Today kicked off the first day of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), a 30-day challenge to write 50,000 words. To keep up pace you have to write at least 1,667 words a day. I’m proud to announce that I wrote 1,832… booyah, NaNo you are my bitch!
Now I know this is the very, very beginning of a very difficult challenge. It’s easy to feel fresh on Day One. I’m assuming this is going to be very similar to a diet. I feel unbreakable on day one and buy day six I’m just going to want a whole pizza and a super-sized glass of wine.
Nonetheless, I feel good about just starting. The story I have decided to write is one I have had in mind for a long time. At the last minute I changed what novel I was going to write and I’m glad I did. I love this story and I’m excited to see what it becomes as it leaves my mind and pours onto paper.
Now, I’m also going to do something I’ve never done and I’m going to share my first 1,832 words. Yes this is 100% a first draft, no editing. No, I don’t think it’s the best 1800 words every written, but one thing I’ve realized is that I’ve never shared my fiction publicly. That’s a little weird, I think, considering all I want in the world is to be a novelist. So while NaNoWriMo is a challenge to write a first draft, I’m going to take this one step further and challenge myself to put my fiction work out there for the first time. I’m not sure I’ll publishing anything more, but I hope you enjoy this little glimpse.
We Were Young
The egg timer on the counter needs to be cleaned. Sitting next to the stove it’s covered in grease and dust because I never use the damn thing. The stainless steel, egg-shaped micro appliance matches my kitchen. It’s simple and sleek, but completely useless.
What woman needs an egg timer? If you don’t know how to boil an egg or read a clock, odds are this little device won’t help you. My life is filled with these things. Things that provide no value, but at some point seemed necessary for building my life and creating a home. I don’t even like boiled eggs.
Marley might boil eggs. I’m not really sure. She’s fed herself breakfast since she was six. Children born to teenage parents are so much more independent than those born to capable adults. If Marley boils eggs she probably has an app on her phone for it. A thirteen year old would never use an egg timer, even one whose soul is as old as hers. Luke is picky. He’d never eat something that looked like a boiled egg. I used to be the kind of parent who’d plant my feet and tell him “this is a home not a restaurant,” but I’ve lost my gusto for 50s-era parenting adages. If the baby of the house wants sugarcoated bull shit for breakfast, that’s what he gets.
If I weren’t such an insufferable hoarder I’d throw away the timer. Instead, I get the sponge and wipe it until it looks just as it did the day I pulled it out of the package.
Derek is the cook anyways. I can cook, but he loves to cook. He used to cook because it was how he showed his family how much he loved us. Now I get the feeling that he does it to eat up time in the evening. Still, I can’t complain about pork tenderloin with a blackberry demi glaze or handmade pasta. He has his solitude and I have mine.
Derek enters the room in the same big way he always has.
“Goooood morning familaaay,” he bellows to the children’s delightful, awaiting faces. He gives Marley a kiss on her head and blows raspberries into the pocket of Luke’s neck. Both kids transform from sluggish morning monsters to alive and vibrant characters. He’s always had that ability. The ability to fill a room with energy and make everyone’s skin hum with anticipation.
The closer he gets to me the more he deflates. I can see the tension of his smile slacken and the height of his shoulders reduce. He plants a sterile kiss on my cheek as he reaches across me to grab a coffee cup.
It’s become a habit of ours to be kind in the morning even if it isn’t what we’re feeling. Some version of wishful thinking I suppose. As if a pleasant and planned kiss can set the tone and turn things around. Last night we fought. We fight most nights now. Whether it’s over his inability to put laundry away after ten years of prodding or my insistence on creating a spreadsheet any time I get concerned about money, the reason we fight never seems to really matter. The fight has become a form of connection for us. Where there used to be sex and inside jokes there’s now backhanded comments and leading questions. Our problems are so unoriginal it hurts. That doesn’t make them feel any less real in the moment though.
When we were happy, it was so easy. You don’t have to think about how to smile or what to say when you’re happy. Hostility, however, takes practice. When you’re angry and hurt, you have to paint on that feeling. You have to coax it into the corner of your mouth and drip it into your words. If you come at your partner full tilt, you’re crazy. If you act unaffected, you’re cold. Finding the balance between anger and caring is delicate and we’ve become masters.
The best way to maintain this line is by making the other feel inferior and informed. We’ve learned to do this with four words or less.
“Luke has soccer practice,” I’ll say.
“I know he does,” Derek will reply.
Four words. I could write a book filled with four-word sentences aimed at making your partner feel small. Today we carry on simple conversation about our schedules and try desperately to keep away from subjects that will trigger an argument later.
“I’m stopping by the store today, do you need anything for dinner tonight?” I ask.
“Basil and lemons please.”
“Ok. You making piccatta?”
“No, something a little different. Something new,” he says.
Translation: This meal is going to take a while, find something to do with yourself for the evening.
That’s easy enough. I have a 2,000-word article due to Mother, Wife, Woman by ten tonight anyway. The irony of my life is that I make living writing about love, marriage, raising kids and being a working mom. Most of what I write are lengthy essays on how to be a good wife and mom in the midst of everyday chaos. I used to feel like I had the secret recipe to success and so I started dictating my achievements at the ripe age of 25, three short years into my marriage and six into motherhood. I’ve since realized that I don’t have some magical power, I just lacked the time it takes for things to fall apart. As I watch my husband fall out of love with me I write about “How to Ignite Intimacy While Creating a Chore Chart” (a clever title with a much less clever point). I love my job, but have begun to feel more and more like a fraud with each passing assignment and each lingering fight. I can’t write about the truth though, there’s nothing interesting about married people who have become really great parents and a severely lacking couple.
I fiddle with the rim of my coffee mug to avoid making eye contact. A useless endeavor as he is flipping through emails on his phone to avoid the same. He pours out the remaining contents of his cup in the sink and as he does his arm brushes mine. We both tense at the familiarity and complication of the smallest contact. I breathe in his smell. The newly showered combination of mint and eucalyptus that almost burns going down. My throat tightens and my eyes moisten for the slight moment where I allow myself to lose control.
Meanwhile Marley has hooked one arm around each of us forcing a closeness neither of us is comfortable with. She’s so fucking smart and so damn aware that something is off. Maybe it’s because she’s a girl. Maybe it’s that she’s older. Maybe it’s just because she’s Marley, but we haven’t been able to hide our failings from her like we can from Luke or my in-laws.
She’s our first-born. She met us when we were only kids ourselves. At nineteen we were terrible parents, but everything about us was raw and exposed. Of course we fought back then too, but we also loved with fierce and blatant intensity. We made out in public and danced in the kitchen. She saw us truly in love and she wasn’t buying any of this ridiculous, nice-nice act we’d been plastering on for the last year or two. I don’t even think we’re doing it for her or Luke. We’re just doing anything we can to pretend we have it under control. Like it’s okay to barely touch and talk as long as in the morning we have coffee together and go over the calendar.
“I might go to the gym after work tonight, so I could be home a little later than usual,” says Derek as he’s gathering his things to leave. “Could you lay out the chicken to thaw at around noon?”
“Uhh, yeah I guess.” That, of course was the wrong thing to say. I hesitated too long on the “uhh” and I shouldn’t have thrown in the “I guess.” “I guess” has to be one of the most passive aggressive phrases in the entire English language. My vocabulary is rife with eloquent phrases and all I can sputter out is “uhh, yeah I guess” because what I really want to say is “Are you seeing someone?”
He shakes his head slightly at my insinuation that he was asking too much and that I don’t want him to go to the gym. I choke down the urge to say “What?” in my most terse and pressing voice. Marley, ever the tension-detector, springs in between us and throws her arms around my neck. My body loses pressure under the weight of her hug. I let her blonde hair fall across my mouth and bury kisses into her shoulder.
“I love you, bug,” I say.
“I love you too mama.”
Luke whips his oversized backpack onto his shoulder and starts bolting for the door. I grab him by the waist and drag him into me. He fights and giggles as smack kisses against his solid jaw. Pure boy from head to toe. I scoot the three of them towards the garage door and lean over the kids to kiss Derek. I was aiming for his mouth, but since we kiss so infrequently now it lands between his top lip and his nose. I pull back a little embarrassed at the surprised look on his face. We make eye contact for the first time in probably three months and then Marley and Luke shove him out the door and into the garage.
I’m only slightly jarred by our failed attempt to kiss and I start with my usual morning routine. I rinse out Luke’s cereal bowl, water the kitchen plant, and make my work station at the dining room table.
I sit down to begin typing and a fragment of a dream from last night trickles into my memory. I’d dreamt about Derek. Not uncommon these days. I frequently dream about him cheating on me or telling me simply that he’s moving out because he just doesn’t love me anymore. The oh-too-predictable possibilities of a marriage spiraling downward. This dream, if I can grab the filaments tugging at my memory, was pleasant. He and I were sitting by a fire. We were young and holding hands nervously. The boy I’m picturing from my dream looks nothing like Derek did at 18, but dreams are tricky that way. I can see the wrong person and still know that it was Derek I was dreaming of. It makes me smile and feel warm, whatever this fleeting vision is. The only words I remember from the dream were when he leaned in and whispered into my ear “Beth, I miss you.” I let those words simmer. Of the four-word sentences we speak to each other now, this is never one of them.