Tag Archives: frustration

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.

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Author: Mani Afsari

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Features, Guest author, Writing

A Highschool Story: Ms. Young

I don’t often couch stories with extraneous information, but here it seems relevant. If you’re not interested, please continue on to the story, which I feel is just as good without.

My friends know (my family may not) that I loathed Plano with every inch of my being while I was there. It started with the classroom and moved further out to the manicured lawns and streets. My entire sentient life there I spent attempting to leave in one form or another. Not the least reason for my frustration was my consistent poor performance in school.

That’s not to say that I tried really hard and failed. I hardly tried and rarely failed, but I was always looking for something that just didn’t seem to be there. Who knows at this point what it might have been, but as my life has progressed, I think the desire has morphed into a search for a mentor, for somebody to believe in me or perhaps just see me for my potential. Teachers, for all their intentions, seem to me incapable of fulfilling this role. I discuss this more in an article on Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti’s Tant Mieux, but suffice to say that teachers have to concern themselves more with your test scores than your potential out of mere practicality.

Some have argued with me, saying that my English teachers’ collective challenge to my ability could have been applied reverse psychology, hoping to make me shape up by telling me that half-assing it wouldn’t cut it. Perhaps if the fact of my performance in the classroom had been limited to one or two teachers, or even to five, I might agree that it’s possible. However, I nearly failed every English course I ever took in high school, I actually failed the only English course I took in college, and the closest course to an English course in my post-grad work is the closest one in which I came close to receiving less than an A.

Another theory, posed by no one who knows me but one I have to pose just to prove the example, is that I can’t think critically. Since I don’t cover all of the angles to any given topic, I deserve my low grade because it’s symptomatic of half-assed work. Well, my work history in addition to standardized test scores disagree with this theory, and hopefully there’s ample proof on this blog alone that such is not the case.

I posit, therefore, that English teachers simply didn’t understand. They didn’t see the promise in my essays not because it didn’t exist but because their academic dogmatism kept them tied to more traditional approaches (those things very near plagiarism that was call “essays,” as much a violation of intellectual property–even if the owner is long dead–as any basic example of unsolicited remix). Call me arrogant if you want, sure, and empty of promise, but in my opinion, English rooms are sterile and stifling environments that squelch creativity and independent thought. I have no love for them at all and, as soon as I had the choice in my academic career, avoided them to what I consider my benefit.

Of course, what’s happened here is that I’ve moved from loathing Plano and it’s English departments to loathing English teachers in general. Baylor had nothing to do with the PISD, and Emerson College in Boston, MA certainly bears no connection. So what do I do with this leftover rage towards Plano, most of which was tied up in my inability to make my peers there understand either my frustration with them or merely my simplest thoughts, a basic communication dilemma that continues to exist to this day? Well–and fuck you, Mani–I still hate Plano, even if I can forgive it this slight little bit.

**

Though in the English hall and an English classroom or Jasper High School, I chose Creative Writing because Ms. Young sold me its distinct image. Her classroom buzzed with energy because of her youth and zeal; unmarried and unburdened by the relentless years of classroom experience that weather away the beautiful composite face comprised of the students who supply her reason for having chosen education as a career, she’s decided to teach a course no other teacher felt willing to shoulder but which helped Plano appear more well-rounded. I’ve never found diversity (especially of thought) in an English classroom, but I decided to give her new course a shot.

Fifteen minutes before the bell rings, Ms. Young asks everyone to stop writing and requests that someone read the work they had accomplished that day. I look around at all the other students, a few of whom keep their eyes down while others look around like I do; white faces all around. No one looks at Ms. Young while she scans the room, afraid to volunteer by eye contact. She really is quite pretty with her long, thick brown hair and her pale but hopeful eyes. Her mouth hangs slightly open as her head turns from side to side, and her body, red sweater, and brown skirt are motionless. When I look away from her, my eyes land on the inspirational poster on the door about walking in footprints on the beach; I roll my eyes, keep my head down.

Marissa leans over and puts her hand on my shoulder so she can whisper, “You shouldn’t be afraid.”

I don’t turn my head to look at her, but I smirk. “Neither should you.”

“I’m not. I didn’t write anything.” I can imagine her crafty smile, resting lightly upon her pretty but slightly scarred face. She’s allergic to her own sweat, which causes her face to constantly break out. I look over my shoulder to make sure it’s there, pleading with me like I expect.

We chuckle quietly together, and I resign to volunteer. I can’t quite claim an alpha personality, and my decision doesn’t really stem from a desire to save Marissa from potential embarrassment. I feel compelled to end inefficiency in how my class spends its time when the silence drags on vulgarly.

Ms. Young smiles at me while I tremble in front of the class, my nerves suffering under a weird mix of terror and excitement. There’s only twelve students scattered amongst the tables in the classroom. I know everyone in here by name. I shouldn’t feel scared of them.

A wizard stands on a cliff ledge overlooking a village that trusted him for protection. (Already the shaking has subsided.) The flames from the village are strong enough to light his face, scarred more than wrinkled, experienced more than wise. (I forget the classroom; only the page and my scrawl exist.) He has failed them; he wants to shoulder their burden, the weight of his failure measured out by the ashes of burnt homes and the bodies of murdered victims, but finds himself unable. (I am the wizard; no, I am his sorrow and his guilt. No, I am the world he wants to bear. No.) His arms reach towards the stars as he screams out a long, undulating cry to the heavens: “I’m sorry!” (I’d never make it as an actor; I’m suddenly conscious of the other students again.) He leans forwards, finds himself capable after all.

I beam with pride. Students applaud lightly and nervously, not really sure about what they’ve just heard. Marissa smiles, the vain Catholic. The bell rings, and she and the other students bolt. I return to my seat and shove the paper in haphazardly.

“I don’t get it,” says Ms. Young.

I answer her quietly: “I know.” I’m not sure she hears me.

I leave the classroom without discussing the story with her. It wasn’t complicated, or maybe it was, but at any rate my mind had rushed to other subjects than my creation. Ms. Young had implied a request for me to breakdown the story; she had asked for me to treat it like literature and explain it to her. She claimed that she didn’t understand, but could she really not have? I wonder briefly, Can my incomprehensibility cover my life to such an extent as to umbrella every instance of  communication, both the fantastic and the academic?

I leave the carpeted English corridor and emerge over the polished tile of the hallway. In front of me, a metal banister splits the stairway in half. I approach it and rest my right hand on it, looking at the reflection of a florescent light obscured by my head and shoulders, the floor too opaque to show my reflection in detail. The bell rings for class to begin, but I’m lost in thought and not the type of student who frets over punctuality anyway.

English teachers pose literature as my nemesis with their superficial questions and their polite challenges and impolite grading, but I know truth doesn’t reside in rebellion. I don’t want to feel the weight of the world of ideas in my mind or to criticize anyone’s arrangement of words in an educated manner, but not because I don’t enjoy reading or thinking. Actively engaging a story takes away the passive pleasure of reading it, and I’m content with the passive pleasure, aren’t I, the satisfaction of writing, of reading, of thinking abstractly without criticizing specifically? I would have to submit to my formally recognized enemy, my teachers, if I engaged a work actively, wouldn’t I?

I’ve been told that by imposing academic structure on my mind, I will broaden my understanding of the world and multiply the number of subjects I can ponder. But the fact of the matter is—as I prove when I sit in the reigning creative silence of Ms. Young’s room—that I can hardly get my mind to shut up. The last thing I need from it is coherent categorical thoughts.

I utter words and phrases that apparently only I can understand. I formulate ideas that only I can stomach, only my tongue decipher. I’m not convinced that educating myself in the manner my teachers have suggested will help them understand me. Not only do I doubt their conjectures, I feel almost certain they are wrong.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Criticism, Fiction, Humanistic, 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.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Presents, Writing

1:34 AM Ramblings

I’m an editor—I’ve freelanced for years—but I’ve often supplemented my freelance income with another gig. Why? Because freelancing works like real estate: huge surges of business connected by deep lulls. The surges often match my attempts to market myself, but hey, guess what: a full-time grad student, part-time worker, part-time editor doesn’t have much time or inclination to market himself. Time and money are both limited. When school starts up again this fall, I won’t have all the time on my hands that I had to start this blog, and what then will I do to find freelance work, then when I need it most but also lack the time to market myself?

Supplementary jobs have entered my mental horizon. I really don’t mind Starbucks as a job, except for the people who take it very seriously and always manage, against what seems my good judgment, to get in positions of power. Starbucks is the job I would prefer over many others if I have to work a structured job at all. The obvious: low hassle, low responsibility, the people (customers and coworkers) are friendly and don’t expect much; you get tips, and you get paid above minimum wage. But there’s always waiting tables, which shares any of these qualities except the low hassle, which you trade for a gigantic upgrade in pay. ($11/hr after tips to, I dunno, $16/hr if you’re at a place even nearly worth its tables). So why do I prefer Starbucks?

People. I enjoy people, despite whatever contrary opinions these blog posts may have given you. Or, more than people, I enjoy conversation; rich, deep conversation that doesn’t have a purpose, point, or motivation. During my tens and my lunches I go sit out in the lobby instead of in the back, and on more than one occasion my shift has had to come find me because I got so sidetracked that I forgot my break was over. Sometimes the store is dead (hence, the break) and it doesn’t matter that I’ve forgotten in the grand scheme of things; sometimes the person is one of those who is very serious about their work and feels that a speech is necessary to make me toe the line [y’know, that’s one of the weirdest phrases, a stereophone cliche where both images work]. Well, it’s a free country, and speech is a free as it comes, but there’s a point where investment is almost guaranteed not to match return; sometimes business maxims apply to social settings.

More than that, I enjoy having a home outside of home where I can get free coffee, free food, and time for homework without distraction, am in fact encouraged to do this work because I already work there and because the other people around make me feel connected to the human network in a way that I normally don’t. Further, I do continue to shop with Starbucks even while I don’t work there (a fact escalated by fewer and fewer nearby cafes that aren’t Starbuckses), which means I know which products I like and that I can enjoy them in peace. When school starts back up, Starbucks would condone my writing/blogging, which will conduce with my courses in a way editing never would. There’s not enough time in the world for us to pursue all of the things we find interest in, and in the interest of calibrating my life to maximum pleasure and retaining of information, Starbucks is the better choice.

Not that I’m going back to Starbucks—Ashley has specifically asked me not to—but these are the thoughts that go through my head when I consider my need for supplemental income. Therefore, don’t take this post personally; I’m not sharing it with you so that you’ll pity my situation. Consider it art, in your own way.

On those notes (of income and art), today, August 7, is my birthday. Reading this blog, you’ve learned plenty about me, my work, and my literary vision and aspirations. Now act on that compulsion you feel to click the button and buy me a cup of coffee or even a beer! ☺

**

I’m exhausted. I’m tired, I’m broke, I’m sad. I’m in love, I’m loved.

I’m happy.

I’ve run out of cash and I don’t know how to fix it. Get a job; I don’t want to settle for a job.

We talk about finances, Ashley and I. My face droops. She can’t stand it; puts her hand against my cheek and asks me to go in the other room. She’s not serious. She can’t stand the idea of me being sad, can’t bear to look on my face, its non-frown.

I gave my father a hard time once, when he got laid off and cried in front of his church fellows. I didn’t give him a hard time for crying; rather for praying.

My relationship with Ashley is the greatest proof of providence I’ve ever seen. Our lives fell together seamlessly without complaint; though money is tight, it’s never not enough.

This month it might not be enough.

I took her to New York for a weekend at the beginning of June. She hates that I regret the decision. It inspired her, made her decide that New York was her future independent of our future, of my future. I know now that New York is my future, too. That trip solidified the suspicions, or Sade had, and I took the trip to make sure.

The church leader asked me if he could lay hands on me. My father had taken me on the men’s retreat; I had seen him cry in earnest. My father looked away when the pastor put his hand on my shoulder, asking again. I didn’t want to be rude, and I had hope.

We go on dates. Our financial irresponsibility lies in going on dates. About once every other week, we drop about twenty dollars on not making a meal at home or maybe a bottle of wine to make my cooking seem more legitimate. My peers are broke, too, working those college jobs at pizza shops and bookstores. Why don’t I just get one of those?

I want a job at a call center. I’ve never worked at one before, but I have friends that do. They complain about all their free time. That’s what I need; a job that will pay me to write, to blog, to edit. I need supplement.

I’ve worked at Starbucks four times now, three months a piece four different times. Once as a teenager in Frisco’s Super Target where we couldn’t accept tips and yet we did, hiding the makeshift cup behind the counter when the store manager came by. Twice after college, once in Plano before the disagreement with my parents and then again when I lived at Steve’s. Once again in Boston, when I had decided to move out of Sarah’s place. Starbucks isn’t the bottom of the rung, that’s for sure. But my pride won’t let me crawl back, not for a fifth turn.

The hands felt alien through my clothing, like cotton was touching me, my shirt pressing against me, clinging against me. They prayed. They asked me what I wanted from God. I said to know; I wanted to know, to have the gift of faith. They prayed.

Fidelity paid me once to sit around. I was with Sarah, sad and lonely and bored. They paid me over thirty dollars an hour to just sit there with a smile on my face, maybe five hours of work a week. I couldn’t do it then; I complained, loudly. What weak part of me wants to do it now?

I’ve branched out through Twitter, found viewers, fans, colleagues. Some of them might have work I could take, could get. Maybe if I marketed myself as an editor with all my experience, I could cash in on the network. But I’d rather have readers; I’d rather get started as a writer, as my own writer, a writer of my own work and nobody else’s. I have no interest in journalism or in ghostwriting. I have no interest in selling what is most intensely and personally mine.

I have the time now, during the summer, for a fulltime position. I started the blog instead. I’m busy all day now, checking, marketing, writing; I’m consumed. I’m not really employed, not gainfully employed. I can’t, this month, contribute equally to the household.

My Sweet Hunk O’ Trash plays, Louis Armstrong & Billie Holiday. Ashley laughs from the sink while I work, I edit, I check. I’ll have to work all weekend to meet this already missed deadline. Ashley laughs, and so do I. I’m so in love; she smiles away the doldrums. Still, I’m sad; a worthless feeling permeates, settles inside my skin. I can feel it in the back of my shoulders; I can feel it weighing down my torso, bending my spine.

We can’t make rent if I don’t contribute. Ashley has been behind before, and I’ve covered her. She’s covered me as well. That’s what living together is, a give and take here and there. But she can’t cover me this month.

I cried. Their prayers turned into chants, into spells that swarmed my head. For days I would talk about the miracle, the surety and gift of faith. It would fade, and Mani would hate me for it. No, not hate; he’d mourn my religion, resent the loss of passion in a friend so dependably constant. I’d cry again as despair settled back into place, back into the home it had never left.

I want to give her everything she wants. I want to love her like she should be loved. I want to contribute, to avoid leeching off something so young, so tender, so savory sweet. I love her, but I can’t provide, not now.

Though I have the time now, I can’t really get a job. In two months, I’ll be out of time, a full-time student. I tell myself to suck it up and get that damn dayjob, but I won’t, I haven’t yet. The consideration is starting to filter through my pride, but it hasn’t won yet. I love her, I want to, I’m stubborn.

I’m happy. I’m sad. I’m lazy and exhausted. I’m demoralized. I’m the most hopeful I’ve ever been.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Sore Wrists

Wednesdays are guest author days. I’m looking for young voices who will fit in with the mold of this blog, discussing frustration, communication, and humanity in terms that encourage the reader to grapple. I am not looking for rants or diatribes; I seek creative work that would help shape the voice of youth, a voice that all its life hasn’t had a home. If you’re interested, please find my email address on the contact page and submit a sample.

Amos Parker will supply next week’s guest post. He’s a colleague and friend, and I cannot state my esteem for his humanity or creativity highly enough.

Now enjoy another piece from James Gregory!

**

He sits in front of an old TV. A TV so old the color is draining out in patches and it’s bigger than him cause it’s a tube projector. It has a videogame system hooked up to it. He’s been sitting in front of it for about an hour.

He’s playing a videogame. His hands are sweaty from how long he’s been playing it. His thumbs feel raw. Twitches run through the backs of his hands and he can’t miss any of the bones rubbing against each other in there.

In the game, he’s a sexy, tan girl with big breasts and a tight butt. The girl possesses enough fighting ability to apparently take on some sort of large ogre monster. The object of the game is simple: hit the ogre till it dies.

She’s been hitting the ogre for close to 45 minutes. Punches, kicks, throws, and a lack of clothing have yet to stop it. She’s come close a few times. The ogre seems to always pull it out of the bag at the last second.

The ogre is large. It’s much bigger than her. It has a giant mouth, scaly skin, and big arms. It knows kung fu and she can only dance around doing break dance style fighting. It always laughs when it wins.

He sitting there playing away. Earlier, he’d seen a girl he liked. She had big breasts and a tight butt too. She dressed like a normal person. Jeans and T-shirt uniform. Her hair color was not what he liked but her face was.

Personality was a different matter. She always laughed when she won and she always won especially when it came to him. He would look at her and say, “Hey Alex,”(because Alexandra was much too long too say for anyone) and the laugh would begin almost immediately, small and beautiful. She would say hi back then turn her head back toward a different person in whom she had a much more vested interest, and the laugh would come in full.

It wasn’t that she was cruel. She just couldn’t comprehend him. She didn’t understand what went through his head. He couldn’t possibly expect her to care about him.

She would watch him walk up in clothes that were either too tight or too loose and begin to cringe. She’d fight it. His hair would be a mess. Sometimes, it was greasy like he hadn’t showered in days.

She was always impressed by how clean his skin was. His head was dirty and so were his clothes, but his face and the bits he kept mostly hidden were the cleanest she’d seen. She looked at his clothes like at a poor disguise.

His voice was a sticking point, an odd combination of male and vaguely feminine. The words he used were always the most needlessly vague and complicated. She knew he did it cause he was shy. She also knew that when he calmed down enough his voice was smooth and even. It was never high or cracking. Just calm and rather enjoyable. She also knew it would only take her talking to him for five straight minutes before he would calm down around her. So she would limit the time to only three minutes.

He loses again and the ogre laughs. A curse leaves his lips. He’s gone and clocked in another fifteen minutes.

Her elbow attacks combined with her flipping kicks have done the most damage so far. The ogre’s life bar dropped down to about quarter left. He has this move that gives him health back that saved him in the end.

He thinks she’s the most beautiful woman on the planet. He thinks her hair isn’t even a problem. It takes a lot for him to get past a girl’s hair color. He thinks her eyes are perfectly shaped and that her lips curve in perfect ways.

He likes the way she talks. It’s the plain words that suggest way more than he thinks she’s saying. It might be in his head.

She knows just like he knows that he won’t leave cause of her. She knows she should have never been nice to him. He knows she will never be that kind to him again. She knows he won’t give up and that he’ll keep talking to her. He knows he wants to feel like someone actually cares about him and that he probably isn’t going to find it there again. She knows she can’t give him what he wants.

He’s been playing for an hour and a half now. Still hasn’t won. His wrists and hands are sore and his feet are falling asleep. He keeps playing. He doesn’t know what else to do.

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Author: James Gregory

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Starbucks: The third place

Dear readers, commentators, and friends,

I cannot begin to express my surprise and gratitude at the readership surge in this blog. I passed several important new-blog milestones Friday night, a claim followed by boring stats that you can skip past if not inerested: having more than a hundred visitors in one day and breaking a thousand views to the site total. Further, breaking one hundred in a day was itself a caveat: the highest day before had only seen ninety-seven viewers, and the day afterwards [sic] had seen just over sixty. Friday, though, I have one-hundred and sixteen views, followed by a Saturday of exactly one-hundred and sixteen views. Even on Sunday, with no new post for days and very little advertising from me, I reached what only a week ago would’ve been stupendous. Thank you, seriously, for supporting the effort.

I have spent so much more time developing this site than I thought I would, and I have so many plans now for the future, long before I ever thought that I would need them. Soon, though, you’ll see the first item on my to-do list, a Featured Fan story about Kate Barkhurst, an old friend from highschool and faithful Facebook friend. Thank you, everyone, and look forward to more stories from me, more guest posts, featured fans articles, and more… you know… as I get around to doing it.

My best,
Greg

**

They don’t understand, they haven’t listened to me. They called me arrogant. They’ve had all semester to see who I am, to see how I resent that label, and yet they called me arrogant. Not only said it, but spit it in my face, an accusation that seemed to say, “You can never succeed as a writer.” They read it, and they missed the point. All of them.

No, not all. There was Jenny. Jenny understood the torment of miscommunication; of course she knew what it was like to speak and yet not be heard. So sweet and so deep, she writes about moving from China to Boston as an experience of change, a flowing river of time and philosophy that soaks and bathes her mind. But writers as audience largely gloss over grammatical mistakes (as they should), and ink-on-paper doesn’t communicate in accents.

I think, and the other students notice it, too, that her writing is permeated by beauty over frustration. She writes so well, one might assume because of passion and integrity. But I have passion and integrity, too, and where does that get me? Labeled as arrogant is all, and alone. I suppose it’s about as lonely and isolating as not speaking the language of the land you’re in, but you hope in that other circumstance there remains the mysticism of discovery, or at least the obvious route of escape. For me there’s only years of letdowns, my adolescence into my waking life, of conversational successes mired by literary failures.

The cold wind of Boston winters blows through the Public Gardens and against my wool coat. I can feel its malevolence despite scientific objectivity having drowned out the world; the wind wants to bite my skin, wants to punish me for protecting myself from its harshness. Nature wants, like all life, love, to receive love as it exists, to receive without bending. My coat speaks for me my refusal of the unspoken request. My hands hide inside my pockets’ cashmere lining, helping the buttons to hold the coat in place. I had felt so sexy the day I bought this coat, had looked at myself in mirrors to memorize the way it weight and thickness complemented my girth rather than hid it, the day I thought there might be something to expensive designer labels after all. I remember the deflation upon coming home, of Sarah meh-ing her apathetic approval.

The wind cuts through my khakis instead since they’re exposed underneath the three-quarters coat. I’ve worn my Starbucks uniform to class for the last few weeks, thin-material long-sleeved block polo with dark khaki pants. Since money from Fidelity finally ran out and Sarah started asking me to pay her back for mostly legitimate expenses—to which I did not contributing but neither, really, did she—I had to get the job, and now I’m at class and at work, never at home. Sarah misses me, comes to Starbucks sometimes to sit with me, but I’ve had years to resent her attention, loath her presence. The absence of both in preference to her laptop drove me into romantic despair. World of Warcraft didn’t help on that topic, though it did relieve some of the years’ boredom.

The reading of my colleagues has broken my heart. I take criticism well—I write and people talk about the writing, and I love them for pointing out errors and paths I haven’t noticed—but like lay readers, my fellows decided to psychoanalyze me. They had done it before, when I wrote about my relationship with Sarah, talking about how sad I must be instead of the impact of the piece on the abstract reader and how that impact could be improved. The saying goes that these days everyone’s a critic, but that’s not quite the case in my experience; everyone is a psychologist, everyone thinks that they understand you by slapping their archetypes onto you, especially the ones who tell you (not ask you) not to judge. Not “Please don’t judge me until I’ve told you the whole story, or perhaps until you’ve researched it yourself,” but, “Don’t judge me, you don’t know me!” Of course, the latter ones are right; I don’t know them and never will.

I walk under the monument to ether, the world’s first anesthetic, used first at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1846. “We have conquered pain,” it reads. If only the words spoke truth. The wind blows again, cuts again at my shins savagely like a rusted and knocked razor.

I want to speak with someone about the disappointment. No one thought the writing was poor; the professor spoke its praises in that regard. The students merely wanted to ask me who the fuck I thought I was, in the nicest phrasing possible. But on that ground, I thought the piece stated rather clearly exactly who I claim to be.

I can’t talk to Sarah about this. She’d listen, but she’s cold, lacking in empathy. Or she has empathy and doesn’t show it. In four years, or in six if I count our friendship, I haven’t figured out which is the case.

I could go to Starbucks. It’s almost on the way home, less than a block from Sarah’s Back Bay condo, but I opened this morning and sat at a table once I got off shift until I had to leave for school at five. I literally sat there all day, and now I’d go back to do what, to stew? After all, who would I talk to? I’ve been there three months, but I’m not really friends with anyone. I go to work, I do homework, I play World of Warcraft; that’s me condensed. And when I got home, what? Sarah will already have gone to bed, not that I’ve joined her in months, and I’d stay up all night—til four, maybe five, maybe six—playing World of Warcraft, trying not to talk on the microphone so that I can relish in secret human contact in my home.

The churches at Berkeley Street, the Lutheran one with the homeless person (gender unidentifiable; I default to male) in the wool coat that I pass every night as I sing along to my iPod, so separate from his condition and just as vague a character to him as he is to me—but I’m not listening to music tonight, fuming instead; tonight, for the first time, he watches me, but I don’t mind—and the other one with the largely ignored cement hole. Clarendon, the rundown yard with the painted-black metal staircase and the door to the garden. The Newbury Street sidewalks, bricks that speak of old money, the townhomes broken into condos that lament the money’s loss. The plasma screens, shining vibrant blues and greens off beige walls, reflected off faux crystal chandeliers except that one home with the library, the dusty old tomes and the ladder on the right side; their crystal shines legit, reflecting white light off white walls.

But I have a friend at Starbucks, Ashley. But not quite a friend. She’s attracted to me, she told me so. Why would I call her? For an ego fest, so I can gain some pride off of how attractive she finds me? I don’t think so. I told her that rainy day that she walked me to Emerson that I wouldn’t turn her into a ’50s cliché, some girl hanging onto a man who says he’ll leave his wife (girlfriend) but never will, and I won’t. We had sat on the steps outside the piano shop, and she had told me that she couldn’t play the piano—not well, anyway. She had looked at me and told me she liked me, confessionally. She waited, seeing what I would do with it. I watched the automatic piano play a tune, and then I rubbed my hand down her cheek and told her that I wouldn’t abuse her. There she is; she is there.

She won’t be, though: she told me that the schedule marked her off at eight and it’s almost ten. She’ll have gone home, have left for the day, and I’ll be just as alone and just as forlorn as I feel now.

Call Mani instead. Call Steve. Call Justin and Mom and Dad. Consider calling Allison, and really feel like an asshole. Resent the way Murphy’s law applies to people answering their phones when you actually need human connection.

“Hello?” she asks.

“Hi, Ashley. I’ve got a strange question for you.”

“Yes?”

“You wouldn’t happen to still be at Starbucks, would you? I mean, I know you’ve probably left for the day.”

“No, actually. I’m here.” A thrill hits my spine between the shoulders and shivers its way down, the thrill of success; necessity or fortune falling into place I can’t tell, but it doesn’t matter and this is what I wanted, what I needed, to cut short the onslaught of despair. “Someone didn’t show up for their shift, and I stayed late to cover.”

Pause. Blink. Consider.

“I need—” But do I really want to do this to her, to rely on her when I don’t know how things are going to go with Sarah, when I can’t even pin down my feelings for a girl I just met at work, not to mention the girl I’ve loved for four years? Do I really want to be that asshole?

“I need someone to talk to.”

“I’m here.” She laughs, and weight falls away.

“Do you have anywhere you need to be? Do you need to go home?”

“No, I’m here, and I can stay. You should come. I want to listen.”

I turned left and walked down Dartmouth to Boylston, along the broad brick pathway of the private school, across the tree-lined Commonwealth Mall, and passed they dying Newbury Street. If I had gone to Exeter, Sarah might have seen me and asked where I was going. No, I turned left, kicking a pebble in the process.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Writing

Brody: A moment in anarchy

“I feel guilty,” I said. We laid in her bed on those soft gray jersey-knit sheets, and I nestled my chin against my chest as I ran my right pinky through her straight dark-brown hair. It rested on her face, so soft and silky that it fell back in her face even when she habitually pulled it behind her ear. My finger brushed against her cheek, soft and glowing even in the artificial twilight of her room. “We got him together, but we leave him at my apartment all day. I’m here, and he’s locked in my room. You know Justin and Gabe aren’t letting him out.”

Her voice held a note of concern that didn’t match the gravity in my chest: “What do you want me to do? I’m allergic to him.” Her hand rested on her pillow. Christina looked at me, but I didn’t meet her eyes. Instead I watched my hand retrace the dark strands.

I lifted my chin so I could meet her gaze before replying, “Let me bring him over from time to time. Let him play in the back yard. That would help a lot.”

She sighed, having heard this request before. “I can’t do that. My roommates don’t want him in the house—”

“Just from one door to the other.”

“—and I don’t want his fur in my home. I itch and I can’t breathe.” Her eyes rolled away from mine.

I deflated. “If only Justin and Gabe would help me out like they promised they would before I agreed to take him.” I let out a frustrated breath, anger at the whole situation filling me up, tying knots in my back. “I’m trying to balance his discomfort and yours. You asked me to get him, remember?”

“That’s because they were going to take him to the shelter!” Her exclamation came out soft but firm; I could almost hear a groan behind it. “I didn’t know that I was allergic to him, and I still don’t want him put to sleep.” Her hand moved from the pillow to my unshaven cheek, warm and light against the week-growth of down.

“Well, I can’t keep him like this. I can’t keep him locked in my room while I spend my time here. He’d be better off at a shelter than locked in my cell of a bedroom.”

“You don’t believe that, do you?” she asked quickly. “They’d kill him!”

I closed my eyes, inhaled, and exhaled, confused about how to proceed. Brody, my five-month old German Shepherd, had come from Christina’s upstairs neighbors when his owner, some sorority girl, had graduated in December and decided she didn’t want to take him home. I had Brody for a month before we found out that he triggered Christina’s allergies, and I left him alone in my bedroom when I went to class or to her place. In his boredom, he had started to chew up my book collection. Since I was a liberal arts student, I treasured my books more than for their usefulness in class and resented that he saw them as toys.

These thoughts went through my head when I considered giving him up: fully grown and energetic, it seemed unlikely that he would get adopted, but I was ignorant of Waco’s demographic for dog adoption and could only picture some young family seeing him and thinking that he wasn’t right to have around children. I feared that nobody would take him, that he would die there. Also, I enjoyed his company when we were together; he would curl up next to me with his head on one of my thighs and sleep peacefully or jump his upper body into my lap to show me his puppy smile. Brody’s playful personality inspired me to leave the house when I would’ve otherwise played computer games or read for leisure, and I wanted to work out a way to spend more time with him rather than sacrifice his love for Christina’s.

“Well, I need to go to him now,” I sighed. “He’s been alone almost fourteen hours today. I’m tired of leaving him alone all the time; it makes me like a dick.”

“Alright, but I’ll miss you,” she answered. Christina reached out and took my hand, pressing it softly against the soft cotton between her breasts.

“Stay with me just a little longer, won’t you?”

A small smile bent my lips. I rolled my eyes. I agreed.

**

Four hours later, near three in the morning, I stumbled into my loft apartment. I had fallen asleep in Christina’s arms and had to drag myself out of her warmth, her soft bed, to come home to Brody. He’s lucky that necessity trumps preference in my book: I would’ve preferred to stay.

I thought I knew the layout of my apartment by heart even in the dark, but I knocked my right leg into the loveseat on my way to my room. The couch scraped across the polished concrete, making a racket that seemed ungodly loud in the early morning silence. As I cursed under my breath, I heard Brody put his front paws against the wood door of my bedroom, waiting for me.

After I opened the door, he pranced for my attention. Brody jumped on the bed and turned in circles, smiling. A white bookshelf that held my uncared for books stood behind him against the brick wall, inlaid with one square glass window; Brody’s reflection danced there.

A carcass of a book lay on my floor. Purple paper like skin tossed aside littered the floor, marking the carrion feast at the foot of the dark wood bookshelf that held my personal favorites. Brody had learned how to get under the sliding glass shelf doors.

Get him over here, I told myself. Smack him once so that he knows not to do it, but don’t make it a big deal. He’s chewed books before.

I put a stern expression on my face and snapped my right middle finger and thumb, pointing at the book afterwards. Brody stopped prancing. His ears dropped, his butt hit the bed. He looked away from me ashamed.

I snapped my fingers again, waiting for him to obey. He moved away from me on the bed, curling up in a far corner. He knew that what he had done would anger me and he had done it anyway. My shoulders tensed, and I felt an angry heat on my cheeks.

Get him over here, I thought, and smack him once. Don’t draw this out.

I sighed, closing my eyes and turning my head to the right, forcibly relaxing my shoulder. I could still feel tension in them as I looked over a Brody and grudgingly made my way over to him.

He cowered, sinking his head down as if he were a turtle and my pillow his shell. I grabbed his collar with my index and middle fingers on my right hand. I made to pull, and he bolted.

The collar twisted on my fingers, and the joints at their base popped. I instinctively yanked my hand back, which pulled him by his throat off the bed. Urine, in a shifting arc, left him and landed on my bed, on my pillow and comforter.

Surprised, I yanked him by his collar off the bed, and he fell on the concrete with a yelp as one of his legs slid out from under him. He tried to run, but he didn’t have his footing; he only managed to pop my fingers again as the collar twisted.

I drug him across the bedroom floor to the ruined book, Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy. I smacked Brody once on his right hind quarter. I expected that to be the end of it.

I yanked my hand back as if to strike him again. I tightened my body, knowing I didn’t want to. I turned to my bed and saw the small yellow pool sinking into the bedsheets. I thought of how frustrated I was with my roommates. I pictured Christina at her apartment, in her bed without me. With these supports knocked away, the weight of school and ownership collapsed.

My hand fell hard on Brody’s pelvis, and he howled. More urine escaped him, hitting the floor and scattering, smattering my khakis. I lifted my arm again and hit him solidly in the ribs. He yelped. He kicked against the ground, but his feet slipped in the puddle of urine and he fell to his stomach, pulling my left arm down with his collar. I struck his pelvis again. And again, and again. Brody didn’t howl anymore; he cried.

I heard Justin on the stairs, clunking heavily, metallic echoes. He opened the door to my room and grabbed my arm midthrust. How long had I been hitting Brody? Two minutes? Five, maybe, before Justin woke up and stopped me, screaming at me that I’d kill him, and a question, what the fuck I was doing.

“I can’t do this!” I shouted at him through tears as he forced me away from Brody. “I need help! You promised you would help!”

In a flat tone that showed him truly unimpressed, he said simply, “It’s your dog,” and walked out of the room.

**

I collected myself and wiped my face of tears. I threw a towel on the floor, changed my pants, and leashed Brody. In my shaken mind, I still wanted to take him outside, even if the purpose was no longer clear.

On the way out I grabbed my backpack, thinking maybe I would drive to Dallas. I radiated heat, even more than usual, and my mind fumed. Rather than to my car, I walked Brody to the apartment pool.

When I sat down on some steps outside the pool gate, Brody seemed genuinely unfazed by the incident. He nuzzled against my hand with his nose and sat down in the grass next to me. Maybe he could tell the crazy had left me. Maybe the isolation had driven him as crazy as me.

I wrote about betrayal. I wrote about how I had beaten Brody for things that were mostly my fault. I wrote about how I had never lost control of my emotions like that.

I wrote about expectations, about black and white morality how it applies to dogs: good, bad, no gray. He shouldn’t touch my books; he shouldn’t dig through the trash; he shouldn’t piss when I beat him. That is the amoral judgment.

I wrote about how I did it to him, how I had locked him in my bedroom without toys. I wrote about how Justin had been right. I wrote about betrayal through broken promises on his part, on our other roommates part. I wrote about responsibility, about our broken promises, mine and theirs.

I wrote, “As I see it, I have two choices: give him up (not preferred) or work out a deal with the roomies. I will talk with them before I surrender the dog. I am coming to love him.”

A few days later, I cried after handing him over to the SPCA. I lied to them, told them I had found him on the streets less than a week ago so that I could get out of owning him without having to pay a fee.

I remember feeling like a bastard. I remember the guilt.

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Author: Greg Freed

Pre-comments:

This is a conversation I had with @wattsnan_poetry about the piece via Twitter. I hope it’s easy enough to follow!

wattsnan_poetry OMG how horrible you were to that dog. I hope it wasn’t true. 😦
greg_freed it was true. i totally lost control. but its a story we need to reckon w/; to me this piece is connected to Garden and Controlling Passion.
wattsnan_poetry What kind of responses do you think you will get?
greg_freed i want people to talk about how much control they have over their emotions, pet ownership frustrations, etc.
wattsnan_poetry not with a dog 😦 actually, never…I think it’s the mom in me
wattsnan_poetry I have a dog..Joey/boarder collie-spitz. He chewed a $2000 Natuzi Chair when he was a puppy…
greg_freed the post may be dark but i still expect that it’s universal. it’s relies on whether readers will want to admit that they’ve been there, too.
wattsnan_poetry Mom’s may think it…but we also understand that children, and pets are reactive to the situations we put them in…
greg_freed one of the best stories i’ve heard at a public reading was from a mom talking about almost but not hitting her kid, similar to this post.
wattsnan_poetry I get the loosing your temper…I remember sleep deprivation when the kids were babies…
greg_freed i tried to imply that he had chewed books before but not bothered me, that it was a collision of factors, not just the book, that snapped me
wattsnan_poetry I don’t think you get that you treated the dog badly from the beginning…Couped up in your room for 18 hours?
wattsnan_poetry I can’t believe he didn’t pee all over the place…
greg_freed i opened the piece arguing with christina about treating him poorly, and i argued with myself about how to discipline him ‘cuz i knew
wattsnan_poetry you shouldn’t have disciplined him…you should have disciplined yourself…that’s what you don’t get…
wattsnan_poetry As long as you know the poor dog did nothing wrong at any point…Don’t have kids any time soon
greg_freed i get it. that’s why a statement of guilt opens and closes the piece. in the moment i got it, too, but i was confused. guess it didn’t work.

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