This is my good-bye post for The Real LJ Idol competition. Thank you for all the support throughout the season. I'm really proud of what I accomplished, and I appreciate everyone who helped me to get this far.
I walk off into the sunset
She burst through the door like a third-grader on her way to recess. "You got a minute?" she asked. "I need your help again."
I studied her wavy, dark blonde hair, her tortoise-shell frames. This time, she was wearing chocolate brown pea coat instead of the black trench coat, but I knew that button nose anywhere. "You're cute," I told her.
"Yes, I hear that a lot."
"You asked for my help before," I said. "How long ago was that?"
"Twenty-seven weeks, more or less," she said.
Ever the gentleman, I offered her a swig from my bottle of Jim Beam. She waved it aside, like a Mormon in a coffee shop.
"What seems to be the trouble?" I asked.
She gazed out the window at the cityscape beyond. "I guess it's because of the fire," she said, "or maybe the lack of it." Her voice trailed off and she seemed lost in thought, like someone trying to find Thought using directions from Mapquest.
"It's just so hard to say good-bye after such a long journey," she said. "And now that it's over, I know I should care, but I can't help feeling, well, almost blissful. You see, the truth is I never thought I'd make it this far." She smiled like a honeymooner at Disney World.
"It all started when my friend (just_the_ash) told me about this writing contest. I thought it sounded like fun, so I thought I'd sign up. Why not? It had been a while since I challenged myself. But in a field of 195 contestants, most of whom already had much larger readerships, I didn't expect much. When I passed the muster the first several weeks, I felt like it was a case of mistaken identity." She leaned back in her chair. "I was just doing what I always do, but now I had dozens of people telling me how much they loved it. I felt like..."
"An ordinary guy who's mistaken for Bono in a pub?" I asked her.
"Something like that. I mean, who would be interested in what I think about while walking my dog in the open? I mean, really? Even if I'd consulted a ghost through a Ouija board I don't think I could have predicted that. You see, it's been a long time since I really accomplished anything with my writing. So every week, when I heard positive comments, well, it gave me hope."
"Nice story, Toots," I interrupted. "But so far you haven't told me why you're here."
"Shut up, I'm getting to that," she barked, like an ill-tempered blogger ranting. "Sorry. I just hate it when people are rude," she said. "The point is, there was something exciting about being involved in this project. When I first signed up, I was unprepared for how much of an impact it would make on me. Meeting all these talented people, feeling like a member of a community of writers and readers, I mean, it was as exciting as..."
"Thinking on your feet in an improvisational comedy class?" I asked.
"Yes, that. But it's easy to get carried away, to get a little too confident. I said to myself, 'You're so Vain.' You think 'All I Have to Do is Dream,' but 'Wake up little Susie,' or you'll be 'Gone Gone Gone'."
"Now you're just quoting song lyrics," I said.
She winced. "Yes. I really shouldn't do that. The point is, it was like I was experiencing 'Sexual Healing'; I felt free to say things I'd never said before, to explore concepts I'd never explored."
"That was another song lyric," I pointed out.
"Baby turtles fighting their way to the ocean?" I asked.
"Exactly. My writing took me places I never thought I'd go. I finally told the story about how my first marriage cracked up. I hadn't shared some of those thoughts even with family members. When I received praise for it, I couldn't help getting excited, testing the boundaries, coloring outside the lines like..."
"A naughty kid scribbling on another kid's paper?"
"Precisely. I began to imagine other possibilities for myself. Rather than eking out a living doing transcription, maybe I could really finish a book, send my poetry out. I began to envision a wide open world, a universe of alternate Alyces. I sat back and thought about it and realized that I should shrug off my security blanket and strive to improve, be a better version of myself..."
"Like Lucy Van Pelt trying to be more like her brother Linus?"
"It's like you're reading my mind," she said. "I began to appreciate all the things I've learned in my life: about love, about what it takes to fly and about our ability to take control of our dreams. I even thought back on some moments I wasn't quite so proud about, like allowing another student to be a scapegoat for me, or the fact that sometimes we don't appreciate the best things in our lives, like real communication with our families and friends." </p>
She stood up and crossed the room, looking out the window at the setting sun. Children were calling from the street below. "I was flying so high, I thought I'd never crash, but I guess I should have read the signs. As more and more contestants were eliminated, the race got tighter, the bar got higher. I felt like I was..."
"Stuck with Luddites?" I asked.
"What does that even mean?" she asked, making a face. "By the time I figured out what was going on, even creating a futuristic Robot Buddy could barely save me. But even then, I had no fear. After all, I hadn't reached the end of my rope yet. I had a safety rope to rely on: the people I had touched, the readers I had moved."
She grew quiet, sunk in thoughts like a donut in a glass of milk.
"What happened then?" I asked her.
Picking up a newspaper from my desk, she glanced at the current events and then tossed it back down. "Nancy Reagan was right," she said. "Just say no to drugs."
Perching on the edge of my desk, she kicked her feet idly. "And so," she said. "Here I am."
I tipped back in my chair and scratched my head. "That's an interesting saga, but I still don't see how I can help you."
She touched my shoulder. "I thought you would have figured that out by now," she said. Striding slowly across the room, she grasped the door, like a writer striving for the perfect metaphor. "I needed an ending."
As she closed the door behind her, she gave me one last smile.
It's not about the destination; it's about the journey.
Bonus video: "Flowers on the Wall" by Eric Heatherly