by Kayla Rutledge

A story should never start with a person waking up. Especially not a person like you, who has to sit for twenty minutes in the dark, crocheting her thoughts into something solid enough to stand. A story has to move. A story does not busy itself with commutes, or wondering if you should change your brand of toothpaste, or eating breakfast — unless, of course, the breakfast indicates something about your fundamental character. Your breakfast is a granola bar. You are grainy, oversweet, structurally unsound.

A story starts with the text you don’t want to get, the day a customer tips $10,000. A story is a spill, widening. Breath cubing in your throat. When your roommates ask how your day went, they are asking for a story. They are asking if the one-eyed line cook finally snapped. They are asking if you found a lost dog, and in your journey to find its owner, learned something about your fundamental humanity.

They are not asking if you sometimes get sent a joke that is supposed to be funny but for some reason it makes you anxious, and then you walk around for twenty minutes feeling anxious for no reason, until you remember it was the joke that made you feel like that. They are not asking if your brain sometimes starts to feel broken in the month of February, but not in a dramatic way, only as if the pilot light has sort of gone out on the world. How’s that for fundamental humanity?

Refilling napkin dispensers, yellow lights, 13-seconds of a TikTok song. The sponge in your kitchen sink, dogs barking, Venmo requests, weather forecast, toothache. A story is what you are supposed to write after you get tipped out, and say good night to the line cook, and drive home, and shower despite being out of shampoo, and eat pasta and get a single cayenne pepper flake stuck to the back of your throat, and cough, and read the chain texts that the blood donation center keeps sending you. URGENT. DONORS NEEDED.

A story is this: the last time you went to donate blood, it was because you were in graduate school and $25 dollars in Target gift cards was incentive enough to do anything. When the nurse inserted the needle, she asked what you do. You said you tell stories. You said it proudly then. Then you watched the tube go dark with part of you. A story is a tourniquet, a thing creating force. It’s doing good for selfish reasons, a room-temperature ginger ale, the possibility that things are bad somewhere else, but not for you, not forever, not yet.

Image by Scott Weber via Pexels