Student of the Month February / March 2015
Featuring: Kyla Tipps
University of Hawai’i at Mānoa
A Note on the Series Our Student of the Month series features on our website stellar student writing and visual art from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, the institution where our roots dig deep. In print for more than 40 years, our journal has been an established voice in the Pacific and beyond for decades, featuring work from emerging writers alongside literary heavyweights. The Student of the Month series is our latest effort to expand Hawai‘i Review’s reach in local and far-reaching literary communities.
Copyright © 2015 by the Student Media Board, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa If you are a student and would like to feature your work in Student of the Month or an instructor for a creative writing course and would like to submit exemplary University of Hawai‘i student work to Hawai‘i Review’s Student of the Month initiative, please send submissions to our Submittable account at bit.ly/submit2HR Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
In fall 2014, I had the privilege of teaching an English 273: Memoir course that was filled with talented novice writers whose voices began to seed the page during our semester together. Questions that we considered together included, How do we write our lives? What are the rules? How does memoir diverge from fiction, poetry? Where does it converge? The texts we read, including most notably for this student-of-the-month feature Joy Harjo’s Crazy Brave and Lisa Linn Kanae’s Sista Tongue, challenged traditional notions of genre, investigated issues of writerly responsibilities, and confronted readership concerns. We thought about our lives, our responsibilities to our stories. We thought about who speaks for us, and who we speak for. We thought about what forces seek to silence us, and who benefits from our silence. One of the striking voices that emerged from this course was that of Kyla Tipps, a sociology major with a strong sense of the characters and experiences she has come into contact with throughout her own life. Kyla’s writing was strong and true; her lines were lyrical. As with all good writing, Kyla’s draft creative writing pages, which the students turned in weekly, produced lasting images that lingered in my mind: a bloodied fence, French toast burning on the stove, the snarl of a dog, flour swirling around a kitchen, a well-worn photograph that reminds the viewer of happier days. The stories that follow sit at the crossroads of contradiction: they are painful; they are hopeful too, in that this young voice is forging, with her words, a path toward her truth. I feel grateful to have had Kyla in my class, alongside so many other talented young people. I have urged this potent combination of writers to stay in touch with each other, to continue to support each other as they fortify their voices, to flex their literary muscles, and to listen to and speak back to our silences. I hope they do. I urge you to walk through Kyla’s pieces. Do so carefully and thoughtfully. Thank you for allowing us to feature your work, Kyla. —Anjoli Roy, Hawai‘i Review Editor in Chief
Map of Scars The map of my history lies within my scars. Each holds a memory. There is the faint line beneath my right eye. This piece of my map is from long ago. A memory that has escaped my mind but has been re-told to me so many times I can almost visualize it. The sharp snarl of a dog I trusted too much as I lay my head across his body. I was three and almost blinded by his teeth sinking into my skin. It was a sign not to trust too much. I trusted anyway. The thick, short scar on my left knee that I had hardly noticed gushing blood because I was laughing too hard. I had fallen while running down a gravel road that I would later run down for completely different reasons. At this point in my map it was my mother who scooped me up, and cleaned the gash while whispering loving words. I would have never known that later I would get two thin scars down my back on that same road, this time running away from the same woman.
Where the Broken Pieces Fall
The point in my map when I tried to be a rebel. Tried to break the rules for the first time and wound up in the emergency room at 12 o’clock at night. Nine staples to hold the skin on my head back together. The way that my mother yelled at me. Not for breaking her rules but for asking for my dad. That was the only pain that stuck with me. The way she faked like she cared only when in front of the doctor, compared to the genuine way that my dad got there minutes after I called him. The sadness in his eyes as he looked at me, the hatred I saw when he looked at her. He took me home after. Saving me yet again. The next time I tried to be a rebel I wound up with a deep purple scar on the lower part of my butt. Trying to be cocky and climb an old rusty fence, then too proud to bring myself to the doctor. Instead I butterflied it myself. My pride left me with a jagged ugly scar as thick as a pencil and 3 inches long. A point on my map that I learned from: be humble, listen to the little voice in your head when it tells you something is dangerous. That voice is always right. That voice saved me many times after that night. There’s an invisible scar hidden beneath the skin of my right cheekbone from the first time she punched me. A changing point in my map, a realization point, a point that gave me courage at a young age. Then the part on my map that left the deepest scars, the times when people wouldn’t listen. Didn’t understand truth from lies. That time on my map left me faithless in the legal system, gave me no hope for the police or the judge or the lawyers. Only left me with faith in god and myself. Only I could change the direction my map was headed in. And I did. My map is there to remind me of all of the mistakes made, all of the lessons learned. I have come to realize that I am the only one that can truly shape my map of scars. Which ones I let stay with me, which ones I let lead me, which ones I hide from others, and which ones I am willing to show. My map is mine and I am proud of its jagged lines, ugly stories, and wicked people. I am proud of its beauty, its hope, and its way of showing there is good in this world. I am proud of all that it continues to teach me. 5
I remember days when things seemed almost normal in our family. The edges of these memories are softly blurred, making me wonder if they actually really happened. I remember sitting on the edge of the counter covered in flour helping my mom make cookies for the holidays. The flour swirling around my face, the sweet taste of the cookie dough sticky against my tongue. Or the night I walked around in her heels, as she got ready to go out on a rare date with my dad. My foggy five-year-old girl memory has me looking down at my tiny toes in her dainty heels and looking back up at her in her sequined dress, her black hair curled and thinking she looked beautiful. Those are the memories I wish were clear, the memories that I wish I had more of. Not the truth, not the everyday memories I have of those times.
The piercing sound of sirens split the crisp morning air. I watched from the window as a line of police cars stacked up in front of our home. The final car in the train was the only one that was familiar to me. My mother’s. The one that should have come the night before when she didn’t show up at the time or place we were forced every Sunday to leave my dad and go with her. We had waited for three hours for her to show up. My dad seemed worried when he had to take us home again, when it was clear she wasn’t going to show, but I thought it was a blessing. I was too young to realize the consequences that would follow us after the joy of staying an extra night with my dad.
Instead the memories that are clear are razor sharp. The memories of her in a rage, flying around the room with menacing objects tight within her fingers. My dad’s face as a fork flew through the air towards him, plunging into the wall behind his head instead. I remember her anger scaring me as I curled behind the wall, carefully peeking around the corner and holding my sister so she wouldn’t have to see. Or the nights my sister and I wrapped around each other in bed listening to them fight, nasty, dirty words coming from her mouth in short burst My dad used to be the only one who had to face her anger, until she left him and saw his face in ours. The first time she hit me I was curled up on the floor of my dad’s truck. I had both arms locked around the legs of the seats, my toes curled around anything they could get their grasp on. Every muscle in my body tense as my eyes bled tears and my lungs gasped between sobs. I begged her to let me stay with him as she climbed into the back seat after me. I looked into her eyes and saw her anger from deep within herself. An anger that my sobs only made worse, an anger that fed off of my desperation. Then I felt the blunt of her fist on my soaked cheek, I felt her imprint on my face. Her ring pierced my skin like claws on a cat. My cries jerked to a stop and I watched my dad lunge at the form I used to view as my mother. Before that day I had never seen such pain in a man’s eyes as I saw in the deep brown of my dad’s while my uncle held him in a choke hold, keeping him from attacking the woman who just punched his baby girl. I watched her face change back as she climbed backwards out of the truck. Her face was almost sincere as I listened to her lie to everyone around, “ I just tapped her with an open hand to calm her down. Don’t over react, Greg. I would never punch my daughter. Don’t be ridiculous.” Those words echoed in my head as I felt the indentation the claws of her ring had left on my face. Right then I knew the woman I sat in the kitchen with as flour danced around us, the woman that wore the beautiful sequined dress with the curled hair, the woman who I thought was my mom didn’t exist. That woman would never exist to me again. All that was left in her place was a monster, a monster that deep down I knew was really there all along.
I don’t remember the chunk of time between watching the brigade pull up and watching the furry-caterpillar mustache of the police officer who was tying my shoes. I wasn’t allowed to talk to my dad; I was only allowed to watch as the cops dragged my crying four-year-old brother and confused five-year-old sister out of the front door, as I walked in a daze next to the caterpillar cop. Before walking out of the door I looked back and saw my dad’s arms pinned behind his back, the burning smell of forgotten French toast still simmering on the stove. I looked forward and saw the sly smile on my mother’s face hiding behind a barricade of police officers, guns rested on the doors of their cars. Their fingers ready to pull the trigger, aimed at an innocent man. The sight sparked something inside me that I had never felt before. In the split moment that the officer loosened his grip on my arm, my feet took off before my mind was sure of what I was going to do. I just had to get away from the scene that would forever be branded in my mind. I heard another cop running behind me, felt his fingers graze my shirt, but my feet were moving faster than my mind could comprehend. I heard the crunching gravel under my feet, heard the car roar to life behind me, and heard the voice in my head scream to run, run as fast and as far as I possibly could. Reality kicked in and I realized I couldn’t outrun a car so I bolted towards the pasture near our house. The same pasture that I had spent so much time riding on the front of my dad’s dirt bike singing old country songs in. The same pasture that my brother, sister, and I played hide and seek in the tall waves of grass. That pasture was going to be my savior. I heard the car screech to a stop right behind me, felt the policeman’s heavy feet shake the ground beneath me, and I dove under the barbed wire fence. My fingers gripped the dirt and his fingers gripped my ankles. With one jerk he took away my freedom. I felt the barbs grab my back. The fence itself was trying to save me. I cried to the heavyset cop, begged him to let me go. I felt the warm sticky blood begin to trickle down my back as he tossed me in the backseat of a car like a worthless criminal, not a scared eight-year-old girl. I sunk into the backseat, staring through the bars that locked me in this car, warm blood seeping deep into the fabric of his seats. Tears were unable to pierce my eyes; I had too much hatred for the man sitting in front of me, this man who I didn’t know, a man who didn’t know the truth about the situation. He didn’t realize that he was dragging me back to hell. He didn’t understand that hell was disguised as a beautiful woman. Disguised in my mother’s long legs, her pretty face, her glimmering makeup-rimmed eyes and her lips that dripped lies with ease. The cop strolled out of the car with confidence when we pulled back into the driveway. Like he had
just captured one of America’s most wanted, despite the fact that all he had done was chase down a little girl with his flashing lights and heavy steps, leaving more than just physical scars. I watched him slowly open my door, looking around for acknowledgment. Grabbing my arm he pulled me out of his car and shoved me into my mother’s. As soon as the door was closed my mother’s sister stepped on the gas. I looked and saw my baby brother and sister happily playing with new toys that had already been placed in their hands. The woman who called herself a mother turned and gave me a look that will always haunt me as she handed me a knew pair of Scooby-Doo shoes. Every ounce of me wanted to throw them out the window, throw myself out with them. I screamed hateful words I didn’t know I had inside me, didn’t know could come out of my lips. Wished awful things that I could have never imagined existed in my head. I listened to her and her sister’s evil laughs as they talked about the trick they had played on the police; the twisted end to their master plot. The lies they spun into a scenario where my father was armed and dangerous, holding his kidnapped children against their will. Not the truth of an amazing man who wanted to save his children from the real threat of a woman who abused their children. Not the truth of him cooking us French toast and us talking about our plans for the day. The legal system was tricked by their charm but I was not. I sat in that backseat crying silently. Crying for my brother and sister who were content with their bribes. Crying for my daddy who didn’t know what was going to happen to his children. Crying for myself. Crying for the loss of a mother who didn’t give a shit about her babies. Only cared about hurting their daddy, no matter how much it killed them to watch her do it. We were just pieces in her game, valued not because she wanted us but because we meant so much to him, the most potent toxin, his kryptonite.
Escape My whole body is tense, the kind of tense where everything is quivering but I can’t move. I’m frozen in a sea of high school kids swarming passed and around me, but at this moment none of them are there. My breath quickens to the point I think I might just stop breathing all together and my heart is fluttering in my chest. The phone is sticky next to my ear, and I just keep hearing my sister’s voice coming out in choking sounds from the other end. “Sis, please . . . please help me. I can’t be here anymore. Sis, please.” I want to say something to her, but I feel like all of the fish we used to catch out on the boat, desperately gasping for something that’s not there. I’m beyond livid at this point and my eyes are filling with tears. If I let my thoughts spill out I’m afraid the tears will drain out too and that’s unacceptable. I will not cry in front of my whole school while people start to scatter around the campus on the way to the cafeteria. So I focus on being mad. That’s always stopped me from crying before and it holds true this time as well. The desperation in her voice makes every protective ounce of me bolt to attention, but I’m helpless. I’m an ocean away from her and have no one to call to save my baby sister. All I tell her is to stay on the phone with me. All I can do is listen to the pain in her voice. I can almost hear the tears running down her cheeks, I can picture her screaming and running down the long dirt road that is vivid in so many of my worst memories. I hear her stop to try to catch her breath. I beg her to call the police, the court, anybody but I already know she won’t. She could never do that to our mom. I could. But I won’t either because they’re tired of my calls, they stopped believing me after the fifth time the woman who we call mom lied with her pretty smile and sweet words that drip off her tongue with ease. Who would believe a sixteen-year-old girl who’s in Hawaii anyway? What would I know? But I do know, I know more than anyone and it kills me inside. “I can’t be here, sis, help me, help me be with Daddy and you, please! She grabbed my hair this time and pulled me up the stairs, just because I wanted to call Dad. She tried to grab the phone, but I ran . . . Kyla, they’re coming down the road now in the truck!! Get me out of here, please!” I hear the truck in the background now and tears have spilled over the rims of my eyes. Right there on the front lawn of my high school. But it doesn’t make a difference now because I know what comes next, and the thought of that scares me more than anyone’s opinion of me. I hear her whimper first, and then the voice that makes me cringe. She’s screaming at my sister the way she used to scream at me, the way that I still have nightmares about now. I can see her grab my sister with her long nails digging in just deep enough not to break the skin, I can feel the sting on my arm. I realize I’m not even on the campus now. I don’t even remember walking to the parking lot. My mind isn’t at Waimea High School; it’s on a dirt road in Montana. “Is it your sister?” her voice has a false calm, eerie almost. “Hi sweetie, Rachael’s overreacting. Love you!”
“Don’t you dare touch my sister!” are the only words I can muster up to say because I’m so angry I can’t say anything else, but my voice sounds solid and I’m thankful for that. She preys on weakness. I’m helpless at the moment but I am not weak. Not against her anyway. But I hear the phone click, and I’m just a girl crying an ocean away from being able to save her sister again.
Change There’s an old picture that I have kept with me from the moment I got it. It’s simple, worn, and faded but it means more to me than just the appearance. It’s gone through three houses, two dorm rooms, and is always placed right above my bed. It’s a picture of pure happiness during the darkest part of my life. Somehow my aunty captured the perfect moment on the perfect day. My dad’s in the middle of my little brother and sister, and I’m on the edge. The placing of my dad in the picture couldn’t be more accurate. My dad is the one stable thing in all of our lives. He may not know it but he is the glue that kept me together during those years. I’ve always been the closest to my dad. He knows me better than I know myself and we both know it. I never was the cuddly affectionate type though and, unlike me, my brother and sister are. Just like the picture portrays, they squeezed themselves on both sides of him. We’re on a bench around a tree back on Kauai, at a place we called the Bird Place. It was during a summer trip home that we always took because we were forced to live on the mainland during those years. This had a lot to do with unjust court systems and a lying mother, but that’s a whole different story in itself. My dad is dark as always: dark olive skin, dark brown hair, and deep brown eyes that crinkle at the edges from years of smiling. His calloused hands from years of manual labor hold a cold iced tea. My sister’s dark like him, same eye color, same hair, slightly lighter olive tone but different in so many ways. She wears her typical smirk, the one where you can’t quite tell if she’s happy or ready to snap. My sister’s like that. Sassy, hard headed, short fused, and a little flakey. But she has a huge heart. She’s three years younger than me but has always believed she’s the boss. My brother is to the left of my dad, still dark, but has lighter hair and golden skin, with a genuine smile on his face. He was always like that before life changed him, as life does. Changes were forced upon him later in life and I don’t know if that happy boy that fought our cousin because he tried to kill a crab still exists. In my picture he is the little brother that I called my best friend and for that the picture means more than words. I’m on the far left, and by far the lightest. Light brown hair, almost golden, light golden skin, my smile is a little less true, because I know in a couple of days I will be forced to go back to Montana, a place I would never be able to call home, to a woman I wish I didn’t have to call my mother. This also means I will have to leave my dad again. What the nine-year-old me didn’t know was that the year to come was the year everything changed. The year I fought my hardest to be back with my dad, to be back in Kauai. That was the year that I won. But it was also the year I was split from my baby sister and brother, and things would never be the same between us. My picture never changes though. It will forever have captured the love that we all have for each other. It will forever have my dad who did and still does sacrifice everything for his children, and three kids who were best friends and at worst fought about who got to sit next to him. It captured my father’s strength, my brother’s happiness, my sister’s mischief, my love for my family, and my worry that I could lose them.
www.hawaiireview.org Hawai‘i Review Staff, 2013-2015 Kyla Tipps is from the west side of Kauaʻi and is a senior at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. She is the oldest of four children raised by their dad, a man who continues to teach them to work hard and always be honest. Kyla now lives in ʻEwa Beach with her boyfriend, Tyson, and their puppy, Girly Girl.
Anjoli Roy, Editor in Chief Kelsey Amos, Managing Editor Donovan Kūhiō Colleps, Design Editor No‘ukahau‘oli Revilla, Poetry Editor David Scrivner, Fiction Editor
Featuring Kyla Tipps!