Earlier this week, I was working on a writing challenge when I was struck by this horrific realization:
I stared blankly at the last sentence I’d written, my thoughts bouncing back and forth between How the hell did I get here? and Where on earth did I expect this was headed? I was about halfway finished with the story, but it was clear the second half was just not going to happen. Sadly, this happens all the time with my writing challenges. Just when I think it’s all going well, I discover the story makes about as much sense as combining the Declaration of Independence with Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”
Luckily, I started a new story and it makes a LOT more sense. Enjoy! Don’t forget, the challenge is revealed at the end.
I placed one last X on the calendar the day Ben returned home from Tokyo. George tried to convince me to give him a night to rest and recover from his jet lag, but it would have been silly not to celebrate. I baked pies in the morning and decorated the house with streamers and balloons, and I fidgeted restlessly on the sofa all afternoon. For two years, the only thing I’d looked forward to was Ben’s homecoming.
Ben was my only child, and I never told him about my depression. I’m sure he knew, as often as he found me on the couch eating ice cream from a gallon tub while curled up in the fetal position. It only grew worse when he moved to Japan for an advertising internship. I had been falling for a long time, and losing Ben meant I had lost my parachute.
At the airport, I sat on my hands to tame my edginess. George rubbed my thigh while I became immersed in the hollow growl of rolling luggage and the muffled echo of a voice on the intercom. The first glimpse of Ben’s face offered me instant protection. My son had returned, and with him came relief and harmony.
Ben’s hug erased my anxiety, like a silent lullaby. It wasn’t until we separated that I noticed the woman behind him, lingering.
“Mom, dad,” Ben said, “I’d like you to meet my girlfriend, Alyssa.”
I’d been high on my own bliss and Ben’s announcement was sobering. My son and I were being robbed of our time together! Alyssa smiled and shook our hands, her soft touch emanating practiced innocence.
I was silent as we rode home in George’s new Cadillac. His cars gave him his happiness. Ben had given me mine, a happiness that was now infected.
In the evening, I sat on the back porch and burned through a pack of cigarettes. The sky was dark by six o’clock, giving me another reason to detest this awful first day of December. Eventually Ben joined me, offering me a handful of blueberries. He would never forget they were my favorite.
Ben said, “You’re not thrilled about Alyssa, I imagine?”
He pulled up a chair beside me as I said, “I’m terrified.”
“That you’ll be forgotten?”
I nodded as I stared out at the horizon. Ben reached out and massaged my shoulder, offering a secret assurance. Alyssa appeared in the doorway—a distraction.
“Mrs. Tolman?” she asked warily. “I was wondering if you would allow me to read some of your poetry. Ben says you’re very talented.”
I’d written poetry for years and Ben was the only person to ever show any interest. I told Alyssa, “Well, sure, I suppose I could show you some of my collections.”
Ben smiled at me as Alyssa and I retreated inside, leaving him alone on the patio. He knew as well as I did that my life was a constant process of acceptance.
The challenge for this story was: Every sentence ends with a unique three-syllable word.