Blog #2: Giving Up

(Trigger Warning/Spoiler Alert: suicidal ideology and depression.)

I started having panic attacks that have led to me missing work over the past month-and-a-half. I’ve never had this problem before — at least, not since I was agoraphobic. Even after my mom died, I used my PTO and went back to work on Day 7. After that, I didn’t miss a day of school or work. I never wanted to quit school, work, life more than then, but I still forced myself to continue on with all of those things.

I’ve always prided myself on my ability to seem okay when I was not. I couldn’t even count the number of times when I’d be contemplating suicide at work, and at that exact same moment, a customer I’d never seen before would remark, “you’re always so happy, every time I come in here”.

At the time, I felt a certain grim satisfaction at being able to trick the world into thinking that I had my shit together. I have never been great with showing vulnerability and I would have been damned before letting anyone see that my soul was actually a gaping pit of despair.

I know that the entertainment business is exploitative but I wonder if I left because of that or because I was terrified of being seen, of being important. When I left, I reveled in my renewed lack of relevance.

I started my new job almost 7 months ago, and for the first 5 months, I was great. It was the first time in my life that I wasn’t plagued with suicidal thoughts. I smiled for no reason, a lot. I felt like I was in control of my life, for the first time, ever. I was happy.

And then about a month-and-a-half ago, I had a panic attack at work. I left work early and came home just in time to pass out and fail to sleep off a migraine. I started doing therapy, and I started looking for a psychiatrist.

I had done everything right. I had found a stable job with stable hours, where I had one person’s job, a decent wage, and health benefits. But it wasn’t enough. All of the sudden, I was on the sidewalk, with God’s boot on my neck. Again.

I hadn’t missed that feeling, but I did wonder where it had gone and why it had come back. Since then, I’ve used up all of my sick and vacation days and now it’s actively costing me money to be mentally ill.

At my first therapy session, about a month ago, my therapist heard my issues, got some of my background, and said, “I’m going to fix you. Give me six months, and you’ll be all better.” She kept promising that she had The Answers for me, and during my third session, she gave me a bunch of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy tips.

I didn’t know that that’s what they were called, but I had already been doing all of those things, for years, and they just weren’t working anymore. When I let her know that, she threw up her hands and said, “Well then, you need medication!”

I broke my therapist after three visits. I’ve spent the last week feeling alternately proud and ashamed of that fact. But yesterday, I was getting ready for work when I started having a panic attack. I was like, “whatever, I’ll just muscle it out” but then I started to get a migraine and called out sick.

I went to two different Urgent Cares. At the second, they made an appointment with my GP — and it’s a testament to how long it’s been since I’ve been to a doctor that that didn’t occur to me until it was suggested. So, today, I went to my GP and asked for some help, and she prescribed me Paxil.

She also prescribed a new job and a psychiatrist, but those aren’t as easy to come by. So I took my first anti-depressant, ever, today. I cried before I did. It felt very much like a defeat, to admit that my brain chemicals had beaten me.

I think the worst part, though, is that this is my last hope, and I don’t know if it will work. I’ve been suicidal off and on, mostly on, for 32 years, and I have tried everything I can think of to try to empower myself and to counterbalance my darkest thoughts.

If medication doesn’t work, I have no more back-up plans. And if it does, I get to kick myself for not trying it sooner — although, maybe with a higher dose of serotonin firing through my synapses, I won’t be as hard on myself as I am now.

Blog #1: A Word About the World

When I was six, I had this neighbor. He showed me a dirty magazine and wanted me to kiss him. I was repulsed and horrified. I said that I heard my mother calling and made my escape. As I went to track down my mother, I knew that she would be furious, and I paused, worried that if I told her, she might murder the guy.

Then I had a worse thought. What if I told her, and she told me that I was wrong? That I was rude to have refused to kiss the guy? I pictured her sternly ordering me to go back and kiss him.

Was this the world I lived in? Until that moment, it hadn’t occurred to me that an adult would think that it was okay to kiss a child — like that. So what if my initial instinct was wrong? What if this was just the beginning of being asked to do something I didn’t want to do with someone I didn’t want to do it with?

The thing is, if I had told my mother, she probably would have murdered the guy. My first instinct was correct. But that was when I started living in duo worlds — a world in which justice is swift and merciless, and a world in which it never comes.

As I grew up and learned about slavery and rape and genocide, the world in which justice is real became smaller and less realistic. The other world became my whole world.

After I graduated from high school, I was agoraphobic for 10 years. I just couldn’t face going out into that twisted and corrupt world. I knew that I didn’t have a place in it — or maybe I was afraid that I did. One day, I woke up, and I was twenty-seven, and I realized that there weren’t two worlds.

We all live in a world in which people hurt and kill other people, for no reason. We all live in a world where children are put in cages, and that the majority of the population, myself included, just let that happen. We’re not happy about it, but we don’t know what to do about it, either.

How do you explain to someone who thinks that it’s okay to hurt children, that it’s not? If someone doesn’t inherently know that, is there even a conversation we can have with them?

We also live in a world in which people actively fight to save those children. We are surrounded by people who rescue children from fires and car wrecks and human trafficking. We live in a world in which young people become politicians just so that they can call out the corruption of the system that we operate within.

Every time I feel so weak that I’m not even sure I’ll even have the strength to draw in my next breath, in that same breath, someone else is using their words or their hands to help someone else.

It doesn’t seem like one world should be able to hold the depths of depravity and the heights of generosity that it does, but it does.

When I was young, I thought I’d be one of the Good Ones, I’d make the world a better place. In my heart, I was a revolutionary. Now, I’m a member of the Banal, a person who throws up her hands in the face of evil.

It looks like I’m a productive member of society, going out and working and cracking wise with my coworkers and friends. In reality, I’m hanging off of the edge of a cliff by my fingernails.

What can I do? is a question that can either have a million answers, or none. Right now, I’m ashamed to admit, I have none.

Blogtion #1

I hadn’t spoken to my mother in forever, but this morning, I whispered, “I miss you”. Words formed a cool mist, drifting toward the ceiling.

Rather than dissipating, vapor permeated the pores in the paint and the wood above that, and then moved up, into the sky. They floated through the atmosphere and out into star-spangled space.

When they made it to Heaven, my mother reached out, gathering my words back together. She tilted her head and poured them into her ear. As they became a part of her, she looked down, down, down past my roof, my ceiling, into my soul.

She said something back. Whatever language she speaks now, or at whatever frequency she speaks it, is incomprehensible. But I felt it. It was like an another feather joining its friends in my down comforter.

I can’t wait to see her again, but if I don’t, I may not get to. What kind of messed up multi-verse is this, anyway?

I cried in the Lyft on my way to work. In my mind, I was in my future psychiatrist’s office, giving up.

At work, I trembled before answering my first call. And my second, and my third.

I walked to a new place for lunch and failed to leave before realizing it was too trendy (expensive).

I answered fifty-eight tickets today. I composed fifty-eight insincere apologies; half of them spoken, half written.

It’s 9:30. There were a hundred things I wanted to do after work, a hundred more I should have wanted to do. I didn’t do any of them. Good night.

Words on Words #3

I’ve been working lately on not needing to explain myself. There’s a scene in the 10th Kingdom, where Virginia is having a meltdown and she says, “I still have this uncontrollable urge to just go up to people and say “My mother left me when I was seven!” You know, as if that would explain everything.  And I miss her… And I hate her! And…and I miss her… And I feel like I was on a train and it crashed or something and no one came and rescued me.”

I feel like this is what I’ve been doing my entire life. Just walking around with a dead brother storyline and a foster care storyline and a mentally ill mother storyline and a dead mother storyline and just waiting for someone to a) recognize that these stories are what make me broken and b) give a shit. And I feel like, with stand-up, I was able to share these stories, imperfectly, but enough that I don’t have that urge anymore.

I Ally Sheedy’d, just dumped all of my baggage out on everyone I spoke to and for the first time in my life, I found people who didn’t look away. Instead, they listened, and they had their own bags to dump out. I don’t know what it is about the stand-up community that is different from any other set of people I’ve ever been around, but that is the only community I’ve been a part of that let me be sad and angry and whatever the fuck else I was.

But now, I have this weird normal job around normal people and if I say something dark, instead of people laughing, they get concerned. And that makes me miss stand-up but instead of feeling like I have to explain the joke or explain my existence, I just let them think I’m weird. And I don’t care anymore. The urge to explain myself in real life has almost entirely faded.

This is not to say that I don’t have anything to say. If anything, I have more to say than I ever did and I have a much better handle on how to express myself. But the need to be understood by every person I meet, in every interaction I have, is gone.

This is not to say that sitting down to write is less terrifying than it ever was. But I was watching a YouTube video with “tough love” writing advice for writers tonight, and it was the same old shit until she said, “find a way to make it fun”. And I was like, holy shit, I make writing a chore. No wonder I don’t want to do it.

So I searched YouTube for “how to make writing fun” and there was really only one video, and it was “how to make writing fun for kids”. And I thought, if it’d work on kids, it might work on me. So, basically, the way to make writing fun for kids was a story generator set up by Scholastic. And it’s cute, so I wanted to try it out.

I realized that the other thing that stops me from writing is that I want it to be good. It takes so much energy to talk myself into writing that I don’t want that to feel like wasted time. And there are all these rules about writing. The very first piece of writing I ever showed to a professional in the publishing industry was responded to with a suggestion that I check out the Turkey City Lexicon. The Turkey City Lexicon is a list of tendencies new writers have. It’s essentially a list of what not to do.

So, I’ve spend the last decade-plus figuring out how to write well so that showing my writing to other people won’t be humiliating. But not wanting to be humiliated is just another thing that stops me from writing. So, I decided to take the writing prompt from Scholastic and pair it with the first rule in the Turkey City Lexicon — Brenda Starr dialogue. Essentially, you don’t want to write blocks of dialogue that aren’t anchored in a setting, with defined characters.

So I wrote a short story (see last post) that was a bunch of blocks of dialogue with as little setting, characterization, and narration as possible. And, damn, was that fun. And, damn, did I like the story. Is it well-written? Naw. But did I want to keep going and find out what happened next? Yes. So, maybe this is a writing exercise that will get me out of my head and and make writing fun.

In the movies, a character will go through a tumultuous experience and then sit down at a typewriter and their story will just pour out of them. I spent a lot of my life expecting that I would become a writer someday. I’d have that movie moment and it would be all I could do to keep up with the waterfall of words. But that isn’t what writing is for me.

Writing is something that I want to do, all of the time when I can’t, and none of the time when I can. My first day back at work after my mom died, one of my managers who knew that I had a complicated relationship with my mom and had her own complicated relationship with her parents, said to me that I was “free”. She wasn’t wrong. But in that moment, I hoped that she would never know how terrifying and lonely true freedom actually is.

When I have the time to write, and I sit down to do it, all of the potential for greatness and ineptness — and worse than either of those, mediocrity — come crashing down on me. I don’t know how to make writing less important to me. I don’t know if I should. But I would like to make it fun and I would like to thumb my nose at people who make rules that seem to restrict creativity more than encourage it.

What the hell is the point of the Turkey City Lexicon? Why isn’t there an equivalent list of specific things TO do in order to write a good story? Why are we, as human beings, so much more responsive to being torn down than being built up? It seems antithetical to me, to create a list of what NOT to do in order to encourage people to create more powerfully.

So, fuck the Turkey City Lexicon and fuck any rule about what not to do.

Scholastic/Turkey City Prompt Mash-Up #1

“Hey, who are you?”

“I’m an owl. My name is Henry. Who are you?”

“Samantha. You can call me Sam. Are you magical? There was a burst of light in the sky and then there you were. Where did you come from?”

“Nice to meet you, Sam. I’m from a faraway planet. I’ve been flying for a long time. Boy, are my wings tired. I’d like a place to rest before I continue on with my journey.”

 “You’re welcome here for as long as you’d liked to stay.”

“Thank you.” Henry landed. “You don’t happen to have seen any other plaid owls around here, have you? On the planet where I grew up, I was the only one. I scoured the whole planet and when I realized I was the only one, I left. So far, no other stars, planets, or asteroids have had any plaid owls. I’m starting to get a little discouraged.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. I haven’t seen any other owls, plaid or otherwise. There are lots of worms like me, though, just under the surface of the planet. They don’t come up here much except after it rains.”

“Hm. I suppose I better keep searching. This is a pretty big planet, though, so I’ll do a little exploring before I go. Say, I’m hungry and thirsty. I think I saw a river as I was flying in but my vision is a bit blurry with fatigue so I don’t know exactly where it was. Also, I’m too tired to fly there. Do you know if there is anything within walking distance?”

“I know the river you’re talking about. It’s a few miles away so it would be hard to get there on claw. Don’t worry, though, there’s a pool of water that is a part of the same river, but underground not far from here. Follow my voice. It should only take us about 10 minutes to get there.

“I’m glad you’re here, by the way. It gets pretty boring. I seem to be the only one in my family or set of acquaintances who has any sense of curiosity about the world around me. That’s why I spend a lot of time on the surface, while everyone else just roams around mindlessly digging holes all day. I’m getting a little out of breath crawling and talking and I can go faster underground, where the dirt is wetter, so I’m going to play Marco Polo with you, okay?”

“Okay.”

Sam created a quick hole in the sand and disappeared. She popped up a minute later, a yard away, and shouted, “Marco!”

“Polo!” Henry responded, and walked toward Sam’s voice.

After a few Marcos and a few Polos, Sam popped up and said, “We’re here! There’s a pool of water just under the surface here. I’ll create a starter hole for you and then you can peck down and get the water.”

And it came to be that Henry was able to break through the crust of the surface and find water. “Sam?” he said, after he’d drunk his fill.

“Yes?”

“There are a lot of worms down there whose names I don’t know,” Henry said. “Would you mind terribly if I ate them?”

“I – wouldn’t be pleased, but I understand that you’re hungry, so I wouldn’t hold it against you.”

This was all the answer Henry needed. “Are you okay?” he asked, a few minutes later.

“I suppose. I never had much in common with my fellow worm-kind, and this patch of water is far enough away from my home that only a few of the worms looked even vaguely familiar, but it was still hard to watch. Also, the screams were unsettling. I don’t know if I’ll ever forget that sound.”

“Are you mad at me, now?”

“I said I wouldn’t be, but I think I am a little.”

“I get that. So, what now?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think that I can face my family again, at least not soon. Do you mind if I come with you on your journey? Maybe you’ll find another plaid owl and I’ll find a way to live with myself.”

“Aren’t you afraid that I’ll eat you?”

“Yes. But I’m also afraid that you won’t.”

Turkey City Lexicon: Brenda Starr dialogue

Scholastic Story Starter: A day in the life of a plaid owl who lands on a faraway planet.

Opening Line Prompt #11 — Draft

This needs an ending. I’ll come back to it.

I only ever met one woman I’d call truly outgoing. Her name was Rachel. She was one of the better lawyers at the firm I worked for. Unlike anyone’s mental image of a lawyer, Rachel had a wild mane of strawberry-blonde hair, wore jeans to the office as often as she could get away with it, and had a laugh that was as boisterous and infectious as it was perpetual.

I was the receptionist for a law firm. As the first thing a potential client saw when they walked in, my desk was huge and wooden and imposing. It was designed to look like a judge’s bench. I was eating my lunch under my desk, as usual, when Rachel came by to pick up some files she’d asked me to find for her.

I’d messaged her that they were on my desk, and as I heard her approach, I mentally kicked myself. I would generally pull my chair in to make sure that I couldn’t be seen but I had forgotten to. If she stayed on the visitor side of the desk, or even the side, I’d be safe. I held my breath. No luck.

She’d paired a black-and-gray pinstriped skirt with red Keds, which meant that she had to be at the courthouse later. I’d gone with her often enough to know that she kept a pairs of heels in her car.

She laughed when she saw me.  

I’d had few close calls over the year-and-a-half since I started eating my lunch there, but nobody had ever spotted me. I couldn’t believe I’d left my chair pushed back so far. I was never that careless!

“Did you drop something?” she asked. Then she spotted the empty yogurt container next to my crossed legs and the half of a sandwich in my hand. The other half of my sandwich was on a folded paper towel on my floral-skirted thigh.

I pictured her shouting everyone in the office over to laugh at me. My face flamed with humiliation. I mentally drafted my resignation letter.

But her ever-present half-dimple disappeared as she regarded me seriously. Her body made jerky little movements as she decided what to do. Then, she looked around quickly, before ducking down.

“Shove over,” she whispered.

I reluctantly moved over so that she could sit next to me. Even with our legs straight out, the desk was big enough to completely shield us from most angles.

“This is a genius idea!” Rachel whispered, drawing my chair in the way that I should have. “I wish my desk was big enough to do this! You could take a nap under here!”

“I do, sometimes,” I admitted in a much softer whisper than hers. The carpet was plush and I kept a small pillow in my bottom desk drawer, behind some files. With her around, that wasn’t going to happen and I couldn’t help but resent her a bit.

“Damn, I should have brought my lunch,” Rachel said, her half-dimple returning. “I didn’t know we’d be doing this.”

I gestured to my thigh.

“Oh, I couldn’t,” she whispered, as she reached over and picked up the sandwich half. I always cut my sandwiches on a diagonal because I’m not a barbarian. I never saw anyone outside of a Wonder Bread commercial take their first bite from the center of the triangle, before, or since.

I suppressed an urge to laugh.

Words on Words #2

I have work tomorrow and I’m not dreading it any less than I usually do, despite having had the last two days off. Saturday and Sunday are usually pretty chill, but, still. It’s just the beginning of another shitty week, every moment of which leaves me aching for my next day off.

I had lunch with my former boss today. He doesn’t understand why, if I love stand-up the way that I do, I decided to leave the business. I tried to explain, but he doesn’t get it and I’m barely eloquent enough to explain it to myself. But it was nice to see him.

I never really understood the concept of missing people. My mom used to tell me that she missed me when I went to work. I thought that her saying that was manipulative because I saw her nearly every single day for 30+ years. She’d seen me the day before, would see me the next day. She knew 80% of my thoughts. I’d be back in 9.5 hours.
What was there to miss?

Then she died, and I missed her. I’d just seen her. I’d seen her nearly ever day for the past 30+ years. But here I was, seconds into her being dead, her empty body three feet away, and I already missed her.

I see and talk to the people I love in my head, all of the time. The only time I “miss” them is if I get the idea stuck in my head that I won’t see them ever again, that I won’t make new memories with them, that I’ll never get the chance to know them better than I already do.

But I’m a weird, solitary person, and I always have been. I used to be agoraphobic, and I use the phrase “used to be” very loosely. I used to be ashamed of this period of my life, judging myself for hiding, for giving up before trying. But I’ve spent the past 13 years out there, jobbing, schooling, interacting. And my dream is as it ever was; a house in the middle of nowhere, with no easy means of communication to the outside world.

There are always people in these fantasies, either me visiting “home” or them visiting me, but just with long periods of no human interaction. The older I get, the less guilty I feel for this fantasy. I need people but, like, in small doses. I’m trying to figure out how to save up enough money to bring this fantasy to reality, and how I’m going to manage leaving everybody behind without feeling too guilty.

Anyway, the writing has been okay since my last Words on Words. I don’t love a couple of the stories but they all have something in there that I like. I never would have thought to write about a rodeo clown and his ghost brother, that’s for sure.

I joined a critique forum, where The Brave Princess has been critiqued by 5 people. 3 of them picked up what I was putting down and had some really good suggestions on where to add and how to tighten it up. The other 2 had good suggestions too, although the really didn’t get what I was going for in that story. That’s okay, I think I had a good ratio of people who got it, and that’s always the risk with satire. I may spend the next week implementing some of those suggestions. If I do, I think I’ll improve the number of people who can at least read it as a coherent story, even without recognizing it as a satire, which was the goal.

Okay, off to bed. I hope tomorrow doesn’t suck as much as I think it will.

Opening Line Prompt #10

Miranda had grown accustomed to getting her own way. More than that, she had grown accustomed to the world being fair – at least, to her. Miranda had achieved massive success with a silly little app that some people said would eventually be credited with saving human civilization. She’d followed up with other apps that were less impressive on a global scale, but that were all useful to everyday life.

This meant that not only was she enormously wealthy but that all of her creature comforts were anticipated. She was surrounded by people who liked and respected her, and that she liked and respected. And that sense of well-being carried over into her overall worldview.

One morning, Miranda was getting ready for work when she realized that she hadn’t purchased her own morning cup of coffee in about a decade.

Feeling slightly guilty, she decided to duck out before one of her assistants could show up with said coffee. As she got behind the wheel of her BMW, she realized that the key fob she’d been carrying around had become largely ornamental. She briefly wondered with a mixture of amusement and alarm if she remembered how to drive a car.

As the engine purred to life, Miranda put on her seatbelt and then adjusted her mirrors. She took a deep breath before putting the car into drive. At the end of her driveway, she hit the remote that opened the gates – and realized that she hadn’t done that since she’d bought the house – okay, mansion.

She pulled out. She could hear her heart beating in her ears as she hit the remote to close the gates again. As they swung shut, she resisted the urge to turn the car around, reopen those gates, and wait for her assistants to show up and prep her for the day.

This was stupid. She’d graduated from high school three years early and had been living on her own since she was sixteen – not because her parents were terrible but just because she liked her independence. When had that changed?

She wasn’t even sure how to get to her own favorite Starbucks, so she just pulled into the first one she saw. She was grateful that the parking lot was empty enough that she could pull in an out several times as she attempted to park properly.

As she stepped out of the car, she felt shaky on her own legs. Could she even walk without being supported on each elbow by a competent assistant? She approached the Starbucks, her thoughts a jumbled mess. Did she even remember her own order anymore? Did she have money to pay? Yes, her phone was in her purse, she was fine. God, she hadn’t even gotten to work yet and she was already exhausted.

The Starbucks was warm after the cool winter air, and Miranda breathed in, glad to be still, for a moment. She stood behind a woman who tapped her foot rapidly as she waited. Miranda admired the woman’s sense of purpose as Miranda examined the menu. The woman moved up to order. “Finally!” she snapped at the barista. “Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino.”  

Miranda winced at the woman’s tone but still had some appreciation for her confidence.

“That’ll be $2.95,” the barista said, her smile barely faltering.

The woman inserted her credit card. “You really need to work on your long lines,” she said. “Every time I come in here, I’m waiting forever.”

Miranda looked around. There had only been one person in front of the woman when she’d walked in and there was no one else in the shop.

“I’m sorry about the wait, ma’am,” the barista – Cheryl – said, her voice warm, and her smile still sweet. Only her eyes gave away the injustice of this statement, but the woman wasn’t looking at Cheryl and didn’t notice.

The machine grunted.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, your credit card didn’t work,” can you try that again?” Cheryl asked.

The woman sighed. “Unbelievable,” she snapped, inserting her card again.

The machine grunted again, this time even more definitely.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, do you have another form of payment,” Cheryl asked.

Her eyes darted to Miranda, who smiled encouragingly. Cheryl smiled back.

“My card is good!” The woman shoved the card into the barista’s face. “Can’t you just use another machine?”

Cheryl jerked her head away from the woman’s card, and then stepped over to the second register. “Of course,” she said, her expression still sweet, but with a bit of strain around the edges of her eyes. She tapped the order into the second machine. “$2.95,” she reminded the woman.

The woman inserted her card. The machine grunted.

“Unbelievable! This stupid Starbucks never accepts my card! You’re such an incompetent idiot that you can never get your machine to work properly!”

Miranda, who had been about to offer to pay for the woman’s coffee, was taken aback by the woman’s sudden vitriol. She noticed that the barista didn’t seem surprised by the woman’s outburst. Tears welled up in her eyes despite the smile that was attempting to hold on to her face.

“I’m here every day! I can’t believe that you would treat a regular customer like this!”

“Ma’am, I’ve paid for your coffee every day this week,” Cheryl said calmly. “And the week before, Jane paid for your coffee. You may want to call your ban—”

She was interrupted by the woman’s angry shriek. “How dare you!” She reached out to slap the barista, but her arm paused halfway to Cheryl’s face and then the woman crumpled to the ground.

Miranda, who had barely been able to get her stun gun app open through all of the panicked texts from her assistants, breathed a sigh of relief.

She looked up at Cheryl’s shocked face and gave a rueful sigh. “I need to create an app that allows you to ignore incoming texts.” She took a deep breath and then said, “I haven’t ordered my own coffee in forever and I don’t even know what I like anymore. What do you recommend?”

Opening Line Prompt taken from here: https://www.plot-generator.org.uk/opening-line/

Opening Line Prompt #9

If I’d become a dentist, then Vaughan would still be alive. Instead, I became a rodeo clown, and like everything else I ever did in my life, Vaughan had to do the same. Now, every time I climb into a barrel, Vaughan’s ghost creeps in, along with the tastes of sweat and battered plastic.

“Steve,” he whispers, like he used to late at night, when we still shared a bunk bed.

“Yeah.” I don’t want to answer, but I never could ignore him, no matter how tired I was.

“I’m lonely,” he whispers. “Why don’t you die, too, so that we can be together again?”

I hear the gate open and I pop up out of the barrel, as much to escape my dead brother, as to see what’s going on. The bull comes out fast, not pussyfooting around the gate. Johnny up top is holding on strong. The bull chases Clint over to the gate. Clint hops up nimbly but the bull slashes at his legs with his horns. I pick up the barrel and run, hollering at the bull.

The bull spots me just as the horn sounds and Johnny flies off of the bull’s back. Johnny lands on his feet, more or less, and runs back to the gate, while the bull heads for me. I drop the barrel and put my feet up on the plate and duck down.

“Steve,” Vaughan whispers.

This is a feisty one. He hits the barrel with enough force to send me flying. I land with a thud and wait out the roll.

“Yeah, Buddy,” I whisper back, as horn enters the top of the barrel, missing my face by less than an inch.

The horn disappears and I continue rolling as the thundering of the bull’s hooves move away from me.

“Can’t you do it, huh? Just die, for me,” Vaughan whispers.

“I don’t know, Buddy,” I whisper back. “I have Sandra and the girls to think of, and besides, did you see Ma’s and Pa’s faces at your funeral? I can’t do that to them.”

I can feel the barrel being tilted right side up. Cheering indicates that this round is over. This is my cue to stand up, revealing my intact head and torso, and waving my hat in the air.

But I stay where I am for just another second, waiting on Vaughan’s response. I can’t live with Vaughan haunting me like this, I know that.

Silence. Then, as Clint peers down in the barrel, Vaughan lets out a long sigh. “Okay,” he says. “But just don’t forget about me, okay?”

“You okay, “Buddy?” Clint holds his hand out to me. I don’t need it, but I take it anyway and stand. I take my hat off and wave it in the air. The audience that had grown quiet due to my delay in showing, erupted into applause.

Clint is the only one close enough to see tears smudge the painted smile on my face.

Opening Line Prompt taken from here: https://www.plot-generator.org.uk/opening-line/

Opening Line Prompt #8

If I could change one thing, it would be hiring that lawyer. But to put it in perspective, if the lawyer was a mistake, filing that lawsuit was a disaster.  You’ve read all the stories – who am I kidding? You’ve read the tweets, watched the auto tunes. I’ve done countless interviews where I’ve bullshitted about what made me sue Brittney for breach of promise. I’ve never, not once, answered that question honestly.

I was asked the same questions over and over:

“How did you meet?”

“How did you know she was The One?”

“How did it all go wrong?”

I granted all of the interviews, smirked my way through every lie. No reporter ever asked me if I was telling the truth. That would have brought the interview to a screeching halt and they needed their clicks and views and ad revenue.  

I’ve watched my own face smirk as I lie about Brittney breaking my heart. About how I was there for her when she was going through her breakdowns. The truth is that I went to a few of her concerts as my little sister’s escort and my sister would drag me into pictures with her and the superstar – photos that I later used as evidence of the beginning of our relationship.

Of all entities, it was the paparazzi that backed Brittney up. If our relationship had been real, there would have been other photos. Photos of her and I alone. It wouldn’t matter if it was illegal to purchase those photos; they’d still exist. Multiple prominent and less prominent paparazzi testified on Brittney’s behalf. I lost track at 18 but we were there for days.

Then the questions changed, asked by the same glory-hungry reporters, now acting self-righteously injured not only on Brittney’s behalf, but on their own:

“Why did you lie?”

“Did you really think you’d get away with it?”

“Who do you think you are?”

It was that last question that slapped the smirk off of my face. Because I was just a guy. Just this dude who woke up every day, to get ready to spend the next 12 hours getting ready for, working at, and getting home from a job that he despised. That morning, Facebook reminded him of that first concert he ever took his sister to, and he got a crazy idea.

He laughed at that idea in the mirror as he shaved. He laughed at it some more in the shower, and then again over breakfast. Then he took one step out of his front door, and he was paralyzed by the thought of going back to that place for one more day. So, he told himself, it was do this crazy thing, or go back to that job.

“So why tell the truth now,” yet another reporter asks. This one is from Rolling Stone and I can tell believes that he’s more real than anyone else I’ve ever spoken to. Then again, so has every other reporter I’ve ever spoken to.

The truth is that I wanted to get money from suing Brittney but that didn’t work out. However, granting interviews did. I’m not interesting because I lied about having my heart broken by a celebrity or because I got caught lying about having my heart broken by a celebrity. I’m interesting because most people wouldn’t have the balls. And my lies have gotten old, so I’ve had to change tactics, in order to sell my tell-all book.

I pause meaningfully before I answer the Rolling Stone reporter’s question. “I finally realized that what I did was wrong, and I just wanted Brittney to know how sorry I am.”

Opening Line Prompt taken from here: https://www.plot-generator.org.uk/opening-line/