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I JUST WANTED TO BE SURE OF YOU by James Krehbiel

I’ve brushed my teeth and washed my face and now I’m lying in bed with the covers pulled up and my Winnie the Pooh book open to page one. Any minute the steps will squeak and that means Mom is coming up to read to me and tuck me in. I wait, but I don’t turn any of the pages because even though I know the whole story by heart, I want to pretend that I don’t and it’ll be a surprise.

Finally the steps squeak, but they squeak a lot louder than usual. Right before my door opens, I know it’s not Mom out in the hall and I’m right.

“Hey, bud.”

Dad comes in and plops down at the foot of my bed.

“Where’s Mom?”

“She’s tired and went to bed early.”

“Isn’t she gonna read to me?”

“Not tonight. I’m afraid you’re stuck with me.”

I don’t have the heart to tell Dad that I’d rather have Mom read to me. Mom makes the story a lot better than Dad because she has different voices for all the characters. She uses a slow, drawn-out, low, sad voice for Eeyore, a little squeaky voice for Piglet and a kind of dumb sounding voice for Pooh, but Dad just uses his regular voice for all the characters. I try to listen and pretend they all sound like they’re supposed to, but it’s just not the same, and after a while I don’t even listen. And when Mom reads to me, she slides up alongside me and puts her arm under my head. Dad just sits at the foot of the bed, not even touching. And when she’s done, she kisses me goodnight, turns the light off but leaves my door cracked open with the hall light on.

Dad finishes the story, pats my leg through the blanket and gets up to leave.

“Night, bud. Sleep tight!”

He leaves, flips the hall light off, closes my door, and starts down the stairs.

“Dad!”

I hear him come back up the stairs. He opens my door and sticks his head in.

“What, bud?”

“You forgot to leave the hall light on and my door open.”

“Oh, sorry.” He flips the hall light on, leaves my door open a crack, and I listen as stairs squeak and his footsteps disappear.

* * *

It’s Saturday, and Saturday means bacon, pancakes, and lots of maple syrup. As I come downstairs, I don’t smell bacon and I don’t hear pots and pans clanking around in the kitchen. As I walk by Mom and Dad’s bedroom, I see that their door is closed and I guess they must still be in bed. Dad is in the kitchen with Patrick and Jonathan and they’re eating yucky cereal, the same cereal we eat every day of the week, and I realize that we’re not going to get pancakes. I ask Dad where Mom is and Dad says she’s sleeping in, and it seems like Mom is tired a lot lately. So the four of us sit at our breakfast table eating shredded wheat, and no one talks, and we listen to our spoons clinking in our bowls. Dad is reading the newspaper, and Jonathan and Patrick have their heads buried in sports magazines.

After breakfast, Dad says he’s going into the office, and after he leaves, Jonathan and Patrick tell me they want to practice their slap shots in the driveway. I feel my heart beating faster because I know that means I have to play goalie and stand in the net while they fire tennis balls at me.

“I don’t want to play!”

“Tough. You don’t have a choice,” Jonathan says. “Come on.”

They walk behind me as we go out to the garage. I don’t even try to run away anymore. I stand still while they strap these huge pads on my legs, shove a big plastic helmet with mesh in front over my head, push a pair of big thick leather gloves on my hands and hand me a goalie’s stick.

“Do I have to do this? I hate this game!”

“Well maybe if you tried to block our shots and not just stand there like a wuss, it might be more fun,” Patrick says.

They shove me in front of the net and I feel like I’m going to cry. But they don’t care and they pass the tennis ball back and forth to each other, and then when I don’t expect it, one of them fires at me and I flinch, jerk my hands up in front of my face, and try to get out of the way.

Eventually I scream, “I don’t want to do this anymore!” and I wait for Mom to come out and yell at Patrick and Jonathan and tell them to stop tormenting their little brother, that I’m barely six years old and they have to remember that and they need to leave me alone. But she doesn’t come and they keep firing and I start crying.

That night, Dad comes home with a bag from McDonald’s. I ask him why Mom isn’t cooking dinner like always. He says she’s taking a nap and she’ll be out later. I look at Patrick and Jonathan to see if they really think Mom is just napping, but I can’t tell so I don’t question. I eat my cheeseburger while they munch on their French fries and talk about sports with Dad.

I love Sundays. That’s the day Mom takes me to Studio Theater downtown. Today they’re doing a story from Winnie the Pooh, my favorite! Every Sunday I lie on Mom’s bed and watch her get ready. She has so much stuff she has to wear. I know the name of all the stuff she puts on. I used to have to ask what everything was.

“What’s that?

“This is called a garter belt. It holds my stockings up.”

“And what’s the big white thing. It looks kind of tight.”

“This is my girdle. It makes me look thinner,” she explained.

I remember thinking that it seemed like a lot of stuff, but when she was all done, combed her hair and finished her makeup, she looked beautiful.

I could watch her get ready for hours. But today her bedroom door is closed. I guess she doesn’t want me to watch this time so I just get ready myself and wait in the car. We usually leave a half hour before the play starts at 2 p.m. I keep an eye on the car clock. When the clock says 1:30, I know we have to leave and I look back at the house to see if she’s coming. Now, it’s 1:45. Maybe we’re not going. I get out of the car and walk back inside. The house is quiet because Dad and Patrick and Jonathan have gone to a hockey game. I walk to Mom and Dad’s bedroom door. It’s closed, and as I tilt my head towards the door, I don’t hear anything. I stand there for another few minutes and want to knock, but I shouldn’t. If Mom is napping again, I don’t want to wake her up. So I just go upstairs, take my suit off, and climb into bed. I pull the covers up under my chin and look at pictures of Christopher Robin, Pooh, and the rest of the gang.

That night, I hear Mom crying. She and Dad are in their bedroom and I hear him say, “Oh, honey, it’s okay…” and then I hear her say, “I wanted a little girl so much… and now…” and then I can’t make out the rest because their voices are too muffled. I hear Mom crying louder and louder and I sit down on the floor with my ear pressed to the door. My heart thumps harder in my chest and my face feels hot. Mom doesn’t normally cry this much. Something must be really bad.

At breakfast the next morning it’s just Dad and us kids.

“I need to talk to you boys,” Dad says. “The baby your mother is going to have? Well… she lost it.”

“Where did it go? Should we help her look for it?” I ask.

Dad waits for a second. “Well, it didn’t ‘go’ anywhere,” he says. “It just wasn’t meant to be. It’s difficult to explain.”

I look over at Patrick and Jonathan, waiting for them to ask, but they don’t say anything and we just sit there looking at each other.

After Dad goes to work and us kids are walking to school, Jonathan says the baby died and that’s what Dad meant when he said Mom lost it.

“But how can a baby die if it wasn’t here to begin with?” I ask.

“It was alive inside of Mom, but it died, so now she won’t have it,” Patrick says.

My best friend’s, Tommy Ryder, mother died last year from cancer. Before she got cancer, she seemed real happy, just like Mom. My pet hamster, Max, died last summer, too. I missed him for a long time. But Max was here. I held him and fed him and watched him run on his little metal treadmill in his cage. We didn’t even get to feed or hold Mom’s baby or even see her. I still don’t get how someone that was never even here in the first place can die.

I go home from school earlier than Patrick and Jonathan, so every day I wait for Mom to pick me up. I see Mom’s car pull into the parking lot, but then I see Aunt Janet behind the wheel and I wonder why she’s driving Mom’s car, and why is she picking me up?

I climb into the car seat in the back, and as she buckles me in, I ask where Mom is.

“She’s home. She asked me to pick you up today.”

“But why isn’t she picking me up? And how come you’re driving her car?”

“Well, a car needs to be driven and your mom’s has been just sitting in the garage, so she asked me to drive it today.”

“How come she’s not driving it?”

“She’s a little tired today and asked me to.”

“But why is she so tired?”

“Well, your dad told me that he had a chat with you boys this morning. Do you remember?”

“Yeah. But what does that have to do with Mom picking me up?”

“When a woman loses a baby, it makes her tired.”

“But sometimes when she picks me up she says she’s tired, but she still comes to get me.”

“I think she’s a little sad, too.”

“Why is she sad?”

“I think she’s sad because she won’t have the baby. And she wanted it.”

“But she has me and Patrick and Jonathan.”

“Yes, but she really wanted a little g…” And then Aunt Janet just stops before she finishes her sentence. “I know,” she says. “And she loves you boys very much.”

* * *

That night Dad reads me the part in Winnie the Pooh where Piglet dumps a pail of water on Kanga’s baby, Roo. Roo is always asking questions. And I guess because Roo is so young, everyone else makes fun of him. But I like Roo and keep waiting for everyone else to like him, too. I guess that part must be in the next book. I remind Dad to leave my door open and keep the hall light on before he leaves.

I lie in bed thinking about Roo, Tommy’s mother, the baby Mom lost, Max, and when Aunt Janet almost told me that Mom wanted a little girl. And I remember when I heard Mom and Dad in their bedroom, when Mom was crying and she said the same thing about wanting a girl.

And then it pops into my head!

Why can’t I be the girl? Mom would have her girl and that would make her happy again and if I were the girl, then Patrick and Jonathan couldn’t shoot tennis balls in the driveway at me anymore or make me play tackle football with them or beat me up anymore because Dad always told us, “A gentleman never hits a lady.” It’s like a law or something. And if I were the girl, then Mom would be like our old Mom and she wouldn’t be sad and things would be normal again. And Mom will start listening to Frank again, too. She loves to sing along with Frank. Mom says between him, Mel, and Bing, Frank has the best voice. Mom hasn’t listened to Frank in a long time.

I know how to dress like a girl. I’ve watched Mom get dressed so many times that I know what order to put stuff on. I even tried it once. About a month ago, when Dad was still at work and Jonathan and Patrick weren’t home from school yet and Mom was standing out in our driveway talking to our neighbor, Mrs. Parks, I snuck into Mom and Dad’s bedroom. I remember Frank was on singing away as I stood right in front of Mom’s closet.

There were colored shirts and pants and of course all her dresses. On the floor she had lots of shoes, all different and some looked like regular shoes and then she had a bunch of high heel ones, too. Even her shoes were different colors. So I leaned down and picked up a pair of red high heels. Red! They were shiny with long pointy heels and toes.

I wondered what it was like to wear high heels so I set them on the floor, kicked off my sneakers, and slid my feet into each shoe. They were way too big, but I thought they looked pretty cool, and I felt taller! When I tried to walk in them, my ankles kept falling over so I just shuffled my feet along the floor. I don’t know how Mom walks in those things. I finally got over to our hall closet just outside of Mom and Dad’s bedroom door. It has a long mirror on it and I wanted to see how I looked. I was kind of sad because I looked stupid. I had on my Pooh T-shirt, the one with the big picture of Pooh with his hand in the honey jar, my blue jeans, and then Mom’s red high heels. I thought maybe I needed the rest of Mom’s clothes for the high heels to look right, but then I heard the back door open and heard Mom call me, and real fast I took her shoes off and put them back exactly where I found them in her closet, grabbed my sneakers, and ran up to my room so that when she came to find me, it would look like I had been upstairs. By the time I jumped on my bed, my heart was jumping around and I felt kind of like I shouldn’t have tried her shoes on, that it was bad and if she found out, she’d tell Dad, and then Jonathan and Patrick would find out, and they’d make fun of me and call me a sissy. I never said anything.

I’ve decided that today after school, when I get home, I’m going to tell Mom about my plan to be the girl. She’ll be happy about it because she wants a girl and besides, she already has Patrick and Jonathan so she doesn’t need another boy.

I walk in the back door hoping that maybe Frank will be singing, but he isn’t so I know Mom is still tired and sad. I walk to Mom and Dad’s bedroom and the door is open, but Mom isn’t in there. I look in the living room, Dad’s den, the dining room, and then finally I walk into our back TV room and Mom is sitting alone in one of our chairs way in the back of the room up against the bookcase and the back wall.

“Hi, Mom!”

Mom looks up at me and I see her eyes are kind of puffy and it doesn’t look like she combed her hair when she got up this morning.

“Hi, honey,” she says. But she doesn’t say it like she’s that happy to see me.

“Mom?” I sit down in the chair right next to her.

“Yes?”

“I have some good news for you!”

“And what’s that?”

“I’ve decided to be the girl.” I know she’ll be happy and give me a big hug and kiss and thank me because more than anything, she wants a girl.

“What? Why?”

So now I have to think fast and figure out what I should tell her. I can’t tell her it’s because Patrick and Jonathan won’t be able to beat me up anymore or make me play goalie. And I can’t tell her it’s because I know she wants a girl because I’m not supposed to know that.

“I like what they get to wear!”

“Oh, honey, I can’t deal with this right now.”

And that’s all she says as she turns her head and looks out the window and kind of lets her head drop down and closes her eyes. And for a few more seconds I just sit there not knowing if I should say anymore or get up and leave.

I go upstairs and climb into my bed. I pull my Pooh blanket up over me and stare at the ceiling. And I feel like Mom doesn’t want me as a boy or a girl now.

That night, Dad asks me what story I want to hear so I pick the story of when Tigger first comes to the forest. Tigger isn’t like anyone else in the forest because he’s real bouncy and the only other bouncy animal is Kanga, but she’s supposed to be bouncy. At first, they can’t figure Tigger out because he likes to do stuff that nobody else likes to do and he doesn’t eat anything that everyone else likes to eat. So finally they decide to go ask Kanga what Tigger will eat because Kanga is a mother and mothers know that kind of stuff. While Kanga is thinking of what Tigger might like, Tigger dips his paw into Roo’s medicine. Roo has to take medicine because he is so little and kind of weak and the medicine will help Roo to grow up big and strong. And everyone is surprised that Tigger loves Roo’s medicine even though Tigger is already pretty strong. So even though Tigger isn’t like anyone else in the forest, they all end up liking him a lot.

A couple of days later, both Mom and Dad drive me to some guy’s office. I’m surprised that Mom comes with this time. I think she must not be so sad and tired if she’s coming because I can’t hardly remember when she last left the house.

“Where are we going?”

“We’re going to see Dr. Knowles,” Dad says.

“Who’s Dr. Knowles?”

“He’s just a Doctor. Kind of like Dr. Fisher.”

“Is he going to give me my check-up instead of Dr. Fisher?”

“No, he’s a different kind of doctor. He just wants to talk to us.”

“What does he want to talk about?”

“I don’t know. I guess we’ll see when we get there.”

So we drive along and nobody talks. Dad turns the radio on and it’s Frank! I know Mom will like that, but she doesn’t sing along and she just looks down at her lap, and from behind her, sitting in my car seat, I notice that she has some white hairs that she never had before.

Mom and Dad go in first to see the guy and I sit alone in this room that doesn’t look like a doctor’s office, but it doesn’t look like a normal house room either. It has a couch and curtains on the window and some pretty comfy chairs, but then there are all these piles of magazines on the tables, like whoever sits in the room is supposed to read them. And there are lots of ducks on the walls. Not real ones, just pictures. It’s weird and I’m all alone and I want Mom and Dad to come back. Finally after about twenty minutes, Mom and Dad come out and I have to go in, alone. They say it’s okay.

Dr. Knowles gives me the creeps. He doesn’t have hardly any hair and what little he has looks like greasy string that someone plopped on his head. I can see his head skin underneath. Yuck! And his nose is pointy with grey hairs sticking out of it. Double yuck! He says his name is Dr. Knowles, but I don’t think he’s a real doctor. He doesn’t have a white coat on and he doesn’t have one of those long wire things hanging around his neck that real doctors stick in their ears and then put the other end on your chest. And he doesn’t have a big metal table with that stupid crinkly paper that always sticks to my fanny like Dr. Fisher has.

He pulls a chair up next to his, has me sit in it, and starts asking me questions. His voice is growly and rough and he smells kind of funny, like Jonathan and Patrick’s hockey clothes when they forget to take them downstairs. His first few questions are easy. Stuff like how school is going, what do I like to do in my free time?

“So,” he says. “Your mother and father tell me that you’d like to be a girl.”

“Yes, I would.”

“Can you tell me why?”

I give him all the same reasons I told Mom. And then, I make him promise not to tell, and when he promises he won’t, I tell him that I know Mom wants a little girl and that I’m willing be one—that I want Mom to be happy again.

He looks at me serious and says, “You know that little boys and little girls have different body parts, don’t you?”

I guess I did know that, but I hadn’t really thought about it. As soon as he says it though, I start feeling kind of funny, like my face starts to get warm and my stomach feels like it’s jumping around. I don’t answer his question.

“You know that a little girl does not have a penis, don’t you?”

I don’t want to talk about it and I want him to stop talking about it.

“If you really want to be a little girl, your penis will have to be removed,” he says. And as he talks, he pushes his chair back from his desk, opens the top drawer, and slowly sticks his hand in. He doesn’t sound mad at me or anything, just serious.

I watch his hand in the drawer and I don’t feel like me. I can’t move and my throat feels like someone is squeezing it. It takes a second, but then he pulls his hand out and when he does, he’s holding this little curved knife with a long handle. It looks sharp.

“Do you know what this is?” He holds the little knife up in front of me.

“A knife?”

“Yes, but it’s a special kind of knife. It’s the kind of knife that doctors use when they want to cut something,” he says. “It called a scalpel.”

And when he says “cut” all of a sudden I feel my heart thump-thump-thump real fast like when I’m lying in bed late at night and even though my door is cracked open and the hall light is on, it’s black in my room and I know there’s some guy under my bed because I can hear him breathing. And I want to get out of bed and run but I know if I get out on the side, he’ll see my legs and grab me so I think to jump off the end of the bed but my arms and leg won’t move so I yell for Mom or Dad as loud as I can but I can’t hear myself because the thump-thump-thump is so loud and I just lie still in the middle of the bed with my arms pressed in and I don’t breathe or make a sound and I hope he can’t hear my heart thumping and that he’ll go away.

“If you want to be a little girl, then a doctor will have to use a scalpel to cut your penis off.”

I sit there looking at the little knife as he slowly tilts it from side to side in front of me. My brain won’t work and I look around for a trash can, just in case, because it feels like that horrible morning last summer when I woke up and walked over to Max’s cage and saw him lying all stiff in the bottom and I just stood there frozen and felt sick to my stomach.

I try to not to look at the little knife, and the only thing I can think is that I need Mom and Dad and I’m afraid that if I don’t get out of there, he’ll make me pull my pants down and cut it off.

Suddenly I open my mouth and just blurt it out. “No! No, I don’t want to be a girl! I change my mind.” And now I’m breathing again but not calm, short and fast breathing like I just ran a hundred miles.

“You sure?” he asks.

“Yeah, I’m sure. I don’t want to. I change my mind.”

“Okay then,” he says, and he opens his drawer and puts the little knife back and slowly pushes the drawer closed. “There now, do you feel better?”

I feel better that he put the knife away but I still don’t feel good but I nod and pretend that I do so he’ll stop talking and leave me alone.

He smiles at me and then says, “How about if we go find your parents? How does that sound?”

My voice is stuck so I just nod big so he’ll know that I changed my mind and that I want to leave.

When I get back to the weird room where my parents are, I run over to Mom and Dad. They stand to talk to Dr. Knowles and I hide behind Dad’s legs. He says that he thinks everything will be fine now and then we leave. Nobody talks about what happened on the way home. I don’t want to and I guess Mom and Dad don’t either.

Later that night Dad reads the story about when Piglet gets caught in the rain storm and it rains so much that he has to jump up on a chair and then the chair gets caught in the water and Piglet starts to float away and he’s really scared and he keeps calling for help but no one hears him. I feel bad for Piglet because, except for Roo, he’s the littlest of all of them and he’s always afraid. But finally Christopher Robin and Pooh see Piglet out in the water all alone hanging on to his chair and they take an umbrella and turn it upside down so it’s a boat and they paddle out and save him. I’m glad Piglet got saved.

Before Dad gets up to leave I remind him about my door and hall light. He says he would have remembered but I’m not so sure.

The next day Aunt Janet picks me up from school again. I walk in the back door and look past our kitchen into our back room and I see Mom is there just sitting by herself. I think I should go back and say hi and maybe I can make her feel better, but Mom is starting to scare me because she’s not like our old Mom and I’m afraid that I might say something that will make her worse. So instead, I just go upstairs to my bedroom and lie on my bed and wonder if I’m the reason Mom is sitting alone all sad and tired.

That night, after we eat our McDonald’s hamburgers and French fries everyone takes off. Jonathan and Patrick go to their rooms to do homework and Dad goes into his den and closes the door.

I sit on the couch in our living room looking at a magazine and there’s a picture on the front of some lady with grey hair and she has her head in her hands and it looks like she’s crying. I flip through the magazine to see if I can find her inside and see why she’s crying, but I don’t see her anywhere and I wonder if they forgot to put her inside so everybody could read about her and then make her feel better. I feel bad for the lady on the cover.

Later that night Jonathan comes downstairs and stands half-hidden with me behind the doorway and we watch Mom. The back room is dark except for one dim light she has on next to her, and as we watch, she picks up a pair of sunglasses and puts them on. I whisper to Jonathan.

“Why is she putting those on?”

“I don’t know. It’s weird.”

“Do you think her eyes hurt?”

“I don’t know. It doesn’t make any sense,” he says.

And then we watch as Mom reaches into her bathrobe pocket and pulls out a pack of cigarettes.

“What is she doing?”

Jonathan looks at me and says, “Man, I don’t know. Mom doesn’t smoke!”

And then Mom strikes a match and breathes the smoke in and blows the match out and the smoke swirls up over the one light and then disappears into the dark. The cigarette stinks. But she doesn’t seem to care and she keeps puffing and taps the ashes into the palm of her hand.

“Do you think we should go get Dad and tell him?” I ask.

“Dad’s in his den with the door closed.”

So Jonathan and I just stand there watching, and after a few minutes Jonathan leaves and goes upstairs, but I stay and watch. It’s like watching some lady I don’t know and I can feel my heart beating and my hands are clammy and I feel like if she sees me and turns to talk to me, I might run away because I feel afraid of her. But Mom doesn’t turn to look or talk to me and I’m glad. She just sits there with the glasses on, keeps lighting one cigarette after another, and finally I leave her sitting there all alone and head for my bedroom.

When I get to the top of the stairs, I hear Patrick and Jonathan talking in Patrick’s room. The door is closed, but they aren’t being careful and I can hear they’re talking about Mom. I knock on the door and from inside, I hear, “Yeah?”

“It’s me. Can I come in?”

“If you have to,” Patrick says.

I go in and close the door behind me. They are sitting on Patrick’s bed and there’s a pile of smelly hockey clothes on the floor. I try not to breathe.

“Are you guys talking about Mom?” I pull myself up onto Patrick’s bed and it feels the three of us are buddies, sitting in a little circle like we’re roasting marshmallows around a campfire.

“Yeah, we are.”

I look at Patrick because he’s the oldest and if either of them knows what’s going on, he will.

“Do you know what’s going on with Mom?”

Patrick looks at Jonathan for a second and then over to me. “That’s what we were just talking about,” he says.

“Well, do you?”

“We think it has to do with the baby she lost,” Patrick says. “She must be sad about it.”

I think about Mom wanting a girl, but I don’t say anything.

“But she has all of us,” I say.

“I know. That’s the part we can’t figure out,” Jonathan says.

“Have you guys asked Dad?”

“I tried to the other day,” Patrick says. “But it was like he didn’t want to talk about it. He just said that we needed to be patient and eventually she’d get better.”

“I think it’s some kind of secret,” Jonathan says.

Patrick looks up. “What kind of secret?”

Jonathan looks at the ceiling as though the answer might just drop down into his lap. “I don’t know. Mom’s secret I guess.”

“Did Dad say why he thought she was so sad?” I ask.

“Nope.”

“Do you think it will take long for her to get back to normal?”

“Don’t know.”

* * *

That night Dad reads me the story about when Pooh went to visit Rabbit, and his belly got too big from eating so much honey and he got stuck in Rabbit’s door! No matter how hard Rabbit pushed or pulled, Pooh didn’t budge. Pooh got more and more scared because he thought he might have to spend the rest of his life stuck in Rabbit’s hole! When Piglet wandered by he got even more scared, because he and Pooh were the very best of friends and if Pooh never got unstuck, then Piglet wouldn’t have anyone to walk and explore with and Pooh wouldn’t be able to look after Piglet like he always had. Finally Christopher Robin came along and said the only way for Pooh to get unstuck was to not eat anything for at least a week and then his belly would get smaller and then he’d be able to unstick himself. And after a week of no eating, Pooh popped out of the hole to everyone’s delight! Piglet was the happiest of all of them.

“Dad?”

He turns to me right as he’s about to walk out the door. “Yes?”

“Is Mom okay?”

Dad waits for a few seconds.

“Your mother is going through a rough time.”

“How come?”

“Well,” he says, “it’s kind of complicated. There’s just a lot going on with her right now.” And then Dad reaches over, wiggles my toes through the blanket, and for a second, it looks like he’s going to say more but he doesn’t. He just says goodnight and I hear the steps squeaking as he goes downstairs. He remembers to leave my door cracked open but turns off the hall light.

“Dad!”

Dad doesn’t come back, so I have to get out of bed and turn it back on myself.

I wanted to ask Dad if he thought Mom would get better. What if she keeps sitting alone in her bathrobe with the coffee stains on the front and she keeps wearing the sunglasses and keeps smoking and never starts listening to Frank again? What would happen to us if Mom never comes back?

Tonight we get a pepperoni and mushroom pizza. I don’t like mushrooms because they’re squishy so I pick all the mushrooms off. Usually, Mom orders a couple of pieces without mushrooms for me. I guess Dad forgot. Mom says I’m a picky eater. She must mean that I’m like Tigger because he’s a picky eater, too. After dinner Dad says he wants to talk to us so we go into Mom and Dad’s bedroom and we climb up on their bed. I can tell Dad is trying to figure out what to say because he has lines on his forehead.

“Your mother is going away for a little while,” he says.

“Away? Where is she going?” Jonathan asks.”

“She’s just going away on… well, like a little vacation. I’m sure you guys have noticed that she’s not herself,” he says. “She’s been feeling sad lately and she just needs to go somewhere to rest and feel better.”

Jonathan asks again, “But where is she going? When will she be back?”

“She’s going to the hospital. The doctors there think they can help her feel better.”

“Are they going to give her a physical, like Dr. Fisher does?”

“No, they have some other things they want to try. While she’s gone, Aunt Janet will be around. She’ll keep an eye on you guys until I get home from work.”

Then Patrick asks, “How long will Mom be gone?”

“Ten to fourteen days,” Dad says. “And when she comes home, I need you boys to be on your best behavior. It might take your mother a while to get back to normal and we all need to be careful around her. There will be no fighting or arguing when she comes home. Can you boys do that?”

We all nod and tell him that we’ll try and that we want Mom to be herself as quick as she can.

The next ten days goes slow and I’m sick of McDonalds and pizza.

A couple of days before Mom comes home, Dad asks us if we’d like to go visit her in the hospital. He says she misses us and wants to see us.

We aren’t allowed to go up to where she is living so Jonathan, Patrick, and me wait in the lobby. The lobby is big and it has a desk with some old lady behind it and it has a store where you can buy flowers and stuffed animals. I want to go in, but Dad says that’s not why we’re here. So the three of us sit off to one side on a big sofa they have and this part looks like someone’s living room. Dad goes up to get Mom and I feel scared. I’m not sure what Mom is going to be like. I don’t know if she’ll still be wearing the sunglasses or if she’ll still be sad. I’m not sure what to say to her.

The elevator door opens and Mom and Dad walk out and I feel a little better because she isn’t wearing the glasses and as soon as she sees us she smiles.

She sits down on the couch beside us and starts asking questions about how school is. Are we enjoying having Aunt Janet around? You know, just easy questions. It’s nice to hear Mom talking again, but as I watch and listen, there is something kind of different about her. She’s Mom but she isn’t really. It’s like her battery is kind of worn out, like when a flashlight gets dim and sort of tired and you know it’s time to put a new battery in. She smiles and stuff, but she seems kind of flat. It’s like she could break if we aren’t careful. We don’t stay long, and when we get ready to leave, Mom gives each of us a hug and a kiss and says she’ll be home in a couple of days. And that she’s looking forward to it.

* * *

It feels nice to have Mom back home again. She isn’t really like our old Mom yet because she’s still kind of quiet and Dad says it might take a little while for her to get back to normal. Jonathan and Patrick and me have been careful. They haven’t made me play goalie or beaten me up since she got home. It kind of doesn’t even feel like my family. Her first night back I really hoped that she’d come upstairs and read to me but she didn’t and I wondered if Dad was going to read to me from now on. That made me kind of sad.

It’s Saturday, and when I come downstairs, I hear pots and pans in the kitchen and I can smell bacon! Bacon! And sure enough, Mom is making pancakes with lots of butter and syrup and bacon and it tastes so good and everyone is talking and it feels a lot like it used to and I’m glad because we won’t have to have McDonalds or pizza anymore.

After breakfast, Patrick and Jonathan go outside to practice their slap shots in the driveway, but they don’t make me play goalie because we’re trying to behave. Dad goes into his den and closes the door and says he has work he needs to do. And while Mom is washing the dishes from breakfast, I go watch cartoons on TV. They’re my favorite TV shows, but I haven’t been able to watch them while Mom was tired and sad because our television is in the back room where she sat and smoked.

I turn the TV off after Winnie the Pooh is over and head for my bedroom, but as I walk by the kitchen door, I hear music and then I realize it’s Frank, but he’s kind of soft. Mom must have put a cassette in the player that she has on the kitchen counter, and for a second, I stand at the door and listen. Mom has her back to me and she’s wiping the counter off, and quiet like I can hear her humming along with Frank. She’s not singing loud or dancing like she does when she’s happy, but she’s humming and I think that’s a good sign. I figure it must mean she’s trying to come back.

* * *

I’ve got my favorite pajamas on, you know, the ones with Piglet and Pooh walking down the path holding hands, and I’m lying in bed waiting for Dad to come up and read to me. The stairs start squeaking, but it’s not the Dad squeak and I think maybe it’s Mom! And sure enough, my door opens and Mom is standing there smiling at me.

“Mom!” I say, real excited. “Are you going to read to me tonight?”

“Of course I am. I’ve missed reading to you!”

She walks in, climbs onto my bed, slides up alongside me, and slips her arm under my head. “I bet it hasn’t been the same with your father reading to you,” she says. “What should we read tonight?”

I hand her my Winnie the Pooh book with it open to the story about when they all tried to unbounce Tigger. I really like this one!

I lay my head back against Mom’s arm, snuggle in close to her, and close my eyes.

Mom starts reading about when Rabbit, Piglet and Pooh decided to take Tigger on a long explore in the Hundred Acre Wood. It was Rabbit’s idea and he thought if they could take Tigger somewhere he didn’t know and then lose him, that Tigger would get scared all alone and lost and if Tigger was scared, he wouldn’t bounce anymore. I guess they wanted Tigger to be more like them. It was a misty day and they walked and walked and then finally when Tigger ran ahead of them, Rabbit, Pooh, and Piglet turned and ran away in a different direction. And after they ran for a long time, they stopped and listened to see if they could hear Tigger, but they couldn’t so they figured it worked and that when Tigger finally came home, he wouldn’t be nearly as bouncy. But then, they kind of got scared because in all the running and hiding from Tigger, Rabbit, Pooh, and Piglet got lost, too! Rabbit ran ahead because he was sure how to get home and once he figured it out he’d come back to get them. But the mist got thicker and thicker and Rabbit didn’t come back and now it was just Piglet and Pooh, all alone and lost.

As Mom reads, I don’t even listen to the story, but kind of far away, I hear the squeaky voice she uses for Piglet and kind of dumb voice she uses for Pooh, and it feels nice to hear everyone sound like they’re supposed to sound again.

I already know the story by heart so I just lie there and feel Mom’s arm under my head, her hair hanging down, tickling my forehead, and I breathe in and it smells just like Mom. My old Mom.

Then she reads the part where Piglet and Pooh are on top of a hill looking out over the mist trying to tell what direction to go in and Piglet is hoping Pooh will be able to find the way because Pooh always takes care of Piglet. Piglet is scared and walks up next to Pooh, nudges his hand, and says, “Pooh?”

“Yes, Piglet?”

“Oh, nothing,” Piglet says. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

Mom finishes the story, closes the book, leans over, and kisses me on my forehead. She gets up, tucks my Pooh blanket in, and as she is about to leave, she turns and tells me to sleep tight, and that she loves me.

And then, as I knew she would, she leaves my door open a crack and the hall light on.

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AUTHOR BIO:

James Krehbiel is a professional musician (violinist) and was a member of the Syracuse Symphony. In addition, he served on the faculty of the School of Music at Syracuse University. Mr. Krehbiel received his Bachelors of Music degree and his Performers Certificate from the Eastman School of Music. Mr. Krehbiel is a member of the Central New York Creative Writers group and has had work accepted for publication by Through the Gaps, Foliate Oak, The Legendary, The Roundup Writer’s Zine, Down in the Dirt and Fiction on the Web literary journals. In his spare time, he is an advocate of the creative arts, enjoys biking, golf and enjoys being swept up in a great tale. He also spends his time bonding with his bloodhound-beagle mix and is thankful for her unconditional love and support.

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WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “I Just Wanted To Be Sure Of You”

Few stories are more wondrous than those written through the eyes of a child, and few stories are more difficult to write well. Author James Krehbiel has done it magnificently. In the first paragraph he deftly sets the scene for us, then in the second shows us that something is very different this night, and he immediately piques our curiosity.

The voice of this six-year-old boy is perfectly done. We can hear the sometimes rambling narrative that we’d expect from a young boy. Through his innocent eyes, we see the heartbreak of what his mom is going through, and this is what makes this story so powerful.

As with many classic children’s stories, A. A. Milne’s Winnie The Pooh is just as much a book for adults as it is for children. James Krehbiel takes full advantage of that to add more layers of emotion to this winner of a story.