Category: flash nonfiction

The Book of Lies


He had a collection of guns underneath his bed. They were casually stored there, the way one might store useless winter sweaters over a hot summer. I kept clothes under my bed, and he kept… guns.

I didn’t really know how to feel about the guns. We didn’t have children in the house, so it wasn’t a safety issue. It just seemed kind of intense and odd to sleep over a herd of guns; to fuck over the guns; to watch sitcoms on the television in bed, while laughing above the pile of guns.

The guns languished beneath us the entire year we dated, listening to our arguments, sex and snores, waiting for their moment in the sun.

The biggest gun was an SKS rifle. He took me to some land on his parents’ farm one afternoon, and let me shoot the SKS. It kicked back into me with a force I’d never felt when I shot guns on my own parents’ farm.

I didn’t like the way it felt. The SKS took the usual video game tomfoolery of smaller guns into the realm of certain death and destruction. It felt ominous. Apocalyptic.

He was hung up on power. He could never have enough power. He was a computer hacker who worked a straight job safeguarding the city’s computer system from other hackers. He referred to himself more than once as the Dark Horse.

He was also very secretive, and his browser history showed young girl porn websites I didn’t even want to begin to understand. His poorly hidden dresser drawer porn showed rape scenes with girls tied up by groups of men. It was more than disturbing.

I ran into an old friend at a local rock show who visibly blanched when I mentioned that I was dating this guy. He pulled me aside to talk about him.

“You know he worships Satan, right?”

“Ha ha, very funny,” I said dryly, assuming this person was exaggerating for effect.

“No, really, he worships the devil. I’m not kidding around. He’s totally into all of that black magic bullshit. Ask him.”

I assumed this person was just the victim of rumors gone wild. People see a guy who dresses in black, and they assume things like this because they need to categorize and label things they don’t understand. My boyfriend had never mentioned this to me before, so I did an inner eye-roll and dismissed what my friend in the bar had said. Mostly.

Eventually it started to nag at me. Yes, it seemed like a pretty big secret to keep from the person you were dating. But what kept making me wonder were the other dark secrets. The information my friend had shared made me uneasy. The boyfriend was obsessed with power, and the idea that he might play around with witchcraft and alternative philosophies to make himself feel mysterious wasn’t beyond comprehension.

But a Satanist? It made me cringe in embarrassment for him to think about it. It was so trite to dress in black and cast “spells” on the people you dislike. So childish. He was in his mid-twenties, for Chrissake. Surely he was past that high school-ish phase of rebellion?

I waited until he was taking a shower one day, and searched through his closet to see if I would find anything. The shower was downstairs, so this afforded me fifteen minutes of time alone.

Hurrying, I dug into the packed closet, scooting clothing, board games and boots aside. I didn’t know what I was hoping to find, but I knew that whatever it might be, it would be in the back.

Buried there under some sweaters, perhaps the sweaters displaced by the collection of guns under the bed, was a stack of books. Many of them were by a man named Aleister Crowley. There were books about black magic, rituals, the occult, voodoo, and ceremonial spells. I couldn’t believe it. My friend in the bar had been telling the truth.

I quickly looked through the books, then hid them back where I found them before he came back up the stairs from the shower.

The books were creepy, but what bothered me the most was the realization that I was being intimate with a complete stranger. I had no idea who this person was, or of what he was capable.

I’m not at all religious, and would have laughed along with him if he’d confessed that he’d dabbled in such things in his youth, because we’ve all done stupid things.

But I was haunted by this discovery, because what I really discovered was that I would have sex with someone I didn’t know very well.

I discovered that I was so superficial I would date someone who hid ugly things like rape porn and black magic spell books.

I discovered that I was shallow enough to be with someone completely pathetic, simply because it was better than being alone.

That was when the realization finally hit me that it wasn’t better than being alone at all. Because I was already alone the whole time. He wasn’t sharing himself with me in any way, and never would.

The incident completely changed the way I viewed him, and the way I viewed myself. I broke up with him soon thereafter.



He kept her trapped inside the winter of his life like a frozen flower.

He gave her no happy sunshine, no soul-quenching water, and no rich, nurturing soil in which she might grow. Instead, he made certain she would never thrive in the cold, hard, unbreakable ground of his disapproval.

He admitted this to her openly, that he kept her poor and unhappy so she would find the idea of life without him, the idea of life not-on-his-terms too daunting to try. He kept her broken, so she’d never feel whole and strong enough to run away.

So she prayed for warmth, wondering on the shortest, darkest days if joy would ever come back into her life. She began to question whether or not it had ever been there in the first place. She had forgotten what it felt like.

That harsh season, she learned that alone and lonely don’t always go hand-in-hand. Sometimes the loneliest one can ever be is in the arms of someone who isn’t really there. And sometimes when somebody says they’ve given you their love, they have actually given you nothing but empty words in the shape of a heart.

She continued to beg him for scraps of kindness, like a dog in a restaurant alley. He moved further away with every desperate plea she made. The unwanted mongrel of her weakness only filled him with disdain.

Please give me flowers, she would ask, wanting to feel appreciated.

Annoyed with her requests, he once brought home grocery store flowers, and tossed them at her in disgust.

“Here are the flowers you wanted so badly,” he sneered.

That really wasn’t what she meant.

He never understood.

What she really meant was please approve of me, in the way my father never did, and please genuinely care about me. Please want to take care of me, even though I can take care of myself. And even though I’ve proven I can live on nothing, give me something, simply because you want to, and not because you have to.

Stop making me feel like the afterthought I have been for every single person in my entire sad life.

Make me the first thing you think about every day.

She waited patiently through the solstice of her pain, life standing still and afraid to move, until one day she found the sun. The ice melted off her petals and she felt strong, like she could grow again.

She was finally ready to value herself in the way he never would. She finally knew her own worth. She was ready to leave.

It was springtime.



The word idyllic.

Tones On Tail.

The Replacements.


Cocteau Twins.

Anything argyle.


Hardwood floors.


Horn-rimmed glasses.

Khaki shorts.

Pixie haircuts on women.

Boulevard beers.

All of these things reminded her of him.

And honeysuckle.

Because he first explained honeysuckle to her when they were in the process of ending it all, during the long, drawn-out months post-breakup full of lunches eaten together under the guise of maintaining the friendship. When they would talk about whom they were dating, even mock the sexual style of those poor dumb bastards and oblivious girls who all thought they were the only ones.

And then, every week, after their friendship-maintaining lunch, they would have sex. It was always better than the sex they were having with the new people in their lives, because sex with someone gets better after years of practice together, but they remained apart until next time nonetheless. Dating. Single. Free. Lonely. Not lonely. Happy. Not happy. Figuring it out. Not figuring it out. Both floating lost in the weird in-between relationship atmosphere, on and off at the same time. Casually seeing other people, but reconnecting to see each other every week. Too afraid to completely let go.

She was still haunted by the things he told her about the girls he was dating. She remembered the one he told her about who wouldn’t take off her shirt during sex because her last boyfriend made her feel bad about her breasts, made her feel ugly. She still felt sad for that girl. She remembered his comments about the nipples of the other one he was seeing, the one who had three kids. He asked her what awful thing happened to women’s nipples when they breastfed babies to make them look that way, so rubbery and weird. He confessed that he couldn’t fuck the other one he was seeing because too many men she’d slept with came over to say hi when they were in public, making her seem dirty and used up.

She wondered what horrible things he told the new girls in his life about her. She hoped she was at least described as good in bed, since that seemed to be all she had left to offer him.

Once, while they were fucking loudly in his bedroom, a girl he was dating left him a bouquet of flowers by the back door of his house. They found the flowers on the way out of the house, as he was walking her out. It made her feel like the other woman, even though they’d dated for five years before the breakup. She didn’t like the feeling.

It was during one of these end-of-relationship moments, as they stood winding down the batteries on their love, that he mentioned the honeysuckle growing on the side of his house. He was walking her to her car. She was dirty from the sex. She wanted to get back to her apartment and shower. She felt dirty in her heart, too. She didn’t think the shower would help. She knew they wouldn’t meet again for a week. She had a date with another guy that night. He had a date with another girl.

He asked her if she’d ever tried honeysuckle, and she didn’t know what he meant. She gave him a puzzled look.

“You haven’t? Well, here’s what you do. Pluck a flower. Pull the sweet part out of the middle. And suck on it.”

Afterward, he discarded the dried up flower husk.

She wouldn’t realize until years later, staring at honeysuckle flowers with nostalgia washing sadly over her, that the moment had been the perfect metaphor for the end of their relationship. That together they were sucking every last bit of sweetness out of it and throwing away the empty shell.



I’m sitting in my grandma’s back room, the room where she keeps all of Grandpa’s junk. He goes to the swap meet every week where he sells and buys junk. I saw it once. It was like a big parking lot full of garbage piles and broken things. He thinks he makes a living at it, but Mom and Grandma make fun of him behind his back because they really know he just likes to buy crap. So now the back room is full of gross crap and the carpet is all brown. I feel kind of dirty every time I play in there, but it’s more exciting than hanging out with the grown-ups, so that’s where I sit a lot of the time. All of my uncles’ old toys and books are back here too, inside the cabinets, so that helps.

Right now there is a monkey in a small cage that is hanging from the ceiling by a chain. I don’t know what Grandpa traded to get it. It screams in a high-pitched voice that hurts my ears whenever it gets excited, and makes it hard for me to watch the Mutual of Omaha animal show I love on the big television below. Mom told me not to touch the monkey because if it bites me, I could get infected. I don’t want to touch the screaming monkey, so she doesn’t have to worry. I just wish it would shut up. It can scream during stupid boring Lawrence Welk all it wants, but I want it to be quiet during my show about the Wild Kingdom. I kind of want to yell, “Shut up, monkey!” but that feels mean.

Sometimes my great-grandma sits in the kitchen screaming things louder than the monkey. She only talks in German so I don’t understand her, and she scares me because she looks all gnarled and hunched over like a troll in that chair. Her cane is bumpy like she pulled off one of the arms of those scary grabbing trees in the Wizard of Oz and I’m scared of her cane too. I wish Grandma would move the good cereal out here in the back crap room so I would never have to go into the kitchen again. I have to walk past Great-Grandma Mueller to get to the bathroom, and I swear she tries to hit me with her cane, even if I squish up against the wall really hard, so sometimes I go outside and pee in the backyard instead. Don’t tell anyone.

Grandma has a pet turtle in the backyard. I learned in the third grade this year during science that it’s really called a tortoise because it’s land-dwelling and not water-dwelling, but I don’t care. I still like to call it a turtle. I like to watch it eat lettuce. It chews like a dinosaur, like one of the herbivore Brontosauruses and not like a meat-eating T. Rex. It stands under the orange trees with the magic protecting white paint around the bottoms and chews the lettuce while I pretend I’m looking at a scene from dinosaur times.

There’s a metal trash can in the backyard, under the patio shade part, and it has a sticker on it with a curse. It was a Do Not Litter sticker that used to say: “Pitch in!” but one of my nasty uncles changed the ‘P’ to a ‘B’ and I’m not supposed to say that word unless I’m talking about a female dog, which makes it okay. But I’m not, so I can’t say it out loud right now.

The curse trash can is next to a white metal shed that I can’t go in because of the Black Widow spiders. If they bite you, you can die, so you have to be really careful about not going in sheds here.

I’m going to go back inside and watch my animal show now. If they do a show about monkeys, I’m going to use my imagination to pretend that there is a way for me to magically put Grandpa’s screaming monkey into the television through the screen like a window, and send him back the land he came from. Maybe if he can talk to other monkeys and feel like somebody is listening to him and like somebody understands what he’s saying, he’ll stop screaming so much. Maybe then he’d be quiet like me.

Miss Congeniality

Shortly after being deflowered by the senior on whom I’d had a crush my entire 9th grade year in a small Missouri high school, I moved to Arizona to live with my biological father for the first time since I was 7, when he and my mother divorced.

My boyfriend was going to college in Colorado, and I wasn’t getting along with my mother and stepfather, so it seemed like a fresh start might be a good thing.

The boyfriend called me on the phone and we wrote letters back and forth while I lived in Arizona, finally culminating in an invitation to spend a week with him and his family, skiing Copper Mountain. I’d never gone skiing before and had to buy the ski suit and a winter coat for the trip.

After letting me pay for my own plane ticket to Colorado, he tried to seduce me in a resort hot tub, and then later had me sit in his car so he could play a song that “explained what he was feeling.” He played The Who song with the refrain, “No one knows what it’s like to be the bad man, to be the sad man… behind blue eyes.”

I sat in his black Honda CRX in confused silence, waiting to understand what the song meant, while he meaningfully sighed with his head in his hands. I didn’t understand that he was breaking up with me, and made him explain it. I didn’t know why he had been trying to fuck me in the hot tub if he was in love with another girl.

He finally had to spell it out, that he was the bad man, the sad man, behind his blue eyes. It was quite possibly the dorkiest way a girl has ever been dumped in the history of all dumpery, and I’ve hated that whiny song ever since. (Oh, poor you. Nobody knows what it’s like, how hard it is to be you, dumping me from behind your stupid Blue Eyes. I’m so sorry you’re sad.)

Luckily, his little sister was there, and only a grade below me in school. We immediately bonded, and she showed me pictures of the short, stocky girl with a huge gap between her front teeth for whom he was leaving me. He’d brought her picture along, and she ferreted it from his suitcase while he was out skiing. We made fun of her cheesy bikini pic.

Neither of us could make any sense of it, but I will forever love his sister for turning what should have been a nightmarish trip into an almost fun one. I was absolutely heartbroken, but she and I hung out and drank hot chocolate and boy-watched the rest of the trip. We forged a friendship far more valuable than the relationship I’d had with her brother.

I returned home to Arizona by plane, and proceeded to become clinically depressed. My usual A and B grades dropped, as I started sneaking alcohol and skipping school.


At some point that year, I flew home to visit my mother and stepfather in Missouri. I was allowed to go to a Shooting Star concert in Kansas City with my older sister and her boyfriend. My friend, the sister of the boy who’d dumped me at Copper Mountain was there with her boyfriend. He’d brought a friend along. A cute friend. A friend, they all told me, who had broken up with his girlfriend.

I’d known his girlfriend when I was moved to the small town in 6th grade. She did the thing where she turned bitchy and shitty to other girls (or at least to me) in the 7th and 8th grade. She was a somewhat popular, perky drill team-type, but I only remembered her as the girl who was nasty to me years before. I didn’t owe her anything.

Her ex-boyfriend was all over me, and we slept together. He was the second boy I ever slept with, and I flew back to Arizona to finish up the year.

My father later expressed his displeasure with my teenage rebellion via his fists, violently, repeatedly punching my face. A teacher reported my appearance, and Child Protective Services showed up at our house. It was determined I would move back to Missouri for my 11th grade year.

I didn’t want to go back, despite the beating that cost me my optic nerves and part of a front tooth, so my parents pretended I was coming back for a summer visit and had my biological father mail my belongings in boxes to Missouri.

I felt violated once again, knowing my father had been through my personal things to pack them, and violated by my mother and stepfather because they’d lied to me. I felt alone and completely unwanted by all of the adults in my life. “Here, you take her. We’re sick of her,” they all seemed to be saying.


The tiny not-quite-population-3000 town in which my Missouri high school was located had a Fall Fiesta every year, during which a Fall Fiesta Queen would be crowned.

These types of “who’s the prettiest?” contests repulse me, and I didn’t want to take part. The classes at school, however, voted to pick one girl to represent them. Guess who the 11th grade picked that year? Yep. Little old me. I was flattered, mortified, and confused, wondering if they’d picked me as some sort of elaborate prank. I’m not a tiny blonde beauty queen stereotype: I’m a tall red-haired awkward chick from way back.

I still don’t know why they picked me. I wasn’t popular. I was the class weirdo. It was probably funny to them to make me represent them in the stupid contest.

Not willing to spend money on a dress, my mom had me wear my confirmation gown- a white, high-necked, lace-infested creation that made me look like I’d just slid sidesaddle off the back of a horse in the 1800s. It was hideous and utterly wrong for a beauty pageant.

The girl whose boyfriend had broken up with her was in the contest. She was a brown-eyed, brown-haired, chipmunk-cheeked cheerleader in the right kind of shiny, slinky dress, and had found a business to sponsor her.

They’d gotten back together and she’d heard about our tryst. I’d avoided her at school, but now we were confined in close quarters, marching around like show ponies for the judges. She asked me to step outside and talk to her.

I know you slept with my boyfriend last year!” she said accusingly.

He told me you were broken up,” I replied.

No he didn’t!”

Yes, he did! And so did all of the friends we were hanging out with that night!”

Well we were together!”

Why would I know that? I didn’t even LIVE HERE. Why aren’t you mad at HIM? He’s the one who lied to everyone, apparently!”

She huffed back into the community center where we were being judged for our looks.

Of course she won Fall Fiesta Queen. Of course.

And I won Miss Congeniality. No shit.

I jokingly referred to the little silver necklace charm they gave me as my “you weren’t pretty enough to win, but gosh darn it, you’re friendly” award. It made me laugh that I so badly didn’t want to be in a gross beauty pageant, was forced to by the vote of my classmates, and then won the happy to be here award. Beautiful.

The girl ended up having a daughter with the guy I slept with during their Ross and Rachel break/not a break, and eventually separated permanently.


Oddly enough, I was reminded of this as I live-tweeted the bizarre moaning of a trainer lifting weights at my gym yesterday. She’s a stringy, spray-tan-orange woman over 60 (or extremely sun-damaged), and she trains other women while I ride the exercise bike. She loves neon colors, and this day was wearing shockingly hot pink shoes.

I was trying to read a novel on my Kindle Fire as I pedaled, but she was being so loud it was pulling me out of the story. We were the only two people in the small gym. I joked on Twitter that if I closed my eyes, I could pretend I was in a porn film, but I wasn’t really joking. It was making me uncomfortable.

Her first client of the day came in, a grey-haired, chatty woman, and thankfully she stopped lifting weights and groaning in her creepily sexual way.

Unfortunately, that was when the talking began. Still couldn’t focus on my book.

The women began to have a conversation about treadmills, the benefits of eating raw Manuka honey, and the client, in her southern accent, told a long story about how her brothers always beat her at Monopoly as a child, and she hated that game because they’d never let her quit, forcing her to play to the bitter end, but when she won Miss Congeniality in a beauty contest, her brothers said, “See? We were training you for your Miss Congeniality win by forcing you to stick with the Monopoly games.”

And this reminded me of winning Miss Congeniality so many years ago in the ugly white lace dress I wore for my Lutheran confirmation in the small town Missouri Fall Fiesta Queen pageant I never wanted to be in with the girl who hated me for sleeping with her boyfriend when he either lied to me, her, or both of us when they were or weren’t on a break and standing on a stage while she won prettiest and I won friendliest.


Someone on Twitter asked me if my winning Miss Congeniality/the odd gym interactions I was describing were “true story or Twitter fiction” so I wrote this true story out for her, because truth is almost always stranger than fiction.

And inspiration comes from the wackiest places, doesn’t it?






My LA. Neighbors



A few years ago, before we moved to the Midwest, my husband and I lived in a decrepit apartment building just off Hollywood Boulevard. We were mere blocks away from Grauman’s Chinese Theater and a music school.

Because of the location, our building was filled with mostly transgendered individuals and musicians. Aspiring women and aspiring rock stars. It was an always interesting and sometimes annoying combination.

The transgendered folks were often coming home from a late night as I left for the 5 a.m. to noon grocery store shift that paid my bills. The the elevator would reek of cheap perfume and cigarettes, with partially finished beers sitting on the stained carpet. I much preferred the pretty ladies with great legs and large feet to my musician neighbors.

Perplexing to those who know that I am a musician myself? Probably. Let me explain by quoting a passage from my Musician’s Handbook for you.

“Musician Manners 101:

First Rule: You DO NOT have band practice where you live, if you live in an apartment building or a house that is in close proximity to neighbors. Firstly: it is rude. Secondly: they will call the cops on you.”

Duh, right? This seems obvious to me.

The entire time I lived in Los Angeles, I played music in bands. There are many places that allow a band to rent a practice room by the hour, usually in the $15 to $30 range. (The cheapest places were in North Hollywood, but there was a costly place just down the street from me, in West Hollywood, that we’d use in a pinch.)

When you split the rental fee amongst band members, it is quite bearable. A small price to pay to rock freely and loudly as you’d like. Many of these places even have a drum set already waiting in each practice room, amplifiers available for the guitar players and a P.A. system complete with microphones for vocals. I thought it was a great deal and enjoyed the “not having to lug a bunch of musical gear around” factor. Just show up, play your music, pay and leave. Painless.

For some reason, maybe because they knew they were a majority, the musicians in our apartment building played loud, amplified guitars and sang constantly in their tiny apartments. The building was old, the walls were thin. It was like being at a rock show if someone a wall over, under or above decided to play. Pretty much any time of day, there was somebody being really loud somewhere nearby. It sucked.

The people below us often played wanky guitar licks with fuzzy, obnoxious distortion and would have sing-along parties late into the night. These parties usually ended with the couple who lived there having one of their late-night drunken, screaming, slamming doors, 20-something fights. With a 4 a.m. daily wake-up call for my aforementioned job, you can imagine that these parties thrilled me pieces.

Pieces of angry, exhausted, 30-something rage.

Once, when my husband went downstairs to ask them to turn the amplifier down, he was rebuffed with, “But dude, I just got a new amp.”

Oh… sorry. Well in that case, pleeeease turn it UP and play that Coldplay song you’ve been playing over and over again for the last hour at least sixty more times. Sorry we bothered you… dude.

This brings me to another problem I had with my fellow musicians/apartment dwellers: their musical taste. If you’re going to play other people’s music constantly, can I at least CHOOSE the songs? The guy below us had a nineties mayonnaise alterna-drivel boner that nearly beiged me to death, and the guy whose balcony was directly across from our balcony loved to butcher cheesy eighties songs.

I sang in an eighties cover band for awhile. It was a blast, I made good money, but I’ve heard those songs played the way they were supposed to be played- by excellent musicians. This guy did not even come close.

The cheesy eighties songs guy was what prompted me to write this, actually. I was reminded of him when Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” came on our car radio this morning. My husband and I both immediately said, “I wonder where that guy’s getting stoned and singing off-key now?”

We used to hear him smoking up through the screen of our balcony. The tap-tap-tap as he cleaned out his pipe on the edge of the ashtray. The scratchy click! of the lighter. Next, the smell would come wafting across the way. The Official Smell of the Unmotivated. The Smell of Rock Concerts Past. The Smell of You’re Not Going to Sleep Until I’m Done, Neighbors. We learned his routine, and knew that if we heard the pot smoking, off-key singing accompanying a poorly-played guitar would soon follow.

“Time After Time” was a favorite of this guy, but not his long-suffering neighbors. He didn’t even come close to hitting the right notes, and often we’d sing along loudly across the balcony air in his direction, trying to alert him to this fact. “If you’re lost you can look and you will find me! Time after time!” we’d scream together across the way. Sometimes we tried to harmonize with him.

My husband went over to tell him to knock it off many times, the last time being when the guy finally snapped at him: “Go ahead! Call the police! I don’t care,” probably because the police would be an improvement over the 6’5″ neighbor with “no verbal filter” as my husband will sometimes apologetically explain. (He’s a say-what-he-means, no bullshit sort of guy. I deeply love this about him.)

My husband replied, “Okay, I will… and I’ll be sure to mention that I smell pot every time you open your door as well.”

So he called the police. He also mentioned the interesting smell. After making us deal with his caterwauling for a year, the guy moved out within two weeks. We never saw him again.

Something Shimmering and White



It was one of those transitional periods on the Timeline of Me. I was unhappily exploring the post-divorce state of flux through which 60% of all married people must statistically travel. Unoriginally as the thousands of country music songs on the subject might imply, I was using alcohol as my navigational system.

Having failed at what trendy writers would flippantly dub my starter marriage, I was looking for something; the next good thing. I didn’t really know what it was yet, so I hoped I’d know it when I found it, and wouldn’t be too drunk to say hello.

There was a party house in our smaller college town that my friends and I often called home. It was one of those lovely, interesting-but-crumbling Victorians with high ceilings and windows full of old glass that seemed thicker at the bottom, time-melted over the view of the past.

The homeowner was an older musician with a free spirit and a lot of weed. There was a steady river of alcohol moving through the house, along with the streams of young, searching girls, trying to find themselves by getting lost. In simpler words; I fit in perfectly.

On this night, a large group of us had watched a touring band play their music at a local bar. The band came back to the party house with us to drink and be merry. Cigarettes were smoked, music was turned up, neighbors were tolerant. I found myself sitting in a corner with the guitar player of the band, drinking beer and effortlessly talking. We were clicking as intellectually as slobbering drunks might click, and he seemed like a really nice guy.

While we chatted, we got on the subject of music. He asked me if I liked a band called The Church, and agreed when I enthusiastically told him that their song Under the Milky Way was one of my top ten songs ever. It is a wistful, moody, gorgeous song that I still love to this day.

This was mentioned in passing, one topic in a series of many, and we didn’t dwell. Conversation moved onward, and soon, he did too. Someone joined our discussion, and under the guise of getting another beer, the guitar player I’d been talking with left the party. His sudden disappearance registered briefly, but I kept drinking, and like most coherent thoughts, the event was washed away in the tide of alcohol.

The party wound down. The owner of the house had extra beds, and being in no shape to drive, I was offered one. I gratefully accepted and stumbled to the spare room.

I had just settled under the covers to pass out when I heard a knock at the door. I sleepily asked who was there as the guitar player from earlier poked his head in the room. He was holding an acoustic guitar and asked to come in. I said that would be okay, and he walked in, sitting down on the edge of my bed. I sat up against my pillow, the wall behind me nobly bearing my beer-relaxed muscles and hothouse flower demeanor.

It was one of those very moonlit nights when the world feels like daytime soaked in honey, and I could see his face clearly. He noticed my curious glance at the acoustic guitar and explained that after we talked, he had gone to the band van and learned a song for me. I somewhat numbly took in what he was saying, not really comprehending what was happening. He stopped talking and started playing the guitar softly.

Sometimes when this place gets kind of empty, sound of their breath fades with the light, I think about the loveless fascination, under the Milky Way tonight,” he sang quietly.

It was the song I had mentioned earlier; the pretty song I loved by The Church—now a lullaby for a lonely, drunken girl. The lyrics couldn’t have been more appropriate for me at that place in time; feeling small, meaningless and alone as one does standing under an endless night sky, wishing I knew what I was looking for, like the chorus repeated.

The subtle performance was a heart-wrenchingly earnest auditory hug. It didn’t feel like a flashy musician’s attempt to dazzle his way into my pants, it felt like an offering; like a little, hopeful flicker of candle light to hold inside when I was feeling dark.

After he finished, I slurred that it was absolutely beautiful. He smiled, tucked me back under the covers and told me to sleep well. He then left the room without attempting so much as a goodnight kiss, preserving the moment as something I would always remember fondly, rather than becoming just another groping stranger I would try to forget.

The next day we all woke up hung-over and rumpled to have coffee, with the friendly morning banter of people bonded through vices of the night before. Before the guitar player got in the band van to drive to the next town on tour, he handed me a CD of his band’s music. We hugged in silence, and they drove away.

I later opened the CD to find he’d written a message. It said, “You have the most amazing aura I’ve ever seen.” It made me cry, because at that point in my young, dysfunctional life, I couldn’t believe someone would say something so sweet to me without ulterior motive; with nothing to gain.

He had achieved the nearly impossible; he’d made a sad, insecure girl feel special and appreciated as a human being. This stranger I’d known one night had managed to do something more romantic, thoughtful and selfless than the guy I was drinking to forget had ever done in the years we were together.

I have kept the CD as a reminder of the worthiness of my soul all these years, occasionally pulling it out during moves to open, read, and carefully pack into my nostalgic belongings. I never spoke to the guitar player who gave it to me again, but when I think about that night, I smile, and sincerely hope he has had a wonderful life.


*The video for Under the Milky Way, by The Church:


(Photo credit: “Milky Way Road” by Landolfi… please contact me for removal, or to share a link to this talented photographer. I think this picture is gorgeous.)