Sunday, June 24, 2012

Draft One

Tonight I accomplished a goal of mine. I wrote out a rough draft of a short story. This may not seem like much of an achievement for someone who teaches Creative Writing and who has written close to 400 blog posts, but writing fiction has never been easy for me, and to bring a story to some point of closure is an intimidating task. In many ways, as strange as it may sound,  I feel a story of fiction is more revealing than a memoir piece and therefore, I feel very exposed in sharing this here tonight. But I am taking this bold step because to craft this story, as rough as it may be, has allowed me the chance to say, "THERE! I did it !! I wrote SOMETHING!" And from here I can only move forward. So, for better or for worse, pun intended, I'm putting my rough draft here on my blog. I welcome any comments in regards to the story, style, or functionality. I know my Fiction writing class next week will provide me with additional help too.


Of Loss and Love--a Fictional Story....Draft one.

Day 15. It turns out, I’m going to be okay. I knew this all along of course, but it took the release of my spirit and of his to bring me to this point. I will never again be afraid to fall.

Day 9. Met the sweetest guy today. I’d worn my new heels, those pretty turquoise strappy wedged sandals that I had picked up last week. They were high but easy to walk in, or so I thought. I parked my car to the left of the grocery store’s entrance and as I got out of the driver’s seat, I made a quick turn back to the door when I realized I’d left my keys in the ignition. I don’t know why but I was suddenly alarmed. I had not locked the car, but for some reason, I felt the need to gasp. My friends tease me for my gasps and occasional screams over the smallest of dramas. “Oh! She dropped a spoon! How traumatic!” they tease. Well, everything would have been fine as I turned back to the door of my car if I hadn’t turned my ankle. I suddenly felt myself falling. But out of nowhere, he appeared. He caught me under my arms, a graceful dance move had we choreographed it, and he brought me back to balance. I held onto his forearms for what seemed a little too long, and then slowly let go as I turned to see who had caught me.

“Oh I am so sorry. Thank you”, I found myself sputtering an embarrassed apology.

“Are you okay? That was a close one”, my hero responded with a slight laugh.

I finally saw his face. I knew him. Didn’t I? I couldn’t place him at that particular moment, but I felt sure that I should’ve known his name. I took in his face as I reassured him that yes, I was okay. He was my age, in his late 40s, handsome with the perfect amount of crows’ feet wrinkles and slightly graying brown hair. He smiled at me but what I was most struck by was the way he looked into my eyes. It seemed he was searching for something. The intensity was subtle, as contradicting as that sounds. I, perhaps, should have been uncomfortable with how fervently he held me with those steely blue eyes of his, but on the contrary, I felt a comfort and a reassurance that I had not felt in quite some time.

As I often do, I struggled between the thought that I should move on, as gracefully as I could, and my desire to stop time, right then and there, so I could fully appreciate this moment. And as typically happens, I found myself dismissing him with another “Thank you”, one that had a tone of finality. He picked up on that, said something or other about being glad he’d been there in my moment of need, and then he was gone. Damn it. Why do I always chase people off when I most want more time with them?

Day 3. Their voices were driving me mad. They chatted about the array of molded salads on the table and how those had always been his favorite. We had been at the reception for nearly two hours and my feet hurt but not nearly as much as my face. I had been smiling and holding it together for the sake of everyone and I was at my breaking point. I refused to sit down. Doing so would entrap me quickly; I recognized that fact. So instead I moved from group to group, pausing frequently to excuse myself. Sometimes I moved to the food table to carry an empty container back to the kitchen. The catering crew quickly grabbed the dishes out of my hands and sweetly admonished me for doing their job, but I think they understood how much I needed to stay busy. One time I had tried to sneak out to the lobby’s bathroom, only to be cornered by one of the women from the church. “Oh, you’re the youngest, right? Oh how I remember you when you were just a little thing”. God help me.

Making my way back to the hall, I snuck through one of the hall’s exit doors, a door that led to a dark unused staircase that brought me to the main floor of the church. Afraid to find someone there, I sat down on the steps, leaned my head against the thick wooden railing, and closed my eyes.

Day 2. Everyone would arrive today. It had been 18 hours since we’d each received the call. The four of us made it home as quickly as we could. I was there in just six hours’ time, the third to arrive to comfort her. Jack had been the first, beating out Brie by thirty minutes, a feat quite remarkable given that Brie lived only 40 minutes away. But Jack had always been one to make swift, impulsive moves and having heard the news, he was in his car driving north. He hadn’t even packed himself an overnight bag. Stephen would arrive last. He came in the door drunk. He always did make a dramatic entrance.

Day 12. I had escaped again...this time to the bookstore. I made my way to the back of the store and found my favorite leather chair. No one would find me here. I’d driven 50 miles from home, unsure at first where I was going, but after some time walking the beach, I suddenly needed to be near books. I needed a place of comfort where I could disappear but in a protected setting. The beach held too many temptations. There I could cry with abandon and the waves crashing to the shore would still drown the sound of my grief, allowing me to wallow. But tucked into the soft leather chair, close to the shelves housing authentic stories all around me, I had perspective. My story is no more, no less tragic than theirs. Here I can cry, but only for a short time before being noticed. That will keep me from losing it completely. I don’t want to be noticed.

Day 4. We drove home in silence. I had tucked the earphones in before entering the car. My husband would be hurt by my avoidance but he’d be kind enough to let me be. I turned on my side, almost into the fetal position, and was grateful for my short stature. Tucking my knees to my chest, I watched the trees speed past my window and I lost myself in the music. He stopped for gas and asked me if I was hungry. I ignored him. I knew I was hurting him. He wanted to be there for me, to comfort me or to distract me, but I knew he’d give up after awhile, and he did. The three hour drive home wasn’t nearly long enough.

Day 8. My husband packed a bag and headed to his brother’s house today. He said he understood I needed to be alone but that he couldn’t take it anymore. He said I was being selfish and hurtful in not talking to him, in not at least trying to connect with him with basic civility. I stared at him blankly as he explained that he’d be staying there for the next several days. When he left the driveway I took in a deep breath and exhaled. A smile formed on my lips. It’d been a week since I’d felt even the smallest ounce of joy.

Day 11. He called. I didn’t pick up the phone of course. I let it ring, but he left a message for me and curiosity got the better of me. His voice had a tinge of sadness in it. He said he’d run into me the other day and that I hadn’t seemed to recognize him. He said we needed to talk. He told me he’d be over in the morning and that if I didn’t want to talk, that’d be okay. I could just listen. He said that he was going to bring me some brochures to look through and that I’d then have to make a choice. He said he loved me, that he was not giving up on me. He said something more but I hung up then. I had heard too much already.

Day 1. My Dad died today. Congestive heart failure. He was 88 years old. It’s funny. He’s been dying ever since I can remember. He’s been preparing me for this day for nearly 40 years. I’ve seen him clutch his heart and shout out in alarmed pain, only to have him rub his chest and complain about old age, since I was five years old. But today, as he stubbornly went outside to trim the branches of a neighbor’s tree, he clutched his heart for the last time. No matter how much I thought I’d be prepared for this day, I’m not. Goodbye Daddy.

Day 13. I reluctantly picked up the phone on the third ring. “Okay. I get it”, he said. “Please don’t hang up. Give me five minutes. Just five minutes, then I’ll stay away for as long as you want me to. I miss you. I need you to come back to me. I know you’re hurting but I know I can help you feel better...if you’d just give me a chance”. His voice cracked and he stopped for a second to compose himself. “Okay, when I got there and saw that you’d left, I placed three brochures in the mailbox. I want you to go to the mailbox and find those after we hang up. I just need you to pick one. Please do this. Just pick one of the three brochures. Leave the other two in the mailbox. I’ll come by tomorrow and check the mailbox and I’ll see which one you’ve chosen and that’ll be all I need from you, okay?”  I surprised myself and said, “Okay”. Then I hung up.

I pulled a scarf from the closet, wrapped it around my neck and walked outside. The driveway, long and curvy in its slope to the street, had long been one of my favorite features of our modest home. I walked it slowly and getting within 10 feet of the mailbox, I began to tremble. Opening the mailbox would mean I was committed to making a choice between three unknown brochures. What was he doing to me? I thought of the bookstore’s leather chair, and the cool ocean breeze. But there was no going back. I pressed on. I opened the mailbox and pulled out an envelope. Inside were three brochures, just as he’d said.

Brochure number one was commercially made. It had come from our local travel agency. It featured various sites from Ireland, my father’s home country. On the brochure, there was a small post it note that read, “Let me take you to where his life began. There you can begin your life again. And maybe, hope upon hope, that’ll continue to be a life with me”.

Brochure number two was also professional in its appearance. It advertised a grief support group that meets in the next town over. Again he’d affixed a post it note. “Know that you are not alone. You are never alone. Let someone help you see this. Begin to heal”.

Brochure number three was different. It was hand-made, an 8 by 10 inch piece of paper, folded into thirds and featured my husband’s messy handwriting. On one side there were pictures, shots taken of my Dad and I over the past forty plus years. On another side there were quotes about love and loss. I flipped the brochure over and that’s when I spotted it, a picture of my Dad walking me down the aisle at my wedding. What was it he’d said all those years ago? I remembered. “On this day I lead you to the man who will take you wherever you want to go. I have taken you this far, and I wish I could walk beside you always, but it’s time for me to release you to another’s protective embrace”. On another fold of the brochure there was our wedding picture, a shot of my husband and I dancing at our wedding reception. He was twirling me with one arm and he had the other arm positioned to catch me lest I fell.

I couldn’t help it. Taking a close look at that photograph made me gasp. He’d been there all along, swooping in to catch me when I stumbled. Prepared to hold me until I held my balance on my own. And always looking into my eyes, searching for something, anything, or everything I had to give.

The third brochure also had a post it note attached. It read simply, “I release you”.

Day 14. He returned to find only two brochures in the mailbox. I had made my choice.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sharing the Bench

If I took care to tiptoe down the stairs, I sometimes caught her. I did not let her see me, for I knew that if she did, I risked it ever happening again. I became sneaky. Hearing her fingers on the ivories, I made my way only to the top landing. From there I could hear her playing the keys, however rusty in technique. She played only because she thought she was alone.

I’d once, unknowingly, walked up to her in the den. Her hands leapt off the keys when she spotted me and I excitedly told her I did not know she could play piano. She pretended not to hear me. Moving swiftly, she stood up and tucked the music book away inside the bench, then promptly left the room. That’s when I realized my mistake. From then on, I stayed on my high hidden perch, realizing this melody of hers was especially beautiful in its rarity.

A few years later, we moved to the house across town. It was a smaller home but it sat proudly on a beautifully landscaped lot and gave the appearance of being much larger. The piano had found its place on the lower floor of our house. I never heard Mom play it in the new home. Maybe, knowing the music would be carried easily up to the second floor, she only played when I was out of the house. I don’t know. But, in any case, I never heard my Mom play again.

I’d begun taking piano lessons the year before the move and although I could no longer walk to my teacher’s home, I soon began taking my bike. I carried a small backpack and at my lessons I progressed through levels of instructional books and began learning pop tunes, much to my delight. Once a year the students put on a recital. I took these in stride. I wasn’t overly nervous of playing in front of others, but I did not anticipate each year’s recital with any great excitement either. The truth is, from an early age, I knew my relationship with the piano was going to be a casual one. I had only begun taking lessons because my teacher had told my Mom my fingers were too small at age 8 to take up the guitar, the instrument I had wanted to play. I loved playing piano, but I suspected correctly that I was of average talent. I should have practiced more. I often was too distracted. I’d sit at the bench faithfully for 30-60 minutes a day, but after going over each of my assigned pieces, the piano was the backup for my singing. I worked to refine what would become my number one instrument, my voice. But my time at the bench was not in vain, for in the years to come, the piano would open doors for me.

My father who, like me, loves to sing, began asking me to play the piano or the organ at my grandmothers’ nursing homes. The two of us developed quite a following. Residents at the homes came to look forward to our visits. We’d play and sing each week. That’s when I first learned of the joy that music can bring to others. As the elderly men and women congregated in the hall to hear me play, I felt good. It didn’t matter how well I played, only that I showed up to entertain them.

In five years’ time I would join the school’s jazz band. The atmosphere of the school’s music room and the band directors I worked with, gave me a home. My fellow musicians became my closest friends, and a few became my first boyfriends. Moving to the high school, playing the piano introduced me to two gifted pianists. I had been right. I was of average talent. But the talents of the two older girls I shared parts with went far beyond their ability to play the piano, and their kindness and acceptance of me gave me a confidence that I have never abandoned.

Our jazz band went on to win many awards, even after the two gifted pianists graduated and I was left at the keys with younger players. I had my last recital at age 18, but by then Mrs. A and I had established a habit of talking for the better duration of each week’s lesson. She’d become a dear friend and I never forgot her words to me. At one of my final lessons, she told me that she realized early on that I wasn’t going to work hard to master the piano, that I however would enjoy my time at the keyboard each time I sat down to play. She had wanted to foster that love of music, that natural sense of musicality. “I just wanted you to keep playing”, she told me. I thank her for that.

As I grew up, Mom rarely sat down at the piano bench, at least I didn’t see her there much. But she loved to hear me play, even years later when she and Dad brought the piano to my new home that my husband and I had bought just prior to the birth of our first child. I admit, since becoming a Mom, I don’t play often, but I do still play. I’m pretty rusty and I am shy about playing in front of many people, so I understand where my Mom was coming from, all those years ago. But I have pounded out the melodies to audition or church cantoring pieces for my daughters and I, and I once joined my son’s cub scout troop, volunteering to play the accompaniment as they sang Christmas carols at various nursing homes. I still love to play from my favorite book of Chopin pieces and I do take out my pop music books from time to time and I let the music fill my home, no matter who is listening. My children don’t sit at the top of the stairs, however. Most of the time, they are right there with me, sharing the bench, and singing.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Center of the Universe

When Sydney was born and was growing through her toddler years, it was easy to see that I was the center of her universe. She and I were, and are, very close. But when Emma was born, it didn’t take me long to discover whom the center of her universe was to be, her big sister Sydney. Oh, I knew she loved me, as fiercely as I loved her, but Sydney was her role model. Understanding the idolization I had of my own big sister, I understood and accepted this. It even made me smile. But with Sydney going off to college in the fall of 2010, I have to admit, I was a little unsure. Would Emma and I be lost without her? Or would the two of us grow closer? I hoped for the latter, of course, but I didn’t want to try too hard or have too high an expectation. So I relaxed and let time answer the questions. 

The night before Sydney was to leave for college, both Emma and I were anxious. We bonded in our trepidation and, has always been our nature, in our nervous state, we got silly. Quickly naming a pair of plants, we both grew antagonistic. We told Sydney she’d been replaced. "Albert and Eva" would keep us company from now on. Sydney rolled her eyes at us both as Emma and I, tired and exhausted in our emotions, laughed until we cried. The next day we watched Sydney leave with her Dad, making her way to college. Emma and I went upstairs to my bed, fell into each other’s arms, and sobbed. We hung onto one another for at least an hour. And it turns out, we never let go.

In the months that followed, Emma and I grew closer. The year brought us new challenges and incredible unanticipated hardships, such as when our beloved family dog had a stroke and had to be put to sleep. I will never forget how Emma was there for me that morning. That morning taught me that if I ever had to face Hell on earth, I would be okay if she were by my side. We bonded in our struggles at the start of 2011. Luckily the year improved. But I’ve come to realize that there is no one I would rather face heartache with. Emma is strong, open, mature, and real. She is a force to be reckoned with, but she also has a tender heart. Together we laugh easily and often. We cry too, at all the sad movies, and when we need to de-stress. It seems we're an awful lot alike.

Sydney is home for the summer and Emma and I have each fallen back to some old patterns. The girls go off and giggle in their shared bedroom. I spend time with Sydney and we return to our heart-to-heart talks during our time alone with one another. But every so often Emma comes up behind me and gives me a hug. We continue to talk, to share, to cry, to laugh, to dream. Together. That’s when I know that the fall of 2013 is going to be pretty darn difficult for me. With both daughters gone off to college in a year's time, there’s only one thing I will be holding onto in September 2013. His name is Paul. We'll have five full years alone together, without his sisters. I hope he's ready for me. Because he's going to become the center of MY universe, whether he likes it or not.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Moment by Moment

Imagine that you and I are sitting on the dock together at camp. We’re right at the end of it, dangling our legs over the edge. The water is cool but not cold, soaking our skin up to the calves. As we look over the lake to the beautiful mountain right in front of us, we feel a slight breeze wafting away our worries. That’s when we begin to share our stories, our ideas, our dreams. Our hearts unbind. These are the moments that transform us, that loosen the knots, that awaken our souls. We are in awe of everything that connects us. Maybe we’ve known each other since infancy. Maybe we have played here since childhood. Maybe we have never parted from one another. Maybe it’s been years since we last talked like this. Maybe we met only recently. It does not matter. We’re here now. Living in the moment. Feeling safe and fulfilled. At peace.

This has always been the place I have run to...from pessimism, from loneliness, from sadness, from stress, from pain, from insecurity, from chaos, from fear, from worry. I know that in years past I have often come here alone. But your life and mine intersect here today, and I stop running. This is where I realize I am safe. The world can continue to spin faster, coming undone with each turn, but here I will not take notice. Here I will feel the water, the breeze, the touch of your hand and I will breathe deeply, deeper than I have in months. Here I will look at you, see you smile, and know that you are happy. Living in the moment, you are happy, safe, fulfilled. At peace.

So I join you here, in the here and now. Today. Tomorrow. Always. My heart unbinds and I am transformed. Imagine that you and I are sitting on the dock together at camp. We’re right at the end of it, dangling our legs over the edge. As the breeze picks up, I inch closer to you. You take my hand, and I know what’s true. You have always loved me, and all that binds us will never fade away. I will forever feel safe and fulfilled because even when I am alone on this dock, I know I am never without you. Here I will always peace. Taking things moment by moment.