Prompt: Characters With Needs

Here's a piece from a recent writing workshop in which we were prompted to write about needs--because what character doesn't have needs, and needs really drive a plot. In this case, the characters are real (me and a man), and the experience is recent. In essence, neither of us got our needs met so much as learned more about what they actually are. Enjoy!

"I look at her, play with her and feel nothing," his eyes rolled down to the ledge on which we sat, probing it.

"What do you think you see, though, when you look at her?"

"Nothing," his shoulders rose and fell with the syllables and his voice rose a notch. "I see a five year-old girl."

"Does she have your eyes? Your smile? Your mannerisms?"

"I don't recall. I don't really know."

His body language, tone of voice, everything said that he needed to share, to be understood but then to be left alone about the issue.

There we were, at the edge of the sea, chatting. The wind blew our eyes to squinted glances. Thoughts raced. The sea seemed small compared to what we approached with minds drifting on suggestions toward the precipice of a great void in his life--a swirling current of guilt about this little being. This girl who has half of his DNA and a rich mother who doesn't need a man to tend to it.

What's more was my personal sense of restraint, having been left by my mother at age two. All I wanted to do, in fact, was grab him by the collar and shake him violently. To scream "Love her goddamn it! Before it's too late, love her! You have no idea how much hurt this is causing!"

And so he must have felt that his longing for complete understanding fell on partially deaf ears. For I could only listen with my heart, and it cried at a low frequency for the love of a parent, all these years. A parent who behaved exactly the same way.

Unconsciously, the support we sought in each other was sabotaged, for as we became increasingly comfortable talking on everything, we realized each other as alien.

Fast-forward a month, and a few of his 'harmless' flirtations with other girls on facebook, later.

"I'm sorry, this can't work." I texted and hit send before I could second guess myself--more like 500th guess myself at this point. The talk, the plans, the shared values, it was all so good but this cheap behavior, this wasn't right.

"Beep"--I leapt up and grabbed the phone, fumbling with the buttons to read his response.

"First of all, Hi. Next, what are you talking about? I'm in a meeting ..."

I built on the momentum of my earlier display of bravery.

"It's okay, just leave my DVD at my apartment front office and I'll leave your t-shirt in a labeled bag for you there. They're open until 7 I think." Send.

It took only a couple more messages to kill the thing dead.

"At least tell me what this is about."

"It's okay, I know enough and that's enough ... please be kind because this is business now. Think about it and maybe you will see in time."

"As you wish. But you know what honey, you don't have to tell me because at least I'm sure of myself."

I couldn't respond, was socked in the chest, cried, thought "how dare he make me cry," stopped crying and took some time to formulate my last response.

"Hello. You are sure of yourself--congratulations, because that is important. But I'm sure of myself too--our styles are different; a relationship is an investment to me. All the Best to You." Send. Erase all messages from him, all contact numbers, all facebook flirtations and video clips, burn sticky notes, drop t-shirt off at office. Clean.

Later on, I sat in a tub of warm water and thought, and cried, peeling the layers of our conversations and memories away like the increasingly powerful layers of an onion--eyes stinging, nose running. The Longpigs "On and On," on repeat, helped expedite this process.

Soon, though, there was no more onion left. What remained was a clear idea:

While I could understand his dilemma, like I've practiced 35 years to understand my mother's, I had a choice this time. And I have far better things to do with the next 35 years of my life than help someone track down their sense of responsibility.