I write…

WritingI write. I write because no one cares to listen to what say. I write to purge the angst from my soul, to liberate myself from the weight that threatens to burden me beyond endurance. I write because I have something to say, a piece of me that I want to share. I write because I must.

I wish I could say that I don’t care if anyone reads what I write, but that would be a lie. I want to be read, I want for people to glimpse into that part of me, the part that I keep hidden, protected from a cold, uncaring world. I have this light that I want shone across the great expanse, but people shun it, closing their own windows, leaving me wondering what the point of this futility is.

I write, but I don’t know why I bother. To share with everyone only to be ignored is the worst rejection from a lifetime of rejection. I suppose it’s my curse to bear, and I try to bear it stoically, but sometimes the pain bursts from me unawares, before I even have a chance to shore up my defenses. Then I feel ashamed of my own weakness, but that’s the price of being human, of needing someone to accept up for who we are.

I’m a writer, and I’m a bag of paradoxes and contradictions. I’m flippant and sarcastic, but also earnest and sincere. I’m hopeful and optimistic, but broken down by experience to the point where only my pessimism is allowed to show. I want to be liked, but I’m afraid of putting myself out there, to be rejected and hated. I want to love, but love comes with the inherent risk of being brokenhearted, and I don’t know if I can survive another heartbreak.

So I hide behind my keyboard, exploring the human condition from which I separate myself. I explore love and hate, hope and despair, life and death, from the safe, ignoble distance of my imagination, but at what cost? Have I lost something of my humanity?

I write, but am I worth reading. I wonder but have no answer, and who is there who has one for me, and would I listen even if there were?

Short Story: Sacrificed Death

I celebrated my 181st birthday yesterday. I call it a celebration because that’s what people say, but my longevity is not a blessing. It’s a punishment for daring to seek immortality. You may not believe it, you probably don’t want to. There’s this fear of death that permeates through this society. A fear that I find ironic considering the state of the world.

You won’t find my name listed on any record books. I’m not a celebrity, though I was briefly a well-known actor on Broadway and Vaudeville. I starred in few early films, all during the silent age, before disappearing for an age, returning to enlist in the Great War, hoping that death would find me on the battlefield. He saw me and turned away, my sacrifice an insufficient penance for my act of insolence those many years ago.

I was born on a plantation in 1834, the son of wealthy landowner who grew tobacco in the fields, along with a few other crops. He also owned a distillery in town which brought enough money that we would never know want. We had it all, the extravagant home on the rolling green hills, an army of slaves to tend to everything, from the fields to our home. It was a simple time, one that seems idyllic in a sense.

Of course looking at it from our current vantage point, our family were the oppressors of a people, though we treated the help well when you consider the period. I didn’t understand it at the time, but we owned actual human beings. How grotesque is that? I’m ashamed of that history.

Some have the benefit of being separated by generations from that abominable age, but I don’t. I lived it. It’s because I lived it that I’ve come to my current situation. While it wasn’t uncommon for the white owners to sleep with the slaves –  with or without their permission, consent being a modern invention – I went a step further and fell in love with a girl.

Maybelle was a beautiful girl of fourteen. I was a few years older at nineteen. When you apply modern age differences, it would seem to be scandalous, but people matured younger in those days. You had to. The concept of adolescence had yet to be invented. Lives depended on growing up. It was a harsh world, but we were strong. We had to to survive.

So our ages weren’t what caused a scandal, but the color of our skin. I was a free white man. She was a servant of color. It didn’t matter that I loved her, nor that she loved me. What mattered was race. Miscegenation was considered by some in our community, reason enough to be killed. Our preacher taught it was an abomination against the Lord for the purity of the race to be diluted by inferior blood. I began to deplore my family, and my race, and my God.

Maybelle would often speak frankly to me, believing that a time would come when a man and woman could marry regardless of the color of our skin, but lamented that it wouldn’t be in our lifetime. An obsession was sparked in me, to defy the laws of Heaven and Earth, to deny Death another mortal trophy. I sought a way to prolong my life, and in so doing prolong my beloved Maybelle’s as well.

I dabbled in the occult, I confess. If God would deny me the woman I so loved, I would turn to his adversary. I sold my soul to the devil, though at the time I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t consider that evil would betray me with a worse fate than death.

“Please,” Maybelle pleaded with me, “don’t you dare do it. I would rather die than live with the shadow of the betrayer looming over us. Let’s run away. Let’s get married. Let men kill us if they want to, but please don’t sell yourself to that fell demon.”

“Don’t worry,” I smiled. “It’ll be alright.”

I walked away that night, to a clearing outside of town, hidden from the prying eyes of the living. In that copse the shadow walked towards me, and I swore my allegiance to him. “For ever after,” he grinned, “Death you pass you by, but know that I demand a payment in kind.”

“That wasn’t part of the bargain,” I cried. “You swore you could forestall death. You never stated that there was a price to pay!”

The shadow lowered its hood, and I looked upon the visage of Death. He smiled, his eyes alight with mischief. “You turned away from life and I granted you passage into immortality, but your Maybelle will never go for it. She’s too pure of a woman for that.”

“She will,” I protested fiercely. “She has to!”

I ran away from the copse and all the way into town and to the other side, several miles, until I reached the plantation. I had been so desperate to get Maybelle to swear allegiance to Death that I hadn’t noticed that I was not out of breath. I ran past the house, and to the shacks where Maybelle and her family lived.

“Don’t you come into this house, boy!” Her father yelled at me, fear dancing in his eyes. He had never spoken to me like that. He had never dared raise his voice at any white man and I knew then that something evil had happened.

I pushed my way in, and her family shrank back. There on a cot on the floor laid an emaciated woman, old and and feeble. Her breath came in raspy bursts, with fits of coughing that spewed blood onto those who attended to her during her throes of death.

“Who is she?” I demanded. No one spoke. No one dared speak to me. The cowered before me and I didn’t know why. Finally she opened her eyes, and her eyes spoke to me. Her body was dying but her eyes were bright with the raging fire of youth. Maybelle looked at me, and I could tell though she wasn’t angry at me, she had chosen a noble path instead of my choice.

I watched in horror as her face contorted in pain as she convulsed and shrank again, wasting away until only a skin-covered pile of bones lay before me, and the light in her eyes dimmed until they went out.

“You did this, boy,” her father shoved his finger in my face as the family wailed in anguish. “You, the devil’s child. You killed my girl. Now I’m going to kill you.”

And he did. Then buried my body. My father found out about my murder and had me dug up. Her father was hanged and buried in the shallow grave he had buried me in. Then I was given a proper burial. Only I was not dead. I could see everything. Death had not taken me, like he promised.

I dug my way out eventually and left town. I wandered the countryside until the first horrific war began, and I traveled north. I fought for the union to end slavery, and I died to save the union. I died so many times it became a game of how-long-can-I-last.

I lived, and I never forgot my Maybelle. I got married eventually, had a family, and watched them all die. I married again, and again, and each time I watched as they withered before me. Sons and daughters passed away, as did my grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

I’ve been alone for fifty years now. I’ve seen and done everything imaginable. I conquered the unconquerable, and I’ve mastered everything. I’ve become a poet, a writer, a musician, and an actor. I’ve fought for what I believed in, and sought to find that path back to mortality, but there’s the price I have to pay.

Maybelle’s death was not the payment I had to pay. Far from it. She chose to die instead of renouncing that gift like I had. The price I bear is to never see her again in my lifetime. Sacrificing my life means nothing, I suppose, since I can’t die. I sacrificed my death, and that is a fate worse than I could ever have imagined.


Short Stories

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The drive

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Benjamin, TX Water Tower – Joe Hinojosa 2015

I took a drive down to see my friend this past weekend. I usually go down every few months, so it really isn’t a big deal, but this time I took out my car for the first time. I haven’t had my own car in several years, not since my life fell apart back in 2011 and 2012, and my car got repoed at the end of 2012.

It’s difficult to put one’s self back together, especially after begin ripped to shreds by divorce and other former flames, unemployment, and a total disintegration of one’s identity. For a year or two, there was nothing left of me to even begin to mend myself anew. I was a tattered soul left to fray in the wind, and every setback threatened to pull the last remaining threads and unwind me completely.

But I persevered. I didn’t think I would, especially at first, but slowly I did begin to mend, unnoticed by anyone, including myself, but the frayed ends began to stitch themselves together, until one day I felt myself whole. I have no memory of the process, it working itself in secret, but I feel more or less complete.

So now I have a car of my own, the ultimate expression of freedom, and I drove down after work on Friday, spending the weekend there at her house. I spent Saturday with my step-daughter, something my ex-wife has been badgering me about for a while now. That evening we had a cookout and a small campfire in the front yard, and made s’mores.

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Welcome To McKinney – Joe Hinojosa 2015

Sunday me and my friend headed to McKinney and walked around downtown. Most downtowns I’ve seen are run down and mostly deserted, but McKinney has a lively square, with shops and diners open for business. I bought a jar of apple preserves from one store, and then sat down for a beer and pizza from The Mellow Mushroom. It had to be the best pizza I’ve ever eaten.

After our lunch, we headed to Frisco to meet up with some writer friends I have. It was nice to see them and to talk to them. My only mistake is that I didn’t take my laptop with me, so I didn’t get to work on anything while I was there. Still, it was a pleasant visit, though not long enough. They never are.

I drove back home on Monday, but I took a detour to Lubbock to see my niece who’s on the pep squad at her school. There was a game she was cheering at, so I decided to drop by and support her. I didn’t know the way, but I drove down unfamiliar roads to get there. I rarely like taking routes I’m not familiar with, but on Monday it was a nice change of pace, seeing sights I’ve never seen before. I didn’t get home until after eleven that night, completely worn out from the drive and the football game, but it was worth it.

As I think about it, life is much like that impromptu detour I took on Monday. I never planned on losing my marriage, or my job, or my car, but I took the unfamiliar road and I survived it.  I came out the other side stronger and with a greater appreciation of the good things in life. I’ve seen sights I never thought possible, and I’ve grown as a person, becoming a better man, or so I hope.

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Again, goodybe

I made the funeral early this morning, and though it wasn’t easy to attend, I’m glad I made the drive. For those of you who hadn’t heard, my ex-wife informed me that her grandmother passed away during heart surgery Friday evening. She was 70 years old.

Brenda – Nanny to her grandchildren and just about everyone else – was a source of comfort to me during some hard times. Nanny, along with her husband Bob “Papaw”, accepted me for a person, even if as a Catholic Mexican I was different from their White Protestant heritage. That didn’t matter. I was family, and that was good enough.

They were a Christian couple in a very un-Christian world. Though far from perfect, they lived their lives trying to live up to that ideal. They accepted many, helped those in need, and tried to be an example of what living with Christ meant. They were selfless in a world that seems to reward selfishness. They gave of themselves and blessed everyone around them with the blessings they received. I’m proud and honored to have called them family.

Papaw died about three years ago due to his struggle with ALS, and Nanny died last Friday after suffering a heart attack. It’s hard to imagine that they are both gone, that I’ll never hear them laugh or be able to sit and have a conversation with them. I’ll never again have Papaw try to teach me how to play golf. I’ll never feel Nanny’s maternal embrace when I feel as though I can’t survive.

Even after me and their granddaughter divorced, they never stopped loving me, and I never stopped loving them. Though it’s been years since I took the opportunity to visit with her, I’ve never forgotten their generosity. I now bitterly regret not taking the time to talk with Nanny one last time, to thank her for giving me love and support, for laughing and crying with me, for being an example of a good Christian woman.

Some of the family was touched that I took the time to pay my final respects to the matriarch of the family. I hope it was some small comfort that I held her is such high esteem. Some would not have taken that time to make that drive. I knew I had no choice, my conscience wouldn’t have allowed me to miss.

Tomorrow I’ll head home, knowing that her remains have been consigned to the Earth. As a Christian, I have the hope that I may see her again someday, though I hope that day will be long delayed. It’s a comfort for me to know that her suffering is over, and that she’s been reunited with her beloved husband. For me, however, I’ll admit that I’m selfish and I wish she was still here, but isn’t that true for all those we have loved and lost?

The unexpected goodbye

It’s late, and I’m going only on about a couple of hours of sleep. I just didn’t sleep much last night. It was just one of those nights. Tonight, I had hoped to get to bed early and get some much-needed sleep, after doing a little writing, of course. Life, however, intervened.

A little more than an hour ago, my ex-wife sent me a text informing me that her grandmother had passed away. At first I was stunned by the unexpected news and I didn’t know what to feel, or even if I was allowed to feel anything at all. It was a rather curious sensation, and not one I ever want to feel again. If I feel this way, I can’t imagine the trauma the family suffered, and are continuing to suffer, at losing the matriarch of the family. I can scarcely imagine.

My ex called me, once she got home, and as one would imagine, she’s taking it hard. My step-daughter is also taking the news hard. To have someone ripped from your life so suddenly is a life experience you can never prepare for. It’s one I’ve been fortunate enough not to have faced. I feel for my ex-wife, my step-daughter, and the family as a whole, though I’m estranged from them.

I’m struggling, I’ll admit, to figure out what I’m supposed to be feeling. It’s all a jumble at the moment. I’m saddened, naturally, that someone I knew has passed away. She took me and my wife in at a low point in my life, right after I lost my job. She let me stay for several months after me and my wife split. She forced me to move out, which I was upset for at first, but was really a necessary step at the time, for me to reclaim my independence.

I feel guilty that I lost touch with her, especially after the death of her husband about three years ago. I should have tried to stay in touch with her. I should have kept a line of communication with her since she always treated me with love and respect even though I was no longer a part of the family.

I want to cry, but there are no tears for me to shed. I few sobs have escaped my lips, but they were fleeting. I wonder if the news will hit me in the morning, and if I will break down then. I don’t know. I’m too exhausted at the moment to deal with the news, and other than to offer my condolences to the family, and to offer up a pray for the repose of her soul, my body begs me to lay down and drift off to sleep.

For now, all I can do is wait to hear from my ex-wife so she can tell me when the funeral will be. I need to talk to my manager at work and try to work something out so I can attend the funeral. She might not be family any more, but I feel it would be disrespectful for me not to go. I just pray that the family finds a measure of peace in knowing her struggles have ended, though I know there’s no consolation to be had. I just have to say good-bye, and may God welcome you home.