My husband, son, and I lived in the same community as his ex-wife and two daughters. Since the girls’ mother and I were friends, the girls freely walked to our house whenever they felt like it. My son teased them, as boys do; they shrieked and retaliated, as girls do. Although there was often tension between the girls and their father, when he wasn’t around, the girls, my son, and I had lots of fun—sort of like when the cat’s away the mice will play.
The call came midday, without warning, from a neighbor. My husband’s ex-wife was having a psychotic break, would I come get her daughters right away. This wasn’t her first episode, but it was the first the girls had witnessed in its entirety. When I arrived, instead of our usual hugs and chatter, they stood, waiting for me--two white-faced frightened children—tightly clutching each other’s hands. I hugged their stiff bodies, reassuring them as best I could that their mother would be okay. She had had previous episodes and recovered, but in the meantime, they’d be staying with me and their father.
In May 1983 my mother was diagnosed with a malignant tumor on her pancreas. After her surgery, when we talked on the phone, she was so vitriolic I refused to visit her. Three of her sisters, as well as my sister, kept calling, telling me, as usual, my mother didn’t mean what she said. Finally, tired of trying to explain why I didn’t want to visit, I gave up and took the train from Delaware to New York, wondering how my mother would treat me. On the way to the hospital, I stopped at a bookstore and bought a beautiful collection of folk tales. If we had trouble talking, I thought it would be nice to read a couple of stories, or so I hoped.
In 2017, in Santa Fe, I was hiking up a steep incline, almost to the top of the mountain, when I felt a surge of energy, like a bolt of lightning, charge through me, starting with my feet, moving up and out the top of my head. Dumbstruck, unable to move, I stood in the path, wondering what the hell just happened. A man and his dog soon appeared. The man asked if I was okay. I couldn’t speak but I motioned for them to walk past me. The man did, but his dog, big and shaggy, stopped and began to gently nuzzle me, as if it wanted to do what it could to comfort me.
Stories inspired by world tales to challenge and comfort.