Spilling Your Guts on Paper
© Copyright 2021 by Maureen Moynihan
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio at Pexels.
I attempted to publish my first story during Sunday school. While the other children colored pictures of Jesus Christ resurrecting from the tomb, I penned “Happy Bird Flies Home.”
It was a somber tale about a deceased parakeet who returns from the dead to sing songs and march on the head of its 8-year-old mother. The protagonist, Happy Bird, was named after my pet, who died when he flew into the dining room window. Splat. We were eating dinner at the time. Roasted chicken, specifically. My siblings claimed it was an act of suicide but I did not accept their balony. Happy Bird was as self-actualized as a parakeet could be and would chant longer than a Buddhist monk. How I loved that bird. I’d spend hours grooming his smooth, turquoise feathers and didn’t even mind when he pooped on my shoulder. Or head.
“What do we have here?” asked my Sunday School teacher. Mrs. Case was a supersized woman in both proportion and local stature. Not only did she teach Sunday School but she also ran the only Girl Scout troop in town. I resented my mandated membership to both organizations and questioned their claim to character building, as neither program was designed to accentuate my personal strengths.
“Nothing.” I said, clenching my story close to my heart and away from her sausage tips. Each one of her nubby nails appeared to have been gnawed at by a squirrel acorn that had not seen an acorn since the Nixon administration.
“Oh Miss Moynihan,” said Mrs. Case, with a tap of her hippo foot that was stuffed in a shoe designed for a pilgrim. “We both know you are up to something.” When she peered over her glasses, a large mole protruded from her temple, its thick, black hair prominent and the envy of an ant in need of an antenna. I suspected the hair had magic powers as Mrs. Case could sense whenever I was stretching my creativity.
“It’s just a story.” I told her. The foot tapping ceased. All the energy of her irritation rushed to her nose, causing her nostrils to flare with an anger so potent that it could cast a booger to Kansas. Mrs. Case had a very low tolerance for frustration, which is ironic considering she was supposed to be teaching the wisdom of Jesus Christ to children. Or perhaps it was personal.
Her contempt for me grew obvious the day I asked why she did not pluck the hair out of her mole. I would have followed the class rules by raising my hand but Mrs. Case never called on me, even when I stretched my fingers way past the tips of the other children, which caused my arm to practically pop out of the socket. Therefore, verbal inquiry was my only option.
“Why isn’t Jesus ever smiling?
“Don’t you think it’s weird that we can't eat meat on Friday and the Apostles were fishermen?
“Why don’t you pluck that hair out of your mole?”
The other children, I’m sure, wondered the same thing but were afraid to ask.
“I believe you were instructed to color Christ’s resurrection from the tomb,” she said, “Who told you to write a story?
I shrugged and thought for a moment. “God.”
Her mole nearly exploded with rage. She snatched the story from my little hands and ran her eyeballs across my words. For a moment, I clung to hope. Maybe she’d agree with my theory that all God’s creatures deserve a second crack at life. Plus, my writing would prove that I was more than just the little girl who could not sit still and sometimes asked irrelevant questions. Then maybe, she’d like me.
That never happened. Instead, Mrs. Case wanted to light me on fire. “This is a slap on the face of the Blessed Virgin Mary! She spat, eyes burning up her face. “Go back to your seat.” She whipped out a stubble finger and pointed to my chair.
Mrs. Case believed in public humiliation; it worked for the Romans, after all. Twelve sets of eyes peered up from their coloring pages as I made the walk of shame back to my desk and stared in disbelief as Mrs. Case crumbled up “Happy Bird Flies Home” and tossed it in the trash. The room froze in silence; it just didn’t seem like a Christian thing to do.
Then something interesting transpired; my classmates looked at me with compassion and appreciation. Of course they felt bad that I was, once again, the subject of scorn. But more important, they were thankful as my story brought a refreshing reprieve from the doldrums of schooling. This not only soothed the sting of humiliation, it made me feel special.
“She’s a jerk,” My Nana said. Rose Crucius was a proper lady who never left the house without a set of pearls and white gloves. She went to church every day, never touched a sip of alcohol or cigarette filter and did not use angry language. Except if one of her grandchildren was wronged.
“Anyone can color
in the lines but it takes real talent to write a story. REAL
TALENT.” She widened her eyes to accentuate the significance of
such a skill as her wrist whipped the topping of a chocolate cream
pie. She mumbled something indiscernible and handed me the pie.
“To the table.” An arthritic finger directed
towards the dining room. “Ignore the fools and go wash
superpower was her ability to move her hands and mouth at the same
time. She would discuss the feminization of poverty while
knitting a baby sweater for charity. As a result, Nana got twice as
much done while modeling expectations of efficiency and productivity.
Theory should be backed by action or what was the point of talking.
Nana and Pa hosted brunch every Sunday after mass. Their kitchen was stuffed with cousins, aunts, uncles and anyone else who just happened to show up at 64 Range Road. It was an Italian smorgasbord of eggplant parmesan with ziti, meatballs and sauce, stuffed artichokes and a splash of pancakes. The room hummed with concurrent conversations that lacked antecedents and pronouns.
The One Day Sale is this weekend.
You plant corn, you get corn.
Always on a diet but
never refuses a free donut.
share a poem that I wrote. The simplest stanza “The
cat on the mat ate a rat,” would spark a standing ovation and
the kind of heart felt applause that’s only heard at the
Tony Awards. I got a real kick of this; that something I wrote could
make my grandparents laugh and smile. It made me feel special and
appreciated beyond measure.
But it didn’t take long to realize that the world outside Nana & Pa’s kitchen was not as accepting of an energetic girl with a creative flare. Mrs. Cases were hidden everywhere, ready to pounce on a written page with a critical paw or scratch out an opinion just because they have one. So I stuck my writing in the closet and pulled it for certain occasions and only special people.
Even my husband didn’t know I liked to throw words down on paper. Probably because I never told him. I figured if I was a real writer, I would have declared it as a college major. Then I'd own a piece of paper that certified me as a writer. Instead, I earned a degree in English, so I was certified to read what other people have written. Still stories sang in my head, with or without my consent or external ratification. At times, the lyrics were whimsical, even playful, with the rhythm of a classroom kindergarten waiting to go outside for recess.
“When are you going to tell them about your cancer?” Nick asked.
He was stretched on the couch eating a bowl of ice cream, binging on Game of Thrones. I had just put our daughters to bed, an arduous, hairsplitting routine that moved like mud, that I thought I was supposed to enjoy. Afterall, the TV moms seem so fulfilled as they kiss their squeaky clean, pajama clad children goodnight. While the mere thought of repeating the obvious or de-escalating another meaningless dispute made me want to stick a fork in my eye. This is why on the 8th day, Eve created wine.
“When I have a plan,” I said, wiggling next to him.
“When does that happen?” Nick asked, eyes glued to the screen while Daenerys Targaryen wearing nothing but audacious determination placed 3 dragon eggs on her husband’s funeral pyre, ignited the fire and stepped into the flames.
“Don’t tell me they’re going to kill off another brilliant character,” Nick said.
“After I have a bunch of tests,” I replied. Dany’s demeanor was focused and tenacious. Her body moved without the consent of her conscious mind. Deep down inside, this is something she knows she must do, with or without the permission of her own sensibility.
“Naw...” I said. “I don’t think Dany’s going anywhere. She’s got eggs to hatch and dragons to raise.”
“What’s there to find out? You’ve got cancer,” he said. “It’s incurable and it’ll kill you if you don’t get rid of it. What else is there to know?”
The show flashes forward to next morning. Daenerys is hunched naked among the ashes, her face smeared with soot, her hair scorched by the flames. She rises to reveal 3 baby dragons that have hatched during the heat, born in the heat of the fire. The men around her kneel and pay homage to the Mother of Dragons.
“Guess she is a Queen, not a corpse,” Nick said.
“No,” I said. “She was always a Queen. Now she’s a Queen with dragons to raise. That changes everything.”
Words poured out of me like angry raindrops. I caught them on sticky notes and scraps of paper then put them in a black spiral notebook labeled “CANCER.”
“What’s this?” Nick asked as he started flipping through the pages of the notebook.
“Nothing.” I snatched my notebook from his fingertips with more aggression than intended.
“OOH…is that your diary?” he said, smirking as if I caught him with a hand in the cookie jar.
I dogged his gaze, overcome with embarrassment. “It’s how I process things.” I said. We’d been married 10 years and I had not shared this part of me with my husband. I felt guilty and ashamed. Why couldn’t I have a more socially appropriate addiction, like buying useless stuff on the QVC channel? Writing down random words and thoughts was borderline weird.
He shrugged his shoulders. “Seems pretty harmless. Do whatever you’ve got to do to get through this thing.” He tapped me on the butt and walked away.
An overwhelming sense
of relief washed over me. Nick finally knew this part of me, a secret
that I kept hidden for so long. Then I was struck by a vivid
realization; I put my husband on a bookshelf next to Mrs. Case.