A story originally meant for "screams" but the monsters became too introspective
| Banishing Fear
The assignment for the class was to write about our greatest fear. I had picked up a writing class at the local college during the winter months to keep my mind busy. As a newly hatched empty nester, it seemed important to pursue my own interests for a time. With it having been more years than I could count since my last classroom experience, I cleared my mind of the dust particles and attempted to embrace the newness of the opportunities available. Armed with my newfangled laptop, an I-phone, and state of the art ear-buds, I hoped to fit in with the younger set or at least keep up with them. I tossed away any misconceptions of what was and steeled myself to accept the new without allowing myself to be overwhelmed. This was meant to be a fun class and my housing and parent approval were not contingent on the outcome. Since payment for the class was coming from my own hoarded funds, defeat was not an option.
I had entered the classroom to find an unexpected group of individuals. There were no jean-clad, dandruff shaking, eye-rolling teenagers present. I was the only person wearing blue-jeans and my daughter had surely learned her perfected eye-roll from her mama. The group consisted of middle-aged housewives, retired look-alike-accountants, and bored granny knitting former care-taker types. I assured myself that I was none of the above mentioned, because I was a child of the 60's eager to learn and grow. They sat in refurbished desks, once considered oversized in their youth, and now bowed by the extra weight of girth and middle-aged blubber, timid in their expectations of the classroom experience. The quiet of the room was deafening with each of them casting their own solitary cell of unapproachable, self-absorbed shadow of fear. Without meaning to, I could feel my eyes circling in their orbits.
The professor entered the room and all eyes came to rest on the three-piece suited man before us. His suit was plaid and his tie was striped. His belly poked out slightly below the pointing of his vest. The receding hair on his head had been replaced by the furry muskrat on top of his lip. The finger-painted smudges of his glasses made it hard to distinguish eye color, but the bushy wisps of his eyebrows above the frames resembled the muskrat in their grey and unruly nature. My internal guestimation of his portly stature was five-foot-seven. When he spoke, a nasal-monotone trill ensued, bringing a wallaby in heat to mind. I determined quickly that getting past the voice and focusing on his message would be my difficulty. I chastised myself as my eyes began to spin wildly in my head.
"Writing," he said "is what we came to do."
I waited, expecting a profound delivery of purpose.
"And that is what we shall do!" he finished his monologue.
More hands shot up in the classroom than there were people present. The moaning and groaning of misery was immeasurable.
"What do you mean? What are we supposed to write about?" one woman stuttered her almost tearful questioning.
"Life," he said.
The "buts" of protest in the room formed the concerted puttering of a speedboat motor. The glazed look of a reindeer in headlights transplanted to the eyes of the students. They stirred and fiddled in the tight-fitting seats as a symptom of their confusion. They behaved as if an alien had descended upon them and was requesting data that was unavailable to them. They had spent their lifetime living it, not recording the details for a future story. There was a panic to their throaty whispered objections.
He cleared his throat to silence the room. "I'm not here to tell you what to write, but only to show you that you can write."
The quiet remained but the palpable feel of doubt surfaced. It strengthened and gathered roots with each silent nay shaking head in the room. I chose to reserve judgment, but the creepy crawling worms of uncertainty began to weave their way into my psyche. The plaid clad man didn't exactly inspire confidence, but I was hoping that his words might resonate.
"What do you want us to write?" a floral-scented woman graced with overly-wrinkled, tawny colored skin from too many years of sun-bathing almost screamed at the man.
"I'm not your inspiration but the first step on the path to finding it!"
"So no homework, I'm guessing?' a smart-aleck man called from the back of the classroom.
"How are we supposed to know what is expected?" said another frantic voice.
They were waiting to be spoon-fed and the man was refusing to provide the needed nutrients. He took a dramatic pause by pushing his hands down gently against the air in front of him He whistled a hushed flute of wind between his lips. It served to mute the throngs I afforded the man credit for his calm during the assault.
He smiled, making his mustache dance above his lip I became mesmerized by the animated and furry rendition of his musical score of tight-lipped words. "So is that your greatest fear? Not knowing what is expected of you? In life, have you seen things that you never thought you could survive but are still here to talk about? Then you, my friend, are a writer!"
"Look at me," he continued, "do I portrait the image of an important or inspiring person? I'm an overweight, poorly-dressed, fifty-something professor at a community college. But each and every day, I wake up and gather my impressions of people, places, and events that I encounter. I scribble them all down in a black and white non-spiraled notebook and I count myself as a writer, a relater of history, a soothsay of ideas, and dreamer of dreams. That laptop on my desk, the college insists I need, has grown cobwebs between the keys. My expensive and over-rated, I-phone, again provided by this institution of higher education, is incapable of true interaction. Technology is not a replacement for the communion of our lives. I choose to express the poignancy of life and the colorful characters I meet in my personally drawn bath of scrawled ink. My art will never resemble yours. I ask only that you allow yourself to explore what is already there. Let your imagination guide you. We are all products of who we are and where we've been. Write about that! "
"But that seems a bit boring. I took this class to step away from the mommy cast-ironed figurine I've become. I was looking to write new adventures," I heard the familiar voice whisper. All eyes were on me, so the cry must have come from me.
"The adventures that we write must always begin with what we know. It is our own fences that curtail where the buffalo roam, just as imagination unleashes the beasts in the pasture."
"What? That's absurd! Those are just words," I barked as I found myself arguing with the man I barely knew. He had roused my sensibilities.
"Really? You just expressed to all of us your biggest fear. And you weren't boring at all!
He looked directly into my eyes and I could almost feel his eyebrows tickling my soul. Suddenly, I was in a sinking boat of my own making with my confidence abandoning ship. Confrontation had never been my friend and this man stood challenging my concept of just going with the flow. In my response, I threw my gaze towards the patterned tile of the floor hoping to escape the intensity of his stare. For his part, he strode to within inches of the desk that I inhabited, blocking my view of the floor. The heat of embarrassment rose on my cheeks, as he called me out on my wiry and bendable
gumby-like backbone. His impudence galled me, but his poised boldness motivated me.
"You just told this group that you feared being a boring mom that is no longer needed. Turn that dismal worried fear into your newly formed adventure. Pull together your characters from clips of memories of the past. Pen your tale about a place that has influenced your life. The descriptive terms of the scene will flow easily because you have known it and lived it," he said trying to draw me further into his web.
"Umm?" were the only words I could muster.
"All of you," he said as he spread his hands in expanse of the room "Start today, here in this room, sketching your adventure. Come back next week ready to share your story. Take down those built up fences and be willing to show me your fears."
I could feel the weight of my jaw dropping, as he exited the room. It took only a matter of minutes before the people began voicing there disbelief at the man's audacity, and only a few more moments before the cloistered retreat of the many began. There was talk about trying a pottery class, as some of them left. The forfeited challenge of the plaid man danced in their eyes with their flight from the room. The remaining individuals, who numbered less than half, whisked away the laptops and pulled pens from their pockets in defiance. I stayed and found myself in the current predicament, the need to write an imaginative story of my greatest fear.
I began by conjuring images of frightful monsters my kids had described when they were little ones. The beasts believed to be buried under their bed or the grimacing fiend housed in their closets failed to rouse my terror. I had always been the victorious mom defeating unseen forces of evil for my kids but those days were over. I had given them the tools to conquer the ogres without me. Like a ghost materializing from thin air, my fear took form, just as the plaid man had described, and it was the fear of not being needed.
I painted a scene of the words spinning in my mind and it took the shape of a night- blinding fog. It was an inescapable mist in its dense thickness and the moisture burned my skin with acid wielding tentacles. It was the graphic aloneness of the street that stifled my screams. I sought to voice the desolation of the night within my story. I needed desperately to draw characters for the scene to fill the void.
"Draw from the past," the man had said. A simply uttered challenge became a self-evoking emotional rollercoaster propelling me forward. The words fell fervently onto the page with raging hellions of devilry and fury-inducing monsters emerging from the fog. Plucked from my memory was the little girl I remembered so fondly, my daughter, as the central character. She wore a striped pinafore of cotton and black patent Mary-Jane slippers. A pink bow adorned her head. There was a visible sweetness to her trusting heart and a vulnerability to her small frame. The picture of her was so clear in my head. All at once, I became a writer and there were dragons to slay. There was an urgent need to slice the giants rising up from the mist.
I did find it quite odd, as I reread my story for grammatical errors, that all of my monsters wore plaid suits and striped ties. Characters should be drawn from the reality of life.
"Wow, you're going to town on that story of yours!" said a voice from the desk next to me.
"Well, the man did say to conquer our fears. Being needed is relative to being involved. This story fulfills my need and battles my taunting monsters."
The phone buzzed in my pocket and I retrieved it quickly. The text from my daughter helped to slay a few dragons of my own. It read," My stupid car broke down, Any chance you can pick me up at the service station?"
Word Count 1993