I facilitate Jumpstart writing workshops in Petaluma, California and here, online, with you. People new to writing have a hard time saying “I’m a writer.” So did I, until my writing teacher, Pat Schneider, made me say it out loud.
And now I’m encouraging you to say it out loud. Come on. I’ll say it, too.
I am a writer.
Again, louder. I AM A WRITER.
There now. . . and if you weren’t able to say it louder, fake it until you make it.
No need to fake your writing. . . Just fake having confidence in your writing.
And now . . . select a prompt and Just Write!
The velvet voice sounds hollow, distant, like a calling from beyond.
“Can you hear me…you’re okay, gently now, don’t struggle, you’ve been involved in an accident. Just relax, you’re coming round nicely.” There’s a sensation of someone rubbing the back of my hand.
The word ‘accident’ tumbles around my head, repeating itself before a soft, orange radiance becomes a bright, even hurtful light. I squint open my eyelids.
“Accid…accident” I stammer, giving an audible sound to my confusion. I feel no pain, just numbness, almost euphoria.
“You’re doing fine,” the words are spoken in a reassuring voice. It belongs to the woman now leaning over me, shading my eyes from the brightness. She has brushed pink cheek bones, hazel eyes, alight and smiling, and is holding her head tilted, like my dog waiting for the next command. She’s wearing a nursing cap, on curly brown hair. “You’re okay; we’ve given you a little something to help you relax.” She squeezes my hand. “You feel panicked, I’m sure, maybe not feel your legs, but everything is as it should be. Do you understand?”
I hadn’t thought about it, she’s right, there’s no sensation in my legs. Paralyzed? The word alone pierces my mind like an arrow splitting an apple, and a watery sensation floods my eyes. “Trust me, everything will be normal soon,” she assures. I feel a mask of blackness descending, and I shudder.
“Sir… sir…?” she calls, lightly pushing on my shoulder, bringing me out of a mental grave. “I have a police officer here, he needs to ask you a few questions, okay? Just stay relaxed, it will only take a minute or two.”
Fears’ persistence is numbing my brain to the cool awful reality. There’s no sensation below my waist.
“Sure, I’m okay…I am okay…aren’t I?”
“Absolutely. Breathe deeply. I’ll be right here.” She smiles, making a beckoning motion with a movement of her head. I grip the bed sheet.
Before I even see the policeman, I hear his voice… “Hello,” the voice says, with a cigarette rasp.
“I’m sorry to see you this way but it’s important I ask you some questions. The nurse here tells me you’re doing okay, out of danger. That’s good.”
Then I see him, he’s standing at the foot of the bed. I never saw a man who looked with such an accusing eye.
“I can’t feel my legs, sir.”
The nurse quickly chimes in. “You will, I promise you. Just a few more minutes, that’s all, and your legs will be fine. Please relax and answer the questions.”
Seeing his uniform, cap under his right arm, notebook in his left hand, white shirt, black tie, looking smart, official. I shrink as though ice were trickling down my spine.
“Do you remember anything of the accident, sir?” He asks, looking down at his notebook, pencil poised. It takes me a moment.
“Do you recall leaving home this morning?”
The very word “morning” reminds me that I have no idea of time, is it still morning, afternoon or night? That question drifts by me as if on sails.
“I’m afraid I don’t.”
“You do know who you are, correct?”
The question is steel heavy.
“Tom…Tom Schofield, yes.”
“And your address, sir?”
“17 Rufus Square, Whitechapel.”
He comes round to my side, standing next to the nurse, now at the back of my head, and has a word in her ear. I push my chin upward, force my eyes back till they hurt, but cannot see them, just the flutter of mouths speaking, indistinguishable from the moth caught in my head, more than a whisper, but still indiscernible. He returns into my frame of vision.
“Mr. Schofield, I have some very sad news. The car you were driving…well it mounted a pavement near your home, a mother and her child were killed.”
The pressure of blood sluicing down my neck, produces an immediate nausea. I feel a blue depth absorbing me. I’m drowning in guilt.
“Mr. Schofield…Mr. Schofield…. it’s okay, gently now…gently…you’re doing fine.” I feel the nurse’s hand grip mine. My hand responds, tightly, as if letting it go will see me falling away from living. My head is exploding, barking bouts of pain enter and leave in cycles of agony. My brain has lost control of thought, and it is running wild…why…why me…what happened?
The nurse, her palm behind my neck, tilts my head forward. I sip at the wet cool, but cannot swallow. The surplus drains down my neck, forming a puddle below my Adam’s Apple.
“Breathe, Mr. Schofield; you’re having a hard time breathing. In….out… in…out…keep in time with me please, big breath, in…out…and again…in…out, that’s better, keep that going.” The nurse calls the policeman back. “You can continue now.” She squeezes my hand.
“You don’t recall using a cell phone at any time, Mr. Schofield?” It’s a question asked, it feels, from the lofty position of knowing the truth.
There’s a drift of fleecy guilt in the question. I try hard to recall, try to see myself at the wheel, see the cell phone.
“No, sir, I don’t recall anything. Cell phone? No, sir.”
“Eyewitnesses say you were driving without due care, you were using a cell phone. You definitely don’t recall this?”
There’s a deep, dark resonance in his voice, yet the words dance from his mouth with a sterile, accusing satisfaction. He believes I do recall, and not admitting to it. I know this from the timbre of his voice, and the way he accentuated on the word “definitely”.
A mother, and a child, dead! The watery fog thickens before my eyes. I feel profoundly alone, and afraid. I’m alive and a mother and child are dead because I used a cell phone while driving?
How could this destruction happen to me, to them? A mother and a child innocently standing, walking, and playing, when my car smashed into them, never again to know laughter in their eyes. My thoughtless act. A call, to whom, and why, and what could have been so important that I would risk such havoc on someone for a something that could easily wait?
The lamp, illuminating this reality, offers no comfort. I feel far…far underground. What a senseless world, just a phone call. I wasn’t drunk. I wasn’t on drugs, or medication. I simply thought it could never happen to me. Somehow I drove into a woman and child. Nothing makes sense. I lie here, skeletal ruins, a shattered, broken existence, but alive. There’s nothing so helpless, or wise, as wishing to turn the clock back, to return to sanity, to get another chance at turning around a dumb decision.
“Do you have a reading there, nurse?” The policeman asks, sounding tired and uninterested.
It’s a distantly heard question, somewhere out there, but audible. I turn my head toward the nurse, now discarded of her white nursing cap.
“Yes, Mr. Tomlin. Looks like a good reading. I think we’re done here.”
“Great, I’m meeting my wife at Giorgio’s. It’s our twentieth anniversary.”
“Congratulations…here, let me take that jacket from you.” She says, stepping away from my bed.
I suddenly feel my legs twitch. My thoughts are finding their ancient shape.
“Okay, let’s take a look …” The policeman, now in shirtsleeves, receives the printout. “Hmmm… quite good, very good in fact. I’ll sign him off, and get on my way home. The traffic will be building up soon.”
Feeling floods back into my legs. My head is clearing. Perfect sound…no echo… not sense of riot… no sense of distance.
“Time to swing your legs off the gurney, Mr. Schofield?” There’s a lot less warmth and concern in her voice.
I hear traffic outside. Hear people talking beyond the door. My mind is happy, remembering yesterday’s great result at AT&T Park, a 3-1 win over the Dodgers. I’m feeling less cold, less feeble, but slightly nervous.
“Don’t worry, you passed. Very good marks for the simulated accident scenario. Your guilt level was excellent. We feel confident you won’t text and drive. If you need a cup of tea, there’s a waiting room. Congratulations, Mr. Schofield.”
mcullen Post author
Oh. My. Gosh. This is precious and priceless. I just have to tell you what lines I especially like (well, I could repeat the whole thing, but I’ll choose the best of the best).
brushed pink cheek bones – exquisite description
watery sensation floods my eyes – I’m always intrigued and love it when a unique phrase is to describe tears
The question is steel heavy. – Wow! Excellent.
The watery fog thickens before my eyes – yes! More Wow writing.
An the ending = brilliant!
This was so interesting to read . . . quite creative and unique. Love it!
Wow Ke11y – this was almost too good – it had me on the edge of my seat, with my pulse racing and a catch in my breath. You are the master of the big bang verb:
feeling floods you, fog thickens before your eyes, words dance from his mouth, blood sluices down your neck. You don’t just “tell” us, you make us “feel” it too. Great writing!
mcullen Post author
Oh yes, blood sluicing. . I forgot to add that to my list! Thanks, Heartmom!
Dear Marlene, and Heartmom, (friends) what can I say but thank you, just thank you when in my heart I want to send wild flowers, balloons, those red ones with tags on them saying something, everything I feel; feelings put there by your kindnesses.
mcullen Post author
Dear Kelly, You said it all when you included (friends) . . . that means the world to me . . . that we could become friends through our writing! I love our wee little writing community. 🙂
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