June 20: Story Challenge in 99-words

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

June 20, 2022

Driving back from the Keweenaw Storytelling Center where the Red Jacket Jamboree recorded episodes 51 and 52 before a live audience, a white-tailed deer dashed across the road. It’s June, and the sky after 10 pm still holds the glow of twilight. I saw her golden form glide athletically as if racing for a medal. Without slamming the brakes, I hit them hard enough to slow, my tires squealing, my hood inches from disaster for us both. She ran unscathed into the woods on the other side.

It’s been an adrenaline-inducing Sunday.

First, the hail pounded Roberts Street. It wasn’t bigger than popcorn kernels but after the Father’s Day Floods of 2018, a deluge four years causes concern. The clouds lifted almost as quickly as they had dropped. Then we drove up the peninsula for barbeque at a popular place overlooking Lake Superior and ran into another deluge. We couldn’t see and veterans with PTSD don’t pull over. Although I’m in the process of separating from my veteran, he remains someone I love. It’s a complex mess but in the end, it will be better. I tell myself this every day.

We had received news earlier in the day that his beloved Cousin Dick had died. Dick was the black sheep of the Mills family and a mentor to my husband. Another complex relationship. The last time we saw him was when we were homeless, cutting across Utah, and we stepped in Ogden. He took us out to lunch. Last year, Ogden Police called because Dick was having some sort of episode and my husband’s number was the only one they could find. March 2 of this year, my husband spoke to Cousin Dick who had moved back out to Nevada. The two men shared much in common. He was going to have surgery the next day. He died due to surgical complications and no one thought to tell my husband.

Separation is like trying to untangle yourself after playing a game of Twister in the mud. You really want to free yourself but have to solve the puzzle of disengagement. A friend recently said. “It’s like splitting skin with another person.” I keep my distance from his family (with a few exceptions — his sister is my sister, her children mine). I knew he was already hurting because he doesn’t understand why I’m leaving (oh, look, there go the police past our house) or why his children don’t call on Father’s Day. Behaviors have consequences but what do you do when someone denies their behavior? It’s everyone else’s fault. In the end, I just want peace and space to heal.

I allowed the sadness of Cousin Dick’s passing wash over us both. Will we always find moments to bond even when splitting skin? Will we ever be free of one another? It’s not possible. Human solutions can never be simple. But I believe healing is a form of freedom.

We arrived at the bbq place late for our reservations. Earlier, when we finally pulled over in the pouring rain (I can be insistent, years of training as a veteran spouse), I texted to confirm our arrival, using their reservation app. I already knew that they do not answer their phone. We were ten minutes late, but Mause decided we needed more excitement. She jumped out of the car behind him. Such action can cause a meltdown, so right away, I took over the recovery process. That dog is smart. Too smart. She neared, then veered, over and over. He wasn’t about to leave the scene with her unsecured, so we were both outside for ten more minutes until I finally coaxed her back into the car.

We walked in at 4:23. They had given away our table at 4:20. I asked for my reservation money back and the hostess refused unless we wanted to eat at the tiny bar. We did. I fumed. I barely made eye contact with the bartender. But he soon engaged in an interesting discussion with my spouse. Turns out that the man swilling drinks has a father who also went through combat dive school in the Army. You can tell when both parties are honest about service (I’ve met lots of self-proclaimed Rangers who never pass the bull-puckey test). The conversation was a gift. Few can reach my husband at this level.

I boxed my dinner because I was too nervous to eat and it was so good I wanted to tuck into it later when I could enjoy the food. I was asked back to the Red Jacket Jamboree to host the audience for two live radio performances. It’s hard for the veteran to sit through anything, but he took up my offer as a way to celebrate Father’s Day.

Even that word has lost clarity. How do we celebrate difficult parental relationships?

But there we were, at the KeweenawStorytelling Center in Calumet, preparing for a show. It was not exciting for him, so he leashed and walked Mause. I cleaned the toilet, reminded the Copper Cats jazz ensemble every five minutes to get on stage, and tracked down costumes. This is not close to what eases my mind before I have to go before an audience. Except for cleaning the toilet. Cleaning is an automatic response to calm my nerves. But wrangling jazz musicians? Never. Yet, I can be insistent. They were on stage and I lined up the co-hosts exactly at 7 pm.

Didn’t trip over my tongue. Check. Remembered to make the audience laugh. Check. Forgot how to lower the dagnabbit microphone (thank you, Jerry, as always). Check. Eased players back on stage after intermission. Check. Wrangled audience members back into their seats, including one veteran who wandered off. Check. Relaxed, ’cause my work was done and I got laughs. Check. Went back on stage for a contest…Wait. What?

No one told me they volunteered me to play a game to guess which passages Ernest Hemingway or Aldo Leopold wrote. Two influential authors. Heminway inspires brevity and Leopold inspires nature writing. Yet, they were selected as the focus of episode 52 because they both have Michigan connections. It’s possible they met in the UP in 1919. After the contest, I’m convinced they met and wrote to each other. I struggled to differentiate the passages and I have read everything both authors published. My opponent was the evening’s singing sensation, John Davey. I wondered if he read. I wondered if he noticed I had called him “Dave” to the audience.

My heart pounded. But at least John’s a nice guy (and yes, he’s literate). And he’s a storyteller in song.

In the end, we tied. And I got to scoot off stage.

The veteran wandered again. I got called to get a photo with the cast and musicians. I distributed several copies of Vol. 1, dreaming about reading stories from Vol. 2 at the Storytelling Center. I noted our empty 99-word story vending machine. Soon, I’ll have more freedom to that peace where I can think and create and produce again. The 19th was good in the end. And I didn’t hit a deer (thank you, Deer Nation for safe passage).

June 19th has long been a celebration of emancipation, especially in parts of Texas. Like many Americans, I only recently became aware of the significance of the date. This year, Juneteenth fell on Father’s Day in the US. Both holidays embrace families and barbeque. Because Juneteenth is now a Federal holiday, all Americans get a three-day weekend. The holiday celebrates 157 years since the last emancipation of African slavery in America. It honors resiliency and freedom from slavery.

I admit I don’t have much to add to Juneteenth, but I’m committed to learning more.

When seeking to understand our human family, we can find the shared common ground. What struck me when reading about juneteenth, is how emancipation allowed for broken families to regroup. Slavery sold children, divided parents, and scattered families for generations. Image the impact of family reunions on a group who dreamed of such precious reunions. Now you start to understand the tradition of African American families gathering for summer barbeques to celebrate freedom.

How do any of us know freedom? What is freedom? We each get to define freedom individually but collectively personal freedom ends where the freedom of another begins. To understand the significance of Juneteenth, the complexity of human relationships and history, we can explore themes familiar to everyone.

June 20, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about what freedom feels like. Whose point of view do you use? Does the idea of freedom cause tension or bring hope? Let the reader feel the freedom. Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by June 25, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
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  1. restlessjo

    There’s a lot of information in here, Charli, including your personal struggle. I can’t imagine the hurt and struggle that living with and loving your veteran has caused, but I hope that you can find a peaceful resolution, or at least a way forward. I found the Juneteenth articles interesting . Slavery has never seemed like my problem, and yet looking around the world as it stands today injustice and lack of freedom are still huge areas of concern. Wish we could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

  2. Anne Goodwin is bringing Matilda Windsor home

    Hell, what a day you had, Charli. Wishing you freedom from the stress of your spouse so you can better enjoy the love (even if it’s in the past).

  3. Norah

    That’s a year or more’s worth in a day, Charli. So much to contend with. I agree with Anne: I wish you freedom, peace and love and life without other-imposed limits.

  4. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    It will be better. You will have peace and space.

  5. Colleen Chesebro: WordCraftPoetry

    Charli, family is complicated. My husband who raised my three children and his two, did not get an acknowledgement on Father’s Day, either. Just like on Mother’s Day… for me. It is what it is. We move on and try to forget the hurt. That’s all we can do. I think life is cycle of hurting and healing. We can only do our best and move on… and the peace is better than all the drama. Yours, mine, and ours families are always difficult. Your time is coming… may you find peace and love within. <3

  6. Gary A Wilson

    Hi Charli – hard time, harder than I hope I’ll ever understand, but like so many, I care and wish I had some secret sauce words to comfort you.

  7. pedometergeek

    Hey Charli, it’s never easy splitting skin. That phrase is a new one for me, but it is apropos. I wish you both peace as you transition to a new reality. Freedom, too, I wish for you. ~nan

  8. Doug Jacquier

    Like Kristofferson wrote and Joplin sang:
    ‘Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose
    Nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’ but it’s free’

    And the Eagles had a word or two on the subject
    ‘And freedom, oh freedom well, that’s just some people talkin’
    Your prison is walking through this world all alone’

    • Jules

      I actuallly used that Joplin line in my FF….

      Life can be tough, we have to be tougher but keep our gentleness…

  9. Jules


    I’ve lived through people leaving, by death and seperation. May you find strength to find peace for all involved.
    I’ll have to go back to the Juneteenth links. Though I do know something about it.

    (((Hugs))) ~Jules

  10. nightlake

    Wishing you strength, peace and happiness, Charli. Hope you get over the hardships.

  11. Jennie

    Charli, your energy inspires me. I know you have been the tireless supporter of your veteran hubby forever. It must feel like joy and grief at the same time to separate. In the end, you are doing what is best for both of you. I’m sending you my heartfelt best wishes.

  12. floridaborne

    Yet another holiday added to the calendar. Sigh. I despise when history gets re-written.

    The Republicans had worked to abolish slavery. Slave owners were calling black people indentured servants and making it so they would never pay off their debts. The Republicans freed the last of the slaves from indentured servitude.

    Did you know that Irish were slaves before people were taken from Africa? Did you know that people were routinely abducted from Ireland, England and Europe and taken to the barbary coast as slaves at the SAME TIME there where slaves in the USA?

    Yes, white people were slaves in North Africa at the same time black people were slaves in the USA.

    There is still slavery today — it’s called by a milder name: Human trafficking. The same techniques are used today to tame modern-day slaves that were used centuries ago. I can’t recognize a holiday that abolishes slavery until ALL the slaves remaining in the world are freed.

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