Rachel made it look so easy on Friends. I was supposed to move to NYC, work at a cute little coffee-shop and find a group of adorable buddies/roommates, having grand adventures and falling in and out of love along the way.
Reality – my job at the coffee-shop barely covers my share of the electric bill at the roach-infested apartment where I live with six, yes six, disgusting flatmates. I have THREE jobs, haven’t made a single friend, and got mugged my first week here.
But I’m not giving up. You know what they say – if I can make it here…
It’s just dinner party conversation. That’ll be your defense when you come out to see what’s wrong. You won’t know why I’m really upset. And I won’t tell you. I’ve never told anyone.
“How can they arrest a 70-something year old man for something that happened a million years ago,” your husband roared.
“Most of these women barely remembered what happened,” you agreed, sipping the wine while your husband passed me the mashed potatoes, not noticing my trembling hands. “There’s no evidence.”
“They were drugged before he raped them, of course they don’t remember,” someone else interjects, and I calm a bit, taking a hug gulp of pinot.
“Come on now, most of these women are liars, using his good name to get a piece of fame. Trying to take a good man down.”
That’s when I felt ill. I needed a bit of fresh air, so I excused myself to the foyer and leaned against the wall, taking deep breaths, trying not to remember. Me at 14, his hands on my throat, his rough breath in my ear.
Soon, you’ll come out, tell me I’m being silly, convince me to come back to the table. But for now, I am going to stand here, staring out the window, trying to forget.
68% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police. Visit Rainn.org to learn more.
Celine pictured Jules taking a final bow after her last performance. The swell of applause. Her bright smile. Her hand to her chest. The fake sweetness. The false modesty. It all made Celine want to retch.
If you asked Celine, Hope had the more beautiful voice, but she was shy, content to be Jules’s backup singer in the chorus instead of standing in the spotlight. It was Celine’s duty as Hope’s mother to make sure she had every opportunity. Hope was Jules’s understudy again tonight. It was her chance. She just needed a little push.
Right on schedule, Jules emerged from the trees, rounding the dark curve. It was quiet. The only sound was the gentle padding of her sneakers against the asphalt. Celine turned the ignition, flipping on her bright lights. Jules turned, confused, shielding her eyes. Celine decisively pressed the gas.
An hour later, when she slid into her seat seconds before the show began, another mom leaned over to whisper in her ear. “They just made an announcement. Jules didn’t show up. No one can find her. Her parents are at the police station.”
Celine frowned. “How awful. I do hope she’s all right.”
The lights darkened. Tears stung her eyes as she watched her nervous daughter take her rightful place.
I was just a girl with a crush on a guy in a band, like so many other girls my age back then. When we were in school together, he didn’t notice me, and why would he? I was a nerd. And not in that insincere way that gorgeous Hollywood starlets pretend they were in high school in every magazine interview, then you turn the page and find out they were really homecoming queen. I was a true social outcast. A face pockmarked with acne, frizzy, stiff hair I had no idea how to manage, awkwardly curvy, a little girl ill at ease in a woman’s body. It was misery.
A few years after high school, however, I was drowning my sorrows alone at a bar after my latest breakup, and there he was on stage with a new band. The lead guitarist. His gorgeous eyes never left mine during the entire show. By now, my skin had cleared a bit, I finally found a few products that got my hair to behave, I was less awkward, on the outside anyway. We talked all night after the performance, and dated for a full week before he had to leave for the next city on their tour. I never thought it would last. I met the man who is now my husband a few days later.
To see him today, in the produce section at the market while my husband is two rows over picking up our weekly supply of coffee, is surreal. We exchange pleasantries. He’s still with the band, touring, chasing his dream. I tell him I’m married, settled in town. I can tell he has no desire to meet my husband, and I have no desire for them to meet either. He leaves for the registers just as my husband rounds the corner, a huge bag of my favorite java in his hand.
“Who was that?” My spouse asks, tossing the coffee in the cart.
“An old friend,” I say with a smile, before changing the subject, praying my husband did not notice that my ex and our daughter have eyes the same unusual shade of violet-blue.
I love books. Today’s story day at the library. I have to walk. Mom would drive me but she has to work today. So does Dad. I put the books I need to return in my backpack, pull my hood over my head to block the wind and the rain. I ignore the girls on the street who call me names, ugly, dark, nerdy, weird, nappy-head, it’s all background noise. One of them tries to grab my bag. I dart away and they all laugh.
I make it inside just as story time is starting. The book today is a fantasy, my favorite. A new world where mermaids rule, where girls float on the backs of gentle sea monsters, staring up at the stars. I glance outside and see my tormentors, staring at me, waiting for me to come out. I’ll have to wait until mom gets off so she can drive me home. Or maybe Miss Ashley, the librarian, will take me. She’s done it before. I’m her favorite. Until then, I’ll close my eyes, listen, and float away.
“You look great, Syd, just beautiful,” Jane gushed.
“Thanks.” Syd ducked her head shyly, tucking a strand of hair, freshly dyed and straightened, behind her ear.
“I knew a makeover would be perfect…it would get you out of this…this…funk you’ve been in for, like, ever!”
“Anyway, thanks again.” Syd grabbed the bulging shopping bags from the backseat of Jane’s car, told her friend goodbye, and climbed the three stories to her cramped apartment. It was dark and quiet as she entered. The air was stale and putrid. Something was rotting in the fridge. Her couches were covered with laundry, some dirty, some clean. Styrofoam containers and empty pizza boxes, dotted with crumbs and spots of grease overflowed from the trash can. She didn’t remember the last time she’d taken the trash out. Maybe Monday?
She stepped over another pile of (clean?) laundry blocking the doorway of the bathroom and stared at herself in the mirror. Her hair was cut in a wavy long bob, like Taylor Swift’s, and dyed jet black, a makeup artist had spent an hour on her face, contouring and lining and highlighting and doing other things she’d never understand or be able to replicate. She looked pretty. She’d always known she was pretty. But she’d never be able to explain that to Jane. Sweet, clueless Jane, who thought a haircut and a couple of new dresses would solve all of her problems.
She turned on the shower, stripped off her new clothes and sat in the bathtub, naked, letting it all wash away.
I started this story first for Sunday Photo Fiction, then trashed it. But decided to publish it anyway. Sometimes the item isn’t what’s valuable, but the story behind it.
Mae placed the beautiful vase on the mantle. The vase was always the first thing she put out whenever she moved. It had been her mother’s. And her grandmother’s before that. One day she would give it to her daughter, Lara, to adorn her first home.
When the time was right, she would tell Lara the history of the vase, why it was so important, how it was all they had left from their grandmother’s dwelling in their homeland. It was nothing but a silly knick-knack to her now, gathering dust. She was too young to appreciate its significance.
Twelve-year-old Lara danced around the room, earbuds in, music turned up too loud, singing at the top of her lungs, flailing her arms. Mae saw what was going to happen in slow motion, but could do nothing to stop it, she was too far away. Lara’s arm knocked the vase and it fell, smashing into pieces.
Lara looked up at her mother with huge dark eyes filling with tears. Mae only smiled, wrapping her arm around her daughter warmly and leading her outside.
“Did I ever tell you the story of how your great-grandmother came to America…”
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Lara asked her mother. Her boyfriend was carrying the last of her boxes out the front door.
“What’s that honey?” Mae cupped Lara’s chin lovingly. She was going to miss her. Her new apartment was two hours away. Thank goodness for cell phones.
“Uhhh…the vase? You always said you would give it to me when I moved out.”
The vase. Mae touched the beautiful antique sitting on the mantle, running her fingers over the intricate calligraphy. She’d never trusted movers to handle it. It was too precious. It had been her mother’s. And her grandmother’s before that. One day she would give it to her daughter to adorn her home. Maybe in a few years. She wasn’t ready, not yet. She’d told Lara the history of the vase, why it was so important, how it was all they had left from her grandmother’s dwelling in their homeland, but her eyes always seemed to glaze over in the middle of the story, the same way they did when she lectured her about curfews or her schoolwork.
“Yes, I will give it to you one day. When you’re settled.”
“I’m settled now. I have a great job in a major city, a gorgeous apartment.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll hold it on the ride over so it doesn’t get damaged. Logan will drive.”
“Love you, mom!” Lara kissed her mother’s cheek and walked out the door, cradling the vase in her arms. As the moving van pulled away from the curb Lara looked down at it. The appraiser to whom she’d sent pictures told her it was worth several thousand dollars, easily. Her rent was covered for the next few months. She and Logan could go on vacation. She waved goodbye to her mother who watched sadly as they drove away.