In 2011, Swords to Plowshares (through SHOUT!) offered a series of writing workshops exclusively for women veterans. Best-selling author, Mary-Rose Hayes generously offered her time and talent to teach the workshop. I attended to improve my writing and was instantly inspired by the following quote:
“Everyone has baggage. Why not create a fictional character to hold them?!” – Mary-Rose Hayes
So I did…
Buildings towered over her small frame and a foul stench filled the air, an unmistakable combination of alcohol and urine. She gagged trying to hold back from vomiting. Flecks of light beamed through the clouds creating a kaleidoscope effect on the ground. It was still light, but it wouldn’t be for long. She walked faster.
“Don’t you dare walk away from me!” warned one man to the other. His eyebrows pulled in together as his entire face tensed.
“Head up, shoulders back,” she thought as she made her way through the small opening between them. “Just keep walking. Don’t look back.” The walls of her chest tightened, the tightness dispersed throughout her entire body and into clammy hands that balled up into clenched fists.
She finally got to the city’s rail system. At some point in her life this was all very familiar. The platforms, the tunnel, the pulsating wind that brought with it a loud noise alerting bystanders of trains coming and going. She sat on a bench and scanned her surroundings. An endless sea of ads occupied the tiled subway walls.
The wait was brief. Her train arrived and she held her breath as she walked through the sliding doors. She sat down as unwanted memories intermittently flooded her gaze. Her heart contracting more and more rapidly as each stop increased its number of passengers. An overly tan and middle-aged man stood over her, grasping firmly onto a gleaming bar, his hairy arm extended out. She cringed.
The sound of the train drowned out conversations happening sporadically throughout. She looked through the window only to see her frazzled reflection. Her eyes were red and she was exhausted, but the adrenaline continued to brew. The anxiety persisted throughout her entire body and she began to feel her eyes water.
“I know! Can you believe it?!” a young woman exclaimed to a friend.
She was thankful the moment was interrupted. Just then, the train rose out of the tunnel. A high concrete wall disappeared just as fast as it made its appearance, giving way to the introduction of a bleak cityscape. The train sped up, and the noise settled. A tall woman with golden brown curls proceeded to put her helmet on. She stood up and struggled to maintain her balance as the train came to a halt. Then she casually grabbed her bike and made her exit. The crowd continued to dissipate over the next few stops.
“Lake Merritt Station,” the conductor announced. Fragments of time had been lost in between and she was relieved she hadn’t missed her destination. She passed through the sliding doors once more and took a deep breath. She made it. It wasn’t perfect and it felt like hell, but she made it and it felt good. A surge of solace moved through her and a proud smile surfaced.
Various art and writing workshops are hosted by SHOUT! throughout the year, and this all leads to the upcoming annual event that celebrates women veterans through the arts. By supporting the event, you’re also supporting a year-round service for women veterans. A service that brings women veterans together through the arts and fosters creativity, community, and growth.
Jo Ann Martinez is the founder of Women Veterans Connect, an Air Force veteran, writer, photographer and artist. Understanding the value of peer support and community, Jo Ann developed Woman Veterans Connect, a multi-platform service to connect, inform, and support women veterans nationwide.
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