Down By the Lake

This week’s post was a last-minute change. Same prompt, but completely different product.

Although this piece reads more like the background story of a larger work, it’s a good place to start a new work-in-progress. Like my novel, Xander’s story has also been with me for a few years, and I’ve scribbled parts of it in my iPhone notes, on scraps of paper, journals, etc. I may or may not be starting a new project altogether, and I’m grateful to this blog for giving me the push to come out with it, and because I finally seem to be getting back into the writing mindset – this week’s piece came as naturally as last week’s post. I looked up and had something I was more or less happy with that didn’t feel like pulling teeth.

Happy reading! Stay tuned for more snippets of my works-in-progress, and let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Trigger warning: Suicide, gun violence, self-blame.

Image of grey canoe on calm body of water near tall trees at daytime
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Her dad was her secret obsession.

The kind of obsession that comes from realizing you didn’t know someone as well as you thought you did. When everything you thought you knew about someone is flipped on its head and you question even the smallest detail of the most inconsequential memory of the most mundane day. A yes suddenly means no, or maybe or nothing at all.

The obsession then breeds questioning, the endless quest of answerless circles to arrive at the why, or at the very least at the moment where the front was up. The only available answer is that you’re the one to blame, for not picking up on the discrepancies sooner. You’re the one to blame for trusting them in the first place, for being blind to the red flags.

Her dad was her biggest blind spot, or maybe the smallest – maybe that’s how he slipped past her. It was cliché to describe him as the man she’d known and loved the longest in her life, but it was true. They weren’t the same person, but they complimented each other because they weren’t, and yet they could have the nastiest arguments that lasted weeks. Her mom would say that he’d married her only so she could give him the true love of his life.

And he was the love of her life. The man that was so frustrating and impossible to deal with at times, and the one she could still not forgive for naming her Xander and not have it be short for Alexandra. The man was so impossible that, with a name like Henry with a wife called Nancy, he chose to name his only daughter Xander. He was impossible, and yet he was the man she was utterly unprepared to live without. So when he died, her world came down.

Xander hadn’t had any special name for him other than Dad or Father when she was upset at him not giving into her way immediately. She also didn’t call him before making a decision, big or small, college choice or different coffee order. But she did ask him once why boys didn’t seem to take her seriously, why she got stood up by yet another guy.

“Maybe I’m the problem,” she’d said.

“You’re not the problem, Xander,” he’d answered. “You’re the solution.”

So what was his problem? Why had he taken his own life at the lake? The same lake they’d gone to together since she was a child? The same lake where she’d asked him what college she should go to and where she’d talked him out of filing for divorce. Hadn’t she been his solution too?

Xander knew her dad inside out, and she’d prided herself in that even when her mom pulled rank. She could get through to him when her mom or others couldn’t. She knew how he hated when the hem of his dress pants came loose or how he’d indulge in a coke Slurpee from 7/11 when he had a hard day. The easiest way to get him fired up was to give him a wet willy, but the easiest way to put him out was to give him a white chocolate Kit Kat.

Why the lake? Obviously it wasn’t as special to him as it had been to her. It wasn’t just that he polluted their special place with his last thoughts and the squeeze of the trigger, but he’d forced others onto their hallowed spot. After that day, the paramedics, police, firefighters and coroner were privy to the place where they shared their deepest secrets and earnest conversations.

But he obviously hadn’t shared all his secrets. 

Worst of all, her mom had gone to their spot too, and that was the worst betrayal of all. After she had stopped going to their camping and fishing trips, Xander had put it in no unclear terms that she didn’t want her mom there, that it was Xander and Dad’s spot. Even when it stopped being wholesome and started being annoying, her mom knew it wasn’t her moments to share. So why would Dad make a choice that he knew would ruin Xander’s favorite place for the rest of her life?

Obsessed with answerless circles, Xander decided to leave behind her favorite place in the whole world in favor of a chance at some answers. She did have one though: it was her fault for not knowing soon enough to talk him out of it.

Grape Juice

This writing prompt was an unusual one, mainly for what it turned into once I started writing: A kid from your class that you don’t know very well shows up at your door. This post turned into an exercise in voice, and although I ended up writing my first short story in almost five years, I’m not sure I hit the mark. However, in the interest of writing and getting stuff out to use my creative writing muscles again, I’m posting what I consider a good attempt at a first draft.

I would say that writing in a kid’s voice is difficult, but I’m finding any and all voices difficult to write at the moment. I’m taking this draft for what it is – an exercise, and exercises are meant to build up your strength and tone up your muscles.

Happy reading! This prompt also came from the very handy 642 Things to Write About by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. Let me know your thoughts on the draft in the comments.

Black and white image of three boys running onto a field
Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

He runs through the wooden door to the balcony. The sun is just starting to set and will provide the perfect cover soon. If he could only make it down to the forest below, he could run and hide under the cover of twilight.

He looks over the edge of the balcony. The fall is too high but he can make it – everything is possible in this land. His legs have but to respond to a command and he will leap over the stone edge and drop down. He takes a few steps back to get a good jump, but the guards have caught up to him. With swords in hand, they prepare to slice him, so he takes out his own knife and takes a few swings to drive them back.

He decides to chance it and takes a running start. Knife still in his hand, he leaps over the edge and begins the drop to the forest below when – 

“Milo! Get out here please!”

The pirate had just made it down to the forest when Mom knocked on the door. He pressed the Save command and exited the game. Milo hopped off the chair and went to open the door.

“Milo, what have I told you about locking this door?”

“It was an accident! I wanted to concentrate, so I closed the door and it must have locked itself. I was close to finishing that map.”

Mom rubbed her forehead and closed her eyes. “Your friend is at the door. Please come down and let him into the living room.”

“What friend?”

“He says his name is Kenny.”

Milo came out of his bedroom and walked down the hallway toward the front door. “He’s not my friend. We’re in the same class, but he’s kind of weird.”

“Well, he came to see you, so you be nice.” Milo groaned but kept walking.

Kenny stood in the doorway, looking in Milo’s direction. Kenny’s jacket was draped over one shoulder, and the t-shirt underneath was red. The porchlight showed just a bit of the dirt on his jeans, right on the knees – Mom wouldn’t like that. Dirt would get on the couch.

“Kenny? What are you doing here? How did you find my house?”

“Hi, Milo!” Kenny looked at his hands and took a small step inside the house. “Do you, uh, wanna play?”

“It’s dark out,” Milo said. “Why are you here?”

“Does your mom know where you are, honey?” Mom asked. “Come in and wait for her here.”

“No, please don’t call my mom!” Kenny said and came inside. His clothes were really dirty, and his shoelaces were untied. Milo was pretty sure he hadn’t worn those same clothes to school that day. Under better lighting, he saw a bit of the picture on Kenny’s t-shirt – the same pirate that had jumped the balcony.

“You play Sword Escape too?”

Kenny smiled and stepped further in. Mom went to close the door. “Yeah! It’s awesome. But my computer broke and I can’t play anymore. Wanna play now?”

“Honey, it’s really late. Do you know your mom’s phone number so she can come get you?”

“Please don’t call my mom!” Kenny yelled. Mom really wouldn’t like that. Kenny broke the no screaming rule.

“Milo, please take your friend to the kitchen while I make a couple of phone calls. Pour yourselves some grape juice – carefully, please.”

“He’s not my friend,” Milo said. Kenny looked down at his hands and pulled at his t-shirt. Milo felt bad, but Mom had said they could have grape juice. It was after dinner and almost bath time – this never happened!

“Come on, Kenny,” Milo waved over and walked to the kitchen. “Do you like grape juice?”

“I’ve never had grape juice.”

“Are you joking me?!” Milo stood on his tiptoes and grabbed two cups that were drying from dinner on the dishrack. He put them on the breakfast bar and walked over to the fridge. He opened the left door, but there was no juice there.

“Dang it, I did it again.” Milo closed the left door and opened the right door.

“Why does your fridge have two doors?” Kenny asked.

“That’s the freezer. We keep meat and ice cream in there, but I always mess up right and left.”

“I don’t think we have a freezer.”

Milo stood on his tiptoes again, reached for the juice and saw half a chocolate cheesecake. Mom said there wasn’t any left! “Where do you store you meat and ice cream then?”

“We eat McDonald’s for dinner and Randy sometimes brings us McFlurries.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever had McDonald’s.”

“Where do you eat chicken nuggets from then?”

Milo put the juice bottle on the breakfast bar and climbed up on a barstool. “Can you push the cups over? My mom makes chicken nuggets in the oven, but we only have them on Friday nights.”

Kenny climbed onto the other barstool and pushed the cups next to the bottle of juice. He leaned on the table and held the cups as Milo poured. A few drops fell on the table between the two cups, but Kenny wiped them with his sleeve.

“Thanks. Cheers!” Milo touched his cup to Kenny’s and took a sip.

“Why did you do that?” Kenny asked and took a sip of juice. He smiled and said, “This is really good!” He gulped the rest of it and wiped his mouth with the same sleeve.

“I don’t know. My dad does that when we have juice. His juice comes from a glass bottle though, and he says it’s adult grape juice.”

“Where is your dad?” Kenny asked, turning the cup over his mouth.

“He’s on a business trip,” Milo said. The juice was nice and cool, and very sweet. “He gets back in two more sleeps.”

“Cool.”

“Here, you can have mine,” Milo said and pushed his cup toward Kenny.

“Thanks!” Kenny grabbed the cup and smiled. He gulped it down as fast as the first. “Can we have more?”

Milo frowned and looked at the big bottle. “I don’t know. I’m not usually allowed to have anything after dinner. Better not chance it.”

“Okay,” Kenny said and started running his finger over the one drop of juice on the table.

“Why are you here?” Milo asked.

Kenny sighed and kept running his finger over the table, tugging a bit when it got sticky. “I ran away.”

“Why?”

“My mom and Randy started arguing again. He was in a bad mood after I came in from the playground with my jeans dirty – I fell off the monkey bars when I tried to jump. I think he said something about getting the couch dirty.”

“Who’s Randy?”

“My mom’s boyfriend.”

“Where’s your dad?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t met him.”

Milo thought about not knowing his dad. He thought about the video game he helped set up and the dance he taught him for the talent show – Milo could never do the robot arms like he could. Milo really missed his dad when he went on business trips, and if he never came back one day? His chest felt funny like when he’d cried the other day.

“That sucks,” Milo said.

“Randy is better than her last boyfriend, though. Clyde used to eat all our good food and buy only that gross bread with seeds in it.”

“I like that bread! My mom lets me have it with jam for breakfast sometimes.”

“I don’t like seeds!” Kenny said and looked up for his sticky finger on the table. “What if a tree grows in my stomach?!”

Milo laughed, and after a quick second Kenny laughed too.

“Do you want to sit on my table at lunch tomorrow?” Milo asked.

Kenny smiled really wide and Milo saw he had a tooth missing. “Sure!”

Mom came into the kitchen with her cellphone in her hand. “Kenny, it’s too late for you to go home and I can’t get a hold of your mom. It’s safer if you stay here tonight and I’ll take you both to school tomorrow.”

A sleepover on a school night? What a treat!

What I Hate About My Novel

Another exercise from my undergrad days (last week’s post was also a writing exercise from one of my first writing professors). Back then, I was working on my undergrad thesis piece, also about motherhood, and I found it incredibly frustrating at times, mainly because I felt whatever progress I made was useless and not good enough for a variety of reasons. So my thesis adviser told me to write about the writing. By free-writing everything I hated about the work, even asking questions or brainstorming about the plot as I went, the hopes were that I would get some direction.

I eventually finished my thesis. Maybe I’ll find and post a draft of it some day providing it survived the great motherboard disaster of 2015. Hopefully one day I’ll finish this novel?

Image of yellow crumpled papers in and outside a gray wire wastebasket
Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

I hate how long I’ve been working on it.

I hate that I picked a topic that I can’t relate to and won’t ever relate to, and now I have to actively research and doubt myself at every step of the way for fear that what I write is inaccurate. I hate that I don’t know my character inside and out like I was advised to, like I would want to, which makes writing her incredibly difficult.

I hate that I have to travel back in time to a place I don’t know very well to write about a topic I know nothing about. I hate that I have to get to know my main character, her sister, the relationship she has with her mother and the relationship she has with herself before I can start writing. I hate how this story is keeping me from another one I actually want to write about, one I can actually relate to. 

I hate that I can’t picture my character or the story when I sit down to write, when the blank page is staring at me or when yesterday’s word count fluctuates 100 words out as I type and delete, type and delete, type and delete… I hate how I can’t organize my thoughts around the plot, how every attempt at structure feels wrong.

But mostly, I hate how this story is so hard to write now. Where I once had direction, purpose and drive, now I have a blinking cursor and white space. Besides a woman who wants to carry and love the two babies growing inside her, who is she? Is she a vegetarian? Does she have an aversion to seafood? Does she hate the smell of cinnamon but craves pumpkin spiced lattes when she’s pregnant? Does she love bagels and lox but can’t stand the smell of dairy during her second trimester? I need to know this person as well as I know myself, so that narration comes as easy as writing a diary entry, and description becomes clear, concise and impactful.

The story now feels empty, kind of like my main character. Empty of importance, of reader appeal, of substance. She’s just an empty shell until I get to know her. Writing this story doesn’t feel like a shout into the void necessarily, but mostly like there’s no point in writing the story because it’s not important. I don’t doubt my writing (not on good days, anyway), and I don’t doubt that it won’t be one of the first stories told on the topic, but I have doubts about whether it will turn out successful. I’m so desperate to finish it, that I’m afraid once it’s finally done it won’t even be good. Kind of like when you’re in a crowded bar, desperately waiting for a drink, and when the busy bartender finally makes it to you, your beer is warm, flat and the bartender clocks out.

The story feels empty of not only substance and importance, but of appeal. If for me, the writer, the story doesn’t have that initial attraction, the attraction that made me want and need to write it in the first place, will it have any appeal for the reader? It is my job to create that appeal, but I hate that it’s such a hard story to write now that I don’t know how to keep going.

Two Lies and a Truth

For today’s writing doodle, I tried something I haven’t done in a long time: writing with pen and paper. Writing with pen and paper, not worrying about red squiggly lines under misspelled words or editing as I write, allowed for a true flow of thought. Whether it led anywhere or not (or if it even made sense), it really allowed me to let my thoughts flow and create a true writing doodle.

I have to confess, however, that I was a bit loopy on nighttime cold medication when I wrote this… so the flow of thought may be very disjointed, loose and, well, flowy. I did enjoy writing this entry, despite the haze of cold medicine, but I’m slightly worried I didn’t make a point by the end of the doodle, or if it’s even a good one.

But, in the spirit of sticking to my purpose of sharing my writing, I’m choosing to look beyond perfection and just keep writing. Maybe nothing will come off of this doodle, but maybe the next doodle will be better.

This entry is a response to the following prompt, taken from 642 Things to Write About by The San Francisco’s Writers’ Grotto“There are often three reasons for something: the reason we tell others, the reason we tell ourselves and the real reason. Write about the war among the three.”

Enjoy! Let me know what you think of these thoughts in the comments.

Writing on white lined pages.
What this entry looks like in my journal. Can you spot the horrendous typo?

The war among the three. The war is really about courage, courage to know the difference between the three reasons, and the implications of each one.

The war among the three is about empathy, how the different reasons, that are really a game of two lies and a truth, would affect others and our relationship with them.

Even for the most mundane of circumstances, every circumstance that requires an explanation, the implications vary. It could be as simple as why you changed your coffee order one day: “I was in the mood for a change” versus “I really wanted to try a different drink today” versus “I feel like my life has lost excitement and is getting out of my control, so this new coffee order will provide a change of pace that will inspire a bigger, more fulfilling and profound change in my life.”

What about the less pedestrian circumstances that require an explanation?

Why don’t you get the same sense of relief and happiness when you see your partner walk through the door of the home you share at the end of the day? “I saw them just this morning before we both went to work” versus “I didn’t miss them today” versus “I’m feeling suffocated and unfulfilled, and I don’t know how long I’ve been feeling like this, but  I don’t know why I don’t miss them when I don’t see them anymore.”

Especially when it comes to change, no matter how seemingly insignificant or infinitesimal, there is never harmony among the three reasons (the two lies and one truth) behind the change. Each reason then requires its own examination into their own two lies and one truth, and once we get to the inevitable center of the spiral, the real reason, the real truth behind a particular change, we can finally arrive at harmony. The truce of the war among the three.

This examination, of course, takes courage. Courage to not only ask the questions in the first place, but courage to answer each one truthfully within ourselves. Is there wisdom in knowing the difference? Is there wisdom in getting to the center of the spiral?

Would it be a cop-out, a cowardly dodge to the courage that it would otherwise take, to have the three reasons, the two lies and one truth, be concentric circles instead? They do, after all, exist within one another, for two have to always be lies for the one to be the truth.

This assumption then begs the question, which reason could be the truth? What degree of courage would it take to recognize we’re lying to ourselves? Which lie would be easier to tell?

So, as long as there’s change, there will always be a war among the three, because one of the three will not be like the others, and only with courage will we be able to, honestly, point to the real reason.

Going It Alone

This is part of another, longer almost-chapter, but this party scene is what I’m most proud of. The rest of the scene is still pretty rough, but let me know in the comments what you think the rest of the chapter is about!

Cupcake on a table
Photo by Joseph Gonzalez on Unsplash

During the last birthday party Bailey had been dragged to, she stood by the food and chatted to Connor’s sisters and a few other parents. He had barely gotten himself some burger sliders before his oldest nephew ran up to his leg and collided with Connor’s knee. The little boy immediately started crying and rubbing his nose. His face got redder and redder as he cried, but Bailey couldn’t bring herself to coo words of comfort at him like the other adults who witnessed the crash.

“Hey, it’s okay,” Connor said, shoving the last bite of food into his mouth. “Look, man, that hurt me a lot more than it hurt you and if I can walk away, you can too.” He started walking away into the backyard, but a step into it and he did a dramatic pretend-limp before rolling onto the grass and grabbing at his knee. He kept rolling and complaining about the pain, and his nephew started giggling.

“I think Uncle Connor may feel better if you play the Mamma Possum game,” Connor’s sister Melanie said to her giggling son. No sooner had she said that and he was off, hopping on Connor’s back before he could get up. Connor’s act of being stuck and not being able to stand from the toddler wrestling him down should have been adorable to anyone else, but Bailey got bored just as other kids started lining up waiting for their turn to be baby possums. 

“Yeah, he won’t thank me for that one later,” Melanie said. “But my back and my knees cannot take that damn game anymore.”

“At least it’ll tire them out. And I really appreciate that the kids’ cupcakes are more carrot than cake, by the way,” another mom said. “I have a show to catch up on when we put them to bed tonight.”

“I hope you weren’t expecting Connor to be up to much tonight,” Melanie’s husband said. “He’ll be wiped after that and the game of tag one of them was yelling about.”

Bailey chuckled politely as she nibbled at an almost-carrot-cake cupcake.

“Are you guys going to start a family?” Melanie asked.

Bailey wiped icing off her mouth and realized the question was for her. She glanced from face to face, contemplating the seriousness of the intrusive question.

“He wants to,” she answered, “but we haven’t had the conversation in earnest. I don’t really know how I feel about kids.”

“Oh, everyone says that,” the same mom with the carrot cake remark said. “Before we had Kendra, every kid’s whiny voice grated in my ear, and I even switched tables at a restaurant once because this kid was screeching bloody murder.”

“But you’ll like your own,” Connor’s other sister Nina said. “At least on most days.”

“Oh for sure,” carrot-cake mom said. “They’re disgusting little monsters on the best day, but I would kill anyone for them.”

Not knowing where to look or what to contribute to the conversation, Bailey looked around for an exit. A drink that could be refilled, a plate needed clearing… until she caught Connor’s eye as he finally extracted himself from the toddlers.

Just when she thought he was coming to save her, he only handed her his phone. “Can you hold onto that? One of the kids almost stepped on it.”

“Aunt Bailey, wanna play tag?” The red-faced boy asked, tears well and fully dried. He had caught up to Connor with small but persistent steps.

“No, thank you,” Bailey said, wincing at the address. The little boy lost his smile, and he looked at her the way all kids seemed to look at her, with a mix of fear and confusion. The look on dogs when they encountered a cat.

“She doesn’t like to be called Aunt Bailey, bud,” Connor said. “Just Bailey, ‘member?”

The boy put his hand in his mouth and looked around. Would it be acceptable for her to do the same?

“Yes,” he said through his fist.

“Get your hand out of your mouth and go round up the other kids for tag,” Connor said. The little boy ran off giggling. Connor turned to look at Bailey, but the smile he had for her wasn’t the same as the one he’d had for the kids. Everyone was still giggling at the Aunt Bailey remark, and he kissed her cheek before jogging to meet the kids assembling for tag. She hoped no one had seen how she turned her face as he approached her.

“Probably wise to wait to have that conversation, it looks like,” the carrot cake mom spoke again. She looked around at the other adults as she laughed at her own joke. “Looks like he’ll want more than one by the looks of it.”

“Yeah, and having siblings is so pivotal. I mean, the times I wanted to kill Connor and Nina sometimes, but – ” Melanie said. She quickly turned to look at Bailey and her face lost the smile as quick as her son had. “Oh shit, Bailey, I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Bailey said. “You’re right. Having siblings is pretty important. Will you excuse me?”

She walked away and waved Connor’s phone with a smile, hoping no one saw she had pockets she could store it in instead of her handbag.

Melanie would appreciate the space to explain her faux pas, although remarks like that hardly bothered Bailey anymore. She was more bothered about the Aunt Bailey comment.

First Sneak Peek into My Novel

This is the first peak into my work-in-progress novel. One of the reasons I started this blog was to have more ways to be held accountable to finish it, or at least to finish a draft of it, so I’m sharing an excerpt here. It has undergone a massive replotting, and I think this version works better in terms of characterization and storytelling as a whole. What didn’t change, however, is the main plot: a woman discovers she’s pregnant with twins and decides to journey into single-motherhood. A twin herself, she explores sisterhood as her pregnancy progresses, reflecting on her former life with her deceased sister.

The scene below is a snippet of the first scene I rewrote after replotting and re-planning. It is also the first scene I wrote after a very long break from writing creatively. I’m not entirely happy with how it turned out, but I’d like to have an entire draft manuscript before hacking away in the editing process.

Happy reading!

Image of white coffee cup on wooden table

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

Chinese Food

She made her way up the three-story walk-up, glad she’d postponed her grocery shopping trip until tomorrow when she’d be wearing more sensible shoes. She opened the door and Connor was there, looking at an open moving box on the coffee table and swirling keys in his hand.

“I thought you said you’d be gone by the time I came back.”

“And since when are you home before seven?”

“Since I wanted to come back and be alone with my Chinese food.”

She set her paper bag that had already started seeping through with grease on the kitchen island and leaned on the edge, kicking off her shoes. She was starving and wanted to dig in, thinking she smelled the kung pao chicken.

He looked at the moving box, she looked at him. She crossed her arms.

“I should go,” he said.

“Yes, you should.”

“Why is this so easy for you?” he asked, throwing the keys in the box and looking at her. “Why can you just get Chinese food, come home on time for once and just—”

“Go on? What, did you want me to cry for you? Not go into work, look a mess and wait for you to come get your shit?”

“Six years, Bailey. Six years we were together, and I propose to you and you say no and you’re the one who needs to be left alone?”

“Can you please just leave?” She smelled the wonton soup now, and if she didn’t eat that first and soon, she may as well throw it out.

He flopped onto the couch, pulling the box closer to him on the coffee table and putting his head in his hand. She rolled her eyes and went to the fridge. Two IPAs – she finally won’t have to buy those anymore and put up with the bloating. She took both, popping one open and setting it the furthest away from her on the dining table. She opened the other one and took a sip as she got some cutlery out.

She started eating and he started sniffling, but just as she was about to say something, he stood up and grabbed the beer. She looked straight ahead, chewing and slurping on the lukewarm soup, ignoring his eyes on her.

“I want to hate you,” he said. “But I’m just so sad.”

She shrugged her shoulders and drank the last of the broth.

He moved toward her and set the beer down. He took her face in his hands and pushed the food bag away.

Where was this yesterday?

That look hadn’t been in his eyes for months, that hungry look, when she could see the different specs of color in his hazel eyes that sometimes looked blue.

“This won’t change anything,” she said, standing up. His hands moved from her face to her hair.

“I know. It’s fine.”

But he didn’t know and it wasn’t fine. That look would be gone as soon as he was finished, along with whatever conviction he pulled together when he saw her indifference. But she meant what she said – one more time together wouldn’t change anything for her. The kung pao chicken tasted better reheated anyway.

Am I Patient Enough to be a Nurse?

This first “Writing About Me” prompt is also taken from the 642 Things to Write About by The San Francisco’s Writing Grotto (although they also have a 642 Things to Write About Me workbook that’s sitting blank on my shelf…). I’ve always thought James Lipton’s version of the Proust Questionnaire is a good conversation starter (and a good first date ice breaker), and while many of my answers to the questions have changed over the years, the consistent one has been what profession other than my own I would like to attempt.

So here I’ve attempted what I think a day as a nurse would have looked like for me. This entry has been inspired by Adam Kay’s books.

At the beginning of my career, I preferred nights, thinking I’d found a way around getting up early. What I didn’t know was that getting out of bed and going to work would never get easier no matter what time I set my alarm for. 

When my phone goes off at 6:30 p.m. on a January evening, it might as well be morning time that I still struggle to get out of bed. After a shower and a cup of tea, I’m out the door and on the road. With my days and nights fully reversed, nothing feels weird about having an egg sandwich and hash browns at my desk at 8:15 p.m. before seeing my first patient. 

Scanning my emails shows nothing that can’t wait until the end of my shift in 12 hours’ time, so I pop some gum in and go see my first patient. A 19-year-old female on an IV drip after alcohol poisoning.

“Home for winter break?” I ask her. The sooner I get her talking, the sooner I can empty the bed for the next person. Her notes show she’s been here since the morning, with BAC of 0.21, responsiveness sporadic. 

“Yes. I met with my friends from high school before I go back this weekend,” she says quietly. She’s rubbing her head, and I see goosebumps on her arms.

“I see. Well, let me get you another blanket while you wait for someone to pick you up.”

“My dad went home to get me some clothes and said he’d be back.”

“That’s fine. But please, take better care when you get back to school,” I say. I know full well this advice has a 50% success rate.

I make my way to the next room. 8-year-old male with a likely broken wrist. Waiting for results of X-rays, given kids’ Tylenol for pain half an hour earlier. Mom is sitting with him on the bed playing on an iPad when I poke my head in. 

“Hi, my name is Vanessa and I’m taking over for Nurse Ryan. Anything I can get for you guys while you wait?” I never understood nurses who insist of being addressed a certain way. We all got our certification (we wouldn’t be seeing patients without it) and letters besides RN are meaningless for people outside the profession. They only care about doctors versus nurses.

“Do you know how long the results will take?” Mom asks.

“Says here he went in an hour ago, and they’re not too busy back there so it shouldn’t take much longer.” I have no way of knowing if that’s true or not as I haven’t been back to Radiology yet, but what Mom doesn’t know…

“I’m hungry,” the patient says.

“I’ll get you some crackers, or a sandwich since you probably haven’t had dinner.”

His face lights up just as Mom says, “Nothing with gluten, if it’s possible.” Of course.

With a smile and a nod, I go to the next room. 20-year-old female with abdominal pain. Pregnancy test negative, waiting to go for a PET scan for appendicitis. And so I’ve found my favorite for the night.

“Hi there. How are you feeling?” She’s alone, shivering and with tear streaks down her face. 

“I’m just waiting.”

“Let’s get you a blanket. Are you here with anyone?”

“No. I’m from out of state,” she says and sniffs.

“I just started my shift, so please ring that button when you need anything or have any questions, okay?” I made a decision early on in my training that I wouldn’t use pet names for patients. No one takes a twenty-something nurse seriously when she addresses patients by “honey” or “sweetie.”

The triage nurse brings in a brand new patient into an empty room, so my introductions have to stop while I assess him. The man is walking with a limp and there’s some blood trickling down the bad leg. I make a point to mention to triage to at least offer wheelchairs. His face is ashen and his hands are trembling, and a young girl follows behind him carrying a coat. I introduce myself but he looks at the girl instead of at me and doesn’t respond.

“My dad doesn’t speak English,” she says. 

She interprets as I go about asking what happened and checking his chart. The girl keeps an even tone as she rattles off in English then what sounds like Farsi, but the patient sounds agitated and grimaces in between sentences. Once I confirm there aren’t any allergies, I hook up an IV and run to get a bag and painkillers. I leave them to wait for the doctor, hanging his chart in its place next to the door, and grab a few blankets, a sandwich and drink. I could have checked our gluten-free fridge on a slower day, but Broken Wrist’s chart didn’t show any allergies that Mom stated when they came in.

I already lose track of how long I’ve been away from the first set of patients when I give Broken Wrist his sandwich and the doctor is with him. He’s a little teary-eyed as the doctor examines his wrist gingerly, and I know she’s looking to set it in place when she glances at me with the food – she’s had people throw up on her before when she resets broken bones.

“Give this to him when I’m bandaging him up after the doctor is done,” I whisper in Mom’s ear. “To distract him.” She’s so focused on her little boy that she doesn’t notice the sandwich is full of gluten and the drink is an off-brand soda.

I drop off the spare blankets, making a point to make a loud noise as I walk into Alcohol Poisoning’s room. She perks up and whimpers as I drape the blanket on top of her. When I go see Potential Appendicitis, she has her arms around her stomach and is sniffling and grimacing.

When I make my way back to check on Bloody Limp, he’s calmed down a bit and the daughter is on her phone. I make a mental note to go to Radiology to see how far away Appendicitis is from being seen, then get to work on cleaning up the cut on this patient’s leg before the doctor comes in. 

I’m barely an hour and a half in, but I wish I could tell my younger self that there is visibly no difference between a day and a night shift as far as getting out of bed goes. Or as far as looking forward to the weekend, except my “weekend” is Tuesday to Thursday this week. Now where did my pen go…

Character Wearing Something Red

I’ve had the workbook 642 Things to Write About by The San Francisco Writers’ Grotto for a few years, but I’ve only filled in a few entries. Some of the prompts require more in-depth writing and a bit more muscle, but there are a few interesting ones that I’ll be pulling my writing prompts from. The book doesn’t have page numbers or a table of contents, but that made it exciting to have, that I’d have so much freedom with these prompts that I can pick whatever format, voice, story, characters, etc. and just go with it. But that also made it intimidating – where do I even start?

For my first entry here, I picked “What a character wearing something red is thinking.”

Happy reading! I look forward to your feedback.

Shallow focus photography of red leafed tree
Photo by Daniel Kim on Unsplash

Red lipstick to match the red dress. Or is this too red? Or is my dress too red? Is this even a first-date dress?

I’m already running behind, and the rest of my wardrobe is either athleisure or jeans. Except for that section in the closet full of lingerie that I haven’t touched in two years… What about lingerie, jeans and a blazer? I’m pretty sure I saw an Instagram post with a woman wearing something like that. If I was going to go back into that section of the closet, today would be a good day for it.

The red dress goes. Lucky that I picked out the shoes last night, otherwise I’d be leaving a whole hour late.

My first date with Linda was at a karaoke bar, a desperate attempt to get the beautiful blond woman to give me the time of day. She always said I was the only person who vehemently said she was blonde, and everyone else said she had light brown hair. But her hair was what attracted me to her immediately, the way it was brown when she turned one way, but had a clear blond tinge when she looked at you.

And when she looked at you… it was all over. Her hair looked the way I always wanted mine to look, wavy, messy and full of volume, but not greasy. She wore combat boots a year or two ahead of everyone else because of her obsession with British Vogue and their fashion blog. She would often pair the combat boots with a leather jacket, fitted but loose, and yet she never looked like a biker.

So, when she said that she’d go out with me only if we went to a karaoke bar, I would have crawled there if I could find out more about her. She could have been straight and out to lead me on and break my heart, but I did not care.

That was the last first date I went on, and I would gladly relive the embarrassment of singing “Livin’ on a Prayer” twice, off key and sober, rather than go out for a drink with Kasey.

Kasey with a K. From her name alone, I knew we wouldn’t have that much in common, but I needed to rip the bandaid off, and Kasey is pretty enough. Linda said that she had been given the Spanish word for “beautiful” as a name, so she would remember that every time she didn’t feel like putting in any effort into her appearance.

Linda was “linda” in more than just her appearance. She had a very loud voice and a laugh that startled children, but she was so tender, soft and kind. I never deluded myself into thinking she never had an unkind word to say about anyone (she always had choice words for bad drivers), but she was always kind with those she loved.

We got married two years after the karaoke first date, and she died three years after. Uterine cancer. A woman who didn’t want kids gets the option taken away and dies for good measure. And she took half my life with her.

What must Kasey have to offer? Will she giggle at my terrible dad jokes? Will she eat the olive from my martinis? Will she cry at ASPCA commercials but laugh hysterically at videos of babies getting scared by loud noises?

With my hand on the front doorknob, I think how bad it’d look on me if I told Kasey now I couldn’t make it, provide some generic excuse. Maybe I’m stuck at work. But she knows I’m a freelance writer – how many emergencies would I have?

But I think of Linda as I open the door and take a step out. Red was her favorite color, so she’ll be with me all night, hopefully whispering her rendition of “Livin’ on a Prayer” in my ear.

My name is Vanessa and I’m a writer. Based outside Washington, D.C., I started this blog to carve out a space for my writing, to find what my niche is. Most of what you’ll read include writing exercises, doodles and some snippets of the novel I’ve been working on for a few years. Feel free to leave feedback, a question, a challenge, a suggestion…

You’ll get a sense of who I am, what I like and what I do through my writing (I hope), as that’s what my goal was in starting this: to get to know who I am as a writer and what space I fill. As I work that out, I would also love to contribute to your blog, write content for you or help out with your marketing content.

Finally, feel free to share these musings with whomever you think may find them valuable. I’m looking for my “writing tribe,” and if you’d like to stick around, I’d love to have you! I’m on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. Whatever brought you, thank you for coming!

-Vanessa R.