The Ghosts on the Glass
I'll probably take this down in a few weeks, but this challenge seemed like a good time to share an excerpt of the novel I finished. The Ghosts on the Glass follows the career of engraver-turned-photographer William Mumler from 1862 to 1875. This page comes at the end of chapter one.
I hope, someday, that my novel finds its publishing home so I can share it with you all.
“You may use the camera, if you wish,” Hannah said, “and lock up when you have finished.”
“Thank you… I think I shall,” William said.
“I will see you in the morning, Mr. Mumler.”
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Stuart.”
She left to heal the supplicant woman. He stood for some minutes before passing to the room with the window facing the sky.
The sun had passed the prime position, but he knew sufficient light remained. He had learned by watching these six months. The gallery had chemicals to organize, glass plates to clean, prints to mount and roll: much more than enough for a woman running her own business, let alone one who was also called to employ her strange gift. He had seen a man faint who had felt her life-giving magnetism. He had doubted, at first. But what is electricity? A force that passes silently and invisibly over the wire and performs its work. Hannah places her hands on a patient’s body, the current courses through the tissue, and another sufferer heals. It is scientific; it is wonderful.
The machine waited for the command to capture light. A box with a lens, a black cloth, a piece of ground glass for viewing. Hannah had shown him its workings, revealed how the same elements he handled in his shop could engrave the world itself on glass, smoothly, without the touch of any blade.
He ducked beneath the cloth to make the focus right. In the dimmed light, he could see on the ground glass viewer what the camera could see. The lens cast the image upside-down, floating. The colors appeared so rich they belonged in a dream: a tied cord held a blue curtain behind a table and a handsome chair, deep coffee brown with woodworked curves decorating its top rail. The camera circumscribed and transfigured all.
He had grown ineluctably from helper to hobbyist. For all his skill with a graver, this was something else. He remembered the first daguerreotype he’d seen, as a boy, at the Historical Society on Tremont Street. His father had taken him. It had shown the portico of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, each column stark in silver. He had asked how a man could make such a thing.
Clean the glass plate with solution of rottenstone, wipe away the calcium carbonate, coat with collodion, bathe in silver nitrate. Carry the plate in the shield, which sits in the opened camera. Pull the dark slide out from the shield, remove the cap from the lens and expose the glass to the light.
He would stand. The photograph would illustrate a man at work in vest and sleeves. William’s hand would rest firm on the chair, his beard in strong relief against the white wall. He would meet the lens’s gaze, and he would hold the cloth in one hand to show what he had done.
Mumler yanked the black cloth from the camera.
Foremost, a Man
- and then she took his hand in hers, pressing it to her side even as her pretty, bare feet drew him into a dark cantina where she leaned toward him at a table for two as a wizened, thinly-bearded man with compassionate eyes poured iced sangria into tall glasses. Above the table a dust-coated ceiling fan wheezed delicious coolness down upon his soaked shirt, and perspiring skin. Her plump, pink lips cooed to him in lovely, if nonsensical words, as if to engage a child. He slouched in his seat, the sun having drained his energy. He drank the sugary wine she coddled to his lips, and he bit into the orange and lemon slices offered him from delicate fingers. Those slices had been sweeter even than the wine, and had burst with sugary syrups when punctured by his teeth, although her fingers were quick to wipe the stray juices from the corners of his mouth and slow to linger there after, as though tempted to enter.
He could still recall it all, forty years later, the way her eyes never left his. The tiny beads of sweat like bubbles on her upper lip. The wooden banana crates stacked haphazardly against the back wall and ready to tumble. The smell of frying tortillas, and the sounds of happy laughter from the sidewalk. He recalled with shame the pleasing waves of desire, guilt, and inebriation that flooded him. He remembered his heart racing as it never had before, leaving his head light, and his groin heavy. He remembered a desperate urge to get away, and an even stronger urge to stay, but mostly he remembered the bare foot that found it's way up to his lap under the table, it's toes kneading him, massaging away any remaining resolve.
He remembered more wine, and a dark, narrow stairway with loose, creaking steps. He remembered rounded, swaying hips barely concealed beneath a summer skirt. He remembered eager eyes turning to ensure he was still following, their excitement feeding his. He remembered a dimly lit room with dust hanging in the valance. He recalled soft lips, and a beckoning tongue. He remembered pressing his own lips tight to keep the tongue out, but it had pried and probed before slithering serpent-like inside. He recalled dueling with it before succumbing, whipping and lashing it with heavy breaths.
He remembered the way her bare skin felt against his, cool and soft, how the darkness of it contrasted with the pale of his own. He had absorbed her smells of perspiration, and her woman’s cassolette, exhaling them reluctantly. He recalled with a thundering pulse the way her nipples had caressed his thighs, and his chest, and he recalled bursting directly before he died.
Reverend Gregory Thompson had awakened from that death on a beach bathed in a tangerine twilight; shoeless, wallet-less, with even his clerical collar gone, but those things were of little matter then. Couples walking the beach, lovers holding hands eyed him without approaching; curious people, perhaps even concerned people. He had hurried past them to the water where he attempted to wash away the smells, the feels, and the sins, only to discover that some things neither sand nor saltwater can ever scour away -
I drive hard for what I believe in. I make my mind grind from outside of the box to within. I beg, plead, and borrow. I search like there is no tomorrow. I depend on help when things get rough. I try to convince and struggle Until it's more than enough. I set my soul aside to get you to see what I believe. I constantly get put down or knocked to my knees. But with the Grace of God And any blessings I have saved. I might just convince someone to care and behave. To reach way down in their spirit and help someone in need. Naturally feel their urgency Before they begin to plead. Fistchallenge4kids is my way To give back To help homeless children and shelters with things they lack. Since 2016, I did the grind on my own. I made over 500 t-shirts for children and people with no homes. With or without help God will provide. I hope he touch some Angels heart To help us with this T-shirt drive.
Twenty years ago, my small brown feet, encased in glitter-specked jelly sandals, stopped abruptly at the edge of the back porch. The dying lights in the heels flickered an erratic pattern, then ceased as I took note of an spotted belly exposed between the dandelions.
I'd come in from play, or maybe school, to find the tank empty. I walked through the house, also empty, and descended into the basement on the hunt for one of my elders. I walked outside, greeted by a black, fan-shaped fin pushing through the grass. A soft brown mouth was frozen into a blunted diamond, screaming silently into an atmosphere unforgiving . Despite the dryness of the day, the ground was soggy beneath my feet. Papa was in his workshop, which is where the fish tank has taken residence for the better part of a quarter century.
I had a dream the other night. I was a child again, and my waify frame leaned over the side of the loveseat, ribcage shifted upward by the armrest pushing gently into my abdomen. The room was dark, and I was alone. My nose was inches from the glass, and soft white light illuminated the curiosity in my tiny face. I carefully watched the movement in the tank, just as I had all those years before. But the beloved creature of my memory was replaced by a sea of koi flashing obsidian and tangerine within the quiet glow. They flooded the tank, fighting for space. They were not the same fish I knew from my childhood but still, I woke with a memory unlocked.
The fish didn't have a name. They called it Oscar, based on a misclassification of the species. I know now that the fish is known as a common pleco. Hypostomus plecostomus. An omnivore from South America that locks itself onto the side of the tank and sucks growth from the glass. They grow beyond expectation and are surprisingly sensitive to their environment. They're armored, but that serves little purpose for the domesticated fish. I've read that they're able to breathe air, though I doubt that extends to the wind sifting through the blades of an overgrown backyard in the Carolinas.
I asked my grandmother about the fate of the fish. As she tells it, the tank leaked often and many of the inhabitants attacked each other. They had the pleco for a long time, but my grandfather grew weary of the problematic upkeep. I had no memory of its problems. Only of an unyielding fascination with the beautiful black fish.
"It was an ugly thing", Grandma said. An ugly thing, sold deceptively -or ignorantly- for a utilitarian purpose. The pleco was never destined to be the star of any display. It was a custodian. A forgotten descendant of an exotic, resourceful lineage commanded to clear the muck that refined, celebrated fish wouldn't dare to touch. An ugly thing. Undeserving of a legacy of its own.
My grandmother didn't specify if the pleco was alive when they dumped the tank. I didn't press. I'd asked enough questions and the answers I received were unsurprising and made me weary. I chose instead to focus my attention on internet articles discussing tank conditions and growth sizes.
Soulless eyes stared into the sunlight. Sandal lights spun on heels and crossed back through the doorway. The fish became bones in the next coming days. Soon the bones were gone, too, carried off within the voracious maw of memory faded.
City on Fire
The fire was hot enough to melt the skin off your bones at thirty feet. Heat radiated off of the buckling steel supports of skyscrapers and turned the streets between the high buildings into a convection oven. The inferno turned the air toxic. Anyone too close would set their lungs ablaze just by breathing. Most tried to run, though to where, it’s impossible to say. Some were trapped on the roads as the asphalt melted underneath them, their sloughing skin melted into the black tar. Some made it to The Lake. They thought that would save them, until the water of The Lake boiled them alive.
Some may have escaped the crucible by fleeing into the Ramble but it’s not likely. Not with heat like this. Those that managed to submerge themselves in the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis reservoir may have been spared.
Aisling observed the fire from her floor-to-ceiling windows. Her right hand shook and she tried to stifle the tremor. The flames had raged up the Upper West Side and were overtaking Harlem, faster than anyone could have imagined. It was spreading too fast. Impossible to fathom.
Her phone buzzed on the table beside her. It was her mom, again. Seventeen missed calls. It was okay, she would call her back later. How could she even explain? She would call back once she had time to get her thoughts in order. Her mom would be so mad.
She should just enjoy watching the view from her forty-first story windows for the moment. She paid enough money for this view, after all. What would she tell her mom? Oh, her mom was going to be mad, indeed.
She would need to charge her phone though, it would die soon. And then she wouldn’t be able to call back. And the power was out, which would make that impossible. Who knew when it would come back on? She’d managed to tune the radio in her kitchen to the emergency broadcast band where they’d given the general evacuation order, effective immediately. But Aisling hadn’t evacuated. Where would she go? She didn’t really have a lot of friends.
“Damnit Aisling, just go anywhere!” She could hear her mom shouting, “just get out of the city! You should never have been there in the first place!” Maybe. If only mom could see her now. It would have to be worse on the streets, though, even her mom would see that. The emergency band had since gone dead, after warning of risks to the city’s gas lines and cascading failures of safety measures and essential utilities. She would have to wait it out. She’d call her mom back soon.
She brought her left hand up and sipped her drink. Aisling didn’t drink, except when she really needed one. That’s why she hadn’t thrown all the booze out when she gave it up. You never know when you might really need it, to calm your nerves if nothing else. And nerves need calming when the world burns.
She’d even garnished it with a piece of leftover bacon from her fridge, which she knew she had to eat up since the power was out.
Her phone buzzed again. The flames neared Yorkville. Maybe she should pick up. Her mom would worry. She’d just finish her drink first.
The air outside was blisteringly hot, even at this distance. Aisling stripped down to her undergarments. Sweat streamed off her forehead and arms.
There was something out there, beyond the immolation, beyond the flames that danced high in the blazing air of the city night. Like the light from the fire flickered off the hidden sides of great, black, stony mountains, somewhere far away, beyond the city, yet towering over it. Their enormity pierced the clouds of smoke and the distant sky. They reached over and behind the moon. There were chasms in between the mammoth peaks. She imagined them delving down beneath the blaze into cold, dark, ageless, places.
The change in air pressure from temperatures above a thousand degrees weakened the windows, and the glass exploded, driving shards like bullets into Aisling’s body. Blood dripped from skin slashed to ribbons and steamed when it hit the ground. Aisling sipped her drink, hot now, it tasted like iron. She could watch the mountains forever, out there behind the sky. They were so beautiful. Her skin started to bubble and peel.
Death when it came was swift. Not her body melting from the heat, but from the explosion. Emergency services had warned about cascading failures in the gas lines throughout the city. The fire raged through the conduits, and emerged in Aisling’s building with the force of a ton and a half of TNT. The building turned to ash and rubble awash in the storm. Aisling died wishing she could see the black mountains, just one last time.
Be Still Your Dancing Feet - the girls who glimpsed everything
So, imagine. You and your eleven sisters have been locked in a room. Not just for one night, because you’re grounded, but every night and it seems to you that is for evermore. And people talk of marriage and princes, but you’ll have no choice because you’re never free to meet those guys who might be your thing or ring your bell. So if there will be husbands they won’t be your choices, and there are no dances or evenings of joy or eyes to meet in hot glances, none that are offered to you anyway, just that closed, locked door to your gilded prison. So you find a place, a place in secret, to go in the dark of night, to keep a secret with tight lips almost smiling, to whisper lies about, deny. You find a place where you can dance and express those parts of you that have been fastened with a golden key, you can wear satin slippers and wear them out, you can dance and flourish your swaying hips, you can use your eyes for come hither looks, you can use your smiles to suggest welcome.
Silvered bark on slender trees, golden lanterns, diamond starlight, the fragrance of the hushed lake alluring spices, whispering music to make your toes dance. The still of a lake between day and dusk, the moon dropping silver, returning as mist, gliding through the gloss of shining golden water in silent boats, hands in that of your chosen, you remember - don’t smile too broad, hold him on a breath and a look of anticipation.
Still looking behind in fear as you flow through the grove in your golden dresses, spiralled winding tresses (wound with wildflowers) tumbling in the burnished air caught up with music. Tangled as you are in thoughts, and steps, and surging feelings, whirling in the beat-laden mists of youthful energy.
Everything about the place is magical. The magic of longing, of desire both fulfilled and flowing, the tumbles and twirls of what happens next? The sheer joy of knowing and not knowing, of giving in to it, of exulting in the inspired tendrils of thoughts and motions calling and ebbing and singing and shouting and finding a way through the forest, over a lake in stillness, the stairs to a castle high and forbidding giving welcome with tuneful calling and wild spirits rising. And…and, everything is fresh and new and shining and filled with possibilities. You move with the heated grace of your own will, bodice burgeoning with blithe breaths, each step euphoric, turning and charming the ground with each touch of your toe and turn of your heel, feeling your power of bewitchment.
But then, one night a follower. An old soldier sanctioned by your father, follows fleet and quiet behind. He slinks behind the silvered trees, peeks through the golden leaves that twinkle in the starlight. He plucks from the golden branches, steals a golden cup, ignores the golden moments fluttering in your glittering smiles that now expand to encompass everything you could be.
And, guess what? One of you gets to be his lucky girl. I’m just glad I was not the eldest.
Originally published in The Mad River https://medium.com/the-mad-river/be-still-your-dancing-feet-6b879df19f76?sk=3997451710ed464f8b1064ec451d5e7c
The Shadows turned to face the scrawny kid. They gathered around the little child, snarling at her. Their bodies did not hold a solid form, they easily shifted and moved like a burst of a toxic gas.
One of the shadow creatures crouched lower to the ground, like a hound dog ready to sniff the floor and follow the scent of its victim. Then it turned its nose toward Alistair, and charged toward the youngling.
Alistair took a step back, and placed his arms in an X stance across his face. As the shadows drew closer toward the kid, a burst of golden energy shined forth from the kid’s body.
The creatures disintegrated in a sheet of searing flame. Not a single one was left in sight.
His heart was still beating like a drum. He lowered his hands and stared at the remnants of golden waves of energy emanating from his palms like sand particles.
Alistair had no idea how he had managed to do that. He would have to ask his instructor the next morning what kind of magick he was capable of applying?
Somewhere away from Alistair’s awakening, further past the corridor leading to his bedroom, into the corner of the castle, in the space beside the castle’s garden, a cloaked figure stood in the midnight fog. The stranger waved his hand and a portal opened.
It waltzed into the gateway, and took one last gaze at the boy through the castle walls. The stranger had the gift to see through any type of matter. With a defeated look, the cloaked figure stepped into the portal, and thought to himself, ‘‘This boy continues to show signs of the prophecy. But could he really be the one to become…The Shadow Man.’’
Speaking to the dead is really nothing new. You see it all the time in movies and television. Of course, in most of these depictions, the ghosts in question have some “unfinished business” that they need help taking care of, some task that was left incomplete in life or some mess that they need someone to tidy up. It is a trope that, in its overuse, has become quite cliché. It’s also pretty much bullshit.
I have been speaking to the dead for as long as I can remember. As a young child I would be greeted by strange people I had never seen before, and most of the time, would never see again. It was a while before I realized that I was the only person in my family that could actually see these people. My mother would often ask who it was I had been talking to while I was out in the yard. When I would tell her that I had been talking to a pilot that had crashed his plane in the woods near our house twenty years ago, or that there was a baker who had accidently burned up along with his bakery downtown, a few summers ago, My mother would just ruffle my hair and remark on how fine an imagination I seemed to have. From then on, I pretty much kept my conversations with the dead to myself. I never really felt the need to tell anyone, as I knew, most likely, not a single person would believe me.
I learned that the dead don't really have any lingering regrets about their lives, or have something left undone that was causes them unrest. The simple truth, is that many of them are incredibly lonely. Most of the conversations I have had were simply about how my day was going. Did I have any plans for the future? What was the last thing I had eaten? Was that old bat Mrs. Gerrinson still ruling the third grade classroom with a bee-hive hairdo and an iron ruler?
I’ve said all this so that you understand that thirty years later, when I woke up one morning feeling a presence sitting on the foot of my bed, it was really not very surprising to me. It wasn't until I saw the thin black mustache that used to be famous for the actor who wore it, before it was infamous for the dictator that burned it into the history books.
When I first opened my eyes, he was just sitting, staring at the floor, but as I stirred, he turned and looked straight at me. "Oh, you are awake!" I was surprised again, to hear him speaking in English, albeit with a very thick German accent. As he spoke a little flap of skin jiggled just below the very obvious gunshot wound in his head. For some reason, I was just as astounded by this small detail as I was by the fact that the father of the third Reich was sitting on the edge of my bed.
"Um, hello ... Adolf?" I stammered.
"Oh, you know who I am, dear boy? Good, good. I was a little nervous about introducing myself."
The Waiting Room
3:56. It was 3:56, read the digital clock in its blaring bright lights.
Tick, tick, tick.
Shaughnessy Grace shifted in her seat, her thighs making a small noise as they unstuck from the plastic bottom. Conscious of her legs in the quiet room, she tugged down her midi shorts, wishing she’d worn her baggy jeans.
“Ness?” Her mom sat beside her, tapping on her phone. Her mom could’ve been in a pixar movie, with her curves and messy bob cut.
Ness looked at her mom.
“I’m gonna go take a call out in the hall. Hang tight, sweetie,” Her mom brushed her wrist as she left, the door closing behind her.
And again, it was quiet. Quiet but for the tick, tick, tick of the clock.
Man sitting across from her, one chair to the left, let out a sigh as he checked his watch again.
Ness looked up at the clock.
It was 3:56.
His ankle was resting on his knee, his business shirt stretching across his potbelly stomach. His hairline was disappearing, the silver along the edges and deep forehead grooves a clear sign of his stress. A briefcase rested against his chair, tucked behind the leg supporting the ankle.
He checked his watch.
“Ness? Is that your name?”
The woman sitting in her row, in the corner of the small room, leaned over the arm of her plastic chair. Her toddler sat in the chair on the adjacent wall, flipping through a picture book.
Ness was a bit startled, but she nodded.
“I couldn’t help but notice your eyes earlier- they’re beautiful,” The woman smiled.
Nessa frowned slightly, then stopped, remembering the man in front of her, who was now also staring at her.
Her eyes were ordinary eyes. Brown, almost black, with little bags and trimmed eyebrows.
“Thank you,” she smiled back, then dropped her gaze to her shorts again.
The woman leaned back into her chair, looking around.
Tick, tick, tick.
The room was dim, an amber glow from a single lamp in the corner the only thing providing light. The man was two seats away from the lamp. So was the boy. Nessa was the farthest.
The boy swung his legs back and forth, as if searching for the floor, his tempo just slightly ahead of the ticking.
Tick, Tick, Tick.
The man sighed and checked his watch again.
Nessa looked at the woman, who now had her head leaning back on the beige wall behind her, eyes closed. She’d been so nice and smiley, but looking at her, Nessa saw somebody who was… tired. She wore sweatpants and a large jacket over a baggy t-shirt, dark circles under her eyes and deep cheekbones. Her hair had a couple gray streaks playing through the brown locks. The boy beside her was blonde, and wore a t-shirt for Seaside Baptist Elementary.
“What are you reading?” The man spoke suddenly, startling Nessa.
The boy looked up, bright green eyes to match his mothers penetrating the old man.
“I’m reading a story,” he began, tasting each word in his month before it left, “about a kid who made one second last forever.”
Tick, tick, tick.
“Oh? What does he do?”
“Oh. What does she do?”
“Well,” he tilts his head as if to remember, “She does lots of things- she goes to the park, she eats free ice cream, she blows up balloons, and swings in a swing. She even kicked her bully at school.”
“That sounds like fun,” The old man sighed contentedly, massaging his silvery hair with his wrinkled fingers.
The boy shook his head.
“It was for a while, but she was lonely. She would stare at people for hours. People halfway through their conversations, people jumping into a pool, people jumping from rung to rung on the playgrounds. She’d stare at her mom, who was at work, and her dad, who sat at home, looking at a receipt. She’d look at her brother, who it took her forever to find. She would even stare at her bully, talking to him for hours. She read all kinds of books and went to all sorts of places, though she couldn’t fly a plane or drive a car very far, not usually.
She never got to fall in love, but she spoke with and hugged and loved everyone she met, everyone she knew. And she grew old. And eventually, she died, staring up at the sky, in a park surrounded by people.”
Nessa looked at the boy. It was heavy stuff for a kid. His knee bounced and jumped nervously, as if he was trying to hammer a ditch in the ugly green carpet. She met his eyes, which stared out at her from under his blond bangs, boring into her soul. She looked away.
“Ahhh…” The man sighed, leaning back into his chair as if to think. He checks his watch again, adjusts once or twice, then falls asleep, his frail body dwarfed by his suit, one made for someone much younger.
Tick, Tick, Tick.
Nessa stared at her fingernails, picking at a piece here and there, wondering when her mother was coming back.
“There he goes,” The boy said sadly. Nessa frowned, looking at him, the way his book hung limply from his hands, hands that connected to strong arms, arms that connected eventually to a face with bright green eyes, eyes that were staring at the old man.
It looked like the old man hadn’t moved in years. His skin was gray, with little purple veins Nessa hadn’t noticed before, his silver hair clinging to his head.
He was dead, or so Nessa thought. She looked at the boy to see if he had come to the same conclusion. He was staring right at her.
He kept staring, not surprised that she knew his name.
“Are we alone?”
She looked at his mom, who’d been so kind, so tired, and saw that she was also dead. She didn’t bother to look at the door- she knew she wouldn’t find it.
She looked back down at her lap, at her stupid nails, her stupid jeans, the stupid floor, knots in the hardwood staring right back at her.
She looked back at him. He was alone, his mother gone from his side. His hair fell in his eyes, but she could still see them.
“It’s glad to have you back,” He gave her a half smile.
She nodded, offering a quick smile. She’d known this man all her life. She’d fought demons in her dreams with him, ran through playgrounds and club houses and labs and kingdoms, mazes and fields, and schools and rivers, all of it by his side. Nobody knew her like he did, and nobody knew him like she.
Looking at the clock, she saw that it was 3:56.
Tick, Tick, Tick.
The man was gone. It was just them, Noah and Ness. There was never anything else, never anything at all.
She leaned back, her head pressing into the blue wall behind her, closing her eyes.
Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick….
What if I never leave?
I’m reading a book about a woman who travels. She’s the opposite of me. She has lived in seemingly a thousand different places and seen parts of the globe that I’ve never even imagined visiting.
She frames it as a wild journey, running from place to place to place to place for decades. A desperate fleeing of her circumstances, the endless search for self.
I am jealous. I burn with envy that she is witty and articulate and has a passport and friends whom she can visit, dipping in and out of their lives on a whim.
But she only sees what she doesn’t have: a partner or a husband, her name on a mortgage. She frames herself as immature, an object of pity. How odd she is to be couch surfing at her age, when everyone else has settled down, moved into the trappings of adulthood, has stopped the childish wandering.
And I am stuck. Sitting at my dining room table to devour her book while slumped on a half-broken hand-me-down chair. A chair that was purchased to fulfill someone else’s taste. A chair I cannot afford to replace, and so I have to ignore how ugly it is, how useless.
I’m stuck in the city of my childhood.
I have never had the opportunity to leave, except for a brief stint teaching English overseas.
It was always intended to be temporary, a fling of adventure between graduating from university and getting married. A five-month ordeal of undiagnosed depression and anxiety and drinking too much alcohol. A torturous winter of sleeping for fourteen hours a day and not speaking to anyone for days, feeling out of place because I am at least three years older than everyone else in the program, and in your early twenties that makes a big difference. A blur of homesickness and temporary insanity and getting punched in the face one night when a man tries to mug my friend. I recognize that his pistol is fake, so I try to push him into traffic and he hits me, landing a solid hook to my right cheek and leaving a dent that you can still see today when I scrunch my cheeks up to smile.
But I have never had the option to live anywhere but here. Locked into staying in my hometown at eighteen, forbidden from applying to colleges outside of my city due to financial constraints and the iron will of my widowed mother who raised four teenagers by herself.
And now that I’m forty-three and middle aged I wonder if maybe I should have just run away from home after high school? Run off to New York City where things actually happen to people? Where life gets lived?
But I couldn’t. I didn’t.
By the time I was eighteen I had a boyfriend I loved, and I knew even then that he was a kind man and would be a good husband and father. And so I stayed, locked into my small little life, dreaming of moving away to anywhere else, jealous of everyone I knew who got to “go away to college” and live their own lives. I thought I would get a chance later.
And now it’s too late. I have children and pets, my name on a mortgage, elderly mothers (my own and my husband’s) who rely on us for companionship and help and stability. I can’t just pull up stakes and abandon everyone. But neither can I capriciously take a job across state lines and move my entire family on a whim. I am stuck.
And so I read this lady’s book, fear and jealousy and heartbreak churning in my gut. Glad for her when she finally settles down, finds a house of her own in a city that she loves, feels her roots growing and the calm of middle age settling in… she gets her happy ending.
What if I am well and truly stuck here? What if the furthest I ever travel for the rest of my life is Dallas? What happens to me if I die in this city, never having truly lived a life of my choosing? What, if anything, changes for me?
I don’t want to contemplate that question, because it hurts to think about, but the answer surprises me… nothing. Nothing will change.
I will still love my children and cook dinner and read library books and knit. But most of all I will still write. I’ll still burn inside each day until I get the words out.
Maybe traveling the world isn’t a prerequisite for being a good writer.
Maybe I’m not missing anything at all.
Maybe I should bloom where I’ve been planted, instead of feeling rootbound and resentful.
Maybe I’m just fine. Maybe…