This short story by Nancy Vandre was the winner of our Show Off Writing Contest for March. Nancy lives in North Carolina with her husband. She has been journaling unprofessionally since she was six.

Photo by Anssi Koskinen

My name is Anna and I am from Filer, Idaho, where the men fight over water rights and the women over 1st place ribbons for peach pie. I lived with my four sisters in the attic of my parent’s barn-red farmhouse with purple and orange shag carpet. When I was fifteen, I would sneak out my window to meet Brett. Brett sang me songs on his guitar and shared his dreams about becoming the next John Lennon. Two years later, on the night Brett left, he gave me a pale green sapphire ring with delicate flanking diamonds. A ring which—two years after that—my mother made me throw in the trash because she (who’d married a man who’d given her a twenty year-old daughter and a nineteen year-old marriage certificate) had found the man I would marry.

I married in September 1980 and in the winter moved to Rexburg, ID, where the frozen fog glued my nostrils together. John Lennon was murdered that year. We lived in a 300 square-foot basement apartment with empty slots where kitchen drawers should have been and a floor that would scrunch underfoot from little black worms that oozed under the front door when it rained. I had an Associate’s Degree in General Studies while He was perpetually undeclared: pre-med, radiology, tech school, to a life-experience degree from an Idaho community college. My savings—from selling Cutco Knives—and wages—from working at Cascade Building Materials for a cigar-smoking boss who exhaled workforce wisdom like the Caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland—paid His tuition.

We had a hole in our bathroom door; every place we lived had a hole in that door. Shouting started it: the blame thrown my way for the job He could not keep, the child not growing in my womb. It inevitably ended with His fist and a termination of our lease.

From Rexburg we moved to the Bench near the Nevada border, just 40 miles south of Twin Falls, into a singlewide propane-powered trailer with a cat. I named him Mr. Lennon for his chipped tooth and black circles like glasses around his eyes. Mr. Lennon became ill and we had no Cutco savings to pay for the vet, so He took Mr. Lennon out back and forced his head into the water trough, keeping it there until Mr. Lennon was dead. We were living in that trailer with a cat grave to the west when my mother gave me a three-foot-nine-inch-dark-brown-Wurlitzer spinet with seventy-three keys. I played and played and played. We continued to try on our own for a baby until January 1985. Test results: not my fault. We visited the Utah Center for Reproductive Medicine where attractive, “fully tested,” first year med-students donated their sperm for extra cash. I picked an anonymous father for my child. And when I went in for my intrauterine insemination, He did not come. Two weeks later, He sold my Wurlitzer for His version of a paycheck and we moved.

We moved into the top unit of a four-plex in Roy, Utah, adjacent to Hill Air Force Base. The front yard had a cherry tree with voluminous pink blossoms that trembled when He slammed the door and when the F-16 Fighting Falcons flew overhead. That summer, the sun scorched, and I mowed the lawn of the landlord’s other properties to save money on rent while He worked at Radio Shack, and we saved enough to buy our first microwave for $600. Tommy came three weeks early on a hot sticky October evening after fourteen hours of labor and an emergency C-section. Tommy was fragile: five pounds, six ounces, nineteen inches long with jaundice. My mother came for a week and I took Percocet for two. Inventory revealed two Radio Shack VCRs and a TV missing: another job, another door, another lease.

This time we moved back to Filer. Back where I started, except for a pale green sapphire and the fact that John Lennon was dead. He worked for Dairygold Dairy and we lived in a small yellow house, at the edge of a cornfield behind my parent’s barn. It had straw bales stacked against the outside walls for insulation and the shower was on the porch where icicles formed on the showerhead and crystals on the walls. As the weather warmed, the petunias overtook the backside of the house and Tommy would load his dump truck with the fallen petals and surrounding dirt. When my parents came over for dinner, my father grunted for more spaghetti and my mother did not ask about my long sleeves in the summer. Just after Tommy’s second birthday I had a baby girl by the same anonymous, attractive med student. I named her Grace, and then a Dairygold Dairy demotion moved us north.

We moved North, to Boise, to a sapphire-blue, split-entry house that sat on a cul-de-sac which flooded when it rained. We were homeowners and as such, I purchased a Rock-hide-a-key and hid a spare inside. Next door lived Bohemian flower children who taught me how to grow sunflowers that towered over the fence and that the shrubs I had trimmed were actually lilac bushes. The basement was cold but carpeted; it was where I did my projects. I sewed an oversized Bugs Bunny for Tommy and a Babs Bunny for Grace, Christmas stockings for the holidays, and a multi-color-faux-fur-patch bedspread for our queen-size waterbed. Grace took her naps on that bedspread while I found ways to hide my right eye with my bangs. Tommy liked to watch Star Wars and pretend his squirt gun was a Blaster. Once, Tommy heard the battle ensuing and came to the rescue only to end up a fallen solider in a crumpled heap against the bedroom wall. It was time to move again, but this time without Him. Without him to teach my son that violence was a language. Without him to convince my son that children were merely tax deductions. Without him to show my son that compassion was a frailty. Without him.

I went back to school at Boise State University and took my children with me. Grace started pre-school where she had nap-time and a tire-swing, and Tommy came with me to Cost and Managerial Accounting 403. Fall came with labeled backpacks and school lunches—Tommy was in charge of the key and the after-school snack. He taught Grace to tie her shoes and write her name on the chalkboard in our home.  Our home was a two-bedroom end-unit University Heights student apartment with red-brick walls and a mini-fridge. Tommy and Grace shared one room with bunk beds, Barbies, and Power Rangers, while I, for the first time in my life, had a room of my own. On May 21, 1993, I hung a poster of John Lennon above my single pillowed full-size bed and watched the moon pass between me and the sun.

To read the other winners of our writing contest, find them on our contest page.
Joe Bunting
Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. You can follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).
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