Leo, my cat, would not stop crying. I can take a little kitty whine here and there, but he had literally been on a roll for the last three days nonstop. Last night he wouldn’t let me fall asleep for hours, then he woke me up in the middle of the night, then he woke up this morning—a wail ten times more obnoxious than my alarm.
Rowr, rowr, rowr, rowr, rowr, rowr, rowr.
Over and over and over. For hours.
I knew what he wanted. He wanted to go outside but I wouldn’t let him. There’s a ton of feral cats out there and these guys are raggedy, scarred and tough. I’ve seen one of the tabbies, who’s missing an eyeball, literally leap up a 6ft. fence, no problem—20-pound Leo can barely jump up the bed. The poor guy doesn’t stand a chance against them. It’d be like throwing Steve Erkel into a bar full of Crips. “You’re not going outside!” I yelled at him. I was trying to relax on the couch but his crying was making me slightly delirious. Maybe because I felt like crying too…
A couple months ago, I met a writer at an open mic in the city. After amazing conversation, she asked to see some of my work. I couldn’t believe it. Me? Send my writing to her—an established, renowned writer?! I polished several of my stories mercilessly: reading and re-reading them until there was not a single detail I could think of to edit. When the ‘message sent’ popped up on my screen, I felt like I’d just run a hundred mile marathon. And indeed, my brain had.
I wasn’t bummed when I checked my email 14 times a day those first two days with no response. She was busy, I told myself. She had a life. I checked my email profusely for a week and two weeks after, even running to the computer to see if I’d missed any messages those 4 minutes I’d escaped to the bathroom. I politely sent another email weeks later as a follow-up, and offered to re-send my work if I had not done it correctly. More time passed: nada. Was I that bad a rookie that I did not even deserve a response? Or did she just get swallowed up in a blizzard that spit her back out in the Bermuda Triangle?
I was bummed but not broken as I excited myself over my next possibility. A local paper was looking for queer-themed short stories to publish. I spent an entire afternoon scripting my synopsis about the stories I’m working on, a brief bio as requested, even including a link to my blog. I haven’t heard back from them. I won’t hear back from them. In the writer’s world, an acknowledged rejection is diplomatic. All other forms of it usually come as nothing at all.
Leo was crying louder than ever. His whole mouth opened wide as he shouted his one desperate request in my face: ROWR!
I clutched my head on the couch, trying to calm myself. Boo-hoo, so I got another rejection to add to my pile of manuscript rejections that, together, are probably thicker than my own novel. I’m a sensitive person but I can’t let myself get sensitive about my work. I told myself when I chose this profession that I would need to grow a skin tougher than an alligator’s. Consider people’s critiques sensibly, but never let them break me. You should hear the voice in my head; I’ve seen pissed off football coaches be nicer to their players than the coach in my head is with me. “Big deal! Crying’s for babies! Pick your whiny ass up and try again! No one said this shit would be easy.”
ROWRRR!!! Leo cried.
Sometimes I look at the “regular” 9-5ers in my bar. How easy it almost seems. To go to a job in those spiffy suits, and to have a steady salary where your method of payment isn’t indicative on how well you kiss ass for a decent tip. Benefits, vacation pay, enough to support your family: a regular job. It all seems so easy. Why then, can’t I bring myself to do it—to give in and live that good ol’ classic American dream? Because. I can’t. I have this yearning inside me that’s only soothed once its words are spewed out and onto a page, toyed with, manipulated, placed in a certain rhythm the way notes in a song harmonize. People read the words, probably have no idea how many times I’ve read and re-read the same sentence—scrutinizing every last comma and giving the illusion that the metaphors I pull from my mind like a rabbit out of a hat is merely effortless. If my work flows as smoothly as rainwater gushing downstream, I have done my job as a writer. And while I may envy the simple life of one who is not an artist, I would not trade my skill, my talent, my passion, my artwork for anything in the world. Do flowers wish to be ordinary weeds? No! I will never settle for complacency simply because it is easier. What a baby I was being, whining about a couple measly rejections! That was the coach inside yelling at me, telling me to toughen up, get over it, and move on. I began crying and when it called me a wimp for crying, I began crying even more, with Leo of course crying next to me.
“What do you want?” I pleaded with him, even though I knew. I looked outside. It was cold, the sky covered in spongy clouds of grey that promised rain. I thought of the lions I’d seen caged in some hotel in Vegas the week before. The most magnificent creatures you’d ever seen…depressed in a tiny enclosure as an attendant poked them with sticks to try to play ball for the crowd. I looked at Leo and sighed. “You’re lucky those lions almost made me cry,” I muttered.
I’d barely opened the door when he made a dash for it. Ran outside so fast and downstairs into the mini garden where his tail flicked back and forth excitedly. Sniffing flowers and rubbing his whiskers on the feathered sprouts of grass that shot out of the ground, he finally seemed content. Someday I’ll have my own kids and will have to watch them burn some steam off at the playground. For now, I have Leo.
Settling down on the steps of the deck, I pondered these tornadoes in my mind, my frustrations wringing out inside of me like soiled rags. I smeared the ooze of my tears across my face.
All of a sudden, I felt something pulling at me—that tug people feel when someone’s staring at them. I looked up, curious to the source of it. The city’s gloom of fog still loomed above, but in a small patch of blue, a huge balloon shot across the sky. What struck me at seeing it was not just that it was a plain ol’ balloon, but that it was a butterfly; an icon that, before they became incredibly stylish, I used to be obsessed with. It could’ve been any passing balloon, but as my eyes drained themselves silly on the porch steps aching for some kind of sign to continue pursuing this nearly impossible dream, I let myself be selfish, and say, ‘that butterfly floating across the sky was just for me.’
I wondered if it was an angelic wink from my cousin Tavo, who always encouraged my writing before he passed away; or my Aunt Lucy who was always so tender and kind, and would’ve wanted me to go on. Or maybe if it was just a reflection of me: of my hope, and all the manifestations I’ve put into the universe to someday “make it” as a writer. My heart soared as the butterfly twisted, floating up, up and upwards, capturing what little sunlight was left and shining from it magnificently.
Then, almost as quickly as it had come into my vision, it disappeared, the phantom of fog concealing it away under its cape.
It was cold, and I began to shiver. Leo had had his 20 minutes in the yard. I scooped him up in my arms and brought him inside. He did not resist, fuss or even cry.
After dinner, I sat back down at the computer and began to write this story. I finished my first draft (a whopping 8 pages, single spaced). Half of it will be cut out, and the rest will be insanely crafted and detailed, much like Edward Scissorhands would do on a huge shrub. Four hours have passed—it could’ve been half an hour for all I knew. This story, the tears, everything has spilled out of me. My simple omen has been the kick I need to continue on, and to tell that coach in my head to be a little kinder. Someday I’ll be successful. Someday people will actually purchase my work, and I’ll have achieved a sense of establishment. For now, I have my youth, my stories, blessings in the sky, and most importantly: a quiet cat purring next to me.
© Sarah C. Jimenez 2011, All Rights Reserved