Stories

We’re all made of stories.

We’re all living stories.

We’re all making stories.

Everything in our lives can be seen as a story. There’s the story about how you were born, the story of whose braid you pulled in first grade, and when you got braces, and why you chose to take physics in high-school and where you had your first kiss.

We all tell stories every day. There’s the story you tell your best friend about how your date went last night, the story you tell your aunt about whose car you dented last week, and the one you tell your coworker about when the boss got drunk at the office party, and the one you tell your cat about why you’re giving him canned food instead of dry today, and the one you tell yourself about where you wish you were right now.

We all make up stories all the time, too. There’s the story of how you wish your father was alive, the story of whose life you’d want to try out for a day, and the story of when you’ll really feel like a grown-up for sure, and why you’re going to win the lottery next time and where you can picture yourself living in ten years.

But then, there are the missing stories.

The stories of horrible events that need to be suppressed.

The stories that you’ll never know, because there’s no one who can tell them to you.

The stories that will never be, because they’re too frightening to really accept.

Even then, though – there are stories. Every minute of every day of your life. They are stories.

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Victoria’s Secret [Part III]

“…And then,” Debbie concluded, “he said he knew I didn’t aprove of his art and that I was ashamed of him. Since then, it’s been hard convincing him to see me at all.”

“But it sounds to me like you’re proud of him!” Victoria exclaimed. She’d just listened to Debbie describing her son’s rollercoaster-style life for the last ten minutes, and Debbie’s eyes had shown in the faint glow of the cellphone screen with a deep love and admiration of her scattered boy.

“I am. I think his sculptures are beautiful. He thinks I’m full of it, though,” Debbie’s eyes filled again with tears. “I don’t know how to convince him differently. But,” she collected herself. “I do the best I can, as often as I can. I hope he’ll understand about today.”

Victoria nodded somberly. The man in the corner of the elevator gave a sudden phlegm-based cough and both Victoria and Debbie jumped. They’d almost forgotten he was there; he’d been utterly silent while Debbie spoke. Now, Debbie looked up at him with a half smile.

“Rob, sit down, Hun,” She said. “They’ll get us out of here eventually, but there’s no use standing like a lump in the corner. It isn’t going to make anything go any faster.” Victoria smiled inwardly at the motherly tone that Debbie used with this stout, stuffy little man. Rob wore an impeccable suit, obviously expensive, in charcoal grey, and his hair, so obviously oiled, had a little spike standing up out of it, as if he’d begun to run his hand through it before remembering that he mustn’t ruin his exquisite hairstyle.

“No, thank you, Debra, I’d rather stand,” he answered. Despite his look of calm snootiness, his voice sounded strained. His hands were stuffed in his pockets, and Victoria could tell that he was playing with something in his right hand, twisting something around and around in the pocket.

“What have you got there – Rob, is it?” she asked.

“It’s Robert. And it’s nothing.”

“Seems like something,” Victoria smiled at him. She had a way of smiling which she’d used on her younger brother when they were young – she still remembered how to do it. It had made her brother tremble with fear and then submission, and it did the same thing to Mr. It’s-Robert. He looked at her strangely, not sure of what her smile meant, and broke eye contact. He took his hand out of his pocket and showed Victoria a smooth, round stone, the kind that’s abundant on riverbanks. It was, Victoria noted, the perfect skipping stone, because it was smooth and rather flat. But then Rob held it out and the light caught it, and she saw that the stone wasn’t grey, as she’d thought at first, but rather a deep green. Then she saw that through the green were thick veins of a very dark red.

“What is it?” she asked wonderingly. It was beautiful.

“It’s a bloodstone,” Rob answered. “It’s the birthstone for March, and it’s very rare to find such fine specimans as this one. My wife and I went to India for our second honeymoon, and she bought me this as a surprise. It’s actually a funny story – we’d been in the market, and this old man without a word of English tried to sell it to us…” Rob’s voice trailed off. Victoria stared at him in wonder. Here was a man who she would never guess would have gone to India. For a second honeymoon, no less! People only have second honeymoons if they’re married for a while, right? Her thoughts were in a whirl at the image of this stuffy, haughty little man galavanting around Indian markets.

Vicky! she chided herself. You mean thing. As if you know anything about people by looking at them… If the world worked quite so simply you’d never have gotten to where you are. So say something nice now, and close your mouth.

“It’s a beautiful stone,” she murmered.

“Yes,” Rob seemed about to smile but then rearranged his facial expression into a frown. “When will they come to get us the hell out of here?”

“Soon, Hun,” Debbie answered wearily, pulling a bottle of water out of her purse. It was really getting hot in the small space. “I hope. Want some water, folks?”

Across Five States: Into Ohio

Night had fallen, my brother was driving, my mother was holding the rat-cage, and we drove into Ohio. Music was blaring out of the speakers from my brother’s iPod, and the two hours driving in the dark were an experience unto themselves. Lamps were scarce on the highway, we were surrounded by trucks bigger than us [several of which were swerving alarmingly at some points] and we were just driving and driving, the road seeming to go nowhere.

A curious thing about the highway through Ohio – there are lots and lots of bridges going over it. Low bridges, just over the height of one of the huge trucks, that seem to go through from one city to another or to lead from one part of town to the other. What we enjoyed about these bridges was the fact that they were all named, the green sign hanging on the bridge for all those driving underneath to see. We passed some boring ones of course, but we found one particularly road with a wonderful name: Bittersweet Road. It conjured up the images of tragedy and drama, a small town in crisis perhaps or a pair of star-crossed lovers.

As my brother and I sang along to the wonderful voice of Amanda Palmer, the cabaret music of The World Inferno Friendship Society and the hilarious lyrics of Jonathen Coulten, the miles went by swiftly. Eventually, around eleven at night, we followed one of the many blue signs pointing to wayside motels. We chose the Day’s Inn, parked,  and entered.

“Excuse me?” my mother called to the receptionist. He was a young guy who was on the phone. He spoke to us, revealing an Indian accent.

“Yes, hello,” he smiled.

“We’d like a room for three – with two double beds please.”

“Long day of driving, huh?” he asked rhetorically, smiled, and asked my mother for credit card information. Once the transaction was complete, he handed us our room keys – the plastic card kind – and explained that we needed to enter through the back. We did so, and stuck the key in the lock, a plastic box with a red light showing on it. We slid the card in time after time, but it stayed resolutely red. Eventually, we had to go back and get the keys reprogrammed. It didn’t help. Tempers were running high by this time, in the tired sort of way that tempers run when their victims are especially weary. Again, we walked to the receptionist, and this time he got new keys and came with us to make sure they worked.

Finally, we settled in our room, sneaked the poor rats in and fed them and retired to surprisingly comfortable beds.

Back, With a List

In the whirlwind of movement between family members, boxes and different US states, I never managed to write like I’d planned. Despite that, I would like to remember some of the interesting, hilarious, eye-opening and strange things I encountered on this trip. I shall now compile a list of the memorable things, more or less in order, and I hope to elaborate on some of them in the coming days. Ah, it feels good being back in my own home with my fingers on my own keyboard and my tired eyes looking at my own computer screen. And so I present The List of Things I Thought About and Did on My Trip [also known from here on out simply as The List]:

1. Chicago. Chicago is amazing. Simply being in that city was incredible.

2. Tiny dogs are ridiculous, and I hated them with a passion until meeting the three belonging to my cousin. I still think small dogs are ridiculous and more like wind-up toys than animals, but I no longer hate their sweet little hearts for it.

3. Second City e.t.c, the Chicago-based comedy group, are incredible. Their current show, titled Brother, Can You Spare Some Change? had me giggling for days. In fact, my mother and I constantly refer to puppies raining from the sky and how Obama will somehow make smoking good for you and burst into fresh waves of titters.

4. Helping one’s brother move all his things from one apartment to another via U-Haul is an interesting experience that results in soar arms, immense self-pride, and, in our case, travelling across five states in the space of twelve hours, thus making me that much closer to understanding just how large the USA is.

5. You know those haunted houses that are always set up at fairs or in amusement parks? The good ones make you feel like you’re never getting out of them, and even though you know the whole thing is kind of silly you still have a sense of fear and impending doom tugging at your rational thinking. Ikea is just like that.

6. I learned never to buy flat-pack furniture when it’s on sale. Doing so results in frustration and an understanding that you have been duped into buying something that is never going to be put together right because it was built faulty from the beginning – thus allowing such a sale of the damaged products to ensue.

7. Southern Hospitality isn’t just a myth. It’s real. It’s also sure as hell a lot more sincere than the friendliness of the West Coast. Seriously, people in Virginia are SO NICE.

8. Despite the people being nice in Virginia, it seems the tow-trucks are evil beasts with wills of their own. The biggest hazard in a certain county there is that your car will be towed for certain unless you have all the right stickers, badges and other nick-knacks hung in the correct places around the car.

9. The Vietnam Memorial and The Lincoln Memrial in Washington D.C. both moved me much more than I ever expected they would.

10. I saved item ten for the realization that has struck me once again now that I’m back home. No matter how well suited I thought I was to write in my current state of extreme grogginess and jet-lag, I have been proved wrong.

On that note, I hope I will be forgiven for the oddness and inconsistency of my haphazard list that doesn’t seem to much of a list at all. I bid you all a good night, and I will promptly fall into my own bed and attempt to read, even though I know quite well I will be asleep with the book on my face within minutes.

Seeing The Milky Way

I was ten when my family and I took a trip to the Sinai Desert in Egypt. We drove down all night long and arrived in the morning. We hadn’t booked a hotel, since we weren’t planning on sleeping in a big resort on the beaches of the Red Sea. No, we preferred to find one of the small groups of huts to rent out – “chushot” as they’re called – and rent ourselves a couple of huts for the week we were planning on staying.

We found the most perfect spot. A man who had just started up his hut rental spot was glad to welcome us as his first customers. He was a chef and had studied in France and so despite our protests he cooked a couple of serious meals while we were there. The huts were rudimentary, but then that’s what we’d wanted – there were a couple of sandy mattresses and thin blankets in each hut, and the windows were just shutters which we threw wide open during the night, trying to will a breeze to enter the stifling rooms. The only time we ever spent in those huts was at night, to sleep. During the rest of our days and evenings, we enjoyed our secluded and empty beach – no one in sight except for us and the manager’s friends who visited him from Nueba, the nearest city. We snorkeled, saw exotic fish and beautiful coral reefs. We lay in the sun, we played backgammon, we walked around the markets of Nueba – it was the most restful and idle vacation I’d ever been on, and I haven’t been on a similar one since.

The trip is a blur to me, the memories all fading into each other and forming a short montage of what we’d done during that week. However, one night stands out crystal clear in my memory.

The moon rises not from the sea, but from the mountains in Sinai, and so it seems to rise very late because it takes it so long to rise above the mountains and be visible. One night, the full moon, it rose very late. Until it rose, the sky was this vast and endless velvet blanket above us, sprinkled with a million stars, all twinkling brightly. We were so far away from the big hotels and from the city that when we extinguished the lamps we had, we could see the stars perfectly. We could have counted them one by one if we’d wishes. I felt so small, so insignificant that night, because I saw The Milky Way – that ribbon of stars that is the basis of our galaxy’s name. It was so plain and easy to see – right there, above me, a river of stars so dense they seemed like a long white cloth spread across the heavens. I’d never felt or seen the full scope of the sky like that before.

It was, to say the least, overwhelming. But there is something wonderful in looking up and seeing how big the world really is and how small and insignificant your life is. There’s a sort of relief to it.

One-Eyed Steve: Part II

“Well, my ducks, One-Eyed Steve lived in this town long ago, when I was but a bitty boy meself. Oh, he was a fearsome fellow – long, tangled black hair over a face carved of stone. What a face it was! A wicked grin, full of yellow and crooked teeth and at least a couple of ’em were gold. The lines in his face were alike to craters and the nose on that face was like a hawk’s beak – proud, strong and threatenin’.  To finish off the pretty picture, One-Eyed Steve wore a black eye-patch over one eye, and the other was an ice-blue that would chill ye to the bone.

Now, I know what you, my ducklings, are thinkin’ – with such a frightenin’ face, gold teeth and eye-patch and all, this One-Eyed Steve musta been a pirate. That’s what me n’ the other boys thought too. All the boys in town told stories about Ones-Eyed Steve. Mikey said he heard that Steve had killed ten men and was never caught. Robbie said that he had gotten those gold teeth as a gift from wild tribes on a secret island out at sea. The girls all afeared Steve, and we boys did too, only we never admitted it willin’ly.

It just so happens, ducks, that I, your dear ol’ pa, found out the real story of One-Eyed Steve, and this is how it came about:

When I was thirteen, I worked as a dishwasher at the King’s Bard Inn – that’s what was there before they tore it down and build that Holiday Inn place. So one night, I was workin’ late ’cause Robbie was sick as a dog with the flu and couldn’t make his shift. The inn’s kitchen had closed for the night, and all that was left there was me and a big ol’ pile o’ dishes.

Suddenly, the back door of the kitchen banged open with a crack like thunder, and there, lookin’ as white as a ghost, was One-Eyed Steve. He almos’ fell into the place, he was tremblin’ that hard. I was so surprised that I jus’ stood there – hands all full of soap and my mouth hangin’ open. Steve looked around, frantic-like, and noticin’ me, he asked “Where’s the innkeeper, boy?” With one soapy, wet hand I pointed to the door into the inn proper, and One-Eyed Steve – instead of goin’ right to it – calmed right down and grinned his wicked grin at me. “Well, boy, go get him then, eh? An unrespectable man like me can’t be going into an inn now, can I? Nay, I’m fit for back doors and kitchens. Now be a good boy and get the innkeeper for me. Tell him that the eye-patch man’s here, he’ll come right quick.”

Well, my ducks? What could I do? I dried me hands, made sure there were no valubales around for the ol’ pirate to steal, and I went to find the innkeeper.”

One-Eyed Steve: Part I

Sometime, somewhere, a burly man, dressed in comfy jeans and a heavy flannel shirt, his hairy toes bare on the carpet, sat in front of the fireplace of his small house. In his hands was a steaming mug of much-watered mulled wine which he was sipping occasionally. On the carpet in front the hearth, the three small figures were clutching equally steaming mugs of hot-coacoa. They had been obsorbed in a board game until the fat, ginger, family cat bounded onto it and chased the pieces around, ending the game.

The three children clustered close to their father and begged “Story, Papa, story!”

The man, used to such requests from the three children, ranging in age from four to seven, stroked his stubbly chin. He took a sip from his mug, and then, a twinkle in his eyes, looked down at his three little ones.

“A story, my ducklings? Ye shall have a story. A night like tonight is a time for stories. Now, the story I’m abou’ to tell ye is about a man called One-Eyed Steve.”