I got caught up tonight in reading some of my old creative writing pieces from high school and college. It’s interesting for me to see how I’ve improved, and a little bit of what I’ve forgotten, in my writing. So, enjoy this. College, Intro to Creative Writing.

Baby Squirrels

Don’t ask me why we called ourselves that. I don’t know if there was a reason. I do recall a baby squirrel Halloween costume, but that may have come after the game began. I was about 6 years old, which would have made Chris 11. Video games weren’t even an option in our house. Whenever we weren’t building forts in the living room, we were playing Baby Squirrels.

Gathering supplies was our number one priority. These consisted of an animated Etch-a-Sketch (apparently called The Animator), some string, Legos, and heaven knows what else. We made objects into whatever we wanted. Our objective: navigate the seas of our house. We set up on the landing of the stairs. We could see the front hall and the doorways to the living room and kitchen, and the dining room if the doors were ever open. On the landing was a small wooden bench, handy for keeping our toys on but not for sitting.

We used the Etch-a-Sketch to navigate. We’d decide where on our “map” we wanted to go, plan it out, and then, inevitably, something would go wrong:

“Oh no, oh no! We’re in the deep seas now! Quick, get the rope!” my brother would say. Once I started collecting Beanie Babies, they would come on our adventures with us: a black dog called “Scotty” and a squirrel called “Nuts.” Chris especially liked doing a Scottish accent (as far as we could tell) when he was voicing Scotty. I had Nuts and he had an Irish accent, though my accent was not nearly as good as my brother’s.

I’d grab the rope, if we had one, or grab one from thin air.

“Oh no! Cap’n! What do we do?”

“Turn, turn! Give me the rope! Scotty, don’t jump!”

“Get the scope! I’ll steer!” I grabbed the Etch-a-Sketch and, moving this way and that, made pictures of scribbles and animated them, and we found our way out. Phew. One catastrophe avoided.

There is one adventure I will never forget. Chris and I were crossing the great sea on our landing, as usual, when we realized there was a shark below. This was dangerous, but also half the fun. We weren’t fast enough to outrun it, and we couldn’t very well see it from the top of the ship. Someone would have to go down into the sea to take it on.

There was no drawing of straws. I bowed my head.

“I’ll go.” I said.

“Are you sure?” Chris asked. I nodded. He took up the rope (which I’m wondering now if we ever actually had) and wrapped it around my stomach, then knotted it so I would be safe. He pulled on it, tugging me toward him to make sure it would stay on me. He then presented me with a plastic screwdriver, our only weapon. We looked on our navigator to find out where the shark might be. I was ready.

“Remember, just tug on the rope when you need to come up. Do you have your mask on?” he asked. I stared at him.

“Can’t you see it?”

“Oh. Sorry,” he whispered. We weren’t always on the same imagination plane. “Okay, I’m going to lower you down slowly.”

It was that time of day when it’s just begun to get dark inside but no one’s ready to turn on the lights. There was a little sunlight streaming in through the window in the front door, but even that was covered with a tiny lace curtain. There was more sunlight from the living room on the right, but that wasn’t where the shark would be. I crept slowly down the stairs, careful to avoid any creaks. Once, I missed, and there was a mild “reee!” of the wood. I cringed, held my breath, and with my hands awkwardly raised in a zombie-like creeping motion and my mouth slightly open, I stood there, keeping entirely still. After a few moments, I deemed it safe again and relaxed, allowing myself to go deeper and keep a lookout for the shark. My brother watched me from the top of the stairs, his intense green eyes like seaweed in the ocean. He put his fingers to his lips to remind me (as if I needed it): be quiet.

I got to the bottom of the stairs and froze. My dad was sitting at the kitchen table, his back to me. The shark was one thing, but we had to avoid detection by parents at all costs. I’d have to be extra careful on this run. We didn’t want to get “caught.” It would have brought them into our world by the necessity to interact with them, and that would break our story. It was as if their voices were too loud and would have broken the game, and forced us into “reality.”

I looked around. I crept toward the front hallway. I had to be sure not to stray too far from the bottom of the stairs; the invisible rope didn’t stretch that far. Suddenly, movement to my left. The shark! It was huge! Much bigger than any we’d taken on before. I jabbed at it with my screwdriver, but before I could deliver the final blow, it turned and prepared for an attack. I looked back at Chris. Could he see me? I took a step back and tugged on the rope. I tugged harder. I couldn’t risk even a whisper; we had to avoid parent detection no matter what. But I was going to get eaten by a shark! I shook my fists in an effort to get his attention. The shark would attack any minute, and I was running out of air. Finally, at the last second, Chris saw me tugging for dear life and started pulling me up. I hopped onto the first step just in time, feeling the slimy skin of a fin against my leg. From there, I tiptoed up those stairs as fast as my little legs could carry me.

Once I got to the top, I took in a huge breath of air.

“It almost got me! What took you so long?” I demanded.

“Oh my goodness,” he said – this was to become his classic line. “I’m so sorry. We were getting deep again and Scotty couldn’t navigate. I guess we should leave that to us.”

“Well, I stabbed it, but I couldn’t hit it again before it noticed.”

“Rats. We’ll just have to wait.”

“It was huge!” I said.

“I’m glad you’re okay.”

“Phew!”

“Hey, what do you want for dinner?” our mom called from downstairs. I jumped. I didn’t even realize she was home; everything had been so quiet.

“Fishsticks!” I yelled (this was also my word for physicists until I learned to say it right). Chris and I looked at each other. We’d have to start cleaning up.

“Oh, well,” he said. We gathered our toys and went to our rooms, awaiting another adventure of Baby Squirrels.

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Tonight I realized who he was. In this book I’m reading, I’m over halfway done with, and it clicked.

I know who he is, which character. I read the sentences, and slammed the book shut.

It is him. It is him and I feel as I did soon after he left me: used.

I was nothing. I was a curiosity.

Then I became part of the routine, the one it took him two years to break. Maybe he realized he was bored. And so he left. And thank God.

He was not unfaithful, but nor was he supportive.

I can’t believe it took me this long. I read this book the first time relatively early in our relationship. I couldn’t put two and two together. It is him. Is that the fate of an English major? I recall a Venn diagram I saw once, with “The curtains were blue” at the top. The left circle was titled “What your teacher thinks it means” and had inside: The blue represented his despair… The right circle was titled “What the author meant” and had inside: The curtains were fucking blue.

I read into things too much because I was taught to. But then I get lost in books, can’t relate them to real life. They are separate.

Until revelations like this.

I was nothing. I was a curiosity.

Needless to say, this evening has taken a downward turn. But tomorrow is another day.

But damn.

A sunset above the clouds is unlike any other.

At the edge of the horizon it looks like the ocean curling into orange.

The clouds all weave together, like softest snow. It feels like you could just walk right out on them, walk right out to the edge, where the sun continues its descent.

These little rolling hills of cloud, a cushion to the biggest fall.

A soft paintbrush has swept across them, cleaning any impurities for wisps of grey-blue whitecaps.

The closer you get the more you see how layered they really are.

Down. Down.

Engulfed in grey.

I just had to try to capture the sunset from the airplane. Had to. So it’s a bit broken, a bit unfinished. But here for you.

These are the days I miss college the most. When my job is so busy, so chaotic, and requires so much time that all I want is access to a library, with the quiet murmur of other students up as late as I am. A study carrel, a sprawling table so I can spread out, a closed off room to collaborate in, or breathe in, or just be in the presence of others, studying and working silently, but having the close camaraderie of knowing others are working, too. Sometimes, like for this project, it would be nice to know my bed is only feet away instead of miles, that my teammates could sit in a soothing place together and talk when we needed to. Mostly silence.

Savor it while you have it. There’s something special you won’t find anywhere else.

“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”

– Gary Provost

Does anyone else ever think about what it would be like if they were all in the same room? Or all found you at the same time? It’s a nightmare of mine. Boyfriends. Just-friends who wanted more. Certain crushes. That they all met, that they all started asking questions. You must be. She never told me about. Oh, I heard of you. That guy. And the memories are so close, too close, and you can imagine the conversation. Their voices, the way their body leans against the wall. I daydream. Can you daydream too much? And they find me. And it’s terrifying. Because you never wanted this. But look – there they all are. The has-beens, the what-ifs, the screw-yous. Acting like they know all about me, I can see it. I watch. But they don’t. They know pieces of me, pieces I gave to them.

Sometimes I have what I call day-mares. This isn’t quite one, though it comes close. It took me a long time to figure out what all the dark daymares meant – possibly a story for another time. I won’t figure these out, fully, for awhile.

swirlingThey find me. Because I was worried he would find me. So they all do. It’s why I changed my room code, senior year of college. Three years, nearly, of trusting him with it. It wasn’t the breakup that did it. It was the Tuesday at 8am, when he was outside my door. He didn’t go to my school. He had a lot of friends there. He should have been at his school. He should have been home. I only saw him because I jumped out that morning to sign up for studio space, before anyone else could. I threw on enough clothes to cover with a long winter jacket, and came back to the dorm to properly get ready before meeting a friend for breakfast. He never entered, nothing. But it was a Tuesday. At 8am. And I got scared. He was a nice guy, a good guy. But it was the line. A week or two later I asked my parents if it was okay to charge the extra $100 to have my room code changed. Very few people know that. Know why. He doesn’t even know the truth. When he did find out I’d changed it – that some part of me didn’t trust him – he was pretty angry.

I was glad I had it changed.

Maybe that’s why. Why they all wind up finding me, in these daydreams. Or maybe it’s normal. I don’t know. I’ve only ever been in two relationships. But after each one, after the initial fall-apart, there’s this amazing feeling of freedom. Gradually, I learn to smile with a new memory and not an old. I randomly fall for someone new, or many someones new. And I’m transported to high school, remembering how fun it can be. Eye-candy, crushes, all of it. More daydreams. There’s a certain power in that. All of it, mine. To do with as I please. People can surprise you. More fun is when you surprise yourself.

The strongest friendships prove themselves during this time, right now.

I tend to be the “group photographer.” If you’re one, you know. Always playing catch-up, pausing an extra few moments to get the shot just right. Running to meet them halfway up the block. Zipping into and out of conversations. Most of you is there, but a part of you isn’t. There’s this part of you that’s soaking all of this in, not involved in discussions, just being. Just all of you, being. And so you hang behind, because this is them. These people, they’re yours. So you wait for the right moment. Catch a city shot or a scenic shot while you wait, eyeing their backs, arms slung around each other. And when it’s right, you call out: Guys! Turn around! Aw, come on! And they do, and roll their eyes (you do this a lot, in addition to playing catch-up). And smile. And it’s beautiful. This, right here, is the happiest moment. Years later, it still will be. You don’t even need to be in the picture, because you already know. Those people, in the picture, they’re smiling at you. They are happy, you are happy. Together. Whether you’re physically shown with them or not, you’re there. And those are the best pictures. Those are beautiful.

Monday, Monday on the train
People tweeting, texting “hey”
Calls for pickups, lost the signal –
Concepts of underground and concrete
Go unnoticed; something’s wrong.

The rest of us, staring, staring
At the grey monotone passing by
The rest of us, trying, trying
Not to nap through our stop
With the swaying, swaying
Of the train.