Are You an Indie or an Outie?

Mission Impossible #4 (Bonus Blog-5th Monday)

Many of us have dreams and aspirations that seem so close, but something crops up that pushes them further away. These things that crop up are just a part of life like simple menial tasks that pile up or huge things such as illness or losing someone we love. It seems only those who are diligently determined and lucky to have that thing called free time can accomplish them. Over the last few years my determination to become a published author has never wavered nor abated, but the slippery little minx called time has eluded me. My job is such that I have spurs of intense workflow so much to the point that I hardly have time to be a mother, wife, friend, let alone clean my house. Therefore, taking the time to attempt to find an agent and/or publisher is at times almost impossible. When I do have free time, there’s the incessant muse who seduces me with inspiration that I must get out on paper lest it escape me forever, and then I fail to bother with the business side of things. This said, in the last few months I haven’t gotten very far in my dream but that doesn’t affect my motivation. I just need to fight my way through the busy time and then pick up where I left off. In the meantime, I intend to spare a few moments researching and reflecting on what I learn along the way in hopes to help myself and others. Recently, I’ve been pondering on the idea of self-publishing but many things I've learned shows it isn't for me.

There are many factors that make this not a fitting venue for me to use and I thought I’d share with others who may think about this avenue. The main reason I’m not doing it is because of time and/or money. You have to do all the work yourself from revising, developmental editing, copyediting, cover art, printing or formatting, and much more, but most important is the marketing. You must sell your books. If you cannot do all of this, you should pay someone to, but that’s not what a lot of authors are doing. In a sense, if they embark upon self-publishing (as a choice rather than a last resort), then they’re assuming that they can be better than (or as good as) the professionals and not only in the one field of writing but also are attempting to be professional agents, printers, designers, and marketers. I am not that naive or egocentric to assume that I could do all this — not even the editing— and I’m a college composition instructor that teaches grammar and is constantly forced to review it. It takes a lot of chutzpah to do something like this on your own, as well as talent.

I don’t want this to seem like I’m attacking the indie literature industry. I’m not. Some self-published authors are very successful and employ the help of others to cover the areas they feel they aren’t experts in (it is rare that someone can do everything well). Those who employ help until they have fully learned the craft usually find success and get good reviews; however, many self-published books, especially the free or cheap ones, are atrocious from the covers to the grammar—oh, the grammar—to the plots to character development—oh, God don’t get me started. I really could go on forever.

Why do I read these books then? I read as research, to observe trends, to see the ideas people have, since a lot of these poorly written books have been generated quickly, thrown into digital format, and slapped onto the internet. In my last spell of free time, I gave my first 1 star review to a “piece” of a book (plot-wise) marketed as an entire novel (was in length), and didn’t finish two others because I just couldn’t handle the unbelievable characters, lack of plots that actually went somewhere, and grammatical errors. Seriously, one YA paranormal romance novel went something like this (changing it slightly to keep the author’s anonymity): “‘Your immortal? Wait give me a moment to process this.’ He shifted his weight form one foot to another. ‘Alright. I’m OK with it. It’s cool.’” WTF? Beyond the grammatical mistakes, people process bombshells like that, his crush is immortal and dated his great uncle in the 40's, in one second…yeah, okay.

Don’t get me wrong. I did read a few self-published authors that I befriended on Facebook and the quality of their work was outstanding. There are some great authors out there doing it all by themselves, those who have mastered the arts of being writer, agent, marketer, and more. Their work is just as good, if not better, than some of the stuff that publishers churn out. To me these authors are like superheroes; I cannot fathom how they have the time to do it. And then there’s everyone in between—those that need a learning curve or perhaps a little polishing. What bothers me is how can successful indie authors stand the monstrosities in the same industry as them? I feel that these poor writers tarnish the industry altogether. Maybe I’m being too hard on them, or no one cares about narrative style, character development, or grammar as much as I do. I wanted to know if I was just too much of a grammar-Nazi who loves her capital L literature and only dabbles now and then in commercial fluff (I’m a sucker for YA paranormal romance), so I made a survey and posted it on Facebook. Considering I have a lot of Fb friends who are indie authors, I was astounded by the results.

About 54% of people proclaimed they never read a self-published book, which leaves me wondering. Do some readers not know whether a book if self-published or not? If it is a well polished product, it shouldn’t matter really, so overlooking where it came from could be an easy thing to do.

When asked, “How do you feel about self-published texts? Do you feel it is a viable way to get work to the public or have inexperienced, under-par, grammatically challenged authors destroyed the venue?” Most people admitted that grammar issues really bothered them in these novels, but about a third of the people said it is a good idea if you know what you’re doing. Knowing what you’re doing, in some responses again, fixated to be the grammar. Does perfect grammar mark a good from bad author? Of course it is a defining trait, but I’d hate to think that that is all. My issues with a lot of novels (because I can shut off my professorial brain if needed) are with narrative voice and character development. If I cannot empathize with the protagonist and/or do not like the sound of the narrator’s “voice,” then I put it down. In the survey, someone busted on the “Sookie Stackhouse books” in reference to why people should self-publish (if publishing companies are putting that out, then better authors should have a platform) and I’m with them; I couldn’t get through six pages of one of those novels (although what HBO has done with it is interesting). I couldn’t handle the narrative voice, and therefore never gave it a chance. We’ll leave poor Sookie behind and move on to the rest of the survey.

 An overwhelming 75% of people read novels that are published through traditional means rather than indie.  My survey takers also had varied responses when asked how they felt about publishing houses, showing an interesting paradox—they make well polished, trustworthy products, yet great stuff is overlooked for the marketable drivel and fads.

I asked a few more questions and learned a bit: fantasy seems like the leading genre, and actually 70% of readers prefer print books, which I found interesting with all the digital devices that make purchasing books faster, easier, and cheaper.

Most importantly, I learned that what I believed was true—those with time and determination will become proficient enough to make self-publishing a lucrative career. Others who publish these under-par texts that tarnish the industry aren’t doing it right according to some. The mentality of doing things the right way has escaped a lot of people. A perfect example is a guy’s manuscript I read and critiqued for a colleague. She was too closely associated with him to tell him how bad it was. The guy was determined to be a writer, although not well-trained or educated, and not an avid reader himself. He insisted grammar didn’t matter nor did any of the other issues his friends and family told him about. He was ignorant to the industry's expectations or just in deep denial. The manuscript was so bad, the grammar so flawed, that I was completely lost on what was going on. Character development was almost nonexistent, no narrative voice (so objective it was like a movie), and it was a series of action scenes. I was nice as I could be about it, but he found my review scathing and disheartening. I insisted he turn it into a movie script and ditch novel writing. As a movie, with some revision to correct the clarity issues, it would be like inserting biblical undertones into Avatar (and this was before Avatar was out). It was extremely creative and a good story. But these two things don’t make an author. An author has to have a great story and tell it well too. I think the indie and the traditional industry should remember that.

I'd have to say that I'm not an indie, I'm an outie, as in not going to try that venue--at least for now. I won’t be self-publishing, but mostly because of time and money constraints. Indie authors should recognize that authors must tell a great story and to do so well in order to clean up and elevate the entire industry. This is a reminder to all authors as well as myself. Better writers make better readers.

Flow Rider

Resounding Moment #3

I’m driving down the highway on the way to work trying to recall the reading I’m teaching in a half hour.

I remember it is about “finding flow,” a positive psychology term. The definition of flow, according to Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi, is where the mind, will, and body harmonize to create these effortless moments that stand out as the most profound of our lives. When we have clear goals, gain feedback, and our life skills match a challenge, we feel great and successful. In these flow moments, self-consciousness abates, strength seemingly increases, time flies by, and life finds meaning or purpose.

What this Psychology professor is describing, to me at least, are those moments that stick with us, these resounding moments, and, ironically, this is what I envisioned this thread of my blog to represent. I think that these moments don’t have to be the best moments in life that we feel utter joy in; I think you can “find flow” in the most difficult and trying experiences given that your “skills” can match the “challenge” whatever it may be. As hard as things get sometimes, I still get an experience as Csikzentmihalyi describes. When something stressful happens, we seem to rise to the challenge, holding the pieces together, and our coping skills attempt to outweigh the stress. We’re stronger, confident, time flies, and we make attempts to find the silver-lining of the situation.
I teach the lesson, and it resonates with my students, surprisingly even at 8 am. They talk, really talk about it, and throughout all of my classes, they unanimously decide that it is the everyday moments that we find flow in that mean the most. And I have to agree.
I find flow on a daily basis—a good book, a brilliant idea put down on paper, a class lecture that goes exceptionally well, watching my toddler son achieve something he hasn’t done before, a lazy evening on the sofa watching one of my favorite shows with my husband—these are my moments of flow. Sure, some of these don’t take a lot of skill to do, but they still fit the definition of what positive psychology tells us constitutes happiness or transcendence to a plane of bliss. One of my daily moments of flow, which I oddly look forward to, is my commute to work. It sounds weird, but it is literally these spells of time, in the car on the highway, that are my only times of complete and utter freedom, without work, child rearing, grading, and life’s other activities. I have nothing to worry about but the open road and my imagination soars. 

I write. I write in my head, even calling it that, and those who aren’t extremely creative or imaginative may not understand. I play out a movie of my creation in my head, a scene, and I replay it rendering it every day until I feel it is perfect. Then, when a moment of free time surfaces, sans car, it hits the paper or the monitor. I get it out. The spark of an idea turns into a fine-tuned inferno as it becomes permanent. It comes into being erupting in better form than it had in the dozen or so mental drafts created. It is alive, no longer a glimmer of hopeful imaginative genius. I read it over, the dialogue out loud to see if it speaks to real life, and surprisingly I’m content with it. Of course, all writing can be improved, but the idea is born and recorded. I find my moment of bliss, my skills override the challenge, time flies by, and I have found flow. I am happy. 

Not everyone can understand this, that something so simple as a car ride or writing down an idea in my chicken-scratch handwriting can yield such contentment. I think only a writer can. I think only a writer knows the pain of an idea that is stuck in his/her head, trying to break out to hatch into the world, to know this passion that borders obsession (and perhaps at times insanity) must come to fruition before it dies or withers into nothingness. In the car, I get to record these ideas and transfer them into my long term memory, to nourish them and raise them as if they were my children. In the car, harmony overtakes me, and I become one with the world; I become a Flow Rider.

Even if not writers, all people have their equivalent of this though, an everyday moment that makes them happy. So, I ask, how do you find flow?

Csikzentmihalyi, Mihaly. "Finding Flow." Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. 12th ed. Ed. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. Boston: Peasron, 2013. 240-5. Print.

"A Jaded Life" (part 2)

Mission Impossible # 3 (Part 2)

I closed my eyes allowing it to creep forward, curious of how it would make me feel…

I was lying on the bed back in the old apartment that I shared with Jade. I was bundled up in layers of clothing, while Jade angrily kicked the heater. She likewise wore several layers of clothing, her cheeks and nose pink and her annoyed breath steamed out into the cold air with a soft growl.

“If you kick it one more time it might work,” I teased her rolling onto my side to watch her. Her clear blue eyes met mine, forcing me to smile. She smiled back and kicked it one more time as a joke making me snicker despite myself. The heater clanked and the metal facing fell off making a loud crash on the ground. She giggled and hopped into bed with me, cuddling close to stay warm. The lady below us rapped her broom on the ceiling to inform us that we were disturbing her.
“Should we give her a real reason to hit the ceiling?” Jade suggested with a seductive glance, yet her smirk told me she was merely making a jest.
“Too cold. We’ll freeze together,” I said rubbing her arms to create warmth, my gloved fingers beginning to lose their numbness. “Some Christmas we’re having. No tree, no presents, no heat,” I complained with a sigh.
“What would you want for Christmas? If you could pick anything in the world, what would it be?” Jade asked in a whimsical voice, her mind drifting into a make believe world, one much better than our own. Her eyes peered through the ceiling as if she could literally see this magical world she was creating.
“I don’t know, maybe a job I could respect myself doing. To be able to take care of you better. What about you?” I asked her, trying to see what she could see, but my limited imagination and morbid grasp on reality prevented me to follow her into her fantasy.
“A thousand moments just like this one,” She replied with a happy grin towards the ceiling. Good old romantic girl, able to find good in all that was bad. I closed my eyes, trying to imagine things that made me happy, to improve my spirits to equal Jade’s.
“You wouldn’t want money, or a supermodel, or like world peace? Just a thousand freezing, starved Christmases?” I tempted her innocent mind away from all her noble notions.
“Maybe world peace,” she answered looking at me slyly from the corner of her eyes. And I had believed she was going to make a joke about a male supermodel. She was so sweet and caring I felt guilty for not being the same.
“I don’t deserve you,” I said quietly and with meaning, cuddling closer for warmth.
“You never will,” She said touching my chin. I searched her mysterious eyes for meaning, but was unable to tell if she was joking or if she meant it. She always had that stoic, penetrating stare that made you believe she was always serious. Jade giggled and kissed me allowing me to see she was attempting a joke, not an insult.
“You don’t want anything? You’re happy living like this?” I asked her in a serious tone, wanting her to dispel my worst fears.
She responded with a bite of the lip and a bobbing of her head in confirmation before adding, “I don’t need money. I’m not with you for that. I’m not even trying to get you to reconcile with your parents. I don’t want their filthy money. And I don’t want yours either.” At that moment she reminded me of a stubborn little girl, innocent, wholesome, adorable and would always have to have her own way.
“Good, cause I don’t have any,” I said petting her blond streaks.
“That’s the way I like it. You don’t have to worry about money. I’m a big girl Peyton. I can take care of myself.” She buried her head into my neck and I held her close. She smelt of peaches, baby powder, and stale cigarettes…

The phone rang bringing me back to reality from my past reveries. I didn’t want to answer it, or open my eyes, but I had to. I needed to leave these images to the past, just as Tony had advised me. I grabbed it up answering it with a tired voice. It was Tony. I was late.
I got ready slowly trying to forget about the ghostly visage of Jade. I was successful in putting her from my mind, but a feeling of melancholy spread over me, engulfing me like a festering disease. Whenever I felt this way, I would read my favorite book, the depressing nature of it somehow uplifted me, but I hadn’t brought it with me on this trip. I read it first in high school and I was unable to remember the title or its contents, until Jade, who was an avid reader told me what it was, but the ending had stuck in my mind for years before I bought and reread it. A powerful man in Africa was ill, delirious and dying and his last words were, “The horror! The horror!” and I can’t recall what the teacher told us it meant. To me, however, the horror changed to something different on every reading, my book creased at the page where I first knew he would die, reading and rereading as if it would be different every time.
What did “the horror” mean to me the last reading? It meant the horror of the monotony of life and the never changing atmosphere of the nine-to-five job. The horror of every day being the same and not having someone to share it with. The horror of living with mistakes and the inability to take them back, change them or fix what had been broken. My horrors of living, breathing, without the guile to end it myself. These were my horrors; my heart was the darkness, the evils of the world turned inward on myself. What purpose in life did I have?
I was a void, a space, just a blob of matter taking up room in the world. Accidents happen, people die every day, ones with loving families, children, not loners like me. I was spared, a third of my life had gone by and I had nothing to show for it. I wondered from time to time if anyone would notice if I died, constantly thinking about the old man who lived in my former apartment building that had died of a heart attack and wasn’t found for six weeks. Not a single soul checked on him or worried about him until the strange smell emanated from his apartment. The smell of his festering body kept the place from being rented for six months, the neighbors moved as if death were contagious.
Would this be me when I’m old? Would they find me after two lapsed mortgage payments, bald and pot-bellied, lying lifeless on a vast collection of baseball cards? I hate baseball. Before my death would I hobble around on a cane and grumpily curse at everyone younger than me about things being different when I was their age, while collecting spoons from vacations taken alone? Would I die knowing I let the one woman I ever loved get away, my regret my only companion and loneliness my only lover?
I tried to shake these morbid feelings away, to clear my mind from the grim thoughts that plagued me. It was hard for me to see the positive aspects of my life. I didn’t doubt they were there; everyone had something to look forward to. I just didn’t have the gift to see them, to count my blessings.
With a sigh I stood up and grabbed my jacket shaking my shoulders as if the thoughts would fly from them too. It was Tony’s night, not mine, so I had to go and pretend this melancholy feeling didn’t exist. I began to walk the ten blocks to the strip-club as opposed to taking the cab, loving the crisp air of the cool night. I wasn’t sure if it was cold outside or if I just felt that way on the inside. Every step I took, I felt more of a chill spread over my body. A chill, which I was sure no matter how much whiskey I drank could quench.
On arriving to the strip club the guys were already drunk and I realized how late I was. I put on my happy masquerade and made sure my best friend had the night of his life. I swore my mood would not improve but somewhere between the first club and the last bar I let go of time, of worries, and realized I was having fun. The night seemed to shoot by so fast, just a montage of strippers, shots, and loud music. I found myself drunk, on the curb supporting Tony, who couldn’t hold himself up.
With great effort and patience on my end, I managed to get Tony back to my hotel room where he passed out on top of the bed across the room snoring loudly. As I lay down on the stiff bed, my head began to whirl in circles as if I were riding a roller coaster. My eyes snapped opened, focused on the ceiling and the spinning stopped. I stared at the pebble-like ceiling until my eyes drooped shut and the whirling recommenced, turning my stomach sour. I kept my eyes open, listening to the bustle of the streets outside in the city that truly never slept. The subway always rumbled underneath, sirens could be heard, as well as prostitutes and bums calling out to people walking by.
My exhausted eyes began to droop bringing back the drunken swirls and a new wave of intense nausea. I jumped out of bed and raced into the bathroom to get sick barely making it to the toilet. Only then did my head return to normal and the effects of the alcohol began to subside. After I plopped into bed the second time, I fell into a drunken, fitful sleep where I was haunted by a dream that was so vivid I thought it was really happening at first. It was more like a memory that crept into my consciousness. A memory I long ago suppressed…

            Jade, beautiful as ever, although clad in a gray waitress uniform two sizes too big for her, set the table for dinner. I looked to the microwave to see a casserole dish spinning around and knew its contents from the polluting smell of tuna.  Jade had her honey blond hair pulled back in a low ponytail and bent over the table, her short skirt showing off her fabulous legs. I wanted to wrap my arms around her and kiss her neck, keep her safe from the world’s harm, my harm. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t touch her at all or my willpower would vanish. She gently laid two paper towels on the little round table to serve as napkins and turned looking at me oddly. Her eyes danced across my face searching for the answers to the questions she was afraid to ask.
            I felt trapped in the hot little room, like the walls were slowly closing in on me and needed to go outside for fresh air. My life felt oppressing like a horrid pattern, constantly repeating itself every day. The uphill battle I faced, making money, paying bills, and doing it all over again the next day. Always struggling to stay even, never ahead of what life had to dish out. I wanted to leave, just opt out of the stuffy little apartment, opt out of this life. But how could I leave her?
            Before she had a chance to speak, I walked towards the bedroom muttering something about changing my clothes. I was going to slip out the fire escape for a smoke, which I hoped would calm me down into rational thoughts. After Jade quit smoking, she wouldn’t allow me to do it in the house. I had told her I quit too, which wasn’t a complete lie; I had cut back. I always thought about lighting up to provoke her, but I enjoyed the escape outside, the moment I smoked I could pretend I was somewhere else. I was high up and free with the vast sky above me, the ground a few floors down, in complete openness.
“I know what you’re going to do,” Jade’s shaky voice stopped me in my tracks. I composed my face before turning around. What was she talking about? She surely couldn’t tell I was contemplating leaving her. That was impossible. She must be confronting me about my smoking. I turned to see a cockroach scurry under the stove and cringed thinking of baked bugs. She wasn’t facing me, but laying plates down on the table, her back stiff, shoulders tight, telling me something was wrong.
“What are you talking about?” I asked her emphasizing my confusion.
“Peyton, I’m not stupid. I do have a brain.” She dropped the rest of the plates onto the flimsy table with an angry bang. All I could think of was how the room stunk of warm dead fish as Jade spun around her cheeks red with emotion. She looked ravishing, flared up, rosy, and excited. I had to put those thoughts from my head, distance myself from feeling anything or I wouldn’t be able to leave. I had to be strong.
“I know you’re going to leave me,” she said quietly her voice going thin although she struggled to keep it strong. Tears welled up in her eyes despite her strong nature. It wasn’t like her to get emotional over anything, even the thought of me leaving her. But here she was emotion itself, raw and blistering under the strain.
“What are you talking about?” I said with surprise. I didn’t have to feign the feeling, for I was extremely surprised that after only two years she could read every thought on my mind and I hardly knew her.
“Don’t bother pretending you have no clue what I’m talking about,” she said boldly finding her strength at last, crossing her arms in anger and glaring at me.
“Jade, why would you think something like that?” I asked attempting to mask any emotion from coming through. My voice came across more harsh and unfeeling than I had hoped for. This wasn’t at all like I planned: she wasn’t supposed to know. I was just going to slip easily from her life and never return.
“You self centered son of a…” She stopped herself. Just like Jade to not utter a curse word in her highest fit of anger. She’d steal before she could curse; she used to tell me it was vulgar and unlady-like. “When were you going to leave, next week? Tomorrow?” She continued spitefully as every sentence overpowered me. I was the man here and I was the one who should be in control, only I was frozen, transfixed, distancing myself away from feeling anything that might stop my decision. I was merely thinking about abandoning her and the city, but she helped push me over the edge, as always, and made the decision final.
“Tonight, maybe,” I said, knowing well how much it would hurt her to hear the words. I didn’t care how much I hurt her at that moment; I wouldn’t have to face her ever again. I wanted to go now and not face any outburst from her but my legs were not in my power to command.
My comment had much effect on her. She gasped in surprise and sank into the chair, going pale. As I forced my feet to move toward the bedroom, she stopped me by sarcastically commenting, “Before or after dinner?”
I lost it then, letting out the anger I was desperately attempting to mask as indifference, “Damn it Jade! Why do you have to bring things up? Why do you have to pry? I was thinking about leaving and you press me and squeeze me and force me to act on it. It was a thought and now you have yourself to thank now that the ball is rolling. It’s no longer a choice now.” I spat out stabbing her like a thousand knives, her cringing at every moment. Seeing I had the upper hand, I continued: “You always want me to be honest. Brutal honesty is what you asked for isn’t it? Here it is honey! I don’t love you anymore. I can’t stand this hellhole we live in. I hate every single thing about my life, so I’m leaving! Is that honest enough for you?” I demanded towering over her all my anger boiling over.
She trembled, crying at my brutality, but stood up with solid stoicism and stared into my eyes, her strength not fully abandoning her. “What are you going to do? Go beg your mommy and daddy for your fortune back?” she challenged attempting to get me to explode. But I wouldn’t let her win. I held my anger back, grinding my teeth to do so, and simply walked away from her into the bedroom.
 “If it makes you feel better you can tell yourself that, but you know I won’t,” I muttered loud enough for her to hear me answer her challenge.
What do you pack in a time like this? I didn’t know, but I grabbed down my grubby brown suitcase, emptied my only dresser drawer into it, threw in my shoes and zipped it up, not taking time to fold anything, leaving behind toiletries, CD’s and a few personal items. I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing, but I knew I would never return to New York or home to Boston.
Unwillingly, I forced myself into the kitchen towards the front door. I tried not to look at her as she violently sobbed, her head resting on the table. Her fingers dug into and crumbled the paper towels. The tuna spun in the microwave, stinking up the room.
“Peyton,” she cried, the weakness in her voice made me look at her with pity. “Do you even care about what will happen to me?” She was so pitiful I almost put my bag down. My mind whirled thinking of postponing my leaving, or attempting to take her with me. But she knew I’d leave; the moment she brought it up she knew she had set it in stone. How could I back down now? I was only a step away from the freedom I was longing for.
“You’re a big girl Jade. You don’t need my money,” I said with conviction to show her I wouldn’t change my mind, while reiterating our last Christmas conversation. Over six months ago I had been happy and now my life was completely the opposite. She silently stared at the ground, so I went for the door…

I shot awake in bed sweaty and in a tangle of sheets, unaware of where I was. Then I lay back down sighing, remembering I was in the hotel, in Manhattan and relaxed. Tony still snored in the bed across the room. I got up and washed my face looking at myself in the mirror. Would this terrible feeling of guilt ever leave me? Would I continuously think of her and dream of her every time I thought of New York? When I had left, I forced myself to dispel her image and refused to let myself ever think or wonder about her. But, now, here, I was exploding with all the feelings I should have experienced then if I had let myself. Why did I come here? I had to do something about it. I had to end these suffering feelings, and I knew that meant I’d have to do what I dreaded most: confront Jade. Rena surely knew where she was. No matter how hard it would be I’d convince Rena to tell me. Five years after I left Jade, I still needed some form of closure. I couldn’t go on much more without knowing she was all right, that I didn’t ruin her life from leaving it. I walked back into the room and climbed into bed. It was still dark, but I felt sober so I must have had a few hours sleep, which was good considering I would not catch a wink the rest of the night. The image of my pale, chubby, bald, lifeless body on the sofa rotting and stinking up the room kept flittering into my mind all morning. I wasn’t even balding yet.
Just as I was instructed, I woke up the hungover Tony at noon, cleaned up, put my suit on, and aided my friend to the Courthouse like a good best man. As we waited outside the Justice of the Peace’s office, he became jittery, pacing the floor so much I thought he’d wear the carpet down to the creaky floorboards.
“You alright bud?” I asked him, putting my hand on his shoulder to stop him.
“Am I doing the right thing?” He asked me with the earnestness and innocence of a child afraid of disappointing me. His eyes pleaded me for advice and reassurance, needing help to make the decision that would affect the rest of his life.
“What do you mean? Of course you are. You and Rena have been together for ages now. It’s logical. Nothing has to change really. It's just a piece of paper, you know?” I urged him. “Funny coming from me being that she and I have never gotten along, but if I had something like you two have I would hang onto it forever. I know I haven’t been a great person or a friend to you at times, but trust me from someone who knows: don’t walk away. You’ll never forgive yourself. The regret will never leave you. ” I turned from him so he couldn’t see the dampness of my eyes. My own speech had gotten the better of me, and I fought that damn chicken bone in my throat that was attempting to make me lose it. I withheld my emotions and turned to him realizing my speech had served its purpose and Tony had lost his cold feet. His eyes were damp and he grabbed me and hugged me tightly, then let go, looking at me earnestly as if he had to tell me something important.
He looked at me with pain, sat down and said, “Peyton, before we go in there, there’s something I need to say…”
The doors flung open and Rena’s panic stricken sister came out interrupting, “Is everything alright? You were supposed to be in there already.”
“It’s my fault. I didn’t realize the time,” I blurted out to take the blame. She looked at me with disapproval; eyes that matched her sister’s and I knew Rena had already poisoned her mind against me. Rena’s sister didn’t leave until she saw we were on our way and the subject between Tony and I was dropped.
I ushered him in to where his bride was anxiously standing, and when they saw one another both of their anxiety slipped away, and smiled at greeting one another. Their deep affection was apparent, so lovestruck and nervous. I couldn’t imagine myself marrying or ever feeling as these two did about each other. I had become too emotionally devoid to all stimuli that love was most likely improbable for me.
The ceremony was short and to the point without any religious garble and I was relieved. Every moment in that room was suffocating. There was so much love between Tony and Rena that it almost hurt to see their happiness when I had none. But I was the maker of my own grief and I couldn’t blame anyone but myself for my lot in life. Jealousy, regret, and guilt filled up my empty heart and I drowned the feelings with as many drinks as I could at the reception held in their bar.
            After the party was in full swing, I made the decision, with my drunken confidence, to confront Rena about Jade. The guilt of leaving her was haunting me and I didn’t think it would ever go away until I saw she was doing well. Many hopes filled me up, not that I thought of trying to get her back. She was sure to have moved on and if not what reason could I give her to ever trust me again? With my inhibitions gone, my mind dabbled in all sorts of possibilities. So many happy thoughts filled my head that I knew I had to see her, and Rena was the only link.
            “Rena, I need to know where Jade is,” I said bluntly. She was beyond drunk and I was sure she would be of no help, but she managed to answer me. She turned with astonishment and looked at me oddly through bugged-out eyes. My question shocked her so greatly that I thought for a moment she’d faint.
            “What?” She looked at me if I was stupid but then her face sunk and she grabbed a napkin. “Here’s the address,” she said quietly handing it to me. She didn’t mention why Jade hadn’t appeared today, but I didn’t ask. Knowing Rena, and her judgmental temperament, I’m sure the two had a fall out.
            Rena looked at me gravely making me wonder why she was behaving so strange. Instead of asking, or waiting for one of her lectures, I walked away sure she was looking at me with disgust. I knew she would not want me to disturb Jade after jilting her at a time she needed me the most. I didn’t want to be scolded and told I was a dick for what I had done. I already knew I was, but there might be time for redemption.
I slipped out without saying goodbye to Tony and walked out the sunlight, my eyes needing a moment to adjust. I walked around aimlessly, debating whether I should go see Jade or abandon the quest and just hop on the train to Boston and forget her and the city forever. It had felt like a homecoming until I found out Jade wasn’t coming. Manhattan, my mother, had left me, changed forever in my eyes to a place of deep regret, festering guilt, and horrific memories. I shouldn’t have come back at all. New York had been a place for the past and I should have left it that way.
I loosened my tie and took a deep breath in to calm myself down, my heart beating fast with expectations. The sun began to set behind the skyscrapers, and I realized I had enough time to see her and still make the last train to Boston. I pulled the napkin out and peered down at it, a new nervousness spreading over me. The address was just outside the city; I could reach it in just over a half hour. I hailed a cab and climbed in handing the cabbie the napkin.
As I watched the city go by my tired body slumped into the seat, and despite my best efforts to stay awake I began to nod off. My alcohol buzz was long gone and I felt more exhausted than ever before…

“You’re a big girl Jade. You don’t need my money,” I said with conviction to show her I wouldn’t change my mind, while reiterating our last Christmas conversation. She silently stared at the ground, so I went for the door.
“You’d leave even if I was carrying your baby wouldn’t you?” She asked sadly. I stopped, letting go of the rusted handle.
“What are you talking about? You’re making things up to get me to stay,” I said making my voice seem much stronger than I felt. I was stunned; my heart skipped a beat, anticipating the worst thing possible. If she was… I couldn't bear to bring a baby into this life.  I would rather die than to see it happen. My child in this world, this city, this life I so desperately hated, it seemed a brutal cruelty I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
“It’s the last bit of truth I have to get you to stay,” She said with numbed grief. She was speaking almost inaudibly, her eyes downcast, staring at a cockroach scurrying across the floor.
I stood unable to say a word with that damn chicken bone clogging up my throat, not letting me speak. I couldn’t breath and my hands shook violently from my nerves, as I grasped the cold brass doorknob. Finally, after a full minute’s silence I dared to look back over my shoulder and match my gaze with hers. Instantly, her eyes betrayed the truth: she was pregnant. With a simple wounded puppy dog look she begged me to stay. I sighed with exasperation and stared at the rusty old doorknob, now the symbol to my freedom. The four locks on the door reminded me how bad of a place this shit hole would be to raise a kid. It was the prison from which I was trying to escape. The financial difficulties, the fact the child would be unwanted and unloved by me…. I squashed the roach under my foot, and  the sudden action made Jade flinch.
I found my hand had turned the knob already before my mind made the decision to do so. It was so hot in the stuffy room and it stunk like fish, as the walls began to tighten around me. I couldn’t handle feeling like a trapped animal and I had to get out or I’d pass out. The chicken bone grew bigger, blocking my voice, blocking my ability to breath, and I thought I might faint. I needed fresh air.
I opened the door wide, slipped out being sure not to look back and closed it behind me. Jade wailed in agony inside, making me flinch as she had only a moment ago for the innocent roach. I stopped for one moment, my eyes tearing up, blinding me, contemplating if I should keep going or turn back. But I had gone this far and the hardest part was over. I moved one foot in front of the other and then I raced down the steps two at a time and busted out the main door and ran another block out of sight. I fell to my knees on the hard pavement, not caring about the pain, as I gasped for air. After finding my breath and wiping the tears away I stood up and continued walking. I had no idea where I was going to go, but I knew that it wasn’t where I just came from…    

I awoke in the cab as it wound around the streets, making a good pace, which told me we were out of the city. I tried to diminish the horrible memories from my head by filling my thoughts with hopes and aspirations for the future. I wondered again how Jade was doing, well it seemed to afford life in the suburbs. My mind whirled about the future, not that I believed Jade and I would ever be together again. I was sure she was probably married or almost there, but I wondered about my child. I wondered if it was a boy or girl and if he or she looked at all like me. The child would be about four years old now. Would I have any rights to see it? The cab drove by an attorney’s office and I wondered if I should tell the cabbie to stop and find out. No, I needed to take things slower, one step at a time. I was getting way too ahead of myself. I took a deep breath and exhaled. However, it did not calm down my anxious heart.
 The cab slowed to a stop and I paid him for the long journey and groggily climbed out of the car. I was hoping I’d make it back for the last train to Boston, but if not it didn’t matter. Seeing only a long expanse of woods in front of me I turned around to see a large wrought iron gate connected to a stone wall, with the words “Neville Park Cemetery” above it.
“This is a graveyard,” I exclaimed to the driver in confusion. He must have stopped at the wrong place, unless Rena’s memory failed her and she wrote down the wrong house number.
“That’s the address you gave me. You wanna go somewhere else buddy?” He asked me. I looked at the napkin with Jade’s address on it, marked with Rena’s own handwriting. The plaque on the wall matched the exact address given. Was this some kind of joke? Why would Rena give me this address, unless… no they’d tell me if… I didn’t want to think that. This was a mistake of some sort, and as I looked up and down the street and saw no residential dwellings, I realized it was not a mistake.
“Hey buddy, you want me to take you back?” The cab driver pressed me for an answer his voice annoyed at my indecisiveness. My mind swirled trying to find excuses to make this all wrong; I needed it to be a mistake. I scanned the road again, desperate to find a house or an apartment building, but all that met my eyes was woods and a long expanse of wrought iron fencing and stone.
“No, thank you,” I managed to say, as the truth was falling on my shoulders like a ton of bricks. The cab drove off leaving me in a cloud of gravel dust. As the dust cleared, my mind was far from clear. I walked numbly through the gate staring at the address willing it to change. I looked up to see a large stretch of tombstones that lined the hills that stretched before me. The place was desolate, but beautiful with blooming trees, fountains and carved marble crypts. It was as if they tried to compensate, making the place so beautiful when the most depressing moments of one’s life must take place here.
Unsure of where to go next, I flipped over the little paper several times till I noticed a little scribble on the bottom of it that read “106 C,” which I had previously dismissed as an apartment number. 106 C? I looked at the tombstones to my left and right and realized there were signs of labeled sections to guide you, 106 must be the plot number in sector C.
With nervousness crawling over my skin, I took a stroll through the winding path, over a hill and through some trees approaching the section of graves I was in search of. The chance of it all being a horrible mistake still gave me a shred of hope, clashing violently with my anxious uneasiness. I was terrified, unable to think about what I might find, but drawn to know the truth to why Rena sent me here. How did Jade die and was it before of after the baby? Why hadn’t I asked Rena about the baby? Why hadn’t I asked Tony? He would have told me the truth instead of playing a wicked trick like his wife had played on me. Then I remembered before his wedding he was trying to tell me something serious. He was trying to tell me and like a fool I asked his cold wife instead.
I cursed myself for being so foolish as I entered sector C and took the winding path down the hill glancing at the iron poles that held the signs telling you what span of plots were in each row. It hit me hard that I was nearly there. A wave of anxiety rippled through my body, my heart beat fast in dreadful anticipation.
The blood drained from my face making me feel dizzy, when I realized I was staring at the sign was for plots marked 100-135, the grave only a few steps down the row. Time seemed to slow down to almost a stop as I forced my feet to walk down the isle of tombstones, being careful not to step over where I thought the bodies were laying below. All I could hear was my own heart pounding, my breath coming quick. I felt everything closing in on me despite being out in the open. The tombstones and the trees where reaching in to grab me, pressing closer to me. Frozen in horror, I stood most likely now right in front of the grave I was seeking. All I had to do was look down, but a sudden anxiety overwhelmed me making me immobile.
Chills went up and down my spine and my stomach flopped as if the ground dropped out from under me. I was unable to look down at the tombstones in front of me, too close to finding out my worst fears. I paused believing I was actually going to be sick, as the bile boiled up into my chest making me dry heave. I gasped for air leaning on a tombstone for support as my knees shook, clanking together. I couldn’t control my own body’s ramblings. I could hardly breath, the infamous chicken bone stretching in my throat. I looked down realizing I was standing over someone’s grave, six feet over some rotting corpse. I took a step back almost losing my balance as my vision blurred. I rubbed my eyes and looked at the tombstone, which read “Jade Marie Howard and child.” The girl and baby I jilted, that lived only in my hopeful imagination, lay six feet beneath me.
The dreams I had earlier today vanished into nothingness. I felt my gorge spasm and the world began to spin into dizziness before I could see the date she died. I couldn’t focus my eyes on anything. I knew the horror of it all still had to sink in, a new horror worse than any I ever imagined before. My knees could no longer hold and I felt my body sink towards the ground. Then, before I knew it was happening, the world faded to black. As I slipped away into the obsidian darkness I knew when I woke up nothing would ever be the same.

"A Jaded Life" (part 1)

Mission Impossible # 3 (Part 1)

This is a short story I wrote (a measly five pages then--the italicized flashback in part 2) when I was sixteen years old. I expanded it as part of a portfolio when applying to grad school about ten years later. In 2012, I sent it in and was published in Circumabulations Literary Magazine. As the magazine doesn't keep a public digital archive, here it is for your perusal. It will be released in two parts due to its length. 

A Jaded Life
            I stood waiting by the tracks, my bag and jacket in one hand; the other held a ticket that would not stay still. It wasn’t the temperature that gave me the chills; it was sixty-five degrees out with a warm gentle breeze. I had been early. I’m never early and now I watched the old clock across from the station click each minute, as if each were an eternity. In reality I had waited only twenty minutes, standing on my feet that had just gone numb. I glanced at the bench for the hundredth time debating whether to give my feet a rest or not, but yet again the old stains of spilt coffee, lollypops and disposed gum made me decide against it. I’d be sitting down in five minutes anyway for a couple hours. If only those five minutes would go faster.
An old lady hobbled up the steps onto the platform, giving me at last a companion. Her figure was hunched over the bulk of her little frame resting on her cane as she tapped along the pavement. Down on the track two little boys darted across the track, chasing one another, giggling. I remember when I was a boy, leaving pennies on the tracks waiting for the next train to flatten them. Then I heard it in the distance: a light rumble that told me my train would be here in just a minute. The boys ran out onto the tracks again, and for a moment I thought the train would barrel down upon them, but they ran back out of sight again.
“James! Kyle! Stop playing on the tracks!” a worried mother shouted from her backyard. The boys ran up the lawn towards the house, their mother shaking her head in annoyance. The large steel monster barreled down a moment later, screeching to a halt in front of the old woman and me. Being the gentleman I am, I let the lady on first and climbed on after.
I found a window seat near the rear of the last train car, slumped into the hard foam seat and closed my eyes. I took a deep breath, trying to relax, but the musty, stuffy smell of too many people, packed too closely together, too many times over the years filled my nostrils. I suddenly had the sensation that the walls were closing in on me, and I felt the sting of thousands of eyes boring into me. Impulsively, my eyes shot open to find I was alone in the boxcar. I wouldn’t be for long. The train would make several stops before we hit Boston, and then I was switching onto another train for Manhattan, a place I hadn’t returned to in over five years. As the train pulled out of the station and gained velocity, dread and excitement battled over my mind, giving way finally to a numb uneasiness. I did not want to go back, yet Tony was getting married and I promised him I’d be there. I was not looking forward to seeing Rena, his fiancée; she was a royal pain in the ass, and Jade…I wondered how she was doing and at the same time I was scared to run into her. It’s better not to think about the past, so I put them out of my mind and focused on the scenery shooting by.
Before I knew it, we arrived in Boston. As I stepped off the train to await my connection, a strong feeling of déjà vu swept over me. I tried to shake it off as I entered the station, yet its presence was relentless. I had been at this station eight years ago, fresh out of high school, running away from a life my parents had planned out for me since the very moment I was born. Looking back, was my life better now? I couldn’t bear to weigh the possibilities, but at least I was free. Free from the tyrannical constrains of my strict, you-must-be-a-lawyer, alcoholic father, and a passive, vapid, pill-popping mother who gave into his every whim, especially when he used force. Not to mention dealing with the shadow of my overachieving older brother, who could do no wrong, even when he came out of the closet. I would have never made it through adolescence if it were not for my maternal grandfather. He was a lawyer also, but nothing like my father. He supported and unconditionally loved everyone and had great zest to live life to its fullest. He even supported my decision to go to art school instead of college followed by law school. I never made it to either. My grandfather died two months before my high school graduation and as I predicted my father would not allow me to pursue my dreams. I had to be a lawyer or I’d be disinherited. So I left Boston, left my family, left my mediocre fortune to be free and have never looked or gone back since. Eight years and two life times ago it seemed since I was under my father’s regime.
I had a strange feeling, like a child stealing sweets, that my father might catch me here and try to force me to come home. But I was an adult, and he couldn’t control me anymore; that’s if he could even recognize me now. I wondered from time to time about my brother and mom, yet the wonder never took me far enough to attempt any type of reconciliation. My brother was most likely rich and successful with a life-partner, living in the suburbs and my mother…well, probably still running the household for my father, doing whatever he thought fit.
After stale coffee and a bagel, I made my way toward the tracks and climbed on the next train. This train was older than the first. The musty and stuffy smell filled my lungs the moment I entered among the throng of strangers. I hurried to a window seat, as the people scrambled around to find their seats, like a swarm of bees around honey. A woman, the size I could swear was that of humpback whale plopped down in the seat next to me, her chubby arms pressing me against the chilled window. I closed my eyes tight, a futile attempt to stop any feelings of claustrophobia, and concentrated on sleep that never came. I kept my eyes closed to keep my anxiety of small, enclosed places to a minimum.
When the train grinded to a squeaking halt, I opened my eyes to see Grand Central Station, looking just as intimidating as the first time I arrived in the city. I groggily stepped off the train into the swarm of people pushing about in attempts to get on or off the train before the doors closed on them. I clutched my bag tightly and assured myself my wallet was deep inside the inner pocket of my jacket. You could never be too careful in a large mass of strangers. I had learnt my lesson my first day in the Big Apple when a young girl bumped into me. I didn’t notice till a half hour later that her little fingers worked their way in and out of my pocket in the blink of an eye, relieving me of my wallet containing the five hundred dollars of my hard earned life savings.
As I stepped out into the brilliant sunlight, my eyes took a moment to adjust to the harsh glare. The bustling of the crowd on the street was a familiar hum and as I walked down 42nd Street towards Times Square with a great feeling of comfort. I felt like I was home again, as if Manhattan was my mother wrapping her arms around me with a welcome no one else could match up to. I sighed letting go of every worry, every anxiety in each exhalation. It was going to be fine. This trip was going to be easy. It would be like old times, but only better. There’s something about going to the city, but not living there that makes the trip all worthwhile. Tony’s wedding was the first excuse I had to return to New York in the last five years. Five years I had been gone, and it seemed like a lifetime ago. I was not the person now that I had been then.
 After cutting through a seedy alley, I found myself thrown into the crowd of Times Square. As I glanced around I found it to be a picturesque scene of New York City at its best: the heart and soul of such a city. Some of the people in the sluggish crowd were yelling loudly into their cell phones as if being louder would create a better connection. One guy magically glided through the throng of tightly packed people on his skateboard, careful not to bump a single soul. Most people hurried on their way to work or lunch or wherever their lives were taking them, oblivious to everyone else around them. A couple of Asian tourists took photos of a CD shop, making me wonder what splendor the shop gave them that I was unaware of.  I smiled to myself, loving the impersonal rush of the people in the streets, bumping into you accidentally without excusing themselves for it was never needed. It was a given understanding of every citizen of the city that they would always mind their own business, leaving you alone to mind yours. I loved being able to have privacy in a place were millions walked the streets. I could feel no claustrophobia in New York, odd, as it seems. It was as if my condition didn't exist here.
Wasting no more time, I hopped in a cab and asked the driver to take me to Greenwich Village, my old home and Tony’s present residence. I was let out on the Avenue of the Americas around West 10th Street. Instead of walking the twelve blocks directly to Tony’s place, I decided to wander around, to take in the changes of the places I used to call home.
I passed the old Oxford House, a prestigious name for a run down, crumbling apartment building, with its brick that dated back to the 1700’s now left in a crumbling chalky state. I gazed up to the fifth floor and found the window of the first apartment I ever had. I almost missed the cockroach-infested apartment, with the leaky ceiling and no hot water. I spent the first few months of my freedom shacked up with a bunch of other young starving kids in the one bedroom apartment until we were kicked out by the old landlady. I pondered ringing the bell and seeing if old Martha Gordon still ran the place, with her hair always in curlers, yet never curly. Surely she was dead by now. She had been in her eighties when I lived there. That poor old lady, some of us gave her hell. My hand went up, almost ringing the buzzer, but decided against it, allowing the memory of the place live on in my head just the way it had been before. I didn’t want to taint the old images of my past life that I held close to my heart.
Students crossed over the street, some stood gossiping and sipped coffee, and I noticed the majority of people around me were younger than me. The bars I went in when I was under age were all shut down and revamped into coffee houses as if the city didn’t already have enough of them. Didn’t these kids drink anymore? What other changes were there? I dreaded to know. I loved my New York, the way it was in my mind, not this commercialized coffee junkie, metro-sexual, rainbow wielding, new generation, with their cyber cafes, unisex bathrooms, and their willingness to accept everything no matter how fucked up it appears in order to appear liberated. What ever happened to just having your own opinion and keeping it to yourself? It was like these students, these kids, were all attempting to be different and anti-conforming with society that in a way they all conformed to one another. Their pierced lips, jet-black hair, punked out vintage clothing and the angst attitude pasted on their face for all to see, linked them together like an army of defiant youths.
I headed west realizing I was much too close to NYU for my comfort. The last thing I wanted to run into was some freedom rally for a child rapist on death row or a peace rally for invading some territory we shouldn’t be in anyway or whatever cause was the fashion of the day. I hated to see people pushing views onto one another. I want to think what I want to and be left alone. Perhaps that is why college never attracted me, and Law made me hate the world.
I sighed off these negative vibes and went west back into the heart of Greenwich Village, to go by my last apartment, one I shared with Jade. I turned onto Horatio Street looking for the little one bedroom shit-hole we called home for two years. To my surprise the outside was renovated, with carefully grown ivy up the first few floors and the balconies were painted a vibrant white. I remember them as a rusted, chipped color that once had been black when I lived there. The brick walls were painted white too giving it a classy look in the middle of an outdated neighborhood. There was even a doorman now. I wondered how elegant the inside was now and how much more expensive the rent became. I missed that damn building in its original state. I missed the old life, not knowing how I was going to pay the bills or if I had enough money to eat. That changed when Jade moved in. I didn’t care if I missed meals, but I felt like shit when I didn’t have money for her. It was a responsibility I was never ready for, especially then.
I crept around back to see up to our window on the second floor. The back of the building was not painted, nor the fire escapes. I peered up at our old window and I could imagine myself crawling out of the window to have a smoke. I pretended to quit when Jade insisted on it and I’d slip out when she wasn’t looking, smoke one, and toss it in the dumpster below. If she ever knew, she didn’t let on. Jade, I wondered how she was doing. I’d have to ask Tony later.
I peered down at my watch and realized it was half past noon and Tony expected me half an hour ago. I had let myself get carried away with the past. I couldn’t dwell on that or I’d get myself down. I couldn’t let the Millenials piss me off either. I had to remind myself I was there not long ago.
I went out onto the street and continued to backtrack to Tony’s, the one word named pub after its owner and my best friend. Tony’s place was exactly the same and although he was doing well, he didn’t upgrade a thing, which pleased me greatly. I had finally arrived at my destination.
When I entered, I got all smiles from Tony and glares from Rena; nothing had changed. There was a honey blond sitting at the bar, her back towards me and I stopped. Could it be her? Was Jade here? I felt as if a large chicken bone was lodged in my throat and stammered some ridiculous answer to whatever Tony was asking me. I could barely breathe and concentrated on what to say to her after all these years. How would she react to seeing me? How was I to behave? She turned around and I quickly realized my folly; it wasn’t Jade at all. Rena introduced me with bitterness dripping off her voice and I finally gained my own back to talk to her sister.
After twenty minutes of chatting it up with Rena’s sister, an interesting yet naive girl, it began to get busy in the little bar and I soon noticed they were short handed. I looked at my watch and noticed happy hour had begun. Men and women in their business suits sat at tables strategizing on deals to be made, artists and philosophizing students were snug in the corner protesting government decisions, while a few construction workers sat next to me at the bar whining about aching joints. That was the great thing about Tony’s place; it was a melting pot for everyone to enjoy.

Without being asked I went behind the bar, took up the pile of drink slips the lone cocktail waitress left for Tony, laid each one out on the counter and studied them attempting to remember combinations of cocktails I hadn’t thought of in years. I looked at the arrangement of the liquor bottles and began to mix the drinks before Tony realized what I was up to. To my surprise the knowledge easily returned to me, the bottles became comfortable in my hands, and I was moving at a decent pace.

“It’s been a long time; you know what you’re doing?” Tony challenged me with a smile, knowing well I could handle the high volume business.
“Like riding a bike,” I told him and resumed my work. Three hours later I abandoned the bar, tired, sweaty and stinking of liquor: just like the good old days. I missed the work, the fatigue of working for every buck, as opposed to my new job, selling an image. I was always selling myself more than the useful plastic products that they used in hospitals and factories. What they used them for? I never knew, but I did what I was told: sell. I missed the old life, living every moment not knowing if I should go out for a few beers or eat lunch the next day. Not that I had a lot of money now, but I had more than enough for just myself. I had a townhouse in the suburbs, a bottom-line sports car, and a chocolate lab named Lucky. This was my life: dull, lonely, and predictable.
“Nice job bartender, would you like a cut?” Tony asked me handing me a wad of cash. I refused gallantly and told him I’d take the pay in a few free drinks, which knowing Tony, he would have given me anyway.
“You remember how great we had it then? When I worked here.” I asked him reminiscing in lost times that I knew I’d never live again. I could almost see the dirt uplifted off the walls, as it was five years prior, the wooden floor slick and unmarred, and the sour smell of spilt beer gone.
“What slaving around for measly pennies?” Tony asked me in disbelief.
“No the days where women flocked to the nearest bartender to tempt us, cajole us for free drinks. The endless nights of partying…” I began, not needing to finish. I saw Tony drift off into the past along with me.
“Where one night turned into another without us even knowing. Remember Teresa?” Tony laughed. “She was a little hottie.”
“No, the best one was Babette. You tried and tried to get in her pants to no avail. She never gave you the time of day. A devout Roman Catholic if I remember correctly.” I sighed. “Those were the days.”
“Yeah, but you’ve got to go on in life. You’re lucky you’re not in the same rut as me. I’ve been stuck in this bar for almost a decade now. I wonder what it’d be like if I made other choices, you know?” Tony sighed looking around his little run down pub.
“You love this place, don’t you? Sure it needs a face-lift after ten years of wear-and-tear, but it feels like…home. It feels like home,” I said absorbing the bar’s every detail and engraining it into my memory. It could be a while for another return to the city, although I desperately wanted an excuse to stay. I could think of none. Tony would be married tomorrow and I’d take one of the last trains back to Boston. Back to the repetition and the tedium of everyday life. It dawned on me then how painful it was to be an adult.
Rena entered the bar from the kitchen and gave me a stare that told me to get out from behind her bar. Listening to her demeaning eyes, I sat myself on the other side of the bar and sipped on my beer ignoring her stare, her hating me for doing anything good. Rena had always despised me, relished in all the times I messed up in the past, and was bitter when I ever did well. It was the way it always was, but deep down I knew I finally did deserve her hate. I tried to ignore her putrid stare and was finally able when a beautiful honey blond walked in. She was gorgeous, with bright blue eyes and legs up to her chin and all the right curves. My heart skipped a beat. It was so reminiscent of a shred of memory that tried to creep forth into my mind. Jade walked in this door seven years ago when I was sitting at his bar perhaps even in the same stool, the night I met her. I could see her standing there, looking for her friends who were running late; disappointed at arriving alone, she sat down next to me at the bar. But this woman wasn’t Jade and she immediately found her friends and sat down with them. It was as if my mind had manifested the image of Jade for the second time today. It was as if she was haunting me. I turned to Tony and asked laughing, “She just reminded me of Jade, how is she these days?”
It took all the strength in me to ask and it felt like years till he responded. Tony turned to look at Rena, who opened her eyes wide and crossed her arms angrily before protesting by walking into the back. He turned and looked at me almost with pity and then gave me a fake smile. “Past is the past buddy. Let sleeping dogs lie.” Tony replied and walked into the back, leaving me to ponder over the past.
I heard a mumble of whispers, till Rena’s voice reached a high enough volume for me to hear. I thought of walking away from the bar to give them privacy, but on hearing my name I stayed glued to my seat by curiosity.
“I’m surprised he came. What you’re not? Any time he runs into any kind of trouble, anything that isn’t convenient for him, he runs away. Why? Because that’s what spoilt little rich kids do. He’s just a kid Tony, a big kid who never grew up, running away from everything that doesn’t easily go his way. He’ll never live up to his responsibilities. A first class, spoilt, Peter fucking Pan.” Rena said venomously, angry and bitter still about my treatment of Jade. I didn’t care what she said. It was probably right, because I treated Jade badly and deserved every mean thing Rena could possibly say.
“Keep your voice down and stop. He’s grown up. He’s changed since then. Give him a chance,” Tony defended, but his argumentative skills could not match Rena’s. I felt like a child whose parents were fighting, stuck in the middle and feeling at fault.
“Are you going to tell him?” Rena asked in reference to something I didn’t know about. There was a long pause and a sigh from Tony till Rena answered for him, “No? What, are you going to protect him forever? Tony…” She had trailed off awaiting Tony to save himself. He replied in a tone so hushed I couldn’t comprehend the little bits of conversation. I strained to hear, but a group of loud meatheads walked in the door grunting and shouting to show how tough they were.
Tony returned a moment later rolling his eyes at his bride-to-be, with a firm smile on his face. He seemed happy, yet somber, and I was unable to read what had transpired between him and his fiancée. Tell me what? I wondered, but the curiosity slipped away when three beautiful women entered the bar taking our attention.
“Sorry, you know how she gets,” Tony apologized, letting the subject drop as quickly as it began. “So you got any hunnies? You used to keep a few stringing along back in the day,” Tony teased, not knowing he was brushing upon a subject I had no desire to talk about.
“None. Not one. I think a person gets a limited quantity of bitches for life and I must have used them up early.” I drank a large sip of beer to not have to go into depth. But count on Tony to keep pressing a subject, unaware of how uncomfortable someone might be. He was an unobservant man, with only his curiosity to fulfill. But how could I blame him for pressing me? I always kept my feelings and thoughts to myself.
“If you’re lonely come on back here man. There’s lots of fine trim around here. All kinds of girls of all sizes and shapes. It kills me sometimes to remain faithful with all these fine specimens around.” Tony said staring at a voluptuous redhead, who was leaning over the pool table showing us more of herself than she had probably intended. She turned to look at us, catching us “in medias res” of our ogling, and gave us a smug smile telling me she did intend to show off.
“I’m not lonely,” I said the word as if it were a poison. I was lying to defend myself. I was lonely as hell and empty inside, as if I was hardly living. An empty can with the remnants of the former occupant, the lingering stale smell of a former human being. “I just feel so old. I used to get every girl I set my radar on, and now? I don’t even feel like I can approach a woman. I’m twenty-seven. I should still be in my prime,” I complained. It was as much as I could manage to say. It felt weird to talk about my feelings with a guy, even if it was Tony. How could I tell him I felt like an incomplete zombie who longed for what he had given up years ago: a woman who would spend her life by his side. I didn’t say another word for fear of sounding as pathetic and weak as I felt. Tony didn’t press any further, but poured us two large shots and raised his up in the air.
“To the good ole days,” Tony said with melancholy in his voice. I raised my shooter and downed it quickly without a grimace. The whiskey burned my insides, warming me up. I could almost swear it burnt the loneliness out of my heart too, unless I was mistaken and it was the beginnings of indigestion.

An hour later I found myself sitting on the hotel bed staring at the wall, the warm whiskey long gone from my bloodstream. I didn’t feel like moving, let alone going out. I wanted to lie down on the stiff starched sheets and never get up. I had no idea how long I sat there, just staring off, not thinking about anything. I lay down and switched my gaze to the blank ceiling made of thousands of little bumps, as a memory reached forward from my subconscious. I closed my eyes allowing it to creep forward, curious of how it would make me feel…

Part 2 will be posted on Wednesday


Tales in Publishing: Query example

Tales in Publishing:  Query example I'm sharing my successful query to others in hopes it exemplifies what to do and helps other au...