Category Archives: Uncategorized

Plotting to End It All

You know that melancholy feeling when you come to the end of a beloved book, one that has made you laugh and cry and stay up way too late contemplating the very nature of humanity? You know that feeling when you want to tear through the last few chapters to find out what happens, but you never want the story to end, never want to leave the people and world you’ve come to care so much about?

the-end

And then there’s that feeling that comes when you invest your time, your heart and your head into a great book that abruptly jumps the shark in the eleventh hour, leaving you frustrated and disappointed. This can come in the form of the classic Hollywood ending, where everything falls unnaturally into place. Not to pick on Wally Lamb again, but (**SPOILER ALERT**) I poured through the nearly 800 pages of mental health issues, suicide, professional failure, break ups, and family mysteries in I Know This Much Is True, only to come to an ending where the hero reunites with his estranged barren wife, adopts the miraculously HIV-free baby from his dying AIDS-infected ex-girlfriend, and then finds out he is in fact just Native American enough to share in a large financial settlement between the government and a local tribe. Ka-pow!

And then there are those torturous novels that offer no resolution at all (I’m looking at you, The Little Friend).

I hate those books for making me love them until they reveal their true nature. They are teases, players.

I never want to read those books. I never want to write them either.

Having said all of this, crafting a completely satisfying ending to your own beloved book is damn hard.

I have struggled with the ending of my novel, or at least the pacing for it. The overall feedback from my writers’ group and beta readers is that while the end felt satisfying and appropriate, things are resolved a tad too quickly. So I decided to add a brief flash forward to give the reader a peek view of the story that hypothetically continues on long after the book ends. Generally speaking, I am not a fan of epilogues and avoided the device here, but wanted to show just enough of the future for readers to draw their own conclusions. Because one of the best things about reading a novel is that you get to speculate over what comes after the novel ends.

I submitted Draft #4 of my novel in its entirety to my writers’ group three days ago. We will hold a special meeting to discuss the manuscript in two months’ time. Breath held and fingers crossed, I will bide my time attempting to write something, anything else. Wish me luck.

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The Jury is Out

Jury duty is a little like dating. You want a date to go well, but if it doesn’t, you want it to go terribly wrong so at least you have a good story to tell your friends. The “meh” dates are zero net gain. No love connection, no horror stories. You can only hope that the food is decent.

I had to report for jury duty last week. I’ve been summoned probably fifteen times in my life, had to show up five or six of them, and served twice. I am all for the “judged by a panel of ones’ peers” philosophy, however it doesn’t seem fair that some of those peers are called every February like clockwork. But I digress. 

INO PARKING took an Uber to the courthouse, and it seemed deliciously ominous when the driver dropped me off beside a street sign that stated: “No Parking: Homicide Only.” I had been summoned to criminal court. Would I be placed on an assault case? Armed robbery? Now it seemed that murder was a real option.

At 9 am, I filed into the jury assembly room and pulled out my laptop, prepared to document every gripping moment, every compelling character. But most of my fellow perspective jurors looked tired or bored. Resigned. They played games on their phones or typed away on their laptops. One or two of them pulled out real paperback books or magazines. A young woman in a hoodie closed her eyes and rested her head on the arm of her chair. A thin man with graying hair and a Where’s Waldo striped shirt walked the perimeter of the room, his hands wedged into the pockets of his bright red trousers.

We were all waiting for something to happen.

I didn’t want to serve. Sitting in that assembly room was disrupting my life. I had deadlines at work. I had plans in the evenings that I would have to cancel so that I could meet my deadlines at work.

I also kind of wanted to serve. How many movies and TV shows have I watched about crime and the justice system? I’ve been binging on The Killing for the last several weeks, trying to unravel who really killed Rosie Larsen. I have willingly handed over my free time on countless occasions for make believe crimes, and now here was the real life experience right before me.

We waited around for a while, watched the standard issue PSA video about what it means to serve on a jury, and then waited some more. At 10:30, the clerk announced that we were all free to go, that we had fulfilled our service for the year. I figured the defendant had weighed out his or her chances and took a plea deal.

I headed back to work, feeling disappointed. As storytellers, writers are always looking for the good parts, the key elements, and to trim out the fat. But much of life is fat. And my jury duty experience wasn’t really worth writing about.

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To Blog or Not to Blog

“I thought you were going to try to get that piece published,” a writer friend said to me. This was just about a year ago, and I had recently posted a work-in-progress — a personal essay about the stigma surrounding public displays of emotion — on my blog. My intention was to continue to work on the piece until it was ready to submit to online literary journals. As far as I was concerned, publishing it “as is” on my blog was a kind of dress rehearsal.

But my friend set me straight at once. “Never post anything on your blog if there is a chance you’ll want to publish it,” she said, exasperated by my naiveté. She explained that most journals don’t accept submissions that have been published elsewhere, even in part. And that there is no point in lying about it since editors Google every piece prior to publication; if they find you out, you’ll be blacklisted forever.

I hopped right onto the Internet and scanned through the submission rules of several journals. They all said essentially the same thing: We accept only original material; we cannot publish anything that has appeared elsewhere, even if it’s just on your personal blog.

Keys

Not only did I feel like an idiot, I was disappointed that I had already blown my chances of publishing my essay before I’d even finished writing it. Luckily, I later found an online journal that didn’t object to its debut on my blog. But I’d learned an important lesson.

Since then, as I ponder the theme of my next post, I am faced with the difficult task of determining which topics are a) interesting enough for my blog, but b) not so interesting that I may want to submit them for publication elsewhere. To put it crudely, I must be careful not to shoot my wad.

This here blog post was going to be about the “all genders” bathroom sign I saw in the San Diego airport and the power of words. But since I may want to publish an essay about this topic in the future, instead I am blogging about the trials and tribulations of blogging.

See, I’m learning.

The Kill Pile

Scrap. Scratch. Leftovers. Tidbits. The Drawer. All writers have a name for the file where they stash the beloved but ill-suited lines, scenes, and even entire chapters they have cut from a story. For my novel-in-progress, I named this file The Kill Pile.

Most of the time, I quite enjoy deleting unnecessary or out-of-place text from my work. It’s like cleaning out your closet and then admiring all of your favorite clothes without the distraction of that shirt with the oil stain or the adorable pants that no longer fit. But then there are the pieces that are hard to let go of, even if they border on unwearable. For instance, I have a pale pink sweater that looks great with my skin and has these cool little flower appliqués that are feminine without being girly. However, my sweater also has a decent-sized hole just below my right boob. Months after discovering this, I continue to wear the sweater and pretend to be surprised each time someone points out the hole. I just can’t seem to get rid of it, even though I know I should.

Deleting a great line or scene from my novel is 100 times more painful than giving up my sweater. But no matter how much I may love a particular turn of phrase or exchange between characters, if it detracts from the story, it’s gotta go.

edit

From Echohub.com

 

While I rarely revisit my Kill Pile, I find comfort in knowing that it’s there. And as I inch closer to the completion of the third draft of my novel, I thought I’d take a moment to honor just a few of the many lines that otherwise may never see the light of day. Perhaps it’s also time for me to stash that sweater in the back of my closet; out of sight but still there if ever I should want it.

 

* * *

I am sitting on a cushioned wood chair in a warm kitchen. My feet don’t touch the floor, but it doesn’t matter because I’m eating an oatmeal cookie. I love oatmeal cookies. The old woman is at the stove, humming what sounds like cartoon melodies. Bugs Bunny songs.

If I close my eyes, I can see her lemon-colored sweater, the beaded chain on her glasses, the few remaining streaks of deep brown hair on an otherwise white head. She smells like wax paper and roses, and her fingers are short and stout, the backs of her hands perfectly white except for a sprinkling of light brown spots, like freckles that have been smudged.

She pats me on the head, like my Nana does sometimes. She drinks tea out of China cups patterned with blue flowers while I play with the marshmallows in my hot chocolate. She calls me Sweetie. Would you like some toast, Sweetie?

* * *

“My aunt got in a car accident on her way to the airport one time,” Alisha said. “Just a fender bender but they had to pull over and exchange insurance and everything, so she missed her flight. She was all pissed off, because she was on her way to some important work thing. BUT as it turned out, the airplane that she was supposed to be on caught fire mid-air and went down over the ocean somewhere and everyone who didn’t die on impact ended up drowning or being eaten by sharks.”

“What a crock of shit,” Sara grumbled. “I saw that in a movie once or twice or a hundred times. And pass me the fucking joint if you’re just going to sit there.”

“Can you actually crash into water?” Marisol pondered, picking at a small hole in the knees of her jeans. “I mean, you can crash into dirt or cement or a mountain, because they’re solid. But water isn’t solid. So wouldn’t you just sort of sink into water?”

“At a fast enough speed, the water is as hard as cement,” Alisha said. “And depending on what angle you’re coming from. Like if you dive into a swimming pool headfirst rather than doing a belly flop.”

Sara shook her head. “I still say its bullshit regardless of the angle of the plane.”

“Anyway I thought planes were designed to float now,” Marisol said. “In the event of a water landing. The plane is supposed to float long enough for everyone to get out onto the boats.”

“It depends on how fast it hits the water–” Alisha started.

Sara groaned. “Can we kill the physics lesson for now? You know there’s a reason why I’m an art history major.”

“Because you like to get high and play with finger paints?” Marisol joked. Sara made a face but didn’t argue the point.

* * *

When I got home that evening, a little drunk and burping up wasabi, I found that my home had been exorcised. All of his jeans, t-shirts and underwear were missing from the shelves. His five million wrinkle-proof shirts had disappeared as well, as had his razor, toothbrush, comb, and shaving cream. Everywhere I looked, there were gaps left behind like missing teeth.

* * *

In a family full of teachers, Patrick had chosen to go to architecture school. “I’m kind of like the off-white sheep of the family,” he explained.

* * *

How to Stay Awake During Long Solo Drive to Los Angeles:

  • Three double cappuccinos by noon
  • Open up all of the windows when passing through Coalinga*
  • Whatever you do, do not listen to pubic radio

*slaughterhouse capital of the West

 

 

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Understanding the A**hole

To paraphrase my high school drama teacher: “Nobody thinks they’re an a**hole.”

We were in rehearsal for the spring play, in which I was playing the part of the villain. Ms. Quinn was a standard issue Bitter Betty: middle-aged, single, sour and dour, and went out of her way to squash other people’s joy. As far as I was concerned, she was plain old mean for the sake of being mean.

asshole hatI was not exactly thrilled to have been cast in this role, a fact which must have been clear to my drama teacher because he took me aside and told me that in his many years in the theater, he’d loved playing villains most of all. The trick, he explained, was to get to the heart of a character, to understand his or her motivations, to view the world from behind his or her eyes. “Nobody thinks they’re an a**hole,” he said. “Ms. Quinn feels completely justified in her behavior. And it’s your job to figure out why.”

His words stuck with me. Long after I’d decided that terrible heartbreak and betrayal in Ms. Quinn’s youth had turned her into a serious killjoy, I was eager to tip my psychoanalyst hat at friends and enemies alike. Why did that bitch Stacey pick fights with girls who were smaller than her? Perhaps she was bullied at home. Why did Joanna sleep around with so many loser guys? Clearly she wasn’t getting enough attention at home, and also her parents provided a terrible model for relationships. I was drunk with understanding for these people’s bad behavior! But it didn’t take long for me to realize that just because I understood (or thought I understood) their behavior, I still didn’t like it.

Two weeks ago at my last writers’ group meeting, one of the members made this comment on the chapter I had submitted: “I feel sorry for Alice and I’m glad she identified her problem, but I’m still not crazy about her. She’s fundamentally selfish and I don’t really expect her to change. At the same time, I don’t think I need to like Alice. She’s interesting, which is at least as important.”

I’ve never been so pleased to hear that someone dislikes one of my characters! While Alice is not a villain, she is a certainly a complicated person with a lot of character flaws. There are of course many legitimate reasons for these flaws, which is part of the reason why I love her so much*. But, as evidenced by that feedback, like her or not, Alice is interesting and genuine enough to evoke an emotional reaction. And isn’t that what we strive for in our writing? To create characters – a**hole or not – that are compelling and believable?

To this day, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out why people behave they way they do. Unfortunately, this includes a few real life a**holes, and one in particular who will remain unnamed. And I still don’t like them (him), even if I understand that his passive aggressive behavior and accusatory tone is rooted in profound insecurity. (Clears throat).

Perhaps the a**hole in question will turn up in one of my novels some day. In the meantime, I will strive to keep the a**holes in my life on the page.

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*Also, I love her because I created her. So there’s that.

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Readers!

I’m in the home stretch on the third draft of my novel! With just a few chapters left to revise, I’ve started to prepare for the next phase of the process: identifying my non-writer Beta readers.

To clarify, I’ve already had several Beta readers in the form of my writers’ group, who – over the past year and change – have given me both encouragement and valuable feedback. And of course there’s my BFF and uber-talented artist/writer Mari, who is my trusted First Reader for every novel, essay, or story’s initial exposure to the world outside of my head.Love Reading

But non-writer readers are a different story, and identifying the right ones can be tricky. It is crucial to select readers who: 1) enjoy reading 2) enjoy reading your genre 3) will be forthright and detailed in their critique while never forgetting that your writing is an essential part of you, like your lungs or your liver. Insensitive or dismissive comments can be hurtful, but even worse, they do nothing to help improve the work.

Our natural inclination is to reach out to our loved ones. They already adore us, so of course they will also adore our writing, right? Maybe, maybe not. I once made the apocalyptic-scale blunder of asking my then-boyfriend to read an early draft of my novel. Not only was he was not a novel reader by nature, he was so unsure of his own ability to provide useful feedback that he simply avoided the whole exercise*. As my manuscript gathered dust on his bedside table, my faith in both my writing and my relationship took a major plunge. If the man who was supposed to love me had no interest in my work, then who would??

These days, I make sure to communicate my needs and expectations to my readers (as well as to my boyfriends). My ultimate goal is to write a kick-ass novel, one that all kinds of readers can enjoy. But I’m going to need a little help.

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* For the record, we were in our 20s and had not yet mastered the fine art of clear communication. Actually, I’m still working on that…

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“Inspired By A True Event!”

There’s a saying that goes something like this: “Memoir is 90% fiction and fiction is 90% memoir.”*

While I’ve never plugged a real life experience “as is” into a work of fiction, my experiences absolutely inform my characters and story lines. For instance, I recently dug into my own life for inspiration, and struck gold with a shower scene that received rave reviews from my writers’ group.

Let me explain.

Do you see the faces? Two dogs, and duck for good measure.

Do you see the faces? Two dogs, and duck for good measure.

I’ve been struggling to establish attraction and intimacy between two of the characters in my novel-in-progress. The consistent feedback from my beta readers is: “I’m not totally sure what they see in each other”. The triumphant shower scene was inspired by the time my boyfriend and I spent ten minutes in the shower spotting dog faces in the granite pattern. I’d done this in private for years, and was oddly exhilarated to share it with him. It was a small moment, but it brought us a little closer.

Most writers reflect on their own experiences for inspiration, but what about when we are inspired smack dab in the middle of said experience?

Just this past weekend, my boyfriend and I were dancing (badly) to bossa nova music – in my living room and in our underwear. We giggled as we stepped on each others bare feet, fully aware of how ridiculous we must look. And as I snuggled into him, I thought, “You know, this could be a good scene to show more intimacy between Alice and Patrick.” But then it hit me: I wasn’t in the middle of a “scene”. I was in the middle of real life. And I was missing it, buried in my thoughts about my novel.

So I snapped myself back into the present, and tucked away that nugget of inspiration for later. Stay tuned on that account.

And in the meantime, I will leave you with that short but sweet shower scene “Inspired by a True Event!”

—————-

I’d always found showering with someone else a little awkward, taking turns washing shampoo out of your hair, standing there naked in the bright bathroom light. The first time I’d showered with Patrick, I stood with my arms across my chest, shivering, until he pulled me under the water, pressed his wet skin against mine.

“Do you see the faces?” he asked, pointing to the granite walls. “In the pattern of the stone. See, two eyes, a nose and a mouth,” he said, tracing the shapes with his finger. And right before my eyes, the indistinct forms came together into a woman’s face, complete with long wavy hair. “And here’s a dog’s face,” Patrick said, pointing to the left of the woman. “And a cat over here.”

I’d showered every day in that bathroom for two years and had never once noticed the faces looking back at me. But now they were everywhere.

“This one looks like a horse,” I said, my eyes searching over the granite. I’d completely forgotten to feel awkward. “And this one looks like a walrus, if you tilt your head a little. And here’s a bear!”

It was such a dumb thing to get excited about, but I couldn’t help myself.

We spotted faces in the granite until the hot water ran out. And from then on, every morning when I showered, I looked for new faces so that I could point them out to Patrick the next time he was over.

If we were going to break up, I was going to have to move. How could I ever shower in my bathroom again?


* Percentages are approximate

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Books for Everyone! (Well, Not *Everyone*)

The first Little Free Library popped up in my neighborhood about a year ago. It looked like a deluxe birdhouse topped with wooden bunny ears. How adorable! I thought. When I peeked inside, I saw that the contents were largely children’s books or the kind of bestseller that I can’t often swallow. Still, I liked the idea of the Little Free Library. What a cute vessel for book exchange!

Recently a second book-filled birdhouse appeared just up the street from me, this one crowned by an open-mouthed blue bird. 

Later when I got home to my WiFi, I visited littlefreelibrary.org to get the scoop. The non-profit organization’s mission statement is declared on the home page: “To promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide and to build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations.” 

A worthy cause, no doubt. Who doesn’t want to promote literacy*?

I clicked on the World Location Map and saw that these little birdhouses are popping up across Northern America, with a smattering in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Upon closer inspection, however, I noticed that the Little Free Libraries are located almost entirely in middle-class and affluent neighborhoods; places where literacy is already promoted in high-performing schools and most of the population can afford to buy their own books. Here’s the catch: while the organization provides tips and tricks for setting up and maintaining your Little Free Library — and sells a number of do-it-yourself kits — it is up to the individual to invest the time and money into the effort. Of course, most low income people can’t afford to buy books, let alone cough up $150 for the basic birdhouse kit.

The net effect? Free books for everyone, except those who really need them.

As much as I adore these little birdhouses, if the goal is truly to promote literacy, we will all benefit if those of us who can afford to buy books do so at our neighborhood bookstores**, and then after reading them, donate them to a local under-resourced library or to organizations that directly support literacy programs.

(Stepping down off of my soapbox. For now).


* With the exception of several unnamed countries that ban women from reading, driving, speaking in public, showing their ankles…you get the idea.

** Shout out to Walden Pond Books in Oakland!

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Under the Influence

This past weekend, I spent three ridiculously enjoyable hours holed up in a private karaoke room in Japantown with my pal Bill. The room was small and poorly ventilated, but a steal at $30 an hour, and the establishment’s unofficial BYOB policy saved us even more money on overpriced drinks. It was a win-win.

As a general rule, I do not sing in front of people. I am all too aware of my inability to carry — let alone hit — a note. But the combination of a private* room, the company of a trusted friend, and a couple of adult beverages helped me to overcome my hesitation. By the time we were belting out TLC’s Waterfalls, I’d almost forgotten to be horrified by the sound of my own voice.

There does appear to be some correlation between intake of alcohol and improved performance**. Over the years, I’ve noticed my pool game, dart-throwing abilities, pinball wizardry, and even my writing improve significantly after just one drink. When I was in college, I had to write a paper on a dreadfully mind-numbing topic (Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists. Discuss.) for my Political Science class. I struggled through the first half of the paper, took a break for dinner and a glass of wine with my housemates, and then returned to my room to complete the assignment. The following week, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a B+ for my efforts, and highly amused with my teacher’s comment that the second half of my paper was superior in both content and style than the first. In short, the buzzed half was better than the sober one.

As I discovered, a nice glass of wine or pint of beer can loosen me up, help me relax into the game, let the words flow uninhibited from my fingers. But while one drink improves my performance, each subsequent drink plunges my abilities further into a void from which there is no return. At least until the next day.

So how the hell did our beloved literary alcoholics pull it off? A quick Google search for “authors with drinking problems” yields a multitude of examples: Faulkner, Poe, Dorothy Parker, Capote, Hunter S. Thompson (among other addictions), James Joyce, Bukowski, and of course, the Godfather of Alcoholic Authors, Hemingway. These folks created some of the best literature of all time, yet I have a tough time getting my fingers to hit the correct keys after a few drinks. It seems unfair somehow that alcohol can heighten the senses of some while dulling the minds of others.

But in addition to being remarkable storytellers, most of the the above-mentioned writers struggled with depression and many died from alcohol-related complications. And despite the lingering noir glamour of the genius alcoholic writer, I’d still much rather write mostly sober than live mostly drunk.

 

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*Private in that no one can see into the room. However, a trip down the long hallway to the bathroom revealed that the rooms are far from soundproof.

**Although one could make the case that when it comes to karaoke, perhaps it’s not that the drinks improve my singing so much as they temporarily damage my give-a-shit-ometer.

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Little Victories

A few weeks back, I set off on a week-long creative retreat in the Sierra Foothills with four friends and four dogs. No phone, no Internet, no cable = no distractions, right? I dusted off the mostly complete draft of a young adult novel I wrote in thirty short days four long years ago, excited to take a break from my novel-in-progress and revisit what I remembered as a rough but fairly clever storyline and interesting, layered characters.

After the packing and the driving and the first night of food and drink and socializing, I got down to business. For about half an hour, anyway. Barely one chapter in, I was bored by my own story. In my defense, I was lounging on the deck with my feet up, surrounded by sunshine and dense woods, dogs and friends – of course, I was distracted! And anyway, it was just the first chapter.

How was I supposed focus on my laptop screen with this view?

Tucked away in the trees. How was I supposed to concentrate while surrounded by this view?

But as the days went on, I spent more time dozing on the deck or trying to rally my friends to go wine tasting than reviewing/editing my novel. Was it the quiet natural setting? The fact that I was overdue for a vacation? Or perhaps my novel and its characters simply weren’t interesting enough to keep even my own attention.

It was a rather depressing thought.

But then halfway through the novel and mere minutes away from setting aside the “creative” part of this retreat, I read the following chapter and felt—if not fully redeemed—at least encouraged that my novel wasn’t a total snoozefest. I’ll take the little victories where I can get them.

The setting: College dorm party the last night before everyone goes home for the Thanksgiving weekend. Sooni is our heroine, along with friends Anne and Gretchen, and boyfriend William. Gretchen is planning to visit her boyfriend Marc, who is studying in London, over the Christmas holidays.


Sooni Greene (Working Title)

Everyone was in good spirits, except perhaps for Anne, who wasn’t as excited as the others to be going home for the long weekend. Although her mother and younger sister had invited her to join them, Anne had declined in favor of a pre-cooked meal and football with her father.

“The last thing I need is to have the two of them stare at me all day,” she said.

Gretchen, on the other hand, was too busy counting off the days before she left for London to notice Anne’s mood. “I can’t believe it’s less than a month now,” she said, beaming.

Sooni thought she saw the expression on Anne’s face turn sour as she finished her third beer and went in for another. Shortly after that, Anne left the room without a word.

Gretchen and William were chatting animatedly about 1960s menswear, a topic that Sooni had nothing to contribute to. William was detailing for Gretchen the exact cuts and fabrics of the wardrobe he had inherited from his grandfather, who apparently was quite the dresser in his time. Sooni did not participate in this conversation, but was pleased that her boyfriend and her friend were getting along so well. She sat back in her chair and looked around the room. She recognized several of the attendees as Gretchen’s neighbors, but did not know most of them by name.   A short girl with what seemed to Sooni like a larger than normal chest caught her eye, and then meandered over to where Sooni was sitting.

“Hey Sooni, how’s it going?” she asked with a beer-soaked smile. “Are you going home for the weekend?”

Sooni nodded, sipping from her beer to try to buy herself time to remember the girl’s name. It was something like Katie or Cathy or- Katrina. It was Katrina and she was in her U.S. History class.

“I’m going home tomorrow,” Sooni said. “What about you?”

Katrina grabbed a nearby chair and sat down next to her. She talked happily about her family’s plans for the weekend, which seemed to involve a great deal of both pie and football.

“Because my brother’s at Berkeley, you know. On the football team,” she said. “By the way, do you know where Anne went?”

Sooni was a little thrown. She didn’t know that Katrina and Anne knew one another, had never seen them exchange a word. She glanced around the room for Anne, but couldn’t locate her among the crowd.

“I don’t know,” she said. “She was here just a little while ago.”

“Oh, okay,” Katrina said, half rising from her chair. “I’ll see if I can find her.”

That was odd, Sooni thought, watching her go. Sooni turned back to Gretchen and William, who were now talking about their favorite old time movie stars.

“Hey Gretchen,” Sooni interrupted. “Is Anne friends with that girl Katrina?”

Gretchen grinned slyly. “I wouldn’t call them friends, exactly,” she said. “Katrina has been following Anne around like a lovesick puppy ever since they hooked up after that art show a few weeks back.”

Sooni furrowed her brows, confused and also a little hurt. Why was this the first she had heard about it? Anne usually had no problem sharing the most intimate details of her sexual encounters, but she had said nothing.

Gretchen seemed to pick up on her thoughts, because she quickly added, “It was the night that you guys went to the planetarium, remember? Anne dragged me to this terrible art show because she didn’t want to go alone, and then ended up drinking a bunch of the free wine and making out with Katrina. To tell you the truth, it was sort of a nightmare.”

William, who had been quietly gazing out into the crowd, spoke up.

“Anne is quite the handful sometimes, isn’t she?” he said. Gretchen’s face fell slightly. “I mean, she’s witty and interesting and all,” he went on. “But she’s also a bit of wild card, no?”

Sooni knew that this was true. She’d had similar thoughts. But Anne was her friend, and she wasn’t going to trash talk her.

“Anne’s all right,” she said, a little louder than she had intended. She cleared her throat. “She has a big personality and all, but she’s…well, she’s an artist.”

William burst into laughter.

“I swear, Sooni,” he said, “you should major in International Relations.”

Gretchen laughed at this, and then Sooni couldn’t resist joining in with a smile of her own.

When Gretchen left to go to the bathroom, Sooni and William scootched closer to one another, holding hands and watching the party. They often did this, whether at the DC or on the lawn by the student union; they could sit in silence for twenty minutes at a time, watching people go by.

When Gretchen returned, she looked tense. When Sooni asked her what was wrong, she shrugged her shoulders.

“Anne,” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“She’s drunk. And not in a good way.”

Sooni was about to ask what had happened, but then Anne appeared in the doorway and sauntered into the room. Her mouth was smiling, but her eyes were hard. She focused right in on Gretchen.

“Didn’t mean to run you off,” she said. Her voice was quite slurred now, and Sooni wondered how much she’d had to drink. Or if she’d had something else, in addition to the beer.

Gretchen did not respond, or even look at Anne. She kept her eyes resolutely focused on the two girls across the room that were trying on each other’s shoes.

“Oh, are we pretending that I’m not standing right in front of you?” Anne said, her smile spreading but her eyes growing colder.

“What the-“ Sooni started, but Anne talked over her.

“It must be hard for you,” she said, in a mock concerned voice. “I’m sure you get lonely with your loyal boyfriend thousands of miles away, but no one’s stopping you from having fun in the meantime. And I don’t hold people up to the same high standards as you do.”

Gretchen narrowed her eyes but still said nothing.

Sooni watched this interaction, completely perplexed. She couldn’t imagine why Anne was goading Gretchen on this way.

“Anne,” Sooni said sharply. “What kind of thing is that to say to someone?”

She felt William stir beside her, but did not look over at him. She fixed her stare on Anne, but Anne waved her away with one flailing hand.

“You’re not part of this, Sooni,” she said.

Before Sooni had a chance to react, Gretchen was up on her feet.

“I’m going to bed,” she said, looking only at Sooni and William. “I hope you both have nice Thanksgivings.”

And then she turned and walked out the door, completely ignoring Anne, who watched her leave.

Then Anne screwed up her face and clutched at her stomach, like she was in terrible pain. Sooni and William were on their feet in seconds, their arms around Anne, leading her out of the room.

“I think I’m gonna-“ she said, but she was too busy throwing up on the linoleum in the corridor to finish her sentence.

“Looks like she had the pasta for dinner,” William said as he and Sooni attempted to hoist Anne back up into a sitting position. Sooni ignored this comment and concentrated on getting Anne’s hair out of the line of fire.

Anne threw up twice more, and then looked up at the audience that had gathered.

“Oh fuck me,” she said, attempting to stand up on her own. She looked at Sooni with heavy eyes. “Get me out of here. Please,” she pleaded quietly.

“We will,” Sooni said, “but we’ve gotta clean up this-“

“I’ll do it,” William said. “You get her back to her room before the RA sees her and kicks her out of the dorms. I’ll clean this up.”

Sooni stared at him, feeling both gratitude and a little shock. “Are you serious?” she asked.

“Go on,” he said. “I’ll come by later.”

Sooni wrapped her arm around Anne’s waist and helped her onto her feet. It was sort of like being in a three-legged race with a one-legged partner, and it took Sooni several tries to get Anne to walk in sync with her. Finally, they made it down the elevator, out of the building, and into their own. Maria had already left for the long weekend, so Sooni dug the keys out of Anne’s pocket, used her shoulder to push the door open, and then dragged Anne to her bed.

Once she had Anne situated and placed a trashcan next to her head in case of further vomiting, Sooni closed the door and collapsed onto Maria’s bed.

“Why do you do these things, Anne?” she asked, exasperated. “I mean, why the hell were you trying to pick a fight with Gretchen? It’s just plain bitchy.”

Anne looked at her through half-closed eyes. “Yelling at me isn’t going to make me feel any better,” she said in an uncharacteristically small voice.

“Well, I’m sorry but your feelings are not exactly on the top of my list of concerns right now,” Sooni exclaimed. “Do you even appreciate the fact that William is back in Stanton Hall right now, cleaning your puke off of the floor? Just because he’s a nice guy?”

It was the first time Sooni had ever raised her voice in anger around Anne, and even in her inebriated state, Anne seemed to pick up on the significance.

“I’m sorry,” she said quietly. “I just…I just…”

And then she did something so unexpected, so completely out of character that Sooni’s annoyance instantly dissipated. Anne started to cry.

Sooni sat next to her on the bed, and put her hand on her shoulder. “Why are you crying?” she asked.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Anne asked through her sobs, covering her eyes with her hands.

Sooni thought for a moment. She knew Anne was less than thrilled about the holidays coming up and all the particular familial tension that came with them. But something else must have triggered this meltdown. Anne’s mood seemed to darken when Gretchen was talking about Christmas and going to London. And now that Sooni thought about it, she could remember other times when Anne had reacted similarly, getting bent out of shape whenever Gretchen talked about Marc. The look on Anne’s face would go from annoyance to resentment to- jealousy?

“Holy shit,” Sooni breathed. “How long have you been in love with Gretchen?”

Anne did not respond but crumpled into renewed sobs. But suddenly everything was making sense to Sooni: why Anne hadn’t wanted to be roommates with Gretchen, why she roundly abused the notion of long distance relationships, or relationships in general. Was this why she so often got drunk and picked up on random girls when they went out, to try to make Gretchen jealous? Or was it to distract herself from the fact that she was in love with a straight girl whom she could never have?

“Wow,” Sooni said aloud. “Does she know?”

“God, I hope not,” Anne said into her pillow, her voice muffled and slurred. Then she suddenly sat upright, and Sooni had to draw back not to get hit in the face by the side of her head. “And that asshole Marc,” Anne said, tears still streaming from her swollen, mascara-ringed eyes. “She talks about him like he’s a fucking saint and a poet, but he doesn’t love her. He treats her exactly as what she is to him, a cute girl to fuck when he comes home from college for a visit. Whenever she’s not around, he sticks his dick into anything that stands still long enough, and Gretchen has no fucking clue.”

“Are you sure? How do you know this?” Sooni asked, shocked.

“Because he tried to fuck me,” Anne replied. “And at least three other girls I know of. He is a complete and utter scumbag.”

“When did this happen? And why didn’t you tell her?”

Anne shook her head. “Don’t be naïve,” she said, although not unkindly. “No one wants to hear that shit. And I’m sure as hell not going to be the messenger.”

“Poor Gretchen,” Sooni sighed. “And she’s so excited to see him.”

At this statement, Anne lunged toward the trashcan and proceeded to throw up again. Sooni quickly reached over to pull her hair out of the way. After a moment, Anne rolled onto her back and looked up at Sooni imploringly. Her face was streaked with tears and eye makeup.

“I feel like shit,” she said. “Do me a favor and kill me now.”

Sooni had to stifle a laugh. The situation, although far from funny, struck her as so bizarre, she almost didn’t know what else to do.

“I’m not going to kill you,” Sooni said, stroking Anne’s hair gently, her fingers lingering over the purple streaks that never seemed to fade. “But I am going to get you some ibuprofen and a glass of water.”

After she had rinsed out the trashcan and watched as Anne dutifully swallowed the ibuprofen, Sooni took off Anne’s shoes and jacket, and pulled the covers over her.

“You know, I wasn’t so sure about you at first,” Anne mumbled. “When Gretchen brought you around. But you’re a good friend, Sooni.”

And with that, she passed out.

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