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Traumatic memories

Post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) develops after a person is exposed to one or more distressing events like injury, assault, or the threat of death.  It’s often seen in veterans after returning from war.  I feel it an injustice trying to compare what I’ve been through with Ryan with any of the horrors my dad experienced in the war.  But there are times I reflect on Ryan’s days in public school and feel my emotions stir up quickly.  My pulse races, and I begin to shake with anger at the hardships he endured.  I relive those moments as if they have just happened, much like a person with PTSD.

What separates me, is the ability to stop those memories quickly.  Mainly from the pure satisfaction of the choices we made for him; the glorious exhale of relief that I no longer worry about him after dropping him at school.  I don’t fret over how he will behave.  I am not concerned about an outburst that could send him over the edge.  I don’t agonize over his safety—will he run off campus again?  All the emotions I literally lost sleep over, are no longer my concern.  Because he is in capable hands.  I cannot speak for the school district, as to why they would not allow our aides into the school.  As much as it makes me scratch my head with wonder, I refocus my energy and bask in the glow of my boy who is now happy to go to school.  A boy who asks why there isn’t school on a holiday.  A boy who gets ready on his own without prompts.  Who would have guessed that four years ago he would one day enjoy school like he does?

When he was in first grade (for the first time) I was laying out items for school after the long Thanksgiving break.  On weekends and holidays, I put the kid’s backpacks in the hall closet so we don’t trip over them.  As I brought them out to put in the kitchen, my silent child (this was at a time when he didn’t show a lot of emotion nor did he speak very much) stared wide eyed at his back pack, as if it was on fire, and burst into tears.  He began to say loudly, “No school, Mommy, back pack back in closet. Back pack in closet!”

I stared at him in pure shock.  I had no idea he associated the back packs in the closet with no school.  I didn’t realize he even paid attention.  Apparently that was a big visual sign to him.  I pulled him to me and wrapped him in my arms as he cried, over and over, “No school, Mommy.”   Soon, I was in tears with him.

What was I doing to him sending him there?

How can I send him back after he begged not to go?

PTSD may be too strong a word for my painful recollections, but  memories of your child begging not to go to school when he could barely ask for milk,  evoke a physical and emotional response as fresh as the minute it happened.

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“Like what you see?” Ms. Abrahms asks from the doorway of her classroom.

I don’t know how long she’s been standing there, but I know I have a goofy grin on my face that I know she could see even in profile. I jump a little at her the sound of her voice and answer enthusiastically.

“Yes! Yes, I do.”

Ms. Abrahms has proven to be not just an outstanding teacher, but an amazing person.   I heard through the rumor mill, she actually asked to be his teacher when the principal told the staff he was coming aboard.  She later told me she has a friend who’s son is autistic.  And she really wanted to learn about autism.  Sometimes “fate” doesn’t explain when things like that happen.  I know there is a higher hand involved, simply guiding us to the right people at the right time.

“Good, good…”  She returns my smile and walks to her desk.  She doesn’t seem bothered that I am here unattended. I took advantage of an open door and let myself in to snoop before our team meeting today.

“I hope you don’t mind, I came in early…I love seeing his work.” I say sheepishly at being caught, but also beaming with pride.   She waves her hand in dismissal.

“Help yourself; this room is always open to you.” She begins gathering papers on her desk and I continue around the room.

I only give her a nod as I have my arms wrapped tightly around myself;  Either to hold in my joy or to keep me from snatching his work off the wall and sobbing.   I can always pick out his papers as his writing is messy and his pictures not as advanced as the other children’s.  However, there are a few pictures and writing samples that I notice are similar to his.  I don’t care either way.  I am simply overjoyed at the fact he even has work on the walls; that he is participating and getting the opportunity to learn.

One by one, the rest of our team assembles.  Brie, Toni, Leigh, and then Dan.

“Hello ladies, nice seeing me again.” He says with his charming grin.  They all roll their eyes and giggle politely as they all are too familiar with his lame jokes.  I too, smile at him as we all take a place around the semi-circular table.

I am floating with bliss at the reports of his success: with conversations with peers, with reading, with using the bathroom alone (a feat he could not do at public school-somehow he would hold his bladder: All Day).  I’m also amazed at his interaction with Ms. Abrahms.  She often asks to work with him alone and actually was able to access him with his academic progress.  Something the public school district staff had difficulty doing.  And she did it in a few short weeks.

“He’s not the top of the class and he’s surely not the bottom.  He’s right in the middle.” Ms. Abrahms says matter of factly and then gives a broad smile.  I can tell that she’s proud, and already invested in him…and I want to hug her across the table.

Right in the middle, right in the middle…I keep chanting it in my head.  Who would have thought how beautiful the equivalent of “average” could sound?

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I know they won’t approve it, and in my mind our journey with the school district has ended.  I feel bittersweet.  I don’t want to separate my kids now that I have had them at the same place; I don’t want two school schedules, two drop off times, two pickup times, two different holiday breaks.

But I also can’t bear to have Ryan go through another school year with doubts about the aide and their training  even though we write in the IEP the aide must have training, we know it us just semantics “training” can be a one-day seminar to them.

I am relieved to be free of the monthly meetings that accomplish nothing.  We openly discuss his issues, shortcomings and offer behavior plans that are never looked at.  When we go back to the next meeting nothing has been done to “fix” his issues.  Whatever progress he’s made has happened at home with us and Dr. Hunter’s therapists.

I am glad to be free of the fear they could change his aide at any moment.  The language is clear in the IEP they have the right to change.  And they have.  It was like a revolving door for a period of two weeks.  The aide assigned to us had some personal family issues.  And instead of putting herself out for two weeks, she called in everyday, leaving the district little room to provide the same aide.  It wasn’t their fault and I did sort of feel badly for them scrambling each day.  But I did not appreciate the repercussions it had on Ryan.  It was the beginning of his downward spiral.  A beginning to what made us consider ending his career at public school.

The clincher for me was after the Thanksgiving break.  I put their backpacks in the closet as usual for the weekend.  And as it was a long weekend it was in there awhile.  I hadn’t realized how visually significant that was to Ryan.  When I got the backpacks out on Sunday he started to cry.  And in his “broken” verbiage he pleaded to me.

“No school…no school. Backpack in closet. Backpack in closet.” He wailed.

In his short life, he had never tried to persuade me so vehemently with words.  There were many times he used his fists or legs to show disproval, but this was really communicating with me.  I felt my heart rip in two at the dichotomy of this: my baby was conveying his feelings so well! My baby is begging me to not take him to school…

“Well, that’s it. What do you think?” Dan says bringing me out of my thoughts. He leans back in the chair and stretches his arms over his head.

I sit silent still rummaging through my thoughts.  I don’t have the energy to sum up all I’ve been thinking so I just shrug and think for a few seconds.

“I guess it’s what I expected.  Just glad it’s out there.  It feels like we’ve been lying to them or something.” I confess to him.

“Yup, we put them on notice and now we just go forward with what we planned.” Dan nods as if confirming his own words.  Then he stands up. Well, I gotta get going.  I’ll see you later.” He leans down and kisses me and walks out.

Yes, what we planned.  We. What WE want…yes, it feels good to be back in control.  I smile a broad smile with satisfaction.

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“Are you going to say it or me?” I ask Dan as I hit the mute button. It’s time to throw down the gauntlet.

“Me.” He says firmly and sits up straight and pushes the speaker button.

“Jim, the bottom line is if we can’t bring in Dr. Hunter’s aides we are seriously considering pulling him from the school.”

I can almost hear the clang as the words drop on his desk.  There is a few seconds delay and I feel as if we are in slow-mo.

Pulling him? Where would you go?” He says and his voice is high. He seems agitated.

“We have some options we are looking at.” I say, trying not to sound smug.

Where?” he sounds high pitched again.

“We are looking at various private schools in the area.” I again say trying not to smile. Like a kid with a secret.

“Oh…private.”  He sounds relieved for a second.  “I have to say, I’m shocked.  I didn’t see this coming.” He trails off.  Is he…sad?

“We’ve done our best to have a good working relationship with your family.” Again his voice falls. Yup its sadness.

Then I have a pang of guilt.  I remember that Jim is pretty high up in the school district and doesn’t usually take part in the IEP’s.  I found this out from another mother who was trying to get services for her son.  We compared notes about our respective IEP’s and she did not have Jim there.  She was surprised when I told her he was taking such a big part of ours.  This woman’s son did not have near the issues Ryan did and I was surprised what lengths she was going through to get him services.  She even hired an advocate and was getting nowhere with the district.  After she told me the price of the advocate, it sealed the deal for me for just pulling him and moving on.

I feel I need to explain a little to him because he seems upset.

“Jim, we are very proud of our relationship with you and the district.  We have been a great team and appreciate all that you have done for us and all the time you have taken with Ryan’s case.” Dan rolls his eyes at me as it is apparent I’m laying it on thick.  I wave him away.

“We are not litigious people and did not want to go that route to get what we wanted for Ryan.”  I let my pseudo-threat hang in the air for affect.

There is an uncomfortable pause and I’m not sure if he is still there, and then I hear him shuffling papers again.

“Umm, well, I see.” His tone has changed and I’m not sure what he is thinking.  “I will speak to the school district’s attorney and get back to you with an answer.” He is back to being all business.  This makes me a little sad as he had so many moments in our various meetings that showed he really did care about us.

“Thank you, Jim we appreciate your time. Goodbye.” Dan says mirroring Jim’s business tone.  Dan hits the speaker phone to disconnect.

And it’s done.  We sit silent for a second.

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“Yes, Jim, please?” Dan says into the phone.

“May I tell him who’s calling?” A polite voice asks through the speaker.

He leans closer says slowly and loudly.  “Dan and LeeAndra Chergey.” I don’t know why Dan feels he must speak so loudly on the phone.  I put my finger over my mouth to give him a silent shush and shake my head.  I can imagine the lady on the phone pulling the phone away from her face, as I have to do often when I speak to him.  He gives me a frown.  We are sitting in our home office, huddled around the phone.  It’s time to give the public school one last chance to give us what we asked and then give them the news of our decision.  I feel more nervous than ever.  Maybe not nervous, but shaky.  We have nothing to lose here; we’ve made up our minds and know what we want, yet this is our check mate move.

“Hold for one moment, I’ll see if he’s available.  The voice says.

My heart skips a few beats and I try to calm my breathing. I cover my mouth to soften my sigh.  Dan is writing the date and time on his legal pad and looks up at me.  He pushes mute on the phone.

“What’s wrong?” he whispers.

I laugh in his face. “You muted the phone, doofus, why are you whispering?”

He cracks a wide smile as a voice comes over the speaker.

“Hello Mr. and Mrs. Chergey, Jim here.”

Dan jumps to hit the mute button and says quickly.  “Hello, Jim. How are you?”  I’m glad he spoke because suddenly my mouth feels like sandpaper and I feel lightheaded.

“Great, great. Just tying up some loose ends before the district goes on summer break.” He says and sighs with a high pitch that it almost sounds like an ‘aahh’.

“Ah…uh….” Dan looks at me as to who is taking the lead again.  I point to him. “So, Jim, we wanted to speak with you today about the letter we received.”

It has been two months since our last IEP meeting.  We didn’t sign at the meeting as we weren’t sure what we wanted to do. And once I convinced Dan we should put him in private school we were waiting to find one.  Now that we have found a place to start over, we want to give the district one last chance to agree.  They sent us a letter outlining a plan that would allow Dr. Hunter’s aides in for a few weeks then fade them out.  It isn’t what we want and now it’s time to lay it out.

“Okay, go ahead.” Jim says.

“Well, we really were hoping for the approval of Dr. Hunter’s aides at school.  We don’t think having them shadow the school aides and then fade is going to work. I don’t think I have to re-hash the problems we had last year.” Dan pauses for effect, and it is works on me as the memories flood back and my face flushes with anger.

There is a shuffling of paper over the phone. “Um, yes, well, I believe we have discussed that enough.”

Dan looks intently at me as he speaks. “So, here is where we are at…we aren’t willing to keep him at the school if we don’t have Dr. Hunter’s aides.”


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The phone rings as I am typing up an offer for a client.  I see Crestridge  School on the caller ID.  My heart skips a beat.  I take a deep breath an answer the phone.  I know this is it.

“Hi Mrs. Chergey, its Michelle from Crestride.” She says evenly and I don’t know if this is a good sign or not.

“Hi Michelle, how are you?” I say trying to sound casual.

“I’m fine, thank you.” She clears her throat as mine goes dry.  “So, we heard back from our corporate office regarding Ryan attending our school?” She says it like a question.

“Um hum.” I say thinking it a safe way to respond.

“Well…they are willing to try.” She says and it sounds like she’s smiling.

I feel as if I’m free falling for a second.  I respond quickly unable to control my excitement. “Oh! Good! That’s great! Wow, thank you!”

She giggles a little at my gushing, “Well, let me tell you some of the parameters before you get too excited.”Uh oh. “The aides will need to be fingerprinted and screened–.”

“—No problem.” I interrupt.

“And we will do this on a probationary status.” She says this in a firmer tone as if to warn me.

“What does that mean?” I ask, nervously.

“It means, if there are any…issues, ones we feel are not reconcilable, we have the right to expel him.” She says ‘expel’ with a little too much emphasis.

“That is perfectly reasonable.” I say to her calmly.  And suddenly I am calm.  I have such faith in Dr. Hunter and her team I know this is what we are supposed to do.

“Okay, great.  Well, come by to pick up an enrollment package and we will get the ball rolling for next year.” She says happily.

We finish our pleasantries and I hang up and literally jump out of my chair and yelp for joy.  I feel relief as if it’s a tangible thing raining down on me.  I pick up the phone to call Dan and begin to waiver on the verge of tears.  I have these moments once in awhile.  As a mother of any child you have moments that move you to tears, but since Ryan was diagnosed I seem to have them more.  As if carrying around his diagnosis added a physical burden that seems to break me more often.

“Hello?” Dan says and I can tell he’s in his car.

I try to speak and nothing comes out. I begin to clear my throat and instead I sob.

“Lee? What’s the matter?” His voice pitches in my ear.

“Nothing, I…I just wanted to give you some good news.” I say and sniff while I’ll grab for a tissue.

“Are you crying?” He says concerned.

“Yes…” I heave my shoulders and let out another sob.

“Babe…what is it?” His voice is so tender it makes me cry more.

“Everything is fine. I…heard from Crestridge.” I sniff and sob and wipe my nose.  “They are going to let us in on a probationary basis.”

“Really? That’s great!” He says a loudly.

“I know, I know. I’m really happy.” And another sob comes out.

He laughs at the irony and says “Yeah, it sounds like you are thrilled.”


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The burning of my lungs brings me back to my run.  Has to be an answer.  Has to be a way. I say in my head over the blaring of “Rage Against the Machine” in my headphones.  The obscenities he is yelling are in such contrast to my thoughts of the Christ-centered diva we met.  I wave to our neighbor as she passes me in her car,  and it hits me…we have overlooked one school.  The last one in the area….and we have already attended there.

I rush back to the house excited to tell Dan my revelation.

“Crestridge!” I say breathless.  He looks up at me. “Crestridge…why didn’t I think of it sooner?”

He stares blankly paused in his slathering of his bagel with cream cheese.  “What are you talking about?”

I put my hands on top of my head so I can slow down my breathing and begin pacing in the kitchen.

“How could we overlook them?  I mean Ryan has already gone there!” I practically yell at him still out of breath.

“Oh, oh, I get it now.  Schools. For Ryan. Hmmm.” He says mostly distracted by his bagel.  I don’t know how he could think I was speaking of anything else.  I have been on a serious mission from God for the last two weeks, yet I have to remind him what I’m talking about?

“Yeah, what else would I have I been blathering about?” I say with super sarcasm.

He walks to the coffee pot and I follow him, trying to give him a second  to process.

“Well? What do you think?” I say impatiently.

He gets out a two cups and pours staying silent.  I hate when he does that. Is if for effect or is he really just pondering?

“Hello?!” I wave my hand at him as if my cynicism isn’t enough.

“Yeah, yeah.  I’m thinking.”

“About what? What’s wrong with Crestridge?” I blurt out.

“Nothing,” He pauses as he stirs in cream, avoiding my eyes.  “I just don’t want you getting all excited.  Plus, it’s more expensive than the others.”

“What others? There are no others to consider, remember? They don’t do special needs.” I say with air quotes and a sneer.  He just looks calmly at me and I know I’m being an ass, but I am allowed once in awhile.

“Well…they don’t.” I let my frustration flitter away as I blow on my coffee.  I could rehash the treatment I’d had and how two-faced those schools are, but I don’t. He’s heard and re-heard it.  I let him finish his bagel before I speak again.

“Since both kids have been there, I figure they would talk to us.” I say trying to sound calm.

Jenna had attended their summer school between Kindergarten and first grade. I felt she needed it as I had seen a few kids get bounced back to kindergarten.  Our neighbor had sent her daughter to Crestridge and raved about.  I enrolled Ryan in their summer pre-school session at the same time.  Crestridge had allowed me to bring in Dr. Hunter’s aides to stay with him during the morning session.  Dr. Hunter thought it would be great for socialization and since the school district only offered summer school for a few weeks we agreed it would be good to keep him around kids.  He did very well and there were no problems.  I didn’t realize then how having Dr. Hunter’s aides with him was probably the reason for his success.  Damn hindsight.

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I wake up to the darkness and dress quietly and quickly for my morning run.  I think best when I’m out on the road alone.  There has to be answer.  I know this is what we are supposed to do.  I know I’m supposed to take control again…I just can’t find the place.

I stretch a little on the front step and begin a slow pace, as the rhythmic steps begin, I let the juices take over.  Trying to block out the disappointments of the private schools…but still amazed how all of them acted.  The coup de grace was the school we were the most familiar with.

The “interview” was going perfectly.  We told the principal what families we knew that attended there and were met with big smiles.  We toured the campus and liked what we saw.  We didn’t flinch when she exclaimed: “Let’s pray!”  We locked hands across the shabby chic desk and lowered our heads, ignoring her rings digging into our fingers.  It felt like it was a test.   We patiently listened to the “Christ-centered” decrees the school implents.  And we sat in her office and tried to ignore her overdone hair and makeup, spilling our guts with our sad story until she too handed out those words of bigotry.

“Oh, we certainly cannot offer that kind of service.” She said with a sardonic smile on her face. I was glad Dan was with me this time to see it.

“No, no, we will bring in the aide.” He says. The words I have said so many times in the last few days. “We don’t expect you to provide that.” Yup, those too.

“I understand that,” she says her white teeth peeking out from her red, glossy lips, “but we aren’t equipped to support a special needs child like him.”

It’s amazing how differently they all say the same thing. 

I shift in my seat and see Dan turn towards me and we meet eyes.  I see the frustration in his eyes and raise my eyebrows as if to say, “See what I mean?”  He nods and sighs. I take this as my cue. I turn back to the Dolly Parton look-alike.

“We aren’t looking for you to support him, just give us an educational backdrop that we can modify for him.” I say this as slowly and pleasantly as I can muster. I even flash her a sweet smile.  She sits unmoved.

“This campus would be such a great environment for him.”  I stretch this truth a little, but flattery always gets you places and I am again feeling desperate.  We are out of options.

“I am sorry. But it just isn’t something we can do.” Her smile more subdued and almost sympathetic.

“Let’s pray!”

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Maybe we are supposed to be here. I think to myself as I walk through the parking lot to pick up the kids.  He could be purple and they accept him.  Well, they have to accept him at public school, it’s the law.  But still.  I had no idea it would be such a challenge finding a private school.  If you are paying, they should welcome you. Right?  At least here they don’t discriminate against him. That’s it…it’s the discrimination.  That is why I was so upset at that saint-something private school.

Earlier today, at the last stop, another “Christian” school, I am met with similar reception as the saint-something.  The young woman I met there wasn’t as crass as the other cross-wearing hypocrite, but she made it clear they have never “done” anything like this and I would need to meet with the principal.  I scheduled a meeting for the next day.  I barely got out of the parking lot when they called to reschedule.  She was going to be busy for “awhile”.  I did politely tell them I would call back later to find a time that worked.  But I knew I wouldn’t.  I didn’t want them if they didn’t want us.

My euphoria of getting him out of here has vanished leaving me disheartened and sad.  I hear the classroom door open and the loud children start filling out.  I stand up and see Ryan’s aide and walk towards her to get a report of the day.  Instead she keeps moving quickly and yells towards me to ‘have a nice day’.  What? That’s it? I weave through the kids to classroom door and peer in to see Ryan playing with some blocks.

“Hi.” I say to his teacher. “Everything o.k.? Terri rushed away and didn’t give me a run down of the day.”

His teacher looks at me with a puzzled look . “No, he had a good day. Not sure why she didn’t speak to you.  Maybe she had to pick up her daughter.” She says with a perk in her voice that I am guessing is supposed to make it better.  That ‘mother-to-mother’ thing.  Whatever. She could have told me that. 

I hate not knowing what happened in his day.  The school IEP team didn’t want to do a communication journal from the aide, because I see her after school.  But it’s days like these, and there are many, I have no idea what his day was like.  I can’t expect his teacher to give me a breakdown of every minute, since she has 25 other kids to worry about.

“Yeah, maybe.” I say but with a harshness in my voice.  I see her pick up on my mood, because I am normally very positive and try to be appreciative. I see she has three other moms waiting to speak to her so I let it go and walk over to Ryan.  I stop for a second and stare at him while he’s playing nicely.  Maybe I shouldn’t move him; maybe it isn’t so bad here… at least he isn’t black labeled or treated like he has a disease…

We walk to our car like any other day, yet it isn’t to me. Today is the day I felt the first sting of intolerance, and prejudice.  All because of a word.  What if I told them he had AIDS or cancer? Would they have acted the same? I sigh and realize it doesn’t matter.  I don’t like the reaction I received and now I have to start all over again. 

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“We don’t do, um, special needs.” Her words hang in the air as if they are written in smoke.  Now my mouth is open and I am showing my disgust.

“You don’t do, special needs?”  I ask the sarcasm clear in my voice.  She looks firmly at me. Wow. Did I hear her right? Isn’t this supposed to be a school centered around God? She starts nervously straightening the spilled brochures avoiding my eye as I pick up my portfolio.  I know I have to leave or I might start cussing this lady out, right under the giant crucifix and I don’t want that sacrilege on my karma.   I turn quickly and walk straight out.  I don’t even say goodbye or ‘thanks anyway,’ I just leave. I don’t give a rat’s ass about how rude I seem I just know I am not going to let them see me cry.  My shoes click, click, click down the hall wishing I had worn flat shoes so I could walk faster.  I try to control my shallow breaths.

Reaching the car, I jump in and start it up and do everything I can not to peel out. Though I sort of want to.  I want them to hear how fast I want to get away from them and their pseudo-bigotry.  My heart is pounding and I am beginning to sweat. My chest is heaving and my eyes are starting to water.   Man, adrenaline is an amazing hormone.

I pull out of the driveway and park down the street where I’m sure they can’t see me.  I take deep breaths and try to calm down.  I can’t decide if I’m mad or sad.  I know I’m horrified.  I know people who send their kids to this school.  I wonder how they would feel if they knew they were bigots.  Bigots with big crosses on their necks! I dig in my purse for my cell phone and dial Dan’s number.

“Ohhhh, I’m so mad!” I yell into the phone.

“Whoa, you’re hurting my ears, what’s wrong?” he demands.

I tell him my story and wait for the outrage from him.  But it doesn’t come. He is silent.

“Oh, forget it.  I’ll see you later.” I say and start to hang up the phone.

“Hey-wait! Relax a second.” He sighs quickly.  “You can’t expect everyone to get it right away.”

“Yes I can!”  I yell. “This is the two-thousands and autism shouldn’t be a pariah!”

“A what?” he asks. I can picture his face screwed up in a question and I am annoyed that he doesn’t understand my big words (even if it was one I heard on the Howard Stern Show) and isn’t as frustrated as I am.

“Never mind…” My anger is fading.

“What is it, babe? Why are you so upset?” he asks tenderly.  I know he is trying, and I have to wonder myself why I am so upset.

“It’s just all of it, all this…I don’t know…I gotta go.  We can talk about it later.”

I know we will when we get home, over a glass (or two) of beloved wine.  We will talk it out like we do everything.  Today he supports me, other days I support him.  And that thought alone propels me on.

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