- mbwrites: advice for writers
- mbwrites: advice for writers
Will do! Thanks!
She looks in the mirror at the face too long, full of eyes too small, a nose too sharp and lips too thin, and says to the ugly girl reflected there, “I have the power to die.”
The reflection just smiles and gestures at the shiny chrome knob in her best Vanna White impression. “It would be simple and clean,” says the reflection, and she cannot help but think of the vial hidden behind the mirror. In a sick moment of thought, she compares herself to a modern Juliet, palming the tiny peach pills and and sending herself off into infamy.
If she were honest with herself, the boy could go fuck himself for all she cared. Her current mood had shit to do with him. Jack had been just what she’d expected - 10 minutes in the sack and 10 years of heartache.
She’d stopped caring long ago. When the two lines had shown up after a missed period, she almost forgave his aimless, philandering ways in hopes they would take their train wreck of an endless one night stand and turn it into the closest thing to a fairytale she could imagine.
They’d married at the JP - no witnesses, no gifts and no fanfare - and bought a trailer with her small inheritance after Mama had died. Jack had gotten a job at the local Piggly Wiggly and she’d started dreaming in shades of happily ever after.
She’d been as close as she could ever remember to happiness the day she painted the tiny nook they’d use as a nursery blue. With hope bubbling up in her whiskey rotten heart, she’d gone in search of Jack just to find him in the stockroom of the Piggly, his pants around his ankles and his dick buried in a cashier named Bambi. She angrily stormed out but even as her feet quit running, the blood down her legs did not. Within 24 hours, she had no baby, no husband, no dreams and no hope.
She should have walked out that night but she had stayed because every dime she’d ever had was tied up in Jack and that trailer. And if you were to believe the reflection, her dead eyes told the story of an ugly girl who’d died along with her fetus that day and long ago given up on the world and herself.
The days turned into months, months to years and years to a lifetime of disappointment. There had been more jobs, and more days in-between without a job. There had been more cashiers (and stock girls and waitresses and gas station attendants) and even a couple rounds of penicillin to get rid of the little souvenirs he brought home. And still she’d stayed. The doctor said the syphillis had scarred her inside and there would never be any babies. What was the point of leaving? She was used up, broken, beyond saving.
The reflection with the dead eyes knows this sad story. It gestures again at the knob and wills her fingers to turn it, opening the medicine cabinet. There sits the shining vial, its peach promise of salvation glittering with a siren’s song of release. No more unemployment, no more girls, no more doctors, no more Jack, no more failure.
She empties the pills in to her leathery hand, marred by a lifetime of bad decisions and shattered dreams. She doesn’t even bother with a glass of water and feels each muscle spasm as death creeps down her throat.
"Here I have the power to die," she tells the reflection triumphantly.
"It’s a shame," answers the now hazy and quickly fading reflection, "that you never had the power to live."
I watch the dancers shake and shimmy, their heads thrown back in laugher, white teeth flashing, arms reaching skyward. I envy them. I hate them.
Sometimes, they beckon me to join them. I plaster on a fake smile and shake my head, trite but polite. Sometimes, they take it as encouragement and come over and sit for a spell, trying to make mundane conversation. I always think to myself I must work harder on my ‘Don’t talk to me’ face, and eventually they forget the girl in the corner, alone with her drinks and her thoughts and go back to dancing.
I’m here for him, the man behind the microphone. He, too, I love and sometimes envy. He smiles, clearly enjoying the crowd, the noise, the energy. I smile for him when he looks my way, but the minute he turns back my lips turn downward and the darkness returns along with the bittersweet loneliness I always feel in a room full of people.
Mine is a peculiar affliction, the want to experience coupled with the almost simultaneous need to escape. Maybe it is that I have lived in my head for so long to create the words and stories that serve as my release. Maybe it is just as much a part of who I am as my dark hair and short stature. I haven’t always been this way. Once upon a time, I was one of the dancers, the talkers, the lively ones. But now that seems like a character in one of my stories, written a lifetime ago by the hand of someone else.
My attention returns to the stage as he sings to the crowd about love found and love lost. Every time the lyrics turn to love found, he finds me in the darkened room and smiles. The dancers continue to beckon. I consider leaving the darkness behind for a moment, but the moment passes. I lean back and light another cigarette, remembering the old days before the darkness and I wonder if the sun will shine again for more than a day and the memories will fade. The memories are what the darkness brings, and like the dancers, I envy them, I hate them.
Life is nothing if not unpredictable. No matter what position you hold on a social ladder, or car you drive or neighborhood you live in, or love you surround yourself with – you are vulnerable if you are alive at all.
I’ve sat quietly while a diagnosis was given, staring stonily into my lap and holding my breath because I’m afraid if I breathe I’ll jinx it. I’ve felt my pulse quicken when the phone rang because the doctor gave him six months and it’s been eight years, but I’m still on guard. I’ve held a hand when the last warm breath was taken and also when the first newborn cry was uttered. I’ve felt joy and I’ve felt pain. I’ve cried and I’ve held it in. Sometimes I don’t know what to do, or how to feel – sometimes, like tonight.
Everything in my world has changed – and is ever-changing. Everything I’ve ever known has been broken, and though sometimes out of those broken pieces comes new beautiful things, they cannot remain the same – I cannot remain the same. And that’s scary. Now, maybe more than ever in my life – I’m vulnerable.
The house is quiet, too quiet, whereas my mind is noisy, too noisy. There are no babies crying, there are no parents lecturing, there is no sound of the city streets encroaching on my private moment – though I wish right now there were. All of those pivotal moments rush through my thoughts like a slideshow on an old projector, some of the images stuttering and lasting a frame or two longer than the others. I think of all that has come and passed, and all that is yet to be. Sometimes, it’s dizzying and more than my heavy heart can take. Sometimes, it’s good… so good, the laughter bubbles to my lips without another soul in earshot to hear me giggle like a crazy person to the empty room.
I alternate between sticking my head in the sand and letting the tears run free. There are moments when I feel like a gaping raw emotional wound, and other times I am ashamed of my bleeding heart.
“Do you ever cry from sadness?” my mind replays the question, details added, “not in anger, just sadness. And what would happen if you did?”
“He’s a grown up now,” yet another person tells me as if I am wrong for worrying about my firstborn as I have every day for the last couple decades. Or, “she’ll be gone too, before you know it,” as if it didn’t cross my mind every minute since I put the car keys in her hand and put the paper dolls and sippy cups away forever.
But I do cry and I do worry and I do mourn their youth, as well as my own some days. I try to imagine him today, taking that first shot by himself, something even I struggle with many years his senior - vulnerable. I try to picture her at home alone, and how she fills her days while I struggle with just one evening to not feel completely isolated - vulnerable. I picture myself, still sitting here on this couch a hundred years from now, people staring at me like an exhibit at a zoo as they push a button. “This is the aged mother. Once she raises her cubs, they leave the den and she ceases to exist except to mark the passing of another season with a new gray hair or creased forehead wrinkle.” Vulnerable.
It’s all a jumbled mess of words and memories and emotions. It’s not something I can explain, not even to put down into text – the yearning, the letting go, the holding on, the worrying, the pride, the loneliness. Life is nothing if not unpredictable. Life is being vulnerable. And that is what worries me most.
I want to apologize in advance as this will be a bit long, but I feel it is something that has to be said.
Social media like Facebook and Tumblr are places where we share pictures, jokes and our everyday angst so I figure it might as well be a place to say something important… so here goes.
My oldest child is a college student home for the summer. He’s rapidly grown up since graduating two years ago, but this coming Monday he will have another life changing and shaping experience.
My 20 year-old son is donating bone marrow on Monday to a complete stranger. That’s right – a complete and total stranger he’s never met. At the age where most of us were partying our summers away, he’s saving someone’s life.
Now, let me brag for a minute on my children. They are both blood donors - my son and his sister. Sometimes when I say this, people looked surprised and ask why. I know many kids donate blood for many different reasons. I think mine do because they’ve been part of the lives saved. And maybe that is why after four years of donating blood, Taylor chose to sign up for the bone marrow registry.
He didn’t sign up because he has a hero complex. He didn’t sign up expecting any fanfare at all really. In fact, he didn’t even tell me.
One Tuesday evening, while he was still away at school, I picked up the mail on my way into the house like I do every day and there was an envelope addressed to him. I should probably confess here that when he is away I sometimes call him and open his mail and read it to him over the phone. This one was from the registry and looked very official. Being the most non-Jewish-yet-Jewish mother in the world, I ripped it open when he didn’t answer my call. I read two lines and dropped it, tears of shock springing to my eyes.
Once I composed myself, I picked up the letter and read further. Taylor was a “match.” He’d passed his first set of tests, gone through an info session and was set up to go into Dallas for a complete work up – and no one knew a thing about it. I couldn’t believe it.
I called him again and left a frantic message for him to call his mother. I texted MY mother. I texted his dad. And then I threw myself into my boyfriend’s arms and cried because I really didn’t know what else to do or say or think.
A couple hours later he called me back. He nonchalantly told me all of it was true and he was a match for some kid in Canada. What I said next is embarrassing. I’m a good person but I’m fiercely protective of my children. The thought of them drilling holes in my baby boy for some random stranger was NOT okay. The thought of him being paralyzed or incapacitated or somehow harmed by this procedure made me crazy. I ranted and raved while he listened. “Mom,” he finally said quietly, “I’m doing this because this could save someone’s life.”
You could have heard a pin drop. The tears sprang into my eyes again and I can’t remember ever feeling more humbled or ashamed than I did in that moment. The child I raised to be honorable and giving and loving was well aware of the risks I moaned about and was equally concerned but wouldn’t say no if it meant saving someone’s life.
In that short silence, a thousand things rushed through my mind. I thought of my stepfather’s heartbreaking last days as cancer ravaged his body and those unexplainable last moments of his life. I thought of watching my dad suffer through his chemo-alternative treatments and multiple surgeries and how much it had aged him. I thought of sweet baby Allie, who bravely fought and lost against acute myeloid leukemia and whose story touched the hearts of many through her mom, Jenny. I thought of all the blood donations that kept my Uncle Bob alive in the end so that he could say goodbye his way, as if anything less would have been tolerated. I thought of all those people I’ve loved and lost and grieved and how a stranger’s selfless act could have saved their lives. And I felt the shock and fear melt away to be replaced with awe and pride in the benevolent young man I’d raised.
He’s starting Filgrastim shots tomorrow to boost his stem cells and will continue these shots until the morning of the surgery. We’ll make the several-hour drive into the city on Sunday night and stay in a hotel so we can be at the hospital at daybreak. He’ll spend either 8-10 hours hooked up to a blood filtering and re-circulating machine for a PBSC donation, or if his veins are too small, several hours on an operating table to painfully remove the marrow through his lower back and pelvis. It blows my mind even now, after a few weeks to get used to the idea, that he doesn’t know the name of the boy he’s saving or much at all about him, other than he’s 19 years-old and he’s dying.
I’ve done a lot of research the last couple of weeks. I’ve watched videos until I was green and faint feeling. We’ve watched videos together and had a lot of deep talks about things they’ve said. I’ve read firsthand accounts from donors and their families and medical studies on the after effects. I’ve read (and cried after reading) letters written by parents and families of recipients and statistics on mortality rates among those recipients. I’ve tried to imagine myself in their shoes and how I’d feel to know some strange boy from a strange country was giving his life blood, literally, to give me even a couple more days with my precious child.
Sometimes, just sitting here with my own thoughts, I get choked up. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little scared; he’ll always be my baby boy with the chubby cheeks and Gerber baby smile. But it’s not my decision. If it were, I hope I’d be as brave and selfless as my son. I’m so proud of who he’s become and what he’s doing.
I lay in my hotel room, atop the city, gazing out at the gray skyline. The feather pillow against my cheek distorts the roar of urban chatter into a malevolent whisper. I stare listlessly at the building across the green.
The facade is built of red bricks and rose hued stone. The window framings are elegant but plain, and serve as the only defining feature of this particular denizen of downtown, a grand old lady from the heyday of World Fair Saint Louis.
The wall nearest me catches my eye. A parking garage clothes the building’s lower half, while her front is dressed in windows floor to ceiling. But this north face is naked sans a singular window. The shade flutters and I realize despite the loneliness in which it is shrouded, there is life within.
I wonder if someone else is watching and dreaming as I am, pondering all that has come and passed. I wonder if they too find deeper meaning in these rare moments of reflection, the simple truths apparent only in solitude.
A length a flesh flashes, perhaps a shock of dark hair. I find solace in the fact another soul is inexplicably connected to mine when the city has rolled up its welcome mats against the coming storm.
I raise my arm in salute. The figure also salutes. I wave my arms above my head and the stranger mimics me. I realize belatedly that like the window, I am alone in the bleak waning afternoon - my reflection my only company.
In some unexplainable way, I am saddened by this discovery. My ray of hope withers and dies a natural death, born of false expectation and a strange sense of melancholy. I close the shades and shut the gray city and my gray thoughts out as merciful sleep descends.
I’m curled up in bed reading a book about a woman who finds herself when it strikes me, this crazy notion. The book isn’t so different, and certainly no more entertaining than the umpteen books I’ve read about women finding themselves, but this one, perhaps by its very lack of interest, causes me to pause. I put the book down and think about writing for the first time in months.
I used to write because there was some momentous shift in my personal world and I needed to document it, to share it, to mourn it or celebrate it. I wrote when I was feeling lost, or torn, or sad or deliriously happy. I wrote about things in the past, things in the present and things I hoped to God were in the future.
But if I were honest with myself, I wrote mostly when I was lonely, which was every time I was alone. See, that’s what they never tell you about motherhood, especially young motherhood, is that you forget how to be alone, and I am certainly guilty of that. So I wrote. And I say wrote in the past tense because it is very true.
As I thought about all those pages of vomited feelings and logs of my tumultuous thoughts, I couldn’t remember the last time I felt the need to write. It was then, sitting under the electric blanket and letting my mind wander, hearing each and every wind outside and the bubble of my soda beside me and the race of my blood behind my eardrums, that I realized that a momentous shift that had occurred tonight and without me even noticing.
It’s been a year since the big bang. A year since the split and almost two years since my oldest moved away from home. When you’re considering a year of cable service, it’s not a big deal. However, a year in your life can be more telling than the decade before it. Such a truth has been very evident in my own life.
But, I digress. A year has passed and in the beginning I wrote every day, multiple times a day. I had blogs. I had journals. I had paper napkins written on with runny gel pens. But I always wrote. One could suggest that I’ve just been busy and that’s why the words have stayed in my head rather than on paper or print, but tonight … tonight, it was evident that there has been a shift.
I worked a normal eight hours and arrived home on time, which for me is rare. Even more rare, the house was empty and quiet when I arrived. My first reaction – a sigh. This means it is me who picks up the trashcan from the curb, me who lets the dog out, me who moves the laundry from the washer to the dryer. Though I did all those things, and got the mail additionally, I could not bring myself to waste the quiet.
I ran a bath and finished a book. Once upon a time, that wouldn’t be cause for exclamation. These days, it is a semi-annual event at best. I took a bath and finished a book and sang a song to the dog, who nervously paced outside my porcelain chaise. I rose, dressed and made a dinner for one. I turned on the electric blanket, grabbed a book and the TV remote controls.
I felt accomplished in my lounging. I’d managed the near impossible feat of finishing a bath, a movie and a book in one evening. I listened to the sounds as evening fell and watched the sun set through the louvered blinds.
But it wasn’t until I sat down to start this new book about a woman finding herself through a journey from trauma to enlightenment that it hit me. I didn’t write. I didn’t even think of writing or desire it or miss it. A whole night alone, and I hadn’t written – I had relaxed and been alone and survived without a dose of melancholy.
There it was - my big realization. I’m not sitting down each night to write. I’m not pacing in my bathroom sobbing over the complete lack of direction in my life. I’m not pining for lands and people that I’ve never met or seen, or wishing I were anywhere but here. I’m. Just. Living.
The story in the book continued as the woman pressed her forehead to the bathroom floor and recited one of those mantras I’ve used myself many times over the years. “I don’t want this life/ marriage/ job/ house/ town/ etc.” I realized in that moment that after years of forehead pressing of my own, of repeating the mantra to myself over and over and screaming it silently in my head, of tears and fights - my head and heart are quiet. Somewhere over the course of this past year, I’ve forgotten to be miserable and wallow in my own literary depression.
I’ve found peace, acceptance and love, and as cliche as it sounds, it has changed my life. So, what you may ask, is my momentous shift? I daresay I’ve discovered how to just be happy.
I think it’s our friends and family that remind of who we’ve been, our lovers that remind us of who we want to be, and quiet time alone that considers the entirety of it and reminds us of who we are. - Me
You have to choose you.
You have to consider what makes you tick, what makes you happy and sad. And if you’re okay with who you see when you look in a mirror.
You have to learn how much of yourself you have to give, how much you’re willing and able to give. You have to learn what you require to be the you that you want to be.
You have to choose your happiness. You have to choose your battles. You have to know who you are… And who you are not.
You have to choose you.