Fog drifted my way early in life. The earliest when I was in third grade, almost nine. I was never an outgoing kid, never one who would cause trouble, nor was I one who would show off to attract attention. I was a thinker. I would think about other people – what was going on in their heads. I would read their demeanor. As a result, I could know how others felt or what others wanted. This quite awareness is a reason why I am a teacher.
But these thoughts turned dark, and back on myself.
You’re stupid. Fat. Ugly. No one wants to be your friend.
I agreed with these thoughts. By nine, I was told to glasses, told to wear my bone straight hair curly, told to dress in coordinating outfits. Then puberty hit. And the fog created a darkness like none other, until I hit my thirties when I was submerged to its depths which dragged me down by my ankles.
At school I would I saw fellow classmates no longer interacting like friends, because some became couples, some flirted with each other, some still ignored the other gender. They were just as lost as I was. Not sure what to do. What to say. How to act. Who to be. So we look to role models; try on different personas just to see which one fit. Which one would take. Winona Ryder? Julia Roberts? Drew Barrymore? Christian Slater? Brad Pitt? Johnny Depp?
Not sure of what to do, I played along with having friends, who really were girls who I felt were safe enough to talk to at school; they wouldn’t make fun of me – at least, not to my face. My friend at home became this fog who had sadness and loneliness lurking around. These new playmates were my home team. Withdrawn, embarrassed, confused – I didn’t say a word about my feelings to anyone.
Even now, thirty years later, I keep to myself…but I have found a way to break through my old friend fog, shake away from sadness, and make sure loneliness never lingers longer than a few minutes. Depression is an ongoing struggle that is part of my life. I have learned how to manage it, and I hope others do to.
I resolved to let others know about my life-long struggle, which inspired the novel, UNREQUITED GUILT. The first chapter is below, or you can visit Trident Media where I posted it along with other information about me and this novel for this agency to consider as part of their challenge for the month of June.
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Well after sunset, the dew point dropped, creating fog to hover like a spirit over the baseball field. The cheap chalk the school purchased for the sole purpose of drawing the mandated lines and boxes would never survive all of that moisture. The ground haze reached out across School Avenue to the houses on the other side; the ones with three sets of train tracks in their backyard. Inside one of those houses, Amber Malley was up working.
One of the items on her to-do list was to revisit an essay for her AP Language and Composition class. This essay was special; it told about a moment from her childhood that made her the person she was today. Even though she was supposed to have completed the required first and final drafts, Amber didn’t. She never felt the need to work on any assignment early, managing to earn A’s, a fact that shocked many of her peers since her attendance after Winter Break was sporadic at best. Amber produced her best work under pressure. But there was one teacher who refused to acknowledge her natural abilities, her AP Calculus teacher Mr. Richard Snyder. Amber recalled his comment at the end of first semester: “If your attendance was better, you would have had that A.”
What did Mr. Dick know about anything in life other than calculus?
She busied herself returning emails that piled her inbox. She forwarded a message to a group of friends; she knew they wouldn’t read it immediately, but they would eventually.
The dark voice lingered within her mind, “Good…take your time. Be sure to send them all a note to remember you by.”
To drown out that voice, she listened to her favorite band: Black Sabbath. Her mother introduced her to this group along with a bunch of other classic rock artists like: Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, Nazareth, Bob Dylan, and Eric Clapton, with and without Cream.
Hearing Ozzy Osbourne’s piercing cries allowed her to memorize the lyrics with ease, while developing an instinctive connection to them. This connection deepened her awareness of Tommy Iommi’s striking guitar riffs that provided the melody for every word Ozzy sang. Between Geezer Butler’s heavy bass beat and Bill Ward’s jazzed influenced drumming, she was able to preserve her internal natural rhythm despite the setbacks and doubts. Black Sabbath got her. Ozzy got her. Even all eight albums plus the reunion songs got her.
Whenever friends would ask about what type of music she liked, Amber would usually say, “I listen to anything.” Then, she’d ask them what they listened to; she didn’t care to share her choices knowing they could care less about real music. If she were to play the match game with friends, the favorite music answer for her would reflect one of their favorites. They preferred rap, R&B, and even pop; they would never consider the idea of listening to music that didn’t require a keyboard or a DJ. Even if any of them heard a song from Black Sabbath, chances were it would be “Iron Man,” “Paranoid,” or “Crazy Train,” – all of which became so commercialized.
Pop culture was one area Amber kept herself separated from as to never influence her. Who cared what others thought? Who cared what others did? She would do whatever pleased her; not to say that she would be careless, if anything, Amber calculated everything she did in life. Another way of avoiding poor influences was by fostering an inherent adeptness at deflecting questions.
One song on her playlist, “Electric Funeral,” described as doom metal, told the tale of nuclear warfare. Amber was fully aware the “storm coming” that she needed to hide from, except there was no escape from her storm that she could fathom except one.
“Yes, listen to your songs. Enjoy the music. Once your work is done, there is nothing left to listen to,” the dark voice slipped in.
Before completing the final task of the late night, Amber heard one last song, “Never Say Die.” She found herself contemplating the rhetorical questions of “Don’t they ever have to worry? Don’t you ever wonder why?” She longed for the moment when she would no longer have to worry. When she could no longer wonder why. This song contemplates the idea of people “going nowhere.” But, if they were going nowhere, couldn’t they just be going everywhere simultaneously, depending on how one looked at her situation? Amber knew she would be going nowhere, but it too, could be thought of as somewhere, a place she had carefully chosen to go.
Closing in on four o’clock in the morning, Amber stood up to pause, realizing that she had never been more assure of herself before. Still sitting at her desk, she picked up the ink jet copy of the essay her printer spitted out earlier. Upon grabbing the three-pages, she stapled the papers precisely together, writing a note on the top of the first page in red ink.
“That’s a nice touch, girlie. That bitch will know what she’s done. You’ll be free!” the dark voice confirmed.
She searched for a roll of scotch tape that had wedged itself so far back in the drawer she had to pull the entire drawer out. Achieving success, she ripped off a piece and threw the roll back into the drawer. Amber turned off the light on her desk, surveying her room one last time. She knew she left it the way she always kept her room, tidy and clean, everything in its place.
In the hallway, she closed her bedroom door. Her mother agreed that once Amber turned eleven, she was entitled to privacy. That privacy included keeping her door closed at all times. Gently, she grabbed a corner of the essay, and using the tape, stuck the whole thing to her mother’s door.
Her mother – Mary Alice – came home around midnight after working a double shift as a dispatcher for the local trucking company. At least she didn’t go out to Bobby’s for an after work beverage. Once her mother came home, she stuck her head into Amber’s room to say good night. Amber recalled smelling her mother’s at-home destressing remedy, a Mary Jane to her Mary Alice. With fresh cash in her pocket, Mary Alice bought a crisp crop of it this past Friday. She could buy a pound of fairly good quality weed at work any time since the owner grew it in his basement. After one joint, Amber knew her mother would fall fast asleep soon after and remain reposed until dawn.
On and off for the past few months, Amber had been reminded of that asshole. It started when her mother cleaned out her closest and came across a shoebox filled with a few forgotten pictures of him with her and Amber. Her mother uncovered her wedding ring crammed into the side of the box’s. Her mother insisted she would burn the whole damn box, but Amber could had sworn she saw her mother daydreaming as she viewed the photos with her misty lens provided by a few fingers of Jack Daniel’s. The pouring did not stop that night, until Amber found her mother passed out on the kitchen table. As Amber carried her mother back to bed, she noticed the outdated ring was back on the raggy finger.
One Wednesday, Amber played a message from a debt collector politely asking for asshole to call back regarding his credit cards that had been over extended. She debated on deleting it, and did, but in another week, Mary Alice was home to answer the collector’s call. Instead of disregarding the problem, Mary Alice asked Amber if she heard the first message and why didn’t she tell her about it?
Amber tried to explain, Well, mom, he’s been out of our lives for a few years now, so I could care less if his finances were not in order. Shouldn’t you? But no, Amber said that she did not get a message about it, but would be sure to write down any information if a call did come in again.
When Amber walked over to a friend’s house one afternoon, she could had sworn she saw him waiting at the run-down car wash’s parking lot staring at her. The pick-up truck was different, but the hat was the same. The shaggy beard the same. The posturing while exhaling a drag from a cigarette the same.
If that asshole wouldn’t had come into our lives, life would be different. Amber’s eleventh birthday marked a new world for her since she got her period two weeks before. With the expected trepidation and anticipation, she entered womanhood. In addition, this birthday was special since her mom allowed her to have a sleepover. Amber’s birth date happened to fall on a Friday, and for once, she was able to have her friends over to celebrate her day. For once, her mother didn’t make her wait until the weekend to take her out to dinner, where the servers sang her an embarrassing song. For once, she didn’t have to ignore her day, and once at home, enjoyed it quietly, all alone. For once, instead of always going over to her friends’ homes, they came to hers. But this sleepover was the only one.
Immediately after marrying Mary Alice, asshole settled right into their house like an old lazy rocking chair that could never be parted, Amber knew she no longer had a safe place. Her feelings were confirmed that Friday night, and feared her friends did too. This dangerousness lingered while her mother remained in that marriage and even after he left when her mother sobered up and kicked him out. This dangerousness slowly evolved into a guilt that had taken a permanent grip around Amber’s neck. But until she boosted his butt out, guilt assumed one form, the asshole himself, which was the one Amber tried to avoid at all times. Then again, guilt could assume the form of Mary Alice. Amber was thirteen then, and had just graduated from middle school. Regardless of when he left, this guilt left perpetual traces behind, ones that even a new start could not erase, like high school.
Now a junior, Amber softly walked down the concrete steps to the unfinished basement. The concrete walls were wet from the thawing earth, which made the air down there grip her throat tighter. She found the rope she had set-up after she arrived home from school that Monday untouched. She bought several feet of a standard twisted rope from the local hardware store. The store clerk asked her what she was doing with it, and she politely said that her dad needed it for camping. Amber knew how to act any part she needed to play: the loving daughter, the concerned friend, the ambitious student. She used her soft, innocent smile to let others know that she was a normal, fun-loving teenager with her whole life before her. Too bad they didn’t know about the low-hanging fog that remained continually around her.
Once the rope was set, she had a quiet dinner of a Hungry-Man fried chicken frozen meal. The microwave made the chicken warm and a bit tough, but nothing a glob of ranch dressing couldn’t fix. She left the mealy mashed potatoes and sharp corn pieces behind, but she did eat the hot-chocolate flavored brownie.
Amber stepped on the stacked old milk crates her mother collected over the years. Her faded white canvas shoes arrived safely balanced, providing Amber enough height for her to pull the rope into its final position.
“Nice and secure. This is the best you’ve ever looked, kid,” the dark voice acknowledged.
It wasn’t hard to figure out how to make the hangman’s knot; with a web site like wikiHow, anyone could show anyone how to do anything. She conducted a bit of research on the differences between a hangman’s knot compared to a noose knot, which there were none other than the name. She confirmed that the gauge of the rope would hold her one-hundred and ten pound frame. Amber tried to make the superstitious thirteen coils, but she felt it was too much, so she stuck with eight. These eight coils provided enough friction to close the knot, so it wouldn’t come loose or break when she motioned off the crates.
Amber situated herself one final time by pulling her bone straight shoulder length red hair out of the noose. She made sure to place the rope slightly higher near her left ear, since she read that location was supposed to assure a smooth break. Once in position, her head bumped a two by four beam that she snaked the rope through an open knot-hole to provide the required leverage. With a few shakes of her knees, the crates fell, providing Amber the perfect air time for hanging.