Things Will Get Better, I Promise
By Chanel Earl
Sometimes I know what the story should say. The muse strikes my brain like lightning, and the entire thing gets zapped into my head, complete and whole.
The problem is that this usually happens just when writing is the last thing I have time for.
Like when I am at the game pretending to watch my kids kick around a ball, but really sneaking a read on my Kindle (I see you, Tom Bombadil, with your derry dol and merry dol and ring a ding dillo).
Those are the times when a good idea comes up, and I suddenly know exactly what I need to write and how to write it, tense, voice, and all of those little gritty details that take so much effort.
Page one is screaming at me, so I run home, put the kids to bed, start the dishwasher, and then, the first chance I get, throw open the computer to write what I can remember—and the story vanishes.
I think it was reminiscent of Ray Bradbury . . . or Kilgore Trout. . . . I don’t think it was much like Tolkien even though he inspired it. Just thinking about writing Tolkien makes me shudder.
But it doesn’t matter because the story is gone.
I start writing anyway because hopefully if I just start writing then it will all come back. But, of course, it doesn’t, and all I end up with is a bizarre narrative transferring back and forth between tenses, full of adverbs and obvious metaphors, perhaps a few clichés. And no life at all.
It is times like these when screaming is the only answer.
I can’t scream. Everybody in the house is now asleep.
I can’t scream, but I can keep typing. I type ideas, maybe a description of the game, maybe some of Tom Bombadil’s poetry. And it isn’t enough. I should have typed it on my phone. I should have written down some notes. It was the best story, or it would have been the best if I could remember it.
It was one of those stories that means something, that has something to say, but then doesn’t just say it. A story that makes you think of the idea, like Inception. It was one of those.
That’s what I’m always looking for, a story that says something more than just words (words never say enough). That makes me listen.
It was about a little girl.
I always have to write about little girls because I spent a long time as one. Sometimes I try to write about old women, or young men, but when I read those stories I always suspect the characters act too much like little girls.
Anyway, this little girl had a pet hamster, not a mouse because that’s just not my style—a hamster. She loved it more than most people love even themselves, and she was always trying to keep it safe. She saved it from her brothers and neighbors who like to play mean tricks on her and know how much she loves it.
You know the kind of tricks, the ones older siblings play on younger siblings. They steal her ceramic bank and smash its painted head until all of her money spills out all over the floor, and then run off laughing. They tell her that the smoothie doesn’t have strawberries in it and that she can have some, and then when she does, she realizes that they are lying and has to stick herself with an epipen and ends up in the emergency room. They lock her in the woodshed for an afternoon.
Things like that.
They play these tricks on her, and that is part of the story, I’m sure, and if I could dig into my head and sift through all the sitcoms and memes, movie previews, unsolved crossword puzzle clues, and to-do lists racing around, maybe I could find the first page of it and write it down.
The girl’s father is important. I remember that.
Her family is protesting the government or something, getting poorer and poorer because they refuse to participate in some morally reprehensible yet lucrative activity that is making everyone else rich. The only friend she has is this hamster that no one else cares about. And they are getting colder and colder because it is winter and I can decide things like that in my story.
And one of her brothers, one of the biggest and ugliest ones, decides that he is going to lock her out of the house and leave her in the cold overnight as another one of his pranks.
Her father saves her that time. He always tries to save her. But he can’t save her all the time, and one time he isn’t there and so it goes that she isn’t saved. I think.
I also think a part of her hates her father for not always being there. She blames him for everything she ever goes through, and she blames him for her being cold and miserable, and making Winky (that’s her hamster) sad or sick or something.
She must love him, though, because I love my dad, and to make it realistic I have to write what I feel.
So she loves and hates her father at the same time. But while she blames him for everything, the only person, or one of the only people, who can make her smile is him.
He sings her a lullaby in one of those deep cliché voices, and she falls asleep on his lap.
Her brothers—who start to feel bad for playing pranks on her—try to make her happy, but they can’t.
I don’t remember where her mother is.
She is sick, or dead, or missing.
Which is sad because nothing is more important than a mother’s love and influence, but not in this story. In this story there are critical scenes that I am remembering, and none of them include her mother.
One of them involves her father telling her that things will get better.
I like him. He is quite the optimist. Her life is really bad: she is always cold and sad, and tired from hunger and illness.
Think of the worst you have ever felt. She feels worse.
So even though he doesn’t believe it himself, her dad tells her in that deep, manly, husky, [insert adjective here] voice, “Don’t worry. Things will get better, I promise,” and she believes him.
She always believes him. You would too.
If you ever heard a voice like his (Atticus Finch meets Garrison Keillor) you would melt and believe anything he told you.
So she gets this new strength and joy from her father’s promise, and then when Winky gets sick, or sad, and she can’t do anything about it, she finds that strength her father gave to her and gives it to him.
She says stuff like, “Don’t worry, Winky. Things will get better, I promise.”
Even though she has trouble believing it.
And then the realization hits you that her relationship with her pet is kind of like her father’s relationship with her.
So he really must love her and want to protect her a lot because she loves Winky.
Okay, maybe it’s a good thing I forgot that story because it really wasn’t as good as I thought.
One of these days though, the right story will hit me, and I will write it down in time.
I’ll write something that will make all the little girls who hear it feel hope and strength that they can pass on to their pets, or dolls.
It will be a story that will make people believe in the future.
That will inspire hope.
And have the power of those “things will get better” promises.
I want to say something like that and have you believe me.
I don’t have anything like that to say though. I just have this weird story about a girl and her hamster.
But don’t worry. My writing will get better, I promise.