Let me make one thing perfectly clear. I do NOT condone stalking. A restraining order is NOT the ultimate symbol of affection. No means No. And love does NOT mean never having to say you’re sorry for the severed horse head left on the doorstep.
There is a big difference between perseverance and prowling. The one does not involve hair sniffing or sleep watching with night goggles or tethering oneself to the undercarriage of a car in order to hitch a ride to your “soul mate’s” house.
It’s good, clean, ole’ fashion courtship. And, after a solid year of wooing Write Club Atlanta, reciting love poems and planting beds of various perennials outside its cyber window — i was finally invited inside!
And there, I was welcomed onto the sacred stage where once a month, the most bad-ass literary event this side of Mars takes place: the WCA Bout. Here’s how it all goes down:
- 1 week before showtime, you are assigned a topic. In my case — “LIGHT”
- At the very same time, my contender is assigned an opposing topic; i.e. “DARK”
- You both have that single week to compose a folktale, yarn, memoir, ode, allegory, recipe, Unabomber manifesto, etc. around your topics.
- That story, when read aloud, can last no longer than SEVEN minutes. There is an actual timer. It will go off. It is ego-crushingly loud. And you must stop reading or else you will be caned.
- Opening Night: A brutal round of rock, paper & scissors determines whether you or your opponent reads first.
- Once both stories are finished, an audience applause-o-meter decides the winner
It was Rocky versus Apollo, graham versus honey, Spy versus Spy.
But in the end, the applause-o-meter needle swung in my favor. My ears rung from the thunder-clapping of the crowd; everything moved in slow mo, suddenly I saw my arm being lifted into the air, outside of myself. It was official. I had WON.
Honestly, I never imagined anything could taste sweeter than my dessert nom de plume — the vegan Sunny Bear Sundae. But I was wrong. Victory, dulce victory, is even better.
So today I’m sharing the story I wrote that earned me the Write Club Atlanta prize of eternal bragging rights: (Illustrations added)
I met Eric Hyman — yes HYMAN — in second grade art class. The teacher, Ms. Lee paired us for an exercise to sketch the other person’s eye. After a half-hour, she did a once around the room to take in the results. Then, she doubled back to Eric, grabbed his paper off his desk, and taped it the center of the chalkboard so we could all see.
“BEHOLD!” she bellowed. “The only work in the entire class to contain this,” she pointed to a little white square Eric had drawn in the lower left corner of my pupil.
“Eric, will you be so kind as to tell everyone what that square is?”
“Uh, sure,” he muttered. “It’s the reflection of light in Nicole’s eye.”
And that’s Eric. Even at 8 years old, he grasped the intricate workings of the universe, smart in the kind of way that can’t be taught.
Not this “SHORT” bus rider. I was wearing a training bra before I fully understood that the sun didn’t actually rise in the day and duck back down at night.
Somehow, though, from that 2nd grade eye exercise on, Eric and I were inseparable. By fifth grade, I was spending more time at his house than my own. We’d play Nintendo, make fart sounds, prank call people Bart Simpson style, and then when his phone rang, we’d answer,
“BUSTER Hyman, here,” OR
“PAPA Hyman, how may we help you?”
And 3-2-1 collapse into side-splitting hysterics.
After high school, life pulled us in different directions. But we still kept in touch. We wrote letters, we’d visit, and use holidays for random cross-country road trips.
And then, somehow after 22 years of being his platonic partner in crime, I started to have this reoccurring dream. In it, Eric and I were — how shall I put this — Slapping The Uglies.
He’d call as usual only now my heart would race and my cheeks would flush and I’d catch myself uttering the most asinine shit like,
“I hear a nasty cold front is moving into the Bay Area.”
Eventually it hit me. Eureka! I had a crush on Eric.
I decided to fly out west to tell him in person. I took a red eye. He took the day after I arrived off work. It was Easter Sunday, and we made a plan to honor our bearded Jewish broheim in HIGH holy style:
By early afternoon, we reached the Pine Mountain ranger station, home to the famous “Buzzards Bluff.”
Elevation: 2,600 feet.
About 20 minutes into the hike and for the next hour, the incline was so steep I could literally reach my hand out and touch the path in front of me.
This was good. I couldn’t even talk if I wanted to.
Must. Conserve. Breath.
And then we made it to the top. We found a sweet little nook carved out of the stone with a panoramic view of the sweeping sequoias. Eric lit his Joe Pesci joint and passed it my way. I took a generous hit, held the smoke in my lungs, and puffed out a burning, tear-filled exhale.
I looked at Eric. In my head I said,
“If not for your friendship, I’d be a BATH SALT SNORTING Juggalo right now.”
But what came out was,
Leg. Hands? “
I opted to put a pin in any life-altering revelations until I wasn’t high off my Joe Pesci gourd.
We stayed on Buzzards Bluff long enough for the actual namesakes to return to their nests after a full day of scavenging. Eric and I collected our things, scarfed down the only nourishment we had — a bag of chili cheese bugles and half a bottle of water — and began the descent.
Only this time, the trail marker on the tree in front of us was green, not the RED we followed up. But hey, what’s the difference? Green means go. Green means shortcut.
Our confidence was airtight. We moved in step, enchanted by the scenery before us. I thought of the countless unclaimed tickets for the coat check of regret — forgotten in the folds of some worn-out wallet, torn asunder in washing machines, stuck inside that inconceivably tight side jeans pocket that you can’t even get one finger into.
I rehearsed the lines under my breath:
“I thought you should know that for about a year now, I’ve wanted to kiss you.”
Short. Sweet. Direct.
Okay. Now out loud.
But before I could open my mouth, Eric interrupted,
“I think we’re lost.”
It was like how you don’t feel pain until someone points out that you’re bleeding. The second he said the word “lost,” I started to sense the temperature drop and the night set in. Now, the redwood canopy kept the slightest sliver of starlight at bay.
At first, we used the glow of Eric’s iPhone to guide us — covering as much distance as we could in each, 6-second power window before it shut off again. But eventually, the battery died and we were left in NEAR total darkness. I say “near” because I could still see the 2-by-2-inch luminescent decals on the back of Eric’s New Balance kicks as he stumbled in front of me.
They were my beacons, bouncing like fireflies on a trampoline.
Up, down. Up, down. Follow the New Balance decals. Don’t think about Blair Witch. Don’t think about piercing screams from douchebag Grizzly Man documentary.
Up, down. Up, down. My thighs felt like sandbags. My tongue felt like sawdust. I would’ve set a church on fire for a smoothie.
Up, down. Up, down.
I wanted to curl up inside one of those giant sequoia trunks and go to sleep. I wanted to dream of heaven, where all the unsolved cliffhangers of life were resolved like what the Fuck WAS ‘Lost’ about AND How many licks DOES it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?
I wanted to say,
“But leave Joe Pesci with me.”
And then I saw it. Up ahead. Lights. Little white squares of light flickering in the distance.
“Eric! Cars! “
Up, down, up, down. The New Balance decals bounced furiously as Eric broke out into a run, with me in hot pursuit. We came out onto the road, just below the entrance to Pine Mountain. We darted to Eric’s truck, sitting totally alone in the parking lot.
He turned on the engine. The clock radio flickered 3:17 am. We had been walking non-stop for 12 straight hours. No food. No water. My brain buzzed. I closed my eyes and the last thing I remember saying before passing out was,
“I can’t feel my leg hands”
Because we didn’t die that night.
And this isn’t heaven.
And we’re not granted all the answers to all the cliffhangers.
(Audio podcast of my Jan. 16 reading will be available at http://writeclubatlanta.com/podcasts/)