Sometimes when I don’t know what to write, I take out a book that someone bought me for Christmas which has emblazoned upon the cover: 500 Writing Prompts. The book has a prompt or two on each page and then some lines upon which you are supposed to write your response.

I have never made it past the first page.

There are several reasons for having never made it past the first page. The main reason is that I am obsessive compulsive and, if I ever do write in this book, I would want to start at the beginning and answer each prompt thoroughly in the order in which it appears. The main problem with that is, I can’t seem to negotiate the first prompt. What is the first prompt?

While at the beach you decide to write a message in a bottle. What would it say? Who would you like to find it?

I have often been tempted to answer this prompt but found myself staring at it with contempt. I hate this prompt. My simple, belligerent brain begs me to give a very Amy Answer. The kind of answer that nobody wants to hear but that I can’t resist.

While at the beach you decide to write a message in a bottle. What would it say?

Dear Whom It May Concern,

Please get me the hell out of this bottle…

Who would you like to find it?

Somebody who could get me out of the bottle…

You see, I would never go to the beach and decide to write a message IN a bottle. I am not the kind of person who often climbs into bottles to write messages. Unless they’re speaking metaphorically (which, they are, it’s really the sentence structure that irritates me). If they’re speaking in metaphorical terms, there have been great swathes of my life where I have basically lived in a bottle.

In fact, thinking of being in a bottle at the beach reminds me of my high school graduation trip to Florida. That trip haunts me to this day because I behaved like a space shuttle re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. I wasn’t sure if I was going to destroy myself in a friction rich ball of atomic, tangerine flames. Or, if the dynamics of deceleration were going to fail me completely and I leave me to goose flop into the ocean at 25,000 miles per hour.

I remember at one point being locked in a bedroom with two boys. We were very drunk and it was the only way our friends could keep us safe. They came back periodically to check on us, I think. I don’t know what all happened in that room. I woke up now and then. It was dark except for a pale green light coming through the curtains.

At one point, I recall sitting with my back against the foot of the bed. I took an empty fifth bottle and broke it over my right knee. That kind of pain is sobering. One of the boys, crawled over and wrapped his arms around me and told me, “Stop. Please stop… You’re going to hurt yourself.”

And he was right. And so I stopped. For a while.

But it was too late. I was already hurt.

During that trip, I also half-heartedly tried to jump off a balcony. I thought I was in love with a boy who didn’t even really know I was alive. I remember lying on a sofa and watching him and the next minute I remember running for the balcony. I can only say that, now, I endure isolation and loneliness with a tad more grace.

I didn’t even know the boy that well. When I look back at it, I suppose what I was in love with was the idea of being loved. I needed somebody to love me so badly.

Okay, right… I didn’t mean to go there. I’ve felt embarrassed about that trip since 1988. It bothered me so much to think about people hating me. But, no… I didn’t set out to write about it tonight off the back of messages in bottles and beaches. I guess if I were going to answer the writing prompt without being a smartarse, it would go something like this:

While at the beach you decide to write a message in a bottle. What would it say?

Please forgive yourself.

Who would you like to find it?

Me.

The three of us sat around the kitchen table doing our best to ignore each other when Eliot came hobbling in and said, “I’m going to be teaching a banana handling class today.”

My sister, who usually doesn’t say anything until she’s finished her first cup of morning coffee, looked at her middle son and, without a hint of irony, asked, “Is that a euphemism?”

Her husband, who was playing chess on his tablet, snarled and said, “Please!”

Eliot limped over to the refrigerator and took out an alarmingly large bottle of Pepto-Bismol.

He was limping because his foot was broken. The story we got was vague, as are all his stories. The story, as he told it, involved pushing his car onto a soft shoulder after said car quit on the NASA bypass. The break and accompanying bruising gave me an immediate mental image of him kicking the bumper, but who am I to contradict him?

Eliot turned up the Pepto and drank freely from the crusty bottle which had apparently lost its cap. As I watched him take one prolonged swig after another, I felt my own stomach revolting and sending waves of wretchedness that reminded me of nothing less than acid drenched toenail shavings rising in the back of my throat. Yet there I was, unable to look away.

When he was done, he wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt and put the bottle back in the refrigerator. “No,” he said. “It’s a real thing. They’re paying me extra too.”

This elicited a snarf from his father who looked up from the game. “And what do you know about banana handling?”

I said, “Dear God, I’m begging you. Please do not answer that.”

Eliot laughed, grabbed a hat off the coatrack, and limped out the backdoor.

A hush fell over the house again. The only sounds came from the three Doberman who were still asleep and snoring on the whole of a forest green sectional sofa; my brother-in-law, who was still playing chess and maintaining a low-grade, mumbled disagreement with the expert computer opponent; and, from outside, the occasional percussion of a bull who lived across the street in a fenced field, playing with a large blue drum which he was fond of gorging into the air and sometimes smashing against a large tin shed.

It was only after a considerable time had passed that my sister looked up with an expression as if she’d been away with the fairies, “Did he say banana handling?”

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