Two Halves of the Apple, Chapters Two and Three

Chapter 2
Breath of Life
Adam – 1996
The nurses were terribly silent as they handled the baby. None of the usual comforting comments for the mother, just hustle and focus. Rianne waited - dread building in her chest. She didn’t even know what to ask to find out what was wrong. The doctor attached some tubes and a mask to her baby while giving quick orders to the nursing staff. She watched them rush her baby out of view, too far away from her arms.  Her husband would have no idea that their first child might be lost to them. He would still be waiting to hear the good news.
She could hear the instruments and voices just twenty feet away, but she went inside herself.
She pressed her lips together, swallowed hard and began to pray: “Dear Lord, you know how long I’ve been waiting for this boy. I don’t know why you’ve given me his perfect soul in this body, but please give him life. Let me leave this hospital with him in my arms.” Tears wet her cheeks, “Please, don’t let this be how his story ends.”
Then she thought of the empty farmhouse she and Jake would return to and how they would bear this loss, barely able to speak through their grief. Guilt and sadness were already choking her.
Rianne kept her eyes shut, as if unwilling to leave her prayerful state until she felt a hand gently brush the hair back from her forehead. She opened her eyes to see another nurse smiling gently. The eye contact was compassionate and uncharacteristically long for a busy nurse, but there was something greater in his eyes.
“Rianne, I’m Elazar. You’ve been so strong. Rest and know that your son is in good hands.” As he spoke, he turned his head toward the team of people working to coax Adam’s underdeveloped lungs into life. Under the giant fluorescents and heat lamps, the light was nearly blinding from her bed.
There were so many hands laboring for one goal, and this did give her comfort. Elazar did not leave her side, and all at once, Rianne knew her prayers had been answered when a precious cry from Adam’s lungs cut through the heavy air. Watching the doctor and nurses rejoicing, Rianne wept tears of gratitude. The only words she had were “thank you,” but Elazar was no longer there to hear them.
Two days later when she and Jake cradled baby Adam on the threshold of their home, Rianne glowed with happiness. Together they vowed to guide their sweet boy with love and gratitude befitting his miraculous beginnings.

Adam – 2010
 “Adam, is your shirt pressed? Dad’s already warming up the car.”
“No one’s gonna see the shirt under my robes anyway.”
“I’ll know. And we’re going to Gran’s after mass for your brother’s birthday lunch.”
Adam wasn’t going to risk extra chores by making everyone late to church. He mostly ironed his shirt, rolled his eyes and helped Danny into his leg braces. He’d need to carry his little brother piggyback if they were going to make it from the back porch through the snow to the station wagon in time. He couldn’t see Danny’s grin, but as he backed up onto his brother’s bed and said, “Climb on, man.” Danny practically leaped onto his back. For a kid who had trouble walking Danny could be incredibly strong.
Giggling down the hallway, the boys stopped by the kitchen table to smuggle a couple of extra biscuits with ham and then braced themselves for the biting winter air on the way to the car.
He didn’t want to slip on the ice, but he had to be quick. Adam was pretty sure his dad would’ve started driving down the gravel road to church with or without him. His dad would’ve just rolled down the window a little and shouted for him to run alongside the car and make a jump for it if they’d been a second later.
Not only had the Franks never missed a Sunday mass, but they were also usually one of the first families to fill a pew. The boys went to St. Anthony’s school. Adam was an altar boy and shared the candle lighting, bell ringing, and the water and wine preparation duties with several other boys. Since Adam’s family was a constant fixture on Sundays, even when it wasn’t his turn to serve, sometimes the priest would make eye contact with him in the congregation and give a little nod. This meant he was to leave through the side door and come back in through the vestibule in robes and ready to fill in for someone who hadn’t shown up. 
His favorite job was to ring the bells as the priest held the chalice up with arms outstretched overhead. The set of six gleaming brass bells made a joyful noise to signal the consecration and presentation of the Eucharist. When he was feeling like a smart-aleck, he’d ring them over and over until he could barely contain his laughter. He figured fun wasn’t so bad. Irreverent, maybe, but not bad.
After his duties as an altar boy and the long drive out to Island Grove, Adam was eager to spot the chimney sprouting from the green roof of Gran’s old white farmhouse. If this were a summer get-together, they’d be helping Gran pick out a chicken for supper. She’d walk through the yard kids trailing behind her. Since she fed the chickens every day, they weren’t disturbed by her presence. If Adam or any of the other kids went into the pen, they’d scatter. She’d reach down, pick one up and hold it firm as she left the pen. Then they’d all walk to the stump with the hatchet- Gran with the children trailing behind once more.
Cradling the chicken, in a swift movement she would grab its feet and string the chicken’s head between two nails forming a V shape in the stump. She’d produce a knife out of nowhere to cut the head off, throwing the chicken out in the yard to flop around. The most fascinating part to Adam was how quickly a dozen cats would materialize at the sound of the knife hitting the stump. The mewling and hissing started an instant later. They knew better than to go for the chicken itself, so they battled over the chicken head.
As it was, there would be meat, potatoes, and fruit pies made with the fruit Gran had put up the previous season. Danny always asked for Texas sheet cake for his birthday, so his mom had made that the night before to be brought along to Gran’s the next day. Adam didn’t know any other life, but even so, he felt pretty lucky to have the family had.
As soon as the days warmed up, he would leave early in the morning on his three-wheeler, take the fishing pole, ride up and down the hills, do some fishing, ride over the creek and back again, and come home at dark.
Newton wasn’t the kind of town with enough opportunities for all of its young people. It joined the scores of other small towns that were sadly no longer economically viable after the age of technology. Adam would graduate high school and then head north to Chicago to start his life.

Chapter 3

Gabe and Abram -- Another Plane of Existence
“Did you just rewind that guy’s life?”
Abram shook his head like it was a ridiculous question. “Nah, I’m just showing you the replay of the celestial record. I’ll cut to the interesting parts.”
            I hesitated to ask another question, but said, “Why?”
            “Do you want to watch him learn to tie his shoes and blow out every birthday candle?”
            “I mean, why are we watching him at all?”
            “You and I are meant to inspire this young man to carry out his life’s purpose.” Abram produced a scroll of paper out of thin air and unrolled it with a flick of his wrist. “This here says, I, Adamah do solemnly swear to… blah, blah, blah.” He was getting impatient. “I’ll summarize it.” He scanned the scroll quickly, running his finger along the lines of script, “He promises to find Eve, love her, and follow her into death.”
            “How do we help him from up here?”
            “Oh, we can’t interfere. We can plant seeds in his dreams, throw in some symbols, repeated phrases, and such.”
            I nodded with a look of utter confusion, trying to catch up to what I was supposed to understand.
Abram added, “Even if Adam and Eve find each other, and make these choices for themselves, without Michael’s Faith, it’ll all be lost.” He drew a long puff from his magical cigarette and gestured to the screen.

Changing Focus

Sue Monk Kidd said that a novelist needs to write her own story over and over until it's thoroughly understood. Then she can let it go and start making new stories. When I read that I thought, "Ohhhh, that's what I've been doing."

I recently changed the focus of my blog and the spirit of my work. My goal is no longer to find joy through the bipolar lens. 

I found it.

I kicked over trash cans, wrestled demons, got quiet and still, cried some, lost loved ones, and shared my experiences in the process.

Although I still carefully manage my mood disorder, it's not the biggest part of me. It's there, but it doesn't lurk in the shadows. I dragged it all out into the light so I could properly see it. It has been demystified, accepted, and incorporated into this beautiful life.

I'm ready for something more.

For the last year, I've been working on fiction more than anything else. I've written several short stories and a novel. Writing is still the best therapy for me. It's the best chance I have to express myself and be a whole person. 

To celebrate my new trajectory, I'll be starting a beta reader group for my novel, The Eye that Never Closes.

It's 80% finished. I have 27 chapters and a complete story, but there are still a few knots that need to be smoothed. I have worked with a developmental editor already. I'll hire a content editor, a proofreader, and a cover designer in that order. 

When those steps are complete, I'll put the ebook on Amazon for sale and also hire a print-on-demand service for people like me, who still want to have pages to flip and dog-ear, and then smooth down with their fingertips the next time they settle back into that world.

In the meantime, I started another series, because it is ready to get out of my head. 

Check out the first chapter of another book:  Two Halves of the Apple

The idea behind this work is that every story has a God and a Devil. Every story has an Adam and Eve. It's inspired by imagining my brother and my uncle, both recently deceased, hanging out on the other side of this existence, continuing their spiritual journey.

By sharing my writing in non-traditional ways, publishing it myself, and stamping it with my own name, I'm circumventing the process of waiting for someone else to decide it's important. The stories are important because they bring me joy, and my wish is that other people who will gain something from reading my fiction will find it and pass it along.

Two Halves of the Apple, Chapter One

Before I died, I was pretty happy. I had a new Jeep and was heading off to college.
I died suddenly in a freak accident. I had no idea my journey was just beginning.

My name is Gabe. In my human life, I was pretty good looking. I played football and got good grades when I felt like it. For my nineteenth birthday, my parents surprised me with a red Jeep. It was a little beat up, but it ran. It might not have seemed that great to some people, but I knew how hard they had worked to save up for it. It meant the world to me.
They ran a diner in town and worked all hours of the day and night to make ends meet. They’d come home tired, sore feet, half-asleep. What I always thought was, How can they be so happy when they work their butts off all the time? After I had died, I understood that they loved their job. They liked feeding people, having their own business, and having a place in town where people could gather and connect.
It wasn’t my job to be watching out for them after I died, but I couldn’t help it. I looked in on them every once in a while to make sure my mom still had pies in the oven and rotating in the glass case. I knew that if ever there were no more pies, something was terribly wrong.
That’s how she told people she loved them. Birthday? Have a lemon ice box pie. Wedding? Have a chocolate mousse pie. Only son leaving for college? Serve a dozen pies for all his friends to gorge themselves on while they played lawn darts and spent one last Saturday afternoon together.
You had to look harder at my dad to figure him out. That was something else I didn’t realize until after I was gone. He was always there. He didn’t bluster or talk a lot. He didn’t bake pies or give extravagant gifts. He was cooking for people. Omelets were his specialty. He was taking care of his family. He was repairing something around the house or the diner. He was mowing the lawns for older neighbors who couldn’t do it themselves.
He was teaching me to be like him, too. When I was about 14, he shook me awake while it was still dark. I had planned on sleeping as long as I could since it was Christmas break. I rubbed my eyes, and he was standing over me dressed in his winter coat and boots. He said nothing. He just waved me on to follow him out into the hallway.
When I stumbled into the hallway, he handed me my snow pants and the rest of my gear. Then we went outside and crunched over the snow, still bluish in the pre-dawn light. We each grabbed a shovel and started clearing off the neighbors’ driveways. We started with the elderly folks who’d need their meal deliveries. Then we worked our way up and back down our little rural road just outside of town.
After I had died, I thought of that little road as a satellite to the main part of town, a place where you couldn’t get away with any mischief because Harriet was always peering out her front window. Bernie was always in his recliner pretending to watch t.v., but really seeing who was out and about. Everyone took care of each other. Things were simple there surrounded by corn fields.

The night after my going away party, I couldn’t sleep. I had this feeling my life was balanced on the head of a pin. I figured every kid who was about to leave home for the first time felt that way. I was antsy. I slipped out the back door and stood on the grass. Folding my arms, I looked up at a full moon.
            I knew I’d miss this place and it wouldn’t look the same to me when I came back. I was going to school in Madison, and I’d be the new kid along with a thousand other new kids. I’d probably look pretty “country” to everyone there. For old time’s sake, I threw on my boots caked with mud from the last time I wore them to fish in our pond. I walked the ATV out a ways from the house and fired it up.
            Motor sawing through the night, I took off across our property heading for the tree line. The wind in my face would forever be linked to a wild grin. I was caught up in the moment and may have been going a faster than I should have. I wanted to take a jump off a small moonlit hill, so I revved the engine and went for it. I was living every boy’s dream.
            When I realized the brakes weren’t working, I tried my hardest to turn it around before I got too close to the tree line. I failed.

I knew I was dead right away. I hadn’t anticipated how quickly I would understand so many things. No panic, just peaceful recognition. When my parents found me, there was nothing that could be done. I had broken my neck and died painlessly.
            I watched them try and make sense of their time without me. My mom got out her supplies to make a pie. She tapped her fingers on the counter for a minute and smoothed her hair. She put her supplies back in the cupboards. My dad had been crying in the bathroom so that he wouldn’t upset my mom. When he came out, they almost collided in the hallway. They grabbed each other tight and collapsed to the floor in a mess of grief.
            The interesting thing was that I wasn’t too sad. I had the sense that they would heal in time. Things were they way they needed to be. And that was the moment I found myself on another plane of existence.

It was emptiness, but not in a sad, lacking way. It was neutral, light, and full of hope. There was no floor and no ceiling as if to emphasize the limitless possibilities.
            I walked around slowly on what seemed like an invisible floor, fearing I’d plummet to who knows where with each step. I called out, “Hello.”
            A man appeared sitting with his legs crossed. He was older, gray-haired, and had one arm across the back of what I imagined to be an invisible chair. The other arm was propped on his knee holding a cigarette. He was smoking like it was his job. He was the kind of man I wouldn't have readily approached when I was alive.
            He barked, “Sit down. You’re making me tired.”
            I scratched my and thought, Should an angel be smoking? Is he an angel?
            “Let’s get this over with. I’m Abram. Your mentor. Here we go.”
            “What are we doing?”
            “It’s easier if we just do it. Trust me.” He didn’t look me in the eye, just stared straight ahead into the nothingness.
            He continued, “Everything starts with these two. You’ve got Adam.” He put out his left hand, “He’s the man. And you got Eve.” He put out his right hand. “I know what you’re thinking. They’re not very creative with the names around here.”
            I wasn’t thinking anything, but I kept my mouth shut.
            As if there were a perfectly clear movie playing in front of us, we saw a huge split screen. On one side a young man, Adam, I assumed. On the other side, Eve.
            “These two need to meet, and soon.”
            “What happens if they don’t?”
            “Then we have to do this all over again in a hundred years. Let’s see if we can’t help ‘em along.” He laughed a rasping smoker’s laugh.
            I stole a glance at Abram’s cigarette. I was still fascinated with this concept. He hadn’t flicked off the ash, yet the cigarette hadn’t burned down at all either.
            He slapped me on the side of the head. “Pay attention. This is important.”
            The man and woman on the screen were walking toward one another, each with a friend. It looked as if they might physically run into each other. They were steps away from impact when Abram stood up from his invisible chair with the cigarette dangling from his mouth.
            I leaned forward anticipating a big moment when the screen went blank.

            “No, no, no,” he said shaking his head, “I should rewind things for you some.”

How Writing Fiction Helps You Grow as a Person

You create a world.

Although my writing has fantasy elements, any fiction writer is in charge of making a map, populating it, and moving those people around on the map, so they interact in interesting ways. Every character will have a sliver of resemblance to a real person, even if it's the villain who seeks to destroy the earth. That evil lives somewhere deep in a true-life beating heart.

It's daunting to be in a dozen heads at once. 

You have to play out scenes in your mind to imagine how each of your characters would react in their voice and with their worldview. There is no greater exercise in empathy. Joanna Penn of has often said that she believes people who write dark novels are some of the healthiest people emotionally. I think she's right because you have to acknowledge the shadow elements of your own nature. In doing so, they aren't as scary.

You might realize you have a serious comma problem.

I use Grammarly to check my grammar. Not only do I forget half the needed commas, but I also overuse the word actually to a startling degree.

You're forced to find new ways to recharge your creative battery.

Inevitably, a writer will begin scraping the bottom of the idea barrel due to burn out, a crisis of confidence, or the dreaded block. Writing my first novel felt like I was standing in front of a cartoon merry go round and each of those obstacles was slapping me in the face again and again. Turns out, that's normal. I took up new hobbies, rediscovered old ones, and avoided words altogether for days until something sparked, and I returned to my fictional world.

You have to get over yourself. 

When I hit publish, there will be no parade down Main Street in my honor. Although it will mean one of my life's goals has been achieved, no one will care (except my husband, because he will not ever be asked to read another draft of that story). I will build a fan base organically, write more books, and eventually make some dollars. 

Getting over yourself relieves a heap of pressure.

When you figure out no one will bat an eyelash when you say, "I'm a writer," it's oddly comforting. To you, it's a huge part of your world, so you imagine horrible criticism, destroying your reputation, and other outlandish scenarios. If the book stinks, you can remove it from Amazon, and/or write a better book next time.

You start to see yourself as the protagonist (and sometimes the antagonist) in your own life.

Your life is a story that you are writing, full of turning points, dark nights of the soul, calls to adventure, tragedies, and happy endings.

Needs to Be Said

Right now, there is a sea of people swelling with anger and reactance. To get through the day they put on blinders to dull their feelings or bury their sense of betrayal and sadness. My writer friends have been unnaturally quiet. They are slowly peeking out into the world to admit they’ve been overcome with emotion and disappointment.

It disturbs me to know that people who make it their business to add light to the world are suffering, unable to use their voices. 

So, I'm gonna say some stuff.

Women, especially those who have experienced prolonged abuse at the hands of male authority figures, will have a visceral reaction to a red-faced man standing behind a pulpit mocking and shouting one moment, deriding and contradicting himself the next. Even the seemingly positive or benign actions of such a man cannot be trusted.

For people who live through circumstances where they’re powerless and fearful, it can take a lifetime of recovery to reclaim your dignity and power. It’s hard to constantly stuff down your body’s fight or flight mechanism.

Even people who have not been abused have been conditioned to call out liars, cheaters, and mean-spirited people. We teach our kids to share and not judge a book by its cover. We expect our co-workers to act professionally and with due respect.  When these basic, but essential rules are violated, we educate, give consequences, and move forward expecting better behavior.

Then this guy was elected president.

Then some of my friends surprised me by going out to march in Washington.

Then some of my friends surprised me even more by publicizing that “they don’t need a march.”

I nearly keeled over, and then I looked up an old article I wrote back in the day for a women’s newspaper. It is similar to the numerous articles circulating right now listing the achievements of the women's rights movement. At the time, I felt inspired to remind people how recently things had been different for women. One reader responded to that article. A woman in her seventies wrote to say that she was grateful that young women understood how much progress had been made, and how quickly it could dissolve without legal protections.

I could reprint that article (and I still might), but it probably wouldn't reach the people who needed to read it. If they have never lived without a healthy support system, they won't get it. Instead, I'll focus on the people who are already know all these things.

This is for my heart-centered friends who cannot find it in themselves to carry on as before.

There’s a saying that rings true: “Hurt people hurt people,” but that’s not the whole story. Some people transmute that pain into strength and use their hard-won power for good.

2017 Scene & Story #2

This week my daughter asked me, "Why do you love me?" in a genuinely curious tone. 

I felt a rush of motherly hormones and tried to describe what it was like when she was born. "I thought I couldn't love anyone more than I loved you that day even though I'd just met you."

She beamed.

I added, "But I was wrong. I love you more all the time."

"Why?" She cocked her head to the side.

"Because of all the experiences we have together. Because of what you teach me."

She was done talking then, but I thought, Like how you're teaching me right now. 

Having to answer my children's questions always helps me figure out how I really feel about things. Looking them in the eyes, being responsible for them, fretting, glowing with pride, feeding them, listening to what they're saying and what they're not saying-- these things bind me to them a little more each day.

These are January snapshots of those people:

I'm participating in a Scene & Story Link-up for 2017 over at Paisley Rain Boots. It has helped me take more intentional photos and connected me with some other bloggers/kindred spirits.