“The threads of memories that held meaning in life only caused me to question why I had existed.”
“Dad, is one hundred a long time?”
“One hundred years? Yes, I suppose it is.”
“How long will you live, Dad?”
“Well, a spirit warrior never dies. I’ll be with you forever.”
“Oh. That’s good. So, until one hundred?”
“Yes, baby, until one hundred.”
“That’s good, Dad.”
“I will also love you forever, you little cutie.”
“I love you forever too, Dad.”
With most of the old siding torn off in a day, I was eager to start earlier than usual so I could finish the rest and start putting on the green board. The home owner, Anne, a single mother in her late forties, had told me to start whenever I’d like if it helped get the job done faster.
I grabbed my leather tool belt out of the back of my truck and headed toward the east side of the house, where very little of the old siding was left. Before I had started, I saw movement in the house, which meant no one was sleeping. It was a quarter to seven in the morning, and I started pulling away at what little was left.
Tearing off what was left took only about twenty minutes. I walked to the west side of the house, where all the green board was stacked, and brought four stacks back with me to the east side. I was at the third row, and needed to stand on a six foot step ladder just under the second story window. I needed to cut and measure the boards to go up and around the window. With the green board, I could allow myself to be less accurate with the measurements. I used my utility knife to cut the next piece, right on top of the ladder. After nailing that piece around the window, I took my next measurement.
I was unexpectedly interrupted when the second story window opened as I wrote down my measurement. The girl who had watched me the morning before peeked her head out of the window. Even though her eyes still had sleep in them, I instantly noticed how strikingly blue they were. The bottoms of them appeared to glimmer with a violet hue. I realized I was staring at her and saying nothing when my tape measure dropped off the ladder.
“Hi. Good morning. I’m sorry if I woke you up,” I chimed in, nervously.
She didn’t respond and only leaned further out of the window, blinking her eyes at me. I didn’t know if her expression was frightened, or angry. However, I did know this, as she opened her lids further, she was stunning, and her eyes were epic. “Are you okay, Miss?” I asked.
The deep breaths she took could actually be heard, and I became concerned that she was angry I had woken her up.
“I needed to get started early all this week to stay on schedule,” I explained.
She still said nothing, and it made me extremely uncomfortable. “I’m sorry, Ma’am. If I had known you were sleeping where I would be working, I would have found something else to do for a little bit.”
She rested her chin on her hand, which was propped on the window ledge. “It’s okay, s…sir,” she stammered. “I was actually just opening the window to let some air in, and didn’t realize you were just outside the window. I’m sorry I didn’t mean to disturb your work,” she finally said, without taking her wide violet eyes off me.
“My mother and I will be inside if you need anything,” she continued.
“Okay, thank you. I’m Jack Ryder. I’ll be fixing up your home,” I replied as I held my hand out to hers.
She stared at my hand and then back to my face. I felt as though her beautiful eyes would turn me to stone, or possibly steal my soul. She stretched her hand out to mine, and rested only her four soft fingers into my palm. As I gently shook her hand, I could only stare back at her eyes. My whole life, people told me that I had nice, light-brown eyes. This young lady’s eyes, however, were unnatural. Perhaps it was her black hair and dark lashes that made them stand out. They seemed to be watery, like she needed to blink.
“It was nice to meet you, Jack Ryder,” she said softly, as she slowly pulled her hand away and retreated into her house.
In all my life I had never experienced that kind of awkwardness. Sure, I remembered my dad dealing with some rude home owners, however, that had been more aggravating than awkward. I never saw him deal with anyone like her. It wasn’t unpleasant, however. There was something strange and beautiful about the encounter. Her voice was pleasant, though her silence and wide-eyed stare made you feel vulnerable and naked. Her expression could not be understood. I immediately started laughing to myself because of how bizarre it was. The day before had not been so intimidating because we were not in close proximity.
I went back to work with this girl crowding every corner of my mind. She was extremely beautiful, and I kind of hoped for another awkward moment, just to get another look at her face. Her hair was almost jet black, as were her long eye lashes. It was only seven forty-five in the morning, and she must have just woken up. I purposely lingered a bit longer than necessary to see if the girl would come back to the window, but she never did.
There have always been people you see one time in your life who leave an impression on your mind. Just seeing them makes you feel good inside. It’s like observing a beautiful sunset. It leaves you feeling warm and appreciative.
Eight o’clock rolled around, and the home owner, Anne, came strolling up from the back of the house. She was a small framed woman who was quite pretty and well kept. However, you could tell she was oblivious to the world, yet thought she knew what was going on because she read about it in a book, or had gotten all of life’s answers from Doctor Phil. The few times I had spoken to her, she gave quick little giggles after everything she said. I turned toward her, not wanting to be rude. “Good morning, Ma’am. How are you?”
She stopped in front of me, folding her hands together, and nodding her head. “I’m just fine, thank you for asking. I came out here to find out if you like hot tea in the morning, or coffee?”
I immediately perked up at the offer. “Well, that is very nice of you to offer, Anne. I like tea actually, and I’ll take whatever you have.”
“Oh, I wasn’t offering any. I was just curious what you liked more,” she said with a small frown.
I looked back at her, a bit puzzled, my head naturally cocking itself to the side.
She let out a short laugh, and slapped the side of her leg. “I’m kidding! And I have lots of different tea, so it is too much of a hard decision for me to have to pick one for you. Why don’t you just come in and pick out what you want.”
I nodded to her and laughed. “Well, if that’s alright with you, I don’t want to intrude,” I remarked.
“Oh, don’t be modest, come on in,” she said, lightly smacking the air at me.
I gestured toward her, open handed. “Lead the way.”
As I followed her around to the back of the house and in through the basement door, I started to wonder if that girl had gone back to sleep.
“Would it be alright with you if I put my saw inside the garage to make my cuts on days when the weather isn’t cooperating?” I asked.
She let out that silly laugh before speaking, “Oh yes, that will be alright with me.”
The basement stairs came right up into a hallway in between the front door, and the kitchen. If you went right, you would have been at the front door. I followed Anne left, and passed by a closed door to my right, with a light on behind it.
“So how many of you are in this house?” I questioned, even though I knew the answer. I was really just making conversation to break the silence.
She chuckled and then responded. “It’s just me and my daughter, Madalyn.”
Madalyn. Her name was, Madalyn.
I nodded my head, and looked down at a box of tea she had placed in front of me on the kitchen’s center island. I reached down, and picked out a pack of green tea. “I’ll have this one.”
Anne reached up into the cabinet, and brought out a tea-cup. She filled it with water from the refrigerator, and stuck it in the microwave for two minutes. She placed her hands on the island in front of her, and folded them. I rested against the counter top behind me, and folded my arms across my chest.
“You know most home owners don’t invite construction workers into their home. That was very nice of you,” I told her.
She let out her usual chuckle. “Well I figure you are going to be here working for half the summer, so we might as well be friendly, and get to know each other a bit.”
I laughed a little. “That’s a very optimistic way of looking at it. Most people just want you to hurry up and finish their house.”
“Welcome to Beaufort, Mr. Ryder. The place where most people believe in treating others the way you would want to be treated. At least I can say that for myself,” she kindly replied.
I smiled at her friendliness. “I would have to agree with you.”
The microwave beeped, indicating my tea was done. Anne reached into the microwave, and then set the tea on the counter in front of me.
“Would you like anything in it?” she asked.
“How about honey. Do you have any?”
Without responding, she reached into the long cabinet beside the refrigerator, pulled out a real jar of honey, and grabbed a table-spoon from a drawer.
“Ask and you shall receive,” she chuckled.
I dipped out some honey, and stirred it into my hot tea. I brought it to my lips, and took a small sip.
“Well, thank you. I’m going to get back out there,” I said.
Anne quickly objected. “Oh don’t be silly, stay in here and finish your tea. What do you not believe in taking breaks?”
I laughed at how she was using a form of peer pressure, and bullying to keep me in the kitchen to visit with her.
“I guess today I do,” I laughed.
I put both hands on my cup of tea, feeling the warmth of it.
This woman had to be one of the nicest, or naive home owners I had ever worked for. It was probably a little of both. I was hoping the friendliness wasn’t some attempt to try and reduce what she had been charged for the work. That was not what I truly thought, she didn’t seem like that type. However, I also didn’t expect her to be this nice either.
The short silence was broken by her questions.
“So, Ryder, are you from here?”
“Um, no, I moved here from Iowa. I’ve been here a few times before though, and liked it. So I changed my profession to get grounded here,” I replied, and was surprised at how easily that story spilled out of my mouth.
“Is your family back in Iowa, or did they come with you?” She continued to pry. She wasn’t being nosy by asking. I could tell she was only making friendly conversation.
“My parents are back in Iowa, yes,” I stated, and she appeared to be looking at my hands. Most likely she was looking for a wedding ring.
“Are you married, or do you have a girlfriend?” she asked.
I rest my case.
“No to both,” I replied bluntly.
“Really? How old are you?” she asked, shocked.
She was relentless.
“I’m thirty-one,” I responded.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry into your private life. You’re gay, I get it,” she said, dropping the volume of her voice.
“What? No,” I responded immediately.
Just as I was getting ready to make my objections to the conclusion she had drawn, the door opened in the hallway. Madalyn, stepped out. She quickly spoke at her mother.
“Mom, stop interrogating our construction worker,” she said, winking at me.
Anne put on a forced smile, and blinked her eyes at her daughter. “Good morning, Maddy, my lovely daughter. How are you feeling?”
“Fine,” she answered.
I glanced at Madalyn as she rolled her eyes, and started fumbling through the cabinet, looking for something.
“Did you get enough beauty sleep?” her mother asked.
Madalyn slowly turned her head toward her mother. The expression on her face was homicidal. Anne looked away from her daughter, widening her eyes at me. I kind of felt like Anne was showing off, at her daughter’s expense.
Madalyn slightly smiled, “Besides what seemed to be hail stones hitting the house, I slept wonderfully.”
Anne looked at me and mouthed a silent apology while rolling her eyes. I put my hand up and nodded, indicating no offense was taken. Madalyn had her damp hair pulled up in a knot. She wore a tank top and cotton shorts that stopped just above her back thighs. It wasn’t hard to notice how beautifully healthy her figure was. I quickly darted my eyes away, realizing I was staring at her. Having her mother notice that would have been an embarrassment.
My tea had cooled down, so I took bigger gulps instead of just sipping it. I quickly finished drinking, walked over to the sink in the center island, and rinsed out my cup. Anne stepped up to me, objecting.
“Oh, you don’t have to do that. I’ve got it.”
“Nonsense. You were nice enough to invite me into your house and offer me tea. I’m pretty sure washing my own cup is the least I can do.”
“Fair enough,” she said, mocking the way I had said those exact words a few minutes prior.
I set the cup on the counter, laughing. “I’m going to get back to work. Thanks again for the tea.”
“My pleasure, Mr. Ryder,” she said with a big smile.
I glanced at Madalyn, whose violet eyes were staring directly at me. I think she was aware of the staring that her eyes were doing, although she did nothing to hide it. Her expression was puzzled. I wondered what questions she was withholding, or asking herself. Eventually, I was the one to look away, made uncomfortable by her piercing eyes.
I walked to the steps leading down to the basement, and back outside, stopping to gather more stacks of green board. After setting them at my ladder, I walked back to get a few more stacks and waved as Anne drove off to work. Bringing about five stacks to the back of the house, I began again.
Singing was a common habit I had when I was involved in my work. About ten minutes in I had completed my first row, humming and lightly singing the whole time.
Humming, whistling, and singing whatever tune came to my head meant I was in the zone. At that moment, the tune was The Scorpions: Winds of Change. I traveled in and out of different tunes as I completed the third row.
I was very proficient at siding and roofing. My father used to leave me on jobs by myself, while he ran errands for other clients. I always tried to get more done than he expected, so when he got back he would sing my praises.
Reflecting back on that was a reminder of how much simpler life was when you lived with your parents. Being an adult was not what it was cracked up to be. My father used to complain to me about things he had to do that only an adult would. I would always say, “You know this adult crap you keep talking about is only going to keep me with you and Mom for much longer.” He always laughed at my teasing.
I loved my father. We always saw eye-to-eye, and rarely had a disagreement. The only time we disagreed was the day I bought a motorcycle. He said that he would have to bury his child too soon because he rode a motorcycle. I felt guilty every time I rode because he stood there, watching me leave, like it was the last time he was ever going to see me. I spent a fortune on riding gear and safety equipment just to appease him. I didn’t ride after he died. I had wished so much for him to be alive. I could have used his advice and support in a lot of things.
“Once the green board goes up, and you start putting on the siding, you measure four inches from the flange, and make your mark,” I said to myself, however heard my dad’s voice.
As long as your siding panel lines up with that mark every couple of rows, you will have nice, straight rows of siding all the way up and around the house.
I could never stand to be sitting inside for too long, which is why I didn’t mind switching back to general construction. It was easy to get work in the construction field. Being in the sun always made me happy, and reminded me of days on the job with my dad. We would always try to start early, and end early on days we knew would be hot, so we could get home, and swim in the pool the rest of the day. There is nothing better than a hot day, when you had nice, cool water to dip into. Whether it be a pool, a lake or, an ocean. Luckily now the ocean was in my back yard. Maybe on a day that was too hot I would go and try to force myself to have some fun.
It was not easy to have fun when I bore such self-inflicted guilt issues from what I had lost. Guilt issues that did not enable me to feel I was having fun in any situation. If I started having fun, the cause of my guilt would immediately surface. I would long for it to go away, would beat myself to death with it as though enjoying life meant I had moved on and was disrespecting my losses from lack of grieving. These feelings had plagued me for the past two years. Even if I enjoyed my work, I felt guilty.
Admittedly, noticing how beautiful Madalyn was left a guilty feeling in me later. However, deep down I was aware they all would have wanted me to be happy.
I took a deep breath after I realized I had fought through my own guilty feelings once more. My mind at times, I felt, was at war with my own heart. I was constantly battling through negative feelings. When they festered up inside I realized how much self-pity I started to put myself through, and had to fight against it. I was hoping it would get easier once I got into a good routine. It wasn’t getting easier by just sitting around and being disappointed by constant failures.
I finished most of the green board around the entire house, and began cleaning all the scrap pieces before I had left for the day. Once that was finished, I walked to my truck, hopped inside and began to drive away. That was when I noticed Madalyn, watching me from one of the downstairs windows. She had the curtain pulled open, and didn’t even care to hide herself. There was no way that she had not noticed me looking back in her general direction. Something was very strange about the way she looked at me each and every time. As she was almost out of sight, as I pulled away, she brought her hand up to her cheek, and appeared to be wiping away tears.
As if trying to fall asleep at night wasn’t already hard enough. Madalyn, standing in the window watching me, was all I could think about.