Contest #67 winner 🏆

302 comments

Submitted on 11/12/2020

Categories: American Drama

Trigger warning: depression and suicidal ideation

 

“We saw your poor Rick,” they say in the grocery store aisle. I smile, unconvincingly, and compare jars of spaghetti sauce that I don’t even want. 

“We heard about your poor Rick,” they say, half turned on the pew in front of me at church. I sit alone and nod at their thoughtful concern, which is, in truth, neither thoughtful nor concern.

“How is your poor Rick,” they say to me on the sidewalk, where I’m gardening and minding my own business. It isn’t a question. 

It's schadenfreude. Who else but the Germans could have coined a term for the self-satisfaction of witnessing the troubles of others? Like laughing at someone who walks into a plate glass window, spilling their overpriced coffee. Like seeing a girl with her head down, tapping on an iPhone, almost walking into traffic. Like watching me, a mother with a son like Rick attempting to get through the day. 

Your poor Rick.

Enraged, I pull off my gardening gloves. I gather up the shears and trowel and other gardening implements. I wonder briefly if I can use them on my thoughtful and concerned neighbors, the ones who always look at my son like a criminal instead of a desperate addict who needs help. 

I shove everything into the wheelbarrow and roll it all into the garage. The yard can brown, rot, and die for all I care.

I slam the garage door and walk into the kitchen. I fill up a glass of water. I pour it out. I put my head in my hands. I am ashamed of my embarrassment. Rick is my son.

“Honey?” my husband calls out. But he is useless in this and all things.

“Yes, dear,” I reply as neutrally as possible. 

“Rick called. He’s coming by tonight,” my husband says, dismissively. He takes no part in Rick and Rick-related activities. You wanted the children, he once famously said. I once wanted a husband, too, I had replied in my heart of hearts. 

Rick had been a handful from the very start. Ghastly morning sickness. Problematic pregnancy. Emergency C-section. The moment he had been born, everything seemed to overstimulate his senses. He had been colicky, wailing at all hours of the night for comfort which never came. I had tried. I had held and rocked and sang to him. In preschool, he had been the kid who bites. In kindergarten, he had taken an inordinately long time to learn his colors, none of us realizing until later that he was colorblind. It took him even longer to learn how to read, as dyslexia spun the letters around, making his words indecipherable. 

In elementary school, parent teacher conferences had taken up the majority of my schedule. Rick needs to be frequently redirected. Rick did not collaborate with his peers in a prosocial manner. Rick needs additional socio-emotional support. Rick has failed his color wheel project. Rick is suspended for pulling the fire alarm during an assembly on following the rules. 

In sports, he is too awkward and clumsy, as throwing, catching, hitting, and dribbling various sized balls only underscores his lack of basic hand-eye coordination. In friendships, he is too needy, at once standoffish, then suddenly demanding. His peers summarily ignore him. 

Watching him solitarily walk to the bus stop, passing by the throngs of other children who easily laugh, breaks my heart. He is enveloped in loneliness, making his adolescent disaffection flare up into episodic rages. As middle school progresses, his room accumulates more and more fist-sized holes in the drywall. I can only wring my hands and hand towels in the kitchen, making him macaroni and cheese from the blue box, the only kind he will eat. 

In high school, Rick’s 11th grade drama teacher sees something in Rick that none of us do. Rick loves the stage. Rick loves disappearing into a character and working out the character’s emotions in full view of an audience. With puberty long behind him, his voice has developed a rich depth and timbre that resonates throughout the drab high school theater. On stage, Rick transforms into another person: confident, well spoken, powerful. 

With tears streaming down my face, I watch his magnificent portrayal of Prince Hamlet.

“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio. A fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy,” Rick says, holding a fake human skull aloft. The audience is rapt, as Rick entirely captivates them with his intensity. 

When I help Rick learn his lines, he tells me what Hamlet experiences during his favorite scene—Hamlet in the graveyard. 

Death, mom. Death is just a philosophical concept until it happens to you. Mr. Schaffer says Hamlet constantly mulls over the idea of why anyone chooses to stay alive. To be or not to be. But Hamlet isn’t suicidal, not really. He just wonders why people put up with life’s endless shit.”

Endless shit, indeed

“And not how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kiss’d I know not how oft,” Rick recites, looking desperately at the skull. Hamlet’s view of death is hypothetical, but he now holds a skull of the court jester whom he’d much loved as a child. It’s one thing to hold a human skull. It’s a completely other thing to have known and loved the person whose skull you hold in the palm of your hand. 

But that night on stage had been years ago. 

Before all of Rick’s troubles truly start. 

 

My cell phone rings. Rick.

“Hi dear,” I purposefully brighten my voice. “Dad said you were coming over?”

I can just barely hear him breathing, panting low.

“Son?” I say, more loudly. “Rick. Rick, you need to speak to me—”

“I’m—I’m sorry, Mom.” He sounds inebriated. 

A cold sickness starts in the pit of my stomach and radiates outward, chilling me whole. I know this tone in his voice. We have been here before. 

“Rick,” I try again. “Where are you, son? Let me come and get you,” I plead. 

“I love you, Mom.” 

“Rick.” I am angry now. “I’m going to call the police. Are you taking your medication? I can be there in twenty minutes—”

“Don’t call anyone, Mom. I’m all right,” he says firmly. 

I don’t believe him. 

“Rick—”

“Promise me, Mom.”

“Fine, Rick. I promise.”

I’m all right,” he says and lightly laughs. “It’s just been a really bad day. I’m fine. Promise me you won’t call anyone.”

“Rick—”

“Promise me, Mom. It’s not like last time,” he lies.

“I love you, too, Rick. Come over tomorrow for dinner.”

“Mac and cheese?” he strangely giggles.

“Sure, I can make that. The kind in the blue box,” I say, not knowing tears are streaming down my face.  

“Then, good night sweet princess. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” 

The connection is lost. I look at the phone.

Alas, poor Yorick.

Alas, your poor Rick. 

I start to dial the familiar numbers.

 

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302 comments

Tom Bradbury
12:05 Nov 12, 2020

Keep writing Hamlet stories. 'This above all; to thine own self be true' Start your own genre. I really liked it. GOOD JOB

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Deidra Lovegren
12:16 Nov 12, 2020

Oh no. You are encouraging Shakespearean fan fiction...What hath God wrought?! The purist in me has just suffered death, a necessary end, [which] will come when it will come.

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Tom Bradbury
12:31 Nov 12, 2020

'Better three hours too soon; than a minute too late'

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Deidra Lovegren
15:02 Nov 12, 2020

*clap clap* Point for Gryffindor.

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Amaya 🦋
03:44 Nov 26, 2020

yess hp fannn

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Thom Brodkin
15:17 Nov 20, 2020

You are going to be impossibly smug for at least a week. :-)

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Deidra Lovegren
15:30 Nov 20, 2020

Impossibly smug is my default setting.

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Thom Brodkin
15:33 Nov 20, 2020

It looks really good on you.

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Deidra Lovegren
17:35 Nov 20, 2020

Thanks, my dear friend. And everyone should read Thom Brodkin's "Silence." Yes, the story is brilliant, but the editing? Magnifique!

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Zilla Babbitt
14:04 Nov 12, 2020

Thank you for not spelling everything out. It makes the whole piece more tense, scary, and beautiful. Shakespeare does seem to be your thing, and it works so well. "It schadenfreude" is probably supposed to be "it's schadenfreude." I suggest explaining a little bit more why Rick tends to be suicidal/depressed. Is it bullying, or is he chronically depressed? You talk a little about his friends, but lots of people go through that as children, so what pushed Rick over the edge? I wouldn't go into much detail but it would give his character ...

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Deidra Lovegren
15:07 Nov 12, 2020

AGH TYPOS -- Thank you so much for cleaning that up. Some people are too fragile for this brutish world. As a high school teacher, I've met many heartsick mothers who do not know what to do with their Ricks. And the early 20's aren't easy on anyone.

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Zilla Babbitt
21:25 Nov 20, 2020

TOLD YOU IT WOULD WIN 🥳

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Deidra Lovegren
22:56 Nov 20, 2020

Good thing you helped fix that typo. That would have scotched it :)

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Zilla Babbitt
23:06 Nov 20, 2020

It was your good luck charm I'm sure. Definitely not the style, the themes, or the voice. Of course not.

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Deidra Lovegren
23:27 Nov 20, 2020

O, to have a shard of your work ethic and talent, ZB :) Still waiting for Netflix to find you so you can take over the entire catalog. :)

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Rhondalise Mitza
15:58 Nov 20, 2020

Hey, ma'am! Fantastic work. :) A sad read, but a dazzling one.

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Deidra Lovegren
23:02 Nov 20, 2020

Yo sup, Mizz Mitza. Sad and dazzling...sounds like my prom in 1984.

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Rhondalise Mitza
23:18 Nov 20, 2020

Yeah, it was done with finesse and you tactfully handled a tough topic.

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Joshua Insole
21:44 Nov 20, 2020

I very much appreciated the trigger warning at the beginning. It was an incredibly kind and considerate thing to add. Congrats on the win, you deserved it! :)

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Deidra Lovegren
23:06 Nov 20, 2020

I wish I could have taken credit, but some nice person in the Reedsy administration did that for me.

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Neha Nair
10:40 Nov 13, 2020

"Alas, poor Yorick. Alas, your poor Rick." Ahh, seven words couldn't have conveyed more emotions. Yet another beautiful story, Deidra! Also, I agree with one of the other commenters, to start a genre of your own – your works definitely have a way of incorporating Shakespeare in a mild form and yet, retaining the interest of the readers.

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Deidra Lovegren
14:52 Nov 13, 2020

Neha, your comment brought me great happiness. There is so much wisdom in classical literature; I'm afraid it'll get lost since schools aren't valuing it, liberal arts majors are waning, and young people straight up just don't read. :( However, hope springs eternal. :)

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Neha Nair
06:30 Nov 15, 2020

Ahh yes, that is true – I've seen rather few people who enjoy Shakespeare. "O God! that one might read the book of fate, and see the revolution of the times." I'm sure, soon there will be more of his fans, but as of now, I guess we have to wait. :)

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Neha Nair
18:17 Nov 20, 2020

Congratulations on your second win!!!

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Deidra Lovegren
19:12 Nov 20, 2020

I'm infusing Hamlet in everything now.

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Neha Nair
02:59 Nov 21, 2020

Haha, well you won't see me complaining. ;)

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Megan Crouse
22:19 Nov 20, 2020

You might be surprised how many young people love to read. The liberal arts degrees are not as popular but they are also not as profitable. College is too expensive to get a degree that doesn't pay for itself. In spare time though, people still read, young people included. Shoot, just look at how many young people readsy is promoting and having do videos.

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Deidra Lovegren
22:22 Nov 20, 2020

I hope so, Megan. I teach high school and most times English teachers seem to kill the joy of reading instead of fostering it.

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Helen Ross
21:43 Nov 21, 2020

I'm starting my final two years in British highschool now and on track to take English at university, accounts like yours on Reedsy only make me more inspired! Some of us read ;)

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Deidra Lovegren
23:13 Nov 21, 2020

Yay 😀 Read on, MacDuff

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Scout Tahoe
15:17 Nov 20, 2020

Wow, this is amazing! Another Shakespeare one, and I loved it. Totally deserved win. I don't know how you do it. The end was sad and I wanted to cry. Thank you for this.

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Deidra Lovegren
19:16 Nov 20, 2020

Lots of mothers crying over sons. That's just how it goes :)

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Scout Tahoe
19:19 Nov 20, 2020

Indeed. This is fabulous, really.

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Phil Manders
13:05 Nov 16, 2020

I predict a winner here!

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Deidra Lovegren
16:38 Nov 20, 2020

I vote for Phil Manders as the next REEDSY judge :)

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Deidra Lovegren
14:47 Nov 16, 2020

Phil! How's everything. It's been a minute.

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Phil Manders
18:22 Nov 16, 2020

Hey Deidra! Back to reality. . .mojo gone into lockdown. ( I blame COVID ) Your stories are always brilliant. They’ve taken on a more serious tone. Wanna talk about it?

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Deidra Lovegren
19:51 Nov 16, 2020

It's just late fall. I'll get back to my double entendres and fart jokes soon. :) I love mixing it all up -- comedy, tragedy, history -- I hate being bored...(COVID is boring.)

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15:23 Nov 20, 2020

Phil, you are a prophet.

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Rhondalise Mitza
15:56 Nov 20, 2020

Good job Deidra and Phil!

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Deidra Lovegren
19:13 Nov 20, 2020

Yes, we are running off together to found a writer's commune. Phil, did I forget to tell you?

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Phil Manders
19:32 Nov 20, 2020

It’s a gift🤪

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Amany .
16:02 Nov 20, 2020

....

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Rayhan Hidayat
11:53 Nov 16, 2020

This is just a hunch, but it seems as if you have a thing for Shakespeare What a gloomy read! So, Rick's good side is nothing but an act, literally. Good stuff as always!!

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Deidra Lovegren
14:47 Nov 16, 2020

Yeah, I'm a bit of a Bard fan. Gloomy, indeed. I definitely need to lighten up for the holiday season :)

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Rayhan Hidayat
16:08 Nov 20, 2020

Second win! Congrats! Though of course I’m not surprised at this point 😉

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Deidra Lovegren
19:14 Nov 20, 2020

Total fluke. But stealing from Hamlet is my go-to now.

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Rayhan Hidayat
19:18 Nov 20, 2020

Shakespeare would be proud 😉

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Sam Reeves
08:27 Nov 13, 2020

This is utterly beautiful. I love the focus on Rick's struggle with the typical academia and sports but you show how he is great at something despite the dyslexia and other troubles. I like the backstory woven through it in his mum's eyes and the snippets of previous arguments between the parents. The whole thing gave me chills.

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Deidra Lovegren
19:17 Nov 20, 2020

Tis the season for dysfunctional families. (Spoiler alert: That's the only flavor they come in!)

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Sam Reeves
11:00 Nov 21, 2020

Oh absolutely Well done on the win!! Well deserved

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Deidra Lovegren
11:11 Nov 21, 2020

❤️

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Katina Foster
22:59 Nov 12, 2020

This is so good and so painful. I appreciate how you portray the different approaches to dealing with addiction within a family. It hit me as being very honest. Really beautifully done, Deidra. I'm always amazed by your ability to create vivid worlds in such short stories. Your stories also make me want to revisit Shakespeare, which is really saying something. I loved Shakespeare in school, but have failed miserably when I've tried to tackle them on my own as an adult. I need a guide. :)

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Deidra Lovegren
23:11 Nov 12, 2020

As always, thanks for your sweet support, Katina! There isn't much autobiographical in this one, but I've listened to a lot of distraught moms over the years. (And I wouldn't know the first thing about gardening.) As for getting to know Shakespeare, I'm right here, ready to bore you to tears! We could set up a Google Meeting. I could paraphrase most of whichever play you want and just cover the good lines. Pick a play: Hamlet (the loooongest but best), Othello, Macbeth (the shortest!), King Lear, Twelfth Night? Anything but Romeo and Julie...

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Katina Foster
00:49 Nov 13, 2020

Which one has three caskets for the three potential suitors? And do you have a favorite?

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Deidra Lovegren
06:42 Nov 13, 2020

I’d start with Macbeth. 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

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Deidra Lovegren
07:53 Nov 13, 2020

(Merchant of Venice has the caskets) Favorite quote from Shylock: “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.”

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Katina Foster
08:21 Nov 14, 2020

Yes! I remember liking the caskets and their associated riddles. I'd love to do Macbeth though. :)

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Aisa M
15:53 Nov 12, 2020

Sad and beautiful at the same time :)

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Deidra Lovegren
16:37 Nov 12, 2020

I'll take that as a compliment. Thanks, Aisa.

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Laura Boynton
01:18 Nov 21, 2020

This story stayed with me through out today and now into the evening... The desperation, the exhaustion and living at the end of you rope for so long that you lose touch with your own happiness....all the feelings that Mom was weighed down with, I felt like they were mine to share with her. What depths do we sink, what pain we endure, what we wouldn’t do for any sort of normalcy that every child—every adult child deserves? This Mom knows. Such an amazing story.

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Deidra Lovegren
01:31 Nov 21, 2020

Thanks for the comments, Laura. So much pain, especially when society expects a cheerful veneer.

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Patricia Green
00:43 Nov 21, 2020

You almost had me in tears. This is the story of my own son. He was born 3 years backward so couldn't keep up at School and got kicked out at 15. He also got arthritis at 20 and at 40 was in a wheelchair permanently. He drinks like a fish and smokes all the time. He is in hospital at the moment with a broken neck, as he fell out of his wheelchair. What can I do, I am 73 and going blind. Thank you.

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Deidra Lovegren
00:51 Nov 21, 2020

Patricia, I am so sorry for your troubles. It is clear you are a tremendous and beloved mother. How lucky your son is to have an angel in his life who cares for him. God bless you and your dear son. Sending you prayers from all of us mothers who cry in the night.

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Ray Dyer
22:49 Nov 20, 2020

Congratulations, Deidra - SO well-deserved! Such a powerful story, and the ending that backs it all up. I could go on for paragraphs, but 111 comments seem to have captured everything I'm thinking! :-) This story is a marvel - Congratulations, again!

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Deidra Lovegren
23:02 Nov 20, 2020

I love your comments that are usually longer than my story. :)

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Ray Dyer
00:00 Nov 21, 2020

I think it would constitute irony if I just replied with, "LOL!!!"

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Deidra Lovegren
00:04 Nov 21, 2020

Or just some random emoji like 🛒

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Greta Faignant
20:40 Nov 20, 2020

This was very interesting! I normally despise Shakespeare, but this was well done.

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Deidra Lovegren
23:07 Nov 20, 2020

Then I blame all your horrible English teachers. Shakespeare invented the human (which was spawned by Chaucer.) Skip Milton -- he's exhausting.

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Anyta Freeman
20:25 Nov 20, 2020

Congratulations Deidra. A very powerful story. It brought tears to my eyes.

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Deidra Lovegren
23:08 Nov 20, 2020

Cathartic purges always useful. Lots of pain in families. We need to be more gentle with each other.

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Shlomo ben- Zvi
19:23 Nov 20, 2020

Beautiful story in many ways. I felt the emotion. Nice smooth writing, flow, made me want to read more. Good going!

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Deidra Lovegren
23:08 Nov 20, 2020

Thanks, Shlomo :)

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Nora K
19:16 Nov 20, 2020

Marvelous, Deidra!! I’m left speechless and moved by this fantastic story!! Wonderfully well deserved and congratulations to your second win!! :)

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Deidra Lovegren
23:08 Nov 20, 2020

HUZZAH. Thanks, Nora :)

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Nora K
00:14 Nov 21, 2020

Of course! Always a pleasure to help out another Hamlet fan!! :)

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Deidra Lovegren
00:21 Nov 21, 2020

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so...

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Vanessa Kilmer
18:04 Nov 20, 2020

Congratulations on your win. Your story pulls all the heart strings.

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Deidra Lovegren
19:33 Nov 20, 2020

At my age, there aren't too many heart strings left :) Thanks for your good wishes.

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