Spring Issue 2012
Embodied Effigies Issue One: The Best of Ball State University
Embodied Effigies is a literary magazine focusing on creative nonfiction writing. The magazine does not discriminate against other forms of creative writing, but it does think that creative nonfiction is the coolest. It should be noted that this is a secret, so do not tell the other forms of creative writing. They have been known to be a bit touchy on the subject. The magazine wants to publish work from around the world, and it might do so in the future, if it can grow outside of the confines of being created by “broke-ass college students.” With luck, Embodied Effigies could become a big thing, but probably never a major motion picture. Information regarding future issues, submission guidelines, and featured writing of Embodied Effigies can be found at http://sites.google. com/site/effigiesmag. Please email us with any questions or comments at email@example.com. Copyright © 2012 Embodied Effigies, John Carter, and Catherine Roberts. Printed by John Carter and Catherine Roberts. All rights revert to author after publication. The views and opinions expressed by authors featured in Embodied Effigies do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the editors, unless they’re really cool. If that’s the case, then we are totally on that bandwagon. Publication of Embodied Effigies is made possible by the lint-lined pockets of John Carter and Catherine Roberts, which is probably the foremost reason it doesn’t look totally legitimate. Honestly, though, do you really think the very first issue of The New Yorker looked that great? Seriously, they didn’t even have InDesign. We would also like to extend our unending thanks to everyone who made this first issue possible: our submitters, our professors, our families, our friends—Thank you.
Embodied Effigies Masthead Managing Co-Editors John Carter Catherine Roberts
John Carter is a junior creative writing major at Ball State University. He specializes in description and rhythm, bringing his love of family, farm life, and nature to an extremely accessible area through an unparalleled lyrical quality. He completed his first chapbook of short essays, “Native Tillage,” in 2011. John intends to continue towards graduate study at Purdue University. It has been rumored that he may, indeed, be a Warlord of Mars.
Catherine “Cat” Roberts is a senior creative writing major at Ball State University. Cat specializes in experimentation and the sounds of words, often freezing death on the page and tearing apart the traditional styles of essay. She completed her first collection of short essays, “Breakdown,” in 2011 as well. Cat intends to attempt to find a job in editing and publishing, but would also like to eventually gain her MFA in Nonfiction Writing from the University of Iowa. She has not yet garnered the title of “Warlord,” but still claims the status of “force with which to be reckoned.”
Introduction Dear Reader: Let this letter serve as an explanation, a defense, a preparation for the experience held within these pages, for it is only through this interaction with you that we may display our thoughts, our minds, our wishes to the public. It is only through moments like these, in quiet rooms with focused eyes, that we can develop our connection and relay to you the ways in which we lived. Initially, Embodied Effigies began as an idea for the final project of English 489 (Practicum in Literary Editing and Publishing, The Broken Plate) between us, the two editors. We met to discuss creating an anthology of Creative Nonfiction Writing, a genre which we had both found we could not live without. We remembered the final days of our English 406 (Advanced Creative Nonfiction Writing) class, where everyone felt an awe-inspiring sense of community and the true desire for the class to keep going. We wanted to extend that community beyond just our class of 15 or so people—especially since there was already a larger community of poets and fiction writers spread throughout the campus. We had stories to tell as well, and we wanted to hear the words, the lives, our companions poured onto paper. The title of the magazine came from lists upon lists of words, the only one of which that really stuck out to us being “Effigies.” The words will serve as our effigies, our representations, our “us on paper.” As for “Embodied,” well, that comes from a much cooler place than just a list of words. Having just read Caitlin Horrocks’s debut collection of short stories, This is Not Your City, we found ourselves in love with the book—and one story in particular which meandered through a woman’s life and the lives of her 127 past incarnations. The story was titled (you guessed it) “Embodied.” We find ourselves in debt to the support received over the course of creating this magazine; we are still in shock that our first issue had any submissions at all outside of those we solicited. We extend our deepest thanks and appreciation to the English Department of Ball State University; our professors, Mark and Todd; that class of 15 or so people from the spring of 2011; and every person involved in the lives of these writers—for without them, there would be no stories, and we would have no effigies to embody. John Carter & Catherine Roberts Managing Co-Editors Embodied Effigies
Table of Contents
Bad Neighbor Monica Engle
Homecoming Bridget Gelms
Haunted Rianne Hall
On the Early Death of the Late Aunt Judi
Smitten by a Shower of Frogs
J. Scott Bugher
My Motherâ€™s Siblings
Looking on the Bright Side of Life
Bad Neighbor Monica Engle
I was cooking up a mean batch of Hamburger Helper when I heard a knock at my door. It couldn’t have come at a worse time. I was just about to pour in the 1 ¼ cup of milk and begin the simmering process. Whoever it was would have to wait, and I was irrationally mad at them. How dare they interrupt me mid-simmer? They knocked again. Fine! I thought, hating people who knock too many times, and leaving the plastic measuring cup full of milk sitting on the stove. As I approached the door, I saw the shadow of two people walking away. I grabbed the knob quickly to catch whoever they were. When I flung the door open, they turned back around. My neighbors. We hadn’t met yet. “Hi,” said a pretty girl extending a ceramic plate filled with cookies. “Sorry we haven’t introduced ourselves yet. I’m Hannah, and this is my husband, Andrew.” My first thought upon seeing Andrew: Wow, buddy. Nice job. Hannah was beautiful. She had perfect, white gleaming teeth, curly brunette locks, and a runner’s physique. Andrew, on the other hand, was obnoxiously tall, had a chin that seemed to connect directly to his neck, and massive front teeth. He looked like an alien. Or Michael Phelps. He was dainty and delicate; if I poked him in the chest, he would fall over like a cheap piece of lumber. But he was nice enough. “Oh, hi. I’m Monica. I live with my boyfriend, Alec, but he isn’t home yet.” I’ve always been terrible at chit-chat. When do you invite someone inside your house? How much should you say about yourself? How much should you ask about them? How do you tell them to get the hell out so the Hamburger Helper isn’t ruined? But I did Embodied Effigies
invite them inside. It was the beginning of December, and it was cold for them out there, but also I had electric heat and could see my money blowing out the open door. “Come in.” What do you do after the initial invite, once you’re inside? A rational person would have offered them a seat and a beverage, maybe even given them a tour of the house. But I just stayed there, in the entryway, and they kept their backs pressed against the closed door. At least they’re keeping the heat inside. “These are for you,” Hannah said, handing me the plate. “They’re not my best: salted, white macadamia nut.” “Oh, that sounds good to me,” I said, unsure of whether or not to add, “especially after I smoke pot and have the munchies later.” I chose not to say it. They had that Catholic vibe about them; I thought I saw them cringe when I said I lived with my boyfriend instead of my husband. The awkward chit-chat lasted for a few more minutes. Where do you work? How long have you lived here? Are you in college? What’s your major? Until, finally, Hannah said, “Well, I’ll let you get back to whatever it is that you’re watching.” She gestured toward the TV. “Oh, I’m not really watching anything. I’m actually making Hamburger Helper.” I wished I wouldn’t have said that. She made her own damn cookies from scratch. They left, and I put the plate of cookies on the counter. I called my mom once I had the Hamburger Helper simmering, because I always call my mom when something adult happens to me. “My neighbors brought me a plate of cookies.” “Really? That was nice of them!” “Yeah, and the cookies are really good, too.” “You know, you can’t return that plate to them empty. You have to make your own cookies, and then give it back.” “Yeah, I know.” What a stupid custom. I am considered rude if I give back an Engle
empty plate that was once filled with cookies. Shouldn’t they just be happy to get their plate back? What if after I returned the plate, they brought it back, filled with more cookies? When does the cycle stop? I had a lot of stuff to do. I didn’t have time to bake cookies all day. Hypothetical Hannah was extremely rude and inconsiderate of my time. We finished the cookies after about a week. We washed the plate. We went to the store and bought the ingredients for making our own cookies to give to the neighbors. We made the cookies. And then we ate them all. And so it went. For three months. Why couldn’t we just be adults and give them our cookies and their stupid plate and be done with it all? Every time I opened the cabinet, their white ceramic plate was staring back at me, like a sad puppy who missed its owners. It’s not like we didn’t acknowledge it, either. Every weekend one of us would say, “Okay, we really need to make those cookies and give the neighbors their plate back.” But we never would. Every time we heard the neighbors arguing, we would wonder aloud if they were angry about our behavior and their missing plate. I was genuinely concerned each time I heard a knock at the door that it would be Hannah, demanding that we give the plate back. I could just picture their conversations about us: “Can you believe they still haven’t given us our plate back?” “I know! What kind of animal would do such a thing?”
The fear began to tear me up inside. I had to end this thing.
In late February, I made the cookies (oatmeal cinnamon raisin) and put them on the plate before Alec and I could eat them all. I covered them with saran wrap and breathed a sigh of relief. I did it. I waited for Alec to come home so we could deliver the cookies and the plate together, and apologize for the delay. When he got home, Bad Neighbor
we decided it was too late to go over there. The next day we were too tired. The day after that, it was too snowy. “This is crazy!” I said on the fourth day. “We have to go over there!” “It’s 9:00…” “No! C’mon.” There wasn’t as much at stake for Alec. He hadn’t even met them yet. They weren’t blaming him for their missing plate. But we couldn’t turn on each other now, in the final hour. So we went over there, rang their doorbell and waited for their wrath. Andrew answered the door in pajama pants and a cardigan sweater. “Hi,” I said, extending the long lost plate like a kidnapper returning a child. “I’m sorry it took us so long to return the favor.” “Yeah,” Alec said. “We’re pretty big procrastinators.” I really wanted him to stop talking. These poor people had obviously gathered that we were procrastinators. “Oh…” Andrew said, taking the plate in his delicate hands. Hannah appeared behind him. “Hi,” I said, repeating the same thing I had told Andrew. “Oatmeal cinnamon raisin!” Alec exclaimed out of nowhere. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind at that point how much these people must have pitied us in our feeble attempt to act like grown-ups. I just wanted to go back inside. I was freezing and embarrassed. “Oh, thanks,” Hannah said. Then she added, “The reason we brought the cookies over in the first place was because we saw your wireless network was called TheAvettBrothers. We were like ‘Oh, they have good taste in music! We have to go over there!’.” “Oh,” I said, feeling like I was an even bigger disappointment. “Well, it’s pretty cold,” Alec said as large puffs of white billowed from his mouth. “Yeah,” Hannah said. “Well, thanks.”
We did not get invited inside.
Homecoming Bridget Gelms
After almost four years of separation, we were reunited with just one glance from across the smoke-infested bar with shower curtains for toilet-stall doors, the type of place we used to go with each other to play pool and listen to Stealerâ€™s Wheel on the jukebox. Of course, I am not counting the time I made the nine hour drive to see you for five minutes, telling everyone I was coming home for Nikkiâ€™s bachelorette party. I pulled into the cul-de-sac you now lived on, eager to start a fight about my things I knew you probably threw away long ago. A green plastic tote filled to the brim with random items I no longer cared about dominated your sparsely furnished living room. An incomplete measuring-cup set. A half-used bottle of herbinfused olive oil. A VHS of Pinocchio. An Easter-themed coloring book. You helped me load it into the backseat of my car before we sat in your bedroom you now shared with someone else, the evidence apparent in the form of a random sweat-stained bra staring at me from the closet floor and a plethora of lip glosses judging my shine-less lips from the bureau. The lamp my mother eagerly bought for my dorm room the day I moved to college slumped battered and without a shade on the television box you designated as a nightstand. You told me about how you had no means to move my furniture from our old house to your new one, and so they were left to be abused and gawked at from the end of the driveway on trash day. The coffee table had been in my life since the day my dad rented the awful apartment I told you about. Ginny and I slept on sleeping bags in the living room before graduating to pool floaties dad found at a discount store. Eventually, the Salvation Army helped Embodied Effigies
us out by giving us two old olive-green army cots to cradle our sleeping bags and tiny bodies to sleep at night. With the cots came the coffee table, which stayed with us through the hard times, and when things started to look up for us financially. It seemed wrong to get rid of such a good friend when we finally had the money to afford a new one. The coffee table sat patiently in the back of the U-Haul the day Dad donated some furniture to my first apartment. It didn’t even put up a fuss when you and I carried it the two-block trip as I moved into your place. Now it’s gone. The vintage 1950’s dining set and purple couch and chair set could have gotten you some money for your drug habit had you not been so hasty to get me out of your life. I leave with the green tote and a smile, only to cry at the bachelorette party that night. About sixth months later you sent me an e-mail: “Dad died. Just thought you should know.” I thought about driving home to see you and your dad at his funeral. I thought about your sister Amy, and how fragile she always was and how much she worries about you. I thought about it. And now it’s been four years or more since we broke up, and while you flickered to my mind when I told Nikki I would come home for her birthday, I never imagined I would see you. But I did. I felt you walk in and turned towards the entrance from my booth at the back and saw you—the person I let go of so long ago in return for a hole in my heart that grew out of my youth. Too much growing up was done with you for me to ever not have you in my life. Even though we haven’t talked or seen each other for years, you’ve stayed with me in various forms. We meet in front of the dart board we used to play Cricket on together, me racing to close out the twenties because I knew of your talent for hitting three triples accurately and without effort. We ask each other the same questions: How is your mom (Both are fine, mine is still crazy and yours is healing from your father’s death)? How is your sister (Ginny is great, you tell me Amy married that guy you never liked)? When did you graduate (We both finished last Gelms
year)? Are you working (I’m back in school and working part time, you work two jobs sixty hours a week)? What else is new (Nothing much)? Seen any good movies (Yes and no)? And then we exchange what we really care about: How is Erin? How is Sean? Erin left. Your bloodshot eyes and protruding cheekbones tell me she left for similar reasons as me. You take a nervous drag from your cigarette as I tell you Sean is great. We’re planning on getting married in the future. You smile and tell me that’s great and that you’re happy for me. I’m happier than I ever knew I could be, but it stings to tell you this because we were going to get married. We had plans. We loved each other. And I can see in your body language that you think about this too. There is no more anger as I realize you are simply a part of my past that helped shape my future. And it looks bright. I want to thank you, but instead I buy you a beer and we talk and laugh about old inside jokes long forgotten until now. I’m grateful we’re still alike in our aversion to grudges. We hug, and you walk with me in the rain to meet up with Nikki’s party. Sean shakes your hand and says, “I’ve heard a lot about you,” and while most of it was bad he knows how important you once were to me. You chat amicably before disappearing back into the rain to do what it is you choose over love. Sean rubs my back and asks if I’m okay. I smile up at him and nod, knowing that I made the right decision when I left four years ago. As I dry my hands on a bar napkin I wonder if someday soon I’ll get an e-mail from your sister.
Haunted Rianne Hall
Ever since I was a child, I had them. I always felt them, waiting for me to close my eyes and slide into a deep sleep that never satisfied. My imagination has always been impatient and holds grudges. I don’t know how old I was when they started. Maybe they were there in my infancy, tormenting my unformed mushy mind. The first one I remember, I don’t remember well. I fell asleep, and in my dream I awakened in my room. The instant my foot hit the puffy carpet a gigantic jaw ensnared my ankle and dragged me beneath my bed. A swamp was under my bed, filled to the brim with crocodiles whose favorite treat was little girls with curly brown hair. My eyes snapped open. I twisted into a ball on my bed, ensuring no limbs were dangling off the sides for a hungry croc to nab as a snack. This dream was trapped in my subconscious for months. Sometimes the being under my bed willing my destruction changed, but the fright remained the same. I don’t know when this nightmare evolved into something infinitely more horrifying. I want to say when I was 11 or 12. Perhaps it was when I discovered I was the family disgrace. I am a middle child. My older sister was the perfect one, my younger brother the helpless one. I was the perfectly capable young woman with mischievous tendencies. Not exactly a parent’s dreams come true. With this insight, my warped imagination tweaked my nightmare to match my psychological fears. The ritual foot brushing the carpet took place, but no jaw popped out from under my bed to attack me. Instead, to my horror, I found a skeletal hand grabbing my foot. It pulled my screaming body underneath the bed. I landed on cold, frozen ground instead of the damp ground of a swamp. RubEmbodied Effigies
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bing my head, I looked up to see blue trees and foggy ground surrounding me. A lake was spread out wide in front of me, bubbling and gurgling for no apparent reason. I felt creatures move around me, though I saw no figures. I explored the new setting, testing the water with a dainty finger. It was cold. Every thing had a blue tint: the weeping willows surrounding the lake, the crescent moon smirking in the sky, even the grass. Finally, I saw a woolly figure ascending the small hill surrounding the lake. I rushed towards the figure; a tugging in my mind shrieked a warning. My eyes passed the crest of the hill to see the bristly figure sitting on a throne. My eyes widened at the sight, as he beckoned me closer with a hand. My feet followed his call without my mind’s consent. His tinted blue eyes stared into my chestnut brown. “Don’t be afraid, child. I am here for you. They left you on the surface, didn’t they?” a voice screeched, though the figure’s lips did not move. “Come, I will care for you. I will love you.” As I got closer, my hands began to shake. His eyes not once leaving mine, they bored into me, seeing my pain, seeing the black lamb of my family, the outcast. He offered me comfort. I saw it in the calloused hands that welcomed within my reach. Suddenly, his eyes turned red and his hands sprouted claws. I didn’t have time to scream or defend myself as his claws ran over the length of my stature, tearing my skin to rags. My body lurched back to my sweat-coated bed and tear stained pillow. My lungs ripped for breath, my muscles convulsed in pain, and finally, my vocal cords vibrated with such passion the entire house came to life. After this, my nightmares came to a halt and my years of puberty passed by as well as any years of puberty could: awkward and self-aware. It was not until I reached the rotten age of 16 they returned, with vengeance. I had my first boyfriend. His name was Clayton. I believed, as any foolish smitten girl at that age does, that I loved him. As time went on, we had our battles and struggles as a couple. We fought through them believing we had the agent of love on our side. Near Hall
the end of my sophomore year of high school, I discovered otherwise. My best friend loyally reported to me Clayton had tried to kiss her. Heart broken and distressed, I broke off our relationship. He did not take it well, stalking my house and threatening my family. During our relationship, I had torn myself away from my friends who disproved of him, which in this case was all of them except one. Already alone, I became even more of a hermit, barely leaving the house for fear he would find me and do those awful things teenaged boys are assumed to want. One night, as I lied down to go to sleep, Clayton found me. My eyes closed and my mind relaxed into a merciless slumber. I was at a party, my one best guy friend by my side, Zach. We were laughing and having a good time. It was the first time I had gone to a social gathering in months. A Halloween party, everyone was in costumes and dancing in the blinking lights. Zach’s cell phone rang pleasantly and he went away to answer it in private. “Mom” he mouthed to me quietly exiting the room pulsing with music. In his absence, a tall figure in a hockey mask gave me a drink and sat down beside me. Innocently, I accepted the drink and took an appreciative sip. A black flash, and I was watching Zach speak with his mother. “Yes mom, everything is fine. I will be home by midnight. Goodnight,” and the phone clicked shut. Zach returned to the room, and found that my place on the couch was empty, but still warm. Assuming I had gotten up to dance, he perused the dance floor. I was nowhere to be found. Frantically, he began asking if anyone had seen me. At last, someone said, “She was going up the stairs with someone, I thought it was you. She looked pretty wasted, she was leaning on her friend an awful lot.” Horror struck, he clambered up the stairs two at a time. A man exited a room just as he reached the top, hockey mask in hand and a satisfied smirk on his face. My nightmare vision zoomed in through the room’s door to find me. I laid on a hardwood floor, bleeding and cold. My head dizzy from the drug I had been slipped. I could still feel the pain of his hands on me. My eyes leaked, blurring my vision and rolled around Haunted
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in my sockets, my mind screaming out in pain but never connected with my mouth to make noise. Just then, Zach burst through the door and saw my bleeding body. â€œOh my god,â€? he whispered through rage and rushed to my rescue. After this nightmare, I developed a form of insomnia. If I did not go to sleep, nothing would haunt me. If I did not go to sleep, my demons would not come and I would forget about them. Right? Oh, how wrong I was. Nightmares are unyielding with an imagination that is impatient, and holds grudges.
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On the Early Death of the Late Aunt Judi Sarah Bunner
Today was the day of twos. Two aunts dying. Two times stranded in a car by the side of the road. Two can make three, can make one miserable, but, my suspicions confirmed, can not make one. I live in a world of imagination. I live alone but I’d like visitors. I never like to overstay my welcome. I have been dreaming and thinking every day that maybe I died one of those nights and now I am in heaven or hell or both at various times. I’ve been thinking that maybe my parents couldn’t conceive naturally because they weren’t capable of making a human with a heart hard enough to survive. But hey, the world needs saps I guess. I fell asleep in the bathtub tonight. There is freedom in remembering that thing I learned this summer about subjective reality. No one is in here but me. Goodnight to the people I love. I think you’re all outlandishly beautiful but you’re also all assholes. See ya when the snow melts. I dreamt that I was back in the house on 80th street. This time my mother and I were the only ones living there. Unlike the dreams I often have about the house, there weren’t a hundred strangers walking around, there was no bathtub scene, the house did not appear noticeably warped. While my mother and I slept, we heard a noise coming from the room where my grandmother spent the last years of her life. It was a voice, faint and feeble, already dead but asking for something and we couldn’t understand. I was afraid of the voice, what it meant, how different my grandmother seemed to me in this state. Sometimes my mother heard the voice and sometimes I was the only one who could hear it. The lights came on and off without our help and we didn’t want to go near the room but we dressed our finest and thought of things to say to Grandma. (I remember Embodied Effigies
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thinking that her death had been clear and clean-cut. She was gone when she was gone. I didn’t hold her hand on the bed because it wasn’t her hand anymore. So why was she back and what could she want? When I asked for a sign and it snowed, I thought the snow was a sign). It was the kind of nightmare that leaves me awake and alone in my bed, middle-of-the-night-or-morning fear. My aunt had a brain scan done yesterday so that science can tell us if she’s in there anymore or not. Whatever is here inside me is guessing no. The doctor is in, the answer is a resounding “no.” Not with a bang but a whimper. We women begin shopping for dark colored dresses. We will say goodbye sometime between her sister’s birthday and her daughter’s wedding anniversary. There won’t be a response, the hugs will be one sided, and nobody will acknowledge it. My mother will be crowned Queen, the last of her generation, a role she will accept dutifully. Gracefully, gently, gingerly she will soothe the royal family in poverty, sickness, divorce, moments of weakness. I will be the Queen’s counselor. English tea with milk and honey. Sit down, sweet pea, help me with the funeral flowers. I drive to Muncie with my brother and he says he is sad and I am reminded. I come home and I am alone, without my blood, without a single human being in the county who I don’t have to explain anything to. Before I leave my mother says she wants solitude, rest from the planning, the funeral flowers, but she will miss me and she cries because she says she can have solitude with me by her side but not the lonely kind and I realize this is all I want from my friends and this is all I want people to say about me when I die. I’m thinking about it all. I’ve never felt the need for a family of my own, people younger than me, people I can expect to outlive, never ever fantasized about a wedding like most girls, and now for the first time in my life I think that I would like to live with the same four or five or six beautiful people for the rest of my life. I cry to my friend when I come back to school, she reacts gracefully and lets me listen to sad songs and stays silent through them and pours me wine even though that is only short term therapy. I think that maybe if I ever get marBunner
ried she will be one of the bridesmaids and for the rest of the night every story I think up and do not say is about my family. I can’t keep don’t keep my meals down. I throw up my dinner from crying so violently, I need this winter to end for me. It just keeps coming and coming and coming and it won’t stop. But I know now that not everyone dies alone. Some people die with their beloved around them. They give kisses and state the names of everyone in the room, they smile and look into your eyes and you dream about it from then on and some people die in the most beautiful way but everyone still misses them the same. My grandmother, my uncle, my aunt are buried in the same spot on the east side of my hometown. Aunt Rosie’s plot is marked, next to her first love, and her name on the stone reminds us that we will be back here soon. My mother pays the fee and her grave is set so I tell her if I die before she dies I want to be buried here too. Before I was old enough to even understand suicide I told my mother that when she died I would make sure that I died too because I could not ever live without her. But we always live without them. When the nurse says my Aunt Judi is gone I cry with my head in my hands. I look up and we are praying over the body and I need to leave quickly because I cannot stand the shape of her mouth. My father returns to the veteran’s hospital where he always warns me not to hope for his long life. The generosities, the small and kind words from friends, from the people who know me a little and love me a little are the things that keep me alive. This is so very, very hard.
On the Early Death of the Late Aunt Judi
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Always Stephanie Svarz
Always. That is how long I will love you for. Always. Now, how long is Always, exactly? It’s not really a number or quantity, is it? You can’t have Always oranges or need to drive Always minutes to get to the grocery store. BUT- maybe we could all understand love if we were able to quantify it! We don’t love someone for 3 feet or 6 liters or 8.2 pounds. And this makes understanding love difficult. It’s so subjective. BUT- maybe that’s the point! You’re not supposed to objectify it. You can’t quantify love and it is because of this that I can say that I will love you for Always. I know I can love you Always because love stops time, as in, I forget time when I’m with you. As in, time dissolves, the measure becomes irrelevant. The numbers stop. I can love you Always because numbers loose the value that humanity has charged them with. BUT- What if all numbers lost their value? The world would fall apart! No order, no unity, chaos would ensue! So maybe love does need numbers, just so we could make a little sense of it. If this is true, I will still be able to love you for Always. Always is my number. NOW- before my mental stability is questioned, as it often is (and really should be) let me explain. As the word is defined, Always means forever, which is synonymous with infinity. Infinity is represented as ∞. When you turn this symbol so it stands vertically, it becomes an 8. 8 is a number, therefore, I find it fitting and appropriate to say that I can put a number value on my love. I will love you a sideways 8, I will love you for infinity. I will love you for Always. Embodied Effigies
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Smitten by a Shower of Frogs J. Scott Bugher
From the moment of my birth, the angels of anxiety, worry, and death stood at my side, followed me out when I played, followed me in the sun of springtime and in the glories of summer. They stood at my side in the evening when I closed my eyes, and intimidated me with death, hell and eternal damnation. And I would often wake up at night and stare wildly into the room: Am I in Hell? -- Edvard Munch, Painter (1863 - 1944)
I walked in shame, inept, with poor posture, toward the elevator doors with a white paper sack of sample pharmaceuticals in my hand. I held the sack with the grip of a bullied child trying to hold on to his bagged lunch while receiving his morning beating from the schoolyard browbeater. I looked cute, yet pitiful with the child’s scrapes and bruises pouring from my eyes. I hid in the corner of the elevator with my back turned and with my face looking down so the other passengers would not see me. I don’t know why I was afraid of them seeing me. We all were leaving the same place: The Evelyn Frye Center, suite 800 of the Baptist Medical Plaza in Nashville, Tennessee. The center was a place to comfort those who cried often. A week prior, I began to cry often. **** In regard to the cries: These are not the cries that unleash when Travis fires the fatal shot in Old Yeller. Not the cries that emit when Rocky defeats Apollo. Those are emotional cries, cries that spur from the body’s natural autonomic functions. They are lachEmbodied Effigies
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rymal and sinal. Visitors of The Evelyn Frye Center knew the other type of cries. These are the cries that actuate when a woman finds her child, drowned in her backyard pool. These are the cries that belt from the face of a ten year old boy on the day an executioner straps his mother to an electric chair in Sing Sing. These are the cries that surpass the somatic, cries that the flesh and its frame cannot defeat. They are adrenal and diaphragmatic. These are the cries that put me in this place of submission—head-locked—and the referee has yet to hear my call for surrender. **** I could not feel her palm, just her fingertips moving in circles across my back. Her touch was soft, her caress was soothing. Her second arm embraced my tired head. She remained calm while listening to my cries, my screams, and my gibberish. It was three o’clock in the morning on a Thursday during a hot month in 2007. She was my goddess that morning and listened to my plea for salvation. She stayed quiet, continued to graze my back and allowed the demons to have their way with me. The madness flooded out from every sensory mechanism on my face. A sap, green smoke drifted upward from my ears. My cerulean blue eyes were masked by a cataractic gray. My nose exhaled oxidizing flames. My mouth was speaking the native tongue of Hades. I needed Jesus. I needed Him along with two pigs.1 “Why is this happening to me, Katie?” I asked with my cracked voice. “I’m sick, Katie. I’m sick. I can’t do this,” I said later. My body was trembling in battle to release its clenching fetal position while Katie’s hand dug deeper into my stiff back. She stroked me until I unlocked and sat upright. My legs parted, my elbows landed on my knees and my crying head rested in the palms of my hands. I massaged my temples while rocking forward and backward like I used to do on my bed every day after school as a child. **** In regard to the rocking: Rocking was my key coping method 1 The New International Version Bible. Matthew 8:28-32 Bugher
growing up. After a day at school, unable to keep up with lessons, eating by myself in the cafeteria and listening to the other kids call me booger, stupid or dumb on the bus ride home, I would go straight to my bedroom, kneel down on my bed with my hands planted in front of me, and rock back and forth. To me, this was a great comfort, my meditation. The rocking did not end until my early twenties. I am now thirty-four and still fight the urge to kneel down and rock on my bed after a long day of relentless anxiety. **** After thirty minutes of breaking down in her arms, Katie nursed me back to coherency. She gave me one last, slow stroke down my back and assured me that it would be okay but I didn’t believe her. She released my tormented body and walked upstairs to her bedroom. I cannot recall the remainder of that morning. My mind was soiled in delusion and electrified by every adrenal secretion my body could produce. I must have walked, crawled, or waded through the muck of my despair to my lower-level bedroom, or perhaps I blacked out on the couch. I still cannot understand how I managed to sleep that morning while my mind performed a multifaceted, theatrical play in my head. Four acts. Act One: Stabing my mother in the skull and jabbing my fist into her brain. Act Two: Crushing a kitten’s head with a hammer and microwaving its remains. Act Three: Doggy-style sex with a crucifix plugged in the woman’s anus while cursing God. Act Four: Finale. A shuffling set of songs by Toto. What triggered this episode of delirium, this state of mind that only Bret Easton Ellis can put into words? I was living a good, healthy life. I was earning my livelihood with my guitar. Dreams were realized. Self-actualization was achieved. Was it because all good things come to an end? Years and months prior, I was a part of the music listened to by thousands. I was broadcasted to perhaps millions via CBS, via Grey’s Anatomy, via Michelle Block, via college radio. I was performing for bigwigs, politicians, celebrities. I was touring stadiums with the two Kens and Barbie who dominated country radio. I had been living the life I had been called to, the life Smitten by a Shower of Frogs
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that I found satisfying. Perhaps it all started on Sunday. I was mowing the lawn that Sunday before the meltdown. The sun was penetrating through the overcast sky, making it hot— Nashville hot. A film of humidity covered my entire body. My crotch was damp and uncomfortable, but I continued to mow until my phone rang. The call came from the runner-up of a televised singing competition. He was my boss at the time. I was relatively new to his band and had been touring with him for about a month. “It’s just not working out and I need to let you go,” said the singer. “That’s okay. I understand,” I replied. We exchanged some brief, polite conversation and hung up. I stood by the mower and contemplated my unemployment. I didn’t care. The singer was an amphetamine-abusing asshole so the annulment was mutual. His wife was a bitch, so even better. I was later told that it was her idea to fire me because she knew I didn’t like her. I thought she was insane, the bipolar type of insane. Am I too quick to judge sometimes? **** That following Thursday afternoon, after my morning breakdown, Katie did not ask, nor did she hint, but instead she ordered me to see her cousin’s friend, the psychiatric director of The Evelyn Frye Center. I told her I couldn’t afford it. She told me she’d pay. This was an ultimatum. Either I go see the director, or have a social worker come and take away the lunatic I had become. I suppose she wouldn’t have gone that far, but I knew she was serious. She called and made my appointment, gave me a hundred bucks to pay for it and told me that the director minored in acting when he attended college. I don’t know why she told me that. She probably thought we’d relate to each other more since we were both trained in the performing arts. I took the hundred dollars she promised me and I promised her that I would go to the clinic the following day. I had already been fired from my job with the game-show Bugher
singing cowboy, but was indifferent to the situation. One rule all musicians must follow is to not let unemployment become a burden. A musician must remain optimistic that another gig will come along or else the business will destroy him. I wasn’t bothered, but I wasn’t optimistic. I felt nothing. Could it be the nothingness that annihilated me that Thursday morning? Perhaps. But maybe it all started on Tuesday, the day of my week’s second big event. I was dawdling around the house that Tuesday afternoon when Katie approached me and told me that we needed to talk. Katie, a singer-songwriter I played bass for from time to time was probably going to fire me as well as far as I knew. Regardless, I was not worried about this talk until she asked that we go outside. It was then that I looked at her. Her eyes did not meet mine, though she tried. Instead, her eyes were focused just below my own. The thin lips on her face were slightly parted and her acne was more visible than usual. I knew Katie. I knew her looks and what they meant. This look meant serious business. We weren’t going to laugh and tell stories. We were going to have an unfriendly discussion. We went outside and I sat on the aged, swinging patio bench. Katie would normally share the bench with me if we were going to chat about life or share jokes, but instead she pulled up a small, rusted seat, the kind that kids sit on when they have make-believe tea parties. She didn’t bother to initiate the conversation by asking me how I was doing or what was going on. Instead, she told me that she didn’t know how to say it, but: “I think it’s time that you move on.” I knew what she meant, but still, I asked her what she meant. She explained that she was ready to get on with her life without roommates. I began to cry—hard. A precursor to the cry I would experience two days later. Unlike my normal burning cries, this one came to a halt about five minutes into it. I was staring at the concrete deck and Katie was quiet. After my cry tapered off, I had a blank, daydreaming look on my face and was then staring at the gravel driveway at the end of the deck. My eyes were clearing from their crimson color, my dry Smitten by a Shower of Frogs
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mouth was wide open and my lips were chapped. My nostrils were not flaring, my ears were not twitching. They were relaxed. My whole body fell into a deep relief like coming down from an intense yoga workout. I was numb but realized Katie was right. It was time for me to move on. “Everything’s clear now,” I told Katie. “What’s clear?” she asked. “I don’t know. I just feel a sense of clarity. I’m peaceful,” I replied. And I was peaceful, but I may have confused that feeling with apathy. I may have not known how to deal with it all: the unemployment, the homelessness. Katie told me that she would give me a month of free rent, but I had to move out after her offer expired. Could it have been this stage of apathy that brought me to my knees that Thursday morning? Maybe. I wonder if Wednesday had anything to do with it. Wednesday celebrated the three day anniversary of my unemployment and the one day anniversary of my homelessness. It was an uneventful day, yet it could have been the day that the flames inside began to build up, like pressure in a nail gun. As Wednesday came to an end and as Katie went to bed, I stayed up to watch television, and at two o’clock in the morning, the monster inside began to emerge. I cried through my teeth and screamed into pillows, trying not to disturb Katie, but minutes into my brokenness, the cries began to fly out like projectile vomit. I was barfing up chunks of agitation, of guilt, of rage, of sorrow, of condemnation, et cetera. Then, after an hour, I felt fingertips moving in circles across my back. She had come. **** I took Katie’s hundred dollars and went to The Evelyn Frye Center the next day, Friday morning. I met with the director of the psychiatric department—the actor. Our conversation was Socratic. He kept asking questions and I answered as honestly as possible. After our discussion, which I considered an interview, he concluded Bugher
that I was bipolar, and at that moment, stigma entered my world. Many physicians and a few psychiatrists had diagnosed me in the past with variations of depression and anxiety, but I knew I wasn’t crazy, I knew I wasn’t bipolar. I agreed to see one of his psychiatric APNs on the Monday following the weekend and left the clinic in denial, but the truth is, part of me knew he was correct and I had been living my life trying to duck possible bipolar and schizophrenic diagnoses. Now, I was caught. So it came, Monday. I drove back to The Evelyn Frye Center, suite 800 of the Baptist Medical Plaza in Nashville, Tennessee to meet with Brandon, my new APN of psychiatry. He was a kind man, a caring and empathetic listener. He led me to his office. I took a seat on his couch, placed my hands beneath my thighs and rocked back and forth. Like Katie’s cousin, Brandon talked to me in a Socratic manner, asking me questions that were difficult to answer: Yes. I am suicidal. Yes. I have thoughts of homicide. Yes. I cry a lot. Yes. I am moody, agitated, and apathetic all at the same time. Yes. I feel worthless and alone. “You’re bipolar,” Brandon told me. My chin began to tremble and a stillborn delivery of cries shot from my face. “I really don’t think I’m that bad,” I replied, rocking back and forth more vigorously, hands growing numb beneath my thighs. “I really need you to consider medication and counseling,” Brandon answered. “Seriously. I don’t think it’s that bad,” I pleaded, I begged, hoping that he’d tell me something different, more comforting, more acceptable—something I wouldn’t be afraid of. Brandon took notes after our brief exchange. He asked what I’d be willing to do to get better and I agreed to take an antidepressant. I did not want to mess with any of his suggested mood stabilizers, his tranquilizers, and especially his antipsychotics. How could I be this bad? It was depression, I repeated to myself in my head— or anxiety, I also repeated. The more common diagnoses were okay Smitten by a Shower of Frogs
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with me but not bipolar disorder. **** In regard to bipolar disorder: About seventeen percent of Americans suffer from depression.2 I would have no problem with being a part of that population. Having depression is the mental equivalent of having a common cold. Only four percent of Americans are afflicted with bipolar disorder.3 Joining that minority comes with a stigma, a mark of disgrace, a reputation of insanity. Having bipolar disorder is the mental equivalent of having pancreatic cancer—it only grows more painful as it spreads and chews through the body until it’s dead. **** I went home with a sample pack of antidepressants. I took my assigned dosage and waited to feel better. I did not feel better. After a couple of days I felt worse, and then worse after another couple of days. I made an emergency call to The Evelyn Frye Center and arranged an ASAP meeting with Brandon. I arrived to the clinic with a face full of cries, eyes pouring tears, nose dripping snot, teeth clenching together, and my jaw was aching. I entered Brandon’s office and again placed my hands beneath my thighs—rocking. I told him I was worse, that I was feeling delusional and had been crying perpetually for a few days. He somberly informed me that people with bipolar disorder only get worse when taking an antidepressant alone. I capitulated and told him to do what he had to do to make it all go away. I could no longer carry the weight of whatever it was spreading and chewing through my body. He listed the medications one by one, medications I had never heard of: Lamictal, Abilify, Effexor, and Klonopin. Lamictal would act as a mood stabilizer, eliminating my extreme episodes of anger and my unyielding sadness. Abilify, an antipsychotic, would relieve my agitation, my apathy, and my deep clamor. Effexor, an antidepressant, would supplement and enhance the functions of the 2www.nimh.nih.gov/statistics/index.shtml 3www.nimh.nih.gov/statistics/index.shtml Bugher
Lamictal. And Klonopin, a tranquilizer (and my best friend), would kill anxiety on the spot whenever I’d enter it. Brandon compiled sample packs of the medications, and since I was poor, he put together the paperwork I would need in order to receive patient’s assistance from the various drug companies: Shire, Wyeth, Astrazeneca. I was bawling and rocking the whole time while he performed these tasks. I was in disbelief that all along I had been bipolar. Shocked. I feared the stigma. I feared murder, a trial, a plea for insanity, rejection, lockup, lethal injection. I feared the time I heard a girl explain a murder in Geist, Indiana. In her words, she said, “Some psycho forgot to take his meds and went on a shooting spree.” I was that psycho now. Brandon handed me a white, paper sack of medication samples and told me to fill out the paperwork and to return it to him. He told me to call if I needed anything and released my psychotic mind back into the world. I cried and gripped the sack to my side. I walked in shame, inept, with poor posture and entered the elevator with the other psychos from the clinic. I hit the parking garage button and down I went. I arrived to my car, opened the door and threw my white paper sack onto the passenger side seat. I put my key into the ignition, and my car would not start. It was dead.
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Townie Katelyn May
Huddled together, a blur of black and various dyed hair, some sitting on the two benches available, some standing in the park next to the small fifteen by forty foot square of concrete, originally built to make an ice-skating rink, but now used for the average troubled teen in the town to skateboard. Misfits, weirdoes, emo or skater kids are all common words to describe the high school kids that gather at the park, sandwiched between the police station and the cemetery in the middle of the town of North Judson. My friends wouldn’t dare to be seen there, or anywhere walking around town. We knew that it would be our reputational death. We would be called sluts, tramps, whores, white trash. “Can’t even afford to get a ride somewhere, they have to walk.” You know someone would be thinking it. The park, called Norwayne Field, facilitates many events in the town, including Mint Fest, which happens annually during Father’s Day weekend, though it has nothing to do with Fathers. There are booths with trinkets and junk like handmade bracelets and novelty knives and swords, a parade, competitions, beer, and performances including pageants and many country song covers performed by the elementary school principle and his wife. It goes on for three days, and most people in the town come everyday at seven in the morning and don’t leave until eleven that night when they close, many people drunk by the time they stumble back to their doors. I go every year in middle school, though it is always the day before my birthday, wearing a spaghetti-strapped tank-top, blistering in the hot sun while I walk around with my friends who wear and do the same things. We cavort with the cute boys our age, flipping their baseball caps off of their heads and shrieking in a fit when Embodied Effigies
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they try to wipe their brow sweat on our arms. At night we ride the carnival rides, cool air whisking our hair off our necks, drying our sweat and making us look up at the big black sky, only at the top of the ferris wheel can we see the stars. The park is used at Christmas time; people of the town come and decorate one of the six various small pine trees scattered around the small park with their own lights and decorations. The North Judson town committee decorates the big one in the center of the Norwayne Field, and on Christmas Eve, people of the town gather there together to drink hot chocolate and sing carols into the freezing night air. There are steps that double as kind of bleacher seats made out of a hill that was already there. Next to the steps are two very steep ramps (originally built for wheel chairs but are far too steep for any) made of concrete. In the winter, ice and snow pile and pack onto these ramps and create the perfect slick track for sledding. Parents bring their children to sled there, and my friends and I go there to sled in high school. We flirt with the skinny, loud boys who push us down the white slope in our toboggans, and we feign being too cold so we can touch their hands, so they will hug us, and maybe hold hands afterwards when we go to the café to get hot chocolate. We feel the tug that starts at the top of our bellies, practically swooning in the glowing lights around us, our cheeks can be seen burning from cold or from excitement. The town is close-knit, with no real mayor and only one school, two local grocery stores and three gas stations. Family-owned restaurants come and go. A local favorite restaurant, only able to seat about twenty people, is Fingerhut’s Bakery. You can find all the old folks there on the weekday mornings, grandmothers and knitters coming together, rosy-cheeked and giggly like old school girls at one table; cracked, leathery faced farmers in John Deere hats and overalls, a never ending supply of black coffee in their hot mugs, mumbling about the crops, to one another. Various high-school couples and children with their parents are seen there sometimes as well, but they are always quieter and don’t stay nearly as long as the older May
folks. My friends and I will have breakfast there once a week during our senior year of high school, always going to the same table, always ordering the usual until the waitress knows. I will always be too tired to talk much, having stayed up late talking to the boy I love, but can’t have. My eyes will always be red-rimmed either from lack of sleep or tears. Taverns come and go too, but the most famous tavern is The Wooden Nickel that has been there the longest. A mural of the owner’s husband is painted on the outside of the building, a memorial after his suicide. People in this town drink and play pool there because their parents drank there and played pool there, because they know the owner and they knew her husband. In college, my friends and I will go back and eat there, until they turn twenty-one and they order drinks, the bar will rise in celebration and more than one free drink insisted upon them. I will still be young, but offered a fake I.D. by one of the dish-washers in the back, because I will am “a very cute girl who deserves her fun too.” I smile and decline the offer, and the former owner’s wife, now the new owner, overhears him and winks at me in approval. With a smirk, she says, “Don’t corrupt this one, her eyes are still so innocent. Her face is too sweet, I can tell.” The townspeople are friendly enough, they say hi while passing each other during their daily errands. They exchange the same greetings when they meet at their regular grocery store or Dollar General for their regular purchase. It is a town of habit, or repetition, or familiarity. Everywhere you go, you recognize at least one person there too. If you don’t, then you are new, though it doesn’t take long to get to know people. We thought we were above the town, and wanted to get out. We were happy to get out, finally. Away from North Judson, we felt a continual homesickness for dust blue evenings and cornfields. Away from North Judson, we realized the lonely emptiness that was the town. Away from each other, we grew apart, though never made any lasting friendships beyond the town’s borders. We go back and gather there anyway, repeating the same cold nights between homes, stuck like ghosts. Townie
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Hometown Riff Carly Trautwein
In the winter, Missouri is monochrome. Bare trees, shriveled crops, dead grasses, the weathered and scarred wood of old barns and stables, old dark-stained bridges that stretch across the famously muddy Mississippi. Sometimes it snows, bleaching out what’s left of the color and leaving the world in stark black and white. Other years there’s nothing but ice, and the roads lay empty but for the most desperate or the most foolish, tree branches cracking and falling from the weight of their crystalline coating. There’s a certain bleakness to these pictures that appeals to me; it makes me want to lie back and listen to Joni Mitchell and dwell on distant sorrows. When I was in school, I used to make the drive between central Indiana and southeast Missouri several times in a semester, and the last half-hour of the trip was always my favorite, when I could get off of the highway and appreciate the tragic charm of the back roads. The hidden driveways where every third mailbox features signs that read “REPENT OR PERISH” and “CHRIST IS KING”. The tiny town of Anna where businesses have names like Movie Depot or DownHome Doo-Dads, and the one roundabout in town inexplicably has a replica of a London telephone box. The low-rent farmers’ fields that always flood when it rains. The skeletal barns that have been reduced to basic supports and a lattice of roof beams. The unassuming farmhouse guarded by a quartet of smirking stone gargoyles. The backwoods gas station decorated with every imaginable species of taxidermied animal. It’s the perverse love of these relics, combined with a continuing search for melancholy, that keeps dragging me back to the Midwest despite my having spent my entire high school career comEmbodied Effigies
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plaining about it. Vowing I’d move far away as soon as humanly possible and leave my stilted little hometown in the dust. And now that I’ve actually followed through on that vow and relocated to Seattle, I find myself aching for the place. It’s a misguided feeling, I know. This town gets into your veins and kills you slowly, and the longer you stay the harder it is to leave. For me, Cape Girardeau is held together by a few threads of resentment and the dying storefronts of mom and pop businesses whose names change every year or so. All it has going for it anymore are my friends, who come and go much like I do, and one single tenacious Lebanese restaurant that’s managed to stay open despite the unrelentingly AMURRICAN palate of most locals. Sometimes I think this is proof of the possibility of miracles. Even my dearest friends, however, don’t always redeem this town. I wish they could come visit me instead, on my new turf. Cape is no longer my home, and every trip I make home drives this thought more soundly into my head. I haven’t so much as glanced down my old street since I left it for good over a year ago, and the connections I have to the various landmarks and locales become increasingly tenuous as buildings are closed and remodeled, parks are relandscaped, old teachers retire and die; businesses fold and take the memories of my childhood and adolescence with them, leaving only wisps of the past. Because I no longer live here, I find myself in the awkward position of feeling like a burden on my friends whenever I visit, rather than someone they really want to hang out with. Nobody actually says or does anything to make me feel like this; it’s just the unfortunate consequence of having to rely on other people for transportation and lodging. One of these days I’ll be old enough to rent a car without paying insurance fees out the ass and maybe that will go away. Or I can get a hotel room and throw nightly parties. Meanwhile, I’m always apologizing, mostly inside my head. For taking up space, for not containing my possessions as well as I should, for eating their food or using their gas or occupying their Trautwein
time. This is a weakness of mine, and Iâ€™m constantly trying to convince myself that I donâ€™t have to be sorry for everything I do and say. My town, and the even smaller towns within a hundred-mile radius, elicit a bizarre mixture of pride and revulsion. I am well aware that Cape Girardeau reeks of smoke and Midwestern tackiness, but on some level I secretly enjoy this. You see, it is my Midwestern tackiness, a charming and unique brand that can only be found at the talent portions of county fairs and on the two-lane country roads that lead to the shut-in rapids of the Castor River. Only those of us who grew up here are allowed to despise it; against anyone else I will defend it to the death. On the third day of this most recent trip, I erupted into hives seemingly out of nowhere, and nothing any of the local clinics gave me could do anything to keep the rash from spreading over threefourths of my body. I never did figure out what caused the reaction, but the popular opinion was that there was something there in the Midwest to which I no longer had a resistance, and it was once again getting under my skin. The awkward poetry of this did not escape me, despite the itching.
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My Mother’s Siblings Bridget Gelms
Bob I first met Uncle Bob in the mid-90’s at his home in North Hollywood, California. He was always the elusive uncle, never coming to family events. I had heard he was a clown in the Ringling Brother’s Circus. He played an exploding violin. My mom ushered me in the front door of his apartment, unpacked boxes and dirty clothes everywhere. A long-time bachelor, Uncle Bob rarely cleaned up. He had one daughter who the family had never met until Grandma’s funeral. After that, we never saw her again apart from when someone saw her on the cover of a porno. She called herself “Vicki Sin.” Uncle Bob was taller and rounder than I had expected. He extended his hand to greet me; the hand-buzzer he wore sent a slight shock into my palm while he chuckled. Uncle Bob became fed up with American government and moved to Fiji ten years ago. I consistently receive strongly worded rants about America in my inbox, but never a Merry Christmas. John Uncle John is an entertainment lawyer who lives in a multimillion dollar home overlooking Laguna Beach, California. He buys vintage Jaguars and restores them, thinking this is a normal, working-man’s hobby. He pats himself on the back when the half-dozen men in his employ complete the restorations. Even as a child I picked up on his arrogant nature through his habitual bragging. Upon seeing the posters on the walls of my room one Christmas, he casually mentioned “Leo(nardo DiCaprio)” was a friend and they golfed together. He then strolled out of my room and barely spoke to me for the rest of the holiday. Embodied Effigies
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George George made well over a million dollars working in Silicon Valley and has since retired to become a stay at home dad. He and his wife Desa adopted a Filipino crack-baby and named him Michael. The family speculates the adoption was done illegally because no one was ever interviewed by an adoption agency, and they don’t seem to have a birth certificate. The family also speculates Michael’s serious and often violent personality problems are a direct result of being born addicted to crack, but George and Desa are oblivious to Michael’s misbehavior. One Thanksgiving, he ran up to my mother’s dog and kicked it in the stomach as hard as he could and ran away laughing. George yelled after him, “Hey buddy, we don’t kick dogs!”
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Jan Jan is an alcoholic. After receiving a large amount of money in her divorce from a high-profile Atlanta lawyer, she spent it all on alcohol and cocaine rather than taking the advice from the judge and getting an education in order to give herself more options after having spent years being a homemaker and mother. She now lives in a one bedroom condo which her 24-year old son Paul pays for, with her 18-year old daughter Julia. When passing through Atlanta last year, I visited her. She kept me up until four in the morning drunkenly crying about a summons she had received ordering her to testify in a criminal case against a large-scale cocaine dealer she had connections to. After she fell asleep sitting up in her cat-pissed stained recliner, I sat on her ratty couch terrified that any minute masked men hired by the cocaine dealer would kick in the door and “take care” of us. No one helps or speaks to Jan anymore. Bruce Bruce lives in Minneapolis with his wife, Paige, and their two children, Eiden and Maya. Eiden plays soccer and is on the chess club at his school for talented and gifted children, while Maya is learning Kung Fu and asked for books about geometry for Christmas. Paige Gelms
crochets, sings at open-mic nights, and rides a Vespa to work. Bruce tinkers with electronics and enjoys editing home movies for DVD family newsletters he mails to me twice a year. They took an RV vacation to Mount Rushmore and the surrounding parks and asked that I join them. When I couldn’t get off work to come with them, Bruce was legitimately disappointed. What happened to Bruce that didn’t happen to Bob, John, George, or Jan? Maybe he’s just better at hiding whatever it is that’s wrong with him. I hear lots of people have a Bob, John, George, or Jan in their family, but if you have a Bruce in yours, make sure you hug him.
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My Mother’s Siblings
Looking on the Bright Side of Life Leigh Montano
The frozen tear on my cheek looked like dried snot. This whole situation seems to me a weird juxtaposition of the very serious and the very not serious. ---- Usually when I get texts from my step mom, she’s asking if I need anything from the store.
Holly – Your father is in Ball ER just to let u know, chest pains :| (Jan 14, 3:43 pm)
Oh… My brother, who was in the car with me, got an identical text at the exact same time. We read them out loud to each other. ---- Sitting in the increasingly smaller cubical, I contemplated life and death and the ever-growing patch of sweat on my ass. I feel like I’m being packed like cord wood. The nine people now in the room means the room is getting smaller and the sweat is getting bigger. ---- “Well, I first thought it was indigestion seeing as I had ham and beans last night for dinner.” Why does it not surprise me that even in serious moments my dad is trying to crack jokes? Maybe it’s my family’s innate ability to be smart asses… ---- I was worried, but I knew he would be alright when he Embodied Effigies
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started singing as my brother and I were leaving, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” I still had a dreadful feeling in my stomach it would be the last time I saw him. It wasn’t, but that time will happen. ---- Walking to a friend’s house after visiting my father, I started crying. I don’t really know why. He was going to be released, and the procedure earlier that day had gone well. He was going to be okay. Well, as okay as someone who lives a sedentary life and thinks running is something you do when you’re being chased and you don’t have your gun can be. I still cried. Holding a cup from Starbucks in my homemade hat and scarf, I probably looked like a hipster girl who had just been dumped. ---- I think I’m angry at him the most. Not scared or worried. He’s 48. I’m not planning to get married for another three to seven years. How is he going to walk me down the aisle if he’s dead? Zombie Dad is not someone I want at my wedding. This is his second heart attack in three years. Simply because he doesn’t take care of himself. Doesn’t he care enough about me to take care of himself? Past experiences remind me otherwise. ---- He’s been texting me like nothing happened.
Daddie – OMG last night’s Top Gear UK is great! (Jan 24, 12:05 pm) And yes, they have a new Stig. (Jan 24, 12:05 pm)
The BBC show, Top Gear. One of the few things that we still have in common. Yes, being his only daughter and a love for the Montano
band Rush have kept us at a point where we can muddle through conversation if we need to, if we’re ever alone and his questions about school have been answered.
Wait, doesn’t he realize he had a heart attack a week ago?! ---- I think it’s weird that in this age of technology my first instinct is to post on Twitter. ---- Leftoversushi: Dad had another heart attack…he thought it was gas. He had ham and beans for dinner… (Jan 14th) ---- Probably not though. It fits right in with announcements about bowel movements and breakfast. ---- Nurse: (as she walks in and sees my dad with his gown fallen down, exposing his man breasts and pasty white beer belly) That’s attractive. Dad: This is my sexy pose. ---- Leftoversushi: He’s harassing the doctor and the nurses. I think my dad’s gonna be okay. (Jan 14th) ---- Dirk – My weekend is not going to go as planned I fear. (Jan 14, 4: 45 pm) ---- I bitterly laugh at the text I just received from my friend. “Not as unpredicted as mine, I bet.” I mumble under the din of the claustrophobic cubicle. ---- Looking on the Bright Side of Life
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Leigh – I’m sitting in my dad’s ER room. I understand completely. (Jan 14, 4:46 pm) Dirk – Shit, I’m sorry (Jan 14, 4:50 pm)
Leigh – It’s alright. He’s going to be okay. He thought it was gas… (Jan 14, 4:50 pm)
Dirk – I’m not gonna lie, that’s pretty funny. (Jan 14, 4:55 pm)
Glad someone is finding some humor in this…
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J. Scott Bugher
After a ten-year career as a guitarist in Nashville, Tennessee working for artists like Lady Antebellum, Garrison Starr and Kim Richey, J. Scott Bugher made the decision to walk away from the music business in order to practice new creative endeavors. He began his college education at thirty years of age with intentions to study painting, but his plan did not last long. He took a creative writing elective and fell in love with the craft. He is now entering his senior year at Ball State as a creative writing major and hopes to earn his MFA at Colorado University.
Sarah Jane Bunner is a 20-year-old creative writing major at Ball State. Originally from Indianapolis, she began writing at a young age, discovering her love for nonfiction writing, poetry and songwriting. Sarah considers her writing to be the by-product of her ongoing exploration of the human condition. She is influenced largely by her eccentric and supportive family as well as her friends who continuously provide fodder for her writing.
Monica Engle wishes she could be Tina Fey’s best friend. So while that’s panning out, she spends her time writing creative nonfiction. Her work has been published in The Broken Plate. She hopes to spend her life in a house far away from neighbors, writing memoirs and sipping coffee with Tina Fey.
Bridget was born in Iowa and raised in a bed and breakfast similar to Forrest Gump’s. She hung out with Kevin Costner’s kids when he stayed at her house while filming Field of Dreams. Neat, huh? She
moved to Muncie, Indiana in 2006 to attend Ball State but soon left to travel around Australia, surfing and eating avocado. She returned to Muncie and has since earned a degree in film studies, a degree in English studies, and is currently working on a Master’s degree in English studies. She hopes to enter into a Ph.D. program in 2013.
Rianne Lynette Hall was born and raised in Columbus, Indiana. Her English teacher in high school, Dennis Lindsey, inspired her writing career. He showed her how beautiful (and cruel) words can be, and she hasn’t looked back since. She is majoring in Creative Writing at Ball State University and loving every minute of it.
Katie May is a freelance writer and poet, and majors in English Studies at Ball State University. Her interests include Creative Nonfiction, Classic British Literature, and Contemporary poetry and prose. She is an active member of an online poetry group on goodreads. com and also runs a Creative Writing blog called Soft Spoken. Katie is currently working on a series of investigative poems and memoirs based on personal experience and human recollection. “Townie” is her first published work.
Leigh Montano plans to be a perpetual student but not in the philosophical sense, in the “forever in university” sense. She enjoys cursing and complaining about the little things in life on Twitter. She also enjoys knitting and planning large projects that eventually intimidate her into quitting. One day she’d like to teach at the university level about the evils and neccessity of media, and maybe she might even get a book published.
Stephanie Svarz is currently a Freshman English Education Major at Ball State University. She writes creative fiction and non-fiction short stories and flash pieces. Stephanie’s writing and photography have been included in other publications including The Broken Plate
and Chrysalis. The piece published in Embodied Effigies was inspired by her muse and Prince Charming, Jon Stricker, and she hopes that those who read “Always” will believe in the power of love and its ability to inspire incredible beauty in the world around us.
Carly Trautwein is a 2007 Ball State alum, currently living in the Seattle area. When not job searching or putting off writing, she spends her time making crafts, experimenting with food, and exploring the many neighborhoods within half an hour’s drive. She also performs in the Seattle Ladies Choir.