Holley Hyler

Twin Flame Writer

Days 9-10, National Blog Posting Month

November 10, 2018

Note: This is a continuation of the story from Days 7-8. Click here to go back and read Part 1. There will be a Part 3 shortly. Thank you to my new subscribers! I very much appreciate your interest in my short stories. 🙂


My knees lock as I approach the tiki hut to check in for the cruise to Fort Jefferson. I am not ready – for when the tour is over, it will be time to say goodbye.

But the man sitting at the small table inside the hut looks up at me, and I will look strange if I turn and go back the other way. I force myself to continue walking in his direction. “How many?” he asks me, and I feel pain in my heart. Is he trying to drive it in? I guess I must look like the family woman, like I should have children trailing after me, a doting husband to wait upon me hand and foot. But looks can be deceiving. There is a small line of skin on my ring finger of my left hand that is just the tiniest bit lighter than the rest of my hand. I tell him it is just me. My voice wavers when I say my last name. If things had gone according to plan, my last name would not be Fullbeck.

I am not ready to say goodbye. I try to listen to what this man in the tiki hut is saying. He is talking about forms. I blink and hope that I look like I am understanding. I take the blue folder he gives to me.

I am the first one to check in. I bite my nails, thinking about going back. I have already paid, though, and the reservation is non-refundable. If I called my mother, she would tell me to go, to enjoy it. I would tell her I feel myself becoming too upset to enjoy it, and she would tell me to do my breathing exercises. Breathing exercises are hard to do when you are in such a state that you need them. When you feel that way, the last thing you want to do is breathe. You want to scream, cry, and then once you’ve worn yourself out, you want to dejectedly throw yourself face-down in bed and see nothing but your pillow for the next few days.

My eyes are watering. I dig in my tote bag for my sunglasses. The man inside the tiki hut is looking at me. I wish he would stop. Unable to find my sunglasses, I give up and open the folder to look at the papers he has given me. I want to focus on anything but how I must look to all these people traveling in four’s and three’s and two’s. No one else has come alone. Why would they? Humans are social creatures; they enjoy doing pleasurable things such as eating, drinking, and vacationing in couples and groups. I told my mother this was a bad idea, but she would not listen. She doesn’t understand.

She doesn’t understand at all.

It feels like an eternity before everyone is checked in and we have gone over all the forms, but finally, the tiki hut man – his name tag says “Oscar” on it – tells us all it is time to get on the boat. We form an orderly line at the landing wharf. There are not many children in line, but one still somehow ends up in line behind me. His mother has not taught him the concept of personal space. I feel him brush and bump against the back of my thigh repeatedly. I instinctively inch away from him as much as I can without brushing the person in front of me, but he just follows. It takes another eternity to file onto the boat, and the morning sun is beating down on us. I fan myself with my blue folder.

You are so strong, my mother told me shortly before this trip. But maybe I am not strong. Maybe I am just doing what everyone else thinks I should do at the expense of my peace and contentment. Maybe it is strong that I can go through with it at all. Yes, that is probably what she meant. She and I have different definitions of what it means to be strong. I think people that can weep openly are strong. I think people that can stand up for themselves are strong. But I cannot do either.

I sit on the top deck of the boat and listen to the history of Key West and Ernest Hemingway. We have an Ernest Hemingway fan onboard – or, at least, this man sure does seem to know a lot about him. I only know the one quote. “Write drunk, edit sober.” That is the extent of my Hemingway knowledge. Evidently, he did not really say that. It is a misattributed quote. So in truth, I know nothing about Hemingway. I watch Oscar’s responses to this man, the Hemingway fan. Oscar seems to know a lot too. It is amazing how he can give all this information off the cuff, but I imagine he has been doing this for a long time. He probably prepares for it all, because you never know what you might get on these day trips. I notice Oscar looking at me again. Without thinking, I get up and head to the cocktail bar. I hate it that people are noticing me. I did not come here to be noticed. I came here to fulfill a promise.

I do not want to be remembered. But Oscar – he notices things, and he remembers. His awareness is off-putting. I order a rum and coke and make it a double. I need it strong. I do not want to be here, and I do not want to say goodbye. I am tired of goodbye. Goodbye is tired. I am tired.

I shift my bag to my other shoulder. It is getting heavy. It has been heavy, but I feel it more as the alcohol enters my system. I feel it in my heart too. It hurts, just like it hurt when Oscar asked me how many for the tour. Maybe it is a little worse now.

There is music playing at the cocktail bar. The song has a jangly rhythm guitar with riffs just before the chorus. But it is the lyrics that stand out to me. I hear a line that strikes me. It says, “If the silence takes you, then I hope it takes me too.” I ask the man behind the bar, whose name tag says Eric, which artist is playing. He says it is Death Cab for Cutie. I take my phone out of my bag and type the name in my Notes so that I can remember it later, then put it away.

“Are you a music fan?” Eric asks me. I can tell he is trying to chat me up. He is very blonde, even his eyebrows. He has big blue eyes. I cannot think of him as handsome, not because he isn’t, but because I am broken.

“Isn’t everyone?” I say, and I slip him a ten-dollar bill and take my drink back outside. No matter where I go, I will be noticed.

I am camping at The Dry Tortugas overnight, because I cannot do the thing I am supposed to do in broad daylight while families and couples are sitting on the beach, listening to Sam Cooke songs, drinking their drinks with umbrellas in them and feeling a contentment that is now foreign to me. My entire life has been violently uprooted.

I finish my drink and want to go order another one, but I do not want to look into Eric’s blue eyes again. Luckily, it is not long before we reach the dock of the park. It is time to break for lunch and sign in with the people I have rented the camping equipment from. I do not have much interest in the Fort Jefferson tour. It fills me with bitterness at the memories of nights spent poring over genealogy. Finding out that an ancestor served prison time at the fort for being a deserter from the Union Army in the Civil War had been the entire reason for this little excursion, which was to be the last leg of my honeymoon. The ancestor was not mine, but my fiancé’s. It pains me to remember how his face lit up when I told him that I had bought the tickets.

When I get off the boat, Oscar has disappeared, and Eric is gearing up for snorkeling. I go to a cabana with a sign that says “Camping Rentals” near the dock. I check in to make sure that everything is in order, that I can pick up the equipment once the tour of the fort is finished at two. Everything is all set, and that will be fine, I am told.

I go to another cabana to buy another rum and coke double. I do not feel hungry, but I buy a sandwich too. Maybe I will want it later. I leave my drink on the bar while I wrap my sandwich in extra napkins and think of placing it in my bag but decide not to. There is already too much in there. Defeated, I decide to sit and eat it now.

I am feeling the rum by the time I finish. Once I finish and dab the mustard from the corner of my mouth with a napkin, I throw the wrappings into a trash can and finish my drink. In a fit of sudden worry, I rummage through my bag for the engagement ring that I had placed in there this morning, when I decided it was too painful to wear. Once I see its diamond glint near the bottom of my bag, I tuck it back in and leave it.

As I look up, Oscar is coming back from the beach, watching me.

I fight the urge to turn and run.

The Place She Always Was

June 8, 2018


Photo Source: Unsplash

[excerpted from a description I wrote of a photo of my childhood home once it was emptied]

Home, back then, was where she was. Always. When I got home from school, even though she was not up to greet me immediately, I knew that she was in her room taking her usual afternoon nap. She was back there – she was just sleeping.

After I moved, no matter when I returned, it was always the same. The furniture changed, objects were moved around, things got dirtier and dustier, but it was still the place where my mom was, and I could always go there to find her.

I could always go there to find her, until I couldn’t.

When I went into the house after she was gone, it hurt so much that I tried to tell myself the same thing that I told myself each time I arrived home from school. “She’s back there – she’s just sleeping.”

Now, the kitchen is empty, dark, except for the light coming in through the yellowed curtains. There was once a round table near the back wall, four chairs around it, one of them broken. There was a microwave, miscellaneous papers and catalogs strewn around it and on the table, water bottles on the floor under the window. The last time I visited my mom, she kept trying to give me water. I kept one of the bottles she gave me in my car for the longest time. I did not understand why, but I could not get rid of it, and to drink it felt like sacrilege. That bottle of water turned out to be the last item my mom ever handed to me.

No matter how inevitable something is, how many times you tell yourself it’s coming someday, it cannot prepare you for the void you’ll feel when you no longer find them at the place where you always found them. It cannot console what you feel inside when you cannot touch them anymore, when you have nothing but an empty shirt of theirs to hold. You can pretend they’re just sleeping or that the shirt is them, if you need to stave off the tears, but eventually your heart tells your brain the truth.

When it does, may God be with you.

Your last moments with someone – maybe if you are very lucky, you spend them holding that someone, whispering words of love. But maybe you spend them doing nothing. Maybe there is nothing more than a mundane conversation, a walk to your car with a sad wave goodbye, an unopened water bottle rolling around in the slot in your car door. As you drive away, the words you wished you could have said roll around in your head. You make a note to say them later, but then you forget. Except, you don’t actually forget. You just lose your courage to say them, because they are too honest. And honesty has never been your thing.

Death comes for all of us. It is so common that writing about it feels like a cliché. The comfort in that is that someday, I know I, too, will return home. When that day comes, my time here might feel like a distant memory, one that I would prefer, mostly, to forget.

When I get home, I know that she will be there. There are others I hope to see, too, those that I could not connect with here. Human rules and obligations are strange, and so many of them hold us back from loving the people it would do our hearts the most good to love. Jealousy and ownership are poisons that cut us off from love. There is nothing quite like the ache that comes from longing to hold someone that you cannot, no matter what the reason may be. I hope that when we all go home, we will see beyond these things, and love as we wish to love. No matrimony, no formalities, just love.

When I get home, maybe she will be napping, or she will be sitting in the kitchen and playing Sudoku. Maybe she will have picked up other interests in the time between now and then – what do unbound Souls like to do? – and that’s okay.

I look forward to going home.

What is Grief?

May 23, 2018


The Atlanta airport is sprawling and busy. It is full of people, and some of them get out of your way if they see you running. For once, I do not have to run to make my connection. I stand at the window of my gate, staring at the black storm clouds that bring the night before its time. Off in the distance, I see a sheet of rain, a lightning storm. Everything is so disconnected. It is raining there, but not here. I can see the lightning, but I cannot hear thunder. Black clouds loom everywhere.

This is grief.

I wear my mother’s sapphire bracelet. It has been over a month, and it feels that way, too. I sleep while wearing the bracelet, and I dream that I am outside her house, peering into her kitchen window. She is sitting up, head lolled to her right side. She is gone. It is the scene that the policeman described in real life. I am seeing it for myself, but I cannot get into the house to get to her. People stand in the driveway, asking me for things. They are coworkers, friends, people I don’t even know. I bang my head against the pink brick beside the window until I bleed, screaming at them, “She is gone, can’t you see? Go away. Leave me alone.” But they won’t. I weep openly. I bleed from my head. They still do not leave, and they do not look at my pain.

This is grief, begging to be expressed. This is grief when you are giving too much of yourself away to people who do not deserve you.

I am brushing the tangles from my fine hair, hair that is like hers. It is knotted and damp after my shower. I flash back to the first time I tried to dye my hair at home. I could not get the color all the way through to my ends, which were halfway down my back. My hair became a tangled mess, more so than usual because of the hair dye. I grew frustrated, and hot tears poured down my cheeks. Then my mom was behind me, a comb in her hands. “Don’t cry, honey,” she said. In the present, I breathe as I do when a sob is imminent. I stop myself. I don’t cry, but the sadness bleeds into the rest of the day.

This is grief, when you have no time to feel it. This is grief when it feels too intimate to show anyone else.

I go out with family and drink too much beer. I decide to go swimming in the Gulf of Mexico at night. I purposely taste the salt water when I go underneath the gentle waves, baptizing myself. I can become new, I tell myself. I do not remember leaving the beach. I do not remember how I ended up in a bed.

This is grief, when it starts to drown you, inside and out. This is grief when you let go of your inhibitions and follow your impulses.

“Sometimes you look mad when you come in the door, and I don’t know what to say,” a coworker from my dream tells me in real life. I pause for a while, and then I say, “I’m not mad. I’m just unhappy.” I do not understand why I have to tell anyone this or why I have to comfort anyone when I am the one who needs comfort.

This is grief, when people see but do not understand. This is grief when people lean too much on you to be a light, to reassure, to love – things you are normally a natural at. But now, you just can’t. Everything hurts. Everything.

I scream in my dream. Dots of my blood line the pink brick next to the kitchen window. I cry in my sleep. And people – the fucking people – God, they won’t leave me alone.

She is gone. The fucking people bitch about their cars, their families, other people they want to fuck and play house with, the look on my face, and everything else under the sun that doesn’t matter now that she is gone.

And they won’t go away. They won’t go away, like she did, and I want them to.

I want them to go away.

This is grief.

Had I Known

April 15, 2018

Had I known

the last time I saw

you would truly

be the last,

I would have listened to you

a little longer,

hugged you

a little harder.

This is true,

but this knowing

would have stolen

from us, the gift of presence;

I would have been wondering

if I listened long

and well enough,

if I hugged you hard enough.

Engrossed in those questions,

I may not have observed you

well enough to remember

the way you smiled at me

before I got in the car to leave.

I may have missed the peace

in your eyes when I turned

and looked back at you,

that one last time.

And so it is better

that sometimes we

do not get to

say goodbye.

I felt you,

in the night.

Before you transitioned,

your tears became mine.

I am all right now

because I get to


your smile.

I miss you and love you, Mom. Rest well.

Do not look at me to be the Light

April 13, 2018

Do not look at me to be the Light.
I am drowning in my own darkness today.
I know not how to help you;
I do not want to hold you.

Do not look at me to be the Light.
I am weary, and I do not want you
to inquire after my well-being only because
I am not acting in the usual way
that helps you to feel secure.

Do not expect me to be the Light
because I have been this for you
many times in the past, when you
needed a gentle soul to lean upon.

Do not expect me to be the Light,
for surely you will be disappointed
when I choose not to help you.
Surely you will think me selfish
when I need to tend my own gaping wound.

Do not take my Light for granted.
It does not belong to you.
You can borrow it for a time,
when I am willing.

Do not put my Light upon a pedestal,
for it comes from me, a human.
Humans make mistakes;
humans get hurt, bleed, cry, fly into rages.

Do not ask me if I am okay
when you know I am not,
and you do not wish to hear
the true answer.

I grow tired of telling

Do not express love toward me
if you are going to take it away
when I show my rawness,
my human side that does
not live up to your expectations.

Perhaps in making this demand,
I may never be loved again.

So be it.

So be it.

So be it.

sweeping up eggshells

March 12, 2018


Source: Pixabay

eats at me
until there is

I’ve decided to
let there
be nothing;

be broken.

Then perhaps
the ones
I love
will not fear

shattering me
on accident,
becoming the

by which
I reject myself.

How To Break an Artist’s Heart & How to Love One

February 16, 2018


How to Break an Artist’s Heart

  1. Say nothing.
  2. Pay no attention to the small, meaningful gestures she makes with her life. Leave her in a state of wondering whether you hate everything about her or feel indifferently toward her.
  3. Don’t support her. Don’t buy magazines she’s published in. Don’t buy her paintings. Don’t even express interest in her columns or paintings, if you cannot buy them.
  4. Ask her about her day job. Ask her if she is married. Ask her if she has any kids. But do not ask her about her art.
  5. Say nothing.
  6. When she opens up to you with the honest feelings she normally only expresses with her paintbrush, or a poem, say something mechanical, with no feeling behind it. Say something like, “Good.” “I guess that’s for the best.” “I felt that way once.”
  7. Repeat Step #6 until she can confide in neither human nor canvas for a lengthy period of time.
  8. When she expresses an interest in collaborating with you, make a vague comment like, “It’ll work out some day,” and then forget about it.
  9. Let her fall in love with you. Reject her in a way that still leaves room for her admiration for you. Tell her that you love her; forget that you said it. Become her muse; reject her art by ignoring it all. When she tells you that she wrote something about you, say nothing.
  10. Say nothing.

The effects on this list are magnified x100 if you are family or extremely important to the artist. Effects on the artist may be extreme and include, but are not limited to: lying in the fetal position for several hours, needing multiple Reiki sessions, or passing out on the couch after drinking a whole bottle of Barefoot Pinot Noir and watching The Great Gatsby.

How to Love an Artist

  1. Be genuinely curious about her work.
  2. Ask questions without judging or assuming you know the answers.
  3. Show literally any emotion except indifference.
  4. Invite her to coffee or lunch when she expresses an interest in collaborating with you. Even if it doesn’t eventually work out, your interest will mean a lot.
  5. Let her give you things. Respect that you’re her muse, even if you do not feel the same, or cannot offer anything in return. Treat her heart as a jewel, because it is. She is immortalizing you in her art.
  6. Make her something with your art.
  7. Ask what her tattoo means.
  8. Show her a song that reminds you of her.
  9. Pay attention. This can come in phases or be regular in occurrence – frequency and quantity do not matter so much when your attention is given with care and enthusiasm.
  10. Understand that loving an artist is not that hard. Artists have a high threshold for rejection and pain. Do not call an artist “overly sensitive.”

Please note that the effects of even one or two people loving an artist nullify the effects of one hundred carrying out the steps listed under “How to Break an Artist’s Heart.”

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