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.