What is most interesting to me, as a writer, is the mistakes I found as I read it aloud and I had to ask myself, why hadn’t I seen this before? The word “WORD” was repeated three times in the first paragraph! The other thing I found amusing is since I hired the editor, that scene completely disappeared with the revisions!
I lift the faded black and white class photo out of the box and turn it over. There’s a date on the bottom: 1958. The girl with the headband and ringlets, sitting in the third row of desks, is my best friend, Lori. Everyone used to say she looked exactly like the Shirley Temple doll, popular when we were kids. I’m the tall girl standing next to the teacher. Lori and I were second graders at Henry Flagler Elementary.
The school’s still there, off Flagler Street; although they’ve added so many classrooms and additions, it’s hard to recognize the place. It’s been fifty years since I thought about Lori or the second grade. That was the year our parents mapped out a route and allowed us to walk home by ourselves, and for months, Lori and I followed the same routine: stop at the corner store; purchase snacks, then head for our fifteen-minute walk home.
On one particular afternoon, the shop owner greeted us as we entered the tiny, darkened space. The place reminded me of a dungeon, but Lori and I loved the reprieve from the heat. A light breeze blew through the shop. Fans kept the air moving while the windows and doors remained open. The aroma of candy mixed with the fragrance of dank wood floors. We took our time picking out snacks. My favorite was the Mars bar. I could purchase it for twenty-five cents. Lori’s favorite was Juicy Fruit gum. I never told her I wished she’d pick something else. I was not fond of the overly sweet fragrance, but she was my friend, so I didn’t complain. But that day, Lori picked a Mars bar. She knew I didn’t have any money. At recess, I’d lost my quarter, cried about it, and because we were best friends, she promised she’d share.
After we left the shop, we walked another two blocks and that’s when I spotted him. The tall, lanky kid stood at the end of the street. He held a metal bucket and rocked it back and forth, his gaze bored and a little mean. We were close enough to hear the dull thud the bucket made against his shin. The sound sent shivers down my back, though Lori didn’t seem to notice. She prattled on about how her parents refused to give her extra money that morning, and that was the reason she didn’t have enough to buy the gum and the chocolate bar. I put one hand on her arm to get her attention and pointed with the other. “Hey, isn’t that Tom?”
Tom was one of the sixth graders I avoided. Sometimes he and his friends would hoot at me or grab at the back of my pants. I’d never encountered him outside of school.
“Lori, maybe you should walk to my house. Why’s he standing there? He’s blocking your way.”
But Lori had said she knew Tom; he was her neighbor, and their parents were friends, so I stayed quiet about my uneasy feelings.
Tom’s tousled brown hair flopped over his eyes; he held the handle of the bucket too tightly as it swung from side to side. I said nothing as Lori and I approached the spot where we stopped and bade our goodbyes. I said nothing as I eyed the turnoff, the path which cut between the houses, where the trees shared space with the narrow grey sidewalk, and where the trail was just wide enough for two people to pass. Instead of warning her to keep clear of Tom, I told Lori I had to run home, I had to pee. But the truth was, I was terrified. I didn’t want to know what was in that bucket.
“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”
― Mark Twain
Lori waved me away. A minute later, I heard her. She screamed my name, begging me to come back. I glanced over my shoulder, then watched in horror as Tom lifted a creature out of the bucket. For a second, I considered running back, but I couldn’t move. The turtle’s webbed claws scratched the air. It craned its neck and snapped as Tom lunged toward Lori.
Then I turned and ran down the path. My legs shook as I listened to her screams, but I ran until I couldn’t hear her anymore.
I was breathless when I raced into my house and slammed the door. Fear and shame swirled in my belly. What if Lori were hurt? A half-hour later, the phone rang.
“Didn’t you hear me screaming? Why didn’t you come back? Tom’s so mean. He kept laughing as he chased me with that turtle.”
I could have told the truth, but I didn’t. Tom with his turtle, me with my terror. It was too incomprehensible to explain. I half expected her to point out that a good friend would have come back, that it was our job to protect each other on that walk home. She knew the truth, and yet she let it dance between us like sheets flapping on a clothesline.
The next day, I pleaded with my mother to pick me up after school. I made up a story, said I didn’t want to run into the creepy man who stood between the bushes on that sliver of sidewalk that cut between the houses. I knew that was all I had to say. I didn’t tell her about Tom, the turtle, or how I didn’t help Lori. For a month, I cried myself to sleep.
The lie, my cowardice, both left me paralyzed. I’d always been an introvert, so no one suspected how deeply this affected me. When I had to speak in front of the class or answer the teacher when she posed a question, I’d burst into tears. I stopped speaking to Lori and never told her why I didn’t run back. Because of that, our friendship couldn’t bear the weight of my secret—at least for me.
We never walked home again. I avoided Lori whenever I saw her in school. My mother continued to pick me up. At first, when she asked if Lori needed a ride, I’d tell her no. After a while, she stopped asking.
Before placing the faded photo back in the box, I study the image of my younger self, the gawky girl in the photograph standing shoulder to shoulder with the teacher. Perhaps what happened back then influenced me to become a teacher.
But all that remains from this childhood memory is a burden of regret, entombed between the cracks of a gray sidewalk.0
This is a photo of Jessica at the prom, and it serves to remind me what’s most important in my quest to publish my book. In the last two days, I’ve opened up three emailed rejections from small presses. I was a little upset when I read the first one from a small press in Virginia. But I told myself they haven’t published one book yet. The email was several paragraphs long, complimenting me on my writing style, and other elements of my book. But the bottom line was no.
The second rejection was just as disappointing. Another no from another small press. No explanation.
Meanwhile, I push ahead, am determined to get the story published, and have come up with the following strategy: I am hiring a writing coach who is also an author who published a book about the difficult topic of losing a child.
If only I was sure about my title. Right now it’s The OTHER SIDE OF NORMAL but I’m wondering if it should be GLOW GIRL. This title refers to a chapter when my religious cousin visits and shares a story. He described my child as an angel, that her light shined from within. Jessica does kind of glow, doesn’t she?0
Write City published my story today and I’m beyond thrilled because although it took me two tries, it was accepted. This is an excerpt from the first email I received:
“We appreciate you letting us take a look at this story for possible publication in The Write City Magazine. Usually we’ve got a straight up YES or a straight-up NO, but in the case of your story, it’s mixed. We’d be open to seeing a revised version that addresses some of the editors’ concerns as follows:
Like I said, if you want to consider our feedback, and resubmit, we’d love to take another look…”
I love a challenge so I revised, edited it another five times and showed it to my oldest daughter, Alia, who also stands in as my editor. This is the first time I will be paid for something I wrote. I am so grateful! If you’d like to read the story, you can find the link under “Publications” in this website.
There’s an important lesson here. I refuse to give up as I learn to do new things. I imagine it’s like learning how to juggle. Hard!
writercommunity memoir disabilities parenting0
So I had this problem, right? A bewildering experience, in my opinion, and now it’s over, rather barely over, I can talk about it. Or at least provide some details. It has to do with my female anatomy, which I won’t go into detail about. Suffice it to say, I had my bladder sewn back into place and a complete hysterectomy. Two weeks ago today. The diagnosis reminded me of the shock of Jessica’s diagnosis. Unexpected. Unplanned. And unwilling to accept the reality.
Luckily, it wasn’t cancer. Or at least the doctor hasn’t told me they found cancer and it’s already been two weeks since the surgery. Rationally, there’d be no reason for the extreme emotional reaction. BUT I wrote a great story and it is going to be published !! June issue of https://arielchart.blogspot.com
In late October, or early November, after I came back from the Florida Writers Conference, I decided to use Submittable to send out a couple of my chapters as short stories. A couple of the entries were free, a few of them cost under $5. Altogether, I sent out twelve entries. People in my writing class said I probably would have every one of them rejected, so I shouldn’t get all excited. They said it was too early to do this, not ready, the work needed heavy-duty editing and blah-blah-blah.
Well, when I get excited about an idea, I usually jump on it before my enthusiasm deflates. Naively, I went ahead and jumped on the “I’m going to get published” bandwagon, even though I knew nothing about what I was doing! I received nine rejection notices before I realized my fellow writers were probably right. I decided to listen to their words of wisdom and allowed them to caution me. I needed to focus on learning to sharpen my skills. So I quit wasting time and stopped sending submissions that wouldn’t have a chance of being accepted. The next three submissions are “in progress” which means pretty soon I will be hearing from them with a great big “No thank you.” That’s why today was such a shock. I opened my email and saw the words, “Congratulations!” in the first line. Levitate, a magazine in Chicago emailed me to say they want to publish my story.
I don’t want to minimize the fact that they look like a small literary magazine, but they are in fact, very small. The fact is, they will be publishing what was a very rough draft of my first chapter as a non-fiction short story. The story is basically the first chapter of my book when Jessica moves into the group home and the flashback of the day we went to the Mailman Center and heard that archaic phrase “profoundly retarded.” So many emotions went into creating this chapter, and maybe, just maybe these editors saw something in my language that surpassed my tendency to use passive voice!
Then I read another article about the R-word (see below) and I am thrilled this has become such a hot topic. I see why I might actually have a chance with my memoir.
Ever hear that phrase, “Stay positive?” Wondering what exactly that phrase meant, I decided to look it up. Here’s the definition:
“Staying positive means accepting the fact that you’re in deep trouble and working towards a plausible solution rather than just sitting and crying over the fact that you’re in deep trouble.”
It all started this evening when I got another rejection letter from a literary journal for a short story (actually I submitted the first chapter of my book as a short story.) This strategy seemed like a good idea. It’s about the day Jessica moves into a group home and the emotional turmoil I experienced as I went through this experience. Within this same story, I have a flashback of when the doctors at the research center for child development said she was RETARDED. We all know the use of the ‘R-word’ is not only contemptuous, but it is archaic, politically incorrect, insulting, and generally, a word that should be boycotted from our vocabulary. BUT in 1986, in a small conference room in Miami, as my husband and I sat in front of a couple of doctors, that’s exactly what was said. So a short story about this scene should be interesting or could be interesting if I was any good at writing. My decision to use that chapter as a short story was a genius idea, right? It had the human interest element and addressed the issues of inclusion. Perfect, right? Nope! I’ve already sent this story or versions of it to fifteen different contests and journals and so far, (drum roll please) – I’ve had a total of six rejections. I am probably going to have all fifteen rejected. So the bottom line is nope, I am NOT in deep trouble. I just have to stay positive.0