Wednesday Writing Prompt: Begin a story with an upbeat sentence. End the story with the same sentence, only now it’s terrifying.
She walked down the corridor, excitement and anticipation pulsed through her veins.
It had been days since Widow was onstage, so she was itching to play. The slow, deliberate clicking of her high-heeled boots against the floor echoed like an ominous warning. She exited the darkened hallway and stood just offstage. Widow ran her slender fingers through long, jet-black hair, while she waited for her introduction.
The ringmaster stood under the spotlight wearing a black top hat over long, dark hair, and a black cloak that hung to the floor. His sharp, handsome features captivated the crowd almost as much as his truly hypnotic voice. A natural gift that was of great benefit in their particular line of work. His smile grew wide enough to reveal fangs as he introduced Widow’s act.
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, here at the Paranatural Circus we have an act so daringly unique, you can only witness it here! A balancing act that combines graceful acrobatics with gravity defying stunts! The most risqué, engaging, compelling tightrope act in the entire world! Or as some would claim, in any of the worlds.” His piercing green eyes scanned the crowd. These insignificant, oblivious mortals had no idea. “Without further ado, I present to you…The Black Widow!”
The crowd erupted into applause as Widow stepped into the spotlight. The music roared to life as she moved across the stage. Widow lifted her blood-red lips in a tantalizing smile while she slithered into the crowd. The beat of the music was vibrating everyone into the next level of anticipation. Widow lived for this part of her act. The hunt. Eager spectators held their breath either wishing to be invisible or hoping for a chance to be part of the show. There was no method to Widow’s choices. Her tastes varied based on the day and her current mood. Sometimes she chose men, sometimes women, but never…ever…children. Not for any moral reason. After all, Widow didn’t have any morals. Just raw, unapologetic instinct.
She twirled around the crowd searching for her volunteer the same way a person might search for a perfectly ripened peach, briefly touching and feeling her options, waiting for one to stand out above the rest. Then she sensed him. His heart was beating harder than the others, so hard in fact, she could hear it even above the music. Widow opened her mind, searching him out across the crowd until her eyes connected with his. Poor guy didn’t stand a chance.
Widow licked her lips and appeared to teleport over to him. The crowd applauded her magic and she reveled in her devious secret. Clueless mortals. She straddled him in his seat and lowered her mouth to his ear just as the spotlight found them.
“Well don’t you smell delicious?” she purred, inhaling his scent. “What’s your name?”
“Bryan,” he answered. He was unsure of where to put his hands as his date looked on from the seat next to him.
Running a blood-red, long nail gently down his cheek and under his chin, Widow guided him to stand and follow her. Bryan’s pretty little date reached out to grab him, but it was already too late. He belonged to Widow now.
He followed her onstage, and she shoved him down into a seat facing the audience. Twenty-five feet above them, Widow’s elaborate spiderweb-themed tightrope course hung securely. Glancing out at the audience, Widow lifted her long, slender leg, placing her high-heeled boot in Bryan’s lap. With her inner thigh just a foot away from his face, she made a show of unzipping it, all the way from the middle of her thigh down to her ankles. She removed her boot and threw it off to the side of the stage.
Widow twirled and shifted around Bryan to the rhythm of the music, before seductively settling her other boot intimately into his lap. This time, she instructed him to remove it. Bryan hesitated briefly, then his face contorted in confusion as his hands began working Widow’s zipper. The harder he tried to resist the stronger Widow compelled him to obey. His fingers slid slowly down the inside of her leg, gently guiding her out of the boot. Widow found his date in the audience. She had just gathered her coat and was currently headed for the exit. Pity she couldn’t stay for the show.
Widow smiled, flashing perfectly white teeth. The crew helped Bryan to his feet and removed the chair from the stage while Widow discreetly put on her leather slippers. Widow approached Bryan, sliding around to stand next to him. She opened her hands, palms facing and fingers spread wide apart. A subtle, red glow began to form between her hands as the music rose to a crescendo. The audience cheered her magic on as silky webs that seemed to come from her hands began to cocoon the volunteer, starting at his feet. Widow shivered in anticipation. Let the show begin.
This was supposed to be a fun night. A first date at the circus seemed like a romantic idea, but now his date was gone, and he was getting wrapped up in a prop that felt far too constricting. Who was supposed to be regulating this? He wasn’t even sure what he did to get up on the damned stage, or what the hell he was thinking practically undressing this stranger. How embarrassing. Bryan was never one to volunteer, crowds made him self-conscious. But still, she had picked him. Had sought him out among the crowd. What rotten luck. He tried to reassure himself that it would all be over with shortly, and then he could go try to salvage what was left of his date night. If he could even find his date.
The silken web crawled up his thighs and seemed to be coming directly from Widow’s hands. Being this close, he would think he’d see some sort of contraption or device assisting this performer with her magic, but he only saw the red glow and silk thread.
The web was around his midsection when he started to worry. He wasn’t sure how this magic trick worked, or where it was headed, but Bryan didn’t feel like being a guinea pig. How would it look if he left the stage? Would he ruin the show?
He was in up to his chest, with his arms pinned tightly to his sides, as the silk spun higher and higher squeezing the air out of his lungs. Bryan was on the brink of panic. He decided he had enough and tried to leave, but he couldn’t move. It was like his body wasn’t his anymore, and he realized it might be more than stage fright that gripped him. Inside his head he was screaming wildly, but in reality, no sound came forth. In his mind’s eye, he was violently thrashing around trying to fight his way out of this cocoon, but on stage, he was paralyzed. The silk strangled his throat before covering his useless mouth, then his nose, and then everything went dark.
Bryan could still hear and breathe, but just barely. He’d never been claustrophobic, but damn if he didn’t feel like the world was closing in on him. His skin crawled and his muscles itched to move. His lungs burned for oxygen but only got the crushing weight of terror and defeat. His heart hammered in his throat as he felt hands on his entombed body, laying him flat on the stage. Bryan was aware of being hoisted into the air by whatever was tied around his ankles. Probably more of that god-awful silk. How high up was he dangling? Did anyone sense he didn’t want to be there, or did they all continue to think this was an entertaining show?
The horrifying thought suddenly occurred to Bryan that he might not make it out of there alive. His silent scream was only heard in the confines of his own mind.
From up on her web of ropes, the audience looked so small to Widow. She was untouchable as she placed her feet comfortably on the lines. The song switched to a slower, haunting tune. The music filled her with power as she twisted and contorted in a graceful display of choreographed movement. Her body danced seductively over the ropes, her long legs and sculpted arms flowing with the rhythm of the sensual music.
This. This is what Widow lived for. Sex, death, and feeding. It was her instinct, hardwired into the very core of her being. She couldn’t be blamed for who she was any more than the lion could be blamed for eating the gazelle.
Sex, death, and feeding. She continued to dance, gliding over the ropes, making use of the entire web. Her body, the music, and the lights were all in perfect harmony, captivating the audience below.
Sex, death, and feeding. Her next thrill hung cocooned just below her, helplessly dangling and at her mercy. She wet her lips.
Widow slid headfirst down the line of silk that connected Bryan to her ropes. The audience gasped and sat on the edge of their seats as she slid further down the silk and closer to the human-shaped cocoon. When she reached him, she ignited a powerful flash of smoke, concealing the two of them from the audience.
She wrapped herself around Bryan, gripping him tightly between her thighs, and teleported offstage, cocoon and all. The smoke cleared revealing their absence. The last thing Widow heard was the thunderous roar of an entertained crowd.
Backstage, it was time to retreat to her dressing room. Widow said “goodnight” to the crew and began dragging her cocooned volunteer by his ankles.
Sex, death, and feeding. Widow was starving.
She walked down the corridor, excitement and anticipation pulsed through her veins.
One of my first memories as a child was standing by my grandmother’s side as she lay on her couch trying to communicate with me. I was four years old and could barely understand most people anyway, but she was even harder to understand because she was going through chemotherapy treatments to fight cancer. She was very weak, and the energy in the room was so bleak I can almost still feel it today. She would be the first in a line of many of my family members to lose a battle with cancer.
My dad had Non-Hodgkins lymphoma when I was about eight or nine. It was a long time ago, and I was too little to understand the full weight of the situation. I knew my dad was sick, and he stayed at the hospital a lot. For the most part, I was sheltered from it, and then one day he stopped going to the hospital and everything was better.
So We Meet Again
About a year ago, I called my dad to wish him a happy birthday and found out that nearly thirty years later, he had lymphoma again. Stage four. That was not a good phone call. I panicked, I cried, I drank. I wished I could be little again so that I wouldn’t clearly understand the meaning of the word cancer. Ignorance really is bliss.
After a few doctor visits, including a trip to the Mayo Clinic (cue choir of angels), the prognosis was fantastic. They weren’t even going to treat the lymphoma until it started to interfere with his quality of life. It was such a slow-spreading cancer, he was free to live a normal life. Ten entire months passed before his lymph nodes swelled up enough to bother him. The immunotherapy treatment worked so well, his lymph nodes shrunk the first night!
Unfortunately, the maintenance medicine he had to take was causing problems with his digestion. He was losing weight, unable to keep anything down, things like that. It took the doctors three months to figure out what was going on. There was a fancy word for it, but basically, his stomach wasn’t emptying, so he was severely malnourished. It would be a simple fix, basically a gastric bypass.
The Upside Down
During the procedure, they found a mass. I wasn’t worried at all. My dad had been dealing with cancer for over a year at this point and had taken every test and scan known to man. Doctors knew my dad inside and out, literally. If there was anything serious going on with my father, something would have shown up. One of the doctors would have noticed something. We would have known.
It was probably my overconfidence that everything was going to be fine that made the diagnosis of a second cancer even more devastating. Until that moment, I didn’t even know a person could have two different cancers simultaneously, or that certain cancers were undetectable even with our modern technology.
Signet Ring Carcinoma. Three words I wish I’d never heard of. It’s a rare, aggressive form of cancer, and it’s treatment-resistant, meaning there’s nothing they can do. The surgeon gave my dad a prognosis. It wasn’t good.
I don’t think anyone should know when they’re going to cross over to the other side of life. Some people cope better when they know. I’m not that person. Tell me I’m going to live to be a hundred, I don’t care if you’re lying, just say it. That’s all I want to hear. Nobody knows when they’re going to die because that’s how it should be, so don’t go ruining ignorant bliss by estimating an expiration date. Unless that surgeon is the Grim Reaper, he can’t possibly know, so why set off someone’s countdown? Fuck. him.
For the next two days, I was in a haze. I was angry and scared. And so sad. My mom and dad are a million miles away and I couldn’t possibly imagine what they were going through. They had just moved down to Tennessee less than a year ago. My dad finally retired from the steel mill, and they were all set to live the rest of their lives drinking moonshine with a mountain view. This was not part of the retirement plan. I was so overwhelmed for them, in addition to my own feelings as the daughter of a cancer patient.
This is still a new and ongoing situation, and the thoughts in my head are so raw and so chaotic, I’m still trying to wrap my mind around all of this.
It Can’t Possibly Get Any Worse
Two days after finding out that my dad was not going to live forever – which is dumb because I thought everyone I loved was going to live forever – we discovered a lump in my husband’s lung. He hadn’t been feeling well…fever, chills, night sweats, that sort of thing…and it had been going on for over a week. Per ‘the book’ they ran some bloodwork and a chest x-ray, and that’s how we found it. Of course, with my dad’s situation on my mind, I panicked. His doctor told us it could just be a shadow, and that helped a bit. I mean, it was going to be okay, right? Just a shadow. It took about a week to get the CT scan and about four more days to hear the results. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a shadow, there was definitely something in there, and we would need a PET scan.
I know what kind of tests my dad went through. I know what CT and PET scans are for. Cancer is trying to take away everyone that matters to me.
I felt personally attacked. I spent hours trying to retrace my steps to see where I’d messed up my karma. If I could figure out what I’d done to bring this drama my way, maybe I could undo it and the people I love wouldn’t have to suffer. I wanted to believe I had some control, but I clearly didn’t, and that really pissed me off.
They say waiting is the hardest part, but I STRONGLY disagree. While we were waiting for the PET scan, I had hope, you know? Maybe this was just an infection or scar tissue. Maybe this was a common, completely harmless nodule. People get them all the time.
I would argue the hardest part was getting the results of the tests. The nurse calling to say “Your PET scan came back abnormal, we’ll need to get a biopsy,” was way worse than waiting. I would’ve given my left nipple to rewind time and go back to just a few hours before when I was waiting and still had hope.
Based on the activity on the PET scan, it could be stage three lung cancer. Yeah, the results were definitely the hardest part.
It would be another week before we’d see a lung specialist, who would order the biopsy.
I felt scared, confused, hopeless, helpless, terrified, stuck, nervous, anxious, worried, angry, sad, sick, pathetic, guilty, tired, exhausted, stressed, shaky, picked on, slammed, overrun, bullied, shaken, shocked, deflated, depressed, lost, doomed, disadvantaged, damaged, wrung, used up, depleted, empty, pushed, pulled, numb, spent, overwhelmed, bombarded, weak, and defeated. In that moment, I felt that everyone I loved was being taken away from me.
I’m usually not one to take people for granted. I know how lucky I am to have the people I have in my life, on all levels. I know how lucky I am to be married to such a great guy. He’s my protector, my provider, my co-parent, my entertainment, my sounding board, my debate rival, my own personal stand up comedian, and so much more. Everything good in my life is because of him.
I kept having these horrible, intrusive images of his funeral pop into my head. Sitting around the dinner table, I would see him fading away into an iridescent image of himself. These uncontrollable thoughts made it feel like I already lost him.
I worried about what he would have to go through to battle stage three lung cancer, and how would my kids cope, and what would I tell them if he couldn’t win the battle? And if he couldn’t win the battle, who would hook up our trailer for the camping trips, or make us laugh so hard we couldn’t breathe? Who would yell at the tv when the hockey game was on? Who would comfort me during a panic attack, or calm tensions when us girls were getting emotional with each other? How would I homeschool the kids if I had to work, and would they be alright with being sent off to school in the middle of such a life crisis? Where would we live? How would I pay for all the medical bills if I was left behind on my own? I didn’t even know what kind of funeral he would want, because we’re too young to have planned that far ahead!
Anytime I said it was going to be okay, things just got worse. At one point I even wondered if I was the one causing all of this for my dad and my husband, by jinxing the situation with my ridiculous positive affirmation.
Thinking positive was useless, because sometimes things really aren’t going to be okay.
Not Coping Well
People kept telling me I was “stronger than I know,” and that no matter what happened, I would “be okay” because life goes on. And all I could think was ‘Damn, these people don’t know me at all!” I think some people are stronger than they know, but I also think that some of us just aren’t.
I lost twenty pounds in two months. I couldn’t eat. One time my husband was cooking dinner for the kids and I actually had to leave the house because the smell of food made me want to vomit.
I did a lot of walking. I walked circles around our neighborhood, trying to get some anxiety out. The first couple of days my legs hurt pretty bad, because my body is more conditioned for chilling on the couch. I walked so I wouldn’t freak out in front of the kids. I walked to clear my head. I walked to talk privately on the phone with my support people while they tried to calm me down, I walked to give my husband a break from me.
I hated myself for not being stronger and more level headed. I felt selfish for getting so wrapped up in my own emotional reactions, and believe me, if I could’ve made it stop I would have. My mind was out of control. My dad and my husband were dealing with cancer in one aspect or another, and I couldn’t hold myself together long enough to be supportive of either of them. I felt so much guilt that my husband was waiting to biopsy a mass in his lung, but he was the one who had to reassure me that it was going to be alright. I spent two months straight in total meltdown mode, while he was forced to keep it together because one of us had to have our heads right to keep the household functioning. I would have loved for it to have been me.
I put on my favorite pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt, and I didn’t wear anything but that exact outfit for two entire months. Leaving my comfortable, oversized chair was overwhelming. I just played funny movies on repeat, night after night, insisting my husband and kids sit with me because it was the only thing I could think of to do. Anytime my husband left my side, I would be irrationally anxious that I couldn’t see him, because keeping him in my sight reassured me that, at least at that moment, he was alright.
I couldn’t do any ‘normal things’ because nothing was normal anymore. Every thought, every event, every fun thing we could possibly do was stained with cancer or the fear of cancer. I kept thinking, what if this is the last time we get to do this together? What if this is the last time we go here together? I didn’t want to think like that, but the intrusive thoughts and images were so strong and persistent. It’s the worst feeling to worry about the people you love suffering. And I don’t want to be left behind.
I cried myself to sleep every night and woke up every morning with my stomach in my throat. Mornings were the worst because I wanted nothing more than to stay in the dreamless, oblivion of sleep, but instead I was being forced to consciously deal with the drama cancer was drowning us all in. I had no idea what the day ahead would hold, but I knew it wouldn’t be good.
Dad was down to a hundred twenty-nine pounds. Just months earlier he was around one-eighty. Feeding tubes, nurses and a million different therapists were in and out. Dad was coping with two separate cancers while malnourished and recovering from surgery. If that’s not a fucking hero, I don’t know what is. Mom was down there processing this all alone. I wanted to go see my parents, but we had our own doctor appointments and cancer tests we needed to stay in town for. I think a selfish part of me was a little relieved about that.
Because I had this wonderful, healthy image of my father in my mind. The last time I saw him, life had been good and things were so simple. I didn’t want to lose that. Knowing he is sick, and seeing it are two different things. In my emotionally overwhelmed mind, I thought if I didn’t see it, then it wasn’t really happening. I could hold on to that last great image of him, and pretend all the bad things weren’t happening.
But bad things were happening, to everyone I loved, and the adrenaline coursed through my veins every second of every day. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t put a simple thought together. I couldn’t focus long enough to read or write. Can we take a second to appreciate how severe that is? I have never been unable to escape in a book. I’m basically a professional escapist! For the first time ever, there was no escape. Not one. It had been almost two months of being wound tight, and there was no end in sight.
I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends
My husband has a small circle of friends, and they would call often to check on him and offer words of encouragement. We didn’t tell a lot of people outside of family what we were going through with our cancer investigation, but it’s inevitable that some people found out.
I was humbled by how many people cared.
A neighbor of mine, Cindy, who is coping with fresh wounds left by cancer in her own life, found the time to check on me. She was a comfort because she knew first hand the devastation cancer can bring. She hugged me and cried with me, and for a moment I didn’t feel alone. I will always be grateful for her kindness.
My husband’s boss would periodically check in with him, and his wife Katie would check on me. The level of compassion and understanding that came from my husband’s workplace was above and beyond anything I could ever hope for. This was one of the hardest things we’ve ever been through, coping with my father’s cancer diagnosis on top of being told we could be looking at stage three lung cancer, but his administration somehow managed to make it just a little less overwhelming. And it helped to know Katie was over there rooting for us. I will never forget that.
I reached out to a long lost friend I hadn’t spoken to in about seven years. We lost touch after our kids didn’t go to school together anymore. Tiffany’s husband defied the odds of a devastating cancer diagnosis and won the battle against the disease. Tiffany didn’t hesitate to comfort me, provide info, offer help, and offer to put me in touch with contacts if necessary. No “Where have you been for seven years?” No “Who the hell even is this?” No judgment of any kind, just pure kindness and compassion. I want to be more like her.
My friend Autumn would text often. She’d listen, sympathize, and then encourage. She always made me feel less alone. It was nice to have someone to vent to. Everyone needs a friend like Autumn.
My sister in law, Kate, would send virtual hugs. Here’s what I loved about that…I already had a group of people that supported me by letting me vent and cry and talk until I ran out of things to say. It was so nice to also have someone who let me know she was rooting for me, without me having to rehash everything. It was nice to just be thought of.
My mother in law, Cathy, would call to check on me.
My sister, Natalie, who is also trying to wrap her mind around what’s going on with our dad, would still find time to offer encouragement for my husband.
And my own mom, who is going through her own personal cancer hell, still found the strength to be a rock for me.
Okay, so if Jesus and Budha had a baby, it would be my cousin David. I talked to him for hours and hours many times throughout this experience. He’s got some beautiful takes on life and death, and the life experience to claim major street credit. David had a very calming effect on me, and I always appreciated those moments talking to him, because they gave me a break from the darkness.
My Aunt Lilli, who is more like a sister to me, would tell me everything was going to be okay. I know she was worried, but her positive attitude about everything going on was something I held tight to in the dark. And when I would cry and panic, she would reassure me that I would never be alone.
I credit my best friend, Christine, for keeping me alive. Every, single, day, she would send a simple quote. And every single one of them was reassuring me it was going to be okay. This one was my favorite.
These became a lifeline for me. I needed them. This simple daily routine was something I could count on, a constant during a time when everything was changing. She had all the right words to make everything okay for a moment. I screen captured a few of her wise words and would use them as an affirmation. I thank God every day for my best friend.
Claudia is a friend of mine who gave me hope when I had lost it. During one of the low points, worrying about lung cancer, she told me about this infection called Histoplasmosis. I had never heard of it, but apparently, it’s extremely common around the midwest, and you get it from inhaling airborne spores from chicken crap. It shows up on a PET scan as a malignancy. Most people never know they have it, and it goes away on its own. Also, we kept chickens for five years, and just before all hell broke loose with my husband, guess what he had been doing? Tearing down the coop. If I was lucky, my husband just had chicken poop disease.
Are You Kidding Me With These Memes
What the actual hell? What even is the point of posting shit like this?! Most of us already know these things, and the ones who don’t won’t get it anyway. Then there are those who are actively going through this, and let me tell you, having this float across your feed is like a flaming knife made of pure salt piercing through your heart! If you’re not prepared, these can really take your breath away. These words aren’t inspirational or thought-provoking. I don’t need any more reality checks, thanks. I’m already drowning in these facts. How about you just post some pictures of your grandbaby and shut up?
So we’re looking at possible stage three lung cancer, and we meet with the lung specialist who will be scheduling the biopsy. His name is Dr. Dickover. No shit, you can’t make this stuff up! I’m looking for a Dr. Hopewell, or a Dr. Livestrong, or maybe a Dr. Don’t Worry Your Husband Will Be Fine, but we get Dr. Dickover.
And I’m so glad we did! He was fantastic. Knowledgable, professional, friendly, compassionate, and reassuring. After the visit, we had hope that this was a simple infection. He wasn’t worried at all, actually didn’t even want to discuss cancer at this point, which was a huge change in tone from the last doctor we had spoken with. It would be another week before the biopsy, but at least during this week, we could wait with hope.
This was it, the moment of truth. The last step of the long diagnosis journey. Two months had felt like a million years. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt “normal” or the last time I looked at my husband without fearing loss with every fiber of my soul. I can grow emotionally attached to a spider on a web outside, so you can imagine how emotionally attached I am to the love of my life! It probably borders on unhealthy obsession, but that’s a whole different blog post.
So we get to the hospital on biopsy day, and they put my husband in a pediatric room. It had Dr. Suess’s characters all over the wall, and I was like “Jackpot!”
We were under the impression that my husband would be under anesthesia for the procedure because they actually said: “you’ll be under anesthesia for the procedure.” Turns out, the radiologist needed him awake for the CT guided needle biopsy, because he needed my husband to be able to control his breathing.
The biopsy went well for the most part, but he did end up with a partially collapsed lung.
Afterward, the radiologist came in to talk to us. He told us that we would need to wait for the biopsy results for any definitive diagnosis, but he could say with certainty this lump was not acting like cancer. It had already shrunk significantly since the CT scan two months prior, and its current shape indicated a simple infection.
We got ready for the long wait for the final results. They said it could be a week or two, but at least the radiologist’s words gave us peace of mind.
The next day, (What?!) Dr. Dickover called with the great news. The cells in the lung nodule were not cancer. He mentioned Histoplasmosis. My husband has chicken poop disease.
That’s a Wrap
The nodule should disappear on its own if it hasn’t already. We still haven’t had our follow-up appointment with the lung specialist, that’s scheduled for November, but we don’t mind waiting. It’s just a technicality, we already know the story ends well. We’ll follow up in three to six months for another CT scan, just to make sure the infection cleared up. I’m optimistic it will have, seeing as how it was already on its way down during the biopsy. My family is happy to be off this roller coaster ride from hell.
Now I can focus on my dad. He’s doing much better these days. He doesn’t need his walker anymore, so all his therapists have finished their part. He’s eating, laughing, and driving again. He’s gained a minimal amount of weight back, and his ornery personality is still intact. Same ol’ Dad.
There’s still a lot of living for him to do, and I plan to be a part of that. I’ll get to see him this weekend. It’ll be the first time since the diagnosis, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to hug such a bad-ass warrior.
I learned a lot of lessons through this whole nightmare. I feel like I knew some of these things already, but needed to live them to truly understand the depth of these lessons. I also feel like maybe the Universe could have found a less dramatic way to teach me these things.
People can be suffering in unimaginable ways that you will never understand. I was at the store a few times, and I’m sure I appeared to be fine, but in reality, I was terrified of falling apart in public. It took every ounce of energy that I did not have to spare, just to get a gallon of milk. One stranger smiled at me as we passed each other. Another stranger glared at me for accidentally blocking their path. That look alone was enough to undo me. I cried the whole way home. My inside world was dark, and sad, and vicious. When the outside world matches, there’s nowhere to go, and no more hope left. Lesson: Don’t be a dick. We all have problems, let’s not make it worse on each other.
When we’re going through something hard, it’s easy to see everything through dark-colored glasses. Everything can feel hopeless and scary, when in reality only some things are hopeless and scary. It’s near impossible to see the bright side of anything, and that’s okay. But I promise you, the bright side is there. You’ll glimpse it when you stop filtering everything through the dark-colored glasses. Lesson: It’s easy to get lost in the depths of despair. There is always a bright side out there, and it’s okay if you can’t see it for a while. Take comfort in knowing it will be there waiting for you when you come out.
My circle is small because I just don’t have the energy to invest in friendships. I’m way too introverted for that nonsense. Just watching popular people exhausts me. So when the drama hit, I was overwhelmed by the number of people that actually care. I knew I could rely on my core group, the people who are with me day in and day out, but it was humbling to realize how many compassionate, caring people we are surrounded by. I will never be able to thank these people enough. People that only know me through my husband’s job, old friends I hadn’t talked to in forever, complete strangers, like doctors, nurses, receptionists trying to comfort a crazy woman in a panic attack over the words “stage three lung cancer.” (That was me, I was the crazy lady. And medical professionals everywhere deserve a medal.) Lesson: No matter how alone you feel, people really do care about you. There are people out there who are rooting for you to make it through your darkness. I care.
“Stop assuming the worst!” “Why do you always jump to the worst-case scenario?!” “Can you stop being so dramatic for one second?!” “Pull yourself together, you pathetic, useless bitch.” “Get your shit together and stop being selfish, this isn’t about you!” These are some of the things I would yell at myself in the middle of my spiraling. In case you’re wondering, it didn’t help. It just added to the chaos of the constant battle in my mind. Lesson: Thoughts can’t be controlled so easily. When life is pounding you into the ground, it’s easy to join in. Like your brain has mob mentality or something. They say “don’t take your thoughts too seriously.” I only wish it was that simple.
“This too shall pass” felt like a crock of shit when I was in the darkest part of this rabbit hole. Sure it’ll pass, and leave me an empty shell of the human I once was. (I’m not dramatic…you’re dramatic.) It wasn’t passing, it was dragging on for hundreds of years! Okay, two months, but still. You know what though? It really did pass. And it worked out okay for now. There are more dark times ahead, for sure. But for now, I’m going to enjoy the light. Lesson: It’s easy to feel doomed for eternity when you’re overwhelmed. I promise you’ll have moments of peace eventually. Never lose hope, because believing in something is better than not believing in anything.
After we got the all-clear, I expected to rejoice and celebrate. But after being in fight or flight mode for so long it was hard to believe, just like that, everything was really going to be okay. I felt nervous like the all-clear was a mistake. Could it really be over? Where was the relief? I still just felt anxious. Lesson: It takes some time to decompress.
Everyone has felt the pain of cancer in some form or another. So many brave warriors are out there battling for their lives and their loved ones are suffering right along with them. So many people are out there waiting on results right now, wondering if their lives are ever going to be the same. Lesson: The situation I went through isn’t even unique. My heart breaks for so many people.
I went back and forth when considering writing this post. The emotions are still raw from the cancer scare my husband went through, and I’m actively trying to process what’s happening with my dad. It’s really hard to think about, and writing this was actually a lot more difficult than I imagined it would be. I was gonna scrap it because writing about this wasn’t worth the pressure in my chest, the difficulty breathing, the tears, the refreshed anxiety over reliving a situation I’m trying to move past, and the pain of discussing another situation I’m trying to cope with.
But then I saw this meme and it made me think.
Well, maybe that was a sign? Or maybe it was just a stupid Facebook post. I was still unsure whether there was any good reason to rehash this, and put it out there when out of the blue I get a text from someone who knew what I had been through. She knows of someone going through a similar scare, and wanted to know who our doctors were.
I decided as upsetting as it would be to write this, and as awkward as it feels to put such private information out there, if reading this could help just one person not feel alone, then maybe my ongoing experience isn’t for nothing. We should never have to do this alone.
Cancer Hotline: 800.433.0464 This is the number is for cancer patients. It’s a free service operated by volunteers who have had cancer. They try to match up the caller with an individual who has recovered from the same type of cancer.
American Cancer Society: 800.227.2345 “Cancer information, answers, and hope, available every minute of every day.”
After the blinding light cleared, Anna tried to refocus. Her head felt fuzzy, but despite being disoriented, she was able to regain her vision. Directly in front of Anna was an ornate mirror hanging on the wall, with a wooden table and an arrangement of pink roses below it.
“This can’t be right,” she said, squinting to get a better look.
The reflection in the mirror was definitely Anna, only she looked as though she was in her thirties again. She stepped closer to the mirror and touched her warm, soft cheek. Stretching her hands out in front of her, she noted the smooth, slender fingers and glowing skin where age spots had been moments earlier.
Pulling at the neckline of her favorite t-shirt, she took a peek inside. “Well hello girls, you’re looking perky,” she said, pleased that her body was back in place and not hurting anymore.
Anna’s daughter came into the foyer just then, her dark brows were pinched, lips set in a thin line, and her eyes had dark circles underneath.
“Allison, what’s happening? How did I get here?” Anna asked.
Allison ignored her mother and disappeared through the double doors. Anna followed behind pushing the door open, and the hinges protested with a creaky moan. Anna’s three children and their families stood at the front of the room, turning to see what the sound was.
“There must be a draft,” Allison said.
“No, it’s just me,” Anna replied, but her family had already shifted their attention away from her.
Anna moved forward to get a better look at what everyone was gawking at. Some of her family was crying, and everyone stood defeated, as though the weight of the world rested on each of their shoulders. They were gathered around a casket.
“What am I missing? Who died?” Anna asked, moving in for a closer look.
She clamped her hand to her mouth, stumbling back a few steps, swallowing the bile that was rising in her throat. Tears filled her eyes as panic settled into every crack of her being. It couldn’t be.
“Goodbye Mom,” Allison whispered into the coffin.
“I’m right here!” Anna’s voice cracked, she shook her head trying to clear out the confusion. “What the hell is going on?”
Anna backed up to put some distance between herself and the coffin. She bumped into someone and, out of habit, turned to apologize.
Tears fell from Anna’s eyes as her late husband wrapped her up in a tight embrace.
“I knew I’d see you again, I knew it!” She pulled back, stroked his middle-aged face, and squeezed his arms to be sure he was real.
“Is this a dream?” Anna asked him.
“I think you know it isn’t.”
“But I don’t feel dead. I’m so confused.”
The funeral director began setting up a large picture on a stand next to the coffin. Anna crept over to have a peek at her old, wrinkly body. It was covered only by a clean, white sheet pulled up to her neck to conceal her nakedness.
“Just like I requested,” she noted.
The director gently closed the coffin as Anna examined the oversized picture of herself. She looked at Jack with a sparkle in her eye, and the two of them burst into laughter.
“This is the one? This is the best picture they could find of me?”
“At least they blurred out your middle finger,” Jack smiled.
“My gosh, I remember this! I was drinking tequila. Would you look at the hot pink lipstick on that shriveled up smile of mine?”
Jack winked at Anna.
“You’re eighty-five years old, get it together,” she yelled at the picture, smiling.
Her family slugged around the room, as guests began pouring in to say their goodbyes.
“This is depressing,” Anna said.
“Well what did you expect? The world is a darker place without you in it, my love.”
Jack reached for Anna’s hand and held tight.
“Oh look! There are Jenny and Mel. I’m going to miss those girls. Maybe I’ll haunt them sometime.”
More familiar faces piled in and a smile spread over Anna’s face. “It’s good to know they cared,” she told Jack.
Anna’s youngest great-grandchild was Jill, a blonde hair, blue-eyed sweetie pie who just celebrated her first birthday. She came toddling toward Anna on unsteady feet.
“Nana!” Jill babbled, pointing as drool hung from her lips.
“Nana’s in heaven with the angels now,” her mother soothed. She swooped Jill up into her arms.
Jill’s chubby-cheeked smile flashed over her mother’s shoulder, as the toddler reached out to Anna.
Anna placed her thumbs against her temples and wiggled her fingers while blowing raspberries to Jill. The sweet girl squealed and clapped.
Anna placed her hands over her heart. “She can see me?”
“Sometimes they can,” Jack said. “Especially when they’re little.”
Anna arched her brow as a new guest entered the room.
“And what is Ethel doing here? She doesn’t even like me.”
Jack shrugged his shoulders.
“Look at her pretending to care. Oh, I’m haunting this one for sure. Books will be flying off shelves, and dishware will be levitating. You can count on it,” Anna promised playfully.
Ethel made her way up to the casket, collapsing into tears and causing a scene. Anna followed close.
“What a drama queen. Would you look at this, Jack? I don’t even think those tears are real!”
“Anna,” he said.
“What a fake…”
“Anna!” Jack interrupted. He nodded in Allison’s direction.
She was huddled with her two brothers and clearly struggling with this event. Anna floated over to her children, who were already wrinkled with age themselves. She put her arms around them as best she could.
“Oh God, it’s like she’s still here, I can feel her,” Allison sobbed.
“Mom probably is still here,” Alan soothed. “She’d never let anything keep her away from us. Not even the Grim Reaper himself.”
“I can feel her too,” her oldest brother agreed. “Of course, it could just be gas.”
“Andrew!” Allison snorted at her brother’s weird humor.
Anna floated back to Jack’s side. “I feel so helpless. Is there anything I can do to comfort them?”
“Not that I know of. This is their time to hurt and to heal. It’s what life is all about. They’ll be fine.”
Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” played softly over the speakers.
“They remembered!” Anna clapped her hands together as a smile spread across her face.
“Don’t worry…about a thing…cause every little thing’s, gonna be alright…” Anna swayed to the music, memories flooding her soul.
Her family also smiled now, sharing their own memories of Anna. Some memories were such a gift, and the most important ones never seemed to fade.
“I’m really going to miss the kids,” Anna sighed.
“We’ll stay close by. They’ll be here with us all too soon.”
Anna and Jack stood side by side on the familiar grounds of their property. In human terms, a week had passed, but time was different in this new reality. For Anna, it had only felt like minutes.
Her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren were gathered at the back of the property, just outside the tree line. Allison and her husband had moved in to help take care of Anna during the final stages of her life, so Anna left the house to them.
It was a beautiful fall day. The sun was shining, and the leaves were vibrant shades of orange, yellow, and red. The smell of burning firewood blew in on the crisp breeze. A small hole was freshly dug a short distance from the ten-year-old oak tree with Jack’s memorial plaque tacked to it. Allison placed the bio urn, containing Anna’s ashes and an oak seed, into the hole.
“Rest in peace, Momma. Hug Dad for us.”
Anna wrapped her arms around Jack. “This is from the kids.”
He smiled and hugged her tight.
Allison furrowed her brows. “Do you think that, somewhere out there, Mom and Dad still exist?”
“I don’t know.” Alan put his arm around his sister.
The grandkids buried the urn, excited for the day they would have a picnic under their Nana’s living memorial.
That evening while Allison was in the shower, tears slid down her cheeks and she sobbed. Thoughts of her own mortality, her mother, and the fresh empty void in her life consumed her.
“She’ll be okay, Anna.”
“There has to be some way I can comfort her.”
“Let her live, I promise she can handle this. We’ll check on her in a little while, but right now, I have so much to show you.”
Anna started to follow Jack. But then her eyes lit up and a smile played at the corners of her mouth.
“Wait, I’ve got an idea!” She disappeared into the bathroom.
Seconds later she emerged, her features much more relaxed than before, and she took Jack’s hand.
Somewhere in the Universe, in a place so beautiful human language can’t describe it, Jack and Anna laughed and twirled in each other’s arms to a heavenly melody no human ear could comprehend. Peace and love permeated every part of her soul. She was home.
Allison stepped out of the shower and reached for her robe. Her eyes widened, goosebumps tickled her skin, and her breath caught in her throat. Then peace filled her heart, and she smiled. She hadn’t heard anyone enter the bathroom, but in the fog on the mirror, in her mother’s familiar handwriting, were the words: WE STILL EXIST.
Actually, there’s a lot more than just five, but in the interest of keeping this short I’ve narrowed it down.
First, I learned that everybody and their aunt thinks it’s the coolest thing that you wrote a book. Friends and acquaintances treat you like a local celebrity. I almost started to believe it! I was like “Do you know who I am?” And the mail lady was like, “Yeah, I’ve been delivering your mail for about ten years.” You’re inundated with emails from strangers who loved your book and can’t wait for you to write your next novel. When you write the second one, people are still fascinated by it. Mostly people who don’t know you very well. Your friends are getting sick of hearing how cool people think you are when they know you for the nerd you actually are. By the third one, everyone calms down and they realize you’re not really a celebrity and resume treating you like the everyday, normal person that you are. In the end, you’re left with a small base of loyal fans who you will love forever.
Second, I learned that marketing is not easy and people who choose to go into that profession must be a glutton for punishment. The big wigs don’t pay trillions of dollars in marketing research for nothing! There’s a science to it that I’m struggling to understand. I thought, “Great, I wrote a book, got great reviews, and now people are talking about it. I’ll just sit back and let my novel be read by thousands!” It turns out that’s not how it works! Who knew? There’s nothing that makes you feel so small and insignificant as tooting your own horn to the sound of silence. It’s very awkward, and I think I’m doing it wrong. I’ve read marketing books, I’ve joined support groups for indie authors, and I’ve had some success. But it’s two steps forward, and one step back.
Third, I learned this is an emotional roller coaster ride unlike any I’ve ever taken! And I have three children! One day, things are in a slump and I’m telling my family that I’m going to take a year off and re-evaluate my choices. I’m going to try to improve my writing and give it a go another time. Then someone tags their friend on Facebook in the comments of one of my promotional posts saying “Jane Doe, this is that incredible book I was telling you about!” After I read that, I’m in my kitchen like “KIDS! Momma’s back on!” Then sales slow down and post interaction on Facebook comes to a halt, and I’m back to “I don’t know guys, maybe I’m going down the wrong path.” Then a friend does me a solid and promotes my book on her page, and someone I’ve never met comments “Oh! I’ve heard of her book. They were talking about it in a Facebook book group. They said good things.” I got that wide, toothy, creepy-clown grin on my face, turned to my kids and I’m like “People are talking about me!” Can you believe it? People were talking about my book! Then I wondered if she maybe mixed me up with somebody else. Then I was back to doubting myself. Today I’m good though. For now.
Fourth, I learned that you absolutely must have a Facebook account. Zuckerberg basically owns me. He’s got what I need, and I can’t shake that soul-less eyed, twerpy kid. I’m pretty sure his cocky-ass knows it, too. After a long love/hate relationship with Facebook, I spontaneously and quietly deleted my account. I felt free of my chains. I wanted to make a shirt that said: “Suck it Zuck.” I walked away and never looked back, for six months. I had no regrets over the deletion. I spent my newfound free time with my kids, enjoyed my summer, and continued writing novels and other short stories. Then it came time to tell everyone about my upcoming book. Do you know where everyone is? Freaking Facebook. Yeah. I tried to release the book without being on the social platform, but sales were pretty much non-existent. After rejoining the social media monster again, sales rapidly picked up. It was bittersweet. But what is the point of putting all of myself into writing a novel if nobody knows it exists?
Fifth, I’ve learned what it means to truly find your passion. Books have made such a difference in my life. The temporary escape and emotional distraction they offer literally saved my life once. It is a blessing to be able to provide this beneficial opportunity to others through the creation of my novels. I enjoy helping people relax and unwind. I love knowing that for a moment in time, I was able to entertain someone by taking them into their imagination. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do!
I remember exactly when this started, my spiral into insanity. Has it only been a week? The days have dragged on for so long while simultaneously hurtling by at impossible speeds. A trip to the local farmers market seemed harmless enough at the time.
“Sure, I’ll go,” I had said to my friend.
There was nothing much to see there. It was the end of the season, so most vendors were running low on stock and produce. As I made my way through the maze of people, careful not to bump into anyone, the cold, crisp autumn wind blew my hair in all directions. At the edge of the crowd, conspicuously set off on its own, was a small, brown tent. It looked medieval and tattered, its sides flapping open in the wind, as I glimpsed the darkness inside. It was the darkness that drew me toward it. I had to know what was in there.
I left my friend at the floral booth, and quietly slipped away. The thick blue-grey clouds hung low and heavy. They raced through the sky with the wind. Fallen leaves crunched beneath my feet and almost-bare trees swayed, their exposed, jagged branches reaching for the sky the way a zombie might reach out of its grave.
There was a warning, deep inside of my soul, that I shouldn’t go down this path. Nothing good would come of this, but already I knew…there was no turning back. I glanced over my shoulder looking at the market behind me. Everyone was so absorbed in their own lives, nobody even noticed this peculiar tent. Was I the only one who could see it?
Reaching out my hand, I slowly pulled back the curtain, just an inch…just to peek. An unexpected gust of wind ripped the fabric from my fingers, pulling the tent open wide, exposing my presence.
“There you are,” a small voice hissed. “Come in!”
I thought about running. Wanted to run, even. But an invisible leash kept me tethered to this place. I licked my lips, they were so dry.
“It’s rude to just stand there. I said come in.” The voice was less friendly this time. I stepped into the darkness, giving my eyes a moment to adjust.
A frail old lady with brittle, long, grey hair sat behind a table. Shelves lined the sides of the tent, filled with unmatching, rusty antiques. The air outside was cold, but it was even colder inside the tent. As cold as I imagine death would be.
“I have something for you.” She smiled, revealing a mostly empty mouth. The few rotten teeth that remained were crooked and visibly decayed. Seemingly out of thin air, she retrieved a doll.
It was about four inches tall and in a permanent sitting position. It wore a black satin dress with long, black lace sleeves. Pale grey, porcelain hands with tiny fingers stuck out of the sleeves, hanging limply at her sides. Her porcelain legs stretched out in front of her, black painted shoes were on her feet. Her hair was short and black, with bangs that poured over her grey forehead and down to her eyes. Those soul-less doll eyes. Bright, crystal blue, with black circles around them. The black circles dripped down in streaks underneath her eyes, like tears of blood. Her tiny little nose and pale grey lips showed no expression. It felt like she was looking directly into my soul. Goosebumps crawled over my skin.
“I don’t have any money with me,” I lied.
“Oh no, darling. It is my gift to you!”
I took the doll and said a polite ‘thank you.’ I really just wanted to get out of there. I’d ditch the doll in the next trash can and pretend this never happened.
She gave me a look, through narrowed eyes, that chilled me to my bones. A wicked smile spread across her lips. I left the tent.
Heading back to the market, I threw the doll in the nearest trash can and set off to find my friend.
“Where were you?” She had asked me. “I looked everywhere for you. It’s like you disappeared!”
“I was over in that tent.” I would’ve pointed it out to her if the tent had bothered to stay put. But it was gone.
She looked at the vast empty space to which I pointed. “Are you okay?”
I shook my head. “Can we go?”
We walked in silence to my car. The heavy door squealed on its rusty hinges when I pulled it open. My friend got into the passenger seat. Terror gripped my heart, and I couldn’t move.
“What the hell is that?” she asked, her voice an octave higher than usual.
I could only stare at the gift…the doll…that sat on my seat as though I had left it there.
“It’s just a creepy doll,” I said, taking it off my seat and leaving it on a nearby picnic table. The doll and I locked eyes as I drove away without her.
Nothing else was said about it. I dropped my friend off at her house, then went home. It was an uneventful evening. Little did I know that would be the last peaceful evening of my life.
That night, the horrific nightmares started. They were so real I was convinced demons were visiting me. Sleep paralysis, they had said. In the morning, when I awoke, the doll was sitting next to my bed on the nightstand. Her soul-less eyes fixated on mine.
No matter how many times I threw her away, she kept returning. I crushed her, I burned her. I locked her in a metal box with a brick in it and threw her into Lake Michigan. She always came back unscathed. I hid her in the closet, I took her out into the cornfield and strapped a quarter-stick of dynamite to her. I watched as she was blown to shreds, but there she was, sitting on the dashboard of my car before I could even leave the scene. She was mine, and there was nothing I could do about it.
The night terrors became more intense. I did unspeakable things inside of these dreams, and the demons that tormented me were darker than anything Hollywood can ever make up. I began to fear sleep. Each dream pulled me deeper and deeper into the pit of my imaginary hell. And every time I woke up the dreams stayed with me longer and longer, until even during my waking hours I could not escape the vivid images of this demonic hell I was forced to envision.
On day four, I woke up with blood on my hands. It wasn’t mine. I didn’t know what to do about that. So I washed my hands and hoped it was just another insane delusion I was suffering. What would you have done?
By the fifth day of this torment, I could no longer find my friend. I wanted to confide in her. To tell her where I got this hideous doll. To let her know that this wasn’t a case of sleep paralysis as the nurse told me over the 24-hour hotline. This was something more and I really needed to talk to my friend about it. But, she stopped answering my calls, so I took a ride over to her house. Her car was in the driveway and her door was locked. She refused to answer my knock. Was she avoiding me? Was she afraid of me? Was she even in there?
I went back home, alone and isolated from the rest of the world. As though I wasn’t even a real part of the world anymore. I sat in the deafening silence of my house, on the living room floor. My legs were crossed under me. The doll sat on the coffee table, directly in front of me at eye level. My eyes locked with the doll’s and I couldn’t look away. I couldn’t blink. And that’s when I knew it. I knew it just as clearly as I knew the sun rises in the East. This doll was possessed. There was a demon attached to it.
My eyes grew dry and my vision blurred and shifted until all I could see were chaotic distortions of the doll’s face. I could feel my soul spiraling down, further and further into an abyss of nothingness. I didn’t feel sad. I didn’t feel scared. Really, I didn’t feel anything at all. Then my vision went completely black. That’s when I saw him clearly for the first time.
He had been only a shadow in my dreams. But now I could see him with distinction. He was shaped like a human. One head, two arms, and all that. But he didn’t have any skin. As though he had at one time been a human, but now he was a stripped-down version of that. He didn’t have any hair. He was a raw, meaty color. He stood alone in the darkness. Was I still in my house? Was I even in my own universe anymore?
The deeply cratered, uneven texture of his body was repulsive. Everything about this creature was vile. Except for his eyes. His bright, crystal-blue eyes. They were just like the doll’s eyes. Almost exactly like the doll’s eyes, only his were full of soul. His dark, twisted soul.
They held me captive, those tortured, haunted eyes. And I felt his pain. His utter, desperate aloneness. The darkness that enveloped him…it weighed so heavy on my heart, that I couldn’t separate where his pain and loneliness ended and where mine began. I clutched my stomach, doubled over trying to ease the discomfort of this horrific shared emptiness that radiated between us.
Tears stung the backs of my eyes. Not tears for me but tears for him. Tears for this tortured soul in front of me, his eyes staring deeply into my own. His sadness was so thick and hard to swallow that I swear I could’ve choked on it.
I reached out, my fingers caressing his rough face. He stood, unmoving, allowing me to explore. I slid my palm down the side of his neck and over his chest, letting my hand linger there. Our eyes remained intensely connected as I stilled, feeling his heart beating under my hand. After a moment I stepped back.
He reached out to me, with his gruesome, half-decayed hand. It trembled. His eyes pleaded silently for me to take it, to take his hand. I could relate to the desperation in his attempt to connect, to be accepted.
I felt almost compelled to reach out for him. To share fully in his pain and let him know he was not as alone as he felt. The broken in me hurt for the broken in him. I yearned to ease his torture. But I hesitated.
His shoulders fell with his chest, as he exhaled the deep breath he had been holding in. He lowered his chin, ever so slightly, as his blue eyes slowly looked away from mine, the unrelenting sadness in them growing darker. And I knew that my hesitation hurt this beast, as he withdrew his extended hand. And then he was gone.
I looked around my living room. Everything was right where I left it. Except for the doll. She was gone. I looked all evening for that demonic little doll, searching desperately for reasons I couldn’t understand. I just needed her. Needed to know I had a connection to him. To the demon. I fell into an exhausted heap on my bed after turning up empty-handed in my hours-long search for her.
That night I had beautiful dreams of meadows and sunshine. When I awoke, the overpowering stench of the flowers stuck with me, nauseating me, and I had a headache from all that sunshine I had to endure. I felt empty inside, almost hollow, like something was missing. My chest was heavy, and I couldn’t breathe.
I wanted to apologize to the creature. I wanted to dream of dark things so he would visit me while I slept, and I could tell him that I was so very sorry for hurting him. I had officially lost my mind.
I tried to take my thoughts off of him. I called my friend, but she was still either ignoring me, or unable to get back to me for some reason. I read a favorite novel, but I couldn’t focus on the plot. I just kept wondering about him. The tortured soul. The intense connection we had at the very core of our insignificant little hearts. This dark, hideous demon was supremely beautiful in his own rightful way. How could that be?
The day trudged on, and I had this unsettling feeling I would never see him again. The connection we felt must’ve been the cultivation of lifetimes of love. Our souls had to have known each other. Nothing else could explain the overwhelming intensity of it. Or the overwhelming devastation at the thought of never seeing him again.
A sadness heavier than depression consumed me. Something had changed in me over the past week. I wasn’t who I used to be anymore. I was something entirely different. I knew in my veins that I hadn’t just met this creature, but I had reconnected with him. I was like him. Maybe not physically, but inside. Inside I was dark and selfish. And bad. Just like this demon.
Why did I have to hesitate? Because darkness is bad? Because bad is somehow less than good? According to who? Bad is so subjective, who gets to decide? Why is bad so bad? I understand that it is. But why?
Feeling dejected, I threw on my coat and ran out into the pouring rain. The night was settling over the town and every normal person sought shelter in the warmth of their dry homes. I ran all the way to the market. As expected, there was nothing but vacant space.
Lightning sizzled across the sky and thunder pounded overhead. I looked up into the pouring rain.
“Come back!” I yelled at the clouds. “I’m sorry! Can you hear me? I’m sorry.”
Another bolt of lightning cracked across the sky, and I saw her in the distance. Sitting on the picnic table across the way, in the pouring rain, was my doll. The ground sloshed beneath my feet as the saturated earth gave under the weight of my determined stride. I sat down on the bench of the table, facing the doll. Rain cascaded down my cheeks and off the tip of my nose.
The world was pitch black outside of the random bursts of lightning. I picked up the doll, my fingers gently gliding across its little, pale-grey face. A blinding burst of lightning crashed above my head, then everything went black…and he was there.
Relief washed over me. The anxiety that threatened to suffocate me dissipated. With him, I didn’t have to pretend. I didn’t have to conform. He understood…knew what I needed. This demon knew who I was…who I really was. He saw me…like, really saw me.
Whatever kind of demon this was, whatever he had done in the past, it didn’t matter to me. All that mattered is that he was here now, and this overbearing empty void in my existence was now overflowing with acceptance and belonging.
I ran to him, clinging to him as though my life depended on it. Like he was somehow my savior. Or maybe I was his. He held me tightly for a beat, before stepping back. His beautiful, blue eyes searched mine, as he cautiously reached his hand out to me.
I smiled, watching the pain in his eyes disappear. I felt my pain easing too. Without a second thought, I placed my youthful, pink hand in his. I watched it change into the raw, meaty texture of the demon’s body. It spread over my body like blood on a carpet. I didn’t feel scared or sad. I felt…free.
I felt complete, truly whole, as we walked together into the darkness.
My latest novel, Vital Spark, is a vampire romance set in New Orleans. I’ve been a fan of mythical vampires since long before Twilight oversaturated the market. In all the novels I’ve read, I never really questioned what it was that made the vampires so appealing.
Obviously they are written as gorgeous, so there’s that. Then there’s the idea of superhuman strength and speed, which creates a situation that would make anyone feel safe and protected, and that’s a nice feeling. Some people are a sucker for a tortured soul, which could also explain some of the facination. A lot of us can relate to having that “darker side” of ourselves. We bury it and struggle to keep it contained, but we all have our inner demons.
Then I got to thinking, what is it that most people fear? Death. And also aging, because that seems to lead to death. But with just a little bite, a vampire can give you the gift of immortality and eternal youth. The older I get, the more I realize there isn’t much I wouldn’t do for eternal youth. Maybe not botox though, I’ve seen some pictures. But I have to do something because it’s not going to be pretty you guys…
A vampire can ease your biggest fears. Can you imagine what you would do if you knew you couldn’t die? I’d eat two pounds of bacon for breakfast every morning. And a stick of butter covered in sugar.
I always say it would suck to live forever. At some point, I’ll want to move on to the next realm so I can start haunting people or whatever. But I can bet that on my deathbed, I’ll be screaming for Dracula.
What do you think? Would immortality be a blessing or a curse?
No, not coming up with the idea. That part is fun and easy. I can come up with a million story ideas, and every now and then, one of them is actually pretty good!
The next part is turning that good idea into at least sixty-thousand words. If you know me, you know that I can talk for days…months, even! It’s entirely possible that one day I’ll get started, and never actually stop. So this part is not the most difficult part of being a writer for me. Sure there are times when scene A doesn’t connect so easily to scene B, but eventually, a bridge is built and everything flows together.
Then there’s the re-write. It’s a little boring, in my opinion, because the novelty of getting your story written has passed, and now you’re left cleaning up your mess. And I can leave one, big, hot mess. It’s a lot of work, but not the hardest part, for me.
Editing is a nightmare, I’ve made no attempt at hiding the fact that I detest editing. Even saying the word “edit” makes me throw up in my mouth. But I can push through and do my best.
Then there’s the part where I have to come up with a title for my novel. This part is only slightly worse than a root canal, but still not the most difficult part of being a writer.
After all that and a little more, it turns out the hardest part of being a writer, at least for me, is the marketing! Nobody warned me how hard it would be.
First of all, I’m just a drop in the ocean over here! I’m barely noticeable in a room of ten, much less a sea of millions. It’s hard to stand out against a backdrop of so many fantastic writers.
Second, I’ve been conditioned to be humble and not brag. A popular saying when I was growing up was “nobody likes a show-off” and that lesson really stuck. So I’m supposed to be over here saying things like “Check out my awesome new book, I guarantee you’ll love it!” or “I really outdid myself this time, you have to read this!” or “Get your copy of the best book ever written!” But inside my head it’s more like “Check this out if you want!” or “This one might be pretty good and if you think you might like to give it a chance that would be super!” or “I feel really bad asking you to buy this, I wish I could give it to you for free just in case you think it sucks.” But according to my husband, that’s just bad marketing, and he’s a Virgo so he thinks he knows everything and, frustratingly enough, he’s usually right.
And lastly, I grew up in the Catholic school system, where (back then) from a very young age we were conditioned to believe that everything we did was a sin, and all of our choices are wrong and shameful. I hear it’s a lot different these days, however, I did not escape without my fair share of guilt issues. So anytime I ask someone to “like” and “share” anything promoting my book, I get heart palpitations over the fact that I’m asking them for something. Like, no one owes me anything, what right do I have to bother them with my personal business? And Lord forbid they don’t “like” or “share” because then I just know I’ve crossed a line and must hang my selfish head in shame.
Who knew promoting yourself was such a hard thing to do? It feels uncomfortable and unnatural, and I wish it wasn’t a part of being a writer. Maybe after my fifty-seventh novel, it’ll be less painful.