On playing tiny violins.

New year, new me.

That’s what everyone says. Now me, I’m not quiet as ambitious, but I am pleased (more than pleased, actually) to share that I am making good progress with one resolution: to write every day. What I have to share with you for this blog post isn’t another self-pity party or a list of attributes I wish I possess or anything like that. It’s … a short story!

Without further ado, I present for your reading pleasure: “BARBARA AND HER VIOLIN.”

Wooden violin on a sheet music.

Barbara sighed deeply. She was seated on a low, plush stool on a similarly plush rug in the center of her small, sparse living room. Her violin case was resting quietly beside her. Its golden clasps shone magnificently against the hard, matte black covering. It was beautiful to behold, had been a birthday gift from the first and last man she had ever loved, but at the current moment, it was not beautiful enough to hold her attention. Instead, Barbara was focused on her hands.

Her worst fears had been confirmed earlier that morning during a routine visit to her doctor. Barbara hadn’t told him about the pain in the mornings and she kept quiet about the way her finger and wrist joints would scream after a few hours of playing. Her mother had taught her that ignoring a problem made it go away, so Barbara never spoke about what was going on with her hands. And she made no mental notes whatsoever about how often she rubbed them to soothe the throbbing aches in her fingers and wrists. No one had to know because nothing was happening. Nothing to see here, folks. Just move it along, Barbara thought with a rueful smile.

But then Dr. Gabbison handed her a clipboard with some routine paperwork to sign. “Oh, Barbara,” he moaned. “Why didn’t you tell me about your hands?”

Barbara looked up with wide eyes. She had been struggling to grip the pen, wincing as she struggled to curl her fingers. She couldn’t bear the pity in the doctor’s eyes, so she averted her gaze to the appendages in question, the very things she was trying so hard to ignore. There were bony knobs on all of her fingers, and the skin around each was red and inflamed. They were awful and hideous to behold. Their ugliness viciously betrayed their former grace and dignity. Those hands could make wonderful music and remind people that humans were capable of more than just eating and shitting and dying. Now, they were discolored and gnarled and she hated them. When she looked back to Dr. Gabbison, she thought she might cry.

She left his office an hour later. Barbara left with a prescription for some super strength pain reliever and an impending sense of doom. Dr. Gabbison scheduled Barbara for another appointment in a week and tried to be optimistic, but he mentioned steroid injections and splints and even surgery, all of which scared Barbara half to death. All of that meant getting better was not an option. Dr. Gabbison talked about life0changing measures, alterations to her beloved and comfortable daily routine. Dr. Gabbison talked about not playing the violin anymore. She could never – and would never – understand how anyone could demand that someone else stop creating, stop making beautiful things for this grotesque world and its morally disfigured inhabitants. Barbara did not know how she would cope with the daily disappointments without the violin. She didn’t know how to keep from crying herself to sleep when the other side of the bed had been so cold for so long without the violin. Barbara didn’t know what she was going to do.

Daunted by the enormity of the tragedy she was facing, Barbara simply sat on her low, plush stool situated in the center of the plush carpet in the middle of her nearly empty living room. The blinds were drawn. The air was stale. Dust mites apathetically floated in the narrow streams of light that slipped in. Barbara sat with her hands curled about themselves in her lap. They seemed like they were not part of her, like she holding a weak and dying thing that she would be happy to see go as it meant the suffering was over, but mostly because she was disgusted by its continued existence. The hands she had cared for and admired for so long were useless to her now, and so she despised them. And the worst of it was that they were still part of her, and she couldn’t just ignore them until they were better. She couldn’t act like it was all okay because the hands riddled with arthritis had betrayed her and sat now as useless stumps, daily reminders of what she once had been and could never be again. As if growing older wasn’t enough of a travesty. She’d have to continue on alone, without the only companion she had known for nearly two decades. The music was gone, red and inflamed and silent, and now Barbara had nothing to help her temporarily forget that all there was left to do now was die.

She wondered if she should make herself a drink.

Barbara slowly got to her feet, thinking now that every single joint in her body was seizing up on her. She grabbed her lower back with a grimace and shuffled slowly, hunched over, into her small but tidy kitchen. It was a good thing she didn’t pass a single mirror on the way. She was moving like a woman twenty years older. It would have depressed the hell out of Barbara to see herself so frail, so weak, so near the end.

Barbara opened up the cabinet with glass inserts to find just the right glass to toast her final defeat with. What it was filled with would be inconsequential; anything with alcohol would suffice. Her eyes scanned the shelves to the bottom of the cabinet, and there they widened and filled with tears. Her breath caught in her throat.

Barbara was looking at two glass tumblers with a date from long ago etched elegantly around their middles. Henry had surprised her with them on the last night of their second honeymoon, a trip booked once Henry’s cancer proved indestructible against radiation and surgery and prayers and pleas and oils and creams and everything else, dear Lord, they had tried everything and nothing had worked. Barbara had broken down immediately, burying her face in her hands and letting the sobs wrack her body, sending shudders from her shoulders to her guts. Henry took the news with the same quiet dignity he always had. He shook the doctor’s hand, thanked him for his efforts. He helped Barbara to her feet, kissed the top of her head, and practically carried her to the car. He drove them home (for Christ’s sake, Barbara thought, I wasn’t even able to drive him home) and locked himself in the guestroom for two days.

When Henry emerged, he acted like nothing had happened. He kissed Barbara hard enough to make her knees tremble, made them a huge breakfast, and talked excitedly about what he was calling “his farewell tour.” He wanted to taste the air of great cities he’d never been to. He wanted to make love to Barbara in distant lands and wake up beside her with different sunlight on their faces. He wanted to live the way people are meant to; fearlessly and joyfully. He wanted what little time he had left to be so fucking good (the only time Barbara had ever heard him use such language) that he’d miss being alive.

They sat side by side and planned the whole thing – reservations and itineraries and accommodations galore – on Barbara’s laptop.

They ended the trip in Paris, Barbara’s absolute favorite city. Henry’s condition was rapidly deteriorating. He was always tired and though he put on a brace face, Barbara could tell he was relieved when she cancelled the remaining sightseeing tours. They stayed in the hotel room, making love and gorging themselves on French cuisine via room service. Barbara would play the violin at night. Henry would smile, crying as he watched her play. He told her he loved her over and over again. He told her he would miss her over and over again. Barbara didn’t trust herself to speak, so she only held him and kissed him and loved him the best she could.

The last night, Barbara awoke alone in the extravagant bed. They had made love and afterwards, she had fallen asleep, wrapped in Henry’s arms. When she woken and discovered he had left, she began to panic. He was too weak to go anywhere without assistance and he couldn’t speak a word of French. Barbara threw the covers off and frantically began getting dressed, wondering where he could have gone and debating calling the authorities. She had one leg in her pants when the door opened.

“Henry!” Barbara cried. She ran to him, half-dressed, and threw her arms around him. “I was so worried! You didn’t leave a note or anything an your cell phone was on the nightstand, so I didn’t know what happened to you!”

Henry stopped Barbara’s mouth with his, holding her almost as tightly as she was holding him, with a strength he hadn’t had in months. He backed her up to the bed. “Don’t bother getting dressed,” he said, winking.

Barbara fell back onto the bed and got a good look at Henry. He looked good, looked like he had when the trip started. She also noticed he was holding a brown paper shopping bag. Henry noted Barbara’s quizzical expression and set the bag on the bed. From it, he pulled an expensive looking bottle and two equally expensive looking tumblers. He handed the glasses to Barbara. “Look at the inscription,” he said. Barbara did as she was told. It said: BARBARA AND HENRY, AN EVERLASTING LOVE THAT BEGAN 02/18/1973.

Barbara blinked back tears. “Henry,” she said. She let his name hang on her lips and hang in the air because it was so sweet and so precious, and she wanted to savor it.

Henry held Barbara’s face in his hands. “I love you, Barbara. I love you more than I have ever loved anyone. You are the only thing about this life I’ll miss.” He paused to take a deep, shuddering breath. “So when I’m gone, you need to keep going. Do you understand me?”

Barbara shook her head, tears steadily pouring down her cheeks. “I can’t have this conversation with you, Henry.” Barbara thought that ignoring a problem really did make it go away, that acknowledging the problem was that start of all the trouble, so she shut her eyes and tried to be somewhere else.

Henry released her face and grabbed Barbara by her shoulders, shaking her. “Don’t do that. Don’t refuse anything life gives you. This is hard and this seems terribly unfair, but this is it, Babs. This is the hand we’ve been dealt so we’ve gotta play it.” He kissed her lips. “I know you don’t think you’re strong. I know you believe yourself incapable of facing any kind of adversity. And I know a lot of that is my fault because I’ve never let you. I’ve always fixed whatever was broken and I’ve always handled whatever needed to be handled, and I’ve always spared you the gory details. Barbara, honey, that was a mistake. I’m worried I might have set you up for failure.”

Barbara emphatically shook her head “no.” “Henry, you never ever did anything wrong. I -”

Henry interrupted her. “Barbara, stop. Listen to me, okay? Don’t argue or anything, just listen to me. Life is going to happen to you after I’m gone and you’re going to have to keep living no matter what. If that means finding love with someone else, or if that means moving somewhere else, whatever that means, I need you to do it.”

Barbara threw her arms around Henry again. She was sobbing, smearing snot and mascara all over his shoulder. “I love you, Henry. I don’t want to do this without you.”

“You have to,” Henry said. His voice was thick and he swallowed all that emotion down before speaking again. “You have to and you will. You’ll be an old, beautiful woman with long, gray hair, captivating men and women of all ages and types with that violin of yours. The sky will be the limit without me holding you back,” he said. He laughed softly and kissed her again. “Promise me you’ll never stop.”

Barbara looked Henry in the eye. The only man she had ever loved, the man who would be dead and buried in less than a month. Henry had saved her from countless dangers, both real and imagined, both big and small. He’d always kissed it and made it better. He was her lover and cheerleader, her biggest fan. There was absolutely no conceivable way Barbara could go on without him. It wasn’t a promise she could make as it certainly wasn’t a promise she could keep. But Barbara also couldn’t deny a dying man his last wish. So she kissed him like she’d never be able to kiss him again, like this really was the very last goodbye, and then she said, “I promise.”

Henry kissed her open mouth. “I’ll drink to that,” he said, smiling though there were tears gathering in his dark eyes. He filled both glasses with the bourbon he liked, and they toasted to Barbara’s promise.

Now, over ten years later, Barbara stood in her small but neat kitchen, holding one of the glasses from that tragically perfect evening in a Paris hotel room with a gnarled, grotesque hand. Next to Henry, the violin was her only source of companionship. To lost it would be like losing Henry all over again, would be a fate worse than death. That violin had brought her to Henry. After she had played with a small orchestra at the local community college, Henry had been waiting for her outside. He told her that he just had to tell her she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen or heard. He said it would be his life’s biggest regret if he didn’t ask her out. And so their courtship had begun.

Henry was at every single performance, even when his failing health didn’t really allow it.

At their wedding, Barbara played an original composition she had written for Henry.

When they had their first bad fight, Barbara played her violin until Henry finally started talking to her again. This same tactic was successfully employed time and time again over the years, as the music was a cue for Henry to come and have a conversation or, at the very least, to tell her to knock it off because he wasn’t angry anymore and just wanted some quiet. Barbara didn’t think she could abandon those memories or do such a disservice to the instrument that had helped her keep the promise she made to her dying husband.

Slowly, painfully, Barbara filled the glass with the bourbon Henry had loved. She drank it down quickly and then returned to the living room. Slowly, painfully, she removed the beautiful instrument from its elegant case, and she began to play.

In a couple of hours, she didn’t even feel the pain.

the-sad-violin

On being random, dismantling and finally updating.

It’s been over two months since the last time I posted, and there’s nothing I want more than to tell you I’ve been doing wonderfully interesting things, that I’ve been really and truly living. But that would be a hyperbole. I’ve been alive, yes, and I’ve done some fun things, yes, but nothing that should keep me from writing.

So let’s catch up, shall we?

I haven’t lost any weight, but I have gained some. I haven’t really been trying, as I’ve felt mostly unmotivated and uninspired lately. Is this summertime sadness? Is this some looming emotional, existential crisis that has finally landed? Am I just melodramatic? Rather than answer these questions, I usually eat a bag of potato chips (the ones that say “Family Size”) and fall asleep on my couch.

I think I’ve identified one behavior that needs to change.

I wish I had a camera that could take quality pictures of the moon and do its beauty justice.

“A heart that hurts is heart that works.”

I don’t fantasize about sex. I fantasize about intimacy; how sad is that?

I think a duck must have a perfect life. They just float on, no matter if the water is calm or choppy. They can take off and fly whenever they want. If the only dunk their heads in the water, they have food. It’s simple and free, and I am envious.

I am done romanticizing broken men, as if loving them adds something noble to my character.

“I don’t hold grudges. I believe that’s the shit that leads to cancer.”

The school year ended on a high note. The senior events I was charged with helping to plan (Mr. Manchester, Senior Prom, graduation) all went off without a hitch. I am proud of the work I’ve done.

“Nothing is ever over.”

I really need to use my upstairs more. I don’t have central air though, so during the summer, the temperature is almost unbearable up there. So I’m in pretentiously self-proclaimed “office,” but it’s dark in here. It’s really dark in my house. I’ll say it’s to keep it cool, since I don’t have central air, but in all honesty, it’s because I’ve been too broke to afford light bulbs and now that I do have money, I’m simply too lazy to buy some and replaced the old ones.

“I know what I want, and I don’t mind being alone.”

It’s really dark in my house. I’ll say it’s to keep it cool, since I don’t have central air, but in all honesty, it’s because I’ve been too broke to afford light bulbs and now that I do have money, I’m simply too lazy to buy some and replaced the old ones.

This is what a successful adult looks like, no?

The literary agent who requested the first fifty pages rejected me, but my original publisher is still thinking about it. What’s that saying, when God closes a door, He opens a window? I’m feeling ambivalent to everything, mostly because I’m sunburned and it hurts so I’m cranky.

I like collecting little, seemingly unimportant details of the people in my life to better craft my characters.

When school was in session, I realized that the worst thing about leaving my house each weekday morning wasn’t having to bid adieu to my comfortable bed and its cozy covers, but that I miss the early sunlight streaming through the windows and lighting the wooden floors. It’s beautiful, and I was sad I could never just sit and admire it. But now I can. I think that’s how life is supposed to work.

I do this thing sometimes where I just sit in my car. I might leave the engine running, or I might shut it off, but either way, I sit in the driver’s seat, scrolling through the social media garbage on my phone or playing Tetris. It’s wasting time, one of the most precious gifts, and I hate it. I don’t know why I do it. Is it exhaustion? Is it moodiness? I abhor how lazy I am. I had an idea for a scene for my third novel, but the details have faded. I remember it had something to do with a modest, upstairs library and someone watching on anxiously as someone else carefully surveyed the titles. I wanted to throw in visiting a favorite author’s grave, but there was definitely more to it, like dancing or something? I need to write things down more often … obviously.

“Wanting it doesn’t make you the monster, taking it does.”

Some days, I just waste the hours until I can go back to sleep.

“You can fail at what you don’t want to do, so you might as well do what you love.”

I’ve been in a miserable sort of funk, so I’m endeavoring to change my life. My friend thinks I need to be comfortable alone before I can be comfortable with someone. She recommended hiking, picnicking, wine on the beach, seeing movies, and getting coffee. I also think I should leave the state. I’ve been dying to go to Key West in Florida. This summer, I’ve decided to dismantle myself from the inside out, rebuilding to be more carefree, more creative, more in love with myself and less dependent on others. Some days, I have to talk myself into getting out of the shower, and even then, I change into pajamas.

But I’m trying to be positive, I swear. I’ve begun keeping a running list of things that make me happy to be alive (in no particular order).

  • fireworks on a summer night
  • driving my Jeep without its roof and doors
  • sunburn (as long as it turns tan)
  • books (even the shitty ones because they’re non-examples for my career)
  • clean sheets
  • hot showers
  • food, glorious food!
  • running and being sweaty after a run because it helps me to love my body
  • good movies
  • laughing
  • the national pride fearlessly displayed by soccer fans

“The effect you have on others is the greatest currency you’ll ever have.”

I recently lost a banana for 24 hours.

“I’m ripe with things to say. The words rot and fall away.”

So, here’s an excerpt from the novel I’m working on. You should hit “play” on the video that follows now, so you can have a soundtrack. Ironically, the song playing is not the one I quote in the paragraph that follows. I wish I knew why I do the things that I do.

“The thing about things is that they can start meaning things nobody actually said, and if he couldn’t make something mean something for me, I had to make up what it meant.”
– Amanda Palmer

Kelly dropped the box filled with odds and ends concerning the kitchen with an exaggerated, dramatic sigh of relief. The box landed on Charlotte’s tiny, cheaply and poorly made kitchen table, a piece of furniture she had salvaged from her grandmother’s home, a piece that had likely been in the home for forty years – a horrible blend of Formica and putrid pastels. For a moment, Charlotte had been hopeful the weight of the box would crush the table and put the ugly thing out of its misery, but she had no such luck. She watched Kelly similarly drop herself into a chair, sweaty and tired from a day spent moving, a day of manual labor. “I don’t want to do this anymore,” she whined.

Charlotte offered a grin of commiseration. “I know, me neither.” She moved a few steps closer, resting against the back of a chair.

“Then let’s call it quits and do something better.”

“Like what? As you can tell, I haven’t got much of anything.”

Kelly thought for a moment. “You got playing cards?”

“I think so,” Charlotte said. She knew damn well that she did, but she was playing it cool for no other reason than it was a habit turned instinct. It was irrational – there was no way Kelly would give a shit about how those cards came to be in Charlotte’s possession, or how seeing those cards made Charlotte’s dumb heart skip a beat even now, even though she was nearly 1,000 miles away.

Kelly’s face of thoughtful concentration broke into a youthful smile of excitement. “Well, shoot – I’ve got beer and some of them crisps. How’s ’bout you and me play us a few rounds of cards?”

“Sure,” Charlotte smiled. Kelly scurried back to her neighboring apartment to scrounge up some beer and some snacks, and Charlotte headed to her bedroom. At the foot of her bed, upon the creaky floor, sat a box labeled, “PERSONAL.” It had been the only box Charlotte had personally moved, had tucked discreetly in her car and carried hurriedly across the threshold of her new apartment, lest anyone should see and ask about the contents, most of which meant absolutely nothing to anyone except Charlotte (hence the label). It wasn’t filled with lingerie or vibrators or dirty pictures or anything like that. The contents only embarrassed Charlotte because of their innocence, because only a prude would cling to a random assortment of objects that reminded her of people who had long since removed themselves from her life, or had been removed for any number of offenses. The items in the box would mean nothing to a passerby and that embarrassed Charlotte, like there was something shameful and almost juvenile about being anything but obvious.

She squatted somewhat uncomfortably to delicately open the box, lovingly unfold the flaps so that she had complete access to some of her memories, so that the majority of the contents were visible. Charlotte only needed to scan the contents for a few seconds before she found the deck of cards, quaintly contained in cardboard, beaten up from a few years of handling. A smile splayed itself unabashedly upon her lips as she reached into the box the same way a heart surgeon would reach into her patient’s chest cavity. With the same kind of epic patience, she removed the playing cards from the box and began walking back to the kitchen. The youthful, exuberant smile quickly became nostalgic and sad.

The playing cards were white with silver, loopy hearts decorating their backs. The hearts were cute, sure, but there was nothing remarkable about their appearance. They were a treasured item for Charlotte only because of the way the cards came to be in her possession. A few years ago, Charlotte had fallen in love with a beautiful, brilliant, and broken man. As a result, she had developed a constant need to be around him, to be close to him, and so, she invited him everywhere.

One night, she invited him back to her hotel room after a work conference. She and her colleagues had all been drinking for quite some time, right up until the lights came up for last call. The beautiful, broken man had joined them at the bar, at Charlotte’s request, of course. Charlotte had always envied the sort of effortless grace that surrounded him, the way he could suddenly appear anywhere at anytime and be welcomed and accepted. When he strolled into the bar without fanfare or pomp and circumstance, without having attended any of the conference because of a prior commitment, Charlotte was breathless with awe. It was like something of a horribly cheesy and romantic movie made for network television; he could have been walking in slow motion beneath a burning spotlight towards a strategically placed wind machine. The fact that he was walking towards Charlotte smiling was wonderful and she was so happy she could burst apart. She never ever wanted her time with him to end, and her colleagues and friends didn’t want to stop drinking, so a select few decided to buy some beer and return to Charlotte’s room. She turned to her beautiful, broken man and invited him. He played it cool – he was always so goddamn cool – and didn’t really answer one way of the other. Even when they were walking back to the hotel, just across the street, he wouldn’t accept or outright reject the invitation. When he climbed into his car, a lump formed in Charlotte’s throat. She would let him go and hide her disappointment, try and play it cool, so her parting words asked that if he did come, to bring playing cards. He waved somewhat dismissively and drove away. The copious amounts of alcohol she had consumed kept Charlotte’s mood from dipping too low and she scampered back to the hotel among friends, arm in arm, with high spirits.

He sent her a text later saying he couldn’t find playing cards and was just going home. Charlotte sighed heavily and thought her best recourse was to just keep drinking.

About twenty minutes later, there was a booming knock at the hotel room door. It sounded particularly authoritative and Charlotte was worried it was the cops. Were they being too loud? Her one friend raced to the bathroom to hide while the other pressed herself further into the bed, as if the mattress could swallow her whole and conceal her. They had left Charlotte to answer the door and so she did, despite feeling suddenly and incredibly nauseous. She opened it and saw no one. No one was there.

She whipped her head to the right and gazed down an empty hallway.

Looking to the left revealed her beautiful, broken man. He was leaning against the hallway wall like some leading man from Hollywood. His arm was bent at the elbow so he had one hand behind his head and rested his weight against the wall through the point of that bent elbow. His right leg was crossed behind the left one and the toes were pointed down at the plush carpet. In his other hand, he twirled a pack of playing cards. He was smiling, quite pleased with himself and the effect it all had on Charlotte. There was certainly something gorgeous about him, something more than his appearance. His demeanor drove her wild – she would never able to pull off such an entrance, but he had.

And it had been for her. What more could a girl possibly ask for?

But nothing had come of it. He was with some woman with a checkered past and too much makeup. Charlotte’s grandma was worsening, and so she had left it all, run away. But she kept the playing cards to remind herself that for one night, she had gotten exactly what she had wanted, that she had been perfectly happy. The cards symbolized possibility – if it happened once, couldn’t it happen again?

 

On making every breath count.

condolences

A classmate of mine by the name of Jessica Bongiovanni passed away last night after battling osteosarcoma.  I hadn’t talked to Jessica in years and admittedly, during the time we shared in high school, I was closer to her younger sister, Kelsey.  Jessica was an athlete and a scholar, and both attributes followed her to college and beyond.  Not only was she smart and talented, but she was a natural-born leader and incredibly supportive and fiercely loyal to those she loved.  I, however, pay these compliments without any intimate knowledge of Jessica and her relationships.  I remain confident in these statements based on the writings of others and on the writings of Jessica herself.

As she waged her brave battle against osteosarcoma, Jessica updated a blog.  She kept it on WordPress.com (http://jessicabongiovanni.wordpress.com/), and without fail, each entry was honest and written with a subtle optimism and quiet kind of strength.  Despite losing a leg and going through lung surgery and postponing a wedding, Jessica never really put her life on hold.  What’s more is that Jessica never ever wasted a single second.  Even when the knowledge that her seconds were numbered could have oppressed her, Jessica rose above it and faced it.  She took it for what it was, faced it with a smile, and carried on.  Jessica’s honesty and her bravery have inspired many and I am proud to include myself in that number.

To be honest, I was apprehensive about dedicating a post to Jessica because I did not know her that well.  But I hope my doing so inspires someone else the way Jessica inspired me.  She wanted her story to be shared and wanted to help others.  Jessica was an amazing individual and her passing is untimely and tragic.  There is nothing I can write and nothing I can do to ease the pain of those who knew and loved her and will certainly mourn her.  I do hope that those grieving can take solace in the fact that in the short amount of time she had, just twenty-five years, Jessica really did impact lives, some of which belonged to total strangers perusing blogs on the internet.  I know that she has touched and inspired me, and I vow not to let a single second of my life pass by where I am not incredibly grateful, filled with love, and taking advantage of all opportunities.

 

Thank you, Jessica.  You are loved and you will be missed.