Palm trees are so perfectly designed to survive powerful tropical storms, that even when bent so low as to touch the ground, they straighten up as the storm passes through, stronger than they were before.
I was nineteen when I first laid eyes on the row of palm trees lining the road leading out of Los Angeles airport. I had no idea then how many times I would drive along that very road in the decades to come, how many times I would look up at those palm trees, unconsciously thinking that I would need their strength when storms wreaked havoc in my life.
No stranger to upheaval, loss and grief in my early life, yet a stranger would have thought I had the perfect family life if they had met me in 2001: three kids, two Labradors, a Chevy Suburban sitting in the large driveway of our dream home, in a family-friendly town surrounded by vineyards on the beautiful Central Coast of California.
But they wouldn’t have known what had gone on before: that we had rented for most of the 17 years we had lived in California and that we had lost our first home to foreclosure thanks to, a) the market crash, and b) the schizophrenic, gun-toting, drug-abusing madman who had made our lives a living hell.
They also wouldn’t have known that it had taken us many years to recover financially from the foreclosure, and that we would live in our dream home for only two years before the house of cards that was my 22 year marriage collapsed, and my life in California was ripped away from me and my children.
They, and certainly not I, would have known that by 2003 I would be back ‘home’ in England, living as a single mother with my eleven year old daughter and fourteen year old son with my mother in her home.
Despite regular visits back to England, returning to live in my home country permanently was a very different thing indeed. There was no record of me, it seemed: I couldn’t get a mobile phone or a bank account and I certainly couldn’t get a mortgage even if I had the money for a deposit, which I did not. I was a British citizen born and bred, but I felt disenfranchised.
So many times I looked down and saw only dry, cracked earth, with no hope of anything growing there.
But when I had the strength to look up, what seemed to be dead and barren was only a blip in the grand scheme of things, as an entirely different view brimming with possibilities spread out before me.
All I had to do was to keep looking ahead, but that’s not an easy thing when you are worn out and wearied by life.
Blue skies beckoned for my immediate future, however, as I found a nice rental, got a job, made new friends and, to my delightful amazement, met my husband. He came alongside me, took my hand and led me into the sunshine.
We settled down into our safe and secure family life, but dark clouds loomed on the horizon still, not least of all my daughter’s traumas to come caused by her, as yet undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome, leaving her mauled by an educational system that had no clue how to help a teenage Aspie girl, and me bewildered and despairing at my helplessness in trying to understand why she struggled so terribly.
Then, one morning five years ago, an ill wind raged. Getting ready for work, I couldn’t find a pair of black trousers, a pair I wore often, and a fierce desperation took hold, coursing through me like white-hot lava.
I froze, glued to the ground, and wailed in panic as the bedside clock ticked relentlessly, booming louder and louder, taunting me with every tick: ‘You’re going to be late. You’re going to be late. Tick-Tock. Tick-Tock.’
I think it was then that I broke.
I didn’t go into work that day and when I returned, I handed in my notice. I found another job, but was laid off after only 11 months when the boss sold the business.
The ‘black trouser incident’ had changed me, and when I walked out of that office for the last time, I knew that a different path beckoned. I thought of the creative writing course I had paid for a year before, the materials of which languished on my bookshelf, untouched, because I was afraid.
Did I dare to take a different path, to do the very thing I had wanted to do all my life? Was this my opportunity, waiting for the taking?
So one cold, winter’s morning, I wrote the first sentence of my first assignment about a walk through some ruins in Crete. And I kept on writing.
Yet still, when those dark hours strike in the dead of night, I hear the padding of the Black Dog as he sits in the shadows and I know he is watching my every move.
But now we laugh at the missing black trousers for they never appeared again. In fact, I am convinced that my black cat Eddie stole them as I watch him slinking by in his fluffy pantaloons.
It is good to laugh and to share in the goodness of life even at such times. Like the palm tree, when storms crash through, I bend to breaking point, but, by the grace of God, I straighten up again when the storm dies to a whisper, renewed in strength and hope.
And I’ll stand tall as I walk on and let that Black Dog off his leash to fun free, as far away from me as possible.
Charli’s Flash Fiction challenge this week asks us: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a renewal story that proclaims, “This isn’t the end; I will go on.”
She also shared a link to Project Semicolon ‘which exists to encourage, love and inspire’, providing help and support for those suffering from depression.
‘A semicolon represents a sentence the author could have ended, but chose not to. The sentence is your life and the author is you.’ ~ Project Semicolon
I cheated a bit with this week’s flash fiction, as I already wrote it for one of Charli’s prompts some months ago, but I didn’t publish it here. I kept thinking about it for the renewal theme and so went with it. I should also mention that it is a BOTS – based on a true story.
Last Train Home
Settling in for the train journey, Jamie plugged in, metal guitar riffs screaming. An hour in, he turned and saw her.
Dark eyes met his, frozen in disbelief. Turning to her new man, she giggled as they sat down in the seats in front of Jamie.
She smirked, then swapped tongues with her man.
Jamie exploded out of his seat, leaping off at the next stop. He caught a glimpse of her staring blankly out of the train window, chewing her nails, looking ugly.
He kept walking, thinking of her boyfriend. Jamie smiled then.
Poor bastard, he’ll be next.