Tag: #writerscommunity

written by Susan
August 1, 2021 0

Walking. Again. Sarah rubbed her nose and tugged her sleeves down farther. With each breath, she saw a puff of white steam that made her feel like she was really in an arctic tundra. Her character, Kitsu, trudged through an unbearably cold landscape with her hunting group.

Likewise, it was forty degrees outside of her apartment, and only a single layer of brick meant that the inside wasn’t much warmer. Sarah reached blindly for her coffee and cringed when she felt the cold glass. Instead, without taking her eyes off the screen, she leaned forward in her seat and pulled her arm inside her shirt. As long as they all walked in a straight line, she wouldn’t have to use that hand anyway.

The landscape on her screen had an icy beauty, but it was slowly getting darker, and as it did, the blue gave way to black like a stained bruise on a tender sky. Around her, the cracks and corresponding drag through ankle-deep slush shuddered through her speakers. Every once in a while, she heard a piercing cry from her surround sound and a low rumble from the subwoofer that signaled they were getting closer to the dragon’s lair. A strange noise made Sarah stop and listen.

 A frog echoed along the frozen cliffs.

A distinctly Canadian voice cut through her speakers. “Really? A frog croaking in a frozen biome? Way to wreck the fucking illusion.”  Yes. Way to wreck the illusion, Sarah thought. Nothing could ruin the suspense and wonder of a new expansion like her antagonistic guild leader Ziprig.

Sarah heard a gravely cough and labored breathing before another voice broke through at an ear-shattering decibel, “I hate to do this, guys… but I gotta pee.”

Bjord was a major sweetheart, but the quality of his microphone and the fact that he possibly wore it so close to his mouth that he could be in danger of swallowing it meant that your ears were never safe. You couldn’t turn him down either because it had a way of being super soft one day and super loud another. It was a crapshoot. Actually, although not harboring any ill will for the guy, Sarah’s friend Joey often kept him muted entirely. Today was one such day. As expected, Sarah’s phone lit up with a text from Joey asking why everyone had stopped. Sarah typed a quick explanation and then tried to get some feeling back by rubbing her hands up and down her arms.

“Bjord, really? You should have just said something earlier.” Zip wasn’t fond of breaks. Especially since some people had a unique sense of time. One of their group mates had a habit of taking a five-minute AFK and returning two days later with a tale of what an awesome party he had with the swingers next door. Considering he was an anesthesiologist in real life, Sarah was certain he was a frequent flyer and never came down.

Sarah’s stomach growled hard enough to almost forget how cold she was. Almost.

“What was that?”

“Sorry,” Sarah mumbled. “I wouldn’t mind a break too. I’m starving, and frostbite might have already set in.”

“Fine. Let’s take five. And I mean five. Not ten, not twenty. Five.” Good luck with that, she thought. Bjord was guaranteed to need a refill of cigarettes if history was any indicator.

The first thing Sarah did when she got up was pull out her heater and turn it on. The central heat and air hadn’t worked in this apartment since long before she moved in. As anyone could tell by the peeling yellow paint and unfinished wood floors, the place was a complete dump, but Sarah couldn’t get the energy to paint or argue with her landlord about the carpet. It was either save money for their meet-up in Vegas or find a new place to live, and frankly, she didn’t look at the walls or the floor much anyway. She was almost to the bathroom when she heard it kick on. Then, just as she sat down to do her business, there was a loud pop, and her apartment went dark.

Sarah felt around in the dark for the toilet paper and cursed the old wiring. This was why she had been playing in the freezing cold. One in every three times she ran the heater and her gaming rig at the same time, it would pop a breaker. She had to be close to five minutes already. So much for being on time.

By the time she reached the breaker box, she had tripped over a pile of clothes and wrecked her shin on her suitcase that she was supposed to already have packed for Vegas. Thankfully, she knew exactly which switch to flip. Three flips later, she was still in darkness. She felt around a moment until she found the edge of her bed and sat down. She didn’t have to feel far. Her whole apartment was probably just over 450 square feet. She felt a small shudder beneath her feet. Was that thunder? Four seconds later, she heard the low answering rumble. One more trip over the same suitcase, and she peeked out her yellowed blinds. The whole block was out. A storm was coming.

She could see the fridge was empty with the tiny light from her phone. Or it might as well be. Miracle Whip, while being the foundation of everything wonderful- was not wonderful at all with nothing to eat it with. In the cabinet, she found a used package of crackers with about four left.  She peeked in her silverware drawer and grunted when it predictably had only silverware in it. Outside, the wind picked up, and a series of taps signaled that it had started to rain. Her stomach growled again as she went over her options.

It didn’t take long. There were only four crackers to consider. So she’d just order pizza. She was about to dial Dominoes when she noticed it was 2:35am. No pizza place in this hell hole would be open past midnight. Only one place was open so early in the morning. She found her jacket and pulled out her boots.

Her phone lit up again. Zip would never believe that her electricity was really out, and she didn’t blame him.  Joey would have to cover for her this time. Sarah shot him a quick text about the power being out and then headed out the door.  There was just a steep stairway from her garage studio to the door outside, and she was extra careful on her way down because her boots were a half-size too big. They were a gift from her Dad, who never really bothered to ask her size. For him, it was always the thought that counted. Unfortunately, it was never forethought.

She stopped at the door and peered out of the glass. It wasn’t sprinkling anymore. It was a full-on downpour. No umbrella, but she did have her hoodie and her boots. Arcadia was only a few blocks away. Four, to be exact. She could run it. Maybe. She didn’t run much, but there shouldn’t be much to it. She zipped up her hoodie and put the hood on, making sure to tuck her carrot-colored hair in as far as she could.

The owner of Arcadia, Raj, tried to steal a lock of her hair once because he thought it must have magical properties. Talk about stereotypes. She tried to be insulted, but honestly, there was a fair amount of people in town that thought he was a Muslim terrorist when he was really a Hindu from India, so they were even. They were on good terms, but people came from several counties to buy his specialty goods so she wouldn’t put it past him to try again. Raj was all about the money.

Sarah ran in place a few times to psych herself up and then threw the door open and burst out into the rain. Cold. It was so cold, but she ran. Past her landlord’s house up to fourth and across. Arcadia was just ahead, not as well lit as the Quiktrip across town, but it was the brightest thing on this side of town, and with it raining so hard, she was thankful. Both her and her hoodie were soaked, so Sarah didn’t see the woman until she ran into her.

“Watch it!” The woman snapped, pushing Sarah off as they both squeezed into the gas station at the same time. Her black hair was in a tight ponytail, and she wore professional black from head to toe. She was definitely from out of town.

“Sorry,” Sarah muttered, wiping her wet face with her sleeve. The hoodie hadn’t helped much. It made a better sponge than a shield.

“Whatever.” The woman looked around with her nose turned up slightly, her lips tight. She had to be lost. Most people from out of town stopped at the QuikTrip off I-40 because it was a beacon on the long stretch of interstate. She probably missed the loop and ended up on highway 64 instead. If that was the case, she was lucky because this was the only gas station for another forty minutes.

“Raj!” Sarah yelled. “You’ve got a customer.”

With a long groan, a bald head appeared from behind the counter and then a smiling Buddha face. Sarah smirked. Raj saved that look for new people from out of town. It kept him from having to deal with most of their bullshit.

“Can I use your bathroom?” The woman asked.

“Yes. Yes. Here key.” Raj held out a key attached to a 12-inch ruler with the word bathroom in capital letters. She looked at it for a moment and then accepted it gingerly and headed to the back.

Sarah gave Raj a nod that he returned and then grabbed a bag of Funyons before heading to the back where the soda was stored. She was debating Diet Pepsi or Pink Lemonade when someone brushed past her from behind. Sarah smelled cinnamon like the old cinnamon toothpicks that Raj used to sell when she was young. She turned to see who else was dumb enough to be up at almost 3am in the morning, but all she saw was a full head of shaggy blonde hair walking up the next aisle over towards the cash register. No one from in town. Maybe Raj got more business at night than she thought.

Sarah chose Pink Lemonade and a hoagie. As she headed to the register, the dark-haired woman slid into line in front of her. All thoughts of telling her where to get back on I-40 disappeared. She’d figure it out when the highway dumped her into Fort Smith anyway. The guy with blonde hair at the front of the line was tall and lean, with a black leather jacket and tight blue jeans. In one hand, he held a Mountain Dew and in the other a sleek black motorcycle helmet. Sarah glanced outside, and while it was still sprinkling, at least it had calmed down a bit. It still probably sucked to be him.

“Get out,” Raj said quietly to the guy, pushing his drink and cash away.

“Is my money not good for you?” The guy asked with an amused European accent.

“It’s on the house. Now get out.” Raj nodded towards the door, staring down at the counter.

“Just take his money.” The woman bit out, shifting on her heels with a squeaky click. She clutched one of those cold coffee drinks and a honey bun.

The guy grabbed his drink off the counter and nodded to the woman. “Then I’ll buy hers too. “

Raj grit his teeth when he glanced at the woman but then looked away again. “Fine.”

The woman looked surprised as they both moved away from the register.  “Well…thank you.” Sarah rolled her eyes. No one ever offered to pay for her stuff. Not that he’d paid for anything. She planned on grilling Raj as soon as the two of them left.

And then he smiled, and Sarah was lost. Her skin tingled, and her heart pounded, but her reaction was to sink into herself. Sarah leaned over to lay her items on the counter, watching through a haze as the man and woman talked. She was curious about what he was saying, but she couldn’t hear anything. It was like all the sound had been sucked out of the room.

Somehow, her lemonade didn’t make it. It dropped to the floor, and when she looked down, she saw the fizz shooting out of the lid. She saw it, but her muscles didn’t coil into motion. Sarah couldn’t move.

“You should go get another one.” The guy prompted. He was still smiling, but the woman looked on with an upturned lip. Suddenly her trance was broken, and she blushed, dropping immediately to put her hand over the hissing bottle. It coated her hand, arms, and then face as she picked it up. She was about to run back to the back with it but stopped and turned to say something- anything to him. Maybe she meant to thank him, but when she opened her mouth, she couldn’t think of why or for what. It didn’t matter because when she turned back, the shooting stream of fizz sprayed across the dark-haired woman’s white shirt, and the woman let out a scream.

“Oh my god, I’m so sorry.” Sarah lurched forward as if to help, but the woman just screeched and put her hand out.

“Stop, just get rid of it.”

Sarah hurried to the back. The bathroom was locked as usual, but Raj had an industrial sink that she used. Sarah sighed heavily and took off her rain and lemon-soaked hoodie. She washed her arms and face and then leaned against the sink until she heard the telltale jingle of the front door. She was so embarrassed. In all the hurry, she hadn’t noticed how she would look to strangers. Red and black polka-dot rain boots, red flannel pants, a gamer t-shirt, and a green hoodie. Why did she leave the house like that?

A few minutes later, when she was sure everyone but Raj was gone, she roamed back up front, stopping only to get a different lemonade. This one wasn’t carbonated…just in case. Raj was waiting for her. “You okay?” He asked with no trace of the broken English from before.

“Yeah, they’re just passing through anyway. I doubt that’ll be the last time I do something dumb.” Sarah gave him her card.

He nodded and swiped her card. As he gave it back, he held onto it when she tried to put it away. “Hey.”

“What?” She asked and leaned back because she remembered her hair was no longer safely hidden.

“Stay away from that guy.”

“What? I don’t know him. He’s from out of town, right? Probably just passing through.”

“Yeah.” He let go of her card. “I’m just saying it for your own good. He’s bad magic.”

Sarah smirked, grabbing her sack and heading for the door. “I’m the first one to wish there were such a thing as magic, Raj, but I know better. There’s no such thing.”

She barely heard what he said as she left, but it sounded like, “You’ll see.”

The rain had stopped completely, but it was damn cold. Sarah held her hoodie and sack close, but neither helped. The hoodie was soaked, and her bag was filled with refrigerated goods. As she stepped down off the walkway, she paused. The woman’s car was still there and the motorcycle too, but neither was to be seen. Sarah looked around, but just like before- besides the light from inside the gas station and a light above each gas pump- it was dark. Her head snapped to the right as she heard a scraping noise from the side of the building. As Sarah walked to the edge of the building, her steps slowed more and more. A sharp cry came from around the dark corner. Sarah closed the distance, rounded the corner, and came to a full stop.

A distinctly awkward stop. His helmet was forgotten on the sidewalk along with both of their purchases. Her bare legs were wrapped around his lean hips, and Sarah could see the perfect rounded curve of his ass. Sarah felt a tingle down the back of her neck as she realized the situation. If these two were strangers up until ten minutes ago, they definitely weren’t now. Sarah looked down the empty street that she had to take to get home. There was no way to go that wouldn’t be like a voyeur walk of shame. Maybe they wouldn’t notice. Sarah chanced one more guilt-filled but envious look and froze.

He was looking at her. He was breathing heavily, the pale steam of his breath mixing with the steam from the vent beside them. He never stopped moving, but his eyes smoldered at Sarah. She tightened her grip on her bag, flustered but unable to look away until it happened. The iris of his eyes that were dark before flashed a brilliant blue, and the effect was like blue lava. Once again, the spell was broken, and Sarah started walking backward. As she did, she saw him start to untangle himself from the woman. Sarah didn’t know what else to do so she ran.

The run home was excruciating. The electricity was back on, so instead of hiding in the cover of night, the hideous orange illuminators lit the path right back to her apartment. Sarah almost panicked when she saw a shadow pass across her window, but she remembered that she was expecting her friend Miranda, so she pulled open the downstairs door and ran up the stairs. When she reached the top, Miranda was sitting on Sarah’s bed with her own neatly packed suitcase.

 Sarah quickly flipped the light switch off and moved across the room to peer out of the blinds. She couldn’t quite see the gas station, but she could see up the street well enough.

“Uh…why are we in the dark,” Miranda asked.


“Do you want me to lock the door?”


“SSHhhhhh.” Miranda retorted as she locked the door and then returned to her seat. “Can we at least watch TV? If not, this is going to be a long night.”

“What’s happening?” Joey’s voice whispered through Sarah’s speakers making both Sarah and Miranda jump.

“Jesus.” Sarah sighed, leaning against the wall. “You scared the crap out of me.”

“Bitch, don’t change the subject. What’s going on? Did you rob the quickie mart or something?”

“No, I…” As if suddenly remembering why they were in the dark, Sarah peeked back out the window. “This guy with a motorcycle just… I mean, his eyes were blue. Suddenly. Like they weren’t before, but then they were blue.”

Miranda just stared, and Sarah’s speakers were quiet. Sarah sighed again because, once again, communication had failed her.

“There was a guy and a girl at the gas station.” Sarah gave up the window and plopped down in her desk chair. An oddly warm desk chair. Sarah’s eyes narrowed at the softly glowing red coils on her heater. Traitor.

“And?” Joey prodded once again through the speakers.

“When I came out, they were having random stranger sex on the side of the building.”

“And what does that have to do with his eyes?” Joey asked. “Or did his dick start glowing too?”

“How’d you even look at his eyes anyway? Did you try to get an autograph?” Miranda joked.

Sarah reached over and grabbed a pillow so she could smack Miranda with it.

“Hey, you didn’t hit Joey!” She laughed.

“Only because he’s not here. Anyway, I knew because he was looking at me.”
“Whoa whoa whoa.” Joey interrupted. “Girl, was he hot? Could you see his dick?”

“What?!” Sarah blushed. “Joey, his eyes glowed blue. Glowed as in bright as a freaking Light Brite. I was a little busy and didn’t have time to gawk at his crotch, which was also kind of busy…”

Joey scoffed, and the speakers crackled. “That’s why you’re single. There is always time to check it out.

“Maybe it’s a new kind of colored contacts.” Miranda offered.

“Maybe,” Sarah admitted. She looked out the window one more time and saw nothing but orange-tinted pavement and deep grass-filled ditches. “I guess we can turn the lights on.”

“Why did you turn them off again? Were you scared?” Miranda stood and leaned across to switch the lights on.

“Not exactly…” Sarah thought for a moment, trying to remember the exact feeling. “I was, and I wasn’t. His eyes were startling, but I don’t know… I think it was mostly embarrassment, but then there’s what Raj said too. He told me to stay away from him because he was bad magic.”

“Now that’s creepy.” As Joey spoke, she heard the flick of a lighter from over the speakers, and then he continued with a muffled, “That’s the dude that tried to scalp you, right?”

Sarah rolled her eyes and then remembered that Joey couldn’t see her. “He didn’t try to scalp me. He just wanted a little piece of my hair.”

“Uh-huh, and that guy outside the gas station probably just wanted to share some candy. Just keep your doors locked tonight. Shit gets crazy in the bible belt.”

# # #

written by Susan
July 27, 2021 0

I see you                              blank stare; listless;
Hair matted;                      unshaven.
A caustic mix                      of sweaty tears
And dirt-kissed                  dead skin cells.

I want to                              fix you;
Regardless of the              deep wounds
that insist                            on infection. The
Raw pain persists             when you smile.

I want to                              make you laugh;
Break through                   Ice, bone and
Show you that                   pain is a trap
Of infinite                            Proportions.

But yet, you are not alone.

written by Susan
July 27, 2021 0


I often wonder                 why dreams of dark
dusk and steam               are less lovely when
laid bare- starkly             cast and compared to
soft soothing                   streams of nature
nurtured into a                perfect, picturesque pattern.


Making love is                a motion, movement,
action of one                   and one together taking
and giving til                   sparks are struck and
songs are spun                and who—who are we
to hold their                    hearts in helotry.

written by Susan
July 27, 2021 0

Until today I did not value
Dull moans; soft Jaundice skin;
A swaddled body with chattering teeth.

The soft eerie glow of hospital lights
Only made my insides curl in on themselves
And spiral out.

The persistent tap of fluids;
Psycho-rhythmic drip;
Taunted the grind of my teeth.

The privacy I always wanted
Was impossible,
Thirty years in the making.

Until today I didn’t realize what a blessing
It is to have a mother and how short our time is.

written by Susan
July 27, 2021 0

What’s wrong?
Nothing. Everything.
Things that can’t be mopped;
Sanitized by Jesus in a fit of mercy
but can be carried like a cellphone
and ring just as much.

Where do we go?
Nowhere. Everywhere.
Science can identify germs;
Split the smallest piece of life,
But cannot say with any certainty
What happens when we die.

What do we know?
Nothing. Everything.
By looking into the lonely darkness
The Hubble telescope found thousands
Of us. Thousands of questions looking
Back at us asking: What’s wrong?

written by Susan
March 13, 2019 0

It’s no secret that I have been having a hard semester. With so many bad things happening, I even took to reading the Bible again. Not because I’ve suddenly turned to God where I wasn’t before. God and I have been on pretty good terms for a long time. I don’t go to church, but we’ve talked and I think he knows that it isn’t any lack of devotion that keeps me at home instead of praising his name in front of a whole bunch of people. I have always felt like church services were more like a performance than a personal discussion with our divine creator. 

All the suffering reminded me of the book of Job, which is really one of the few books that I remember distinctly because it tells a thought-provoking story. When I read it last, it was a story about God taking a dare given by the devil that one of his loyal followers wouldn’t be so loyal if he weren’t so successful and blessed by God. I felt like it was a horrible story. I didn’t like the idea that anyone thrown out of heaven could manipulate God into maltreating a loyal follower and his family. 

It wasn’t until after I lost my brother and found out how sick my mother was, that I thought of the book again. I wondered if I was Job and why God would be goaded again. I wasn’t angry, which almost hurt even more. I was wounded, unlucky. Had I done something wrong? I was honestly afraid to pray for anyone because maybe I was cursed and my prayer would further along someone’s death. 

So when my oldest brother died, I read the book again. I’m not saying that it changed. I am saying that I read things that I didn’t notice the first time. On a second read, God didn’t punish Job on a dare with Lucifer. Job and his friends who came to visit him after his losses were all under different impressions of why the bad things were happening. Everything from assuming Job must have done something bad to be punished for, to maybe he wasn’t doing the right things to be rewarded. But ultimately when Job asked God why, God said it wasn’t any of those things. Good things and bad things aren’t done as a reward or as a punishment. They are simply at the grace of God. 

I felt like it was an important revelation but I still didn’t understand what that meant. The dark cloud over my family made the air hard to breathe. Mom was getting sicker and sicker and not able to hold a conversation much less plan a funeral so it was up to my sister and me. The pressure of how badly Mom was doing and how we didn’t have enough money to pay for her impending funeral much less his was getting to me. Family kept calling and asking when we wanted them to meet up after or before the funeral and it took all I had to get my Mom ready. I kept thinking about how I would survive the next semester: fifteen credit hours, less financial aid, bills up to my neck and either a mother to feed three meals a day or a funeral to pay on. I worried that I couldn’t finish school and take care of mom while working how many hours it would take to pay bills and my portion of rent on the house. 

All of it mixed together with the guilt that while I loved my older brother and would give anything to keep him alive, I had worried about him relentlessly. He hadn’t been right since his stroke seven months before and had been spending money by the thousands and was about to lose his home. He had been lucid enough to disqualify himself for disability but he was unable to work and without me checking his pill planner, he wouldn’t even remember to medicate himself. His death made me feel horrible for being relieved. I never admitted to feeling burdened and he made it clear often that what he did with his life was his own responsibility, but family is family. I was being swallowed alive and I was still thinking about Job and what the grace of God meant.

We finally got my mom up and into the car to go to the funeral her phone rang.  My brother’s previous employer had sensed things were not right and kept paying his life insurance. Pending his death certificate, my brother will have left enough to pay for Mom’s funeral, get me out of debt, pay for Mom’s insurance premiums starting in January and still collect interest in the bank. We all cried in relief and sorrow. 

The next week we finally convinced Mom to go to the emergency room. Her kidneys were failing because she hadn’t been eating or drinking. If she had refused one more night, she would have died. Trying to convince a grieving woman who isn’t in her right mind that she wasn’t eating and drinking enough when she would throw up every time she did was hard. She was there for a week and every day was rapid improvement. When she finally came home this Thursday, she was Mom again. Her appetite is back, her kidneys are working and somehow her biliary bag is draining on its own. (The masses in her liver were blocking the drains before.) Somehow, I’m still too afraid to hope that the masses have broken down or that she’ll live longer than they proposed, but I feel unburdened. I finally understand what it means to live by the grace of God and what it means to have faith. It means letting go and being thankful for the little things.

written by Susan
March 13, 2019 0

All semester I’ve been asking myself one question. How do I get it back? I’ve asked a few people and besides the initial counter-question: “How do you get what back?”—No one seems to know. Even after explaining it, they still don’t seem to understand. Those who have had it and lost it seem to throw down the whole experience and bury it deeper than Atlantis.

Deeper than that. So deep that I think it becomes a phobia. When the conversation starts to cross River Styx, people shrink back as if they might drown. I think I understand. I often feel like I’m drowning too. I’m too busy saving myself to save anyone else.

I found a friend in a tree outside my bus window. He looked particularly lonely like the bird that carried its seed to plant it must have been a hero on an epic journey. That sounds nice, but honestly, it was only alone because it was surrounded by paved parking lots— which if you are setting out to humanize a tree, I’d found a gem. The poor thing had probably been grown elsewhere with lots of brothers and sisters before it was uprooted and separated. Shipped and then dipped into this hole dug just for him. Then every year he grew the prettiest leaves that he could until they too left him alone.

His branches were naked and they shuddered with each wind. I tried asking him the question and I got nothing but the biting wind on my cheeks. I expected as much. 

How did he do it? I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Every year he lost all his leaves and then grew them back as nothing had happened. I had lost my two brothers and my mother wouldn’t be far behind. Three leaves off my tree and I felt like everything was gone. My future fell with my younger brother. I drove around wondering if God would do me a favor and take me sooner rather than later. I didn’t want him to be alone up there and more than anything I was terrified that he was just gone. But I still stopped at each stop sign. I still ate, though there was a voice in my head that asked how I could eat another bite.

Then I had a dream. I was looking at a white picket fence that I had installed on my own and there was a small thin gap between the boards where I had measured wrong. It didn’t look right. From behind me, my brother who had no voice in life, handed me what I would find out later was a glue gun and a metallic piece and said, “I don’t know how it works but it’s this one.” I told my step-dad about it and he said, “He always liked to watch me work.”

I’d thought I’d found it that night—that naive happiness that the future holds some precious plan; some beauty to work towards. That climax of life that everything after it will just be icing on the cake. A retirement of leisure waiting to die a peaceful death like my grandparents had. I hugged Mom and told her that our lives are not our own and that everything would be okay. God must have a plan. There must be something.

Four months later Mom got sick enough that I thought she was dying. One trip to the emergency room and I found out that she was. I am reminded of that tree now pretty often. When I finish cooking something Mom probably won’t eat, when I walk to class, when I sit and eat, when I lay down at night. One month after that, my older and only remaining brother died suddenly while getting a cyst on his leg lanced in a regular office visit.
    How do I get it back?

Last night I was going through boxes from our most recent move and I found a tiny red leather-bound copy of The Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam. I put it to the side and forgot about it for a while. Then when I laid down, I opened it up expecting something similar to sayings from Confucius but found this instead:

Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same door where-in I went.

It may be different for each of us, but I read the last line and realized the truth of it. Regardless of what I believe today or what I believe tomorrow, when we die we all return from where we came. And that, in itself, is not- nothing. It’s something.

written by Susan
January 14, 2019 0

I understand enough to know
The road was wearing thin.
Where you are I could not go,
Even though I would pretend.

Compared to you I would be slow
From me, you’re around the bend,
But each night the moon moves slow
when I should sleep and mend.

But life is not something that I own,
Not mine to give or spend.
And so I wait and hope you know
I’ll hold on till the end.

I understand enough to know
Yet I wish that I could go.

written by Susan
March 3, 2016 0

Momma cried this morning.
I imagined her thoughts were
Of Jesus and the next few months,
But she said that she was sorry
For leaving me with bad memories.

The thing about missing someone,
Is that the bad things will fade away;
There were times when I screamed so hard
All I could think of was how to hurt her—
Make her understand how helpless I felt.

When I turn on the kitchen light and
See an empty room that lacks her warmth,
It won’t be anger that I’ll feel.
It’s that feeling of being left behind,
That I’ll truly be alone.

That I’ll wish I had put more—
More time into starting a family
Of my own. A feeling that
When I’m done being mad,
I can’t find her, kneel on the floor,

Put my head on her stomach and say
I’m sorry.

written by Susan
October 13, 2013 0

Come up to meet you, tell you I’m sorry
You don’t know how lovely you are
I had to find you, tell you I need you
Tell you I’ll set you apart

How do I deal with grief? I talk to plants. I have two big, bushy, white peace lilies that I was able to squeeze back into the house and I talk to them. Often. I’ve had them for just over four months and I don’t think a day has gone by that I haven’t talked to them. I’m a practical person so it barely makes sense to me. If you asked, I would tell you straight up that it’s a grief process. You would think that knowing that would take away some of the magic, but it doesn’t.  I need to regain control over my life and if I just give them water and make sure they have the right kind of light, they will live and grow. They won’t die unless I give them a reason. 

My mom thought I was crazy at first. A week after the funeral when people finally stopped coming by, she was ready to throw them out. I was pretty livid when she pushed them outside onto the wood deck because I’d been watering and chatting with them every day. At first, I thought it would be okay since it was the back deck that gave primarily morning sun, but I could tell in the first two days when they started to yellow and wither that it was too much. 

I felt a clawing in my chest. The same kind of clawing that you get when you watch Bambi’s mother die for the first time as a child. Only it doesn’t go away when you put a new movie on. So I pulled an old plastic kiddy pool from around the yard and paired it with a wire patio table to construct a plant tent. That same clawing sensation would wake me up every morning at about sunrise. So at about 7am every morning I would wake up, water the plants and talk to them. “You can do it. All you have to do is live. I’ll take care of everything else. If you live through the summer, Mom will let you back in.”

Those were words that never actually came out of her mouth. For the first few months she wanted everything that reminded her of the funeral gone. My brother’s stuff remained untouched in a side room because even looking at it would make all of us cry. Not looking was hard enough.  At first talking to the plants while I watered them made me cry too. It seemed like I cried at everything. Maybe I did. 

Tell me your secrets and ask me your questions
Oh let’s go back to the start
Running in circles, coming in tails
Heads on a science apart

“He’s in a better place.” people say that all the time. “At least he’s not suffering anymore.” They say the words but have no idea what they are talking about. If there was nothing else that my brother could do, he could smile. For a boy with severe Cerebral Palsy, controlling his body was difficult. When he was a baby we would work all day sometimes just to get him to unclench his fist and later trying to get him to bring his fist to his mouth. Things that normal babies take for granted. To him, we were always playing games like that. So at fifteen when he would smile, he smiled with his whole body. His eyes would light up and his arms would wrap around you and his whole body would shake as he giggled with pure joy. 

He went to school just like other kids. Granted, he had special classes but his physical therapist was teaching him to communicate with a computer that would track his eyes. In his scheduled tests, he always scored just slightly below his age level. I always wondered what he would say as he learned to use the screens more and more.  I have a feeling that I already know. When he was about five years old, he managed to learn one word. Love.

Nobody said it was easy
It’s such a shame for us to part
Nobody said it was easy
No one ever said it would be this hard
Oh, take me back to the start.

When dealing with my grief, I have learned a few more tricks. My dog died recently and this time the first thing I did was change my sheets. Even the day after my mom couldn’t understand my hysterical insistence on changing them or why my hands were shaking so much that I couldn’t do it by myself. I understand. I can still smell sour milk and feel cold sweat that hit me the night my brother died. Even knowing that it was irrational, it was enough to make me stand in my doorway like a stranger and refuse to go in until they were changed.  

“You didn’t even get this upset when Clinton died.”  she said the next day.  She didn’t dare say it that night. That night she just walked around me and changed all my sheets and pillowcases but she paused when I refused a clean sheet set of the same color. It didn’t matter to her. I’m sure she thought I was going overboard considering my dog had died on a thick burgundy towel and not on the sheets or pillowcases. But it wasn’t about being clean. It was about healing.

It was dark and humid outside and the tall light post near the back of our property made everything glow an eerie orange. I hated it and I didn’t want to leave her out there but I knew it would rain soon. There’s not much worse than trying to dig a hole in wet Oklahoma clay. My mother, older brother Gary and I spent probably two hours in the dark with flashlights digging a hole that would ultimately be only 2 x 1 x 3. Before we tucked her in, I checked once more to confirm what I already knew. Even if my mind wanted to forget, I wouldn’t because I had felt her die. I had held her soft white and tan head in my hands as she passed. 

It was awful when she died. When it happened I felt helpless again and I wasn’t ready to be helpless again. She’d been sick for about a week and while I’d taken her to the vet and even secured a personal loan to pay for the expenses, her heart just couldn’t make it long enough to get better. While I held her head and watched her last trembles, I thought of my brother. I had given him CPR for thirty minutes until county arrived. 

I was just guessing at numbers and figures
Pulling your puzzles apart
Questions of science, science and progress
Do not speak as loud as my heart

That’s something they don’t tell you about CPR when they teach you- how to accept failure. You are trained to keep doing it until the paramedics arrive.  The brain has up to six minutes after the heart stops pumping blood before it loses all function. You have no idea how long he hasn’t been breathing. So you do what you are trained to do. 

In the days after his death, you look up keywords like death and Cerebral Palsy. The statistics confirm that, of course he died. Like you should have known or been prepared for the inevitable. That’s ridiculous. The doctors didn’t know so why would you?  When you love someone, you care for them. You feed them, you talk to them and protect them. You expect that as long as you do that, they will live forever.

Tell me you love me, come back and haunt me
Oh and I rush to the start
Running in circles, chasing our tails
Coming back as we are

I watched a movie about a month before he died that made me cry. Looking back now I wonder if it was trying to prepare me for this life. Prepare me for change that I am still not comfortable with. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Tom Hanks and Halle Berry with several other great actors that I never bother to remember star in a story that spans multiple lifetimes. It follows every character and flashes back through each lifetime to show that each soul is connected and recycled. In one lifetime, Tom Hanks was a bad guy. In another, he was a hero. All pieces leading up to a great finale of love and existence. Then and now, I hope that is the case. I’d like to know him again even as a neighbor or a mother. I’ll take the wheelchair next time.

Nobody said it was easy
Oh it’s such a shame for us to part
Nobody said it was easy
No one ever said it would be so hard
I’m going back to the start

As I lay in bed that night I run my hand along the smooth texture of my new sheets and inhale the clean smell of Lavender laundry detergent. There is nothing but habit to make me check to see if she is okay, much like I used to check if he was okay. But the smooth sheets remind me that she isn’t and he isn’t without having to move. Despite that, the sequence of their deaths replay in my head. I don’t cry. I let all that go while we dug the hole, changed the sheets and talked to the plants. New sheets? Check. Removed dog toys and water bowl? Check. Nothing I could have done to make them live? Check.

I hug my pillow tighter. It is always warm, like he was. The pillowcase has been washed so many times that it’s frayed now, but it was my little brother’s favorite. The constellations on it are faded but you can still make out the line and scribbled distance from the Earth to the Sun.  That distance is nothing now. I stole it from the living room where its match still remains since the funeral. Sometimes I catch my mother in there late at night lying next to it. Old habits die hard.

The truth is that I wanted the sheets replaced because since the funeral I have learned that memories are feelings. Not just intangible emotions but a physical memory of touch, taste and sound. During a time when change hurt so much, I needed to change the sheets that acted like a bandaid.  

If I could go back, I think I would just caress his head and hold him like I did with her. Remember the soft burr of his head and the feel of his hand in mine. Then later, when enough time had passed, go change the sheets and water the plants.