Yes, it’s okay to play with the ball in the house; we won’t break anything and mom will never know; look you broke it, mom’s gonna be so mad; let’s play cops and robbers, you be the robber and I’ll be the cop; don’t worry I won’t leave you tied up here all day; I’ll be right back to look for you, it’s part of the game stupid; I see you managed to get yourself loose from that rope, I knew I should have tied it tighter; don’t tattle you little baby; yes there are monsters in your closet; I can’t believe you fell for that you stupid baby; when will you ever learn?
Finally! I’ve reached the end of the 52 week writing challenge. Naturally, the prompt was “a story titled the end.” It’s been a challenge indeed to keep up doing this the whole year through, but it’s been worthwhile. I hadn’t realized how many stories I was capable of creating on the fly. This last piece is more of a reflection on my college graduation and how I’d felt at that time, almost 4 years ago now. Enjoy!
I looked around one last time at the now mostly empty apartment. Legolas had been folded into one of Caitlin’s bins. James Dean was rolled up in a stack of other posters with a rubber band keeping them together. Only Lida’s mugs remained in the cabinet next to the fridge above the stove.
The furniture the rooms came with remained, but my guitar and cheap Target bookshelf had been packed and sent off to my car and the Goodwill store, respectively. Caitlin had erased her notes from the full length mirror upstairs and saved her messy, highlighted and handwritten notes in her agendas in a box downstairs.
We’d done this all before in the three years previous, but this time we wouldn’t be coming back to Campus Crossings. There’d be no more fighting for the parking spot right in front of our door between the two asshole trucks who tried to block me out. No more stopping at the front office to catch the next shuttle to class in the early morning. No more late night walks from Peg Pointe a few blocks up the road after an evening of pizza, movies and board games. No more quick trips to the Walgreens across the street to pick up emergency ice cream for those nights one or more of us came home crying.
It was meant to be an ending. An opportunity to start something new. The whole cliché of every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. It wasn’t just an end this time though. See, when high school ended, we knew we’d be together again in college. This time was different. This was the end, because we didn’t know if we’d be together again.
Three of us had graduated. One was going to grad school. Two remained behind to finish in Orlando. Two of us moved back to SoFlo to start the job hunt with humanities degrees. We were scattered to the winds, and it was terrifying.
I hadn’t ever known a life without constant companionship, but here I was stepping into a world where I had no idea if my best friends and I could survive the biggest challenge of all: growing up. Sure, over the years there’d been the fair share of tiffs. Throwing shoes at Lida so she’d stop leaving them in the doorway. Complaining about dishes being left in the sink. Reprimanding Char’Lee for letting a stranger into our apartment. We’d made it through all that.
We’d made it through heartbreaks, rejection letters, anxiety attacks and nights we just had too much. But we’d always done that all together, side by side, shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand. Could we still do it with 300 miles between us?
I didn’t have much choice though. I’d have to find out the hard way, by bringing the last bin to my car and stepping over the threshold one last time. One last hug before setting myself up behind the wheel of my car. One last drive down Rouse to remember the weirdly wide, brick speed bumps that would scrape the bottom of my bumper if I took them too fast.
The end of college wasn’t an end. It was the end. Not in a dramatic “my life is over” kind of way, but more of a “my life will never be the same again.” It’ll never be that easy again. It was officially, the real end of childhood. And as sad or scary as that sounds, it’s for the best. It’s the best end.
*Edit: Made a mistake in the story. It was a Walgreens, not a CVS. Change made 1/3/17.
This week’s 52 week writing challenge prompt is “a story set at Christmas,” and with this, I am officially caught up on my challenge! It’s a Christmas miracle! Merry Christmas, Noche Buena, and happy holidays all around to my readers. Next week will be the final prompt for the challenge. Enjoy!
Heel to toe, heel to toe, slow, slow, slow. I walked like a circus performer on a tightrope as I grasped the mug handle in my fingers, watching the top layer of marshmallows in hot cocoa ripple like the glass of water in Jurassic Park. Just one more step.
Mom came up behind me and grabbed the mug so I could settle in under the tree next to my brother. “Thanks, mama.”
“You’re welcome.” She beamed and handed me back the mug.
I took a slow sip, and even though it still burned the tip of my tongue and roof of my mouth, I let out a satisfied, “Mmmmmmm.”
Dad took a seat in front of the fake fireplace he’d made out of cardboard and colored in with my crayons. Above his head, on the fake mantle, hung our stockings, held in place with push pins. From left to right they read, “William. Sonia. Daryl. Meagan.” My name was in pink glitter.
“Okay, are we all ready?” Dad asked.
Daryl and I nodded. I laughed when I saw his hot chocolate mustache. “Shut up. You’ve got one too.”
“Alright, dad, you pick your character first,” Mom prompted.
“I’ll be Rat,” he answered.
My brother raised his hand high in the air like he was in school. “I’ll be Mr. Toad.”
“I’ll be Badger,” added Mom. “Meagan, that leaves you with Mole.”
“Aw, again?” I pouted. “I’m always the ugliest one.”
“That’s ’cause you are the ugly one in the family.” Daryl cackled and nearly spilled his hot chocolate all over his pajamas.
My mug was on the floor beside me now, and I crossed my arms and furrowed my brows. “Mommy! Make him stop.”
Mom gave my brother the glare. “Daryl, be nice.”
He rolled his eyes and shot me a dirty look. I stuck my tongue out at him.
“Hey, if you two keep at it we’ll call it a night and put you to bed.” Dad’s stern voice always made us stop bickering.
I picked up my mug and took a sip. We all nodded in silent agreement to proceed.
My dad cleared his throat and started reading in his lilted accent. “Chapter 1. The River Bank. The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home…”
He read slow and careful, stumbling a bit on the part with all the ings. When it was the character’s time to speak, he handed the book to me so I could read the dialogue. This was my favorite part. I put on a dramatic voice and enunciated everything in my best British accent, because in my mind, Mole was from England.
We continued like this for the next hour, each taking turns reading from the old, tattered book. The pages were yellowing and the cover had tape on the spine to keep the cracking paper from peeling off altogether. We’d read that book every year on Christmas eve for as long as I could remember.
Each of us made the characters our own. My mom always gave Badger a grumbly voice, lowering her head to read as deep as she could. It always made me laugh. My dad’s naturally higher voice gave Rat the perfect warmth necessary for the friendly creature. Daryl gave Toad a British accent too, but his was huffier and more manic than mine.
With ten minutes to spare until midnight, and my brother and I dozing off, Dad closed the book and called it a night. “Okay, time for sleep. You two have everything you need out here?”
Daryl and I nodded our sleepy heads. “Alright, good night then.” He bent over and kissed each of us on the forehead.
My mom helped us into our makeshift sleeping bags with pillows and double blankets. Even on a tile floor, it was still pretty comfortable. We barely felt or heard her as she said goodnight.
They went to bed and turned off the lights, leaving only the glow of the Christmas tree lights and decorations as illumination for us. The sweet smell of pine filled my nose as I turned over to face my brother. “Good night, Mr. Toad.” I yawned.
“Good night, Mr. Mole,” he yawned back.
So for this prompt from my 52 week writing challenge, a story about a near death experience, I decided to go with an incident that actually happened to me about a month ago. Enjoy!
Driving down the 95 is hell on a good day, but at night in a sports car with terrible blind spots and a passenger who’s head blocks most of the right-hand visual? Recipe for disaster. That’s why I didn’t even know something was happening until my mom started screaming and reaching her arm out to me.
Before I knew it, in slow motion, like a movie or a dream, an all-black car, faded paint and no headlights, skidded up my right against the barricade, spun across all four lanes heading south bound to the other side, stopped only by the left-hand barricade.
Meanwhile, my sweaty hands stayed on the wheel, gripping the rubber cover so tight my knuckles were numb. My arms mechanically swiveled the wheel side to side, but I barely felt my car weave with the movement within my lane.
My mom kept screaming something. I don’t know what she said. Just words. My dad screamed in the back seat too, but it was all warbled noise, like that one teacher from the Peanuts cartoons.
I may have stopped breathing. My heart may have stopped beating. Hard to tell when all you see is a car spinning out of control like something out of a James Bond movie and you’re smack in the middle of it. The weirdest part though? On a Florida road at night going 70 miles an hour, every car around and behind me somehow managed to make an arcing pathway for the car losing control.
Like Moses parted the red sea, my red Pontiac G5 was the dividing line that all the other cars managed to follow and avoid crashing into one another like a carnival bumper car ride.
A huge crash and sudden stop in front of me brought the world’s volume back up full blast. I slammed on the brakes and barely stopped in time. The mini SUV in front had been hit by the car that lost control and so I stopped too, without a scratch or even a dent.
If the both of us had been driving just a little faster, that would’ve been my car that took the hit, and my car could not survive that crash. Too small to take the impact.
A miracle. Serendipity. A guardian angel. Call it what you will, but it was freakin’ insane. And the real kicker? My life did not flash before my eyes. Nothing flashed.
The world stood still while I watched that car skid, swerve and slide its way across a highway and narrowly miss my car. Fast and slow. Still and in motion. Like time and space had converged at that one point and the universe had caved in and recreated itself to unfold right then and there.
No, my life did not flash before my eyes. It just stopped and went on.