This One Time, My Neighbor Told Me My House is Haunted…

You may recall that until a few months ago, I was living by myself. I enjoyed the usual luxuries one does without roommates: drinking from the container, letting the dishes pile up for a week, using the spare bedroom as a giant clean/dirty/smells good enough laundry basket, going entire Saturdays without pants…it was pretty wonderful. Without anyone around to judge me or suggest that maybe I make a meal instead of eat cereal for the fourth night in a row, I turned my focus elsewhere: reading, crocheting, avoiding dishes and writing blog posts. At night, I found I had to learn the sounds of a new neighborhood. Trucks with loose metallic cargo seemed to favor my bumpy road for cruising after 11. Dogs barked. On the early summer evenings, youths held campfires long past my 9pm bedtime.

I wasn’t surprised to hear creaks on windy nights because my house is quite old. My landlord said the bathroom originally had a clawfoot tub. The woodwork is worn and grimey – no amount of orange oil will make it shine like it probably once did. The doorbell doesn’t work. There are about a half dozen phone hookups in the hall and no outlets. Most of the windows are drafty. I can confidently say that this house was built sometime between 1900-1990, assuming ten years of error.

I got used to living on my own. Though at night my ears strained, I didn’t hear strange sounds. While I unpacked, I had passing thoughts like: “I bet more than one person has died in this house. And I bet none of their spirits wants me living here.” I’m a pretty rational person, but sometimes my imagination does sprints. I call them sprints because it’s just a quick idea that is dismissed as quickly as it arose. A loud pop in the middle of the night isn’t the spirit of a widow telling me that she is the only person allowed to crochet within these walls. It’s just the house – its materials expanding and contracting from the temperature and humidity fluctuations. The darkness I saw in the corner of gaze when I directed my attention to the other side of the room isn’t a ghost, it’s just a shadow. Basically, I’m able to tell my imagination to chill out.

For the most part, I really enjoyed living on my own, but eventually I came to a crossroads. When the weather got nicer, I was less inclined to work more than 40 hours. No longer working 50-60 hours each week, I found that I could afford to do one of two things: continue living on my own and maintain a life perfecting the art of isolation OR clean up the giant unorganized laundry basket and find a roommate and enjoy life outside my living room. My best friend had been searching for a place to live, so it didn’t take long to find a roommate.

Andrea arrived on a Sunday evening, and right away we started crocheting and watching Netflix. Because I had moved in alone, I figured my very observabt neighbor downstairs might question a strange girl entering my apartment. That Monday after work, I came home and Emily was sweeping the driveway.

“Hi Emily!” I said. “I just wanted to let you know that I have a friend staying with me for a while. She might be moving in, but it’s not set in stone.”

“Oh okay,” she said. “Thanks for letting me know. The more the merrier!”

“Yeah, she’s filling out an application and we’ll find out soon. But until things are figured out, she’ll be staying here for a while.”

“Was she here last week?”

“No, she just got here last night,” I said.

“Oh okay. Well I was just wondering because sometimes when you’re not home, I hear footsteps upstairs. Do you believe in that sort of thing? I hear things like that all the time here.”

Three things: First, when you said that, my first thought was not “OMG MY APARTMENT IS HAUNTED.” My first thought was “WHO THE HELL IS IN MY APARTMENT WHEN I’M NOT HOME?” Second, why did you jump so quickly from a friend couch-surfing to spirits who stomp around in the middle of the day? Third, why did you not wait for my answer before reporting that you’re constantly hearing weird shit in the house we share?

I sort of stammered. “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t really believe in that stuff. When I hear something at night, I’m usually able to talk myself down from being scared.”

“Well, I’ll tell you,” she said. She got that look in her eyes like she was teaching me something and I ought to listen. “One night, probably about three months after my husband died, I woke up in the middle of the night and there were three white figures standing next to my bed,” she told me. “It was a mother, a father, and a little girl. The were very benevolent and seemed to just want me to know that they were there.”

WHAT THE HELL, EMILY? YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE MY SWEET ELDERLY NEIGHBOR WHO LEAVES THE BACK HALL LIGHT ON FOR ME AT NIGHT – NOT THE WOMAN WHO GIVES ME NIGHTMARES.

“You’re giving me goosebumps!”

“Oh, I’m sorry!” she said. “You know, it was probably just a dream or something. It was probably nothing.”

I laughed and rubbed my forearms, despite the warm sun.

“Anyway, thanks for letting me know about your friend. I won’t be worried if I see somebody coming and going during the day then.”

I imagine the ghosts preferred my apartment empty.

I imagine the ghosts preferred my apartment empty.

I told her to have a nice night and went up to my apartment. Andrea was gone, so I couldn’t tell her what happened. To distract myself from visions of white figures and heavy formless footsteps, I turned on some music and read a book on the couch. About an hour later, the album had ended and I was immersed in my book when I heard footsteps. They were in the attic. All those cliches happened: my heart raced, I wanted to scream but couldn’t find the air.

“HEWWOOOOOO!”

No, that wasn’t a toddler ghost’s greeting. It was just Andrea. Somehow, her footsteps on the front porch reverberated to sound like they were directly above me. Or maybe the ghosts were playing aural tricks on me. It’s anybody’s guess, really.

For about a week after Emily told me that story, I was afraid to open my eyes at night. I frequently woke in the middle of the night, confident that three alabaster figures would be on the other side of my eyelids. A few times, I ever reached to turn off my bedside lamp with my eyes closed. Why does my anxious subconscious believe that ghosts flee when I twist the switch of my lamp? Probably because there’s never been any ghosts there when I turn on the light.

It’s strange, isn’t it? I spend the majority of my existence rationalizing the world around me. I appreciate that most things can be explained. Cause and effect creates a beautifully consistent environment. What would life be in a world without consistencies? Houses would be creatures, the pops and cracks in the night just gurgles of their digestive systems. Sweeping a driveway one day made it clean and dirty the next. Sounds wouldn’t travel in waves, but violet clouds of varying density, the volume based on the intensity of the purple. Life wouldn’t be based on things like pumping blood and brain oxygenation, but the mood of people who remember you, and your appearance would vary, a la Dorian Gray’s portrait. And just when you had one of these things figured out, another would change and throw your understanding of everything.

I like my world of reason and not many things fool me. But in the middle of the night my imagination allows stories like Emily’s to make me reconsider everything that has made me feel sane. 

Painting the walls and getting an air conditioner probably pissed the ghosts off too.

Painting the walls and getting an air conditioner probably pissed the ghosts off too.

Later that night, Emily called me to apologize. She told me that she should have kept her mouth shut and that she was probably bothered by grief and lack of sleep. I told her that it wasn’t a problem and that I would be just fine. “I haven’t heard anything strange since I moved in, so I’m sure I won’t hear anything tonight.”

But really, I was like, “OH NO, LADY. There are no takebacksies in this game! You said you hear footsteps when I’m not here. The seed has already been planted. I won’t see pleasant dreams for weeks, thanks to you.”

When my sleeping returned to normal, Andrea told me that supposedly Emily had gotten out of the shower to find DON’T BE AFRAID written in the steam on her bathroom mirror. THANKS, NEIGHBOR. Emily lives alone. The only explanation is ghosts. Or her grandchildren playing jokes on her. Or Emily is a liar.

Cicadapocalypse 2013: Reminiscences on Freaky Insects

I’ve been seeing a lot about the cicadas taking over the east coast right now. Apparently this seventeen year brood is causing a racket in the heavily populated areas with their mating calls. The Atlantic Wire says, “It will be loud. It will be gross. It will be pretty annoying.” After they’ve shed their exoskeleten on trees and lawns, they’ll irritate everyone, and get their freak on before dying. The new offspring will burrow into the ground, to live as xylem-sucking nymphs.

Holy mother of god. This is the stuff of my nightmares.

Until I was 23, I thought a cicada was a bird. I never paid attention in science classes, so I missed the bit about cicadas not being adorable songbirds. I must have seen the word in poem and used the whimsical context to determine it was a summer-singing bird. Because of its distinct sound, it’s supposed to be one of the most recognized insects in the world. At 23, I had been using the internet for about ten years, so you would have thought I would have asked all-knowing google about that summer buzz. I just never did.

When I was ten, an aunt told me it was a cicada. I noted that it had a unique call. Since I heard the sound so often, I thought it was a sadly common bird. I pictured a small grey thing with pink-flecked wings, anxiously flitting between tree branches.

Two summers ago, I traveled with my boyfriend at the time, Bill, and his father to Oklahoma to take Bill to grad school. They had loaded up the family SUV with Bill’s drums, leaving a pigeonhole in the back seat for me. I didn’t really know what to expect on the ride. His family was different than mine. Their conversations revolved around current events, politics, technology, and biology-heavy discussions about mysteries like why caffeine affects 40-somethings more than 20-somethings.

Somewhere in Illinois, I was awoken from a dramamine doze to a thunderous buzz that was different from the semi hums and vibration of tires beneath me. “What is that sound?” I asked.

“Cicadas,” Bill’s father said.

I pictured hundreds of grey birds. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard more than one at a time.”

“They’re probably in those clusters of trees along the highway,” He said. “Those are some weird bugs.”

I looked to the rearview mirror to see if Wyatt was joking. He was wearing sunglasses and not smiling. “When I was little, I thought they were birds,” I lied.

Bill laughed at the absurdity of it.

As I experienced that distinct sensation of inner humiliation, I realized this trip was going to be a lesson in my ignorance. I started to make a list of things to google when I got home.

“They make that buzzing sound with tymbals,” his father said, glancing over his right shoulder for a lane change, the sunset reflecting in his sunglasses. “They’re sort of like ribs that contract and buckle inwards. That’s what makes the click. It’s the males’ mating call.”

Cicada, tymbal.

The first time, I remember hearing the call of a cicada was while chalking the sidewalk. Kneeling on the pavement, I clutched a knobby piece of yellow chalk. My eyes squinted in the bright sun as I tried to detect the source. It was electric and jarring, beginning modestly, then roaring to fortissimo only to quickly diminuendo to silence.

I decided it was the telephone pole, where the wires met. I figured the words were compressed and encrypted in the lonesome dark yarns. By some strange set of mathematics, they eventually settled into syllables and pauses. Happy with my conclusion, I studied the imprints of the sidewalk on my knees. The flesh was pink and achy from the cement’s angry pressure. I began to draw a telephone, crawling to draw the curlicue cord, ignoring the pulsing pain on my kneecaps.

When we finally reached Oklahoma, the three of us walked around Bill’s new campus. We were standing outside the music building when Wyatt noticed a cicada shell on a sycamore tree. He plucked the shell off the melty-looking bark. “They shed their skins after they emerge from the ground. It ends up just clinging to the bark,” Wyatt said.

I remember shuddering and leaning into Bill. “That’s creepy,” I said. The papery silhouette rested massless between Wyatt’s fingers. I imagined the thing springing to life and buzzing maniacally into my hair. Bill watched his father study the shell and smiled when I caught his eye. I was embarrassed and wondered what he would say if he knew I was just then solidifying an image of the creature whose sound had so perplexed me as a child.

“They have some really weird life cycles,” Wyatt said. “Some are pretty short, just five years or so. But some have seventeen-year cycles.”

“Seventeen years?” I asked.

“Yeah. It was developed as a defense against predators.”

“Okay,” I said, waiting for more information. I figured if I agreed it would reassure him that yes, I was on the same intellectual place as he and that I was following the conversation completely. But of course, I was embarrassed. Why did this work? What difference did it make if the cicada was seventeen-year species or a two-year? Couldn’t they still be preyed upon? Wyatt talked about it in such a plain, matter of fact way –  like he was telling me something I probably already knew. I didn’t bother asking.

“They eat xylem from the roots of trees,” Wyatt went on. “They spent most of their time underground. I think as adults they drink sap.” He invited me to look closer at the skin. Setting aside my girlish fear of its attack, I leaned in. Thin and translucent, it was the hue of an old newspaper. It reminded me of a tiny, elaborately-designed balloon animal. I could crush it without effort. For a moment, I might be able to forget my embarrassment. Just maybe, if I could crush the molted skin, I could reverse the fact that I had never paid attention in science classes. If that wasn’t possible, then I could at least ignore my ignorance.

Cicada, tymbal, xylem. 

I think the trip took four or five days roundtrip. After leaving Bill in a sort of dumpy apartment in Edmond, Wyatt and I spent the fifteen hour ride listening to Merchant of Venice, talking about his first cooking experience (burnt tomato soup), and Bill’s need to substitute the cream and cheese in alfredo sauce for a béchamel. He was a walking encylcopedia. I was the foolish girl dating his son – pretending to be confident despite the fact I knew nothing.

It took me a while, but the shame of my ignorance faded. After googling my list (cicada, tymbal, xylem, brood, Phillip Pullman, the history of Route 66, 3D technology, Merchant of Venice, béchamel), I realized I didn’t have to live in a constant state of wonder. I walked around with the largest encyclopedia in my purse. The answer to any of my wildest queries was dependent only on the strength of my 3g connection.

So for those of my readers who are enduring the cicadapocalypse, don’t worry. A quick google search will reassure you that it’s not one of the seven plagues – just a bunch of hideous and super horny insects.

Brighton Beach

The following is an essay that I am currently revising in preparation to share with my writers’ group. Enjoy!

We ripped off the top of my rusty Geo Tracker and hopped in, not sure of the destination. Heather, Carissa, and I took turns choosing songs on my ipod, each one full of adolescent lust – an ache for attention with the dull throbbing of discontentedness. As we listened and sang, we fell more in love with the night.

It was a clear night and the sky reminded me of sailors in the fifties – navy uniforms that made hearts thud in anticipation. The stars were brighter and dustier than I had seen in a year, full of the promise of summer’s arrival. The evening air had traces of the day’s earlier humidity and we welcomed it as it pummeled the bare skin of our arms. It was the night of my high school graduation and the three of us ignored the loud houses we passed, containing my red-faced peers sucking down cheap beer. The city was full of kids ready to move on to the next step. It didn’t matter what came next, as long as it didn’t include the dingy, noisy lockers of high school. Before any of us had felt the crazed spontaneity of a drunken night, we were content with our innocent endeavors. The most toxic thing about our Friday nights were the lattes purchased at the coffee shop while we wasted the gas money our parents had given us, swirling around the tri-city area.

As the engine churned away miles, we passed memories back and forth. We agonized over lost relationships and slid gossip across an unseen table. We wondered what would happen in three months when I left for college and they stayed behind to finish high school.

“Ashley, don’t worry. We’ll visit every other weekend,” Heather said. “It’s not like there’s anything to do in Menasha.”

“Yeah,” Carissa said. “You can show us around the big city that is Stevens Point and tell us what it’s like to be in college.”

Smiling to myself, I imagined a cramped dorm room and the idea of big pit classes with cranky professors in argyle. I was looking forward to the independence, though the idea scared me a bit.

“Heather, remember the time we were camping with my family and we stole my mom’s wine coolers after she went to sleep?” I changed the subject.

“Omigod that was so funny!” Heather shrieked, then told Carissa the story.

We talked about our first kisses and blushed, remembering the faces of those boys. We pondered how eye colors changed and tried to define what it felt like to be in love.

“It’s exhausting,” Heather said. “It’s beautiful, but I hate feeling like I depend on Jim, it makes me feel crazy.” She paused, watching her hand grabbing at the air. “It’s overwhelming – obsessive and time consuming, but it smothers you just right.”

Carissa was staring beyond the car, watching a couple walk lazily with fingers intertwined. “It’s perfection. It’s like you have all the puzzle pieces and you can accomplish everything.”

I paused to think of what I knew I love. I knew enough to know I had never been in love. I had dated a few boys, nothing very serious, but each time I let myself get carried away.  “I think of an hourglass,” I said. “My brain empties, but my heart fills up.”

After driving around for an hour, Heather decided she wanted to go swimming. “It’s frickin’ hot,” she said. “Ashley, take us to the beach.”

“Heather, you do realize that the beach is probably closed, right?” Carissa asked.

“Well screw that. I want to swim.” Heather was the youngest of us. Spunky and stubborn, she was never afraid to mouth off to her mother or to tell her boyfriend he was being a moron.

So I drove to the beach, which was, in fact, closed. It was ridiculous to think that a lake could be closed. A chain link fence was all that blocked us from the cool water. Heather jumped out the back seat of the car. “I’ll meet you in there.” She walked over to the fence and found footing in the links. “The beach is open when I say it is.”

Carissa and I stood behind, waiting for Heather to leap off the other side before climbing ourselves. While we fumbled over, she stood impatiently.

“Imma beat you there!” Heather exclaimed, running and pulling her shirt over her head. Carissa skipped out of her jeans. I peeled off my tank top. Thundering into the water, we let out girlish squeals, not expecting our skin to be met with such shocking coldness.

In a few seconds, we grew quiet as our bodies adjusted to the water. Eventually it felt warm and didn’t seem to mind that the three of us were in nothing but bras and panties. It welcomed our splashes as we floated on our backs and looked at the stars.

“When I was little, I used to think stars were crumbs from the moon, “I said, breaking the silence.

“Ashley, you sound like a crackhead,” Heather said.

“Shut up, Heather.” Carissa pushed her underwater.

“Ya bitch!” Heather spat when she surfaced.

While we splashed and laughed, I paused momentarily. Remember this moment, I told myself. I tried to soak in everything about the instant – the far off blinking buoys, early summer’s sticky yawn, the sandy clinging to my ankles, and the shimmering laughter of my two best friends. Soon, adulthood would be upon me and I would no longer be able to enjoy childlike moments deserving to be cast in porcelain. I wished suddenly that I had an album full of the last year: the Friday nights spent in party dresses, eating pancakes and crepes at IHOP, disgusted by the taste of lingonberries, exchanging Christmas gifts while pretending to be drunk off of sparkling grape juice, groaning with laughter as Heather sang Disney tunes and danced with her cat, the night we painted Heather’s room, only to have the project turn into a colorful fight, with us hurling fistfuls of paint that left flakes of green and yellow in our hair. I inhaled as deeply as I could, as if I could savor the flavor of adolescence and girlhood all in one gulp.

An hour later, we stepped out of the water drenched with moonlight. We picked up whatever clothes we could find, not bothering to give the right shirt or bottom to the right girl. When we came to the fence we threw the heap of clothing to the other side, pausing for the moment when the heavy jeans and t-shirts were silhouetted in the streetlight. We climbed the fence, no longer talking or laughing. All I could do was breathe in the summer air and smile to myself. In the car, I turned on a song that we all knew the words to. Together we sang out, “Someday you will find me caught beneath the landslide, in a champagne supernova in the sky, a champagne supernova, ‘cause we don’t believe that they’re gonna get away from the summer, but you and I will never die, the world’s still spinning around and we don’t know why…

Returning the Ring

As I discussed in an earlier post, I have mixed feelings about autobiographical fiction. The following is very, very much based in reality. I wrote it about two years ago as an autobiographical fiction assignment for my personal narrative class. I suppose I could tell you what parts are fictional, but that would take away all the mystery and fun, wouldn’t it?

By the way, any feedback and comments are appreciated.

_____

I left my car running in the driveway. The exhaust coughed as I walked to his front door with a plastic bag. It was sometime before seven and Scott was sure to be in bed for at least another four hours.

Good morning, love. I hope you have a wonderful day!

My day was already planned. Feeling sorry for myself after a night of little sleep, I had called in sick to work. The idea of spending eight hours typing useless data and making numbed small talk with women in surrounding cubicles was just too much. After graciously returning Scott’s belongings, I would stop into the coffee shop and get a quad-shot iced americano that, between the sickly bitter espresso and obnoxious amount of ice, would eventually give me a headache. That headache would later be dulled with a half bottle of vodka and fruit juice while I got bikini baked.

Don’t let David hit on you anymore, otherwise Imma have to go down to Ohio to beat his ass. 

His junk had to go. A cello concerto scribbled on a stack of staff paper, a Russian textbook I had borrowed, pit-stained undershirts I had begged him to bleach, and a six pack of Leinie’s Red. I walked up to the front porch and dropped it all into a heap. I dug into my pocket for the last item – a ring of his grandmother’s.

xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxxo

The tiny pile insulted me. After a year, this was all I had to show. Scott wasn’t the nesting type, apparently. Not with me anyway. He never said sweet things to me. I figured he just had the quiet kind of affection. So of course it was a little surprising to see that he was willing to send adorations via text to a girl who lived three states away.

I’m going to rehearsal now, but I’ll be thinking of you the whole time. xoxo

I wanted the revenge to be grand. I wanted him humiliated. Everything I could think of seemed so typical: Spraying painting “cheater” across the front of his house. Salting the lawn. Sprinkling sugar in his gas tank. Putting his name and number in the craigslist casual encounters. Signing him up for subscriptions to eight different fetish magazines. Slamming an axe into the hood of his car. Buying a billboard and listing his indiscretions. I wanted to do it all though. I wanted to make his life as difficult as possible.

I wanted him to burn with shame the way I had when I had seen the text messages the night before. Scanning his inbox, I found he told this “Belle” that he loved her more times in the previous five hours than he had in eleven months with me. The worst part was that the texts were burned into my memory and kept playing on repeat like a short film.

I love you, Belle. 

I put the ring between my teeth and reached to tear pages out of the Russian textbook and shred his concerto. I ripped the t-shirts in half while considering what to do with the ring. I could toss it in the lawn and let the lawn mower jam up next time he mowed. I could somehow melt it down into the shape of a dog turd and send it with a friendly note.

I wanted that ring to be destroyed. He had left the other things with me without a thought. He had copies of the concerto on his computer. The textbook was two editions old, and he neither remembered nor cared about the vocabulary and verbs. I cracked open a beer and tipped it upside down, soaking the pile.

Next door, a neighbor was unraveling a hose to water his flowers. He watched while I smiled, waved, and reached for another bottle. I poured all six onto his things.

It started to feel good. Almost as good as I had felt the night before, slapping him across the face.

I wish I could be there to hold you as you fell asleep tonight. 

But this ring was more than all of that. It was still resting between my front teeth and saliva, no longer held back by tight lips, was beginning to creep out of the corners. He had given it to me two months earlier, on the morning of an audition. We had spent the better part of a year at universities two hours apart and I had decided to transfer to his university. I told my friends I was transferring to save money, but I really did it to be closer to Scott. He had encouraged me, saying it was obvious that music was in my soul and that I should study with the violin professor at his university.

“Literature doesn’t suit you,” he told me. “But it’s obvious that music is your real passion.”

Flattered by his apparent ability to realize things about myself that I didn’t, I prepared an audition to complete my minor. He had done his best to convince me to change degrees altogether, but I wasn’t willing to dedicate four more years to a bachelor’s degree. While my fingers were callusing and my neck developed a persistent red mark from my violin, Scott encouraged me and told me he was looking forward to playing in the orchestra with me.

On the morning of the audition, I was running through the second movement of the Haydn concerto in a moist practice room when he had knocked on the door, an americano in one hand and the other in his pocket. “Morning, love,” he said. “How’s it going?”

“I’m nervous. I can’t get the double stops right in the cadenza,” I said, taking the americano from his hand. “I mean, I can get them right half the time, but the other half sounds like crap.”

“You have nothing to worry about,” Scott said, kissing my forehead. He sat down on the piano bench. “You’re going to get in no problem. Half the violinists here suck anyway. Play a little for me.”

I took a drink from the americano, ignoring how it burnt my tongue and focusing instead on the tensions in my body. My left shoulder had a knot. My wrists were sore. The spot on my neck felt raw. My fingers were sweaty and rigid. The caffeine I was sucking down wasn’t going to help me feel any less shaky. I handed the drink to Scott and picked up my violin. While I played, Scott watched. I got through the cadenza perfectly. When I finished, he stood up and kissed me again.

“I’m proud of you, Ashley,” he told me, hugging me. “Like I said before, you’re going to do just fine. There’s no reason to stress.”

“I know, I just haven’t done this in a while.”

“I want to give you something,” Scott said. He reached into his pocket, retrieved the ring, and pressed it into my hand. “It’s for luck.”

“Thank you,” I said, looking at it. A think silver band with small dots framing a smooth center. It made me think of a zipper. I slid it over my right ring finger, not wanting him to think I thought it signified an engagement or promise.

“It used to be my grandmother’s. It’s really not worth anything, but I wanted you to have it,” he said. “I found it in my dresser the other day.”

“Thank you,” I said, a little amazed he had given me a family ring. “It’s really nice of you.”

His jaw got tight and he suddenly looked like he regretted giving it to me. “It’s not like…you know, a ring ring.” he said. “It’s not an heirloom or anything, just something my grandfather made for my grandma and I somehow got a hold of it.”

“Don’t worry, I know. An engagement ring would have to have a big ol’ diamond, anyway,” I joked, sensing his discomfort.

I still think he’s an asshole.

I took the ring out of my mouth and looked at it. Slimy with my spit, it shined a bit more than usual. It was ugly. I had recognized that the moment he gave it to me. Since it was too big for any of my fingers, I had put it on a chain of beads and occasionally wore them around my neck. He had given it to me halfheartedly so I wore it halfheartedly. Maybe it was his last ditch effort to commit to me. By giving me a tangible sign of commitment – even if it was a worthless piece of family jewelry – maybe he felt like he would have to fully commit to me. Maybe it was a peace offering when I didn’t realize there was a conflict. Maybe it was a pathetic attempt at making up for what I was about to find in a few weeks. Whatever it was, it didn’t make much sense.

I remembered his face the night before, when he came into the room, seeing me with his phone my hand. Shocked. Eyes and mouth gaping. Taking a second and hoping the worst hadn’t happened, he swallowed and asked, “Did I miss a call?”

“No, but who the fuck is ‘Belle My Dearest’?”

Suddenly I realized the emptiness in my stomach. I blinked hard and dropped the ring on the pile. I took the empty bottles, placed each neatly in the cardboard caddy, and crowned the weepy mound.

How I avoid writing on a typical day

When I sat down to write this, I had a cup of coffee which I needed to drink first. My brain was too tired and moving too slowly to be productive at all. Since I couldn’t write while drinking coffee, I decided to browse facebook. On facebook, I looked at old pictures and saw how thin my face used to be. Then I looked in the mirror to see how round it had become. My eyelids looked heavy (from the lack of caffeine), my skin pale and blotched from acne scars, and my lips were cracked. I was distracted by my appearance. I felt ugly and unproductive, so obviously I had to take a shower. I wanted to feel really good so I took a long time showering. I let my skin soak in all the hot water, then I scrubbed with a loofa until I was covered in milky peach-scented suds. I shaved carefully, using shaving cream and a fresh razor. I returned to my computer in my robe, having decided to let my hair air-dry. But then it gave me the chills so I had to blow-dry it. Then I had to curl it, otherwise it would look bad for the rest of the day.

Since I did my hair, I had to do my makeup, though I did it quickly (powder, blush, mascara). Then I had to get dressed. I wanted to be comfortable, but I didn’t want to have to change later, so I chose a favorite pair of jeans and a sweater.

Then I sat down to write. By then, my coffee had grown cold and I needed to get a fresh cup. My brain still wasn’t awake, but I forced myself to write anyway.

While I was writing, I was distracted, worrying about the weather for the rest of the week. Then I thought about the piece I had worked on a few weeks back and decided to return to that draft. If I was going to get anything published, it needed to be polished and that was the closest complete piece I had.

But I had started this piece and I didn’t want to lose focus, so I continued writing this one, the one about the miss to ma’am business, the essay that’s been floating around in my head for the last month or so. So I continued with this one, though I wasn’t happy with how the setting was described. I needed the coffee shop to come alive. I needed the high school boys to be both vivid characters and essential components of the setting. But I just needed it to get out, I would return to it later, so I moved onto the dialog. The dialog read like the conversation, but there was too much white space.

There’s always too much white space with my dialog. It’s a cheap way to get the page count up, right?

Then I moved onto the pinnacle moment, the point where I cease to feel like a girl and begin to feel like a woman. There’s that moment, not of intersection or overlap, but a vacuum of a moment, in which there is no sense of self, only questioning. I wanted to describe that moment, that void of identity, but I couldn’t do it. I thought of describing the way my toes were squeezed into my shoes or about how I used to wiggle a utensil between bites in hopes that might illustrate the anxiety a girl feels when her sense of self is changing demographics. But it wasn’t working.

So I said I would return to it. I knew what would come next. I knew the strange boy needed to say that thing about my shoes and that the other one would tease him, and that Heather would say something dumb, so I could write that in later. I would return to it. Hemingway would always stop at a point where he knew what would happen next. In a sense, he never had a “complete” writing session, just thousands of them threaded together by thoughts and ideas. Brilliant bastard.

At this point, it looks more like a short story, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s supposed to be a personal essay, so I should be reflecting, shouldn’t I? So I tried to muse a little bit. I mused about femininity and what it meant to be a girl and what it meant to be a woman. The result was a pathetic list of self-indulgent behaviors that made me realize that despite the fact I’m 24, according to my own list of qualifiers, I’m very much a girl and not a woman.

So then I looked in the mirror and saw a girl, and I decided to make myself look like a woman. I tried to put on lipstick, since that’s a thing women do, and found that I don’t know how to apply it. So I watched five videos on youtube about how to get the perfect red lips. I reapplied the lipstick to find that I don’t like how I look with lipstick. And that I hate the way it feels – like a thin layer of half-dried Elmer’s glue that eventually sucks all the moisture out of my lips.

Then I sat and wondered what the harm was in being a girl and not a woman. Girls just want to have fun. Women just want to have babies. Right? Isn’t that the real difference?

Two hours after sitting down with the initial cup of coffee, I decided I had done enough work. I had left off at a Hemingway stopping point anyway, so I would have no problem returning to get some real work done the next day.

Right?