This story is by Victoria M. Jurgens and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I settle Little Monster against my youngest daughter’s coffee cup and sit down to await her arrival from University. It shouldn’t be long now. Little Monster looks at me with his single blue button eye as if to ask “Remember?”
My mind wanders to the day I received Little Monster.
It was the same day my husband left at 4 a.m.
I had a fresh cup of coffee and was examining the bills that were due. No automatic payment plan works when there is no steady income. Next, I open my daytimer. Oh boy, I’m screwed! I can remember thinking. Three research essays worth 50 percent of that class’ marks, two exams worth 40 percent each, and a framework for my Master’s thesis all due in a fortnight; the end of the University semester. Fourteen days!
Sheesh, as if that wasn’t enough! The girls’ final game of the season was happening on the weekend. Skipping that game was not an option. I was the coach and we had a good chance of winning. To top it off, two birthday cakes had to be baked and iced before the big game. “Mom, you make the best cakes,” the girls had insisted.
At least they agreed to blow out the candles on the same day even though they were born 2 years and 3 days apart. Plus, they agreed to wait to have a birthday party until after their Dad came back from his first stint working at the mine up North.
At 5 a.m. our oldest son tearfully announces that his brand-new bike was stolen; he had bought that bike with his own money. A bolt-cutting thief left the chain behind. Our son calms down when I promise to buy him a new bike. We hop in the car; I drive him around his paper route.
Where the money was coming from I had no idea! There was no insurance for a bike being stolen and a hundred bucks might have well been a thousand or a million. It didn’t matter. The money was already stretched like a rubber band that is strained to the max around an expanding pile of bills.
“God, I miss my husband,” I whispered aloud; I’m still immersed in the past.
My husband going to work in the mines up north was our only option, but it would be four weeks until the first paycheque. Not soon enough, but finally, we would be able to stop juggling bills! It would take literally months and months to catch up. To scrape enough money together to pay rent, we juggled payments or waited until bills doubled up to pay them. We bought macaroni in the five pound box and the biggest size peanut butter. Sure, my student loan covered University tuition and books, nothing else. No money for gas to get to University, much less a bike. Oh, I could hardly wait for us to have money again despite the cost, the tradeoff.
There would be no Father and no Husband in our home for three weeks at a time. No Dad for the kids to hug or play with or vice versa. No Dad to tuck them into bed.
The kids didn’t see him cry with homesickness but I heard it. Every second night when his break was early enough so he could phone prior to bedtime. Skype or other face-to-face software was in the future. He kept his voice even and strong for the kids, but it cracked when we spoke.
Wow, I thought as I got myself another cup of coffee, I’m ahead of myself. That tough day still had lots of day left.
Next event: the usual hustle and bustle and last minute drama of finding book bags and homework left on the counter and packing lunches. I left for University and the kids walked across the street to school. Sometime later that day, I got a call from the school about our youngest son. “Please come to the Principal’s office.” No other explanation.
Sheesh, does that have to happen too? I had asked myself. His father is way better at handling those things and I have enough on my plate as it is. Self-pity wraps itself around my psyche, its tendrils infiltrating neurons. My shoulders and ears touch.
It is our oldest daughter’s turn to help with supper. “Dad’s burgers are way better. You should wait for Dad to get home so he can make burgers”. I nearly snap her head off as I remind her “ball practice starts in forty-five minutes. Get moving!”
Finally, it is post-practice; homework is being done. I shut the TV off for the umpteenth time and hear complaints of no clean clothes.
The end of my patience and a very long day collide.
“Come here,” I yell, going to the laundry room. “Here’s the soap. Dump it in. Then the clothes. Close the lid. Turn the machine on like this. Don’t throw the whites in with the darks.”
It’s eleven p.m. and the last load of laundry is put away. The kids have been in bed for an hour. I’m in my bed, crying.
Suddenly our youngest daughter appears at my side. She hands me Little Monster saying “Aunty Nessa gave me two Monsters a big one and a little one. The big one is for cuddling and the little one is for when things get tough. You need it Mom. I don’t have anything tough – but you do. Take it. Keep it tucked in close to you. It helps. Mom, try it. Just give it back when you’re done.”
I remember how I cried harder after I tucked our youngest back into bed. A kid. She was just an eight-year old kid! A kid full of wisdom. From that day on Little Monster stayed close, in my purse, or pocket or on my desk.
The next morning, during my drive to University, the word RETSNOM pops into my brain. That moment in time is crystal clear as I think about our last visit to my sister Vanessa’s place. We had to drive through Wakaw to get there and the kids were laughing and saying that Wakaw is spelled the same backwards and forwards. Then the carful tried to outdo each other saying words backwards. A smile exercises my face.
RETSNOM. That describes my quagmire. It sounds like a lot of snot. So apropos for a woman who had to blow her nose from crying so much. Anyway, feeling sorry for myself is no longer an option; I start thinking of what I could do to help myself instead.
Oh sure, others told me not to try so hard. “Just get a passing grade and you’ll be fine.” “After your first job, no-one looks at your marks anyway,” they’d say. Little did they know that advice was ‘less-than-helpful’. No-one outside of my husband knew how I had worked my butt off, just to earn a 51 percent in physiology. There was no way this mom was going to chance ‘slacking off’ for any class. I had no idea where slacking off would land me and I needed every mark I could get, to get that magical 75 percent for a Master’s Degree.
Suddenly realization dawns! Essays are my ‘time to shine’. Even though it is hard to write quickly, especially under pressure, I could use explanations. I pretty much understand the concepts. Instantly, questions and advice fire rapidly. Why be so uptight? It’s your forte, isn’t it? Set out a schedule. Stick to it. Little Monster stays close.
The door opens; instantly it is the present. The framed Master’s Degree glints in the light as I go to hug our youngest. We go into the kitchen. “My Little Monster!” she squeals and giggles as we sit down. “I thought I lost it.”
“I found Little Monster stuck behind your dresser and set it aside for just this moment. It reminded me of RETSNOM.”
“Ya, I know about your RETSNOM,” says our daughter, dryly.
I look into her eyes and state, “There’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about. I remember seeing you kids watch me with that funny look in your eyes and often thought you must think I was ‘kinda dumb’ and that was why I had to study so much and not so much that University was tough. Now, after three-and-a-half months tell me the truth. How’s University?”
“Well I’m still taking my best friend to counselling. I’m so mad that rapist isn’t caught yet. My basketball is starting right after Christmas at exactly the same time as final exams start. To top it off, I now have to write a three-thousand word essay and send it off to keep my scholarship. It’s due on the same day as my first exam!”
“Sounds very much like you need Little Monster.”
“I sure do. Thanks for finding him Mom.”
“RETSNOM,” we say in unison.