I want to write fiction. I spent the year of 2007 writing a book called CLARITY- 75,000 words of my imagination. I’d find myself writing in the weirdest spots at the most unusual times. Holed up in the once called Scrushy Library waiting for Janey to get out of first grade. Or in a casino. 3:00 am in East Lake after I saw my first hanging. I’ve pulled off I-65, I-20, and 459 to jot down some inane plot point or character flaw. I told the few people with knowledge of the book that I didn’t care if anyone ever read it. Just as long as I got through it. Finishing CLARITY, back in March, made me feel complete. Accomplished.
For a day or so at least.
Within a month I suffered a serious drought of depression.
More specifically, I felt empty.
God, I wish I could write fiction.
Small hotel rooms.
The second room was walking distance from the Upside down Plaza. The old man, I guessed 80 but he was 53, was having a hell of a time breathing. And, since breathing is a necessary skill to sustain life, they called us.
I was a guest, riding with Engine 3 out of Southside, a company known for having the best scenery of any fire station in Birmingham, Alabama, or the Southeast. All day and night the boys of 3 will sit on “the wall” off Highland Avenue watching pretty girls jog by or women in evening gowns wait for the valet to retrieve their Mercedes as they smoke cigarettes outside Botegga. “The wall” at 3 is an easy distraction. I never got much writing done on CLARITY at 3.
The hotel room was a pay-by-the-week affair and the size of a walk-in closet. There was a cot’s mattress on the floor and a legless couch. The 80-year-old-looking 53-year-old man lived there with his daughter and her boyfriend. The young couple was well on their way to over aging too. I used to see the boyfriend at shows, in pool halls… somewhere, but back then his face wasn’t covered in open sores, and his legs weren’t punctured pincushions for needles.
I’d never seen the daughter before but she’d been a looker… once. Not now. For every sore her boyfriend had she had two. Blacken her eyes and loosen her teeth too. The life had bled out of her blonde hair and her dead white skin exposed blue-sick veins. The track marks were one on top of another and looked more like broken bottle wounds than evidence of brown-liquid syringes.
If her dad looked three decades older than his age then she looked four. She was a walking corpse, waiting on the undertaker and her headstone.
The old man’s part-time nurse told us outside that the boyfriend is holding them hostage in that small hotel room. The old man’s medicine, delivered weekly, was divided among them like food for castaways. When the pills run out and the makeshift street drugs they obtain are sold or snorted the mood turns into frustration.
Engine 3 was getting called to that room on a regular basis; the man’s failing health demanded it. One day the calls stopped. I hate to think the worst… but I do it anyway.
Eventually bruises don’t go away. Teeth are knocked out or rot out and they aint coming back either. Don’t hold yourself, or anyone else, hostage.
The business of selling a novel is a foreign language read backwards. Trying to “sell” anything makes me feel like a bottom feeder. Be the sell, believe the sell etc. Whether it’s cars or gold or encyclopedias, salesmen all possess some gift that I do not have and cannot truly comprehend. Maybe that’s my problem.
But damn, I want to write fiction.
The first room was in the darkness of East Lake and the crummiest room in the dirtiest hotel on 1st Avenue North. The room used to be a storage room, until someone got wise to the idea of putting down cheap carpet and renting it out monthly. I was the only firefighter in the windowless room, the rest of the guys standing out in the hallway to avoid the roaches and blood-vomit stains.
Besides the couple’s 12-year-old son I was the only one in the room not HIV positive.
He was a bounty hunter and he couldn’t breathe or, more accurately, was having a hell of time trying. (Please read above on breathing and it’s vital role in sustaining life). A bounty hunter, 100 lbs and rail thin, wearing all camo. Guns were neatly holstered on a chair. The mattress was a grey stained cot and on the floor pushed against cheap wood paneling.
The bounty hunter found his breath eventually. His wife, 200 lbs heavier than him, cried her eyes out, cheap mascara smearing her face. The 12-year-old never blinked, leaning against the wood paneling in mis-matched shoes and too big jeans. I grew up during the discovery of AIDS, and HIV, so standing in that room I tried, and failed, to fight off my own misguided worries. Her tears…
I took a big step back, out of the room. Eye contact with the bounty hunter as he nodded, happy to breathe. The 12-year-old never blinked. The 12-year-old never blinked. The 12-year-old never fucking blinked.
I tore a sign off a broken coke machine that said, “If you need coke, see manager”. I thought it was funny.
We ran a call to the hotel months later and I went by their room. The door was open and the room was vacant. They were long gone.
I want to write fiction because I am, admittedly, a control freak. I like everything to tie in together and make sense at the end. I love plot twists that, while unexpected, fit. I love writing characters that people hate to love and hate to hate. Fiction makes me feel alive, and driven. Writing fiction makes the author a god.
Writing on the reality of this world doesn’t always give me that heightened sense of existence. On a good day I see myself as a passenger, observant to the details of a world many of us do not know exist, at least existing so close to ours.
Then on a bad day…
I feel meaningless.
More than ever.
So I fight to remember the lessons learned in small hotel rooms. Never let anyone hold you hostage, even yourself. No one can tell me what I’m capable of.
Because I don’t know myself.
“Who’s going to tell you things aren’t so great? We can’t go on thinking nothing’s wrong…” - The Cars