Monday, January 13, 2020

Big Brother


           I couldn’t open the door fast enough. I had one goal in mind and I needed, desperately, to rip off the sweater that had been choking me for the better half of the day. From my neck to my lower back, the hives were strong and I felt as though I was suffocating underneath its layers. Claire tore inside the house before I could retrieve the keys from the lock. She ran into Ben’s arms while I made a break for the bedroom. 
            No sooner than I heard, “Hey baby,” roll off his tongue from the living room I had fought the battle with the cream, wool abomination and won. I glanced at my bed, where my now most regrettable purchase lay, and noticed my phone was ringing. It was my Dad. I was hesitant to answer it. He had not called in months. I had not heard his voice since late October. It was now December 17th. That’s not because he was absent in my life but because he physically could not speak. Why was Dad calling? 
            “Hello,” I answered.
            All I heard was muffled cries echoing over and over again. My heart sped. Panic. It was Mom. 
             I screamed, “Dad!”
            “No Gracie, Nick. He’s gone. Get here,” she managed.
         I fell numb. The panic dissipated and before the anger began to make its appearance, I felt nothing.
            This is what I had been afraid of since I was 16-years old and had come to understand that my big brother was an alcoholic. There were many nights that I would stay up late listening to his impenetrable sadness. Sadness that had been sewn into him by mystery and terrible luck. 
          He was ten years older than me. He could recite every single line from the opening scene of Aladdin. He was goofy and kind. He had curiously-sorrowful green eyes and long, black eyelashes. He wore embarrassing t-shirts. Some were crisp and ironed before wear. Some were old and wrinkled with faded color. Some you had to squint to make out the letters that spelled, “Take Me Home Tonight?” He loved boxes of cherry cordials. He taught me how to tie my shoes. In the basement at the bottom of the stairs. His laugh could induce secondhand embarrassment but was also incredibly infectious. He was deeply scarred by a series of uncontrollable moments in his life making his only vice the one that took him away from us. Took him long before he took his last breath.
            Ben came running from the other room after he heard my screams.
            “What’s wrong baby,” he whispered as he approached.
            I didn’t recognize the voice that answered back, “He’s dead. Nick is dead.” 
          The drive to Nick’s apartment is a blur. I don’t remember which road we took or if anything was said out loud. Instead, the sight of ambulance lights flashing outside his window is burned inside the memory, and so is his face. Those dark eyelashes of his, I could see clear across the room. I was not brave enough to get close to him. We were allowed to touch the top of his head, give him a kiss if we’d like, but that was it. I saw enough though and wept into my sister’s shoulder, gripping the hardened raincoat she wore. 
            Where are his memories? 
            The question crept into my mind and never left. Were they in a box somewhere that we could never visit? Did they float away into oblivion? Did he take them with him on his way to … somewhere? Can he see me right now? Is he mad? Will he remember me? Will he remember Christmas dinners? Will he remember mispronouncing every word in Italian on our big, European family vacation? Will he remember how much he loved Garth Brooks? Will he remember being at his concert with us, the night before he left us forever? Will he remember how I was so mad at him that I didn’t even turn around to say hello? Or was it just lights out? 
            Where are his memories? I needed to know. 
           I felt as though I was suffocating again. After seeing Nick, his body covered with a white sheet and pajama pants peeking out of its side, I had to get out. The humidity inside of the space made even the furniture seem wilted. It contrasted with the chilling-slicing wind outside and the internal battle I was fighting. The light stench of stale alcohol permeated throughout its corners. The familiarity of that smell made me nauseous. It pulled me right back into those moments of infuriating discomfort – me, his baby sister, packing his boxers and night clothes for a stint in rehab. Bitterness enveloped me. 
         I sprinted out the apartment’s front door. Passed the firemen in the living room and foyer, passed the neighbors’ sparkling-blue wreath, and passed the onlookers from the balcony above. I ran through the parking lot clutching my stomach. I bent over in the grass. Dry heaves mixed with cracked wailing. Silence.
            Where are his memories? 
            Are they tucked away in a corner?
            Does he get to keep them?
            Will I remember?
            Or was it just lights out?

Grace Lynne Fleming
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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Listen Here

Prologue: Dear Readers
Currently listening to: "Save Myself" by Ed Sheeran




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Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Coming Soon


Our experiences are exactly that ... ours. They are mine. And they are yours. What happens to you. What you can and cannot control. What life throws at you. The trials and tribulations. The highs and the lows. Those really are your experiences to do whatever you want with. Some people ignore them. Some people hide from them. Some people talk to friends about them. I wrote about mine. And then I decided to share with them you. 

At first, the writing was just for me. Eventually, I decided to swallow my embarrassment over the words and the sadness, although I like to think I infused a good amount of good-natured humor into the mix as well. Then I hit the share button. 

Doing this put me in a position to let out my first finished project that was truly my own. It also helped connect me to so many amazing new friends and strong, insanely supportive women that I would have never met otherwise. 

But most importantly, it helped me cope. 

I'm sure everyone has a theory of what this book is really about. But if you ask me, it's about loss and overcoming the worst of feelings. It's about trudging through the darkness, the worst of your days, and coming out on the other side with a more positive perspective on people and relationships. I learned what's most important in this life, and it's always going to be the people. It's not the house or the car, it's not money, it's not prestige or climbing the ladder. It's the people. It will always come down to the people. 

This book marks the end of this part of my life. Writing to cope won't ever be something I quit. Writing to entertain won't ever be something I quit. But I really want readers to soak up ILYJK because I'm sewing up the intimate sharing of my life with this one. At least, I hope so. 

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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Sincerely

To the Renaissance Nashville Hotel Family,

I was four years old when I walked into your hotel for the first time. The name outside read Stouffer’s and there were ashtrays in the lobby, filled with sand that had been stamped with the fancy “S” logo. My dad had come to help out, and I was privileged enough to create a home away from home inside its walls.

Mr. John Fleming was my father. A hotel manager by day and a goofy, grinning daddy by night – that’s how his closet was separated too; beautiful suits on one hand and then, on the other, hundreds of white tube socks, vacation shirts, and sweatpants that he wore on his morning trip to grab a newspaper and coffee on the weekends.

Nervous and always on my best behavior, I wanted to make him proud every chance I got to visit you all. I didn’t want to embarrass him. He loved the men and women he worked with, and I wanted to make sure that I made a good first impression, second impression, a lasting impression still to this day because that’s what he did. But now, mostly, I want to make an impression that says, “She is appreciative.”

Dad gave me so much at home. Together with my mom, they offered a life to me that so many people don’t get the opportunity to have. From the intangibles to a room full of everything I could have dreamt of, my siblings and I had it all. Now after sharing such an emotional experience together, I know how much he gave to all of you too.

At the funeral, everyone kept thanking us for sharing Dad with them. What’s amazing is I never felt like I was “sharing” him. He worked long hours, and he would occasionally travel, but he still made everyone in his life feel special. I was never gipped of time with my Dad while he was here. Instead, I gained better insight and advice from him because of the team he had built at the Renaissance – which was all of you. I must confess, though I’m terribly angry that I do feel my time was cut short with him for one reason that keeps swirling around in my head. In fact, it’s how I began the letter I wrote to him – the one I tucked under his sleeve on March 9th, 2018, hoping that he’s able to receive snail mail in heaven.

“I wasn’t done learning from you Daddy,” I printed out on paper from an old journal. I bet a lot of you feel the same way.

Dad, Mom, Nick, and Donna had already traveled and lived around the country before I was even a blip on the radar. I didn’t get to experience living in Mobile, hunkered down at the Riverview during the hurricane, or watching Dad make his mark on The Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C. Instead, I was given the gift of making Nashville my hometown. I never felt like I missed out on anything that came before 1989 though, no matter how many times Nick or Donna wanted to remind me that I was late to the Fleming party. And that’s because of how Dad’s team made my family feel every time we stepped inside the lobby of the Renaissance, settled on 611 Commerce Street, Nashville, Tennessee.

The chocolate eggs and bunnies showcased near the elevators at Easter, the Kids’ Café parties that I tried really hard to be excellent at face-painting for (so many children asked me to give them a reindeer and they’d walk away with a very sad cat on their cheek instead), the renovations, the Mother’s Day brunches, there are so many of my childhood and milestone memories locked away in that hotel. I turned 21 there and had my first appletini. And most recently, my high school class and I celebrated our 10-year reunion there – with details so perfect and food so delicious.

As soon as we walked away from Austin and Bell on March 10th, 2018, I felt the need to do what I always do when I’m feeling things that I don’t quite understand. I write. That memory of those ashtrays kept coming to mind, and I knew that no matter how this letter or gobbledygook ran out on paper that I needed to get it to all of you. It’s the best way I know how to say, “Thank you.”

Thank you for being a part of my Dad’s life. Thank you for being a part of my family’s life. Thank you for being a part of my own life. But mostly, thank you for loving my father and thank you for providing a home away from home for him for the past 25 years. He wanted to get back to you. He was sad that he felt like the chance had been taken from him with the latest diagnosis but going back to work, in his words, “wasn’t being taken off the table just yet.” I need you all to know that he wanted to get back to it. He wanted to shake your hands and goof around and be your leader – if only for a little bit longer – and finish his career on his own accord.

Again, thank you for loving my father. And thank you for showing it in a way that he deserved because he deserved it all.

Sincerely and with so much love,

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

I Am Free

For the past several months I’ve felt like every part of my life became dull where it used to be filled with so much light. It had become a nagging, aching feeling that I wasn’t able to control or fix. But I am beginning to heal.

I am divorced.  But I'm also free.

Part of the healing process, for me, was to write about it all. My friends and family know that I’ve been faced with something that no one should have to go through. Others have noticed the turmoil. And it’s time to share my story.

I’ve always wanted to be a published author. That’s the end goal. I want my name on a tangible piece of literature, and I want people to have the opportunity to read the words that I’ve sewn together. And when my heart broke on February 5th, 2016, I knew that this was what I was meant to do. I was meant to invite people inside my personal life and have them read about every beautifully intimate moment I’ve had in the last ten years.

Some of you may start reading what I have written and question it. Why is she sharing so many details about her marriage? Why would she want people to know any of this? The answers are simple.

This is relevant. It’s relevant because it just happened to me. It’s also relevant because it could very well happen to you. It could happen to your sister or best friend. It may have happened to your mother. It may be happening to your neighbor right now. I don’t want to feel ashamed or embarrassed by this part of my past, and I don’t want anyone else facing similar issues to have that be a part of their conscience as they try to navigate their way through the rollercoaster of emotions they’ll eventually be hit with.

Also, I come from a very small town. And instead of using up the next decade telling all the ones I love and respect about what happened to my family, I’d rather them read about it. I’d rather them know the details without a game of telephone screwing up the intricacy of it all. There are two sides to every story, yes. But this one is quite cut and dry where the ending is concerned.

I welcome you to 10 years’ worth of memories. They are magical, memorable, embarrassing memories. Not every great love story ends well. There doesn’t need to be a happy ending for it to have been real or worth it. In fact, sometimes the best ones, end in the worst ways. And that’s what happened with mine.

Read the parts that I decide to divulge now. Share it with everyone you know. I’ve had so much support from my community over the years that I know they’ll have my back more than ever now.  And I’ll continue to uncover pieces of what I’ve written with all of you as I simultaneously scour the nation trying to hook a literary agent and get this thing published.

Today I’m sharing a prologue piece. This was the first few paragraphs I wrote within the first few weeks. I was still in shock and still falling asleep at night praying that it wasn’t happening. I was still waking up in the mornings wishing it was all a dream. But it wasn’t, and I’m okay. I became a single parent overnight feeling abandoned and thrown away. And I can say with 100% certainty that I am proud of how I’ve managed to not only stay afloat but sail through it all with my character still intact.

And for those with a question in their heads concerning him. He knows about this. He supports it. He trusts me to tell our truth. But I still don’t have an explanation as to why. I’ve been given no respect or courtesy of a conversation. That’s okay at this point though, I’ve come to my own conclusions and maybe you will too.

.....................................................................................................................................................

Title TK 

We’re all taught that when life hands you lemons, you should be creative, smart, strong, and motivated enough to make lemonade out of them. But what happens when the person you love and trust most in the world hands you suitcases full of rocks that weigh you down so much you start questioning who you are? I’ll tell you what you do. You start picking up each damn rock and throwing it right back at them. And they learn never to question your strength again.

I won’t pretend like I’m perfect. I can be infuriating. I can be stubborn and harsh. I can nag, I can push, and I can make someone feel very small with just a few spewed words. But I didn’t deserve what happened to my marriage. I was a devoted wife; proud even. I adored him and his silly socks. I adored the way he would pat my arm during movie previews when he’d get excited about a new Marvel film. I adored his love of chocolate ice cream and the way he would scream, “I have binge eating disorder!” on late nights when he couldn’t control a severe case of the munchies. I even adored his anal tendencies when it came to alphabetizing the Blu-ray collection or sorting through his Disney trading pins. He never missed a goodnight kiss, an I love you, or a whispered goodbye in the morning, but that was all a part of the façade.

I gave him everything. My heart, my time, my commitment, my future, my virginity; I wrapped my life up tight, topped it with a gilded bow, and handed it right over to him. And he unwrapped every inch. He was a con artist, and I was his muse.

...


I grabbed my phone and started taking a video of her petite frame, kissing her reflection and shaking her booty to the music that seemed to run on a loop inside of her strawberry-blonde covered head. I loved this part of our mornings together. We’d snuggle up for another hour or so after he jetted off to work and once fully awake for the day, I’d sing, “Give yourself a kissy in the morning time,” as I placed her in front of my vintage, full-length mirror. Although a daily occurrence, this particular moment was far too adorable to go unrecorded.

Throughout the day he was still saying his I love you’s and kissed me goodbye on his way out the door. He texted to ask what Claire and I were doing that afternoon, and he called when he got to 12th and Porter after work to let me know he’d be done by 7 pm and on his way home. It was a typical day, with a routine that could become numb and taken for granted. And then with no warning, my entire life was crumbling around me. My daughter’s life was being shaken to its core. At 13-months old, her father was making a decision that couldn’t be “fixed,” no matter what kind of mother I decided to be.

I married a goddamn great actor.

 No, he wasn’t making money off of commercial appearances or featured extra roles on Law & Order. Instead, he faked being the best man I had ever met for ten years. And the winter I turned 27, a week after he totaled my car and two weeks after we celebrated our third year of marriage, he ripped my heart out. He blindsided me with, “I think we should get a divorce,” on a Friday night after I noticed that his breath wreaked of alcohol and realized that the reception he needed to attend for work that evening was merely a night out with a someone or somebodies that I had never met. A change of clothes in the car, cigar smoke in the air, I had no idea of the person that he had been evolving into over the final six months of our marriage.

 This shocked my side of the family so hard that we all cried. No one saw it coming. We were the couple that everyone else wanted to be. We were the family my brother and sister dreamed of having for their own – love, trust, companionship, no drama, easy days. Waking up to a baby that will kiss you without hesitation and coming home to a wife that loved with so much honesty and trust that she, genius IQ intact and all, was duped. There was never a doubt that this was what was meant to be, so much so that I often thought my life was too good to be true. But apparently, there was a doubt. He just never filled me in on it. There was no warning. There was no explanation. There was only the view of his back as he walked out the door.   

Who wants to be a 27-year-old divorcee? I sure as hell didn’t, but I was well on my way to becoming one.


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