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My Purpose

I've altered the photo because I'm not comfortable posting something too clear. This is a school potluck.

Her hand clenches and unclenches near her chest. She pulls hair back behind her shoulder. “I’m sorry, Marta. I can not take the test.”

My bag is heavy. My hands are full. “Oh? Okay.”

“I’m sorry. You know, yes? I’ve got an appointment. It is my back.” She frowns. “Test is Wednesday, yes?”

It is the lunch break and I’ve got to prepare for the next class. “I hope you’re okay.”

She nods. “But I can’t take the test.” She fusses with her hair again.

“It’s okay, Y. My class isn’t meant to add stress to your life.” I can tell she is anxious. I think of how she edits and edits her paragraphs until she is the last student to turn work in. “One more minute,” she always says, scribbling furiously.

“You can turn it in later, Y. It’s okay.”

She shakes her head. Her finger is on the word I’ve corrected in pink ink. “A minute,” she says.

So now I say, “Y. My class isn’t meant to add stress to your life. If you can’t take the test, don’t take the test. Take care of yourself, okay?”

She smiles. “Thank you, Marta. You are kind.” Her body seems to drop slightly. She seems relaxed.

“No, no. Y. This class is here to help you, not stress you out. It’s fine. Don’t worry about the test. Okay?”

She smiles and nods. Her fist clenches and unclenches. “Thank you.”

“I’ll see you Monday?” I ask. I’m not ready for my next class. I want to buy cookies from the vending machine.

She nods and I walk away. I don’t think about that test until four months later when Y. kills herself and I have to tell my class that a classmate is dead.

I sent out a short story the yesterday. I’ve got an idea for another story. I’ve got thousands of words to go through and figure out what I can salvage into more short stories. I’ve got magazines, web sites, books listing where to send these stories.

I expect to be rejected. That’s okay.

The publishing world does not exist to add stress to my life. It is there. I can participate or not. Why should rejection from people we know nothing about mean anything?

I write. I can’t control how the world reacts. A big embrace or shrug. I’m not going away until I’m dragged away.

You?

11 thoughts on “My Purpose

  1. This is sad. Such a tragic ending. I recently heard of a man who committed suicide because he told a joke to a coworker. The coworker wasn’t offended. But a busybody passerby thought the joke was inappropriate and went to HR. The man who told the joke was so stressed out and panicked over the possibility of losing his job, he committed suicide. Stress does kill.

    I don’t know what the circumstances were in Y.’s life, but I’ve scars of my own from stress.

    Hope you can see the stress-free rejection you’re speaking about here. That’d be good.

    • This is one reason I don’t go report people for saying inappropriate things. Well, inappropriate is in the eye of the beholder and I’m no judge and jury, but who am I to go complain about some off-color comment? I mean, so what? And what do I know about someone’s life and what effect I might have? Anyway, that is a sad story too, Darc.

      I don’t know what was going on in Y’s life either. Sad though.

  2. I think we all get stressed sometimes. The trick is to see the stress in the right perspective, to understand that it won’t last forever, to find ways of relaxing and blocking out the cause of the stress. Suicide, like depression, comes to those who can’t see a way out.

    I hope you don’t get a rejection. But if you do, I’m sure you won’t give up. I’m not going to.

    • I know I’m not responsible for Y’s choice and for her not being able to see a way out. Still, I wish I could’ve opened a window for her. Something.

      Good to know we won’t be giving up together.

  3. The Missus and I have an ongoing “favorite topics” discussion about the modern world — that it’s all set up to drive us crazy. And in subtle ways, too, so that even the soothing elevator music, the encouragements not to worry but to be happy, all that — it just ratchets up the power of everything else. (Personally, I think it may have all started with the so-called “Tylenol killer”; some of the protections installed to prevent food tampering are maddening.)

    By which I am not at all making light of Y’s case (or yours, come to that). It’s no wonder that people under pressure from a dozen irreconcilable directions at once sometimes transfer the full force of all their anxiety onto the nearest target — themselves.

    Good for you on the dealing-with-rejections front. I think that’s a resolution I can accept myself!

    • Y was a Korean mother, taking care of her two children in another country on her own while her husband worked in Korea. She had to take the language classes to stay in the country, and she wanted to stay in the country for her children to go to school here. She had to cope with a new culture, language and two teens. She had chronic back pain and I don’t know what else. The stress of every day life here must’ve been magnified several times over.

      I think you’re right about modern life.

  4. “I expect to be rejected. That’s okay.
    The publishing world does not exist to add stress to my life. It is there. I can participate or not. Why should rejection from people we know nothing about mean anything?
    I write. I can’t control how the world reacts. A big embrace or shrug. I’m not going away until I’m dragged away.
    You?”

    Same.

    Thanks Marta.

  5. I think that sounds like a healthy attitude. Stress is a part of life and can’t really be avoided, unless you want to live in an underground cave. It’s how we deal with it that matters. Some can deal with it better than others, some were never taught the skills, some sail though stress like it’s the air they breathe. By expecting to be rejected and learning not to let it affect you is a big step in knowing how to cope with stress. Write.

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