вторник, 28 августа 2012 г.

Sweeping with the Enemy

By Cathi LaMarche

Don't find fault. Find a remedy.
~Henry Ford

Forget the five teenage stepdaughters I had acquired -- it was my new husband's adopted dog that frightened me. As Michael and I settled into married life, his Australian Shepherd became increasingly unsettled. Each time Michael snuggled up to me, Frodo emitted a visceral growl from the depths of his belly, warning me that he wasn't keen on sharing his master's affections.
"Don't worry. He'll warm up to you in no time," Michael assured me. But as Frodo lowered his shoulders, raised his hackles, and jostled between us, I remained skeptical.

"He just needs time to adjust." Michael stroked Frodo's head, and the dog stopped growling.

I pointed to my Collie who lay on the floor nearby. Dexter's tail thumped and his eyes gleamed. "Dexter's adjusted just fine. You don't hear him growling at anyone."

"Well," Michael said, "you can hardly compare the two. Dexter... well... he's just Dexter. Now Frodo, he's a guard dog. A real protector. Soon you'll be thankful he's here, keeping you safe."

A few days later, Frodo cornered me in the laundry room with his teeth bared. Thankful he's here? Keeping me safe? I would rather have taken my chances with an armed intruder, I thought, as I shielded my body with the laundry basket and jockeyed toward the door. Frodo followed me to the bedroom and stood nearby as I folded the laundry. Every few seconds, a grumble of displeasure traveled the length of the room.

"What do you mean Frodo bit you?" Michael asked when he returned home from work.

"Just what I said. I was folding the kitchen towels, and he jumped up and bit me."

Frodo tucked his head into Michael's lap. The dog's stubby tail fluttered like a hummingbird while he licked Michael's hand. "I can't imagine Frodo biting anyone. Did you do anything to provoke him?"

I shot up from my chair. "So you're blaming me?"

Michael quickly backpedaled. "I'm sorry. It's just not like Frodo to bite."

Frodo inched his way toward me with his head bowed in submission.

"See," Michael said. "He's fine. Go ahead and pet him. Look, he's even wagging his tail."

My hands remained plastered to my sides. "Yeah, and a rattler shakes his tail just prior to striking his victim."

Whenever Michael wasn't home, I felt Frodo's presence from anywhere in the house. He was a ninja. Stealthy. Intelligent. Unwavering. I considered placing a cowbell on the dog's collar to warn me of his approach, to give me time to find an escape.

"I think you're overreacting," Michael said.

"Your dog stares at me. Follows me around. Taunts me. I swear he's plotting my demise."

Michael's laughter eased my tension. "Maybe Frodo senses your anxiety. Try loosening up a bit and see what happens."

For the next few weeks, I tried everything to gain the dog's approval: treats, praise, more treats. I fed him dinner, took him for walks, and threw his favorite ball. All things positive could be linked back to me, but he continued to bare his teeth, snap, and snarl. How could I tell my husband that I wanted to secretly do away with his dog? The same dog that Michael had claimed to be the best dog he'd ever owned, the dog that had pulled him through a bitter divorce.

Out of guilt, I stopped planning Frodo's unfortunate accident. Several weeks later, while I was drying the dishes, I felt a pinch on my wrist and heard a "tink."

"Well," Michael said, pulling me close, "at least he bit your bracelet and not your arm."

I drew back. "He still bit me nonetheless."

"Technically... he didn't bite you. He bit your..."

"We've got to do something," I demanded. "I can't live with a dog that bites."

Michael suggested we take Frodo to the vet to see if a medical issue was at the root of the aggression. The medical tests came back normal, and the vet suggested we write down the events that led up to the biting to gain a better understanding of any precipitating factors

The next evening, as I swept the kitchen floor, I felt the nip before the warmth trickled down my belly. Frodo cowered in the corner as if he knew he'd gone too far. As I washed the blood from my skin, Michael expressed his concern.

I took the vet's advice and jotted some notes: folding dishtowels, using the duster, drying the dishes, and sweeping or mopping the floor. Every act of aggression could be linked to household chores.

"What? He doesn't like a clean house?" Michael asked.

"I think he's been abused. You know, hit with the broom, snapped with a kitchen towel, or shooed with a mop. Frodo assumes I'm going to hurt him. You know... a conditioned response."

Michael looked at me with pained eyes. "That certainly explains some things."

Frodo settled down and lay quietly at Michael's feet. I waited a while before testing my suspicions.

When I picked up the broom, Frodo ran over, snarling and bristling then ripped it from my hands. After the broom hit the floor, Frodo stopped the attack.


"See?" I said.

"So, what do we do?"

"Well, I could always quit cleaning," I said, tossing Michael a smile.

"Uh... no."

"Darn."

That night, I planned a strategy to gain Frodo's trust while still tending to the household chores. Over the next few months, I kept Frodo sequestered while sweeping and mopping but let him watch from behind a gate while I performed the less threatening tasks of dusting or folding towels. He growled, jumped on the gate, and whined while nervously pacing back and forth, and I ignored him. When he stopped, I rewarded him with a treat, a kind word, or a tweak of the ear. Soon, Frodo watched me sweep and mop, earning the same rewards. Eventually, the aggressive posturing stopped, and he could stay in the same room while I performed all the cleaning.

As Frodo grows older, some of his grumblings have resurfaced. He recently whined and drooled as I retrieved the cleaning supplies, and I warned Michael of Frodo's regression.

"Well, we're not getting rid of him."

I leaned against the broom, and Frodo stood, perched for action. "Well, I'm not getting attacked again."

"A maid?" Michael offered.

"I don't see how we could afford..." Frodo's snarl drifted in my general direction. "To pass up such a wonderful idea."
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Tuesdays with Daddy

By Sharon Dunski Vermont

When you look at your life, the greatest happinesses are family happinesses.
~Joyce Brothers

Many Tuesday mornings, I have coffee with my father. While my mom is at her exercise class, I often stop by my parents' house on my way to work and have a shot of caffeine while my dad relaxes at the kitchen table with his breakfast and his Sudoku puzzle of the day.
Although my father is a man of few words, I really enjoy this time alone with him. Typically, I talk and he listens. Nonetheless, it's quality bonding.

One recent Tuesday, I called my dad to see if I could stop by for a brief schmooze. While I found it a bit unusual when he didn't answer the phone, I assumed he was probably in the shower. Figuring that he would still have time for me, I pulled into his driveway. Yet when I rang the doorbell, no one seemed to be home. I peeked in through the window, noticing the lights that shone from the kitchen, and decided that my dad must be there. He never left lights on when he went out. My dad was, after all, a creature of habit.

I let myself in and called out to my dad.

Silence.

I hurried through his home, checking every room, my pulse quickening as I did so. What if he was hurt? What if I found him lying unconscious on the floor? I tried not to panic. Yet, something just didn't seem right to me.

Upstairs. Downstairs. Still, no Dad anywhere.

I called his cell phone, and heard it ring from the office down the hall.

I ran to the garage, only to discover that his car was still parked in its usual spot. However, the garage door was up and the door from the garage to the laundry room was unlocked. Where would my dad go without his car and why would he leave the house so vulnerable to intruders? Suddenly, I was slightly more than worried. After all, my father was seventy-one years old. Anything could have happened to him. I closed and locked the garage door.

Then, I got in my car and drove to my mother's aerobics class.

On the short drive, I thought a lot about my father and our history together. Suddenly, I was three years old and he was holding me up to the living room window to see the Christmas lights that I loved so much. In his arms, I was safe and secure.

Before long, I was six or seven, and we were at Target, buying cinnamon rolls from the bakery. Cinnamon rolls were always a favorite of my dad's. At age ten, I used to make them from scratch and wake him up with warm breakfast in bed. Those were the days when I felt happy and loved.

Then I was twelve and my dad was amazing all the kids at my birthday party with his magic tricks. Little did we know that his magic was simply basic chemical reactions that my father had learned while getting his Ph.D. in Chemistry. I was so proud of my father for being so special and talented. He'd made my party an incredible success.

When my father taught me to drive, we grew closer despite his frequent stern words. Even when I had my first accident backing into a fire hydrant, I loved my father for being there to make me feel protected.

It was my dad who sat patiently by my side for hours on end helping me with Geometry, and Calculus, and eventually Organic Chemistry. I often thought that my A's in those classes actually belonged to him. He was always willing to help me and made sure I understood what I was supposed to be learning. I could only hope to have half the brains and teaching ability that my father possessed.

When I applied to medical school, my father drove me to my interview in Kansas City. For four hours in the car, he talked to me about the questions he thought I would be asked. He prepped me and quizzed me and helped me formulate my answers. When the interviewers asked me almost every question my father had prepared me for, I was beaming with pride at both my answers and the foresight of the man who had raised me.

As my father walked me down the aisle at my wedding, I tried to look away so as not to show him my tears and not to see his. And when he held my firstborn daughter when she was only minutes old, I thanked God that my dad would be there for her as he had been for me. I was so thankful to my dad for everything he'd taught me and for all the times he'd been there for me. I just couldn't imagine life without him by my side.

And so, as I entered my mother's class, I was anxious and nervous, and a bit overwhelmed from all of my memories. My mom looked at me with happy surprise as she saw me enter the room.

"Mom, where's Dad?" I began hesitantly. "I think he's missing."

"He's working in the yard on the side of the house!" she answered between sit-ups.

"Oops!" I giggled. "I'd better go back. I think I've locked him out!" And I hurried to my car and raced back to my parents' house.

When I arrived there a few minutes later, my dad was obliviously trimming bushes.

"Hey, Dad!" I yelled out and promptly told him about my fears of the last half hour.

My dad began laughing his typical laugh that was always familiar and comforting and promised that he wasn't planning on dying any time soon.

I was so thankful that I still had my daddy. He would still be there for me as he always had been.

And so, as I unlocked the door to my father's house, we went inside for our usual cup of coffee and a huge sigh of relief.

Thanks, Daddy, for all the memories and more importantly, for all your love.
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суббота, 25 августа 2012 г.

Duerme con los Angeles

By Cassie Goldberg

Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.
~Helen Keller

All summer, I waited apprehensively for the letter. Through the hot days in June and sticky days in July, I ran out to the mailbox and returned empty-handed and disappointed. After what felt like years, the crisp white envelope sealed with a blue Hofstra University crest finally arrived. No, this wasn't the letter declaring my acceptance or rejection to the University -- that had come ages ago. This letter would reveal the name, address, and telephone number of the girl I'd be stuck with for the first year of my true adult life, and while I was anxious to find out who this stranger would be, I was not thrilled about having to share closer-than-close living quarters with a stranger.
In late July, the letter came. Ana Galdamez was her name, and she hailed from Flushing, Queens. I wasted no time, eager to learn whatever I could about her. I picked up the phone and dialed her number. After three rings, an answering machine clicked on, and a woman's voice streamed through the receiver.

"Hola, no nos encontramos en este momento, porfavor dejenos un mensaje y le devolveremos la llamada lo mas pronto possible...."

Spanish? The girl's answering machine recording was in Spanish? Of all of the horrors I feared (smelly feet, obnoxious habits, ugly bedding...), I never considered the possibility of being paired up with someone who might not even speak English. I slammed the phone down before the beep, my heart racing and my stomach churning. My knowledge of the Spanish language extended only as far as the Taco Bell commercials I had seen on TV. This was going to be worse than I thought.

In the next few weeks, I shopped, primped, and prepared for what I hoped would be the most exciting four years of my life. I stuffed my car with frilly pink bedding, sheer white curtains, sequined pillows, and all sorts of pretty trinkets. The impending stress of choosing a major, taking tests, and buying books wasn't really a concern; I was more excited to get to school as early as possible to claim the better bed, newer dresser, and bigger closet in my new room before my mystery roommate arrived.

On move-in morning, my family and I arrived before the suggested check-in time of 8:00 A.M., and I was surprised to see a line already forming outside my new dorm building. Despite all my efforts, a girl was already in my room -- okay, our room -- with some of her belongings unpacked, chatting cheerfully in Spanish with her own mother. She didn't seem to have a lot of things with her. I assumed they were still in the car.

Ana spoke before I could. "You must be Cassie! I'm so excited to meet you. I'm sorry we didn't get to talk this summer. I was away for most of it! Oh my gosh, you brought so much stuff! This is my mother. I saved the good furniture and the bigger closet for you; I don't really need the space!"

So she spoke English after all. Embarrassed about my assumption, I processed her words. She said she had saved the better set of furniture for me, and she wasn't kidding -- I glanced around and noticed the furniture on my empty side of the room was made of polished wood, with a brand new plastic-wrapped mattress resting on top of my bed. Her furniture looked old and shabby, her mattress stained and torn and her closet significantly smaller than mine. A twinge of guilt passed through me.

I took a closer look at her now, feeling more at ease. She was pretty in a wholesome way, dressed in solid-colored clothes with no makeup or nail polish. I noticed a large, heavy-duty camouflage backpack next to her green bed.

"What's with the army bag?" I inquired.

"Oh, right. That. Well, I'm sort of in ROTC," she explained. "I wake up at four in the morning a few days a week. It's not a big deal."

Four in the morning? My stomach flipped. "Like, army training?" I knew my tone was offensive, but she didn't seem to notice. She smiled and nodded.

That evening, our parents left us to our own devices in our new half-earth-toned, half-frilled room. It took a great amount of effort for me not to grab my mother's ankles and beg her to take me back home with her. Sure, the girl seemed nice enough, but I still wasn't ready for this.

Surprisingly, we got right to talking. She was a hopeless romantic, her family was her life, and she had heaps upon heaps of exciting plans for herself and her future. As she talked, her eyes were bright, and each sentence she spoke rang with contentment and optimism. I had less to say, but was surprised to find myself wanting to learn more about her, even after we turned off the lights to go to sleep. I rested in my new bed, feeling guilty thinking of the time I wasted with my pretentious thoughts about her before we even met. I knew I had a lot to learn.

"Duerme con los angeles," Ana whispered, sounding like she was already half-asleep.

"Huh?" I mumbled.

"Duerme con los angeles. It means 'sleep with the angels,'" Ana explained, and her soothing voice wove itself into my dreams as I slept.

That year, without knowing it, Ana taught me invaluable lessons about patience and caring for others. Her own career and life goals rubbed off on me as I carefully chose a major and studied hard. She taught me to slow down, enjoy the coming years, and appreciate what I learned in my classes. Most importantly, she taught me not to give in to quick judgments as I always had before I met her.

We lived together -- by choice -- for the next two years. We grew and adjusted to our new home together, every day of college life bringing new challenges to each of us. No matter what changed, however, our nights ended the same way -- with a whispered "duerme con los angeles," followed by a peaceful night's sleep.
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Clothed in Love

By Peter Medeiros

I am thankful for the piles of laundry and ironing because it means my loved ones are nearby.
~Nancie J. Carmody

We got Princess Beta Goldeneye, "Princess" for short, when I was in sixth grade, which made us both kittens. She was a wide-eyed calico with a strong affinity for scratching posts and shoulders, which she often confused with one another. My sister, Sarah, saved her from a cardboard box on the side of the highway when she caught the package in her high beams coming home one night. She found Princess wet and shivering but alive. The rest of her litter weren't so lucky. It wasn't long, however, before Sarah left for college.
"Take good care of Princess," she told me. "She's used to a lot of attention."

It was a direct order from my big sister, so I went out of my way to make sure that Princess felt properly loved. When I got back from school, I would tell her how my day was and fill her in on all the high school gossip. Princess had grown to be something of a grouch -- she would knock all the pens and books off my desk if I forgot to feed her -- but she remained the best listener I had ever met. Talking to her helped me sort out what had transpired over the course of my day, and I think that Princess enjoyed it, too. At any rate, she didn't complain.

Most of our bonding had to do with household chores, specifically laundry. While some people hate the mindless task of washing clothes, there was nothing Princess viewed with more anticipation. Even after she stopped playing fetch with cat toys, presumably due to the pride that comes with feline adulthood, she would still help me sort clothes fresh from the dryer. My job was to fold all the warm laundry, and her job was to generally disrupt my efforts by snuggling in between the towels and furring my dress pants. Eventually Princess would get herself tired, at which point she would take on a more dignified posture, watching me with sphinx-like stillness except for her serpentine, black and orange tail, which thrashed across the floor in appreciation.

"It's not a very efficient system," my dad told us.

"I'm not saying it's efficient; I'm just saying it works for us."

The cat's silence seemed to indicate agreement. We made a good team.

But six years after Princess Beta Goldeneye became my charge, I was following in my sister's footsteps, moving to Boston for college. Although I was excited about higher education, I was disappointed to hear that there were no pets allowed in the dormitories -- something I should have remembered from when Sarah left for college. College life was exciting and engaging, and I would be lying if I said that I missed Princess enough to make those first few weeks unbearable. But as I got settled into the college routine, I began to think of her more and more often. The worst was when I had to use the communal laundry machines. I would haul the load to the end of our hall and wait next to the humming appliance with a paperback. It was a nice chance to get some reading done, but there was something missing. Something with wide eyes and a penchant for clambering up my back to claw at my shoulder. Folding my clothes back in my room was positively depressing. It got to the point that I considered going without fresh clothes, just to avoid the empty feeling that washed over me when I got out the detergent.

"She really misses you," Dad said when I called home.

"How can you tell?"

"I can just tell," he told me, and we left it at that.

It turned out that Dad had been withholding some significant details. When I came home for a weekend in October of my freshman year, I planned on wearing the clothes I had left behind -- old pants and shirts I hadn't bothered to move to my dorm. But after I trekked home from the train station, greeted my parents, and dropped my bag on my bed, I turned around and saw that a small, concentrated tornado had swept through my room, or at least my wardrobe.

"Dad, what happened to all my clothes?"

"Princess was scratching at your dresser," he said. "She kept raking her claws over it and mewling at odd hours of the night. We tried keeping her out of your room, but she'd just camp outside the door and scratch at that. Eventually, your mother and I gave in and opened your drawers. Why? Did she do something?"

She did. Somehow, Princess -- who, as far as I knew, weighed no more than nine pounds -- had managed to pull nearly all of my jeans, shirts, socks and underwear out of the open drawers and scatter them across the floor. I was baffled. That kind of physical exertion seemed like the sort of behavior fit for a dog, not the kind of work you'd expect from a cat. Especially Princess. She was royalty, after all.

It didn't end there. Dad had said that Princess missed me, so I was surprised that she didn't come to wind herself around my ankles when I was home for the first time in nearly two months. Once I began to pick up my clothes, I found out why. Princess had been fast asleep between a green sweater and a pair of old khakis I had left at home. When I took the sweater off to reveal her fluffy form beneath, she stared up at me as if to say, "There you are! Can't you see how busy I've been without you here to help?"

Apparently, she'd been sleeping in my clothes ever since my folks relented and let her have the drawers. I scratched behind her ears, and she purred the way she used to when she was just a kitten. "Good cat," I said.

The funny thing was that I actually forgot to do laundry that weekend, so the clothes I wore home were still in the wash when I returned to Boston, and I had to sift through my older threads for something that still fit. I wound up in those very same khakis that Princess used as a cushion when I caught the early Monday train back to college.

"Dude, what happened?" my friends asked. "Why are you covered in fur?"

I told them it was my cat, but I left out the details. I didn't tell them that I was clothed in love.
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At the Close of the Day

By Ruth Douillette

A pleasure is not full grown until it is remembered.
~C.S. Lewis

We should have been asleep, but we weren't. David because he's eighteen, and me, because I lose track of time when I'm at my computer.
I'm usually in bed long before he is, reading or maybe curled with the cat. Sometimes David stops outside my door and says goodnight. Other times, he comes in, pats the cat, and gives me a kiss. If I'm really lucky, he stretches out beside me, and shares his day, making the scenes alive with his talent for imitation.

He's already in charge of his own time and activities -- up to a point. But he's still my baby, so when I heard him whisper, "'Night, Mom," on my way down the hall, I pushed open his door, and sat on the edge of the bed to give him a kiss.

"Remember when you used to fall asleep on the floor beside my bed?" he asked.

I do remember. It eased him through his nightmare stage. I'd lie on my back, so tired I'd often wake hours later to crawl into my own bed. If he woke in the middle of the night, he'd come and sleep on the floor beside me.

I was glad when that stage passed. I was glad when he'd go upstairs by himself to wash his face, brush his teeth, and put on his pajamas.

"'Night, Mom," he'd yell from bed. "Will you come up and tuck me in?"

I was glad when the bed-to-living-room conversations ended, too. Just when I settled with a cup of tea and a book, he'd yell down, "Mom?"

"What?"

"Who do you think would win in a fight? Tyrannosaurus Rex or Spider-Man?"

"Tyrannosaurus. Go to sleep."

"Mom?"

"What?"

"What was your favorite thing to do when you were little?"

"Read. Now go to sleep."


By the time my tea was finished, my patience was drained as well. To his "Mom?" I'd shout back, "WHAT!" It was a horrible sound, a shriek that escaped my throat with the force of a sneeze.

After a pause he'd say in an aggrieved tone, "I was just going to say, 'I love you.'"

"I love you, too, David. Now go to sleep."

Who knew that I would miss those days? Who knew they would seem so sweet in retrospect? Soon he'll be sleeping in a college dorm, the first tentative steps toward a life on his own. But I'll still whisper, "'Night, Dave," when I turn off my light each night.
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Wanting Jason

By Madeline Clapps

Macho doesn't prove mucho.
~Zsa Zsa Gabor

When I was in high school, I liked two types of guys. The first kind included guys like my boyfriend, John. He was sweet and sensitive, good at sports but not a jock, kind, and loyal to me. John was an all around good guy who was a good friend and boyfriend.
The other kind I liked, well... let's just say he didn't have any of those qualities.

Jason was in the band with me, a saxophone player with a cool jazz mentality, whose dexterous fingers moved swiftly along the pads of his instrument and whose sound was smoothly seductive. He was gifted at his music, something that I have always found dazzlingly attractive, but he was aloof and separate, moody and in his own world. He had a bit of a reputation for experimenting -- with girls and other things. He was one year older than me and drove an expensive red car, and when he dated one of my friends I heard more than I ever needed to about their torrid, explicit love affair.

When I was a junior and he was a senior, he and my friend broke up. Newly single, rumors swirled about him, a clarinetist, and sessions in the band closet that soon became legendary. As the marching band season kicked into high gear, we were spending a lot of time together. He was always teasing me, glaring at me with his blue bedroom eyes peeking out from his shaggy hair, making me blush and rendering me speechless. When the bell would ring at the end of the day, signifying that jazz band was over, my heart would ache as I tried to calculate the next time we had seventh period together. It was never soon enough.

For a while, I pushed that ache aside. My sweet boyfriend was all I needed, right? I loved him, not to mention he was the sensible choice. Plus, Jason thought of me as a lame wallflower, who didn't ever have a witty comeback or an interesting thing to say to him... or so I thought.

One cold October night, the more adventurous members of the marching band decided to do some drinking behind the bleachers at a late-night band competition. Jason was one of them -- most likely the ringleader. On the bus back, he crawled into my brown leather seat, practically sitting on top of me.

"You're the prettiest girl in the band," he said, taking me by surprise. "Really." He was so close, closer to me than he had ever been before. "You are."

I shuddered and tried to laugh it off, but I knew. I knew because of the way he looked at me and toyed with me, that this was a moment of alcohol-induced honesty.

After that moment, I could hardly function around him. I dressed in the morning, lying to myself that the reason I wanted to look my best was not for him, but for my own good. If he missed class, I denied the fact that my heart felt like it was plummeting down an elevator shaft.

When Jason went to college, high school lost a shimmer of excitement it couldn't quite regain. I learned to be happy as I was, and I no longer lived in fear that he would -- or wouldn't -- speak to me.

That all changed one Thursday night during senior year. A message popped up on my computer from a screen name I rarely heard from -- Jason's. He said he was in his dorm room drinking with his friends, and he was thinking of me. I knew this conversation was trouble, knew that it would only shuffle my emotional playing cards and make me question everything, but I couldn't help it. For a girl who used to scan the roads just to catch a glimpse of his car, I could hardly stop myself from having this conversation.

He talked to me for a few hours, getting progressively drunker. After the beginning small talk, he said he missed me. My hands shook on the keyboard as I tried to figure out the correct response. Next, he told me how attractive he thought I was.

Finally, as his spelling got worse and the time ticked by, he confessed to me: "I have always wanted you," he typed. "You are perfect for me, and I want you."

The summer after my freshman year of college is when my Jason obsession came crashing down. Through a text message exchange, a few friends and I ended up going over to his wealthy friend's house, where it was just Jason and a few other guys, an empty house, and a swimming pool. I was newly single and this, I knew, was it. This was my chance. I couldn't believe I was hanging out with Jason.

Later, he and I sat on the couch in the pool house, watching TV. It was very late, and it was just the two of us. I snuck looks at him every now and then, confused. After years of back and forth, we were alone and hours had passed without anything. He hadn't even moved to hold my hand. Jason, the guy who was brave enough to flirt endlessly with me when I was in a relationship, who had said such forward things to me online that one night, was now sitting to my right, practically ignoring me. Where was the womanizer I thought he was? How on earth could he just sit there, ignoring the years we had spent building up to this moment?

We sat on the couch, just like that, until the sun came up.

After that night with Jason, I lost it. My self-esteem was a mess, because I wondered how he could like me so much one second, and then have no interest in me the next. I was a basket case, analyzing that night every spare second I got. Why didn't I just tell him how I felt? Could I have changed the course of this story? Could Jason and I have done then what we had always wanted to do?

It took me a year to get over that night. It sounds extreme, but it required a rebuilding of confidence for me to finally realize what Jason represented to me, and what broke inside me when he failed to live up to my expectations. I was enamored with Jason, the fantasy, not Jason, the reality. In reality, he was a skinny, shy boy, who was all talk and no action. My cool fantasy was actually totally lame, and once I saw that, I no longer had any interest.

Today, I'm comfortable enough in my own skin to know that I was too good for the way Jason toyed with me. He was actually more insecure than I ever wanted to believe. I learned a valuable lesson from my crush on Jason, one that changed the way I think about relationships forever: In the end, Jason wasn't a bad boy. He was just a human being.
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Bite by Bite

By Marilyn Turk

"Mom, I can't do this." My teenage son Bret stood in front of me with his hands outstretched, full of papers.

"Can't do what?" I half-looked at him while preparing supper.

"All this!" He waved his hands up and down to show me. "There's no way I can do everything my teachers are asking me to do!"

I stopped what I was doing and turned to face him. I had never seen him so upset. He was my jovial, carefree son. He made good grades in school and nothing ever seemed to bother him. As I studied his face, I could see tears brimming in his eyes accompanying the look of panic.

Walking over to the kitchen table, I sat down and motioned him to join me.

"Show me what you have to do."

Bret plopped down in a chair and dropped the papers in a stack in front of him.

"Ms. Jones, my chemistry teacher, wants me to make a project for the Science Fair."

"Okay. And what else?"

"I have an algebra test next week that will be one-third of our semester grade!"

I knew how Bret hated algebra, which always gave him trouble.

"And I have to write an essay for English composition. And midterms are the next week! I need to study for them and I have to get help with Spanish. There's no way I can do everything!"

His hands shook as he picked up each assignment. It broke my heart to see him so stressed out. I wanted to help him, yet I couldn't do the work for him. I could relate to his dilemma though.

In my job as a sales manager, there had been many stressful times. Caught in the middle, I had to please upper management by producing results from my sales team as well as deal with ten individuals who each had concerns with making their quotas, taking care of their customers and personal issues.

I was particularly stressed out when I had to plan a sales meeting for the company. At that time, I was in charge of the agenda, setting up the presentations, arranging the people who would participate, ordering supplies, and so on. My performance was on the line and under the closest scrutiny at these times.


As much as I wanted to run away and hide from the responsibility, I knew I had to handle it. And even though I had my doubts about the outcome, I wanted things to run well. How did I handle it and not implode? I made a list. I listed everything that had to be done, then I put a deadline on each item and organized the list according to what had to be done first, second, and so on.

Back in the kitchen, I looked at Bret and said, "You don't have to do everything at once. You can do one at a time. Let's make a list of what you need to do."

So, one by one, we listed each item. Then we put the due date next to the item. Next we separated the items into parts; for instance, the chemistry project needed supplies. So we put a deadline on getting the supplies. He had a friend who could help him with Spanish, so we had to factor that time in. As we worked on prioritizing the tasks, I saw my son visibly relax.

When we finished with the list, I asked, "Do you think you can do this now?"

He smiled and I saw his confidence return. "Sure! Thanks, Mom!"

From that day on, Bret made lists for everything he had to do. I had to laugh when I saw lists on pieces of paper lying around, but I knew the process worked for him, as it did for me. Bret completed all his assignments and kept his good grades.

There's an adage that asks, "How do you eat an elephant?" The answer is, "One bite at a time."
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Umbrella Chairs

By Felice Prager

The best advice is this: Don't take advice and don't give advice.
~Author Unknown

She wanted large; I wanted small. She wanted an event to remember; I wanted intimate with only close friends. She wanted country club; I wanted backyard. She wanted a six-course meal; I wanted chocolate cake and champagne. It went on like this until she suggested umbrella chairs, and I said I wasn't coming to my own wedding. In retrospect, what my mother wanted was very generous and done with tons of love. However, what my mother wanted wasn't me. Sam and I had been living together for several years. We were just going through a formality. My mother was the one who wanted a party. We would have been happy making it formal with just a handful of our closest relatives and friends.
The "discussion" came to a head on an unusually warm Sunday in April. After several phone calls from Mom, I told her we were going out. This was before cell phones, so the ongoing stressful wedding conversation would have to wait until I got back. That's when Mom started calling the machine. I was sitting by the answering machine with Sam, listening to my mother's messages as they came through.

"It's Mom. I'm sitting in the backyard. It's about noon. Since you're insisting on doing YOUR WEDDING in the backyard, I just wanted you to know that it is already very hot out here. In August, it will be sweltering. This isn't a good idea." That was the first message.

A few minutes later, she called again. "I'm still in the backyard. It's 12:05. We need a tent. We need a large tent with some kind of air conditioning pumped in. People will melt if they have to be out here in the heat of the summer. That's how hot it is. You'll have to have ambulances on call."

Continuing her one-sided dialogue, she left a third message. "It's Mom again. Are you sure you don't want to just do this at a country club? CALL ME BACK!"

I told Sam I wanted to elope.

The messages continued.

"It's Mom. I don't think the backyard is large enough for a tent."

"It's Mom. I don't know why you have to be so stubborn. A country club would be so nice. All you would have to do is SHOW UP. We can tell the orchestra that you don't want to do a first dance and the caterer that you don't want to make a fuss about cutting a cake."

"It's your mother. I was thinking. If I cut all my second cousins and friends I haven't seen in over two years off the list, I can get it down to 150."

"It's Mom. In August, it's also very humid. This backyard wedding idea of yours is inhumane. People will die, and then we'll be planning funerals."

"It's Mom. I've got it! This is brilliant: UMBRELLA CHAIRS!"

On that, Sam looked at me and asked, "What's an umbrella chair?"

"It's Mom, the one who carried you for almost ten months and was in horrible labor for a week before you decided to make your entrance. Umbrella chairs will solve all the problems."

I picked up the phone before she hung up. "What's an umbrella chair?"

"So you were home."

"We just walked in. What's an umbrella chair?"

"You know. Chairs with umbrellas on them to block the sun. I'll bet we can get them to match whatever color you choose for your wedding. We can even have cup holders on the chairs so people who are prone to heat stroke can have a glass of water. We can have the umbrellas removable so the guests can carry them around when they're not sitting."

"And if it rains, Mom, they won't get wet!" I added, with a definite tone of sarcasm.

Sam scribbled on a pad and put it in front of my face. "Your mother has lost it," I read. Then, "Don't fight!"

There was a long pause from my mom. Then she said, "You're making fun of me, aren't you?"

"No," I said. "But umbrella chairs are stupid. If you order umbrella chairs, I'm not coming."

"Then how will we keep everyone comfortable?" she asked, in all sincerity.

"We won't, Mom. If they're too hot, they'll eat fast, leave a present, congratulate us, and go home early. Then Sam and I can get back to our apartment and start making babies."

"Making babies?" my mother asked.

"Sure. Why else do you think we're getting married?"

At that, my mom sighed, "Babies..."

I got my small backyard wedding on one of the hottest days recorded for that day in August. People came dressed comfortably and commented on the heat, but no one complained. We handed out "Sam and Felice, August 1, 1982" spray bottles and champagne as each person arrived in case anyone needed to cool down. It was a wonderful wedding. My mother did hire a caterer because "You can't just serve chocolate cake and champagne, Felice."

And Sam and I went home... to make babies.

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My Own Path

By Renea Winchester

One half of knowing what you want is knowing what you must give up before you get it.
~Sidney Howard

I broke up with Josh three weeks before the senior prom. We had been dating for almost a year. He had graduated the previous year and landed a good job. Josh was ready for marriage and a family.
I wasn't.

His dreams included two children, a boy we would name Joshua, a girl named Jessica. We would have dogs, horses, boats, cars, and of course, live happily after. Each time we discussed our future, I became more nervous. I thought we were too young for marriage. My room was filled with college applications and towers of books. I dreamed of becoming a lawyer, or maybe a veterinarian, not a wife and mother. I wanted him to wait while I walked my own path for a while. I didn't want to break Josh's heart, but I did.

Emily handed me tissues as I told her about the break-up. Of my four friends, she was the one I came to when I needed comfort. Emily understood that I wanted to pursue my dreams. She nodded and agreed with my decision. I thought the rest of my girlfriends would support my decision. I never dreamed that they would take his side.

But they did... even Emily.

Once news of the break-up spread I was somehow transformed from best friend to heartless villain. One by one, my friends stopped speaking to me. Two weeks before the prom -- four weeks before graduation -- during what was supposed to have been the best year of my life, I walked the halls of my high school without a single friend.

I didn't mention the break-up to my parents. Looking back, I should have. At least I would have had someone to talk to. Instead, the day before the prom I announced that I would be going stag.

"What about the party?" Mother had asked, referring to the pre-prom party she and I had been planning for weeks.

"We decided to do something else," I replied.

Mom frowned but said nothing.

When you're a senior in high school, the worst thing that can happen isn't breaking up with your boyfriend, it's posing for prom pictures alone. Or so I thought. After the humiliating photo, I entered the ballroom just as the lights dimmed. I tried to ignore my ex-friends who were gathered in the corner of the room. The music started, and a sea of taffeta gowns parted, revealing a smiling Josh. Excited dancers jostled against me as I stood frozen to the floor, my mouth ajar.

Then reality hit me.

My ex-boyfriend Josh was at the prom with my ex-friend Emily. Their matching tuxedo-taffeta ensemble was my first clue. Emily attached at his hip was my second. I acted like it didn't hurt.

But it did.

Anthony, a graduate from three years ago, who was majoring in law enforcement and moonlighting as prom security, took pity on me and asked me to dance. Then the foreign exchange student followed his lead. The rest is a blur of tear-drenched memories.

After my ex-friends had surrounded me and danced with my ex-boyfriend, I left the prom. The temptation to drink away my worries was great. Everyone knew where the after-prom party was. In fact, several of the students had bypassed the prom and gone directly to the party after having their picture taken. I was already the laughing stock at school. I was in no mood to embarrass myself further by getting drunk and ruining the only thing that remained intact -- my good name.

I drove home, took the stairs two at a time, and slammed my bedroom door. I ignored Mother's worried knock and spent the rest of the night in bed with my face buried in my stuffed animals.

I awoke the following morning, a mess of blue silk and black mascara.

Mother cracked the bedroom door wide enough to extend the telephone. "It's Lisa," she whispered.

I sat up and held a stuffed Garfield to my stomach. "Hey," Lisa said the moment she heard my wilted corsage rustle against the phone, "I'm sorry about what happened at the prom."

I nodded on my end, but didn't respond.

"Look. I don't understand what happened," she said. "Everyone was upset because Josh seemed so hurt about you breaking up with him. Things got out of control. I'm really sorry."


From where I stood, Josh hadn't looked upset last night.

I wiped a tear. "You know Lisa," I said my voice breaking. "I didn't break up with my friends. I broke up with him."

I imagined the discussion Lisa had with my ex-friends on my behalf. Even in elementary school, when the school bully sought me out, Lisa had been the peacemaker. We had been together since kindergarten. Deep inside, I wanted to ask how many minutes had passed before Josh asked Emily to the prom. But it didn't matter. Right now nothing mattered.

"I just wanted you to know I'm sorry and I would like to put this behind us... if you're okay with that." Lisa said.

An hour later, Lisa arrived at my house with a box of Heavenly Hash ice cream. Our friendship resumed where we left off. Gradually, my ex-friends returned, except for Emily.

She and Josh walked down the aisle shortly after graduation, and I started walking my own path.
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The Tea Party

By Felice Prager

Strange how a teapot can represent at the same time the comforts of solitude and the pleasures of company.
~Author Unknown

My induction into the world of tea began with a gift from my mother -- a beautiful cobalt blue tea set she had purchased on a trip to Japan. The tea set came in a satin-lined white leather box. The cups, saucers, and teapot were delicately hand-painted in their rich cobalt blue color with a gold crane and a thin gold line around each rim. I was never quite sure why she purchased the set because the extent of her ownership was transporting it back to the United States, going through customs with it, and then storing it on a shelf in her closet. It had never been used.
Her trip to Japan was one that would have excited most people, but my mother was newly widowed and her enthusiasm for life had vanished with the death of my father. She was in her mid-forties at the time, and, though she never said it aloud, it was evident that she felt cheated. She made reservations for the trip, alone, with much apprehension. "Dad left you enough money to travel. Go somewhere, Mom. Meet some new people. Do something nice for yourself. Have some fun. Do something exciting." She did not want to go, but she did. With the death of my dad, the life in my mom slowly seeped out of her. Traveling alone in a foreign country made her life even more overwhelming. The most enthusiasm she could muster was over the cobalt blue tea set she had purchased. "It's so beautiful," I said.

"I thought so, too," she said. "It reminded me of when you were a little girl and used to have tea parties. Remember?"

I really did not remember, but I nodded my head anyway. I remembered playing with my cousin's toy pickup truck and his fire engine, but I did not remember tea parties.

"It'll be yours someday," my mother said. "You can have it now if you want."

"Mom, you should enjoy it now. It's so pretty. Put it out somewhere so it can be seen. Make tea! Put it in your breakfront. Show it off!"

Instead, the tea set sat in its box on a shelf in her closet for twenty-five years.

Eventually, I moved with my family across the country. My mother visited often when my children were young, less often as they grew to have their own lives and schedules. On one of her many trips, she brought the cobalt blue tea set.

"It matches your home so much better than it does mine," she said. She was right. "I want you to have it."

While my mother was there, I left the set out, in its box, with the lid open. I wasn't sure where to put it, and with five cats and two sons, I wanted to keep it where it wouldn't be broken. I showed it to everyone who came into my home. Eventually, when my mom left, I closed the case and put it in my cabinet to keep it safe. I was truly afraid to use it. But I loved it nonetheless. I had always been particularly fond of cobalt blue china and knew it was hard to find, especially pieces that lovely. I also knew how difficult the trip to Japan had been for my mother, and though I never told her this, I am not sure I would have attempted that trip by myself had I been in a similar situation.

Maybe it's part of being an adult, but I wanted to show my mom how much I appreciated the gift that she had transported from Japan to her home and then, many years later, to mine. I purchased several types of tea and a special pot for brewing the tea. My plan was to make a delicious tea and to serve it to my mom when she visited the next time. We would have a tea party I really remembered instead of pretending to remember the ones from my childhood. I was sure my mother would enjoy the effort and appreciate the sentiment.

Not being a tea drinker, this required much self-education and experimentation. Before receiving the cobalt blue tea set, I thought "tea" was a teabag dunked in boiled water with a lot of sugar and honey in it, sitting on my night table when I was sick. Tea was a weak watery drink served to all patrons at the local Chinese restaurants. Tea was not my beverage of choice.

I experimented with many flavored teas. Though I had been accused of being addicted to diet soda and coffee before this, I suddenly preferred tea to all other drinks. The variety of flavors made it an adventure. There were so many choices. Yet, each time I brewed a pot of tea, I could not bring myself to pour the tea into the cobalt blue cups. I was saving their inauguration for my mother's next visit.

Unfortunately, that never happened. My mother grew too sick to travel and eventually succumbed to heart disease.

I took the tea set down several times after her death and stared at it. Everyone mourns in different ways. I stared at the beautiful tea set and cried. What was it about the tea set? Was it the memory of a tea party my mother had that I could not remember? Was it the effort I put behind my master plan that I could never fulfill? Perhaps it was the one tie my mother wanted to have with me -- one that she felt was missing in her life as I grew up and away from her. With my children growing up and moving away, I was beginning to feel this emptiness as well, a generation later, and I knew somehow the tea set was our bond, even if neither of us could put it into words.

On the day she would have been eighty years old, I brewed a pot of strawberry-kiwi tea, the tea I felt would most likely be served at a little girl's tea party -- sweet and delicious. I poured the tea into two of the beautiful cobalt cups. I slowly sipped mine, and then I slowly sipped from the cup I had poured for my mom. I rinsed both cups, dried them, and put them back into the satin-lined box.
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Incompatible

By Phyllis W. Zeno

Music is what life sounds like.
~Eric Olson

It's 3 a.m. and I'm lying in bed beside him thinking how totally incompatible we are. We went to a brilliant play this afternoon -- Brief Encounter -- with some of the most creative staging I've ever seen, and he thought it was "boring." And we came home and watched a gripping Brothers and Sisters episode on television, and at every commercial he switched to the Knicks game. How could he not be able to sit through one of my TV shows once a week without interrupting it with bits and pieces of a basketball game? What ever made me think we were suited to each other?
A song begins to run through my mind... "Incompatible... that's what you are; Incompatible... though near or far..." What was that song and who sang it? It suits us to a "T."

"Are you awake?" he asks.

"Yes, and I'm trying to think of a song that goes tum de dum de dum, that's what you are..."

"What time is it?" he asks groggily.

"Three a.m. and what is the song that goes tum de dum de dum...that's what you are? It was sung by a famous black singer... I can't think of his name."

"Are you trying to think of his name or the song?" he says, beginning to come awake.

"Both. Tum de dum de dum. His daughter sang it with him after he was dead."

"Um, yes. I've got it. Cole Porter."

"Cole Porter was not a black singer and his daughter didn't sing with him when he was dead."

"How could she sing with him if he was dead?"

"Never mind that. She just did. All right. I'll tell you the words and they apply to you. Incompatible... that's what you are..."

"You're lying there in the middle of the night and singing a Cole Porter song that says I'm incompatible?"

"It's not a Cole Porter song... it's this famous black singer...."

"Should we get up and look it up on the Internet?"

"At three o'clock in the morning you want to get on the Internet? Yes, I think we should."

We get out of bed and feel our way into our office, each going to our own computers.

"How do you look up tum de dum de dum?" he asks.

"No, look up famous black singer."

"I think his name is Cole something."

"He's not named Cole. Whose daughter sang with him after he was dead? Look up that! And then look up the name of the song... "Incompatible... that's what you are!" I sing it again for him. "I will go crazy if I don't think of the name of the song and the singer."

"Are you sure it's not "Uncompatible... that's what you are?"

"It's IN..." I scream. "In-compatible!"

"Is it Nat King Cole?"

"Yes, that's it. That's it! That's it!"

"And his daughter Natalie?"

"Oh, yes, yes. Thank God, that's it!"

"And was the song 'Unforgettable... That's what you are?'"

"You've got it! You've got it. You're wonderful. Amazing!"

"And not 'Un-compatible?'" He leaned across to my computer and kissed me.

"In-compatible. No, you're incredible."

He sings, "It's three o'clock in the morning. Can we go to bed now?"

I follow him back to the bedroom and I curl around him, spoon style.

"Am I still incompatible?" he whispers.

I think for a minute. Who else would get up at three o'clock in the morning and look up a black singer whose daughter sang with him after he was dead?

"No, you're unforgettable! Go to sleep."

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пятница, 17 августа 2012 г.

My Walking Buddy

By Marilyn Turk

"Why don't you take Buddy?" my husband suggested.
I looked at him like he was crazy. He just didn't get it. "Buddy's a dog. I'm talking about a human walking companion."

"Try it. He'd enjoy it," he persisted.

It wasn't the dog's enjoyment I cared about. Truth was, I felt like a slug. I'd been complaining about losing the walking companion I'd had before we got married and moved away. I remembered how happy I'd been to finally find someone to walk with, when I first began an early morning walking routine the previous year. At the age of fifty-six, my metabolism was slow, and I needed a kick-start first thing in the morning to get my blood flowing. It was hard to push myself out the door, but the first month I began walking, I'd lost ten pounds and felt much more energetic. Finding a walking companion had kept me on track.

However, in the three months since our marriage, I was eating more and moving less. I felt heavier, slower, and out of shape. I wanted someone to talk with while I walked, knowing conversation made the exercise go faster. Plus, I needed a person to keep me accountable. I had hoped my husband would be my new walking partner, but his work schedule prohibited it. There was no one in our new neighborhood who could walk with me either.

Buddy was my husband's dog, a big, black, flat-coated retriever. We had taken him for walks a few times together and let him run loose through the woods, but not for a walk around the neighborhood.

A dog walking partner wasn't what I had in mind. I won't call myself a "cat person," because I've always had both cats and dogs, but I must admit I thought cats were easier to manage. They were independent (which dog-lovers dislike), they took care of their personal needs by themselves, and all I had to do was feed them or pet them. I'd lived in houses with large, fenced-in back yards, where the dogs we'd had could "walk" themselves. The few times I'd attempted to take them for walks proved unpleasant for both of us. They either balked at the leash and I had to drag them, or they continually went off in the wrong direction. No, I didn't need a dog. I needed a person. Someone with whom I could talk. Someone who would encourage me.

I tried taking walks by myself, but was very inconsistent, as I often got distracted by things around the house before I set out and then didn't have time for a walk. One thing that was consistent however, was Buddy's reaction. Each time I went for a walk, I could hear him barking behind me as he watched me leave.

Finally I decided to give it a try. I walked over to the place where we hung the dog leash and picked it up. When I started towards Buddy with it, he got really excited and started prancing around, eager to go.

"Okay, okay. We'll see how this works," I told him.

I opened the front door and Buddy shot out, running down the driveway and almost jerking the leash out of my hand. He paused to briefly sniff the mailbox, before I pulled him away and we were off.

And so we pressed on, Buddy trotting obediently beside me most of the time. There were a few times, however, that he stopped to check out some inviting aroma, and I continued on unaware until I ran out the length of the leash and almost pulled my arm out of the socket. So much for exercise. Despite the stops, however, it still felt better to get out of the house and move, rather than do no exercise at all.

When I told my husband that evening about the arm-jerking experience, he explained to me that Buddy, who was trained to walk on a leash, could be encouraged to continue by saying, "Let's go," or just tugging on the leash a little when he tried to stop.

Okay, maybe it was worth another try. The next time went better than the first, and Buddy did a better job of keeping pace with me. In fact, with his long legs, I could jog while he barely trotted. Of course, there were still a couple of times that Buddy found some scent simply irresistible, and I was forced to wait until he was ready to move on again. Overall, though, the experience was not so bad.

I decided that I would take him occasionally, and other times go it alone. However, anytime I put on my tennis shoes, Buddy started getting excited and expected to go for a walk. Guilt attacked my conscience when I went without him and let him down. Buddy started coming into the bedroom as soon as I got up, eagerly imploring me with his eyes, "Are we going for a walk this morning?" Of course, I had to take him; he was so eager to go.

And so it began -- Buddy "dogging" my steps every morning until I took him for a walk. Pretty soon we had a routine. Together we explored the neighborhood, discovering interesting trails. Buddy met other dogs and their people, and I learned to enjoy the scenery, observing birds and flowers along the path, especially when Buddy stopped to check out a fascinating new scent.

I discovered other things to enjoy, too, like singing (when we were alone in the woods and I wouldn't frighten anyone). I also found that I could spend the time meditating and praying. And occasionally, I talked to Buddy, who never argued or disagreed.

Buddy became my walking companion, keeping me consistent and re-establishing my exercise routine. Both of us benefited, as neither of us was getting any younger. Buddy, age fourteen, needed the exercise to keep his joints from stiffening up, and I needed the exercise for my mental and physical health. And so I found a new walking buddy to help me stay in shape. And he's not a bad listener, either.
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