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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: The Game of Life (09/11/08)

TITLE: A Place for Pamela


Not all moments are created equal. Some are so altering they don’t need the benefit of the backward glance to understand their significance. The day I found Carlene, my wife, tucked in the living room shadows of a winter dusk, I sensed an impact to the remainder of our days on the earth.

My brother had recently bailed on the afternoon shift at our dairy farm and that left Carlene and me to manage the entire schedule. She hadn’t helped the last few afternoons and I strode home late, galled at her nerve.

She was sitting back on her socked heels, rocking and moaning from someplace so far inside that it scared me from someplace just as deep. By nature, my wife wasn't a crier.

I crushed an object under my steel-toed boot. A half turn on the dimmer switch illuminated remnants of an orange plastic car in the midst of a barrage of scattered bills—play money in various colors. The “Game of Life” was splayed in a wide arc emanating from the kitchen table.

I crouched behind her, joining her body in motion. “What’s going on?” I asked into her soft brown hair.

“Are you ree-al?” she cried. “I can’t feel you, or see you or hear you.”

I secured her between the crooks of my arms and applied enough pressure to make her believe I was real. We swayed together for a long time—my knees beginning to ache. “Where’re the kids?” I whispered.

“With your parents.” They lived in a new house on the other side of the property. She bent her head back and rested it against my chest. “Walt,” she said, her chest heaving, “our lives are unraveling, but I did everything exactly the way I was supposed to. Life’s a crap shoot. It doesn’t matter what we do—what’s going to happen is going to happen.”

She had never wanted to work a farm, but had learned the operation. Two children, not four had been her dream. Then we lost one. Nothing like guilt to fuse self-reproach onto sorrow.

“Did something happen today?” I asked.

“Lauren received her acceptance letter from GMU, but she said she’s not going.”

“She wants to go somewhere else?”

“No, Walt—she doesn’t want to go to college—period. She wouldn’t explain why. I found our “Game of Life,” slammed it open and reminded her that of the hundred times we played, not going to college was never an option. That was the path we always took.”

I pressed my cheek against the top of her head, wanting to absorb her frustration. Carlene began making another sound—something low and plaintive. “I’m sorry,” she cried, squeezing my arm, “because then I thought what does it matter? I went to college, waited till marriage for sex, had faith and look where I am. I wish life were a game. It would make sense of the non-sense.”

“Ssh,” I said. Her tone prickled me, felt like an indictment. It’s the same reaction I had when she put away the pictures of Pamela.

“No. I won’t ‘Ssh.’ If I were a pink peg, I wouldn’t have to worry about loss or cows or old houses or thighs. I’d just move along a prescribed course expecting the unexpected, knowing none of it really mattered.”

Then she went limp again and actual tears soaked into my sleeve. “I wonder if God is? Or should I be looking for something else?”

“You’re focusing on a miserable sliver of life you don’t understand.” My voice carried my own pent-up disappointments. “How many times have we seen evidence of Him? In how many situations do we see His hand? Your words are trying to erase all that, when instead, what we need is an *Ebenezer to remind us.”

I pushed my legs out from underneath me and we scootched back against the couch, wrapped together with only the ticking of the mantel clock marking time. Shortly after seven clangs, Carlene stretched to her side walking her fingers in the carpet toward a green token.

She didn’t say anything and I never asked about it, but when I returned from my parents’ house, I noticed the green car parked at the center of the kitchen windowsill. It was filled with a husband, a wife and four children. There it stands to this day.

*Ebenezers: Monuments erected by Israelites to remind them of times when God’s hand saw them through.

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Jan Ackerson 09/18/08
I think we've all had moments like this, when nothing in life makes sense and when we wonder if all that we've done is worth it. You've captured one of those moments perfectly, and also written a wonderful husband! Very, very well done. The small details, like the picture of Pamela, really make this piece stand out.
Beth LaBuff 09/19/08
I love your opening sentence, "Not all moments are created equal." I also liked your mention of the "Ebenezer" stones (and the green car from the game). We have a few of those Ebenezer monuments too. Excellent writing…such a wonderful story and message!
Anne Linington09/19/08
Some of your phrases are so memorable.."nothing like guilt to fuse it onto sorrow..". Beautifully written, particularly the husband characterisation.
Shelley Ledfors 09/21/08
Wow. I like this powerful, well-written piece. There are so many wonderful details here that make this special. Very well done!
Joy Faire Stewart09/21/08
I enjoyed everything about the story, the vivid details, characterization, and message are all wonderful. Excellent!
Allison Egley 09/21/08
This was good. Almost haunting in a way. I'm glad things worked out for her and she could climb out of her despair. Good job.
Celeste Ammirata09/22/08
Wow. This is really good. I love the openeing line too. Great take on the topic. I'm glad she came around. :-)
Verna Cole Mitchell 09/24/08
Your emotion-packed piece is outstanding writing, beginning to end.
LauraLee Shaw09/24/08
I really like this. You managed to balance the right amount of showing and telling, as well as the right amount of reality with emotion. Well done.
Dee Yoder 09/24/08
The title really gave me insight into who and what the green car was representing! Wonderful and full of real emotions. I know without those moments of remembering when God was faithful to me, the hard times in my life would have been almost impossible to bear. Loved reading this.
Leah Nichols 09/24/08
You're not in Masters' yet? Why not? This piece is incredible - beautifully written. Excellent work, as usual. Hope you get an EC! :)
Karen Wilber09/24/08
Boy, you really grabbed a kind of woman's mid-life crisis here. "I did all the things expected of me....and where am I" Lots of powerful messages packed into this one. I always forget what an "Ebenezer" is--I think I'll remember now.
Chely Roach09/24/08
Wow, this was so real. I could see and sense her meltdown...superb writing.
Joshua Janoski09/24/08
I can't count the number of times that I have felt the same frustrations that this woman felt. This is a very real piece, taken not from made up words, but from reality. Good job with this one!
Linda Watson Owen01/05/09
Lisa, you have so skillfully woven a story that reaches right into the depths of a reader's heart. We all know those deep places, don't we... very familiar times when deep calls to deep. Wonderful writing, from concept to every chosen detail!