Coffee cups, dozens. Writers sipping on morning hellos.
All of us, every single one, waiting for trade secrets.
Edge of our seats. Scribbling into notebooks. The presentation begins.
I clutch a beer bigger than my own face. I promise to drink slowly. Won’t get carried away.
A pair of hazel eyes watch me, considering. The plastic cup in my hand breaks into a cold sweat.
What do you do? For fun? he asks.
I laugh. This is the part I hate. The pleasantries. The prerequisites. The lines we must speak to match the way our fingers suddenly tremble.
I sit, waiting. Buzzing from caffeine and trepidation.
And I tell myself, You’re a writer. A writer. A writer. You belong here. Here. Right here.
A moment later, the awards begin.
I can’t tell you what I do for fun without stumbling over the words that sound too much like smalltalk. Swim? Read? Drink wine after a hard day? I always feel that my answer will be the wrong one. That he wants me to say I bicycle when in reality, I prefer to take long, aimless walks and dance until my muscles ache.
But I can tell you what I live for. I can tell you with perfect clarity what keeps me up at night, what keeps me alive.
Standard look of curiosity.
And what do you write?
Short stories mostly.
More smiles. More, more, more. Drink it in, easy as water.
I write a little poetry, he says.
It’s my turn to look curious, but before I remember politeness, I hate poetry falls between us.
He laughs. A real, taken-by-surprise chuckle.
Blushing, I fumble to recover. I don’t hate poetry. I’m sorry.
I’m just not very good at it.
Mystery category. Romance. Nonfiction. I make a mental note that, oh man, I’ve got stories for those sections, too. Applause clatters through the crowd, and I wait just a little longer.
Today, Poetry is last.
He worries when he writes letters, thinks I’m going to check the grammar. He sends them anyway, and I’m too enthralled by the way he’s carefully penned my name to check for anything–truth included.
He asks to read my material. Wants to see what I only reveal to few people, if at all. He wants to hear about this dream of mine.
But as the summer heat dies away, he starts questioning. Stops believing in me.
Or he simply stops caring for me.
It’s just, I think, pen in hand, eyes blurry, it’s so damn hard to tell the difference.
Winners amble to retrieve their awards, shake hands as if the whole thing is an elaborate joke–far too good to be true.
And in the Poetry category–
My heart dances a two-step.
Different men, same brand of beer. Different voices, same questions. Different song, same motion.
I write. Write. Write. Write.
So you’re a writer?
I grin. Twirl the question away, skirt fluttering. A practiced distraction.
My name. That’s my name.
Is Kristen here today?
I rise, dazed. Somehow, I find my way to the front of the room. Salt stings my eyes, though I haven’t yet processed any part of this moment.
And when I see my name printed in black ink on an award, I remember the agonizing nights I had to choose: write or wonder.
I’d relive those nights a thousand times if it meant they’d lead me here.
If it meant, just for a few hours, it was all worth it.
If it meant, on a warm Saturday afternoon, I’d remember that I was worth it all along.
Never have I seen
A thing to bring tears to eyes
Prose with such a sheen