Things Only Get Weirder From Here (For Both of Us)

Double Digits. Oh boy. You’re ten years old and that means that you aren’t a baby, you aren’t a child, and you’re not even my little boy anymore. You are – *cringe* – a pre-teen. And that means one thing: puberty is coming.

Yes, Mom just said that word. No, I don’t like it either.

Things only get weirder from here, for both of us, I’m afraid. Here’s a list of all the things that we used to think were weird and uncomfortable that will become our new normal. Like I said, this bodes true for both of us.


  1. Yep, we have to talk about what you smell like because it’s not good, bud. I know what your dad smells like, and, honestly, that is also not my favorite thing either. Use that deodorant I put on your desk with the cologne you got for Christmas every day. (Nope, I’m not kidding, every single day. Sometimes twice. Maybe more because you play sports, kiddo).

 

  1. You think the hair on your elbow is annoying, wait until it’s growing in other places. I don’t want to say where but judging by the way you just glanced down and asked me “Not everywhere, right?” I have a feeling that we’re going to have to talk about it just a little. Yes, it does grow EVERYWHERE on EVERYONE. Let’s switch topics, yeah?

 

  1. Please don’t put your hands in your pants in front of other people. I don’t care the reason why you did it, please stop telling me, just don’t do it. Yeah? Yeah. Good. Moving on.

 

  1. If you hear a word and you think you know what it means, maybe ask your dad or me first? Because sometimes you use grown up words that you heard at school and you use them incorrectly (or just use them, some of those things you shouldn’t be saying AT ALL, just so you know). I promise that we’ll explain these things to you no matter how uncomfortable it is because we don’t want you to use those words somewhere else and get in trouble or be embarrassed because you understand.

 

  1. Let’s not move our hips that way at people. You don’t need to know why, okay, just don’t do it because you’re way too young to know what that means – but some of your friends probably do already, and let’s just avoid all of the awkward rumors and confrontations that will result from that continued movement. I promise this is for the best. No, I’m really not going to explain it right now, so drop it.

 

  1. Dad already ruined the gross surprise about where babies come from. Let’s just leave it at that for now. You’ll be getting that talk in about six months at school and they’re way more qualified to give you the medical information than we are – if you have questions afterwards, then we’ll sit down and have that chat as a family unit. Probably with some cake so we at least have something to distract us from how uncomfortable it is to be discussing all of that stuff.

 

  1. I know everyone used to joke about having boyfriends or girlfriends when you were little – but that’s not a joke anymore. You are not allowed to have boyfriends or girlfriends at this age now because of all of the new puberty stuff that’ll be happening. We definitely would prefer if you waited to date people until you’re fifteen, yeah? Dating has so many implications and, right now, we just need to get over the pre-teen hurdle. Yes, you – me – and dad. All three of us need to make it to thirteen first. We will revisit the topic then.

 

  1. Sometimes we will have to talk about private things and, trust me, nobody wants to do that except your doctor. We want to be on an ‘as-needed’ basis for information like that, but also – don’t be embarrassed to let us know if you’re worried about something. We will be too – and we will get you to the doctor so that he can have that weird conversation with you instead.

 

  1. Your emotions will make no sense. I mean, really, they have never made sense because children have weird emotional reactions to literally everything. But pre-teens and teenagers move through those emotions so quickly… We won’t be able to keep up. We’re trying. We know it’s just as bad for you. I know you don’t believe me now, but remember when you cried because we asked you to stop chewing on your eraser? Lots more of that kind of stuff to come, my dude.

 

  1. Everyone thinks that they are ugly, or fat, or gross during puberty – but it’s not your job to decide that for other people or yourself. You are a great person just the way you are, even as your body starts changing from a child’s body into a young adult’s body. You are wonderful, fantastic, beautiful, amazing! Your brain will try to make you think you’re less than because sometimes that’s just how the brain works during puberty (What a gross word, blech), but you’re not. Dad and I will always be here when you’re feeling down about something – even if it’s something none of us really want to talk about. We will listen because we love you.

Pre-teen years are going to be crazy, but not more than the upcoming teenager years – when you’ll be spending the night with friends all weekend, going to dances and parties for school, learning to drive, and getting a job. You’ve done all of your growing up and now it’s time for your maturing. The first adventure in our life is done.

Things only get weirder from here, for both of us, but someday – you’ll be glad for this list. I hope that being able to talk about the weird, gross, and awkward things will keep our relationship as mother, father, and son strong. We are always on your side.

No matter what that side smells like… 😉

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Not Much Longer

Author’s Note:   This short piece was meant to follow the ABDCE structure of plot development. (Action, Background, Development, Climax, Ending). I don’t know that I totally aced the objective, but I touched up the original draft and wanted to share it today as a way to keep myself lamely active. May you read and enjoy.


 

Brianna’s husband had missed work again, so she made him yet another doctor’s appointment. His many ailments have meant constant visits to the office for years. Another wife might have announced her unhappiness, but she rarely complained of any inconvenience when shuffling him across town and back regularly.

Upon arrival, Brianna immediately departed from her husband, off to his favorite seat in the dusty corner with no windows. Silently, she’d considered how befitting his choice was and how it reflected how she felt about him most days. Focused on the front desk, Brianna found a beautiful nurse borrowing the reception computer. “Yes,” she said without looking up.

Brianna slid the check-in clipboard into her chest and whispered through a smirk; “We still on for tonight?” The nurse cocked a brow, sneering at the screen. After a deliberate pause she calmly declined.

“You need to take care him. He’s your husband.”

“Not for much longer,” the wife declared. When she pushed the clipboard back, there was a business card tucked beneath the clip. The nurse took the clipboard and said something about letting the receptionist know when she returned. Brianna carried herself to the corner where her husband sat with his chin in his chest. It was silly to complain about her sorrow to anyone could listen because only she has the power to make a change.

He’s your husband, she had said to Brianna. A laugh parted her lips. Not for much longer.

Disappearing

Author’s Note: The assignment for this story was originally intended for the writer’s to craft a piece in which the main character expected to die in twenty-four hours. This assignment was meant to build a character with wants, desires, and needs – things that might rise to the surface in a time of great stress. I challenged this idea by being mellow, and sort of showing the pain of depression pre-existing the diagnosis. While I do not feel the content needs a trigger warning, if you are sensitive to the topic of death or loss, I urge that you choose to not read any further.


It was forty years ago when I began to truly accept that my blindness was completely out of my control and turned that frustration into something productive. I didn’t just adapt to rely on my other sense but actually focused all of my energy them as my outlet. At a young age, I had realized I had a strong sense of smell, and started playing games with my friends to see how accurately I could guess something by its scent alone. As I got older and this became boring and childish, I started pairing the scents of my shampoo and lotion. After that, I started mixing perfumes, and soon I became passionate about fragrance as a whole.

Creating perfume is a delicate and tedious process, though everyone told me it was little more than a silly hobby to pass my time. My abuela harassed me for putting any of my time towards making original scents.

“Stop daydreaming, nieta!”

However, in spite of her harassment, I sold my first formula at seventeen for a relatively small fortune. It was the beginning of what I used to think was a good life.

My formula was run for a limited time, only five hundred or so bottles were sold, but I was never offered one to save as a keepsake. I suppose in the ignorance of my youth I hadn’t cared, thinking that because I had memorized the recipe it was basically the same as having a bottle of it. I could easily recreate it for myself at a much cheaper price, and it would be an unlimited quantity as well. As I understand it, however, two of the bottles are in a museum in Barcelona.

I can’t believe I am thinking of this after so many years.

My grandmother passed away shortly after I was hired to create fragrances overseas when I was my early twenties. I had dropped out of college and she was very angry with me, though she had said that she was more afraid that I would succeed than that I would fail. “It will take you away from me, nieta, and I may forget your face.” I had been fortunate that I was home visiting her when she fell so ill. But the pang of her loss drove me to work harder, work longer, and create a life that I thought I had wanted so badly when I was younger.

But since then, I have been utterly alone. Nothing belongs to me except for my perfume legacy, though I recently took a step away from the corporate life, hoping to work less and enjoy more. My days are often spent playing piano and listening to books written by famous acquaintances that hired my company to create their signature scents.

I’ve been asking myself: Is the piano not mine? Is the condo not mine? Is the legacy of my business not mine? It is true that I own these things but what I want to have is not something than can be seen. I want for something that I can feel. I do not want to feel so lonely. I do not want to die with nothing, with no one.

I know this is why I am waiting for a plane to Barcelona. I want to see if I can plead with the museum to let me purchase this one thing that I know belongs to me. It represents who I was in my youth; it represents where I have come from in my life. More than anything, however, it is my last connection to mi dulce abuela.

More times than I can count, I would sit in the garden while she preened her precious plants, unable to trust that I could be inside on my own. The recipe I had sold was fashioned to gain her approval – to embody her and show that the art of fragrance was not just a silly hobby that took my time away from something she thought was more important.

A sigh escapes my lips, tears trying to leave my eyes but freezing along my lids. Ice fills my veins and I’m left cold as I remember my fate. Last week, I met with a specialist who gave me a death sentence, more or less. In the days that have followed, I have begun reflect so intently upon my life.

People begin shifting around me, there’s something about the way the air moves that I can feel it on the back of my neck, and their shuffling almost distracts me form realizing the vibration is my phone. The pattern is unique and this is how I usually confirm that it is my phone ringing without feeling it. My assistant has gone to get coffee while we wait for the plane but she left my phone in a front pocket so that I could answer if the need arose. I’ll have to check what she gets paid and give her a raise for how good she is to me.

“I am looking to speak with Margarida de Luna. Is she available?” The gentleman seems out of breath, but I still recognize his voice. This is one of the other specialists from the hospital. After I affirm my identity comfortably, he rushes into his reason for calling. “The doctor made a mistake and asked me to call you.”

The doctor has made a mistake, I question him, but only because it feels as if this is the right thing to do. My instinct is to ask how he has made a mistake. Doctors train for a decade, if not more, in their chosen fields. How is it possible that he has made a mistake after doing this job for thirty years in addition to his study? I am offended that he is wrong but I listen to his explanation, because, no matter how frantic I feel, people do make mistakes.

A printing error – something that is fairly common in the machinery used for the type of scan ordered. The doctor had asked his co-workers for second opinions, noticing after my appointment when trying to prescribe a treatment plan, that various details seemed to conflict with one another. One of the other specialists was familiar with the error and pulled up old files where the same thing had occurred with his patients, essentially confirming that there was no illness to fear in my case.

I should be elated to hear that my life is not, in fact, waning as rapidly as I’d been told only days ago. A disappearing mass, and a disappearing stress, but one thing came with the diagnosis that remains: my bitter anticipation.

I guess, for now, I’ll live yet another lonely day.

My Late Best Friend

Trigger Warnings: References to suicide, references to rape


Standing off to the side of the stage, I can see the entirety of the class. There are opening remarks and awkward pauses as principals and board members get emotional over the graduation ceremony about to take place. Meanwhile, I’m stony and cold with a low rumbling rage. I know every single pretty faced teenager sitting in their shiny black chairs, caps and gowns hiding their fancy clothes. But they can’t hide the elephant in the room… They can’t hide the fact that one of their classmates is missing.

Jessica Langston. My best friend.

Jessica Langston.

My late best friend.

A month ago, I remember stepping out of my house in pajamas, the morning air nipping at the exposed skin on my arms. I was confused by the presence of officers in my driveway and had raced down to meet them. A solemn recognition burrowed into my heart the instant they welcomed me with condolences. Nightmares that had been plaguing me for weeks came to fruition via the single bullet Jessica put through her brain the night before, leaving me with a memory that still causes me to grind my teeth in irritation.

Jessica was supposed to be on a suicide watch. I had reported my concerns to teachers and school counselors. I begged her other friends to make reports of any unusual behavior. Without a doubt, she was a danger to her self. I regularly checked in on Jessica to ensure her safety, but the girls always joked that she was only in trouble if she was ‘with the boys.’ This, of course, was a cruel joke. They always made sure that they said it loudly enough for everyone in the hallway to hear. I often left those conversations physically ill, though violently upset as well.

Before Jessica killed herself, I was her only remaining friend. Nobody else wanted to be seen with her after she reported the rape. Gazes that had once been envious burned black with jealousy; though, if they new the pain she was in – none of them would want for her life. Each person condemned her to Hell for her ‘sins,’ many of her bullies genuinely impious themselves; all the while her rapist has since been hailed as a king. It was a ‘sexual feat’ for him to bed the valedictorian.

What a feat – raping someone.

Adam fucking Addison.

He’s sitting right in the front, and I have to try really hard not to spit at him when I’m invited to join the principal onstage. Jessica was supposed to make her speech today but instead its me. She had wanted me to have a copy on the off chance that I was invited to honor her memory. Little did I know back then that it would come to fruition. I really didn’t want to do this but I feel that nobody else deserves to do it, either.

I catch a glimpse of the Langstons standing side-by-side in the crowd as a moment of silence is called in Jessica’s name. There’s no mention of her suicide, which shouldn’t surprise me, but it does. Anger has a way of eating through the reserves of common sense that we, as a sentient people, should have, and instead of redirecting it – I allow it fester. I’m going to need the adrenaline rush for the delivery of what, I believe, is going to be a very – memorable – speech.

While their heads are down, my chin is held high. I resist smirking at the false faith pandering through the crowd. If there truly is an afterlife, Jessica is scoffing at these scoundrels for their fake sympathy. Before her passing, she harbored immeasurable contempt for the hypocritical hatred borne from their religious regime. The devotees of her old faith betrayed her, essentially shepherding her to her grave. I scold each and every blasphemous fool before me.

And then Assistant Principal Masters denotes some of my lame accomplishments, though they are quite ordinary in comparison to Jessica’s incredible high school career. A few weak claps come as I slide up to the podium and prepare myself to become the voice of the voiceless. But I’m more than that…

Today, I am the voice of the dead.

“Good Evening, Barrington Heights, my name is Eli Chase – and I’m here because I was asked.” Faces are contorting at my verbal ambivalence, though I am sure that my own expression is quite the opposite. Dark amusement prickles along the back of my neck, anger seething beneath that in every layer of skin.

Murmurs are dying down, so it seems appropriate for me to continue. These people don’t know it, and they never will, but what I’m going to say is far less scathing that what Jessica could have been saying if she were here.

“I’m not going to say the words that she should’ve been here to share. I don’t stand here because I deserve it. I am here because I was the only person on Jessica’s side the day that she died.” Instantaneously, there are insults flying from the crowd. People who didn’t even know her now protest against me from the bleachers. The principal shuffles, I can see it in my peripheral vision, but he doesn’t come all the way to the podium yet. I point out at everyone, moving my arm around to gesture to every person who could be at fault for the events that have transpired.

“In the aftermath of Jessica’s suicide, we must all be reminded that terrible things do happen to people our age. We will be challenged in the years that come after high school, and we will come to live through the lowest lows of our entire lives,” I speak, hoping that my classmates with find clarity in what I’m saying. “How we choose to deal with those events will define out entire future. Remember exactly how great it feels to succeed today, because I can promise you that there is nothing more rewarding that proving what you are worth to the people who despise you, who judge you.”

The principal approaches me now, placing a hand against my shoulder blade, silently urging me to step away. I refuse to do this, though, because I’ve not said my piece. I will only leave once I’ve told everyone what I think they need to hear. “Finding your stride isn’t easy, and neither is keeping it.”

Despite how positive my message is, and the temporary calm amongst the crowd, I still hear the dissenting voices of Jessica’s bullies damning me for my audacity to speak out. They would have me stay silent and pretend that they’ve done nothing wrong. This is when the principal urges me to please step off the stage. Scoffing, I choose to disobey.

“Today when you stand up, throwing your hats in celebration of this milestone in your life, remember that Jessica isn’t here to share in your joy. She was raped and abused by people standing next to you right now. Not every smiling face smiles for you; not every ally is standing next to you; and not every friend means well by you. Sometimes – more often than we’d like to think – we must be our own heroes.” On that note, I shove past the principal, swearing at him for his willful ignorance, and strip my graduation garb to the ground. I don’t care if I leave it behind because the second I slip through the emergency exit, I’m climbing into my illegally parked car and running away.

All that’s left now is to drive as far away as possible, as fast as possible.

I Remember

Author’s Note: Before you begin reading this story, I want to let you know that this story does address some “hot button” issues. While I may not agree with the term, I feel that a warning is necessary. This piece discusses bisexuality, pre-marital sex, and abortion. It is a fiction piece, written originally for the Creative Writing Specialization course on plot. The assignment was to craft a story in which a character was faced with a terrible hardship and show how they overcame it. I urge you to only read this piece if you feel that it will not cause you emotional distress. Thank you. Please Read & Enjoy.


 

Nadine,

I remember how heavy that stick felt in my hands, painful awareness having washed over my entire body. Even now, ten years later, the broken pieces of that memory are hard to swallow. Those five minutes seemed to move so slowly that time almost went backwards. Misery dripped from every pore in my body as I sat hunched over and pressed against the side of the bathtub. My head ached from grinding my teeth. The wait was unbearable.

But I also remember how you were in the dorm room next to mine, and how you promised that you were only a text away if I needed you. I didn’t have to tell you I was taking a pregnancy test that afternoon because you knew. Our cycles overlapped and when I missed mine, it was obvious. All of it was made more stressful by the fact that I’d broken up with my boyfriend three weeks before then. You didn’t want to suffocate me because you knew I could do it all on my own.

I kept a picture of you on my phone. One of the first times you’d stayed overnight in my dorm when we watched that B-rate horror movie about the ghostly puffer fish haunting the aquarium. I took a picture of you furiously typing your review as you insulted the terrible acting and cheesy dialogue. You were so beautiful. Even though you hated the picture because the computer made you look so pale and sickly, I loved it because your eyes showed how passionate and focused you are – and, damn, you look good when you’re working.

I remember how, at least at the time, I thought you were just a temporary muse. I’d never dated a woman before and I’d just come out of a relationship with a guy who I’d only dated because of our physical attraction to each other. It wasn’t fair to you but things worked for us, I think, and it never came up about what we were or weren’t supposed to be. It was great. There was no pressure to identify myself as bisexual, but there was no restriction to how we’d spend our time together. I’m glad that that never changed.

The pregnancy test revealed a second line that night. I couldn’t even form a full message on my phone. I could only manage a letter or two but you understood what that meant. You had been waiting outside my dorm and burst in the second you got the message. I was already doubled over, crying into my nasty bathroom rug, which you never made a joke about even though it would’ve been so easy to do. As my body shook, you held me and told me that you’d be there no matter what I needed from you… which made me cry more because I didn’t feel like I deserved it.

When I calmed down, you reminded me that I could call Bradley about the pregnancy only if I wanted. He was the other biological half of the cells clustered in my womb. Careful not to use words like ‘mother’ and ‘father’ when addressing what I should do next, I was mostly glad you didn’t ever once call it a ‘baby.’

I never did call Bradley, either, because it wasn’t his body so it wasn’t his business. If he wanted a child, and I doubted he did with the way he partied, then he could figure that out with someone who wanted that kind of life. As for me, there’s no way that I was ready to be responsible for another person’s life.

I knew I wanted an abortion but I never got the courage to call a doctor for an appointment. I skipped class for a week. I skipped practically every meal every day. I skipped showers. Somewhere in my head I’d convinced myself that poor hygiene, diet, and sleep routines would force my body to reject the pregnancy. My thinking was that if that happened, then I could pretend that I didn’t make any decisions. Thankfully, you snapped me out of my stupor by making the appointment for me and dragging me down to the office very early on a Friday morning that you should’ve been in class taking a test.

I remember how we lied about you being my stepsister, just so that the staff didn’t have to feel racist if they questioned it. Your complexion is golden and crisp, and so light compared to your perfectly flat black hair that rested on your shoulders. You haven’t kept it that long since college, have you? And then there was me, skin as dark and rich as the soil from those potted plants you keep growing on the back porch. Stepsisters. It was the only way we could convince them to let you come back with me.

They insisted on an ultrasound, and you held my hand so tight as I flinched when the cold gel hit my pelvis. They estimated that I was probably about five or six weeks, and then I was told to clean up. Very quickly we were ushered into a different room where we were sat at a desk with an obstetrician. He rattled off various options for me: low-income family programs, day care options for teen mothers, and even housing options for single mothers going to school. My jaw hung from my mouth in shock.

You shook your head. I remember it so vividly because you laughed too. There was a silent questioning but nobody spoke. That was my cue to speak up. How else would the matter get resolved if I didn’t vocalize what I’d actually gone there for? I stared into my hands and, with my quietest voice, asked: what if I want an abortion?

I swore that you were going to jump the table and punch him. He rolled his eyes and literally tossed a pamphlet at us about the dangers of an abortion, spouting off some other lazy scare tactics to make me reconsider. You flipped him off as we stood up, telling him we’d be scheduling the visit at the front desk. Honestly, I doubt he’s forgotten about it.

You made the appointment for me, again, because I could barely speak. The receptionist seemed to understand and was far less judgmental than the doctor. She even said that there was a better doctor for the procedure and scheduled us at one of the other campuses in town. You expressed your thanks, I whispered mine, and we escaped to your car as quickly as we could.

I remember how I gawked at you the whole drive back to school. You sang to your favorite songs on the radio and complained about the opinions of callers. Sometimes you’d turn the volume way down to ask me what I wanted to eat and what I wanted to do – and I just wanted to eat pizza and watch B-rate horror movies – just like we’d always done. You were so happy to oblige.

You don’t know it, but I decided in the car that day that you were much more than a muse, my first ‘girl’ fling to ease me into the true nature of my sexuality. Nobody had been kinder to me than you had, and nobody had ever put me first the way that you did – not once. Even if you didn’t love me then, I loved you. I loved you so much that when you asked me what I was thinking when we parked the car that I had to lie about what was on my mind.

I said, “a ghostly puffer fish haunting an aquarium,” with a smile.

But what I was really thinking was this:

Will you marry me, Nadine?

You see, this letter was never supposed to be about digging up old, dark memories. This was never a story about the abortion I had when I was nineteen. That was just a small event that pushed us together so that we could become the successful women we are today. This letter was all about how I knew that you were the right woman for me – the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.

So – what are you thinking?

 

Love always,

Violet

Never Stood A Chance

Author’s Note: I like to use a little website known as Coursera, auditing classes for free with my equally poor friends who love writing as much as I do. With my best friend in tow, I did 4 out of the 5 Creative Writing Specialization courses available. This is a piece I wrote for the Craft of Character course. I’ve edited it and given it a couple of polishes so that I may post and share it here today. Please read & enjoy.


Anxiety and self-doubt course through her veins, threatening to rebel against her plans. Once they arrive in the park, and she’s raced past the playground equipment, she saddles up to a group of girls she’s never met before, though she’s seen them in the past. They look awkwardly at her and smile, but he can’t see that from where he’s at in the lot, so she takes a deep breath. This is her only chance.

“I think I’m in danger and need to get to the police station. Can I join you for your run so he doesn’t try to follow me?” Really able to look them over now, she sees that they’re a bit older than her. Perhaps it will go unnoticed? She has to try and she has to hope. Thankfully, they all nod in agreement, waving lazily at the parking lot for extra measure. Turning to wave herself, she indicates that he can return in three hours with her fingers. When he starts driving off everything becomes less tense.

“What’s your name,” someone from the group asks as she bends to tighten her laces. She is more comfortable with them than she’s been at home for several days, so she doesn’t try to lie. “Kyla. My name is Kyla Walton.”

A minute or two passes by before someone questions why she needs to get to the police, what sort of danger she might be in, but Kyla has to pause and breathe before she can get the words out. “My mom has gone missing and my dad refuses to report it. I’m scared that there’s a reason he won’t make the call.”

Tears sting her eyes but she refuses to let them spill. All of the women look upon her with wide eyes, some of them not even surprised by the suggestion she’s making. Each of them were been raised to be cautious, men more their predators than the animals lurking between the trees on the trail. Kyla’s fear is understood and they agree to get her to the police station safely. It doesn’t seem as thought much time has gone by before she’s standing on the stairs – alone. Kyla didn’t want them to be seen and insisted that she get there from the trail on her own. What if her dad were following her? What if he somehow knew her intentions and had been waiting at the station?

Her mother has been missing for over a week, and her father keep saying that it’s for work. She would never need to do that, not with her current job. When she pointed this out her dad was very angry and said that he’d been hoping to wait, but that her mom took a new job. Everything about his explanations felt wrong. All Kyla wants is to know what would’ve taken her mom out of town for so long without contact. It wasn’t like she’d gone to a different country where she couldn’t contact her daughter. Knowing that everything she’s been told so far is illogical, Kyla propels herself forward and into the station.

The receptionist doesn’t looking up from her computer, simply asking what the visitor needs. Kyla figures that this woman has seen it all, heard it all, and probably can move through her office, without even opening her eyes and still do her job to perfectly. She sighs, and then states her purpose. “I would like to report a missing person.”

Proving Kyle right, the woman behind the desk doesn’t even bat an eye. “Is the missing person an adult or a minor, ma’am?”

“Adult. It’s my mom, actually. She’s been missing for, like, nine days and I don’t think I’m safe with my dad.” She knew this would grab the woman’s attention, and is comforted when the lady shifts her focus from the computer to Kyla. She can see now that this is not just another non-issue passing through. Pulling out a pen from her drawer and a file folder, she asks Kyla to wait just a moment.

Moments later, two officers come to the lobby and invite her to come back into one of their conference rooms. Soon they are seated a very large table, probably used for team meetings. “I’m Detective Thompson. In order to help you, I’m going to have to ask a few questions, okay? Do you feel comfortable doing that for me?”

Kyla tells them how old she is, fifteen, and how long her mother has been missing, eight days. They ask for her address, phone number, closest relatives besides her dad, and a variety of other information that she knows must be fore Child Protective Services. Scared as she feels, Kyla doesn’t resist. She has to be strong for her mom.

“Thank you,” Detective Thompson says very loudly, a hint of weariness in her voice. Kyla nods gently and really looks at the detective’s face. Her skin is fair, though it’s ashen somehow, as if she spends far too much time inside in the dark. Instinctively, she wonders if this woman works late nights, or even only nights. As tired as she seems, Kyla guesses that it’s just late nights and very long hours.

Then she speaks again, “We have to ask a lot of questions, okay, and I know some of them will sound offensive but we have to know. First, I need to ask questions about your mom. Is that alright with you?” Kyla doesn’t appreciate that she’s being spoken to like a very young child when she’s closer to adulthood than her toddler years. However, how often does a minor come in to report a missing parent? How often does a minor come in need of protection from his or her own parents? Kyla is sure they’ll take her seriously; in fact, she’s counting on it.

“Yes, that’s fine,” she says, preparing for the onslaught.

Do you live with just your mother? Does your father know that she is missing? Does your mother have a history of going missing? Does your mother have a history of drug or alcohol abuse? Does your mother have a history of depression? Did your mother have suicidal thoughts? Where was she working at the time of her disappearance? What was her position?

            It goes on, and on, and on, and on…

Detective Thompson wants to take a break from the questions. She says they’re tiresome and restrictive, in a way. Instead Kyla is asked to explain why she doesn’t feel safe with her dad. What makes her feel that way?

“Wouldn’t you find it really weird if someone in your family didn’t report you missing?” Kyla says, explaining that whenever she asks about where her mom has gone, all her dad says is that she’s travelling for work. “She’s never done that. She just does the cleaning for a doctor’s office. Her boss only has one practice. Why would she travel? Dad swears she has a new job but this is the only job she’s ever had. Why change it now? Why would he lie if he didn’t have a reason to?”

Detective Thompson asks Kyla to stay at the station for a few hours, if it would make her feel safer, and promises that they’ll make some calls to see if they can get more information. Is it not enough to say that she doesn’t feel safe? Kyla didn’t really think about the consequences if they decide her father is innocent.

Suddenly, the anxiety and self-doubt from barely an hour ago come flooding back through her veins again. Kyla has to sit around waiting to learn her fate. It makes her wonder if she is doing the right thing, or if she never stood a chance.

My Opinion On: Trigger Warnings & Literature

I have a feeling that if you’re reading this and you don’t write fanfiction, you probably don’t fully understand what trigger warnings are and how they work. So – let me explain the culture of the ‘Trigger Warning.’

 


 

In fanfiction, authors started used trigger warnings somewhat recently, right? I have been published fanfiction online and reading it for 11 long years now, and I don’t think I personally saw trigger warnings in use until about 5 years ago. I didn’t question it, of course, because I have depression – I have anxiety – I have been sexually harassed and assaulted throughout my life. Rape, self-harm, mental illness – these topics are hard for me to read. I never truly know what will send me into a mental breakdown spiral until I’ve come across it.

And as I write this, I’m finding articles discussing the culture of the “Trigger Warning” in writing around the 2014-2015 time frame. These things feel very new, right? It feels like “political correctness” to many people – even authors – and to be seen as a bad thing. As a writer myself, I’m not sure I agree with the political correctness bit, but I can see why authors would describe this as a bad thing. Right – because – spoilers?

I imagine just about everyone reading this blog is probably familiar with Harry Potter, so I highly doubt that there’s really in any spoiler in saying that Hermione Granger gets tortured in the last book by Bellatrix Lestrange. This is technically triggering content. If I’m writing a fanfiction about someone, say Hermione Granger, being tortured by Bellatrix Lestrange, I have to tag that. Not because it’s the right thing to do (it is, honestly) but also because it’s the guideline of the fanfiction service/database I’m utilizing. I could actually be reported for not disclosing torture as a potential trigger for readers.

As an author, though, how would you feel selling your book and putting on the first page with your book title this: “Warning to Readers: This book will describe in detail the torture and abuse of a main character for several pages in Chapter 23.” That gives an absurd amount of information to the reader before the even official crack open the text. That is not a good feeling.

I think about the books I write and how they do have triggering content, even for me, and I don’t ever stop thinking about where I would put my trigger warning. This book contains mention and descriptions of rape. This book addresses self-harm. This book attacks religious views and counters the belief system of Christianity. This book discusses teenage sexual intercourse and the effect of different choices.

And then I think about the book I’ve just read: Turtles All The Way Down.

That book is why why I’m writing this, actually, because I had mental breakdown after mental breakdown while reading it.

Now I won’t spoil the book – but something you learn within the first few pages is that the main character, Aza, is mentally ill. This is a first person narration from the perspective of a mentally ill teenager – and I don’t think I could read for more than 20-40 minutes at a time without breaking down in tears. It wasn’t necessarily because of the content of the story, though, which was deep in a quiet and patient way. The content wasn’t painful so much as that reality of being a high functioning mentally ill person.

The amount in which I related to that character and her thinking and the impact it has on her life – even as an adult – it is me. That connection and understanding absolutely destroyed me and I often felt that I shouldn’t finish the book. I found myself angry that I didn’t know about this beforehand – I found myself damning John Green, my role model and author idol. It felt like blasphemy to not want to finish this novel I waited so long to get and to read.

But I did finish it, and I did feel relief when I turned the final page, and I will not read it again because I will never forget it. When I put the book back into my backpack and thought about it, really, I decided that – you know what – books should have trigger warnings too. Damn the spoilers.

Trigger Warnings have been around for much longer than people realize. These triggers actually stem from receiving a PTSD diagnosis, in which patients are encouraged to avoid scenarios that could reactivate the traumatic experience within that person’s mind. Those things were referred to as triggers as far back as the early 1900s. (I am not sourcing this information intentionally because I knew this already, btw). So it’s not like this is new to the world or to our culture. It’s just new to literature – and not even the kind of literature you pay for, which is kind of lame.

Which is also kind of why I’m writing this.

Some sort of warning about the potential triggering of an unhealthy emotional response to the content within a piece of text is what I feel is necessary to propel literature into a truly socially aware dimension. I’ve always contested that we can do, and do, and do, and do positive things to change the world we live in – to make it a better place – but underneath it all – beyond that “actions speak louder than words” bullshit – our language overrides our physical choices. Random Person A can go to women’s marches, black lives matter movement, anti-gun rallies, and share every body positivity post they see on social media – but if that person still uses the N-word and calls women in short skirts slutty – then that person isn’t really changing anything.

The reality of our world is that actions speak louder because of the words we use. If Random Person B is going to a women’s march and also educates misogynistic co-workers, that person’s actions are so important because their words support it. Even deeper than that, the language that we use to educate someone who isn’t aware of understanding of the social issues going on in the world right now even further amplifies the actions that we take.

So – what does “actions speak louder because of the words we use” have to do with Trigger Warnings in traditional literature? The answer is: everything!

Mental Health Stigma still exists – as evidenced by harmful movies depicting mentally ill people as villains, for example: Split. People aren’t taking mental health seriously and often treat those with mental illness as infantile and choosing of their fate. By including Trigger Warnings on all forms of literature, we are empowering the reader to decide if they can handle the content. By including Trigger Warnings, we are acknowledging that mental illness is a burden that cannot be unloaded from one’s self. By Including Trigger Warnings, we are changing the language by bringing it forward and normalizing that some content is difficult to read and may cause emotional distress – even to those who are not mentally ill.

All I’m trying to say, really, is that we need Trigger Warnings on anything that we would read… Newspapers, novels, essays, magazines, poems, short stories, blog posts, anything! We owe it to ourselves, to our readers, and to the future generations to start making a positive change in the way we write the world – and the way we present that to those who will inevitably replace us.

The Freedom Kitchen

I’m not exactly sure why I participate contest writing, but I often feel compelled to do so. Perhaps I am addicted to feeling stressed, feeling restricted, or both simultaneously. Either way, pushing myself to work within the parakeets of a competition is always exciting. Back during the September-November months, I worked on this piece for a Baltimore Review contest in which the theme was food.

Though this story did not take placement or receive awards, it is close to my heart. I enjoyed writing it. Food is an important aspect of our lives and we are often defined by it. Please, should you choose to continue reading, enjoy the journey that Katie takes through the morning on her mission to share food with those who need it most.


 

The instant her hands stop twirling her hair into a messy bun atop her head, Katie yanks her left hand down and checks the time on her watch.

                  5:15 A.M.

She needs to open the doors in precisely fifteen minutes, and this act is what separates her from being on time and being late. Katie has never been late to open The Freedom Kitchen, and she isn’t planning to make this a ‘first time for everything’ sort of day. An anxious huff parts her lips, and her eyes drift down check the radio clock. Without even realizing it, she adjusts her seatbelt.

                  5:16 A.M.

Eyes glistening in the lowlights of street lamps dampened by the tinted windows, Katie estimates this ride will take another six minutes if there are absolutely no delays. In all honesty, she recognizes that if she hadn’t tried begging her volunteers not to cancel their shifts, she might’ve been able to get her usual driver. Doubt over her priorities this morning creep into the edges of her mind with tendrils of cold worse than the winter laying claim to the city around her.

Guilt drives Katie to check her watch again.

                  5:18 A.M.

Simultaneously too slow and fast, the next four minutes tick by without her permission. Katie needs more time but she cannot afford to waste the time she has either. When the cab veers into the alleyway where the back entrance is located, Katie is practically shaking the entire car to gain momentum. She’ll need every bit of manufactured speed she can manage to get to that front door at five-thirty sharp.

Absently, she grabs a fistful of cash from her pocket that should be sufficient to cover fare and tip. Katie tosses it onto the passenger seat up front as she leaps free of the vehicle. She might’ve muttered something to show her gratitude but, honestly, she probably just spat out a few unintelligible words. Winter can be felt and seen in every direction. Katie hears it in the roaring winds, feels in the nipping frost, and smells it in the slush puddles of mud and newspaper along the steps she climbs.

Just as she enters the dilapidated building with red bricks weathered brown, Katie checks her watch.

                  5:24 A.M.

Wafting scents of boiling tomatoes, simmering cocoa, and freshly baked bread weave into the fabric of her clothes. Katie makes her first stop in the break room where she hangs her coat and kicks off her snow boots in favor of a pair of simple black sneakers she kept in a corner. Without pausing for a breath, she jogs back into the hallway and lunges all the way to her right.

Despite her awareness, the heat of the kitchen envelops her body unexpectedly. After volunteering here for years, Katie writes this sensation off as silly. She knows how important warmth is for their guests when they are visiting and does little to rid this section of the building of it. Once she slows down and refocuses on her surroundings, she pinpoints the dry erase board. Somehow her shortage of staff hasn’t stopped the number of servings the soup kitchen can hand out from doubling from the week prior. There must have been more donations or better time management, if not both. Katie crosses her fingers, hoping that it was a combination of both.

Several people approach her grumbling and groaning, asking a ton of questions all at the same time. She desperately wants to answer them all but she knows that these minutes are just too precious. Unless there’s a reason that she shouldn’t open the doors on time, then she figures it can wait until they shut everything down and start cleaning. She shakes her head, turns on her foot, and begins racing into the dining room. If they have enough food to serve two hundred people, then she needs to make sure both dining rooms enough seats.

As she slides into the west hall, Katie practically slams her watch against her face.

                  5:26 A.M.

She always sets a three-minute timer for the kitchen staff when she’s walking to open the doors. Time is flying at the speed of light. Katie forces her gears to shift rapidly, twisting and turning every which way to pull out the timer and avoid other volunteers as she returns to the kitchen. The magnets on the back of the timer make a clang when she drops it on the counter before turning away.

                  5:27 A.M.

It takes precisely one minute to get back to the front of the building. Lying on a bench is the plastic poncho she wears when she invites the homeless inside for their place in the soup kitchen. Katie feels herself tearing up for a split second, understanding anew just how genuinely impactful the meals can be for these individuals. When folks share food, they are sharing more than just a meal. Bonds are formed over a plate filled with food and glasses sloshing with preferred drinks. Lifelong relationships almost always begin with a drink and a dinner.

Being able to give food to someone who is suffering and struggling to survive is not unlike sharing a home with that person. They may have to sleep under brides and alleyways, or squat in an abandoned building with no heat, but their primary security comes from being able to eat. Sharing these Sundays with hundreds of individuals fighting to get back on their feet is the single most important thing she’s ever done. Katie lets a breath out, deflating and letting go of all of the stress that built up from her running around all morning. Habitually, she takes another peak at her watch…

                  5:29 A.M.

…And then she opens the doors to a line of grimy, smiling faces that are just as excited to see her, as she is to see them.

“Morning!” Katie says, the chill of the wind ripping through the thin plastic of her poncho. An elderly man gets to his feet after having been napping against the wall. He dusts himself off before offering his hand. She helps him up the last step and pulls a chunk of frozen mud from his beard.

Katie squeezes his hand, “You can’t been sleeping here at night, Charlie. You know that.”

“And miss your lovely face?” he inquires. “I wouldn’t lose my seat at The Freedom Kitchen for anything, Miss Katie.”

He looks worse for wear, and Katie wonders how many more weeks of this Charlie can handle. He’d been very sick just a few weeks ago and she tricked him into seeing a doctor for some medication. She scoured the city to find a shelter that had an extra bed, but he lost it only two days later because he wanted to be first in line at the kitchen for his Sunday meal. To hide her worry, Katie steals a glance at her watch precisely as the numbers switch over.

5:30 A.M.

“It’s time to eat, Charlie, why don’t you get our line moving, okay?” says Katie, a boisterous and confident tone passing through her grinding teeth. The icy weather is cutting straight through to her bones but she knows that it is nothing compared to what the line of people beside her must experience every single day. Charlie nods at her remark and starts making his way into the kitchen for his soup, bread, and hot chocolate.

People begin passing by in slow chunks but she stays to greet each of them before their meal. The small talk makes the winter weather more tolerable for everyone. It helps that there are quite a few familiar faces. In fact, Charlie ends up only being the first of many who came back to see Miss Katie, the nice lady who is always checking her watch to make sure everyone gets taken care of on time at The Freedom Kitchen.

What are you reading?

~ ..,,;;::= THIS POST REQUIRES PARTICIPATION =::;;,,.. ~


I was just on Facebook, scrolling through my feed after having a mental breakdown about copyediting services and prices. Participating (and winning!) NaNoWriMo 2017 has essentially fried my brain in the absolute best way possible. One of those posts asking “what are you currently reading” popped up and it gave me an idea.

So I want to know what you are currently reading! I don’t want to know just the title, though. I want you to give me the title, the author, and a catchy one sentence summary that you think best describes the plot.

Here’s mine to start us off:

I am currently reading: Kids of Appetite.

The author is: David Arnold.

This book is basically about: a young man who embarks on a journey to spread his father’s around his city but gets implicated in a murder along the way.


 

You can copy and paste form below into your comments and let me know what you’re reading! This is a fun way to find recommendations for the winter season, best known for cuddling up in your blankets and reading without judgment for staying indoors all day. It is also a fantastic exercise to get us thinking creatively about work that isn’t ours.

Thanks for your participation, recommendations, and active reading! It’s people like you that keep me motivated to write (even when I feel like I’m never writing/posting enough).

Yours,

–ab


 

I am currently reading:

The author is:

This book is basically about:

A Prisoner’s Home

To you I say, “I’m taking a job that will makes us move far away,”

And you said back, “I will come because my home is wherever you go,”

But I saw that look on your face,

I know that you wanted to say ‘no.’

 

But I’m addicted to how much you need me,

So I’d rather let you sacrifice your dream,

Than be alone when I leave.