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Author Topic: Why Go Home - YA  (Read 4774 times)
weestro
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« on: June 08, 2016, 10:20:53 AM »

I really don’t know where to start. The cancer I guess. I’ll just kind of glaze over what killed Mom and then maybe we can get on with it. But first I should say that I’ve never known my father, so don’t waste your time trying to analyze or whatever how his absence played a part in all this, because it didn’t. Then again, if it’s a good excuse, by all means, don’t let me stop you.

The lump. About a year ago my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’ll never forget the day she made the discovery. She was in her room and it was getting late. We had to be over at Dunham that evening for this teacher thing with that pear-shaped thorn in my side that was Miss Shelby. Take note of the Miss in Miss Shelby. A woman had no social life due to the fact her face is jacked up and so she took every opportunity with her crappy teacher job to ruin my life.

She called it a meet and greet or something lame, under the pretense of wanting to better get to know the parents of her wonderful students by holding them hostage for an hour in the evening as though are schedules were wide open and begging for such an intrusion. It was completely unnecessary, Dunham is a boarding school and only about a third of the kids are day students like me. Most of them shipped down from New England or Canada or abroad from Spain, Africa, Vietnam, and so on. So only a handful of parents ever actually showed up for these insufferable gatherings, but being that Miss Shelby was single with no potential dates on the horizon, she took the one-on-one time to guilt parents into volunteering or fundraising. sh** was lame.

So I thought Mom was faking when she called me back into her room. We were already five minutes late and we hadn’t even left the house. Not that I cared. But being that Mom worked at Dunham she wouldn’t just let me skip. Something was up. I stopped at the door way because she looked like she’d just found a lump on her breast. Which of course she had.

She wanted me to feel it. Wanted me to feel it. That should tell you how freaked out she was about it. I peeled myself off the doorway and tipped over towards her. God, I can still remember that tingling down my neck and arms as I sat down beside her on the bed. She took my hand and pressed my fingers into the flesh of her left breast. It was hard, like a marble in there, only bigger, like one of those bouncy balls you’d get out of a machine on the way out of the grocery store.

I jerked my hand away from it and shivered. I felt like my skin was shedding. I waited for Mom to say it was nothing but her face was gray, like skim milk in a dirty ash tray. She was terrified but trying her best not to show it. I made her promise to call the doctor right then, and she did, but they couldn’t see until Thursday. This was on a Monday, because of course Miss Shelby would have her thing on a Monday.

That week was the worst. Mom and I trying our best to act normal, but instead acting like strange versions of ourselves. I’d stare at her breast, the left one, wondering if whatever was in her was killing her. Shouldn’t we do something besides waiting around? I mean, if it were me I’d grab a knife and tear in after it. Morbid I know, but just knowing that lump was eating her inside out was enough to make me crazy.

It was all I thought about. At school or on the way to school, it was always on my mind. The lump. The ball. The mass. Whatever I called it, it was still in there. On Wednesday night I finally spoke up. It was Olive Garden night, at least that’s what we called it. Mom made minestrone soup and salad and we heated up bread sticks. It used to be fun but on that Wednesday it was all just chewing and staring. She could have made cardboard sandwiches and I honestly wouldn’t have known the difference.

“I want to go with you tomorrow.”

“Chloe, I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“I still want to go. I need to go, Mom.”

She held firm, and I spent the next day at school frantically checking my messages, waiting for the verdict. The only person I’d told about it was Vienna Summerset—my best friend despite her ridiculous name.

“It’s probably benign. In fact, the sooner you find it…”

“It’s already there, Vi, it could’ve been there for a year for all we know.”

Up until that day, the worst case scenario was that Mom would have lefty removed and have a prosthetic breast for the rest of her life, possibly hampering my dream of her meeting a rich, young, attractive man who would whisk us off to Australia on a moment’s notice. I don’t know why Australia, doesn’t matter now.

My mom was beautiful, in a blonde, Nordic sort of way. I’d always loved being told that I look like her, which, I think I do. We both have blonde hair and blue eyes and very nice skin. I’m sixteen and without a blemish. Just lucky I guess.

But my luck was on the line as I waited for Mom’s text. I felt like a rubber band, stretched thin and white, cracking with each passing minute. Mom’s appointment was at ten, and by ten thirty I felt like I was going to leap out of the window. I figured she would have sent a smiley message if there was good news to be told.

Miss Shelby paced the floor with zero understanding of what I was going through. Then she had the nerve to ask me to step outside of the classroom for a chat. Of all days.

“Chloe, I know you’re going through a rough time, but I’m going to have to ask you to keep your phone put away during class, dear.”

The “dear” in her request did little to disarm me. Rough time, as though my dog had worms. I could’ve smacked her crooked face. Mom was at the doctor’s office with that lump and Fat Shelby was worried about my phone? Nope.

I set my jaw and sent a muted stare into her sunken eyes, eyes that widened in retreat. She mumbled, nodded, then turned and waltzed her plump ass back to class. It wasn’t until I returned to my desk and saw the drop of blood that I noticed a pair of scissors digging into my hand.

Class ended and she didn’t say a word. I hurried past her, phone in hand, down the hall where I hipped the door and walked through the campus and into trails through the woods, all the way to our tiny little house on Dorchester Street where I saw Mom’s car and it was like someone squeezed every single bit of air out of my lungs.

“Mom?”

The shades were flipped up so that it was dark. A whimper in the other room. Not exactly smiley-face behavior. I dropped my bag and barreled into the other room, where I found her on the bed—a clump of nothing. Tears and slobber and incoherent babble.

Snap went the rubber band. My mom was going to die and there was nothing I could do about it.
« Last Edit: June 08, 2016, 10:23:28 AM by weestro » Logged
maryj59
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« Reply #1 on: June 09, 2016, 11:04:31 PM »

Just wanted to tell you that you write really well! Your protagonist seemed a self-absorbed brat to me, initially. I hated her thoughts on her teacher, probably because my parents were teachers and had to do these parent-teacher nights. But, when Chloe's mom asked her to feel her breast, I was right there with Chloe. It really picked up at that point.

I wonder, does Chloe have to be so obnoxious about her teacher and her friend? I know - she's a teenager, and it's realistic! But the emotion between her and her mom is just so much more powerful.

Anyway, well done. This felt real. One small quibble; there's a typo in the third paragraph. You say, "as though are schedules were wide open.." It should be "our schedules".

Good luck with this.
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weestro
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« Reply #2 on: June 10, 2016, 08:55:55 AM »

Thank you Mary, much appreciated. I know Chloe comes off like a brat, and I might need to tone her down. I will say that the draft is finished and she comes a long way in the process. But you've got me thinking,  I don't want to alienate readers from my main character right off the bat.

Another question, there are some tough topics along the way in this book, similiar to Death of Bees if anyone's read it. I'm wondering when a book is not YA, even with a teenage mc?
« Last Edit: June 10, 2016, 08:57:49 AM by weestro » Logged
maryj59
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« Reply #3 on: June 10, 2016, 10:24:55 AM »

I haven't read "Death of Bees", I'm afraid, so I can't help you there! But I was a YA librarian for many years, so I can tell you that YA books have dealt with spouse abuse, child abuse, death, drugs, sexuality, Stockholm syndrome, partner abuse, survivor guilt, and more. The dividing line is usually (1) how graphic it is, and (2) the age of the protagonist. So far, your book seems classic YA to me. But only you can really make that call.

(Some titles I'm thinking of: Nightfather deals with a holocaust survivor and his unintentional abuse of his own children. Teens often love Maus, which has a similar theme. Whippoorwill deals with child and animal abuse and attempted patricide; Everything Breaks has drinking, death, and survivor guilt, and one of the corpses (of a teen who died driving and drinking) is described a bit too graphically for me. Fire, one of my all-time favorites, includes physical and emotional abuse and patricide. And so on.)
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JEC112
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« Reply #4 on: June 16, 2016, 07:20:02 PM »

I have to agree with maryj on two things.

First off is that you do write very well.  Thumbs Up

The second thing is with the teacher. As you stated before, you don't want to alienate your readers from your MC. I don't think you even need the teacher there at all in the first chapter. She's irrelevant, and takes away from the focus of your MC and your mom.

Beyond that, I have to wonder about a couple things. I've never dealt with anyone having breast cancer, so I could be completely ignorant, but wouldn't the mom notice the lump before it grew to the size of a rubber bouncy ball? She has to wash, right? Wouldn't that be something noticeable in the shower? Just food for thought.

Another thing was this phrase: "I stopped at the door way because she looked like she’d just found a lump on her breast."

I can see why you wrote this, but it doesn't "feel" right if you know what I mean. I can't exactly put my finger on it, it just doesn't seem like something a normal teenager would say.

Anyway, kudos for an engaging first chapter!
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weestro
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« Reply #5 on: June 23, 2016, 12:57:37 PM »

Great points, JEC, plenty to think on here. I appreciate the feedback!
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JaeDarcy
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« Reply #6 on: June 23, 2016, 08:17:05 PM »

This is excellent. Really powerful voice.
I do think she's a little mean about the teacher without establishing up front that she deserves it (I"m not sure being single and fat and wanting parent-teacher conferences rises to that level so the MC comes off a little bullying. If Shelby was a little more deserving, I'd be down with it.)

My only question is about the timeline. Generally a doctor won't wait 4 days to examine a detected mass, I don't think. Just might want to double check that one. I think you could have the same level of tension with a one day wait.

Really great, though!
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weestro
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« Reply #7 on: October 07, 2016, 07:52:37 AM »

Okay, so I've taken all of this into account and wanted to do two things, make my mc more likeable and speed up where the story begins. Here's what I have....





Mom would have laughed. When a mischievious breeze turned gusty on the girl singing Urge to Leave. The gusts snapped along the edges of the tent, scattering flower arrangements and knocking over a wreath. The singer—I think from Mom’s support group—paused, unsure whether to keep strumming or to run for cover when Papa Vanderbrooke sprang from his seat. A gasp, as he scurried about, cursing and muttering, his tie flapping against his face as he collected the mangled flowers and worked to fix the hideous wreath. It was ridiculous. But I’m sure those watching thought it was grief that made the old man snap, that the anguish of losing his only daughter had left him irrational, angry, lashing out at the world. When the truth was that he was just the sort of prick who’d get embarrassed at his daughter’s funeral.

With things got back on track, after Papa Vanderbrooke had chased off both the wind and the singer, the preacher stood and spoke to me directly, making sure everyone considered the poor girl without a mother or father. Afterwards they prayed for me, consoled me, smothered me with fragrant hugs and sticky handshakes. It was like they needed me to break down, to prove how much I loved my mother. I wanted to tell them how I was glad it was over, that the last year of Mom’s life had been a wasteland of waiting rooms and insurance battles.

That we’d done our crying, in private, together over scan results, chemo, treatment plans. At least now there was no more hope.
Hope had done us no favors. Hanging around, lurking in the corner of my thoughts, whispering how maybe this time the cancer was really gone and after some reconstruction, Mom would be as good as new. We’d have a story to tell and celebrate her life as a survivor. A big party at the awareness garden, with real flowers and no plastic wreaths. We’d eat cake and make jolly. They’d be looking at Mom, not me, and there’d be no tempermental jackasses to worry about, just the clink of our glass flutes as we toasted, because damn it all she was alive.

That kind of hope is exhausting.

After the reception, Uncle Robbie drove and I cracked the window to escape the noxious air freshener and secret smoker stench, ducking his worried glances in the rearview mirror. His wife Glenda went on about the beautiful ceremony. Beautiful, just beautiful. She must have said beautiful probably eleven times in three minutes. And when it wasn’t beautiful it was lovely or breathtaking. Anything besides what it truly was—a sh**storm.

We were on the way home, their place. Where I’d spent the last few days and up until then—right as Glenda whipped around, gripping the seat—it had all felt more like a visit.

“Chloe, just remember, she’s in a better place.”

I nodded. Another gem to add to my cliché collection. But that one didn’t bother me. She was right, Mom was in a better place. If only that could have been the end of it. If only Glenda would have cranked up the Dave Matthews or whatever they listened to, then maybe things might have been bearable. But she didn’t, she was incapable of that kind of restraint. So she plunged right ahead the only way she knew how.

“You know, if you want to talk about it, not right now, but whenever, you know, I’m here for you. We both are, right sweetie?”

With that, she tossed the baton to Uncle Robbie, looking suspect up there in his jacket and tie, recoiling at the thought of sitting down and swapping stories with his niece about his dead sister. But there we were, caught in a snag of church traffic. A pickup truck rumbled to a stop beside us and two idiots sneered at the well-dressed people in the car. Us. People must have thought we were a family.
Robbie cleared his throat and popped up in the rearview. “That’s right Chloe, we want, um, we want you to know that we are here for you, okay?”

I nodded, more out of respect for him getting through his lines than anything else. For months this thing had been planned out, mapped and navigated every step of the way as Mom faded. Before that even, when we first began making arrangements, when Mom and I would drop by for dinner at Uncle Robbie and Glenda’s house, but not really to eat but to sit down and sob and cry and talk about Life After Mom. LAM as I called it.

Robbie and Glenda lived on Madison Street in the historic district. In this old gothic-type, house overlooking downtown. It was all cobblestone streets and wrought iron fences, bronze plaques and such. They’d been restoring the place for as long as I could remember, it was like their child, and there was always a saw or hammer or tools lying around where Glenda had Robbie on a project.

Of all the really rotten times I’ve had in my life, those little sit-down dinners took center stage. Mom and Glenda holding hands and sniffling while Robbie stared off at the wall like he was just itching to get back to the crown molding. I sat at the table, like an invalid, unsure what to do or say and wondering how I’d ever survive living with them. But it was important to Mom so I went. And now here we were, fully prepared with nothing to do.

Robbie was a few years older than Mom, he used to be cool but now had the look of a guy who was inbetween naps. I loved my uncle, he’d done more for us than anyone. He and Glenda owned the house on Dorchester, where Mom and I had lived, then he’d cosigned for Mom’s car loan a few years ago. It had even been their idea for me to move in. So yeah, Robbie was solid. But as my new guardians, well, the two of them had no idea what they was doing, as evidenced by this current conversation.

When we got to the house I escaped upstairs to start unpacking. It had to be done, and besides, it passed the time and kept me from having to chat up Glenda. My room was right off the steps, beside the bathroom. Not that it was a bad spot, but any room in the world would have sucked right then, because I wanted my room, across the hall from Mom, where I could hear her shuffling around in the middle of the night, even the sound of her pee or coughing, something to let me know she was alive.

I stuffed my things into someone else’s drawers, eyeing the unfamiliar faces in the unfamiliar frames. Everything was so neat and sterile, the house was old but posh, with all these high tech gadgets, stainless steel and shiny hardwood floors that lit up in the sun. Out the window stood this matching carriage house at the end of the driveway. I’d lobbied for it but it was being remodeled by Glenda’s brother.

So began my new life on Madison Street. On a strange bed with a gloomy funeral hangover. All those people paying their respects. That preacher staring down on me. My emotionless grandparents. I made a note to make sure my own funeral would be a party. Not one of those soggy celebration-of-life deals but people getting sh**canned.

I lay back, clutching our phones, Mom’s black and mine white. Our shared data, shared minutes, shared plan. Our lifelines. Now disconnected. And so the tears came.

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LiteraryLegend
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« Reply #8 on: October 21, 2016, 10:52:31 AM »

 clap

I love this much better than the first version. Chloe is definitely more likable now in my opinion. And if I were an agent I'd be asking for the partial or even full manuscript.

Two errors that I saw, one in the second paragraph right before Papa Vanderbrooke, I think you mean: "When things got back on track" or "With things back on track?"

Also in the "Robbie was a few years older than Mom" paragraph you need a space between "in" and "between" so it's: "he used to be cool but now had the look of a guy in between naps." You have it as: "had the look of a guy inbetween naps."

Other than those two things I think this is a very good opening!!!!  Grin
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maryj59
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« Reply #9 on: October 21, 2016, 04:15:04 PM »

I agree with LiteraryLegend; you've improved this. It still pulls me in right away. Well done.
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BessKingsley
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« Reply #10 on: October 21, 2016, 11:10:30 PM »

I agree too! This is such a powerful place to start, and the voice is great. I felt an immediate connection and investment to your character. And when she said: That kind of hope is exhausting....wow. Such a simple sentence, but it rings so true. It's really beautiful because it's so vulnerable. I would absolutely want to read more. Your writing is wonderful. I do think this could use a tiny bit of nitpicky editing--I only say this because I think you have the potential to really be very successful with this piece. I like the fact that you've bent some grammar rules to nail the voice--a lot of times it really works and sounds so teen confessional...but I also think it's important to be judicious with your bending. I noticed you've got some comma-usage that is a little off in a few places and it makes some parts just a little hard to read. My suggestions are below. I hope they are helpful, and if not, feel free to ignore them and follow your own good instincts or other writers' suggestions. You've got a wonderfully compelling, well-written start here!

Quote
Mom would have laughed. When a mischievious [spelling: mischievous] breeze turned gusty on the girl singing Urge to Leave. The gusts snapped along the edges of the tent, scattering flower arrangements and knocking over a wreath. The singer—I think from Mom’s support group—paused, unsure whether to keep strumming or to run for cover when Papa Vanderbrooke sprang from his seat. A gasp, as he scurried about, cursing and muttering, his tie flapping against his face as he collected the mangled flowers and worked to fix the hideous wreath. It was ridiculous. But I’m sure those watching thought it was grief that made the old man snap, that the anguish of losing his only daughter had left him irrational, angry, lashing out at the world. When the truth was that he was just the sort of prick who’d get embarrassed at his daughter’s funeral. [Since this is your first impression, I would try to eliminate the same words so close together, my rationale being you have some beautiful, purposely-repeated words later on, and you don't want to dilute that lyrical quality with unintentional or clunky repeats that you could easily eliminate]

With Things got back on track, after Papa Vanderbrooke had chased off both the wind and the singer, The preacher stood and spoke to me directly, making sure everyone considered the poor girl without a mother or father. Afterwards they prayed for me, consoled me, smothered me with fragrant hugs and sticky handshakes. It was like they needed me to break down, to prove how much I loved my mother. I wanted to tell them how I was glad it was over, that the last year of Mom’s life had been a wasteland of waiting rooms and insurance battles.

[I would delete this paragraph break if you're going to repeat your construction that starting with that, since it mimics the previous sentence.] That we’d done our crying, in private, together over scan results, chemo, treatment plans. At least now there was no more hope.
Hope had done us no favors. Hanging around, lurking in the corner of my thoughts, whispering how maybe this time the cancer was really gone and after some reconstruction, Mom would be as good as new. We’d have a story to tell and celebrate her life as a survivor. A big party at the awareness garden, with real flowers and no plastic wreaths. We’d eat cake and make jolly. They’d be looking at Mom, not me, and there’d be no tempermental [spelling: temperamental] jackasses to worry about, just the clink of our glass flutes as we toasted, because damn it all she was alive.

That kind of hope is exhausting.

After the reception, Uncle Robbie drove and . I cracked the window to escape the noxious air freshener and secret smoker stench, ducking his worried glances in the rearview mirror. His wife Glenda went on about the beautiful ceremony. Beautiful, just beautiful. She must have said beautiful probably eleven times in three minutes. And when it wasn’t beautiful, it was lovely or breathtaking. Anything besides what it truly was—a sh**storm.

We were on the way home, their place. Where I’d spent the last few days and up until then—right as Glenda whipped around, gripping the seat—it had all felt more like a visit.

“Chloe, just remember, she’s in a better place.”

I nodded. Another gem to add to my cliché collection. But that one didn’t bother me. She was right, Mom was in a better place. If only that could have been the end of it. If only Glenda would have cranked up the Dave Matthews or whatever they listened to, then maybe things might have been bearable. But she didn’t, she was incapable of that kind of restraint. So she plunged right ahead the only way she knew how.  [I'd use something other than a comma for these. It's kind of a gray area, but I think a semicolon or even two separate sentences might work well. Readers can get comma fatigue, and that's happening a bit here...also, both sentences I've made blue in this paragraph contain two independent clauses.]

“You know, if you want to talk about it, not right now, but whenever, you know, I’m here for you. We both are, right sweetie?”

With that, she tossed the baton to Uncle Robbie, looking suspect up there in his jacket and tie, recoiling at the thought of sitting down and swapping stories with his niece about his dead sister. But there we were, caught in a snag of church traffic. A pickup truck rumbled to a stop beside us and two idiots sneered at the well-dressed people in the car. Us. People must have thought we were a family.
Robbie cleared his throat and popped up in the rearview. “That’s right Chloe, we want, um, we want you to know that we are here for you, okay?”

I nodded, more out of respect for him getting through his lines than anything else. For months this thing had been planned out, mapped and navigated every step of the way as Mom faded. Before that even, when we first began making arrangements, when Mom and I would drop by for dinner at Uncle Robbie and Glenda’s house, but not really to eat but to sit down [I think this sentence could be tightened a bit so it reads better--it's just a tiny bit clunky with the when, when, but not really.] and sob and cry and talk about Life After Mom. LAM as I called it.

Robbie and Glenda lived on Madison Street in the historic district,. Iin this old gothic-type, house overlooking downtown. It was all cobblestone streets and wrought iron fences, bronze plaques and such. They’d been restoring the place for as long as I could remember,. It was like their child, and there was always a saw or hammer or tools lying around where Glenda had Robbie on a project. [This is an interesting image of it being their child, but having tools around. Was it intentional? Like they really don't have it together as parents? B/c I love the idea of that. On that note, I was thinking maybe change "child, and" to "child, except"? Or if not, maybe move 'it was like their child' right after such, and then link together the restoration with the tools? Or, again, feel free to ignore me Smiley This isn't a problem, just having a thought.]

Of all the really rotten times I’ve had in my life, those little sit-down dinners took center stage. Mom and Glenda holding hands and sniffling while Robbie stared off at the wall like he was just itching to get back to the crown molding. I sat at the table, like an invalid, unsure what to do or say and wondering how I’d ever survive living with them. But it was important to Mom so I went. And now here we were, fully prepared with nothing to do.

Robbie was a few years older than Mom,. He used to be cool but now had the look of a guy who was inbetween naps. I loved my uncle, he’d done more for us than anyone. He and Glenda owned the house on Dorchester, where Mom and I had lived, then he’d cosigned for Mom’s car loan a few years ago. It had even been their idea for me to move in. So yeah, Robbie was solid. But as my new guardians, well, the two of them had no idea what they was were doing, as evidenced by this current conversation.

When we got to the house I escaped upstairs to start unpacking. It had to be done, and besides, it passed the time and kept me from having to chat up Glenda. My room was right off the steps, beside the bathroom. Not that it was a bad spot, but any room in the world would have sucked right then, because I wanted my room, across the hall from Mom, where I could hear her shuffling around in the middle of the night, even the sound of her pee or coughing, something to let me know she was alive.

I stuffed my things into someone else’s drawers, eyeing the unfamiliar faces in the unfamiliar frames. Everything was so neat and sterile,. The house was old but posh, with all these high tech gadgets, stainless steel and shiny hardwood floors that lit up in the sun. Out the window stood this matching carriage house at the end of the driveway. I’d lobbied for it, but it was being remodeled by Glenda’s brother.

So began my new life on Madison Street. On a strange bed with a gloomy funeral hangover. All those people paying their respects. That preacher staring down on me. My emotionless grandparents. I made a note to make sure my own funeral would be a party. Not one of those soggy celebration-of-life deals but people getting sh**canned.

I lay back, clutching our phones, Mom’s black and mine white. Our shared data, shared minutes, shared plan. Our lifelines. Now disconnected. And so the tears came.
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Repped by Sharon Pelletier of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret
weestro
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« Reply #11 on: November 16, 2016, 08:59:37 AM »

Wow guys, thanks for the great suggestions and kind words. I really appreciate your time.
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BarryW54
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« Reply #12 on: December 30, 2016, 10:27:04 PM »

Wow guys, thanks for the great suggestions and kind words. I really appreciate your time.

Since I have lost four immediate family members to cancer, I can relate, somewhat. I was much older than a teenager when my first brother died of leukemia. I was already married and had watched him waste away. We were all tested for blood marrow transfusions and one was eligible. We still don't know who it was because he died before we could get everything arranged. But, this is a gripping story. Maybe when I can read it objectively I may nit-pick.  Grin
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weestro
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« Reply #13 on: January 06, 2017, 01:15:49 PM »

I'm sorry for you loss Barry.
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weestro
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« Reply #14 on: January 06, 2017, 01:20:42 PM »

I've done some tinkering. I'm trying to show more of Chloe's close relationship with her Mom.  Still snarky but likable. Hopefully it's stronger. I'd really like to get this ready to send out sometime this month!


I sat directly in front of the coffin, trying hard not to laugh. But it was a mess. Half the town had shown up, to celebrate the life of a very special lady, and they were still showing up, fashionably late, parking on the grass and slamming doors, all shushing each other as they huddled around the tent where it was share-your-story time. Friends stood, dabbed their eyes and fought to speak over the wind, emotion, and some baby screaming like a demon.

It seemed everyone had a special story to tell about how my mother. Funny stories, tearjerkers, tales of strength and courage, standard fare for this sort of thing. I could have really embarrassed Mom right then, had I wanted to be a part of the show, which I didn’t. And neither did Uncle Robbie, sitting next to me, silent and stoic as the wind gusts picked up, ruffling hats and plastic flowers, sending the world’s tackiest wreath cartwheeling down the hill.

A group of little boys took off after the wreath, hurdling headstones and giggling. All of this went on as the girl with the guitar took her place and plowed through a Joni Mitchell song. The latecomers wept along in chorus. By then it was hurricane winds out there, as the tent snapped along the edges, cups skipped and scraped down the curb, and a faraway windchime clanged like a dinner bell.

Mom would have laughed, had she been there. And through the confusion I thought I saw a hint of mischief lurking beneath her pretty smile in the picture frame. The smile sitting on the casket, cutting through the distractions. The smile speaking to me like a secret.

Watch this, Chloe.

The frame landed at my feet. Guitar Girl jumped and looked around like something was wrong. Grandpa sprang from his seat, igniting a gasp from the congregation. I bit my lip to keep from cracking up, but it was all so ridiculous, watching the old man scurrying about, tie flapping and glass crunching, muttering to himself about that goddamned baby as he collected the mangled flowers and tried to fix Mom’s cracked picture frame.

Guitar girl had it right, this was all wrong. We shouldn’t have been there. Mom was too young and pretty to be dead. That casket was too new and shiny to have dirt slung onto it. None of it seemed real. And don’t get me started on Grandpa. How people must have thought it was grief that made him snap. That the anguish of losing his only daughter had left him irrational, angry, lashing out at the world. The truth was that he was just the sort of prick who’d get embarrassed at his daughter’s funeral.

Things got back on track, eventually, after Papa Vanderbrooke had chased off both baby and singer. The boys returned with the wreath and the preacher stood and spoke to me directly. He made sure everyone considered the poor girl without a mother or father. They launched into a prayer. They consoled me. They smothered me with fragrant hugs and sticky handshakes. It was like they wanted me to break down, to prove how much I loved my mother.

I could’ve told them that I was glad it was over, that the ravaged body in the casket didn’t match the pretty face in the frame. That the last year of Mom’s life had been a wasteland of waiting rooms and insurance battles. That we’d done our crying, in private, together over scan results and treatment plans. At least now there was no more hope.

Hope had done us no favors. Hanging around, lurking in the corner of my thoughts, whispering how maybe this time the cancer was really gone and after some reconstruction, Mom would be as good as new. We’d have a story to tell and celebrate her life as a survivor. A big party at the awareness garden, with real flowers and no plastic wreaths. We’d eat cake and make jolly. They’d be looking at Mom, not me, and there would be no hurricane gusts, only a gentle breeze that would sweep back her hair—it would grow back—and carry the clink of our glass flutes as we said a toast, because damn it all she was alive.

That kind of hope is exhausting.

We didn’t stay at the reception. Long enough for Uncle Robbie's wife Glenda to have a glass of wine and make her rounds. On the way back, Uncle Robbie drove, I cracked the window to escape the secret smoker stench, ducking his worried glances in the rearview mirror. Glenda went on about the beautiful ceremony. Beautiful, just beautiful. She must have said beautiful probably eleven times in three minutes. And when it wasn’t beautiful it was lovely or breathtaking. Anything besides what it was, a sh**show.

We were on the way home, their place, where I’d spent the last few days. And up until that moment—when Glenda whipped around, gripping the seat with one tiny but ferocious hand—it had all felt more like a visit.

“Chloe, just remember, she’s in a better place.”

I avoided her eyes and gave her my best grimace/smile, slow blink-of-the-eyes combo as I stored the little gem with the rest of my cliche collection. Although, that one didn’t bother me. She was right. Mom was in a better place. If only that could have been the end of it. If only Glenda would’ve cranked up the Dave Matthews or whatever they were into, maybe things could’ve been bearable. But she didn’t. Glenda was incapable of that kind of restraint. So she plunged right ahead the only way she knew how.

“You know, if you want to talk about it, I’m here for you, okay?” She stared at me through an entire traffic light. Okay? Okay? Okay?

She was only trying. But her giddiness irked me. And yeah, okay, I didn’t expect the world to stop with Mom’s death, but Glenda was almost overjoyed by it. Like she’d won a raffle drawing good for one teenage daughter at a charity event. Finally, I turned to the window just to get her eyes off of me. Wasn’t happening.

She offered me a stick of gum. “We’re both here for you, right sweetie?” she said, tossing the support-baton to Uncle Robbie, looking suspect up there in his jacket and tie, recoiling at the thought of sitting down and swapping stories with his niece about his dead sister. But there we were, caught in a snag of traffic. A pickup truck rumbled to a stop beside us and two hicks sneered at the well-dressed people in the car. Us. People must have thought we were a family.

Finally, Robbie cleared his throat and popped up in the rear-view. “That’s right Chloe, we want, um, we want you to know that we are here for you, okay?”

I nodded, more out of respect for him getting through his lines than anything else. For months this thing had been planned out, mapped and navigated every step of the way as Mom faded. Before that even, when we first started making arrangements. When Mom and I would drop by Uncle Robbie and Glenda’s house for dinner. And by dinner I mean the four of us sitting at the table sobbing and crying and discussing Life After Mom. LAM as I called it.

Robbie and Glenda lived in this old gothic-type, house overlooking downtown. On Madison Street, in the historic district, where it’s all cobblestone streets and wrought iron fences, bronze plaques and such. They’d been restoring the place for as long as I could remember, and that house was like their child. There was always a saw or hammer or tools lying around where Glenda had Robbie on a project.

Of all the sh** times in my life, those little sit-down dinners took center stage. Mom and Glenda holding hands and sniffling while Robbie stared off at the wall like he was just itching to get back to the crown molding. I sat at the table, like an invalid, unsure what to do or say and wondering how I’d ever survive being Glenda’s new restoration project. But it was important to Mom so I went. And now here we were, fully prepared with nothing to do.

Robbie was a few years older than Mom. He used to be cool but now had the look of a guy in between naps. I loved my uncle, he’d done more for us than anyone. He’d lent us money, and cosigned for Mom’s car loan a few years ago. Even this move-in thing had been his idea. So yeah, Robbie was solid. But Glenda was a bit much. She’s a realtor, and even before we got Mom’s body in the ground I’d heard her talking about selling the house on Dorchester. The one Mom rented from them.

When we got back to Madison Street, I went to start unpacking. It had to be done, and after being watched and coddled all day I needed to be alone for a while. My room was right off the steps, beside the bathroom. Not that it was a bad spot, but any room in the world would have sucked because I wanted my room, across the hall from Mom, where I could hear her shuffling around in the middle of the night, even the sound of her pee or coughing, something to let me know she was still there with me.

I stuffed my clothes into someone else’s drawers, eyeing the unfamiliar faces in the unfamiliar frames. Everything was so neat and sterile, the house was old but posh, with all these high-tech gadgets, stainless steel and shiny hardwood floors that lit up in the sun. And right out back there was this matching carriage house at the end of the driveway. It would have been the perfect spot, but it was being remodeled or something.

So began my new life. On a strange bed with a gloomy funeral hangover. Mom was actually gone. Dead. Buried. I wanted to forever erase that day from memory, but it was there, vivid and bright, even the sound of the wind scraping my ears. All those people paying their respects. That preacher staring down on me. My emotionless grandparents. I made a note to make sure my own funeral would be a party. Not a soggy, celebration-of-life deal but people dancing and getting sh**canned.

I lay back, clutching our phones, Mom’s black and mine white. Our shared plan, shared data, our lifelines—now disconnected. The walls blurred. My nose stung. A big, fat tear drop hit the comforter.

She was really gone.

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