a look back

i’m feeling inspired by jess’s post this morning, which includes part of a writing assignment her 13-year-old (NT) daughter “katie” recently did for school. back in the day, creative writing was pretty much the only writing i was (semi) consistently capable of. there is a lot of it. and it’s all very…my-brain. in particular, there’s one short (short!) story i wrote a little bit after i turned fifteen that i think was one of the first really concrete, socially validated examples of how incredibly not normal my experiences of thinking and of the world around me actually were. so i figured i’d share it here. 


The night was lonely and sweet lights outside my windows weren’t enough to soothe my dry eyes. The word discombobulate echoed sneakily behind car horns and train horns and the smooth sound of a fountain.

I’d tried earlier to sneak downstairs, and had gotten as far as the windowsill in the kitchen before the golden streetlamps came on. The light had flung me against the far wall, and my own shadow frightened me back to my room.

I had spoken “Discombobulate” earlier, as a secret to my traitorous pillow, but the syllables escaped. I hadn’t known what I was getting into, the damage a stray word could work. I needed a dictionary, another thing that slept however restlessly downstairs. Again I crept slowly. I snatched the book and turned away from the window. A sallow yellow brick road had crept from behind my bedroom door; I caught it and ran back to bed.

Discombobulate: -lated; -lating [prob. alter. of discompose (how ugly)]: upset, confuse <Inventing cool new ways to ~ the old order — Kurt Andersen> — discombobulation.

Discombobulate was more difficult than his synonyms. The word itself was a lesson in handsome uncontrollability. For some reason, whenever I’d thought of it, Discombobulation separated the head from the body, like decapitation, but less violent. Sweeter. A sort of heady headlessness.

Now I had set Discombobulate free on an unsuspecting city. Havoc would be wreaked. Even now he probably stood, cigarette stuck in his mouth; that pale space between the “i” and its dot, out in some alleyway getting ready to <invent new ways to discombobulate the old order – Kurt Andersen>. I doubted we were ready for Discombobulate and his Virginia Slim. We didn’t have the time to fall in love with a word, to experience the heady headlessness. The world moved too fast.

I had to recapture him, and though I didn’t doubt my imaginative abilities, I had to admit, adventure/noir had never been a strong point of mine. I decided to dream. Dreams take realness and break it down into its pieces, mix them up and make another world. Or at least mine do. Discombobulate would be there, and I would be able to do whatever I needed to do to catch him.

My eyes closed.

I slept onto my dream bike (What? You drive a Hummer to dream?), and slipped away, pedaling slowly, scanning the side streets for my chain smoking, delinquent syllables.

I pedaled down to the river, through the short squatting buildings of the Industrial District. Warehouse and Dock sat on a bench facing the Willamette, grimy and smelling of fish and duct tape, beers in hand, but when questioned, said they hadn’t seen a thing. I sped away to try and catch a bridge downtown, but stopped when Boulevard flagged me down at a stop sign, and offered his information for a croissant.

We split it. He said he’d seen a gentleman in need of a good shave materialize letter by letter, a block or two south of Division, and then asked if I wanted to dance. I had to turn him down, but the thought made me smile.

I thanked him profusely, but he just twirled his moustache and walked away. I jumped back on my bike and sped off down the street, pedaling down four blocks and hanging a hard left. I finally found him sitting on a bus stop bench on Clinton, the number 10. I parked my bike around the corner and out of sight, and walked over to sit next to him. It was past midnight, but I hadn’t noticed before.

“Hey you.” He said wearily

“Hey yourself, what’s a guy like you doing out at this time of night?” I asked sweetly.

“Upsetting, confusing, the usual.” He winked at me, and then stubbed his cigarette out on the bench by his knee.

“Sounds interesting, I guess”

“Sure, but at this time of night Honey, there ain’t anyone out to confuse.”

“Yeah, I would imagine anyone out at this hour would be moderately to severely Discombobulated already.”

He turned around to face me when I spoke his name, his arm resting on the back of the bench, putting another cigarette to his lips and fishing in his pocket for the lighter. Sadness touched the corners of his face.

I sighed “They’re not ready yet. You’re too…..distracting….”

“And to think that I was getting all excited.” He grinned. He’d known I was coming.

“You have to come back…”



The lighter flashed and the air in front of him glowed.

He winked again, and then leaned back into the bench.

“All right, amiga”

I leaned over and kissed him lightly on the cheek, and he was gone.

I wasn’t ready to be discombobulated either, even if he was dashing.

the end.

[[for the curious folks: i don’t inherently think of words as people in my head. it’s more that i think of words and people using the same sensory vocabulary in my head, so translating from word to person is very easy for me (the same is true for most objects, entities, ideas, etc.)]]

Copy of emmahi8[1]

This is a photo of me probably a month or two before I wrote the story in question–I’m sitting at a train station in Germany waiting for the train with my German host sister, her best friend, and her best friend’s boyfriend. Said boyfriend was something of an aspiring photographer, and carried his camera around with him, and snapped this while I wasn’t paying attention. In the picture, I am really tired and kind of homesick, because I don’t really get along with my host sister. This is generally a very teen-angsty time in my life–though it’s important to note that I had pretty good reasons for being angsty.  


4 thoughts on “a look back

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