Monday, March 13, 2017

Figuring it out

Look at that enormous Sloat head. 
I'm typing this from the doctor's office. We're here for a checkup on Isaac, making sure he's growing like he should and hoping he won't be covering his face for the next ultrasound. 

I'm about to be brutally honest with you, and I hope you can forgive me for it. 

I don't want four kids. 

Up until this morning, I have been dreading Isaac's arrival, I've been worrying about my money, my time, and the fact that I've got three adopted children who might grow up holding a grudge against our sole biological child. 

Akeeli, Aven, and Drake, if you're reading this, I need you to know I never loved you any less than Isaac. Not for one second. I know you can't help feeling like you might feel, but listen: I love you more than you could ever imagine. I love you so much I'd die for you. 

On the way to Tulsa this today, I had to drop my truck off in Wagoner to get the oil changed. This is in no way a sponsored post, but the guys at Kevin Grover are seriously the best, and one in particular slapped me in the face with some truth this morning. 

He walked over to me, and I spent some time trying to figure out if I was looking at his smile or the sun. That's Neil being Neil though. I've never thought of him as car salesman, he's a friend who happens to be exceptionally skilled at getting me to spend huge sums of money on things with four wheels. 

My son weighs 2.6 pounds today. He's grown tremendously in the last two weeks. 

We're sitting in the lab now, waiting on blood to be drawn. In fact, I'm almost positive Alicia is actually reading what I type as I type it. She's talking about how much Isaac has grown over the past couple of weeks, and saying that he better slow down. I think she's finally realizing that when you have a giant for a husband, his kids might be huge too. I don't know, maybe just my head is giant. 

Back to Neil. He came over and shook my hand. 

"Two things to congratulate you for, Travis. One, you look fantastic, and two, your newest little one!" 

Everyone always does that. If they're familiar with our situation at all, they're so excited for us; for me. I get that, and I'm thankful for the empathy, but up until today, it was a forced smile, forced enthusiasm. So I smiled back at him, and I gave my prototypical response. 

"Aww, thanks! Be excited for her though, I don't want four kids." 

Neil didn't even blink. 

"Oh stop that, Travis. You've created an eternal soul." 

I'm alone now, Alicia has gone back to have her blood drawn, and I'm fighting tears as I type this. It's me and one old lady in the waiting room, and I don't need her wondering why the behemoth four chairs down is blubbering quietly into his cell phone. 

We've created an eternal soul. 

My son is an eternal soul. 

Isaac is an eternal soul. 

Somewhere in my brain a switch flipped. I took a couple of confused steps and finally spit out a response. 

"Thank you, Neil. I've never looked at it like that." 

"I'll leave you guys alone, I know you've got a busy day planned!" 

He bounced away, frustratingly happy, unaware of the chaos he'd just wreaked in my brain. Unaware of his creating a tectonic shift in the pangean plate that is my selfishness. 

You see, that's all it is, selfishness. One thing I've discovered since having children is that I am, by nature, a selfish person. I didn't realize that until after we'd adopted the kids, but it's true. I am a selfish person. I want my time, my money, my stuff, my wife. I, I, I, I. 

I'm not saying all that changed instantly. I know somewhere between now and the next eighteen years, I'm going to be selfish. But I was given a new way to look at things today. I have four eternal souls that I am now responsible for. Five and six if you count mine and my wife's, and that's a whole lot of souls to be in charge of. 

My dad figured it out. I don't know how, but he figured it out. Reading his writings from when I was a kid, I know he was frustrated, unsure of himself as a father, and selfish. But at some point he cracked the code. He figured it out, and he took responsibility for the eternal souls he'd helped create, and he did a damn fine job of it. 

Now I'm back at the doctor's office, waiting for my beautiful wife and my son to come back from getting a shot, which is apparently what you have to do when your husband's blood (A+), has a higher GPA than yours (A-). We'll leave here and go pick up two other sons and a daughter, all of which are mine

Today is a new day. Today I was verbally slapped by a friend who has obviously figured some of it out. 

Thanks, Neil. 

Here she comes. Gotta go. I'm gonna try figure it out. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

#OklaEd chat questions for March 12

Photo credit
Well, someone somewhere messed up and gave me the keys to the pound sign Oklahoma Education (#OklaEd) chat on Sunday night.

My topic? How to help students succeed with "real life" English Language Arts (ELA) skills. I have a bee in my bonnet about prepping students for the workforce, and not just for the state tests they have to take. If that means they get through my class without knowing what a gerund is, but they can send their boss an email with the correct homophones in place, I feel like I've done my job.

I was asked to preview the questions in a blog, so here they are. I will give you my answers on Sunday evening, and I very much look forward to hearing yours as well.

Thank you, educators of Oklahoma, for what you do for our kids.

  1. Introduce yourself. Have you ever gotten a work email with spelling/grammar mistakes? How did you react?
  2. What ELA skills do you find yourself using the most at your job(s)? 
  3. What ELA skills do you think our students need to learn before they graduate? 
  4. How are you helping teach those skills to your students while staying inside your subject area? 
  5. How are you effectively demonstrating those skills to your students? 
  6. Do you use writing as a punishment (essays, sentences, words, lines, etc.)?
  7. How can you specifically alter your lessons next school year to teach some of these “real life” ELA skills? 
  8. Do you show your writing to your classes? Do you write in real time on SmartBoards, etc.? 
  9. Do you think it’s important for your students to see you make “real-world” writing mistakes (as long as you correct them)?
  10. Do you have a policy/reward system in place for when a student catches a typo/grammar mistake you’ve made? 
Have a great rest of the week, and I'll see you on Sunday!

Follow me on the Twitter here: @tstyles77

Monday, March 6, 2017


Let us not forget Lloyd's eyeball, lost in the battle. 

"Defeat, my Defeat, my deathless courage,
You and I shall laugh together with the storm,
And together we shall dig graves for all that die in us,
And we shall stand in the sun with a will,
And we shall be dangerous.

- Kahlil Gribran

One more.

One more trip to Oklahoma City. One more trip to the Big House. One more game. One more piece of hardware for the trophy case.

You gave that to us, Mustangs. You did. You gave us one more.

When you walk into the hall, there are still streamers and small basketballs hanging from the ceiling. There is still paint on the door, telling you to go get the gold. There are still signs on your locker that say, "State Bound."

All of these reminders of what happened on Saturday night. If I had to imagine, painful reminders. I'm here to tell you they shouldn't be.

You gave me one more chance to go see my favorite team from my favorite school play in my favorite place: the state final.

And let us not forget Coach Clark's tie, which remained the entire game on Saturday.
You gave me one more chance to hang out with friends I hadn't seen in forever.

You gave me one more chance to tell your story.

You also gave me one more chance to spend approximately $250 on food for the weekend, but we're not going to focus on that, believe me, my beautiful and loving and kind and forgiving (did I mention beautiful) wife has focused on it plenty.

You can't see it very well in this pic, but that bucket had a lid on it. 

When the final horn sounded on Saturday night, I didn't see anyone on the floor hang their heads. I didn't see anyone cursing, throwing a fit, or mouthing off to the other team. I saw what we all hope to see in the young men who represent our school: dedication, not defeat; pride, not self-pity; and sportsmanship, not petulance.

You gave me one more chance to be incredibly proud of my school, my town, and my students.

Marcus literally cannot believe how high Caleb is jumping here. 
Also, can we be honest, just for a second, and say that you almost gave me one more heart attack on Friday night? No one had hopes of winning that game. I do not care what anyone tells you, no one thought you would pull that off. But you did, and you did it in such a way that gives this amazing town one more story to tell about that time in the state tournament when a miracle happened.

You also gave one more chance to someone to score a basket in a state final. You did that. You gave that to him. He will never forget it, and neither will anyone who saw it.

"Travis, I'm sorry, I tried to take a good picture but I was crying." - Alicia
So was I, babe. So was everyone. 
As an aside, I would also like to thank the Ft. Cobb-Broxton players who helped make that happen.

So, Mustangs, if I see you in the hallway with your head down, I will address it. I will remind you that greatness is not measured in the color of your trophy, but in your character, in your work ethic, and in the way you represent our town. And for those, Mustangs, you get the gold.

For those, you are number one.

Thank you.

"Between the pavement and the stars,
beneath the weight of years of scars,
burns the same soul -
paint the sky blue.
you're still you." 

- Reese Roper

Saturday, March 4, 2017


Two seconds.

Specifically, 1.9 seconds. But I'm rounding up because it's my blog and my story. So two.

Two seconds separated the Okay Mustangs from a loss in the semi-final round, packing up and driving home.

If you were there, you know what happened. If you weren't, you probably still know what happened. It was, in my opinion, the single greatest two seconds of basketball I've ever watched, and I watched Christian Laettner hit "the shot" in 1992.

I have hugged, I believe, everyone at the Big House this evening. I have done irreparable damage to my heart. I got real close to saying a bad word on Facebook.

And I sent this text before it happened.

I know I should be ashamed. But I'm a pragmatist.

It's now 7 a.m. on Saturday morning. Everything above this was typed when I got home last night, on an adrenaline-laced jag that made for great Facebook posts, but not so much in the inspiration department. 

So now I'm sitting here, staring at the computer, and hoping that somehow, words will appear on the screen the way the ball appeared in Caleb's hand last night. I guess I could set a timer on my phone for 1.9 seconds and add a little pressure. 

If you follow me on Facebook and Twitter, you know I do a lot of talking about pure moments of happiness. Hopefully, everyone reading this knows what I'm talking about; hopefully all of you have experienced one. A moment in your life which causes so much joy, it temporarily blocks out every other thing in your life. You are lost in that moment. 

I believe these moments can't be directly obtained, they have to be gifted to you. I've been fortunate enough to have a few given to me. Last night I got another one. 

It had gone terribly, the end of that game. We built a lead, then lost it, and then to top it all off made a couple of bad decisions late that took some wind out of the Mustang sails. 

I watched fans head for the exits. I don't blame them, I was mentally preparing for the drive home, thinking about whether or not I wanted to spend another night in the city. I sent Alicia the above text. I checked out. 

I vaguely remember Ben Smith looking over and saying, "Anything can happen." 

The stage was set for Pond Creek-Hunter. They had overcome the number two team in the state, and they were headed for the championship game. I've seen a news article that said Chad had told the team not to contest the pass, then changed his mind. I can't tell you how valuable it is to have a coach who won't give up. I played for one. 

I'm not sure when the moment happened for Caleb Riggs. I'm not sure if it was the walk out to the floor to finish a game he probably didn't still want to be in, or if it was something in the PCH guy's eyes that triggered it. Maybe he never doubted, I don't know. I can definitively say he was not preparing himself to be on every highlight video the OSSAA makes for state tournaments from now until the end of time. 

The referee blew the whistle, handed the ball to the kid from PCH, and what happened next was something the town of Okay will talk about until we're all old and gray and wear the bottoms of our trousers rolled. 

Time stopped. The collective intake of breath from both sides of the stadium could have vacuum sealed an entire year's worth of saltine cracker packages. And then...

Anything happened.

If you'd like to see it from more angles than a dodecahedron, you can click here.

As an educator, an English teacher, and a "Literary Man," I feel it very important to maintain a firm grasp of the English language at all times, both to keep up appearances and because of some sort of inner piousness, I don't know, don't judge me. 

But after that shot, I lost the ability to make words with my fingers. 

All caps because, well, the situation warranted all caps. 

On March 4, 2016, I typed these words: "Book the hotel rooms, Mustang fans. We'll be back next year. And I hope Fort Cobb-Broxton is there in the final, Goliath vs. Goliath, four or five moments away from another shot at a gold ball."

Well, Fort Cobb is in the final, just like us. Waiting. Gunning for their third title in a row, and with the chops to do it. 

But we have guys who don't give up. Gritty players and coaches who stare loss in the face and defy it, challenge it, who beat the odds and overcome. 

Our little town of Okay was once known as Rex. Rex is Latin for "King." Author F. Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in American lives, and I beg to differ. The Kings vs. Goliath, Act II happens tonight at 7 p.m.

Last year I closed by saying how proud we all are of you, Mustangs, and that pride is still there. We are grateful for the moments you've given us, and we're standing behind you tonight. 

Now finish the job. 

"You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise."

- Maya Angelou

Friday, March 3, 2017


Because I am first and foremost an English teacher, it seems only natural that I should begin this with a word you probably don't know.

Triskaphobia. A fear of the number three.

There are superstitions about the number three: death comes in threes, if you take a picture of three people the person in the middle will die, and that it's bad luck for three people to light a cigarette off the same match.

Y'all look, the "S" is missing in Students. 
It would appear that for some, the number three is a bad thing, a thing to be feared. It's portentous, malicious, and terrifying, particularly if it's the amount of Christian Grey novels you have to read before you're through.

The Okay Mustangs headed out on a three hour bus ride yesterday, for the third year in a row, to try to win three games in three nights. If you've got triskaphobia, you might want to stop reading this now.

If you take 11 from 14 you get...well, yeah.
In education, if you stay somewhere for three consecutive years, you get tenure. Tenure, simply explained, means your position goes from temporary to permanent. You can stop wondering if you really belong, and you are able to approach your duties with a sense of security and a newfound purpose.

The Okay Mustangs belong in the state tournament. They're tenured.

Last night I watched our boys hit three pointers, saw our fans lift three fingers in the air proudly, and witnessed three incredible quarters of basketball (that fourth one got scary y'all). I watched a lead form by what can only be described as a dog fight, observed a blowout, and suffered heart palpitations as Cyril did exactly what good teams do: fight back.

I honestly had no idea number three was in this pic until I decided to caption it. 
In the end though, one-third of the goal was accomplished, and the Okay Mustangs walked to the locker room with heads high, with tenure.

Pond-Creek is waiting for us today, hoping this is their year, and you can bet they were up late last night, nervously contemplating how to stop the Okay Mustang three, how to defend Okay Mustang number thirty-three, and how to saddle all our players with three fouls in the first quarter.

33 + 3 = mad hops
The best things in life come in threes. The Holy Trinity, The Lord of the Rings, the Musketeers, BLTs, Destiny's Child, and the number of times that are charms.

Personally, I like the first one and the last one the most.

There are three players in this picture. I know, I'm reaching, but Caleb looks too good here. 
Let's go boys. Triskaphobia be damned. This third time is our charm.

And when the dust settles, when you're hoisting the gold ball over your heads, we'll all hold a single finger over our heads instead of three.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

My response to your vote on Oklahoma State Question 779

That's the tweet that finally sparked this, just to let everyone know. I've been meaning to post this since November 10, but I've just never gotten around to it, and hearing those words come out of my wife's mouth this evening, it finally consumed me.

Earlier this year, in October, I was asked to guest blog on a site called Blue Cereal Education, an education blog based here in Oklahoma. I wrote this post. In it, I told everyone that no matter what Oklahomans voted on State Question 779, I'd be fine, and I'd show up the next day at work with a smile on my face.

I lied.

As I stayed up later and later on November 8, it became very clear that Oklahomans had made their voices very clear on a tax matter how good of a cause it was for. I fumed, and then I fumed more, and finally I went to bed entirely too late, incensed at you people for checking no instead of yes.

I googled the rate of pay for teachers in Arkansas, then Florida, and Kansas before finally my own words drifted through my head.

"I'll die here or retire here." 

So much for that, right?

So on that Thursday, November 10, we had a blood drive at my school. As a teacher, I find it crucial to take time out of my day to give blood, ostensibly extending my planning period by two hours and helping me avoid the after-lunch rush of freshmen.

I'm kidding.

But I did decide to donate, and things went swimmingly. Another teacher so graciously covered my ninth grade class, but not before snapping a picture of me and another student...a student who I love more than I'd care to admit, who is part of a family who I've known my entire thirty-four years of life.

Here's the pic.

Obviously a real intense moment, a moment full of caring and love. 
The teacher who was covering my class (who is a math teacher)—instead of just sitting them down and boring them to tears for an hour—took matters into her own hands and threw the picture up on the SmartBoard, then had them write a short essay describing what was happening in the scene (still think we should step it up, Fallin?).

I walked back into her classroom towards the end of the period, and the entire class looked up from their projects and began to laugh. I glanced up at the SmartBoard and put two and two together, and I smiled. The other teacher began to tell me what was happening, and had all the students gather their work and hand it to me. What followed was one of the best moments of my short eighteen-month teaching career.

Sometimes, I feel like I am blessed with moments of happiness so pure, so distilled, that they're meant never to be forgotten. Moments where you smile, you laugh, you cry, and then laugh again as you're wiping tears and snot all over your face just so you can see what you're consuming.

So as I was wiping tears and snot all over my face, I read the following gems. Now listen up: I know the spelling is atrocious, and I know the grammar is bad. We're working on it. As much as I'd like to be an actual miracle worker, I'm not, but I'm a damn fine teacher, and we're working on it. So judge or judge not, but as the great Ricky from Sunnyvale would say: "Make my words," if you make a comment about the spelling or grammar, I will scour your Facebook feed with all that I am and will bring your every error to light. These are my kids. Enjoy this like I did.

Her story is done, y'all. 
Me being in birth was a popular theme, maybe I should work on my blood giving pose? 
For the record, you could wax my legs smooth and not notice any difference. I am not a hairy guy. 
If this kid only knew how many times I've looked like this because I've eaten something that isn't good for me.
Hey, my reputation went down the drain when I publicly admitted to crying over your stories. 
Again with the leg waxing, is this a natural position for leg waxing? 
I died a noble death, much like the late Albus Dumbledore. Harry Potter reference achieved. 
I can't figure out if I want to hug this kid or accidentally punch her in the neck. MR. SLOAT OUT.
Well, I mean, doesn't everyone poop like this? Just me? Let's just forget this one. 
*crickets* mmmmm Nacho Day. 
There were so many more, one actually said it looked like I'd just heard all the Destiny servers went down (I brayed like a donkey), a few more about waxing, a few more about pooping, a bunch more about giving birth, and then a few solid hundred about how noble and brave I looked (just kidding they were about pooping). 

If you're a student, you keep reading. Everyone else get out of here after this paragraph. This is my response to you voting whatever you did on SQ779, and I'm through talking about that now. I understand your reasoning, and I'm sorry for lying to you, but "make my words," it was a small stumble along a long and loyal path that will end with my death or retirement from Okay Public Schools. I don't blame you. Now go. Young person, keep reading. 

Thank you. 

From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Thank you for taking time out of your day to make me laugh, and to make me feel loved (YOU LOVE ME I'M TELLING ALL YOUR FRIENDS). You gave me a moment I will remember for the rest of my life, and a story I'll tell future students, some of which might even be your kids. Thank you. You are amazing, you are a gifted writer, you are a great human being, and these stories will stay in a box for me to pull out and remind myself just how much I love this job. You did that. You are responsible for my continued happiness. Thank you. 

Now do your dang research paper. I'll see you Monday, and we'll act like this never happened. 

Love you. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

I open at the close

image source

I open at the closet. 

Allison pulled her phone out of her pocket and looked at the text, then looked again. It was from her husband, Brandon, and it lined up perfectly with the morning she was having: it didn’t make sense, and it kind of pissed her off. 

She stared at the tiny pulsating dots at the bottom of the screen, and hoped that the forthcoming explanation would be something funny. Brandon was nothing if not funny, and at one point he made her life interesting, not that she needed any more interesting at the moment. 

Hahaha, I’m sorry. 


I was trying to type Allison, I love you. I am so thankful for you. You have made my life completely different from what it was just a few years ago. You are beautiful, smart, and I always hoped that you’d be the mother of my children. If I don’t see you again, just know that you were the best thing to ever happen to me. I love you. 

Panic raced through Allison’s heart as she read word after word, then read it again. She called up the keyboard and began inputting text at a blistering rate, not caring about the typos this time, he surely wouldn’t care about them this time. 


Before she could hit send, the three little dots popped up again, moving silently left to right, and for just a moment she was able to hear the ellipsis, boom boom boom, boom boom boom, boom boom boom, but then realized she was hearing her own heart, frenetically trying to leap out of her chest. 

Allison whoah, don’t worry abou that I’m fin
I’m fine 
I’m trying to set up an automated message on my phone, I was trying to say Allison, I love you. I am so thankful for you. You have made my life completely different from what it was just a few years ago. You are beautiful, smart, and I always hoped that you’d be the mother of my children. If I don’t see you again, just know that you were the best thing to ever happen to me. I love you.
Ugh! I’m trying to text I open at the close but the freaking thing won’t send before it changes. 

Allison’s anxiety faded, but her heartbeat didn’t quiet. When fear stopped pumping adrenaline through her system, chilling anger took its place, and it did a more than thorough job in fueling her outgoing text. 

Why, Brandon? Why would you send me something like that? I thought you were dead or dying somewhere, why wouldn’t you just call? And what does I open at the close mean? 


Allison, I’m SO sorry. I had no idea I’d saved it, and was just testing it to see if it worked. 

If WHAT worked, you idiot? 


I set up a text replacement in my phone and the key phrase was “I 0pen at the close.” You know the line from Harry Potter? The one on the Golden Snitch that Harry looks at before he faces Voldemort? I just had to put a zero in ‘open’ so it wouldn't send again.


I thought it would be cool to use that as something I could text, then it would be replaced with all that other text, if, you know, if something happened to me on this trip or ever. You know? Just in case? 

Allison’s reply was sharp, and she hammered the rectangular screen as though each letter she typed was a hot coal she pressed against Brandon’s skin, and she envisioned him flinching as he read every word. She knew how important words were to him. 

To be honest, the Harry Potter thing is getting a little weird. I don’t feel good, the commute was hell, and the last thing I need is my supposedly grown husband sending me texts telling me he’s dying and then telling me he’s preparing for the worst by referencing a teenager’s film series. 

There were no more dots. 

Brandon sat back in his office chair, defeated. He knew Allison was going through a difficult time, and since she was going through a difficult time, so was he. He tried to lighten the mood as much as he could with humor, but that only worked so well before he became annoying. It wasn’t always that way; there was a time when Allison laughed at everything he said. He had felt like Dave Chapelle in the good years, before he got all preachy and walked away from television shows. 

But the years passed quickly, and one dream after another had escaped her. College failed. The dream job failed. And finally, what she considered to be the biggest failure of all: she couldn’t get pregnant. Of course Brandon never saw that as a failure, not once, and in fact, he wasn’t even sure if he wanted kids. But Allison did. 

At her insistence, they had tried for eight years to no avail. They had tried everything short of in-vitro fertilization, which was out of the realm of possibility because of the astronomical costs associated, and the risks of needing multiple treatments were too high. Adoption was out of the question because she wanted a biological child…lately it was all she wanted. 

He was leaving today, heading to Washington D.C. for a work conference. Brandon was an information technologist for a mid-level security firm that did occasional work for the Department of Homeland Security, and part of his job included these trips to D.C. once a year for security briefings, which honestly would have been better disseminated in a five-paragraph email. But hey, it gave him a chance to drink a few Yuenglings, and that alone was almost worth the trip. 

As for the Harry Potter obsession, he’d only recently acquired it. He was never allowed to read the series at home; his parents were convinced he’d try to put a spell on his younger brother. The movies were out of the question also, and as he got older and left the house, he never got around to either the books or the movies. That changed on his twenty-ninth birthday, when he picked up Sorcerer’s Stone. Less than two weeks had passed by the time he turned the final page of Deathly Hallows, and he was a fan for life. 

Brandon was fascinated with two particular facets of the series, Harry’s loss of his parents at such an early age and his “Green Mile” moment in the final book. There were times, he admitted, when he felt like his life would have been easier with parents who were less strict, and he was certain the Dursleys were less strict than his own parents. 

As Harry walked to his certain death in Deathly Hallows, Brandon couldn’t help but see the allusion to Christ walking to the cross in the final moments of His life. He also knew this was the kind of thing he could never say to his parents, or they would make his life—even his life away from home—seem like it was being orchestrated by Dolores Umbridge. 

In Hallows, when he read the line “I’m ready to die,” he marveled. Here was a young boy who knew he was going to die, and he willingly walked into it in order to save the lives of his friends and extended family. In the moment, his fear of death was overshadowed by the concern he had for the well-being of those he held dearest. He’d thought about it over and over in the weeks that followed.  

His phone buzzed. He looked down. It was Allison. 

Babe, I’m sorry. I’m frustrated, and I took it out on you. You said a lot of nice things about me there, and even though they were meant to be your last words, it was still comforting to know that you felt that way about me, especially with all that’s been going on. And I really do want to be the mother of your children.

Brandon smiled. Maybe they were turning a corner.

Allison stared at the dots, both wondering if her apology would be accepted, and knowing the last line was a lie. Just in front of her, the television they kept tuned to CNN burbled quietly. She moved to set the phone down on her desk when it vibrated. 

Hahaha, it’s okay, babe. I’m sorry for getting you worked up. It’s just something I wanted to try. I love you, too. And all that stuff is still true, btw. 

His forgiveness did nothing to lighten Allison’s spirits. To be honest, she had been hoping for a fight to help her justify the recent decision she’d made, to give her a target for her anger and frustration. She needed to lash out at Brandon because he was part of the problem right now. Not directly, of course, but he had certainly helped create the problem. 

Allison was pregnant. She had found out a week ago, after a missed period that she could normally set her watch by. Fourteen years she’d had that thing, and for fourteen years it showed up at exactly the same time. When it didn’t happen last week she knew something was up, and immediately thought it was cancer. A routine blood test—“There’s no way I’m pregnant, doc, it’s cancer”—had given her even more surprising news: after eight years, she was, in fact, pregnant. And now the problem was figuring out how to tell Brandon, because two days before she’d gotten the “big” news, she had decided to leave him. 

Figuring out the date of conception wasn’t difficult, Brandon’s birthday had been a few weeks ago, and sex was the only thing he wanted, according to his hilariously inappropriate reply to her emailed question about potential gifts. That had been the last time—the only time—in the past six months that it had happened. It wasn’t that the sex was bad, really. It just felt like a wasted effort to her now. The end result should be pregnancy, and that hadn’t happened, so why couldn’t they both just watch television until one of them either died or got the nerve to file for divorce? 

She once was of the mind that pregnancy would fix all their problems. A baby, she thought, would be the solution to the crumbling marriage, the lost love, and the constant bickering. But when she got the news, her first thought was “How am I going to raise a kid alone?” instead of, “Oh my god we’ll be so happy now.” That had only solidified her thoughts that the marriage wasn’t going to last, kid or no kid.

Brandon of course was as clueless as ever. An eternal optimist. Not that there was anyone else, Allison was a faithful spouse, and she wasn’t interested in other guys any way. There had been a few at the office she could have had if she wanted, and perhaps they thought they had a chance, until they experienced her brusque rejections to even the most innocuous flirting. 

In fact, now that she knew she had a baby on the way, she had begun to think she wouldn’t need anyone else for a long time. She had always been a bit of a loner; someone who preferred the company of herself to others. She thought it might be fun to raise a daughter—or a son, but it would be a daughter, a mother knew—by herself. Sort of a them against the world, sitcom-type of thing. Allison smiled at the thought. 

The phone buzzed again. 

Alright babe, I’m pulling up to the airport. I’ll be leaving soon, I love you, and when I get back we can talk more about what I can do to stop annoying you with some of my habits, hahaha. My flight number is 298, Bismarck straight through to D.C., I’ll let you know when I land.

Allison shook her head, snapped back into reality by text. Oh well, she’d keep him in the dark until he got back.  

I love you too. Be safe, and maybe just forget you’ve ever read Harry Potter, that would be a start. ;-)

The message received indicator changed from Delivered to Read, but there were no dots. Well, at least he wouldn’t bother her for a couple of hours. She shook her head again, then remembered the tiny life—all the websites said she (or he) was the size of a peanut—growing inside her. 

“Don’t worry,” she said under her breath, “I’ll make sure you never meet Harry Freaking Potter.” 

The plane engines hiccuped once, twice, then roared back to their normal pitch. Brandon glanced up from The Goblet of Fire. He’d experienced turbulence before. This wasn’t turbulence. The in-flight map on the headrest in front of him said they were just over Michigan, getting ready to hit the final leg of the flight over Lake Erie. His view of the screen was suddenly obstructed, and it took a moment for him to recognize the object. It was the oxygen mask. He grabbed his phone from his pocket. He looked around and saw he wasn't the only one with the thought.

“To hell with airplane mode,” he said. 

Allison glanced up from her work to gaze absently outside at the storm gathering dark clouds in the distance. It wouldn’t be awful, just another North Dakota spring shower. Maybe some lightning, maybe a few thunderclaps to make everyone here in the ten-story office building jump and give them something interesting to talk about as they passed each other coming in and out of the lavatory. 

Her eyes caught her reflection in the glass—time for a haircut—then she focused on the background and a reversed image of CNN. “eirE ekaL revo nwod seog 892 thgilF :gnikaerB” is what the ticker said, and pieces of metal littered a dark blue background. Her curiosity piqued, she turned around. 

“Breaking: Flight 298 goes down over Lake Erie.” It took a moment for the correctly ordered words to register. When they did, her heart jumped. She knocked over a stack of papers on her desk trying to find her phone, as an urgent knock sounded on her door and all of the lights representing different lines on her office phone lit up at once. She glanced up, still searching for her phone, and saw her boss enter the room, panic and pity etched into her face. 

She felt the phone, finally. Looking down, she saw a notification. 

BunnyHunch (1)

She hadn’t called Brandon that in years. Why was he still saved under that name? She pressed her shaking thumb nervously against the Home Button, hitting it twice on accident. Her Visa card came up, asking to be passed over the machine that would process her payment. 

Allison cursed loudly, and pounded the button with her thumb, finally clearing her screen. She heard her boss say something, but her attention was now on the Messages icon, and the tiny red number “1” in the corner of it. She opened her messages. 

It was a single line, something so simple, yet so complex, and something that perfectly encapsulated the entire marriage she was now not so sure she wanted out of. 

I open at the closet.