We Remember

Day 18: Compose a series of anecdotes
Today, tell a story through a series of anecdotes (also called vignettes): short, episodic scenes or moments that together read as variations on the same theme. 

Based on real life accounts published in the local newspaper. Names and some details of individual experiences have been changed.

Last month over 1000 people gathered to remember the 185 who died in the February 2011 earthquake. I have written about my own experience of that frightful day here. With Christchurch still experiencing ground movement, we can’t help but be reminded of the many lives lost. Survivors guilt is very real, and whilst fleeing the rubble relatively unscathed brought with it renewed gratitude for life and loved ones, grief for those less fortunate continues to percolate the surface of emotions for many, especially around this time of year.

New Zealand Earthquake

February 22nd 2011, 12:51pm,
Christchurch, New Zealand 

The low rumble intensifies before Anderson reaches the center of the room, the ground beneath him gives way as the building collapses into itself. ‘This is it,’ he contemplates, before plummeting into concrete below.

The shaking stops and an eerie silence ensues. ‘I must be dead.’ The silence is pierced by a female coughing and then he too is coughing, choking on the thick layer of dust which envelopes them. The agonizing pain of his left hand confirms his existence as it throbs with the motion of his body. He winces. ‘Are you alright?’ he asks his colleague. Jenny? Sarah? Elaine?
‘I think so,’ she replies.

Soon after, sirens spring to life and two hours later, they are rescued. Emerging from the rubble, they are met with cheers from the street below. Inhaling the air as if it were to be taken from them again at any moment, they stare at the ruinous sight before them. We are the lucky ones…

***

The shutter on Langley’s camera clicks as the earth beneath murmurs its low guttural groan. Horses in the nearby paddock whinny as they jostle and bolt. Langley is thrown to the ground and he clings to the grass, the earth jerking beneath him like a wild bucking bronco. Turning towards the city where he sat at his desk just thirteen minutes prior, he watches as a thick blanket of smoke rises like an ominous cloak.

Within seconds he is behind the wheel of his Toyota racing towards the city, his camera on shane-tomlin-lead-300x340the passenger seat beside him.  Nothing can prepare him for what he finds when he arrives at the center; buildings brought to the ground, terrified people with blood stained faces. He pauses, sees that the emergency services are working hard to rescue those in need of help, then reaches for his camera.

As he takes the photos that will document a day set to change Christchurch forever, Langley spots a man pulled from the rubble, his face covered in dust. He is comforted by two males who have come to his aid. The dust covered man stares down the barrel of Langley’s lens. Click. 

***

Strolling through Christchurch’s City Mall, Mary’s daughter turns with a smile as she holds up a pretty floral scarf, “Isn’t this …” She stops mid-sentence, eyes wide as the deafening roar consumes them. Before Mary can run to her daughter’s aid she is thrown into chaos and darkness.

Seconds seem like minutes, minutes like hours and hours like days, and all the while Mary is unable to reach her daughter. Her legs trapped beneath the rubble, she tries to call for her girl: ‘Amanda… Amanda…’ Nothing. She lies back in agony, not sure which is worse, the pain of her crushed ankles, or the heavy dull ache in her chest. In the darkness that surrounds her, Mary begins to weep.

She doesn’t know how much time has passed when she is finally pulled to safety, only that she does not want to leave the wreckage – not until her Amanda is also rescued. Against her will, Mary is raced away to the hospital, all the while calling out her daughters name… ‘Amanda…’

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  ***

48 hours later

Anderson sits in his leather arm chair staring at the forgotten brew in his lap. He has sat this way for over an hour, thoughts of his fallen colleagues circulating like a never ending ferris wheel. Up one moment, down the next, as news of his co-workers trickles in: Saho from Japan who’d arrived that morning to learn English as part of her studies… Peter, who always greeted him with a smile as he collected the mail… Janice, who was to attend her daughters wedding on Saturday. All of them, gone. A tear falls into his cold coffee causing it’s stagnant surface to ripple.

***

Langley sits staring at the screen in front of him just hours after hearing the news that the dust covered man he had photographed had later died in hospital. His editor approaches him and places a comforting hand on his shoulder. He cannot help it, a surge of emotion overtakes him and before he can stop himself, he is breaking down in floods of tears, hugging his colleague beside him.

***

Mary lies in the hospital bed, her husband in the chair beside her. Her legs are in a plaster cast but she doesn’t feel a thing. She is numb from head to toe, news of Amanda’s death not quite comprehensible, not making sense to this broken, grief stricken mother. She stares at the ceiling as her husband places his hand on hers; Why did you take my girl and not me?

Think.

Writing 101, Day 12: Critique a piece of work.

Today, express your opinion on a topic or a piece of work. This is your opportunity to comment on something you’re passionate about, or review a piece of art or entertainment that you love or despise.

When I first read this prompt, my initial thoughts were: who am I to critique the creativity of another? And then I remembered that not all critique is negative. However, for some reason, when I think of the word ‘critique’, I am reminded of the many ways in which people criticise and vilify one another; our co-workers; that person we saw on the television last night; our children; our spouses; the lady on the bus! Sometimes we don’t even realise we are doing it… But why do we criticise others? It is as though we believe tearing shreds out of one another will make us feel better.

I am not immune to this and have expressed opinions I have later regretted, particularly in my teenaged years when I simply followed the crowd and was far less aware of the power of my words. As I have grown, so has my compassion for others. These days, if I catch myself or another being insensitive or narrow minded, then I will simply remove myself from the situation, or speak up should I feel it necessary. Quite often we get caught up in the moment and we forget to be that beacon of light – our true authentic selves.

Working alongside children, it becomes easier to notice the effect our words have on others. Even a seemingly harmless comment made in jest can have a profound effect on the way children see themselves and the world around them. Although we become thicker skinned as we get older, we are still, as adults, sensitive to criticism. That is why I believe that critique should always uplift and inspire, that our feedback should allow one another to grow, to evolve and expand; it should never cause ridicule or upset.

Next time we catch ourselves or someone else criticising a friend’s recent weight gain, or the lady from the television who seems to have gone overboard with her plastic surgery, let us be mindful of the deeper issues that may have contributed to their actions in the first place. Could it be that outside criticism has driven our friend to take comfort in food as a way of filling the void? Maybe the lady from the television has been made to feel ugly all of her life and has changed her appearance in an attempt to fit in and feel accepted? Equally, is it necessary to provide negative feedback about someone else’s work/painting/book/production? Of course we are entitled to our opinions, our unique likes and dislikes are what make us human and differentiate us from everyone else – but what doesn’t speak to my heart may speak volumes to another. That is why I take little notice of book or film reviews; they are, after all, just personal opinions.

So in a world that, at times, feels clouded with criticism, prejudice and judgement, let us refrain from following the crowd and stand up for what we believe in. Let it be that our words, thoughts and actions uplift, inspire and empower others, not tear them apart.

Peace be with you.

THINK1

The Red Jumper

Day Nine: Point of View
Today’s Prompt: A man and a woman walk through the park together, holding hands. They pass an old woman sitting on a bench. The old woman is knitting a small, red sweater. The man begins to cry. Write this scene.

Today’s twist: write the scene from three different points of view: from the perspective of the man, then the woman, and finally the old woman.

parcel

We are strolling through Stamford Park. The late September sun dares to linger despite the brisk breeze biting at our interlocked fingers – summer has reached an end. The park is empty, save for an elderly lady up ahead, who sits on a bench busying her hands with something in her lap. She is swathed in layers of fabric, and as she lifts a hand to tame her silver hair, I see that she is wearing fingerless gloves. She is prepared for the British weather. I need to take a leaf from her book. She busies herself in her pursuit again.

As we approach, Jenny is struggling to tell me something. “I was hoping to wait until after your birthday – but it’s been playing on my mind…and well – I guess it will only be temporary but…“ The sun pierces through an opening in the shifting clouds, bathing the old woman in a bright iridescent light – and then I see it. And in that moment my heart stops. In the distance: “…I’m moving to Brisbane.” Jenny’s words evaporate. My breathing narrows. Is my mind playing tricks on me again? My head spins and I can feel myself slipping…falling…
“Steven? Steven?!”

***

I can’t believe I’m telling him this two weeks before his birthday. Birthdays have always been painful… and here I am, burdening him even more. I turn to Steven. He has aged at an alarming rate in the three years since I’ve known him. The deep lines around his eyes trace a tale of ceaseless searching – always searching. Those eyes, though tired, are still as piercingly grey as the day we first met. My heart dances a merry beat at the memory – his pearly grey eyes, his accent. I remember feeling jittery and nervous as I took his order – a black coffee, no sugar. He’d jump each time the door opened, as though he was expecting someone he knew to walk in at any moment. I thought he’d been stood up and could tell he was new to the place, so I plucked up the courage to strike up a conversation. I’ve been besotted ever since. And now I’m leaving him. Two weeks before his birthday… I need to get this over with…

“I’m moving to Brisbane…” I say, and it’s as though I have punched Steven in the chest. He stops abruptly, his face turning pallid and ashen, his breathing shallow. Dammit – I should have waited until after his birthday. I didn’t think he’d react this badly. He looks like he might fall at any moment so I sit him on a mound of grass. Is he…crying? Oh gosh he’s crying. 

“Steven? Steven?! I’m so sorry – it’s not permanent…it’s only for a few months….” But he doesn’t seem to hear. His glazed eyes are looking through me. I turn to see if anyone is watching. An old woman sits on a bench knitting a red sweater and she looks over at us. I smile at her apologetically. She returns the smile, a look of concern in her silvery-grey eyes. She’s probably wondering why I’ve made my boyfriend cry… Her smile fades, and then she catches herself, busying her hands with her knitting again.

***

The temperature has dropped somewhat. But I don’t mind. It’s peaceful where I sit, despite the cold. I must finish this before the sun goes down. I’ll need to send it tomorrow – I imagine it’ll take two weeks before it arrives… I shouldn’t worry – they’ll only send it back again. They always do.

I see a couple approaching, walking hand in hand. The young woman has long, sun blushed hair and freckles. He’s rugged-looking, but handsome. In fact, he’s probably about the same age as my son. I wonder if he has a girlfriend…maybe even a wife? He’ll be thirty-six in two weeks – I could even be a grandmother. But I’ll never know that. That was always the deal…that’s why they keep returning my jumpers each year. One day, maybe they wont…

From the corner of my eye, I notice the couple have stopped walking – there appears to be a small dilemma. He’s silently crying, a look of sorrow on his face as she tries to console him. Maybe she has just broken up with him..? Poor soul – he looks so sad. For a moment I am struck – struck by his silver eyes. My son had beautiful eyes too – eyes that I will never see again. I was naïve to think I’d ever find him in Ohio. Ohio is a big place and so far away. But that was always the deal. They take care of my son, give him a new home far far away, and if anything was ever questioned…I died when he was three. My stomach knots. He looks so…lost. I realise I am staring and the lady looks embarrassed. I continue with my knitting. I must finish this jumper and mail it tomorrow…

Just one more day…

Day Seven: Give and Take
Today’s Prompt: Write a post based on the contrast between two things — whether people, objects, emotions, places, or something else.

Today’s twist: write your post in the form of a dialogue. You can create a strong opposition between the two speakers — a lovers’ quarrel or a fierce political debate, for example. Or you could aim to highlight the difference in tone and style between the two different speakers — your call!

sun

She smiles, awakening to the soft gentle hues of first morning light. Her face is bathed in a welcoming glow and the warmth on her skin signals a new day. Thank goodness. Another day. Thank you…

He coughs jarringly – a gravelly sound that rolls deep in his chest like a cement mixer. The sun perforates the blinds and he winces, his retinas contracting in the light. He yanks the pillow over his head. I should have bought black out curtains.

She lays still for a moment, captured by the cadence of birds singing their soft song outside her window. How did she miss this before? Before… She dismisses the thought in the same way that she dismisses the distant drum drum drum of the builders at work. I am so grateful to be here. God I’m going to miss him – my baby. 

Somewhere, unnoticed, birds are singing – drowned out by the mechanical da da da da da of the builders jack hammer which pounds the pavement below and penetrates his half medicated sleep. He groans. Please! …If only I didn’t have to take Dylan to school. Why does she insist on me having him on a school night? ‘It’s important he feels that Dad can take care of these things too.’ Yeah right. You mean you want to lay in with him again.  

She reaches for her glass of water and her medication. It feels peculiar to know that these pink pills keep her alive. Keep her here – with her son. She rolls the smooth, colour coated tablet between her thumb and finger, and a voice whispers: They won’t work forever you know…She places it on her tongue and swallows. Her thoughts are interrupted by the sound of Jacob’s feet, patting up the hallway. Her heart leaps as the door bursts open and she is greeted by the smiling face of her baby boy. God I love him so much.  

He reaches for the packet of Pall Mall on his bedside table, lights one and inhales deeply. A fresh wave of coughing explodes in his chest, eventually dissolving to a breathless wheezing. A silent voice whispers: Those things are going to kill you, y’know. “Let them.” He mumbles out loud. He sighs at the sound of Dylan’s small voice on the other side of the locked door. “Daddy? …Daddy? …Will we be late for school again?” He takes another long hard pull of his cigarette, takes hold of his half empty bottle of beer and washes down a combination of Doxepine and Prozac. “Go back to bed!”