Food and Books

Early on in the pandemic, I fell into a routine, as one does. Every Tuesday, I’d go and pick up our grocery order. That actually wasn’t new, as I had done that before the earth was ignited in a fervent blaze of stupidity and sickness. Tuesday was the day because I didn’t want to waste my precious kid-free days slumming it with the peasants at the grocery store, and I usually had my little one on Tuesday/Thursdays. Not that you care, and I digress.

So Tuesday-Food-day were the same, but Pandemic Melissa got to go forage for food sans little people because the husband was (at the time) working from home, and presumably there in case violence broke out. Or the need for more snacks. Buuuut, (I’m getting to it, I swear) once the library opened back up for holds pickups, it was like Christmas morning come early. Books! New books! Books that weren’t mine! Anything novel (pun intended) was most welcome, indeed. It was then that I added the library to my epic Tuesday pandemic outings.

I remember the last day the library was open before it closed for about four dreadful months. I hurried over there when I heard the news. (Note that I didn’t make a run to the grocery store when everyone was panic buying toilet paper and kale, but you bet your ass I hauled over to the library to grab as many books as I could carry.) When I got there, people were skittering around like scared mice. The shelves were disturbingly bare. Fear echoed throughout the extra open space. My oldest had just learned to read, so I went to the children’s room and filled my bag and arms with as many picture books and early readers as I could. I had to ask what the limit was for checking books out. “I hope we don’t die of boredom,” I said to the librarian checking me out. Her head still down, she raised her eyes to look at me over her glasses and said, “Or anything else.” We shared a smile that only lovers of dark humor can share.

By the time those four unspeakable months were over, we were all long done with our library book piles. And so it became my weekly Tuesday ritual to first dart into the library, masked and moving with the speed of your typical neighborhood super hero, to grab my previously selected treasures off the shelf, check them out via machine with zero human interaction, and then take refuge in my car where I’d bathe in hand sanitizer before moving on to grocery pickup. I have an even better example for how this went: picture Foxface when she hid at the cornucopia to grab her lifesaving loot first and then disappeared into the woods, deft and swift as her nickname. Only I don’t die from eating the wrong berries. Oops, spoiler alert. (Actually, if you haven’t read that book yet and actually need that spoiler alert, you can stop reading right this second. If you don’t know what any of this is in reference to, this blog also may not be for you.)

Another little pandemic side habit (ritual? obsession? maybe she’s born with it) I developed was in stalking and raiding local Little Free Libraries. It began when I started to walk laps around parks while my kids played because gyms were closed and so was my heart. As I passed these LFLs, each one looked as if a raccoon shoved books in there every which way, spines covered, upside-down, fucking anarchy. My compulsive need to impose order would not let this go, so I began to organize the tiny book houses. While organizing, I’d often find a gem that I liked or one of my kids would like. Mmm, dopamine. The next day, I’d come back and glance over to see the LFL ravaged again. I answered the call. And so the almost daily dance began. It’s a combo of needing control and tidiness to feel safe, and the primal urge to scavenge for treasure (read: books. play on words INTENDED!) when I felt an overwhelming sense of end-of-the-world scarcity of resources. At this point I can’t pass a LFL and not tidy it whilst looking for books to take home.

Once the library began to open up even further (good lord, the gloriousness of browsing the stacks cannot be conveyed with words) its little used bookstore also reopened. While the bookstore doesn’t need constant organizing, it does require that I visit it weekly so that I may continue to hoard books build my own private library with colorful paper word bricks that bring me such joy.

The book hoarding has continued, and I began shoving them into my already full shelves. It recently got bad enough that I could no longer find what I wanted, so I was forced to reorganize and create some meaningful categories. (I now have a World War Two Female Spy section that makes my ovary do flips and I’m pretty sure I now own every publication and cocktail napkin Brene Brown has ever written on.) During the course of said organization, I found that I had bought used copies of Quiet twice (I really enjoy introvertism, y’all), and I had two copies of Hillbilly Elegy for unknown reasons. Several books I didn’t even remember acquiring; surely I brought them home in a pandemic-stress-fueled fugue state.

Back to my weekly Tuesday adventure! (tangents and graceful transitions are my specialty) I’d venture to the library first, partly because books are more important and partly because food of the perishable and frozen variety needed to be picked up last. Once at the grocery store, a kind stranger would load up my trunk with my pre-selected goods and I would begin the journey home, ready with food for my family’s bodies and nourishment for our minds. It was a supply run, and I was returning victorious with the things that mattered most.

For quite a while, those two errands were the only direct contact my nuclear family had with other human life. It was what was the most important for our survival; worth the risk.

Every Tuesday.

Books and food.

Food and books.

Dared to hope

Today is my birthday and it is tradition that I blog, spend some time taking stock.

It’s just that there isn’t much to say that I haven’t already lamented about.

I will say this, though: when I heard about California ending its indoor mask mandate, my first reaction, to my surprise, was hope. If Cali-freaking-fornia, the progressive legislative beacon of this country was ending its mandate, then perhaps it was a sign of hope. I dared to hope.

What came swiftly after was terror, surprising no one. It got poured into the pot and swirled around until hope and terror made a gooey weird sludge that is my inner world of emotions.

And so, I move forward into what Brene Brown is calling The Great Awkward with those two primary emotions and others peppered in to taste.

But at least there’s hope.

Pieces of Me

I don’t really have a history of setting new years resolutions for myself, and on the few occasions I did, I’d approach them only halfheartedly. They’re not really my thing.

I do like the concept of intentions, or choosing a word for oneself. 2020 started out so hopeful and then quickly plunged into survival mode. I entered 2021 with an extremely low bar, and although I didn’t set a word at the time, looking back it was probably something like cope.

I’ve thought a bit about what I want my word or intention to be for this year. I want to keep it realistic and relevant. I’ve decided on self-compassion. It’s high time I give myself a fucking break, stop beating myself up all the time, and start being uber mindful of just how often I cut myself down. It’s almost constant – much more than I’ve been willing or able to admit to myself. The problem is that it’s so deeply ingrained that I couldn’t recognize it until someone else – usually my therapist – would point it out.

I’ve started doing this thing that I’ve done for clients many times before but never got around to doing for myself: I’m focusing on reparenting myself. I have identified a voice within myself and I have personified this being as my inner loving parent, and this person is going to give me all the judgement-free love and encouragement and sensitivity I needed as a kid and that I still need now. This may sound very woo-woo, but please trust me that the work is incredibly impactful.

Often times it helps to personify this part of oneself in order to give it life and body and meaning. It didn’t take any work, really, because two characters popped into my head once this concept was explained to me. For me, my loving parent is two sides of a coin: on one side, she’d Glinda the Good Witch from The Wizard of Oz. She has a huge puffy pink dress and a magic wand and a soft voice and she giggles and calls me honey. She gives the best hugs and reminds me to be kind to myself. I realized later, after I chose her, that she’s also the one who gently tells Dorothy that she had the power to fulfill her deepest wish the whole time. Go figure. The other side of my inner loving parent is Mary Poppins. She’s a British nanny who doesn’t take any bullshit from anyone and sets firm and healthy boundaries. She also sings the best lullabies and makes the world a more fun and happy place to be. She tells me that my inner critic is complete rubbish and has my back at all times. She can also perform magic.

When I told my therapist about the two connected personalities of my inner loving parent, she summarized them as the comforter and the protector, respectively. Nail on the head.

The personification of my inner critic is still taking shape. While I felt like I had to unearth and go find my inner loving parent, my inner critic is always present. She never fucking sleeps. I picture her sitting in a chair in the corner in the dark, smoking a cigarette and glaring at me while I’m asleep in my bed each night. Mary Poppins would tell her to go take a hike. At any rate, the first image that came to mind was Miss Hannigan from Annie, the original one played by Carol Burnett. She stumbles around and yells. She’s a drunk and she’s miserable and she hates kids. But, I also feel like my inner critic needs to have a more cleaned up side. Meaning, my critic takes the form of an authority figure who is rigid, perfect, to the letter. On my better days, I’m able to shove Miss Hannigan into a closet and lock the door because she doesn’t have her shit together. But my big, bad critic has power and is fucking terrifying. I’ll think more on this. (Just had this idea while editing – maybe something like a Miranda Priestly? That’s all.)

At any rate, I’m working through being mindful of who is in charge of my inner dialogue at any given time. Who is driving my bus, if you will. If I become aware that Miss Hannigan is drunk behind the wheel, I’ll call on Mary to put her back in her place and I might call on Glinda to tell me that I’m safe and she’s not going to let the bus crash into a tree.

Again, I know this sounds ridiculous on some level, but even simply mapping out the pieces of me like this has brought me comfort. I plan to go looking for a little figurine of Glinda and Mary to have as reminders. My therapist asked me to draw her as one person, and that should be fun.

All of this is with the goal of being kinder to myself. I already know that that will trickle down to how I treat others in my life. It’s impossible to give out what you don’t have.

And so. Here’s to 2022. I’m going to be more self-compassionate.

Fool me once

2021 really sucked. This year was extremely rough, even moreso than 2020. I’ve never been so bogged down by depression and anxiety before. I’ve never been physically injured so badly before. I’ve never felt so profoundly burned out. The word “exhaustion” doesn’t even cut it.

I worked on myself a lot. Physically and mentally. Felt like most of the time I was struggling to break even, to keep going. To get through the day. There were definitely bright spots. Traveling, as simple as getting out of town for the weekend, either with friends or family. That’s the crux, really – the word simple. As the sequel to 2020 in a shitty franchise that goes on forever, I’ve had to focus on the simple pleasures, and honestly that’s been nice.

I really hope 2022 is better. Dear lord I need that, we all need that. I’m also hesitant to place a bet because this rollercoaster has fooled us all multiple times now. Fool me once.

In 2021 I read the second highest number of books in one year in my adult life. This year I read 25 books, three of which were Harry Potter read out loud to my kids, a few pages each night, complete with all the voices. Man, that was fun! Such a joy to read a Quidditch match as fast as I can to try and spark excitement and action. It’s amazing reading Fred and George’s lines and getting laughs. Books are the best.

This year, I made a point to choose some books with the aim to educate myself on race and the black experience.

  • White Fragility – Robin DiAngelo
  • I’m Still Here – Austin Channing Brown
  • You Are Your Best Thing – Tarana Burke and Brene Brown, editors

All were informative in their own way. You Are Your Best Thing was the most emotional, as a collection of stories and essays from black authors.

I finally finished Barack Obama’s book, which was tough to consume as bedtime reading. Perhaps I should have invested in the audiobook – his voice is quite soothing but would that have made the experience even longer?

  • A Promised Land – Barack Obama

I read a bunch of titles that were just meh for me. I wouldn’t really recommend them. I suppose I enjoyed Anxious People the most out of this bunch.

  • Anxious People – Fredrik Backman
  • Welcome to the United States of Anxiety – Jen Lancaster
  • The Sanatorium – Sarah Pearse
  • Hush – Dylan Farrow

Here are the other non-fiction titles I read this year.

  • The Power Worshippers – Katherine Stewart
  • Year of Yes – Shonda Rhimes
  • Burnout – Emily and Amelia Nagoski

Power Worshippers was about how evangelical and fundamentalist Christians are working in America (and overseas, actually) to infiltrate the public school system and get people elected to public office, among other things. I had no idea how many churches use public school buildings to save on costs, and in an attempt to recruit young members. Anyway, I saw the book on a shelf and grabbed it and it was an infuriating read. Yes was fun to read and learn more about the woman behind all those hit shows on TV like Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. Burnout was a self-help book, but SUCH a good one. It speaks to women in context of the patriarchy and explains what burnout is and how to complete the stress cycle in our lives. I’m pretty sure it was written pre-Covid, but my glob, it was exactly what I needed.

This year, The Bloggess, aka Jenny Lawson had a new book come out and it did not disappoint. That woman is skillful at chronicling her experiences with mental illness in such a way that is honest, humanizing, and extremely funny. It’s beyond validating to read.

  • Broken, In The Best Possible Way – Jenny Lawson

For my Halloween book this year, I stumbled across Grady Hendrix and he is masterful. He created a slasher book that reads like a movie with exquisite dry humor woven in. I identified with the anxious, protective, badass, sarcastic leading Final Girl and wanted more.

  • The Final Girl Support Group – Grady Hendrix

I am a huge Brene Brown fan. I love her work and I love her, both as me the clinician and me the person. Her podcasts have helped me cope over the past 2 years and her new book should be required reading for being human. I’m fascinated with language and how it’s used, and how that shapes our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We need a fan club. What are her fans called? Brownies? Friends of Brene?

  • Atlas of the Heart – Brene Brown

I won’t list every single book I read this year, but these last four are my top four fiction books of the year.

4. Outlawed – Anna North

A friend recommended this one to me, and I knew enough to take her up on it. It’s an alternate history western that is after the “Great Flu” and is feminist AF. Very fun and interesting to read.

3. The Whisper Network – Chandler Baker

Recommended by the same friend, this one is Big Little Lies meets The Morning Show. It’s a group of women working in corporate America dealing with all the shit women deal with…and it’s a whodunit. It’s good, y’all.

2. The Tattooist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris

This one was recommended by a different friend, one who knows my love of WWII civilian life. This is based on the true story of two people who meet and fall in love living in the Auschwitz concentration camp, if you can call that living. It is an awe-inspiring account of the horrors of war and the resilience of the human spirit. Brought me to tears.

  1. The Alice Network – Kate Quinn

By far the best book I read all year. I couldn’t put it down. This one intertwines the storylines of two different women in two different time periods – one is a spy in The Great War and one is pregnant out of wedlock in post-WWII Europe. The way the characters are written are detailed, nuanced, full of trauma. I was on the edge of my seat, and afterward I researched just how true to life the story was. Several of the spies in this book were real people. Real badass ladies.

So there you have it. 2021 was definitely the year to get lost in a good book if there ever was one. Happy New Year, all, and happy reading.

You don’t know me

Today I went for a walk.

I reeeeeeally didn’t want to. It’s raining, and it’s super cold. Which is shitty because if it were just a few degrees colder, it’d be snow, and that would make all the difference.

But no. It’s cold and wet and I forced myself outside because I’m told it’d be good for me and because I’m desperate to feel better.

I wake up most mornings these days feeling like there’s a sack of flour on my chest. I don’t know why. It’s become automatic at this point. Sometimes, a lot of the time, I forget what it’s like to feel relaxed. Truly, simply, relaxed. Calm. Peaceful. Content.

It makes me sad. It makes me frustrated. It makes me feel despair. It makes me feel broken.

It makes me feel like my anxiety and depression is my fault. Because I’m type A, numero uno on the enneagram, I like feeling in control (or at least having the illusion of control). And if I’m in control, that means that things are my fault. That I should be able to feel a certain way or not feel a certain way if I want to. That if I can’t feel a certain way, then I must be doing something wrong. Only I’m doing ALL THE THINGS. And I still feel this way. And I’m fucking exhausted.

So, clearly, logically, it’s not my fault. Go figure. I think that’s been the single most impactful intervention my therapist has said to me in the past 6 months. That my anxiety is not my fault. You know what? No one had ever told me that before. I don’t think it had honestly occurred to me until then. Well, shit.

At the same time, the part of me that knows this isn’t my fault wants some more fucking credit for all the shit I’ve been doing. And when a professional implies that I should be doing more, or that I’m not doing enough, I implode. Do you know how hard I’m working?! I want to scream, Don’t you get how much effort I’ve put into getting healthy?!

My therapist asked me if I’m journaling. Fuck you, was the response in my head. You want me to do one more thing? Like I’m not already doing enough? You don’t know me. (Those of you who are Brene Brown fans and follow her podcasts will especially get that last line.)

My psychiatrist wants me to get some kind of exercise every day, if I can. Is that good advice? Yup. Is it always feasible? Nope. Do I want credit for busting my ass to get to 3 classes a week and taking walks in the freezing rain? You bet I do.

I’m realizing that I want to be taken care of. As a mom and a woman, I take care of everybody else’s shit. All day errday. I don’t get people cleaning up my messes or kissing my boo-boos or telling me what a great job I’m doing. And I’ve been seeking that out from paid professionals in my life. In the past 6 months, I’ve employed a physical therapist, a chiropractor, an individual mental health therapist, a psychiatrist, a couples therapist, two yoga instructors, a pilates instructor, and a partridge in a pear tree. That’s me asking for help. That’s me getting the care I need and I deserve.

And through this process, I’m realizing just how closely linked to shame my anxiety and depression are. I’ve never had them stick around so long before, and it’s freaking me out. It’s exhausting. I am depleted. Something must be wrong with me. And I want a parental figure to say I’m doing a great job. Look at all the hard work you’re doing! I see it and I give you credit. It’s such a primordial need; such a young and vulnerable feeling.

I took a walk today in the freezing rain. I closed my rings today. That good enough for you? Am I good enough?

You want me to find time to journal on top of everything else?

Here’s your fucking journal entry.

Just a minute

I needed a minute

To gather myself

Picking up the pieces I dropped along the way

I made it here in one piece

Only one piece of the jigsaw puzzle

I needed a minute

Before you noticed me

And yelled at me to come inside

Let me find my grit

And smear some on my face

For you

Or for me

I’m not quite sure

I needed a minute

To breathe

To think

To not breathe

To not think

I needed a minute

Without you

Just a minute

The post about the lack of posts

WordPress has informed me that today is my blogiversary. And this is no ordinary blogiversary, my dear psychos. As of today, I have been blogging, on and off, for 10 years on this platform. That’s pretty cool.

Also, I’m all too aware that at the beginning of the month, I boldly declared that I was gonna try and do NaNoWriMo in its truest sense – to write a novel in 30 days. And even though I know I don’t owe anyone an explanation, I’m writing this more as a way of processing and documenting for myself – that life is just too much right now. I can’t do it. Not in 30 days. And that’s okay.

I do have the backbone of my novel all thought out, which was very fun – surprisingly so. And even though I only posted two chapters (I’ve begun writing the third), I found myself continuing to write the novel in my head constantly throughout the day and I was thinking about my characters, their backstories, and their motivations and how that might inform how they navigate the zombie outbreak that was brewing in my head.

So. Writing a novel is still my goal. I’d love to eventually see this idea through. I’m one of those people who can’t seem to quit, even when quitting might be the better option, so this is my lesson in humility. I’m not quitting, I’m just hitting pause, for now.

Thanks to those who read the first few chapters. What did you think? What do you imagine might happen next?

Chapter Two

One week earlier…

Makayla pushed the closet door open with too much force, and it slammed against the wall.


“Hey, babe. Cool it.” Jared mumbled and rolled over in bed.

“Sorry,” Makayla said through a yawn. She hated packing even more than she hated getting up early. “I’m not used to this new place yet. Closet doors, shower heads, the deadbolt sticking. And I can’t fucking find anything in here. You think you could do some unpacking while I’m gone?”

“Yeah. Sure. Maybe.”

Makayla rolled her eyes and unearthed her suitcase from under a pile of dirty clothes she hadn’t had time to wash. As she stood up, she felt a dull ache at the base of her skull.

Great. I really can’t afford a migraine today, of all days.

Why she had waited so long to pack for this work trip, she didn’t know. It wasn’t like her to put something off that would end up causing her more anxiety. She was constantly worried she’d forget something important. Wait, yes she did know. She’d been so wrapped up in the move and wedding planning and looking perfect at work that she’d barely had enough time for sleep, let alone anything else.

At least all of her work clothes were in the same wardrobe moving box, all freshly dry cleaned and still in their plastic bags. She grabbed three suits – two pants and one skit suit – and folded them into her case as neatly as she could. Toiletries, hand sanitizer, extra face masks. Makayla rummaged through her toiletry bag, found two Tylenol, and popped them in her mouth. After slurping down some water from the bathroom sink, she added her laptop and charging chords and some flats for walking around the city. She had never been to Seattle before and she was hoping she’d have some time between meetings to go enjoy some coffee and maybe see the fish market.

I wonder if they’ll still be out throwing fish? Is that still a thing? Shit, I really should’ve looked at out of state regulations before today. I was so focused on being prepared for my presentation that I forgot to check. Ugh. I’ll just have to see when I get there.

Makayla tugged on her favorite pair of yoga pants made to look like work pants with a button down and a navy blazer, hit the button on the coffee machine – the lone appliance unpacked and out on the counter – and flicked on the TV before sticking her head inside the fridge to search for edible breakfast items.

The TV’s volume was barely audible above the grinding of the automatic espresso machine: We interrupt your regularly scheduled programing to bring you this special report-

Makayla’s phone rang, blaring the theme song to the long-since canceled show The OC: We’ve been on the run, driving in the sun, looking out for-

“Hey Mom, I’m kinda in a rush right now. I’ve gotta catch my flight to Seattle today, remember?”

“Honey, are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“It’s going to be fine, Mom. People have been flying safely for over six months now.”

“Have you seen the news this morning? How close is your new place to that hospital?”

“The hospital is a few miles away. What news? Look, I have to go soon.” Makayla put her phone on speaker, grabbed her now full cup of coffee, and turned toward the TV.

“There’s some kind of security problem. They don’t know if it’s a shooting or what. What if the shooter is still on the loose?!”

Makayla spoke through a mouthful of gluten-free English muffin. “What? My Uber will be here in ten minutes and the airport is the opposite direction from the hospital. I’ll be ok. Wish me luck on my presentation!”

“Oh, you’ll do great, I know you will. I don’t know why you had to move to the sickest state in the country!”

“That’s old news, Mom. In fact, it’s probably safer here now as a result. You can call me again tonight if you need to, I just can’t talk right now. Love you!”

“I just might. Love you, sweetie. Safe flight! Wear your mask!”

Makayla hung up and switched the TV off. An image of the local hospital building surrounded by hazmat suits and law enforcement with weapons drawn was replaced with darkness.

Makayla wrenched her heels on mid-stride, stomped into the bedroom, and bent over to kiss Jared on the part of his head not covered by bedsheets.

“I’ll be back in a few days. Don’t you have work today? Anyway, I gotta go. Please stock the fridge while I’m gone! Love!”

“Mmmrph.” The reply came muffled from under the covers.

Okay, let’s see…purse, keys, phone, mask, rain jacket…good.

Makayla turned the doorknob and yanked before remembering the deadbolt. Several jiggles and shimmies and fucks later, the lock popped open.

Ugh! Reminder to grease that lock.

She fumbled for her mask as she walked down the hallway at full speed, stopping to pick up her suitcase before the stairs. In front of the building her Uber was already waiting, but she had to jog around a college age kid who knelt doubled over on the sidewalk, puking up the previous night’s regrets.

Argh! Makayla winced as pain shot up her right ankle. Although she had technically been cleared by her doctor to wear heels again after spraining her ankle, she still wasn’t at 100%.

Security through the airport wasn’t so bad, but times had changed since before the pandemic. The new normal included temperature checks, a vaccine passport, mask mandates, and dogs able to sniff out the virus even in the most asymptomatic. Any physiological deviation from standard CDC health metrics, or failure to follow safety protocol landed passengers in a holding cell, no exceptions. Oregon officials were extremely keen to avoid additional outbreaks, or the appearance of them, ever since Portland was deemed ground zero three years prior.

It had been hellish for Makayla to experience the effects of the rapidly unfolding pandemic before it technically was a pandemic. With a whopping fatality rate of 4-5%, city-wide lockdown in Portland was swift and long lasting. Within a few weeks of the initial reported cases and subsequent deaths, streets emptied, businesses shuttered, and Makayla’s classes at Portland State moved exclusively online. Makayla was never able to go back to campus as a student; she completed the last year and a half of her undergraduate business degree in her tiny shared apartment, even attending her graduation ceremony virtually.

Makayla stepped into the end of the TSA line and paused for them to take her temperature. The thermometer gave a chirp and the masked agent waved her through. While maneuvering her clunky suitcase around the bend in the line, she heard a shrill beep behind her.

“No! Try it again, please.” The man in the middle aged couple behind Makayla had been stopped. The TSA agent holding the thermometer was blocking the entrance to the line through security. By the looks of it, the man’s wife had already been screened and passed, as she was behind the agent, already in line.

The TSA agent raised the infrared thermometer and hit the button. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. This time, two agents materialized immediately and grabbed the man’s arms.

“NO! PLEASE! I feel fine, really! I’m vaccinated!” The man began to twist and struggle as the agents muscled him out of line. “HELENA! They can’t do this!”

The woman screamed and pushed past the temperature-taking TSA agent to run after her husband, leaving her luggage behind. Everyone’s eyes tracked the commotion until they disappeared through a heavy door next to the bathrooms.

That hasn’t happened in quite some time. Makayla shuddered and rifled through her purse. She extracted her travel size hand sanitizer and administered some liquid peace of mind, a ritual that had become automatic and obsessive.

Thankfully, the rest of the security line went smoothly, although folks seemed to be more on edge after the forced quarantine incident, and Makayla arrived at her gate and began scanning the rows of seats for her coworker, Jessica. Not hard to spot in her bright purple suit and mass of springy, wild curls, Jessica was several years older than Makayla and had become something of a mentor to her during their time at Nike. Where Makayla was new and unsure of herself, Jessica knew the ropes, didn’t take any shit from anyone, and took pride in helping to lift up other women, especially at work. Makayla was incredibly grateful and over the past year had come to view Jessica as more of a big sister she never had.

“Heeey, lady!” Jessica squealed through her sequined mask. “I saved you a seat. I even got you a coffee cuz the line was super long. You can thank me later.”

“Oh my god, you’re a lifesaver.” Makayla perched on the edge of the chair next to Jessica and pulled down her mask to take a quick sip.

“So, are you ready?! What am I saying, of course you’re ready. You’re gonna knock ’em dead, and you’ll be a shoo-in for a promotion this coming year.”

Makayla’s eyes grew wide. “You really think so?”

“Of course I do. And I’ll put a good word in, too. You have fresh perspective, and those old fogies at the top need to wake up and pay attention if they’re going to keep profit margins up. Trust me.” Jessica took a sip of her own double shot flat white.

Makayla let out a breath she didn’t realize she had been holding. “Thanks for the confidence, Jess. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“You’d do just fine. You’d just have less free coffee.” Jessica winked.

An announcement sounded: It’s now time to begin boarding for flight 5995 to Seattle. Half the people surrounding Makayla and Jessica gathered their things and went to crowd the general vicinity of the entrance to the gate. An older woman across from them was using a cane and struggling to stand, as she was allowed to board first. Her limbs were shaking so violently that the cane was useless and she fell back down to her seat. Jessica jumped up, ready to help her to the gate, but just as she leaned over and extended a hand, the older woman projectile vomited all down the front of Jessica’s gorgeous new suit.

“Oh shit! Oh, it’s okay, it’s okay!” Jessica hurriedly tried to sweep multicolored vomit off her suit but only managed to smear it around. Makayla, suppressing the urge to gag, immediately began rummaging in her purse for some tissue or napkins, anything to help clean up.

“Ack!” Jessica yelped. Makayla looked up. The older woman had slid from her chair and was now on the floor, seemingly unconscious. “Help! She needs medical help!”

This time, Makayla jumped up. She knelt down beside the woman and began checking for responsiveness, a pulse, breathing. “Are you okay? Can you hear me?” Makayla got no response from the woman and she was vaguely aware of some commotion over at the check-in desk. Pulse was faint, breathing shallow. Makayla’s shaking hands were about to tilt the woman’s chin up to help open her airway when she was violently pushed aside by two EMTs in bulky yellow hazmat suits. The EMTs lifted the woman into a wheelchair that was pushed by a young woman in a flight attendant uniform.

The EMTs yelled muffled commands as they worked. “Clear the area please! Give her some room!”

The older woman’s head rolled around on her neck as the EMTs attempted to sit her up in the chair. She was moaning now, and some kind of froth was still dribbling from her maskless mouth. One EMT had to hold the woman’s head in place as they began to wheel her from the gate and down the hall.

“OUCH! HEY!” The EMT’s gloved hand shot up in the air, gushing blood. “SHE FUCKING BIT ME!”

At that moment, the older woman fell forward from the wheelchair and face planted on the cold tile with a sick thwap, where her body began violently convulsing.

Makayla, Jessica, and the rest of the people in the waiting area stood transfixed, unable to look away from the unfolding trauma, although many were unconsciously backing away towards the entrance to the gate. For a split second, Makaya’s eyes instinctively shot over to the right to look out the window. The plane was still there, attached to the jetway.

Now law enforcement and more medical personnel in full PPE were pouring into the hallway. The older woman’s body was still shaking uncontrollably and the EMTs were struggling to get her onto a stretcher that had just arrived. Makayla’s left arm floated up and grabbed the hem of Jessica’s now ruined suit jacket. She tugged twice. Jessica’s eyes caught hers and she motioned her head towards the gate. Jessica’s head gave the tiniest of nods and her hand reached back to find Makayla’s and give it a squeeze.

With one hand on each of their suitcases and the remaining two clutching each other, they began nudging through the stunned crowd. People began to notice the movement and made to follow. Just as the ladies reached the flight attendant still scanning tickets, they heard a sound like a cornered animal.

Makayla turned around to see the older woman still on the ground, but now moving with purpose. The woman growled and groped and pawed at the medical workers around her, reminding Makayla of the childhood cat she’d once had to give a bath. The woman’s jaws were snapping and finally found purchase on the bicep of a male EMT. Yellow plastic, muscle, and sinew were ripped away from bone, followed by a flood of bright red blood that quickly pooled on the floor.

Screams erupted that broke the waiting passengers from their collective stupor. Makayla and Jessica were pushed from behind and had to stagger on their heels to keep from falling over their suitcases. The flight attendant abandoned her desk and ran down the jetway. The ladies took the cue and broke into a run. Their heels and suitcase wheels thundered down the jetway, closely followed by scared businessmen and screaming moms dragging crying children.

Jessica threw herself through the door of the plane and down the aisle, not letting go of Makayla’s hand. They crammed into the first two seats they found, shoving their suitcases under the seats in front of them.

From their seats, they could hear the flight attendant yelling at the front of the plane. “Seal the cockpit door and get ready to taxi! We need to get away from the gate!”

Screams echoed from inside the jetway.

Jessica moved to undo her seatbelt. “Shit. They’d better close that door and get us out of here.”

“What are you doing?!” Makayla hissed. “Sit down!”

“I’m making sure the job gets done. As always.”

Jessica slipped off her heels and bent forward, coming up with one in her right hand. “Just in case the flight marshal hasn’t shown up yet.” She winked, and fought past a stream of moving bodies to get back to the door.

Just as Jessica’s body became obscured by everyone else’s, a low growl ripped through the jetway and rumbled up into Makayla’s chest.

“JESSICA!” Makayla screamed, still buckled to her seat.

The plane’s engine suddenly rumbled to life and Makayla could hear screaming and scuffling over the captain’s announcement.

“This is your Captain speaking. Due to an emergency of unknown nature, we will depart immediately. Please take your seats and prepare for takeoff.”

Makayla could then hear the whirring mechanism of the closing door, and she craned her neck to see if Jessica was still on board. She saw the hair first, before the stained purple suit came limping back. Jessica had cuts and scratches on her face, and now her suit was also torn in places. Her mask must have gotten clawed off.

“What happened?! Are you okay?” Makaya’s eyes swept over Jessica, looking for injuries.

Jessica lowered her voice and ducked her head before answering. “That EMT, the one whose hand had gotten bit, he came running down the tunnel and fucking attacked some guy. Like, full-on body slam. And then we had to shove people back so they could close the door. The fuck is going on? I thought I’d seen it all. And those were my lucky work shoes, too.”

Jessica leaned her head back on the headrest and closed her eyes. Makayla took out her phone and was about to put it in airplane mode, but decided to try and make a quick call just as the plane lifted off the ground.


NaNoWriMo – where I boldly attempt to write a novel in 30 days with zero experience and minimal planning

2798 words

Chapter One

Think, dumbass, think. Where are they?

She tore through the stacked boxes, unable to read the neatly printed labels written in purple Sharpie through tears sloshing across her field of vision.

Makayla Burke frantically wiped the back of her hand across her face.

What’s this one? Shit, dishes.

A blue ceramic salad plate fell and shattered in her haste to shove the heavy box aside and she had to fight back a fresh wave of emotion. Those were an early wedding present. More like a housewarming, really.

She hadn’t had any time to unpack, save for her work clothes and some makeup. Like she’d be needing those now.

Shoes…..shoes…..YES!

The box labeled “Workout Gear” had been underneath piles of Jared’s stuff – video game cartridges, tools, home brewing supplies. Makayla made a mental note to check the fridge before she left. Maybe there were a few bottles still in there.

At the bottom of the box she finally found her coral pink Nike running shoes and a wad of bunched up athletic socks. She kicked off the muddy men’s sneakers she’d been wearing, quickly shedding her drenched, ripped pantsuit, and tugged on her musty running outfit before looking for her rain gear. Since moving to the Portland, Oregon area five years ago, she’d learned the hard way that you didn’t get very far without waterproof clothing in the Pacific Northwest.

It’s a good thing Jared got me into backpacking, ugh.

Makayla found the camping and outdoor gear shoved in a corner and located her backpacking pack, already halfway full of supplies she usually needed on weekend trips in the wilderness.

A scream ripped through the building, and Makayla froze, listening. She could still hear some sirens in the distance and now there was some shouting out on the street, but nothing too close. Just to be sure, she got up and tip-toed to the front door to make sure the deadbolt was still in place. She peeked through the peephole and could see nothing new. Only the apartment door across the hall, a fresh red stain smeared around the doorknob.

With renewed urgency, Makayla set to work looking for things that she might need once she left. Clothes, a hat, an extra pair of running shoes strapped to the outside of the pack (she knew one day all those shoes from Nike would actually come in handy). She placed a few stray water bottles down inside along the sides.

Goddamnit. I can’t count on you to go grocery shopping, ever!

Upon opening the fridge, Makayla was greeted by a half-eaten pizza and one last bottle of Jared’s home brew, complete with the little homemade labels she’d designed for him: a little white bunny under the words Hoppy Ending IPA.

Fucking Portlanders and their fucking obsession with pinesol-tasting beer. I guess it’ll have to do, one for the road.

She wasn’t sure if she should laugh or continue crying, so she did neither and gingerly wrapped the bottle in a sweatshirt and stuffed it into her pack. The pizza she shoved into her mouth before she did a final sweep of the apartment.

Makayla walked over to the big flatscreen TV, one of the few things Jared had unpacked, along with his now vintage Xbox, grabbed the remote and hit the power button. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to see, or rather, what she was afraid she’d see, but she still wanted whatever information was available about the state of the world. At the very least, she wanted to see if the TV would turn on at all.

Static. Not a good sign.

She flicked it off and shook her head in an effort to block out the questions bubbling up about what it meant. There were way too many unknowns right now and no way to be prepared for them all.

Heading into the bedroom, Makayla shielded her eyes from the shredded, bloodstained sheets, which were pristine and full of hope the last time she saw them. They were meant for a life she’d never have. She made a beeline for the dresser. While it didn’t have clothes in it yet, and now never would, it supported her jewelry box – a gift from her parents once upon a time. Not one for wearing much jewelry, Makayla selected a gold locket that her parents had given her on her tenth birthday. She zipped it into the front pocket of her rain pants. As she turned to leave the room she caught sight of a lone item on Jared’s bedside table – the swiss army knife he usually wore everywhere.

A lot of good it did him today.

She grabbed it and gingerly brought it to her lips for a brief moment before stuffing it down the side of her sock.

After going pee one last time and making a concerted effort not to throw up the pizza she had just gorged (she was going to need the calories), she heaved her now full and heavy pack onto her back and clicked the straps closed, yanked them tight across her body like one of those anxiety-reducing straightjackets. She closed her eyes and said a silent goodbye to the apartment. It was a goodbye to a place that was barely hers, a goodbye to a life that she wasn’t meant to have, a goodbye to a person who didn’t deserve her.

Makayla took a deep breath in through her nose, and turned the doorknob open as she breathed out through her mouth. After glancing down the hall in both directions and seeing no movement, she turned around and pulled the door shut as quietly as possible. Brandishing the streak knife she had pulled from the kitchen drawer, she power walked down the hall, down the stairs, and out the heavy metal side door to the complex.

There had been a break in the clouds and rain. Makayla took a step out into the blinding sun.


NaNoWriMo Day 1

997 words

Words Down

I miss blogging. I miss writing.

So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m gonna do a thing.

This thing may be weird. It may not work. It may come out all garbled, out of order, not make sense.

But I’m just gonna dive in and see what happens.

November is for NaNoWriMo, which is National Novel Writing Month. I’ve done the blogging version before, several times, where my personal goal was simply to blog something – anything – once a day for the whole month. The original spirit, however, was to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. And like, I don’t even write fiction, really. But it’s a new challenge. That, and there was this free zoom seminar on how to do this thing and so I figure I’m an expert now.

My concerns – my inner editor is big and PMS-y. I’m gonna have to shove a huge chocolate bar in her mouth and tell her to shut up so I can write. The goal here, so I’m told, is quantity over quality. My goal is just to get words down. Words out. Words. And without much of a plan or a plot planned out, and with posting little chunks each day, there may not be much continuity from day to day and post to post. Indeed, today is the first day and all I have decided on is a name for my main character.

Anyway. The purpose of this statement is to give some context for this month’s posts, and I am going to try my best not to criticize myself right out of the gate. My goal, besides words down, is to be open and curious to the experience. I wonder what will happen to my main character? Who will she meet? What will she accomplish?

Thanks for coming with me for the ride.