I know that my last post had its ups and downs, but on the whole, it was a bit of a downer because it emphasized the negative parts of the trip. I do not know why I did that, especially because the trip was amazing, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I think a large part of my problem, what keeps me from being genuinely happy nine times out of ten, is that I rarely accentuate the positive. I am going to make a concerted effort to do so, but unfortunately, it is not going to happen in this post. But the next one will be exceedingly uplifting, I promise, and I am starting to really keep the promises I make to myself so that I can learn to trust myself.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, my sister and her husband and their children are visiting. I wouldn’t trade my time with them for anything in the world, but I was disappointed that I had to decline an invitation to the bar with friends. I’m worried about why I’m disappointed – I want it to be because my one friend is only visiting for a short time and I really would like to see him again before he returns home, but I’m afraid that I’m really disappointed because I actually believe I could go out and meet someone, and every time I deny myself such an opportunity, I’m signing my own death sentence of sorts. I know that’s melodramatic, but it’s eye-opening, none the less. I need to cut ties with juvenile notions and silly daydreams and become an adult. I am not going to meet the love of my life out at a bar because that is not the kind of girl that I am.
To be fair, bars are different from clubs. I’d probably fare better at a bar because no one’s grinding to a manufactured beat. Usually, everyone is just drinking and playing pool. That kind of crowd is definitely more my speed.
But what’s more important; spending time with family visiting from out-of-state, or tracking down a potential future husband? It is these kind of mundane struggles that life is filled with, and they create regrets. Anyway, that’s my belief. I am totally open to other explanations, and freely admit that I could be over-thinking things, as I am known to do.
I also do not want to be obsessed with romance. I want there to be more to me than stolen glances and cheap caresses.
Don’t we all?
PROMPT: A dentist is stabbed while he waits in line at the movies.
PIECE: Dr. Ellis was a dentist and a mediocre one at that. He wasn’t terrible but he didn’t have as many repeat patients as he would like. He wasn’t excellent and sometimes, he did forget to numb patients. He was competent, but not worthy of any particular praise. He was average and some nights, that fact bothered him. Some nights, the fact did not. Tonight belonged to the latter category; he was much too intoxicated to give a damn about anything, let alone his professional reputation.
Janice had left him. Dr. Ellis had come home and found that everything seemed somewhat off. The little hairs that were typically useless were standing at attention, so he decided to investigate. Setting his briefcase on the floor just inside the front door, his expensive shoes with the clicking soles traversed up the wooden staircase and kept left. He entered the master bedroom and went to the closet. Throwing the curtain doors aside, Dr. Ellis realized that it was as he feared; Janice’s things were gone. He moved to the dresser on the other side of the room and pulled out the top drawer on the right side – her side – only to find it empty. Stomach flipping end over end, he made a detour to the bathroom to deposit the contents of his churning intestines into the porcelain bowl. Wiping his mouth with his forearm, Dr. Ellis took shaking steps into the kitchen. He poured himself a glass of water, spilling it slightly here and there, before sitting at the table. The top was marble and Janice had picked it out. He had admired her taste until now. Now, he wanted to smash the table to bits and chuck said bits at Janice’s face, marring her beauty with tiny nicks and cuts that drew blood. It was violent and animal-like and he should know better, but so fucking what? She had left him out of the blue – he was entitled to be bitter.
The tears and the trembling came and in this completely emasculated state, Dr. Ellis discovered the letter in the middle of the table. She started off with the typical bullshit: she didn’t know when they started to become strangers, only that it happened. She thought he was always far from home, even when he was beside her because his mind was always somewhere else, always moving a million miles a minute when she desperately needed him there, in the present, with her.
She took a paragraph to explain that she did not leave him because of problems between the sheets. She used five to seven sentences to be absolutely clear that she did not care that he had trouble getting it up more often than not. Janice wanted it to be known that she wasn’t that kind of shallow woman, and that Dr. Ellis should not feel like any less of a man.
But him not really providing for her, neglecting her and not proposing marriage – all of that should make him feel like a complete and total douche bag and less of a man, she wrote. Janice was devastated that she had wasted years on the dentist and didn’t intend to waste another second.
So she was gone.
Dr. Ellis got good and liquor-ed up and went to the movies. He hadn’t paid the cable bill, but needed some kind of mindless, visual stimuli to keep the pain at bay for at least another 90 minutes. Unfortunately, Dr. Ellis needed such relief on a rainy Friday night – everybody and their fucking brother was the local cineplex. He swayed in the never-ending line, blinking slowly and licking at his dry lips. He wondered if the woman in the ticket booth would notice that he was three sheets to the wind. If she did, would she say anything? It was hard to tell. If she was good-looking, should Dr. Ellis say something? Was that too soon
Dr. Ellis was so absorbed in his own thoughts that he did not hear the guttural screams from behind him. He did not catch the winking metal as it was caught in the overhead lights. It was not until he felt a searing pain in his side that he realized he had been stabbed. Clutching his side, he fell to the ground and looked up. A wild-looking woman with sweat-slicked hair and wide eyes stood above him and she was shrieking. Most of it was unintelligible. He was able to catch the words “no” and “Novocaine” and “numb” and “dick.”
Heh. So numb was Dr. Ellis to everything around him that he had lost his girlfriend and his professional reputation, and maybe even his life. Still, he couldn’t care.
I love how I write an empassioned entry about my new and strong resolve to update regularly, and then miss a day. That’s me in a nutshell: weak, but full of rationalizations for said weakness. I must be incredibly difficult to love.
Wednesday was a great day, though. I went to Barnes and Noble and though I spent more than I would have liked, it was well worth it. I purchased a trendy bookbag that perfectly fits the Bohemian – and let’s be honest, sometimes pretentious – style I am currently going for. I also purchased the complete works of Edgar Allen Poe, a set of sketching graphite pencils and a sketchbook. One of my summer resolutions is to take up painting. That is a somewhat daunting feat, so I’ve broken the goal into baby steps: I’ll start with sketching. My good friend and college roomie is an artist in every sense of the word, and on Tuesday, she’s going to take me sketching with her. Hopefully she’ll be able to show me the ropes so I can create something decent. Purchases in hand, I went to the cafe to have an iced coffee because it was hot as hell and to get some reading and writing done. I did read “The Offshore Pirate” by F. Scott Fitzgerald and wrote a little bit, but nothing I’m immensely proud of. I’m still working through a dry patch and feeling decidedly uninspired. I have ideas that have potential, but currently, I am failing exceptionally at executing them.
What I remember most about my time spent at Barnes and Noble was a beautiful man who seemed to sketching out designs on graph paper. He was using one of those multi-colored pens that changes color when you click it – either red, green, blue or black. When he sneezed, I said, “God bless you.” He thanked me and offered me a warm smile, and I gushed as I tried to focus on sweetening my iced coffee (which I completely blotched. It was disgusting and I threw it out before I was halfway finished. I don’t blame the barista, though. I don’t think I was drinking it fast enough because the ice melted and made it watery). I stirred in the sugar and made note of his shaved, dirty blonde hair and dark green eyes. He was of a thin yet athletic build and his skin was tanned from being in the sun. He was dressed in earth tones and wore a thick, leather bracelet on his right wrist. He had a trendy knapsack with what looked like a sleeping mat rolled up and stuck underneath the top flap. I wondered if he had taken a bus to the shopping center. I doubted he had a car; he would never condescend to such consumerism, or be so ignorant of the adverse effects of automobiles on the environment. Then again, if he were taking a bus, that’d make him a hypocrite and wonderfully complex. I had fallen in love with him in the 27 seconds it took me to prepare my coffee with half-and-half and sugar, but turned away from him to find a seat at the bar against the full-length windows. I could have engaged him in charming conversation prehaps, or at least asked his name. I wanted him to ask me what I was reading or what I was writing, but I did nothing. When I saw him exit the store and cross before the windows once or twice, I smiled but remained still, flicking my eyes back to my book or the screen of my iPad.
I’m a chickenshit, is what it is.
Later, an old friend of mine from childhood invited me out for drinks for happy hour and a great hole in the wall in Seaside Heights. I accepted but with a strong sense of caution because this friend only reaches out when something heavy is going on. She, regretably, is kind of a hot mess and things have not changed. I had fun and it was nice to escape from the mundane quality my life is so reluctant to relinquish, but I could not do that every night like she can. I came home so drunk that I ate rancid spaghetti sauce that had been left out on the counter since before lunchtime. I awoke with a dry mouth, a pounding headache and a palpable sense of shame. It was a gross feeling.
Today was better. I had lunch with my artist friend – she’s also a spectacular musician – and also ran into a very good friend who’s been missing in action as of late. She’s married, domesticated and wonderfully mature. She wears elegant dresses and goes out for cocktails with her husband and their friends like a real adult.
This weekend should be just as entertaining. Hopefully I’ll remember to update as it happens.
The writing prompt I’ve been working on has been giving me real problems. I don’t particularly think the prompt is all that great, so I am continually and readily disengaging in the creative process. That ends tonight, though. I will finish the damned thing if it’s the last thing I do.
PROMPT: Unusual Phobia.
Create a character with an unusual phobia. Write a scene in which the character faces the phobia.
The most common fear among human beings is death, followed closely by public speaking. Then again, it might be the other way around but regardless of the accuracy of the aforementioned statistic, Melissa Grander feared neither death nor public speaking. The activity which caused her body to seize, her palms to sweat and her mind to waver between insanity and unconsciousness was dinner conversation. It was not a common fear by any means, and Melissa made peace with the fact with the rationalization that she was not a common young woman. Exactly what made her so uncommon eluded Melissa and at night, when she lay awake watching the dusty ceiling fan in her bedroom slowly rotate around and around, she worried that she wasn’t uncommon or unique and that she was just weird; simply bizarre. After all, who can’t hold a simple conversation over a meal? Who can’t engage in a dialogue over dinner?
The answer is Melissa Grander. She could not be charming, witty or even responsive while eating. It was effort enough to make sure nothing spilled and stained her blouse, that her teeth were clear of debris. To add the societal pressure of being interesting was more than she could comprehend. Her need for silence at mealtimes left her lonely and alone. Other than her family who were supportive and understanding, Melissa did not have many friends. Having to decline every single dinner and lunch invitation led to a notable drop in those invitations, to the point where Melissa was left off the list because everyone knew she wouldn’t come out anyway. Melissa also knew she could never join in the group brunches, lunches and dinners and could never do so with a romantic prospect, so she stopped dating altogether. When the occasional male interest made his intentions known, Melissa panicked and aborted the whole thing, assuming that once the young man found out how abnormal she was, he’d be completely turned off. Who wanted to be a lover and a savior and a doctor and a therapist? Wasn’t that too much pressure?
All of Melissa’s social interactions stemmed from her weekly trips to the mall. She didn’t necessarily make purchases, but she flitted around like a regular social butterfly from kiosk to kiosk and department to department, making small talk with various employees who all found her to be pleasant, compassionate and most importantly, normal. She could eat alone at the food court without anyone thinking twice, and satisfy her need for human interaction in the small, superficial doses she could handle. It was kind of ideal, albeit sad and temporary. Would these workers come to her funeral? Would they send her cards if she was sick in the hospital? Melissa knew that they wouldn’t, but the fear did not outweigh her fear of conversation during meals.
Melissa was solitary, and as a result, she enjoyed solitary activities. During her social visits to the mall, she would bring along a book to read near the fountain in the center. The bubbling and tumbling of the water into the stone basin provided the perfect white noise to drown out the buzz of consumerism around her, so she could afford to become lost in a literary world where she could live vicariously. She, Melissa Grander, was the young female protagonist with the painted nails and nasty habit of chain smoking, who moved from bed to bed every night and searched for the solution to her looming but not named existential crisis in seedy bars in a big city. Melissa could be hunting ghosts in an old, Victorian manor, foiling an assassination attempt against some world leader, or falling in love barefoot and breathless while caught in the middle of a surprise summer storm. Anything was possible for Melissa while she was reading.
Her favorite author was James Prince, a master of the paranormal thriller. His characters were so authentic and painfully human, despite their supernatural abilities and/or origins. While the setting and circumstances of the plot were extreme, the themes were perfectly applicable to her humdrum life and Prince’s writing became universal. She had a large intellectual crush on him and filled idle time with daydreams about chance encounters and resulting romances with Prince. It was childish and juvenile and at the back of her mind, Melissa realized she was stunted emotionally. Sighing, she’d close the book and head toward the exit.
One random Tuesday, Melissa was heading out the automatic doors near the salon. She paused to warily observe the gray, swirling skies and the thick raindrops beginning to pound the pavement. Her umbrella was shoved beneath her backseat and she hesitated, not wanting to become drenched and uncomfortable. Her feet shifted in thought, as did her dark, expressive eyes, which widened when they fell upon a cardboard cutout to her right. It was James Prince, in the most scholarly of poses with his strong, calloused right hand curled about his strong, impressive chin. His eyes were kind but a million miles away, and a deep shade of brown. A small smile hung about his lips without actually landing. It was a beautiful picture and she took a step or two towards it, like she was physically compelled to do so and could not resist. Underneath the torso of the author was a slit, and beneath that was an entrance form. There was a contest being held; one lucky winner would be chosen to have dinner with the author, and win a signed copy of his newest book, yet to be released.
Melissa’s breath caught in her throat. This was incredible; this was serendipitous! If she entered and if she won, she would have to face her fear! She could be normal with his assistance; she’d have to shape up for James Prince.
Melissa hurried over and filled out about thirty cards, shoving them mercilessly into the slot, crumpling corners in her haste to get as many forms as she could into the cardboard cutout. The winner would be announced in one month.
Melissa went to the mall every day and entered again and again. She stopped making her social visits, completely forgot about her uncommon phobia and was graced with that proverbial eye of the tiger. She was focused only on winning and the opportunity of being healthy. The irony that her behavior to do so was unhealthy was lost on her.
A month later, the winner was announced. Melissa Grander would indeed be having dinner with James Prince.
The big night came and she sat upon a bench on her front porch. Her hands twitched in her lap and she was barely breathing. Every pair of headlights that washed over her made her nauseous; the limousine would be arriving to pick her up at any minute. She had index cards in her tiny bag, each with vague responses to typical questions one might ask over dinner. Melissa hoped she’d be able to keep it together. She’d honestly rather die than mortify herself before James Prince, the love of her sad, delusional life. Sighing sadly, Melissa automatically rose as headlights flooded the drive. Her moment had come at last. She gathered her wits and her bag and trotted over to the rear door of the limousine when it was opened from the inside. There sat James Prince.
“Oh my God,” Melissa breathed.
I was feeling really blue when I awoke this morning – completely suffering from a case of the Mondays. I was listless during work, and struggled to find motivation to do anything other than sleep.
I felt infinitely better this afternoon, when my friend Melanie and I walked the deserted boardwalks of Seaside Heights. Among the caged stores and waves crashing in the distance, we talked about everything and anything. Walking against the wind, with sand stinging our faces, we admitted our fears, bad habits, and desires. It was relaxing and rejuvinating.
I felt ready to tackle what I consider a very difficult and very personal prompt. This prompt unnerves me for two reasons, the first being it deals with my mother. I love my mother deeply, although I must admit that I do not know her. There are times when I was confident I had my mother figured out, but she continues to surprise me. I’ve considered her the stronger of my parents my entire life – that she was a little colder, refrained from showing emotion and told us kids “no” when she had to. But now that I’m older and wiser, and Mom feels like she can talk to me as an adult about adult worries, I realize that my mother is vulnerable, and that she has feelings that can be hurt. I think this realization was subconsciously playing at the back of my mind when I decided the route this prompt would take.
Also, it reminds me of myself when I was about five years old. I wouldn’t let my twin sister inside our room after I had retreated there, hurt and embarrassed because I had been yelled at by my mom. Tears streaming down my face, I had fled from the dining room table in hysterics. I wailed with each step and had no idea my twin sister was right behind me, step for step, worried and eager to make me smile and forget the whole thing. I closed and locked the door behind me, and for as long as I live, I will never forget the desperation in my twin sister’s voice as she begged me to open the door and let her in. I will never forget how she raised her tiny fists again and again against the door.
I will never forget how cold I was, how selfish I was, and how I did not open the door.
THE PROMPT: “Your Mom at Five”
Today’s exercise is courtesy of Leslie Pietrzyk, a novelist and short story writer who lives in Alexandria, Virginia. Imagine you are your mother. You are five years old. What are you seeing / thinking / doing?
It was late, much too late for a five-year-old girl to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but Kelly Ann was just that. Her eyes were as wide and as bright as the moon, shining just as clearly. Her eyes were a wonderful shade of green that altered ever so slightly depending on her outfit. Her eyes were beautiful, but all of the character in her face came from her nose – a little too large with nostrils that were a smidge too wide, but shaped in a more attractive than abrasive manner. It was reminiscent of a pig – but the cute, small, pink kind and not the wild boar kind – and she would grow into it before the cruel teenage years.
At this moment in her remarkably young life, Kelly Ann was not dwelling on her eyes or her nose or her mouth or her ears, and the only thought she gave to her less than clean, knotted hair was to push it back and out of the way because it had a troublesome habit of falling into her face, obscuring her view and tickling the tip of her nose. Kelly Ann didn’t have time for useless things like hair because she was in the middle of quite the captive conversation with Thumbelina and Pebbles. Kelly Ann was enthralling the ladies with her adventures from outside earlier in the day, when the sun had been high in the sky, and she had tried pedaling as fast as she could. Kelly Ann had been bicycling through the paved streets of the neighborhood with a kind of reckless abandon that only the very young – or the very foolish – could afford, sometimes lifting her hands from the handlebars and her feet from the pedals, so that her own momentum would take her places. She hadn’t been slowed by any of her nine brothers and sisters, or by her stressed and harried mother. Kelly Ann was free, speeding along hills, navigating curbs and weaving across the road as she saw fit. It had been a wonderful day, and she had been thankful for every breath in a small, genuine way – the only way a five-year-old could be thankful.
She was just about to relate how Mean Mr. Polly had tried to squirt her with the water hose as he tended to his garden near the edge of his lawn when Kelly was interrupted by loud yelling. Kelly Ann had been so enveloped in relating her melodrama that she hadn’t heard the voice, which seemed to be coming from outside and which seemed to be growing steadily louder. Kelly Ann narrowed her eyes, annoyed at whoever was making such a ruckus. If Ma woke up and found her awake at this time of night, it would be catastrophic.
But at that time enough, and with an imagination such as Kelly Ann’s, maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if Ma woke up, because what if the boogeyman was out there, yelling and making all sorts of noise to get all the children up and out of bed so he could gobble all of them up? Shivering slightly before going completely still, Kelly Ann inhaled sharply and let her beloved – albeit uncommonly dirty – dolls tumble to the uncommonly dirty, carpeted floor. Kelly Ann’s face fell as she decided what to do – wake up Ma? Should she maybe sprint to Ma’s bedroom and dive beneath the itchy blanket to curl beside Ma’s thin body, at least until the boogeyman left and the terrors passed? To do that, though, would mean admitting to Ma she had been awake and the wrath of that woman would be worse than that any boogeyman who made a scene on the front lawn.
A new round of yelling was starting up, and Kelly Ann listened with all her might, closing her eyes tight to aid in the effort. Was it unintelligible growling, or were there English words? What kind of monster yelled out to be let inside? How scary could a monster be if he had to beg? The voice sounded like it was demanding, like it was telling and not asking, but it didn’t really sound dangerous. Kelly Ann opened her eyes, now more intrigued than ever. It wasn’t a monster at all, but someone she might know. She rose from her scabbed knees to stand on her bruised feet and then paused again to listen hard. Her nightgown, which was really some worn, smelly tee that one of her two older brothers had used for gym class, hung just below her knees. The fabric rustled gently against her thighs as she padded soundlessly to the bedroom window opposite the bedroom door. Breathless with excitement – and an ashamed twinge of fear – Kelly Ann stood on tip toes and gripped the windowsill in tiny, grimy hands. She pulled herself up as much as she could, and peered out of the window and down onto the lawn below.
It was Daddy. Daddy was on the lawn, yelling for someone to come downstairs and let him in. Kelly Ann’s face broke into a radiant smile, and she released a breath she had been holding just in case it was a boogeyman down on the grass. Daddy’s face was red and looking up at her window. He must have seen the light, known that Kelly Ann was up, and was trying to get her attention. She raised one of her tiny, grimy hands to wave, and she saw Daddy smile big. He jumped into the air, waving both of his arms above his head, and called for Kelly Ann to come downstairs and let him in. Careful not to shout and wake Ma, Kelly Ann showed her Daddy the thumbs up sign and then disappeared from sight.
Once again, she padded soundlessly across the room to light switch beside the bedroom door. Once again, she employed her tippy toes and stretched until she could stretch no more so she could flick of the bedroom light, lest Ma knew she was awake. Once she was safe among the shadows, Kelly Ann slowly, slowly, slowly opened her bedroom door, simultaneously biting down on her full, bottom lip as if that action would not only keep the door from creaking, but also keep Ma snoozing peacefully down the hall.
With the door open, Kelly Ann peered up and down the hallway. She saw no one and released a tremulous breath. The only movement came from dust mites, gracefully floating in the random shafts of moonlight that reflected through the upstairs windows to light upon the floor. The only noise Kelly Ann could hear was her own breathing and the ticking of the big clock downstairs in the living room. As far as she could tell, the coast was clear. She crept along the hallway and tip toed down the stairs, making sure to lightly tread along the carpet running down the middle and to jump over the trick step that always seemed to squawk at the worst possible moments. Enthralled by her stealthy abilities, Kelly Ann began to imagine that she Agent 99 from that show “Get Smart” and that she was really rescuing her Daddy from a group of masked bandits that had gathered on the front lawn. He was depending on her, he needed her and Kelly Ann was going to save the day.
Kelly Ann reached the bottom of the stairs and took only a few steps towards the back door, which was through the kitchen that was straight ahead before she stopped dead in her tracks, terrified and open-mouthed.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Ma sneered, standing just inside the kitchen doorway with her hands on her hips, and her shoulders so tensed that they were all the way up by her ears.
Kelly Ann turned to her mother slowly, fighting an oncoming pout and averting her eyes. “I – I was just, I was just gonna let Daddy in.”
“Don’t you dare,” Ma growled. “If he wants to go out drinking with his friends after work, and not come home to help a woman with ten children, then he can stay out, the bum!” The last part was more directed at Daddy than at Kelly Ann, and Ma turned her body more towards the door to prove it. She sneered at Daddy, and Daddy just looked back at Ma helplessly through the window.
“Come on, Helen,” he pleaded. “It’s cold and dark out here, and it’s late. Let me in and we can talk.”
“Not a chance in hell, Charlie!” she shouted. Ma was fighting mad.
Daddy rolled his eyes in exasperation, and in doing so, landed them on Kelly Ann. He smiled brightly and waved. “Hey, Kelly Ann, come on over and open the door for Daddy!”
Kelly Ann beamed back at her father and forgot that her mother was in the room at all. She took a few more steps forward before she felt Ma’s icy, iron grip around her arm. “Get upstairs and go to bed!” Ma ordered. Kelly Ann offered her father a small, sympathetic look before turning and bounding up the stairs.
Kelly Ann was crying. She wasn’t scared anymore – well, she was a little scared of Ma and what she would do to Daddy, but she was very sad that she couldn’t save the day. Daddy had been depending on her, and she had fallen short of the mark.
As always, please comment to offer critiques, responses, and pieces of your own.