The idea occurred to me several times before, but I’d never had the courage. And honestly, this was the first time an opportunity presented itself when I was actually in a relationship, when any initials I carved wouldn’t have been and exercise in imagination. Cowardice disguised as confidence. One day, RSC hearts KEC or ABC or HIJ will mean something more than a long list of letters inferring a long list of never been lovers.
Which is exactly as pathetic as it sounds.
But she was different. Or I was different around her, which might be saying the same thing.
She liked winter rains, the sort that iced your eyebrows and lashes, made walking dangerous, filled with ankle twisting, bottom bruising obstacles. And she preferred silence when given the choice, her feet up on the sofa, across my lap while I read a book, no words shared for hours.
I also liked the rain, but preferred the October variety. As for silence, well, I didn’t believe it existed. There was always some little noise, a scratching in the back of my brain, which I trusted, if only because it helped me feel substantial, genuinely present.
One warm afternoon late in September, we hiked into the woods along a favorite trail for almost an hour (autumn leaves scattered across the ground, reds, browns, and my favorite yellows piling up, begging to be stomped or kicked about), rarely speaking, until we came upon a massive oak, somehow left unmarked among the aspens and elms lining the path, all etched with layer after layer of scribbles that stood out like scars on skin.
We stood in front of the tree, marveling at its unlikeliness.
“I can’t help but think,” she started, then paused. “No, you’ll think I’m being silly.”
I shook my head, somehow stopping myself from adding phrases which would only detract from the moment. I adore words, but I often say the wrong ones at the wrong times.
“I feel like this tree appeared out of nowhere, in this moment, in this place, just for us.”
I pulled my knife from its leather sheath, then walked forward, keeping my eyes on the tree, convinced she was right and if I looked away for even a moment it would disappear. With my free hand, I touched the bark. Deep, rough grooves touched back, and for an instant I thought the tree quivered beneath my fingers. I pulled away, looking up at the branches far above my head, swaying gently in the light breeze. A pale blue sky seemed impossibly far away. I tightened my grip on the handle of the knife, turned my attention back to the trunk, and selected the location to make my first cut.
In my head, I imagined the task already complete. I could see each letter already formed, rising out from the wood, tangible evidence of our connection, hers and mine, our shared adoration and affection. I wanted to say one word out loud, shout it, but it came as a whisper- love- because I did love her, and I believed she loved me.
I imagined other outings we’d take, coming back to this tree, staring up at the crudely carved initials somehow meant to represent us, hoping our love would last as long as the tree itself. Someday, we would bring our children, spread a blanket on the ground, share a picnic lunch and stories about the inevitability of our meeting, the permanence of our devotion. Our timeless love.
I wanted to cling to this image, but before I could lock it away in my head, store it like a memory my heart sunk and I knew.
What a ludicrous notion. I suddenly wanted to be anywhere but here, in front of the magnificent tree.
Before I could compose my thoughts, she stepped up beside me and put her hand on my shoulder.
“I don’t want you to do it either,” she whispered.
I slid the knife back into the sheath, put both hands upon the oak and wished it well.
Without looking back, we headed down the trail together, towards the parking lot where we’d left her car. A cooler in the back seat held cold water and some good chocolate.
Fifteen steps down the trail, she slid her hand into mine.
Lucky me! I just returned from the dermatologist, where I had a few unsightly blemishes frozen off of my face. Better to have them removed, even if it hurts and makes me all teary. An interesting part of aging is the sudden appearance of crazy skin issues. Couple that with the ongoing assault of random body hair, and my once youthful looks have been ravaged by time(a Jasper Beardly reference).
On the plus side, I’ve been having loads of fun writing daily paragraphs. I’ve yet to park my rear end in the chair for an extended amount of time, but the daily writings are coming nicely. I’m remembering not to force them, to enjoy the process. A few of them have potential to become longer works, and one will certainly be a fun story to write (and hopefully, read). I’m thrilled with the prospects, and excited about writing again.
Another exciting thing- My friend, J.H Moncrieff just released the first two books in her GhostWriters series. I’ve read City of Ghosts and thoroughly enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to reading The Girl Who Talks to Ghosts very soon. I recommend them for anyone who loves a good adventure, fun characters, a bit of a scare, and satisfying, shocking endings. Click HERE for more information, including where to get your own copy. All the smart people are doing it. You’re smart, right?
I’m not sure if it is a memory or a dream. Odds are it is neither. If not for the particulars, I might believe it was a story I made up to sound cool, frighten friends, elicit a particular reaction: shock, awe, incredulous amazement.
In this tale/memory/dream, I am visiting my second cousin, the son of my mother’s nemesis, someone who made making others miserable her profession. We are the same age, this boy and I, roughly 11 years old. One summer, we played on the same baseball team. Other than that, we have little to nothing in common. I don’t like him and I’m sure he doesn’t like me, but it is a summer evening in August and our parents are pretending to get along. We mimic them.
It is early in the new decade, 1982. I am likely wearing too short shorts and a t shirt that does not match, probably stained with dirt or food. My cousin will be dressed better than I, cleaner, which he will point out in subtle ways, a look, voice inflection, to which I will be oblivious.
Across the street and down half the block, new construction is underway. The shiny wooden houses look out of place set among the textured brick ramblers and bungalows lining the eastern side of the road.
We are unsupervised beyond the occasional look out the window. It doesn’t take long or much convincing for us to make our way to the vacant houses (some only wooden frames, others missing windows and doors, a few ready to welcome families), bravely wandering through the least complete, then checking for unlocked doors among the others.
One opens and invites us in. Dark yellow carpet and bright white walls (the aroma of fresh paint and glue) shine like warnings, and the unfinished kitchen gives us pause. Workers may be about, or will soon arrive. We are silent, listening for a hint of another human being, ready to run, hearts in our throats.
My cousin laughs, breaking the spell.
We explore rooms. It is a not-dangerous situation that somehow feels compellingly dangerous. Part of me always feels broken, different, but it is a secret part, one that few will ever see or understand. More often than not, I am passive, overly careful, unwilling to risk. Being here in this empty house, I feel unlike myself. I am an invader. A sudden urge to plunder rises up. I want to break something, kick a wall, a door, just to prove to myself I am capable of casual destruction. Instead, I run my fingers on the walls, whisper in hushed tones as if the future occupants of this dwelling are already present. observing my behavior.
My cousin calls to me.
He is in a back bedroom, un-carpeted sub-flooring marked and labeled with cryptic words defying understanding; numbers and lines that should have meaning, but appear as hieroglyphics.
He is kneeling near the wall opposite the closet. A toolbox in front of him. I imagine removing a hammer, a few screwdrivers, my earlier inclination towards random destruction returning in heavy waves of fear and excitement. He winks at me, flicks the clasp with too clean fingers, lifts the lid.
There are two versions of what happens next. In the first, the gun is a snub nosed revolver, chrome, with a brown grip. We do the right thing and leave it alone, locking the door as we leave the house, agreeing never to tell our parents.
The second seems more honest. The weapon is black, something a cop would wear high on his hip. In this version, the gun takes on the persona of violence (if there is such a thing), an ominous presence that fills the room, chokes the air from my throat. I am suddenly timid, cowering. I do not hesitate. I run.
Or maybe I stand still, watch as my foolish cousin reaches into the toolbox and lifts the weapon out, cradled in his palm. He looks at me, the total brown of his eyes sizing me up again, just like he will years later when we attend the same Jr. high and he tries to figure out how in the hell we can be related, when he is so cool and I am such a hopeless dork. He rests his index finger on the trigger, aims just to the right of me, laughs like this is a game.
But I am already outside, right? I’m running down the street, back towards my parents and the relative safety of the front yard. I don’t stay in the bedroom of the almost finished house, waiting for the inevitable sound of gunpowder igniting, the thud of the bullet as it enters the wall behind me, narrowly missing my face and neck. I would never be that stupidly brave, even if it would make that one girl (with long legs and soft brown skin) who lives down the street look at me with new eyes.
We will keep it secret and safe.
“Since I was a girl, it has been my favorite color.”
I nod, keep digging the earth with the jagged end of a stick, carving out my middle name, forwards, backwards, upside down, inside out. She makes a list.
“Tulips, dandelions, bananas, lemonade, the yolk of a chicken egg, perfectly cooked french fries, the bow tie my grandfather wore on my 10th birthday.”
I recall her party dress, lemon cake with lemon frosting, Lemonheads in a white bowl. Fifteen children sat on the carpet in broken circles, laughter between them and the crumbs on their shirts and skirts; the smell of warm confectioners sugar and food coloring.
She rolls over, presses her back to the ground, stares into the sky.
“The stars. I almost forgot the stars and sun.”
The clouds at sunset. The sound after a kiss. The breaking of my heart.
I stop digging. In my head, I sketch her outline, just like this, just like now.
“How we need another soul to cling to, another body to keep us warm. To rest and trust; to give your soul in confidence: I need this, I need someone to pour myself into.”
– Sylvia Plath
Only one more day of the A to Z blogging challenge remains. It has been fun and difficult. I have to admit, I almost threw in the towel around R. How about the rest of you?
Saw you on 34th and 7th. Thursday the 8th, around 2 in the afternoon.
Hey, Tall Dark and Handsome.
I like saying that as if it is your name. In fact, as I was typing this, I said it out loud five times. Hey, Tall Dark and Handsome. It almost dances off the tongue, don’t you think?
I’ve seen you many times before, and sometimes, I wonder if you’re everywhere, lingering on all the different corners, your back against a building, gazing over a crowd of tourists, walking briskly on your way to work or standing on the curb, hailing a taxi. I’ve thought to say hello, introduce myself, but there is always something holding me back- old anxieties, new ones, the monitor on my left ankle, always blinking up at me (that’s a joke, I promise).
I saw you again two weeks ago Thursday.
You were walking this time, right hand in the front pocket of those deep gray tailored slacks you like to wear. I sometimes wonder if you own five pair. They fit wonderfully, but you must know that, can feel it when you run your hands over the fabric as you pull them on, fasten them.
Instead of the pastel button down (and dark colored tie of the same hue) you usually wear, you’d chosen a forest green golf shirt, which surprised me a little. It’s alright, I like surprises. They keep me on my toes.
You turned left at the intersection (another surprise) and walked at a brisk pace for several minutes. Something important was on your mind. I didn’t like the way whatever was worrying you wrinkled the skin next to your ears and eyes. I wouldn’t say it made you unattractive, but it added an unwelcome element to your overall persona that gave me pause. I have to admit, I almost walked away, but I had to know where you were going first.
I didn’t hear what you called her (I’ll pretend it was Beulah, I’ve always hated that name), and I pretended not to notice the way she touched your shoulder, so natural, like her hand belonged on your body. I even tired not to notice if she was pretty (I guess some might find her so), or if she were thin, heavy, or athletic (she was frail, shorter than me, but more hippy, if that’s a thing).
The two of you sat out on the cafe patio in plastic chairs around a plastic table, and the server brought water first, then pretentious white wine for her, a glass of something caramel colored for you. I watched with fascination as you sipped without a grimace, the fullness of your lower lip exposed on the bottom of the glass. Then you winked at her. The act gave you an unexpected humanness, and for a moment, I had to turn away.
When I looked back, she’d placed her hand in yours, and it was clear the conversation had turned. I thought I saw tears on her cheeks, and a deep sigh come from your chest. For the briefest moment I hoped I was watching the break-up, the end of the relationship, and I almost felt sad, as if somehow I was to blame for what had transpired.
Then I saw it on her finger, a platinum band and six smaller stones surrounding an epic diamond in the middle. You’d asked, and she’d said yes.
I slumped down onto the sidewalk, feeling that all to familiar sensation: a mix of hatred, sadness and repugnance. A sudden sickness overwhelmed me. I stood and rushed to a nearby garbage bin. As I threw up, through the choking and stinging tears, it came to me. I knew what to do, I just knew.
They won’t find her body, at least not anytime soon. I observe and watch. I take careful notes. I’m cautious and deliberate. I make sure. I’m always sure.
In time, you’ll get over her. The sadness will be gone, and you’ll understand. You’ll be free. Any lingering memories will be like tiny pin pricks, moments when you’ll feel gratitude that her vanishing kept you from making the worst mistake of your life.
When that day comes, and it will, I’ll be ready, waiting.
One afternoon, you will round a corner, that placid look I adore so much back on your face, and I will be there, in the center of the sidewalk, arms open, ready to love you in the way you deserve. Because just like you, I am everywhere. Unlike you, I see everything.
Until then, I will be patient.
All my love,
The text message read, “I pick up Hannah at 3. Until then, I will be having coffee at the shop across from her school.?”
He looked at his watch. 2:30. It would take five minutes to get there. He had to leave for work no later than 3:00. She knew that. He shook his head.
The car hummed along city streets, the smell of slow cooked beans wafting from the back seat. Janet had planned a pot luck for staff meeting, and his beans were always a favorite. Simple really, slow cook them, super slow with lots of ketchup.
Ketchup made things taste better.
She was sitting outside with the autumn leaves (strewn across a wooden table that was bolted to the ground). When his car pulled in, she stood up; a half wave. She’d worn his favorite jeans, the right leg too tight against her calf. Steam rising from two cups of coffee blew to the east; a storm coming. He took a deep breath, opened the car door and walked towards her. The diamond she still wore winked back at him, conspicuous and violently cruel.
It’s Thursday. I’m a bit melancholy, and I’m listening to Wilco. I should make better choices. What are you doing?
Oh yeah, tell me what you think of this tiny tale, please.
This post gets to serve two purposes (porpoises?). It is day 5 of the A to Z blogging challenge (the letter E), and it is the first Wednesday of the month, which is the day the Insecure Writer’s Support Group gets together for our epic blog hop.
Check us out. Play along. We get to talk about our writing struggles and successes. You also get to meet some really great people who always have your best writing interest at heart.
I believe the most important part of the writing process is editing. Reading a badly edited piece (one that is presented as a finished work) is difficult for me. Nothing takes me out of a text quite as fast as typos and content errors. I do believe that no writing, especially a longer work, is ever perfect, but it is painfully obvious when someone has not taken the time or effort to even proofread. It is lazy, and shows a lack of respect for the reader.
There it is, my rant for the day, and my invaluable advice for any writer- Edit. Then when you are done, edit some more, then some more. Sleep a bit, then edit again.
I just finished editing the second draft of my third novel. It finally feels ready for sharing (at least with some beta readers and family). It is miraculous that this story isn’t in the garbage bin. I struggled mightily with this one, always unsure of its quality, convinced I was writing the most un-suspenseful book of all time. Every twist and turn seemed utterly predictable. The only reason I finished was a commitment I made to myself to never throw a story away until the first draft was complete.
I usually wait one full week after finishing the draft before I begin to edit.
This time, I waited three.
This photo has nothing to do with editing, but it is a lovely image of blossoms on the campus of the University of Washington. Let’s call it- an artistic pause.
When I finally found the courage to start the edit, I was ready to rewrite complete sections, perhaps entire chapters. In my worst scenario, the entire book had to be redone. I was on edge with every page, my fingers ready to cut and slice at a moments notice.
It wasn’t all that bad. In fact, the more I read, the less I cut and the more I liked what I had created. I finished that first crucial edit, then sent it to my wife for reading. She loved the book. My next reader (my mother) finished in two days and declared it her favorite of my three. I was shocked.
I’m still not completely sure it is a winner, and as usual (does any writer NOT have this issue?), have no idea how to query it, but I am more confident that it has potential. I like writing with potential. I also like writing that is edited. So edit what you write, for me, please.