A Hard Story to Tell-Part 1

A Hard Story to Tell is a work of creative nonfiction that will be released in serial format.This is Part 1.

For F.–

Start here: Cindy is in the kitchen twirling along the counter’s edge– cracking eggs, whipping batter. The oven is on. She is smiling. And all is well in suburbia.

Most of this story is set in our old house. Our first house. Where our wedding picture hung above the fireplace. Where we made Christmas ornaments together. Where we carried with care all three of our children home from the hospital. The little house was where our life, our family took roots. It’s where our big dreams and big plans, gained tangible mass and weight.

familyAs the weatherman predicted, it’s raining and on cue I rush the scene, just before 4 p.m., through the front door with a messenger bag hanging on my shoulder and blue ink stains on my hands.

Haley and Chase are off stage in the living room. They’re doing what kids do after school– eating lollipops, ignoring their parents, watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Dylan is further offstage sleeping down the hall.

I drop my soggy messenger bag by the front door. It’s filled with my senior’s final high school essays– ever. Their assignment was to write a series of personal narratives detailing memorable moments from the ordeal known as high school.

“Smells good in here.”

“Of course it does!”

Cindy smiles and I smile. I move to her. Hug her, kiss her cheek and swipe a finger full of cake batter from the bowl.

If you’ve been following my blog or you’ve had the privilege/misfortune of having me as a teacher, you know I love telling stories. In fact, I’ve been criticized by my superiors for telling too many stories. But I can’t apologize. I enjoy the whole intimate process too much: the bending of words, the fleshing of characters, the building of suspense, the playing with structure, the bond that is forged between audience and storyteller. I’m addicted to it all.

Yet there are some stories I hesitate to tell. This is one of those stories. Not because it’s spiked with embarrassment or regret or failure. In fact, this is a success story.  I’m a hero. In fact, you may, if you stick with this story until the end– you may look at me with favor, with admiration.

Even still, this is a hard story to tell.

Because in order to tell it properly, I had to relieve an experience I want to forget. Because every time I tell it, I feel fragile and am reminded that choices and consequences are a package deal, that life can seem so certain, as if galvanized with such unbreakable stuff, then suddenly splinter and split like driftwood.

And every time I tell this story, the smell cupcakes trigger the shrill of Cindy’s razored screams.

I lean against the counter and Cindy and I talk about work. How students never listen. How June is a educational wasteland. How teachers are not babysitters and deserve more money, more respect, more of everything.

Cindy opens the oven and a hot breath sweeps across the stage. The rain quickens, thunders down and Cindy and I both look upward sure that God is emptying his change jar on our little roof.

Everything is normal about the scene. As predicted, it’s raining. There’s cupcakes rising in the oven. It’s Tuesday. I’m smiling. Cindy is smiling. Offstage, in the living room, our children are eating lollipops, smiling and watching Mickey Mouse two-step with Pluto. Further offstage our youngest child sleeps.

But that’s how stories often begin. Things are normal and then they are not. It’s that simple.

Chase, whose 4th birthday is two days away and whose last day of preschool is tomorrow, enters the scene without a lollipop, holding that look every parent knows. That look that vacuums out your insides and leaves just a quick streak of hot panic in your parental chest as your boy’s mouth is strained painfully wide, as if trying to unhinge itself.

Your child is choking.

There’s a trapdoor under his nose letting everything in and letting nothing out.  And in his eyes unfold the fear of a thousand infant crucifixions on what was scheduled to be a normal afternoon.

An egg waddles across the counter and falls– until it explodes across the floor. God is busy making more rain. Cindy sees her son, her blue-eyed boy choking and screams.  Her scream annunciates everything I can’t say.

Get help now.

Do something now.

Oh fuck sweet God.


Be sure to check back next Friday for Part 2 of A Hard Story to Tell.

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