If you've read Where Love Once Lived, you know how tough Liz is. But, in this fictional account she is knocked to her knees by Thanksgiving and the thought that she is apart from her only living family member. Brian notices and tries to cheer her up. Here's what happens:
The next day, on the way to Hill Country Retirement Village, Liz was uncharacteristically quiet. Brian enjoyed it for a while, but soon he began to worry about her. Just yesterday, she’d hounded him unmercifully with questions about everything from why he didn’t go to church to what happened to his marriage. He’d kick himself later, but he felt he had to check on her. This was strange behavior for Liz. The next day was Thanksgiving, and perhaps she was upset about being alone. Her grandson, Michael, was her only family, and he was in prison for five DUIs.
“What have you heard from Michael?” he asked.
“Huh? Oh, nothing.” She stared ahead with her hands folded neatly on her lap. Even her usual animated body was quiet.
He’d learned to love this woman, and now he was worried. He’d never known her to pass up a chance to talk about her grandson. Something was wrong. If they didn’t have to get to Varner’s favorite stop on schedule, he’d pull over and give Liz a hug, the kind she handed out so freely.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“Yes. I’m fine.” Her tone and body language said otherwise.
“I know you’re missing Michael.”
“Yeah, I guess” she said. “What are you doing tomorrow?”
Getting her to talk was a new experience. Usually, he was looking for ways to shut her up.
“Does he write to you?”
“You keep changing the subject,” she said, staring at him with a frown he’d not seen before. “Write? Yeah. He writes when he needs money.” She turned away as soon as she said it.
Brian cleared his throat and glanced her way. “Why would he need money in prison?”
She shrugged. “Snack foods, mostly. He says they don’t feed them enough.” She tossed her hands in the air. “Who knows what he really needs money for? What are you doing tomorrow? You never did say.”
“Nothing.” Past Thanksgivings with his parents flashed through his head. Dad wouldn’t let anyone dig into the turkey and trimmings without telling what they were most thankful for. It was fun. He wished he’d carried on the tradition with Judy and Amy. He should call his parents. He missed Mother’s voice. Last time he called home, Dad said she was busy. “I don’t have any plans. I’ll probably call Amy and my parents. That’s all.”
“Good. It’s nice to have family, even if you can’t be with them.”
“Will you talk to Michael?”
“No.” Her voice cracked as she said it.
Brian took his right hand off the steering wheel long enough to reach over and pat her shoulder. “At least you know where he is. I remember you telling me he was sometimes gone for days, even weeks, during the peak of his drinking problems. You said there were times you didn’t think you’d see him again.”
“Yeah,” she said, still speaking in a monotone. “Those were the worst times. More than once, I wondered if he were alive. When he went to prison, I thought about him every waking minute until I got that first letter from him.” She wiped her cheek.
Brian hadn’t seen her cry before.
Spotting a bump in the road ahead, Brian shifted to second gear. He didn’t want the books to leap off the shelves the way they did the first time he encountered a speed bump.
“Some say alcoholism is a sickness.”
“I know,” Liz said. “I think it is, but I believe there are ways to control the cravings. Many people get help and never end up in prison. Maybe if I’d done more to help him, he—”
“Don’t blame yourself. I’m sure you did everything you could.” Brian stole a quick glance at her.
“I hope so. Well, if anything good can come out of this, it’s that he acts as if he finally understands he has a problem. Going to prison definitely got his attention, that’s for sure. I bet he’ll get help now.” Liz shook her head as if she wasn’t sure what the future held. “Well,” she said, “enough about me. I want to hear about you and Karen. You never did tell me what you two were talking about yesterday.”
He wasn’t ready to answer questions about Karen.
“There’s nothing to tell. We didn’t get to talk much. Right now, I’m concerned about you.”
“Me? I don’t know. I keep feeling I failed that boy. That’s all. Maybe he’s stuck there in prison because of me. I couldn’t afford the fancy attorneys like some can.”
“What about his parents?” Brian kept his eyes on the traffic in front of them.
“They were killed in a car accident, so I raised him since he was five.”
Brian made a right turn.
“I see how caring you are about everyone. I’m sure you were a fabulous parent. Sometimes kids have problems no matter how good their parents are.”
“I tried,” Liz said. “I just hate to see him suffer. Even though he’s my grandson, I raised him and I think of him as my little boy.” Her voice grew louder. “It’s hard not to feel like a failure when something like this happens.”
“Michael’s a grown man,” Brian said. “He made his own decisions, as bad as they were. You wouldn’t take credit for the good things he does, so why take credit for his bad choices? Besides, your ex-husband should get most of the blame, if there has to be some.”
“That’s true, but still—” She bowed her head and shook it slowly.
She was a tough woman—always helping patrons with their problems. He hated to see her depressed.
“I can’t believe you weren’t a good mother. You gave Michael love. You comforted him when he was discouraged. Surely, you gave him a good spiritual foundation that’ll kick in when the time comes.”
“I did!” Liz sat up straighter and sounded more like her old self. “I did all that.”
There's more to the scene, but this is the point where Brian has made Liz feel better about herself. And, it's the last time you'll see Liz down in the dumps in this book and the next. She is one tough woman, as Brian said.
But many people find the holidays unbearable, especially if they've lost a loved one. How about you?