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  • “You should go for a walk,” she said looking out the window, “before it rains.”

    “Absolutely,” I absently agree, trying to work out a way to capture the story bubbling inside my head, trying to net the words before they disappear, washed away in a downpour. “What time is the rain supposed to start?”

    More than anything, I want to stay and write, to work out the language, the story, the ideas inside my head, but I feel rude with my computer out in a room full of people even if they have their computers out, too, their laptops, iPads and iPhones. Devices. Divisive. Alone together. I know it isn’t right to write so I plan to walk. Soon. Just a few more words.

    “Five-minute warning!” he calls and I close my laptop, find my shoes and pull on my jacket to wait by the door as others arrive.

    “Hello! Hi! It's so nice to finally meet you!” I manage to say to everyone and no one at all.

    “Kristin and her dad are going for a walk.”

    “We’re going for a walk,” I apologize. “I’d love to talk more when I get back.”

    But there isn’t much time for talking when we return. The family of our family friends seem to be involved in a conversation too deep to catch. We’ve missed too much already.

    They’ve eaten their breakfast and left a single cold egg on a plate, cold rashers of bacon (which will go to Dad as I don’t eat meat) and a cold lonely pancake bearing a fingerprint. In a bowl on the counter, there’s enough batter for three pancakes more and Dad ladles it onto a hot griddle to make a pancake for me, one for himself and one for his wife. He dots hers with blueberries.

    “I’ve already eaten,” she says when he tells her, “but I’ll take another pancake.”

    Wind-chapped, I peel off my layers and tug at my hair, trying to straighten the tangled red locks. The syrup’s gone missing as has the butter. I smear jam on my single small pancake and peel an orange to try to stave the hunger of a couple of miles of windy beach walking and another mile or so inland.

    “I’ll eat more later,” I think, which turns into tomorrow because dinner’s really just “fend for yourself,” which isn’t that easy in someone else’s house. A banana. Grilled cheese. I’m done for the day. In the morning, though, when they leave to go to the airport and I sit and write in the house all alone, I eat an entire bagel smeared with banana and honey, and I am full. Sated. Happy.

    I probably shouldn’t have eaten the bagel. Or the grilled cheese for that matter. The bread is needed for lunch, the late lunch, that happens when everyone returns but I’m glad that I did because dinner’s not quite enough with meat at the forefront and a little couscous and veggies to be shared by seven adults and a child.

    “If you want more…” my stepmom says.

    “I’m fine,” I smile. I’ve been “fine” a lot over the weekend.

    “It’s all right,” Dad replies. “She’s eaten a lot of gumdrops.”

    “Gumdrops?” I wonder. “I’ve had about seven jelly beans. Is that what he means?”

    With an upset stomach, he’s too sick for hunger. Maybe seven jelly beans do seem like a lot of gumdrops.

    In the morning, before the wind, the bikes come out for a family ride on the beach.

    “Aren’t you going?” our family friend asks.

    “No,” I smile as I shake my head. “I think I’ll work for a while.”

    Really, though, I just wasn’t invited.

    She asks me to take a walk and I bat the tears from my eyes. Later, my stepbrother, sister-in-law and I go to town for lunch and a beer, and later still, my nephew and I hold a dance party in the living room. I love them all. I really do. But this family, my family, is a family all its own. I’m just an add-on item. The redheaded stepchild.

    As nice as they are, and they are awfully nice, I can feel the gap. I didn’t grow up in their house; I simply visited from time to time and returned home to questioning that rivaled the Spanish Inquisition. What did you do? Where did you go? So, they changed their dining room?

    Unlike the man on the bike on the family ride, my father didn’t teach me to drive on the Volkswagen Van. I didn’t take my test on his red Mazda Protégé. When I was 17, my mom paid my health teacher to teach me. Unlike the man on the bike on the family ride, I grew up poor in a single parent family until my mom remarried and then, I lived in a house with overturned tables, designated driving and defenestration of clothes (if not bodies). Thrown knives. Screaming matches.

    I lived someplace else.

    My family, which is my family and isn’t my family, knows very little of that, and my family, which is my family, knows very little of houses filled with basketball, sand and laughter. Bike rides on the beach. Angel food cakes on Monday mornings just because.

    My family, which is my family (and not the family, which is my family and isn’t my family) hurts with every visit, every picture, every bike ride because they feel I am choosing something other than them although they’ve already chosen something other than me. I don't belong there, either, not with the families they've built.

    Though I wouldn’t change the color on a single strand, sometimes it’s hard to be the redheaded stepchild I am. Twice over.

    I’ll be fine by Friday, just in time for another stepbrother’s visit and the sister-in-law who loves me like a sister. They’re bringing the girls on spring break and I cannot wait to spend time with my nieces between my nights on the couch, giving up my bed and the guestroom because it just makes sense. Next month, I’ll run away.
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