some fun pursuits of her own too, like art. But she was in school then working toward an internship, too busy for fun stuff like that just yet and if she couldn't be the artist, she'd be happy to be the subject.

Jake never liked the painting. "But it's artwork, just like you do in kindergarten, Jakey," Jayla said patiently one day. She loved her painting and was put off by the fact that her son did not.

"It's scary. It comes to life while we're sleeping. I know it!"

"What? No way, Jakey. Pictures don't come to life."

"That's what James said."

"James is teasing you."

"It looks at me, mama."

"No, Jakey. Besides, it's me! See?" Jayla had stood next to the painting and smiled. "It's just mama. Nothing to be scared of. Even if it did come to life, it would still be me, right? Do I scare you?"

Jake wouldn't answer and would not be convinced. He refused to be alone in the office.

"Whatever, Jake," Jayla finally said. "I'm NOT getting rid of the painting. You'll just have to live with it. I like it."

At night, Jake would insist that glasses of water be placed across his doorway. "That way if she comes in, she'll melt in the water," he reasoned. Jason and Jayla gave him the space to be paranoid since he was still so young. Jayla had wanted to prove the point and take the glasses away while he slept, but Jason had said to leave it be.

Jayla stared at her painting now, remembering the former life she had. She found her way to her desk where the latest trade magazines waited for her to peruse. She had to try to stay on top of things, after all. You never knew when opportunity would strike again. She picked up the first one to quickly glance through, knowing she had to get the dishes done before the kids got home and piled more on top of them. An article on the latest marketing trend pulled her in and she slowly sat down, transfixed. Jackson's cry soon broke the spell.

She made a throaty huff as she slapped the magazine back down again and got up quickly out of her chair. "Wouldn't want mama to do a little reading, oh no. Wouldn't want that at all!" Jayla walked with attitude back to the bottom of the steps and looked up, her hands on her hips, wondering if she could just maybe wash the dishes and then go for Jackson. He cries all the time anyway. What would be the difference?

She sucked her teeth as she thought about how this would be the day he fell out of his crib trying to get to her. "Better get him," she said, like a reluctant child told to clean her room. Coming back down with the still screaming infant, the front door cracked open and Jade carefully stepped in, hoping to catch her mom somewhere else in the house.

Jayla sighed as she kept walking. "A tad early, aren't you, Jade?"

Jade's face fell upon seeing her mother but she quickly covered up her disappointment and snorted as she closed the door. She headed toward the living room to drop in her favorite chair next to the phone. "Funny mom. I told you I was getting out early today, remember? Some sort of teacher's meeting?"

Jayla scoffed in reply, her attention divided by Jackson's scream and the dishes she now wanted more than anything to dive into just to escape the noise. "How convenient," she threw back over her shoulder, heading in her own direction toward the kitchen and the playpen that lived there.

"You would know that if you listened," Jade said to the window as she swung her leg up on the arm of the chair, cell phone already on her shoulder as she dug out a nail file from the purse that rested on her lap.

"Whatever, Jade," Jayla replied. She made quick work of the dishes by opting to toss them into the dishwasher where they would wait for the dinner dishes to join them. She pulled a bottle of juice out of the fridge for Jackson who was contented by the indirect attention and laid back to drink and watch his mother fly around the kitchen lighting on one place then another as she pulled together yet another meal out boxes and cans. Cooking was as disdainful to Jayla as laundry. At least there was a dishwasher to help out afterward.

As her family arrived home, Jayla sat in the kitchen eating already, too tired to wait for everyone to get there. "Can you help me with my homework, mom," James asked.

"James," Jayla sighed. "I'm tired, you know? What is it?"

"Just a little math."

"You know I hate math. Why don't you ask Jade? She's good at math."

"She always makes me wait forever to find out the answer," James whined.

Jayla sighed another grumpy sigh as Jason came in through the back door. He must have been checking on his vegetable garden again. "Those pesky deer have been at it again."

"Umm hmm," Jayla said, choosing to suddenly busy herself with James' homework so she didn't have to engage Jason in his deer tirade yet again.

"Mom. Mom! Can I go to Stephanie's house? We have a project to do," Jade asked running in like she had an emergency

"What? Ask your father, Jade. I'm busy."

"Doing what? You stay home!"

"Not by choice, Jade! Do you really think I'd choose THIS?!" Jayla swept her arms around as she stood. She looked at Jackson in his playpen who was still amazingly quiet and decided he was fine with the rest of the family. She huffed as she shook her head and started out of the kitchen, ignoring James as he asked about finishing the homework.

"I hate math," she said to herself as she jogged up the steps and into her room. She didn't even hear Jason come in because she had fallen asleep. It was 1 a.m. by the time she awoke. The house was quiet and Jayla was afraid to move for fear of disturbing whatever was granting her peace right now.

She listened for Jason's breathing and heard the familiar rhythm of his deep sleep. She crept out of bed into the hall. Fortunately, their room wasn't the furthest away but it was far enough. She would have to sneak past Jackson's then James' room on her way to the steps. She stopped at Jade's door which was right by the stairs and wondered if she ever went to Stephanie's. She didn't dare open the door though. She jut didn't want to deal with whatever was or was not there right now.

She was grateful for the stability of the stairs. It was easy to sneak down and into her precious office. The only light on in all of the downstairs was a dimmed lamp in the living room for the occasional wandering child. That was how Jayla liked it. Dark and quiet.

She shivered a little in the cool air of the office. She was glad she had worn her long gown at least, but the thin material was no match for the cold leather of her chair as she carefully sat down to run her hands along the magazines, closing her eyes as she imagined herself the head of her own marketing firm. She felt the coolness of the pages and thought of the white boards where the teams brainstormed their idea. As she leaned back in her now-warm chair, she dreamed of the big chair in her own office. It would be a new company though. She couldn't go back to where she was laid off, of course.

She sighed, fighting back the sadness as she wondered how she could do the things she dreamed and make her family happy too. They seemed mutually exclusive. She was tired in so many ways and so deep in her thoughts, that she welcomed the gentle massage on her shoulders and relaxed as she felt the light embrace. The warmth of it filled her and her dreams became even more vivid. Like they were when she was in college, working toward her internship, planning for the future. Jayla then fell into the deepest sleep she had ever known.

She felt herself start to awaken but only part way. She was in that state where dreams felt real and reality seemed surreal. She looked out over her office where Jason sat in his office chair, scrolling though the Internet, deep in thought. Jayla saw herself walk in and stand behind his chair, lovingly massaging his shoulders but saying nothing. She felt the oppression of the dream and tried to awaken but it was that scary paralyzing state where she felt she couldn't move or even make a sound but she was all too aware of her surroundings.

She saw Jason turn to look at the Jayla who stood smiling at him. "Hey honey. I hope you're feeling better." He stood up to hug this other Jayla. "I know you're tired with Jackson and all and I know you miss your job. It's OK, though, baby," he said into her hair as he hugged her. "It's going to all work out. I'll help you. You'll see." Jason pulled back to look at his stressed wife. But there was something different about her; the stress no longer a part of her facade. The paralyzed Jayla tried to speak and still could not. Her eyes scanned the room and saw her magazines on the desk, one still open to the place where she was last reading.

"What is it," Jason wondered out loud. "Oh I know! Your dress. Flowers? I never knew you liked floral. And, your hair," he said smiling in surprise. "french braids? When did you do that?" The other Jayla laughed a light laugh and allowed herself to be spun around by Jason as he admired her. "I kind of like it. Reminds me of the early days. When you were still happy and hopeful."

Jason sat back down at his computer. "Give me 5 minutes ok?"

"Umm hmm," the other Jayla replied, stroking his chair and moving over to her desk to daintly gather up the magazines and toss them into the trash can next to the floor. She cleared away more items off the desk and dusted her hands in satisfaction as she turned to gaze as the paralyzed Jayla who realized her dream was no dream. The other Jayla smoothed her dress and cleared her previously silent throat to speak to Jason.

"You know, honey. Jake really hates this painting and I've been thinking. It's so old now. Just a piece of my past." The other Jayla nodded and peered closer at the paralyzed painting. "Yes. It was nice to hold on to for awhile. But I do think it's time for it to leave. It's a new day. Out with the old."

***************************************************************************

What's this about, Monica?

You don't know? Why, it's my own March Madness!

While you're here, the Start Up Nation Leading Moms in Business 2009 Competition is wrapping up this month and we are sure we're close to being in that top 200. Winning means major publicity - major for us, anyway. Have you voted for us today? Check it out here. We'd REALLY appreciate it if you vote and you can do it every day until March 31, 2009 PT. There's even a new meter there now to show you how hot we are! Go ahead. Vote! We wanna be hot, hot, hot! Thanks for your support!

1 comment:

DeVonne said...

Thats my kinda story! It makes for a good Tales From the Dark Side, OuterLimits, Alfred Hitchcock feel. Your attention to detail really pulls you into the story. I really felt the prescence of the "other Jayla" reading the story over my shoulder.