Shannon Heuston's Blog

August 18, 2019

The Back Story Behind SINS OF THE CHILD

It’s that time of year again., my newest offering, Sins of the Child, is available for pre-order in the Kindle store. The E-book will be launched to all markets for $2.99 on August 29th. It will also be available in paperback for $7.99. I’ve been a bit remiss in the past about releasing paperback editions, but I am committed to improving this because I know a lot of you still prefer a physical copy. Stay tuned for the chance to win a $25 gift card for those who follow my Facebook page and the opportunity to win a free copy of the paperback.
I wanted to take some time to discuss the back story behind Sins of the Child. I started working on an earlier incantation of this novel all the way back in 2011. Back then, it was tentatively titled Cabin in the Woods, a title I eventually scrapped because there were multiple other books and movies with the same name.
At the time, I always had it in my head that I wanted to be an author one day, but I lacked stick-with-it-ness. I was forever starting new projects, going hard for a couple of days, then abandoning them when a new idea caught my attention. Part of the problem was I was treating writing as a hobby, something I did when I felt like it, rather than as a job, something I had to do no matter how I felt.
Yet something started to click in 2011. I wrote an entire first draft of a young adult novel. And I began Cabin in the Woods. Set both in the present day and in the late nineteen eighties, it was about a teenage girl who murders her best friend. Fast forward many years later, and she’s paid her debt to society and is now living under a different name. But someone out there knows her secret, and is determined to expose her to the world.
I’ve never flinched from brutal scenes, and there were a couple in Cabin in the Woods. But I was proud of it. Then I asked my boyfriend at the time to read it.
Readers of mine have encountered his literary counterpart, Donald in The Playground, and my college buddy Rob (who maintain his own blog, was once pretty good friends with him when we all attended our alma mater, SUNY College at Potsdam. Donald and I dated my freshman year of college, then we reconnected many years later after he separated from his wife and began dating again. At the time, our reconnection seemed like fate. Unfortunately, fate has a sense of humor when it comes to me.
Donald was a dick, although I was blind to this fact at the time. After our honeymoon phase when he loved everything about me, the nonstop criticism started. He never missed a chance to put me down and make me feel like shit. He would tell me I was fat, call me stupid, and make constant jokes at my expense to his cousin and his friends, the people we hung out with all the time. He was so used to degrading me that he forgot himself when we were in the company of my best friend and her husband, and started running me down to them. They were aghast, and her husband attempted to intervene, telling me Donald was a loser and I needed to dump him NOW.
My friend said, “If he’s talking like this to your friends, I can’t imagine what he’s saying to his friends.”
There were other incidents, like the night he had me in tears running me down because of my sizable student loan debt. “Every penny you make should go to paying that off,” he said. “You shouldn’t be eating out, or buying books and clothes, or even driving that nice car you have. You shouldn’t have any fun.” Meanwhile, come to find out he not only defaulted on all his student loans, he didn’t even pay his fucking child support most of the time. Yet he was judging me. Unbelievable the nerve.
But when I asked Donald to read Cabin in the Woods and tell me what he thought, all of this was in the future and we were still in the blush of first romance. I was excited to share my work with him. He knew that becoming an author was my dream. He had vague ideas of being a writer himself, even ventured the notion of hosting a joint blog together. (I do believe I started it and had a few drafts of blogs, all of which he shot down while producing zero himself, of course). Bottom line: he knew this was important to me.
I waited a few weeks before bringing up the manuscript in a phone conversation. I said, “So, did you read my book?”
There was a silence. Then he said, “Yes. It was very disturbing. So disturbing, in fact, I’m kind of freaked out about you and thinking of breaking up with you.”
Oh no! Until this moment, I thought Donald was the one. We talked of sharing a future together, and having children, and at the time I desperately wanted those things and was already in my late thirties. I felt that Donald was my last chance. (Probably true; oh well).
“You should stop writing,” he said.
When I hung up the phone, I was in a panic. I felt like I was being made to choose between being an author and doing what I love, and a husband and family. At the time, I was in love with Donald. (I just gagged a little bit typing those words). I would do anything to be with him. Even give up writing.
Just in case I didn’t get the message, his cousin’s girlfriend started scolding me about my book when we hung out with them on Friday night. “I would never read anything you write,” she said emphatically, exchanging a look with Donald. That felt like a slap. Not only was he running down my work to me, he’d taken the extra step and started running it down to all the people we hung out with together.
So, I did it. I stopped writing.
Of course, not completely. My creativity came out in other ways-during that time I was a prolific Facebook poster. I would post several times a day. That became my outlet. Of course, Donald ran that down too, saying I was self-centered and an attention seeker, and that he hated people who posted on Facebook like I did. Nice, huh?
We broke up in 2015, and I didn’t start writing again until 2016. Since then, words have been pouring out of me at a feverish pace. Like a finger removed from a dike.
Publishing this book is a triumph. It has helped me realize that I am writing and sharing my work with the world for the simple joy of it, because I love it. I’m not doing it for anyone’s approval. I’m not doing it for money (although money would be nice) I’m doing it because I love it. It makes me sad that I let some jerk stop me from doing something I love, even temporarily.
There may be people out there in the same boat I was back then, wanting to do something with their life, wanting to fly, and having their wings clipped. The people stopping them come in many guises, from the benevolent “you’re just not good enough and I’m telling this for your own good,” to “you’re selfish because this will take time away from…” DON’T LISTEN. People that discourage you and tell you no do so for their own selfish reasons. That person does not mean well. That person means to hold you back from flying. And who cares why, most likely because they don’t have the courage to fly themselves.
I am going to release this book. As always, some will like it, some won’t. But this book will remain a triumph, me spitting in the eye of the people who said I couldn’t. Something I should have done many years ago.
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Published on August 18, 2019 11:09

April 19, 2019

Thoughts on A Lifetime of Bullying

Ponderings on The Playground
My first book, The Playground is free this Easter weekend April 19-21, 2019. Although it seems unbelievable, it’s been nearly two years since it was first published on Amazon. Publishing it was a whim. I had been trying for three months to get an agent, and I had just read that once an author accomplishes this, it takes another six months to find a publisher, and then another two years until the book is available for sale.
I’m an impatient person. That was too long of a wait. I uploaded the book to Amazon, hit publish, and went to bed wondering if I’d regret it. I haven’t yet.
The Playground was a baring of my soul. Its purpose was to illustrate how the scars of childhood bullying translate to an adult. We hear all these dire statistics-victims suffer from low achievement, depression, higher rates of drug use, suicide, yet no one had ever written about the aftermath. No one ever said, “This is what a life scarred by childhood bullying looks like.” Most bullying stories focused on the victimization itself, tacking on a made-for-TV happy ending.
My book does not have a happy ending. I could have manufactured one. I’ve had good things happen in my life. I could have ended with that and wrote, THE END. But instead I chose to relate a deeper, more personal truth, the truth most people don’t want to hear.
The truth is I’ve struggled with low self esteem and feelings of worthlessness all my life as a direct result of the bullying. Only in the last couple of years, with the advent of my writing career, have I started to feel good about myself. Those feelings had a very negative impact on my life. It led me to stay in dead-end jobs long past the time when I should have left, to remain in abusive situations well beyond the time I should have fled and made me afraid to put myself out there. It rendered me unable to set boundaries, to say no. I was willing to do anything for anyone.
Discovering someone disliked me was devastating. It reinforced my own personal script of worthlessness that had been written so many years ago. I struggled with rejection. Hearing no to most people was a minor setback; for me, hearing no could trigger an episode of depression where I struggled to find evidence that life was worth living.
This came to a head in 2013, when three of my coworkers, one of whom I considered a close friend, went to HR to get me fired. I was completely blindsided. I didn’t see it coming, although in hindsight I recalled some strange looks being exchanged among the perpetrators. I figured I was just being paranoid.
That’s the worst-dismissing your own feelings of discomfort as paranoia, chalking it up to self-consciousness due to your abusive past, and having it turn out you weren’t being paranoid and it was worse than you thought.
This was the catalyst: A coworker had asked me why I was always smiling like I was up to something. I replied, “I am, I’m plotting everyone’s downfall.” Everyone laughed and I promptly forgot the exchange.
But three people went to HR and reported me, claiming that innocuous remark was a threat and they were afraid for their lives. They brought a laundry list of things I’d allegedly said (some of it was repeated back to me. All of it had been said to the “close personal friend” and was twisted. Much of it was stuff HE’D said, and I’d just been like, “yeah,” which turned into “Shannon thinks such and such.”)
Within several hours, the whole thing unraveled. This group had been plotting against me for MONTHS, trying to find a way to get me fired. Including the “close personal friend” who sat next to me, talked to me nonstop through the partition all day, and was somebody I trusted. People who sat with them at lunch came forward and revealed they’d been actively trying to recruit people to go up to HR with them and spent entire lunch periods talking endlessly about what a bitch I was and how I was finally going to “get it.” It was crazy making stuff.
To this day, I have no clue what I did to any of these people to motivate that kind of obsession. Two of the three are also writers, so I believe they were partially motivated by jealousy, which was ridiculous. And yet that incited them to destroy me. They actually SAID I needed to be “destroyed.”
Sometimes I get sad, thinking of what could have been. We could have swapped ideas and edited each other’s work and cheered each other on. I would have loved being their writing buddy, to have encouraged and inspired and motivated one another. It could have been a wonderful friendship beneficial to all of us. Instead, they chose to bully me.
I’d ceased to be a human being. They’d distorted me. They had convinced themselves I was bad, evil, unworthy. It was as if they’d projected onto me all their fears about themselves. It was as if everything I feared about myself was true.
The night after my meeting with HR was one of the darkest ones of my life. I literally cried all night. I contemplated suicide, wondering why I was such a horrible, worthless person that everyone hated me. I felt like my entire life I’d dealt with the same shitty situation repeatedly. What is it about me? I asked myself. Why does everyone hate me?
I took heart from the fact that people stood up for me. That my boss, supervisor, and even HR took my part. I wiped my tears and forced myself to go to work the next morning, arriving early.
My female enemy was sitting on the desk of my “close personal work friend” who’d just betrayed me. They were unaware of the fact that their huge plot had been foiled…at this point they thought it was a success and I was about to be vanquished forever. She kept looking over the partition at me and snickering, clearly gloating. It was disgusting.
One by one, they were called up to HR and the snickering and gloating ceased.
I didn’t speak to the “work buddy” for a month or so, but I’m a forgiving person, often to my own detriment. I began talking to him again like it never happened. I figured he was remorseful, although I never got anything approaching an apology from anyone. The only time we came close to discussing the incident was when he mentioned being bullied in high school, and insisted he would never bully someone. (I found out later that he and his gal pal vehemently felt they hadn’t bullied me and I deserved their treatment).
The Monday after my supposed friend’s last day of work, I came in to some delusional, distorted email stating that he forgave me for “going to corporate and saying we did things we never did.” To this day, I don’t know what the hell that was about…he and his buddies went to corporate and made accusations, not me. And when HR spoke to me, I didn’t know who my accusers were. I don’t know what that delusion was about, but I note that narcissists like to twist things to make themselves the victim. I don’t know if he is one or not; I just know he’s in a whole lot of denial about what happened. I guess he rewrote the narrative into a version he could live with.
Looking back six years later, that incident was clearly manufactured drama by a group of people who were bored. Nothing more. What frightens me, though, is how I unwittingly became a target. That helped me realize a truth: People who have been bullied in the past are natural targets. Maybe one day some psychiatrist will figure out why. It’s almost like we give off some sort of scent, like a wounded animal.
Not only that, but people who were themselves bullied are at higher risks for becoming bullies themselves. My coworker probably was telling the truth when he claimed to have been badly bullied in high school. Yet he lacked the self-awareness to comprehend that he’d become the very thing he hated.
Sue Thomas, a counselor at SUNY Potsdam when I was a college student, once told me having two people come together that were abused in the past rarely has a good outcome. “Invariably, one always starts abusing the other,” she said. “It’s a familiar dynamic that both people know well and are comfortable with.”
Once you’ve been bullied, it doesn’t go away. It leaves an invisible mark on you that predators can see, and there’s always another bully looking for prey. You’re an unwilling cast member in a shitty play. You’re left asking, why? what do I do to make these people target me, and although people might say it’s not about you, it’s about them, the common denominator in all these experiences is you, so you never stop wondering.
Out of all the childhood traumas and abuse, bullying is probably the easiest to eliminate. Teaching your children to respect others and be nice to their peers is much easier than trying to undo the damage thirty years later, when that victim grows up to abuse others, or struggles with addiction, or depression. In most cases, you cannot stop a fully formed adult from abusing a child, but you can stop children, whose minds have yet been fully molded, from abusing one another. It’s important that we stop the abuse at its source. Bullying prevention is worthwhile. Childhood bullying is NOT inevitable. It can be stopped.
Childhood bullying isn’t a joke. The scars it leaves are real and permanent. It’s not a rite of passage, or something every kid goes through, it’s ABUSE. At one time, being molested as a child was almost a universal experience, now it’s almost inconceivable that we once turned a blind eye to it. Bullying needs to be dealt with the same way. We can’t just shrug and say, “nothing much you can do about it,” “kids will be kids,” because there are things that can be done. It can be stopped. Like the song in the musical South Pacific, “You have to be carefully taught.” If hate can be taught, so can empathy and kindness. Teach your children to treat others with dignity and respect. Teach them that everyone is a human being and has feelings, the same as them. Teach them to love others. Teach them there is hope.
We’re living a dark world right now, but we can be the light.
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Published on April 19, 2019 12:07 Tags: abuse, bullying, end-bullying, survivors, true-stories

March 30, 2019

January 21, 2019

Sleepless Somewhere in NY

It was a moment I’ll never forget.
It was a Friday or Saturday night, and my then boyfriend and I were at his cousin’s house just outside Albany. My routine was to drive two hours nearly every Friday after work and spend the weekend with him. He had his kids on Saturday, so it was easier for me to come to him, a gesture he never appreciated in the time we were together. On the contrary, he acted like he was doing me a favor by allowing me to visit.
Sitting by the fire at his cousin’s house drinking beers and bullshitting was our weekend ritual.
The topic unexpectedly turned to my writing. The previous week, I’d emailed my boyfriend a copy of my novel, a dark piece tentatively titled Cabin in the Woods, about two teenage girls murdering a friend. After reading it, he called me and said “This was disturbing. I’m freaked out by you and not sure I want to date you anymore.”
I was alarmed. Our relationship was shiny and new, only three months along, filled with promise. I saw a future with him. “Okay,” I said. “I won’t write that stuff anymore.”
I was making a choice, a future as his wife, filled with family, versus a lonely one as a writer. It was an easy decision to make in the first blush of infatuation.
I thought we’d dropped the topic, but now, as they guzzled beers, he said to his cousin’s girlfriend, “Tell her what you think about her writing.”
She pointed at me and, shaking her head for emphasis, yelled, “I would never read the stuff you write!” It was said to me angrily, as if I’d done something wrong.
I felt betrayed. I was still shy about sharing my writing, and doing it with him was an intimate act, something private. I was sharing a piece of myself. It upset me that he’d gone and discussed it with her. It was like I’d committed some wrong, admitted it, tried to make amends, and he still went and bitched about me to mutual friends.
“I never asked you to,” I replied.
“Well, I wouldn’t! No one wants to read that stuff.”
“I’m not writing anymore,” I said.
“You shouldn’t,” she replied.
This encounter happened in May of 2012. Nearly seven years later, that scene is heavily tinged with what the fuck. I remember how I felt, sitting there by the crackling fire. Small, pathetic, and weak. I knew deep down that I was betraying myself, and for what? A loser who couldn’t get it together, not even enough to divorce his wife after she left him for someone else, who couldn’t hold down a job, didn’t pay any of his bills and lived with his parents, but was always, always, free with his judgments and criticism when it came to me. Everything I did was wrong.
That scene replayed itself in my mind when I began publishing. I could picture them by the fire, my now ex with a different woman, mocking my efforts.
I’m reasonably certain that very scenario took place, that they laughed, that my ex said things like she’ll never blah blah blah she’s just not smart enough blah blah blah.
I doubt they’re laughing at me now.
Fast forward two years later and I found myself in a similar scenario, with a boyfriend (who turned out to be hiding the fact that he’s married, btw) telling me, “You’ll never be an author.”
By then, I’d grown a backbone. “Watch me,” I said.
I am both proud of myself for not listening to them and ashamed that I once did, that I wasn’t true to myself. And that I stuck around awaiting further evidence that they were toxic people who didn’t have my best interests at heart.
A few days ago, I woke up with an idea for a book already formed in my mind. I am eternally grateful to whatever muse throws up ideas when I’m asleep. Throughout the day, as I drove to work, and went about my tasks, I kept turning over the idea, processing it, filling in the characters and the scenarios. When I came home, I ran it by my boyfriend.
He said, “That’s a fantastic idea.”
I was completely blown away. I’d expected him to trash it. I already had various defenses as to why this idea would work ready.
I said, “I thought you would stomp on it.”
“Why?” he said. “Why would you think I would do that?”
The answer, of course, was because everyone always did. Every previous boyfriend. My sister, who made a face when I told her the plot of The Playground and said, “Who would want to read that? Such depressing subject matter.” Then when I told her the plot of Woman Scorned said, “yet another inspirational uplifting book.”
I stopped telling her about my books.
Or the friend who snapped, “that’s been done before,” when I told him an idea I had for a book about a mother and daughter who go to vacation on Cape Cod.
It was so rare that anyone thought I had a good idea that it was shocking.
My boyfriend said, “You know, in the past I used to be someone who would find something negative to say, but I’ve decided that’s not the person I want to be anymore.”
I’ve come to realize the same. Growing up with a chronically depressed parent, I was bombarded with negativity. Finding things to complain about was our number one family activity, and it’s an excellent way to bond with others. Even now, I’ve made new friends by complaining about the president.
A lot of families were like mine. A lot of kids were raised to be chronic complainers. But, here’s the thing, you need to put a lid on it. Complaining about your own life is one thing. You must draw the line at infecting others with your negativity. You should never tell someone they won’t achieve anything just because you don’t feel you will.
That’s what is behind this toxicity, your own feeling of underachievement. This happens when you look at other people’s pursuit of their dreams as being a commentary on you, when you make it about you. It’s not.
When you’re on the giving end of this kind of toxicity, you feel that you’re being honest. That you’re saying these things for someone’s own good. You may almost feel that you’re defending yourself from them. That they’re attacking you somehow. Hence, the snapping and the anger, the “who do you think you are,” aspect to their statements. The fear.
Almost like, “if this is who you are, who am I?”
I know it well, because, I too, was once a dream stomper. It was an automatic knee-jerk response to someone reaching for the stars.
You know what being exposed to so much negativity has taught me? I want to be someone who encourages people to chase their dreams, not the person who points out all the reasons they’ll fail. The one who motivates someone to keep trying. I don’t want to be one of the hundreds of people who told the star they’d never get there.
Instead of being threatened by someone pursuing their dreams, we can use them to inspire us. Heck, if they can chase their dreams, so can you! A lot of us have been hardwired to be satisfied with minimum effort from our own lives. Whenever you find yourself threatened by someone else reaching for the stars, that’s a reminder that we could all be doing so much more with our lives. We choose our paths through life. Don’t let your only lasting contribution be an ugly footnote in some successful person’s history, as one of the many naysayers.
Be one of the people who inspire success in others.
I’ve had plenty of those people in my life, and if not for them, I may not be where I am today. I will never forget that. When that scene before the fire begins to play in my head, I replace the tape with the encouraging words of so many of my former classmates who read The Playground, or the words of my boyfriend who proudly introduces me to people as an author. You’ve all taught me who I want to be, and the naysayers?
They’ve become just a footnote.
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Published on January 21, 2019 04:26 Tags: feminism, jealousy, success, writing

September 22, 2018

Confessions of A People Pleaser

I’m a people pleaser. I enjoy going out of my way to make others feel worthy, special, and good about themselves. I’m childless, and at forty-four years of age, I think it’s safe to assume I will not be contributing to the gene pool. I feel I’m making my contribution to the universe by being good to others, and that if I’m good to others, it will inspire them to be good too, with the end result that I’ll be leaving this world a better place than when I entered it.
However, I’m only human. There are aspects of human nature that we all possess, such as being self-centered and selfish, and although I wish I didn’t have those traits, I’m imperfect. I am flawed, like everyone else. I’m not a saint, nor am I the next Mother Theresa, and I’m sure even Mother Theresa was a bitch when she was PMSING.
These are my confessions:
1. It DOES Make Me Feel Good to Do Things for Others. I suppose if I was a completely altruistic human being, I wouldn’t feel anything at all about doing things for others. It would just come naturally, done unthinkingly and without thought. Not an occasion to gloat over my own goodness or feel a flush of satisfaction over being such a good person. However, I suspect if one didn’t get off on doing good, nothing good would ever get done.
2. I Like to Build Up Other’s Self Worth and Esteem Because Mine Was Torn Down. Many of us people pleasers have an abusive past. We can spend hours debating the psychology of our people pleasing ways; but when it comes down to it, I like to give others what I never received myself. I suppose I’m attempting to heal the wounded little girl inside of me through others.
3. Sometimes I Go Out of My Way for Others Because I Like the Attention. Come on, you know if you surprise a coworker with a birthday cake you baked yourself, you’re going to be the toast of the office for the day. That is never my primary motivation…my primary motivation is always #2. But it’s a secondary benefit. Of course, I like getting attention for being good to someone! I suppose this makes it an attention seeking behavior. But pretty much everything we do in life is attention seeking, from putting on makeup to working hard on a report, so this is no different except it makes someone else happy too. Win win!
4. Others May Consider My Belief System Childishly Simplistic and Naïve. I’ve never been one for organized religion, I don’t consider myself a Christian (certainly not the modern version of Christianity) but I embrace the teachings of Christ. Particularly the ones about doing unto others and treating the lowliest among us as if it were God himself. I believe everyone should be treated with dignity and respect and we’re all equal in the eyes of whatever entity created us. On the occasions I’ve revealed my motivations for being nice to others, people have scoffed at me, dismissed me as being innocent, or told me this world was going to chew me up and spit me out. Well, I’m forty-four, and I’m still here. It bugs me when people are condescending about my belief system. I guess I’m supposed to be a cynical asshole going around treating people like shit in order to be taken seriously. No thanks.
5. People Often See Me as A Doormat and A Punching Bag and That Really Hurts. Funny that my treating everyone with respect often translates to people treating me with zero. It can be disheartening that my efforts to build certain people up appear to motivate them to be assholes.
6. Sometimes I Feel Entitled, Which Leads to Resentment. I’ve seen this phenomenon among other “do gooders” so I know what a turn-off it is, but like I said, I’m not perfect. It’s just that, after day after day going out of my way for everyone around me, you’d think someone could do something for me once, right? I don’t do good deeds expecting anything in return, but when I’ve walked the extra mile forty times, and no one can do a single fucking thing for me once, it pisses me off. Even though I have no right to expect others to go out of their way for me.
7. I Want People to Like Me. I Have a History of People Rejecting Me. I had a sad childhood. I was an outcast in school and many of my classmates bullied me, and my parents were self-centered, self-involved, and neglected me. (They’re both gone now, so I can finally speak the truth. I loved them both, but they were sucky parents. They are a prime example of a couple who had kids because of societal pressures, but didn’t really want them). I try to buy affection sometimes. I’ve gotten a lot better about this, but the inclination persists. My past has taught me that I’m not good enough for people to like me for me, so I need to sweeten the deal.
8. I Swallow Back My Feelings Until They Erupt. I’m so focused on pleasing people that I tend to ignore when they’re not pleasing me until I flip out, often over something relatively minor. We people pleasers don’t want to be disliked, so we tend to tolerate disrespectful treatment or someone taking advantage of us for far too long. It’s hard for us to stand up for ourselves.
9. I’m An Emotional Eater. Subverting my own desires for those of others can be exhausting. I’ve learned to reward myself with food. It’s an uncomplicated way to give myself the pleasure I regularly deny myself. Maybe it’s not healthy for me, but when did I ever worry about myself? I’m not alone in this. I read a statistic that a high percentage of healthcare workers are overweight. You wouldn’t think this would be the case; after all, they dispense health advice. But, they tend to be people pleasers, and patients’ families often reward the nursing staff with gifts of food. A recipe for disaster.
10. Deep Down, I Believe Karma Will Reward Me. It just doesn’t seem to be happening in this lifetime, so I choose to believe in the next one. Let’s be honest, it’s not a sign of purity of purpose when you secretly believe somewhere some entity is keeping score. But since the Bible goes on about how you’ll receive your rewards in heaven for being good on earth, I’m thinking I’m not the only one harboring this motivation.

Here’s the thing: No matter how bad it is for me as a person, I’m never going to stop wanting to please others. Maybe it’s because I’m broken, but I have an unquenchable desire to make others happy. No matter how detrimental it is to me, I can’t think it’s a bad thing. We can choose to put positive energy in to the universe, or negative. I choose to put positive. And yup, my motivations for doing it aren’t always unselfish. There’s no denying that it satisfies me, as well.
I’m only human. I suspect even Mother Theresa sometimes tolerated shit only because she thought it was earning her a ticket into heaven. At the end of the day, does it matter why someone tries to do good deeds?
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Published on September 22, 2018 18:14 Tags: confidence, feminism, loving-yourself, relationships

August 18, 2018

Remembering Mr. Rogers

Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was the first program I watched regularly. I remember crying at the end of an episode at the age of four years old when he said, "See you next week." I couldn't wait another week to see Mr. Rogers! Fortunately, he was always on the very next day. I loved him probably just as much as my own parents.

Of course, once I'd grown out of the Sesame Street phase of life, I scorned Mr. Rogers and the legion of public broadcasting. He was so lame, in his sweater and shoes (although I loved watching him change into them as a small child), and I would laugh at the various parodies that cropped up over the years. As I grew into adulthood, I began to have a new appreciation for him, especially when I realized he was still on television talking to children in that patient voice of his. I think I cried when he died.

Until I watched the documentary on him yesterday, Won't You Be My Neighbor, I hadn't realized how much of an influence he had on me. So much that it would be accurate to state that I wouldn't be the person I was today without him.

During the documentary I sat, nodding, as he stated that he thinks the most bad, evil people in the world are the ones who deliberately make others feel less worthy. I thought, Yes! That's exactly how I feel. I have never understood people who try to bash others and destroy their dreams. So much negativity, when you could be positive and encouraging. People who choose to spread darkness and mayhem when they could just as easily do the opposite.

It was only on the drive home that I realized, of course I felt the same way he did about so many subjects.

I'd been watching him since possibly before I could talk, from my high chair. All those high, lofty ideals I hold, have held all my life, that I feel is the core of my humanity, what makes me a good person, all of them, didn't come from me. I didn't come up with them, as I'd always thought. No, I got them from him. He taught me how to be a good person.

It was astounding that one man had so much influence. That despite being just a man on a television program, he spoke to each and every one of us. That he saw all of us, with our flaws, and accepted us for not who we are, but who we have the potential to become.

We spend so much time as a society trying to cut people down and destroy them. We glorify in it. And if we can't tear them down, like we did Bill Cobsy, we forget about them, almost as if they're not worth remembering if we can't find their flaws. Mr. Rogers is worth remembering. Mr. Rogers was a good man. In a world where our children are being given so many bad examples, his virtue shines through. He wanted to be everyone's neighbor. He thought God didn't make mistakes and you are how He made you. He accepted everyone, tolerated difference. He may have been God himself, sent to live among us. Next time I feel angry, or frustrated, or tempted to lash out, I'm going to remember Mr. Rogers. If he could remain so patient, so loving, and so influential, so can I. So can we all.
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Published on August 18, 2018 11:13 Tags: love-not-hate, stop-the-hate, tolerance, writers-life

August 11, 2018

Finding Your Self Worth

I spent over three years as the consolation prize.

It was a position as familiar to me as a comfy old pair of pajamas. Growing up, all I wanted was for someone to be my friend. I wasn’t picky. I just wanted a seat at the lunch table, so I didn’t have to sit alone. I always knew if given a chance I would be the best friend any girl could ask for, but back then no one wanted to give me a chance. Years of rejection made me believe I was broken, second rate, bargain basement goods. I would let people treat me like garbage as long as they would tolerate my presence in their life.

The end result was I wasted years on a man who didn’t love me and was hoping his former wife would come back. At the end, he was talking marriage. Not in the excited way of someone wanting to share a future with me, more like “we might as well.”

I balked. I knew I would be signing up for a lifetime of being second best to a woman who cheated on him. That was literally a life sentence.

That feeling of not being as good as others has colored my entire life.

I’ve endured a lifetime of being a consolation prize, the fall-back friend, the girl who happily picks up the pieces when your boyfriend dumps you, then returns to her solitary existence without complaint when you get back together.

In romantic relationships, I played second fiddle. To other girlfriends, to wives, to children and friends and families and jobs. I was never the priority. I learned to be pathetically grateful when given crumbs. I would drop whatever I was doing to meet up with my man on the spur of the moment, because he was so busy, and so important, and I just wasn’t. I had nothing better to do than sit and wait for him to whistle.

I believed that if I stayed patient, loyal, and true, eventually people would realize I was deserving and worthy. Their eyes would open to what a wonderful woman I was. Then they'd treat me right.

But it never happened. Instead, the minute my friend or lover had another demand on their time, they compensated by eliminating me. I wasn’t worth their time.

You teach people how to treat you. Never in the history of the world has tolerating someone’s shit motivated them to treat you better. I know this from personal experience. People who treated me badly never saw the light and began treating me better. They only started treating me worse.

Instead of expecting people to treat me like a priority, I was waiting for someone to make me feel I deserved to be treated like a priority. I was looking for others to validate my self-worth. I had it backwards.

That ends now. Sound familiar?

Then join me in no longer tolerating the following:

1. People ignoring texts and phone calls. This is bullshit. I’m not talking about missing a text or call here and there. People get busy. And having gone from a job where I had nothing to do and texted all day to one that is extremely busy and I’m lucky to find time to eat lunch, I can sympathize. But we all know the difference between someone not being able to get back to you and someone who doesn’t care enough to respond. And as for phone calls, you can see that someone’s been calling you. If you don’t call them back, you’re deliberately ignoring them. No one should put up with that. I’ve put up with years of this from both romantic partners and friends. I’m not putting up with it anymore. Anyone who can't be bothered to take ten seconds to answer me will no longer remain in my life.

2. People who always rank their significant other a priority over you. People should be flexible with their priorities. Yes, your significant other should be a priority. But if your best girlfriend just got dumped and is having a crisis, your boyfriend can shave his own back for once. I’m serious here. You should not be dancing attendance on your boyfriend’s every whim and to hell with your friends. He can make his own frigging dinner, do his own laundry, and hang out playing Monopoly with his parents by himself. Someone who ignores their friends in order to spend every second with their boyfriend doesn't deserve to have friends. And soon won't.

3. And along with that…People who only come around when their significant other is busy. Oh, their boyfriend is hanging with his friends, so gee, now your friend is willing to hang out with you! Lucky you! You get his leftover shit all the time! You should be so excited. You’re second best yet again. If this is a game, you get points if the whole time your friend hangs with you, they keep checking their phone to see if they've been summoned by their god.

4. People who only call you when they need something from you. Ditto.

5. People who tell you to get rid of boyfriends/friends then ignore you after you do it. So nice of you to advise me to dump my boyfriend. Now I’m all alone because you’re too busy with your boyfriend to spend any time with me. I know this because when I asked you to spend time with me you said, “I’m busy with my boyfriend.” Nice to know you can take a moment to rub your successful relationship in my face. Thanks.

6. People who never, ever accept any invitations. You invite them to your BBQ, to go bike riding, to go shopping, to go to lunch, dinner, etc. It’s gotten to the point where you don’t invite them anywhere anymore because you feel like you’re being rejected over and over again.

7. People who make you chase them. Anyone who makes you chase them isn’t worth it. Screw it. Too much effort for too little return.

Here’s the hard part. You don’t suddenly decide you’re going to change your life and not put up with shitty behavior and then, to the thumping beat of an eighties motivational pop song, all these people who think you’re wonderful and want to treat you right come crawling out of the woodwork where they were waiting all along. Life doesn’t happen that way. Getting rid of people who treat you shitty can be a lonely, traumatic experience. Because even if they were giving you crumbs, at least you weren’t starving. Now you’re all alone.

With your dignity intact.

I’m a believer in the universe rewarding you when you get rid of the people who are just cluttering up your life and adding nothing positive. We’ll see. What I do know is it’s better to be alone, then being alone after having begged someone to hang out with you. In one scenario you’re lonely but respect yourself, in the second you’re still lonely but you feel worthless.

It takes guts to stand up for yourself. But I believe it’s worth it in the long run. Life is too short to waste on people who treat you like an option when you should be a priority.

Shitty relationships aren't worth the effort. It's better to be alone and available for someone who will treat you better.
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Published on August 11, 2018 21:19 Tags: confidence, loving-yourself, relationships, self-esteem

August 9, 2018

Chasing Your Dreams

I’ve wanted to be an author since I was small, from the moment I realized people wrote those wonderful books my older sister read to me. That was before I could read or write a word myself. To me, there has never been a bigger honor the world can bestow than the title “writer” or “author.”

Then life got in the way. Although my father never stopped assuring me that my dream was within my grasp, the world was filled with people who scoffed at my aspirations as unrealistic and unattainable. But I never stopped writing. To this day, I sometimes open hard cover books to find loose pages of some story I’d begun longhand and never finished, as I would use the books to lean on, then tuck the pages in them when I was done. The strange thing is I regard those years as fallow, yet I am constantly stumbling over evidence they were anything but.

My problem was consistency. I wrote when the mood took me, which was whenever. I started stories and novels but never finished them, never got beyond the first couple of pages, because then the mood passed, my muse departed, and I forgot that I’d been writing something. And often, I would get ten pages into a story and think I didn’t like the way it was headed, so I needed to start over, and just never did.

That all changed when I wrote The Playground over the Fourth of July weekend, shortly before my forty-second birthday. Yup, I binge wrote it over a weekend. When completed, it was one hundred twenty pages and my hands hurt. I knew it was going to need a rewrite, or several. But that was when things changed. When I realized that, in order to be a writer, I had to write every day, whether my muse decided to sing or not. So, I wrote that book, and revised it, and wrote it again, and it became a mini-obsession. And when I was done, I wrote another book. And another. I worried that I would run out of ideas, but they kept coming. And if I ran out, there was always some fragment tucked into a yearbook, or an unfinished file in my Word documents, that I could resume writing.

Like most authors, I wrote my first book thinking it was going to be a Pulitzer Prize winning novel. It was going to make me famous, put me on the map, fulfill all my dreams.

It hasn’t happened that way. What has happened is WORK. Hard work. Nonstop, endless work.

I have highs. When I get a five-star review, especially from a stranger. It makes my day. Because as wonderful as it is when my friends say they loved my book, the real test is when a stranger who doesn’t care about my feelings loved it too. I also get a high when I sell a lot of books in one day. Unfortunately, that’s when I pay for advertising, and it’s rare that I make a profit. Having people read my book is supposed to be its own reward.

I have lows. This occurs when I ponder just how much money I’m spending in advertising versus the rate of return. Or when one of my fellow Indie authors laments being an author as really “just an expensive hobby.” Or when I know there are people out there mocking me and laughing at me, because anytime you put yourself out there, you open yourself up to ridicule. Or when I hear how little money some authors who are considered “successful” by the industry are making, not enough to quit their day job. Or when I get a bad review. There’s always people out there who aren’t going to like your work. If everyone gives you five stars, that’s a sign your distribution isn’t wide enough.

I keep telling myself that there will be a reward for my hard work, and one day I’ll get it. Except, what if there isn’t any reward? What if, I am going to just go on publishing my books, and selling at the same rate (which is already higher than most authors; and isn’t that a scary thought)? And never getting anywhere?

This is the dark side of chasing your dream. I think we all have this idea, in the back of our minds, that when we finally get the courage and the stamina to go for it, we’ll make it. After all, we’ve watched too many inspirational eighties movies for success not to be a foregone conclusion.

Somehow, those inspirational stories failed to mention the unglamorous, unfun side of working towards success. The loneliness. The sacrifices. The fact that after thousands of hours of work, you literally will have no profit to show for it. That you will work and work and work, and not get paid. That you will have to endure rejection, and mockery, and people thinking you’re delusional. That some of these people may be part of your own family, the very ones who should be encouraging you.

No one told me that after thousands of hours of exhaustively writing and editing and re-writing my books, then would come the hard part. Selling it. That despite being able to craft lovely turns of phrases, coming up with a blurb to get people interested in buying my novel is inordinately, tremendously hard. That having to hustle for sales like a telemarketer is distasteful. That after learning how to write a book, correctly edit it, buy a cover, format it, upload it, etc., now I need to market it. Writing was the easy part. While I wrote, I dreamed. Publishing was when I faced reality.

We are experiencing a revolution in the publishing industry. For the first time, indie writers are serious contenders. We are no longer slaves to the rejection notice. We don’t have to first get accepted by an agent, then a publisher, who will then take most of our profit and make us do the lion’s share of the marketing anyway. There are tons of wonderful authors who have written wonderful stories that deserve to see the light of day, and instead have been rejected over and over. Now their time has come.

But there’s a dark side.

Readers will not buy a book from an indie author unless it’s free or close to it. My books are all regularly priced at 2.99, but it’s rare they move at that price. They only sell when I drop the price to .99. I would have to sell hundreds of books to make a profit, after deducting the price of advertising. And most of my “sales” are loans, which means an Amazon Prime or KU Member allowed to borrow the book for free. This isn’t bad news for me per se; I get paid per page in that case making more of a profit than a paltry 99 cents.

Here’s the problem: consumers are starting to think they should be able to read full length novels for free or close to it, and that’s not going to be good for any of us in the industry in the long run, traditional or independent. Writing books may eventually become just an expensive hobby, and not a profession, or a way to make money.

This is a major problem.

A second issue is many indie novels being sold should never have seen the light of day. They are first drafts, complete with typos and misspellings and glaring grammatical errors. Some of them are decent; I just read one where the story was good, but it was not a finished product. I considered emailing the author to discuss this with her (this is considered good etiquette from one indie to another) but I decided against it, because I didn’t know how she would react. Problem is, books like that give the indie authors who bleed for their work a bad name. There are a lot of readers who won’t even consider purchasing a self-published work because they equate that with failure.

The third issue is an entire industry has sprung up catering to indie authors, charging them fees for everything from blog tours to being put on reading lists. Hundreds of dollars in some cases, depending on how successful and well known the product. Basically, there is an industry taking advantage of our dreams. But what can you do? It’s the only way to get your name out there.

So here is the question: More than a year after publishing my first novel, as I prepare to publish my sixth (shortly after my fifth; I wrote those two switching off) book, do I feel chasing my dream was worth it?

To answer, I remember that five-year- old child, who decided the minute she knew someone wrote her favorite story that she wanted to write a story too. She didn’t dream of buying a house on Cape Cod, or having enough money to travel the world, or staying home and writing for a living. No, her dreams were much simpler. She wanted people to read her stories. Nothing more.

As a society we tend to measure success in monetary gain, and that’s where we fall short. There is more to life than making money, or being rich, or having a nice house. My original dream was to tell people stories. I’ve achieved that. For many of us, achieving our dreams may not mean a big house or expensive car. It means starting out with something humble-writing stories that people read-and making that dream a reality. So chase your dreams. Success is guaranteed.
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Published on August 09, 2018 16:44 Tags: authors, fear-of-failure, writer-s-life

May 24, 2018

Exciting Updates!

Well, for me, anyway.

My (fifth)? book has been released in the Kindle Store. Titled Lost in Hardyland, it follows the life of twelve year old Zoey Hardy, a child genius who recently lost her mother and now has to live with her predominantly absentee father, an ordinary man with two other "normal" kids. I actually had a lot of fun writing this book, which has more of a "feel good" vibe to it than my other works. The world I created was so attractive to me, I wish I could live there forever. It was quite an escape. Ironically, the main character is grieving for her mother, and my own mother died suddenly a week after I finished the first draft.

It's currently priced at 2.99, but I'm planning to do a launch of some sort Father's Day weekend, since the book is about fathers and daughters. I'm also currently running a Goodreads Giveaway, giving away one hundred free copies, in about the same time frame, so either way, you can get your hands on a free copy if you're into delayed gratification. If not, or if you're a Kindle Unlimited member which means you read for free anyway, here's the link:

Also, Woman Scorned is on a Kindle Countdown sale this weekend, bargain priced at .99. If you're looking for a beach read or something to pass the time while you're stuck in a car, a bus, a train, or a plane, this book will fit the bill!

Finally, I'm putting the finishing touches on my latest, Hiding Places. I don't have a release date in mind yet, but I've never been one to sit around and say, "It'll be released on this date." I sort of just release it when I think it's done and then think about promoting it after. This book is a bit different than all the others too. It tells the story of Ursula Reiter, a professor who has always lived in the shadow of her father, a Holocaust survivor with agoraphobia who hides in their house. From him, Ursula has learned human beings are naturally evil, and thus has never been able to let down her guard and allow anyone to get close to her. Finally, a beautiful young girl unexpectedly breaches Ursula's walls, but the woman is still unable to trust. Ursula is driven to test her in a Milgraum-like experiment to determine if she is truly good, or capable of the same evil that has haunted her father his entire life, ironically placing herself in the same position as the long-dead Nazis.

So, we know how I'll be spending my Memorial Day will you be spending yours? Reading, I hope!
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Published on May 24, 2018 02:49 Tags: kindle-countdown-deals, new-books, new-releases

May 8, 2018

Sneak Peek of My New Book!

My new book has gone off to be edited, but not without me sharing a sneak peek. The book is about a young child genius forced to live with her "normal" estranged father following her mother's death.

“Can you use it in a sentence?” the boy with the glossy straight black hair asked, pushing his glasses up his nose. Peter Wong. That was the name written in block letters on his nametag.
We were the only ones left on stage. The footlights glared down on us, blinding me. All I saw when I looked at the audience were blobs instead of faces. Perhaps on purpose, so we won’t get stage fright. My mother told me what to do if I got overwhelmed staring out at so many faces.
“Fix your gaze to a point above everyone’s heads,” she’d instructed.
Since I couldn’t see individual faces, I pretended she was there, watching. We had been preparing for this spelling bee for years. You had to be twelve to qualify. I was finally old enough to compete, but she was dead.
“I’m sorry, that is incorrect,” one of the unsmiling judges declared. He looked somberly at me. “As you know, with only two people left in the competition, we have entered sudden death. If Zoey Hardy can correctly spell this word, she will be declared the winner of this year’s New York State Spelling Bee.”
I stood up, clenching my hands. I gazed out at the theatre. The lights glared down at me. My head throbbed.
“The word is vivisepulture,” the judge reminded me.
I closed my eyes for a moment. I didn’t need its definition or to hear it in a sentence. It meant to be buried alive.
I’ve worried endlessly that my mother was buried alive. So ironic that this is my word.
Without opening my eyes, I slowly spelled the word, whispering the letters into the microphone. I could see it printed on the list of spelling words in my mind’s eye. I’ve spelled it in my dreams.
“Correct,” the expressionless voice proclaims. “Ladies and Gentleman, please congratulate this year’s winner, Zoey Hardy.”
The applause was thunderous. I forced a smile and waved, although I was annoyed they left out my middle name. Elizabeth. I hated the name Hardy. Too all-American, too vanilla, conjuring up visions of families huddled under blankets at football game and picnics at the beach. Hardyland. I didn’t belong there. I never have.
The next couple of minutes were a blur. They took my photo for the newspaper. I held up my winning plaque and smiled brightly, although my head hurt. I just wanted to go home.
I thought if I won, I would feel my mother’s presence. Instead, I felt nothing.
“One more,” Brad says, holding up his cell phone. “Smile!”
I pulled up the corners of my mouth a bit, managing to walk a tightrope between compliance and disobedience. The dance of our relationship.
“Are you excited?” he asked. “Did you think you’d win?”
I raised and lowered my shoulders in a half-hearted shrug, turning to walk out of the theater. Brad attempted to fall into step beside me, but I slowed my pace, allowing him to take the lead.
He halted and held out his hand. “Come on, kiddo, we’re in the middle of New York City,” he said, his tone reasonable.
I reluctantly laced my fingers in his, shrinking away from the contact of his warm, sweaty palm against my skin. With that gesture, we became ordinary, just a father walking with his little girl.
I don’t know how we got here.
Every time he brought up entering the spelling bee, I blew him off. I had no intentions of competing. Yes, it had been a dream my mother and I had, but that’s all. Something to work toward on those long endless evenings when she was too sick from chemo to do anything besides listen to me run down endless spelling lists. We talked about what I’d wear, where she’d sit, the moment when I won. We always acted like winning was the only outcome.
Last year, we watched the live broadcast of the spelling bee on public access and pretended she’d be watching from the audience this year. Deep down I knew it wasn’t going to happen. She was dying, although no one told me outright and I refused to admit it to myself. She couldn’t die. She was my mother. She’d been a vigilant presence all my life. She was my world.
It started out as breast cancer. The renegade cells showed up on the scan when she had a mammogram. It was already stage four. I knew that was bad from the way my aunts stared when she told us.
“You schedule mammograms like clockwork,” May said, shaking her head in disbelief. “How could the cancer have progressed so far without detection?”
No one had an answer for that. Sometimes, that’s just what happens. You can do everything right, but still get sick. My mother ran three miles a day on the treadmill in the basement, and spent twenty minutes lifting weights every other day. She had regular checkups, went to the dentist, ate right, didn’t drink beyond an occasional glass of red wine. It wasn’t fair.
“A body is like a car,” she said, shaking her head. “If you maintain it well, it’s supposed to last a long time, and usually does. Except sometimes, no matter how well you maintain it, the car still breaks down. It’s a lemon. It was defective when it came from the factory.”
“You’re not defective,” I told her. “You’re the smartest woman I know.”
“Maybe it was a trade-off,” she said with her lovely smile. “A defective body for a superior brain. Do you think?”
“No,” I said.
It snowed the day the spelling bee was held last year.
“Snow this early means there won’t be a lot this winter,” my mother said, gazing out the window. “Spring seems so far off.”
“That’s because it’s not even winter yet,” I said.
I stared at her hands. Her face still looked the same, but her hands had shriveled, become talons. Old lady hands. She was aging rapidly. Within weeks, her luxurious dark hair had thinned and started to turn white.
“I wish I could see spring again,” she said.
“You will,” I assured her.
“I feel so bad that I won’t get to see you compete in the spelling bee next year. You’ll be crowned champion. I know it.”
“I don’t care. I won’t do it unless you’re going to be there.”

Three days ago, Brad casually said, “Oh, by the way, we have that spelling bee on Saturday. I sent in your application. Dr. Huxtable gave it to me.”
I was furious. “I told you to forget about it.”
We were in the truck, heading back from yet another art class at the community center. I was already fuming because he’d been waiting for me outside the classroom door. I don’t know how he managed to get past the receptionist. Maybe she swooned when he twinkled those blue eyes.
“How’s my girl doing?” he asked Ms. Able.
I saw her eyes widen and her lips part, as she looked him up and down. Did she think he was talking about her?
“Very good, Mr.…Hardy, right?” she tittered.
Puke. Now I wasn’t sure if him flirting with my teacher was to distract me from being angry about the spelling bee, or if it was the other way around.
“It was important to your mother that you compete,” Brad said. “If you don’t do it, you’ll regret it.”
“You shouldn’t have done it without telling me,” I scolded. “I’m not even prepared. It takes weeks of studying.”
“Oh please. You’ve been studying for this thing for years. Did you forget how to spell all the words in the last couple of months?”
That was a good point. I let out a massive sigh. “Don’t you have anything else you’d rather be doing on a Saturday?”
“Then watch my baby doll become the spelling champion of the world? Hell no.” He gave me a rakish grin. “The application was a hundred and twenty bucks. Money I can’t afford.”
“Shit,” I exclaimed, shaking my head. Now I had to go.

And I won. But who cared? Maybe if I was a schoolgirl, I’d be excited at the prospect of my picture in the paper and everyone knowing I was a champion, but in my current situation, what difference did it make? Bob and Jen had already weighed in, pronouncing spelling bees nerd city, and I didn’t bother mentioning it to Elvira/Abby. I knew she’d think it was lame.
Maybe my aunts would care.
My mother would have been thrilled. She would have taken me somewhere special to celebrate, perhaps a Tea Room where the tables were set with china and boasted linen napkins. She would have made it special.
“How about some pizza?” Brad suggested, squinting up at the skyline like a tourist.
“Pizza?” I asked, my voice dripping with contempt.
Seriously. Brad suffered from a distinct lack of imagination. As he pointed out, we were in New York City. The greatest city on earth. And all he could think to do to celebrate my win was buy me a slice of pizza?
“Kiddo, I don’t have money for anything else. I could go for some deli tuna. What do you think, sound good?”
I rolled my eyes. “Whatever,” I said.
“Hey, kid. I’m trying. You know this isn’t my scene. But it was important to your mom.”
“I didn’t want to come,” I reminded him. “You gave me no choice.”
He glanced up at the sky again. Maybe he wasn’t looking at the skyline. Perhaps he was entreating God for help. “I don’t know what to do anymore,” he said. “I don’t know how to make you happy.”
“I don’t want to be happy.”
Suddenly, I felt a rush of overwhelming, bone weary exhaustion. So, I sat down, right on the sidewalk. People parted around me like the Red Sea.
Brad hovered over me, hands in his pockets. His expression was unreadable. “Zoey, get up.”
“I’m tired,” I said. I felt tears threatening.
“Zoey, you can’t sit down in the middle of New York City. You’re almost thirteen years old. You’re not a little girl anymore. I can’t carry you. Get up.”
“No,” I said.
“Zoey, get up or I’ll beat your ass so bad you’ll never sit down again.”
I leaped to my feet as if burned by the asphalt, whirling on him like a dervish. “You’re awful!” I screeched in his face. “My mother died and I’m sad! I’m really, really sad.” Tears were pouring down my cheeks. “And you don’t understand. You can’t understand. You don’t even try to understand.”
“My mother died too, you know,” he pointed out.
“She didn’t die when you were twelve,” I said.
Brad ran a hand over his face. “This was a bad idea,” he said, as if to himself. “I thought this would be a nice way for you to honor your mother. I never imagined it would be so emotionally draining. You’re not even happy you won, for Chrissakes.”
“Why would I be happy, no one cares.”
“I thought it was cool.”
“Yeah, so cool you’re going to beat me when we get home.”
“I just said that, so you’d get up,” he said. “Zoey, what do you want from me? Just tell me.”
“You say you love and you’d do anything for me, even die,” I said, swiping at my tears.
“Yes. That’s true. I love you with all my heart. I’d do anything to keep you safe. I swear.”
“Then why didn’t you marry my mother?”
Long silence. We had reached some sort of park, just an empty lot between buildings that boasted a swing set and a few concrete benches. It was deserted on this chilly autumn day.
Brad motioned for me to sit. He remained standing.
He sighed. “Zoey, that’s a very complicated question,” he said.
“No. It’s not. You married Jen’s mom when she got pregnant.”
“Yeah, and look how that turned out,” he said. He sat down heavily beside me. “Listen. If I had met your mom before Suzie, things may have been different. I probably would have married her when she got pregnant. But after Suze…” he shrugged. “I don’t talk about it, because I don’t want to upset Bob and Jen. But I really tried to be a good husband and father. I gave it my all. I left my family down south and moved all the way up here, so Suzie could be close to her family. I commuted an hour and a half to Albany every day to do a job I hated. And I was coming home to babies screaming, no dinner on the table, and Suzie gone. She’d just up and leave the kids in the middle of the day. And they were infants. I’d come home to them in flooded cribs, their diapers not changed in hours, and God alone knew the last time they were fed. One night, a rare night she was home, I confronted her. She insisted I was exaggerating, trying to make her feel like a bad mother. She slammed out of the house and never came home. I gave up my job in Albany. I may have hated it, but it had a future and it paid well. I had to take a position at Walmart, because the hours were flexible. People had to help me out. Pop-Pop had to pay the bills. I was struggling for so long. Things were improving when your mother came along. I’d just been promoted to manager. And then she was pregnant, and I couldn’t do it again. There was no telling what would happen. Your mother had an unstable streak. I’ve always been attracted to crazy women.”
“She wasn’t crazy,” I said.
“Not the same way as Suzie,” he admitted. “What I’m trying to explain is I was too wounded to take a chance on another woman. I didn’t want to risk getting hurt again. I guarded my heart after Suzie broke it. I never gave another woman a chance. That’s my failing, Zoey.”
“Do you wish you had?” I said.
“I’d be a lot better off financially,” he mused. “She made a shit ton of money.”
Brad had this terrific habit of speaking his highly inappropriate thoughts out loud.
“If you could do it again,” I said. “Would you have dated my mother at all? If you knew I would come from it?”
“Jesus. Zoey, I think Peter Wong is probably celebrating his second place win a lot better than you are.”
“The hell with Peter Wong,” I snarled.
Brad snickered. “Poor Peter.”
“Answer the question.”
“Zoey, if I knew what I know now, I would have married your mother. I would have had you. I wouldn’t have even stopped at you, I would have had a shitload of kids, and lived happily ever after in that huge house in Bedford Hills. Satisfied?” He patted my thigh. “Pizza? Tuna? Chinese? Chipotle? Choose, or I’ll choose for you.”
As we rose and started walking again, it started snowing, just like it had a year ago, during the competition I didn’t enter. Brad looked up in wonder. “The first snowfall of the season.”
“It snowed on the day of the spelling bee last year, too,” I said. “I spent it with my mother. She was so sad she would never see me compete.”
The life I’d known was fading away. I realized, blowing snowflakes off my nose, that part of me always felt this was a nightmare, and I’d wake up to find my mother alive and everything back the way it was. But winning the spelling bee without my mother, only Brad in the audience, had reaffirmed that this was my reality. My mother wasn’t coming back. I would never see her again, or hear her voice, or see her face when I accomplished something terrific. She was gone forever.
“Maybe the snow is a sign that your mother is watching,” Brad said. “You know, I believe, that even though you can’t see them, our dead loved ones are here, waiting for us to join them.”
I hoped he was right. In that moment, for the first time since her death, I felt my mother’s presence.
Well done, sweetheart, she whispered.
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Published on May 08, 2018 18:47 Tags: kindle-books, kindle-unlimited, new-book, sneak-peek, what-i-m-writing