Short Story: A Science Experiment in Naïveté

I suppose we could start at the beginning.

I had one of those miraculous childhoods that went weirdly out of style after the 60s when everything became granola and people got all paranoid about their children dying and whatnot.

My parents separated when I was five, plucking me out of my progressive kindergarten and into the hands of my three neurotic cousins in a large mansion left to my mother’s sister in a heated divorce. Between my siblings and I we numbered seven, ages 4-13; neither of our mothers had the luxury of staying home to make sure we were ok, so they just requested we never fill them in on our after-school activities. Ignorance is bliss, and whatnot. As far as they knew, we ran a book club.

We had the run of the neighborhood and no real adults to question our authority outside of the mother of the girl across the street, so we stopped inviting that girl over to play.

This led to sledding down the ravine on the lid of garbage cans, diving off the dock into the river at low tide to catch crabs in two feet of water, lengthy soap-opera-style home videos in which my cousin pushed us down the hill in a broken-down Barbie jeep for the dramatic crash conclusion. We scaled trees taller than our quickly wearing mansion. We spent our afternoons hiding from developers in partially constructed houses, throwing my four-year-old brother out of the second story window so my cousins could catch him and munching boxes of cheez-its under the brand-new floorboards while inspections took place just above our heads, the dust from their shoes littering down on us as they stepped across the floor above us, us trying desperately not to giggle. We rolled down three flights of stairs on beanbag chairs. We choreographed elaborate dances in the discarded costumes from my aunts failed monogramming business that we’d filched from the attic. We called into radio stations, endlessly requesting songs. We held three or four day monopoly games. We played Mortal Combat and beat Super Mario Brothers over the course of a month. We watched endless marathons of Chuckie, the demon doll horror flicks, every Halloween. We chased each other through the darkened crevices of my aunts walk-through closet, the unlucky victim to be chosen by my eldest cousin and his skater-punk friend.

We had no assigned beds. Every night we all scattered across the house and settled our tired bodies on the softest piece of furniture we could find. The last to bed was stuck on the leather couch in the formal living room, where the glow of the ginormous fish tank and the slippery fabric of the leather led to a zombie-like presence all throughout the next day. Worse, still, was to resign yourself to being wedged between my mother and aunt in their king-sized bed. My aunt snored like a train.

We never called our mothers over broken bones, scratches, fights, lost lunches. We climbed onto the counter to use the microwave and learned to run our raging oven burns under the sink rather than ice down. Our major concern when my sister sent a rusty nail through her foot at our favorite construction site was that mom might find out.
Our fragile child-kingdom was glorious. We were the masters of our domain. There were no rules. There were no time-outs. We learned our own way. We settled disputes on our terms.

My oldest cousin became the patriarch of the family, his slightly younger sister the matriarch. We’d all waited patiently for Ben to turn 16 and get a car so we could wedge in and get around–widen our berth of authority. Really, though, it was quickly becoming apparent that Ben didn’t care much for letting us follow him around like mother-less ducklings and he began to sneak off to the gas station to buy wine coolers from a few high schoolers he knew and share them with Molly. This left us all the more parentless.

Molly and Ben outgrowing us felt like the greatest betrayal of my young life. Molly had taught me how to ride a bike. Ben had played the gleeful villain in all of our favorite games, chasing us around with his bare butt, leaving a particularly reverent ass-print on our glass oven for months on end.

We all kind of grew up. Mom started signing us up for after-school care everyday, holding us hostage in that planned-activity, parent waiting room. We hated aftercare. Women with moles all over their bodies lectured us about sharing and made sure we let other kids in on our four-square games, preventing us from making up rules that guaranteed outsiders would lose. We’d had unlimited TV and freedom, now we had knitting lessons.

I couldn’t entirely blame Mom for putting us in aftercare, even though my younger brother and I took the brunt of it, being the youngest of the gang. Ben had taken to nailing random objects to the roof of his bedroom (the most coveted of all the sleeping spaces being as he kept it mostly off-limits to everyone but my brother and I; the fact that it was the only room on the top floor, had its own living room-attachment that held our treasured Nintendo, and was a whopping five staircases away from my aunts bedroom, where parents never had much reason to wander). I caught him hammering up his recently-deceased yellow lab’s leash to the ceiling and plopped myself down unthinkingly on his extra bed (where only my little brother was ever allowed to sleep) underneath his Weezer Green Album poster.

He and Molly were in a fight. I didn’t know what had happened (I was a first, possibly second grader, but my guess would be that he was caught smoking weed), but I knew Molly had ratted him out to his father about something and his father (you knew it was big if someone involved one of our fathers) had subsequently refused to buy him a car. Ben was thereafter grounded and hadn’t spoken to Molly since.

I’d gone to Ben on an errand from Molly to offer some sort of peace offering, to which he’d shrugged and finally sent me away with his prolonged silence. Molly had questioned me extensively about his reply. I’d shrugged. “He didn’t say anything. He’s busy doing something.”

“What?”

I’d shrugged again.

“Well, go back and find out.”

I went. I stood beneath him, looking up at him, standing on a chair, hammering that leash into the ceiling. It was green. It was a green leash.

“Molly wants to know what you’re doing.”

He hadn’t even looked down at me. He just kept hammering. “Science experiment.”

“Okay.” I left satisfied by that answer, Molly less so.

“Did he say what the science experiment was?”

“No.”

“Well…?”

I returned. “Exactly what kind of science experiment?”

“Gravity.”

“Gravity,” I reported to Molly.

“What is he doing exactly?”

I told her. She still seemed concerned. “What’s wrong? It’s just a science experiment.”

She went with me this time. The two of us climbed to his lair, she stayed in the doorway, examining the situation; Ben up on that chair hammering his dead dog’s leash into the ceiling.

“Molly wants to know what you’re going to hang from the leash.”

“Molly can mind her own fucking business.”

The police showed up within fifteen minutes. Ben got sent away for a while and thereafter lived with his father until he went to college.

I only remember being very worried about how our mothers would feel when they saw the police there and very mad at Molly for breaking our sacred vow of law-less silence. I was seven, maybe six, maybe even eight. How was I supposed to know that Molly had saved his life that day?

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You Can’t Go Back

For a moment, let us be needlessly sentimental.

The day my oldest sister moved away to college I cried. This had nothing to do with losing my lifelong roommate who’d tolerated (albeit barely) my atrocious brand of childish messiness. I cried because sometimes the moment washes over you in a clear wave that tells you that nothing will ever be the same again.

Soon after, my family crumbled. We each retreated to our separate corners. I drowned myself in the depths of my bed.

I can’t say precisely that I love my life. I have been looking for something. A feeling that rushes through your chest. A feeling akin to happiness. Every now and then I feel it brush across my skin. The wispy entrails of feeling that could, potentially, solve the unknown question (42).

I find myself retracing my steps, looking back to the places where this feeling once brushed my life. I have returned to the place. Maybe the place has not changed, but the feeling has left. Like my sister leaving home, it’s become markedly clear that my life will never return to those moments of bald joy.

You can’t go back to those slippery moments of happiness. Why am I lingering, waiting for them to return to the places where everyone else has left? Why am I still the one, swimming around in the past, looking for those last vestiges of long-extinct moments. Why can’t I get out of my own superior, possibly imaginary, memories?

Let us find new moments. Let us find new happiness. This one is no longer waiting patiently for our return.

Dublin| what’s with all the sun?

Got into Dublin in the wee hours of the morning and wandered around like a zombie, pretending to look at things but really just racing from one coffee shop to the next waiting for an available bed and/or brother.

Meanwhile my brother slept through his last day of classes. He eventually found me just close enough to mid day that we could go to pubs instead of pretending to be interested in tourist traps.

We did follow a tour group into Dublin castle after deciding we’d rather spend €4.50 on a pint than a palace. Turns out the tour group was French and Dublin Castle was pretty lame so we wasted little more than half an hour in there before we continued our pub crawl.

It’s weird when you grow up with someone and you look at them in a very dark pub in Dublin and you see for the first time what they actually look like today, now, grown. I hadn’t ever even realized that I still saw my brother as that skinny kid–the blonde Harry Potter. He is so… Worn now. His skin has depths. Scars I wasn’t there to see inflicted on him. He has cheekbones now. Where was I when all this happened? You feel like you’ll always know more about your siblings than everyone else, no matter how far away they are. Then one day you realize you don’t know them hardly at all.

Naturally it is freakishly sunny. That’s not sarcastic. The only time it has rained was the exact hour I had to hike from the bus to my hostel with all my bags and naturally all my clothes are wet now.

And it’s almost stupidly sunny.

Day Ninety-Four: Packing

I think I have over-packed.

After a bottle of wine for dinner last night and the hangover that greeted me cheerily this morning. This left me an agonized hour to pack my bag for the next two months.

I think packing is impossible. Basically I just tried to shove as much of my clothing in a bag as possible. The bad part is that I left no room for whisky… I’ll have to revise my priorities. Forget clothes!

Now I’m watching Goodfellas and drinking Moscow Mules with my father and step mother. Apparently they both grew up in Jersey/Yonkers so that qualifies them to be gangsters.

I’m pretty sure that’s how this works.

Planning to cook with dad and then have a nice writing day for a change. It’s been wayyyy too long, so wish me luck!

Actual quote from stepmother: “Oh shit. You’re staying til Tuesday?”

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Day Eighty: Denver (So Far)

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Denver seems like one of the most chill and open places I’ve ever been. Went to Red Rocks (above) yesterday soon after my arrival (ugh… Early morning, discount flights!) and was just awed by it. I’m a huge fan of music, particularly classic rock, so there’s nothing quite like rocking with rocks… Bad pun, I’m sorry.

I’m visiting my cousins who are somewhat vegan so we are going pretty granola here which is a rude jolt for my body after all the fried foods of New Orleans. I guess I’ll have to get used to that in San Fran soon anyway.

I guess, my favorite part so far was while at dinner with my cousins last night, we got to talking about my book. They were all very interested and impressed.

I’ve been writing steadily since Mid-January and the book is so close to done, but still felt rather unimpressive to me… Talking with them about it was just wild though. They couldn’t believe I had actually done it… Couldn’t believe how complicated it is as they listened to me describe some of the themes and what I am going for. They all had very thoughtful input and were just so… Proud of me.

They made me feel really proud of what I’d accomplished so far. It was great!

Anyway, we are going hiking and to breweries today (apparently everyone and their mother has a microbrew here). I’m still adjusting to seeing snow on the ground in April, but I hear that hiking is the thing to do and the weatherman was wrong about the rain today so… I’m off to the mountains. Wish my out-of-shape ass luck!

Day Sixty-One: Unrealistic Romantic Notions

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It pains me to tell you this because I’ve spent a vast majority of my life telling everyone about how cynical I am, but it’s time I come clean and admit it.

Hi. My name is C@$3! and I am a Stupid Romantic.

I mean, I always knew I had a secret thing for Jane Austen novels (that should have been the first sign), but really this is all coming as a big shock to me. I had no pressing feelings towards marriage. Sure, I cried once at a wedding, but just a little bit. I cry more than that every time I visit my favorite cheese shop or see commercials for fried chicken!

The suspicion was always there… After I’d read a romance novel and hide it under my bed so no one would see. Or when my best friend found The Notebook in my DVD collection and I said it was a gift (it was… but I still watched it!). I’d tell myself that it was just a one-time thing. That it meant nothing and it was ok to be curious about other people’s lifestyles.

I was in denial. I couldn’t even admit it to myself… But I had Romantic Notions.

I didn’t actually even realize it until this weekend. I don’t know… One minute I was talking with my mom about her latest foray into online dating sites marketed towards elderly people, and the next… I realized that all of my idealistic notions about love (especially the ones I didn’t realize I thought) were wrong.

You know. I read a lot of books about varying topics, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find too many that aren’t, at least in some way, about love. Hell, my little writing adventure here… that’s entirely motivated by love. But there is a huge difference between love and relationships.

I love to write, but I fight my long-term relationship with writing every day. I do the same thing with Le Novio. I fight him every step of the way! Same with friendships… family members, hell, even music.

I refuse to let these things be easy. To let them slip into the stone-cold truth. That life/relationships/love is really not that difficult/dramatic/interesting. It’s like I have always had this idea in my head that my relationships should be more… well, plotted. That my life should be a book or story. That things have to be hard to reach an adequate and emotional resolution.

Nope.

I think what I’ve realized is that… Love is actually quite boring. I’ve been such a unrealistic romantic–set on “soul mates” and “fighting for us” and “drinking poison” and “deeper connections” and “Mr Darcy in a wet t-shirt”. Really, I think love is, more like “making sure they have their glass of water by bed before they go to sleep because you know their mouth is dry in the morning” and “no, I won’t be upset with you if you sleep on the couch, even though I’d rather have you with me” and “I know when you suggested to everyone that we go get ice cream, even though we didn’t go and you said it was ok, that you really wanted some so here is some Gelato I keep for these occasions.”

Or maybe it’s even more general than that. Whatever it is… it’s been hard to accept the quiet fact of loving someone. It’s just days of deciding to be with one person. Maybe you don’t see into each other’s souls, maybe you do. Maybe sometimes their jokes aren’t funny or they say things that hurt your feelings. Maybe sometimes they offer to buy you dinner and you’re so happy you could faint. But on a day-to-day basis a relationship is wildly uninteresting.

Love is not great literature. Hell, it’s not even a pretty photograph! Love isn’t even worth writing about. Love is a quiet decision… the recognition of the breath of another person.

Day Fifty-Four: Good News For People Who Love Good News

Almost six months ago I applied to do my MFA in Creative Writing and on Friday, after leaving the Lego Movie with Le Novio (which was actually incredible and self-deprecating and great), I got an e-mail with my first acceptance!

I had prepared myself for months now for blatant rejections, so I’m a bit at a loss for what to say when it comes to positive news. I had developed some really great insight into the importance of rejection and why it wouldn’t stop me in developing my career but FORGET THAT!

Just over a year ago I made a very important decision. I was working a job with no long-term goals other than a weekly paycheck. I was living in what I consider to be a fairly unambitious city. The only people who “make it” in New Orleans are in the culinary industry… and possibly healthcare or environmental policy. My mother had me really and truly convinced that I should become a Librarian.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d be a great librarian and I think that it would be a fantastic career… surrounded by books all day… lot’s of new technology. Really great, consistent job. But I don’t want to be a Librarian. I want to be a Writer.

I mostly keep my writing to myself. Ask anyone in my life and, outside of this blog which is my first committed attempt to public writing, and they won’t have read more than a piece or two of my work. Complete strangers I shared classes with have read more of my stuff than most of my friends.

When I was still an undergrad I’d let my mother sucker me into sending her a play I’d written for class. I was wildly proud of this play. It was read on stage by a group of professional actors. By Christmas, however, my mother had circulated this play to my entire family and it had become a running joke. I didn’t know this until my sisters started quoting it over dinner, much to everyone’s amusement at my expense. After that, I swore I wouldn’t share my writing with people I was close to… My latest project has been one of three times I’ve let a personal relationship read my work.

If I wasn’t going to let anyone read it, my work would never be more than a hobby.

Last year while at the park with the children I cared for, I ran into my Freshman Writing professor with his kids. I hadn’t been writing much at all. I’d been too tired from the kids and too distracted by my personal relationships. He seemed surprised that I wasn’t writing, that I wasn’t applying to school.

“I’d bet if you submitted works just from Freshman year, you’d get in. Doesn’t hurt to apply.”

Seemingly innocuous enough statement, but his words changed my life.

I had failed at writing. I had failed at writing because I’d stopped trying. The worst kind of failure is when you give up on yourself. If I wasn’t willing to put myself out there, I was the worst kind of failure imaginable. I was a coward.

So here I am a year later. Grad schools take a national percentage of 6% of applicants in America… and as of Friday I’m in the 6% and more than halfway through my first novel.

Forget the numbers though… They make this career look impossible. Work hard. Write well and often. Take rejection on the chin. And just keep putting yourself out there, no matter what it is you hope to accomplish. Only I will decide when my writing career is over.

I’m not all the way there, we’ve still got a long way to go, but I’m closer than I was last year.

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Nothing anyone could say would make me feel like a failure right now.