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12 minutes | Nov 13, 2022
Emie And Me
The old folks have always said that love tends to hurt. Well, they were spot on when it came to Emie and me. I couldn't have been more than eleven when she moved into the neighborhood. Clarkstown is a quaint community, but that girl sure did liven things up. I caught her attention when I passed her house on my bike for the ninth time. The whole ordeal was my fault. She did warn me, after all. Emily belted out, "Stop!" as soon as I zipped by her driveway. Her voice carried more authority than anticipated, so I complied and locked the brakes on my Huffy. Never judging a book by the cover finally made sense when I witnessed Emily throw her doll down in the dirt and crawl under the house to grab a weathered baseball. She didn't give a second thought to getting her Sunday best muddy. Once the tiny giant stood up, she wiped her hands on her lacy dress and spoke again, "This is your one and only warning. You'll be sorry if I catch you riding by my house again." She pretended to throw the ball at me by the time she finished speaking. It startled me enough that I decided peddling could be better than hanging around to see if she was serious. My new neighbor stood at attention, ready to fire as I rode around the corner and out of sight. Hours passed before I worked up the courage to soar past her yard again. After stopping up the street to check and see if the coast was clear, I decided to go for it. In one sweet motion, I relieved my kickstand and pushed off the pavement with my scruffy Converse. Luckily there was enough of a hill that I could build up plenty of momentum. All I had to do was pass her driveway, and I'd be safe. My confidence was over the top because there was no way anyone could hit me with a baseball at my supersonic speed. Like a runner winning a marathon, I passed her drive, flinging my arms into the air in triumph. "I guess she knows who the boss is around here," I spoke into the wind right before I heard it. The sound was like a golfer smacking a ball on the course, except it was a baseball nailing the back of my head. Pain instantly followed, and my body flew over the handlebars onto the blacktop. Everything went dark until my eyes focused, divulging an angel. Emie crouched next to me with a look of concern blended into a precious innocence I'd never experienced. Her face was prettier than sunlight leaping from water drops before drying up on blades of grass. "Water drops? Blades of grass?" She mumbled before continuing, "Why didn't you just listen to me? None of this had to happen, but you had to prove how big and bad you are. Now you're lying here talking nonsense and bleeding to death in the street." By the time I could lift my head, I had noticed grownups approaching in the distance. After stuffing the baseball into my pocket, I introduced myself to the girl who had tried to kill me, "I'm Jack." She said, "I'm Emie," right before the adults took me home. It was the first time I ever heard her say her name. No one but Emie and me knew why I wrecked that Sunday afternoon. The doctor never questioned me as he stitched up my head. Mom and Dad figured I was being stupid and showing off. They were grateful Emie came to my rescue and even took me back to her house to say thanks for ensuring I was okay. When my folks left the room, the young baseball pro told me we'd be best friends from now on because she'd never trusted anyone as she did me. And that was precisely the moment we became the best of friends. Life sure does move fast. Plans break, and situations get rearranged before we realize it most of the time. I began to grow and forget things that matter. Somewhere in there, girls became the culprit who kept me up at night instead of my fear of one-eyed, one-horned flying purple people eaters. All females were aliens except for Emie. We'd often argue over small things like whose turn it was to swing from the rope to splash in the lake. Even when we fought, we grew closer, something I wouldn't experience with anyone else in my lifetime. By the time I hit sixteen, I was driving my best friend to school and back home daily. It wasn't a long trip, but we'd often sit in front of her house talking for an extra hour or two. We discussed everything from the plans after graduation to the opposite sex. And it was all frightening. "Whatever happens, we should always stick together, Jack." "Gosh, Emie, I'm not even sure what I want to do yet. Everyone is pressuring me into college, but that's not what I'm passionate about." "How often do I have to tell you to stop worrying about what others want you to do? Man up and make your own decisions. Besides, we still have a year to think about it." "You don't even make sense. You're always telling me to be my own person, but you insist on us living in the same town forever. How am I supposed to make decisions for myself if they always have to include you?" Frustrated, Emie reaches for the door to get out of the car, but Jack changes his attitude and continues, "Wait. Don't go; I have something to tell you. It's about the Christmas dance coming up soon." Emie takes a deep breath and listens, "This isn't easy for me to say, but I've decided to take Beth." "Beth! What is wrong with you? That girl has no personality, and she can't even rollerskate. Jack, listen, you can do so much better than her. She talks funny too. It's like she's a mix between Cher and Walter Cronkite." "Do better? Like who? You? At least Beth doesn't confuse me. At least she doesn't contradict herself every five minutes!" "You know what, mister, I will now exit this automobile and retire into my home. Please do not talk to me again until you come to your senses. Don't worry about picking me up tomorrow; I can walk to where I need to go just fine!" Emie slammed the door, marched up the sidewalk, and inside. Anger got the best of me as I threw the car in reverse and screeched out, not paying attention. The car didn't get far because I backed right into Mr. Ken's Cadilliac. He's the local pharmacist and has a reputation for being a nice guy. Let's just say I saw a completely different side of Mr. Ken while I waited for my Dad to show up at the scene. Emie came back out to sit with me while I was getting yelled at by the infuriated gentlemen. Emie and I sat there, trying not to giggle at the choice of words directed through my window while she held a bag of frozen peas to the knot on my forehead. We walked to school together the next day. Later that year, we attended the Christmas dance with each other. I'm sure by now you've guessed that we eventually got married. We had kids, and those kids had kids, and it felt like our home here in Clarkstown was never empty. None of the children needed the excuse of a holiday to stop by to see us; they simply dropped by unannounced, which was fine by us. One year Emie had me get a real tree for Christmas. I slipped on the ice in the driveway, and she was the first to come to my rescue. It was only a couple of stitches on that occasion. Through all the hardships and minor injuries, the old song by Louise Armstrong always stuck with me. We did indeed live in a wonderful world as long as we were together. Our daughter Jessica, who turned forty last month, loves to keep the tradition alive, and I don't mind one bit. She'll drag her husband along with their three kids and spend the majority of the Christmas season here. They'll all help with the tree, and sweet smells always drift from the kitchen to fill the house. It's not just the scent of freshly baked cookies that makes me happy. The aroma, accompanied by love, is one fragrance I'll forever adore. Jessica is her mother; whenever she glances at me, a look of concern blends into a precious innocence. She delicately questioned if I'd been speaking to Mom again. I explained a day doesn't pass without sharing a few words. Jessica then reminds me it's been almost twenty years since her mother died. After politely asking my daughter to shush, I closed my eyes and rested my head on the couch before supper. I'm sure she thinks I'm a senile old man, but the truth is I've never been sharper. Aside from losing my Emie, my biggest fear was getting used to her being gone. I'll never forget how hard she loved me and what it felt like to lose her. The pain reminds me of how wonderful this world is. Years ago, Emie and me sat on the front porch watching the kids play. We knew it wouldn't be long before she moved on, but we laughed and joked anyway. "Hey Jack, remember that time you tripped over the garden hose in the front yard after I flashed you through the kitchen window? You walked funny for a whole week." I told her the old folks were right all along. Love certainly does hurt. But I wouldn't change a thing.
13 minutes | Nov 3, 2022
It all started around the Thanksgiving table at my parent's house in 2021. The big plan was to propose to Sally when it was my turn to tell everyone why I was thankful. It marked our fourth year together during the Holidays listening to Uncle Joe tell everyone he was saved from a horrible end when Aunt June left him for the Quickie-Mart attendant. And Mom shared how blessed she was to be around for another season after having that hairy mole removed, even though she's in perfect health. It was tradition to let all the ladies go first, and my brother would make the same lame joke each year directed at me, "Ladies first, looks like you're up, Walter." He'd then awkwardly cackle alone for ten whole seconds before we took turns around the table. My older sister Kathleen kicked things off by talking about her newest addition to the family. It's not what you think; she's obsessed with cats even though her husband Phil is allergic. The poor guy sits around all day sneezing and rubbing his eyes, and Kathleen keeps bringing home more kittens. I stopped going to her house because you can imagine the chaos and mix of odors floating around. The place always smelled like gingerbread and urine every November and December. Each year she insists on dressing the felines up on special days. They all had tiny skeleton shirts for Halloween, and for Christmas, they'll be sporting ugly sweaters that Kathleen happened to bring on Thanksgiving to pass around for everyone to examine. Dad finally cut off my sister about ten minutes into the fashion show to ask Sally to speak. My girlfriend stood up to address the audience as I fiddled with the engagement ring inside my pocket. Sally took a deep breath and said, "I've grown to adore all of you except Walter." The crowd laughed, and she continued, "Yeah, right, a joke. Except I'm not joking. I mean, it would be great if I was, I wish I were kidding around, but I'm not. You see, I was most in love with Walt the first month we were together. It's been downhill ever since. I've tried to work up enough courage to leave him the last two years because I convinced myself things would get better the first two years we were together. After drinking too much spiked eggnog this evening, the courage finally surfaced. Now is as good a time as any to break the news. Trying my best to convince Sally that it was not the best time or place for this discussion was hopeless. She had something to say, and it all had to come out, so she went on, "You, Walter are a terrible person. It didn't take long to figure out you only care about yourself." Sally slammed her drink and had more to say, "I can't even count the number of times you stood me up so you could do your silly online gaming stuff with your buddies you've never even met. You embarrass me when we eat out because you upset the server on purpose every time so that you can justify not tipping. Your sister's house smells like a dead animal, but she is still your sister. It wouldn't kill you to visit her once a year. And your brother, well, I can't blame you for not going to see him; he's also a jerk. Remember the Black Friday sale two years ago, Walter? I do; I'll never forget it. You ended up in a fistfight with that poor old woman over a Nintendo she wanted for her grandson." I spoke up and said, "Alright, let me stop you there. It was a Playstation, and..." Sally cut me off and continued to throw verbal punches, "I don't care what it was! By the way, that old woman would have kicked you around real good if she hadn't tripped over the random car seat on the floor. She had you up until she fell. Having to work with you every day right next to your cubicle is excruciating. You never bring the donuts when it's your turn, and you are always so mean to Stuart around the corner. Is it because he has thick glasses? Are you still in the sixth grade? I'm simply amazed at how much of my life I have wasted on you—shame on me." Sally's phone beeped; she looked at it and touched the screen as she struggled to push her chair under the table. "My Uber is here. Look, I guess I'm thankful it's over now, Walt." On her way out, she says, "You aren't very good-looking, you know. You think you are, but you're a little chunky." Sally paused to throw up on the potted Fiddle Leaf Fig Tree and yelled, "See you at work on Monday." Immediately Uncle Joe asked Kathleen to pass the sweet potatoes as Dad said, "She's right, you know. You aren't very nice, Walt." I found myself alone on the deck after dinner in the cold. Phil joined me after a few minutes. It was a surprise because we'd never exchanged more than a couple of words once a year at Thanksgiving. "You are an asshole, Walt." "Thanks, Phil. I appreciate the positive reinforcement." "I didn't step outside to sugarcoat things. I'm here to give you a little honesty." "Right, Phil, because there is absolutely a shortage of honesty this evening," I said sarcastically. "I know you make fun of me, Walter. I've overheard your remarks about your sister and her cat obsession. You think I'm crazy for putting up with her. The truth is, I deal with it because I love her. The idea is to give more in a relationship than we take. I'm always my happiest whenever Kathleen is happy. She can bring ten more cats home as long as it fills her with joy. I didn't always think that way, but once I figured it out, my whole life fell into place. It's like the central theme in all of those corny Holiday movies. 'Keep Christmas in your heart all year long,' or something like that. If you apply that principle to your life, you may discover happiness. You may or may not win the girl back, but you'll be a better person." I listened to Phil talk on and on about being kind and embracing the joy of giving. He sounded more and more like a Hallmark movie with each sentence. Then it dawned on me. He was explaining what I had to do to win over Sally. I looked at Phil and said, "You are a genius. I'll start doing nice things at work in front of Sally. Once she realizes I've changed, she'll be back in my arms in no time." "No, Walter, that's not what I'm saying. But if your plan makes you pleasant at work, at least that's a start. It's not always easy to do the right thing. Sometimes at home, I'll take a bottle of rum into the bathroom and take a few shots to clear my head." "Why do you go to the bathroom?" I asked. "The bathroom downstairs is the only room in the house the cats aren't allowed. I can knock back a few without sneezing liquor out of my nose." We both laughed. It was the first time I'd connected with anyone in years. After taking everything, Phil said to heart; I decided to put my plan into motion at work first thing. On the way in, I stopped for donuts. I ordered two dozen daily ahead of time to make up for all the days I missed. Everyone was a little shocked at first, but soon I got high fives from my coworkers when I walked in the door. Stuart became my regular lunch date. He was hesitant at first because he figured I would ambush him over tacos with some joke about how he looked like Scrat from Ice Age. It turns out Stuart had some mad skills in Call Of Duty, so Wednesday night became our game night. He stood up for me when I volunteered to play Santa at the office party, and no one else wanted me to do it. I even convinced everyone to chip in and donate to the local soup kitchen instead of exchanging gifts. I was winning everyone over at work except for Sally. She barely looked at me. My portrayal of the jolly fat man was on point. I have to say; I was feeling pretty good about everything for once. The party was going great until Sally showed up with her date. It was some guy she met in the elevator who worked two floors above us. They were holding hands and being overly flirtatious the entire time. It drove me nuts. As soon as Mr. Marvelous took a potty break, I confronted Sally. "It didn't take you very long, did it?" "Walter, I'm happy. I've been meaning to speak with you." "You have more to say? I think you said enough over Thanksgiving." "No, Walter, you need to stop." "Stop what?" I asked. "Stop trying to impress or win me back or whatever it is you are trying to do. I've moved on, and the best thing you can do is let me go." Sally walked away, and I felt emptier than ever. A few days later, I found myself at Kathleen's house. After visiting with my sister, I decided to sneak off with Phil to his favorite spot, the downstairs bathroom. Once I grabbed the bottle of rum from the kitchen, I asked Phil to follow me. We were a little cramped. I sat on the sink, and Phil took a seat on the toilet. I shook my head and explained to Phil that his plan didn't work. He reminded me that he only planted a seed of direction and never told me to go after Sally. "Walter, let me ask you a question." "I'm all ears, Phil." "Why did you come to our home today?" "I missed my sister. I was a little depressed and wanted to be around family." "That sounds nothing like the Walt, I know. Walter, how did it make you feel doing all those nice things at work?" "Better than I've felt ever, I guess." "Then stop pretending to be the good guy at work to impress Sally. Be that man everywhere." We took a drink... *Read the rest at SomeOfItsTrue.net
6 minutes | Oct 20, 2022
The Mighty Cumberland backdrop materializes as the technicolored leaves drift to the earth, signaling transition. God performs an effortless miracle furnishing a stunning quilt to warm the ground during the months ahead. Autumn foliage frolics through the breeze, using the waft as its partner on the invisible dancefloor. Gifts from the limbs caress my face while promenading by. Some crunch beneath my sneakers, leaving a footprint only to be erased by more leaves and shuffled like cards by the wind. Images of pumpkins and Halloween candy infest my thoughts while dragging my rusty old rake over the sleeping grass. Life in the '70s is pretty simple, especially for a kid. Now that Saturday morning cartoons are behind me, it's time for the day's quest. I aim to build the most gigantic pile of leaves known to man. I've often dreamed of escaping from the car as Mom drives down Riverside and scaling the fence to play in the enormous sand piles by the road. Constructing my own giant pile of leaves will have to do for now. The urge to throw down the rake before everything is perfect will be a formidable obstacle to overcome, but I'm up for the challenge. It will be a lot of work, maybe a day's worth, but I must remember to take my time and start small, just like when I build a snowman. Puffy clouds hide the sun as my meticulous plan takes shape below. Tiny blisters form on my pudgy hands, but a little discomfort will not stand in the way of my creation. The sky grows darker, and the breeze coughs up a gust and then another, funneling much of my hard work into the air. Loud booms erupt from heaven while electric spiderwebs decorate the atmosphere advising me to call it a day. Mother Nature is no match for my ambition. Adrenalin pumps through my heart, sending shocks of inspiration through my veins as if it's copying the static light show overhead. "It's not raining yet," I mumble as I raked harder and faster. The entire scene reminded me of watching Frankenstein on television the night before. Once the job was complete, I threw my tool to the earth. As soon as the wooden handle landed, thunder snapped as loudly as a gun, signaling runners to take off. As I jetted down the hill toward my man-made mountain, big drops of water smacked me in the face telling me that my last warning had arrived. But I was past the point of no return, and my determination forced me to finish the quest. Rain poured as I leaped higher and further than ever before in my life. The wind must have guided my ascent because I felt like I was flying for a brief moment. I vanished into the pile, like when I dropped a pebble into the pond. It was almost like I'd never existed at all. The darkness kept me company, and the smells of autumn gave my senses a chance to feast on the season. No light managed to break through because outside of my fragile fortress, it was as black as night. The soft raindrops striking the leaves sound like my mother popping the last few popcorn kernels before pulling the pot from the stove. Whenever I'd move my arms around, I imagined I was on the beach, listening to the waves crash against the rocks. I still haven't seen the ocean, but I'm sure it's similar. The storm frightened me, but somehow I felt safe in the solitude. Only one thing could pull me from my bliss. A single sound struck terror from one end of my soul to the other, and it wasn't the thunder. I'd already grown immune to that. The sound I'm talking about would bring any gladiator to his knees or any supervillain straight back to his lair. My mother's voice grew louder and louder, and this was terrible news. It meant she was out in the rain looking for me. I only had two options. I could stay put and hold my breath or face her wrath. It would be the same outcome either way, maybe worse if I hid, so I decided to give myself up. I emerged from the leaves like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. The water hit my face revealing a scared child while washing the mud into the collar of my shirt. "Chris, get your butt inside the house! Do you want to catch pneumonia and die in the rain?" My mother belted out as I made my way inside. She laughed at me later that evening and told me she also enjoyed playing in the rain when she was a kid. She made popcorn, and we watched Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein together. She knew it was one of my favorite movies. I believe it was her way of saying she was glad I got to have an adventure, but she still had to be a parent.
4 minutes | Sep 30, 2022
If I wasn't at school, I was working, and if I wasn't working, I was at church. Time for sleep never came easy but then again, at sixteen, who needs rest? Unlike most kids, I didn't get my driver's license as soon as my birthday came around. Independence never felt like a big deal. Plenty of opportunities arose growing up on a farm that kept me busy and free to experience life without guidance. The bus took me to school, and I had several people who gave me rides to work and church. And, of course, I always had my trusty bicycle for quick trips around the neighborhood. I'm embarrassed to say, but the day Mom surprised me with a car a couple of months after I turned sixteen left me a bit underwhelmed. First, I didn't see the need for my own transportation, and second, I was ashamed of the 1971 Volvo sitting in the yard. The car was ugly; the wipers didn't work, and when I started it up, the engine shook and felt like it would eventually fall right out from under the thing. My brother insisted it was a good car and said everything would be fine. The bus was the best option while I debated driving to school for several weeks. Puttering into MCHS with black smoke rolling from my pristine automobile was not an appealing thought. Even worse, what if the car flat-out refused to start when I was ready to go home? I'd never hear the end of it from my classmates as they drove by, making fun of my situation. I knew I would have to go for it sooner or later and hope for the best. I'd keep my fingers crossed all the way to school while my asscheeks clenched tight enough to crack a walnut. I'd decided that I may as well give it a shot. After tossing my books in the back, I sat in the driver's seat and said a little prayer. The engine cranked, and I felt a sigh of relief. My solace was short-lived once the motor chose to vibrate wildly, which quickly turned into a knock, and finally, silence after one last cough as if the machine had taken its final breath. Further investigation revealed a strange-looking radioactive mixture oozing from underneath. I grabbed my books and again waited on the bus. I was thankful it happened at home and not at school for sure, but it was pretty discouraging. I was becoming a man, and part of that process was driving a car. I remember being upset with my mother for buying me a piece of junk. Two things come to mind whenever I think back on my first car. The first is how much I miss people giving me rides everywhere. It must have been a burden on them, but there was something special about it. We get to know each other pretty well when we're stuck in a car together for a few minutes. It's not often we find the time to sit and talk to friends and family. I missed hearing Uncle Neb tell me about how much money he won playing cards on the way home from work. The deep talks and insight I'd get from my church family were often more valuable than what I learned during the sermon. It gave me the chance to hear about Mom's day without distractions. The second thing was the pride on my mother's face when she showed me the car. Today I know how important that moment was for her. We never had much money, so I'm sure it wasn't easy for her to scrape up enough to make the purchase. But she did it because that's what parents do. If I could go back in time, I'd thank her for the gift just like I did when she presented it so many years ago. Only this time around, I'd mean it. More importantly, I'd thank her for teaching me to be humble, even though it took me years to understand.
10 minutes | Sep 23, 2022
Would Of, Could Of, Should Of
Looking for love in all the wrong places is nothing new for Phoebe. She's spent most of the '70s trying her best to connect the dots, but inevitably her number two pencil breaks or coffee stains the paper. It's not that she settles for the wrong guys, but somehow she pulls them in, and it's over before it begins. In every relationship, Phoebe leaps with the accuracy of an Olympic diver. And paddles with the grace of a synchronized swimmer. The mechanics are solid, but the show stops there because Phoebe can't fake emotion. She'd give everything she had in the world to experience love, anger, hurt, or at least once, feel inspired. Phoebe is no stranger to a night out on the town independently. She'll begin the evening solo at least, but it's never difficult for a woman with Phoebe's natural gifts to take someone home. Most people would never dream of visiting the annual Clarkstown carnival without a companion, but it doesn't phase our Phoebe. The line isn't long for the fun house; she takes a spot. The music and crowd are noisy, so the remarks of half of the men strolling by go unnoticed. One gentleman briefly catches her eye with a Mona Lisa smile and a frosty stare. The subtle connection is lost to the twilight as the carny collects Phoebe's ticket and encourages her to enter. The hoopla and occasional cry, any good fun house has to offer, dampens the outside racket. Frightened kids push and attempt to plow by Phoebe as she quickly loses her patience and turns to discipline each of the children. To her surprise, not a single soul is within eyesight. Exterior noise dissipates, and Phoebe finds herself alone inside. Shrugging the oddity off as part of the ride, she takes a few more steps deeper into the carnival attraction. Thick, odorless smoke creeps up from her ankles, impairing her already suffering vision in the darkness. A hum followed by a bizarre pastel glimmer catches her attention, pulling her closer. Phoebe arrives to discover an open doorway with a neon sign that reads, "choose your ending." The curious thrill seeker wanders through to find a well-kept hard maple staircase seemingly suspended in the air, surrounded by a starless cosmos. Each step downward unveils unrecognizable yet familiar sounds resonating with background noise like speakers from an antique radio. Some of the static clears as Phoebe descends but is quickly interrupted by more interference. The soundwaves grow vicious and prove to be more than her ears can handle, forcing the lost wanderer to sprint toward the bottom. Phoebe slips as she approaches the end of her descent, bashing her head on the unbending surface. Welcome silence abruptly takes the reigns as Phoebe focuses on a single door. Two words, "would of," are painted on the exterior. The disoriented young woman attempts to open it and finds that it is locked tight. After trying to force her way in for a few moments, she gives up. Then it happened; a slight creaking sound indicated an open exit. Pushing through, she finds an apartment no different than any other where she ends up any given night. It's like every man who has ever taken her home used the same interior decorator; the same two wine glasses, the same retro record player, and the same sofa complete with a chaise lounge. A couple clumsily walks into the apartment, startling Phoebe enough to hide behind the couch instinctively. The man speaks to his date, and she responds, uncovering an eerie truth. Phoebe peeks over the couch to get a glimpse of the two intoxicated lovers, only to realize the gentleman is looking directly at her. In a frantic attempt to explain herself, Phoebe quickly realizes that the others cannot see her. The unknown woman turns to expose herself, revealing a familiar face. Phoebe struggles to understand what is happing and can't decide if she's looking into a mirror or watching herself like in some trippy sci-fi television show. Finally, she recognizes the guy from earlier in the evening; he's the one with the Mona Lisa smile. Unsure how to manage the situation, Phoebe collapses to the floor and watches the event unfold. After a few minutes of chitchat, casanova picks up the empty wine glasses and stumbles to the kitchen, leaving his half-conscious date behind, while Phoebe follows. She witnesses the shifty scumbag dump white powder into his inebriated damsel's cup before filling it with cheap red wine. Phoebe watches as he returns to his lair and urges his companion to drink it all. Time wears on, and the look on the man's face evolves, revealing a cruel predator drooling over an unconscious prey. He throws the lifeless body over his shoulder, disappearing into the bedroom like a spider, ready to weave its web around a helpless bug. The creak from the mystical door signals that it's time for Phoebe to leave. She again stands outside in the darkness at the bottom of the staircase, facing a locked doorway. The only difference this time is the words that read, "Could of," instead of the previous phrase. Experienced, Phoebe patiently waits at the entrance for her cue. Once the passage is clear, Phoebe storms through, ready to battle the demon on the other side. Everything is the same, except for one detail. This time Phoebe isn't watching herself. Instead, it's a complete stranger accompanying the manipulative beast. It doesn't take long before Phoebe realizes whatever is allowing her to watch the story has no intention of letting her interfere. She feels as vulnerable as the target, desperately wanting to lash out at the promiscuous pervert. Phoebe may as well be a ghost as she experiences a replay of the last show with a new unsuspecting cast member. Again, Phoebe finds herself outside with a new sign that reads, "Should of." She impatiently waits for the signal before stepping through the third time. Tears soak Phoebe's face as she assumes she's damned to confront the scenario repeatedly, like some malicious supernatural loop. Despair influences Phoebe to slide down the wall embracing the helplessness but refusing to monitor the ritual. She can't help but take a glimpse after hearing her own voice, just as she did the first round. She watches herself make the same mistakes, except now something has changed. The would-be target follows the wicked coward into the kitchen, shoves her body against his backside while he pours the wine, and slashes his throat with a nearby serrated bread knife. The blade rips through his skin as she saws with all of her strength. The bottle and glasses shatter at his bare feet, sticking deep into his heels and toes. Chunks of flesh tear from his neck, then dangle for a moment and fall to the floor, eventually disguised by a pool of blood and discount liquor store wine. Red specs build up on the checkered tile backsplash, ultimately leaving a pathway to the sink and down the drain. Gurgled screams give way to a silenced panic as cold steel mutilates his vocal cords. Phoebe spectates with no remorse because guilt does not coexist alongside vengeance. Adrenaline streamed through Phoebe's veins; this was an inspiring first. She watched as her clone dropped the knife to the floor, grabbed her jacket, and left the apartment. One last spasm and 'Mona Lisa Smiles' was gone. Phoebe left the scene expecting to find herself at the bottom of a magical floating staircase. Instead, she stood outside in a crowded midway while the sounds of bells and whistles hijacked any chance to reflect. She remained still, waiting for the right moment to act, and then she saw him. Not one pretty girl walked by without tasting his frosty stare. He patiently waited for the right mix of vulnerability, shuffled into naiveness, and enclosed snuggly inside a flawless body. Phoebe meticulously surveyed until she noticed the young lady who was on the other side of door number two catch his attention. Phoebe hustled to make her way to the gentleman first because tonight he had a date with the girl behind door number three.
4 minutes | Sep 4, 2022
I've always lived in Clarksville. Like anyone else, I've moved around a few times. Still, I decided long ago that this city will always be my home, whether I reside on Memorial Drive, Bentree Court, or several other locations. It's a good town to grow up in, and I'm happy my kids made the same choice. During my walk at Liberty Park, I could not help but reflect on something that happened long ago; it sometimes feels like a bad dream when I think about it. In 2001 I was a young parent, married with two young children. We were always on the move. If you have kids, you know what I'm referring to on any day of the week. Children grow up quickly, so we desperately try to squeeze everything in that we can. Slowing down never seems like an option, but it's what we all secretly want to do. Just one afternoon with the family and no plans would be sublime. Instead, we were off to the fairgrounds for another soccer practice. I parked and watched as the kids finished their juice boxes and string cheese. Christian, my son, had to tie his shoes, and Ashlee, my daughter, looked like she had brushed her hair with a ceiling fan. It's the sort of stuff that happens when the dad is off and Moms caught up at work. My kids unbuckled in a flash and headed toward the coach, leaving two empty drink boxes behind in the back seat. I remember staring at the containers thinking how those juices meant everything to my kids, but once they finished them, they moved on, and the treats were forgotten. The young athletes ran around and kicked the ball while all parents watched silently. We were chatterboxes most of the time, but something was different about this day. Not a single grown-up was on that field in spirit. All of our minds were in another place. Flashes of the world and how our babies would one day grow up to take on the leftover madness crept around our brains. Clarksville felt safe not long ago, but today there isn't a city in the entire country unaffected by despair. The goal is to leave a better community behind, a better world. We've failed. Above was a spectacular cobalt Tennessee sky showing off its magnificence above Montgomery County. A few splashes of white reflected the warm glow of the setting sun. Then we saw it—something we hadn't seen in days since the tragedy. An airplane made its way overhead. Everyone stopped as if time had taken a break except for the object floating through the atmosphere. We watched until it was nothing more than a tiny speck evaporating in space. The slowdown was all we needed, and smiles emerged for the first time since practice began. It was a sense of relief seeing that captivating airplane gliding across the sky and leaving behind some hope; hope that things would be okay, hope that our children may have a chance in the world even after September 11th.
8 minutes | Aug 15, 2022
Unspoken Part 3 - The Proposal
"Hey Lynette, I just finished another story and posted it on Facebook. I haven't recorded it yet, so would you mind pulling it up on my page and reading it out loud?" I asked, pointing to the second paragraph showing her where to start and then having a seat next to her to listen. Thirty-four years have passed since the night I first met Lynette. In a way, it feels like five lifetimes ago, and some days I can recall the encounter like it was yesterday. We've both been through plenty since we were teenagers. Kids, failed marriages, and mortgages can sure keep two people occupied for three decades. We grew older, lost touch, and moved on with our lives. But, a lot can happen over a few months. We managed to find one another again, and I'd like to share the rest of our story in a unique way. August 14, 1988, was our first kiss. Today is August 14, 2022, which will hopefully be a special day too. Lynette and I had been friends on Facebook for a while, but we never commented on posts or acknowledged each other. One day out of the blue, I received a message from my first love on the popular platform. She'd seen where I publicly announced my divorce and wanted me to know she was also dealing with the same circumstances. I immediately felt better knowing someone out there was going through a tough time just like me and was willing to provide an ear whenever I needed it. There we were, both around fifty years old and all of a sudden, we're pen pals again. Thanks to technology, we didn't have to wait weeks for a letter. After a few days of texting, we decided to have an actual phone conversation. I planned to tell Lynette my intentions when I drove to Gurnee three decades ago to see her. She'd finally know the trip wasn't just a friendly visit. She would hear me say that I had made the journey to reveal my feelings. I mean, what did I have to lose? The chance to finally get this off my chest was within reach, and I was not about to mess it up again. Nobody ever gets this chance, and I mean nobody, ever! The gesture was more about speaking it out into the universe and less about continuing a love story that was over so long ago. I drove down Madison Street to the abandoned movie theater, where we shared our first kiss. This time I was no longer an unsure kid who had no idea how to communicate. After sitting in the parking lot reliving that special night in '88 for a few moments, I made the call. As the phone rang, I recalled the last time we'd ever spoken, well, until now. Maybe things would have been different had I known I'd never see Lynette again. Then she answered. Suddenly I was seventeen again, talking to the most beautiful girl in the world on the other end of the line. Who knows how many hours we spoke? I know that I watched the sun drop behind the horizon, and most of the conversation was in the dark while I sat in the front seat of my Jeep in that empty parking lot. It was nice to toss my teenage feelings into the atmosphere finally. Days transformed into weeks, and weeks slid into months as we got to know each other again. We didn't miss a day on the phone or a chance to FaceTime. I learned about Lynette's family, and she listened while I chatted about mine. Our lives had certainly changed since our first encounter, but something special remained. Affection found its way back into two hearts that had lost all hope and decided to shine brighter than ever. We both agreed it was time to meet again, so the planning began. We booked the flight and counted down the days until I picked Lynette up at the airport. I recently expressed how I felt years ago over the phone. But I refused to tell her I was in love with her still today until we met in person. I knew I'd soon get my chance. The drive home from the airport was forty-five minutes filled with giggling and hand holding. Once we made it into the house with her luggage, I decided not to waste a single minute. Music played, and we danced right in my living room. It was our first dance. "Hey, Lynette," I said with a grin from ear to ear. She looked up into my eyes, waiting for me to continue. "I was wondering if you'd be my girlfriend?" After a short pause that lasted long enough to smile, she said yes. We danced a little more, and then I said, "I love you," for the first time in our lives. She said it back to me. We continued to dance. Life doesn't get any better than that. For two weeks, we went on dates, spent time with family, and grew closer. We knew she'd eventually have to go back home, but we kept that thought pushed to the back of our brains. Nothing would ruin this occasion, this grand reunion. We'd even discussed the possibility of her moving in with me by October. It sounded like a good plan, but three months was a long time, especially considering how we felt. We convinced ourselves that ninety days was a drop in the bucket compared to the thirty years we've spent apart, and it would go by quickly. Returning to the airport allowed all those first-date feelings from 1988 to resurface. Once again, my heart felt like it was being ripped out, but at least this time, I knew I'd see my Lynette again. She was barely back home in Illinois a day before we discussed the possibility of her moving in sooner than October. After a quick change of plans, we decided three weeks sounded better than three months. Lynette quit her job up north and found a new one here. She said goodbye to friends and her church family. She left her life there to start a new one with me in Clarksville. That moment on Sunday, August 14, 1988, brings us to today, Sunday, August 14, 2022. Lynette told me in a conversation we'd had months ago that if I ever proposed, she'd like to wear my birthstone, a ruby. We'd already retraced all the places we went on our first date during the previous visit, so I chose the perfect spot to ask the question. Our next chapter will start in this living room, where I told Lynette I loved her for the first time. As Lynette reads this very sentence from a story that waited three decades to unfold on my keyboard, I'll reach in my pocket and pull out a ring. My girl is trying to read as she watches me kneel with a pink ruby in my hand. I chose the particular color because I think it looks good on her, and I picked the vintage eternity white gold band because it reminds me of the number eight on both sides of the gem. Hopefully, Lynette will always see eighty-eight when she looks at it. And I had to have the date August 14, 1988, engraved on the inside. I only have one thing left to do now. "Alright, Lynette, you can stop reading now," I said Before she went any further. Then I asked this question, "Lynette, will you marry me?" And she said yes.
3 minutes | Aug 11, 2022
It's not often I get the opportunity to dress up. Please understand that it's not something I look forward to no matter the occasion. Typically it means one of my cousins is getting married, and I have a lot of cousins. Putting on nice clothes is a lot of work for subpar non-chocolate cake. Those wedding mints are nice, but after two or three trips and a few handfuls, the grownups tend to catch on to my game. Plus, my pockets will only hold so many. Weekends are more valuable than they were before I started going to school. Not long ago, every day was no different than Saturday or Sunday. With only two days a week to play outside, this wedding feels like a colossal waste of my time. I could be building a fort in the woods behind the house or skipping rocks across the creek. My feet could carry me down the hill to the river bottom as fast as The Flash. Maybe I could pretend to be Tarzan and swing on a couple of grapevines along the way. Instead, I'm forced to wear this getup that clearly does not reflect my true nature whatsoever. It's tough to breathe, and everything itches. Hopefully, it's safe to lose the tie. They would have done it by now if they intended to take my picture. At least the suit is better than the outfit I had to wear when I was a ring bearer. It made me look like a cast member from The Love Boat. "Chris! Where is your tie?" My mother asked impatiently, waiting for an answer. Looking around as if the tie would magically appear, I just shrugged my shoulders. Mom continued to speak, "Oh, never mind. Stand against the wall and smile so we can take your picture. Stop moving your hands, Chris." "What am I supposed to do with them?" was my earnest response. She told me to lock my fingers in front of myself. My first instinct was to hold my hands in a prayer position and bow my head. Momma had no problem adjusting my pose, kind of like I do with my Lone Ranger sometimes. Then she urged me to be still and reminded me to smile again. "Don't close your eyes, Chris. You always close your eyes. I'll count to three and take the picture. Make sure they're open until I say three. And stand up straight," Mom instructed. "Man, taking pictures is complicated. Why can't she snap the darn thing so we can go home while I still have sunlight? I wonder if I can sneak undetected by the mint bowl one more time? Wait, Can I blink on three, or do I wait until after Mom says three?" I thought to myself. "And three," my mother said, followed by the camera's flash. She asked, "Did you blink?" "No, ma'am," I mumbled before stuffing a few more mints into my pocket and making my exit.
6 minutes | Jul 21, 2022
A few months had passed since Daddy made his way into Heaven. The farm looked the same. The crab apple trees still sent a burst of fragrance up the hill and around the house into the front yard whenever a warm wind decided to wake up. My dog Ginger continued to find me when I wandered outside looking for strange bugs or mystical arrowheads. The woods surrounding our home never stopped speaking into the breeze, calling me to explore. Dad was gone, but sometimes I could hear his voice echoing over the ridge urging me to come in for supper. I noticed a swing appeared a couple of days ago under one of the crab apple trees. It was the kind that you put one foot in and glide around upright. Susan, my older sister, must have tied it to one of the limbs earlier in the week. Checking it out is definitely on my mental list for the day. Hopefully, I'll have time to squeeze it into my busy schedule before the sun dips down behind the barn. Time sure has a funny way of speeding up when you don't want it to and slowing down when you want it to hurry along. Maybe God got that whole thing backward. He absolutely knows what he's doing, but everyone is entitled to an oversight. When I make it to Heaven, I'll be sure to tell him that the clock should move fast during class and slow down during playtime. I'm sure plenty of other angels will back me up on that. I felt a lot closer to God after Dad moved on. Maybe because I knew Daddy was with him, or perhaps because I needed help filling that void where a boy's father is supposed to reside. God and me have our moments, though; things aren't always pretty. Sometimes I'll pick a fight with him, but he tends just to listen. I guess disagreements will pop up when you're close to someone. Lucky for me, Jesus has unlimited patience. A few words buzzed from my mouth like angry hornets assembling and taking flight, "I hope you know my mother's heart is broken. She didn't deserve this. None of us did. Why did you choose my dad? He worked hard every day, always doing his best to care for us all. I can't go two days without someone telling me how he was a good man or how he helped them once when they needed it." My face grew red while tears filled my eyes after noticing my old bike leaning against the homemade wooden basketball goal. And I continued, "He just taught me how to ride that ya know. He was supposed to teach me other stuff, and you took him. None of this makes sense, and your decision was wrong. I hate you." After wiping my face on my shirt, I marched toward the rope swing behind the house. The lasso made that tightening sound as I stepped into it and raised myself above the ground. Using my momentum, I swung back and forth as high as possible, pretending I was Spider-Man, who had also lost his Uncle Ben. The slight breeze from the swaying motions felt good, hitting my dirty face. My eyes closed for a few moments while I envisioned my body floating high over the earth, noticing how tiny everything looks from up here. Like always, real life ascended to the surface, and I noticed I'd gotten into a predicament. Just below my feet, yellowjackets hoovered around the fallen apples like hot lava, ready to disintegrate me head to toe like I was beaming up on Star Trek once I stepped down. My tense body dangled overhead like an anticipated second course for hungry zombies. Again, God managed to slow down time at the worst possible moment. I must have hung there for an hour or longer before I heard it. "Let go," the voice whispered. I'm unsure if it was Jesus or my dad, but I decided to listen and let go. My right leg slipped through the lasso while the rope tightened around my thigh, trapping me with the vicious flying insects. "Great advice," I belted as my back landed flat on the hard, unforgiving earth. The more I fought to get away, the tighter the cord squeezed. Any moment the angry yellowjackets would devour my flesh, leaving only a pile of bones, with one tibia left wobbling in the air a few feet over my final resting place. A familiar voice broke the chaos, "Chris, what is wrong with you? Just get up." Mom must have seen me through the kitchen window and made her way to my resue. "The yellowjackets are going to sting me, Mom! I'm trapped," would be the final words ever to escape my mouth. Shaking her head, she spoke again, "Oh Chris, these aren't yellowjackets. They're corn flies, and they are harmless." She loosened the rope as my bruised leg fell to the ground. One of the bugs landed on my chest, looked at me like an idiot, and buzzed away. We walked back to the house together that afternoon. I guess God was trying to tell me to let go. Things may get a little worse sometimes when we do, but eventually, it gets better.
3 minutes | Jul 8, 2022
Picture day is perhaps the biggest day of the school year. Time will pass while images captured and carefully scattered throughout the annual burn a spot in our mental history book. We'll never see most of our classmates again, so they'll always be their first-grade selves with a 1978 haircut. We'll read about one another in the paper when we get married or have a baby. We'll bring up a random name in a random conversation and immediately flash back to Mrs. Jone's class on picture day. It could be thirty or forty years down the road, but all we will manage to see is a seven-year-old shadow of an innocent ghost pleasantly haunting our memories. None of us realize the significance of the photo, but we do as we're told and line up single file, then march to the gymnasium. It never occurs to the teacher what it'll mean to us to look back years later to remember who we were. The poor guy snapping the picture only thinks about the end of the day so he can go home to his family. It feels like a pretty insignificant gesture once we line up on the steps and struggle to smile simultaneously. It's easy to forget about the entire ceremony as soon as the camera clicks, especially with the playground only a few yards away. All we want to do is play. It's effortless to take each day one at a time. Our parents do all the planning, organizing, and worrying for us. So all that's left is to listen to the teacher and see who can swing the highest. Twenty-four hours is sort of a little lifetime; if we do something terrible like trip a kid during recess or break the pencil sharpener, it's no big deal. We get a fresh start the next day, and all is forgiven. None of us take a moment to ponder how we'll eventually become the parents who do all of the planning, organizing, and worrying. We're unaware of how clouded our minds will ultimately become and how life tends to dictate how we spend precious moments instead of us controlling our destiny. It's a good thing we have picture day. It'll be a welcomed escape somewhere in the future, I'm sure.
9 minutes | May 14, 2022
Unspoken Part 2
Two years shuffled by as quickly as the last day of summer break when I was a kid. The first and only time we ever kissed was back in '88, and I knew I was in love right then and there. The whole relationship was doomed from the beginning when Lynette left the next day for home in Illinois. We exchanged addresses before she headed out and promised to always keep in touch no matter what. And we did. We slid into the friend zone right away because a long-distance relationship is challenging for anyone. With us being so young, it would have only caused pain. At least that's what I told myself in order to cope with the heartache. I'd send her letters, corny poems, pictures, and postcards from my beach vacations. We got to know each other one postage stamp at a time through the years. She learned everything about my failed attempts at courtship, and I sat back and watched her grow into a beautiful woman with each photograph I received. I fought the urge to tell her how I truly felt countless times whenever I'd pick up a pen. Part of me didn't want to lose the stable friendship we'd molded, and the other half of my heart needed to express those three words. It was always a struggle for me and something I wish I'd spoken out into the universe at least once. Even rejection is better than never knowing. My heart constantly whispered her name with each beat, and the sound was deafening at times whenever I'd pull one of Lynette's letters from the mailbox. I had to figure out something. I needed to tell her my feelings. Lynette came to Clarksville a handful of times to see family. We'd hang out and catch up over long drives or innocent strolls before she headed back up north. We went to see a play at Austin Peay during one of her visits. I'd always wished that could have been a date, but my courage was nonexistent, and my sentiments became buried deep beneath mounting anxiety. It was nice to see her face and experience her expressions when I'd say something funny. Meeting her never failed to stir up the sense of passion, lost as soon as we discovered it years ago. We'd often talked about me visiting her in Gurnee for a change, so I decided to make the eight-hour drive to see Lynette. My journey would not end with a simple meeting between two acquaintances. No, this would be our final encounter as friends because I was ready to tell her everything. I'd look her in the eyes and explain that I've loved her since our very first date two years ago. She would know that I'd do whatever it took to make our relationship succeed by the time I left. It's obvious we have a deep connection, so this will work. It has to. After saving tips for a couple of weeks of serving at the Catfish House, it was time to take my trip. Memories of our first date, the letters, pictures, and our latest encounters flashed through my head like a silent move the entire drive. Conviction bled from my body the closer I got to my destination. I envisioned finally getting the opportunity to hold Lynette again, and nothing could stop us from creating a life together. Our happily ever after was within reach and all I had to do was speak from my soul. She'd hear my remarks, and then we would wonder why it took so long to realize that what we had was unique. It would be that special kind of love that only existed in fiction until now. I made great time and managed to arrive a little ahead of schedule. Lynette's whole family came out to greet me as soon as I pulled into the driveway, instantly making me feel at home. Following a firm handshake from her father and a warm hug from her mom, I made my way to the girl of my dreams. After a quick embrace, Lynette showed me to my room so I could unpack. Something felt a little off, and I couldn't quite put my finger on it. My courage crept back into some unlit chamber, and I took a deep breath before determining to pause and see how things would play out. Most of that first evening revolved around everyone sitting in the den and catching up. All I wanted to do was get Lynette alone for a few minutes so that I could push forward with my plan. Even though I could feel something was wrong, I had to tell her. I mean, it's why I came, so I owed it to myself to spill my guts. Eventually, the room thinned out, and I was alone with my hazel-eyed girl. There was no time to waste because I'd only planned on staying for a couple of days, and the sooner she knew, the sooner we could begin our love story. Lynette spoke before I could lay it all out. "I wanted you to know I have a boyfriend, now." The sentence felt like some giant hand with a razor claw reached through my ribcage and yanked out my heart. I was able to muster up a response. "Oh, um, that's fantastic news. How did you two meet?" "We met at work; it just kind of happened suddenly." All I wanted to do was cry, but I held it back and said, "Good for you. I mean, as long as you're happy, that is all that matters. I hope me being here doesn't cause a problem." "Oh no. He knows we're just friends, and it'll never go beyond that." My insides collapsed, and my head rang with some excruciating noise I couldn't shake. I told Lynette I was exhausted after the drive and excused myself. I stretched out in a strange bed far from home that night, feeling more alone than I can ever recall. All I wanted was to drive back to Clarksville and forget this had ever happened. I stayed for two days and witnessed her face light up whenever he'd call. The agony felt unbearable when she talked about him and their plans together, but I hid it the best I knew how. The images of Lynette and me together faded away and were replaced by some guy she met working at Six Flags. I spent weeks replaying every moment of our relationship, desperately attempting to figure out what I could have done differently. Maybe I should have said something sooner in a letter or during one of Lynette's stops in town. Telling her, she's beautiful or expressing how my palms sweat just thinking about her could have changed everything. Even if I had crashed and burned by saying, "I love you," at least she would have heard it. If nothing else, she would know how I've always felt. The strength never surfaced, and now I'm hollow. My chest is empty, and my stomach aches because I've lost her. Time does tend to mend the body and the spirit. It may take a while, but the boldness to move forward is in all of us if we live long enough to mark enough blocks off of the calendar. Falling out of love would never be an option, but easier days and romantic distractions kept me from going crazy until she wasn't the first thing I thought about when I woke up in the morning. Life sure can throw those curveballs when we least expect it. About the time I began to feel like myself again, it happened. All it took was to open the mailbox one day, and there it was—another letter from Lynette.
4 minutes | Apr 28, 2022
There's no timeline for Hannah. Knowing her, she's forgotten it's even 1972. A cross-country trip that could have easily taken a week or two to complete has her on the road bouncing from place to place for a few months now. She rarely thinks about the man she shot and killed back home, and when he does cross her mind, there's no inkling of remorse. She'd tell you the gentleman had it coming, and he should have kept his hands off the boy. Little Ricky does, however, appear in her thoughts, and Hannah wonders if she truly set him free. The recollections force the talkative red-headed wanderer to ponder her own sense of freedom. Hannah would stop off at every exit if she could because she's constantly afraid she'll miss out on some unusual sight or a good story from a local. Of course, her idea of a good story is listening for a few seconds and then taking over the conversation for several minutes outside of a laundromat or greasy spoon. Sometimes she'll find temporary work in a small town long enough to acquire enough cash to move on to the next and eventually make it to the West Coast. About the time she makes a couple of friends who don't mind her taking over the discussion, she packs up what few clothes she owns and disappears. One boy asked Hannah to marry him after about three days a few hundred miles back east. It's not her fault men get lost in those deep aqua eyes and decide that popping the question is reasonable. She politely told the young man she's only interested in older gents but neglected to mention she'd turned down a guy ten years her senior several weeks before. She left him thinking younger bucks were more her speed. Hannah knows exactly what she's after, and it has nothing to do with male hormones leading a charge down the aisle anytime soon. When the time is right, she figures that her ideal mate will take time to peel back her layers, and she doesn't mean clothing. Hannah has her share of demons hopping around inside of her skull. She tells everyone she left home to pursue her dreams, but the reality is she simply decided to run. Folks do it every day, and it never takes long to figure out that fleeing yourself is next to impossible. Old thoughts and lingering poison flowing in and out of the heart rarely dissipate until they're faced head-on. Hannah takes pride in labeling herself a problem solver, and she's assisted more than one lost soul in her lifetime. But a reflection is quick to remind Hannah her greatest asset is also her most significant obstacle. Helping herself isn't part of her agenda for now, and hopefully, that epiphany won't strike her too late. For now, Hannah is happy listening to her John Denver eight-track over and over as she coasts down the interstate scoping out each exit, wondering if the stop holds her next adventure. She finds peace in providing long-winded answers to any stranger who'll hear her words. The solutions to her own questions drift further away with each passing second her foot presses the accelerator. If Hannah knew what to ask herself, she would have stayed home where she was supposed to be. Instead, she's caught somewhere on a long road chasing invisible goals that'll lead her to a familiar place a little too late. Then again, sometimes opportunity has a way of offering up a second chance to lost spirits like Hannah. Maybe she'll have a long conversation with the mirror before it's too late to go home.
4 minutes | Apr 17, 2022
Maybe age is only a number, and perhaps it isn't. Ask me how I feel about it when I'm really old, like forty or fifty or something. All I know is that whenever a birthday rolls around, I get some fantastic chocolate cake my mother whipped up. Eventually, the seventies will become the eighties, and before I know it, the world will change, but one thing will forever remain constant. Chocolate cake will always be the most delicious cake ever devised. I've had some pretty outstanding desserts within my short life. The cake is the best reason to go to another kids' party, but there is never a guarantee it'll be the right kind. I can't figure out why someone would choose anything other than chocolate when they can pick whatever flavor they'd like. Forget about weddings because those are never good. They're kind of pretty, but every time that knife goes in, it's some white or yellow cake. It's supposed to be a special day, but I guess it isn't that special after all. The worst is when adults mess with your head. Anyone above the age of ten can not be trusted because they're ticky. Nothing is worse than salivating over a giant mound of goodness covered in dark frosting, only to discover that some dry yellow sponge hides beneath, ready to disappoint. Grown-ups can be monsters. Biting into an oatmeal raisin cookie, thinking its chocolate chip comes in at a close second. These tragic moments can easily turn into sleepless nights. Sometimes everything looks right. The frosting is nice and chocolaty, the cake is the perfect shade of mocha, and even the ice cream is delightfully fudgy. One bite quickly tells me that looks can indeed be deceiving. It's like my mother has some super-secret ingredient and no one else on earth is aware. I've never once witnessed her wave a magic wand or sprinkle any kind of magical dust all over the birthday cake. Why can't anyone else bake a cake as wonderful as my mother's? A giant table sits still and empty, but don't let the lifeless wooden structure fool you. If it could talk, the stories that old piece of furniture could paint would leave you with an art gallery full of portraits floating around inside your mind. All of the Christmas dinners, Thanksgivings, Easter egg paintings, homework, and occasional arguments would provide a book with more than a thousand chapters. And of course, we can't forget birthdays. First, Mom gently throws her signature white tablecloth into the air, and it bubbles up like a parachute before landing perfectly on the unique table. Next, the themed paper plates are stacked next to enough forks and spoons for all of my friends and cousins who will attend. She lines up balloons and Dum-Dums so each guest will have something to take home. My favorite green Kool-Aid chills in the refrigerator while the extra chocolaty chocolate chip ice cream stays frozen in the icebox. Then she places my cake in the center of the table she'd made the day before. Soon everyone will arrive with gifts, and they'll sing happy birthday before I fill my lungs with enough air to blow out each candle successfully. Mom will laugh and sing along with the rest of us on this special day. Afterward, she'll clean up, put everything back in its place and never complain once or even expect a thank you. Every year she proves love is way more powerful than a magic wand or enchanted fairy dust, and it makes the perfect secret ingredient.
8 minutes | Apr 9, 2022
Sunday evening was always more enjoyable than the morning at Pleasant View Baptist. A laid-back atmosphere of blue jeans and talk of the day's afternoon football game before the service is a better fit, and I don't even care for football. Brother Larry never failed to deliver some goofy greeting as soon as I stepped through the side door, and Brother Ben made me feel at ease with his generous smile. The church was my second home throughout the eighties, and I wouldn't have changed anything. I was familiar with every face behind those walls regardless of what day or night I showed up. However, one young woman managed to catch me off guard on an August night in '88. The instant the door shut behind me, Larry, my youth director, screamed from down the hall by his office, "Brother Chris, in the building!" He caught me off guard a little, but I'd think something was wrong if he didn't. We struck up a conversation, and I greeted Brother Clegg as he passed by to shake my hand along with a handful of others. On most occasions, I'd listen intently to whatever my youth director had to say, but distraction reared its beautiful face on this particular evening. She appeared out of nowhere from around the corner and walked right by me, pausing long enough to show her smile before vanishing into the auditorium. "Hey Chris, are you still with me, buddy?" Larry said before snapping his fingers to bring me out of my trance. I forgot I was speaking to anyone for an instant, and my chest filled with incandescent fireflies fluttering around, tossing me into a lightheaded frenzy. "Wait, what? What did you say, Larry?" I muttered while trying to recover. "You were looking at that girl, weren't you? It's Lynette. She's Aleta's sister from Illinois. I can introduce you?" "No. No, no. Absolutely not," frantically escaped my mouth, trying to avoid any embarrassment that would surely accompany the introduction. After excusing myself, I headed toward my usual spot, which happened to be a couple of rows down from and directly behind some girl who robbed me of every ounce of sense with a passing glance. It was only the back of her head, but I couldn't pull my eyes away the entire hour. I usually at least hear a couple of things during the sermon that hit home or give me something to think about but not this night. My brain refused to work at all. Any lingering thoughts zipped right through the ceiling out into space somewhere, leaving me mesmerized by the stranger. Toward the end of Brother Clegg's presentation, Lynette briefly looked to her left, giving me a glimpse of her profile. The fireflies in my chest swirled around as if they would eventually burst through my ribcage and fill the entire room. Her body turned to face me with no warning, while her brown eyes pulled me in, igniting an unfamiliar sensation. Our synchronized smiles signaled an undeniable connection between two kids who had no choice but to give in. A friendship began before a single word inched from our mouths, sculpted by a gaze and a grin. After the final prayer and without hesitation, we approached one another and introduced ourselves. We ended up outside and immediately began talking like we'd known each other for a lifetime. My interaction with any female until this point never failed to be riddled with awkwardness. Once she told me her family would be leaving Clarksville the next day, I knew there was no time to waste. "Would you like to go see a movie with me? I'd like to see Young Guns; it's playing over on Madison Street," I asked, hoping she'd say yes with every ounce of energy in my soul. "I'd love to see a movie with you, but we need to ask my parents first," she responded. Her mom and dad agreed to let us go on a date as long as we returned safely and promptly after the show. They reminded their daughter a long drive started early the following day before we left together. The two of us didn't hold hands on the way to the car, but the shoulder-to-shoulder stroll made me happy regardless. Being close to her filled me with joy, and I believe she felt the same. I made sure to open her door before walking around to the driver's seat. It was only a few steps, but it was longer than I wanted to be away from Lynette. Keeping my eyes on the road was next to impossible. The darkness hid Lynette's face, but each streetlamp provided me with enough light to catch a few minor details that would permanently etch themselves into my thoughts. And I didn't want to miss one opportunity to admire the subtle glow from her skin with each temporary flash. Our hands met for the first time on that drive to the cinema, and her touch sent electricity through my fingertips directly into my welcoming heart. We'd only met moments before, but neither of us could deny the allure. Before entering the building, I knew the movie was a mistake. The last thing I wanted to do was sit there in silence for two hours. Our time was precious, and I wanted to explore her thoughts, make her laugh, and leave with a memory of Lynette and not Billy The Kid. After walking through the lobby and taking a seat, the film began right away. Before the opening credits even finished, her head found a place on my shoulder, and it fit as well as two tiny puzzle pieces. Once I squeezed in as close as possible, she directed her attention away from the screen and back into my eyes. It wasn't long before every seat and bag of popcorn vanished around us, and we kissed. "I don't think I want to see this movie anymore," I whispered, hoping for the same response. "Let's go somewhere else," she said into my ear. We ended up at a nearby park with enough light to reveal her face, so I didn't have to settle for brief photographs. Euphoria tangled into a mixture of despair hovered above us and all around, sending surges of emotion through our bones rattling the earth beneath our feet. Neither of us wanted to be anywhere else in the world. But the pain of her departure in a few short hours slithered around our minds refusing to let us forget our fate even for a moment. Laughter could not hide the rivers of tears flowing down our faces, to each of our necks and finally meeting where our bodies touched under the moonlight of a celestial Tennesse summer twilight. I drove Lynette back that Sunday, knowing it could be the last time I saw her. The torture of saying goodbye overwhelmed my innocent seventeen-year-old body to the point of breaking me in half. But the happiness we found together in those few hours was worth the agony of a broken heart a million times over. Lynette and I fell in love, but the words went unspoken. It's not something two people have to say to understand when it's there to see and feel. We said goodbye, but we both held onto that gift of time and the hope of picking up where we left off someday.
6 minutes | Feb 23, 2022
Even at four years old, I've always prided myself in having quite the imagination. Thanks to The Twilight Zone, I can evaluate the possibilities of unusual circumstances surrounding regular people like me. Making a deal with the devil is never a good idea, and if I'm ever the last person alive in the world, I'd better take extra special care of my glasses so I can still read books during the apocalypse. It's my favorite show to watch, and it's right up there with The Three Stooges and The Little Rascals. The Twilight Zone, of course, is strictly for daytime consumption. Getting spooked at three in the afternoon is much easier to overcome than getting scared after dark. After an eventful day pretending to be Astronaut George Taylor fighting off those darn dirty apes, I found myself relaxing on the couch in the living room. It's a rare occurrence to catch me hanging out with my much older siblings Larry and Susan. They both decided to join me after a few minutes of solo entertainment provided by my Spider-Man coloring book. It's a fun nighttime activity, and all on my own, I discovered that I could trace the pictures and color them as much as I wanted. Crayons and paper always piled up around me close to bedtime. Before long, my brother and sister struck up an interesting conversation. They seemed pretty excited over a recent newspaper article, and even with my superpower of blocking out unwelcomed distractions, curiosity prevailed, and I abandoned my task. My interest peaked when I overheard them mention the word alien. Evidently, someone spotted an extraterrestrial in Salem, and the sighting made the paper. By now, the wind picked up outside, and I could hear branches scraping the side of our house, making the whole situation even creepier. Larry explained how a neighbor on Mellon Road admitted seeing one of the creatures just before sundown. That's about the time I heard Rod Serling's famous intro in my mind and felt a sharp jolt of terror streak from head to toe. "What happened? Did the aliens hurt anyone?" I asked, anxiously awaiting an answer. Susan said, "They shot at it, maybe wounded it, and it took off running toward our house." Fear released its poison into my young body, transforming my sun-kissed skin into milky white as Larry handed over the newspaper and pointed at the sketch. Those dark black fishbowl eyes hung above two tiny holes for his nose and a small mouth that is undoubtedly hiding some sort of suction tongue and a set of fangs for eating my brains. The monster's enormous, strangely shaped head rested upon a spaghetti-sized neck and boney frame held together by leathery skin. The creature obviously would not think twice about snatching me up to take home as some sort of scientific experimentation offering. Lightening crept across the sky, creating a web of electric veins decorating the atmosphere. During the brief flash, I noticed something through the window under the catawba tree. It could have been something tall and lanky with a giant head and enormous eyes, eyes that I could possibly see my own reflection in before the last breath ascends from my lungs. How could this be? No one else in the room saw anything! It must be how Captain Kirk felt when he looked out the airplane window into the storm on episode three, season five of The Twilight Zone. After screaming, "What are we going to do? They are coming for us!" Larry and Susan agreed to go outside to investigate. As soon as I heard the screen door slam, I felt alone and more vulnerable than ever. Within moments I listened to my brother and sister cry in agony, unable to escape the impending doom that would more than likely be my fate as well. Once the shrieks faded, silence loomed. Quiet is never more resonant than when it's following the bluster of despair and torment. With my back to the window, I stared at the television, doing my best to ignore whatever lurked from behind through that thin glass. "Tap, tap, tap," came from behind, and in an instant, I froze, wanting nothing more than to be somewhere else on the other side of the planet. Convincing myself that hearing the tap again would be more intense than facing the beast once and for all, I decided to peek. With a quick jerk, I swung my head around and peered out into the night. Before even having the chance to capture a single sigh of relief, two lights popped on out of nowhere through the glass. For a moment, the creature's diabolical eyes worked a bizarre spell but only for a moment. Like the Flash himself, I streaked to the safest area of the house, my bed, under the covers. Here I have outlasted many aberrations, and here this nightfall, I shall take my last stand. The early evening soon turned into midnight, and sleep became too much to fight any longer. "Chris, come eat your eggs before they get cold," is the precious sound that snapped me out of my hex. Everything should be fine if Mom is up preparing food. Larry had already left for work, but Susan sat having breakfast at the kitchen table. At first, everything seemed normal, but I knew the truth. My sister had a look on her face as if she was hiding something. There's no doubt the strange visitors from last night took over the bodies of my siblings, and for all I know, they have possessed my mother as well. All there is left to do is act like I don't suspect anything. I only hope I have learned enough from television to survive this nightmare.
7 minutes | Feb 6, 2022
What fascinated me the most about my first day of school at Cumberland Heights was laying eyes on the playground. All I could do was stand there and soak it all in and try to figure out how things worked. I could already tell my most significant hurdle would be the slide. Standing at the base of the contraption, I stared straight up into the sky, attempting to see the top of the ladder. The last step is hidden somewhere above the clouds as far as I can tell, and I'm sure it's difficult to breathe at that altitude. Deciding to leave the beast for another time, I explored more. The biggest obstacle in Mrs. Brown's kindergarten class is figuring out the whole nap time scenario. Never in my life have I slept in the middle of the day. We all have to go to the back of the room, grab one of those spongy mats, and sleep on the floor for about twenty years. It's not easy finding one without a few dried buggers or snot on it. The teacher drops a piece of hard candy beside any of us who can successfully catch some Z's. That slide keeps popping up in my head, so there is no way I'm getting any candy because all I can think about is how I want to conquer it. How is a man supposed to get any shuteye with such momentous visions? The swing set doesn't look too intimidating. I've spent hours on grapevines, ropes, and tire swings. "This should be a cinch," I thought to myself. As soon as I decided to give it a go, I witnessed a sixth-grader launch into the solar system. He disregarded gravity somehow by hanging on until just before the swing made a complete circle like a Ferris wheel. Two other kids were using it to play a mad game of bumper cars, and it looked excruciatingly painful. What the heck is nap time supposed to teach us aside from how to fake a snooze? Neil is the only legit kid because his eyes are puffy, and his back is sweaty when he wakes. I close my eyelids when I see Mrs. Brown get up with her bag of sweets, and just before she gets to me, I hold my breath, and my cheeks puff out. For some reason, I never score a treat. Thankfully Twila gave me some solid advice and let me know that we do, in fact, continue to breathe while hibernating. The bright orange wooden seesaws looked safe enough until I saw that one kid jump off, forcing her playmate to fall like a sack of potatoes to the ground. She hit the dirt so hard that her body vibrated before tumbling over in agony. I'm pretty sure she lived because I saw her throwing grapes in the cafeteria later. Naptime is absolutely insufferable. If we don't get up soon, I will lose my marbles. Ouch, Sabrina made a giant mistake. She asked to go to the bathroom. So much for her snagging a treat today. Why the heck do girls go to the john so much anyway? On top of that, I can't even imagine not being able to pee outside. The slide haunts me as I lay motionless on the oversized slobber-soaked sponge riddled with disease. Today must be my moment to overcome my most eminent fear. I will not leave these grounds without a piece of hard candy in my pocket and a feeling of victory after slaying the mighty monster that mocks my very soul. Oh, for crying out loud! Now I have to pee. When with this madness stop? Just give us sugar and send us to recess already, please! I knew the merry-go-round was for advanced players only when I saw it in action. One big kid would lock his hand around the metal bar and run in circles as fast as he could before slinging himself halfway across the playground. In the meantime, smaller kids, probably unaware of what they'd walked into, held on for dear life. One by one, each child would get dizzy before flinging off and landing on the worn ground plastered with jagged rocks. It reminded me of my sister blowing a dandelion to watch the tiny parachutes land wherever fate led them. Something has to give soon, and I hope it's Mrs. Brown and not my bladder. Wait, she's up! She is walking around with the bag in her hand. All I have to do is remember Twila's advice, keep my eyes shut, and play it cool. Neil got his reward, of course. Oh man, she skipped right over Barney, and he even had me fooled. It looks like Patricia scored. She's close, so it's time to close my eyes. I can feel it in my bones this time. There is no doubt I'll be heading to recess with my well-earned bounty. After hearing the candy drop, I waited a bit longer to ensure the coast was clear before opening my eyes. A tiny peek revealed butterscotch. Really? I despise butterscotch. As we march outside, I remind myself of the day's primary goal to dominate the deadly mountain once and for all. Each step closer to the anomaly forces my stomach into my throat, making it hard to swallow. The line moves quickly, and I fight any impulse to bail on my mission of glory. While observing the kid's buttcrack in front of me climb its way toward the heavens, others insist I hurry. The metal from the handrail scorches my fingers with each advancement, but I do not give in to the discomfort. Glimpsing down could very well be my demise, so I fix my eyes on the skin-covered crevice peeking from the top of plaid pants ahead and move on. Everything feels minuscule atop Mount Everest while looking out over the active playground. I would have sat there for hours if not for the white-hot heat piercing my corduroys and impatient risk-takers following my lead. Lunging myself forward over the lustrous metallic ramp, I slid downward. My face enjoyed a cool breeze drying the sweat from my forehead before coming to an abrupt stop at the bottom. A sense of relief led to a radiant smile to signal my time as a champion was now. It was like breaking through the tape after winning an Olympic race, at least before the sharp pain of sneakers in my back from the next kid on the slide. "Yep, pretty soon I'll master every device this playground can throw my way," I paused to think before my next climb into space.
8 minutes | Feb 5, 2022
Loss part Two
It's been four years since I paid a visit to the principal's office. Mrs. Allen, my second-grade teacher, found cause every week to send me to see Mr. Mitler, but it usually ended with a smile and encouragement to do better. I'm pretty sure I'm not in trouble this time, but I don't enjoy coming here regardless. It feels like a cold dentist's office, and I'm the only patient in line for a ride in the chair of destruction. The final year at Cumberland Heights has been a tough one for sure, and I never expected to end up here again. Mrs. Taylor is sending me home early today because I lost my mind on the way back from recess about the time we marched past the library. She's a good teacher, so she is only doing what she thinks is best. It's my first day back since the accident, and all in the world I want is to feel normal. A week is a long time to be gone, and I never asked for extra attention when I returned. My classmates have done nothing but stare all day and whisper every time I enter a room. The adults continuously tell me they're sorry, but they had nothing to do with the mishap. A little attention is nice for the right reasons, but this is too much, and I only want it to stop. The thought of coming back was exciting, and I couldn't wait to get on the bus this morning, but I totally messed everything up earlier. It's too bad I can't take it all back and start over. Mrs. Taylor lined us up to head back to class like she had a hundred other times. Hair pulling, nose picking, and tripping are everyday observations on the stroll, and none of it phases me because I've seen it all since kindergarten. But when Doug stepped on that grasshopper, I snapped. It wasn't a small scene either; when I say I snapped, I mean, you'd think Bizarro swooped down and started picking us all off one by one. It wasn't even an accident because he saw the bug and paused long enough to ensure he had an audience before stepping on its head and squishing it right there on the sidewalk. After the popping noise, the kid belted out some sinister giggle and looked back at all of us as if to say it wasn't over. He then covered the insect entirely with his sneaker and rotated it like he'd thrown a cigarette butt onto the ground. Then he scraped his sole across the hot concrete, leaving a trail of discarded fragments, mangled and twisted before chuckling again to show pride in his achievement. My friends ignored the incident and carried on, but I froze. It was involuntary, and if there had been a way to at least pretend none of it happened, I would have gladly walked to class like the others. The last thing I needed was to give another justification to gossip and gaze, but I couldn't help myself. It's like my body stopped working, and an uncontrollable gush of tears and snot flowed down my face. The next thing I knew, I was on the ground in front of that mutilated grasshopper doing my best to will it back into existence. Of course, my screams went unanswered because the universe is unfair and doesn't work that way. It's not like I'd never stepped on a bug before or shot a squirrel with my BB gun. I've seen plenty of dead animals, but today I decided to have a complete meltdown in front of everyone. All of the boys and girls in line paused to watch me with wide eyes, mourn over a stupid cricket before my teacher pulled me away and brought me here. Facing my piers again isn't going to be easy, and the way I feel now, I'd rather never see them again because I'm embarrassed. "Chris, your mother is here. You can go home, sweetie," said Mrs. Gaither, the school secretary. Mom escorted me to the car and never uttered a word. It was a long silent ride home, and I knew big trouble would be in my future. She had to be disappointed, and I'm sure having to pick me up like this must be a significant inconvenience. She's been through enough the past couple of weeks, and the last thing Mom needs is for me to lose it at school like some raving lunatic. We were only about five minutes from the house when we passed the spot on Bend Road where it happened. Mom slowed down a little as we drove by, almost like she was saying hello to my sister. On February 17th, a car pulled up in our driveway late in the evening. I should have been sleeping, but the headlights made me curious, so I had to investigate. After I heard a knock at the door, I slid from my bed and crept as quietly as I could into the living room. I heard mom greet someone; it was a man, maybe my uncle, I don't know. They both went into the kitchen to talk, so I moved in closer to hear what was happening. The floors are creaky, so a few steps into the dining room had to suffice. The man mentioned Susan, my sister, and told Mom that she was in an accident. My mother asked if she was alright, and after that, all I could hear was momma cry. I'd heard enough and went back to my room. It was a sleepless night for me, and I can imagine it was even worse for my mother. Not a single tear fell from my cheek as I sat in bed, wondering how the day would play out. Sunlight made its way through my window before the sound of footsteps broke the solitude of my space. I acted like I was asleep when Mom walked in, had a seat beside me, and placed her hand on my shoulder. She began sobbing. "What's wrong, momma?" I asked, pretending to be unaware. "Susan was in an accident last night," she forced out before breaking down again. I didn't have to ask if she'd be alright because I already knew the answer. All I could do was sit up in bed and comfort her the best I could. She wept, and I sat there as cold as a frosty January morning, going through the motions of being upset. There was nothing in my heart at all, no sorrow, no anger, no confusion, nothing. It's like my emotions abandoned me on an island a thousand miles away from our farm in Salem. All I wanted to do was cry with my mother, but I didn't. Susan was on her way back from the gas station that night and realized she had forgotten her purse. An ominous dense fog coated the hills and concealed the curves on Salem Road. My sister anxiously turned the car around and raced back toward town before losing control and crashing into a tree. Just like that, she made her last stop under an oak, took her final breath, and left us all behind without a goodbye. Twenty-two years isn't adequate to capture enough fireflies or to enjoy the sweet scent of honeysuckles cascading along with a warm Tennesse breeze. Two decades of seasons barely establish a rough outline on an oversized canvas. Even a century of paintbrush strokes leaving traces of vibrant color couldn't fill the void before it's too late. There isn't much difference between two seconds and two hundred years when it comes down to it. We can only shuffle about splashing as many shades as possible before the paint runs out. I never wept when I heard the news or when they buried my sister in the ground. My eyes never watered up when friends and family paid their respects. It took my feelings more than ten days to resurface and remind me that this life is as fragile as a tiny grasshopper under the sole of a sneaker. My mother and I finally cried that afternoon together for Susan. When she said, "It's okay that it took you a few days," I knew I wasn't broken.
5 minutes | Feb 3, 2022
I'm not overly excited about going to work on Sundays. It's our long day at the Catfish House, and I'm stuck there from eight in the morning until around ten at night. Between all of the prep, taking care of customers, and doing inventory, it's not my favorite day of the week. The afternoon typically goes quickly with the church crowd busting in, but the rest of the day drags until I go home. The good news is I'm off the next two days, and tomorrow I can sleep in without worrying about burning the white beans or running out of baked potatoes. It's hard to believe it's already 1994, and January is almost over. It seems like I constantly second-guess my career choices on the drive to the restaurant each day. Sometimes I wonder if stepping up from serving to management was the best idea. My hours tripled, and I'm missing those big tips and the interaction with our customers. But the goal is to move out of Mom's house soon, so I feel like my decision is solid. Salary provides peace of mind, and I know I'll be able to pay those bills. The kid in me still wants to follow my dreams to become a writer, an actor, or a radio personality. The adult side of me insists that my life is on the right course, practical, and safe. It's difficult determining who's correct, but the truth will come out someday, and hopefully, that day won't be too late. A visit from future me would be nice from time to time, but that's not going to happen, so I'm stuck here making educated guesses on my destiny like everyone else in the world. Some disturbing news sounded through my speakers a minute from my destination when I turned the radio on. "Four employees inside a Taco Bell in Clarksville, Tennessee, were fatally shot. Three shot execution-style in the head, and the manager was shot in the leg and chest," said the announcer before the rest of his words faded away into background noise. My heart grew heavy after sitting in my Jeep for twenty minutes, processing the data. The weight of my thoughts amplified with every question leaving me oblivious as to why this had to happen. My shaky hands did all they could to unlock the door after dropping my keys twice before successfully entering. Reflecting on the tragic news only led to how easily it could have been us the night before or how someone could be in the building now and waiting for me to arrive. After thoroughly checking the space, it's time to begin morning prep. Baking pies and mixing ingredients for crab cakes all felt like a slow-motion flashback scene from a movie. Luckily muscle memory took over, and I could at least function. The magnitude of my responsibility became more than food cost or payroll. Ensuring the safety of everyone who worked behind our four walls rose to the surface and took priority over everything else. I'd never had any formal training as a manager, especially when it came to the safety and well-being of others. Keeping the back locked at all times, leaving in groups, and double-checking the doors every night would be my new way of life. Taco Bell is only a few miles down the road, and allowing that to happen to people I know and love would be devasting. Each knock at the door made me jump before dropping what I was doing to let in a server or cook. Silence cloaked a kitchen normally bustling with the sounds of laughter, clattering dishes, and stories of the night before. We mourned for people none of us knew or ever met. Our only bond with the four who'd lost their lives a few hours ago is that we all make our living the same way. That connection was enough to visualize the shock and grief the families dealt with this morning. It was enough to remind each of us that life is transient, and it could have just as easily been the crew on Riverside Drive talking about the staff here on Salem Road today. The business was slower than average on January 30th, 1994. Anyone could examine the dining room throughout the day and know what folks were talking about or thinking. Everyone in Clarksville felt the impact of that horrific instant when Kevin Campbell, Angela Wyatt, Patricia Price, and Marcia Klopp were selfishly executed. Most of them were in their twenties, but their end was unjust and terrifying for anyone regardless of age. A haunting ambiance swallowed our community, revealing dismay for the four souls and those who loved them. I sat in my driveway that evening and cried for strangers I knew very well.
5 minutes | Feb 2, 2022
'94 Ice Storm
Long johns, coveralls, ski mask, four heavy blankets, and I'm still cold. The worst part is initially crawling into bed. The mattress is as hard as a rock, and even with three pairs of socks, my feet are still freezing. Looking out at other apartments is incredibly frustrating because their lights shine directly through my window to remind me that they have power and I do not. It's already been two weeks of this, and I'm not sure how much more I can take. It's impossible to fall asleep, so my mind wanders until the bed warms up, if it does at all. Finally, moving out of my mother's house on West Road on February eighth was a big deal. I'd listened to Billy Joel's 'Captain Jack' enough to know I had to take the leap at twenty-three because that was too long. My full-time management position at the Catfish House provided enough to handle rent and my Jeep payment, so there was no excuse. Luckily it was unseasonably warm for that early in the year, so my moving clothes were shorts and a T-shirt. Most of my belongings fit in the back of a borrowed truck, so the whole process only took about two trips. Hauling my stuff up to the second floor at Hunter Chase apartments was quite a workout, but the thought of my newfound freedom was all the motivation I'd needed to finish the task. Thanks to the deposit and first month's rent, the checking account was empty until my next payday, but I wasn't worried. Working in a restaurant has benefits, so food isn't an issue. Moving is exhausting, but I wasn't about to stop until everything looked just as I wanted it. My life as an independent bachelor was already off to a great start. My neighbors across the hall introduced themselves earlier and said they'd love to take a ride in my Wrangler with the top down this spring. I played it cool before shutting the door behind me and doing a happy dance. There's no cable yet, so I plopped on the couch to stare at a black tv screen and wonder why it took me so long to take the plunge. I'd be inviting friends over and entertaining dates at the new place in no time at all. "I may be broke, but life is good, and there's no stopping me now," I thought before taking a hot shower. Anger rips the blissful thoughts away from my first day, and only good day, on my own so far. The satisfaction of tossing and turning isn't even practical because I'd have to start the whole warming process from the beginning. I'm sure my mom would let me come back home until this is over, but I'd promised myself that I would never go back once I was out on my own. Everyone else in my building must have skipped town because I haven't seen a soul since this started. I remember winters growing up on the farm years ago without heat in my bedroom, but at least I had an electric blanket then. I prefer a dark room to that damn light outside from the other apartments in my complex that had electricity a day after the ice storm. The manager even showed me a place on that side, but for some stupid reason, I picked this spot. Who would have thought that the worst ice storm would tear through Clarksville since the fifties, leaving many without power for weeks? Tree limbs and power lines froze up, crippling the city that had just enjoyed springtime-like warmth the day before. Only a couple of us could make it to work, but we managed to open. All we needed to operate was gas, which worked fine, so we fired up the deep fryers and did our thing. We were pretty dead until I called Q-108 to let them know we were in business. Moments later, they announced that the Catfish House was open, and customers were beating down the doors for take-out within thirty minutes. It's almost four in the morning, and I'm on the verge of losing my mind. Between watching that infuriating light and seeing my breath, my head will pop off. The power at the Catfish House was back on within forty-eight hours. "Screw it! I'll just go into work where it's warm and start prepping for the day," I yell out loud while gritting my teeth. Looking forward to sitting in the Jeep for thirty minutes warming up to the heater is common these days. If nothing else, the experience has taught me to enjoy the littlest of things like hot water from the faucet at the restaurant or breaking into a sweat while expediting food to a few hundred people. As I swing my legs around to put my boots on, the most glorious thing happens. The sound of my heat kicking on and brilliant lights in each room signaled that everything would be okay. After mentally thanking God and the technicians who work at the electric company, I bumped up the heat and patiently waited for the water to warm so I could take a long bath. I sat in the tub for three hours that morning, once again thankful for my independence and planning new adventures.
7 minutes | Jan 24, 2022
Everybody is awkward at thirteen and unsure how to feel, think, or even comprehend what matters and why it counts. Some kids have issues talking to a cute classmate, while others have limited social skills altogether. No one ever explains there is no right or wrong way to approach life, and how we experience every breath should be up to each of us and no one else. Some people cry at a funeral while others may not shed a single tear, and there may even be that person who can't help but laugh in the middle of a miserable circumstance. None of those emotions are wrong or even correct; they're just real, and that's enough. My greatest struggle as a teenager is connecting. All of my old friends from Cumberland Heights found their circle, and I'm searching for something, anything. Who knows why everyone scatters when they slip into middle school, but they do, and there's no way to stop it. Montgomery Central is like a different planet, and I'm lost somewhere floating above the atmosphere, attempting to conserve my oxygen. Luckily I've managed to remain close to my buddy Scott. We became friends when my mom watched him and his sister after school for a while. It worked out in the first place because I was thrown into an unavoidable situation with him. We didn't exactly hit it off, but things ultimately worked out because I saw Scott each day. Making new friends is terrifying. Summer break is underway, and Scott invited me to a sleepover. It's fun going to his house because the air conditioning is excellent, and he has an Atari. Taking turns is supposed to work out under most conditions, but not so much for me regarding his game console. He'll play Frogger, Pitfall, and Asteroids for an eternity, and when it's finally my time, it's over in seconds. It could be the absolute most frustrating thing in the universe aside from meeting new people. More than likely, we'll sleep out in the camper tonight so we can sneak off somewhere and explore. Sometimes he'll stay at my house, and we'll throw a tent up behind the barn and camp. These little maneuvers keep us from getting caught when we're supposed to be sleeping. Our parents can't hear the sound of a door opening at midnight if we're already outside. Scott's house is only two or three miles away, so the bike ride doesn't take long at all. When I turn off Mellon Road onto Bend Road, I can coast the rest. Going back isn't as much fun, but I'll worry about that tomorrow. After zipping down the driveway, Scott greets me outside with some news. "Come on in, Chris. I want you to meet someone," he says as my excitement immediately morphs into fear. "Who am I meeting?" "You know Mike from school. He's staying the night with us." Is he kidding! He can't just spring this on me like that. I didn't even have time to psych myself up for this. I'm doomed. "Sounds good, Scott." After a brief introduction, the first thing we do is break out the Atari. Now I'm forced to take turns with two superior players; on top of that, I don't even know this guy. What a nightmare. This weekend has the potential to end tragically, and there is nothing I can do about it. My last friend all of a sudden has a new best pal, and I'll end up in a straight jacket confiding to myself about how I'm such a loser. I could go missing one day and won't even warrant a photo on the back of a milk carton because no one even knew I existed. We sat in the den for the remainder of the afternoon until supper. Both of them grow closer while I observe from a distance even though we're no more than a couple of feet apart. Scott's parents took over the room after we ate and his little sister was off doing little sister stuff. It was dark anyway and time to make camp outside. "Can we go yet?" I asked our group of three. "No, we can't go. My parents are still awake," Scott uttered for the third time because it wasn't the first attempt I'd made to convince them. Mike offered his views on an early escape as well, but I'd already mentally turned his volume down. "Let's go! It looks like all the lights are out," I insisted. "Dude, they have to have time to fall asleep," Scott replied. After a few more minutes of bickering, the coast looked clear, and we began our adventure on foot. A moonlit night offered to guide our path into the unfamiliar, and adrenaline started pumping. Anytime high beams popped up around a corner or from behind a hill to give us a warning, we'd yell, "Car!" and quickly retreat to a ditch or use a nearby tree for cover. No one in Salem is a stranger, so the last thing we need is to get busted by a neighbor who saw us wandering down the road at midnight. Not many automobiles whizzed by, but it was enough to keep us on our toes. We all bonded while pretending to be undercover spies or on the run from the law. Mike started to grow on me after discovering that he wasn't as dissimilar as I'd assumed. By the time we made it down Mellon Road to the river bottom, deep conversations had taken over our expedition and proved to be enlightening. Of course, we weren't solving world hunger or cancer, but they were good talks for three kids attempting to figure out the world. Nighttime air, along with the sounds of wildlife resonating from the Cumberland to the ridge, can be inspiring if you let it. My favorite discussions were always about who walked these paths before us. A bizarre feeling can take over when you consider strangers no different from Scott, Mike, or I probably did the same exact thing a hundred years before we came along. They had hopes, fears, and loves just like us three. And expectations of making a difference or maybe leaving a mark on the planet. None of them thought about tomorrow and felt immortal as they swung from grapevines over creeks and threw rocks into the muddy river water. Every generation has a shot at living forever, but that swift current is merciless and tends to scrub the banks before allowing reenergized feet to leave a print on the earth. There was a time that time belonged to those strangers, and we'll be the strangers soon enough. "Hey, Chris. Would you eat a lizard for a hundred dollars," Mike asked. I responded, "I'd eat anything for a hundred dollars." Scott joined the conversation, "I bet you wouldn't take a bite out of your hand." We all became close after that night. Realizing life is too short makes decisions a bit easier. The summer filled with new outdoor adventures, slinking into R-rated movies and wasting quarters at Funland. We never got caught sneaking out a single time, or at least none of our parents admitted to knowing. All I ever needed was a handful of buddies I could be real around, and that's enough. Now we can figure out the complicated stuff together because I don't think we are supposed to do that alone.
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