Why I Became a Writer

She reads and I see the words go in her: "So there's this boy."

She looks up from the paper, says, "'So there's this boy?' You can't start a story that way."

"Why not?" says complaining me. "It's my story."

"If you want people to read it you have to write it like a story."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"It means there are rules of story and unless you're John Updike you don't get to break them."

I point to the paper she's holding, the one that took me two hours to type on my dad's old selectric. I touch the five pages still on the kitchen table that took me an hour apiece and a bottle of white out to produce. She's an English major so I wanted to write her something. I would have been better off scratching something asinine in wet cement.

I say, "That's a story. Right there. If you'd read past the first sentence..."

"I can't read past the first sentence if I can't get past the first sentence. The first sentence is an indication of what's to come. I'm looking at six pages of, 'So there's this boy,' and I'm thinking of how much it's going to hurt."


I don't know what makes me do it, other than her. I pick up the pages. I fold them. Stuff them in my pocket where they don't actually fit so I've got a wad of paper shedding white out flakes hanging from my pants.

Then I grab the one from her hand. She realizes what I'm doing at the last minute and squeezes her fingers tighter.

So then the page rips.

"Look what you did," I say.

"Look what YOU did," she says.

"Give me that," I yank the paper shard from her hand and size it up against the rest of the page. It fits. It's all there.

She won't read it. I wrote it for her and she won't read it.

"Are you okay?" she says, as if there's any way I could be.

"Duh--like, no," comes out.

She says she's sorry. I tell her she's not. She does this sort of thing on purpose. Over and over. Why do I let it happen?

Why oh why oh why?

Because she's got this feeling all around her. Because when she's next to me that feeling gets in me and things get calm. I hear stuff going on in my head I never knew was there. Some of that stuff I like a real lot.

Totally selfish. Probably. Totally.

The next thing I hear is, "What are you thinking--come on."

"I'm thinking I'm an idiot," I say. "I don't know why I try these things. You know, I wrote that for you. And if you won't read it, I guess I'm just stupid."

"Cut it out," she says. "Self-pity looks bad on you."

I take the pages out of my pocket. Hold them up.

"This--um." It's ridiculous. I have to clear my throat to keep talking for some reason. "This took a while."

She snatches at the paper, and I yank my hand away so she can't get it. But a page falls out because I'm not holding it right. It's the last one.

So now she's got that.

I try to take it from her but she hunches over and pulls her arms in toward her chest. I can't get hold of anything.

Then she sort of relaxes.

"Oh my God," she says.

I was really hoping she might say that if she ever got to the end of it.

"Did you write this?"

It's my white out. Six layers and she's wondering if I wrote it. Or maybe she isn't and just needs something to say.

She reads it again.

"You should read the whole thing. Not just the end," I say.

Her head moves slightly with her eyes as she reads. Left to right. Top to bottom. Then back again. Over and over.

About seven times.

Then she sort of has tears in her eyes.

And I've got this goddamned ring in my pocket.

If she'd only read the whole thing she'd know it was there.

I'm afraid she never will so I take it out. Show her.

"You have to start it from the beginning," I say. "It's a whole story. You can't just read the end."

She gets real close.

She says, "So there's this girl..."

That's how it starts.

c 2003 by Joe Mastroianni