Short story: “She”

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It was a crisp fall day where the warm sun caressed the golden leaves but the strong air still sent shivers through her, goosebumps slowly making their way to the surface of her flesh.

I’m leaving, she said.

The wind caught a strand of hair, dragging across her face. She pushed it away and faced him. He held her captive with his hard, dark eyes. How could she do this to him?

I’m leaving, she said again.

A gently urgent breeze whipped the hem of her skirt around her knees. She wrapped her sweater more tightly around her. He stood there so unrelenting and silent; a standoff in the driveway. He made no move towards her and she stood frozen with her hand on the car door handle.

I’m leaving, she said a third time, after a pause.

The wind wrapped around her completely, insistently, and she shivered. She watched his chest rise and fall with each somber breath.

I’m leaving. A whisper.

A final resigned breeze caught her filmy blue scarf and sent it fluttering down like a flag of surrender. Slowly, slowly, he bent down to pick it up and extended it towards her.

She placed her hand in his and followed him back into the house.

Short story: “James”

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James

Violins play softly as I sit drumming my fingers on the red checked tablecloth with flickering candles as the only light in the whole room. This is a horrible spot to meet James for dinner. The candlelight, soft music, Italian food…it all spells out disaster. It’s the final piece of the puzzle, the last straw, the point of no return. It officially labels me as a romantic.

I’m independent, not romantic. It’s my thing. My older sister is the pretty one and I am the tough one, the daughter my Dad doesn’t need to worry about even though I don’t have a husband to take care of me. I’m a smart and strong and independent woman and then I have to go and meet James. Wonderful James, who gives me butterflies and makes me do stupid things like smile to myself at work while I dreamily braid my hair and send text messages with kissy faces and x’s and o’s. I even pretended the other day that I couldn’t open the jar of pickles so he would have to come and help me but it turned out the lid wasn’t even screwed on and so he saw right through what I was doing and laughed and kissed my forehead and called me adorable. How mortifying. No, I’ve never felt this way before.

Jeez, I’ve even gone to church with him the last three Sundays. I’ve never been a very religious person. The truth is, airports see more sincere kisses than wedding chapels. The walls of hospitals hear more prayers than the walls of churches. And then I meet James, and he turns everything I think upside down and I contemplate things like religion and heaven and angels and all other kinds of stuff. I start to enjoy going to his church services, and I like the God he tells me about and I start to wonder if maybe my view of God is messed up, not James’s. His God is different than mine. James talks about forgiveness and redemption and second chances and my God sits up on a dark thundercloud in heaven, angry and disapproving and ready to strike down the pathetic mortals for not living up to His expectations. Especially me.

I sip from my wine glass. It’s a wonder James still stays with me; not only stays, but wants to stay. I have a broken soul; I know that. I don’t pretend otherwise. It makes every one else run screaming but James wants to hear about it; he wants to talk with me about what gives me awful nightmares in the middle of the night and why I hate rainstorms. And so I tell, and he listens and just when I start to think that this story, this secret, this skeleton in my closet will be the end of us, will be too much for him to hear, he just holds me and sometimes I think his eyes are full of tears when he says he wants to protect me from ever being hurt again. And I start to believe that he can. And the scariest part is…I want him to. I don’t hide anything from him anymore. I expose it all, and then I wait for him to run, just like other guys did—not that there’d been a lot of them. But there’s something different about James. He doesn’t run. And I don’t want him to.

I wish I didn’t feel this way. We’re all immortal until that first kiss and second glass of wine. I met him when we were in line getting coffee. It was a Tuesday and he said something ridiculous and cheesy like he didn’t know angels flew so low and I got flustered and dropped my coffee all over his shoes and while we were cleaning up the mess he asked for my number and I gave it to him and ran away. So I thought that was the end of it and then that night my phone rang and I answered and then four hours later I was laughing more than I’d ever thought possible and we had made plans for a date the very next day. Eight months later I’m disgustingly head over heels in love, one of those annoying girls who constantly talk about how amazing her boyfriend is and sings “Crazy in Love” in the shower and looks at wedding dresses online. My family keeps asking when we’re getting married. They love him almost as much as I do and I’m just shocked because I’ve finally done something my older sister approves of.

I check the time as the waiter stops by for the fourth time to see if I need anything. It’s not like James to be late. I had actually been the one to plan this date, and he had been so excited. I don’t plan dates. I don’t get excited about them. I say things like, “I don’t care; wherever you want to eat,” and now look at me. I make myself sick. I’d bought a new red dress that was much more sensual than anything I’d ever owned before. Red! It made me feel like a fire engine but I bought it anyway because it was kind of sassy and James loves red and I curled my hair and I was wearing the pearls he’d bought me. I’d even put perfume behind my earlobes. Ugh. I know he’ll love it, though. And yeah, maybe the heart shaped pizza is a bit much, but I’ll just say I hope he doesn’t think I’m too cheesy and then he’ll throw his head back and laugh that wonderful laugh of his, the one that thrills me right down to my toes and then he’ll lean across the table and kiss me. He kisses better than anyone I’ve ever kissed, and my older sister says that I can’t say that because he’s the only man I’ve ever kissed but that’s not true because Billy Driscoll kissed me behind the librarian’s cart in 7th grade and one time this really drunk guy kissed me in a bar and I let him because I was tired of having only Billy on my list. Billy, who cut my lip with his braces and then tattled to Ms. Cambridge that I’d gotten blood all over Pride and Prejudice and I had to face her wrath. The drunk guy had reeked of whiskey and stopped slobbering on me long enough to throw up on the floor and then resume his ardor without even rinsing his mouth and so those were both such awful experiences that they better count for something. Third time’s definitely the charm. James is the best because I can feel the love and sincerity coming right through his lips and I don’t worry about if I’m a good kisser or not because all I can think is, dang, this guy really likes me a lot and so I just kiss him back and he doesn’t complain, so there, Tessa. I used to hate couples kissing in public before, but I don’t protest anymore.

My phone rings, James’s picture popping up on my screen. “Hello?”

“Hey, beautiful.” His warm voice makes my heart beat faster and I start to believe that I am what he always calls me.

“Hi.” I giggle, something I never do except around him. “Where are you?”

“Stuck at work.” He lets out a frustrated breath. “I feel awful, but we might have to postpone tonight. I just can’t get away.”

My heart stops beating. I force my lips to move. “Sure. That’s no problem.”

“You know I wouldn’t miss tonight if there were any other way. My boss—“

“Yeah. No, I know.”

“Tomorrow for sure; I promise. I can’t wait. I gotta go but I’ll call you later, okay, baby?”

“Sure.”

“I love you.”

“Love you.” I hang up the phone and sit staring at the dark screen for a moment.

“Signora?” The waiter comes over. “Is your date coming?”

I sigh as I try to stand in the crazy high stilettos I had bought for that night. “No. He’s not.” That’s what happens when you follow your heart.

I leave James a voicemail that night, breaking up with him.

“Because of His Love for Her:” a One Act Play

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In my junior year of college, we studied how to write one act plays in my creative writing class. I originally wasn’t too thrilled with the genre, but the idea for this one came to me and I ended up scribbling it down (while I was in another class half listening to the lecture….oops.) After some polishing, it’s actually one of my favorite things I’ve written.

Because of His Love For Her

(Setting: café. Friends eating lunch.)

Rachel: You’re such a cynic. It’s disgusting.

Jacob: I’m not a cynic; I’m a realist. There’s a difference.

Rachel: Predicting that every single one of my relationships will fail isn’t realistic, Jacob. It’s pessimistic.

Jacob: (affronted) You wound me! Did I say anything about charming Harold when you asked me not to? I never once foretold any ill tidings about that relationship. I kept my mouth shut.

Rachel: Harold left me for my best friend!

Jacob: (laughing as he takes a drink) You make this too easy for me.

Rachel: Say what you want about Nathaniel. He’s the one; I know it.

Jacob: You’ve been going out for three weeks! I have leftovers in my fridge I’ve had a longer relationship with!

(Waiter arrives with food. Jacob waits as Rachel bows her head and prays silently)

Rachel: Nathaniel is different. He’s sweet and funny, and he treats me well!

Jacob: Well, that’s true. I mean, I wasn’t the one who had to come jump your car this morning. (loudly slurps straw, looking innocent.)

Rachel: (hesitates) He…he’s an auditor. He doesn’t know a lot about cars.

Jacob: Really?

Rachel: Why do you say it like that?

Jacob: No, nothing. I was just thinking about that mechanic you dated in college. That was handy, considering the beat up old trap you insist on driving around.

Rachel: Jesse? Yeah, he was nice. Thanks for ending that, by the way.

Jacob: What?!

Rachel: Don’t play innocent. You introduced him to every attractive, available woman you knew! You were there after he gave me the whole, “It’s just not working out, Rachel,” speech before dating Kelly three days later.

Jacob: Ah, yes. I do remember that. You got tears and snot all over my hoodie that night. (shudders)

Rachel: You’re a jerk.

Jacob: That is entirely your opinion. So, what does Nathanial think about the book you’ve been working on?

Rachel: (picking at salad) He’s not a—a big reader.

Jacob: No?

Rachel: (slightly longer pause) No.

Jacob: Huh.

Rachel: What?

Jacob: I was just thinking about that one guy you dated who loved reading. What was his name?

Rachel: David.

Jacob: David! He was a nice guy.

Rachel: (irritated) Are you kidding?

Jacob: What?

Rachel: You intimidated him every chance you got: challenging him, tearing him down, humiliating him–

Jacob: You do have to admit that sweater he bought for you for your birthday was atrocious. And several sizes too big, I add. I was merely defending your honor by pronouncing it the most hideous thing I’d ever seen and suggesting that perhaps any man who buys a sweater for his girlfriend of almost two years is afraid of commitment. Is it my fault that he was offended by that?

Rachel: YES!

Jacob: Debatable.

(Rachel rolls her eyes. Brief silence)

Jacob: So what does this wonderful Nathaniel do instead of reading?

Rachel: (faintly) He…camps.

Jacob: Camps! Does he hunt?

Rachel: I don’t—

Jacob: He probably does. All hunters camp, you know. He probably enjoys killing innocent animals for fun. Then he’ll keep your fridge stuffed with all that meat and make you wear the furs.

Rachel: STOP. You don’t know that. You don’t know him. Just because you hate marriage doesn’t mean all relationships are doomed to fail.

(Silence. Jacob removes the onions from Rachel’s plate and puts them on his own. She drums her fingers on the table, irritated. Suddenly drops fork, which makes a loud clattering noise.)

Rachel: Nathanial is charming, and sweet, and he has big plans for his life. He’s ambitious, and-and polite—(with a sudden burst of inspiration) His name means gift from God!

Jacob: (with mock seriousness) The heavens have foretold it.

Rachel: I’m serious. He’s fantastic.

Jacob: (checking watch) Well, apparently punctuality isn’t on the list of wonderful attributes for our dear Nathaniel.

Rachel: He’ll be here. And I was doing fine waiting for him by myself.

Jacob: Of course you were.

Rachel: I didn’t need you to come sit with me so I wasn’t eating all alone.

Jacob: Of course you didn’t!

Rachel: I am a strong, independent woman, perfectly capable of surviving on my own.

Jacob: (patronizing) Of course you are.

(Silence. Jacob lifts up the top bun of his burger; Rachel removes the pickles and places them on her plate.)

Rachel: Do you want to know the best thing about Nathaniel?

Jacob: His rugged good looks?

Rachel: (irritated) No.

Jacob: You mean he’s NOT good looking?

Rachel: No! I mean, yes! But that’s not what I’m talking about. Nathanial….(important pause) actually believes in marriage. (sits back, pleased)

Jacob: Hm. Does he want kids?

Rachel: (triumphantly) Yes! He does! Lots of kids!

Jacob: Awwww, how sweet. Is he gonna help take care of them?

Rachel: Well, no…he travels a lot for his job–

Jacob: Huh. So, YOU’LL stop teaching?

Rachel: We…haven’t really talked about that.

Jacob: Oh, my mistake. I thought since you’ve been discussing marriage you’d have talked about kids. (brief pause) And religion.

(Rachel is silent)

Jacob: (overly shocked) SURELY you’ve talked about RELIGION?

Rachel: I mean….sort of…(firmly) I definitely think he’s Lutheran.

Jacob: Lutheran.

Rachel: Yes. (pause) Or maybe Baptist.

Jacob: Baptist?

Rachel: Yes. (pause) Or…or maybe Catholic.

Jacob: Catholic!

Rachel: Yes.

Jacob: Ah.

(Silence)

Jacob: Perhaps he’s Jewish!

Rachel: (frowns thoughtfully, considering) No, I don’t think so….

Jacob: Or maybe he’s Mormon. Maybe he already has a couple of wives!

Rachel: He does not!

Jacob: (chuckles and takes a bite of his burger) You don’t even know his religious beliefs.

Rachel: I do, too.

Jacob: Prove it.

Rachel: Prove it? What, are we 7 years old again?

Jacob: Well, you’ve told me you’re probably gonna marry this guy, so you must know all there is to know about him. So, prove it! What religion does our dear gift from God follow?

Rachel: I…I think he’s actually…more…non-religious (sneaks look at Jacob, who is nonchalantly chewing.)

Rachel: So. (another pause. She awkwardly toys with her silverware. A sudden burst of laughter from Jacob startles her.)

Rachel: What? What?! What’s so funny?

Jacob: This guy is your polar opposite, and you think he’s the perfect one. You’re going to end up chained for the rest of your life to an illiterate chauvinist who makes you quit your job to take care of all the kids you keep popping out, and skips church on Sunday to murder Bambi’s mother!

Rachel: Stop it! (Jacob continues to laugh, slapping table) Rachel: You know what?

Jacob: (still laughing) What?

Rachel: You…you are…just…

(Jacob’s laughter flusters her)

Rachel: A mean cynic!

Jacob: Realist, my darling. Realist.

(In a huff, Rachel turns to her Coke. Jacob continues to laugh softly.)

Rachel: Shut up.

Jacob: Oh, I just can’t.

(They eat in silence for a moment; Jacob’s amused, Rachel’s indignant.)

Rachel: Why do you have to be so mean to me all the time?

Jacob: It’s good for you. It’ll put hair on your chest.

Rachel: I don’t want hair on my chest. I want to have a conversation with you for once without you shooting down all of my choices in men and making me feel like an idiot.

Jacob: Is it my fault that every guy you pick out has mortal flaws? You missed a pickle.

Rachel: They weren’t all bad.

Jacob: Nah. I especially liked the guy who liked to argue that he really was abducted by aliens. Take this pickle.

Rachel: One date! I went on one date with that man—he does not count!

Jacob: I’m giving you my opinion. Pickle!

Rachel: I don’t want your stupid opinion.

(Exasperated, Jacob gingerly picks the pickle off his burger and holds it between two fingers out to Rachel, stops when he sees she is sitting dejected.)

Rachel: I just…what’s wrong with me that all of my relationships have failed miserably?

Jacob: They’re jerks.

Rachel: Not all of them. Jesse was a nice guy. David was a nice guy. Harold— (pause) Okay, Harold was a jerk. But everyone else was great. They were great! And it ended badly. And now they’re all married or engaged. It shows that the problem wasn’t because of them. That leaves one person. Me. So, I ask you. What’s wrong with me?

 (Long silence as they stare at each other.)

Jacob: Maybe it’s your man hands.

Rachel: (shocked) My what?!

Jacob: Nah, that’s probably not it. Maybe it’s your cooking. Or your whining. You do whine a lot.

Rachel: (hurt) That’s a mean thing to say!

(Jacob raises eyebrow, grinning.)

Rachel: I hate you.

Jacob: Sometimes, yeah, you do. And sometimes I deserve it. But you have to admit—I’m always right. You could even call me Mr. Right.

(Silence.)

Rachel: (glumly) Nathanial’s gonna be out of town for my cousin’s wedding.

Jacob: Oh. When is it?

Rachel: Next Saturday. Do you have a game?

Jacob: Nope. We lost last week and the tournament ended. I can go with you so you don’t have to deal with Grandma Ruth’s proclamations of, ‘Oh, my poor, poor Rachel, doomed to single-hood forever!’

Rachel: Thanks, Jacob. (smiles.)

Jacob: Any time. (brief pause) Now will you please take this pickle before I throw it at you?

(Rachel removes the pickle from his burger and eats it. They sit in companionable silence, eating their meals. Nathanial enters, sits in chair next to Rachel.)

Nathaniel: Sorry I’m late—

Rachel: You’re ALWAYS late.

Nathaniel: (taken aback) What?

Rachel: And I don’t want to quit my job!

Nathaniel: But I never—

Rachel: And I AM A VEGETARIAN! (throws napkin down and exits)

(Nathanial looks bewildered at a very pleased Jacob, who quickly schools his features to look sympathetic.)

Jacob: Tough break, Sport. (shrugs innocently) Women! (pats shoulder and leaves him sitting alone at the table, dials a number on his phone.) Jacob: Hey man, listen. I’m not gonna be able to play in the tournament next weekend….

Life is a Dance

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I generally don’t dance. Not at weddings, not at parties, not anywhere. It used to be my absolute rule. Dancing is awkward. You don’t know where to put your hands or what exactly to do with your feet. You can make a fool of yourself. Avoid it. It’s a good rule…except for when people tried to change your mind.

Our long time family friend has a hoedown every fall on his several acre farm. There are enormous tire swings made from tractor tires and a bonfire that once reached a record height of 33 feet high and food and laughing and square dancing and a hayride through the property and if you show up without a cowboy hat one will be provided for you at the door.

Square dancing.

I take pictures.

But one year, I was listening to the caller, who was barely understandable with his fake southern accent, and enjoying my hot apple cider when a voice interrupted me.

“Would you like to dance with me?”

I jumped, sloshing my cider over the rim of my cup and onto the hay-covered barn floor dangerously close to his feet. Normally I laughed invitations off kindly or flat out refused. But this time, for whatever reason, I said, “Sure.”

It was the worst dance of my life.

It was awkward and jumbled and I didn’t know what to do or where to go and at one point I jabbed him in the stomach with my elbow. I was completely out of my comfort zone.

It was the best dance of my life.

Dancing is a lot like love and life. You don’t know what to do and sometimes you make mortifying mistakes for the whole world to see and sometimes it clicks and something beautiful is born.

It all depends on your partner. Choose wisely.

Musings of a First Grader

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In the fall of my first grade career, I was subjected to the cruel and unusual form of punishment commonly known as private school. I excelled in reading and writing, and my parents were advised to put me in first grade early. At 5 years old, I found myself strapped into the plushy seat of our brown van on the ride to school. Even the homey cinnamon smell of the van and my new Beauty and the Beast lunchbox and thermos were no comfort. My ugly red and blue plaid uniform itched. This was definitely the worst day of my life.

Despite my silent prayer, “Please, God! Make another flood like Noah’s to wash away the school!” the building was still there when we arrived. Although we had been going to church there for most of my life, I stared up at the familiar structure as though I’d never seen it before. It now appeared foreboding and disapproving. My sister yanked the sliding door open, yelled, “Bye, Mom!” and took off at a run. I understood. No self-respecting fifth grader would be caught dead dragging along a lowly first grader. I slid my clammy hand into my Mom’s hand and continued at a much slower pace.

It was mid-September; the day was gray and cloudy, and a chilly breeze sent dying leaves skittering across the sidewalk like skeletons. I pushed open the heavy metal doors as if they guarded the entrance to a dungeon. The hallway bustled and hummed with students. Shoes squeaked on the floor, giving me goosebumps. The fluorescent lights bounced off the gray floor and colorless walls, making the hallway seem endless. This is the end, I thought, clomping down the hallway in my ugly dress shoes, part of the offending uniform. I’m a terrible person for asking God to flood the school, and my punishment is that I have to walk this hall for the rest of my life in these disgusting shoes. By the time we reached my new classroom, I believe I would have preferred that fate. Everywhere was chaos. Kids were piling things into their lockers, chattering to their friends, and not a single other child had their mom with them. I was mortified. My previous lifeline now caused me to be labeled with the worst insult to a 1st grader: Kindergarten baby.

“I’m fine,” I tried to say, wishing my lips would stop quivering. I was, after all, 5-years-old, and way too grown up to cry. Mom blew me a kiss, temporarily lifting my spirits, but as soon as I turned away, my soul sank back into my heavy shoes.

My backpack would not fit into the locker with my prized coat. Red and puffy, the cuffs and hood were trimmed with silky black fur. I had always pretended to be Anastasia when I wore it, and had felt bad for girls who didn’t have Russian princess coats. Now it betrayed me. No matter how hard I pushed, I could not close the door. The kid next to me gave me a look of pure disgust before shutting his locker effortlessly and walking away, laughing. I made a face at his back and probably would have called him a weenie (almost as insulting as “kindergarten baby”) but then the bell rang, stopping my heart. I gave the locker a last hard kick before leaving it hanging half open and dashing into class.

Not even the smell of erasers and pencil shavings soothed me. I looked for an empty seat, and two friends from church waved me over. The kid who had mocked my predicament at the lockers slid into the last chair at our cube-like table, but I ignored him and surveyed the teacher. She had brown hair piled on her head in a way that reminded me of my aunt’s shih Tzu, and her face was white and fleshy—like a pierogi, I decided as she slid a piece of paper in front of each of us.

“Complete the assignment,” she sang out, “and then we’ll go to the library.”

I looked down, thrilled to be going to my favorite place. On the worksheet, there was a hippo whose massive midsection held long lines of letters, the first of which read XKQARLCATPOF. I had never seen a word search before. I blinked.

“Just circle all the words. Isn’t this fun? A game for homework!” she trilled. I quirked an eyebrow at that description. I liked games, and I liked reading, as long as they were real words and not nonsense. I shrugged and circled the entire first line, but she said briskly, “That’s not right,” before moving on.

I looked at my paper in surprise, contemplating what I’d done wrong. Maybe the words went up and down, not sideways. Anything was possible in this ridiculous game. I started to circle them vertically when a tap on the shoulder from Locker Boy interrupted me.

“You circled them wrong!” he hissed.

I frowned, hurt. My circles were even and flawless. What was the problem?

“How do you do it, then?” I whispered back, only to receive a curled up lip and a disbelieving, “You’ve never seen a word search before?”

I glared back at him and tossed my curls over my shoulder. Boys were a waste of time. In my desperation to understand the assignment, I’d forgotten that.

My haughtiness vanished as everyone began packing their papers into their backpack and I was left behind with a substitute while they traipsed to the library. I was astounded. I was denied library for not correctly circling these non-words. What next? I’d probably get fired from first grade. Tears stung my eyes, blurring the hippo, which now had the beginnings of a hole in his stomach from the erasing he’d had to endure. A light perfume scent wafted towards me, and I blinked to clear my vision. The substitute teacher was crouched next to my desk.

I sighed loudly before she could say anything. “You’re just gonna tell me to circle the words,” I said as a lone tear slipped down my cheek. “And I’ll tell you, I know how to read and this—” I jabbed a finger at the first line, not even attempting to sound out XKQARLCATPOF, “is not a real word.”

She bit back a smile. “There’s a little word hidden inside that mess,” she said. “It’s like a treasure hunt. Can you find it?”

I studied the paper and felt the answer dawn in my mind. Cat was in the middle of that line! All the other little words jumped out at me, and I zipped through the assignment in time to get to lunch. I found my friends and sat down, but suddenly, Locker Boy came over and tugged on my friend’s braid, singing her name. He has a crush on her, I realized, torn between disappointment over her low standards and disgust at the thought of how many cooties were probably crawling all over him.

She surprised me by immediately slapping his hand away and scowling, “Stop it! I told you, I don’t want to sit with you. Go away.”

I watched him slink away and turned back to my friend, pleased.

She rolled her eyes. “Ignore him,” she said firmly. “He thinks he’s so cool, but he’s nothing but a weenie. Christine says he’s cute but I think that’s gross.”

We shared a smile and I pulled out my Belle thermos, clinking it against hers. First grade might be terrible, but at least I wasn’t alone in my suffering.

Writing and Discouragement

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Sometimes when I’m working on writing six academic papers that are all due within 48 hours of each other, I get overwhelmed. I hit a dead end, and even working on writing for fun is daunting. I wouldn’t call it writer’s block; I’m far too dramatic to suffer from such a simple problem as that. No, mine’s more like….writer’s terror. It’s a befitting name considering what goes through my mind.

“Dang. Your writing is really bad.”

“Where are you even going with this idea?”

“Congratulations. You can’t even understand your own story.”

“This character you’ve created is flat. So’s this one. So’s that one. I won’t even mention the Grandpa.”

“Why are you even an English major? You should have gone to med school.”

“Put down the pen and back away slowly. Repeat after me: I will never write again.”

When this happens, I stop analyzing Chopin. I stop my research. I take a break from summarizing JSTOR articles or reading Hamlet for the 115th time.* I stop explicating Frost’s poems, and I even stop writing for fun, especially because my fairly new notebook is showing signs of wear from furious scribbling as I try to obliterate a catastrophically stupid idea.

I put all of these burdens behind me and I pull out one of the notebooks I’ve filled in the past. I flip through the pages and laugh at myself and my writing, and how I thought I was the next F. Scott Fitzgerald with the stories that my 13-year-old mind had concocted. In my defense, not all of them are bad. Sometimes, I laugh because the stories are genuinely funny, and sometimes I turn a page and stop in my reading to brush away a tear. Sometimes, I learn from my 15-year-old self. (Unless it’s my poetry; that just makes me cringe.) I very much feel like Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing. While attempting to read the (horrible) sonnets he’s composed for Beatrice, he bursts out in exasperation, “I was not born under a rhyming planet!”

Word, Benedick. I can only hope my husband does not like and/or appreciate poetry.

Still, I made it out of my senior level class of studying poetry as a genre last semester with a greater understanding and appreciation for both reading (but especially writing) poetry. They weren’t all bad, although I flipped through pages and pages and pages of cheap rhymes and off-beat rhyming schemes, as well as a haiku entitled Frustrations of a Faux Poet: “Oh the joy I’d have/If I could write poetry/I’d fall down and faint.”

Sometimes, I feel that way about all writing in general. I’m pretty sure every writer does. Take heart. As a kid, my favorite story was Anne of Green Gables. I remember being shocked and horrified when I discovered that L.M. Montgomery received several rejections from publishers, and put the story away in a hatbox. Two years later, she found it and decided to send it to a publisher one more time; it was accepted and became an instant best seller.

Close the document. Put the journal in a hatbox, or under your bed, or in the closet. Come back to it. I promise it will be worth it.

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*Disclaimer: In case you haven’t noticed yet, I’m pretty prone to exaggeration. Still, I have had to read this play nine times in the four years I’ve been in college. I know him well, Horatio.

Early Dreams

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I credit my lifelong love of reading and writing for leading me to be an English major with a concentration in professional writing while dreaming of being a teacher. I didn’t dress up and play professor, though, or line up all of my stuffed animals and teach them about the different feminist theories that can be pulled out of Kate Chopin’s work; my interest originally started because of a bet I won out of spite against my older brother.

I sat on my knees atop the plastic chairs in the waiting room and pursed my lips back at the fish in the aquarium. I liked going to my older brother’s orthodontist appointments; it was such an interesting, mysterious place with scary-looking instruments that made the most fantastic sounds. The sharp smell of latex gloves and bubble gum toothpaste was new and exciting. And, of course, the best part of all was you got to leave this magical place with braces. Tommy had all the luck.

I leaned back in my chair and sighed, knocking the toes of my cloth tennis shoes covered in butterflies together. The novelty did start to wear off after a while, especially because I couldn’t play rocket ship in the big chair. I picked up a book off the side table.

“Want me to read that to you?” My Mom offered.

I shook my head. “No, thanks—”

My brother laughed, cutting me off. “You can’t read! You just turned four. You haven’t even gone to school yet.”

I scowled at him. Big man Tommy thought he was soooo grown up, just because I was the youngest and he got to have sparkly jewels on his teeth. He wasn’t so cool.

“I can, so,” I defended myself stoutly.

“Cannot,” he retorted.

“Can, too.”

“Prove it.” He selected a bright orange book from the table and held it out to me. “And no Arthur Gets Glasses or Dress Up like Mommy. I know you have those ones memorized. It has to be a book you’ve never seen before.”

“Leave her alone,” Mom chided gently, but I snatched the book from him and defiantly tossed my untamable curls over my shoulder. I’d show him.

Examining the cover of the book, however, my heart began to sink a little. I had never seen it before, and, to be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure I could read. I had never tried it before, but how difficult could it be? I’d been read to for hours and hours. Besides, I wouldn’t admit I was unsure of myself now for anything. The cover had a joyous figure jumping up and down in the background. A more dubious fellow was in the foreground, apparently very displeased with his meal. I looked at the words printing out the title and reminded myself to try to sound them out, as I’d heard my Dad tell my older sister: “Green Eggs…and Ham.”

“You just guessed the title based on the picture,” Tommy scoffed.

“I did not!” I tried to hide my thrill over apparently having read it correctly. “I honest to goodness read it.” I paused for effect. “So there.”

“Keep going, then,” he challenged.

“Fine.” I nonchalantly opened the book, feigning confidence. I’d read this whole thing if it killed me. I took a deep breath and carefully sounded out, “I am Sam. Sam I am. Do you…like green eggs and ham?” I paused for a moment to glance up at Tommy. He was frowning. I smiled. That was a good sign. Encouraged, I continued uninterrupted, my triumph growing with every word. Look at that! I guess I really could read! I enjoyed my victory and the story was pretty entertaining, too, despite the sourness of the doubtful figure in the story. What a crab. Sam I Am was just trying to be nice and share what he loved. The cranky guy did end up liking the green eggs and ham, anyway. I was sure that’s what would happen with Tommy if he just gave Barbies a chance.

“See?” I said triumphantly, thrusting the book back into his hands. “You thought you’d prove me wrong, but I proved you wrong. I am Kate. Kate the Great.”

He stared at me, open-mouthed. The hygienist called his name and he started to go, but turned back. “Mom, she can really read!”

My Mom was speechless, apparently just as surprised.

“’Course I can,” I said lightly. “I tried to tell you.”

He left, still shaking his head, and I resumed making faces back at the fish. Maybe later I’d try my sister’s copy of Little Women.

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