March 27: 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.

March 27, 2023

It’s a Friday and the sky is impossibly blue over the whole of the Keweenaw Peninsula! I know, I know, it’s impossible for the color blue to be impossible. After all, the bag of snowmelt is the exact color of sky-blue. The difference is that the actual blue-sky vibrates with an aliveness that the same color cannot match. All I want to be is alive beneath this sky on this day.

Sure, I’ll likely feel the same way tomorrow, But this is the moment. This is now. This is the impossibly blue sky that drove me out of the classroom earlier.

Occasionally, we get snow days. With Finlandia on its downhill slide to closing, we’ve had more snow days than usual. This morning, as I drove across the Houghton Lift Bridge, I wondered if we could call a sun day. I was on my way to a Warrior Sisters group. Ever since the Vet Center shuttered its doors, I’ve stood in the gap until they restored mental health services to our community.

Mary Gauthier asks in her song, The War After the War, “Whose gonna care for the ones who care for the ones who went to war?” Well, the real answer is each other. We take care of each other. The Vietnam vets started the Vet Centers of America when it was obvious that the VA was not taking care of the PTSD crisis after the Vietnam War. They pushed to get services. Their wives and families pushed. But they are aging. And the next crisis looms on the horizon — brain injury is the signature wound of Post 9/11 veterans. Todd squeezes invisible between the two eras and is the harbinger of what’s to come. It’s easy for the VA to ignore CTE; it’s a problem of the NFL, not the military. They can ignore Todd, but what will they do as Iraq and Afghanistan vets begin to age? CTE is not going away.

I bring this topic up because even on a blue-sky day, shadows lurk. I’ve bobbed up and down all week. My students show evidence of struggle and I’m reaching after each one of them. My colleagues are leaving and despite my plans for an online writing school, the timing of Finlandia’s closing leaves me searching for employment, too. It feels depressing and we are going to be in an uncertain mudhole until we each figure out what next. In the midst of all this, I’m not willing to watch my Warrior Sisters and their vets fall into yet another crack in society.

So, we take care of each other.

Something incredible happened this morning on this sunny Friday. We got the guys to group. If you think it’s easy to herd Vietnam vets, you have not experienced their level of stubborn self-isolation. To me, the heroes are the wives, sons, and daughters who look after these men America would rather forget. I look after them so they can look after their vets. This morning we all managed to get most of the old Vietnam veterans group reunited. It took tremendous trust on their part to gather because they have not had an in-person group since COVID, and they felt the sting of the Vet Center abandoning them last summer. They’ve never trusted the VA. But that should not be a deterrent to getting together with those who share your experiences.

I could have wept with joy, watching the men across the backroom at the Copper Depot where we meet every other Friday for a social outing (the alternate Fridays we meet on Zoom to follow the guidance of a positive psychology workbook I bought). Even Todd joined us and he was having a good brain day. We heard lots of talk about firearms and ballistics; helicopter stories; parachuting accidents; Las Vegas. I think Todd precipitated the Vegas conversation when he spoke of his desire to move to northern Nevada. They all agreed that snow sucks. They all ordered breakfasts and swilled coffee. They needed these conversations.

We spoke of medical concerns and tricks we employ to get our spouses to take their pills. My job is easy — Todd refuses all medication. One of the Warrior Sisters is also a nurse and she said she knows plenty like him. Another Warrior Sister told us she finally got her husband to consider cannabis last week and he’s been smoking ever since. Someone asked why smoke it when you can pop a gummy, and she said he believes the smoke will help his lung cancer. He’s dying so it’s not going to hurt. I told them about my first Caregiver for Living with Suspected CTE group meeting this week and how hard and yet hopeful it is to learn more about this disease. We laugh, too. A lot.

We couldn’t stop looking across the room and smiling, either.

Now that we finally got these cats herded into one place, we plan to keep it going. I’m currently taking a course in Mindfulness from PositivePsychology.com and when I’m finished, I’ll have a certificate and course materials to lead classes. I plan to create a Mindfulness for Writers class to generate income and then set up local Mindfulness for Veterans that are free. It scares me, though. Responsibility is measured in lives. You see, a big reason these vets avoid gathering in groups is that it triggers their PTSD intrusive memories/thoughts/feelings and I’m not a therapist. I’m a literary artist. But I am a Warrior Sister to the Long-Haulers and they will help me. They will soothe, listen, and protect. I will have the Veteran Crisis Hotline (Dial 988, then press 1) on speed dial. I’ll also make sure I’m maintaining my mental health.

As I head to class, I marvel at the sky. When I park on campus, two crows zip past like fighter jets and I watch their maneuvers. My classroom is empty. I open the window. Even in blizzards, I open the window because Finlandia’s boilers are set to “hellfire.” Finally, one student shows up and I think, it’s enough. We talked about the skies last night when the Northern Lights danced like a 3D green and pink phoenix over Hancock last night. My student is from Florida and had never before seen them. He’s itching to explore and I pull up a map of waterfalls for him. Two more students show up. We all decide it’s too beautiful of a day to be inside.

I declare a Blue Sky Day. The grandest container we can have as humans for hope.

March 27 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about something impossibly blue. You can go with sky or any other object. What impact does the color have on the setting or characters? Does it lead to action or create a pause? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by April 1 ( no foolin’), 2022. Please use the form below if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Stories must be 99 words. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Writers retain all copyrights to any stories published at Carrot Ranch.
  3. A website or social media presence is not required to submit. A blog or social media link will be included in the title of any story submitted with one.
  4. Please include your byline with your title on one line. Example: Little Calves by Charli Mills. Your byline can be different from your name.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99WordStories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.

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20 Comments

  1. denmaniacs4b

    Time disintegrates, Charli. We watch, we are impacted by it, but it disintegrates, disappears before our eyes and we weep, and we move on.

    • Charli Mills

      Spoken like a poet who’s seen things. It must be what makes the sky so blue, Bill.

  2. Chel Owens

    A beautiful post, Charli. Poignant and real.

    • Charli Mills

      Real as that blue sky, Chel. Thanks!

  3. Anne Goodwin

    Your image made me smile, it’s exactly the blue of the artwork for my next book. Good luck with these endeavours. As usual, you’re juggling a lot.

    • Charli Mills

      Blue sky blue for your next book cover, Anne — I think that’s going to be the popular color this year. These are ongoing endeavors. Writing, teaching, vet whispering. Endless arrangements and possibilities though. Keep us posted on that next book!

  4. Gloria

    Oh, I like the idea of having Blue Sky Days! ????

    • Charli Mills

      Best time to have a day off, right?! You have permission to take a Blue Sky Day, Gloria!

  5. Norah

    Blue sky days – I love them. We all need them. What a busy woman you are, giving so much to so many. May joy be returned to you multifold.

    • Charli Mills

      There is joy when we do what we love, Norah. I know you know that my fellow meliorist. May we all share such SMAG joy with each other.

      • Norah

        Yes! May we all! ????????

  6. pedometergeek

    blue sky days…
    with a smile
    she does the impossible
    ~Nancy Brady, 2023
    off the cuff

    May every day be a blue sky day even when it is gray.

    • Charli Mills

      Beautiful, Nan! Yes, may we feel the blue sky day even when they look gray!

      • pedometergeek

        Absolutely!

  7. Jules

    Charli and all – Let us keep counting blue sky days and any good day that we may have!!

    I’ve got some images with; The Natural Voices of Spring

  8. Colleen M. Chesebro

    We have many blue sky days ahead, Charli. This too, shall pass… You’ve been through the wringer the last few years. Just breathe and know it will all work out. ????

  9. a-zend-life

    Oh Charli! My heart just broke and melted at the same time! Broke because as the wife of a former Marine from the 1st Gulf War, I know all too well the devastating effects that the closures of VA centers have on our Vets. I also know the necessity for special virtues it takes for the families caring for their loved ones and themselves. Then, there’s a whole other level of virtue carried by those outside of the family who work with them as well. The ultimate selflessness required is beyond measure! If not for the Corporal’s advocate, he might have been another casualty! I joined the 99 word challenge via another post, so I am absolutely honored that the universe saw fit that I could be here to read your story. I myself have just recently started blogging about mental health and the importance of community. It’s easy to isolate, keep hidden from a cruel world that would rather stigmatize people than be educated about the progress that science has made, and how many facets of mental health illnesses are treatable. It made me even happier when I read that you have just finished your mindfulness certification course through positive psychology! It is fact based science that has such a high success rate. I just signed up for the free downloads two days ago and am excited to delve deeper into the education. I’m studying to be a life coach with a program that uses positive psychology as means of coaching! It is so amazing to find someone like minded! Thank you for all that you do! ?????? you are a rock star! ??

  10. Sue Spitulnik

    I’m proud of you for holding your warrior sisters and vets together. A true gift for all. Good luck searching for some employment and fulfilling your class dreams. As usual, we all benefit from your chaos. Thank you.

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