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A Puzzle of Empty Crosswords

A Puzzle of Empty Crosswords

You scroll through social media feeds. There are a lot of words. There’s no shortage of words. Words about community and violence; terror and guns; race and sexual orientation and religion and politics and love and solidarity and pride and safety and fear and anger.

DRJedi

You love crossword puzzles.

It’s Sunday morning and you’re still in bed, despite the buzzing phone alarm and the repeated swipe of the snooze toggle. But it’s Sunday morning. You really don’t have any place to be.

You roll over; the space next to you is empty save for a crumpled pillow and creased sheets. You hear footsteps upstairs, your boyfriend. Probably in the guest bathroom. It’s still a new relationship — not quite long enough for him to feel comfortable using the master bathroom, you guess.

You reach over for the folded crossword puzzles on the nightstand, the ones you religiously save from the weekly Buyer's Edge coupon mailers. The stack is thicker than usual — you haven’t been spending much time on them lately, and the one you’re currently working on has had you stumped for days. Scribbled letters and misshapen words crisscross the paper, remnants of failed attempts and overconfidence.

You love crossword puzzles.

You love the empty boxes, perfectly aligned, ready for inked letters, ready for answers to cryptic questions. There’s something satisfying about making sense of the black and white spaces, fitting answers into other answers and watching handwritten order take shape within printed boundaries. It scratches an itch in your head you’ve always had but can’t articulate, even now.

You don’t get far.

The bedroom door opens and your boyfriend peeks his head inside.

You smile because he’s beautiful and he makes you feel special and you feel like he could be an answer to some of your own empty boxes.

But there’s a heaviness behind his eyes, more than usual.

He tells you the news. About death. About hate.

You want to curl back into bed, give yourself time to think. But your alarm buzzes again, your leg has slipped from under the comforter and the sleep caked in the corner of your eye starts to itch.

You palm your phone and stumble onto the patio. He’s already sitting on the cheap IKEA chair, lit cigarette between his teeth. You assume he’s going to share it with you. It’s become your House of Cards routine, a shared cigarette over conversations about taking over the world; although you’re still not sure who’s Claire and who’s Frank.

You have a missed call from a friend, also your editor. He didn’t leave a message, but you know why he called.

You take a drag of the offered cigarette before calling back. One more. OK, a third and final inhale, letting the smoke sit in the bottom of your lungs before exhaling through your nose.

Your voice is fuzzy with sleep and smoke, but you call back anyway, clearing your throat.

It’s what you expected. Death. Hate. But also confusion, frustration and tears. It’s more than smoke and sleep closing around your throat now, more than the tendrils of smoldering cigarette stinging your eyes.

You love crossword puzzles.

Because you love words. It’s what you do. For a living. For fun. And he’s asking for words, words from you, your words.

You scroll through social media feeds. There are a lot of words. There’s no shortage of words. Words about community and violence; terror and guns; race and sexual orientation and religion and politics and love and solidarity and pride and safety and fear and anger.

So many words.

But what are the right words?

Is there even such a thing?

What if you say something wrong, or say something insensitive or say something that highlights your own ignorance, your own bias, your own privilege, your own conception of something you can’t even begin to wrap your head around?

You feel the uniform grid of black and white boxes start to break apart around you. Your perfect cube of ink and paper and words is riddled with the bullets that killed 50 people and injured 53 more.

The cryptic questions remain, but there are no boxes for answers. Only misshapen scribbles in the margins.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

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Dustin Diehl

Dustin loves writing, reading, and movies, and is basically a cat lady. He's passionate about travel, but most of all, he's obsessed with a little space opera called Star Wars.

Dustin loves writing, reading, and movies, and is basically a cat lady. He's passionate about travel, but most of all, he's obsessed with a little space opera called Star Wars.