This is another edition of Joint Blogging with L, where my fellow blogger and I go on adventures and then write about them. This time, we found a way to have an adventure long-distance. Here is L’s version. Other installments in this series are from Purdue’s Spring Fest and the Covered Bridge Festival.
A few weeks ago, my friend L and I set aside a day to work on a 20-paragraph piece for a short-story contest from Owl Canyon Press (it’s still going on if you want to participate). In this competition, the organizers provide the first and twentieth paragraphs, and the participants connect them with eighteen paragraphs that each contain at least fifty words.
Often when writing, I type furiously on the laptop, but this time, I wanted to try something different: writing my first draft by hand. This story seemed to be one that needed paper and pen.
The process revealed why.
The song, “This is the Greatest Show” from The Greatest Showman stuck in my head.
“Buried in your bones, there’s an ache that you can’t ignore.”
I finished breakfast and picked up a pillow, my iPad, a Five Star notebook, and red, green, and black Pilot gel pens to compose outside. I felt like I was ready for a grand adventure, something new and exciting with a friend who has been a steady presence for years.
I settled with the pillow into a rocking chair on the deck and stretched my legs out on the seat of a wooden kitchen chair. With the iPad, I scrolled to the contest webpage and copied the first paragraph onto my notebook page in cursive black ink. This act allowed me to slow down and scrutinize each story element presented: a casket, a flag, mourners in uniform, and a burst of laughter.
Suddenly, my thoughts shot off in a different direction, and I free-wrote in the margin with green ink, letting my mind take me where I needed to go:
an elf’s hat.
in a pot,
just below the
My right elbow burns. The bugs are out already, I return to the kitchen for the Thermaid mosquito repellent, a green cylinder topped with a black plastic grate covering a flame inside. I flick the button, hoping the flame ignites. It was left in the rain overnight a few weeks ago, and I don’t know what that’s done to it. I have a new 5-Star five-subject college-ruled notebook, purchased yesterday during yesterday’s big shopping trip with my husband (even writing those two words, “my husband,” makes me smile. I love being married).
It’s something I’ve wanted and waited for for a long time, navigating through all the blog posts and comments to “Stay single as long as you can” and relationship advice columns where so many bad things happened. Even women’s Bible studies could be discouraging as women warned of all the things that could go wrong in a marriage. They were married, some had been for decades, and I wondered why they were married and where the women were who were willing to tell me that marriage is wonderful and it’s worth doing and worth waiting for, because that was the sense I had of it.
Was there any way I could be right?
I watched my parents and both sets of grandparents be married. One poignant memory is my grandpa kneeling down to pull glass out of my grandma’s foot. She was screaming, it hurt so bad. He told her she needed to stay still and then pulled the glass out. All these years, I’ve wondered if anyone would do that for me.
Sun over the trees now, I need to turn chair.
The classes seemed to say, “You must get married to fulfill your Christian duty, but here are all the things that can go wrong.” They were venting sessions that left me wondering what the point was.
The first person I told about Jeff was L. “I watched the lunar eclipse with a guy.”
She said nothing, raised her eyebrows and continued to fold hymns printed on paper into stars. I continued breathlessly telling her about our lunar party and how cold it was (8 F) and how close we’d stood and how we’d looked at books about constellations and how natural it looked when Frodo (on the back of my couch) perched/fell on Jeff’s left shoulder and stayed there upright.
The stars were for her own wedding coming up in a few months.
“I really like him,” I said.
She smiled at her stars and served me more tea.
A few months later, Jeff accompanied me to L’s beautiful wedding, complete with a string trio that played the haunting “Walking in the Air” before the ceremony. I sat suspended, mesmerized, remembering the Englishman who hummed the song for me on a boat in tropical New Zealand on a warm December day and what the song meant to me: freedom. Freedom in Christ, free from the blog posts, the Bible classes, the snide comments, the relationship columns, the fear, the rejection, the pain.
Jeff was here.
And I had waited for him.
Only after writing all of that could I begin my story.
The first paragraph established the setting: a cemetery. It seemed fitting for all of the loss Jeff and I endured this year, loss of friends and of animals. My entire soul poured into eighteen paragraphs.
I continued writing in the margins as thoughts unrelated, and yet connected, to the story, weaved in and out of my consciousness. Near the reveal, I penned:
“It’s still painful to think about losing Szarlota. Yes, she was a sheep, but she was also my dog, greeting me at the gate, eager for a scratch under the chin. She was curious and liked to run and jump. Losing her was losing the foundation of a dream I’d had since high school: to raise my own Shetland flock, high-quality. The dream itself isn’t dead, but a huge chunk of the spirit of the dream is gone, much like in this story. The dream remains in pieces and those who are left with it must figure out how to put the pieces back together and make the dream stronger than it was before.”
Looking back at the women’s Bible studies, blog posts, articles, television shows, and everything else, I realized that everything that had been said crashed with lies that twisted in my heart to produce a perception that marriage was a scary monster, that it was to be avoided, and that every marriage was a disaster waiting to break down. There’s no way it could work, the lies said. Give up now. Resign to being single forever. Bury yourself in your job. Ignore your deepest longings. Let hate reign.
Luckily, I traveled to New Zealand and healed.
As I wrote, I could feel closure. After finishing the first draft, I retreated inside to conduct some research. I needed to examine maps and photographs and writings about history and cultural norms.
I was free.
“Tell me do you wanna go?
“Where it’s covered in all the colored lights
Where the runaways are runnin’ the night
Impossible comes true, it’s takin’ over you
Oh, this is the greatest show….”
To be continued.