I thought by now, I’d have a few books under my belt. My dreams are still there but each day I swallow reality and it looks as if it may never turn out the way I imagined. I went through some of my short stories today. I like to do that now and then. Often they inspire me to keep writing. I have so many little pieces that I decided I will post them on my blog.
This story contains an exercise. Maybe you would like to try it.
“I have an assignment for you,” she said. I wanted to knock her teeth down her throat. Every Tuesday, she sits there in one of her French suits staring at me with condescending eyes. She hates that she can’t get in my head. Sure, she smiles that fake bright red smile but I know she thinks I’m hopeless.
“Reagan, if you don’t do this assignment I will have no choice but to let your parents know you are not cooperating.”
I peered at her. I wanted to jump out of my chair and scratch my initials into her face so she would always remember that she pissed off the wrong girl. But, I knew I didn’t want to be shipped to a boarding school half way around the country. My friends wouldn’t survive without me. Lyn would get beat up the second I wasn’t around. Sam would do something stupid again like getting caught slashing the principal’s tires if I wasn’t there to keep an eye out for her. I had to agree to the assignment. My friends needed me to stick around and I had to prove to my parents that I am not influenced by my “troublesome friends,” if anything they are influenced by me.
“What do I have to do?” I mumbled.
“For one week, I want you to lie in your bed with the lights off and think.”
“Are you for real?” The sarcastic reply raced past my lips before I could stop it.
Her shoulders arched and her chest flared. “Yes, I am.” She said before forcing that annoying smile.
“You will need to set an egg timer for twenty minutes. “ She lifted one from her desk, “During the quiet time, you are to reflect on your thoughts and behaviors then record them as they come.”
She won’t give up until she has my thoughts. I should have guessed that she would have figured out a way.
“At first, you will probably feel uncomfortable, but by weeks end you should begin to feel free.”
“Free?” I laughed at the ridiculous comment.
“Yes Reagan, our minds are very complicated and keeping thoughts and feelings in will affect everything you do.”
I was surprised when she handed me a small black recorder. “I bought this for you.”
I couldn’t believe I actually felt guilty for wanting to scratch her skin off. I have never felt guilty for anything I have done. But, for the first time I think I felt remorse. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to thank her for it.
“Okay, the assignment starts tomorrow. I suggest you do it when you feel most awake. You don’t want to do it when you are sleepy because you may end up falling asleep.”
“Are you going to let my parents hear this?”
“Absolutely not. To make it a little easier, I have written topics on index cards. Each night you will pick one of the cards and record what your feelings are based on the topic.”
“I guess I’ll see you next week.” As I was about to slam the door she rushed up to me. “No, Reagan we will meet every day this week to discuss the topics you recorded. I have arranged it with your parents. I will see you tomorrow at the same time.”
I couldn’t help but laugh and then I slammed the door.
Wednesday Night, I speak into the recorder.
This is stupid. This is stupid. This is so friggen stupid but here it goes. I am alone in the dark. The only light I can see is the tiny blue light on my ipod charger. I hate the dark! I’m not afraid of it, I just hate it. I hate my voice too, so I doubt I will ever listen to these dumb recordings. Okay, the timer is set. I didn’t set no egg timer, how stupid is that. Why would I get an egg timer when every cell phone has an alarm on it, duh. Wow, twenty minutes, do I really have to talk for twenty minutes? I wonder how many minutes have passed.
I picked the first index card tonight and the topic is hate. I guess it could have been worse. I hate a lot of things so talking about them for twenty minutes should be fairly easy. I will start with myself. I hate that my arms don’t look good in a tank top. I hate that I can’t wear shorts. My legs are fat. I hate that my voice sounds like a transvestites. I could definitely pass for a man if someone only could hear my voice. I hate that I have things to hate about myself. I hate that right now I am talking so much. I guess I figure it will make twenty minutes go by faster.
What else do I hate? I hate sitting in the front row of Mr. Townsends class. History sucks, if I was sitting in the back, I could at least nod off but with Hawkeyes staring at me I have to stay awake. Okay, right now I am just going to sit silent for a minute…I guess I should say what I was thinking about in that silent minute. I was listening to the sounds. I could hear my brothers rap music through his bedroom door and I thought about how much I hated rap music.
I could hear the faucet in the bathroom dripping but I wasn’t about to get up and go turn it off. Then I heard a car drive down the street and I thought about how much I hate that my parents drive a beat up Volkswagen when they have the money to buy two brand new ones. I hate that they are stupid.
The light flicks on, my younger brother stares at me like I am a crazy person. “What are you doing?”
“None of your business shut off the light.”
I hate that my bedroom is the only bedroom without a door. Hooray, the alarm went off. I don’t hate that I’m done.
Session with Therapist
“Okay, Reagan, I have listened to your recordings. First I’d like to say, good job with your first assignment.”
I nod. There is a smile fighting to emerge but I cover my mouth and pretend to cough. I don’t want her to think I actually care if she thought I did a good job. She looks different today. It’s the first time I have ever seen her wear pants. She actually looks less stuffy.
“I am sorry that you hate yourself Reagan. I’d like to help you learn to understand why you hate yourself and maybe begin to embrace who you are. Just by doing something as simple as this assignment you may find the choices you make will be different.”
I don’t answer. I stare passed her out the bay styled window behind her desk. I can see the train bridge in the distance and I can’t help but wonder if Sam and Lyn were hanging out on it without me. I hoped Jimmy Michels wasn’t there flirting with Sam. She wouldn’t do that to me, I don’t think.
“Reagan, don’t drift off. Tonight I think you should choose Love as your subject. I’d like to know about the things you love. “She rises from the desk and hands me a leather journal with a thin leather strap that wraps around the center. “This is for you. If ever you feel uncomfortable verbalizing your feelings, please feel free to write them down.”
Another gift? Wow this lady is either super cool or completely determined to learn every deep dark secret I have. She’d probably be disappointed to find out that I don’t have many.
“Reagan, I also want you to know you can be creative about where you are in the dark. I know originally I said lie on your bed but please feel free to choose different locations.”
I took my therapists advice and decided to take a sleeping bag out in my backyard and lie underneath the stars. Good thing my parents know I have an assignment or for sure they’d be shipping me away.
Okay here goes nothing. Love! I was told to start with talking about what I love about myself. Ugh, not much. I guess I love that I’m strong. I love that others fear me and no one would think about hurting my friends because they know I would kick the shit out of them if they did. I love the small birthmark on the underside of my wrist. It almost looks like an arrow. I think a lot of people think it’s a tattoo which I also love. I love that Jimmy Michels thinks I’m funny. I love that my little sister thinks I’m cool regardless if the rest of my family thinks I’m trouble. I love Mrs. Roman’s creative writing class. She once told me I was meant to be a writer which I think was neat. Okay recorder, I’m sitting in silence again be back soon…
I love the sound of the crickets. I wonder if they are talking to each other in their own special language. Okay, I love some bad things which I guess might make me a bad person. I love sneaking a cigarette with Sam and Lyn on the train bridge. I love skipping school to hang out with Jimmy Michels and his friends who are much older than me. I love pool hopping in the summer and I love the taste of peach schnapps. Twenty minutes is up. Goodnight crickets.
“Another great job Reagan.”
Today, I smile. I don’t know if verbalizing my thoughts is making me a little bit happier or if I’m just in a good mood. I actually washed the dishes for my mother today. Her face was priceless. I even told Sam and Lyn that I’m planning on doing one good thing a day and they laughed. They said if I did they would. Sam brought her younger brother to the park and Lyn washed her father’s car. I guess I can influence people in a good way too.
“I will not preach to you about smoking and drinking but I do hope you choose to give both of them up.” She shows me a photograph of a beautiful woman with silky brown hair. The woman is sitting under a tree and smiling up at the sky. “This is my mother. She died of lung cancer.”
I stare at the woman and for the first time feel sad for my therapist. I don’t know what she is doing to me I’m thinking differently and feeling emotions I often dismissed.
I can’t bring myself to respond. I want to say I’m sorry for her loss but I’m not there yet. Maybe I’ll write about it in that journal she gave me later.
“I want you to write down one thing every day that you love about yourself and one thing that you hate about yourself. At the end of the week, take a moment to reflect on those things and see how you feel and then write that down too.”
She lifts a black rectangular box from her laptop case. “I have another small gift for you.”
I feel giddy. I have never received so many gifts in such a small time other than on Christmas morning.
I lift the lid to the box. A shiny black pen with my name written in gold letters rests upon velvet.
“Verbalizing and Writing is very therapeutic Reagan, it’s how a person learns about themselves. I would love to read one of your creative writing pieces one day.”
“Okay, thank you.” I said thank you. It wasn’t even hard it just came out.
I’m in a closet. I know, I’m weird but I wanted to be creative and this felt right. I brought in my pillow and blanket so I would be comfortable. It’s definitely dark in here. I can feel a small vibration underneath me from the ceiling fan below. It’s a bit annoying. Tonight I picked Happiness from the index cards. Happiness. What makes me happy? The first thing that comes to mind is Jimmy Michels smile. It’s wide and beautiful and I feel happy whenever I see it. Knowing that Lyn and Sam think of me as their best friend makes me happy. I shouldn’t be happy when I get away with skipping school but I am I can’t help it. The music of the Beatles makes me happy. It reminds me of being young and dancing around the living room with my parents to the song The Octopus’s garden. It was long ago when my parents still actually loved me. I guess receiving the gifts from my therapist made me happy. I am getting used to recording and I have written a few things in my new journal with my new pen. The alarm is going off. Twenty minutes is flying by. One more thing that makes me happy is losing weight. I lost ten pounds once and I felt great. I need to try that again. Bye recorder.
“Reagan, it sure looks like you are getting the hang of this.” Today my therapist actually has on jeans. They are a pair I might even attempt to wear if I was thirty pounds thinner. They are faded and have small rips in the knee. Each day I think she seems a little cooler.
“So, how did it feel to talk about happiness?”
“Okay, I guess.”
“You know Reagan, your parents still love you very much. If they didn’t they wouldn’t have you here. I know it’s hard for you to comprehend but one day you will understand that everything they are doing is because they love you.”
I have heard that before but I don’t see it. My mom barely speaks to me. I can feel the disappointment in my father every time he is near me. I think he thought by age fifteen I’d be a musical prodigy playing the piano in recitals all around the world. I liked playing the piano but I never loved it the way he wanted me to.
I can’t help but wonder if I get another present today. I guess I’m expecting one, but have no idea what it will be.
The therapist sits in her leather chair and swivels back and forth while jotting down something on her notepad. “Okay, Reagan, I want you to talk about disappointment tonight. We will talk about it tomorrow.”
I stand there waiting for a gift and quickly realize today I won’t be getting one. “Okay, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I am back to lying on my bed in the dark. I didn’t feel like being creative today. I guess I was disappointed that I didn’t get a gift. I didn’t expect one, okay maybe I did. I was hoping for one. I’m sorry; I know you will be listening to this but if I am trying to be honest, I should let you know I was disappointed that I didn’t get a gift from you today. I am disappointed often. I am disappointed every time I step on the scale and see I’ve gained weight. I am disappointed every time I hear Jimmy Michels tell Sam that she is hot. I want him to think of me as hot not just the fat funny friend. I am disappointed when I walk into Mrs. Roman’s writing class and see a substitute. I am disappointed in myself for not being a better daughter but I don’t know how to become one. I can’t stop hanging around with my friends, I love them. I guess I could stop cutting classes and stealing liquor from my parents’ cabinet but then I would disappoint my friends and doing so would disappoint me. Twenty minutes feels like eternity tonight. I don’t’ feel like talking. I am going to be silent longer tonight. I’ll let you know what comes to mind…
I didn’t pay attention to any sounds. I guess being disappointed puts me in a bad mood. I never realized that before. Hmm, I suppose that’s what the therapist meant when she said I would feel free. That bullshit she said about verbalizing and talking might be working. I think I’m beginning to understand myself a little more. I don’t know how or why.
“Reagan, I want to explain a few things to you today if you don’t mind.”
I shrug my shoulders.
“Most people never pay attention to what’s inside their heads. If you are happy, there is a reason for it and if you want to remain happy you must know what makes you happy and seek it out.” She holds up a cd. “I know you were disappointed yesterday that I didn’t get you a gift. But, today I did. It is a Beatles cd and the song The Octopus’s Garden is on it. Anytime you find yourself going into that funk of sadness or disappointment I want you to promise you will play this song so you can get back to your happy place.”
Immediately my feeling shifts. I know trying to hide my happiness would be pointless. “Thank you,” I say again. It’s becoming easier to say thank you.
“You’re welcome Reagan. I am happy to give it to you. But, Reagan, I want you to take a moment later on and ask yourself why it took me buying you gifts before you would give me a chance.”
The recordings were complete and my therapist Miss Raven assured my parents that my behavior was nothing more than teenager antics and I was normal. She encouraged them to practice the “Alone in the Dark” exercise so they would gain a better understanding of love, hate, happiness, sadness, disappointment and a whole laundry list of other emotions.
I still record my thoughts once a week and write in my journal and whenever I need a spirit booster I visit the Octopus’s garden and dance.
I stood at the front of Mrs. Roman’s class and watched the mouths drop when I shut off the recorder. There were looks of horror, compassion, sorrow and even ridicule. I cleared my throat. Mrs. Roman nodded in encouragement and then I began…
Alone in the dark
As I sat alone in the dark I heard my thoughts
Happiness sang, Disappointment cried, Love hugged and Hate punched
As I sat alone in the dark, I came to understand who I was and who I no longer wanted to be
I’m a teenager doing the things we do. It doesn’t make me bad, troubled or crazy
As I sat alone in the dark I paid attention to sounds I have often ignored
The chitter chatter of crickets, the beat of a musicians song, engines from cars roared
As I sat alone in the dark things jumbled within my mind began to make sense
I can’t love others without loving myself. I can’t ask not to be judged when I’m filled with pretense
As I sat alone in the dark something cool happened to me
I don’t know exactly when or even how, but, all of the truth I faced set me free
I walked back to my seat feeling proud of my poem and myself. I could tell by Mrs. Roman’s eyes that she thought I did a great job. There were some awkward stares from some of the kids but Lyn and Sam both gave me thumbs up which made me feel good.
“Class, for the first time in a long time, I have been inspired by one of my students,” Mrs. Roman said after I was seated. In her hand was a stack of index cards. She walked up each row and set one card on every student’s desk. “Reagan was very brave in sharing her recordings with us.” She looked directly at me. “She didn’t have to share something so intimate and I told her that, but, she said the poem wouldn’t be as good without them.”
I picked up the index card she placed on my desk. The word Anticipation was written on the card in bold black letters.
“I have decided to make the Alone in the Dark exercise a part of this writing class. Once a week you will be given an index card with a word. I want you to sit alone in the dark for twenty minutes, just as Reagan did and think about the word and what it means to you. You will then be required to write a short story based on the word and the emotions it evoked.”
I felt flushed. Dozens of heads spun around. I was surprised to see most of the faces had smiles. I couldn’t be sure but I think the class actually thought it was going to be cool. I thought about my word Anticipation, I wondered what would come to mind when I shut off the lights. Then I thought about the gift I bought Miss Raven, a vintage French ormalu picture frame for the photograph of her mother. I knew for sure I would think about her reaction when I shut off the light.
I know one thing; I don’t hate the dark anymore.