2 a.m. Writing: 20 Years of Flaws

Self-Composed Writing Prompt for the night: Write a short narrative imagining yourself, in 20 years, still struggling with the same deep flaws you fight against now.  

(This is very much a first draft. But I thought that it was an interesting piece of writing and a self-reflective idea. Feel free to use the prompt to write your own posts on the subject, linking back to this post if you do.)

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Midnight Philosophers 

The microwave always beeped far too loudly, but it seemed louder at night, when everyone was trying to sleep, than it did in the day, when it didn’t matter.

She winced as she pulled her tall coffee mug out of the microwave. 2:30 was far too early to be waking anyone else in the house.

Trying to tiptoe, but still elephant-stomping (everyone told her that she did it, though she didn’t believe them) across the wooden boards, she made her way to the kitchen table.  Her coffee mug joined the entourage of other necessary 2:30 items: an overworn daily planner, a shining laptop screen, a notebook labeled “2nd period,” and a stack of random papers that looked like it had been accumulating and tangling itself over a year’s time.

She sat down and grabbed the first item: her planner.

Mental list time: 1. Fill in dates for this week 2. Fill in classroom budget form 3. Get ahead on lesson planning for the 9-week unit, and, if any time was left over, 4. Finally deal with that junk paper pile of reminders, bills, letters, notes, and tea bag wrappers.

Footsteps. Hall light switched on.

“Mom, what are you still doing up?” Her son’s voice was groggy and confused. He already knew the answer, though.

“Just too much to get done in waking hours, honey.” Her reply was polished and focused. She only sent a brief glance up at him before returning her gaze to her work.

He trudged into the kitchen, grabbing a glass from the cabinet and filling it with water.  “You always say that. And then you turn around and tell me to get sleep because I’m a growing young man.”

She raised an eyebrow and kept up her focused list-writing, an ironic chuckle rolling off her tongue.“You are. And I’m a slowly deteriorating 40-year-old woman. You need the sleep. I don’t.”

“Well, what do you need?

She let out a deep sigh. “Time.”

He slightly smirked back, a challenge glinting in his eyes. “Dad says that you’ve always been this way.”

At this, she paused. The focus temporarily left her eyes, and she met his gaze suspiciously, almost defensively. “What way?”

“Everything is always important. Everything has a deadline. And everything is always on your shoulders. Dad says that when you were in college you never let yourself sleep, either.”

Her shoulders started to tighten as she took a deep breath. “Honey, you’ve got to understand something. Yeah, maybe I’ve always been this way. But that’s because life has always been the same for me. Burdens come to me: burdens that need to be picked up. Somebody’s got to take care of them.”

Damn. Deep questions disturbed her focus. She had to get back to work. Focus. Focus.

“Are you sure you don’t look for them?” There was hesitation in her son’s voice. 2:30 is a dangerous time to threaten thin ice.

For the first time, she paused. This time, useful answers didn’t just pour from her mouth. She tried to meet his gaze, but her eyes couldn’t seem to focus on his. It was as if she were physically staring at him but actually focusing on invisible finance numbers, grade percentages, check-boxes, and sentence fragments flying around his head. He couldn’t stare into the depths of her eyes, as if the dark circles underneath and the red tinge around her pupils had made her gaze shallower.

She finally sighed and defeatedly closed her laptop. “You’re probably right. I just have no idea how to live any other way. Just like you said . . . I’ve always been this way.”

“Mom, I don’t want to see you this way.”

She nodded in agreement, staring absent mindedly at the table. “Yeah, yeah, I know.” Her gaze and the lines on her face had seemed to soften with a sort of sadness.

He just stood there, waiting. She always needed her time to process. She rarely let herself hear things like this about herself.

Finally, she looked up, the expression on her face a little brighter. “So, why are you up?”

“Couldn’t sleep. Have a test tomorrow, but I know it’s no use to try to study now.” He shrugged, an easy smile spreading on his face.

“You probably should get your mind off of it.” She nodded to the chair beside her. “Want to sit down?”

“Yeah. I’d like that.”

“So, what else do you have, my midnight philosopher?” She leaned forward a bit and looked him the eye.

“What do you mean?”

She leaned back in her chair a bit and smiled. “Well, you seem to observe things about me that I don’t always see clearly. You have a unique perspective. Tell me about me. Tell me about Dad, and your sisters. Tell me about you.”

The fifteen-year-old mind is a vast cavern of idiosyncrasies, contradictions, and mysteries.

“You sure you’ve got the time?” His expression was simultaneously suspicious, amazed, and intrigued.

Grinning, she swept the pile of junk paper clean off the table, letting the pieces settle to the kitchen floor like a pile of falling leaves. “Yeah, I’ve got all the time in the world. We midnight philosophers always do.”

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