As most of my friends know, I spent 2015-2016 studying in Wales. What you might not know is that I did not pass the dissertation the first time. I have spent the past six months working on fixing that. All that hard work paid off. I passed!! Let me tell you, it was extremely hard not posting about it on Facebook or any other form of social media. I have never truly failed at anything, so this was something I was not prepared for. I think what got me through the past six months was the knowledge that no one is perfect. And that this did not mean that I was any less of a person. Sure, it took me a little longer than expected, but so what? Even if I hadn’t gotten that passing grade, I’d still be the same, lovable Jillian we all know.
There are a few things I want to get off my chest. I am very grateful for the help and support of my mom. Without her, I would not have been able to do any of this. I will pay her back one day, when my career takes off. I spent a good portion of these past six months beating myself up over how I failed and how I didn’t think I could pick myself back up. Of course, looking back, I did it. But the doubt and anxiety I went through was hard to get through.
The reason I did not post about having to resubmit was because I didn’t want that kind of pressure from some of my friends and family. While well meaning, it can get a little tedious to listen to someone ask how my dissertation was going.
Overall, I worked through this time with more maturity than I thought I was capable of. Has this journey left me with something more to learn? Yes. I have so many different obstacles to get through, and earning my Masters is only the beginning. Now comes the hard part. Finding a job . in my field.
Here is the fiction piece of my dissertation. It’s the beginning, so it shouldn’t be too hard to follow along. Some of the scenes might be rearranged in a later draft.
Summer with Nana
I can’t explain the feeling so I won’t even try. Instead I’ll tell you what I saw that day. The day that everything changed. There in front of me was the hospital bed filled with a bag of carbon atoms that made up my mother. The nurse beside me was rubbing circles into my already tired shoulder. My air was constricted to that of thin breathes. The monitor beside the bed was humming, as if the act of monitoring my mother was a heavy burden. I smelled the staleness of the mud on my shoes contrasting with the disinfectant that all hospitals seem to employ. My little brother’s worn out red ball bounced off my knee from when he tossed it a moment before. The acrid taste of alcohol warm on my tongue and the small bruise on my elbow caused me a slight discomfort. I heard the noise, off in the distance, of running feet and heavy machinery being lugged around. Someone else was having a crisis, even though my world ended with the picture of a flat line. The white of the walls was blinding to look at as the nurse beside me brought me in for a hug. ‘It’s going to be alright,’ she was saying. I was assaulted with the colour blue; the nurse’s scrubs enveloping most of my senses. My tears and mud covered clothing got on to the nurse’s scrubs. She didn’t seem to mind. She’d probably had much worse get onto her clothing. My brother was clinging to my left leg, his face getting smeered in mud and leaves.
In the distance, I heard Aunt Karly arguing with the front desk. ‘That’s my sister!’ I heard her three-inch heels before I saw her. I thought of the many excuses I could have made in that moment. Each one more damning than the last. But at that moment it didn’t matter about the promise I had made to Aunt Karly about watching over my mom. No amount of punishment would bring back my mom from the dead.
I was wearing the jean jacket mom had gotten me from Betsy Johnson, which was now littered with mud and branches. Standing there with my brother and the nurse, I looked a right mess. When Aunt Karly came in, it kind of looked like the before and after pictures you see in commercials. Aunt Karly was still in her blue ball gown, the one I helped her pick out when we went to San Francisco that one time. Everyone said that we could have been sisters, if I wasn’t so obnoxious about always dyeing my hair fifty different shades of purple.
Aunt Karly gazed at me, my brother, and then at the broken body on the bed. The doctor had left for a minute to ‘use the bathroom’ and I wasn’t sure whether or not he was ever coming back. She slowly made her way to the bed, her fists clenching and unclenching in a rhythmic pattern. She was taking yoga classes as her new year’s resolution at the YMCA down the block from our house. The only thing she had learned was that Chris Stone from the bakery on the corner really likes a woman with the ability to bend.
I saw the moment she realized that her sister was properly dead. The hope that she had walking in; that it was a mix up and Marie was just playing a joke on her, was gone. Her lips trembled as she took my mom’s hand. This was the hand that played the piano for hours till her younger sister told her to stop or else she’d chop her fingers off. It was also the hand that held my aunt close when Jake ran off with some other woman on Aunt Karly’s wedding night. These images of mom and Aunt Karly rushed through me, the outside observer, intruding on their shared moment and history.
My mom’s head was tipped back. Her curly brown hair was falling out of its ponytail as the day grew later. The pub around us was a noisy bustle of cheers from the rugby game on the television. ‘Fuck!’ she exclaimed, as she tossed the shot glass on to the table, nearly shattering the glass. She looked expectantly at the lawyer across from us, hoping to have scared him off. He stood there like a robot in his pinstripe suit and perfectly coifed hair. My school uniform was rolled and scuffed. The beer was nearly full in the glass in front of me.
‘Did you hear me Marie?’ the lawyer said to mom. ‘Your house is being seized by Larry. You’re going to have to vacate in a week.’ I had rushed from football practice with my friends to hear Steve, the lawyer, tell mom the news. Steve was a no-nonsense kind of guy. He had handled my friend Cassie’s parents’ divorce and the one thing Cassie said about him, was that he was some kind of robot in disguise.
‘He didn’t even blink when my dad was threatening my mum over who got the prized glass pig,’ Cassie had told me a few days prior. ‘My dad had nearly taken the pig and split mom’s face in two.’
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence, as the signal on the television went out and my mom stared off into space.
Four words from my dad had caused all this.
‘I want a divorce.’
My mom rarely visited pubs before this fiasco. Mom was just starting to think that with my dad’s new promotion at the oil factory, she could finally stop working and pursue her dream in designing dresses. Her mom had instilled in her the importance of making something by hand. Making bags was something that gave mom purpose and a short release from the woes of her marriage. In the days before my grandmother’s stroke, she and my mom had been going at it. Nan thought mom was wasting away in the bridal shop. ‘You should be making the dresses. Not hemming someone else’s design.’ Mom had sighed, letting Nan win this fight. But in truth, mom knew Nan was right.
The television’s signal went back up and the noise began again, as if the mute button was turned off. ‘I heard you,’ my mom muttered. I picked at the frayed table cloth while Steve turned his head away from mom, his face a deep red.
‘Well, good. I was told by Larry that you might need some convincing to leave. I hope…’ he began.
‘You know, you can leave. We got that we have to pack up our things. Despite what my dad has probably said on the matter, my mom isn’t stupid,’ I said, while clutching the tablecloth in my hand.
The texture was soft and wet. It vaguely reminded me of the cloths Nan had in her food closet. The ones Nan had made in the hospital while my mom was giving birth to me.
The lawyer downed his drink, hastily put his papers back in his suitcase, and fled the pub as if he was running from the Joker. Owain, the bus boy, started to clear the shot glasses in front of mom, while not so subtly checking me out. There was a loud Plunk! and my mom’s head had settled itself on to the table. I patted her back with my right hand and held my pint of beer with my other.
‘Is she okay?’ Owain asked.
I turned my attention to him. His red hair was what made me notice him the first few times I came to this pub. The first time I had seen him was during one of the pub crawls my society had thrown together. It was a Highlander theme and we were all supposed to dress like we were going off to Culloden. Kind of dreary, but our president, Amanda Shiever, has a weird sense of humor. I remember him standing by the bar, talking to his friend, Matthew, who was in my course.
What made him stand out wasn’t just his fiery red hair. His choice of outfit was what caught my eye. Instead of just wearing the kilt and holding a crossbow, Owain had drawn cuts all over himself. They were very graphic. I could almost believe his arm had been cut in two. As I stared at him, I could imagine him on that grassy plain, so long ago, in the Highlands. It was hard not to imagine his rough, chiseled face, fighting the English head on. And although my history book says the Scots lost, in my warped mind, Owain led the Scots to victory.
After which he took me in his arms and we had mind blowing sex.
As I stared into those vibrant green eyes, while I rubbed my mother’s back at the same time, my phone went off, breaking me away from my thoughts of Highlanders and sex.
The caller ID said ‘Dad.’
I entered the house. It was a sunny afternoon and I had come home early from football practice to drop off some of the presents my friends gave me for my birthday. My room was at the end of the hall on the first floor, so I had to pass my parents’ room on my way there. If only I hadn’t come home early. The walk from the stairwell to my room felt somehow different this day. Maybe it was due to my legs feeling sore from those one hundred lunges coach made us do before practice. Or maybe the difference was the frilly panties lying in front of my parents’ half open door. The purple lace clashed with the gray wall of our home. I had gone through my mom’s underwear drawer just yesterday to find the money she keeps hidden so I could pay the uniform deposit for the team. Mom preferred white boxers when it came to panties, on account of it being the ‘practical’ thing to do. Whoever’s panties were on the floor were clearly not mom’s. As the thoughts began to race in my head, I heard it. The soft squeak of the bed and a moan that ended with, ‘Oh yeah Charlie!’ I didn’t think as I pushed open the door.
The door gave a small squeal as I pushed it open.
I wish I had never opened that door.
The surprise must have caused Sheila to jump. When I pushed the door open, I saw Sheila on the ground, naked, save for a kerchief tied around her wrists. My dad was turned towards the opposite wall, clutching his privates.
The room was gray, with no decorations, as if a monk lived there, instead of my parents. So what struck me, as I stood in silence, was the dresses on the other side of the bed. They stuck out like a sore thumb, with their pastel colors and their frilly lace skirts.
Dad had been gone for a few months on a mandatory business trip, the first in over ten years. So, Mom had brought out her sewing kit from storage and made a bunch of mock ups for her friends to see. I had stayed with her for the last two weekends, as her model, while she stuck pins and needles into me. Each time I went to the store for supplies, one of our neighbors would make a remark about how great it was to hear that mom was sewing again. Mom grew up in our neighborhood, and her dresses were what everyone was talking about. She used to make dresses for me when I was a kid, but as dad started moving up within his company, she stopped making them. Dad said it wasn’t ‘proper’ for a women to own her own business.
As I stood there, with my left hand still on the doorknob, and my right hand curled into a fist on my side, I realized that I didn’t care that my dad was a lying cheat. My mom would finally have the excuse she needed to leave my dad and start working on her dream.
‘Gwen…’ my father said, as he threw the comforter over his naked torso. The comforter that mom had worked on for months before their wedding.
Sheila sat there, comfortable in her own nakedness. After all, it was dad who was the one cheating, not her. I let the silence speak for itself.
The walls of his house were falling around me. I’m not sure why I even came, although now that I’m here I can’t bring myself to leave. After the doctor talked to my aunt about some of the arrangements, the focus now on someone other than me, I fled. I walked the three miles to Nick’s house in a daze. After everything that has happened, he was still the one I impulsively went to when things went wrong. Of course, he was ecstatic that I was there at all, not knowing about what happened. The musty smell of his small flat assaulted my senses as I waited for Nick to come back with the tea. On any normal day I would have refused tea. But it wasn’t a normal day, and tea was going to do nothing but save Nick from seeing the tears that streaked down my face. To his credit, Nick didn’t push me for a reason why I was at his place. He just let me sit on his couch, while we listened to the Beatles.
‘What now?’ my body seemed to ask me, as ‘Blackbird’ began to play on the stereo.
I looked around the room. Save for the Metallica poster above the TV, the room was bare; Nick having only moved in a week prior. The black leather couch I was sitting on smelled of cleaner, the kind my mom used to mask the smell of Chewy, our twelve year old pug’s, pee. Thinking of mom made fresh tears start to fall down my cheek. As my eyes blurred from the tears, I noticed a red patch of clothing.
I rubbed my face with my sleeve and walked over to the corner of the room.
It was the red dress from the party. Though this one was sewn up where it had been ripped. Presumably by Nick. He was taking a sewing class with one of his friends at the community college down the street.
‘If I’m going to waste my time on something, it should be something useful,’ he had said as he was purchasing the supplies two weeks prior. Two weeks before he showed his true colours.
There was a heart at the front hip. Mom’s signature. This was definitely my dress.
‘I know you don’t really like chamomile, but this was the only kind of tea I have.’
Nick walked into the room holding the mug I gave him for his birthday, the one with the flowers, and a stack of papers. He was biting his lip, which made him look even younger than he was. His brown hair was pulled back into a small ponytail. I had tried to convince him for months to cut his hair, but he refused, saying that it ‘got him so much tail.’ I had laughed at the time. Something I could not imagine myself doing at that moment.
‘What’s this?’ I asked, knowing fully well what it was. I wanted to hear him say it.
I had thrown the dress out the day after that night.
‘It’s um –your dress,’ he said.
The dress was light in my hand. The silky part of the skirt caressed the palm of my hand. A brief reminder of my mom’s love and devotion. The chaos of the evening seemed a distant past as I sat on the leather couch of Nick’s new flat. The only sounds were my laboured breathes, and the washing machine in the kitchen. I had wanted to throw this silly pile of fabric, afraid that it would remind me of that night, but now all I could do is hug the material close to me. If, like Dorothy’s ruby slippers, I could whisper ‘there’s no place like home’ and mom would be alive and able to tell me what to do.
The tattered dress lay on the floor, glaring at me with its fancy sparkles. My makeup drips from my face, clouding my vision.
Three years of friendship.
The walls of my room look the same, but the feeling is different.
It had started out like any other drunken night.
‘I kind of want to tear this bookshelf down,’ I had said, with as much conviction as I could muster. The drinks were weighing down my brain. I had invited my football team to a party at my place and I had already drunk four pints of beer. Nick and I had gone up to my room so I could show him the stack of books dad’s girlfriend had sent me. They were still there, even though I had wanted to burn them. Or at least aim it at her perfectly manicured face.
‘I kind of want to tear you down,’ Nick had said from behind me.
Hoping that I was just hearing things, I turned my attention to the books. To this day, I’m not sure how Sheila had found out that my favourite book was ‘Dracula.’ I’ve never talked to my dad about my love for the book, and she would never have spoken with mom. The copy was a first edition, with the pages frayed from use. My ideal book was always those in which I could see its history.
I felt Nick take a step forward.
‘Did you hear what I said?’ He asked as his hands gripped my waist.
I swayed to the beat of the song on the radio. His hands seemed to bore holes in my sides. I had thought those hands were my protective guard from the outside world till just that moment. Now they are just a ball of lies my ex best friend made up to sleep with me.
I could feel his boner on the back of my dress and the moist feel of his lips on my neck. The dark angel poster above my desk was smirking at me. ‘Look at you,’ it seemed to have said. ‘You’re nothing but a piece of flesh to everyone. You don’t matter.’ The angel’s blue eyes scoured my face for any hint of defiance. In my head, he tilted his head and laughed in triumph.
‘Nick, stop!’ I exclaimed, as I became acutely aware of the menacing look on his face.
This wasn’t an act.
I had started to get chest pains and my breathing felt labored.
‘I know you’ve thought about this too. Let’s have some fun.’
His breathe was brushing against the nape of my neck. The smell of beer and weed heavy in the air around us.
‘You’ll enjoy it.’
His hand pressed my back forward, pinning me to the table. I could smell his cologne. The one I picked out for him. For his first date with Clara. The scent made me gag. He tore my dress apart from the back.
He was massaging my back when I heard a voice from the door.
‘Come on man! What are you doing? You wanted this just as much as anyone!’ Nick said, his voice sounding between a whine and a gloat.
Erick came into the room. His footsteps seeming to ricochet off the walls.
‘I didn’t think you were actually serious. Look, I know you wanted Gwen as much as anyone, but do you really think this is how it should be?’
I saw Erick’s hand in the periphery of my vision. Nick was still holding on to me, blocking my view of Erick.
‘Well, she’s never going to put out for me, so why not now? She keeps talking about this mysterious Owain guy. He probably won’t want her after I’m through with her.’
The dark angel seemed to laugh even harder in my head.
His hands were groping my butt when I felt a force tug Nick away.