Maggie looked around the apartment. It was finally empty. After filling overpriced Home Depot box after box, she was ready to leave.
Turning around again, one last time, that’s when she saw it. The picture of them on the fridge. How could she have been so careless to forget this? It was the picture of all pictures. The picture of them at the Yankees game on a frigid May night in 2005. Their smiles radiated clearly from the picture. Her hair was still blonde then, flowing and curly, with just the right amount of bounce. Her mousse worked that day. Some days, mousse just did not create the perfect effect. It was crunchy and stilted or frizzy. But that day Maggie got it right. Like her hair, Maggie thought she had got life right that day.
Peter was Maggie’s first boyfriend out of college. He was one of those captivating Wall Street guys. Not the assholes one usually met in bars, prowling for their next lay. Peter was a gentleman, kindhearted. He called her Maggie May. May, not being more than a middle name, was a cute addition to her name, she thought. She had always wanted a nickname. She had always wanted someone as special as Peter to give her one. And here he was: her knight in shining armor: kind, rich, handsome, and a giver of nicknames.
And he still destroyed her.
Maggie knew that she had to take the picture off the fridge. She could keep it just for a few weeks. What was the harm in that, after all? It was a wonderful moment in her life with a wonderful man. And she couldn’t get rid of it. Right?
Maggie tucked the picture in her pocket, knowing full well that it was a mistake. But she had to take it. Peter was the love of her life. And maybe, just maybe, he would come back for her. He didn’t need that other woman he didn’t bother to give a nickname. No. He needed his Maggie May. And this picture would be a reminder of their struggle, and their triumph. It symbolized everything for them.
She would always be Maggie May to him. And in her own mind.
Another piece from my MFA course… 🙂
Curlers in her hair, Holly picked up the phone. And then slammed it back down. She refused to use her cell phone for this. That would waste too many of her precious, not-unlimited minutes.
Holly stood. Paced. Sat. Stood. And paced some more. Her worn boots skirted across the linoleum her husband installed just weeks ago. She wanted tile, but what could she do? He lost his job days after they ripped out the rotting wood, and she was just a store manager. They weren’t allowed luxuries. And that bugged her. If she had known what a cheapskate he was going to be, she wouldn’t have married him. Didn’t she deserve more? Didn’t she work hard, too? Didn’t she deserve some stupid tile?
Holly sat again. Her husband was the problem. He always had been. He was always more interested in creating budgets and stupid Excel spreadsheets than her. He barely even kissed her anymore. Didn’t she deserve that? But above all of that… he’s the one who brought that awful woman into her life.
Biting her fingernails down even further and chipping away at the last of the fire engine red nail polish she painted just yesterday, she scowled. This was just a full-blown, outrageous nightmare. How could she do this? How could she confront her? The woman she was supposed to love, but just couldn’t? She loathed her. She wasn’t going to change her tune.
Holly picked up the phone again. This time, she dialed. Voicemail. She frowned. This could not be resolved by voicemail. Her mother-in-law could not call her a vile name at Christmas dinner and then only be called out via voicemail. Nope. Not going to happen this way.
So Holly hung up the phone. She wouldn’t deal with this further. She was done with this mother-in-law. She was done with this marriage and especially done with this ugly, ridiculous linoleum floor.
Following the overzealous signs for “Sale,” Zoe walks into a crowded Nordstrom on Black Friday. She takes a whiff of the espresso bar on her left. At just 6 o’clock in the morning, there is already coffee spilled on the floor. An older male customer steps into the coffee without noticing. His deeply troubled eyes say that he has to deliver the coffee in his hands as soon as possible. He rushes out at the speed of light, opening up the pathway to the coffee bar itself. Sugar packets are all over the bar. You can also see a faint trail of white leading up to the bar. All of the sugar packets are gone for use. The sugar packets are empty, on the floor, on the bar, and starting to create the look of a drug den of white powder surrounding everything. The place is sheer chaos, a rampant pigsty in need of a serious Roomba clean.
Zoe, tall and gangly, wearing her dated but comfortable Juicy Couture tracksuit, moves into the overrun shoe section. Manolo Blahniks are looking decrepit and certainly not worth full price on the stained, linty floor. Shoes thrown here and there. A harried store employee closes her eyes for just a moment. She opens them again, smiling as if she has never smiled before. Her eyes are piercingly blue like the scene you see upon landing on warm islands. But not the blue you see after you have been spoiled by the luxury of blue oceans. It is the initial blue. The perfect blue.
A petite customer with an unforgiving smile hits Zoe from behind. Zoe must move on from this zoo-like maze that is clothes and shoes and a hint of coffee. Moving upstairs, customers are tearing through sale racks. The non-sale racks are pristine. Clothes hang like bats in the night. There is no disturbance and no trace of lint or even a sole wrinkle. At the sale racks, customers move around each other quickly, snatching each item without a care for who might be nearby, seeking that perfect shirt for another day in just another life. One blonde woman throws a nasty glance that could kill to another blonde woman. They exchange a look of anger and move on. Their wrinkles around their eyes are pronounced, as if neither of them have smiled in years.
Zoe goes down the escalator. A mother is yelling at her daughter for jumping. The daughter, small and silly, keeps jumping. Zoe finally beelines for the nearest door after being hit by another unforgiving woman. She is now outside. And the sun has set. It is lighter out here than in Nordstrom, somehow.
This is it.
This is when I get the dog. The best dog ever. The best dog ever with the cutest, little ears that spring up whenever his name is called. Or whenever something is said. Or whenever he is hungry. Whenever, whenever.
I gotta have it. I gotta have the dog. This is for my sanity, you know?
My dad comes in. Disrupting my thoughts. He wants me to make dinner. Why do I have to make dinner? He says it’s because I am not the child anymore. Am I not the child anymore? How old do you have to be to ‘not be the child anymore?’
“You must make dinner.” He says again. “Can you do that?”
“I can do that,” I tell him.
I am 20. I am free as a bird. I live with my parents. You know, to escape the rent. To escape the world around me. That’s where the dog comes in, you know. But I like birds, too. Maybe I should get a bird? What are birds like? Do they fly high? Do they jump at all? Will they give me big hugs when I cry? Will they force me to get outside, get walking? See the world? I don’t know. Maybe I want the dog. That’s what I always said I wanted. So that’s what I will keep with.
Oh no. I do have to make dinner. So I get the spaghetti. And the sauce. And I stir it in a pan. I try to get the clumps out. Why are there clumps?
I eat the food. It is bland. Too red. Keeps my eyes open too long. So I decide to leave. I don’t need to eat. I need to sleep. This is why I need the dog.
My brain goes off. It is night. I go to sleep. I dream of my future dog. This is gonna be when I get the dog. The best dog ever.
“I can do that.”
I recently wrote this in a class in my MFA program. It focuses intently on character. What do you think?
Her nest was empty. The children had grown up; the husband had died. And she felt like she had nothing. She felt like this could be the end.
That was, until she saw a brochure for Iceland. It was a casual happenstance—just waiting for an anxiety-ridden root canal at her evil dentist’s office. But this brochure—left by some poor schmuck who probably would need it less than her—took over her mind. Her anxiety melted away for a few moments, looking at the pictures of the Blue Lagoon and Dettifoss. What beauty she saw! The landscapes! The Icelandic horses! What a wonderful place to find herself.
So she would go. She had to go. Wasn’t this a sign? After all, she had had a disastrous year. Her husband was finally taken by cancer. He’d suffered for years, and the doctors originally claimed that he would survive. But they lied. Just like everyone lies at one point or another. And he was gone—just like that. Her world was shattered and she knew that she’d never love again. Why would she? Did she even care about that? She doubted it. Her true love was gone. And she just had her children. But, of course, they flew the coop, too. Her older daughter moved to the Northeast. Somewhere in Maine. Somewhere she’d never think to visit. And her younger daughter, well, she was just starting a life of drugs and alcohol. She had tried to get her daughter into rehab before her husband died, but it was useless. She knew that her younger daughter would either come around eventually… or have the same fate as her late husband. It was just a question of when.
Here she was. Waiting on her bed. Anticipating. She was leaving tomorrow. For the trip of a lifetime. The trip that could and would save her. She just had to let it. She just had to get through these next moments before the taxi came. Well, of course and the seven-hour flight with no food at all. And then, finally, the anticipation would be over. And she would finally be free. This was the anticipation she was always seeking, always waiting for… freedom from it all.
Here she had to go.
It was a summer to remember
It was a summer beginning a friendship
I’ll never forget wherever that brick school was
The fresh beauty bark looked devilishly red like a garden of ripe tomatoes
We walked around in the ninety degree heat
We took millions of pictures
We savored our time together
We learned from each other
We tried to listen to the rules instilled by my mother
Our smiles could have lit up the night sky
We avoided the day we would have to say good-bye
Our friendship grew like a sunflower during that summer
We became so much more than simply cousins
We became sisters
That summer has ended
Come and gone
But the memories have not faded
We live a million miles away, yet are still so close
Alone, I walked into the modern, black-walled restaurant
I covered my sadness with make-up
The pretentious restaurant smelled of seafood
I joined a dating club because of my terrible luck with men
I did not know what to expect
I was as terrified as a child entering school for the very first time
I had low expectations
And then he walked in with his black tuxedo and shiny black shoes
His name was Christian Ward
We bonded over our love of seafood
We shared a secret look of seafood lovers’ horror as another attendee ordered a steak!
We shared a secret laugh
After dinner, he asked for another date
I gladly obliged
Two years later we were married
I never walk into a restaurant alone now
My ridiculous dating club changed my life
For I had met Christian Ward
“My heart fills with sadness as I leave my chosen lady behind.
She is the spiritual love of my life and the picture that takes me home.
I wear her colors, green and maroon, around my neck for honor.
I know she is proud of who I am and who I will be.
I see her face every time I am at a loss.
I see that she does not want me to miss her toss.
Even though miles lay between us, in our hearts, we are closer than can be.
She knows I have to fight.
She knows we have our rights.
I know she remembers me most at night.
But what is wrong with this year of 758?
The strongest castles fall and are besieged.
Our ladies weave and worry for our homecoming.
Why can’t we have peace?
Why doesn’t anyone have faith in peace?
My lady has faith in peace in years to come.
I have faith in peace in years to come.
Why do I exert this proud allegiance for my country?
For I know harmony will come soon.
For I am a knight.”
It began as a day at camp
A place a million miles from home
Durham, North Carolina
Our smiles were meek
Our smiles searched for a friend
And so it began
The best two weeks of my life
We wrote stories
From poetry to playwriting to critical writing
We analyzed the craft
We fell in love with words
We began friendships
We stayed up all night talking
We laughed at the other camps
Wondering why they needed mandatory fun time
We never needed that
Fun time was never ending
The best two weeks of my life
Tears fell like raindrops as the weeks came to an end
Without each other
We didn’t know how our hearts would mend
For we truly had found soul mates within each other
The love of creative writing was our common thread
But as I said goodbye
I tried not to cry
I said, “See you later”
For our friendships were not over
And I could never end
The best two weeks of my life
To celebrate her employment freedom, she decided to go out that night. She sits in the bar and pours drink after drink into her body as if she was downing merely water. But she doesn’t quit; she gulps her vodka and tonic without a care.
“The bar is closing, Bev,” the bartender tells her. He notices that she is completely wasted. “Do you need a ride?”
She smiles and turns her head. She walks out of the bar and stumbles to her knees. A large gash of blood and dirt covers her lean legs. She laughs, as if immune to the pain.
After pondering her next move, she decides she must go home to quench her utter thirst. She gets into her pretentious Saab convertible and attempts to steer. The car stalls out and comes to a halt. She laughs in hysterics wondering why she isn’t able to drive her own car.
She starts the car again and pounds her stiletto-clad foot on the gas as she releases the clutch with the other foot. The car tears out of the gravel parking lot and into the barren Park Boulevard.
She accelerates as if trying to win the Indianapolis 500. She screams in exhilaration like a rebellious teenager with their new license.
As she approaches the corner of a bend in the road on Park Boulevard, the car swerves. She tries to take control of the car, but it is too late. An oncoming vehicle smashes head-on with her car; glass shatters all over the road from the crash.
She opens her door erratically and attempts to run over to the other car. She falls to the ground.
Sirens feverishly disturb the night silence. Police vehicles approach the scene and medics rush to the bodies to determine their fate. Bev is awakened by a concerned medic.
“I am fine,” she slurs as she hurriedly stands up. She tries to walk away, but the medic puts a tight clench on her fragile wrist.
The medic forces her to take a breathalyzer test. Almost impossibly, her blood-alcohol content is registered as 0.41.
“I am fine,” she repeats in angst as she is lowered into the back of the police car. “I am a cop!”
The police discover this statement is indeed valid. Bev was Detective Beverly White, a highly regarded detective in her prime in Seattle for the last twenty years.
This is a Greek god myth I created!
Poseidon, god of the sea, loved adding to his kingdom. He was very powerful but also greedy, quarrelsome, and aggressive. One day, out of the blue, Poseidon decided he needed a queen to help him rule. Zeus, god of the sky, introduced his brother to several candidates qualified for marriage. Poseidon didn’t like any of the women, mortals and immortals, Zeus brought forced on him. Finally Zeus gave up and let Poseidon decide for himself, which was not a very good idea.
Nami, a mortal living in Athens, got Poseidon’s attention. She was an excellent weaver and great warrior, two qualities Poseidon loved in a woman. After watching Nami for months, Poseidon came to the conclusion that he wanted her as his bride.
When arriving in Athens, Poseidon disguised himself as Nami’s father and entered her home. Nami was completely fooled and had no idea a powerful and envious god was in her home. Poseidon thought it would be wise not to tell Nami who he was, and just ask her questions about what she thought about the god of the sea. Much to his surprise, Poseidon discovered that Nami thought the Greek god stories were a sham. Nami said she didn’t believe any of the stories she had heard her whole life about the gods. This enraged Poseidon.
After hearing this, Poseidon took off his disguise and told Nami he was Poseidon and she was in deep trouble. Nami begged Poseidon not to hurt her, and after careful thinking, Poseidon agreed to her request and left for his home in the sea.
Exactly twelve days after his visit with Nami, Poseidon found a way to get her to be his queen. Wittingly, Poseidon caused a huge storm under the water that caused tremendous tidal waves over the Earth, what we know as a tsunami. The largest tidal wave hit near Athens and swept away three-fourths of the population, including Nami. Poseidon brought Nami down to his kingdom and made her his queen. Today, Nami and Poseidon cause tidal waves together, and make a tsunami.
They dance in the wind
To forbid the bad spirit
In time, it will go.
- Finalist: “The Importance of The Odyssey,” published in Believing in Greatness (Elder & Leemaur, 2007)
In the epic tale of The Odyssey, Homer writes, “It is tedious to tell again tales already plainly told.” Since the publishing of The Odyssey many centuries ago, other authors have been emulating stories that can loosely be based off of The Odyssey. Ideas from modern stories such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Little Women can be traced back to Homer’s well-known, Greek poem. The Odyssey is definitely the greatest literary work of all time because it set the standard of how a story should be told in literature.
To begin with, every great story since The Odyssey has placed a hero on a specific journey. This hero is seeking adventure and ultimately, chasing his home. Most authors have emulated this way of storytelling, bringing a hero into a different land than his own and setting him on a quest for something greater than himself.
The story of The Odyssey is told as Odysseus, the title character, commences on his journey back to his home of Ithaca after the fall of Troy during the Trojan War. He falls into many obstacles along the way, such as his raft getting destroyed by an angry Poseidon, the Greek God of the sea. Odysseus is also held captive for seven years by the beautiful and mysterious goddess, Calypso. While he is living this perilous and unpredictable life on his quest back to his homeland, Odysseus’s wife, Penelope is being bombarded with marriage proposals in Ithaca.
A concrete example of literary work that follows the structure of The Odyssey is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. In Little Women, Amy March, the youngest of the four March sisters, travels abroad after her relationship with her sister Jo is deeply strained. There, Amy is put into a land she is not familiar with, searching for who she is and what she ultimately wants to do with her life. Like in The Odyssey, Amy eventually comes back home knowing who she is and married to Jo’s former love, Laurie.
Another example of Homer’s work being essentially replicated is in the story of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. After Huck gets a hold of a substantial amount of money, his father kidnaps him and moves him into a desolate house in the woods. Reluctantly, Huck fakes a suicide and escapes and sets out on his own journey. The antithetic character of Huck Finn always felt as if he did not belong. However, as the story comes to a close and his adventure is over, Huck feels a sense of belonging.
The Odyssey is certainly the greatest literary work of all time. Modern writers have followed his example for centuries, as in Little Women and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The story of a hero going into a new land, searching for adventure, but ultimately trying to go back home, is the distinct basis of every great story.
This is a true story.
Fear of Flight: The 9/11 Connection
The first time I traveled on an airplane was in December 1990 when I moved from Phoenix, Arizona to Seattle, Washington as an infant. Since then, I have traveled countless times to places within the United States including Wisconsin, Hawaii, and North Carolina. In all but one flight, I traveled with my parents. I enjoyed knowing that I would be in a different place in less than six hours. I always ordered my ginger ale, sat back, and listened to my CD player in peace. It had become second nature to me, and I loved the quick possibilities flying had to offer. I had never felt a fear to fly. Even after terrorists deliberately crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 after an airplane hijacking, I was not afraid to fly, possibly because I had never been immersed in a situation of grave danger. I had never encountered a security threat, let alone when I was by myself. I was profoundly affected by this situation. Because I was in the midst of the highest security threat an airport can have in Atlanta, and I was in potential danger, I have a connection, built upon fear, with the terrorist attacks of September eleventh. I have learned that one does not necessarily have to be directly immersed in an event to be profoundly and utterly affected by it, as I was affected by September eleventh due to my experience with a security threat in Atlanta.
To begin with, I decided to visit a friend, Paulina, who I had met at a creative writing workshop at Duke University, one summer in South Carolina. I worked over the holiday season to finance the trip, and I was excited for it to begin. We spent an amazing two weeks discussing boys, our fears of college, and our sadness that we live across the country from each other. My vacation without my family was truly a success. However, flying back from a wonderful visit to South Carolina transpired into a night of horror. Fatigued one August night, I stepped off of the plane in Atlanta from my connecting flight in Charlotte. As I approached the departures kiosk I searched for Air Tran flight eleven departing to Seattle. I stared at the screen for what seemed like hours desperately trying to find my flight and avoiding the possibility of having missed it at eleven o’clock in the evening. My flight was not on the kiosk; at that moment, I knew I was stranded for the night. My heart sank and I began to cry, for I was alone in an airport two-thousand five hundred miles away from home, and I was merely sixteen, a child in the eyes of the law. I could not rent a hotel room alone; I began to wonder where I would stay for the night and if I would be safe. I was incredibly terrified to be alone, my hands and lips quivered like a child lost in the middle of a mall. I did not know that what I would encounter next would be much more traumatic that merely missing my flight and not having a place to stay for the night.
Then, my fear turned into utter panic and I began to sweat. An announcement abruptly came on to alert the passengers in the Atlanta airport of a security threat. The security threat color had been raised to red, the most dangerous level for security threats in an airport, and the suspicions from security personnel and passengers were high. When the announcement was repeated, I listened more intently. A man wearing a black coat of average height was in the terminal and had gotten past security stealthily and unchecked. I looked around in fear and desperation, not knowing what to do or who to trust. To add to my fears, I remembered that I was stranded for the night as well. Needless to say, my suspicions and fears were unusually high; I was without the comfort of my family and in the same terminal where a person with a weapon may very well be. I ran into the bathroom so fast I could barely feel my feet and cried hopelessly, wondering if my life would cease in the next several moments. This was the moment where I lost hope, having no idea how I would pick myself back up again.
After that, I finally forced myself to calm my nerves and stand in the Air Tran customer service line that stretched down the mile-long terminal; I had to keep my mind from wandering off into thoughts of what could happen if I was indeed, faced with danger that I could not overcome. I waited almost two hours in the customer service line, distracting myself with pleasant memories of my vacation in South Carolina. I also told myself I had to be brave. When I finally reached the front of the line, I was told that not a single flight was coming in or going out because of the security threat and a little weather problem known as ‘thunderstorms.’ The thunderstorm problem lurking in the humid Atlanta skies seemed so small compared to what truly was keeping us passengers imprisoned inside of the airport.
In relation to this recent security scare in Atlanta, one of the most frequented international passenger airports in the United States, I was reminded too much of September 11, 2001. I remember watching in horror as the World Trade Center fell down into the streets of New York City like a kite on a windy day. I listened to the news woman discuss that airplanes were hijacked, and lives were taken due to poor security measures and hateful terrorist antics. While in Atlanta with the high security threat lingering over my mind, I thought that this could be another September eleventh, and that fear took over me. I felt nauseous and alone and in the wake of grave danger; I truly believed that I could possibly be one of the next thousands of victims targeted by terrorists and killed. The security threat held at red and the mysterious man who somehow got past security unnoticed encouraged these thoughts. I prayed and prayed, hoping that day would not be repeated, not for me, not for anyone.
Luckily, within two hours security found the mysterious man who had gotten past them. Since the passengers did not receive specific information pertaining to this man, I began to wonder who he was. I wondered what his motive was to strike fear into the passengers of the Atlanta airport. I wondered what he looked like, sinister, or simply like a regular man on the street. Unfortunately, none of this information was ever disclosed, and I still continue to wonder. My heart fell back into place at this announcement. I smiled for the first time that hectic night. However, I have never felt at ease the same way I did when flying before this experience because it was so close to home, because it happened right in front of my own eyes, because it was an event in my life now and can never be taken out of my memories. The horror of my experience in Atlanta clung to me so tight I knew I would never recover. I did not want to get on another airplane after this incident. I wondered if there was a bomb on the airplane or someone would have a weapon and use it destructively to overtake the airplane. Even though security has become more efficient and strict, I still am uneasy.
I also realized after this experience how real September eleventh was, how terrified those victims on the United flight ninety-three must have been. I felt connected to them during my experience, for I truly came to understand the emotion of incredible fear, not knowing if you are going to get out of the situation alive. During this experience I learned how terrorism can affect anyone, anytime, anywhere. I was forced to understand the fact that terrorism is truly out there and very real. I learned that fear was greater than me, that you never know when it can and will sneak into your life.
The event of September 11, 2001 and the security threat I experienced in Atlanta greatly impacted and altered my actions. I am disappointed to say that I no longer enjoy air travel and I am in suspicion of anyone in a public place, especially an airport. My fears of a day like September 11, 2001 repeating itself have increased tremendously because of my night of a potentially perilous scare. My experience will stay with me for the rest of my life, forcing me to always be more cautious than the next person, as it did for many survivors of the horrible events of September eleventh. I am connected to those who survived the terrorist attacks of September eleventh because I was in the midst of a security threat in Atlanta. The September eleventh connection gave me firsthand knowledge of what true and utter fear is like. One absolutely does not have to be directly immersed in a large public event, such as September eleventh, to be greatly affected by it. I realized how real fear is, whether it is irrational or not. I highly doubt I will encounter an event as traumatizing as the one I experienced in Atlanta again in my lifetime, but that does not mean I am any less terrified to fly. Every time I step into an airport I know my hands will shake ferociously because that fear will never subside, because I am connected to the events of September eleventh, and because I am utterly afraid to fly.
The thickness of the water,
Swallowed them whole.
The vivid blue;
So unforgiving, so dangerous, so grand.
They fell into the ocean,
Surrounded by bluefish and fluke swimming in schools,
Just off Martha’s Vineyard.
A place so desolate; a place I’ll never go.
Their arms couldn’t reach out for help.
They didn’t have a chance.
Their skin would turn to dust.
There was no way out.
And it changed my view of time.
Time is lost, time is forgotten.
I lost my little brother that day;
A day without a cloud in New York City.
That boy I lost could radiate sunshine from a smile;
That boy with those brown eyes;
That boy with that heart of gold.
I’ll never be the same woman without him.
I’ll never see the ocean as beautiful again.