Monday, January 9, 2012


…Yesterday I got a check in the mail for $60. It was for a story I wrote called, "Sphinx." I wasn't expecting to get paid.
There's something validating when you receive a stipend for your writing, even if it's a nominal amount of money.
The first payment I ever received for writing was $40 two decades ago for a story called "White Pianos." I took second place in a contest Byline Magazine had.
The second check came two and half years ago and was for $10. I have that check and the $40 check framed.
In all, I've made less than $500 for my trade.
I've likely spent more than that on paper and printer ink.
Last night I was at a dinner party. When people find out you're a writer they get very animated and curious. They ask the obvious questions. Some wince when they find out you don't have a novel on the shelves in Barnes and Noble. Others prod you to self-publish.
A few look at you with narrowed eyes when you describe your writing as "dark."
I used to not be able to attach the W word to my name. It's gotten better, yet it still feels funny to call myself a writer, even though that's the thing I spend more time doing than any other activity.


She said she’d be there for me. She said forever. Then she amended the declaration; “I’ll be around until the first of us dies, or at least until one of us flunks out of high school.” She suspected I’d be fleeing the scene before her, mainly because I’d become careless and had stopped showing up for most of my classes.
I could hardly be blamed. I was beside myself, smitten with love for Dawnielle. My life—the bland summation of fifteen whole years—now belonged to the trout fishing ballerina with bowl cut hair and stone cutter’s eyes.
I said, “Name something impossible and I’ll do it for you.”
“Buy me the moon.”
“Ah, that’s too easy,” I said.
The next morning I watched Dawnielle leave her house for the bus. She stopped immediately, struck by a series of chalk moons I’d painted in succession across the sidewalk. From a hiding spot, I watched Dawnielle break open a grin, and it felt as if I was the books she hugged against her chest, the light glittering in her eyes.
Another time I said, “If you knew how much I loved you, you might be frightened.”
“I don’t scare easily.”
“I love you so much that sometimes it’s hard to breathe when you’re not around.”
“Just practice holding your breath. It’ll come in handy for swim meets.”
“I love you more than my parents.”
“I would hope so, your parents suck!”
“I love you more than God.”
“Now we’re talking.”
I was afraid to kiss her. I did not want to soil or stain or defile her in anyway. To me, Dawnielle was the perfect creation; the sphinx before Napoleon’s cannon blast, before erosion and sun damage. I could never stop gazing at her. She said, “Most boys go blind doing that other thing.” And here she made an up-and-down motion with her hand. “But you’ll be the first to go blind from staring at me.”
“Do you think you’ll ever fall in love with me?” I asked.
“I’m working on it.”
We traded dirty jokes our brothers had told us. I bought her perfume that smelled like pomegranate because it was her favorite fruit. I wrote her poetry that made her laugh and cry. She said, “You’re a really good person.”
When she went missing, I thought she was pulling a prank. Dawnielle liked surprises and sneaking up on me, shouting “Boo!” so I’d jump and start to get angry. “Go ahead,” she’d say, egging me on, “Yell at me. Get really pissed.” But I couldn’t ever get mad at her, just as I still can’t get her out of my head to this day.
She never ages. She’ll always be fifteen, perfect and pure, a little aloof and unattainable.
I picture her in slow motion, skipping or twirling inside a shower of leaves. I imagine her leaning in for our first kiss. I recall the scent of her breath.
My wife says I drift a lot. “Everyone daydreams occasionally,” she says, “but you, you get lost in other galaxies.”
And she’s right, of course. We’ve been married thirty years and, like any wife, she knows me better than almost anyone.

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