Tag Archives: present

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.”

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Author: Greg Freed

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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.”

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Author: Amos Parker

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A Relationship in Presents, Part One: The waffle press

The reactions to the last entry were pleasantly diverse. I’m loath to tell you, dear reader, how to engage the material in this blog. However, I feel that I would do well to remind those of you who know me personally that these pieces are neither journalism nor the records from my journal. These are lightly polished examples of my (mostly nonfiction) creative writing and are not bound either to strict fact or to my personal view of the world. They are small pieces of art and should be read as such, in preference to reading them as transcripts of my life or little confessions of guilt or shame.

For the next few weeks, I’m going to post episodes that track a relationship through the gifts one lover gives to another. I think it will be a fun experiment in style and emotion, and I hope you enjoy the results! 🙂 Wednesdays are still reserved for guest authors, which I am openly seeking. Amos Parker will present a piece this week; I’ve seen the first draft and am excited about releasing it to you!

Thanks for reading. 🙂

**

“I can’t tell you how much it was,” she typed. The message appeared on my screen, void of her joking lilt, but I could almost hear it through the pixels.

“C’mon,” I replied. “You have to give me a hint.”

“Alright,” she said. I waited with a tense smile on my face for the next message.

It appeared: “I won’t tell you how much it cost.”

My eyes closed in mirth, and I looked away from the computer while I laughed.

“Come on!” I typed. “Give me a hint!”

Sarah walked away from her computer and grabbed the box. She picked it up, turned it over in her hands. The stark dorm room around her, decorated with martini glass plastic hangers that I had helped her put up, a purple shag carpet, and several groups of stuffed penguins, felt homey to her, but the florescent light and off-white cinderblock walls also pushed her to leave, to come to my apartment.

The message Sarah is typing appeared at the bottom of the text box, and I knew that she was about to send me something good, some hint she would’ve guessed I couldn’t sink my teeth into, but she didn’t know me that well just yet.

“It weighs 4.69 pounds. That’s all you’re getting. I’m coming over now.” The message Sarah has signed off followed her messages.

I quickly shifted over to Google and typed in the weight. After converting it to kilograms for me, Google began to display items that matched. I scanned one page, but none of the links made sense. I scanned the next, and the next, excitement leaning into frustration, but always a giddy smile lighted my features.

Then, on the fourth page, I saw a waffle press that split the waffle into six hearts. I knew that had to be the present she had gotten me; it made perfect sense. We had gone to Alexander’s dining hall so many times late at night. All I had really wanted there at two in the morning was a good waffle, but their presses suck, either burning the waffle or ripping an undercooked one in half; the heat fluctuated, and the waffle mixture wasn’t any good, besides. My smile widened.

She knocked, and I left my bedroom and opened the front door. She stood silhouetted by beige vinyl beams. Sarah wore a black jacket over a purple spaghetti-strap and a knee-length black cotton skirt. Her long brown hair hung far past her shoulders, and her lips held a small smile.

She entered, plopped down on the loveseat by the entrance to the kitchen. “I’m not going to tell you what I got you,” she said, and I heard the humored lilt in person.

“I know what the present is,” I said, closing the door.

She answered, “I doubt it.”

“No, I know, but I’m not gonna tell you what it is so you can be surprised when I’m not surprised.”

“That’s stupid,” Sarah said, rolling her eyes. She leaned her torso against the near arm of the loveseat while I plopped down on the sofa.

“So what did I get you?” she asked.

“I’m not gonna tell.”

“If you knew you’d say something,” she said.

“I do admit it’s the perfect present,” I answered.

Sarah squinted her eyes, questioning my answer. Finally, she said, her voice rising in anger, “You do know, you asshole!”

I looked to the side, towards the TV.

“How did you figure it out?” she nearly screamed.

I shrugged, meeting her eyes again. “I put the weight into Google and searched a few pages. The present was so good, it wasn’t really that hard to figure out.”

Sarah looked away from me, grunting a sigh. She got up, I thought maybe to come over and slap at me, so I smiled. She didn’t move towards me, though; she went for the door.

“Wait,” I coughed, shocked. “You’re not leaving?”

“Yes, I’m leaving,” she said. “You’re such an asshole.”

She opened and shut the door, and didn’t speak to me again for weeks. She did, eventually, give me the waffle press.

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Featured Fan: Kate Barkhurst

This is a fiction post based on info that Kate sent me in emails. (VERY FIRST FEATURED FAN POST EVAR !! ZOMG!@#$?!) I reserve the right to twist, manipulate, and mangle anything she might’ve said and to misrepresent her at least as much as my poor artistry necessitates, probably more.

To have a chance to get featured, join the group. Or wait a week or maybe a month: I plan on upgrading the group to a fan page soon, but I’m pretty busy for the next month or so.

**

Christopher, Christopher, Christopher, beautiful boy. I feel his breath moist on my breasts, his ear snug against my sternum. Gently, gently I raise my hands above the bed, place my fingers on the camera. Freeze: he fidgets, and my muscles tense; his head nuzzles and his eyes flutter, and then he’s asleep again. I feared that I had woken him.

I shift my pelvis to the side so that I can give the camera the best angle. My hair is still wet from the shower, and I’m unkempt, but I don’t care. My baby is adorable, beautiful, darling. No amount of photos would ever sate me. I love him, his little hand on my collar bone, his dreaming eyes, even the thin line of spit touching my chest. So many of his body fluids have touched me at one point or another that spittle seems insignificant, no, adorable, even lovely. I suppose that body-fluid comment works both ways.

Jack called and said he’d come home for lunch. It’s nice that his schedule it so flexible; along with Christopher, having Jack breaks the monotony over young motherhood. I love it, being a mother, but sometimes when Jack is gone and Christopher is sleeping, I feel so lonely. I know it’s not the case; I’m loved in ways that I would have envied even a year ago or been to ignorant to envy, but sometimes the sinking feeling comes anyway.

I put school on hold for Christopher. It was the right choice, I know it. Jack makes more than enough money for us as an IT consultant, and having the responsibility of running the business-end of his shop helps me to see that I’m important, that I’m involved. And my son is my priority, my first love. But school isn’t far behind, nor work, nor my dreams. I haven’t sacrificed them yet, no. I’ve put them on hold.

Christopher whimpers when he hears another shutterclick from the camera, so I put it down. I grab my phone off the nightstand and pull up Facebook. I play games, some simple and some complex. I can measure the degrees of my cabin fever by the number of eggs I’ve unlocked in the last week, but I never bother. I use the game to get my mind off of things; it would lose its point if I turned it into an issue.

People challenge me on my ability to follow through with my dreams when I’ve delayed my life to raise my son. They think I’m a cliche, that I’ll become some housewife and settle for doing Jack’s chores. But they don’t know me; they don’t know how broad these shoulders have become through trial; they don’t know the migraines or the father. And if they don’t know that, what do they really know about me at all?

Those fools don’t remember when I moved out of my parents house working at Cinemark as a ticket girl, minimum-wagin’ it without family support. I only had alcohol in my fridge because of a then-boyfriend who worked for a delivery service. I talked like everyone talked then, about success and chasing my ambitions and making my way. Who would’ve known I’d have been different then, if they had bothered to consider me? And yet I had to believe then that I was–different, I mean; that I was worth a damn.

So many of my friends went away to college while I stayed behind, unable to go on. So many dropped out, came home, chilled. I spent time with them, but also resented them, ones that had the ability to fulfill desires handed to them so that they could take it for granted. I guess I really didn’t resent them, but it frustrated me to have these dreams and see them squandered by people who didn’t, couldn’t, and wouldn’t share them.

But I remember Greg. Our friendship was always a weird mix of fun and awkward; how we maintained that for years I still don’t know except that we only saw each other occasionally through high school and his college. We used to drive around in his Trans Am, and he’d blast Savage Garden and we’d sing and smile. Our souls would dance on the T-bar. At the end of the night, he’d always ask me whether to turn left to take me home or turn right to go back to hang out at his place. I never did want to go home.

In 2004, he invited me one day to some alumni meeting, and I hadn’t had an excuse to dress up in quite some time. He picked me up in his truck and drove me out there, him in a suit and me in that black dress, my straight brown hair left loose over my shoulders. He smiled and I smiled, and we were awkward while the night was beautiful.

He drove me out to the Hilton at 635 and the Tollway. When we arrived, a string of old people and signs directed us to the meeting room. It was nearly an amphitheater, dark wood all around with plants in little rails, and all the old people, old rich people.

The hour-d’oeuvres tasted excellent, and Greg introduced me to a few unmemorable classmates before we sat down. I didn’t quite feel like a trophy while I stood there with Greg, but I wasn’t sure why he touched me on the shoulder every time he introduced me or why he bothered at all. His friends were all nice, everyone was nice, and then we sat down to listen.

The meeting started with a speech about finances that I didn’t pay much attention to and then a speech from Baylor’s president that I didn’t have any interest in. It wasn’t until the Q&A session that I saw something truly memorable: Greg stood up to ask the first question. He had said that was why the students were here, to spur conversation, and so he stood, announced that he was a Great Texts major, and asked something about Baylor’s new dorm rooms.

Before he could sit down, the president had him up there talking about Great Texts and core classes and who knows what else. The invitation for Greg to the front of the room took us both by surprise, but he handled it well. In fact, it was the first time I heard anyone I knew from school cover a broad range of topics with such knowledge and enthusiasm. I knew that Greg would go on to do great things in that moment, and that confirmed and comforted my ambitions, even when life had handed me several obstacles I wasn’t sure I could get past.

I did, though, get past them, and now I’m married to a wonderful man and I have a beautiful child, and somehow my dreams seem almost as distant as they did back then. But I know that they’re not gone; I know that I haven’t sacrificed them to motherhood altogether, only temporarily. The most important job I will ever have in life is to nurture and teach my child how to dream and pursue happiness in all aspects of his life, but that doesn’t mean that I’ll miss out on attending and graduating from Harvard Law School; it doesn’t mean I won’t practice corporate litigation for a prestigious firm; it still doesn’t mean that I won’t accomplish this particular ideal: all of this before I am 35. Maybe I can even see Greg when I move up to Boston, and he can meet Jack and write stories about Christopher, fun and immortal and pure. I can’t imagine anything better.

Christopher shifts on my chest, squirms, and wakes up with a small cry. The spittle snaps as I readjust and sit up. These days are difficult but so worthwhile, and the future is an infinite stretch of beauty and amazement. Happiness is a warm and giggly baby cuddling with you in the morning. As I settle Christopher in my lap, Jack comes in the doors, and our eyes connect and affirm our love. We smile. Christopher cries in earnest. I truly can’t imagine anythin better.

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Author: Greg Freed

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On mothers and teachers

This blog is still so young. There’s a whole world of information that I don’t know that I would like access to, but I’m about as willing to farm marketing types for the information as I am willing to write marketing copy, which, if you can’t tell by the style of this blog, is about as likely as willing stabbing myself in the eye with a rusty claw hammer.

The temptation here is to tell you all the things I want this blog to be and then ask for your help to make it that, but I’m not that silly (am I?). I’m also not going to sell out my writing or my guest-authors’ writing to satisfy your whims.

I know that there’s an intersection between what I want to give you and what you want. I also know that I’m not going to find on my own, except for a lifetime of trial and error, where those fields meet.

Therefore, this is what I ask of you my audience: take a second today before or after you read the post and go to the comment section below. Tell me what brings you here, what desires of yours I fill, and what you’d like to see that would bring you pride to share this site with your friends.

I’m not asking for essays on blog value or for you to do my market research for me. I’m asking for you to take an active role in the development of this blog as a seperate entity from me. You’re already the community, and I need to know what you want in order to best decide how I can give it to you.

Thank you in advance for any comments. For those of you still reading, Wednesdays will most likely be my experimental day. They bring more readers than Mondays, which means more people visit the site than my core readership, and yet are slower than Fridays, which I will try to focus on for my best work.

That said, here’s a guest post by new author Aaron Basinger.

**

If memory serves me right I was wearing red stretchy pants with a navy blue shirt emblazoned with a train on the front. It made me proud to wear primary colors with a symbol of engineering on my shirt. It reminded me of my grandfather.

My grey Velcro shoes hardly went with the outfit. My blonde hair was parted back then.

When I wasn’t playing outside pretending to be my dad, I was playing with blocks. Any sort of blocks would do but mostly Legos. I would make towers, airplanes, and spaceships. I created new vehicles and weapons, and invented things without names.

One day I decided to let a girl play blocks with me. She was wearing heavy bangs in the mid-eighties fashion. She wore a puffy white dress with thick shoulder pads. I don’t remember if we were friends. I don’t remember seeing her before or after the incident.

I ushered her to my corner and told her that we were building a skyscraper. She began help me build, a slab here, a brick there. Her hair was as blonde as the pine blocks.

Silence. Darkness.

Suddenly I am on my stomach on the floor. Red, pulsating heat between my eyes, I can feel my heart beating in my face. My nose feels stuffy.

Someone picks me up by my sides, carries me like a sack of mulch. I hear the click of the light switch. All is illuminated, the grimy yellow bathroom tiles that reach the ceiling, the mirror that inexplicably has rust on it, the ceramic washbasin in front of me.

I feel my body lean forward to the sink. I hear the fellow children squealing in the background as the aide murmurs something about my parents.

The teacher tilts me further to the sink as she begins to pinch my nose, white hot pain. A flash of heat. Something is moving from my right sinus cavity, something twisting and fluid, a murky taste of brine. Arterial warmth, a steady glow. I look down as she releases my nose.

Drip drop pluup.

A blood clot, carmine red mixed with the saltwater from my eyes slithers down the drain. A feeling of slight relief. It’s not unlike passing a crushed grape through your nose.

Hearing the quiet squeak of white Keds I grip the porcelain sink and push myself up to see three reflections in the mirror.

Great. My mom, who works night shifts at the neonatal ICU, will be here soon. She will be mad, I will look down and adjust the Velcro on my sneakers, put my left hand on my head, and drag it through my hair letting it rest on my crown. I’ll know that I can’t walk away.

The teacher sits me down. She is so kind to me. Her trimmed afro wouldn’t fit any other woman wearing a silk purple and pink scarf. It is tied to the right and resting on her shoulder pad. I feel at home as if my mother was not behind me.

Looking into the mirror, I see the pony tail, the thick black hair, the Aggie sweatshirt. She looks tired, concerned, loving. Anything but angry. This is first time I notice that my mother has white skin over her cheekbones.

She kneels and we are on the same level. Her hands delicately press the sinus cavities, gently pressing towards the nose searching for the piece of cartilage dangling. The non symmetry won’t work for buildings and it won’t work for noses.

A flare of white light and heat, an audible pop, and the bleeding almost completely stops. I squint my eyes s salt water runs out, pushing a valley between the dried blood. She tells me that I am a big boy, holds my hand, and walks me out the door. I am a big boy.

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Author: Aaron Basinger

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Features, Guest author, Writing

Pneumonia: Episode one

Writing nonfiction has always come easily to me; even the most mundane events have inspiration buried inside them, which is why I cherish challenges to make events like workdays inspiring. Sometimes, however, the scene cuts itself short, and there’s no “angry blob monster” strategy to negotiate a nonfiction author’s writer’s block.

With that, I give you a piece about my college years. Critique, comment; give me somewhere to go aside from the obvious, a path my brain seems adamant not to take.

**

I lay down on the cement, which feels warmer than my body. I breathe in deeply, as deeply as I can, and my lungs begin to itch terribly. I exhale quickly, fearfully, but I waited too long. The cough comes, horrible and fluid.

I bask in the sunlight in deep fall. It’s fall, isn’t it? I close my eyes because my head is spinning, taking the sky along with it. I breathe again. I avoid the cough, barely.

Baylor’s doctors told me I have pneumonia. How long ago was that? I open my eyes and look around; I’m at Baylor Student Learning Center, home of their medical team. I moan as my head swells. Tears well up in my eyes.

My head hurts so badly. I tried to break it on the cinder blocks of my dorm room. It woke me up, the pain. I coughed and coughed and coughed, my diaphragm yanking my body into a fetal position. And then I turned to look at the entrance of my dorm room with that damn two by one foot vent. The never ending blast of cold splashed right on me, blew onto my bed unavoidably. Damn it to hell, my nemesis.

Turning back to the window, I shivered under my comforter. My head never settled down, never stopped spinning, never stopped aching. I had class today, my last class before Thanksgiving Break, before going home to my family. I banged my head against the wall instead.

I wanted to fracture the skull, the see pieces of it sliding down the beige blocks. I wanted to see the cold, malevolent wall painted in my blood and bone. I didn’t even manage to bruise myself, didn’t even chafe the dry skin. I was too weak.

Colt had come in and asked me why I missed class. I groaned, got up, and vomited in our sink. Or did I dream about vomiting in the sink? He asked me if he could take me to the doctors at the SLC. That was after I said I couldn’t drive there, couldn’t even walk there.

He had dropped me off at the entrance, but he didn’t wait around. If he had stayed, he might’ve hit rush hour traffic in Houston, four hours away. I opened the door and climbed out and off he went like a bullet in his sporty silver Civic.

Oh, my fucking head. I grab it with my hands, I shut my eyes tightly, I rub my temples, but nothing helps. Athena. Zeus. Oh, God, I’m about to pass out.

A female voice speaks over me: “Do you need some help?” It seems all consuming. It pounds inside my fevered head. The cement is cold. The sun is weak.

I open my eyes. It’s the nurse who had me wait two hours to see a doctor. “Grandparents,” I mumble, “coming.”

“What?” she asks.

I cough, regaining some strength. “My grandparents are coming.”

“Do you need a ride to the hospital?”

They had told me in the doctors’ office that they couldn’t drive me to the hospital, that it made them liable if something happened on the way. I couldn’t drive, though, can’t drive now, passed out on the sidewalk.

I pull out my cell phone and call my grandparents. This confuses the nurse, but she stands there politely. My grandparents don’t answer; I get their machine. It’s been forty-five minutes since they said they were on their way, though. I’ve made the trip from the college to their house before; it’s fifteen minutes, tops.

I struggle to put the cell phone away, pushing it forcefully into my pocket, and lift my hand to the nurse, which induces more pounding in my head. My hand only lifted just over a foot off the ground before it flopped back, limp with exhaustion. What’s happening to me? Fear sets in, and adrenaline starts to pump.

With effort, I sit up. My coughing nearly topples me.

“Do you need help?” she asks me again.

“Oh, God, yes.” My voice shakes. I’m on the verge of tears.

“Do you remember what the doctor said you had?”

“Pneumonia.”

Just then, my grandparents pulled up in the driveway. The nurse pulled on my arm, trying to get me up.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Writing