Going Where It Takes You

Working from a writing prompt is an interesting business.  You never know what path the words will take.  Some things seem so straight-forward, but aren’t.  Take today’s prompt, for instance:  Tell me everything you know about coffee.

Simple, right?  I thought so, too.  As a rule, I don’t drink much coffee.  Oh, I might have a glass of iced coffee on a really hot day or a hot cup of joe doctored with some Irish creme on a cold night, but other than that, I’m a tea Nazi.

I was going to write about how I never developed a taste for coffee and the many levels on which I appreciate tea.  I was going to title the blog something like “Finding the Joy,” but the title stopped me dead and shoved my brain onto another track.  The word ‘joy’ did it.  That happens to me frequently now, because ‘joy’ is no longer only a word to me, but a name.

Joy was a classmate in the medical massage certification class I took a few years ago.  She was a small woman.  Delicately built.  Mouse quiet.  Unassuming.  It took a lot of effort to get her to talk beyond a whispered ‘hi.’  But she was passionate about massage, very good at it, and astute in figuring out what her medically frail clients needed from her.  She didn’t think so, of course.  Joy didn’t have a very high opinion of herself in any respects, which was too bad because she was very talented in many ways.

As months passed, Joy and I became friends . . . or as close to friends as she would allow.  We got together to exchange massage, to work on technique and talk about the field, to share our fears about the branch of massage we had both decided to pursue.  I did what I could to boost her sagging ego, but when someone is convinced of their own inferiority, it’s difficult to change their mind.

As time when on, Joy shared more of her personal unhappiness.  She was discontent in her role as wife and mother.  She felt that her husband and sons took her for granted, did not appreciate her, and did not really hear her when she spoke.  (I observed some of that directly and I have to say that was my impression as well.)  She was seeing a therapist about her problems and taking medication to help with depression, neither seemed to do much good.  She felt hopeless and uncertain of the future.  She wanted to leave her old life behind, but lacked the bravery to just walk away.

Then she found it . . . but not in a way that any of us had imagined.

Joy died a few months after graduation from the program.  The report that trickled down through the grapevine of classmates and teachers was that she had abandoned her broken-down car on a local road and was walking along the shoulder of the road when she was struck and killed by a bus.  It didn’t take long for other rumors to surface:  that a brand new bottle of pills — empty — was found in her purse.  That her car was not broken down.  That she had stepped in front of the bus on purpose.

What’s the truth?  I’ve no idea.  Accident and intent both seem plausible, but it doesn’t matter.  Gone is gone.  The questions left behind haunt only the living.  But in those moments when the word of Joy’s name pops up unexpectedly and waves a hand, I have to smile.  It feels like a greeting from the other side, Joy’s way of letting me know that she’s okay.


About Melissa Crandall

Longer ago than I care to admit--although I will--I cut my writing teeth on fanzines and media tie-in novels. Since then, I've moved on to narrative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and essays. I write to explore and understand the world around me, the things I see and experience nearby or from a distance. If I shake myself up, cool. If I shake you up, even better. Not gratuitously--what's the point in that?--but to set what I know, or think I know, on end and realize, "Well, doesn't it look different from this side!" My work is neither sexually explicit nor graphically violent. Let's face it - your imaginations will come up with things far worse than anything I could write, no matter how descriptive. Besides, it's just not my thing. I live in Connecticut with my supportive husband Ed, a cat named Ruby who might just think she's a dog, and an epileptic Australian shepherd named Holly who isn't quite certain anymore who she is, except she knows she loves her mommy.
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2 Responses to Going Where It Takes You

  1. Do you find any irony in Joy’s name? What would you make of it?
    This story is quite sad, yet also touching. It speaks to the power of rumor and speculation, as well as the power of depression and self-perception. It is my hope as well that Joy is happier on the other side!

    • I choose to believe that she is. Honesty, I never thought about any irony in Joy’s name, although I certainly see it now that you point it out. In some respects, the character Josephine in “Chocolat” reminds me of Joy — a woman whose dreams had been disappointed, who had learned to not hope for much….and yet constantly hoped for things to get better. I wish Joy had found the strength of self that the character comes to realize. Then again…perhaps she did.

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