Contest #94 shortlist ⭐️

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Coming of Age Creative Nonfiction Contemporary

TW: Alcoholism, verbal abuse, brief mention of eating disorder and sexual assault


Shine on You Crazy Diamond, Pink Floyd (1975)


**

Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun.

Shine on, you crazy diamond. 


You’re seven years old and you sit next to Dad. The waitress fills his mug with black, black coffee and the steam swirls up and cradles your nose.  


You want another donut, Poot? He asks. 


You smile your gap-tooth smile and the waitress brings another donut, setting it on the napkin in front of you. You spin around in the diner stool before you take a bite of vanilla frosting. And you ask for a sip of Dad’s coffee but he says No, you won’t like it and you say Okay, can I have OJ? 


And the waitress brings you orange juice. Dad makes a joke and even though you don’t understand the punchline, you laugh in loud hiccups because you’re just so excited to spend the day with him. Since he started working nights, you only see him for a few hours before he retreats into the dark bedroom to sleep with the curtains closed and the door closed and the T.V. loud enough to hear through the wood panel. But today is Saturday. There’s no night shift and no curtains and no wood panel door, just your gap-tooth and his coffee-stain and all the donuts you can eat. 


The little bell above the door jingles on its string as you leave and the warm air presses against your legs. You run and skip and jump all the way to the beat up blue 4x4 and it rumbles to life the same way it always does. Sure, the cloth ceiling is sagging and the windows stick sometimes and It’s older than you are, Poot. You know that?, but it’s a two-seater so you always get to sit in the front and listen to the scratchy radio. 

You’re still little but you know you like rock n’ roll because Mom and Dad like it.


Dad pulls up to the garage and there’s chalk letters all over the black, black driveway. 


B-E-I-G-E, they say. A-R-I-T-H-M-E-T-I-C, they say. 

You want to show how many big words you can spell, they say. 

You want to be a writer one day, they say.

You’re too stubborn to let anyone tell you otherwise, they say.


You’re so smart, Poot, Dad says, You got your mom’s brain. 


And you go inside and Mom asks how the donuts were and you say they were so good and that you brought her a few Boston Cremes because you know they’re her favorites. And she asks Dad if he’s going downstairs to watch Nascar. So you get to watch the race and you cheer for Junior because Dad does. When the race is over, Mom takes you to bed while Dad stays downstairs.


You look in the mirror while you brush your teeth and see Dad in your reflection. You stole his dimples, the one that only shows up on his right cheek and the tip of his chin, and his wiry brows that always stay just a little bit furrowed. You stole his laugh, too. Even though you can’t see that in the mirror, you can hear the way they sync up. 

So loud they fill a room like smoke.


I’m glad you guys had fun today, Mom says.


Yeah, we did. So much fun. 


And when the lights are off and it’s just you, you hear the garage door open right below you. You hear it close a few seconds later and close your eyes with it like the lids are pulled along the same track with the same cord. And you fall asleep. 


**


Now there’s a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky. 

Shine on, you crazy diamond. 


You’re twelve years old and you don’t really go to that donut shop with Dad anymore. Sometimes, sure, but not like you used to.


Dad still has the beat up blue 4x4, but now you hear the engine growl its way down the block around dinnertime because Dad stopped working nights. And when he shuffles in the door and cracks open a can as he comes up the stairs, you can’t wait to tell him about those short stories you wrote in class. But he comes up the stairs and makes a plate and then stomps back down. And you ask Mom what’s wrong.


 Nothing is wrong, she says. 


But you’re so smart, you got your mom’s brain, so you know that’s not true. But you eat dinner and you don’t ask again and when Mom goes downstairs to talk to Dad you know you were right. Nothing, my ass, you think to yourself. He’s slurring and she’s crying and they’re both yelling. You’re surprised the windows aren’t shaking as hard as your hands are.


They go back and forth, arguing in circles and circles and circles and the circles start to wrap around your neck and yank you like a marionette and you're pretty sure they’re tied so tight that you’ll never get the knots undone. You feel a black, black pit form in your throat but you swallow and turn up Pink Floyd to drown in.  


You catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and still see Dad like you always do. 

See the same dimples and same wiry brow, furrowed more often than it used to. 

Your laugh might not have synced up in a while, but you’re sure the smoke will billow out eventually.


You hear fist meet wall and you know there will be another hole in the drywall to cover up with an elementary school art project or a piece of furniture or a cute little frame that says “I Heart Daddy.” You hold your breath and when you hear Mom’s voice again you let it go so it sounds like the air hissing out of a balloon. The string was just loose enough to let it escape. And then Mom comes in, tears still wet on her face. 


I’m sorry you heard that, honey, she says, Are you okay? 


Yep. I’m fine. 


And that’s that. You lay down and when the lights are off and it’s just you, you hear the garage door open right below you. You hear it close a few seconds later but instead of closing your eyes with it, you lay awake staring at the ceiling. You know tomorrow things will go back to normal. I’m sorry, Poot, Dad will say. It’s okay, you’ll say. And you’re pretty sure you believe him. You don’t remember falling asleep.


**


Come on, you target for faraway laughter. 

Come on, you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine.


You’re fifteen years old and you don’t talk to Dad as much as you used to. You’re pissed off and you’re stubborn just like him and you’re filled with Redbull and angst and you want the cool, moody kids to like you. You wear eyeliner and band t-shirts and dye your hair dark. 


You’re in high school now. You don’t have as many friends as you did in middle school and it hurts when you see girls huddled together in front of their lockers. You want to be a part of them but you know you can’t be. That ship sailed. When you think about it too hard, the black, black pit in your stomach grows, the strings yank a little harder. 


Maybe if you buy Victoria’s Secret leggings they’ll ask you to sit with them. They don’t. 

Maybe if you pretend to like the bands they like they’ll talk to you. They don’t. 

Maybe if you tell the dirty jokes that make Dad laugh, they’ll laugh, too. They don’t.

Maybe if you stop eating they’ll invite you to a party this weekend. They don’t.


And you wonder what you’re doing wrong. And then you remember your reflection. Not the one with the dimples and the brow but the other reflection of Dad in you. 

The way the puppet string pulls you to anger like it’s the only emotion worth giving a damn about. The way you can spit fire so hot that you know it must be where the smokey laugh comes from. You remember that people don’t like crazy bitches. So you hang back, switch flipped, and pretend not to care about anything. But you’re still steaming with anger and people can still tell, so it doesn’t work. 


You don’t remember much of the year between fifteen and sixteen and nobody wants to come to your birthday party, so you just go out to dinner with Mom and Dad. You order vegetables and rice because I just stopped eating meat, Dad, I want to see how long I can be a vegetarian for, and stuff your cheeks with them. And it’s nice. You’re older and Mom and Dad are in a good patch right now and maybe the black, black pit in your stomach will go away with time. The waiter comes to take a picture of your family and you smile, even though it’s not gap-tooth anymore, and you laugh and Mom laughs and Dad laughs. And the room fills up with smoke. 


You get home and stare into the mirror, trying to see if you suddenly look like a magical new woman. After all, you can drive now. You go to therapy now. You’re so old now. But except for the dark circles under your eyes and your long sleeves on a warm night in March, your reflection is still the same. Still the same dimples, the same brow, the same smile but with teeth as straight and white and sad as a military graveyard, and the same spit of fire.


I hope you liked your birthday dinner, Poot. Happy sixteenth.


I did, Dad, thanks. 


You put in your headphones and lay down. The lights are off and it’s just you listening to Pink Floyd, so you don’t hear the garage door open right below you. You don’t hear it close a few seconds later, either, just David Gilmour’s guitar. You fall asleep. 


**


You reached for the secret too soon, you cried for the moon.

Shine on, you crazy diamond. 


You’re eighteen years old. Mom and Dad are driving you to college for the first time ever. The back of Dad’s new cherry red 4x4 is loaded up with a mini-fridge, microwave, bedding, posters. You look over at his hands, white-knuckled brown sausages wrapped around the steering wheel, and see them scarred and dirty and covered with years of providing for you, fighting for you, making sure you can go to whatever college you want to and major in whatever you want to.


You remember B-E-I-G-E and know exactly what you want. 


Of course you did, Poot, he says when you get into your dream school, You’ve always had your mom’s brain. Sure, her brain, but his bull-headedness. 


Nothing can touch you here. Nevermind that the pit didn’t go away, nevermind that there will always be pale scars on your skin, nevermind that you still flinch at the sound of the garage door. You’re new now. You’re whole.


On Saturdays, instead of going to the donut shop for vanilla frosting and orange juice, you down shots of whatever you can get your hands on and dance to rap music you don’t know the words to. You tell the same dirty jokes your Dad does because you know they make people laugh. You flash your graveyard smile at any boy that looks in your direction and don’t tell them about how much you love Pink Floyd and hate the smell of Marlboro Lights. And it works. 


You’re lying in a Twin XL dorm bed and the ceiling is spinning around you and you can’t help but think that this is what Dad sees every time he lays down on the couch until he falls asleep. A skinny boy you barely know leans over you.


Do you want to listen to something in particular? 


No, that’s okay. Whatever you like. 


And he puts on Pink Floyd and you could have filled the room with smoke but you don’t. You swallow the ash because it’s too hard to explain. So there you are, Skinny Boy’s body pressed against yours while you hold your breath. The air smells like weed and shitty beer and sweat and when you close your eyes, it’s almost like you’re back in the garage at home. You pretend you don’t care. 


And it works again, the shots and the graveyard smile, and again and again. And you keep letting it work because as long as there’s Skinny Boy and Tall Boy and Basketball Boy, you don’t have time to think about how you still really love women or about the black, black pit in your stomach or about the strings on your limbs that you never managed to cut loose. 


The problem is that they don’t last forever. You end up alone in bed. The lights are off and, for the first time in months, it’s just you. And you don’t listen to Pink Floyd by yourself anymore because it makes you think of Skinny Boy and his hands all over you when they shouldn’t be. There’s no garage door in your dorm but you text Dad to tell him you made it back to your room. He doesn’t respond. You fall asleep crying.


**


Threatened by shadows at night and exposed in the light. 

Shine on, you crazy diamond. 


You’re twenty. Dad fills your tank and checks your brake pads every time you come home; he washes the windows and vacuums out the floors and makes sure the tire pressure will get you back to school. With a wink he slips cash into your pocket and a bottle of Tito’s into the trunk just because he knows it's your favorite. When he makes you veggie burgers on the grill, he makes fun of you for still not eating meat but always makes sure he gets the brand you like. 


He’s really trying to be better, Mom says. You pretend you believe her. 


Dimples and a wiry brow aren’t the only things Dad passed on to you, so you take a mood stabilizer now. You know he should, too, but you also know no reputable doctor would give him a prescription. You still fight with him more often than you care to admit. You’re still scared of the garage door.


And no matter how much time you spend on campus, the marionette strings still tug. The reflection is still the same. You see Dad in the way you talk through movies, the way you fidget with your rings, the way you kick your socks off in bed, the way you always drive with the window cracked, the way you still love classic rock. You see him in the way you’re still drawn to anger, the way you isolate yourself, the way you love to self-sabotage, the way you like the feeling of losing control a little too much. 


When you’re home, you look at him and see yourself, too. You look at his hands, those same thick brown sausages that bought you donuts and drove you to school. And you see the right pointer finger with the swollen knuckle and you know he slammed it in the doorjamb sometime last year right after the cops came to your house but you don’t mention it. You swallow your anger, the desire to start an argument just to feel something, because right now you’re having a nice time. 


Some other time, you promise the fire. 


He turns on the rock station and cracks another can open and you know that tonight will end the same way it always does. But for now, you and Mom and Dad enjoy the warm breeze. Dad tells a dirty joke and you laugh while Mom rolls her eyes. You hear your laughs sync up and hope there’s enough smoke to fill the open air. 


God, you’re definitely your father’s daughter, Mom says. 


She got my good looks and your brain, Dad jokes with that coffee-stain smile. Right, Poot?


And things are nice for a few hours. But it ends how you knew it would. So you help Mom clean up the kitchen and maybe watch a movie with her before you go to sleep. 


But before you know it, you’re lying in bed thinking about how right they are. You are your father’s daughter. You always have been. And it’s hard for both of you to admit that you need each other because you feed off of each other. And you’re thinking about how much you love it when his laugh fills up a room and how much you miss that fucking donut shop and how you can hear him slurring along to his favorite Pink Floyd song through the floor. But mostly you’re thinking about how much you wish that black, black pit hadn’t made its home inside either one of you. The lights are off, but it’s never just you. 


The garage door opens right below you. You hear it close a few seconds later. 

You fall asleep.


May 17, 2021 17:06

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7 comments

Nina Chyll
22:12 May 25, 2021

I put on 'Shine on you, crazy diamond' to go with it and it sent me down the Pink Floyd rabbit hole for the first time in a long time, so thank you for that. I have my own dad figure who introduced me to them and we'd always drink with the music, so it hit close to home in many ways (though not bad). I'm rambling on about myself because I have little to say other than this really is a beautiful piece of lyrical fiction, very poignant and I like the second person narrator - it really works, so congratulations on selecting it. Not the most po...

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05:42 Jun 01, 2021

Nice work! I love that you wrote in second person, and that's so hard to do. If I had any critique it would be that it was a little...much. And I know life can be a lot, and I don't want to diminish that, but as a reader, I felt a little thrown from the alcoholism to the verbal abuse to the sexual experience to the closeted lesbianism and I just felt like I didn't really know which problem to focus on. But I really like the structure (You are this many years old...) and how you tied it together with the garage door. Overall, very nice work a...

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Emily Thompson
00:52 Jun 21, 2021

I really appreciate your comment! I know it was a lot, and I actually went back and forth over what I should and shouldn't include. My goal was to try and demonstrate that a lot of the issues I've gone through has kind of related back to my family relationship, but it's good to know that it was distracting all at once! After all, intention doesn't mean a thing if it creates problems with readers ;) again, thanks!!

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Lavender Blue
04:41 May 29, 2021

Very well written. I like the way you use the lyrics of a song throughout.

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A. Balla
22:01 May 28, 2021

Super well written! Good job

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Veronica Law
02:40 Jul 01, 2021

This was so engaging! I was captivated from the very first scene. There's something heartbreaking yet cathartic about your story. While I might not yet why you used smoke to describe their laugh, I thought it was clever that you were consistent with it. I think you perfectly encapsulate human relationships. We aren't perfect, but together, we can be something beautiful.

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Shea West
13:39 May 31, 2021

I love 2nd POV, and I'm so glad I read this coming of age dad daughter story. The father daughter relationship is complicated at best, and what you wrote here shows that so wonderfully. I truly hope you write more! Your first submission is shortlisted, that's so sad Emily.

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