The stories others remember 

Today for class my professor had us text our friends and family and ask them, “what’s your favorite story about me?” She then had us put away our phones and wait.

After awhile, we were to pick one of the responses and think about why that person remembers that story, and what it says about you. The idea was to deconstruct why we tell each other stories–to see the stories we tell at parties as a (true) mythology of ourselves. This is how we cement our personal identity in a group.

My sister told me her favorite story was the time we were playing hide and seek in my grandmothers house. It was my turn to hide, and the grown ups were telling me ideas on where to go. Now, my grandmother collects dolls. Three-foot-tall, life size dolls that live in the corner of her living room. My sister is counting down, and I decide, hey, I’ll be a doll.

So I posed in the back, smiled, and waited. My sister hunts around the house for a long time–she even makes eye contact with me and keeps looking. She actually thought I was a doll.

I thought for awhile why she remembers this and what it says, both about me and about her. It was funny, sure, and I do love making her laugh. But why does she tell other people this story? What trait of mine does it show, in disguise? 

I realized that this story shows that I don’t shy away from a challenge. Yes, a “safer” hiding spot would have been under the table or in a closet. But I chose to be a doll, the more interesting and difficult path.

This class literally just ended about 10 minutes ago, but I can tell this will be something that sticks in my mind. Why d we tell stories? Funny stories, cool stories? What does it say about us and our relationships? How is it that we bond through storytelling?

Telling stories is, of course, what I plan on spending my life doing. I guess it had never crossed my mind why stories exist in the first place. It had always seemed so obvious, just an integral part of humanity. It is, I think, integral. 

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Stages

Obviously, there are life stages. Teen years, puberty, middle age, and so on. However, I submit to the jury that there are several smaller stages that fit arbitrarily within these stages, regardless of age. Perhaps most prominent and widespread is the stage where you wore black and listened to metal and were mad that your mother wouldn’t let you dye your hair.

In my experience, many people go through an “atheist” stage. It makes sense to question one’s beliefs now and then, but that’s not what I mean. I’m not talking about a healthy time spent in philosophical thought, I’m talking about those three or four months when people turn into super atheists.

I went through it, as did many of my friends. Thankfully, I grew out of it, and even retracted many of my atheistic ideas, settling on a firm stance of “I don’t know.” Now, I like to learn about and explore all types of religion, but in my atheist stage I couldn’t stand it.

There’s also, for the younger generation especially, the Social Justice stage. This one has always been around, but it’s especially spread with the advent of social media. Whether they’re called social justice warriors or tumblerinas or whatever, many people go through a time where political correctness and open mindedness are their top priority.

Are people who are like this bad? No. Can these things be stages? Absolutely. I went through both. The best part about these stages is that you tend to get highly invested in them, and then they fade away, leaving only a small mark on you. I’m glad my stages happened, because now I have a wider lens with which to look at the world.

They’re not bad things at all. I had a healthy eating stage, and a reality tv stage. I had a Buddhism stage, an anti-Kindle stage followed by an e-book stage, an all-natural stage, a gym rat stage, a musical stage, and numerous stages where I questioned my political standing, sexuality, job goals, relationships, and general future. And all of these stages, these short-lived obsessions, affected me positively afterward in one way or another.

I love when I can recognize someone in a stage that I had already passed through. Oh, you’re in the stage where you think any song released after 1970 is crap. Been there. And look, that’s the stage where wearing sweatpants every day didn’t feel gross. I…kind of wish I was still in that one.

It’s sometimes said that people can’t change. How wrong that is. Stages are proof that people change. We try on different hats to see which fits best. We get to choose different facets of our personality and change how we are seen by the world. That’s amazing!

It’s hard, when you’re in a stage, to tell if it’s a stage or not. Is blogging a stage, for me? Is sign language, is biking? I suppose any new interest could be a stage. Alternately, it could become a permanent part of you. The best part of life is its uncertainty. Embrace uncertainty, and embrace your stages with reckless enthusiasm.

Better to have several hats you don’t wear anymore than no hats at all.

A to O: Over

Bonnie was never satisfied with boys in high school. She would date them for awhile, get bored, and complain to Craig that she felt there should be something “more.”

“I know it’s just in movies,” she would say as they walked together in the hallways. “But the movies have to be based on something, right?”

Craig would nod, thinking of mud pies and skateboards, back when Bonnie would tell him talking about boys was stupid. He would nod until she began doubting the existence of love.

“No,” Craig said, hands pulling the straps to his backpack. “Love exists.”

Of course, though, how would he know? He dated exactly one person, a girl a grade above them with buck teeth and body odor, who he only really began dating because she asked him out and he didn’t know how to say no. For three months he held her hand when he was told, then finally wrung up the courage to tell her he didn’t love her. The break up was a disaster.

Bonnie, on the other hand, was far more successful (so to speak). She never asked people out, but was also never dumped. Always the askee, the dumper. She dated boys like she was eating cherries, taking what she liked and unceremoniously spitting out the pits.

After graduation but before college, acquaintances began fading away. It was clear within weeks which friends Craig was going to stay in touch with and which ones he would ignore until a reunion. Bonnie was without a doubt one he would stay in touch with—the two of them were inseparable that summer, the first summer Bonnie was single since eighth grade.

“College,” Bonnie announced one June day, her voice gravelly. They were licking ice creams at a park picnic table, their skateboards rolling back and forth under their feet.

“Yeah?” Craig responded when she didn’t go on, smiling behind his ice cream. She still looked like a kaleidoscope , but perhaps a more organized one. Her mane of curly hair was in something of a bun, and a loose blue tank top draped over her lanky body. Her shorts were hot pink.

“It’s stupid. I don’t want to go to college. I want to go to a conservatory.”

Three conservatories turned her down. The fact hung in the air, a stoppage to her complaints. It was easier to complain about not going places before, when it was all someone’s parent’s fault. Now it was her fault, and hers alone.

“I mean, I don’t want to go to college either,” Craig said, though in truth he was rather excited. He only wished his college was closer to Bonnie’s.

June left, and July began. They celebrated the fourth of July with the traditional West Merrimack fireworks. They laid in the grass together, cheering for the small ones and booing the big ones, laughing with each other at themselves.

“Why isn’t everything this easy?” Bonnie whispered at the smoky sky. She scooted closer to Craig and rested her head on his bicep. She did this sort of thing now and then. It was nice.

July, then August. They were both moving out next week and had to spend most of last week packing, so now they sat in Craig’s living room, suspended in limbo, Bonnie’s head resting on Craig’s shoulder. The television was on, but muted, and neither of them watched it.

Craig wondered why she leaned on him, why she led him by the wrist places, why he always followed. She had led them into every fad and every interest since before they knew the times tables. Had he introduced anything? Oh, yes, they were big bikers for awhile, and he got her into several television shows. Spicy food, too, and bocce. He was sure they were about even. Pretty even friends.

“I hope college is fun,” Bonnie said, breaking the solid silence. “But, I don’t know. How could it possibly be better than this? I don’t hate anything in my life, you know? Except my hair,” she added, and the two of them smiled.

“I’m really going to miss you, Bonnie,” Craig said, hugging her with one arm.

Bonnie shifted to her knees on the couch looking at Craig, her hair a blanket of red around her. “Is this all over? Our whole friendship, our whole lives?”

“No,” Craig said. “We’ll still be friends. We’re both coming back here for Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and all of the summer. And I’ll visit you on weekends.”

“Should we have dated?” Bonnie asked suddenly, her eyes shimmering, her shoulders curved.

She asked these rhetorical questions now and then, often when she was in the sort of mood that made her lean on him. Craig sucked on his teeth, studying his kaleidoscopic best friend.

Why had they never given into everyone’s wishes and dated? Why had he never asked her out, like all the others? Maybe it was because he had seen her suck the life out of every boyfriend, turning them into desperate zombies before cutting them loose. Dating Bonnie meant becoming a part of Bonnie’s body, an object for her to use as she pleased, a thing to hold her hand and her backpack. Craig turned a blind eye to her boyfriends because they may as well have not existed. When Bonnie had a boyfriend, she and Craig hung out nearly the same amount as always, just with a sunken-eyed leech attached to her arm.

Maybe, instead, it was that while he believed in love he didn’t believe in love with Bonnie. He liked her a lot. They were best friends. He supposed, if love didn’t exist, he could see marrying her, living with her. It would be great fun to just hang out with Bonnie all the time…but wasn’t there more? Like they said in the movies?

“No,” Craig said, and as he said it he realized he was right. “We work better as friends.”

Craig felt confident in his answer. He knew, no matter what, that Bonnie would be here next year, whether she found another leech or not. He knew he would be there too. What he didn’t know was the strength of Bonnie’s question, the fullness of her heart, the condom in her backpack, the stunted confession in her stomach, the stinging tears she was fighting to keep from falling. She leaned on his shoulder again, and Craig took it as a sign of contentment, perhaps of relief. Bonnie held her breath to keep from shaking.

“Summer is over,” she said in as even a voice as possible.

“Yes,” Craig said in a wistful voice. “A new adventure awaits us!”

A to I: Isthmus

Sue Anne had to look up “Isthmus“ in the dictionary before she moved to Nahant, Massachusetts. She’d lived in the hot, flat country her whole life and yearned for the ocean, for a small town. Nothing smaller than the smallest town in one of the smallest states, connected to the mainland by a strip of land the size of her pinkie.

She was thirty when her mother joined her father in the cemetery. She hadn’t visited him since they buried him there when she was eighteen. She waited until her mother’s coffin was in beside him, then had her Aunt drive her to the airport.

“You don’t have to disappear,” her Aunt said after a long silence. “I can help you with the baby, you don’t have to be alone.”

“Thank you,” Sue Anne said after another pause. “But I do.”

Her hands rested on her swelling belly. Only five months in. She did it artificially, which bothered her mother, but Sue Anne was desperate for children and not very desperate for a spouse. She was running out of time, and she knew that. She was running, and she knew that too.

Nahant. One square mile, though far from being square. It hung off the side of Massachusetts like a splinter. Surrounded by strange, Massachusetts-y sounding towns like Swampscott and Saugus and Peabody, it was easy to find from Boston. Sue Anne had bought a little, crumpled white house that was just far enough from the water that she would have to walk to the beach. She had only seen the house online, but in person it seemed even smaller. Perfect. She needed small.

It came fully furnished, smelling of moth balls and the old couple who had decided to drop everything and retire to Florida. The overcast sky and September chill made Sue Anne wonder if they had the right idea. No matter. A living room, a kitchen, two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a spare room. Perfect for her little family.

She didn’t like the furniture, but she didn’t bother buying anything new. It was free, after all, and the sailboats and fishing net décor did go well with the ocean and seagull sounds outside. She had a little yard, with a birdbath and a small brick border where a garden probably was at some point.

She spent the night sitting on her porch in an old rocking chair, sipping at a glass of wine—the wine came with the house, too. One glass per day, the doctor had said, though she wasn’t sure if her fancy new Boston doctor would have a different idea. She rubbed her tummy. It pushed back.

She held perfectly still. Nothing…she rubbed her stomach again, firmly, and her stomach pushed back. Yes, definitely, that was her baby. It kicked her. She leaned back in her chair, and her baby settled down again. Sue Anne began crying, her tears as salty as the ocean air.

As she rubbed her tummy, holding her breath for another movement, a couple walked by her new house.

“Hello, neighbor!” The man said. “Are you moving in here, then? Do you need help?”

Sue Anne waved. “Oh, no, I’m all set, thank you.” Small town, Sue Anne, small town. “Would you like a glass of wine?”

They talked on Sue Anne’s porch for about an hour, and even made plans to have dinner the following weekend. Sue Anne kept feeling her stomach, waiting for more kicks, but her baby must be asleep.

The woman noticed first, and asked with careful words if Sue Anne was expecting. Yes, she was.

“There’s no father, before you wonder,” Sue Anne said. “I wanted a baby but I didn’t need a husband.”

They all laughed. As the couple left, to go pick up their children at school, they realized they had never exchanged names.

“I’m Suzie Quentin,” Sue Anne said. “They used to call me Suzie Q.”

As she said it, she remembered how the name used to make her furious, how it was the name her dad called her before Alzheimers made him call her a stranger, how she wanted Sue Anne because he never said that unless he was yelling at her, how Michael McClane, her high school sweetheart, broke up with her over the phone and said that he wished he could have his Suzie Q back. She realized, now in this tiny town with boxes to unpack and a fatherless baby in her belly, miles and years away from her father and her mother and her Michael, that she was ready to have Suzie Q back, too.

“Suzie Q,” the man said. “That’s a great name.”

And so, with everything else fighting for her to become an island, the name “Suzie Q” became a welcome isthmus.

Hi!

Hey guys–this should’ve been up yesterday but I honestly didn’t have any time, so here it is now, the weekly check in:)

I hope you are all enjoying the A to Z challenge. I’m certainly enjoying writing it! I have pages full of notes on how to connect the characters and letters, what themes go where, and how the bagpipes fit into all of this. It’s a lot of fun, and I’m glad you seem to be liking them too:)

The most interesting thing that has happened since we spoke last was a self defense course I took Friday and Saturday. It’s called RAD (more info here) and focused on basic ways to get out of a dangerous situation. It was actually really empowering.

I usually hate that word, empowering, because it’s usually used in a pretentious context. Like feeling “empowered” after walking a 5K, or while wearing heels. It’s almost always used in a feminine context. Empowered, as if you were powerless beforehand. However, when it came to the self defense course, it feels fitting. I am newly empowered with tools I can use in dangerous situations—tools I didn’t have before. I feel more confident.

The best thing about it was that it reversed my thoughts that I wasn’t strong. I don’t work out as much as I should, sometimes I can’t open water bottles or open heavy doors, I must not be strong. But being taught how to use my body to my advantage rather than seeing it as a hindrance, or as a vessel for my mind to live in, allowed me to feel truly strong and powerful. Connecting to one’s body and allowing it to be used like it’s made to be is a wonderful thing.

Plus it’s really fun to punch foam pads.

I recommend it to everyone! Not just to feel safe, but to feel confident and happy with yourself.

What else? Colin comes back Sunday, which is exciting, and I move back home in two weeks, which is also exciting. I have finals soon, which is less exciting.

I saw my old high school’s musical, The Sound of Music, on Saturday. All the kids who were sophomores and freshmen when I graduated are now juniors and seniors, running the show. They were wonderful, and made me miss high school and theatre as well as their friendships. I miss the excitement of being part of a team, the rollercoaster of emotion, the bright lights and smudged make up, snacking on pretzels and Twizzlers since they didn’t mess up lipstick. Mostly, I miss my old friends, and I’m glad to get to see them again in only a few weeks.

I’m also determined to start learning German again—I’ve been so busy that it’s been pushed to the back burner, but I have my mind set on it.

So, yes. Self defense, German, and The Sound of Music. And, of course, huge bouts of creativity brought on by the A to Z Challenge. I’m really glad I followed through with the challenge. It too is giving me confidence, in my creative writing rather than my body. I haven’t completed writing a novel in a long time, and these little bursts of fiction are helping me feel like a valid creator again.

I’ll also soon be separately posting my book review of Maus and Maus II, so look forward to that today, as well as the letter “I” in about 2 hours. That’s about all I have–enjoy your Monday!

Much love and best wishes,

Christina

A to H: Him

Him. Him. Him. Him. Michelle measured her life in a string of Hims, Hims harmonizing, crescendoing and fading like they were strapped to a wheel, mowing her over. Him. The first, brown hair, blue eyes, first kiss, soft lips, on the stair after a middle school dance, ears ringing, heart beating, she could feel the imprint of his hand on her cheek for hours. Him. Black hair, dark eyes, red lines hashed into his wrists. Test cheater, weed smoker, sneaking joints from his older brother’s stash. Him. Second kiss, a week after her first. She never broke up with that first boy, he just faded away, like the cuts that barely broke her skin, she dragged the sharp paper clip edge into her forearm until it was pink, until specks of blood appeared, then stopped, pinching her arm, numb, is this right? Is this how they did it? First smoke. First time, shirt on, pants at her knees, in her second boyfriend’s older brother’s car. Then the older brother, about a month later, same spot. She still hasn’t broken up with anyone. Third boyfriend, three years older. Boyfriend? Strong word. They fumbled in the backseat of his car, parked behind the high school. High school, now, fourth, fifth, sixth. One week of being single between sixth and seventh, and she felt like she couldn’t breathe. Is this love? Is this sex? Should it hurt this much? Should I be so indifferent? Do I want this? Do I want you? Eight lasted weeks, then months, coming on a year when his best friend asked her if the rumors were true, if she did it at thirteen. Eight was still a virgin. Seventeen. She was fine with it. Best friend was not. Eight. Then the best friend. Then eight was done, so on to nine, or was it ten, now? Floating from man to man like a piece of pollen, like a dandelion wisp, like a ragdoll being tossed hand to hand across a playground. No, not tossed. She threw herself, she leapt from body to body. Ten, eleven…she just wanted to be happy. Twelve and thirteen at the same time, then thirteen and fourteen at the same time, then fourteen and fifteen at the same time. She would leave one house and drive to the other. Always looking for more. Always getting bored. Him. Him. Him. Her? First year of college, she started back at one. One girl, long blonde hair. Curly. Blue eyes, an All American girl. One cheated on her with who would become four. Michelle didn’t mind. This sort of thing happened. Two. Sixteen. Seventeen. Three. Then four, at a party. One was a bit angry. Michelle smoked a lot now, but didn’t bother counting her joints. Michelle burned through joints even faster than her lovers. She was in the dozens, then likely the hundreds by the time she was nineteen, always high, her thumb calloused from sparking the lighter, her lips dry, her eyes perpetually red. Eighteen boys, now, and only five girls. Now, a game. Six. Seven. Eight and nine, at the same time. Ten and nineteen at the same time. She grew her hair long, she worked out, she did poorly in class, she showered less. Eleven. Twelve. Thirteen. Back to twelve. Fourteen. Fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen all in one night, and then eighteen, nineteen, and two twenties all in the same room. She had done it. Forty people, an even split. She bought herself an ice cream cone. She was happy with herself. She didn’t need love. She didn’t want to limit herself to one person. She was a giver. She was a lover. She liked doing things, she liked meeting people. She liked being an individual, even if she was always in at least one relationship. Summer. Long distance? No. Single…single…single…she had already burned through all the boys at home, and no girls were interested. Single…single…single…Michelle was going crazy. Withdrawal, from weed and people. Phone. Scrolling. Names, numbers. 1-20F, 1-20M, she lists them in her head as she reads their names. She needed someone to keep her busy. She hesitates on a few, then keeps scrolling past. Drying out, this summer, like a 12 week program. She laid on the couch with a headache, watching cartoons. Her parents worried. She didn’t bother to worry. Who is Michelle? What do I do, beyond other people? What do I want, beyond being Undeclared? There was no direction to go, so she laid still. There was no one to love, so she began, slowly, to find a way to love herself. Relapse, boy number twenty-one, she met at an ice cream shop. Disgust. Get over it, tell him you want to be alone. First break up…she felt good. Good. Single is good, I need to learn myself before I learn someone else. I don’t need someone else. Michelle went back to school determined to stay single. She would break her cycle. She had beaten her addiction. New boy, a freshman, down the hall, into skateboarding and theatre. New boy. Craig Wu. Twenty-two. Him…him…specifically him. She invited him to smoke, first smoke, first boy in months. I know myself enough now, I suppose.