The best part about being a Drinker With Writing Problems is the opportunity to do writing exercises with your fellow drinkers. At our recent writing retreat, we did an exercise in which we wrote something based on the prompt “Jeff Wants a Noodle,” an inside joke from the night of drinking prior. This is one of those stories.
He hadn’t eaten in days. After surviving on rain water and muddy puddles for a little more than week, Jeff wouldn’t be recognizable to people that had grown up with him. His cheeks, once jolly and plump, were now concave skin flaps that dangled off his bones. His clothes looked like sullen blankets hanging off him like rarely washed hotel robes. And, simply put, his face looked like that of a man who hadn’t eaten in at least ten days. An appropriate look, as that was indeed the case.
Jeff knew hiking was a bad idea. He told Donna the second she suggested it. “What if we get lost and have to survive on rain water and muddy ponds,” he remembers asking during the argument about whether or not to go on the trip, which he unceremoniously lost. “Don’t be so dramatic, Jeff.” Despite the tragedy that has taken place, it’s hard to argue that a well-placed “I told you so” would feel pretty good right now. As would some food.
Drudging through the thick, dark forest, Jeff wished he had taken those survivals classes seriously when he was in college. “When am I ever going to use this?” he remembers chiding the teacher, confused at why anyone would want to build a fire with nothing but rocks and sticks. And while Jeff had been more than warm enough in the 90 degree weather, his fear of the dark made fireless nights all the more unsettling.
They should have turned around when it started raining. They could barely see the trail, let alone the signs to tell them where to go. And, as he expertly pointed out during the aforementioned argument, the two of them were far from experts when it came to the great outdoors, mostly likely due to his lack of attention paid in the survival classes he and Donna took when they went to Ohio Wesleyan together. And now she was gone forever.
That bear really came out of nowhere though. He didn’t know if it was their screams for help or the fact that Jeff had put two full bags of beef jerky in Donna’s backpack (in case he got peckish), but that bear went for her and didn’t stop. Jeff had tried to help, but it was a bear. Not a lot you can do about a bear but run. And much to Jeff’s embarrassment and sorrow, that’s exactly what he had done, in the opposite direction of where Donna ran.
Was he a monster? Donna was the woman he loved and he just abandoned her in her time of need. Again, that time of need was bear-related, which made his options fairly limited, but he could’ve done something. Waved his arms around, made a lot of noise, played dead; the list of bear deterrents is long, and he did nothing but run away.
He remembered how Donna used to push on her temples when she was stressed out. He recalled how her hair would curl mere seconds after she would get out of the shower. And he couldn’t help but imagine the little wrinkle she would get above her nose when she would think really hard about something.
And the pasta. Oh the pasta. You could smell it from the driveway on a windy day. Perfectly homemade with more love than an Italian newlywed trying to impress their spouse. Exquisitely seasoned sauces, with all the right kinds of veggies that Jeff loved, no olives, no mushrooms; just love.
Jeff couldn’t believe she was gone. Granted, ten days of surviving on rain water and muddy puddles will surely speed up the grieving process, but that didn’t change the fact that she was gone. Really, truly, foreverly gone. No more cute facial gestures; no more happily ever after; and perhaps most importantly, no more pasta for dinner. And as the moon slides behind the clouds, his loneliness and his hunger all roll into one as he quietly mutters to himself:
“Jeff wants a noodle.”