listen to this story
“Welcome to the writer’s workshop. I’m Greg Benson and I’ll pretend to know what I’m talking about…”
Engl. 501, Creative-Writing started like most other classes. We were fourteen random people attending Butte Community College for a myriad of reasons. I figured the class would boost my GPA; others needed 501 to graduate; some of them probably liked writing.
“I have one question,” said Mr. Benson as he dramatically scanned the fresh faces. “Are you ready to get naked?” He had probably asked that question and delivered the motivational propaganda that followed a thousand times. He was sixty years old and looked more like a reader than a writer.
“You need to strip off your clothes and peel back your skin. Remove your bones and break them in half, the marrow that spills out will be your ink. Fiction is honesty, people.” The gay woman to Mr. Benson’s left was eating it up. The pierced boy to his right was daydreaming.
“Please take out a piece of paper. Take a few minutes to think about this…” Again he paused for dramatic effect. “I want you to share your darkest secret.” Now the students were scanning the room, as if to see how honest we were willing to be.
“I don’t care if you’ve stolen candy from a gas-station. I don’t give a shit if you masturbate. We all whack off,” he snorted. “Tell me your worst and everything else will be easier. Do not. I repeat. Do not sign your names. You have three minutes.”
I considered writing about the time Kyle Oliver and me killed a Yellow Labrador. But when I saw the circle of misfits, I felt the need to outshine them. Besides, some people pay hundreds of dollars to share their secrets. Mr. Benson was going to listen for free.
“Time’s up!” He handed a shallow red basket to his left. The collection plate rounded the room, stopping briefly at each person’s desk, taking in our dark memories. When it was handed back to him, Mr. Benson simply turned it upside down, removed the carrying vessel, and grabbed the top paper. There was no shuffling. Some people might have realized his folly at that moment. I didn’t understand what was happening until he began reading.
“‘I still fantasize about my ex-girlfriend during sex with my wife.’”
“Now that’s honesty, people!” encouraged Mr. Benson. The woman to his left began blushing beneath her short blonde bowl-cut. It was a small classroom, more of a conference room really. The air was all used up and there were no windows to escape the faces.
“‘I’ve had three abortions with three different men.’” The girl sitting beside the lesbian had a long black ponytail. She looked Republican.
“This is perfect,” beamed Benson, after reading from the next paper, “‘Believe it or not, I’m still a virgin.’” It was no shock to me. The kid had extreme acne and the four hundred pounds of bodyweight wasn’t going to help him get laid anytime soon.
“‘I did time for selling fake insurance to old people in Florida.’” The young man actually did resemble someone capable of cheating the elderly out of retirement money. His tight fitting polo shirt was tucked in and the gold watch on his wrist shouted: I’ll do anything for money!
“Who hasn’t!” joked Mr. Benson and half the class laughed. At that point in time, the room was split evenly between the attentive and the clueless. The ignorant sat apathetically while the others, the knowing, began to display signs of apprehension in the way of darting eyes, glowing cheeks, and nervous ticks. Mr. Benson was too self absorbed to notice the blushing lesbian or the sweating virgin.
“‘My father was killed by a hit and run driver in Butte, Montana. I never cried.’” Mr. Benson didn’t have a witty remark to lighten the mood and when the girl five seats to his left began crying, the young man to Benson’s right stood and left the room. Others shook their heads disapprovingly.
“‘I cheated in math class last semester.’” Mr. Benson took a moment to think about a joke. “…And nobody cares. Hell, I cheated on my wife last spring!” When nobody laughed Mr. Benson said, “I’m joking, people.” He continued, “Remember, folks, readers want secrets. They will know if you’re wasting their time.” The cheater, a tiny Mexican girl, didn’t find his anecdote amusing.
“‘I poached gorillas last year with my stepfather in East Cameroon.’”
“Okay,” acknowledged Mr. Benson, again taken off guard and not knowing quite what to say. “We have some very honest people here today.” He pulled another paper from the pile.
“‘I saw three soldiers rape a young girl in Iraq.’” The class froze. Some people stole glimpses at the young black man two seats to my right, as he stared through his desk, trying not to cry.
“‘I fantasize,’” Mr. Benson paused to read the writing, “Now this is ironic, ‘I fantasize about being gang raped.’ You can’t make this stuff up, people.” The hippie chick with dreadlocks didn’t fit the profile of someone longing to be raped (if anybody does). It was my turn.
“‘I could have saved my brother from drowning.’” I didn’t feel any better when he read my secret. He didn’t say anything and I felt cheated.
“‘I was a member of the Ku Klux Klan for eighteen months.’” The black veteran of the Iraq war looked towards the skinny white boy in the hooded sweatshirt to my left. The shady looking Chinese girl grinned as Mr. Benson took her confession.
“‘The production and sale of methamphetamines is paying for this class.’ We also have a drawing here…” Mr. Benson narrowed his eyes in an attempt to make sense of the picture. “We have a man having sexual relations, doggy style, with another man.” The meth dealer was quite pleased with Benson’s description of her artwork.
“‘I’m going to change the world with my words.’”
“And, I’m going to be sick,” joked Benson. This time, he actually received a few chuckles. “Talk is cheap, people.”
The last paper was taken and all eyes focused on the empty seat to Mr. Benson’s right.
“‘I once hit and killed a man in Butte, Montana. I was drunk and I fled.’”