The Scary Roommate, an excerpt

I heard her arrive, moaning so loudly I wanted earplugs. It seemed as if all hell had broken loose in my previously quiet, sterile environment.

Nurses pulled the curtain around my bed for rest and privacy, but that thin, flimsy, plaid, room-divider was a joke.

I lay in my bed at the back of the room, trying to mind my own business, but I overheard most everything through that pseudo curtain of privacy.

When the nurse asked her what had happened, the patient’s words came out swollen and muddled. Something was wrong with her mouth or jaw. I tuned into her language as if she had a foreign accent and found out her face had been cut so severely by the breaking glass of the car’s windows that it was affecting her speech. She cried, moaning between words, begging for pain medication the nurse said she couldn’t have yet.

She claimed her boyfriend had tried to kill her: they were riding in a car she was driving when he became furious with her, told her he should just kill her, and then yanked the steering wheel. The car rolled several times, and neither of them were wearing their seatbelts.

I felt my own jaw drop in horror. The nurse’s silence said that she was as incredulous as I. I continued to listen intently, while the nurse asked the appropriate questions.

The woman’s boyfriend, uninjured in the wreck, left her and the car at the scene of the accident. He walked away from her, leaving her lying in the mud by the car’s tire.

Her story startled me and shook my sense of safety.

The injured woman’s parents and toddler son came back into the room, and I heard them request that the boyfriend not be allowed to visit. The hospital, however, could only keep all visitors from coming in or none, because it was too hard to stop just one person.

I was unnerved, stunned that the possibility existed for him to come into “our” room, after trying to kill her.

The injured woman assured her parents that he wouldn’t show up anyway, and soon, they said their goodbyes and left.

We were all alone.

“Hey! You over there! Call the nurse in here!” she bellowed.

I froze.

We were each assigned our own nurse; there wasn’t one assigned to the room. I had been here long enough to know that much.

“There’s a big button to push on the side of your bed,” I answered meekly.

“I realize that,” she snarled. “It won’t work!”

I called my nurse. I could tell she wasn’t happy about needing to fetch my roommate’s nurse, but she did it. I was embarrassed and apologetic. After almost two weeks here, I knew how hard the trauma floor nurses worked taking care of so many patients.

My roommate moaned and wailed waiting for her nurse to arrive, after which she begged and cried for more pain meds. She must have gotten them, because she quieted some.

Her nurse left and we were alone again.

Then, her bedside phone rang. I heard her muffled, low “Hello?” Then the sounds of her crying. It was him. It was her boyfriend.

“You tried to kill me!” she screamed through swollen lips.

It got quiet as she listened to what he had to say.

Then she said she loved him, and that she wanted him here.

Wait—what? Was she crazy?

I was stuck in a bed, unable to walk, barely able to move, and fresh off my own trauma. And she was inviting someone who wanted her dead here to “our” room. What if he came to see her, they got into a fight, and I was the witness who needed silenced?

My newly healed heart fluttered in fear. I wanted out of that room.

I texted my mother—I didn’t call because I didn’t want my roommate to hear. Mom had been my advocate thus far, a constantly present force in the hospital every day. I was sure that once I explained the situation, she would take care of it.

I waited for her response text, which seemed to take forever. I knew she had gone out to eat with my uncle, but I also knew she would keep her phone nearby just for me. Her text back was nonchalant, not worried, an “Oh wow” response. I wished I could call her, but I didn’t dare take the chance.

Wait a minute. I was the only person who knew how I felt. My safety and peace of mind were being threatened after living through the most horrific trauma of my life. I was a grown woman who had also survived a heart attack. And I was entitled to be assured I would not die in a hospital room by the hands of some stranger’s maniacal boyfriend.

I had to take control, because this time I could. This time I could get away from another young man’s poor decision-making. I needed to talk to my nurse.

When she appeared, I motioned her closer there behind the curtain. She understood, moved to my side, and leaned down.

“I don’t want anyone to hear,” I whispered then explained my fears.

“I don’t blame you,” she whispered back. “I’ll see what I can do.”

She pulled the curtain back to take my vitals, long enough for me to see my roommate being wheeled out of the room for X-rays: she was young, her hair a ratted mess, and her face looked as if Dr. Frankenstein himself had sewn it back together.

Within minutes, the nursing supervisor came in to let me know they were moving me to another room. I had asserted myself when it mattered, spoken up for myself without someone else’s help, and it had worked.

Phew.

~from Permanent Marker: A Memoir, by Aimee Ross, out March 13, 2018. You can pre-order your own copy here.

 

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An Open Letter to Paige, a Former Student Who Believed in Me

Dear Paige,

As 2017 comes to a close, I want to take a moment to write this letter, thanking you for believing in me…even though it took me eleven years to make good on your faith.

I know you remember to what I’m referring, because that’s the type of English student you were: responsible, attentive, and conscientious. Thank you for being so. But since this is an open letter, and others won’t know, let me provide some background.

Back in 2006, as we were preparing for Christmas Break, you presented me with a gift. You had seen it while out shopping and thought of me, you said. I don’t remember if you had wrapped it or put it in a gift bag, but it doesn’t matter now. It was a book, something all English teachers love to get, gift or not! But this one was special, titled How to Write What You Want & Sell What You Write, a Barnes and Noble book by Skip Press. I think I might have even teared up—do you remember? 2880652

Anyway, inside the book, a Christmas card dated 12/19/06 read, “Here’s just something to help you get started! Whatever you decide to write will be great & I can’t wait to have my own copy!” you wrote. How glad I am that I’ve hung on to it until now.

Back then, I had no idea what I would decide to write, either, I just knew that one day, I wanted to be the author of my very own book—even though I didn’t write (unless blogging) on a regular basis. (What was I thinking!)

Life took its twists and turns, and a few years later, thinking I wanted to teach at the college level, I decided to get my master’s degree. When I found out that Ashland University offered an MFA—in what else?! Writing!—I was stoked. I had always wanted my master’s in a concentrated area, not education, and writing seemed like the ideal fit for me. I also had a story I had to get out of me, even if just for my own sake: that of my car accident a year before.

Who would have known that for the next five years I would work to craft that story, turning it into a memoir from which I hoped others could take inspiration? That memoir goes to the publisher within the month to become a book, Paige: a tangible, real-life, page-turning paperback that I am so very proud of. One which you believed in—ELEVEN years ago. (And wait until you see the cover! I could only dream of one so fitting. Okay…I’ll just include it here!)

perm-mark

Thank you, Paige, for believing in me before I even knew if I could do it. You were the first in a long line of students who gave me the confidence I needed over the last several years to write the book, and for that, I have endless appreciation. I can’t wait to return your 2006 Christmas gift with one of my very own.

With love,

Aimee Ross

The English Teacher’s Books

Five books I’ll never part with:

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. A teenage girl on a quest and an old man who once wrote a book. And the Holocaust is involved, too. I read it so fast that I truly digested it whole.

Half a Life by Darin Strauss. Half his life ago, he killed a girl. He’s spent the time since—while maturing and growing into a college student, husband, and ultimately father—dealing with the resulting guilt and shaping it into something he can live with. This is my mentor book.

Safekeeping: Some True Stories from a Life by Abigail Thomas. A memoir of bits and pieces, back and forth through time, one beautiful scene after the next that adds up to a masterpiece of one woman’s life. And somehow, I think we can all relate.

 Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow. I gave this book to my mom for Mother’s Day 2016 since she raised me on Little Golden Books. Three weeks later, she lost her fight against Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and passed away. Dad told me I should keep the book.

The Light Between Us: Stories from Heaven by Laura Lynne Jackson. A memoir about an English teacher who is also a psychic medium. She presents her life experiences and scientific research to help readers understand what she believes. And now I do, too.

Book I’ve faked reading:

Watership Down by Richard Adams and Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe: I co-teach a history/reading elective course, and the other teacher chose these books for our class. I tried…I really did…but blech. Also, almost anything written by Joseph Conrad (College summer class: studies in a major author. I had no idea it would be Conrad when I signed up. I passed the class with a ‘C,’ I think, by never missing a class while taking page upon page of notes as everyone else discussed.).

Book(s) I’m an evangelist for:

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Yes, I know it’s horrifying and post-apocalyptic. And yes, I agree, it’s devastatingly sad—yet poetic. But it might be my favorite book of all time (and one of the only books to ever make me cry). I love this book so much, I must teach it, and for so many, many reasons. I dare anyone with a son or a father to read this and try not to get the feels.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. The average teen today will tell you he doesn’t “get” this book, but then in discussion come to the conclusion that Holden Caulfield is, in fact, an average teen (of his time). Holden’s story gets a bad rap, because it’s a great one—and ultimately, I think we can all identify with him.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. When I first read this book in college, I knew that I had to teach it: amidst the ambiguity of a governess who might or might not be crazy, two children who may or may not be definitively evil, and ghosts of servants who may or may not be real, a delightfully haunting Victorian tale emerges. Unfortunately, I just can’t get students to agree.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. My senior English students were supposed to have this fairy tale/myth/legend/fable about Santiago, the shepherd boy, in search of his Personal Legend finished by yesterday. But most of them still aren’t done with it. I don’t get it, I really don’t. If I were six months from graduating and adulting was staring me in the face, I’d be cramming other people’s wisdom and advice as fast as I could. Or maybe I wouldn’t, now that I think about it. This book didn’t mean anything to me until I read it five years ago for the first time–because I wondered if I had found my Personal Legend. Sigh. The nature of youth and aging, right? Read this book if you haven’t, then get a hold of me.

KiCam’s Q & A with Yours Truly, Who’s Almost an Author!

What prompted you to write your memoir and share your very personal experiences with readers?

I had to understand what happened to me: Who had I been, and who did I become? I knew I was different. I knew something life-changing had happened to me, and I needed to understand how it had affected me so deeply. Sharing the experiences is education at its basic level—teaching and learning from each other. It’s so ingrained in me that I don’t know how not to share.

How did reliving your most painful experiences—a divorce, a heart attack, a near-fatal car crash—affect you? Did it feel therapeutic, or was it harder than you anticipated?

I’ve been working on this for more than six years, to tell the truth. When I first started writing, it was only about the accident. Before I knew it, the story of my divorce and heart attack was bubbling out of me without control. Within months, I realized that even though I’d chosen to get divorced, the heart attack and accident just happened to me; my first reaction was that karma was paying me back. Guilt made me wonder if I’d deserved all of what happened, and ultimately, that’s when I started asking the bigger questions of myself through writing that most definitely—as the book explains—became my therapy. I cried a lot and processed a lot. And thank goodness, because it worked. (But I’ve always believed in writing as a cathartic, insightful experience, says this veteran English teacher.)

Which writers and works inspired you to put your own story on paper? Who has influenced your writing style?

Darin Strauss’s Half a Life and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love both inspired me. Strauss experienced a traumatic accident as well, and as a result, he dealt with his guilt through writing his memoir—I took strength from that. Early in Gilbert’s book, she briefly writes about the end of her marriage, and it has always stuck with me.

My younger sister is a humor writer, and she’s been influencing and guiding my writing for years, no matter whether I was working on an essay, a lesson plan, a presentation, or an application. I’m also a huge fan of Abigail Thomas’s writing style, which I studied during my MFA. She writes almost conversationally, and she experiments with voice and chronology (or lack of) brilliantly. Both Jill Christman’s (Darkroom) and Cheryl Strayed’s (Wild) writing also have influenced my style and not just their books—both women are prolific essay writers with unique, straightforward creative voices.

What makes a great memoir? What advice would you give to other aspiring authors who might be struggling to get started with a memoir?

A great memoir, no matter the writer’s experience, makes you feel as if you have been through it with her. Not only does the writer have a voice that’s relatable and realistic, her story has universal qualities that help you identify with it while making you feel something.

After hearing the same advice over and over again, from editors, writers, and publishers alike, I decided, “Hey, maybe, they all know something I don’t (duh, Aimee),” so here it is: Figure out the story you want to tell and why it needs to be told. Then get it all out in writing. Every bit of it. After you do that, then you look for patterns and similarities and gaps, or ways you could experiment or change the structure.

What has been the most fulfilling part of the writing and publishing process for you?

For me, it has been the challenge of the writing itself: telling my story the best way I can and finding just the right words to say what I want. That gives me a tremendous feeling of satisfaction. When I can read something I’ve written over and over again in a quest for perfection and feel proud, that’s fulfilling, too.

What’s the primary takeaway you hope readers get from Permanent Marker?

Ultimately, I think we’re all asking the same questions of ourselves—Why am I here? What is my purpose in life? How do I get through this struggle?—and memoir is the perfect genre to find possible answers in others’ experiences to help us answer our own.

/in  /by 

Aimee Ross was living a perfectly normal life raising three kids, married to her high school sweetheart, and teaching at her high school alma mater. Life was perfect—right until it wasn’t.

Unhappy in her marriage, Aimee asked for a divorce. Three days later, she suffered a heart attack at age forty-one. Five months after that, she survived a near-fatal car crash caused by an intoxicated driver.

Her physical recovery took months and left her body marked by scars. The emotional recovery, though, would take longer, as Aimee sought to forgive the man who almost killed her—and to forgive herself for tearing apart her family.

Permanent Marker takes readers on a journey of healing, proving that from darkness can come new light, new love, and a renewed purpose for life.

Daylight Savings Time: An Extra Hour to…Blog? :/

So I have a little extra time this afternoon, and it’s time to catch everyone up on what’s been happening here!

  1. The book: is in its final galley edits, and from what I understand will head off for publishing mid-December. You can pre-order it or read an excerpt here: https://kicamprojects.com/shop/permanent-marker-memoir/

Darin Strauss, author of Half a Life, wrote a blurb for it–which I’m so excited about–and it will go on the cover somewhere. 🙂 Right now, I’m awaiting word from the Ohioana Book Festival for my inclusion, and guess what? A national organization wants me–yes me–as keynote speaker at their national conference this spring (I’m just awaiting “official” word)!

  1. School: We have just entered into our Canterbury Tales unit, and the storytelling competition will be sometime this coming week–yay! Each student takes on one of the pilgrims and tells his/her tale to the rest of the class in a competition a la the classic piece of Chaucer’s writing. Winner gets a gift card for food!! Also, in the homeroom pumpkin decorating competition, I’m pleased to say that ours–a version of Cinderella’s carriage after midnight has struck–won THIRD place! 110 pumpkin
  2. Home: Jackson and I decided to throw a Halloween party. Can you guess who we are?

    Cinderella and Phil

    Cinderella and her Prince Charming, Dr. Phil. 

  3. My beautiful daughter Natalie and her amazing boyfriend Ryan dressed up as Danny and Sandy from Grease, and then guess what? He surprised her with a proposal after dancing to “You’re the One That I want”! Of course, she said yes! An Autumn 2018 wedding is now being planned! 

A Haunting We Will Go

Once upon a dark and stormy night in early October, as lightning flashed and thunder grumbled (really—it’s no cliché), several Redbird ¹ staffers arrived at my doorstep for what is now—seventeen years later—one of the highlights of my teaching/advising career: a ghost hunting adventure!

The kids (mostly juniors and seniors) had asked if I would be willing to accompany them on their quest into the greater Mohican area to investigate local ghost legends and “haunts” for our autumn issue. I agreed to our foray into darkness for several reasons: one, it sounded like a good way to achieve “togetherness” (which every good adviser hopes for); two, I didn’t want my staff getting in trouble (trespassing) to get a story; three, because it had been a long time since my own adventure in ghostbusting; and four, because we had an upcoming extended weekend for the Loudonville Free Street Fair.

And so, I organized our field trip: I planned when and where to meet, packed up the emergency medical forms and cell phone, and waited to see who would show up. Who would have thought that fifteen teenagers would want to spend one of their NON-school fair nights traipsing through the woods in the rain and thunder with me, their teacher? I was impressed.

After we split up and piled into a couple cars, our tiny caravan left town, maneuvering the roads less traveled to head into the woods. I honestly can’t tell you where we drove to, because it was dark, it was a long, long way from the village and paved roads, and it was a property that someone in our group had talked to someone else about because he knew the owner who said he wouldn’t care if we took a look at this haunted house. Or something like that. (You know how teenagers ask permission.)

We parked, collected, and started walking, and when our parade of flashlights, whispers, and giggles had reached the destination, we were staring at the site of nothing less than The Blair Witch Project’s abandoned house. But someone had already been there—someone who knew we were coming. A small cross made of twigs was leaning against a tree, and the beaten-up hitching reins of a horse were on the ground surrounding a headless, naked Barbie doll. Sure, it sounds creepy now, but I wondered, as did the kids, if we had been set up.

Definitely not frightened, but not disappointed, either, we turned our attentions back to the old house and its graffiti’d barn, shuffling between them en masse while shining our flashlights to and fro hoping to catch a glimpse of something scary. Nothing happened.

“Where to next?” someone shouted, and teenaged voices criss-crossed over top of each other in the damp, eerie air, still palpable with ghost hunting curiosity and excitement. The kids were in agreement that more important areas were waiting to be investigated, and as we hustled back to our cars, someone mentioned a natural spring near where a murdered girl’s body had been found several years ago.

We decided to check it out, but when we arrived, no one would get out of the cars. The creepy ramshackle cabin and its surrounding craggy, barren trees not only looked sinister, the vibe they put off felt that way, too. This involved an actual killing and not some freaky legend that area teens pass around, so we left just as quickly as we had arrived.

cry baby bridge

We spent the next few minutes back on the road, heading to our main target—the BIG ONE, as far as local hauntings go—Cry Baby Bridge. Every town has one, and the stories are all mostly the same: supposedly, a small baby was sacrificed on the railroad tracks a long time ago by a local, weird cult, and at the stroke of midnight, if you drive your car under that bridge and turn off the engine, then go figure, it won’t start.

Now, by this point of the evening, I’d almost had enough. Yes, nothing had happened so far, but the whole feeling of that place gave me the creeps, especially after our last couple of teasers. We were out in the middle of this particular nowhere, and it was oh-so-very-quiet. We were also smack dab in the middle of the road, hoping not to get caught by any local law enforcement.

I encouraged everyone to go on ahead up on the bridge, while I stood by my car and waited. I could see every one of them clearly, and I knew—hoped—there would be no shenanigans at this late hour (approx. 10:50 p.m.). As we had already suspected, the supernatural world must have decided that our group was just too darn eager to be approached—skeptics are more fun to mess with, I’d guess—and again, nothing happened. No train noises, no babies crying, and no one being pushed from behind by a ghostly figure.

It was time to go home—in this particular instance, no news story about a haunted evening out with students was a good news story, I figured, and we could just chalk this one up to fun. Our group divided back into vehicles, and as the other one started to leave, I realized, believe it or not, that there, parked on the side of the road just feet from Cry Baby Bridge, my car wouldn’t start.

Instantly, panic struck at my heart. What was happening?

“Maybe you’re not using the right key,” Dan said from the back seat.

Beside me, Jason agreed. “Yeah, maybe you just locked up the steering column,” he said.

And in my head, I thought, Okay, true, but what if . . .

Our other vehicle pulled alongside me, and Elaine leaned out of the driver’s side window.

“You guys coming or what?” she asked, laughing at us.

“Uhhhh,” I started, already knowing how this would sound. “I can’t get my car started!”

The other car erupted into loud laughter, as Elaine said, “Ha ha ha. Real funny. Let’s go already.” And she drove away.

So there we were, in the dark, late at night, on the side of the road at a known scary and legendary place where cars aren’t supposed to start, half of my group had left, and there are three teenagers waiting on me, wondering what the hell is wrong with me and/or my driving abilities. (They seemed more frustrated and tired than scared out of their wits, as I was.)

I decided to try Jason’s suggestion one more time. I took a deep breath, moved the steering wheel ever so slightly, turned the key in the ignition, and realized that the overwhelmingly lung-crushing feeling that came from just a few moments of horror had gotten me to this—the climax of the evening.

And then the car started.

We laughed together, the group made fun of me the whole way back into town, and yet, I still sensed their collective relief that we had not encountered the ghost of Cry Baby Bridge. I admitted I had probably locked up the steering wheel when I first got in the car, but who really knows? For all of us, it seemed like the most plausible answer—maybe even the only answer.

The story ends there. My newspaper staff’s moral to the evening? Save your time and your sanity and just go to the fair. There’s probably more of a story there, because the Mohican area ghosts aren’t ready for large group tours yet.

My advice? If you are feeling middle age creeping your way, and you know you aren’t quite ready for it, try this: Take a group of teenagers out in the woods some creepy, stormy October night to look for ghosts and you might just find that you haven’t gone ‘over the hill’ yet at all.

The End

¹ The Redbird, the high school newspaper of Loudonville High School, Loudonville, Ohio. I was the adviser for 12 years.

Local Haunts Note: The real Cry Baby Bridge, at least for this area, can be found just off of state route 39, traveling east into Lucas from Mansfield (Richland County). Storytellers say that a woman named Mary Jane killed her infant son by throwing him from the bridge onto the tracks underneath, and if you visit the night of the murder—Halloween night—you can hear the cries of the baby. (Supposedly, this woman was also known as Bloody Mary, and the same Mary Jane who was considered a witch and buried under a tree marked with blood in a cemetery in Lucas; also known as Mary Jane’s grave.)

P. S. If any of you out there also remember this fun night, let me know!

14 Misconceptions about Teaching High School Seniors

  1. They act their age.

Hah. Only if the true age range of seniors in high school is anywhere from 5-13. Maybe 15. Sometimes 17. Yeah, okay. And 18, too.

  1. They’re too old for candy, bubble gum, or cookie rewards.

No one is ever too old for candy, bubble gum, or cookies. Or ice cream, or cake, or chips, or granola bars, or fruit snacks, or…you get the idea.

  1. They don’t care about saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

Yes, yes they do. And some will argue with those who don’t stand for it, cross their heart for it, or say it.

  1. Senioritis doesn’t kick in until after Spring Break.

Riiiiiiiight. Contrary to this outside-of-school popular belief, senioritis kicks in sometime during their junior year. Trust me.

  1. They just come to school because they “have to.”

Hah. Seniors still heart school. Ask them.

  1. They spend more time on Snapchat than truly talking to their friends.

Nope. Most of them spend their time together sharing stories and laughing ABOUT snapchat—more than they do snapping.

  1. They complain relentlessly about school lunches.

Not really—they actually LOVE mashed potato bowl day and ask to go to lunch early!

  1. They’re great big bullies who pick on underclassmen.

Most of them only pick on the underclassmen that need set straight before they catch the school on fire or poop on the restroom floor or trash a building on a field trip.

  1. Friday Fun Day isn’t fun any longer. Especially after twelve long years. And especially in Senior English.

Friday Fun Day is ALWAYS fun, even after twelve long years, and especially in Senior English.

  1. They don’t care about school spirit or leading the student body.

Wrong: they create the absolutely palpable buzz of both!

  1. They won’t read a book or write a paper or do their homework any longer.

You just have to find the way in, because yes, they will. Especially if they love the class.

  1. They’re scary to anyone 10th grade level or lower.

Okay, that’s not a misconception. I’ll concede that one.

  1. Eight o’clock in the morning is a perfectly reasonable time to discuss Beowulf and the epic poetry of Anglo-Saxon culture.

No, no it’s not. Not for seniors, and not for the teacher. Phew.

  1. Seniors in high school are apathetic, lazy teenagers who have no respect for anything or anyone.

Not the teenagers I’m around on a daily basis. They make me laugh, make me feel alive, and make me so happy to still be teaching after all these twenty-five years. (And to all my former seniors reading this, I miss you!)