A Sad Story from my Salad Days

I am convinced that nearly everything extracurricular that I wrote in college was either macabre or maudlin.

What follows is a little something that I whipped up in less than 24 hours during my sophomore year. At the time, my intention was to explore writing from the perspective of someone trying to emerge from the grieving process.

I recall that I submitted it to the Century, which is the literary magazine of my alma mater, previously known as Carroll College. I was a co-editor of the aforementioned magazine at the time, and the only reason I entered my own work was to bulk up the number of prose submissions for the judging process. I can’t remember for certain whether this piece actually passed muster and appeared in the publication or not…and I didn’t really care either way because I felt it wasn’t very good. Even now, it makes me cringe to read it.

Now, if that isn’t sad, I don’t know what is!

Our Sad Stories

When she looked out the window she could see that it was going to be a beautiful night. The setting sun cast its lurid, dying rays across the horizon, tingeing the sky pink like sanguine, warm bathwater. The clouds had already gone to sleep, and Evelyn hovered by her door, tucking a stray wisp of hair behind her ear, wishing she could do the same. Just crawl into bed and never wake again. Her throat seized up as she gazed at the photographs on the wall. “I will not cry,” she counseled herself with a quavering voice in the empty room. “I will not cry on a first date.”

From his frozen position above her bed, Luke smiled as he always had, his eyes full of love and reassurance. Evelyn chewed on her lower lip, sucking in a deep breath, and clutched the strap of her purse more tightly. “David will be here soon, and I can’t disappoint my friends…right?” she asked the picture on the wall, her voice desperate. Luke, trapped in time, could only smile. “You…you understand…I’m not betraying you, am I? I’ll always…love…” Here the sobs threatened to break free, and it took a greater part of her strength to swallow them. Just then, someone knocked, rather hesitantly, at her door. Evelyn’s eyes widened. Time to go, she thought, trembling, and opened the door to see David face to face for the very first time.

And almost forgot to breathe.

“Hi…Evelyn?” The young man at the threshold smiled nervously, long-fingered hands folded together to prevent them from fidgeting.

“Hello, David. It’s nice to finally meet you.” He’s very cute. Evelyn caught herself going cow-eyed, and mentally slapped herself for thinking about another guy that way. David’s eyes were an earnest green—the same color as Luke’s—and they stayed fixed on hers instead of darting away, radiating a shy sort of kindness.

Awkward, the young man chuckled, rubbing the back of his neck before reaching for her hand. She allowed him to draw her outside of her room. “Yeah, Since Jamie told me about you, I’ve been kind of…anxious.” He grimaced. “No, that’s not right, that sounds bad…”

“No, it’s not,” Evelyn reassured him, craning her neck a little as she looked up into his face with a gentle smile. He smiled back, a little of the tenseness melting out of his features. Sensing him relax, she grasped both his hands and squeezed them. “Please don’t worry about what you say to me, about it sounding bad. I’m used to guys making disgusting jokes.”

David grinned, and Evelyn felt her heart glow. Luke grinned just so, she mused. “Well, uh, Evelyn…I wanted to be a gentleman tonight, having just met you.”

She laughed. “Oh, that’s good, I wouldn’t expect anything less from Jamie’s cousin!” She let go of his right hand and coaxed him away from her door. “Let’s go, the night’s wasting…”

“All right,” David agreed, his hand clammy in hers as they walked down the hallway. “Lead the way, but remember…it’s my treat tonight. Jamie’s rule, and mine.”

Passing by the other rooms, Evelyn felt her senses sharpened. She could hear the chattering and laughter in Dawn and Tracy’s room at the end of the hall, the clacking of her short heels against the hard linoleum. Someone was making popcorn in the kitchen; they could both smell the aroma wafting throughout the entire floor. “Mmmm, popcorn,” David commented, squeezing her hand.

“Should we join their party?” Evelyn asked, feeling her heart speed up with apprehension. “I could introduce you to the girls on my floor.”

“Nah,” David replied, his glance both warm and knowing. “Why would I want to meet any more girls?”

Her face flushed, Evelyn’s heart spasmed, then slowed as she appreciated what he had said. “That’s nice of you.”

“I want to be nice to you,” David murmured, and put his arm around her shoulders, a little uncertainly. Looking into his honest, flawless face, Evelyn decided to let him. She found herself comforted by it, although melancholy tainted her satisfaction.

He knows about what happened, she brooded. He must pity me.

By then they were out in the parking lot, and a warm evening breeze caressed her bare calves. David helped her into his car and shut the door. As he rounded the hood to the driver’s seat, Evelyn felt all the grief bubble up inside her. Having heard her story from his cousin, David had felt sorry for her, and Jamie had suggested for him to take her out, and here he was, a Boy Scout doing a good deed.

The car door slammed shut, and she looked up. David smiled eagerly at her as he turned the key in the ignition. “Well, my Lady, where dost thou wish to go this evening?”

“Do you know the Chinese restaurant on Grand?” Evelyn heard herself say brightly. “They have great sizzling rice soup.”

“Your wish is my command,” he replied, expertly guiding the car out into the traffic. There was silence for several moments, and Evelyn studied David’s strong masculine features in the urban twilight. The sun had set, and his skin seemed to have a bluish cast as if they were underwater. Suddenly uneasy, Evelyn touched the back of his hand, resting comfortably on the steering wheel.

“David?” Her voice was hesitant.

He glanced at her, his face seeming to light up again. “Yeah?”

“You don’t…have to take me out like this if you didn’t want to.”

David’s face went blank. “You mean…I could just park in the parking lot, grab you…and make wild passionate love to you right out in the open?” Then he threw back his head and laughed. “Oh, sorry! You should see the look on your face…it’s priceless!” Then he sobered, looking at her quickly. “I wanted to take you out…ever since Jamie told me about you.”

“About what happened,” Evelyn said bitterly. Outside, the road wound next to the river, and traffic slackened.

“Yes, she told me about Luke…but I wanted to before then, too.” David heaved a sigh. “There, I finally got to say that, and sound like an opportunistic jerk.” She could see his knuckles whiten as he clenched the steering wheel in a death grip, like a drowning man. Hurriedly, she moved her eyes to his face. He was looking at her again, and she found it difficult to swallow.

“You should watch the road,” she said softly.

David’s jaw tightened, and he maneuvered his car into a parking spot by the river walk. “We need to get to know each other better,” he said earnestly, staring into her eyes.

Evelyn smiled. “Let’s go for a walk,” she suggested in a quiet voice.

David was silent for an instant; his eyes seemed to soften. “Yes.”

David got out of the car and ran around to help her out, and this time he was anxious, as he had said when he first stood outside the door of her room. He kept his right hand firmly pressed against her shoulder, and insisted that he walk on the street side of the sidewalk. The night was growing cool, and they had the riverside to themselves.

“So…Jamie told you about Luke,” Evelyn began.

“Yes, I’m sorry…for your loss.” Now, David was avoiding her eyes. His dark blond hair hung like a bird’s broken wing as he examined his shoes. “If it helps…I’ll listen to whatever you need to talk about.” He looked up, then. “If you need someone—me—to listen.”

Evelyn took a deep breath. “I should tell you,” she began, carefully. “He drowned…last year…” David’s arm tightened around her. “He hit his head at the bottom of a pool, got disoriented…he was all alone!” I will not cry, she screamed inside, but the sobs tore free from her mouth and David’s arms enveloped her, cradling her against his chest. “I couldn’t save him!”

“There was nothing you could do, it wasn’t your fault,” The words were mechanical, distant, but she could hear his heart, and it was very close, beating strongly beneath her cheek. She thought that if she wanted to, she could reach inside and touch David’s heart, hug it like a pillow in her arms—and he would let her have it, for always.

Luke had done no less for her, but he had gone away.

“David?” Tears streaming down her face, Evelyn sought his eyes, his earnest green eyes, so like those of the man she had loved.

“I’m sorry, Evelyn…I’m just a stupid guy…I don’t know what to say.” He touched her cheek, brushing away the moisture there, looking helpless and rather frustrated. “It’s just, we both have our hard times, and I should know…” He pressed her head back into his chest and stroked her hair. “Jamie never told you, but my brother died a few years back in a fire…our house burned down, and…we didn’t know where to go from there.”

Evelyn choked back another sob and shuddered. “Oh, God…” She reached around and hugged David with a fierce desire she hadn’t known was there inside her. She thought that part of her, the sharing kind of love, had drowned in that horrible pool with Luke. “Why can’t we just die..?” She knew it was foolishness even as she said it.

“I felt the same way, then.”

Evelyn pulled away so she could look at his face, his beautiful face glowing beneath the lamplight, his eyes smiling sadly down at her. “Did Luke…” David placed his hands on her shoulders, and they were quivering slightly. “Did he ever tell you how beautiful you are?”

Evelyn felt a knot growing in her throat. “All the time.”

“You are, Evelyn. When I saw your picture last year, I thought ‘Wow, that boyfriend of hers is some lucky guy.’ And now you’re right here in front of me.”

“A basket case,” she muttered.

“From what I’ve seen, you’re just lonely, like me.”

“You? Lonely?”

“Yeah,” David smiled bleakly. “Not everyone is as easy to talk to as you. Jamie told me you’re the best friend she’s ever had…because you care and listen.”

“Jamie’s nice,” Evelyn replied lamely.

“So are you,” David countered. “And…” Here he broke off, his face coloring as he rubbed the back of his neck nervously.

“Are you okay?” Evelyn touched his arm.

“I want to be your…friend.” He managed to spit it out with some effort, grimacing. “Darn it, that was lame, Dave!”

Evelyn laughed, in spite of herself. “Oh, David!” She shook her head. “I’m ready to be friends, don’t worry about that.”

“And later…” he began hopefully, grinning widely.

Evelyn smiled tenderly and leaned against him. “There will be time for that…maybe sooner than you think,” she replied softly. She looked within herself, waiting for that sense of guilt, but this time the little voice was silent.

David sighed, touching her hair with a kind of reverence. “Do you know, yet, when that will be?”

“After we’ve told all our sad stories.”

David smiled grimly. “That’ll be a while, then.” His arm tightened around her.

And the two stood there by the river, watching the moon rise in a companionable sort of silence.

beautiful beauty blue bright
Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

 

There ain’t nothing wrong with the Radio

Another influence on my writing that cannot be ignored is music. Before I can go into detail about that I should lay out the groundwork and give you a little historical background – just as I did with my reading preferences.

Much like my reading preferences, my listening preferences have also evolved. My music collection can best be described as “eclectic.” If I commanded a spaceship it would be named MusicStar Eclectica.

As a youngster, I listened primarily to whatever was on the radio. My parents’ tastes pretty much dictated what was available to me, but I discovered fairly early on that I did not care for country music, which was what my dad listened to, pretty much exclusively – except for when he decided to really annoy us all by listening to the polka station. Now, I don’t have anything against polka music. I think it’s great to dance to; whenever I hear polka my feet start itching to hop around. However, listening to polka for hours on end strikes me as a form of audible torture. The same goes for country music. There are some songs that I like – primarily by the late great Johnny Cash, now that I think about it – for various reasons, but much of it does not appeal to me.

My tastes in music as a child tended to align more with my mother’s. I liked the music that she enjoyed listening to in high school. And I still do. I’m talking about Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, the Who, Styx, Steppenwolf, and The Grass Roots, to name a few. I have fond memories of listening to her vinyl records by these artists when I was in middle school. But my love of music goes back even further than that. In fact, one of my very first memories is of listening to a Styx 8-track on the stereo while watching our dog trotting over to the front door from the kitchen.

My mom and I both liked rock and roll from the 1980s, too, but that was the stuff that I grew up listening to, so it was more my bag than hers. I still liked the older stuff, but I added artists such as The Cars, Madonna, Talking Heads, Cyndi Lauper, Toto, Billy Joel and the Police to my favorites playlist. As a caveat, when I was pre-school age, “Burning down the House” by the Talking Heads was the song that I was most obsessed with, probably because I was going through a pyrophobia phase at the time. My mom tells me that when we went to see Bambi in the theater, she had to drag me outside during the forest fire scene because I started screaming in terror. I remember having awful nightmares about fires a little later on after my brother was born…but now I’m going off on a tangent. Maybe I’ll examine my childhood fire fixation in conjunction with sibling anxiety in the future, just not right now.

Here’s an interesting fact: I never got into Bruce Springsteen, even though my mom loved him and had a sizeable vinyl record collection of his work. I can’t explain it. My apologies to any Springsteen fans out there. I’m sure he’s a perfectly decent guy, but something about him creeped me out back then.

In any event, by the time I was in fifth grade, I had already discovered the joys of audio cassette tapes (remember those???) and recording my favorite songs on the radio. I believe it was around this time that I also learned about the Beatles, thanks to a documentary video (also, remember VHS tapes???) that one of my uncles gave me for Christmas. Like many an impressionable young girl before me, I fell in love with the Fab Four. I found out that certain radio stations still played songs by the Beatles, and by the time I was in middle school I was spending a lot of time listening to “oldies.” At that time, oldies music was anything from before the 1970s, and “classic” was ‘70s and early ’80s music. (I realize that the current definition of oldies now also encompasses the music that I grew up listening to. Cripes, do I feel old!)

I spent a lot of time during my “tween” years listening to popular music on the radio and recording my most favorite songs on cassette tapes. I was given cassette tapes of my favorite artist as gifts and spent my hard-earned allowance on them. Still ’70s and ‘80s music, but since time marches ever onward my musical taste eventually expanded to include the music of the 1990s as well – but not as much as you might expect. In fact, my pattern of musical attraction seems to follow a retrograde path. For the longest time, I was obsessed with a certain cassette tape of Queen’s greatest hits, and another cassette live album of INXS. I tended to prefer the older stuff. I usually lagged a little behind my cohort in embracing popular trends, if I did so at all. I suppose I was always an “old soul.” Or maybe just an “odd soul.”

I was well into high school before I got into grunge bands like Nirvana. Somehow, despite my sheltered and innocent life, I learned about Rammstein. I owned a grand total of one album by them: Sehnsucht. On CD, of course (it took me a little while, but I did finally convert to purchasing CDs after cassettes become rare and more difficult to find). I even remember buying that Rammstein CD from a store in the local mall. One of my older male friends had driven me there so that I could obtain it (currently, I own most of Rammstein’s albums in the mp3 format).

By the time I graduated from college, I owned quite a few CDs and more than 30 cassette tapes that I stubbornly clung to. It was only after I married my husband that I came into contact with those enlightened folk who “downloaded” music from the internet and/or ripped music from CDs to store on their computers. I never got into the whole Napster movement; I felt it was unethical even before it became illegal. However, my eyes were opened to the possibility that technology had to offer for expanding my music collection without having to buy more and ever larger containers in which to store CDs.

To paraphrase Bob Dylan, the times they were a-changin’.

At present, I have close to 1000 songs that I ripped from my CDs and my husband’s on to my laptop –  plus we have over 800 songs in our Amazon cloud. Thanks to one of my husband’s friends who had a song by Apoptygma Berzerk on his hard-drive I really got into electronic music about ten years ago. And thanks to Pandora I found tons of other electronic acts that I enjoy. Now, keep in mind that I still like all the stuff that I grew up listening to on the radio and don’t necessarily “have” in my collection. This means that I probably love over 1500 songs, spanning multiple genres of music. I don’t know if that’s a big number or not.

I could go on and on, but this entry is growing too long to be interesting anymore and I haven’t even said anything about how my musical tastes have affected my writing. I suppose – in summary – just like my reading preferences my taste in music went through phases.

As did my writing.

To make a long story short, I guess I’m just one of those people who really gets into music and isn’t too particular about “type,” just what tickles my fancy or resonates with me. And as much as I love utilizing apps like Pandora and Spotify to discover new favorite songs, I still enjoy listening to whatever is playing on the radio (my favorite local station is Life 102.5.)

Are you one of those people, too? Which artists or genres are your favorites?