Very Short Stories: Water Drinker

I was in love with my boss, David, from my first day teaching at New River Academy. Although 15 years apart, David and I made each other very happy. At the time, we were both consumed by the philosophy of positive thinking. This concept that you could make something happen just by thinking about it very hard seemed like magic to me. It suddenly felt as if life had no limits.  Dave and I spent endless hours walking together down back roads and on the banks of rivers, discussing energy and intention and performing little 'tests' to the universe. It's amazing how many of those tests came true. Then again, I was 24, had my dream job in Chile, and was totally in love. Of course I thought anything was possible. 

Almost a year after I'd touched down in Chile for the first time, the school went to paddle the Rio Achibueno, a difficult river outside of Pucon. It was a brand new run for us, but because I happened to have a friend visiting from the US, I didn't bring my boat. Instead, my friend and I spent the day exploring the hills and footbridges and swimming in the eddies. We only spent half the day there, and we never went back. About two weeks after that, the semester was over and I flew home with the students for winter break. 

By that point, I was exhausted from a year on the road, and my migraines were becoming unbearable. I decided to leave that dream job, say goodbye to my teaching position, and find a new job in the US.  This meant, of course, leaving David. David was the owner of the school, owned beautiful property in Chile that he was busy turning into a hostel, and was planning on living there year round. He offered me all the makings of an incredible life, but I just couldn't see myself settling down as a 24 year old- especially in South America.

The break up was hard on both of us, but harder on him. After all, I was the one who had left. And while I missed him very much, I somehow decided that it would be better if we didn't talk much. We'd lived within four feet of one another for a year, and now I practically shut him off. I didn't return his phone calls and barely responded to his emails. I wanted to talk with him. But I was certain in my decision to stay in the US, and I figured it would cause him more pain the long run to drag things on. I was only trying to do what was the right thing, but in hindsight, I don't think it was.

David ran the high school, a gap year program, and the hostel. He was a very intense person with regards to his work; sometimes it seemed like he was trying to work himself to death. He would forget to eat, consumed endless amounts of coffee, and never drank enough water.  On top of this, he would compete on the river with the 17 year old paddling hot shots who attended the school. He often complained of having headaches and feeling bad. A huge part of my role as his girlfriend was simply taking care of him. I was constantly chiding him to eat,  coaxing him to go to sleep at the end of the day, and making sure he was drinking water. Taking care of him was as familiar to me as anything. 

One night, a week after I arrived home, I couldn't sleep. I lay in bed feeling miserable, missing David, agonizing about leaving the school and the world I loved so much. It was almost his birthday. I knew he was hurting, and that I was the reason. All I could ask for him at that moment was that he take good care of himself. It's impossible to start to feel better about anything when you're not healthy. So I sat there and asked the universe (I was 24, I talked to the universe back then) to give give him plenty of water that day. I pictured him drinking water, not coffee, not his favorite rum and coke,  but glasses and glasses and water. It was such a little thing, but I knew it could make some difference. 

The very next day, I felt a little better about everything, and I actually talked with Dave over Skype. He sounded happy, and was excited to tell me about a funny thing that had happened. Earlier that day, he'd been leading a group of kayakers down the Rio Achibueno. They were about to put on the river when a man from the group ran up to Dave with something in his hands. The man had walked up the bank, upriver of the put in, to change into his gear. There, almost hidden under the blackberry thickets, was a waterbottle with the vivid red, white and blue New River Academy sticker on it.  He brought it back to David and said. "Look, it's your logo! Maybe this water bottle belongs to someone you know." 

Dave took the bottle and turned it in his hands. On the back was another sticker: the green outline of Vermont with a heart inside of it. It was my water bottle, which apparently I'd forgotten on the riverbank that day at the Achibueno, many weeks before. I hadn't even realized it was gone. 

Dave told me he opened the bottle and drank down the whole thing. Then he said, "I explained to the man how it was your bottle. I said, Melina's looking out for me. She wanted me to have this, and wants me to drink a lot of water today."

I couldn't find the words to explain to him how right he was.

Very Short Stories: Witnesses were impressed by the incredible amounts of blood

When I was twenty years old, I lived in a big house with five roommates on a park. Our house was the center of our universe. My bedroom was the annex, a redone garage with no internal door connecting it to the rest of the house. This meant, of course, that you had to go outside to get to my room. I had my own key. Why, when we were first moving in, I felt the need to claim this room was and still is a mystery, because I have to go to the bathroom at least twice every night. It felt a lot like camping.

The Brat House
One evening, I was in my room organizing tank tops by color, when my roommates called me on my phone to inform me that dinner was ready. It was spaghetti. I was starving, and I got so excited that I dashed straight out the door and broke off the top part of my finger.

The door, because it was a door to the outside, was a big, solid, metal fire door. Now, I used to have a particular way of closing a door. Instead of simply stepping outside, grabbing the door knob and pulling it shut, I'd make it more of a challenge. I would grab the inside door knob, pull open the door, step outside, and then I'd pull the door shut behind me with my hand still on the inside knob, if you can imagine, and at the last minute I'd whip my hand outside and the door would click shut.

It was like a game that I played every time I left the house, and I wasn't even aware I was playing it until I lost.

For some reason, probably because I was in such a food panic, I did not get my hand out in time as I slammed the door. My little finger got left behind, and when the door clicked shut it clipped the bone right in two. What I did now, was I flung the door back open and ran wildly around my room, gripping my left pinkie in my right fist. The erratic circles I spun around the carpet bore an incomprehensible similarity to a freshly beheaded chicken. I opened my mouth but I couldn't make any noise.

And then, the voice from deep within began to speak. It was the same voice that later instructed me to stay alive for one hour when I was drowning. Count to ten, the voice instructed. It's a system I've develop to deal with the many explosions of pain I've endured as a result of many a strange accident. I can survive anything for ten seconds, and after that, the pain is usually a little better.  So I counted to ten. Nothing had changed. I counted to twenty.

I've slammed my hand in a car door before. What kids hasn't?  You cry, you get hugged by your mom, then you get to have a bottomless slurpee to keep the swelling down: it's almost worth it. But this was different- this pain was rocking me. I counted to thirty. Forty. The pulsing was not subsiding. I knew I had to take stock of the situation, so with great trepidation I opened my fist and was appalled to see blood, weird flaps of skin, and bone. Aw, Shit. I thought. And it's Cookies night.

Thursdays during that miraculous year meant milk and cookies night at the Frat house next door. It wasn't really a frat house, that was just its name. Don't you remember, in college, when every house had to have a name? Our next door neighbors were five of our best friends who played on the same elite ultimate teams that we did. Gender divided, of course. One of the boys, Andrew, hosted the weekly get together and absolutely everyone would come. For me, it was social bliss. I'd go over casually, in my (carefully picked for the occasion) pajamas. I'd bake six batches of cookies. I was living in the social hub of the Ultimate Frisbee World.  And I wouldn't miss one Cookies night for anything, not even for my own finger.

Our Two Houses had a Dodgeball Team: The Knarr Shipwrecked Social Club
When I had a fraction of my mind back, I ran upstairs to my roommates and yelped something to Miranda, who helped me unclench the finger and hold it under running water. Susan discreetly toweled  up the trail of blood that I'd left all the way to the sink. The stream of cold water onto the broken bone made me howl. Miranda and Susan wrapped my finger in a dish cloth and laid me on the couch, then discussed what to do with me.

By this time, friends were arriving for Cookies. Most of them found me and my finger pretty funny. I was bleeding all over the place and in a little bit of shock, but I kept proclaiming, loudly, that I wanted to get off the couch and go to COOKIES. My roommates wouldn't let me move. Finally Will, the exceptionally nice boy who lived in the Frat house, pointed out that the dish towel wrapped around my finger was saturated in blood and ought'n I be getting to the Emergency Room for a stitch?

I went to the Emergency Room. Miranda and Danny took me. They did not stitch me up, but they did feed me very strong pain pills, and shot a very long needle right into the pulp of the finger to numb it. It worked, but only for two hours, during which nothing happened. A doctor came in, inspected the thing, said something to a nurse, then left. After two hours, the pain was back, and they shot me again. Two more hours past, and nothing happened, so they shot me a third time. By this point, after much convincing on my part, Miranda had reluctantly called my sorta boyfriend Ben and told him to leave Cookies and come see his sorry sorta girlfriend in the hospital. 

Ben was not impressed to hear I was in the ER, nor was he thrilled that I was requesting him bedside. I can't blame him. I was a complete disaster that year, attracting a truly laudable amount of strange accidents and vile illnesses. I can't tell you the number of times I showed up at his house limping, bleeding, barfing, or in the midst of a migraine that would only go away if he stroked me hair for three hours! Please!!

This is Sam, by the way.
I know I could be a bit of a loon, and I brought a lot of it on myself, but still, if I was looking for a partner who specialized in compassion, I was gassing up at the wrong pump.  Ben even famously broke up with me while I was in the emergency room. Way up in Bellingham. Loopy on kidney medication. (It wasn't our last breakup, nor was it the worst.)

My midnight, I was in a Vicodin fog. I referred to notoriously non-committal Ben as my husband, and repeatedly called the female doctor a nurse. By the time they released me, having bandaged and x-rayed, shot me thrice but not stitched me, neither doctor nor boyfriend liked me very much.

That night, I fell asleep in my own bed with Ben next to me. I had managed to put on pajamas. Ben positioned my hand above my head on a pillow and instructed me not to STAY STILL.  I awoke a few hours later in a blood bath. The bandage had fallen off, and there was blood everywhere. It was squirting out of my finger. There was blood all over the bed, all over me, all over Ben. I sat up, wondering where in the world all the friggin blood was from- how could it possibly have come from my finger? My little finger? My pinkie? That little thing?

Then I had to shake Ben awake. Can you imagine? The boy that didn't even want to deal with breakfast the next morning. Wake up honey! Wake up and deal with your psycho 20 year old girlfriend who is calling you husband and soaking you in her blood!  Ahh ha ha ha ha!!

Ben, by all accounts, acted nobly. He had me stand in the middle of the room, cupping the injured finger, while he ran inside the house to get paper towels. However by the time he got back, I was holding a coagulating handful of blood that was seeping down my arm and pooling onto the carpet, looking up at him wide help-me eyes.  So instead of trying to soak up the blood, he lead me to the bathroom and held my finger, again, under a running faucet. The stream of cold water hitting the bone made me howl. Again.

Really, the only thing that makes this story worth telling is the unbelievable amount of blood there was.

Ben said if it was still bleeding in the morning, he'd bring me back to the Emergency Room again. It was. Sheets ruined, clothes ruined, carpet ruined. He dropped me off outside the ER and went to work, having slept a maximum of four hours. I walked up to the front desk, held up my claw, and said, Hello.

Unfortunately, it was Doctor Frank's shift. I hated Doctor Frank. We'd had to deal with each other on a few occasions. Doctor Frank was a jerk. He came in to the room and looked at my finger. I said, "It's bleeding quite a bit, don't you think?" And Doctor Frank looked at me, looked at his clipboard and then said, "Well, it's not a bullet wound or anything." Then he left.

My nurse that morning was a big black lady from Georgia, and she was everything you'd hope she'd be, and above all, she was comforting. Unfortunately, she was a big believer in Doctor Frank. "Mr. Frank, he'll take good care of you." She said as she rearranged the two thin pillows behind me. "I'm not so sure about that." I said.

Doctor Frank's solution was to sit me upright in the room and bleed me dry. Just keep bleeding the thing until it eventually stopped on its own. Nobody would stitch it up and I have no idea why. I sat there alone and used the hospital phone to call people. I called Miranda and Danny. Then I called Ben. "Are you still bleeding?" He asked. He was at work. "Yes." I answered. He sighed loudly into the phone. "So," I said, "Are you still driving me to the airport tonight?"

Wasn't I just a cupcake?

Finally, the big nurse came in and said, "Honey, have you ever had a problem with your blood before?" I told her I didn't understand. "Like, have you ever had a cut that wouldn't heal? Have you ever bled profusely like this before?"

I thought for a moment. "No."

"Well, we're not sure going on here, but Doctor Frank is going to come in here and cauterize it if it doesn't stop soon."

At the time, I didn't know what cauterize was. It sounded like a jumble of cut (bad) and coddle (good.) I weighed my options. "Okay." I said.

I called Ben. "What does cauterize mean?"

Just then, the nurse came back, holding a steel blowtorch.

"You know what?" I said, "I think the bleeding has stopped. I don't need to be coddlized."

"Well let's just see," she said, and unwound the gauze. And, amazingly, it had stopped bleeding. My finger was surrounded on all sides by what looked like red gummy worm eating its tail. I was discharged, with some prescription slips for pain medication which Doctor Frank conveniently forgot to sign. Which rendered them useless.

That night I took a red eye home to Vermont for the holidays. I was very displeased to find I had an aisle seat. I only do window.

Then, sitting in a terminal chair with my giant, swollen, bandaged, oozing claw, I spotted an opportunity.  I went up to the front desk and waved my hand around in the air. "Help me!" I said. "I'm just a child!" I looked the part, too. I look at least six years younger than I am, and whenever I fly I wear my hair in two braids which knocks off another year or two. "Help me!" I cried. "Look at my horrible hand! I must have a window seat!"

The flight was full. The seats were fully arranged, the plane about to be boarded, but the kind Jet Blue employee took pity on my decrepit, sad self. She ran a bell, made an announcement. In a flash, a woman switched seats with me. "You poor thing." She said. "You're very brave, flying with that."

"I know," I answered earnestly. "I just want to go home."

The flight from Seattle to Boston is long, but the window seat was very pleasant. Back at home, I went directly to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, which was covered in tinsel and red Christmas bows. They made me wear a face mask (I'm here for my finger, I said, We see that but you're coughing, they replied,) and then the doctor stitched the open wound shut. "You know," he said as he sewed, "you should have gone to the hospital right away when you broke your finger and gotten it stitched up. It would have healed a lot easier. This will probably leave a scar."

Very Short Stories: Keanan

Quincy and Keenan in Rotorua, New Zealand. Photo by Bethany Davidson-Widby
I went to boarding school with two brothers. Their names were Kyle and Keenan, and they were from Montana. They were intense boys, prone to helpless fits of moodiness, but they were kind and for the most part I got along with them very well. We all called Kyle 'Smiley.' We went to Europe together for our first semester, this was with Adventure Quest. It was an unusual group of teenagers to say the least. Kyle didn't make it through the first semester- he was caught drinking alcohol in France and throwing the bottles into a river from a footbridge. Two weeks later, after we traveled to Spain, he went home. It was too bad he missed the rest of Spain. We had a lot of freedom and spent our time traveling to and from Barcelona on the train. We were allowed to go to parties in the local town till late at night, and we stayed in a strange warehouse in the middle of a bunch of lime trees.

The next year was my final year of high school. Kyle had graduated, but Keenan was just a sophomore and was still enrolled in the school. We spent the first semester in the American Southwest living out of one van. We had other plans but they fell through because that was the year of 9/11. Alex and I were the only girls,  but during that trip, the whole group of us- nine or so in total- really enjoyed each other. We walked through canyons, climbed all day and hung out in a town inhabited by real life polygamists.

In January, the start of my last semester of  high school, we flew to New Zealand. I slept outside every night as I had since the start of the Southwest trip. My tent-mate Alex was an incredible snorer and I slept outside as means of refuge. But after a few nights under the stars, it became a habit and I never wanted to sleep inside again. One night in the first few weeks of the trip, I was woken up to someone shaking me. It was Keenan. He shook me just barely awake and said, "Melina, I'm leaving. Good bye." Then he hugged me. Confused, I rolled over and fell back to sleep. A few hours later I woke up again, this time I for real. Some of the other boys were knocking on the door of the staff's cabin. "He told us he was going to leave," they were saying, "but we didn't believe him."

Keenan had decided he didn't want to be where he was anymore,  so he had packed his things and left. He was fifteen year old. On his first escape attempt, he didn't get too far. The staff took the van and found him waiting at a bus stop in the sulfurous town of Roturua a few miles away. They took him home and confined to him to his cabin. They talked to his parents and agreed to let like Keenan stay if he never tried that again. He'd never been a bad kid or caused any problems before.

Things were alright for a week or two. We were paddling on the Kaituna river every day, going to class, walking to the store in the afternoon. A boy named Quincy nearly drowned, but he didn't. It was spring and warm and misty. Then we drove down to the South Island to a town called Wanaka, where they served iced coffee with vanilla ice cream and chocolate shavings. We pulled into the house where we'd be staying late at night. I found a nearby tree fort, climbed to the top, congratulated myself for finding such a nice spot (I never spent a night in the same place twice) and fell asleep.  During that night, Keenan ran away again. I've never understood why someone would run away from Adventure Quest. I lived for that place. I had begged my parents for six months to send me back there after I got lost, and they'd finally relented.

In the morning he was gone, and all his things. Again. Frustrated, the staff called his parents who said not to bother looking for him. He'd find his way home eventually.

I've never seen or heard from Keenan since. That was a decade ago. Last year around this time, I heard that Kyle was dead. From reading his obituary I saw that he had spent a lot of time after high school in Africa and that he'd been relatively happy and at home there. I also saw that he was survived by his brother, Keenan. So that means Keenan's still alive, he's out there somewhere.

At the base of La Meije: Andy, Tim, Me, Keanan

Very Short Stories: The Towel

I was 23 and living in a little blue house in Wallingford with Kendra and Lisa. We were always doing fun girl things. I had this green book that I bought from Aveda about living a 'Holistic' lifestyle. I never read it through, just thumbed through it in the bath and looked at the colorful charts about color therapy and essential oils.

Lisa and I were really into Aveda at the time. I don't know where we got the money to buy Aveda things, but apparently we did because we didn't steal and we had a lot.  We liked to go into the store because every time we'd get a hand massage from a gay man.

One of the home spa treatments suggested in the book was to put olive oil in your hair and then wrap a warm wet towel around your head for ten minutes. This would allow the oil to soak into your hair and leave it shiny and lustrous. I was alone in the house one day and decided to give it a go. I stood in the shower and poured olive oil onto my hair and rubbed it in with my hands. The book suggested that a good way to warm up the towel was to soak it in water and then put it in the microwave. I followed the instructions, ran the towel under the faucet, stuck it in the microwave and pressed the button with the popcorn icon.

After ten seconds the towel exploded inside the microwave. There were great big flames. 

I pulled the plug and pulled out the towel.  I took it outside and threw it in the trash bin where no one could find it. Then I went inside and sat on the couch for a while. I thought about the fact that I had just set fire to a towel in a microwave. Of all my many friends, I think I am the only one to have ever done that.

The olive oil took about a week to wash out of my hair.

Lisa as roomate