Flash Fiction Prompt: Write an Embarrassing Moment for a Person Quite Different Than Yourself

My daughter came home one night and announced, “I’m getting a divorce.” I wasn’t surprised about this since I’d told her before she married James that this was a mistake. First of all, James was a good-looking boy – or young man since he was twenty-five – but he was just not right for my Maureen. He knew nothing about design, after all, and since Maureen is an architect and her father is an architecture professor – and I have my own leanings as an artist, there was just no way that this boy – I mean, young man – was ever going to really fit into our family. He was a carpenter by trade and one could say, I suppose if you wanted to truly stretch the fabric to almost the ripping point, that carpentry is an art. I mean it is an art form or can be if you are that kind of carpenter, but the truth is that James was not in that category. He was a framer, for God’s sake not a finish carpenter, and that should say it all for anybody in the know on these things. So, when my twenty-eight year old daughter declared her marriage over to me three years after its inception, I was the last to be surprised.

What I didn’t know, and would have preferred to have been spared, was that the demise of her marriage came as a result of even poorer judgment on her part – Maureen has had a series of bad judgments over the past several years despite everything her father and I have tried to instill in her – and this one made James looked like a good decision. “I’ve met another man,” she confessed the same morning she told me about the divorce, “and he has stolen my heart.”

My hands went ice-cold with that sentimental pronouncement: nothing good could come from such a saccharine attitude, and, of course, I was more right than I wanted to be. The said new “soul mate” was a house painter by trade, making James’ carpentry abilities look far more superior than I knew they were. But alas…

I have known for years that when it comes to Maureen you just have to let her go through these bad choices and eventually she’ll extricate herself. Her architecture is her only real love and for that, I’m extremely happy. So though I was unhappy to hear of this new “lover,” what I knew that she didn’t, and he – Teddy – didn’t know, was that this new star-crossed, you’re-my-everything person would be gone in less than a year. All I had to do was keep my mouth shut and watch the dimming of the star.

What I didn’t expect was the arrival of James at my door a few weeks after the divorce papers were served. “Mother Adams,” he said and oh how I loathe being referred to by that name, “I’ve found the Lord since Maureen left me.”

“You have?” I said, my skin crawling with implications of that statement. “Had you lost him?”

James gave me a reproachful look. “I know you’re kidding,” he said, “since I happen to know that you make it to church every Sunday without fail.”

This was true, but certainly with a different mentality since I was a good Catholic, not some Bible-thumping born-again. “Yes, I do,” I said and smiled icily.

The boy – young man – batted his rather long eyelashes and said, “Could I get you to come to church with me, Mother? It is the last favor I’ll ask of you. I would appreciate sharing my new faith with you.”

I mentally shrank back at the thought. Oh, dear God, please save me from this fate. But I did see that he looked especially sincere. “When?” I asked, knowing it would be the very next Sunday. And, of course, it was.

So there I was in that horrible little church, surrounded with more polyester than I’d ever had the occasion to see in one place, when the preacher welcomed all the visitors. “I see we have some new people here today,” he said, staring right at me. I sat straight-backed in my place, determined not to have him intimidate me. He smiled at me – a gap-toothed smile – and said, “I see James that you’ve brought Maureen’s mother here today. That is who she is, yes?”

James nodded and I tried to smile back. “Yes,” he called out.

The whole church grew stone silent and then the preacher bellowed out the words I never hoped or expected to hear: “Will the adulteress’s mother please stand up?”

I stared and then realized the preacher was speaking to me. I didn’t know what to do so I rose.

The preacher picked up his Bible and waved it in the air. “Let us pray.” He then began a long-winded prayer that mentioned the “adulteress” at least five times and “her mother” at least four. After his “Amen,” I patted James on the arm, stood and said quietly, “Good bye.” With that, I walked out of the church.

I don’t ever expect to speak to James again. That was too much even for me to tolerate. Also, I hope that Teddy is gone soon enough and Maureen can devote her life to architecture. As for me, I’m going to my church to speak to the priest. I think I need to go to confession given the evil thoughts I am now having towards James.

Back in LA

Arrived this afternoon
803 miles across Texas to El Paso
Then 700 through New Mexico and Arizona to Los Angeles

Sunset Boulevard bustling
People in shorts
75 degrees and sunshine

Seeing students late afternoon and early evening
Back to work after 2 weeks off
Sitting in my living room as if I never left

Falling asleep watching the news
Eyelids heavy
Ready for bed after so many miles

Happy to be here safe
Strange this living in two states
The same full moon overhead

To George on What Would Have Been His 62nd Birthday

Today is my brother George’s birthday. My brother who died eight years ago. My brother who was three years older than me and was my closest friend from birth. The first person I adored with all of my heart. When I was little he would ask me to go upstairs and get his shoes and I’d say to myself as I scurried away, “George wants me to get his shoes!” As if that was the very best thing ever. I remember sitting on our back staircase and looking out the little round window, waiting for George to come home from school. I must have been five and he was eight. Oh, what happiness when I saw him ride up on his bicycle. Down the stairs I ran and out the back door to see my big brother. And he always seemed happy to see me, too. At least until he got to be a teenager and his little sister was still trying to hang around with him and his friends. At that point, he pulled me aside and said, “Len, I’m bigger now. You need to go play with friends your age.” I was crushed. What? My big brother didn’t want me around? How could that happen? He was my best friend!

As we grew older, George and I grew apart. He started drinking more and more and alcohol got in the way of our being close. Twenty years passed and though I loved him and I knew he loved me, I was aware that his heart and mind were somewhere else. Until the day he stopped drinking and there he was again. My big brother, looking at me as if not one day had passed since we’d jumped on our bikes and ridden down 9th Street together to go play at Fort Inglish.

George never drank again once he gave alcohol up. And he never again was far away from me in mind and spirit. He was my cohort, my comrade, my best and dearest friend. And I am not the only person who felt that way about him. In fact, I can think of two or three people without much effort who felt he was their best friend, too. And he was. He had a way of giving that made it possible for you to feel extra special. That’s a wonderful quality to have.

When he received his terminal cancer diagnosis, he called to tell me.  After I hung up the phone, I curled up in my bed and sobbed and sobbed. How, oh how, would I ever make it through life without my brother there to guide me? How could I face everyday without my rock – my George – to count on? I believe that was one of the loneliest feelings I’ve ever had. Knowing in that moment that we had a limited amount of time together and then he’d be gone.

He died 17 months later and during that time I communicated with him almost every day either by email or phone. I saw him as much as I could given that I was in California and he was in Texas. And then the night came when he called and said, “This is good-bye.” I stood in my kitchen and heard his weak voice. “Wait for me,” I said. “I’ll be there in the morning.” My husband had me on a red-eye to Texas within hours and I rented a car in the pre-dawn hours and drove through the Texas countryside as the sun came up. I arrived in time to see George – very frail – sitting on the side of his bed with his wife Sandra sitting beside him, her arm around his shoulders. He smiled when I walked in. “Len, is that you?”

George died later that day, but he did wait for me. I knew he would and he did. I think he’ll be the first to greet me in heaven one of these days, if all goes well…

I’m lucky to have had a brother like George. Such a good man. So solid. So real. So genuinely kind.

Happy birthday, brother. I carry you with me every day. And for that, I’m grateful and glad.

Last Night in Texas

It’s been a good long trip and we are here for our final evening. I just heard the cat hop off of the chair upstairs – his domain – and he is now eating. Amazing how sound can travel down the stairwell. I am sitting in the staircase room in one of the yellow wing back chairs, my feet up on a stool. This is a favorite spot to sit for me since I have the view of the beautiful woodwork all around me: the banister and railing of the staircase, the paneling, the mantle. This house is like a still life painting – look in any direction and there are fascinating details to take in.

Three hours later.

We have had two set of visitors this evening: family first and then out-of-town friends. It’s lovely to be here and to entertain. This is definitely a home meant for lots of people. The house seems to smile when there’s a knock on the door.

Time for bed. Tomorrow we’ll leave mid-afternoon and see how far we can drive before finding a place for the night. A long day ahead full of desert vistas.

Prompt: A Halibun Poem: Twenty Years After

The day came when she could no longer contain her anger. She picked up a crowbar and began chasing him around the back yard.

The cardinal stared

The wind blew hot from the west

The sun bore down hard

She cursed while she ran. He rushed into the house and slammed the door. She thought of breaking the windows, but recognized the folly in that. After all, they would have to be replaced.

The grass was dark green

Its blades tickled her ankles

She bellowed her rage

He peeked out the window and smiled. Her fury matched the baby 8 months in her belly, big and full. She challenged him to come out and take his medicine. She swung the crowbar and watched his eyes grow big.

She heaved the bar down

Over and over again

Green changed to dirt brown

She felt the strength of her fury. She liked the fear in his eyes. She knew he was not the culprit, only the safe outlet. Still, she felt power surge.

The birds twittered loud

Clouds softened the sun’s dry heat

A coolness moved in

She sat on the steps and cried. Released all that pent-up hate. Let him come and wrap his arms around her. Knew that she had shifted inside. Finally.

Halibun Poetry:

Using a form that combines the descriptive qualities of prose with the concise punctuation of the haiku, the haibun presents a picture, scene or moment to the reader. While the haibun form depends on precision and brevity, it is still considered to fall into the category of informal verse. While the haibun was first popularized by Japanese poet Basho in the seventeenth century, it still remains a respected form choice for modern poets.

Prompt: Take a Traumatic Event and Write How You Would Change How You Acted

When I was nineteen, I was sexually assaulted. A boyfriend turned mean and perverted what had been a loving sexual relationship. I spent three days locked in his apartment with him terrorizing me. I will turn 59 in a few weeks. I have spent the last 40 years carrying those three days with me. I do not see myself as a victim. I don’t live like a victim. But I do recognize it’s healing for me to look critically at what I wish I had done differently at the time.

If I could go back and change the way I acted during that time, this is what I would do:

I would have not ignored the event before all of this happened when he bent my arm behind my back when I said I’d rather go for a walk first and then have sex.

I would have never gotten on a plane without anyone’s knowledge except my college roommate’s and flown to visit him for three days when I was at a different school for the summer.

I would have gotten out of the car right after leaving the airport when he said that I had gotten “too big for my britches” and “needed to be put down a notch.”

I would have gotten up and left the Indian movie we went to on the UT campus when all of the audience laughed after a man on screen hit a young woman who was “misbehaving.”

I would have left quietly and quickly the first opportunity I had after he showed the first display of anger in his apartment.

I would have recognized early on that my boyfriend’s roommate could not be counted on to help me.

I would have broken the second story window in the bedroom where I was locked in and dropped down to the empty alley below – even if I hurt myself escaping.

I would have gone straight to the police and reported what was clearly a crime: sex against my will, physical assault and hostage holding.

I would have stood up in court and testified against this man.

I would know that I had looked clearly at the situation, taken the appropriate action, and he had received the appropriate punishment: prison time.

I would know that I had kept any other innocent victim from experiencing my same fate.

I would know that I had broken through my fear and acted in a responsible manner.

I would know that I had the support of law enforcement and the judicial system.

I would know that I was safe from future harm.

I would know that there was justice for a crime that should never have gone unreported.

I would feel empowered by these actions and aware that no one could assume they could physically hurt me with impunity.

I would know that I was surrounded with people who recognized the severity of this event.

I would recognize the ramifications of such a profound violation and get myself adequate therapy.

I would know that just because my perpetrator was a “respectable” man, I still found justice.

I would be healed from this hurt.

My body would be healed from this hurt.

My spirit would be healed from this hurt.

I would not be afraid anymore of too quick movements or a rough touch.

I would forgive myself for being too passive.

I would forgive myself for not fighting harder even though fighting dramatically increased his anger.

I would understand that this was a terrible event and openly acknowledge that fact.

I would recognize that despite this unfortunate event, I can be whole, healed, open, and receptive to love.

My “boyfriend” let me go after three days because my college roommate had begun calling incessantly when I did not return on time. She also threatened to call my parents.

The year was 1972 and when I told my family after the fact, not one person – educated people – suggested reporting this incident to the police. They knew that I would likely become a victim to the system. After all, he had been my “boyfriend.” Instead, my mother said to my brothers, “Go beat that boy up.” They did not.

This is definitely a healing exercise – my willingness to openly acknowledge this event to others and also to myself. Alas, I am not alone. Read the statistics below:


How Often Does Rape Happen to Women?
• One in Four college women report surviving rape (15 percent) or attempted rape (12 percent) since their fourteenth birthday. (1)
• In a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease control of 5,000 college students at over 100 colleges, 20% of women answered “yes” to the question “In your lifetime have you been forced to submit to sexual intercourse against your will?” Thus, one in five college women has been raped at some point in her lifetime. (2)
• In a typical academic year, 3% of college women report surviving rape or attempted rape. This does not include the summer, when many more rapes occur. (3)
• In the year 2000, 246,000 women survived rape and sexual assault. This computes to 28 women every hour. (4)
• A survey of high school students found that one in five had experienced forced sex (rape). Half of these girls told no one about the incident. (5)
• Rape is common worldwide, with relatively similar rates of incidence across countries, with 19%-28% of college women reporting rape or attempted rape in several countries. In many countries, survivors are treated far worse than in the U.S. (6)
Are Men Raped?
• 3% of college men report surviving rape or attempted rape as a child or adult. (3)
• In a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control of 5,000 college students at over 100 colleges, 4% of men answered “yes” to the question “In your lifetime have you been forced to submit to sexual intercourse against your will?” (2)
Who are the Perpatrators?
• 99% of people who rape are men, 60% are Caucasian. (7)
• Between 62% (4) and 84% (1) of survivors knew their attacker.
• 8% of men admit committing acts that meet the legal definition of rape or attempted rape. Of these men who committed rape, 84% said that what they did was definitely not rape. (1)
• More than one in five men report “becoming so sexually aroused that they could not stop themselves from having sex, even though the woman did not consent.” (8)
• 35% of men report at least some degree of likelihood of raping if they could be assured they wouldn’t be caught or punished. (9)
• One out of every 500 college students is infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. (10)
• First-year students in college tend to believe more rape myths than seniors. (11)
• Sexual assault offenders were substantially more likely than any other category of violent criminal to report experiencing physical or sexual abuse as children. (7)
• In one study, 98% of men who raped boys reported that they were heterosexual. (12)
Who are the Survivors?
• 41% of college women who are raped were virgins at the time. (1)
• 42% of rape survivors told no one about the rape. (1)
• False reports of rape are rare, according to the FBI, occurring only 8% of the time. (13)
Circumstances of Rape
• 57% of rapes happen on dates. (1)
• 75% of the men and 55% of the women involved in acquaintance rapes were drinking or taking drugs just before the attack. (1)
• About 70% of sexual assault survivors reported that they took some form of self-protective action during the crime. The most common technique was to resist by struggling or chase and try to hold the attacker. Of those survivors who took protective action, over half believed it helped the situation, about 1/5 believed that it made the situation worse or simultaneously worse and better. (7)
• 84% of rape survivors tried unsuccessfully to reason with the man who raped her. (1)
• 55% of gang rapes on college campuses are committed by fraternities, 40% by sports teams, and 5% by others. (15)
• Approximately 40% of sexual assaults take place in the survivor’s home. About 20% occur in the home of a friend, neighbor, or relative. 10% occur outside, away from home. About 8% take place in parking garages. (7)
• More than half of all rape and sexual assault incidents occurred within one mile of the survivor’s home or in her home. (7)
What Happens After the Rape?
• In a study done in the 1980s, 5% of rape survivors went to the police. (1)
• Throughout the last 10 years, the National Crime Victimization Survey has reported that approximately 30% of rape survivors report the incident to the police. (4)
• Of those rapes reported to the police (which is 1/3 or less to begin with), only 16% result in prison sentences. Therefore, approximately 5% of the time, a man who rapes ends up in prison, 95% of the time he does not. (4)
• 42% of rape survivors had sex again with the rapist. (1)
• 30% of rape survivors contemplate suicide after the rape. (1)
• 82% of rape survivors say the rape permanently changed them. (1)
• The adult pregnancy rate associated with rape is estimated to be 4.7%. (17)

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Flash Fiction, Memoir and Essay

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