The Frozen Rat’s Foot

So, this morning, I went for a run. And I was listening to David Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes. When I listened to it, I had this story idea pop into my head. Well, it wasn’t exactly this story but it started with Major Tom showing up on Halloween, and this teenage girl not knowing how to handle it. I checked Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge and picked a title randomly, and the rest of the story just tell together. Haunting, not for the feint of heart, and probably a little eerie, but I had a great time writing it! Enjoy.

Major Tom had popped into their lives on Halloween. Delores remembered it, because in the weeks prior to his existence, she’d been listening to David Bowie on repeat. Delores thought it could only be a coincidence—his name. Delores’ mother didn’t believe in coincidences though. She said everything happened for a reason.

Jack and Sunny had been trick-or-treating, and Delores sat by the front door giving out candy. Too old to partake in the annual candy-haul, Delores resigned herself to the fact that getting older stunk. The kids groaned when she handed out Tootsie Rolls and Tootsie pops, the cheap candy, making her life even harder.

Major Tom, she didn’t know his name at first, knocked on the door. He had his arm draped casually over a fairy princess and threw a killer smile Delores’ way.

“Howdy,” he said with a wink.

“Hi,” the timid word barely escaped her mouth.

Major Tom had a way of making his presence known.

Delores could feel her mother behind her and smell her Obsession perfume. Momma bit her lip, stuck her hips out, and tried to look coy. Her flirty red hair that come from a box bounced as she sashayed all the way to the door, leaned down toward the Fairy Princess, and deposited a tootsie roll into her bag. Major Tom caught an eyeful of cleavage from Momma’s low-cut Gap shirt.

“I’m Hilda.” My mom hated her name. She put out a hand showing off bright red nails.

“People call me Major Tom,” he said, extending his hand toward her.

The Fairy Princess and I stared at each other, unaware our lives were about to change forever.

Major Tom and The Fairy Princess aka Candace aka Candy-for-short moved in with us two days before Christmas. Snow filled every crevice of the world, and the heat had been out for a week. Momma had bought food but couldn’t pay the heating bill. Major Tom would be our savior, she said. Only he wasn’t.

When they moved in Major Tom insisted on giving Candy-for-short her own room. Delores could not believe it.

“That’s not fair. I’m the oldest,” she said rolling her eyes all the way to heaven.

“You’ll do what he says. It’s about time we had a man to take charge in this house,” Momma said.

Delores stomped up the stairs. She kicked the bed frame, but only managed to hurt her foot. Hot tears streamed down her acne-pocked face. She wiped them away. Stupid Major Tom and Candy-for-short came in and had ruined everything in her life. Delores threw a shoe at her boom box. She turned the tape over—the one her father had given her before he died. She played Ashes to Ashes, “My mother said, to get things done you’d better not mess with Major Tom.” She wanted to barf or scream or both.

Instead she whispered so low that only the dust bunnies could hear, “I hate you, Major Tom. Something evil lurks behind those twinkling eyes.”

She threw her clothes in a box, gingerly untapped the David Bowie posters from the wall, unmade the bed and walked across the room to Sunny’s room. Sunny’s room had bright yellow walls. My Little Ponies littered the floor. When Delores walked in, Sunny bounced up to her.

“Want to play Barbies?”

“I’m much too old for Barbies, Sunny. Go away.”

Sunny hung her head and dejectedly continued to play.

Candy-for-short was given everything she ever asked for. Sunny and Delores often felt overlooked. Jack lived at the neighbors’ house and sometimes Delores didn’t think their mother even noticed he was missing. Major Tom’s eyes began to look eviler and eviler as dark circles formed underneath them. Momma started sleeping in every day. Major Tom and Momma fought and creamed at one another. Sunny and Delores barricaded themselves in their room, and Delores would play the David Bowie album Scary Monsters on repeat. She wondered how a scary monster had showed up in her house so suddenly and changed things with such ease.

Soon it became apparent Major Tom had lost his job. He sat at home in the green easy chair, staring at the fuzz on the T.V., or he and Momma locked themselves up in their room for days doing God-knows-what. Food became scarce. Delores tiptoed around the house, afraid to make the hardwoods creak. Major Tom’s wrath had reached new proportions. Jack never came home. Delores wondered if the neighbors had secretly adopted him.

It all came to a head on Fat Tuesday.

Candy-for-short and Sunny sat at the kitchen table doing their homework. Their sallow skin seemed to sink into the darkness of the room. Their gaunt cheekbones haunted Delores. What they all needed was a good meal. Major Tom and Momma had locked the door to their room, and no one had heard a peep from them for at least a day.

“Go upstairs and play,” Delores directed the little girls.

Candy-for-short had been slinking around in the last week. Major Tom had been less and less present in all his lives.

“I just wish he would hug me still,” she had confided to Delores the day before. Delores had been secretly relieved when Major Tom grew quiet. His yelling had terrified her. Delores’ dad had been quiet, soft-spoken, and kind. Meek as a mouse, her Momma said. Major Tom was the opposite: loud, boisterous, and down-right scary a lot of the time. Plus, he had taken away Delores’ mother, her ally in the house. Even though Delores knew her mother was less-than-perfect beforehand, Major Tom had transformed her into a nightmarish entity who Delores didn’t think she really knew.

Delores opened up the freezer. She didn’t know how it had gotten in there. She pulled it out and set it on the counter. She drummed her fingers on the counter trying to figure out the best way to cook it. Roasted, no? Boiled, ooh gross—all she could think about were her Momma’s boiled Brussels sprouts that made her gag. Fried. She settled on fried. Everything tasted good fried.

She pulled out the deep fryer and got to work, seasoning it, and breading it so it could be fried. She found a jar of green beans and nuked them in the microwave and made some white rice with a pat of butter to go with it. The smell of food cooking brought everyone to the kitchen. Momma and Major Tom stepped out of the bedroom, eyes blood-shot and faces white as ghosts. The girls bounded down the stairs, and even Jack showed up at the back door, eager to take his role as part of the family if it entailed a home cooked meal.

Delores had cut it up and served it on the rosebud plates her grandmother had passed down to them. She put a little scoop of rice, a serving of green beans, and the fried meat on the plate, arranging it with care for everyone at the table, the way her old-Momma used to do. Everyone dug in, eating like they had never eaten before.

Suddenly Major Tom crunched down on something hard.

He pulled it out of his mouth and studied it. His bloodshot eyes took on a quizzical look. Delores had only eaten her green beans and rice. She’d left the meat untouched. She stared at him.

“What’s this?” he asked.

“A frozen rat’s foot,” Delores said.

Forks clattered against the plates. Her family’s faces took on a look for simultaneous horror. Jack made a retching noise, and Momma ran to the bathroom.

Delores chuckled, shoveled her remaining food in her mouth, then walked out the front door intent on never going back.

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The Rambler

Welcome back. Oh wait, I mean, you’ve been here so I am really just welcoming myself back. Life happened, and I realized this AM I had not blogged in a month. The strange thing is, I’ve been writing–well, at least a little bit. I have been working on my novel again. Mainly, I need to finish and then edit. This is what I’m very bad at doing. Editing seems like the dregs to me, and where is the time? It takes me a good three hours to be invested in editing my work, and there are no three-hour time slots open any where in my life.

But life is good, mostly. Good but stressful. I’ve made some great friends lately, and I’ve put myself out there. This is good, because I was having a near constant desire to sit in the blue easy chair, drink a Truly or two or three, and watch Netflix. I find leaving the house is the hardest before you actually do it. Like, it takes a lot of motivation to get off my butt and actually go out and be with people, but once I do it I love it.

I wanted to write about the Parkland shooting, because it’s never too soon to talk about common sense gun control. Last week, I blogged about it in my head. But then I thought, this is never going to change anything. My goal is to become involved in Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. This, I know, is the right thing to do. I have three kids, and I don’t want their right to life to be trumped by someone else’s right to own an AR-15. I know not everyone agrees with me, but I think the high school students speaking up for themselves, staging walk-outs and protests, is truly amazing. Folks, this is how democracy works.

And mental health? Why can’t it be both? I want our country to take mental health issues more seriously. It’s hard to get adequate care in this country. But so many people need it. I can’t tell you how much I’ve paid out of pocket to see therapists in my lifetime. And you know what–it helped me! And there’s nothing shameful about that. Get rid of the stigma surrounding mental health. That would be a nice place to start. Our boys (because those are usually the perpetrators of these crimes) need to learn self-control and self-regulation. I don’t think every violent crime is done by someone with mental health problems. I think ANGER is a huge issue in our society. Anger leads to domestic violence situations, mass shootings, as well as homicides. I think our boys have a lot of anger because they’ve been taught their whole lives to swallow their feelings. Well, that’s not doing anyone any good. Anger management needed, yes! Therapy or someone to talk to needed, yes. Let’s change society for the better. What’s wrong with doing that?

I promise, I’ll blog more. I have finished Waking Up White and need to blog about some of the ideas from reading and pondering over that book. I also am planning on writing a flash fiction piece and getting it posted. Here’s to more words more often.

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Party Over

This is another Flash Fiction piece for Chuck Wendig’s blog Terrible Minds. The theme of this story is, “Why is it so hard to accept the party is over?”

Party Over (997 words)

ping pong

Solo cups littered the ping pong table. Spilt beer stained the green ping pong court. A ball sat still in a puddle of Bud Lite or worse, PBR. Bodies littered the floor, some of them snoring, cuddled together as if they had just dropped down where they had been standing. Holly sat with her back against the wall. Her eyes wanted to roll up into her head. She had won, or was it lost, at Beer Pong. Either way, a lot of cheap beer had gone down her throat and now the room moved beneath her feet.

Dan stumbled into the room. He slid down the wall next to Holly, his shirt catching halfway up and revealing his left hip bone and ab muscles. He tugged at the shirt, trying to pull it down, as he sat down next to her. Holly felt electricity filter through her body and a longing to put her hands all over Dan’s body. But Dan was just a friend. Just a friend, she reminded herself. Hands off.

Dan leaned into Holly and nestled his head on her shoulder. She leaned into him, feeling her heart beat faster. She wanted to grab his hand and squeeze it.

“I drank too much.” Dan slurred all the words.

“Is there any beer left?”

“It’s 2 in the morning.”

She looked at Dan. Brown wavy hair had fallen forward in front of his eyes. He struggled to keep them open. She knew he would pass out if she didn’t talk to him.

“Maybe I should go.”

“Don’t go,” Dan muttered, pushing his body closer to hers.

“The party’s over.”

“Nooooo.” He drew the “o” out so long then crumpled into a laugh.

“Where have you been?”

Dan pulled his head off of her and sat up straight against the white wall behind him. His green eyes opened widely as if he were suddenly the soberest person on earth. He reached into his pocket and pulled out an empty Trojan wrapper. He placed it in Holly’s hand. A grin grew on his face and then he laughed again, as if this were a personal joke between the two of them.

Holly slumped further down on the wall. She felt a lump in her throat liked she swallowed a tortilla chip the wrong way. She wanted to tell Dan how she felt. She’d wanted for so long to say, “Why don’t you see me? I’m right here waiting for you.” But she couldn’t. It was never the right time.

She thought she would tell him tonight. She thought she would come to this party, have a few drinks, then sit down with him and say, “Look. I’m in love with you.”

But it didn’t happen. First, her best friend Lindsey showed up. They had a beer, then two, then a glass of wine. Lindsey dragged her to the middle of the party to meet some guy who had acne scars on his face. What’s his face? Michael? Or Bill? Something like that. Holly couldn’t remember, yet she spent at least an hour talking to him about his trip to Borneo last spring and all the intricate details of his life. When Dan showed up, Holly had her head close to Michael/Bill, with one hand on his bicep. She saw Dan flit his eyes at her and then walk away. Why should she care anyway? They were just friends.

And so when beer pong started up, Dan joined her and they joked and kidded around for awhile, but the next thing she knew it was 2 AM and she was drunk as hell. And she hadn’t said a damn thing to Dan. Well no fucking wonder. He was off screwing another chick this whole time. She fucking hated him for that. And now she felt like she could cry.

Holly tried to stand up.

“Wait, where are you going?” Except Dan’s drunken words made it sound like, “Late, where you glowing?”

“I need to go.”

Dan reached his arm up and tried to pull Holly back down onto the floor with him.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

Holly now stood in a crouch against the wall as if she were in an exercise class working on her hamstrings. The room seemed to spin around her, the ping pong table askew. She felt bile rise in the back of her throat and felt like she might throw up.

“What are you sorry about?”

“Getting drunk.”

“It was a party. That’s what people do.”

“I’m sorry, Holly,” only it sounded like, “I’m slorry, Horry.”

Dan’s slurs were getting worse, and Holly simultaneously wanted to run away and throw her arms around him. Instead, she sat back down on the floor with him.

“You have nothing to be sorry about,” Holly said.

She laid her head on his shoulder this time. He reached up and ran his hands through her golden-blonde hair.

I love you, Dan. The voice inside her head tried to goad her into saying it, but she pushed the words aside. They had both been partying and were drunk beyond all belief. He wouldn’t even remember it if she told him how she felt now.

How many more hours or days could she live this lie? Holly didn’t know. At the beginning of the night, she had felt so much promise. It would be like a romantic movie. She’d tell him, he’d throw his arms around her, and profess his undying love too. But life never played out that way. She’d wanted to tell him for the last year that she was sick of being his friend. She wanted more for their relationship, but there was something, some little part of her holding her back and she didn’t know why.

She closed her eyes, and she wished for the party to be over. The room spun out of control in the blackness of her mind. She leaned over and green colored vomit gushed from her mouth all over the hardwood floors. She wiped her mouth and knew tomorrow would be exactly the same as today.

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What is Writing Without Readers?

I’ve been having a mini-crisis regarding my writing. And yes, this post is mostly to whine about the fact that I don’t have an audience. And I know some of that is my fault–probably most of it–I’m good at taking blame.

Sometimes I go back and look at old blog posts and flash fiction stories that seemed to get a lot of response and I wonder what appealed to the reader in this story? How can I recreate it? What do I do to get a bigger audience? Oh how wonderful it would be if the life of the writer was just to write.

When I was a kid I wrote because I loved it. Then I had a crisis of sorts, when I realized writing couldn’t pave my way to material success. I stopped writing altogether for a long time. But I knew something was missing. When I started writing again, I felt truly alive. But when I write and no one reads it’s like some sick desperation surges up inside of me. Like when you post something on Facebook hoping for 100 likes and only get 2. And it makes me wonder, do I write for attention? Is writing a form of self vindication for me? Am I really that self-absorbed that I expect people to be interested in the inner thoughts of my brain that come out in the form of stories? Or am I writing to share wisdom? Am I writing to share a story?

I’m reminded of John Kennedy Toole who killed himself when his novel A Confederacy of Dunces kept being rejected. Posthumously his book became published, and he won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. How did he feel when he was constantly rejected? He knew he had a great piece of literature, but without an audience he felt worthless. Why do people only care about what authors write after they’ve died?

This industry is the suck. It’s all for the people living in New York who know someone or another or who can get in with an agent somehow. Or who hit the jackpot somehow getting pulled out of the heap. But then even when they hit the jackpot, they have to continue to write, sometimes in the same genre even if they don’t want to. But at least they had this one moment of wonder where someone saw something in their writing and made it happen for them. We can’t all be Stephen King or James Patterson.

There are so many parts of writing I find exhausting. Mostly they have nothing to do with the actual writing part. Marketing tops the list. And we all know marketing is a huge part of writing these days. Without it you’d be lucky to sell a book (if you ever finish one again). I think writers work harder than so many people for such little payout. I mean, look at the freelancing gigs available–$15 for an article? Who can make a working wage off of that? When did we decide writing was a side job and novels could be read for free or $1.99 on Kindle. You can check mine out here by the way. I get about $0.30 off each sale. And I know, I should have had it professionally edited. Sorry for the typos. If I want to get serious about this writing thing, I should probably pull that off Amazon and cut my losses. But I’m not that kind of person. Plus, there’s a lot worse crap out on Amazon that sells anyway. More effort does equal a better chance of success. I should have realized that back in 2015, but I’ve had three years and I’m still learning from my mistakes.

So here we go again. In order to be a successful writer you have to have wealth or money. The ability to have your novel professionally edited, then you have to jackpot land an agent, and hopefully that agent is with the Big Five (do 5 even actually exist anymore) and not a hybrid company that will close down and your book will disappear from existence. And then, even if you do get picked up by the Big Five you still have to market the hell out of your piece by driving your friends and family nuts on social media. Posting blog posts that you try to make look original and creative when really you’re just pulling at straws to get a few words down so you’ve met your quota for the month. And then you pray like heck your book sells so you can go through the creation and the pain all over again. This is, of course, after your book has been rejected approximately 1,753,289 times.

Or you go the self-pub route and make $0.30 off each book. There is a breakeven point. It’s somewhere close to Pluto.

Maybe it would be different if I didn’t have a day job or if I felt like people really wanted to read what I write. Or if I felt like anyone actually wanted to read at all anyway. I mean, I have a few little people in my household and they’re only enamored with technology. My kids only read for school. When did people cease to find reading fun, relaxing, entertaining?

And even fewer people are interested in literary fiction these days and then dark literary fiction to top it off. I mean, I’d rather write about vampires and step-brother lust too, but that’s just not what comes out of me when I squeeze my creative juices. For some reason I have no control over what I actually write. It’s like it travels through my brain and onto the paper, and sometimes I say, “Shit, that’s actually good,” and sometimes I say, “Crap. this is just crap.” And it’s usually the crap that people want to read–Lord knows why.

Who the hell knows? I’d like to have more readers, but I guess I’ll just keep writing for my audience of one. Because despite all the heartache involved with writing, I love it. And I wouldn’t be who I am if I wasn’t a writer.

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In Control

Today’s blog post is a Flash Fiction piece for Terrible Minds again. The assignment is to pick lyrics from one of your favorite songs and use those words as your theme. The song is In Control by Greensky Bluegrass, and the video is after the story. Enjoy!

The Theme:

Though I am not without weakness I will define what lies ahead; I’m not out of control    -Greensky Bluegrass from their song In Control

In Control — 1123 words

What are you going to do when you get out?

His words echoed in my head. Not this, I wanted to respond to his ghost. I didn’t know how much I’d miss Peter. I hadn’t thought the ache would drive me to the needle. I closed my eyes as the liquid seeped into my veins. I could see Peter’s face, his delicate eyelashes that looked too feminine against his scarred face. His bright blue eyes beacons of light which seemed to beckon me back to him.

What are you doing?

I could hear his words, as if he were speaking to me, echoing in my head before the sudden blackness hit me. Too much or not enough, my last thought.

When I woke up I wondered if sheer blackness was what we had to look forward to when we died. I still had a faint hope in God, but why would he give me so much pain? I tried to move but realized my arms were restrained. They took it as a suicide attempt instead of just falling off the wagon.

I opened my eyes and looked to my left.

Peter, my rock, sat in the sunshine next to the window. My eyes struggled against the too bright light to make sense of him there. I had not seen him in months. He looked good, his scar faded slightly, his eyes twinkled, as he leaned forward setting his elbows on his knees. His face emanated kindness and concern.

“Astrid.”

“I’m sorry.” I mouthed the words. My throat felt dry as if I had walked through the desert.

Peter stood up. He looked larger than life. He pushed a button over my bed. A nurse came in wearing a white cap.

“Water.” She nodded at Peter and left.

The wise man built his house upon the rock. The children’s song went through my mind as I gazed at my wise man, the rock, piedra, Peter.

“It doesn’t have to be this way.”

I couldn’t talk. My throat felt like sandpaper. The nurse returned with the water. Peter propped a pillow behind my back and grabbed my elbow, helping me up. He held the cup to my lips and I swallowed the water in one gulp.

“Don’t gulp it down. You’re already weak. You don’t want to throw up.”

“I don’t remember anything.” My voice was scratchy but there.

“Your mom found you. Called me here. It was touch and go at first. But they pulled you through. You were lucky. She let herself in two minutes or so after you overdosed.”

“I guess she’s sending me back.”

“You know it’s a voluntary program. Next time, you get the desire to use will you call me?”

I nodded.

“You know, you’re in control of your life. You’re the one who says whether you live another day clean. Whether you decide to use again. It’s hard. Trust me, I know. I make that decision every day.”

Peter brought his hand up to his face, touching the scar etched against his skin—a constant reminder of his weakness.

“Tell me the story.”

Peter grimaced. “I’ve told this story hundreds of time—to all of my sponsors—but it never gets easier. It’s a reminder to me that weakness has the power to destroy, but can be overcome. Your weakness does not define you. Through my tragedy, I took control of my life. I defined the way I wanted to live.”

He sighed releasing the pain into the story.

“It was Matthew’s eighth birthday. You know, the name Matthew means ‘gift of God,’ and he was. My wife and I couldn’t have kids. Or at least we didn’t think we could. We tried and tried, and when we gave up, Matthew came along. He didn’t seem like other children. He came into this world with his eyes open so wide. He always seemed precocious, like he knew something we didn’t. That day, I had to drive him to Chuck-E-Cheese for his birthday party. I wanted one hit. One hit before I left. I’d done it before, taken him places while I was high. It wasn’t like I was drunk. I felt like I had control when I did meth. Felt like nothing could go wrong. ”

He sighed again. He sat on the edge of my bed, smoothing down the wrinkles on the white hospital sheets and looking over my head.

“But of course, that was just the drug. It made me feel happy–invincible. Or I thought it did. And then we were in a wreck. And Matthew, Matthew who was only eight but acted older, Matthew was gone.” Tears sat in Peter’s eyes.

“I went to jail for 18 months for manslaughter. Driving under the influence. But the worst punishment was losing Matthew. Meg left me. I’d hit rock bottom. And then in prison, I met my sponsor. He took me under his wings. He taught me to forgive myself and to take control of my life again. He taught me to fight against my weakness, my addiction, every day. He told me nothing could bring Matthew back, but that I, like everyone else, deserved a second chance. This scar—” Peter touched his face, “reminds me of Matthew every day, but it also reminds me of the decision I made to change my life and take control. And I know, Astrid, this is only a minor setback for you. I know you can do it. If I can do it after losing everything, you can do it too.”

“Everyone deserves a second chance,” I said, finishing his story for him.

“You have the power inside you to change and to take control. It will be hard to conquer your addiction, but if I can do it anyone can.” Peter said.

He took my hand in his, warmth against cold stone, and squeezed it. In that moment, I felt my blood start pumping again. I felt alive, like I hadn’t felt in months. I felt willingness and control seep back into my veins, passed from Peter to me. Strength, like no other.

I knew he was right. I had to try and believe in myself, to take control of my life, and to conquer the evil that had invaded my life and tried to wrestle control away from me. I had to take it back. I had to become a rock like Peter.

2 Timothy 1:7 <em>For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.</em>

 

 

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A Fallen God

This flash fiction piece is written for The Terrible Minds Flash Fiction Challenge.  This week the challenge was to write 1000 words or less on the theme of the danger of undeserved power. 

A Fallen God – 691 words

Hope had no idea how Bitty became the leader.

Perhaps the nuclear fallout had fried most of their brains. Bitty had an idiotic name, but worse than that he had a God complex.

They walked around aimlessly the first day, collecting people and food. Bitty had on a red coat, and people began to follow him. He dictated rules and led with an iron fist. Halfway through the first day, a teenager stole a can of green beans from Bitty, and he banished him to almost certain death. No one could survive this alone. Then they had found the clearing in the forest, and Bitty had set up camp.

Ash began to rain down on them, and Bitty sat in the center of the clearing like a lump on a log.

“I think we need to find shelter,” Hope said.

Bitty ate a granola bar, one of the few left in the stash. “They’re all dead.”

“If we don’t want to be dead, I think we need to find a shelter,” Hope repeated herself.

The group squatted around Bitty, eyeing the granola bar. He smiled then let out a maniacal laugh.

“Need I remind you, I’m in charge, Hope.”

“And a fine job you’re doing,” she muttered under her breath.

In a previous life, one before the nuke went off Bitty had been a janitor at the school where Hope taught science. He terrorized the children by jumping out of the bathroom stalls. He thought it was funny, but no one else did.

Hope walked away from the group and started picking up twigs. She wanted to find a cave. The group had sought shelter in the woods so surely there was a cave somewhere around here. She turned around and saw the boy sneaking up on her. Dirty face, torn clothes. He’d been orphaned and added to the group somewhere along the way. Hope guessed he was about ten, but maybe a small twelve.

“You’re right about him, you know.”

“Help me find a cave if you want to tag along.”

“Are we going to just leave them?”

“They’re blind followers and that’s how we got into this mess in the first place. Hand me your coat.”

He looked at his coat, shrugged, slipped it off and handed it to her. She tore it to pieces, with the help of a hunting knife scavenged from one of the dead along the way.

“Tie it loosely around your mouth. This radioactive waste can kill us.”

They found a cave. It wasn’t deep. Scat littered the ground which frightened her but not as much as the death falling from the sky.

The winter sun hid behind the ash rain.

“Shelter is always important, no matter what Bitty says.”

It took two days. Hope heard Bitty preaching his nonsense on the first night. The sheep huddled around him. Bitty said sunshine and fresh air were more important than shelter. The sun could barely shine through the darkening clouds.

On the second day, Bitty’s big mouth remained unusually quiet. The ash had stopped falling. They covered their mouths and crept into the clearing. Bitty sat on a throne of pine needles and coats. Hope could see his chest moving up and down, but just barely. The group of twenty surrounded him. Some had fallen forward on their knees with their heads between their outstretched arms as if they were praising a deity instead of a stupid idiot.

Hope put her arms around the boy.

“Search their pockets and backpacks for food and water. We should move on before more ash falls.”

“Are they dead?”

“Not yet. But they will be soon. There’s nothing we can do for them now. Bitty with his asinine ideas.”

Hope and the boy packed up bags and began marching out of the woods. They stopped at the edge of the clearing and looked back on the scene. Bitty’s head had rolled to the side, propped at an odd angle on his shoulder. Power had corrupted him and led to the deaths of the others. Hope knew she would never make that mistake, not now, when the future depended on their survival.

with-great-power-comes-great-responsibility-85365090

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You’ve Got Class

This is the third installment in my series about race from the book Waking Up White: and Finding Myself in the Store of Race by Debby Irving. At the end of this chapter, she poses a question about race. People often state that there are “class” issues in America and not “race” issues. Irving believes, as well as I do, that the two issues are intertwined and not mutually exclusive.

Money

Question: Class is determined by income, wealth (assets), education, and profession. Betsy Leondar-Wright, program director at Class Action, suggests these categories as a way of thinking about class:

  • Poverty
  • Working Class
  • Lower-Middle Class
  • Professional Middle Class
  • Upper-Middle Class
  • Owning Class

How would you characterize your parents’ class? Your grandparents’ class? Your class as a child? Your class now? What messages did you get about race in each?

I’m not sure if I’d ever label my parents as owning class, or anyone for that matter, but let’s explore the meaning (intention) of this label. Does the owning class own American society? Well, yes, in a way they do. The richest of the rich can afford to throw money behind their political wants and needs. They are raised with contacts and taught how to be rich and how to keep as many of their dollars as they can. Rich people can buy politicians to do what they want for the benefit of themselves or the companies they run (yes, I think we need campaign finance reform—funny you should ask). Our government is not so much a democracy as a system set up where the very few control the very many through political means, systemic racism, classism without the very many really knowing it’s happening. I digress—

As a young child, I remember asking my parents if we were rich. No, they said. We lived in a big house. We had two cars. My mom bought us Guess jeans and swatch watches. I had an allowance. I had a car at 16, albeit it a hand-me-down. At one point, I had a Limited Too card which I was only supposed to use to buy dresses. I was a tomboy and liked to live in jeans and baggy shirts, which my mom hated seeing me in. As a kid I would have characterized my parents as upper-middle class, but realistically they’re more toward owning class. My dad is a doctor (now retired) and my mom stayed home with us. We had a blessed existence, because my parents could afford to give us one. They paid for private school for us. They also encouraged us to help others, less fortunate, and they encouraged us to work hard. My dad was a spendthrift in a lot of ways, teaching us that saving is important.

My dad grew up in a middle class family. More toward professional middle class, I’m assuming. His dad worked. And my dad had a stellar work ethic, which allowed him to achieve a lot in his professional career as a surgeon. Sure, some of that comes with the fact that he was a white man growing up in the right time for surgeons to make a mint. We all benefit (or not) from our circumstances.

My mom’s childhood finances seem more complicated to me. She is the daughter of a doctor. But there seemed to be a lot of ups and downs as far as finances in her family. Some failed business ventures by my grandfather left them bad off at some points. I’m sure this affected my mother’s well-being and her relationship with money.

However, when I was growing up money seemed to be somewhat of a taboo subject, so a lot of my guesses about my parents’ class growing up is just conjecture. People did not talk about money—it was considered impolite.

So where do I fit on the class scale? My husband and I both work. We have three children and a big house. We fit along the upper-middle class line (or maybe right below it because of the adjustment for the number of people in our family). We are comfortable. We take vacations, don’t have debt, and life is pretty easy for us. We can give our kids what they need and generally what they want. We aren’t as well off as my parents were growing up. My parents told me that each parent wants their kids to do better than them. That’s the natural progression of things. But that’s not the case with us. Certainly, Rob is probably better off than his mom was, simply from the fact that we have two-income earning adults in our home. But we won’t be able to match my parents’ earning power.

In my childhood, my parents emphasized material success. Money, education, and a good job allow one to be successful. My dad modeled hard work, and my mom did too. She went back to school when I was a teenager and showed me it’s never too late to live your dreams. She also showed me hard work and persistence lead to success. For a long time, I equated money with success. When I went to college, the need to be seen as successful in my parents’ eyes prohibited me from making the creative jump into a writing-related field, because writers don’t earn money (or very much of it). Therefore being a writer would lead to a lack of success, since money equaled success. Because of the world and the class I grew up in shaped my beliefs about success, I lied to myself for a long time about what I needed in order to see myself as successful. I put behind my writer dreams for a long time and lived a life without a creative flow. Until I felt like it was falling apart (tangents are my favorite, don’t’cha know?).

I don’t feel like we talked about race a lot when I was a child. I felt like anyone who could go to college could get a job and succeed. The equation seemed to be: education leads to money which leads to success. What I didn’t think about was the connections my dad and my mom had. I didn’t think about how my race automatically gave me a head start, not to mention my class. I was given the best of the best which helped lead to material success—the way I thought success is built. Certainly, money makes life easier, but I never thought about it in terms of race until I was much older.

Being from a white upper-middle class or owning class family in the South gave me advantages others don’t have. I’ve always thought hard work leads to success. But what if all the cards are stacked against you from the beginning?  What if you’re born into a lower middle class family? What if your parents can’t afford to send you to private school or even the best public schools? Doesn’t that automatically impact your ability to get further in life? It doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it’s much more difficult because your starting from a more distant line.

What are your thoughts on class? What class were you raised in and what class are you in now? How did it shape your views of success? Do you think the class you were raised in impacted your view on race?

For More Blog Posts in this series, click the links below:

Stereotypes and Preconceived Notions About Race

Family Values and Principles

Follow Lauren Greene:

Facebook: www.facebook.com\laurengreenewrites

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If you liked this post, you may want to read Stereotypes and Preconceived Notions About Race and Family Values and Principles which also explore how our race and class impact our views on the world.

An Ode to Mom

I have about 7,000 things to write about, and my series on race will continue after this break post.

Relationships with your parents are complicated to say the least. There’s this sense of gratefulness they gave you life. Then everyone’s had those feelings of, “Oh, I’m this way because my parents screwed me up with the way they raised me!” My parents did a good job, but like all parents they had their flaws. I’m sure my kids will say the same thing about me. Being a parent is a thankless job in a lot of ways. There’s a lot of pain and guilt (maybe that’s because I’m Catholic Lite). But being a parent is also amazingly wonderful. It’s great to see a child you raise grow and flourish.

My mom told my dad to read my blogs on race. “It’s wonderful,” she said, “and all about you. Like Lauren didn’t even have a mom.” Thanks for the guilt-trip, Mom.

I’m sorry, Mom, that I didn’t mention you. You were a constant in my life. Always there. Making delicious dinners–except that nasty chipped ham, talking to me about the birds and bees, and guiding me throughout my life. I remember when I’d come home from nights out you would come up to my room just to talk to me. Those are some of my best memories, of just the two of us. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without your guidance and influence.

And I just really wanted to give you props, because on December 12th, I saw all your hard work for Doug Jones come to fruition. You worked so hard on that campaign. I’m impressed by your persistence, faithfulness, and your ability to push yourself and work hard for something/someone you believe in. You taught me persistence and follow-through pays off. You taught me how to “just do,” even though I’m still working on that. You’re a strong woman and an inspirational person in my life.

I love you Mom.

Mom

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Family Values and Principles

This is the second installment in a series regarding race. Click here to read the first installment: Stereotypes and Preconceived Notions About Race.

The questions I’m posing come from Debby Irving’s book Waking Up White. 

Our families pass on certain values and principles. Today’s question:

What values and admonitions did you learn in your family? Think about education, work, lifestyle, money, expression of emotions, and so forth. Try making a list of ten principles, values, and unspoken beliefs. Consider what conclusions you drew about people who did not appear to follow your family’s belief system.

Oh values. The cornerstone of every American family. Values and principles shape the way you look at the world, and therefore the principles you’re taught as a child shape the way you see other races. This question is hard, because I love my parents dearly, and I’d hate for them to think I’m admonishing the way they raised me. They instilled some great values in me. They are wonderful people and yet flawed as all people are. Going by Irving’s question, I’ll make a list and then expound on the values my family instilled in me.

  1. Independence — My parents instilled in us a sense of indepence, and that we could do anything we wanted with our lives and did not need to depend on other people.
  2. Leadership — We were taught to be leaders and not followers.
  3. Work Ethic — We were taught to work hard in order to achieve.
  4. Intellectual — Being Smart — Perhaps being smart or educated was the value most instilled. My dad is so smart, and I always wanted to be like him. I strived to earn his affection, but I never did that well in school. I was creative and “had potential” but lacked motivation. Because of this, I felt like I could never measure up in Dad’s eyes. It affected my relationship with my middle sister, Ali, too because she always made good grades (which she worked hard to get), and I felt jealous of her. I saw that not being smart meant that you were less than. Going to college was not a choice—we were going to go.
  5. Open Mindedness/Understanding — perhaps one of the best values my parents past onto me. My dad refused to join the local country club because they wouldn’t allow African Americans or Jews become members. My dad taught me to question and to be openminded in regards to knowledge and to people.
  6. Frugality — My dad was frugal. My sisters and I went to an elite private school. The kids drove Lexuses, BMWs, and Mercedes. My dad did not approve of this kind of excess. He gave my oldest sister his ’83 Toyota Supra Celica (fast car, Dad), which then passed down to my middle sister, and finally to me. We looked at the kids at our school as spoiled since they’d been given new cars. We couldn’t understand why a 16 year old would get a new car which in turn they’d wreck. Conversations about the parents being irresponsible often followed. But more, I think we were jealous of their luck at having a parent who wasn’t a spend-thrift.
  7. Importance of Family — Family time was very important. We ate dinner at the table almost every night of the week. This was a time to reconnect.
  8. Positivism with a hint of realism (or catastrophe added) — We were taught to be positive, but to also look at situations realistically. There’s a lot of anxiety in my family, so I also added castatrophic-thinking to this.
  9. Honesty and Trust – honesty was cherished in my family, even if it hurt your feelings!
  10. Adventure – my parents took us SCUBA diving and to Italy. I was sent to Peru to do a Rain-forest expedition at 18. I did a summer study abroad in Salamanca, Spain at 15. My parents had the resources to give us a charmed life. We were taught to seek adventure.

I do think my parents’ values shaped who I am today. I fought against some of their notions regarding wealthy vs. poor. I had a boyfriend who came from a poorer family, and my family did not approve of him. I felt like they were being classist, and I continued to date him despite their disapproval.

Overall, I feel like the values and principles I learned taught me to be an accepting and open-minded person.

What values and principles did you learn from your parents growing up? 

For More Blog Posts in this series, click the links below:

Stereotypes and Preconceived Notions About Race

You’ve Got Class

Follow Lauren Greene:

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Stereotypes and Preconceived Notions About Race

I’m currently reading a book called Waking Up White: and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving.

Waking Up White

I have written about race a little bit on this blog, but I find I tend to skirt the tough topics. Race is an integral part of the South, and since I write Southern Literature, I thought I would do a series on race on this blog. In her book, Debby Irving poses questions at the end of each chapter. I’m going to use these questions to guide my discussion. I hope you all will leave comments and answer the questions too. I plan to do about two of these a week, but I will skip the week of December 6th-December 12th.

The first question posed in Irving’s book is “What stereotypes about people of another race do you remember hearing and believing as a child? Were you ever encouraged to question stereotypes?”

I had problems with this question. I grew up in Montgomery, Alabama. I went to a public elementary school. I never thought, as a child, that black people were different from me. I knew my neighborhood was vastly white. We lived in a two story house. I walked to school. My school was diverse.

Probably the biggest stereotypes I could think of that were imparted to me, not so much by my parents as my peers, were thinking black people were great dancers and athletes. Then as I got older, I thought the majority of gang members in Montgomery were black. I attributed this to their circumstances. When I grew up in Montgomery, public schools still did well (vastly different from today). But there were a lot of private schools. My parents transferred me to one in the 5th grade. The private school I went to, The Montgomery Academy, was founded in the 1960s in part to keep the white children segregated from the black children – a clear “fuck you” to the Civil Rights Movement.

At my private school, I stereotyped the black kids, assuming they were all there on scholarships. I think this was because I’d been raised to think that African Americans had less than white people did. They lived in West Montgomery. I’d heard rumors they might move into McGehee Estates and that would lower our property value. Later on, there was white flight from West Montgomery to East Montgomery. The city kept trying to move away from “the race problem.”

I’m not sure my parents raised me to question stereotypes. My dad is intellectually minded, and both my parents certainly raised me to question the status quo, but there were certain expectations too, which kept race aligned with little mingling.

I clearly remember at age thirteen attending a Bar Mitzvah (or Bat Mitzvah—can’t remember which friend it was for), and dancing with a friend of mine who happened to be black. I thought nothing of it. He was my friend, and I liked him. When I came home that night, my mom sat me down and told me several parents had called concerned I had danced with a black boy. I was astounded by this, because I couldn’t believe these parents had the audacity to mingle in my life.

I remember saying something like, “Why does it matter?”

“Because they’re a different culture than us,” my mom said something like this.

In my childhood, it was noted that white people date and marry white people, and black people date and marry black people, and that mixing the races was frowned upon. I know this was a holdover from my mom’s childhood and the way she was raised.  My mom has changed so much since then.

And suffice it to say, it damaged my friendship with him. I pulled away, and I stayed pulled away, even after his father died. I did not know how to let myself get close to him, based on other people’s perception of our relationship/friendship. I didn’t want to be the talk of the town. But I also couldn’t understand why who I liked depended on the color of their skin. I had a questioning mind, and I questioned these types of assumptions and racial problems even back then.

What stereotypes do you have about people of another race? 

For More Blog Posts in this Series, click the links below:

Family Values and Principles

You’ve Got Class

Follow Lauren Greene:

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