Flipping Out on the Antagonist
On your super power as a creative writer
Welcome to this weeks post and watch out for the prompt at the end.
I love being a writer.
I hate being a writer.
I love being a writer.
Writing is the best (and worst) love affair of my life, and unlike other love affairs where I can walk away, it’s impossible to leave this one. It’s like leaving my nose behind, or one of my arms. I need to write in order to see myself and the world around me. Without it, life would be…flat.
As an aside, I have to admit that in the midst of crafting this post, I’ve paused more than once to think about this woman who keeps coming onto the land. (Click here for last week’s post).
No, she hasn’t been back since being served with the temporary restraining order but I’ve seen her around town a few times. She’s wearing a lot of black now (cap, coat, pants) and pedals around on a low rider bike like a rebellious teen.
Is the front sliding door locked? I ask myself. Is she out there, on the road?
And these questions make me stop writing to lock that door and then to watch the road for a few minutes.
What I saw out front, this time, was a young doe licking her hooves. When I stepped out to take her photo, she curled her stick-thin legs under herself and stared up at me.
Look at those ears on high alert.
The doe and I are in the same place. Watchful. Worried. Ready to bolt.
Turning the Tables
But I have an advantage the doe does not which is that I can get to work.
Let’s call it Going Home.
Let’s call the primary character Amber.
Let’s use 3rd person present.
It’s a hot day for the coast, hot enough that Amber peels off her hoodie and ties it around her waist. This is not easy when in a squat, but she manages, feet set wide in the sandy dirt.
Amber’s deep in the tall wild grass that grows under the rusty mailboxes that she and her brothers used to whack at with sticks when they rode their bikes this way. Long time ago, Amber thinks, tugging at the knot at her waist.
She’s nearly fifty years old but looks thirty, wears a wife-beater tank. Faded Levi’s torn at the knees. Leather hiking boots laced to her ankles. These she picked up for a fiver at a re-sale store in Portland where she was hanging out with her kid just a couple days earlier.
“Why are you going back there, Mom?” her kid asked when they were at the Formica table in the kitchen. The kid was drinking coffee. Amber was lacing up her boots and taking inventory of all she had packed in her two oversized bags.
“Mom!” her kid said, voice raised.
Amber looked across the table at her kid who wasn’t a kid anymore but grown up with a kid of her own (a little toe-headed two-year-old asleep in the playpen), but the kid—her own daughter— looked young there in her baby blue bathrobe and her pale hair pulled back in a pony. Tired eyes from working the night shift at Pancake Heaven where she served rich drunk kids bacon, eggs, hash browns, and stacks of fluffy pancakes.
“You can’t go back,” her kid said. “You know that, don’t you? You can’t go home. It don’t belong to us anymore. That’s done.”
Amber flinched and her mind flashed into white emptiness.
“I’m serious,” the kid said, patting her hand on the table. “I can’t bail you out this time. I don’t have the cash.”
Amber tasted something in her mouth, something metallic. She looked around at the room, at the bags, the boots. She was lost for a moment, gone, but then it all slid back into place. Her plan. She reached across the table and rested a hand on her daughter’s thin arm.
“I’ve got this,” Amber told the kid. “Don’t worry about me.”
It took a while to get here, hitchhiking out of Portland and then walking the side of the road over the pass until she caught a lucky break with an red-faced old guy headed to the coast. That guy was a minister who talked non-stop about how he was retired now and remaking his life as a poet who would rival the greats.
When he dropped her off outside the town, the sky was on fire with the sunset. Amber made her way to the beach, ended up as one of many around a bonfire, drank herself stupid on warm malt liquor and got high on a joint being passed around but that shit was laced with something nasty. Amber woke up face down in a dune, sand in her mouth, and the high tide licking at her boots. Her bags were up in the tall grass. Had she thrown them there? Or had someone else?
She pulled herself together, got cleaned up in the public restroom, drank water out of the tap enough to clean out her mouth and clear her head. Then she bummed change for a cup of coffee and an apple muffin.
Now, she’s here at the mailboxes thinking about what the kid said yesterday, You can’t go home, Mom.
Amber’s head hurts, her mouth is dry, and she’s lost her train of thought. Again.
Shading her eyes, she peers through the grass to see her house across the road and up the hill. It’s just the same, she realizes. The wide windows reflect the sky. The apple tree already heavy with fruit. And beyond, the barn. Bright red. Green roof.
The plan falls back into place.
Amber stands up and loops her bags onto each shoulder and can see it all so clearly. She’ll hike up the gravel drive, take the steps to the door two at a time, turn the knob and step in while calling, “I’m home, Mama.”
Her mother, wide-bottomed and thick-waisted will be in the kitchen making something from the apples; a cake, a pie, a batch of cookies? Her mother will stop her cooking, will turn, and then that smile will unfurl across her lovely face.
“Amber! Baby. You’re back. Get on over here, girl. Give me one of your hugs.”
Amber will drop her bags right there at the entry, will rush in without even closing the door, will rest in her mother’s arms and all of it, all the lost years of wandering and wondering will be over. Amber will have done the impossible. She will have come home.
When you see a deer, particularly a doe, it can be more than a female deer lounging on your lawn. It can be a message from the vibrant and ever-pulsing intelligence of our universe.
Ultimately, deer represent gentleness and heart intelligence.
So deer may present themselves to you if you've been hurt and your heart needs tending.
~ Alyson Charles
I have been hurt by this woman who believes she still owns and lives on this land, and yes, my heart likely does need a little gentle tending (as does my nervous system). But I’m not the only one in the situation here, am I? There’s a real person on the other side of this story, too. Sure, she’s the antagonistic force, but she’s also a person with hopes and dreams and heart break and by doing my job, I’ve switched places with that person.
I’ve also used writing to break the predictable pattern of self and other, good and bad, black and white, right and wrong—also known as duality—that creates so much unhappiness in all our lives. She’s no longer “the respondent” on a legal document or “the threat.” Thanks to creative writing, she’s also “Amber.”
The time I’ve spent was a puny investment, too, maybe an hour or so and for that hour I was freed from my deeply ingrained instinctual responses and became this woman who wants what we all want, which is to go home.
All is an Ocean. All flows and connects so powerfully that if, in this life, you manage to become more gracious by even a drop, it is better for every bird, child, and animal your life touches than you will ever know.
~ The Brothers Karamazov
That’s what writing can do and what this exercise did for me. It brought a touch of grace to a difficult time and situation. It changed the way I see the world.
I love being a writer.
I hate being a writer.
✍️ Craft Prompt: Do you have an antagonistic force in your life you can humanize in a couple scenes? Try it and report back in the comments.
Thanks for being with me on the literary/life journey, J.
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