Embodied Effigies Issue Two: Fall/Winter 2012
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 proudly publishes work from around the world, thanks to the curiosity and interest of our contributors. 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://effigiesmag.com. Please email us with any questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 2012 Embodied Effigies, 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 crosscounty—mostly through Facebook messaging—workings of John Carter and Catherine Roberts. Cover Art: “Lyme Park, Cheshire (24-Dec-2010)” by Eleanor Leonne Bennett, used with permission. Half-Title, Masthead, and Verso Images provided by vintageprintable, a public domain image service. We would also like to extend our unending thanks to everyone who made this issue possible: our contributors, our advisors, our families, our friends—Thank you.
Embodied Effigies Masthead Managing Co-Editors John Carter Catherine Roberts
John Carter is a senior creative writing major at Ball State University, and a native to the cornfields of East-Central Indiana. He specializes in description and rhythm, bringing a love of family, farming, and nature to (what he hopes) is an extremely accessible area through the use of lyrical writing. He completed his first chapbook of short essays, Native Tillage, in 2011, and has been published in Volume One of the Ball State Writers’ Community chapbook series.
Catherine Roberts graduated from Ball State in May 2012 with a BA in English: Creative Writing, and she currently works in her hometown’s library. “Cat” loves writing, editing, and creative nonfiction with an oddly specific passion. She loves words, and she loves to dissect the normal formats of writing, making the world bend to her pen/ pencil/printer ink. She adores bringing this love of words to others, even if they only take her advice because she might be Catwoman. She completed her first collection of short stories, Breakdown, in 2011, and her work is forthcoming from The Prompt.
Table of Contents
Paper Dan Sklar
The Men’s Room Jason Thorpe
Tea for Two Alyssa Ross
CONTINUING WITH: ARAKAWA (July 6, 1936 - May 18, 2010)
Nourish the Soul
Prisons (Decreed and Chosen)
Something We Can’t Mend
Joey Dean Hale
Trips Back to L.A.
The Smell of Camphor and the Fragrance of Mustard Girija Sankar
Limbo Colleen Purcell
The Boy Who Used to Love Me Re: Songs that remind me of you, a revised list Sara Walters
My Brother Died When I was Twenty-One
A. Hunter Sunrise
Paper Dan Sklar
I was thinking about scrap paper and how I like all kinds of paper—Composition Notebooks, loose-leaf paper, writing tablets, paper with blue lines, red margins, no lines, crumpled paper, ripped paper, paper torn out of notebooks, old journal paper, scratch pad paper, you name it. I like tearing open envelopes and reading the paper, folding the paper, putting the paper somewhere else. I like writing anything on paper. That’s why I like teaching English because of all the paper work. Maybe I should have gone into the paper business? Actually, I almost went into the box making business in North Carolina by marrying my college girlfriend, whose father was a box manufacturer, and I was going to learn the business. She already had a little house on a woodsy street, but she did not love how I wanted to write plays, and she did not think I had the talent really, and even if I did, she wanted a professional type money making man, and besides that she was still stuck on her old boyfriend and said he was a better lover than me. She had a big, dopey, silver Ford Mustang Mach something or other. (A little red horse lit up on the dashboard when you put the “brights” on.) Who cares? It was 1974. I was 21. I took a train from Manhattan to get engaged in North Carolina. I met five SCUBA divers on their way to Florida. They were drinking whiskey, playing poker, and looking at naked women in a magazine. I told them I was an English Professor at Southampton College, what a lie. It did not matter to them. In my subconscious this was my desire. When the train pulled into Raleigh, I was downright drunk and she knew it, and it gave her an excuse to be displeased with me. I passed out for a moment—face first into Eggplant Parmesan in the romantic side street, narrow Italian Restaurant. I remember liking the feel of the warm eggplant on my face. The next day her father showed me around the box factory. Grim workers in gray polyester uniforms, concrete floor, cinder block walls, no windows—it was built that Embodied Effigies | 1
way. There were conveyor belts and cutting, folding, packing, printing, whirring machines and boxes rolling off into piles and stacks in neat brown practical, functional, usefulness. His office was stark. I’m talking austere, not a picture of a wife or kid or dog or anything. Steel gray office supply store furniture, fluorescent lights, no windows, seriously, no windows. I cannot recall anything he ever said to me. That night he threw us an engagement party in a downtown hotel. The shrimp cocktails were still a bit frozen and the stuffed fish type dish tasted like the freezer. He gave me the least expensive Seiko wristwatch, which stopped a month later. There was a big cake with creepy blue icing and in white letters said “Debbie and Danny”. No one’s heart was in this thing. After bad sex and no sleep that night I walked to the nearby shopping center and watched the fog in the lights. I called my mother from a phone booth to tell her I was calling it off. No one was heartbroken. (The relationship never really worked since the time she jammed an antique cup and saucer in her purse and swiped it from a fancy restaurant in Boulder, Colorado.) I took the afternoon train to Manhattan thinking of paper and looking at blank paper in an Original Big Chief Writing Tablet and thinking of white paper. On her way to the Cavendish Whist Club my mother asked me what I was going to do now that the box factory thing was through. “I don’t know,” I said, but I was thinking about something to do with paper, and it suddenly occurred to me. It dawned on me. This was my destiny—paper loaded with words.
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The Men’s Room Jason Thorpe
“Hey, do you mind if I ask you something?” The voice came from the next stall. “Uh, I guess not,” I replied. Why the hell was he talking to me? “Do you ever wonder what it’ll be like when you die?” So much for small talk. I looked down and wondered how I’d invited this question. I hesitated. “Sure, I guess so, don’t you?” “Every day.” I studied his reflection in the dirty tiles below his feet. I hoped to find some clue to this stranger’s life amid the scraps of toilet paper and dirty shoeprints on the bathroom floor. All I could see were his Adidas, their white soles stark against the grimy floor, and the folds of his jeans, dark blue, as they rippled outside the pool of his black Calvin Klein briefs. He must be toxic too. Why else would he say these things? How had his body betrayed him? “You okay, man?” I asked. “Yeah, sure. Just thinking is all.” I ran my hand along the partition that separated us and pressed my palm against the semicircle of snot that had been wiped there hours or days before. I traced Zen-like figure eights in a chaotic smear then rested my hand above the dispenser where a note was scrawled, “big cock for sucker, 3rd floor. 4/6/07.” I wondered about the man who had written it. What kind of man looks for sex in a bathroom on Good Friday? Had anyone accepted his invitation? Or did it still loiter here, a day later, to warn men like me of a lifetime spent waiting. And what about this man on the other side of the wall? What was he waiting for? I left my hand there atop the toilet paper dispenser with my fingers resting beside the crude invitation. Something held it in that place. I imagined feeling his heart beating on the other side of the small partition. Or his ear pressed against it, centimeters from my Embodied Effigies | 3
palm, as he listened to the muddy churning in my veins. “You sure you’re ok?” “Yeah,” he said. Neither of us spoke. I listened to his breath, deep and windy. It reminded me of the way my grandfather’s breath had changed just before he died. It slowed as if he was gradually unwinding until finally, defying inertia, he simply came to a rest. I imagined the air echoing off each soft fold in his throat and following a path deep inside of him until finally, he’d exhale and return it to the world. I inhaled deeply then, hoping to pull my grandfather somehow inside of me. Holding my breath, I let him absorb into my mouth, my throat, my lungs. I kept him there inside my body. He felt clean beneath my skin. Later, I imagined the potency of his breath overwhelming my cells and tissues, going deep into the hidden places of my brain and organs where the virus hides, scouring everything that is dirty inside of me clean. “There’s something about the way you smell,” the man in the next stall finally said, “I knew you’d understand.” Understand what? The way I smell? Was he serious? I took a deep breath. Maybe I hoped to isolate the telltale scent that had so carelessly given me away. Maybe I just wanted to know what mutated cells and virus smelled like. There was nothing. Just the pungent odors of shit and urinal cake battling for control of the room. “Knew I’d understand what?” I asked. “Disappointment.” “I’m not sure what you mean,” I said dropping my hand to my lap and resting it on the fatty flesh of my thigh. “Aren’t you disappointed in yourself? I mean, that you got infected? Didn’t you know better?” How did he know? “No, I’m not disappointed in myself.” The words fell out of my mouth too quickly. “Come on, of course you are. Death is disappointing.” I could tell he wasn’t convinced. “I’m not dying,” I said. Still too fast. Now neither of us was convinced. “It isn’t the death sentence it used to be.”
It was September when my doctor told me. The days were
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getting shorter and the desert sunsets were brilliant blazes of red and orange that streaked across the late afternoon sky during my daily walks from the tutoring office to Parking Lot D at the far end of the campus. Heading west, the bursts of color formed a silhouette of the mountains that glowed in dark purple. I was nearing the parking lot when the phone rang. “Hello,” I said. “Is this Daniel?” The man’s voice was familiar but I couldn’t place it. “Yeah, this is Dan. Who is this?” “I’m calling from Campus Health Services,” he replied. “Do you have a few minutes to talk?” “Sure.” I could feel my heart beating in my chest. The mountains dissolved out of focus and blurred into the few streaks of red sunlight that remained. “We got your test results back today,” he said. “The tests for herpes and syphilis were nonreactive.” My heart slowed. Non-reactive? “That means I’m clean, right?” Silence. “Um—“, he paused as though he had forgotten the answer. “Yes, it means they were negative,” he said at last. It was ok after all, I thought. I was ok. I exhaled, then offered a grateful smile toward the sun, now nearly hidden behind the towering shadows of the mountains. “I’m sorry to tell you, though, that the antibody test for HIV was positive.” The last rays of sunset exploded. Then retreated to safety behind the mountain. I sat down on the hot pavement. “I thought they couldn’t tell you that you had it on the phone,” I said more to myself than to the doctor. “I’m sorry?” “Nothing. I’m just –” My hands were cold. Moist. There was a long pause, then the doctor’s voice again, “Are you going to be ok?” I didn’t speak. I sat there and stared at the dark shadow of the mountains in the distance. “I want you to come in first thing tomorrow. We’ll run a few more tests. We can talk. I know a great counselor. And don’t worry, Daniel. It isn’t the death sentence it used to be.” Embodied Effigies | 5
“No, I know. It isn’t like it used to be,” the man on the other side of the wall said. “I just mean, you know, that it’s got to be disappointing. Having your future taken away like that.” “My future wasn’t taken away,” I said. Of course it’s fucking disappointing. The truth was that I’d spent my savings on trips to Hawaii, Paris, and Greece in the past seven months. I’d bought a Louis Vuitton wallet and let my car insurance lapse. I had to take on four extra tutoring students and another loan to scrape through the semester. “It’s just different now, you know? I have to do things differently.” When I saw the doctor the morning after my diagnosis, he drew eight vials of blood. I noticed how carefully he slid his hands into the latex gloves and wondered if he was always so cautious. I imagined his other patients. And his lovers. Had they noticed the way his hands shook as he slid himself into the latex? He tried to explain viral replication to me. I tried to explain sexual compulsion to him. Our conversations circled one another until, without warning, he began to cry. He apologized, “I’ve only given this diagnosis to one student before.” “It ruined a perfect sunset,” I joked. I told him that I hadn’t cried since he told me. He wiped the tear from his eye. Then drew the stylus down his palm pilot. “Here she is,” he said and began to write the name and phone number for a counselor on his pharmaceutical company notepad. “Do you want a sedative to help you sleep through the night?” he asked as he reached for his prescription pad. “I don’t like to take pills,” I replied. He didn’t mention that he’d already called the pharmacy to order new prescriptions for me. That there’d be seven pills each day. Or that I’d have to take them until I died. He just nodded wordlessly. The man on the other side of the wall had grown quiet. His breathing slowed until I could barely hear it anymore. I leaned to the side and pressed my ear to the partition between us. “What are you doing?” he asked. “Just thinking,” I said, “about how fucked up everything is now.” 6 | Embodied Effigies
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“It helps to talk about it. It’s just us in here, you know.” “Yeah, I know.” But I didn’t know him. And this wasn’t what I had in mind when I came here. “It’s just…it’s complicated, I guess.” “Why don’t you tell me about it?” I waited with my ear still pressed against the partition. I could see the smear of snot less than an inch from my nose. Could see where my fingers had drawn valleys into its surface. Pulling my face away, I stood and leaned down to pull up my pants. He reached under the wall and grabbed my hand. “Why are you leaving?” he asked. His hand was stronger than I expected. His skin, smooth and soft. I looked at my own dry hands and torn cuticles. The crescent moons of dirt beneath the nails and the scars from where the doctor had used liquid nitrogen to freeze the warts off. Maybe he wasn’t like me after all. “I just don’t really feel like talking,” I said. He held my hand, squeezed it. “That’s ok. Let’s just sit here for a while.” He released his grip, never letting go of my hand. “I like your company. There isn’t usually much connection, not a lot of conversation with the guys I meet here, you know?” “Yeah, that’s true.” I slid my hand out from his and sat back down. After my grandfather took his last breath, I woke the home hospice nurse who was napping in the spare bedroom. I followed her to my grandfather’s room. “I’ll just tend to a few things with the remains; I’m very sorry for your loss,” she said as she entered the room and closed the door behind her leaving me standing in the hallway. I went downstairs where my mother was clearing the kitchen table of the GRE prep books that I’d been studying. She looked up at me. I could tell that she hadn’t cried. She put a kettle of water on the stove, lit the pilot light with a match and then sat down to call her sisters. She dialed the phone and lit another match. Then, with it, a menthol light, and waited. “Hi sis. I have bad news.” I watched my mother drag the nicotine, menthol, and fiberglass deep into her lungs. “Dad passed away this evening. Yes, he was asleep when it happened. Danny was with him. Thank God he’s home for break. I don’t know what I’d do withEmbodied Effigies | 7
out him. ” I moved across the room to avoid the growing cloud of smoke around her. “I’m sorry, hon. I’m sure he understood. No, of course you couldn’t be here every minute. Danny and I are going to drive back to the farm tonight. We’ll sleep there and begin to make the arrangements in the morning.” I thought of spending the night in my grandfather’s bed. And in the morning drinking instant coffee, just as he would have, from the “#1 Grandpa” mug that I’d given him years before. The teapot sang from the kitchen. “Listen, my tea is ready,” my mother said into the phone. “I still need to make a few more calls and then drive back to the farm. Call if you need anything. I love you too.” My mother put the phone back on its charger, slowly pouring the steaming water over her Tension Tamer teabag, then took a final drag of her cigarette before sinking it into the layer of ash at the bottom of the plastic ashtray. “Do you want any?” she asked as she retrieved a medicine bottle from her purse and tapped two Xanax into the palm of her hand. “No thanks,” I replied looking at the nearly empty pill bottle. “I meant the tea,” she said, her lips curling into a smile. Late that night, after the rest of the calls had been made and the van from the hospice agency carried the nurse away with my grandfather’s body, we drove the eighty miles of back roads to my family’s hometown together. As I drove, my mother told me stories of my grandfather’s rage, of a childhood that she’d lived in fear. How he’d beaten her, painted crosswalks across her back with tree branches and a belt, about the nights when he had invaded her young body. “He drank then,” she said, “thank God you never saw him like that, Danny. And I didn’t want you to. You deserved a good man in your life, someone to look up to.” Why was she telling me this tonight I wondered? Didn’t I deserve a good man in my life now? After a long silence I asked the man on the other side of the wall, “What were you saying earlier about my smell?” “What do you mean?” “Earlier. You said there was something about the way I smelled. That you could tell I would understand disappointment.” “Nah man, I just mean, you know, that I knew you’d under8 | Embodied Effigies
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stand. You smell good is all.” I replayed the conversation in my head. “No, I’m sure you said there was something about my smell. Something about disappointment.” I was pressing him now. I brought my hands to my face and took a quick breath in through my nostrils. Nothing. I was afraid that the smell, whatever it was, would hear its name and come rushing to the door. Then seep out of my pores and fill the bathroom. “You smell perfect man,” he said, “just drop it.” I was eleven when I had to switch babysitters. “He’s right up the street,” my mother said. “Besides, he’s going to cost us fifty bucks less a month than the old lady.” The old lady was my best friend. Her husband had died the year before and her own children were grown now with families of their own. “I enjoy having a man in the house again,” my friend would say to me with a smile. In the summer, she bought chocolate marshmallow push-pops from the Schwan’s deliveryman and we sat together on her porch and ate them as she told me stories about when her children were young and what a loving father her husband had been. She taught me to drink hot tea and milk in the winter and we’d drown Nilla Wafers in the cloudy seas of our mugs. “You shouldn’t have taken money from her purse,” my mother added. “What did you think would happen when she found out?” So I went to Carl’s and, a few months later, my friend went to the nursing home across town. Carl was 24, thirteen years older than me, and had curly red hair. He kept towels tacked in his bedroom windows behind the drapes to keep it dark. “It stays cooler that way,” he told me. “He’s a real vampire,” Carl’s mother joked once as she dropped off a basket of her son’s freshly washed clothes. Each piece was folded into a neat square and placed in perfect layers. Briefs on the bottom, then towels to hide them. Above the towels, jeans then shorts. Then came the shirts, and finally, the perfect balls of white socks that were perched on the top and threatened to roll off and disrupt her cotton mountain at any moment. “Keeps odd hours,” she said. “Always has. Even as a baby, he’d stay awake until dawn and then sleep through the day.” As she spoke, Embodied Effigies | 9
I tried to remember the last time my mother had folded our laundry. The first time Carl kissed me, I was on fire. He bit my lip and sucked on my tongue. Not like a vampire, though. Like he loved me. “I love you so much,” he whispered, his breath falling wet and heavy in my ear. “You’re perfect.” Then, with my earlobe still on his lips, he unbuttoned my jeans and slid his too-big hand into the elastic of my white Hanes briefs. “Hey,” I said to the man on the other side of the wall. “Everybody’s got some secret, right?” “Yeah, I guess so.” “So what about you? What’s yours?” He uncrossed his legs where they’d formed an x at his ankles, took a deep breath, and then stretched them out in front of him revealing the lower part of his calf. It was tan and well defined with traces of black hair. Not like mine. I looked down at my own legs, the flaky layer of dead skin that covered them. Skin infection was the first sign of immune suppression, I thought, and the dry skin reminded me of the way plant cells look under a microscope. My eyes shifted back to his tan legs. I drew invisible lines that connected the curvature of his calf muscle up through his leg, past the place where his skin pulled tight across his hips and onto his torso, then finally came down around his shoulder and ended at his hand. The hand that had grabbed mine just a few minutes before. “Do you ever feel like you’re on the edge, man?” he asked. “Like everything’s sailing along smoothly and then, bam! Something happens and it’s all over.” “Sure.” I smiled. He was like me after all. What happened to him, I wondered. “I just feel like that’s coming, you know? Like there’s a volcano and it’s about to explode. But never does. And I’m just stuck waiting for it.” “Wow,” I said. “That’s intense.” “Tell me about it.’ He pulled his legs back up and crossed them again at his ankles. “When I was young I thought I was really going to be somebody, you know? A doctor or lawyer or something. Something big.” “What happened?” I asked. 10 | Embodied Effigies
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“I don’t know. Life just got in the way I guess. So now I work my forty hours and go home.” “That doesn’t sound so bad,” I said and thought of my own overfilled tutoring and class schedule. The predictability of his forty hour week sounded like bliss. “Maybe not for you, man,” he said, “but I’m looking for something bigger. I’m not going to be like everyone else. Something big is going to happen. I’m just waiting.” “Yeah, I get it,” I said. “But what if nothing huge happens? Maybe life can just be easy and things will be okay for you. Not everything big that happens is good you know?” He laughed. “Yeah, I hear you. But that’s just not the way it goes.” “But maybe—, ” I started to say, then stopped. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. One way or another, things always fall apart.” “See, I knew you’d understand,” he said. “Anyway man, I’m sure you didn’t come here just to talk.” I laughed. “Yeah, I guess that’s true.” When Carl asked my mom if I could join him for a campout, I was sure she’d say no. “She never lets me go on sleepovers,” I said. I sat in our tan Ford Bronco in Carl’s driveway and tried to make sense of their lips as they talked. My mom smiled at me from the driveway and Carl gave me the thumbs-up. She handed him forty dollars, the wages for a week of afternoons spent with me, and climbed into the Bronco. “What a nice guy, huh? It’s really kind of Carl to invite you for a campout, Danny. Most guys his age wouldn’t take you under their wing like that. I’m sure you’ll have a great time.” She cracked the window, depressed the Bronco’s lighter, then rested a cigarette between her lips. “We’ll have to find your dad’s old sleeping bag this week,” she said, the cigarette bobbing along with her words. “I think it’s in the garage with the rest of the stuff he left.” Pop. The Bronco ejected the lighter. My mother pulled it from the center console and pressed its red-hot coil against her cigarette, filling the Bronco with smoke. “Ok Mom,” I said. “Thanks for letting me sleep over.” “Of course, hon. I told you that you’d like going to Carl’s. You Embodied Effigies | 11
just had to give it a shot. You were spending too much time with the old lady anyway. A boy your age needs a good man to look up to.” She put her hand on my leg. I flinched, nervous that she would feel Carl’s kisses still resting on the inside of my thigh. Nervous that she’d figure out our secret. And afraid that she’d take Carl away like she had taken my dad and my friend and the Nilla Wafers. But she didn’t. She drove home and put two frozen pot pies in the oven. After that first campout in Carl’s backyard, we were addicted. At first we stayed inside the trimmed circle of grass that he mowed each week, maintaining a separation between the familiar and the wilderness. But, as the nights crew crisp and that summer turned to fall, we pitched our tent further and further away until, eventually, we lost sight of the house altogether. As soon as we had passed over the hill that separated his yard from the creek bed on the other side, we’d strip down to our white Hanes briefs. “We wear the same kind,” I said the first time I saw him without his pants. He laughed. There, in the woods wearing just our underwear, we laid in his tent together. Carl would hold me tight and I would tell him stories. I told him about my dad. How he got married again that year and that my mom said he had a new son now. Carl mostly talked with his hands. His stories would take us far from our tent. He told me about the year spent at college in Pennsylvania and the time he drove all night to meet a girl. As he talked, his hand traced the map of his journeys up my leg or down from my chin, crossing over my throat and chest until his fingers would slide over my belly and make me laugh. Then, he’d kiss me. “You’re perfect,” he would say as he licked my neck or my ear. Then plunge his tongue back into my mouth. Over the next two years, Carl taught me how to have sex with a man. How to decipher his groans and the subtle jerking of his hips against my mouth. The exact length of time to linger on his cock or his lips after he came before sliding away and offering him my undershirt to dry himself. Long enough for him to notice how good I felt with his stickiness on my lips but never so long that he had to push me away. He taught me how to cruise. How long to wait after I’d pass a guy on the street before turning around to catch him as he looked at me. And the perfect combination of half-smile and raised eye that 12 | Embodied Effigies
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let him know I didn’t mind. He took me to the places that guys like us found each other. The university bathrooms and the public parks. One spring afternoon, when he picked me up from swimming lessons at the college near his house, Carl took me to a tall brick building across the campus. “I want to show you something,” he said. We walked through the heavy glass doors where stenciled letters had been freshly painted, Building 400 – Social Sciences. We walked down the empty corridor, then up two flights of stairs and down another corridor, a perfect twin of the first, before we arrived at our surprise destination. He held the restroom door open for me, locked it behind us. “I’ll go into this stall,” he said, “and you go into the next one.” I closed the door and latched it shut. He pulled down his shorts until they sat on the floor covering his brown leather sandals. “Your turn,” he said from the other side of the wall. I untied the white string on my trunks, then slid them down my legs and let them rest on my neon green swim shoes exposing the uneven flags of fabric that were left behind when my mother had hastily removed the netting. “When a guy is looking,” Carl said, “he’ll tap his foot like this.” He tapped his foot twice, then twisted it slightly toward me. “You can jerk off with another guy at the urinals. Or, if you’re sure no one’s going to come in, you can get on your knees and slide your cock under the wall between the stalls like this.” He stood and turned to face my stall, then lowered himself onto his knees, spread his legs wide, and pressed his upper body against the partition as he slid his lower body, knees-first, into my stall. He was hard. I got on my knees, placed my thirteen year old hands in the crease that separated his thighs from his hips and went down on him. I looked down at my watch, 4:10pm. The man on the other side of the wall was right. I hadn’t come in the bathroom to talk. How long had I been talking to this guy? 45 minutes? An hour? I had just come here hoping to give a quick anonymous blowjob. Or maybe, if I felt brave enough, jack off at the urinals with somebody. I certainly hadn’t planned on wasting the afternoon talking with a stranger. Time to see where this is heading, I thought. I took a deep breath in. Released it. Closed my eye for just a moment, then tapped my foot and moved it toward him. I waited to see what he’d do. Embodied Effigies | 13
He leaned forward, reached his arm under the partition again, and rested his hand on the plant cells of my calf. “I wasn’t sure if we were going to do this,” he said. “So what are you into?” “Nothing serious, man,” I replied. “Whatever’s safe. Maybe we could jerk off together?” “You like getting sucked?” he asked. Of course I like getting sucked. Who doesn’t? But doesn’t he get it? I am sick. I am poisonous. “Yeah, of course. But, you know, it’s risky. Unless you have a condom with you.” “It’s ok man. I’m not worried about it. Besides, I hear you can’t get it from giving head.” “I don’t know man. It doesn’t feel right.” “Really, it’s ok. I’m not worried about it,” he repeated. I thought about how good his lips would feel on my bare flesh. I remembered how easy, how innocent, sex had been before the doctor had called and ruined the sunsets. If he wasn’t worried about it, I thought, wasn’t it fine? After all, I had disclosed my status. What he lets into his body is his decision. As I slid down onto my knees, I thought of the man on the other side of the wall, of his tan skin and his clean white shoes. I’m not dirty. It’s ok to let people love me I thought. Then I thought of his strong hands and his lust for something big to happen to him. Of course I’m dirty. “I don’t think I can do this man. I’m sorry.” I had already slid my legs beneath the wall. He was getting on his knees as the worlds left my mouth. “Seriously?” he asked, grabbing my hips and pulling them toward him. “Yeah, I’m really sorry. I mean, it just doesn’t feel right,” I said as I pulled my legs back into my stall, rose to my feet, then pulled my briefs and khaki pants to my waist. “Tomorrow’s Easter, after all. We should probably make some sort of sacrifice anyway.” Something symbolic, I thought. Something other than him. He rose to his feet. Then pulled up his black briefs and dark blue jeans. “Whatever you want man.” I heard him raise his zipper to meet the button of his jeans. “It was nice talking to you,” I said, embarrassed that I’d disap14 | Embodied Effigies
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pointed him. I hadn’t meant to lead him on. “You too man,” he said. His voice sounded weaker now. Defeated. “And I meant it before, you really do smell great.” The he unlatched the stall door and walked to the sink. I heard the water rush into it, then three pumps of the soap dispenser. More water. Then footsteps. The sound of the door opening and closing. He must have wiped his hands on his jeans. As the sound of his footsteps disappeared outside the bathroom walls, I thought about my grandfather. How I’d held him deep inside me, invited his anger and his violence, disguised as the wind, into me. About Carl and the lessons he taught me. I thought about the man who gave this to me. Had he known? And when I told him it was okay to fuck me without a condom did he think I meant it was okay to give me this virus? Then, alone in the men’s room, I thought about what it will be like when I die. I let the scent of shit, the urinal cake, and the memory of all the men I’d invited inside me to absorb into my cells until, one by one, they joined the dervishes of virus and venom that were swirling and dancing in my blood. I closed my eyes and slowly inhaled, hoping to find whatever it was that the stranger had smelled on me.
Embodied Effigies | 15
Tea for Two Alyssa Ross
Where did I come from? The biological answer is simple. The real answer is much more complicated. One day, likely during childhood, we asked how we were born. It wasn’t the conception that interested us, the heated intertwining of two foreign bodies, meshed in the act of creation. Instead, our naiveté, our narcissism, drove us to ask – not about the foreign bodies – but about ourselves. We peered up into our parents’ soft, wide faces and asked, in the most sincere voice, “Where did I come from?” It was partly childish curiosity, partly an attempt, a struggle really, to make sense out of our seemingly arbitrary beginning. When I first asked my mother about my birth, I got a vague, unmemorable answer. Knowing her, it had something to do with love and storks or some other bullshit lie. If your child musters the courage to ask this question, don’t be like my mother. Don’t let your answer begin with some trite, cliché version of “When a man loves a woman…” Give them the complicated answer; they can handle it. It took me a long time to get the real story, but once I had it, I knew something about myself. This story, the one my mother hesitated to tell for so long, gave me something concrete and honest to carry with me when the rest of the world made no sense. The story of my birth, an inciting act that would shape my entire family. I was sixteen when my mother, Aleeta, first told it to me. I followed her lips, stained crimson from the bottle of merlot that now sat empty on the kitchen counter. She confided, “I waited to tell you this until you were older because I didn’t want you to think any less of your father.” Ready to listen, I hoisted myself onto the counter, letting the granite chill my naked legs. She told it then, just as I reimagine it now. She started having contractions early in the morning. FeelEmbodied Effigies | 17
ing her insides ache, a hot pain shooting across her abdomen, she rolled her belly across the white linens, over to her husband’s side of the bed. Flustered, David awoke and asked “Is it time?” With a silent nod, she hoisted herself out of the bed and moved towards the door. She noticed how his brown hair had contorted against the pillow. It stuck straight up on one side, and she hoped he’d comb it back with water before they left. David grabbed the keys while she snatched the overnight bag. Standing at the door, Aleeta looked back inside their house, the house that her father had built before his death. The place where he raised her, and where she would now raise her own child. Would David be like her own father? Would he buy their daughter a pony and teach her how to ride it? And when she lost control of that powerful beast, when its muscular legs pounded through the trail, carrying her faster and deeper into the woods, would he be there to run after her, to rescue her? No, she thought, David knew nothing about horses. She stood in a trance until he called “Come on. Get in the car.” They began the thirty minute drive from Guntersville, AL to a small hospital in Huntsville. She called her mother, Ila, who must have rushed out the door. As soon as David pulled onto the main road, he could see Ila’s gold Buick less than a mile behind. On the way, Aleeta’s contractions got worse. The pain rippled across her body, flooding her senses. She coped by blowing quick breaths and squeezing the armrest until her knuckles turned white. But as she saw the high, white building ahead, she exhaled in relief. David was only a year younger than Aleeta, who was 22, but he looked like a boy with his tousled hair and fleshy cheeks. She wondered if he was ready for this. The pregnancy wasn’t planned. In fact, they weren’t even engaged when she found out. They hadn’t even talked about marriage, much less kids. David had dropped out of college a few years back. Books and tests, it wasn’t for him. He wanted to work with his hands, to feel like he was creating something. But finding work wasn’t as easy as he’d expected. Even though he’d finally found an entry-level job at the Guntersville gas company, Aleeta wasn’t sure that he could stick with it. She thought, maybe he could stay home with the baby 18 | Embodied Effigies
Tea for Two
while she worked. Unlike David, she’d loved college, where she spent late nights wired on coffee, studying and laughing with her sorority sisters. She’d graduated early and gotten a good government job in Huntsville. It was the first sign that things could work out. David pulled into the parking lot while Aleeta sat with her head between her legs in pain. She lifted her eyes as she felt him slow down. He was about to pass the front door of the emergency area. “Pull in there,” she said, pointing at the emergency vehicle lane. “What?” He looked over at her in a daze, but kept driving. His piercing blue eyes looked frightened, like a skittish bunny rabbit. But his chubby, dimpled cheeks made it seem as though he was happy. Happy like a child who’d just been given a new toy to play with. “Damn it, David. You missed the emergency drop off.” She waited in silent frustration as he drove up three levels in search of an open parking space. She didn’t like to repeat herself. It would just make her more irritated to recount what he’d done wrong, to make him turn around and correct his error. He finally found a spot and got out of the car with slow, measured movements. She knew that he was moving slowly because he wanted to be careful, to make sure nothing was forgotten, but all it did was annoy her. “Hurry up,” Aleeta shrieked as she quickly grabbed her bag and headed toward the stairwell. But it wasn’t an easy walk. She had to stop at each flight when the contractions came, pushing on her insides. She pursed her lips and clenched the rail, too furious to cry. When she got to the emergency entrance, she announced to the nurse at the desk, “I’m having contractions every few minutes, so you better get the doctor.” The nurse checked her in and took her to the exam room, where she undressed and lay down. The doctor came in and she felt a brief moment of relief, hoping it would soon be over. “You’re not dilated enough just yet. I’ve got to make rounds while the nurse monitors your vitals. She’ll come and get me when its time.” David sat down in the red, pleather chair as Aleeta fumbled with the remote. There was a small TV in the room, but the only Embodied Effigies | 19
thing on was Tea for Two starring Doris Day. He left her for a smoke, promising to come right back. The lyrics to the title song stuck in her head. We will raise a family. A boy for you, and a girl for me. Oh, can’t you see how happy we will be? A girl for me. She found comfort in those words. But the last line unnerved her. Why was it phrased as a question, not a statement? Why not instead say Oh, how happy our family will be? She vowed to change the song and sing it that way forever. She watched the movie, painfully waiting for about an hour, until she felt the sudden urge to pee. She called for the nurse, who helped her as she shuffled across to room. But as she grabbed some toilet paper, she found something foreign, something that felt wrong. Blood and bits of fleshy material dripped into the water, staining the inside of the white toilet bowl. From the waiting room, Ila heard her daughter scream. She looked over at David’s parents and said, “That’s Aleeta.” She begged them to go get David, but they ignored her, saying “That doesn’t sound like Aleeta at all.” “I know my damn daughter’s voice,” Ila retorted as she walked towards the nurse’s station. She demanded that the nurse let her into the room. The nurse tersely replied, “Parents aren’t allowed in the exam room. You’ll have to wait until she’s moved to the larger delivery room.” Oh hell, Ila thought, as she contemplated breaking down the door to get to her baby girl. Aleeta waited on the toilet, distressing about the health of her baby, until she heard David come back in the room from his smoke break. She screamed extra loud this time, just to make a point. He rushed in, but ran right out again when he heard her yell, “Get that damn nurse.” The nurse came into the bathroom and saw the mess. “Oh honey, let’s get you in the bed.” The nurse helped as Aleeta teetered back to the bed, leaving behind a trail of blood. The doctor came in and announced, “Looks like we’re having a baby.” There was no time to move her to the delivery room and it was certainly too late for an epidural. The doctor told Aleeta not to push yet, but she screamed “It’s coming whether we like it or not, Doc.” When he finally gave her the okay, she pushed 20 | Embodied Effigies
Tea for Two
once and had a quick change of heart. “I’m not doing this. Give me the fucking epidural.” The doctor coaxed, “Come on Aleeta, try pushing again for me.” She pushed a second time and out I came, a pink, goopy mess. This is a story about beginnings, and it haunts me. I wonder if it’s my own narcissism, but I know that can’t be the only explanation. It has something to do with capturing one moment, a moment from which everything springs forth. In that moment, we were simultaneously strangers and family. I pull it apart now, as an adult, and I can see the things my mother didn’t. Even as I was being born, my family was falling apart. The missed emergency parking, my mother’s impenetrable silence, the three flights of stairs, the hour-long cigarette break—these were all symptoms of the hidden cracks in our very foundation. From that moment on, we were living on borrowed time.
Embodied Effigies | 21
CONTINUING WITH: ARAKAWA (July 6, 1936-May 18, 2010) Douglas Penick
The pop of poles pulling from the river bed; the stagnant smell of river mud; The fishermen push out through crackling reeds into the secret stream.
We lean against the pole, Entering the drift as a subtle current takes us
And our heart/mind, unsure, relieved, Surrenders.
Well, here we are.
Here. Though this is surely familiar, it may not be your preferred aesthetic any more. Perhaps, while it represents for me a freedom, for you perhaps it’s imprisonment, cliché. Either way, a now distant birthplace for us both, I think.
I hope you don’t mind.
Certainly, it’s not what either of us expected, is it? Embodied Effigies | 23
I miss you, you know. I miss the possibility of phone calls which you would have your wife make when you’d had a dream or an intuition. Those no more. But here we are and it’s better than nothing, no? And still, as ever, a surprise.
A quick shock From within, as if a terrible thought, A premonition, A cramp Freezes each in place.
And frozen in that sharp empty moment, Impenetrable space expands Pale and black And so unsure.
Frozen, Standing in the boat, No forward motion But rocking side to side, Listening as the water laps. Perhaps a fish has leapt far off. Looking as if a crane has risen suddenly, And there is a cause For this sudden gap.
We often share that.
Before we met, the woman who introduced us told me about you visiting her studio and looking at her paintings. She heard you saying under your breath: “All that work….and For What?”
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CONTINUING WITH: ARAKAWA
A tremor of ‘for what?’ I wanted to meet you then. Now we have just a different kind of meeting, a new relationship to embodiment, I guess we could say. A little strained. Different possibilities. But unsure as ever.
I see you smile. It’s not as if you AREN’T exactly, is it? -
Do you remember that time you and Agnetti, both nicely drunk, were standing by the kitchen table? Sunset light glowed in the dust streaks on the windows. “You and I… are exactly…the same,” you told him carefully, “BUT,” and here your eyes rounded in amazement, “…one of us is just a little taller.” So, you’re gone, but here we are as again, you—in your chosen conversational format—recount your conversations with others. As you told me then you’d gone out late one sultry summer night for a walk and ended up chatting with the old Italian men sitting under the limp maple trees below 6th Avenue. “When you think about when you were young, is it long ago or like yesterday?” you asked them. “Oh, just like yesterday,” they replied gravely. Your grandmother—do you remember?—gave you a fruit they call now an Asian Pear. When you first saw it, it was just after WWII had ended. Your grandmother showed it to you. It was, she said, very expensive. “What is it?” you asked. “It’s a Twentieth Century fruit.” “Really.” “Yes.” “And do you know why it’s called that?” “Why?” “Because this is the Twentieth Century.” And she held it out to give him. “It’s your century.”
And onward following the meandering stream Embodied Effigies | 25
That leaves the shadow landscape of familiar scents, The vague silhouettes of houses where neighbors dream, Barns where ill-fated livestock sleeping paw at the air.
Following on hidden channels, we press on Sensing growing unfamiliarity, A strangeness, risk. The river widens, Solid land recedes, And ahead, we intuit wider space, Mysterious and unconstrained. -
An early visit took place in summer. In the long cool gray studio with a cold gray marble floor salvaged from, you said, a bank, we drank bright red hibiscus tea. “The difference between Kafka and Mallarme is that Kafka could always pour himself completely into anything he could imagine—a cockroach, anything. In whatever Mallarme imagined, he found only a vast void until even looking in the mirror, all he saw was void and chance.” And soon thereafter, a party filling the same room: Duchamp’s sprightly widow, John Cage suffering from arthritis discussing shoes, Jasper Johns aloof, pickled, Raushenberg, garrulous and fun, drinking telling when first he saw the world with corrective eyeglasses, stripped of the luminous haze and how he was ‘ashamed to be in such a place’. And late one night, you told me how you saw the art world consumed with cynicism, greed and stripped of morals, offering nothing to those who followed. We talked about Liberace and his sincerity. Then your art: your maps. These diagrams marking the field or pathway from: “Whenever “I” or “we” is pronounced, it feels or seems as though there will follow full presence of a subject in addition to that of the speaker. We are given only shifting space or a field of play… “I have begun to consider the construction of a situation for 26 | Embodied Effigies
CONTINUING WITH: ARAKAWA
a parallel, reminiscent of Frankenstein, as a strong way to respond to the nonsensical urgency of subject matter… “Always we are used-up texture, then we become texture… (but) to make the maximum situation: “1. Two or three points of departure “2. Edge blank (describe) “3. Receivability “4. By: enclosure for continuance(?). “5. Saturation vectors” and these on through “6. Layered approximations…”
And continuing to
“19. Diffuse receding “20. Waiting texture “21. Impressionable stretching…”
until finally you reached
“32. Sudden drop… “33. Scale of action… “
and ended with—on that occasion—
“34. Call of continuity: the momentum or the maker of second nature: energy advisor: judge?” (Arakawa. Some Words. Stadtische Kunsthalle Dusseldorf, 1977. Pages 37-39.) And these spread and placed within a vast expanse of wonder: schematic drawings as balanced as askew, suggesting a continuing into time and on. This world you articulate is for me always quizzical, fresh and a happy return into the secret stream. -
Embodied Effigies | 27
Blurred and shimmering inside warm billowing clouds.
A sound expanding in the still and silent night,
And a sky is filled with starless light.
Entering the drift as a subtle current takes us
And our heart/mind, unsure, relieved, Surrenders. Of course, years of practice made the detailed terrain of such tracking almost familiar. Longchen Rabjam would have been quite happy sitting with you here. Remember when I asked you if you had ever considered living, practicing in a formal Buddhist framework? “Oh yes,” you said. You had gone to a Zen monastery for a six week probationary training. At the end, the abbot expelled you, saying you had “Too many thoughts.” Do you remember the terrible sob that wrenched from your heart when you told me this? I can hear it even now. And so you have discovered, if not a new stream, a new mapping. You are close to me right now, as an elder brother, moving through the dark always just within view. Right now. Do you remember our conversation about the great antipathy all the surrealists had to taking taxis? Eluard’s widow was 28 | Embodied Effigies
CONTINUING WITH: ARAKAWA
scandalized that you would even consider it even though the Metro had closed for the night. This emerging from one of many log chats about Nicolas Calas who has just been mugged in the subway. My father died suddenly and, in the same week, your father died. You and your father had been estranged. He was a doctor and had been a Soviet Prisoner of war after they took back Manchuria. He had been locked in the bottom of a latrine for months. He had never been the same. Still you spoke of him and held my hand, thinking of my father too; their deaths: “a terrible inconceivable tragedy.” You shook your head. I asked you about your mother. You described her as old, a little crazy. She showed you how every morning she went outside and, arms upraised, greeted the sun as it rose. “You don’t have to do that,” you told her. “You’re still young,” she snapped back. “What do you know?” In the darkness moving quietly through lapping water Unseen What knowing is there? Moving forward, what traces to what goal? What can be told that can be followed or count as useful knowing?
And yet… Could we stop in such endeavor? Could we stop and still count ourselves among the living? -
Do you remember? The French Government wanted to Embodied Effigies | 29
make you a Chevalier du Legion de L’Art. “What is that,” you asked. “Something to do with horses, yes?” They explained it was an honor. “But what’s it good for?” You asked nicely. “Well, it helps with reservations in restaurants and hotels.” “Ok.” And then, at the ceremony where your received this honor, you gave a speech in which you said that in the 20th Century, every concept, every emotional arrangement, every belief, every theory of social, psychological, ethical or physical reality had create nothing but one huge total disaster. You proposed that the only solution now was to consider low income housing. Soon after that you decided to abandon making your wonderful maps, and make buildings in which where the maps led to could be realized directly by the occupants. It was at that time you began to believe that the rearrangement of percept and perceiver was sufficient to overcome death. As if this were volitional act. Completely rearranging what the compositors of the Abidharma called co-dependent origination would allow for such a shift in mortality, but composite phenomena being by their nature inherently unstable, not for its termination. Your wife responded to this objection with anger. You merely laughed and said: “You agree that living in such a building could prolong life, yes? … Well, why not go a little further.”
Now we pole our vessels onward. It is not yet time to write the poems of parting. I hear you whistle through your teeth. I hear the water hiss Deeper than notions of destiny. I hear you laugh.
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CONTINUING WITH: ARAKAWA
What termination of affection, of understanding, of quest Has been effected here. What does it mean this death you opposed. -
Do you remember the last time I saw you. The last time I saw you, your wife handed me a card that said: “Make Death Illegal”. “Oooh” I said, “Are you contemplating a medical or legal initiative here? I think the former will work better, since there really is no effective punishment you can impose in the latter.” You laughed and invited me for tea; your wife looked unhappy. I was so happy to see you. Do you remember that I asked where love fit in your endeavor? You looked down and did not answer. I’m still asking you, my dearly beloved brother.
We shall speak of this again.
Embodied Effigies | 31
Nourish the Soul Diane Payne
I’ve signed up for the cholesterol testing at work Monday morning at eight. Bright and early so I can return home and drink coffee, eat my cookie, and who knows what else. This is one of our perks with the job, one of our generous benefits that is supposed to take our minds off our abysmal salaries. The last time I had my cholesterol checked, I didn’t know my gynecologist was going to run a blood test. I thought she was checking everything else, so I ate comfort food before the appointment: large bowl of vanilla ice cream and fresh peaches. Two weeks later, the dreaded phone call. Off the charts. What did she expect? I can’t stop thinking about what I might eat Sunday night that could give me another dismal report. Another time a doctor called to say I had high cholesterol, I assured the doctor I had cheesecake the night before and really cheesy fettuccine. It was miraculous that I didn’t have a heart attack. She wasn’t humored. Four weeks later, I started taking red yeast rice, fasted, and tested perfectly normal. Even though I know I’ll probably test fine this time round, I obsess over what I may eat Sunday night. Two nights ago, I took out the Ben and Jerry’s, thought I’d have a few spoonfuls. No reason dirtying a bowl. Next thing I knew, the container was empty. I was horrified. But, I justified it by believing it was better I ate it then, not on Sunday night. Last night I decided to have a glass of milk and one cookie while watching a movie. Better than drinking an entire bottle of wine. I’m compulsive in more ways than one. After dipping one cookie into the milk, I figured one more. As long as I don’t do it on Embodied Effigies | 33
Sunday. Don’t have to worry about eating cookies on Sunday. Next day I come home from walking the dogs and remember that bag of Snickers. I eat every one of them and feel like puking. At least it’s not Sunday. I do what I despise: I post on Facebook that I am eating compulsively, fretting over Monday. I block “friends” who post pictures of their meals. My daughter writes “pig.” If she was smart, she’d unfriend me. I unfriend me. Sunday I eat oatmeal and bananas. Hearty salad with dull dressing. I feel hungry all night. Pour a glass of wine. Make popcorn for movie. Scarf entire bowl. Grab the Wasa crackers and hummus. Pour more wine. Cats wake me early on Monday. I don’t want to get up early since I can’t eat before the blood test. Cats start fighting. I get up. Shower. Health fair seems to attract only a handful of women. As promised, ten minutes later I get my results. Everything is groovy. I go home for coffee and cookies. Think about voting early and buying Ben & Jerry’s on my way home from work later in the afternoon. Nothing changes.
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Prisons (Decreed and Chosen) Steven Lazarov
Moving from site to site, amusement to amusement, video to essay to newsbit to dictionary to more streaming to aggregator to search engine: repetition swirling ad infinitum has become movement. Autonomous happiness parsed out from contingency walked ran sprinted marathoned into the grave and derricked out again, again, again, again, again—fuck that. Acceptance without a splinter’s sliver of remorse and hope is momentum. Legs are spry finding first and fourth steps; blind is more thrilling more natural: easier than reaching the top of the stairs in light where muscles curl booby traps resisting extension. What possible consolation is out there? The search for epiphany leaves fall’s through winter to roast under July’s sun aside disneighborly burning piles of past. Do your own ears burn when you are talking about yourself? Nose? Lips? Tongue? Scalp? Or is it just the cheeks? The heart is always red and luckily sheathed beneath skin. But: My heart is on eyelids, lips, nose, tongue, scalp, elbow, fingernail, Embodied Effigies | 35
femur, ankle, big toe; in my pocket, at the doorbell, on my sleeve; my heart is hanging out of my fly. My heart leers everywhere, suffocating with deafening pitter-patter reverberating through laughing wrinkle canyons sounding out longingâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s indelible code. My heart is a beached flopping whale. So thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s no such thing as hiding.
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Something We Can’t Mend Donna Girouard
In half an hour, my birthday will be over. There is no moonlight but not because of cloud cover; it’s a New Moon, a reminder of New Beginnings. And a new year just beginning in my life: my fifty-first. I am now only two years younger than my mother was when she was widowed. I am a mother too, and I imagine a cord, silver as a moonbeam, threading its way through the darkness, connecting me to my daughter, and my heart tugs at that cord so that, wherever she is and whatever she’s doing, she might feel—even for a split second—my love reaching out to her. A slight breeze rustles the leaves of the old maple whose gnarled branches spread over the deck and brush the edges of the metal roof. Sometimes there’s magic in a night like this. I consider going back inside, upstairs to my special room to light a candle, to meditate or visualize or send out positive thoughts… something to convince whatever energies make things happen to favor me on this night. There is still time; it’s not yet midnight. But no, no one can force a thing to happen that is not meant to happen. And even if it were possible, a forced show of love would be empty and meaningless. I reach into my bathrobe pocket for the cordless phone and very quickly check for a dial tone even though I already know that its signal easily reaches this far and beyond. It could still ring, I try to reassure myself; it wouldn’t be the first time she has called this late. Exactly one minute before midnight one year on—my birthday? Mother’s Day?—I had all but given up hope and had gone to bed when the phone finally rang, my daughter’s cheerful greeting on the other end oblivious to the relief I tried to keep out of my voice. Right now, however, the only voice I hear is the fearful doubting voice in Embodied Effigies | 37
my head, whispering that there will be no call tonight, nor tomorrow, nor…but my heart refuses to listen. Surely, it cannot go this far. Surely, all the “good,” for there was so much and is so much good between us, must outweigh any “bad.” We’d had disagreements, even arguments, okay, so what? Mothers and daughters clash all the time, and there is (or should be) security in knowing that whatever words are exchanged in anger are ultimately diminished by the strength of the mother-daughter bond. My own mother and I had frequently disagreed, the arguments sometimes passionate and hurtful. At times, I resented what I interpreted as her interference. I was nothing like her; how could she relate to how I was feeling or what I was going through? I was my own person, not an extension of her! “This is not about you!” I would scream in a frustration that would turn to incredulity at her calm response: “Everything about you is about me.” Yet whatever was said between us, whatever differences lay unresolved, I could not imagine my life without her. When she was dying and I was in the middle of a divorce, I was terrified of losing what (only through maturity) I had come to realize was her support, her protection, her unconditional love, the only unconditional love that I had truly ever received, would ever receive, for the only unconditional love that exists in this world is that of a mother for her child. How would I walk the road ahead without the reassurance that, when needed, that emotional support I’d too often taken for granted would be there? Who else would take my side no matter what the circumstances, vicariously empathize with both my anger and joy, and patiently listen to my stories as she had throughout the first thirty six years of my life? Only twenty-one and in an unhappy marriage with a four year old son when her own mother had unexpectedly died, my mother had never gotten over the loss. As a child, I would hear her grief and see it in her eyes whenever she spoke of my grandmother, and even though I had never met this woman, revered nearly to sainthood by her daughter, a woman whose death had occurred nearly twenty years before my birth, I recognized the sometimes terrible bond that exists between mother and daughter and knew that someday I too would feel that same kind of grief. Now after fourteen years, barely a day goes by when I don’t think of my mother and miss her. I’ve woken with a start, imagining 38 | Embodied Effigies
Something We Can’t Mend
for a split second that I had forgotten to call her when I’d promised to. Sometimes when I’ve achieved some sort of triumph in my personal or professional life, and I’m bubbling with the news, a momentary urge to call her comes out of nowhere, so strong it’s almost as if I could make it happen if I willed it. But then I remember that no familiar voice will answer if I dial her number, and the joy I felt a minute or so earlier diminishes just a bit with the remembering. The night sighs as I slowly rock in the porch swing and try to remember when it went wrong with my own daughter, Chloe. As always, my mother was the first to hear my news. I ran into the guest room to wake her, the test stick in my hand, and together we cried. A child at last (a grandchild at last), after I’d already been told by fertility experts that there would be none! My tiny baby daughter was born with disproportionately long fingers and toes and a full head of hair. “She will be an artist,” the attending nurse prophesized, correctly so as it turned out. Chloe faced life dead-on, never looking back but always eagerly to what lay ahead, just as she had when, after those long and difficult nine months, she decided she was ready to meet the world— face first, tearing me wide open as she pushed her way out. Easy going but with a quick Irish temper and fire in her blue eyes, Chloe would often declare, “I don’t want to, and I’m not going to!” looking me or her father dead in the eye, daring us to exert our authority. The pretty child with dimples, chubby cheeks and laughing eyes became a beautiful teenage girl with delicate features and those eyes, no longer blue but more greenish with flecks of gold, were such expressive eyes that could warm a heart but could just as easily shoot sparks or be cold as stones. Teenage boys gravitated to her and, at times, broke her heart, or she broke theirs. So sure of everything she knew and believed but so easily hurt—by trusted friends who betrayed, by a step-father who had become emotionally abusive, by a mother she had decided was weak and naïve, by a father who had lied about his past—until a protective shell began to form and harden with each blow. And death frequently intruded into her adolescent world where it didn’t belong, taking her grandmother, her great-aunt, an adult cousin—all within just a couple of years—and, the worst, the greatest abomination of all, the beloved cousin just two years older Embodied Effigies | 39
than she, who had been more of a surrogate brother. Chloe was out with a friend the day Rob’s car was hit by an oncoming speeding truck that was passing in a no-passing zone. After hearing the news, I hung up the phone, praying for a cruel joke by the bitter, recent exboyfriend who had just called. Minutes later, having been unable to reach anyone in the family, I sat at Chloe’s computer, logged on as her. I knew that if the report were true, her network of friends would be trying to reach her. Immediately, the instant messages of support and shared grief appeared faster than I could answer them. When I met my daughter in the driveway, I reached out as she approached, gently grasping both of her arms the way I used to when she was very young and I had needed her full attention. “Chloe, Rob was in a car accident today. He was killed.” I had wanted to be the one to tell her, to hold her and cry with her, but my words fell around her like stones, like the cell phone that slipped from her hand and smashed on the asphalt. Her face slack, her eyes empty, she wordlessly turned from me and walked away. Somewhere along the way, the hard shell she had formed against life’s cruelties had made her hard too. The night breeze has picked up, flicking the hair off my forehead and cooling my palms, damp with the sweat of apprehension. I can smell an oncoming rain. Images now flit through my mind with increasing speed, random and disorganized. Chloe, asleep in her cradle, being rocked by my adoring Cocker Spaniel, a perfectpicture moment that I unfortunately never captured. Three year old Chloe, who, having been repeatedly referred to as a little princess by her father, deciding that he must then be addressed as “Daddy-King” and I as “Mommy-Queen,” even in public, much to people’s amusement and, at times, our embarrassment. Chloe, flowers in her hair and wearing a royal blue Maid of Honor gown at my wedding to a man she would grow to hate and resent me for marrying. Chloe, at five, at eight, at twelve, at sixteen, absorbed in drawing or painting or perhaps writing a song or a poem or designing one of my many tattoos, engrossed in her work and oblivious to everything else around her. Chloe onstage, performing a song she wrote, a tribute to her dead cousin, a Gemini like herself, a young man who was more than her cousin, more than her friend, more than even her 40 | Embodied Effigies
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surrogate brother, more like the twin to her twin, and as I videotaped her performance, my hands shaking, my heart aching for her loss, I admired the strength she somehow found as her clear strong voice sang out her rage and sorrow. Perhaps it was death, too much death for someone so young, which changed her. Perhaps it was divorce and having to adjust to a new “family” imposed upon her by a mother who had proven herself to be less than perfect, who, having just lost her own mother, was vulnerable to the charm of a man who had become expert at hiding his emotional instability. Perhaps it was the boy who “cheated;” another who broke her heart for no apparent reason. Was it my leaving Massachusetts, having lost my childhood home to a poor economy and moving to a different, warmer state to start over, leaving my now adult daughter behind? All of this? None of this? My fault, my fault. Don’t mothers always blame themselves? When did my daughter and I become unable to talk to each other without it being awkward or turning into an argument? Was it after that night, not long after death had again struck and right after her heart had again been broken, when I rushed her to the Emergency Room because her “good night” to me had sounded slurred? She swore to me, between swallows of activated charcoal, that the pills she had taken were only to help her sleep, and I believed her because I could not handle the possibility that her life could ever cease to be worth living. Did the resolve to harden herself to life, to me, begin then? The arguments, the never-ending contests of wills, became more frequent, broken by tenuous, precarious periods of truce rather than real closeness. Harsh words slipped easily from her lips, more easily now than loving words. Criticism became her right and refusal by others to accept it would generate resentment and anger. I worried for her that her negativity would lose friends and ultimately lead to unhappiness. But most of all, I worried at what seemed to me to be a widening rift between me and my only child. Bit by bit, I saw slipping away any hope of the mother-daughter relationship that I’d fantasized we would someday share. One night, as I tried to explain these feelings, she blurted “What do you want us to do, bake cookies or something?” and rolled her eyes. How could I explain that when she was small, I had looked Embodied Effigies | 41
forward to her maturity, envisioning a bond similar to that of mine with my mother? To that of my mother with her mother? But this young adult daughter of mine, so determined to be independent, seemed to bristle at any hint of common ground with me. I tried to pick my battles, sensing the precariousness of our relationship and not wanting to risk losing what we had. Sometimes I would bite my tongue rather than argue; sometimes I would simply say “enough” or “Chloe, stop.” At other times, I would feel the need to defend myself or counter-attack because I would resent the criticism in her tone. “You’re an ASS,” she once yelled at me during a particularly vehement argument. “And you’re a BITCH,” I shot back, furious at her lack of respect yet hating myself as I said the words and appalled that we had actually resorted to name calling. What had happened to the daughter who used to snuggle into my lap, who treasured our playtime, our amusement park trips, shopping trips, museum trips, walks and bicycle rides—all the countless hours of “girl-time” we had spent together while she was growing up? My Chloe, so like me yet so unlike me. There was a time when I thought she had come back to me: the day she called after having been inspired by The Secret, and we talked for almost two hours about karma and the power of a positive attitude, and my heart rejoiced at her conscious decision to be happy. When we discussed a weeklong trip to Massachusetts this summer, I was optimistic. My previous brief visits had been positive ones as had her overnight visits to me the past couple of Christmases. No trepidations entered my mind as I headed north. I brought Chloe a home-made Vegan cake along with presents for her birthday and treated her to lunch in a Mexican restaurant midway through a day of browsing the bookstores and funky consignment shops of downtown Northampton. I surprised her with a copy of Jack Kerouac, an impulsive add-on birthday gift. Chloe introduced me to her friends and to her new boyfriend. She bought me dinner: Thai food, a first for me, so she guided me through the menu. I slept in the spare room, and my daughter made me breakfast: tofu French toast. The highlight of the trip was my Mother’s Day / birthday present: a quarter sleeve tattoo that Chloe designed just for me. My original idea for the tattoo was simply a quill pen drip42 | Embodied Effigies
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ping ink and a bit of our forefathers’ blood onto what, for me, are some of the most inspirational words ever written that assert the cherished freedoms so many of us take for granted and for which people fought and died: “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” However, Chloe explained that such a design would be impractical for my upper arm because the print would either be too small to read or too large for the space. Instead she created a holistic design that would reflect the philosophy as well as represent my work as a teacher and my passion as a writer. A single fat candle stub sheds its light on an open scroll over which a quill is poised, its ink droplets turning to blood as they hit the parchment. A cast iron ink pot and smoky swirls of grays and deep reds give the tattoo the appearance of an antique still life watercolor. I’m not sure what I expected from eight hours in the chair of pain while living art was being created on my arm. Perhaps soulsearching dialogue that delved into the recesses of our ever-changing relationship. Or a reemergence of my being her “cool mom” who trusted her talent and steady hand enough to sit through another permanent visible skin alteration. At one point, I sentimentally reflected on how the very first time, years earlier when I’d been the guinea pig during her apprenticeship, she’d pulled back after only the briefest touch of the needle, her eyes wide with concern, so afraid she had hurt me and looking for reassurance that she hadn’t. I have tried to forget all of the times she has hurt me since then. Whatever it was that I had hoped to happen between us during those eight hours didn’t. Chloe was matter-of-fact and professional and because I feared rejection or being thought silly I kept the conversation light and impersonal. Even when her friends and co-workers occasionally drifted through her booth, admiring her work and my fortitude, people who still think it’s cool that a daughter wants to tattoo her mother and that a mother will allow herself to be tattooed by her daughter, Chloe remained impassive, unfazed, and ultimately unmoved. I left the next day to visit an old friend in New Hampshire, planning to return only for an overnight pit stop on my way home to North Carolina. The axe fell upon my return: conflict over a bag of three dozen or so of my favorite CDs Chloe had insisted on borrowing from me the previous Christmas. I wanted them back; they were in storEmbodied Effigies | 43
age, and she’d been too busy to get them. I reminded her that she’d had all week; in fact, she’d had six months. She promised to send them. I knew she wouldn’t. She accused me of being petty; hadn’t she just given me a beautiful permanent piece of original artwork? I acknowledged her gift and, in fact, her overall hospitality, but one has nothing to do with the other. Chloe stalked away in silence. I was angry; she was resentful. We went to bed not speaking. The next morning, the silence continued as I prepared to leave. Chloe disappeared without a word, taking her car. When she returned, she carried the bag of CDs. I hugged her and thanked her. Why couldn’t it just end there?? If only it had ended there! But she asked if I’d like her to walk with me to my car. Of course I would— one last hug. Her posture was stiff, her hug in the street halfhearted. Let it go! I warned myself, but, no, I had to ask: “Are you angry, Chloe?” I so much didn’t want to leave on a sour note. Then: Explanations became recriminations and accusations; emotions poured out, hurtful words from both sides as anger mounted, and the argument spun out of control as our arguments always do and I couldn’t make you understand (just CDs!) that it wasn’t about CDs (fifty cents apiece at a yard sale!), it was about respect (a thousand dollar tattoo!) and how I raised you and I kept trying but the words weren’t reaching you but I couldn’t stop how do I reach you and you walked away but I followed you because I couldn’t leave like this not like this somehow I had to make you understand (“MommyQueen”) that I wanted it back the love and the respect (“pennies are copper…”) that you once had for me (“nickels are smooth…”) and if I left now like this it might all be lost forever (“dimes are the smallest…”) and I was angry yes but more hurt than angry because my feelings no longer matter to you and you don’t need me anymore (“and quarters have eagles”). My words, Chloe’s words tortured me during the long drive south. I text messaged her in Virginia: “I could have handled things differently. I’m sorry. I love you.” There has been no response; sadly, I didn’t really expect one. The first sprinkles of a chilly rain patter on the metal roof. I don’t need a clock to tell me that it’s well after midnight. I have no more tears. All I want, all I’ve ever wanted, is for my daughter to be 44 | Embodied Effigies
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happy, even if her happiness means that I’m no longer allowed in her life. I have fantasized about reliving that last goodbye in the street in front of her apartment, but there are no do-overs. “Be happy, my ‘bunny,’” I whisper into the night as I rise out of the porch swing. I head into the house feeling very old.
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The Cupsman Joey Dean Hale
Back in January 1989, out of desperation, I drove the forty-five minutes from Wabash City to Effingham and applied for a temp job at a cup factory. The actual factory stood somewhere up by Shelbyville, but that company had rented a huge warehouse in Effingham for this special project for 7-Eleven. I wasn’t too enthused at the prospects of factory work, but I was out of options. For the last couple years I’d just been selling pot and painting houses, but now it was too nasty and cold to paint houses, and lately there had been so many busts my weed connections were all laying low. At the Temp Services office I filled out the repetitious paperwork and dropped my official work history on the supervisor’s desk, but before I could get out the door a man in a blue suit stood up and read loudly a list of names, including my own. He said for these people to step into the next room to view a safety film, and when the movie ended, to my surprise and somewhat dismay, the same man announced that we should all meet for training at the warehouse behind the carpet store down the street at 4:00 PM the following Monday. Besides that whole minimum wage thing, I suspected the temporary job service thing to be a big rip off. But, I couldn’t deny I needed the work, or at least I needed the money, so I drove up the next Monday to see what it was all about. Inside the warehouse there were four rows of six worktables, actually just sheets of ¾ inch plywood nailed to 2x4 frames. About a hundred people stood cross-armed around the main desk up front, unenthusiastically watching the preppy thirty-something supervisor. Preppy straightened his tie, flipped up his spiky hair with his fingers, then pointed to the red and green cups before him. “Now people: What we got here is the Big Gulp. The Embodied Effigies | 47
Double Gulp. The Giant Gulp. And of course, we got your Slurpee.” He opened a cardboard box and pulled out an entire stack of the Big Gulps. “Now the cups are already made for us. So you won’t need to worry about that. What we need to do is take a tower of twentyfive, just like this, and spread them out on your work-station, upside down, in a manner such as this.” And he did just so. “We’ve decided it would probably be best to lay out five rows of five, just like I’ve done. See? Pretty simple, people.” Someone snorted, then a few others snickered, just like back in high school. “You need to listen up here,” Preppy said. “Now, we place a coupon for free food or drinks right here on the bottom. There’s a lip around the edge of the bottom and the coupon just sits right there.” He slowly raised the upside down cup with the coupon resting on the bottom above his head, as if he were performing a magic trick for elementary students. Some in the crowd were mumbling and rolling their eyes. “The grand prize is $100,000,” he said. “Now I know what you’re thinking, but don’t get any bright ideas. We’ll put that one in up at the main office.” After Preppy got a chuckle from a handful of these new employees he continued. “Then, after you put a coupon on the bottom of all twentyfive cups, you take a false bottom, ” He held up a white cardboard circle with 7-Eleven printed in green letters, “And we push it right on there over the original bottom. Pretty simple, people.” The cardboard circle was flat on one side so the customers could dig their fingers in there and rip out the fake bottom to discover what magnificent prize they’d won. One of the long-haired guys asked if we had to wear hairnets and Preppy said, “Not unless someone from the main office comes down. Then we all have to put them on. No questions asked.” I studied the room—The drinkers. Pot smokers. Junkies. Parolees. Older guys. Single mothers. Housewives earning extra income. Even two married couples, I later discovered. For some it was a second job. For most it was just about the only job they could get. 48 | Embodied Effigies
Someone in back said, “Are we getting paid for today?” “Most definitely,” Preppy said. “So now let’s find ourselves a table with three of our co-workers and get to work on these cups, people.” And that’s what we did from four until midnight Monday through Friday. Open boxes. Set out cups. Place the coupons for a free Slurpee or a hotdog or whatever inside. Slap on the new bottom. Restack the cups. I ended up at a table with the longhaired guy who’d asked about the hairnets, Ronnie Ravine and his friend Gary, who were from Shelbyville, and a young guy from Effingham named Mark, and we ended up having a pretty good time, joking around and not taking it too seriously. When we got bored talking we all listened to Walkmans, loaning and borrowing cassette tapes and batteries as needed. But still, within the dismal warehouse lived a dank dungeon-like aura. Most everyone wore flannel shirts or light jackets and a few women even wore gloves. Breath spewed forth with every conversation like dialogue balloons in the comics. Many complained about leg cramps until finally the company furnished little squares of carpet to stand on. Some stacked up two or three. I flirted with a girl named Kim and even went to her house after work one night, but she’d invited other people as well so I didn’t stick around too long. She was cute but when she smiled she scrunched up her face like a pumpkin left shriveling on someone’s porch long after Halloween. At that time Nola was bartending at Walt’s Tavern over in Haruf and after a couple sleepovers at her new apartment I’d moved back in with her. We managed to scrape by but we didn’t have the time or the funds to party like we once had. Actually, we hardly saw each other at all. During the day Nola slept, and I cut up dead trees and sold loads of firewood out of the back of my truck. At night after work I’d take my time and drink a quart of beer on the drive back to her apartment, and sometimes she still wasn’t home. And when she did return she often brought two or three other girls with her. Maybe even a few guys. Leftovers from the bar. Sometimes I’d stay in the bedroom and ignore them altogether. A couple times I strolled around in the living room in my underwear until Embodied Effigies | 49
everyone grew uncomfortable and left with Nola apologizing at the door. At the cup warehouse people quit on a regular basis. Junkies would get shaky and leave to go get high, only to reappear days later begging to work. And Preppy always rehired them. Only a couple guys actually got permanently fired and that was for “uncleanliness.” Basically, one guy continued to chew Skoal and spit in the extra cups after he’d been told not to several times, and the other guy had some type of nasty fungus on his hands. A few years earlier I’d sold my warts off to a witch but the funny thing was I didn’t remember them disappearing. I just thought about them one day and looked down and they were gone. “No Smoking” signs hung all around the warehouse, though the restroom always reeked of pot. A couple times I showed up drunk and no one even seemed to notice. One speed freak told me over lunch break that he’d been in the joint in Florida for running a stop sign. “Plowed over an old lady walking her dog and killed ‘em both deader’n hell, man,” he said, “I shit you not.” The nights dragged on, mundane and slow, but before long Preppy told us we were all working ourselves out of a job. Apparently he got paid more to be a boss there than he did to be a flunky up at the main plant. He said, “Now I’d just as soon stay down here and work with you all, so back off a little, people, and we’ll make this last as long as we can.” In order to slow down but still not get bored, the guys at my table played Hangman, drawing tiny scaffolds on extra cup bottoms. We’d get stoned in the bathroom and play Hangman and work on cups and laugh and Gary always gave Mark hell because he never knew any answers. Sometimes even when someone else solved it for him he’d never heard of whatever it was. Gary would say, “You never heard of Johnny Winter? Damn dude, you need to get out more.” The tension thickened throughout the warehouse during the last few weeks, the building’s interior even more stuffy and stale. I wondered if people were sick of the task at hand or just frustrated because they knew they’d soon be looking for another job. It might’ve 50 | Embodied Effigies
be a little of both. Big shots from Shelbyville sent word that some of us might land jobs up at the main plant. Temp Services also promised shifts at other factories in the area, but I just kept on stuffing those cups and playing Hangman, not worrying too much about the future. Soon the game became boring as well, so we began actually using the cup bottoms we’d written on for the cups going out, each with at least a few body parts hanging from a scaffold above the solved puzzles - Cool-hand Luke - Kenny Stabler - Jesus Just Left Chicago. The next step of course was to actually write messages directly to the customers. Greetings such as: “You Lose, Asshole,” or “Hello Fuck Head,” or even “Pretty Simple, People.” My personal favorite was, “Did your Coke taste funny?” I thought about me and Nola. About our future. Thought about it a lot, really. And I wondered what I’d do when this job came to an end. There for a while the other guys seemed encouraged about working at the main cup factory in Shelbyville, but before too long they saw the reality of the situation like I did. Still, we joked about becoming full-time Cupsmen. Ronnie even said if we took some classes we could become Cupologists. Then we’d run that factory. But, of course, when the job was over and the weather turned warm they laid us all off, and I went back to painting houses and selling pot. A few years later I stopped in this little bar up in Mattoon called The Oasis and Ronnie the Cupsman was playing lead guitar in the band, rockin’ the hell out of the place. I bought him a shot and we burned one outside when he went on break. He said he’d never gotten hired on at the main cup plant either, and at that time he was working for some printing company during the week. By then Nola was shacked up with this peckerhead from Haruf, and I happened to be out on the town in Mattoon with this girl, Theresa, who was actually seeing this other guy, Dewight Smalls, another peckerhead from Haruf. Theresa had just inherited her grandma’s house in Mattoon and Smalls had asked me to run up there that Saturday and give her an estimate on painting the kitchen and doing a little tile work in the bathroom. Embodied Effigies | 51
I sold her a half-ounce of some kick ass home-grown and ended up spending the night, and I ainâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t seen any of those people since. Well, none of them besides Nola.
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Biology Kristine Mahler
Your crush is sitting on the bleachers at your sister’s softball game. You’re there because your parents believe that your entire family should support each other’s athletic pursuits; you’ve been attending your siblings’ games for so long you should have stopped whining about how boring it is, but you’re FOURTEEN! You’re too old for this! At your brother’s interminable Little League games last summer, back when you lived in North Carolina and baseball was a SERIOUS SPORT for pre-adolescent boys (no, like so serious that the Little League team in your old town made it to the NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS), your mom would dispense one dollar at the top of the first inning and it was yours to divide and conquer for the rest of the game. You’d usually spend fifteen cents for a cup of soft-pelleted ice, which was both long-lasting and necessary in the June humidity. Sometimes you’d blow a big chunk of your wad on a Snickers bar (fifty cents) straight out of the freezer; it was cold enough that you couldn’t bite it for several minutes, you had to suck on it. Blow-Pops were fifteen cents, but if your brother’s teammates fouled a ball, you’d jog after it with the rest of the kids, handily beating out the seven-year-olds and scrambling ten-yearolds (you were thirteen, after all) and you could turn the ball in at the counter for a free Blow-Pop. When the Domino’s pizza arrived midway through a game, you’d beg your mom for an extra fifty cents JUST THIS ONE TIME so you could afford the princely sum of $1.50 a slice. You haven’t paid attention at a Little League game in a long time; there was the one time your brother’s junior league team was playing on one of the fields at the park and, miraculously, your eighth grade crush’s major league team was playing on one of the others, and you darted your eyes back and forth, making sure no one could see you book it away from your brother’s field. As you got closer, you Embodied Effigies | 53
slowed down, just strolling, acting like you had come to the park planning to watch the boys your age after all. But your brother’s done with Little League, and your little sister’s up to bat now, playing Parks & Rec softball in your new town in the Midwest, and you can’t believe your presence is STILL required; you’re a FRESHMAN in HIGH SCHOOL, when are you going to get to STAY HOME? Your mom insists that, since your siblings went to every one of your basketball games last year (not that you ASKED them to, not that you even WANTED your family there, watching you sit on the bench until halfway through the fourth quarter when your coach would sigh and finally let your non-aggressive ass in; you couldn’t defend anything but you were a decent shot inside the three-point line), you were going to their games. WhatEVER. You’re in your usual position, slumped on the top row of bleachers, elbows on knees, chin resting on your hands, when you see your newest crush post-Obsession, a boy from your biology class. Hey! What’s he doing here?! He’s with people who must be his parents, and they sit down near your mom and dad. You wait a few beats before climbing down the bleachers and make a show of hopping off the fourth row of bleachers to the ground, and then you go over to your mom and ask her for a dollar. You glance up, casually, like you’re just looking around, seeing if it’s going to rain, whatev, and make eye contact with your crush. “Oh, hey,” you say. He says hey back to you, with a smile, and you go buy your tube of RainBlo gum from the concession stand, meandering around the fields, taking your time, going to the bathroom, expecting him to show up by the concession stand, looking for you. But he doesn’t, and when you get back to the softball field, the game’s over and the teams are shaking hands in two long lines and as your sister is getting her glove from the dugout, you notice her talking to a girl who has the same light brown wavy hair as your crush. Sure enough, that girl ends up walking back to the car with your crush and his parents. You confiscate a team phone number list when you get home and see your crush’s last name; you ask your sister about his sister and she says, “She’s cool; I like her.” See, Biology Crush didn’t begin on the softball field. Biology Crush has been in your biology class all year; you were so focused on your Obsession for seven and a half months that you didn’t really 54 | Embodied Effigies
notice Biology Crush until spring. Your best friend Emily and the rest of your friends all know him from elementary school and middle school; he lives just down the street from Kathy, Emily’s mom knows his mom really well, they’ve basically grown up together. Since you’re a transplant, you missed out on all that. There’s a rumor that his uncle, or some kind of relation, is the pitcher for the Atlanta Braves—no, like THE REAL ATLANTA BRAVES. They have the same last name, and they kind of LOOK ALIKE. It’s amazing. You start actually reading the sports section in the morning when you’re eating your cherry Pop-Tart for breakfast and you scan the stats to see if his uncle’s team won. Hey, it doesn’t hurt to be informed. Biology Crush’s last name is only two away from yours in the alphabetical order of your last class of the day, so his locker is basically right next to yours. It’s like one day you woke up out of the fog of your Obsession and realized Biology Crush was right under your nose. His hair is slightly wavy, which is ADORABLE, but he gets it razored down only ONE MONTH after you decide to crush on him, and the haircut looks SO HORRIBLE you immediately push your crush into inactive mode, you wait it out, and when you can see the curl coming back, you pull your crush back into the game. Which coincides with the first time you see Biology Crush at the softball game. At school the next morning, neither of you really mention the fact that you saw each other last evening, or that you’ll be seeing a lot more of each other, with your sisters on the same team and all, but you catch each other’s eye between classes, at your lockers, and kind of share a nod, a little smile, an indication that there’s an experience between you two. For the next couple of weeks, you see him at the games. Your protests to your parents have abruptly stopped—if they know the reason, they’re not letting on. Game by game, you slowly creep down from sitting on the top bleacher, to the second from the top, to the middle, and eventually you’re sitting on the second row, one row behind Biology Crush and his family. You finally feel confident enough to tell your friends who your new crush is; after the humiliation of Crystal Kelly and your Obsession, you were playing this one pretty close to the vest. Emily is ALL UP IN IT; she recently started dating her brother’s Embodied Effigies | 55
best friend and she is all googly in love and wants to hook you and Biology Crush up RIGHT AWAY. She says, “Tell him, ‘Hey baby, I think we could really have a SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP!’” and you two break down laughing, coming up with more biology buzzwords you could turn into pick-up lines: semi-permeable membrane, base-pairing, sexual reproduction. She begs to talk to him for you, but you shake your head. You aren’t going to need intervention on this one. You’ve got it under control with your slow inexorable creep towards flirting; you’re spending so much time in his proximity, the head nods of recognition and smiles are going to lead to talking, a date, not too much longer. And you’re hoping it doesn’t take too much longer because softball season is COMING TO AN END. You stare at the game schedule on the fridge and realize there are only THREE games left. You hope your sister’s team makes it to the semi-finals, drags out the season a little longer: your freshman year of high school is ending, and with no more bleacher seats and no more locker nods to look forward to, all this hard work will have been building to NOTHING. It’s unseasonably cold the next game, and you’re shivering, huddled against your mom, when Biology Crush and his parents arrive. His mom does an about-face and goes back to the car, and when she comes back, she’s carrying a couple of blankets. She tosses one on her son’s lap and indicates, nonverbally, that HE SHOULD SHARE IT WITH YOU. And what does he do? What does he ACTUALLY do? He scoots up one bleacher to sit next to you and YOU AND YOUR CRUSH ARE SHARING A BLANKET ACROSS YOUR LAPS. You’re having a hard time keeping your mouth from dropping open with delight and surprise; this is like A THOUSAND TIMES better than anything you’d ever imagined. Your hands are on top of the blanket, true, he can’t pull some under-the-blanket handholding action, but WHOA! Sharing a blanket! You’re both too shy to really say much to each other during the game; you have to pee but the idea of being forward enough to climb back UNDER THE BLANKET when you come back makes you hold it in. When the game ends (they lose; no semi-finals to look forward to, but WHO CARES, right? You won’t NEED the games by then!), you wave goodbye to him and call Emily when you get home, giggling and amazed. Unbeknownst to you, Emily and Kathy have been up to a 56 | Embodied Effigies
little mischief of their own. They know you, and they know your inability to actually reveal your crush on a boy TO the boy, so they’ve been working on something they call The Conspiracy. School ends a week later and you still aren’t going out with Biology Crush, the softball games are done, you have no more opportunities to see Biology Crush. You know he’s got your phone number, since it’s on the parent contact sheet from your sister’s softball team, so you’re just waiting for him to call you. Except it’s Emily who calls you, from Kathy’s house, asking you that if Biology Crush was going to a movie, would you go see it with him? You’re almost like DUH! But you answer with a little restraint, “Yeah, I guess I would.” Half an hour later, Emily calls back and informs you that Biology Crush and his older brother are going to see “Jurassic Park II: The Lost World” at 2:30 that afternoon and they told him you were planning on going too so you guys could go together. And then you’re supposed to meet Emily and Kathy at Garfield’s in the mall so you can eat cheesecake and debrief. At first, you’re like WITH HIS OLDER BROTHER AS A CHAPERONE? That isn’t a DATE! But you’ll take what you can get, so you run it by your parents and you put on your coolest outfit, which is currently a pair of short khaki cargo shorts from Old Navy and your dad’s threadbare old blue V-neck sweater. You’re not wearing a bra with it because you don’t need to, but when you go into your parents’ bedroom to tell them you’re ready to be driven to the mall, your mom asks if you want to change. You’re like UMMM, NO, and she says “That sweater’s just a little see-through, and aren’t you going to be too warm in that anyway?” You counter with the classic movie-theaters-are-always-freezing line, and your mom sighs and drives you to the movie theater behind the mall. Now, you’re not even INTO “Lost World”—your brother threw a fit and was really jealous when he heard you were going because he’s a huge Jurassic Park fan; he has the fan-fic paperbacks and everything, and he whined that he should get to go to the movie too. But you were like ONE UNNECESSARY BROTHER IS ENOUGH! and when your mom drops you off and you walk up to the theater, Biology Crush is waiting in the lobby with his brother, who’s wearing a black-and-white striped t-shirt that looks like the top half of a Embodied Effigies | 57
JAILHOUSE UNIFORM. Oh my GOD. You would be SO mortified if that was your brother—you HAD a t-shirt like that. When you were EIGHT. His brother’s SEVENTEEN, right? There’s an awkward moment where you’re not sure if Biology Crush is buying your movie ticket or not; you brought money and everything, but then you hear him say “Two tickets” and you brightly chirp, “Oh, thanks!” as the teen behind the counter is handing him his tickets and then Biology Crush hands one ticket to his brother and you realize the two tickets were for both of them and you look around acting like you were talking to someone else in the lobby and you slide your five-dollar-bill under the glass and say, “One for ‘Lost World.’” You follow Biology Crush and his brother into the theater and Biology Crush enters the row first and takes a seat. His brother steps over him and sits on his right, so you’re sitting next to Biology Crush, which makes you grateful that you didn’t somehow get stuck sitting next to HIS BROTHER and not him; HELLO, how could he try to hold your hand during the movie if he was a seat away? The movie is WHATEV, although you’ve read enough magazine articles to know that, when it gets scary, you need to suck in your breath and widen your eyes and make sure, above all else, that your hand is easily accessible, so you keep your hand on the armrest, palm open and tipped towards Biology Crush to maximize handholding ease. It gets uncomfortable and you look slightly ridiculous, but you’re going to make this as easy as possible for him. Except WHY are the credits rolling and WHY is he standing up and WHY are you leading him and his brother up the aisle, through the theater, and WHY is he climbing into his brother’s car, waving goodbye, as you stand there, awkwardly, with no ride on the way? You’ve got to walk across the entire mall parking lot by yourself, through the halls, until you see Emily and Kathy in front of Garfield’s, grinning from ear to ear, asking you how it went. You snap on a smile and act REALLY POSITIVE; you tell them his BROTHER was there, and you all groan, as you explain that OF COURSE he didn’t hold your hand or anything; I mean, that would have been awkward with JAILHOUSE the next seat over. You and your friends laugh about his brother and what a LOSER he must be to horn in 58 | Embodied Effigies
on a FOURTEEN-YEAR-OLD’s date. Emily and Kathy slap hands in the air and fill you in on all the details of The Conspiracy; how they went over to his house and asked him if he wanted go to a movie with you, and how he said he was going to see “Lost World” and then they asked if it would be okay if you went too, and he said “Sure” and as they’re telling you this, your pride kind of crooks its eyebrows and frowns; you didn’t realize it had gone like THAT, like they were BEGGING him to let you go to a movie with him. Your crush development rests in homeostasis because you don’t see him the rest of the summer, which is fine; you’re busy with drivers ed. You’re willing to let the Conspiracy embarrassment drop because you never know what classes you two will have together next year; it’ll be a little easier to pick back up with him when you have regular reasons to slide into each other’s circles. But after the excitement of the first couple of days of sophomore year wear off, you realize he isn’t in ANY of your classes. Biology Crush, where’d you GO? You complain about it to Emily because you were totally planning on getting Biology Crush to ask you to Harvest Moon—a dance, like the Valentine’s Day Dance, not sanctioned by your school but hosted by the YWCA—the only dance an underclassman has a shot at going to because the only dances your school HOSTS are Junior Prom and then Senior Prom. No one really GOES to the Valentine’s Day Dance or Harvest Moon, but you still want to go—you want to DANCE! So you’re complaining about Harvest Moon on the phone with Emily one night when she jokingly suggests her brother, a junior, as your date. You grin and say, “Seriously? Do you even think he’d GO?” She hollers at him to get on the other phone and you guys are in a three-way, and she asks her brother if he would go to Harvest Moon with you and he’s like, “Uh, yeah, sure.” You say, “Seriously? Really? Because you don’t HAVE to, I just wanted to go,” and he says, “Well, yeah, if you want to go, sure, I’ll go with you.” BOOM! Like that! Dance date! It doesn’t matter that you’ve never had a crush on him before or that he’s your best friend’s brother; you get to go to Roots and pick out a FORMAL DRESS! You’re buzzing at school the next week until Kathy tells you that she thinks your Biology Crush is going to Harvest Moon. You’re like, “HUH? With WHO?!” She tells you it’s a girl in your English Embodied Effigies | 59
class, a girl you’re school-friends with. You roll your eyes and it gets back to her and Biology Crush’s prospective date Leslie passes you a note proclaiming that YOUR FRIENDSHIP IS WAY MORE IMPORTANT THAN A GUY and SHE WILL TOTALLY NOT GO WITH HIM IF IT’S GOING TO MAKE YOU MAD. But then she JUSTIFIES herself by telling your mutual friend Andrea that she and Biology Crush “actually have a lot in common.” Like that’s supposed to make you FEEL BETTER? Like the fact that they have a lot in common MATTERS to you? Emily is righteously indignant on your behalf, totally all “You saw him first!” but the truth of the matter is that he didn’t ask you, you have a date after all, so you know you need to GET OVER IT. You go to Roots and you get this awesome burgundy velvet halter-neck column dress that hits around mid-calf; you’re too tall for it to fit the way it’s supposed to, but you don’t care. It’s basically backless, with just two straps criss-crossing, so you’re going bra-less again. WHO CARES! You realize that you have to pick out stupid SHOES to go with the dress—you’d forgotten about that part—so, completely confused, you go to Payless and get these ridiculous three-strap three-inch black heels. The straps are made of velvet, which is like your dress, so it works, right? You’re in your dress on Harvest Moon night when you realize you also forgot that you have to do something with your HAIR—your mom asks you what you want to do and your mind goes completely blank. Ummm, pretty sure in your school-dance fantasies, the focus was always on having the right DRESS. You never thought about ACCESSORIES. So your mom helps you slick it up into a tight bun at the back of your head, which isn’t really flattering—you look about EIGHTY— but you convince yourself that at least it kind of looks formal. Emily’s brother picks you up (HE CAN DRIVE! You forgot this miraculous fact: he’s SIXTEEN!) and takes you to eat at Jade Garden before Harvest Moon; you order the one Chinese food you know, sweet and sour chicken, and he orders duck. You’re like DUCK! And you make sad faces about how the poor little duckling had to get yanked away from its family just so he could eat it. He says, “Yeah, I know, it came all the way up Third Street from the freezer at Wal-Mart,” and you giggle; Emily’s brother is REALLY FUNNY. You hadn’t realized that before; you were used to thinking of him as an 60 | Embodied Effigies
extraneous part of your best friend’s household. So you get to Harvest Moon and your eyes adjust to the dim lights in the university basketball arena, and you don’t even LOOK for Biology Crush—you forget that he’s there at all until you see Leslie in a sweeping blue halter-neck dress that actually touches the ground and you remember that HE TOOK ANOTHER GIRL. But it’s funny, it doesn’t really bother you—this is like a massive natural selection where Emily’s brother’s traits are CRUSHING Biology Crush: smart vs. dumb, funny vs. mute, friendly vs. awkward, confident vs. nervous. You focus instead on what it feels like to slow-dance with a boy (even if it’s your best friend’s brother! Even if he doesn’t have a crush on you! Which you don’t know for sure ANYWAY, maybe he does! Why else would he have agreed to go to an UNDERCLASSMAN dance when he’s got Junior Prom coming up this spring?), the silver stars dangling against the velvet curtain sectioning off the dance floor while Emily’s brother holds your waist and Jewel seduces everyone into a coma with “Foolish Games;” you can’t help but draw your bodies together while you’re slowly rotating in a circle, protons and electrons pulling you into a chemical bond. Later that night, Emily’s brother does this hilarious lasso dance where he pretends to throw a rope and catch you like a colt and then he pulls you towards him with an invisible rope. A crowd of people gather around you two and even though he’s the one doing all the work—you’re just standing there grinning as he does the shopping cart dance next, where he pretends to be pushing a cart and picking items off the shelf—you’re delighted to be on the inside of the circle, delighted to be a part of something everyone’s watching. You catch Leslie’s eye and roll your eyes like you’re embarrassed, but you’re not. You’re not in classes with Biology Crush anymore, so, at first, you don’t notice when he doesn’t come back for the spring semester. You hear from Kathy that his dad got a new job in Paducah, Kentucky, and you and Emily raise your eyebrows, say to each other, “I hope he doesn’t get shot!” referencing the school shooting that happened one month earlier, and walk to geometry as she tries to convince you to ask this boy in her band class to the Valentine’s Day Dance because you two would be SO CUTE TOGETHER. Embodied Effigies | 61
Trips Back to L.A. Louis Reyna
I was thirty-four years old the first time I went back to Los Angeles after moving to Kansas City. Tammy and I had been living in Kansas City for a year. She was originally from Dubuque, Iowa. We met in L.A., dated for a few years, moved in together, and then we got married. But by the time the Rodney King riots blew up, she was sick of the traffic and the earthquakes and the smog. So we moved to K.C. I was still drinking when I took that first trip back—heavily. I recently went through all the souvenirs and mementos I have stored in an old trunk and came across a photo from that trip. The photo is of me with an ex-coworker. I had gone into Super Crown Bookstore in Glendale to visit. There I was, with Jose. I was wearing a black Hawaiian shirt. I was drunk. My face was red and bloated from drinking. Two years after that first trip, I went back to see my mother. She was on her deathbed. My sister Yolanda had warned me before I flew back to be prepared: my mother didn’t have much longer to live. My mother was a born again Christian. She had been saved when I was sixteen years old. She was fifty-six. She’d had a hard life: fourteen children from seven men… diabetes, a heart condition… she drank, she smoked—and then she found God. For the next twenty years she attended church twice a week, read scripture from her large print Bible, and “witnessed” to unbelievers, telling the story of how Jesus had provided a light for her to come out of the darkness. Now, she was seventy-three years old and dying. I rode a shuttle bus from LAX to the rental car lot. The placard at the front of the little bus said that the driver’s name was Jesus. As I drove to my mother’s house in Lynwood, I kept telling myself to be strong, not to break down. As I walked up the steps to Embodied Effigies | 63
the door I kept telling myself to be strong, not to break down. My older sister, Patsy, met me at the door. She told me to be strong, not to break down. I walked into my mother’s bedroom and there she was. I was not strong. I broke down. It was the way I imagined an out of body experience would be. I saw myself as I broke down and started crying. I saw myself fall to my knees at the side of her bed and then I clasped her bony hands. It looked like I was praying. Her hair was snow white. That’s what got me. She’d always dyed her hair black. I hadn’t seen her in three years. I wasn’t prepared for that. I was at her left side. Her right arm and leg were twitching, as if someone—the devil—had tied an invisible string to them and was in another room, pulling at the line and grinning diabolically. I looked up at her, finally. Her eyes were cast to the corner of the ceiling where it met the walls. She had always told her children that she had recurring dreams where her mother was reaching out to her. She was sure that, in the dream, when her mother touched her hand, she would die. “I can see her,” my mother said, still gazing at the ceiling, “She’s there, watching me.” One week later my sister Yolanda called to say that our mother died. I was back in KC. My mother died at St. Francis Hospital in Lynwood, California. It was the same hospital in which she had worked as a volunteer. She and a group of senior women would rock “crack babies” to sleep, playing surrogate mother to children whose mothers were now either in the hospital suffering withdrawals, or were incarcerated on drug charges. At that time, I was working at Michael’s Arts and Crafts in Overland Park, Kansas. I worked in the custom picture-framing department. When I got back to work there was a bereavement card on my worktable. The employees at the store had signed the card. A few days later, Carol, one of the old-timers, asked me how my mom was doing. “Oh, she died,” I said, calmly. Carol gasped. “What’s wrong?” I asked. 64 | Embodied Effigies
Trips Back to L.A.
She had her hand on her chest. “That’s it? She died. That’s all you have to say?” “What do you want me to say?” Many years later I read The Stranger by Albert Camus. It’s one of my favorite books. A year after my mother died I went back to LA for my brother Gilbert’s funeral. He died on Thanksgiving night in the parking lot of a drugstore in Lynwood. He drank himself to death. Actually, the coroner’s report stated that he died from a swollen brain brought on by chronic alcoholism. He had been living on the streets for years, since my mother had kicked him out of her garage. She finally turned him out on the street when she realized he wasn’t going to stop drinking and he wasn’t going to accept Jesus as his personal savior. They engaged in titanic battles over his soul during the time he was living in the garage at that little house in Lynwood, California. I was witness to many of those battles. At that time, I was in my mid-twenties and living on my own. I would tell my mother, “Maybe if you stopped making this into some cosmic opera where Jesus and the devil are fighting for his soul, he’d listen. Maybe if you boil it down to the fact that he has two sons back in Phoenix who need him, then maybe it would be easier for him to grasp.” But she wouldn’t hear it. Gilbert being “saved” was the only way he was going to stop drinking; Jesus was the only one who could save his soul. The wake for Gilbert was almost festive, kind of like a family reunion. There were family members there that I hadn’t seen in years. There seemed to be a collective sigh of relief among everyone— unspoken, of course—now that Gilbert (whose nick-name was Chava) had been put to rest. A few of my brothers and sisters even laughed as we remembered Gilbert when he was a child and a young man, before the heavy drinking and violent tendencies came. My brother Jimmy didn’t approve. Jimmy is eleven years older than me and considered himself an enlightened sage, complete with beard and cane. He just stood in a corner, somber, shaking his head whenever an eruption of laughter would rise from our corner of the funeral home. Embodied Effigies | 65
The funeral was somber. My brother Richard gave the eulogy. He stood before us all, hunched over in a cheap suit, reading from a slip of paper. He stated the vitals: when and where Gilbert was born; how he served his country in the Air Force and was honorably discharged, and the date he died. In the end, he said simply, “Rest in peace, Chava.” There was an honor guard that gave a 21-gun salute and a real live bugler who played taps. The honor guard folded a flag and presented it to my sister, Mary. At the time of my brother’s funeral I was on probation for my first DUI in the state of Kansas. Two years after Gilbert’s funeral I went back to L.A. again. No one was dead or dying this time. I went back for my twentieth high school reunion. I was divorced by then and living across the state line, in Missouri. I had been educated in the Los Angeles Unified School District, at South Gate Junior and Senior High School. South Gate is a suburb of Los Angeles, a few miles south of downtown proper. South Gate, like the other towns I grew up in—Compton, Huntington Park and Lynwood—were called the “Hub Cities”: once post World War II Utopias for returning GI’s. But by the time I was born, fifteen years after that war was over, those cities were being overrun by black and brown barbarians. I went back to my reunion with my friend Dan. He was a few years younger than me. We flew in to Burbank-Glendale Airport, not LAX. It was cheaper to fly in to Burbank. Plus, they rolled the stairs out to the tarmac when you de-planed. When we stepped out to the bright L.A. sunshine I looked around and waved. “What’re you doing?” Dan asked. I turned to him, grinning. “C’mon, wave,” I said, “like The Beatles did when they landed at JFK.” Dan and I had a grand time. We drove to Santa Barbara and visited the mission there. We drove to San Diego and visited the zoo. Back in L.A. we visited my brother Jimmy. He was living in an old mansion in Monrovia, the town where my mother was born. Jimmy also ran an art gallery in Monrovia. He had artists living and creating in the basement of the gallery. They were wired up, cracked 66 | Embodied Effigies
Trips Back to L.A.
out, and down on their luck. Jimmy provided them with food and a safe haven. In return, he flipped their original art to wealthy clients with huge homes that had lots of wall space. A few of his clients were movie stars. I admired Jimmy. He had charisma and he was filled to the brim with entrepreneurial spirit. While we were eating lunch, Jimmy asked me if we had seen the Picassos yet. “What Picassos?” “They’re having a retrospective at the L.A. County Museum of Art. The whole place is filled with Picassos… paintings, sculptures…” Dan and I drove the Miracle Mile to the museum the next day. I still have the souvenir booklet. The next trip I took to L.A. was a month before the Twin Towers fell. This time I was sober, thanks to a second DUI I had received a year after my twentieth high school reunion. This time I took the long way back to LA. I flew to Reno, rented a truck—a Ford F-150 extended cab—and visited my friend Mike and his family. I’d known Mike for thirteen years. He worked with me at a coffee service in North Hollywood. I ran the route. Mike was my assistant. He cleaned and serviced the coffee machines. The first afternoon I was there, Mike piled me and his wife and their two kids into their car. “Where’re we going?” I asked. “You’ll see,” he said. We drove out to a barely flowing river on the edge of town. It seemed more like a stream, all dusty and rocky. There was a bridge. We all climbed down to the bed, next to the bridge, and Mike and his wife and kids sat there. It seemed like we were going to be there for a while. I lit up a cigar and then tossed one to Mike. He tossed me back my Zippo. It was getting dark. I looked around and shrugged my shoulders. “Yeah, so…?” I said to Mike. He just held up his hand and nodded as he sucked in on the cheap cigar. “Just wait.” As it was getting darker, at that magical time when the Embodied Effigies | 67
horizon turns a fiery yellow and orange and the dome above is a deep, cobalt blue, when it seems surreal… I saw the first few. They were coming out from under the bridge. I heard the flapping first and then saw them scatter, flying erratically in little groups at first, and then they started coming out in swarms. The sound of the flapping and the screeches filled the dry air. After about ten minutes Mike tapped my shoulder and pointed to the far horizon. There were dark clouds of bats, pulsing, moving off slowly for the night’s hunt. It continued for almost an hour and then it died down, with small clumps of stragglers—the late risers, obviously hurrying to catch up. Ethan and little Penny cheered and clapped their hands when it was finally over. Mike gathered them together. “Let’s go eat,” he said. The next day I hit the road. I drove to Lake Tahoe and then drove all the way around it, stopping at scenic points to take in the view. Then I headed south, along the coast. I paid the fare to drive the seventeen-mile scenic route that stretched along the Monterey Peninsula, which contained the small town of Carmel and Pebble Beach Golf Course. I made it as far as Santa Barbara and called it a night at the same motel where Dan and I had stayed three years earlier, when we had come out to California for my twentieth high school reunion. The next night I pulled in to L.A. Four years after the Towers fell, I took my sixth trip back to L.A. I was working at Barnes and Noble Booksellers on the Country Club Plaza, the cultural epicenter of Kansas City. I’d been with the bookstore for three and a half years. I started as a part time music seller, then lead cashier. Now, I had just been promoted to department manager. I hadn’t planned to go back to L.A., but my friend Robert called and told me he was getting married. I’d know Robert for fifteen years. I met him through my ex-wife. Tammy, his soon-tobe bride, was twelve years younger than him. Robert wanted me to be ordained as a minister for twenty-four hours so I could perform the ceremony. He said that Tammy’s father was a rabid racist and especially hated Hispanics. That’s why he wanted me front and center. 68 | Embodied Effigies
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“You want me to wear a big sombrero?” I asked. “That would be perfect!” “And you could wear a yarmulke.” “Shalom,” Robert said. Robert is Jewish. I landed in Burbank, as usual, and waved at the top of the stairs. I drove the rental car to my sister Josie’s house in Whittier. Josie is fourteen years older than me, and from a different father. She had been an activist as a young woman in the late 1960s. She had campaigned for Robert Kennedy and marched with Cesar Chavez and the migrant farm workers. She was the only one in my family who’d ever been to New York. Now, at fifty-eight years old, she was a corrections officer and a right-winger. She had taken a hard right somewhere down the line. Josie gave me a tour of her house. It was a three level house on a hill. On the way up I noticed a square door in the wall just before the top of the stairs. The door was open. There were boxes and clothes still attached to their hangers. It was a little storeroom. The moment I looked into that room I was overcome with a shudder of fear mixed with déjà vu. In that instant, I remembered an incident from my childhood: Our mother had taken me and my sisters, Yolanda and Laura, to a man’s house. Yolanda is one year older than me; Laura is the youngest of the thirteen children. I remembered the house being a big, wood frame. There was also a storeroom at the top of the stairs in that house, just like at Josie’s house. It had a big trunk filled with toys. I had a vague recollection of something bad happening that night. It involved me falling down those stairs and then all of us having to go home. My sisters were mad at me because we never had a chance to play with the toys. It wasn’t the first time I remembered the incident. But seeing that storeroom at Josie’s house made it seem more vivid—and disturbing. I brought it up to Josie while we were in the kitchen, drinking coffee. She laughed. “I remember that guy,” she said. “He was mama’s boyfriend. His ex-wife took the kids, but he still had their toys in that room. He didn’t have a thumb, either. He lost it in a work accident. Mama said he kept that thumb in a jar at that house.” Embodied Effigies | 69
Josie took a sip of coffee and then said, “You kids probably found that thumb when you were poking around in that room. That’s why you fell down those stairs. You probably freaked out when you saw it.” That day, Josie and I drove out to our brother, Joe’s house. Joe also lived in Whittier. Yolanda had informed me a few weeks before I came out that Joe was dying of pancreatic cancer. Joe was the oldest of my mother’s fourteen children. He was twenty-two years older than me. Joe’s father had taken him from my mother when he was a baby. My mother never saw Joe again. Joe’s father was from a prominent family in Monrovia. My mother was from the wrong side of the tracks. Joe’s paternal grandparents felt that the baby would be better off being raised by them. I didn’t go to my mother’s funeral, but Yolanda told me the story of how Joe showed up to pay his last respects. No one there recognized him. We all knew about him, that he was out there, somewhere, but no one expected him to show up. My sister Patsy (20 years older, different father) was at the front of the receiving line. Joe went up to her. “Who are you?” she asked, politely. “I’m Joe,” he said, “your brother.” Patsy fainted. Her son, George, a tatted up gang-banger, ran to his mother’s aid, ready to kick ass on whoever this old guy was. According to Yolanda, it took some time for the smoke to clear and for everyone to be properly identified. Over the next five years Joe kept in contact with everyone, including me. He sent me and Tammy Christmas cards almost every year. Yolanda gave him my new address and phone number when I got divorced. Joe even called me once. I’m not sure what he was trying to prove. During that phone conversation I came close to asking him why he hadn’t contacted us years before. But I didn’t. I just listened, taking his advice on love and marriage and divorce with a grain of salt. Now, Joe was on his deathbed. When we got there, his wife took us to his room. I’d seen pictures of him. He had been good looking and robust. He looked like Anthony Quinn. Now, lying in 70 | Embodied Effigies
Trips Back to L.A.
his deathbed, he was thin and frail. I stood over him. There was no emotional connection. This was the first and the last time I’d be seeing him. He tried to smile. He still had his false teeth in. They seemed too big. The next day Robert and I were speeding north out of L.A., to San Luis Obispo, where the wedding was taking place. He was driving his new red sports car with the top down. The entire wedding party stayed at a quaint bed and breakfast in Cayucos, right on the beach. This was all courtesy of Robert’s new father-in-law. That night was the rehearsal dinner. Robert hadn’t been lying: his new father-in-law was a racist. It turned out that he was also sexist. I was sitting next to him at the dinner table. He leaned over to me. “What do you call a female astronaut?” he asked. “What?” “A FUCKIN’ BITCH!!! HAR! HAR! HAR!” That Sunday after the wedding, we were all strolling through downtown Cayucos. My cell phone rang. It was Yolanda. “Joe’s dying,” she said. “I know that. I saw him Thursday.” “No. I mean he’s dying now. The priest is performing the last rites.” I didn’t answer. “Are you going to come over?” “I’m in San Luis Obispo. The wedding was yesterday.” “Oh, well, then… I guess I’ll see you next time…” That was it, I thought… the old ones are dying, and the young ones are getting older… Four years passed after my oldest brother died before I took another trip back to L.A. I was forty-nine years old. During that time, I had been fired by Barnes and Noble and was working at a new store: Diebel’s Sportsmen’s Gallery, also on the Country Club Plaza. They sold cigars, pipe tobacco and men’s gifts. I had gone into Diebel’s the day after I got fired to buy cigars. I was a regular, going in at least twice a week. There was a sign in the window: HELP WANTED: FULL & PART TIME. I was hired for the full time position. Embodied Effigies | 71
I took Shelley back to L.A. We’d met at Barnes and Noble. She was a Mormon from Utah and was twenty years younger than me. A few months before we went back, I rented a couple of Charlie Chaplin movies. I was a big fan. Whenever I went back to LA, I made it a point to visit some of the locations where Chaplin had filmed. When I was a young man I worked as a route driver for Foodcraft Coffee Service. One of my accounts was A&M Records on La Brea Avenue in Hollywood, which used to be the Chaplin Studios. I’d hoped to get Shelley familiar with Chaplin so she wouldn’t be bored when I visited the sites or went to the old studio. Little did I know that Shelley would, literally, fall in love with Charlie. She became obsessed. She even loved the film biography of Chaplin with Robert Downey, Jr. I was not as big a fan of the film as she was. I wanted to land, as usual, in Burbank, but Shelley had never been to L.A. and she wanted to see LAX. We got the rental car and headed for Hollywood. As we headed north on La Brea, I told Shelley to keep her eyes peeled: we were close to the old Chaplin Studios. A few days before we left KC, I blew the dust off an old VHS tape I had of the second part of “Unknown Chaplin,” a 1983 Thames documentary which showed footage of the studios being built and of Chaplin reporting for work at the door to his office, which faced De Longpre and was near the corner of La Brea Avenue. After we passed the studio I turned to Shelly. “Did you see it? Did you see the door?” She turned to me. She was crying. We stayed with Robert and Tammy for a couple of days. Shelley slept in the guest room upstairs. I slept on the sofa. I made sure to park the rental car in the guest lot this time. Robert told me that we had tee times to play golf at his buddy’s country club. Shelley wanted to go to Universal Studios. Tammy had to work. “I’ll go to Universal with you tomorrow,” I said. “Why don’t you just stay here and wait until we’re finished playing golf. Then we’ll all go out.” “How long will you be?” Robert and I looked at each other. “About five or six hours,” I said. 72 | Embodied Effigies
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Shelley slumped. “Why don’t you just drop me off at Universal?” she said. “I’ll be OK alone. I’ll have fun.” This sounded good because I really didn’t want to go to a theme park. Robert and I looked at each other again. “Sounds good to me,” Robert said. Of course it sounded good to him. Robert was a golf fanatic. That redheaded Jew would have teed it up with Hitler and Goering. I pulled to the gates of Universal Studios in the rental car. I gave Shelley a one-hundred dollar bill, and Robert and I headed to Topanga Canyon. While we were playing, I tried calling Shelley but my cell wouldn’t get reception. “Don’t worry,” Robert said. “She’ll be okay.” “I’m worried about her being alone,” I said. “What if she gets kidnapped by some crazy cult?” Robert stuck his ball and tee into the ground and then swung his club back and forth. “Jesus Christ!” he laughed. “She’s a Mormon! It’s already happened!” After our stay with Robert and Tammy, Shelley and I headed out of the San Fernando Valley and south to Buena Park, to my niece Toni’s house. Toni (her real name is Antoinette) is Josie’s daughter. She was married to my high school buddy, Richard. He and I had played in a rock band when we were in high school and into our early twenties. And then Richard met Toni and fell in love with her. He was twentyone years old. She was fifteen. Richard quit the band a couple of years after they met. Now, they were still married with two children. They’d been married for twenty-five years. The first night of our stay was a mini family reunion. For my family, a “mini” reunion meant about twenty people: my sisters, Gloria, Yolanda, Josie, my brother Jimmy, Josie’s son, Tony, and all their children. The women cooked up a big dinner and then we all moved to the pool located at the center of the townhouse complex. Embodied Effigies | 73
Shelley went swimming with the kids. I reclined on a deck chair, smoking a cigar. It was a beautiful night; one of those moments that I’ll take to the grave. I thought about my brother Joe as I leaned back and looked up at the stars. I thought, maybe that’s why he was smiling on his deathbed four years ago. Maybe he was oblivious to me and was just recalling one of those moments when he was fortynine years old and in the prime of his life. Over the next couple of days Shelley and I used Toni’s house as a base to visit my friends and family and to see the sights. We went to Hollywood Boulevard and visited the Wax Museum. We saw the sunset at Hermosa Beach and went to Torrance to visit my brother, Richard (six years older, different father). We drove through my old haunts in Glendale and Los Feliz. We visited my sister Ophelia in Lynwood (ten years older, the same father as Jimmy). Shelley was amazed that I didn’t have to use the GPS in the rental car. Jimmy was our last stop. We got to his mansion Friday morning. The housekeeper let us in. Jimmy was taking a shower, she said. Jimmy was married to Sharonda. They had a little boy named Joshua. He was three years old. Shelley and I had met Joshua at Toni’s house, at the impromptu reunion. That’s where Shelley first met Jimmy. Shelley and I strolled through Jimmy’s 1920s mansion, taking it all in: the original artwork, the deep, rich wood stain, and the baby grand piano… There was a wood sculpture in one corner. It was an African fertility God. At the reunion, when I told Shelley that Jimmy had five other children—besides Joshua—from four women, she was amazed at his prodigious seed. She leaned close to me and pointed at the sculpture. “We should dump that fertility God in the trash,” she said. That morning, after breakfast, we went to visit my mother’s grave. Shelley wanted to walk the grounds of the cemetery while Jimmy and I went looking for my mother’s plot. Even though my mother had been dead for fourteen years, this was my first time at her grave. When we finally found the marker, I broke down. I didn’t fall to my knees this time, like I had when I saw her on her deathbed. This time I just stood there, holding the flowers I’d bought, with tears streaming down my face and dripping off my nose. “I’m sorry, mama,” I kept saying, “I’m sorry…” 74 | Embodied Effigies
Trips Back to L.A.
Jimmy knelt down and cleared the flat headstone that was flush with the ground. He set the flowers down and said a prayer. It was one of those long, rambling prayers, the kind of prayer my mother would say at Thanksgiving, after she became a born again Christian… the kind that went on and on and I was hungry and just wanted to eat, and I was holding hands with my sisters, and my hands started getting clammy, and I opened my eyes for a peek at the food and my brother, Ricky, was staring right at me, grinning, knowing I would break. On the way back to Jimmy’s house we drove down the street where my mother lived when she was a little girl. Of course, the little shack was long gone, but Jimmy pointed out the lot. I slowed down the rental car and imagined my mother as a little girl, playing and running around with that big bow on top of her head, which was the fashion for little girls in the 1920s, the big bow that she always said made her look like a helicopter. As we crossed the train tracks I noticed the old train depot. It was almost in ruins. Even the chain link fence that was supposed to protect this historic site was sagging. The sign above the double door entrance read: MONROVIA. “We’re trying to drum up money to restore it,” Jimmy said. I didn’t respond. I imagined my mother, in her late twenties, waiting for the train to L.A., with all those children in tow, on her way to the big city to meet more men (including my father), and have more children, and eventually find Jesus and then die in St. Francis Hospital in Lynwood, California, at the age of seventy-three. Rest in peace, I thought, as we sped away.
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The Smell of Camphor and the Fragrance of Mustard Girija Sankar
The sun has just set on this tiny Caribbean nation of 9 million people. I’m so far away from home, yet the sights, sounds, and odors are familiar. The television in the lobby of the guest house leaks out loud music; the neighbor’s TV plays a soap opera, at once recognizable by the high pitched squeals from the lead female character. A constant din of activity outside-bikes on the road with silencers that don’t silence, stray dogs yelping and dodging the wheels of the taptap, and then the breeze that gently caresses the ornamental palm fronds placed at strategic corners of the guest house lobby here in Petion-Ville, Port-au-Prince. The breeze gently nudges the stacks of work-related papers strewn about on the dinner table. I miss this. I miss the ambient noise, the competing blares from the television sets, the recalcitrant motorbikes on the street, and the warring dogs. As the aroma of fried plantains wafts through the twilight air, I can almost smell the steam rising from a pot of freshly cooked white rice, of black mustard hitting the sesame oil on the iron wok, of garlic and onions fried in clarified butter. I miss this, this simultaneous assault of the senses. I miss the varying decibels of the human voice—laughter, street fights, infants crying, sermons pouring out the loudspeaker attached precariously to the power line poles. I can see the dust on the tabletop, the imperfections of the paint on the stucco walls, the tell-tale signs of wear and tear on the curtains adorning the window, with one panel not quite matching the other. I like that all I need to do is walk across the street into the pastry shop to grab a quick snack. The Haiti of today stirs a longing, nostalgia for home, home Embodied Effigies | 77
where my parents are, home where I grew up safely ensconced by the cacophony of TV, bikes, dogs, street fights and crickets. The power may go any moment now, but the noises will continue to give you company. Haiti gives me the same sensory stimulus as the Madras/India of my memory. All that is missing here is the smell of camphor, the timbre of temple bells and the fragrance of black mustard. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s the Pac season in Haiti. A season for Rara, the street music procession unique to Haiti and this season. I hear one such procession outside the gates of the guest house. The sounds of bamboo horns, trumpets, drums, shuffling human feet, and the sights of intoxicated local youth swaying to the beat of the drums and the seductive bamboo horns takes me back to the thiruvizhas and theyru processions in the Madras of my memory. Men and women alike shuffle along, caught up in the fervor of the celebration. Nostalgia though, is at times dangerous. It glosses over the unsavory, the dirty and the unpleasant. Reality in Haiti also forces me to acknowledge other similarities. At dinner the other day, I sat in awkward silence as my friends and co-workers counted off the number of servants each had at home. I chimed in insincerely, adding that Indians today too have as many maids. Insincere because that Indian is middle-class Indian, one of several 100 million. But the Haitian is still upper class and elite and perhaps a few hundred in number. As they exchanged stories of misbehaving maids and errant help from the countryside, I cringed, my sensibilities being forced to play dumb. They are people too, I wanted to scream. Perhaps if you treated them as service providers and not as imbecile country bumpkins, perhaps then things might just be a little better. I cringe some more when we talk about the â&#x20AC;&#x153;gay peopleâ&#x20AC;? and the underground gay bars. He made passes at my father, would you believe that, my friend exclaims. The street soundscapes ebb with the ebbing sunlight. As darkness sets in, the television sets grow quieter. The dogs rest. The last of the street-hawkers hop on to the tap-tap for the long journey home. My nostalgia too is now wearing off. Perhaps now, the freedom of thought, expression, and the right to flaunt denim cutoffs in my adopted homeland in the United States outweighs the nostalgia for barking dogs and the smell of camphor. 78 | Embodied Effigies
Limbo Colleen Purcell
Niagara Falls Excited, after many car games and scenery, we finally arrive at Niagara Falls. My daughter and her boyfriend have decided to go over to the Canadian side; she wants me to drop them off close to the border, so that they can walk over. I get into a long line of cars, I’m forced to turn the wrong way, and end up on my way to Canada, with no return, till I get to the other side. Not too much trouble getting in, too easy actually. Shall we stay on this side for a bit? No, we’ve already figured out what we we’re going to do. So it’s a short drive around Canada, and back. We get to the US immigration booth. How long have you been in Canada? Fifteen minutes. What?? Why?? I took the wrong turn. Right. My daughter wanted to go to the Canadian side, so I left her there at the corner, so that she could cross over on foot, but I got carried in with the traffic. What are your names? Spanish names, not good. Where are you from? Ithaca. Four hours away? Why would you just come for the day, that’s kind of a long trip isn’t it? I had to work yesterday, I have to work tomorrow. Documents. I have my driver’s license, my older son has a school id, but my younger son has nothing. I have his Chilean birth certificate in my bag, (I needed it for something) but that would be really bad, and my older son speaks English with an accent, so that’s not very good either. Half an hour later, we are still there, a long line of cars behind us. Every time she asks a question, she gets more exasperated with me, and she is looking frankly dangerous. I am losing all hope of crossing back into the United States, I’m wondering if I’ll have to go back through Canadian immigration again, I suppose this time they won’t let me through, and then I’ll get stuck in limbo forever. It doesn’t really look like a very comfortable place to live, either. She calls her boss, explains the situation to him, quite a long Embodied Effigies | 79
discussion. But she is left alone with her problem; he seems to be busy elsewhere. She finally gives up with me. She asks my ten year old son to roll down his window, and she starts drilling him. His English is very good, he is a good talker, and he looks quite honest, too. After she finishes with her interrogation, she glares at me; she glares at me for a long time. She really has no idea what to do with me. Turn us back, let us in, I can see it rolling around in her mind, round and round. She has finally made a decision; I don’t look terribly dangerous, I’m probably just a complete moron. “Things are changing, you people. You’ve got to get passports,” she says as she lifts the barrier to let us through.
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Attn: The Boy Who Used To Love Me Sara Walters
Safe & Sound - Tonight Alive When we first met, I think you had braces. So did I. Did you ever have them? The black cotton shoulder of your unwashed t-shirt against the blue lockers, I shoved wads of notebook paper into your palms and you rolled your eyes. You never did try and hide your distaste for her, my best friend, with her thick hair pulled back in messy ponytails and the endless pencil smeared notes torn from the spiral bound her and I passed between classes. She always filled her pages with paragraphs about you: his hair his eyes I just love him, I can’t help it I never did try and hide my distaste for you, either, with your stupid studded jean vests and that awful music you listened to. I carried disposable cameras in the front pocket of my backpack and took pictures with boys I didn’t even like. My bangs used to lay against my forehead in a perfectly shaped curl, and I’d fuss at the ends with my fingers in class, pluck at the hair bands around my wrists and try and erase all of the smudgy lead LIAM MCCABEs from the pages of that blue notebook. Remembering Sunday - All Time Low It rained the entire time. My mother gripped the steering wheel of the Tahoe and watched the U-Haul ahead of her on the wet roads. I turned uncomfortably in the passenger seat, staring out the wet, foggy back window at the miles of road we were putting between me and every bit of life I’d lived so far. I told you a few years later how I’d curled up in that front seat. I told you how I held my knees and Embodied Effigies | 81
pressed my face into my palms and bit down so hard on the insides of my cheeks to keep my chest from shaking when I breathed. I told you I’d wanted to cry for you. For your lips and the way you’d kissed me hard that day in the park, held me against your body and I felt the cold metal of your belt buckle and my knees shook while I stood there in your grip. But really, I wasn’t crying for you. My throat didn’t burn and ache because it wanted so badly to cough out your name which had written itself into the back of my mouth and scratched its two syllables into my molars. I was crying for Maryland. My chest shook for the pink carpet in the first bedroom I ever bled in, the bottom step I’d always jump on my way down into the foyer. My fingers curled into fists against my legs for Spring Lakes Drive, for Torran Court, for the mulch under my shoes in the park, the chains on the swing set that pinched my palms and burned like ice when winter came. I gave my tears to you, though, in some attempt to make the space between our empty hands feel less thick and loosen its grip on the spots in the middle of our chests. This was my first lie. Walk on Water or Drown - Mayday Parade I don’t remember who spoke first. Whose name lit up on whose phone screen and started the whole mess. But I tell people it was you. When I recount your story, maybe after a few glasses of $3 wine, I always start it with you. It was October. I was a handful of days shy of fifteen. I had a cell phone that lit up when it rang and played choruses of songs I’d heard a thousand times. I hated talking on the phone, but when you called, I always answered. Here is how I think that first conversation went: You: How’s Florida? Me: It’s okay. You: Yeah. Me: Yeah. Why did you call? You: I guess I kind of miss you. Me: I love you, I love you, please swallow me up into something so big and beyond us both that will consume and devour every inch of our tolerance for things like miles and bad music and 82 | Embodied Effigies
Attn: The Boy Who
long letters written in terrible handwriting and a lot of long messages on my voice mail when I don’t answer when you call. Take me back without even taking me anywhere. Surgically implant yourself into the center of me. Grab hold. Pull tight. Don’t let go until you stop loving me. You: Okay.
You’ll Never Know - The Maine The lies I have told this week, to others: —”He sent me a text today.” —”I guess I just don’t care if people are looking at me.” —”I’m doing okay.” —”Nah, I haven’t wanted to cut in a while.”
The lies I have told this week, to myself: —You aren’t just another girl to him. —He’ll call. —That one up north still misses you. —You don’t miss him back.
Crash - You Me At Six When you hugged me, it hurt. You held me so tightly that my ribs ached but I let you. I knew the moment you let go of me, the moment you loosened your grip, every seam that held me together would split and I would be a pile of ripped threads and silly girl tears in front of you, and I didn’t want that. I wanted you to hold me. I wanted you to hold me because everyone was watching and Shannon was biting her lip because she could already tell that I was completely done for and those girls you were talking to were staring at me and hating me and you didn’t care and neither did I. “What happened to the green dress?” You wanted to know. You hadn’t let go. You hadn’t loosened your grip. In the car outside, my hands had been shaking. Shannon had already taken the key out of the ignition and was impatiently drumming her fingers on the steering wheel, watching me while I watched you through the glass store front. Hurry, your words chimed onto my phone screen. My break ends soon. Embodied Effigies | 83
“I can’t do this.” My palms were sweating. My throat ached. My stomach knotted. “Yes you can.” Shannon sighed. She was losing her patience with me, but still she pressed her lips together, the ache thudding in my chest weighing on her enough to bring down the corners of her mouth. A thousand miles had suddenly been reduced to a handful of steps. We spent three years separated by roads and state lines and now, suddenly, the only things that separated us were my own weak knees and throbbing heartbeat. I couldn’t breathe. On the way inside, all I could hear was the loud shudder of the airplane engines that would take me from you again before I’d even had a chance to have you. Hang You Up - Yellowcard The truth is, I lost your letter. But only after I’d read it ten thousand times. Only after the creases were so worn that some of your words had faded into the paper but it didn’t matter, because I knew them all by heart. I lost your letter somewhere between one house and another, somewhere between one dorm room and the next. When I think about where it might be, of course part of me hopes it’s buried in a drawer somewhere, someplace I might still be able to find it if I just looked hard enough. But part of me knows it’s gone. Gone like those books I lent and never got back. Gone like that girl that died, the one I cried over and wrote a lot of stories about. Gone like high school. Gone like that last moment standing in Shannon’s front door, right after you’d kissed me goodbye, and I opened the door again just so I could take one more kiss from your mouth before you left me. Gone like you. Gone like us. Gone like the times you’d call and call and call until I answered because you cared enough to wait until you’d heard my voice promising you I was okay before you could even will yourself to sleep at night. I lost your letter. But I never lost your words. 84 | Embodied Effigies
Attn: The Boy Who
I Won’t Lie - Go Radio I remember how my knees shook in the passenger seat of your car. You told me to buckle my seatbelt, and I felt like I was strapping myself into a roller coaster ride, the pounding of the bass from your stereo clicking in my ears like the mechanical yank upwards before that first big drop. I remember I covered my ears. Your music was too loud. My heart was beating so hard it was making me dizzy, dizzier than I had been before we’d left the house, when I was tucked against your side in a borrowed twin bed, wetting your shirt with tears I’d been waiting to cry for three years. I remember yelling at you: Take me back to Shannon’s. We’re going to get in trouble. Please slow down. Why are you doing this? I remember your fingers between mine. The brush of your knuckles on the side of my thigh, how I’d curled my body into your passenger seat before you’d even turned the car on, closed my eyes and in my mind, crawled into your backseat and pulled you with me, kissed your warm skin, took your hands and showed you where to place them on my body, whimpered into the shell of your ear and bit down on your lip when we kissed. You started the car. I shook and shook and shook and counted the red lights you ran on the empty street, past the junior high school where I first met you, where you rolled your eyes and leaned against blue lockers and made me hate you enough to know I loved you. Heartbeat Slowing Down - The All-American Rejects Here are the things I know: I know that you used to look at me, stare at me, study me, sometimes for too long until it made my cheeks burn and I had to look away. I know that when you kissed me in Shannon’s basement, I was crying. I know that when you broke up with me, I wrote it all out for everyone to see, and I hadn’t meant for you to see it, but you did. I know that you sighed and said I was too apathetic. I know that one night, before a hockey game, I hung up on you and you called and called and called and left messages and my Embodied Effigies | 85
mom and I sat on the couch while my phone jumped across the coffee table, and I cried into the hug she gave me. I know that whatever it was that we created and lived and experienced, it was real. I know that I called you one night in my freshman year of college after a few too many wine coolers, whimpering into the phone about how I’d wished it had been you, my first, the first hands on my bare skin, the first boy to see me with all my clothes off, and you said you’d wished the same thing while I gathered up half empty bottles of leftover liquor and carried it back to my room while everyone else slept. I know that you have forgotten more of me than I have forgotten of you. Here is what I don’t know: I don’t know if you still remember my middle name, or the way my voice sounds when I’m tired. I don’t know if you know that I finished school, that I put more miles between us, or that I still write about you. I don’t know if I ever wander into your thoughts when those songs come on, the ones you put in the margins of that letter, the ones that sang my name into your ears back then. I don’t know why I still care about you: how your day was, how your family is, if the new girl(s) is pretty, if you ever see something that makes you think of me and start to wonder if maybe I was the one that got away. I don’t know why every time I think of you, I am seventeen in your passenger seat, knees shaking, wheels moving me towards something I’m not sure I want to feel.
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My Brother Died When I was Twenty-One A. Hunter Sunrise
What I remember, I remember in parts. His arms. The scent of Old Spice on his neck. The stories he used to tell me about hitchhiking east on Interstate 84, chasing the sunrise. How he used to stand in the kitchen making frittata listening to that Elvis song, “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” On nights when he came home after huffing spray-paint from a sock, I called him Judah, my lost lion. I’ve forgotten so much, but sometimes he comes back to me like the Yiddish my grandmother spoke to me as a child: calling me Shayna Matel, her beautiful girl. My brother, seven years older than me, always wanted to go into the army, taught me to do sit-ups in the park along the shore. In summer, we slept under the stars, waking only to throw a line to the fish, as if trying to catch ourselves. After everything, I followed the railroad tracks back to that river, walked into the water and practiced my dead man’s float.
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Intrusive Thought Justin Alexander
It appears like a long lost memory or a forgotten dream, lingering in the fringe of your brain. Something vaguely familiar, fleeting, yet so tangible. Like an image from a roll of film you could have sworn existed but are not entirely convinced ever made it past the shutter of the camera. It could be tucked away in a box or under a bed or wedged between the idle spines of the books on your shelf.
Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s of no consequence. And of all.
It remains indistinguishable among countless stills from your youth; its existence invalidated, immaterial. Almost as if it was never yours in the first place. As if it belongs to someone else.
A borrowed burden. Relief.
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It must be yours. It has to be. Thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s no one else here.
The quake has passed but the aftershock is in effect, sweeping over you. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s like a dormant disease, awakening from a deep sleep, spreading its malice through you, manifesting you beyond recognition. Like a mirror reflecting a mirror reflecting a mirror.
Choking off clarity, distorting truth, eradicating reason, challenging your very being, threatening to extinguish your soul.
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There is a deafening noise in your mind, screaming at you.
Pleading to be released. Unleashed. Fed. What is this? Panic. Terrified. Trembling. Trapped.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Embodied Effigies | 91
You’re stuck. Scared shitless. Fight or flight. It’s starting to eat you from the inside. And you let it. Uncertainty sets in. You are rooted, frozen.
Fighting to understand. Fighting to comprehend. Fighting to simply function. Fighting for this to end.
Your lips are moving but you aren’t speaking. You see others mimic this movement but you don’t hear a thing. Your right foot is placed in front of your left and back again but you aren’t walking. Your lungs lick the air passing through you but you aren’t breathing. 92 | Embodied Effigies
You are doing all of these things. And none of these things.
You remain composed on the surface, hiding in plain sight. Your friends and family can scarcely imagine your struggle. You don’t dare share what you’re feeling with anyone else. You couldn’t explain it even if you tried.
There isn’t a name for this. Each moment that passes is more excruciating and hopeless than the last. You are hanging on to your conscience and constitution by your fingernails.
Losing your grip. Falling.
It takes you over. You can’t remember who you were the day before. It will come to be the last thing you think about before you go to sleep at night and it will be the first thing to greet you when you wake up. Embodied Effigies | 93
You are a slave to it. You canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t reason with this feeling. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s here to stay. A permanent resident of the frontal lobe.
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Born in March 1991, Justin Alexander is a Telecommunications major at Ball State University. He enjoys serial television crime dramas and fine buffet dining. He has worked for his parents as a provider of canine safety and supervision at their family owned and operated doggy daycare and overnight camp in Carmel, Indiana. It was through their foster program that Justin found and adopted his forever friend, Sammie. He has also received his third degree black belt through the Taekwondo America organization. Justin is currently employed as a service clerk off campus and is undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Donna Girouard is an Instructor of English at Livingstone College in Salisbury, NC, and faculty adviser of the college’s literaryarts magazine, The Bear’s Tale. Her essays can be found in the current issue of Storm Cellar and in the next issue of Writer’s Bloc. She has just completed her first book-length work, The Other Side: A Memoir, for which she hopes to find a publisher.
Joey Dean Hale
Joey Dean Hale, a writer and musician in the St. Louis area, has published stories in several magazines, including Pithead Chapel, Fried Chicken and Coffee, Roadside Fiction, The Dying Goose, and Octave Magazine, which also has his song “High Noon” posted online. In September 2012 he was the featured writer in Penduline Press. Hale’s story “Access Closed” will be included in the Bibliotekos Anthology - Puzzles of Faith and Patterns of Doubt.
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Steven Lazarov lives in Chicago, Illinois. He eats peanut butter and jelly sandwiches stuffed with Nacho Cheesier Doritos and washes it all down with Wild Cherry Capri Sun. He lives to love and write from his fucking heart.
Kristine Langley Mahler crammed countless CNF writing courses into her degree from the University of Iowa. She is currently completing a collection of essays about her teenage crushes. In the meantime, she blogs at thesuburbanprairie.com, where she yells, screams, and invites you into her life.
Diane teaches creative writing at University of ArkansasMonticello. She is the author of Burning Tulips and A New Kind of Music. She has been published in hundreds of literary journals. Her most recent publications include: Marco Polo Arts, Lunch Ticket, New Verse News, Oklahoma Review, and The Rusty Nail.
Douglas Penick was a research associate at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, a chef at Gordon Matta Clark’s Food, and has written and taught on Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese, and Indian religion, history and culture. He wrote the National Film Board of Canada’s prize winning two part series on the Tibetan Book of the Dead and the libretti for two operas: King Gesar (Sony CD w/ Ma, Serkin, Ax et. al.) and Ashoka’s Dream (Santa Fe Opera) with composer, Peter Lieberson. He has also written pieces to music by Philip Glass and for choreographer Katsura Kan. He is the author of “Crossings on a Bridge of Light”, and the “Warrior Song of King Gesar” (reprint from Wisdom Publications edition). His novel about the 3rd Ming Emperor, A Journey of the North Star, is available from Publerati.
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Colleen grew up in a hotel in the Andes. She is currently a freelance photographer in Santiago, Chile. She began writing articles about subjects that interested her, especially religious festivities in the Atacama. A few of these articles were published in Stepping Stones Magazine. Later she wrote to get things out of her system, and also situations she couldn’t photograph.
Louis Reyna was born in Los Angeles in 1960 and moved to KC in 1993. His work has appeared in The KC Star: Poets Corner; PALABRA; Sudden Fiction Latino; The Rockhurst Review; Whistling Fire; Workers Writes, and Imitation Fruit. He also has work in the upcoming editions of Clare Literary Journal and Still Crazy.
Alyssa Ross was born in Guntersville, Alabama. After her parents’ divorce, she moved with her mother and sister to Northern Virginia. She spent a year painting at VCU’s art school, but then went on to pursue writing. She now has an MFA from George Mason University and is currently teaching and working on her Ph.D. at Auburn University. Her work has also appeared in Voxpop Magazines and the Phoebe Literary Journal.
Girija Sankar works in International Development for an NGO based in Atlanta, GA. She was born, brought-up and attended college in Chennai, India. When not traveling for work, she travels with her husband for leisure, and together, they have traveled to Central America, the Caribbean and North Africa. Girija’s writings have appeared in Eclectica, India Currents, Khabar, JMWW, Alimentum, Youngzine and Muse India. She also moonlights as a non-fiction editor for JMWW. Her earliest writing was a script for a high-school class production titled “Gran on Moon”. Neither she nor her granny have ever set foot on the moon. Yet. 98 | Embodied Effigies
Dan Sklar teaches writing at Endicott College. Recent publications include Harvard Review, New York Quarterly, Ibbetson Street Press, and The Art of the One Act. His play, “Lycanthropy” was performed at the Boston Theater Marathon in May 2012.
A. Hunter Sunrise
Hunter holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where a study of cross-genre hybrids spurred the mind to take in the world & reinvent it as flash, lyric, narrative prose. Hunter’s work can be found in literary journals such as Fringe, The Pointed Circle, and Poetry Motel, among others. When not writing, Hunter is often found wandering the streets of San Miguel de Allende or Budapest, visioning the world through a camera lens and tracing invisible lines between people’s lives and their imaginings.
A native of rural upstate New York, Jason Thorpe is an HIV positive queer activist, storyteller, neighbor, and advocate for silenced youth. For the past decade, he has lived in the Arizona desert and worked with homeless youth and young adults guiding them to find their voices and actualize their dreams. His writings explore pilgrimage, rites of passage, social identities, and the modern family.
Sara Walters is currently pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at California State University, Fresno. She received her undergraduate degree in English from the University of South Florida this May. She also works as an Editorial Intern for The Normal School, a literary publication based here at CSUF.
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