A Daughter’s Meditation on 9/11 ~ The Impossibility of Memory

September 11th Tribute in Light from Bayonne, New Jersey. 11 September 2014 - by Anthony Quintan

September 11th Tribute in Light from Bayonne, New Jersey
11 September 2014 – by Anthony Quintan

Today I’m posting an essay written this summer by my daughter, who was not yet two years old on September 11, 2001. She wrote here about things she had never spoken aloud to me–about both personal and communal memory, how impossible they are, and yet how they are in some ways all we can ever own.

I’ll let her speak for herself…

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The End of Summer

(by my daughter)

There were two summers before it happened, and I was an oblivious infant.

That first summer my family “went abroad,” like they say in the picturesque period pieces that I now watch with my mom – dramas with corsets and extravagant hats trimmed with lace. I spent the summer in a place where they serve hundreds of different varieties of teas, and offer egg as a topping on pizza. Cambridge, England, to be exact. I don’t remember it. Any of it. Just five months old, I nursed, sucking on my mother’s enlarged breasts as she sat cramped, uncomfortable on a nappy beige airplane seat.

Seven hours. Her arm pressed up against the window of the plane, awkward. Me more like a very hungry and slightly irritable carry-on than a real passenger. A puffy, pink, little purse, round and new. Or maybe even more than that, like an itty-bitty parasite. Bald, bloated worm, all mouth. Sucking as I drowsed.

These are not my memories. I’m just spitting back the stories I’ve been told.

I was on the plane, headed “abroad.” Off to the kind of place people always say that they would like to go. The kind of place I want to go. Except, I went.

In front of an impressive British structure (beyond unimpressed)

In front of an impressive British structure  ~ beyond unimpressed

I didn’t even notice. Didn’t notice the beauty of the landscapes, the curves of the green hills. The buildings of monumental significance. The gigantic clock’s rectangular prism, jutting up, pointed at the top–spaceship just waiting for a countdown. The museums. The castles. The churches. The accents so very different from my own. I’m not even sure I noticed the woman who brazenly approached my parents as they meandered down the street, pushing me along in that green and yellow stroller with the handles extra long so my tall parents didn’t have to hunch. She scolded them boldly for letting me travel without a hat. Bald baby. Shiny and round. Smooth, reflecting light. I suppose she was afraid I’d catch cold. Somewhat glad I don’t remember that. And besides, as long as I was fed I didn’t care.

I was there that summer, but I wasn’t. Does a journey like that count if you’re young enough to think that eating the grass in front of the Victoria and Albert Museum is a good idea?

SandIt was summer when I went to the beach for the first time, too. That was the next summer, when I was just over one year old. The summer of 2001. I don’t remember it either. So much of my life I was too small to remember anything. Too small to even realize what was going on. It’s lost to me now–the first time I breathed that thick and dry, salty air; or saw the tiny shards of beige sand speckled with microscopic black flecks; or heard the crash and murmur of water lapping the earth.

I wonder, what did it feel like to put my feet in the sand for the first time? To have those millions of little particles sprinkled over my wriggling toes?

Gritty, I imagine.

Sometimes when the sun hits the glass on the window pane just right, and my clear portal to everything that I am not a part of glistens in the most magical way, I wish that my first trip to the seaside could have been impossible for me to forget. A story gushing with romanticism enough to satisfy the requirements of a Victorian novel. I’d even settle for a charming tale of mundane tranquility to be posted with masking tape on a fourth grade teacher’s wall.

I somehow doubt my first encounter with the surf was masking-tape-worthy, anyway.

I probably cried. I probably whined. I probably threw a fit.

Sand in the mouth...

Sand in the mouth…

I know me. Know who I was. The little girl in the dainty checkered sun dress, her bald head topped with little straw hat that featured the image of a teddy bear fringed with pink. She didn’t like to touch anything dirty, sticky, or grimy. No glue-sticks for her. No crumbly earth. She would have cringed when her feet grazed the hot sand, or the humid wind blew in her face, or the mischievous waves splashed her legs. I don’t have to remember. I know. Know because I was.

I was there, whether I remember it or not my first two summers. Real summers. Happy summers.

But what happened after? How did that second summer end? The way they describe it, how could it be summer? How could the universe put that moment in summer’s warm embrace? Summer is rope swings and water-balloons and fireworks that effervescently shimmer with a resounding pop.

That summer, though, there were fireworks in daylight.

Ones that should have never been.

A few weeks after we’d returned from the beach, I’d been carted off on another plane to see my grandfather, my mother’s dad, who lived in New York. We left during the first few days of September. On the way home, my dad leaned back and looked out the plane’s window, and saw the way they glistened in the sun. Those two towers. He didn’t think they’d be so beautiful. My dad hadn’t thought about them at all, really. If anything, he’d thought they’d just be two more buildings blocking the sky. Ugly, like all the rest.

But that moment flying over, it struck him, they were magnificent. Two sisters guardians. Tall, with the sun reflecting back to all. The city. The country. The world.

And everything was placid. My father looking out over the city. My mother to his left. Closer to the aisle. Me in her arms. Asleep.

Then we went home again. Safe at home. Home where the buildings are never over three stories tall, and pavement is sparse. Home where the mountains, peaked with mist, serve as a perpetual shield. Home where if you go out into an open field at night, you can see every single star, glistening billions of years away. So close you think that you could just reach up and grab one. But all that comes back in your hand is intangible air.

And then. Then the planes came. And everybody forgot that it was still summer. It would be for another week or two, technically. Nobody noticed. Their summer ended that morning. The blink of an eye. It was gone.

Sorrow, the cruel master. Whipping tears out of eyes already red with despair. Leaving the type of scars that can’t ever fade because whenever you close your eyes they’re right there.

Two little flying black ants against a blue morning sky. From far away, so small, so insignificant that in the seconds before it would have been hard to fathom that they were anything more. Tiny ants zooming towards two steel giants. Anyone could have told you the outcome, simple physics could have. Anyone could have been wrong.

And I don’t even know if I noticed. Too small? I don’t remember. No matter how I try. I don’t remember.

I try to see other people’s memories in my mind. When they share, eyes welling-up, cheeks glistening, drenched with remembrance, recalling one of the worst days of their lives, I can almost see what they tell me. They describe where they were standing, how they heard, what they thought. Almost. Part of a dream.

I try to latch on, again like some miserable parasite. Trying to understand. To be a part of it all. Trying to feel what they felt. Needing to comprehend.

But I can’t. I can’t understand. No matter how I try to shove myself into other people’s memories, I don’t fit. Like my baby brother trying to shove the hexagon into the circular hole. I can get so close, but no matter how hard I press, I am the hexagon. And my sides aren’t curved.

It’s the shock, mostly, that I can’t get to. Of course, I understand why there would be shock. But I can’t feel it. I can’t know what it was like to quake with something unlike anything that you’d ever felt before. What it was like to not know that something like that could even happen and then all of the sudden it arrives with a bang and it won’t ever go away.

And when they talk and cry, I join in. I try to feel their pain. I want to. But I know it’s not the same. Because I can’t remember. I don’t know what I did, where I was when it happened. If I heard at all, I was too little to understand. Probably just confused. And now when I exercise my sympathy, it’s not the same.

To them it was real and to me it’s history. It’s what we learned about in class. Like any other war.

Like they say, “you have to see to believe it.” But I’ve watched the videos. I’ve seen the planes. The crash. The fireball erupting like explosions do in the movies. The plumes of dense grey smoke and debris billowing out and up, staining the perfect morning sky. The two immovable mountains shatter into billions of pieces, as if they were made out of plaster. On the ground, people ran in every direction, chased by tsunami-sized waves of smog and rubble and detritus. I’ve seen the tears. The memorials. The flags.

And seeing isn’t enough? But that’s a rhetorical question. I already know it isn’t enough. My link between seeing and understanding has a substantial crack running right through the center. Seeing makes everything seem like scenes from an action movie. The explosions. The screams. It horrifies me. Makes my eyes water. Makes me retch inside when I think of what it must have been like for the people who were there, for the family members that weren’t.

But somehow seeing isn’t enough and there’ll always be a part of me that can’t know how I’d react. Deep down, in a place I don’t want to admit is there, I’m afraid I wouldn’t cry when I heard.

When I imagine what it was like, it always runs like a realistic current events drama on TV. Just TV. Just a video. Never something real.

In one scenario, I hear the news on the radio, the voices frenzied, disturbed. I’m driving to work in my own car. Soft blue on the outside, dark seats within. Maybe my heart sinks or my arms go weak as I grasp the steering wheel. The little rubber frog on my dashboard, green and speckled, smiles. The morning sun hits his back as I turn the corner. Bobbling back and forth. He seems so distant now, far away. Blurry. Left behind. Somewhere else. I’m barely able to drive.

In another scene, the words drips out of my co-worker’s mouth–her make-up, smeared. Mascara drips down her cheeks, little streaks of pain. I fall apart in the arms of someone I don’t even particularly know. It’s the sort of embrace that would normally be awkward and make my insides writhe. But this time. It doesn’t even matter.

The next time, I’m alone, at home. I drop my cup of coffee. The thick liquid, piping hot, crashes to the floor, splattering the linoleum. The baby blue mug with the butterfly painted on it shatters into hundreds of little dagger-like pieces. In the background, the footage. The news. The tumult. The screams. The collapse. On TV. Seared into my mind. No way to hide, no where to hide, not now.

The next, I’m crying with family. Hugging. Our arms wrapped around each other in strange positions, uncomfortable. Tears and sweat pooling together. An experience that no one could ever forget.

I don’t know. I don’t remember. And I will always feel guilty. And I will always be afraid. Afraid like when I was young. When grandma first got sick. When I first thought. Thought maybe she wouldn’t be there forever. When I was afraid then that when she was gone I wouldn’t cry. I loved her. Loved her. She would always have tea and hugs. And old black and white TCM movies DVR’d on the 62 inch flat screen TV that my uncle bought for her. Shirley Temple and Carry Grant. Waiting to watch them with me. She always had interesting, funny stories of long ago, bursting with personality. Growing-up, her childhood during the Great Depression. A young, single working woman in the 40’s and 50’s. She always had love. But that wasn’t the question.

Grandma Bootie tries on the iconic Bear Hat

Grandma Bootie tries on the iconic Bear Hat

Now I have her wedding ring. Golden. Wear it on a chain around my neck, hanging close to my heart. Swaying. Sometimes, when I want it close I wear it inside my shirt, hanging in my bra, cold, like a wet hand, on my bosom. When it’s there no one else can see. Don’t know it’s there, have no idea. Other times I wear it outside my shirt, perfect and round, it is exhibited to all the world and somehow I like that better. Somehow it’s easier to forget the cold when I can’t feel it. People don’t know what it is. Think I’m a Lord of the Rings fanatic, like them. The only explanation. In their mind. But I know. Know whose it was. I remember. And I cry.

She is what I remember. She is something that I will always have in my heart, even if I can’t watch old movies with her any more. I get her because I was old enough. Twelve when she died.

But he was only one. My little brother. He was only one. And by the time he’s twelve she’ll be gone. And all those times she scooped him up, like a little rag doll, onto her lap and held him there for hours, talking to him, singing to him, loving him, will be unreachable, like digging through a muddled bag in the dark. Because he was too young for memory. And now he’ll always be too young to understand. Too young to really cry.

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YA Scavenger Hunt! With a deleted scene from SOME BOYS by author PATTY BLOUT!

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WHAT IS THE SCAVENGER HUNT? 

Welcome to YA Scavenger Hunt! This bi-annual event was first organized by author Colleen Houck as a way to give readers a chance to gain access to exclusive bonus material from their favorite authors…and a chance to win some awesome prizes! At this hunt, you not only get access to exclusive content from each author, you also get a clue for the hunt. Add up the clues, and you can enter for our prize–one lucky winner will receive one book from each author on the hunt in my team! But play fast: this contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will only be online for 72 hours!

Go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page to find out all about the hunt. There are EIGHT contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! I am a part of the GREEN TEAM–but there eight teams–RED, BLUE, GOLD, GREEN, ORANGE, TEAL, PURPLE, & PINK-each with 20 authors!

Team Green

If you’d like to find out more about the hunt, see links to all the authors participating, and see the full list of prizes up for grabs, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page.

HOW TO PARTICIPATE IN THE SCAVENGER HUNT!

Below, you’ll notice that I’ve listed my favorite number. Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the green team, and then add them up (don’t worry, you can use a calculator!).

Entry Form: Once you’ve added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.

Rules: Open internationally, anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian’s permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by Sunday, April 5th at noon Pacific time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.

DELETED SCENE FROM PATTY BLOUT, author of SOME BOYS!

About Patty

Patty spends her days writing facts and her nights writing contemporary romantic fiction. A coworker once said if Patty were a super-villain, she’d be called The Quibbler. Her costume would be covered in exclamation points. Fueled by a serious chocolate obsession, a love of bad science-fiction movies, and a weird attraction to exclamation points, Patty looks for ways to mix business with pleasure, mining her day job for ideas to use in her fiction.

 

Find out more about Patty by checking out her website or picking up a copy of Some Boys!

 

Some Boys go too far. Some Boys don’t see you. Some Boys will break your heart. But One Boy can make you whole. When Grace meets Ian she’s afraid. Afraid he’ll reject her like the rest of the school, like her own family. Call her a slut and a liar. But…he doesn’t. He’s funny and kind with secrets of his own. But how do you trust the best friend of the boy who raped you? How do you believe in love?

READ PATTY’S DELETED SCENE FROM SOME BOYS:

Give me the keys — now.”

With one of the trademark glares I’d started classifying when I was about six — this one is Stern Cold Steve Russell, a particular favorite — my dad holds out his hand and wiggles his fingers.

Fine.” I dig the keys out of my pocket, toss them at him. It’s pointless to defend myself, pointless to say that I haven’t used his car for the past two days. My dad doesn’t do conversation. He sees everything I say as back talk, so I just don’t talk.

Ian, I’ve had it with you.” He snatches the keys from the air. “I’m tired of your attitude and your lack of respect. Maybe a few days without a car will teach you that driving is a privilege, not a right. When I get into my car, I expect there to be exactly the same amount of gas still in it as I left it. I’m on call and if I get called in, I shouldn’t have to fill up my gas tank first.”

Yes, Dad.” I say with my eyes down because inside, I’m thinking, fuck you and your empty gas tank. Why don’t you go interrogate Claudia or Val? They both used the car but they’re perfect and always innocent.

Ian, I don’t like your tone.”

I rolled my eyes. “All I said was yes, dad.

A flush of anger creeps up my dad’s face and up to his bald spot. “You think I don’t know you’re cursing me out inside that thick skull of yours? You think I’m some kind of moron?”

Yeah, actually, I do. “No, Dad.”

And now, you’re lying.” He points toward the stairs. “Go to your room. You’re in for the night.”

And now he’s grounding me for what I’m thinking. “As you wish.” I say with a smile because I know it pisses him off and head up to my room. I’ll sneak out as soon as he heads to the hospital and turns into Dr. Steve Russell, Saver of Lives and Limbs Across Long Island!

And don’t even think about sneaking out.” He shouts after me.

Yeah, too late.

Dad slams the front door on his way out to the car I haven’t driven for two days. I watch him from the window of my room and kick my closet door. I fling myself on the bed, muttering curses. The car had almost a full tank of gas in it when I left it at the curb the day before yesterday. I’m not staying in tonight just because Dad thinks I need to be taught another lesson. There’s a big party tonight. This afternoon, we played our last home game of the season and won. Tonight, beer. Girls. Music. Hanging out. No way in hell I’m missing that, especially for something I didn’t even do. I grab my cell, text Jeremy, tell him to swing by and pick me up.

A knock on my door makes me snarl. “What.”

The door opens and my sister pokes her head in. “What was the fight about this time?”

Butt out, Val.” I say, but Val heard Come on in, make yourself comfortable. She bounces on my bed, sending my cell phone sailing into the air. I catch it before it crashes. “Go away.” I shove her — not hard. She gets even by pulling a tuft of my leg hair.

Ow, shit! Val, will you just get out of here?” Val’s a college freshman and I swear, she spends more time home than at school just to torture me.

Not until you tell me.” She twirls a lock of long brown hair and pops her gum. I try not to throw up. She knows I hate gum. The sight of chewed up rubber freaks me out.

With a loud sigh, I surrender. “He took the keys because he thinks I used all the gas.”

Did you?”

I give her half a laugh. “Like that matters? He thinks I did, so therefore I must be guilty.”

Seriously, did you forget to fill up?”

I toss hair out of my eyes and shake my head. “I put gas in the car Monday and haven’t used it since.”

Ah. Monday. Um, yeah. This may be my fault. I used the car yesterday. Didn’t put gas in it.”

I slant my head and glare. “Thanks. Thanks a lot.”

Why didn’t you tell him you haven’t used the car?”

I slant my head the other way. “Have you met Dad? You really think that would have helped?”

Oh, come on. He’s not an asshole, Ian.”

He is to me. I’m not one of his perfect daughters pulling straight A’s at a swanky school on a scholarship or working at his hospital in his field.”

Claudia’s a nurse, he’s a doctor.”

Yet another glare. “Still medicine.”

She blows a tiny gum bubble and I gag. “Jesus, Val!” I shove off my bed and start pawing through the clothes on the floor, looking for something that doesn’t smell too bad.

Oh my God, will you get over yourself? It’s just gum not a rattle snake.”

I’d rather face the snake. I glance at my phone and wonder why the hell Jeremy hasn’t texted back. I try Zac next and strip off my shirt. “I’m taking a shower. Don’t let the door hit you,” I grab clean-ish clothes and wave at her over my shoulder.

Wait.”

I curse and turn around. Val’s got my phone pressed to her face. “No, it’s me, Daddy. I heard you and Ian fighting and figured I should tell you I was the one who used your car without refilling it…No, I’m not lying for him… Yes, I really used the car. Okay. Sure. Bye.”

Val tosses my phone back to my bed. “All fixed. You’re ungrounded.”

Just like that.”

She grins around another bubble. “Just like that.”

I slap a hand to my mouth. “That is so freakin’ gross.”

Val shrugs. “You know, a thank you would be entirely appropriate right now.

I toss a towel over my shoulder and shake my head. “Let me get this straight. I’m supposed to thank you for getting me ungrounded after you got me grounded in the first place?”

She rocks her head and grins. “Um, yeah.”

I take the towel, spin it until it’s tight and snap her bare leg with it.

Ow, Jesus God in Heaven, that hurt, Ian.” She rubs her thigh, a tiny wrinkle forming on her forehead.

Careful. Your face could freeze like that.” I grin and then laugh when Val immediately un-frowns.

Girls are so easy to mess with.

Okay, look,” she shifts on my bed, all serious. “You and Dad need to stop all this chest-pounding and figure out how to get along… for Mom.”

Looks like I’m never getting into the shower today. I sit beside her and sigh. “It’s not chest-pounding and it’s not a pissing contest or any of the other dozen alpha male sayings you’re saving up. It’s not even a contest at all — he’s already picked the winner.”

Val presses her lips together. “You mean me.”

And Claudia, yeah. It’s obvious Dad likes you guys more than me.”

Oh, come off it, Ian!” She waves a hand at me in disgust. “You’re piling it on a bit thick.”

Am I? Let’s go to the instant replay, shall we? Claudia played field hockey and you played basketball — both sports he played. He went to those games. I play Lacrosse. Has he seen me play? Not since I was in middle school. Why? Because it’s a sport he has no interest in.”

Val stubbornly shakes her head. “Not his fault. That’s the new job.”

Dad’s the head of orthopedic surgery at Laurel Brook Hospital, a job he landed when I was a sophomore. “Okay, fine. Let’s talk about grades. Remember when you got that 64 on a math test? What happened to you?”

My sister sucks in her cheek and refuses to answer. So I remind her. “I’ll tell you what happened. Nothing. But when I failed a test, I’m grounded and forced to register for tutoring.”

Ian, the difference is I care about my grades and my GPA. You don’t. You fail tests all the time.”

I suck in a sharp breath. I do not fail tests all the time. I struggle with math along with every other kid my age who’s not a nerd. “I care. Just not that much.”

There you go. Maybe if you cared more, he wouldn’t come down so hard on you.” Val grabs my phone, checks the time. “Look. Even though you’re ungrounded, you don’t have car keys and this was sort of my fault and all.”

I snort but Val barrels right over it.

Andrea’s coming to pick me up in about twenty minutes. We can drop you where you were supposed to be.”

I leap up. “Really? Cool. Have to shower, change. Don’t leave without me!” I shout over my shoulder as I jog to the bathroom.

Fifteen minutes later, I smell halfway decent and head downstairs. Mom is on the sofa, channel surfing. “Hey, Mom. Where’s Val?”

Oh, she just left with her friend, Andrea.” My mom shifts brown eyes from the TV to me. “Are you and your sister hanging out together?”

I didn’t hear anything after ‘she just left.’ I will kill her! I will piss on every stick of gum in her stash! I turn on my heel, hurl the front door open, still brainstorming revenge.

Hey, high school boy.”

I skid to a stop. Andrea is tall, blonde, stacked, and stars in pretty much all of my fantasies. “Hey, college girl.” I jerk my chin at her. She’s leaning against her car, a blue Toyota I hear her parents bought her when she graduated high school. She’s wearing jeans with high heels, always a killer combination.

Val tells me we’re dropping you someplace?”

I jog down the three steps that lead from our front door to the walkway, join her at the side of the car. “Yeah. Late for a party.”

Party, huh? Where at?”

In the woods, over by the train station.”

Right, the woods. Good times.” She smiles and tosses her hair over her shoulder and I swear, my knees buckled. She smells like rain. Shit, I sound like a chick flick, but it’s true. She smells like rain.

Hey, moron, stop staring at Andrea’s boobs and let Hershey back in.”

I snap around, find Val in the street. I snatch the dog’s leash from her hand and jog back up the walk before Andrea can tell that’s exactly where I was looking.

Mom!” I call. Hershey’s coming back in!” I unfasten the leash from the dog’s collar, give her a little scratch between her ears, and close the door. She gives one deep Woof! In thanks.

You guys are so original, naming a brown dog Hershey.” Andrea slides behind the wheel. I head back down the steps and climb in her backseat.

What? She’s a chocolate lab. It’s the perfect name for her.”

Andrea gives me an amused look from the rearview while Val wrestles with her seatbelt. “It’s a pun. You used a pun to name your dog.”

I didn’t give her the damn name, my mother did. I shrug and check my phone. There are now three texts — all from Jeremy. The first one is a photo message.

Look who’s here!

The picture attached shows Grace Collier, the hottest girl in my school, with her lips wrapped around a bottle.

Damn, those lips. My pulse races. I can’t wait to get there. Rumor has it that Grace has a little thing for me and I plan to confirm it. The next message is straight to the point.

Bro, WTF? You were supposed to be here at 6! Bring more beer.

Yeah, that’s not happening.

The last message is also a picture text.

Grace is getting lonely. Don’t worry. I’m keeping her company.

In this shot, Grace is dancing with Zac. She’s got her arms around his neck and her mouth is split wide open in what looks like a really loud laugh. I narrow my eyes. She’s wearing a short skirt with black leather boots that go all the way to her thighs. Her long dark hair tumbles in a wild mess down to her waist. Her eyes are closed in this picture. That’s okay. I know what they look like. They’re a silvery blue color. Big deal. It’s not the color; it’s the expression. Grace looks at you and you see one of two things, depending on how she feels about you. If she’s interested in whatever it is you got, her eyes light up — like moon beams or something.

God, again with the chick flick stuff? I really need a beer.

If she’s not interested in you, her eyes are flat. Dead. It’s like somebody unplugged her.

Flat eyes or not, there’s no denying it. Grace Collier is fucking hot.

I tap my fingers on my thigh, wishing Andrea knew how to actually reach the speed limit. She turns north instead of south and I can’t take it anymore. “Hey, you’re going the wrong way.”

Relax, high school boy. We just need to make a quick stop first.”

I swallow down a few curses. It’s not like I have a choice, right? But when Andrea turns into the parking lot of a CVS/Pharmacy, I groan out loud. I have two sisters. When girls go to CVS, it’s either for feminine hygiene products or worse, cosmetics. I’ve seen my mother and sisters waste an hour arguing — actually arguing — over the differences between Candy Apple Red and Strawberry Crush, like officials trying to decide the outcome of a close game. This is going to be anything but quick.

I stay in the car, watch them laugh and toss their hair as they stride across the lot and into the store, pretending not to notice the guy in the Mustang waiting to back out of his spot. Five minutes go by, then ten. I can’t take it anymore. I’m probably two or three miles from the woods where we party. I can run that distance in about twenty minutes. Of course, I’ll need another fucking shower after I do, which essentially will kill any shot I may have with Grace Collier. I glance back at the store. I could buy a can of deodorant, run there, spray myself. Ditch the can, hang out for about ten minutes while the gas cloud dissipates. I curse and punch Andrea’s door. I have no hope of getting laid tonight.

Zero.

I shove out of the car and start jogging. I’ll run most of the way and slow to a walk. Hopefully, that will be enough to cool down and I won’t smell like the inside of my equipment bag.

Fifteen minutes later, I’m walking down the road, trying to get my breathing back under control. The weather’s still cool for spring, but at least it’s dry and I’m not a sticky, sweaty mess. When that blue Toyota passes me by, horn honking, I raise a finger. As soon as Val shows everybody her new lipstick or nail polish or whatever the hell it took her thirty minutes to pick out, I’ll squint and study her appearance and tell her it looks green.

Works every time. Like I said — girls are so easy to mess with.

I turn off the road onto the path that parallels the railroad tracks. The station is still another mile down the road. The woods are just undeveloped buffer property to help control sound, but it doesn’t work. I take out the flashlight I took from my room, click it on and walk deeper into the dark. Why don’t I hear any tunes or laughter? Did they decide to stay in the parking lot? I dig for my phone and call Jeremy.

Bro, where the hell you at?” He says instead of hello.

I’m in the woods, where are you?”

Uh, yeah, the party broke up early. Cops.”

Jesus, no shit?” Good thing I missed it. My dad would have killed me if I added an arrest to my many sins.

Everybody booked, man. So where the hell were you?”

My old man grounded me again. I couldn’t sneak out until now.”

Damn, that sucks.”

I snort out half a laugh. “You have no idea. So, where are you now? Can you get me? I don’t have a car and I’m in the woods.”

Uh, sorry, bro. I’m about to jump in the shower. Things got pretty wild,” Jeremy says with a leer I can hear through the phone and I don’t need the details.

No problem. Later.” I end the call before he can brag.

Jeremy Lynch plays defense on my Lacrosse team. He’s a natural. Whole team respects him. Off the field’s a different story. He’s more Zac’s friend than mine, so when he offered me a ride the last two days, I was kind of surprised. He’s okay, I guess, but his stupid jokes get old fast. I keep walking, figure I can hop the tracks and shave half a mile off my hike home. The beam from my flashlight glints off a pile of bottles, a scrap of pink lace that a closer look tells me are panties. Holy hell, looks like I missed a great party.

I swing the flashlight in an arc around the clearing where an old railroad tie marks party central. The place is wrecked. Empty bottles, cigarette butts, cardboard six-pack carriers… and a, well — hey now — a bra. Yeah, I missed a really great party. I sink down to the railroad tie and stretch out my tired legs, hoping there’s a beer or two my friends missed in all this mess. I paw through the bottles and cartons and find a high heel shoe. I run the beam from the sole up and discover it’s a boot, actually.

With a leg still inside it.

Jesus! Oh, my God! I slide off the railroad tie, scramble away, can’t move far enough — can’t move fast enough. Jesus Christ. It’s a body. A girl. Oh, no. No, no, no, no. It’s Grace Collier.

My hands shake and I pray over and over. Please don’t be dead. Please don’t be dead. I touch her shoulder, give her a little shake. Her eyes fly open, wide and afraid, and she curls into a ball, skirt riding high on her thighs.

In the beam of my light, I can see the blood.

~ ~ ~

Crazy, right? Thanks to Patty for sharing!

Don’t forget to enter the contest for a chance to win a ton of signed books by me, hosted author’s name, and more! To enter, you need to know that my favorite number is 8. Add up all the favorite numbers of the authors on the green team and you’ll have all the secret code to enter for the grand prize!

But before you go, enter this EXCLUSIVE GIVEAWAY for 3 made-to-order haiku!

Yes, you heard right! I will write 3 made-to-order haiku for the winner of the contest. You tell me the occasion or some subject for your haiku and I’ll send you 3 little poems!

Why? Because it’s fun!

And now…

CONTINUE THE HUNT!

To keep going on your quest for the hunt, you need to check out the next author — Stacy Stokes!

 

Highlights from #VeryRealisticYA

And because I couldn’t resist joining in:

The Story Behind El Deafo – A Virtual Exhibit of Cece Bell’s Newbery Award Winning Graphic Novel

El Deafo Cover Art Cece Bell

“OUR DIFFERENCES ARE OUR SUPERPOWERS.” — Cece Bell

The Salem Museum & Historical Society celebrated the arrival of Cece Bell‘s EL DEAFO, winner of the Newbery Honor Award, with an exhibit of artwork from the book. While the physical exhibit is no longer on display, the museum has made available this virtual exhibit.

You can also still pick up copies (sometimes signed ones!) of El Deafo at the museum shop. Call 540-389-6760 or contact info@salemmuseum.org to order yours.

Thanks to Cece Bell for letting the museum help launch El Deafo into the world and for her permission is posting panels from the original exhibit here.

(CAUTION: CONTAINS SPOILERS — but that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?)

El Deafo! One Artist’s Story of Growing Up Deaf

 Alternative Covers for Cece Bell El Deafo

Who is Cece Bell El Deafo Exhibit

The reference to Brooks-Byrd would make sense to the museum’s local audience, but for the non-Salemites who might stumble on this post, Brooks-Byrd is a local pharmacy with an old fashioned lemon-lime- and-orangeade stand. It’s pictured in the upper right corner of the “A Page in the Making” image below. (Click to enlarge.)

Page in the Making Cece Bell El Deafo

While she was in the hospital with meningitis as a child, Cece drew many pictures of a smiling girl with a green face. Here are a few variations:

SCAN0532 SCAN0530 Childhood drawing by Cece Bell when in hospital

The last frame of the page below shows Bunny-Cece making a similar drawing:

01ORIGINSPanelsREVISED

Perhaps the most heart-breaking of El Deafo’s heart-breaking moments:

Perhaps the most heart-breaking of El Deafo's many heart-breaking moments.

Cece also shared with us some of the papers documenting her hearing loss, which she then used as a visual source for El Deafo.

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The Bell’s archives also included this note pointing out young Cece’s bad attitude toward speech therapy  — and her mother’s handwritten response.

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Cece signing books.

Cece signing books at the launch party.

Cece Bell El Deafo Launch Party

Friends and family of Cece swap stories.

Cece Bell El Deafo book launch party

Cece, showing her natural good humor as she chats with friends.

RealBunniesBells

RealBunniesMrsLufton

Mrs. Duffy today.

Mrs. Duffy today.

RealBunniesMrsGubala

RealBunniesSinklemann

A handful of the "real life" characters in El Deafo celebrated Cece's launch, including Mrs. E ichleman, who (with another teacher named Mrs. Sink) inspired one half of the Mrs. Sinkleman character.

A handful of the “real life” characters in El Deafo celebrated Cece’s launch, including Mrs. Eichleman, here on the left, who partially inspired the Mrs. Sinklemann character.

RealBunniesMikeMillerTAKE2

Mike Miller and his family today.

Mike Miller and his family today.

Susan Van Metre El Deafo Editor

As El Deafo’s editor, Susan Van Metre, writes, “[S]o much of what Cece experiences–a seemingly impossible crush, a bullying friend, a passion for TV, a deep-seated loathing of kickball–feels so familiar. Most familiar of all is her loneliness and longing for a true friend…”

 RealBunniesClaytors

RealBunniesMartha

MarthaToday

Martha today (on right), with her wax pal and founder of Girl Scouts, Juliette Gordan Low.

LittleHouseonPrairie

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The following is the Author’s Note that Cece included in El Deafo.

People can become deaf in many different ways. Some are born deaf, to either deaf or hearing parents. Some are exposed to one big loud noise, and they lose their hearing immediately. Some might be exposed to lots of noise over a long period of time, and they lose their hearing gradually. Some might get sick with some illness or another, and lose their hearing as a result of the disease.

Each deaf  person also has a different amount of deafness—how much he or she can hear without the assistance of a hearing aid or a cochlear implant. One can be mildly deaf, moderately deaf, severely deaf, or profoundly deaf.

But more important than how the hearing loss happened, or how much hearing loss a deaf person has, is what a deaf person might choose to do with his or her hearing loss. In other words, there are lots of different ways to be deaf. And there is no right or wrong way.

Some deaf people are members of what is known as the Deaf community, also known as Deaf culture. Members of the Deaf community view their deafness as a difference, but it’s a good difference, not a disability. Deafness is a condition that doesn’t need to be fixed. Those in the Deaf community might—or might not—use hearing aids and cochlear implants to amplify sounds and speech. Sign language is  the preferred means of communication in the Deaf community; Deaf people might—or might not—choose (or be able) to speak orally.

Other deaf people, however, do want to “fix” their hearing loss. They amplify their residual hearing with the help of hearing aids or cochlear implants. They may speak and read lips, and may or may not supplement their speech with sign language. They might think of their deafness as a difference, and they might, either secretly or openly, think of it as a disability, too.

And, I am sure, there are plenty of deaf people who would read the descriptions above and not  recognize themselves at all. I am an expert on no one’s deafness but my own.

I myself am “severely to profoundly” deaf, the result of a brief illness when I was four years old. While I’m fascinated by Deaf culture, I have not, as yet, pursued a direct role in it. Since I was able to hear and speak before I got sick, my parents were able to make decisions for me that kept me mostly in the hearing world. Their choices, and the choices that I made for myself later, helped me become pretty comfortable there. But I wasn’t always so comfortable.

El Deafo is based on my childhood (and on the secret nickname I really did give myself back then. It is in no way a representation of what all deaf people might experience. It’s also important to note that while I was writing and drawing the book, I was more interested in capturing the specific feelings I had as a kid with hearing loss than in being 100 percent accurate with the details. Some of the characters in the book are exactly how I remember them; others are composites of more than one person. Some of the events in the book are in the right order; others got mixed up a bit. Some of the conversations are real; others, well, ain’t. But the way I felt as a kid—that feeling is all true. I was a deaf kid surrounded by kids who could hear. I felt different, and in my mind, being different was not a good thing. I secretly, and openly, believed that my deafness, in making me so different, was a disability. And I was ashamed.

As I grew up, however, I made some positive discoveries about deafness and about myself. I’m no longer ashamed of being deaf, nor do I think of myself as someone with a disability. I’ve even developed a real appreciation for sign language. To the kid me, being deaf was a defining characteristic, one I tried to hide. Now it defines a smaller part of me, and I don’t try to hide it—much. Today, I view my deafness as more of an occasional nuisance, and oddly enough, as a gift: I can turn off the sound of the world any time I want, and retreat into peaceful silence.

And being different? That turned out to be the best part of all. I found that with a little creativity, and a lot of dedication, any difference can be turned into something amazing. Our differences are our superpowers.

Writing Tips from #TheWalkingDead

1. Everyone’s gotta suffer.

Suffering distills a character traits into their purest form. And nothing shows suffering better than The Walking Dead. We don’t get people, we get people in their rawest form. We get people whose leg is eaten by other people in front of his eyes.

TaintedMeat_500

If life didn’t suck and the world wasn’t glutted with all those eager, innard-munching zombies, Gareth might not ever eat Bob. Rick might not ever show his greatest kindness. Or greatest weakness. Or greatest courage. Or all three. (And sometimes all three at the same time.)

This suffering notion is probably something I should have picked up long ago when I read all that Greek drama in college. I remember my beloved professor repeating pretty much daily “we must suffer, suffer into truth.” Yet, somehow it never occurred to me that the reason freshmen were still reading about Agamemnon and Clytemnestra all those thousands of years later was because of the suffering as inextricably as the truth.

So give your character boils. And a limp. And let someone kick them or eat their limbs or whatever.

2. The more resonant the character, the more dramatic the swan song.

Hershel’s beheading. Andrea and Milton’s barber chair pas de duex. Lizzie and Mika’s twisted and senseless deaths. Beth’s blow-out. Think of anyone you’ve cared about on the show. Now think of the way that character ended their time on screen. There are almost always more bangs than whimpers. By his final curtain call, I was even bawling my eyes out over Merle (or to be more accurate, Daryl’s loss of Merle).

Big characters deserve a big death. It’s a mark of respect. Of course, since we’re not all writing about a zombie apocalypse, this big-for-big equation can translate into all kinds of big equivalents: big love, big failure, big discovery, big regret, big ball of string, big dream of becoming the best tutu seamstress on the east coast. Whatever.

3. Let the enemy surprise you.

Yeah, zombies are tricky b@*$tards who sometimes pop out of dark corners or rise from the mud in flash-flood areas. The point that has been made continually about this show, however, is that other humans, not zombies, are the real threat. So in some respects, the enemy itself is more nuanced than at first glance.

People aren’t just fighting zombies; they’re fighting humans. Beyond that, those human enemies can be downright surprising.

After seeing the Governor massacre his own townsfolk following his unsuccessful attack on the prison, for example, we find him wandering around like the grand poohbah of hopelessness. He has, to quote the poet Fred Chappell, let his life “grow bearded and strange.” When he then takes up with Lilly and Tara and little Meghan, it seems possible that the newly shaved “Brian” will go forth in the world as a transformed man, sharing SpaghettiOs and letting kids beat him at chess.

But lo and behold, no matter how he tries to avoid his worst self, a few episodes later, he–surprise!–amasses troops and goes all psycho Governor on the prison yard.

What can this teach us about writing?  First, our villains are much richer and more interesting when other, different lives seem entirely possible for them. Simultaneously (and contradictorily), there is a satisfaction of sorts in the reader’s understanding that a character inevitably fulfills his or her ultimate path.

Plucking the cord between those two opposites (the many paths/the single path) is one of the difficulties and joys of writing.

So let your protagonist’s enemy do something surprising. And then let them do what they were born to do.

4. Let the hero surprise you.

When Rick chomped into Joe’s jugular vein, I was, among other things, surprised! Like this guy:

(Perhaps this belongs under the “let your heroes learn from their enemies” column, because the neck-biting thing was a technique Rick must have picked up from some zombie along the way.)

How does that relate to writing? Again, it’s the cord thing. Some tension about where exactly your hero belongs on the moral spectrum isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There can be questionable acts which are justified, just as there can be the veneer of civility (aka Woodbury) over the most savage of hearts.

What situation that will allow your character to do something unforgivable–and still be understood and forgiven?

Go there.

5. When in doubt, “kill” someone.

In an “Ask Me Anything” interview on Reddit, Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman was questioned about his process for approaching a character’s death.

His response: “Sometimes it’s something I’ve planned and built to for many issues. Other times it’s just me thinking ‘it’s been a while since something really interesting happened’ and killing a character on the fly.”

Cold? You bet. Effective? That too.

Along the same lines, Kirkman had this to say in the same interview:

“In my opinion, I feel like characters ripen like fruit. So while I wouldn’t say the more popular a character is the more likely they are to die, they do have to reach a certain level of popularity before they’ve ‘earned’ the death.

No character is too popular to die. (Suck it, Reedus!)”

First, a message to Kirkman: No killing Daryl!

And while we’re at it, no killing Carl and no (though this may be the futile wailing of the Greek chorus here) killing Rick!

Now, on to the actual objective of this post: how does all this relate to writing?

Killing off characters has long been considered one of the cheapest tricks in a fiction writer’s bag. And of course, it doesn’t–and shouldn’t–make sense for every story we write to end littered with a Hamlet-esque pile of bodies. (Of course, the bodies in The Walking Dead tend to take care of themselves–either being reanimated or devoured–so no littering there.)

That said, there is freedom in the notion of “killing a character on the fly”–whether we’re talking literal or (better in most cases) some metaphorical type of death.

The take-away? Interesting things can happen when we let go of the idea that the characters we love in a story must prevail.

And those metaphorical deaths can take many interesting forms: the loss of their humanity; the separation from whatever matters to them; the death of their dreams.

So, now it’s your turn to tell me: What have YOU learned from The Walking Dead? About writing? About life? About the zombie apocalypse? Post it in the comments below!

~

ZombieMaryMary Crockett is coauthor with Madelyn Rosenberg of the zombie-less novel DREAM BOY. Sadly, she suspects she would be among the first to turn in a zombie apocalypse.

You can make her book happy by ordering at IndieBound, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble. You can make her happy by saying “hi” on Twitter or Facebook.

(A version previously posted on The BookYArd.)

A History of the T-Shirt – Plus Giveaway – Signed Copy and DREAM BOY T-shirt!

To cMaryandMadelynDreamBoyTshirtselebrate our half-year anniversary (not to mention the 102 anniversary of the T-shirt!), the lovely Madelyn Rosenberg and I are giving away a copy of DREAM BOY signed by both of us — plus a groovy DREAM BOY t-shirt. You can enter on Goodreads.

As our readers are aware, the quirky, geeky Will is a T-shirt aficionado. So I’m offering here a few tid-bits about T-shirt history (which are new to me–but Will probably already knows).

T Shirt History1913: T-shirt ( so-called for the T-shape it makes) first used as a light undershirt for sailors in the Navy

1920: the word “T-shirt” first included in the dictionary

1932: Jockey International designs a modern T-shirt to absorb sweat for the University of Southern California Trojans football team

1Gob Tshirt938: Sears sells a 24-cent T-shirt called a “gob” shirt and marketed as either an outer-shirt or undershirt.

It did NOT look like this. (WTF is a gob anyway?)

1940s (early): Marines uses the Navy-style white tee dyed with coffee grounds to avoid being an easy target in the field

1940s (late): printed T-shirts enter the scene, such as the Smithsonian’s oldest printed tee, “Dew-It with Dewey,” from the 1948 presidential campaign of New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey

Dewey T Shirt

1951: Marlon Brando yells “STELLA!” while wearing a T-shirt in A Streetcar Named Desire

1955: James Dean rebels with no apparent cause — while wearing a T-shirt!James_Dean_in_Rebel_Without_a_Cause

1970s: Iron-on transfer developed

2006: Matt McAllister earns a Guinness World Record by donning 155 T-shirts at the same time

2007: Aaron Waltke beats McAllister’s record by simultaneously wearing 160 shirts

** Look for upcoming post on the top T-shirt slogans, and my person top ten shirts!