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?

Writing Practice 12/4/2018

From Where The Sidewalk Ends, p 50.

“The googies are coming, the old people say, to buy little children and take them away.”

But I’m not afraid. My mother says I’m too valuable, she would never sell me, not for even like a thousand silver coins.

But I don’t really know if that’s all true. I heard that last year, when the googies came to town, Tommy Spickoza’s mom told them that they could have him for two thousand, and they thought it was a deal. The whisper campaign they sent round after said they would have paid five or more. So if they would pay five thousand for Tommy, how much more do you think I could get? Ten thousand? I’m so much better than Tommy. He’s kind of a mean little guy. He pokes cats with sticks and tells bad jokes. I’m not like that. I hold the doors open for my sister and I don’t chew with my mouth open and I make sure to always write my name on the top of my homework.

My mama says not to worry, because I’m too valuable to her, but I don’t think she understands economics. I may be only thirteen by now, but I understand it much better than her. All us kids do. We’ve been watching the googies come into town and buy some kids, and not others, for a decade now, and we can’t make sense of it. Sometimes they want just the fat ones, and that year they take like the six fattest kids in the whole town. So the next year all the kids were real skinny (we starved ourselves for like three weeks before they showed up, just to help our causes), and that was when they wanted the shortest ones. They took Caroline, and Suzanne, and Jonah, and Zeb, but left chubby Marco, who’d been crying the whole time that he just couldn’t do it, couldn’t lay off the candy bars, and we all understood, Marco’s home wasn’t that great anyway, and even the googies would have probably been a welcome change.

So then the year after they bought the short ones everyone was stuffing their shoes with papers, and hanging by their arms from trees for days at a time to get taller, and wearing short pants to make their legs look longer, and that was when they too two girls, twin sisters, and that was that. We didn’t understand, but still we keep trying to figure out their system.

Braydon thinks he’s got it figured out. He thinks this year they’re going to take three boys and two girls, out of the thirty or so of each who are all under eighteen. “One runner,” he says, “and one smart kid. And the other three are people who do music.”

That’s the part that scares me, the music. Because my flute has been sounding really good this month. Mama says not to worry, I can fake it, or I can just pick up the guitar when they arrive and just be real bad at that, and then they’ll pass me by. I don’t believe her, because those lineups aren’t when they actually choose, Braydon says. He thinks they’re monitoring our every move already, so they know before they even get here what they’re gonna do.

I asked my Mama once about why they (they being the parents in this town, stupid them), have been selling their kids to the googies, and she really didn’t have an answer. Something about opportunities for all to be better, but I think she’d rather just pretend not to know what’s going on. That way, if the googies come for me, she can pretend like it’s this great big tragedy, and get the sympathy votes and pity looks from all the other women in the village, and at the same time her life will be a little easier ’cause I’m not around.

I don’t like her very much, my Mama, and like I said, she might not understand much about economics, but she sure does know that ten thousand silver pieces would feed two mouths a lot better than zero pieces feeds three.

Extremely Bad Advice – How to Deal with Sentimentality

Stealing from Abby once again – ’cause I’m too lazy today to write a new question.

DEAR ABBY: My adult son passed away two years ago at a young age. We were very close while he was growing up. He married young, and I maintained a great relationship with both him and his wife. They gave me the most precious grandchildren any woman could ask for, and I am extremely active in their little lives.

My daughter-in-law has moved on. She met a nice young man, and they are planning to be married in the near future. Do you think I would be out of line to request to have my son’s ashes back home with me? We live near each other, I love her very much, and we still have a great relationship. I don’t want to damage it by asking this if it’s not appropriate.

I would pass his ashes on to his children when they grow up, of course, but for now, I’d love to have my son back home with me and his dad because she has started her new life. My husband is noncommittal about the subject. When I broach it, he says he “doesn’t want to talk about it.” I really have no one to ask or confide in about this. Your thoughts would be most appreciated. — STILL BROKENHEARTED IN NORTH CAROLINA

DEAR BROKENHEARTED,

Well, what can I say? I would say I’m sorry for your loss, but I’m not. I think “sorry for your loss” is about as meaningful as “the sky is really blue today”. If I was saddened by your loss, I’d tell you that, and perhaps that would do something. If I was interested in showing how much I care about you, I’d ask, “Oh, that must be hard. What do you miss most about him?” But, again, I don’t care, because your sorrow and misery really don’t affect me on the daily. Other than to provide fodder for my advice column, for which I will gladly say, “Next victim!”

Okay, here we go. The classic dilemma – who gets to keep the crispy bacon that used to be your son’s body? Because, let’s all agree, your “son” is no longer there any more, just like the dream I used to have of being an Abercrombie & Fitch model has blown off into the wind with that first hit of the mind-altering substance known on the street as Jif Extra Crunchy. Your son disappeared from the shell that held him the moment his cranial electro-activity ceased. What he left behind was the meatbag for DNA that did its job incredibly well by providing “the most precious grandchildren” [hold on – just threw up in my mouth a little].

And in order to do that, he had to procreate with his wife, your daughter-in-law (DIL). Who is now his widow. So, for that you should be grateful to her, not jealous.

What’s left is sentimentality. I get it. People have good memories of the past, and it’s hard to move on. It’s hard to imagine that your progeny wouldn’t love you as much as you loved him. How could he? You’re a mother, and everyone knows a “mother’s love knows no bounds”. He couldn’t reciprocate your devotion to him. And he proved this by not pulling an Oedipus and fucking you! He shagged the DIL, knocked her up a couple of times, gave her good memories, and now his burnt ends occupy a silver chalice on the mantle. Good for him and her.

But – you’re a selfish hag who has nothing left in her life, and you’re trying to fill your own void by commandeering what should be left to her in order to appease your own shortcomings. As evidenced by your question to me! Don’t do this. Would you be out of line? Absolutely. Don’t do it! Leave well enough alone. Your husband “doesn’t want to talk about it” not from an ethical or emotional perspective, but simply because you’re looney-tunes and he recognizes a bear trap when he sees it.

However, because I suspect you won’t take my advice above, being as reasonable as it is, I’m going to give you a bonus recommendation of some Extremely Bad Advice. This you’ll probably do with gusto. Have fun!

Step one: Offer to babysit the grandkids for a night. Give the DIL and her new guy a chance to go out and have fun.

Step two: Prepare for the switch. Get a plastic bag, about a gallon, clear (not white), full of ashes from your backyard barbecue pit. Take along a second, empty bag for holding.

Step three: Once the kids are in bed, make the transfer. Go full Indiana Jones. Play dramatic music, sweat profusely, look over your shoulder for booby-traps.

Step four: Revel in your glory. You now have your son’s actual remains, and she, the grandkids, and your husband are none the wiser. Dare I say they might view you as a hero for how magnanimously you deal with the situation? Visit a bar and order a glass of Chablis to celebrate. Send me the bill – I’ll gladly treat you for that job well done!

Extremely Bad Advice – Parental Finances

Dear SJ: I learned recently that my mother’s retirement funds are gone. She has been scammed by the home health agency she hired a few years ago. Apparently they got her to sign a financial power of attorney form, authorizing one of their company employees to make withdrawals from her accounts. They drained over $200,000 in just the past 6 months. The employee posted Instagram and Facebook pictures from her trips to Cancun and Ireland, which I’m certain were taken with Mom’s money. (When I confronted her, she said “Prove it”. Ugh!) Not only retirement – that was supposed to be my inheritance!

I asked a lawyer, and he said that the forms are legit. Police can’t do anything. Better Business Bureau doesn’t really care about these small businesses – they sent my mom a flyer called “How to Avoid Senior Catfishing” after all the money was gone. What should I do? FRUSTRATED WITH FINANCES

 

Dear FRUSTRATED,

All right, I’m going to do the hard work that nobody before you has cared enough to do. Frankly, I don’t really care about you or your crusty, “she-had-it-coming” mom, either, but I do get a bit of a chubby when thinking about people respecting my brain, so I keep doing it.

Here’s the deal: you’re the one at fault here. If your mom had 200k in liquid assets that this flimsy mooch could access at the stroke of a pen, that’s a big black mark on your abilities as a responsible child. I mean, what intelligent, forward-looking heir leaves an aging, senile, incontinent grandmother in charge of her own money? Old broads like that should have a debit card with like a hundred and fifty deposited every week, just enough for a half-dozen cups of coffee and a couple of bowls of “medicinal” marijuana down at the VA. Access to any more than that is just stupid. Why? Well, I think the fact that you’re asking me this question should be Prosecution’s Exhibit #1.

Anyway. Too late to get that back now. Money’s spent, tan’s faded, hangover’s dissipated, the Irish bartender has returned to folding towels instead of folding his lips over some sweet health care aide’s nips. Sucks to be you, because for 200 large you should have at least gotten to watch.

But – you want to get something for your efforts, don’t you? Warning: you’re gonna have to play the long game on this one.

First, you have to find a dirty insurance agent. One that will allow your mother to buy a huge policy on herself at such an advanced age. You’re gonna need about a half a million, to do 2 things.

You’re replacing the 200k that should have been your inheritance, and you’re covering her living costs while she stays with you over the next two years. Yes, this has to happen. Suck it up and deal with it.

You are probably going to have to second mortgage the house in order to make the premium payments while this is going on. Ask the agent if you can gross up the policy to cover this amount, too. If he’s as dirty as I think he is, he’ll be all over it, because, remember, more premium = more commission!

Then, all you have to do then is wait out those 2 years. That’s the usual length of a suicide exclusion. And when time’s up? Make sure you get a “terminal illness” rider early withdrawal approved by your doctor, who should also be on the take already. Then you can use that money to pay for some fake test results to convince her she’s got cancer, or liver disease, or some kind of “heavy metal poisoning” that’s gonna just leave her bedridden and shitting herself on the daily. Then all you have to do is offer her a chance to do the right thing, go out “on her terms”, and call the good doctor for one last ‘script.

And if she doesn’t? Remember, county medical examiners don’t really know how to distinguish “suffocated under a pillow” from “died peacefully while sleeping”, anyway. I’ve seen the handbook, they’re not that competent.

Hopefully some of my other readers take a lesson from your imbecility and start their financial planning a hell of a lot sooner. Best of luck, I hope never to hear from you again.

Writing Practice – 3/18/2018 – Concerning Happiness

Prompt: How far would you go to achieve your happiness?

I admit- this may be limiting me. But I won’t push past the boundaries of another’s satisfaction or happiness in life to achieve my own. If it requires me to leave a wake of destruction in my path to achieve that “happiness”, then I have the wrong idea of happiness or the wrong idea of the ideal.

I should not have to go to such great lengths, either. I should be able to find happiness wherever I am, whenever I am, without needing to search and seek and journey. I should be able to get to a level of happiness by my everyday interactions – by the things I am doing for myself, for my children, for my community, for my nation, for my world.

I should not need to look far. I am and should find happiness in the alarm clock – in the running shoes. In the dirty dishes, that transform themselves under my great care and safe tutelage into sparkling clean ones.

I should find happiness in a well-folded shirt. In an empty e-mail inbox. In a to-do list completely crossed off. In watching my son hit a double. In reading a story my daughter has written. In throwing crusts of bread, in throwing the whole piece out for the squirrels and the chipmunks and the sparrows and chickadees.

I should find happiness in the pen – in using it dry from my words on the push. I should find happiness win a well-covered page. I should find happiness in a well-read book. In a philosophical insight. In a historical lesson I can only now understand.

I should find happiness in ladybugs – in empty wine glasses – in watermelon rinds and runny noses on a winter’s morning. I should find happiness in a lit candle, burning to fend off to ward off to beat away the darkness of night.

I should find happiness in a hug from my mother. In a smile from my brother. In the touch of my lover. In the morning wind, in the stinging rain, in a subway car too full for me to squeeze in. I should find happiness in an evening newscast, and in laying my head on the pillow at night.

And – I should – So I Do.

Writing practice – 3/2/2018 – Vacation

Write about a family vacation…

Anticipation. Of fun, of laughter, of some danger. Of spending too much money on tourist traps. Of the inevitable arguments, about who is on who’s side, who touched what, who gets to sit in the good seat.

Planning. Of how to get there. Of what to do. Of where to go, where to stay, how much to pack. Be spontaneous or scheduled? Be open or structured? Be regular or non-traditional? Make memories either way, any way.

Packing. What will be on the first day? And the second? What do you put in your carry-on and what do you put in the bag that you pack on the back. Shirts, pants, shoes, belts. Toothpaste, shampoo. Phone charger. Charge cord.

Driving. Which route? And then, when we get into the car, do you put on the GPS immediately? Or do you try to wing it for a little while? Flinging it is just much more fun, because you don’t have to worry about rigid schedules, and you have the flexibility to deviate to that “world’s largest Golf Tee” exhibition when ever the mood strikes.

Driving. Driving. Driving. Stop at a rest stop, for a bathroom break. Clowns-out-of-a-Volkswagen first. Stumble up to the restrooms, evacuate bladders. Then approach the vending machines – find them “OUT OF ORDER”. Swear under your breath. Back to the car, hit the trunk and break open the packed snacks. Drive.

Drive. Drive. Play the “alphabet game”. Lose to the six-year-old who saw the sign for “Quincy’s Down-Home Restaurant” first and therefore got to R, then S, then T before anyone else was even close. An insurmountable lead, enough to take it all the way to the Z and earn the first traveling trophy of the trip.

Drive. Drive. Arrive. Tumble out of the van once again. Tumble into the condo, like cats exploring in their new environment. “Check out the bathrooms.” “Did you see that grill?” “Oooh, the view is spectacular!” “Hey, the neighbors have a license plate from Montana, that’s a hell of a drive.” Discover. Settle. Regroup. Smile. Hug. Huddle & plan for the next day. Unwind with a glass of wine and beer on the porch while the kids watch SNL reruns on the pull-out downstairs.

Smile. Hold hands. Stare at the moon. Enjoy family, for tomorrow it starts all over again, and wish this moment to last for as long as it can until the memory is indelibly etched into your mind, permanent, an artwork notable for it makes the whole world better for its existence.