Rosie: A Short Summer Story

July 3, 2013


My name’s Rosie, which I hate by the way. It doesn’t help that I have actual rosy cheeks. I’m constantly embarrassed by my constantly embarrassed-looking face. My mother swears she picked the horrid name before I was born, but I don’t believe her. Naming me after a visible flaw is just the sort of thing she would do. She says she named me after Rosie O’Donnell because I’m a Cutie Patootie, which is the worst possible thing she could say.  And my mother says a lot of worst possible things. I should be thankful she didn’t name me Marlena or Sally Jesse. My mother, she loves daytime television.  

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Writing Prompt #9 – Talk about going to sleep. The dark. Monsters.

January 12, 2013

Harry, my three-year-old son, is obsessed with monsters. Every game he plays involves monsters and Spiderman defeating said monsters. Most nights we talk about monsters and how there are not any in our house, no, you don’t need to be afraid. I say this to him with confidence, assuring him that he’s safe. Sometimes he’ll come out of his room telling me he heard a noise and I, as his mother, am expected to investigate the noise and calm his fears.  But let’s be real; noises in the night freak me right out.

Let me explain about the noises.

Sometimes I hear things. Once it was a ghost living in my freezer scratching his long yellow nails across the inside of the door whenever I was alone at night. I’d be sitting on the couch and hear RRRRRrrrrrrrrWWWWEEEEEEEEEEEEEeeeeeee and freeze. That’s usually my response to a scary noise; I become a wide-eyed statue incapable of moving to a safe place. Ryan eventually identified my ghost as a blocked icemaker but whatever I know it was a ghost. I’ve woken Ryan out of a dead sleep on more than five occasions with a panicked I HEAR A NOISE SOMETHING IS HAPPENING. He’ll blearily walk around the house (sometimes outside the house) in his boxers, with his eyes mostly closed, telling me it’s nothing please calm down you crazy person. But it’s not my fault that I’m crazy. It’s my brother’s fault.

Let me explain about my brother.

He’s a joker, a prankster, and his favorite victim (before meeting his lovely wife) is me. And sure, I’ve always been a bit skittish, suspicious of dark corners and opaque shower curtains. It’s a character flaw my horrible brother has used to his advantage as often as possible. Many years ago, after everyone had gone to bed and the house was dark and quiet, I went into my room to go to sleep. Minutes went by, enough minutes that I was comfortable and sleepy, when a hand reached up over the side of my bed and grabbed me. GRABBED. ME. INTHEDARK. Of course I knew that it was a murderer or a ghost or an insane clown demon and that my life was in imminent danger. So I screamed.

Let me explain about the screaming.

I screamed so loudly and so intensely that my brother got in serious trouble. “I was just kidding!” he pleaded to no avail. “Look,” my parents said, “look what you’ve done to your sister!” It took a Catholic priest well versed in exorcisms and a tub of Crisco to peal my shivering body off of the ceiling. I would say that my brother learned his lesson and never scared me again but there’s Howdy Doody.

Let me explain about Howdy Doody.

My brother has this horrifying Howdy Doody doll that he uses to scare his wife and take years off of her life. Several months ago I was visiting and when I went into the dark bedroom was greeted with Howdy’s Evil Grin. The Catholic priest had to be called in a second time, my brother cracked a rib he laughed so hard and I’m still scared of monsters in the dark.

Writing Prompt #5 – A door just appeared in the wall next to you. What’s on the other side?

January 12, 2013

A magic door has suddenly appeared and aside from the fact that there’s a magic door and it has suddenly appeared, I’m curious.  Upon investigation, the other side of the magic door holds that other life. The one I almost had but a bend in the road sent me elsewhere.

The life where I became a concert pianist. I played with several symphonies and did studio work on movie soundtracks. I kept a slim waist and wore black gowns and critics said that I played with “indignant fervor.” Fans mimicked my trademark “piano face” and I recorded an album. I played for Andrea Bocelli at the Kennedy Center Honors the year Anne Hathaway was honored. My manager had to talk me into doing the prestigious event because I loathed Anne Hathaway and had for years. I played the nominated theme song at the 2021 Oscars and sat at a table with Darren Criss and Rebel Wilson. I married a composer and we traveled the world but never had children. I died in a plane crash at 72.

Or there’s the life where I married a pastor. We met in college and got married immediately after graduation. I was six days from turning 21, so young and so sure of myself. So confident in him and us and the ministry. I lost myself in it, solely focused on his career, his next speaking gig, his next church position. We had three children, all girls, and I loved being a mother more than anything. And I loved him and his work. Our life was good. In the end I was surrounded by family and friends; happy, but feeling that small tug in the back of my heart that I never found my own voice. I never started writing or got anything published, too busy supporting his endeavors and managing the household. I died of old age at 85.

Or there’s the life I lived in Maine. (That’s Boston for those of you who’ve read my book.) Shortly before our wedding my husband freaked out but believing things would work themselves out, I decided to stay. We never recovered and our marriage was loveless and sad from the beginning. We stuck it out since it was the “right thing to do.” Even when he had an affair. Even when I did too. We never had children and I never started writing or adjusting to the long, long winters. He worked late and I watched TV and life moved slowly by, the clock ticking down each moment as I resigned myself to the choice I had made. I died of a heart attack at 65.

All possible scenarios; all paths I was on at one point or another.

This door that’s appeared has shown me all the things that could have been, that at some points should have been.  It’s open and asking me to take a look. Asking me to make a choice. If I close it I’ll be forever stuck with my actual life. The one where I married someone 8 years my junior and together we’ve battled intensely unfair pain and had two children and countless arguments about his driving and inability to drink an entire bottle of water. The one where I started working for a record company while I “figured out what to do with my life” and 15 years later, still do.  The one where, at 38, I’m finally finding my voice. The one where my life is terribly normal and sometimes mundane and often hilarious and always real. My husband drives me insane sometimes and doesn’t listen other times and after eight years still doesn’t know which light switches operate which lights in our home. But he’s also kind. And so generous and talented and funny. And the most attentive and loving father. And he loves me far, far more than I deserve. And because of him I have two outrageous and stunning boys who light up my insides and make me laugh every single day. And I don’t need any magic doors or “what if” go-backs to be who I’m supposed to be. I’m a writer and a mother and a wife and a friend. And that’s more than enough.



Writing Prompt #7 – Imagine this is all a dream. What reality would you create?

January 12, 2013

One where nachos sustain life.

Writing Prompt #8 – Start a story with “Your hair’s on fire.”

December 9, 2012

“Your hair’s on fire.”

“No, pants.  You’re supposed to say pants.”

“What is this pants?  When you say a lie there is the fire, yes?  In the hair?”  He’s smiling at me all teeth and snark.  He’s trying to be cute.  Trouble is, it’s working. 

We’ve been doing this dance for three days, him playing Visitor From Somewhere and me playing Local Girl Guide.  We met on a street corner when he asked for directions to “The Broadway, with the singing plays.”  I looked up at him, squinting into the heat, and that was it.  We walked up six blocks and over two, me getting into more and more trouble with each passing sidewalk square.  I don’t want this, don’t have capacity for a summer flirt.  But here we are.

“It doesn’t matter anyway, I’m not lying.”

“You lie, Querida.  You are beautiful, but you lie.”

That’s what he calls me, Querida.  I’m not even sure he knows my name.  We’re on the subway, holding onto the same steel pole, our hands almost touching.  We don’t talk much, the language barrier too great or the need too small.  Mostly we walk.  I show him the city and his arm brushes my arm, my shoulder.  He smiles and smiles and looks at me.  Watches me.  It makes me nervous.

“Where now, my lovely guide?  What place will you show me?”

He’s tall, taller than me, eyes bright and open like he’s surprised to be alive.  I shouldn’t look at his mouth, shouldn’t think about his lips, but I do.

“You’ll see,” I say, wondering how long I can keep this up.

The cramped subway car lurches to a halt and his hand slides slightly, brushing against mine from wrist to thumb.  I feel it in my fingertips and my ribcage and my kneecaps.  I don’t want this, don’t want to be caught up in some ridiculous thing that has no happy ending.  I need stability and commonality and grown-up life, not handsome foreigners with beautiful hands. 

We walk up the stairs into the bright sunshine and suddenly his lips are on my lips.  It’s hot, so very hot, the sun and the summer and the street and his mouth on mine.  He pulls away, just enough for our eyes to focus, waiting for a reaction. I don’t know how long he’ll be here or his last name or his favorite movie.  So I hesitate.  Consider.  Think too hard. 

Then I smile. 

I take his hand. 

I leap.

Order of Business

December 8, 2012

Some of these prompts are proving more difficult than others.  Also, some of these prompts are downright crazy, but fortunately I enjoy crazy.  I don’t want to halt the process so there may be some out-of-order shenanigans and things you wouldn’t normally see here.  I apologize?

Writing Prompt #4 – Write About A Favorite Teacher (An Interpretation*)

December 5, 2012

I’ve been wordy since birth.  My earliest memory of getting into trouble for talking too much is from my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Hardcastle.  I had been running my mouth the entire day and Mrs. Hardcastle, developing a JoAnna Migraine (again), wrote a note to my parents about The Incessant Talking.  She wrote it in cursive, knowing full well I couldn’t read cursive.  (Well played, Teach.)  Turns out it didn’t matter whether I could read it or not because Mrs. Hardcastle pinned the note to the back of my shirt.  To a five-year-old, this is equivalent to giving Jack Bauer one minute to save a school bus full of children dangling from a bridge over shark-infested waters.  My mother would see a note pinned to my shirt for sure!  As a professional goody-two-shoes, I was not ok with this turn of events.  There had to be a way to hide the note and maintain my status of World’s Best Daughter.  I could not get into trouble; I was a good girl, a perfect angel.  Notes home to the parents were for girls like Jaime.  Jaime was The Worst and had notes pinned to her back every single day.  I should know; I gave Mrs. Hardcastle hourly updates on all the wrong things Jaime was doing. 

I quickly devised a plan to wear my winter coat until we got home where I could dispose of the telltale note in secret.  Foolproof plan!  I am a five-year-old genius!  What I didn’t count on was my mother deciding to run every errand that could ever be run after school.  And that it would be a warm day, way too warm for a huge winter coat.  Sweat was rolling down my face, from both nerves and wearing my disguise up and down the aisles of K-Mart.  My mother kept questioning me, “You look so hot, why don’t you take your coat off?”  I would panic and shout, “NO!  I’M SO COLD!  TOO COLD!  MUST WEAR COAT AT ALL TIMES!  DO NOT TOUCH MY COAT!” while the wretched note burned a guilt-hole into my skin.  I considered surrender, considered running away, considered wearing my coat until I reached puberty.  I couldn’t take the heat.  Any second I was going to cave, take off my coat and reveal my wicked ways.

But I didn’t.  I wore that coat all afternoon, through all the errands, all the way home where I ripped it off my shirt and buried it in the bottom of the trash.  And thus began my life of crime.**.

*Poetic license taken by the author

**Ending may be exaggerated due to boring end of the actual story

Writing Prompt #3 – How Are You Feeling

December 3, 2012

How am I feeling?  Do you mean my physical person?  Or my head?  Or my heart?  If you’re asking how I’m feeling I’ll tell you that I work full time and have a three-year-old son and an 11-month-old son and a husband and a terrible dog and a mortgage and Christmas gifts to buy and deadlines to meet and I signed up for this insane writing exercise and I have several other writing projects I’m working on and there are several important records coming out and so much to do and plan and I haven’t watched Parenthood in three weeks because I don’t have time or the emotional capacity and the older I get the more settled I feel while still trying to figure out where I belong and I’m unsure about my hair-color and I never see my best friend and I’m constantly amazed by my children and their humor and intellect and what if I don’t have a job in a year then what will we do and when will Ryan have time to put Christmas lights on the house and what if he falls off the roof and breaks his ankle we do not have the time or money for that oh right I need to pay for all the amazon orders and the electric bill and do we have anything for dinner or should I stop at the store since the car needs gas anyway and when is Harry’s Christmas program and do I need to get something to wear for the label Christmas party and Franklin’s birthday is next week have I let the grandparents know and should we have a cake or cupcakes and I need to move Buddy the Elf before Harry wakes up and my eyes are burning I’m so tired so very tired in my bones tired but also happy.

Oh, were you just being polite?  Well I’m fine.  Just fine.

Writing Prompt #2 – A Happy Memory

December 2, 2012

The nurse piles blankets on top of me, warm blankets fresh from the dryer or maybe an industrial microwave, but it does nothing to stop the shakes rolling through my body.  It’s not the cold metal table against my naked back that’s making my teeth chatter, not the frigid room temperature or the blinding lights.  It’s fear.  For the last fifteen weeks various obstetricians, specialists and inner-voices have told me that my baby could die.  Might die.  My pregnancy is “high risk” and could, worst case, result in a stillbirth.  I’ve lived every moment of the last several weeks with that sickening possibility, each roll of my belly a small signal from my baby that he’s here with me, that I shouldn’t give up.  We’re in this together, he and I, fighting to see each other face to face and end this nightmare.  Now here I am, laid out on the surgery slab, wishing everyone would just get on with it so I can hear my baby cry.  I need to hear him cry.

The blankets are removed and an anesthesiologist pinches me with tiny tongs, asking if I feel it.  With each pinch I say “yes” a little louder, a little more desperate.  My legs are numb but my abdomen is wide-awake.  I’m no scientist but I’m fairly certain they can’t get the baby out of my legs.  It’s decided that the epidural isn’t working so the nurses carefully heave my giant, naked body upright and one nurse holds me up while another rubs my shoulder while another tries to soften the edges with some O.R. jokes.  They can sense that I’m close to my mental edge, wild-eyed and quiet.  Another epidural is administered, I’m placed back down on the slab and we wait.  The staff is waiting for the medicine to work and I’m waiting for the cry, the cry I’ve been waiting hours, days, weeks, years….to hear.  The pinching dance starts again and I grow more agitated.  Yes, I can feel that YES.  YES THAT TOO.  I AM FEELING ALL OF THE PINCHES YOU ARE PINCHING.  Anesthesiologist #2 is brought in and consults with #1 while standing over my head, as if I can’t hear them.  I’m laid out flat on a metal table in a chilly room, completely naked, while they casually discuss what to do.  I’m teetering on a precipice of bliss or despair while they discuss quantities and methods and surely-it-will-work-soon-let’s-just-go-with-it.  I’m ok with this plan as it gets me closer to hearing the cry.  I need to hear him cry.

My husband is brought in and a sheet is placed right in front of my face and here we go.  Suddenly I shout I CAN FEEL THAT.  SOMETHING SHARP.  ON THE LEFT SIDE.  Everyone in the room freezes as if a time traveler has snapped his fingers, needing a moment to solve the mystery.  My shivers increase and hot panic races through me.  They aren’t going to be able to do it!  They won’t be able to get him out!  He won’t cry and I need to hear him cry!  Ryan is sent out of the room and there’s murmuring and consulting over my head again.  They discuss putting me under and I plead with them.  I need to be awake; I need to hear him cry.  Please.

I’m hoisted up again, trembling and shivering, but not crying.  I’m frozen from the inside out.  All of my organs and thoughts and veins and muscles and fear are locked up tight.  Paused.  Waiting.

They give me a spinal, saying “this has to work, right?” and start the set-up process once more.  Ryan is brought back in and the sheet is placed back in front of my face.  There’s some quiet discussion and some pulling and tugging.  I don’t know what’s happening but can’t seem to form words to ask a question.  Every second ticks by like a sonic boom in my brain.  TICK.  TICK.  TICK.  Then someone stands directly on top of my chest and in one great whoosh –

A cry.  He cries.  My son is alive.

Writing Prompt #1 – Tell The Story of A First Day

December 1, 2012

The chairs are in a circle, no tables, all 21 of us are awkwardly perched and wondering where this is going. We’re here, each of us, because we were summoned.  Told we should be “honored” to be chosen and maybe that’s true, but right now it’s all unknown and a little bit sweaty.  No one knows where to look or how to sit or who to be.  Should we act powerful?  Vulnerable?  Should we speak up first or wait it out?  Madame HR claps her hands loudly and signals the beginning of The Program.  That’s the only thing we know, that it’s called The Program.  Like we might be transported to an island with polar bears and hatches and food deliveries that fall from the sky.  Right at the start we’re told to go around the circle and say who we are and what we do for the company.  Sounds like an easy introduction but really this is how we size up the competition.  How many other marketing people are here?  That girl over there with the cool shoes and the smirk, is she smarter than me?  Does the guy with The Hair think he’s too cool for the rest of us?  Once the 12th person announces Vice President after their name my heart pounds slightly faster and my hairline starts to itch.  These people are serious.  Careers.  Adults. 

Here I sit, some girl from Nashville who accidentally came to be sitting in this chair.  This role.  This life.  I don’t have a degree in Being Awesome at Business but I’ve always managed to find my own way.  Here, at The Program, everyone appears to have dreamed of working in the music business since they were seven years old and are now captains of the industry.  High powered executives with drivers and Lincoln Town Cars and Manhattan apartments and celebrity friends. Meanwhile I drive a nine-year-old Honda with two car seats in the back covered in Cheez-It dust and apple juice stains.  I do not belong here.

Circle time ends with instructions for the next several days and we’re loaded into shuttles bound for dinner.  My mind is racing with all the potential ways I could (and most likely will) embarrass myself.  I’m pretty good at winging it in a tight situation but this is way out of my league.  We arrive at dinner and I brace myself for executive conversations that I won’t understand, steel myself to be asked things I don’t know the answer to, worry myself into a stiff posture and strained expression.  I sit across from a VP of A&R and next to a VP of Finance who is next to a VP of Joint Venture Partnerships.  “And what do you do,” they ask.

Gulp.  This is the part where they learn that I’m a fraud.

“I’m JoAnna.  I’m a Director of Marketing at the Christian label in Nashville,” I declare with a confidence that doesn’t actually exist.  “I can’t believe I got picked to come to this.  I hope I don’t royally screw something up,” one of them says.  One of the VPs.  One of the smart ones.  “I know, me too.  Hearing what we’re going to be doing freaked me out.  Sounds intense,” says another one. 

I look back and forth at these people as they lament about nerves and fears and presumed inadequacies, these people who intimidated the fire out of me 20 minutes ago, and I realize.  We’re all nervous about the same things.  All of us.  Even captains of the industry.  And it’s going to be ok.