It has been quite some time since I last updated. I went to a beautiful wedding and then ventured way out West to Colorado with my little brother for about ten days. I have been home, in New Jersey, for about a week and while little of import or interest, especially pertaining to my writing career has happened, I am still optimistic I can complete a viable portion of my second manuscript this summer. I was certainly inspired and rejuvenated by my journey to Estes Park, Colorado. I would like to share some of my vacation memories here in hopes the recounts will be inspirational to some other aspiring writer or writers.
Mikey and I left on our trip directly after Mass. That first day, I drove through the remainder of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio, deciding to call it a night at a hotel in Fremont, Indiana. It was all standard operating procedure as far as road trips go, but the romantic in me was alive and well and there was a remarkably attractive man eating his continental breakfast, surprisingly alone. Had I been alone, I like to think he might have sat down at the table I had chosen and struck up a conversation. But I was not alone, I was with my little brother whom I love very much, and we both believed the drive to be breathtakingly beautiful. There was just so much space, filled with vibrant greens and blues I had never seen before.
The second day of travel, we drove through a tornado warning in Iowa. We stopped at the World’s Largest Truck Stop to eat and wait for the storm to pass at the World’s Worst Buffet – I bestowed it with such a title because buffet implies choice, but this so-called buffet only offered fried chicken with an assortment of expected sides. When we left, the storm had only dissipated ever so slightly and it seemed like we were actually driving into the worst of it. The rain was so thick and driving so hard, I could not see. I crawled along the interstate with my flashers on, shoulders tensed near my ears, leaning as far forward in the driver’s seat as possible to search the skies for enormous lightning streaks and funnel clouds. I have never seen such dark, threatening skies. I held the rosary hanging from the rearview mirror and said a few prayers. Doing so saved me from a tornado, but not from a speeding ticket in Indiana. I guess they can catch some “Midnight Riders,” as it were.
As scary as the weather was in Iowa, nothing filled me with fear as much as breezes rippling leaves of cornstalks in large fields. Thanks, Stephen King. Mikey put it in a more poetic way; he called it a sea of green, leaves in the wind rippling like waves.
When we stopped at a hotel in Lincoln, Nebraska after the second day of driving, we met a guy on the elevator from Colorado – he was headed back home. He was drinking a beer and had I been drinking a beer, he would have sufficed for a romantic daydream. I imagined that had I been alone, he would have invited me back to his hotel room for a brew and intelligent, wonderful conversation. Instead, he said the mountains in Colorado are breathtaking the first time you see them and went on his way.
At dinner that night, there was an older man seated at an adjacent table who was on his way to Los Angeles, California for his niece’s wedding.
The next day, the third day, we made it to Colorado. Estes Park is the most beautiful place I have ever seen – I know I’ve been overusing that phrase, but the beauty is nearly indescribable, so the tired phrase is all I can come up with (poor excuse for a writer, I know). When I was driving westbound on Route 36 in Colorado, and I saw the Rocky Mountains looming in the distance, I was awe struck. The beauty and the majesty overwhelmed me and suddenly, I felt like crying. The dark rock and the snow-capped peaks looked mighty and formidable and I was inexplicably terrified and anxious, gripping the steering wheel as tightly as possible with sweaty palms. But, upon some reflection, I bet the curving road that hugged mountain and cliff alike with no guard rail was probably to blame, especially considering my poor, stuttering engine that worked so hard to keep up against the staggering elevation. I made sure to charge my camera battery upon finally reaching the hotel and resolved to really try to take some pictures, to try and capture the indescribable beauty, because the camera on my iPhone was not cutting it.
Downtown Estes Park is perfect. I wouldn’t change a single thing about it. Rivers run along the rear of the shops and the most charming bookstore is right next to a perfect coffee shop and paper store. It is where I would like to meet my husband.
On the journey to Colorado, Mikey and I crossed through two time zones. We were chasing the sun.
I-80 sucks – not matter which time zone its in. There was SO much construction.
If you want proof that God exists, that life at its worst is only organized chaos but as its best is a miraculously detailed plan of exquisite beauty, then shut your mouth, open your eyes wide, and go West. It really is God’s country.
Mikey and I rode the aerial tramway to the top of one of the Rocky Mountains, then we hiked to the summit. I did it in cheap, rubber flip flops, too. While we were there, I fed a chipmunk; he took a peanut right from my hand! He put his little paws on my hand and it was adorable!
I spent time at the heated, in-ground pool at the hotel, just reading, listening to music, swimming, and tanning. The creepy trees with markings eerily similar to human eyes on the light-colored bark Melanie and I found in Maine are also in Colorado.
Mikey and I went to The Stanley Hotel for a Night Ghost Tour – it’s the hotel that inspired Stephen King to write The Shining.
But my life is such a fucking shit show. When Mike and I were dining at the restaurant next door to our hotel, called The Sundeck, my debit card was declined when I tried to pay with it. But I didn’t think much of it because I had just paid the balance for the room and have a daily limit of about $700, so it made sense to me. Then, at the restaurant in The Stanley Hotel called Cascades, it was declined again. I was embarrassed and concerned, so I tried to use the ATM downstairs. It didn’t read my card and I thought maybe the card was old and worn; parts had been peeling off and it expired in about a month anyway. I tried using my phone to locate a TD Bank in Colorado, but there are none. Panicked and sweaty, I tried the ATM machine again. It read my card this time because I swiped it properly but it wouldn’t allow me to take any cash out. This all happened in the half-hour before our Night Ghost Tour was set to start, so I was feeling rushed and overwhelmed. I called customer service and apparently, my checking account was frozen because of suspicious activity – someone in Washington had been buying (or at least attempting) software online. I explained that I was far from home on vacation and needed money to eat and get home. The woman verified some recent purchases and then transferred me to a supervisor who agreed to allow me to access my account very briefly. We agreed on a withdrawal of $600, but the stupid ATM at the hotel only allowed transactions in increments of $200, so I had to complete three separate transactions and had no debit card for the remainder of the trip. I wondered about how to pay for hotels on the way back. I had my credit card, but feared maxing it out.
To make matters worse, Mikey really enjoyed the Night Ghost Tour and wanted to venture on the Paranormal Investigation with me but he couldn’t because he is not eighteen and I felt awful because he was disappointed, and I didn’t want to leave him alone, but I knew that if I didn’t go, I would regret it. UGH! I knew I should go because I planned the trip before I knew Mike was coming and I could make it up to him by buying him an expensive watch from the gift shop, but I still felt like shit. The watch was $120.00 which I didn’t really have to spend, but Mom agreed to send money if there was a need. I hate using my parents’ money. Only I could be that miserable on vacation.
The best parts about those days were Barney and Jessica. Barney was our waiter at breakfast who reminded me of Dick Holloran from “The Shining,” who moved to Colorado from Washington, D.C. the day Pope John Paul II died. He knew the locals, the regular customers, and easily and readily engaged in animated conversation at The Mountaineer. Jessica was our waitress from The Sundeck who I bumped into at the hotel pool with her two beautiful, friendly children (girl aged 7 and boy aged 4) who were diving for pennies after the little boy lost his candy in the pool, which his sister rightfully refused to retrieve. She thought her mom and I were friends, which was sweet considering it was mainly idle chatter. Jessica told me about her eight siblings (a brother in Fort Worth, Texas and the others in Missouri) who want her to leave Estes Park to be closer, but she won’t because she absolutely adores Estes Park – she never locks her door and has never felt the need to. She recommended the tours at The Stanley Hotel and was just a genuinely wonderful human being.
When it rains, it pours; you know, when I woke up in the morning of June 27th, I felt incredibly uncomfortable in my own skin. It was a horrendous combination of exhaustion, nausea, and anxiety. Mike and I purchased breakfast at the Donut Haus – and then we went into Downtown Estes Park and did just a little bit of shopping. Afterwards, we decided to venture into Rocky Mountain National Park.
We stopped at the Alpine Visitor Center and decided to travel Trail Ridge Road. It’s the highest paved road in America and goes through different tundra. The views are literally breathtaking, to the point where it seems surreal, like there’s some kind of magic taking observers from one painting to another. It’s almost unfathomable that such beauty, possibility, and opportunity, can exist and that there are some who will never experience it. We stopped and took tons of pictures. The road was longer than we anticipated so when we finally exited the park – $20 and an hour later – we were ready for lunch and to return to the hotel. I put the address in the GPS and for close to an hour, we were hopelessly and miserably lost, with the needle of the gas gauge dangerously flirting with the red. Mikey was infuriatingly unhelpful and obnoxiously oblivious to the terror and misery consuming me.
Dad sent me a text message asking me to call him, so I did when I finally found a gas station and filled up on fuel. I cried, finally venting and finally breaking. Mom thinks I just finally allowed myself to freak out about my debit card being frozen. For five days everything was going so smoothly and then it all went SO shitty SO fast. Once I finally realized the only way back to the hotel was back the exact way we had come, we backtracked and I had to pay another fucking twenty dollars because when we first came in, the park ranger didn’t tell me to keep my receipt because it was actually a pass for a week’s admittance, and it blew out of the window.
I was beside myself.
But the trip was salvaged and I was okay once I knew where I was. I ate some food, and talked to Mom. Mikey and I didn’t do much for the remainder of the day, other than get some ice cream in town and watch a girl catch a small fish in a plastic cup from the river behind the shops.
The Stanley Tour at The Stanley Hotel was more informative than the others. It talked about its supernatural past, as well as the more general history. We were allowed to travel upstairs and peeked into rooms. That same night, I went on my Paranormal Investigation. There were severe thunderstorm warnings being issued, constantly breaking into the regularly scheduled programming with alarming buzzes and beeps. The sky was something to see, with the lightning appearing to strike the very tops of the mountains. Mike was okay at the hotel and I swear a ghost tugged on my pants. It was a good night.
The next day was Saturday and our last full day in Colorado. We were running out of things to do and were honestly ready to head home. Since the hotel wanted us to change rooms for our last night, we simply cancelled that last night and left for home Sunday morning, after Mass at a beautiful church near the hotel. We only stopped once on the way home, somewhere in Iowa, probably because we were so anxious to get back. That second day, I drove through Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I was exhausted and glad to be home, but already, I miss the beauty, majesty, mystery, romance and imagination of Colorado.
Today was the Staff Orientation at the high school for the entire district and man, it was a long day. When I walked out of my classroom at 5:30PM, the lights in the hallway were literally off. I practically shut the place down. I’m proud of all that I got done today, but it was really unnecessary to be there so late. I wasted some time lollygagging with colleagues, but I managed to work some good karma, helping others shuffle textbooks in and out of their rooms and find their portfolios.
I came home and ran. It felt good; it helped me to work out some of my stress and I had forgotten how good it felt to be sore, to have blisters and to have tangible evidence that you are making a difference. I weigh in on September 16th. The goal is at least five pounds lost. Hopefully, I’ll have good news.
I heard back from my editor. My gallery pages are scheduled to be completed this week. I am so excited!
I’m trying to keep this short and sweet because tomorrow is the first day of school and while I feel prepared, I am confident it will be a restless night.
PROMPT: While digging in a cereal box for the toy surprise, a child makes a grizzly discovery.
PIECE: Mikey had his father teach him how to set the alarm on his wristwatch the night before. Thankfully, Dad didn’t ask too many questions or wonder at Mikey’s sudden interest in the somewhat more complicated features of his watch. Mikey set his alarm for 6:00AM, a whole hour before he had to be up and getting ready for school. He figured that sixty minutes would be more than enough time to slink out of bed, to pad noiselessly in bare feet down the hallway and down the stairs, to creep into the kitchen, to hunch before a low-mounted cabinet and open it slowly so the joint didn’t creak too loudly, to retrieve the new cereal box and the surprise toy within.
He had seen Mom removed the box of cereal from one of the yellow, plastic shopping bags after returning home from the grocery store. He had been irritated by the way she handled it so carelessly, just tossing it into the cabinet, not seeming to care if it tilted and fell against the others. Did Mom not know about the prize inside or the intense satisfaction of being the first to find said prize? Immediately, his eyes flicked to his older brother, Jimmy. Jimmy was currently elbow-deep in a bag of Doritos and Mikey didn’t think he’d seen the cereal box, but he couldn’t be sure. Jimmy was sneaky. Jimmy thought that because he was older, everything was his. Those two inclinations proved to make life difficult for Mikey. But this time, just this one time, he would be hailed the victor.
The alarm clocked beeped at a truly annoying high pitch three times before Mikey slammed down on a small, metal button on the side of the clock face. His eyes shot to Jimmy, who seemed to be asleep. Was he faking? Mikey hypothesized that if Jimmy were feigning slumber, then Jimmy would move when Mikey moved. As soon as Mikey’s feet hit the floor and the board creaked beneath his weight, Jimmy would sit up and demand to know what he was doing. Then again, Jimmy might really be fast asleep and besides, Mikey hadn’t woken up so early for nothing.
He pulled the covers back very, very slowly – inch by inch – so as not to make a sound and so he was able to make his movements as slow as possible. After what seemed like an eternity, Mikey was free of the burdensome covers. Keeping his movements lethargic, he sat up in bed like a zombie from one of the movies he wasn’t allowed to watch but that Jimmy could. Jimmy would tell him all about the gruesome, violent parts and then tease Mikey when he asked for the light to be left on. He didn’t need light now – it would definitely wake Jimmy up. Barely breathing, Mikey twisted his body around, swinging his legs softly against the sheets. Though the mattress creaked as he slid for his feet to touch the floor, Jimmy remained motionless. Mikey said a little prayer and tiptoed across the room, nimbly avoiding the toy cars and playing cards left out from a few nights before. The moonlight that stole in through the window illuminated the landscape just enough for Mikey to make out dangerous shadows.
Once he was out of the bedroom and in the hallway, he could breathe easier. Mikey kept an even pace – to break into a run would be foolish and loud – and took the stairs one at a time, placing his weight as evenly as possible. He was proud for the amount of physical restraint he was displaying, but it completely dissipated when he reached the landing. Jubilation filling his veins, Mikey tore through an archway to his left and slid to a seat before the cabinet, his pajama bottoms navigating easily across the linoleum floor. He wrenched the cabinet open, retrieved the cereal box, and slid a slightly shaking finger beneath the cardboard flap. Eagerly, he slid his finger across the edge of the box – a paper cut be damned – and crudely ripped at the other flap. He never thought he’d be so thankful for cheap glue.
Mikey lifted the plastic bag containing the sugar-coated corn flakes and struggled for a moment or two before the thicker plastic gave way and ripped satisfactorily. His fingers were sweaty and had trouble gripping the edge but once they did – boy; that was all she wrote. Mikey let the plastic bag fall back into the box and he plunged his innocent, little fist inside, feeling around for the prize. His fingers brushed against something that was firmer than corn flakes, and he seized it. He brought it triumphantly out from the box, a few corn flakes falling to the floor.
It was a human toe, bloodied around the end from which it was removed from the body it, until recently, belonged to.
Mikey screamed and screamed and screamed.
I have been so out of it lately. Today, I tried to sleep in the faculty workroom at school. I was sitting where the other substitutes usually eat their lunches, my oversized purse placed strategically in front of me so that I was hidden from view. I had the latest edition of “Glimmer Train open in front of me, but everyone would know I was not really reading because my cheek was laying upon the page, and my mouth was wide open. Oh, and my eyes were closed. To be fair, I didn’t actually fall asleep, but I was able to find that incredibly blissful zone that comes just before sleep, when one’s mind is actually empty and one is just drifting.
When I came home, I did sleep. I did not exercise, I did not count my calories, I didn’t really clean my room and I just did nothing. I’m feeling down on myself because I’m sliding back into lazy, self-destructive habits and I’m worried I can’t stop, that my life will be successive series of starting and stopping, of trying and failing.
I feel that it is important to share my emotion and mindset with you so that when you read the pieces, you can put them in some kind of context (or if they completely suck and lack talent, I can refer you to the crappy day I had. Really, I’m just covering my ass – pardon my French).
THE PROMPT: “Falling Mattresses”
They had been waiting, umbrellas up, for the falling mattresses.
Sam reread the line, moving his lips soundlessly over the words. He clicked his pen and sat it down beside the yellow legal pad. Every other line was blank, besides the first, and had been blank for hours. Surrounding the pad were crumpled up sheets of yellow paper, discarded as trash and bad ideas, scattered amid empty cans of diet Coke. Aggravated, Sam sighed loudly and raked his face with his palms. No words seemed right, no hook was interesting enough and he was stuck.
Sam heard the door open and close from behind him, and turned his head to see his sister walking inside. She was smiling, and held a tray of food in her hands. “Here you are,” she said. “Dinner’s been ready for a while. Why didn’t you answer your phone?”
“I didn’t want to be disturbed,” Sam grumbled, turning back around.
“You still need to eat,” his sister argued, rolling her eyes. His artistic temper tantrums made her want to scream. “It’s your favorite; spaghetti and meatballs.” She used the ends of the tray to clear the table of its paper litter, and set it before her brother, smack dab on top of the pad he had been writing on, or at least trying to. She then decided to pick up the empty cans, crushing them to make more room in her hands. The noise was irritating, as was her presence, and as was Sam’s writer block. He collapsed back against the couch and grunted. His sister straightened up and popped a hip, so that her poise was one of attitude. “What’s wrong?”
“I can’t come up with anything.”
“Oh,” she said. She smiled and sat beside her brother, momentarily forgetting the crumpled aluminum in her hands. “Maybe I can help. What do you have so far?”
Sam raised an eyebrow. “Dude, I have been locked in here for days, trying to come up with a beautiful and meaningful song that will have a lasting effect not only on this generation, but on those that follow. I doubt you can help me finish these lyrics in a couple of minutes.”
“At least let me try,” she said. “You never know, Sam. Something I say could trigger an explosion of creativity.”
He studied her for a moment, and discovered how strange it was to be viewing what was essentially the female version of himself. Ever since they were little, everyone had commented on how much they not only looked alike, but acted alike. Growing up, they had adopted each other’s mannerisms, like how when they were nervous, they would pull on their eardrums so the blood would pool and pound there, rather than their panicked brains. They both chewed their nails, and bit their bottom lips when they were deep in thought but knew someone was looking. The two were close – they had always been close, but after Dad had died and they had both moved back home to help take care of Mom in her increasingly fragile mental state, they became friends, honest and genuine friends. Smiling softly, Sam shrugged. “What the hell; give it a shot.”
“Okay – what do you have so far?”
Sam lifted the tray of food so he could slide the legal pad from underneath it. Suddenly nervous, he licked his dry lips. As close as they were, he had never allowed his sister to read any of his work. He couldn’t exactly say what it was he was afraid of, because she would never ever say anything bad about it, but his stomach did squirm uneasily when he saw eye the writing. “All I have is the opening line: ‘They had been waiting, umbrellas up, for the falling mattresses.”
It was silent for quite a few moments. Finally, she said, “I don’t get it.”
“What do you mean?”
She shrugged and said, “I don’t know where you want to go with this.”
Sam laughed, running his palm across the back of his neck. “That is the problem I’ve been having.”
“Then just change the line.”
Sam was scandalized. “No way, I can’t change the line! This is a very intriguing image, and I need to work with it.”
His sister held her hands up in front of her as if in self-defense. “Okay, sorry! I didn’t know you were married to the falling mattresses.” She did her best to stifle a laugh at her older brother’s expense. She reread the line soundlessly, just as Sam had, and then asked, “Why are the mattresses falling?”
“You tell me.”
Her eyes widened. “This is hard.”
“You’re telling me.”
There were another few moments of silence. “Well,” she said, “good luck with all that.” She rose to her feet, cradling the empty cans in her arms. “Make sure you eat before it gets cold.”
“Thanks for all the help,” Sam said, shaking his head slowly.
“Anytime,” she smiled, shutting the door behind her.
He imagined a mattress falling from the sky and crushing his sister beneath its weight, her cheap and flimsy umbrella collapsing. He laughed and then froze.
There was the idea; the rest of the song.