Excerpt from my novel:

The girl's back pressed up against the undressed stone of a high wall. An unwilling voyeur, Kieran felt the scrape of its unfinished edges against her bare upper arms as if her skin were his own. Three young men surrounded her, each much taller and bulkier than she. They ringed her with their bodies, throwing taunts and innuendos like rocks. She stood very still, but Kieran could feel the rage and fear coursing through her, clutching at him like a hot fist.

Taunts turned to touches as the oldest, who could not have been older than Kieran's own age of nineteen, reached forward with grasping fingers to fondle her breast. The girl's skin crawled as the three groped her, bruising her flesh with their eager hands.

When she moved, it surprised all of them. Her fist flew with speed, strength, and precision. Kieran heard the crack of bone in the smallest man's nose and watched with admiration as the girl swept his legs from under him with a well-placed kick. She sprang into the sudden opening between their bodies and ran.

Kieran watched as they pursued her, as she sprinted nimbly around various obstacles littering her path and scrambled over a low wall. On the other side, one of the young men caught up and grabbed her arm. As she tried to pull away, a group of teens exited the building in front of them, blocking the girl's path. Kieran felt their fear and hatred as they recognized her.

Like a pack of feral dogs scenting blood, the teens descended. The boy whose nose the girl had broken landed a punch on her collarbone. Kieran heard it snap and watched her fall back against the cobblestones. Pain blossomed in the girl's left shoulder, and burned in Kieran's own. Once her body lay prone, the group of teens began to attack with fevered glee, their blows impacting randomly and rapidly on her body. Fists and feet planted agony wherever they landed.

Kieran felt each blow as the girl screamed, lashing out with her right arm and legs as best she could. At the same time, she withdrew into her mind to keep the pain from overwhelming her body. Kieran knew the moment she delved deep inside and sensed a core of golden strength. He reveled with her in the sudden burst of power as she wrapped it around herself like a blanket. She shouted again, a cry of anger and agony, and the blows stopped.

Energy seeped out of her into the air and Kieran watched her now through a haze of golden light. She built a wall between the attacking teens and her poor abused body, and the world around her slowed. The wall was fluid but viscous, and cloudy like crystallized honey. It held the others in suspended motion, some caught in the midst of a kick or punch. Finally safe, the girl allowed her body to go limp on the ground. The pain nauseated her. Gingerly, she tried to touch her left shoulder to assess the damage. But her right arm erupted in fire as she attempted to move the tortured limb.

A rough whimper escaped her lips and she blacked out. She did not see what happened next, but Kieran did. Still reeling from the pain he had shared with her, he watched as the amber-colored wall hardened and then cracked open with a bang, tossing her tormentors to the ground. Each teen lay sprawled against the stones, unconscious, their bodies radiating outward from the girl's like a sunburst. A servant came out into the courtyard and saw them lying thus. He held his hands over his face, palms toward him, and drew them down into an X shape, a sign against evil. Then he started screaming.
Your fingers twine with mine. Although slightly thicker and more masculine in shape, your hand is nearly the same size as mine, fingers the same length. We both have an octave and a note reach on the piano. I've marveled at that fact since we first met, but today it seems even more appropriate, just one more way we fit together.

Your skin is rough, marked with the callouses of labor and the ravages of eczema, but I relish the texture against my smoother skin.

The first cord wraps around our linked hands, a symbol. We are tied with bonds of colored cord and spoken promises witnessed by everyone we love. This outward marking reveals the connection we've already felt, have always felt, since the first moment. I never believed in love at first sight, but damn it, you caught me.

I had stopped believing in soul mates, in people who fit together as though they were created in one piece then torn asunder. But your hands match mine, and now they all can see two halves made one.
under a cut tag for my friend's list )

This entry written for week 8 of LJ Idol. I'll let you decide if it happened or not.
We sit in darkness, munching trail bars we made together last night. You reach for my hand, and I give it knowing it may be the last time. We've had many firsts, and we've begun to have our "lasts," now, too.

Seven weeks, a moment stolen out of time.

I scuff my boots against the rock, listening to the scrape of stones as they skitter down the rockface beneath us. "I'll come visit you, later this summer," you say.

Maybe you will, but I already know it won't be the same. I'll be back in the real world, my reality, of school and friends and family and life. I say nothing, but squeeze your hand. I want to stay in this moment; I don't want to think about what is going to happen next.

The sky is turning grey. Some of the stars are too faint to see.

"What is your favorite memory of Colorado?" You ask, just to get me talking. You don't like silence, and I understand you need to fight off your melancholy with words.

"Hiking Audubon, probably," I answer, but I know you need more than that, so I elaborate. "I don't know if anything else in my life will ever quite compare to that experience."

"I've been to the top of mountains before, but the view from that one was pretty spectacular." You lean over, rub your lips against my hair. "So's the view right now," you say, and I feel my heart breaking open, a burst of pain and need and sorrow like the paintbrush smear of pink and orange and gold bursting over the far horizon. I look away from the sky, up into your big brown eyes.

"It's ok, I guess," I tease, and you lean over to kiss my mouth. After a moment I turn away, looking back out to the sky. "My last Colorado sunrise."

"Will you come back next year?"

I wonder if my answer will influence yours. "Maybe. I'll be graduating next spring, so I probably won't have time."

"I've still got a few years before I finish my MFA, but I might do summer stock at home." Hedging, just like me. That's ok. Maybe we both need the lifeline: the belief, however false, that what we have between us can somehow continue.

A red sliver appears above Boulder, thousands of feet below us. You put your arm around me, and we hold on to each other as we watch the sun rise.

(this entry was written for my week 6 entry to LJ Idol)
It's that time. I didn't publicize the last two votes because one of them was for community-members only and I didn't feel right asking anyone else to join a community they had no interest in. The other one was my pie recipe, and the vote was over a weekend- generally when my friends list is away from their computers. This week the voting ends on Wednesday.

It took me a while to decide what to write this time, with the theme "Bearing False Witness."

The Poll

My Entry

If you like what I wrote, please vote! This has given me an excuse to blog about something here on LJ other than NaNo!

And speaking of NaNo, here's my progress:

42327 / 50000

I wanted to be at 45k today, but it was the first day in a long time that Steve was home a whole day, so I spent most of the day with him and Roland. No regrets! I just won't be finished before Thanksgiving unless I give up a lot of sleep this week.
I am sitting on the floor, feeling the scratchy carpet against the bare skin of my legs, blundering my way through a paperback novel. I think I've been sitting in this room my entire life.

I started out sitting on the torture-device masquerading as a couch, with its thin unyielding cushions and sharp ninety-degree angle that encourages stiff, correct posture. After ten hours I feel I am due for a little slouching, so I move to the floor.

They call it a Waiting Room, and I've never heard a more apt title. All you do here is wait. I dare you to try and do anything else in here. I've tried hand-held video games, magazines, puzzles, writing, and reading both fiction and non-fiction books. I tried to do homework, I tried to draw. Something about this room defies all of your efforts to think about anything else than the person you are waiting for. Maybe it's the rows of harsh fluorescent lights, or the TV set to eternal news channels played at a distractingly high volume.

I can't concentrate in here. I can't breathe in here. "I have to go to the bathroom," I tell my father. He nods. He's just waiting, too. I've seen him leafing through papers to grade without picking up a pen, and just staring into his book without turning the pages.

The bathroom is somehow better than the Waiting Room. It's just like any other public bathroom anywhere. I'm a girl, so we get stalls and sinks, at least one handicapped stall, and a baby changing station. The floors are always some kind of cheap tile, the walls coated in high-gloss easy-to-clean paint. There are even familiar names on the toilets, paper-dispensers, and stall doors (don't tell me you haven't read the brand names while sitting in the stall at some point. You know you have).

I finish my business, wash my hands like a good girl, and dry them under the super-jet-speed hand drier. As I leave the bathroom, I think, "what now?" This little trip at least gave me something to do. I wander down a hallway, and I can smell it. It's too sweet, with bitterness beneath. The harsh antiseptic odor of industrial cleaner tries to mask the scent, but nothing can. People are dying here, people despair. People are being saved, too, and I try to remember that. But I've been watching for years as the cure kills my mother just as suredly as her disease.

I find myself back in the waiting room. My father is gone- I panic, until I see the note he's left on the chair: "Just got a call from the nurse's station. Your mom's in recovery now, and they're letting me go see her. I'll be back soon."

Recovery. We shouldn't have to recover from the procedures that are meant to make us well.

It seems like hours, but is only fifteen more minutes before Dad is back in the room. "She's very groggy, but doing ok. They had to do some repair work because the shunt in the artery failed. They thought she might lose the kidney, but she seems to be doing ok now. Another few days and she would definitely have lost it."

I feel...everything. A mix of hope, pain, anger, elation, despair. "When can I see her?"

"When she gets down to the room."

Another hour passes before the nurse calls to tell us Mom is in her room. My steps are too eager, I rush down the halls while my father trails behind me. We make a wrong turn before we find the room, but eventually we get there. When we walk in I think we must have been given the wrong room number, as well as bad directions. I don't recognize the woman in the bed. Her skin is waxy, nearly a true white, her hair oily and limp around her puffy face. There are tubes everywhere, taped in place with huge yellowish white strips. Who is this woman? Three machines beep beside her bed, a kind of mechanized cacophony that I cannot believe she is sleeping through.

Dad approaches the bed and takes her hand. "Wake up, hon," he whispers. The eyes open, but even they are not the same. I can see they are the same color, the same shape, as my mother's eyes. But these are bloodshot, the pupils dilated, her gaze unfocused. She mumbles something in a voice I do not know. Dad seems to understand this strange gibberish- he picks up a cup on the bedstand and pulls out a green swab. He dabs it on her mouth, and she licks eagerly. I can smell the spearmint. For the rest of my life, the smell or taste of spearmint will always take me back to that hospital room, to the crushing despair and disbelief of a child who has seen her mother- the goddess figure of her childhood who was all the hearth and home deities of ancient myth combined- transformed into a lifeless shell, a mockery of a mother.

She looks at me, and mumbles. I hear my name. "Carrie," she says, and I go to her. I am on the opposite side of the bed from my father. I take the limp hand, feeling the cold flesh that makes me think of corpses, seeing the shiny wide tape and big white bandage over the old IV line in her wrist. She has a central line, now. She's been in the hospital for two weeks, and though I don't know it yet will be here for several more.

"Mom," I say, and I smile. But these are lies: the smile, the name. This is not my mother, and I am devastated, broken.

I don't know what I expected. I don't know what I was waiting for, all those hours in that room. But it wasn't this. Still, I smile. I hide the confusion, the pain, the loss. I bury them beneath a forced cheer so bright I must be lighting up the whole hospital. But a part of me has died; the part that was still innocent, the part that believed in miracles. The part that believed in God.

"You're so beautiful," I tell her, and my smile stays on over the lie. "I'm so happy to see you."

(This is my week five entry for LJ Idol. It is also a true story.)
My last LJ Idol post was about the long battle my husband and I fought to get pregnant. This week's topic lends itself perfectly as a follow-up.

LJ Idol Week 3 - Smile! )
"I passed a mass," I told my husband. I felt the hard plastic of the chair beneath me, stared through the glass in front of me to the fish swimming through the green water beyond. When I turned my head, I saw he didn't understand. "Earlier today, at work," I added, as though that would elucidate anything. But I couldn't say the words, couldn't make my mouth move over the sounds I needed to speak: 'I think I miscarried.'

We had been trying to get pregnant for a year. I put off going to my doctor for ages, afraid I would be told I couldn't have children at all. When I finally went, she told me I had no "gross physical abnormalities" that would keep me from conception, but that my hormone levels and the cysts on my ovaries probably meant I had poly-cystic ovarian syndrome. The good news was the ultrasound showed a cyst on my ovary, and assuming it actually burst and released an egg (not always guaranteed with PCOS), I might be able to get pregnant if we tried right away.

So we tried. I started planning a trip to Germany and Switzerland with one of my best friends, and was excited to think that I might take my baby with me across the Atlantic. I was late, although late means almost nothing with PCOS. Sometimes my cycle lasts 20 days, sometimes 70. But I hoped, and put off taking a pregnancy test because I didn't want to be disappointed. Then I went to work one morning and my hope died.

A week later, I flew to Europe. In Switzerland, we visited the Jungfraujoch, known as the "Top of Europe." I climbed out onto the observation deck at 11,388 ft above sea level between the peaks of the Monch and the Jungfrau in the Bernese Alps. I watched snow swirl with puffs of cloud, stared down at the valley almost ten thousand feet below, where we started our morning only an hour before.

I remembered the first time I stood on a mountain peak, four years prior in Colorado. A group of friends and I hiked Mt Audobon in the Indian Range of the Rockies. It took us a whole morning and into early afternoon to climb the four mile trail up to 13,233 feet above sea level. The last hundred feet of the mountain was excruciating. I literally crawled up the scree, resting every few moments because my lungs could not take in enough oxygen. But once I reached the summit, I forgot the weakness in my limbs, the burning in my chest, and the twinges of headache. I thought I could see forever; peaks as far as the eye could see, all the way to the Continental Divide. I felt free, standing on top of the world. We ate lunch and any remaining pain and weariness fled. As we descended the mountain, every step held a hidden spring. We sang show tunes and folksongs, told jokes and laughed like madmen. We were alive, and the mountain had proved it to us.

We had taken a cog-train to the Jungfrau. Only an hour's ride to rise ten thousand feet; we expended no effort. We sat comfortably in our padded train seats and watched the amazing Alpine scenery as we passed through the lower tree-lined slopes and up into the rocky, snow-swept heights. Yet standing at the top of Europe, I felt sick. The rapid ascension to the higher altitude and lower oxygen levels brought on nausea and a migraine. Everything we did at the Jungfraujoch was spectacular: standing in the snow-spray of the pass, walking inside the Aletsch Glacier, sitting in a cafe with a bird's eye view of Alpine peaks. I could not concentrate on these wonders, could not feel the exhilaration I felt at Mt Audubon. I just felt sick. I slept the whole train-ride back down the mountain, and the headache lingered until the next day.

When I returned from Europe, my OBGYN started me on hormone therapy. Finally, after over a year of trying, we conceived. To our joy, we did not miscarry a second time. Our son was born in December of 2007, and having him is all the sweeter because of how long and how hard we tried before we could become pregnant.

So I have to remind myself: easy isn't always better. Sometimes having gone through the struggle is what makes the destination worthwhile.
This story isn't really true, but it isn't really false.

Empty Gestures )
Who am I?

I've been asking myself for years, but the answers keep changing and no single answer satisfies the question.

A few pieces of who I am:

I am a woman. I have always identified strongly with the "traditional" roles of my sex: a wife and mother, cook, seamstress, gardener, crafter. I can vegetables and jams, I bake bread every weekend. And yet I revel in some very non-traditional freedoms of the modern woman- the right to vote, to choose my own career, to marry the man I love and not my parents' choice. And though I am a wife I am still myself- I do not see myself as Mrs Steve, but as Carrie, who happens to be married to Steve.

I am a writer. Beyond all other pursuits in my life, writing defines me. My job is just a job. Writing is my blood, my soul, my life. Words are my passion, crafting them my pursuit- for joy and sorrow, for hope and despair, for all of the heights and depths to which a story can transport you. I am soon to take my passion back to school- I am applying to an MFA program in writing fiction. If all goes well, by January I will be a grad student.

I am a mother. My son is a joy, an irritation, a wonder, and a devil. His energy is infinite, his curiosity boundless. I am awed and humbled by the responsibility of being his mom. Watching him learn and grow has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. He can also, of course, be a complete headache and nuisance. Toddlers have an unfortunate penchant for trouble, and my son is no exception.

I am a singer. At the few points in my life where writing has failed me, I have had music. Music succors me and moves me. It envelops and entrances, it lifts me high when I am flying and comforts me when I am broken. When I write, music without words is my constant companion. Once upon a time in my youth I performed regularly. I miss singing in public, and would jump at the chance to do so again.

Who am I?

I guess we'll find out together.

July 2011

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