Hello was the last thing I remember hearing, before I was paralyzed by him; before I had any recollection of what occurred before what occurred; before the effects of alcohol drowned out the noise around us and intensified the energy between us bringing our bodies closer; before his flirtatious tongue wrapped itself around every word and caught me by surprise; before a sudden collapse of morality covered the both of us in dust.
We were strangers among strangers.
There was something compelling about this man I didn’t know. There was a feeling of excitement, which consumed me, all of me, and traveled from my heart and moved beyond the waist down. And there I was- speechless and confused and tormented by his presence. We stood in plain view of one another, among hundreds of thousands of other people passing through the wired space between us. Despite being afraid of this feeling and the inexplicable transaction between our eyes, I couldn’t look away. The way he held his stare and grazed the grass with his feet in an effortless charismatic way; the way he interrupted the space between us and claimed it as ours made me want to devour every last bit of him. I was smitten.
There we were, amid the sound of chatter and the sound of bands playing fiddles, trumpets and harmonicas. Safely tucked away, we disappeared beneath a canopy of trees and twinkling bud lights strung together with wire. Caught in a whirlwind of sheer freedom from our inhibitions we were swallowed by our words and the alcohol buzz. There were no walls between us, or bold yellow lines etched in the ground, declaring that we stay on our own side. There were no signs claiming do not cross or beware of broken heart. For the first time I felt a sudden urge I had never felt before and this peculiar voice behind me tickled my ear and whispered, Go in further. There in the middle of the field, among thousands of people, I was kissing a stranger- a beautiful American stranger.
And there you were- a witness to what I had been a victim of many times. You stood there and watched him indulge in what you claimed you never wanted- me. And it made you angry. I dared him to go in for another and while he kissed me I thought about all the times I stood in your shoes. I remembered all the times I wanted to disconnect myself from your displays of affection with other women. I remembered all of the times I hoped our conversations would end with, “I love you.” I remembered all the times you told me how proud you were of me and how special you thought I was. I remembered how you drove to my house to kiss me and wipe away my tears. I remember the snowstorms we got stuck in, the times we discussed politics, literature, music and philosophy, and the nights which turned into mornings. I remembered the time you looked at me with genuine eyes and said there’s just something about you. I remembered the time you told me we should just be friends.
We couldn’t be friends and we couldn’t be in love with other people.
(Photo Credit: annstreetstudio.com)
This is a short story poem I wrote in continuation of “Her Mind’s Eye on Suicide” (see November 21st post).
(Photo Credit: Matt D., St Peters, MO)
A voice from afar travelled through the wind and suddenly Quinn was stopped from committing a sin. A virtuous being leapt in her way, of what was supposed to be a tragic day. They both lay on the ground as they tried to breathe in heavy. They gasped for air and tried to level their heartbeats steady.
“What the hell were you doing? The train was coming straight for you,” he said, “The lights were in your face, you weren’t moving. If I didn’t save you, then you’d have been dead.”
“I’m at war with myself,” she replied. “Peace is not a piece of me. And I don’t think it’ll ever be. What’s peace without war and everything free? The games are futile and fun until someone gets hurt. Thought I’d get me some so I could sleep beneath the dirt.”
He lay there, in the field of grass, next to the girl who was willing to make those moments her last. He couldn’t help but think about the world with one less girl and although to her he was just a stranger he explained that he was no stranger to danger. He didn’t own a cape or have special powers, yet he felt like a hero with a new purpose to devour. He turned over to stare at the girl who was cloaked in despair. Bewildered by him she asked, “But why do you care?”
All the while he couldn’t help but smile. He rolled over on his back and stared at the stars and asked her if she ever dreamed of some place far. She nodded and asked him why, he began this story as his reply: “I lived in a concrete garden of evil, where no roses bloomed, only weeds. I was living life in upheaval and to never bite the hand that feeds. Every night I prayed that I’d be freed but you can’t escape a life of greed, when you’ve been planted in the system as a seed. Sometimes your only option is disappearing, when you’re faced with lessons on how to be immoral as a form of child rearing. A victim of being open minded. A thought escapes, now I can’t find it. This fine print of fine with it is enough to make me quit it, but it’s either you’re with it or you belong to a pile of shit where no troubled kid wants to be, when all he ever wanted was to be free. So this life of damnation and cowards, yes, makes you hungry for a life out there, which reeks of success. But this life doesn’t exist when you’re told to starve to death. Your only time to eat is when you’ve done your best. But your best is the worst, when it’s blood that quenches your thirst, so you’d rather go hungry and thirsty because you’re fated to die. And we all die inside. Not old, but young, when all you’ve got is your gun. Not a soul to save you for what you have done. When it’s the devil on your shoulder claiming you’ve won. So your desire sets in, because you’d rather win but when you’re faced with loss, you realize it’s a sin. To take someone’s life from him when they needed it most, but now you’re a magician and turned him into a ghost. With a bang, bang…damn. You thought you’d feel like a man, you didn’t think that you could but you can, when the one behind the gun is the one who had ran. They say that when you live behind the gun you’re bound to live forever, who’d have thought taking lives would be your future endeavor? But you don’t live forever; no one ever does, especially when you’re living to die at the hand of someone. Told to toughen up because men, they don’t cry, unless you’re weak or you want to be the good guy. They raised me to fear no one, not even God. When you kill it’s for the greater good and they give you an applaud. I learned to test my faith in a pistol and to believe that God is gone, my mamma’s praying for her only son, after I became a son of a gun. I was a survivor of fate, danger my mate, when all they used was power as bait. Glory be to Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, are the last words I said because I just could hear it. The sounds of screaming and sirens, I was just begging for silence. Sometimes I’d wonder, are we living to die or dying to live? That spell I was under is a gift I can’t give. We’re screwed up and scared and never prepared. We only see what we want to see or what we can through a lens, which is just a means to an end. All I’d ever hoped for was heaven and I’ll I ever got was a hell, sending letters to the devil in the mail. We’re convinced to love this violent life as if it were beautiful, until you watch someone die. You often bear witness to your best friend’s last breath as they lay there with open arms and welcome death. These are the stories which you’re told to never speak of just like your preacher who won’t tell you there isn’t a God.”
She lay there and listened to him unfurl a new world in his story of danger and despise. “It’s a story that should stay between you and I,” he said, “you wouldn’t tell it if you tried. Keep your tongue aligned with your promise to comply. You’re going to pack your things and run away to a place where we don’t count the days, the days where you fear it’s your last, where fear is a thing of the past.” She took his hand and ran with him, where she could learn to live again and he could learn to live a life without sin.
He said, “Here’s to a new beginning.”
She replied, “Here’s to good deeds and sinning.”
In addition to Wednesday’s post about storing memories I decided to write this. It’s a story about a story told by my grandfather. So I ask: what is our history without our stories? What are we without stories?
10 years ago I accompanied my grandparents on a trip to my grandfather’s hometown in Italy. We stayed in their little house at the top of a hill, which overlooked rolling hills, houses and farms. Although I had never been there before, this tiny house on a hill felt like home away from home. When we arrived we climbed the steep stairs which were crumbling beneath our feet. With our heavy luggage in our hands and the wind knocked out of us from all the climbing, we finally reached the rather tall wooden front door. My grandfather reached into his tiny pocket and pulled out a key, and as he pushed open the door a display of old world charm erected in front of me. I was eager to explore my unfamiliar surroundings and I couldn’t wait to get acquainted with the house which would be my home for the next two months. The house was charming, rustic and cozy. So much of my grandfather’s life and his family’s history resonated within those four walls. I remember being astonished and it feeling surreal. I couldn’t believe I was standing in the house my grandfather grew up in. I dropped my luggage in the foyer and began floating around each room, touching the walls, running my fingers across the furniture and window sills until I was interrupted by a rather large photo on the wall. It was a photo which had a strong presence in the room. It was a black and white photograph of a man in a suit and tie who strongly resembled my father. I stood there and observed the man of mystery in the photograph. Who was he and why was his photograph the only one which hung in the house?
Two years ago I enrolled in a course for school on the immigration of Italians to North America. I took this course because there was so much I didn’t know about my heritage and I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn more. We had to complete an important assignment, which required us to interview someone who had immigrated to Canada. I decided that the perfect candidate would be my grandfather. I drove to my grandparents’ home in Toronto with my tape recorder and my notebook. I was excited to hear my grandfather’s immigration story from beginning to end.
I entered their home and sat down at the kitchen table with my grandmother and grandfather. They shuffled about in their seats and smiled from ear to ear. I could tell that they were excited and honored to share their immigration story. I still get emotional when I think about that day. I placed my tape recorder on the table and opened the box of photographs I had found in their home. Those photographs, which I displayed before my grandparents, were a great way to begin my grandfather’s storytelling process. I pressed the record button and began the interview.
My grandfather explained the struggles of working and living in Toronto without much money or any knowledge of the English language. He explained the hardships and the prejudice he experienced as an Italian man trying to grow accustomed to a foreign land. He told me about his difficult childhood, he shared what life was like working in the coalmines in Belgium and the different people he met along the way. He shared a story about his experience on the ship, which brought him to Canada, and how hard it was for him to leave his family behind. I was very proud to sit across the table from a man who had sacrificed so much for his family, his future children and grandchildren. As we sorted through more photos in the box we came across the same photo which hung on the wall in the home in Italy. I handed the photograph to my grandfather and watched him as he studied it with his eyes and fingers. I told him that I recognized the same photo from Italy and asked him who the unknown man in the photograph was. This is where his story about his estranged father began…
I was just a small boy, the youngest of three. Times were getting tough and there were rumors that there were better job opportunities in Argentina. The economy was starting to pick up there so my father took all of our money, kissed my mother, me and my two sisters goodbye and told us that as soon as he made enough money he would send for us to go live in Argentina or he would return to Italy. Weeks, months, and years went by. We never heard from him or saw him again. Times got tough and we were poor. At the age of six I had to quit school and start working. I became the sole provider for my family. I really liked school and was at the top of my class so I was sad when I had to say goodbye to my teacher and my school mates. Years passed and I continued to work and provide for my family. After working labor jobs in Italy and working in the coal mines in Belgium I decided to make the move to Canada. I came to Toronto to work so I could help my mother and my two sisters. We were poor and they needed the money. After years of working in Toronto I met a man named Antonio who had gone to Chicago to work. He told me that he had worked for a man with same last name as ours. Because our last name is very rare I was sure it had to be my father. I told Antonio that I had always wondered where my father had gone. I often wondered where he was living, what kind of life he had, if he had a wife or any kids. I sometimes wondered if he ever thought of me and often wondered why he never came back to me. I decided to buy a plane ticket to Chicago and meet this man with the same last name. I needed to know once and for all if he was my father. Antonio accompanied me on my journey to find him. We arrived in Chicago and waited for my father to leave the job site. I had this very photo in my hands and a picture of my mother and I (he flagged the 5×7 photo in his hand and waved it at me). Antonio pointed him out and when I was ready to get out of the taxi cab he had already crossed the street to get to his car. So I got back in the taxi and told the driver to follow the car my father was driving. We followed it all the way to his house. My heart was pounding as I watched him get out of his car and walk into his house. Antonio motioned me to get out of the car. I thought: it’s now or never, so I got out of the car and walked to the front door. I rang the doorbell and waited. A lady opened the door (I assumed she was his wife). I asked if I could speak to Giovanni. She told me that he was busy and couldn’t come to the door. As she was about to close the door I put my hand out to stop it from shutting. I explained that I was his son and held a picture up of my father. I told her that I needed to see him and talk to him. I needed to. She became very angry with me and told me to leave. I refused. I told her that I needed to speak to Giovanni and that I wouldn’t leave until I talked to him. Just as I finished that sentence I saw the man at the window. I saw my father, the man who had left me so many years ago. All that separated us now was a glass window. I waved at him and pleaded for him to come outside. Just as I stood there with my photos in my hand begging for the man who had disowned me, to come outside so I could meet him, a police car rolled up. They arrested me for trespassing and before I knew it I was on a plane back to Toronto.
(This story has been edited to for reading purposes)
I was astonished by my grandfather’s act of bravery and persistence. All my grandfather ever wanted in life was to meet his father. He never stopped missing him and was determined to find him one day. He had come so close to meeting him, to touching him, to seeing him face to face. It broke his heart that even after all those years his father had no desire to meet the son he had abandoned almost 40 years ago. My grandfather had endured so much as an abandoned child, adolescent and adult. He undoubtedly had a hard life. It’s a shame his father wasn’t around to be proud of everything my grandfather accomplished.
Storytelling connects you to your history and to the people who are a part of your family’s history. My grandfather has always been a great storyteller and although they’re stories I’ve heard more than once, they will always hold a special place in my heart. Although he’s 87, his memory is as sharp as a thumb tack. I often have to lean in to hear what he’s saying but it’s worth the neck pain and every earful. After the interview had finished and my grandfather had finished telling me a story he thanked me and told me how proud he was of me. I hugged him and said “No Nonno, thank you. Thank you for sacrificing everything to give me a better life. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me and for everyone. I’m proud of you. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for you.” He looked up at me and smiled. His eyes welled up with tears and he said, “No one has ever said that to me.” My grandfather had gone through so much to get to where he is today, not for himself but for his family, my dad and his brothers and sister and for me. I have never seen him frown about the past. I’ve only seen him smile. I’ll never get to repay him or thank him enough for making the move to Toronto 63 years ago. All I can do is share my blessings, make the most out of my ambition and make him proud.
When I was a kid I always savored the moment no matter how big or how small it was. If it was a moment that meant something to me I would often collect and keep something from where I was. I was never the type of kid to write in a diary regularly. I was the type of kid who kept a piece of something, which meant everything. I used to store birthday cards, letters, wristbands from concerts and trips, concert tickets, rocks (the list goes on) in a small drawer and when that small drawer became too full to close I decided that it might be a good idea to store those tangible memories in a box. So that’s what I did. I’ve accumulated so many things that I now have two shoe boxes stuffed with a bunch of things that most would consider crap. But it’s not crap to me and I’m by no means a hoarder. I’m what you would call a memory hoarder whose memories are safely locked away in shoe boxes. Those shoe boxes are filled with the greatest and most meaningful things, which spark some of the most wonderful memories of once upon a time.
I often wonder where the years have gone. When did I finish school? When did I turn 24? Sometimes it feels like everything that happened before today went by so fast that it’s become a blur. So when the past seems a little hazy and life is a little boring I turn to my memory box, I open it up and I revisit those moments. It’s nice to touch, feel, and have your memories at your fingertips. It triggers a warm feeling from within which often takes away from the stress of living in the now. I’ll have to admit that nostalgia is my weakness. It has the power to wrap its arms around me and give me comfort. I suppose this is why nostalgia and the importance of memories have become a recurring theme in the book I’m writing. The moments we keep as memories and the things we keep from those moments play an important role in story-telling. My shoe box of memories is a time capsule of moments and tiny little stories for what feels like a century ago. It’s important to bridge the gap between the past and present. It definitely makes you a more sentimental writer.
When my mother witnessed me on a chair reaching for the back corner of my closet she asked me what I was doing. I told her that I was looking for my memory box and that re-visiting my past would be a great way to spark some inspiration for writing. She asked me to get down from the chair and to follow her to her room. I waited outside her closet doors while she moved things around and when she was done she emerged from her closet with a box in her hands. “This is my memory box,” she said. She opened up the box and took out little bits and pieces of her past and shared what they meant. Each letter, card, ticket and trinket had a story attached to it. Those three hours became the greatest learning experience for me. I think I learned more about my mother in those three hours than I ever have in my 24 years of knowing her. I learned that she’s a memory hoarder like me and sentimental. I also saw a different side of her I didn’t know existed. There was a time where she was madly in love and although she never fell out of it she had sort of lost the ability to show my father that she’s still that person. She was a deep thinker who loved to write poetry and a lover of music and movies. The stories she shared with me revealed a side I had never seen before and I’m glad I stayed to listen. I suppose all it took was taking a trip down her memory lane to learn some new things about her. She told me that she had forgotten a lot of these moments and didn’t remember that she could write with such passion and depth. These memories which were tucked away in a box helped her rediscover herself by opening up her past. It made me smile to see her smile. With her permission I asked if it would be okay if I could post one of her letters or poems. Here is a poem she wrote for my dad when they were dating.
This poem depicts one of Quinn’s darkest moments in the book (the one I’m writing). It’s from a scene where she writes a letter to the people she’s leaving behind.
I’d let you in on my little secret but then that would spoil it for you. Perhaps another poem is the answer to your question what happens next? Let’s see if Quinn can be rescued from her tragic state of mind…
The character in my book and writer’s block inspired this post- who would have thought that writer’s block would motivate me to write? I thought that a poem would be a perfect way to describe Quinn (the character) and the world she’s living in. I also thought it might prompt me to write more for the chapter. If you’re having a hard time trying to create a scene for your character or you’re finding it difficult to set the tone, try to imagine Morgan Freeman or any other person with a moving voice reading it. That should help you write with a particular style. It works for me. Or write a poem. Tonight, I wrote a poem.
The sporadic rhyming scheme reflects the erratic and contradicting nature of the character. She battles with the one she loves because he is the one she hates. She is also at war with herself and the world around her. She often portrays an image opposite of who she really is, not because she chooses to but because she has to. This life did not choose her. She chose it and with choosing comes a price. Her only way out is to be stolen.
Question for you:
How do you cure your writer’s block?
I saw this posted somewhere and it made me giggle. After I finished giggling the lady within me with her hands on her hips said “Wait a minute, something’s missing from this picture.” What about the ladies who meet and then marry their
prince in shining armour only to discover that once they’re married their husband is anything but charming, neat and ummm marriage material. Some men might have to give up some of the above but what about our lady friends? It gave me the idea to write my own (sorry boys, I had to).