Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Everyone Likes Having Their Emotions Manipulated

Last month, my writing group's assignment (at my suggestion) was to write a tearjerker. But there was no way i was gonna let story writing bowl over everything in my life like it did the previous month. So it's all about efficiency. How can i make people cry in 2 pages? There's two things i know that can squeeze out the tears fast: formulaic Chicken Soup for the Soul stories, and vids from It Gets Better Project. (The one above by Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters isn't so much of tearjerker, but it's pretty darn honest and interesting).

So i whipped up this story in one sitting, thinking it was brilliant, and then pretty much hating it every reading since. IMO, there were some much better pieces of fiction produced, but my story did win the prize of being the only one that actually got some fluids flowing out of the tear ducts. So that's fun. Anyhow, if you have a bit of time, here's my story.

Hi, Jordan – By statusq “Dear Jordan,” he wrote before immediately scratching out “Dear” and replacing it with “Hi.” He sighed. Marie Hemsworth, the counselor, had instructed him to write this letter, and receiving his prescription of fluoxetine was impingent on satisfying her. But that was fine: it turned out he had no issues with counseling, surprised at his own lack of cynicism. He would write the letter, and even try not to do it badly.
 “I miss you.” He paused. It seemed so redundant, so obvious, but it was true. Marie said to write write write without thinking so much, but he was at a loss. “I miss you,” he wrote again, to help fill the page. “I don’t know what to say. You’re gone. I was really sad for a long time, but today I just feel empty.” It seemed so devoid of real meaning, no better than a three dollar Hallmark condolence card. He stared at the page, wanting to write it, wanting to get it over with. He stood up, shuffled to the kitchen and poured himself a half glass of scotch. One quick tip back, and it had dug its way down his throat. He had a spasm of coughs, his already red eyes watering. “Ok, good,” he gasped aloud, sitting down and grabbing the pen resolutely.
 “I don’t know why you did it. You shouldn’t have done it. Bloody smart kid doing a bloody stupid thing. Smart enough to get somewhere in life. Good with books. Teachers all said you were a nice kid. Even had a couple friends, even if they were a bit weird.
 “Grade 8’s not easy for lots of people, but they don’t just give up, solving their problems with a piece of rope. Stupid kid. Fucking fucking stupid.”
 He ground the pen into the period, just hard enough to poke through it. He was breathing heavier now, and worried that he might have a cry, he grabbed the bottle of scotch again, this time swigging from the bottle. He scratched out the last sentence before proceeding.
 “I gave you what you needed, didn’t I? Some decent clothes, that guitar, all that soccer stuff. I did what a father’s supposed to do. Tried to keep you out of trouble.
 “Maybe I was too easy on you. Let you get too soft. Maybe it was that kid Kyle. Shouldn’t have let you hang out with him. He seemed pretty wimpy. Never really knew what he was always going on about, always music and his cats. “I know you were mad when I told you not to bring him around anymore. But I couldn’t have you hanging out with softies. I know you weren’t like that. I know. ‘Cause I know you found my pornos and watched them.”
He shifted uncomfortably, glancing around the empty kitchen. Who cares. Marie said nobody would read this, and he’d just rip it up afterwards anyhow. He sniffed, looked at the bottle, but decided he was still a bit red in the face from the last swig.
 “So you’re not like that. You’re not a softie. No kid of mine a softie. What do you think your mom would have said if you were a softie? She might’ve given you the belt. I never did. I just hit you a bit. Not bad even, nobody knew. You know why? ‘Cause you’re my kid and I loved you. You don’t know what a parent has to do. It’s not easy. It’s bloody hard. I fought with my dad too. He beat me, a lot. I barely ever laid a finger on you. In the end I had to beat him back. That’s what a man does. I had to prove to him I wasn’t a softie. He laid off in the end. Not saying I was right. He was my dad, and it ripped me right up to hit him. It really ripped me right up inside. Fucking guy. He always had to be right. But he wasn’t always right. If he was, I wouldn’t have fought him. Never. But he thought I got his stupid car dented so I had to grab his fists, had to get on top of him. I cried like a baby when I did it but he knew I was no fucking softie then. He still beat me sometimes after that, but you could see in his eyes that he was a bit scared to do it after then. But you never fought back. And if I was wrong you would have. When you’re right, you have to fight. I tried to teach you that. Your mother tried to teach you that. Nobody wants a son like that. And you’re not like that. I knew you weren’t. But you didn’t even realize that other people might have thought you were soft. I didn’t know what to do. When your mother was still around I told her about the time I saw you hugging Brett after baseball. She didn’t think it meant anything. ‘It’s just kids playing,’ she said. But I never touched no boys when I was ten years old. Gives other people ideas. I didn’t say anything to you. Didn’t beat you or anything. ‘Cause you were just being a dumb kid. Just said I didn’t trust that Brett kid, always bragging about his homerun. Didn’t trust him. I always thought you might like that Andrea girl. Pimply girl seemed alright, but she talked less than you and was always wearing that weird make up. She wasn’t around much, but you mentioned her once in a while. Maybe I should’ve told you to invite her over. I probably didn’t help you as much as I should’ve, did I. Should’ve helped you find some friends. That’s why I tried to get you into soccer. I met lots of guys playing soccer. I know I acted mad when you didn’t play, but actually I wasn’t surprised. Maybe I shouldn’t have acted mad. Maybe not. I’m sorry I acted mad when I wasn’t. I shouldn’t have. I even felt bad about it after. Maybe I should have said sorry. So sorry, okay? I wasn’t mad about it, but I thought I should be. I said, ‘Are you a man?’ And I knew that wasn’t right, that I shouldn’t have said that. I know that made you mad. You should have said something back, should have yelled something, but you didn’t say a word. Just ran off to your room. You didn’t talk to me much for a while. We never talked all that much ever I guess. I never said sorry. When you were five or six we talked a lot. You told me about how the balloon would stick to the wall after you rubbed it in your hair, but it didn’t. You were so confused but you couldn’t stick it to the wall! I had to help you and I remember how you laughed, thinking that I tricked you somehow. And the time you told me that we had to make breakfast for mom for mother’s day, and you showed me how to fry an egg in the butter. I was amazed. You climbed right up onto the counter and squatting there put the pat of butter into the pan and cracked in two eggs, and you said, “Dad, you have to get me a fork, because there’s a bit of shell in there.” I was going to use my fingers and you shrieked at me, ‘You’ll get burned!’ And you were right. I shouldn’t be sticking my finger into the pan in front of a six year old. You were so good, Jordan. A real sweet kid. Actually used to look up to a shitty father like me. I don’t know when you started talking less, laughing less. When you stopped looking up to me.
 His pen hand was starting to feel a bit tired from his writing, which was now pushing the page to its margins. He was still breathing heavily, staring at the page, but not seeing it. The pen tip was on the page, frozen momentarily before it started moving again, slowly, deliberately.
 “I wish you could know how hard it’s been for me to be a good father to you. My dad was a shitty father too, but I knew he tried. I don’t think you know I tried.” The sound of the last school bus passing by in the street came and went, it’s diesel engine coughing softly. “I screwed up, didn’t I?” His hand was trembling, just slightly. “I screwed up. Called you soft. Said it like it was big, like it meant something. But I’m not sure if it does. I don’t.” He gently placed the pen down to the side of the page, leaned back in his chair, and wept into his hands.  

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