Wanting only to be hugged
a day in the life of a short-story writer
They build hopes on us.
They are big, small, our beloved publishing companies.
They say they want new voices, new writers, new kinds of stories that move literature forward. They ask you to pay $20 a submission and include you in contests and don’t reply.
They say they want to change the world—they’re filling desktops, trashing bins with rejected word documents, poems and stories wanting to be heard.
In 2012, I graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing & Fiction. I thought by now I could publish a collection of stories.
I published one story.
Dozens of others were rejected by journals who replied after six months. The reasons were obvious, to them of course. They wouldn’t talk, they wouldn’t email, and they wouldn’t say hello.
I remember a rejection by an editor-in-chief, a poet with awards and over fifty publications—a man I respect. He told me after my public reading, Great story, why don’t you send it to me?
Six months later I hear from a distant automated machine:
Although we have decided against using “your story,” we were interested in it and would be glad to see more of your work between Sept. 1 and May 1.
I wake up hoping to grab a flash of light, that blade of clarity deep down in my gut, waiting to heal my stories: hackers fighting the system, single mothers trying to fit in, men looking for a father on a mountain, and young girls, desperate to become the woman who looked good on TV.
I look up my wall, the bright-yellow posters, and three post-it notes:
What good is a story if you don’t remember how you feel?
What story will you write when the world you left behind is the same world ahead?
I call my wife and say, I’m coming.
I take her out to dinner so we can walk to a tapas we loved when we first met on Newberry Street.
We sip our Syrahs, three-years old and full-bodied, and I look into her green eyes and she rubs my shoulders in the old familiar way.
I know I’m not ready.
“Why are you not eating?” she says.
I choke on a piece of broccoli.
“What if you go to dinner and find out you’re not hungry?
She touches my face, waiting for a validation from a man who could lift her up. Sometimes that is all she needs.
“Then you don’t eat,” she says and smiles.
I like the tone in her voice, that shape that lifts me up when I ask, “What’s your favorite thing in the world?”
She smiles again, pretending she has no gummy teeth. I love them.
“Hugs are my favorite,” she says, “hugs are my favorite!”
A hole in my lung beats in threes.
I write because I’m hungry. I write because I remember. I write because when hugs are replaced by machines, promises by lies, a man can make up stories about broccolis and smiles and wine and all that will be wasted, wanting only to be hugged.