Before 19 Class of 2018
The Masters School
49 Clinton Avenue Dobbs Ferry, NY
Contents Golfing on an Onion Grass Course Charlotte Peterson
Death of a Stink Bug Anjali Khanna
With Much Fear Owen Gifford-Smith
Me, like Her Miranda Luiz
Kitahara Faces June Kitahara
Traffic Light Kisses Campbell Ives
What An Angel Looks Like Olivia Johnke
Papa Oliver Campbell
Grapefruit and Cuban Cigars Sophie Cohen
Not an Atheist, But an Art Enthusiast June Kitahara
The Burn Isaac Kelly
Objets Trouvés Olivia Johnke
I am a Terrible Cook Owen Gifford-Smith
Montauk Oliver Campbell
The Beach Carly Matsui
Remembering Brooklyn Miranda Luiz
The Linden Cottage Charlotte Peterson
Bounce the Ball Six Times Alex Limpe
Eat the Cake Olivia Johnke
Generation Columbine Charlotte Peterson
Another College Essay Anjali Khanna
“Let the Rains Come In” Sophie Cohen
In Your Hands I am Mine Campbell Ives
Golfing on an Onion Grass Course Charlotte Peterson
The air was heavy with late summer humidity and the groaning of lawnmowers across the neighborhood. Airplanes hummed overhead, disappearing behind the leaves of maple trees. The sun was merciless that day. I could smell the pungent odor of the onion grass that grew in wire-like tufts around our property. I used to spend hours pulling them up just to unearth the clusters of mini onions; my hands would reek of onions afterwards. My house sat smack in the middle of New Jersey suburbia, a land filled with new housing developments, shopping malls, and Italian delis. Although our house was the smallest in the neighborhood, we had the largest yard. At about an acre, my yard provided endless space to explore, whether it be looking for bugs or collecting sticks for a campfire I constructed but never lit. However, on that day my brothers and I lazily played barefoot in the grass, the mid-afternoon heat slowing our overactive bodies. My six-year-old brother, Augey, had decided to go with a low energy activity: golf. “Augey, you can only swing the golf club if you look behind yourself first,” my dad said, holding the metal club far from where my brother could reach. Augey’s baby-blue eyes were wide open as he nodded his bright blonde bowl cut. I saw my dad’s words pass through Augey’s ear and float out the other while his eyes dilated with eagerness. My dad handed over
the club, which Augey quickly snatched and proceeded to tap against the dirty golf ball at his feet. Oliver, my four-year-old brother, pranced around in the freshly cut grass, singing to himself. Oliver had recently been introduced to the world of Super Mario, and since then, he had begun to act as if he were the avatar of his own video game. His even blonder bowl cut bounced as he spun around and jumped, acting out some scene of his internal video game. My dad had begun to walk towards the house, probably escaping the hot, wet air for the air conditioning of our home. I looked over at Augey, who was carefully focused on the golf ball and preparing his swing. Oliver, still stuck in his own world, stood behind him. Augey sharply swung the metal club back with all of his might, his movement aligning perfectly with Oliver’s. The head of the club met the corner of Oliver’s face, the impact creating an audible smack. Augey lowered the club and hit the ball. For a moment, we all remained still. Suddenly, Oliver erupted into screams, pressing his small hand against his eye which was already beginning to swell. Augey dropped the club, standing completely frozen. “AUGGEEEYYYY!” My dad came barreling down, his face burning red, beads of sweat gathering at his temples. “WHAT did I tell you to do?!” Augey then followed Oliver’s lead, his frozen face shattering into explosive sobs. I was eight years old, the oldest of the pack, the one who was always supposed to “keep it real” as my dad would say. Despite my age and “maturity,” I found myself fleeing the scene, running through the onion grass fields, seeking refuge behind a maple tree. I sat down on the rocky ground, then burst into a teary mess. Oliver is gonna die, and then, Dad is gonna kill Augey. I could still hear the madness, my mom now joining the chaotic mix. I took shaky gasps for air between sobs and rubbed my eyes until all the tears had been expelled from my head. I looked back over to the crime scene, and the weapon
golfing on an onion grass course
was the only object still there. Oliver lived, Augey lived, and my dad didnâ€™t kill anyone. Oliverâ€™s eye turned the color of a prune, and over time, faded to a brownish yellowish green. Augey was banned from the golf clubs, gaining back the right to use them until the time he accidentally released the club mid-swing, sending it flying over our house into the front yard. We were all okay; the planes kept zooming above us, the lawnmowers kept groaning, and our onion grass fields continued to thrive.
Death of a Stink Bug Anjali Khanna
I killed a stink bug the other day. It was unintentional. The bug was flying around in my sister’s room, and my sister was running from it, shoe in hand, calling my name. I was sitting on my bed, math homework on my lap, and my computer beside me playing Portlandia. I rolled my eyes and yelled, “What?” “I need your help! It’s an emergency!” she shrieked. I heard the loud flapping of the stink bug’s wings and a whimper coming from my sister. I swung my legs off my bed, got up, and dragged my feet as I walked down the hall to her room. It’s a stink bug, seriously. The bug started flying again when I walked in, its little hexagonal brown body
zipping from wall to wall, with a halo surrounding its body of flapping wings. She was holding her shoe over her head, simultaneously ready to attack and run. She looked as though the stink bug posed a real threat to her safety. “Are you going to kill it?” she asked, as she slowly backed out of her doorway, almost the way you would walk away from a bear. “Of course I’m not going to kill it. It is just a bug, it hasn’t harmed me or you at all. I’m sure it has a family somewhere, and if we kill it, its family will never know where it is and miss it for the rest of eternity.” “Okay, whatever, just deal with it,” she responded. “Uhhh, how about you don’t talk to me like that?” I walked to her bathroom to get a tissue so I could pick up the stink bug and throw it out the window. Just as I was reaching for a tissue, the flapping of the stink bug’s wings picked up again. The harsh, amplified buzzing made me flinch. I turned around to look where the sound was coming from. Directly in the middle of the bathroom door frame was the stink bug, flying towards me. I swatted at the stink bug with my tissuecovered hand, thinking that this was the only time I would be able to reach it. It stuck to the tissue. I was disgusted by the fact that there was a stink bug in my hand, and it looked so comfortable just sitting on the soft Kleenex. For some reason, I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at the bug, so I moved my hand closer to my face. Its six thin legs suspended the rest of its tough, brown body. Its back was speckled with black and white dots. It only had its left antenna. By the time I noticed I was picking up on details as small as its antennae, I realized it was too close to my face. Then it started flying and I almost had a heart attack. My vision narrowed to the bug, only the bug. I took my hand, caught the stink bug, and slapped it on the counter, a little harder than I wanted. I felt the creature squish between my fingers. I heard the harsh sounds of its skeleton cracking. When I opened the tissue, I saw the flattened bug, its tiny
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legs spread apart, wings still open. I shivered as I dropped the tissue in disgust. Then I told my sister it was dead and walked back to room, sat back down on my bed, and resumed the TV show. “Are you just going to leave it dead on my counter?” she yelled down the hallway. “It’s your problem now,” I said. I couldn’t stop thinking about the poor stink bug for the rest of the night. It was more than sorrow for its loss of life, it was guilt. I couldn’t cope with having been the reason for its death. I was annoyed that I couldn’t get over it like I get over most other things. For God’s sake it was a stink bug! It’s not like it was always in my room and I had grown to accept it, or given it a name. It bothers me that I killed it. I lost control in that moment, frightened by a small bug, and it ended up dead. I should not have left it on her bathroom counter. It was disrespectful of me. That night I had a very odd dream. I had a dream that a stink bug the size of a truck flew to my house, and for some reason my whole family was outside, as if we were expecting it. The huge stink bug picked me up and held me in two of its legs. It started to fly away while the rest of my family smiled and waved to me from our front steps. I wonder what it means. A few months earlier, at the end of summer, my cat delivered a dead mouse to the door. She looked so proud of her present, and I was not mad, just disappointed. I knew cats killed mice, but I never thought my cat would kill anything. She is a chubby, little tuxedo cat named Boba. She came to the door that day and meowed so that we would let her in. I walked to the door, and when I opened it I saw the mouse. Its head was partly severed from the rest of its body, and there was blood clotted around its neck. Boba ran in when I opened the door, leaving the mouse outside. “Mom, Boba killed a mouse!” I yelled to my mom in the kitchen. “What do you want me to do about it?” she responded.
“I don’t know, I’m just telling you there is a dead, decapitated mouse on our doorstep.” When my mom saw Boba, she told her what a good girl she was because I guess that is what you’re supposed to do: congratulate a cat on a killing. I don’t particularly like mice, but I also don’t have anything against them. There was no reason for this mouse to be laid to rest on the steps to my front door. After a few days of walking past its empty body, I decided to do something about it. I put on gloves, went outside, and picked up the mouse. I couldn’t look at it, so I cupped my hands around its body. I put it under a tree that my cats and dogs never go to so it could rest peacefully. Then I threw enough dirt over it to completely cover it, walked back to the house, and threw away the gloves. I’m not a religious person at all, but I do believe that every being should get whatever it needs to rest in peace, just in case there is something after this life. In this instance, it was easier to bury it just because I have no idea how to cremate a mouse. I don’t know why that mouse needed a burial, or why I even cared enough to pick it up, but I had to do something for it—although I think some animal found it later and ate it. So much for that. A few years earlier, when I was eight, my sister got a pet frog. I am almost certain she got this frog to scare me. For as long as I can remember, I have had an irrational fear of frogs. My dad likes to tell me that that wasn’t always the case, and that I used to play with them all the time. My mom gave us an option of getting insects or amphibians, which now that I’m thinking about it, was a pretty odd selection. My older sister chose butterflies, I chose ladybugs, and my twin, whom I shared a room with at the time, chose a frog. She didn’t like frogs, but she had to get an animal that I hated. While my sister’s butterflies grew from caterpillars to the magnificent butterflies that they are supposed to be, and
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my ladybugs changed from larvae to real bugs, my twin’s frog sat in its cage in the corner of our room. I changed the water in my ladybug’s cage every day, I brought them new leaves, and I took them outside, in their cage of course, as often as I could. But I never remember my sister doing anything with her frog. The frog stayed in the corner of my sister’s and my room. My sister didn’t care for it. I almost felt bad for the poor frog. It never asked to be taken into an unwelcoming home where its only use was to scare. One morning, the frog didn’t hop to its food bowl. My sister tapped the plastic; it stayed very still. Then she took off the top of the cage and touched the frog. It didn’t move at all. It was dead. It had a terrible life. It was never loved. Still, my mom forced my sister to give it a proper funeral. She picked up the frog. It lay limply in her bare hand while she took it outside and walked it to the top of the driveway where she started digging. She dug a shallow hole just so the frog could fit, then let the frog roll off her hand into the hole. She covered it over with dirt. The poor frog was soon forgotten. My sister got over it the fastest. I was mad at her for not caring at all about her frog, not caring that she is the reason it was dead. I don’t think she ever even named the frog. I wasn’t upset that it died. I didn’t like the frog at all. It was gross and slimy. But its life was one of the saddest lives I have ever known. The only time it went outside, or ever felt the ground, was when it was plopped into a one-and-a-half-foot grave because my sister was too lazy to dig a bigger hole. I can’t bury every animal that falls dead across my path, but I felt responsible for these three. I try to respect every animal’s death with a moment of silence. And, kind of oddly, animal deaths make me more upset than human deaths. It’s not that I don’t care about people, it’s just that in most instances, people find out if a loved one died, but with animals, they have no way of knowing. I don’t know if animals and insects lead family lives the way people do, they
probably don’t. I know bears care about family, but do frogs? Or mice? Or even less likely, stink bugs? I haven’t had dreams about the mouse or the frog. My cat hasn’t brought any other rodents to the door since then, and I hope she never does. But I think about these little deaths more than I’d like to admit. Death doesn’t particularly scare me—at least that is what I have told myself many times—or maybe it does, because I obviously think about it quite a lot. What I am afraid of is being forgotten. I don’t want any of these deaths to go unnoticed. These animals didn’t do much to begin with, and if no one recognizes their death, then who knows that they ever even lived? Maybe each one did its part to make sure the world kept spinning, and the sun didn’t blow up, and each day came and went just as it was supposed to. Maybe the flapping of the stink bug’s wings kept an asteroid from hitting earth, and when the mouse scurried from one bush to another, it kept a black hole from passing through our solar system, and the one time the frog hopped from one corner of its cage to the other ensured that one of the volcanoes in Yellowstone didn’t erupt. But maybe not. Maybe they did absolutely nothing. In which case, it would make it worse if their death were forgotten because that would mean they had no effect on anything; their entire being and the few days or weeks they were alive were completely worthless. That’s what’s scary about death: that this was all for nothing.
With Much Fear Owen Gifford-Smith
Old friend, My family doesn’t travel much and for this I blame you. Granted we work during the summer, so vacations can be hard to schedule. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been to the beach. Even so, one would think we make some time to “see the world” and “visit far-off places.” Strangely enough, we don’t. Why? Well you see, my family doesn’t travel much because my mother is afraid of flying. Statistically speaking, flying is the safest way to travel. Very few accidents, highly automated support systems, etc. My mother, a woman of great intellect, can’t seem to hear these statistics. Again, I blame you. You are insidious, perfectly and quietly subversive. We like to picture ourselves as steady—our minds held fast by pillars. But the things we hold to aren’t as steady as we imagine; instead they are rocks, pushed farther and farther downstream by you, my dear friend. The water analogy works well. Continuous, slow, unending—you eat away at anything so unfortunate as to cross your path. I find this irritating frankly, but I imagine asking nicely won’t help matters. Sincerely, Owen Gifford-Smith
Old friend, I’ve been searching for more analogies to describe you. Not because anyone asked—why would they? We all have our demons to face—but because I was tired of hearing panic attacks compared to tiger attacks. Yes technically it’s an apt comparison but I happen to be rather fond of tigers and the analogy loses its charm when discussing strategies for fighting panic attacks. “So is the running away from the tiger like breathing deeply?” “No, that’s more like walking slowly around the tiger until it falls asleep.” “What’s running then?” “Avoidance? Or maybe pretending tigers don’t exist?” You get the picture. Regardless, I was on a quest for a new metaphor, and I stumbled across the video game Celeste. I thought it was just a simple puzzle game where I piloted Madeline, our protagonist, as she climbed a mountain. The game developers kept surprising me though. Madeline was designed to have an anxiety disorder, and the game reflects her fears through the monsters I faced as the player. At one point an identical copy of Madeline stepped through a mirror and began to chase her. This reminded me of you. The real genius of the developers didn’t hit me until about halfway through the game. Madeline is riding an old ski lift with a friend, Theo, she has met during her travels. While hundreds of feet in the air, the ski lift abruptly stops working. Theo tries to use the control lever and it snaps off. Terrifying right? Madeline starts to have a panic attack and the game takes my control of her away. As she runs back and forth looking for a solution, the monsters I have been fighting all game begin to creep in around the edges of the screen. She starts to hyperventilate. They move in closer, reaching out with twisted
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red claws. Theo tries to calm Madeline down by telling her to picture a feather. “Your breaths keep the feather afloat,” he says. “Breathe in to make it rise, then gradually let it fall.” For me, the player, a feather appears on the screen above the image of Madeline panicking. When I press “A,” the feather rises. When I let go, it falls. The objective is to keep the feather lined up with a box as it bounces slowly up and down. What’s so brilliant is that while I play this little mini-game, while I focus on it, the screen filled with monsters and demons and a broken ski-fit gradually fade out of view until all that remains is the feather. And me. Rising up. Rising down. Slowly. Old friend I was floored. I put the controller down, rocked back in my chair, and just stared at the screen. I have never, never seen such an accurate depiction. It’s an odd feeling, realizing I’m not the only one struggling. Do you think, Old friend, that it’s you who is really bothering me, or just the feeling that I alone have earned your attention? Sincerely, Owen Gifford-Smith old friend, I have decided to stop capitalizing the old in your name. Please take this as an insult because I’m quite upset with you. Today I was hoping to eat breakfast in peace, as I vainly hope every day, when you decided it was a good idea to show up. This was a bad idea, I assure you. There was no tiger. I am not on a broken ski lift. I don’t understand what is so threatening to you about an omelet. Are eggs a sign of my
imminent demise? Does bacon suggest that I am about to be attacked? Well, while you were busy making my throat close up and my hands shake, I was missing a fascinating discussion about the merits of different types of sandwich breads. I’m pretty sure white bread won out, but by that time you had decided to point out again and again just how disgusting the food I was eating was. How it was both too dry and too moist. How the stringy eggs dangled off of chewy, plastic blocks of ham. How upon contact with my saliva the food would bond to mucus and lodge itself in my throat like a dying animal, floundering about in mud while gravity sucks it down. This was either before or after you asked me to hyperventilate. I cannot remember. Regardless, I leaned back in my chair and quietly pictured a feather. No one noticed, of course. I am a talented actor. Of all your demands, I find secrecy to be the strangest. Although perhaps I shouldn’t; I’m an easier target on my own. Sincerely, Owen Gifford-Smith OLD FRIEND, You are just too clever for this world! No really, please leave. How insidious you are! How long and careful your plans! The other day I was afraid to go on stage. Stage fright. Me. Afraid of going on stage. I have performed since I was ten! Never. Not once have I ever felt an inkling of fear. Not once. And yet there I was, pacing the wings with a racing heart and an incessant urge to hide. My legs shook until I thought I might collapse and the words stammered their way out my mouth. Let me be clear. Theatre is mine.
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Are there no walls you won’t climb? Are there no doors to keep you out? Will I sail across the world to an undiscovered island, build a house of fourteen locks, barricade myself within my room, only to turn and find you standing beside me? Stage fright. Utterly ridiculous. What’s your next trick, shaking my hands until they can’t hold a pen? Sincerely, Owen Gifford-Smith Old Friend, I heard a theory the other day. Someone suggested that there are only two real emotions: love and fear. I would believe this except I think it doesn’t give you enough credit. You are more akin to heat. You exist, and love is the absence of you. This is far more believable, given what I know of your pervasiveness. Maybe you are more than even that. If I were a fish in a pond, and someone reached their fingers in but refused to submerge their entire hand, I would think that five separate monsters were attacking me. After all, I can’t see the connecting palm, only the fingers. I glance over the hosts of fear, anxiety, terror, panic, and I must wonder: Am I facing five enemies? four? Or... none, perhaps. Sincerely, Owen Gifford-Smith Owen, People don’t understand anxiety. It’s not like normal
fear. It’s also not the more clinical “inability to differentiate between that which is deadly and that which is not.” Anxiety is specific, personal. It’s me. Owen. Shortish brown hair, bright blue eyes, quick to tell a joke, rocketing up in bed at midnight digging nails into my chest as my heart pounds and my lungs gasp for the air I just can’t seem to get enough of. The sheets have been tossed about. Sweat drips down the back of my neck. My eyes, though wide open, cannot see more than vague shapes in the darkness. But that’s a rather flashy way of putting it. Anxiety doesn’t just visit when a ski lift breaks. It’s also a river, gradually eating away at the supports of an old bridge. It’s choosing to be seen as rude rather than touch a door handle. It yells at you for your happiest moments and drapes itself over your shoulders at your worst. It is the four feet of soil between your coffin and the air above, the moment before a burn starts to hurt, the emptiness in a room after something terrible has happened. And worst of all, it is you. I hear whispers in my own voice. I write letters to myself. Sincerely, Owen Gifford-Smith
Me, like Her Miranda Luiz
10:09 a.m. 2017
This morning I went for a basement deep dive to look for art supplies. I wanted to paint, or use my hands at least. In a big bin labeled art I found a rigid green book with an ornate gold pattern on the front. I wanted to see if it was empty so
I might absorb it into my collection. Opening to a random page, I saw the words June, 1977 lining the top. Little Claudia. Small, young, frail. I don’t know how I can be doing all this right now. I know tomorrow I will be strong, working, being alone — … but now by myself I am none of these things but alone. So little still sometimes. Will I ever let go of that fat little 9 yr. old who first came to the united states? That sensitive little girl lives with me still, she creeps up and takes me over. I don’t know if I can sleep in this new strange house. I’m worried. I wish Matthew was here. I recognized the words immediately as my mother’s. Her image—“small, young, frail”—ricocheting through my mind, I imagined her, seventeen, sitting in a dormitory at Smith College, her trusted Matthew hundreds of miles away. In my head the image of her thin arms and wild mane sits next to that of two adjacent picture frames in my living room: one of my fat rosy cheeks crushing together two chocolate eyes in a swirl of wild curls, the other of her poised cheekbones catching beams of light from beneath a sheath of thinner brown ringlets. It didn’t take long before I’d read the whole book. I remind myself of her, seizing an opportunity to rifle through the pages of my messy cursive, as I know she has done before. I remind myself of a boy I used to love, whom I never forgave for reading my red leather journal when I went up to bed one night. I remind myself of my sister, who stood in my room two
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years ago when she found a different journal my mother had written. We shouldn’t be reading that, I told her. Suit yourself, she yelled, and marched away. I knew more than anything that the words one transcribes through the will of a pen are intimate and sacred. I wouldn’t be tricked into abandoning morality for curiosity; I had a stronger sense of self. I wonder what’s changed. How could I sit there, guilty like a prisoner on the basement floor—how could I have kept going? Something prevented me from closing the book, something pushing me to keep reading. The 1977 in the top right corner stared me down, shackling my fingers to the paper. It locked me in at first sight. Seventeen years old, just like me. “I am none of these things but alone,” my mother wrote. Some part of me feels that the protagonist of the journal is not my mother at all, but rather the proverbial young female whose burdens are arbitrary, remorses acute.
My mother’s words have been playing through my head without rest. They are unrelenting and loud. I dive in and out of her brain, hearing my thoughts as I read hers, in that same scared, compassionate tone. When I read my own writing it’s almost as though her voice is narrating the words in my head. Past arrangement of letters, past content, it all seems to blend together, her words and mine, until I don’t know who wrote what, when what was written, whether Matthew was my lover or hers, or who still feels like a pudgy little foreign girl moved from a 1960s Italy to a 1970s New York City. Our
resemblance is uncanny, not in words, but in sentiment. Two passages, one hers and one mine, strike me as particularly similar. Strange People always disorient me. I get so involved, so into it, it becomes so alive, that when I come back to my own world, I feel strange. Things are less meaningful when you think about the world at large. I come into my room to find the same furniture in the same order. Yet I am changed. We observe people so acutely in the city. Sometimes we cannot help but slip entirely into our subjects’ worlds. For a moment we might become all consumed by conversations and feel as though we are an engaged participant. It’s strange when we come back into our own worlds and are forced to forget. Everything feels less important. So many of her pages echo my own—or maybe mine echo hers. “Yet I am changed,” she writes. My mother was a changing woman, changing like the minutes of the day. Here I am, changing alongside her seventeen-year-old self, changing symmetrically.
10:42 p.m. 2017
I’m the French femme fatale in the Cinémathèque smoking cigarettes through black leather gloves and charcoal red lipstick. What on earth is calculus homework? There’s a
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revolution to be won! My heart’s just been brutally crushed by the handsomest man in Paris, and I must mourn! AP Spanish essay? How, when there is so much else to take on! I feel as though I’m no longer a student in high school; I’m a part of a whole—the women of the world. I haven’t stopped reading the pages of my mother’s journal. Or reading at all, for that matter. Women’s language coils around me when my eyes drink it up, encompassing me with all of the intensity of existence. When I am reading, I am no longer me, I am each and every female who embraces the pen. Big things feel important, but not the details anymore. “Things are less meaningful when you think about the world at large,” my mother wrote. The world at large is starting to feel like all of the women writing about important things. I can’t be bothered with mundanity anymore, and I suffer for it. This is my current self, struggling, like my mother when she was young and lonely, struggling with other things, like all of the women who were struggling with something and decided to pick up a pen and write about it. The content is trivial. We’re just parts of a whole.
The similitude in our writing doesn’t phase me anymore. I’ve gotten used to it. I have begun to seek comfort in it, I think. I read my mother’s words when I’m confused, knowing that she was once confused. She seems so frail, this vision of her teenage self that I’ve conjured and come to know so well in these past few days. My mellowing out and reasoning with my sensitivity is working out.
Being kind is very important - I must remember. Missing Matthew… Goodnight She seems so gentle, so young, so fragile, like the tempo of a rustling leaf in a moody breeze. She writes like happiness is a transient fairy that visits her every now and then and imparts onto her a surreal girl-like bliss. She seems so naive compared to who she is now, and yet, at the time that she wrote, she knew nothing more. Nonetheless, through clouds of naivete, her sensibility remains, prospers even. My mother’s writing feels like a soft blanket. I want to wrap my arms around the pages and squeeze her words and suck up all of her pain. I want to brush her teenage curls in front of a wooden vanity and stroke my palms across her scalp. I want to tell her everything will be okay, even though she knows that. I want to sing lullabies to her when she cries. I want to understand every ounce, cell, molecule of her, so that she can relinquish some of the weight of feeling. The weight that comes from a thick, gooey, passionate digestion of life. The weight that comes with the welcoming of truth, however unappealing it may be. My mother welcomes the burdens of truth—she gives value where value is due. Some of my mother’s writing and mine seem like identical projections of one another, defying time and space. Alertly and soundlessly the fly rests, dark on my yellow sheet, drawn by the love Matthew and I spilled last night. The sheets must be changed. And when they’re changed, I don’t believe there’ll
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be much reason to change them for quite a few days - perhaps a week or more. I have plenty of work due, and for some absurd reason I have not managed to do one iota. I’m really going to be in for it. What’s the matter? Does it even matter to know? Oh Christ. Patience. She wrote the next few lines in French. The living is definitely not easy. It is tough and has sad times. So, the decision, WORK. from Claudia. now it’s 4:00, work: A leaf falls, glistening in petroleum sunlight. It spirals through a prism of air and disrupts the polygons of light, a dance upon yellow leaves. I feel amazing! I am not at peace until I am in the woods. So much work I have to do, but so much peace to be attained. So many sounds to be forced into my ears, so many sights to be forced into my eyes. I just want to stay here, drinking the soupy air between my lips and spying on the trees. So much work I have to do, but so much peace to be attained. I cannot work. Sometimes when I sit in my bedroom and close my eyes, I wonder if it’s 1977 and I’m in a dormitory at Smith College
waiting for my beloved Matthew, hoping that one of these days he doesn’t betray me in a moment of manly need. I listen to Bill Withers and Fleetwood Mac and Van Morrison and write a letter home, asking my mother to send some nice paper, pens, a douche perhaps, and my guitar. Janie hasn’t got many things, and it’s very lonely here.
I wait now for Matthew, wish he were here. Maybe I should wait for him downstairs. Would that be OK, or would it be silly? I think I will. I think my mother and I feel the same about men.
Matthew, stay faithful babe, it’s important - you’ll be a better man. I’m worried about it, it’ll hurt and men have fucked me over for so long, sex is so painful, make it good, please. I’ll write Matthew a letter. I’m sure my mother and I feel the same about men.
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11:34 a.m. 2018
PEYOTE: I threw up for 7 hrs. or so. During that time I took care of myself. I’m not sure if I’m ready to try psychedelics.
I asked my mother about Matthew, out of curiosity and eagerness to tell my fortune. I didn’t tell her I’d read her journal. She told me about him. She told me how young she was when she loved him. She told me about their year apart, music, and detoxing. She told me about Matthew’s drugdealing brother and her experiences living above him, and how she wanted out, finally desiring a life for herself. This gave me hope, but also solemnity. Did she later just settle for safety and comfort—a college man with a sharp wit and a steady income? Did she settle for suburbia, for motherhood? Is that aching young woman still at all inside of her? Is she still seeking something, anything? I asked her if it was hard to leave Matthew. Her eyes wandered for a minute. In the time before she responded, I felt tears roll into the bottom of my eyes. I couldn’t imagine how hard it must have been—I knew how in love with him she was—I didn’t want to think about it. I could feel viscerally the heartbreak her teenage self might have felt. She finally replied, “No.” My stomach and shoulders relaxed. Thank god. Pounds of weight lifted from my chest, but my heart acquired an extra ounce. I think part of me was disappointed. I’ve never really had my heart broken, only pretended.
Miserable night. Can’t sleep for shit. Too scared to sleep, can’t figure out why. I’m going to close my eyes, cuddle up, and try. Once the light is off and I’m comfortable, perhaps the anxiety will pass… Anxiety. I shouldn’t read exciting books before bed. Now I must try to get comfortable and think of better things. Goodnight. I feel better. I think my mother knew that we don’t have an existential grip on happiness; rather, we’re running eternally from misery.
There was a point tonight that I just snapped at him. My beloved friend! I slammed my fork and knife on my plate, clenched my shoulders up to my ears, and tossed my head back in a twisted ball of rage. He looked back at me with shock and fear—the way men do when their sanctity is questioned. “Jesus Christ, will you just let me eat my fucking eggs?!” Shock spread across his face like butter on bread. “What?” he asked nervously. I hesitated to respond, filled with nervous caution and vicious frustration. “I’m just sitting here, trying to eat my food, and you keep telling me to take it all in one bite. This isn’t the first time I’ve eaten eggs before.” I sighed. “Please, can you just PLEASE shut up and let me eat.” My friend looked at me with understanding and confusion. I think he was shocked
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to see his own capacity for unintended malice. My other beloved friend sat across the booth, untouched by the implicit accusation. “I’m sorry,” I murmured. “It’s just…why can’t I eat my eggs the way I want?” I straightened my spine. “It’s like you think the way you eat your food is better. You want to impart your knowledge onto me. Do you see that? Like the way I do it is inferior. This whole time, it’s like you haven’t thought that maybe I’m eating my eggs this way on purpose.” I took a breath and looked to see if either male was mortally offended. “You did it before too, with the directions. I couldn’t take us a goddamn block without either of you stepping in to question my competence. Like Jesus Christ, I’m not an imbecile, you guys. Please… just let me enjoy my eggs...” I didn’t have to go on. They finally understood. “Yeah man. I’m sorry.” At a bookstore that night I picked up Joan Didion’s The White Album. The boys were reluctant to indulge in a bookstore pitstop, but I was reluctant to back down. It was late, but I needed power in the moment—a quick reminder that important, non-trivial things were still actively being thought about somewhere. The bookkeeper recommended Didion, and it took under two minutes for the book to be mine. I wanted essays, I wanted women, I wanted cultural education, I wanted revolution, I wanted fuel. I wanted to feel like part of a whole again. Maybe I bought the book in an act of rebellion against my two best friends—my caretakers, the boys who buy me cappuccinos when I’m feeling down, the boys who play music with me, drive with me, explore with me when I’m stricken with cabin fever, the boys who I hope will never fall in love with me because I love them too much, the two boys who stand six foot three each with enough white-man privilege to keep a girl like me feeling safe in her nighttime adventures.
Sometimes it does get to be too much. Often I question why most of my friends are male. Often it’s lonely being the only bud of estrogen in a sea of testosterone. Often I wish there were more positive young women in my life, not just these foolish boys with whom I live out my teenage days. So here I am, on the train home from Grand Central at two in the morning, reading Joan Didion’s sentences like one eats popcorn or watches TV—rapidly and with a dazed ferocity. The sentences push at my body like music does. It makes me feel unsure how to react. The music from tonight’s city adventure did that to me a little bit. Rocked my guts, made it so that I couldn’t sit still. Didion writes: It was six, seven o’clock of an early spring evening in 1968 and I was sitting on the cold vinyl floor of a sound studio on Sunset Boulevard, watching a band called The Doors record a rhythm track. On the whole my attention was only minimally engaged by the preoccupations of rock-and-roll bands (I had already heard about acid as a transitional stage and also about the Maharishi and even about Universal Love, and after a while it all sounded like marmalade skies to me), but The Doors were different, The Doors interested me. The Doors seemed unconvinced that love was brotherhood and the Kama Sutra. The Doors’ music insisted that love was sex and sex was death and therein lay salvation. The Doors were the Norman Mailers of the Top Forty, missionaries of apocalyptic sex.
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So I come home and and sit on my bed and listen to The Doors as I write, because I feel like I need to feel what she felt, learn what she learned. When I read Didion, I hear the voice of my mother’s adolescent handwriting narrating her melancholia. I hear the two of them in the essays I read by other women, and I hear my own thoughts reflected in every female whose words are at my fingertips. We all seem the same somehow. We feel like Hendrix may have been some divine reincarnation, like the masses are afflicted by a pollution of the mind, like we are the pearl sitting in the center of a Venus Flytrap disguised as an oyster. We feel when things are fucked up and we feel when things are beautiful––Jesus, it hits us like a ton of bricks. Women writers feel a certain degree of inevitability in things. Maybe it’s in music, but it could be in books, or film, or sex, or love, or meditation, or the ocean, or psychedelics, or 4 a.m., or the puddle in a parking lot that glistens with oil and gleams with holographic patterns of marbled rainbows. We search for inevitability as a course of life, blind to whether it’s a feeling or a sight or a thought or a pattern or a spirituality or something so far outside our bodies that we can’t comprehend it. We can never quite put our fingers on what that inevitability is. We look for it, anyway. I told my mother this morning that I’ve fallen in love with literature and film about the sixties because there was a fire of revolution that tore through the masses, and I crave that same fire and I don’t know why. She laughed and mumbled, “You’re just like me, it’s scary sometimes.” When on the streets of Alphabet City with my two best friends, I run and jump and giggle and twirl and do everything I can to make these feelings last because I feel like they are important. Because I know melancholy will strike once again, unannounced, as it always does, as it did for my mother, for Didion, Plath, Morrison, Bishop, Oliver, Woolf, Hurston, Ozick, Dickinson. The woman who craves the pen
is a surreal vision of honesty—the man is inflated by a certain ego, an unawareness of the world at large, it would seem. The woman’s tone is brutal, cold, honest, warm, gentle, all of the traits Ozick uses to describe the essay as a female herself: “moody, fickle, given to changing her clothes, or the subject, on a whim; sometimes obstinate, with a mind of her own, or hazy and light; never predictable” (“She: Portrait of the Essay as a Warm Body”). Maybe we’re united under curiosity, a willingness to feel and understand, to slip into patches of existential emotion for a bit and explore what truth is held inside them. Maybe it’s eagerness to see the world—a sort of intellectual cabin fever. It’s surely not shared experience, as I have never (nor will I ever) sit watching The Doors record an album in a vinyl studio. But I can sit on my bed listening to The Doors through bluetooth headphones, feeling those same things, thinking about profundity and revolution (even though I don’t even know what that means or why I crave it so badly) the same way my mother did, the same way all of these women did. We feel how the world bares its teeth to us and we feel how it embraces us with tender arms at the same time. And I think about how I have curly long hair and my mother has curly short hair, and my heroes may have black hair or red hair or yellow hair at whatever length, and how my two best friends are six-foot-three white males and how in that I can rejoice in safety and seethe with resentment at the same time, and I think about how The Doors and Hendrix and Coltrane feel like they cleanse my soul, and whether they cleanse me with joy or despondency remains as fickle as the Essay herself. Maybe everything is changing, so I’m searching for guidance. Maybe I’m reading Didion like a how-to manual and my mother’s journal like a warning pamphlet. Maybe whatever unity I perceive is merely a projection, or maybe we really are one and the same, all of these scribing women,
me, like her
just parts of a whole. Different physical manifestations of one another. Different phenotypes, different idiosyncrasies, different lives, same soul. Maybe we’re all just spawns of Eve—a thirsting, aching woman with one foolish man and the world’s evergrowing burdens at her lips.
Kitahara Faces June Kitahara
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My grandmother’s home is located within a small fold of the Nagano Prefecture in a city called Ina. There are lines of restaurants where bald-headed men wear light blue button-downs with too many of the buttons undone. Women, adorning their feet with dark green stilettos, clutch onto the arms of the businessmen and whisper into their ears. The couples pour into the streets together in their sleepy, sweet sake haze. The alleyways mold from the humid air, and the tangy scent of soy sauce sticks to the town’s skin. There is a large bookshop, a handful of supermarkets, a candy store that smells of dust, and a train station that takes the lonely tourist into neighboring prefectures. My mother used to hold my hand and walk me to the big bookstore. The fluorescent lights and glass paneled walls made the shop an oddly futuristic-looking entity in a seemingly antiquated town. She would drop me off at the shop for hours at a time, and I collected dozens of books and magazines, piling them into the woven basket of my fingers. As soon as my knuckles faded into a disturbing white, I moved towards the corner of the store and sat on a stubby stool to further examine my findings. My tired eyes would notice that the sky outside had become a light purple, and so I made my way out into the lantern-lit streets. I would immediately be bathed by the calming energy of water coming from the Tenryu River. It flows through the center of Ina, underpassing rickety bridges and dodging the heavy boots of tired fishermen. No matter where you are in Ina, you can always hear the Tenryu River giggle and gurgle. As my grandmother’s home stands no more than twenty feet away from the edge of the river, with only a white picket fence separating us from the water’s dance, the laughter of the water is a familiar melody within our household. Even the monarch butterflies that waltz outside the window recognize the sound, tracing circles in the humid air and floating to the steady rhythm of the water. My grandmother’s home struggled through the Russo-
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Japanese War, World War I, the Second-Sino Japanese War and World War II, and the firm foundation of the house remains the same. The house was originally my greatgrandfather’s. He was a successful businessman, owning a pastry shop, a silk-making factory, a farm and a rice field. His plump, friendly face was unfit for the fraudulent industry he prospered in. The businesses were passed down to his son, my grandfather, yet they all began to fail as soon as they reached my grandfather’s fingertips. Instead, my grandparents turned the home into a ryokan (a traditional Japanese hotel) that used to host businessmen passing through the town, the occasional celebrity, and a couple of foreigners. My mother, now a permanent citizen of the United States, told me she was sitting in her bedroom when she first saw a foreigner. She spotted two men outside the window, with perfectly perpendicular noses and pearly pale skin. She was instantly starstruck by their foreignness. My mother grabbed a paper napkin and a pen and ran outside, her tennis shoes slapping the concrete. Doe-eyed and breathless, she managed to produce the words: “Oto-graf pu-leese.” There have been some changes in and around the home. A guitar factory sat beside the house, but in the blazing summer of 1968, a sudden fire burnt it down, and the establishment is now replaced by a fire department. There are no longer horses or dogs or chickens that used to run around the backyard and amuse the neighbors’ children. Instead, there is a pebble-covered community parking lot that my grandmother manages, a small, tender garden, and the same two-storied house. We don’t have doors in the house; instead, the rooms are divided by fusuma screens, which are rectangular panels, made from thick paper and wood, which can slide from left to right, manually. One room can turn into two or three, just through a creaky shift of the screen. In actuality, the dining room is not much of a dining room. There are no cushioned chairs with wooden curvatures and no glass-bead,
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overhead chandelier that requires specific light fixtures; there is only a stubby, wooden table covered by plastic lace, floor cushions, and a boxy TV. The floors are plastered with tatami, a mat made of woven hay and rice straw, which can keep your feet cool even when it is the most humid day of the year. Beside the dining room is the bedroom. My grandparents used to share the bed. However, after my grandfather passed away, the bed seemed to expand in size. Every summer that I visited the home, I left traces of my existence on the bed—a neon blue, fish-bowl shaped pillow with an image of Flounder from The Little Mermaid, a 100 Grand Bar pillow, and a stuffed animal sheep all lined up against the backboard of the bed. I used to lean against the backboard, clutching onto my pillows, and listen to the violent wind rattle the fragile windows of the bedroom. I believe and still believe that the wind was my dead relatives and that whenever the windows rattled, it was just my grandfather trying to talk to me. From the bedroom, I used to watch my mother and grandmother apply their makeup in the mirror of the dining room. They always assumed that I was still drowning in my slumber, so they would open the door an inch or two to let the sun pour onto my face. Every time they left the room, I reached my short arms out and pushed the screen an inch or two to the left. Eventually, the fusuma screen shifted enough to let me see most of the dining room. I was pleasantly surprised at the sight of my uncle Hirohiko’s toes wiggling under the table, with his mountain toenails and callus-coated heels. A floor-to-ceiling window that stood beside the mirror in the dining room projected halos of sunlight across the creamy, mustard skin of my mother and grandmother and onto the straw tatami floor. I watched my grandmother’s fingers guide the lipstick across her lips, and the paint softening into the thin cracks. Her lips took on the color of dried roses. As soon as I saw the tip of the lipstick tube, I pretended to wake up and begged to have their magical crayons color my lips. More
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often than not, my mother responded with a shake of the head and told me to “wait a couple more years, June-chan. Otonaninatara. Until you become an adult.” One day, I had woken up before my mother and grandmother started getting ready. My legs and arms were longer, so I didn’t have to reach that much in order to crack open the screen. My hair was down to my collarbones, and I had shed the sliver of baby fat that used to rest between my jaw and cheekbones. Instead of pretending to be asleep, I decided to sneak into the shrine room. It was a room dedicated to a Buddhist altar, which was coated in a rich gold and was made of thick, black slabs of wood. The gold was embroidered onto the black wood with images of butterflies and clouds and bonsai trees. It looked like an enlarged Christmas ornament. The altar represented, at least in my grandmother’s home, an honoring of those who have passed. Sitting on the pedestals within the altar were usually candles, food offerings (like white rice, apples, Hi-Chew candies) and a shot of sake that my grandmother snuck in for my grandfather. Above the altar hung portraits of my passed family members. There were two black and white photos of my great-grandparents, who died of old age, my aunt whom I’ve never met, who died in a car crash right across the street, and my grandfather and uncle, who both died from smoke loving their lungs a little too much. All of their faces bore the same smirk. I crawled into the room and shut the screen door, trapping the chilly air inside the rectangular cubicle. It felt as though someone’s hands had covered my ears; it was always eerily silent in the shrine room. I scanned the altar, checking if there were any bites in the food or sips of sake taken. Nothing. I looked up at the photos and focused my eyes on my uncle Hirohiko. “Ohayo ojichan, Good morning, Uncle,” I whispered, careful not to wake up my other dead relatives. I continued to stare at
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his picture. We share the same jaw, I thought. All of my family members tell me I look like him. His square-ish, round-ish, cheekbone-lacking face is indistinguishable from my own; a true Kitahara face shape, as my family calls it. I returned to the dining room and sat on a floor cushion, resting my head on the dining table. I heard the soft crescendo of competing footsteps in the hallway and almost immediately, the two faces emerged at the door. My mother, with wisps of peppered hair falling into her eyelashes, stood motionless. To the right of her, my grandmother gripped a kettle tightly with her fingertips, so as not to spill any of the matcha on the tatami. My mother demanded that I make room for the tea, so I immediately moved away from the table as instructed. I took a deep whiff of the burnt matcha scent that followed the two women into the room. My grandmother leaned towards the table, placing the kettle by my toes. Her eyes gazed upwards and pierced into mine. The thin skin at the corner of her lips turned upwards into a softened smile. She wore a loose, beige dress that extended past her calves and traced her curves. Even through the thin fabric, I noticed an anatomical change. Her shoulder blades jolted out and faced one another, beginning to resemble the crooked wings of codling moths. The early morning sunlight glazed over her skin and gave her flesh a soft, blue hue. She looked more like a butterfly. My grandmother planted herself onto a floor cushion in front of the mirror and quickly folded her feet underneath herself. I heard the dance of glass foundation bottles and blush as my grandmother’s fingers searched for her particular lipstick. My mother sat next to her, pressing a stained makeup sponge against her thin skin. I strained my eyes to see bits of skin tugging at the corner of my mother’s mouth, hinting at the birth of smile lines, and I observed the flesh stretch tautly over my grandmother’s forehead. My grandmother’s fingers grasped the lipstick tube, and I heard the familiar click of the cap. She pressed the slanted edge of the lipstick onto the
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fattest part of her bottom lip and swiped the lipstick from side to side. Then she pressed her lips together, making a smacking sound, and blotted her lips with a thin tissue paper. My mother drew out another lipstick tube, a darker shade of pink, from the drawer and mimicked my grandmother’s movements. Suddenly my mother’s torso turned towards me. “You can sit right here June-chan,” she smiled. I crawled towards the mirror, my knees scraping the tatami, and sat to the right of my mother. Click, twist, swipe, smack, I repeated in my head. My hand followed the commands of the words. I felt the smoothness of the lipstick across my thin lips and continued applying more. I finally looked up at the mirror. My lips were smeared with a ruby red paint that extended past my lip line. “Otonaninatane,” my grandmother whispered with a smirk. “You’ve become an adult.” My mother and grandmother began to laugh, the richness of their cackles melting into the high-pitched echo of mine. I glanced at the mirror and watched as three pairs of lips opened and closed, gasping for air with delight. My grandma’s artificially-colored brown bob bounced up and down simultaneously with her laughter. Our smiles widened and our faces became seemingly indistinguishable from one another. Square-ish, round-ish, cheekbone-lacking faces, Kitahara faces. I looked closer, and I noticed that the flickering halos of sunlight moving across our faces had become distorted and were instead taking the shape of hourglasses.
Traffic Light Kisses Campbell Ives
One Sunday night around 11:00, I decided to leave the usual comforts of my room. The string of twinkly lights, the white fluffy duvet and sheets, the scratched 45 records push-pinned to my wall, my childhood lamp embroidered with butterflies that radiates a subtle pink glow. I decided to venture into my parents’ room. I sat on the foot of their bed clutching my knees. I told them that despite making a steady recovery from a cold the week before I was feeling a little under the weather. I described my symptoms: a pain in the back of my neck, a headache between my eyes, a sore throat. Once they saw it wasn’t a ploy for getting out of school, they softened. But it wasn’t just my sinus that was hurting. My heart was aching in all the inexplicable ways a teenager’s does. I was disappointed that winter break was over, lonely after constant exposure to my best friends, and missing the boy I fell in love with this summer. I try every week to replicate his presence with a video call, but it is hollow, pixelated, lagging through the poor connection. Each time I trick myself into thinking he’s there, and each time we hang up, the emptiness cuts through me. I try to stop feeling so it’s easier, and I’m sad about that. “I just feel so numb.” After hearing a sparse list of my emotional symptoms sprinkled with sputtering tears, my parents tried to console me. What neither of us knew at the time was that I didn’t really need to be fixed; I just needed them to be there with me, let it all sit for a while. But it was a school night pushing past 11:30. “Campbell, I know you hate it when I say this, and my mother would always say this to me so I don’t know if it will help… but I think what you really need is sleep.” I knew she was right, but I couldn’t stop thinking, Do I need sleep or does she want sleep? I considered asking her this but decided it wasn’t worth it, because I knew exactly which tedious pattern of argument would follow, so I half-assed a happy face, said I’d be fine and left, hurriedly. I went to wipe
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my tears, focus on the kind words they had offered me, and face the realities of school in the morning. I was pulling the covers back into place on my bed when she came through my door that always sits slightly ajar in its hinges. I knew why she was there, and I knew it wasn’t only out of concern for my circadian rhythm. “I’m just at the end of my rope, I don’t know what else to say. I just think what will help all of us is if you can...” “Sleep,” I finish her sentence. She looked at the floor, embarrassed by her predictability. I tried to tell her that I don’t need sleep, I need time. Time to not be alone. I don’t need her to take away my pain anymore—only I can do that. But my words came out all wrong, and we slipped into our usual conflict-averse exchange, skirting around how we actually feel, masking our needs behind facades of unconditional love. She left as quietly as she came in, and before her bedroom door slammed shut I could hear her starting to talk to my dad about it. Salt in the wound. In the occasional times of turmoil in the Symmes-Ives household the score is always two to one. I sat scribbling in my notebook, gripping the stickers and black vinyl of the cover, wiping hot tears from my vision, trying to capture how intensely sad I felt, how angry I felt, finding solace in a pen. Ironically enough, I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned on a damp pillow until my mind shifted into restless dreams. That morning I had a fever, so last night’s quarrel was willfully forgotten.
❖ I had little patience for gardening as a kid. The constant feeling of dirt under the fingernails, the lugging of a green plastic watering can—it got old quick, much to my mother’s dismay. She promised me I would grow to love it as she did because she had felt the same thing about gardening when she
was my age. She said her mother had promised her the same thing. I laughed in disbelief at this. She fit so perfectly in a garden, behind white picket or stone wall. She was folded in half, and her figure seemed to melt into the earth’s embrace. Clippers with red rubber grip in one hand, a wad of weeds in the other. Dark auburn hair pulled back in a clip. Spring sun shining through the couple of frizzy strands around her face. A smudge of dirt on her forehead where she wiped away sweat with a gloved hand. Her face glowing, focused and content. It was impossible to think that once she had been as clueless and disinterested as me. A few years flew by, and I started going to a private school in Westchester, New York, for fifth grade. Suddenly I knew kids my age who lived in Nyack and Bedford and Scarsdale, all hour-long drives from my remote house in the middle of the woods. I was no longer confined to my dead-end dirt road. I began to recognize the taste of independence, and my world began to expand to the vast county of Westchester. As exciting as this was for me, it meant a lot more driving for my mother. She was a loyal and prompt chauffeur, and on our long drives to birthday parties, dance classes, and bat mitzvahs we would talk. Talk in ways we never had before. Secrets didn’t have a place between us. When she picked me up from the train station, I would wedge my backpack in between my legs. I was always too lazy to throw it into the back. “How was school?” “Good,” I would reply without thinking. With one more probing question, she had me. I would spill the latest seventh-grade psychodrama. I was always embarrassed about just how much I told her, sometimes making her swear to never breathe a word of it to another parent. She would make good on this promise, though usually excluding my dad from the agreement. On all of our drives to god-knows-where, I watched her command the car with such assertive serenity. Waiting for distracted drivers patiently,
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her hand never hovering over the horn. Sometimes we would pull into the driveway only halfway through a podcast, and without saying anything, wait for the program to conclude before lugging everything into the house. When we zoomed through a yellow light, I would watch her kiss her fingertips and place them on the fuzzy gray ceiling. “Why do you do that with your hand when we go through yellow lights?” I asked once. “I’m not sure what it means exactly, but my babysister Kitty would always do it, and I thought it was so cool.” So did I. Now I drive myself to dance classes and to birthday parties. I spend long drives in my own head, listening to music and singing along softly, and I always make sure to leave a kiss on the ceiling every time I squeeze through a yellow light. Last night, I was taking too long to get ready for bed like I always do when I heard the echo of my mother’s footsteps outside my bedroom door. As she entered, I braced myself for that familiar edge in her voice signaling the grave pleas for sleep. But, she just slipped in through the door, nightgownclad and shoulders shrinking her neck, and I could see in her face that she came for a different reason. “Insomnia’s bad tonight?” I asked, while I threw some clothes on a basket of folded laundry. She nodded and climbed under the covers. I squeezed in between her and the corgi snoozing on my bed. I switched off my pink lamp with the butterflies, and all three of us just spooned, barely fitting on my full mattress. My mother’s hands traced the divots and curves in my back, and we talked about whatever was buzzing at the front of our minds. Our conversation was like a blown-up party balloon, lightly volleying back and forth, humming with traces of static electricity. I drifted into sleep easily that night, touched by the magic of her hands. Those hands that mold art out of seed and soil. I wonder if I will ever possess a power so divine in my fingertips.
What An Angel Looks Like Olivia Johnke
December 2003, four years old, I walked inside a house smelling of pumpkin bread. I embraced my grandparents, receiving wet kisses and a fresh slice. Stumbling over to my uncle, I jumped into his lap, and he gave me one of his notorious nuggies. “Colin, not so hard. Not so hard, Colin!” reprimanded my mother. “Heh, heh. No. Not hard,” he responded, still grinning down at me. I felt his body radiate joy. The glimmer of reflection in his eye was intoxicating. I sat on his warm, jiggly thigh waiting for his leg to bounce and my dad to come and start singing “Wheels on the Bus.” Colin enjoyed children songs, almost more than I did. In fact, he loved everything kids loved: nursery rhymes, Cartoon Network, ice cream in the morning, and lollipops—oh, how he loved lollipops. My dad skipped over. Colin began bobbing his leg to the beat of the Barney theme song blasting from the television. The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round. “Faster, faster Colin!” I exclaimed. He giggled. The wheels on the bus go round and round, all through the town. The Barney theme song stopped, so Colin did too. He lost interest in our game and began watching the screen with
similar admiration as he had just been looking at me. “Can we watch Tom and Jerry, Colin?” “No,” he said sternly and immediately erupted into laughter at the talking purple dinosaur on the TV. December 2005, I had begun speech lessons at my school. As my peers partook in reading time, my teacher escorted me to the special education room down the hall. I didn’t know most of the kids there, but a few were just like Colin. They were much younger than my uncle, but they reminded me of him. I came home from school that day, marching into the kitchen. My mother was preparing a pork stew, nodding her head to the static jazz playing through the stereo. “What’s wrong with Colin?” I yelled over the music. My mom turned and looked at me, tilting her head. After pausing the music, she sat me down and told me the story of Colin’s birth. Pulling out salad tongs for reference, she explained forceps delivery and how during his birth, “Colin’s head got squished by the doctor’s tools.” “Did it hurt him?” I asked. “I don’t know honey, but I would assume so. His brain was permanently damaged. That’s why Colin’s special. But he’s the same amazing Colin he will always be. And he loves you so very much, my love.” I stared back at her. December 2007, my dad, brothers, and I were getting ready to take Colin out to our annual trip to Wendy’s. “Colin, put some pants on! What, are you gonna stay in pajamas all day, Mr. Sloppy? Guess where we are going to lunch today?” My dad mirrored the same warmth in his voice I found in Colin’s. He spoke to my uncle with such tenderness; the corners of my mouth stretched in a toothy smile as I watched the two . “Goin’ to the Club. Dad’s at the Club,” Colin stated firmly from the leather recliner chair in the living room. “No, Col. We’re going to Wendy’s!” my dad cheered. “Wendy’s, Col!” my younger brother repeated. Colin
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laughed. My mother stopped singing along to Jack Johnson in the kitchen to shout, “You lucky dog, Col!” In the restaurant my brothers and I would switch off trying to impress our uncle, whether it be chugging our Pepsi, touching our tongue with our nose, or telling him about the movie, Ratatouille, we saw last night. “There was a cooking rat, Col! Yeah, he was a better chef than Daddy!” “Haha. Last night, was watching channel 44. Indiana Jones. Channel 44. He’s a cowboy, you know that?” I looked up at him. “Yeah, I’ve seen that movie. It’s one of my favorites! I’ll check it out. What channel, Col?” “Channel 44.” On the way home, we all sang at the top of our lungs. Singing quickly became pitchless screeching, but we continued nonetheless. The Driver on the bus says, “Move on back, move on back, move on back;” The Driver on the bus says, “Move on back,” all through the town. Colin chuckled. September 2012, my mother told me Colin was sick. Hitting the third red light in a row, she looked at me and stumbled over her words. “They found a tumor in Colin. He’ll probably be fine, but you should know… and he has to get removal surgery next week.” “Alright,” I said. I felt as though I should cry but I had no urge to. “Alright,” I repeated. The light turned green. December 2012, I spent the ride from the airport thinking about Colin. What does someone with cancer look like? What does Colin with cancer act like? I wondered if his face would be a different color, hair thinner, eyes dimmer. Walking into the Floridian household, I braced myself for something I was not sure of yet.
“Heh-heh-hey, Liddia.” “Hi, Colin!” I ran over to him lying in his recliner chair, watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Mickey was trying to find his lost friend. “What’s up Col, you feelin’ okay?” “Yup. Went to the doctor!” He lifted up his ratty Transformers shirt to reveal a raw J-shaped scar on his lower stomach. I looked down at him and gave an uncomfortable smile. “Nice! That’s cool Col, did it hurt?” Colin grinned and made a scissor cutting motion with two fingers. “You know what movie I watched last night?” he gleamed. December 2014, I sat on the wicker chair beside Colin as we watched Ed, Ed, and Eddie. His 300-pound giggle vibrated the floors, making the picture frames on the wall rattle. Colin never liked the shades open. My mother tried to sneak them open as he started to drift asleep but was met with a loud “Nooo!” A giggled followed, lighting up the room with his smile instead. The doors on the bus go open and shut, Open and shut, Open and shut. The doors on the bus go open and shut, all through the town. Colin turned his head to me. “Saw soldiers coming home last night. Channel 62. Soldiers coming home to their families.” “Is that right Col? Channel 62? I like that show.” “Yeah?” he asked in an eager high-pitched whisper. “Oh yeah! Love that show. Do you like it?” “Heh-heh, yeah.” Light still shined in Colin’s eyes, just as it did when I was still small enough to sit on his lap. As his wrinkles got deeper, and his tumor spread, Colin’s behavior became more youthful than ever. He began falling asleep in his chair before sundown, immediately after we ate.
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He stopped watching horror and action films and instead chose cartoons and musicals. As he approached death, his soul grew younger with a grin still glued to his face. December 2016, Colin couldn’t leave his leather chair for Christmas dinner. He tried standing from the recliner but became lightheaded and broke into a sweat. “You hungry, Col?” my dad asked as he walked into the living room. Colin shook his head softly, keeping his stare on the TV screen, playing a Disney Jr. movie. “We could bring a plate of food in here for you if you are hungry, Col,” he repeated. He raised the back of his hand and gently placed it to Colin’s forehead. Colin’s gaze did not break from the movie. My dad’s eyebrows rose, and he turned back to the rest of the family watching from the kitchen. “He’s cold,” he whispered to my mother, as if I could not hear them. A muffled giggle at the TV came from Colin; we all exhaled. March 30th 2017, my mother flew down to her parents’ house. Looking at her father and then around the dim, dispirited living room, she dialed her husband. “Hey, Erik,” she whispered, unaware she was on speaker phone for me and my brother to hear. She reported to us that Colin wasn’t eating, nor could he go upstairs. Hospice had installed a hospital bed in the living room for him to sleep in, eat in, and live in for the time being. We heard my mom nervously enter the living room to find my grandfather and Colin watching Wheel of Fortune. The static of the call didn’t keep us from overhearing Mom’s conversation with my uncle. I couldn’t hear the joy in his voice as I used to. It’s probably just the cell service. “Hi Colin! I heard you weren’t feeling so good, honey?” my mother cooed, stroking his back. “Yeah,” he mumbled. My grandfather interrupted, “Darling, he was throwing up before and hasn’t eaten all day. Right, Col? And you’re still not hungry?”
I pictured Colin’s eyes flickering from game show host Pat Sajak to Grandpa, back to Pat, and then to my mom. “Not hungry.” My mother’s eyes glazed over. “What do you feel, Col?” “My, my stomach hurts. And hot,” pointing to this head and fanning himself. “Hot. And tired. Really tired.” She put the phone back up to her ear and I heard the clapping of her shoes walking onto the kitchen tile. “I think you should tell the kids that if they want to see him one last time, they should fly down tomorrow.” April 1st 2017, 6:34 a.m., I sat on a poorly cushioned airplane seat next to a sixty-year-old man who was mumbling in his sleep. I watched the minutes turn on my watch, counting how many seconds it took for me to take a breath, wondering how many breaths Colin had left, and if I would catch his last. I don’t know if it made it easier for him that he didn’t understand death. He didn’t understand why he was sick, or with what. What did he do? He would ask. Why? He would question. What’s in me? What’s killing me? I can only assume he wanted to know. That was the most painful part to watch: Colin becoming consumed with pain and fear, without understanding any of it. As a child, my greatest fear was death. I had nightmares of all the ways in which I could die, and I would wake up frozen with terror. When the morning came, I would approach my parents with an endless list of questions. Why are we here? Where do we go? Are you scared too, Mommy? The more I read about death and afterlife, the less scared I was to die. But as I had the time and ability to become familiar with the idea, Colin was in a state of absolute confusion, even as he became closer and closer to the end. My mother had told me the night before she talked to Colin about heaven. She told him there were people waiting for him there. She told me that he was smiling. I stood on the airport platform and watched as my mother
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pulled up to the curb. I made out what looked like a smile on her face. She leaned over and unhinged the passenger side door. I grasped the handle, comforted by its warm, worn rubber. My mother broke out into a violent cry. “He just died. I just got off the phone. He just died. He’s dead. My brother’s dead.” She choked on her tears. “I’m so sorry. I’m sorry for making you leave him and get me.” My mother reached and took my hand from my lap, intertwining our fingers and exchanging body heat. We rode to silence but the music of our cries. April 1st 2017, 10:27 a.m., I said nothing but walked towards the bed where he lay. The shades were still closed, but the TV was off for the first time in years. My mouth gaped, and I felt his absence in the air I breathed. I kneeled down next to his soulless body. This was not Colin. Colin was joy. Colin was generosity. Colin was light. The room lacked his laughter. Grabbing his hand—cold now—I whispered to him my love.
“Grab me a Yuengling!” “Make me a highball, Elaine!” Papa fills a coffee mug with Canadian Club. He can usually be found on the white and green porch, watching over the lawn and the lake, making dog noises and shouting demands at Grammy. Since the age of five I have known that the Yuenglings are kept in the back porch fridge and the highball glasses on the top shelf. This lake house is in Lackawanna County, Northeastern Pennsylvania, half an hour from Scranton, once known for anthracites, garments, and steam trains. Houses sit on the lake and trailer homes surround them. The people up there do their best to make their trailer homes not look like trailer homes. Porches, decks, and awnings are usually the go-to method. Papa and Grammy live comfortably on his ridiculous pension from teaching psychology; they aren’t fancy or lavish and probably couldn’t afford to be. “I am thankful for this meal and our health,” my grandmother stated plainly at the Thanksgiving table. “I am grateful for Jordan, Amen,” Papa bellowed. Cousin Jordan was currently in Cambodia doing god knows what. Jordan’s father Jerry was flaky during Jordan’s childhood, so Papa decided to pick up the slack. Papa taught him how to ride a bike; he liked to think that he was Jordan’s true father. If anyone deserved that title, it was definitely Papa. Unlike Jordan, five other cousins were present at the table. Ella’s wet eyes glared at Papa in confusion as Aunt Katherine shrieked, “DAD!” He retorted, “and Oliver, and Henrietta ... and Daniel and Max,” and after a mashed potato slurp, “also Ella.” I’m not sure why Grammy is still with him. He constantly yells at her and blames her for anything that goes wrong, while she does everything: dinner, gardening, painting, cleaning, bills, paperwork, and appointments. “Why don’t you get unmarried from Papa?” I asked when
I was five. “People change, but I love Papa. When you’re married you vow to stay with your spouse,” she stated with a wobbly lip after a short pause. Her morals were rooted in the church and the ‘50s. Her only escape was her children and their children. It’s a really sad situation. I would go crazy if I had to live with him. The whole family pities her and leaves Papa blameless, “Oh, Papa.” During the summer Papa loves to golf. The only three things he enjoys even more are drinking, Lucy, and teaching golf. He and Lucy, the overfed beagle, would waddle in unison down the porch’s creaky green stairs onto the chipped yard. Papa would take you by the arm and press his bulbous stomach into your side while clamping his red meaty hands on your wrists like tiny teethless crocodiles. “Swing like this, you gotta swing!” he would instruct as he suffocated you in a maternal rocking motion. The lesson would not end until you hit the ball perfectly. Your face would be a hot sticky red from his sandpaper scruff and pillowy midsection; he was practically a ball on legs. I would rather eat a lily pad than do this yet I did it anyway, we all did. Even when Mom said we shouldn’t, we did, I’m not sure why. We tried to love our grandfather. My mom’s father had died so Papa was all we had. But Papa did not make it easy. The best part of golf was dessert. Papa loved Manning’s Dairy Farm. They made the best ice cream on earth. I’m sure everyone has a “Best Ice Cream on Earth” but Mannings truly is the “Best Ice Cream on Earth.” My brother Daniel and I hopped into his golden sedan. I was probably going to order Graham Central Station. “Daniel, you’re a lucky one!” he boomed, “I have always wanted to be named Daniel! Like my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, an Irish tradition! But my father had to name me Robert, and you kids call me Papa. What a shameful
man.” “Sounds like a bastard,” exclaimed Daniel as he fidgeted with a John Cena action figure. Daniel always had a dirty mouth—he had a record for how many times his mouth was soaped. “Now Daniel, you’re not allowed to curse unless you want to become a thug! You’re lucky you’re named Daniel! And that your father is named Daniel!” He had begun to pull the car over onto a strip of green grass before a green cornfield. “You’re lucky! I have always wanted that name so I am just gonna take it! Call me Daniel from now on!” Papa raged as the car stood still. The summer of Lucy’s death was the end of it all for Papa, the tipping point into the abyss of age. She wheezed, she waddled, and she was loved. Her swollen body being dragged wherever Papa went was a sore sight. I idolized that beagle when I was younger, but as Papa’s grasp on her deepened, I slowly started to hate that dog. Lucy shared Papa’s appetite: hamburger for Papa, hamburger for Lucy, a Thanksgiving plate for Papa, a Thanksgiving plate for Lucy. And, unsurprisingly, this killed her. She shat blood for a week and then croaked. “Lucy was an amazing dog,” he muttered, a far better compliment than he’s ever directed at me. The strange neighbor, Lenny, buried Meat Log, Lucifer or Disgusting, which are some nicknames she assumed in her later years. Lenny was the same neighbor that Papa called the police on for “violating property lines,” but with this burial they also buried the woes of stakes, spray painting, property lines, and shouting. This same man threatened Mom a week before, “Get your fucking dog and children on a leash, you city slicker piece of shit!” he exclaimed, moving ever closer to my mother while Papa sat on the porch and watched like one of his Westerns. My immediate family is not from the city, but the puny black Prius was all that Lenny needed to see. Mom never trusted
Papa after that one; she hates his fat guts. Papa wasn’t passive about much which made this situation surprising. It pissed me off. Aunt Maureen bought him a fine black and white portrait of her majesty, Lucy. Her chin rolls rippled like molten chocolate and threatened to burst the frame. The portrait was treated like a newborn. Papa brought the frame wherever he went, outside to the porch, down at the dock, everywhere. One particularly bad night Papa had set himself by the lake with his mug, his new “ultrasonic” stereo and lightly salted Lays which “weren’t too bad for your cholesterol”— unless you ate an entire bag. ABBA soared through the yard. “Elaine, I can’t turn it down!! Or else the children won’t be able hear it!” Papa ruined ABBA for my family. This particular night turned into a week, a month and then two months; I guess ABBA helped with mourning. The next summer the ABBA tape went missing and Papa was given headphones for Christmas, thank god. His shenanigans entertained all of us. It was far too late for therapy or AA or meds, so why bother helping? He would deny being off his rocker anyway. With the exception of Grammy, we all had a similar relationship to Papa. Slightly toxic, ironic, and gentle. No one got too close to him. The cousins and I could have used a present grandfather. I wonder what it would have been like to have one. My siblings and I loved Cooper’s, a tacky seafood restaurant in Scranton, and so did Papa. I usually wouldn’t trust seafood in a landlocked state, but they ordered from Southside Seafood, one of the few trustworthy things in this post-industrial apocalypse of a city. This city was falling apart faster than our grandfather. I have always liked Scranton. It has real character but is at least thirty years behind. According to my father they should be celebrating ‘89 this New Year’s.
The vacuum cleaner store where Dad was taught piano is still open; it is a weird and unchanging place. Papa let us order dessert and would sponsor at least ten goes at the toy crane. He slobbered down his spaghetti, with occasional commentary. His sparse white hair glistened under the white string lights and shivered as a toy train passed on a model of the famous Pennsylvanian viaduct that hugged the walls. Best clam strips I’ve ever had. The Fourth is the holiest holiday in northeastern PA. Our neighbors, The Coleman Family, threw quite the barbeque, fireworks included. Holidays were an excuse to drink. Papa probably would start with at least two Yuenglings with family lunch; hamburgers and hot dogs are served every lunch for those hot three months. The Coleman’s party started at five but I personally attend when the fireworks start. They lived in the woods all year long, and I think that since they have no one to talk to, their words get all crammed up and when there are finally people around you could probably hear, “Heyna or no!” from a football field away. They were atrocious. The one thing I admired about that family was their famous rice pudding. When I walked over I spotted my family, but the only person missing was Papa. I scanned the crowd to find him as close to the dock as possible where the fireworks are launched. I walked a bit closer and spotted a half-empty tupperware of rice pudding in his right red hand and a mug in his left. I turned away so fast I almost slipped on the cold grass. This was going to be a good night. “TOMMY DOG” CRACKKKKK “BATMAN” CRACKKKKK “TOMMY DOG” CRACKKK “TOMMY DOG” CRACKKK “MASHED POTATOES” CRACKKKKK Papa was screaming as loud as the Colemans, and I could barely see due to the excruciating pain of laughter in my abdomen. Tommy Dog, Papa’s cousin, was the usual firework cheer but these were some new ones. I don’t think
we ever figured out why he chose Tommy Dog. It was solely for fireworks, unlike his habitual barking. He usually doesn’t scream like this in front of strangers—it was quite the treat to watch. Papa had a strange sense of the world outside our family. When someone visited, Papa shaved and kept the yelling to a minimum; he seemed to care about strangers quite a bit. He was a real people person. After the show Papa decided to get kielbasa and mingle. As he rocked forward, the curved aluminum lawn chair began to bend, his legs began to slowly rise into the night air, and his head gracefully hovered inches above the the grass. He looked ready for take-off. “HEEEELLLLLPPPPPPP” My family watched, frozen in delirium. Cousin Max’s signature cackle filled the silent yard. In the voice of Aunt Amy I thought to myself, “Jesus Mary-Anne Joseph.” The only people who ran to help were Kevin Coleman and Grammy. She and Papa bossed around poor Kevin who had the task of raising a weak three-hundred-pound man. Papa, surprisingly, only required two firm hand holds. Thank god the rice pudding survived the crash. Last summer we used that chair to support an entire boat. After a half hour of relative peace, “GREEN ONIONS!” After five more minutes, “MASHPOTATOES!” After three more, “BOOKER T. AND THE M.G.’S!” Even after decades of neighborship, Kevin seemed to not understand that giving in only makes it worse. “Sure ‘Mashed Potato Twist’ is a classic,” he kindly replied. “Now, how does this here thing work?” “You search a song and yous play it through Wi-Fi.” “Now here lemme have a look!” “Don’t worry Bahb, I’ll play more later!” After the “Mashed Potato Twist” came “Green Onions”
followed by a not-so-short exposure to the entire history of popular music. It was almost one a.m. and everyone was tired, except for him. Daniel, Max, Henrietta and I had the pleasure of getting Papa home. Imagine a hippopotamus balancing on its hind legs. Now imagine it after a case of Yuengling, half a handle of whisky, and knees that worked as if they were made of Ritz Crackers. I really could not tell if I was pushing him home or keeping him up. The ten-minute exercise left our arms sore, I wanted to vomit, he was disgusting. Afterwards, we stole what was left of the rice pudding. Henrietta and I smoked behind the white cement brick garage and then returned to Daniel and Max inside and presumed to eat pudding and play cards around the kitchen table until we ran out. This is summer. This is family. That summer, I think it was after my sophomore year, Papa asked me a favor.“You know how Kevin has an invisible speaker?” “Yeah.” “I want to invest in one, now, how does that work?” “You need Wi-Fi, but you guys don’t have that.” “How do you get it?” “It’s very expensive, and you would need a new speaker and a phone, a lot more complicated than your stereo.” “Well then how is it gonna work?” “You can burn CDs.” “Ok, I’ll pay you to do it! DVDS, I like the sound of that!” After I retrieved a steno pad he began,“All the Elvis classics! ‘Hound Dog,’ ‘Jailhouse Rock,’ ‘Satisfaction’!” He knew every song’s album, year and artist, yet last week he swore it was 2014, two years ago. “Happy Birthday Oliver!” “Aw, thanks for the call Papa.” “You know how I know you’re fourteen! You were born with the century and it’s 2014!”
“Papa, that’s a cool trick but I’m sixteen. It’s 2016.” I wasn’t upset that he didn’t know my age. I would never expect that much from him. He went on for hours with songs. My head whirled, it was awful, and he wasn’t nice about it either. I would have to listen to every single song because there were at least ten other covers. I had to go to five electronic stores to find the freshly archaic Compact Disc and burn them for hours. My pour thumb became callused where I had to rip open each plastic CD case. At some point I was spending more time on CDs than homework. My computer barely handled the songs, the CDs didn’t burn right, they were out of order. Every single batch I brought him did not work. I wanted to do this because I really thought he was going to die any time now, like a going away present. “Oliver! You’re irresponsible! You said you could do this!” “I’ll fix it and it will be ready next time! Sorry!” “Oliver! You’re irresponsible! You said you could do this!” “I’ll fix it and it will be ready next time! Sorry!” This happened the entire summer and well… until Christmas. I really couldn’t get this working. That Christmas he harassed me the entire time. I had begun regretting taking this on. The importance I placed on his mortality faded. He could go anytime now, and I began to despise him; I just wanted this to be over. “Why aren’t they ready?” he demanded. “Call BestBuy! GEEK SQUAD! I saw it on television,” he cried. “I paid you good money,” he screamed. The next week I got phone calls and messages every day. I really had been trying my best, but it just didn’t work. This wasn’t fun and this wasn’t funny—very different from his summer spectacles where you could watch from a safe distance and crack jokes. “Oliver, it’s time to call it quits,” stated my father. “He’s crazy,” stated Mom, “you have to stop letting him
bully you. We’re making you stop.” “OK, but I spent his money.” “It’s OK, we will pay him back and don’t worry about a punishment. You’ve been through enough,” said Dad. “Hello Papa, it’s Oliver!” I said through the phone. “Are they ready?” “No, I’m sorry Papa but I will not be able to finish them. My computer doesn’t work. I can pay you back.” “I don’t understand.” “I cannot do it.” “OK, goodbye Oliver,” he murmured. I don’t think I have ever heard him so upset. I don’t think I have ever been so disappointed in myself. It was as if I had killed Lucy. I was ashamed yet at the same time still angry; I really wanted to finish those CD’s—just for personal satisfaction. He is a bitter mashed-potato-filled walrus whom I had let down. I bet I could find a million more Papas in America. He is truly a product of American culture—he’s going to consume until one day he can’t. One of my biggest fears is that I’ll end up like him. After getting a pension in god knows what, I’ll drown myself in whisky and eat like a king— it’s the dream. At this point he is a burden. You either have to avoid him or take the risk of your brain cells forming a suicide pact and offing themselves. It’s exhausting but nonetheless funny. I find it amazing to see the lengths to which family members go to avoid him. He hasn’t been invited to Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter or my family’s home in years. He’s also a ticking time bomb of health problems: heart issues, high cholesterol—the works. Everyone is waiting. Even when Papa was right in the head, he was not a great person. My father often reflects on his mediocrity as we joke, “Maybe this year for Christmas we’ll drown Papa in the lake. What more could Grammy ask for!?” Every time I hug him I hope it’s my last. I’m not quite
sure if he is a good grandfather or not, but I do know that he is ready to die. One day I will gladly read, â€œHere lies Papa: golf champion, lover of Lucy, disc jockey, and grandfather.â€?
Grapefruit and Cuban Cigars Sophie Cohen
It smells of grapefruit and Cuban cigars. It’s always bright. It sounds like running water and opera. It tastes like the sweet, foreign tang of Kraft American Cheese. A typical day consists of the four of us—my mother, father, older brother, and I—hopping into our tiny, white, and very old Ford Mercury. The gray seats are stained with dried coffee and coated with a layer of sand that permanently ingrained itself into the threads of the seat. The car radiates powerful warmth. I focus hard on putting on my seatbelt. It’s always a fun game, trying to avoid the boiling silver buckle.
It’s an eleven-minute drive to my grandfather’s home. I stare out of the fingerprinted car window. Palm trees that line the highway morph into streaks of paint. The blues and greens melt into each other, every now and then interrupted by a splash of yellow from a patch of daisies at the base of a tree. My father maneuvers his way down a winding road with a stop sign that approaches behind the leaves of a tree. I prepare myself for a short stop because for some reason he can never remember it’s there. But it’s always been there. Just as I predicted, my body shoots forward quickly and my mother inhales sharply through her teeth, with her hand clutched tightly to the handle above her head. We enter through the north gate of my grandfather’s development. The palm trees look a lot more polished and clean cut. I count. Each tree has an average of five coconuts. The Mercury scoots along a road paved so evenly, it feels as if we’re floating in space. I rest my head on the bottom of the middle seat and look up just enough to where I can’t see the trees, only sky. I imagine our car rocketing through the air in a separate universe—a universe where no one dares to touch the ground, and people live on saucers thousands of feet above the tree line. Every now and then I catch a glimpse of a palm tree leaf in my peripheral vision but force the image out of my brain in order to keep living in my world of make believe. The car makes a wide turn, and without looking, I know we have arrived. There’s a specific feeling here, where just by the degree the steering wheel turns, and the way the ground feels under the Mercury, I can tell exactly where we are: pulling into my grandfather’s driveway. In front of me is the gray and white house with its deep wine shutters. My father slowly parks the Mercury, and before he turns it off, I quickly hold back the stiff button on the side of my door to roll up the cloudy windows. It’s always a thrill, seeing if I can roll the window up completely before my father puts
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the Mercury to bed. I get out and slam the door shut with fortitude. A few feet behind our car is the door to my grandfather’s home. It is lacquered brown, with a shine that resembles the sweat on the bridge of my mother’s nose. I raise my tiny fist just above the doorknob and knock with all of my strength, bruising my frail knuckles. “IT’S OPEN!” my grandfather’s rusty voice swims through his endless hallways. I hold on to the bronze doorknob with both hands and use my thumb to press down on the lever. It never budges. My father swipes my hands away and opens the door with no problem. I always resent him for that. The second the door opens, a rush of cool air washes over my body, almost pushing me back a step onto the cobblestone. It smells of grapefruit and cigars. My grandfather, a large circular man with only a few strands of bright white hair combed neatly over the top of his glistening head, approaches us. He walks over to my brother with open arms. “Tiger!” He plants his plump lips on the top of my brother’s light brown hair. My brother is Tiger, after Tiger Woods. He takes pride in that nickname. He thinks he’s good at golfing. “Oh, my princess!” He always comes up to me after my brother. Either he wants to save the best for last, or he has a special place in his heart for his eldest grandchild. I prefer to think it’s the former. I break open a big smile and try to wrap my arms all the way around his body, but I can only reach each of his sides. My grandfather has lived in this house for my entire life; I’m not too sure how long before that. He takes care of it. My mother and father follow him in conversation to the kitchen. I stay behind. In front of me is a delicately decorated living room where no one really sits, except when we open presents on Christmas Eve. The couches are a pearl color with hints of pink. They aren’t comfortable, and I never understood why
you would buy a couch that didn’t do its job well. The pillows are outlined in gold thread that matches the tassels used to pull back the enormous flower-printed curtains. Every now and then, I would steal the tassels. I removed them from the wall and flipped them upside down so the strings fell to resemble hair, and the bottom to resemble a body. It’s always an enchantment, creating a little tassel family of all different shapes and colors from each room of my grandfather’s house. Directly behind the “couches” and stiff pillows is a series of glass sliding doors that stretch from the ceiling all the way to the floor. I can hear running water. Directly behind those doors is a magnificent pool. The hot tub sits slightly above the rest of the pool, with a stream of water that constantly filters into the main pool. I always wonder how the big pool never overflowed. I follow the hallway to the left of the front door and find myself in his kitchen. It is always bright in there. The walls are lined with more glass doors and the cabinets shine a loud white. I reach under the counter to retrieve my favorite cup: a plastic one with a patch of a pineapple pasted onto it. I fill my cup with crushed ice and water. His crushed ice is better than any I have ever known. In hopes of finding the perfect snack, I struggle to pry open his gargantuan refrigerator. “Hungry, my princess?” my grandfather asks, removing himself from adult conversation with my parents. “Always,” I respond with another warm smile. A biting cold runs up my arms, and I see it! Mm... American cheese. I pick up a slice, coated in a plastic film, peel back the delicate wrapping, and take the smallest bites I can. The shiny orange cheese melts into my tongue and molds around the shape of my baby teeth. I love that taste. I need to savor it. Once entirely satiated, I return to the hallway and walk towards the door but stop on the way into another room, the TV room. In here lies my grandfather’s desk with an
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itchy gray upholstered chair, a towering bookcase decorated with names of John Grisham and J.R.R. Tolkien, and most importantly, a wide, crimson-red reclining chair directly in front of the TV box. It’s always exhilarating, seeing if I can steal the chair from my brother when he leaves the room for a moment. His loss. I continue back out into the hallway in the same direction. I pass the front door and head towards the hallway on the right of it, which eventually leads into a room with a carpet of snow and soft couches and endless tassels hanging from the curtains, and photographs of my grandfather as a young and budding entrepreneur. He wasn’t nearly as circular. There’s another desk in here, but I’ve never sat at it or touched it for that matter. My thoughts are always consumed by the upright Yamaha piano standing against the wall. Its age bleeds through the cracks in the white keys and the muted glimmer of the black. Its body is an oak brown, as if from a tree that was just chopped down. Here is where I spend most of my hours, creating my own worlds by mixing pieces of nocturnes and polonaises. I sit down on the bench and it falls deeper into the carpet with a slight groan. I can’t hear the opera from this room, or the running water. The carpet absorbs all extraneous sound and leaves me alone to create my own noise. To the right of the music stand is an old clock, which no longer wishes to do its job, and a photo of my grandfather and his wife in matching white blouses, in a cheap silver frame that disappeared for a couple of years but then reappeared. I wasn’t told much about their relationship. To the left of the music stand is a dark charcoal statue of the head of Frédéric Chopin, watching over me to make sure I run my scales before I begin to play. When I come in here at night, while my brother watches all of the Star Wars movies in the TV room and my grandfather reads on his kindle by the poolside, I turn the statue around so he faces the wall. He scares me sometimes.
I cherish what this house gives me. It gives me the ability to create so much out of so little. My racing mind takes advantage of the stillness and maturity of a house and uses every bit of it to create something otherworldly. I am building a life for tassel dolls, challenging my brother to a cutthroat competition for the crimson chair, and composing a piece of music no one would ever have the ability to replicate. I adore this place because nowhere else can I envelop myself in the tremendous power of my own mind as a child. Nowhere else can I discover the beauty and mysticism tucked away in places I would never think to look as an adult. I am always a child at my grandfatherâ€™s house.
Not an Atheist, But an Art Enthusiast June Kitahara
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From a distance I noticed the pronounced shape of a cross. It stood erect, the silver rods stabbing into the creamy blue of the French sky. I continued walking up the cobblestone street, feeling each stone press through the shiny black leather of my Mary Jane’s and into my aching heels. My eleven-year-old body was fatigued from all the walking that the French were so apparently accustomed to. However, the chapel finally drifted into my sight of vision. It was painted a pure white, as crisp and untouched as freshly washed bed linen. Two oblong panels of stained glass were framed with a garland of wilting ivy, which swayed with each breeze that braided through its sad petals. In the surrounding area, there were no maisons that blocked the soft sunlight and no more Vespas that mixed their warm, burnt gasoline into the breeze. The wind tickled the hairs on my tanned arms and brushed against the backs of my sweaty knees. The chapel was completely free of that restless movement familiar in cities and those reverberations of sound and smell recognizable in towns. La Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence was simply a chapel upon a hill, confident in its solitude and boisterous in the art it held. La Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence (also known as: La Chapelle de Matisse) was built in Vence, France between 1949 and 1951 by Henri Matisse, who worked with a Sister to fill the vacant space with his artwork. Matisse had visited Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in the summer of 1951 and described his desire to build his own chapel: “The immense crowded heads as far as one could see, the architecture, the stained-glass windows and at times the waves of the music of the organ passing over the heads were all most impressive. Upon leaving, I said to myself ‘Very well! All of this considered, what is my chapel?... And then I thought: it is a flower. It is only a flower, but it is a flower.’” He did not make the chapel as an appeal to the Heavenly Father or as a pilgrimage site for fellow Christian impressionists. He constructed the chapel for its potential in aesthetic healing: an
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ode to art. I guess a chapel never was truly attractive me. It’s not because I don’t appreciate its intricacies; more so I was never truly attracted to religion. To this day, I consider myself nonreligious. Mind you, I am not an atheist, and I do believe there is some sort of higher power that puppeteers my everyday actions into ones of Purpose and Reason. In fact, I find the passion that comes with religion attractive. I assume it’s the same passion I feel when I see a new piece of art. I might not fully grasp the allure of a church sermon, but I believe in the perplexing trance one enters when one observes a work of art. And so I found a physical manifestation of this inner conflict I seem to face: La Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence. I did not go to this chapel because it was a chapel; I went to this chapel because it was a museum. I entered the chapel bowing my head, and my mother, as well as a couple of tourists, trailed behind me like ducklings. The ceiling was smaller in scale than I had anticipated. The marble floors were glimmering, as though they had just been polished, and the walls were plastered with Matisse’s handiwork. Blue and yellow stained-glass windows, carved with images of coral reefs, filtered a turquoise light into the chapel. On the wall above the altar was a circle, a collection of scribbled lines resembling a robe, and a square with a cross on its cover: Matisse’s depiction of Saint Dominic, a Spanish priest. This image filled the entire height of the wall and overlooked the interior of the chapel in an ominous, Big Brother type of way. It was ghoulish, and I had goosebumps. Acrylic eyes on a large canvas can make you feel like that sometimes. It’s similar to when Mona Lisa’s eyes seem to follow each step I take. I am aware that it is not God watching me through Leonardo Da Vinci’s paint strokes. She’s just a woman with a strong gaze, isn’t she? My mother had been walking around the chapel, enthralled in her own internal monologue, but she finally
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stood still in front of the mural of the priest. I stood next to her, clutching my book against my chest just as the priest was. However, instead of a Bible, I held to my heart a book about Henri Matisse. Looking at my life, I am acutely aware of the jagged edges, the rough, foundational canvas, the clashing colors of the piece. I attempt dissecting every minuscule detail in my life that irritates my symmetry-obsessed vision. When I search for guidance, I do not find myself in the corridors of a church or sitting cross-legged on the floor of a monastery. Rather, I find myself sitting solemnly on a bench in the middle of an exhibit. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is my mosque and the Musée d’Orsay my temple. I enter the museums and gape at their high ceilings and glistening wooden floors. Maybe I am in the mood for an impressionistic interpretation of the world by Cezanne or Manet? Or do I crave the modernism of Warhol and Ernst? Art is a personal and intimate manipulation of our own realities, and artists seek to make sense of what we accept so easily in our daily lives. I am forced to question the pronounced outline of my own shadow, and to analyze the glint of light that sits in the creak of someone’s iris. My “God” is in each stroke of a paintbrush. Through Art, I find beauty in an orange rind, in the ocher of a sunset, in the heavy plumpness of a woman’s breast, in the protruding veins of a wrinkled hand, and in the withering remains of a rose. Maybe a child had finished eating that orange after a sweltering summer day and left the rinds on the wooden table. Maybe that sun was setting in the south of France or along the horizon of the Hudson Valley. Art enables me to be an agent for my own stories, and when I try to create with my own bare hands, it is imperfect and unpracticed, just as an unfamiliar prayer would be. I usually paint and allow my hand to follow an inner rhythm that results in lines and contours on the gravel of my paper. I assume hearing a harmony in the chorus might create the same sensation as
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seeing the mixing of two colors: a wash of calm. But just as one’s trust in one’s faith wavers or strengthens in times of hardship, my understanding of Art sways and intensifies. Indeed, Henri Matisse was a Catholic, but I like to think he worshipped and prayed to Art with double the fervor he did to God. Matisse said at one point in his life, “I don’t know whether I believe in God or not. I think, really, I’m some sort of Buddhist. But the essential thing is to put oneself in a frame of mind which is close to that of prayer.” In that chapel that stood at the peak of the hill, I was a young girl holding a book in the place of a Bible, and I promised to myself that I would worship Art and my form of prayer would be Creation.
The Burn Isaac Kelly
“Looks like we’re walking.” I’m staring at the set, water surging down the black rocks. The trees don’t grow above twenty feet here—it’s too cold, even in summer. The burn rolls through the valleys as a soft breeze passes through the virgin land. Still, it’s a punishing world. There’s water around my chest and it’s like ice in my bones. Keeping your feet dry is a sucker’s game here. You sleep in your socks to dry them, just to get them soaked again in the next rapid. For the first few days, I’d pray, “Please God, let me be dry. Just one day.” After the first week, you’re too tired to pray. Through everything though, the soft breeze passes over the land, and we keep our bodies moving through water and time. “Beach the boat, Isaac.” There was a burn here. Maybe twenty-five to thirty years ago. The trees still standing are chalk-white pillars of ash and soot, memories of a fire that danced with the trees. You can find your way to water by looking at the ground. The new green will point the way, born out of nothing, the beginning of a new generation. God shows its face to me in this sea of jade resiliency. In the morning my socks and underwear are still wet. I am born out of the tent, weak and covered in a thin film of sweat. We are making bread. This blessed bread is what keeps me alive. I know that in precisely fifty minutes, I will eat. This
bread is my everything today. I take care of her. I rub her shoulders and give her cinnamon and sugar on top. I tenderly ask her, “Are you alright in such a hot fire?” I have an idea. I put my clothes on top of the reflector oven. My lady can cook while I dry the lakes from my underwear and socks. Finally at peace, I walk away. The soft breezes passes over me. I get it. I will eat bread soon, with sweet jelly and rich butter. I think of my father. He used to read me the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” I understand it now. The water will ruin me, but I can dry my clothes tonight. The wind will tear across the open water, but I can cinch my coat. The rain can beat down on our bodies, but I can wait for clear skies tomorrow. I sit on a rock and look out at the water and think about that. I say it to myself while I go back to check on my love. I whisper: “Courage to change the things I can, and wisd—” I stop in my tracks. There, in the middle of my world, is my underwear, hanging in the fire with the waistband melting into the bread. Everything in my vision blurs. I’m frozen. It’s really something to see because I start to laugh and cry at the same time. Life would be tragic if it weren’t so funny, right? And that’s when it hits me. I really get it now... The world just hates me. I get beaten up and soaked and frozen all day so I can have my clothes melt into the only thing I love? The perfect irony of the molten underwear is overwhelming. I’m drenched and sandy, bawling my eyes out and all of the juices pouring out of my face are exploding across the ruined bread because I’m laughing so hard. I feel a hand on my back. “It’s okay, man.” More hands rest upon my shoulders as my brothers come around me. I think about the new beginnings after some long forgotten burn. These things we cannot change. But each
sapling relies on another to move forward. Through every burning waistband and every misguided prayer, community perseveres, people persevere. And as we stand together in memoriam for a certain blue polyester comrade, for the first time in a long time, I am warm.
Objets TrouvĂŠs Olivia Johnke
I always wanted to keep a diaryâ€”my diary, a phrase so beautifully feminine and pristine. A keepsake I could carry between my sweaty palm and left hip, twirling the silk page marker around my finger with the elegance of an aerial dancer spinning in silks. A book to announce to the world, I have secrets to keep. I could whisper sweet nothings to the page by making the roller ball pen dance on paper, blessing no one else with my words but my own eyes. My local Barnes & Noble would witness a giddy Olivia, running her fingers down the spines of books resting on the rack, smelling the fresh odor of pressed pages, and inhaling the aroma of possibilities. I sat down to write that first night. I laid the body of the book in all of its beauty on my bedside table, but I was without words. I had been lost in the fantasies of flipping through pages of documented secrets so much that only when I began did I realize I had none to write. It was the lack of meaningful content that stood in the way of the romance between me and my diary. Not even I wanted to read about my daily dinners or occasional disputes with peers. I wanted the book to push me in ways of thought. I somehow believed the bound pages before me could facilitate discoveries about what brought me here, who I was in my past life, or what a soul is. My mind still wandered, but without pen in hand. My hold on the diary loosened. Pressing the book into my chest as I travelled through classrooms, I felt only its emptiness seep into me. It only took a week for my newly purchased
book to find its way to the corner of my bedroom, buried under bundles of clothing and toy trinkets. I tried to keep a locket once. It seemed to be the only thing missing in between my collar bones. I bought a golden heart-shaped pendant with a delicate matching chain, with hopes that it would provide comfort and protection from pain. I pictured it around my neck five years from now—a grown and mature version of me, accompanied by the necklace through every experience. It would sit atop the indentation of my lower neck, offering its warmth. During the purchase, digging for remaining quarters in my quaint wallet, I thought, this doesn’t feel special enough. Holding the locket, I searched my mind and collected memories for a meaning to attach to the dangling piece of metal between my fingers. I never ended up putting a photo inside. I didn’t even have a photo in mind; a self-portrait seemed conceited and yet an ancestor felt forced. The slot was tiny, too. It required specific measurements to be made, and that was a task I just never got around to doing. I’m sure by now it has slipped into the pitted pockets of my dresser drawers, collecting dust and marking its grave with abandonment. The cycle repeated once again when my grandfather took me to a jeweler one year. Squirming in the seat of the Subaru, I listened to him tell me his first experience with God. He described his descent into depression and his faith in the holy spirit, a faith he believed I could benefit from. In his eyes, I was now wise enough for a cross to adorn my neck, where I thought my now-lost locket would’ve lain. I imagined a spiritual life to be healing, and somehow this necklace would ignite one of my own. It was a chance to make a connection with something greater, through glorified gold jewelry. I browsed through various religious pendants until deciding upon a gold wire-wrapped cross. I held it in my hand that day, letting it drape across my palm. The attachment I felt to the necklace diminished as fast as
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it was fabricated. I must have forgotten I was not religious. I seem to keep searching for a manifestation of sentiment. The objects I own are victim to my routine of constructing the story of its value and inserting an astronomical meaning to its existence in my life. Still, my pursuit is fruitless, as each attempt I made at finding an object to attach to was artificial and thus, temporary in its hold on my heart. I see the nature of this tendency and yet something within me still seeks the story of the beloved diary, or cherished heirloom locket, or sacred cross. Not long ago, I found myself in an antique store. I stood amidst over-piled shelves and oak armoires. My soul ached from heartbreak the week before. But as I rummaged through 1900 film photographs, with the sound of my peers cheering about their finds from behind me, I breathed in serenity. In that moment, I came across a pink sapphire stone ring banded by silver. It radiated empowerment, strength, happiness. Placed graciously around my index finger, its offerings were contagious. Maybe the sincerity and solitude of this finding will result in an authentic attachment to the adornment. Maybe this stone band is playing its part in the mending of my heart and for that, I will be grateful. Or maybe Iâ€™ll just lose it.
I am a Terrible Cook Owen Gifford-Smith
“Hey Emily?” I asked, not bothering to break my staring contest with the ceiling. I was sprawled out across the faded brown couch in my living room, legs outstretched onto the coffee table, head rolled back against the cushions, arms flung haphazardly across pillows. It was the exact pose I’d held for the past forty-five minutes. My older sister, her long blonde/brown hair still faintly smelling of pool chlorine, probably didn’t look up from her handheld conversation to respond. “Yes?” “What do you think of blueberryless blueberry muffins for breakfast tomorrow?” “Ooh.” Here, I’d wager, she looked up. “James do you want any?” My older brother occupied the same position as always, a chair behind the couch. One arm rested on the table next to him, the other held his phone in his lap. His head was eternally focused downward. I could see him just in my periphery. “Umm,” he began. There was the faint click of a cell phone going dark as he looked about the room, choices tumbling around in the clothes dryer between his ears. “Yeah sure.” “Cool. We’re doing it. I’m excited.” Emily directed the first statement to my brother, the second to the room, and the third down at her phone. My sister has always been one for short, declarative statements. James’s head resumed its typical posture and I
reconsidered a different section of the ceiling. It would be a solid twenty minutes before anyone worked up the strength to go to bed. We shared our exhaustion in summer; there was plenty to go around. As a general rule of thumb, I accomplish nothing on Saturdays. So when I woke the next morning and glanced at my watch, it wasn’t altogether surprising for it to read double hour digits. I slid out of bed, pausing to throw a t-shirt on before I meandered down the hall to the kitchen. When I overslept, my brother and sister would usually take it upon themselves to craft our favorite breakfast. That or I’d be forced to wake up at the ungodly hour of nine in the morning to assist them. Given the time, I assumed a tasty snack would be waiting for me. And yet, when I turned the corner, the countertop was as messy as the day before. Random cans here and there, plates taken out, forgotten about, and left—the kitchen was unused. Here I paused. Was it possible my suggestion of blueberryless blueberry muffins hadn’t happened? A mere fiction of an overtired mind? But no, I was certain of their responses. There should be blueberryless blueberry muffins on this counter. I stared, mouth slightly open, as my thoughts grandmother-on-a-crosswalk-ed their way through my head. “Good morning!” called my sister from the dining room, which shared a half wall with the kitchen. “No blueberryless blueberry muffins?” I ventured. “You were asleep.” “You still could have made them.” “We’re not making you breakfast.” “You could have woken me up.” My brother quietly chuckled. I’m not entirely sure at what. He does that sometimes, underscores a particular phrase with a laugh. He picks it out of the rest. Makes it special. “Will you still eat them if I make them now?” I continued.
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“We already ate,” said my sister. I huffed and turned back towards the kitchen. There was a box of blueberry muffin mix in the cabinet. A stove before me. A fully stocked fridge to my left. Cooking can’t be that hard, I thought. From the box blueberry muffins are incredibly easy to cook. There are literally five ingredients. The sack of flour/ powder/sugar stuff, the canned blueberries, two eggs, threefourths cup of water, and one-fourth cup of vegetable oil. There are even nicely drawn cartoons showing exactly how to mix the lot together. Things started well. I took the can of blueberries out of the box and placed it gently on a tower of identical blueberry cans in our pantry. People in my family despise blueberries mixed into their muffins, but we all swear that the box corn muffins are disgusting. So we keep the unused fruit like hoarders, storing for the apocalypse. The lady on the box cartoon had a metal bowl. I found a similar one in our kitchen. She poured the box flour in. I poured the box flour in. Her cardboard hands expertly cracked an egg open. I whacked the white oval onto the bowl and pulled it apart, fragments of eggshell sliding into the flour below with the yoke. I sighed. In the following twenty minutes of meticulously pulling each piece of shell out of my mixture, I pondered the true meaning of hunger. Was it meant to drive us to find food? Or was it merely a warning of low levels of energy? Or maybe both together? Perhaps some demon cursed our ancestors with a need for food every few hours. Perhaps we’re still paying for that ancient sin—although I doubt there were blueberryless blueberry muffins in Eden. Regardless, my stomach was beginning to rumble and I had only just remembered to preheat the oven. Curse this cardboard woman, I thought, I’ll stick to written instructions for now. They won’t mock me with their cartoonishly perfect baking skills.
I glanced over the instructions. Two eggs. I cracked two more eggs carefully and threw them in. Three-fourths cup of water. I poured it out. One-fourth cup of—I paused. Two eggs. There was one egg already in the mix. So now there were three. My mind leapt into action. The possibilities: one, give up and throw everything out. Two, cook it anyway and hope things work out, and three, double the recipe. One and two weren’t real options, not after swearing vengeance pacts against my siblings and the cardboard lady. I would have to make these muffins perfectly if it killed me. Besides, who hates having tasty leftover muffins around for lunch? I returned to my task. Doubling everything is easy for a math wiz like myself. Three-fourths of a cup? One-and-a half cups. One-fourth of a cup? Half a cup. Three eggs? Six eggs. My sister wandered in (presumably to grab lunch for herself) not long after I’d begun applying my calculations to my breakfast. “Why are there so many eggshells?” she asked. I sighed, disappointed in her inability to draw such a simple conclusion. “I doubled the recipe.” “To six?” “Yeah three times two is—oh no.” She found this quite humorous. And here I came to yet another choice: fold after one too many badly dealt hands, or double down and press onward. I’m unfortunately quite terrible at poker. I persisted, this time readjusting the math, and double checking, as I had effectively tripled the recipe. More time passed, and my stomach began to audibly complain its lack of contents to the world. I slaved away, mixing more eggs, oil, and water than should ever exist in the same bowl. For some reason it just wasn’t sticking together. I watched each yellowy lump of sugar flop around in the bowl with—then it hit me. The box flour. I haven’t been doubling the box flour. Well it’s just flour and sugar, right? I stepped back, anxiously tapping my fingers together. I
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could just add flour and sugar in equal quantities until the ingredients bonded together. This was clearly the solution. At this point, I was about to start drinking the stuff from hunger. Surprisingly, it bonded well and I soon began opening cabinets in frantic search of a muffin pan. There were none to be found. I paced back and forth, sweat beginning to bead on my brow. When had this gone wrong? Questions and doubts raced through my head as my fingers ran through my hair. Think, think, think, think, and there, like a glorious messiah atop the fridge, stood not a muffin pan, but a loaf pan. “Blueberryless blueberry loaf,” I mused aloud. It certainly sounded better than the shame of defeat. It was creative, in fact. Adaptive in the face of adversity. The box and demonic cardboard woman advised 15 to 20 minutes of baking. So, armored with two oversized red mittens, I carefully slid the loaf pan into the oven, the batter nearly flush with the pan rim (one might mistake it for a solid brick if it were all the same color) and I set the timer to half an hour. Half an hour went by slowly—it was past one in the afternoon now, which my stomach was all too eager to remind me. I went to check on my creation and found no change. The batter hadn’t shifted or darkened in any way. I frowned and set the timer again for another half hour. Time crawled by. I stumbled into the kitchen, starving as they come, and glanced in. No change. Fire itself rebelled against me. In frustration I grabbed the timer, setting it for a full hour and fifty minutes before storming out of the kitchen. I stumbled back towards the oven what seemed like an eternity later. I would die of starvation, I was certain of it. These blueberryless, formless, mistake-ridden blueberry muffins were my only chance at survival. I wrenched open the oven and stared into the abyss. The pan was no longer visible—indeed most of the oven
was no longer visible—as my creation had spilled over the sides as it grew, swelling to enormous proportions like some sort of distended blueberryless blueberry monster. Kill me, it seemed to scream. I quietly kneeled next to it. By some miracle of science the entire thing remained connected, but the overflow had stretched like Silly Putty, reaching towards the floor with its globe-like pseudopods. Patches had been burned unevenly along its surface suggesting smallpox or the bubonic plague. My sister entered the kitchen. The smell was more akin to a Pillsbury doughboy burning over an open fire than blueberryless blueberry muffins quietly baking. It was like someone had filled a home with the smell of freshly baked bread, then lit the entire house on fire. Emily handed me the oven mitts without a word. While I pulled the abomination out of the oven, bits and pieces flaked off or got caught on the metal tray. I clasped the oblong carbohydrate with one hand holding the very bottom of the pan and the other precariously stretched across the top and leftmost side. Emily cleared a space on the counter. Together, we positioned the mass of congealed failure so that it would not fall. “Maybe… give up on being a chef.” I nodded.
Montauk Oliver Campbell
I had forgotten what sand tastes like. Its tan dewy flatness was so appetizing. The gurgling mush that was in my mouth was sad, unsweet candy Pop Rocks. I lifted my head to find my once pristine sand city to be in the depths of unemployment, war and drug addiction. Spider leg cracks wrapped the once golden towers, bomb craters replaced the glowing green lawns, and civilians were strewn about like sprinkles. A strange yellow giant named Elijah had laid waste to my people. His silhouette rose out of the golden haze, a typical feature of the average Montauk beach day. My fingers trembled with rage. I must avenge my people. I violently charged the giant, my overgrown nails biting into his soft yellow skin. I threw him into the ocean. The infamous waves of The End elegantly drowned us, ripping at our feet and crashing on our heads. Mothra and Godzilla fought with no mercy. Beachcombers gawked in confusion; their open mouths and wide eyes were amazed by the atomic ocean battle. A whopper pummeled us, and as we crawled to shore, a sad Pop Rock slurry snaked down our legs. The beach transforms from dunes to triple-decker motels and then to golden cliffs. The people of the dunes own homes here, packing at most a book, a chair, and a towel. As the beach narrows one may arrive upon a forest of umbrellasâ€”a forest comprised of squealing, snorting hogs all jam packed into a strip no wider than the length of a school bus. As the hungry tide creeps, the umbrella people compress. Their
orange leather skin is that of a gleaming hot dog. Trundles of lunch boxes, plastic assortments and lotions are schlepped across the sandscape. Their colors burn and pierce the golden haze, their aerosol sunblocks stain the air, their squeals defeat the waves’ roar. Beyond the waste lie the cliffs; the rocky coast lies vacant. Surfers rise, fall, and flip like acrobats. They are solitary men and women with the utmost respect for the water and the shore it crashes upon. Elijah’s final objective was Camp Hero, far beyond the cliffs. I was content with remaining, face planted into my towel, enjoying the long strokes of warmth the sun painted on my pubescent, pimply back. We thought the beach was our rock. Shortly into sunbathing, Elijah was frightened by redhaired devils, their K-9s shredded his small heart, their claws ground his guts, tormented by the future. This was our last adventure. He was going away for good soon, and I am still not sure why he left; I don’t think he was either. He dragged me off the beach. Like a fish on a hook, he reeled me away; I flopped and flailed as he grabbed my skinny rubber wrist. My sandy and rusty bike, suitably named Rusty Galore, looked like a boating rig out on Westlake Marina. A monster with cogs, cranks and chains—a ferocious torture machine. In an attempt to ride the bull, I was somersaulted to the warm asphalt. Its heat and texture gave the right side of my face the appearance of cellulite. The second time around I lowered her bristly seat, which soothed her. We softly galloped down the road; her once pristine sheen used to shimmer while turning. As I rode I stuck my tongue out like a dog. The air tasted like sweet seaweed. We passed the overflowing IGA, the drunk and high 7/11, and the red Getty station. We arrived at our new rock, John’s Drive in and Drive. We craved peace. My eyes twitched with confusion as they studied the endless menu board. The smell of burnt bacon crawled its way into my nose. I simply wanted a John Burger with fries
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and a cherry Coke. The animal that was the line pawed and chewed us. I was so hungry I almost lay on the floor, its grout tar-black from years of ketchup, vomit, and other children who lay down and threw tantrums. My flip-flops slid from the years of sand on the cracked red tile of the burger joint. The painful journey of five feet came to an end, and I ordered my long-awaited meal. My body slid into a yellow booth. As I stared at Elijah, I realized he had cat eyes—darting, vigilant and fleeting. He made his discomfort explicit as he demanded “STOP LOOKING AT MY EYES!” I found it interesting how he knew I was not looking into them, just at them, studying them like marbles. I’ll miss his eyes; he’s very good at talking with them. The miniscule sesame seeds of the bun were delightful. I think an important burger deserves a healthy bedazzling of sesame seeds. The bacon, American cheese, and John Sauce chimed in harmony as they massaged my tongue. The only thing missing was the fries’ complement, Heinz Tomato Ketchup. I pounded the condiment container like a hammer. I missed the nail but managed to pump the well after seven strikes. Sweet divine ketchup oozed into and overflowed the tiny paper cup, creating first a muffin top and then a flood of the gushing thick goop. Elijah laughed at me as I lazily dumped all of the ketchup into the fry cup, disgracefully soggifying the once crispy golden fries. As the lunch rush swelled, the screams of evil baby kids rose and made us leave. I mounted the tamed Rusty Galore and flew into the beach-bound traffic. The vehicles shouted at us as we sloppily swerved and swished through the crunchy, sandy streets. Kids scampered in their tie-dye Montauk sweatwear. Ornaments hung from their chubby, sunburned wrists. Sacks of sugary worms, glistening chocolate turtles, and sparklers from the surf mall with the white repeating macaw and the dirty checkered black and green floor swung from their hands. The White Jeaners paraded the sidewalks. Their precious, straightened hair and over-caked faces were far too good for the
beach. Their rosé to-go sloshed as they teetered on their heels, laughed like car horns, and stared at their phones. White Jeaners were Elijah’s and my go-to joke. “I wonder how much rosé they drink in a week.” “I bet their parents still help with rent.” “Why do the jeans have to be so tight, it’s traumatizing.” The salty sea men glared as they smoked their king-sized cigarettes and phlegmed on the gritty sidewalk. The sea men are repelled by town; their sole mission is to pay a visit to Paulie, the owner of the best tackle shop out east. He can always be found outside his shop, leaning on a hand railing, stroking his white feathery hair, smoking like a wet fire while wearing deep-blue jeans. We waved as we biked past. The visible dilapidated Fort Hero was more than ten miles away on 27. My oxford flipped and flapped, Galore squeaked and groaned, and my flip-flops chirped. I took the lead on our adventure, quite the rarity. He never trailed behind me—it was not in his nature to follow. Elijah was a strange kid, perhaps stranger than I. He was sensitive, selfish, red and blue. I never really understood him.This would be our last time in Montauk together. When he was lonesome he decided to abandon his last golden year of high school, skip past the Montauk Lighthouse, over the bitter Atlantic, and live somewhere in Europe. The friendship was fleeting; we would never be the same people again. He chose to leave. Meanwhile, Elijah had decided to replace his damp bathing suit with his grandfather’s gray Tom Ford dress pants. His yellow, nub-nailed hands gripped the bike handle, his turquoise ring imprinting the memorable rubber. The hum of our bikes calmed our wild minds. The road was our rock. As we flew, we watched the clouds pass, the leaves shimmer and grass blow, rolling in nostalgia while we chatted of years past. I halted Galore with all my might. Elijah’s chestnut hair
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brushed my cheek as he narrowly rear-ended Galore. Hot tears scuttled down my face. My laughter zigzagged through the thick, salty air. The fattest man on earth decided to ride a bike suited for an Ugg-wearing seventh grader on Route 27! It looked like a giant grapefruit riding on a Hot Wheel, its soft exterior, molding and pressing around the hunched cycle. Elijah lay on the ground exasperated yet cackling. He had almost faced the wrath of Rusty Galore. “YOU COULD HAVE KILLED ME!!!” he slipped between giggles. I was always trying to kill him and he was always yelling at me for it. We laughed as we remounted and rode away. The flat highway wound,slithered, and eventually lifted its serpentine head, readying to strike. This hill sent shudders through Galore. Elijah and I creaked up the hill, my legs twitched and burned. I was to show no mercy to the snake hill. There was to be no walking; the honor and legend of Rusty Galore depended on it. I would make it to the top. My legs spun faster than a washing machine, a swirl of suds and gray. I was turning out loads by the dozen! Rusty and I roared in unison, our scream poured over the summit, cascading into the dense forest below. Rusty and I had successfully defeated the serpent. I had never felt so accomplished in my life. The hill peered through the mossed trees onto Oyster Bay and the sound. Birds the color of Elijah’s pants kited over the greens, the grays, and the holes of blue. This overlook was our rock. The forest densified as we neared our final destination. A fine, cool mist draped the swampy ground. The smell of dead leaves replaced the sea salt air. Our chariots sped as we neared the entrance. A sloppy white booth and a rusty chain fence guarded the abandoned park. Elijah hoisted our bikes over and watched them soar over the gate. Galore gallantly landed. We followed them, and as my flip-flops clapped the ground, my legs vibrated in agony. Elijah always did tricky things like that for me, and in return I gave him all the praise he needed to hear.
As we summited another hill, a clearing gave way to the centerpiece of the Montauk Project, the one of a kind AN/ FPS 35 Radar. The tower stares down upon the Montauk Lighthouse. The only reason it is still here today is that fishermen find it more visible from the ocean. According to conspiracy and most locals, the Montauk Project tested mind control, time travel, and teleportation beneath the tower. It was an army base with a strong interest in the paranormal. Elijah and I had visited on many occasions; it was a special place, maybe our rock. As we walked into the clearing, we saw people on top of the enormous structure. They looked like gray toothpicks in comparison to the red Pringle-shaped dish. “HOW’D THE HELL YOU GET UP THERE!” screamed Elijah. They did not respond and quickly scurried away. On this hill the Atlantic air kicked up. The tall wild grass blew in the golden light as we decided to climb the adjacent smaller building. The grass swayed around my skinny tan friend. We propped a half-burned plank against the wall and squirmed up. The concrete and dried tar pushed on my John-filled stomach, leaving scrapes. The smaller building had countless layers of neon spray paint, which sang in the late afternoon light. The building itself was a hodgepodge of concrete rectangles sloppily stacked on one another, around ten feet tall. As we sat on the roof, we watched the climbers scurry out of a small hole in the radar tower and run away like mice. There was a strong sense of hostility in the clearing. Their eyes twitched and scanned with fear. My trembling hand wiped a single tear of sweat that had rolled from my freckled forehead to the tip of my nose. Echoing yelps from children vibrated from the structure we had sat on, like a wooden music box. Children’s hands squirmed out of the crevices. At least ten kids anywhere from ten to eighteen years old spat out of the concrete mess. They were coated in Walmart clothing and appeared as if they had been raised solely on a diet of pink insulation and McDonalds. They marveled at
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their discoveries—half-broken bolts, cracked marbles, and purple paint chips. A deep ungendered parental-sounding voice cracked, “Time to go!” The hoard of kids leaped from the ten-foot platform, their knock-off Skechers blinking as they landed. They rolled and dove, disappearing in the tall grass. They all ducked as if they were to be shot at. Elijah and I quickly jumped off the roof, my flip-flop snapping in half as I landed on the coarse ground. Our heads owled as we tried to understand. Danger and fear tainted the opening. A radar climber reappeared, her face a deer staring into the eyes of a sixteen wheeler. At the sight of her, Elijah and I bolted. My legs were coated in tar, sand, ocean salt, and ketchup. My hands were dry, scraped, and charcoal black from Rusty’s cheap handle grips, and my fallen-leaf hair crunched. We flew over the fence and rolled as we landed. Galore sensed my fear as I dragged her out of the brush and rode to a quieter part of the park. The abandoned barracks, library, and a church stared at us in the dead silence. We decided to lie down and calm our hearts, digesting final memories together. A pebble pressed into my back, as I lay on the sad lawn. We played classical piano music and watched the forest gray as dusk emerged. Goodbye my friend.
The Beach Carly Matsui
I discovered the beach on a Wednesday in cold, bleak November. Every weekday I became a coxswain, meaning I’d lie flat in the bow of some wooden boat named after some ancient alum of my Canadian boarding school, spending hours commanding four older boys through a headset and speaker. They’d all been rowing for years, and my words meant so little to them. Sometimes we’d go on the water and I’d say barely anything; they’d still go through all the same drills. The water was peaceful at times, sometimes so peaceful that I’d find my mind drifting off and following the shoreline with my eyes, while the rhythm of the oars droned on in the background. 1, 2, 3, pull, 1, 2, 3, pull, the dark lake swirling beneath us, the icy wind rushing over my face, we moved along. That day, we’d gone farther on the water than we ever had before, past tiny wooden cottages decorating the shores of idyllic Shawnigan Lake, past the abandoned lakefront motel, past everything we knew. Pines drew a silhouette along the land that reminded me of a city skyline, so similar to home, but as they swayed in the breeze the illusion shattered. At the end of the pines my eyes fell upon a small secluded beach I’d never seen before, almost empty, save for a single fallen tree resting on its sand. It was far from the school, far from town, far from anything and everything familiar, and it caught my eye as I unconsciously searched the waterline for my escape
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from the boredom that plagued every day. Its simplicity and isolation seemed to draw me, the silence that I could imagine would fill its air. The monotone grunts of the rowers and splashes of the oars continued; I made a pact to find it. The next dayâ€™s walk was tedious and lonely. My boarding house was at the edge of the woods, and I took the pathway through the empty forest that led to the town of Shawnigan. The village consisted of only four destinations: a gas station, a pharmacy, a sushi restaurant, and a coffee shop. The four businesses lived inside identical house-like storefronts, which stood proudly on each corner of the single intersection of the town, facing off in two eternal duels. The village sat next to long-deserted train tracks, creating a pathway along the waterâ€™s edge at the border of the shore. I followed them for a few kilometers until I arrived. There was no trace of human activity. Any footprints in the sand were long washed away, and the damp log lying on the shore seemed to be sheltered from the typical name carvings other students left when they explored. I decided it was mine, the whole thing: the beach, the log, the long lonely walk. My fingertips grazed the pebbly strand until I came upon a sharp rock almost too large for my hand; its edge was the perfect blade to carve the tangled initials, CM. The beach became my own. Two weeks later, I walked there again, this time with a companion. He was a blond rugby player two years my senior, with sparkling blue eyes that reminded me of paradise in my state of absolute infatuation. We stood on the respective metal tracks, walking carefully like gymnasts on balance beams, trying hard to keep our outstretched fingers touching at the center of the world between us. He was tall and lanky, and I laughed as he fell over into the dirt, unbalanced in his height, laughing so much that I fell too, right next to him. He stared into my eyes, leaning in, but in an instant, I remembered our destination. I decided in an instant it would be ours, our
hideaway for us as a pair, the place where we would share our first kiss and where we could kiss many more times again. Saying none of this out loud, I stood and pulled him up with me, the beginning of an adventure. He was not nearly as amazed at the forsaken beach as I was. We lowered our bodies onto the thick trunk of the fallen tree and sat in silence for a moment. He reached out, his cold fingers pulled my face to his, and he squished his thin moist lips against mine. As he kissed me I realized I didn’t know what to do, how to move, where my mouth should go. My mind ran through everything my roommates had told me about making out, when to use tongue, how you should run your fingers through his hair if it’s long enough, close your eyes, be in the moment. We rolled off the log into the rocky floor, where he lay on top of me, and I felt crushed by his body. A stone jutting out from the ground poked my spine but I ignored the bruise I could feel it creating, terrified to ruin what I was sure was the beginning of a grand romance with this beautiful blond boy. I didn’t like him kissing me, but I liked him. I wanted him to like me so I let him. Before he could do any more, the trees around us rustled in the wind. Whispering, they carried a warning of the coming rain. He stopped kissing me, stared at me, then remarked on how young I was. Just fifteen. He asked me where my lips had been before him; I lied, told him false names and numbers. We departed soon after. The day at the beach left earthy splotches on the back of my favorite gray sweater, but I forgave the boy when he apologized for them the next night. He said it was a stupid mistake. That it shouldn’t have happened, he shouldn’t have kissed me. That I was just too young. He regretted not thinking of me, my feelings, my youth. I don’t know if he was sorry only for the stains, but we never spoke again after that. I scrubbed the smudges from my sweater, washing over and over again until my hands shriveled from the soapy water,
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until they finally faded. And the small round bruise on my back, which had grown into a perfect purple oval, continued to ache for far too long.
Remembering Brooklyn Miranda Luiz
absent minded testifying for a life of blindness and reconciled rightness like a willow tree in a springtime breeze; like she I wish to be.
It’s Sunday evening and I am in Brooklyn wondering how many strangers are in love with me. The red globe in the sky has gone to bed, tucked into horizon’s bedsheets, and its residue smears a thick layer of orange onto the city. Brooklyn baffles me. Everything is so ordinary, so unbelievably bleak, until you discover all of the art packed into each cubic centimeter. Suddenly that dark bit of gray on the sidewalk transforms into a modern Picasso. The profile of ratty apartments is the opening shot of a short film I’d like to make. If you look just closely enough, you will find that everything you lay your eyes on is glorious. Right now the whole city is dripping with a warm peachy glow, and it makes all of the people around me look like bodies on fire. Could it be that nothing is actually cast orange and I’m just imagining this? There’s this enormous mustard overpass next to me––what if it’s the only real thing resembling orange in sight? I deem this uncertainty plausible, because the time it takes for me to process the image delays my awareness of it, setting my mind just a moment in the past. In that purgatorial nanosecond between physical and conscious reality, all certainty could disappear. The sun could set a little deeper; the sky could turn a little bluer. My perception of reality becomes nothing but a memory. And what is a memory if not just a rough image of shapes and colors projected onto some TV screen in the back of our minds? Hindsight could be muddling all of the colors together on that little TV screen, and the orange shade of the overpass is dominating the illusion. Hindsight is not, nor has it ever been, 20/20. Regardless of what color the world is, I am here, under the sloppy trails of retired sunlight, and everything looks warm. It’s unfortunate––this existential uncertainty––but I let myself feel warm with the world despite it. There’s this sort of electricity twitching through the air tonight. Every atom is charged with excitement––I think that’s where I find the art. Each molecule tickles my senses, making
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everything feel just a bit more beautiful. The air tickles me in this Brooklyn dust bowl, pushing me to rummage through every pocket of atmosphere in search of inspiration. I have no trouble finding it. Gary Clark Jr., who I believe is Jimi Hendrix reincarnate, is conjuring from the depths of his history a 3/2 polyrhythm laid over a heavy percussion, and the guitar’s distortion and the screaming melodies and the weight of it all is just too much––I can feel myself spilling with sensation. This is the moment I see the blue-shirted man for the first time. His gaze is removed, mind set in some distant state that isn’t quite accessible to the rest of us. A brown curl twists around the back of his ear, coddling an upward-pointed cigarette fingering the sky like a newborn. A second is lit between his lips. Suddenly and tremendously, I am in love. The feeling sits deep in my chest, just above my stomach, yanking at my body and whatever entity lies beyond it. His calmness is hypnotizing. Who is this blue-shirted man? On the little TV screen in my head, I imagine myself weaving through the sea of dirty bodies to ask him for a cigarette, and when he lights it for me, our eyes lock, and I encounter a world of everything and nothing in his glacier eyeballs, his ocean irises, his quasar pupils. In this moment, we both know that we will never feel love like this ever again, so we make a silent promise to link our spirits forever. When our lips touch, not by force of will but by magnetism, our souls exit our bodies and enter one another through the portal our mouths have created. We get so lightheaded because neither of us has ever felt another person’s soul like this before. Where am I? It takes a moment for me to remember. When I resume processing sensory input, everything comes flooding back: Brooklyn (note to self: later tonight you’ll take the 7 to Grand Central and Metro North to Tarrytown), music (store
in memory: the song being played right now is the most incredible song you’ve ever heard in your life), my friend (note to self: don’t lose him or you’ll get lost), and all of the things I force myself to remember every night (when you get home: take off shoes, turn off lights, don’t wake up parents, take off makeup, wash face, brush teeth, set alarm, plug in phone, shut eyes, breathe, I can’t forget any of this, I can’t forget any of this, I can’t forget any of this!). We were meant to forget things, that’s why memory is such a flawed form of record keeping. Our bodies are telling us that we are only able to focus on whatever now we are given, not some flimsy grasp on the past. When I first learned this about memory, I was indignant with rage. Each nanosecond is packed with so much thought, thought that consumes our entire being, thought that makes up who we are in any given moment, and it’s all just destined for the dark abyss of unconsciousness––it’s destined for nothing. We can’t remember the thoughts we had thirty seconds ago. It makes me want to write all of my thoughts down, to preserve every little part of myself, to track my evolution––and I do, a lot, with poetry. I’ve stopped writing about the boys I think I’m in love with because I’m bored and I’ve started writing about the forest and the rebellion intrinsic to optimistic nihilism and if the anarchist rural utopias I dream of could ever exist and why I can no longer accept the fallacy of God and how special relativity might really be telling us that the inconsistency of time means that there is no cohesive structure to the universe and reality is merely a hoax. I can recognize absurdity within all of my thoughts, but I ignore that recognition because I figure it’s better to think everything than to only think some things. Better to expand than to remain stagnant. Such is how I’ve convinced myself that any thought, be it silly or profound, is golden. I’ve become addicted to writing them down, casting a literary net for any riches that might be hidden in these cerebral
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moments. The period of a “moment” only gets smaller and smaller as I think more and more. As a result I find myself constantly discouraged, every day letting more thoughts grace me and drift into the inscrutable unconscious. I can’t write everything down, so right now in Brooklyn I let the anxiety of knowing my whole self is dying every moment sit somewhere in the back of my brain where it’s harder to reach. Maybe I can let this thought drift away like the rest of my transient monologues, but I deem the effort futile because anxiety is typically more adhesive to the mind than other forms of thought. I think I shall take a break from thinking. Perhaps a momentary hiatus––it’ll be like a staycation for my brain! I’ll practice a quick meditation and let my soul recede into peace and spirituality, the world of simultaneous mindfulness and mindlessness. How do we track this thing quantitatively—the mind? It follows no patterns of physics except for the forward propulsion of time. How can we hear sound in our heads? Where is all of this thought taking place? Chemical reactions can only take cognitive function so far–– there must be a layer of humanity beyond our primordial survival functions. Is there perhaps another state of existence outside of our perception of physics, one that is neglected by academia but exists nonetheless? The realm of consciousness could be a field of spiritual energy that permeates everything, like the Hindu idea of Brahman, or an Alex Grey painting, or the Luminiferous Ether, but since Einstein dispelled that theory ages ago, more like the Higgs Field. I think Luminiferous Ether sounds prettier. I don’t think I can stop thinking. How did this cigarette get in my mouth? Did I finally
muster up the courage to approach my love for it? No––I turn my head back and he’s gone. Where did the blue-shirted man go? He’s abandoned his perch that I’ve memorized so well upon staring, which means this cigarette must’ve come from somewhere else, but I don’t try to remember because I have no patience for memory. I was distracted by my thoughts and now I’ve lost the truest love I’ve ever known! What other things have I lost to my narcissism? I get bored so easily. My mind is always searching for a new toy, a new cerebral playmate. I crave the things that will make me think like I’ve never thought before, push by brain and body to places they’ve never been before. I’ve become addicted to chasing virgin thoughts. Such is the glory of physics. And philosophy. And the woods near my house. I’ve sent my body to corners of the Earth I’ve never explored before to learn them; I’ve consumed what I’d hoped would induce some sort of cathartic, mind-expanding experience; I’ve thrown my body at men to taste the sweet and sour flavors of adulthood, all just to expand my brain’s capacity to understand what the mind and body are capable of. But these boys I throw myself at don’t love me. Sometimes they tell me I think too much. Sometimes I frighten them. I thought I loved a boy once, but he wouldn’t let me think, and I hated myself for becoming a body without a mind, so I told him I couldn’t love him anymore. Sometimes I see him and wonder if I am still in love with him, but then I remind myself of how he reverted me to a corpse, and my consciousness moves on to the next virtual nothing that will occupy my thoughts for a few seconds. I’ve yet to feel that earth shattering love where our Atmans (the single soul portion of universal energy) align perfectly and everything in the world that isn’t love disappears. A love that makes every thought in my head dissipate. A love where the only thing my body is capable of feeling is feeling itself. What if that’s what I’m chasing—the loss of thought
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altogether? What if my incessant search for meaning is really just a hunt for the explosivity of enlightenment, a nirvana where every internal question is finally silenced? I think I would’ve had that cathartic type of love, that emptying love, with the blue-shirted man. But I can’t find him now. He’s left me alone with my thoughts. I wonder if he saw the back of my head and thought my hair was too frizzy, so he left in search of a more tamed love. Maybe he didn’t like my outfit––I’ve been wearing a lot of earth tones lately. Maybe he thinks my friend is my lover and is actually lamenting what he, too, knows is a once in a lifetime love. None of this speculation matters though, because the blueshirted man is gone and soon he will only be a fleck of dust in my irretrievable unconscious. In a few days, I won’t be able to remember what he looks like; I’ll only be able to see the hue of his shirt because it’s the salient color on the TV screen somewhere in my mind. The blue-shirted man is gone, so I force myself to forget him because I know my memory won’t do justice to the love that we shared. Instead I look to the stars and let Gary’s brooding melodies engulf me with their dark, distorted, wretched sound. The sky is still fairly blue, it hasn’t quite entered total blackness yet. Blue… what a familiar color… something important could be blue… I feel an impulse to remember what, but I don’t indulge it because I’m busy letting the music pull oceans out of my eyes. I didn’t know it was possible for music to be this beautiful. Something else is beautiful… something close to my heart… I don’t immediately know what and I don’t bother trying to remember because all of my energy is busy consuming sound. I look behind me and see a gap in bodies… what used to be there? I don’t fuss with recollection, my brain is too busy perceiving all of the humans around me as flames beneath Gary’s red sonorous heartbreak. I wonder how many strangers are in love with me.
The Linden Cottage Charlotte Peterson
My grandmother, Mimi, started her garden in 1978 and worked on it year round until she finally moved in 2016. Her garden surrounded the slate pathway leading up to the pink screen door that would slap back and bite your fingers if you
didn’t move your hands fast enough. This garden was framed by ivy that climbed up the weathered gray shingles, creeping its way through window frames and underneath the black shutters. Pink roses stretched above the ivy, reaching above the pink door. Also above the door was a white sign with Linden Cottage written in cursive, the name Mimi had decided upon for the house because of the massive linden tree in the front lawn that would drop its yellow flowers on everyone’s cars. We had a baby swing attached to the linden tree for years, my uncle being the first to use it and my youngest brother being the last. Once you passed through the pink screen door, you entered the sunroom. Three large photographs of my grandparents at their wedding hung on the wall. Mimi and my grandfather, Pops, were only nineteen when they got married in 1967. The first photograph depicts my grandparents smiling and holding hands, looking youthful in their wedding attire. The next two photos are of my grandparents feeding each other a slice of cake while laughing, probably nervously. Beneath the photos, you’d encounter yet another screen door, this one even more vocal than the other. The door led to the brick patio, covered by a pink awning which made everything beneath it glow with a rosy light, tinting all the photos taken there. The patio then connected to the slate walkway bordering the pool. Here was where you’d find the other garden, Mimi’s masterpiece. This garden was also completely surrounded by ivy, much like everything else at that house. The ivy had been planted over thirty years before, and over the years it had consumed the rotting fence beneath it, the vines being the only thing keeping the decaying planks upright. Mimi hates squirrels. She used to sit on the patio in a bamboo framed chair with pink cushions, a cigarette between her lips and knitting needles in her hands, watching for the squirrels through her red bifocals. When she’d spot a squirrel
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perched on her bird feeder, she’d grab her long bamboo squirrel-whacking stick and creep over, stalking her prey. With the most might a chain-smoking senior citizen could muster up, she’d strike the bird feeder with the stick, not even coming close to being fast enough to hit the squirrel. Most of the time the squirrels would see her approaching and scurry away, resulting in a “Shhhhit!” Pops found lots of entertainment in watching the frequent Mimi vs. squirrel showdowns. “Ya gotta be a little faster, Schwartz,” he’d call to Mimi in his Rhode Island accent, Schwartz being a nickname she had gained after a friend had once compared her to General Schwarzkopf. Mimi would usually fire back with, “Oh shut up, Brad!” taking a drag of her cigarette, going back to her knitting. My grandparents had built the house before they had even turned thirty, moving in with their four kids, including my mother. Many of my earliest memories took place at that house, one of them being my obsession with touching the purple glass butterfly that hung in the window. My uncle Pat, whom I called Gino (we are a family that likes to make nicknames), would always lift me up to touch the butterfly. Just as I could feel the cool glass approach my fingertip, Uncle Gino would aggressively tickle my ribs, causing my small frame to shake with laughter, my blonde curls bouncing while I attempted to break free of his grip. The older I got, the less I saw Uncle Gino at that house. Uncle Gino and my grandparents no longer talk. I can reach the butterfly on my own now. Mimi’s garden around the pool was completely consumed by sweet peas on the left side. She always hated the way they rose from the ivy, attracting every single bee within a five-mile radius. I personally didn’t mind, except for when the bees would get stuck in the pool, and I’d attempt to save them by cupping them in water and throwing them out, avoiding their stingers. The garden was truly magical. Time and time
again I would be mesmerized by the sea of blues and purples and yellows and greens and pinks that blended together like a Monet painting. The scent of the gardenias was addictive, although I’d always be careful not to bring my nose too close to the crisp white petals. Mimi always said that gardenias brown with the lightest touch. The peonies—my mom’s favorite—drooped from the weight of their magenta heads as ants crawled up their stems. Other residents of the garden included black-eyed Susans, irises, two butterfly bushes, echinacea, and of course, the honeysuckle. I would gingerly walk between the pockets of plants to pick the honeysuckle, pinching the stems of the pink and white flowers and pulling out the sweet nectar. In 2006 my grandparents changed the bottom of the pool from a vinyl liner to gunite, making the pool look much more like a water feature rather than a play area. The gunite, although beautiful, was rough, leaving my feet raw and red after hours spent in the shallow end. We nicknamed the pool the NFP, standing for the No Fun Pool. We were never allowed to throw balls in the pool because, according to Mimi, too many of her lilies had been “decapitated.” Mimi didn’t even allow floats, all of the ones we bought for the NFP mysteriously “getting caught on a nail” and deflating. Even without the floaties, the pool provided my brothers and me with countless hours of entertainment, only hopping out when our fingers were pruned and our eyes were stained red with chlorine. Pops is a seemingly simple guy. An ex-stockbroker, he now owns the family business, a painting company. He enjoys watching the Red Sox, westerns, and telling stories that everyone has heard fifteen times already. Pops is known for his bright sweater vests and funky socks that usually match, all of which are made by Mimi. When I was younger, he always liked to remind me how he could still beat me in a swim race since back in the day he was one of the “best athletes in
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Rhode Island.” Usually once or twice a summer, Pops would suddenly emerge from the small pool room wearing his pink swim trunks with flowers on them and dive into the deep end, causing my little brothers and me to shriek with surprise and laughter. He’d last for a couple of minutes before retreating back under the pink awning wrapped up in a towel. For years, Pops’s blue Bud Light cans appeared harmless, and honestly I hadn’t really noticed them until they were gone. When I was in eighth grade, Pops’s heart came close to failing. According to my mom, his body had swollen up so much that he could barely even move. When all this happened, I scarcely knew. Same goes with a lot of things that happened there. After this close call, he stopped with the Bud Light for awhile. I assumed it was because of the calories. For years, Mimi and Pops tried to sell the house. I always had the urge to kick the navy blue Sotheby’s For Sale sign in the front yard. It looked so ugly next to the purple clematis that lounged over the stone wall in the front. It didn’t belong there. After a few years and several failed offers on the house, I figured it might just never sell, but in the summer of 2016, it did. My mom and I came to help pack the house, finding a wide array of items. We found dresses that my great-grandmother wore, which my mom and grandma both insisted I try on (they did not fit), dolls that now were missing eyes and patches of hair that my mom had once played with, a handle of vodka my grandpa had hidden in the closet, my mom’s old love letters and poems from college, a saddle from her horseback riding days, and over thirty years worth of random objects. Oddly, I can’t remember the last time I was there. I can still feel the house like I was there five minutes ago. The colors of the garden have stained my eyelids, the rustle of the ivy and buzzing of bees in the sweet peas still endlessly hum in my eardrums. The smell of the cigarette smoke that I had pretended to hate because my mom did lingers in my
nostrils. When I drive by the house, I imagine myself running up the driveway, swinging open the pink screen door, and reclaiming the only place I thought I would have forever. The ivy has been ripped off, the fence has been torn down, and the shutters have been painted, but I hope the garden still remains.
Bounce the Ball Six Times Alex Limpe
Don’t pick up that ball. Pick up that ball over in that corner. Bounce the ball six times. Serve right into the T, I thought as I stood on the blue and green court number three. It was the first day of a weekend college tennis showcase at Harvard University, an opportunity to meet and be seen by over 150 college coaches, including some from my top schools. I was in good company, one among some of the top players around the country. All of the girls who surrounded me had bigger and more expensive tennis bags, probably with multiple rackets. None of them looked nervous. I was nervous not only because of the hundreds of players that looked ten times better than me, but also because I had sprained my ankle the week before while I was at another college showcase. I took a walk around the tennis courts with a partly sprained ankle and saw parents and coaches watching the matches from the bleachers. On the first day of the tournament, I was wearing my lucky white tennis shorts with a black top and my white visor. I rushed to the bathroom three times before each match, thinking I was going to throw up. All I wanted to do was go home. I continuously asked my parents, “Can we please leave? What’s the point of being here?” My routine before every single match is to be a nervous wreck, but once I get into the rhythm of play, I am focused and determined. As my parents and coach have said, I am a true fighter, going for every ball. But this time fear grew inside me. My whole body was shaking.
During the matches, I wasn’t able to zone into each game. I wasn’t able to structure the point. All I could think about was how I wanted to be in the car driving home. My fingers were quivering. I wasn’t even able to serve the ball without my racket slipping out of my hand. At the end of the first day, I had lost both my matches, and my ankle was all purple and bruised. I wanted to go back to the hotel, take a nap, and forget about what had just happened. What am I doing here? I asked myself. I was surrounded by a sea of girls who hit the ball harder, were fitter, and played smarter than me. As I stood there feeling discouraged, a college coach I’d met a few weeks earlier approached me. “Hi Alexandra, how are you?” The pity in his voice stung me. I answered quietly, “I’m good. Did you just arrive?” “I got here a while ago, I saw a bit of your first match.” I wanted to crawl under a rock. I walked away, knowing that he’d seen my match and had nothing good to say about it. I walked outside and sat on a white bench and curled into a ball as I waited for my parents to come pick me up. I knew I had to swallow my embarrassment, tough it out, and stay focused on my dream. I ended the Harvard showcase with a 1-3 record. While many girls might have been disappointed with that result, I was elated to have won a match. I was walking on air for the rest of the day. But I still had this recurring voice of fear in my head asking, what if I’m not good enough? A few months after weekly physical therapy and doctor appointments for my ankle, I decided I was ready to get back onto the court so I signed myself up for a tournament in Queens, New York. When my mom and I arrived, I recognized the place. It was the same tennis center where I had played my very first tournament. I told my mom, “I don’t want to do this. I had a really bad experience here
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before.” She replied, “Well now you can make new and better memories.” Against my will, I walked in and saw a girl sitting with her mom. She had a big tennis bag, nicer than mine. I assumed that was my opponent. My automatic reaction was, OMG OMG OMG, she’s going to kill me. After waiting for what felt like hours, I was finally called to play. I started the match with a knot of fear growing inside me. As we walked onto the court, I was hyperventilating; she was walking confidently. We started the match and I was feeling nervous, but a bit more confident. I got this. You got this, Alex. However, as the match continued, she began to play mind games with me and got on my nerves more and more. Throughout the match, she continued to smash the ball at me when I needed another ball to serve with. She tied her shoes for ten minutes. When I served a ball out, instead of letting it just pass by her, she would hit it as hard as possible. It usually ended up in the net. Instead of leaving it there, she took her time to walk up to the net and hit it back to me. Why can’t she just leave it there? I don’t need it! After each point she won towards the end of the match, she would yell, “Come on, let’s go!” By then, as much as I wanted to keep trying, I was so frustrated at what an annoying person she was that I couldn’t do it anymore. I won the first set 6-4, lost the second set 5-7, and lost in a tiebreak 4-7. While many people would have been upset that they didn’t win after taking the first set, I was relieved to have won at least one set. I tried my hardest and that’s what counts. My mom was right. New and better memories happened at this tennis club in Queens.
❖ Don’t pick up that ball otherwise you’ll lose the point. Pick up that ball. Bounce the ball six times. Serve right into the T, I always think before a point. I love the game of tennis. I love the thwack of the ball on my racquet as I smash a forehand winner and the thrill of
a long hitting battle. I love being part of a team with a shared goal and its network of support and encouragement. My dream is to play competitive tennis throughout my years in college. Unfortunately, I am just not as good a tennis competitor as I would like, or as many of the girls I meet at tournaments. My win-loss record shows it. It is painful for my parents, who drive me to tournaments every weekend, to watch me be outclassed on the court over and over. They have begged me to reconsider my dream. “What about playing club tennis? Wouldn’t you prefer to play with friends, just for fun?” are questions I get regularly from both my mom and dad. And I still ask myself, “What if I’m not good enough?” Despite my doubts and my parents’ suggestions, I persist. Whether my poor record is a result of coming to the sport late or because I suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety, I don’t know. For the past ten years, I have suffered from OCD and anxiety. Before I knew what OCD was, I knew that there was often a voice in my head. “Tie your shoelaces twice. Tap the handle six times before opening the door.” I now understand more about OCD and its close relation to anxiety. These days I am most aware of my OCD urges during times of intense stress, like during final exams or a tennis tournament. I still haven’t found a way to cope with my anxiety, especially on the tennis court. It sometimes feels like I’m in a hitting battle with my anxiety. I’ve learned that playing competitive tennis for me is not only about defeating my opponent, but also about conquering my internal demons. In addition, I’ve realized that as awesome as it feels to win, I have learned more about my game and myself from my many losses. A magnet hanging in my room says, “Sometimes you win. Sometimes you learn.” I am generally a hard worker in all areas of life, but after a difficult loss on the court, I have a sense of determination: to get better, to work harder, to be mentally tougher. So I have learned that it’s okay to lose
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because sometimes we have to lose to understand what we did wrong. I hope that never goes away. I’ve also realized that fear is a normal thing. My dad tells me before every one of my matches, “If you aren’t nervous, then there’s something wrong with you.” Through competition, I am able to test myself and see the many hours of practice pay off. Even if I lose, I don’t go down without a fight. After all, the match isn’t over until we shake hands. Bounce the ball six times. Serve right into the T. Win the point.
Eat the Cake Olivia Johnke
I awoke to the chill of the overly air-conditioned cinder-block building. I had no need to wear shoes, but I put on socks and rose from the now barren bed. I stared at my reflection, hollowed cheeks and pale flesh, in the mirror resting on the wooden dresser. My eyes were swollen and bloodshot from the tears I had wept until I fell asleep. A lash rested on my right cheekbone. My quivering frail fingers inched up my face until lifting the fallen lash. “I want to go home,” I whispered to my lash and blew it away. I watched it briefly fly away and then crash to the ground as quickly as it had taken off; I envied it. The clock struck seven and the ring of first meal bell brought me from my trance. Distant knocks were being made down the hall. As I grabbed the door handle to exit the room, a shiver shot up my arm. Two nurses wearing wrinkled white uniforms were advancing down the hallway after speaking to each patient. “Good morning, Olivia. Here are your vitamins for today. Did you sleep well?” Nurse Veronica, the woman who provided the pills, handed me a four-ounce paper cup and two vitamins. I nodded softly and took the the poisonous-looking purple pills from her hand. I swallowed, feeling them scoot down my throat and scrape my insides. “Alrighty, before breakfast Nurse Shelby here is gonna take you to the restroom,” Veronica said, pointing to the woman beside her. Shelby smiled at me; I stepped forward, head down, keeping eye contact with the floor.
The sound of our footsteps echoed throughout the building. The noise carried on until Shelby stopped outside the bathroom doorway, arms crossed. I opened the creaking stall door. All outside noise quieted once I was inside, and the surrounding silence exaggerated each breath I took. As I sat, my tears returned. A droplet caressed my cheek and rolled down and off my face, descending into the toilet bowl with a loud drop. I looked up, shaking, peeking out of the bathroom door crack to catch a glimpse of Shelby’s face on the other side. I unleashed both tears and urine downward, emptying myself of all that was left. As I exited the stall, Shelby stayed watching me until I had finished washing my hands. “I know it may feel uncomfortable, but I have to make sure you aren’t doing anything you’re not supposed to do.” Four lifeless women already sat at the oval table staring into nothingness by the time I entered the eating room. In the back right corner lay the last vacant chair without a patient. I walked past a short-haired blonde, vigorously tapping her foot and rubbing the sweat from her palms onto her bony shoulders. Sitting down in the chair, I realized just how warm the bedroom was. The chill of the seat frosted my thighs. I yearned to be back in that room, my sixty-one pound body wrapped in a ball on the sterilized mattress, crying until I fell asleep or fainted. During the meal, silence was only broken by the slow chewing of trembling women and the mangling of their breakfasts. The blonde beside me made eye contact with another patient across the room and began mouthing words and subtly motioning her hands. I stared, realizing she was trying to communicate how many calories she estimated the buttered biscuit was. “Two seventy-five,” she mouthed, holding up two fingers, then seven, then five. The patients across from her widened their eyes and slowly looked down at the biscuit. She gulped, as her pupils began to lose the life inside them. A drop of
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sweat rolled down one of the women’s forehead. With each bite, my stomach protruded a little more. With every swallow, my thighs began to expand and press harder onto the chair. The nurse’s eyes continued to watch my actions carefully, as I neared the end of the pile of what was fed to me that morning. Remaining sat a Horizon single-serve container of milk and a slice of red velvet cake. I detached the plastic straw from the box of milk. Pushing the straw inside, I lifted it towards my lips. My eyelids weighed heavily and soon closed as I began to sip. The loud, crackling slurp of the last few drops leaving the carton startled my eyes open. At this point, my stomach had been filled in all of its capacity. I felt my muscles crack and rip open in excruciating pain. I could no longer think or breathe. I tried to gasp for air, but it felt as though there was no room left in my body for oxygen. Doctors had been gradually increasing my calorie intake as part of the recovery. When I first arrived, they told me my stomach had shrunk to the size of a child’s fist, about three times smaller than the size a twelve-year-old girl’s stomach should be. On this third week, this Wednesday morning, I was on a 4,500 calorie meal plan. Four inches away from me awaited a slice of red velvet cake. I lifted my trembling arm and reached for the dessert plate and neighboring plastic fork. As I swallowed the first bite, I felt every crumb inch its way to my stomach and land on top of the undigested weight of the eaten breakfast. Tears streamed down my face and showered the cream cheese frosting beneath me. It broke everything inside me—the strength I thought I had, the ability to think of anything but the tearing of muscle inside me, my stability. “I can’t. It hurts so bad! My stomach hurts so bad, I can’t eat anymore!” I screeched, choking on my own breath. I wanted the pain to take my consciousness. I wanted to slip through the arms of the chair beneath me and fall into a
numb abyss. “You have to finish your meal, Olivia. You finish your meal or you are marked as restricting. There are eight minutes left of eating time.” Shelby’s gentle smile from outside the bathroom had long vanished. She aggressively scribbled notes on her yellow pad, every so often looking up at me to document my expression. Every word she wrote, I felt carve into my skin. “I’m trying! I’m not restricting, I just CAN’T do anymore! It hurts so bad, it hurts so—!” My stomach burned and erupted into what felt like the depths of hell. All control over my body was lost. I wept and launched my upper body over my knees, pulling at my hair until clumps of locks were falling at my feet. “Are you choosing to restrict? If you restrict at this meal, you will be put on an IV for twenty-four hours.” Where is her smile? I need her smile back. I need my mom’s smile, right now. The image of Shelby had deteriorated to a blurry figure through my tearing, glazed eyes. I pictured the near future: needle up my arm with a fatty liquid, the color of vomit, shooting into me, travelling with me everywhere I went. I pictured the other patients before me that were put on the IV, poles hovering over them during group therapy, and the lifeless look on their face, staring into nothingness. “I can’t.”
Generation Columbine Charlotte Peterson
November 15, 2011 Eight hundred other middle schoolers and I were corralled into the overly air-conditioned auditorium, filling the space with gossip, the stench of adolescents who have yet to discover deodorant, and the commands of teachers attempting to control us. I planted myself next to my friend Iris on a freezing metal fold-up chair, bouncing my legs with postlunchtime energy. Mr. Raimo, our principal, cleared his throat into the microphone. “Hello Eisenhower Middle School…” he began. I already knew what would happen: the PTA had probably some speaker to tell us “don’t do drugs!” or some kind of “funny” inspirational speaker. My attention focused on the stage again after some routine applause, concluding his introduction. A middle-aged ordinary looking man—presumably our speaker—walked up on the stage. A banner hanging behind him had Rachel’s Challenge printed on it, the “g” in the shape of a chain link. He began his talk, spending most of his time introducing us to his daughter: Rachel. He showed us pictures of a pretty teenage girl with brown hair, only about four or five years older than I was. He then told us she was dead. Rachel had been shot and killed in the Columbine shooting in 1999, less than a year before I had been born. I had heard the name Columbine before but had never known what exactly it was. I then learned that two armed students
had come to their school the morning of April 20th, 1999, and opened fire on their peers and teachers. Rachel’s Challenge, a non-profit organization that Rachel’s family had started, was based on her “Code of Ethics,” which she had written weeks before her death. As her father continued explaining the organization, I had trouble focusing on the message they were trying to send. My elevenyear-old mind couldn’t even fathom such a tragedy; it seemed like something out of a movie. 13 dead. I looked around the room, the previously restless bodies of my peers now still. April 2, 2012 Oikos University, Oakland, California. 7 people killed, 3 others seriously injured. December 14, 2012 My family and I sat on our worn brown couch, a fire burning underneath the mounted TV. We were watching the Nightly News on NBC, our usual routine after eating dinner. The broadcast began, immediately beginning with an alert of a special coverage regarding Sandy Hook Elementary. “John, pause it. The boys shouldn’t watch this,” my mom commanded my dad. My little brothers, ten and eight years old at the time, exited the living room after my mom shot them a look. The coverage continued. All too soon, it began to feel fake. 28 dead in Newtown, Connecticut at Sandy Hook Elementary. 20 kindergarten students. 6 teachers. Shooter and his mother both dead. I remembered what I’d heard of Columbine and Virginia Tech. This had happened before, but kindergarteners? My body felt empty. I had to look away when they showed the shooter’s face. I looked over at my mom who had her hand over her mouth and silent tears streaming down her cheeks.
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October 24, 2014 Marysville Pilchuck High School, Marysville, Washington. 5 killed and 1 other seriously injured. October 1, 2015 Umpqua Community College, Roseburg, Oregon. 10 people killed and 9 other seriously injured. December 2, 2015 Inland Regional Center, San Bernardino, California. 14 people killed and 22 others seriously injured. June 12, 2016 Pulse Nightclub, Orlando, Florida. 49 people killed and 58 others seriously injured. October 2, 2017 I woke up, rolled over, then instinctually checked my phone, my eyes barely adjusted to the light. The screen revealed to me that it was 6:57 a.m., I had four unopened messages in the group chat, three snapchats, and one CNN notification. Before instantly swiping to open the texts from my friends, I glanced at the message from CNN. â€œAt least 58 people were killed and more than 500 were hurt Sunday night when a gunman rained gunfire on concert goers at the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada, the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history. Name of the gunman has not yet been disclosed.â€? I continued reading the article, scrolling through horrific detail after horrific detail. Taking a deep breath in, I turned off my phone and began getting ready for school. November 5, 2017 First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. 26 people killed and 20 others seriously injured.
February 15, 2018 My friend Allie lay next to me in the large hotel bed. We both scrolled through our iPhones, the blue light illuminating our cheeks and noses. “You know a lot of my friends knew some of the people who died. My old school was really close to Parkland,” said Allie. I, too, was looking through posts about the recent shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School. The death toll was now 17. “Jesus, that’s crazy. How’d they know them?” I asked. “One of them was a swimmer…look, this is him.” We both looked at the image of a smiling blond boy. “Wait…oh my god. I know this kid...Oh my god.” His name was Nicholas Dworet, seventeen years old—the same age as me. He had just committed to Indianapolis University for swimming, and on an Instagram post from a few days before, he said that he “couldn’t wait to continue his journey there for the next four years!” We sat in silence. I felt nauseous. In that moment, I finally realized it could have been us. I saw myself in him, I too a blonde swimmer, getting ready to go to college. It could just as easily have been me in that school, or my brother, or Allie, or anyone else I knew. Allie started quietly weeping, and I hugged her, not knowing what else to do. “I didn’t really know him, I shouldn’t be this sad, I don’t know why I am,” she whispered, her eyes red with salty tears. “It’s fine to be sad, this is horrific. It’s just so unfair,” I replied, looking up at the ceiling. A few minutes passed and we turned out the light. The bed softly shook with Allie’s sobs that she attempted to hide in her pillow. March 7, 2018 Huffman High School, Birmingham, Alabama. 1 person killed, 2 others seriously injured.
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March 20, 2018 Great Mills High School, Great Mills, Maryland. 2 people killed, 1 other seriously injured.
Another College Essay Anjali Khanna
I sat at the dinner table, staring at my phone. It was exactly 8:00 p.m. Across the table, my mom was watching me, anxiously waiting for me to relay whatever was on the email to her. “I got in,” I said, with a hesitant smile beginning to form. I was happy, but only because I had been accepted; it was the happiness that came along with any form of validation. There was no relief, no weight lifted off my shoulders. I was just going to college. “Oh my God!” she yelled, “That is so exciting! Congrats! It will be the perfect place for you! I knew you would get in! I didn’t sleep at all last night for no reason!” It felt good to know that she believed in me so much that she couldn’t sleep at all. That’s real confidence. “Congrats,” my cousin said, as he adjusted his beanie and brushed his fingers through the little tuft of hair not covered by it. His monotone voice expressed no emotion, and I couldn’t tell if he was actually happy for me or just felt like that was the right thing to say. His voice matches his whole “intellectual” vibe that really just comes across as Eurotrash when you get to know him. “Congrats,” my sister followed, also with no emotion, but that was because we were mad at each other. That angsty mood is usual from her around dinner time, and will either feed on itself until she leaves the dinner table and runs to her room, or will fade away once she eats some food. “What does the email say?” my mom asked as I turned my
phone off and flipped it over on the table. “I don’t know,” I responded. “I stopped reading after I read ‘You’re invited.’” I knew nothing that followed was important, and I was sick of college emails. “Oh come on,” my mom urged, obviously annoyed. “Let me read it.” I handed her my phone and finished my dinner. Then I went to my room to do some of my homework, which I later realized I shouldn’t care about anymore. But after all this time of doing homework and studying, it’s hard to give up on it so fast. After finishing most of my work for the rest of the week, I called a friend. She didn’t pick up. Then I called another friend. He knew I was finding out about college that night and was scared to ask about it when he picked up the phone. I told him I got in, and he yelled so loudly I had to move my phone away from my ear. The acceptance just didn’t and still doesn’t seem that exciting to me. However, I did appreciate how happy he was for me. I told a couple other friends, but not many. Still, word gets around fast and people I rarely spoke to were congratulating me. It all sounded so fake. It seemed like they were happy because they knew where I was going and could compare me to themselves and their friends. I can’t help but wonder if it was all worth it. I wasted most of my winter break writing college essays. I brought my computer into fancy restaurants so I could keep writing. I wrote in the car while we drove through the beautiful countryside of Switzerland and Germany. While everyone in my family was looking out the window at the magnificent landscape, I was asking for synonyms of words I had written so many times they lost their meaning. I showed my parents my essays on Christmas Eve, right before we left for one of the oldest churches in Germany. My dad took my computer, sat on his bed and began to read. He tore apart every sentence, saying words like “hopefully” and “will try” need to be cut for more assertive words to show I am exactly what they
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are looking for in their student body. Eventually the essays resembled nothing about who I am or what I believe in, but became as generic as the response they send when you get accepted or rejected. At least the essay is practically the same for every college. You can just switch out the name of the school, and the beautiful campus, award-winning professors, high-caliber resources, and amazing alumni all around the world will still ring true. To add some excitement, I resorted to writing ridiculous things like in my effort to save the planet from the years of poor treatment I shower once every other week and flush the toilet only when necessary. Of course, that gets edited out. I have done most things for college since ninth grade. While I have pretended that most of it wasn’t and that I really, truly am interested in US history, what I was actually interested in was the AP that came in front it. I hate history, I always have. I spent summers thinking about how good whatever program I was at would look on my application. I begged friends to let me take over their clubs when they left and then ran those clubs into the ground. Even the small things I did, like the one time I volunteered at a dog shelter, were exploited for college. I think I am the only person I know that isn’t excited for college. Most seniors are always sporting some form of college apparel, or exclaiming how “excited for the next four” they are. And if you didn’t post your decision on some form of social media, did you even really get in? I guess it’s good they are excited. It is their future. Maybe they are ready to grow up. My apathy is not because I don’t want to leave, I am most definitely ready to leave. And it’s not that I don’t like where I am going. But leaving high school means life is continuing, and I am getting older. Of course, I knew that was going to happen—it’s a fact of life—but I haven’t accomplished anything. I’m eighteen and there are fifteen-year-olds winning Olympic gold medals while I am finishing seven seasons of
a Netflix show in two weeks. And after college, I have to get a job and be a part of the “real world.” The “real world” is hard, or so I’ve been told. I think I want to stay in school for a while. I might go to law school, or medical school, or business school, or somewhere that pushes getting a job back a little further. It’s not that I love school, or want to be a lawyer, doctor, or businessperson. I have no idea what I want to do, I just don’t want life to keep moving. And maybe while I am in one of those schools, I will find a husband and he will just happen to be very rich and then I will never need a job. That would be a dream come true. I’ll be sitting in a fancy restaurant in some affluent neighborhood in Malibu or Paris, gossiping with fake friends about moms that were late to pick their kids up from school, and how hard it is to manage seven houses around the world because I have nothing better to do. “Sorry Poppy, got to run. Bronwyn needs to be picked up from tennis, and then Arabella needs to be dropped at cotillion practice.” And then I go home and ask my chauffeur to take care of Bronwyn and Arabella. I’m not excited because what I’m doing is nothing new or exciting. My parents never thought for a minute that I wouldn’t go to college. They just didn’t know where. I’m sure my dad wanted me to go to an Ivy League so he could tell his whole family in India that his daughter is going to an Ivy, but he is just going to have to get over it. My mom wanted me to go to her alma mater, Bryn Mawr. I don’t know how many times I told her I didn’t want to go there or how many times she told me I should consider it. My mom wanted me to apply so bad she even said I could use my sister’s supplemental essay. It took me telling her I’d rather go to any of the other seventeen schools I applied to than Bryn Mawr to finally get her to stop asking me to “just think about it.” And then I felt bad for saying that and started writing another college essay because at that point, what is one more? So, I considered it, like I considered every other school that was mentioned in
a n o t h e r c o l l e g e e s s ay
my presence. Eventually, they all started to look the same. I canâ€™t tell the difference between most of the schools I applied to. Their libraries are almost exactly the same, they all have a beautiful green quad that is filled with students when it is warm. At least half of them have a building that looks like it could be from Harry Potter, and the tour guide will be sure to mention that. I honestly canâ€™t even picture the school I am going to. Iâ€™m sure it is beautiful, but all that comes to mind is the Pomona campus. Or was that Duke?
“Let the Rains Come In” Sophie Cohen
—The Suitcase Junket
The deep sapphire velvet of the couch caresses my tender thighs. The light from the fireplace next to the couch covers the white carpet in a dark auburn film. It hisses and crackles. The couch sits in front of the windows that take up the entire wall. I look out. The world is entirely gray. The clouds have melted into each other, and the sky has taken on the reflection of the earth below it, a lifeless, endless land. My house feels like a bomb shelter; I cannot see across the river outside. I do not see the flaming lights of the adjacent river towns, I do not hear the roar of the steam engines, and I do not feel the rumble of the highways so deeply embedded in my chest. The sky mutes everything, everyone. The only noises I hear, the only noises my body lets me hear, are the sputters of the fireplace and the sound of you, the rain. You have a particular noise, and it varies, depending on your mood. Today, it’s a rumbling hum. Your droplets tap on the window only centimeters away from my face; your fingertips try to escape the world outside. “Let me in,” you whisper. I’ve learned to appreciate your growls, your thunders, and your darkness. I’ve learned to appreciate you because you do such good for me. You teach me to think. As I sit on the blue velvet, my thoughts diffuse out of my nostrils, out of my window, and float next to your droplets, but against your grain, straight up to the clouds. My mind sits high where I can see all aspects of my life, of my past, my present, and
future, and I think. I sit on the edge of the clouds with you and watch everything unfold. I think about losing a dear childhood friend when I was a kid; I think about what my new life will be like away from home, away from this blue couch, but then my thoughts drift right back there to it. On the blue couch I sit, and I think about thinking. You comfort me like a warm friend. You wrap your arm around my shoulder and let me spill my mind into your lap, where I lie exposed and vulnerable. You bring me back to when I was sitting on the front stone porch of my family’s summer home in the south of France, basking in the midday sunshine. In this town, the cobblestone streets housed quiet old ladies who shopped at a very limited number of stores and swung open the cracked, white window shutters of their homes. This house in particular, centuries old, sat at the end of a long dirt road about a mile from town. The road was lined on either side by towering trees with bright green leaves of shades unnamed, which molded themselves into a tunnel. There, I sat on the porch, with a field of endless, shimmering grass in front of me. I felt the sun seep through the pores on my cheeks, filling me with light. I shut my eyes for a moment and felt the heat against the backs of my eyelids while I watched the color change from black to a deep, blood orange. I remembered a moment then; the same heat that seeped through my skin brought me back to a sweet summer night at my grandfather’s house as a child with apple juice and buttery toast. I thought about swimming in the deep end of his pool for the first time with my new flippers, then hopping out of the pool to run to my father who held a towel stretched across his arms’ wingspan, waiting to envelop me and dry me off in a warm hug. I opened my eyes back to reality to look at the trees planted on either side of the house. Their vines snaked down the length of the house, rooting themselves in the wrinkles of the stone. As my eyes traced their lines, I wondered how old
the rains come in”
the house was. I wondered if I would ever bring my children back here every other summer the way my parents brought me. I wondered if I would give them flippers to swim with so they could feel like the mystical deep-sea creatures that I felt like as a child. I imagined giving my own children, who looked like altered versions of myself, warm hugs after a night swim. I thought what I would look like then, as wrinkled as the stone I stared at. The leaves fluttered intermittently as the wind decided to blow. They flickered visions of greens and yellows, and the branches were painted with a warm honey brown. The skin on my forearm heated, and the hairs reflected the precious light. My arm, warm on top but shadowed and sweaty on the underside, stuck itself to the red and white plastic checkered tablecloth underneath it. I lifted it up to notice the perspiration of my skin, now left in miniscule droplets on the plastic. The wetness, something so strikingly different from the sensations covering the rest of my entirety, made me crave a drink of cold water. As my mind began to recollect itself, peeling its remnants off of the grass, the vines and the leaves, and my legs began to lift my body from the wooden chair to bring me back inside to continue work, to mend a tattered relationship, to deal with problems that have done nothing but clutter my mind, you arrived. I felt you slowly, on the top of my head, on the edge of my collarbones, and atop the hairs on my arms. Your droplets fell lightly, hesitantly. The light continued to glow. And then I felt you all at once. You soaked your way through my hair and in between the threads of my shirt. I focused on nothing but the sensations of you. Then, I watched my mother run past me into the house with a pool towel draped over her head. She shot me a look of confusion as to why I was outside in the rain. I smiled back. Don’t be scared mom, I thought. I focused on the way your drops ran down the center of my face, the bridge of my nose, and off the tip of my tongue, supplying me with the cold water that I so longed for.
❖ You used to terrify me. I’ve watched you take on many forms, many personalities. Another night, when I was young, I remember you particularly sharply. My father sat poised in the driver’s seat of our car, hands grasped on ten and two. His shoulders tensed with every word my mother muttered under her breath over some argument. My brother sat quietly next to me, with hands intertwined nervously. The tension between my parents grew so thick in the air, I could barely move my body. God forbid I sneezed, God forbid I coughed, God forbid I attracted the slightest attention towards my little being. I was prodded by the sharp tone of my father and dizzied by the incessant criticisms of my mother. I wanted to scream. My brother’s eyes were locked outside of the car window as the street flew by. I looked out of my side as well. The sky took on a bitter twilight; the dark street below our car slickened with your skin. Here, I saw you, in all your glory, turning once dry, abrasive asphalt into a freshly developed photograph. You knocked wildly along the front windshield in an effort to overshadow the sharpness and dizziness with your own reverberations. The streetlights reflected off your skin like stars melted into the fabric of the universe. You roared louder. The windshield wipers thrashed. His tone sharpened and her string of words threaded through my ear, into my body, wrapped themselves tightly around my organs, and made their way out the other ear. He howled. She wailed. I bubbled. And suddenly, you took over. The car slid aggressively to the right. My father’s hands clutched onto nine and three to grasp the little control he had left. The tires of the car screamed, the tension finally suffocated us all, but before we released cries of our own, the car stopped sliding and continued on its original path. I heard nothing. I heard not the howling of my father; I heard not the wailing of my mother. I heard only you. You
the rains come in”
could have killed me. But thank you, thank you, for the peace and quiet. With you, I am in the present. My mind may travel far. I may long for an unknown love, I may reminisce sharp moments I wish to alter. I may relive a saccharine childhood summer, I may imagine the faces of my children I’ll have once I am grown, but because of you, I always come back. In the car my parents’ thoughts boiled over as they argued over the past, and my anxiety of an everlasting argument increased, but eventually, we were all reeled back and hushed by you. On the stone porch, my mind drifted with the wind, and my past and future tangoed wildly with the leaves. But once you showed, once you enveloped me in your noise, in your touch, in your breath, I was present. But now, sitting here listening to you, you let me spill myself into you. You let my mind run up to you, but always manage to bring me back down. Being brought back down to the present lets my mind clear, my thoughts quiet, and my self-awareness grow. I can absorb my surroundings and embrace the now. Here, on this couch, I can think of my past, I can think of my future, but I am always returned to myself, to my skin, and to my own being. Thanks, to you.
In Your Hands I am Mine Campbell Ives
When I was kid, I would cover up my eyes whenever there was a kissing scene in a movie. Gross, I thought. I squirmed in the face of something so slippery and adult. I grew up collecting puzzle pieces of information about love. I knew it had something to do with my parents, with tons of candy on February 14th, with movies, plays and books. Love had something to do with flowers and babies and kissing—gross. In the third grade my first crushes began to flicker between several blond-headed boys swinging on the jungle gyms. Some had buzz-cuts, some had shaggy hair that hit their shoulders. I dressed exactly like all of them at that point and played soccer with them at recess. I remember kissing one of them on a dare at my birthday party. He had almond eyes and shaggy hair. After our half-second kiss, we both ran to the sink to wash our mouths out with soap, horrified by what we couldn’t understand. My first relationship lasted longer than any other one I’ve had. It started the way most middle school romances did— through text message. Do you wanna be my girlfriend? It was the summer after fifth grade and I could not have been happier to read those words. He was a smiley dirty blond whose mannerisms closely resembled those of a golden retriever. The petrifying pressures of actual interaction proved to be too much for us, so we savored the safety behind a screen: Good morning beautiful, wats up? <3
The heart emoticon—it created such an instant stirring in me. Something like butterfly wings tapping against my organs. Was I beautiful? We brushed elbows a couple times at the lunch table. He pressed a poem in my palm and tied a red and orange string bracelet around my wrist. We kissed for the first time at the top of the stairwell. I wouldn’t really call it a kiss though; I was so nervous that all I could do was stand there, frozen. It was more of a lip high-five. I read that poem, scrawled in red ink, a hundred times, savored the crinkle of the paper in my fingers, so different from the usual tapping of my thumbs on a keypad. We went about growing up together, getting pimples, still texting as our main method of communication. Our friends’ relationships began and ended in a week. But us, we were the exception; we were real. Finally! I had meshed the puzzle pieces together. I had outgrown my childish disgust. Maturity felt good. As a year went by, I clung to my fragile image of love as if my life depended on it. My butterflies, which I once held inside with a quiet pride, started to fill my cheeks with a deep blush of shame. He broke my seventhgrade heart when he told me it was over at a Bar Mitzvah. But what I cried most about was how I let him do it. How I assumed some role I must have picked up from the girls and women in the movies—one where I was disposable, powerless. Moving on took longer than I liked to admit. The spoils of our epic love story, including the bracelets and poems, collected dust in a shoebox in my closet. I looked to high school with a strange faith that I would find love there. Real love, not whatever I had before. Despite my noble goals and best efforts, I spent the majority of my first three years entirely single. Then ensued the long list of boys I longed for silently. I longed for a boy who occasionally wore a shoelace as a belt. I liked him because someone told me he wrote poems on the back of receipts. I still don’t understand him and I doubt I ever will. I longed for a Spanish
in your hands i am mine
exchange student, attending school for only a year. I will never forget the last time I saw him because I knew it was going to be the last time I saw him. It was a moment filled with potential energy and I had nothing to lose; I could have kissed him and Iâ€™ll always regret that I didnâ€™t. I longed for a boy that I went to preschool with. I wanted to understand him. Figure out what made him so good inside, so good that it radiated out in a quiet, beautiful way. I watched my friends date each other and wondered what I was doing wrong. Am I pretty enough? Why did I just say that? I spent a lot of time with myself, lovesickness a frequent visitor. I would stare at the tiny green blinking light on my fire alarm as I tried to go to bed at night, the same questions jogging through my brain. Who would he be? When would it happen? What would it feel like? I soon found the answers. It was mid-March, junior year. I sat at a large table with a group of friends playing a card game. I pushed my notebook toward a skinny boy with small dreadlocks that poured over his forehead. He scribbled something down on paper and shot me a smirk. I felt my whole body glow as I peered at the page with my abandoned doodles and the words in a messy print reading, You distract me in health class. I leaned back in my chair holding my notebook. This was the perfect time for a witty, flirty comeback, something I had never uttered in regular conversation. I weighed the options in my head for a good while, before scribbling my response, When you show up He laughed as he read it. His face cracked into a huge smile, and I twisted in my seat, giddy and glowing. A couple days later our elbows brushed, then our shoulders and fingers.
And soon I poured my mind into his. I could talk to him so easily it scared me; we only texted to find times to meet or call. I flinched when he told me that, come fall, he would leave the country for an entire year abroad. No visits, just eleven months of cultural immersion. The vicious flames of high school gossip began to lick at me. My love life, once wildly irrelevant , was now everyone’s concern. You should be careful with that boy. I just don’t want you to get hurt. Such hollow attempts at kindness. He skipped math class to ask me if this was really what I wanted. He assured me that he wouldn’t blame me if I felt like it was all too much. It was an easy choice. I knew it was wholly imbecilic to feel nothing for the sake of self-protection when I could feel everything. Taste the sweet rush of vulnerability. I wanted to know everything about him, know him like I know myself, and exhaust the English language in the process. I held his hand and we hurled ourselves into free-fall without a second thought—ignoring the concrete below us for as long as we could. We kissed for the first time while resting on a pile of dried leaves. “Can I kiss you?” he whispered. He is the only boy who has ever said that to me. I didn’t expect him to, so I scrunched up my face in confusion. But my nerves didn’t paralyze me this time. I kissed him back and floated all the way home. We fell in love the way winter falls into spring. The scent of melting snow filled our nostrils; quivering branches felt the fuzzy green of first growth. I would wait on my front porch for him to come back from school, shivering in my sweatshirt because it was just warm enough to go without a coat and the sun looked much warmer than it actually was. My normal distracted tendencies worsened intensely; I tried to read while I sat on the concrete steps but I couldn’t get through a single sentence without checking to see if he was walking towards me, where the trees parted and gave way to the winding suburban road. We buzzed with the compulsion of magnets. When can I be with him? The answer was
in your hands i am mine
whenever physically possible. The next five months were filled with the textures of love: dragonfly wings, prom corsage and boutonniere, poems scribbled on notebook paper, two closets becoming one, the birthmark under his left eye, memorizing the drive to his house, so much iced coffee, car windows collecting steam. One night we held each other on my back porch, a late night reunion after two weeks apart. Then I whispered, “Can you hear that?” We listened to the mist of gentle music creeping out of the woods. It sounded like the tones of wooden pipes. There was no explanation for it, we just marveled at our luck. I remember trying to memorize his face the last time I saw it. Not just the angle of his chin, but the feeling of his lips on mine. His eyes. Those eyes remind me of a night sky but not one polluted with the steam of city fluorescents. One that you see while floating in a lake, deep in some forest where the trees part so you can float and watch the black and the stars as they pour into you. His eyes are like that. Curls of black eyelash surround them. When they meet mine, their nighttime wraps around me and holds me so tight that I can’t help but smile. Can’t help but smile in the face of that bright darkness. Nothing could have prepared me for the pain of his leaving—the sudden impact, the crush of concrete. I had felt everything and now in his absence I breathed emptiness. It was something I had anticipated like death. Accepting the inevitability and the absolute ignorance of what existed on the other side. It felt like death, too. Yet here I am—living. The scent of melting snow fills my nostrils. The sun streaming through the trees looks so warm. Winter falls into spring again, this time without him. A second shoebox sits dusty in my closet. I still stare at the green blinking light of my smoke alarm before I fall asleep. My questions still outnumber my answers. Right now I am my own, the future yawning wide before me. I am so terribly alive.
In your arms I understand all at once My life has been building me up to us In your hands I am mine, you take me to myself The tenses I knew now they bring me to you â€œSaltâ€? by Lady Lamb
Contributors Oliver Campbell is from Westchester, New York. He is foremost a photographer and will be attending Parsons in the fall. He can usually be found in the art studio or on the track. Oliver enjoys grilled cheeses, Britney Spears, and candy. He has found a new love for writing thanks to the sincere and hardworking class of Before 19. Sophie Cohen currently lives in Rockland, New York, though she has called many places around the world her home. When she’s not at school, you can find her being extremely competitive at card games with her friends, driving her red Subaru, or cuddling up with her beagle and rewatching The Office. She looks forward to continuing as many of these passions as she can next year at Bates College in Maine. Owen Gifford-Smith was raised on a summer camp in New York. There he stumbled his way into pen and paper, composing his first work of literary genius: a poem entitled “Anger, Hate, Sadness” about the death of his beloved pet gecko. Since then his artistic style has varied somewhat to include one poorly written novel, a large collection of essays, and a few award-winning
plays. Next year he will be studying at Northwestern University, where he hopes to write for television and discover the meaning of life. Campbell Ives currently lives in the Hudson River Valley with her parents, two overfed goats, and her corgi, Leila. She enjoys long drives in her Toyota Highlander, composting dining hall food, and dancing. She looks forward to attending Barnard College but worries about where she will fit her large collection of Andy Warhol soup can memorabilia. Olivia Johnke currently resides in Rockland, New York, but hopes to move to New York City after college for a more exciting scene. When sheâ€™s not writing for Before 19, she is making a mess of her bedroom producing fine art. Olivia never leaves the house without a pen and sketchbook in hand, always ready to document fleeting moments through illustrations. Next year she will continue her artistic career at Rhode Island School of Design, where she hopes to find an education that will pair her passion for design and social activism. Isaac Kelly lives in Westchester County and enjoys camping.
Anjali Khanna is not excited to start college next year. She aspires to be a crazy cat lady and is well on her way with her obsession with her cat, Boba. Her other pets are Coco, an adorable chocolate lab; Raja, a friendly yellow lab; Hugo, an obnoxious saint bernard; another cat named Zeus; and three crazy alpacas named Rootbeer, Elsa, and Goldilocks. Her dream job depends on whatever TV show she is currently watching. June Kitahara can always be found with a planner, a phone, and a Hydro Flask in hand. If she is not spilling her life story onto paper in Before 19 or standing at the podium during Morning Meeting, you can find her dancing on the quad, wearing flared pants, or doing a weekâ€™s worth of homework in advance. June is very excited to understand the true meaning of womanhood at Barnard College, where she will continue her love of activism, psychoanalyzing people, and running around New York City. Alex Limpe was born in Manhattan but now resides in a small town in Connecticut. She is an avid tennis player, practicing five times a week. She loves hanging out with friends, her parents, and her two dogs, Marley and Belle. Alex will be attending Lafayette College in the fall, where she plans to major in psychology and play on the varsity tennis team.
Miranda Luiz enjoys writing poetry, studying physics, and jamming with her friends in her free time. She will be attending Brown University in the fall.
Carly Matsui was born and raised in Seattle, Washington. For middle school and early high school she attended a boarding school in Canada. Carly came to Masters as a sophomore, involving herself in the arts. You can always find her capturing beautiful moments with her analog camera. Next year she will be attending New York University at the Gallatin School where she hopes to develop a curriculum to foster all her passions. Charlotte Peterson has moved around quite a lot in her eighteen years alive, spending time in the suburbias of Rhode Island, Southern California, New Jersey, and currently, New York. When sheâ€™s not writing essays for Before 19, she can be found swimming in the pool, singing in an a capella group, procrastinating doing her homework, giving a campus tour of Masters, or drinking absurd amounts of coffee. Next year she will be attending Hobart and William Smith Colleges where she hopes to maybe figure out what she wants to do with her life.
Acknowledgments The writers of Before 19 would like to express their sincerest gratitude to Raleigh Capozzalo and AP Orlebeke for making this publication, both print and online, a reality. We are extremely thankful for all of the time they dedicated to this project and for allowing our creative visions to come to fruition. We would like to thank The Masters School for providing a resource through which studentsâ€™ essays, experiences, and voices can be heard. We would also like to recognize certain members of the class for their aesthetic contributions to our publication: June, Anjali, and Campbell for their work on the print edition, and Oliver and Sophie for their work on the online edition. Thank you, Oliver, for being our wonderful photographer. Finally, we would like to extend our utmost gratitude to our brilliant editor, advisor, and mentor, Ms. Dumaine. Without your enormous expertise in the genre, astute literary criticisms, and endless drive to motivate and inspire us, this publication would not have been possible. Our two semesters with you have been truly invaluable, and we thank you for instilling in all of us a lifelong passion for writing.
Launched in 2012, Before 19 is a journal written and edited by seniors enrolled in a creative nonfiction class at The Masters School in Dobb...
Published on May 23, 2018
Launched in 2012, Before 19 is a journal written and edited by seniors enrolled in a creative nonfiction class at The Masters School in Dobb...