TRUTH OR DARE?

A young woman stands at a well-lit intersection in Midwest America. Her male counterpart is beside her, burdened with a backpack towering his back. Her backpack is lighter, as she is smaller than him at about a hundred pounds. Above, the sun has dropped its burnt orange rays to flat line at the horizon, and she too is ready to rest for the day. Appearing distanced from her reality, it’s as if she wasn’t truly herself, but in reality she was me. I was that young woman.

Pushing matted hair off my suncaked cheeks, I watch traffic on that balmy evening in 1993. Eighteen-wheelers force their way in and out of a truck stop, releasing billowy exhaust. A suit-and-tie-guy in a sports car races to the on-ramp with the convertible top down. Station wagons with a full back seat of kids exit the interstate and drive out of sight, likely to their suburban homes.

Jake breaks screech and a horn sounds, one of many. I turn to my companion, seeking his familiar nod of reassurance. It is true that when in a situation of dependence on another person, our old life has been abandoned, in favor of complete trust in that person for how our existence will unfold. Locked into their era, we are bound and dated by their best judgment for our well-being. Only littered thoughts remain, scrambled by events of the day in which we were captured by complexities of surrender.

The crosswalk light changed, giving us the go ahead. “Ready?” he asked me.

I tugged at my pack’s straps, stepped off the curb, and kept close to him. I carried the lighter items, like a few clean t-shirts, dry socks, tobacco, and a deck of playing cards. His pack held the heavier items of blue jeans, dried food staples, small tools, a flashlight, and hygiene kits. A bedroll and a plastic gallon of water dangled taut at the tail end of his pack’s frame, fastened by bungee cords. Of equal importance, if only to him, his pack also held weathered childhood family photos, lest he forget where he came from. My pack held no pictures, no heirlooms, and no keys to the past.

Anxious, I pictured hope for a new tomorrow. As usual, we’d be back on the interstate, thumbs erect, for another unknown stretch of the highway to push us further from the place we once called home. I felt the bounce to our gait in our cumbersome ten minutes to reach the nearby underpass. From there, I breathed heavy in our walk up its steep incline to a leveled three-foot-wide space, which spanned the length of the overpass above.

At the top, I dropped my pack to the cement ground and then helped him maneuver out of his pack. He released the bungee cords, unrolling our sleeping bag, and laid it out flat. Our packs would work fine as pillows at the wall behind us. I sat down and let my lower legs dangle where the decline started. That’s how we’d have to sleep that night, but I was used to that. Just the night before, we’d slept on a tree-lined hillside, pinecones and all.

The foundation under me reverberated as a semi-truck drove the overpass. Over the big rig’s noise, he turned his head toward me and said, “Put another sweater on so you don’t get cold; the temperature is dropping.”

Rifling through his pack to find some sort of dinner makings, he first pulled out a bottle of rot-gut sweet wine. He took a sip, and then passed me the bottle. We’d need its warmth to keep from waking up shivering cold in the middle of the night. It wasn’t chilly out yet, but I thirsted for the escape to be found in that bottle. Two quick gulps were all it took for me to feel a warm buzz from its acquired taste for fruity potency.

Sheltered from the wind, I none-the-less felt my melancholy mood blow away. I was okay in letting him lead, but still determined to discover where I’d—not we—but I would lastly end up. Disillusioned, I lapsed into my thoughts, where I pictured Nana. When I was a child, Nana taught me to have a reason behind my choices, and to persevere, not limiting myself in opportunities. Back then I had relied on her approval and praises. Then, when a little older, I ran with her ideas, yet in a way which hurt myself and others.

My choices had caused a devastating wake in society with unwanted notoriety. I took another gulp of wine and followed his hand directions to help him. No words were needed between us over dinner, which left me to my own pivotal thoughts. I felt like a seaman who had gone overboard from a fishing boat. It is as if we try to push our way up to safety, but are met by the weight of the water. We argue with gravity; we argue with sharp waves; we battle with our own fears. When a situation is this dire, one has to take ownership of that reality. To gather one’s own wits, emotion must be set aside and action taken to save ourselves.

The past was only that; the past. I had a new life, filled with significance and value, to look forward to. If any remorse remained within me, it was because I hadn’t lived up to Nana’s high expectations. Resilience is our only hope to overcome what happened, whether it’s falling off a fishing boat, or falling from society’s grace. We have to make positive change. So too, did I have to overcome the choices I had made, which landed me at that spot, under the overpass. I had to make change, or else I’d be forever lost and fail to live up to my family legacy.

7 thoughts on “TRUTH OR DARE?

  1. bruinsmap says:

    I am not sure of the voice here. I am confused by the tenses throughout the narrative. You have chosen quite a difficult task. Writing about a point in the past? At a point in the past? How much is current voice, current feelings?

    I think part of the problem is that you have really jumped in at the deep end. Drenching the reader from the start. Making a reader take an obstacle course from the off when perhaps you need to let them walk. Maybe the voice is fine, but providing so “much” is leaving me unsure. Having to read paragraphs more than once.

    Some of it is too much. For example, paragraph 3 doesn’t work. You are losing me with that paragraph.

    You obviously have a good level of English and a story to tell. I think working with someone not invested in you (e.g. not family) will help you place yourself in the reader’s position.

    🙂

    Note: I accept this is only the first page.

  2. Marlene Wilson Bierworth says:

    You tend to jump from 1st person to 3rd, from present and the past. It’s very confusing and hard to follow. I had to reread often just to follow your line of thought.
    Par. 1 “backpack towering his back’ reads a bit awkward.
    Some of the descriptions seem like a stretch and overdone.
    Par. 3 “Jake breaks screech and a horn sounds” doesn’t make sense.
    I think you have a great story in mind but it is not coming across as easy to read. If this is your opening, it is too much too soon. Perhaps lead the reader into it slower and more clearly.
    Good luck with your writing.

  3. twiggy says:

    Hello!

    Firstly, I like that you opened with the characters living as vagabonds. It left me to wonder what happened to them that landed them in that predicament, and I would like to find out what eventually happens to your characters. I was also curious about the relationship between the two characters – I’m assuming they’re related because they were both going to a place they “once called home,” but the way the narrator spoke of her traveling companion didn’t really give the impression that they were closely related.

    Also, the first few paragraphs threw me off a bit. My initial thought after reading the first sentence of the second paragraph was that the narrator was having a dissociative moment, but then she seems lucid throughout the rest of the section.

    I also agree with the previous poster that, in some paragraphs, it feels like too much information for the first few pages. I could already surmise from the “vagabonds” imagery, drinking problems and tone of the narrator that something bad happened to the characters which landed them in that situation; I don’t need to be told that by the narrator a couple paragraphs later. That the narrator tells me “something bad happened,” but then doesn’t tell me what that something is … it feels a bit like I’m being teased. 😛

  4. Anonymous says:

    I’ve always wondered what it’d be like to hitchhike cross-country with a pack and a pal. Thanks for taking me there! Here’s my two cents on how to improve (just ideas):

    The opening paragraph is a bit confusingly constructed. I’m not sure why you started out in third person and then revealed it’s really first person. Just jump right into first. Be specific with your details, it grounds us. Just with the first paragraph: Where in Midwest America? Be specific. Who is your male counterpart? Jake and maybe something that makes him different than all the Jakes in the world other than he’s your Jake. Also, be specific with details: About a hundred pounds to either a precise amount (112 pounds) or tell us why a large pack is important (it has everything she owns or bare hippie essentials). Why is she not herself? She’s delusional by heatstroke or she’s living in the present to avoid a rocky past. Overall, I need the details to work for the scene, setting mood and being clear and concise (apply this to the other chapters too).

    I agree with everything that Bruinsmap says above. Watch the construction of your sentences that there aren’t too many ideas crammed in and that the flow is logical and personal. Example: It is true that when in a situation of dependence on another person, our old life has been abandoned, in favor of complete trust in that person for how our existence will unfold. It’s kind of meta, but needs to either be grounded in physical analogies or (better yet) be more personally attached to your MC and the situation she is presently in. I’m not seeing that connection.

    Give us the sense that there are deep emotional reasons for being on this hitchhiking event with Jake. They are leaving their homes behind? Only emotional or physical necessity would drive that. Give that sense that there’s a lot under the surface which we’ll discover in the course of the novel. Remember, you are setting the scene for the entire novel.

    Overall, good job. Keep on-

    -Risto

  5. packoffeathers says:

    I like the subject, but I’m missing conflict. The writing is too flowery for me, especially in the first few paragraphs. There are too many backwards constructed sentences which disrupts the flow of reading, and an abundance of adjectives. If you’d start at “I tugged at” you avoid an infodump and start at the actions your MC is taking.
    After finding out they are traveling/ backpacking, I lost interest because they’re only going to sleep, and there is too much infodumping and telling. Maybe start at another point, and let the reader figure out the MC’s motivation through action and natural dialogue.

  6. writer33! says:

    The tense flows between present to past which is confusing.

    There are many paragraphs which seem to overwhelm me with information. Such as paragraph three. this is a difficult paragraph. I’m not sure which information is relevant to what I have read.

    The first paragraph may click faster with readers if you put yourself at the beginning and not until the end. “I am standing at a well-lit….” I already feel interested in what you are doing. It also sound mechanical, emotionless when referring to her male counterpart.

    I enjoy the part where you say “he” has certain items to help him remember yet she prefers not to have anything from her past. Intriguing.

    I feel as though you are giving us too much information at the start where it should come gradually.

    Over all, I believe you are a strong writer. I like your writing style. Just spread the information out instead of clumping. Great job!

  7. Roger Schulz says:

    I found this difficult to follow. I kept asking, ‘where is this going?’ Some of your descriptors seem inappropriate, i.e. “jake break”. I’m guessing not one reader in ten would have any idea what that is, maybe one in a hundred. Just as Writer33 said, spread the thoughts out a bit. It’s too much in the first page.

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