First 10 Pages of “Mental” for Submission

Prologue

I am a bag of chemicals. Sometimes I am only the slightest breeze; then, maybe I am more. If my life has any purpose, it is not in living for others. I am alone. I am unhappy. There is nothing new about this.

None of this may make sense to you, but it could still be true. No one I know tells the truth. Everyone I know tells me to find my own truth.

I am tired of being polite and wearing pearls. I am tired of standing in front of a room filled with children, a place where there can be no peace. If it is true that there must be a god, then mine saved me to write this down.

This is a very different type of book. I have a voice that can no longer remain quiet. I have a voice that can sing a song no one has heard before, but everyone somehow already knows. I will say what I think, even if I am the only one listening.

How can you really share an experience? How can you really understand another person? Spirituality and art are all there is. An honest expression is the only truth. What is real is subjective.

Who really cares about art or honesty or spirituality? Maybe they don’t really even exist at all. Maybe those things are just things you thought people were talking about when they were really talking about paying bills and growing up.

I have just spent a few hours reading this stuff that I just wrote. Even I was having a hard time following what I saying because words actually do fail the insane, and then people are forced to read between the lines of what they write.

Just know that this crazy person longs for someone to read what she writes and try to understand it the way that she tries to understand legitimate art from famous people she emulates.

Will someone someday think I was right about something? Probably not. People will probably use this “novella” to commit me permanently because unfortunately, I still have cadillac insurance.

Maybe it is just the typing of words that brings a faint peace. Maybe it doesn’t really matter if your sister or your mother or your students understand you, after all.

Maybe it is inescapable that the things I have written down will be interpreted as me going crazy and rambling about how unfortunate I am. I am mystified by people who actually think that they can write about life. Maybe it is inevitable that I will survive on the brink of confusion for the rest of my life, and that it is just plain stupid to try and make sense of that.  

 


“You can search throughout the universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”    —Buddha

 

PART ONE

Chapter One

I went to sleep one night when I was seventeen and slept undisturbed for a few hours that school night in the middle of January during my senior year of high school. I woke myself up in the middle of the night during what I thought was a terrible nightmare.

My bedroom door suddenly flew open so forcefully that it slammed closed again. I opened my eyes. I saw my dad throw the door back open and walk into my bedroom, then slam the door shut again. I didn’t know why he closed the door at first because we were the only ones living in the house.

My father was smiling strangely to himself and I closed my eyes before he looked at me—so that he would think I was still asleep. My dad had been coming quietly into my room since middle school—so I thought at first he was just going to stand over my bed and look at me while I pretended to be asleep, like he had been doing since I was eleven.

But I was confused with all of the noise he was making. I waited. There was a huge cold stone in my stomach, waiting while he is breathing in and out, in and out, next to my bed…

He is staring at me while I pretend to sleep, but this time is different because I feel like something really bad is about to happen for some reason. I am afraid he is going to punch me awake or something.

I know somehow that I should not move an inch. I can smell the alcohol on his breath—it is very pungent, and I know that he is quite drunk and probably in the middle of a blackout. I am afraid.

Before I open my eyes, I feel his weight on my mattress and hear his zipper. Now I know what he is about to do and it is the thing I have been afraid of for years; but, especially most recently because during another blackout, he had told me that he wanted to be with a woman who was exactly like me!

I tell myself I’m overreacting and that this is just a nightmare. He is adjusting my body, he is taking off my pants and underwear, he is half-naked and so am I. What a terrifying nightmare I am having, I think. I wonder if I can wake up? But I cannot move.

He is silent. He is having his way with me, even though I haven’t moved a muscle. He is staring at me but has a far-away look, and I am barely peeking with my eyes because I want him to think he can’t wake me up.

I don’t want to confront him—he has become a violent man during this divorce. I don’t want to see what is happening to my body, and what I fear will happen to my soul.

I was so sad when I went to sleep, I thought, but every pore of my skin is hot and sweaty and depressed and shocked and terribly saddened with every flick of his chrissakes and every blink of his eyes and every curl of his lips. I am being raped by my own father! How will I survive something like this, and what if I get pregnant?

When he is finished, he simply gets off me, puts on his pants and goes back to my parents’ room, which is only his room now. He doesn’t say a word, and leaves without making any noise. He just quietly shuts my bedroom door and disappears like he was never there in the first place.

I am so beside myself that I do not move after he leaves the room. I do not put on my pants or underwear. I just fall back asleep like it never happened, telling myself it was just another one of my very vivid nightmares.

Chapter Two

Eve and I are “identical” twin sisters. Made from the same sperm and the same egg, easily confusing people we’ve just met, sharing a Jack-and-Jill bathroom in the same house. But, we are not the same people. She and I still have many different experiences, and still see things we’ve experienced together in very different ways.

If I could pluck them out of us and hold them in my hand, those differences would be almost as shocking to me as the difference between life and death. That is why I am writing this about her, about me. I have to understand her to understand myself, and understand myself to understand her. The simple differences are too complicated to tease out any other way.

You know, I’m just gonna confess up front. This isn’t all my work, and you would have figured it out had I pretended it was. You see, when my sister is out, I snoop around. One day, I found a bunch of her journals, and I have been borrowing from them ever since. But you’re okay with this sort of thing, right?

Think of me as a friend of yours who just stopped by on the way to a party and asked you if you wanted to come with. And you do want to come with. You aren’t sure that I’ll be able to drive you home because you know I love my liquor and pot a little more than the next kid. But you agree to go, anyway, because it sounds like fun and you are very bored and restless.

So, one night, at the beginning of last semester, Chloe, my sister’s best friend, and Eve had thrown this huge party at Chloe’s place. By the time she showed up, late as usual, my sister was the last in our group of friends to arrive. Eve had tried to back out of going at all, but Chloe had held firm that Eve had to at least make an obligatory appearance since she was a co-host, even if she was sick.

Eve got out of her car, stepped out into the darkness and the wind. She double-checked that her doors were locked before crossing the street and walking toward the loud music and the shrieks and giggles that was the party everyone was going to that night. She was alone, but her boyfriend, two best friends and friends from college were in there somewhere, making noise.  

She stopped to double-check her appearance, looked down at her faded jeans, the ones she had worn through high school and college, the ones with the rip in the left knee, the frayed bottoms and the hole in the butt which she had patched when she was 20. She had just recently started wearing those jeans again, had just recently been able to put them on again. Her shirt, too, was old and faded—familiar with it’s tired brown cotton, it’s lazy too long sleeves, it’s soft overwashed feel. She reached up her hands and felt her hair, so short now, barely enough to get messed up now.  

She felt about as ready as she was going to feel, and started walking again toward the sounds and the beer and the promise of vomit and pot.

People hung in groups in front of the apartment, talking and making racket. She scanned them for familiar faces, for recognition. Some of them were not old enough to drink, were probably still underclassmen, were too dressed up, too stiff, too concerned with looking cool—probably still striding the fence between going Greek and doing their own things.  

The ones dressed like war victims, with dirty hair and sunburned skin—those were the people she knew, her friends that still went to UT. They did things like drop acid and read poetry to each other, or started bands with names like “Lobster Bisque and the Nihilists” that never played any gigs but did have promotional bumper stickers, or spent the summer gutting fish in an Alaskan cannery, just for kicks.  

They saved up money to go camping for a month in South Dakota, or learned Spanish just to be able to buy drugs at Mexican prices when they backpacked through Monterrey. They still brought kites along with them for an all-day picnic/Frisbee fest at Zilker Park. They still thought that listening to music was preferable to watching it, even though they had been weaned on MTV.

They hadn’t made their minds up about how they felt about their childhoods, the concept of marriage, and had spent even less time paying attention to how much it costs to buy a house and a car and support babies.

They were a bit on the intellectual side, talking about welfare and grad school, politics and art, but without ever thinking they knew what they were talking about.

They were ambivalent about getting their degrees or contributing to a society that they had fundamental disagreements with, even though they weren’t sure yet just what all those disagreements were.

They were giving themselves time. They were interesting.   

“Hey, is that Eve? It is…how the hell have you been, girl?” said a slightly drunk guy who wore old army surplus shorts that were too big, dusty sandals and a faded red thrift store tee-shirt. He was clutching one of those refillable 64 ounce cups that say “The Hog” on them from like 1988 that some people still have–it was all cracked and hard to read, spilling over with cheap keg beer.

He walked toward her with a huge grin. She recognized him as Martin, friend from the dorms and also a freshman history class, ex-boyfriend of a few of her friends, known to some as king of the water bong. She hadn’t seen him since two years before she graduated, and that meant about 3 years.

“Martin—“she hugged him, “what the hell!?” They laughed. He held her at arm’s’ length, squinting.

“I almost didn’t recognize you…cut all your hair off, eh? Did you end up getting into Columbia?”

“How’s the five-year plan going?”  she asked, hoping that he’d catch her bait.

Official Sample of “Mental” for Literary Fiction Agents, as of 10/27/17

For Every Girl Who Fears She’s Broken

 

Prologue

I am a bag of chemicals. Sometimes I am only the slightest breeze; then, maybe I am more. If my life has any purpose, it is not in living for others. I am alone. I am unhappy. There is nothing new about this.

None of this may make sense to you, but it could still be true. No one I know tells the truth. Everyone I know tells me to find my own truth.

I am tired of being polite and wearing pearls. I am tired of standing in front of a room filled with children, a place where there can be no peace. If it is true that there must be a god, then mine saved me to write this down.

This is a very different type of book. I have a voice that can no longer remain quiet. I have a voice that can sing a song no one has heard before, but everyone somehow already knows. I will say what I think, even if I am the only one listening.

How can you really share an experience? How can you really understand another person? Spirituality and art are all there is. An honest expression is the only truth. What is real is subjective.

Who really cares about art or honesty or spirituality? Maybe they don’t really even exist at all. Maybe those things are just things you thought people were talking about when they were really talking about paying bills and growing up.

I have just spent a few hours reading this stuff that I just wrote. Even I was having a hard time following what I saying because words actually do fail the insane, and then people are forced to read between the lines of what they write.

Just know that this crazy person longs for someone to read what she writes and try to understand it the way that she tries to understand legitimate art from famous people she emulates.

Will someone someday think I was right about something? Probably not. People will probably use this “novella” to commit me permanently because unfortunately, I still have cadillac insurance.

Maybe it is just the typing of words that brings a faint peace. Maybe it doesn’t really matter if your sister or your mother or your students understand you, after all.

Maybe it is inescapable that the things I have written down will be interpreted as me going crazy and rambling about how unfortunate I am. I am mystified by people who actually think that they can write about life. Maybe it is

inevitable that I will survive on the brink of confusion for the rest of my life, and that it is just plain stupid to try and make sense of that.  

 

PART ONE

“You can search throughout the universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”    —Buddha

 

Chapter One

I went to sleep one night when I was seventeen and slept undisturbed for a few hours that school night in the middle of January during my senior year of high school. I woke myself up in the middle of the night during what I thought was a terrible nightmare.

My bedroom door suddenly flew open so forcefully that it slammed closed again. I opened my eyes. I saw my dad throw the door back open and walk into my bedroom, then slam the door shut again. I didn’t know why he closed the door at first because we were the only ones living in the house.

My father was smiling strangely to himself and I closed my eyes before he looked at me—so that he would think I was still asleep. My dad had been coming quietly into my room since middle school—so I thought at first he was just going to stand over my bed and look at me while I pretended to be asleep, like he had been doing since I was eleven.

But I was confused with all of the noise he was making. I waited. There was a huge cold stone in my stomach, waiting while he is breathing in and out, in and out, next to my bed…

He is staring at me while I pretend to sleep, but this time is different because I feel like something really bad is about to happen for some reason. I am afraid he is going to punch me awake or something.

I know somehow that I should not move an inch. I can smell the alcohol on his breath—it is very pungent, and I know that he is quite drunk and probably in the middle of a blackout. I am afraid.

Before I open my eyes, I feel his weight on my mattress and hear his zipper. Now I know what he is about to do and it is the thing I have been afraid of for years; but, especially most recently because during another blackout, he had told me that he wanted to be with a woman who was exactly like me!

I tell myself I’m overreacting and that this is just a nightmare. He is adjusting my body, he is taking off my pants and underwear, he is half-naked and so am I. What a terrifying nightmare I am having, I think. I wonder if I can wake up? But I cannot move.

He is silent. He is having his way with me, even though I haven’t moved a muscle. He is staring at me but has a far-away look, and I am barely peeking with my eyes because I want him to think he can’t wake me up.

I don’t want to confront him—he has become a violent man during this divorce. I don’t want to see what is happening to my body, and what I fear will happen to my soul.

I was so sad when I went to sleep, I thought, but every pore of my skin is hot and sweaty and depressed and shocked and terribly saddened with every flick of his chrissakes and every blink of his eyes and every curl of his lips. I am being raped by my own father! How will I survive something like this, and what if I get pregnant?

When he is finished, he simply gets off me, puts on his pants and goes back to my parents’ room, which is only his room now. He doesn’t say a word, and leaves without making any noise. He just quietly shuts my bedroom door and disappears like he was never there in the first place.

I am so beside myself that I do not move after he leaves the room. I do not put on my pants or underwear. I just fall back asleep like it never happened, telling myself it was just another one of my very vivid nightmares.

Chapter Two

Eve and I are “identical” twin sisters. Made from the same sperm and the same egg, easily confusing people we’ve just met, sharing a Jack-and-Jill bathroom in the same house. But, we are not the same people. She and I still have many different experiences, and still see things we’ve experienced together in very different ways.

If I could pluck them out of us and hold them in my hand, those differences would be almost as shocking to me as the difference between life and death. That is why I am writing this about her, about me. I have to understand her to understand myself, and understand myself to understand her. The simple differences are too complicated to tease out any other way.

You know, I’m just gonna confess up front. This isn’t all my work, and you would have figured it out had I pretended it was. You see, when my sister is out, I snoop around. One day, I found a bunch of her journals, and I have been borrowing from them ever since. But you’re okay with this sort of thing, right?

Think of me as a friend of yours who just stopped by on the way to a party and asked you if you wanted to come with. And you do want to come with. You aren’t sure that I’ll be able to drive you home because you know I love my liquor and pot a little more than the next kid. But you agree to go, anyway, because it sounds like fun and you are very bored and restless.

So, one night, at the beginning of last semester, Chloe, my sister’s best friend, and Eve had thrown this huge party at Chloe’s place. By the time she showed up, late as usual, my sister was the last in our group of friends to arrive. Eve had tried to back out of going at all, but Chloe had held firm that Eve had to at least make an obligatory appearance since she was a co-host, even if she was sick.

Eve got out of her car, stepped out into the darkness and the wind. She double-checked that her doors were locked before crossing the street and walking toward the loud music and the shrieks and giggles that was the party everyone was going to that night. She was alone, but her boyfriend, two best friends and friends from college were in there somewhere, making noise.  

She stopped to double-check her appearance, looked down at her faded jeans, the ones she had worn through high school and college, the ones with the rip in the left knee, the frayed bottoms and the hole in the butt which she had patched when she was 20. She had just recently started wearing those jeans again, had just recently been able to put them on again. Her shirt, too, was old and faded—familiar with it’s tired brown cotton, it’s lazy too long sleeves, it’s soft overwashed feel. She reached up her hands and felt her hair, so short now, barely enough to get messed up now.  

She felt about as ready as she was going to feel, and started walking again toward the sounds and the beer and the promise of vomit and pot.

People hung in groups in front of the apartment, talking and making racket. She scanned them for familiar faces, for recognition. Some of them were not old enough to drink, were probably still underclassmen, were too dressed up, too stiff, too concerned with looking cool—probably still striding the fence between going Greek and doing their own things.  

The ones dressed like war victims, with dirty hair and sunburned skin—those were the people she knew, her friends that still went to UT. They did things like drop acid and read poetry to each other, or started bands with names like “Lobster Bisque and the Nihilists” that never played any gigs but did have promotional bumper stickers, or spent the summer gutting fish in an Alaskan cannery, just for kicks.  

They saved up money to go camping for a month in South Dakota, or learned Spanish just to be able to buy drugs at Mexican prices when they backpacked through Monterrey. They still brought kites along with them for an all-day picnic/Frisbee fest at Zilker Park. They still thought that listening to music was preferable to watching it, even though they had been weaned on MTV.

They hadn’t made their minds up about how they felt about their childhoods, the concept of marriage, and had spent even less time paying attention to how much it costs to buy a house and a car and support babies.

They were a bit on the intellectual side, talking about welfare and grad school, politics and art, but without ever thinking they knew what they were talking about.

They were ambivalent about getting their degrees or contributing to a society that they had fundamental disagreements with, even though they weren’t sure yet just what all those disagreements were.

They were giving themselves time. They were interesting.   

“Hey, is that Eve? It is…how the hell have you been, girl?” said a slightly drunk guy who wore old army surplus shorts that were too big, dusty sandals and a faded red thrift store tee-shirt. He was clutching one of those refillable 64 ounce cups that say “The Hog” on them from like 1988 that some people still have–it was all cracked and hard to read, spilling over with cheap keg beer.

He walked toward her with a huge grin. She recognized him as Martin, friend from the dorms and also a freshman history class, ex-boyfriend of a few of her friends, known to some as king of the water bong. She hadn’t seen him since two years before she graduated, and that meant about 3 years.

“Martin—“she hugged him, “what the hell!?” They laughed. He held her at arm’s’ length, squinting.

“I almost didn’t recognize you…cut all your hair off, eh? Did you end up getting into Columbia?”

“How’s the five-year plan going?”  she asked, hoping that he’d catch her bait.

“More like 6, it looks like. Hey, go grab a beer—the keg’s around back. Aaron and Steve and Mike are in there somewhere, too. And Chloe just introduced me to Sam—good for you, a grad student. Maybe we’ll start seeing more of you now,  huh?”

“Yeah…good to see you again, man. Later.”

Eve headed for the front door, smiling at the strange, drunk faces and trying to seem festive. She felt out of place, and tired. She felt sad about this. She smiled anyway.  

The tiny apartment was stuffed with bodies that huddled together on the couch, or pressed up against the refrigerator in the kitchen to watch other bodies take shots of tequila, or sat on the stairs talking and inadvertently preventing other bodies from climbing the stairs to the bathroom or to Chloe’s bedroom, which had almost surely been taken over by the potheads by now.

Too many bodies filled the two couches that Eve and Chloe had dumpster-dove for when Chloe got this place last year. And, even with the air-conditioner on, the combination of overcapacity and square footage always produced the feeling that they were throwing a party during August in hell. It was almost eleven, and things were really starting to roll.

Eve wanted to get stoned. Drunk first, then stoned. She knew that Sam did not

approve of this—she would try to sneak around him, but knew that he’d still know and be a little confused and disappointed. It was the same with her cigarettes, she thought, as she lit one and inhaled and stood in the doorway. He didn’t understand why she had to do these things.

She told him once that it was because she couldn’t think of a good enough reason not to, but he had gotten upset over that just like the time that she told him to make sure that she was cremated, instead of buried, in case anything ever happened to her.

Someone cranked up the stereo in the living room, and Eve watched people get up to dance. There wasn’t much room to dance, but they moved as much furniture out of the way as they could to make room for the flailing and stomping and tribal movements they were looking forward to.

They seemed so absorbed and oblivious, so happy to move, that it made Eve feel a little lighter. She would join them when she was drunk; she headed for the kitchen to find something to drink.

Drink. Drink. Drink, she thought to herself.  Need a drink. In the kitchen, she made her way past arms and legs and heads and torsos to the cabinet, got a glass, and excused herself to open the refrigerator to find her signature drink. She and Chloe liked to kid that they were addicted to screwdrivers; each girl kept a pitcher of the drink in her fridge at all times.  

“Thanks, girl.” she said aloud to a Chloe who wasn’t there, but probably was two steps away from passing out in her bedroom. Chloe said that drama queens always needed plenty of two things to smooth out the rough edges: screwdrivers and pot.  

She took a big gulp, closed her eyes. She remembered what her friend Jacob said to her recently when she told him that she hated herself now because she didn’t think she had any morals.  

He had said that she should stop beating herself up over cheating on Sam.

“It’s just one mistake. Everyone messes up.  You can’t build your identity around one mistake. Just try to find out why you did it, why you thought it was okay at the time to do it.

“Because you are a good person, and you do have morals. You proved that to me enough over the years, and I know that there is a good reason to explain why you did this. Try to ask yourself why.”   

“How will finding out why I cheated on Sam help me?” she had asked, not getting it, but thinking it might be worth trying because Jacob, her high school boyfriend and now other best friend, always seemed to have such a calmer, more successful approach to managing his own life.

Why? Why? Why? She asks herself in the kitchen. Nothing comes to her.  

“So, this Chinese couple are on their honeymoon,” a drunk teenager tells her friends while Eve listens. “And they’re really conservative and haven’t had sex yet ever, and so the husband says to his wife, ‘Tell me what you want…I want to please you.’ And the wife asks, ‘Anything?’ And the Chinese man says, ‘Anything.’  So the wife giggles and says, ‘I’d like to try a 69.’ And the husband looks confused and says, ‘Beef and broccoli?’”

Everyone within earshot laughs. Eve laughs.  She decides to leave the kitchen and find Chloe, and maybe get stoned with her.

Time out, you as the reader say. What is the point of this story? You are tired of waiting for a point. I guess, as the author, I owe you some sort of explanation. Here goes nothing…

So, Eve is a young woman who has just recently had a breakdown, which her friends and family and new therapist have attributed to her career as a high school English teacher. She has major doubts about this because her grandmother and uncle on her dad’s side committed suicide, and her grandfather and mother are alcoholics. She is afraid she is a suicidal alcoholic.  

She has been diagnosed with Major Depression, and takes Wellbutrin. She sees her therapist regularly, but lies to her so that she can feel better about herself. But the problem is, she doesn’t feel better about herself for long. She thinks about death too much. She also hates herself, but I think I told you about that already.

You might be wondering what caused the breakdown. Me, too.


Chapter Three

Well, I hope you can excuse my writing style. I’m trying my best; but, to tell you the truth, this is my first shot at writing a novella…I know you’re probably not surprised to hear that, but I thought I’d admit it anyway. I hope I’m not ripping that guy Salinger off too badly, but I probably am because Catcher in the Rye’s my favorite novel and I’ve read it about a million times. That’s an obvious exaggeration, but you know what I mean.

There’s a character in that novel, at the very beginning, who throws the football around with Holden Caufield. That guy has the same name as my father. Really, I’m not kidding. First and last names, just not spelled exactly the same. I couldn’t believe it when I read it either, any of the times I’ve read it. It just blows me away. That’s one of the reasons it’s my favorite novel.

My dad’s a sad case. A real-life, quite depressing, mystery of a man. He’s the guy I told you about earlier, the one whose mother and brother committed suicide, the one who treats my twin sister like a red-headed stepchild, for some unknown reason—you’ll see what I’m talking about soon enough. Anyway, back to that party…

“Changes in latitude, changes in attitude…if we didn’t laugh, we would all go insane…” drones the voice of Jimmy Buffet on the stereo in the hallway as Eve makes her way up the stairs, sipping her screwdriver generously. Who brought over a Jimmy Buffett CD? She’s always hated Jimmy Buffett. She’s always hated climbing stairs.   

“Well, well, well…Eve! Where the hell have you been?” says another drunk human who is sitting on the stairs. It is a girl named Adrienne who used to work with Eve at a convenient store on campus, before Eve left to beef up her education resume, back when Eve cared about those things. She stopped returning Adrienne’s calls two years ago, too, not wanting to answer questions about how her new job was going.  

“Adrienne. Hey!” says Eve with a huge grin, looking from all outward appearances like she’s pleased as punch to see the girl. Maybe she is because the alcohol is kicking in and making her think that life is great, that it’s always been great and always will be great.

“What’s the haps, chica? Still corrupting the youth?”

“Ha, ha…actually, I’m on medical leave.”

“What do you mean?”

“That the job was driving me crazy. I’ve been diagnosed with Major Depression.”

“Oh, God…Really? That’s horrible. Are you feeling any better now that you don’t have to work there anymore?”

“A little…Hey, what have you been up to?”

“Well, I graduate in May, and I’ve got this kickass job lined up in San Francisco. I’m going to be making beaucoups doing what I love, and I’m also engaged. My fiancé is moving to California with me.”

“Wow…Good for you, girl! Where’s the lucky bastard?”

Adrienne points to a handsome guy who’s passed out on the stair behind her.  

“Nice. Hey, have you seen Chloe?”

“She’s in her room, I think.”

“Okay, I’m going to go check on her. Good to see you again.”

“Later.”

Eve keeps climbing the stairs. She decides that she’s always hated that girl Adrienne. Hated her pudgy little body and her dull mousy brown hair, her bad taste in clothing and her tactless droning conversation. Adrienne can go to hell, thinks Eve. She wishes all manner of evils to be visited upon Adrienne, then stops herself because she feels guilty. I’m the one going to hell, she reminds herself, for what I did to Sam.

She reaches Chloe’s door, and it’s closed, but Eve smells the pot and smiles. Chloe has a poster on her wall, “How to Be an Artist,” by Sark. Chloe is still in college, studying art. She makes big murals in muted earth tones, abstract things that are veiled and beautiful. She experiments with sculpture and metals; she is smart and pretty. She dyes her hair: black, red, blond, brown, in a continuous cycle. She has lots of casual sex, and is a collegiate athlete. In many ways, she is Eve’s hero.

Knocking once and then opening the door, Eve says “Hey, y’all,” to the stoners on the floor.

Sample of “Mental” by Marie K Johnston, for Prospective Literary Fiction Agents

MENTAL GRAPHIC 2.jpg

 

“You can search throughout the universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”    –Buddha

 
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Chapter Two

 

Eve and I are “identical” twin sisters. Made from the same sperm and the same egg, easily confusing people we’ve just met, growing up in the same room in the same house. But, we are not the same people. She and I still have many different experiences, and still see things we’ve experienced together in very different ways.

 

If I could pluck them out of us and hold them in my hand, those differences would be almost as shocking to me as the difference between life and death. That is why I am writing this about her, about me. I have to understand her to understand myself, and understand myself to understand her. The simple differences are too complicated to tease out any other way.

You know, I’m just gonna confess up front. This isn’t all my work, and you would have figured it out had I pretended it was. You see, when my sister is out, I snoop around. One day, I found a bunch of her journals, and I have been borrowing from them ever since. But you’re okay with this sort of thing, right?

One night, at the beginning of last semester, Chloe, my sister’s best friend, and Eve had thrown this huge party at Chloe’s place. By the time she showed up, late as usual, my sister was the last in our group of friends to arrive. Eve had tried to back out of going at all, but Chloe had held firm that Eve had to at least make an obligatory appearance since she was a co-host, even if she was sick.

So, Eve got out of her car, stepped out into the darkness and the wind. She double-checked that her doors were locked before crossing the street and walking toward the loud music and the shrieks and giggles that was the party she was co-hosting. She was alone, but her boyfriend, two best friends and friends from college were in there somewhere, making noise.  

She stopped to double-check her appearance, looked down at her faded jeans, the ones she had worn through high school and college, the ones with the rip in the left knee and the frayed bottoms and the hole in the butt which she had patched when she was 20. She had just recently started wearing those jeans again, had just recently been able to put them on again. Her shirt, too, was old and faded. Familiar with it’s tired brown cotton, it’s lazy too long sleeves, it’s soft overwashed feel. She reached up her hands and felt her hair, so short now, barely enough to get messed up now.  

She felt about as ready as she was going to feel, and started walking again toward the sounds and the beer and the promise of vomit and pot.

People hung in groups in front of the apartment, talking and making racket. She scanned them for familiar faces, for recognition. Some of them were not old enough to drink, were probably still underclassmen, were too dressed up, too stiff, too concerned with looking cool–probably still striding the fence between going Greek and doing their own things.  

The ones dressed like war victims, with dirty hair and sunburned skin—those were the people she knew, her friends that were still in school. They did things like drop acid and read poetry to each other, or started bands with names like “Lobster Bisque and the Nihilists” that never played any gigs but did have promotional bumper stickers, or spent the summer gutting fish in an Alaskan cannery, just for kicks.  

They saved up money to go camping for a month in South Dakota, or learned Spanish just to be able to buy drugs at Mexican prices when they backpacked through Monterrey. They still brought kites along with them for an all-day picnic/ Frisbee fest at Zilker Park. They still thought that listening to music was preferable to watching it, even though they had been weaned on MTV.

They hadn’t made their minds up about how they felt about their childhoods, the concept of marriage, and had spent even less time paying attention to how much it costs to buy a house and a car and support babies.

They were a bit on the geeky side, talking about welfare and grad school, politics and art, but without ever thinking they knew what they were talking about. They were ambivalent about getting their degrees or contributing to a society that they had fundamental disagreements with, even though they weren’t sure just yet what all those disagreements were.

They were giving themselves time. They were interesting.   

“Hey, is that Eve? It is…how the hell have you been, girl?” said a slightly drunk guy who wore old army surplus shorts that were too big, dusty sandals and a faded red thrift store tee-shirt. He was clutching one of those refillable 64 ounce cups that say “The Hog” on them from like 1988 that some people still have that was all cracked and hard to read and spilling over with cheap keg beer.

He walked toward her with a huge grin. She recognized him as Martin, friend from the dorms and also a freshman history class, ex-boyfriend of a few of her friends, known to some as king of the water bong. She hadn’t seen him since two years before she graduated, and that meant about 3 years.

“Martin—“she hugged him, “what the hell!?”  They laughed. He held her at arm’s’ length, squinting.

“I almost didn’t recognize you…cut all your hair off, eh?  How’s post-college life been treating you?”

“How’s the five-year plan going?”  she asked, hoping that he’d catch her bait.

“More like 6, it looks like. Hey, go grab a beer—the keg’s around back. Aaron and Steve and Mike are in there somewhere, too. And Chloe just introduced me to Sam—good for you, a grad student. Maybe we’ll start seeing more of you now,  huh?”

“Yeah…good to see you again, man. Later.”

Eve headed for the front door, smiling at strange, drunk faces and trying to seem festive. She felt out of place, and tired. She felt sad about this. She smiled anyway.  

The tiny apartment was stuffed with bodies that huddled together on the couch, or pressed up against the refrigerator in the kitchen to watch other bodies take shots of tequila, or sat on the stairs talking and inadvertently preventing other bodies from climbing the stairs to the bathroom or to Chloe’s bedroom, which had almost surely been taken over by the potheads by now.

Too many bodies filled the two couches that Eve and Chloe had dumpster-dove for when Chloe got this place last year. And, even with the air-conditioner on, the combination of overcapacity and square footage always produced the feeling that they were throwing a party during August in hell. It was almost eleven, and things were really starting to roll.

Eve wanted to get stoned. Drunk first, then stoned. She knew that Sam did not

approve of this; she would try to sneak around him, but knew that he’d still know and be a little confused and disappointed. It was the same with her cigarettes, she thought, as she lit one and inhaled and stood in the doorway. He didn’t understand why she had to do these things. She told him once that it was because she couldn’t think of a good enough reason not to, but he had gotten upset over that just like the time that she told him to make sure that she was cremated, instead of buried, in case anything ever happened to her.

Someone cranked up the stereo in the living room, and Eve watched people get up to dance. There wasn’t much room to dance, but they moved as much furniture out of the way as they could to make room for the flailing and stomping and tribal movements they were looking forward to. They seemed so absorbed and oblivious, so happy to move, that it made Eve feel a little lighter. She would join them when she was drunk; she headed for the kitchen to find something to drink.

Drink. Drink. Drink, she thought to herself.  Need a drink. In the kitchen, she made her way past arms and legs and heads and torsos to the cabinet, got a glass, and excused herself to open the refrigerator to find her signature drink. She and Chloe liked to kid that they were addicted to screwdrivers; each girl kept a pitcher of the drink in her fridge at all times.  

“Thanks, girl.” she said aloud to a Chloe who wasn’t there, but probably was two steps away from passing out in her bedroom. Chloe said that drama queens always needed plenty of two things to smooth out the rough edges: screwdrivers and pot.  

She took a big gulp, closed her eyes. She remembered what her friend Jacob said to her recently when she told him that she hated herself now because she didn’t think she had any morals.  

He had said that she should stop beating herself up over cheating on Sam.

“It’s just one mistake. Everyone messes up.  You can’t build your identity around one mistake. Just try to find out why you did it, why you thought it was okay at the time to do it. Because you are a good person, and you do have morals. You proved that to me enough over the years, and I know that there is a good reason to explain why you did this. Try to ask yourself why.”   

“How will finding out why I cheated on Sam help me?” she had asked, not getting it, but thinking it might be worth trying because Jacob, her high school boyfriend and now other best friend, always seemed to have such a calmer, more successful approach to managing his own life.

Why? Why? Why? She asks herself in the kitchen. Nothing comes to her.  

“So, this Chinese couple are on their honeymoon,” a drunk teenager tells her friends while Eve listens. “And they’re really conservative and haven’t had sex yet ever, and so the husband says to his wife, ‘Tell me what you want…I want to please you.’ And the wife asks, ‘Anything?’ And the Chinese man says, ‘Anything.’  So the wife giggles and says, ‘I’d like to try a 69.’ And the husband looks confused and says, ‘Beef and broccoli?’”

Everyone within earshot laughs. Eve laughs.  She decides to leave the kitchen and find Chloe, and maybe get stoned with her.

Time out, you as the reader say. What is the point of this story? You are tired of waiting for a point. I guess, as the author, I owe you some sort of explanation. Here goes nothing…

So, Eve is a young woman who has just recently had a breakdown, which her friends and family and new therapist have attributed to her career as a high school English teacher.  She has major doubts about this because her grandmother and uncle on her dad’s side committed suicide, and her grandfather and mother are alcoholics. She is afraid she is a suicidal alcoholic.  

She has been diagnosed with Major Depression, and takes Prozac. She sees her therapist regularly, but lies to her so that she can feel better about herself. But the problem is, she doesn’t feel better about herself for long. She thinks about death too much. She also hates herself, but I think I told you about that already.

You might be wondering what caused the breakdown. Me, too.

 

 

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Chapter Fifteen

Sun shines amber through her hair;

and her tender eyes glow,

as the infinite ocean’s air

imparts to her what it knows:

 

“When I first saw, my eyes did see

only my own clear water’s leighs;

then upon the shore I crashed,

all horizon being ash.

 

“Eons passed, shore and I as one;

living beings around us, none.

But from our union there conceived

a single spark from which Life weaved.

 

“Burst from our love were sun and star,

soaring above us, to afar;

from my arms, our miracle shone

into human form, flesh and bone.

 

“Descendant of the sea and shore,

who also owns a mortal core:

inhale each moment, confident

that you will see all Life has meant.”

 

The sea’s breath whispers from a distance,

slipping into her ears;

and she decides that not a hindrance

will invade her living years.

 

She found herself upon her balcony, and scooping up her soft crinkly skirt from the near-ground and up to her knees, she settled back in a chair and crossed her legs. The finicky weather had turned breezy, and it softly pushed at her page. Wondering where Virginia Woolf had written The Voyage Out, Eve imagined her profiled against the sea in a wooden lounging chair, with the gulls above and the sandy shore standing monument to her burning brilliance. Eve tasted a salty brine in her throat, wishing in the back of her mind for Virginia’s voice to explain life and death and longing to her.

Pen and page connected Eve to the cycle of continuous energy that connected the flower petals and tree bark and falling leaves. She began to use places in her mind that were reserved for things her present body had not known, the windows allowing in experiences greater than those that were hers alone.  

She slipped comfortably into this state, became all that she had been and was and might be in a drawn sequence that once realized would dissipate back into the air around her with a snap of unseen fingers.  

She would recall a feeling of weightlessness that afternoon—a kind of weightlessness that brought happiness into her eyes. It was so satisfying to write, she thought to herself, so thoroughly satisfying.

She was trying to work out in her journal why she sometimes felt so happy and then other times felt the same intensity of emotion, but it was sadness. She couldn’t understand why, even though she thought of herself as a hopeful person, she could still travel so far beneath the earth’s crust and wallow there in the hot darkness.

Darkness was falling. The air was becoming diffused with a deep violet that lingered above the sidewalk, muffling footsteps, dilating gas lamps. Eve flipped her wrist to catch the time; then remembering that she wasn’t wearing her watch today, she smiled. Catherine walked out onto Evelyn’s balcony with an apron tossed over her shoulder, and forced the humidity-expanded door to lock. She pulled two long and swinging earrings from her front pocket, and with a tilted face she walked towards her next-door neighbor, assembling one crimson glass ornament and then the other.

“Milady Eve…where have you gone?” she said, snapping her fingers. The wind had blown Eve’s hair and ashed her forgotten cigarette, turning her into a twilight statue.

“I figured you had lost track of time, so I came over to get you. We’ll be late–did you forget about seeing Lee tonight?”

“No, I was just thinking…Do you think that we’re happy?” Eve lit another cigarette and exhaled as she leaned back in her chair.

Catherine sat down next to her, and put her face in her hands, thinking. “Yeah, for the most part, I am.”

“So am I…but do you ever get sad?”

“What do you mean, sad?”

“Oh, I don’t know—I mean, like awful feeling, for like, no discernible reason…And, I’ve started having these absolutely terrifying nightmares and they’re always about my father, for some strange reason. I want to be someone else, sometimes, and I don’t know why that is or how to stop it. You know, maybe I’m just disappointed in my life for some reason,or something, and it’s making me…” she trailed off, tired from thinking of these things.

Catherine noticed the energy beneath Eve’s  brows, there was such a lost, childlikeness in her that probably led Catherine to feel sorry for her friend.

“Not really, but I understand what you’re saying, I think…But, that doesn’t happen to me. Now I’m really worried about you, Eve–are you okay?”

Eve knew that she and Catherine did not see things, see life, in the same way. “Oh, yeah, I’m fine, really…I didn’t have to work today, which was great.

“Maybe I’ve just gotten restless lately, like I’ve outgrown something or like there’s something on the tip on my tongue but I can’t remember it, you know, that’s making me feel so out of sorts…”

 

 

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Chapter Forty-Two

I decided recently that I only want one thing in life—to enjoy it. This means, I am pretty sure, that I have to give up on the idea that life is only good when it conforms to preconceived ideas about situations, people and events. When the good is no longer just the time before your father raped you so long ago, but really is in the present and the future.

I decided this at an intersection by my apartment that I have to go through almost every day. It’s 6th and Lamar, and has all of these really highbrow salons and gift shops around it that I can’t even afford to think about going into.

Well, at this intersection there are also always homeless people on all sides. But, if you’re coming up 6th headed toward downtown and in the left hand turn lane, there are special homeless people who sell a newspaper they make themselves with corporate donations called “The Homeless Advocate.” They take the proceeds and help other homeless people get medical care, food and clothing. I once asked if I could write for that paper, but they turned me down because I wasn’t homeless.

The most unusual homeless person here is a guy who is missing teeth, sunburnt, with ragged clothes–but, he is always smiling. No matter what, day after day, he is always smiling. And it’s not because he’s a nutjob– it’s because he chooses to smile, he told me last spring.

One recent day, the day I decided to try and enjoy life regardless of anything after talking with him once again at the red light, he had said to me, “You know, I’m so glad you always smile back at me. No one in their cars ever smiles at me.

“I stand here all day, and sometimes I even try and do funny things, but people still just grit their teeth and clench their jaws and never smile at me.”

This was after I had explained that I couldn’t buy their paper because I was unemployed, and he had said something like he knew things would turn around for me, and that I shouldn’t worry too much about it. Something about things having a way of working themselves out, or something like that.

He went on to say, “You know, it makes me sad to see well-fed people in expensive cars who have forgotten how to smile. If I can smile, how come they can’t?”

I’m glad that traffic light is so long, and I’m glad I was there, and I’m glad we talked and I had the opportunity to listen to such a wise, happy spirit.

It was a turning point for me, a chance to see that I was in control of my own happiness, and that I knew suddenly that I was ready to do something about it.

I realized, on that afternoon, that I was ready to save myself. I was a free-thinking, creative, crazy girl who found out I also wanted to come to my senses, too. At least mostly, anyway.

When I really thought about it, I realized I knew a lot about letting go of my past the “right” way, and that I was ready to complete the job.

It had take my heart a long time to catch up to my brain, and vice versa. But, now they were at last, in sync, maybe for the first real time in my life–I wasn’t gonna waste my chance to be happy in this, my adult life.

Abnegation eventually leads to acceptance of the realities of your life, which leads to growth. I didn’t realize I had been doing this all along, so I inadvertently made the abnegation part longer and more painful than it needed to be. Letting this process work each time makes it go faster. The steps pass faster, less disastrously. You get to do more of the meaningful part, the growth part.

Understanding this about myself, I mean about being alive and living life, seemed like something I already knew once I wrote it down. I had lived that way, really, and so had everybody else I knew, too, when I really thought about it. We had been doing this all along. The difference was that before it had seemed sad, cruel, even pointless, to me because I so wanted a better answer, a better explanation for what had ailed me. A better solution. Now, it seemed, however, that the truth of what happened to me that night in high school during my parents’ divorce was just the only answer there was. But, that this answer could also bring me solace and contentment. Peace. If I simply let it go.

This really was the best solution–the happiest, kindest, most meaningful one–if I chose it to be.

People say we all come full circle, but I don’t think we ever really do. Time is really the biggest thing there is, and it has us for good or ill. I know that I’ve spent so much time fighting against myself, fighting for an image of myself that wasn’t really me anymore, when I should have been fighting for the things I loved.

Existentialism is alright for awhile, but hollow. I wanted a seamless connection with everything–I wanted to flow.

It’s like this old hippie said to me on the Guadalupe River last week, when Chloe and I took some friends down there to celebrate the fact that she was moving away to New York City to go be a professional artist.

My inner tube was too big for me, and it was hard for me to paddle in it. But, I was paddling frantically to avoid colliding with a tree that was growing in the middle of that river.

“Don’t fight the current. You won’t hit that tree,” this strange, wise woman called down to me from the side of the riverbank.

She smiled. She was calm. She brushed her long gray hair out of her face with her hand, nodding to me confidently.

Of course, she already knew that the water would flow around the tree and so would I. That I’d be safe, even though it didn’t seem that way a second before it happened.

Now I know, too.

 

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http://www.MarieKJohnston.com

Letter to Literary Fiction Agents for “Mental” by Marie K Johnston

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“Mental,” a tongue-in-cheek title, is an 85,000 word literary fiction novel about the idea of self-transformation through suffering. On the surface, this novel is about identical twin writers, Lilly and Eve, as Eve finishes college early to teach high school English. Eve then experiences a nervous breakdown of seemingly unknown origins. Lilly, the primary narrator, sneaks reads in Eve’s journal, trying to figure out which event(s) have caused the nervous breakdown. “I’ve started having these absolutely terrifying nightmares about my father…there’s something on the tip of my tongue but I can’t remember it, you know, that’s making me feel so out of sorts,” Eve says at this time. Eve recounts her current life experiences after quitting her perfect teaching position as a secondary narrator, once she is diagnosed with a mental illness and becomes determined to understand its cause. “Mental” is set in Spring, Austin and Galveston, Texas.

This novel is full of lyrical turns of phrase, a rhyming and metered poem, and a novel-within-the-novel. It is about Eve’s earnestness to live life to the fullest, and the protective tricks of the mind that save her from the pain of her incest experiences until she is finally ready to accept the truth of what happened to her before she left home for college. It is about her realization of her kinship with the homeless people around her, And Eve finds a sort of Zen response to the truths she is finally ready to accept, which frees her at last to get on with her adult life. “[If] I want to enjoy life…It means, I am pretty sure, that I have to  give up [thinking] life is only good when it conforms to preconceived ideas about situations, people and events,” Eve realizes at the end of “Mental.”  This is a positive novel–none of Eve’s recovered memories of her incest experience are told graphically or distastefully. Eve realizes that no matter what happened to her, her capacity to love hasn’t been broken like she had feared; and, that she is finally ready to accept the challenges of being an adult. The novel ends with an unforgettable scene–Eve gets lasting advice from an old hippie about how to create a happy life, after this wise soul shows Eve how to avoid an obstacle in the Guadalupe river.

My first novel, “Leaves Subsiding (2010),” was published under pen name M. Yoshida McCurry–it is about the painful process of growing up. I have a website, www.MarieKJohnston.com, where I showcase “Leaves Subsiding,” “Mental,” and my poetry.

Thank you in advance for your consideration!

Best to you,

Marie K Johnston

Sample of “Mental” by Marie K Johnston

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“Mental” is written in three sections. I am providing you with excerpts from Chapters One, Two and Four to orient you, a full chapter from Section One, excerpts from the rhyming, metered poem which begins each chapter in Section Two, and finally, another full chapter from Section Three. Thank you in advance for your consideration!

 

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Chapter One Excerpt

 

Before I open my eyes, I feel his weight on my mattress and hear his zipper. Now I know what he is about to do and it is the thing I have been afraid of for years, but, especially most recently because during another blackout, he had told me that he wanted to be with a woman who was exactly like me! I tell myself I’m overreacting and that this is just a nightmare. He is adjusting my body, he is taking off my pants and underwear, he is half-naked and so am I. What a terrifying nightmare I am having, I think. I wonder if I can wake up? But I cannot move.

He is silent. He is having his way with me, even though I haven’t moved a muscle. He is staring at me but has a far-away look, and I am barely peeking with my eyes because I want him to think he can’t wake me up.

I don’t want to confront him—he has become a violent man during this divorce. I don’t want to see what is happening to my body and what I fear will happen to my soul.

I was so sad when I went to sleep, I thought, but every pore of my skin is hot and sweaty and depressed and shocked and terribly saddened with every flick of his chrissakes and every blink of his eyes and every curl of his lips. I am being raped by my own father! How will I survive something like this and what if I accidentally get pregnant?

 

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Chapter Two Excerpt

 

Eve and I are “identical” twin sisters. Made from the same sperm and the same egg, easily confusing people we’ve just met, growing up in the same room in the same house. But we are not the same people. She and I still have many different experiences, and still see things we’ve experienced together in very different ways.

 

If I could pluck them out of us and hold them in my hand, those differences would be almost as shocking to me as the difference between life and death. That is why I am writing this about her, about me. I have to understand her to understand myself, and understand myself to understand her. The simple differences are too complicated to tease out any other way.

 

You know, I’m just gonna confess up front. This isn’t all my work, and you would have figured it out had I pretended it was. You see, when my sister is out, I snoop around. One day, I found a bunch of her journals and I have been borrowing from them ever since. But you’re okay with this sort of thing, right?

 

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Chapter Four Excerpt

 

She was alone. The moon smiled down at her.

 

“I watch you people living…”

 

“What?” She looked up at the shining sphere.

 

“I have been watching since before you noticed me. So many of you, and still I don’t understand what you search for.”

 

“I don’t know. I have been looking for what to look for all my life,” she said.

 

“You are so tiny,” it said to her from far away. “So am I. You used to think I was as big as the sun, long ago when you only used your eyes to see. Now you can judge distances and measure space, and you think of me realistically. I remember when I held secrets, long ago, for you.”

 

“What do you see, from where you sit?”

 

“Time. After enough has passed, I pull the ocean toward me–then it pushes itself away again. It has always been so, since before you all.  The ocean and I began together, but it drifted away because that is it’s nature.”

 

“Did you bring us here?” she called, searching through the haze for its face.

 

“No—I am not the one…When I came to see, I was not the first. I don’t know who began the chain that led to you.

 

“I am sorry for you all, though–you have the capacity for understanding, but no understanding. You see everything and can’t distinguish meaning from nonsense.”

 

“But we make meaning.”

 

“Perhaps that is the problem,” it chided, falling behind the shade of the clouds.

 

A flight of blackbirds drifted across her vision, returning to nip at the infant berries just peering from the trees. It reminded her of her childhood—leaning against the pine trees painted chartreuse with pollen, waiting for the wind to blow.

 

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Chapter Thirteen, Section One

 

“I’m pregnant, but I’m a virgin. I’ve been pregnant all my life,”  said Eve.

 

The mirrored faces began to smile around the table. Eve rubbed her belly and licked her lips.  One woman began to pull her brown hair back into a bun, stretching her bent arms towards the hanging light above them all.

 

“You will see that the windows are lying—the world is not as beautiful as the windows will tell you,” her bun was finished now, tight and perfect, and she rested her hands against her neck.  “I believed the windows,” she whispered.

 

“When you get on your first train, you’ll want to ride over the ocean, you’ll want to ride into another country–but, your luggage will be marked for some Midwest state because there are no oceans and there are no countries–only tracks inside of you,” spoke a woman whose face had gone soft and pliable from age–tender was the etched skin around her eyes, her hair a smoky shock around them. She closed these eyes, resting her hands under the table. The pregnant girl, only seventeen, could only listen and could not speak.

 

Laughing, a girl of six years came spinning into the room. Long golden brown tresses waved and flew around her. Her print dress fluttering, she waved a long purple ribbon above her head. She skipped to where the others sat, and stopped to look at their faces. “Sometimes, it is only children who understand the life around us,” she stated. Then, quieted by the silence around her, she climbed into the oldest’s lap.

 

This oldest one rocked the girl, back and forth, humming words against her ear.

 

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“Eve, you will be me one day, and then you will see my death in your life. The days will lead you into me like rabbits are led into snares. Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid—we are all powerless.”

 

“I am not powerless!” shouted pregnant Eve. “There is an answer growing inside me, pushing to get out. We are all incomplete, but can’t we still find out where dawn is kept when morning has come?” She now had both hands on her swollen abdomen, kneading the hard flesh, hoping to squeeze out a new child-Eve before evening fell.

 

“I am twenty-eight, and I am you,” said a woman with shoulder length brown ringlets and the pregnant girl’s eyes. She wore a wedding dress that had been soaked by rain; the ivory lace clung to her neck and arms.  Reaching under the table, she placed two cream-colored heels in front of the pregnant one.

 

“Here, take your shoes, Eve.”

 

“These are not my shoes, my shoes are brown and flat, they are made for climbing hills,” she answered, looking down at her feet. Both women were barefoot.

 

“No, Eve, these are your shoes. Today I was married; yes, you will marry a man who can’t read. I decided that it’s much easier to love a man who yearns for words he cannot have, than it is to love a man who takes them for granted or abuses them.”

 

The other ten women, ranging from thirty-two to eighty-four, all began nodding. “Yes, Eve,” they said together, speaking to the pregnant girl; “Yes, Eve,” they said to each other.

 

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“We remember being you,” they all continued to speak together now to the ten girl children.  The six year old looked up from the oldest’s lap to stare around the table. A three year old with a curly mop of shaggy brown hair held a pen in her hand–she was scribbling on a new entry in the pregnant one’s diary.  The twelve year old, just beginning to understand her period and her body, giggled and blew kisses at each lady.  

 

The Eve who was fifteen put her hands over her ears, saying, “You do not know me—I will not become you, women. I will be a writer instead.”

 

The girl who was nine replied, “I insist that you call me Eve because there is a God, and he calls to me.” Then she took a glass, which was filled with ice and blue flowers, and stood up in her chair. She tossed the flowers onto the Eves, threw the ice onto the center of the table with swift motions. Water and broken shards of ice shot up from the wood. This Eve threw back her head and laughed. The three year old laughed, stopped scribbling to suck her thumb, and then laughed again; she continued to do this while Eve as twelve blew kisses, nine year old Eve stood on her chair, the Eve of six stared at the rest, and the one who was fifteen repeated, “You do not know me—I will not become you, women. I will be a writer instead…”

 

“I am sixty-six, and I am you,” spoke a thin woman with gray patches in her brown hair.  “Don’t climb trees while we’re pregnant, you’ll miscarry if you do. When your husband tells you he’s going to leave you,” here she turned to the thirty-eight year old,” you’ll want to take to drinking–but don’t be frightened.  We are all powerless.”

 

“He’ll leave me? He married me! He said that he’d never go anywhere without me! If we come into this world alone, why do we want to be bound to another? We know we really can’t be.”  Tears spurted from the face of the Eve wearing her wedding dress. The twelve year old began to cry as well, hating to realize that love ends.

 

“Eves, have a good cry! You already know that love also begins. The beginnings and the endings don’t really take away from the love,” finished the one who had reached sixty-six.

“How will I live long enough to know what you know?” asked pregnant Eve.

 

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The nine year old climbed down from the chair and left the room, returning with a wailing baby in her arms. It was absurd to watch her carry this girl baby, she still being a child herself. She kept soothing the infant, saying, “Evie, my darling–one day you will be me, and then you will surpass my age to see that crying is fruitless. Do you cry for comfort? There is none. Are you crying for happiness? There is only a handful, and we can’t spare much for you.”

 

The baby clutched at the nine year old’s face, and the one who was nine presented the infant to pregnant Eve, stating solemnly, “Now you’ve done it–here’s a newborn Eve. Our lives are filled with stillness and rage.”

 

“Why don’t I remember my childhood, and why can’t I believe in my future?

 

“I suppose it’s true that I have been you,” here pregnant Eve waved her arms at the children.

 

“And I suppose that it is you I will become,” here she glanced at the old and older women.  

 

“But if we all lined up in a row, I still wouldn’t feel as though this could be called a life at all…”

 

**********

 

The following are excerpts of a rhyming, metered poem that begins each chapter of Section Two in this novel-within-the-novel part of “Mental.”
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Chapter Fourteen

 

In a push of exhaled breath, she

throws back her head to the sky;

her chest, arms and face begin to whirl

beneath nature’s canvas, and she cries:

 

“Let loose the tendrils of sorrow,

nourishment from sun I borrow;

against this day, my soul does thrive—

it is a joy to be alive!”

 

Her open mouth tastes of the sweet brine

that floats from the gentle sea;

barefoot circles in the sand design

her lifelong philosophy:

 

“With each moment upon the earth,

I will rejoice in this—my birth;

my sensate being will be free

to feel all that this life can be.”

 

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Chapter Fifteen

 

Sun shines amber through her hair;

and her tender eyes glow,

as the infinite ocean’s air

imparts to her what it knows:

 

“When I first saw, my eyes did see

only my own clear water’s leighs;

then upon the shore I crashed,

all horizon being ash.

 

“Eons passed, shore and I as one;

living beings around us, none.

But from our union there conceived

a single spark from which Life weaved.

 

“Burst from our love were sun and star,

soaring above us, to afar;

from my arms, our miracle shone

into human form, flesh and bone.

 

“Descendant of the sea and shore,

who also owns a mortal core:

inhale each moment, confident

that you will see all Life has meant.”

 

The sea’s breath whispers from a distance,

slipping into her ears;

and she decides that not a hindrance

will invade her living years.

 

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Chapter Seventeen

 

This twirling girl-being’s sparkling skin,

clothed in flowing filmy white,

flings arms and legs in pirouette spin;

her natural grace at full height.

 

Her vision sweeping a circle span

of all that the beach contains,

she remembers that other human

lives share with her the sand’s grains.

 

Outward from introspection she slides,

to study strangers’ faces;

filled with hope, to a stop she glides

to learn from others’ graces.

 

Into the waves’ froth run children’s feet;

upon the sand, lovers walk.

An artist muses upon a seat

of sun-drenched rocks.

 

Beneath umbrellas, the elders sleep

in dreams that wake memory;

into the flesh of time slowly seeps

all bittersweet destiny.

 

***************

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Chapter Twenty-Seven, Section Three

 

So, to borrow the words of A.S. Byatt, Eve wanted to be “a poet and a poem.”  Her head was overflowing with romantic ideas of the world; I guess it was just a matter of time before it exploded.  She didn’t see that experience is one basket. She had two—one for ‘good’ experience, and one for ‘bad.’ It is hard to keep filling up two baskets when you only have two hands.

 

Luckily for me, my hopes were dashed before they became too strong.  Ironically, I don’t even remember what happened to help me see that good and bad are always in balance, whether we can see it or not. Maybe it was a subconscious thing, and maybe Eve was the one who taught this to me because it seemed from such an early age that she didn’t get that. Or, better yet, that she did but refused to believe it. She was still somehow smarter than me, though–that’s why she was always so interesting to observe.

 

I think the whole family knew that something in her snapped back in high school during our parents’ divorce. We could sense it; we thought it was natural. I think that our parents just thought she’d get over it; they couldn’t imagine that she wouldn’t.  They think that Eve hung the moon. We all do, I guess.  

 

Anyway, I remember thinking one day, after the divorce was finalized and Eve and I were sitting in our high school parking lot waiting for the car to warm up because it was winter and freezing, I remember thinking that day that something in her had died and might not be coming back. It was such an overcast day, drizzly and dreary, and at the time I wished that the weather was influencing my thoughts and that they weren’t true, but I was pretty sure they were. That thing in her was just too taunt and over-stretched, it couldn’t withstand all of the pressure. It had to break.  

 

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Maybe you’re wondering why she didn’t actually commit suicide on Chloe’s rooftop…It wasn’t because Jeremy found her up there, not exactly anyway.  She won’t tell me anything, but he will, so I think I’ve figured it out a little.  I just don’t know how much longer she can stand to keep doing this to herself–something’s got to give. Watching her exhaust herself is exhausting because it is ironic that someone so strong can’t just yell out “uncle!”

 

Part of her problem is this nihilist thing: it reminds me of this something that Nietzsche wrote–that people who have lost their ideals are worse off than people who never had any to begin with. He thought that losing your ideals negated the joy of living because the loss was so great that it would lead you to believe that the world sucked and that there was no point in anything.

 

The most interesting thing about Nietzsche to me is that I used to think he was so negative, with his whole “God is dead” stuff, but he’s really a combination of idealist and realist. The interesting part is that when you read biographies about him, he had to struggle so much in his personal life and might not have noticed all of the progress he made by writing for the progress of the rest of us. Eve’s like that—she can’t get out of her own head.

 

I can see that she is both idealistic and realistic, but she can’t admit it. She’s about 70% idealistic and 30% realist now, and I know that to her it seems like she’s becoming pessimistic. It feels that way to her because she is out of balance. That’s why I feel hopeful. As she approaches a better balance between idealism and realism, she will find peace. It’s the way things work. It amazes me how lost we sometimes have to become in order to be found.

 

I think that she also feels at a loss to keep developing herself; she doesn’t know how to see herself anymore.  I wonder what she thinks she sees when she looks in the mirror? Can you imagine seeing something so distorted that you just despise yourself–when everyone else sees something pure and struggling who will figure herself out in time?

 

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We who love her are transfixed by her inevitable growth. It is painful for her, it is painful for us. She was so one way, and we always knew she’d become a different way. But all the chartreuse buds on the new spring branches are also the brown crispy leaves that blow to the ground in the fall. It’s natural. It’s the way life works, and no one is strong enough to win out against the way life works. No one can stop the process of change. Not even someone as strong-willed as my twin sister.

 

Anyway, Jeremy and I have been hanging out a lot lately, since that day.  He is doing much better.  He likes to talk about what happened up there, every time telling me something more or something different.  He seems more solid now, older.  He says that it started raining up there, a light rain, a kind of mist.  He says that for a long time before it started raining, the two of them were just sitting there—he was crying, she was just staring at the ground three stories down.  Neither one had said that they were there to jump.  He could tell she was though.  He couldn’t be sure that she knew he was. She kept throwing her cigarette butts down to the ground, watching them fall, laughing a little when they hit the ground, and saying “splat!” when they did.

 

This rain distracted them a little, and they started talking.  Jeremy said he was worried that it was going to start pouring, and they looked up to scan the sky for thunderclouds.  It was so dark, though, they could barely see.

 

It was one of those nights, Jeremy said, when you weren’t sure if there was a moon because it was so dark. They started looking for the moon together.

 

Eve scanned the sky in front of her, turned her head, looked all around. She thought the moon was there somewhere, behind a building or something. Jeremy looked all around, too. They started sharing the bottle of vodka that Jeremy had brought with him, looking for the moon. They started sharing Eve’s cigarettes, even though he hated menthols, because he had run out of his own. They still didn’t see the moon. They got up, standing on the roof carefully, trying to maintain their balance but the roof was slanted and they were drunk—when he gets to this part of the story, it just kills me. I can see them up there, with their arms out for balance, with their heads thrown back, talking to each other—“do you see anything?” “no, do you?”—it’s kind of sad and sweet and funny all at the same time. It’s also ironic that they came up there to jump off the thing that they were now trying not to fall off of.

 

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I didn’t understand why it was important to find that moon. Jeremy says for him it had something to do with hope. He says he and Eve haven’t talked about it since, so he doesn’t know if she felt that way, too. It was really early in the morning, and Eve had said that she was afraid that the moon might have set.  They started talking about how weird it was that the moon set, just like the sun did, and how some nights it did and some nights it didn’t. Jeremy asked me why that was, the first time he told me the story.

 

“You’re into science. Why does the moon only set sometimes, and not every night?”

 

I could see that he was serious, so I told him that it has to do with the position of the earth and stuff.

 

“Oh,” he said. “That makes sense. I should tell Eve; she’d like to know.”

 

So, there they were, moon-hunting as Jeremy calls it now, in the mist and the dark. Eve started talking about the phases of the moon, telling Jeremy that if they couldn’t find the moon tonight it was because of the phase it was in. He asked her what phase that was, and this is where he starts to get excited when he tells you the story.

 

“So, I said, ‘What phase is the moon in when you can’t see it?’

 

‘It’s called a new moon.’

 

“That’s weird…It’s new, but you can’t tell it’s even there?  Why would they call it that?”

 

“‘I don’t know. I guess because it’s about to be there, about to be a moon again.’”

 

Jeremy says that he remembers thinking how wonderful that was, that people had named this phase “new” instead of waiting to name the first visible stage that. That people even recognized it as a phase was cool because it looked like nothing was happening up there; but, something was, you just couldn’t see it.  

 

I wonder if the people who named those phases imagined what the moon was doing in its new phase. I can see them thinking that it was up there gussying itself up, in the bathroom with the door closed, taking a long bath to get all of the cosmic dirt off, polishing itself up, getting ready to shine again. It kind of makes me laugh because it seems like such a childish way to look at things; it kind of makes me want to cry though because it’s such a pretty way of seeing things.   

 

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Anyway, after Eve told him about the new moon, he says he just didn’t feel like jumping much anymore. He asked her if she would drive him home. She said she would, and they both climbed down the fire escape. She says she doesn’t remember being up there, or moon-hunting, or driving Jeremy home. She actually didn’t drive them–they found Jacob before they found Sam, and Jacob was going to take us all home.

 

This was as it should have been. Sam was wise, but Jacob was wiser because he not only knew the things Sam knew, he could actually apply them in a consistently calm way.

 

Sam and Eve butted heads, because Eve couldn’t see what Sam saw and Sam couldn’t stand it. Eve wanted Sam to be happy, and she thought she had to help him see things the way she did, and he wanted her to be happy and thought she would be if she saw things the way he did. Their love was big, but it couldn’t prevent them from getting in its way.

 

The relationship she had with Jacob was different, though. They had been broken up for around two years at this point, but their love was stronger than ever. He had probably understood Eve because he had already been where she was. And he knew she was stuck, but he knew she’d figure herself out in her own time.

 

But the interesting part was that the fact that they were in different places never caused either one of them any dissonance. To the point, I think, that Eve never even realized that she thought Jake was where she was. He knew better than she did, though, and probably recognized that she felt this way, that she couldn’t help it, and that she would grow out of it.

 

Eve told me once that the reason they had split up was because they didn’t want to keep each other from growing—they loved each other that much. Even after the break up, though, they continued to love each other more—deciding that they were like brother and sister, deciding that being family to each other was better than being in love.

 

Sometimes Eve preferred Jacob to Sam, but she didn’t know why then. She just knew it was okay, even though it was confusing to her. Jake had been the closest person to her for the past 3 years, and beyond their sexual love they had cultivated a huge, no-matter-what kind of love that could soothe her in some of her most difficult moments because she saw it as a testament that some things can remain pure and good forever.

 

Even though they sometimes talked about the merits and difficulties of getting back together, the decision to not make a decision about that was the only decision in her life that she had been able to succeed in suspending. It didn’t matter to her whether they were ‘together’ or not. They couldn’t love each other more, and that was the most important thing anyway.

 

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It’s a good thing that Jacob was there, and much more sober than the rest of us.  It is a good thing that he could almost always be counted on when something really important was happening in Eve’s life. They found me half-asleep on the stairs, and put me in the in the backseat with Jeremy.  

 

I remember Jeremy telling Jacob how great Eve was, how smart she was. I remember Eve was real quiet all the way to Jeremy’s apartment, so quiet that from the backseat I thought she had passed out. She was just listening, unable to figure out how to say ‘thank you’ to Jeremy, or to tell him that she thought he was great and smart, too. Once we dropped Jeremy off, though, she sat up in her seat and started talking.  

 

“That Jeremy, I love that guy. He’s so sensitive to everything; he’s so fragile. Y’all should of seen him up there, worried that it was going to pour down raining. He was worried that the streets would ice over and people would get into wrecks. He’s funny,” she said.  She stroked Jacob’s hair, leaned back, smoking her cigarette.

 

That’s all she said, but I remember thinking that Jacob and I had missed out on something by not being invited to their rooftop soiree.  Jeremy seemed different because of it.  Eve did, too.

 

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She passed out before she finished that cigarette. I know because Jacob yelled at me to wake up in the backseat (I had been awake, but just thinking), and throw her cigarette out the window.  She didn’t wake up when we pulled up in the driveway at home, either, and Jacob carried her inside.  

 

It made me think of being really small again, coming home late at night from being out with our parents. We’d both fall asleep in the backseat, but I’d always wake up as we pulled into the driveway. Eve is the heaviest sleeper I’ve ever seen; my parents always said that she wouldn’t wake up even if a parade was marching through her bedroom.  

 

Dad used to carry her inside until she was about eleven and finally got too big.  I opened the door for Jacob, and watched as he walked to Eve’s bedroom.  He carried her with her head on his shoulder, with his arms around her waist, and she looked like a little kid up there with her eyes closed.   

 

She looked almost free of that thing that held her, almost peaceful. I told them goodnight, and went out on the porch for one more cigarette before bed.  

 

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This morning, I woke up to the sounds of kitchen cabinet doors slamming shut, and the rattling of pots and pans. It was early. My pounding head and dry tongue reminded me that I should have done the water and aspirin thing before hitting the sack last night. I slowly got out of bed, and made my way to the kitchen.

 

Eve was there in the kitchen, dressed, making breakfast. She was smiling. Her hair was still a little damp from the shower, and it stuck a little to the sides of her face and her forehead, but she looked fresh and clean. She asked me how I wanted my eggs.

 

I just stood there.

 

Then she said, “You know, it hit me this morning.’If you’re not going to get busy living, then get busy dying.’ Do you remember who said that? I can’t remember.”

 

I didn’t know, either. I just smiled at her. She seemed like herself again.

 

“You know what else? Let’s switch names for the day, just for fun. Like we used to. Call me Lillith from now on, wouldja?” She told me.

 

“Okay, Eve,” I said.

 

“You mean ‘Lillith’, Lilly. Right?” She handed me a glass of orange juice, and we sat down at the kitchen table together.

 

“Yeah.  I mean ‘Lillith,’ Lillith.”

 

“Cool.”  She took a big bite of scrambled eggs, and bit off the corner of her buttered toast.  

 

I started eating, too. The eggs had melted cheese in them, and a few pieces of shell. I started laughing.  

 

“What?” my sister asked, smiling.

 

“These taste like the eggs Dad used to make us before school,” I told her.

 

“Yeah, I was thinking that  same thing.”

 

“Hey, Eve? ‘Lillith’ sounds weird to me.  I’ll just call you ‘Lilly,’ cool?”

 

“Cool,” said Lilly. We smiled at each other.

 

Sisters.

 

“Hey, Eve, I was thinking about going for a walk after we eat. Wanna come?” Lilly asked me.

 

I nodded.  Here we go, I thought. I understood why she wanted to switch names again. She wanted to be somebody else for a little while. The problem was we couldn’t pull it off anymore because now we had our own personalities and recognizable hairstyles. I decided to play along anyway, hoping it would help.

 

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Well, that’s not the end of this story, unfortunately.  I told you earlier that I wasn’t sure if it would have a happy ending; and, I turned out to be right about that.  When I said it, though, I meant at the time that I wasn’t sure how to write one.  I assumed that in real life there’d be one, though, obviously.  I meant that I wasn’t sure if I was a good enough writer to craft an ending at all, one that seemed satisfying and complete.  

 

But, here’s the next real life part: Eve, I mean Lilly, did actually  try to kill herself. Two weeks after that breakfast scene.  I’m just on my way to the hospital now to visit her.  Everyone will be there, and everyone will cry.  No one understands it, not even me.  I thought that writing this stupid thing would help me understand her, but it didn’t.  Oh well, what do I know anyway?  I’m only twenty-two, for chrissakes.  There is so much in general I need to know. I don’t even know what I don’t know.  

 

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Summary of “Mental” by Marie K Johnston

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“Mental,” a tongue-in-cheek title about one woman’s mission to triumph over incest, is an 85,000 word novel with a surprising amount of humor in it.

On the surface, this novel is about identical twins, Lilly and Eve, as Eve finishes college early to teach high school English. Eve then proceeds to have a total nervous breakdown and can’t figure out why. Lilly, the primary narrator, goes through the events of Eve’s life one by one, by sneaking reads in Eve’s journal, as she secretly pens this story for a college workshop class–trying to figure out which event(s) caused the nervous breakdown. Eve processes her current life experiences with friends, a serious boyfriend and her suicidal feelings after quitting her perfect teaching position, as a secondary narrator, once she is diagnosed with a mental illness and becomes determined to understand its cause. This is a positive novel about personal transformation.

My characters are in college or recent graduates, and the bulk of the present tense setting of my novel is a large and entertaining house party to lighten the mood. Lilly never learns about Eve’s incest experience, but she is still able to sense when the audience needs some comic relief throughout this tale. None of Eve’s recovered memories of her incest experience are told graphically or distastefully. Eve finds refuge in Nature often, as well, communing with the Guadalupe River, the moon, a field, the night sky, the sun, and more. Eve is in love for most of the novel, too. All of these devices exist in the story so that Eve has the inner reserves to remember what happened to her and then work through it.

Eve rediscovers certain truths about herself and her life–namely, that love and togetherness are the most important aspects to a successful life. And, that no matter what happened to her, Eve’s capacity to love hasn’t been broken like she had feared. The novel ends with an unforgettable scene where Eve gets lasting advice from an old hippie on how to create a happy life after he releases her from an obstacle in a river.

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