The Woman – Short Story #3

That day, I remember, was the day she came into my life and completely obliterated all normalcy. My day had begun as usual, in that pleasantly habitual way of silencing a blaring alarm clock, showering a 42-year-old man’s body (mine, just to clarify), and brushing teeth (mine, once again) with calculated vigor. I dressed in a fitted turtleneck, a peacoat, and a clean pair of trousers and then departed. I deliberately strolled by Starbucks in an admittedly self-righteous sort of way (I can’t help it; I know coffee). I wasn’t about to support the demise of local coffee shops everywhere by partaking in a Starbucks Americano. Instead, I ordered a small, local Americano from my favorite coffee shop, which will remain nameless so as to preserve its ethereal, hole-in-the-wall atmosphere. Coffee in hand, I offered the shop’s owner a nod, a salute of sorts, and he nodded back in somber understanding: we, customer and owner, bound by the same principles, silently vowed to try our very best to keep the evils of Seattle-based, franchised coffeehouses at bay. I expertly navigated the bustling streets of New York, sipping the excellent bean water in rebellious solidarity against mainstream coffee brands, and paid no mind to the sharp winter air numbing my face.

Entering my office building, I briskly passed a couple of people wandering about in the lobby and strolled into the elevator, pressing the button for the fourth floor. The elevator doors cruised open, and I immediately made eye contact with our darling, elderly receptionist, Patty Davis, and waved at her with my free hand. I extended an open hand as she expertly tossed a Werther’s Original caramel hard candy my way, which I deftly caught. It was a daily ritual I always looked forward to. Brian Thompson, fellow psychologist and my former college roommate, rounded the corner and eyed the candy in my hands.

“Morning, Roger. Can I offer you a cane with that? Some Life Alert, perhaps?” Brian said, raising an eyebrow. He was under the false impression that the candies in the blue bowl by Patty’s computer were only intended for consumption by the elderly. I, however, rejected that notion. There was simply no reason why vivacious, youthful men and women couldn’t partake in the delectable bits of caramel ambrosia. I winked at Patty before turning back to Brian.

“Don’t you have any clients today?” I said, walking past him only to turn around and throw the candy at the back of his head. The wrapper crinkled as the candy thumped the back of his neck. Brian laughed and disappeared into the waiting room to retrieve his next patient.

Walking down the short hallway leading to my office, I unlocked the door and strolled in, shrugging off my coat with ease. I hung it on the coat rack by the door and walked to my desk, turning on the lamp. I hadn’t even had time to sit down when a panicked young woman flung open the door to my office. Her hair, windblown and unkempt, bore testimony to her hurry. The bruise on her jaw concerned me, as did the embarrassing state of her blouse, stained and untucked.

“Hello, ma’am, have you scheduled an appointm—,” I asked as politely as possible before being interrupted by the banshee.

“Appointment? But this is an emergency—” she began to explain fervently. Suddenly, she was cut off by Patty, who waddled in with a speed unknown to me before then.

“I am so sorry, Roger, I couldn’t stop the woman. I tried to keep her in the waiting room, but she just ran right on past—” Patty said in an apologetic tone.

Sweet, sweet Patty, I thought. Just before I could reply and attempt to remedy the situation, the young woman swung her arms out in exasperation, but, as someone who obviously lacked spatial awareness, underestimated her own arm span and accidentally whacked Patty in the face. Right then, chaos abounded. Patty screamed as she cradled her nose, trying to stop the blood from seeping between her fingers and dripping on her floral sweater. The klutzy female stammered her apologies and attempted to help stanch the bleeding by tilting Patty’s head back. I could feel my face involuntarily contort as my receptionist’s perfectly coiffed hair suffered grievously at her assailant’s hands. To make matters worse, the young woman’s assistance was largely ineffective. Patty struggled to find her balance after having her head tilted back so sharply and without warning. Obviously, the balancing capabilities of the inner ear diminish exponentially as one ages, but the young woman seemed quite oblivious of these consequences. All within a matter of seconds, Patty, unable to maintain her balance, stumbled backward and fell to the ground, outraged and mortified. The young woman’s face flushed with shame as she bent down to try and hoist Patty back to her feet. Brian appeared in the doorway and inhaled sharply, eyes widening. He looked at me, obviously wanting to remedy the situation but wary of delving into a tangle of bloody, frustrated women.

“Brian, get Patty some Kleenexes and close the door! Maybe some Advil, too!” I shouted over the havoc, sparing Brian the pleasure of removing the overly zealous, clueless young woman from an infuriated Patty. Patty cursed (cursed!) and waved the woman away. She pinched the bloodied nostrils of her mangled nose together and looked down, horrified at the blood spatters marring the printed daisies on her favorite sweater (she wore it at least once a week). In the past twelve years I’d known her, I’d never seen our receptionist exude anything other than pleasant sweetness. I gaped at Patty, now a bloodied, disheveled heap, as she stared murderously at the young woman. In the blink of an eye (or rather, the smacking of a nose), the sweet, church-going receptionist I’d known for a dozen years vanished.

It appears this klutzy woman had smacked the Patty right out of Patty.

Brian gently aided Patty to her feet and ushered her from my office. As soon as the door closed with a resounding thud, I turned my attention to this feminine fiend. I was annoyed and quite frankly surprised that such a dainty young woman could be the catalyst for such chaos. I stared at her face, wanting to know how her jaw had sustained such bruising. Had she been beaten? If she traipsed about New York City drawing blood from the weakest members of society, I could understand why someone might retaliate. My attention was suddenly diverted to the blood spatters on my carpet. I sighed and gave her a pointed look. She smiled apologetically, but her face fell when my critical expression remained unchanged. I cleared my throat and raised an eyebrow before retreating to my office chair. She paled slightly and followed suit by sitting in the leather chair across from me.

The sound of the leather rubbing together as she shifted nervously was akin to flatulence. I, being well acquainted with my furniture and thus unaffected by the noise, took a rather callous pleasure in watching her squirm with discomfort. The bitterness I felt toward her felt uncomfortably foreign. After all, as a counselor, it was my duty and pleasure to listen, console, and advise any ailing New Yorker who crossed the threshold of my office. So, what made her different? After pondering the abnormal feelings of resentment, I decided, after glancing her way, that my actions were justified due to the simple fact that not one of my clients, no matter how shambled the state of their mental health, had ever assaulted a co-worker, especially one as attentive and kind as Patty, upon arrival.

This woman should have made an appointment. And I should send her away so I could make my coffee in the break room like I did every morning at this time. But something stopped me: my insatiable need to make things right. I decided to try and quell my feelings of dislike and do my very best to listen, console, and advise her.

I retrieved a notepad from my desk drawer and uncapped my favorite rollerball pen, the one that wrote and doodled with delicious fluidity, and beseeched the universe for vast quantities of patience and empathy, as my reservoirs had been unexpectedly depleted the moment this woman waltzed through my door.

Crossing my legs, I locked eyes with her and nodded my head, silently urging her to begin.

#

Great. Now the therapist hates you, I thought. This day just keeps getting better. I broke our eye contact and fumbled with my vocabulary, trying to find the best way to begin. I smiled apologetically, but his face remained stoic. I cleared my throat and began.

“H-hi there. Thank you for seeing me. My name’s Beth, and I really need your help,” I rasped, silently begging my saliva glands to hurry up and do their jobs. My frazzled nerves had turned my tongue into a dry, useless, floppy thing.

“I won’t argue with you there,” the man said through gritted teeth, obviously straining to maintain a neutral, polite tone. “My name is Dr. Roger Stevens. Please continue.”

I could tell I wasn’t the usual client. Obviously. I mean, what normal client goes around whacking old women in the face? Normal clients were supposed to calmly sit in the leather chairs, open up about their depression and anxiety, and then tell their counselor that they looked forward to next week’s appointment. I was pretty sure that, right at this moment, he was wondering what he’d done to anger the gods, silently lamenting to them that he deserved better than being trapped in this office with some accident-prone, old woman smacker. I fidgeted with the pom-poms at the end of my hand-knitted scarf and inhaled deeply.

“I guess I should begin with this morning, then,” I said, looking for a sign of approval. He nodded slightly and uncapped his pen, poised to take notes.

“So, I woke up this morning and was incredibly cold,” I said.

“You felt cold? In the winter time? Truly surprising,” the counselor said, nodding understandingly.

I nodded as well, grateful for his empathy, until I realized that he was smirking, clearly not afraid to make fun of me. Okay, so maybe I deserved it. I cleared my throat and gathered my thoughts.

“Since it was cold, I tried to pull up the blankets, but my hand slipped, and I punched myself in the face. Right here in the jaw,” I said, pointing at the unsightly bruise that marred my face. “I know. I’m an idiot. And I tried to go back to sleep, but that’s when I saw the time. It was 8:20 a.m. Great, right? I was late for work!” I scanned his face. He didn’t look surprised.

“So, I jumped out of bed but, lucky me, the sheet caught on my foot, and my whole body slammed into the floor, my nose included.”

Roger’s eyebrows shot upward. “You mean, you gave yourself a nosebleed today as well?”

“I—Well, yes,” I said quietly. Roger wrote something down. “What are you writing?”

“Not—good—with—noses,” he said, each word articulated slowly and distinctly. I scowled at him. He offered a cheeky smile, but he suddenly remembered his frustration with me, and the smile instantly evaporated. I pressed on.

“I yanked my foot out from the sheets and walked into my bathroom. I remember looking in the mirror and being horrified. Nothing like being greeted by the sight of a mangled face and blood dripping everywhere.”

That’s when Roger interrupted me. “I take comfort knowing that you know how Patty feels,” he said dryly.

I grimaced. “Anyway, I began to wash my face when—drumroll please—soap got in my eye. There I was, Roger, screaming, trying to turn on the water, but my head ran into the faucet. I got it to turn on even though I was totally blind. Then I threw on my work clothes.”

Roger sighed, rubbing his forehead. I ignored him.

“That wasn’t even the worst part. After that mess of a morning, I tried to go downstairs to breakfast and—”

“Let me guess,” Roger began scribbling, “you fell down the stairs.”

I nodded and put my head in my hands. I didn’t want to tell him that I was pretty sure my toe was broken because of that.

“I walked—hobbled, honestly—over to the Keurig to make coffee and used my favorite mug. As soon as I walked outside to my car, a stupid bird—you’re going to make fun of me—flew over me and pooped in my coffee. That’s right, it pooped in my coffee cup. How does that even happen? And see, without my coffee, I literally can’t function—”

“Clearly,” Roger said again, writing furiously. I smiled, happy that he understood, and continued.

“I was angry. I remember just screaming and throwing my arms out—”

“You mean like with Patty?”

“Stop interrupting me!”

“Stop throwing your hands out.”

I sighed, sitting back in the chair in defeat. “Unfortunately, when I threw my hands out, my coffee splattered on me, and my favorite mug flew into the bushes. It burned my hand—” I rolled up my sleeves to show Roger, “and got all over my clothes.”

Roger’s eyes flickered disapprovingly to the coffee stains on my blouse, and he jotted down more notes.

“I climbed into my car, but unfortunately, my fingers got caught in the door as it shut. Now one’s dislocated, one’s purple, and I can’t seem to find the other three—”

He looked up in horror.

“Just kidding, doc, they’re all to be accounted for… But seriously, I just decided to call in sick and come straight to a therapist. Or counselor. Whatever you are. Please help me, Roger. This is a nightmare,” I pleaded with him.

#

I smiled politely and ran my fingers through my hair. I peered out the window, thankful for the peaceful snowfall, and pondered her plea. This was quite an unusual case. It didn’t seem to be a disorder or an illness—nothing a prescription could fix. I was still not quite sure how this poor, frazzled woman managed to survive in New York. Talk about danger: whizzing cars, disagreeable people, an endless maze of streets and alleyways… Part of me was impressed that, despite her inclination for the unlucky, she was remarkably resilient. I rested my chin on my hand, considering the poor, battered woman before me. Her lip quivered, and her eyes were wide with desperation. I’ll admit, as I glanced at the bruise on her face, the splotches of coffee on her blouse, and the tears in her eyes, I practically felt the frustration seep out of me as feelings of empathy intermingled with pity quickly replaced it. I resituated my notepad to write down a recommendation for weekly visits, tore out the piece of paper, and called Beth forward, handing her my suggestions. She began to cry softly as she pocketed the piece of paper. Uncomfortable with the overwhelming compassion I was beginning to feel toward her, I stood up and quickly ushered the woman out of my office, hoping to be rid of her before Havoc came to knock at my door again—or rather, burst through my door without an appointment and smack my receptionist in the face.

She and I walked down the hallway side by side, shoulder to shoulder. The receptionist’s desk loomed ahead to the right, and Beth slowed her pace, obviously wary of Patty, the battle-hungry lioness that might be prowling about as she nursed her wounds and plotted her revenge. I gripped her elbow reassuringly and stepped between Beth and the lion’s den.

Unfortunately for Beth, Patty was indeed pacing around her desk, eyes aflame with fury, hungry for justice. Though I’m sure she yearned to pounce, she didn’t advance toward us. I looked at Patty and rolled my eyes understandingly, trying to convey my sympathy for her and my annoyance with Beth. I wasn’t actually annoyed with Beth, but I figured implying that I sided with Patty would be good for my physical health, increase my lifespan, and heighten my quality of life while on this earth. Patty lifted her chin triumphantly, satisfied that I was on her side and finally escorting the feminine fiend out of the building—and her life—forever (or so Patty thought; she had no idea that Beth was coming back for weekly visits).

We entered the elevator in silence, both of us breathing a sigh of relief. I removed my hand from Beth’s elbow and stepped into the corner just beyond the length of her arm span. Her hands were shaking, most likely with nervousness, but I didn’t want to take a chance lingering in her vicinity in case her arms had another sudden hunger for blood.

We reached the ground floor, and I placed my hand underneath her elbow once more to stabilize her (and to make sure she successfully vacated the building without any more casualties; I rather liked the nose on Mr. Baltin the doorman and didn’t wish it any harm). I nodded in Mr. Baltin’s direction, and he tipped his hat as he opened the door for us both, waggling his eyebrows suggestively at Beth as she passed. Ah, Mr. Baltin. He made me laugh.

I helped, or rather pushed, her through the door and told her I would see her next week.

“Yeah, we’ll see you next week!” Mr. Baltin said over-zealously. I cast him a side-eye. I rather liked quirky people like Mr. Baltin, but sometimes, such people needed a little reprimand. Mr. Baltin’s smile disappeared immediately, his face darkening in shame. For some reason, I seemed to be a fountain of grace today, so I smiled at him before turning back to Beth. I waved at her as she walked toward the crosswalk.

“Take care, Beth!” I shouted.

She waved back but proceeded to dig the slip of paper I’d given her out of her pocket. She looked as if she was about to ask a question pertaining to the appointment time I’d scribbled on it, but, her luck being as it was, a winter wind managed to nab the piece of paper from her hand. She raced out into the busy street, venturing far beyond the safety of the crosswalk. The wind suddenly relinquished the slip of paper, and, wearied from its flight, the paper fell swiftly into a puddle in the middle of the street. Whether Beth was blissfully unaware or deliberately ignoring the oncoming traffic, she bent down to retrieve it. All of a sudden, I saw a dingy, yellow taxi cab barreling toward her.

“Beth!” Mr. Baltin and I cried out simultaneously.

The taxi cab blared its horn but veered just in the nick of time. Beth, with her slip of paper finally in hand, looked up, wide-eyed. The blood drained from her face when she saw the taxi driver speed off and began piecing together what had happened (or rather, what had almost happened).

Mr. Baltin and I breathed a sigh of relief. But it wasn’t over yet. She remained frozen, her eyes glued to the taxi as it meandered through traffic and quickly disappeared.

“Beth, what the hell are you doing? Get out of the street!” I yelled, realizing that she was in shocked stupor. It worked, because she looked back at me and began to race toward the opposite side of the street. She stepped up on the curb and waved at me victoriously. Thank God she was finally safe and that another crisis had been averted. I could finally go back inside. I glanced at my watch. Calvin, my next client, would be here any moment. He was never late. That’s when I heard a scream and the crunch of metal, followed by a string of profanities.

In the few seconds I had taken to glance at my watch, a bicyclist, presumably on his way home from work by the look of his professional garb, had slammed into Beth. Despite making impact, the bike still had momentum. The biker flew into a telephone pole, and his bike clattered to the concrete. Both parties lay in crumpled, mangled heaps. Concerned bystanders rushed to both the injured biker and the unconscious, bleeding woman.

I could only gape. Mr. Baltin began to whimper.

Just then, Calvin walked up.

“Greeting me at the door today, eh? Incredible service. I guess you’re the most highly rated therapist in New York for a reason,” he chuckled, elbowing me lightly. It took everything in me to tear my eyes away from the chaos across the street and greet him. I smiled weakly and turned back to watch the gathering crowds of people, my eyes roving about for any sign of Beth betwixt the group of people gathered around her. Calvin, confused at my lack of engagement, followed my gaze and gasped. That’s when I saw it: Beth, that little warrior of a woman, had managed to stand with the help of two strangers. A siren (hopefully belonging to an ambulance) sounded in the distance. She flashed a bloody smile at me and waved weakly.

“See you next week,” she yelled before going limp in both of the strangers’ arms. Calvin turned to look at me, obviously surprised that she was also a client of mine.

“I suddenly feel better about having only mild depression,” he said, running a hand over his bald head and chuckling nervously. Not the time, Calvin. Not the time. He turned and entered the building, anxious to begin his session. Mr. Baltin reached out, as if to caress her from across the street, whereas I could only shake my head in wonder. I couldn’t believe I had the audacity to call myself a therapist when I had almost sent this woman away for the sake of following my own schedule. I felt a buzz in my back pocket—Brian had texted me, asking for updates on Beth. No doubt Patty was just as curious about the woman.

Boy, oh boy, were they going to love this story.

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“the second try at poetry – kindling [incomplete]”

the look you gave me yesterday was kindling.

the way you grinned and intertwined your fingers with mine cleared away the brittle, bitter remnants in the fire pit of my past.

your arm encircled my waist, and yesteryear’s embers glowed red.

my neck was flint, and the blade of your tongue, with gentle, inquisitive swirls, worshipped its surface.

you whispered to me amidst a tumultuous sea of sheets, and a frenzied summer wind birthed a blue flame.

adoring words and roving palms delicately foraged for branches of willowy spruce to provide fodder for that brilliant, fiery blaze; but the flame realized it couldn’t be sustained by innocent explorations alone.

it demanded more.

“the first try at poetry – a time of heaving”

heaving sobs.

she said—she said she didn’t want to be here anymore.

heaving laughter.

they need you. though you’re amidst death, offer them a sip of your life.

heaving gasps.

run until you can only feel the ache in your lungs, calves, not your weary eyes or palpitating heart.

heaving burdens.

pray. pray until you can’t hear the devil anymore.

heaving bodies.

cry together. cry. just

heaving shoulders.

it’s okay to ladle a cup of the bitterness bubbling within and offer your friends the chance to partake in the communion.

and hey, it’s okay to greet them with the embrace of fists clenching tufts of torn hair,

rather than a wry grin or a knowing wink.

heave together.

heal together.

“the grilled nuggets” – an exercise in writing from the perspective of a person who is the exact opposite of you doing your job

“You’re welcome,” Matt said to the departing customer, his smile taut and quickly waning. His supervisor nudged him.

“It’s my pleasure, remember?” Patricia said gently. This guy just couldn’t get it right. She knew it was his third day on the job, but he really seemed to be struggling to connect with the guests. Not a good sign.

“Right. Sorry,” Matt said, offering her the same taut smile. Why he had to get a job, he had no idea. Sure, his dad wanted him to “build character” or whatever, but he had better things to do. He was only sixteen. He had his whole life to work. He took comfort in the fact that Fortnite awaited him at home. Exasperated, Matt lifted his wrist and made no attempt hiding the fact that he was checking his Apple watch for the time.

It was 4 p.m. in the restaurant, and there wasn’t a single customer in line.

Matt’s shoulders relaxed. He couldn’t take much more of this fake smiling and “my pleasure” business. The uniform was tacky, too.

All of a sudden, a woman toting a salad and a sticky, wailing toddler came storming through the front door. Matt couldn’t see the sticky texture from where he stood behind the counter, but he was sure that the kid was sticky. Little kids always were.

The woman arrived at the counter and shifted the toddler from one arm to the other, football style. Her eyes were aflame with frustration and mortification, as her baby’s wails drew attention from all corners of the restaurant. Matt squirmed nervously. This woman exuded superiority and was obviously was far more powerful than he.

“C-can I help you, ma’am?”

“I don’t know, can you—” she paused to look at his name tag before spitting out his name, “—Matt? I just went through the drive through and failed to receive my kid’s meal and my Cobb salad with grilled nuggets. I asked for grilled, Matt. Why aren’t the nuggets grilled?”

She angrily slid the salad over the counter to Matt, almost dropping her baby in the process. The baby wailed louder. Matt, who normally would have rolled his eyes in frustration and flounced about as he walked to the other team members who were bagging the food, could only clutch the salad and stammer incoherently. He turned helplessly to Patricia.

Seamlessly, Patricia stepped in, replaced the salad with the salad she asked for, and was sure to include the kids’ meal that was forgotten. She politely and calmly remedied the situation and boldly cracked a self-deprecating joke.

The woman obviously fought the smile tugging at her lips, but a small smile appeared anyway, and she thanked Patricia and Matt for being so forthcoming. Much of her frustration had obviously abated.

Matt felt astounded and watched open-mouthed as the woman left as swiftly as she came, a sticky toddler in one arm and a sack with the kids’ meal and Cobb salad (with grilled nuggets) in the other. She thanked Patricia over her shoulder. Patricia looked at Matt expectantly.

“My pleasure,” he called back. The woman smiled. She didn’t fight it this time.

That phrase carried more power than he once thought. It felt good. Maybe he should give this place another try.

Patricia was kind of cute, too.

“the shakira song” – an exercise in the third person

The room buzzed and fluttered, and bright, moving dots of colored light flickered on the walls from the outdated disco ball above the dance floor. The air smelled of alcohol and lust, and Shakira’s voice shamelessly goaded the college party-goers to, as one might say, go at it. Peter Michaels knew this was a bad idea. Clubbing? On a Thursday night? Seriously, how did any of these inebriated youths get their work done?

Now, Peter himself was a youth. And he didn’t think he was above the rest of them. And he most certainly didn’t traipse about the campus with an air of pretentiousness. He just loved the comfort of knowing he was doing well in school and had a bright future ahead of him.

He had gone out with his friend group, a rowdy bunch, after much pleading from his best friend, Sam Lancaster, and Peter, as a young man who wasn’t normally one to give into peer pressure, only complied (begrudgingly) after he was reminded by Sam that it was Sam’s birthday, after all, and why not take a break from all of that studying for organic chemistry to celebrate his best friend?

It wasn’t long before their friend group of five had arrived at the local bar, and Sam had been all too eager to place a beer into Peter’s hand. Sam uttered an earnest, final thank you and asked if Peter wanted to dance and maybe meet a girl. Peter barely managed to prevent his lip from curling with distaste, and silently applauded himself for only offering a polite smile and a shake of his head. Suddenly, Shakira’s voice hit a high note and echoed on the massive speakers overhead. Sam’s eyes went wide with glee, and he disappeared into the crowd of flouncing, writhing bodies.

Peter merely sighed and sipped the beer, leaning against the wooden countertop of the bar. He didn’t approve of sloven drunkenness, but he appreciated a good brew. But then he saw it. All of a sudden, his body went rigid, paralyzed with fear. He clutched his beer with an anxious ferocity not known to himself before this very moment. What should he do? What could he do? Peter’s eyes roved about the room looking for a glowing, red exit sign. It was too late. His worst nightmare was upon him.

“Hi,” a girl said.

She walked toward him with a sway in her hips, her body undulating in a sultry manner in reverence to Shakira.

Peter froze. Unfortunately, the girl did not. She placed her small hand on his chest, and Peter couldn’t help but inhale the alcohol on her breath.

“Come dance with me.”

“Thank you for the offer, but I’m going to sit this one out.”

“Not a fan of Shakira?”

“Yeah. Yeah, that’s it,” Peter shouted, trying to be heard over Shakira, grateful for a valid reason to abstain from dancing… with a female.

The girl wasn’t deterred. She reached to take the beer out of his hand and placed it on top of the bar.

Not the beer, Peter silently pleaded in anguish, looking for his friends. Sam, where the hell are you?

The moment she took his hand and gently tugged him toward the sea of sweaty, dancing youths, he swore that the only alcohol he would appreciate from now on would be the alcohols found in the functional groups of his organic chemistry notes, and they would only be be appreciated in his room alongside the notes on amines, carboxylic acids, ketones, and ethers.

Unfortunately, the girl that took his hand seemed to be—Peter gulped nervously at this particular observation—an extrovert. That being the case, she confidently led him right into the center of the swarm. Suddenly, Peter locked eyes with Sam, who was dancing wildly alongside two other girls. All had clearly imbibed far too much. Sam’s lazy smile quickly became an animated, suggestive grin. Obviously, he wasn’t going to be much help.

“Yo, who is this?” Sam slurred, evidently not deterred by the glare Peter shot him.

The girl just smiled a drunken, serene smile.

“I have no idea,” Peter threw his hands in the air, hoping to convey his exasperation, exhaustion, and discomfort with the gesture. When Sam gave him two thumbs up, Peter made note that drunk people aren’t all that great at picking up social queues.

The song changed to a different Top 50 song. Peter’s body refused to partake in the beat or give into the girl’s incessant, albeit a little intriguing, attempts at enticement. This was going to be a long night.

“God’s eyes” – an exercise in setting

Thirty minutes ago, I got a phone call from my dad. I had been walking to the library to work on an essay about Virginia Woolf when my phone started buzzing. I answered it. I’ll never forget the sound of his broken sobs.

“R-Reagan…” my dad had said, whimpering.

I remembered instantly clutching the phone to my face, treating it as a placeholder for the broken man on the other end. I’ve never seen or heard him cry before; it had been so frighteningly out of place. I’m supposed to be the emotional one in my family. I’m supposed to be the crier. I cry at everything, happy or sad. As any normal human being’s would, all of my emotional resolve crumbles when Jean Val Jean breathes his last at the end of Les Misérables. As my particular biological makeup would have it, my tear ducts are triggered not only by extreme sadness, but also by extreme euphoria. There are days when I can’t help but cry as I walk to class, basking in the radiance of a spring sun while listening to my “soul salve” playlist on Spotify and wearing those worn Birkenstocks and my favorite baggy, yellow t-shirt. Days like that are euphoric, and their perfection deserves to be cried over.

Crying is my job.

Holding our family together is my dad’s.

Today, our roles were about to change.

And I was okay with it. But I wasn’t prepared.

“It’s your mom,” he had managed to say.

Shit. It’s how all of those conversations usually began in novels and movies.

This wasn’t how my freshman year of college was supposed to start. I had been just about to open the door to the library, ready to nestle into a leather couch and type the afternoon away. But I stopped, pausing to fight the nausea that was fighting me right back. It was winning. My brain failed to process the sentences my dad so achingly put together, so the only words I distinctly remembered were car wreck and drunk driver and hospital and too late and come home. I sank to my knees in disbelief. Instead of nestling into a leather couch for the afternoon, I found myself resting my cheek on a Bible verse etched into the concrete. I didn’t care about the other college students stepping over and around me to get to the door—some were annoyed, some nervous, some unbothered. I just breathed and ached and cradled myself in a fetal position, right there, about five feet from the entrance.

But I didn’t cry. I still haven’t cried.

Right now, I’m listening to my dad trying to compose himself as he relays the details of the accident to me, like a news reporter would in that articulate, matter-of-fact way. I can only lay here, motionless on the concrete right outside the library. I shift onto my back, allowing my back pack to cushion my head. The library building, ornate and Gothic in nature, looms above me. Honestly, I haven’t talked to God in a while, so I don’t really know where to begin. What’s He like? Should I sit up and adopt a position of reverence? Should I bow my head? I think these things, but I don’t feel in the mood to revere anything. I let the breeze caress my hair, the way a mother would. I watch as ornery grackles a few feet away fight over a granola bar, the way siblings would. I peer at the two stained glass windows that adorn the library’s clock tower, and pretend that the two kaleidoscopic leadlights of impressive stature and color, are God’s eyes, and I begin to pray, as my dad would. I’ve forgotten how to pray, and I’m afraid that if I close my eyes to do so, I’ll start to cry. So I keep my eyes open and stare into God’s eyes, praying.

             God, why did you have to take my mom away? Why’d you have to let that drunk driver hit her? Why didn’t you give me the chance to apologize to her again for bothering her with my feelings before she died? Why wouldn’t she forgive me? Why did she ignore me? Why did she not believe I struggled with depression? Why did her impatience with me grow into bitterness? Why are you doing this to my dad? And my sisters?

And the grackles finally resolved to split the granola bar. The breeze ceased. And the windows, expressionless, continued to loom and stare.

“Reagan, are you still there?” my dad asked.

“dusting” – an exercise about before and after

I couldn’t remember the last time I’d dusted. Hell, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d danced. And yet, here I was, doing both simultaneously. It was absolutely crazy to me how much he’d changed me. We’d only met just six months ago. And now, I can’t imagine life without him. His favorite music was reverberating throughout my apartment. I wasn’t really into country, but, for him, I was willing to endure the twang and the repetitive story lines about women and drinking. After all, I was a woman, and who didn’t appreciate one or two beers at the end of the day? Perhaps I really was made to love country music. Now, I had an excuse to delve into it and try a little harder…


Ten months. How he’d made me start to like (enjoy was probably the proper term, but I’d never let him know that!) one of the most polarizing music genres in the music industry was beyond me. What was this? What were these feelings? I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been in a relationship and been completely satisfied by conversation alone. He understood the importance of being healthy in all areas—emotionally, mentally, and, most importantly, spiritually. He wanted to do this relationship the right way. He wanted God to be at the center of this. And, ten months in, here I was. Dusting some more, dancing, singing along with George Strait—and completely enthralled.


He was gone. I couldn’t believe it. I was driving in the rain, and my windshield wipers swaying back and forth in a frenzied, panicked way. That’s how I felt. I gripped the steering wheel, digging my finger nails into the soft leather. George Strait’s voice sang softly on the radio. I wanted to die. Two years of us. Two years of consistent dusting and endless dancing and fervent worshipping of the One who’d made us… only for him to be struck by a drunk driver on the way to work. A week had gone by. His funeral was today. The sky was sobbing. And I never wanted to dust ever again.