Journal 5

For the First Time, Alone



Journal 5:

The phone rings and rings and rings in the middle of the night.  It keeps ringing after the machine picks up.  Finally you answer it—groggy, irritated, and befuddled.  It’s the call we all dread and yet know will come more than once in our lives …

The narrator’s (closest friend, lover, parent, brother, sister, you decide who to kill…) was in an accident, is at the hospital, and will not last until morning.  He or she dresses furiously, jumps in his or her car, get to the hospital, cursing at the slowness of traffic, and the stupidity of parking attendants, and arrives at the person’s bedside.  What happens next?  Describe the scene, be detailed.



I set the phone down, slowly, not really understanding the need to hurry. In my bedroom I grabbed my phone and stuck it in my pocket only to realize my pajama shorts didn’t have pockets. The jeans on the floor were dirty, but they would do, so I pulled them on and shoved the phone into the back. A sweatshirt from the closet shelf and my wallet and keys and I was out the door and halfway down the stairs before I realized I was barefoot. Whatever, I kept a pair of emergency flipflops in the car, and if this wasn’t an emergency, I didn’t know what was.


I drove as fast as I could but with a strange hyper-caution sprung from his accident. At the emergency room I parked in the first spot I saw, dug in the back seat for the flipflops and ran into the hospital.


“I’m looking for Erik. Erik, um, Battleson.” I realized I was waving the flipflops, while my feet were still bare. I bent over and shoved the shoes on while a nurse gave me a room number and a look that mixed pity and callousness.


Jogging down the hall I found the room and stopped outside the door. In, out, in, out, I made myself breathe rhythmically. They said he wouldn’t make it till morning. The SUV had ploughed right into his side of the car, mercifully sparing the baby in the back seat and Camille on the passenger side, but were they worth his life?


The rest of the family hadn’t gotten there yet, and I sat slowly beside his bed. His right leg was twisted into an unnatural shape, which they hadn’t bothered to fix beyond a half-hearted attempt to straighten it. Why would they, when it wouldn’t help anyway? His face was bruised, bloody, puffy, an impressionist portrait in reds and purples. I didn’t try to wipe my eyes. I knew one I started crying I would need to have it all out.


My hand snaked forward and found his on top of the blanket. At first I was gentle, like holding a baby, but then I thought that maybe he would know it was me, and this would be the last time that I could reach him, so I squeezed, hard. And with every drop of supposed twin telepathy that I possessed, I willed him to know that I was there. I thought about all the times I had held that hand, struggling up snowy hills and dragging heavy sleds behind us, watching horror movies in high-school, during the blessing at his rehearsal dinner.


He didn’t respond, with all my squeezing and willing and prayers. He laid on the hospital bed, broken and unmoved. An hour ago he had been so easily moved by tons of unfeeling steel, and now, in my pleading hands, nothing.


And then even less. The machine closest to me let out the wail that I couldn’t muster as I bent against the bed. And I opened my mouth but still, silence. There was no chance of his feeling me, as I continued to kneed his hand, but I couldn’t stop, desperately needing to be connected to him. Nurses came in around me, trying to get readings and eventually one loosened my grip and walked me to another room. I guess I walked anyway. And I sat, curled up as small as I could make myself, until my dad arrived, and silently sat beside me, no words able to express what his shaking arms could.

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I sit cross-legged on the floor with a blanket wrapped tightly around my shoulders. The boxes around me aren’t in any particular order, which is part of the reason I couldn’t sleep. Disorganization makes me uneasy, whether it’s in my living room or my life. The boxes are still dusty and smell like my parents’ attic.


“It’s been long enough. You need to deal with this crap.” That’s what my mom had said when she brought the boxes earlier today, or yesterday I guess. That didn’t made it any easier though.


What’s in these boxes is the past, and it’s not a place I want to revisit. I don’t want to see the scrapbooks or t-shirts, and especially not the letters. I keep every letter. Letters from her about our friendship which meant so much but would be shirked when someone new came along, and then totally dropped when the boyfriend, now the husband, was first met. Letters from him, that were never meant to be so special, but were carefully saved anyway. One or two letters from the short-lived relationship that was never complete, and yet was the only one.


I don’t know why I’ve kept them. I don’t really want to read them and remind myself of all the things that were and could have been, but at the same time it seems almost sacrilegious to get rid of them. They were a part of my life, they are a part of my past. Throwing out pieces of paper won’t change the events. Destroying the documentation won’t rewrite the summer day when the smiles were so fake I can’t even look at the pictures. Refusing to look back won’t make up for how blind I was. All my choices seem right in the moment.


The boxes are still staring at me with my name scrawled across the sides in my mom’s handwriting. Maybe if I organize them a little I’ll feel better. I keep as much of myself under the blanket as I can, protected from the cold and the dark, and I nudge the boxes to one side or the other. One set to keep, one set to think about keeping. Maybe they’ll all fit in the closet and then I can deal with them later. Like next time I move.


I glance at the clock, just visible in the moonlight, and think that I shouldn’t be awake right now. I start a new job tomorrow, and I should be sound asleep, resting up to make a good impression. But instead I’m sitting in the middle of the living room floor, moving a box of letters with my foot. And I wonder if they ever sit up in the middle of the night thinking about how things could have gone. Maybe they’re all happy and have gotten where they are by a deliberate set of choices.


Maybe I’m the only one who feels like life is an obstacle course and I’m wearing a blindfold. Or maybe we only ran into each other because none of us can see where we’re going.

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This journal is…

This journal is not like my other journals. I’ve been keeping a journal since I was about twelve, recording my life in different ways for different times. Sometimes it was unbelievably boring, but I wrote anyway. Sometimes it was exciting, but usually it was a way of coping. I needed to cope with everything when I started. I was so nervous, so worried that everything was  a big deal, that those were the defining moments of my life. And so I wrote. And I choose what to include and what to leave out, carefully crafting a memory that I felt I could handle, deal with. By skirting the truth I didn’t have to acknowledge what had happened. As time went on I learned to change the way I recorded things, to be less consciously editorial and more organic. And then came the big change, when I went from predominantly words to about equal words and art. Not necessarily good art, mind you, but art none the less. A page says so much more with paint and pictures than with simply plain lines of text. To me, from me, at least that’s the case. And I started buying journals without lines because I don’t want to be told how my words should be shaped. And I didn’t need as many words anymore, because my expression was more varied. I tried a Smash journal, with all the pre-made backgrounds and stuff, and I didn’t want to write in it. It’s hard to force my thoughts and feelings and words to fit a picture chosen by someone else. So I stopped before it was full and started a new book with plain cream-colored pages that are thick and a little bit rough so they will soak up my paint and markers and tape and glitter and stickers will grip the fibers, and I can sew or tear or fold them however I want. Sometimes I start with a blank page, or sometimes I choose a page that’s already partially done. Either way, it’s all mine. The first journal that I filled with art pages split its spine because I put too many extra layers in it. It bulges on all sides and is held together by a thick rubber band. I have about fifteen journals, each one different. I used to name each one, but not anymore. The subject matter has changed from a chronicle of my daily activities to a chronicle of my thoughts, wishes, hopes, fears, victories, joys, etc. I also used to take my journal everywhere with me, but now I usually leave it at home. Partially because the pages are more elaborate, partially because I don’t write in it every day, and partially because I carry lots of other things around with me all the time. But journaling has been one of my favorite things over the years. And there’s been a lot of change since I was twelve, and almost all of the big stuff has been recorded. I don’t know if I’ll keep journaling for the rest of my life, or if I’ll give the journals to my kids one day, or if I’ll burn them all. But they are a powerful piece of my life, and this is not the same. I think the term “notebook” or “idea book” or even the old-fashioned “common-place book” are better indicators of what these writing assignments are. This is not my personal expression for my personal growth and enjoyment. This is a required exercise that generally is not particularly insightful on my part, and probably is not particularly interesting to anyone who might read it.

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Journal 2

I don’t normally dress this way, but it’s been a rough week. Nothing seems to take the right amount of time lately. My preservation group spent hours measuring the house for our final project, and we still don’t have all the numbers we need. One more trip should do it, though. Anyway, with all the measuring, plus all the drawings we have to do, and everything for my other classes, I haven’t had time to do laundry for a while. And so I am wearing this, even though it’s a little much for a lecture. But I figured, hey, if you’re going to be overdressed for a lecture, you might as well go all the way and wear the pearls. So even if today is terrible, and I don’t finish the project, it won’t be a total wash, because I look great.

Sometimes that’s ok too, to have a day where the only thing you get right is your outfit. Right? I mean, no one can do everything well at the same time, so eventually clothes have to get their turn to be done right. Sometimes it’s homework done well with sweatpants, sometimes it’s no homework done at all with great hair. A time for everything.

That’s not what my mom thinks though. No, she always looks perfect, at the expense of all else, if necessary. I remember being little and watching her put on lipstick, so elegant and grownup. I also remember playing with her curling iron and dropping it on my leg, leaving an angry red stripe on my chunky pink thigh. And she freaked out and ran to the freezer and came back with ice. But I held the ice to my leg while she ran the little metal tube around her mouth, quicker than usual, but still there. And then she scooped me up and put me in the car and we went to the doctor. That was when I decided that lipstick was not for me. I don’t have a problem with gloss, stain, balm, chapstick. But I’ve never worn lipstick. I think the cold metal tube is an indicator of your internal temperature. My mom still wears lipstick, every day, and we don’t talk.

Well, we talk, but not really. “How’re your grades? I hope you’re eating well. Do you have a boyfriend yet?” And I answer “good,”  “fine,” and “no, mom.” And I ask her about her book club, which Oprah pick they’re on now, and soon she says she has to go, some important meeting or something. Or something, more likely. She never seemed very interested in me, the quiet one, not out for anyone’s attention but hers. That’s ok though, she has my sister, the youngest, dying for every drop of attention she can get; always singing and tap-dancing and wearing wigs. She cares enough about her appearance for both of us.

And so when I do look nice, like today, it makes me think of my mom. Because all this covers what’s really going on. The dress is the only thing clean, and the shoes are the only ones that match. And the outfit is the only thing I got right today. I don’t know if I’ll finish this project, or pass this class, or graduate on time. And if I do, by some miracle, stumble  through those three events, I have no clue what I’ll do with the rest of my life. But I sure look good today.

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Journal 1

The cover of Burroway’s “Imaginative Writing” makes me think of a quilt. Little patches of color, all put together into something warm. There’s not really a pattern, but that’s ok. Sometimes the best projects don’t have patterns, they just happen. I love quilts. They’re warm and homey, and make me feel loved and safe, even if that’s absurd. I only like old quilts though, the kind that are already worn and soft from a thousand nights and naps and washes. I have a quilt on my bed right now, blue and pink and white with little yellow flowers. It’s a queen size on a twin so it covers everything, like it should. I have another oversized quilt at home. It was on my bed, but my sister wanted it, and since I’m not usually there, I let her have it for now. But when I go home I miss having a quilt. I like something about the weight. Being wrapped in a quilt is like being hugged, or swaddled as a baby. I like knowing that someone picked out the colors and patterns and carefully cut each shape, pinned the pieces together, and then created something as wonderful as a quilt out of something as chaotic as a pile of small fabric shapes. Maybe that’s why I haven’t made a quilt yet, out of all my sewing projects. Maybe I don’t think I can get things together enough to bring order out of that chaos. Maybe I’m afraid that I’ll get all the little pieces cut out and then leave them in a plastic bag in the project drawer of my desk at home, and there will be no order, and no blanket that feels like a hug, and I’m afraid that failing on a quilt says something terrible about a person. Or maybe, this summer, I’ll carefully choose colors, maybe pink, maybe blue, maybe yellow, and make a quilt. It could be small, this first one, and not too complicated, but finished before Christmas. And maybe I’ll embroider the edges, because I do like to hand sew. Maybe it will have a name, or some verses on it, or maybe it will be plain. And I will wash it over and over and over until it is soft, and then I will carefully wrap it and put it under the tree for my new friend. And it will feel like a hug, and come with so many real hugs they can’t be counted. And it will wrap my friend in more love than I can say, love that is already here, even though my friend is not.

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Test Post

This is a test.

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Journal 4

Cinnamon Roll

Laura-Michal Balderson



The slightly spicy smell wanders

into my awareness

and I inhale.

The fragrance seduces my nostrils,

first just a hint

but soon the very atmosphere

wrapping me like a quilt.

A few more minutes.

The smells get stronger

and promise pleasure

as I savor each stroke that spreads

fluffy frosting.

One moment eating with my eyes,

delicious anticipation,

and then the warmth spreads

from my nose to my fingers to my tongue.

Ethereal icing melts

into earthy cinnamon,

the sky and ground, the whole world

in my mouth.


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Ekphrastic Peom

The Lady of Shalott, oil on canvas

By Laura-Michal Balderson


I was getting tired.

The dim lighting

necessary to preservation

had dulled my senses.

Most of my family waited ahead

bothering each other on a bench

at the end of the exhibit hall.


My father lagged behind

with his fine arts degree

lingering to appreciate things I couldn’t see.

And I was about to give up

and join my siblings on the bench,

tired and bored and hungry.


But one painting caught my eye.

Almost as tall as I was,

full of movement and hope and despair

tangled together like the cord that she fought,

the cords that caught me.

I sat on bench with a cranberry cushion

and stared.


For the first time I wrote

a title and author

in my little notebook.

Colors led to words and

brushstrokes to stanzas

And, Lord, a new world opened.

William Holman Hunt’s end

was my beginning.

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October 31, 1517

October 31, 1517

Laura-Michal Balderson


On a normal day he walked across the square

and posted a page of parchment

on the door of the church.

No one paid attention,

it was a common enough act.

Ideas for discussion

presented to the learned.


How was he supposed to know

that these were not ideas to talk about?

Brother Martin

so intently searching his own soul,

unaware of the lurking unrest,

the decades of warfare about to unfold.


On a normal day they declared

that Brother Martin was an outlaw.

And he hid himself in a mighty fortress

and spent his days in Latin

so we wouldn’t have to.

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Maria Antonia Josephina Johanna

Maria Antonia Josephina Johanna

Laura-Michal Balderson



On display, every inch of me is eyed.

The hasty tent sways in the wind

while they finish the sale.

The girl, me,

for some pieces of paper.

I remember the long hours

the coaching, the dentistry, the dancing lessons

to make me more valuable.

The seller hopes the work paid off

the buyer hopes I’m worth the cost.

I try to stay calm

as my dignity and body are stripped.

The crowd watches with mild interest

as I shiver, naked and alone.


And I think “Is this what it is

to be Dauphine?”

France wraps her new purchase in silk

and declares I will be queen.

Austria, my mother,

has sold me for peace

and now, worth less than the finery I wear

I am a bauble wearing baubles

displayed in a jeweled box.

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