Venison

Three winters ago, Mick and I went hunting. I didn’t know what I was in for. For one thing, the gun was so much heavier than I thought it would be. For another, I hadn’t realized how much waiting around happens.
Mick was so excited about my finally agreeing to go with him. He promised me that he would show me how to cook whatever we killed. When we first started going out, I couldn’t believe that he was the kind of person who went hunting. When I found out that he did, I was horrified. For a while there, I was going to break the whole thing off because it bothered me so much. But Mick was… well, Mick, and I guess I just sort of decided to see where things would go. I think I also didn’t quite believe him, because he has such delicate hands and he plays the piano. I couldn’t reconcile those long, large-knuckled fingers and his mild tenor with what I imagined hunters to be – rugged, rough, hairy manly men.
Eventually, though, I had to accept him in all his various incongruities, because there just isn’t a way to ignore a rabbit carcass roasting over a bonfire in someone’s backyard.
When he took me hunting, Mick told me that it would be a real adventure. I guess it was. We tramped all around through a forest with brightly colored vest things over our jackets so that no one would accidentally shoot us. We crouched down and waited, and breathed, and I felt the mist turning to a drizzle on the back of my neck.
I could hardly hold the gun up, let alone shoot, but watching Mick was fascinating enough to make the ache in my muscles worth it. There was something in his face that seemed akin to his concentration when he plays – but there was something else there, something almost feral. I didn’t, and still don’t, get it. There wasn’t anything exciting happening, but at every breath of wind and rustle of the leaves, his pale skin would flush and a small smile appeared on his mouth, but otherwise he’d stay absolutely still.
He killed a deer that day. That’s something else I didn’t realize – that we would have to carry something huge like that back to the car. Deer are much bigger than you think they are from far away. It was heavy, and Mick almost didn’t want to take it home, but I couldn’t stand the thought of him having killed it for nothing. If we brought the poor thing home, at least we’d be making use of it.
I couldn’t watch him turn the deer from animal into meat. I went to the bathroom and threw up after I saw him slit its stomach open, but I didn’t tell him. I pretended to be hungry, and, to be honest, the smell of the meat roasting actually made me hungry. It was easy to separate the venison from the deer I’d seen lying dead on the forest floor with its thick tongue hanging out and its eyes glazed and empty. I’m glad I never told Mick that I threw up, though.
We didn’t last for very long after that, but it wasn’t because of the hunting. It was because of his other passion – the piano. He got picked up by a touring orchestra and went to Europe. He cried a little when he said goodbye to me, and he apologized. He told me he would always remember me. I know I’ll always remember him too, especially when I see a deer or smell the telltale scent of venison.

The Owls

It wasn’t a long drive. We started out in Downtown, with plenty of tall buildings around us. We passed through suburbia, taking note of some of the more adorable houses around us – a memorable one had a thatched roof. Next there was a bridge. I’m almost certain it was over a river, but perhaps I am mistaken. There was a bridge, anyway, not long, but it was definitely a kind of suspension bridge, although it was a miniature of the kind that are to be seen in San Francisco or New York City.
After the bridge, the scenery began to change. There were some vestiges of suburbia, some strip malls and large gas stations, and then we passed into the countryside. It seemed incredible that there was farmland so close to the city – still, technically, IN the city – but there you go. Some places are like that.
The fields weren’t pure anymore, though. Subdivisions sprang up among them, and a few McMansions were either already built, a blight on the landscape, or in the process of being erected, their cement shells monstrously out of place amidst the huge and empty expanses of land.
We drove down a long dirt road until we saw the line of cars that were parked on the left, one after another, neatly and politely. We found an empty spot and donned our coats, gloves, scarves and hats; the sun was peeking from behind the heavy gray clouds, but it wasn’t warm by any means. We each dutifully took a pair of binoculars from the trunk, two large and expensive pairs and one small and still expensive pair, and set off towards the path that ran along the sea.
Somehow, we’d gone from city to suburbs to country to the seashore, all within a half hour.
“Look at the paparazzi,” my aunt whispered to me. Walking toward us from the seaside gravel path were a group of four adults in heavy raincoats, holding two large tripods and proportionately large cameras. None of them had the sleaze of actual paparazzo, which made sense – they weren’t there to spy on and photograph people’s personal and sordid lives, after all. They were there to photograph the owls.
That was why we were there, too. We’d come to witness the eruption of owls. Snowy owls live in the arctic tundra, but their food supply must have become scarce this past winter, because they showed up here sometime in March, and were chilling, in all their glory, on the stacks of driftwood washed in by the high tides.
It was easy enough to spot them without the binoculars. They were so white that they stood out among the rotting brown wood and the yellow and green weeds that filled the space between the path we were on and the sparkling water.
We got to see four of them that day. Three of them were older and mostly white, their feathers looking more like fur than anything. They were nervous, as any animal would be if there was a long row of people standing on a path barely fifty yards from them, murmuring and clicking away at cameras and peering at them through strange contraptions. There were also several bald eagles circling above, and the older owls glanced up every once in a while, their heads seeming to blend into their arched backs and their beaks hanging open, observing the other predators on their land.
There was one young snowy owl, who for some reason I felt was a female. She still had a lot of brown spots all along her back and head feathers, and she was the first one we saw who decided to move and give us a bit of a show. Of course, seeing snowy owls on a sunny day was already rather awe inspiring, but this young owl was fidgety and more nervous than her older counterparts, and she took a walk along the dead trunk she was perching on. We got to see her lifting her talons and witnessed the mass of feathers that cover both her legs and in between those long, sharp toes. She was ungainly as she shuffled along, her neck and head bobbing a little. If only we could have seen her flying, I’m convinced she would have proved to us just how graceful she could be.
Looking at the owls through the binoculars, I couldn’t help but think of poor Hedwig, Harry Potter’s owl. She was a snowy, and she died for her master. I doubt any real snowy owls would be willing to live in a cage – they looked much too wild for that, their powerful, big bodies spotted like snow leopards.
There is some beauty that should remain wild.

Wren

I am Wren. I was born on a bus. That’s what my mother tells me. But she was also on so many drugs when she had me that I don’t know what she remembers correctly and what she invented in her delirious, maddened state.

She named me Wren Robin Finch Nightingale. My mother shares that last name with me, but she never needed to carry around the weight of three other birds along with it. I still can’t believe that she was allowed to decide what to legally name me when she was clearly strung out on more substances than I know how to name.

The point is, whether I like it or not, I am Wren. My mother is a drug addict. My father is a truck driver who gave her a lift and shared a hotel room with her for a night. He fed her. She says he was a nice man. I guess that makes me feel better about it. The fact that she doesn’t remember his name doesn’t.

She doesn’t do drugs anymore, mind you. She got clean after I was born. But she goes to meetings every day and she knows that she will never lose the track marks on her arms just as the craving for something to lift her up will never leave her either. She reminds me that because I have her genes, I’m most likely an addict too. Even though I’m only fifteen and I’ve never even tried a puff of a cigarette.

I am Wren, and today I am getting on a bus and going to visit my aunt for the first time. My mom finally got the courage to friend her on Facebook, and they renewed their relationship. My aunt wants to meet me, and I guess I want to meet her, but I’m not sure about spending the whole of spring break at her house in California.

My mother and I live in Las Vegas, and spring break is a good business time. My mom has two jobs – she reads Tarot cards at night and is a dealer at a casino during the day. She only does the Tarot reading three nights a week, but now that I’m going to be gone, she’s going to be working as many shifts as she can so that during the summer she can afford to take time off and then we can both go and visit my aunt.

But for now it’s only me. Wren. Leaving my mother for the first time in my life. Leaving Nevada for the first time. Flying away from the nest for the very first time. I’m terrified. I’m excited. I’m terrified.

Progress

It’s four days into NaNoWriMo. I’m ahead of the required daily word count. I’ve written some twenty-five pages since November 1. There also happens to be incredibly annoying music coming out of one of the windows in my building. But that’s entirely beside the point.

My nose keeps bleeding because it’s so dry in my room. That’s irrelevant as well.

Okay, so I guess what I’m trying to avoid writing about is this: I’m not really sure whether or not I like the novel I’m writing. I have this issue that spans across almost everything I write: I create characters that I like. Almost without fail, my characters have redeeming qualities and are people that I can relate to. But that can get incredibly boring, and most of the writers I know who take this approach invariably begin churning out repetitive books that have similar voices. One of my favorite writers does this, and I forgive him because I love the style of his writing and his characters as much as he seems to: but I also know that there are probably many readers who he’s alienated this way. This is one thing I’ve developed since taking writing classes – a heightened and more realistic sense of literary criticism.

So this year, for NaNoWriMo, I’m writing about characters who are incredibly different than me. They’re people who I probably wouldn’t like very much if I met them. I have a soft spot for them – of course I do, despite everything – but I don’t particularly like them. Sometimes I get mad at them as I’m writing, because they’re selfish or annoying or mean. It’s an interesting experience, but it’s harder for me to gauge whether what I’m writing is any good or not.

Oh, well. Here’s to another twenty-six days of writing and finding out!

Weird

The past two-three weeks have been odd. I can’t put my finger on what it is, but things are being turned topsy-turvy in my mind, in my gut, in my heart. I don’t understand it, and although I’ve been trying to, I’ve also realized that I might not be able to really fathom what it is I’m going through.
Because of this, everything I’ve seen, done and experienced during the past couple of weeks has seemed dreamlike, as if it hasn’t been taking place in reality.
Have any of you experienced this? Do you have any tips on how to deal with it?

Julie’s Last Blind Date

Checkered shirt tucked into tan-colored pants, the man struck an image that wasn’t charming or heartwarming, but somehow caused those who saw him to feel sorry for him. He knew that he had this influence on people, and he didn’t mind at all. On the contrary, he worked to preserve the sympathy that was directed his way because he knew how quickly it disappeared.

The problem was that underneath the thinning hair, bushy mustache and rather bulldog-like cheeks lived a mind that was almost entirely fixated inwards. The man heard a child crying and thought about how he’d cried when he’d been taken out of his mother’s arms in his earliest memory; he saw a documentary on a village that a big volcano had destroyed and he thought about how awful it made him feel; he saw the death of a distant third cousin as a cause for self-pity and an excuse for not listening to what other people said.

On the first date, however, Julie didn’t know any of this. She simply walked into the restaurant where she’d made plans to meet him, and saw a slightly scruffy face, strangely hairless arms and a nervous, scared look in the man’s eyes. She knew immediately that here was the man who was waiting for her. After fifty-one blind dates in the past year, Julie was proud to say that she could recognize that deer-caught-in-the-headlights look that graced almost every man’s face as he waited awkwardly to meet his future wife.

Julie didn’t have any intention of marrying this man (Pete, she reminded herself sternly, this one’s name is Pete). She’d never had any idea of marrying any of the men she’d been hooking up with through 1-800-FOURTYS, a dating hotline, but they all seemed to be sure that she was going to be their next, or sometimes their first, love. It made her sad to think about this, so she tried not to. Instead, she enjoyed the meals out, and collected material for her book.

Special-novelty-concept books were in now, and she had bowed down to popular demand. Her weekly column in the paper was doing well, but her fans wanted something longer, something substantial to hold and to put on their bookshelves. Her agent told her she might as well try, so she’d come up with a name for her book: “The Year of Dates.” Her agent was skeptical about the name, but he liked the concept.

Now Julie was on her fifty-second date (although the first with this man) after which she could finally finish the book. She breathed a sigh of relief as she walked through the restaurant, a smile fixed rigidly on her face, and thought about how she could spend next Saturday evening alone for the first time in a year.

“Julie?” the man in the checkered shirt had gotten up abruptly as she approached his table. He had a bit of a stoop, and he looked uncomfortable in his own skin.

“Yes,” she continued smiling. “Pete, right?”

“Yes.” He sat down almost violently, as if punishing his chair for something. Julie fought the urge to raise her eyebrows and sat down as well.

“So…” she tried. She dropped the smile, felt her jaw muscles relax and leaned back in her chair. She had already decided that she had enough material for her book already, and that she was only going on this date so as to come full circle and finish the thing properly. Still, there was no reason to make much of an effort.

“I’m married,” Pete said abruptly. He gave a small, sniffling laugh at Julie’s expression. “Well, still married that is. I’m going to get a divorce, of course.” His accent was strange, not New York or Boston, but also definitely not California. Julie couldn’t place it.

“Oh,” she said politely. “Been separated long?”

“No, well, yes, of course. I don’t know. After twenty years of marriage is six months a long time?” The last half of the sentence was muttered and Julie had to concentrate rather harder than she wanted to in order to understand him.

“I don’t know,” she said hesitantly. “I suppose that’s not very long at all. Not after twenty years.”

Pete stared at her intently before dropping his gaze and shifting positions in his chair. He seemed to have a breathing problem (was he asthmatic?) that made him sound like he was snorting with every intake of air. Julie didn’t find this attractive in the least.

The rest of the evening seemed to take its cue from the way the first minute of their conversation had gone. They spoke haltingly, uncomfortably, and of disconnected subjects. Pete’s eyes seemed to burn with fiery passion when he spoke of films of which Julie had never heard. He mumbled and became awkward when she tried to ask him about his personal life. All in all, Julie felt the evening was a failure.

“Can you believe I’ve been on twenty-five of these things?” Pete asked as they split the bill (Julie only let the men she’d enjoyed spending time with pay for her meals.)

“What things?” she asked distractedly, trying to calculate the tip. Math wasn’t her strong point and she was focusing quite intensely when Pete’s next sentence caught her off-guard.

“Twenty-five blind dates,” he said. He snorted and went on. “One a week since my cupcake moved out. Crazy, eh? My head’s not quite right these days.”

Julie looked at him and wondered if she could have heard right. So there was someone else as mad as she was wandering around? A date every week for months on end? With a different person every single time?! Nobody, she thought, in their right minds would do that.

“Do you want to go out again?” she asked abruptly, surprising herself. Pete looked surprised too, and Julie could tell that he’d never been asked that question in all those dates. She could sympathize with the other women – he wasn’t a very good conversationalist and seemed a bit odd – but for some reason, she suddenly couldn’t bear the thought of never seeing him again. It was as if his own brand of unique madness made her feel a little less crazy herself. “Not on Saturday, though,” she added quickly. “We can go out on Friday.”

“Alright,” he said. “Sure, yeah.”

They parted chastely in the parking lot, shaking hands rather than bumping cheeks. Pete walked to his car with an odd, off-balance gait, and Julie unlocked her own car and watched him go. She felt repulsed by him, but also fascinated. Maybe, and a bit of a grin began to form on her face as she thought this, maybe she’d just found the subject of her next book.

 

 

His and Hers

She knew everything there was to know about him. She knew every scrap of information he’d ever posted on the Web, she knew every secret he’d ever written in one of his various anonymous blogs that she’d tracked down, and she knew every one of his many pastimes because he was so good as to post them incessantly on his Twitter account.

She knew that he’d spent a month in Japan eating nothing but rice because he was allergic to all types of fish. She knew that he was going to apply to Harvard Law School only because his father wanted him to, and that he ended up going because he wanted to as well. She knew that on his twenty-fourth birthday he ran out of clean underwear and had decided, to celebrate his nuptials, to walk around nude beneath his Dockers.

She knew when he started going out with the blonde, when he dumped her for the brunette and when he decided he needed time off from any hair-colors at all. She knew when he fell in love, when he proposed and when he was turned down. She knew when he was depressed and went to seek medical and professional help. She knew when he graduated with distinction and decided to get a teaching certificate instead of become a lawyer like he’d planned at first.

She knew him better than she knew herself. She became joyful when he was happy and blue when he was sad and excited when he was planning his next move in life. She celebrated his birthdays and the holidays he observed. She shared New Year’s Eve with him in Times Square where she knew he went every single year without fail.

She lived her life through him, through his experiences, through his loves and disappointments, his successes and his defeats, his whims and his dedications.

His life was hers, and he didn’t know it.