She is at a crossroads and she can’t sleep. The blank page quiets her, uneasily. She rubs the back of her neck – more out of habit than need – and fumbles to find her glasses. She goes over it all again.
It’s not the first time she’s left everything behind to follow her dream or even to just chase something shiny. It’s not the first time she’s not been in the driver’s seat – being carted all over the country.
…But she’s not who she was back then.
She checks her email again. Nothing.
The waiting is the hardest part, she murmers, then chuckles to herself, thinking of a favorite Steve Poltz story.
A planner by nature, the academic purgatory between application and acceptance is unbearable.
She clicks on the circle arrow, refreshing the page again. She waits. She thinks about throwing in the towel.
You want to be a writer, so just write, she tells herself. She cracks the spine of her notebook and picks up her pen.
It’s almost noon. His every fiber writhes in pain. His brain – groggy from sleep and chemo – is slow to understand, to grasp the reason for the ache, the bastard cancer that has invaded his bones yet again. The god-awful devil he thought he beat for good – who year after year, he silently mocked, “Good riddance, you son-of-a-bitch,” until the ten year mark when the pain returned.
His head spins as he sits up in bed (too quickly) and his feet and toes tingle from sleep and neuropathy as he gingerly places each on the floor. A wave of nausea hits him as he stands, and he braces himself against the dresser, but remains still – waiting – and lets it pass. He doesn’t know how much more of this he can stand. And now they say he has pneumonia.
He thinks of his record. Almost finished, just a few more touches, just a few more months before he can celebrate its release..A few more months until he can celebrate so many other things. And he hurries to get ready to go – he has to get a move on. There’s still so much to do.
The friend she once considered hers forever is gone. Poof. In a flash of a moment, it was all over, down the drain. She tries not to relive that last night, the emails and texts that followed. She sits motionless and stares out the window. The audacity. Angry tears threaten to well up again. How could he just throw everything away? How could it be so easy for him? All those years… Fine.
She puts one foot in front of the other, trying not to dissect, yet again, what happened. What could’ve/should’ve been different. How she could have saved it. Maybe she should’ve…
It gets easier as time goes on, but heartache lingers like the smell of burnt toast. Out of nowhere, she sees that billboard again (did beer really come out of his nose? or just snot? we laughed so hard…) and reaches for her phone absently to text…
Then slowly drops the phone in her bag.
That night she sits down and writes a letter – sincere in its love and regrets and forgiveness, and shifts nervously as the email whooshes off into the ether. A moment later, her phone begins to buzz. She stares across the room to the counter where it sits.
153 rejection letters lay rubber-banded together, haphazardly half hidden in the deep night stand drawer. Always there.
Every time he hovers over the hand-me-down typewriter, he remembers. 153. Always there.
He lives day-to-day on a diet of cheap vodka , cigarettes and cottage cheese, working in a series of odd jobs. Hard and mind-numbing labor reserved for the strength of a twenty-something’s stubborn ability to suffer and muscle through.
At night he writes. 153. Always there.
The voice inside his head – his mother’s voice, but not – nudges quietly, “give it up. move on. what’s the point?”
He brushes it off along with an unruly strand of hair from his eyes, and cups his hands around the glass of ice water to ease the pain. His palms are scarred and freshly scabbed from the cuts he routinely gets from cleaning the heavy metal venetian blinds in the office complex his landlord owns.
He reads the first line again (too many words), and stares aimlessly at the nightstand drawer. He yanks the sheet of paper out of the machine, crumbles and hurls it across the room, half-smiling with bitter victory as it bounces hard off the wall.
He thinks about Bukowski. And in the morning, on his way to mundanely paint some rat-infested apartment, he’ll drop another stack of submissions in the mail.
Why the hell not?