Cry

“I wish I could cry.”  He felt like his insides were filled with stones, holding him down, making it impossible to breathe.  If he could just cry like the way he did when he was a little boy, the stones could come out, he would feel hollow inside for a while, but lighter again.  Other than happy moments, he hadn’t been able to cry for years.  He just continued to fill up with those stones.  He could be full of them and sit at the bottom of the ocean.  You can’t crush stone even with the weight and pressure of the entire black ocean rising up above you.

The last time he remembered crying was when he was 17, watching the Fox and the Hound with Suzanne in her basement.  With her parents upstairs, the two of them sat under the same blanket, thin and frayed, smelling a little like cat urine.  They had movie evenings like this before, where usually they passed the time kissing, how many thousands of different ways to kiss as the movie played in the background.  He didn’t even remember which ones they had seen together.  There was something about this movie though that hit him a different way.  Not long after it started, Nick felt something break inside of him.  The tears filled his eyes and a dam burst someplace inside, they kept coming, running down his cheeks.  He couldn’t stop them.  He wept and Suzanne watched him with astonishment, eventually taking him into her arms and just holding him.

“I’m sorry,” he said.  Laughing between tears he apologized and tried to wipe them out.

“There’s no reason to be sorry.  Are you okay?”  She just kept holding him.

“I just can’t stop.”

“You don’t have to.”

That night after the movie was done, he felt so empty, like all the poison of his life up until that point had been drained out of him, like a boil.  Suzanne never mentioned it again unless he brought it up.  For his birthday, she bought him the VHS of the Fox and the Hound, which he never had the courage to play again.  Certainly not alone.  

He never cried like that again.  Not when his grandparents died, not when he had to euthenize three of their dogs when he was married.  The stones started filling him then.  Sometimes his eyes would well up with tears of joy.  Anything random could set it off.  A television commercial or the kids smacking the tv screen when they were toddlers. 

Then there were moments like that Valentine’s Day, when he sat alone on the quad, his back up against a pine tree outside the building where he worked.  It was a clear, mid-February day.  In Colorado, winter takes a break for a few weeks and returns in full fury at the beginning of March.  Usually around Valentine’s, the temperatures climb into the sixties or seventies.  The grass is dead and the color of honey, but insects begin to buzz around. For a few days it feels like a rumor of summer.  

He sat staring into the distance, feeling the weight of so many stones that had gathered in his heart—his marriage, the stress of his job and how it never seemed to be enough, and the debts that kept building, the opportunities for his kids being missed over and over, his solitude, the friends he could no longer talk to without being criticized, the beginning of estrangement from his parents.  A student approached him, walking straight towards him across the grass.  He watched her come closer, figuring she was just another campus crusader.  Oftentimes they stopped to talk with him about Jesus or attending one of their services.  He was still young looking in those days.  His early thirties. They were eager to put butts in pews.

“Hello!” the young lady said when she approached.

“Hi,” he said.  There was a feeling inside that made him wonder if his wife was somehow watching.  She wouldn’t like him talking to a pretty college student.  The girl was blonde, with her hair braided into two long braids.  She wore overalls and rubber rain boots. Yellow with red flowers painted on the sides.  

She sat down across from him and reached into a bag she was carrying.  She handed him a Reeces Peanut Butter cup.  “Happy Valentine’s Day,” she said.  She offered him the candy, which he took reluctantly.

“Thank you,” he said.  He held the candy bar gingerly, like a baby chick.

She beamed and offered her hand to shake, which he took.  Her hand felt small in his palm.  The skin was soft and smooth. He could smell her shampoo. His heart fluttered a little bit.  He couldn’t remember the last time he had touched another adult like this. It felt more like a hug to him than a handshake.  He was touch-starved, alone, and that touch felt like glass cracking all the way up the length of his arm to his chest.

“Thank you,” he said again, feeling tears welling up into his eyes.

“You looked like you needed to be someone’s Valentine.”

She stood up and continued on across the grass, leaving Nick holding that peanut butter cup.  When she was gone, he was still holding the candy and he heard himself sniff.  He let out a single sob and two tears rolled down his face.  He couldn’t tell if they were happy or sad tears.  Maybe one of each.

He unwrapped the candy and took a bite. Maybe the girl was an angel, he thought, and he could keep the gift she had given him safe inside himself.  The chocolate and peanut butter were the best and freshest he had ever tasted.

Nick thought about last year when he and Holly would stay up late texting each other.  He was still nursing the wounds of the end of his last relationship: Kate. Love in the Time of Covid was the working title of that story. Over the years, he and Holly had their run of flirtations when either of them was single or in close proximity at least, but mostly they talked about things. Hopes. Burdens.  Dreams.  The 500 miles between them were a deterrent for romance, though nothing was impossible. He had always thought she was pretty. Curly hair and heart-shaped face which always seemed to carry that sweet smirky-smile.

When Kate left, Holly was the first person he told.  He didn’t know why.  He just had to reach out to someone as his heart was shattering into pieces.  They hadn’t talked for months other than the occasional hello or checking in on each other.  He liked her posts on Instagram and Facebook too and watched her daughters grow and the sweet smile she always wore. Summer under lock down passed easily when they filled the nights with long conversations. They listened to each other about everything. They never flinched.

“Have you ever read the book, Wild by Cheryl Strayed?” Nick asked her one night.

“Yes!  I love that book!” Holly said.

“I just started reading it again.  I read it at the beginning of my divorce.”

“It is incredible.”

“She’s just so honest.  Raw,” he said.

“And that scene on the beach—“

“Oh jeez,” he said.  “I know what you mean.  I like the movie and the book equally but for different reasons.”

“Oh yeah?  Please tell me,” she said.

“That whole area is beautiful, but you never see that in the book.  Just the journey of discovery in herself.  The movie at least shows us the scenery.”

They decided to read the book again together and when they were done, a few weeks later, they watched the movie.  They texted back and forth as the movie played, talking about each scene as though they were there.  That was a moment Nick’s tears were happy.

In the nights he was reading the book, it was hard to get through it as quickly as Holly had been reading.  He had to stop and scribble down notes of what he was feeling, putting into words the things he wanted for his own story which were demanding to be told.  Cutting as deep as he could.  Sometimes he felt himself on the verge of tears.  This time sad tears.  Something deep inside coming up that he could do nothing to stop.  Like a whale rising from the deep blue towards the surface, about to take a breath.

A year later, Holly was gone as well.  Their paths diverged, with each of them going where the other could not follow. Her absence left another weight in his chest.  Another stone to pull him under.

He watched Wild again, alone.  Trying to feel the way he felt when they watched it together.  A completely different person now than he was even a year ago, when they were both starting out on an amazing journey together as close friends. Then something more. Back when she let him in. Back when she was pretty instead of beautiful. Now he took his place among many others and she lost sight of who he was. Maybe even herself. Now he was just another in a long list of names to be forgotten. He knew well how it felt to be lost.

He remembered how deeply that movie cut him.  How he wished he could write anything that honest.  How the nights reading that book (one of the only ones that he read more than once) were often start and stop, with him reading a chapter or a few pages and drawing the courage from that to write from places so deep that it was better than crying.  Cathartic.  

He sat down again to write.  The words fell into the pages of that leather bound notebook she had given him, scratched out onto the heavy gauge paper in scribbles of black ink, manifesting what his heart told him.  He couldn’t cry anymore.  Never again would it be like that night of watching the Fox and the Hound half a lifetime ago.  His tears were the ink from his pen now, falling onto those empty pages.  

Gradually, he felt the weight of the stones begin to lighten.

Copyright 2021 Clinton A. Harris

A writing rut

So, not counting the copy I was writing for life-sized sex dolls a few weeks ago, lately my writing has ground down to a crawl. That company is now gone. The agency where I get assignments has determined that those sorts of clients are pretty offensive and chose to release them. I don’t mind one bit, because they are right.

The process of moving, doing some renovation work on the house, and of course the stress of dealing with legal BS and the impasse of those difficulties has been distracting me from working on the book. I’m not a fan. The few times I’ve been able to sit down and write, I just stare at the screen. I wonder where that momentum went that I had back in October. I used to just fly high with the word counts, sometimes writing until 3 or 4 in the morning. The story was telling itself.

Now that I’ve moved, I almost feel like the story was left behind in those walls where so much of it happened, and now the memories, the emotions, everything else are just fading away.

Tonight, I sat down to write some more copy for companies. This one was a website in Australia that sells high-end strollers and prams. I have enough versatility to write the Queens English, with all the old school spellings (just throw some more U’s into the mix), but the work is on-spec, so it could be a while before I hear of anything. I need to get caught up. I need to focus on writing for paying customers.

*As a note to my ex wife’s attorney–who seems to be one of my most loyal readers these days–just because I wrote something doesn’t mean it is/will be selling. Wordcounts don’t mean much in this game. Look up “On spec” if that isn’t clear to you yet.

The More You Know | BRAIN TRUST MUSIC

The book is stalled, but I have been working more on the personal site. My readers are always supportive and seem to enjoy the stories I am sharing. The big questions of “Why am I doing this?” and “Who even cares?” haunt me. When I get some feedback, it feels good and it justifies work that right now I have been doing for the love of writing alone. Some feedback is nice, because writing is very lonely at times. Though the words you send out into the world might affect others, and reach dark corners of their heart and shine light into them, you might never know that.

Sometimes when you talk to people they don’t understand why you would do something unless someone was paying you to do it. To them, I would have to say money doesn’t have anything to do with the currency of the soul. You should try doing something you love just once without expecting to get paid for it. You’ll live longer. You’ll be happier.

The book is stalled where I left it, which is about 3/4 of the way through the story. Maybe tomorrow will bring something new and the words will come to me out of the aether like they did before. What I do know is I am ready to do more. I just need to stop getting in my own way.

*further note. It doesn’t help a writer’s creative process when someone is stalking them online and using misquoted or out of context versions of what they wrote against them. In everyone’s common interests, stop getting in my way and let me work. Thanks.

A moment of panic

This morning I woke up at around 9a.m. and started writing. Lately I have been using a method where I jot down ideas for a scene or even a chapter right there when I need to on my phone. I finished writing a significant chunk by 11a.m. when I got out of bed. 3260 words. Last night I struggled to get the right ideas down, but eventually I did. This morning, the scene I worked on flowed better. It pieced together the scenes I wrote last night in a good way. It was really a keystone kind of chapter that begins a new section, having played out the last one to the point where I am sick of those characters.

I got the scene down in Notes. Then I got coffee. Then I fought fires through the better part of the afternoon until around 4p.m. when I sat down to transcribe the scenes I had written in bed to my master document. I opened up the file and it synched through to my computer. I watched it as I clicked on the file to select all, copy, and paste it to the main document in Scrivener. And as I did this, the entire file vanished.

Two hours of work. Gone.

I checked in deleted files. I rebooted my phone and the computer. I tried to check my backup hard drive. It was like the computer decided to be helpful and synch what was on the computer over what was on the phone. Because computers are helpful that way. It was gone and not a tech info library in all of the internet was of any help. They just kept suggesting I check the recently deleted folder.

No shit? I hadn’t thought of that!

Of course I had thought of that. It wasn’t there. And unlike the last time this happened, I didn’t think I was crazy and maybe had shaken my phone and accidentally undid typing in a file that hadn’t been saved. It was literally right there. Synched on my phone and computer.

So, I broke down and called Apple Tech Support.

The first person, though she was very nice, was exactly the same kind of tech support I used to work with when I did the job myself twenty three years ago. She escalated me to L2 tech support. Someone in Cupertino who actually knows what they are doing instead of trying to field 50 plus calls a day which can usually be remedied by “Have you tried turning it off and on again?”

He took control of my phone and poked around in Apple’s secret files and…

Found the goddamned files. Saving my bacon. My sanity. And getting my eternal gratitude.

The rest of the day, I finished Utopia on Prime and also the most recent episode of The Boys. I got another coffee and prepared to do some more writing. I had some Happy Panda for dinner, poured myself a stout and sat down to write another 2,850 words on a new chapter. And then the words you are reading now.

It’s just midnight now and I feel good about the day. I could keep writing though.

Maybe I will. If I make a tea, I should have another two hours in me before the writing gets sloppy or I black out at the keyboard.

I think I might just let the chapter I’m working on percolate while I sleep. Then I can start again in the morning, hitting the ground running.

I keep holding back, since a lot of the stuff I’m writing isn’t going to sit well with some people. This is a concern. I’m not a robot and I do still have empathy for people. But the story needs to be told, and this is what I need to write if I want the story to be true. No holding back. No pulling punches. Not that anyone ever pulled a punch with me.

Maybe being nice is one of those things to consider in my second draft.