I Sing Because I’m Free — Assignment 5

80s teen bra 2Under my fingers, the smooth, evenly spaced ridges of embroidered pale pink roses tickled my fingertips as I made tiny stitches in the smooth, pale pink fabric. The minister’s face had had blotches that ranged from pale pink to darker purples and reds when he had said in a hushed, breathless voice, “Your mother is dead.”

“Oh no!” Claire had burst out.

The others had wailed, “Mommy! Mommy!”

Then the minister had cried out, “Oh Roberta!” as he caught up the smiling photograph of her that had been taken less than two years before. I jumped at the sound of his voice.

Five faces, so much like hers, so much unlike mine, crumpled, eyes poured forth tears, noses ran. The reds and purples overran the paler pink tones on the minister’s face. I watched them, eyes wide, eyes dry. Darkness plugged my heart. Across that dark screen played the image of the minister’s hand slapping a dark red mark against his wife’s creamy, pale cheek as he screamed, “You’re crazy!”

I had gone to retrieve my books and coat.

“You’ll be staying out of school for a while,” he had told me when I stopped to say I was going to school.

Now, behind the dining room window seat draperies, I sang softly to myself, “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free, For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me; His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me…” as I stitched pleats into the cups of one of Claire’s cast off bras.

“It’s nearly new,” I told my Friend. “If I can just make the cups small enough, I’ll finally have a bra.” I winced at the memory of my chest pulling when I ran or even walked quickly. Hunched over, I held my face close to the embroidered roses.

“They were done with a machine,” I whispered. “Little lines, not even satin stitches.” I shook my head at it; I could do a much better job.

I popped a tiny, spicy, red heart into my mouth, and sucked it as I continued to stitch. “I’ll miss Valentine’s day,” I whispered, then shrugged, “I wouldn’t get many Valentines anyway.” I pressed my nose against the window and let the bra slip into my lap.

The day was sunny, mild. How do bad things happen on beautiful days? I mutely asked. And why do I feel happy? Shouldn’t I be sad? Shouldn’t I cry for her?

I popped another spicy red candy into my mouth and took up the bra. My heart sang as I continued to take tiny stitches in the soft fabric, “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free, For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me; His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me…


Assignment: In words and/or images, compose a piece in response to a memory of conflict, war, loss, or trauma that includes two or three central sensations: perhaps a sound that corresponds to or contrasts with a sight, perhaps the feel, noise, and smell of a place.

Taken from “H Is For Happy Once”

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He Kissed My Neck! – Assignment 4

He kissed my neck!“Did you get Jason’s number?” Linda asked.

I shook my head.

“It’s because he’s short, isn’t it?” she insisted.

“No,” I shook my head again. “I just don’t like him.”

“Because he’s short,” Linda said.

“Because I don’t like him,” I responded before turning to the mirror to freshen my lipstick.

“Why don’t you just admit it. He’s short and you don’t like him,” Linda said.

“He kissed my neck!” I shrieked, my voice becoming shriller as the sentence ended.

“So?” Linda asked. “It’s New Year’s Eve. People kiss.”

My hands flew up, splayed out, twitching to ward off the images that rushed towards my interior vision.

Margaret giggled, “You look like a baby given solid food for the first time. Your face is all puckered!”

I glared at her, “He kissed my neck! I hate having my neck touched.”

“What about Cade?” Linda asked. “You lived with him. He must have kissed your neck.”

I flinched. Margaret giggled again. “I’d push him away,” I said.

“You wouldn’t let your boyfriend kiss your neck?”

“No.” My breathing was ragged, wheezy. My shoulders hunched closer to my ears protecting my neck from lips and tongues and fingers. “I hate it!”

“The iron-faced woman,” Sinead said.

“Whaa–?” I asked. I closed my eyes, tried to ease the furrows in my forehead.

“She choked you,” Sinead said.

“How…?” I asked

“You didn’t like your dress so your mother had her change it. It had a sailor collar and when she pulled the tie…”

My splayed hands twitched, unsuccessfully warding heavy, muscular hands that clutched and pulled the bright red cotton tie. I shook my head to clear it away. A tear flew from one eye. My lips curled.

“I forgot I’d told you,” I sniffed.

Margaret handed me a tissue.

“How old were you?” Linda asked.

“Three? Four?”

“More than twenty years ago? You can’t still be bothered by that.”

“Some things don’t get better,” Sinead told her.


Assignment: What losses or absences do you or do we continue to sense from things that are no longer present? In words or images, compose a piece that explores the “phantom limbs” of a trauma or traumas.

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All Along You Were Trusting Me – Assignment 3


Rage. That was the worst thing. Seeing Grandpère murdered was brutal but the rage that flooded my soul was worse. Ditto Ti Eduardo’s murder. And being raped. And Marmar’s and Papa’s murders. And the neglect and abuse by the minister and his family. And all the abandonment. None of that compares to the rage.

I have so much rage. Rage against myself, I tried to commit suicide so many times. Rage against others, I tried to kill the minister.

He survived only because Charles was inept. Had I been old enough to get drugs, he would have died. But all I could do was use my voice and words to convince Charles to kill his father. When he stirred the contents of the capsules into the milk, I assumed it was a lethal dose. What does a nine year-old know? I was so full of arrogant rage, I would make the horror end.

And all along You were trusting me. Me!

All along You were trusting me to bring my heart with it’s huge load of arrogant rage to You and let You heal me. I deserved to be zapped out of existence. I’m dangerous. Look at the way I treated that security guard. He said I called him ‘a leech, a lowlife, and a non-entity.’ I didn’t call him any of those things but I made him feel that way. He crossed the line and I crushed him.

I ought to have loved him. You love me so much. I ought to have loved him even though he was being a jerk.

When Jesus is in our handsNow You have me praying for the soldiers who murdered Grandpère and Ti Eduardo. Last week, I wanted them dead. Today, I pray but I’m not trustworthy. The arrogant child who wanted the minister dead, who wanted the soldiers and whoever murdered Marmar and Papa to die still lives within me. She’s old enough to know murder is wrong but there are other ways to annihilate people. (Remember Cade?) On some future tomorrow, I will probably try to annihilate someone else. And You will still be trusting me.

You take immense risks. That’s the way You are. This is part of Your plan. This is You putting Yourself in my hands letting me choose whether to crucify You or be crucified beside You. I hate pain!

(This does make beautiful, horrible sense. You get us to love the unlovable by using what You’ve given us. You use the curiosity that has helped me survive in this crazy world. And You make me indebted to murderers and abusers because praying for them leads me to love them in ways I would never imagine.)

You shouldn’t trust me.

Please. I may not be curious about whether an enemy will see me in their children’s eyes. I may go on fuming about some slight and not attend to You showing me how I was rude and annihilating. I’m not worthy of Your trust. The ugliness in my soul is the same ugliness in the world; I so want to make the world in my image. And I only want the salvation of those who cross the line when You hold my feet to the fire. You are not safe in my hands.


The assignment is to write about something that is both beautiful and horrifying, sustaining and devastating.

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The War Room – Assignment 2

The War Room

Litigation War Room

“What?” I asked though a congested sniff.

“I need the coatings files,” PJ asked.

I ignored the pleading in his dark eyes and shut the door. A moment later I cracked open the door, handed him the files, and shut it on his, “Thank you.”

“How is she?” Andy asked. They stood just outside the door.

“Her face is red and swollen,” PJ answered. “She’s crying.”

“What’s wrong with her?” Andy asked.

“She doesn’t say.” PJ sighed, “The war room is more than her office; we need access to the documents.”

“She gives us anything we request,” Andy replied.

“But we can’t work in there, not when she’s like this.”

“I don’t care,” I hissed. “Let them just try to find someone else who can understand these documents and reconstruct a nuclear power plant’s project manual. They need me.”

My lips and forehead pushed themselves out. A tear trickled from the inner corner of my right eye. I wiped it away before it reached my cheek.

“There’s nothing more to say,” I hissed. “It’s up to you.”

I returned my attention to locating valve coating specifications amidst documents detailing lavatories and parking lots. The image of Grandpère’s body flung against the wall. Blood oozed from the hole near his heart. I pushed it away.

“This is crap!” I hissed. “They’ve just dumped everything all willy-nilly!”

I turned my mind to sorting out case-relevant files. Blood obscured Ti Eduardo’s face as he lay in the hallway. Soldiers glared at Marmar and me as we walked to the flowery sitting room. I shook my head and pored over the pages on the screen.

My head lifted and I spoke aloud without thought, “”Why?!” My voice bounced off the table, the metal shelving and door. “Why did You let…”

I can’t say that, I thought. I know the answer.

“Why did You let me see that?” I amended. “Why? Free will is paramount, I get that. But no child should see that and You know it!”

Silence resounded in the room damping even the sound of my deep, snuffly breaths. The Voice broke through: “Your grandfather’s and uncle’s lives were worth no more to Me than the lives of those who killed them. Your parents’ lives were worth no more to Me than the lives of those who killed them. Your life is worth no more to Me than the lives of every other person I create.”

My head snapped up. I was in Grandpère’s study again, three years old and also an adult dressed in the same full black cotton skirt and green and white striped, linen shirt. I felt Marmar’s hand on my shoulder holding me back.

Grandpère said, “It needn’t be this way.”

The commander spoke; I could not hear his words.

The soldier tensed his finger on the trigger.

An infinity of seconds passed between Grandpère’s words and when the commander spoke. An infinity of seconds passed between the command and when the soldier applied pressure to the trigger. My mind flashed back to the command, to the soldier applying pressure. I looped back again. The smell of gun powder and blood filled my senses; I was caught in the loop.

My chest heaved. I took in a deep gulping breath, the breath I had so often taken after swimming the length of the pool under water. Fat tears rolled down my cheeks.

“It didn’t have to be that way,” I said aloud. “They could have made different choices.”

The loop replayed more slowly.

“They must have seen me,” I told my Friend. “They must have known a child was there. Didn’t they care?”

My brow furrowed. I tried to see inside first the commander’s thoughts then the soldier’s.

“Didn’t they realize what a horrible thing they were doing? Even if they thought Grandpère was a criminal, didn’t they realize what they were doing to a child?”

Silence replied.

“Did either of them have a little girl? What would they have wanted for her?”

Silence suffused the space.

“Oh God! they were so wrong, so foolish. How could they not see the repercussions, the hurt? How did they not see that someone might do the same to them, could shred their children’s souls? In Latin America, that happened over and over.”

My words lay upon velvet silence. The loop began to unwind again across the screen of my heart.

I winced as the soldier tensed his finger. He was so young. The child lingered in his eyes, mouth, and chin. My voice asked, “Did they ever change? Did they ever regret what they had done? Did they ever repent?”

Great longing welled up inside my chest, spilled over into tears, “Please tell me they repented? Please?” I begged. “They can’t have spent the rest of their lives so cold and hard, so unfeeling. Please, let them have become human again. They were once little children too.”

Velvet silence responded.

“Please Lord,” I begged. “If it’s not too late, please let them repent. Please restore their humanity.”

How can you pray for them? the slick voice that had once taunted me at Mass intruded.

“I don’t care!” I cried out. “I must see them again!” The fathomless well within me burst. Tears washed words from my depths, “I must tell them that I forgive them. They must know. Oh God, please don’t let it be too late for them.”



White Mary Janes – A Rupture In History, Assignment 1

White Mary Janes“Where are you taking Marmar?” Grandpère laughs up at me. His hands at my waist hold me above his head. My white Mary Janes scissor kick the air.

“Shopping,” I crow.

“What will you buy me?”

“I don’t know-oh-oh,” I warble a song of syllables.

Heavy boots clomp along the hallway floor. Grandpère swings me to the floor near the bookcase. He steps behind his desk. The study door opens. Two khaki uniformed men enter. One wears a rigid cap, the other a soft cap with a bill. Marmar’s hand clasps mine.

“Sir,” the man in the rigid cap moves his lips. My ears hear a humming buzz. The air pulses against my skin.

“It need not be this way,” Grandpère’s voice echoes through the buzz.

Grandpère stretches out an arm towards Marmar. His hand motions, Back! Marmar’s hand clasps my shoulder.

The man in the rigid cap raises the corner of his lips. It is almost a smile. His lips move again. The humming buzz returns, the air pulses. The man in soft cap removes a gun from the holster at his side.

A loud, flat crack rends the humming buzz.

Grandpère slams against the wall behind his desk. He slides to the floor. Red blood bubbles from the front of his pale blue shirt.

One white Mary Jane steps toward Grandpère. Marmar pulls me back.

Three flat cracks sound in the hallway.

The man in the rigid cap moves his lips again. Marmar clasps my hand. Blood saturates Grandpère’s shirt.

“Walk,” she says.

I glance up at her. My white Mary Janes step in tandem beside her. Ti Eduardo lies in the hallway. Red blood plasters his dark hair to his head. I reach for him.

“Walk,” Marmar repeats.

I glance up at her again. My white Mary Janes tread the tile floor. The soldiers close us in the cool sitting room. Marmar sits amidst the red flowers of an upholstered chair. Her hands on my shoulder, she rests her head on mine. Loud sobs rend the humming buzz, undulate her back. Dark hair slips its pins, hides her face. Her tears strike my white Mary Janes.


Constraint: Use present indicative to express the immediacy of memory. Keep sentences simple. Avoid use of the conjunction “and.”

Lose – Five Minute Friday

We cannot lose ChristWe have so much to lose. We lose it everyday. It’s heartbreaking. Terrifying. We long for safe spaces. There are none. Life that is not what we believe it ought to be. We anthropomorphize animals and share funny memes. Then a real alligator kills a toddler. We make cool places to hang out with friends who are just like us. Then someone who ought to be a friend, someone who has made many visits rains death into our joyous safety. We make safe worlds for ourselves but the unsafe breaches our walls. It creates havoc. Summons terror. Fills us with horror.  It’s infuriating. It’s unfair. It must be stopped. But we can’t stop it.Our safe spaces are not safe.

There is one safe space. Christ.

But Christ’s safety doesn’t preclude havoc or terror or horror. Christ sets our paths amidst the scariness. He summons us to walk on the heaving waters. He leads us to Gethsemane where we beg for the cup to pass but it does not.

“If any man would come after me,
let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever would save his life will lose it;
and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.
For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world
and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:23-25)


On Friday (and occasionally Saturday if Friday is filled with an excess of other activities),100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then post the results over at Kate Motaung’s blog, Heading Home. She provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We don’t edit or concern ourselves with whether our writing is flawless or worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

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V is for Vocation

v is for vocation“I see you’ve stopped smoking,” Mother Veronica Mary said.

The air was charged; molecules brushed against my skin singing for joy.

“Yes,” I replied. Tears pricked my eyes.

“How was it?” she asked.

“So easy,” I whispered.

Her forehead rumpled. I took a breath and repeated myself in a louder voice, “So easy. I just forgot to smoke.”


“Yes. I’d plan to have a cigarette at lunch and forget them in my desk. Or I’d forget while I was waiting at the bus.” I shrugged. “At first I was afraid: How could I forget to smoke? Then I realized it was a good thing so I just stopped.

“It’s what we discussed,” I said.

“Yes?” she asked.

“If I have a vocation, then quitting would be possible,” I replied.

“True,” she nodded. “Most young women find it more difficult.”

I lowered my head. How do I tell her? I mutely asked my Friend. The air sang about me. Oh well. I suppose just the truth.

“My life often goes that way,” I replied. “I pray and want and pray some more and even try to make myself be different. Then I just forget to poke at myself and one day, the change I want just happens. How varies. But the change happens.”

Mother Veronica Mary smiled, “How are you doing with your biography?”

“That’s hard,” I said shaking my head. “There’s so much. It’s daunting.”

“Perhaps Sister Justin Mary would be of help,” she suggested.

I shuddered. “Perhaps,” I said.

“Think about it,” she said. “And don’t be afraid to ask her for help. Remember, if you really have a vocation…”

I gave her a tight-lipped smile and nodded, “Yes. If I don’t get it in a few days, I’ll ask her.”

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U is for Unapologetic

“Totally unapologetic,” I answered.

“But doesn’t she know what she did?” Jenna asked.

“I think so,” I shrugged. “But she can’t apologize.”


“Mel!” a voice cried out.

Confused, I scanned around me until my eyes focused on Caroline, her bag tucked under one arm, a cigarette in her other hand.

“Oh,” I said. “Hullo, Caroline.”

“How are you?” she gushed.

“Okay,” I answered.

“How was the surgery?” she asked.

“Fine,” I nodded.

“You’re okay?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“No cancer?” she asked.

“No,” I shook my head.

“You got a clean bill of health?”

“Yes,” I nodded.

“I’m so glad,” Caroline gushed again. “I was really worried about you.”

“Oh?” I inquired.

“I thought you might have cancer,” she said reaching out one hand towards my shoulder.

I stepped back a few inches. Her fingers did not reach me.

“No cancer,” I replied.

“How was your recovery?” she asked.

I looked into her eyes then moved my gaze to the growing leaves on the ginkgo tree at the curb.

“It must have been difficult,” she said.

My eyebrows raised. “Yes,” I said.

“Well…” she began. “I don’t do sick…” Her voice trailed off.

“No?” I replied.

“Did Jenna help?” she asked.

I shook my head, “She was still away,” I said.

“Oh,” Caroline replied. “Yes. She was in England.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Who helped?” she asked.

“I hired someone from work,” I said.

“Not Paul?” Caroline asked.

“He was away too,” I said.

“But you were okay?” she asked.

“I survived,” I said.

“The girls were going to help you,” Caroline remarked.

I nodded.

“I didn’t tell them,” she said.

My hands splayed out; I shrugged.

“But you’re okay?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

Caroline looked at me. I turned my eyes back to the leaves growing on the tree. She puffed her cigarette.

“I’ve got ice cream.” I said.

“I won’t keep you,” Caroline replied. “I just wanted to say hi.”


“Unapologetic,” I repeated.

“What did she mean, ‘I don’t do sick’?” Jenna asked.

“Just what she said,” I answered.

Jenna shook her head, “How does she ever expect to keep any friends?”

I shrugged.

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T is for Treachery

t is for treachery“How are you?” Jenna inquired.

“I’m healing,” I said easing myself into an upright chair.

“I wish I had been here,” she said pouring cups of tea. “At least Caroline and the girls were right down the street so you weren’t alone.”

My eyebrows lifted.

“What?” she asked, her voice terse.

“Caroline disappeared as soon as she learned I needed surgery,” I replied.

“What?!” she shrieked. “Something happened to her?”

“No,” I shook my head. “As far as I know she’s fine. Her car is there.”

Jenna’s brow furrowed, “So what happened?”

“I called her from work the day my gynecologist decided she had to open me up,” I said, then sipped the delicate Lapsang Suchong brew.

“Tell me,” Jenna insisted.

“She told me to call her when I had a date and then didn’t answer her phone; didn’t return my messages” I explained.

“Did you stop by?”

“Yes,” I nodded. “But she was always away.” I shrugged. “After a week, I gave up.”

“Oh Mel,” Jenna cried, rushed to my side and hugged my shoulders.

I winced.

“Ooh,” Jenna shied. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“Oh no,” I shook my head. “I just reached up too high.”

“What did you do?” Jenna asked as she returned to her seat.

“What could I do?” I shrugged again, “I filled my spaghetti pot with water and left it on the stove, bought frozen entrees and stuff that was already cooked, and cooked vacuum sealed packets until I could open and close the oven.

“I paid our part-timer to collect me from the hospital and come and buy groceries for me. She was the only person I saw for a week.”

“Caroline didn’t check in at all?” Jenna asked. “Not at all?”

I shook my head.

“What treachery!” Jenna cried. “You’ve done so much for her. I can’t believe she did that.”

“She was afraid I had cancer,” I said shrugging.

“What if you did?!” Jenna demanded. “You’d need her even more.”

“She’s afraid of illness,” I replied.

“That’s no excuse for treachery,” Jenna said.

“No,” I agreed. “But that’s why she did it.”

Jenna traced a pattern in her place mat with the tip of her teaspoon as we sipped our tea.

“You know,” she mused. “You should call and tell her… Oh, I don’t know… Tell her something.”

I shook my head, “No. I’m not going to call her.”

Jenna opened her mouth. I interrupted before she spoke.

“I’ve been Caroline’s friend,” I said. “But she’s never been mine. This…” I stopped for a minute, “treachery — that’s a good word — I don’t need it in my life.”

“No,” Jenna agreed.

“So that’s that,” I said.

“And the girls?”

“Perhaps I’ll see them in the neighbourhood,” I shrugged. “But I can’t ask them to choose between me and their mother.”

My eyes smarted. I blinked a tear away.

“It’s bloody awful,” Jenna said.

“Yes,” I nodded.

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S is for Songs

From childhood, I’ve made up and sung little songs to myself for comfort, cheer, and to try to find ways to express the inexpressible. Here are a few of them for which I’ve not yet found a place:

When I hold Your Hand
Where are You?
Where are You?
Though I’ve tried my best, I can’t stand alone
I need Your love to still the fear inside of me
There’s no terror I can’t face
When I hold Your hand

Am I blind?
Am I blind?
Am I in Your arms? Are You really here?
And if it’s dark only cause I’ve closed my eyes to You
You’ll restore my sight again
When I hold Your hand

I’ll make it through the night
Through the angry raging storm
When I hold Your hand
And though my dreams may be a long time coming true
I can see the rising sun
When I hold Your hand

s is for songsSuddenly
I’m the one who always sees light hiding inside the darkest rain
I’m the one who can always find joy waiting inside the deepest pain
I’m the one people travel to hope hope
A journey they have never made in vain
But suddenly, the sky has gone all grey
I don’t want to be here any more
Suddenly, the stars have all gone dim
The sun won’t shine like it did before

Can it be that I’ve taken on the world?
That the earth’s weight is on my head?
I’d heard love makes the sun shine brighter still
Makes stormy seas grow calm instead
But I guess those were only pretty words
That lured me into crushing waves of dread
And suddenly, the sky has gone all grey
I don’t want to be here any more
(2nd voice) Hold tight there is a ship upon it’s way to you
Suddenly, the stars have all gone dim
(2nd voice) You’ll be alright
The sun won’t shine like it did before
(2nd voice) Hold tight you’ve got the courage to wait out the dawn
The sun won’t shine like it did before
(2nd voice) The sun will soon shine

These last two songs are comic rhyme. I’ve written other songs about the mice the exterminator rang, getting frozen dinner for my birthday, and many other subjects. At one time, I sang indexing, programming, and coding to the tunes of the arias I was learning. (Made the day more interesting.)

My Favourite Foods (to the tune of My Favourite Things)
Baked potatoes and scrambleded eggs
Knockwurst and noodles and fried chicken legs
Pizza, spaghetti, and cold salmon mousse
These are a few of my favourite foods
When I’m hungry and I’m starving and my stomach growls
I simply cook one of my favourite foods and then stuff it in my mouth

Oh You’re Now A Whole Year Older*
Oh you’re now a whole year older, yes indeed!
Oh you’re now a whole year older, yes indeed!
Oh you’re now a whole year older, there’s a hump upon your shoulder
Yes you’re now a whole year older, yes indeed!

Better do your celebrating, oh yes do
Better do your celebrating, oh yes do
Better do your celebrating, by next year you will be ailing
Better do your celebrating, oh yes do

Better hope you get a walker, yes you should
Better hope you get a walker, yes you should
Better hope you get a walker, fore your knees begin to totter
Better hope you get a walker, yes you should

*A co-worker about to be 27 complained that she was getting old. I warned her not to tell me such thing and told her of previous songs. She continued to complain. This song came to me complete while I was in the shower the next morning.

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