All Cried Out

Tuesday! My long day but it’s also my last day of work for nearly a week; I don’t have to go back into the office until next Tuesday! Huzzah!

I slept very well last night, thank you very much, and I am feeling energized and alive this morning! HURRAY FOR CAPPUCCINO TUESDAYS! It rained most of last night–still is raining now, but it’s that weird kind of rain where it feels all steamy outside; usually it’s not very humid when it rains. We’re also in a flash flood warning; but aren’t we always when it rains?

I started reading Lou Berney’s November Road last night and while I was only able to read two pages before I had to put it aside, it’s fucking unbelievably good. And this rain makes me want to go back to bed with my blankets and just relax, reading it and drinking coffee until I’ve devoured every word. It’s that good, people. Preorder the hell out of it.

Paul and I also started watching a Netflix animated series last night called Big Mouth. Someone recommended it to me, and I cannot for the life of me remember who it was, but it popped up on my recommendations last night and I started watching it, and OH MY GOD. It’s about junior high school kids who are going through puberty and it’s hilarious and honest and real and did I say HILARIOUS? It’s definitely not for kids, I suppose, since there’s some pretty frank talk about masturbation, menstruation, and questioning your sexuality, but it’s terrific–if you have a really off sense of humor like I do.

And now, back to the spice mines. One more chapter and this Scotty draft is FINISHED. Huzzah!

Next up for Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is my story “Unsent”:

Dear Greg,

 I hope you don’t mind I’m writing this letter. You said you didn’t mind so I’m guessing you don’t.

I wanted to thank you for being such a nice guy…it’s funny, I’ve been wanting to write this letter for a long time; I started writing you so many times and I just ended up throwing the letters away every time. I know you probably think I’m just a goof; a dumb kid who doesn’t know what he wants or needs or anything, and that’s true I guess. I don’t know what I want to do with my life….if I live through this. I just wanted to fly planes, and now I am flying them….but this is different.

I guess I was just naïve and stupid when I joined the Air Force. All I wanted to do was fly planes….it never occurred to me I’d be flying planes and killing people…pretty dumb, right?

**

He was just a boy.

He couldn’t be more than fifteen, was my first thought when he walked into Lafitte’s that Tuesday morning. There was no one in the bar besides me; it was twelve thirty. I was working the 5 a.m. till 1 shift, covering for Mike. This shift sucked. The only hope to make any kind of money was leftovers from the previous night when you start, and they’re gone by nine…..so for the last four hours of the shift it was just me and the cleaning women, and they were gone by eleven.

He stood for a few seconds in the doorway, hesitating. I looked up from wiping down the bar for the thousandth time in the last twenty minutes, and smiled to myself. I recognized the hesitation—an underage kid steeling his nerve to sit at the bar and ask for a drink. Well, kid, I said to myself, prepare to be carded.

He walked in and sat down on a bar stool right in front of me. He was cute, still with a little baby-fat in his pale freckled face. His hair was military buzzed, reddish-blonde, and his eyes gray. He was wearing a red sweater and a pair of blue jeans.

I put my rag away under the bar.”What can I do for you?” I asked.

He looked around the bar, not meeting my eyes. “A beer?”

“You got ID?”

He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a worn black wallet, pulling out a military ID which he slid across the bar to me. I picked it up. The picture was him, all right, looking maybe ten years old, innocent and young. The birth date was August 12, 1968. Yeah, well, so I was wrong about his age. “What kind of beer? A draft?”

“Yeah.” He nodded and smiled at me. His whole face lit up when he smiled, his full lips pulling back over slightly crooked, yellowed teeth. I got a plastic cup and filled it at the tap, my back to him. I placed it on a napkin. “Dollar fifty.”

He handed me two ones, and I gave him his change. He left the quarters on the bar, which I slid into my hand and tossed into my tip bucket. “Not very busy, huh?” he said, looking down at the bar, not touching the beer.

I shrugged. “Nah, we’re never busy—don’t even know why we bother being open.”

“Yeah.” He toyed with his napkin. “Do you mind talking to me? I don’t wanna be a bother.”

I laughed and gestured to the empty bar. “Not like I got anything else to do.”

This is without doubt, one of my personal favorite short stories, if not my favorite. “Unsent” was inspired by several different things: I took the title from the Alanis Morrissette song, where she is writing letters to all of her ex-lovers, which I thought might make a great concept for a short story; the heartbreaking Dixie Chicks song “Travelin’ Soldier,” which I heard for the first time on the radio driving back to New Orleans from my parents’ in Kentucky and made me cry in the car (it still makes me teary whenever I hear it; it’s one of the most heartbreaking songs ever recorded) and a memory I have of standing in the doorway at Cafe Lafitte in Exile, just before the invasion of Iraq and seeing a boy, in his Army greens, standing across the street looking at the bar with longing on his face. I kept waiting for him to cross the street and come in; but he finally just turned and walked away up Bourbon Street. Seeing him reminded me of something we so frequently forget when it comes to wars and the military; the vast majority of the young men and women out there risking life and limb are so heartbreaking young; and every death, every injury, every veteran with PTSD is such an incredible, horrible waste. And I wanted to write a story that illustrated that horrific waste. And this was, of course, during the time of don’t ask don’t tell.

When Tim and Becky asked me to write a story for Fool for Love, I remembered the idea for “Unsent” and sat down and wrote it in one sitting. When I was finished, I was exhausted, and then I simply did a quick copy edit and emailed it to them. It made them both cry, and they loved the story, but wanted something a little more…upbeat, so I wrote “Everyone Says I’ll Forget In Time” to replace it. I eventually published it elsewhere–I think Lawrence Schimel was the editor?

I love this story, and despite the fact that it’s considered erotica because there’s a sex scene in it, it’s really about love and loss and waste and lost possibilities. I’m enormously proud of this story, and it is one of the stories I remind myself of whenever I get Impostor Syndrome:   if you weren’t a good writer you could have never written something like “Unsent.”

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