Things He Missed in Eight Years

IMG_20141106_084227Losing my virginity.

Falling in love with his best friend’s son.
Graduating high school.
Getting a big girl job.
Anorexia.
His son’s graduation.
Going to college.
Anorexia again.

Getting my heart broken,
though not for the first time.
Going to college
(for real this time).
College, college, acting, writing,
friends.
Coming out as bi.
My second girlfriend.
Oxford.
First publication. Second.
Literary award (shared).

His son’s ambitions,
to PhD and beyond.
His love, his happiness,
his cats.
His engagement.

Moving to New York.
Looking for work.
Writing. Writing.
Falling in love.
More cats.

His wife’s decision to move.

His retirement.

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ReMeMoRyIng

“What do you want to be remembered for?”
“That’s a stupid question.”
“Not really. You know. Under the circumstances.”
“Sure, fucking whatever, but it’s not up to me, is it.”
“No, but that doesn’t mean I can’t ask. God, you’ve gotten to be such a dick.”
“Yeah, well, you know, that also shouldn’t surprise you, ‘under the circumstances.'”
“Look, you said I should be normal. I’m being normal. You made me promise. Like, months ago. Remember?”
“Yeah. I didn’t say I’d be okay about it now.”
“Fine. Well. Just as long as you remember that you asked for it.”
“…”
“…”
“Fine.”
“So what do you want to be remembered-“
“Oh come on.”
“Seriously, just think about it for a second. Like if you were asking me-“
“Yeah? What would YOU want me to be remembered for?”
“Really? Did you really just do an ‘enough about me, what do you think of me’ line just now?”
“You love me.”
“Whatever. Look, if you’d asked me, what like I wanted to be remembered for, yeah, like, it’d be a hard question. It is a hard question. But I mean, I can think of a couple things.”
“Like…?”
“Like I want to be remembered for things I did while I was around, not for things people find out about me after. Or like, I don’t know, mushy things, like I want to be remembered for being a good person, I guess, or for at least trying.”
“But that’s so fucking general. Everyone wants that. Or everyone says they do. It’s stupid. What’s the point anyway? No one’s going to say you’re mean after. Like what, we’re gathered here today to commemorate this awful fucking bitch? Nobody would say that about you.”
“I feel like you’re not done.”
“Even though it’s exactly what you are.”
“Shut uuup.”
“Anyway, it’s easy for you. You have people. Like lots. And family and shit.”
“So do you.”
“Not really. You know what they’re like.”
“Well, yeah, but-“
“But nothing. They’ll care. They’ll make the right noises. But then poof. That’s it. They already bought a place in Miami, did I tell you? For when they don’t have to spend winters here anymore.”
“Are you kidding.”
“It’s fine. It makes sense. You know. It’ll be good for Zach, he hates the winter here. He gets all seasonal affective disorder and shit.”
“Fuck that, he can buy a fucking SAD lamp. They don’t have to buy a house already.”
“It’s a condo. Like in an apartment building.”
“Whatever.”
“Look, don’t worry about it, it’s just how they are.”
“Insensitive morons? Assholes?”
“…”
“Sorry.”
“Nah, that’s pretty accurate.”
“Well, still, it’s not my place to-“
“As if you ever cared about shit like that. Gimme a break.”
“…”
“…”
“…”
“…”
“So anyway…”
“Yeah.”
“Want me to turn the TV on? See if Powerpuff Girls is on or something?”
“Yeah, sure, why not.”
“Cool. Want some water? I’ll go get some.”
“Yeah, sure. Thanks.”
“No problem.”
“Hey-“
“Yeah?”
“Nothing.”

Satin

You don’t know what satin feels like. You never have. It’s a word you’ve always loved, since you were too young to know what it was, whether it was a Disney princess or a kind of washing-up liquid. It could have been either. You heard your babysitter talking about it, when she was using your grandmother’s phone to call her friends. It was long before cellphones.
When you were old enough to babysit the little boys down the block, you learned why your own babysitter had spent her time on the phone. Watching little kids was a pain. You didn’t like it. But you needed the money, your grandmother’s purse strings being as tight as her small mouth. When she went out to her fancy meetings, dressed to the nines, strung up with pearls and too much lipstick, you thought she was a rich lady. You learned when you got older that she was a penny-pincher, stingy with every coin, and that all those fancy meetings she went to were for your own sake. So she could keep you. Not for herself, but from others.
Your babysitter talked about satin. You weren’t listening very hard, so you only caught the word because of the way she said it, and you didn’t get any of the context around it. She was a fast talker usually, but she snaked the word “satin” through her tongue like it was three times that length. You try to replicate it with your own mouth but you catch the person next to you in your cubicle looking at you and you put your head down and get back to work.
It’s dull work. You’re dialling numbers and waiting for people to pick up the phone. You’re not selling them things. You’re trying to get them to answer questions. It’s two pm and no one is picking up. Everyone is at work, just like you, or out doing errands. Or napping. You wish you could put your head right down and nap. You don’t know why your babysitter’s face is so strong in your head until you realize that her name is the last one on the page you’ve been crossing names and numbers off from. You must have seen it right at the beginning, but your brain didn’t take it in. You read an article about that once. How people think something is a coincidence when it actually isn’t.
You skip down and call her number first, before the rest of the list. You wait. No one picks up. No answering machine. You don’t cross her off. You’ll try again later.

PHOTO / jovike

X [Sci-Fi Flash Fiction]

Month: May.
Year: 2212.
Location: Undisclosed.
Subject: X.

Regarding X. It is hard to know where to begin. Discussing X has always been, in my line of work, a sensitive issue. They’ll hit you when you’re down, they told me in training. They’ll find your most vulnerable spot, and they’ll hit it, over and over again. I was trained to lock my mind – the only part of my body that is still entirely my own – away from them if I were ever caught. Each of my memories went into its own box, it’s own safe, where even I wouldn’t be able to access it until my own people injected me with the chemical that lowered my adrenaline levels enough to take me out of the state of fight-or-flight that would be induced by capture.

This is all a matter of public record now – I have no fear of this method being employed by the enemy, since the enemy has already discovered and made full and horrifying use of some of my fellows. There is rioting in the streets of the major cities. Husbands, wives and children stamp themselves with slogans, protesting the administration turning the nation’s finest fighters into different people, bereft of the memories they hold dearest, exactly when they might make use of those memories to hold on. Too many of our people have simply died in captivity – the layperson theory being that they had nothing beloved to think of and thus no hopeful thoughts of getting out.

The layperson understands nothing. First, there is always the camaraderie. Not one of us, if trained correctly, would have simply given up for lack of love or care, because we cared for one another. Like wolf-pups, we lost our milk teeth together, fought together, fed together.

Second, there is always X. X is the one person that is left to you and is accessible. The protesters, so willing to get angry at someone for the loss of their loved ones, forget that each of us chose to join this noblest of professions, noblest of causes. It’s easier for them, no doubt. That is why they hardly ever remember to mention X in their long-winded rants. The concept of X has probably ripped some families apart – since the files were turned over to the people, they have found out who each of the dead-in-action troop’s X was. They think it’s like picking favorites.

It’s not. It’s not picking favorites. If it were, there would be a whole lot of little kids in those rosters of Xes, the sons and daughters we leave at home when we go on active duty, those angelic faces we barely get to know and whose lives we miss so much of. We don’t get to see their first implants, their first plug-ins, their first time info-drinking at school. For people like me, still living in secret facilities, we can’t even signal them because we’re cut off for all intents and purposes from the main grid.

So why aren’t there many kids on those X rosters? Because Xes are supposed to be the most vivid, incredible, memorable people you’ve ever met. They’re supposed to be a person you knew enough to know well, but who hasn’t been in your life for at least two years, and who you wish you knew more about. Why? Think about it. You can access your memories of X in the worst situation of your life – but you don’t know where they are, so you can’t put them in danger; you can keep your mind busy fantasizing about them since you didn’t get as much time with them as you wanted to; and they’re interesting enough to keep your mind busy when the rest of your pre-troop life has slipped away from you.

My X – I don’t know where she is now. But when I knew her, for the four months we dated, she had bubble-gum pink hair. I never knew anyone else who went for something so old-fashioned as dyeing their hair like she did, with this vintage bottled stuff. She had mostly her own skin and it was the softest I’d ever touched. It glowed in the moonlight. She never danced and she got angry a hell of a lot. Whenever we went out, she would check to make sure no one was looking at us and then she would hold me tighter than anyone else ever had and would tell me “You’re so smart.” And then she went away to some commune where skin-people live and I never saw her again. And I hope I never will, cause I don’t know anyone else who could be as good an X as she is.

Remembrance

Contrary to popular opinion, James E. Jones was not rich. He had a rich name, this is true, and he wore beautiful clothing to school every day. But what nobody knew was that the clothes were all his father’s and that he wore them because the family couldn’t afford to buy new clothing for him. It was lucky for James E. Jones that he grew up very quickly and that by seventh grade he was as tall as his father, because it meant that when he started junior high, all the other kids thought he was rich. At his old school, everyone had laughed at him for his strange, grownup clothing.
Now James E. Jones was in high school, and he was going to graduate soon. He had never been to a party and had never kissed a girl. He had friends, though. They were two boys who were interested in math and science just like him, didn’t go to parties just like him and had never kissed girls – again, just like him. They were the outcasts, this group of three overgrown boys. As seniors, they were all lucky enough to have passed the weedy phase, and they looked like they were approaching manhood, but their minds and hearts were still too young for their overgrown limbs and their chest hair.
It was on a day in March that James E. Jones decided to do something. He’d been thinking for a long time that he hadn’t really, truly, done anything in his life. Sure, he’d kept the secret of his family’s intense poverty, just like his parents had always asked him to, but that wasn’t anything special, that was second nature by now. It was true also that he’d won first prize at the science fair for two years running – the first time for building a small machine that could put broken eggshells back together and the second time for managing to breed blue rabbits – but he didn’t consider that to be an achievement either. He was smart, but it wasn’t like he’d done anything in order to become so. He was just lucky that his parents were smart and had passed on their genes to him. His little sister, for instance, he considered to be dumb as a doorpost, but he loved her just as he would have loved someone intelligent, because it wasn’t her fault that she found infinitely more interest in playing dress-up with her friends than in reading James E. Jones’ kids’ science magazines that he’d stolen from the school library years ago.
He wasn’t exactly sure what he wanted to do, but he knew he wanted it to be his own, something personal that nobody else could join in on. He wanted to do something that would make a mark, give him one day that he would remember forever, and hopefully also allow others to remember him, too.
There were a few brief moments when he thought about finding a gun and shooting up his classmates. He knew that would allow him to be remembered in the school forever, but it would be in infamy. He wanted attention – he admitted this freely – but he didn’t want to be hated or abused. He knew that some people who shot up their schools were given sympathy by the media and even, occasionally, by other classmates, but he didn’t think that anyone at his school knew him well enough to award him with some kind of sad and shocked understanding.
He thought about committing suicide, too. He didn’t really see much point in life, and when he thought about it, lying on his bed and looking at the marks on the low ceiling where he’d squashed mosquitoes over the years, he realized that he’d never found much reason for living. He was rarely actively happy. At most, he was engaged. He wondered whether there was something wrong with him, but he figured that if there was, someone would have noticed it by now and done something about it. Committing suicide was too risky, though. What if he lived? Then he would just feel pathetic for the rest of his life, and his attempt would be remembered as just another failed and misguided plea for help.
The days and weeks slipped by and James E. Jones still hadn’t made up his mind. He had almost reached a decision and a plan had half formed in his mind on the last day of classes. His thoughts were buried deep within his mind that morning as he walked towards school. He didn’t notice the truck that was zooming up the highway that he had to cross over to get to school. When the memorial service was over, and the school library was renamed after him even though his parents couldn’t donate any money for it, James E. Jones got what he wanted.

I’m Back

So. Here’s what needs to be said:

1. I’ve been writing like a fiend. I’ve completed my second novel, entitled (rather lamely,) The Empress’ Assassin. I don’t know if it’s any good.

2. I’ve missed writing on this blog more than I can say. Especially lately. Now that November is over, I’m back for good. Since I don’t have a current work-in-progress, I’m going to spend all my writing time on publishing stuff here.

3. I still – STILL! – don’t know whether or not my college will allow me back in the upcoming semester. I’m truly disappointed with the way they’ve handled the whole situation. If it weren’t for the fact that Sarah Lawrence College has incredible teachers and an amazing set of intelligent students, I would seriously consider trying to get into one of the many other schools that accepted me. Can you tell that I’m resentful? Hmph.

4. Sadly, I won’t reach my goal of reading 144 books in a year. I’m only on book #116 now, and it’s December 1st already. Still, for the first year ever I’ve kept a reading list, which I’ll publish on December 31st.

5. I’m vacuuming all the books in my house. Yes, I know, this is insane, but they’re all incredibly dusty and the shelves ought to be cleaned properly. I’ve started in my room, and have rediscovered scores of old children’s books. I found my beautiful illustrated Cinderella and Snow-White, all my lovely Patricia Polacco books, my Dr. Seuss and Charles Schulz… I could go on endlessly.

6. I just finished rereading A Little Princess, one of my favorite books ever. Strangely, I started reading Vanity Fair today and found curious similarities. Then again, as my wonderful mother pointed out, private boarding schools were the popular and proper education in England for quite a long period of time, so maybe it’s not so odd.

7. I actually have nothing further to say right now, so in lieu of actual information, this seventh item on my silly list will simply bid you all a lovely Wednesday!

Homeless with a Hamster

High Priest Jonas, son of Azekial, of the long-standing Levi line, looked exactly like any other homeless man wandering about the streets of the capital city. Unlike them, however, he carried in his heart the knowledge of his noble lineage.

He walked through the alleyways of stone and dirt every day, and watched the washing hung out to dry between the windows of the buildings on either side of him. He counted socks, shirts and pants and tried to figure out how many people lived in each apartment. Sometimes he sat under a washing line and let the water from badly wrung clothing drip onto his dirty green coat and his matted and tangled brown hair. He liked that, because it meant he walked around for the rest of the day with the smell of laundry detergent mixed in with the alcohol, body odor and bad breath that surrounded him.

He couldn’t clearly remember where he’d been before the street. He thought that there was a home, maybe a job and a family as well. He distinctly remembered there being a lot of wine. Much more wine than he was able to put his hands on these days.

The problem with Jonas, the other homeless agreed, was that he thought himself superior. None of the others were strangers to madness – they’d all had brushes with the crazies or else had gone through insane phases themselves, but none of them tried to pretend that they were better than anyone else. But Jonas turned his nose up at them. He’d tried, at first, to teach them, to collect followers, but once they told him to go away, using nasty vocabulary, he decided that they weren’t worth his time.

Jonas didn’t see things this way. In his opinion, the ones who shared the city-streets with him had hurt his pride and mocked him, and for that he would never forgive them. Maybe one day, if they would deign to apologize, he would acknowledge them and help them to salvation.

Meanwhile, however, he’d found himself a different companion. Bobo, a hamster in a green cage, was beside him day and night. He was a stalwart friend – his nose quivered in anticipation whenever Jonas gave him food and he would emit high-pitched squeaks of satisfaction when the man tickled his stomach. Jonas was pleased with him.

One evening in October, the High Priest took Bobo to one of his favorite haunts. It was one of the coffee-shop chains that filled the city streets, but unlike many others, there weren’t waiters. Instead, people ordered their coffee inside and then took their mugs to the outdoor seating area when the weather was nice or if they were smokers. The staff rarely came outside to collect the dirty dishes, so Jonas could sit at a table all evening without being shooed off the premises.

“Look, Bobo,” he grinned, broken teeth bared. “This is a nice table, right? A nice table.” He put the cage down and sat on a red plastic chair. His coat was bulky and uncomfortable and the table rocked as he hit it with his knee. Instinctively, he shot out an arm to hold the cage steady. Bobo sniffed his thanks, directing his tiny nose at Jonas’ hand.

He scoped out the area around him. There was a bar behind him, small and tucked into a crevice of the little complex. In front of him were other tables and chairs like his, with people sitting at them. He saw that none of his enemies were there and breathed a sigh of relief. He could work in peace. He crooned once at Bobo before taking out paper and a stubby bit of pencil.

He leaned forward and began to write. The people who sat around him watched him warily, like they watched all homeless men and women who came too close to their comfy worlds. Jonas didn’t mind – he knew that they watched him merely because they were drawn to his nobility. Even if they didn’t know it, they were dimly aware of the majesty that was in his tall, wide frame. He pretended not to notice their staring and continued writing, working as always on his lists and his plans.

“Mommy, mommy, there’s a homeless man with a hamster!” a little boy’s voice rang out.

“Shh!” the boy’s father picked him up and carried him away, glancing back fearfully to make sure that the boy’s yell hadn’t angered the man.

Jonas frowned sadly, but the boy’s father couldn’t see the expression through his wild, tangled beard.

“Yes, I have a hamster,” Jonas said quietly, looking down at Bobo. “He is my friend.”