I have a story to tell…

booksI used to have a “book buddy.” He was my husband’s nephew, Jesse. Jesse was born with a congenital heart condition. He was around 12 when I first met him, and I was in my early 20’s. Jesse and I both read similar genres of fiction – science fiction, horror, psychological thrillers, etc. Some scary, some that just makes you think. So when I’d finish a book, I’d bring it over to him and give it to him to read if he hadn’t already read it.

Jesse seemed to epitomize the term “old soul.” For all his youth, when you met him, when you talked to him, he seemed to have a wisdom and a peace that was well beyond his years. And it wasn’t even really anything specific – not the way he talked or the things he said…there was just an “air” about him that made you feel “good” somehow. It’s kind of hard to put into words. He was quiet and studious; because of his lifelong heart condition, he couldn’t play the way normal kids did – he’d never ridden a bike, never played a sport – and so he lost himself in books and his imagination, something that we had in common.

I don’t remember exactly when, probably when he was around 15 or 16, but he once told me a story he was working on in his imagination. He told me the plot, gave me the gist of how the story would go, and that someday he intended to write it all down. Unfortunately, if he did write it down, it’s surely lost now.

Jesse died the week before his high school graduation and three months before he would have turned 18; two months before my marriage; and three weeks before his winning entry in the local logo contest would grace commemorative buttons and posters for Bristol, RI’s Fourth of July parade (the longest-running parade in the country). Things were a little surreal when he died. The night before, he’d called his grandparents (my in-laws) and asked if he could come spend the night, something he’d not done in several years. My husband said when he stopped by his parents house that weekend, when he was leaving Jesse said, “Goodbye, Chris” and for some reason, it stuck in my husband’s head. He’d turned and looked at Jesse and said goodbye and said a strange feeling had come over him that he couldn’t put his finger on. That was Jesse. The next day, his father picked him up at his mother’s house. Half an hour later, she received a call from her ex-husband that Jesse had collapsed when he walked through the front door, and he was gone.

Ben EarwickerGarrison Photography, Boise, IDwww.garrisonphoto.org
Ben Earwicker
Garrison Photography, Boise, ID
www.garrisonphoto.org

After his death, we learned that in the weeks leading up to that day, Jesse had quietly been disposing of his personal belongings – giving his things away to his friends, his sisters. When his mother went to see his art teacher to gather his last paintings, among them was a beautiful canvas depicting a pathway in the woods in gorgeous pastel colors. The pathway forked into two directions, and laying on the fork in the path were Jesse’s favorite leather jacket and boots. The teacher explained that the assignment had been to paint an abstract self-portrait in bright, vibrant colors.

It was almost as if he knew he was leaving this world. At his memorial service, his mother had a bowl of blue stone heart beads. I wore one at my wedding two months later as my “something blue.”

A few years ago, I started writing a story called Haven. That story was the one Jesse had told me, although I have no idea what his title would have been. Haven seemed to fit. I’ve only written a couple of chapters so far, but I do someday intend to finish it. And it will be for Jesse. Maybe telling me that story was his way of “giving” it to me.

And we all shine on
Like the moon…
and the stars…
and the sun…

John Lennon | Instant Karma

Miss you, my friend. <3

Story: Superhero

batmanWhen Steven was a boy, he knew exactly what he wanted to be when he grew up. “I want to be a superhero!” he’d exclaim when anyone asked him that question.

Yes, a superhero – like Superman or Spiderman or Aquaman, maybe Batman. Batman was cool because he had that awesome Batmobile…and a sidekick. Steven figured it might be neat to have a sidekick since he thought being a superhero might be lonesome, and it sure would be nice to have a sidekick to share all the fun with.

Steven never gave up on his dream of becoming a superhero. He learned to swim when he was five and refused to go anywhere near the water without his Aquaman underoos. When he was seven, he stole one of his mom’s huge red towels off the clothesline and, using permanent markers from Dad’s art kit, he put a big red and yellow “S” on the $30 blue shirt his grandmother had bought him for the first day of school, and flew off the back porch like Superman. He was grounded for a week for that one…because he landed in Mom’s flowerbed… Didn’t anyone understand that when you’re a superhero, sometimes innocent victims got hurt? And sometimes, bad guys smelled like roses?

Looking back on it now, Steve smiled a snide grin. Superhero. What he wouldn’t give to be laying in that flowerbed now. He looked around him and winced as he slapped at the bugs that had landed on his forearm. His buddy Mack hunkered down beside him, and he thought of the time he and his little sister Sarah had scooted around the backyard, he pushing the wheelbarrow that was the “Batmobile” and she a softer version of Robin the boy wonder.

Superhero.

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‘God, what stupid dreams kids have,’ he thought.

As the bullets whizzed by his head and mortar shells exploded all around him, his last thoughts were of Sarah’s smiling face – “Holy salami, Batman!” – and the smell of Mom’s roses, and he died thinking what a stupid dream that was…but he died a superhero, whether he realized it or not.

Diver Down

“…that whole corps of thought-divers, that have been diving and
coming up again with bloodshot eyes since the world began.”

That’s how Herman Melville described writers. When I read that, it instantly struck a “truth” chord somewhere inside me, and I understood it perfectly.

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There’s a book inside me, probably more than one, waiting to get out, and every so often, I dive into my imagination and come back to the surface with a few more bits and pieces salvaged from the wreckage that passes itself off as my brain, that weird scrapyard between my ears that contains probably every meaningless bit of information that’s ever passed through it. I’ve spent my whole life trying to make sense of it, take inventory of all that’s there.

Unfortunately, more stuff comes into the scrapyard every day than is coming out. Every day, more and more pieces of cool junk are being tossed in there, as well as a lot of garbage. Granted, most of the flak gets tossed in some forlorn recess in the back of the yard. Eventually, maybe it’s forgotten, relegated to some dusty corner never to be seen again. But every so often, some lowly junkyard rat goes back there and drags a piece out and I sit straight up in bed wondering why I suddenly remember that Mary MacGregor sang “Torn Between Two Lovers” and why the Rat needed to wake me at 3AM for this bit of useless information.

Then too I think the Rats have a conspiracy going. It seems sometimes they take some of the good scraps and tuck them away in that forsaken corner, where they lay silent and forgotten, waiting for me to take that long overdue inventory. But I’m onto the conspiracy, and I’m one step ahead of the friggin’ Rats! I am smarter than the Rats!

I WRITE THINGS DOWN!

Sounds like a plan, right? Sure. Something pops into my head, and I think, “Wow, that’d make a great story” or “Hmmm, what a cool character” and I write it down, knowing that if I don’t, those fuckin’ Rats are gonna bury it in that back corner, where you’d probably find Jimmy Hoffa, Elvis and Jim Morrison having a nice cappuccino with Jesus Christ.

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So I’m a step ahead of the Rats…kinda. Although while writing shit down is a step in the right direction, WHERE I write it down is as bad as the Rat’s corner. Napkins, matchbook covers, page 357 of some book I was reading when the thought popped into my head, page corners torn from a doctor’s office magazine, toilet paper (don’t ask).
So I’m thinking the Rats have expanded their conspiracy territory. They’re no longer limited to the confines of the thought-diver’s realm. When I was 23, I wrote a story called Paradox Manor. POOF! Vanished! Since then, two or three days tops have passed without me wracking my brain as to its location.

Back then, I had less confidence in myself than I do now (which really isn’t saying a whole hell of a lot), but now I know – that fucking story was SELLABLE. When I wrote it, I did it in one fucking sitting and the words just poured out, flowing out of that junkyard like a dream…perfect. I hope Hoffa, Elvis, the Lizard King, and the Messiah are enjoying it over a cup of latte.

So I keep on diving, hoping that someday I’ll come across the remains of that story completely intact, either in the real world lying in a notebook or a heap of papers, or that somehow I’ll find the wreckage sitting there like a sunken pirate ship full of treasure chests spilling over with all the words that came pouring out the first time I wrote it. More than likely, though, the stinkin’ Rats will pull a Geraldo on me and, like the opening of Capone’s Vault, I’ll come out with nothing but a few dusty old bottles. In the meantime, I’ve managed to salvage a few good things here and there along the way, so it’s not a total loss;)