Things You Didn’t Know You’d Learn Before Becoming a Father

How to recognize your children by not only their voice (obviously), but the sounds of their footsteps, their coughs, their sneezes, and the way they open and shut doors.

How to recognize who raided the pantry in the nighttime by what hour it is when you hear the noise.

Who has been snacking by what types of plates/bowls/utensils are still on the counter. And the associated crumbs.

Contrary to many popular culture references, your in-laws are pretty decent people.

You will never get enough sleep. Not even when the kid sleeps ‘through the night’. Because that just means they’re waking up at 5:37 AM with a full diaper and a full tank of gas.

How to really multi-task: driving, having a conversation, listening to NPR, and swatting an arm into the back seat to break up a fight.

The appropriate use of phrases such as “Don’t make me come back there!”, “When I was your age,”, and “Where’s the remote?”

You actually can survive being peed on, pooped on, vomited on, snotted on, and sticking your hand inside the crack between the car’s seats to search for a lost bubbie only to find a three-month-old deposit of ketchup that has partially congealed into what feels like a slug in the middle of decomposition.

The suburbs kind of suck. Despite that you’ll still choose to live there because you’ve bought into the fantasy of everyone having their own kingdom.

You’ll never finish washing all the dishes.

Baldness is hereditary. Thing is, all the scientists are wrong about the direction of transfer. In this case, you get it from your kids.

Everybody’s winging it. Yes, that means your parents and grandparents, who looked like they had it all figured out. Which also means that your children and grandchildren will look at you, right now, and believe that you really do have your shit together. Good job, duck.

What that last reference meant. And how accurate it really is.

Your Dad really did like those crappy gifts you got and made him for Father’s Day. Because even if you only did it at the insistent urging of your mother, it felt good to be recognized.

That benchmark “Cost of raising a child” being something like $225k is waaaaay off. The economics are just half of the equation. There’s also the emotional cost of worrying, planning, and letting go. The physical cost on your body because you don’t have enough time to work out like you did in your 20s. The social cost because your “friends” disappear and are replaced by associations with the Dads of your kids’ friends and teammates. The career burden because you’re always feeling like you’re not doing enough for everyone who depends on you, so you’re constantly seeking to support them more through a raise and promotion, a “better” job because it has less travel and shorter commute, when all you really wanted to do was just be good at your role and enjoy it. The psychological loss because once you have children, you stop being you and morph into Brayden’s father or Kelsie’s dad, losing your identity as a real person in your own right with your own hopes and dreams and fears, putting them aside “for the good of the children” because that’s what everyone else does, even though we all subconsciously understand that in doing so we’re propagating an emotionally-destructive, socially-negative paradigm that engenders a perpetual focus on making things better for the next generation but never actually stops to appreciate the things the generations before us made better, in some misguided view of our own worthlessness to have those nice things because of how much those generations tell us they’ve sacrificed in order to get to this point, ultimately condemning our children to perform the same charades that we decry and detest and wish someone else would change, doing it “for their children”, even though we intrinsically know that if everyone would just stop it already we’d all be better off.

Dad jokes are a thing because Dads actually like them.

Happy Father’s Day, my friends!

Extremely Bad Advice – Grieving Dog-Dad

Dear SJ: What can I get my grieving father?

My dad is a veteran and a goofball who is not very in touch with his emotions. Our childhood dog passed today, and I want to send my dad something to show him some love. He often feels guilty for showing emotions and despite that, he is clearly heart broken about our dog passing today. He could barely tell me. Our dog was the best companion to our family the last 16 years and she really helped my dad as an emotional support dog, especially when he was struggling with PTSD. He lives far away, so I want to send him something to show him some love. Any ideas?? He’s not really a flower guy and I don’t think anything overly sentimental would be right either.

— Long-Distance Mourner

Broken with grief man dog owner is grieving sitting on a bench with the lovely pet collar and deep weeping about animal loss. Home pets relatives and love concept.

Dear Long-Distance,

Okay, clearly, this is a little out of my league. I know, I know, shocker that SJ would admit he’s not quite up to snuff! 

But, yeah, every once in a while even a blind pig finds an acorn. See, this seems to be out of my usual realm of expertise because it’s clearly not about you. You’re not trying to manipulate your father into loving you again, or it’s not one of those situations where he’s been moping around the house for three months because Fluffy died and the dishes are piling up and the toilet’s dirty and you just want him to get off his ass already and contribute again.

Those situations are right up my alley because, generally, the problem is not the problem. It’s a symptom of something deeper, and just manifests as emotional distance or laziness. If those were the case, I’d blame the dog’s death, rather than laziness or your father’s drinking problem or your own whoreishness that’s instilling a negative reputation upon the whole family.

But here, the dog has left the building and that is the problem. You want to know what to do? Let’s start with what to don’t instead.

Don’t tell him that “It’s okay, she’s in a better place now.” That’s just ridiculous, facetious, and doesn’t do anything for his feelings.

Don’t tell him not to feel sad. We don’t choose our emotions. They’re an evolutionarily-crafted signal about the environments in which we find ourselves. We can’t decide not to feel something. We can only decide how to act.

Don’t tell him to “Get over it.” Even if this funk or fugue lasts months, that’s not doing anything for him. You think he doesn’t want to just get over it? Fuck! That’s exactly what he’s been hoping for!

read the rest on Patreon

Writing Practice – spontaneous plot treatment

For my writing practice today, I grabbed a line from the Writing Prompt Generator.

“A child is kidnapped.”

Immediately I got an image of a pitchman in front of movie studio execs, saying that line and just totally botching the pitch. So I started writing as if I was in the exec’s seat, just riffing:

***

“A child is kidnapped.”

Thanks, I hate it. From the overdone trope of kidnapping, to the use of passive voice, this is one pitch that isn’t going anywhere soon.

Want to jazz it up? Make me care about the kid first, his mom, or maybe even better his dad, single dad, who’s raising him alone because mom is overseas in some pointless war, patriot-like and all, and he’s taking Junior tot he park, or maybe the Strawberry Festival, for an afternoon out. They’re enjoying the sunshine, strolling through the crowds, and suddenly Papa runs into an old flame from high school. She’s back in town after a failed marriage, interested in catching up, pretending like it’s all innocent, but we int he audience can see the heat rising in her loins, even if Papa is oblivious.

Meanwhile, junior, inquisitive, and easily bored chap, curious about the world, starts following some kind of maguffin intended to distract us and him – a baby duck, maybe, or a puppy that’s romping around and playing around. Well, he meets up with another young couple, perhaps a few years older than we can see Mama and Papa are, and this intrusion into their idyllic life moment sets them off in to a crying jag. We as audience don’t get to understand why, because at that moment Papa comes swooping in and picks up Junior, shepherding him back and warily eyeing the older couple.

See, now this is a bit of a plotline beginning. We’ve got several sob stories, that could be explored, including kids growing up too fast, forgotten loves, heartbreak, devotion at the same time as betrayal, and so on.

One cool twist would be that Junior finds the couple live only a few streets away, so he starts hanging out with them. They end up, after they get to know him, admitting they had a young son a few years ago who would be about his age, but there were “complications” during the birth, so he died.

<At least, that’s what they say.>

Turns out, they have begun to suspect that this is their actual son, and so they surreptitiously obtain a little bit of his DNA (maybe a couple of strands of hair? a little fingernail? whatever) and in getting it tested they discover that he is, in fact, their biological son, but he didn’t know that he was adopted, etc.

Now we have an additional layer of conflicts, intrigue, fear, worry, burden, confusion, and an opportunity to build drama as these two sets of adults have to figure out how to navigate the lies and deceptions that their doctors fed them so many years ago.

I dunno, sounds like it may be a pretty interesting Lifetime Afternoon Special.

Extremely Bad Advice: Stalking Victim Friend

Dear SJ,

My friend is being stalked.

I don’t know many details as he gets very tense and nervous talking about this, I can’t blame him. Firstly, he is a young adult and lives in a pretty rural area. He said this has been happening for months now. He is getting strange calls and a particular car is slowing down and looking at his house when it passes by. My friend knows a coder and somehow the coder was able to trace the number and the car together. Wait, it gets worse. He will leave his house and come back and the window in his bedroom is open. A lot of the time he will have a perfectly tidy room, come home and it is a mess. One time he cleaned the bathroom before he left to go somewhere, he came back home and the sink was dirty. 

I should probably add that he lives with his younger sibling and parents. The parents work and the sibling goes to school. One time he came back home and saw that on the top of a stack of papers he had laying on his desk suddenly had a piece of paper with his girlfriends home address on top. Also, his curtains had a hole cut through them and his box cutter was missing. I’m very worried for him. What should my friend do? Has anyone had something similar happen to them? His parents won’t take him seriously.

— Concerned for My “Friend” in Cheyenne

urban background lifestyle funny portrait of young paparazzi photographer man in action hidden behind city paper basket stalking for shooting exclusive photo story on celebrity

Dear Concerned,

Okay, first of all, you and your friend have nothing to be worried about. There’s no stalker.

Everything you’ve described has a perfectly logical explanation. And, as we often do when thinking about weird events, we invoke the Fermi Principle*, that the simplest explanation is often the right one. Nobody’s sneaking around, watching this friend of yours and breaking into his room to write cryptic addresses on scrap paper, cut holes in curtains, open windows, and leave excess pimple waste in the sink.

Do you realize how ridiculous that sounds? Your friend is a nobody. He lives with parents and a younger sibling in a rural area. From the way you write, you’re probably both still under twenty, which means your friends about as worthy of stalking as some Holstein’s half-digested cud she’s burped back up and chewed on for the last half-hour. Why would anyone take any interest at all in this person, much less enough so that they would go to the trouble, for months at a time, to cruise the house? That’s not how stalkers do it.

We figure out an actually important person in our lives, maybe that principal who held us back in the tenth grade for no good reason (replacing the jelly in doughnuts with poo isn’t a good reason, in my opinion). Or that one girl who promised to keep writing while we were in prison and never did, and we follow them to plot our revenge. (We don’t actually do anything, remember. That would destroy the fantasy.) A stalker has to have some reason to avoid living their life like a sane person, and, frankly, from the sounds of it, your friend isn’t appealing enough to bridge that gap.

So what’s happening? Again, very simple: Your friend is making this all up. 

Read the rest on Patreon.

Writing Practice – joining

The Way of Story, p 169; Perhaps it’s time to return to a cult…

I wonder, though, which one I should choose. There have been so many in the past decades, that it would be hard to pick my favorite. They all offer something unique, some better way of looking at the world, some alternative option only available with them, and it’s hard to say that the negatives outweighed the positives in any of them.

I’ve been in four cults so far in my life, beginning with the one I was born in to. I probably shouldn’t count that, though, because it was less of a cult that I choose and, to be honest, it was a disaster waiting to happen. Some wise, well-intentioned, but mostly clueless (or naive?) Christians, Episcopalians, I believe, “liberated” me from that group when i was fifteen. Honestly, it wasn’t so bad, there, and if they hadn’t taken me out, I’d probably still be living there today. I see them on the news, oh about every two years or so, when some nighttime drama producer needs a little bump in her ratings, and they do a new “expose” that doesn’t point out anything new at all, doesn’t even point out anything illegal, just – different – from the normal standards of decency around them.

If I hadn’t been removed, I probably would still be there, and probably would be pretty happy, too. I think I have a “joiner’s” mind. I like to be a part of things. I like to get involved and interested and invested. I enjoy the thrill that comes with knowing exactly the right things to say whenever anyone challenges our beliefs, and being able to smoothly and confidently rebut their accusations and questions. It’s an internal win too, and an emotional high, when you celebrate afterwards, whether it is with singing (as we did at Eden Garden) or alcohol and drugs (as at high Point Society) or sex (the Love Shack). We always developed our own ways of coming together after vanquishing our foes, even if they only went home bleeding from tongue lashings, which all of us were always able to administer. We all loved our group. we all lived our groups. That’s the beauty of being invested, you find so many like-minded souls that there is an almost constant reinforcement and retrenching of whatever it is you believe.

And the greater beauty is that we don’t waste time with ridiculous artifacts like proof and objectivity. We don’t wast time trying to either convert unbelievers or to retrieve a lost sheep. We have always recognized and admitted that those who are not called, who are not special, will expose themselves, and they should not distract us from our our true, main mission, of living out our calling.

it is not for us to evangelize. I have always said, it is for us to live as a beacon on a hill, bearing bright witness to our best experiences, and if someone else sees, and is attracted, and chooses to investigate, we should gladly welcome them. But to cast our pearls before the swine of humanity, in futile, foolish, inefficient effort, providing no return, giving us no satisfaction, adds none to the fold, and wastes our time.

And that is why, all three times, I have also walked away. At some point I questioned, I had a concern, a problem, a hesitation about what I was asked, commanded, or directed to do. And, in those moments, as all good cult leaders do, they simply cut me out, disowned me, shunned me, cut me off and thinned their herd by one slightly-less-than-perfect member.

I honestly don’t mind it that much. Because I like the “joining” part more than the staying part, anyway. It’s fun to experience the thrill of discovery anew and fresh again, so I have been missing something like that for a while now.

Which brings me back to how I started – perhaps it’s time to get back into a cult.

Any recommendations?

Writing Practice 11/26/2019

Stories of Your Life, page 119: It’ll be when you first learn to walk…

It’ll be when you first learn to walk. Your drunken-baby steps, uncertain and wobbly, that lead you only a few inches away from the safety of the couch at first, then further and further as you gain skill, confidence, strength.

Or – maybe – it will be when you first ride a bike. That proud-parent-even-prouder-child experience, when you go zooming off down the street faster and more sure than I could ever be for you right now.

Or – maybe – it will be when you have your first sleepover party, that time when I will for the first time be unable to sneak in your room at night and just watch, just check, just to make sure, once more, that you are, in fact, still breathing and are, in parallel fact, still my little daughter.

certainly it won’t be as late as when you get glasses. That’s going to be in about fifth or sixth grade, if family history is any indication. You’ll be what – eleven? Twelve? So grown up, and yet so vulnerable still.

I won’t even conceive that it could be as late as your braces, those fences inside your lips holding back your “true” development, but, at the same time, driving you to a more secure, more happy, more healthy body image. I must admit – I never went through that phase. The one bright spot in my DNA, I guess, so I don’t know how to relate to that. I’ll just have to listen then while you hate having braces and hate the rubber bands and hate flossing and hate the checkups and hate everything about it, just smile and nod, smile and nod.

Perhaps it would be foolish of me to think it would be at your first date. Or when you’re driving to your job. Or when you’re moving in to the dorm, or moving out, or when you finally come back to tell me the fabulous news. Or when you’ve finally gotten that sweet little bundle of joy of your own, when you feel “complete”, whenever that is down the road, whenever you’re able to give me advice on finances, or memory, or organization.

I could be forgiven for hoping it will last that long. But I know it won’t. Someday, it will come, that I will realize you are no longer my “little girl”. And then I will probably cry. Laugh, too, and give you a hug, but, yes, without a doubt, I will cry.

Until that day, though, I will savor these moments. I will cradle you here in the crook of my arm. I will feel the solid weight of your head against my bicep. I will stroke your tiny fingers, one at a time. Then all at a time, with my huge fingers, my giant hand, my overwhelming love. I will bask in this wonderful feeling, and together we shall march, arm in arm, into the future, as one. Let’s go, my dearest daughter.

Let’s go.

Writing Practice – 3/12/2019

Outside Magazine “Terror in the Wild” edition, page 52

My father’s e-mail didn’t make much sense…

He sometimes gets in these kids of moods, where he will, for weeks at a time, rant about an Atlantis cover-up, or the Moon landing being real, or the fact that those ancient civilizations that left us all their writings in the pyramids really weren’t from another planet. Each time, I dismiss him as a bit of a nut, but every once in a while he’s got a little ring of truth to it.

“I’ve got the key,” he wrote, and that was it. No Hello, no good bye, and no explanation of what kind of key it might be or how it could be used.

So I wondered, is this something I need to understand? Is it a way for me to be a part of the bigger elements of this world? Or was it just a hoax of his?

I considered, briefly, that it might even be my brother spoofing him. Ted’s done that before, pretended to be someone he’s not through e-mail, to try and get me to go to the Appalachian trail with my long-distance girlfriend, or to get me to think I’ve won the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes, but this seemed too simple for him. He liked grander, broader schemes, and this one didn’t look like that. I believed it was Dad, then, and decided to reply.

“Oh, yeah? Key to what?”

Even though it had been a couple of hours between when I sent my message and when he’d first sent his, he replied almost immediately. He must have been at his desk, “working”, or whatever he liked to call all this research he did. Old books, old magazines, ancient journals and maps. My father’s basement looked like someone had emptied the Chicago Public Library archive into his room without bothering to organize anything, or even stack anything on shelves. I pictured him, sitting there, hunched over his ancient iMac, green screen and all, typing away at me. Six hundred miles away, lounging in my bed, laptop open on my lap, a stark contrast in experiences almost as strong as the contrasts of our environments and personalities.

“The key to the future,” he wrote. That too was all, in that message. I wanted to call. I wanted to talk, directly, because I could see where this was headed. Fifty messages, back and forth, over the next two hours, would just infuriate me at the man’s lack of focus, at his undisciplined approach to the world. I’d be sitting here, racking my brain trying to understand, to comprehend, to figure out if what he was saying was, or even might be real, or whether he’d finally lost it and we could safely deposit him at Shady Acres to a nice, relaxing retirement. It would do me no good to call, though. He’d disabled his phones months ago, in the belief that the radiation from the handset was making him sterile! Ha! As if he could, or would want to, get someone pregnant again at seventy-five. Why would he do that? And if he wanted to, who would sleep with him? All those are beside the point, but useful in illustrating that my father was not always altogether “there,” and so I would need to play along. Play his game of back-and-forth email tag, teasing meaning out of him one or two sentences at a time, wondering, questioning, probing, when all I really wanted to do was go have a run, and a nap.

I replied, “The future of what?”

“Of Humanity,” he replied. “It’s not looking good for us.”

“When has it ever?” Okay, a little snark, but when you’re frustrated at the imposition, you can be allowed some.

“Well, it was all good up until 53 years ago.” Then that message stopped. Before I could reply, another came in. “When you were born.”

Oh.

Shit.

He knew.

Writing Practice – 2/23/2019

[the punchline of a joke is:] Put up a Bingo sign. [I’ll tell the joke after the writing exercise.]

Here’s the scene: crowded airport, filled with travelers. Small kids with moms, business executives, families heading to another state to take a daughter to college. Within the crowd, one person stands out. It’s a clown, an old-man clown; he’s clearly been doing this a while, because his outfit is frayed and worn. not intentionally, but, yes, intentionally – his yellow suit is “patched” in various places with other colors of fabric, but as you watch you can see where the patches have themselves started to pull away from their seams. The seat of the suit is wearing through and has new holes. The gloves are dingy around the edges, and his shoes – large, exaggerated toe box, thick sole – are black but spotted, as if he’s needed a shine for quite a while but just can’t afford one. Or is too proud.

The clown doesn’t so much fight the crowd as meekly wait for the occasional breaks in the stream, to make his way towards Baggage Claim. The jostling jumbles his make-up occasionally. He usually covers his whole face with white, then comes back again with purple nose and orange oversized lips. Today he has added red cheek spots, in the hopes that looking happier will make him feel happier. It’s not working. The people in the crowd see him, smile, pat him on the back occasionally, maybe stop to take a quick picture – who can blame them? They’ve never seen a clown in an airport before – and then go on their way, when they feel the cloud of sadness wafting form him, rolling off the shoulders of the too-wide suit in waves that reach out five, then, fifteen feet in his wake.

He is not a happy clown today.

He holds a bunch of helium-filled balloons, another attempt to make himself feel what he doesn’t. It’s not working, either, their jumbled rainbow does not inspire joy, or elation, or even much more than a general amusement, even in the other by passers. Occasionally a traveler will stop to consider the logistics, whether the balloons, too, wen through security, or whether they were inflated past the gate. But none really stop long enough to ask the question. Most of those who do, who think of it, feel the blackness, the unseen sadness, radiating off his suit and shoulders and smile-that-isn’t-real and they move along without really knowing what it was that they wanted to say anyway.

Only one person actually talks to him. A young man, perhaps twenty years old, with Down Syndrome, and therefore a much greater appreciation for how hard it can sometimes be in life just to feel like you don’t fit in, stops and talks to him. “Hello,” he says. “Hello,” is the response. “You look sad.” “I am.” “I was sad yesterday. I had some ice cream. Maybe you should eat ice cream.” “Thank you, that is very thoughtful.” “Can I have a balloon?” The clown pauses for a moment, then hands the whole bunch, multi-colored globes and strings of gift ribbon a handful, to the young boy. His face breaks into a huge grin as his escorts frantically wrack their brain wondering how they’ll get these new objects through Security, and before they’ve even had time to ask “Wait, what?”, our clown has moved along. He is not happy, yet, for so many other events of the past three days weigh so heavily on him, but at least lightening his burden also lightened his spirit – a bit.

Our clown has found the DOWN escalator to take him to Baggage Claim and Ground Transportation. He has no baggage (physically) to claim. He carries a briefcase and thirty years of memories. He wishes it weren’t so, that this trip never happened, that he’d been able to reconcile before the end, but, alas, estrangement does strange things. Our clown finally notices his driver, one of only three or so, holding a sign with his name on it -“KYLE” –

“It really should say BINGO,” he thinks. “I mean, really, that’s who I am, right?” He looks at himself, then, and without a moment’s hesitation, and without a moment’s shame, the weight and grief of the past three days come flooding back over him, washing upon his heart like a tidal wave, overpowering him, and Bingo, Bingo the clown, the one who chose his “career” of happiness over his family, who allowed his pursuit of passion to drive a wedge between himself and his mother, his now-dead mother, his dead mother who never approved, who couldn’t see anything other than a whole in fancy-colored clothes, who herself was incredibly closed-minded, judgemental, rude and simple, who was now dead and rotting in a box six states away back where he’d left the family immediately after the funeral, his mother, he knew, would scold him for crying like this, for making a scene in the airport, for blabbering and streaking all that fake-up and messing up his old, worn suit, and causing a scene, his mother would have scolded him and told him to shape up, she wold have wipe his whole face clean of orange nose and purple lips and clear tars and yellow snot, she would have said, “There, there’s my boy, there, Kyle, why don’t we go home now,” and Bingo, he should have gone along, he would have buried his head in the corner of her shoulder, between her neck and her arm, he wold have felt her love and acceptance, for him, at least, if he were Kyle and not some simple sad sack clown, if he’d gotten a real job like architect or manager of the water treatment facility, or, hell, anything that wasn’t performing, he would have felt safe and comfortable, but – he couldn’t because he had missed out on all that those last 30 years, and now she was gone, and he was alone again, and, stupid pride, that’s all it was, stupid, so as Bingo/Kyle stood in the airport Baggage Claim and his tears dried and his snot ran onto his upper lip, he waited. He waited for a sign. For something inside his mind to tell him what was the right thing to do.

He didn’t know.

So , he waited.

***

Q: How do you get 500 old crows into a barn?

A: Put up a Bingo sign.

Writing Practice – 2/17/2019: Imaginary Friends

Imaginary friends…

My imaginary friends are having a real war, and it’s taking a toll on my room. Last night Katie threw my Spider-Man across the room at Jacob. It missed him but hit the mirror and knocked it off the shelf.

Mom says that she doesn’t believe me, that it’s not me doing it, but Dad does. He always takes my side. I wish they weren’t so made t each other, but, sometimes I don’t get what I want.

Katie told me she doesn’t want to be my friend any more, if Jake is still coming around. She said I have to choose – who am I going to pick her or him? I told her I don’t want to pick. Why can’t I have both? Why can’t things be like they used to be?

It started like two years ago. Mom told me that’s when I started having nightmares, but I don’t remember that part. She says she would hear me screaming about monsters. She would come in and check on me, tell me it was okay, and leave. I didn’t remember that part. I do remember that a lot of times I would wake up and Dad was lying in the bed next to me, his arm around my shoulders.

“Hey, big guy,” he’d say, when I woke up. “You were having another bad night, huh?” I didn’t remember him coming in to my room, either, but i do remember when I met Katie and Jake. I was out at the swingset, no – maybe it was the little creek out at the community park – anyway, all of a sudden I heard two other voices and they were arguing, too.

I was able to stop them from that argument, and they made up. They were okay, and I was okay with each of them. I like Jake a little more; he’s about two years old than me, he doesn’t like to ride bikes like I do, so I have to play at the park when he’s already there.

We don’t hang out with Katie much any more. We did for a while. She’s a little younger than Jake so she’s just a little older than me. She likes to ride bikes, so we do that together. She says her grandma promised her a gear-shifter bike for her next birthday, but when ask when that is, she always says, “oh, in a couple of months.” I’ve had two birthdays since I met her, and she hasn’t had any.

I’m afraid if I keep going to like this that she’s not going to get any older, but I will. I might grow out of my imaginary friends. I grew out of my hi-tops last year and my older brother grew out of his shorts and that’s why I have his. I don’t want to grow out of my friends. I want them to stay with me.

But Mom says that I need to leave them behind. It’s not that they can’t help me anymore, she says. It’s just that they don’t need to be there every day. Dad says it’s okay. He thinks as long as I have a way to “process” those things it will be fine.

Sometimes, I wish I did just leave them behind – you know, go out and live by myself. But then I realize I’m only ten, and I can’t give them up that easily. Who’ll take care of me? I can’t get a job. Now way I could take care of myself.

Writing Practice 1/1/2019 – Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary…

Mary, would you like to go to the zoo with us this weekend? We’ll see all your favorite animals – monkeys, and lemurs, and the penguins.

No.

Mary, would you like pancakes for breakfast? We can put syrup on them and blueberries inside, I remember how you liked them like that at grandmother’s house last month.

No.

Mary, would you please take out the trash? It’s been in the bin for a couple of days and is starting to smell.

No.

Mary would you like to go on a date with me this weekend? I would like to go see the new play at the community theater.

No.

Mary, would you consider majoring in architecture while you’re at university? You seem to have an aptitude for lines, and you’re always checking out the shapes of the places we go. You might really like it.

No.

Mary, would you like to have a drink with me next weekend? I’ll be back in town and it’s been a while since we’ve talked.

No.

Mary, would you help your other brothers and me with Mom? She’s been getting older and ever since Dad passed last year, she just seems so down.

No.

Mary, would you ever consider getting married? It’s been a long time, you’re quite lonely, and I think having a man in your life might do you some good.

No.

Mary, would you help your niece? She’s going to college soon, and, seeing as you’ve saved up quite a bit of money from never having kids of your own, this might be a chance for you to give some of that back. I mean, we’ve put up with an awful lot of negativity from you over the years. Wouldn’t you like to make some amends before you pass?

No.

Mary, would you like to sign this living will? And the Do Not Resuscitate order? I have done everything you asked, and as your counsel, I cannot force you to sign, only strongly recommend that you do so. You really don’t want your family members to have to do that once you become incapacitated. They’ll just muck it all up. What do you say – one last thing?

No.

Mary, can you hear me? Can you understand what’s going on? The doctors say you’re in there – that the hearing is the last to go. So – Mary, can you hear me? It’s Trisha, your little sister. You know, that never was easy, living with you. And now, now I don’t have to. Thanks to the fact that you never signed your DNR, you’re in that bed, hooked up to all those machines. Good. I hope it’s torture for you. I hope your lungs burn and your throat is on fire, and that the needles, feel that – I’m poking this goddamn IV right further up in your arm – I hope these needles feel like ice in your veins, that you can’t sleep, can’t rest, can’t relax, that you’ve got a million thoughts running through your head that you want to say but can’t because of that terrible, horrible tube stuck down your throat, I hope it’s torture for you to have to lie there and listen to me take control and make decisions for once. I hope this is simply eating you up inside because you can’t say “No” any more. That’s all I ever heard from you, Mary, “No”, no to playing, no to sharing, no to caring. Sometimes I don’t know why I bothered trying to keep the relationship going, you were so negative. But I did, and I’m here, and look, now you get to listen to me. Oh, surprise, surprise, what should I say? Should I tell you how my marriage fell apart four years ago because Brad admitted he’d had feelings for you for a decade? Should I tell you how my own daughter wants to follow in your negative footsteps and run away and live in the middle of the Texas wilderness in a van? Shall I tell you how much your own “friends” talk about you behind your back? Shall I tell you the awful secret of mom and Dad, too, that you were an illegitimate child and they once told me it would have been better if they had given you for adoption, as grandmother suggested? What do you have to say to that, to those horrible, terrible things you’ve really been all along? What do you have to say for yourself? Do you really like this life, this legacy you’ve left? Are you proud of who you turned out to be? Don’t you wish everyone in the world could know your story?