Introducing Project 52: **Dinners with Caroline**

Drum Roll Please…

***I am imagining you engaging in a vigorous drumroll wherever you are reading***

 

Project52DWC

 

I’ve decided to stick with the original name for this project, Dinners with Caroline. Planning this project has either gone super well or super – bleh? I have known that this is the project I wanted to work on since I started bouncing ideas off of my loved ones, but I didn’t know how I wanted to write it. After drafting the introduction posts and figuring out the format of the story posts, it became clear to me that this project was always going to be called Dinners with Caroline because there is no better name. It perfectly sums up what the content of this story covers, even though it doesn’t actually tell you, the reader, anything.

Excitement is starting to build with each day and when I happened across this color scheme by accident tonight… I just settled into a place of comfort. This project is mine and I’m not just excited, I’m not just ready – I am confident.

When my Patreon launches – one of the things you will gain access to are all of the doodles and color drafts that I put together before settling on this color scheme and font. Spoiler: I did not originally want to go for a grayscale appearance. But, I mean, it looks pretty good – despite my limited art skills. Right?

So that’s it, then.

Dinners with Caroline.

Are you ready?

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What the heck is Project 52: Title Pending?

So – if you’re here, you’ve noticed the change in my blog’s appearance and the sudden disappearance of my sidebar pages. There’s no more separation amongst my past works because I’m working on a project that will take one year to complete (maybe 13 months, if I participate in 2019’s Nanowrimo Challenge). All of my works can now be read through the “All Writing” page, which will present my stories from the most recent to the oldest (I don’t recommend reading them in that order, however, because my writing has improved over the last three years significantly).

Making that commitment is a pretty big deal – and if you read my stuff – you probably want to know more than what I’ve shared on the main page of my blog. Project 52? Title Pending? Financial Backing? January 2019? That’s a lot of information that is really vague.

In response to those silent questions you’re not asking me, I’m going to give you three more bits of information about what this project is going to look like and what I’m hoping to accomplish with it.

1. 52 Weeks, 12/13 Months – Regular Posting!

With this new project, it is my plan to post every week. Weekly stories work best for the kind of life I am leading right now, and I felt the most fulfilled with my writing when it was cohesive, as I was doing when I abruptly stopped my “Writing the World” project. My plan with this project is for every post to belong to the same universe and the same characters. This project will follow the same two characters from the beginning to the end with a plot.

Right now, I’m looking at six posts per month. There will be a weekly story that you can read in the format that you would expect, however, there will be biweekly posts as well that are meant to read as transcripts. It will be similar to that of a script for a film or television show, or perhaps a hearing in court. I don’t want to explain much further because it could give away the specifics, and we’re not close enough to January 2019 for that level of hype yet.

I’m committed to this project and have already started planning the “introduction posts” that will premiere the main characters and hook readers into their stories. The excitement I feel is scary awesome and I simply cannot wait to share this story with you! It is going to be so much fun to create!

2. Love & Loss

Without giving too much away, this project is going to deal with grief, primarily, and the healing power of love when a loss has been suffered. Death is something that has always plagued my life, it seems, and with my father having passed away earlier this year, this is a topic that keeps popping up in everything I write – this struggle of loss.

Loss can be experienced in many different ways, of course, and it’s a feeling that everyone can relate to in some way. We as a people lose things that we love, lose things that we care about, and that makes my potential audience very large. I like that idea because I want to craft characters that people can read about and “see” in the mirror. Good storytelling always comes back to good characters, and good characters make readers keep reading.

As for the romantic aspect of the story, while it will be a secondary plot, I have always believed that love heals. Finding the love you have in the world, be it something you love doing, or someone loving you, or loving someone else, it gives you something to hold on to and enjoy. Finding love can be the difference between falling apart when grief is overwhelming or rising above and wielding that grief to achieve more in your life. It is my intention to showcase that in this project.

3. Financial Backing for Creators

I watch a lot of YouTube because I am broke. I don’t want cable, but I couldn’t afford it even if I wanted it. My television is cheap, cheap, cheap. Hulu, Netflix, Crunchyroll, YouTube, Prime TV – free or cheap. As such, I watch a good number of YouTuber’s content that is heavily paid for and sponsored through Patreon.

Many people in my life have done Kickstarters to fund a project or get a project started. Other people have utilized GoFundMe to raise money for families and organizations in need where I live and work. These platforms give people and companies with good intentions who have befallen hard times an opportunity to succeed.

And, despite my continuously saying that we’re fine, we can afford to just scoot by until I’m traditionally published, that’s – just – not – true. I’m going to breaking my back to keep this schedule, which is fine, but I’m ready for my writing to support me. For this reason – I’ve got a Patreon account set up and waiting for the launch day to arrive. I haven’t decided if I’ll launch the week before I roll my project out or a week after some of the content has come out, but it’ll be launched.

The idea is that if Project 52 grows and captures the hearts of readers, then maybe I’ll be able to go back to working one job – and then maybe I’ll be able to do this full time! Writing and working from home will allow me to more efficiently and effectively pursue traditional publishing for my Nanowrimo novels, and create a brand that includes ALL OF US, since, at the end of the day, I write so that we can feel connected. If I relate to this, and you relate to this, then we have found our common ground. It brings us together and puts us on a level playing field in this crazy arena we call ‘life.’

With any luck, the Patreon won’t scare anyone off, and will also, maybe, hopefully, work…

Thanks for reading this update, thanks for being here. I’ll share more sometime next week to talk more about what I want to accomplish with this project and why I think it matters enough to be read by others. Until then, please remember

You are loved.

Yours always,

 

–ab

+6 Final Days (The Last 2018 Nanowrimo Update)

Only eleven minutes remained on the day, the final day. She thought couldn’t make it, that it was impossible to craft the ending this story deserved, the ending that the readers waited so long to sink their teeth into… Eyes drooped, body rebelled, heart palpitated…

But then it came, the final line, the perfect final line. The world seemed to crash to a halt, the month ending just seven minutes early as the last word tapped onto the screen and the last word count update was submitted…

Are you ready for the very last 2018 Nanowrimo season update? Because it is finally here.


 

Nanowrimo Projected Daily Projection: 1,667 words

My Actual 2018 Daily Average Writing Pace: 2,229 words

My Actual 2017 Daily Average Writing Pace: 2,036 words

Nanowrimo Projected Day 30 Final Count: 50,010 words

My Actual 2018 Day 30 Final Count: 66,882 words

My Actual 2017 Day 30 Final Count: 61,081 words

Nanowrimo Lifetime Total Word Count: 127,963 words


Week Five Hopes Recap:  Going into the final week of Nanowrimo I had a lot of things I was hoping to do, and I think I’d rather just quickly recap those things in a list – so, here’s that list: finish my novel, hit 65,000 words, and have a plan for what comes next. I’m going to touch base on these things so that I can sort of transition into the ‘less planned out’ section of this blog update.

So – I finished the novel. I don’t know how because I really didn’t want to do anything this week. I hit my 50,000 words and I am ashamed to say that I definitely was like “Yes, there’s the finish line, and also cool, there’s my bed.” Every time I tried to write I swear that I was falling apart. The last day I was really excited about writing was November 25, on which day I enacted my “selfish” side’s deepest desires, which was asking my husband to grocery shop on his own and cook half of a dinner I planned because I cook it better. It is a miracle that I actually made it to and surpassed 65,000 somewhat substantially. Most likely, my resolve to get the badge for updating 30 days in a row is the only reason that happened. I’m going throw some fun stats at the end of this post, making it a personal stats sandwich post, and I’ll say that this week is the week I saw my LOWEST word count on a day.

Oops, I accidentally did two birds with one stone there. Oh well! Moving on to that third thing… That third thing… (Please imagine that I growled the second repetition of that phrase, please, please).

I guess second-thirdly, let’s discuss the “have a plan for after” thing that I was supposed to do???? I don’t even know what I was trying to do with the construction of that sentence. The idea was to have a plan specifically for this blog to keep me posting every single week. However, the only idea for “after” Nanowrimo that I’ve come up with is this children’s book idea that I want to put together with my good bud Ouranose. I’m excited about that project but I’ve left myself on the shitter with the blog’s future.

When I post regularly here, despite the lack of readership participation on the blog, I get a solid number of views – and those views are what I need to get revenue from this venture – which is my ultimate goal: to turn my writing in a career with a sustainable income. I wish I knew why I fell so short on this. I had this idea for a new section of the blog called “suicide watch” where I would chronicle my struggle with depression and the frequency at which suicide crosses my mind. It’s normal to me but upon further discussion, I realized that it could be seen as in poor taste to some and too real to others. If I am going to address mental health, I want to do it in a powerful way that is also empowering, if that makes any sense to anyone else.

As far as this goal is concerned, I’m going to have to mark myself for failure. I still have absolutely no clue what I want to do here with the life I’m living right now. Working two jobs leaves me exhausted most days, and even in my son’s slow season of the year, I feel like there’s no time to do anything due to holidays and birthdays (I’m not kidding, everyone keeps having kids during the same half of the year and it’s birthdays upon birthdays plus Christmas – too much gift giving for my broke bank in the same four months). Finding a way to keep my blog active after Nanowrimo is going to require serious planning in December.

I did a weekly story, my Writing the World project took me through several months, and I actually stopped working on it abruptly because I didn’t have anything else planned after it. Honestly, panic set into my heart because it kept going and going and I didn’t have a real end in mind, so I think I just ignored that it was unfinished. One possibility is for me to come back and finish the series. It’s been so long now that I can’t be sure that anyone would actually read it, but I would have a sense of accomplishment just wrapping it up finally.

Doing a weekly story is probably the best option I have, but I don’t know what to write about specifically. Adventures? Mysteries? A mental health diary? Romance? Retelling fairy tales in a more realistic and modern fashion? Horror? Should I continue rewriting and sharing old pieces? I have a teenage romance I wrote many, many years ago titled “Healed by Christmas” in which I had tried to post a section of the story every day leading up to Christmas – to make the vibe of the story more impactful and for the reader to be “on” the journey with the characters.

There are so many options and I really need a brainstorm session with someone. Getting these ideas out of my mouth somehow always helps me get a “mouth feel” for what I’m working on. If I can’t talk about it then what makes me think I’m ready to commit to it? I’ll figure something out.


Nanowrimo 2018 Recap: The plan is for this to be really short, I think. You’ve been reading about my brain stuff all month and I’m sure that you’re over it. But, I do think it’s important to reflect a bit on what this month has given me as a person.

Confidence: I have never been surer of what I wanted to do that I have been this month. There was a distinct lack of self-doubt this year. Other than one day where I completely broke because I couldn’t let go of the fact that one of my other friends participating was so far ahead of me that I would never be able to catch up. It was stupid to feel that way, of course, because writing means something different to us. I’m not writing to prove something to someone or to myself. My years of experience, my publications, my ghostwriting work, it’s work that I do – it’s a thing that I do because I don’t have anything left to prove. I don’t know why I wanted to prove to that person or myself that I’m just as good. That’s so childish and beneath me, and once I stopped having a mental breakdown about it, I was ready to get back into that good place I’m always living in with my relationship to this thing that I do.

Companionship: The first year I did this, I did it with someone I thought was a friend. That’s the dangerous thing about the Internet, though, is you can have this good friendship with someone – but it’s not “real” good. It’s just a friendship that is good because it is convenient. I put too much effort into that person who ultimately was friends with me because she thought she was better than me – and complained about me to everyone who would listen to her. Today, I can’t believe I ever fell into that trap of thinking that just because we both liked to write that we could really be friends with nothing else in common.

In comparison to that terrible experience (and triumphant one, she ended up quitting after she got so far ahead of me, thinking, probably, that I couldn’t catch up), this year has given me friends that love writing as much as I do, even if differently. It has given me camaraderie that I cannot deny has made writing more FUN. Being able to soundboard with people who care about my work and care about me is delightful. How did I go 27 years without having healthy friendships? I’m thankful for the two women who have shared in this adventure with me, and I’m proud of them for joining me in the winner’s circle where they belong.

Joy: When you fight yourself daily about whether you’re making the right choices for your family, for the kids you take care of, for the family you’re a part of – finding joy in the thing you actually love is a task so hard that people who aren’t mentally ill could never understand. Depression is a war that wins no matter which side takes the victory because you’re sad and disappointed regardless. Being happy and looking forward to writing days, even when I would have rathered to commit some form of graphic suicide because I was drowning in my own lack of serotonin (imagine drowning in something that doesn’t exist for the majority of your life – suffocating on nothing, but suffocating nonetheless). No matter how awful I felt, I was excited for the three days I dedicated to writing with my best friend.

Resolve: I’ve always been a very dedicated woman. I have this weird defect in my brain where I hate being told I can’t do something. Realistically, it is probably a form of ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder), but it’s always propelled me into my customized sense of success. Knowing that there are people who remember high school freshman me talking about being a published author are somewhere out there, wondering if I ever did it, is something that pushes me forward a lot. This year, one thing that kept coming back to me was the quiet reminder that there are also people out there who are thinking that I never could do it, that I’m not good enough. Fuck those people, really.

This year I finished the duology I first imagined in 2014 – finally finished. Yes, I need to edit; yes, I need to query agents; yes, I need to get it on the market before I can really tally my win here; but also – YES, it is written.


Let’s just abruptly stop there because I could write for years about writing. What a nesting doll syndrome we have here. I am going to post these ending stats that I think will be really fun to see because it’ll give you a glimpse into my Nanowrimo 2018 journey. So – here’s that stuff? I guess?


Week One Total Written Words:
November 1 – November 3
7,076 words

Week Two Total Written Words:
November 4 – November 10
13,098 words

Week Three Total Written Words:
November 11 – November 17
18,128 words

Week Four Total Written Words:
November 18 – November 24
17,823 words

Week Five Total Written Words:
November 25 – November 30
10,757 words


Highest Daily Word Count: 7,868 words on November 16th
Not only did this make a new personal high day for word count for me, but ironically the 2017 High for me was 7,457 on November 17th – so there was something very poetic about making a new personal high day one day earlier than last year.

Lowest Daily Word Count: 233 words on November 28th
There’s no special to actually say about this because I had a few 0 days in Nanowrimo 2017’s season. Before this day, however, my low had been just ten words higher at 243 on November 9th.

Number of Days Over 1,667 Words: 14 Days
The total number of words written in those 14 days is 53,391.

Number of Days Under 1,667 Words: 16 Days
The total number of words written in those 16 days is 13,491.

Number of Days Over 5,000 Words: 3 Days
The total number of words written in those 3 days is 20,347.

Number of Days Under 1,000 Words: 11 Days
The total number of words written in those 11 days is 5,527.


Looking at those stats, I think it reflects my life pretty well. I technically won Nanowrimo in just 14 days. Two weeks! But working those two jobs really put me at a disadvantage. However, it also shows that those days where I wrote next to nothing really added up. It helped me every day get closer to my goal of winning – and closer to finishing this novel. Numbers have a scary way of being just as powerful as words – and numbers about words?

Be still my beating heart.

Anyway, this is the end of this massive post. I just want to say thank you to anyone and everyone who has been reading these updates. My appreciation of you goes beyond numbers and words, and I hope that you stick around for whatever next looks like for this blog. This year has given me invaluable and intangible things that I needed to become even more as a writer.

Drop a comment, click the like/heart button – if you have time and if you want. I know that we don’t all want to show how much we enjoy something with words. I’m just glad that you’re here at all.

And on that very final note: you are loved.

–ab

A Place for Me

I wrote this story for a short story contest hosted by On The Premises recently. The theme for the entries was “community” and writing for this had been difficult for me. There ended up being 202 entries for the first round of judging. The top 10% of stories were chosen to be reviewed for the final judging round – which would have been 21 entries. The story below the line – “A Place for Me” – was one of the top 21 entries reviewed for the Top 10 submissions. Unfortunately, I just barely made the cut. That being said, I still wanted to share with you what I wrote and prove that I’m not missing just because I’ve lost my way. I’m working on original pieces. Without further adieu –


 

“A Place for Me”

Read & Enjoy

 


 

I know that I am breathing simply because I am not actually suffocating, even if my brain is convinced that I am doing precisely that. Each time I make another four inch drop and sink nearer to the ground floor, I feel my hear rate double. The pounding is so loud that is the only thing I can hear besides the actual slamming of it against my chest is the rushing of blood in my head. My vision blurs about halfway through my descent and I practically fall the rest of the way down.

Per the usual, my father has his arms crossed and is clicking his tongue at me. “You’re running late. The dance starts in thirty minutes,” I forgot, but only because I’ve been trying desperately to pretend that I didn’t properly make plans to go. My parents have been begging me to watch after my sister, counting on me to see if she’s up to no good, but I simply cannot. Being around people makes me uncomfortable. The way they smell, the way they talk, and the way they contort their face; it makes me physically nauseous. What are they thinking? What are they feeling? Other people might as well be foreign beasts or aliens with the way that they frighten me.

“S-sorry…” I stutter what could have been the beginning of a considerate apology, or another one of my pathetic excuses. Fortunately, my mother comes strolling around the corner with my sister, whom is dressed beautifully in her short black dress and white leather jacket. My sad attempt to show regret for not wanting to go is diminished by the gasp of concern that escapes my mother’s mouth. I hear him start scolding her but I can’t ignore my sister enough to really hear them. She grounds me.

Analise is the opposite of me in nearly every way imaginable. Where I am flat and average, she is curvy and developed. She has my father’s height and my mother’s naturally springy, curly hair. I am short, more like my grandparents, and have my dad’s stick straight brown hair, which I wear short so I don’t have to brush it often. Most days, Analise is the innocent girl next door that has good intentions and a heart big enough to share, much like a hero in any video game. In comparison, I’m just the boring non-playable character that probably has an item for a side quest that has a lame reward for accomplishing it.

I reckon that she’ll be fine at the dance by herself, and I think that’s what scares my parents most. Analise is gorgeous to boot, and not everyone around her means well. If she were my daughter I’d be worried too. My mind gets goes to static as I begin tuning back into the conversation between my parents. I am grateful to hear my mother defending me.

Shaking her head, “Gerald, I don’t think she can do it. We’re asking too much of her.” She’s always been more reasonable about how debilitating social activity can be for me. Appreciation for her fills every empty crevice inside of my chest but the only response I can manage is to cry. That’s how my brain reacts to any sort of input overload, such as an argument about my status as a recluse. Even though my mother is supporting me, my father still denounces the possibility that she’s right. He always does. It makes my crying even worse, my body trembling at the very sound of his breath.

“Mathilda!” He shouts way too sharply. My mother wrinkles her nose in the way that assures him there’ll be consequences if he doesn’t change his tone. Analise and I learned where our limits were when we were in pre-school, and it’s horrifying that he still dares to push her to that point as an adult. “She can’t keep living like this!”

My sister approaches me and then pulls me to the side, placing a hand on my shoulder as she redirects me. In a soothing tone, she coaches me the way she does every day for school. Before we get on the bus she has to hush me into silence, and once more when we get to school because I’ve begun to panic again. Analise doesn’t realize how important she is to my being able to get through school every single day. Without her comforting, I couldn’t make it. I would have quit years ago.

“Ciara is just different, Gerald, and we can’t push her into a social situation. We have to ease her into these things,” she remarks defiantly. She used to struggle with social anxiety too, so she understands why I’m having trouble. My issues are worse than hers ever were when she was my age, I guess, which has my father convinced that I’ll just get over it by the time I graduate high school in the spring. His frustration grows the closer we get to our ceremony in June.

“I don’t care if she’s different! She’ll never survive on her own if she doesn’t get involved with the community! Ciara belongs with her peers – not behind some computer monitor!” he shouts at the tops of his lungs. Rather than anger prickling the edges of his words, it is pure frustration. Though his continual complaining about my social anxiety is grating, I try to remember that he just wants me to be normal.

And he has no idea how badly I wish to be exactly that: normal.

There’s this community, this society, this whole world, full of normal people.

Then there’s me – unambiguously abnormal – and I just don’t belong.

“Dad,” my sister begins. There’s probably more that she says, but her voice becomes distant and my vision darkens. All around me the heavy world melts and solidifies in my gut. The air tastes cold; the earth feels shaky; and my brain evaporates inside of my skull. As I feel the world disintegrating around me, I hear Analise repeat herself more sternly, “Dad!”

Blacking out isn’t unusual for me, especially when I’m being forced out of the house. Any sort of gathering that would provide literally anyone else with ‘a sense of community’ and ‘a sense of togetherness’ just ends up leaving me empty. My father has criticized me constantly for years now, as if I have some control over it, but he never used to say anything in front of me. I wish he still had that discretion, honestly. I’m glad that when I come back to it is to the solitude of bedroom. My eyes adjust to the darkness effortlessly.

In the far left corner, I can see the soft glow of my computer screen, where I spend almost all of my time when I’m home. Sometimes I have nightmares about blacking out and waking to my father unplugging everything. Forget failing, dying, or being cheated on by some short-term boyfriend – being without my games is my greatest fear. I need these black curtains, dual monitors, and consoles. These things give me the motivation I need to continue living.

Logging in is second nature. I type my password and click the icon I want without even glancing at the screen. My left hand reaches out to open a shallow drawer. I keep my headphones there so I never accidentally knock them to the floor. They’re an instrumental part of my gaming experience and I would go crazy without them. The loading screen fades away when I look up to plug my chord into the appropriate port. Just as I do this, a ping erupts in the headset from the messenger program I use with my guild group. This particular tone is unique, assigned to one specific contact, and I know my best friend is online immediately. Instead of tapping a reply on the keyboard, I hit the hotkey to dial out to her automatically. When she speaks, her voice is so rich that I feel the thickness of it wash over my body, “I thought you had to go be a part of the real world tonight. What happened?”

Explaining my worries to her is not necessary. She already knows. All it requires is three simple words, “I blacked out,” and we move on from the topic. An notification message materializes over my inventory menu, a probationary invite to a campaign mission: The Mayflower Maybe. The creator, my best friend, goes by the gamer tag MaybeMay, which is a pun for her real name. I accept the request immediately, but not without harassing her, “Your best mate has to undergo the probationary period?” She laughs at me as I spawn inside of the lobby of her personal server.

Giving life to the joy that erupts from May when she laughs is impossible to accomplish with just words. Hearing her happiness through my headphones is one of the best parts of my day, every single day. I often question why anyone would ever want to be a part of the outside world. There could be someone online living on the other side of the world who could be the most perfect part of their lives.

“As a leader of the people, you must impress my people if you wish to stay,” she details in a voice that reminds me that she’s as much a leader as she is player. I do run my own campaigns, and I have plans to also get a server running so that I can host multiple guilds for my growing players’ circles. I do well in the background, generally, but she’s the ‘front-and-center’ type. MaybeMay just happens to be a more natural leader all around.

Even though I’m new to this particular campaign, many of these players recognize my handle, and they fire off their warm welcomes in the public chat. Seconds barely tick by before the private messages begin filtering to my inbox. Compliments, excitement, compliments, resources for expected behavior, upcoming events, more compliments; and I love knowing that this is my safe place. No matter that I can’t physically see them, they’re as familiar to me as my own family.

Unexpectedly, I hear a knocking at my door and I lurch forward with determination to be quiet. My fingers hurriedly shut off my monitor and hold my breath. My mother is wanting to check on me, I’m sure, and if she knows I’m on the computer she’ll end up telling my dad. If he knows I’m playing my game already, so soon after I’ve passed out, he’ll keep blaming the games for my anxiety. I know that this not true. I really am just that dysfunctional.

MaybeMay’s voice asks me if I’m okay, since I’m just running in circles, and I manage a strangled shush into the microphone. A few more knocks imprison me in this frozen pose, concealing myself from the harsh judgment. How can my father want me to go join the world and be an active member of society with my peers when I can’t even escape his disparagements for having a personal preference?

Once I know I’m in the clear, I apologize solemnly.

“Someone knocked at my door,” I huff, “and I couldn’t tell if it was Dad.”

MaybeMay is protecting my avatar when I turn my screen back on, and there are concerns in the chat that I’ve lost connection. The general tone doesn’t bother me nor does it come off as rude. She assures everyone that there was a personal matter that arose but that I’m confirmed as being back online. To verify, I teleport myself to another player whose just had a low health warning come across the team notifications banner. Usually I’m the healer when I’m not playing as the guild master, and I fall into the routine very easily.

Our campaign mission takes the team four attempts totaling nearly six hours. Weariness settled into my eyes quite a while ago but I don’t know when for sure. Once we’re all done trading our wares and treasures with the merchants, I exit the software and rummage through my emails. MaybeMay lingers online to talk me, despite the reality that it’s even later into the night for her.

Initially, she goes on about some of the small tasks that littered her day, until she hopped on to do her usual work on the server and website. She works from home for some graphic arts company, and only leaves the house a few times a week to do mandatory errands. Her idea of socializing is a LAN party, or some other mass gaming event. I admire that lifestyle and usually remind her at every opportunity that I am jealous. Today, though, I deviate from that pattern.

“Do you think I’m broken?” I shudder at acknowledging my difficulties assimilating to the normal world. More often than not, this reality gets swept beneath some metaphorical rug. Outside of the house, we spread this lie that I’m just extremely shy. Sometimes people try to give me advice – imagine everyone in their underwear, a universal nugget of wisdom, it seems – and other times they just tut their tongue at me. Every so often someone might become bold enough to blame video games or technology. Of course, my father agrees, and his face sinks in confirmation of their theories.

MaybeMay doesn’t reply at first. This startles me because she’s normally doesn’t have to pause to fully consider anything, not even a loaded question such as this one. She attributes her ability to rapidly resolve questions or issues to her gaming, and then she cracks a joke about the people who blame games for a ‘lazier’ generation. I suck in as much air as my lungs can hold just as she replies.

“Yes…” I wasn’t expecting to hear her say that and I’m dazed. I am sure this moment between heartbeats will kill me.

“…but I think we all are broken in our own unique ways. You and I, we’re the same sort of person. Your dad, well, he’s just a different type. His idea of being involved and having a sense of community is really different from yours. Maybe it’s our brains, maybe it’s not, but whatever it is – nobody can say the gaming community is fake any more than they can say that kids at a stupid school dance are fake.” I didn’t think I could ever feel so strongly about a monologue, but this one has me shedding tears of joy. Clarity settles into my mind’s eye. Being different isn’t as bad as my dad makes it seem. MaybeMay gives me the ability to see myself as complete and strong, accepted and appreciated, respected and valid. Everyone should have a friend as loving and as honest as she, but that’s what scares me about the real world beyond my door.

Not everyone is so loving.

Not everyone is so honest.

And not everyone is broken like me.

“I needed that,” my thought escapes effortlessly through my lips. My features relax, and so does my body, as I begin closing all of the windows on my screen. Remaining maximized is my messenger program, silence hanging loosely between MaybeMay and I. Discomfort dares to creep into my thoughts but more than anything I’m just happy to share this sort of moment with her. MaybeMay reminds me a lot of Analise; a sister when my sister is away.

A digital clock next to me shifts into the next hour. Without a doubt it is time for me to go to bed, and so I begin the process of saying good-bye. Once I’m whispering my departure plans, MaybeMay reveals she’s logging off too.

Yet she stops me from ending our call. She insists that there is one last thing to be said before we disconnect and carry on with our lives outside of the game. I hold my breath so that I may drink in every drip of confidence I may derive from it. “A real community is just a group of people that care about the same things together. Tell me that our virtual family isn’t real – I dare you.”

A smile spreads across my face just as the signature sound of a user switching offline dings in my headphones, ears, and body. What I did to deserve her, I may never know, but I won’t question it either. I crawl into my bed knowing that no matter what my dad thinks – what I feel is real, and he can never make it go away.

A Mother’s Help

THE SOUND OF BREAKING GLASS stopped her in her tracks. Dana promised her daughter that she could have the house all to herself this weekend while she stayed with grandma for the evening. In her old age, however, she locked herself out of the house. Sneak in – get keys – sneak out – that was the objective.

That was the objective, anyway.

But the sound of breaking glass stopped her.

There was another voice coming from the kitchen when Dana gt inside, but she couldn’t just waltz in unannounced. It would violate the trust that she’d built up with her temperamental daughter. For weeks anything would hurt her feelings and set her off into a fit of swearing or crying. Dana wrote it off at teenage hormones, a flare of aggressive independence. In just one year, after all, she would be going off to college.

So Dana agreed with her daughter, “Alaina, you can stay home alone for the weekend every so often. Grandma wouldn’t mind the extra company.” It was an arrangement that would have been made naturally anyway. Dana’s mother has been getting forgetful and disorganized. Soon she would not be able to live alone anymore. There is an in-between stage and Dana knew that it would be weekend visits. Then nightly dinners, and so on, and so on…

The second voice was familiar; too familiar. Dana was able to identify it as Alaina’s boyfriend: Roger. He was a kind enough young man, but rarely ever wanted to do anything social with her. The mother always found it a bit strange. Still, her daughter insisted that he was just a bit shy and a homebody. Most of their relationship has been spent watching movies and making food runs together. He’d never so much as invited her to a school dance.

Needless to say, Dana didn’t exactly want Roger to be a permanent fixture in her daughter’s life. The breaking glass paired with shouting only reassured her gut feeling that he was not the right person for her.

“You said you fucking ordered the food!” Dana inched around the house in a way only Alaina could share mastery in doing, and weaseled her way into the bathroom between the kitchen and bathroom. From there she heard the fight deepen and another glass shatter.

“I thought it submitted the order! Please don’t break my mother’s dishes. These were gifts from her aunt!” And they probably were, most of the dishes Dana owned were from her mother’s best friend. She’d been a better aunt than any of her real ones, and so every silly dish she sent for holidays was kept and used regularly. It made Dana’s life as a single mom a little less serious, and it was something Alaina always thought was pretty cool too.

“You’re going to make a shitty wife. You can’t cook and you can’t place a food order. No wonder nobody else wanted to date you!” Dana resisted the urge to intervene, but instead dialed 9-1-1. She whispered her anonymous complaint as she snuck back out of the house and went into the car where her mother was waiting.

A noise ‘at the neighbors,’ she’d asked Dana, whatever for – it was so quiet outside. Dana explained that Alaina was having a bit of trouble and she wanted to give her a free ticket out of the mess. The discussion about Roger would be a private one, after the police carted him away.

And so she drove her car around the block and waited at a safe distance for officers to arrive. Dana watched and waited until finally Roger was escorted off of the property, in handcuffs no less, before calling her daughter on the telephone.

“Hi mom,” her voice understandably deflated.

“Grandma locked herself out of the house. I think we’ll be crashing at home instead. Sorry to ruin your weekend alone.” Dana said in her maternal tone, the one she used to apologize and comfort simultaneously. She is surprised, just slightly, when Alaina laughed in reply.

In a quick breath, “I don’t want to be alone tonight anyway.”

Dana knew before she got back home that Alaina would reveal the truth about Roger – the dark, nasty truth – and she would never know that it was her own mother that saved her. That would be okay, though, because a mom never needs recognition. She only needs her child to be safe.


Credit to the prompt generator I used when looking for inspiration for this story.

Also, if you are ever in an abusive relationship, please consider using this website to make the change you deserve in your life. There are one-on-one chat services available and resources to assist you during this difficult time of making a positive change.

The Worst Dinner?

A dish of lies, I say!

There is little more in the world worse than being tricked. My friends had never taken my vegetarianism seriously. One friend in particular was having a big party for Thanksgiving and invited some of his friends. I rarely turned down a social invitation, and as such, I attended with enthusiasm. After all, he had assured me there would be options for “my type of diet.”

When I arrived there was a plate set for me. I questioned the source of protein, asking if it was the tofu he promised me would be available. I even offered to cook it myself when I arrived so long as it was made available. No, he insisted! He insisted that I be treated like a guest. I took the plate as he insisted that it was definitely tofu. Sometimes when prepared one cannot tell the difference between tofu and some meats just looking at it. In this case, I could not be sure due to the dressings and sides. I trusted his word to be honest and went to the extra dining room to enjoy my meal with friends.

Or people I thought were friends.

I was so hungry I didn’t even notice everyone watching with baited breath as I took my first bite of the tofu. As I breathed in the area before even getting the morsel into my mouth, I knew. This was not tofu. I thought it would be rude to spit it out so I swallowed, silently praying to my god that I wouldn’t die. Afterwards I swiftly pushed it to the side and worked very slowly through my vegetables.

As soon as the room cleared and eyes were not waiting for me to “enjoy” the “tofu” again, well, I did what any angry teenager would do! I marched to his parents in the main dining room as the schmoozed with friends-of-friends. Wine glasses clutched lazily in their hands – I announced what their son had done to me. They only seemed partially upset, but generally indifferent to the shenanigans of their forever-a-brat child. If that would not put a fire in their hearts, I could think of something else that most certainly would capture their attention.

“Oh, and did you know you son is selling meth to half of the basketball team? He brags that he has been making in the attic.” I did not wait for their response. Surely news of my friend’s punishment will be the juiciest social news for a week or two. It was immature, unquestionably, but I like to think I was able to save their son’s life that day.

Tell Me, What Could Possibly Happen?

A raindrop could fall in the eye of an old man picking dandelions from his garden. He could fall backwards and trip on the hoe he forgot to pick up (again). His leg could break in those few seconds. He would have to go the hospital by car with his nervous wife who won’t stop crying, surely.

They would take him back into a room and check his injury. They could find a mass in his leg that is concerning, something he probably had dismissed as a part of his arthritis. They would take a biopsy.

A week later, because of that single second when a raindrop startled a feeble old man, he could receive a call from his oncologist. That old man would be reassured that they caught his leukemia early and it would unlikely that these are the last of his days.