Writing

I am currently writing a book, and will post new chapters here for feedback, casual reading and as a motivator to keep writing. It will be a very raw, unedited text that I hope to clean up once it’s completed. Please excuse the formatting, WordPress doesn’t comply with Word and I am too lazy and fat to fix it.

WARNING: Language, adult humor

1.

I swear there was a time in my life when I was good at singing. I had no practice besides the couple of hours I spent home alone at thirteen belting Christina Aguilera, and the few times in music class where I wasn’t afraid to at least sing low because everyone else was forced to. I could hold a note, and people eventually noticed.

Playing the piano never used to be this difficult either. I keep a keyboard at home to play on occasion or when I’m drunk and want to impress my friends with a cheeky rendition of South Park’s, “Shut Your Fucking Face Uncle Fucker.”

Singing and piano are just two of my “talents,” or whatever the hell you want to call them, that are slowly being forgotten the older I get. My mid-twenties were supposed to be my peak, my goal. I remember being fourteen and thinking, “Damn, imagine the cool shit I’ll be able to play once I’m twenty four,” but no. I can’t play cool shit. I just play like shit. My interest in these useless skills fell apart somewhere between my third year of college and my first adult job. Coming home from work means dinner, TV and maybe an unintentional three hour Reddit scrolling session, but never practice.

Now I’m good at TurboTax, picking up my dog’s crap and making a pot of spaghetti last me an entire week. I excel in drunk texting, sleeping past my alarm clock just enough to not be late to work and attracting men who just got out of jail.

And I am particularly amazing at imagining the reactions of the people I know when they receive news of my death.

I can see each person hearing what happened, how they deal with it in private and their composure at my funeral, if they attend, like some kind of fucked up version of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” My mom? Disbelief, anger, ugly crying.

I’m looking at her now, adding to the visual I’ve created over the past year. We get along great, but I always imagine her being angry at me for my own death.

“She was never careful on the road,” or, “she always stayed out too late,” or, “she needs to stop flipping off Asian men. It’s not funny. It’s never been funny.”

We’re at the holiday market downtown picking out decorations for my new apartment and a stocking for my sister’s baby son. I’m carrying a giant wreath for my door, which my mom was not willing to compromise on.

“Someone is just going to steal it,” I argued.

“No, they won’t. It’s Christmas,” was her weak reply.

“That’s why they’ll steal it. People get desperate.”

“For presents maybe, not a wreath.”

“I don’t even have hooks to hang it with.”

“I do. You can have one.”

My reasoning was useless. I figured if I had to hang this giant garland hula hoop on my door, I could at least personalize it. I have a pile of beer cans that match the red and white stripes on its giant bow.

We break for hot chocolate and find a vacant picnic table under a lemon tree decorated with twinkling lights.

“Your father is coming down from New York to spend Christmas with us, by the way,” said my mom. I choked on my drink and burned my tongue.

“What? Why didn’t you say anything?” I dab at the chocolate that spilled on my chest.

“I didn’t find out until last night. He wants to meet Luke. And see you and your sister, of course.”

“Where is he staying?” I asked.

My mom took a sip of her drink and rubbed her lips together. “Well, I was going to ask if he could stay with you.”

“But I just moved in. There’s boxes everywhere. I drink now.”

“He drinks too.”

Yes, he does, which is one of the reasons why mom left him. Dad isn’t a drunk, he just appreciates the finer things in life. Instead of getting the tires changed on mom’s car, he bought two bottles of Dom Perignon. When I needed to get my wisdom teeth removed, he bought a limited edition Star Wars chess set. Sister needed glasses? A military-style drone. Broken window? Armani suit. Food? A Corvette.

The whole family is amazed that dad has kept himself in a New York apartment for the past year. We were sure that he would blow his rent on a small plane or a Rolex. For all we know, he has.

“How long will he be here?” I asked before blowing ripples on the top of my drink and taking a cautious sip.

“Only three days. Christmas Eve, day and the day after, but his flight leaves that evening.”

Mom has already finished her hot chocolate and is impatiently sitting on the edge of the seat, car keys in hand.

“Are we leaving?” I asked.

“You can stay if you want, but I need to stop by your sister’s house on the way home. She’s making the cookie load this year and needs to borrow my baking sheets.”

“Pen is making the cookies this year? Does Alan know?”

“Yes, he knows. It’ll be fine,” said Mom, but she knows it won’t be. Penelope cannot spend more than five minutes in the kitchen without getting pissed. The food usually turns out fine, but not without a few cuts and bruises. Everyone in the family is familiar with Pen’s creative use of the word “fuck” when she gets hurt in the kitchen.

“Fickety fuckin shit mother biscuit fuck!” she yelled once after slicing her finger while chopping carrots.

“Fucking frick shit son of a bitch dick,” she screamed after hitting her elbow on the pantry doorknob.

“Mother fuck turd,” she yelled before slamming her fist on the countertop after dropping a saucepan on her bare foot.

I hope the pain from my death is enough for Pen to bless me with one final “fuck” phrase. I don’t think I will allow myself to step through those pearly gates without hearing one more utterance of Pen’s high-pitched voice saying something like, “Fucker shit tit” or something else poetic.

But while I think Pen’s fuckisms are fantastic, her husband Alan may not be too thrilled about his three-month-old son hearing his mother violently curse.

My mom gives me a swift kiss on the cheek goodbye and peels off in her tiny BMW. Having no kids and a husband meant indulging in the luxuries she never had the privilege to own when raising two girls and a money-spending machine.

I clamber into my Civic wondering if mom’s life is better now than when she had children. Society defines success as having lots of money, a happy marriage and at least one kid. Five kids if you’re Hispanic, like my mom’s side of the family. My mother grew up in the shadow of her brothers and had me and my sister soon after marrying my dad when she was twenty. I know she loves us, and yeah, my dad is still a great guy who loves her very much, but is she happier now as an independent woman with a nice car and nursing job, or were my sister and I her highlight?

I can never picture myself at someone else’s funeral, especially my mom’s. I’m convinced she’s going to outlive me, and I would honestly prefer that. I don’t think I could live with myself without her in my life.

Dammit, I’m getting sentimental. That’s the last thing I need on a Saturday evening alone at my apartment with a deaf Bichon Frise.

“Hey Paul,” I said to my excited pup jumping on my leg. He caught a whiff of my mom’s cat on my pants and investigated the smell.

“Yes, I was with grandma. Back off.”

Paul looks as disheveled as I feel. I fell for the fluffy white face at the rescue shelter without considering how high maintenance his breed is.

I crash onto my couch and stroke his fuzzy head.

“You need a haircut, buddy. And a wash. And just attention in general,” I coo, even though he can’t hear me. Paul wasn’t born deaf, so I wonder if he assumes that the volume just turned off one day. I rather him think there’s something wrong with the world and not himself, because he’s perfect.

Home alone on a Saturday is not a foreign affair in el casa de Winter y Paul. I am ashamed at how much I enjoy a night with a case of beer, my boy and an Animal Planet marathon of “Too Cute.”

My phone buzzed halfway through an episode on Beagle puppies.

Hey.

A text from a number I don’t have in my phone anymore. I lost all my contacts the last time I switched contracts and have spent the last six months apologizing to family members for no longer having their number.

I want to ask who it is, but I also don’t want to fall down the “It’s Aunt blah blah” or “cousin blah blah” or “we met at the blah blah and totally blah blah’d all night” hole.

Hi. New phone. Who is this?

I turn the ringer on and toss my phone aside and refresh my beer. My full-length mirror greets me across the hallway from my kitchen and I stop to look at the person I have become.

“Check out my hot holiday bod,” I say, jutting my stomach out. I have a gift for making myself look pregnant. It came in use last April Fool’s Day when I showed up to my mom’s house in one of my sister’s maternity shirts, clutching my back like I was about to blow.

“Winter Valeria, don’t scare me like that!” my mom yelled, clutching her heart. “I was so scared for that baby’s life.”

“Hey! I wouldn’t be that bad of a mom! It’s gotta be cool if I’m the one pooping it out,” I said, deflating my belly.

“You don’t poop babies out!”

But you do poop a little, or so I’ve heard. I couldn’t stomach being in the room for my sister’s birth, but I’ve read that the doctor instructs you to push as if you’re taking a dump. I can only imagine a little extra brown babies pop out in the process.

Paul is the only child I need at the moment. I’m not opposed to mothering a tiny human, but I couldn’t do it right now. Every period is a celebration of not being stuck with Mr. Last Month as my kid’s father, and either having to deal with awkward dates trying to get to know each other since we’re going to have to raise a child together, or coming to terms with a deadbeat father who wants nothing to do with us.

My phone chirps with a new text from the mystery contact. I settle back into my couch crease and swipe my finger over my lock screen photo of Oprah’s head photoshopped onto a llama’s body.

It’s Daniel. How have you been?

Do you ever hear or read a name and a distinct memory of the person that name reminds you of comes flooding back into your mind like a tsunami? There’s only one Daniel I know, and my brain is immediately washed with images of camping, cuddling, sex, staying up all night to talk, the long drive home.

Daniel and I dated for a few months in my first year of grad school, and he helped me decide that I needed to take a break from academics. It wasn’t an easy decision since that break also included him. When I left, he still had two years to go on his master’s in business and stayed in Chicago while I moved back down to Austin. He stopped responding to my calls and texts only a couple of weeks after I left, so I took it as a signal to give up.

Hey!

No exclamation point. I sound too excited.

Hey.

Better.

Hey. I’m great.

Not really, but I would never admit that to someone I used to date. It’s like running into them at Starbucks in a ponytail, no makeup and jeans you haven’t washed in a year.

Hey. I’m great. How are you?

It took me six minutes to respond to his text, which I think is an adequate amount of time to not seem too eager, but also prompt enough to show that I am interested in him contacting me. I’m putting way too much thought into this, but my Saturday night just got interesting and I don’t want to screw this up.

I can’t help but be pleased when he responds not even a minute after I sent my text.

I’m good. Are you in Austin?

Is he in Austin?

I am. Are you still in Chicago?

Paul is scratching at my leg and I realize I haven’t fed him yet. I take my phone with me to the kitchen just in case Daniel responds. Why did he ask if I’m still in Austin? Making small talk? My phone lit up with a new message.

Yeah, still working on my degree. Sorry it’s been so long since we last talked.

How am I supposed to respond to this? And why is he addressing it now, over a year later two weeks before Christmas?

It’s okay.

It’s not, but I don’t want to give him any impression that his silence made an impact on my happiness when I moved away.

I thought about how he would find out that I died if I had been in a horrible car accident on my way to work. Would my parents notify the school? Would they announce it? Would he see my name in a condolences email to the student body and immediately try to contact my family online to get funeral details? Would he come? Would he be upset? I imagined his inner monologue to be self-reprimanding and full of anger about silently breaking off contact. That his cut ties were my last impression of him.

No, it’s not. You didn’t deserve that.

Did something happen? His brief texts reek of guilt. Surely this hasn’t been paining him all this time. All he had to do was text me sooner than waiting over a year.

No really, it’s fine. How’s school? When do you go on break?

I’m actually on break right now. They let me take my exams early when I found out my grandma died.

There it is. Grief. Mourning a loved one does something to your character. Though it’s brief, you feel like you love everyone more and don’t take your relationships for granted. When my aunt died, I listened to the same three Iron and Wine songs for two weeks and sent handwritten letters to my college friends letting them know how much I love and miss them. A couple of them sent me concerned texts asking if I was alright. I probably shouldn’t have told them that I wish I could trade places with their babies and be pushed around in a stroller by them just so we could hang out again.

I’m sorry about your grandma. Is there anything I can do?

It’s a weak offer, but I don’t know what else to say. I don’t know anyone in Daniel’s family besides his mom who came to visit him for a couple days during the semester. She was nice, but it was total “mom nice.” Daniel is an only child and confessed that he feels pressure from his parents to do well so that he can be their trophy. He and I discussed quitting school and opening a restaurant. Though we talked about it jokingly, I saw it as a real possibility. I think he did too.

We’re okay. I’m in Jacksonville with my family. How is it so hot in December? Do you think swim trunks are acceptable funeral attire?

Perhaps. Are you burying her in a submarine? Is the pastor a shark?

Yes and yes.

Then yeah, go for it.

Paul is curled up on my lap and I’m scrolling up to Daniel’s first message just to relive this conversation. Where is this going? Did he honestly text me just because he feels bad?

We continue our conversation, which soon turns into silly banter as I get ready for bed. I hope he offers to call. Texting is great, but I miss his voice. A foolish part of me wonders if I am actually talking to Daniel, or if one of his friends is playing a really cruel joke on me.

This is you, right? I asked before he could answer my question about how many gummi bears he thinks he could fit up his anus.

Of course it’s me. Who else knows that you have a birthmark under your left boob that looks like an acorn?

He mentioned my boob. It’s oddly satisfying. If he mentioned it, he has to be picturing it.

My gynocologist.

Exactly. So I’ll see you Wednesday for your next mammogram appointment.

Will I?

He doesn’t respond right away. I try to distract myself with checking my email and making sure my alarm isn’t on.

Maybe. What are you doing for Christmas?

I’ll be here. Santa is supposed to come over and play beer pong.

Alright, you’ve twisted my leg enough. I guess I’ll be on your team.

Is this flirting?

That’s alright. You and Santa can be on a team. That fat bastard can’t even see his own feet, much less beat me.

You make a fine point.

Another dead end. It’s already past midnight yet I don’t want to fall asleep. I want to respond, but I don’t want to extend the conversation if this was his way of ending it for the night.

I plug my phone into its charger and set it on my nightstand. Well, the stack of books next to my bed that I use as a nightstand. My phone ringer is set to full volume just in case I start to fall asleep when he sends another message. If he sends another message.

It’s been five minutes but it feels like an eternity. I want to tell him that I miss him and I want to see him, but I know I shouldn’t. I rather hear it from him, but this waiting is agonizing.

My phone buzzes and chirps from my nightstand. Maybe having both ringers on was overkill.

Are you asleep?

What if he’s laying in bed having all the same thoughts? I wish one of us would be brave and ask where this is going, but I also want to take it slow and rekindle this friendship.

No. I’m in bed though.

What are you wearing? Just kidding. Are you going to sleep?

Stained sweatpants and a Hannah Montana t-shirt. Are you?

I should. But are you?

I should.

So….talk tomorrow?

I hate that he said it. It would be unrealistic to stay up texting and never sleep, but I would do it.

Yep. Tomorrow. Night.

Sleep well.

Paul jumps into bed with me and curls up next to my legs. I sometimes wish I could lose my emotions how he lost his hearing. Relationships can be a waste of time and are so much work. Besides shaving regularly for the first few weeks until you’re comfortable enough to show off your skin garden and wearing all your best clothes and shoes, you have to actually care for another human, and that’s scary. Love is great and all, but that person will be gone one day and it will hurt like hell.

I shift positions in my bed unable to get comfortable. I wonder how many others think extensively about our mortality. It humanizes others for me.

Daniel at my funeral. Not crying, just staring at my casket. Wondering what could have been. My parents puzzled by his appearance. He goes on to write stories about us, thinks about me on his first date since my funeral, visits my grave while on a work trip in Texas, gets married, has a child, forgets about me.