Monday, December 8, 2014

Writing Assignment Three: Anywhere, A Destination

You ever get that feeling of being alone even when you're not? Of being so far from someone even when they are only inches away? 


We sat on a bumpy bus. Our fingers were intertwined .. but were we even paying attention to the touching of our skin? 

I believe we had been riding for at least twenty minutes in silence before one of us spoke up.

"It's fucking beautiful here," she said, still not looking at me. Still gazing out the window. Talking at me but not to me.

"It is," I replied to the back of her head. I conversed with her short silky stark black hair. There were split ends. The cut was old and growing out funny. But, damn, she still looked gorgeous.

"Sometimes I can't understand why I ever go back," she mused. Her eyes soaked in every inch of the outside world. Absorbed each stalk of sugar cane. Drunk in each pebble of the dirt road we traversed. 

"You really wouldn't go back ever?" I asked the one strand of shocking white hair that usually nestled hidden amongst the full thick black. It was poking out at this moment and its appearance made me smile.

"There's so much to see," she sighed. Her exhale hinted at the rest of the sentence she meant to add, but never would. Her breath long and slow, she must have been dreaming of adventures she'd never have. People she'd never meet. 

"But what about family?" I adjusted my butt. Only one hour into this bus ride and it was already sore. "What about friends?" I began to think that there most likely was never going to be a spot that was comfortable. "Wouldn't you miss them?"

"Family. Yeah..." She trailed off. I watched a bead of sweat form just under the nape of her neck. It had gathered big enough that now gravity was aching to pull it closer. It started to roll. It fell, slowly and solely, down her chocolate kissed skin.

"I feel like it's been ages since I've seen Mali," I reminisced with the clean bright path the sweat bead left through the layer of dust that had formed on her neck during this long, open-aired bus ride through the dry dusty roads of Palawan. "I miss even hearing her voice. Getting to tease her face to face. Rile her up just to watch her get worked into a frenzy. Listen to that kind of awkward, braying laugh she makes when something is just ridiculously funny." Just picturing the way my sister practically hiccuped when she laughed this hard made me almost chuckle aloud.

"But think about all the things you haven't done yet," she ached. "That person you are still destined to meet that will take you somewhere you haven't yet imagined." The bus slowed sharply and we turned. The passengers abruptly gravitated left. 

"And I heard Matt and Genevieve are pregnant!" The shift left me sitting in a position where a sharp spring wanted to permanently wedge itself up into my buttbone. "Do you think she'll be showing by the time we get back? When does that even happen? How far along do you have to be for that?"

"They're building a home base." It was like we were trying to conduct two different conversations, but occasionally meet in the middle. Her head shifted but she still didn't turn to face me. "They're setting up camp and settling into the home they'll live in 'til their kids go off to college. Forming a nice beautiful family unit. Something to come back to."

"Somewhere for them to feel at home," I added. Her other hand reached back to wipe the perspiration from her neck. "Somewhere to belong."

We were silent for a while, the bumping of the bus rhythmic and enchanting.

I reached my other hand up to place it on her right shoulder. Her skin was warm to the touch. She turned to face me.

"Somewhere to belong," she echoed my words as she looked deep into my eyes. 

I nodded and squeezed her hand.

"That's not really a thing for me," she admitted, her deep brown eyes seeming almost as lost as she did. Her already young face appeared younger at this moment. I wanted to hug her. But there was a distance between us. So I didn't.

She dropped my hand from hers and looked away again.

I wanted to make her a thousand reassurances. Tell her that she always had a home with me. That she would always belong. That I would always be there for her.

The bus veered sharply again. My body slammed hard against hers but she still faced out the window, transfixed.

I opened my mouth to say all the things I wanted to say to her. 

Her form was statuesque. Posture posed in perfection. She was a fleeting angel that was mine for a second. But I knew that my time with her would never be permanent.

I closed my lips and found myself just content to again just stare. 

I had at least these next three hours to El Nido. The next month in this tropical paradise.

I at least had this.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Writing Assignment Two: Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time there was a girl. 

She had two eyes, two ears, two feet, two knees, two elbows... but only one hand. Her right hand was slight, beautiful and delicate. But her left she had lost in an accident as a child. She barely remembered it - only flashes of light, tinges of pain.

To this day, she still sometimes woke up forgetting it was gone. She could feel it as a phantom limb. Could swear her right pinkie was itchy. Thought maybe she felt a fly land in her palm. 

One evening, as she slept, she had a particularly peculiar dream. She was hovering, omnipresent, aware of everything and anything that was happening below her. Her attention, however, was drawn to a boy about her age talking intently to no one. He sat, legs folded beneath him, on a bench in front of the town library. His eyes were animated, his head nodding every once in a while. His expression was that of concern. He took turns pausing, as if listening, and responding in the like. He spoke to the air in front of him. As if a ghost, she swooped down to take a closer look. As she settled, still hovering, to the left of the boy on the bench, he turned in her direction. His gaze met hers and she was stunned by the fact that it seemed he was looking right at her. She was also struck by the stark blueness of his irises.

She awoke. 


Hours earlier, a boy with piercing blue eyes sat on a bench in front of the town library talking to a friend. 

"He's in pain," the ghost of an apparition explained to Gary. "And I think maybe you can help him."

The boy looked at but also through him. He could see the street and the passing cars through the willowy wisp that made up his companion. He nodded in compassion.

The spirit continued. "He and his wife are both here in the afterlife, but are separated by the walls of the house that used to keep them together." As the boy listened, he felt a strange other presence, watching but not present. "She died in the house as it burnt to the ground. He tried to go in and save her, but their home collapsed before he could make it in to rescue. He died a mere week later of heart failure."

"To be with her," Gary mused, muttering a half sentence that he had no intention of completing. 

"Most likely," the apparition agreed. "But now, he just mopes and paces outside the ghost of the house that remains. They can see each other through the panes of glass, but are unable to open the door. Unable to get to each other. Unable to be together."

The boy paused to reflect. It was then that he felt the eerie presence swoop down close. It neared him, almost sitting there on the bench next to him, when it finally started to take shape. Shimmering but barely visible, the outline of a girl formed before him. His breathing slowed as he was struck by her beauty. He noted the outline of her flowing hair, her pretty face, her slight frame, and, as he glanced out of the corner of his eye, her sole hand. As he brought his gaze up to meet her, their eyes locked for a second and then, as quickly as she appeared, she vanished.

The boy and his original phantom friend were left alone.


The day the boy and the girl met in person was not barely 24 hours later.

Mana and Gary crossed paths when both were boarding the Number 1 bus home from downtown. Mana had just seated herself in the second to last seat in the rear of the vehicle. Gary was running frantically after the bus as it started to depart. He rapped wildly at the back and it slowed to pick him up. He paid two fares then shuffled in her direction. Out of breath, he grabbed the sole seat left. The seat next to Mana.

As first, neither looked in the other's direction. But, noting the new arrival's heavy breathing, the girl turned her head to see who had occupied her neighboring seat. Gary cast a smirking look at the air next to him and his breathing started to level off. His head turned to face his seatmate and their eyes met. Instant recognition registered in both their brains, but as ethereal as their first meeting had been, both were unable to vocalize their greetings.

He was the first to attempt. "You're the girl from the library."

Struck by his bluntness, she responded in kind. "I am. And you're the boy that was talking to no one."

"It's not no one," he smiled. "I have friends that you just can't see right now."

Thinking that the conversation had taken an even stranger turn than she had imagined it would, Mana started to turn her body away. "Well that seems.. interesting."

"No no," he said slightly louder than he had intended. He didn't want to lose her so quickly. "It's not what you think." And, on instinct, he put a hand over hers.

For the slight second it remained there, she felt the bus around her change. She could swear she saw a man standing next to Gary, staring at her intently. And further, up close to the front of the bus, a woman holding a rail, gazing out the window. It all seemed brighter too, but in a way that was hard to identify. It all faded as she defensively drew her sole hand back to the safety of her personal space. 

"I'm sorry," he apologized, his head down defeated. "I didn't mean to." He stammered. "I didn't.. " He trailed off. His eyes looked to the floor.

"What was that?" she almost whispered.  

"I can show you again if you want," he offered. "But only if you don't mind taking my hand." The invitation hung in the air like a bad odor. She seemed to ignore it at first but, ultimately, she shifted her body back to face him. 

"Yes," she affirmed and held out her arm. He took her hand in hers and they clasped in confidence.

Together they saw what Gary saw on a daily basis. The shimmering shine of the world. The ghostly presences that inhabit it. That weave in and out of our lives. That live on but breathe not our air. That are not seen by the common eye.

She was silent. And the rest of the ride, she didn't speak. Merely took in the new world that she never knew about. Looking out windows at the souls walking down sidewalks. Sitting on bus benches. Conversing with passers-by.

When her destination approached, she broke the magic by letting go of Gary's hand.

"This is my stop," she finally spoke. "My name is Mana. And I'd like to see you again."

"I'm Gary," he introduced himself. "And I would too."

"Meet me here at the bus stop," she said as she got up to leave. "Tomorrow at the same time."

"Sure," he replied as he glanced as his watch. "Tomorrow at 5."

"See you then," she called as she disembarked. 

"See you."


When they met again, Gary's face was flush and he looked panicked.

"Are you okay?" Mana asked, worried.

"Do you trust me?" he implored. But she didn't. Yet at the same time she did. 

She shook off the doubt, took his hand and they were off. 

They walked at a brisk pace. Rows of suburban homes passed in a flurry until they finally found themselves in front of an empty lot.

Only to them, it wasn't empty. That same shimmer Mana was beginning to see everywhere now enveloped the frame of a two story Colonial. Outside, a man paced.

When he saw them, his face livened and he approached.

"She's fading." His voice echoed the look in his eyes. The defeat. "And the house with her. I'm afraid of losing them forever."

"Let's think this through." Gary was already looking for solutions. "What is currently keeping you apart?" As the men spoke, Mana took time to glance around. The house had doors but no doorknobs, windows that seemed sewn shut. In the closest window, she saw the head of a woman looking out. Her eyes, too, pleaded.

"I can't get in," the specter spoke. "The doors won't open for me. The windows stay sealed."

"What about any secret entrances?" Mana mused. "Any special spots you two shared? Some way of getting in and out that was unique to the both of you?"

The thin veil of a man turned to face her. He stopped, thinking. Then, suddenly, he turned and ran toward the back of the home.

They followed behind, trying to keep pace. When they reached him, he was already halfway up the tall aged hickory tree scaling the house. As he arrived at the window where the thick branches met the second floor, he frantically pawed at the pane of glass. The woman was there too. Inside looking out. Reaching for him. 

"I still can't get in!" he shouted down at them. "The handle is too small. This was Sheila's way of sneaking in to see me when we were teenagers. The grip on the window is only small enough for her hands." He looked down at them, forlorn. 

Gary turned to face Mana. "Maybe you can reach it." 

"But I won't be able to see it without you."

"Then let's go together." They released hands and Mana was left staring at an empty lot and a tall tree. They spryly climbed the old hickory and were up at the windowsill in no time.

"Now stay balanced," Gary implored when they were safely situated. He placed his hand on her shoulder and the glimmering world appeared again. Mana found herself face to face with the woman within.

She grasped for the windowsill and was disappointed to find her hand sliced swiftly through the mirage. She couldn't touch anything in the ghost world. It was there but it wasn't.

"Use your other hand," Gary nodded toward her left. He smiled.

Confused, she looked down. Where her hand normally eluded her, was the shimmery outline of her phantom limb. She felt the tears start to form before they fell. She just stared at it for what seemed like hours. She turned it over back and forth. Waved it. Wiggled her little fingers one at a time. Her eyes coated in tears that hadn't yet burst forth and she smiled back at Gary.

"Go ahead," he nudged.

Hesitantly at first, she moved toward the window and the little groove that was made just for Shelia's slight hand. Reunited with her ghost hand, Mana slid it into the small handle. It fit perfectly and the window slipped open effortlessly. 

The man climbed passed them and through the window. The house pulsed with a new invigorated glow. The lovers united in a warm embrace. A kiss. And it felt like all was right.

Gary took his hand off Mana's shoulder and it all disappeared.

Again, it was just the two of them and the hickory tree. She looked down at the spot where her ghost hand had just existed. Her smile flickered.

Gary moved to lift her chin to align their eyes. He reached for her missing hand and surprisingly, she felt his in the one she couldn't see. He moved her arm up toward him and softly kissed the area in front of his mouth.

She could feel the tingle of his kiss on the top of her phantom hand. 
And her smiled shimmered.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Writing Assignment One: Childhood Memory (Child Narrator)

The slam of the car door wakes me. It's dark in the car, but I have to pee.

I glance around and see my mom sleeping in the front seat. Val, Mike and Greg are asleep to my left and my right. They're so peaceful. I try to slip quietly out of the car. I crawl over Mike carefully. He grunts but does not wake.

It's creepy outside in the cold air. I make my way quickly to the brightly lit doorway of the gas station convenience store. As I slip through the door, it swiftly closes behind me, clipping me on the ankle as I walk. 

I keep close to the walls, weaving through the grocery aisles, bee-lining toward the back of the store where I hope against hope the bathroom is. I hear my dad's voice but can't see him above the rows of snack foods. He laughs at what might have been his own joke. I smile. His laugh always makes me smile.

I finally make it the bathroom and it's icky.

The room is smelly like poop and stale air. The floor seems sticky. The light is dim and blue and flickering. I hover over the toilet seat trying not to let my bum touch the little drops of who-knows-what that cover it. I try to hold my breath to keep from breathing in the stink.

When I reach for TP, it's out. Trying to balance, I squeeze my legs together to keep my undies up and my favorite yellow flower-y dress from falling to the floor. I reach as far as my fingers can reach and grab the very tip of the paper towels and rip. Success! I defeat the farty bathroom and wash my hands of it.

Leaving the store, it is eerily quiet. No laughter. No noise of any kind.

I walk back out to the dark parking lot and realize the car isn't where I left it. I spin around and look at the other pumps. At the parking spots next to the store.

No cars anywhere. I feel the tears start to well in the corners of my eyes. I run around the building, hoping maybe they drove around back for some reason. 

No luck.

Back inside the store, the tears are now running freely. I am babbling at the man behind the counter. He doesn't look overly friendly. But his face is warm. And I can tell he doesn't like seeing me cry.

I try to spout out sentences but only fragments emerge.

"Da.." "Mom.." "Where did they..?" "Why did they...?"
He comes around the counter and tries to comfort me. He touches my shoulder. He strokes my hair. I am soothed. Temporarily.

The police arrive and they are nice. This town is small and it seems like everyone knows everyone else. Sherman, the policeman that drives me away from the gas station, talks to me like we have been friends for years. His wife is at the police station; their house is connected to the back of it. She hands me a cup of hot cocoa and talks cooing at me. As we sit there at the dining room table, their company makes me forget about my mom, my dad, my brothers and my sister. 

When the phone rings, Sherman answers and a full bright smile crosses his face. He turns to me and gestures the phone in my direction. I take it, tentatively, and put it up to my ear. 

It's my dad's voice but it is muffled and he is talking away from the phone.

"She's there!" he yells to someone on the other end. And then that laugh. He laughs that full-belly laugh that starts at his toes and rolls all the way up his body to the tip of his tongue. 

And I smile.

Writing: Assignments

My friend Alex and I are attempting to write more lately.

Another friend has been taking a Fiction Writing class at the local college and passing us the assignments. It has been fun to sit down at the computer and type words again.

And to type with abandon -- not worrying about the finished product, putting words on the screen and not thinking about it they are "right" or not.

Writing raw.

I probably will be posting the products of these assignments as I go. 
Please be prepared for writing full of typos and in need of editing. 

Here goes nothing.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

La Fortuna: Cerro Chato

Today was the day for the hike. And wow, was I not prepared for it.

2 miles, they said. 2 miles up and 2 miles back. 2 hours up and 1 hour back.
Bring water.
Bring snacks.
Prepare to get muddy.

I'm never ready for a hike, actually. I'm always apprehensive about up.
Up is not my forte. Up is my grief. Up is my kryptonite.

But push on, I do. Push on, I always do.

And so we began.

We started by signing the book. The book that you sign when you leave and when you return. The book that they check at the end of the day to make sure no one's still up there. The book with emergency contact information.

And then there was the safety talk. The route description. The reminders. The warnings about snakes. The constant repetition: "Go at your own pace."

The info guide faced us in the right direction and we headed out and up.

The first bit was dirt road. Slight incline. Shaded. We ambled upward. We took pictures of the view.  At the first Vista Point, we stopped for a drink and took panoramas.

We continued and met the first group we would ultimately pass and be passed by multiple times during the morning. Two girls from Quebec. Stopping for a drink break. A friendly hello and a wave as we started up the steep incline.

The grade began to increase. And the terrain deteriorated. The worn mud roads had eroded from the rainy season, deep ruts cutting through the dense mud. Carving like a canyon.

"Small steps" became my mantra. Small steps and little breaks.
Step step step. Stop. Breathe.
Step step step.

The sun was out in full force. We were passed by a red-haired freckle-faced girl from Germany. She hiked with determination. Large forceful steps. Sure-footed gait.

At a little past the halfway point there was a tree. (Oh, sweet respite!) We all ended up gathered there for a snack break. The Canadians chomped apples. The German, a protein bar. Josh and I noshed on dry dry cereal bars. We inhaled. We spoke of our separate journeys - what brought us here, where we'd been before. We shaded ourselves from the heat. We exhaled.

And then, we trudged on.
Step step step. Stop. Breathe.

Here began the jungle. Shielding us from the sun, the canopy enveloped us in its lush greenery. Trapping us in the humidity.

The path became stairs. Stairs carved in mud. Stairs formed from roots. Stairs unevenly spaced. Little stairs for munchkins. "Giant stairs for giant people!" I'd exclaim from time to time. And we took them one by one. Alternating dominant legs. Using arms as simple machines. Distributing weight. Spreading out the work on what would ultimately be sore muscles the next morning.

Slip sliding in the mud. Josh extending a hand from time to time. Giving me a boost on the occasional mammoth stairs for mammoth people. Near the top, we finally started seeing people on their way down.

"You're almost there," is one of the most patronizing things you can say to a hiker going up.
"Just twenty more minutes," is both devastating in how long that seems. Is cruel in the fact that, in truth, it's gonna be way more than that.

But we made it. And at the top, we were treated with a picturesque view of the volcano, peaking shyly out behind a screen of gentle clouds. We ate it in. We drank in our surroundings as we simultaneously gulped the air-temperature water our bodies craved.

But were we done? No, no. For there was the lagoon to reach. The lagoon nestled in the crater of Cerro Chato. And from the looks of the folks returning from that direction, it was gonna get muddy.

We began the climb down an almost vertical grade. It was slick with mud. The trees we used as handholds wet as if rain was pouring that very moment. We slipped. We slid. We clambered down and under branches, roots, and rocks.

But we made it again. This time to the tiny shores of the lagoon. Surrounded on all sides by deep green rainforest. Steep sides framed the aquamarine lake. Josh jumped in the crisp chilly water and I waded. Taking it in. Savoring in the serenity.

When we finally had our share -- rested up, filled our bellies, quenched our thirst -- we commenced the journey back. Up and up the lagoon's sheltering walls. Then down, down, down the same erratic stairs was had trudged up.

"You're almost there," we tried to encourage the few we met almost at the top. The irony didn't even phase me.

Our knees ached at the downward trek. But it was faster. And we were pulled by gravity toward the bottom. Back toward our temporary home.

When we finally reached the cool tile of the tiki bar, I shed my wet shoes and walked barefoot to the room. With a quick rinse, I re-donned my swimsuit and we both jumped joyfully into the pool. Where we waded. Floated. And rested.

We had made it.

Cerro Chato Hike

Steps for Giants

Vista Point

Arenal Volcano

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

La Fortuna: Dancing on Tables

We spent our weekdays at the Lodge. Josh working; conference calls, spreadsheets, meetings. I used the internet to connect with friends. I started (and finished) reading the graphic novel series, Runaways. We lazed in the sun. And, on rainy days, we hid in our room with Netflix.

On Thursday, we decided to grab a drink at the tiki bar. We sat by the barfly nestled on his corner stool. He was from Atlanta, he told us. But that was merely where he got his mail. He chuckled. He was on the road ten months of the year. This winter, Costa Rica. Next Spring, unknown. 

The bartender got us a couple cold beers.

"Plus two shots of rum," Josh smiled. So we shot them. And chased them with the ice cold bubbly Imperial. The carbonation tickled down my throat. 

"And we heard that you could get us pizza," he added. As if this was a feat. ...but, as we were an $8 taxi ride from town, it was sort of a big deal.

"Si," he confirmed and got out his cell. He asked us what toppings and we struggled for a bit trying to convey we wanted sausage. He thought we meant pepperoni. Nope. Hamburger? No, not that either. We settled on what we thought was cheese, pepperoni and hamburger. He called it in and we began the wait.

After the sun dipped below the horizon and the darkness crept in, the man at the end of the bar retreated. "Back to the Rancho," he waved as he left. 

On the next set of beers, a group joined the bar. Three women to our left, one replacing the still warm stool of the Georgian. Two men to our right. 

The two women on the right, a couple from Minnesota. One of the men on the left, their friend from (school? work?). The other woman on the left, his sister. And the last man on the right, a friend from Minnesota. 

After more beers and more shots, the bartender let us play DJ and we started queuing up funny YouTube sensations. Psy was there. What Does the Fox Say? You name it. And just when I had forgotten we were even having pizza for dinner, it arrived.  Still warm, thin crust, and delicious smelling. We opened the box for the surprise of the night. Ham and mushrooms! Ha! No hamburger, no pepperonis..but ham and mushrooms. Famished, we wolfed it down, sharing a slice or two with the bartender and his girlfriend.

Their shifts were over so they packed up and wished us good night, leaving us full reign of the stereo. We brought out the wine and liquor we had in our rooms and continued our own bar. 

Our Tica contingency added 80's Costa Rican pop to the mix. She showed us the steps and we line danced to some of the hits. Then came Journey. The Kareoke video version with the words highlighted as if we didn't know every last one of them.

The boy from Minnesota started taping us for a video he was compiling. Josh was up on the bar. Laughing. Dancing.

And when the last of our box wine had been drunk, we headed back to the room. Bid adios to our Midwestern friends and slept. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Cool Breeze

The sun was high. Hot. The cloudless day teased us with its lack of shade.

We both were wet with sweat. Backs warm with the reminder of the packs we had just shouldered on the long uphill climb. Our skin covered in a thin layer of dust. Attempts to wipe it off resulted in small dark smears.

In the distance, we could hear a vehicle approaching. The crunch of the gravel road. The low sound of the motor. I squinted in anticipation at the spot where the car would soon appear.  We stuck our thumbs out in tandem.

The silver mud-covered SUV crested the hill and rolled into sight, rocking like a boat on choppy water, avoiding the many potholes marking the road. We donned our friendliest smiles. Slid our sunglasses over our eyes to shield us from the upcoming mini dust storm to be kicked up by the vehicle that ultimately, like the last one, would pass us by.

The driver peered at us through his windshield. His passenger gave a flick-of-the-wrist wave. And they drove on.

The heat enveloped us. The humidity like a blanket.

Two German Shepard pups -- brothers -- noisily hopped out of the nearby riverbed, splashing, biting each other in play. Both covered in water. Mud.

He glanced at his watch to check the time. The sun reflected brightly off its face.

I sighed. Defeated. Waiting.

Then.. We heard it before we felt it.
The trees in the distance hinted with their rustling leaves. Their swaying promised respite.

It was slow at first. A slight breeze that barely cooled the neck beneath my hair. And it stopped after barely a few seconds. I sighed, resigned to heat.

But, lo. It blessed us again with its glorious presence. More prolonged. Invigorating.

It brushed our skin with its coolness. It blew strands of hair from my sweltering forehead. Like that first refreshing sip of ice cold water after a long thirst. The kind you can feel as you drink it. The way you can follow its chill as it hits your mouth, slowly melts down your quenched throat and then settles, happy, in your contented belly.

It covered us head to toe. Like a new blanket. A blanket of relief. Soothing. Cool.

And suddenly, for just those few minutes I wasn't even aware of the road. The ride we needed. The sun. The dust. The sweat.

Suddenly, for that brief moment, I took the time to appreciate a cool summer breeze.