Natural Disaster – Donna’s Story

As soon as she walked in, she felt the tension. Donna dropped her bag on a kitchen chair, then reached for a glass. 

“Do you want to explain your grade?” Her mother’s voice came from the living room. 

Donna held the glass under the sink’s spigot and let the cold water overflow. After a moment, she turned the faucet off and poured some water out. She took a drink before turning to face her mother. 

“I missed two questions on the math quiz,” she said. 

“Apparently. Why is that?” Donna’s mother gracefully stood and glided towards her. 

“I made an error when I was calculating. I still have a ninety-five percent in that class.” 

“Ninety-five is not one hundred, is it?” Now her mother was standing close, back ramrod straight. 

“No,” Donna whispered. 

“No, what?” 

“No, ninety-five is not one hundred, mother.” 

“Humph. At least you know that much about math. Go to your room until dinner. Your father and I will discuss your consequences.”

Donna felt the heat of her mother’s gaze as she picked up her bag and walked up the stairs. Once in her room with the door safely shut, she plopped onto her bed, put a pillow over her face, and screamed. She refused to cry this time, and she stared at the bright white of her ceiling while taking deep breaths. 

Her thoughts refused to calm, and she kept thinking of how beautiful and poised her mother acted, yet how overcritical and vicious she was inside. Willowbrook adored Donna’s mother and all the work she did for the historical society. Judy was a solid presence at every fundraiser and school event. 

If only they really knew her, Donna thought. 

Donna realized her mother wanted her to be the best she could be, hopeful that Donna will one day take over as chairperson for the historical society. But that didn’t relieve the pressure Donna felt every waking moment. I just want to be a normal sixteen-year-old. 

Eventually, Donna sat up with a groan and went to her desk to work on her history project while she waited for the inevitable. Her friends teased about being told to “wait until father gets home,” but none of them had parents like she did. In Donna’s house, it was a definite warning. Jessica, one of her best friends, had parents that supported and loved her, no matter what her grades were like. 

She’ll probably grow up to work in the bank or something else just as boring. At least I have a wonderful future ahead of me. 

Donna sighed and reached over to turn on the radio. She usually concentrated better with music and she wanted to ace the history project. While writing several journal entries as if she was Abraham Lincoln seemed easy on the surface, Donna knew it would take something special to impress Mr. Adams. Deep in her work, she almost didn’t hear the car door slam. 

Donna turned the music’s volume down and strained to hear her parents’ conversation. She caught a few words and tried to piece together what her punishment might be. 

“… two questions… study enough.” 

“Maybe we should… next time.” 

“I think… Saturday’s game.”

“I don’t know… the squad needs her… extra credit…”

“That won’t do any good.” 

“I just got home… after dinner.” 

Then Donna heard her father’s footsteps on the stairs, and she bent over her desk again so he wouldn’t guess she tried to eavesdrop. When the knock came on her bedroom door, followed by the faint creak as it opened, she looked up with a smile. 

“Hi, daddy.” 

“Hi, pumpkin. Your mother told me her concerns about your math grade.” Mike was always one to get straight to the point. 

Donna’s smile faded. “Yeah, I’m sorry. Really, I am. I made two minor mistakes on the quiz.” 

“Well, you’re allowed some mistakes.” Her dad crossed the room and sat on the edge of her bed. 

“Am I? She seems really mad this time.” Donna twisted in her chair to look at her father. 

“I’ve postponed your sentencing until after dinner. Maybe she will feel more charitable after lasagna.” Mike tilted his head back and looked at the crown molding on the wall. His lips made a slight puffing sound that meant he was thinking. Finally, he looked back at her. “I know this isn’t easy for you, but we really want you to do everything with your future in mind. And working hard to be top of your class is one way to guarantee acceptance into Harvard.” 

“I know,” Donna whispered. “But what if I don’t want to go to Harvard?” 

“Do you not want to?” 

“I don’t know. But I would like the option to find out.” 

“You can have the option. When you’re eighteen and after you graduate. Until then, you need to do everything possible to get to Harvard. It’s your mother’s dream to see you there. Now, come on, let’s go have dinner.” 

“It’s not my dream,” Donna barely whispered. If her dad heard her, he didn’t give any sign. 

Dinner was silent, except for the clinking of forks on plates. Donna kept her eyes on her food, but she was aware of every motion her parents made. As soon as her dad put his napkin on the table and leaned back in his chair, she got up and began clearing the table. Without speaking, she loaded the dishwasher, wiped the counters, and swept the floor. There wasn’t much else to do in the immaculate kitchen, so she squared her shoulders and went to the family room. 

Donna’s father sat in his recliner, his feet up and the television remote on one leg. Her mother was sitting on the sofa, one leg crossed over the other, her posture perfect. A magazine was in her lap and a glass of bourbon in her hand. She gestured for Donna to sit next to her. Donna sat, doing her best to emulate her mother’s straight back and long neck. 

“Your father and I have decided what your consequence for your poor grade is,” Judy began. “While we dislike allowing you freedoms when you are in error, we agree it would hurt the cheer squad for you to miss the game this Saturday. So, you will go to the game as planned, but on Sunday you will not go to the city with your friends. Instead, you will be here studying. And you will ask Mrs. Rodin for extra credit work to get your grade up to one-hundred percent. Any questions?” 

“No, mother. Thank you.” Donna tried not to let her relief show. Her father must have convinced her mother that missing the game would be detrimental to their family’s public image. Otherwise, she was sure they would ground her to her room for the weekend.

“I expect to hear what Mrs. Rodin says tomorrow. Or I will call her myself.” 

“Yes, I will talk to her first thing in the morning.” 

Judy nodded and picked up her magazine. Donna looked at her father, and he winked at her before turning on the television. Donna watched the first few minutes of the news before fleeing to the relative safety of her room. 


Author’s note: Donna is a supporting character in my upcoming novel, and I wanted to flesh out some of her backstory. She plays an important part as a catalyst for change for the main character, Jessica. Donna also grows and learns throughout the plotline. I needed to reach a little deeper for Donna’s motives. And this short story — while incomplete — accomplished that.

Long-Term Passion

Recently, I was on a hike with some friends, and one of them asked me if there is still passion after being with the same person for almost twenty years. “You know, like it was at the beginning when you can’t keep your hands off each other,” she said. The answer is a resounding yes. But it takes work. 

Over the years, my husband and I have definitely had difficulties in our relationship. However, we both agree that we have an excellent marriage. We also agree we lack nothing in the bedroom because of our efforts outside of lovemaking. As a long-time couple, we have some tips for you. 

Communicate 

This may seem obvious, and there are a million articles on improving communication in marriage. Still, miscommunication is the number one reason we end up in arguments. My husband will be the first to admit that he’s not the best at conversation and relaying his thoughts while I speak my mind. We discovered that the best way for us to communicate is to ask questions and say, “I’m not sure I understand what you mean,” to get clarification.

We ask each other every day if there’s anything we can do to make the day easier. Most of the time, we’re going about our daily lives, and there isn’t anything, but every once in a while, he needs me to run an errand, or I need him to move furniture. Both of us are independent people and need the reminder that we have a partner who will help. 

When we first started dating, my husband would call me when he got off work (this was before cellphones were standard) just to say hi. Then later in the evening, we talked about our day. That habit continues, and I am incredibly grateful for it. Now, though, he sends me a text letting me know he’s off work and headed home and asks if I need him to stop anywhere on the way. He also tells me goodbye before he leaves for work at 5 a.m., and we both always tell each other, “I love you,” even if we’re arguing. Life holds too much risk for those words to get passed over when someone walks out the door. 

Key takeaway: Learn your partner’s communication style and start and end the day with love.

Service

I mentioned above that we ask what we can do for each other, but there are also hundreds of small ways we can serve each other without asking or being told. I cook the meal, and he clears the table after dinner. I leave the bathroom light on when he’s coming to bed after me, so he doesn’t trip over our black dog in the dark. He lets me have the bathroom to get ready for bed first, even though it usually takes me longer than him. 

We also work as partners when caring for our family and home. He works long hours in the summer, so most of the housekeeping falls to me during those months. But in the winter, when he’s off for the season, he takes on more, so I have a little breathing room as my responsibilities don’t change with the seasons. 

Random gifts also appear in our relationship. For example, he’ll bring me a bottle of wine or some flowers, and I’ll slip some snacks into his lunch box. Usually, our gifts are unrelated to a holiday or occasion and are simply because we were thinking of the other person when we were out. 

Key takeaway: Even if your “love language” isn’t service, you can still show love by helping your partner. 

Make Time For Each Other 

Today’s lifestyle is all about being busy and chasing dreams, and that’s okay. Still, it’s vital to spend quality time with your partner. Date each other, whether you’ve been together for a month or thirty years. Find intimacy in quiet moments together. My husband and I choose a television series on a streaming service to watch each evening during the winter months. We sit together and watch it and frequently have conversations about the topics the show touches on, such as politics, relationships, family, and even our individual pasts. 

We also find new things to do together. Once when life was getting in the way, we came up with a system of a biweekly date night, and we had to take turns choosing what we did. The agreement was that the other person would try it, no matter what. So we went to a comedy club (him), an art museum (me), the golf driving range (him), and hiking (me). It was fun to see what the other person would come up with, and we discovered some shared interests we didn’t know we had.

You do not have to spend a lot of money on a date, though! Years ago, when Pokemon Go first came out, we spent a summer evening walking around downtown, catching Pokemon before having a drink at a local brewery. It was the cheapest yet one of the most fun dates we’ve ever been on! We also go on a lot of drives, usually out of town and up a mountain. Lately, we’ve taken to riding the motorcycle together in the afternoon on the weekend. 

We also try to make running errands special. If you see us on those busy Saturdays spent going to Home Depot, Napa, and the grocery store, you will also see us holding hands and stopping for lunch. We pretend we’re on a date, even when our to-do list is a mile long. 

Key takeaway: Spend as much time together as a couple as you can. 

Laugh, Flirt, And Flatter

My husband has a quick wit, and he makes me laugh. Of course, I catch him laughing at me, too, but I’m not always sure why. I suppose it doesn’t matter as long as it’s in a good way. We laugh together, too, about all kinds of things: our kids, animals, home remodel blunders, the dinner I burned… pretty much anything. We decided a while ago that life’s too short to not laugh, and laughing is better than crying.

Not only do we make running errands look like a good time, but we also flirt with each other. We like to poke fun at our relationship and life, but we also know where to draw the line. Sometimes our teasing can sound mean to someone else. In fact, for a while, my mom would pull me aside and ask me if we were fighting. I finally had to explain to her it’s a type of foreplay! We say things that have double meanings, and frequently he has me blushing in the plumbing aisle. 

We also complement each other for looks, personality, and deeds. I’ll say I love hugging him; he’ll say he loves my hair. I’ll express my awe at his visual measurement skills (if he says something is about twelve feet, it will most likely be twelve feet), and he’ll remind me that my organization skills are why our family survives our teens’ soccer season. We tell each other that we’re grateful for the work done for our family. This might not happen every day, but I estimate we are praising the other person at least once a week. 

Key takeaway: Act like a love-sick teenager.

Physical Intimacy 

Honestly, physical intimacy is not always easy for us. We have very engaging lives with work, kids and their activities, hobbies, volunteer work, upkeep on our property… the list is endless. I’m sure you have a similar list. At the end of some days, we fall into bed completely exhausted, and sex is the last thing on our minds. But we try to have physical touches in other ways during the day: holding hands, hugging, kissing. Occasionally, that’s enough for us when things are busy. Other times, cuddling results in a nice romp.

We also recognize the importance of physical intimacy as part of our marriage. Sometimes one of us will decide that three days is too long, and we’ll text the other person in the middle of the day something like, “We’re going to bed early tonight.” Other times, we take time on the weekend or even while the casserole is in the oven to have sex. As an “older couple,” we have found that when we increase the frequency of sex, we want it more. Naturally, this leads to more intimacy. This is where the passion piece of my friend’s question comes in. 

We have passion because we create and nurture it. We do not allow things to get stale in the bedroom. How you want to accomplish spicing things up might differ from what we’ve done, but I will hint that it goes back to communication. Ask what your partner wants to do or what they like and don’t like. Explore in ways that feel comfortable. Even a minor change can be exciting.

Key takeaway: Do not underestimate the power of cuddling and make time for lovemaking. 

If you’ve been paying attention, you see that all five of the love languages are present in our relationship. Some are more prominent than others, and that’s because those are the ones we both “speak.” I think learning each other’s love languages and actively engaging in them will keep the passion in your long-term relationship.

Friendships in Writing

Originally published August 25, 2015, by me on my other blog, which is in the middle of a transition.

A few days ago, I was getting ready to leave for 10 days to see some friends I have in Texas. This is my 3rd annual trip, and I’m really looking forward to it. I get to see my bestest best friend for a few days, then spend some time reconnecting and learning with my Sisters of the Sisterhood of Avalon. Over the last week, I’ve been thinking about the friendships I have. This past year has seen some of my friendships wax and wane, and one go out all together.

We all have different levels of friendships and some of those friends may feel they are at a different level with you than you are with them. Wait, did that make sense? Let me say it this way: I may feel one way about a relationship, while that person may feel that the relationship is something else.

I’m not going to analyze my various friendships for you. I know where everyone stands with me, and I usually try to make sure they know where they stand with me too. Sometimes that doesn’t happen, usually because the other person is thick headed and I’m trying really hard not to hurt their feelings.

For me, the different levels of friendships include the Best Friend, the Good Friend, the Old Friend, the Casual Friend, the Group Friend and the Acquaintance. I don’t want to go too in depth about what each category is, but they are listed in order from “most likely to tell a secret to” to the least. Some of these have sub-levels, but that’s not important for right now.

When you’re writing – whether fiction or non-fiction – you need to keep in mind the level of friendship someone has with the person they’re interacting with. For example, a character (let’s call her Mary) is talking to her best friend, Beth. Mary tells Beth all about her date including the details of the dinner and the goodnight kiss (maybe even a bit too much detail?). Later on, when Mary is talking to her casual friend Amy, a lot of the details are left out and the date goes from amazing and romantic over chicken parmesan to pretty nice and how was your day.

Don’t allow your characters to give up too many secrets or details to friends who aren’t at the top of their list. At the same time, allow all relationships to change. Maybe a casual friend becomes a good friend when they’re in a car accident together. They now have a bond that might not exist in other friendships. Flip that around, and a good friend who betrays your character suddenly becomes a casual friend or even an enemy. There are different levels of enemies too, but that’s a discussion for a different day.

What do you think? Did I leave out any important friendship levels?