Category Archives: guilt

Friday Fiction 2.0 — Beyond the Edge


The choice was simple. Stay or go. Put up and shut up or push out and change, evolve and grow.

“If you stay here, you see more of the same. You experience more of the blows and more of the highs and more of the lows. Maybe different depths and steeper heights, but essentially the same,” she thought to herself. “The same kinds of people, the same limited thoughts, the same pedantic ways,” she knew.

Outside her bedroom window, lay the lush and vibrant landscape she had frolicked on as a child and as her mother was a child and her mother before her. Generations of oaks, cascading wisteria blooms, putting greens, bowling greens, livery stables, pristine sculpture gardens and gleaming marble water fountains, the hypnotic gurgling and gentle splashing from the koi and frogs. It was a paradise to anyone else. But to Elise, it was a prison. Her years of privilege stymied her perceptions, her outlook and her understanding of what the real world was all about.

“Harvard or Oxford? Gucci or Prada? St. Tropéz or Athens? These are not the choices of a real human being,” she mocked herself, tossing the offer letters from her satin sheets and watching them land on the silk Persian carpet beneath her feet. Rising from her bed and running to her window she flew it open and shouted, “These are not the choices of a real humaaan beeeeing! These make a mockery of their lives and challenges! They must! Right?!”

Her mother rushed into Elise’s room, her sheer robe billowing behind her, lather on her face from her morning wash, her eyes were wide with concern and fear.

“Elise! Whatever is the matter? Oh my sweet! It’s so early yet. What troubles you so today?” she asked.

“This! All of this! Those letters! My closet! My great fortune! My life! I want to live with purpose; I want to have meaning. All of this is for nothing if people suffer and I turn my eye from it,” she said to her mother with tears welling, suspended and glistening on the lip of her chocolate eyes’ lower lids.

Her mother rushed to her side, “Now now… dear child! Here! Here’s a lollipop! Or your happy bear! La-la-lala… HO HO HO, I’m Chunky the happy bear, I’m coming to tickle yooooooou…” said her mother in an odd deep voice, intoning and bouncing the bear, a robust brown furry stuffed animal adorned with a rhinestone-studded dog collar Elise had bought for him as a gift when he turned five. Her mother was desperate at the moment to change the mood.

Elise was an ugly crier. It can be said of some people that they cry gracefully and so beautifully that their mere sensation of sadness is powerful enough to provoke a sniffle from even the most coarsened and granitic souls. For Elise, it was not this way. Her face contorted in a fashion not unlike the gargoyles atop Notre Dame, her voice became like that of a banshee harbored in Irish lowlands and the moaning, oh, the moaning it could truly break not only glass, but also porcelain vases from ancient Chinese dynasties. For Elise, crying was a weapon; but she would wail unaware of her effect, lest she would exploit it, the townspeople feared.

So when she was born, her parents made a pact with the villagers. Elise would cry only in her house and only with the windows closed; if she were outside and having fun and all of a sudden suffered a boo-boo or a moment of perceived unfairness during a game, she would be scooped up and whisked into the house to cry it out. But everyone knew, that eventually Elise would not be forever entertained by a lollipop or a dancing bear. In the meantime, alchemists tried to develop a glass that wouldn’t shatter when she cried. But how to test it? She’d have to cry and no one wanted that.

Since puberty, her crying became more desperate and unpredictable. Elise was not only unaware of her punitive sadness, but she was also connecting to the way it made her feel: worn down, exhausted and defensive, which only resulted in more frustration and ultimately more tears. Being a teen with the unbeknownst power to bring police squads to their knees and ducking for cover from the spraying shards which were as dangerous as random gunfire was confusing to her.

“I don’t WAAAANT the BEAAAAR!” she shrieked at her mother, turning her head out toward the gardens, deaf to the screams and mayhem from the house staff downstairs. Her own windows rattled; a single crack in a pane grew across the base of the glass along the frame, catching the light from the sun, and her attention for a brief second, long enough to make her catch her breath.

“Wha? What was that?” she asked, bewildered, an eyebrow raised.

Downstairs the human clamor was slowing but the vacuums started up to clean up whatever was left of the mess from her recent outburst.

“Waaaah!” she cried.

The window shook.

“Waaaah-ahh-aaaah! Noooooowaaaaah!” she wailed again, deliberately this time to study the effects, as though testing her shadow for its truth or an image in a false mirror. The crack spread across the entire window; all four corners were vulnerable to implosion and a single piece, the size of a bottle cap, popped out and dropped at her feet.

“Oh my…” she said, bending over to pick up the piece, gently examining it in the sunlight and taking great care to not cut herself.

“I’ll… I’ll uh, I’ll take that, honey. Give it. Give it here, Leesie,” begged her mother, with the bear in one hand, his eyes now cracked, one completely off his face. Her mother’s other palm was patiently outstretched, waiting for the piece. “I’m worried you’ll cut yourself on it…”

“No. No, I’ll be fine. In a second. If I cry again, mother, what will happen to this window?” she asked.

“If you cry again, dear, the glass with break completely and you and I could be injured. It’s something we’re trying to … to understand. We know that if you are simply angry, then the glass won’t break, but if you are truly sad or melancholy, then the glass will break and porcelain vases as will most lead crystal and fine china within a 5-mile radius,” she said, nervously nodding and pressing her lips together when she was finished.

“Oh,” said Elise. “That explains a lot. I am so sorry. I never meant ….” and her breathing deepened as her lower lip trembled.

Quickly, her mother rushed to her side and said, “I don’t know what to do. We’ve never let you just let it out. We’ve always stopped you. We don’t know what will happen if …”

“If I just let it out?” Elise asked, regaining her composure. “Is this why…? All this stuff? My bedroom is all puffy and fluffed with things that aren’t hard, nothing shiny? Why my mirrors are all plastic and warped? Why I ride a bicycle everywhere and I drink out of plastic or steel? Why all my stuffed animals have button eyes? Oh my goodness…” she blew a breath between her lips as though blowing on a coffee to cool it, she was working very hard to keep her emotions in check as her words were paced and thoughtful.

“Yes. That is why,” said her mother, as she pulled her daughter close to hold her near, her facial lather had dried to a flakey foam by now. “But I think you might be ready because now you know,” she added.

“Where? Where will I be safe, or where will I be able to cry so others can be safe?” she asked.

“UCLA,” her mother said. “You can cry at UCLA; it’s near where Lindsay Lohan is incarcerated, so they have a place that can handle it; it’s like a sound stage, but it’s all made out of Kevlar, Nomex, titanium and Lexan, it’s a sort of panic room for divas. But you’re not a diva, you’re just a homely and painful crier. Are you interested? I will go with you and if it works, you can go wherever you want after that.”

Elise sat on her bed, or more appropriately, flopped on it. Sighing, she flew her hands up and asked, “Why me? What is this? What if it doesn’t work? What will happen then?”

“I don’t know,” said her mother, “but I think we need to try, to take you to that edge or beyond it, to find out.”

(c) Molly Field 2013


Well, that was the most random thing I’ve ever written. Today is the Friday of a crazy week here; only to continue into next week. I started this post not know what I was going to write about. I had no clue and I was even mad at the prompt, but once I typed, “Elise was an ugly crier” I knew I was on to something. So I added the bit about the bear and her mom. It comes about as my husband remarked today that Claire Danes is an ugly crier and that sentence became this story.

Here is the prompt: Use the quote below to tell the story of how your primary character comes to the edge (a cliche). Note: Your character may/may not fly. However, he/she encourages others to start a new beginning – i.e. to “fly.” Spring offers new beginnings to grow and soar. Tell this story in no more than 1,500 words (no less than 800) with a balance of dialogue and imagery. Now let your story fly!

“Come to the edge, He said. They said: We are afraid. Come to the edge, He said. They came. He pushed them, And they flew . . .”
— Guillaume Apollinaire
French poet

Please check out these other participants in today’s Friday Fiction Friends challenge!
Val’s fiction

Thank you!

Letting Go of What Weighs Us Down


I’m about a week into Camp NaNoWriMo. I’m writing my novel (ack, that sounds weird and looks weirder) and I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process of creating a whole new person, so to speak, with feelings, thoughts, attitude and reactions that are at times similar to my own and other times, completely different. I am creating memories and experiences. I have to admit, it’s pretty cool: it’s like a person’s story is being knit and I hold the needles but the yarn is the imagination.

My protagonist is going through a rough patch in her life. She’s starting psychotherapy because she’s locked down emotionally and spiritually: she functions quite well in the American Ideal: kids to school, dog on walks, dinner on the table, hair in a bun, gas in the tank … but she’s fractured inside.

Writing about her has jogged my own memories about my own experiences and the 80-lb bullet-proof Samsonite suitcase full of guilt and second-guesses and regrets I’ve been carrying with me for decades.

The good news is that despite that gorilla: I still have the key to unlock the suitcase. The key? It’s an action actually. It’s called: letting go, and I can’t wait until my character and I can do it together.

When I was younger, I was implicitly responsible for performing things that really didn’t belong in my wheelhouse. I often was responsible for finding things because I had 20/10 vision (age took care of that, now I can barely see anything within 18 inches with my contacts in and more than 2 feet without them). I am beginning to realize that a lot of what I was asked to look for was asked of me because sometimes the people seeking it didn’t want to Do The Work themselves to create action and change.

Thus, when I couldn’t find or couldn’t perform, I became like a search and rescue dog: depressed or bummed out that I couldn’t achieve what others had requested of me. That made me perform in a lackluster way at times: “Why bother? Meh.”

The thing is (I see this now at 44.7 years of age): it’s not mine; it never was. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t turn up the heat or drive people crazy because of it. (Check out that post if you know what I’m talking about: chaos – it resonated with a lot of people.)

As I grew older, with that suitcase, that sense of responsibility carried itself to all manner of circumstances: if the tickets to an event sold out before I could get them, it was my fault. If the weather turned bad when we were on a picnic, it was my fault. If someone failed to do what we hoped that they would, that was my fault and I would do all I could to change the balance (notice I didn’t say “fix the balance” – that’s from doing The Work). If a traffic jam presented itself en route to an event, it was my fault. If I couldn’t get someone to learn something, it was my fault. If I couldn’t get someone to change their behavior, it was my fault.

Sometimes I’d voice my overwhelming sense of responsibility and guilt over what I perceived as “failures,” thinking, nay PRAYING that someone would pat me on the back and say, “It’s OK Mol, we know you tried to get Bruce Springsteen to come to Chik-Fil-A for your grade-school teacher’s granddaughter Patsy’s son’s 3rd birthday party…”

I remember talking to my own therapist about five years ago. He laughed, with love, but laughed nonetheless at my pronouncement and said something along the lines of, “What an EGO you have! Good God, Molly! You think you can summon the weather or conjure clear roads or somehow open a section of seats in a stadium?! WHO taught you this? Where did you learn that you were so responsible for other people, events and well, hell: the universe?”

I ground my teeth and sneered at him.

He continued, because he was thorough and awesome: “Well, if someone’s napping and you scream at the top of your lungs, ‘SPIDER! SPIDER! AAACK!’ then yeah, it’s your fault that person woke up. But if you have a loved one who has screwed up behaviors or a person in your life who constantly does the wrong thing; and I mean clearly wrong like shoplifting or abusive behavior, and they don’t stop despite your protestations and advice and consults and I can only imagine, what… your stalking them, whose responsibility is it?” he said.

“I don’t know. I mean, I am nothing if I am not their friend. I am nothing if I don’t try to help them.” I said.

“No. You are human. That is all. You are … here’s the thing: you are not responsible for anyone’s wellness or health or successes or failures but YOUR OWN. Do you get that? It’s hard because I know you come from a codependent place, but do you get that? I mean, on an intellectual level — not even cellular yet, which could take years. Do you get that?”

“So you’re saying,” I said, “that if I’m with someone who’s say, shoplifting and she doesn’t stop despite my telling her, that if she does it anyway and it doesn’t matter if she gets caught, that it’s not my responsibility?”

“Is it your hands on the item? Did you stuff it into her purse or under her jacket or in her pocket? Would you rather gesticulate and point at her from behind and mouth to the clerk, ‘SHE HAS A BLOW DRYER UNDER HER HOODIE!’ repeatedly? Do you make people drink ’til they pass out? Do you? would you think it would make sense to put a sign on the person that says, ‘PLEASE ARREST ME I AM DRUNK IN PUBLIC’? What, you gonna follow people around with a breathalyzer?” he challenged.

Doing my best Vinnie Barbarino impression, I said, “No. Of course not. I mean c’mon. So … ohhhhh. I’m getting it on an intellectual level, I am,” I said. then all of a sudden I switched to Arnold Horshack, “But what about my anger and disappointment? What about the guilt I feel for either being angry with those people for their continual actions or guilt for not having success with them?”

“Let it go. It was never yours to begin with; it is not yours to end with. The guilt – that’s Catholic. You all feel apologetic for everything and it’s a very bad habit. But it is a habit and habits can be changed,” he said.

 .  .  .

I’m looking at this dialog and remembering it happening and feeling no small embarrassment because of how I thought about things then. I still feel some semblance of responsibility for things, but not so much. The guilt: that’s another thing altogether and I know that shedding it will be best. It’s hard. Is it a penchant for masochism? Is it still ego? “LOOK AT ME! I’M THE BEST AT FEELING RESPONSIBLE!” It must be still ego, right? And look how DANGEROUSLY close it is to (I just barfed in my mouth a little): Martyrdom. Ugh.

No, it’s ego. I’m gonna stick with ego for the moment. I am not a martyr because that’s yet another dangerously close cousin to (upchuck): victimhood. No.

There’s no other thing it could be. I mean, if I didn’t have guilt then I wouldn’t feel responsible and if I didn’t feel responsible then I’dve shed my ego, my “place” in the circumstance. Breaking this all down, as I type, has been very helpful.

Sometimes, no, all the time actually: things just ARE. People just ARE. They have their own ways of doing things. What works for them might not work for you — I mean, if you don’t wanna get stoned to “become creative” then, don’t. By all means: DON’T. But arguing with them or the fates for The Way Things Are, that’s not ours. And to be completely honest with you and myself: it’s a nice distraction isn’t it? It’s a nice distraction to concentrate on someone else’s flaws or predilections or how the weather turned or a tractor trailer jack-knifed on our way to the beach instead of turning the mirror on ourselves and a) letting it go, b) getting our ego out of the picture, no matter how painful and c) moving on.

I’ve been saying this for a long time: the best way to stay exactly how you are is to concentrate on someone else’s shit.

What we feel responsible and guilty about are very nice enablers to keep us from improving ourselves.

Thank you.