I never thought I would …

Welcome to the August September submissions for The Blog Project. The topic is I never thought I would … Return to this page during the months of August and September to read the submissions and make positive comments.

The comment section will be open until the middle of October. After that you will be able to read the submissions but will no longer be able to comment.

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From Russia with Haste

by Andrea Antico

It happened in Leningrad, the last stop on my student trip to Russia. Our favorite times were evening walks when a friendly nod would bring welcoming hellos from Russians. Immediately, we would be surrounded by quizzical Soviet citizens.

Their knowledge of our literature and their command of the English language astounded us. We often parted with a promise to meet the following night as we raced to our hotel, seconds before the door closed at 11:00, the bewitching hour when all tourists must be off the streets.

Occasionally, we were approached by a different Russian, a well-dressed male in his twenties. In answer to “we want to buy,” we would shake our heads and hurry away; no individual was allowed to sell or trade anything in hopes of making money. When we witnessed open transactions of this kind, we wondered if the law was enforced. The Black Market seemed to be flourishing openly.

After many refusals, three of us chose to become involved. With scarcely a thought to the consequences, we agreed to an evening meeting with two persistent young marketeers. With nylons, wrinkle-free shirts, records, and miscellaneous clothing stuffed under our trench coats, we hastily left the hotel. We met the two Russians outside and followed them to a small, windowless apartment.

A visit to a private dwelling was not part of the official schedule and we were thrilled to be inside a Russian home. We began to discuss the endless, rainy summer when there was a loud knock. Two men entered, flashing shiny badges. I recognized the word “police.” Our surprise turned to fright as our goods were stuffed into a bag and we were gruffly ordered to follow these officers.

Not a word was spoken on the long walk to the police station where we were questioned, photographed, and told to write about our illegal activity. We were then released to our hotel with instructions to remain in our rooms until summoned.

The following morning, we appeared before the City Court where we were ushered into a narrow room and took places on the hard, wooden bench. After a preliminary explanation of court proceedings, we were questioned individually and then together. Our Intourist guide and our American teacher stood by loyally, remaining silent except when aiding us in translations.

After repeated attempts to explain, justify or make amends for the previous night’s actions, we were instructed to await the verdict.

Time passed slowly while we waited for the seven Soviets to decide our fate. Finally, the spokesman stood up and declared us PERSONAE NON GRATAE, fined us 10 rubles and ordered us to leave the country immediately. He added that arrangements were made for our early departure, and that our guide would escort us to the station.

Misdeeds by members of an assigned group were regarded as a bad reflection on the guide. She wished us the best of luck as we boarded the train. The whistle blew, the wheels began to move. As the train accelerated, my feelings were of relief and anger; relief that I, a declared criminal of the state, was getting off so easily, and anger that I was being punished for such a ridiculous thing.

Besides, we kept telling ourselves, we had not sold anything. The intent was there, but the deed was not.

As the day progressed and the Russian plains swept by, the picture changed. I began to see myself as an ugly American, rather than a mistreated one. Our “innocent” actions were in direct violation of Soviet law. They could reflect negatively on Americans, jeopardizing their travels. What were the thoughts of Russians when they read of our exploits in the youth newspaper?

I began to worry about the Russians who were implicated with us. They had been under surveillance because of black market activities. Where are those two, I wondered then and even wonder now.

Today, when I read of the antics of Americans abroad, I am no longer amused. One lady long ago learned her lesson and now makes sure that she leaves not with haste or hate, but from each country with love.

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The Hapless Stranger

By Sophia Baldwin

There is a wild man who wanders the streets of Littleton. He may be seen at the bank, the grocery store, and walking on the streets. He looks to be about 25 years old, and is always angry, cursing and raving about how people mistreat him. He shouts words in a wild tormented way.

The first time I saw this man, I was afraid of him. But now I’m not. Now I observe him closely. I think he is mentally ill. His hair, skin and clothes are dirty, but he must get enough to eat because his body looks fit and well nourished. He should be fit after walking the Littleton streets with such energy. He walks by me without seeing me because he is so intent on the anger and injustice of his life.

I wonder if this man has a place he calls home. I wonder if anyone cares what happens to him. Is he on drugs or was it drugs that burned up his mind? Did he ever think his life would take this strange turn?

Did he ever think, “I’ll never end up like that, with no home, ranting and raving to people on the street?”

He is a hapless stranger that distresses me every time I see him. I never thought I would react so strongly. And I am sure no one ever thought he would end up like this. But there he is, and I wonder at his fate.

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Dropping In

by Kelly Ann Compton

Alaska has the bluest skies, the freshest air, and the best salmon fishing. I was lucky enough to work at a fishing lodge in Iliamna, located at the north end of the Kenai Peninsula, for two summers when I was in my mid-twenties. Work at the lodge was definitely assigned by gender. The women worked around the lodge and the guys were fishing guides. Some of the guides stayed at the lodge flying out to the fishing spots each morning with the guests; many of the fishing guides lived out at campsites and the guests were flown to them.

We who worked at the lodge worked ten-hour days with one day off each week. Because of the rivalry between fishing lodges, we were not allowed to talk to anyone outside of our lodge. This meant that days off were spent hanging around the lodge or taking walks out on the spongy tundra where we were warned to always remain aware of our surroundings lest we meet a bear or moose.

One morning, Ray, the owner of the lodge, interrupted my breakfast.

“Kelly, Doug, how would you like to fly on a mission with me today?”

Doug, one of the chefs, and I readily agreed. I was always slightly scared to ride in the four-seater Cessna airplanes, but would never turn down the chance for an adventure.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“I have John building a runway at his campsite so we can land nearer to a great fishing spot. A bear got into camp last night and ravaged the tire of his wheelbarrow. We’re going to take him a new tire.”
“Be out front in ten minutes and we’ll get going.”
The village of Iliamna, population 100, consisted mostly of fishing lodges that were positioned along a three-mile circular road. The part of the road our lodge sat on served as a runway for the Cessnas.
When Ray pulled the plane up, Doug and I climbed in. “Doug, you sit up front next to me; Kelly, sit behind Doug.”

We took our seats and Ray got the propellers racing. The plane began moving down the road to the lake. Within a few hundred yards, we were airborne and looking down at the shimmering waves.

Once in the air, Ray gave instructions, “Kelly, when we get there, you are going to hold Doug’s window open. Doug, you are going to hold the tire out the window and drop it when I tell you to.”

Doug and I looked at one another wide-eyed. About fifteen minutes out, Ray started following a winding river. As we neared John’s camp, Ray slowed the plane down and began a slow descent. “Okay, now, open the window.” Doug opened the side window and I reached up to hold it in place. Doug picked up the tire and held it out the window with both hands. “Doug, when I say ‘now’ let go of the tire immediately.”

Ray aimed the nose of the plane downward and put the plane into a stall. When we were almost down to the tops of the trees, Raymond shouted, “NOW!” In that split second, Doug dropped the tire, I let go of the window and Ray stepped on the accelerator pedal speeding up the plane as he pulled the nose up to point almost straight up. We just missed hitting the tops of the trees.

My heart raced as I looked down and saw the tire bounce a hundred yards high. John came running out from the trees to the runway and waved his thanks as the tire continued to bounce.
I can tell you in all honesty I never ever thought I would . . .

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I never thought I would…

by Ann Klaiman

I never thought I would get so old.  So old that this story, told as I remember it, wouldn’t be remarkable without this historical perspective:

  • The year is 1977.
  • Since then, school security has obviously tightened.  I don’t know if cruisers are tolerated these days.
  • It was a time before VHS tapes or even cable TV.  We couldn’t watch a favorite movie as often as we wanted.
  • It would be another five years or so before the media would notice that audiences, particularly adolescent boys, were influencing Hollywood trends by seeing movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark in theaters, over and over.

MARK 

I noticed that he had strolled past my classroom door several times. The next time, I looked up from my desk and smiled at him. He smiled back and kept walking.  I often worked in the building after school and had seen him before.  He wasn’t a student in any of my classes, and I didn’t know him from any activities I sponsored.

He was a hall cruiser– one of those kids who had no particular place to go after school.  He was walking down past my English classroom, around to the Social Studies triad, up the stairs to the Science rooms, down the stairs at the other end.  Lap after lap.  Every year my high school saw a few.

Some cruised for a few weeks, some for months. I wondered if Mark was just thinking things out as he walked, or avoiding a house that was empty in the afternoon– or a house that was unpleasant for some reason.  Maybe he hoped to cross paths with someone friendly.  As he cruised, other students would come out of meetings or finish work in the library, talking and laughing, visit their lockers, and leave for the day.

A cruiser could walk laps for an hour or more before making a trip to his locker, pushing through the door at the end of the hall, and walking off across campus.  I could hear the hollow crunch of metal against metal as the door slammed.

That spring, Mark and I struck up conversations.  He was a sophomore, tall, intelligent, a nice-looking kid with a disheveled appearance and noticeable acne. His clothes were sometimes mismatched and his lack of confidence was the quality that spoke first.

We discussed books, politics, travel, movies, whatever.  Mark’s counselor told me nothing was unusual at home.  Why did Mark cruise?  “He says he likes the quiet of the building after a busy day,” his counselor said drily, knowing there was something more.

In May, Mark was still cruising.  Just before vacation, he wished me a good summer, and I wished him one, too.  I wondered if he would be lonely without school.

In August, Mark reappeared in my classroom after school.  He walked right in.  His complexion was noticeably calmer, his clothes went together, his haircut was trendy.  More importantly, he smiled easily in a way that was somehow more centered, stronger.

“Well,” I said. “Looks like you had a good summer. Wanna tell me about it?”

“Yes, I did.  I saw Star Wars.”  He paused.  “Eight or ten times.”  I was confused.

“What?”

“I saw Star Wars and decided I needed The Force in my life.”  During the summer, he had earned money mowing lawns, saw Star Wars a couple times a week, and finally decided he needed to change something.

One weekday morning, he walked out his front door and, after several laps around the neighborhood, walked into a church.  “The first one I saw,” he said.  Luckily, he hadn’t happened upon any extremist organization.  It was a good, old-fashioned Methodist church with a smiling receptionist who listened.  Next thing, he was talking to the minister about The Force, and then he was invited to join their youth group.

Mark found The Force that summer and found himself.  And he stopped cruising.

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Breakthrough

by Ruthy Wexler

For as far back as I could remember, I’d suffered unbearable anxiety when I had to speak in front of people.  The probable cause—my mother, who let me know that my thoughts and feelings were of no interest to her or anyone else—didn’t matter, because I’d long since accepted this anxiety as fact.

In school, I’d begged teachers to let me do extra credit instead of reports. As an adult, I chose jobs where I wouldn’t have to talk to more than three assembled individuals.  Despite my best efforts, situations arose anyway. So when a solution appeared, in the shape of a little purple pill, it was a no brainer.

What followed was a no brainer, too.

My body craved more and more of these addictive tranquilizers, until, ten years down the road, I found myself in a Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting.  Much to my surprise, I discovered that this was where I needed to be. Here were others who had used substances to cover painful feelings. And here was hope as well.  At each meeting, a speaker shared his or her story, from hellish beginning to miraculous changes.

These speakers inspired me, as did my sponsor, Diana, whose Barbie Doll looks belied her hard road.  In exchange for her losses, Diana had gained a large store of wisdom. She guided me through recovery, not just from pills but from a fear-based life.

Months down the road, I looked back and saw how much had changed. My anxiety attacks were few and far between. I loved my new career as journalist. And I hadn’t taken a pill for almost one year.

“I’m so proud of you,” Diana smiled. “And next month you’ll be the keynote speaker!”

A cloud moved over the sun.

Diana peered at me. “You know the tradition, right?  One year clean and you share your story at a meeting?”

For the next few weeks, I went about my usual routine, but a dark current now always underneath. I’d be editing a story—then the thought YOU HAVE TO SPEAK IN FRONT OF 40 PEOPLE would burst in, and that awful panic would descend.  I’ll die! I can’t!

Then one day, this thought struck me: I really don’t have to.

Infinitely relieved, I called Diana. “I’m so scared of talking in front of people that …I’m not going to do this.”

Silence.

Then: “Car. You’ve gotten so much from NA.  It’s time for you to give back.”

There was no more discussion. I knew Diane was right.

But that was no consolation on the day I was slated to speak.

My heart pounded all afternoon. I walked to the 6 pm meeting on shaky legs. At the meeting, Diana took my icy hands. “Car. Just share honestly. People want to hear what you have to say.”

I couldn’t believe I was walking to the front table. Couldn’t believe I’d turned around to face the crowd, that I’d sat down next to the leader. What was I doing up here?

The leader introduced me.

I stood up.

It was like being on the highest diving board and looking down at the faraway water.

My voice will shake so bad, they’ll stop liking me.

I saw Diana, beaming from the front row. I spied other friends, their faces affectionate, eager. I saw newcomers, looking as scared as I’d been a year ago.   Something shifted. The love in this room was so big that my lifelong enemy got smaller.

“I was always terrified of talking in front of people,” I began, my voice shaking just a little. “But tonight—it’s the strangest thing—I’m doing the very thing I thought I could never do.”

Instantly, a warm ripple of laughter. Smiling faces nodded in acknowledgement.  A wave of warm clapping created a wide path, and I went down it, sharing my story as honestly as I knew how.

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I never thought I would . . .

by Virginia Small

I never thought I would find myself walking down a street with about 500 other people, all headed in the same direction, looking for the same thing: some really good food.

This is so cool. I’ve met so many new friends; and in such a short amount of time. It’s like a big party or something. Just hanging out with these guys is freaking awesome.

For instance: the guys on my left are from the hospital. There was an outbreak there a couple weeks ago. The morgue filled up really fast. And the college kids in front of me are from the school bus crash. I guess that’s why they’re a little messed up. They’re kind of burned and have broken bones and stuff, but they’re keeping up with us just fine.

As if I have a right to talk. That’s the last time I lay out in the sun on a big sheet of foil to get a tan. Well, I got my tan. A fat lot of good it does me now.

Boy; am I hungry. Isn’t there anything good to eat around here?

There’s that really cute guy I liked at work. What’s he doing here? Oh, I see. It looks like he was playing with his dad’s gun again. I told him that was a bad idea. He doesn’t look so good. He’s still cute, though. I think he’s smiling at me. Oh, wait. On second thought, I think that’s the entrance wound.

God. It seems like we’ve been walking for days. No hurry though. I’m not tired or sore or anything. I’m just hungry.

Wait. I smell something; something really good. Oh God, what is that? Where is that coming from? Over there in that building across the street. Others smell it too. A group of us have turned and are headed over there now.

The smell is stronger on the second floor. What is that; cookies, pizza? Whatever it is, it’s right behind that door and I’ve got to have some.

There it is. Let me at it. Me first.

Mmmmm, brains.

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Comments

I never thought I would … — 15 Comments

    • Wow. What an interesting and scary experience. I like the way you inserted the word “love” at the end of the story to tie in to the original title of the popular movie.

    • KA, What an unusual topic/prompt this has turned out to be for us. “I never thought I would…” easily turns into “I never thought YOU would…” “Dropping In” (great title) is very enjoyable and opens a chapter of your life I would never have known about.

  1. Please click on the “reply” arrow to leave comments for “I never thought I would… MARK” by Ann Klaiman

    • Interesting story, Ann. I’m so old I never heard of cruisers! Comforting to hear he did find his way, found something to inspire him. And I’m sure your friendly face and welcoming attitude didn’t hurt.It is sad to think of all the lost kids in need of a role model, or a goal — some kind of inspiration. Glad Mark found his.

  2. Please click on the “reply” arrow to leave comments for “Breakthrough” by Ruthy Wexler.

    • I’m glad to see a little teaser of what’s to come in our small critique group. We’re waiting for this. We’re proud of you, Ruthy.

    • I spent years being terrified to speak in public. I understand that is the major fear most people face. When my first book was published, I knew I might be expected to speak and needed to do something about my panic. What I did was join a Toastmistress Club. It was the last thing in the world I wanted to do, but I did it! And I found a group of women who understood and wanted to help. They did it by requiring everyone to speak at every meeting. And very, very gradually I got used to being on my feet in the front of the room. I attended for several years, and to this day I’m grateful to those women and the organization, which I think is now called Toastmasters. Congratulations to you! Twelve step groups are the answer for a lot of people and I’m so glad you’re doing well. Nancy

    • Dear Ruthy,
      I have this horrible feeling that I don’t know how to blog. I thought blogging was short messages with no real story structure. But after reading my blog and then yours, I realized that a blog is not like the messages you leave on a hand held computer that are phonetic fast messages like the 2 blogs I have done. “Hapless Stranger” is my blog for Sept, but to my dismay it needed lots of editing by Virginia to bring it up to snuff. Your blog is an honest to God short story with much punctuation, paragraphs and feeling. I look forward to my October blog where I will tell a story like Andrea and you have done so effortlessly. Keep writing!!

      Sophia

      • Not to worry, Sophia. “The Hapless Stranger” is an interesting addition to this topic/prompt, and I’ve enjoyed reading the comments you’ve written on other postings this year. Our Pen Women group is diverse, and as published writers and artists, we have had widely varying experiences with reading and contributing to blogs. On one hand, numbers of our members have their own blogs, and, on the other, a couple of our members don’t use a computer at all. Your puzzlement over what and how to blog just adds to the discussion.