Author Archives: girlinterrupted28

CampNaNoWriMo; The Twelve Chapter Two

Ask and ye shall receive, my fellow quarantined friends. Enjoy!

THE TWELVE: CHAPTER TWO

The Great War exploded the year before my mother died, when I was six. I only know of the war what I have learned in my church history classes; I barely remember my life before. Government debt in the states had spiraled out of control. The then-President was sending the military to countries where our country had no business being. The leadership of what was then The Sect thought that they could handle the country better. The Great War ensued, where the The Sect leaders eliminated those who were not supportive of the good of the country as a whole. The people, rising up behind the The Sect because they favored a decrease in debt, gave The Sect the forces they needed to propel their plan forward. When the government fought back, it was slowly eliminated; this resulted in the disintegration of many cities that refused to cave in to the new way that was taking over. The population of the country greatly decreased. The loss of the government as the country had known it resulted in the creation of The Sect, the front arm of The Sect and a governing force over all of the citizens of the basin. The last remaining survivors of our species.

The Sect resides in what used to be Estes Park, Colorado. Prior to the Great War, it was the base camp for the Rocky Mountain National Park. It was a village, but one that catered to resort life and mountain adventures. It was a large tourist attraction, surrounded as it is by mountains. But now it is nothing more than a mountain headquarters, a place for The Sect to be secluded, yet still able to maintain control. Their leadership expands from our main headquarters of The Sect all the way across the Estes Park basin. Many small settlements litter the mountains, but I never leave The Sect. I have no reason to.

Our school is located in a big hotel that used to be called The Stanley. It was the set of a movie once where a man killed a lot of people; this is not a movie we would ever be allowed to see. People would come from miles around to take ghost tours through it. I have never seen a spook, not once in ten years, or at least not one that wasn’t toting The Book. The complex is surrounded entirely by trees with no view of the surrounding area down below. Our classes are held in rooms throughout the building; all of the children of The Sect stay in dormitory like sections within the hotel. There is a large playground in the back yard with a view of the mountains where the childcare women take the children to play. After today, I will be one of them. I will be graduating from the program.

“Good morning.” Beaty tapped her desk with a pen as I entered the classroom.

“Good morning, ma’am.” I had learned from the beginning how to behave properly. How to answer right away, and more importantly, speak to my elders and to men only when spoken to. I had always been a fast learner; Beaty told me that frequently.

I took my place among the other students. There were twelve of us in all. I was the last one to arrive.

Beaty stood up and walked around to the front of her desk, slapping her pen against the palm of her hand. “Now that we’re all here,” she said with a pointed look at me, “let’s begin.”

I checked my watch—I wasn’t late. I was two minutes early.

“Today, you will be graduating from the program into adulthood.”

We exchanged looks but remained silent. She was not directly addressing any of us in particular.

“At graduation, you will receive your assignments for your function within our workforce. In one week, you will attend your Combining, and will learn who your rest-of-life partner will be. I have faith that you have all studied well and will be positive assets to The Sect, both in propelling our society forward and helping to spread our good word to those who still remain outside of it, as few as they may be.” She looked at each one of us in turn. “The most important thing that you can do now, as adults, will be to uphold the tenants of The Book and of The Sect, and to make everything you do for the glory of our society.”

Beaty went into the coat closet and rolled out a rack of white graduation gowns. “These are one size fits all robes,” she explained. “You will wear them through the ceremony to signify that your purity and your dedication to The Sect.” After a pause, she added, “Does anybody have any questions before we get ready?”

After glancing around the room at each other, we all shook our heads. We got up as a unit and went to the rack, each of us taking a white robe and pulling it over our clothes.

“Can you help me fasten the back button?” my friend Maria asked, turning to face away from me. I obliged, and then turned so she could also fasten mine.

“Thank you,” I said.

She nodded back at me and turned to see where Beaty was. Upon noticing she had stepped into the hall, Maria whispered, “Who do you think we will be Combined with? How do you think they choose?”

I shrugged, my eyes on Beaty’s back as I whispered back, “I’m not sure that’s for us to know.”

She nodded in understanding and turned to help another girl with her robes. Once the twelve of us were all fully gowned, we formed a line at the door and stood in silence as we had been taught since kindergarten. We followed Beaty down the hall, our white robes trailing along the red carpet, down the hallway and down the stairs. In the main room of the building, in front of the old gray stone fireplace, were lines of folding chairs filled with students. Only the youngest were talking, sitting in the front and swinging their legs back and forth against the chairs as they were shushed by their teachers. The twelve of us took our seats facing the other students and folding our hands quietly in our laps while we waited.

Beaty greeted the room from her podium, and teachers and students alike fell silent. “First, the boys will become men,” she said. The six boys stood up, and when she called their names they crossed the stage to stand beside her. “Brandon Bane,” Beaty called the first name.  “Construction.” I stopped paying attention and missed the other five; before I knew it the boys were finished. The audience applauded politely and the boys returned to their seats. Beaty moved on to the girls. “Alana Fischer. Culinary. Maria Samuels. Mending.” Three more names, and then it was finally my turn. “Melanie Johnson. Childcare.” I stood up and took my place beside the other girls before my brain could stop me. Children. Childcare. I had never been fond of the little ones, but it was my place to do what The Sect dictated without question. The six of us stood together, girls becoming women, while our fellow students and former teachers applauded our achievement. We took our seats and Beaty closed the program with the same words we had earlier about how we would be good, pure disciples of The Sect and uphold all of the rules established by The Book. I had heard it all so many times, I had to pinch the inside of my arm more than once to stay awake. She closed by directly addressing us: “Tomorrow, you will join the workforce. Tomorrow, you will do us all proud. Even more so than you have today.”

#

As I stared into the small pool of children sitting in the math classroom that day, Beaty’s words from the day before rang in my head. I wasn’t so sure this was for me, childcare. I had reported to the childcare center that morning to find out that I would be responsible for the four and five year olds. I wasn’t the only one in the room; they were not only my responsibility. But it still felt like a lot. I wanted to be successful, but I was uncertain as to my skills or to the level of devotion I could provide to the task. I wasn’t sure I wanted it enough, or that I would even be a good leader. But it was where I had been placed, so it was where I would be.

“Hello.”

A tiny little boy with blonde hair was staring up at me. I knew that the appropriate response was to tell him he needed to wait to speak until spoken to, but he was too cute. I simply replied, “Hello.”

“I’m five.” He held up his hand and spread out his fingers to make sure I could see them all clearly. “One, two, three, four, five.” As he counted out loud, he folded the fingers down into his palm.

I smiled, unsure of how to answer him.

He continued, unaware of my discomfort with our conversation. “Do you know what that means?” He was bouncing up and down on his toes, so I assumed it meant something good.

I sank down into a squat so that I was more on his level. It seemed like the natural thing to do. “I don’t,” I admitted.

“That means I get tested today. Well me and my friends. To find out how smart we are and where we place.”

“That sounds…fun,” I replied after a moment’s hesitation. It didn’t really. But I didn’t know what else to say.

There was a knock on the open door behind me. I rose and turned around to see Beaty behind me. “Good morning,” she nodded to me.

“Good morning, ma’am.”

She said good morning to the other two leaders in the room and then turned back to me. “I’ll need you to help escort the five year olds up to the testing room. Today’s the day we will place them into their new class, provided that they pass their tests. Would you gather them please?”

I nodded, never finding myself more uncertain than I did in that moment. I didn’t know who was five among the children in the room, other than the little boy I’d spoken to. I hadn’t been in the room long enough to even know how many children were in it. If this was a test for me on my first day, it was a test I would fail. “I…” I stumbled.

“Here!” The little boy I had spoken to earlier beamed at me as he waved over eleven other children. “We’re here!”

I raised my hand, trying to appear more authoritative than I felt, and gestured for them to get into a line. They did as I asked without question, all of them seeming as excited as the little boy I had met when I first arrived. “Follow me,” I commanded. They fell in like little ducklings directly behind me as I walked ten paces behind Beaty.

When we arrived in the testing room, they seemed to know what to do without being told. Each of them took a seat, filling up the twelve desks. Beaty stood in the front of the room by the chalkboard, and I folded awkwardly into the corner by the door, unsure of where else to stand. Beaty thrust a stack of papers at me. “Melanie, please distribute these packets to the students.” As I took the papers, I noticed the large stopwatch that was hanging around her neck. “Place them upside down on each desk.” I walked up and down the aisles, doing as I was told, while she addressed the children. “Today, you will take a math test. This test consists of fifty questions to gauge how much you have learned over the course of your beginning education. It will be timed. You have thirty minutes to complete it once the timer begins. You may not ask for help. You may not look at anyone else’s paper.” I returned to the front of the room. “When you are done, turn your paper over and put your head down on your desk.”

The little boy from earlier raised his hand, no longer bouncing.

“Yes?” asked Beaty, pointing in his direction.

“What if I need a pencil?”

“You have two pencils on your desk,” Beaty snapped back, her voice illustrating a loss of patience.

“But what if I need more?” he protested.

Beaty shot the little boy a look that could only be described as condemnation. He was instantly quiet, his chin going down to his chest as his hands folded upon his flipped over test packet. I finished distributing the tests and returned to the front of the room as Beaty held up her stopwatch, clicked the button on top, and called “Begin.”

The children flipped over their booklets, ripping the testing seal off the side, and began frantically scribbling. The timer hung around Beaty’s neck, glowing orange, and I watched the minutes tick away. Thirty minutes didn’t seem like much time for fifty math problems, especially not for a five year old. I wondered what types of problems were in the test book, but I didn’t want to ask to see it unless Beaty offered it to me first. It didn’t seem right; I was not her equal. I didn’t remember taking this test. But maybe I hadn’t. I was not five when I came to The Sect.

“Fifteen minutes,” Beaty called out.

The scratch of pencils against paper increased. A little girl in the front pressed down so hard that her pencil snapped. She quickly threw it to the floor and grabbed a new one with barely a pause in her frantic writing. I looked at the little boy, the only one I had met. He was sitting quietly, no longer writing, but his head wasn’t down. Did that mean he wasn’t done? Or was he simply not following directions? I took a step forward to check on him, but Beaty held out a hand to stop me. When I looked over at her, she shook her head. I stepped back to lean against the wall and wait. The time dwindled down. Five. Four. Three. Two. One.

“Time. Flip your booklets over and put your hands behind your head.” Beaty nodded in my direction, which I took to mean I was to collect the books. I stepped forward and went down the aisles grabbing papers while the children held their arms up with their fingers interlocked behind their heads as if they were in trouble. When I got to the little boy, his hands were still folded on top of his test book, not behind his head. I tried to take the booklet, but he wouldn’t lift his hands.

“Brian,” Beaty said from the front of the room. “Please remove your hands from the test booklet and put them behind your head.”

As I watched, his chin began to quiver, but he continued to stare straight ahead without lifting his hands.

“Now, Brian.”

He still didn’t move. I collected the remaining tests booklets and placed them on the desk in front of Beaty, looking to her to figure out what I should do. After dismissing the rest of the children, she crossed the room and slid the booklet out from under his arms. As she flipped through the pages, she noted, “Most of this is blank.”

Brian’s jaw was hard, his teeth ground tightly together, none of the joy from early remaining in his features.

“Why is it blank? You had thirty minutes.” Beaty’s eyes bore into him like knives.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered.

Beaty clutched his booklet in her hands. “You will answer the questions.”

Brian looked at me uncertainly as his fingers tightened around the pencil that was still in his grasp. “Is it too late?” The tremor in his voice broke my heart.

Beaty produced a thick wooden stick from her back pocket and slapped it against her palm. “You will answer the questions,” she said against, emphasizing each word with a whack against her palm.

Brian looked back and forth between Beaty and I.

“Nineteen times two,” Beaty barked.

“I…I…” Brian stammered.

Thirty eight, I willed him to say.

“Thirty six?” It was obviously as the words left his mouth that he knew they were wrong.

Before I could even take a breath, Beaty had struck him across the hand with the wooden stick. Bright lines of blood laced across his knuckles, and he burst into tears. “Nineteen times two.”

He shook his head, tears streaming down his face. He tried to get up, but Beaty ordered me to hold him down in the seat. I complied, placing my hands upon his shoulders. I tried to make my grip as gentle as possible, but he still squirmed underneath me.

“Nineteen times two.”

When Brian didn’t answer, she hit him across the hands again and again. After the first time, he didn’t try to move. He didn’t try to run away, or hide his arms. He seemed to understand that there was no hope. While I watched, his knuckles split and cracked blood ran freely. Brian sobbed so hard that tears and snot streamed down his cheeks and he was gasping for breath.

And then, just as suddenly as it had began, it stopped. Beaty took a step back, her fingers clutching the fabric of his jacket. He stood up and followed her silently out of the classroom while I sank into one of the desks, alone. When I closed my eyes, it hit home that this would be the rest of my life. Forever.

That night after dinner, as I sat alone in my room, I flipped through The Book and searched for some sort of sign, an answer. A reason why. But there was nothing. No magical glowing neon sign that made what had happened to Brian okay. I was used to opening The Book and seeing the answers. But not this time.

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I Lose People, I Lose Myself

Sun came in the windows for a brief moment today. There’s been a lot of gloom. I’m used to being outside. I went from buzzing around all day every day to sitting on my butt in a nest of blankets and pillows playing video games and reading the occasional book. And writing. Sometimes. I’m supposed to be writing. I’ve written some, every day of quarantine, but I’m trying too hard and I know it. I need to work on something else. I need to write but I want to be outside.

The weather is reflective of my mood, though I can’t think of a metaphorical way to say that. It just is what it is. Perhaps the sun too fears the virus; it hides behind clouds and peeks out sporadically to see if the coast is clear. I am reminded of a professor long ago who used to joke about English majors being ready for the zombie apocalypse. When I look outside, when I go outside, that’s what it feels like. The few people who are out wear masks, and those who care queue up six feet apart to enter their destination. They’re talking about creating mass graves in the city parks to deal with the overwhelming number of dead. I never imagined the world would really be like this, despite an upbringing of disaster and horror films. The back of my head echos with thoughts of who the first to zombify will be. As a result, I don’t go outside much. We aren’t supposed to anyway. Stay at home. Social distancing. I’m an introvert, yes, but it still sucks. I miss it. I want to walk and run and breathe fresh air and, for lack of better imagery, frolic in the tulips. Divorced nearly ten years, I find myself in a place mentally that I can’t define, a void where I can’t go out and I can’t see friends and I can’t work. And I can’t go outside.

It feels like my marriage.

My ex-husband wasn’t too keen on the outdoors normally. He was a pretty boy; he spent more time in the mirror getting perfect every morning than I spent in an entire week. He didn’t like to sweat. I’d camped with my grandma a lot as a child, but the ex wasn’t into that. He was, however, into ultimate frisbee. To this day, I don’t know why. The park surrounding the college near where we lived had an amazing frisbee golf course. He called me after my merchandising shift one night to tell me to meet him, and his family, there. He and his brother and his mother and his father and his sister and her maybe by then husband would be playing the entire course. I wasn’t in the mood after a ten hour workday to battle bloodthirsty mosquitos in near darkness when I hadn’t even had dinner yet. But I went. I had to. I was driving his car to work after my recent accident, and I knew he’d want me to drive him home. So I changed in the work bathroom into something more presentable.

The then-husband took my hand when I got there, wove his sweaty fingers into mine and soaked my palm. I could tell by the way he squeezed that I had pleased him. It wasn’t often that he gave me that feeling. I breathed in the dark air, the unidentifiable-to-me tree scents. I took all that for granted back then, when I could go outside whenever I wanted. The most important thing to me then was that the husband was happy. He wrapped an arm around me to pull me in, whispered “I’m winning.”

“I know,” I replied. It seemed like the only thing to say. Anything else that hinted he might not win didn’t feel right. I was in enough trouble. I had to be careful.

I crashed my car on a Sunday afternoon, a few weeks prior. 

The husband and his family were at a concert by the lake in the city where I lived then. Normally I loved concerts. When I was a kid, my grandma would take me to see big band concerts, jazz, symphonies, and the like. But on that particular weekend, sitting in a green camping chair under the white temporary tent, watching the husband press buttons and sliders and try to make the band sound good while everyone praised him for being such a wonderful Christian example and starting his new sound engineering business, it was all too much. I had always thought that because he was a Christian he was good. I didn’t know then that those two ideas weren’t necessarily married, but I was beginning to get an idea. I feigned a phone call from work that urgently needed my attention and promptly got in my car and took off. 

I drove towards the store, fully intending to go there so he’d see me on the GPS. I remember the soundtrack to a “A Walk to Remember” blaring as I opened the car windows to enjoy the 80 degree day, not caring in the slightest that people could hear me singing along with Mandy Moore. It was a straight shot down the rural highway, a maybe twenty minute ride. 

At the third stoplight, a Ford F150 slammed into me from behind. My singing stopped instantaneously as I tried to rapidly process what had happened. The thoughts came quicker than I could hold on to them:

Was this my fault? I was stopped at the red. He smashed me from behind. The husband is going to kill me. Oh god, he’s going to have to leave the gig. What am I going to tell him? How much is this going to cost us? 

I got out of the car. I’d never had an accident before; I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to. My chest, face, hurt where I’d slammed the dash, but the injuries my car had sustained were much worse. The enormous back truck had crunched its way over the truck of my Oldsmobile accordion style. Glass from the back windows was all over the highway.

The truck was driven by an off duty police officer who summoned his coworkers before I really understood what was going on. He claimed I had failed to signal a lane change before stopping at the light, despite the fact that my signal was on. By the time the husband showed up with his entire family in tow, I had been issued a citation for failure to signal and a tow truck had been summoned to remove my totalled vehicle from the road. 

He wasn’t mad. Somehow, he wasn’t mad. We went back to the gig in the family van and packed up all the sound equipment, headed home, and watched “A Walk to Remember.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him it wasn’t my favorite movie anymore. But for the following weeks, he made me pay for my transgression in different ways. A sideways look here. A changed channel there. An off putting comment about the dinner I’d cooked or the long hours I was working, that I couldn’t always go to church on Sundays. He wasn’t working by that point; his budding new business had taken over all of his time yet produced minimal income. He was jealous of me, but I didn’t see that then. 

That felt erased as we stood on the path in the middle of a bug-ridden unlit woods, searching for the next frisbee hoop. He pointed with the frisbee. ‘Think I can make it?”

My answer was automatic. “Of course.”

He didn’t make it. The frisbee bounced off and got lost in the darkness, but I plunged after it without a second thought. Into the bushes I went, scraping my arms on prickers.

“Do you see it?” He made no effort to follow or help me.

As I plunged further in, a branch grabbed my untethered hair and pulled, eliciting a yelp.

“What’s the matter? See a ghost?”

I kept my mouth shut, my fingers closing around the blue plastic disc. Gently disentangling myself from the wooded bark fingers, I slipped back to the path and handed him his treasure. “Try again,” was all I replied. “You can make it.” And he did.

He was the victor of his family unit, and we left the woods hand in hand. He was happy I’d come, happy I’d played along. He liked when I–

A blast of light greeted us in the face as we emerged from the trailhead to the parking lot. Headlights. I’d left his car headlights on. Did he blame it on the ten hour work day, the lack of breaks or food? No, he blamed it on my ever-present idiocy, a fact he drove home without speaking as his nails dug into my palm.

“Let us drive you both home,” his mother insisted when the car wouldn’t start. We lived around the corner from them then so it wasn’t inconvenient.

I knew when he said no that things wouldn’t end well. I feared what would happen in the dark as we waited for the tow truck to arrive with jumper cables. I was right to fear.

I was right to fear then, but am I right to fear now, fear that I can’t go outside, that I might get sick, that the not-real zombies might get me? The fear is different now, but it feels the same today as it did back then, fear of this virus that waits in the unknown, fear of the husband that cracked in the dark. And I don’t know what that means, if my life is any different now than it was then, if I’ve come so far to be the same person I always was, trapped inside without friends and unemployed. I watch an episode of a zombie show where one of the survivors gets the phrase “I lose people; I lose myself” sharpied onto his forehead with permanent black marker. I realize how much I miss a life it took me so long to rebuild, a life quarantine makes me feel like is being erased. I try the words on my tongue, “I lose people; I lose myself.” I hold my furry best friend a little tighter, and I count the days till life might resume again.

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CampNaNoWriMo!!!

I will probably not share all of this, as I would ideally like to edit this old neglected novel for publication, but here is a little taste!

The Twelve, Chapter One

There’s an old saying I heard oncepeople in glass houses don’t throw stones. I never really understood what it meant. Until the day I held that stone in my hand.

“You’re so different now. Someone I don’t recognize.”

I took in Ashley’s face and realized that she too was someone unrecognizable. It had been years since I’d seen her. Nearly ten, to be precise. And suddenly she was here, in front of me. But she wasn’t the little girl with the pigtails that I remembered. “I don’t know you either.”

“That’s exactly it. We were best friends, Lanie. Best. Friends.” Ashley twirled a long strand of hair around her finger and sighed. “I miss you. I miss hanging out. I miss going to school together. I miss all the things. I sneak up here all the time, wanting to see you, to talk to you. And this is the first time I’ve gotten you alone.”

“We could still hang out,” I replied, but it sounded lame even to my ears. And I knew it wasn’t true.

“The Sect has changed you. Ever since you left, you’ve been someone else. I’ve been watching you, this person I don’t know anymore. And I don’t want to know her. I want the old you.” A single tear trickled down her cheek.

I turned away, unwilling to watch but unsure how to defend myself. “It hasn’t changed me. It hasn’t.” My protest sounded weak even to me.

“You were never a follower. The Sect made you one.”

I could feel the eyes on the back of my neck before the person spoke. “There is nothing wrong with that.” Beaty’s voice was calm, authoritative. She placed a hand on my shoulder and forced me to move so that she stood between Ashley and I. “Absolutely nothing. Lanie is an upstanding citizen within The Sect. About to graduate from the education program. A strong future leader. And you, young lady, would be wise to follow her example rather than force her to follow yours.”

Ashley didn’t cower away from Beaty as I would have done, but rather, drew herself to her full height and looked Beaty straight in the eye. “I’m not the one forcing her to do anything,” she spat. “That honor belongs to you.”

I could see the fire in Beaty’s eyes as she grabbed Ashley around the arm and dug in her nails, pulling her forward. “I’m not sure you know who you’re talking to.”

Ashley kept her chin up, defiant. “I know exactly who I’m talking to. We all know who you are.”

“Then you know that women in The Sect should remain silent unless spoken to. Unless told to speak. You are out of line.”

I remained silent, in the background.

Beaty’s nails dug deeper into Ashley’s skin, but Ashley didn’t move an inch. “Fuck. You.” She spat at Beaty’s face.

Beaty took her free hand and swiped it angrily at her cheek before hauling Ashley, against protests, down the pathway towards the square. My mouth suddenly free, I jogged after them crying, “Wait, she doesn’t know any better, I can handle this, I can help her, I can

Ignoring me, Beaty chained Ashley to the stockade. “It’s too late for this girl, Lanie. You can’t save her.”

I shook my head, confused. “But God can save anyone. That’s what you taught me.”

“Not this one, Lanie. She’s different.”

Ashley hung limply, but her eyes still breathed fire. They bored into mine.

“I don’t understand.”

Beaty placed a stone in my hand. “She needs to be taught a lesson. She needs to know that she can’t go against The Sect. She needs to know that what she said is not okay.”

I looked down at the stone in my hand and then back up at Beaty. “I don’t understand,” I said again, weaker this time.

“Speaking against The Sect is a crime that can’t be tolerated. This girl will be stonedand to prove your loyalty, you will be the first to throw.”

I felt the weight of the stone in my hand, more emotional the physical. Beaty took a step back, but I could still feel her breath on the back of my neck, her eyes boring into my skull. Ashley locked eyes with me, and for the first time I could see a flicker of fear behind the fire.

When my stone struck her flesh, that fire died. After the first stone it was easy. I found myself picking up stone after stone after stone as her flesh became bloody and raw. For her disrespect. For her disloyalty. For her anger. For going against The Sect. For going against me.

I didn’t stop throwing until I felt Beaty’s hand on my shoulder. “Good,” she whispered. “Well done, faithful servant.” With a step around me, Beaty moved forward and cut Ashley down. The fire inside her extinguished, Ashley crumbled to the ground and did not move. My hand dropped to my side, and I realized that I was the only one who had had to throw a stone; I had thrown so many, been so consumed, that no one else had joined in. I had faced my temptation and proved my loyalty all by myself. I was once again good in the eyes of God.

I turned around and walked away proudly, not waiting to see whether she lived or died, and went back to my hut and the life that I had earned, knowing that I had proved myself for one more day. I knew that I would never see Ashley again.

I didn’t know then to feel shame.

#

I became a part of The Sect when I was not quite eight years old.

Back then, Ashley and I were best friends. We were in the same class, shared crayons, alternated weekend sleepovers at each other’s houses, the like. That day as we headed home from school, we drifted past the park like we did every other day.

“Let’s go swing!” Ashley grabbed me by the arm and dragged me towards the swing set. She didn’t really give me a choice.

“I need to tell Mommy I’m not coming home. I’m supposed to go straight home. I promised, when she told me I could go to school by myself.” I planted my sneakers in the ground and drew her to a halt.

“Come on,” she whined. “Just for a little bit.”

I looked at the swings and then back at Ashley. I knew Mommy would be mad, but I couldn’t resist. I let my backpack slide off my arm to the ground and joined Ashley on the swings. We were quiet, our legs pumping back and forth.

“Do you think we can touch the sky?” Ashley asked after a few minutes of silence.

I pumped a little harder. “Maybe?” Each time I swung up, I imagined that my feet were touching the clouds. The sun on my face, I closed my eyes to pretend I was bird and pumped and pumped and pumped my legs. I drove myself so high that chain went limp for just a second and I was in free fall. I squealed, and then, picturing that I really could fly, I jumped from the swing.

I was disappointed when my feet hit the ground. There was a minute there, when I was in the air, where it felt like I would go up instead of down. I sank into the dirt as Ashley landed beside me, giggling.

“That was fun!” I laid on my back in the dirt and she laid beside me.

“It was,” she answered, still laughing.

We joined hands and made snow angels in the grass. After another few minutes, I reluctantly admitted, “We should go home. I’ll bet Mommy’s worried.”

“Yeah.”

We sat up slowly and then crossed back to the sidewalk where we’d left our backpacks. I slid my arms into the straps of my bag much more slowly than I had taken them out and we trudged down the sidewalk, suddenly less eager to go home.

“We should do this every day,” Ashley said as the park disappeared behind us.

“That’d be fun. But I’ll have to ask Mommy. To make sure it’s okay.”

“Me too.”

It was much too soon when we found ourselves standing in front of our houses. “So, can you come over tomorrow?” Ashley asked. “We can watch ‘Flash Forward’ and eat popcorn and stuff.”

“Sure!”

We said goodbye, and I jogged up the steps. When I tried the front door, it was locked. I didn’t understand; Mommy was always home when I got home. I tried again, and then leaned over the railing into the bushes to look inside the front window. Everything was dark. I felt around my neck for the key that always hung there. I had never had to use it beforeMommy was always home. I was worried it wouldn’t work. But when I stuck it in the door, the knob turned right away.

“Mommy?” The lights were off as I stepped inside. “I’m home!”

There was no answer.

I flipped the light switch by the front door and dropped my backpack on the ground by the coatrack. “Mommy?” I tried again. “I’m sorry I’m late.”

When she didn’t answer, I decided she wasn’t home. I wondered where she might be, but I wasn’t really worried. I took off my shoes and then went into the kitchen to make myself a sandwich. Peanut butter and bananas and a little dab of sugar. But only a little. Mommy would be mad if I had too much. I sat down at the kitchen table and ate my sandwich slowly, trying to remember if I had any homework I was supposed to do. When I was done eating, Mommy still hadn’t returned from wherever she’d gone. I went to the fridge and poured myself a glass of milk and then downed it in three gulps. Still no Mommy. With no homework, I could read my new book; it was about a boy wizard and some sort of stone. Everyone at school was talking about it, but this was the first time I had been able to find a copy in the library. I went to get the book from my backpack and then trudged up the stairs. I was looking forward to snuggling in under my blankets and reading into the night. Or at least until Mommy came home. Then she might read to me, which was fun in a different way. She would give the characters different voices and make them come alive. It was my favorite part of the night.

I got to the top of the stairs, took a few steps, and found myself squishing into the carpet. I wrinkled my nose and took a step back, touching the carpet with my toes again. It was wet. The carpet wasn’t supposed to be wet. As I opened my mouth to call again, to see if Mommy was around, I heard water running in the bathroomMommy was home. Another step forward sent water up around my toes and soaked my socks. “Mommy?” I called, confused. I knocked on the bathroom door. “There’s water everywhere, Mommy.”

There was no answer.

“Mommy, open the door!” I knocked several more times, and then finally just opened the door. It was dark inside the bathroom. So dark, that I didn’t see at first. Mommy was in the tub, and the water was running, running over the sides and onto the floor. It was over the tops of my feet and still sloshing. “Mommy?” I whispered. “You need to shut off the water. You always tell me not to waste water.”

When she didn’t answer, I turned on the light. And then I could see, suddenly, and everything was much too bright.

Mommy was in the bathtub, but her arm was flopped over the side. Open. Red. There was bright red everywhere. The rug by the tub was pink where it used to be white. Red streaked the sides of the tub in the places the water didn’t flow. I reached out, slowly, to touch her. She didn’t move. “Mommy?” I shook her, softly at first, and then harder. Harder. Her head slipped from its resting place into the water, and I had to grab her to keep her from going under. “Mommy, I don’t know what to do!” I was crying as I shook her, again and again. “Mommy, I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to do,” I said over and over.

And then I remembered. In an emergency, you call 911. I dropped her into the water and ran down the hall into her bedroom, where I normally wasn’t allowed, but I was sure that she would make an exception this time. I dialed the number, just like they had shown me in school.

“911. What is your emergency?”

“It’s my mommy,” I cried, “she won’t wake up.”

“It’s okay, sweetheart,” the woman on the phone said. “Can you tell me your address so we can send someone to help your mommy?”

I told her the address, but I knew that it wasn’t okay. I didn’t know how she could say it was. I dropped the phone onto the bed and ran back into the bathroom. Mommy’s head was under water, her hair streaming out like seaweed. I lifted her head up and pressed my face to hers, willing her to wake up, willing her to make bunny noses with me, willing her to do anything. But she wouldn’t. She didn’t.

I reached out with my free hand, the hand that wasn’t behind Mommy’s head, and shut off the water. As I let her go and sank down onto the rug, I realized that the book I had been waiting so long to read was on the ground, in a puddle. Ruined.

 

I don’t know how long it was before the men in uniforms showed up. It could have been a few minutes; it could have been a few hours. When they did come, I thought they would make her wake up. But they didn’t. And it was only after they had pulled her out of the water and laid her down on the ground that somebody thought to take me out of the room. The man led me downstairs and set me down on the couch, and then he started talking on the phone. I remember sitting there for a really long time, uncertain as to what to do. People went in and out all around me, and then I looked up and there was a woman standing in front of me. She was tall, her dark brown hair wrapped on top of her head like a schoolteacher, and she peered down at me in front of her over the top of her glasses.

“Hello,” she said, shoving her glasses back up her nose.

I blinked up at her without answering.

“When an adult says something to you, you should respond.”

I blinked again silently, my eyes following the men in uniforms as they pushed a big bed on wheels behind the woman, a bed with a black bag on it. A body? Mommy?

The woman staring at me cleared her throat. “Let’s try this again. Hello.”

I watched as the men pushed the bed out the door and it shut behind them. The house was suddenly much quieter. I wondered where Ashley was. I wondered if my Mommy was ever coming back, if she would ever wake up.

The woman grabbed my chin and made me face her again. I cried out in surprise. “I said hello,” she repeated a third time.

“Hello,” I whispered.

“That’s better.” The woman perched on the edge of the chair across from me and folded her hands in her lap. “I’m Elizabeth Beaty.”

“Okay.”

“I see your manners need some work,” she muttered under her breath. I flinched, but she continued, “I need you to pack up your things. Only the most important ones. You can take one suitcase.”

“Why?” I asked. “Where am I going?”

“You’re going to come live with me. At the home for children who don’t have homes.”

“I have a home,” I protested. “I live here.”

“Not anymore.”

“I can’t leave! I have to stay here for when Mommy comes back!”

I tried to hide behind a couch pillow, but she took it away from me. “You don’t have a choice, child.” She checked her watch. “You have five minutes.”

I could tell from the look on her face that she wasn’t lying. I scrambled up the stairs, my already soaked socks slipping down around my ankles, and skidded into my room. I started throwing random things into a duffel bag I found in the bottom of my closet. A few books, pictures, pants and shirts. Underwear. My toothbrush. The thing I grabbed last was my teddy bear, a worn old stuffed animal that had spent every night on my pillow since I was two. Jamming him on the top of my other things, I forced the zipper closed and made my way back through the flood to where Beaty was waiting by the front door. She checked her watch and gave me a nod, the sort of nod a teacher gives when you do something right.

She took my hand and led me out the door and down the path to her car. I saw nothing around me but the black haze, the overwhelming knowledge that my mommy was never coming back. That I was never coming back.

I belonged to The Sect after that day.

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StayHomeWriMo, Day 6!!!

Writing prompt: Write a ghost story.

When the F train to Brooklyn pulls up after a long day of dog walking, I wait by the last car where I am most likely to get a seat. I slip inside and drop onto the middle of a bench, take my bag off my shoulder, and rest it in my lap. At the very last second before the doors slip shut, a man so tall his head almost hits the top of the door opening, forces his way inside. His dreads drape in a long, knotted mess against his stained white shirt and low hanging jeans. He leans against the doors on the opposite side of the car, and as we start moving he starts muttering. I can’t make out a lot of the words, but as he gradually increases his volume to scream territory, phrases like white privilege and bloody racists come through. Another day in Manhattan, another person going crazy on the train; whatever good or valid points he may have made are lost in his screams. I reach into my bag to pull out my headphones without looking at him, and plug them into my cell phone before popping the buds into my ears.

When I look up again, the man is flying across the train car. He grabs my wrist and yanks my phone out of my hand so abruptly that the headphone cord comes out of the jack. My phone goes flying into the window on the opposite side of the car, right between two bystanders’ heads. The crazy is screaming at me, calling me a racist bitch, and then the man next to me stands up and punches him in the face so hard that the crazy goes spinning back into the pole in the middle of the aisle and crumples to the floor. 

Someone hands me my poor cracked phone as the train pulls into the next station. I pull the earbuds out of my ears and shove them into my purse as I explode out the door the instant it opens. I am not afraid of the crazy; I see crazies every day, though not usually to this extent. I am afraid of what the crazy reminds me of, of the path my brain will take. 

That’s what PTSD is. The human brain is made up of tons of different neural networks. We strengthen the connections between neurons when we learn to do something. When a person is learning how to ride a bike, a neural pathway forms that strengthens every time a person correctly completes the action of bicycling. If the person never has the desire to ride a bike, that neural pathway is not formed because the neurons never receive direction to connect. And if a person who rode a bike as a child doesn’t ride a bike for many years, the neural pathway they made when riding will slowly fade away. But neural pathways don’t form just for happy things like childhood bike riding. They also form from unhappy things. A psychologist named Martin Seligman coined the term “learned helplessness” after his experimentation on dogs. He locked dogs in kennels with no way out and shocked them again and again. The dogs would try to escape, throwing themselves against the sides of the kennel and biting at the metal. But once they figured out there was no escape, the dogs would simply lie down and take the shocks. Even after Seligman opened the kennel so they could walk out, the dogs continued to take the shocks. The neural pathways formed by the repeated electrocution taught the dogs there was no way out. There are chemicals formed inside the neurons during adverse experiences that aren’t formed during happy ones; these chemicals are what make the negative memories last longer. The neural pathways formed by negative memories are stronger and harder to break. 

Post traumatic stress disorder is a name for the formation of a negative neural pathway (or pathways) caused by exposure to something from the past. For instance, there are certain things that trigger the feeling like someone or something is squeezing the inside of the chest. My chest. It’s difficult for me to explain PTSD to people outside of it. Really, it’s my brain being scared. My neural pathways sending me into fight or flight that generally transports me to somewhere other than where the “fight” occurred. I think of my brain as a bit of a firecracker. There is only so long that my fuse can burn before it blows up. Over time, I have grown good at recognizing the signs of an impending blow-up in enough time to escape the situation.

As a result, I have a lot of good days. 

On this day in Brooklyn, however, the bench is cold. I’m wearing blue jeans, and my work hoodie, and my pink sneakers, and my hair is red. These are the things I know, but there is a lot I don’t know. For instance, how long I’ve been here, on the bench. I don’t know that. My arms are covered in goosebumps, and I’m shivering, my teeth clattering and my hands shaking. I am not sitting in the sun. I don’t know why. 

The wind makes my tears sting. I’m crying. When did I start crying? It’s cold. My brain hurts, and I’m scared I’m losing my mind. It doesn’t hurt that I’m scared; it hurts more that I’m not sure why, that I can’t pinpoint whether I am just afraid or if I will always be that way or if it is because there was a man on the F train that I thought might kill me. 

Today is not a good day. 

There are two men throwing a frisbee in the park across the street from where I sit. Brooklyn Bridge Park. I’m in DUMBO. When B and I first got married, we played disc golf together back in Wisconsin. I drove my car; his was at the mechanic. We parked and played through the course, only to come back and find I’d left the lights on in the car. I got in so much trouble for that one.

I’m not afraid today in Brooklyn because of the crazy man on the F train. I’m afraid because of what he represents, because of the things he made me remember, because of the time that I lost walking away from the train. I tell myself not to be scared. 

There is something to be said about surviving. About recovery. It’s never easy. When you’ve told everyone that you’re okay but you still wear your heart on your sleeve, it crushes way too easily under the crazies on the subway. When you think things are going well, when you get to that point where there is a year worth of okay days, the one that is not okay is devastating. I want to be the strong woman, the one that is okay, the one people are proud of. The one that isn’t a disappointment. 

I cry. I cry because I am done with all of this. I am finished with being hurt and I am finished with being scared and I am finished with all of it. I can never get back what was taken from me and I will never again be who I was. But I am in New York City. I am on a bench that is cold, wearing blue jeans and my work sweatshirt and my sadly hopeful pink sneakers and my hair is red. 

And tomorrow is another day.

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StayHomeWriMo Weekend Edition

My cat Sami once brought me a mouse.

I’d adopted her from the ASPCA maybe a week before, so we were still in the beginning stages of our friendship. She didn’t cuddle yet; she didn’t seem terribly excited by my presence. And I knew that when a cat brings you their kill, it’s the highest honor they can present to you. It should have been great. But I slammed the door in her face.

You see, I had just come home from work, set my things in my room, and turned around to see Sami trotting towards me with the fat brown mouse my prior cat had nicknamed Jerry and shared her food with dangling from her mouth. The look on Sami’s face was more pride than I’d ever seen a cat display, and I’ve had a lot of cats. But I screamed and slammed the door. And when I finally did open it, Sami and the mouse were both nowhere in sight.

In my defense, I have a bit of a mouse phobia. Don’t ask me where it came from, because I have no clue. Blame it on the gerbil that bit my finger when I was little trying to get a taste of the remains of my peanut butter bagel? (Yes I know, gerbils and mice are totally different species–though Sami wouldn’t think so. It’s just the only incident I can remember!)

Now I’m fairly certain that, from the scuffle I heard while I cried in mouse-induced terror behind my flimsy Brooklyn bedroom door, that the mouse was not actually dead when she presented it to me. Odds are good that Jerry, however injured, managed to get under the stove and escape out the hole from whence he came. Sami let him go, tormented him a bit, gave him some claw and sass, and sent him on his merry way back to the outside world. She had to heal the sting of my rejection somehow.

She never chased another mouse again. I worried that she would never forgive me, never love me or cuddle me or be anything like the cat I’d had before. The first time she did FINALLY cuddle, I let her sit in my lap for hours despite having to pee like a racehorse. No way was I going to reject her again.

Tonight we’re watching “Tiger King” on Netflix, which obviously contains a lot of big cats. I wonder what Sami thinks about them as she sits in my lap and starts to purr as her giant cousins tear apart raw meat. She dreams a lot, in her fluffy pink kitten bed that she keeps in my headboard, and imagine those dreams are filled with all the mice she didn’t hunt when I squashed her dreams. Her whiskers shiver; her paws twitch; her eyelids flicker. Sami REALLY gets into her dreams. We don’t have mice in this apartment, so those dreams, and the glimpses of these cousins, are the only thing she gets in that regard. And a little part of me still feels bad for that day when I slammed the door, four years ago now. But I also know Sami still loves me, forgives me for the travesty of rejecting her special offering, because she sits here and shares her Netflix cat watching glee with me when she could go somewhere else. She cuddles me now, all the time. In her head, it’s probably more for her benefit than mine, but I like to think she loves me, in her own way.

May we all be as forgiving as Sami. And may we all keep our mice to ourselves.

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StayHomeWriMo Day 5!!!

Writing Prompt: Go outside (if you safely can). Put on your writer hat (or mittens). Try to notice five things to write about! (**Disclaimer, I’m not really supposed to go outside because it’s not necessary, so a friend told me about her walk and I used that!)

OUTSIDE!!!

THE SMELLS!!!

ZOMG!!!

You plunge snout first down the sidewalk towards the first grass patch, pulling against the annoying black halter that rubs your fur. There’s these dumb masks on the ground, but you ignore them. The plastic gloves too. Why do people throw away so

SMELLS!!!

Mom keeps using the words coronavirus. Pandemic. You’ve never heard these words before, and they don’t really matter to you because all you know is Mom is home and she’s taking you on a

WALK!!!

and that’s the best. Grass patch one fails a pee spot inspection; nothing good to mark. You trot towards grass patch two, nose and tail high, determined to

KITTY!!!

A black and white kitty slips away from you across the abandoned lot and you want to cry because you don’t understand why the kitties won’t be your friend. The kitties always hiss at you when all you want to do is sniff them. You look through the chain link fence and

ANOTHER KITTY!!!

This one is a tabby. Brown and black fur. Your fur is brown! Maybe this one will be your friend, you think, but no. It disappears too, into the same bush. You hope the kitties are friends and at least have each other. You find the next best pee spot. There’s another dumb glove there, but no matter. You pee on it anyway. This makes your mom laugh. Dumb glove. You should pee on all the gloves. You like it when she laughs. It’s like

CHICKEN?!?

You smell it then, off in the distance. Fried, delicious, goodness. Your mom is a vegetarian, so you never never get to smell these things in the house and

ZOMG YOU TASTE THE AIR!!!

But your mom doesn’t want to go that way. She doesn’t understand what you’re asking. You wish she’d speak Dog. Your fur blows in the breeze as you pout about the lost meat, and you lower your nose to look for

BARKING!!!

A dog runs back and forth on the other side of a different fence. It’s big and black and kinda drooly. It’s barking at you. Rude!!! You know better, and you think that dog should also know better. But you’re just better taught. Obviously. You always knew you were the smartest dog to ever

FRIEND?!?

Two men walk down the sidewalk that want to pet you, but Mom won’t let them and she makes you cross the street. She says it’s ’cause of the pandemic. There’s that word again. Ruining all your fun. You watch them walk away and wonder if they had treats. The good treats, the kind with chicken and

TREATS!!!

You finish your potty so that Mom will take you home to where you know treats are. No one gets in the elevator with you, and your mom says she’s glad because, again, pandemic. You’re under “quarantine.” You wish you knew what that meant, but it’s too big for you. You decide it must mean “Mom stays home forever to snuggle,” and after you get your treat, you demand tummy rubs while watching tv. Quarantine is the best.

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StayHomeWriMo Day 4!!!

Writing prompt: Write about a secret you or a character have been keeping.

Sleep is hard, since the quarantine started. In all honesty, she’s never been the best sleeper. But it’s so much worse now. It all starts out fine – some melatonin there, a trazodone there – she’s out like a light within half an hour, but up again at 2am. 4am. The nights stretch on, long, dark. There are haunting images in the dark: hisses and pings from the radiator like a hammer against a metal pole; deep bass music from the neighbor down and diagonal; rolling on the floor above like a child’s Big Wheel, going up and down the hallway, again, again. Again. Alexa’s white noise can’t drown it all out, no matter how hard it tries. And it does try. And it does work, a little. Not enough.

530am she flips to the foot of the bed and turns on a Lifetime movie to fall back asleep, secure and wrapped up in her giant blue body pillow. If it’s not the right Lifetime movie, she won’t fall back asleep. There are criteria. Not too violent. Not too interesting. Preferably one she’s seen before. “The Pregnancy Project” was too good; she had to stay awake to watch it. The Amanda Knox movie was one she’d seen so many times she was out before they found the bodies. The tabby cat loves this routine and jumps right into the body pillow for movie cuddles and tummy rubs; the cat is the least changed by this virus. For the cat, quarantine could go forever.

When Good Morning, America comes on, she puts on ABC. Every morning. And every morning there are new statistics on coronavirus. The total sick, total dead. They call NYC the epicenter now. Thousands and thousands of cases. This is why it doesn’t matter if she sleeps; she doesn’t have a routine to go back to anyway. No job. No real work. She could sleep all day. She watches the age breakdown carefully; it’s in her age group now. People in her age group are being hospitalized. She tells herself it’s because they’re idiots who refuse to stay home, but she’s not sure. She doesn’t leave the house. She follows the rules. She isn’t ready to die yet. She writes, every day. She plays, every day. She thinks about sleep, every day.

 

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StayHomeWriMo Day 3!!!

Writing Prompt: Set your text to white and try free-writing in invisible mode. No inner editors allowed! (Typed according to instructions using word, ps, I suck at free-writing and I hated that I couldn’t see it. My inner editor is very mad about this.)

Quarantine has left me a little lost. I wear pajamas all day, though I hear I’m not the only one. I play a lot of video games. I watch a lot of tv, mostly anime. Surprisingly, I’m not reading much. I grabbed a new book the last day I left the house, which was well over a week ago, but I’m not even halfway through it.

I had a discussion with my therapist about why quarantine is hard. The emotions it triggers in me. Fear, sadness, frustration, boredom, rage, depression, anxiety, loss of control. She told me to write about other times I’d felt those things. It seemed silly at the time. I’ve never been one to rewrite to begin with, but then today’s prompt was DO THE THING so here I am, doing the thing.

I guess I could draw a likeness here to what it feels like to be raped. When you’re raped, you lose all sense of control. Over yourself, your body, the world around you. That’s a bit what quarantine is like for me. I couldn’t control my company shutting down, losing my job, not being able to leave my house for days and days on end. I couldn’t control when I was raped. Two totally different situations but yet also the same, in a way. At least to my head. I could keep throwing comparisons. Being held down, being locked inside my house. Not being able to control the idiot in the bodega who might get me sick with his lack of personal space, not being able to control the man on top of me. Not knowing when my next paycheck will come or if it will come, not knowing if I’ll ever feel sane enough to work again.

My brain doesn’t always recognize when it’s safe. And honestly, quarantine life isn’t that bad, minus the boredom. It’s given me lots of time to paly Animal Crossing, after all. But my brain’s response to these emotions it feels are what makes it bad. These emotions mean things aren’t safe, might never be safe again. This uncertainty feels like I may never get my feet under me again. This lack of income makes me think I’ve been doing my life all wrong. That it will never be back to the way it was. That it’s time to strike out on my own and do my own business for real.

And maybe, in a way, I’m not so lost after all. Maybe the uncertainty of quarantine is what I needed to figure out my path was, once again, wrong.

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StayHomeWriMo Day 2!!!

Writing prompt: Pick five words at random from different blog posts, tweets, or articles and use them all in a scene. Words assigned at random by my Facebook friends because I am incapable of being random myself: amazing, moon, mercy, cacophony, elastic.

**Disclaimer, I’m not a huge fiction writer anymore!

Rebeckah’s heart was a cacophony of emotion as she drove her boot heel into the soft flesh of the stranger’s throat. His last words before she’d pepper sprayed him and knocked him flat, “Why won’t you answer me, pretty lady, do you think you’re better than me?” echoed inside her head as the feeling of his dirty fingers on her arm refused to fade. It had happened so fast–his fingers on her arm one second and then him crying on the ground like a little baby from the pepper spray pain. Her boot made contact before she totally realized what she was doing.

The man coughed and sputtered beneath her as he struggled to take back the air she was stealing, but she wouldn’t let up. Couldn’t. Rebeckah was tired. It wasn’t this one man in particular. He hadn’t done anything worse than anyone else. It was all the men. It was every catcall, every whisper, every side eye, every preposition of a kiss, or something more. She was TIRED. Women were just expected to be elastic, to bounce back, to sit down and shut up and take it and then take it some more. Rebeckah didn’t want to take it. Rebeckah wanted to make a difference; she wanted to change the world.

The man bashed his palm against the ground again and again, a cry for mercy when he had no voice with which to speak. The power she felt as she really threw her weight into him, as she stared down at his pepper spray addled eyes and his dead fish hands, was the most amazing feeling she had ever felt. Her heart calmed, the cacophony silenced, and she knew what she had to do.

Rebeckah lifted her boot just before the man’s eyes closed. She wasn’t like him. She was better, or at least, she hoped to be. This was her difference she sought to make, not so much in the letting him go, but in the making him remember. What he’d done; what she’d done. That she’d had a chance to end him and let him go instead. The moon was high in the sky as she walked away, round and blood red in a way she had never seen before, and Rebeckah hoped he was grateful for this chance to see it.

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StayHomeWriMo Day 1!

Creative Wellbeing Writing Prompt: Think about a character who’s stuck inside. How do they feel about it? Why are they there?

We were the picture of tranquility as we stood in an aisle of our local lawn and garden store the day after our first Christmas as a married couple. I was burrowed inside a black down jacket, a woven red scarf around my neck. His coat stayed in the car; he didn’t like to wear it shopping. Married six months and change, we made the joint decision to buy everything we needed for future holidays on clearance. We got our Christmas fix by going to his parents’ house, conveniently located right around the corner from our apartment. He was physically incapable of separating from them, which meant that I got lots of family Christmas time. It wasn’t the same as having our own tree though, so on December 26th, he finally caved and we found ourselves staring at picked over half off holiday merchandise.

“How ’bout this one?” He pointed to a glossy fake tree that was easily six feet tall.

I leaned my head on his shoulder. “You don’t think it’s too tall for our apartment?”

“You doubt me?” His voice had that slight familiar edge it got when he was angry.

“No, I just—”

“Maybe you’re right,” he cut me off. Pointing at another tree, he asked, “Maybe this one?”

The second choice was full and green and not quite as tall as me. It seemed the perfect size, was only forty dollars, and was one of the few still available in a box. We loaded it into the cart, and then moved on in search of ornaments. I took several glittery reindeer from their hooks and put them in the cart, while he went for blue and silver glass balls and dangling icicles. We paid and took everything outside and put it all inside the trunk of his black Chevy, carefully locking up so we could go see a movie.

It was around eleven when we got back home. We hauled everything into the lobby and then leaned against the wall. I suggested we take it all down to our basement storage area, since Christmas was already over. “I’m tired.” He pulled the keys out of his pocket and unlocked the door to the hallway that led to our apartment. “You do it, if you wanna be the boss.”

“Hey, wait!” I shoved the tree box into the doorway to prop it open as he turned towards our apartment. “It would go faster if we both did it.”

I didn’t need to look at him to feel his eyes boring into me.

“This is heavy. We could probably do it in one trip. If we both went, I mean.”

He shrugged, rolling his eyes. “Fine. Whatever.”

I couldn’t understand why his mood had so suddenly changed, from happy one second to cold and distant the next, but I was grateful for his help. We each looped bags over an arm, took our respective ends of the box, and started down the stairs into the dark basement. Everything fit easily into our storage area. I was on tiptoes putting a plastic tote I’d stuffed with ornaments on an upper shelf when I felt his eyes on my back. I turned around, and he was leaning against the doorway.

“It’s amazing to me,” he said quietly, “how many things you can’t do for yourself.”

I bit my lip and turned away from him so he wouldn’t see me tear up. The evening had been so nice—dinner, a Christmas tree search, a movie—and it had suddenly changed. Had he not liked the movie? Was it something I’d said?

“Did I do something?” I stayed facing away because I couldn’t bear to look at him.

“Oh man,” he laughed. “Are you crying? You can’t even have a simple conversation without being a stupid little baby?”

The idea that I could never make him completely happy because I never knew what he was thinking was a frustrating one. Perhaps it was the frustration that made me cry rather than his actual words—the sudden realization that I was, in fact, never enough and never would be, that I had put myself into a hopeless situation I couldn’t walk away from.

I turned back towards him, blinking furiously to push back the tears, and moved to shove past him. He pushed me back, and I grabbed fistfuls of his jacket in a failed attempt to keep myself from falling. There I was on the ground, my cheek stinging from where his fist had struck it. “Don’t touch me,” he spat, towering above me. “Don’t ever touch me.” He left me there on the floor in tears and shut the door between us. I heard the key click in the lock but made no effort to stop it.

He went upstairs, and I sat on the floor in the storage area, my back against the Christmas tree, and cried. I couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong; his words were the only words that were important to me and any thought I had of my own didn’t matter. When he saw me, when he spoke to me, I wasn’t nothing. He was the first person who ever truly loved me.

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