Willmar, Minnesota

Today’s post is a bit different. I’m taking you to the town where my parents have lived for the past few years. In addition, I’m taking a giant leap; I’m going to share a story of my own with you.

Indomitable Ears is a piece of creative nonfiction that I recently finished for my Advanced Writing class. I find that peer critique is not always the most helpful because my classmates are too nice. They aren’t telling me what’s really wrong with my story.

Hopefully, my readers will provide some feedback or critiques, but if not, I hope you all enjoy it.

Indomitable Ears

by Haley Roske

The feeling of blood pooling on my ears draws a sigh from my mouth, but listless hands remain on my lap as though the flashing television screen traps them as well as my eyes. 18 years of age had come with the bang of a piercing gun that had punctured three new holes in my head, replacing my anxious smile with red, throbbing ears and a facade of something that longs to be invincibility. My hair still hangs in tangled curls, my closet still overflows with t-shirts, and the jagged edges of my nail polish remain. Only the earrings that forced my mother to her chair, as though they had some secret power I didn’t get to know, fill my chest with fresh pride and confidence.

My phone buzzes against the wood of the kitchen table, and my heart skips a beat for the sender of my latest message.

“Ben: I rly wonder wut kinda tree that was…”

My friends had strewn themselves across the basement carpet, occasionally moaning and clutching stomachs that abused them for overdosing on cake. The cheap plastic cars from Life, jammed full of blue and pink peg people, had been tipped over at various stages of the game, leaving behind an apocalyptic version of the board. Ben had propped himself up against the couch, and Leah bounced around the room, chatting away. I was sinking into the floor, pressed down by the impending failure of my party. Rubbing my palms, I remembered the lecture my mother had given on being the perfect hostess because being 18, I was old enough to manage on my own.

After much coaxing and coercing, I lured the bloated bodies into the bright sunshine and fresh summer air. Beaming and gesturing like a flight attendant, I shepherded the group of zombies through a maze of houses. It was then that we found the tree.

“Haley: Lol, idk. I guess I could find out.”

Ben’s face shone as though it were crystal struck by sunlight. The tree pulled him, powerless to resist, to stand just short of the shadow cast by its branches. He squinted up at the leaves and pivoted toward me, then toward the tree, and finally, loosing himself from the tree’s hypnotic pull, stumbled back to us. As the day went on, his shoulders slumped, and his brow furrowed. Devastatingly attractive and an all-star athlete, he wasn’t smooth enough to converse with whoever might have been lurking behind the door nor did he have the brazen confidence to demand knowledge of a stranger. Worst of all, the wrinkled forehead and turned down corners of his mouth screamed that he knew it.

But, I know it too, and even though his failings hurt him, they make me just a touch closer to being his equal. If I do it, he’ll have to admire me, even though I wear paint splattered Art Club shirts, trip while climbing the stairs, and can barely speak to people, let alone look them in the eyes. My grip on the phone becomes painfully tight, and before I can change my mind I’m flying through the door and down the street, weightless, a low-hanging cloud of elation and courage.

I lose myself in the sea of homes, all in shades of beige and blue and yellow. Every retraced step brings me closer to reality, the courage evaporating and the elation sinking into the sidewalk cracks. Beads of sweat pool on my forehead and trace the anxious wrinkles that crease my forehead, eyes, and mouth. My feet are on autopilot. Red and stinging from sweat, my piercings alert me to my oversized t-shirt, men’s basketball shorts, and grimy flip-flops. I have no armor but my youth and weakness.

A curve guides me around a pond ringed by reeds and birdsong, and suddenly, my feet are frozen to the ground as though it were January, not the end of July. Across the street, branches pour silver leaves over a roof and throw them into the sky where the sunshine gently polishes. It’s massive, elegant, and a mystery. A tiny blue house sits tucked beneath it, the typical residence of a Minnesotan. My feet have thawed from the awe-inspired deep freeze that trapped them.

And yet, I can’t step down from the curb. I attempt to rub away the itching my rising blood pressure set in motion in my arms. Some unknown source of courage drags me into the middle of the street where I begin to pace. Spiderwebs of itchiness spread down my legs, and terror floods my heart. The holes in my ears throb with my heartbeat, reminding me that I am not alone; I purchased courage to wear like baubles in my piercings.

My shoulders curve toward the pond, but somehow the toes of my old flip-flops are pressed against the front step. Fight or flight. Faces flash through my mind. My mother and Ben look at me with knowing eyes. An empty chant fills my mind. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I plant my foot on the step and crush the doorbell with the heel of my hand. My eyes squeeze shut, attempting to give my body one last line of defense. I am young and weak and scared, but I am brave.


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