Starting Over – The DP Weekly Writing Challenge

road collapse

This is my short story offering for the DP weekly writing challenge.

Starting Over


Sometimes there is no starting over. There’s no pulling yourself up by your boot straps, whatever that might mean. There’s no dusting yourself off and getting back on the horse that threw you. Sometimes you come around a curve in life and the road simply falls off into the abyss and you go right over the edge. After that, there is no starting over – all you can ever say is that there was a time before the life you knew came to an end and then there was now.


She sat through each and every day of the trial. She listened carefully as the witnesses gave their testimony. She concentrated with all her might on the prosecution’s case against her son and the defence lawyer’s attempts to lessen the damage made each time the prosecutor drummed the word rape into the minds of the jurors sitting in the box to her left.


She felt it was her duty to listen. She knew that everyone who looked at her, thought – how did you screw up? She’d always had mother guilt – a cavity, a bad grade, not baking enough cupcakes for the school fundraiser – you name it – she had the guilt. Of course her son had a father, and friends, and a whole culture that shaped who he had become – but she knew she was the one who had failed him. When the final accounting was made – it was her head on the chopping block.


At night she lay awake and the past rose up before her closed eyes in endless images. She remembered the little boy he had been. The way his golden streaked hair fell around his chubby toddler face, his dancing eyes reaching out to her as he raised his flailing arms to be picked up. She saw him setting out for his first day of school – his Spiderman pack strapped proudly to his back. The years of parent teacher interviews and early morning hockey practices flooded her memory. If she closed her eyes, she could see his bedroom in crystal clarity. Always a litter of dirty plates holding dried pizza crusts, empty Coke cans on dresser tops, clothes strewn everywhere and her nostrils flinching at the smell – a teenage boy’s sweat mixed with the odor of running shoes and sports gear.


She had watched him change from the open, sweet kid he had been in elementary school and she had done nothing. She saw the way an attitude of taking whatever he wanted started to edge its way into his being – cut him some slack, her husband had said, he’s like a God out there on the ice. He was a talented athlete and he had a charming smile and he got away with the attitude. She worried about him spending so much time with the guys from the team. She didn’t know any of those young men’s families. The coach said they were all good kids and it was normal for the team to hang out together – that’s the way it was in a small town – you had to find the pack you needed to run with. She let that go, too. The parties, the drinking and God knows what else – she stopped fighting all of it in the face of endless litanies of boys will be boys – leave him be.


Then in his senior year he had been invited to board out in a nearby city and play Junior A hockey – a big break everyone said. She spoke up then – she said she didn’t think he was ready to leave home. Everyone said she had empty nest syndrome, she shouldn’t stand in his way – this was his big break. She just needed to cut those old apron strings. But when he came home to visit he wasn’t the same kid. She had looked into her son’s eyes and she had seen it – seen the darkness there that he shook off as he quickly moved away from her.


The lawyer had been blunt – there was no question that her son was guilty – all they could do was try to mitigate the damage, maybe create some doubt by shedding suspicion on the girl or emphasizing the group dynamics of the event. When she talked to her son, he had given a multitude of excuses – he was drunk, the other guys egged him on, she was asking for it – all the girls that hung out around the team were asking for it. Even he could hear the way his words sounded in her ears but it only made him defensive and then angry. She had left the room and found a bathroom where she could vomit her system clean in endless spasms of wrenching pain that made her feel empty and drained and somehow, lost – as if she wouldn’t be able to find her way out of the bathroom and back to the lawyer’s office.


She saw her son stand up beside the lawyer to receive the verdict, looking like a young executive in his expensive suit. On the count of rape – guilty.  He turned at that moment to search out his mother’s face. She saw something shining at the corner of his eye, a look that flitted over his face for the briefest moment. She was reminded of the little boy he had been. Maybe a tear – she hoped with all her heart it might be a tear of regret, not one of self-pity. She watched the bailiff lead him away through a door at the side of the courtroom.


Now, there was only the time after she knew all the details of the crime her son was guilty of – and her conviction that she was the one who had let him down. There was no starting over from that.

(Image credit – Google images)




13 comments on “Starting Over – The DP Weekly Writing Challenge

  1. Another very powerful, well-written story. I only object to the mother’s feeling of guilt. As a mother who has been through many serious problems with an acting-out son, I learned through years of belonging to the 12-step program, Families Anonymous, that this was not my fault more than anyone else’s and that I had tried my best to raise him as a good and responsible person. If that mother was real, I’d refer her to the FA program to try to deal with HER problem – not her son’s. Unfortunately I think there are many “real” mothers in the same situation. You are so right, though, there is no starting over if you continue to dwell on the problem that you can’t fix. I would add that you need to start over on the problem in yourself that you CAN fix – though it takes lots of time, effort and, for many of us, prayer. Gayle Moore-Morrans

    • What I love about writing and writing fiction in particular – is that it gets to people – they feel stuff and they get outraged and they rise up and give me a blast, saying – hey, that’s not right – I don’t like that – I’d do this or that instead. The kiss of death for any writer is indifference. I hear what you’re saying Gayle – why does she blame herself? She’s as much a part of the cultural mix as her son. And she denied the truth she saw – maybe she bears more guilt because she actually saw what was happening and didn’t speak. Or maybe it isn’t really about blame at all – maybe in the final analysis there was nothing she could have done. And of course you speak a great truth – we can’t change anyone but ourselves.

  2. Christine Penhale says:

    This is an excellent read! I just hope that hockey itself is not to blame for her son’s actions. Perhaps I should keep my son in a bubble. I find it amazing that you find time for weekly writing challenges, blogging, and writing a novel. Whenever I think of all you have on your plate I practically feel lazy!

    • I suppose I was thinking of the whole cultural mixing pot and that maybe the concept of mother guilt is so paralyzing that it keeps us from saying and doing what we need to do – like maybe we’ve been so beaten down blaming ourselves for every little thing that when it comes to a time when we know we really need to take a stand – we just don’t have the uumph to do it. Does that make any sense? When I think of that course load you told me about – I feel lazy!

  3. djmatticus says:

    Great job with this short story. You tackled a much heavier topic than I was ready for in my own response. The thought that things can happen that we never recover from… I’m not ready to beleive that, while knowing it is most likely true at the same time.

    • Thanks. Admittedly, never being able to recover is a dark theme and I’m glad you chose to hold out on that one. Since the Christmas holidays, I’ve been writing a lot of dark stuff – kids dying or imagining kids dying or kids ripping their parents hearts out. Must be something about the time of year, but I think I better call up the humor muse this week and write something that smacks of funny Fran. We’ll see how that goes.

      • djmatticus says:

        Hope you can find some funny Fran inspiration. I just hit publish on two darker posts this morning. the first one still has a hint of humor in it, but the second one is spinning me on a downward cycle…

  4. Louise Butcher says:

    I love this woman. She has the guts to sit in that courtroom, the stamina to hear her son’s story, the ability to remember the child in him, and the willingness to find hope in his backward glance. At this terrible time she has found herself guilty, too, but she definitely has whatever it will take to go forward, one step at a time.

    • Yes! I love your take on this, Lousie. She shows up for all of it – I think that was part of the what drove the whole piece – her willingness to go through it – to not shirk one single moment – to embrace her own feelings of guilt (whether she should feel guilty or not doesn’t matter) and keep going. I just want to thank every one who has taken the time to comment on this story – seeing it through the eyes of others is a joy and I love to dive back into my own perceptions of the story from the new platforms you guys are throwing up for me.

  5. […] Starting Over – DP Writing Challenge ( […]

  6. Great story. Very powerful. I really like the way you capture the irrationality of guilt. It also reminded me of something the midwife said to me about her view of motherhood “just remember this…if you don’t feel guilty, you probably ‘aint doing it right.” An odd comment, but one that stayed with me, and was sometimes a source of consolation during my son’s teenage years!

    • Your midwife’s comment is telling and I’m not surprised it stayed with you. I think part of the motiviation for the story was the concept of parental guilt and how we deal with that over time – it certainly seems to come at us from every angle. No one can ever get this job right – I suppose the real growth comes for us in the process. Learning as we go and just maybe being able to pass some of that wisdom along.

  7. […] Saddest flash fiction post: She never let herself believe in the magic of Christmas (though Starting Over was pretty gut-wrenching, too – don’t read these if you’re day is all happy face cheery – a […]

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