Sunday, January 25, 2009

My Writing Group

Because I so looked forward to and was inspired by my writing group in Montana, I started one up here with three fellow English teachers, and when I met Bob, the back end of the dragon in Aladdin, asked him to join as well. I am again feeling supported by friends who are also writing, encouraged by feedback, and inspired by the tangential conversations shooting off of our writing. It has become a great part of my routine here as well. We meet once a month, and each are working on quite different pieces. An exercise we worked on together which yielded good results for me involved a magazine called The Sun that has a section entitled, "Reader's Write." Each month there is a different broad topic, and readers send in short autobiographical stories related to the topic. This month's, Fences, inspired me to recall the following memory on paper and send it in. I won't hear for awhile whether or not they'll publish it, as this topic is for the August issue. But here it is:

Katie and I were at least three years older than him and stuck together like glue. "Double trouble," our neighbors called us. In the hierarchy of neighborhood kids, we were popular, being the only girls and rough and tumble tomboys at that. We had no reason to pick on Derek other than that he was annoying because he was younger and he talked funny. He wasn't part of the neighborhood gang. He wasn't a threat in any way so most of the time we ignored him, gave him cold stares, talked about how weird he was from behind our fence. His house backed up against ours and its fence spanned the length of four of our backyards. It was tall; you couldn't see over it. Even when I climbed my wild cherry tree, I just stared at even taller pine trees in his yard. He bragged to us once from behind the fence that he set traps for rabbits and killed them. We said, "So?", unimpressed and continued our game of pretend. In the summer, Katie and I would peel rhubarb stalks while swinging on the porch swing, barefoot, the bitter biting our jaws behind our ears, another testament to our tom boyishness. We'd throw the leaves over Derek's fence and giggle because we heard rhubarb leaves were poisonous. On one particular snow day, he came out of his fence and was in my backyard. This was the first time he had ever entered our space, so Katie and I pegged the shit out of him with snowballs. After years of being unable to dodge icy hard snowballs from our older brothers, this victory reassured us of our rough and tumble status. At one point, when he was down and we were on top of him smashing clumps of snow in his face, I realized Katie had backed off and Derek didn't really have a chance of getting up. I stood up, and when I noticed how red his face was and that we had nothing to say to one another in this awkward moment, I suddenly felt bad. It was just part of the neighborhood hierarchy I guess. We were older and cooler and had no need for him and we wanted him to know it. Sometimes when we were playing pretend outside, we heard his dad yelling. We would look at each other with raised eyebrows, thinking, "No wonder Derek's so weird," and continue creating our perfect pretend world of boyfriends, lipstick and popularity. A few years later, we overheard our parents whispering about how "Derek's neighbors" had put the house up for sale. After a little prodding of my mother, I learned that they had accused Derek of molesting their little girl. I instantly ran over to Katie's house, and told her the news. We went out and sat on the porch swing, and with the fence looming behind us, tried to digest the idea of weird, quirky Derek hurting the little girl in that way. A few years or so later, Derek and his family quietly moved away, once again not upsetting our neighborhood hierarchy.

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