Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Sleeping With Goddesses

I'm happy to bring you a bit or romance, nostalgia, and nonfiction today! The author, Ryan Nock, is sharing a personal essay called Sleeping With Goddesses.

Ryan Nock co-founded a "teensy online game company" so he could, according to him, self-publish Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks while he was getting his degree in Creative Writing at Atlanta's Emory University. You should go check out his blog - here - after reading his essay below.

Sleeping with Goddesses
By Ryan Nock

In a novel I’m writing, I’ve been stuck for a few weeks on a scene that involves a temple to a goddess, Meliska. Last night, unable to dislodge my writer’s block, I went to bed and lay awake thinking about Meliska. To understand this I’ve got to go back sixteen years, to the summer after 6th grade.

Melissa was the first girl I ever had a crush on. She was a year younger than me, and so I normally would never have met her if she hadn’t been helping out my mom as an assistant for the Beaumont Public Library’s Summer Reading Program.

I remember only the barest of snippets of my times with Melissa, mostly moments of us both sitting in hallways around the library talking. She was never that into me, but I got intense puppy love for this girl. She was dark and beautiful, and geeky in her own way. I remember showing her the secret hidden places of the library, places you needed special knowledge to get into -- key codes for the outside doors to the loading dock, the right way to jiggle the knob to get into the storage room next to the old framed copy of the Constitution. Or was it the Declaration of Independence?

Even back then, I had my obsession with sneaking into places, with having power over those who told me where I couldn’t go but who could not always watch me. My favorite place, though, was under the staircase to the left of the elevator on the bottom floor. In all the time I spent at that library, over twelve years, I never was found there except by the friends I had told of the place.

The summer ended and Melissa vanished. As a 7th grader I had no idea how to track down someone who went to a different school. I got interested in Dungeons & Dragons, and in grand Tolkien-esque fashion I started to craft a world for my D&D game. I wanted to create my own deities, not use the boring ones in the rulebook, so I made up dozens. But the one that meant the most to me, that resonated loudest with my little 7th grader hopeless romantic heart, was Meliska, goddess of life, healing, love, and eclipses.

Two years later, I was at an academic meet when I saw a familiar girl. It amazed me at the time that I could still recognize her, since she had grown up so much. She recalled me too, and was amused when I jokingly told her that I had turned her into a goddess. I found out her last name finally, and so I was able to get her number out of the phone book (even back then, I always forgot to ask girls for their numbers), so again we talked over the summer. Then at the end of 9th grade the city opened a new high school, and I found out we would both be going there the next year.

I knew she wasn’t interested in me, but she was still a free spirit, sarcastic and gloomy, and the first goth I remember knowing. When you’re 15 years old and you see a girl you have a crush on in black lace for the first time, it makes an impression. And hell, it impressed me more when I found out she had started spelling her name ‘Mulysa,’ which is ‘Asylum’ spelled backwards.

But that was a digression. Let me get back to the real story. April was her name, an honest to God redhead who, when I met her, had foolishly bleached two strands blonde. She volunteered to be a student worker at Ozen High School’s library, and I made sure I did too, so I could hang out with her. We sat around the old musty books in the library, talking about things that matter to 10th graders -- personal identity, growing away from old friends, being attracted to people, being curious about the anatomy of the opposite sex, and, of course, D&D.

She hated her father (or was it her mother?), and had a hard life in general with her family, and she was in perpetual dread of being transferred to a different school. But she loved Ireland, and so when we spent one day browsing books on religions and names, she decided to change her name to ‘Avril,’ or Avi for short, to be rid of the name her parents had given her.

Avril and Mulysa became friends, and one day at lunch Mulysa shared the story about how she had become a goddess, going from Melissa to Meliska (or rather, Mulyska). Avril said she was jealous, and demanded I make her a goddess too, and when I waffled, saying I didn’t want to cheapen the whole thing, Mulysa told Avril that it was easy. All you had to do was add ‘sk’ to your name. Avril was thrilled, and though I never took to the name myself, she and Mulysa had a grand time calling her Skavskril.

I honestly don’t think I was attracted to April. I thought of her as a great friend, someone who shone joy upon those around here, who despite carrying a sad helping of sorrow was not weighed down by it. Still, in just a little over a month, I grew to care about her, maybe love her. I wanted to defend her.

It’s hard to recall which month it was, so long ago, but it was a chilly day, gray and overcast, when during the period we had together in the library, April told me that her mother was coming to pick her up after school, and that she’d be changing schools after that. I don’t remember what had provoked it, but she was heartbroken, and I knew I would do whatever I could to defy the people who were going to tell my friend what to do. That day, after school, she and I left early, dodging her mother, and we hiked to the Beaumont Public Library.

It was two or three miles, through a concrete maze neither of us was familiar with, which we navigated simply by dead bearing and hope. We spent the whole walk talking, from frustration and anger about the current situation, to humor and joy about games, sci-fi, and how cool it was that we were disobeying her parents. Because Fridays at Ozen got out at noon, we were able to reach the library right as my mom got back from her lunch break.

I told my mom why April and I had come. I think I had hoped she would let April go home with us, but of course that couldn’t happen. My mom got in touch with the school, which got in touch with April’s parents, who hurried to come find her.

So of course we hid. I knew all the right places, and we could have gone unseen until nightfall, could have run off into the wilderness, raised a peasant army, and marched upon Beaumont, TX with our demands. But April did not want to be in any more trouble than she already was, and so when we heard her mom descending the stairs we were sitting under, we came out of hiding, and her mother spirited her away.

In my memory, April truly was beautiful.

I don’t want to idly turn every girl I had a crush on into a divinity, but I think April earned it. I’m going to add a new goddess to the fantasy setting that I started creating back in middle school: Av. What should she be the goddess of?

Goddess of rebellion, defiance, journeys, and hidden places? Perhaps, perhaps. Goddess of names, sadness, and fleeting friendship? Goddess of runaways, red hair, overcast skies, and inspiring men to heroism?

It warms my heart to know that I do not have a good ending to this story. That means, doesn’t it, that the story is not yet over?

7 comments:

  1. Never has turning your friends into deities in your fiction been so un-geeky and... lovely. This was a great read.

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  2. "When you’re 15 years old and you see a girl you have a crush on in black lace for the first time, it makes an impression."

    This is very true.

    I like this. It touches on the mysterious and elusive nature of girls to the nerdy 15 year-old-boys who long for them. It reminds me of Neil Gaiman's amazing short "How to Talk to Girls at Parties" in that way: http://neilgaiman.com/p/Cool_Stuff/Short_Stories/How_To_Talk_To_Girls_At_Parties/How_To_Talk_To_Girls_At_Parties_%28Text%29

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  3. Hey - I'm the goddess of red hair!

    Just kidding. I love your writing - it's sweet, honest, personal, intimate.

    Thank you for sharing this!

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  4. Great piece, really enjoyed reading this!

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  5. Sarah, thank you for the honor of posting my story here. Everyone, thanks for the comments, and Josh, thanks for the link. I love Gaiman's short works.

    Sarah posted a link to my blog (much appreciated), but if you want to see another short (500 word) work of mine, I have a piece up at http://alchemyofwriting.blogspot.com/2010/07/world-in-miniature-even-kings.html

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  6. I love the last line about being excited that you don't know how it ends, because that means there's still more story to tell. I'm nearing the end of my novel, and I thought I'd be done in about 7,000 words or so, but the more I write, the more I'm finding that ending is still a little ways off. It's a good feeling, and one that only writers can really appreciate.

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  7. Ah, that was wonderfully touching. Thanks for sharing it with us Sarah!

    I've only recently met Ryan (digitally) but I was smart enough to snap him up into my crit group right away. He is a talented writer but this story sort of transcends all of that a bit.

    Friendship is a rare and beautiful thing when it does occur.

    Bravo.

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