Outlier: A Writer’s Life or Fictional State of Mind?

Today, I go without food. Stale bread for my boy, the last drops of milk I selfishly steal for my coffee. I need that injection of caffeine or I cannot make the school run–I need it to inject petrol into my eyelids. He will have to go without Rice Krispies today.

I deliver Ritz crackers smeared with peanut butter to his lap, a store-brand box of apple juice as accompaniment. The slim cardboard drink fits awkwardly into his hand. I remember when he would hold his drink with two dimpled hands. I am lost in this reverie of when he was tiny, then retreat to the kitchen, murmuring promises under my breath that soon we shall afford freshly-squeezed juice in see-through bottles, containers that offer you a glimpse of orange pulp creating a pond under the lid. I look at these expensive drinks on shelves in my supermarket and salivate, virtually tasting nutritious sweetness guaranteed to ignite a happy, sunshine feeling throughout my body with each sip. Energy would be restored.

He is licking peanut butter from the crackers. I fix eyes on his silhouette from the kitchen. It’s cold today. I daren’t boil the kettle again for another coffee. The milk is gone anyway. Soon we will afford better juice. How stupid I sound. I should be grateful for being able to give my son breakfast not murmur promises to him. Years of promises to my boy remain a steady, unbroken stream. Undelivered ‘some day we will have’ mantras, spoken to his cherub face. In the corner of the kitchen this morning, shoulder pressed against my fridge, I curl fingers over my eyes. I shield my shame from my boy.

I have tried. Tried my best. I see now that our poverty is easing onto my son’s radar. The other boys have Playstations. They have sleek, shiny bicycles and look forward to holidays in France. I observe his smile weakening as he reassures me that I am the best mother in the world and he is happy. I consciously distance myself from comparing my life now to when I earned a six-figure salary and amassed a collection of over one-hundred pairs of stilettos and practical pumps for work.

I curse the decisions I have made to render us into this place. I hold firm affirmation that the big break I need to regain my footing in life is lurking behind a cunningly disguised hiding place around the bend. I dream one day of being discovered. I am determined to write every day and apply for jobs employers ultimately declare me to be too experienced to fill, then my talent as a writer will emerge from this darkening, abridged life of not sleeping and my daily state of ‘just getting by.’

I am hungry. I won’t empty the box of Ritz crackers so there will be a few left to munch on when we have our tomato soup tonight. Soup again. But my boy smiles at this meal: his small but maturing face still crunches up with delight at mealtimes when I serve the heated tin of Campbell’s aside toast topped with circles of ham for eyes, a knob of cheese for a nose and squiggles of bright yellow mustard for a mouth. He still laughs at this, my gorgeous boy. How long will he continue to source joy in my efforts to dress up our bare cupboard with such imaginative folly?

I never cry. Okay, untrue. I cry at silly triggers. Not the obvious ones about my life or personal hopelessness. I cried yesterday when I moved the sofa and trickles of coins littered the floor. The relief! I watched an old man last weekend incite an argument with a group of young boys in the park. They were dropping wrappers and plastic bottles indiscriminately as they munched and gulped along the path, paying no heed to the littered trail that exposed them as culprits. They didn’t care. They don’t care. The old man cared. He spoke up, shaking his walking stick their direction and ordering them to pick up their mess. The stick was a mistake. One lad grabbed the end—not harshly but enough to stop the flailing action and it scared the old man. I watched them lock eyes—two men, one shrunken and silented by the world, the other youthful and brash in his loudness. The young gang then continued on their way, discarding detritus in their wake. The pensioner retreated to the nearest wooden bench. My son continued holding my hand, looking up at me for answers. I cried. Not so much for the old man or the fear of what is happening in our world, where people stomp around dirtying the few public places left for me to bring my child. It costs nothing, an afternoon of kicking a ball around together in the park. I didn’t even cry because how deeply saddened I felt that this is the world my son will inherit. A world of rudeness and entitlement by some who still have not reached the age of shaving their pimply faces. And it was not a big cry, so do not worry that my son witnessed any outdoor breakdown by his mother. No, it was a simple cry, over in seconds. A release of grief in a moment of helplessness, a sympatico felt for the old man who similarly inhabits a world where he knows what is right and has a good heart, but he is also silenced and he has then, invariably, been disempowered. Deep in my core, I feel a rage of power rumbling like lava—it’s a determination and knowledge that I have everything I need to propel me and my boy out of this life, towards something better; for now, though, I sat on the park bench alongside the old man, contemplating how to share my voice with the world and consider tactics how to increase its volume. Using my voice, not a cane as weapon.

Like the majority of television-gazers each December, I also weep at John Lewis Christmas adverts. We know these are designed to be emotive, to elicit tears from even the hard-hearted of individuals, yet we fall for the advertising trap. I do. I cry for the images of family portrayed in beautifully-filtered videos: always a mother and father and child experiencing holiday magic in a knife-to-the-emotional-fortress scene where even a dog or penguin or gorgeous garden features. A child wishes for Santa and dreams come true. Yes, it is obvious. I don’t cry then for what my boy and I do not have. I well up. Not because I no longer can afford to shop at John Lewis. Not for my present circumstances, but I weep at the surging attack on my nostalgic sense of when my little-girl-self stood at the window of my grandparent’s house and expelled Christmas wishes with hot breath against cold glass, then traced my finger through the steam to make small pictures my grandmother would have to work hard to remove from the pane.

I am determined not to reach a day when I sit down and tell my son how poor we are becoming. I sold my grandmother’s jewellery last week. The sole possessions left to flog now are my grandfather’s coin collection and the pearls my mother gave me on my sixteenth birthday. But these I want to save for my son. Maybe someday he will hold each cold coin in his hand, as I did decades ago when sat on my grandfather’s lap, running my thin fingers around smooth edges of round and octagonal metallic circles. I have looked into selling this collection and the reward would be next to nothing. This is purely a sentimental hoard. Copper and silver with little value, only precious to me, stored in my closet but I remain hungry.

Perhaps one day my son will love a woman enough to enclasp my strand of pearls around her neck. He might streak his lips near her ear and whisper tenderly that he loves her. She would feel warmth emanating from his body, the warmth that fills his body now, the blood connection he and I once shared when his heartbeat began inside of me. The blood now circulates through his small body, pumping his life in rhythmic beats, nourishing his organs, blood flowing to extremities so his fingers still move and can clutch that juice box and crackers, tie his own shoes and control the telly via remote.

I pray he becomes a man one day who knows he can excel at whatever his passion. I fear my shame will stick to him and diminish his destiny to be a grown up with loving heart and integrity. Despite barriers, I trust I have carved a childhood of learning for him that fortifies his mission to be a human emanating kindness to others and to himself.

My belly is empty. I last ate yesterday morning. My hands tremble as they hover over keyboard. I am mistyping sentences because I lack any source of energy to sustain me. I hear my son watching cartoons in the other room. He is giggling at silly voices of puppets and animated characters.

I will write myself to a better life. I will do this for him, for me.

After an indulgence of soup tonight, I shall write with a steady hand.

[Daily Post]

35 thoughts on “Outlier: A Writer’s Life or Fictional State of Mind?”

    1. Thanks for commenting–it’s heartening to know that there are options for people who are in financial dire straits. Unfortunately, help is not available for everyone across all countries but hopefully the world is moving in that direction.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Yes I appreciated your sentiments but in most developed there is limited aid such as those mentioned plus food vouchers, clothing and bedding, toiletries. Must be humiliating but have always found recipients friendly when I’ve helped out.

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    1. This is why I write–thank you for your comment, for taking time to read my piece and for a valuable sense of connection with the outside (writing) world today. I am glad to hear my words evoked feeling in a reader. Wishing you well, Estella

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’m glad you found me, and I’d like to share some of my own story here.

    34 years ago, I was unexpectedly pregnant in an inevitably doomed long distance relationship. I left law school at the end of its first year. A year later, I left a career in which I had reached a level most women were denied. I gave up health insurance and trusted I would remain healthy if I paid at least a modicum of attention to my health. I know you understand these decisions, and I suspect you don’t consider them to be sacrifices any more than I do.

    I had become a single parent. When my son was 9 months old, the inevitable doom struck the relationship, but his father agreed to provide our boy’s health insurance. Other than that, he was not present. I had been the only one driving the 250 mile round trip.

    My solution was to provide child care in my home. It was far from a perfect solution with its 15 hour days, six days a week, but it fed us, provided playmates, and helped my son learn just how difficult and important it is to learn social skills. He resented having to share his mother, so I worked to compensate during the remaining 9 hours. Financially, my rank was always below the official Poverty Line, yet no matter how tempting it sometimes was to free fall into the Social Safety Net, I committed to surviving by my own hands. I, too, watched for signs of the weight this lay on my son, but took some consolation from knowing my example would serve his own future if he paid attention.

    It’s gratifying to have other writers who hope to be noticed appreciate your writing, but it doesn’t provide a career. So far, I’ve read only a couple of your posts, and I’ve already come to believe you need a wider audience, not of writers, but of readers your writing will move. Are you submitting pieces like these, perhaps as Letters to the Editor, to a local newspaper or magazines (online and in print)? Have you posted anything as a contributor to the Huffington Post? Are you querying agents about your novel?

    I’m looking forward to catching up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sue, what an immense gift to connect with you, to hear your own inspiring story and receive your encouragement for my writing.

      It’s a heart-breaking tale of what many mothers sacrifice and strive to achieve–even the smallest of leaps to provide a greater life for their children–but the benefits shall always outweigh the strife. I trust your son’s childhood years were blessed with the ultimate outcome: that he would be inspired and grateful for the example you instilled him of focus and determination against the odds, yet still remaining connected with love.

      To answer your question about my writing: I have not submitted to publications, despite the barrage of requests that I do so. The Huffington Post has been suggested to me many times so perhaps it is time to seek it out. My novel is attracting agents…I simply need to complete it and source the best person to represent me. For now, I continue to write daily for it feels I was born to do so and now is the time.

      Thanks so much for taking time to comment and share. Estella

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Estrella, if you need any more nudging, I say, it IS time. And if you need a beta reader for your manuscript, I’d love to help. My writing partner and I are in the process of querying agents with a YA SciFi. Right now, it’s the first part of a trilogy, which, if we’d had more street smarts to begin with, would have been a stand-alone with a series planned. This summer I’m re-writing it to be just that. (I’m responsible for the final editing and re-writing so it has a consistent voice.) If you’d like to take a look, the current Chapters 1-3 are posted on Inkshares at https://www.inkshares.com/books/enhanced/book_segments/chapters-1-3-9ae76b

        I’d love to hear your honest opinion if you do decide to read it. Constructive criticism is always welcome.

        Alone, I had a bit of luck last fall with three short story competitions. One ended up in the Book-A-Break Short Story Competition anthology, Cat Tales. Another in the To Hull and Back Short Story Contest anthology… uh, To Hull and Back. Another was a semi-finalist in the 2016 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Contest.

        Those will have to do as my credentials, although I suppose Space, Time, and Raspberries counts as well. Just let me know what I can do to help you on your way. Destiny calls.

        As for my son, Brylan’s a free spirit, a feminist, brilliant and liberal but a bit more of a rigid thinker than I believe he will be in another 10 years, and getting paid to do what he loves to do. It hasn’t always been easy, and like most of us, he’s committed his share of Stupid. But learning from the past and rising above it is what makes us strong. The only other thing I hope for before I die is at least one grandchild. Sigh.

        Sue

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  2. I so wanted this piece to eventually be revealed to be fiction. My heart goes out to you and your son.

    I do want to say that I think the two of you have riches that many people would envy. To have such a loving relationship between a mother and son to the extent you have is glorious. I would say that the two of you are lucky in that, but that wouldn’t be true. This is not luck, it is pure love.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. An absorbing read, Estella. Like some of your other readers, I waited and wondered, and hoped to find evidence that this is a strong piece of realistic fiction. I’m still not totally sure. I’d much prefer to believe that it is fiction but your writing won’t let me; there’s an element that’s too raw. Either way, I’m glad to have found you (more correctly – glad that you found me: thanks for the ‘like’)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading Sandra, for connecting. Life can be raw sometimes but brighter days are on the way. Lovely to hear from a most beautiful part of the world–hope the sun is shining over Cornwall today.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I clicked ‘like’… but now find I can’t see the widget. Nothing showing on your homepage or any other page. Frustrating! I’ll check later; maybe it’s taking it’s time to show up!

        Like

      2. That does sound frustrating, Sandra. The widget to ‘follow by email’ appears at the bottom of the other widgets, along my homepage’s right margin. Is that the widget you mention? I received an email yesterday saying you started following my blog so I can confirm we are now connected!

        Liked by 1 person

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