Friday, May 4, 2018

The Canyon

Prompt: There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in--Leonard Cohen

I shivered and stared at the long crack, which started halfway up my wall and ended at the floor, and imagined I was a teeny-tiny ant. No, smaller than an ant. An amoeba or something, and the crack was a gigantic canyon carved deep into red-brown mountains. I could usually wish myself into any world I could dream up, but this time was different. Her shouting was louder. Scarier. Just when I got to the point where I could almost imagine hiking down into the canyon, just when I could almost smell the dirt and hear the wind in the trees, I snapped back to my mattress on the dirty brown carpet in this freezing room in this smelly old apartment. I wasn't usually scared, but this time, I was. Part of me wanted to open my door and sneak down the hall to see if things were okay, but something deep inside told me to go exploring the canyon instead.

Mother screamed and something hit the wall so hard that if I had been down in my wall canyon, I would have turned the sound into thunder. Why couldn't I disappear this time? What was wrong with me?

Daddy's low voice rumbled, and I thought about thunder again. If thunder had a voice that could calm lightning down, it would sound just like Daddy. Still, I wished he'd stop talking. It never helps. Thunder is just noise. It's harmless. Lightning, though...lightning can burn the house down. It can kill you.

"Don't be so stupid, Libby. She's not lightning and she's not gonna kill anybody."

Sometimes saying things out loud makes me feel better, like I can make it real. I have to be careful what I say out loud, though, because if some of the things I think really happened, I'd live in a world with no lightning. Maybe that might seem like a relief, but without lightning, there'd be no thunder. Then where would I be? In some orphanage run by scary nuns like Mother is always threatening to send me to? No way, Jose. I'll take my chances with being zapped.

I don't know how long I slept, but when I woke up, my room was dark. The street lamp outside my window was busted out ages ago, so no light came through the cracks in my blinds.

Stupid, I thought as I remembered we didn't have electricity. I should have taken a shower while it was still light.

The whole apartment was quiet, and I wondered if it was safe to make my way to the kitchen to find something to eat. Sometimes after a big fight, Mother and Daddy went to their room for a nap. Sometimes, they left me all alone in the apartment and would be gone until the next day. If either of those things happened, I'd be safe. My stomach grumbled and I thought about what I could make myself for dinner. Maybe I could bring a spoon and the peanut butter back to my room. And Daddy's thermos. I could fill it up with water and bring that back, too, because peanut butter always makes me thirsty. I opened my bedroom door and listened. I held my breath and imagined my ears growing as big as a bat's. Bigger. As big as Dumbo's. So big, I could hear Mother blinking if I concentrated hard enough.

I was about to step into the dark hallway when I remembered the last time I thought it was safe after a fight. I walked into the kitchen and froze when I saw her sitting at the table. She was smoking a cigarette, the ashes a long, grey snake. The heavy green ashtray sat in front of her, heaped with a miniature mountain of butts. Her eyes were far away and she didn't seem to notice me. I turned around to go back to my room, but before I could take a single step, the ashtray smashed the wall next to me. Ashes stung my eyes and the ashtray clanked to the floor in three big chunks.

"See what you made me do," she screamed after me as I ran back to my room. Somewhere between between the kitchen and my bedroom, I had an accident.

“Stupid baby,” I whispered as I quietly clicked my door shut.

"No way, Jose." A grumbly stomach wasn't worth the risk. I shut my door and moved back to my mattress. I climbed under the old blanket and wrapped myself up like a burrito, only I left my face poking out so I could see and breathe.

After a few minutes, I got tired of lying in the complete dark. The stick on the blinds was missing, and if you pulled on the string, the blinds went up all crookedy and got tangled, but even a little light from outside would be better than sitting in a freezing cave. When I got the blinds up as far as I could, I went back to my mattress and stared at the crack. At first I had to stare so hard my eyes hurt, but after a few minutes something happened.

A thin thread of golden light started at the top of my wall canyon and moved like the sun all the way down to the bottom. I watched, not breathing, not blinking, until my eyes burned and I had to squeeze them shut against tears. When the light hit the bottom of the canyon, it got a little brighter and moved back up to the top of the crack. Warm, golden light soaked the wall like some kind of weird paint.

"I must be dreaming," I thought. I walked over to the wall, reached my hand toward the light, and pulled it away. It was warm! How could that be?

The light kept moving up and down the crack, getting brighter each time it came to an end. After a while my whole room was filled with light as warm and bright as the sun. I closed my eyes and tilted my head back. The sun made orangey-red patterns behind my eyes. My face was close-to-a-campfire warm. Keeping my eyes closed in case opening them made this wonderful dream go away, I lowered myself to the floor and sat cross-legged. I didn't think anything at all as I let the sun wrap me up. I just sat there feeling safe and warm.

Wind whistled through treetops and I opened my eyes. I wasn't in my room anymore. The dirty carpet had turned to dirt underneath me. I was in my canyon. I had managed to wish myself there after all!

"Woo-hoo!" My voice bounced off the steep canyon walls. I jumped up and down until I ran out of breath, got dizzy, and had to sit down. The canyon in my imagination was so much smaller than this one was. In my mind, I was able to throw a stone from one wall and it would hit the other. This one's walls were too far apart for that. I dug my feet into the powdery, hot earth and wished I was wearing shoes instead of just old, holey socks.

In geography, we learned that The Grand Canyon was carved by a river over the course of billions of years. Just thinking about all that water made my throat burn with thirst. I scanned both directions, looking for signs of water. Nothing. I'd have to go exploring. Either that, or try to wish myself back home and risk an ashtray to the head in the kitchen.



I hadn't been walking all that long when I heard a sort of trickle-splash coming from around the bend. I tucked my head and ran as fast as I could, ignoring the fact I learned in science: Water out in the world usually isn't safe to drink. It's contaminated with all sorts of bacteria that can make you sick or kill you. It didn't much matter, though. I was so thirsty, I would have picked up a dog bowl and gulped it all down. 

Around the bend, the canyon spread out even wider and I lost the feeling I was even in a canyon. Now, I was in a in a meadow or prairie or something. I couldn't remember the difference, but it didn't matter. Canyons don't work like that. They don't go from deep to flat just like that, but what did it matter? All of this was in my head anyway. Sure, it felt real, but I knew I was huddled in my blanket in my dark room. This was all just a pleasant dream, and I was going to enjoy every second of it. Starting with the cabin I somehow hadn’t noticed right away.

I didn’t even think twice as I walked up the sturdy front steps. Lacy white grandma curtains hung in the open front windows and the breeze poofed them in and out. The front door was open and inside, dishes clanked together as a lady hummed. Something inside made my mouth water and my stomach grumble. It was too inviting not to go inside.



“Hi, Libby!” The beautiful woman smiled at me like she’d been waiting for me all day. “Come in, sit down. Lunch is ready, honey.”

She gestured at the small table set for two. A loaf of bread bread, still warm-smelling from the oven, sat next to a big pot of something thick and brown. I wondered it if was stew. I’d never had stew before, but always wanted to try it. But as much as I wanted to sit and shove my face full of food, I stood in the  archway between the front entry and the dining room.

“Oh, honey, don’t be shy. I know you didn’t come all this way to just stare at me. Sit, eat!”
“Yes, ma’am. Thank you.” I slid into the nearest chair and tried not to let my mouth water. Why not? Whatever the lady gave me to eat in this dream had to be better than the big Nothing Sandwich I’d have if I let myself wake up.

“I  appreciate your manners.” She took my bowl and heaped the brown stuff into it. “But there’s no need to stand on formality here. You can call me Margot.” She set the bowl in front of me and began filling the second bowl for herself.

“Thank you, M--Margot.” I shoveled a heaping spoonful into my mouth and didn’t even care when it burned my tongue.

I had so many questions. Who was she? How did she know my name? How did she know I was coming? How did she know I was starving?


“Is any of this real?” I dipped a hunk of bread into the stew. Definitely stew.

“As real as anything, I suppose. What’s it matter? Real or not, you’re here now, so you may as well fill that empty belly of yours and get some rest. You certainly deserve it.

The more I ate, the less important my questions seemed, and by the time I finished my second bowl, I had almost forgotten I didn’t belong here. Really, I think I would have forgotten all the way if I hadn’t heard mother calling from far away. I dropped my spoon and stood up so fast, I knocked my chair over.

“I have to go.”

“Nonsense.” she picked up my chair and refilled my water glass. “Of course you’re welcome to leave if you like, but it’d be wonderful if you’d consider staying. Nobody can get you here, Libby. And I promise you’ll always have plenty of food and a warm bed.”

“Libby,” Mother called again. Fainter this time. Like she was walking away from me.

“I don’t know. Mother needs me.”

“I know she does, Sweetie. And if you must go back to her, then go. But you need a mother. Someone to look after you and keep you safe. Someone to be the adult while you get to be a kid. I think you know she’s never going to be able to do that for you. Not her, or your daddy.”

As if he heard Margot say his name, Daddy shouted for me. Louder than Mother, but still distant. Still far away.

“I can’t.” I almost couldn’t get the words out. I wanted to stay so bad it hurt.”I can’t just leave them.” I looked up at Margot and she smiled.
“You already did, sweetheart, and that was the hard part. I promise.” She set a piece of chocolate cake in front of me.

“Libby!” Mother and Daddy called again. Only this time, I could barely hear them at all.

“Maybe I’ll go back later.” I drug my finger through the thick frosting and licked.

Margot smiled, but didn’t say anything.

I closed my eyes and listened for Mother and Daddy again, but all I could hear was the wind in the trees and the sound of Margot’s fork hitting the plate as she dug into her cake.





Saturday, April 28, 2018

Stick Together

Have I ever mentioned that I'm an introvert who happens to be terrified of public speaking? Have I ever mentioned that I am a writer partly because I just don't know how to go about peopling, especially in public?

On Valentine's night, I did the most terrifying thing I've ever done. I stood up on a stage and told a painful, true story to 400 strangers. After the show I couldn't even curl into a ball and will myself invisible. I had to gasp PEOPLE IN PUBLIC. I expected to just stand around awkwardly for an hour, but I was amazed and humbled that so many people took the time to talk to me. To thank me for sharing my story. To tell me how brave and strong I am. I had people hug me and tell me I helped them see that it's okay to cut toxic or abusive people from their lives, too. Of all the things I didn't expect to happen after the show, perhaps the biggest surprise was simply that my story resonated with people and I helped them.

I'm proud of myself. I pushed myself so far out of my comfort zone, climbing a mountain without shoes seemed like a safer idea. I thought about giving up a thousand times. I worried myself so sick, I thought I was going to vomit at least twice a day the week before the performance. But the thing about me is I'm stubborn as hell. Another thing about me is that I rarely allow myself to give up, even when I'm terrified.

Please be warned, the story I share features drugs and abuse. It wasn't an easy story to share, and it's not an easy story to watch. So please, self-care first. Don't watch if you think you might be triggered by it.


Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Duck Pond

Reedsy writing prompt: You pass by a person sitting with their face to the sun, the most content smile you've ever seen on their face.


The Duck Pond

My favorite place on campus is the Duck Pond. It's really just a smelly, man-made hole infilled with greenish water, but living in the desert, where there are few ponds and even fewer ducks, you take what you can get. I wasn't the only one who loved the Duck Pond. Some days it was near impossible to find a square foot to sit down, but even on the days when there was plenty of room, it was rarely a secluded or quiet place. The only times I've ever seen the pond quiet was Christmas Day and New Year's Day. I guess because everyone is busy with their families on Christmas and they're too busy nursing hangovers on New Year's to care about throwing bread crusts to the scraggly ducks.

I like to go there, original English major that I am, with a book and my journal. It's a great spot to just sit and observe. It fills this need I have to be part of a group without actually having to participate. With my back resting against a tall pine and my leather journal balanced in my lap, I can sit and watch the couples lying side by side, sometimes kissing, sometimes dozing, always content. I can watch the mothers who bring their toddlers to campus to feed the ducks. The kids have no concept of how big a duck's mouth is, so they often throw whole slices of bread into the water where they get soggy and float around like mushy, white lily pads until the stinking koi tear them apart. And I'd be lying if I didn't admit I like looking at the other introverts with sketchpads or journals. I like to study their faces like tea leaves, trying to divine what they're writing. That guy over there, with the greasy ponytail and tattered Dave Matthews shirt, is writing a fantasy novel. I'm willing to bet it has both dragons and Xena-inspired warrior women with tits the size of literal melons. That mousy girl over there? She looks like she'd be writing a romance. You know, wish-fulfillment and all that, but she's not. Not in my mind, anyway. She's writing a horror novel. She might look sweet and innocent, but I bet she could dream up at least one hundred and fifty ways to kill you in thirty seconds. I recognize some of these people, others, I've never seen before.

Like the girl sitting on the rock across the pond. I walked past her as I made my way around the water, looking for a good spot. She was different from all the others. She didn't have a backpack or a book or journal. No sketch pad, no pencil, no food, or cup of coffee. She was just sitting there, hugging her knees to her chest, her face raised to the sun. Her eyes were closed, and her face was completely relaxed. She gave no impression that she was aware anyone else existed, even when a Frisbee whizzed dangerously close to her head. She had the most beatific smile on her face that I've ever seen. It was weird, and borderline creepy. She didn't have that look people get when they're meditating. That look is almost a strained kind of peaceful, as if it takes a ton of effort to look so relaxed. And it wasn't a happy kind of look; the kind when you're remembering something warm and good. It was an expression I've never seen before. If I were an artist instead of a writer, I would have plopped down across from her and started sketching her right then and there. 

I sort of felt bad for staring at her. She seemed so completely unaware of her surroundings that shame burned my cheeks. As if I were some creeper peeking in through her bedroom window instead of just another person enjoying the crappy little pond. But the shame wasn't enough to keep me from staring and wondering. I tried to journal, but I kept glancing up to see if she was still there, if she'd shifted at all, if she'd opened her eyes. I wanted to wait and see if her expression would change. If someone would join her, or if maybe she'd get bored and wander away. Every couple of minutes, no matter how hard I tried to ignore her, I found myself searching her face for some clue about who she was and what was going on in her life. 

My mind created and discarded theory after theory about the girl: She was a music major trying to hear the song in her head to the end. Her slob roommate moved out. She finally found the strength to tell her asshole boyfriend of two years to fuck off. She got news that her rapist was shot and killed in a hunting accident. She's an orphan and just found out a long-lost relative died and left her enough money to keep her flush for the rest of her life.

Somehow, though, none of the random theories I came up with seemed right. None of them hit the core of that expression. That look on her face was more than financial or emotional relief. It was more than being one hundred seventy-five pounds and an asshole lighter. Clean dishes and a vacuumed floor didn't account for her look of pure, uncomplicated peace.

I'm not an angry kind of person. I don't usually feel jealousy or irritation. Human experience is rich and diverse, and there's no point in being jealous or angry most of the time, because things always circle around. Life might be going along perfectly for a time, but eventually, there will be heartache, pain, and trouble. I figure everyone deserves to feel whatever happiness and peace they can while they can. So, it surprised me that the more I tried to figure out the reason for her contentedness, the angrier I got at her. Anger that stabbed like an icicle through my heart, freezing my blood and stealing my breath. Anger that gripped my stomach and clenched my fists. 

Who the hell did this girl think she was, sitting there on her rock like the queen of the universe? Like some transcendent Buddha come to life. Sitting there with her eyes closed, silently judging everyone around her. Feeling superior and smug because she's clearly more evolved and elevated than the rest of us plebeians. 

The urge to run over to her and shove her into the water forced a shocked, chittery laugh out of me. I had to fight hard not to follow through with that completely mean and out-of-character impulse. This sudden hostility toward a stranger scared me.  I closed my journal and shoved it and my pen into my backpack. Whatever was going on with me had nothing to do with her, and I damn well knew it. The best course of action was to walk away and leave her to her serenity. But I couldn't do it. I couldn't bring myself to stand. I couldn't bring myself to turn my back and make my way to Astronomy. 

Without realizing what I was doing, I opened my mouth and screamed. I screamed louder and longer than I've ever screamed before. I screamed until my throat was hot and raw. Until I ran out of breath and tears streamed down my face. All around me, people stopped what they were doing and stared at the crazy girl screaming under the pine tree at the edge of the duck pond, and I didn't care. All I cared about was bursting the bubble of calm that surrounded the girl. 

Another deep breath and another piercing scream. The dude-bro with the Frisbee ran toward me, concern and fear crisscrossing his face like river lines on a map. The napping couple got up and walked away, throwing dirty looks at me for disturbing their afternoon in the sun. A mother picked up her little boy and hurried away. All around me, people reacted to my screams. Except the girl. She just sat there, that same damned look on her face, as if she were alone in the world. My vision blacked out everything but the girl on the rock.  We were the only people in the world, and I was going to scream until she opened her eyes and assured me I wasn't alone. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

That's Like Hypnotizing Chickens

Writing prompt: That's Like Hypnotizing Chickens



The rain fell in a steady stream, but Sofia didn't seem to care. The basket hung from the crook of her elbow as she stomp stomp stomped her way through the flooded back yard. Her red muck boots, which she always took extreme care to de-muck before taking them off in the mud-room, were polka-dotted with little spots of mud. A gust of wind shook the trees and it seemed, for just a moment, that it was raining harder than it actually was. She stopped, right in the middle of the yard, and turned her face up to the sky. The cool rain washed the hot tears from her eyes.

It had been two weeks since Dylan had left her and the farm. Of course, she didn't realize at the time that's what he was doing--leaving. He told her he was going into town to pick up some lumber. He was finally going to fix the hole barn's roof. She watched him attach his wallet chain to his belt loop and shove the old brown wallet into his back pocket. She had given him that wallet for their third wedding anniversary. Leather was the traditional gift for three years, and back then, they were both still trying to conform to the standards of marriage, though he never was good at keeping track of what he'd gotten her, so sometimes he'd repeat gifts.

"That wallet's near to bursting," she said. "I don't know how you can sit on that thing to drive. What do you keep in there anyway?"

"Noneya, woman!" Dylan winked a crinkly blue eye and smiled warmly at her. "I don't ask you what you carry around in that giant purse of yours, I'd appreciate the same courtesy about my wallet."

It was a familiar routine with them. He liked to think he was being clever, being coy, but she knew the truth well enough after all these years. He was a paper hoarder. He collected scraps of paper the way her grandmother's sister had collected stray cats. He kept grocery receipts from four years ago, bills, and credit card statements for credit cards they didn't even have anymore. If someone gave him a business card, he'd keep it in a stack with all the other cards. Eventually, he'd forget who gave him the card in the first place. One of his favorite things to keep was old lists. But not his lists. He kept lists that other people lost. Mostly grocery lists, abandoned in the bottom of the shopping cart. Eggs, cheese, shoe strings, apples, sponges, shampoo. Sofia used to ask him why he kept those random lists, but she'd long since given up trying to talk sense into him. Now, she was just glad that he was able to contain a huge portion of his paper collection to just his wallet. When the wallet got too full he'd pull out some of slips of paper and stash them in one of  his unlocked lock-boxes. He always kept them unlocked because he knew just as well as she did that there really wasn't anything worth keeping in there. Certainly not worth keeping secret anyway. Turned out, the man kept all his secrets in his heart and head, where she could never get to them.

Sofia wiped her face and continued on her way to the coop. How long had she stood there, face upturned to the weeping sky? Fifteen seconds? A minute? Three minutes? It was as if the drops falling on her face had hypnotized her for a spell. No matter. The eggs had to be collected, rain or no, and standing around like a damn fool, replaying the last time she'd seen her husband wasn't going to change the fact that he was gone.

The chickens squawked and beat their wings as she approached.

"Hey there, lovely ladies," She greeted in return. "What do you have for me today?"  She closed the gate behind her and gently pushed Jenny Blue out of the way with her foot. Jenny Blue was the only of the the chickens who seemed to like her. Anytime Sofia came into the coop, J.B. was at her heels. More like a puppy than a chicken.

"It's about time I start selling your eggs, chickies. I just don't eat enough of them to justify keeping them. And it'd be nice to have a few extra bucks now that..." Sofia lost the thread of her conversations. She was talking to chickens, as if they could actually understand her. As if they gave a damn whether she ate their eggs or sold them.

Dylan had a saying when he thought things were pointless or silly: It's like hypnotizing chickens, he'd say.

The chickens watched her gather their unformed young and put them into her basket.

"I know what you girls are thinking. My putting one foot in front of the other, gathering up your eggs, trying to keep the farm from collapsing down around me...it's like hypnotizing chickens, isn't it?" She took a deep breath and blew it out. "I suppose you're right, but what's the alternative? Give up and run away, like him? Someone's gotta tend to you, you know. So how 'bout a bit of gratitude, ladies."

The chickens blinked. They weren't hypnotized and they didn't care whether she was tending to them or not. But no matter. They eggs needed collecting, regardless.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Your Heart Will Guide You True--Listen to It

Prompt: Your heart will guide you true - listen to it.


We were leaving Santa Fe. It was a warm, spring day and we had spent the day at an art fair, then we had lunch at a little dive. I even remember what I ordered. Migas made with blue corn chips. I didn't like them.

For years, I'd been asking for a dog. My husband was a cat person, and I married into three cats. We had been married for ten years, and I was ready to finally get a dog. But, we were renters. And we already had three cats. We weren't super financially secure. There were a million reasons not to get a dog.

After lunch, we got back on the highway to head home. My husband and I had been sniping at each other a bit, and the mood in the CR-V was tense. Not hostile. Not angry. Just...tense. He drove past a beat up truck on the side of the service road with a handmade cardboard sign that said simply PUPPIES in large, scrawly, black letters. My heart soared, but I didn't ask if we could stop. Without looking at me, without saying a word, my my husband turned around.

We parked off to the side of the service road and approached the dirty man who was sitting in the beat-up truck. His plates were expired.

He was trying to get rid of two puppies--Bilbo and Frodo. They were fuzzy and sweet and the puppy breath almost made me die of happiness. One of the pups, I don't remember which, was black. I picked him up and my heart swelled. Then it soared. Then it broke in a million pieces. My heart spoke directly to this dog. His heart spoke to mine. It was like our souls recognized each other. I set him down and picked up his tan brother. He was cute, with a little black robber's mask, but my heart didn't react the same to him. So I passed him off to our seven year old son and picked up the black puppy again. Again, my heart swelled-soared-shattered-spoke.



This dog was mine. I was his. There was no way around it. He called to me, and my husband, from the side of the road in the middle of the desert between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. I couldn't leave him. I couldn't.

Because we had been at an art festival, we had a little cash. We got in the CR-V to discuss what to do.

"I need him. My soul recognizes him. Please, Stirling." My voice was on the verge of cracking.  He nodded and pulled out his wallet to see how much cash he had. I pulled out my remaining cash.

I called our landlord. "Please, please let us get this dog. He's a shepherd-lab mix, and he needs a home. Please." The landlord agreed.

Stirling and I pooled our cash. It wasn't enough. It wasn't enough by almost half. But there was no bank anywhere near. I knew if we drove away, we'd never come back for the dog of my heart. We approached the man with the two fluffy puppies.

"This is it. We don't have any more money. If you just can't do it, we understand, but this is all we have."

The man dropped his cigarette and stubbed it under his boot. "Which one do you want?"

Stirling looked at me, and without hesitation, I picked up the black one. I scratched the tan one and thanked him for letting his brother go. I thanked the man for negotiating with us.

I rode in the back seat, little Bilbo or Frodo in my lap, and my heart settled into a happy rhythm. By the time we got to the pet store in Albuquerque, the dog had a new name: Harvey. Harvey the Wonder Mutt...dog of my heart.


Tomorrow will be the one year anniversary of his death, and my heart still calls for him. It always will. I miss Harvey every single day.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Redux

A friend from DFW Writers Conference posted a cool prompt on Twitter, and I thought I'd take a stab at it. I was supposed to set a timer for 10 minutes and write, but I forgot to set the timer, my dog started freaking out at the garbage truck, I got a string of texts from a friend. You know, life stuff happened. That, and I got carried away by the story that unfolded in my head and I couldn't force myself to stop writing until I found the end. I probably spent 30 minutes on this prompt. It has not been edited. It's just pure, delicious, writing prompt word vomit. But it was fun!


I felt normal until...Boxes of rocks... Choices... Write for 10 minutes. Incorporate all of these things.





I woke up feeling like I always feel. Sluggish. Disappointed. Slightly confused. I also had to pee like a mother fucker. I have a small bladder, and I'm a deep sleeper, so normal for me is waking up with a dull ache deep in my body. I rolled out of bed and kegel-walked my way to the bathroom to relieve myself, not wasting time to turn on the light.

When I was done on the toilet, carefully made my way to the kitchen. Boxes of rocks littered the hallway, obstructing doorways. Some of the boxes were arranged in sloppy, sagging stacks, the cardboard straining under the weight of the contents. I've been telling Nate for months that if he didn't get the damned rocks out of here, I would. He promised me a hundred-thousand times he'd deal with them, but he never did. Neither did I. Instead, the stacks got higher, more precarious. The more boxes of rocks he lugged in, the less fight I had left in me. I loved him, after all, and if this odd collection of his soothed his soul, who was I to get so pissed off about it? It's not like he was a drunk or a cheat. He didn't gamble our money away. He didn't have mistresses secreted all over the city. He was just a broken man who had a strange hobby. I didn't understand it, but I reasoned it wasn't my place to understand. After what he'd been through, the only thing I could really do was support him through his journey, wherever that may lead. Still, though, it hurt like hell when I stubbed my toe against one of those boxes. Boxes of rocks aren't known for being well-cushioned.

I flicked on the kitchen light and shook my head at the mess on the counter. When he first started this rock collecting phase, it quickly became clear that it could take over our whole house if we didn't lay down some ground rules..."ground" rules...har har har. I insisted he keep his collections contained in some manner--build shelves, stored in giant tubs, whatever--as long as individual rocks weren't strewn about the house. My only other rule was to keep them out of our bedroom and the kitchen. Just because he randomly developed a rock fetish doesn't mean I have to sleep and cook with the damn things. Until that morning, he had always done a pretty good job about respecting my boundaries. The kitchen was a blissfully rock-free 99% of the time.

"Nate," I called as I filled the carafe with water. "Honey, please get these rocks out of here! I wanted to make breakfast, but I can't lift the box off the counter!"

I measured out the coffee beans and ground them into a fine powder before trying again.

"Honey! I need the counter! Get these damned rocks out of here."  The coffee pot sighed and sputtered the irritation I tried to swallow down.

"You know what? That's fine. I'll take care of it myself! I wouldn't want to disturb you." I winced at my own passive-aggression. I swear, I'm not a bitch. It's just that living in a house of crumbled and dusty stone was starting to get to me. The coffee maker spat out the last of its brown juice, and I filled two mugs.

"I'm sorry, Nate. That was a total bitch comment." I side stepped the boxes between the kitchen and dining room and set my coffee on the table. I wrapped both hands around Nate's mug. Something was wrong. Nate wasn't into ignoring people. Even if he had his earbuds in, he always kept the volume low enough to hear me if I called for him.

The living room light was on. The curtains were flung open...odd. Since he started his collection, he preferred to keep the curtains drawn. It was as if he understood that his behavior and our current living conditions were far outside the range of normal, and he was afraid of being judged by outsiders.

There was usually a wobbly stack of boxes behind the couch. I don't know what he was thinking, stacking them so high. I'd told him over and over that it was dangerous. They could topple over and crush us while we watched The Office. Maybe he finally got around to moving them to a safer place.

I came around the couch and screamed. Nate's coffee mug fell from my hands, hit a neatly stacked pyramid of rocks, and shattered. Nate was on the floor, his feet toward the pyramid. The pile of boxes that had always threatened to smash our heads in while we watched mindless television had finally come down. But not by themselves. Nate did it. He had positioned his head at the base of the boxes and pulled them over onto himself.

Why? Why did he make a fucking pyramid in our living room? Why did he sacrifice himself at the base of it, to the gods of his inner demons?  I was the one person who loved him most in the world, and he chose not to trust me. Not to confide in me. To tell me what was really going on with him. He chose to leave me here, in a rock-hoarder's hell hole, knowing perfectly well I couldn't lift those fucking boxes.

As I screamed my grief and rage at the crushed body of my husband, it dawned on me that I was a widow.

I'd never wake up feeling normal again.