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Braking Points

Exploring the Adventure of Aging

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Braking Points–The Novel

Mystery Dwells in Every Story

At least that is my experience.  E.L. Doctorow had it right.  The story being told often surprises the author.  You round a curve, headlights on, only to discover a divergent sequence of events unfolding.  I think for me it is God’s way of humbling me.  Oh, you thought, Max was headed to Knoxville.  Where did that log truck come from?  

Writing this I realize that if you’ve met one writer, you have met one writer.  Not all, maybe not any, experience writing a short story or novel, like I do.  Some authors exercise precise control over characters, plot, setting, the whole design set before putting the story into words.

I plan, but I glimpse only a twinkling light at the end of the tunnel.   I plan, but the story finds new characters who deserve attention, perhaps more attention than I care to give them.  I plan but the most joyful experience happens when the words, images, characters carry on as my fingers tap the keys.  With Braking Points daily I printed the new pages and read them to my husband.  Together, he and I, for he is a far better editor than I am, eliminated words, corrected grammar and awkward sentences.  He was and is my greatest encourager.  Watching him react to the plot kept me going for it said at least one person on earth liked the story.  A sprinkle of magic happened in those times. We both became involved with the characters, often discussing them as if they were real.  And therein lies the mystery and the magic of writing fiction.  Truth emerges, even in make believe.  The stories around us fuel the imagination and fire up the engines to create.  So that, what we write like what we read takes us places that are as real as the air we breathe.

Let me encourage you whatever your method of prep and writing to look for the stories, listen to the stories already blooming in your mind, and WRITE them down.  Go with God and discover the mystery that is writing.

 

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Where Stories Dwell

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First, Stories Dwell in the Lives of Others

Recently, with the published copy of Braking Points In my hands, I sat down and reread it.  That may seem odd to some, but it refreshed me and it reminded me of the  bits and pieces of others’ lives lived on those pages in the lives of Max and Lily, Amanda, Millie, Sophia.  Why?  Because in listening to the stories of friends and acquaintances over scores of years and sometimes even writing them down, I had a vast treasure trove that I barely tapped writing the novel.  I woke up this morning filled with gratitude for the experiences of others that tap into my imagination and fuel my expression of those in words.  I especially was thinking of my friend Judy, who has a gift for relating every day events in ways that never cease to make me laugh.  In my early morning meandering a story, she told me over lunch last week, brought a smile to my face, then a chuckle and then diabolical as I am I started to think how I could use it in my current novel.

Second, Stories Dwell in the World Around, in the News, in Books

Beyond the political news or maybe sometimes even in the midst of that, there are stories that beg to be told.  Writers tend to be observers.  Not all are introverts who watch, listen, read and turn it all over in their heads.  Some are extroverts who jump into every fray, expounding of every issue, gathering others around them, but it is in their approach to life that stories later to be transferred into words on a page or these days words on a screen are conceived.  There are folks who scour news stories, magazine articles, and travel guides finding kernels of ideas,  ‘what if’s’, that beg to be fleshed out and written.  For me, even a turn of phrase in something I hear or read will set my writer’s wheels turning.  I recently read the following quote in my morning quiet time from a devotion by Christine Caine:

“Our race would be easy if God kept us in the “strength zone” in our lives, but instead, he consistently pushes us into our “weakness zone,” because it is in our weakness that he is made strong” Christine Caine

What caught my attention was her use of the words, “weakness zone,” which started my thoughts rolling around in my head.  With that as a starting point I began to create a story, with setting and two characters to start, a mother and a daughter–always a complex situation.  Later that day, I read on Facebook about what a Rainbow Child was, the child born after a miscarriage, stillbirth or early demise of a sibling.  And I began the construct of a story I wanted to jump into and write.

Third, Stories Dwell in Who I am, in My Faith, My Worldview, My Backstory

I read a lot, both fiction and non-fiction, and usually it doesn’t take me long to get a feel for the author’s worldview.  I learn a great deal that way, even from worldviews widely separate from mine.  I find at the core we are all more alike than different.  I find life stories similar to my own but told from a point 180 degrees out from my own.  I seek to understand others by reading a divergent crop of material.

However, when I write, I cannot adopt another worldview and have words, thoughts, conversations flow onto the page.  I do at times include characters with different worldviews.  My reading and conversations with friends, family, random folk do, I hope, allow me to portray other views truthfully and with empathy of our shared humanity.  Even then my faith in God and Jesus Christ guides me.  Above all else to love.  Want to know what books I discard quickly, books that bleed animosity and hatred onto the page, especially toward people groups.

Stories dwell everywhere.  Stories that long to be told.  In everyone there lies a true story of their life, and in everyone’s story there is also a novel to be written.  I may have started later than others but I long to tell the stories that will capture even a few readers’ hearts.  And I intend to read all the stories others write as well–at least as many as I can.

SMART MOUTHS SMART

“Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers,”
‭‭Psalm‬ ‭1:1‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Gotta say, Folks, when you slap this verse out there like The Message interpretation does, it loses a bit of its poetic nuance. Unfortunately when I am examining my life I can kinda hide amongst the poetry.

“How well God must like you— you don’t hang out at Sin Saloon, you don’t slink along Dead-End Road, you don’t go to Smart-Mouth College.”
‭‭Psalm‬ ‭1:1‬ ‭MSG‬‬

So here I am on this Saturday morning considering the day ahead. I suspect that I may mosey by Sin Saloon, have to turn around on Dead End Road, but may have some problems staying out of the company of mockers and shooting off my own Smart Mouth.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I seldom get into trouble keeping my mouth shut. Before a hundred ‘what if’ scenarios pop into your head where keeping quiet might cause disaster, I am referring to conversations–let’s say around a table, with friends. Or discussions in meetings or chats with neighbors about the neighborhood. My smart mouth, which I think of as witty, often come off as sarcastic. Go figure. Or my insight that I loudly proclaim sounds self righteous. Or my interruption to say what I have been harboring in my head shuts others out of the conversation. Or I share information that would best be unsaid.

OR I may spout off in anger crushing someone’s spirit, because of my own smart mouth.

In BRAKING POINTS Max has battled a quick temper since childhood, but his mother taught him a method for handling it. As he adjusts to having a surly teenager along for the ride, his resolve to be reasonable has its limits.
“He had won the battle, but decided it had been at a price. Winning wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Max had learned that many years before. He recited the Lord’s Prayer silently again before speaking. This time a gentler Max materialized.”

Consider the words and the time it takes to pray them–SO much better than counting to ten.

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Alaska photo credit Alex Sims

A Journey of 75,000 words begins with a Single Keystroke

imageSomeone asked me if I had a list of characters, backstories, outlines before I began writing BRAKING POINTS.  I did not.  What I had were two elderly characters based in part on my father and mother-in-law, a trunk full of true episodes involving road trips, some mine, some others, including more than one from my in-laws, Maurice and Dorothy.

One story told over and over again happened in the early stages of Dorothy’s Alzheimers.  They were traveling from Oklahoma to Florida where they had a park home in New Port Richey.  Dorothy had curled up in the back seat, which she often did, and fallen asleep.  Maurice stopped for gas in Mississippi, filled the tank, and had gone inside to pay, when Dorothy woke up.  She proceeded into the station to use the facilities.  Somehow he failed to see her.  So climbing back in the car, he glanced in the backseat,  saw her blanket and assumed she was still curled up asleep.  In his defense, Dorothy was a slightly built 4’10” woman who slept all scrunched up.  Off he went.

A hundred miles down the road–how far he actually got is debatable since stories like this one lend themselves to hyperbole–when he stopped so they could eat, he discovered she was missing.  Since this was before cell phones, he laid the pedal to the metal, and headed back to the place he last glimpsed her for sure–asleep in the backseat.  No telling what had gone on back at the station, those details are sketchy, but he found her sitting on a bench out front.

“Dorothy, why did you get out of the car without telling me.”

“I had to pee.”

He apologized to the station attendant who had been keeping an eye on her–they were ready to call the local authorities if he did not return soon.  Thankfully, she was fine.  She looked at the attendant and said, “see I told you, he’d be back.”

Maurice escorted her to the passenger side of the car, got her settled and kept one eye on her the remainder of the drive.

My mother-in-law drifted away from us over the next several years, but Maurice stayed the course.  So when I started Braking Points I found myself on an incredible journey with Max and Lily.  While on that excursion I wrote around 1500 words a day but they were basically unplanned.  In my imagination, I was following along observing and recording it.  Amanda popped up at one of the early stops and later Sophia joined the trip.  Every day I came to the computer excited to find out what happened next? where are we going? who are we going to meet?

A friend and fellow author read the book in its raw form and said ‘you need to follow this one and find Olivia.’

If you want to know who Olivia is, you gotta read BRAKING POINTS.  Just Saying….

 

Braking Points–Epilogue

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Epilogue

Early winter in southwestern Kentucky comes in fits and starts with alternating icy winds and snow showers mixed with warming trends of various lengths. Sun, one day, might be followed by steel gray skies the next. Max found the warm days a respite for his bones and joints. He found if he dressed appropriately—his granddaughter Allison called it layering—he could sit outside in his rocker in the afternoons. Most days he’d carry his Bible outside with him. After the trip to the ocean he’d started going to church again. Ryan had stayed through the summer and then Millie and Andrew began taking turns picking him up and carrying him in to town church on Sundays. The other stayed at the house with Lily. Now he supposed they’d all be going together.

He’d been foolish to have stayed away so long. Worship in the presence of other believers reinforced the foundations of his life. He’d learned that as a boy, practiced it as best he could with his own family, succeeded at times, failed at others but even now there it was like the benediction, “May the Grace of God, the Love of Christ Jesus our Lord and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit go with you.”

With reluctance he glanced at the empty rocker next to him and then down at the two envelopes in his lap. Millie would be by shortly to take them to the post office. Peggy and Millie had taken care of the majority of the thank you notes, but he’d wanted to write these two, one to Sophia Winchester and the other to Amanda Carmichael. Both wrote often—Amanda suggested he get a computer so they could e-mail; He chuckled—that wasn’t going to happen—and Sophia called Millie frequently. Sophia plowed along like always, clearing the path for others. Amanda’s letters delighted him; they were mixtures of youth and maturity. She had started attending church with her parents. But was quick to add, “Now don’t go praying for me or anything”, as if she could stop him.

The envelopes were unsealed. Max reached into his jacket pocket and extracted two color photos, one for each envelope. The faces in the snapshot smiled up at him, the Carnes family—all grown up—framed by sea grass with the Atlantic Ocean as a backdrop. In the center sat Lily a half smile on her face wearing the blue outfit with white flowers, hat and all and next to Lily sat “Greta” her hand over Lily’s.

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Open Letter to Readers of Braking Points

Dear Readers,

In a few minutes I will post the Epilogue to BRAKING POINTS. I wanted to take this opportunity to thank those who have followed Max, Lily, Amanda, and Sophia’s journey. I wrote the novel in 2004-2005, while Terry and I were living in Pembroke, KY in Christian County. Max and Lily are based in part on my mother and father-in-law, Dorothy and Maurice Kisler. Dorothy had Alzheimer’s disease and Maurice chose, in fact refused all other options, to become her primary caretaker. Dorothy died November 21, 2004 at age 86 in her home with her two sons, her daughter Kaye preceded her in death in August 1987, and her husband Maurice at her side. Maurice lived to the age of 93, dying in his home during a horrible snowstorm February 7, 2011 in Tulsa with his eldest son, Maurice Lee by his side. On December 6th that same year, my mother, Ada Marie Ivy died at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa after developing pancreatitis and pneumonia. My mom was 89 years old and still mentally sharp right up to slipping into a coma hours before her death.

We often hear of “coming of age” stories, but I prefer to write “coming of OLD age” stories with multi-generational layers of characters, like the Carnes Family. My world owes so much to the generation that raised us and my world would not be complete without my children and grandchildren. I love having friends who are younger and older so much of the material I write about comes from their stories. I love that God allows me to pursue my passion which is writing and that He is my ever present friend, companion and muse. I told Terry when I was writing BRAKING POINTS and reading him segments daily that I could hardly wait to get to the keyboard after a day at work, so I could see what Max and his entourage were up to. I wasn’t even sure when it would end, but then I knew as I wrote Chapter 27.

Again I am grateful to those of you who have read this book in serial form for the past month. I would appreciate comments, questions, and suggestions. And as I promised, as soon as I publish this, I will publish the epilogue. You can comment on the website or on Facebook, but please take just a moment to do so.
Blessings on you all and remember if you get a head full of steam over something, say the Lord’s Prayer before responding, better than counting to ten.

Love to you all,
Carolyn

Braking Points–Chapter Twenty-Seven

cellChapter Twenty-Seven
Greenville, South Carolina

The promise to Amanda haunted Max as he leaned on the walking stick his children had purchased him. They had settled him on a bench in a shopping mall in Greenville, while Barry circled the parking lot looking for a place to park. Ryan, Andrew, Millie and Sharon stood several paces away from him feigning interest in the display at Belk’s. Peggy and Davis had opted to stay with Lily while the remaining siblings with their spouses took Dad to the mall for exercise and lunch. So far the only exercise he’d had involved a few steps on the sidewalk and few more to the bench.

Since his discharge from the hospital in Asheville and his arrival in Greenville, his children’s treatment of him reminded him of when they were toddlers and he was boss. At first the solicitous management had affirmed a long held opinion of his that Lily had raised them well. That opinion faded quickly when he noticed their tendency to huddle together in quiet serious conversations, giving him quick nervous glances, faking quick smiles when he caught them, but not including him in the discussions.

The behavior heightened his alertness, prompted an extravagant stream of “Our Father’s”, and left his tongue sore from biting it. Lily had raised them to be kind, to be sure; so to the contrary their conspiratorial tendencies had the Carnes’ stamp all over them. Acting as if he were dumb to all the scheming strained his natural inclination to butt heads with them, figuratively at least. Max decided he’d force them to speak and make them sweat when they did. So he sat on the bench, waiting them out with the promise he’d made to Lily, Amanda and himself turning uncomfortably in his head. In his gut, he knew whatever his kids were plotting threatened that vow.

*

Lily’s escape attempt prompted better security measures, but Peggy agreed with both Millie and Sharon that Lily’s current state did not seem to warrant the enhanced safe guards. Lily, in a matter of a few days, had slipped further away. Atrophy diminished her physically so she could not walk without assistance. Mentally, well, Peggy thought ‘at least she no longer confuses me with Grandmother Stanton.’ Lily’s eyes when not closed registered only the barest of responses, the majority defensive. When spoken to, she would search all directions, but no recognition crossed her face; localization of sound existed no longer though she still startled to loud sounds and to touch.

Millie confided to Andrew on the phone on the day their Dad was being released from the hospital her concern that Lily might have had a stroke. She explained that since Lily’s return from her brief disappearance, the only sounds she made resembled gibberish, lacking even the inflection of speech; they were mere guttural murmurings, primitive, animalistic vocalizations.

The mornings took both Millie and Sharon and now that she had arrived Peggy to dress Lily and get her moving. Once in the chair, she sat. In her hand she clutched the aged photograph which had been the impetus for the journey to the ocean. Her fingers curled around it. Efforts to take it from her created such agitation that no one tried anymore. Not one of them had seen her look at it, but like a security blanket it calmed her.

Once in the chair, she seldom moved except for the periodic attempts to take her to the bathroom or to feed her. She showed little interest in food and even less with feeding herself. Trying to coax her into opening her mouth reminded Millie, to whom the job fell most of the time, of her children as babies. Somehow “open the garage door, here comes another truck” didn’t seem appropriate and frankly didn’t work, because Millie had resorted to trying it with no success. Peggy along with the others noticed that the food Lily did allow past her lips stayed in her mouth until someone prodded her to chew and swallow. Drinks of water frequently dribbled down her chin and onto her clothing, leaving her soaked and in need of a change of clothes. The towel they had resorted to tying around her neck like a bib provided some protection, but magnified her infirmity.

Peggy chose the couch directly across from her mother who slept again, Lily’s head awkwardly dangled on her towel draped chest and her toothless mouth wide open—attempts to insert her dentures had proved how strong an emaciated but determined person could be. Drool seeped from the corner of her gaping mouth, caking on her cheek before reaching the towel. Peggy had dabbed at it a couple of times before retreating to the couch in surrender to the perpetual drip. She could hear the baseball game, Davis was watching on TV in the adjacent den. Her own eyes closed but not in sleep.

At a mall somewhere in Greenville, her brothers were determined to explain to Max the importance of getting back to Kentucky as soon as possible. Max hadn’t fooled her at all; his grim face as they prepared to leave convinced Peggy that he was aware of their planning behind his back. What didn’t make sense to her was his silence about it. That pattern of behavior might suit some men of 87 years, but her Dad was not one to hold his tongue or allow others to set his course. Rising from the couch she wiped Lily’s mouth and chin once more, noticing the dampness was chapping her mother’s face. She headed to the bathroom to prepare a warm washcloth and get some moisturizer for repair, sighing as she went. I’d rather be cleaning up drool than telling Dad his driving days and his road trip to the beach are finished.

After cleaning her Mom’s face, Peggy stared down at the photograph. The edges were barely visible from her vantage point and the vise like grip her mother maintained on the photo unabated. She knew the scene by heart but only from the photograph. She remembered not one whit of the trip. There she was in her Daddy’s arms. Her little face beamed and was so like her daughter Kaitlyn’s at about the same age that it made her heart lurch—would Kaitlyn and Rob one day be yanking Davis or her car keys and shutting down privileges that she thought of as rights.

She must have been somewhere near 18 months old in that photo. Her Dad thought it was around 1960, but that was unlikely since she was born in 1957—most likely it was 1959. Her two older brothers remembered the trip; Ryan was a teenager and Barry around nine. Even Andrew only 4 years her senior recalled snatches of the sand and the waves, but Peggy remembered nothing. Dad seemed to think they’d made several trips to the same beach, but Peggy honestly could not remember a one. There had been trips to the mountains and one to Florida, but not to the particular spot in the picture—Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina.

Peggy rubbed her Mother’s shoulders gently still looking at her clutched hand with the tattered picture. How much farther could it be? A few hours at most and even if they took a couple of days what would it matter? Of course, convincing her stubborn brothers would take some doing.
*
The drive back from the mall after lunch reminded Ryan of the night his Dad had been rousted from his bed in sub-freezing weather to rescue Ryan and two of his buddies after a near miss with a neighbor’s cow—the cow had no business being in the middle of the road—the boys slid down an embankment burying Ryan’s car in fresh snow. With no cell phones available back then, the three had done what most folks did when stranded; they’d walked to the nearest house and called for help.

When Max arrived to pick them up, he’d thanked the neighbors and motioned the boys toward the car. He didn’t utter a word to any of them. Even Ryan’s normally rowdy pals had the good sense to make the ride in silence departing with meek falsetto whispers “thank you, Mr. Carnes”. Ryan saw from the corner of his eye the set of the mouth and jaw he’d seen that night, his Dad’s face had aged but the expression was timeless.

That night—must have been 1961—his Dad didn’t speak until they reached the sight of the accident, there the path of Ryan’s tire tracks, his attempt to stop, the swerve and finally his car’s resting place with the nose buried in the snow provided a glaring indictment in his Dad’s headlights. They’d been goofing off. Ryan had prayed it wouldn’t be so obvious, a prayer that went unanswered.

For a long moment, Max just sat with his head against the steering wheel, then he said, “Son, you got your car keys?”

Ryan remembered the humiliation he felt digging in his jacket and pants pockets for the keys, before realizing he had failed to pull them from the ignition.

“I, I must have left them in the car.”

His Dad had opened the door and moving sideways like a crab on ice inched down the embankment to the car, struggled with the already frozen door until it opened, reached in and yanked out the keys, depositing them in his pocket. They used a tractor to pull the car out the next day but it had been three weeks before Ryan saw the keys again.

His Dad’s Buick keys now rested in his pocket. Ryan tried comforting himself with the purpose; they were protecting their parents not punishing them, but the dismal silence in the van, marked especially by the absence of Millie’s lively voice, and the set of his father’s jaw argued the latter. For the first time in his whole life, he grasped the meaning of ‘this is going to hurt me more that it is you’. The greatest pain stemmed from the acknowledgement that his strong forceful father no longer was invincible. Ryan grimly conceded time had caught up with his Dad and was winning.

The other realization built on that foundation was that not a one of them could halt that stern measure; the relentless march of seconds, minutes, and hours became years then decades. Ryan’s ruminations joined a chorus in the stillness; he sensed a strange cacophony of thought that screamed in the silence. He caught Andrew’s eye in the rear view mirror and held it for a long moment; it took only a heartbeat to recognize the unity of their thoughts, the natural harmony of blood. Andrew averted his eyes first, but there was no denying the understanding that had passed between the brothers. Barry sitting opposite Andrew caught the exchange and nodded in affirmation.

In unison the Carnes brothers chuckled out loud. Max turned and looked at each of them, his brow furrowed in reproach and them smiled. Millie and Sharon giggled nervously from the back, baffled.

Ryan spoke, “Dad, how about we make one more stop on this trip—as a family?”

Max couldn’t speak; tears welled up in his eyes.

“That would be real nice, Son,” he paused before adding ruefully, “It’s going to be interesting watching you three sell this to your sister.”

The van erupted with laughter.

*
Amanda took off her shoes and dumped them and the contents of her canvas bag into the plastic container at airport security. Her mother and Granny Nan cleared and were retrieving their purses and shoes. She waved at them before crossing the metal detector portal.

The sound of the alarm startled her and the security officer asked her to empty her pockets. What in the world? Reaching into the pockets of her jacket, her fingers touched a familiar object. Rats! Sophia had asked her to return Max’s cell phone when she saw him and she had forgotten. Pulling it out, she handed it to the official and stepped back through the door to try again.

Stepping through a second time she heard a familiar signal of another kind, but it was no less startling than the alarm. It was the William Tell Overture.

Braking Points–Chapter Twenty-Five

angry kidChapter Twenty-Five
Ashville, North Carolina

Andrew poked his head in at the door of his Dad’s room. Max was sitting in a chair next to the bed his head tilted onto his shoulder napping. Ryan sprawled out on the only other chair in the small room, his head hanging backwards and his mouth slightly open, snoring. Andrew’s grin preceded him into the room but the sight of his brother and father widened it. They looked like bookends. He tapped Ryan gently on his shoulder, shushing him with his forefinger to his lips when he started at the touch. He waited while Ryan shook off his drowsiness before whispering.

“They found Mom. She’s okay, but very confused.

The brothers regarded each other for a moment then slapped hands at the shared good news. Ryan pulled himself to a standing position, motioning Andrew toward the hall. Max stirred, but continued to nap.

“Let’s get a cup of coffee.” Ryan said once the door closed. Andrew nodded. Turning together, Ryan reached across put his arm across Andrew’s shoulders and gave him a squeeze. The action flustered Andrew. He looked quizzically at his older brother.

“Remember when we used to call you Andrew the Kangaroo?”

“Do I? And I’d come flying into you or Barry only to wind up with a bloody nose. You know I can’t figure out why on earth that made me so mad.”

“Me, either. It made Momma so mad at the lot of us that she would spank us all. You should have seen your face. Did you ever get hot! After you got to be about ten, we could not make you mad with it anymore. Ruined our fun.”

“That’s after Daddy had his little talk with me.”

Ryan raised his eyebrows, his interest peaked.

“According to him, he was a real hot head growing up.”

“DAD? You have to be kidding! Momma, maybe, but not Dad. I don’t remember him ever raising his voice, not that he spared the paddling, but anger, couldn’t be so.”

“That’s what I thought, but he shared the secret Grandma Carnes shared with him.” Andrew paused and let Ryan’s curiosity crest.

“Which was . . .?”

“The Lord’s Prayer. That’s the secret formula to cooling off before reacting.”

“You mean, ‘Our Father who art in heaven. . .’ that Lord’s Prayer?”

“The same—you say it before blowing your cool and usually you don’t”

Ryan hooted.

“Barry and I worked overtime trying to get you riled up. We decided you’d had some kind of “religious experience”. He paused mid stride and grinned at Andrew before chortling, “I guess you had—in a way.”

The brothers laughed and exchanged the traditional male shoulder slaps before continuing down the hall.

Braking Points–Chapter Twenty-Six

grandsChapter Twenty-Six
Asheville, North Carolina

“Lying out there by the highway, I thought I might die. Those men, Ray and Dave, especially Ray, treated me like, like, well, you know.”

Max watched as Amanda’s eyes now filled with moisture briefly locked with his before returning to her lap. They had been sitting in a lounge area talking about little more than the weather and social trivia for several moments, before Amanda or Max dared to venture deeper. Occasionally a hospital staffer, visitor, or another patient wandered into the area giving the unlikely pair a questioning expression, but no one disturbed them. Neither Max nor Amanda noticed. The horror of her experience in the company of Dave and Ray tumbled out like a basket that had been upended, the contents dispersing in all directions and the retrieval without order or sequence.

“Did they tell you, the police or Sophia, did they tell you, those guys even peed on me?” Amanda shuddered, her voice broke with a sob and she took a couple of breaths trying to regain control. The vulgarity of the men’s actions and hearing a fourteen year old child speak them grated on Max’s sensibilities. He wanted to tell her to stop, wait a bit, but he wasn’t sure whether that would be for his sake or hers, so Max held his tongue and offered her a Kleenex from the cardboard container on the table. She took it, wiped her eyes and managed a wee smile which Max received as a token of gratitude.

“You thought you might die?”

He heard all she said and concealed his aversion to the graphic images brought up by her bluntness, but he focused on her first statement. The time Amanda had been a part of Lily and his journey had been short, Max sensed the child had self-destructive notions. That knowledge demanded he prompt her to elaborate. She did not pull back as he feared.

“Yes, I panicked when Dean, Mr. Bell, got to me. He and his wife—oh, and their dog found me. I thought Dave and Ray had come back to make sure I wasn’t going to tell anyone what happened.” Amanda paused.

“So, you didn’t want to die after all?” The probe seemed cruel to Max even as the words exited his mouth, but there they were and it was too late to retract them. It was Amanda’s turn to grimace.

“You knew?”

“Not at first, but after a while. Of course, after I talked to your grandmother, all the little clues became even more obvious. Truth is, Amanda, I didn’t know what to do to help you except get you home and let them deal with you. I hoped you’d open up, but, well, you literally slam doors and lock them.”

He tried to make the last of his words lighter, less forlorn, and she humored him with a little laugh, a smile and an Amanda style retort.

“If you’d been traveling at regular speeds on regular roads, I might be dead right now.” The bantering felt good to Amanda and made her dark words easier on the emotional palate.

“But no, we kept stopping every few miles right up to right now. Every one of those stops reminded me of the “time outs” my mom used to discipline me when I was a kid.”

Max smirked to himself at the words “a kid”, but decided an interjection would be untimely. He savored the gentleness of the words, “my Mom” evidence that healing was taking place. Without words, within minutes of her arrival even, Max sensed a difference in Amanda’s attitude about herself and her family.

“I hated all the stops. They blocked my plan, and not only that but they also were painful. Every stop fractured me in one way or another. Lily thinking I was Greta and then finding out what happened to Greta. I liked Lily thinking I was her brave sister but I hated it too. When I saw the ambulance speed by the truck on the interstate, I thought something happened to Lily. It’s crazy, but I thought, oh, no it’s my sister.”

Max sensed the tears in his own eyes now. He turned his head upward to stare at the ceiling. If Amanda noticed she didn’t say. At least she wasn’t offended. Perhaps she understood, maybe better than anyone else. Amanda kept talking.

“Sophia made me so mad, but darn it she could be so much fun, too. I would get mad at myself that there were times when I actually was having a good time. Greta’s story hurt me but it caused me to question a lot of my choices and after I heard my own story it helped me understand how hard choices can be. Without Greta’s story I might have closed my ears to what my Mom shared. Somehow Greta’s life showed me how little I knew about the people I . . . love. It all confused me, but it wasn’t until I tried to get away from Ray and Dave that I realized how much I wanted to live. ”

“All those stops annoyed me, too, Amanda.”

“They did?”

“Yes, I had planned to take our time, but I hadn’t planned that at three weeks out we’d only make Asheville, unless we were on our way back home. I also didn’t plan to be traveling with a runaway and a hospital chaplain. Pretty soon the interruptions got to be as important to a journey as the miles we covered. I realized that I have resented intrusions into my plans all my life. Lily’s illness interrupted these last years of our life together, I resented that one most of all, but I’m not angry about that anymore.”

“You were angry—?”

Max leveled his face with hers considering his words before speaking.
“I have been angry with God, I suppose. Couldn’t admit it even to myself, but that’s the truth of it. This trip taught a stubborn old man how important it is to let others into Lily’s life and not keep her shielded from people. I thought I was doing right by her, but I was keeping her home more to prevent me from being embarrassed in public. I got to thinking I was the only one who could possibly care for my demented old wife. Little by little on this trip, you, Sophia, and now my kids have watched over and cared for Lily. In the last week or so—I’m losing track of time—I haven’t done a thing for her and she’s fine. I was like an old gander all puffed up with self-importance and honking at any one who got close.”

“You wouldn’t have read the letters either. You wouldn’t have known what really happened.”

“What?”
“The letters between Lily and Greta—you wouldn’t have read them if Lily’s mind had stayed on track. You wouldn’t have known the whole story and . . .”

“I would never have known how much I had failed Lily.”

Amanda wanted to respond. She wanted to tell him how much those letters, Greta’s story, had meant to her, how close her own story was to Olivia’s. The two seemed almost parallel. Late yesterday after the revelation in the State Police conference room, Amanda had talked for a long time with her Dad on the phone. That conversation left no doubt in her mind that she was his daughter and he would move heaven and earth to protect and care for her. If anything happened to her Mom, Paul Carmichael’s love for Amanda would not be disturbed. She wanted to reassure Max. In her heart she knew that Joel Levin had felt the same depth of fatherhood for Olivia, but she remained silent allowing Max to complete his thoughts.

“I spent a lot of time praying after I read those letters, but I couldn’t forgive myself. I wanted to talk to Lily about them. Telling you was selfish on my part. You became my confessor.”

“You mean like a priest?”

“Yes, just like that.”

“Thank you.”

“For what?”

She thought for a moment before answering.

“First, for telling me the story, I know it was hard to do, but as it turned out it was just what I needed to hear. Granny Nan said she had told you a little about my Mom’s story and all that . . .” Amanda hesitated unable to tell the story herself just yet. “ And for trusting me.”
Amanda diverted her eyes and drew a deep breath, “I don’t deserve your trust.” From her jeans’ pocket she pulled the crumpled fifty, handing it to him. Max straightened it out, cocked his head sideways and waited. Amanda took another breath.

“I wasn’t trustworthy. I lifted that fifty from the money you gave me to pay for the clothes—back in Cookeville.” With her head lowered she motioned in a generally westward direction. “Obviously, I didn’t trust you at all back then and every time I started to something else would happen. I wanted money for a getaway.” Her head popped up and she met his eyes, half expecting to see disappointment, but finding instead bewilderment.

“You stole this fifty in Cookeville?”

“Yes, and I am returning it now. I’m sorry.”

Max shook his head.

“Well, I didn’t miss it at all, but stealing is just plain wrong. Didn’t your folks teach you that?” The sternness in his voice reminded her of her first encounter with Max.

“Yes.” Her voice trembled. She had hoped he wouldn’t be mad, but she deserved it. Swinging her head away Amanda stared out the window hoping Max wouldn’t see the new tears forming in her eyes. He reached out and took her hand in his and held it tenderly until she turned back toward him.

“Truth is, Amanda, we’ve all done things that are just plain wrong. I wouldn’t be much of a Christian if I failed to forgive you. I need forgiveness everyday myself.”

Amanda wiped her face with the back of her free hand, managing a smile, “Thanks, Max,” Fresh tears formed, her lip trembled, and without another thought she reached out and hugged him. Blubbering into his shoulder, she could not see nor feel his tears falling on her head. “I’m going to miss you and Miss Lily . . . “then a giggle emerged through the sobs as she added, “And even bossy old Sophia.”

Max laughed deeply.

“You know whenever I need a laugh, I will just remember Sophia chasing you down in the church parking lot. You running in those crazy shoes and Sophia right on your heels. I hope you learned something from that.”

“Yeah, giants can run fast!” Her giggling stopped and she released Max to sit back. “Sophia stayed with me in Clyde until my Mom and grandmother got there. She was great.”

A nurse peeked around the corner.

“Mr. Carnes, do you feel like walking back to your room now? We don’t want to disappoint your doctor or delay your discharge, do we?”
“Just a couple more minutes, please.”

“Yeah,” Amanda responded, “I have to leave anyway.”

“Okay, I will be right back.” The nurse disappeared.

“Keep in touch,” Max said to her retreating form.

“What are you going to do from here?” Amanda asked.

“Same as when I started. I haven’t changed the plan; this is just another one of those minor delays. I am taking Lily to the ocean.” The tears were gone replaced by his familiar twinkle.

“Send me a picture and make sure Lily wears that great outfit we got in Cookeville.” She leaned over and kissed his cheek as she rose to leave.

“You can count on it.” Max said.

Amanda clutched at his hand, squeezing it as they made eye contact, hers were bright, his rheumy, but both sets were resolute. He clasped his free hand over hers as she held on tightly. They shook to seal the pact. At the door Amanda turned, smiled and gave a little wave before exiting. It stretched his recall to see the grungy smart mouthed girl with cotton candy hair in the young woman at the door.

“Promise?” she mouthed.

“Promise!” he responded, raising his right hand.

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