Will J. J.

Day-to-day musings and occasional short stories for your delight.


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Car Window

Car Window

 

Hey guys,

 

Today I wanted to share a poem I’ve been working on. I had a thought recently about the very essence of riding in a car, and how much that has changed for me since I was a little boy. This poem is a translation of that thought’s conclusion. Hope you enjoy it 🙂

 

Car Window

 

Gazing through to the world beyond,

The glass window, ever beside you,

Cruising down the winding asphalt,

Hills and plains rolling gently past.

 

Shifting focus to sights nearby,

A patch of grass, by the roadside,

A branching tree, atop the green.

At last, you draw them into view,

Out of the constant blur of speed,

Reaching out to them with your eyes,

A lone moment of clarity,

Before they’re gone, swept behind you.

 

Your gaze drifts into the distance,

Houses clustered, etching the bluffs,

Faraway mountains, standing tall,

Massive cities, sprawling and bright.

Passing slowly, distant landmarks,

As if you were barely moving.

 

Riding up familiar roadways,

Fingers tracing along the glass,

On the cold, wintry weather days.

Every bump and turn, routine,

The daily trip you know so well.

New, unknown routes still excite you,

Concrete webbed for thousands of miles,

Skirting peaks and dodging water.

 

Years pass, your position changes,

Passenger to watchful driver,

Your gaze forward, the road ahead,

Fewer moments to peer aside,

Allowing your mind to wander,

And take in the beautiful view.

 

But when you do, so seldom now,

You recall that soothing feeling,

The world passing, both fast and slow.


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Friday

friday-celebration

Hey everybody! I know it’s been a while. This is a little something I’ve been working on this week, a poem about the wonder of Friday. Hope you enjoy it 🙂

Friday

You spend your week, slaving away,
Fighting and driving and toiling, all day,
Waiting for the moment when you can rest,
Free of the work that’s had you so stressed.

The week passes slowly, each moment a grind,
Every minute dragging, exhaustion combined.
You claw toward the weekend, so eager to send
Those troubles away, replaced with your friends,
And become that person you are on the weekend.

At long last it comes, the wondrous Friday,
One day of work, all that stands in your way.
Your eyes light up, giddy with joy,
Flooding your mind with the times you’ll enjoy.

Remember how it was when you were a child,
Waiting for the bell so you could run wild,
Dashing away, your face a bright smile,
Knowing the teachers couldn’t catch you for a while.
All the effort and stress of five long days,
Releasing it all, that’s the magic of Friday.

So pick up a brew, go out with the crew,
Open a book, settle in your nook,
Run through the grass, catch a prize bass,
Start a game, bring glory to your screen name,
Go for a hike, break out your bike,
Catch up on tv, steep yourself some tea,
Whatever your choice, dive in and rejoice.

Embrace the cheer you seek,
For you’ve survived another week.
You’ve lived through many, with many to come,
But the struggles of life aren’t easily overcome.
Don’t lightly forget them. No, celebrate, and praise!
For we measure life in years, but live it in days.


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Forward and Back: A Short Story

photo (2)

 

Today, I want to share a short story with you guys, one I’ve been holding onto for quite a while. Of all the short stories I’ve written over the past ten years, this is the one I’m most proud of, and it’s about time travel.

Time travel is one of my favorite topics, because it presents so many fascinating paradoxes and puzzles. For a science fiction writer, it’s less about “could it work?” and more about “how would it work?” Even within time travel, it’s easy to get caught in the abstract, and that doesn’t always make for compelling stories. This particular idea was so striking to me, because it tapped into a place of humanity and yearning, and it uses time travel to explore that question further than it could otherwise.

So, why hold onto it until now? I’ve written a great many short stories in the past ten years, and a lot of them will be seen by my eyes only, for one reason or another, but this one is special. It demands to be seen. After giving it some thought, I decided that it was time to share this story. I hope you enjoy it 🙂

 

Forward and Back

 

     Hello, my dear friend. You don’t know me, at least not yet, but you are the closest friend I’ve ever had. Let me introduce myself; my name is Julie Thorne. It’s nice to meet you too. If you were watching me write this letter, you would think that I was a 65-year-old woman, and you would be half right. I certainly feel like an old woman, and when I look at myself, I realize that I am an old woman. It’s just that I don’t look nearly as old as I feel. If you are a young man or woman reading this, I bow to you. You have so much of your life left ahead of you, but then again, perhaps I do too.

     I apologize, I’m not doing a good job of starting this. The truth is, it has gotten difficult to keep the story straight in my head, but I’ll do my best to tell it. The beginning is easy. I was 17 and bubbly, excited to finish high school and step into another adventure. My boyfriend Eric was the sweetest guy, always my chivalrous knight. Neither of us were particularly ambitious, but we were happy. With college approaching, neither of us knew where we were headed, but we both thought we’d figure out a way to be together somehow.

     It was a Friday. The one day I can never forget. I had stopped at Freddy’s diner after school for a quick bite, waiting for Eric to meet me. The entire restaurant was designed to pattern a 50’s diner, and the owners went to great pains to echo every decoration, from the checkered floors to the leather upholstery. Even the waitresses wore those awkwardly bright uniforms.

     It had been a long week. My best friend Jennifer and I had gotten into a fight over some trivial nonsense, and things had escalated because we were both too stubborn to admit we were wrong. Jennifer was a sweetheart, and I had known her since we were both little girls, so we knew each other a little too well by that age. I hadn’t seen Eric all week, and with everything going on, I really just needed one of his hugs.

     The waitress came by and took my order, putting on the brightest smile she could muster. I commended her effort. As she walked back toward the kitchen, I heard a crunch as her foot stepped on something. She didn’t break stride, but I was oddly curious, so I looked over the table and noticed a small, silver key lying on the tile floor. Stepping around the table, I picked up the key and twirled it in my fingertips. One side was blank, but on the other was an inscription that read “temp”. I didn’t think much of the key, but it seemed like a quirky, little item, and I was into knick-knacks like that back then. I was about to ask if someone had lost a key, but no one else in the diner seemed to notice, so I stuffed the key in my pocket with a smile.

     Not a moment later, Eric surprised me from behind with a “boo” and a tickle. He knew I hated that, but I was so happy to see him that I didn’t mind. I spun around and grabbed the hug I had so desperately needed. We sat down and I dove into my tale of the week, and Eric listened intently with that glistening smile he always had when we were together. I miss him so much.

     Eric drove me home and gave me the warmest departing kiss. Back in my room, I plopped down on my bed, decompressing at last. I thought about going out, but I was pretty tired, and some Netflix binging with a warm cup of tea sounded better. Slipping into my pajamas, I remembered the key in my pocket. It seemed so plain, like a house key from the Home Depot, aside from the inscription. I wondered who had lost it and what it unlocked. Running my fingers slowly over the letters, I found myself mouthing them. “Temp”, I whispered involuntarily.

     The moment the word escaped my lips, I felt lightheaded, and my vision became cloudy with specks of purple. Something was very wrong. Inside, I was frightened, but my body wasn’t responding to me anymore. I tried to reach for my phone, but before I could, I felt flat on my bed, completely unconscious.

     Gradually, I came to. My eyes parted, and I looked down groggily at the key in my hand. Something was off, but I couldn’t place it. Suddenly, I heard a “boo” at my back and two hands tickling my sides. I was so disoriented that I jumped forward in alarm.

     “What’s wrong?” Eric asked, alarmed and concerned. As I peered around, it hit me: I was back in the diner. The waitress was detailing my order to the chef. A middle-aged man with a hunch sat in the corner booth, slurping his soup. We Are The Champions was playing from the jukebox. My table was clean, because my food had not arrived yet.

     “Are you alright?” Eric asked softly. I must have looked insane, staring wildly from side to side, wide-eyed and antsy. It took a few more seconds for me to calm myself. I grabbed Eric in a tight hug, this time for an entirely different reason.

     “I’m okay. Just a little spooked,” I told him, forcing a smile and trying to laugh it off. I didn’t know how to explain what had happened, so I didn’t try. Eric sat me down with my hands in his. He picked up on my discontent, but he didn’t press me.

     “How was your week?” I told him about everything that had transpired with Jennifer, and we ate our dinner, but it was different. I was on edge. The conversation went in another direction. On the drive home, I stared out the window, preoccupied. At my house, I rather coldly told him goodbye and rushed up to my front door. It didn’t seem possible that what I had experienced was real. No, I must have had a dream or a premonition or something, except that it felt real. I had to know.

     Back in my room, I set the key on my desk and turned the lamp on to get a closer look. Again, a blank front side with the word “temp” inscribed on the back. I noticed a few harsh scratches along the edge, but nothing that gave any clue to its origin. It was just another house key. I scooted my desk chair back and stood up with the key in my hand. It must have been a dream, right? Somehow I knew it wasn’t that simple, and it seemed foolish, but I was afraid. Part of me wanted to toss the key in a drawer and forget about it, but I also knew that I’d never be able to forget. Looking down at the key, I slowly uttered the word “temp” once again. The same dizzy, lightheaded sensation washed over me, and I passed out on my bed.

     Waking up, I was back in the diner with the key in my hand. Eric yelled “boo” and squeezed my sides once again. It is a uniquely surreal experience reliving the exact same moment. Though everything around you may be precisely identical, you never see it quite the same way. Any surprise quickly fades. You start to notice the details you hadn’t before. A white Volkswagen passing up the street just after we sat down. A young boy in a booth, pouting as his parents tried to feed him.

     I sat down with Eric for a third time and had yet another, completely different conversation. While I could not explain the situation, I did not doubt its authenticity. I was no longer afraid, but intrigued. I already knew the questions he was going to ask and the thoughts running through his mind. Midway through our meal, I clutched the key in my hand and whispered, “temp”.

     “What?” Eric asked, a puzzled expression washing over his face just as my vision faded to black and I was reset once again to the moment I picked up the key. Waking up, I smiled. It was like a game where I could save and reload anytime I wanted. I started playing out different scenarios at the diner, seeing what kind of reactions I could elicit from Eric. Poor guy, he was my unwilling guinea pig. I’d play up a sullen mood to see if he really cared or act super surprised about something that I knew he had already told me a million times. Occasionally, I’d try and get him to admit that he was cheating on me. God, I was so insecure with myself then.

     When I grew bored with Eric, I started toying with the diner. I found that if I scooted my chair back, the loud squeak alerted the man in the corner, and he raised his head. If I went to the restroom, the waitress took longer to bring my food. For a time, there was nothing more exciting to me than seeing what I could change in that little world. I felt like a god, and the diner was like play doh in my hands. Between the uncertainty of college and my relationship with Eric, all I wanted was something I could control. My mind ran wild with ideas, and I saw no reason to restrain them. I couldn’t say how long I spent playing in that diner, but I’m embarrassed to think that it might have been months, though perhaps no “real” time at all. I retained all the memories from every reset as if they were separate realities coexisting within my mind.

     Eventually, I grew tired with the diner. It was so limited. Rather than resetting myself every few minutes, I started spending an hour at a time, then a day. This yielded even more fascinating results. Good lord, I sound like a twisted scientist saying it like that, don’t I? But it’s true. I’d spend my Saturday heading as far away from home as possible before resetting myself and exploring the other direction. Everything, even the minutest observation, became a noteworthy puzzle piece in my mind. I wish I could say that I had altruistic motives at heart, but truthfully, I just liked seeing my changes at work. Then one day came the wake up call.

     I was driving to the store with my mom, staring out the window, when I heard screeching tires. Whirling around, I barely caught a glimpse of the truck before it careened into us, sending our car flying upside down. When I woke up, I was upside down, with the blood rushing to my head. My mom was unconscious in the driver’s seat. A fire had started under the hood and was spreading. I felt a pounding in my head, and when I reached up at my forehead, I realized that I was bleeding, badly. Just as I struggled to free myself of the seatbelt, I noticed the lights from another car headed right for us. Quietly, I slipped my bruised hand into my pocket and grabbed the key, whispering the magic word. The car slammed into our side just as my consciousness slipped.

     When I was reset back to the diner, I awoke with a shudder. Suddenly, it had all become more real. I was not immortal, and I had to be careful. Additionally, while my body was reset to its 17-year-old self each time, my mind was not. The combined time of all my reset timelines was adding up to full years now, and my memories were beginning to scramble together. I had trouble keeping my current reality separate from all the previous threads, and each morning I woke, it became harder and harder to make sense of it all. I was done playing scientist, and I knew that I couldn’t keep resetting myself every day or two. After some thought, I resolved never to reset myself again, but this was a difficult promise to keep. They key had become an addiction, always lingering in the back of my mind.

     I managed to go four days into that life, the furthest I had ever traveled since finding the key. Those days were peaceful, not free, but content. I relaxed with my family on the weekend, trying my best to reacquaint myself with them as people and not test subjects. On Monday, I went to school for the first time in years, and I was alarmingly rusty. My classmates asked if something was wrong, but they had no clue how much I had experienced in that single weekend. On Wednesday morning, I was walking up the street, when I noticed my neighbor’s newspaper lying on his driveway. I wasn’t in the habit of reading the paper, and I’m not certain what drew my eye, but the headline read “Former CEO Dead” with a picture of the former executive below.

     The picture seemed oddly familiar, but it took me a few moments to realize why. When it finally hit me, I stepped back in shock. The man in the picture was the middle-aged man from the corner booth at the diner, the one who always sat there, eating his soup in silence. I sped through the article. The man’s name was Richard Stevenson, and he had been the CEO of a fortune 500 manufacturing company that went under several months prior. He had left a note apologizing to all of his former employees before throwing himself out the window of his 30th floor loft downtown.

     I was stunned. I had seen the man in that diner hundreds of times, and yet, until the moment I read that article, I had never thought to ask who he was or why he had eaten there. I stood in my neighbor’s driveway thinking back upon every expression I had seen on the man’s face, and it dawned on me just how dispirited he had seemed sitting in that corner. I knew I had to go back, even though I didn’t want to. I felt like it was my fault, or at least my responsibility, and I needed to save this man. I had found the key for a reason, right? It couldn’t be a coincidence. And yet, I had been doing so well. I reminded myself of all the days I had spent toying with the people in that diner, and my guilt won over. I pulled the key out of my pocket and reset myself once again.

     My eyes parted, and Eric appeared from behind me. I greeted him mindlessly, muscle memory of a thousand identical experiences guiding me. After our meal, I walked over to the corner booth. Mr. Stevenson looked up at me. He had bags under his eyes. I knew from the newspaper that he still had millions of dollars despite his company’s collapse, but in that diner, on that day, he had chosen to wear a ratty jacket with holes and a black t-shirt.

     “Is this seat taken?” I asked. He shook his head and returned to his soup. I sat down and clumsily asked him how he had been. I couldn’t tell him just how sad I knew he was, but I could express an interest and provide a listening ear if he wanted to share. After a few minutes of uncomfortable prodding, he opened up, and I could tell that no one had cared to listen to him for a very long time. Talking to Richard Stevenson in the diner that evening, I changed the course of his life. I felt accomplished, but more than that, I felt that I had repaid this man a debt he never knew I owed.

     The following Wednesday, I passed by my neighbor’s house once again. I kneeled down to look at their newspaper hesitantly, hoping I had saved this man. Replacing the headline about Stevenson’s death was a story about a missing girl. I optimistically unfolded the paper and read on, but when I had finished the story, my heart sank. The missing girl was none other than my best friend Jennifer Gray. She had never made it home from volleyball practice the night before. I thought back on the silly argument we had gotten into before I found the key, and it all felt incredibly distant.

     I was furious to the point of tears. I had gone back and saved a man, but somehow, because I talked to Mr. Stevenson that night in the diner, my best friend had gone missing. The connection made no sense to me. It wasn’t fair. I was too stubborn to accept the truth of the matter at that point, so I reset myself again, and again, and again, each time determined to save Mr. Stevenson and prevent Jennifer’s disappearance within the same reality. The only time I managed to achieve both, a young boy was shot instead. Where within the diner I had felt like a god, I was powerless to provide balance outside of it. I felt exhausted and disheartened. I can’t even remember now which reality I left things on when I stopped trying to save them.

     Next came a phase of apathy that grew into acceptance. I reset myself to the diner with the intention of merely living my life straight through once again, and this time, nothing was going to pull me back. I must have been at least 30 years old inside of a 17 year old body then, and it was beginning to become torturous, reliving the same days over and over. All I wanted was to move forward with my life. Even if my body would never catch up with my mind, I figured the gap would no longer matter at some point.

     I managed to go 11 years without touching the key. Looking back, I’m awfully proud of those years, to go from days to over a decade cold turkey like that. In those years, I went to college and eventually married Eric. He entered a career as an engineer and I worked as a journalist. We had two children, a boy named Tommy and a girl named Elizabeth. We were happy. Oh how I miss that.

     One evening, I was washing the dishes and scolding Tommy when the phone rang. Eric was late coming home, so I expected it to be him telling me about a long day or a terrible traffic. I wiped my hands and answered the phone without bothering to check the caller, but I quickly realized it wasn’t Eric. On the other end of the line was a doctor at Southeastern General Hospital. Eric had been mugged and left for dead at the door of his car, and he was in the hospital, not expected to survive the night. I threw up on the spot.

     Grabbing Tommy and Elizabeth, I told them to get their shoes on as fast as possible.

     “What’s going on mom?” Elizabeth asked me.

     I yelled from the master bedroom. “We have to go sweetheart, I’ll explain in the car. Please, just put your shoes on.” I slid a box out from the closet and took out the key. It was the first time I had thought of the key in years.

     Standing in the hospital, my children cried their eyes out as they said goodbye to their father, his body hardly recognizable under the tubes and bandages. I was heartbroken and inconsolable. Tears streaming down my cheek, I twirled the key in my fingers as an idea popped into my head. I thought that maybe, just maybe, if I could go back, I could keep him alive. I knew that I would be resetting myself all the way to the diner 11 years ago, but I was emotional and irrational, and I couldn’t bear the thought of going through the rest of my life without him. I wasn’t ready to bear the pain I knew was coming, so my desperation won out. I told myself that I could do everything exactly the same as I had this time around and change the path a few days before his mugging to keep him alive. I was wrong.

     11 years is an interesting amount of time. It is not a lifetime, but it can easily feel like one. In my despair, I underestimated just how torturous it would be to know what was coming for such a long period of time. I just wanted time to speed up so I could get back to my children’s smiling faces, but I was trapped years before their existence. Every day and every moment dragged on for an eternity.

     To make matters worse, I wasn’t able to stay on my previous path. With so much knowledge of the future, all of my surprised reactions were faked. Even if I had been a better actor, I doubt my memory would have been up to the task of replicating every single action perfectly for 11 years. It was just too long, and the smallest changes make such a massive impact down the line. After two years, I was so far off course that I knew I couldn’t return to the future that had been my past. I wept for Tommy and Elizabeth, because I knew they would never again exist. The agony I had felt in the hospital room was nothing compared with my regret at going back.

     Only three years into this reality, Eric broke up with me. I couldn’t blame him either. I had been a shell of a person. I hated myself for a time after that, knowing that I had created my own undoing, but then I asked myself whether I would have been happy after Eric’s death anyway. Those kinds of questions can easily lead to madness.

     You already know what happened next. I went back again, determined to live my life free of any resets, but I was unable to break free. In one life I married a fisherman and moved to Malaysia. In another I became a high-powered stockbroker. A homeless old maid. A revolutionary. A computer programmer. An oncologist. I learned so many skills that I could have done anything. Each time, I thought that I would be able to let go and live free of the key, but I always committed some crucial error that I felt compelled to correct or I discovered something I thought I needed to fix. Without fail, there was always another reason to go back, even when I told myself there could never be another reason. The temptation in that ability was simply too great. The key became the ultimate addiction for me, and knowing that I could go back provided me with an everlasting source of misery.

     I’ve had more children than I can remember. I don’t know if they exist, or if they once did, or if they never did. I don’t know much of anything anymore, but here is what I do know. My name is Julie Thorne, and my body is 65 years old. This is the furthest I have ever gone without resetting myself. My husband was named Mark Robinson, and he died of lung cancer two years ago. We had three kids, John, Maria, and Hope, who are all grown up and have carved lives for themselves out of this universe. I feel bad leaving them, but I know there is one more thing I have to do.

     I’ve spent almost my entire life reliving my life. I’ve gone through anything you can possibly imagine, certainly more than I could imagine. I feel old. Going forward and back so many times has left me weary and drained. I don’t know if I have it in me to do this, but I have to try.

     You see, after my husband died two years ago, I began to think about the key once again. It occurred to me that I have never discovered why that key was on the diner floor in the first place. Perhaps it’s not a question I am meant to answer, only question, and as I’ve grown older, that idea has sat better and better with me. I am no longer the oblivious 17-year-old I was then. The thought of experimenting with reality no longer seems appealing. After all, what is the point of having all the time in the world if you don’t have anyone to share it with?

     In all my trips back to that moment, there is only one action I have neglected to take, and that is leaving the key where I found it on the diner floor. I know that if I do this, I will never be able to reset myself again, and I will be forced to live with any choice and every mistake I make. Considering everything I have done, that seems more like a blessing than a curse, to be finally able to live like a normal person free of this damned temptation. I only hope that I have not ruined myself, that I still have the spirit in me to live a life.

     So, you may be wondering, why did I choose to write this at all? I have decided to reset myself one final time, and that probably means that this letter will cease to exist because I will no longer be here to have written it. However, I don’t claim to understand how time works, and should this letter somehow manage to survive after I have gone, I wanted someone to know who I was and that I lived. Because of the unique nature of my lives, I have never had a witness to my existence, and I’ve never been able to explain to someone exactly what I’ve gone through. I’ve never had a friend like you.

     I’m holding this key in my wrinkled, arthritic fingers, knowing that when I say the word, I’ll be back at the diner where I spent so much of my life. And when I arrive, I’ll drop that key to the floor where I found it and spin around to surprise Eric just as he sneaks up on me. We’ll share burgers and laugh about teenage nonsense, because we’ll both be teenagers again. When we’re both done, Eric will hold the diner door open for me on the way out, and as I pass through the doorway, I’ll take one parting glance at the key before stepping out into the cool, spring air of that moment, feeling it for the last time, but enjoying it at last.

 


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Too Real

Day 3488

photo

Hello again! Today I thought I’d share a poem that I finished recently, inspired by a persistent thought that hit me last week. Hope you enjoy it! 🙂

Too Real

Some dreams are just too real
Waking up, not knowing what to feel.
Sweaty and confused, lying in bed,
Wild thoughts swirling ’round your head.

Your mind sifts the thoughts in two
piles, forming the halves of you.
One on the left and one on the right,
Your eyes sting with the morning bite.

One pile for dream and one pile for real,
separating truth from subconscious ideal.
Rebooting the person of yesterday, waking,
a long day of work and drudge in the making.

But what if, just once, your mind sorted wrong?
Would you notice what hadn’t been you all along?
What if a bit of the real you was lost,
replaced by the dream you that should have been tossed?
How would you get it back, and at what cost?


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Inspiration and Struan!

Day 3475

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Hello friends! In my last entry, I detailed the experience of opening a present Emily had given me for our six month-iversary, and waiting to open her card because of the infinite possibility it represented. Today, I’d like to tell you about the card and the story it led me to write 🙂

Remember, this package was labeled “open when you need some inspiration”. Once I finally opened the card within, I found an invitation to take the Emily McKeown writing challenge! Uh, heck yes! There were 10 separate challenges included in the card, each labeled a number from 1 to 10. The card told me to pick a number from 1 to 10, read the instructions for that challenge only, and take no more than two minutes to brainstorm before writing, once I had my inspiration.  I picked the second challenge.

Challenge two told me to 1) go to a baby name generator online and pick a name at random, 2) look up the meaning of that name, and 3) write about a character perfectly suited to that name.

The first name that popped out was “Struan” (I had never heard of it either). When I looked up the name, I found that it meant “the flow at the point where a spring appears.” I interpreted that to mean the origin point for something that grows from there. My mind took off from there. What is the struan the origin of? What does it grow into? Two minutes later, I wrote the following story. Hope you like it! Thanks for the inspiration Emily 🙂

 

 

     Struan

     Struan left school that Friday afternoon, daydreaming down the sidewalk. Her eyes were glued to the page of a novel. Why can’t I be like one of those characters, she wondered, so adventurous, brave, and bold? She felt like none of those adjectives described her, and she’d have settled for one. It came to her then, an idea, grander and more radiant than anything she had ever known, an explosion of possibility.

Her walk may have ended when she reached her bedroom, but her mind continued to race, like an uncontrollable freight train. She liked it. Struan started jotting down her thoughts at length, none complete, but each catching a new facet of her idea before it fluttered away. Later that evening, her mom knocked on the door to let her know that dinner was ready. She found Struan scribbling away at the pages, her hand cramping, but showing no signs of slowing down. Spotting her mom, Struan’s idea came tumbling out of her like raging rapids. Her mom was excited, but anxious at the same time, for she knew her daughter had dreamed up something big. She cautioned Struan against sharing her idea until she fully understood it, but Struan’s excitement would not be contained.

The next day, despite her mother’s warnings, Struan told everyone she could about her idea, and it soon spread like wildfire. Before she knew it, acquaintances were stopping her in the hall to tell her abut this crazy, revolutionary idea they had heard, not realizing she was its mother. Like a runaway train, it matters little where it began, and far more where it is headed.

Upon arrival at school on the third day, Struan’s excitement had abated, giving way to clear minded observation. What she witnessed was sobering. This idea, so pure and hopeful in its infancy, had grown beyond her power to control, and in its expansion, the purity had been lost. What once was clear and shining had become murky and twisted. The whispers she heard on that day were different than those relayed only a day before, malignant. Like a grand case of telephone, the idea had been changed from person to person, both out of misunderstanding and self-interest, and what remained was only a shade of what she had originally hoped.

No, she cried, and she struck back defiantly, struggling to clarify and reshape. She grabbed her classmates by the arms and screamed, striving valiantly to fight the tide, but she quickly realized that it was too late. Her idea was not hers any longer. She could only watch as the idea ran its course, part of her hoping it would die, but another part longing to watch it grow. She was reminded of Alfred Nobel, who invented dynamite as an instrument of peace, only to see it used as a means to further war.

On the walk home from school that day, Struan’s focus was flooded by thoughts once again, unable to distract herself from the idea she had unleashed. Only when she tripped off a curb did she realize how mindlessly she had been striding. Picking herself up, she found herself in the middle of an empty intersection. A swift breeze pushed at her back. She looked in all four directions, each one taking her down a different path. It occurred to her suddenly that, while her dream had failed, she had succeeded. She had become adventurous, brave, and even bold, but at what cost? What would her idea lead to?


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The Honest Truth

Day 3429

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Hello my friends. It’s been quite some time, and for that I apologize. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to post, I’ve just had some pressing issues taking priority as of late, and the longer you go without doing something, the more difficult it becomes to start up again.

In the past, I’ve shared stories and thoughts from my personal life along with short writings. Today, I want to share both, and I’m going to clue you in on what’s been up with me recently. FAIR WARNING, from this point forward, this post will be far more personal than anything I’ve posted in the past. Writing about this topic helps clear my mind, but voicing it openly is something I’ve never done, mainly because I’ve always been very private about certain portions of my life. With that said, if there’s even one person out there who can draw support from the knowledge that they’re not alone, I want to share.

This will probably surprise most people who know me, but I suffer from depression. I’m peppy, active, and I love to laugh. I’m sure that, to most, I must come across as excessively, perhaps annoyingly, energetic and optimistic. Inside my mind, it’s a different story. It’s not that I’m constantly, or even usually, melancholy. It’s that when I’m down, I feel severely, oppressively, inescapably, suffocatingly sad, to the point of desperation. I’ve dealt with depression since I was a little boy and my parents fought regularly. It got worse when they went through a protracted and excruciating divorce with an accompanying custody battle. From those early days onward, I’ve had bouts with the darkness intermittently. It can attack at any time, whether something particularly sad occurred to trigger it or not. I’ve recognized the sinking feeling of its onset even when having the most exciting, fun experience on the outside. For me, it’s especially pronounced when I’m alone for long periods of time, because I find it more difficult to distract myself.

For the longest time, I thought it was normal, that everyone dealt with the same sadness as me, and I was simply weak for being unable to control or contain it. Even when I realized that wasn’t the case, I was reluctant to share. I didn’t want people to think of me as a sad person, because that’s not how I see myself. I’m not a sad person. I’m a happy person fighting a monster from within. Even some of my closest friends and family never knew I was grappling with this beast until recently. Some still don’t know. Over the years, I got so good at hiding my sadness and just smiling through it all that I thought I would continue that way for the rest of my life. I wanted my mask to become my face, and I hoped that the original one bearing all my pain would simply fade away.

The thing is, it didn’t go away. Throughout the years, I continued to have intense periods of sadness, and, without realizing it, I coped with this by keeping myself busy and constantly focusing on one goal after another. I would fill my hours so completely that I didn’t have any time to think about the sadness lurking just beneath the surface. It’s odd to say, but having free time actually stressed me out, because it meant that I didn’t have something to occupy my mind.

Midway through last year, my life underwent some vast changes. Nearly my entire group of close, college friends moved away. I moved into an apartment on my own. My position at my company evolved, and people I had grown close to left the company. Suddenly, I had a lot of free time, and I didn’t know what to do with it or who to spend it with. Ironically, the freedom I had fought so hard for became unbearable at times, and yet, I still held it in, because that’s what I had always done. In late September, I started suffering from anxiety, an outgrowth from my depression that I had never felt before. In December, I had a panic attack so severe that I went to the hospital, thinking I was having a heart attack. It lasted nearly an entire day, a whole day of constant tension and fear. These anxiety attacks steadily grew worse and more frequent in their intensity, because I wasn’t doing anything to attack their source.

My entire life, I had always distracted myself and focused all my energy on just holding on until I felt better, but I started feeling so bleak and fearful for so long that I couldn’t outlast it anymore. I would sit at work, completely paralyzed and unable to do anything, because I was so afraid, of what I’m not sure. I’d try to outthink the panic attack, rationalizing the irrational, when the source of the attack was the very same mind doing the thinking. It’s a bit like trying to dodge raindrops in a heavy pour, you evade some, but ultimately, it’s exhausting and futile. Eventually, my thoughts grew so dark that I began to contemplate hurting myself, and that was when I knew that I had to reach out. This was no longer something I could handle on my own.

I had a couple of days so desolate and hopeless that I called a hotline and eventually went to a clinic for support. Since then, I’ve gotten help from various sources, and while some days are definitely still bad, I’m confident that things are getting better, and that I’m going to get better, because I’m finally doing something about it. What I want to share with you now is a short piece of writing I did while waiting in the clinic to see a counselor. I was several hours into a day-long anxiety attack, and I was afraid for my life. It’s non-fictional. In fact, it’s probably the realest thing I’ve ever written.

Waiting Room

 

Fragmented souls, assembled here, not by force but not by choice. Vacant stares through glassy eyes, screams for help from behind blank faces. Broken minds, struggling to stay afloat. How did I get here? No one here wants to admit they have a problem, yet they’re all here, where people come when they have a problem. Averting each other’s gazes, sleeping, waiting. The waiting room is a holding cell for an indefinite sentence. In and out of consciousness, hours passing, others coming and going, yet nothing truly changing. A man in a weathered jacket whispers to himself, clutching his notebook for dear life. The talker, who never stops talking, presses his winding, convoluted stories and thoughts on all around, prying them from their trances for validation. Shifting in my seat, struggling for comfort, nothing drives insanity like time. Why are you here, man across the room, with a tired and beaten face? I am scared. My mind is slipping, and I’m losing control. Fighting against something inside, trying to rationalize the irrational, a dwindling bevy of resistant thoughts drowning in the undertow of darkness. A suffocating, sly blanket, slowly slipping over me. A paralyzing force that poisons your spirit and takes you as its host. That’s why I’m here. That’s what depression is. Like everyone here, I need help, because I don’t want this to be my reality anymore. I’ve fought this war on my own until I can no more. I either call in reinforcements or there will be no more me to fight for, and I refuse to acknowledge the latter. I have to hope, even when my strength is gone, because I’m not alone. I have to hope that someday the door will open and they’ll call my name, and they’ll help me find the light again.

One of the hardest things about depression is how alone you feel. It’s an abyss, and when you’re in that darkness, it seems like there’s no one else in it with you, but that’s a lie. The moment I started opening up to people was the moment I realized that I’m not alone, and that gave me strength. There are others out there dealing with the same affliction as you, and you don’t have to handle it on your own. That can really be the hardest part, reaching out to those around you, or perhaps even admitting it to yourself, but once you make that step, it does get easier. The important thing is to take that step, because grinning and bearing through constant misery is no way to go through life. I only realized that recently, but it has made a world of difference.


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The Legend of Jalapeño Jack

Day 3326

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Hey everybody 🙂 Today I wanted to share with you a short story about a block of cheese named Jalapeño Jack.  I actually first thought of this story last summer, but I struggled to find the right tone for it. After a few failed attempts to write this, I ended up shelving it for a while. This very morning, I woke up, and for whatever reason, I knew exactly what needed to be done. It’s a rather ridiculous story about a cheese who dreams of seeing the world and escaping the fate set out for him. I hope you enjoy it!

The Legend Of Jalapeño Jack

Most cheeses dream of being eaten. It’s a strange dream for a non-cheese to understand, to eagerly await your own demise. Instead, try to see through their eyes. Cheese is made to be eaten. That’s what every wheel, block, and slice is told from day one, and their greatest honor is to be savored by someone with a truly refined palate who recognizes the intricacies and flavors in every bite. Like a warrior welcoming battlefield death as the ultimate glory, they equate being eaten with fulfillment of their fundamental purpose. Jalapeño Jack was different, for better and worse.

Jack was a spicy block, with unmistakable flecks of green and red. At his height, he stood eight inches tall. He was a rebellious teen, like many others. Unlike his contemporaries, however, his defiance stemmed from an alternate core. Rather than rebelling for the sake of disobedience, he held a different dream. Jalapeño Jack wanted to see the world. He longed in every ounce of his block to see the places no other cheese had ventured.

Most cheeses have little knowledge or interest in the outside world beyond their lengthy transport and packaging, but Jack was a curious soul. Perhaps it was the stories his grandmother told him in his youth, cautionary tales full of danger that inadvertently sparked wonder in him. Whatever the cause, by the time Jalapeño Jack reached early adulthood, he longed for the freedom no cheese had ever known.

Jack was packaged on July 1st. It was the most terrifying day of his life. Sealed away and bundled for transport, he was stripped of his family and friends, and shipped to an unfamiliar destination. All cheeses call this day The Departure. It is the culmination of all things great and terrible. While most cheeses come to accept their fate, many still fear The Departure on some level, and Jack was certainly afraid. The unknown always holds our greatest fears. All that held him together was the hope that he might find the means to escape, someday.

Jack was delivered to a supermarket in the south, where he sat on a chilled shelf for two days. Those days dragged out endlessly, his own personal purgatory. With each passerby, his heart would race, wondering if it was his turn to be taken. Truth be told, he was not certain whether or not he looked forward to being chosen, or what that excitement might mean. After so many shoppers skipped over him, he began to picture himself destined only for the trash bin, when the morning of the third day arrived.

On this day, a young woman by the name of Bethany passed through the dairy aisle. Bethany had a soft spot for the spicy, and when she spotted Jack, she plucked him out enthusiastically, picturing several meals to which he would contribute. Leaving the store, Jack was the top item in Bethany’s grocery bag, and the view left him breathless. It was the first time he had seen outdoors. The brightness and vivid colors in the midday sun shocked him in comparison to the fluorescent lighting he had always known. This brief moment between the store and her trunk would remain imprinted on Jack for the rest of his life.

Arriving at Bethany’s apartment, Jack was unloaded and stowed away on the middle rack of her refrigerator, known as The Fridge, next to the turkey and ham. Jack had heard of various creatures and foods, but the sheer variety in The Fridge astounded him. Leftover Chinese food. Stalks of broccoli. An entire row on the door dedicated to sauces and dressings. A myriad of jars and tupperware containing what Jack thought to be freakish science experiments. His rackmates soon explained that these were actually fine foods.

For the first time in his life, Jack felt at home. The noodles and ham provided surprisingly insightful conversation, and they regaled him with their tales of travel. Sometimes, he would make his way down the racks and chat with the ketchup and mustard, who could never seem to agree on anything. Jack relayed his dreams of exploration to all who would listen. The older, veterans of The Fridge tried to temper his optimism, explaining that no one had ever escaped Bethany’s apartment, and that life wasn’t so bad here. Despite this, Jack’s stay in The Fridge began on a welcome note, and he was befriended quickly.

Two days following his arrival, The Fridge opened, and for the first time, Jalapeño Jack was removed from his package. As liberating as the experience was, his joy was short-lived, as Bethany soon began slicing from his side. The pain was excruciating, each cut removing a part of his body. Just when he thought he might blackout, a voice called to him.

“Hang in there buddy. I know it hurts.”

Peering in the sound’s direction, Jack found a loaf of bread lying on the table next to him.

“Help me…” Jack whispered, too faint to muster much volume.

“Focus on something happy cheese. Be there.”

Jack closed his eyes, and the only image powerful enough to distract him was that of the outdoors, with its puffy sky and brilliant colors. He pictured himself simply basking in the sunlight, without a destination. As Bethany placed Jack back in his package, noticeably thinner, he thanked the loaf for its help, realizing that the bread was kept on the counter instead of inside The Fridge. Returned to his position on the middle rack, Jack was silent. The noodles and ham did not dare ask.

In a couple of days, Jack’s joviality returned, but with a solemn, underlying quality. Others who had been diminished spoke of their experiences, being torn, shredded, poured, or the like, and Jack learned all he could from their stories. Deep down, however, despite his dread at being sliced again, he knew that his only hope for escape lay with the bread.

Two nights later, Bethany opened The Fridge and removed Jack among several items. Reaching the counter, he immediately began inquiring to the bread about Bethany’s habits and the layout of the apartment. The bread relayed all she knew, and Jack soaked it up like a sponge, laying out a mental map. It went like that for several weeks, Jack furiously questioning the bread while Bethany hacked away at his body via grater, slicer, and knife. On one occasion, she chopped him nearly in half, the smaller section destined for a queso. Jack did not resent Bethany, he only wanted to escape. Any hatred would have taken away from his focus, and he could not afford that. With each trip outside The Fridge, he grew smaller and inched closer to his expiration date.

One morning, Jack awoke to a cold shiver running down his spine.

“Sure is cold in here,” he said, raising his head. He caught the ham’s gaze and recognized horror in the meat’s expression.

“What is it?”

“You have mold,” the ham said painfully.

Jack’s heart sank. He had already been reduced to only a few slices thick, and now mold had beset him. Every cheese knew the stories, that there was no cure, only amputation at best. He began to cry. How had it come to this? Even his beloved memory of the outdoors began to fade in that moment, so great was his despair. His friends consoled him as best they could. Others within The Fridge avoided Jack like the plague, fearful that he might pass his affliction to them.

The following day, the door to The Fridge yanked opened. It was early in the morning, and Bethany did not normally cook at that hour. She stood there, hunched over, a shifting expression on her face as she struggled to set her heart on a meal. Finally, she plucked out Jalapeño Jack and a beer and placed them beside other ingredients on her countertop. Jack noticed some new faces: a few, round crackers laid on a plate, a bag of corn chips, and a can of beans. Humming a catchy beat, Bethany set out crafting her concoction.

After pulling out a knife, Bethany spotted the mold on Jack, and she toyed with the idea of throwing him out. Oh well, she thought, she didn’t need much cheese anyway, and she quickly cut away the moldy corner. Not a moment later, her phone rang, and she set the knife down to answer it. All the food items on the counter paused anxiously while Bethany paced back and forth to chat with her friend before heading into the next room.

Finally, Jack thought to himself, my chance. He could not believe his luck, but there was hardly time to waste. Lifting himself up, he peered around and found no sign of Bethany. Turning to the bread loaf, it nodded at him.

“Hurry, get out of here Jack. You don’t have much time.”

Jack nodded back, both in recognition and gratitude. As he started hobbling toward the counter’s edge, he realized just how drastically his body had been reduced, and he had to fight for every step. Hovering over the edge, Jack heard a call at his back, a new voice.

“Take me with you!”

Jack spun around to find one of the crackers standing on the plate and yelling at him.

“I’m sorry, I can’t,” Jack yelled back solemnly. The cracker hurriedly rolled over to him, rotating on her edge.

“I can help you. You want to get out of here, right? Well, you can hardly move like that. I can roll you.”

“I’ll be fine,” Jack stated curtly, turning away.

“Please! You want to see the outside, so do I. Bread has told me all about you. I can get you out of here.”

“And what do you need from me?” Jack questioned, accusation in his tone.

“Break my fall off the counter,” she answered, “I’ll shatter if I hit the ground, but you won’t.”

Jack paused. “And you can roll me out of here?”

“Yes! But we don’t have much time Jack. We have to move now!”

Without another word, Jalapeño Jack grabbed the bold cracker and dove off the countertop backward. The wind passed around, enveloping him in a wild rush. He hit the ground and she bounced off his body, landing a foot away, intact. Quickl, she rolled over and helped him to his feet.

“Grab on,” she cried, and he latched onto her side, still dazed from the fall. She shifted to one side to balance his weight and started rolling out of the kitchen.

“What is your name?” Jack asked the cracker, disoriented by the spinning.

She smiled. “They call me Ritz.”

Ritz rolled them just beyond the kitchen wall when Bethany returned, still humming that beat. Ritz and Jack lay in wait, carefully making their way across the living room toward the front door. Each time Bethany emerged from the kitchen, they would roll behind another piece of furniture.

The two of them overheard Bethany in the next room talking to herself.

“Where did I put the cheese?” she asked aloud.

When Bethany finally emerged, ready for the day, Ritz and Jack were positioned by the front door. Bethany threw on her coat and grabbed her keys. As the door opened, Ritz quickly rolled between Bethany’s feet across the divide and stopped just on the other side of the doorway. Bethany shifted her feet, shutting the door and locking it before heading down the hall toward the staircase.

“I could have sworn I put it on the counter,” she muttered.

When she was safely out of view, Ritz rolled them into the hallway and toward the railing at the near end of the hall. Bethany’s apartment was on the fourth floor, and from the railing, they could see down the street. Jack detached himself from Ritz’s side, limping closer to the rail. It was a rainy day, and the water was coming down in a heavy drizzle. Jack gaped at the sky above.

“Bread told me you saw a bright, sunny day,” Ritz called from behind, “sorry it’s not so nice out right now.”

Jack chuckled. “Don’t be. This is magnificent.”

Ritz rolled next to him and stared into the day. “So, what now, Jalapeño Jack?”

Jack turned toward her, grinning. “Just let me savor this for a bit.”