Notes from the Underground: Maclay Upper School’s Journal of Creative Writing Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Craig Beaven Founder: Dr. N. Suzanne Jamir Issue 10
Editorial Staff Editor in Chief Managing Editor Copy Editors Poetry Editor Assistant Poetry Editor Fiction Editor Nonfiction Editor Art Editor Assistant Genres Editor Publicist Web Designer/Finances
Kate Krizner Eli Mears Isabel McDaniel and Kanene Nwokeji Chloe Harbin Jenna Adams Mercy Crapps Sophia Krizner Geena Whitin Lauren Price Abby Hugill Trevor Gross
Learn more about us at www.thenftu.com
Front and Back Cover Art: The Healing Power of Literature by Geena Whitin
A Note from the Editor The thing about a story is that you dream it as you tell it, hoping that others might then dream along with you, and in this way memory and imagination and language combine to make spirits in the head. There is the illusion of aliveness. - Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried Dear Readers, Do you know who you are? It seems at first like a simple question. You might say, of course I know who I am, then tell me your name. When I ask you to elaborate, you might describe your interests, appearance, or a memory only you know. Freudian psychology tells us that most of who we are lies beneath the water line. We can only truly know the tip of our “iceberg,” and we will never even scrape the surface of that. But what kind of existence would that be? This is why we must write. This is why we must paint and draw. This is why we must create. This is why we must tell our stories because by doing so, we find pieces of ourselves. We stand courageously (ambitiously?) on the ice and swing our pick over and over and over again. Even if we never see a dent, we swing, and we swing, and we swing, and we discover small things about ourselves that make life worth living. It turns out it was never knowing who we are that was needed, it was the relentless digging with the same ferocity in our eyes we had when we were children determined to dig a hole to the other side of the world. Somewhere, deep down, we knew it was impossible, but nonetheless we clawed at the dirt and the sand and the clay with eager hands. It is the searching for ourselves that is as essential to life as breathing. I wanted to begin with a quotation from Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried because it is a novel about the power of storytelling. O’Brien’s characters and O’Brien himself have survived one of the worst possible human experiences: war. O’Brien poses the question of how he can possibly live with himself and cope with what he has seen and had to do. Ultimately, he realizes that his only hope of continuing to live lies in his ability to tell his story. I urge you to consider O’Brien’s philosophy as you carry on in your journey of discovering yourself. It is a noble task to tell your story in whatever way you know how. Your story can save you, and it can save those around you. Look for yourself in the works of these artists, poets, and authors, and find comfort and hope in the sharing of these struggles and joys. Until our next issue, Kate Krizner
Table of Contents Somewhere Between Here and There - Lexie Crumbaker
Supernova - Michael Gier
I am the Venom I Detest - Chloe Harbin
Predisposition - Lindsey Gray
Mania - Abby Hugill
Cheetahs in the Savannah - Sarah Caulley Soto
Itch - Chloe Harbin
2 - Katelyn Eldred
Alice Falls in Love - Lula Robertson
Want to, Want to not Want - Chloe Harbin
pink, blue, purple - Abby Hugill
regret - Isabel McDaniel
Indecisive - Kate Krizner
Ticks - Turner Beshears
en verte - Lula Robertson
make believe - Isabel McDaniel
The Daily Life of an Immortal Prophet - Kanene Nwokeji
Per Noctem - Kate Krizner
3761 Brannen Street - De'Yanni Stephens
For Sale - Lauren Price
The Sound of the Blackbird’s Siren - Sophia Krizner
Ichthus - Geena Whitin
The Dog Isn’t Found - Kanene Nwokeji
The Weighted Blanket - Eli Mears
Career Day - Sophia Krizner
The Cold - Landon Fantle
Notes from the Underground Art Prize Winner most dope - Logan Albritton
0 Days without Incident - Isabel Davis
MPDG - Abby Hugill
Facade - Katherine Gorkov
10+6: It Isn't Right - Peyton Crumpler
unrealistic standards - Wesleigh Hobbs
to be determined - Chloe Harbin
Goodbye Hello - Isabel McDaniel
Grace - Victoria Deutsch
Mud - Eli Paddack
Joy - Geena Whitin
Notes from the Underground Poetry Prize Winner The Blood of a Chamelon - Heaven Ward
Notes from the Underground Nonfiction Prize Winner Thahn Thuy - Maddy Meeker
Visas - Teresa Morgado
Gemini - Mary Clayton Soto
Judas - Rhys Berk
Roosters - Geena Whitin
Soliloquy - Collin Roberts
Pride of the Savannah - Sarah Caulley Soto
Garden - Len Thomas
Notes from the Underground Fiction Prize Winner Brown Eyes - Anne Mason Roberts
Uncertain - Katherine Gorkov
444 - Danielle Collins
Homeward - Collin Roberts
Escapism and Energy - Eli Mears
Breathe - Amelia Haggins
The Other Side - Kanene Nwokeji
The birds work for the bourgeoise - Kanene Nwokeji
Oranges - Lenia Charitonos
Under the Orange Blossom Trees - Mercy Crapps
On and on about the Earth’s trembling - Jenna Adams
Time - Emily Hawken
Time - Isabel Davis
Uncle _____ - Kanene Nwokeji
no more - Julia Dawes
Wrinkled - Sophia Krizner
Everything Miust Come to an End - Lin Newton
Reflection - Emily Macri
Mirrors - Madeline Lillie
At the Intersection of Fourth and Cedar - Chloe Harbin Machine - Victoria Deutsch
Jason - Giada Price
Sonder - Julia Dawes
My Time - Mercy Crapps
i wrote you a letter - Abby Hugill
Sisterly Portait - Gabriela Martinez
SOMEWHERE BETWEEN HERE AND THERE LEXIE CRUMBAKER
my brain is collapsing in on itself thoughts inside doubts on top of hopes and the chaos is swirling and there’s colors everywhere and i think i’m in love and i think i’m a n arci ssistic manipulative pers on and the stars are swimming but my shutters are still open so all i see are solid strea ms of light and that’s when it hits me that maybe we can all learn something from the stars but i forgot what the lesson was i forgot the le sson what did i learn what have i done what am i doing why won’t it stop w hy won’t it stop why won’t
i’m normal again. empty. colorblind. cold.
this is better i think. this is better. 7
I AM THE VENOM I DETEST
when you die i’ll spit on your grave he’s not coming back he laughed and never tried he didn’t even think no he didn’t find you the time you weren’t worth it to say goodbye to because all he wanted was to leave and what about mine? ctrl alt delete all the venom in your chest it spread to mine i can never blame you he’s not coming back he doesn’t want to he didn’t even try to stay he’s probably 6 feet under laughing at you and pointing at your failure because all he wanted was to leave don’t worry. the mere thought of me is enough to disrupt your eternal rest ctrl alt delete 8
i find a piece of you and it spreads like venom and i detest you a pattern of my own mind your fault your venom now mine all mine all mine all mine when you die will you remember me?
i never thought i would forget you but i thought that if i stopped talking for just one day you’d forget about my existence because i never assumed my life was permanent to anyone else especially you ctrl alt delete and why would i remember you?
the venom it’s mine now it’s all my fault i am my own venom i am the venom in you and i detest you are the venom in me and it’s mine and i detest it
PREDISPOSITION LINDSEY GRAY 10
all night destruction, i don’t think of it as that. to me, it is only Exhilaration. Movement. of thoughts. & feelings. & inspiration. all night destruction, not how i see it. destruction is a Misnomer. Alias. Pseudonym. of action. & confidence. & creativity.
more like a blessing
of success. time is just a concept. one which, in these moments, falls away. with it so do basic needs. Forgotten. yet, i wouldn’t call it destruction. No, destruction is that which follows. after the motivation to carry on with the actions falls away. yet, destruction is that which follows. almost routinely. it comes. stopping is not an option. only the focus on the immediate. Between non-destruction & destruction 12
is limbo. & realistic confusion. nothingness. (is it better? feeling too much? Or nothing at all)
CHEETAHS IN THE SAVANNAH SARAH CAULLEY SOTO 14
every hour a new question is posed as to why we restrain our impulses like the urge to scream to feel the chords in my throat quiver and break and i study it as porcelain toppling over just to shatter on the floor to know how the sour notes punch my ears and to slap myself in the face just to make sure i can still clutch onto something screeching for no one it’s the type of itch so incredibly unpleasant that you’d die just to feel it all over again the scratching of chord against chord your brain shouting at you to shut it all up to quiet down the sounds the song your screams the cosmos all of it there’s no room for anything else i feel so cold as if i might break in half i’m too tired to sleep dragging my eyes down with my finger tips but i can’t sense my hands on my face i can’t feel it differentiation ceases to exist my hand and my face and my voice and the chords shaking and the drums splintering in my brain are all one it all shatters as i itch to feel it one more time 15
i hate the number 2 because of how it mocks me since i was 11 i’ve been pushed to walk on the grass next to the pavement i’ve walked behind pairs with joined hands i’ve sat in the backseat of cars i’ve sat in the backseat of my life alone i’ve been silenced during “friendly" conversations
“well i-” i’d attempt for the first time “well i-” i’d attempt for the second time third times a charm, right? “well i-” no one even glances
my uninterrupted idolization is my biggest fault it’s sustained in hopes that one day it’ll help fill this gap in my heart and this echoing voice playing endlessly through my head 16
constantly telling me i could never be enough
i want to be liked i want to be loved i want to be seen i want to be heard i want everyone to stop leaving
please don’t leave me i want to mean the world to someone but that’s not realistic for a 2nd choice
ALICE FALLS IN LOVE LULA ROBERTSON
WANT TO, WANT TO NOT WANT
the young girl stands in a sea of concrete she wants to “i love you” she wants to not want to not the right way hear those words the sand on the ground blows through her brain and her thoughts like t.v. static she wants to not want anymore perplexed how some manage to hold all the aces generically correlated to earthenware handled as a pawn “but i really do love you” the fabrication of devotion is the most agonizing, but only to the one that’s several cards short she wants to want to not want to
understand what it truly means to feel the warmth of being cherished and witness the elation unfold on someone’s face as they talk to her “just remember that i love you” never bearing certitude but not enough and what about that, too
PINK, BLUE, PURPLE
acceptance is an odd word, meaning receiving something as adequate, as suitable, (as even good) but acceptance isn’t absolute. one thing can be acceptable in someone’s mind, and in theory, but not in practice. accepting an aspect of yourself is wildly easier in theory. right now, my preferences are something, that I can accept, but preferences fluctuate with time. I can think I’ll be able to accept the change, but when it happens, I often can’t. preferences change with time and moment and person. unwanted thoughts and overwhelming feelings that inflame the mind. in theory I accepted this, but in actuality, now, in this moment, I can’t. 21
I can’t even know for sure if the feelings are possible to act on, given the uncertainty and confusion of the others unclear preferences.
(I wonder if they question their self-acceptance)
I know preferences fluctuate, but it doesn’t negate, it’s easier to admit, to accept, normative feelings.
how does one live life without regret? every choice leaves a path unfollowed, a trail not taken, a road undriven, a version of myself i shall never meet. who is she? does she have the same friends? same grades? same dreams? does she still love him? (i do.) has she found someone to love her the way she loves them? who are they? do they respect her ideas? her words?
her refusal? (he didn’t.)
it does not matter, i suppose, since i will never know her, but i would like to think she has found something more than i and if she has, where did i go wrong? did i take the wrong route to the beach? wear the wrong dress to dinner? pick the wrong boy to love? (i did.) maybe there is a world where i have no regrets where i know i did everything right and i don’t overthink every word, action, moment, choice not this world, this will not be a life without regret i will always regret him, if nothing else. 23
My empty head is resting in my bloody hands. My mind is not inhabiting it rather it is transported to a twisted trolley problem with infinite tracks, with infinite people tied to them, with infinite switches rather mathematically infinite, but philosophically eternal, a practical forever in all directions but all the people are me, and it's my shaking hand resting on every switch. It’s a massacre in there, and there is blood on my hands rather a haunting reminder that even if I make the “right” choice I must live with myself for choosing at all. It could have been better the other way. My shaking, bloody finger rests on the trigger, and I must choose which version of myself to slaughter and which to possess rather there is blood on my hands, and I am falling apart poetically of course. 24
I see them everywhere On my cheeks in the morning, On my school desk in the afternoon, Even on my dinner plate in the nighttime. They follow me everywhere. Their 8 legs always carry their tawny, seed shaped bodies Back to me. I can’t evade them, So I catch a few To show my mother.
“We must have a problem with the house. You should call an exterminator.”
But she doesn’t call an exterminator. Instead She calls a 5'4", blonde woman, Who’s soft and generous, Offering me candy out of her crystal bowl On her desk, In her office That has a sign Out front saying: Licensed Mental Health Counselor For Troubled Teens Because a bag Full of ticks To me Is nothing but empty To my mother And apparently the rest of the world. 25
EN VERTE LULA ROBERTSON
make believe is what they call it it is fantasy, made up, not real not real? says who? to me, it is real they are real to me, in my mind, the worlds i create are as tangible as the air we breathe characters given life, given a voice, given a chance to exist as more than a name a “coping mechanism” it has been called “maladaptive daydreaming” not a dream, a reality “escapism” yes. what is wrong with needing an escape? this world is exhausting, tiresome, draining we should all take breaks more often i am happy away from “reality” my world is kinder than yours my made up characters are more honest than your fake friends make believe why must i make you believe? i believe, is that not enough? 27
THE DAILY LIFE OF THE IMMORTAL PROPHET KANENE NWOKEJI
She sighs deeply and places her notepad on the glass table between us. I’ve
been watching a squirrel attack a bird feeder through the reflection on that table for the entire hour. A large window looms immediately to my right, and if I look at the table, then it’s not too obvious I’ve been watching a squirrel in the window instead of listening. The feeder was put there so patients can watch nature and feel their stress melt away, but none of the birds want to challenge a squirrel. I knew this would happen.
Maybe she wrote down in the pad under my name and the date: Patient
is not interested in therapy today. Patient has been largely unresponsive to sessions and medication. It might be time to take extra measures. You try to share your gift with the world, and all of a sudden your butt is hurting from a tough couch in a cold, dark room and Dr. Minerva Miller, PsyD, is sitting across from you and placing her notepad on a glass table with a deep sigh. It’s not my fault my dreams predict the future.
“Minerva, the hour’s up. Ca-”
“Dr. Miller, the hour is up now. I want to be home before my dad drops
the green pan on his foot while cooking the dinner pasta.”
“I’m sure it will be okay.”
“I know it will be, but I’d still like to be at home before then.” I just want to
see it a second time, Minerva. It was humorous.
“Do you think that perhaps you only want to be home because you des-
perately want to prove yourself correct? And if you’re not correct about the green pan and your dad’s foot and the pasta dinner, you’ll scratch these events from the screenplay of your brain and go on believing that your dreams predict the future?” 28
“Right now, your cat Julian is tearing up the violet cashmere sweater that
Melinda got you for your birthday.”
The receptionist rings me up with a kind, white smile. She must have had
braces growing up. About the sweater, I knew Minerva’s cat’s name is Julian, and I knew her mother is named Melinda, so I just made something up. After rushing home, she’s probably opening her front door right now, extra confident that I’m not a true clairvoyant. I can picture it. Whatever, I wanted to leave, and that ploy worked.
The key slides into the lock and my front door clicks open. I watch calmly
from the doorway as my father drops the hot green pan on his foot and splatters pasta sauce across the cupboards that house the Tupperware. I’ve seen it before.
You’ve seen her at some point in your life. Perhaps you were running an errand or in the car next to hers at a red light. You forget about her for a while, until she reappears in one of your haunting night visions. Your conscious mind can forget her, but there’s a ferocity in her eyes that has a firm grip on your soul. Those eyes gaze past her windshield as the moonless, starless night flies past her car window. Her mind is finally at rest as she has solved the problem of the pests. For weeks, aphids ate away at the beautiful garden he planted with her. The plants had nearly survived months of winter, despite all odds, before those tiny villains destroyed the last of them. Only the heroic fire decimated them and avenged the precious garden she kept with him---you’ve seen him too. He made you question everything about yourself - unraveled everything you swore you knew. He could learn exactly how your mind works and precisely what to say to shatter you. And then he would. But she loved him. Her car hits a bump in the road - some tree’s rebellious roots dared to break the pavement. She flinches, glancing at the man who has jolted out of his seat. Catching a glance of her own disfigured eye in the rear view mirror, she shudders. The lid and skin around that feral eye are still a disgraceful shade of blue and ash. “We’re here,” she assures him. With trembling hands, she opens the door and helps him out. Her heels press into the loose dirt, determined with every step as she drags her heavy sin by its shirt collar. This is real. All she has to do is finish it, and everything will be okay again.
The woods are different at night. The same trees that welcomed young explorers by daylight, after sundown, contort, grasping at her, begging to not be left alone with whatever reigns in the dark. She stands over the shallow bed she dug for him when her conscience still fought her instinct over whether she could save herself. Staring at his limp body, her lips turn upwards. He couldn’t hide it now – his mortal form finally matched his hideous soul. “This is safer,” she comforts him, shoveling the final note of loose earth over his crude tomb. For who? She jumps. Something creeps up her arm. “You can’t hurt me anymore. It’s over.” It’s never over. She raises her hand to brush the unsettling feeling from her shoulder, but it speaks again. You can’t leave me. A tiny aphid stares back at her, but his voice still rings in her ear. How could he still mock her even after she eradicated that pest? I’m going to live forever, it taunts. “Wretched imagination!” Her words pierce through that moonless, starless night as her hand delivers the final blow. She knows that it is not him. The word forever had never left his guarded lips. 31
3761 BRANNEN STREET
My mother briskly swept the broken glass off our kitchen floor. Fragments from her fight with my father years ago. I washed our splattered red towels, hoping to return them back to their original state of innocence. We hauled our recliner couch to the dumpster out back. It was terribly stained with the tears from my broken childhood. We plastered the walls with powder blue paint, adding another layer to keep the contents of this house inside of it. My mother even added a vegetable garden out front, as if to show what can flourish in the dead soil we left behind. “SOLD” the sign out front in big red letters. We shut the front door drove away and forced ourselves to not look back.
it never dawned on me that even the vessels of death become weak.
but how do you sell one? 1993 Cadillac Hearse for Sale
also included: the last carrier of
someone's uncle and best friend,
someone's first love and worst heartbreak,
someone's little girl and her 14-month-old smile.
runs well, carries heavy weight,
always on time, but arriving too soon. 33
THE SOUND OF THE BLACKBIRD'S SIREN
no one knows until they do the sound of the blackbird’s siren the call of death the pull of the grave the ominous organ playing the tears of loved ones fill the river hope that there’s enough to ride and reach a promised land not to stop and fall into danger’s path have enough souls been touched? has enough been done? we don’t know
ICHTHUS GEENA WHITIN
THE DOG ISN'T FOUND
There was a blue lost dog poster, swaying In synchrony with the trees By the curb of Dice Road. I tore past it, and the poster danced From the life of the machine. The dog looked out into the world And smiled. The dog was lost. I was late. Daylight spilled through trees Through any means it could. Sadie Dabria Jogged down the sidewalk, Sun spots flowing past her face like in an old Western movie. The sky stooped low, barely able to control a sob, And the poster was mutilated with Howling sorrows. In that chorus line, The dog drowned. The trees grew. The rush carried me home again like driftwood in a ravaging river. The river flowed all day, Steadily past the sign. The whole community sees the poster. What was the dog’s name? what was the Number on the… green sign?
THE WEIGHTED BLANKET
While the noontime hours are dwindling, Spotted where the oak pollen is tucked within, The brimstone and pine rises And the robin crosses the boundless sun. The mistake reverberates Tibia and fibula As the woodchips fly around a pile. They cloud the steer’s vision—copper, empty, and blind. I must be myself; that is all that is. My father would tell me I am lucky to feel so tired, That there were those with nothing left to lose. They had no forearms to swing Their bodies and souls rotting in the bile of a swamp grass ditch.
Did you know you can work from 9 to 5 every day and make less than it costs to eat a frozen meal every night or that paper cuts are more painful on the thumb but last longer on your pinky and inkjet printer paper hurts much worse than laser printer paper and the western water jug has more salt residue than the eastern water jug, but the eastern water jug is ninety four steps away from the receptionist desk while the western is eighty six or that the diameter of an average plastic water bottle is about 2.7 inches which is 0.9 less than that of a FIJI and sharpie brand staplers are the exact same as any generic brand just heavier or that sitting on a yoga ball increases your balance but can absolutely destroy your spine due to the slouched 75 degree posture you must maintain at all times? Did you know that a career is the same as a job except people use career to mean something you plan on doing your whole life- which very few people can say they have careers based on that standard- and no one really likes their jobs they just say this is their life’s work because if they don’t then their job will seem useless to their kids therefore life’s work is really a hypothetical phrase that very few are telling the truth when using but in all honesty it’s one of those things everyone lies about so it’s okay to say which is similar to when someone asks how you're doing and you reply fine, it’s a custom therefore an implied allowed manner to lie in these type of situations, but at the end of the day when take your child to work day arrives you have to hope you have a job interesting enough to bring your kid to because if not the day after your child will be the only lamo in class who had to stay at school with their teacher because their parent’s job wasn’t more interesting than a smelly dusty classroom with sour residue dripping down the walls so when it’s time to write the report on their parents jobs there is nothing to report about except that their mom is doing her life’s work at a place so boring no kid has ever survived? But I bet, I bet, you don’t know that no one is really friends at work although our presence silently encourages one another to not commit suicide through paper cuts which is a bonus to having each other around but not enough to consider us anything more than acquaintances so at the end of a long day you have to hope you marry someone with something interesting enough to add cause if not than you get sucked into thinking about who you wish you were, but aren’t which can be a very entertaining game if you set it up right. So, kids, that’s what it’s like working at the retail offices-- any questions? 38
The cold, repeats in the boy’s head As he trudges through the black snow. It pushes him and pulls him right back As if he wasn’t meant to leave.
Like the victim of a snake’s clutch, he starts to choke But continues simply for the sake of it.
He stares upon a ray of light As his memories disperse. Tears of blood violate him, And he knows He can never return.
Once he starts to leave, The boy thinks to himself, if only… I hadn’t been led astray.
MOST DOPE LOGAN ALBRITTON
0 DAYS WITHOUT INCIDENT
Five holes in the wall, one whiskey bottle half-full, two crimson bruises on her face, three broken plates, four stitches, and 0 Days Without Incident. I stare at the bottle, The amber liquid inside pierces me with fire. It’s taunting, Cheshire smile unnerves me, But here I sit, staring right back at it, Hoping it doesn't take me too. Sitting next to me is one of its victims Their once compassionate disposition, Ripped away to reveal an angry interior, Full of spite And venom And hurt. In my feeble hand, I hold a crystalline glass. My fingers tapping its surface in vain Attempting to calm my frayed nerves. I can feel its gaze boring into the side of my head, Its flinty, gray eyes challenging me to turn, But I don't. We both know what would follow: 0 Days Without Incident 41
this is how we walked: with a culmination of others’ wants imbedded in our personality, written by men, for our only goal to further their lives a vision to help a boy develop some new outlook on life. this is how we loved: needing fixing though no internal goals, just hopes and success for attention. we love through providing a glimmer of artistic inspiration, ourselves ambiguously beautiful. this is how we thought: we didn’t, not in the typical sense, we only knew know this boy, and people never questioned further. this is how we left: apathetic to serious commitment, unlike most girls, their view on relationships, disposable, yet, providing a means to an end; nonchalance, mystery, sweeping in and rattling a previously drab life. this is what we are: not meant to save, or be a fantastical daydream. La gloriosa donna della mia mente
FACADE KATHERINE GORKOV
10+6: IT ISN'T RIGHT
ALL I HAVE IS PEPPER SPRAY Made by MEN (ALAN LEE LITMAN) for Women (me) Pepper Spray Safety in a MAN’S Eyes NO CAUTION FOR MEN: WE never need to use pepper spray because WE have OUR fists to defend us. WE are not approachable. WE do not fear. WE just become prepared. WE have weapons. WE are used to competing against each other; MAN versus MAN. WE do not have to fear a larger force that will hurt us. WE are the larger force that does the hurting. Women need pepper spray in a useless attempt be the dominant force, to be strong. Women need this to protect themselves against US. Women need the small glimmer of a safe outside world. Women need this to make them feel safe, even though they are not. WE have confidence, strength, and power. Women have this spray attached to their keys to fight. DIRECTIONS: 1) Spray directly in the face (specifically the eyes) of the MAN approaching you. *It is important for the customer to realize that this may only slow down the MAN in pursuit of her, so she may still be in danger if she does not escape fast enough since there is nothing else she can do. INGREDIENTS: fear, submissiveness, and the overpowering nature of MEN. Pink and Light Blue = Girly colors Why don’t they support men’s organizations? ----------Because men don’t use pepper spray attached their key rings, they don’t need protection “A Fighting CHANCE” – only a chance “Multiple threats” – multiple men It is for them not for US 44
ALONE Alone I can’t be out alone My parents make sure to tell me, “sweetie, hold daddy’s hand” “make sure you stay by your father” “stay with your friends” “don’t walk to your car alone” “make sure he stays with you” “your boyfriend will protect you, that is what he is there for” “I know you will be safe if he is with you” but when I am alone I tell myself, “he is following me” “he is starring” “breathe, just breathe” “my heart is racing, my hands are shaking” “he is still there” “I’m crazy” “I can’t show my fear” “Smile and leave” Alone Men will overpower me My parents make sure to tell me,
“you need to learn self defense” “it’s good you are strong, keep getting stronger” “don’t go alone, you aren’t strong enough” 46
“you need to know how to deal with things yourself” “what would you do if…..” “I won’t always be there” “You need to be aware so that doesn’t happen to you” In my mind I always think, if it’s not enough?” Alone
“men will always be stronger” “how can I overcome someone twice my size?” “no matter how much I lift, how much I prepare, what “the man always wins” “I can’t be tricked by them”
When the doors are locked and I’m truly alone, I think, “I’m scared. I’m old enough. I shouldn’t be scared” “when is she coming home?” “what do I do if someone tries to break in” “what was that noise?” “stop, relax” “breathe” “breathe” “there is a strange man out front” “he is coming up the walk” “stop barking” “he will know we are here” “he is closer now” *I prepare myself as I have been told “oh, he just is delivering a package” *I wave and say goodbye “he knows I’m alone” 47
“he is stronger” “I wish she would come home” Alone. I Can’t be alone Will be hurt if I am alone Am scared and alone They kill, trick,….. They exist They are why we are scared They are safe, we are not I can’t be alone Alone woMEN’S EVIL EYES “Come here sweetheart” “Ooohhh hottie walk over here” “Over here baby” “Nice pecs” *looks up and down “Nice ass” “Walk a little slower honey” “Give us a show” Is she saying that because of how I’m dressed? Is that all I am? What would happen if I asked her for my name? Would she know? Would she care? Why did she say that? She always says that. 48
She always stares. “His shirt fits him in all the right places” “He is asking for it with those shorts on” “He would be hot if his arms were bigger” “If only he were more defined” “Definitely he is one of the hottest here” It’s what I’m wearing. It’s my fault. What am I doing? I’m asking for her to do this. Why does she always stare? How could someone make the beauty of eyes a key factor in a sinful act? I’m not good enough. Will I ever be good enough? It makes me sick. It’s my fault. It’s my fault. 10 + 6 = NOT TOO YOUNG FOR EVIL EYES 10 + 6 I am 16 years old. It isn’t right. Men feel as though they have the right to constantly look and comment. “Do you always wear that or just when you work out?” It started with a look He talked to me innocently in line I wanted to be nice He asked me to check the women’s bathroom to see if anyone was there He was rushing towards me 49
I can hear my mom telling me in the back of my mind,“Always be aware.” I rushed out He kept thanking me for checking the bathroom It was like he was waiting on me to leave He kept coming back What would have happened if my mom had not been waiting for me in the car? We were in a large, public place, yet I still wasn’t safe I went home feeling gross My stomach hurt I was scared 10 + 6 I am 16 years old. It isn’t right. Men feel the need to watch my every move “Lift over here so you aren’t in front of him” It started with a look He moves to where I am He still follows me when I get water He follows me with his eyes It makes me feel I don’t belong in the gym Nothing I wear is right Shorts too short Leggings to tight Older, married men are starring I shouldn’t be here They can’t control themselves though, it’s their nature to look I feel sick 10 + 6 I’m 16 years old. It isn’t right. 50
Men make it my fault. “You can’t wear stuff like that. It makes the men stare,” said my mom to 14-year old me. It started with a look I am wrong It is my fault I can’t go anywhere Why can’t they not look? Why won’t they stop? They use their eyes “You can look, but just don’t touch.” Their eyes are “innocent” Their eyes still demean Their eyes, their beautiful eyes, their evil, beautiful eyes 10 + 6 I am 16 years old. It isn’t right. Men follow their prey. He stopped and ran to his car as soon as we got in ours. It started with a look. He followed us I knew to park in a well-lit area with people and an open store It was dark “Stop staring. He will see us.” Relax He left 10 + 6 I am 16 years old. It isn’t right. Men don’t care, they think we don’t know. “Is he taking pictures of me?” 51
It started with a look I saw his camera pointed at me No he can’t be His kid is on the other side of the net He is behind me His kid is not by me How do I stop this? Tons of parents are watching their kids play and if I move too much they will notice He isn’t taking pictures of me, he can’t be I am just overthinking it again He can’t be, not in front of everyone Right? 10+6 I am 16 years old. It isn’t right. I learned to stay by daddy I learned I can’t be alone I learned fear I’m not treated as a human I am a complex painting Too complex for one to attempt to understand its meaning All they can do is look How would it feel? How would it feel to walk and hear the voices, feel their eyes, their wandering, evil eyes, climbing up from your toes? Imagine it 10 + 6 I am 16 years old. It isn’t right. 10 years ago, I was in kindergarten Coloring and doing arts and crafts 52
Singing and not sleeping at nap time Now I live my life with eyes watching me Eyes are supposed to be beautiful No eye truly has one color They are a mesmerizing mix Each pair different than the other Yet many have a darkness behind them The darkness that thinks 10 + 6 is not too young The darkness that starts the look 10 + 6 I am 16 years old. It isn’t right. 10 + 6 I am 16 years old. It isn’t right. 10 + 6 I am 16 years old. It isn’t right. Women need to feel safe with men Women need to be able to function and not be watched Men need to control their evil eyes
UNREALISTIC STANDARDS WESLEIGH HOBBS 54
TO BE DETERMINED
but technically you’re about to be a legal adult but technically you already have a job but technically you had a happy childhood but technically you don’t regret anything but technically you have plenty of friends technically is my least favorite word it assumes the responsibility of a person who never got a chance technically no technically i don’t remember my childhood technically i feel like an imposter technically i went to school in tears, forced to promise not to tell anyone the truth about it technically i regret every day we didn’t leave sooner technically i have wasted seventeen years of a perfectly good human life technically the meds aren’t helping technically i’ve been forced to love the feeling of grass either from being pushed down onto it when kids in elementary school bullied me for not knowing who my father is, or from being shoved off the concrete when walking with a group of people but technically your past doesn’t define you but technically your life is still to be determined but technically you’re supposed to move past it but technically you’re supposed to forgive 55
what am i supposed to do when my past has determined every moment of my life what am i supposed to do when i wake up screaming from the nightmares i still get what am i supposed to do when i can’t forgive anyone i can’t forgive because my life wasn’t supposed to be determined by one sh*tty person by one sh*tty house with one sh*tty abuser with one sh*tty addiction with one sh*tty purpose and another person who tried her best but never knew how to save me but technically you’ve moved past it but technically you’re safe but technically it’s not the defining factor in your life anymore technically i keep my location off so i know she won’t find me technically i have a security camera to know how often she drives by my house technically i keep my blinds drawn so she won’t look inside when i go out of town every poem i’ve written has been determined. every time i’m faced with a blank page, my mind could be open to infinite possibilities. but instead i can’t think of anything more than what happened. it’s the only thing i know how to talk about. it’s the only thing that sparks that emotion in me. but it’s okay, really. i like walking in the grass anyway 56
A Note from the Editor “But this too is true: stories can save us." - Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried Dear Readers, This past fall, the women of the NFTU staff journeyed to a shelter for survivors of human trafficking and domestic abuse. We met with several survivors, listened, wept, and recorded... all in hopes of helping these brave women share their stories so that their once-silenced voices could reverberate into our community and beyond. I have always believed in the healing capacity of storytelling, writing, and art, but never before have I had the opportunity to experience their power before my eyes. In our first two meetings, we spent time with women who had used writing as a source of therapy, as a map to guide them on the journey toward healing and restoration. The first survivor with whom we spoke was a poet. You will find one of her poems on the adjacent page. She spoke of how writing saved her, and how she was able to use it to heal others. The second survivor was a published author. She recorded her story to help other women experiencing the same struggles find the courage to fight for their lives. In our third trip to the shelter, we were presented with a new opportunity. A woman had traveled to the US from outside the country to escape her abuser and to find a better life for her two little boys. She had never been given the opportunity to tell her story through writing, and conveying her memories to us in English was a challenge. This is why we write. This is why storytelling matters. We write not only for ourselves, but for moments such as these - moments when these brave survivors' courage overflows and inspires others to keep fighting through the trauma and the night terrors, to bring their abusers to court, to share information with other at-risk girls, so that they too will know the warning signs. In powerful moments such as these, writing matters if for no other reason than six high school girls connecting with a woman who had been through the fires of hell and back and lived to tell her story. Six girls are now telling a story that is not their own, yet are finding new aspects of themselves within its power. You are about to read the stories of three of the strongest women I have ever met. They are survivors who tell real stories that happen every day to nearly a million women and are happening to others right here in Tallahassee right now. Real women. We can all learn from their courage, sacrifices, resilience, forgiveness, and strength. We can all learn about the power of telling a story by listening to theirs. Humbled and strengthened, Kate Krizner
Murder, theft, smoking guns, rotting garbage by the tons, pain, misery, and heartbreak, violence, war, rape, and hate, liquid fire, lust, desire, loveless nights, and many fights. Screams of terror within its' lair. No one can stop it; it's an endless pit. How can I pretend that it will end when it is upon us? You can whine and fuss, but it will stay. It will never go away.
REAL GOOD My dad beat me real good Face smashed in a bowl of cereal Milky streams seeping into my school’s uniform That was the first time I knew “I need to get out” So, I ran for a place to stay Into the arms of godmama, Philly’s Old Time Hooker Who eased my pain with cookies and soft pats But nothing in life is free -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------By 18, I let my parents do the suiting I had messed up too much, now wanted a clean start But the good qualities dissolved and the façade ended Foundation no longer covered the purple painter’s marks My skin the canvas, his fist the brush No one there to help me run “Because blood doesn’t mean they are always there”
BATTERED WOMAN, BATTERED CITIZEN worked for a degree but no longer a lawyer. thirty years gone, a housekeeper now. he said,“they won’t believe you,” the court, they won’t believe you, even after – the abuse, the choking, the narcissism, the very real fears. and they didn’t. they didn’t believe me. worry consumes me; worries of food & foster care & deportation & child safety. a place of desperation. but people in this country have a choice. my children get a’s, i don’t want them to know, that my best friend was the one who hurt me the most.
MY BODY, NOT YOURS 62
NIGHT TERRORS I. Jamie
He had been back from war for twenty-seven years, yet the ringing had
never disappeared. The bits of dust now settled on his mantle had been flying from the ground up in the vast jungle of Vietnam. In his quilted blue bed, thousands of miles away, he could still hear his friends (now buried) screaming.
“Grandpa, are you okay?” My granddaughter, Lily, sat on my feet with a
towel to wipe my drenched face.
“It's just some night terrors.” II. Caroline
“I always wake up sweating – it pools on my untucked cotton sheets.
Three months sober and yet it feels like yesterday I was shooting up cocaine to feel something - in my numb body - knowingly committing suicide. Now sleep is a restless movie premier of dreams”
“And what did you dream about this time?” Dr. Melvin said, watching
the clock, waiting for the ticking to finally stop and my hour to end, so she can slip the bottle of whiskey from under her cedar desk and wait for the next government funded client to walk in.
“I find myself in the laundromat's cream back room, fingertips rosy, and
nose burning from the crystal- spiraling, but this time I find the dose to slip into the eternal sleep”
“And do you get this nightmare often?” Melvin sighingly asked.
“I used to get them all the time. It must run in the family. My father would
wake up yelling and call them night terrors before he left me in Mrs. Randle’s house. He used to ramble on about his visions.” 63
“And who is Mrs. Randle?” A disinterested Melvin muttered.
“I used to think she was a friend, but she slowly hooked me on this jour-
ney, and now all that is left for me to do is recover”
“What did she do?” Now leaning in, Melvin seemed concerned. I must
have struck a nerve.
“She delegated people to different jobs, and if we did as we were told she
would provide shelter, food, and the good stuff.”
“She was your supplier?”
“Yes, I guess you could say that.” III. Mia
“We used to be friends when we were younger. Running to the local store
to buy water in the sweltering heat, worn down shoes running on broken pavement. ‘Girl, my dream, I mama marry you, he used to say, and I would laugh. Then he left for college, and I didn’t see him, but I always remembered my best friend Manuel. Six years later, after I had had my first child, Paulo, he came back. I met him at the airport, and we went back to my house (acting as if time had never left us). Two weeks he stayed, treating me and my son to trips. The trip was over, and he must return to America. He told me to wait for him, and then he left as quickly as he had come back. For eight years we messaged, waiting for a chance to meet up. When I heard political outcries of revolution, I looked for a way out. Manuel was my only connection to the states. So, I fled and then quickly married him. He was my best friend. I never thought it would become like this. It started with slight pushes that were a bit too hard when joking … and then when I didn’t want to do something … and then in arguments. He gave me my first bruise above the eye five months after being married. But how could I leave him? No one would help me. I was an 64
an immigrant on a visa with a little boy. 'No judge would ever believe you,' he would say to me when I threatened to get a restraining order. And he was right. The judge did not believe me.”
“So how did you get out?”
“June 8th- I remember the feeling of the cool white tile pressed on my
face under his boot, my head throbbing as blood gushed out, staining the grout. It was the first I had said ‘no’ to him. As I crawled from the bedroom to the kitchen, I heard him unbuckling his belt. I felt the sting of the clasp onto my back, and I looked up to Paulo, in his Spiderman pajamas hiding behind the doorframe. When Manuel got a call from work, he left me on the floor. Paulo offered me his star blanket to clean my blood, and I took him in my arms and knew I had to run. I cleaned my cut, covering it with foundation (a trick I had learned from the previous bruises Manuel had left me). I packed a bag and Paulo’s backpack and ran to the nearest greyhound station, buying a ticket to the farthest place I could think of – here.”
“Have you seen him since?”
“In my dreams, his shadow lurking in the kitchen doorway, above my bed,
behind my door. I no longer leave my bed at night because my eye plays tricks on me. Every notch of a belt clasp sends my fist to clench and my stomach to drop- my little nightmare my night terror. He haunts me even now”
JEALOUS He had always been a jealous man. “I need to hear who you’re talking to.” “Okay.” He listened to her conversations. He had always been a jealous man. “You’re seeing someone at the gym. You cannot go there anymore.” “Okay.” She stopped going to the gym. He called her names. He told her she would be deported. He told her he would have her children taken away. Sticks and stones… she thought, but then his fist took her teeth. “It makes me not want to smile.” “I’m sorry,” he said. “I was upset,” he said. “You just made me so upset,” he said. That spirit of hatred just doesn’t go away. “People who are intimidated by you will try to beat it out of you.” “Oh, you have bruises?” he said. “Let me see,” he said. “I’m sorry,” he said. She tried to get out. She tried to save her children. She tried to restrain him. She couldn’t drive, so it was him who drove her to court. When they got back one day, 66
he started laughing “I don’t think you are going to get it today,” he said. “They didn’t believe you,” he said. “They aren’t going to believe you,” he said. “He isn’t here anymore, but he’s here.” That night, he wanted to have sex with her. She hadn’t let him use her yet. He had always been a jealous man. “I want you to tell me who is f***ing you,” he said, “because you do not want to be with me,” he said. “You must have somebody else.” She did not say, “Okay.” “I can’t be with you,” she said. “You hurt me,” she said. He raised his voice. Red was running from her nose. She was throwing up blood. If she fainted, she didn’t know what he would do. She stayed still. She was on the floor. She could not lift her head because there was too much blood. “He was my best friend; I believed he was my best friend.” But her blood was dripping from her best friend’s hands.
NOT FOR SALE
I BEG OF YOU GIRLS Please – In my own bones I feel the chill melting through the girls beside me melting through the women across from us. I want to know their thoughts. Please don’t let this be you. Take care of yourselves, watch out for each other. Always have your own. A few miles away, A mother is holding her daughter’s hand tightly navigating through a busy department store. Please don’t let it be them. It won’t be them. I was a lawyer in my home country. Do you hear that, girls? She was a lawyer in her country, and she came here and had to be a housekeeper. Always watch out for each other, and make sure you have your own. We’re here without our friend; she’s working on college applications. 69
She went to college to be a lawyer. She was a lawyer. Domestic abuse is very real. You don’t realize what’s going on until you’re in it. Please – When we talked to each woman, each one repeated to us, Domestic abuse is very real. Of course it’s real, I’ve seen it in the movies. (She was a singer... met him on her way to the top... he bruised her face every night... even hurt her sister... I saw it when I was 8) But this isn’t the movies, it is real life, and even in the movies there’s the second of truth, the second it all depends on, where lives are lost and the heroes don’t win. Where a little girl slips her hand away from her mother's in a grocery store, or a man shows up before his battered wife can make her strategic escape.
THE PLAN Leaving him I had to plan. I had to plan how to leave him. My sister’s boyfriend had a truck. My boyfriend had a routine. Get up. Shave. Shower. Go to the post office. He did the same thing every day. When I call you, You need to come right then. I had already packed things up. Saved up. Come, Come with the truck.
It took him a month to find me. He knew what area I would be in, & followed. An unknown number, A voice, Saying,
I know where you are. 71
OUT out. I made it out no longer at his mercy
mercy is not the word I would use
free from his hugs
hugs with hands around my neck
the bruises have faded
the scars remain
one year since I’ve heard his voice
I see his face every night
there is nothing to be afraid of anymore
all unknown men look like him
he cannot touch me
his shadow lurks in every room
no longer in his house
a house - never a home
free from his love
love shouldn’t hurt that way
the girl I was is no more
she lives on in my memory
I made it out
I may never get away
FIRST Everyone remembers their first
But I remember my first broken bone
I was five
I remember the first time I was without a home
I was fifteen
Sent away from my dad
Mom didn’t pay them enough for me to stay If you do this with me
You can stay
That’s how it started,
a place to stay
It was not what I wanted [THIS IS NOT PRETEND]
I remember the first time I was raped
I was sixteen
On the bathroom floor
He let me stay another night
I had to do it to survive
I remember the first time I was pregnant
I was eighteen
Had my son at nineteen 74
They told me I had messed up And I believed them I let them set me up with him
I should have known better
Seventeen years of abuse and control later His sins were revealed to me A wicked man who preyed on children
Putting him in prison
Doing the right thing
Left me homeless
With no place to go
Except back to my first abuser
To be abused
again and again and again and again
[THIS IS NOT JUST A STORY] After a mental breakdown I ran From Ohio to Lousianna To live with a friend who was “sober”
(he wasn’t sober anymore)
I ran again To Tallahassee My second cousin convinced me to do it 75
You’ll be safe here. Safe isn’t what I would call him
I know you are not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but THE TRUTH ISN’T ILL [THIS IS REAL] Have you ever been to a place where you just wanted the pain to go away? You get to a point
Where the drugs aren’t supposed to bring joy
Where the drugs aren’t supposed to be fun
It’s about slowly bringing yourself closer to death
Closer to the end
It’s about slowly committing suicide
When there just isn’t another way out
When the pain has to go away [THIS IS REAL] [THIS IS REAL] [People you go to school with, your neighbors, Are experiencing trauma, 76
And they look happy, But they are experiencing trauma, Inflicting pain to stop the pain She is a survivor, She tells her story with grace, Her tears can be hard, Sometimes she is crying Not because she is upset, But because she got away. This is her story What are you going to do To make this story in your journal REAL?] I am an overcomer, That is what I am An overcomer I overcome things every day I still have night terrors It still haunts me in my sleep Writing gets that stuff out Journaling Journaling Journaling I can’t remember it all 77
But writing it down,
Even just line by line
Enough lines and it becomes a poem Sometimes that's how you make it
Line by line
Word by word
That’s how you survive When I was eight My grandfather lived with us He had night terrors from PTSD He was in World War II I was good at writing
I wrote for him
I wrote about his trauma
And it came effortlessly
It helped my grandfather It told his story
And his night terrors went away
I remember the first time I tried to end my life
I was thirteen
But the rope broke 78
I remember my first poem
I was thirteen
And it saved me
I learned to tell my story
I learned it could save other people
I have faced down somebody holding a gun to my head I have faced down people beating me I have been strangled three times in my life I have been hit in the head with a bat so hard that I have seizures now All of those things didn’t happen for no reason They happened so I could help somebody else It's not all about me
It is about what I can give back
[THIS IS REAL] [THIS IS HER STORY] [SHE IS REAL] [SHE IS A SURVIVOR] [SHE IS AN OVERCOMER]
FORGIVE FORGET she does not forgive for the sake of others her forgiveness is not for those who have wronged her villains abusers gain nothing from forgiveness of their sins she forgives for her own sake, as an act of self preservation one that she has earned after the experiences abuse she has suffered the man who stole her innocence and held her down by pigtails
he does not deserve her forgiveness
the man who covered the acne with purples and blues
he does not deserve her forgiveness
the man who held her life within his hands and found joy in her powerless breaths
he does not deserve her forgiveness
the man who offered a house prison (forced to pay, lay by lay)
he does not deserve her forgiveness
she forgives the villains of her past not because they deserve it they don’t but because she is better than they are. she can forgive them their sins, but she will never forget. 80
Too nice. She looked into our eyes, into our souls, and told us how some
people thought she was “too nice.” Now that she’s doing well, she’s in the position to be on the other side of charity, and help hand out food to people in need, people in the streets, in bad situations. Food passed between hands, from a gentle survivor to a man who had once wronged her, who also happened to be hungry. Too nice. Maybe we, as listeners of her story and her struggles, might also think she was being too nice. I would have, at the very least, exchanged a smug look with the man. But, she may be better than I.
She was beaten so badly one time that she has brain damage. An injury
that still plagues her with seizures. She still has night terrors because of things that are long finished. She left home at the age where myself and my peers listening to her still had the privilege of being kids. She fell into dangerous situations in an attempt to escape a dangerous situation, and who can blame her. Not I. After hearing her muster up courage and strength, trusting us enough to share her life’s details, maybe at first we thought she was too nice. But, kindness is a strange phenomena, and it helps the world go round. The sun will come up, and the seasons will change.
The kindness that persevered in her heart is helping others. People on the
street have food now because she helped hand it out. Her children are safer than she was because she retained kindness for them, love for them. She enriches her church, her community of survivors, all of her newfound friends, with the compassion she has carried with her for so many years. I believe the hungry man she handed 82
food to will make it off the street, and begin to thrive to an extent that he, too, can return with food for the hungry and hurt. I believe that her words to myself and my friends are embodiments of kindness, a beautiful effort to protect and preserve in us the innocence which she has lost. We cannot thank her enough. I guess you really can’t be too nice.
CONTRIBUTORS Mercy Crapps
Sarah Caulley Soto
Special thanks to Ms. Wendy... You truly have an incredibly kind heart and generous spirit. Thank you for helping six girls gain a better understanding of the unimaginable struggles so many women undergo. You serve as a beacon of hope for all those who have the honor of meeting you. We learned so much from your bravery and selflessness. We can only hope and endeavor to live up to the example you have set for us.
Golden Years are
Open the Door for a new chapter
Become who you want to be
Expected to be pleasant Hate your voice, never
Mimic the others Everyone has a place girl She leaves behind what she knew, where she was safe, where she could be herself. She faces a new world where she is meant to be a pretty face and a closed mouth. With no place to call home and no one she knows, she has no choices. She learns to hate the way she speaks, with her voice too high and always too loud. The only option: silence. Yet, no matter how hard she tries to stop the words (you can’t say that, just listen, stop trying to be creative, someone else has thought of it already, let the boys do the talking), the girl can not cease the thoughts that fill her mind. She starts talking (with her high and loud voice), she learns to trust her own words, she learns to speak up for what she believes. The world did not offer her a place to call home, so she builds one within herself. Her mind becomes a safe space, her voice a lifeline, her words a home. 86
Hear their asinine confident
Laugh at their naivety
Let them believe they lord Over you
Hold onto that ego
Overturn their idea of female
Make them listen to Every single word
GRACE VICTORIA DEUTSCH 88
Nature will always find a way to reproduce the same concept with different objects. Whether a patch of dirt is good or bad does not matter, bad weather can create mud. Whether a human is good or bad does not matter, bad conditions can create anguish and demise. This dark corpse of dirt stains the ones close to it, reminding all of the inevitable mud. People’s death produces a pain for those devoted, reminding them of their own. We are so animus about mud being tracked around because it threatens our pure cleanliness. We don’t like to deal with death because we don’t want to think of our own. God forbid my dirt patch ever soaks into mud. God forbid I ever die. Dirt can be a Zen Garden, methodical and composed. I know when the rain will fall, decomposing dirt into mud. My life is controlled by me and me alone. I know pain and death isn’t coming soon. Only joking of course, I know the weather could change at any moment, aging dirt to mud. I know I could die at any moment. At the end of each day, we sink into our beds like sludge. Depending on how heavy the rain is falling, we choose whether we want to ascend from the mud or sink six feet into it. 89
JOY GEENA WHITIN
THE BLOOD OF THE CHAMELEON
I am too much for you. I am not enough of what I appear to be. But I have learned how to morph into what you need me to be. How to make sure that you feel unthreatened: 1. No hoodies in the car or out late at night. NEVER be caught loitering when it’s dark. 2. Never show how you really feel. Apologize first and expect a sorry later. 3. Nothing in your pockets. 4. Smile politely and do not show outbursts of anger or rage. 5. Make conversation, silence is rude; unless they outwardly show they do not want to talk. 6. Be aware of everyone and how they feel. Put aside personal feelings. God forbid you feel any discomfort around me. How to use your slur and slang: 1. “Bro stop playing. You play too much and that’s why yo girl sweet on me” 2. “Damn its f-cking 12, put on yo seatbelt” 3. “Whas good jhit?” 4. “See ya later alligator” 5. Try to always use proper grammar always and don’t do not seem ignorant 6. Prove that you are worth someone’s time. God forbid you don’t do not understand me or have to change for me. How to fit in and relate to you all: 1. “No revealing clothes or tight things, it draws attention.” 2. “I don’t know if your school is ready for that yet.” 3. *note to self:* Watch Friday 91
4. Only listen to hip hop, no pop music or classical music.
5. Forgive others and have sympathy even when it is not reciprocated.
6. Go with the flow, your opinion is not needed.
7. Control your tone and micromanage their perception of you.
God forbid I be anything but accepted. So, I tip toe back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, Eggshells cracking under my feet, a living symbol of society’s cries and criticism. Still, my efforts fall short, and you cannot see me. Will not see me.
“Why do you talk like that? Like you’re white or something”
“That’s that white people sh*t!” *Does that “white” people sh*t*
“You came out the house looking like that?”
“I’d never date a black girl because they’re just mean and angry and
always tripping like damn.”
“I’ve never been with a black girl, but I know your booty is big.”
“You don’t know how to dance? How can you say you’re black?”
“You can’t cook?”
“You would look so pretty if you just straightened your hair.”
God forbid who I am is simply enough. Enough without a single change, edit, revision, remodel, redraft, rewrite, or modification. Who I am has become a blurred line, 92
Shifting and shaping to mold and make a new me. A me just perfect for you.
You all pick me apart, cherry picking casually. For how could I ever truly know who I am? Who I am is dictated on what you need and want me to be. Even so a glimpse of me longs for it.
Not for your acceptance of who I become for you, or how my voice changes, or how I act differently, or how I change my clothes, or how I address opinions and thoughts, or how I cater to your every wish, desire, and request.
I long to not be too much of anything I am, but to be seen as me.
Not to be not enough of what you think I should be, but to be seen as me.
Yet, who I am is ever changing. My reflection in the mirror portraying someone different than the bathroom mirror at school, 93
or my phone camera in my bedroom, who my family and teachers passing me by see. As the seasons change and life morphs me into someone that seems unrecognizable, I realize the infinite possibilities and arrangements of what makes me…me.
Wondrous fragments that don’t trap me. They don’t make me change and have to be something for the sake of you all, But instead, I am given the uncertainty of who I am. Meaning there is no defined thing or person that I need to be at this moment.
For I am ever changing.
And while I whisper a wish for a clear picture of myself, so, I can defend who I am and help you all see, Maybe the blurred lines never really showed anything complete.
Something that was static and defined to never be altered. Maybe the picture is more beautiful in the fact that I know it will never be finished, Every moment making it glorious and the epiphany of beauty. Which takes a bit of the pressure off, when you know to be enough takes realizing you already are. 94
MADDY MEEKER Mườ
I know how to count to ten in Vietnamese. Add in “cảm ơn,” “bà ngoại,” and “ông ngoại,” and you have the entirety of my Vietnamese vocabulary. Vietnamese people are always surprised when they hear this. “What do you mean your mother never taught you Vietnamese?” White people are surprised when I tell them this too, but for a completely different reason. “Oh, I always thought you were just really tan. I didn’t know you were half-Vietnamese.” My lack of Vietnamese vocabulary has always been a point of shame in my life. When people ask me if I speak Vietnamese, I feel like I have to defend myself to them, like I have to defend my culture and my identity. Of course I don’t speak Vietnamese, my grandparents live seven hours away from me. Of course I don’t speak Vietnamese, my mother left Vietnam before she could start middle school. Of course I don’t speak Vietnamese, no one else at my school does. Of course I don’t speak Vietnamese, my dad is white. Of course I don’t speak Vietnamese, I’m not Vietnamese. I’m only half, right? Chín My mom fled from war at the age of nine. People in America talk about the lives lost in the Vietnam War all the time. All the men who were lost fighting for freedom in a foreign land, who must never be forgotten. The American men, that is. Not my mother’s family who escaped Ho Chi Minh City the day before it fell to the People’s Army of Vietnam. Not my mother’s family, who left Vietnam with hardly any belongings, and yet were still robbed on their journey. Not my mother, who left everything she had ever known behind at the age of nine. Tám There were eight kids in the family of my ông ngoại. After the war, some of them ended up in America. Some of them stayed in Vietnam. Some of them died. We are a family scattered. Today, the descendants of my grandfather’s family live in Vietnam, Tallahassee, South Florida, Oregon, Virginia, Texas, and France. If we all lived in Vietnam, my entire family would live within minutes from 95
each other, not hours and days away. But we don’t. We live in an American community, where it’s normal to live hours from your family, to feel disconnected from part of who you are because of a physical distance. Bảy I walked in the parade at my school’s culture fair when I was seven years old. Being Vietnamese at Maclay is a rare occurrence, so of course the people in charge of the culture fair would ask my brother and I to walk in the parade holding the Vietnamese flag. It didn’t matter to them that we’re only half Vietnamese, or that we only really speak English. All that mattered was that we were different from everyone else at Maclay, special, even. At least, that’s how I felt: special. Dăc biệt. For one lovely moment, I could proudly show part of who I was to my peers. My second-grade class all cheered my name when my brother and I walked by them. I don’t think I had ever been that happy. Sáu In eighth grade, six people laughed at my heritage project. I should’ve thought of it beforehand. I should’ve known better than to read the actual names of my Vietnamese ancestors out loud to my class full of white people. I should’ve known people were going to laugh. I didn’t know, though, and I read them anyways. And they laughed. And I held back tears. In that moment, I felt so much shame about my identity. All the years of pride I felt about being different from my classmates, about having something that made me special that they didn’t, were erased. In that one moment, I wished I could be like every other kid in my class. Năm There are five Asian kids in my class. I know one other Vietnamese person in my high school. Most of the time this lack of diversity doesn’t bother me. It’s just the way things are. It’s the way life has always been for me. Then I hear my cousins speak fluent Vietnamese and I see them post pictures with their Vietnamese friends, and then it bothers me. They must think I’m so whitewashed. Trắng. Of course, I am. I go to a school where there is a total of five Asian kids in the junior class. Nearly every kid in America has wanted to fit in with her peers at some point in her life, has been willing to change herself to fit in. For me, this meant more than just buying a different backpack or wearing different clothes to school. For me, this meant isolating part of my culture from my public life. 96
I was born in two thousand four, the year of the monkey. Con khỉ. In Vietnamese culture, and many other East Asian cultures, the year is measured on a lunar calendar, and each year has its own zodiac sign. Each zodiac sign is from a group of twelve animals that are continuously cycled through. I was ecstatic when I found out that all my friends and I had the same zodiac sign. It hadn’t occurred to five-year-old me that my friends and I would obviously have the same zodiac signs because we were born in the same year. I was just excited that we could share a part of my culture, that I could share a hidden part of myself with my classmates. Ba I am one of three kids in my family. We are pure spring, pure heart, and pure water. Thanh tuyen, thanh tham, and thanh thuy. At least that is what we are to our ông ngoại, who gave us our middle names. They’re our tie to our Vietnamese culture. Written on our birth certificates, our middle names are proof of our culture. I wore my middle name like a badge of honor throughout all lower school. “Look at me,” my middle name said,“This is part of who I am.” Somewhere along the way, my middle name became another point of shame – something to hide among the “Graces” and “Elizabeths.” Hai I exist between two “cultures.” Not one or the other, but both. Là cả ha. I write and I speak in English. I take my shoes off at the front door. I have an American education. I call my grandparents bà ngoại and ông ngoại. I wanted to fit in with my classmates. I have a dog and I live in the suburbs and I go to private school and I’ve been to tea ceremonies and I have an áo dài and I’m not quite enough of either. Not quite Vietnamese enough to be Vietnamese, and not quite white enough to be white. Môt I am one, whole, person. Tôi là một ngườ.
IMPORTANT INFORMATION 1. TRAVEL INFORMATION Upon arrival to a foreign country, temporarily rescind your American citizenship. 2. HEALTH INSURANCE National health insurance programs do not cover healthcare costs outside the U.S. Any complications of anxiety or alienation arising from culture and/or re-entry shock should be promptly suppressed until your return to the U.S. 3. YOUR PASSPORT does not define your culture and values. Make sure you keep a signed, valid passport at all times. Make two photocopies of your passport date page. Carry one copy with you in a separate page from your passport. Leave one safe at home or in the care of family/friends. 4. AVOID VIOLATING FOREIGN LAWS Remember, while in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws. You should not suggest modifications to systems in place, as such as recommendations may be considered insulting. 5. SAFETY Avoid becoming a target. Adopt local dress and refrain from practicing conspicuously foreign customs. 6. DISASTERS AND CATASTROPHIC EVENTS If a catastrophic event occurs, call home to let your family/friends know you are safe. 7. LOSS OF U.S. CITIZENSHIP Under certain circumstances, you may lose or renounce your U.S. citizenship by performing, voluntarily, such acts as becoming naturalized to a foreign state or expressing deliberate allegiance to a foreign state by other means. 8. DUAL CITIZENS A person who pledges allegiance to more than one country at the same time is considered a dual citizen. The U.S. takes no formal stance against dual citizenship; however, bonam fortunam.
Ai, quem me dera que eu morresse lá na serra… Abraçado à minha terra e dormindo de uma vez. - Rui Veloso I am American…I am Portuguese…I am somewhere halfway between America and Europe, at an altitude of 36,000 feet, trapped in a pressurized cabin fixed in milky clouds with no visibility down to sea. I am one person with two passports, the single product of two who used to have just one. Seeing only this passport, you would hardly know. Place of Birth— FLORIDA. U.S.A. All caps screaming at you. Visa pages—stampless, bare, with the patriotic watermarks of bald eagles and imposing landmarks showing through. But I’ve never ever seen a bald eagle in real life. I was not raised with the customs, traditions, or lifestyles it holds under its wings. I know being the other, where the other is not just a different option. A or B. One or the other. It is where being the other feels like being the minority of 1 in a country with 330,000,000. Like being a pebble dropped into the sea to be unceasingly weathered by roaring wave after roaring wave. I know constantly being on the defensive to brace my values from the contradicting views of American society—since I was four. I know the personality change that occurs punctually at 3:00 p.m. every school day, when I return to speaking Portuguese at home—and the serene calm that comes with speaking the language, even though I’m more fluent in English. I know going to the beach with my best friend and her family for three days and crying on the way home because it had all seemed too perfect—experiencing micro culture shock from the very culture I live surrounded by. I know having no best friend who has ever, really, fully understood me.
Nem sabe o quanto Nashville sonhou com uma cave ali em Sangemil. - Miguel Araújo The paradox of every child of immigrants: I’ve never lived in Portugal, yet my heart is filled with the same saudade for the country, as if I had been the one torn from it. I always say eu vivo na Florida, never eu sou da Florida. On winter nights doing homework, or when homesickness for my home that never was is particularly acute, the melancholic ballads of fado alone can make me feel whole. I spend the year craving húngaros, pão, e joaninhas. On New Year’s Eve, my parents and I step with our right feet into the new year at 7 p.m. and then once more at midnight. Even time itself must function on two levels when you’re torn between two countries. Every summer, I am well-accustomed to the Transatlantic trek: home, passport #1, board plane, get off plane, board plane, get off plane, customs (tick tock tick tock), passport #2, home. You might deduce that at this point my soul exhales a long s i g h and revels in a long inhale of the Portuguese summer air, which is sweet with a pleasant touch of gasoline and cigarette smoke. After all, my Portuguese identity that is ever-isolated in America should find peace here. When I am alone, at least, it does. Curled up in the crevice of a rocha right on Porto’s shoreline, listening to squawking gaivotas and vigorous lull of waves. Basking in the sun, indulging in a Perna de Pau, and peoplewatching those from all walks of life in bustling Ribeira. These are the places on the planet where I can simply be for a while. But alas, I come from the land of dumb people and crazy people and Donald Trump, as I am constantly reminded in Portugal by everyone from market vendors to family members. Though only related to them by the ties of citizenship, I undeniably feel a deep kinlike bond to all 330,000,000 American “lunatics.” I can see the world through their lens and strive to emulate their life-giving qualities of uncommon positivity and neighborliness, which the Portuguese as a people (though they will argue with me) generally lack. But dare I defend or praise some aspect of America, I am rebuked. I am constantly on the defensive to brace my values from the contradicting views 100
Em Portugal a emigração não é, como em toda a parte, a transbordação de uma população que sobra; mas a fuga de uma população que sofre. - José Maria de Eça de Queirós society. I, the pebble in the sea, am thus left to struggle against the Atlantic current that does not weaken year-round. When passport #1 exists, passport #2 should not. If passport #2 exists, passport #1 must not. My existence is defined by two books that try their hardest to be mutually exclusive. In either country, I am the other. Subconsciously, likely out of laziness, I’ve begun to call everywhere casa. The apartment I inhabit in Tallahassee, that I inhabit in Portugal during the summer, even hotels I stay in—I call casa. Home. Perhaps that is the best way to go about it. Perhaps I should consider everywhere my home, so I can always be simply me. I am not American…I am not Portuguese…I am somewhere halfway between America and Europe, at an altitude of 36,000 feet, trapped in a pressurized cabin fixed in milky clouds with no visibility down to sea.
GEMINI MARY CLAYTON SOTO
Judas sat down on the chair I sat down on the stool He took bandages and hair He took the needle between his teeth and said, “Those kids really messed you up. If it were my kids, that wouldn’t happen.” He grabbed the pliers My throat caught and doubled itself The pop of the muscle as it convulses Takes the bloodied rock Sharp-edged and angular Stuck in there like a third eye Carved roughly from shale Unable to see out the oily yellowness Into the beyond, the goldenrod and wheat “Judas said some day, you’re gonna Wear the mitre and bear the holy mantle And bear the prayer card in your pocket With the Tower and the Hanged Man And the Wheel of Fortune and the Lovers, And Judas said he trust God And that small rock and that iron bar He pilfered from Blackfoot Mines He doesn’t trust his own hand.” He put the rock in a box With the bottle of pills Its pearly white cap and traffic-cone orange “Uncle Judas saidMa, ma, mamaUncle Judas said ‘child, you got to trust god, too Now where’s your prayer card, Let me get you some Jesus Juice And some bread to crack We can’t go to church With your head looking all sorry like that.’ What’s that mean, ma?” He put the rock with the silvery chunk of meteorite And it glinted rainbow in Fluorescence of the lamp As he returned the needle from between his teeth To the box with the stony face of Jesus on it 103
ROOSTERS GEENA WHITIN
A rooster perched atop his fence “Eum nescio.” will wake to light arriving “Eum nescio.” over a dormant Jerusalem. “Eum nescio.” Two in the morning, yet he will condemn -BETRAYER -- that sound will echo in your bleeding ears until your cross upturns.
PRIDE OF THE SAVANNAH SARAH CAULLEY SOTO
Adamant to exit the garden, I found myself afoot in a park far different than the violets and pansies and green carnations that decorated the intricate pathways of the roads I knew. his hands did not tend to the grass or the leaves or the land here - with the precision he did designing the curvature of a woman’s body. Adamant to exit the garden, (like a child) I chased his shadow; over picnic tables under park benches aimed to find myself in his shape. he led me from the pasture to the pavement, fractured/fixed in place; traced over and over with footsteps – like mine. When the barking of cars drowned the chatter of birds, I spoke to him. He did not listen/like I was a child /he did not listen. He bit into bruised apple lip, and did not ask if I reciprocated the taste. Adamant to exit the path he set, I strayed; Cigarette smoke suffocates the creative in the land of the oppressor. Like a child/once his child/ I retracted my decision retraced my steps retired my bad faith to reside where I belong, in her image. She is always calling to me in the flittering of fragile wings, and promises to heal mine. The garden forever beckons me back. 107
ANNE MASON ROBERTS
“I’m going into the silo to deal with the grain.” “Can I go with you, please Dad? ” I pleaded, staring into his weary oak wood brown eyes. He contemplated a brief moment as I focused all my youthful energy to get him to crack. Dad chuckled gently and explained,“Oh honey, it’s dangerous. Why don’t you go feed the chickens? Be careful of the rattlesnakes.” “Fine.” I sighed. He disappeared behind the door, leaving me alone. I stared out into the farm- the Texas sun mercilessly beat down, illuminating every speck of dust, chipped paint, and rusty nail. I walked out and passed the weary horses, begging me with their eyes. The fence around them had broken a long time ago- I wondered why they had not left – got out of this hot hole. I turned into the barn, where the luckiest animals were enjoying the most luxurious life in the shade. With a housing complex, they seemed to be the richest of us all. And then I was in front of the chickens- the mostly working roof cast sunlight into the chicken coop displaying where the wood had begun to rot. I grabbed their food bucket and immediately sensing the food – I was swarmed by demanding chickens. With each step, a crisp imprint of my boot was forced onto the sand, only then to be quickly washed over by the wind. “Here chick- chicks … here chichee-” When I heard it, I knew immediately. Even though I was not sure what the sound was, my legs knew where to take me. Dropping the bucket, I ran from the barn, the faces of the horses and cows- not a distant blur. And then I was there in the daunting presence of the looming silo. I reached for the handle of the door and then thrust it open, not knowing what to expect. “Daddy?” I yelled, already knowing the response I would not get. Dusty clouds of moldy grain exploded forward, to which I jumped aside. Once the dust had settled, I stepped into the threshold of the silo. Pounds and pounds of grain the size of tiny sand specks had covered the entire silo ground and 108
and towered above me. “DAD” I yelled again, hoping this time the answer might be different. If I keep yelling he will respond, he will respond. He will- he will- he will Respond? I began to dig- dig to him. Crawling on top of the pile, I desperately searched. Arms disappearing in the golden dirt and coming back with nothing but grain. And then, the sliver of light from the door cast light into the dark pile and caught on something sparkly. And that’s when I recognized that brown- that oak wood brown- staring unseeing forward. I grasped for the red flannel, but I could not lift him, and he began to slip back into the grain, until I could no longer see the flannel.
UNCERTAIN KATHERINE GORKOV 110
it’s quiet. not the ominous kind the kind where you know everyone you know is asleep. the floor is cold. not the painful kind the kind that makes you feel the wood in every nerve on your feet. the air is crisp. not the autumn kind the artificial kind, bred from the freshly washed linens beneath my head and the ac at 68. and my phone is too bright. and my alarm is too loud. but i turn off the noise. all of it. it’s quiet now. this is better now.
It’s thirty-eight-and-a-half degrees in Florida. I’m standing on a vacant Orlando freeway at 4am and can’t help but wonder what I’m doing here. Generator-powered lights hum above the racers as we wait along the blocked-off highway. I rub my tired eyes and shiver as a January chill slips through my dri-fit shirt. I approach my sister.“Ready to run?” Madeleine shakes her head, flashing a weak smile. We have trained for months together as I placed check after check on the ever-increasing distances laid out on my Jeff Galloway training calendar. Though my body is ready, my mind needs convincing. “Eight minutes to start!” a voice barks over a loudspeaker. Eight thoughts to steady my nerves. Eight. I somehow find myself dressed like Prince Charming. Madeleine nervously stretches a few feet away, wearing an ice-blue Cinderella skirt over running shorts. I straighten my red satin sash and the gold-tasseled epaulets pinned to my shoulders and laugh to myself. Madeleine insisted on wearing costumes. “Want your white gloves?” She winks. Seven. I am about to run for over two hours, slogging across paved roads winding between darkened parks at Disney World. Thirteen-point-one miles: farther than I have ever run before. This present, self-inflicted challenge threatens failure. Nevertheless, I want to try. Six. The adventure of pushing limits has defined my life. I have biked 100 miles over six mountains and somehow, after ten excruciating hours of pickle juice shots and cramping muscles, I crossed the finish line. Curious about quantum physics but not having the math preparation, I doubled down over the summer and used free, open coursework to conquer differential equations, building the bridge to understand Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, particle entanglement and zero-point energies. But, for now, I find myself with a straightforward task ahead: running until I can’t run any more. Throngs of racers begin to pack against the starting line. Five. Madeleine is looking down at her shoes, wringing her icy hands. Her face is twisted with doubt. I know this look; my sister is afraid. I pose a question: “What’s 45 times 17?” She looks up.“Uhhh, 45 times 20 is 900, so—” 112
Four. A memory. Long before we consulted one another on triple integrals in polar coordinates or discussed applications of eigenvalues on long car rides, my older sister and I did our multiplication worksheets together. At six and four years old, we hunched over the dining room table, awkwardly clutching No. 2 pencils as we raced to complete the rapid-fire columns of numbers. Always competing, side by side. “You said 45 times 17, right? Subtract 90 plus 45, which is 135. So that’s 900 minus 135—" “Seven sixty-five.” She rolls her eyes and smiles.“Yeah, I was getting there.” “I just got there first,” I laugh. We both relax a little, to my relief. My speed math challenge has shattered the anxious spell hovering in the frigid air. Three. I can effectively contend questions of public policy or business ethics or acquisition strategies, tracing complex argument flows with the dexterity of a cartographer. But five months ago, I didn’t win the half-marathon costume debate.“You look great, by the way.” Madeleine tousles my curly brown hair, grinning. Perhaps I didn’t want to win… “ONE MINUTE TO START.” I take her hand, and we squeeze through the shifting crowd. Two. Between 0 and 1 lies an infinite stretch of decimal numbers. A small eternity exists in one minute. “Go!” Fireworks burst across the starting line, and my legs spring into motion. We jog together, her blue skirt bouncing in time with the tassels swaying on my shoulders. This challenge I can manage. “You know I’m slower. Run ahead,” she offers.“You don’t have to stick with me.” I smile and shake my head. “Prince Charming would never leave Cinderella.” One. In the golden light of the midmorning sun, we cross the finish line side by side. 113
ESCAPISM AND ENERGY
A lot of people like to write about running. They say that anyone who
has ever ran professionally or on a daily basis will understand running’s poetic or literary significance, that the meditations felt while running are deep and perhaps even ascendent. I have, for my part, studiously avoided contributing anything to the literature of running. Sure, I’ve run almost every day for seven years. Sure, I’ve written almost everyday for about as long, too—so it would make sense to bring the two together. But I don’t write about running because every time I tried in the past, it felt false, it felt like I was making it up, that it was corny—but more than that, it felt like I wasn’t conveying the “runner’s high,” the fabled meditational period that arises from hours of sweat and work. It felt dishonest, and the more I thought about writing about running, the more I felt that I wasn’t unique; after all, how was my story any different than another bad story about a kid’s football team, and the sense of family and wholeness he felt playing? In the end of the day, I decided, it was equivalent, and one day I decided that running literature wasn’t something I was going to attempt.
But here I am, writing about running. At the end of the day, I’m seventeen
years old and a senior in high school, and to be quite frank, I don’t see myself writing for a higher, literary sense in my life (although a diary does sound appealing). I can’t honestly guarantee that I’ll be running at the same intensity that I’m doing now in college, either. So, while I’m still thinking about writing and words and running shoes, I might as well tell a story, tell my personal experience with running—maybe then I can reach the peaceful meditation (shantih shantih shantih) that comes from having written a story, from trying to reach eternity. Peace comes from release of tension, the telling of a story. I can’t claim that my story is special, and I know that, perhaps to a fault, I relate to life and others through sharing my own experiences— but I feel like this is something that I have to write about before I eventually stop.
Last winter, at around 3:30, I grimaced and picked myself up for a run. It
was cold, it was about to rain. I had a physics test coming up; I was bitter about not 114
qualifying for the regional meet as a junior; and on top of it all, I was filled with teenage angst over a rejection and my friends. A sh***y, stressful day by any means, but everyone has them. So, I ran out into the cold rain; and immediately froze my ass off. I feel compelled to mention this first, because running in uncomfortable conditions is frequently romanticized: something like “It was cold—but I was stronger, and I survived Mother Nature!” The reality is that all runners, even Olympians, struggle to get going at times: sometimes it just f*****g sucks to get out of bed, much less run in the freezing rain.
I slogged into the grass, filled my shoes with mud and rainwater before
I even made it to the trails. I didn’t really think about where I was going—I just ran away somewhere. I guess running is escapism in some way; it’s harder to think about your social life at when your heart pumps at 164 beats per minute. But before you can “escape,” if that’s the word for it, your fears are amplified tenfold for the first mile. this is f*****g terrible, I can’t feel your toes or my fingers, I’m gonna fail that test if I don’t go back right now. Like an angry toddler. But once you get over that, it’s better.
I arrived at an open field of power lines, filled with a cold mist and aging
symbols of urban decay and rotting poles. Across several busy roads, behind private property, and three (count em) “No Trespassing” gates, I kept panting. I still couldn’t feel my toes as they slapped against the hard red clay of the power lines’ 4x4 track, and at some point, there was a single-track trail. The rotting houses and wooden boards of businesses seemed to accelerate their decline under the harsh grey skies. I ran into a single-track trail, I hacked through bushes, and somewhere along the blurred line, found myself back on the same road I came in on, miles away from where I started and lost. Not to be corny, but this freeze-frame, as I run down some lost hill, is why running is a beautiful thing: At this moment, my problems were no longer relevant; I was finally happy to be alive, to be able to feel so exposed and uncomfortable, and to be able to endure the pain of physical duress. And this moment 115
is why I run: because if at my absolute worst, at the worst of conditions, I can still feel joy through some action, then I want to do that action for the rest of my life. I cannot assume that all runners feel like this, but I know that this feeling of unstoppable joy and success is shared with some of us.
This story is not a story of fantastic success, of triumph against all odds, of
a purely athletic joy, this is a normal story about how a terrible day seemed a little less terrible after a run. It has a wholesome ending, but the world is not magically improved by a good run—it is simply softer and easier to handle when you return. I wish I could say more, explain more about running, somehow enlighten you, the reader, but like all things truly spiritual, the joy I get from running cannot be rationalized or explained—it can only be experienced.
When I tell people I run cross country, people rarely say “Cool!” Instead,
the answer is almost always “Why?” paired with a perplexed, almost angry look. The famous author and marathoner Haruki Murakami once responded to this question better than I ever could:
“People sometimes sneer at those who run every day, claiming they’ll go
to any length to live longer. But don’t think that’s the reason most people run. Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive in a fog, and I believe running helps you to do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life—and for me, for writing as a whole I believe many runners would agree.” — Haruki Murakami, What I Talk about When I Talk about Running
If I ever run into someone who’s patient enough to listen to me respond
to their response, I’d say something similar to Murakami’s idea. I’d say that it makes me happy, that there comes a time in my life when it feels that the whole world works against me and I have nowhere else to go, that escape is the only thing that 116
can help me, that I am wholly independent and spiritually absent from the world, that I need no one else, that experiencing an open field, in the freezing cold with numb limbs feels like the eyes of a higher being have opened for me, all alone in the world, and the sky shatters with your heart, and that the whole world is within your reach and you feel euphoric and humbled by the extraordinary beauty that no one but you can understand on this unbelievable day—this is why I run—to live.
Breathe, I mutter to myself as droplets of perspiration drip down the back
of my neck. Every step that I take closer to the starting line causes my chest to rise and fall at an uneven pace. Flashes from cameras blur my vision with each click, while the roar of cheering fans from different countries swarm my ears. My throat closes as an image of myself appears on the Jumbo-tron. Without warning, the official abruptly signals for the runners to approach their blocks.
“You may now take your mark,” he announces in the microphone. I kneel
into the blocks and place my knees into the plush track. While I dig my spikes into the blocks to properly set my feet, I glance down at my hands which gingerly rest on my fingertips. Looking down at my hands a flood of memories and experiences from my very first High School State Championship meet emerges, and I am transformed into that seventh grader preparing for my race.
Thirteen years and over a hundred meets ago, I leisurely jogged two laps
around the practice track at the University of North Florida. A sea of tents fills the practice track, each protecting teenage runners from the blistering Florida sun. After completing my second and final lap, I make my way into the infield and find a secluded spot, where I begin a series of warm-up drills. First up, stretches and dynamics. Although each stretch removes tensions from my muscles, my heart still beats rapidly. I am about to start my third practice sprint when my coach comes running over to the field.
“Amelia!” he calls out.
“Yes, Coach Droze?” I reply. His eyes have a frantic look underneath a hat
that shields his face.
“They announced the second call for the two hundred meters. You have
to spike up and check-in now, or you’ll risk getting disqualified.” My stomach drops. I frantically rush to the tent adjacent to the track and throw my spikes on. After plopping onto the ground and tightening my laces, I walk up to a table labeled Girls 118
Sitting at the table, I spot the lady and say,“I’m here to check-in for the girls
“Name and school?” she asks.
“Amelia Haggins, Maclay School,” I respond. She nods her head and pro-
ceeds to read through a paper. Her pen hovers above a list of names until she stops at mine.
“You’re only in the seventh grade?” She questions me looking up and
“Wow,” she mumbles underneath her breath.“Heat five-lane three.”
“Thank you,” I tell her before walking over to a group of girls crowded
near the entrance. Five grueling minutes later, I stand behind a set of large blocks in lane three. After looking at the scoreboard and seeing the results from the fourth heat, the path to the podium instantly shrinks. As I glance at the competition, my nerves get even worse. Finally, after an anticipated wait, the starter motions for us to approach the blocks. Breathe, Amelia I tell myself. Eight long light blue lanes curve and stretch
out in front of me. The short two hundred meters stretch endlessly down the track.
Thoughts of anticipation are abruptly interrupted when the starter
declares, "Runners, take your mark.” The raucous stadium becomes silent. I can hear each of my spikes plant into the blocks behind me. Once I am hunched down, my knees rest on the track. I bend my head down and look at my shaking hands, which lay inches behind the line. My eyes slowly close as I recall the trials and tribulations from the season. I reminisce about the countless workouts and meets that I endured preparing for this very moment. I reflect on the support of my parents, coaches, and teammates throughout the season. Looking back at the season simultaneously gives me a sudden sense of reassurance about the race. My nerves vanish once I realize 119
“Set.” I rise from the blocks and shift my weight onto my fingertips. My
breathing finally slows, and my head looks back to my shoelaces. Bang! Smoke from the gun lingers in the air, and the sound propels me out of the blocks. Thinking back to my sprint coaching, I keep my head down for the first twenty meters before promptly titling it up. My arms viciously pump as I near the curve. Using my peripheral vision, I can see the runner in lane four losing speed. I use her weakness to my advantage and drive my knees up. My mind blocks out muffled screams and cheers in the background as my focus shifts on the long straightaway that stretches out in front of me. The spikes beneath my shoes levitate on the track with each stride that my legs make. Coupled with my own, sounds of heavy breathing fill my ears as we near the last fifty meters.
Finish strong. Push. I give all I can as my face strains. I use the last bit of
my energy and strength to cross the finish line. After jogging past the line to decelerate, I find an open spot and rest my hands on my knees. The rapid pounding of my heart swells my entire body as I turn to the leaderboard. Underneath the sixth-place position reads "AMELIA HAGGINS, MACLAY SCHOOL." A large smile instantly stretches across my face. I look out to the stands and see my parents and coaches cheering. I am jolted back to the present as the starter announces for the runners to set. My nerves are gone as I remember the strength and perseverance that 12-year-old me found, to race in an event against girls significantly older. I take a deep breath and a small smile stretches across my face, knowing that by the end of the night, my name will be on the leaderboard.
THE OTHER SIDE
The frog’s croaking smothers the footsteps behind me. I’m sort of okay
with that. It’s like maybe I’m not being chased through darkness right now. But, without the aid of sound, I can no longer tell where they are, and I feel like a helpless animal stumbling, my capture inevitable. Nefiri like to play with their prey. The thought of being toyed with like that awakens a horror in me that hasn’t been exposed to the world since the first time I was left alone in the dark, and considered things may be lurking there.
I can’t help but think of how Alistair’s face looked solemn then he pressed
the key into my hand. He pressed it into my palm so intensely the runes carved into my skin. The gesture made me consider for the first time that Alistair may not be waiting for me on the other side, and there may not be a happy ending to this story. Sunlight’s last streams snuck from the room as we stood there, arms locked, neither wanting to let go and admit goodbye.
It isn’t gliding in the way he said it would. The runes on the key and on
the obelisk should fit together like a puzzle, or like a snug coat. You get it. I don’t get it. I definitely do not get it. The safety of the frogs’ noise has vanished, and I know they’re circling me now. My brain just can’t pull out the laser focus needed to feel out the intricate runes with my fingers and match them up. I’ve even dropped it twice and had to waste time feeling around the grass for a notched metal circle. It would totally suck if there was at random another notched metal circle lying around here that I picked up instead of the key.
Think, think. Please. They’re closing in. The Nefiri like to play. They
won’t pounce yet if they’re entertained…so I scream as loud as I can. Amorphous 121
shadows tell me the scream brought more running towards the obelisk, but at least I’ve bought myself time. Much needed valuable time. Focus. Laser like the way the cats used to play, before things changed. The key slides into the obelisk’s own engravings like a snug coat, and white light overwhelms the scene. The last thing I see on this side is the melting faces of several hundred Nefiri.
THE BIRDS WORK FOR THE BOURGEOISE
As I washed my face this morning, The birds were already awake, Sharing their melodies. Their song plotted the downfall of the government, And it wafted in through the bath’s window. That’s fine, I thought. I went outside to study them. They kept plotting, harmonizing with each other Like beguiled lovers who must now part ways. And I sat in the shade under the tree, watching them
“Is she looking at us?”
“Do you think she can understand?”
Beady eyes in small heads turned to me, And I kept looking at them. The birds are plotting the downfall of the government, I thought. Without warning, the sky burned with radiance. Whatever they had planned, Was already coming to pass.
ORANGES LENIA CHARITONOS
UNDER THE ORANGE BLOSSOM TREES
I held onto his pinky for balance as I toddled beside him through the
orchard. The sun trickled through the branches reflected on the oranges like honey drizzled over walnuts. A fragile cool breeze blew a couple of tiny white blossoms from the tree into the air. I raised my palm to grasp them, but they quickly floated down onto the grass. And trying to keep up with his strides, my tiny red rainboots stepped on the fallen flowers.
“Look here, these are the first oranges for April.” Gramps said as he
crouched down pointing at the tree’s lowest tree branch.“Can you reach it?” he asked. I nodded, his Atlanta Braves baseball cap nearly falling off my head. I lift my arm to pluck it.“Easy now, tiger- you don’t want to take the whole tree down with you, do you?” he chuckled.
I shook my head “No, Gramps.”
“Now when picking oranges, the easiest way is to twist the stem and it
will twirl like a ballerina- see? Good, now hold out your hands under here and the orange will drop into your palm”
“Okay” I watched as he twirled the fiery fruit’s stem and it plopped into my
palms. It nearly toppled out as my hands were too small.“There you go, pumpkin. These are some of the sweetest oranges in the state- let's pick some for you parents,” he laughed. He took off his navy baseball hat, the same hat he always wore with his uniform, he used to call it – his Carolina blue polo and khaki pants. He put our first orange in it.
“Here is another one” he pointed to another sunset-colored orange hiding
beneath the hunter green leaves. I reached for it and barely touched it. “Here you go, tiger” he said as he lifted me onto his shoulder. I reached through the leaves and twisted the stem- the orange began to spin and then it plopped to the ground.
“Good job, pumpkin!” He set me down on the blossom-filled pasture.
“Let’s go show Mom and Dad what you picked.” 125
It's been thirteen years and the scent of old Florida is as vivid as I remem-
ber. I walk on the fallen flowers’ path until I see the first orange hanging on a higher branch. The Carolina blue sky offsets the orange’s bright hue. I stand on my tiptoes and reach it. They said he did everything he wanted to do in life.
I twist the orange off, watching it spin like a dancer and then dance from
the branch into my hand. They say he went peacefully.
The orange lands safely secure in one palm. I peel back its skin and take
a slice out to bite- it's still as sweet as that first April. They say he left us in his sleep, but it feels like he never left. A fragile cool breeze blows a couple of tiny white blossoms down and this time I catch one in my hand.
ON AND ON ABOUT THE EARTH'S TREMBLING
I once hiked down to the lake while the Earth trembled And the water was still. There was a time when My grandfather accompanied me. Him And two fishing poles, even though we never caught anything. Now I walk by myself To the lake. And if you leaned far enough Into your own cold reflection You would see the same girl I do, lying just under the surface Eyes closed. The water doesn’t shake With the rest of the world. She doesn’t know what it feels like be as unsteady as I do. Did anyone else feel the ground tremble? If the Earth shakes, and a child On a grassy hill is knocked off balance, they would Tumble down, cartwheel down, roll down Until she lands among the flowers. I used to Pick flowers for my mother only to discover now That they were weeds. She smiles regardless. When that time comes, I won’t Bring you simple yellow weeds. We will make sure to put you next to Dad like you both wanted. When I was in 3rd grade, My teacher took us to a cemetery. Did they suppose it was time To introduce us, who were unfamiliar at least, to Death. She called it a field trip. Why Didn’t we bring flowers? When a couple is gone, they are involuntarily laid Side by side forever so that when their stones Have cracked and faded, a group of 3rd graders won’t know He was caught with another woman. Some still won’t understand. Some will try To force innocence on the world, Aware that the two cannot exist in the same space, and someone else Will take a group of children to a cemetery. So I’ll just sit on the shore with my hands over my ears, pretending That, for once, the world stopped shaking. 127
TIME EMILY HAWKEN 128
have you ever watched something come apart in your hands? seen it slip through your fingers like the fine sand from the dunes of emotion have you ever watch something come apart in your hands something good something right something Beautiful have you ever watched something beautiful come apart in your hands
My mother will cry at anything that reminds her of the uncle I never met. Visiting other members of her family. Dusty skin-wrapped photo albums packed with papers where shadows catch Uncle ______’s face like illness chasing after a child. In photos, he’s a brown haired pale man. I can’t see what his face looks like in them and I could never see it in person. I don’t know. The song on the radio goes… Do I look alright? And I say, Yes, you look wonderful tonight Whenever it comes on, she always tells me it played at his wedding. This played during their first dance that night, you know. Yes, Mom I know. His things relocated into our house. A beautiful glass chess board who housed painted gold and silver kings and queens. My brother and I broke them. Stepped on, cracked, and lost between the cushions of our leathery couch trapped forever in a dark tomb. Sister said They were really close. They would talk on the phone day and night. He made jokes about Daddy’s name and she would laugh. Anyone else, she’d get mad. They talked every night, and I’m sure he was nice Before alcoholism mauled his liver, Before the cystic fibrosis could catch him The reason elementary teachers didn’t teach because He will die anyways And he did. And left my mother with a burnt scar in her heart that makes her cry at a song on the radio 130
NO MORE JULIA DAWES
Gramps always told me wrinkles represent memories. The first time he ever told me that a thousand questions raced through my head. The first one I asked was,“How many wrinkles do you have, Gramps?” “Millions,” he answered. Then he told me the wrinkles on his feet were from his first walk on a beach, and the wrinkles on his lips were from the first time he’d ever kissed Grandma. His favorite wrinkles to tell me about were the bags under his eyes. These were from the first time he saw me in the hospital. When I was six years old, I couldn’t wait to have my own wrinkles. In fact, I remember getting out of the bathtub soaking wet and running up to Gramps waving my pruney fingers at him shouting,“Look, Gramps! I have wrinkles too!” Gramps chuckled and said,“Not yet.” Then, when I was nine, I came home one day from my friend Leo’s house. “Gramps! Gramps!” I called, racing through the house to find him. I found Gramps sitting on our weathered blue couch and he motioned for me to sit beside him. “What’s gotten you all fired up?” he asked. “Leo’s mom was looking in the mirror today, and said she has so many ugly wrinkles!” Gramps seemed amused.“Why doesn’t she like her wrinkles like you do?” “Well, Robbie, everyone has at least one bad memory that turned into an ugly wrinkle.” “Really? What’s yours?” “A long time ago, when I was about your age, I met a boy named Adam. He became my very best friend. All summer long, we skipped rocks, took long walks, and climbed huge trees. We knew everything about each other: favorite color, favorite book, birthday, half birthday, favorite number, and anything else two best friends would know. Well, at least I thought I knew everything about him. It turned out that he was being fostered by Mrs. Reynolds, my old nanny. Mrs. Reynolds passed away a week before school was to start, which meant Adam had to leave our town. Two days later, I said goodbye to him, the best friend I’d ever known. See this wrinkle?” He put my small hand on his cheek,“It’s from the tears of the lonely afternoon when we said goodbye.” Thinking back, that seemed so strange to me at nine -- the fact that someday I could have an ugly wrinkle of my own. Sitting here now in my chair at Green Valley Senior Home, I not only know what it’s like to have an ugly wrinkle, but a million different kinds of wrinkles. I pull my granddaughter, Scarlet, up onto my lap and say: “See these wrinkles?” She nods.“These wrinkles represent memories.” “Really?” Scarlet’s voice is filled with curiosity and innocence. “Really,” I say. She presses her tiny hand onto my left cheek. “How many wrinkles do you have, Gamps?” My heart fills with love as I squeeze her tight and press my lips to her cheek. “Millions.” 132
EVERYTHING MUST COME TO AN END
The house was mild and radiant The smell of cinnamon candles filled the air as faint laughter could be heard everywhere I walked along the worn wooden floor and down the creaking steps, the sound of laughter grew Louder as I came to the kitchen, filled with wonderful smells of freshly cooked chicken and Pie I walk into the kitchen unnoticed, my mother and father too busy laughing. The sight warms my Heart like the sun warming the ground and melting away the snow on a bright spring morning But I know this isn’t real Everything must come to an end, so must this. If only I could stay here forever, come home to a laughing and loving family. But this wish faded years ago.
REFLECTION EMILY MACRI 134
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AT THE INTERSECTION OF FOURTH AND CEDAR CHLOE HARBIN
It’s right here, laying on the cold pavement, where my senses are flooded. The blue car wouldn’t stop. It feels like all the noises are closing in and folding on top of me, shutting my eyes. The birds are chirping angrily, and the sun is melting a fallen ice cream cone on the blood-stained sidewalk. The blue car wouldn’t stop. I can still feel the force of being rammed - indented on my body, it’s imprinted in my mind. Through quick glances, I can see my bruised and bloodied bones. The blue car wouldn’t stop. The ringing in my ears almost completely blocks out the sound of the sirens getting closer. -- I stare through the window of the bus on the way home from the hospital, or at least where they told me home is. I can’t stop looking outside. Part of me is convinced I’ll be able to recognize some building or landmark through the glass, even though the nurse told me it would take time to remember the incident, to remember my life. Her words are playing in a continuous loop in my mind: It was at the intersection of Fourth and Cedar. Once approaching a strange building, that probably made sense to me once before, I fumble with “my” keys and enter “my” apartment. Nothing in here belongs to me, not really. My life doesn’t even truly belong to me anymore. Now, I lay my eyes on a journal, sprawled out on the floor. There’s no name on the inside. It’s un-labeled with no defined past, and authentically alone. Just from this, I feel as if I’ve found a friend within this journal; who else could possibly feel as transparently detached from any past life? I sit on “my” bed and flip through the tear-stained pages. Immediately, I’m sucked in, reading every thought, dream, and desire this person has left behind. They’ve written all the thoughts I want to say out loud and scream to anyone who’ll listen. They’ve written all of it: the fear, the abjection, the hatred. It feels like a type of love, maybe even obsession. My entire fixation is so perfectly tragic. I can’t tell if I feel so attached to these pages simply because I love who they are, or because I love 136
who they are, or because I love how much of myself I want to see in them. The stories they’ve told are ones of humiliation and calamity, but there’s one in particular that captivates me. They tell of the time they looked into the ocean, and the ocean looked back: I looked down to the reflection of the moon onto the ocean waves until I was pulled in. I stumbled as I kicked off my shoes and chuckled. That was the first time I had laughed in 23 days. That’s when I started to run towards the water. And then, in one all-consuming moment, I was simply just standing in the vast infiniteness. The scene was purely invisible to the rest of the world except for water glaring at me. Not even the stars became witness to this. Was this existence? To look into the ocean and have it look back? Does living mean to be observed? I just want someone to look at me. Please look at me. I want to exist. I want to exist. I want to exist. It almost stings within me to be so purely aware of someone else’s existence, and I feel proud of them. I think I envy them. I think I want to feel that, too. I want to be proud of myself. I want to feel the sting of existing. I want to feel connected to them. But the only thing that makes me feel connected to my current reality are those nurse’s words. Still, it plays in an endless cycle: It was at the intersection of Fourth and Cedar. The only thing I can bring myself to do is go there. It was at the intersection of Fourth and Cedar. With the journal clutched between my fingers, my pace speeds up, and now I’m sprinting. I can’t keep myself away from there any longer. I have to see. It was at the intersection of Fourth and Cedar. I don’t know what I’m going to find here. My sanity? Probably not, whoever I was before the incident most likely didn’t have it either. -- 137
Here we are, at the intersection of Fourth and Cedar. There’s a curb still stained with my blood, but I sit here anyway and begin to flip through the pages of the journal once more. It feels too real. I don’t know for how much longer I can handle this. I look outwards towards the intersection and a bird passes by, very low to the ground. It’s close enough where I can see every single feather. The page I left off on describes a similar scene: I’m so close, I can practically touch its wings. I wish I could’ve gotten the chance to observe all the birds in the world. I wish I didn’t miss so much. I wish I could’ve helped myself. I want to help them the same way I want to help myself. I want to be proud of myself the way I’m proud of them. Maybe I am. Maybe I am proud of myself, proud of us. Maybe we’re closer than we thought. Maybe I am them and they are me in another world; maybe in this world. I can’t help but think we are one in the same, whether it be in our souls or in the literal sense. But, either way, we are just one, together. So, in a way, I am proud of myself. Am I? I can’t tell. I want to be. But if we’re the same then don’t I have to be? What do I really have to do? The sky starts crying and washes away my blood from the concrete. I stare at the sky and the sky stares back. They stare at the ocean and the ocean stares back. We look and are looked at. Living means to be observed. We exist. I exist. Could this be all there is? I can feel the rain seeping into my skin. Hey, are you proud of me yet the way I’m proud of you? Do you see this? Please, I just want to exist, I want to be proud of me, of us. I’m staring at the sky and the sky is staring back. I exist. We exist. Are you proud of me yet?
MACHINE VICTORIA DEUTSCH
The park was deserted as I sat down to read Under the long, shady branches of an old willow. Disillusioned with my past, and good reason to frown. The world would not give in on pulling me closer. As if that weren’t enough to ruin my day, Approaching me was this boy, all tired. He stood right before me with his head tilted, And spoke with great excitement,“Look what I found!” In his hand he held a flower: pitiful, as if it had grown with no water or too little light. Wanting him and his dead flower to leave, I faked a thankful smile and shifted away. Instead of retreating he sat by my side Held the flower to his nose and declared,“It sure smells pretty, looking beautiful, as well. And that’s why I picked it especially for you.” The weed before me is either dead or dying. No radiance of colors, orange, yellow, or red. I knew I had to take it or he’d probably never leave So I reached out for the flower and said “Just what I wanted.” For some reason though, he didn’t put it in my hand He held it out in midair, without reason. Right then did I noticed, This persistent little boy could not see, he was blind. My voice started to quiver and tears glistened in the sun As I thanked him for picking the very best flower he could find. “You’re welcome!” he replied before running off, 140
Unaware of the impact he just placed on my day. I sat there and pondered how he had managed to see A self-pitying man sitting under a willow. How was I in the dark and he saw the light? Through the eyes of that blind boy, finally I could see. I guess I was always the problem, not my past. And for the many times that I myself had been closed off to reality, I promised to see the beauty in all that was mine. I then held that weeded flower up, And breathed in the smell of a beautiful rose. I smiled as I watched the boy, holding another weed Approach and change the life of yet another man.
SONDER JULIA DAWES 142
He was sitting on the iron rod chipping bench staring at the icy placid lake. His rouged face bore the marks of many days spent at a desk from 9-5. Immediately, he had stood out in the park. His pressed navy plaid suit blared against the bundled marshmallows. As I walked closer to the old man, I realized the marron tie and pocket square with his scuffed brown shoes and a tattered piece of paper on his thigh. He was not looking at anyone in the park, but just staring intently forward as he fiddled with a watch, turning it over through his fingers. As I approached, he broke his concentration. And for a second, his time was mine. He looked up to catch my gaze and started to smile- a tight-lipped smile. I smiled back. He quickly rose from the bench, grabbing the note, and walked briskly away. He balled the note up and tossed it in the trash can. I went to sit on the bench and then felt the tiny oval and band pressed into my thigh. Tilting, I picked up the silver-plated watch. I looked up, but the man disappeared in the concert jungle where he undoubtedly returned to his office. I flipped the watch over it was engraved, “You’ll always have my time, Love, Dottie” --It was the first time I had read your writing since the day you left. I read it, words glazing over me. Café at 10:15 am Meaningless and superfluous as always Dottie you waste my time. write back to me. I folded the paper and placed it on my leg. went away. 17 years 3 months 4 days since I last saw you. it was better for both of us. Now your response was clear but many years too late, Dottie. i'm sorry. I caught her eye, watching me hidden from a bundle of scarves. I miss you. I must have been sitting for too long and she noticed. Meet me at the café at 10:15 am. She smiled but those icy eyes – I could feel you, Dottie, staring at me. I hope we can be friends. I still see your face in each passing person. Under the weight of her intent stare, I could only hear the tick tick of my watch flipping through my fingers. I was going to be late. I placed the watch on the bench, years I had worn it waiting, and now the time was at hand but I was done waiting. I felt the years melt away as the letter left my hand into a pile of trash. I do not need your closure. 143
I WROTE YOU A LETTER
you reached your hand out, gesturing towards me, asking some question, unrelated, even though we haven’t been talking. you said you didn’t know what you wanted to do, in life, and that you were strained and plagued by the thoughts associated with life after this moment. i didn’t know how to comfort you or comprehend the weight of your worries in a real way. while you said this, i spouted nonsense about things that didn’t matter, but it didn’t seem to complicate things (only recognizing my mistake upon recent reflection, and now i couldn’t bring it up even if i wanted, given the time, the history). you said you didn’t want to do it anymore, that you would end it for another reason. i didn’t understand my position (the power i had to make a decision i didn’t want to be on my hands). i didn’t know no one would know the years’ culminations. no one could know. i wish i didn’t know. we didn’t talk for a while. (i wonder if we were thinking the same things) then we talked again. i didn’t want you to forget (i didn’t want to forget). i missed what almost was (we had a chance somewhere in here), but i couldn’t. it’s not why you thought though, i couldn’t do it because of my position. always coming back to that moment. then we didn’t talk again. i wrote you a letter, but i don’t think i’ll ever give it to you (i think we both know). i’m glad we met, but it’ll always hurt that we did.
SISTERLY PORTAIT GABRIELA MARTINEZ 145