Today The Great Writing Experiment (hosted by Elana Johnson, Alex J. Cavanaugh, and Jennifer Daiker) is going on over at Elana's Blog. The topic is Writing Compelling Characters. There are no rules. So I'm posting about a character, one that I hope is compelling. I am so close to my work that I don't know if she is or not. I'm hoping that you'll be honest and tell me.
The Autumnal Equinox is the one time of the year when day equals night no matter where in the world you are. Sarah shuffles to her car in a gait that screams old lady. She makes a note of this and adds it to the pile of mounting evidence: the pale yellow raincoat, treasured but ancient; the slumped-over, caved-in posture; the lurking tears ready to spring forth and the teeth she’d forgotten to brush.
Yesterday it was the odor that clung to her two-day-old clothes as she left the Department of Family and Children’s Services. Not many of her clothes fit her anymore and, while she wanted to care, knew she should care, she couldn’t.
At least today she’d had a shower and colored her hair. But even that was evidence of the slide. Until a few months ago her luscious red hair had been managed by a high-priced stylist. Today her color came from a $5.97 box of Clairol Natural Instincts.
“How does one slide from the top of the world to an old lady in a raincoat with bad breath and b.o.?” she wondered.
Looking back she saw it had happened by inches and miles.
She remembered being a doctor, sought after and respected. She made good money, employed an assistant and paid her taxes. She was generous and talented. She had finally found the love of her life and he was in love with her. She owned a condo and lived in the land of her dreams.
Then her stepfather died and a few months later, her mother followed. The recession hit and her business suffered. She cared. She threw money at the problem but the outflow became a hemorrhage. She paid her mortgage with credit cards like a good little citizen and over time she lost it all.
She cared so much that it rocked her faith and cracked her foundation. Her indomitable spirit faltered.
The stress made her sick and she kept going. She'd had to. But nothing could stop that awful slide. The love of her life soured. He fell in love with a doctor, he said, not a failure. And that had been the final blow.
Adrift, treading in dangerous waters, she kept paddling even though some days she couldn't remember why. Till she met Eli.
And the inches became smiles.
Sarah swam toward him, excited and full of hope but his words were hollow. Instead of shelter and comfort she found rejection and heartache. Now she was alone, far from home, with nothing.
Miles became inches and inches became miles and there was no where and no way to escape. Denial was her blanket, her only comfort.
She sat, every day like an automaton, staring at her computer, wishing things were as they had been. Then the call came, a loved one suggesting Sarah apply for aid. It was then that Sarah knew what she had suspected for some time: she was no longer a productive member of society.
Surrounded by walls she couldn't scale, she made the call. She filled out the form. Candice the caseworker at the DFCS, was kind. She told Sarah there was no shame in needing help, that this is what DFCS was for.
Sarah cried in earnest then, hot tears of shame dripping down her cheeks as her world crumbled to dust. What she needed, more than food stamps, was help for her soul. The depression, so close at hand for four years running, consumed her. It dogged her footsteps, making her clothes too small and her sleep too long. It kept her from working. She was at the end of her money, her credit and her assets. And her prison cell was full of fleas.
Candice handed her a Kleenex and through the lump in her throat, Sarah asked if there was a free clinic that could help her escape. There is. Sarah whimpered and made another call.
That miserable day ended and Sarah slept for twelve long hours before waking to another miserable day.
This morning she sprayed for fleas and set a bomb for good measure, then trudged to a 12 Step Meeting where her wretchedness was confirmed. Even the steps had failed her.
Afterward, she found the clinic. She wondered how she had fallen so far and so hard. Taking the paperwork from Linda, she put on her glasses and sobbed, unable to see though the tears. Another patient, the only other soul in the waiting room, let her cry.
Linda is sorry but they can’t see Sarah today and not for another two weeks. Does Sarah mind driving to another town next Wednesday? Dumbfounded and unable to argue, Sarah agreed and left. But she can’t go home, her house is bug bombed. She did anyway and sat on the deck in a plastic chair. She sat so long that her hand went numb from leaning on her elbow.
Finally, she dragged her bones back to the car and drove to Five Guys for a hotdog and coke and a cool place to write. She deposited her laptop on a table and ordered, then came back and turned it on. The battery is low, she needs her power cord.
Sarah shuffles to her car in a gait that screams old lady. She feels more ancient than her raincoat. She wonders how she will muster the strength to make it until Wednesday. But it’s the Autumnal Equinox and she knows that she will.
It's only inches and miles.
This post is dedicated to the millions who suffer from chemical depression, an oftentimes fatal disease if left untreated. Thank you to Elana, Alex and Jen for hosting this 'experiment'. There are 177+ entries last time I checked. Click here to read all the other awesome posts and to add your own if you haven't already.