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Live a Better Story

Not only is Jeremy Statton one my best blogging buddies, he’s also the busiest person I know. As an orthopedic surgeon, Jeremy works ten or more hours a day. Then, he goes home to his wife and four kids. On top of that, he somehow manages to find time to write on his excellent blog, jeremystatton.com. If you’re not already subscribed to it, you should be. You can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook. I’m sure you’re going to get a lot from his post today.

When they brought the man in he was already unconscious. One man had him by the shoulders and the other by the legs. They could barely hold him up. He offered no help, his body slack from the poison that coursed through his veins.

The two men carrying him placed him on the one empty bed in the infirmary, and they left. They didn’t know him at all, and only noticed him after he collapsed while working in the same field that day.

This man would go nameless as he marched down the loneliest road of life.

Loneliest Road

Wolfgang Staudt

His body had started to convulse when the poison reached his brain causing it to seize. He was foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog, but without the anger and aggressiveness.

His breathing had begun to slow down. Initially every breath was deep as if his body could not get enough of the life preserving oxygen it so desperately needed. But with time the deep gulps of air became more shallow. Breathing turned into rattling. The announcement of death approaching.

Despite the loudness of people panicking and rushing around looking desperately for a solution that didn’t exist, the pause between each breath was like a deafening silence, lasting for what seemed like an eternity and asking one single question. Will this be the last one?

I stood there with a stethoscope in my hand and a head full of medical knowledge, but I knew none of this mattered. At this point knowledge was only theoretical. The stuff of books. He would need a miracle that would not come.

Years of school. Countless hours of training. I was the only doctor standing in the room, but there was nothing I could do but stand there and watch him die.

Inspiration from Life

Our stories are best told using the experience of life.

It is important to do our work on a daily basis. We have to lock ourselves away from the rest of the world, keeping out the distractions and Resistance that would come otherwise.

But one of the best things we can do for our writing is to live. If we pursue lives that are full of stories, then our stories will be full of life.

This story is based on a true experience I had on a medical mission to Uganda last year. It’s a sad story, but it was real. And describing death has changed for me now that I have seen it.

I hope you can sense the hopelessness I felt as I watched. I hope that you feel the finality of what was taking place.

I know I can’t get the scene out of my mind.

Living Better Stories

This memory is only possible because I chose to expand the story I am telling with my life. I made a decision to travel to Africa to help provide medical care to those without access.

My trip to Uganda was one of the most rewarding and most difficult experiences I have encountered. My mind is still trying to process everything I saw and heard.

Prosperity and poverty. Happiness and fear. Life and death.

Choose a better life for yourself, one of risk, overcoming obstacles, battling your fear, facing your self doubt, and your writing will be better for it.

PRACTICE

Think back to one of the most memorable experiences of your life. A moment that you cannot forget. Maybe it was a positive experience. The best birthday party ever. the best date in your life.

Maybe it was a time of sadness and death.

Relive these stories in your imagination. Remember how you felt. Remember what you saw, not as it was, but how your brain viewed it as tried to process that moment. Describes what you heard or what you didn’t hear. Recall the smell of the room.

Now spend the next fifteen minutes writing about that story.

You can share in the comments.

About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

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  • Pingback: The Loneliest Road | Jeremy Statton()

  • Elaine

    I was working part-time for a rubber stamp company with the clever name “Rubber Stampede.” I was on the phone all the time, taking orders from retail customers. I’d gotten the job after one of the Little League parents had stopped me at the snack booth after our children’s game and said, “Do you know anyone who needs a boring, low-paying job?”

    I’d laughed and replied, “Yes. I do!” And I did need a job, having just gone back to school at age 42 to get my MFA. So soon, three days a week I was showing up at 9 am and working until 4 pm, taking orders for rubber stamps for replicating hearts, bunnies, tigers, and various other objects and animals.

    I had left home for good after high school, but had stayed in touch with my folks. My mom and I were so alike—and thus bound together in that mother-daughter way, even when we didn’t communicate for weeks at a time. Daddy was another story. He was an aloof father, a man who didn’t understand children or women, which meant he and I had more of a non-relationship than an overtly hostile one. The last time I’d seen him, three months ago at my sister’s wedding, he’d looked pretty ill. He had Parkinson’s and was chronically either medicated to the point of mobility (although the meds made him hallucinate) or else clean and sober but stiff as a board. We managed at that wedding to hug and exchange I love you’s, but as was the norm for me, our contact felt pretty empty.

    So there I was at the stamp company, on a day that was happily without a lot of over-the-phone stamp craziness. (It amazed me how worked up people could get over late stamp deliveries, but as my co-worker would say, “Hey, it’s not heart valves.”)

    My phone rang at about 10 am. My mom’s voice: “Hi honey. How are you? Are you sitting down?”

    “What?” I replied.

    She continued. “I don’t want to upset you, but Daddy passed away last night.”

    I know that at that point I screamed—everyone in our four-person office stood up and gaped at me. I don’t remember much after that. Just that Daddy had gotten out of his bed at the convalescent home and then abruptly fallen to the floor. I remember that after I hung up the phone I went and walked around the block, not even seeing the warehouses that lined the streets in this West Berkeley industrial neighborhood and not thinking of anything in particular. I must have left work, gone home, told my children the news. I didn’t cry, though. I felt as hollow inside as the last meeting I’d had with my dad.

    My two sisters and I flew home to comfort my mom, who seemed bent on comforting us. There was no service; both my folks abhorred what they saw as the morbid practice of belaboring the fact of death.

    The second day I was home, my mom, my sisters and I went to the convalescent home to pick up my dad’s belongings. An orderly came to the lobby carrying a large, clear plastic bag. In it I could make out a plaid flannel shirt, a pair of gray khakis and the strings of a bolo tie. I burst into tears. I finally got it—this bag was full of clothes that Daddy would never wear again. His long and complicated life had come to an end, and this bag was all that was left. He and I would never share an awkward hug or a muttered “I love you” again. He was really gone, and I’d get no second chances.

    • http://kinswomans-pursuit.blogspot.com/ Casey

      It is funny how our observant minds can either completely shut down or become like a magnifying glass in the aftermath of a shock, even if it was something that you were expecting.

      Mentioning the specifics of your father’s belongings bringing home the truth is very touching.

    • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

      I was 10 when my mother found out her father, that she barely had a relationship, and I remember it as clearly as anything. I can still hear her desperate, lonely scream. Thanks for sharing, Elaine.

    • http://heathermarsten.wordpress.com/ Heather Marsten

      I loved the comment about the late stamp not being heart valves, and how that contrasted with the surprise phones call. Most poignant was the last paragraph with the plastic bag full of clothes that your father would never wear again. I want to read more – well done.

  • http://kinswomans-pursuit.blogspot.com/ Casey

    It was the first time that I had ever left the United States. I was dizzy from over twenty-four hours of flying and tired, but that tiredness was replaced by excitement. We were finally here, in Doha, Qatar.

    It was dark, but the air was warm, like a blanket, and it was humid enough to make my clothing stick to my body. There were people all over the place. Men and women in typical Western dress, women and women in traditional Middle Eastern gulf dress. And although I was an American and I didn’t understand enough Arabic to hold a conversation, I did not feel like an alien.

    My husband got us a taxi cab to drive us to his family’s home, as he had not told them that we were coming. The taxis were orange and white, and there were not seat belts. Luckily this particular driver was a sedate one, as in later days we would get drivers who cursed fluently and yelled at every other driver on the road, while cutting into the paths of other cars and blaring their horns.

    The city was brightly lit. There was a lot of traffic because most people come out and socialize at night and not during the heat of the day. Most notably, there were not traffic lights, but round-abouts, because, my husband informed me, Qataris do not believe that traffic laws apply to them. There were neon signs everywhere, and most of them were written in Arabic and English. I realized that it would be impossible for me to feel adrift in this country. They shared my faith and they could speak my language. Despite my fatigue I began trying to read the signs that were in Arabic.

    Every store was open for business. Pharmacies where you could buy medicine without a prescription, men’s salons and tailors, women’s salons and tailors (and they pronounced them as “saloon”). Juice and snack stands selling guava and mango shakes and meat sandwiches. Stores that sold live chickens, stores that sold only bread, and others that specialized in fruits and vegetables. Garages with walls lined with auto parts. Shops that sold nothing but candy. And yes, even a McDonald’s.

    We left Doha and drove down a long, empty highway, towards Al-Wakira. I tried to orient myself, but I couldn’t figure out if we were driving north or south, and the image of the map of Qatar was not transposing itself onto the landscape. All the road signs were in Arabic and English, and distances were measured in kilometers.

    With the window down we would have been able to smell the sea in the air, but air conditioners are ubiquitous in this desert country. All I could smell was the coolness of the air conditioned air blowing about the cab.

    • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

      That is a very transporting scene. I am just fascinated by the life you lead. You must have so many stories to offer!

    • http://beckfarfromhome.blogspot.com/ Beck Gambill

      What a different world. I like how you express your immediate affinity for the culture and what your similarities are. It reminded me of meeting a distant relative you’ve heard of but never seen.

    • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

      Leaving the familiar to travel to the unknown is a valuable part of living a better story. I like how you found comfort in a land far away.

    • Anonymous

      I can picture these busy streets at night, and feel your confusion and optimism. I think what shines though here is your positive attitude in a strange land. I agree with Steph that you must have lots of stories to offer. This almost reads like a book. I would love to hear about your in-laws house and their reaction to your visit.

    • http://heathermarsten.wordpress.com/ Heather Marsten

      Great description of the scenery and the life of the area – will be interesting in a story. You captured the flavor of the foreign. I do wonder how the family met with the surprise and if you learned more of the language. Nice blending of the familiar and the unfamiliar.

  • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

    The sun had plunged behind the mountains, and the city was dark. Street lamps? No, not here. Car headlights? Ours was the only vehicle, and our driver had it running, waiting for us on the street at the bottom of the steep alley.

    I kneeled at the finding spot, the hallowed ground of a grave that was never dug because, miraculously, the baby who was placed there somehow dug her tiny fingernails into the splintered threshold and hung onto life.

    The incredible woman who had later nursed her back to health gave her the name of a precious gemstone, a name we would love, honor, and keep. A friend of mine back home had given me a faux version of the stone, large enough to fill my palm, and now I placed it where another mother – or maybe a father, a sister, or a grandmother – had offered their dying baby to a world that doled out salvation with a roll of dice.

    A crowd had gathered around me as I mourned on this dark and dirty corner. Shadows. Fingers pointing. Adults shushing children who could not comprehend me.

    I finally rose and followed my police escort down the littered path toward our vehicle, and I felt the crowd closing in and moving with us. Did they know why I was there? What did they see, a mother who sobbed for the tragedy and the joy that had stretched her heart across the planet? Or, an American thief? Either way, I would soon be zapped back to the world of electricity and running water and vaccinations and shelf upon shelf of baby formula, but here, now, and always, these strangers in the dark were my life’s judges.

    At the vehicle, I couldn’t look back. They were starting to shout. I couldn’t understand them and my escorts were ignoring them. Finally, I heard a sentence of fragmented English above the rumble.

    “Mam. You forgot. Is yours.”

    I turned, and in the headlights, a teenage boy in a threadbare green t-shirt stepped out of the crowd, barefoot, and onto the cobbled street. He held his hands out to me, offering me the gemstone I had left behind.

    • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

      This phrase is compelling, “had offered their dying baby to a world that doled out salvation with a roll of the dice.” It so often seems that way. Your story makes me want to intervene in the randomness of life and death. Thanks, Steph.

      • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

        Thanks for reading, Jeremy, and thank you for your post as well. It was very powerful, and yes, it has stuck with me!

        When I read your comment, my first thought was, “Well, he is a doctor.” Then I visited your blog (wonderful, btw!) and saw in your profile that you are on a similar journey. Congratulations, and the best to you and your family.

        • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

          We tend to avoid these powerful moments instead of letting ourselves feel them. They can only shape us and change our paradigm if self if we let ourselves feel both the joy and the pain.

      • kati

        if only by intervening we could take away some of the most random bits of the randomness.

        • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

          Favorite posts?

          Try these.

          Fall in love with the work, not the dream

          3 Ingredient to creating remarkable experiences

          Pure, undefiled religion

    • Anonymous

      Now Steph this is very very beautiful, but I don’t know what happened. Did someone abandon a baby and then you adopted it? I love the line about the grave that was never dug. Your writing it really remarkable.

      • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

        Yes, and thank you so much. Sorry it was a bit much to decipher. I wanted to maintain as much privacy about the moment as possible since it does not belong to me alone.

        • Anonymous

          I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be too nosey. It is a beautiful story.

          • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

            Oh goodness, don’t be sorry! I wouldn’t have posted something I was uncomfortable sharing. I appreciate your reading and your interest. I just wish I could explain more…plus, there is a lot more story to tell! But I don’t want to offer anything overtly identifying since there was great pain and loss involved as well. There are so many complex feelings on all sides when it comes to adoption, and I want to respect that both for my family and whoever might be reading.

    • http://beckfarfromhome.blogspot.com/ Beck Gambill

      Steph, I wanted to know so much more about your pain and the little child’s fate. I see in your comments that you are maintaining privacy. Your words are powerful and I was moved by the images you vividly paint.

      • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

        Thank you, Beck. That frail little baby is now a healthy little girl with the biggest, brightest smile you’ve ever seen :-).

        • http://beckfarfromhome.blogspot.com/ Beck Gambill

          I’m so glad to hear it! Your story struck a chord in me; it’s my prayer to adopt a child from eastern Europe with Down syndrome.

          • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

            I wish you all the best in your journey, Beck!

    • http://heathermarsten.wordpress.com/ Heather Marsten

      I love the image of the grave that was never dug, child clinging to life by tiny fingernails. Interesting blurring of the past and the present. Makes me want to know more about the situation. Good showing of the pain and the accusation of the crowd. I liked the child’s tiny fingers, and the crowd’s fingers pointing.

      • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

        Uh-oh. I guess I didn’t do my job. The crowd was not hostile at all. At first, I couldn’t tell what their general reaction to me was due to the dark and the communication barrier. I certainly feared the worst, but they were only curious. The moment of our parting was an intense moment of grace and humanity.

        Thanks so much for the feedback. I have an original version of this that is much longer and more complete. I wrote it years ago shortly after our homecoming. It would be interesting to compare the two and work them into a more polished product for my daughter. And yes, her fingernails were unbelievably tiny ;-).

  • http://beckfarfromhome.blogspot.com/ Beck Gambill

    This was a really compelling exercise, one that I found more difficult than I thought it would be. I really like the idea of rich story flowing from a rich life, I think just the right amount of vulnerability makes a story powerful. So here goes!

    Anticipation and uncertainty intertwine themselves and tingle down my spine as I click the seat belt across my lap. This was not a new sensation. Strangely, leaving had become my normal. Mama was known to joke, “This house is getting dirty, it must be time to move!”

    After lunch the last box had been loaded onto the rented, orange and white moving truck. Then Mama had taken one last look around to make sure nothing was left behind. We were finally all packed and ready to go. My brother was proudly seated beside Dad in the truck while my sister, mother and I would bring up the rear in the family mini van.

    “Everyone ready,” Mama calls cheerily, announcing more than asking. My sister pulls out her bag of toys, busying herself right away, while Mama pulls the van out of the driveway, following Dad to the interstate.

    As the van picks up speed I press my nose to the window and watch the familiar slip away to the cadence of the tire’s rhythmic clickity clack. I’m not sad. My heart hadn’t been in the last house long enough for it to become home. Home is traveling with me.

    I didn’t know it then, but years later I would find my heart had become scared with each uprooting, not resentful, but scared.

    • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

      Your ending is so honest and heartwrenching. Very powerful.

    • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

      I love the question, “Everyone ready?” It means so much. Packed? Yes. Ready to have my entire reality change again? No. Will we ever be ready? Thanks, Beck.

    • Anonymous

      This is so simply and clearly written. I like the present tense, first person, and the simple descriptions, very elegant. I like the line “My heart hadn’t been in the last house long enough for it to become home.” You describe the car with some detail, and not the house. That is says a lot about where your memories were stored. Thanks

    • http://heathermarsten.wordpress.com/ Heather Marsten

      Oh, the cheery mom when everything familiar is going to change, and as the ending implies change often. I like the image of the heart becoming scared. There is so much more I want to learn about this family and their frequent moves. Well done.

    • http://www.eileenknowles.com Eileen

      Powerful, Beck. My heart went out to that girl who looks out the window and “watches the familiar slip away”

  • kati

    yipee! the long day is done. i pop into the kitchen to create my steaming pomegranate green tea.

    Two moments pass.

    I’m here now, luxurious in my circa 1990 over-patterned chair. It’s highly likely
    that a clever, snappy little off-key ditty will unfold in front of me.
    I prepare to pound on my black dell keys.

    the tea heats my left hand as my right hand skips to finds my place on the screen.

    and then,
    my mind’s eye stumbles upon him.

    the poison man.

    unconscious.
    body slack.
    each breath a deafening
    silence.

    the tea goes cold in my grasp.

    i begin a Compare and Contrast essay for my 10th grade teacher Mrs Jones.

    my guy didn’t rattle, thank God. but yes, it was an eternity. there was no convulsing, thank God, but yes — there WAS a type of brain seizing. no
    foaming
    no anger.

    no namelessness, certainly, but loneliness, yes, of course.

    not hopelessness, no but helplessness, yes. no doubt about it.

    and loneliness.

    Certainly the loneliness, yes.
    perhaps not for him, but without a doubt, yes, for me.

    and then, the
    breath.

    of course,
    the breath.

    what is it, about the breath?

    everywhere i go, it seems these days
    somebody’s saying something about breath.

    who knew?

    makes sense, i suppose.
    for breath is the catalyst for this most unusual type of
    permanent searing
    change.

    and yet, already
    –so soon —
    my memory of it fades.

    i stop the clock.
    and i go to find the way i said it back way back when.

    ______

    9. 11.2010

    at the end, when his breaths became intermittent, we didn’t know when (or if) they would resume. and as they continued to return, time after time, they gradually began to morph into breathing i’d never seen before.

    had this happened just once or twice, i could have handled it by quickly stashing the experience away in a distant, vague memory bank. but as these intermittent breaths continued i began to get a bit disoriented: what is happening here?

    cheryl’s imagery mid-way through provided an immediate visual for me to hold on to. and then, all of a sudden, i saw the sparkle in it all. his breathing made it appear he was running. running, my sister with that laser-beam-focus-to-heaven recommended, straight to the gates of heaven.

    as soon as she said it, i could see it. the eager over-exertion that forces one to slow down just for a few moments to catch one’s breath. but not for long, as something worth the effort is right before your eyes… a big wide ribbon that you’re straining to break, so you can know the race is won.

    run dad!
    we promise
    we’re not that far behind.

    ______

    so much for steaming tea and clever ditties.
    pleasantly, however, the room is
    pulsing and i am less
    alone.

    thanks jeremy for letting your story spill out!

  • kati

    yipee! the long day is done. i pop into the kitchen to create my steaming pomegranate green tea.

    Two moments pass.

    I’m here now, luxurious in my circa 1990 over-patterned chair. It’s highly likely
    that a clever, snappy little off-key ditty will unfold in front of me.
    I prepare to pound on my black dell keys.

    the tea heats my left hand as my right hand skips to finds my place on the screen.

    and then,
    my mind’s eye stumbles upon him.

    the poison man.

    unconscious.
    body slack.
    each breath a deafening
    silence.

    the tea goes cold in my grasp.

    i begin a Compare and Contrast essay for my 10th grade teacher Mrs Jones.

    my guy didn’t rattle, thank God. but yes, it was an eternity. there was no convulsing, thank God, but yes — there WAS a type of brain seizing. no
    foaming
    no anger.

    no namelessness, certainly, but loneliness, yes, of course.

    not hopelessness, no but helplessness, yes. no doubt about it.

    and loneliness.

    Certainly the loneliness, yes.
    perhaps not for him, but without a doubt, yes, for me.

    and then, the
    breath.

    of course,
    the breath.

    what is it, about the breath?

    everywhere i go, it seems these days
    somebody’s saying something about breath.

    who knew?

    makes sense, i suppose.
    for breath is the catalyst for this most unusual type of
    permanent searing
    change.

    and yet, already
    –so soon —
    my memory of it fades.

    i stop the clock.
    and i go to find the way i said it back way back when.

    ______

    9. 11.2010

    at the end, when his breaths became intermittent, we didn’t know when (or if) they would resume. and as they continued to return, time after time, they gradually began to morph into breathing i’d never seen before.

    had this happened just once or twice, i could have handled it by quickly stashing the experience away in a distant, vague memory bank. but as these intermittent breaths continued i began to get a bit disoriented: what is happening here?

    cheryl’s imagery mid-way through provided an immediate visual for me to hold on to. and then, all of a sudden, i saw the sparkle in it all. his breathing made it appear he was running. running, my sister with that laser-beam-focus-to-heaven recommended, straight to the gates of heaven.

    as soon as she said it, i could see it. the eager over-exertion that forces one to slow down just for a few moments to catch one’s breath. but not for long, as something worth the effort is right before your eyes… a big wide ribbon that you’re straining to break, so you can know the race is won.

    run dad!
    we promise
    we’re not that far behind.

    ______

    so much for steaming tea and clever ditties.
    pleasantly, however, the room is
    pulsing and i am less
    alone.

    thanks jeremy for letting your story spill out!

    • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

      I love it kati. I can feel myself sitting in the chair. I can feel the warm tea in my hand. I feel the loneliness. I hear the breath. I am routing for your dad to run because the destination is beautiful. I want to follow him with you.

      • kati

        thank you, jeremy! sometimes i think i could write about death forever. but perhaps only in poetry form.

        i perused your website last night…VERY cool!! was wondering…can you recommend two or three of your favorite posts? that would help me know where to get started soaking up all the goodness there!

    • Anonymous

      This is nice Kati, starting with the very close voice holding the cup of tea, writing a high-school paper. Then it goes to almost like a dream-poem, stream of consciousness work, and then to Cheryl with her words (I guess she spoke) that tie all the abstractness to a concept, to heaven. It’s really nice I think.

      • kati

        marianne, i love your phrases, “close voice” and “dream-poem”– in all the books i’ve ever read about writing, i’ve never heard these used before! are the terms something you collected from someone else, or did you coin the concepts? they’re quite good :-)

        i guess the piece does go through several transitions…never would have seen it quite like how you framed it. thanks for your time to absorb it and comment!

        • Anonymous

          Kati – when I said close voice I was talking about “narrative distance” something I learned about in a class I took. There’s a good article online that I just found called Decoding Narrative Distance by Dave King (can’t get the link to work right now). Basically when I read the first lines of your story “yippee . . . my black dell computer keys” – I feel like I’m watching a movie, but when you mention “the tea heats up my hand” I can feel it. I’m closer, as reader, to the line with the tea. Does that make sense? Maybe Joe will do a bit about narrative distance, or the voice of the narrator. In our group here we usually use our own voice as narrator when we talk about things that happened to us, as in this exercise, but sometimes not in things that we make entirely up, like my story about killing the person who murdered the narrator’s father. Anyway voice and narrative distance are all bound up together, and in this piece by you, you move back and forth, in and out, a lot, as I did when my parents died. My memories of their deaths are very hard to write about because my memories jump back and forth, and you seem to have captured that dreamy odd quality here IMO. When I said dream-poem I was just using my own words to describe how this might fit into many categories. You definitely use Stream of consciousness “and then, the breath. of course, the breath.” but it reads like poetry to me. Even more so here “no namelessness, certainly, but loneliness, . . . and loneliness”. I read that part as a meditation of the narrator when she is watching her father die, almost like she has recited it before. That’s why I said dream-poem. I also wrote what I thought was one of my best pieces when I was in one of my classes, and was told that it was a prose poem rather than short fiction. It was a complement I guess, not sure. Anyway I think the distinctions between types of writing can be very very blurry like the narrative voice, and I saw this piece by you as using those tools to show how “in and out” we feel when we lose someone whom we love. Please look these things up though, I’m certainly no authority on either poems (prose or other) or on narrative voice, and I don’t want to misspeak in this group that I like so much.I do know what rings a bell with me and this story does. Maybe you need to spend some time identifying a “center” for it and then move out from the center so that it has a more of a traditional form. I don’t know. Good luck kati.

          • kati

            Thanks for the additional info! I found the article by Dave King, very interesting how he says narrative distance (or lack of it) can help build up to the crucial change points in a story.
            http://www.davekingedits.com/pov.htm

            you are so right, how dream-like it is, moving in and out of death. i’d love to experiment more with prose poem, especially as it relates to loss. it’s hard to write of death without giving some type of poetry-type honor. prose poem would be a nice middle ground perhaps.

            because poetry is a great vehicle for absorbing the impact of death…i’ve been thinking that literary folks would benefit from an online community whose facilitating posts are simply death and grief poems. i’ve found hundreds of them in books, and they are quite powerful! What do you think? From the circles you travel in, do you think a community could easily gather around such a focused topic?

        • Anonymous

          Kati – for some reason I can’t comment to the last comment you made so I will insert this here and hope you see it. I think a group based on poetry about grief and/or loss would be a good idea but every depressing. I wish I knew more about poetry. I read it a lot and maybe it has crept into my writing a bit. I read just yesterday that an author named Lois Lowry, with whom I’m not familiar, but who is apparently a prize winning children’s author, said that she always reads poetry before she starts to write. She doesn’t write poetry herself but finds that it sends het to her own work with a sense of excitement and possibility (something like that). I wish I could take a course on poetry. I really admire poets and think it’s a shame that no one reads and discusses poetry (no on around here anyway).

          • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

            Agreed, Marianne. Should we start one? The Write Poem? Ha that sounds SO cheezy!

          • Anonymous

            I can’t remark on Joe’s remark for some reason, so I’ll post my remark here. I think a poetry site would be interesting but I don’t know a whole lot about poetry, but then neither did Emily Dickenson.

          • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

            Great point!

    • http://heathermarsten.wordpress.com/ Heather Marsten

      hmm – wonder who the poison man is – it is a great contrast between the comforting cup of tea and the labored breathing. Great imagery with the father racing to heaven, you not far behind. Very powerful.

      • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

        Now I’m confused – I originally thought the poison man was the one in Jeremy’s original post and that Kati was reflecting upon his death? Not so?

        • kati

          thanks to you heather and steph, i adjusted the piece so it is more clear: mr. statton and his poison man. the latter, unconscious…

          i was definitely trying to make references to Jeremy’s guy, and make it somewhat visceral (but abbreviated), to set the stage for my dad’s final-breath story. i think adding mr. statton to it makes it a more clear, direct reference. i truly appreciate your input!

  • kati

    p.s. joe, can you delete doubles?
    sorry ’bout that!

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Got it. No problem. It happens.

  • http://www.storywrought.wordpress.com/ Lizzie

    Jeremy, this is incredible wisdom. Ever since reading Donald Miller’s A Million Miles, I’ve been trying to fill my life with memorable stories, no matter how small. I believe that story should begin in our lives before it ever touches the page. And like you said, experience creates that depth and urgency in our writing.

    • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

      A Million Miles was inspiring to me as well. I am finding that much of what Don says is true. I have even met Bob Goff and he is everything that Don describes him as and more.

  • Chris S.

    It wasn’t easy to get her to let go of the glass of vodka. I had to promise I would give it back to her as soon as she sat up on the couch, and even then it was like prying it from a death grip in her hands. As she slumped over on the couch, her hands curled around the glass I had returned to her, I scooched next to her and laid her head on my shoulder, the tip of my head touching hers.
    ‘I love you,’ I said. ‘I love you, I love you, I love you.’
    She started to sob, sobs that shook her already quivering body.
    I just held her close to me, praying the serenity prayer over and over in my mind as we waited for EMS to come. She had agreed to go to the hospital, but hadn’t agreed to treatment.
    That was fine by me.
    ‘You are a GOOD person,’ I reminded her. ‘Don’t forget that.’
    ‘I am?’
    ‘Yes. YES. You are a great person. You are generous, and loving, and you have a great heart. It’s the disease that is horrible. Not you.’
    ‘Really?’ She sounded like a child.
    People say vodka doesn’t smell, and I guess it doesn’t, but there was a smell there. The smell of despair. What does despair smell like? It’s like rotten food. I would say rotting flesh, but I’ve never been around rotting flesh, and I wouldn’t like to lie. I’ve smelled burned flesh, and that’s close.
    I could only lean on one side of her because, as we speak of burned flesh, she had a burn on the other side of her face and it was healing. Happened in a blackout. Lots of things happen in blackouts that we don’t know about, and they scare the hell out of me, especially for this woman I loved so much.
    When the EMS workers came, because she lived in an upstairs apartment, two men carried her down. She wore her adult son’s jacket by mistake, but a jacket is a jacket; it’s purpose is to keep out the cold.
    She wouldn’t let go of my hand until the were putting her into the ambulance.
    Why do I know she is good? Beside the fact that she is human and vulnerable to addiction as we all are?
    Because she is my sister.

    • Nancy

      I like the way you focus on the small details. I felt like I was there with you.

    • Anonymous

      This is a “rock bottom” moment for sure and you capture that. I like the idea of despair as an entity. I get a contrast too between the two characters one hopeful and one just unable to do anything but hang onto the glass of vodka.

    • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

      I like how you incorporate smell so vividly. It also made me realize that I forgot to incorporate smell into my own submission!

    • http://heathermarsten.wordpress.com/ Heather Marsten

      Powerful – my mother also drank vodka – the orange juice in my story was laced. You got a lot of the feelings of despair that the other party faces with alcohol -made me care for the tow characters. Well done. I liked the encouraging here by telling her she’s a good person, and the surprise at the end that it was your sister

    • http://www.eileenknowles.com Eileen

      “People say vodka doesn’t smell, and I guess it doesn’t, but there was a smell there. The smell of despair. ” That’s a powerful line.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      I love that first scene Chris. There are some incredibly powerful images there, the hand clasped around the glass, clutching it to her chest, afraid to let it go. That twist in the middle was wonderful, too. “People say vodka doesn’t smell, and I guess it doesn’t, but there was a smell there.” I love how you describe the emotion in the room in terms of a sense you can experience, not just this abstract word. Brilliant.

      I didn’t particularly like the ending. It seemed like you were moralizing and justifying her behavior, which isn’t really necessary. The best fiction and creative non-fiction doesn’t talk in terms of good or bad, in my opinion. Instead, it reveals. It shows us at our best and worst and even at our most boring middling points. In other words, it is detached enough to be non-judgmental (whether your judging something as good or bad).

      Now, even as I say that I think of Holden Caulfield, who condemned his roommate, his prep school, and half of Manhattan with his judgments. But of course, even so Salinger is just showing us Holden’s mentality, revealing his character.

      Anyway, enough of my rambling. This is a beautiful, vulnerable piece, Chris. And if you continue to develop the story around it, I think it could make a wonderful short story or piece of a novel.

  • http://www.eileenknowles.com Eileen

    “We’ve given her morphine for the pain. It shouldn’t be long now.” the nurse said as she walked away from my mom’s bedside.

    We stood and waited. I looked at the clock. It was after 8:00 now. How did it get so late?

    The labored breathing coming from beneath her oxygen mask caused a level of pain inside my heart I have never felt before or since.

    I didn’t want to hear it anymore and so I prayed silently.

    Please, Lord, take her…please, please, take her.

    I felt guilty. What teenager prays for their mom to die? I couldn’t watch it anymore.

    God heard my prayer.

    The nurse came over to us with a box of tissue, wrapped her arm around me, and told me she was sorry.

    Was she really? I thought. Does she get it?

    I stood across the room for a minute, watching her still body before walking to her bedside once again and kissing her lips good-bye. They were cold. Shockingly cold. It happened so quickly. I looked at the clock. It was just after 8:30.

    • Nancy

      So many mixed emotions at a time like this. You showed them well.

    • Anonymous

      That feeling of trying to get past the labored breathing, the hard part, and the guilt of wanting her to pass on is very poignant here.

    • http://heathermarsten.wordpress.com/ Heather Marsten

      This snippet makes me wonder at more of the story. Nice showing of mixed feelings, and the desire for her to be free of pain, even at the cost of loss to you.

  • Nancy

    I remove my shoes and look around the long narrow studio for a place to put my mat, as close to the teacher as possible, as I started losing my hearing at age twenty-eight. I recline on my back, close my eyes, and situate my body in shavastana, hands open to the ceiling, feet apart. It’s an awkward position. I feel naked and vulnerable. I hope no one stares at me as they pass by. I hope no one trips on my feet or steps on my hands as they search for their spot.

    I’m supposed to press my spine to the floor and open my mind. But the tension of the day has settled in my back and only random spots touch the floor. I am crooked and unbalanced. Student problems race to my brain and fight for attention.

    The tan carpet has muffled all wound and I don’t hear Angelie arrive behind me. She stoops down by my head and presses her warm hands on my shoulders. My tension starts to drain. She gently pushes me to the floor as her French accent whispers words of comfort. It feels wonderful. Then she digs her hands under my back and puts pressure on the stiff muscles along my spine. She knows exactly where to go. Now I remember why I have been coming here three times a week for two years. Once I relax, she moves on.

    We begin our practice with breathing exercises. Closing one nostril and then the other as she counts to four and closing both as she sings re-tain. We flow into the stretching, positions, head stands, and then my new favorite. I raise my feet up until my soles are parallel to the ceiling and rest in this shoulder stand for several minutes. Then I lower my feet behind me, slowly, slowly until my toes touch the floor. Finally, I can do this. I rest in an oblique triangle for a long time. Then the best part. One by one I unfold my spine, pressing each vertebra into the floor. My stomach clenches to control the speed. It draws my legs over my face and then they come down on the other side until my heels are on the ground. I did it and for once it feels good.

    Soon we are back in our last shavastana. But today is different. My heart is warm and my spirit seems to rise up and mingle with my aura. What an amazing feeling. I wonder what is happening. I listen to Angelie chant. It’s beautiful, angelic. I love her French accent. My father is French. Maybe that’s why. Yoga is awesome and I wonder if my friends around me feel the same emotion. I love my friends and I’m so happy they stuck with me through the years. I love everyone in this room. I love living in India. This is what I’d hoped it would be like. Thank you, honey, for honoring my wishes and applying for a job in New Delhi. My life is perfect.

    On Saturday I arrive at Angelie’s beautiful home to practice and learn from her yogi. In the afternoon he enlightens me: Westerners mistakenly think yoga is a form of exercise. Some even think it’s a weight loss program. It is neither. If you practice yoga as it was intended—to perform each position with the pure goal of doing something well–you will reap the reward, a heightened sense of consciousness and euphoria, an unbelievable joy for everyone and everything around you. Euphoria.

    • Anonymous

      It is difficult usually to describe ones body moving though space and you do a really good job. I had to stop once or twice to picture what was going on but after re-reading more slowly I got it. It makes me want to take yoga.

    • http://heathermarsten.wordpress.com/ Heather Marsten

      nice job with this – showing the tension, the release of tension, and concerns. I love the image of the spirit rising up to mingle with the aura. You created the warm atmosphere of a good class with a wonderful teacher.

  • August McLaughlin

    “Our stories are best told using the experience of life.”

    Couldn’t agree more! Thanks, Joe. This post is chock-full of useful insight.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      I know, isn’t it August? I can’t take credit for it, though. This was all Jeremy Statton. You should check him out. You might like his take, jeremystatton.com. Thanks!

      • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

        Thanks, August.

  • http://www.pjreece.ca/blog/wordpress PJ Reece

    Serendipitously, I just finished writing about a childhood experience that fits this exercise:
    I was six years old. We were monkeying around a house under construction. No staircase yet, just a gaping hole in the floor. That’s right, I fell. Landed in the basement. Face down. On concrete. Couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe! But I was wide awake. Thought for sure I was going to die. Thoughts useless. Panic pointless. I’m going to die but…isn’t it interesting… my body lying lifeless…I’m watching it from a safe place. Well, well… my psychic “self” is not synonymous with the physical “self”. Hmmm.

    No small epiphany for a six-year-old!

    I would never have thought to orchestrate such a miracle on my own. Life had to push me. Had I been a fictional character, I would have thanked the writer, thanked him for knowing what was good for me, and believing in me enough to just about kill me.

    This episode supports my concept of a “story heart” in an eBook I’m writing called “Story Structure to Die for”. It’ll be a free download for anyone reading this blog. Soon, soon…

    • Anonymous

      The immediacy of your writing it remarkable. The idea that a person is both physical and psychic and that the two can exist separately is a lot of a six year old. It must have really changed your life early on. Thanks

      • http://www.pjreece.ca/blog/wordpress PJ Reece

        Thanks, M.V. It only occurred to me in recent years how much that event must have affected me. It explains a lot! in fact. When I hear of people who have never been sick or injured… I kind of feel sorry for them.

    • http://heathermarsten.wordpress.com/ Heather Marsten

      glad you survived :) Wonder what it felt like to come back into the body.

    • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

      Did someone find you? Any injuries? Did you just walk away? So many more questions.

  • Anonymous

    A hurricane was coming, should I be afraid I wonder? I watch my father tape the windows and put the lawn furniture on the porch. Then it’s run, hurry, get all the candles and flashlights into the hall. I catch our ancient, angry, gray cat and put her in the bathroom. She hisses and yeows all the way.

    We wait in the hall, away from the windows, on sleeping bags and mattresses. We listen for news on our turquoise plastic transistor radios, but not for long.

    Hurricane Ethel rushes in with just as the sun starts to set, sheets of rain flap against the roof and walls. I get up and creep to a window. The wind fueled trees bow down and then throw their limbs up like primitive dancers, storm dancers.

    “Come away from the window,” says my father and pulls me toward him. I smell sweat, and look up. He is frowning but is distracted by something he’s hearing. “Sit with me,” he says and we sit in the armchair at the end of the hall. We can see my sisters and my mother sleeping on their sleeping bags. My sisters are asleep already and my mother, calm as always, is reading with the light from a lantern. She smiles at us. I hug my father’s arm.

    We listen to the radio and to the rolling storm which twists and turns and smacks and splatters outside. I drift off to sleep, but wake up when I hear garbage cans banging down the street, and again when there’s a loud pop as a tree hits the roof. Soon enough the wind slows, the eye is coming.

    “Let’s go out and survey the damage,” those were his exact words I think. He said them in a satisfied way, not like the damage was done but satisfied that he could make a move, get some information.

    My father takes my hand and we walk though the back door, then the screen door which is leaning on it’s hinges.

    Outside the locust trees are flat on the ground, their limbs, ripped from their trunks leaving splayed open wounds, showing the light-greenish inner flesh of the tree against the dark bark. The wood pile has been hurled about. and one log is stands on end on the screen in porch, like it’s waiting on tip-toe for the rest of the party. A hole in the screen gives at hint to about how this unbidden guest gained entrance.

    We go further, out to the yellow-shingled garage. A mass of shiny, dripping leaves cling to the side of the garage like moths clinging to a screen. The whole world has been shaken out of it’s normal rhythm and I stand there protected by the eye or the storm and my father’s hand in mine.

    The wind starts up again and we hurry to get inside. I look back, and I press the images into my mind, because even then I knew I needed to remember how it felt to be in a dome of calm, in the middle of the worst storm I’d ever seen.

    ******

    I did this in fifteen minutes but have written on the topic before. I wrote about it for my father’s funeral, and my daughter read it.

    • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

      Writing from the perspective within the eye of a hurricane is a fascinating idea. Very cool.

    • http://heathermarsten.wordpress.com/ Heather Marsten

      Having weathered many hurricanes, you did a good job describing the preparations, and the eye of the storm. I did wonder if the woodpile being blown around wouldn’t have shattered some windows, The use of color was effective – like the light greenish interior of the tree trunk.

      • Anonymous

        Thanks, I don’t know how that one log managed to get onto the porch. It was very weird looking, surreal.

    • http://beckfarfromhome.blogspot.com/ Beck Gambill

      Great description! My family went through hurricane Gloria in Virginia when I was almost 10; it was a powerful experience. I remember looking out of a window and seeing an oak tree bent to the ground. I was astonished it could lean so far without breaking. I like how you capture the personalities of the people experiencing the storm and how they each react uniquely.

      • Anonymous

        Thanks Beck. You’re much younger than me. I think the hurricane that that memory is from is Ethel, but we had several during which we had to sleep in the hall and I’m not sure which was which.

        • Anonymous

          Whoops that should say younger than I, sorry.

    • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

      Through reading everyone’s comments, I feel like I am living another life. I have never experienced the dread and fear that would come with a hurricane, but I feel I might know not only that, but to be reassured by my father.

      • Anonymous

        My father, great love. I had my daughter read another version of my hurricane tale at my father’s funeral. I ended it with, the safety I felt holding his hand that day was the same safety I hope he felt as he passed on. It makes me cry even as I write this, but I think good writers cry a lot. She finally had to just stop reading from the page and tell the story as she remembered reading over it the day before. She got some details wrong but she got the safety when being held by someone who loves you part right. I realized then that the truth of a tale is only pointed to by the story itself.

        • kati

          it was nice to absorb your story tonight marianne! i love how you use descriptors in a slightly off-the-norm way, that makes me sit up at attention. Like “ancient, angry, gray cat” (three adjectives rather than the standard two), and “primitive dancers, storm dancers” (rather than the expected “primitive storm dancers”) and “splayed open wounds” (most would have stopped at “open”…and left us without that super visual adverb!). thanks for giving us a story you clearly crafted with care.

          I also appreciate your insights in your comment above to Jeremy, “It makes me cry even as I write this, but I think good writers cry a lot.” and “the truth of a tale is only pointed to by the story itself.” these are wise sage moments, piled atop a wonderful story. i’m so glad you’re here sharing your stories, feedback and insights with us!

          • Anonymous

            Thank you Kati, I so often I feel like I go too far with my comments and kind of veer off into fantasy land, that it makes me really happy when someone appreciates them. I just love this group! There are so many good writers and such a great variety. I look forward to reading this blog, and even opened it on my cell phone while at the dentist today (Ugh) to see what was happening.

    • Diane Turner

      Great description, Marianne, of the hurricane. I can hear the howling wind, see the leaves and debris hurling around, and smell damp earth upended by uprooted trees. I love the way you brought the senses into the piece. I’ve never experienced a hurricane first hand, but it’s interesting how your sisters and your mother were nonchalant and calm through it. What a lovely description of your father’s hand giving you the calmness you needed during that frightening time. I had to laugh at the cat, though. I once had an old, angry, grey, hissing beast of a cat named Duncan. Brought back a few memories.
      Thanks for sharing your lovely piece.

      • Anonymous

        Thank you Diane. I think my sisters were just too tired to stay awake after a certain point, and my mother just was unflappable. My father and I were the worriers.

  • http://heathermarsten.wordpress.com/ Heather Marsten

    New opening to my memoir, Tell Me what He Did. Wanted to start with child game – it becomes much darker a few pages in. Hope I foreshadow some of it.:

    “Run!” I yell to Pam. “They’re right behind you.”

    She dodges the boys, races past Mommy’s vegetable garden, and heads toward the maple tree in her backyard. If she touches the trunk, we win, and the boys will finally have to keep their promise to play house with us.

    I kneel behind the shrub. My side aches with each deep breath. Using the hem of my shirt, I wipe sweat off my forehead. I’d give anything for some ice-cold lemonade.

    Steve sneaks up behind Pam and drops the hula-hoop lasso over her head. She kicks and screams as her brother drags her to the cave, the cinderblock barbeque pit in my backyard, and rolls a pretend stone in front of the cave door.

    Pam beats on the rock. “I can’t escape. They’re going to eat me.”

    Hula-hoop in hand, Steve turns toward my hiding place. “I’m coming to get you.”

    “No!” I race toward the tree, but Bobby’s guarding it, hands spread wide to grab me. Maybe I can circle around back.

    Looking over my shoulder to see where Steve is, I trip on a root, and fall. A piece of gravel jabs deep into my knee.

    I’m lassoed.

    “Wait a minute,” I say. “Let me see if I’m bleeding.”

    They stop trying to pull me, but don’t remove their lassos. I brush grass stains away and examine my knees. Good, no blood. Even though I pull against their lassos, the boys roughly drag me to the cave and shove me in with Pam.

    Rubbing my side, I glare at them.

    “Do you think we can escape?” she asks.

    The cavemen laugh. “Never.”

    Pam and I pretend to be afraid. We tremble and huddle together.

    Steve pinches my arm. “Ugh, good meat.”

    “Ow, that hurts.” I slap his hand away. He didn’t have to pinch so hard. I bite back tears. It’s never good to let anyone see me cry.

    Bobby finds two twigs and rubs them together to light a pretend cooking fire while Steve does a wild, caveman victory dance.

    A bell rings down the block.

    Ice cream! We stop our game and run home to ask for a nickel.

    I quietly open the screen door and tiptoe to the living room. If she’s sleeping, I don’t want to wake her.

    Good, Mommy’s sitting in her green armchair, watching As the World Turns. Cigarette in mouth, she takes a curler out of her hair and tosses it in the basket with the others.

    “Mommy, Mommy, can I please have a nickel for an ice cream?”

    She shakes her index finger at me. “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” Her cigarette moves up and down as she talks and some of the ashes fall on her lap.

    I want to roll my eyes, but don’t. Putting my hands together in a begging position, I say, “Please, Mommy. Everyone else is getting one.”

    “Okay, but only today. Hand me my change purse.”

    I want to tell her to hurry up, the truck is close, but bite the inside of my mouth and quietly wait while she slowly puts her cigarette down, takes a sip of orange juice, and digs through her change to fish out a nickel. I grab it from her hand, thank her, and run outside to join the other kids.

    Why does she make such a big deal over a nickel?

    After the boys run off with their treats, Pam and I sit under the maple tree in my backyard. I nibble chocolate off my ice cream bar and lick the vanilla ice cream. The trick is to make it last as long as possible before it melts. A drop of ice cream dribbles on my hand and I suck it off.

    Pam pokes a straw into her cherry sno-cone, “I don’t want summer to end.”

    “Me neither.” Not true. School’s safer than home.

    “In just twenty-one days, we’re going to have to get up early and sit in a stupid classroom.”

    “You’re lucky. There’s no homework in first grade. I’m going into second, so I’ll have tons.”

    “Yech, homework.” Pam scrunches her nose.

    After we finish our ice creams she stands up. “Let’s find where the boys are hiding.”

    Throwing our sticks and wrappers in the garbage, we walk toward Pam’s house. The boys jump out from behind the woodpile, grab us and shout, “Got ya.”

    I get so tired of boy’s games.

    A green Plymouth turns onto our street. Pam and the boys race toward my house shouting, “Shirley’s Daddy, Shirley’s Daddy.”

    My stomach churns as I run to meet Daddy. I hope he’s in a good mood.

    • Anonymous

      The description here is great. I really can see them playing that game. There is a very menacing feel about the boys rough playing and the cave that is the bar-b-que pit. Then when the father comes home and they all run to greet him, but she is reluctant. I do wonder what will happen next. I think it’s a good start. It’s the kind that pulls one into that day.

      • http://heathermarsten.wordpress.com/ Heather Marsten

        Marianne, thanks. I was wondering if it pulled into the story or if it was too much. There are hints – the line of school is safer than home and being tired of boy’s games. In the next scene my father plays his game of find the soap that permits him to touch private parts. The first part of the book is filled with a lot of pain – but there is healing. I’m hoping first person works.

    • http://writex3.blogspot.com/ Steph

      I want to jump into that story and whisk you to safety. You are a very brave person and a talented writer.

      • http://heathermarsten.wordpress.com/ Heather Marsten

        Thanks Steph – this is my first attempt at showing my story and I’ve been learning as I write – there is real healing in the story – much of which I can’t share here because the subject matter is kind of graphic and may be triggering to others hurt by abuse.

    • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

      There was once a day when I looked at a barbecue pit that I saw a deep, dark, lonely cave. Thanks for helping me bring that day back to life, Heather.

  • Diane Turner

    I remember one day when my mother was actually sober. Well, that’s an exaggeration. There were probably 20 or so days during the years I can recall – about age 3 until she and my stepfather moved away when I was 16. On that one day, however, I came home from school to find her dressed up. Her emerald green skirt hung loose about her frame, barely skimming her knees. A satin shirt with rhinestone buttons clung to her and a silver belt gripped her narrow waist. Shiny patent-leather high heels completed the outfit. She looked like a queen. I was enchanted, as only a 9-year old could be.

    “You look beautiful!” I managed to squeak out. She twirled in mock appreciation, her skirt billowing in graceful folds. I could feel the air in my face as she spun, her head thrown back. “Let’s you and me go to town and have tea,” she said, her face close to mine. I could smell her perfume. Spicy, like cinnamon. I giggled until my cheeks hurt. I was sure right then. She would never drink again, and she would be like my friends’ mothers. We went to a little tearoom, Reginald’s, in the downtown arcade and ordered tea and tiny cakes that came on a tiered plate rimmed with flowers and bright candies. Candles burned low on the table and made my mother glow. My eyes widened in wonder and delight. This was a new beginning. I knew it! Could I take a deep breath now, finally? I remember being tight with anticipation.

    Usually when I returned from school, I would find her either passed out or raging at some imagined demon in the room. I never brought friends home, you’ve probably guessed.There were a few times when she would attempt to stop drinking and for days would vomit and retch so violently, I was sure she would die. I would find hidden bottles of whiskey – small jars really, tucked into niches here and there and in pockets of her old coats, under the bathroom sink behind the tall shampoo bottle – and flush them down the toilet. I remember dipping my finger into the yellow liquid once and gasping at the acrid, bitter taste. It took my breath away. How could she drink something that vile?

    During our tea date we talked and laughed. It lasted a whole 2 delicious hours. That night I fell asleep, reliving the tea party in exquisite and what it meant. Things were going to be different. Deep down inside I knew it.

    She was waiting for me when I got home the next afternoon. She was still wearing her tea party clothes, but now they were rumpled and the belt was gone. “I wanna talk about our party.” Her words slurred and her smile was lopsided and sinister. I watched as the amber liquid in her glass slopped onto the carpet.

    • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

      I really appreciate your sharing this story. Alcoholism was not not something that plagued my home growing up. The way you tell your story helps me understand you and better. It helps me to better understand what it must be like, although I realize I never can. Thanks for sharing, Diane.

      • Diane Turner

        How very lucky you are to have never experienced alcoholism first hand. Lucky man indeed. What I hadn’t recognized before and discovered while writing this is the constant and ever present hopefulness I had as a child. Perhaps a trait inherent in all children, I’m not sure. Naivete, too, maybe. Interesting revelation, though.
        Thanks for reading the piece.

    • Anonymous

      What excellent writing. Your description of her in the dress is amazing, just the right amount of details. I wondered if she was going to order a cocktail while you were out at dinner. I also can remember, as maybe all of use, can seeing my mother so beautiful, all dressed up and ready for a party, the epitomy of beauty, and then she falls back to drinking. What an emotional story. I think your descriptive ability really adds to the emotion.

      • Diane Turner

        Thanks for your kind words. Getting the right amount of description is always a challenge. It is interesting how so many of us have had parents or other family members who are hooked on some substance. Sad.
        This is my first foray into this forum and I must admit I’m not sure how to navigate yet.
        Thanks for being patient and again for your words of encouragement.

  • Carey Rowland

    Wide. That’s what Utah is. And bright. Bright as a sandstone mesa under noonday sun. Dry, as a bone.

    That’s where we were, two men walking on hot, dusty trail in the middle of Nowhere, Utah. With a pack on the back, an old fifty-something like me couldn’t hear the unexpected as it lurked somewhere in the distance.

    The near distance, on the middle of the trail, and the same color as the sand itself: death.

    Potential, death.
    So the old guy, father, couldn’t hear death wait for him, just a pebble-toss ahead. The rustle of the pack, the shuffle of feet, the heat of the day. Dad’s old ears render him clueless sometimes.
    But the son heard, and he responded.

    Quickly.
    Old dad shuffling right along on the trail, heading directly for death. Suddenly, he is pulled backward rudely, violently.
    “Dad!” shouted the son to the father who had given life to him.
    Dad got stopped in his tracks, son’s hand firmly jerking him back by grab of his pack.

    The snake was coiled in the middle of the trail, coiled, rattles just a-hissin’ through the desert heat.

    Son who had been given life through the father gave life back again. Thanks, son.
    (This really happened.)

    • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

      Wow. Hiking in Utah with the threat of rattle snakes is definitely a good story. Thanks, Carey.

    • Anonymous

      Wow! I like how you spaced that out, formatted it. It points up the idea of life being returned. It’s very short, but I get a clear picture of the dusty ground, the shuffling feet and the snake.

  • Lea

    “I want to die,” she scribbled with a pale, shaky hand on a wrinkled piece of yellow paper. Her body was disfigured and swollen. A white, plastic tube snaked down her throat which helped her to breath but rendered her unable to talk. Drab, gray walls swallowed the yellow light from the fluorescents overhead casting a chalky hue on her exposed skin. The feeling of hope tangled with the smell of death that lingered in the room.

    Laura is my best friend and more like family to me than those related by blood. My life would be permanently affected should she choose to give up and die.

    I had found my way to intensive care room number two, but was confused as I stared at the body lying in the bed. With only fifteen minutes to visit, I needed to be certain this was Laura and, as distorted as this body was, I could not make out the features of my friend. She was swollen as if she had been pumped up with air. Her face resembled an over-inflated football while the rest of her body mirrored the Michelin Man – the round puffed-up mascot for Michelin Tires. Laura opened her eyes just as I peeked at the bracelet on her arm. I glanced quick enough to make out her name, a name that did not go with the face staring back at me.

    Our eyes locked, and tears flowed freely down her cheeks. Holding back my emotions, I worked my way through the maze of cords and tubes to take hold of her bloated hands, both of which had been tied to the bed rails. How barbaric? What was going on here? Laura is a nurse and, even in her incoherent state, she knew perfectly well why her hands were tied down. I had no clue and was incensed. At that moment, a nurse came in to take Laura’s vitals and, after questioning, informed me Laura’s hands were tied so that she would not yank the tube out of her throat. After pleading to release Laura’s hands, she told me she would check with the doctor.

    Reaching over the small bedside table that held an old beige phone and a gray Styrofoam pitcher filled with water, I picked up a folded towel to soak in cold water and a dry one to place under her chin to soak up her drool – a byproduct of the tube down her throat. I brushed away wisps of her golden hair and placed the damp towel on her forehead.

    It was then the nurse reappeared and removed the restraints from Laura’s hands. Laura, in slow motion, gestured for a pen and paper. I was certain my fifteen minute visit was up but I did not budge.

    “I want to die.” This is what she felt at this moment. I get that but I didn’t understand. I could not allow her to feel this way. My selfishness took over and responded, “Okay. This affects me now. What am I suppose to do if you give up and die?” I knew she understood this was my way of telling her how important she is in my life and the void I would experience if she were no longer there. This was the one thing our friendship thrived on – complete and total honesty without judgment – a very rare quality.

    There’s nothing like death knocking at your door and you refuse to answer. Thankfully, for both of us, she came through this time. She had to learn to live with a clot logged near her heart, and I learned to appreciate every minute I have with her in my life.

    **************
    This was a true and very real event in my life. The only thing changed here was the name of my friend.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      That moment she writes the note is so powerful, Lea. You captured it really well. Have you written much more about this? I think this story would make a great subplot in a novel. I’m not sure it has the conflict for a main plot but it would certainly add depth as a subplot. Have you read our post about plot layers? Here’s the link:

      http://thewritepractice.com/how-to-use-layers-to-enhance-your-plot/

      Thanks for sharing this really vulnerable piece, Lea. It was beautiful.

      • Lea

        Thank you for the boost in confidence. I never considered it as a subplot for a novel but I can see where it could add depth. Thank you for the idea and the link about plot layers. I will definitely review it as I am very new at this writing thing and have a deep desire to learn all I can about the craft.

        I can personally say the moment she wrote those words was powerful indeed. It stung me and brought her to tears. I can feel it like it was yesterday ( it’s been four years ago this month).

        PS – I just noticed a typo in the last paragraph. It should read, “…a clot lodged near her heart…”

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