I got to Advanced Fiction Workshop today to find much of the class very excited about something. I asked what was going on and someone told me that the guy who hated my story dropped the class! She talked to him earlier and apparently he was too overwhelmed with the work or something. It made my day! I only wish that we would have gotten to read his story, which we were supposed to critique next week.
This is the story that I wrote for my Advanced Fiction Workshop class a few weeks ago, the same one that a certain guy in my class brutally critiqued. I thought I’d post it here so you guys can read it! Let me know what you think! I apologize in advance for the formatting issues. WordPress didn’t like that I copied and pasted this from my word processor.
Alaska Avenue was located on the outskirts of town, amidst the abandoned factories and parks with broken swings. It was parallel to Mississippi Road and was framed by California and North Dakota Streets. This was perhaps the most interesting aspect of Mayer, Illinois, the fact that all the streets in it were named after states. Every state was represented, with the exception of Wyoming, and no one was sure why that particular state was left out. The theme of the roads was often a source of confusion for outsiders, whom when asking where people lived received replies like ‘New York’ or ‘Montana’.
For the townspeople, there was nothing confusing about it. Everyone instantly knew quite a bit about another simply by knowing what street they lived on. If you lived on Massachusetts Lane, which was located on the north side of town, everyone figured you lived in a rather large home, drove a somewhat expensive car like an Audi or a Lincoln, and played golf on the weekends. As you traveled south, towards Maine Street, the houses grew smaller and closer together. The smallest of the houses were on the other side of Maine Street, and the smallest of those were on Alaska Avenue. Most people didn’t set much in store by Alaska Avenue. They passed it, ignoring its dilapidated residences and overgrown front lawns, while thinking about their own lives. But to the inhabitants of Alaska Avenue, it was home.
“You’re crazy, Holly, you know that, right?” Natalie exclaimed for what must have been the tenth time since we had left school.
“You came with me,” I pointed out.
It was not the best day for driving. There was a torrential downpour that was too fast even for the highest speed of the windshield wipers. Visibility was slim to none and the water was halfway up the tires on the car next to me, but I still kept going. It was just a flash flood and would be over soon enough, unless of course the river flooded. I couldn’t pull over anyway; I had to keep going. Nothing would stop me, especially something as insignificant as a little precipitation.
“I’ve driven in rain before,” I added.
“This isn’t rain, it’s a flood!”
As soon as I had heard the news I’d thrown a weekend’s worth of clothes into my backpack and hopped in my old beat up Chevy Nova. I hadn’t even made it off campus before Natalie, my roommate, called to ask how my Chemistry test had gone. I told her I was sure I had bombed it and that I had to go home. For whatever crazy reason, she insisted that she go with me and for even crazier reasons that only God himself knew, I turned around to get her. Mom told me not to come, that there was nothing I could do, that the decision was already made, but I didn’t listen to her. Instead I swung by the gas station to stock up on fuel for myself and the car for the two hour trip from college back to Alaska Avenue. What I did not do was check the weather report ahead of time, which was why I was now driving thirty miles per hour on the highway, following a tractor trailer adorned with a sign informing me that it was carrying toilet paper.
Mom didn’t know I was coming. When I had hung up the phone, she was under the impression that I was going to go to the library to do a few lab write-ups. Personally, I didn’t see the point in doing them since I was already failing the class, but that was another thing I did not want to tell her. She wouldn’t be pleased when I showed up at the front door, but really, she had no control over what I did. I was eighteen; I could do what I want, and what I wanted was to go home. Besides, what did she really expect me to do when she told me that? Go study the periodic table of the elements like nothing had happened?
Alaska was about to join the ranks of Wyoming, meaning that Alaska Avenue was not going to exist anymore. Just thinking about it made my eyes start to tear up, although it was hard to notice with all the water that was running down my windshield. Mom’s words kept ringing in my ear. “They want to put up a new strip mall. Everyone on the street’s been offered money for their houses. They’ve been offered more money than they’re worth. I had to do it, honey, I had to do it.” I had to do it, I thought, I had to do it. No, Mom, you did not. She did not have to sell the house I had grown up in and allow the street I called home to be destroyed by an impersonal corporation. They weren’t even going to keep the street name! The new strip mall was going to be so huge that it would take up the whole street be renamed Mayer Plaza.
It was just so unbelievable that everyone had actually agreed to this. All of my neighbors loved that street, which was something none of the rest of the town understood. We liked the old playground in between numbers three and seven, with its rusted jungle gym and squeaky swings. Where would the kids play now? Sure, the kids on Alaska Avenue would have to move, but what about the kids on California and North Dakota? The nearest playground was a few streets away, on Arkansas, which was too far away for parents to allow their children to go to alone. How could my neighbors allow this? How could my mom allow this? The answer, of course, was money. Money was the one thing lacking on Alaska Avenue.
It never bothered me growing up. There was always enough money to put food on the table and clothes on my back, and even the occasional movie at the dollar theater. Sure, I’d had to share a room with my little sister, Ashtyn, but we got along most of the time. To me, the memories I’d had on Alaska Avenue were worth far more than any sum my mom was offered for our house.
“I think I’m going to switch majors,” I said suddenly.
“Wait, what?” Natalie asked.
“I want to switch majors,” I repeated. The idea had been in my head for a few weeks, ever since I got my first taste of chemistry labs.
“Your mom is going to kill you.”
“It’s my life.” That was easier said than believed. As long as I could remember, Mom had been pushing science on me, so much that by middle school I had even begun to think I liked it. I had even breezed through high school chemistry, thinking that it was fun because I was good at it. The truth was, as soon as I was met with a challenge in it, I hated it. “I want to switch to history.”
“But history is so hard,” Natalie said.
“Yes, but that’s what makes it fun,” I explained. There was the thing that had sealed the deal for me. I enjoyed the challenge of history. “My mom’s not going to be happy.”
“No she’s not. So why are you bothering to go home? Wouldn’t it be better to stay at school as long as possible? Tell me why you have to do this again,” Natalie said. “It’s a house, your mom will get another one.”
I gripped the wheel harder. “It’s where I grew up, Natalie. My life is in that house.”
“I just don’t get it.” Natalie sighed and pulled her seat belt tighter as we hit a pot hole and a wave of water gushed up over the hood.
No, Natalie, you don’t, I thought.
I grew up in number six Alaska Avenue, one of the bigger houses on the street. It had two bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom, a living room, and even a little office which my mom turned into a playroom for my sister and I. It was cozy and Mom always made sure it was decorated for whatever holiday was nearest. It was the house I’d taken my first steps in, had the chicken pox in, and opened my college acceptance letter in. In fact, nearly everything significant that had happened to me could be traced back to Alaska Avenue.
I’d broken my arm in front of number eight on my first two-wheeler, during its maiden voyage, when I was seven. My first best friend used to live in number three, until she moved when we were six. Mom spent hours trying to teach me to parallel park on various neighbors’ cars while they watched from their windows. My first boyfriend had asked me out in the playground while little kids ran around us laughing and playing, and then broken up with me on my front stoop. Yes, my whole life had taken place on Alaska Avenue and even now that I was in college, there was something comforting about knowing it was still there, waiting for me whenever I needed a familiar place.
The cracks in the road in front of my house formed an almost perfect hopscotch grid and my sister and I would spend hours playing a slightly messed up version of the game. It was those same cracks that my sister tripped over on her rollerblades when she was eight, causing her to need nine stitches on her cheek, which now bore a scar that was shaped like an odd strawberry. Unfortunately that had resulted in Mom complaining to the town about the lack of proper pavement and a few weeks later a pavement truck filled in our hopscotch board.
It was things like that that made the street so special to me. Maybe it was because I’d never moved that made me so attached to it. Natalie had moved every two years because her dad is in the military and she told me that she hardly bothered to memorize each new home phone number, let alone get attached to her house or street. She had lived in twelve different states, Germany, and Guam. She’d been to places I had only seen pictures of. I was never once jealous, though. I would never give up my childhood on Alaska Avenue for one spent gallivanting all over the world.
The rain started to let up as we exited the highway. I glanced at the river as I slowed to a stop at the end of the ramp and saw it was rushing as rapidly as ever. I sighed and stared at the license plate of the truck in front of me. It read ‘l8rg8r’. It was nearly four in the afternoon; I had made awful time because of the rain.
“So all the streets are really named after states?” Natalie asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Alaska was probably my favorite state of all the ones I’ve lived in,” she mused.
What was even worse than the fact that Alaska Avenue was going to be turned into a strip mall was the fact that Mom never told me when she found out. It was a completely done deal and had been for weeks. Mom had bought a new house, all of our belongings were packed, and the moving truck was being packed up that day. Actually, it was probably all packed. I’d be lucky if I got to see the tail end of it leaving the street as I drove up. How could Mom do that? How could she hide it from me? I knew the answer before I even finished thinking the question. Mom wanted to move, she wanted that money, and she did not want me to screw it up for her. Ashtyn and I both knew that Mom’s biggest dream was to move off of Alaska Avenue and into a modest three bedroom house on Mississippi or Indiana.
The light finally changed and I followed the l8rg8r truck through the puddles and onto Kentucky, and then I took a left onto Maine.
“Maine Street with an ‘e’.” Natalie giggled. “That’s creative.”
A few streets later and I was turning onto Alaska. There it was, looking very different than it had when I left for school a few months prior. The houses looked the same and the playground looked the same, but there was a certain emptiness about it. The old Dodge Dart that had been sitting in the driveway of number six for as long as I could remember was no longer there. The wooden swing that hung from the tree in front of number ten was gone. Nearly everyone had already moved and the only sign of life was the moving truck parked in front of my own house.
There were men moving boxes of stuff into the truck while my mom stood off to the side. My sister was standing next to her, and as I pulled into the driveway I saw she looked as sad as I felt. Mom was staring at my car.
“Want me to wait here?” Natalie asked.
“That would probably be best,” I answered. I got out of the car and I just glared at Mom, daring her to say something about my being there, daring her to tell me to turn around and go do my chemistry labs..
“Holly,” Mom said as I went to stand next to my sister. She was wearing the same disappointment combined with a small amount of anger look that she wore when she found out I’d cut French class in tenth grade.
“Don’t,” I muttered. “Just don’t.”
“I thought you had a chemistry test today,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest.
“I already took it, and if you really want to know, I’m sure I failed it.”
Mom shook her head. “Holly, you have to work harder! I don’t want you to throw away your chance at a college education. You know I didn’t have that opportunity.”
“I know, you’ve told me no less than twenty times!” I shouted. “It’s just hard. You don’t know how hard it is.”
“Well, you’ll just have to study harder next time.”
“I’m switching majors,” I told her. Might as well get it all out at once, I thought.
“We’ll discuss this another time.”
“Fine,” I muttered.
She didn’t say anything else, and neither did I. Instead we just stood there, watching as the movers transferred the contents of our house, of my childhood, into the truck. Once they were done, one of them came over and said something to my mom, who then turned to us.
“Ashtyn,” Mom said to my sister. “We’re going to the new house now, come on.”
Ashtyn turned to look at me before silently walking to Mom’s car. Mom looked at me. “Come on, Holly, let’s go to the new house. We can talk.”
“No,” I replied. “I just can’t.”
“Well, we’re number seven, on Indiana, if you want to meet us there later.” She gave me a quick hug that I did not return and then got into her car and turned into the street. The truck followed and I watched as they disappeared, making one final turn off of Alaska, towards Indiana where Mom would be able to live the life she had always dreamed of.
A few of my neighbors were there. I still called them my neighbors, even though we had not lived together on Alaska Avenue for nearly three months. They would always be my neighbors. I was there, standing a safe distance beyond the yellow caution tape that the construction workers had set up.
I had driven home from school just to watch. Natalie hadn’t gone with me. She was at her own house, busy helping her parents prepare to move to California, where her dad was getting stationed next month. Mom did not know I was there and I hoped to keep it that way. She showed no sentiment towards our house or Alaska in general, unlike Ashtyn and I. That was her choice, just like it had been my choice to switch majors. Mom hadn’t said a word about it since the move and I could still sense her disappointment. The only reason she hadn’t said anything about it was because she knew she couldn’t do a thing about it. I didn’t care. My grades were significantly higher now that I was no longer taking chemistry classes and best of all, I was actually enjoying school.
I heard slight footsteps behind me and turned to see Ashtyn, making her way slowly towards me. She looked as she did the day we moved, although I knew she was beginning to adjust to the new house and to the new street. She stood next to me, but neither of us felt the need to say anything.
The construction workers were shouting back and forth to each other. Then it started. The excavator made its way towards number one, a tiny dilapidated house that was hardly more than a shack, but had been home to an old lady and her five cats, and sunk its arm into the roof. It backed up and there was now a hole where there had once been a roof. Then it went back, again, and again, until the house was gone.
Ashtyn and I watched as the construction workers destroyed every house on the street. It did not take nearly as long as I expected. I thought they would take days to destroy Alaska Avenue, but instead it only took them one. It only took them one day to destroy the place I had lived my whole life. No one was thinking about those who had used to live there. No one was thinking about the children who had grown up there. No one except Ashtyn and I and the few neighbors standing alongside us. To everyone else, Alaska Avenue was just an old street that was about to become a strip mall. To me, the street closest to the river, in the town of Mayer, Illinois, would always be the street I grew up on, the street named Alaska Avenue.
Last week my story was up for critique in my Advanced Fiction Workshop class. I felt I had written it well and wasn’t at all worried about the critique or my grade. When I first started taking Creative Writing class I got really nervous about the in class critiques, but I no longer get extremely nervous about them. Half the people in my class this semester were in my class last semester and we’ve all gotten to know each other, so it’s nice.
Most people seemed to like my story and while they had some constructive criticism for me, the critique was going well. However, one guy in my class (he’s in his 40s, I think), absolutely hated it! He pretty much told me the characters were flat, there was no plot, and it was generally a bad short story. I was completely stunned because while people do offer criticism, they do so nicely. This guy was completely rude about it, to the point that my friends were getting really mad and arguing with him and defending my story.
His written critique was even worse, telling me that I need to “consider the type of work I am turning in to an advanced fiction workshop class” and “this just did not make the grade”. He really had nothing nice to say at all. When I critique stories, I always try to find at least one thing I can compliment the writer on, even if I do not like their story. It’s just a polite and nice thing to do. Plus, it really was out of line for him to tell me it “did not make the grade”. It’s not his place to do that. He’s not the professor. He also gave me his copy of my story that he had read and it was written up and he had even written “awful” and “ugh” in the margins. If you want to do that, fine, but don’t hand it to the person who wrote it. He did the exact same thing to another girl’s story and gave her practically the same critique he gave me.
However, apparently my story did make the grade because I got an A- on it!
Then, yesterday, we were critiquing one of my friends stories (he was in my class last semester) and two of my other friends and I complimented him on his ability to describe the setting of his stories really well. We brought up one of his stories from last semester and compared them because they both took place in the same town. The guy who insulted my story the previous week was quite outraged that we were bringing up a previous story. He told us it was completely inappropriate and horrible that we were doing that. He said my friend’s previous stories were completely irrelevant to the class.
What? Of course they’re relevant! One aspect of writing is improving your writing and it’s good to compare one story to a previous one to see where people improve. Plus, the two stories were somewhat connected by their shared setting. Another friend was really mad that he had said that and started defending herself, saying that the comparison was relevant, and I agreed. Even the teacher pointed out that we were free to compare the stories if we wished. He quickly changed the subject, but otherwise we would have had an all out shouting match during class.
It just seems like something like this is going to happen every week now. I just can’t wait to read his story.