Monday, February 6, 2017

Meet Margaret

Having made the decision, 
do not revise it unless some new fact comes to your knowledge. 
Nothing is so exhaustive as indecision, and nothing is so futile. 

 - Bertrand Russell 

Good morning. This is a bit of an unorthodox post, assuming of course there is any orthodoxy to what you usually find here. You may debate that amongst yourselves.

Many critics believe Hamlet's indecisiveness cost him his life. Is the ghost my father? Do I believe the ghost? To be or not to be? Do I kill Claudius? Okay, but do I kill him now? When he does act rashly, he *spoiler* accidentally kills Polonius.

I've been thinking about Hamlet lately. I can't seem to make decisions. Like, at all. Not about big things & not about little things. I don't know what I want to wear. I don't know what I want to eat for lunch. I don't know what I want to blog about. I don't know what we're going to do next in AP lit. I don't know which of the romantic poets I want to cover with the seniors, & whom to omit. A component of teaching is deciding what's coming next, because you need to get busy reading it & preparing to teach it. In this first year it's a constant process, & it is absolutely exhausting.

I think I'm experiencing burn out, or something. Last week's level of tired was on par with pregnancy-tired-level. I was late to book club last Monday night, in part because Trey got home a little late, & in part because there was a wreck in route to the home where we were meeting, & I was sitting in my car experiencing this ridiculous mix of anger, sadness, & frustration, & I almost turned around & drove back home.

I did make an executive decisions to see Dirty Dancing Wednesday night (yes, I did go, if you were wondering). I don't regret going, & as I told Trey, had I not gone to the movie it's not like I would've been catching up on needed sleep. I'd have been doing laundry or packing a lunch or typing notes. I was five or six when the film originally released so I'd never seen it in the theater & it's pretty amazing in the theater. As you might imagine I shared the theater with some enthusiastic fans, including one gentleman who regaled me with trivia about the movie while I half-nodded & buried my face in my popcorn until the lights finally signaled the beginning of the movie.

Reagan's school work is not the most relaxing thing in my world. Thankfully Trey has been working on her math with her. I had no idea kindergarten math could be so stressful but most of the time I cannot even stay in the kitchen while they're at the table working on it. She's a smart girl but she's six & at the end of the day she is tired of sitting & listening & it is difficult to explain to her why she needs to learn how to add & subtract. I can be persuasive, but that's just not an argument I am cut out to make because math makes me crazy.

It's February but I am limping toward May. I need to read a book I really, really enjoy. I need to write. I immediately fall asleep lately attempting to do either. I really don't have the luxury of extending this blog much more because I need to read a couple of chapters of Nineteen Eighty-Four (we're almost done with it!) & also type some notes on, oh, I cannot even recall right now. Something British. 

What is below is something you are welcome to ignore or read at your leisure, but if you do read it, share your thoughts. It is the completed opening chapter of a book that has no title. I have a rough outline - on paper! not just in my head - of what I'd like to see unfold in the novel, but, again, making hard decisions is not something I'm up to at the moment & likely I won't have the mental fortitude for that until school ends in May. I have a lofty & perhaps unattainable goal of being about 50 - 60,000 words into a rough draft by the time school begins next August. Most novels fall within the 80 - 90,000 word range, if that helps or is something you at all care to know.

I can easily walk away from what I've written thus far without crying, but I need to decide if I continue with this or move on to something else. What I don't want to do is sit around all summer being indecisive, pick at a couple of manuscripts, have nothing worth much come August, & hate myself. *My plan* - stay with me & don't laugh - is to allow the children to slip into their summer sleep routine that entails sleeping until nine or so. Here's the kicker: I rise around seven & have a couple of hours ALL BY MYSELF. I can read, write, drink coffee, weep openly, clean a toilet, etc. Stay tuned. A year ago I'd have said no way, it'll never happen, but seven in the morning is this whole other thing when five in the morning is when you usually rise. 

Couple of things: It's told in first person & I don't think that's going to change. So far I like being in her head, her being Margaret. I don't think her name's going to change either; Edie would've been Margaret but for two reasons. The first time I typed Edie I didn't know if I'd have another female child, & had that been the case, her name would've likely been Margaret. Now that Mr. Henry's here & I've closed up shop, I can use Margaret in a manuscript with no reservations. I also decided on Edie because I needed something Dr. Foster could initially mispronounce (Eddie) early in the novel.

So anyway, her name's Margaret. Margaret doesn't have a last name yet, nor do I know where she lives. With Edie her location mattered because she needed to be far from home, & I wanted her somewhere (1) she'd have a noticeable accent & (2) there'd be snow. I don't think geography will play as significant a role in Margaret's story. I do think there's going to be gunfire at some point, maybe a return of her mother's crazy ex, & definitely a second encounter with Officer Dean circa eight years after the scene in this opening chapter; it's the endless possibilities that lure me back to my MacBook. 

Understand that at present I am probably the worst judge of, well, anything. If I have time to pee when I need to during the day I am having a good day. So, if you read, let me know if you love it, hate it, are maybe a little intrigued & would keep reading, hate the name Daniel, etc. Although I can tell you his name will likely be Daniel Dean, should this story continue, because I am not so tired that I can't recognize that alliteration is awesome.

Chapter One: Daniel Dean 
I was sixteen the first time I saw Daniel Dean. He was one of the cops who responded to my mother’s second 911 call. She became increasingly paranoid after finally ending her relationship with Jonathan, a man she dated off and on after my father’s death.
I never liked Jonathan. It took me a year to convince my mother my displeasure with him went deeper than childish fears of him replacing my father. The first time she called the cops, it was four in the morning and she thought she heard someone unlocking the deadbolt on the front door. It plausibly could have been him, had he thought to make a copy of the key she loaned him.
The cops who responded to that first call told her to change the locks. Despite new locks, a month later three different cops were sweeping our house for an intruder after mom woke at midnight and thought she saw someone outside her bedroom window.
Officers Dean, Turner, and Swanson checked every inch inside and around the house while mom brewed a pot of coffee. The five of us sat around our kitchen table drinking coffee and discussing mom’s proclivity to call the cops when the wind blew. I didn’t say much. I’d never suspected Jonathan to be the violent type. My dislike of him stemmed from his snooty attitude, the subtle swipes he’d occasionally take at my deceased father, who’d been a mechanic before he died of a brain aneurysm.
Jonathan was an ear, nose, and throat doctor who rode a motorcycle on the weekends and had never been married. My mother met him at her church about two years after my dad died. I saw the initial attraction, I did. He was tall, charming, and a doctor; he was the man my grandparents would have preferred to have sired me.
I was glad my mother finally ended the relationship, but was begrudgingly reliving it as I sat drinking coffee and listening to mom relay details of her time with Jonathan to which I’d not formerly been privy. Officer Swanson was obviously the one in charge of the threesome. He asked most of the questions. I was impressed with mom’s assertive calmness as she sat in her bathrobe and explained her relationship with Jonathan while three uniformed officers gawked at her, drank her coffee, and intermittently yawned.
I learned Jonathan was a gun collector. Mom said he usually carried a small pistol on him, and that he owned a roomful of guns of various types and sizes. He’d never physically hurt her or threatened her, but was apoplectic when she ended things between them and for weeks afterward left her increasingly erratic voicemails. All of this was news to me.
At some point I started crying and found myself on the receiving end of an attentive Officer Dean. He brought me some Kleenex, refilled my coffee mug, and, perhaps at the urging of his senior officer, escorted me outside and into one of two rockers on the front porch.
"Your name’s Margaret, right?"
"I’m Daniel. You can call me Daniel." He sat in the other rocker and threw a glance back inside the house where two of his superior officers and my mother were seated, three people who might prefer I call him Officer Dean.
"You’re young to be drinking so much coffee at one in the morning."
I wanted to tell him to shut-up. I wasn’t interested in small talk about my coffee habits while he diverted my attention from my mother’s account of her ex who’d apparently spooked her enough to warrant two 911 calls. I just nodded and laughed and said the first thing I could think of in the surreal situation, the two of us bathed in moonlight, sipping coffee in the rockers in which my father and I had spent hour after hour talking before things like puberty and death complicated life.
"You’re pretty young yourself, Daniel."
I don’t know where the Daniel came from. It sounded flirtatious, and I guess it was. Apparently with enough coffee and adrenaline in me, even at sixteen I was audacious enough to flirt with a uniformed officer who was well aware of all the laws prohibiting anything beyond flirting between the two of us.
"I’m twenty-two. As of last week." He winked. 
He was winking at me. I was suddenly aware of the threadbare T-shirt and boxer shorts I’d chosen to sleep in, never dreaming I was dressing for front porch coffee sipping with Officer Daniel Dean. I found myself shifting in my rocker to see if he was wearing a wedding ring, and realized in the same instant I’d clearly lost my sixteen-year-old mind.  "I’ve been drinking coffee since I was six. And how do you know how young I am anyway?"
"Your name and age were included in the report that was filed last month when your mom called the cops."
"Oh, right," was all I could think to say.
We sat in the silence and rocked and sipped coffee for several minutes. The moonlight bounced off his spotless black shoes; I was certain he’d been on the job maybe a month, tops. The creases in his uniform were crisp and perfect, and despite his obviously broad shoulders, his collared shirt hung loosely on his large frame.
I guessed Daniel Dean was a few inches taller than my father had been. I’d memorized dad’s frame in that rocker during the first decade of my life, and seeing another man sprawled in the wooden chair my father built with his own hands was coaxing a jumble of emotions to the surface.
A slight breeze brought his scent with it. He didn’t smell like the boys at school, nauseatingly soaked in cologne. He smelled like a grown man who shaved his face because he genuinely needed to, and then splashed himself with an aftershave that clung to him all these hours later.
Maybe the department hired him for this purpose, to distract scared teenagers whose mothers were spilling the sordid details of their tumultuous relationship with an ex. I briefly wondered how many other scantily clad young women he’d had coffee with lately before I realized my train of thought had taken a weird detour.
It was so quiet I heard him swallow a sip of his coffee before he spoke again.
"Where’s your father, Margaret?"
"Dead. He died when I was ten."
Daniel Dean pursed his otherwise full lips and nodded his head before responding. "I’m sorry. I didn’t know."
"Don’t apologize. You couldn’t have known. I mean unless that’s included in the file with my name and age," I added, hoping he saw my smile. I was enjoying our conversation and didn’t want it to end. It wasn’t often I spoke of my father. It wasn’t often I sat on the front porch sipping coffee with a uniformed officer who made me remember how soothing a man’s presence could be.
"No, no that’s not in the file. Honestly, your mom’s beautiful and I was skeptical any man would voluntarily walk out on her. On either of you."
He punctuated his last sentence with a wink that made me want to climb in his lap.
"No, he didn’t voluntarily leave. He had a brain aneurysm."
"Well, I hate that this ex is giving your mom such a headache."
"He’s a jerk, but she’s an over reactor."
"Better safe than sorry. We’re happy to be here."
"She does make good coffee,” I said, raising my mug to my lips and taking another sip. “And I’m happy you’re here, too.”
    "I have a sister who’s sixteen. You’re much calmer than she is."
"We’re not all the same, you know?"
"As I’m learning."
"Is she in school here? I may know her." I couldn’t think of anyone at school with the last name Dean.
"No. Goodness, so you’re in high school."
In that moment I desperately hated being in high school. "I am. I’m a junior."
He whistled. "It’s good to know you, Margaret."
"Thanks. You don’t really know me though. You know I’m sixteen, my dad’s dead, and my mom makes excellent coffee."
"I guess that’s true. I do know you’ve handled a stressful situation well. I know you’re a Queen fan," he said, gesturing to my oversized T-shirt, "and I know I’ll long remember drinking coffee on your front porch with you. By far the most interesting night I’ve had since I’ve been on the job."
"My dad was a Queen fan. How long have you been on the job? I mean, I may not be competing with all that many evenings."
"About a year. I promised my dad I’d get a college degree, and so I did, but then I applied to the academy. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do."
"Yeah, for state troopers."
"Do they talk to you about flirting with sixteen-year-olds in the academy?"
Daniel’s laugh was so loud I was worried mom and the other officers would hear him.
    "I promise I’m harmless. Has your mother talked to you about flirting with older men?"
     "Mom’s dating advice isn’t exactly highly sought after."
     "Right. Well, Miss Margaret, we probably ought to head back inside. I’m out of coffee and it’s getting late. You and your mom need some sleep."
      "You don’t sleep?"
      "Not tonight. I’m on until morning."
   "I don’t suppose you’re part of the trooper’s rehabilitation squad or anything? You know, hang out at the scene until the scary shadows are gone and mom and I are safely tucked in and sleeping?"
    "You and your mom will be fine. And I don’t think I should be tucking you in, ma’am, if I’m honest."
     It was my turn to laugh.
     "Why are you such an old man, Daniel?"
     "Come find me in a few years."
     "You’ll be even older, sir."
     "I’ll be wiser, I hope, as will you."
     "By wiser I assume you mean legal?"
     "Yeah, yeah that too."
    He stood and took a step toward my rocker. I kept my eyes on him as I drained my coffee cup and accepted the hand he was offering me. When I stood, we were inches apart. If I took another step, I could lay my head on his shoulder, nuzzle his neck with my nose, taste his aftershave. Height-wise, we were perfect. I knew from my forgettable experiences with two boys from school that it does matter, unless of course you’re not standing up.
  Daniel Dean followed me inside, the fingertips of his right hand grazing my lower back, steering me away from the ephemeral scene on my front porch.
  I was twenty-four the second time I saw Daniel Dean.


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