When I was a little girl, I would have these horrible nightmares where Skeletor and He-Man would have battles in my bedroom. Or there would be so many piles of garbage and junk filling the earth that I had to escape into an airplane. Or there would be these random holes appearing in the ground beneath me that sucked things and people into oblivion. Night lights were powerless compared to these dreams that made me afraid to go to sleep, or woke me up in the middle of the night scared of every shadow around me. So I came up with a perfectly logical plan for an elementary-age kid: If I go to sleep thinking of good stories, then I’ll have good dreams. I’m not sure if the plan always worked, but it was enough to get me to sleep at night. And its a tradition I still continue today when I can’t get my mind to slow down at the end of day. “Oh, I need to email Nichole….Drat, I should have read more about case studies…Did I remember to submit that graduation petition…How am I going to help Brett…” To get all of this real world stress to stop, I tell stories about other people because their stress is more manageable or on the other end of the spectrum dramatic enough to be worthy of consideration. Most of my stories start from a movie or book I’ve read, and want to try out again with a tweak. So what if “The Prince and The Popper” had female characters? What would have happened if the female Q had stayed on the Enterprise? Others start with a situation: What would it be like to be the daughter of a mobster? The good stories will last me weeks and weeks as I brainstorm conversations, “re-write” scenes that didn’t play well, or throw new twists into the mix (like the bartender who turned out to be a police detective). At some point each story loses steam as I run out of logical connections or have a new question that demands attention.
Earlier this summer I decided to share a portion of one story with some friends. I think that was the first time I’d tried to create a non-fiction anything since high school. That process of putting a bedtime brainstorm onto paper was challenging, but also kind of amazing as I had to pause so much more and really think about what I was trying to say, show, or feel. So earlier this week I decided to try it again during…well, during a time I was totally paying attention and no one can prove otherwise. 🙂
The title of this post is “Write” because a couple years ago I was praying one night for guidance, and that word was all I got. No guidance on what it meant how I should act. But after writing hundreds of pages of non-fiction in the past two years about higher education, I’m testing out a different theory of how to obey this command…
The Other Sister
Elizabeth counted to thirty. Emmitt quickly walked toward the kitchen door. To any hotel guest, he was just a man focused on a random destination. But Elizabeth knew he was there as her protector and would be exactly where he promised to be right on time, He would be there, hidden in the back, if anything went wrong. But she still held her breath. Still said a silent prayer and hoped that he wouldn’t be needed.
Slowly she pushed the door forward with her left hand, using her right to brace the other door to hold it, and her, still. At six in the morning, the bar was empty. The local patrons wouldn’t be there until afternoon, and no guests were up this early in needing a shot or two of courage. The bartender wouldn’t be there for hours. And streams of light just barely came in through the curtains. San Francisco traffic was quiet, with few workers headed in this early. It should be perfectly peaceful, an escape from the bustle of her life. Yet the room was stifling in the darkness and quiet; all because of the velvet box sitting on the bar and the man sitting in front of it.
Elizabeth slipped into the room, slowly walking with the darkness filling the gap behind her. These next moments would mean the difference between the past five months helping or destroying her sister’s campaign. What the hell had Jacob done?
She finally broke the silence: “You need to go.”
“I just got here. I just wanted to see you.”
‘I don’t care. Don’t you get that there is blood on the lobby carpet. Blood from Jonathan’s face and your fist. You can’t be here.”
“I don’t care. Seriously, this can’t happen here. Go home Jacob.”
He sat there stunned. The next 60 seconds of silence was the most vulnerable and lost she had ever seen him. Then a new thought, a new confidence shined through: “Don’t you want to know what’s in the box?”
“I know what’s in there. It’s…(sigh)…You’re trying to ask the wrong woman Jacob. That box doesn’t belong to me.”
He started to stand in protest, reaching toward the box. “I know this started as a job, but it’s become much more to me. I’ve told you that so many times. But now I get it. I have to show you.” His hand clutched the box.
Elizabeth reached out quickly, before he could lift the box or even worse open it. She pulled his hand away and immediately let go. This was not a tender moment. Her heart rate started to speed up as the fight or flight desire rose in the back of her mind.
“You’re wrong Jacob. You don’t love me. You love us. You love who you think I am. You love… who those photographs show us to be.”
“Those pictures are just us. We never lied in those talks. We helped one another and could do so much more.”
“What are you talking about? Everything in those pictures were lies. Rosalie picked the places and costumes. And the smiles on our faces were plastered on.” She turned away, disgusted that this conversation was even happening. Her hands ran through her freshly showered hair. This was never supposed to be simple, but it was never supposed to be real either. Maybe she was the only one who remembered that.
Elizabeth breathed in and out one, two, three, before turning back around.
Jacob looked up in confusion, with just a glint of hope. “What are you sorry for?”
“I’m sorry for ever saying yes to this charade. I’m sorry for letting you get wrapped up in it. And I’m most sorry for not saying no to you sooner.”
“I haven’t even asked anything.”
Elizabeth’s shoulders relaxed for the first time since walking into the bar. “You’ve been hinting and mentioning and whispering and practically miming about a relationship for weeks. I ignored it for a while and then just stalled because of the campaign. Jonathan told me weeks ago but I…”
With that one name the temperature in the room dropped ten degrees. Instantly Jacob’s back went rigid and the silence weighed down on them. What happened last night? Jonathan had said it was a stupid guy fight, but one stupid fight at one in the morning wouldn’t lead to this response from someone used to boardroom battles.
“Johnny told you.”
“He said there was something here that I had to deal with.”
“Fantastic. Glad to know Dr. Johnny has been offering you guidance.”
“What does Jonathan…” Elizabeth enunciated each letter with a determination and annoyance that she didn’t recognize…”have to do with this conversation?”
“Because you’re choosing him over me.”
At nearly a shout she argued back, “I am not choosing anyone.” Elizabeth backed away from Jacob, and from the fight. Clearly she had gone through a rabbit hole rather than a doorway this morning. Everything had gone so well last night. She had finally learned the whole truth about the article. Her sister was two weeks away from the election, which meant Elizabeth was almost done with D.C. And even though it was only five hours, she had slept without nightmares for the first time in the month. And now she was standing fists clenched and head aching with a stupid man and stupid box, that even though she hadn’t touched it, she knew there was a stupid ring too.
The world had to slow down. She needed a moment to think rather than just argue more. Elizabeth walked around the far side of the bar, keeping the doorway behind her and Jacob at more than arm’s distance. He raised a curious eye as she pulled two tumblers off the shelf. Alcohol would be the worst possible addition to this mess so instead it was going to be simple tap water.
After sliding one glass across the counter, Elizabeth leaned back against the sink and drank in small, slow swallows. Jacob and his box were out of her eyesight but fully present in her thoughts.
For the first time that morning, she wondered what would happen if she said yes. Mrs. Elizabeth Wolfe. She could travel the country or the world on a whim. Visit the opera or ballet every Saturday night, with a tuxedo-clad man on her arm. Leaders of industries would take her calls and consider proposals dreamed up by Alice for how to create better low-income housing. This man says he loves me.
With an empty glass, Elizabeth turned back to Jacob and the dreaming of the previous minutes evaporated in the growing light of the morning. Because no matter what he felt or what that box held, she did not love him.