A week ago today, my short story, “Don’t Ball the Boss,” was published in one of my favorite literary magazines, Stoneslide Corrective. I’d been waiting months for the big unveiling, and when I saw my story (mine) flash across the homepage, I was thrilled. Then, something unexpected happened.
Well. I mean, nothing happened.
I don’t know if I expected a call from Stephen Colbert, inviting me to be on his show. Maybe a couple literary agents on my front stoop, begging to sign me? Helicopters circling my house?
Nope. Nothing. Radio silence.
I thought publishing was supposed to make me happy. Getting my work out there was supposed to make me complete. Instead, despite the honor of publication, I felt empty.
The next morning, my Aunt Susie and I headed to Prescott, where we wandered the streets and ate too much food. As we passed through the center square, a young woman in a woolen cap asked me if I had any cash. I lied and said “No, sorry,” but I did give her a cigarette, which made her smile.
Susie headed back to our hotel for a nap, and I made a sudden decision. I found the young homeless girl (along with her husband) and said, “Can I buy you guys a beer?” They wouldn’t have been more shocked if I’d offered them a mansion in the Hollywood Hills.
Beverly and Josh took me to the Whiskey Row Pub: a great dive with tons of TVs and pool tables. Once there, I bought us a round of PBRs. Beverly and Josh explained that they’d both lost their jobs as bartenders and were currently sleeping behind a dumpster—hiding as best they could to avoid a police fine (because it makes so much sense to fine people who can’t afford to sleep indoors).
With wet eyes, Josh kept saying, “You’re so cool.” I slipped Beverly as much cash as I could afford, and even though she refused a couple times, she eventually accepted when I told her, “You have to eat.” Last I saw them, we were hugging on the street, and they were headed to Vegas to seek greener pastures. I wish I had taken their picture.
I haven’t stopped thinking about Beverly and Josh. I gave her one of my business cards, but did I do enough? They reminded me of the hitchhiker I picked up weeks ago who couldn’t afford a ride to Perryville Prison to see her incarcerated daughter for her thirtieth birthday. That woman, Karen, got in my car and couldn’t stop crying, saying, “Thank you, thank you,” until I thought her vocal chords might give out. I had to calm her down before she could go into the prison, because the officers aren’t really fans of hysterics.
In church yesterday, my pastor talked about the story in Luke of the four friends who carried their paralyzed buddy to the roof and lowered him into a crowded room just so Jesus could touch the guy—which sent me into a complete panic because again, I thought of Beverly and Josh: Did I do enough? Did I do enough? God, I didn’t do enough.
I’m sorry to say work has taken a back seat the past couple days. Although I’m still thrilled to see my name on the Stoneslide Corrective website, the past week has made me rethink what matters. Do I want to be interviewed by Stephen Colbert due to my obvious literary genius? Of course. But as I’ve learned, the buzz of celebrity lasts about as long as a mug of PBR.
The ache in my chest for Beverly, Josh, and Karen has lasted for days and shows no sign of ceasing. I might pick up hitchhikers. I might hang out with the homeless. I might run a book club at Perryville Prison. But I’m not doing enough, not enough lasting good. Not yet.
I will seek ways to serve people and not my ego, because serving my ego makes me feel nothing but a short-lived bump. Our egos cannot be filled. Our egos are bottomless pits that consume and consume. But doing something for someone in need? That feeds the divinity in all of us, and if we do enough, maybe the hunger—the constant striving—will cease. Maybe we will feel whole.
For now, my thoughts are with Beverly and Josh as they travel north. I know they got to take a shower Friday, and this thrilled them when we spoke Tuesday afternoon. I hope they’re all right. God, please let them be all right. I’m sorry I didn’t do more.