Characterization & voice are the themes of this week’s lesson in the creative writing course I’m taking. We were given three exercises to help us work on creating characters and developing their voice. This particular creative writing exercise was actually paired with the one I wrote in this blog post. For some reason this felt much more challenging for me to write.
The prompt (not verbatim) said to sit quietly and relax, imagine it’s been a long, busy, lonely day and you are thinking about calling up someone or going out for some human interaction when you answer the door to find the person you most want to spend time with. This person has a secret or details about their life that they desperately need to tell someone. Who is there? What do they want to tell you?
I’m not sure how I feel about the outcome–I’m not sure that my intent/focus/voice was clear, but here is what I came up with:
My head is heavy as I sink into the worn green cushion of his Lay-Z Boy chair. Headaches typically occur with too much stimulation: too much noise, too many people around. Not today. Today’s headache is brought to me by the unrelenting thoughts in my head. Too much time alone equals no distractions from thinking and my mind gains too much ground.
Sometimes I think staying home was a mistake. When your only company is incapable of talking, the quiet gets to be too much.
It would be a good idea to get out of the house more, but is it really worth all the hassle of getting prepped? Probably not.
Maybe I should just call someone.
I push back against the creaky chair, letting the leg rest raise to cup my calves, and close my drooping eyes in the twilight tinted room.
I should just call him.
Danny is down for the night, chores are caught up, and my reports are all submitted. I have the time to call, but I’m not sure I have the energy. No, that’s not a good excuse. I need to contact him. We don’t get many opportunities to talk anymore.
I kick the well-loved chair parts back into place and trudge back into the kitchen. I think that’s where I left the phone, either there or the laundry room.
My search of the kitchen is fruitless. I stop short of the laundry room when I think I hear a knocking. I’m frozen, not even daring to let a breath escape. Surely the baby isn’t awake already.
I turn to go check on him; the phone will have to wait until tomorrow.
I hear the rapping again and it’s too uniform to be the frantic kick of a little one. It must be someone at the door, but at this hour?
I grab my phone off the washing machine before heading to the front of the house, just in case an emergency call is warranted.
I flick the light switch and watch our porch illuminate through the fogged glass door of the entryway. It’s clear enough to see colors and shapes, but nothing more. Navy pants and matching jacket. I think it’s the shape of a man. What’s that in his hand? A hat?
My phone clatters to the cold stone floor and my eyes brim with tears. I’ve seen that uniform before at a girlfriend’s front door and I can’t make myself answer.
I can’t hear that he’s never coming home.
I have to call him. He has to answer.
I grip my phone with jittery fingers and fumble around the screen until I get his number pulled up. I turn my back to the door and push send. If I don’t see the silhouette in my door, then it’s not real.
The phone rings and Jason Mraz’s I Won’t Give Up plays, I hear it. I hear it?
The smile on my face is as unstoppable as it is unbelievable.
He knocks again and I fling the door open, leaving a dent in our wall. Who cares? My man is here, in front of me, in the flesh.
“Macy,” he murmurs my name with such love, but his features are detached. This incongruent combination wipes my smile away to be replaced by confusion.
His hair is longer than last time, a few days growth on his usually clean-shaven head. His strong jaw is clinched so tight I can see the muscle twitch in his jaw. His deep-set blue eyes are darker than I remember. His uniform fits as perfectly as I remember.
He’s standing so formally, one arm behind his back, the other grasping his hat. He doesn’t attempt to hug me. Should I?
What am I thinking? Of course I should. I’ve waited months for this moment and expected to be forced to wait several more.
“Joseph,” I breathe through a tentative smile and step onto the porch, my arms outstretched toward him. He flinches and steps away.
“Macy, wait. Don’t you want to know why I’m home?”
I think about it before answering, “Not really. Does it matter? You’re home; that’s all I need to know.”
He sheds his own tears as he responds, “I’m home six months early and we haven’t talked in weeks. You aren’t the least bit curious why?”
Now I’m scared, but I don’t want him to see. Not yet.
“You were on a mission; we couldn’t talk. I assume your deployment was cut short. That’s good, right?”
Of course it’s good. He’s home.
I step forward again and grip his sleeves before he can retreat further. He clenches his eyes shut and sucks in a ragged breath. I don’t understand the problem until I register the loose fabric hanging in my right hand. The reason he did not reach for me, did not embrace me.
He’s crying in earnest now and he’s half-heartedly fighting out of my grip, which only makes me tighten my grip.
“Baby,” I whisper. It’s all I can say.
“Don’t,” he commands, his voice hard. The tears are gone. “I don’t need your pity, Macy.”
Pity? He must have forgotten everything about me during his absence and I ask as much.
“Pity? Have you ever known me to pity you? Pity is for enablers and quitters.”
“What about cripples? What about the screwed up people of this world? What about me?” He’s shouting and I don’t know if he realizes it.
“What about you? You’re here, standing in front of me. In control of your faculties and talking to me. What is so wrong with you that deserves to be pitied? Nothing, because nothing about you is helpless.”
“No, but everything about me is useless,” he implores me to understand.
“No, baby. Everything about you is home. You’re home,” I remind him and I’m finally able to wrap my arms around him again. Finally able to talk to him again. Finally able to see him again.
Soldiers leave home and return, often changed mentally and physically, and there is no way for us to truly understand what that means. There are, however, numerous groups out there founded to raise awareness and provide aide for the struggles these soldiers and their families face during times of active duty, as well as once they return home. Listed here are a few links to some such organizations:
Off The Base (This blog has a list of twelve organizations working to raise PTSD awareness.)
Charities Supporting Soldiers and their Families (This page has a list of Wounded Warrior & Family Support resources.)