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Special thanks for the inspiration from photographer Samm Blake whose work can be seen here.
He slammed on the brakes, thrusting her forward. She threw her hand to the dash, her thin arms braced, trying to save herself from a concussion.
“Did you see that? We have to stop for a photo!”
She looked over her shoulder at the road behind them looking for his ambiguous landmark but all she could see were trees and the back of a billboard.
He reversed past the signage and hit the brakes again. Now she understood; the whole ad consisted of one word: EATS.
He was single at the time, sitting at a small independent coffee shop reading on one of those lonely nights where he just had to get out of his empty house. He couldn’t concentrate on his novel; an attractive, almost-too-thin girl was at the table next to his and chatting on her phone. He had a good view of her and pretended to read as he took in her beauty. A plaid shirt would have hidden her size if it weren’t that she had the sleeves rolled up a bit, allowing her thin arms to burst from them.
“I’m tired of it,” she said into her phone in a reserved tone. She dipped into a yogurt-granola-fruit concoction, which made him smile since she skipped the sandwich and chips sitting in front of her and went right for the dessert. It made him look down at his meal, an untouched sandwich and a napkin covered in the remains of what used to be a coffee cake crumble. “I need to switch doctors again. Yet another one refuses to believe me. I eat all the time, and I eat a lot.” She finished the yogurt and started digging into the sandwich as she listened to the other end of the line.
She had beautiful brown hair, long and curly, and her eyes were deep but sad, a trait he noticed right away. He’d always had a thing for sad eyes. The person on the other end of her phone suddenly had to go, so she continued her meal in silence as he continued to feign reading.
He turned to his side to rummage through his bag for a notebook. This woman was some sort of muse, a story hit him and he had to get it on paper before it was too late. He would write it and then share it with her, a way of getting to say hello and maybe get a date with her.
He wrote fiercely as if possessed by some sort of writing demon as the scribbles continued faster and faster, more than once his pen ripped through the page a bit, such was the passion and ferocity of this particular story. If he had his laptop the sounds of the keys would stop readers, put a halt to all conversations and even drown out the sound of the steamers of the cappuccino machine, attracting the attention of all beings in the café and distracting them from the everyday and the mundane and make them all stop and take notice.
When he finally looked up she had left. So ensconced in his work was he that she’d gotten up, packed her things and left before he could even tell her what she’d done.
And the story? It was a masterpiece.
That night on the Craigslist Missed Connections the following was posted:
You: a beautiful and thin girl, mid-twenties wearing plaid in the coffee shop who ate her meal dessert-first while talking about the need for a new doctor.
Me: a kind of shy guy sitting across from you pretending to read while in reality taking in your beauty.
You inspired something beautiful in me, and I feel the need to share with you. Please write me.
After checking his email religiously for a day or so, he’d all but given up when he got the message, the one, from a girl who seemed to fit the description. He responded with the story he’d written in her presence, and so powerful was it that they agreed on meeting at a little café, a different place, to see if they clicked as a couple and not just in a muse-creator relationship. So they met, and they ended up in love and in a car driving down a random road in the middle of nowhere and stopping to take a photograph.
They got out of the car to find a man climbing the ladder to the sign.
“Sir?” he called to the man, who stumbled a bit on the rung at his voice. “Shit, sorry sir! I was just wondering if you would take our photograph up there.”
“You aren’t allowed up here! It’s illegal.”
“Please?” she called to him, giving the older man her winning smile. “It would mean a lot to us.”
He started back down toward the ground.
“I’m sorry, I could lose my job. And anyway, I’m here to take it down. I have a new one over there,” he said as he pointed in the direction of a large pile of folded up vinyl.
“Please sir, it’s important to us. It’s how we bonded.” The man raised a gray eyebrow.
She stepped forward a bit. “You see, I’m thin, and everyone always thinks I’m anorexic or something. I’m not, I can assure you. But I was complaining about it on the phone to a friend almost a year ago, and to make a long story short, it brought us to this moment.” She reached a hand out to her boyfriend, who refused it and pulled her in next to him.
“And my grandmother always used to say that to me. ‘Eats!’ she’d always say, because I’m thin too. She was from Italy, and thought she was saying it right. I always used to laugh. But basically, we’ve both had the same problem over the years, and the word, well, it means a lot to us. Every time we went out I would tell her to ‘eats’ like my grandmother would, and we would laugh about it.”
“Now it’s our inside joke. We tell each other to ‘eats’ with the same meaning as ‘I love you’ and this sign, well, it has a lot of meaning to us.”
The man looked from the couple up to the billboard, then down the road. “Okay okay, you convinced me. Hurry up there but be careful!” She handed him her camera and they climbed as fast as they could and posed as he took the photo.
“One more, just in case!” he yelled after checking the road again. They held each other and he took the picture. They were back down by his side in no time.
“I’m Italian too. I understand the whole pushy Italian grandmother thing. It’s like they always think you’re going to starve,” he said to them.
“Thanks so much, sir,” he said, shaking the man’s hand. “This will be one of those moments to remember. Maybe even tell our kids,” he said with a shy smile.
They got in the car and drove off and she looked at the image on the small screen of her digital camera and smiled.
Photograph by photographer Samm Blake whose work can be seen here.
I made it. Wildwood, New Jersey. The cousins’ house is beautiful, right on Central Avenue, and I even have my own room! It’s a shame I did not know, or I would have brought more to decorate with. All I brought was that one photograph of Charles, so I put it on my mirror and kiss it every morning when I wake up and every night before I sleep.
Oh, the cousins are calling me, it’s time for the beach! I’ll write more later.
Frank, Beth and I were sitting outside on the patio when I met their neighbor, Margaret. They warned me she was a little weird. She lives across the street all alone, which is odd because she’s twenty-one (or so Beth says) and she works at some sort of factory off-shore. She’s a little bit shorter than I, but she liked my cardigan (it was a bit chilly, Frank said a cold breeze usually comes off the ocean at night) and asked me a lot of questions, especially about Charles. But I like talking about him, so I was pleased. She invited me to tea at her house tomorrow, and I accepted.
I still have to write Charles, but I can’t find the paper where I wrote the address where he’s stationed in Italy. Where on earth did I put it?
I had tea with Margaret, and we talked for hours! At first it was mostly about Charles, but then she started telling me about her life, her job (I can’t believe she really works, I thought Frank was pulling my leg). She says women should not have to depend on a man to live, which is an odd thing to say, but I guess she has a point. She works and has this house, so I guess it is okay.
We went for a walk on the beach, but Margaret does not own a bathing suit! I could not believe it. I offered to go shopping with her, but she did not seem to like the idea. She said she did not like being looked at by all of the men on the beach in that way. I always kind of liked it, but did not say anything. I did not want to hurt her feelings.
Now where did I put that address?
Sorry it has been a few days, but life has been exciting! Margaret has become my new best friend, and even though she is three years older than I, she seems to understand me. She works during the week, so I go to the beach with Beth (Frank goes with his friends, and usually they torment us a bit) and after dinner I go to Margaret’s to play cards. She is so interesting, I have trouble agreeing with her thoughts on life sometimes, but overall, she is fascinating. I’m supposed to leave in a day or two, but Margaret invited me to stay with her, so we will see.
Tonight Margaret took me to the boardwalk and treated me to some rides. We went on the ferris wheel and then the carousel, then she brought me to the shooting gallery. She is very good with a gun, she did not miss once! She even let me point out what she should shoot, and in the end gave me the teddy bear she won. I will sleep with it every night from now on.
I have decided to stay. Auntie did not like the idea of me moving in with Margaret, and even went so far as to call mother! But she did not have a problem with it, so I am sharing Margaret’s place. Beth and Frank have been whispering about me, I think. But I am excited to be living with a friend for the first time. We watch the television (usually Jack Benny) and she has also has been reading to me out loud! I usually fall asleep after a while, but really like the book she’s reading me (A Lost Lady by Willa Cather) and next she says she will read me a book called The Awakening, which should be fun since it takes place in a shore town. I do not know how she knows about these books or where she hears of them, but I enjoy what I have heard so far.
Last night I woke up on the couch and Margaret had fallen asleep too, right up against me. It felt nice since I was cold. I pulled an afghan off the back of the couch and wrapped us both up in it.
I finally wrote Charles a post card, but have yet to find the address. I may have to give up and call mother. Maybe she can call his mother and get the address.
Margaret and I have taken to falling asleep on the couch every night. She reads to me until I fall asleep, and then must fall asleep soon after since I wake up every morning next to her. It is nice, and while I think my cousins disapprove (they have been visiting less and rarely ask me to the beach now). Auntie has been making an effort to invite me to lunch almost daily. She asks me lots of questions about staying with Margaret. I think she is a puzzle to them, nobody understands her. Auntie asks if she talks about any men, but I have to say I have never heard her mention any, except maybe someone named Sam whom I believe she dated. She does not speak of him often, but has slipped his name into conversation once or twice. He seems to be an old fling of hers who used to visit ever summer. I am worried he will visit soon (she said it is a possibility) because I am afraid he will take her away from me. She is the best friend I have ever had, and do not want to end up watching Jack Benny alone while she is out at the amusement park with him instead of me. Maybe she will invite me.
I got a letter from Charles, wanting to know how I am. I will get his address tomorrow, or the next day.
My fears have come true! Margaret came home today to find a note on the door from Sam. He is here for the week! I do not want to meet him, and Margaret seems uninterested in seeing him as well. I am not bringing him up at all for fear she will tell me that she will be busy with him all week. I hope not.
I found the note and read it, he signed off with “Love, Sam” which upset me. His writing looks a lot like mine, which is kind of odd.
I still need to call home and get Charles’ address. I feel terrible about it, but I am not sure what I would even tell him if I were to write him now.
All of my fears were silly! Sam is a girl. It is short for Samantha. And while I have to say she clearly does not like me, I am relieved. Although I am curious what made me think they were an item before. Samantha kept giving me dirty looks, and calling me Margaret’s girlfriend like it was a bad thing. Maybe I do not fully understand what is going on here.
I decided not to write Charles. I have nothing to say and can fill him in when I go home, whenever that will be.
Something has happened, dear diary, something I feel I can only tell you, the keeper of all of my secrets! Last night after a heated argument with Sam, Margaret was quiet. She sat in the kitchen for about an hour, and at first I thought she was crying and gave her space, but after a while I heard a crashing sound and I ran in to find her breaking dishes on the floor! I asked her what was wrong, and she said I would not understand. I sat down and refused to leave until she talked to me, and after a few minutes I realized her eyes were teary, and I knew I had to go to her and hug her. I was surprised to see her cry, she is such a strong woman.
So I went over and hugged her, and she pushed me away a bit, and then looked into my eyes. I’m almost afraid to even write this, but I know I can trust you, diary, and need to tell someone. She kissed me, hard on the lips. I was terrified and caught off guard. I did not expect it at all. I was a bit upset.
I am not upset with Margaret. I was troubled, and still am, because I liked it. And I did not stop her.
I’m sorry it’s been a few weeks! Everything has happened so fast. Margaret has taught me so much. I’ve gotten rid of the few dresses I had and am dressing more like Margaret now. A woman even asked us if we were sisters the other day! Margaret likes my new style, and I have to admit it is so uplifting to not worry about what boys think of me! I spend less time in my room primping and am really living life.
Also, I got a job! Margaret helped me, and now I work in the factory with her. I do not do anything with the machinery like she does, but I have an important job nonetheless. I am in shipping, where I make sure the packages are labeled correctly and they have the right contents. I got my first paycheck and took Margaret out for dinner to celebrate. My first paycheck, I never thought I would know the feeling of ‘bringing home the bacon’ as dad always called it. It makes me feel strong.
I have moved into the main bedroom with Margaret.
I could not ask for anything more. Life is better than I ever could have hoped! I am in love, I have a great job, and I have never felt so strong and independent. And I have Margaret to thank!
I asked her the other day what we were doing, and she explained that people all over the world are like us, but that they are forced to live in secret, which made me realize we too are keeping it a secret! She never holds my hand in public, and we only kiss in her house. I did not realize until now how hard these choices would make my life. But it is all worth it, I am in love with her, and she loves me (she told me last night!)
Work is great, I love it. I’ve been doing the food shopping since Margaret never has a lot of food in the house, and we have been cooking together. She has no idea what she is doing around the kitchen! I have been trying to teach her, but mostly give her easy jobs like cutting the vegetables or shucking the corn.
All is well. I am happy.
I am home now, and miserable. I’ve never felt so horrible in my life. It all started early this morning. There was a banging on the front door, and I jumped out of bed, my heart racing, and found my father at the door. He burst through, pushing me out of the way and waking Margaret, who came out in her pajamas.
He called her all kinds of names, words I have never even heard before, and she started trying to punch him. She gave him a shiner, but he refused to hit her back, he eventually just grabbed her wrists and pushed her onto the couch. Then he grabbed me and dragged me to the car, telling me to stay there while he gathered my belongings. I sat in the car out of fear. I feel stupid. I did not even get to say goodbye to her.
I could hear him yelling, and her yelling about how I was an adult and free to make my own choices. She followed him out as he carried my suitcase, hastily packed. Father got in and started the car, and she began yelling for me to get out of the car and stay. I started crying, but could not disobey my father. I waved goodbye and mouthed “I love you” to her, and she stopped chasing the car. My heart broke as I watched her get smaller out the back window.
I have not even left my room in the ten hours I’ve been here. When I opened my suitcase, the teddy bear she won for me that night was right on top, and I grabbed him and held him as tight as I could. My family has not said a word to me. My mother would not even look me in the eye, and did not even send up any food. Peter snuck me some cookies he had hidden in his room, and he told me he loved me, which made me cry more.
Now I am writing, and formulating my plan for tomorrow. There is a factory that hires women nearby, since there’s such a shortage of men ever since the war started. I will go there and try to get a job, and then I will start looking for my own place, save up money, and someday get back to Margaret. Wish me luck, diary.
We were out so long that our socks were soaked in the cold, icy water that had once been snow. It snuck into our boots through tiny holes in our armor, somehow penetrating the elastic of our waterproof pants, our solar gloves that warmed our hands the longer we were out there, our fleece inner linings, even my polarized sunglasses seemed to be wet straight through. I grabbed my coveted sled, the IceBreaker 3000 and told Madison it was time to go home. She agreed.
As we walked home, lightweight titanium sleds folded up and placed on our backs, and the sun set, the world still glowed a whitish-blue and lights from houses and porch lights stood out in a yellowish tint, unless of course they were energy-savers, pronounced by a bluish-white. As we approached home we could see our Mommom sitting in the bay window in her favorite chair, drinking tea.
We walked in the front door and began unloading our clothing, and after a quick shedding of layers we finally entered the living room where she sat.
“Have fun, kids?”
“Uh huh,” we answered in unison.
“Come on, I have some hot chocolate for you.”
“Is it low fat?” my little sister asked.
“I like mine with soy milk,” I said.
“Of course,” she responded.
We ran over and picked up our respective glasses, and she leaned forward long enough for us to grab the fleece blanket that rested on the chair behind her, to snuggle up.
“Boy how things have changed,” she said, looking up at me and removing the sunglasses from my head, placing them on a nearby table.
Madison was the first to take the bait. “How, Mommom Betty?”
She looked out, mesmerized by the slowly falling flakes, and smiled.
It was 1923, and the first snow day we’d had in years. I waited impatiently for mom to finish cleaning the kitchen so she could approve of my snow clothing. Finally she came in, drying her hands on her apron.
“Okay let’s see how you’ve done,” she said with a warm smile.
I stood at attention, ready for inspection.
“No, no, no Betty. This is no good. Come on.”
She took me upstairs to the attic, pulled open the large, seldom-used bottom drawer and started rooting through it. She pulled out pair after pair of long johns, and put them into a pile in front of me. Finally, after four pairs of pants and two shirts she stopped.
“Okay get those snow pants off and put these on.”
“All of them?”
“Yes. Do that while I go look for more shirts.”
I sighed and started taking off the pants, putting on pair after pair until I felt like I was twice my original size. I ran down to her, looking around in other drawers in her room, anxious to go out and play.
Finally, mom gave up. “I guess that’ll have to do. Here are gloves and a hat. Let me help you get those snow pants back on.”
I was struggling trying to put them on over the several pairs of long johns, unsuccessfully. The pants just wouldn’t fit.
“Stand up,” mother said, smiling. She held onto the pants as I jumped up and down, shoving my way into them. “Okay that should do it. Let’s get that coat on. And next the gloves, okay hat, and now let’s put on your hood.”
I hated the hood. I frowned at her.
“Frown all you want, young lady, I will not have you catching your death of cold out there. That’s how people get sick.”
She tied the hood tight, too tight, and double-knotted it so I couldn’t possibly untie it, especially considering my mittens.
“Okay now for the socks,” she said handing me two more pairs of thick, heavy socks my great-grandmother had sent me. “Now boots!” as she shoved them on over the socks. I was finally ready.
“Okay now go have fun.”
I ran outside to the garage, where dad had left my wooden sled for me against the big wooden door. It was hard and tiring to walk with all of those layers, but well worth it. Soon I would be sledding with my friends at the park. I put the sled down into the snow, the metal rails scratching against the driveway underneath the snow a bit where father had shoveled. I tried three times before successfully clutching the frayed twine that acted as a rope handle for it, finally grabbing it between the small and giant finger my mittens changed my hand into, and I was ready.
There was nothing like that moment walking to the playground as I could see small heads popping up at the top of the hill, then disappearing down into a snowy pit, screaming in happiness all the way down. I could hear the fun from a block away, before I could even see it, and as I got closer I walked faster, anticipating the fun.
I made it. I walked to the top of the hill, and saw all of my friends, unrecognizable in all those layers of clothing, at the bottom, waving me down. They were making snow angels. I brought my sled to the edge, sat down, grabbed the wooden handles that let me steer, and slowly pushed myself off of the top of the hill.
After a little over an hour, I knew I had to head home, and started the sad walk back. Mother wouldn’t want me gone much longer, and certainly would be cross with me if I missed lunch.
I got home, placed the sled right where father had left it, and went to the back door, where I knew I had to go to take off layer upon layer of snowy, wet clothing.
And when I finally finished, mother had a hot chocolate sitting at the table, a real one made from milk and melted chocolate, and I sipped it, feeling the warmth flow through my shivering body.
At this point, she had fallen asleep, and I sipped my soy hot chocolate, finally warming up, and I, too felt that warmth from the drink. As I got up to play Rock Band with Madison, I noticed something Mommom’s hand, and reached out, carefully taking it.
It was a photo, wrinkled and black and white, of my Mommom all bundled up, pulling her sled in front of our house. She looked a lot like Madison.