Different Life

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I have a routine. Every night I slip outside when the house is quiet and smoke a cigarette. There are seven people in my house. It’s a freaking miracle if no one is awake and the lights are off and everything’s just quiet. There isn’t much quiet here. I step outside and I pace up and down my short little driveway. I live out in the country and when it’s clear out the moon lights up everything around me. My driveway is paved and I just pace up and down it, smoking my cigarette, in the quiet. The moon shines down and tonight, because it snowed earlier, it makes everything glitter. It’s not like the daytime when the sun hits that snow and it’s so goddamn bright you have to wear sunglasses to even see anything and you get mad, because it’s winter and you shouldn’t have to wear sunglasses. I own entirely too many pairs of sunglasses. I rarely wear them. I wear the same pair all the time really. A piece broke on them and I took them to get fixed, but they didn’t have the right size screw and so now they are loose and bug me. I only paid a couple of bucks for them. They’re cheap sunglasses. I probably shouldn’t have gotten them fixed, but I did. The moonlight hits the snow though and I sit there and watch it glitter. My breath is mixing with the smoke from my cigarette and there’s all this gray in front of me and everything is sparkling like my daughter had gone out in her glittery tutu and danced circles in the yard and the glitter had fallen off all over that snow. It’s the only time I even like snow. I hate the goddamn winter. I hate the cold. I like it at night though, when it’s quiet, and it’s just me. I like walking up and down that driveway and smoking my cigarette and writing in my head. That’s what I do. Anybody driving by would think I was crazy, out there talking to myself, but I’m writing in my head and it helps to say the words out loud. No one drives by though. Not this late at night. I can hear the traffic on the highway a few miles away, but I’m on a back country road and no one drives down here this late. I’m surrounded by fields and a bit of woods and the snow is glittering all over the place. Everything’s really flat and you can see the glitter for miles. It looks like a postcard and I remember that I really don’t like it here. I want to go somewhere else. I’ve been here too long. I’ve been here forever. I think I could be one of those people who stayed alone. You know? One of those people who holed themselves up in some cabin away from everyone. I think if I lived a different life, I’d have done that. Nights when I go out there alone and I remember how much I love the quiet, I think that I’d like to be alone. I know if I did do that, if I had a different life, if I’d gone off alone, I’d have died. I like people too much. I get too lonely. I’d have drunk myself into a hole. I’d probably have killed myself and no one would have even known, because I would have shut everyone out to be alone in the quiet. I remember how much I love the sound of people and I think I’d be terrible by myself. In the morning, I’ll do the same thing. Sort of. I’ll go out and smoke a cigarette, except in the morning I go and stand behind the sheds. I stand and stare out into the woods and think about the times I used to go walking out there before I became so allergic to poison ivy that I became scared to even go near them. I miss walking in the woods. They’ve grown over now and I’ll probably wouldn’t even be able to find the goddamn path. I’ll stand out there and get a little funny about all that and I’ll enjoy the quiet and then I come inside. I’ll come inside and make the coffee and go back and look at my kids. It’s a good morning if they are still sleeping and I can sneak in and watch them for a second. My daughter wakes almost the second I open the door and while she crawls out of bed and down the steps, I climb into bed with my son. I curl up next to him and put my nose right in the soft spot at the back of his neck. He still smells like a little kid. I like to crawl into bed with him and pull him into my arms and bury my nose right there at his hairline and say, “Goodmorning.” I like to break the silence like that. I like to watch my daughter rub her eyes and crawl into bed with us. I like to hear her asking for a Poptart. She wakes up ravished, as if she hasn’t eaten in weeks. She wakes up and immediately thinks of food. Then the quiet is gone and the coffee is done and the kids are awake. And the quiet is gone. And I’m glad I didn’t have a different life. I’m glad I’m not alone.

*****

I’ve been reading The Catcher and the Rye for my book club and thought I’d take a stab at attempting to write in the train-of-thought style that makes that book so entertaining. That being said, I really don’t like the book. The writing keeps me going, but I can’t say I’ll pick it up again. I probably won’t. There’s this idea with classics that we’re supposed to like them, and if we don’t, we’re wrong. I don’t buy into that. You like what you like. I don’t like this one. -Shrugs- 

I’m also submitting this for the Daily Post Weekly Challenge. I chose “quiet” as my object. Now, I know we mostly think of “quiet” as an adjective, but it can also be a noun. Really. Look it up. When I think of “quiet”, it is almost always a noun. So go check out the challenge and let us all read about your object.

Weekly Writing Challenge: 1000 Words

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I have fears. Very real fears. They are mine and I keep them, because I don’t like to share. When the temperatures soar and I’m lying in bed sweating, I suffer in silence. The other option is to open my window, but that terrifies me. I cannot fall asleep with the window open. I will spend my evening staring out of it, wondering what is looking back in.

I’d rather sweat.

I’d rather walk all the way out the front door and around to the side door to avoid a spider hanging in my hallway.

I drive past houses that have burned down and refuse to look at them. I get up and check the heaters every night, multiple times. I check the stove. I sniff the air. I dread that I’ll smell smoke.

I am terrified of house fires.

I stare at the lines on the road whenever we cross a big bridge. I hate the way the water looks, lapping at the supports. It looks hungry. It looks like something that wants to rise and rise and swallow me whole.

I am convinced the ocean is an evil thing.

I have fears. Very real fears.

I thought I was keeping them to myself, but then I realized my daughter screamed when she saw a spider. She didn’t when she was younger, so why now? Why is she afraid of it now?

Because I am.

She is following in my example, and my very real fears, have become hers. I realized she got panicked when we drove across the bridge, or that she checks the heater in her own room every night before bed. She never asks to open her window.

She has my fear.

And she has no damn reason to have it.

So I got angry. I got angry with me and with this world that breeds things to scare us. I got angry about spiders and open windows and house fires and oceans. I got angry with the weakness that fear brings along and that I thought I was being selfish, but I’d been passing them along.

Like I’d passed along the scattering of freckles that crossed her cheeks. Like I passed along the cowlick in her bangs.

I’d helped to form a child afraid.

And I was so damn angry.

I wanted to sweep in and erase them all. I wanted to tell her there was nothing to fear, that she was okay, that the world wasn’t such a frightening place. I wanted to put on a brave face and show her how strong I was, so she would know she could be strong too.

I want her to be strong.

There are so many things in life that are worse than spiders. The world is a much more frightening place than behind an open window. I needed her to know that she didn’t have to be afraid.

We went to the beach. My children were seven and five and it was the first time at the beach. I had avoided it like the plague. I had blamed the sun and their very pale skin. I had complained of the high temperatures and how easily children get sunstroke. I had fussed over the cost and the sheer amount of crap we’d have to haul down there to make the day survivable.

We went to the beach.

It was crowded and so we skirted groups of families and sunbathing women. We passed men playing Frisbee and a few lumps of what might have once been sandcastles.

We approached the ocean and the sand was moist under my toes and my heart dropped straight into my stomach. It filled so much space and everything else shoved up into my throat and I stood there choking while I watched the ocean’s angry fingers come crashing down.

There was laughter and yelling and there I was standing, frozen while my son pulled on my hand in anxious excitement. He wanted to get into that water and all I could picture was the wave coming. Gripping him tight. Pulling him from my hands. Him sliding away.

I can’t swim.

I’d never get to him.

When my daughter stood there by my side, unflinching, unmoving, it hit me.

She was seven. She should be pulling my hand just as hard as her brother. She should be excited. But she wasn’t, and it was my fault.

I let my son go with my husband. I couldn’t do it with two of them. I’m only a woman. I’m only so strong. So brave. There’s a limit to how far I can go with things, and tackling this alone would have been bad enough.

Tackling this with my entire team of supportive friends and loved ones would have been just as frightening.

Trying to do it with my seven year old daughter was hell.

She had her little hand wrapped in mine, and I explained how it would feel. We stepped forward bit by bit and the water began to lap at our feet. I made myself keep walking. I made myself move.

When the sands moved under our feet and she felt the pull, she yelled. I looked down and saw her laughter, her smile. She bent, digging her hands into the sand to feel it slip between her fingers.

Within moments she was pulling me in further and further. She fell to her knees and let the water wash across her chest and arms. She slid on her knees as the tide pushed her in towards the sand.

She lost her fear, and with her, I found some bravery.

Motherhood is a scary, scary thing. It’s full of adventures I’d never take on my own. I looked at this image and thought, I’d never go down there. It’s dark and I can’t see in the dark. It’s scary.

But you know what, if my daughter was down there, or my son, hiding in the shadows, I’d go.

I would touch the ocean.

********

Word Count: 1,000

Out of all the pictures this week, this one gave me the most emotional reaction the fastest.

And yes…I’m still afraid of spiders.

Herstory Lesson: Being a mother means you get to face your fears head on, whether you want to or not.

Weekly Writing Challenge

I had to do this one.

Because Rarasaur did the prompt and she is awesome.

Because the prompt itself was awesome.

And because I wanted to take a moment and step outside of myself.

So I tossed myself into some fictional woman. Then I threw that woman into a very real place going through very real things that have never really happened in that place.

Did I lose you yet?

Good.

This entire piece is about being lost. It’s dark and dangerous and it came from that part of my mind that even Norman is afraid of.

Enjoy, while I go coax that hairy barbarian out from behind Ellie’s dressing table.

Operation: To the Teeth

The sun is setting on the century and we are armed to the teeth. The lyrics of Ani DiFranco’s gritty music filled my head, setting the theme song for the backdrop that I was coming to know so well. There’s an order to things. A specific set of gradual occurrences that succeed tragedy, grief, destruction, invasion. Yes, it had been an invasion, as difficult as that may be to believe. That was the first occurrence: the doubt.

            We didn’t feel the ground shaking, hear the pat-pat-pat of machine gun fire, or see the rolling tracks of tanks rip the ground to shreds beneath their tread. I was washing dishes at the sink, staring out the small window that overlooked my backyard, a swing-set, the cornfield. My children were playing in the sandbox outside, performing acts of God and moving mountains with little effort or thought to the consequences. My husband was watching TV.

            That’s how we knew it. The electric flashed and the TV shut off. That in itself wasn’t much to be concerned about. Two birds could sit on a wire and knock our electric out. The flash only lasted long enough to knock the dish out briefly and then the TV was back and blaring. A long steady beep screamed from the speakers and I waited for the words, “This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System.” Instead, I heard a mechanical voice telling us, the people, to hold for the President of the United States.

            The video feed was not from the Oval Office. There was no comfy leather chair, no stars and stripes to fill the background. There was our President, worry and anger battling for the right to carve lines in his face, to spread from his thin pressed lips and to spiral out from his wide-set eyes.

            Doubt always comes first. No one believes it. The ego kicks in and the first thought is always, “Who would dare?” “Who would do this?” “Why would they want to?” All those questions are followed by the immediate reaction of, “We’ll be fine.” “They’ll call in the military.” “No one can beat us in a fight.”

            This is by far the longest part of the entire affair. The season of doubt washes across the country like a second-coming of the black plague. It eats everyone alive, but takes forever to go away. In its wake, we were left with anger, hatred, and fuel for a fight. The men disappeared. One by one they went off, recruited by their country or simply egging for a fight. Who knew? Who cared? We needed them and they went.

            And now we’re here, and those gradual occurrences are coming at a faster rate. See, once the doubt is gone, once the men have run off to defend their egos, their families, their possessions, their homes, their freedom…everything else falls into place very quickly.

            We’re tossed back into a medieval society, with no electric, no running water, no heat. Our money becomes far more useful as kindling for a fire, or toilet paper. It’s a barter and trade society again and it’s like we’ve been thrown back, back, back. I’ve got the best commodity around. Everyone can take it, but it can’t be stolen. It’s like my own personal Sphinx riddle and it is a tragedy that my daughter carries the same currency.

            Every right women ever fought for is gone. There is no one there to protect them, and so they are victims and protectors all at once. They become prey even as they provide. So we learn our purpose again:

            The men come in broken and we heal them.

            The men come in broken and we feed them.

            The men come in broken and we lie down, spread our legs, and let them break us.

Yes, women have found their place again, but at least we found a system of money that works. So we lose a piece of our soul, but our children are fed. They need to be strong for this world we’re making, breaking.

            I should have done as the others. I should have skirted the cities on my way North. The North has become a beacon of safety, a haven for the lost. I wonder if they’ll have closed the gates by the time we get there. I’ve never seen Niagara. I’ve never seen much of anything. My tiny life in my tiny, rural town was all I had ever known. Finally, after years of staring at the pages of travel magazines, I had the opportunity to see the world around me.

Regardless, I was foolish, but I wanted to see it. I had a postcard shoved in my pocket. I’d grown up surrounded by fields of corn and soybean, by deep rooted forests and gravel drives. I wanted to see buildings that touched the sky, that reached their sturdy fingers up to stroke the underside of the clouds.

            I remember pulling the postcard out and staring at it as we approached. I must have been around the same distance as the person who shot the original photograph. None of it was there. Rockefeller, Chrysler, Trump, Empire. They were all gone. I looked at the crease that was a white bolt of lightning through the middle of my postcard. It touched the top of the World Trade Center and drove right through the middle of the towers. Those had been gone long before today, another tragedy from another time. It seemed a million years ago.

            The purple mountains majesty was blocked by billowing columns of smoke and ash. There were no amber waves of grain, only the charred remains left behind by a foreign army. We never saw it coming and from sea to shining sea lay the remains of capitalism, democracy, America the beautiful.

            I feel a weight shift and briefly, for a moment, I can breathe again. Then there is another weight, and the hair is prickly and sharp as it rubs against my chest. He’s wider and my thighs are crushed down against the cold concrete of a dilapidated Macy’s store. Sweat is beading on his chin and dripping down onto my forehead like some sort of Chinese water torture and I’m floating away again. I’m lying here while men I don’t know are pumping away inside me, pouring their anger, disgust, and hate into me, using me for a moment to feel like maybe they’re in control again. They’re not, and perhaps because I know it, and they know I know it, they push harder and harder every time.

            I have no idea where my husband is. The only men I see are my own countrymen, running and fleeing to the North as quickly as we are. I don’t even know where my President is, or if he even is anymore. I know that I have three more to go before I get a loaf of bread. I know yesterday I earned a scoop of peanut butter that someone had shoved into little baggies. It’s the new drug deal of our century and I keep it shoved inside my bra for safety. I know that tonight my children will eat well and I only have three more to go, or two now. I think this one is done.

            Ani’s words drift through my head and I hear another girl crying nearby. Her tears form the melody to the tune and when a hand smashes my face to the side, holding me to the floor, I sing, “We’re all working together now…to make our lives mercifully brief…”