Year 7: On the rarest of occasions, John shared a special day with his father and it nearly always involved cars. It began a year before. John had seen through his mother’s attempts at manipulating his father into taking him, but it was nice all the same. The weather was dry, but it wasn’t hot. It was the sort of day where it hurt to breathe, to blink. It was magnified by the dirt lot of the car show.
There were two types of people at the show. The type that looked like his father: short hair neatly parted to the side, no facial hair, and a stiff posture. And the other type: those with long, stringy hair and beards that touched their chests. All of those that looked like John’s dad seemed uncomfortable in their stained collared shirts and pants that had gotten too tight. The messier men seemed free, like they didn’t care where the wind blew them.
The cars were all freshly polished and glinted in the sun so that John’s eyes squinted everywhere he looked.
His dad wasn’t looking at any of them. He was in a hurry and moving towards the end of the row. John dragged his feet, feeling rushed. He imagined himself in one of those cars one day and not in the bus that his mom took everywhere.
Dan Warren shook hands with one of the men dressed like him. “So, where is it?” he said without any preamble.
The other man nodded and pulled a cream colored tarp to reveal the ugliest car John had ever seen. “Are we good?”
Dan nodded and the man dropped something into his hand. He walked away without another word.
“What do you think, kid?”
“I dunno know.”
“Well, do you like it?”
“It’s ugly,” John said, thinking about the other cars they hadn’t even seen.
Year 6: “What are you doing, kid?” John’s dad had gotten in the habit of calling him “kid” instead of his name for a long time now. He picked at the tobacco from the can on his lap, managing to pull at the stems and begrudge John all at the same time. His fingertips were stained a dirty yellow and always smelled sweetly sour.
John was very busy at the end of the driveway, his back to the house. He didn’t even lift his head in acknowledgment.
“I said, what are you doing?”
John’s head lifted just slow enough to annoy his father. He managed to turn so that what lay in front of him was hidden. “Nothin’.”
“Do I need to come over there?” It was an empty threat. John knew his dad had no intention of leaving his rocking chair. He grunted once and then turned his attention to the rolling of cigarettes. It was an art making them straight and even.
John was too busy to watch his father now though. Earlier in the morning, he had heard a squawking beside his bedroom window. It was still dark, but John was in the habit of sleeping with a flashlight. He wound the crank that would turn it on and made his way through the house, swishing the light back and forth across the walls. His dad’s snores came steadily and masked any sound John made on the creaky floor boards. He found a baby bird at the end of the noise.
Since then, John hadn’t let it out of his sight.
Year 5: At five, John knew how he would die. There was a field behind his house that was mostly dirt and bright yellow flowers that were taller than him. He was walking with a stray dog at his side. The dog was yellow with matted fur and a tongue that was too big for its mouth. John repeatedly threw a stick ten feet forward for the dog to chase.
“Hey, Buddy,” he called after the animal. John skipped forward, not paying attention to the dirt that billowed around his ankles with each step. “Come back here.”
His foot landed hard on something that gave away at his touch. It only took a moment for the wasps to scatter around his body in an angry flurry. The stings came fast and consistent. He ran with arms flailing and made it to his back porch before he fell to his knees. His fingertips grazed the back door, but he was unconscious before anyone came.
He awoke in an unfamiliar place with nurses and doctors. His mom was sitting, her eyes wide and vigilant. “He was lucky this time,” the gray haired doctor was saying to his mom. She nodded once. “He’ll need to take this if it happens again.” He handed her a syringe and John shuddered. Both of their attentions redirected to his sleepy form on the bed.
“John?” His mom had gotten to her feet, her hand already stroking his hair. “How are you feeling, angel?”
John’s mouth opened to speak, but everything felt clumsy and too large for words. His stare grew frightened as he looked between them.
“It’s okay. It’s all going to be okay.”
The doctor cleared his throat. “Yes, as I was saying…he’s going to need to keep this with him at all times…”
Year 4: John looked into the shadows like he felt he were becoming one of them. Any noise he made was drowned out in the consistent channel changing of his father. He sat at his father’s feet, waiting to be useful. If that meant he could throw away a bit of trash or fetch something from the kitchen then that is what he did. There was a bit of chalk in his hands that he found in the front yard after the neighbor kid discarded it. He imagined brightly colored drawings even though he only held a white stump.
“What are you doing?” his tired mother said upon entering the house. She plopped a brown paper bag on the crumb-infested counter. She took a small carton of milk, bread, and cheese from it and let them sit. The bag was opened wide and in it she threw the miscellaneous clutter into it. “Did you even look at the paper?” The newspaper was as she had left it in the morning–beside Dan and rolled up with a rubber band. He hadn’t glanced at it once. If it wasn’t on the television, it didn’t gain his attention.
His dad’s gaze slid over her once, up and then down again. “Where you been all day?”
She let out a tired sigh. “Work. Has John eaten?”
“John?” he said as if the name somehow confused him. “Uh…”
“Never mind.” She scooped John into her arms and gave him a soft smile. She smelled of fresh laundry. “Are you hungry, my little angel?”
Year 3: The air was heavy with the scent of jasmine and fried foods. There were brightly colored blocks in front of John, but he wasn’t playing with them. It was too quiet in the house. The man that was his father returned earlier in the week. He was a lump of a person with empty eyes and stained clothes. John didn’t like it when he touched his cheek with his callused hands and had flinched away from him the first time. That was the last time the man looked at him. There were things on the table where before there was nothing. Dishes that cluttered the sink. Trash that littered the floor. The only spark that remained in the man was found in the brilliance of his green eyes, a feature John had acquired before his first birthday. John was good at staying out of his way, watching from a safe distance. When his father cut himself on a rusty tool, it was three-year-old John that had brought the bandages. He held the towel with a pudgy, but determined hand as his father smiled at him.
Year 2: John is a toddler. He sucks his thumb, which his mother finds endearing as opposed to cumbersome. They live quietly, though the country is in unrest about the ongoing war overseas. His mother has decided to find a job, and John spends time with his grandparents now too. There hasn’t been any word from his father for several months and his mother is often quiet when the subject of him comes up.
What is October without a little writing challenge to spice it up a bit? This month I am participating in the October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge hosted by Jane Ann McLachlan. So, every day during the month of October for 25 days–that’s 25 posts, writing about years 1-25 of life. It can be my life, my MC’s life (backstory is always good to see where a character is headed and the reasons for it), or maybe even one of my kids. My kids are still little and I wouldn’t get very far with them…
Here is my YEAR 1 from the perspective of John Warren (one of my MCs)
John Warren was born on April 25, 1973 to Carole and Dan Warren. Carole was a stay at home mom and Dan was a soldier in the Vietnam War. Dan wasn’t around that first year of John’s life, but John was spoiled as an only child. He walked early and was moving around well before his first birthday. His mom often gave him treats like ice cream, pie, or cookies, and he developed a fondness for sweets.
Inspiration comes from the strangest places. A dream, a song, poetry…
My last bit of inspiration came from the song, “She talks to Angels,” by the Black Crowes. Since editing that manuscript to death, I haven’t thought much beyond what music I listen to while working at that project.
But today, inspiration struck and ideas are churning for the next one. Maybe NaNoWriMo will be just the thing to get me going on something new. And I haven’t given up on the “90 Day Novel” just yet either. Between GUTGAA and another RWA contest, my energies have been spent. But all of that is almost over…
What inspires you?
I waited a week to post this because, well to be honest: my feelings were just a little bruised. Anyway, I didn’t make it past Round 1. There were so many amazing entries, each of them unique and with such a well-crafted voice that I fell in love with many of them. I don’t know how the judges narrowed it down and most of them say that it was incredibly subjective, which as a reader, I know is true often enough. Still, it stung. I wanted my book to be read. I wanted some praise. I wanted some verification that I CAN DO THIS.
It was a learning experience and I got some feedback that I will take and hopefully make improvements. This blogging/writing community is much grander than I thought and I am a newbie. Anyway, I’d like to publicly thank Deana Barnhart and all of the other bloggers that helped her. They truly stepped up the game! Good job everyone!
I made it in!! It was a ridiculously long day and I had to structure teaching around it, but it was worth the effort. I’ve worked really hard on my query, completely changed the opening to my book and I’ve done what I can and I feel…okay. I missed the first deadline at 11am (8am my time) and suffered until 4pm when I could try again. I had pressed the send button at exactly 8am and then stared at my inbox all day. It was excruciating.
Anyways, I’m just getting my feet wet with this whole contest thing. I’ve never really put my writing out there to be judged, but I will hold the butterflies until Monday when everyone’s (200 of us) hard work will be up for judgement. Till then…