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Happy Bedtime

Marie had never painted before—that was always John’s job. 


But the house needed to be sold and according to the real estate agent, it needed to be painted. Marie wasn’t mad at John for leaving the task to her; she was angry at him for dying. John had bought life insurance, but hadn’t anticipated the medical bills. He fought until his last breath, but the fight left Marie without a husband, without resources, and without a home.


A painting novice, Marie attacked the big rooms and hallways first. They were the easiest with most of the furniture gone. Next, feeling emboldened by her success, she painted the bathrooms and kitchen. Those were a bit more difficult as she had to navigate her way around cabinets, mirrors, and fixtures. After that, there was just one spot left, the six-inch wide door frame near the stairs that contained a vertical history of their only child, Lisa.


When Marie and John bought the home, Lisa was still four months away from joining the family. John, always the idealist, was not like other new homebuyers. To him this house wasn’t supposed to be a starter home. It was his forever home, and if there were any doubt, he put that to rest the first time he and Marie entered as new owners.


“The next time I leave this home permanently, it’s going to be in a wooden box.”


At the time, the young couple laughed together at the thought. Death was for other people. John and Maria were going to live forever and they were going to live forever in their new home.


Staring at the faded lines, Marie smiled softly as a tear ran down her cheek. She couldn’t help but remember the happier times when she and John prepared a room for the bundle of joy to come. John surprised her by painting the baby’s room light blue. John was sure the new addition would be a boy, talking endlessly to his friends, neighbors, and any poor store clerk he ran into about John Jr. and how his son was going to be the third baseman for the Baltimore Orioles. 


John's certainty even convinced Marie. It wasn’t until the mother-to-be was eight months pregnant that the expectant parents discussed a possible girl's name during a commercial break. Many years later when Lisa asked how they decided on her name, the couple sheepishly admitted it was the name of a character on the television show they were watching, a fact that elicited benign laughs every time it was shared.


Even before little Lisa was born, John and Marie had picked the perfect spot to document her milestones, a tradition brought to the family by both parents. The small spot where Marie now stood was that magical place she was being forced to paint over, erasing the lines that had been so important for so many years. 


I can’t do it, Marie thought to herself. I can’t delete a lifetime of memories. Not today, not right now. Unable to finish, Marie poured herself a glass of wine, pulled up a chair, faced the unpainted wall, and remembered.


The first line, the one closest to the floor, was probably the least accurate. Baby Lisa had smiled for the first time that day, and John and Marie wanted to commemorate the occasion. Holding her little girl upright, Marie did her best to keep Lisa’s foot on the floor while John attempted to make the new mark. Lisa, thinking this was a game, kicked her legs over and over, all the while laughing and smiling. When John finally finished the task, both he and Marie roared hysterically at the crooked line that looked more like the peaks and valleys of a mountain range than an accurate measurement of the little girls height. It was almost impossible for them to look at that jagged line through the years and not chuckle at the memory.


The line from Lisa’s first day of school was also the first one Marie herself had drawn. Lisa stood ramrod straight, trying to make herself as tall as possible. Marie marked Lisa’s growth while John captured the memory using his new digital camera. The photo was the last one Marie had removed before she started to paint. There wasn’t much she had unpacked at her new apartment, but that keepsake was already mounted on the wall by the front door.


A few lines further up was one labeled “Paint Day.” It was the only line not tied to a significant day for Lisa. When quizzed about the anomaly, Marie would explain that when the family first moved into the home, the walls were bland, off-white, and builder grade. However, Marie loved green and John loved Marie, so when they decided to spice the place up, green it was. 


John knew how important the marks on the wall were, so he meticulously created a template, complete with the unusual first line that he intended to use to recreate the measurements exactly. When he finished painting, he pulled out the guide and replaced each line precisely where it had been before. Every time Marie saw them, her heart fluttered, remembering how much John loved her and Lisa. 


Two lines further up was the measurement from when Lisa graduated from middle school. It took a lot of convincing to get her to remove her cap before that line was drawn. Almost fourteen years since the first line, Lisa still tried to make herself as tall as possible. Every line had a unique story and a memory and Marie smiled as she reminisced. The thought of covering the markings was paralyzing so instead Marie just sat, staring in silence, until the doorbell rang. 


Lisa didn’t wait for her mother to answer, walking in denying Marie the time to compose herself. She also didn’t have to ask what was wrong as Lisa saw the paint and the lines. 


“Mom, it’s going to be ok,” Lisa said, pulling up a chair next to her mother. “You have to paint. Dad would understand.”


“I know,” Marie responded, trying to wipe the tears from her eyes. “But I never thought this would happen—this wasn’t supposed to happen. These lines are your life, the life you and I shared with dad. How can I erase them?”


“Mom these lines are just placeholders,” Lisa said, standing up and positioning herself next to the wall.


“You see this line?" Lisa asked, pointing to one just a few feet high. "It’s about as high as my knee, the knee I hurt playing soccer." You and dad were there. You guys were always there, remember?" Marie nodded her head.


"Not every kid had two parents, and the ones that did rarely had both parents at every game. But I did. You were there to comfort me that day while Dad was calling an ambulance."


“Ah yes,” Marie chuckled, “If I remember correctly, he yelled at the surgeon before they wheeled you back. He made up for it though. Your dad wrote the nicest card afterwards, apologizing for the outburst and thanking the doctor for fixing his baby.”


"And how about this line?" Lisa continued, pointing to a line about as high as her stomach. “This line is right at my belly button. Remember when I pierced it without your permission. You were so mad, but dad was calm, he brought the temperature down and we talked it out. I thought I was so clever when I asked you if you still loved me. Do you remember your answer?”


“I do,” Marie answered and smiled. “I said ‘I’ll always love you, but I just don’t like you very much right now.’” The response causing both women to laugh.


“And this line right up here,” Lisa said, calling Marie's attention to the highest line on the wall, “It’s exactly the height of my smile—the same smile that everyone says reminds them of Dad. I love when they say that. In a way it means he’s never really gone. You see Mom, you can feel free to paint over those lines because they won’t ever disappear. All of them are right here, in me. I am the memories and the stories. Those are just markings on a wall, the important things have always lived between the lines"


“How did you get so smart?” Maria asked, standing up and hugging her daughter.


“I learned from the best mom ever.”


“So what do you think of my paint job? Is it up to dad’s standards?”


“Dad would be proud,” Lisa replied, giving her mom two thumbs up.


“He was sure proud of you,” Marie said, smiling. “He loved this house and we loved this record of your life, but you're right. You are our legacy, you are the yardstick of our lives. Now do me a favor and stand against this wall.”


Lisa didn’t hesitate for a second, standing ramrod straight while her mother marked one last line and the date.


Then, with a smile as broad as her paint roller, Marie covered over the lines, realizing she hadn’t erased them—she had finished them.


March 30, 2022 21:06

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18 comments

Francis Daisy
01:01 Mar 31, 2022

Sob, sob...hold on. I need to get the kleenex and blow my nose and wipe my tear stained face before I can properly respond. This is the most beautiful story ever. Perfectly told. The title is, of course, perfect. And all the lines thereafter are equally perfect. Tucking in the stories adds just the right amount of nostalgia to the story. I love how you entered the daughter into the scene to help create the dialogue and open up the story. This is a five star, two thumbs up, must-read sensation!

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Thom Brodkin
01:26 Mar 31, 2022

Francis I am a loss for words to describe how much your comment touched me. This was a very personal story to me because I have height lines up and down my wall and we are looking to sell our house. This was cathartic for me to write and you bless me with your read and comment.

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Sylvia Courtner
22:07 Mar 30, 2022

Ahh, the last line tied this up beautifully. I felt as if this was my home with my parents' marking my height changes and life changes while stretching to make myself as tall as possible. Bittersweet, but definitely more sweet than bitter.

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Thom Brodkin
23:08 Mar 30, 2022

Sylvia, I’m so glad you enjoyed this. I think. Almost everyone has a story about marks on a wall. It’s nice to think they remain even if the people don’t.

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Niveditha S
09:26 Apr 16, 2022

So touching...Somehow it feels realistic...It's a great story about moving on...

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L.M. Lydon
21:54 Apr 06, 2022

I like how both Lisa and Marie have slightly different, but heartwarming memories of the lines that supplement each other's and provide comfort. It's a reflective story that makes significance out of the mundane task of painting.

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Michał Przywara
20:57 Apr 06, 2022

This is a lovely story. That moment when Marie came to the markings and just couldn't paint any more was striking – snapped out of pleasantly mindless work into a sudden horrible reality. I've always been fascinated by the symbols we create, the external icons we imbue with memories, emotions, and meaning. They can be so powerful, and these kinds of height marks are probably among the most widespread. We make them part of ourselves, and so damaging them is a wound to us. I think that's what makes the ending so satisfying. Lisa helped her...

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Lavonne H.
15:44 Apr 06, 2022

Lee, you have taken a rather common experience by many and personalized it beautifully. Love all your characters, including the father whose wisdom and love shines through the story. As someone who had to also paint over a doorframe (after 35 years), I felt the same heartbreak for Marie as I felt then. All I could hope is that some other family would use the door frame for the same purpose and so keep their "placeholders" in time. And starting a new tradition of marks in our new home with the grandchildren has helped ease the pain. Lovely, l...

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Jay Mc Kenzie
07:38 Apr 06, 2022

Tears in my eyes! Beautiful links between the lines on the wall, Lisa's body and the memories attached to them. Lovely!

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Felice Noelle
19:03 Apr 05, 2022

Lee: Another slice of life, perfectly served up. I was so touched. The dialogue seemed so authentic without being sappy. I loved it, as always. Maureen

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Thom Brodkin
20:54 Apr 05, 2022

I am honored to have you as a reader. There is a lot of me in this story and it’s nice to be able to share. Thanks for your kind words.

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Cindy Strube
17:06 Apr 05, 2022

Lee, you have a way of writing that really tugs the emotions. This story is real and tender. It brought to mind the kitchen door in my grandma’s house, marked with the growth lines of my much younger cousin. My aunt insisted they not be covered over when the rest of the kitchen was repainted. Working my way backward through your stories!

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Thom Brodkin
17:26 Apr 05, 2022

I’m the Nicolas Sparks of Reedsy. 😀 The place I described is actually in our home and with lines from my daughter. I think a little bit of me ends up in all my stories but it’s nice to know others see their life in my stories as well. I hope my stories don’t get worse the further back you go.

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Cindy Strube
17:46 Apr 05, 2022

A little bit of you in your stories - that’s as it should be, and if they get “worse” going back, it just shows you’ve grown as a storyteller! Maybe I should save this memory for a story, but it’s coming out now: Ten years ago, when I had almost finished painting our daughter’s room with life sized rainforest scenery, we had a kitchen fire. The house was pretty much gutted and rebuilt. Fortunately, I still have pictures of my work, but it’s not the same…

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Zelda C. Thorne
08:15 Apr 04, 2022

This was beautiful. I've got tears in my eyes. It's great that the daughter came to help her mum, adding her version and memories. I'm now looking at the little collection of lines on my wall (my daughter is 2 so there aren't too many yet) and I've got a lump in my throat. Well done.

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Calvin Kirby
20:39 Apr 03, 2022

Lee, you put so much tenderness into this story, I can almost see it streaming out of your heart. Beautiful story and so touching. Great job, again.

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21:43 Mar 30, 2022

Another one straight from the heart. I love the father dutifully copying down the milestones before he paints, and then carefully drawing the lines and dates back. What a testament to a loving, thoughtful man. This story has oodles of warmth, love, and tenderness, much like "Home of the Brave." A perfect story for a lovely spring afternoon. Thanks for your talent and charming stories that restore one's faith in humanity.

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Thom Brodkin
23:10 Mar 30, 2022

Christina I love getting feedback from you. It may not seem obvious but you help me make my stories better. Thanks for caring and sharing.

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