I can’t recall if I have ever posted this quote before on my blog, but it is one of my favorites. Flannery O’Connor said this about writing stories, “Fiction is about everything human, and we are made of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty then you shouldn’t try and write fiction.”
I happen to share the same view as her and also find it particularly applicable to non-fiction.
This post is a post of non-fiction, and it is dusty. Some of the imagery is kind of gross and the thoughts are honest. I write with a particular vulnerability about my own life, not to confess or depress or to invoke pity, but hopefully to inspire. This isn’t meant to offend any one, this is meant tell a story, and what I believe to be a pretty good one about getting something that I lost. If you can’t read dusty things, don’t read it. But if you are willing to bear the ugliness of life for a short time, maybe you will learn what I did if you haven’t already.
This is my first draft of a short story called, “Around The Corner.” It is a work in progress.
Around The Corner
Hell. It’s just around the corner. You walk out the sliding glass doors into the dry, dusty backyard where there is no grass, straight toward the dull brown wall, and turn right—right around the corner.
It’s not much different than the rest of the backyard. It has dirt and weeds for its floor, and a dull-brown brick wall, which separates the neighbors yard from ours on one side. The wall on the other side is the chipping pale-yellow stucco of a house that I have had my best and worst memories in. The back wall is a flimsy wooden white door that has a nearly broken handle. You have to shake it to get it to unlatch itself, and because of this the whole door is detaching from its weak frame that has been bolted into the side of the house.
There are some wooden planks leaning up against the crumbly old stucco, rotting from termites, still there from when I first tried to make a secret clubhouse in that corner. Four cinder blocks sit stacked on top of each other off to the side, grey and cracked. I’m not sure why we ever had them, but they always proved useful to me for some purpose. Our giant air-conditioner sits around the corner, humming loudly and then clicking off into silence. There is also one white chair. A metal chair, light and sturdy, made of strong wire that is woven together in the same style as a wicker chair might be, or a tightly strung up tennis racket. It faces away from the white door, away from around the corner and into the back yard.
When I was young and innocent the corner used to be bright and sunny and feel green and grassy beneath my knees as I played with action figures. It used to be a great place to hide during childhood games. It was the place where I met with myself for secret meetings about my secret society. Around the corner I could pretend to be anyone. The small crevice on the side of the house was home to my imagination. It was every time and every place and every heroic story ever told.
Slowly though, the corner began to drain of it’s youthful color. It transformed into a sad and grainy picture taken in black and white. Instead of being a small universe that revolved around adventure and imagination it became a prison that jailed me to a skeptical game of reality.
When I was twelve I would sit in the wire chair and try and shoot the birds that perched themselves on the wall in my backyard. Once I took aim at something that I knew was special and beautiful and rare. I had a hummingbird fixed in the sight of my BB gun. I hesitated for several long breathes as I watched it dart and disappear and reappear at different flowers, hovering in the air, a body with invisible wings. I knew the corner had lost the colors of the hummingbird—the blue, the green, the red and yellow—when I pulled the trigger and watched it drop to the ground with a light thud. My dog trotted by and snatched it up and I just watched. The corner had lost its beauty.
In high school I would go around the corner to do whatever it is that pissed-off teenagers do. I cussed at God and drank booze, smoked cigarettes and cigars and other things, and listened to angry music loudly through my headphones. I thought about shooting everything: hummingbirds, cats, my parents, and myself. I finally found something to do with the cinder blocks. They were good for picking up…and then hurling back toward the ground again. They would ricochet off the dry dirt and go bouncing out of control in small clouds of dust. It was entertaining for a few minutes. Then I would be out of breath and bored from uselessly trying to destroy the already hideous the ground. Eventually I would get comfortable in the chair and turn the volume up even higher on my MP3 player. It became a nightly routine. I felt like the Hulk, but more like the Hulk on his period. I would fume with rage, get up and smash, and then settle down—and cry. Shed tear after tear onto the brown earth between my feet, watching each slow falling droplet get absorbed into the filthy, infertile soil. I would cry because I believed no one loved me, because no one ever came around the corner, because I had knife in my pocket and I was certain I didn’t have the guts to use it.
The small hideout around the corner had lost its beauty—and now it had lost something else.
It still proved to be the perfect place to hide. Before I could go back there and cry and hurt, so that everyday, everywhere else, I could be the person that I wasn’t around the corner. It continued to be that place.
After my grandpa died it also became the place where I could bury all my lies.
All that being starved of love—self-starved or not—I was indeed starved and desperately hungry. In high school I ate lies and other peoples approval. All that trying to fit in and needing to do what everyone else was doing was filling, but only for a while. You can only eat the world’s bread and water for so long until you start to get hungry again.
I transformed from a skinny anorexic who refused to eat love into a literal bulimic, binging on the world’s cake and then purging it out of guilt and shame. When I would become a bloated mess, my belly bulging even in my baggiest of jackets, I would go around the corner and try to undo what I could see myself becoming.
The groaning of the air-conditioner would drown out my heaving and the choking up of my half-digested binges. Vomit would spill out all over the ground and into the holes that had been left from hurled cinder blocks. Food would splatter against the stucco and the broken white door and brown brick wall and all over my jeans. I would be finished, my eyes half-full of teardrops because it hurt my throat hurt so much to throw up, but also half-full because it hurt me—so much. I would be staring down at the holes in the ground where my puke was pooled up in oranges and pinks and little spots of red, probably blood, and my eyes would fill fully with tears that pleaded for help—but believed it would never come. I would drop the planks over my vomit, trying to hide what I had done. But I knew it didn’t matter. Nobody came around the corner anyway.
The corner had become a dry, weeded, garden of evil, with no room for a tree of life. It had become ugly and had lost all that it once was. And I had too. I had lost beauty, love and will and control. I had lost myself around the corner.
Once, I slipped through the sliding glass door with a stomach full of shame and turned around the corner to find the planks pulled up and the holes dug out and emptied of their moldy old lies. I remembered feeling naked. Somebody had come around the corner and seen the person I had kept hidden off to the side of the world. It made me feel dizzy. I assume it would have made me feel nauseous and caused me to throw up if I had been at all a normal person when it came to controlling my gag reflex. But instead it paralyzed me, and slowly a deafening silence crept up into my ears and halted my thoughts and then the nothingness soaked through the rest of me—down into my toes.
Even though I had been found out I continued to fill the holes and cover them with the rotting planks.
Every month, every few weeks maybe, I would turn the corner and it would be clean. The puke gone, the cinder blocks stacked, the planks resting up against the house, organized by color and descending according to size. My chair would be facing out, away from the corner, just how I preferred it to be.
I stood in our kitchen, preparing a bowl of cereal or yogurt, perhaps pouring myself a cup of coffee. It was Saturday and the house was warm, even on the normally cold ceramic tile of our kitchen floor. It was late in the morning and the sun had almost come up over the ivy on the side of the house. Beams of light, sparkling with the dust that been thrown into air pushed through the tiny breaks in between the now backlit and near translucent leaves. I glanced out the window above the sink, watching the dust dance through the rays, and listening to the rumbling of a lawn mower as it faded in and out, eating the weeds in our backyard.
The warm floor turned to ice. Frozen again—as nothingness, this time starting from my feet, inched up my body, cold and numbing.
Anyone but him, I thought.
The lawn mower cut out with a low sputtering sound and then died…and then there were only the songs of birds chirping and wings flapping, leaves rubbing their veiny shoulders and fronts and backs against each other. There were wind chimes lightly tapping each other at their tips. The coffee machine was hissing—and in my head there was nothing but quiet.
I stood staring out the window long enough to see my dad walk by with a shovel and a swollen trash bag. The white compactor bag was stuffed with what I had stuffed myself with—all the oranges and pinks and little spots of red—the lies, the guilt and shame, loathing, and the hate. It had been him all along. Cleaning up my mess for me. He was the one who had been reordering my corner, never saying a word to me as he did. He organized the blocks and the planks and the chair.
He was filling all the holes and pulling up all the weeds.
I stared out the window—and it stared back at me, asking me how long I thought my dad knew about my life around the corner, during all those years when I would disappear. I wondered if he too had his own spot around the corner from me. If every night he knew where I was and what I was thinking and he was just on the other side of the wall, or the door, or around the other side of the house, praying I would stop filling those holes and hoping that I would never have the guts to use the knife in my pocket.
All I know is I was wrong. Someone did venture to come around the corner. Someone did step into the stinking garden that I called hell. Someone tried to make it beautiful again, a place where I could play and imagine, bathed in sunlight, free from choking weeds and covered instead in soft green grass, dandelions, and other little white blossoms.
I was still standing in the kitchen, my gaze fixed on the window and the questions it was reflecting, when my dad came back inside. He brushed up against me with his sweaty back, grabbed the coffee pot, and poured himself a steaming cup. Then he turned away and left me to myself, leaning on the counter, looking into the window.
The aroma of freshly pulverized dirt and weeds went immediately up into my nostrils as I pulled open the sliding glass door. I was looking down, watching each foot move timidly one after the other as I crossed the small patio in our backyard. Stopping at the grass, I turned and saw the wind chime hanging, swaying back and forth affectionately like a royal wave. I sauntered with heavy steps across the dirt and the trimmed down unwanted roots, and then turned around the corner, where the ground had once again been leveled, the weeds pulled, and the secret clubhouse corner of my life organized just the way I liked it.
I eased down into the wire chair, dropped my face into the palms of my hands and started to sob, tears falling through the cracks of my fingers, watering the new garden I had been given.
I’m not sure If it was because my eyes were puffy from weeping, or it was just my imagination—or if I truly saw what I thought I did. But when I lifted my head up from my hands all I could see on the other side of the yard was a darting blur of blue and green, and red and yellow. I followed it with my eyes as it disappeared and reappeared. It was a fuzzy, floating body with invisible wings.
I smiled at the thought of the hummingbird. And then it was gone.