Tag Archives: first person

A Break-up Story: Vanessa

This guest post brought to you by Mani Afsari. Don’t forget to write for the Theme Thursday tonight! 🙂

**

I cringed when my phone went off, knowing full well who it was and what she wanted.  Somehow she had gotten the idea that we were a couple and therefore requested my attention and my company on a regular basis.  Such requests had never bothered me before, but with an inability to commit even an ounce of my freedom toward somebody else, I felt chained down.

“You should come over tonight for dinner, I’ll make us pasta.”

Hesitantly I looked at the text message like an obstacle to overcome.  I had already avoided her “I got laid off today” party the previous night, by telling her that I was busy.  I felt that I couldn’t use that excuse again.

I started to think of reasons.  Medical issues I’ve always thought were the dumbest excuses.  If I were sick, I’d like to see my girlfriend more than anyone.  I couldn’t use family emergencies either since I am not willing to lie about family problems to further my own agenda.  All I had left was that I was busy, which I wasn’t.  Back at square one.

I flipped open my phone, making sure to look up at the busy road, shift gears, and still type the message.  It was a fool’s idea of multitasking and had gotten me into near misses more than once.  I wish I had had something better to say.  I wished that I could’ve liked her more, that I didn’t pick her apart like I did.  I wish I didn’t have all these emotional issues.  In the end all I could come up with was “I’m busy tonight.”

Vanessa was no idiot.  She knew what was happening but still tried to fix it.  I had to make sure that she couldn’t.

I had already lined up another date for the following night with a tall, dark haired, incredibly skinny, full breasted girl.  I already felt bad enough about having planned this date while Vanessa was in the room next to me, after which I followed her back to her apartment to spend the night.  I could not bear the thought of continuing this “fling” that we had and having a date on the side as well.  I had known from the first date that Vanessa and I were not going to work out, but the idea of having someone with whom to share moments, sexual gratification, and alleviated loneliness seemed reason enough for me to indulge the relationship that we had.

I was looking to sabotage whatever it was that Vanessa and I had.  In order to do that, I had convinced myself that we had irreconcilable differences and that I was acting rationally.  I had blamed her for having too high of a sex drive, a problem which most men laugh at when mentioned.  Almost the whole of the time that Vanessa and I shared together was spent with me inside of her.  She thought she was showing me affection, but I wanted more than that. I blamed her.  Her hair was always a mess. I couldn’t stand the way she laughed.  She was not a good kisser.  (She wasn’t bad, but I found her style of kissing to be intense and therefore undesirable.)

“I think we moved too fast” was the only explanation I gave her.  My emotions were torn. I did not personally care for this girl.  I had no connection to her, and I did not even want to keep her as a friend.  The guilt came from knowing what the receiving end of that kind of apathetic behavior felt like.  Having been in her position and knowing full well the emotional damage that rejection of this kind can have, I could feel her pain as I drove on to work.  Surprisingly, the one benefit that these wounds have accomplished for me is complete disinterest in the feelings of other people, which made it easier to just walk away from Vanessa rather than confront the situation head on.

She sent me two more messages, neither of which I responded to, not because I had nothing to say but because I was afraid of the repercussions of continuing the conversation.  I knew that it could only end in her telling me how terrible a person I was.  In the first message she reminded me that it was my idea to go to the bedroom on the second date.  True as the statement was, at the time I was only voicing what Vanessa, straddling my lap, subconsciously grinding on me, was too embarrassed to say.  Regardless, she had at that time managed to keep her mouth shut, and I had not.

I hoped that it would be her final words, but I was wrong.  She left the conversation open ended.  She asked me to call her whenever I got my “shit together.”  From any other girl this statement would have been sarcastic, but with Vanessa meant it.

n20531316728_2397Share on Facebook
twitterShare on Twitter
del_icio_usSave to del.icio.us
digg
Digg it
redditSave to Reddit
aolfavEven more ways to bookmark

Author: Mani Afsari

Leave a comment

Filed under Creative nonfiction, Features, Guest author, Writing

Theme Thursday: Cleanliness

I know that school is starting up and that it puts a crunch on readership both to see the site and too contribute. The majority of readers are either students or teachers at one level of education or another (and I, myself, am a student). Participate when you can, and no hard feelings if you miss a week or five.

Also remember, though, that this is not a commercial publication and that while around three hundred people may see your entry, it doesn’t have to consistently be your best. I won’t chew you out for posting something raw one week, and the entries–as some were two weeks ago–can be as short as a sentence or as long as a fully flushed-out essay. There’s no structure to this game other than theme, and you shouldn’t concern yourself too much with making sure that your submission is crystal clear and flawless.

Thank you for all of the new entries, contributors, and I look forward to this new week of posts!

This week’s theme: Cleanliness

It’s next to godliness. Perhaps I could’ve saved it for spring, but now seems as good a time as any!

Also, a narrative follows, to make you feel a little dirty.

Guidelines

The only right I assume from you posting a comment is that I am able to host your work on this blog for non-commercial purposes with attribution. You keep all other rights.

I do have plans to attempt to monetize this site once the boulder rolls a little further down hill, but at this point there are NO ASSUMPTIONS OF COMMERCIAL RIGHTS. I will contact authors on an individual basis for any and all commercial purposes.

Make the entries as short or as long as you want, and any genre is fair game: fiction, non-, and poetry. Publish in comments stories, no matter how polished or raw, according to the game of the week. If I like your story, I’ll contact you and ask for permission to remix your work, which I’ll post with the next week’s contest.

You have one week to submit your story, and please, please do. I don’t want this site to be my literary masturbation. Join me, and perhaps get some free editing and mentoring along the way!

**

The original (authored by Mani):

I had sex in public, and the police officer told me that it was a felony of the the third degree. Homedepot ended up throwing away the mattress and we were never allowed to return.

The remix:

I held her right hand with my left and carried the bag over my shoulder. The heat in the Texas parking lot made the air shiver with energy. My palm sweated against hers, but that wasn’t what had me excited.

Some of the store clerks looked at us oddly as we passed, but they must’ve assumed the bag was a return since they went back about their business. Her middle finger tickled my palm, and as I looked over at her, she smiled. Her head tucked down, and she used her other hand to pull her long brown hair back. The shame excited her, I could tell, but I didn’t feel ashamed. We were about to put on a hell of a show.

Orange metal framed our experience as we worked deeper into the store. The stale, conditioned air settled in around, making the moisture in my hand tingle. I could also trace goosebumps rolling along the nape of her neck, all the way up under the sensitive skin of her earlobe.

I resisted the temptation to look at the wares as we walked past saws, and I had to pull her past the home decoration section. My hand tugged on hers, and in our briefly connected eyes I saw her desire to escape, to check it out at least before we did the deed. But I wasn’t having any of her guff; we were here for a chore, and by God we were goin’ to do it.

The smell of cedar protected the wood section from the harsh sterile scent of the store. My chest swelled with invigoration and pride, and I gripped her hand a little tighter. A small unsure smile curved her lips. She wouldn’t be so shy in a minute, not after I had my hands on her hips.

I threw down the air mattress and got to work. Pump in, pull out, pump in, etc. At first she looked around to make sure no one was coming–she even giggled, probably at the funny little thought of getting caught. She slipped into boredom as I checked the firmness of the half-full mattress. She looked this way and that, wondering when I’d finish.

I looked her up and down as I continued to pump. The cheap and efficient white lights hung so far overhead flattened out her features, made her look like a model for any of the company’s photo advertisements. I could see the skin of her stomach complaining about the coolness of the store, much like her neck had done. The daisy dukes revealed her legs the same, her muscles dimpled with tiny bumps. Flat and bumpy, that’s how she looked.

When she leaned back against the wood-covered rack, I decided that enough was enough. I grunted at her and held out my right hand, which she took in hers. I pulled her into me and gave her a rough kiss that nearly consumed her gentle lips. She pushed against me with her hands, straining to get away and not to kiss me back; I had known it wasn’t what she wanted, but fuck what she wants. This is about me.

She started to curse when she finally got away, but the tough yank as her shirt pulled tight against her back shut her up quick. The fabric didn’t tear at the seams like I had expected but rather down the front, exposing her black bra and tight stomach. She gasped as I wrestled the rest off as if it were a vest, her arms yielding in surprise as the jersey fabric tugged down her arms.

My left hand had already penetrated her shorts, and she fell to the ground, her legs limp with shock. Instead of moaning, she ground her teeth and looked away. Well, fuck it: this isn’t about her anyway.

I bit the nape of her neck hard, perhaps too hard in my excitement: I tasted blood. Heedless, my left hand pushed aside loose skin and rough hair as my right fumbled for the button of her shorts and I bit my way down her chest. I clenched my teeth on the front-clasp of her bra until it unlocked, slapping me in the nose after pulling at my lips.

I could feel fear set in as her skin cooled under my touch. She had agreed to this, but I had seen her wavering all the way from the car, from when I had first picked her up. Perhaps a movie, she had said. I could invite a friend to come film it. I scoffed a grunt as I finally undid her shorts, and then I ripped them off.

“Hey!” I heard a male voice scream. My head snapped up in his direction, and I saw surprise paint his face. He turned to the side and yelled, “Get security!” before turning back to me and saying, “You can’t do that here, man. This isn’t that kind of shop.”

“Why do you think I’m here?” I snarled. The girl reached for her bra and tried to pry her shorts from my hand.

“Seriously, you can’t–” he started, but we never finished.

n20531316728_2397Share on Facebook
twitterShare on Twitter
del_icio_usSave to del.icio.us
digg
Digg it
redditSave to Reddit
aolfavEven more ways to bookmark

Author: Greg Freed

7 Comments

Filed under Features, Fiction, Theme Thursdays, Writing

A Relationship in Presents, Part Six: The debt

No format yet because my ‘net connection is really crappy. I still wanted to get the post up, though.

Mixed reviews about the megabus. Cheap tickets, leg room are good. Crappy customer service, poor website design, and nonfunctioning internet connection are bad. More to come.

Email me if you’re in NYC and want to meet up for coffee/drinks this weekend or if you want to attend Sadi’s book launch! 🙂

**

We enter the restaurant. A hostess grabs our attention, leads us to a nearby booth. Dark wood surrounds us. Small chandeliers light the open rooms well enough.

She tries to look into my eyes as I slide into the same bench as her, but she can’t look deeply enough. I rest my feet on the empty bench across the table. My head rolls towards her, and she looks away. The fingers of both her hands click idly against the table.

I’ve looked forward to my birthday dinner for a few weeks. Charley’s is one of my favorite haunts. Their coke tastes so good that mixing in rum almost damages it, so I don’t. After an awkward moment, the waitress brings by a full uncut dome of bread. My left lip lifts in a smile as she sets the basket on the table.

I had brought Sarah here for the first time years ago. She had noticed confusion coloring my face and asked me what was wrong. “How are we supposed to eat it?” I had asked. She picked up the whole dome and wrenched off a bite with her teeth in answer.

Now I pick it up and tear it into quarters, careful not to smoosh it. I set a piece on her plate and one on mine. Sarah picks at the insides, leaving behind hollow crusts. I butter and eat it all.

I pinch her thigh through her sweatpants, and we laugh. She says, “You owe me over seven hundred dollars.” My hand drops to my side and my smile fades. I wonder if the amount will be more after tonight since I’m supposed to be the one who pays when we go out. I mutter an affirmation and wonder how I’m going to manage paying her back.

The waitress comes by, and I order our usual meals, mine a au poivre hamburger and her the angel hair primavera.  I had ordered the au poivre so long ago just to find out what twenty-five cents worth of browned onions tasted like, and I haven’t faltered since.

I say, “I’ll get a job soon, after school settles down. Just give me a few months.” But I haven’t worked, or even looked for work, since February. I put myself back past broke, back into maxed-out credit card debt, to participate in this relationship, but I can only handle so many Boston nights, so many trips to Seattle and Vegas and now, apparently, to Texas and DC soon, soon.

She sighs. Her hand falls on mine, resting on the bench between us. She says that’s fine. The money she wants me to pay back isn’t even hers, is her father’s, who has two planes and nine cars and bought a new house so that he could rip down and rebuild his old one. It’s hard for me to imagine that he wants those few hundred dollars back, but maybe he does. Maybe it’s Sarah’s way of coaxing me off of the computer and back into the real world. Maybe she just doesn’t like the idea of me living off of her father like she does.

“I didn’t get you a present this year,” she says. Her tone is flat, perhaps unconcerned with my reaction, perhaps hyperconcerned. Even after four years of dating, seven years of friendship, it’s hard for me to tell.

I reply that it’s fine. There’s the vacations we’re taking together, Steve’s upcoming wedding, and so on. Something fundamental has changed, but I don’t think about it. Even while we’re sitting here eating, my mind is on things other than Sarah; what job I’m going to try and find, my new responsibilities as a guild officer in my video game, whether or not I’ll sleep on the couch tonight. I haven’t slept in Sarah’s bed in months.

I try Charley’s apple pie with cheese because I saw it in Thank You for Smoking and have wondered how it tasted ever since. Sarah and I walk home hand in hand. When we get there, she turns on the TV and grumbles about her how laptop’s power cord is broken. I settle under my laptop for the night and don my headset.

Around two in the morning, she asks me whether I’m going to come down tonight. I take off my headset and ask her to repeat herself. Then I say soon, which we both know means no. She goes downstairs to sleep. Around two in the afternoon, when she usually wakes up on her off days, my eyes close. I just manage to put my laptop on the ground before I’m asleep, swallowed up in couch cushions.

Leave a comment

Filed under Creative nonfiction, Presents, Writing

A Relationship in Presents, Part Five: The red dog

There’s an interesting discussion of how readers approach posts in this blog in the last post, if you’d like to participate. I also wonder how readers are seeing the posts in this series as style pieces; how do these pieces read differently to you, and what do you think the artistic point is?

Remember to leave stories for this week’s Theme Thursday! We had seven posts for the very first game last week, and I’d like to see that number beat! I’ve also finished the remix of the piece I selected from last week’s games, and I’m really looking forward to showing it to you! 🙂

**

Behind the black bars of the waist-high fence, it pouted at me as if a real dog, kenneled. The red fur looked to me like passion in faux crushed velvet. The synthetic material crowded around the plastic eyes like desire would do to me if it could, if I weren’t buried so deeply down in depression to render it helpless, a child in a well slipping against a wall he thought he could scale.

Its face asked me about abandonment, whys and what could it dos and reallys. He wanted to come along, but I wouldn’t have it. I didn’t even wait to see the arguments played out in the stuffed, unreal face.

“Why do you stay with her?” Renisha had asked me. We worked across Summer Street from each other, me at a financial corporation doing client communications and she social networking, and we met in a Starbucks caddycorner to our separate offices. “Why do you stay with her?” she asked. “You don’t have to.”

The answer was true and horrible and romantic. Like a trumpet call to start a military dirge, it bounded forth, monosyllabic and haunting. I couldn’t maintain eye contact while it hung in the air, but I saw her face drop to the table in my peripheral, expressing a mixture of pity and disgust spiced with a moment of wonder about whether love really boils down to my response. The table had no answer for her, and neither did I. As the relationship with Sarah wore on, my friendship with Renisha waned, forever stealing her chance to solve my riddle.

My love for Sarah held within it a paradox, that I wanted to spend as much time with her as possible and yet every moment I spent with her was spent not-quite-with her. And yet her very real absence from our time together made me want to spend even more time with her, up to the point where I cut out all other engagements. The downward spiral had started in the summer we first moved in together, months before that February meeting with Renisha, when Sarah and I ran out of Grey’s Anatomy episode to watch and so she moved into Solitaire.

Her laptop. My laptop. A 64” HDTV. Free Cell. Nintendo emulations. Family Fued.

“You don’t have to stay with her, you know,” Justin had said. He had come up for New Years to see us and gone home. The Thanksgiving after, when I told him that I was breaking down under he relationship, my very real dog resting on the purple microfiber chair to my right behind which the red dog had been stuffed, he told me, “You don’t have to stay with her.” I told him that I loved her, and when he asked if I was sure, I said yes. But I also told him I was breaking down.

You spin the wheel in the teacup ride at Disneyworld, and the cup spins round and round. The tangent force pulls you towards the chair, and you grab harder, pulling yourself forward and spinning, spinning. Eventually your arms fail, and the custodians tell you to stop, and the cup breaks off the ride and takes you for a horrible, unrestrained trip across the theme park, trampling families and employees and cute little crafted bushes, eventually tossing you into the castle’s pond where you drown, destitute and broken. No, nothing breaks; that’s your short little dream before the ride stops and you get ushered out of the cup, at which point you can rejoin the line if you choose or perhaps get a bite to eat.

Sarah said, “You didn’t have to do that,” when I held out her Valentine’s Day present, Lindt chocolate truffles from the store in the hotel two blocks away and a bottle of vodka with a penguin on it. She collected penguins like an obsession. I once, as a child, told friends and families that I was collecting piggy banks, an admission I always regretted, especially after I stopped my collection. Sarah had no regrets.

“It’s Valentine’s Day, and I love you,” I answered, slightly confused. The presents remained in my hand, unwrapped except for an unmarked brown bag and a Lindt plastic bag with a drawstring.

“You just didn’t have to do it is all.” She took the presents, put the vodka on her Crate and Barrel foldable bar. She kept the chocolates in her right hand but picked up a brown box with her left. “This is from my mother.”

A dog toy, a little squeezable thing. Kallion doesn’t play with toys.

“Excellent,” I said before grinding my teeth. Yes, I had bought my presents late, the night of, but it began to dawn on me that she hadn’t bought a present at all.

“I’m stuck,” I told Renisha over a sip of cinnamon cappuccino.

“You’re not,” she answered. “Why don’t you go stay with Shoshanna? You know she’d let you.”

“No dogs allowed,” I said. We paused, thinking. “Is it pathetic that I’m staying with Sarah because of my dog, like parents who won’t divorce because of the children?”

“Yes,” she answered. “It is. Your dog is not your child.”

I put the empty box by the trashcan behind the bar and tried to coax Kalli into playing with the new toy, which she ignored. Sarah watched for a moment and then went downstairs. When she came back up, I had already put myself under my computer and logged into World of Warcraft. She put on her coat from the cheap Target coat stand by the door and left without a word.

Sarah walked down Exeter to Newbury without pausing at Commonwealth—she had already taken pictures of them covered in snow—and then she walked to Fairfield. Inside, she picked up some candy from the seasonal aisle before spotting a red stuffed dog hiding on the banister above the turn in the stairwell to the basement. Retrieving it, she concluded her purchase and returned home, dropping the white plastic bag marked CVS and a large stuffed dog on the couch beside me.

Internally, I scoffed. Externally, I thanked her, petting the cheap, dusty material. I wiped my hand on my pants. She sat down in her chair and refreshed Facebook, and I continued playing World of Warcraft. Ten minutes later, I started to raid, and when I started talking on the microphone with the other players, Sarah rolled her eyes, unplugged her laptop, and went downstairs into her bedroom. As with most nights for the past few months and most to follow, I would sleep on the couch.

When I moved out, I left that red dog behind the fence under the construction docks of the building on the far side of Exeter and Commonwealth, under renovation. I mused whether a construction worker might take it, might give it to a child who could take some joy in the thing. Sarah had set aside effects in a box, items that I had given her that she didn’t want to keep and held no meaning to me: a coffee cup that read Bean, some dog toys, the red dog.

I remembered Justin’s words as I looked at that stuffed animal behind the fence. You don’t have to stay with her, he had said. I mean, I wouldn’t leave her—she’s rich and pretty and funny—but you don’t have to stay. All the pitiful and pathetic moments infected by thoughts like that, a relational virus. Just so, the dog pleaded with me to stay. But I walked away. I wouldn’t engage; I would only remember.

n20531316728_2397Share on Facebook
twitterShare on Twitter
del_icio_usSave to del.icio.us
digg
Digg it
redditSave to Reddit
aolfavEven more ways to bookmark

Author: Greg Freed

2 Comments

Filed under Creative nonfiction, Presents, Writing

A Relationship in Presents, Part Four: The waffle press redux

No apologies for the late post. Muaha.

**

Near hysteria, I plod through my parents’ attic. I can tell I’m losing it, that I’m on the verge of tears. My mother calls up the stairs wanting to know what the hell is going on. My father doesn’t know what to say.

“I’m looking for the waffle iron,” I say. I choke up. I’ve thrown boxes helter-skelter across the attic. I’ve taken out the box with all my college kitchen stuff out of the attic and emptied it of its contents all the way down to the newspaper coating the bottom in the TV room. It was the dishes clanking together as I unconcernedly scattered them across the floor that really set my mom off; Dad had watched silently, confused and almost afraid.

“Where is it?” I yell, hurting my throat. The closer I get to tears, the more obviously I glottal.

“We don’t know,” my father answers. They haven’t taken it out of my boxes, they say. They’ve been on a no-carb diet for months, maybe years, and even if they were going to eat something like that, my father would make pancakes; they haven’t had waffles in years.

I can’t have left it behind, I say to myself and aloud accusatorially, but the finger is pointing at me despite my parents’ premonitions. I can’t have left it behind! I remember taking it out of the kitchen and putting it in the fucking box, don’t I? Of course I remember doing it! It’s fucking ridiculous to think I’d’ve left it behind.

Gabe wouldn’t have taken it, would he? I remember that day he cooked with my garlic clove and wouldn’t fess up to it. When he…. Oh, this line of thought isn’t going anywhere; Gabe didn’t take it. Justin wouldn’t’ve taken it. I either brought it home or I left it at Baylor. And I didn’t leave it behind, so it’s here, somewhere.

I rip through the boxes again, even when my mother’s anger becomes tinted with fear. “It’s just a waffle iron,” she says. “You can buy another one and she’ll never know.” But it’s not Sarah’s opinion of me I’m worried about, though I certainly wouldn’t want to confess to her that I’d lost it; No, I want it for myself. I want the waffle maker, that one fucking thing, and I fucking lost it!

I tear down the stairs like a shot, leaving my parents to stare over the mess. I hear my mother say in a very loud note of command, “Oh no!” once she hears her pots and pans clanging out onto the floor. She moves into the living room and calls me in there as if I were her dog, and I obey.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she asks incredulously.

“I’m looking for the god damned waffle maker!” I shout. A tear falls down my left cheek, and she sees it.

“Why does it matter so much?” she asks.

“’Cuz she….” My voice trails off, dead. My brain stops for a moment, and more tears fall. “’Cuz she gave it to me,” I finally answer, turning to go back into the kitchen.

“Well we don’t have it!” she calls after me even though there’s not even a wall separating us. “It’s not in our kitchen! And you’ll have to clean up whatever you take out!”

I’m not worried about threats of cleanliness, though. All that matters is recovering the waffle press. She gave it to me so long ago, before we were even dating, and it’s all falling apart, falling away. I have to find it. If I can find it, everything will be alright, will be okay again.

I pull out all the pots and pans in the cabinets under the silverware, set them out on the tile. I look under the stove on the island, but there’s nothing except grilling equipment. I look under coffee maker, under the sink, in all the miscellaneous drawers and cabinets. Nothing, nothing, nothing! Where the fuck is it? my voice screams inside my head, echoing through my brain as if it were a stone valley, causing an avalanche of sanity, a loss of control.

My tears fall in earnest, now. I can barely see the objects my hands put aside, only dimly aware that each one isn’t what I’m looking for. I start to move towards the oven, to the drawer underneath it. My parents keep ovenware in there, stones and oven proof pots and my father’s electric… electric skillet.

I slow down in my stride. My eyes flicker in and out of squinting as the pieces move into place, the memory resurfaces of making my parents waffles while waiting to leave for Europe, my mother asking me how I clean the surface since we can’t put it in the dishwasher, her balking expression when I tell her that I don’t, that I don’t clean it.

The drawer glides along the wheels that hold it up as I pull it open. I see it immediately, behind a stone basin made to cook a turkey and on top of my father’s electric skillet. They haven’t had waffles in years, he said; it’s been years since I made them wafflecakes, panwaffles, panfles. The press isn’t Belgian, no, it only makes small dimples in the pancakes. The last time my parents had waffles was when I made them some on Sarah’s press after I came home from college.

Don’t call it my press, Sarah always said to me when I referred to her presents as hers. I told her that I called them her presents because they were so obviously from her, so perfect and timeless. Sarah’s press. I found it under the oven.

n20531316728_2397Share on Facebook
twitterShare on Twitter
del_icio_usSave to del.icio.us
digg
Digg it
redditSave to Reddit
aolfavEven more ways to bookmark

Author: Greg Freed

10 Comments

Filed under Creative nonfiction, Presents, Writing

A Relationship in Presents, Part Three: A lonely basement

I know some of you are still working on submissions for the Themed Thursday. We already have three, so don’t stand on modesty. Let’s get those in today!

In case you haven’t found out some other way, I’m writing guest articles about writing through The Journal of Cultural Conversation. See my newest article, which discusses Eat, Pray, Love versus Julie and Julia.

Also, NQOKD is still seeking guest authors. If you have (or someone you know has) some writing you think would fit in here, send them my way!

On to the story.

**

“I got a package today,” I said through a smile, my voice a little strained by the heart in my throat. I carried a box into the lonely basement bedroom of the first Boston house I lived in, a two-story duplex out in Newton.

“Oh yeah?” she asked.

“Yeah. And I wonder who it’s from, since the return address is in your hometown. Huh, who could have sent it?” I set the cardboard box down on my bed, dimensions one foot by one foot by one foot.

“I dunno, honey. Sounds like a mystery.” Her voice almost sounded disinterested, almost bored, but I can hear a smile through the phone.

“Oh, well maybe I should wait to open it,” I joked, half-laughing. “Maybe I should wait until I hear from whoever sent it.”

She laughed, and I knew that a smile lit her features then. “And maybe you should just open it, silly.”

“Is it a waffle maker? Did you buy me another waffle press?”

“Shut up and open it, and then you’ll see.”

I took out my keys and used one to pierce the masking tape, dragging it along to split the plastic. “I bet it is another waffle press. You always get me the best presents.”

I slid my arms elbow deep through the Styrofoam peanuts two passed two plastic bags until I felt something solid at the bottom. Grabbing on, I pulled the box straight up, dislodging peanuts and heart confetti. For a moment, as the packing material cascaded to the floor, anyone watching might’ve believed it was Valentine’s day.

“Oh, you sent me a star-shaped box, huh? That’s pretty cool, I guess.”

We laughed for a while before she said, “Look inside, nerd.”

The box held more confetti, a box of Nerds and some other candy, and hundred of little labels ranging from Everything will be alright! to little hearts and other doodads. She must’ve spent hours cutting all of that label tape, typing it all in.

“Aw, honey! This is perfect!” I shouted into the phone. “I can always have a little piece of you with me.” My smile exposed my teeth, a rare expression.

She simply said, “Yeah,” while she listened to me scatter the star’s contents. After a moment, she asked, “What about the other stuff?”

“Other stuff? What other stuff?”

Sarcasm tainted her voice and I could feel her eyes rolling when she said, “Look in the box, stupid!” We laughed again.

I reached in and pulled out the two plastic bags I had felt. I considered them for a moment before I said, confused and a little bewildered, “You bought me… underwear?”

“Yeah,” she answered, her voice rising into almost a question.

“That’s… um, cool.” Uncertainty coated my gratitude.

“Did you look at them?”

I shook my head and blinked a few times while I considered her question, and then I opened a bag and pulled out a pair. On the backsides, she had used iron-on lettering to spell out a phrase on each undie. I LOOOOOOOVE YOU! would stretch across my fat ass to both of our amusements for the next few years.

“Oh, honey!” I cooed. I only continued through laughter: “I’ve never gotten personalized clothing before!”

“First time for everything,” she answered, put at ease.

“It’s perfect, honey. Perfect! Every present from you is better than the one before it.”

n20531316728_2397Share on Facebook
twitterShare on Twitter
del_icio_usSave to del.icio.us
digg
Digg it
redditSave to Reddit
aolfavEven more ways to bookmark

Author: Greg Freed

1 Comment

Filed under Creative nonfiction, Presents, Writing

A Societal Yearning: Masculine friendship and community

Your first reaction, depending on who you are, may be feminist outrage. I urge you to recognize your disagreement, put it away, and then take a deeper look. That said, Amos gets even the introductory exposition to this blog post. Take it away, Amos:

I’ve spent a good deal of time in the last four years considering the value of, and the fragility of, simple male friendship.

I say “simple” friendship because family and partners can maintain a separate and vital status in a person’s life. We’re stuck with the family we’re born into or bear; and divorce, while easy, is not as easy as it could be.

I say “male” friendship because it seems to me that women are, in ways, built more readily for deep bonding with their peers. My sense is that it’s more of an inherent thing, something genetic, but as always with the nature versus nurture question, the answer ends up being “well, some of both.” I haven’t lived as both a man and a woman though, so I can’t be sure. The general roles that evolution has put men and women into (which can be broken or tweaked just fine by a careful society, when needed) lean men at least slightly away from the deep bonding that women seem wired for through.

Male relationships often seem to drift toward (and prefer proximity to) superficiality, fun, and beer. Special people can be special exceptions, but beyond small grace periods, those precepts are broken at the masculine peril of expendability. And stray from the precepts knowing that, in order to call attention to your rule breaking and rescue the friendship, many men would have to become rule breakers too.

And that, rarely, are they willing to do.

Primal hunting and the life-or-death dependence of the military are some things that seem to break this tendency. They seem to tie men together on a deep and emotional level forbidden by our time-constrained lifestyles that offer a million fun replacements for things that displease. What more naturally binds women together seems to more readily remain in the lives we’ve all fallen into.

I always think of the scene in Moby Dick in which one attack of many is mounted on a pod of whales. The males flee individually while the females huddle together, standing by each other even though it may be the germ of their destruction.

I also think of the following passage from “Letters to a Young Poet,” a collection of correspondence doled out by the great German poet Rainer Maria Rilke.

Women, in whom life lingers and dwells more immediately, more fruitfully, and more confidently, must surely have become riper and more human in their depths than light, easygoing man, who is not pulled down beneath the surface of life by the weight of any bodily fruit and who, arrogant and hasty, undervalues what he thinks he loves. This humanity of woman, carried in her womb through all her suffering and humiliation, will come to light when she has stripped off the conventions of mere femaleness in the transformations of her outward status, and those men who do not yet feel it approaching will be astonished by it.

In our everyday American world, bonds with other human beings seem less vital than they might have been at other times, or might be in other places. It’s not generally close bonds with other people that support us, not the fidelity of a tightly-knit community that bails us out when we face a difficult or even dangerous situation. Instead, the money we earn supports and bails. It gives us our food, our shelter, our health care, our transportation, and our entertainment.

In that way, the jobs we hold come to be our most vital companion in life. In that way, the jobs we hold become the important starter for almost any conversation with someone we’re just meeting: “So… what do you do?”

How can simple male friendship compete with this?

Recently, when using Facebook to ponder the significance of my name, a friend replied to me. I was considering how my first name means “Burdened” in Hebrew, and how my last name means “Gamekeeper of a Park” in English. The friend told me that I was wrong in my definitions. He said that Amos Parker actually means “He Who Overanalyzes.”

In pondering the nature of male friendships and overanalysis, I feel as I often do: underanalysis is overrated. Searching for the wellspring of existential loneliness is a worthwhile pastime.

**

“Hey Devon,” I said. “Good to see you.”

I shook his hand once he’d closed the door.

“Good day at work?” I asked.

“Busy,” Devon said.

“Yeah?”

“Cancer center’s a great place to work. Life causes cancer.  I don’t think I’ll be fired anytime soon.”

I nodded, smiling like a cynic.

“Care for a beer?”

Devon brightened. I already had mine open.

“Hell yeah. Choices?”

“Check the fridge,” I said.

Devon nodded, going to the mini-fridge in the basement where the beer could stay cold without taking up prime real estate.

“What do you feel like doing tonight?” I asked as Devon popped the top and took a swig. He swished it around in his mouth, wondering if he should’ve taken a seasonal brew. He swallowed.

“Oh, I’m ok with anything.”

“You sure?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“We can do anything. We can play a videogame, a long board game, a short board game, sit and chat, watch a movie….”

“Anything’s fine, really, just so I can relax. We’re friends. It’s all good.”

“You really don’t care?” I asked.

“No,” Devon said. “It’s up to you.”

“Ok. Well… how about War of the Ring?”

“Oh… yeah…” Devon replied, his facial features twitching like an old building in a strong wind. “I guess. We… might have time, and… I think I remember the rules.”

“Let’s go then,” I said. “Women like to talk about things and men like to do things.”

Devon managed a smile and raised his beer to me. I made a show of ignoring him and clanking mine up against the toaster.

“What are we going to do?”

The man stood outside the house, shivering. His wife’s teeth had chattered as she’d spoken. The man looked at the boards that covered the walls. He didn’t know when he might get another job. Winter was coming, and he worried there’d be no money to keep his family warm.

“I’m looking every day,” the man said. “I’ll find something. I’ll find work.”

His wife shivered. The man put his arm around her.

“We have… enough food in the basement… from the garden…” she said. “But we can’t burn the food. How are we going to keep from freezing this winter?”

The man blew hot breath on his free hand. His wife took the hand from him and tried to warm it herself.

“I’ll think of something,” he replied. “Don’t worry your pretty little head.”

“Hey Devon,” I said. “Can you do me a favor?”

“Sure buddy. What’s up?”

“Great,” I replied, relieved. “You know I’ve got too many board games, right?”

He nodded, half smiling.

“You’ve got a lot of space at your place, right?”

He nodded.

“Can you help me store some of them?”

“Sure!” he said. “I love board games. You know that.”

I smiled and continued. I felt like justifying myself: “I’ve told you why I have so many, right? It’s all I can do to tread water with my job. I don’t feel like I’m gonna mean anything to anyone with work. Sometimes I’m worried I’m gonna die a mediocre failure.”

I trailed off, smiling like I was joking. Devon was silent, waiting.

“Someday I wanna be able to use them to give something back. They bring people together, or they can. You’ve seen that with the guys, right? They’re nothing like what everyone thinks about when they hear the term board games.”

Devon nodded.

“Someday I want to create a big program, maybe with the library. It’ll be something fun, something that gets people out of the house, away from the TV so they can do something together. It could be a major town thing. I just don’t know how to do it yet, how to pull it off.”

“Sounds great,” Devon replied. “You’ll make it happen.”

“My girlfriend may not be comfortable with the money I’ve spent on them,” I continued. “That’s one of the problems. I have to keep trying though, somehow.

I have to feel like I’m working for something, to have some kind of life raft. And, with the cancer she’s been through, it’s even harder to justify the cost.”

Devon nodded, his expression cooling.

“I feel bad hiding it, but I have to feel like I’m at least trying to do something for people, to give something back. Michele can be so intolerant with things she doesn’t agree with. I have to feel like I’m trying hard, trying my best. Part of that is having a real collection. I’ll come up with something. This’ll buy me time.”

“I’d love to help,” Devon replied. “That’d be sweet to have all that stuff at my place. Mi casa es su casa. Can I paw through it whenever I feel like it?”

“It wouldn’t be a problem?” I asked, tentative in the way I raised my pitch at the end of the question.

“No no no. That’d be awesome. My pleasure.”

“Great!” I said, knocking him playfully on the shoulder.

He jumped a little.

“You’re a good friend,” I added. “If it’s ever a problem, let me know. I don’t want to be a bother, and it’s hard to come by good friends out here in the middle of nowhere. Sure, Saint Johnsbury is a town, but it isn’t much of one, right? All this cold. Everyone hides away, and the one’s who wouldn’t have already run away.”

“You’ve got that right,” Devon replied.

“You feel that too, don’t you?” I was glad to hear that he agreed with me. “I really don’t want to be a problem. I can’t afford to lose any friends.”

“Problem?” Devon replied, laughing just a little too loudly. “Why would you ever be a problem?”

“I’m cold, Dad.”

“Me too, Dad. I can’t stop shivering.”

Both the boy and the girl were doing their best. They tried to be tough. They wore the extra clothes that their parents had found, but layers weren’t enough.

“Let me bring you some food,” their mother said. “It’ll give you some energy, and it’ll warm you up too.”

Their father knew it had to be cooked to really warm them up.

He went outside and looked at all the other houses where they lived. Snow had fallen all over. Icicles were dangling from the homes of some of their neighbors. They were the neighbors who were lucky enough to have the wood to burn, and the heat their fires made escaped up through the roofs and melted the snow there, making the icicles possible.

The man didn’t have any icicles on his house.

Here and there, because he had to, the man began taking boards from the outside of his home. It was only a few, and the house could handle it. The man even convinced himself that it made the house look tougher, more lean and mean.

He took the armloads of boards inside and kept his family warm.

“Hey Devon,” I said.

I stepped in through his door and closed it. I was uncomfortable. I felt out of place, like it was one of those days. My sensitivity was acting up, my low-level autistic fragility. I couldn’t control the feeling. I knew it’d poison things if I couldn’t at least hide it. I tried to figure out where it would stash.

“Amos!” Devon replied. “Now the party can start. Flames of War is on the table. Beer?”

“Sorry I’m late,” I said.

He handed me an ale from the fridge, the top already off. I took a long swallow and hoped for magic.

“Ken’s been working on his bike,” Devon said. “He got some extra oomph for the engine. And there’s a new gun he’s been eyeing. You want a gun for Christmas?”

He jabbed me playfully in the ribs. I almost dropped my beer.

“No thanks. I don’t feel like one.”

“Oh. Well come play with us then.”

“I’ll just watch…” I said.

I was starting to sweat. I felt like I was between a rock and a hard place.

“Thanks though,” I continued. “I don’t really like that game. It’s… painful. It’s like having salt rubbed in my eyes.”

“Oh,” Devon replied. “Ok.”

“Actually, I don’t feel well. I need to go home and write too. I can’t make sure Michele’s taken care of if I don’t make a career of it. I get panic attacks if I have to go more than a day without writing some, and… my windows of time are tiny.”

I wiped at my brow and finished my beer, knowing it wasn’t enough to harm my driving. But I wanted at least that much in me when I thought about having bailed.

“Oh. Ok. Say hi to Michele for me.”

I felt bad about bailing, but it could’ve been worse.

The winter wore on, and it was a cold one.

The food ran low ahead of schedule. The man was more and more worried about his wife and kids. He scoured town up and down for both jobs and wood to keep them warm, but there was nothing to be found that other men hadn’t found already.

Lying in bed one night, holding his wife close, she tried to comfort him.

“You’ll find something honey. Keep your chin up.”

“I can’t,” the man replied. “I can’t keep my chin up. It takes dignity to do that.”

“You have dignity. You have us.”

The man held his wife tightly, trying to keep warm with what she’d said. He could feel the cold all around, and he was worried about the children in the next room. He looked out the window and saw snow falling in the moonlight.

“I’ll be back,” he told her, getting up.

He went out the bedroom door, down the stairs, and outside. There were already holes showing here and there in certain less important walls. One of them kept a closet protected from the winter. Another kept the living room insulated, and they stayed mostly in the bedrooms anyway.

Working quietly with the crowbar, he took off some more boards. By the time he was done, he could see into the kitchen.

He went inside and lit a fire in the stove. He stood by it, warming his hands. He went upstairs, feeling the heat follow him toward the bedrooms. He left the doors to the bedrooms open a little, so that the heat could follow.

“I just can’t deal with it anymore,” Devon emailed me, as part of a long, hard email. “I don’t think we can be friends. I didn’t know what to say when you called me. I really was busy. I think it started during Michele’s treatment. I can’t believe you kept all these board games when the money could have been used to help Michele. She had cancer, man. It’s been making me angry for almost two years now.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I wrote back in desperate reply. “Why’d you send me emails every once in a while saying you’d just been busy when just ignoring me would finally have given me the cowardly hint? Couldn’t you man up instead?”

“I helped you and Michele through her cancer,” Devon wrote, “bringing food and everything. You owe us so much. How selfish are you? When Ali and I moved into the new house a year ago, you didn’t move the games out quickly. I asked you twice. I even had to take your punching bag back to you myself. That was a really hard time for me. I just threw up my hands.”

“You’ve made almost no effort to communicate with me for almost two years,” I wrote back. “And I thought I had the games out by the deadline you gave me. I didn’t even know there were problems between us. How was I supposed to? Do you think I’m psychic? How can I just know that someone has totally changed his mind? Why didn’t anyone tell me? Don’t I deserve at least that respect?”

“I’m sure we both did the best we could,” Devon emailed me. “Have a nice life.”

“The best we could? The best we fucking could? If that was the best you could do,” I emailed back, “you need to polish your best. And the best I could? How could I give my best when I didn’t even know what the work was?”

There was almost nothing left of the house. It couldn’t even hold the heat from the fire long enough to be worth it.

The man, his wife, their daughter, and their son were all near to freezing. There was no work, and there was no wood. Everyone else in the neighborhood was either in the same trouble or unwilling to make their lives harder still by helping.

“Dad?” the daughter said one day. “I hear the house creaking.”

Wind blew in from every wall. The man had tried to ignore it, but he could tell that the house was giving way. He started to cry, even in front of them all. He couldn’t help it. He wasn’t even a man. He knew he had no choice.

“Dad?” the son said. “Where are you going?”

“Are we going somewhere, dear?” his wife asked.

“Take… what you can,” the man said. “We’re going to live with my parents.”

They left the house just in time. Turning around in the snow, the four of them watched as the house collapsed. It happened in a great cracking rumble. Some neighbors poked their heads out of their windows to see what had happened. They wondered if the wood might be available to them.

When they reached his parents’ house, the man knocked on the door.

“Can we… stay with you… mom?”

The man’s mother gave him a big hug. He was much larger than her, but he seemed much smaller.

“Of course you can, dear. Let me fix you all something hot to eat.”

n20531316728_2397Share on Facebook
twitterShare on Twitter
del_icio_usSave to del.icio.us
digg
Digg it
redditSave to Reddit
aolfavEven more ways to bookmark

Author: Amos Parker

4 Comments

Filed under Creative nonfiction, Features, Fiction, Guest author, Writing