The first two months of living with her were the best. It turned out she was a freelance writer that worked from home and made decent money. She wrote about politics and occasionally did movie reviews when she had the time. I told her I wrote poetry and she said she wanted to read my work. I wrote a poem called Locked in The Closet describing my experience in the orphanage and gave it to her to read. I turned to go to my room, and she grabbed my arm and held it while she read.
The warmth of her hand was soothing. I saw the sadness consume her face like shadows consuming the light at sunset. A tear dropped from her face and she was speechless at first, then, she pulled me into her arms and hugged me the same way the staff member did when she saw the words worthless nigger and you should’ve stayed in your mother’s cunt on the walls. Her bosom was warm and soft and smelled of lavender, just like that staff member.
She asked if I ever entered my work into writing contests and I told her I did, that I’d won a couple of trophies and writing certificates back at the orphanage. She smiled with tears still dripping from her face.
As the months went by, she taught me how to write sonnets, blank verses, golden shuffles, and narrative poetry among other forms. She made me go over drafts again and again until they were either short and powerful or long and thoughtful. She watched me as I looked through the Writer’s Digest magazine, wrote and stamped envelopes, and walked to the mailbox and put them in.
She forbade me from going out there and taking them out.
One day, while I was writing poetry and she was washing the dishes in the kitchen, I got thirsty and went to get a drink. When I got in the kitchen, I saw a black aura surrounding her; it was thick, smoky, and dark and smelled of death and decay. She was whistling a tune without a care in the universe. I closed my eyes and opened them, and the aura was gone as if it’d never been there at all. She looked back and flinched.
“Oh my god, Rudy.” She said with her hand on her chest. “You scared the living Christ out of me.”
“Sorry,” I said as I made my way to the fridge and pulled out a bottle of water.
“So, how goes the poetry?”
I sighed and shook my head.
“That bad, huh?” She said then smiled. “You know what that means?”
I shook my head again.
“It means you’re a writer.”
We smiled at each other for a moment then I turned and went back to my room, not knowing that’d be the last time I’d see her alive.
The next night she died in a car accident while coming back from the grocery store—which was three miles from the cabin. She left while I was still in bed, looking at the ceiling. A drunk college kid in a dusty gold Chevy Tahoe was having a night on the town with his girl and a couple of buddies, swerving recklessly down the back road while Stella was driving home and obeying the speed limit.
She came up to a stop sign and looked both ways then went when the college kid sped around the corner and hit her blue Toyota Camry dead center, killing her instantly. I’d just finished writing a poem called A Sudden Crash. I found out when I got out the shower and turned on the T.V., her blue Camry looked like a person entering the fetal position and the Tahoe looked like an accordion. They showed the faces of the people injured and then the one fatality.
I dropped the remote and stood there in shock, mouth agape, eyes watering. My knees gave out and I fell on them hard but didn’t notice, all I could do was watch helplessly as tow trucks and paramedics crowded the scene and got Stella’s mangled and lifeless body out of the car and onto the stretcher. They showed Stella’s face again and she was smiling, those deep-set blue eyes brimming with life with white teeth to complement them.
I knew what I had to do next, but I couldn’t. My legs refused to cooperate. My arms were in better spirits, though. They listened to me when I instructed them to pick up the remote and turn off the T.V.
I left the cabin thirty minutes later and never returned.
In March 2003, I met a man named Stan Jackson. A tall, dark, and handsome man with jet black hair that went down to his shoulders and light brown eyes that had a way with the ladies. He worked at an ad agency where he had to come up with catchy slogans for clients or companies like Low price, high quality and Check out Zeal’s and seal the deal!
Before I met Stan, I was homeless. Living in train cars and stations, taking up residence in the abandoned houses and then getting kicked out by construction companies with government contracts, living under freeways and bridges, and inhaling tobacco, asbestos, and other cancer-inducing chemicals. I also did some work off the books at local restaurants, washing dishes and taking out trash for a few extra dollars. I even sold drugs on occasion and made quick five hundred dollars—which I spent on food over a long period of time, eating only one meal a day.
I was sitting on the sidewalk in Times Square—after a twelve-mile walk—tired and exhausted when Stan came along and read my sign which said if you gave me a dollar, I’d write you a poem. Stan gave me a dollar and I got out the sheets of paper and pen—which was running out of ink—I’d been carrying at the time and got to writing. The poem was called A Sudden, Painful Death. I handed it to him, and he read it in front of me.
“This is pretty good,” he said, “dark, but pretty good.”
I nodded and he walked away, a few minutes later he came back with a BLT and a bottle of iced tea.
“I read your poem again and I must say,” he smiled, “it’s worth way more than a lousy dollar.”
I nodded and bowed from my sitting position.
He said his company was looking for more writers for the creative department and asked me if I wanted a job. I looked up with dumb gratitude and nodded firmly. He told me to come with him and I did. He gave me the BLT and iced tea and went to the store and got a bacon, egg, and cheese and a coffee for himself.
We sat outside in the freezing cold and talked for hours. I told him my story and he listened intently, and he told me his and I did the same. He gave me money for a hotel room at the Night Hotel and asked me what size suit I wore, I told him I didn’t know. He said it was no problem and gave me some more money to at least get a pack of tee shirts, and I did.
A week later, I was working under Stan as an apprentice at an ad agency called QuickAd’s Inc., an agency that promised to deliver ads to clients and companies within twenty-four hours or less.
The place was always moving, changing, evolving. People never sat idle, assistants flashing in and out to get people their coffee, people sitting in small conference rooms looking at a projection screen, piles of magazines stacked on top of low, gray coffee tables, people at the water cooler talking about random things.
It was a whole different world. Stan took me up to the sixteenth floor and into a small room with a plaque on the side of the door that said QuickAd’s Creative Department. He opened the door and motioned me to go in first, I went in.
The room was medium-size and messy. Piles of magazines sat atop shelves attached to the walls, coffee cups filled the trash can, magazines splayed across the keyboard, the sink to the left was filled with dishes and styrofoam containers from Chinese takeout, and the mixed smells of chicken and broccoli, chow mein, and other spoiled meats and veggies took me for a loop—even though I’d smelled worse.
“I know,” he sighed, “not exactly the cleanest room in the world but it gets the job done once it does get cleaned.” he grinned at me, “which is our first order of business. You ready?”
I grinned back and nodded.
“Alright, let’s do it.”
We cleaned the room and began working on slogans for ads.
The first few months went splendidly. We sold ads like nobody’s business and the company became a known name. Stan said I had the potential to be head of the Creative Department within two years if I kept going at this rate. Every slogan and jingle I came up with was a hit for the clients, especially when they rhymed.
When I wrote A little bit of this, a little bit of that, buy Lisa Crafts and keep coming back, the client, Lisa Campbell, reported that her business increased by one hundred percent. When I wrote Looking for a place to get your fill? Try a burger at Famous Grill, the owner reported that he was booked for the next six weeks at least and gives a million thanks to whoever came up with the slogan.
I got an apartment on West 4th Street through someone Stan knew for a good price, $1,000 a month. I bought a laptop and continued writing poetry when I wasn’t creating ads. Stan often visited on his days off and read my work. He’d also ask if I considered selling my poems to Magazines and I said I hadn’t.
He said he knew of a literary magazine called Deadman’s Tales and thought my work might be a good fit since I wrote about death a lot. I said I’d give it a try, but he pushed me to do it right then, in front of him, and that caught me off guard. It also reminded me of Stella, her smiling face on the news moments after her death, those deep-set blue eyes, and those white teeth. I hesitated a moment then found my resolve and wrote four more poems and sent them to Deadman’s Tales.
Stan watched the entire time.
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