Nadja Maril grew up in Baltimore and lives in Annapolis Maryland. . She is the author of hundreds of feature articles for newspapers and magazines, two reference books on antique American lighting, and two children’s books illustrated with paintings by her father, Herman Maril. She has served as magazine editor at publications that include Victorian Homes, What’s Up? Media, and Chesapeake Taste but her first love has always been writing poetry, fiction, and memoir. This is her second short story published in Scarlet Leaf Review.
Keep Me Posted
I confess. I visit her page almost every day. She is my mother. How else am I going to see her? It’s not as if I could just drop by the house, (it’s been rented to strangers for the past year), or pick up the phone and give her a call. She’s dead. But she looks very much alive when I visit her Facebook page. I see the profile picture she chose with her arms around me, and my younger brother Steve. Behind her profile photo is a picture taken during our visit to Yellowstone Park showing one of the bubbling iridescent hotspots near the geysers. Along the margins are photos of her hundreds of friends, favorite pages, books, and music.
I read the comments friends continue to make. And that is something, a tribute to the strength and power of her spirit. We tell her, my brother and I, about our grades, the winning goal, the dress I wore as a bridesmaid at cousin Megan’s wedding.
Her friends put up posts about their kids’ graduations, the parties she missed, their need for her heartfelt advice. They extol the virtues of what a great teacher she was, and write about how they miss her. They post old photographs. They reminisce about all the great times they shared in high school, college, a friend’s 40th birthday bash last year, the fun they had skinny-dipping in the neighbor’s pool. And while none of these trips down memory lane help me, because I’m too sad and angry thinking how she won’t be at my high school graduation next month, I read on, and pretend she is still living within that page.
Forty- four years old!! That was her age when the cancer tightened its grip. Forty -four years old. Why did she have to die so young? Not fair. Not fair at all. But then I remember what Mom told me, “Whoever said that life is fair?”
Hah! Life wasn’t fair to Mom. My take is that she was just too nice. She was so nice that her husband, my dad, decided to leave her for his secretary when my brother Steven was two-years old. Talk about bad timing. Being a single mom, a working mom with a five-year-old and a two-year-old, to take care of was not easy. But Mom took it in stride. I never heard her complain. Always the optimist saying stuff like, “maybe it was for the best” and, “now I have more time for you two and my students.”
Not that I’m sure she didn’t dream of getting married again, but it never happened. Fortunately my grandma didn’t live too far away, and Stevie liked daycare. Dad took us plenty of weekends, which meant I’m sure she went out on dates. Even had a boyfriend for a while. We called him Uncle Ed. He dated Mom for two years, but he left, only to come back when it was too late and the cancer had spread. Meanwhile three weekends a month we were stuck with Dad and that new witch of a wife, Sonia, pregnant with our new half brother. Yes, she acts nice, but let’s face it, she is a home-wrecker.
Which it is why it really sucks that someone, someone named Helen Lapor, would write something on Mom’s page, a Facebook post so strange and so unkind. A post on Mom’s page that says: I’m so disappointed. I saw “your book”. Yours???? What happened to honesty and giving credit where credit is due?
What does this woman mean? What is she talking about? How can she be disappointed ? Mom’s children’s book? Mom taught first grade and yes, did I fail to mention that in addition to being everyone’s favorite teacher, she was an author. She wrote a children’s book and even won an award. I remember the newspaper article, framed and hanging in the family room with Mom’s picture and the header, “Appropriately written by a first grade teacher for first graders.” The review goes on to say, “just on their level, so accessible, simple and fresh.” Mom was so proud.
So who is this Helen Lapor who wrote the post… and how can she be a Facebook friend???
Doesn’t she know Mom is dead?
I send her a message via Facebook: Helen- perhaps you don’t realize that my Mom Shelley Durham died last year. Yes although she appears very much alive on the page if you read some of the earlier postings you’ll see links to her obituary and remarks made at her funeral… I’m guessing you were either a colleague or one of her students? Were you making comments about her book My Rainbow or did I misunderstand?
Oh Sally I’m so sorry. I didn’t know of your mother’s death. I’ve been out of the country, teaching English in Japan. I’m recently married and have a little girl of my own. Your mother was my first grade teacher. I happened to come across the book in the library and I was surprised. Nothing more to say. You’re in my thoughts. Wishing you success and a good life.
Her response sounded a little too pat. It bothered me so I emailed Dad, Do you know anything about a student of Mom’s named Helen Lapor? (maybe her married name) I’m guessing she was in her class 17 years ago. Do you know what she means by posting that snarky remark “Your Book” in quotes and that comment “ I’m so disappointed”
His response: Sally your Mom had lots of students and that was a long time ago.
Is he skirting the subject? According to my calculations he was still married to Mom when that woman Helen was in her class. Did Mom talk about her students with Dad? She’d tell me about some of them. There was a little girl named Peggy the year she first got sick who baked her a basket of cookies. They were as hard as rocks, but Mom insisted we try to eat them. Cute kid. She came to Mom’s memorial service. Mom talked about Peggy a lot. Did she ever talk about Helen Lapor? I’d be too young to remember.
The next day I get another text from Dad.
Hey did you want some fish? We were really successful out on the bay last Sunday and I put a bunch of fillets in the freezer… rockfish, your favorite. Let me know.
There is no mention of the previous question about Helen Lapor in my dad’s text but she is still on my mind. Her words continue to bother me and he is no help. Why am I not surprised?
I send a text to my brother who is doing the typical high school freshman performance of playing too hard and studying too little. He cares more about his friends and sports than anything else. He’s probably buried with schoolwork, trying to play catch-up, so he can bring home some decent grades. Will he even have time to answer me?
Hey squirt do you possibly remember Mom talking about a former student by the name of Helen Lapor? I know it’s a long shot but thought that I’d ask.
His response is brief. Who????
I want to write on her Facebook page anonymously, “You bitch” but she probably wouldn’t get it, wouldn’t understand how I feel that she has invaded Mom’s sacred space. Dad doesn’t seem to get it either and would never get it, never even understand the reason why I find him so disappointing although he tried to be a help when Mom got sick. Probably just feeling guilty. That’s men for you. No wonder Mom never remarried. Just watched, from a distance, while Dad started a new family with three more kids. So many of my friends have dads on their second and third marriages. I’m not sure I ever want to get married. At least Dad got stuck with all the bills. Good thing he makes a lot of money being a lawyer.
I visit Helen Lapor’s Facebook page, even though I’m not a friend so I see very little. But I do take note that she has a website and she’s listed herself as a writer and an artist. I thought she was an English teacher.
“Helen Lapor started writing and illustrating books as a young child. Her fascination with picture and words never ceased,” The text on the website begins and there’s an illustration that looks awfully familiar…It’s almost a sister to one of the illustrations in Mom’s book. How dare she plagiarize Mom’s work.
I wanted to take that page down. I tried to think of every possible password combination that Shelly would have used and came up dry. She always was so clever about such things. I even tried to find a way to contact the Facebook folks and explain, my ex-wife is dead and as a co-executor of her estate I find it in very bad taste to keep up a Facebook page when she is no longer living. But everything is so automated. There are no real people to talk to. It’s all about algorithms and computer codes. I assigned the task to my secretary who finally got through to them and sent them legal documentation to enable me to take the page down. The Facebook people, however, encouraged me to keep the page up as a “memorial page”. Evidently these memorial pages are now quite popular. And then the page became so important to our children, particularly Sally, that I thought I’d better leave it alone. There are some nice pictures there, Shelly with her beautiful smile and her radiating kindness.
It’s become a kind of shrine. In some countries families set up a group of photographs, statues, and light candles to honor their dead ancestors. Here in 2lst century America, we visit the deceased’s Facebook page.
I’m not much of a Facebook fan, but it is a way to keep in touch, at the very least to check on the kids and see what they’re doing, who their friends are, and what they deem to be important. So I play the game and pretend to be hip and cool. I maintain a Facebook page and visit theirs.
And now I have this predicament, which I can choose to ignore but which I fear will cause harm to someone I love, my children. To them, their mother was just about perfect, a model human being. But everyone has his or her flaws and Shelly was no different from everyone else. In the back of my mind I knew there was a danger in leaving that Facebook page up. Memories we embellish with positive kindness. Social media, however, that takes place in the present, in real time. And let’s face it; we live in a cutthroat world. Ever read some of those blogs out there and the comments people post?
Shelly wanted to be important, above everything else, and she always had to be in control of things. I think that’s why she enjoyed organizing the school year’s curriculum, setting up the bulletin board displays, scheduling the parent/teacher conferences and generally managing everything including our lives. She liked order. She didn’t like surprises.
She won teacher of the year on the state level more than once. Said she loved children so much, idolized children particularly the little ones during those formative years but that didn’t stop her from rejecting our child and ending our baby’s life.
I consider myself somewhat of a liberal, a registered Independent if you want to get technical about it. I believe in a woman’s right to choose, but it was my baby too. My child that she decided she didn’t want, because two children were enough. My child, that she had suctioned and scraped out of her uterus one afternoon, only telling me days later because the bleeding wouldn’t stop.
“Were you ever planning to tell me?” I asked as I drove her that night to the emergency room. “Was I not part of the decision? What other secrets are you keeping?”
“You wouldn’t understand,” was all she said.
While I never visualized myself as the sort of man who would leave his wife and family, I had to. Our trust had been broken. And no I’m never going to tell Sally and Stevie about their mother’s abortion. Only my wife Sonia knows.
The relationship between Sonia, and me, well it was a natural progression. I was lonely. I couldn’t bring myself to be intimate again with Shelly, not after that night. I kept thinking of the mangled baby that never was, the baby denied. It made me angry and depressed. I knew all of Shelly’s good qualities, her buoyant optimism and her attention to all the little details of running a household. The way she seemed to remember everyone’s birthdays, always knew the right things to say. But I couldn’t forgive her. She even offered to go with me to counseling, and we did go together a few times. She had excuses for everything and went on and on about how children needed to be carefully planned and needed full care and attention. But then there was that other incident, the book.
“You can’t steal someone else’s idea, someone else’s work,” I told her.
“What are you talking about? It was my idea, my assignment. Plus this was years ago, something in my files, something I almost forgot about and then remembered when I met that publisher at the Academic Success Conference last year. It’s my connection. My moment for fame. Don’t you want this for me? Besides, they were just little kids. They’ve all moved on to other things ”
“But this little kid had a brilliant idea, a storyline so perfect that a publisher is interested and now this is the time when you step aside and own up to who really wrote the words.”
“I wrote the words. She dictated them or at least part of them. Do you think a seven year old knows how to spell?”
“And I suppose she dictated the pictures too?”
“They’re not going to use her pictures. They’ve hired an illustrator, someone with a name and reputation.”
“But I bet they took a look at her drawings for ideas…”
“Alan the world is filled with ideas. We steal each other’s ideas every day and wonder who thought of what first. It’s a collective imagination out there, shared stories we all should embrace.”
What a pile of bullshit. Her theft of someone else’s work, her absolute selfishness, broke the last thread that was holding together our marriage. After that, I knew it was over. Lucky for her, the true author never saw it when it was published. Her family must have moved out of the area and never saw the local publicity. Probably she was a teenager by the time the book came out and what teenager goes and reads children’s books? But now evidently she has seen it and what can any of us say. Shelly is dead. Long live Shelly and her reputation as an inspirational teacher and children’s book author. Not that she went on to write any more such books. But still she had the one, which is a lot more than many other aspiring authors can lay claim to. She has her name on that book. She has two wonderful children, I think, but maybe I am a bit prejudiced being their father. Plus she has a lot of friends who miss her.
So what do I do about that Facebook post? I don’t want to tarnish Sally’s image of her mother. It’s probably better that I don’t contact the woman, the former student. The less I claim to know, the better it is for me. I never planned to tell Sally or Steve anything about their mother’s flaws. It would only hurt them. Better they should remember her as perfect.
I visit Shelly’s Facebook page. Yesterday I posted an old photograph I found of Shelly and me while we were dating in college. I thought the kids would like to see it. How young and happy we looked. How naive and eager we were to experience all that life had to offer. I hope my children never have to experience the kind of pain Shelly put me through. I’ll try to protect them as best I can.
You’ve been tagged. I receive a notification by email. I’m in a photo on Shelley’s Facebook page. Even after her death, I can’t seem to free myself from her grip. I was at Steven’s high school graduation. I’m in the pictures he must have just posted. And while I’m on the page I see an old photograph of Alan and Shelly from their college days. Who posted that? Probably Sally put it up there to piss me off. I’m the only mother that she and Steven have but I’m certain Sally refers to me as the evil stepmother.
Step. Where did the name come from? I think of the word and I imagine climbing up a steep flight of stairs and gasping for breath, challenged by the task being the replacement parent. I think of Sisyphus doomed to the task of pushing a heavy boulder uphill and watching it slip back downwards, losing all the ground he thought he gained. I don’t think Sally will ever accept me. She’s too invested in the relationship she built with Shelly, to make space for me.
I think back to the first time our paths crossed. I don’t think Sally even liked me then. Alan had picked her up from Kindergarten and brought her to the office because Shelley had a doctor’s appointment. As soon as her father had closed the door to his office to make a phone call, she started peppering me with questions.
" Do you have any children at home?" It was a question I didn’t want to answer because I wanted children badly. I wanted to be married, thought I was pretty much engaged to the man I lived with for five years, my college boyfriend but how do you explain such things to a 5 year old?
“Do you have any children?” she asked again.
“Children,” I repeated, feeling a slight flush on my face of embarrassment.
“No,” I answered brightly. “But I happen to know you have a younger brother.”
“Yes, he’s a bother. Too little to be anything but annoying. Cries all the time.” She resumed her interrogation. “You aren’t married?”
“My what a nosy little girl you are.”
She persisted. “Have a boyfriend?”
“I used to have a boyfriend,” I found myself replying. “Had a boyfriend for many years but we broke up.” I turned and quickly grabbed a stack of paper plus some pens and highlighters from my desk. “How about you make some nice pictures,” I suggested, “Maybe a drawing of the office you can show your Mom and Dad later when you get home.
Sally was not easily distracted. “We have much nicer colored pencils and paper at home,” she told me, “besides, my parents know what this office looks like. My Dad is here every day. Do you work for him?”
“Yes I do and he’s very smart.”
She beamed. “Yes he is.”
Ah something we can agree on, I thought to myself.
“My mother is a teacher,” Sally told me proudly. “She teaches first grade.”
“Is she going to be your teacher?”
“Oh No, She’d be tempted to play favorites. No I’m going to have Mrs. Linntower, the other first grade teacher. Now I’m in kindergarten and I already know my alphabet and can read a few books.”
“Very impressive,” I told her.
She studied me closely, looked down at my hands and pointed at my fingers. ”I wish I could wear nail polish. My mother says it’s only for grown-ups who have time on their hands. Do you have time on your hands? Your hands don’t look old.”
I laughed. “I think what your Mom means are women with extra time to take care of their hands.” Sally still looked baffled by my explanation. I started over again. “Nail polish has to be applied and dried carefully or it gets all messed up, starts to chip, and then you need to get it redone. Women with busy schedules like your Mom don’t have that kind of time.”
“But you do.”
“Only occasionally, when I’m going somewhere special.”
“Is she bothering you?” Alan poked his head out of his office to check on his daughter, having finished his conference call.
“This charming young lady. Of course not,” I told him determined to show him I was confident and relaxed around children.
But inside I felt nervous and worried that Sally was on to me, knew just how much care I’d put into my appearance, all to impress her father, down to my nail polish.
The truth was I’d fallen in love. Yes, I knew he was married and had children but I could detect something wasn’t quite right at his home. . I rationalized my behavior by telling myself that Shelly really did not appreciate or truly love her husband.
At the time I saw my situation as both tragic and romantic. I’d already blown my chances at following the traditional love and marriage route when I wasted all those years living with Ivan. If I could at least be the love of someone’s life—Alan’s life, that’s all I wanted.
Every day I used to take extra care with my hair and make-up and the outfits I chose to wear to work, imagining possible conversation that might take place if our relationship went beyond the bonds of employer and employee.
I made a whole ritual of choosing my color for the day. I had a witchcraft calendar that gave you the colors of power, plus lucky numbers. I never played the lottery but I did check every night to see the color I should wear the following morning. I know it sounds silly. But maybe it worked because Alan started saying I was his favorite research assistant. Maybe it was more about timing.
Sometimes Shelly came into the office. She’d ask me to do some typing. It was common practice in the office for spouses to ask for secretarial help. She was putting together a children’s book proposal and trying to meet a deadline. One of the other teachers was out sick and she had a busy schedule. It was in the early days of color copiers. I had to go to a special printer who had the right machine to duplicate the sketches for illustrations and it was there that I noticed the work was not Shelly’s. There were too many pages signed Helen in big block letters. At least that’s what I suspected, and I mentioned my suspicions to Alan. He must have talked to her about it because when he came into work the next morning he looked flushed and angry. That afternoon we worked late and stayed to talk after the office was closed.
He began to look at me in a different way. We became real lovers, not a fantasy couple in my mind. Their marriage broke up shortly thereafter.
I look at Shelly’s Facebook page when I check on those photographs from Steven’s graduation and I see the posts from Helen Lapor—about the children’s book, the one Shelly pretty much stole from her, and it reminds me of what I stole from Shelly, a woman who didn’t have a very long life. Maybe I can at least give her some peace and find a way to take those posts from Helen down or remove the page all together.
I check Mom’s Facebook page. A close friend of hers writes: I missed not having you at this year’s Spring Blooms Party. Even though I was certain I heard your laughter in the crowd and know you are up in heaven watching over us. I think of you often.
I feel better. The positive words almost cancel out the anger I feel towards this Helen person and the post I feel has sullied my mother’s page.
But I can’t leave it alone. I send another message to this Helen. I write: I see that you are an aspiring author and an artist. My mother must have had some kind of influence on your life. Can we meet?
The next day I notice my brother Steven has posted a bunch of photographs from his high school graduation on Mom’s page. I thought he was busy studying, little twerp. He’s saved the racier pictures for his own page, the ones showing his friends partying and drinking afterwards. Doesn’t he know better? I told him to be careful about what he puts up on the internet. It’s on your permanent record, just like the permanent record they talk about in school or in the criminal court system. It’s not something easily erased.
I wish I could just erase those posts from Helen Lapor. Meanwhile my stepmother Sonia sends me the following email.
Sally, I’ve been doing some research and we can turn your mother’s Facebook page into a Memorial Page, which means that only confirmed family and friends can place posts on her timeline. That way, outsiders can’t write random comments. Don’t you think that would be a good idea?
Oh she makes me angry. I don’t want her to solve my problems. I want to take care of this myself. I decide to contact Helen Lapor again.
I really would love to meet you. It would be a privilege to meet one of my mother’s early students now grown. Could you please find the time to see me?
At first she is reluctant, but I continue to cajole her with references to my mother’s untimely death and that it is so comforting to talk to her former students who can give me insight as to what she was like when she was young, before I can remember. Can she do that for me? Finally she acquiesces and we set up a meeting at a local coffee shop.
I recognize her immediately from the photo on her website. Plus she is carrying a portfolio. She wants to show me her pictures.
“Your mother used to teach the art class before the days when they had an art teacher just for the elementary school kids. She’d bring in all sorts of different supplies: pastels, crayons, colored pencils, poster paints. I liked to do the papier-mache. That’s where I got the idea about the rainbow because I was going to make one of papier mache --- I wanted it to be a mobile, something that moved in the wind and that gave me an idea about movement, motion, and color which evolved into a story about the origin of the different colors…”
She stopped talking when she saw the puzzlement on my face. I begin to realize she didn’t mean to upset me, but she did, because all at once it starts to dawn on me that maybe the idea for My Rainbow had not entirely been my mother’s. Maybe none of it had originated with my Mom. Maybe Shelly Durham, my angelic mother was not the angel that she seemed.
There’s a lump in my throat. I can’t seem to swallow my coffee. I mumble something about not feeling too well, get up, and leave.
A few days later I send Helen a message via Facebook. Sorry to stick you with the bill. Feeling better now. Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to meet. It’s the kind of note I know my mother would write.
I still visit my mother’s Facebook page, but I took Sonia’s advice and we’ve made it into a memorial page. While all her old friends have access, it’s no longer in the search engines for the general population but the page is still there.
“You have to take the bad with the good,” Mom told me, so I’m trying to be more accepting of people like Sonia. Maybe she’s not as evil as I make her out to be. As for Helen, I’m not sure what to think. Did she provide the creative inspiration for Mom’s book? And if so, what about all the work that went into developing the concept and getting it published? There are no clear answers.
I’ve been spending more time with my Dad. Maybe he ‘s not the villain.