by Len Kuntz
When I was a boy, there was always a lot of turmoil in our house, things I didn’t understand. I was painfully shy and had no friends, so I didn’t know how normal families lived, yet I knew ours was different.
The only place I felt safe was the basement bathroom where no one ever went. Sometimes late in the evening I would wedge myself between the sink and toilet, sitting over the heat vent because warmth, too, signified a kind of safety, as our house was always quite cold, because heat cost money and that was another thing we lacked.
I was around nine when this habit started. I’d stay up for hours, holed away in the bathroom, reading Gulliver’s Travelsor any other book I’d gotten from the library. Reading was escapism, something that felt like wonder, something I desperately needed.
School was another safe place and one semester in fourth grade, we focused on creative writing. The teacher assigned us four different writing prompts each day and we were to pick one to write about. I’d always choose all four because it seemed a shame to waste a good story idea, even if it wasn’t mine.
At the end of the year, my teacher pulled me aside and said, “You should think about being a writer when you grow up.” I thought she was joking at first, but the more I thought about it, the more the idea became a kind of dream that I carried around with me, tucked away safely in my shirt pocket, right beside my heart.
That summer our garage burned down and we were laying the foundation for a new one. All of us boys were helping out. (Len is on the far right at the end of the wagon) My brothers were very good with their hands, as well as my father, who was a mechanic. Me, I wore puka shells, had long, David Cassidy hair, and read poetry. My assisting simply meant handing over tools.
At one point we broke for lunch and as my brothers left, I was alone with my Dad, something kind of rare, but for whatever reason I felt brave enough to say, “Hey, Dad, I figured out what I want to be when I grow up.” To wit, he asked, “Yeah, what’s that?” He was staring at me then, but I still told him, “I want to be a writer.” Without hesitating, as if he knew what I was going to say all along, he said, “Quit your fucking dreaming. How’re you going to eat on that?”
Though it was a knife to the heart, I don’t think he meant it that way. We were poor. The way you made a living was with your hands and hard labor. He just couldn’t fathom being able to feed yourself, let alone a family, by writing words.
But what he’d said quashed my dream and so as I got older, I took a more pragmatic path and ended up having a corporate career.
More than thirty years later, I retired early and started writing full-time. This was around 2009. I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know there were online journals and had never even heard of the term “Flash Fiction.” But once I discovered them, I became a student.
It was easy to assess who the top writers were at that time, so I picked a handful—Roxane Gay, Kim Chinquee, Kathy Fish, xTx, Meg Pokrass—and I read everything they wrote, read it forward and backward. Then I started submitting to the same places I’d seen them published, not realizing that for a novice like me, some of those places are extremely hard to get into. But that bit of naivety helped as my first few pieces landed in some of the top sites—Juked, Elimae, Storyglossia and others.
Along the way, I kept trying to be a student of the craft. Additionally, I watched people like Matt Bell, who really worked hard at immersing himself in the writing community, and I tried, in my own way, to emulate what he had accomplished. What I never expected is how easy it would be, how welcoming and supportive other writers are. And it didn’t occur to me until later that, as writers, we’re all boats in the same ocean, just using different oars.
It’s a joy and a gift to be able to create and engage with other writers. It’s like finding your soul mate and realizing how lucky you are, never taking it for granted.
It’s been a long, sometimes crooked, road since I was that nine year old boy, but when I’m reading something that really sings, or when I’m totally engrossed while I’m writing, I think I’m still him. I’m warm and I’m safe. I’m quite happy.
Here’s what happens:
She thinks this is forever. You love her. You say so regularly. Most of the time, you’re kind. Occasionally, you’re a bastard because you have fists and impulses that are difficult to quell.
Still you’re her best thing ever. She tells you that often, especially during sex–those seldom, soft-churning, almost-like-lovers, sex times.
And so a home movie or two is fine. She’ll do whatever.
Really, whatever. Film all you want. It’ll be ours to watch alone, titillating.
Yes, she actually says that.
And then, out of the blue, the impulses and fists become overactive, finding flesh and bone, making hamburger over and over until she finally leaves you.
Stupid Bitch, why’d it take so long?
But you still have the movie. It’s just sitting there inside your phone, so you download it to a site where everyone can see what a ruler you are of women, how you dominate them, how they do whatever you command, and the video gets so many hits that you somehow start to make an income from it, plus your face is pixeled out, but not hers, because it’s important for her agony to be choreographed.
History—those tortured, yet intimate moments—is recorded from mere memories. Easy peasy. Yay!
And so you strut in front of a mirror naked, fists raised toward the ceiling, noticing how large your gut’s gotten, everything bigger now—ego, bravado—though not your understanding of love, sex, or how violence can possibly be a thing of beauty.
Thank you for this beautiful + encouraging essay Len
Glad you found flash. Beautiful Violence is hauntingly beautiful.
I'm glad you never stopped dreaming, Len, even if it took a long-term delay for a bit. Great story!
Good to hear. Great article, Len. I always want to read your stories.
I completely and totally adore you. Proud to be floating in any ocean you inhabit.
My Dad was a mechanic too. Then a factory maintenance man. He'd had to farm with his brother when that's what the brother wanted after coming home from WWII. My Dad, too young to have been drafted and needed on the farm, hadn't gone to war. He'd wanted to travel though, do things not expected for an Iowa farm boy. He'd told me the only thing he'd ever been good at was writing. Thought he could have been a writer. He never had the chance or the nerve to take the chance. You did. Bravo.
Wow! What a story! I had NO idea. I really enjoyed reading this and I appreciate and respect your candor, vulnerability and willingness to “put it all out there!”
Len, thank you for sharing this beautiful, raw part of yourself. -April
Feel so fortunate to call you my bro. And also that I knew most of these harrowing details, how your dream come true has given us all more life to live by your amazing words, poetry and fiction. Bravo, Len!