It Looks Like This

Yesterday, after dropping off Amelia at a middle school she despises, I pulled over on the side of the road and cried. It felt like hours. But was more like ten minutes. I sometimes don’t know how to hold them all up – all six of them. Thomas needs me more than ever. The kids, well…at least 1-4 think we’ve purposefully ruined their lives. Five is the happiest little girl, all chunk and giggle.

When I turn off the highway into our neighborhood, the light filters through the pines in golden pink light. This time of the day is magic here, filling every aching bone, and my tired heart, with hope. Thomas told me I’d grow to love this place, his childhood home. I will because it’s a part of him. And the now familiar glow of an early autumn evening tells me it’s so.

I pull into the garage, next to Thomas’ truck. Leaving the shopping bags, I step into the house. It’s quiet. Through the kitchen window, looking out on to the backyard, I see my people. All six of them. Thomas is chasing the boys around the yard. Amelia is holding the baby on the swing. She’s facing the action, total amusement on her chubby little face.

I watch from the kitchen. Thomas stops running, and standing in the middle of the yard, he sticks his tongue out at Ben. Ben, never one to stand down, places his hands on his hips and like every good eight year old should, he accepts the taunt, and charges Thomas. Jack, comes towards Thomas from the other direction. The two boys colliding with my husband from either end. Jack has jumped on his back and Ben’s now clinging to Thomas’s leg. Lunatics. They’re all lunatics.

I laugh. Hard. As usual, William has lost interest and he’s digging in the dirt nearby. I don’t know what Thomas just said, but it must have been hilarious – on cue, they all laugh. Like a sitcom laugh track, in unison. Amelia looks up, towards the house and sees me standing in the window. She waves. And her mouth forms the words, “Mom’s home!”

I head outside, and as I reach the deck, they’re all there. “Mooommm!!” A noisy chorus. Sadie, our terrible, rotten lab joins the rest of them. Sweaty, smelly heads and dirt crusted fingernails are all around me. I saw them all seven hours ago but you would think it has been days. They all talk at once, as per the usual. Amelia hands me Ella.

My sweetest surprise, joining us when I thought we were through having babies, puts both hands on my cheeks. She’s babbling. I’ll be so very old when she graduates high school. But she is joy personified. I smile. How can you not? The boys lose interest in me quickly and run back into the yard. Thomas is standing at the bottom of the deck stairs. He smiles at me in that way he does – the way he has smiled at me for fourteen years. He looks like himself for the first time in weeks.

I stand in front of him. His eyes, so warm, told me everything back then – long before he worked up the nerve to say the words. I know how to read those eyes still. “Thank you,” he says. “I know we have made this move unpleasant for you. Thank you for letting me follow my dream. And thank you for taking care of us while we’re all cranky and angry and surly. Missed you today.”

“I missed you, too,” I say. I’ve missed him longer than just today. “I love you, baby.” He smiles. He owns me with that smile. Always has. And always will.

“Ditto,” he says as a bouncing ball hits in him in the head. “Excuse me, I have a ten year old to torture.” He runs off towards Jackson, who is now laughing – a hyena-like laugh. I haven’t heard it in months.

With my sweet Ella girl in my arms and the rest of our clan playing in the yard, the fatigue pulls at my eyes. But this. It looks like this. The exhaustion that started when Amelia got sick, and hasn’t abated since, is there in the air around me. This noisy mess of kids and that beautiful man – worth every last bit of it.

It looks like this. This. I wouldn’t trade it for rest-filled nights, less laundry and a house that doesn’t smell like sweaty boy 98% of the time. It looks like this. And it’s all I want.

The Autumn Light

The weather turned a little corner and so did the light. The golden light of autumn is almost enough to convince me that all is right with the world. It gives me a little hope.

When we met, I never dreamed what you would mean to me. Knowing you is like knowing another part of me. You weren’t very nice to me the day we met, though. I forgave you. I am so glad I did.

I couldn’t help myself.

I’ve been hopelessly wrapped around your finger ever since. Even though I have to assume I’ll never see you again.

When the light hits just right or I’m feeling a little melancholy, I scribble these words wherever I can – receipts, slips of paper, notebooks, and things that remind me of you.

They live in a trunk in my office. They sit in piles on my desk and when the clutter is too much, I pack up all of the words that I would say to your face if I could and put them in the trunk – buried under the shawl my Grandma Amelia gave me and next to the horses I used to play with when I was a kid.

I miss you now. I will miss you always.

New Fiction to Share

On Facebook, I’ve shared some quick, “new” fiction.

One, flash fiction of sorts, can be found HERE. It’s a love story in less than 500 words. It sounds like something from my Macon & Ava’s story. Maybe it will go in the sequel?

“He, the beautiful man of the hard way, is a challenge I am sometimes convinced I can’t meet. Even after all these years. Today, in a quiet moment in the midst of a busy day, I thought about the way his eyes hold mine. There has been fire and light for me in his eyes – for me, for as long as I can remember. Me. His fierceness lights me from the inside out with just one look.”

Read the rest, here.

New Bern NC, flash fiction, love story, love, romance, Elaina Avalos

You can read my short story, called “It Looks Like This,” HERE!

Aaron & Annie – A Short Story

Washington DC, brownstone, DC, Layfette Park, The DistrictTonight, I sat at my desk in the front bedroom, facing North Carolina Avenue. This busy southeast D.C. neighborhood somehow seems busier on autumn evenings. From my perch I watch the neighbor’s walk home from the metro or Capitol Hill. And every once in a while, I laugh at the man I share this brownstone with, when he stands in the window with take-out above his head like Lloyd Dobler’s radio. We were made for each other. We are both hopeless nerds. Every night, whether it’s take-out night, cereal at the counter, or our gourmet feasts we don’t finish until the inappropriately late hour of 10:00 PM, the front door opens, the dog jumps up from her bed at my feet, and runs towards him. I am chopped liver when that Tall Drink of Water walks in the door. Her jingle-jangly tags reveal her presence long before he sees her. He told me once that when he sees me sitting in the window, hears those dog tags run towards him, and catches a whiff of the baby’s fabric softener from our always running dryer, that he knows we are where we were always meant to be. There’s this routine to our life that is somehow never the same. Ever.

Sometimes I forget how different things were just a short time ago. Basking in the glow of the life we fought for, with contentment flooding every nook and cranny, I sit back at a comfortable distance and wonder how I ever contemplated staying tied up in a corner, living half a life. But there’s a fine line between what keeps us safe and what holds us back. A safety net sounds comforting, until you get yourself tangled up inside that net, desperate for freedom. I ached back then, deep down in my bones, to be untangled from the restraints around my wrists, legs, and heart. The longer I took to make the decision, the harder it became and the more entangled I had become.


Aaron stood in front of me, pointing in that annoying way he did, and told me that I would never cut the ties. He said it in that tone – the one he filled to the brim with steaming hot judgement and derision. He used to say that I would never have the guts to jump headlong into the fear. He said that when I would get closer and closer to walking out the door. The closer I got to leaving the safety of the life we made by accident, the meaner he got. It’s his default. He finds my weak spot. I back down. I find his weak spot and kick it real hard. That’s my default. And by the way, I kick it hard. I mean hard. He becomes distant. We live separately, together. I say I’m leaving. And we start it all over again.

Two weeks ago, we fought like it was the end of the world. He stood at the stove, cooking me dinner, his back to me. When I walked in the door from work, he’d already had the Christmas music on. When I sit alone after we fight, I wonder how I can possibly find fault with a man that cooks me dinner after he works all day, and listens to Christmas music in the middle of July. Who does that? I don’t remember now what he made for dinner that night. It doesn’t matter, I couldn’t taste it anyway. When I walked in the door from work, I dropped my stuff in a heap behind the couch. He hated it when I did that. Just like I hated the way he left his crap in the hallway after a business trip. I’m forever stubbing my toes on his luggage. My stuff in a heap, I reached for the couch to steady myself as I slipped off my heels. I rounded the corner to his hand outstretched with a glass of red wine.

An open bottle of 667 Pinot Noir sat on the counter – my favorite. I kissed him in that way – you know what I’m talking about, right? Familiar and distant all at once. In less than ten- minutes we went from mindless conversation about the day, to World War XV. It doesn’t matter now what started the fight. It never does, because it’s always the same underlying theme. My best friend says, no matter how many times I bitch about him, that I can put lipstick on a pig but it’s still a pig. I try to put some pretty makeup on us after we fight. But we’re still a disaster underneath it all.

I need this. He can’t give it. He wants that, I won’t back down until I get what I want. For years it has been the same argument. It’s the same argument dressed up in different clothes. Sometimes we both put on pearls and a pretty dress and make it look real pretty like, though. Two nights ago, in between the silences in our house all day, we stood in the kitchen of his boss’ house, his arm around me, polite conversation filling the hot, humid night. We looked good. Really good. But we aren’t good. We hadn’t talked for more than two-hours before we got there. We walked in the door like sunshine and light. Like laughing babies, apple pie and baseball. We are perfect dammit. Have I mentioned we look good? He doesn’t leave my side for very long on those nights. These couples around us that have been married for at least a decade, and sometimes two or more, think it’s because we adore each other so much. His boss’ wife hugged me as I walked out the door that night. She whispered quietly, tipsy from wine, inhibitions out the window, longing for the attention she thinks I have, “I wish James looked at me like that.” I took her hand in mine and said, with the only truth I’ve ever spoken to her, “No you don’t.” I’m certain it will be the last time I ever see her.

See, Aaron and I? We aren’t made for each other – we just don’t know how to function without each other. Yet. The night of World War XV (or was it XVI), Aaron’s exact words were, as I sat on the couch opposite of him, my head in my hands, “What exactly do you think you’re going to do without me? Where are you going to go?” His emphasis on “you,” is a not so subtle dig. He is pretty certain I can’t make it out there in that great big world, without him. Usually, those moments are followed by slightly disguised reminders of the house we live in (his), the dinners he cooks, and the safe way he is always there no matter what. He likes to think that the way we fight is just who we are. Kind of like Lucy and Ricky. Except he’s not Cuban and we aren’t married. Also, I don’t actually want this life we’ve made. Lucy seemed cool with what they had going on there. I should be thankful for this life he’s given me, right? That’s what he wants me to think anyway. I am, after all, that orphan of a girl, not quite anyone’s, who needed the big, safe arms he opened when I was stupid, in my early 20’s, and lost and confused. But between WW XV (or XVI), and dinner at his boss’ house, something clicked, once and for all.

Five years ago, on a hot, sultry night, when the dance of Spanish Moss in the oak tree in Aaron’s front yard, reminded me of what I’m made of (piss, vinegar, and truth – like every good southern woman) I packed up my life in duffel bags and boxes. I wrote Aaron a note, and left it on the coffee table, where he was sure to see it next to his beloved remote control. My Dearest Aaron – I know you don’t think I can do this without you. You may be right. But there was a time when I thought I could do anything. So I think I’ll go try that. I love you for all that you have been and done. But it’s time for us to try this thing out on our own. I can’t wait to hear where life takes you. I am forever grateful, and forever tied to you through these years. With love & gratitude, Annie


I hear from Aaron every so often. He married a sweet girl from Texas. She is nothing like me. Good news for him. They are rocking the shit out of their white-picket, 2.5 kids, and a dog, in the suburbs of Raleigh, life. Meanwhile, I’m still not brushing my hair most of the time and I don’t like pearls or lipstick. I quit my job on a regular old Tuesday. I haven’t worn heels since. Every once in a while, I call in sick to work, pack up the dog, and the baby, and wander along the Mount Vernon Trail like that’s my job. Those are the best days.

But on normal days, I wake up early, write the words that flow from my heart, pack up the kid at 7:00, and head off to the metro where I go to work at this tiny coffee place that caters to condescending millennials. I shove plates with muffins across a counter and smile as I hand them their fair-trade, coconut milk, triple-grande-latte. I smile because they think they know. But they don’t know. Someday, when they cut themselves out of the net, they’ll know. Every so often, my sweet nerdy man shows up at work in the middle of the day. He usually orders some weird Gen X thing (like coffee). When he stands with his back to me and fills his cup with cream and sugar, I wait there for the moment he turns around. Folks, there’s nothing like the moment when he turns. It flips me upside down and inside out, every time. There in that crowded room, when he searches for me, that old life was worth the work to find this one. He winks. I smile. And I’m forever grateful that I grabbed the scissors and cut myself free.