Monday, March 31, 2014

Are You an Indie or an Outie?

Mission Impossible #4 (Bonus Blog-5th Monday)

Many of us have dreams and aspirations that seem so close, but something crops up that pushes them further away. These things that crop up are just a part of life like simple menial tasks that pile up or huge things such as illness or losing someone we love. It seems only those who are diligently determined and lucky to have that thing called free time can accomplish them. Over the last few years my determination to become a published author has never wavered nor abated, but the slippery little minx called time has eluded me. My job is such that I have spurs of intense workflow so much to the point that I hardly have time to be a mother, wife, friend, let alone clean my house. Therefore, taking the time to attempt to find an agent and/or publisher is at times almost impossible. When I do have free time, there’s the incessant muse who seduces me with inspiration that I must get out on paper lest it escape me forever, and then I fail to bother with the business side of things. This said, in the last few months I haven’t gotten very far in my dream but that doesn’t affect my motivation. I just need to fight my way through the busy time and then pick up where I left off. In the meantime, I intend to spare a few moments researching and reflecting on what I learn along the way in hopes to help myself and others. Recently, I’ve been pondering on the idea of self-publishing but many things I've learned shows it isn't for me.

There are many factors that make this not a fitting venue for me to use and I thought I’d share with others who may think about this avenue. The main reason I’m not doing it is because of time and/or money. You have to do all the work yourself from revising, developmental editing, copyediting, cover art, printing or formatting, and much more, but most important is the marketing. You must sell your books. If you cannot do all of this, you should pay someone to, but that’s not what a lot of authors are doing. In a sense, if they embark upon self-publishing (as a choice rather than a last resort), then they’re assuming that they can be better than (or as good as) the professionals and not only in the one field of writing but also are attempting to be professional agents, printers, designers, and marketers. I am not that naive or egocentric to assume that I could do all this — not even the editing— and I’m a college composition instructor that teaches grammar and is constantly forced to review it. It takes a lot of chutzpah to do something like this on your own, as well as talent.

I don’t want this to seem like I’m attacking the indie literature industry. I’m not. Some self-published authors are very successful and employ the help of others to cover the areas they feel they aren’t experts in (it is rare that someone can do everything well). Those who employ help until they have fully learned the craft usually find success and get good reviews; however, many self-published books, especially the free or cheap ones, are atrocious from the covers to the grammar—oh, the grammar—to the plots to character development—oh, God don’t get me started. I really could go on forever.

Why do I read these books then? I read as research, to observe trends, to see the ideas people have, since a lot of these poorly written books have been generated quickly, thrown into digital format, and slapped onto the internet. In my last spell of free time, I gave my first 1 star review to a “piece” of a book (plot-wise) marketed as an entire novel (was in length), and didn’t finish two others because I just couldn’t handle the unbelievable characters, lack of plots that actually went somewhere, and grammatical errors. Seriously, one YA paranormal romance novel went something like this (changing it slightly to keep the author’s anonymity): “‘Your immortal? Wait give me a moment to process this.’ He shifted his weight form one foot to another. ‘Alright. I’m OK with it. It’s cool.’” WTF? Beyond the grammatical mistakes, people process bombshells like that, his crush is immortal and dated his great uncle in the 40's, in one second…yeah, okay.

Don’t get me wrong. I did read a few self-published authors that I befriended on Facebook and the quality of their work was outstanding. There are some great authors out there doing it all by themselves, those who have mastered the arts of being writer, agent, marketer, and more. Their work is just as good, if not better, than some of the stuff that publishers churn out. To me these authors are like superheroes; I cannot fathom how they have the time to do it. And then there’s everyone in between—those that need a learning curve or perhaps a little polishing. What bothers me is how can successful indie authors stand the monstrosities in the same industry as them? I feel that these poor writers tarnish the industry altogether. Maybe I’m being too hard on them, or no one cares about narrative style, character development, or grammar as much as I do. I wanted to know if I was just too much of a grammar-Nazi who loves her capital L literature and only dabbles now and then in commercial fluff (I’m a sucker for YA paranormal romance), so I made a survey and posted it on Facebook. Considering I have a lot of Fb friends who are indie authors, I was astounded by the results.

About 54% of people proclaimed they never read a self-published book, which leaves me wondering. Do some readers not know whether a book if self-published or not? If it is a well polished product, it shouldn’t matter really, so overlooking where it came from could be an easy thing to do.

When asked, “How do you feel about self-published texts? Do you feel it is a viable way to get work to the public or have inexperienced, under-par, grammatically challenged authors destroyed the venue?” Most people admitted that grammar issues really bothered them in these novels, but about a third of the people said it is a good idea if you know what you’re doing. Knowing what you’re doing, in some responses again, fixated to be the grammar. Does perfect grammar mark a good from bad author? Of course it is a defining trait, but I’d hate to think that that is all. My issues with a lot of novels (because I can shut off my professorial brain if needed) are with narrative voice and character development. If I cannot empathize with the protagonist and/or do not like the sound of the narrator’s “voice,” then I put it down. In the survey, someone busted on the “Sookie Stackhouse books” in reference to why people should self-publish (if publishing companies are putting that out, then better authors should have a platform) and I’m with them; I couldn’t get through six pages of one of those novels (although what HBO has done with it is interesting). I couldn’t handle the narrative voice, and therefore never gave it a chance. We’ll leave poor Sookie behind and move on to the rest of the survey.

 An overwhelming 75% of people read novels that are published through traditional means rather than indie.  My survey takers also had varied responses when asked how they felt about publishing houses, showing an interesting paradox—they make well polished, trustworthy products, yet great stuff is overlooked for the marketable drivel and fads.

I asked a few more questions and learned a bit: fantasy seems like the leading genre, and actually 70% of readers prefer print books, which I found interesting with all the digital devices that make purchasing books faster, easier, and cheaper.

Most importantly, I learned that what I believed was true—those with time and determination will become proficient enough to make self-publishing a lucrative career. Others who publish these under-par texts that tarnish the industry aren’t doing it right according to some. The mentality of doing things the right way has escaped a lot of people. A perfect example is a guy’s manuscript I read and critiqued for a colleague. She was too closely associated with him to tell him how bad it was. The guy was determined to be a writer, although not well-trained or educated, and not an avid reader himself. He insisted grammar didn’t matter nor did any of the other issues his friends and family told him about. He was ignorant to the industry's expectations or just in deep denial. The manuscript was so bad, the grammar so flawed, that I was completely lost on what was going on. Character development was almost nonexistent, no narrative voice (so objective it was like a movie), and it was a series of action scenes. I was nice as I could be about it, but he found my review scathing and disheartening. I insisted he turn it into a movie script and ditch novel writing. As a movie, with some revision to correct the clarity issues, it would be like inserting biblical undertones into Avatar (and this was before Avatar was out). It was extremely creative and a good story. But these two things don’t make an author. An author has to have a great story and tell it well too. I think the indie and the traditional industry should remember that.

I'd have to say that I'm not an indie, I'm an outie, as in not going to try that venue--at least for now. I won’t be self-publishing, but mostly because of time and money constraints. Indie authors should recognize that authors must tell a great story and to do so well in order to clean up and elevate the entire industry. This is a reminder to all authors as well as myself. Better writers make better readers.

Monday, March 24, 2014

So Apollo walks into a bar...

The Amores #3


“So Apollo walks into a bar…”

“Dite, I’m in no mood for jokes.”
“Which is exactly why I’m trying to cheer you up, but no. This is a true story, I swear.” Aphrodite twisted her blond curls around her finger well aware the mortal men were beginning to stare at her.
“So instead, this is this going to be another one of these ridiculous pranks Eros pulled on him? I mean that Daphne situation got a bit out of hand,” Athena said with a frown.
“That was a joke and he was a child then. Apollo should know better than to pick on a little kid, really,” Aphrodite scoffed throwing her hair back over her shoulder. She never saw her son in the wrong, ever. It drove Athena mad and she marveled at how level-headed Eros grew up to be, despite being spoiled and undisciplined as a child.
Aphrodite switched tactics. “No, it’s a funny story of his own making.”
“A lesson in hubris, I daresay,” Athena mumbled and took a sip of her wine, but she couldn’t help but let the corners of her mouth rise at the thought.
“Something like that.” Aphrodite looked around the small new bar, The Grape Vine. She “accidentally” made eye contact with a thirty something businessman a couple seats away. She bit her lip, sneaking a look back at him, and then quickly turned her away as if she were shy. She leaned over the bar a bit as if she were trying to get the bartender’s attention, letting the plunging neckline (if you could call it that) plunge a tad more. She crossed her arms as if cold, which pushed her bosom up, but it wasn’t the bartender she was seducing; in fact, Dionysus rolled his eyes at her, gave her a lop-sided smirk, and finished cutting the garnish fruit before he approached her.
“So? Apollo?” Athena asked beginning to grow bored. Being out wasn’t her thing. There was a book she had just started that she was desperate to get back to and the dissertation on the ethical implications of biochemical warfare needed finishing. For the first century in history, she could go to school for whatever she wished and she wanted to collect degrees like Aphrodite collected boy-toys. 
“Hold up, I need a drink,” Dite responded. She ordered a glass of wine that she knew to be the most expensive.
The businessman cleared his throat and called to Dionysus, “Put that on my tab please.” He gave Aphrodite a small smile. She returned it, blushed on command, and thanked him in a small voice feigning innocence.
“By the beard of Zeus, you’re just so…” Athena paused for the proper word.
“Fabulous, amazing, beautiful…” Aphrodite began to supply.
Athena cut her off, “No, cunning, manipulative, a devious seductress. Poor men really have no chance.”
Aphrodite completely ignored the insult, finding it flattering actually. “I have precisely five minutes to tell you the story before I become rude to my worshiper over there and I mean to score a few free drinks before we go.”
“I’ve been waiting on you.”
“So Apollo walks into a bar, and he scouts the place out. He doesn’t see anyone he knows, so he relaxes and goes to the bar to have a drink. The truth is Eros and I are supposed to meet him there, but we miss one another. We were staying in a small town, and it was the early 1970's, I think, because I remember the bell bottoms I was wearing when he told me about it. Anyway, Apollo's having a drink.”
“Yes, that was already established,” Athena muttered. She knew Aphrodite was long-winded with her stories, that she’d repeat herself, and would supply needless details, but she just didn’t have the patience for it at the moment.
Aphrodite gave her a look that could kill. Athena diverted her eyes not wanting to hold that gaze for long. She could outwit Dite any day, but she did not have that goddess's confidence nor tenacity to stand up to her, particularly now, especially feeling so lovelorn.
“In walks this pretty girl. I mean, not as pretty as me but not bad for a mortal.”
“Alright, alright,” Dite sighed. “You know you’re no fun. Fine. Apollo walks into a bar…"

                                                                 *                    *                    * 

He sits down next to a beautiful woman, who is sitting alone, with a shot in front of her. She is tear stained, mascara running down her cheeks, but she is beautiful underneath the needless artifice. She’s blathering, but he’s a predator and he smells an easy kill.
“Hey, hey, none of that, darlin’ please smile.”
“Smile?” she gasps. “I can’t.” Next comes out a long story about a jerk who broke her heart. He grabs a barnap and wipes her eyes with it, creating an intimate moment only Hollywood, or Apollo the slithery, male-slut, snake, could create.
He pulls his hand away, but she grasps it. “Are you real?”
Apollo chuckles a bit and responds, “No, darlin’, men like me are myths.”
“Figured,” she smiles, the jerk already forgotten. Just to close the deal, Apollo lets out a little godly charisma, the little cheater (It is frowned upon to use godly charms to manipulate mortals).
"Who's she?" A voice rings out behind him. He turns to see a recent conquest who is very pregnant and stomping her foot.
"What are you doing here?" He asks her stupidly, not knowing what else he could possibly say.
"I should ask you the same." She retorts.
"Wait, who's this?" The new dew-eyed prey questions.
"Really?" The pregnant girl laughs sardonically. 
"Uh..." Apollo repeats.
"I'm his ex, I guess. We were keeping up a long distance relationship while he backpacked through Europe, but something tells me he lied about that. Oh yeah, and I'm carrying his child."
They look at him for a response: "Uh..." is all he can muster.
"You unimaginable bastard! You guys are all the same!" She looks at her drink and his face but thinks better of it and downs the rest of her martini. Apollo sighs in relief that he won't be wearing it, but the feeling is fleeting and is slapped away by the girl's bitter hand.
He turns his attention to the pregnant girl awaiting this second remonstrance, but no slap comes. Instead she glares at him for an uncomfortably long time forcing him to speak first.
"I just got back yesterday," he says feigning excitement to see her.
Then she laughs wholeheartedly which completely bemuses him.
"You're so gullible, Apollo," she giggles.
"Iris?" He asks very unsure.
"Duh. Who else could morph into your jilted lover? Anyway, pretty stupid to piss in your own parade if you ask me. I could've been her. Out of the whole world, you're going to stay in the same town to pull some bids."
"You're mortal slang is atrocious."
"Not the point numb nutter."
"No seriously. You can't mortal to save your life."
"Save my life? But I'm immortal. That makes no sense."
"And 'don't have a cow man' does? Anyway, what do you want?"
"Just helping a friend out."
"Oh yeah, because we've always been so buddy-buddy," she said with a sardonic roll of the eyes.
"I don't have time for your games, Iris."
"Whatev's. I gotta message for you. 'Leave immediately.' And you're supposed to come with me. Pronto."
"That's it?"
"And who sent it?"
"Does it matter?" Iris scowled as if he were insulting her abilities to relay messages.
"Well, ye-ah. A message from Prometheus is one thing and a message from, let's say Dionysus wanting me to go to some soiree is another."
"I. Don't. Deliver. Crap. Messages." Iris attempted to reign in her anger at the inadvertent insults Apollo was slinging at her.
Apollo gets the message that Prometheus is trying to help him out, so he settles up his tab, and moves toward the exit. Before he can leave, the door opens and three girls walk in.
Instantly Apollo recognizes the first, a beautiful blond bombshell with large curves and thick legs.
"Oh," she says in a catty tone. "It's you two." She looks Iris down as if she is her mortal enemy. Apollo's ex before the ex Iris is impersonating, glares at them both.
"Wait," another girl's mouth drops. A brunette, with caramel colored skin, who spends her free time in the tanning bed, stands next to the first.
Unfortunately, Apollo recognizes her as well.
"No," the blond says to her. "You dated him too?!"
"No," the brunette said self-consciously. "We slept together and he never called me back. You never called me back." She directed her wounded gaze at him. Apollo swallowed hard.
"He played us all then," the third girl said. She was even shorter than Iris, frail, and thin, much thinner than Apollo remembered. This one he had liked, a lot, but she was lousy in the sack and Apollo definitely was not the god of love and was rarely led by his heart.
"Jenny," he smiled, hoping to appease the short one. They were the feisty ones to watch out for.
"Oh, so you remember my name. What are theirs?" She challenged raising her voice. 
He couldn't answer and lamented that he didn't write this stuff down. 
Jenny pulled her little fist back and released it in his eye. The pain was excruciating but he was distracted by Jenny's yelp as she hopped up and down holding her hand in pain.
"We need to go," Iris urged uneasily.
But he didn't. For the first time in a while, Apollo felt guilty, not for hurting her hand but for breaking her heart, for ditching her because she didn't sexually live up to his standards. He could've given her a chance, but he just moved on to her friends. Now, he felt awful.
He picked up her hurt hand and ignored her glare. 
"Lemme see if it's broken."
"It's definitely broken you moron. I heard something snap." Tears were pooling in her eyes but she tried blinking them away.
Apollo took her hand and turned it over gently in his; he channeled his strength and power, and mentally transferred it to her hand.
"What are you doing? Why does that feel warm?" Jenny asked in confusion. 
Iris's grip tightened on Apollo's arm in warning, but he had gone this far and he didn't care. He was making amends to one of the mortal women he toyed with.
He let go of her hand. Jenny looked at it astounded, flexed, and then looked back at him.
The blond asked what happened and Jenny shakily responded, without losing eye contact with him, "It's better. He...healed it."
Lightning flashed outside, followed by a peal of thunder. Iris cursed under her breath.
"How'd you..." Jenny couldn't finish the question, her blue eyes baffled.
"I don't know what you're talking about." Apollo said quietly as he left out the door, Iris in tote. The door closed behind them and they began to walk away.
"You idiot!" Iris hit his shoulder so hard he heard a crack. He put his hand over his shoulder, after giving her a sharp look, and quickly healed it. It would heal fast on its own, but he always liked to use his godly gift to heal to speed things up. "Seriously? You just risked exposure and he might kill her."
As if on cue thunder boomed and lightning danced across the sky: a warning from Zeus.
"Who is going to believe her?" Apollo scoffed. "Oh, my ex-boyfriend healed me just by touching me," he mocked in a falsetto voice.
"You're just plain stupid," she said gruffly as they made their way down a deserted alley, away from prying eyes. "I mean why?"
"I felt bad for her. I had really liked her."

"If you really liked her, you wouldn't hurt her like you did. Apollo the god led by his..."
"Yeah, I get it Iris. I'm an asshole, okay? Does that make you happy?"
"Surprisingly, a little bit. At least you know you're a complete jerk."
Lightning struck right behind Apollo, right where he had been standing a split second ago. He turned and looked at the smoking crack in the pavement and up into the sky.
"Alright dad, I get it. I'm sorry. It won't happen again."
Iris stopped walking and looked around. "This is good."
"Where are we going?"
"Top secret mission. Prometheus needs you."
Apollo was stunned. This wasn't a normal occurrence. The god of forethought, who saw the entire future, needed Apollo's help. Surely he could prevent any scrape. Apollo scanned though the vaults of memories at all the prophesies he had dreamt that had not yet taken place, but no red flags appeared. If he didn't need him for consultation about the future, then it must be health related.
"Has something happened to him?"
Iris raise an eyebrow, touched Apollo's shoulder and they faded from sight leaving behind the faintest evanescent rainbow...
                                                  *                    *                    *

"So?" Athena asked. "Where'd they go?"

"That's all I know. That's no the point. The point was it was funny that he was called out and punched by a mortal, a tiny one at that." Dite sighed annoyed. It had been a funny story, in her opinion, and as always Athena took everything literal and had to pick it apart.
"Did Iris tell you right after it happened? Was it '72? Where were they? I mean where was Apollo about 15 years ago? You were with him you said."
"What's with the 100 questions?" Aphrodite snapped. She regretted agreeing to take Athena out. Apparently she was upset about some guy, which was unusual for her, but Dite was not forthcoming with the particulars.
"Nothing. I just wanted to know the mystery behind Prometheus needing him is all." Athena sulked and was lost off in her thoughts. She needed to know what it was about, but she had the nagging suspicion she already knew and she shouldn't go down that road. It could ruin everything that the future could hold. Prometheus would tell her if she needed to know, surely. She tried to suppress her curiosity and pretended to listen to Aphrodite prattle on.
As predicted, the man at the bar who had bought Aphrodite's drink came over to her and they started to converse. More drinks were ordered but Athena didn't touch hers. Her mind kept venturing off to Prometheus and this mystery that occurred about fifteen years ago. She decided she knew exactly what it was about. Fifteen years ago she turned a blind eye and tried to forget the past. She had done so successfully until now. And now she needed to know. She needed answers.
Aphrodite didn't even notice as Athena slipped from the bar like a ghost in a dream.

About Athena

About Apollo
About Aphrodite
About Prometheus
About Iris

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Shady Russianhator

Barflies #3 

The Shady Russianhator

Jack Daniels 4 oz
Vodka 1 oz
A lot of ice
Served in 12 oz pint or mug

*Drink while burning the USSR flag and shouting out incorrect ethnic stereotypes

I'm sitting in the bar waiting for a friend who seems to be running late. I'm killing my cell phone battery, so I try to refrain from using it, futilely of course. The Olympics are on and the hockey game between the US and Russia is in full swing which is occupying the bartender and the few patrons' attention. I write off finding a barfly today since there seems to be little promise of excitement. However, the man a few seats down from me begins shouting expletives at the television screen that also involve the word "commie" and I just have to listen in.

I peer over at the guy expecting an old balding man in his 70's because who else would still use the word commie in reference to Russia? But no, he's a rough looking man not any older than me; I find this interestingly perplexing. I don him with the pet name Russianhator. He has one of those pubescent peach fuzz mustaches that just labels him as ex-con redneck. He speaks again and I realize I must amend the redneck thought. He's not a local but a northerner. He confirms this by explaining how he's from Ohio. 

He speaks loudly so that everyone can hear him, as if he is the shiznits and we should bask in his greatness. He is cocky and a bit brazen. When he goes to the restroom and back, he walks with a swagger tantamount to John Travolta in Staying Alive. Out of place and time, it is comical.

And then he talks--a lot. I half listen getting snippets of the conversation he's having with the bartender. The poor man must listen, but I can see he is getting increasingly uncomfortable and so am I. The Russianhator begins conversations with ludicrous statements such as "The first time I got of prison..." and "By the way, what's the time down here for aggravated assault?" The latter makes me want to bolt out of the bar like my life depends on it, and I'm starting to worry about my friend's whereabouts. 

He rambles on about Russian people, half his stereotypes wrong or about other cultures. He's an ignorant all American jailbird. He says commies again and the bartender finally questions it by repeating the statement. "Yeah, I grew up in the 80's," he says as if that explains and justifies everything. Being an 80's child myself, I remember the Cold War but I don't understand the latent hatred of Russians 30 years later. I guess the Olympics brought back painful memories of some sort. And this makes me wonder about his upbringing and past...

Little Russian boy (before he became the hater) grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, in a wealthy family that wasn't exactly loving. His father was an old school firm disciplinarian that bordered on abuse, his mother spoiling him in compensation. His mother stayed at home to take care of him and his three sisters while his dad "worked for a guy," and he was never told exactly what his dad did for this guy. As he got older, he realized the shocking reality that his dad was in the Cleveland Mafia. In response to this bombshell, he acted out in school and home; each time his "uncles" would bail him out figuratively and literally speaking.

Then one day things changed, drastically.

He's arrested for aggravated assault, again, but no one comes to bail him out or to give the cops the squeeze to get him out. He's stuck and he's afraid because if no one comes, it means very bad things for his father. His mother shows up to confirm his worst fears: his father is dead. There was an "accident" where his car blew up. Little Russian boy doesn't think about his father, no. He was raised to be a selfish creature and all he can think of is how he can get out if this. 

He doesn't. He serves his three year sentence but finds himself back in constantly between new charges and old charges that were "overlooked" at the time. Sure they can't admit the Cleveland Mafia got him out of it in the past, but they sure are giving him maximum sentences for simple bar fights to retaliate against him since he's no longer under the mob's tutelage. 

Here's when the Russian hatred comes in. His father had always hated Russians and would verbalize his anger and support of the boycott of the Olympics in the 80's. Our jailbird didn't buy into his dad's rantings but he'd overhear conversations he wasn't privy to. He learned as a child that there's no such thing as one mob. The Russian mafia was a posing problems, and the Cold War, despite it dwindling out, still was in full swing according to mafia turf wars.

Now out of jail, he hopes for good, he isn't satisfied with the circumstances of his father's death. He asks questions, is pointed in certain directions, and somehow ends up in a secluded parking lot in the middle of the night surrounded by five Russian guys with baseball bats.

The series of questions and beatings ensue, and he says anything and everything but the name of the mob boss his father worked for because that would be a different kind of death sentence. Suddenly, some gunfire is heard and the Russians scatter. One is hit and goes down. Russianhator is born as he watches with a vengeful heart as the man writhes and goes motionless. Justice is sweet. He's lifted up by some older guy that looks familiar--a friend of his father's.

"Here. Stop asking questions and go. You got lucky cause your dad was family. But come back to Ohio ever, you're dead and we ain't got your back kid."

Russianhator looks down at what was placed in his hand, a bus ticket. He looks back up but his savior is gone and the need for answers weighs heavily on him. He can't let go and digest his father's death unless he knows exactly what happened, but the death threat is pulling at his resolve.

He looks down to the ticket and reads, "Myrtle Beach, SC."

Monday, March 10, 2014

Flow Rider

Resounding Moment #3

I’m driving down the highway on the way to work trying to recall the reading I’m teaching in a half hour.

I remember it is about “finding flow,” a positive psychology term. The definition of flow, according to Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi, is where the mind, will, and body harmonize to create these effortless moments that stand out as the most profound of our lives. When we have clear goals, gain feedback, and our life skills match a challenge, we feel great and successful. In these flow moments, self-consciousness abates, strength seemingly increases, time flies by, and life finds meaning or purpose.

What this Psychology professor is describing, to me at least, are those moments that stick with us, these resounding moments, and, ironically, this is what I envisioned this thread of my blog to represent. I think that these moments don’t have to be the best moments in life that we feel utter joy in; I think you can “find flow” in the most difficult and trying experiences given that your “skills” can match the “challenge” whatever it may be. As hard as things get sometimes, I still get an experience as Csikzentmihalyi describes. When something stressful happens, we seem to rise to the challenge, holding the pieces together, and our coping skills attempt to outweigh the stress. We’re stronger, confident, time flies, and we make attempts to find the silver-lining of the situation.
I teach the lesson, and it resonates with my students, surprisingly even at 8 am. They talk, really talk about it, and throughout all of my classes, they unanimously decide that it is the everyday moments that we find flow in that mean the most. And I have to agree.
I find flow on a daily basis—a good book, a brilliant idea put down on paper, a class lecture that goes exceptionally well, watching my toddler son achieve something he hasn’t done before, a lazy evening on the sofa watching one of my favorite shows with my husband—these are my moments of flow. Sure, some of these don’t take a lot of skill to do, but they still fit the definition of what positive psychology tells us constitutes happiness or transcendence to a plane of bliss. One of my daily moments of flow, which I oddly look forward to, is my commute to work. It sounds weird, but it is literally these spells of time, in the car on the highway, that are my only times of complete and utter freedom, without work, child rearing, grading, and life’s other activities. I have nothing to worry about but the open road and my imagination soars. 

I write. I write in my head, even calling it that, and those who aren’t extremely creative or imaginative may not understand. I play out a movie of my creation in my head, a scene, and I replay it rendering it every day until I feel it is perfect. Then, when a moment of free time surfaces, sans car, it hits the paper or the monitor. I get it out. The spark of an idea turns into a fine-tuned inferno as it becomes permanent. It comes into being erupting in better form than it had in the dozen or so mental drafts created. It is alive, no longer a glimmer of hopeful imaginative genius. I read it over, the dialogue out loud to see if it speaks to real life, and surprisingly I’m content with it. Of course, all writing can be improved, but the idea is born and recorded. I find my moment of bliss, my skills override the challenge, time flies by, and I have found flow. I am happy. 

Not everyone can understand this, that something so simple as a car ride or writing down an idea in my chicken-scratch handwriting can yield such contentment. I think only a writer can. I think only a writer knows the pain of an idea that is stuck in his/her head, trying to break out to hatch into the world, to know this passion that borders obsession (and perhaps at times insanity) must come to fruition before it dies or withers into nothingness. In the car, I get to record these ideas and transfer them into my long term memory, to nourish them and raise them as if they were my children. In the car, harmony overtakes me, and I become one with the world; I become a Flow Rider.

Even if not writers, all people have their equivalent of this though, an everyday moment that makes them happy. So, I ask, how do you find flow?

Csikzentmihalyi, Mihaly. "Finding Flow." Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. 12th ed. Ed. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. Boston: Peasron, 2013. 240-5. Print.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

"A Jaded Life" (part 2)

Mission Impossible # 3 (Part 2)

I closed my eyes allowing it to creep forward, curious of how it would make me feel…

I was lying on the bed back in the old apartment that I shared with Jade. I was bundled up in layers of clothing, while Jade angrily kicked the heater. She likewise wore several layers of clothing, her cheeks and nose pink and her annoyed breath steamed out into the cold air with a soft growl.

“If you kick it one more time it might work,” I teased her rolling onto my side to watch her. Her clear blue eyes met mine, forcing me to smile. She smiled back and kicked it one more time as a joke making me snicker despite myself. The heater clanked and the metal facing fell off making a loud crash on the ground. She giggled and hopped into bed with me, cuddling close to stay warm. The lady below us rapped her broom on the ceiling to inform us that we were disturbing her.
“Should we give her a real reason to hit the ceiling?” Jade suggested with a seductive glance, yet her smirk told me she was merely making a jest.
“Too cold. We’ll freeze together,” I said rubbing her arms to create warmth, my gloved fingers beginning to lose their numbness. “Some Christmas we’re having. No tree, no presents, no heat,” I complained with a sigh.
“What would you want for Christmas? If you could pick anything in the world, what would it be?” Jade asked in a whimsical voice, her mind drifting into a make believe world, one much better than our own. Her eyes peered through the ceiling as if she could literally see this magical world she was creating.
“I don’t know, maybe a job I could respect myself doing. To be able to take care of you better. What about you?” I asked her, trying to see what she could see, but my limited imagination and morbid grasp on reality prevented me to follow her into her fantasy.
“A thousand moments just like this one,” She replied with a happy grin towards the ceiling. Good old romantic girl, able to find good in all that was bad. I closed my eyes, trying to imagine things that made me happy, to improve my spirits to equal Jade’s.
“You wouldn’t want money, or a supermodel, or like world peace? Just a thousand freezing, starved Christmases?” I tempted her innocent mind away from all her noble notions.
“Maybe world peace,” she answered looking at me slyly from the corner of her eyes. And I had believed she was going to make a joke about a male supermodel. She was so sweet and caring I felt guilty for not being the same.
“I don’t deserve you,” I said quietly and with meaning, cuddling closer for warmth.
“You never will,” She said touching my chin. I searched her mysterious eyes for meaning, but was unable to tell if she was joking or if she meant it. She always had that stoic, penetrating stare that made you believe she was always serious. Jade giggled and kissed me allowing me to see she was attempting a joke, not an insult.
“You don’t want anything? You’re happy living like this?” I asked her in a serious tone, wanting her to dispel my worst fears.
She responded with a bite of the lip and a bobbing of her head in confirmation before adding, “I don’t need money. I’m not with you for that. I’m not even trying to get you to reconcile with your parents. I don’t want their filthy money. And I don’t want yours either.” At that moment she reminded me of a stubborn little girl, innocent, wholesome, adorable and would always have to have her own way.
“Good, cause I don’t have any,” I said petting her blond streaks.
“That’s the way I like it. You don’t have to worry about money. I’m a big girl Peyton. I can take care of myself.” She buried her head into my neck and I held her close. She smelt of peaches, baby powder, and stale cigarettes…

The phone rang bringing me back to reality from my past reveries. I didn’t want to answer it, or open my eyes, but I had to. I needed to leave these images to the past, just as Tony had advised me. I grabbed it up answering it with a tired voice. It was Tony. I was late.
I got ready slowly trying to forget about the ghostly visage of Jade. I was successful in putting her from my mind, but a feeling of melancholy spread over me, engulfing me like a festering disease. Whenever I felt this way, I would read my favorite book, the depressing nature of it somehow uplifted me, but I hadn’t brought it with me on this trip. I read it first in high school and I was unable to remember the title or its contents, until Jade, who was an avid reader told me what it was, but the ending had stuck in my mind for years before I bought and reread it. A powerful man in Africa was ill, delirious and dying and his last words were, “The horror! The horror!” and I can’t recall what the teacher told us it meant. To me, however, the horror changed to something different on every reading, my book creased at the page where I first knew he would die, reading and rereading as if it would be different every time.
What did “the horror” mean to me the last reading? It meant the horror of the monotony of life and the never changing atmosphere of the nine-to-five job. The horror of every day being the same and not having someone to share it with. The horror of living with mistakes and the inability to take them back, change them or fix what had been broken. My horrors of living, breathing, without the guile to end it myself. These were my horrors; my heart was the darkness, the evils of the world turned inward on myself. What purpose in life did I have?
I was a void, a space, just a blob of matter taking up room in the world. Accidents happen, people die every day, ones with loving families, children, not loners like me. I was spared, a third of my life had gone by and I had nothing to show for it. I wondered from time to time if anyone would notice if I died, constantly thinking about the old man who lived in my former apartment building that had died of a heart attack and wasn’t found for six weeks. Not a single soul checked on him or worried about him until the strange smell emanated from his apartment. The smell of his festering body kept the place from being rented for six months, the neighbors moved as if death were contagious.
Would this be me when I’m old? Would they find me after two lapsed mortgage payments, bald and pot-bellied, lying lifeless on a vast collection of baseball cards? I hate baseball. Before my death would I hobble around on a cane and grumpily curse at everyone younger than me about things being different when I was their age, while collecting spoons from vacations taken alone? Would I die knowing I let the one woman I ever loved get away, my regret my only companion and loneliness my only lover?
I tried to shake these morbid feelings away, to clear my mind from the grim thoughts that plagued me. It was hard for me to see the positive aspects of my life. I didn’t doubt they were there; everyone had something to look forward to. I just didn’t have the gift to see them, to count my blessings.
With a sigh I stood up and grabbed my jacket shaking my shoulders as if the thoughts would fly from them too. It was Tony’s night, not mine, so I had to go and pretend this melancholy feeling didn’t exist. I began to walk the ten blocks to the strip-club as opposed to taking the cab, loving the crisp air of the cool night. I wasn’t sure if it was cold outside or if I just felt that way on the inside. Every step I took, I felt more of a chill spread over my body. A chill, which I was sure no matter how much whiskey I drank could quench.
On arriving to the strip club the guys were already drunk and I realized how late I was. I put on my happy masquerade and made sure my best friend had the night of his life. I swore my mood would not improve but somewhere between the first club and the last bar I let go of time, of worries, and realized I was having fun. The night seemed to shoot by so fast, just a montage of strippers, shots, and loud music. I found myself drunk, on the curb supporting Tony, who couldn’t hold himself up.
With great effort and patience on my end, I managed to get Tony back to my hotel room where he passed out on top of the bed across the room snoring loudly. As I lay down on the stiff bed, my head began to whirl in circles as if I were riding a roller coaster. My eyes snapped opened, focused on the ceiling and the spinning stopped. I stared at the pebble-like ceiling until my eyes drooped shut and the whirling recommenced, turning my stomach sour. I kept my eyes open, listening to the bustle of the streets outside in the city that truly never slept. The subway always rumbled underneath, sirens could be heard, as well as prostitutes and bums calling out to people walking by.
My exhausted eyes began to droop bringing back the drunken swirls and a new wave of intense nausea. I jumped out of bed and raced into the bathroom to get sick barely making it to the toilet. Only then did my head return to normal and the effects of the alcohol began to subside. After I plopped into bed the second time, I fell into a drunken, fitful sleep where I was haunted by a dream that was so vivid I thought it was really happening at first. It was more like a memory that crept into my consciousness. A memory I long ago suppressed…

            Jade, beautiful as ever, although clad in a gray waitress uniform two sizes too big for her, set the table for dinner. I looked to the microwave to see a casserole dish spinning around and knew its contents from the polluting smell of tuna.  Jade had her honey blond hair pulled back in a low ponytail and bent over the table, her short skirt showing off her fabulous legs. I wanted to wrap my arms around her and kiss her neck, keep her safe from the world’s harm, my harm. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t touch her at all or my willpower would vanish. She gently laid two paper towels on the little round table to serve as napkins and turned looking at me oddly. Her eyes danced across my face searching for the answers to the questions she was afraid to ask.
            I felt trapped in the hot little room, like the walls were slowly closing in on me and needed to go outside for fresh air. My life felt oppressing like a horrid pattern, constantly repeating itself every day. The uphill battle I faced, making money, paying bills, and doing it all over again the next day. Always struggling to stay even, never ahead of what life had to dish out. I wanted to leave, just opt out of the stuffy little apartment, opt out of this life. But how could I leave her?
            Before she had a chance to speak, I walked towards the bedroom muttering something about changing my clothes. I was going to slip out the fire escape for a smoke, which I hoped would calm me down into rational thoughts. After Jade quit smoking, she wouldn’t allow me to do it in the house. I had told her I quit too, which wasn’t a complete lie; I had cut back. I always thought about lighting up to provoke her, but I enjoyed the escape outside, the moment I smoked I could pretend I was somewhere else. I was high up and free with the vast sky above me, the ground a few floors down, in complete openness.
“I know what you’re going to do,” Jade’s shaky voice stopped me in my tracks. I composed my face before turning around. What was she talking about? She surely couldn’t tell I was contemplating leaving her. That was impossible. She must be confronting me about my smoking. I turned to see a cockroach scurry under the stove and cringed thinking of baked bugs. She wasn’t facing me, but laying plates down on the table, her back stiff, shoulders tight, telling me something was wrong.
“What are you talking about?” I asked her emphasizing my confusion.
“Peyton, I’m not stupid. I do have a brain.” She dropped the rest of the plates onto the flimsy table with an angry bang. All I could think of was how the room stunk of warm dead fish as Jade spun around her cheeks red with emotion. She looked ravishing, flared up, rosy, and excited. I had to put those thoughts from my head, distance myself from feeling anything or I wouldn’t be able to leave. I had to be strong.
“I know you’re going to leave me,” she said quietly her voice going thin although she struggled to keep it strong. Tears welled up in her eyes despite her strong nature. It wasn’t like her to get emotional over anything, even the thought of me leaving her. But here she was emotion itself, raw and blistering under the strain.
“What are you talking about?” I said with surprise. I didn’t have to feign the feeling, for I was extremely surprised that after only two years she could read every thought on my mind and I hardly knew her.
“Don’t bother pretending you have no clue what I’m talking about,” she said boldly finding her strength at last, crossing her arms in anger and glaring at me.
“Jade, why would you think something like that?” I asked attempting to mask any emotion from coming through. My voice came across more harsh and unfeeling than I had hoped for. This wasn’t at all like I planned: she wasn’t supposed to know. I was just going to slip easily from her life and never return.
“You self centered son of a…” She stopped herself. Just like Jade to not utter a curse word in her highest fit of anger. She’d steal before she could curse; she used to tell me it was vulgar and unlady-like. “When were you going to leave, next week? Tomorrow?” She continued spitefully as every sentence overpowered me. I was the man here and I was the one who should be in control, only I was frozen, transfixed, distancing myself away from feeling anything that might stop my decision. I was merely thinking about abandoning her and the city, but she helped push me over the edge, as always, and made the decision final.
“Tonight, maybe,” I said, knowing well how much it would hurt her to hear the words. I didn’t care how much I hurt her at that moment; I wouldn’t have to face her ever again. I wanted to go now and not face any outburst from her but my legs were not in my power to command.
My comment had much effect on her. She gasped in surprise and sank into the chair, going pale. As I forced my feet to move toward the bedroom, she stopped me by sarcastically commenting, “Before or after dinner?”
I lost it then, letting out the anger I was desperately attempting to mask as indifference, “Damn it Jade! Why do you have to bring things up? Why do you have to pry? I was thinking about leaving and you press me and squeeze me and force me to act on it. It was a thought and now you have yourself to thank now that the ball is rolling. It’s no longer a choice now.” I spat out stabbing her like a thousand knives, her cringing at every moment. Seeing I had the upper hand, I continued: “You always want me to be honest. Brutal honesty is what you asked for isn’t it? Here it is honey! I don’t love you anymore. I can’t stand this hellhole we live in. I hate every single thing about my life, so I’m leaving! Is that honest enough for you?” I demanded towering over her all my anger boiling over.
She trembled, crying at my brutality, but stood up with solid stoicism and stared into my eyes, her strength not fully abandoning her. “What are you going to do? Go beg your mommy and daddy for your fortune back?” she challenged attempting to get me to explode. But I wouldn’t let her win. I held my anger back, grinding my teeth to do so, and simply walked away from her into the bedroom.
 “If it makes you feel better you can tell yourself that, but you know I won’t,” I muttered loud enough for her to hear me answer her challenge.
What do you pack in a time like this? I didn’t know, but I grabbed down my grubby brown suitcase, emptied my only dresser drawer into it, threw in my shoes and zipped it up, not taking time to fold anything, leaving behind toiletries, CD’s and a few personal items. I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing, but I knew I would never return to New York or home to Boston.
Unwillingly, I forced myself into the kitchen towards the front door. I tried not to look at her as she violently sobbed, her head resting on the table. Her fingers dug into and crumbled the paper towels. The tuna spun in the microwave, stinking up the room.
“Peyton,” she cried, the weakness in her voice made me look at her with pity. “Do you even care about what will happen to me?” She was so pitiful I almost put my bag down. My mind whirled thinking of postponing my leaving, or attempting to take her with me. But she knew I’d leave; the moment she brought it up she knew she had set it in stone. How could I back down now? I was only a step away from the freedom I was longing for.
“You’re a big girl Jade. You don’t need my money,” I said with conviction to show her I wouldn’t change my mind, while reiterating our last Christmas conversation. Over six months ago I had been happy and now my life was completely the opposite. She silently stared at the ground, so I went for the door…

I shot awake in bed sweaty and in a tangle of sheets, unaware of where I was. Then I lay back down sighing, remembering I was in the hotel, in Manhattan and relaxed. Tony still snored in the bed across the room. I got up and washed my face looking at myself in the mirror. Would this terrible feeling of guilt ever leave me? Would I continuously think of her and dream of her every time I thought of New York? When I had left, I forced myself to dispel her image and refused to let myself ever think or wonder about her. But, now, here, I was exploding with all the feelings I should have experienced then if I had let myself. Why did I come here? I had to do something about it. I had to end these suffering feelings, and I knew that meant I’d have to do what I dreaded most: confront Jade. Rena surely knew where she was. No matter how hard it would be I’d convince Rena to tell me. Five years after I left Jade, I still needed some form of closure. I couldn’t go on much more without knowing she was all right, that I didn’t ruin her life from leaving it. I walked back into the room and climbed into bed. It was still dark, but I felt sober so I must have had a few hours sleep, which was good considering I would not catch a wink the rest of the night. The image of my pale, chubby, bald, lifeless body on the sofa rotting and stinking up the room kept flittering into my mind all morning. I wasn’t even balding yet.
Just as I was instructed, I woke up the hungover Tony at noon, cleaned up, put my suit on, and aided my friend to the Courthouse like a good best man. As we waited outside the Justice of the Peace’s office, he became jittery, pacing the floor so much I thought he’d wear the carpet down to the creaky floorboards.
“You alright bud?” I asked him, putting my hand on his shoulder to stop him.
“Am I doing the right thing?” He asked me with the earnestness and innocence of a child afraid of disappointing me. His eyes pleaded me for advice and reassurance, needing help to make the decision that would affect the rest of his life.
“What do you mean? Of course you are. You and Rena have been together for ages now. It’s logical. Nothing has to change really. It's just a piece of paper, you know?” I urged him. “Funny coming from me being that she and I have never gotten along, but if I had something like you two have I would hang onto it forever. I know I haven’t been a great person or a friend to you at times, but trust me from someone who knows: don’t walk away. You’ll never forgive yourself. The regret will never leave you. ” I turned from him so he couldn’t see the dampness of my eyes. My own speech had gotten the better of me, and I fought that damn chicken bone in my throat that was attempting to make me lose it. I withheld my emotions and turned to him realizing my speech had served its purpose and Tony had lost his cold feet. His eyes were damp and he grabbed me and hugged me tightly, then let go, looking at me earnestly as if he had to tell me something important.
He looked at me with pain, sat down and said, “Peyton, before we go in there, there’s something I need to say…”
The doors flung open and Rena’s panic stricken sister came out interrupting, “Is everything alright? You were supposed to be in there already.”
“It’s my fault. I didn’t realize the time,” I blurted out to take the blame. She looked at me with disapproval; eyes that matched her sister’s and I knew Rena had already poisoned her mind against me. Rena’s sister didn’t leave until she saw we were on our way and the subject between Tony and I was dropped.
I ushered him in to where his bride was anxiously standing, and when they saw one another both of their anxiety slipped away, and smiled at greeting one another. Their deep affection was apparent, so lovestruck and nervous. I couldn’t imagine myself marrying or ever feeling as these two did about each other. I had become too emotionally devoid to all stimuli that love was most likely improbable for me.
The ceremony was short and to the point without any religious garble and I was relieved. Every moment in that room was suffocating. There was so much love between Tony and Rena that it almost hurt to see their happiness when I had none. But I was the maker of my own grief and I couldn’t blame anyone but myself for my lot in life. Jealousy, regret, and guilt filled up my empty heart and I drowned the feelings with as many drinks as I could at the reception held in their bar.
            After the party was in full swing, I made the decision, with my drunken confidence, to confront Rena about Jade. The guilt of leaving her was haunting me and I didn’t think it would ever go away until I saw she was doing well. Many hopes filled me up, not that I thought of trying to get her back. She was sure to have moved on and if not what reason could I give her to ever trust me again? With my inhibitions gone, my mind dabbled in all sorts of possibilities. So many happy thoughts filled my head that I knew I had to see her, and Rena was the only link.
            “Rena, I need to know where Jade is,” I said bluntly. She was beyond drunk and I was sure she would be of no help, but she managed to answer me. She turned with astonishment and looked at me oddly through bugged-out eyes. My question shocked her so greatly that I thought for a moment she’d faint.
            “What?” She looked at me if I was stupid but then her face sunk and she grabbed a napkin. “Here’s the address,” she said quietly handing it to me. She didn’t mention why Jade hadn’t appeared today, but I didn’t ask. Knowing Rena, and her judgmental temperament, I’m sure the two had a fall out.
            Rena looked at me gravely making me wonder why she was behaving so strange. Instead of asking, or waiting for one of her lectures, I walked away sure she was looking at me with disgust. I knew she would not want me to disturb Jade after jilting her at a time she needed me the most. I didn’t want to be scolded and told I was a dick for what I had done. I already knew I was, but there might be time for redemption.
I slipped out without saying goodbye to Tony and walked out the sunlight, my eyes needing a moment to adjust. I walked around aimlessly, debating whether I should go see Jade or abandon the quest and just hop on the train to Boston and forget her and the city forever. It had felt like a homecoming until I found out Jade wasn’t coming. Manhattan, my mother, had left me, changed forever in my eyes to a place of deep regret, festering guilt, and horrific memories. I shouldn’t have come back at all. New York had been a place for the past and I should have left it that way.
I loosened my tie and took a deep breath in to calm myself down, my heart beating fast with expectations. The sun began to set behind the skyscrapers, and I realized I had enough time to see her and still make the last train to Boston. I pulled the napkin out and peered down at it, a new nervousness spreading over me. The address was just outside the city; I could reach it in just over a half hour. I hailed a cab and climbed in handing the cabbie the napkin.
As I watched the city go by my tired body slumped into the seat, and despite my best efforts to stay awake I began to nod off. My alcohol buzz was long gone and I felt more exhausted than ever before…

“You’re a big girl Jade. You don’t need my money,” I said with conviction to show her I wouldn’t change my mind, while reiterating our last Christmas conversation. She silently stared at the ground, so I went for the door.
“You’d leave even if I was carrying your baby wouldn’t you?” She asked sadly. I stopped, letting go of the rusted handle.
“What are you talking about? You’re making things up to get me to stay,” I said making my voice seem much stronger than I felt. I was stunned; my heart skipped a beat, anticipating the worst thing possible. If she was… I couldn't bear to bring a baby into this life.  I would rather die than to see it happen. My child in this world, this city, this life I so desperately hated, it seemed a brutal cruelty I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
“It’s the last bit of truth I have to get you to stay,” She said with numbed grief. She was speaking almost inaudibly, her eyes downcast, staring at a cockroach scurrying across the floor.
I stood unable to say a word with that damn chicken bone clogging up my throat, not letting me speak. I couldn’t breath and my hands shook violently from my nerves, as I grasped the cold brass doorknob. Finally, after a full minute’s silence I dared to look back over my shoulder and match my gaze with hers. Instantly, her eyes betrayed the truth: she was pregnant. With a simple wounded puppy dog look she begged me to stay. I sighed with exasperation and stared at the rusty old doorknob, now the symbol to my freedom. The four locks on the door reminded me how bad of a place this shit hole would be to raise a kid. It was the prison from which I was trying to escape. The financial difficulties, the fact the child would be unwanted and unloved by me…. I squashed the roach under my foot, and  the sudden action made Jade flinch.
I found my hand had turned the knob already before my mind made the decision to do so. It was so hot in the stuffy room and it stunk like fish, as the walls began to tighten around me. I couldn’t handle feeling like a trapped animal and I had to get out or I’d pass out. The chicken bone grew bigger, blocking my voice, blocking my ability to breath, and I thought I might faint. I needed fresh air.
I opened the door wide, slipped out being sure not to look back and closed it behind me. Jade wailed in agony inside, making me flinch as she had only a moment ago for the innocent roach. I stopped for one moment, my eyes tearing up, blinding me, contemplating if I should keep going or turn back. But I had gone this far and the hardest part was over. I moved one foot in front of the other and then I raced down the steps two at a time and busted out the main door and ran another block out of sight. I fell to my knees on the hard pavement, not caring about the pain, as I gasped for air. After finding my breath and wiping the tears away I stood up and continued walking. I had no idea where I was going to go, but I knew that it wasn’t where I just came from…    

I awoke in the cab as it wound around the streets, making a good pace, which told me we were out of the city. I tried to diminish the horrible memories from my head by filling my thoughts with hopes and aspirations for the future. I wondered again how Jade was doing, well it seemed to afford life in the suburbs. My mind whirled about the future, not that I believed Jade and I would ever be together again. I was sure she was probably married or almost there, but I wondered about my child. I wondered if it was a boy or girl and if he or she looked at all like me. The child would be about four years old now. Would I have any rights to see it? The cab drove by an attorney’s office and I wondered if I should tell the cabbie to stop and find out. No, I needed to take things slower, one step at a time. I was getting way too ahead of myself. I took a deep breath and exhaled. However, it did not calm down my anxious heart.
 The cab slowed to a stop and I paid him for the long journey and groggily climbed out of the car. I was hoping I’d make it back for the last train to Boston, but if not it didn’t matter. Seeing only a long expanse of woods in front of me I turned around to see a large wrought iron gate connected to a stone wall, with the words “Neville Park Cemetery” above it.
“This is a graveyard,” I exclaimed to the driver in confusion. He must have stopped at the wrong place, unless Rena’s memory failed her and she wrote down the wrong house number.
“That’s the address you gave me. You wanna go somewhere else buddy?” He asked me. I looked at the napkin with Jade’s address on it, marked with Rena’s own handwriting. The plaque on the wall matched the exact address given. Was this some kind of joke? Why would Rena give me this address, unless… no they’d tell me if… I didn’t want to think that. This was a mistake of some sort, and as I looked up and down the street and saw no residential dwellings, I realized it was not a mistake.
“Hey buddy, you want me to take you back?” The cab driver pressed me for an answer his voice annoyed at my indecisiveness. My mind swirled trying to find excuses to make this all wrong; I needed it to be a mistake. I scanned the road again, desperate to find a house or an apartment building, but all that met my eyes was woods and a long expanse of wrought iron fencing and stone.
“No, thank you,” I managed to say, as the truth was falling on my shoulders like a ton of bricks. The cab drove off leaving me in a cloud of gravel dust. As the dust cleared, my mind was far from clear. I walked numbly through the gate staring at the address willing it to change. I looked up to see a large stretch of tombstones that lined the hills that stretched before me. The place was desolate, but beautiful with blooming trees, fountains and carved marble crypts. It was as if they tried to compensate, making the place so beautiful when the most depressing moments of one’s life must take place here.
Unsure of where to go next, I flipped over the little paper several times till I noticed a little scribble on the bottom of it that read “106 C,” which I had previously dismissed as an apartment number. 106 C? I looked at the tombstones to my left and right and realized there were signs of labeled sections to guide you, 106 must be the plot number in sector C.
With nervousness crawling over my skin, I took a stroll through the winding path, over a hill and through some trees approaching the section of graves I was in search of. The chance of it all being a horrible mistake still gave me a shred of hope, clashing violently with my anxious uneasiness. I was terrified, unable to think about what I might find, but drawn to know the truth to why Rena sent me here. How did Jade die and was it before of after the baby? Why hadn’t I asked Rena about the baby? Why hadn’t I asked Tony? He would have told me the truth instead of playing a wicked trick like his wife had played on me. Then I remembered before his wedding he was trying to tell me something serious. He was trying to tell me and like a fool I asked his cold wife instead.
I cursed myself for being so foolish as I entered sector C and took the winding path down the hill glancing at the iron poles that held the signs telling you what span of plots were in each row. It hit me hard that I was nearly there. A wave of anxiety rippled through my body, my heart beat fast in dreadful anticipation.
The blood drained from my face making me feel dizzy, when I realized I was staring at the sign was for plots marked 100-135, the grave only a few steps down the row. Time seemed to slow down to almost a stop as I forced my feet to walk down the isle of tombstones, being careful not to step over where I thought the bodies were laying below. All I could hear was my own heart pounding, my breath coming quick. I felt everything closing in on me despite being out in the open. The tombstones and the trees where reaching in to grab me, pressing closer to me. Frozen in horror, I stood most likely now right in front of the grave I was seeking. All I had to do was look down, but a sudden anxiety overwhelmed me making me immobile.
Chills went up and down my spine and my stomach flopped as if the ground dropped out from under me. I was unable to look down at the tombstones in front of me, too close to finding out my worst fears. I paused believing I was actually going to be sick, as the bile boiled up into my chest making me dry heave. I gasped for air leaning on a tombstone for support as my knees shook, clanking together. I couldn’t control my own body’s ramblings. I could hardly breath, the infamous chicken bone stretching in my throat. I looked down realizing I was standing over someone’s grave, six feet over some rotting corpse. I took a step back almost losing my balance as my vision blurred. I rubbed my eyes and looked at the tombstone, which read “Jade Marie Howard and child.” The girl and baby I jilted, that lived only in my hopeful imagination, lay six feet beneath me.
The dreams I had earlier today vanished into nothingness. I felt my gorge spasm and the world began to spin into dizziness before I could see the date she died. I couldn’t focus my eyes on anything. I knew the horror of it all still had to sink in, a new horror worse than any I ever imagined before. My knees could no longer hold and I felt my body sink towards the ground. Then, before I knew it was happening, the world faded to black. As I slipped away into the obsidian darkness I knew when I woke up nothing would ever be the same.