True Fairy Tale

Far away, in the land of Navos, lived a warrior princess. Armed with her dark curls and her patent leather peep-toe pumps, she fought mightily against the forces of evil seeking to destroy her people. She was both clever and tireless. Adored by her minions, she used patience and skill to lead the kingdom to glory.

One sad day, having ventured far from her big, powerful, kingdom, she was discovered by a small tribe of grubby younglings. Underestimating their great power, she soon fell under their relentless enchantments. They whisked her back to their land so she could use her dark curls and shiny pumps to bring their people glory, too.

The kind people of Navos mourned her loss, but carried on with the strength she had given them. They knew that their warrior princess would help the younglings to grow wise and strong.

And both kingdoms lived happily ever after.

 

Author’s Note:

This story came about when I was asked to contribute to a going away display for my boss. She had recently realized that her children were growing up without her and decided to set aside her successful career to stay home with them. No one was happy to see her go, although many were happy for her. Art is not my greatest skill, so I simply filled up my allotted piece of paper with the words above.

Psych!

Her: So what do you do at the psychiatric hospital?
Me: Mostly I just wander around and touch people’s junk.
Her: Eeewwww!!!
Me: Well, don’t get the wrong idea; I usually only do it by request.

I sincerely hope I never have to update my resume.

So what’s a girl like me doing in a place like this? It’s a sad tale. The story begins in Anacortes, a beautiful little tourist town where wealthy white people go to retire. I lived there for ten years with my two children, boyfriend-turned-husband, and over the years: one rabbit, three mice, one dog, and several fish.

When we bought the house, hubs understood that I would not make my kids change schools again. We were here to stay. We added a new roof and siding, and updated the interior. There was a large fenced yard and an unusually large garage. The kids’ bedrooms were a converted attic, so they didn’t have vast amounts of headroom. That was okay, though. I wanted them to move on when they grew up, not get too comfortable. The plan worked! Up they grew, and out of the nest they flew.

When the kids were in high school, I went to work for the local hospital a few blocks from our house. I had never before had a job that was so perfectly suited to my skills as this one was. Full of variety, in the middle of everything, but with no blood and guts to contend with. I also worked with such amazing people that I was inspired every day.

After work and on weekends both hubs and I ran on the trails around the three pristine lakes, each about a mile from our house. Or we cycled the 10 mile route to and through a hilly local park where we were rewarded with breathtaking views, often including a pair of resident bald eagles playing in the air currents. On Tuesday nights in Spring, we would swim with some locals as training for triathlons. On Thursdays I hiked with some co-workers up Mt. Erie, the tallest point on the island. Our little hiking group consisted of the Director of Nursing, an ICU nurse, a surgery nurse, and a physical therapist. I was in good hands if I ever took a tumble.

My life had finally turned out perfect, after a long, rocky beginning. I made sure to appreciate each moment. That’s why it was such a surprise when hubs announced that he had grown bored with his job and was feeling the pull of the big city. Opportunities for high level computer security jobs simply do not exist in Skagit County. In his nineteen years with one of the county’s largest employers, he had reached the peak of what he could do for them. He was hungry for a new challenge. I knew all of this, of course. But who quits a job after nineteen years? I was in denial.

Despite my foot dragging, he found a new job in the big city and began commuting two hours each way. I came to the very painful realization that my fairy tale was coming to an end. I, too, found a job down south, then we began the process of selling our house and looking for a new one. That process took several weeks because most of our spare time was spent driving now. Finally we found the place for us!

The overgrown clumps of bamboo in the postage stamp front yard concealed a tiny, dumpy house on the edge of a high-crime area. Home sweet home. We didn’t initially recognize the house’s splendor. The first time we saw it, we may have spent five minutes there before dismissing it and moving on. A day or two passed, then hubs asked to take another look at it. We went back and I began to see that it was every bit as unappealing as the last time we were there. He had other thoughts, though. What if we take out this wall, and add a back door, and a fence, and redo the bathroom? It would be okay then, right? Well, I thought, maybe. It met all of our other criteria. Plus it was cheaper than the other places we had considered. Much cheaper, go figure. We snapped it up.

A couple of weeks later we had given up the Anacortes home I had put so much into and moved into our minuscule, dingy castle. And a storage unit or two. Actually, most of our stuff was in storage, since nothing fit in the new house. We settled in and began our much shorter commutes. Well, hubs had a shorter commute. Being new to the area, I did not have a thorough understanding of the impact that traffic would have on my commute. It was not unusual for me to spend an hour and a half getting home at night. Sometimes it was even longer. This was a far cry from the 5 minute walk to work that I had become used to on the island. I began to experience back pain and developed sympathy for those afflicted with road rage. There was no time to exercise (and really no place, either) so the stress wore on me. I needed to find something closer to home.

My search began on Craigslist. I applied to a governmental agency, whom I never heard back from. I unsuccessfully interviewed at a skin care clinic, where I later became a customer. Then I came across an ad that reminded me a little of my Island Hospital position. Google maps told me it was less than a mile from my house. The only hitch was that it was at a psychiatric hospital. I had never spent time with crazy people before. It sounded a little creepy. Did I have the temperament to work in that environment? I sent the job description to three people I had worked with over the years, who I could trust to give me a straight answer. Two said emphatically, “Yes!”. The other said it depends. I applied, interviewed twice, and was offered the position. I did feel bad about leaving my new job after only eight months. They are good people with a cool little company and they found value in the work I did for them. But in the end, it was no contest.

To my great surprise, I learned that I have spent lots of time around crazy people; I had just never recognized them as having mental illness. The people inside the hospital are often indistinguishable from those outside the hospital. I wish everyone had the opportunity to see that. I believe it would have a positive impact on public perception as well as shaping public policy, but I understand that psychiatric hospitals are not a great tourist destination for a variety of reasons.

That is how I ended up working in a psychiatric hospital. The main function of my job is to look after patient valuables until the patient is discharged, allowing them access when they request it. I also make sure they leave with whatever junk they arrived with. It’s stupidly simple, with zero stress and zero commute. As a bonus, I really enjoy interacting with the patients and seeing their progress.

Author’s Note:

This story came about because the opening conversation really took place and it struck me as funny that it was so misleading, yet still true. As you can probably tell from the background information, it was a difficult time for me as I was rebuilding my life in a new environment that I wasn’t particularly happy with. The job and its location were a bright spot for me at that time.

Fun Fact: I also broke my ankle just before we moved and it took 4 months to heal. You might see that story in the future.

What Friends Are For

We’ve known each other since we were 15. Introduced by a mutual friend, we soon discovered many shared interests, none of them healthy. It wasn’t long before we were cutting class to steal doughnut holes from the local grocery store or wander around in the nearby woods in search of  mischief.

Over the years we reached all the same milestones at approximately the same times. She discovered boys first, but they started noticing me soon after. In high school, we both began a decade long on again off again relationship with cigarettes. There was even a smoking section on campus back then. We both suffered the obligatory sexual assaults, followed a couple of years later by the inevitable pregnancies; hers first, immediately followed by marriage. Mine, three months later, but I waited until after giving birth to tie the knot. I transferred to a home school program and received my diploma; she dropped out shortly after, but later enrolled in an alternative high school and eventually went on to earn a bachelor’s degree. We both divorced around the same time, too, after approximately five years of trying to make our marriages work.

Time passed and we each filled our resumes with a decade’s worth of disposable jobs. Occasionally we even worked for the same companies at the same times. Over the years, one or the other of us would move from Washington to Oregon to California, then back again. Eventually the other would make their way there, as well. We were even roommates for awhile, our children grew up considering each other cousins.

Eventually, though, we grew apart. Her child went to live with his father, mine stayed with me. We each bought a house in different cities, worked for different companies, talked less, and rarely spent time together. Even still, we both managed to become romantically involved around the same time with younger men that we had known as friends for a decade or more. I was engaged first, but she remarried first, all less than a year apart.

Hers was more of a whirlwind romance and almost an elopement. The only people at the ceremony were their parents and the judge. This did not sit too well with their friends, but it was too late to do anything about it by the time we found out. Her new husband had been in our circle of friends since the beginning of time, but he and I didn’t cross paths very often. Quiet, solidly built, and kind of bookish, I didn’t really know him well. 

Growing up in his parent’s bakery, he developed impressive skills in the kitchen. Those skills are what eventually attracted his wife, who has no cooking skills to speak of, but has always had an insatiable desire for carbohydrates. Together, they love to entertain. She flits around filling wine glasses and cleaning up after guests, while he creates the meal. My husband and I shared many meals with them over the first few years of their marriage. They also became our favorite traveling companions. We’ve enjoyed chocolate croissants in Switzerland, Lamingtons in Australia, steins of beer in Germany, and s’mores on the beach in Hawaii. Life was pretty sweet for all of us.

Several years into their marriage, though, things began to change. It started with a few innocuous fitness competitions. Scattered here and there were 30 day challenges for avoiding alcohol, or sweets, or whatever food was being demonized in the news that month. She could take or leave the fads, but he tried them all. None had staying power until he came across the book. He’s an avid, but slow reader, so it took a while for the whole thing to sink in. He’s also charmingly gullible. Once the book had been read, and the concepts accepted, he began to implement those ideas in his life and hers. After that, there was no stopping him.

While this transition was occurring, my husband and I were busy moving to a city farther away in celebration of our new status as empty-nesters. Our search for a new house and new jobs, in part, prevented us from picking up on the warning signs as quickly as we might have otherwise. Even if we had known how serious this would eventually become, I don’t know for sure that we could have headed it off. Even his own wife couldn’t stop him.

My best friend, who had cleverly married the son of a baker, has suddenly found herself in an entirely gluten-free marriage. There are currently no signs that this situation will improve. I know how hard this must be for her, so I remain supportive by providing cake on our birthdays and sending her boxed, shelf-stable bread, when I can find it.

But secretly I giggle at the irony. Because really, that’s what friends are for.

Author’s Note:

Alright, I may have taken awhile to get to the point of this one. I guess I just felt like I had a lot to share and I happened to be writing this story at the time.
The inspiration for this one came when I saw a shrink wrapped loaf of bread in a box. The “best by” date was several months out. It was the perfect gift for a gluten widow. I mailed it off to her and proceeded to write my story.

Pet Peeves

“The difference is, I lie for a reason.”

No way. No. Flipping. Way. Did she just say that? She really did. I thought we were friends. Best friends, even. I’m so angry I don’t even know what to say. I guess some people have no concept of honesty, loyalty, respect, that sort of thing. All I can do is just stare at her, speechless.

I can’t even believe we’re having this argument. It started over something so unbelievably stupid it hardly bears repeating. She came home unexpectedly. She’s usually pretty predictable; that’s one of the things I like about her. I had decided to take a nap while she was out and I was crashed pretty hard when all of a sudden I heard a key in the lock. I snapped awake in an instant. “Oh, crap!” I thought, leaping to my feet just as the door opened. See, I learned a long time ago that my roommate will absolutely flip out if she finds me in her chair. Of all the stupid things, right? Now me, I could sit anywhere: couch, chair, floor, park bench, who cares? You’re tired, you sit. Well, to her, it’s important.

I’m standing there nonchalantly stretching out the kinks when she walks around the corner. She takes one glance at me and somehow she knows I’ve been sitting in her stupid chair. You’ll never believe this, but she actually walked across the room, without a word, and put her hand on the seat to see if it was warm. What a crazy bitch. Now, I love her like family, but who does that?

You can understand that I wasn’t at my best, having just woken up. At least I had the presence of mind not to say anything right then, just let her vent. I wandered into the kitchen to get a drink as the yelling started. “Don’t pretend you weren’t in my chair! There’s no point in lying about it!” It’s true, there wasn’t. And I was guilty. And I did know better. I was still fuming about her reaction, though.

It wasn’t like she was perfect, you know? For example, she knows I like to sit near the window and watch the birds. Sometimes she’ll just up and close the curtains in the middle of the day for no reason. It’s like she’s trying to piss me off.

And there was that time we ran out of food, which was totally her fault! Now hear me out; yes, I could feed myself if I had to. I’m not completely useless. However, grocery shopping is her responsibility. She knows it, I know it, that’s how it’s been since I moved in 7 years ago. I’d say that running out of food is a little bit more important than who sits down where, but that’s just me.

She lies, too. All the time. At least once a week she’ll come home late, reeking of grease and alcohol, but acting like it was just another day at work. I know she’s been partying, though.

I’m just a regular guy, brown hair, brown eyes, average build, pretty easy going, still on the right side of middle age. I like to go out, too. Has she ever invited me? Not once. It’s like she’s hiding me from her friends or something. We almost never go out together. Well, there was that one time, but I was so sick I didn’t really know what was going on. She told me we were just going down to the park to get a little fresh air, and the next thing I know I’m at the doctor’s office. Another lie! Did I mention how much I hate doctors?

So despite my best efforts, I’m getting a little worked up at this point just remembering each little slight. Meanwhile, she’s “Blah, blah, blah,” on and on about trust or something. That’s when she said that she lies for a reason. What a load of crap.

Speaking of which, I’m feeling the call of nature after that drink. I wonder if she can get over herself long enough to grab my leash and take me out for a walk now.

Author’s Note:

Having decided to see if I could write on demand as well as just for fun, I flipped through the November/December 2015 Writer’s Digest and found a free contest (Your Story #70). They provided the opening sentence, above, and the contestants would complete the story within 700 words.
I was stumped for a couple of minutes, not particularly inspired by the opening sentence. I had just begun listing out some ideas for fiction plots when my dog started barking. He had spotted something moving outside and I closed the curtain to quiet him (never works, but I always try).
Suddenly I had a nonfiction idea. The story above describes a typical interaction between us. I had to write it from his perspective so that I could use the opening line that was provided.
I don’t think this is the best example of my work, but I was thrilled to discover that I could indeed write on demand. If this entry wins the contest I’ll put it in the Published page.