I didn’t always live in Queens. Just before sixth grade, we moved out to Long Island, and before you knew it, I was hitting those awkward teen years.

My high school yearbook photo

If you want to know the truth, I was a teenager with no direction, and no ambition whatsoever. A lousy student with even crummier study habits. I was painfully shy and mortified by speech class, where I had to step up to the podium and debate on an issue I didn’t give a hoot about. In geometry and algebra, I was one of the few who managed to turn, what should each have been a year-long course, into 18-month-long ones. What can I say? I needed the extra time for the math to sink in.

My future looked bleak. I was flailing.

Even Mr. Meissner, my science teacher was baffled at the thought of my prospects. He talked me into enrolling in his General Science class which actually proved to be one of my favorite classes because the only thing we didn’t study in that class was science. We were a class of misfits. My “lab” partner was on his third year of being left back. He’d boast that he knew a lot about nothing, and it was true. Everyday, he’d regale us with his breadth of knowledge about the most mundane things. I never knew anyone who knew so much about so little.

Frankly, there was little hope for me. Mrs. McHale, the Home-Economics teacher nearly twisted my arm to get me to take her class so she could teach me how to sew. She literally yanked me out of the hallway one day, and the next thing I knew I was enrolled in her class (much to my chagrin). I hated sewing. I took the class but I never sewed a stitch. My mother, who was a master with the sewing machine, ended up doing it for me. To this day, I can’t even sew a button on a shirt.

The computer teacher practically twisted my other arm to get me to take his class as no other girls had signed up for it. So I did, but these were the computers of the past, pre-Apple and pre-PC’s. There was no internet access. Nothing, but mysterious codes for enormous computers that I was sure would never amount to anything of significance in my lifetime. Those binary numbers just swam over my head and dive-bombed on any future I might have as a computer analyst.

And then two things happened to change my life. And by things, I mean two people: Miss Stern and Lynn.

Miss Stern taught Creative Writing. Up until then, the extent of my writing was limited to assorted diaries I’d kept throughout the years, and the copious notes I’d write in class and pass to my friends, when I should’ve been paying attention to classwork.

And then I took Creative Writing and the world was transformed. It was as if my life had gone from black and white to brilliant Technicolor. My heart became infused with joy. Suddenly, I was turning in assignments on time and raising my hand with record speed–excited to read my work aloud, whether it was an essay describing the contents of my bedroom or  a poem in the style of Ben Johnson. It was in her class that I learned the line, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive.”  Oh, how I loved Miss Stern, and how I loved her class. To me, there was nothing better!

Except maybe my friend, Lynn. If you ask me, Lynn had one of those intensely bright minds that left me in awe. She took AP honors classes, and barely needed to blink to get an A. Yep, she was smart as a whip, with a biting sense of humor, much like Dorothy Parker.

Lynn and I traveled in different circles. You could find me with the potheads, the delinquents, and the ones who prided themselves on knowing much about nothing. Whereas, Lynn was with the intellectual crowd, the ones who knew their life plans, and had dreams of going to Princeton, Columbia, or Dartmouth.

And, then one day, by chance, we became friends. Which evolved to good friends. Whereupon, we embarked on a series of fabulous adventures. Just me and Lynn. And, in the process, Lynn changed my life.

Oh, and I suppose this would be as good a time as any, to make a formal apology to the country of India. As you requested, we never returned to your embassy.

But I’ll save these stories–the tales of our sometimes wild adventures–for another day.

So, how about you? Can you remember someone who may have helped change the course of your life?

One Shot, Two Stories

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Monica’s Tangled Web and One Sister’s Rant are joining together to tell two stories, using one photograph.

We’re each posting the same snapshot (courtesy of Keoni Cabral, my friend and photographer extraordinaire) and we’re each writing a different first line. And here’s where you come in.

Readers, we want you to continue the story. Add one sentence to further the plot along and, before you know it, we’ll have one photograph with, what should prove to be, two very distinctive stories.

At the end of the week—or maybe next—we’ll post both stories in their entirety. I’ll post One Sister’s Rant story and you’ll need to head over to Bella’s blog to check out Monica’s Tangled Web story. Won’t that be cool??

This fun exercise is the brainchild of  Cathy Kozak, from While the Dervish Dances. Here are her instructions:

  1. Visit the comment section.
  2. Check your place in the story by reading others’ comments first, each of which will contain a sentence.
  3. Be sure to number your comment and add a sentence of your own that propels the story forward. Make sure you read the comments/sentences others have left before yours, to ensure a logical link.

We encourage you to contribute to the story here and to the story on One Sister’s Rant. Contribute as often as you like!

Tell your friends to contribute, too! Tweet, Facebook or post to whatever social media tool you have. We want this to be as long and involved and as fun as possible–and we can’t do it without you, so spread the news!

Bella and I can’t wait to see what, collectively, we all come up with. Without further ado, on your mark, get set—GO!

The First Sentence:

1. On a misty February morning, barely a week before Valentine’s Day, Charlie opened the back door to let the cat out, then boarded his jeep and drove away.

Your turn!

The Road Taken: Poetry Session

I love poetry and, in my youth, I was quite prolific. I wrote these poems during the time I was taking a creative writing class with Rick. These poems can each stand on their own. But, they do have a back story.

The first one is about the time Rick and I skipped out of class. You can read about it in my story, The Road Taken: Running. You’ll learn the story behind the second one by reading, The Road Taken: Strawberries on a Blue Plate.  Enjoy!

One Wild Night

We tore off our mittens, stashed them away,

Pressed our hands together and ran down the street:

So Free!

The chilling night swirling on our knuckles,

Spinning fantasies on our souls,

Felt good…

A man with a saxophone,

Hot sounds in the icy wind,

Made you laugh and I almost told you then,

But it was all so perfect, so rare,

Rubbing our hands together, my tingling fingers reached for yours,

You laughed some more as I leaned closer,

Thinking we were two crazy people on a wild night,

Out for a good time,

So Free!

Rites of Summer

I remember the strawberries,

Oh, God they were good!

On that long-ago day by the Hudson,

Where we sat on a hill,

Sharing a brief moment,

Longing it to last forever,

Feeling that it could,

A quite breeze,

Your soft laughter,

Your folded hands,

All seemed so golden, so serene.

Summer reflecting on the blue plate between us,

Dusted with breakfast crumbs, morning jam,

Unspoken words.

You leaned closer,

Reaching for a strawberry,

The last one,

I whispered something,

Perhaps a dream?

I watched the strawberry

Slip through your parted lips.

Missed a chapter? Read past installments, by visiting the page, The Road Taken.

The Road Taken: Slipping Away

Did I say that? Did I really say that? Did I tell him I was married?

I don’t know what happened. I don’t know how I got here.  I had all of two hours to think of what I would say if we ever spoke. And what did I do?  I told my Adonis I was married. MARRIED! Blurted it out, if you want to know the truth.

Or did I?

Drumheller Fountain provides stunning view of Mt. Rainier.

Only Karen, the instructor, was left in the room by that point and she was sorting through some papers. But when I said it, she stopped cold and looked up quizzically. Her eyes, demanding to know what was going on.  Maybe, instead of saying, “Married!” as I intended, I actually shouted, “Fire!”  I have no idea. Whatever I said, I was mortified and, yet, I was thrilled beyond belief.

He was just being polite, anyway. All that stuff about liking my work and helping me up. The way he reached out with one hand and touched my elbow with the other. He didn’t have to do it. He was just being a gentleman. A beautiful one at that. And, whatever it was that I did scream, didn’t seem to faze Rick at all.

Rick Kildare.  That’s his name. Just like that old TV show I used to watch when I was a kid. Dr. Kildare, starring Richard Chamberlain. Handsome, debonair, Dr. Kildare. But Rick was just Rick. Rick Kildare. Mrs. Rick Kildare. Hmm…Wait a minute!

I’m still married. Why do I keep forgetting that?

Rick and I walked out together into the cool night that felt so warm. Sultry, even. I liked that word and made a mental note to use it in my next story. We were chatting. That’s all. Pinky swear, cross my heart and hope to die. Chatting. Actually, he was doing most of the talking and I was listening. Not listening very well, though, not in my stunned stupor state. Not yet believing that I was here. With him. Rick Kildare.

We meandered down paths, across the campus roads, while we talked about writing. Sometimes we walked closely and I could feel a burst of energy between us. I wanted to grab him and lock lips. But he was talking. Talking about his love for writing, a la Jack Kerouac. That’s who he found inspiring. On the road and all that. Rick told me about his dreams of traveling. First to Alaska, and then he’d see where he’d go from there. Or maybe he’d join the Peace Corps. He was young, I was young, and it was all so promising.

He carried a pen and notebook with him at all times and pulled it out to show me. He smiled gingerly—like that creepy Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland, which I never liked. Until I saw Rick’s smile, that is. How divine! Stopping us in mid-step, he let me know that he planned to write about me and the moment we met.  I wanted to melt. Into a puddle, where no one could see me hyperventilating. Did he feel it, too? This thing happening between us, that I couldn’t put my finger on?

His voice exuded passion as he spoke of his writing, and for a moment something stirred in me. I was mesmerized. Captivated. Hearing about his love for writing reminded me of something that I had not felt in a long time. Not since moving to Seattle, anyway.  What was it? I’m not sure, but now his words gave me hope.  Yes, in that instant, I felt awakened and suddenly alive.

We reached the Drumheller Fountain on campus, from which, on clear days, you can see a perfect view of Mt. Rainier. At night, you can’t see it at all, but you can certainly feel the mountain’s ominous presence.  Sitting on the edge of the fountain in the darkness, Rick asked me what made me sign up for the class. He had been moved by what I had written, so quickly, so easily.  He couldn’t help but wonder what my plans and dreams were. His question stumped me.

I had been looking for something but didn’t know exactly what. The adult extension course catalog had arrived in the mail several weeks earlier, and I had been idly perusing it while watching the latest episode of Dallas on TV. Miss Ellie was giving J.R. yet another talking to, which I was sure he was bound to ignore.  As I turned the pages of the catalog, nothing seemed to interest me, more than watching Miss Ellie scold her grown son.

I turned another page and that’s when I saw it.  A description for a creative writing class. Which made me recall the creative writing class I’d taken in high school, and how much I’d loved it. I was always the first to raise my hand when my teacher, Miss Stern, would ask for volunteers to read their work. Now, seeing the creative writing course listed in the adult education catalog, made my pulse quicken. The timing felt right.

But I had no plans to write full time. This was just a hobby. After all, G was back in school, following his dreams. He’d been accepted into a graduate program at the university, so it was up to me to keep working and pay the bills. How could I explain that to Rick?

I looked at my watch and realized we’d been talking for an hour. I knew G was home and probably wondering what had happened to me, so I grabbed my purse and let Rick know that I had to leave.

“Can I walk you home?” He asked hesitantly. “Or maybe give you a ride on my bike?” He added with a laugh.

I looked at him. My sweet Adonis. So close and yet…I want to do this and yet. I started to leave.

“Tell me your phone number.” His voice sounded so sincere…and yet…

“That’s OK, I’m not too far from here,” I said a tad too wistfully. Then, trying to sound more carefree, as if it was all the same to me whether we’d meet again, I added, “See you later!”

As I briskly headed toward the north side of campus, along the path that led to the tree house I shared with G, my husband, I felt myself slipping. Slipping away.

Missed a chapter? Read past installments, by visiting the page, The Road Taken.

The Road Taken: Hello, Gorgeous!

He is beautiful.  Not handsome. Handsome is too plain a word for him. Beautiful. Adonis beautiful. Jan Michael Vincent beautiful–though I never could figure out what kind of name for a guy was Jan.  He is sitting across from me, and it is impossible not to gaze at him, not to want to kiss him or touch him, if only for a moment. We are like two star-crossed lovers in the night. Only I don’t know his name, nor he mine. We are students. We are writers. And fate has brought us together in this creative writing class.

The real Jan Michael Vincent.

Fate? Some would say the luck of the Irish. Yes, he has Irish eyes, green with long lashes—and they are smiling at me.  Only he isn’t really looking my way. In fact, I don’t even think he noticed when I entered the classroom and scrambled into the last seat available, just across from him, as providence would have it.

He is stunning and I know I am not worthy. But a girl can dream, can’t she?

So I turn to the matter at hand.  First of all, I am late. Not late late. Just a few minutes late. Enough to have missed roll call. Enough to have taken the only empty seat left at the conference room-size table, only to find that I’m right across from this Jan Michael Vincent lookalike.  All I have to do is look up from my notebook and there he is.  Right in the bull’s-eye of my line of vision. How breathtaking!

This is the first night of creative writing class.  I had signed up weeks earlier, having decided to return, once again to my on again/off again love affair with writing.  The course is part of the university’s adult education program, which means no college credit, just nine weeks of creative writing assignments, designed to spark a story and get us on the path to authoring a book, or in my case, maybe writing a short story or two.  After all, anyone who knows can see I have no patience for writing an entire book. Might as well ask me to sew a dress from scratch, using a pattern, of all things.  That is not me.  I prefer the immediacy of life. Seize the moment and patience be damned—

Wait! Barely ten minutes into the two-hour class and the teacher is already giving us a writing assignment—and we have to do it in class. On the spot! I look around. There are about 20 of us crammed around the table. Next to Adonis is an elderly woman in a green sweater and pointy glasses, and all I can think is, how lucky is she to have arrived early enough to score a seat next to Him! Meanwhile, beside her is a guy who appears to be—

Oh, who cares what that guy looks like? Suffice it to say, he is no Adonis. And speaking of, I have never been this close to true beauty. Oh my goodness, he, who must be revered, just looked up! He even blinked in my direction, no less. Is it possible? Did he see me? Sadly, no.

I must get back to the assignment and concentrate. Karen, our teacher has given us 15 minutes to write anything we want, at which time she’s going to make us read our writings aloud. Focus. Write something meaningful.  Be pithy. Stream of consciousness.   I’ve done this before. I can do it again. If I only could put blinders on. That’s it! I need blinders! After all, I didn’t plunk down $65 just to look at some creature of beauty.  No, I’m here to write.  So write, dammit, write!

Oh, I’m on fire! Did anyone else see the way he holds his pen? Look at those long, tapered fingers. And, those nails! Ah, perfection!

Write. Time is almost up. Focus. If I can get through this and write something sparkling, then I’ll reward myself by walking up to him after class, and saying something clever like, “Of all the gin joints in all the world, you walk into mine.”  We’ll have a good laugh, maybe even introduce ourselves and that would be—

Oh, what am I thinking? This is crazy. This is ridiculous!  I shouldn’t even be thinking about this. Besides, he’s too good for me, remember?

Finally. I write something. Not quite 500 words, but close enough.  Oh, here goes. It’s my turn to read what I wrote. Fingers crossed. Nerves on edge and I swear my heart is just going to pound right out of my body. I’ve never been this nervous and my throat is so dry. I wonder if there’s a water fountain in the hallway.

I stand up and start to speak and immediately hear my voice croak, but somehow I muddle through. I finish and look up, trying hard not to look at Jan Michael Vincent, but he’s leaning back in his chair so far that he looks like he’s going to tip over. Surely, someone should warn him. Maybe I could run around the table and catch him before he slams on the floor?

What’s this? If I wasn’t so crazy for this guy, I’d swear he did look at me that time and smile. His eyes look so merry,don’t they? Like Santa Claus in July. Obviously, I’m mistaken. He can’t be smiling at me. I’m no Cheryl Tiegs, not this Latina. I’m no Lauren Hutton either, though I did once have this weird space between my teeth before the braces. Oh my God, he’s still looking this way, and I don’t know what to do. I must be dreaming.

The class is over and I start to gather my things. My keys fall out of my purse and I crawl under the table to get it, bumping my head as I re-emerge.  From my kneeling position, I notice only the legs at first, and the slightly frayed, bell-bottom jeans. Then I see a hand with slender fingers, and nails that have never been chewed, outstretched to me, taking hold of my arm and helping me up.

“Hey,” says my Adonis. “I really liked what you wrote. You’ve got a nice style.” His smile is framed by his even, white teeth.

I stare, forcing myself to overcome the state of shock I’m in and the incredulity of the moment. He can’t be talking to me, can he? I turn around to see if there’s someone behind me that he’s addressing. Nope. Most of the class has already left.  I stumble over my words, wanting to thank him.

Instead, I just say, “Really?”

“Yeah, very nice. My name’s Rick, by the way.” He looks at me expectantly. “And you are–?”

I gulp. “Married.”

Missed a chapter? Read past installments, by visiting the page, The Road Taken.