Table of Contents
Introduction The Skinny Dipper Riley The Home A Kenyan Toilet Appointments
“Caem” is a Portuguese word meaning “(they) fall,” and is meant to connect this season of my life to some of the content you will find in this book. Many of my writings dwell on insecurities and personal struggles of individuals, especially related to social issues. In daily life, I try to be as empathetic and understanding of people as possible. It’s necessary, in fact, in my role as a human-centered industrial designer, but I also consider myself to be a very perceptive, adventurous, and intimate person on a personal level. This leaves me with a collection of stories from many different lives of many different people that I use in my writings. I believe that relationships between humans are the most important thing in life, and I love gathering and sharing these important moments with others. As I’ve made my way through this fall, I’ve noticed that writing fiction to me is really a matter of gathering information from real learning experiences and translating it into terms that connect to a larger audience. I like to write about places I’ve been, people who have influenced me, stories I have heard, etc. Each of the stories in this book remind me of people, places, or times that I feel especially nostalgic towards or that even make me feel sad. I think sadness and nostalgia are extremely important feelings when it comes to personal growth, and I also think that good writing should inspire personal growth within a reader. My favorite setting to write in is at night, near a candle or two, while listening to Iron & Wine. I require lots of warmth, and I can’t think clearly under florescent lights.
The Skinny Dipper My leg won’t stop shaking. Although it’s the last one I’ll ever have to get through, I always hated the first day of school. I can’t believe I’m really a high school senior now though. It’s almost over. It took long enough. My classmate Roger is sitting next to me, shifting his eyes from the cell phone he’s hiding under his desk to the clock on the wall. There are only a few more seconds left in class. Ava, in front of me, is rushing to pack up her books and pencils. It’s funny how I’ve admired this girl from afar for so many years and never even really talked to her. I’ve never talked to a lot of people in my class, actually. I’m more of an observer than an engager. You can tell most of the girls here really take their first-day-of-school outfits very seriously, but Ava is wearing an Emerson College t-shirt and Vans. I like that. She’s beautiful, but not in a conventional way. Just in a sort of effortless way. She’s full of energy, always smiling. Her hair is always a tangled mess, but still so soft looking. Her jeans are a little bit baggy and torn up as if she’s been waiting the last three years to grow into them. I wonder what her summer had been like. She used to be pretty popular, I thought, but I don’t think she really hangs with that crowd anymore. I ran into her late one night in July when I was really craving a frozen burrito from the gas station. She was in the same 7-11, we were both there alone, and I’m pretty sure all she bought was a giant blue Slurpee. It must have been like 2am. She looked a little sad so I said hi to her, trying to spark conversation, and she gave me what seemed like a pity-smile and left. I wonder if she’s still dating that guy from Downingtown. I think that’s what it said on Facebook, at least - that she was dating a guy from Downingtown. I remember seeing pictures of her and some tall, bulky guy that I didn’t recognize. I wish I was that guy. Instead, I’m stuck in this tall, weak, pasty- white guy body. Girls haven’t shown any interest in me since the seventh grade, I guess that’s when I became more shy around them, but at least I wasn’t so stretched out back then. I wasn’t so awkward looking, and I didn’t have acne yet, and people noticed me. I don’t think people really notice me now. That’s okay though. The thing about this school is that no one really cares about you unless you’re on a sports team, or if you’re a pretty girl. And if you’re a dude like me, skinny and awkward, hiding in the art rooms, you just kind of blend into the shadows and look forward to graduation and hope that you’ll, somehow, lose your virginity by then. I have some friends, don’t get me wrong. We smoke pot together and sometimes we play video games. I’m not very close to them, but they’re fun to be around. I’ve also never been kissed. The bell rings and the whole class gets up to rush out of the door. I get up quickly and I’m so intent on getting out the door, I don’t even notice Ava’s backpack on the ground in front of me. I accidentally kick it, and then, ever so awkwardly, I throw all of my body weight in the opposite direction and crash into some chairs. “Ahh, sorry!” I say, embarrassed. “That’s okay!” What a cute girl. “Austin, right?” “Yeah.” I suddenly feel much too small for my jacket. “Are you alright?” I make a wincing face at her and shrug. “I’m fine, thanks,” I say as I stand back up. We walk out of the building in the same direction. I have no idea what to say to this girl. 6
Should I bring up the fact that I saw her at the 7-11 over the summer? Won’t she think that’s creepy? What if she doesn’t remember? “I hope you don’t think this is stalker-ish, but I know you live pretty close to me. Would you want a ride?” “Sure, yeah, that’d be great,” I agree. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m too nervous and excited to come up with an excuse. “That’s my car right over there,” she says, pointing to a beat up dark blue Oldsmobile. She gets in the driver’s seat and opens up the passenger’s door for me from the inside. I get in. There are empty 7-11 cups everywhere, along with a pile of clothes in the backseat, and an ashtray overflowing with cigarette butts right between us. “Wow. You’ve got the messiest car I’ve ever seen.” She nods and smiles. My heart sinks into my chest. “I try to clean it out every weekend, but I’ve been busy. Thanks for the critique,” she says, jokingly. We drive in silence for a few blocks, and then she hands me her CD collection. I go through the options: “Prince, Queen, Simon & Garfunkel...” “Queen, put on Queen,” she decides. Bohemian Rhapsody starts playing. At first, she’s shy about it, but pretty soon she’s singing right along, with more and more energy as she goes. “MAMAAAA, OOO OOOOOOO, DIDN’T MEAN TO MAKE YOU CRYYYYY!” She looks at me and eggs me on to sing with her as she swerves the steering wheel without even realizing it. I reach over to grab the wheel, and I can feel her loud breath on my cheek. She’s close enough to kiss me, but now she’s just yelling “MAMA MIA MAMA MIA” in my ear. She is adorable. I don’t sing along, but I can’t stop smiling. Why in the world is this girl hanging out with me? How did I get in car, again? I put the window down and stick my hand out. “Which house is yours?” “The one with the red door, right over there,” I pointed out. She pulls her car into my driveway and I suddenly feel drained of my happiness. It’s over. It’s over and now I have to wait til tomorrow, eighth period, to see her again. Maybe she’ll pretend this didn’t even happen. I wonder if I should try to kiss her goodbye, or if I could at least squeeze in a hug before I get out of the car. I unbuckle my seat belt. I don’t know what to do. She turns the music down and looks at me. “Do you have any plans for tonight?” It’s Monday. “No, not really,” I tell her. “Cool. I’m gonna come back here to pick you up at 10pm. Don’t leave me waiting,” she says with a smile and a wink. I think she’s flirting with me. I can’t tell. “Okay,” I say with a smile as I slide out of the car. I watch her drive away and I can feel my heartbeat pulsating in every part of my body. Every part. It’s only 4:00pm. I run up to my room and throw myself onto my bed. The remote to my stereo is right next to me, and I turn it on. Bohemian Rhapsody starts playing. It must have been the last thing I had playing this morning. Unbelievable. I keep it on repeat and spend 30 entire minutes pretending I’m Freddie Mercury with an air guitar. The rest of the day moves so slowly, but in a weightless kind of way. When my dad comes home from work, we cook dinner together. We talk a bit, and watch Jeopardy together until 9:00pm. I tell him about my date later, he tells me not to stay out past midnight, and I can tell he’s happy for me even though he doesn’t say so. I keep finding myself staring at the clock, just waiting for time to move faster. Finally, 7
it’s 9:45pm and I throw my favorite shirt on. It’s just a denim button-up, but it’s one of the only things that my body doesn’t visually drown in. I’m outside by 9:55pm. It’s a gorgeous night. She’s right on time. I leap into her car, try to play it cool. “That’s a nice shirt,” she says. I smile so big, I can feel my ears sliding up the sides of my head. “Thanks. You look nice too.” We drive without the radio this time, but it’s not uncomfortable. The quietness of the night is something we both seem to be in love with. Soon we arrive at Stoney Boulder. “Stoney Boulder? You come here?” I guess it’s not such a secret spot for my friends and me. “You bet.” She gets out of the car, leaving her headlights on to illuminate the otherwise pitch-black night, and I follow her hesitantly. For some reason, my mood has shifted and now I’m suspicious. I follow her down to the creek where the giant rocks sit. It’s just us, her car parked deep in the woods, and the light of her headlamps. There are fireflies all around us and the sound of cicadas fill the air. She’s way ahead of me now, running like someone is chasing her, and climbs up to the tallest rock, the one known as the safest spot for plunging in to the water. She takes off her shirt and tosses it to the side. Her bra comes off. I don’t want to look at her breasts, but I’m staring. She seems so calm about this, and I’m standing here watching her, the first girl to ever take her clothes off in front of me. Soon, she slides off her baggy pants, then her bright orange underwear. She’s nude. She’s so goddamn perfect. I’m trying my best to fight off an erection, and then she suddenly throws herself into the water. I hear her laughing, and then a splash. By the time she comes up for water, my shirt is already over my head and I’ve given up trying to not get excited. I start to feel weird about exposing my body, but then she comes out of the water and yells for me. “What are you waiting for, Austin?!” I run my hand through my hair, take a deep breath, quickly kick off the rest of my clothes and follow her up to the diving boulder. We’re at the top now, facing the deep woods in front of us. She grabs my hand, and I want everything about her. I want to know where she came from, what keeps her awake at night, where she wants to be five years from now. Who is this person that I’ve seemed to know my entire life, and not ever spoken to? Why am I only meeting her now? Her hand is so soft. She turns to me and smiles. “Jump,” she whispers, letting go of my hand. I watch her leap off the boulder, and I’m right after her. I don’t want her to ever get away. The water is freezing. I meet her at the surface, and we swim to the edge. She throws herself onto a rock and just lays there, eyes closed. I collapse next to her. I can’t help but to want to absorb every part of her body with my eyes, from the paint on her toenails to the car’s light shining off her wet pubic hairs. She turns to me, making eye contact. “Austin, are you a virgin?” Fuck. “Ummm...” I decide not to lie. “Yeah. I am.” Tears almost immediately start rolling down Ava’s cheek. “Shit. I’m sorry. I know it’s lame, I jus-“ “I come here almost every night, Austin. Do you have any idea why?” I shake my head in confusion. She clears her throat, and I’m looking at her again and I’m struck by how fucking beautiful she is. “I come here because it’s the only place where I can be myself. I don’t have to worry 8
about what anyone thinks of me, what anyone knows about me. I’m trying to cleanse myself of what I’ve done. I’m trying to be who I was before I lost my virginity. I’m not the same Ava anymore.” She catches her breath and sits up. There’s silence for a drawn out minute. I can tell she’s not feeling so comfortable anymore. I get it. I stand up and walk over to where our clothes are laying, and I bring them back for us. She looks at me and smiles. I sit down next to her on the boulder, and we both slide our underwear back on. She continues as she puts on the rest of her clothes, “I spent almost every night this summer here. I take off all my clothes and I jump in and out of the water, over and over again, until I’m exhausted and have to go home to sleep.” She’s not crying now, but blows her nose into the elbow of her shirt. “I don’t really know why I brought you here, but I feel like I can trust you, and I need someone to trust right now.” “You can trust me,” I say with every ounce of honesty I have. “I already hate being back at school. I feel like everyone just sees me as this used up slut, but that’s not who I am at all. All because of this one night. There was this party in June and someone slipped something into my drink. I don’t remember anything after that, but the next day Jake, my ex-boyfriend, found me naked in a closet covered in used condoms, and he attacked me until someone heard me yelling and pulled him off of me. We hadn’t had sex together yet, but we were planning on it, and he thought I had cheated. He called me a whore, and told everyone at school that I was a slut. I had to go to the hospital that day. I was in such pain, I didn’t even make the connection that I had been raped the night before.” I feel so angry. It all makes sense now. It makes sense that she wasn’t hanging out with the same friends, or trying to fit in like most of the other girls. She was out-casted, and she was hurt. I don’t want her to see how attracted to her I was now, because I want her to see that above all else, I care. But I don’t know what to say. We sit there for a moment in silence, and I put my arm around her in the friendliest way possible. “I’m so sorry, Ava... No one deserves to be treated like that. Did you tell anyone what happened?” “Yeah, I told the people in the hospital. Jake, my ex, got in trouble for attacking me, but they never followed up on my rapist. I wouldn’t be able to even identify him if he was standing in front of me.” She looks me in the eyes, and says, “thank you for listening to me. I know we’ve never really talked much before today, but I’ve always known you were a cool guy, just quiet.” There was a long pause. “You know, I remember seeing you somewhere over the summer, I forget where, but I remember you seemed so genuine and refreshing, and I felt like you might have been the last person on the Earth to treat me like I wasn’t the worst human on earth. I’m really glad to have finally really met you. Thank you for being a good person.” I don’t know what to say still. I don’t particularly see myself as a good person, just a decent person. A decent person who would never want to hurt her. We walk back up to her car, and sit there for another ten minutes or so, just talking about life. Something between us has really shifted. I don’t feel awkward for once in my life, and she has started to look at me with warmer eyes than before. She is suddenly the closest person I’ve ever had in my life, emotionally and physically. She tells me about her sister dying when she was thirteen, and how her mom still acts like she’s going to come home any day. I tell her about my parent’s divorce and how my mom’s new boyfriend tries to get me to call him “dad,” even though I live with my real dad. We sit there until the clock on the dashboard said 11:45pm, and I tell her I have to go back home. She drives me, and I hold her right hand with my left the whole way. When we pull into my driveway, we sit in silence again. I look at her, soak her in one last 9
time, and she kisses me on the cheek. “Can I see you again tomorrow night? Same time? Promise not to act like you don’t know me in school tomorrow.” I look back at her. “Sounds great.” I feel so lucky. “See you tomorrow.”
Riley “The thing is, this is exactly what has been happening to me over and over again since I moved here,” Sadie explained to Christina. She almost had to yell to have her voice heard over the sound of the music and other conversations. “I mean, a guy finally asks me out after a long dry spell, of course I say yes because I need the sex, we fuck on the second or third date, and it just never moves past that, the sex. Maybe I don’t know how to connect with men romantically anymore. Do you think I’m attracting the wrong guys? Maybe I’m too intimidating. Do you think I’m too intimidating?” Christina’s gaze was focused towards the band, studying the way the jazz drummer’s stick bounced off the snare in syncopation with the guitarist’s fingers strumming on the low E string. The fingers on his other hand looked like they were dancing over the fretboard. “I don’t know, I don’t think so. Men like successful women, I think. You’re probably just stressed. Try seeing if Ethan wants to get out of the city, maybe you’d click better in a more relaxed setting.” That was not what Sadie wanted to hear. She worked hard, and almost wanted to be told that it was, in fact, her dedication to the company that was responsible for consistently ruining her personal life. She could deal with that. She was proud of her accomplishments. Plus, the last thing she wanted was to be stuck in some strange place with Ethan, of all people. Their relationship was confined to making eyes across the office meeting table at work, and the four walls of her Rittenhouse apartment bedroom after 10pm and at least two vodka tonics. “I don’t know. It feels pretty hopeless. I hardly have the time for anything but work anyway.” It was true. Sadie hadn’t even answered a phone call from her mother in two weeks. Granted, that was partially intentional, but to avoid the guilt that came with acknowledging that, she would never admit it to herself. She was just ‘too busy.’ From Sadie’s perspective, the only thing she had in common with her mother was a last name, a thin frame, and an A- blood type. Sadie had been making an effort to distance herself from her mother since she was old enough to recognize how dull and miserable a young girl like herself could grow up to be. She would do anything to prove that her life would be different, even in her late 20s. She wouldn’t marry such an empty man, rely on him for financial support, or let ‘Dancing With the Stars’ become the highlight of her weeks. Of course, she could never blame her mother for the choices she made. It’s her life and she seems to be happy, somehow. But talking to her mom meant that Sadie would have to be reminded of the small town she left behind in Michigan, and the pain that came with the disconnection between her family and herself. Apart from her suffering love life and miserable relationship with her mother, Sadie’s years in Philadelphia had so far been fulfilling. Her prestigious economics degree from University of Michigan earned her a good job at a well-known corporation, which she had earnestly transformed into a full-fledged lifetime career. She lived for charts and numbers. Her fellow employees respected her, her bank account was constantly growing, her wardrobe was one that any young professional woman would die for, and she had the good looks and bright smile to help her get around everywhere else. At least, to a certain point. “Hey, Emily, can I get another one?” She knew the bartender by name. “Top shelf, again?” “You already know,” Sadie confirmed with a whiskey drenched smile. At this point, the band at the front of the bar was in full swing. The piano man was practically jumping on the keys, his expression just as tight and full of life as the dance floor, 11
which the tambourine player had taken lead of with a shaky rhythm that she could feel deep in her chest. Tambourine Man, utilizing every part of his body to strike his instrument, weaving between dancing lovers, was the life of the party. All of the bar patrons were either partnered up on the dance floor, or off to the sides, tapping their feet. The room was so loud that you had to have your mouth pressed up to someone’s ear to have your voice be heard. Sadie looked over the band with a sense of jealousy. She enjoyed her job just as much as they enjoyed theirs, she thought, but envied their contagious energy and artistic talent, which she had never personally explored. Christina, who had been distracted by a conversation with a stranger, turned back to Sadie, who had just lifted her glass to her lips. “I’m going to the bathroom, will you watch my purse?” Sadie nodded her head, then turned forward to throw the whiskey back and slam her empty glass on the bar, next to the others. She counted them. To her surprise, she realized that last drink was her fifth dose, as she liked to call it. Three is usually her limit, even on a bad day, but today she felt too sad to care. She did not like to lose control, in any aspect of her life, but the weight of her heart needed some extra lifting. She questioned whether she had lost her sense of responsibility, then ordered a club soda with lime. “Oh, and can I close my tab?” The club soda was too sweet. Without the burning distraction that the whiskey offered and her friend to give her companionship, Sadie felt an overwhelming sense of unease. She nervously scanned the room until her wandering eyes unwillingly locked on a figure that now dominated the dimly-lit dance floor: a tall, captivating, older woman. Sadie watched her from behind. She moved in a way that paralyzed Sadie with an alluring, unfamiliar, feeling of romantic intimacy, anonymous identity, and commanded direction to the music spilling from the instruments. Her nude heels fondled the dance floor with the same tenderness that Sadie so badly craved from her failed almost-relationships. With a tilted head, she studied the bottom fringe of the woman’s little black dress, watched it ebb and flow from the back of her thigh, into the air, and return, with each shift in direction. Each thread of that dress rested so delicately over her visibly smooth complexion, moved so naturally through the air. Sadie thought it would be such a pleasure to be a thread of that dress for a moment. Every muscle in her body seemed to go limp as she watched her, her mouth parted slightly, but her eyes had never been so wide. She so badly wanted the woman to turn, just ever so slightly, so she could catch a glimpse of her face. She wouldn’t turn. Sadie watched impatiently. The room spun a bit, but her gaze stayed fixed. The straps of the dress draped down from the woman’s shoulders to the small of her back, right above her swinging hips. The light coming down from the ceiling fell over her shoulder blades and spine in a way that painted them more beautifully than any artist could have depicted. In a quickly retracted daydream, Sadie imagined walking up to her just to graze her bare skin with the tips of her fingers and whisper for her to look her in the eye. “I must be so drunk,” Sadie muttered to herself in terror. Truthfully, she was. She tried to convince herself that she admired the woman in the same way that a little girl looks up to a 20-something year old. Then she tried to convince herself that she simply wished that her own mother was so bold, that it must be inspiring to have such a beautiful mother. Quickly realizing that both of these ideas were ridiculous, she tried to convince herself that she did not desire the woman romantically, but desired to be more like her. She was, after all, starving for honest, effortless, breath-taking affection. If only she could captivate Ethan, or any 12
other man, in the same way that this woman has captivated her, she thought, until she realized the many things that idea, too, implied. Finally, the band ended the song. The piano man wiped the sweat from his brow with the same towel that he then waved in the air to thank the audience for their roaring, drunken applause. The woman stood still now, but even the sweet way in which her body moved as she clapped her hands felt overwhelming. Finally, the movement of the crowded bar blocked Sadie’s view entirely. She nearly fell off her bar stool. Christina was back from the bathroom. “Are you okay? You look upset, did something happen?” “Oh, no, no, I think I just,” Sadie hiccuped, “had a drink too many.” At this point, she knew it was just an excuse, but hoped that she would forget all of this in the morning anyway. There was absolutely no way she could ever tell anyone about this night, but she also felt that there was no way she could keep it to herself forever. “I was thinking we should leave soon, would you want to split a cab?” “Yeah, let me just say bye to Rob.” “Who?” “We just met.” “Okay, I’ll be outside.” As Sadie got up to leave, she made the mistake of doing one final scan of the bar. Her eyes met those of the woman almost instantly. She didn’t even have to look at her dress to know that the gorgeous eyes she just met belonged to the same woman. She froze, even still after realizing that she was staring. She noticed quickly that the woman was staring back, and then the woman smiled at her. Sadie panicked. The smile was too much. She refocused her attention towards the door. She had to leave immediately. In a rush, she scuttled out of the bar. She had the sense that she was falling, and her entire body was bracing for impact. She could feel the woman’s eyes burning into her back without even turning around to know for sure if she was still looking, and felt that the contents of her chest were moving faster than her body to get outside. She got out the door and threw herself against the wall, back first, as if she was putting out the flame. She closed her eyes. At last, she caught a breath of fresh air. She felt so relieved that she couldn’t move, not even to wave down a cab. The cold breeze against her red face felt so good. A few seconds later, Christina appeared. “Oh my god, the funniest thing just hap--Oh, taxi! Taxi!” A passing cab pulled over, Sadie opened her eyes, apathetic to whatever Christina was about to tell her, and the two made themselves comfortable in the back seat. Sadie stared out the window. “Twenty-third and Locust, please,” Christina requested. “Anyway, Sadie, check this out. When I went to close my tab, Emily handed me this to give to you. I have no idea who it’s from, Emily wouldn’t tell me, do you have any idea?” She handed Sadie a folded up bar napkin. “(717) 982-3341, Riley.” Sadie paused at the name, Riley. She stared at the napkin. She smelled it. She rubbed her hand against the entire thing to see if she could get one last taste of that woman’s terrible magic, but she didn’t. She felt completely empty. It could be from anyone at that bar. She wanted nothing to do with it either way. “No. I have no idea who this is.” 13
The Home The nurse is coming. She’s looking at me. “Mrs. Silva, you have a visitor today. It’s Mariana, your daughter.” “I don’t have a daughter.” “Yes you do, ma’am, she’s here to see you.” I see that there’s a girl standing behind Nurse Susan, but I don’t know her. She sure is a pretty girl, but I don’t know her. “Hi mom. How ya doing?” It feels like… It feels like being a kid again, but only in the worst ways. It feels like sitting in a giant classroom every day, being called on by the teacher to answer the question, and not having any idea of what the answer is. I can feel my collar tightening up around my throat, my throat that feels so dry, like it’s scraping against itself and I can’t speak even if I knew what I would say. My palms start to sweat and my face turns bright red, and every time, I just feel like crying. I don’t ever have the answer. That’s what it feels like, never having the answer. But I don’t cry. I have no one to cry to. “I don’t know you. Please leave me alone.” “Now Mrs. Silva, I’m going to let Mariana sit here with you, is that okay? You don’t have to talk to her if you don’t want to, but she would like to spend some time with you. She’s a very busy girl, Mrs. Silva, and she took the time to come see you. You’ll like her.” I hear her mutter to the girl something about my medication being raised, which is good, because I shouldn’t “act out” today, Mariana should be safe. This makes me sad. I’ve become someone that needs to be controlled. I don’t feel like a person anymore. All I can do anymore is sit in this chair and sew, and that’s what I love to do: sew. The girl sits next to me and watches. “This fabric here, I’m making it into a dress. It’s satin, very nice. The thread count is marvelous, it’s really a pleasure to work with. My needle is made out of stainless steel. I have Parkinson’s but I can still work with it, you see?” I hold up the fabric and show the girl the last row of stitches I’ve done. I know they’re crooked, but you don’t see anyone else in this home sewing dresses like me, so I’m proud. I’m an excellent seamstress. Sometimes I remember things, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I’ll have a good day where I can remember a thing or two about my young seamstress years, my sweet old husband, my mother’s face… Other days I’m told I can’t remember my own name, or where I am. That’s what they tell me. I don’t remember those days, but that’s what they tell me. This girl who comes to visit me sometimes, I have her name written on the piece of paper that I keep my needles organized on, but I’m sure she wrote it there herself. People are always touching my things. There’s no privacy around here. She’s still sitting right next to me. It’s been hours, I think. Actually, probably not. I don’t know. She’s wearing a purple sweater and now that I’ve noticed it, I can’t help but to stare at a piece of thread sticking out where the arm meets the torso on the upper left hand side of the sweater. “I can fix that, you know,” I tell the girl. “What this? No, that’s okay, I can just turn it inside out, see?” She pulls the piece of thread into the sweater so it doesn’t stick out anymore, but I know that it’s still in there. “No, that’s not going to work, it needs to be sewed. Let me fix it for you.” I masterfully tie up the stitch I’m working on on the dress, and restring my needle with some 14
purple thread. It only takes a few seconds, because I’m an excellent seamstress. I lean in to the girl’s sweater, pull the thread out with my needle, and start going to work on it. “Mom…” “Don’t call me that.” “Mom, there’s no needle.” How embarrassing. I can feel my throat closing up again. “Oh no, I must have just dropped it. Oh no. Oh no… Do you see it? Is it on the ground? That was my favorite needle, it was stainless steel, I sew dresses with that needle, I’m an excellent seamstress, oh no, where did it go?” I’m on my hands and knees looking for the needle on the ground, with my face burning hot with embarrassment, and I can’t find the darn needle. I need to find the darn needle. “Mom. There is no needle. I’m sorry.” “What do you mean there is no needle, didn’t you see me sewing?” “Mom. You weren’t sewing. You just showed me the stitches on the dress you’re wearing. I’m sorry. If you want, I can go to the store and buy you some sewing equipment. That could be good for you. It could help you.” “I’m fine with the sewing kit that I have. Please leave. I don’t know you.”
A Kenyan Toilet I never want to forget that moment of waking up in Kenya the very first morning. We arrived at Josphat’s compound at 3am the night before, so I hadn’t actually seen any of my surroundings at all since it was a six hour bus ride from Nairobi to Ndabibi, and there was no electricity. Before I was even half awake I noticed that the air was different. I threw the mosquito net, which I hadn’t expected to be highlighter-blue, off of me, jumped to my feet on the concrete ground of my new bedroom, and before even looking out the window, said quietly to myself, “holy shit, I’m in East Africa,” as if it was a dream I had accidentally woken up in. I ran out of my room and searched the compound for the closest bathroom. The walls all around were made up of mud, sticks, concrete bricks, and some other type of spackle-like material that filled up the holes in between. None of them met at ninety-degree angles. The ground was concrete but covered almost entirely in old rugs that looked like they had been handmade in the previous century. Everything was dirty by American standards, but so organized and purposeful that I would never fur my brow, and the glowing light of the morning made everything seem picturesque. I was told beforehand that the bathrooms were nothing but a hole in the ground, so I had no idea where to look. Thankfully, I came prepared with my own sanitizing wipes. Finally, I walked outside, thinking that if I didn’t find the bathroom soon I would just go somewhere outdoors. I know that’s not the best thing for the environment, but I’d seen documentaries about people in India who do it, so I didn’t think it’d be far from normal here. Outside, I found a new world. In place of the maple, oak, and poplar trees I’d been surrounded by at home, I was now surrounded by banana trees, avocado trees, yellow trees with giant white spikes in place of leaves, every type of cactus that I’d ever seen in books, and volcanic rocks. The sky was bigger than I had ever remembered, the sun mightier, even from all of those times at the beach, or on top of Eagle mountain. I could see the edges of the Great Rift Valley on all sides of me. In the distance, I saw a collection of buildings that I assumed were one of the overcrowded elementary schools I would be working in while I’m here. I could see entire groupings of animals in different corners of my peripherals, which made me remember that we had to take a detour last night because the main road between Nairobi and Ndabibi was blocked by a herd of zebras that wouldn’t get out of the street. Amidst my awe, I quickly found Josphat walking towards me in a heard of goats about 20 feet away from the house. “Hujambo, Sarah! How was your sleep?” “Sijambo!” I finally had a reason to use my Swahili. “It was wonderful rest, Josphat, but may I ask where the bathroom is?” “The what?” “The bathroom,” I said. “Lavatory.” Josphat roared with laughter. He was a giant of a man, powerful and charismatic as a lion, and had skin as dark and soft as a Kenyan’s night sky, untouched by the evils of the outside world. “The toilet is inside, to the right!” “Asante sana!” I was about to burst. I spun back inside the compound, found the wooden door to the right, which looked like it was about 200 years old, and pulled it open. It was pitch black inside, but with the light spilling in through the open door, I could see it. It was literally a hole in the dirt, enclosed by walls on either side. I shouldn’t have been surprised, since I was warned before I came, but I could not reason with it. The entire space was about three square feet 16
big, and I was supposed to squat and do my business. I didnâ€™t know how to aim. After ruining the only pair of white canvas sneakers that I packed in my suitcase, I quickly learned.
You will wake up at your parents hours. It will feel too early and you will drown yourself in coffee.
Your mother will yell at you because your hair will be messy. You will brush it, knowing it might be the last time you wake up with such long hair for a long while. You will get in the car. She will drive.
No cream, no sugar. Doctor’s orders.
A. You will stare out the window for two minutes, because that’s how long it will take. You’ll get out, B. you’ll go in. A woman receptionist will tell you “make yourself comfortable.” You will be uncomfortable. C. A nurse will come in. “This might pinch.” You know. You’ve done this a thousand times. You will watch the tube fill up with your blood.
You will imagine yourself drained out.
You’ll watch the mountain your skin makes as the needle is being pulled out. You’ll wonder if it bruised. You’ll apply pressure. You’ll leave.
It might please you.
Home again. You will strip. You will imagine your legs spread open before a strange man. You will feel uneasy. You will get in the shower and turn the water all the way to H. Feel it against your chest. Breathe.
A. You will imagine the legs of the women you’ve been with, spread open. It will seem less strange.
Water off. Towel dry. Redress. Same clothes. Back to the car.
You will stare out the window, compulsively change the radio station and ask your mother how long of a drive it will be, because you have no idea. You will wonder what ever makes a man want to become a gynecologist.
Your car will arrive. You personally will not. A receptionist will give you a form to fill out, which you will lie on, because your mother will be over your shoulder. You will be sad. You will be sad for her.
Greed? Family? Slight perversion? Real concern? There is no connection.
You will think of a time when you were touched and didn’t want to be. You will push it aside.
2. “Lydia?” Is that a question or a calling? You will follow. You will walk into a room with a gown hanging on the door. You will take your shoes off. You will remove your pants. You will slide off your underwear and fold it nicely after you put on the gown. It will be cold. You hate cold. You will wait. Cold. A doctor will knock. He will enter. You will make an effort to be comfortable. You will tell truths. You will put your feet up and open your legs. 3.
He will put his hands on you. You will feel nothing. You will ask him why he became a gynecologist. He will tell you it’s a family business. It will be over quickly. You will thank him. You will redress. You will leave. You will exhale when your mother starts the ignition. She will ask you questions. You will hope for a silent drive. It will be short.
Stare out the window.
Home again. You’ll cook a meal.
You’ll think about shapes and weights and hair health.
You will get nervous.
You will think about all of the pictures of your hair throughout the years. All of the stories it holds. All of the bad haircuts. The time you let your neighbor chop it. She was ten. You will eat your meal. You will laugh at Yourself. You will laugh at this day. You will feel like an animal that has been drained and defiled and altered. Tossed from one place to another. You will tell a story that your mother laughs at. You will rush yourself. You will be late.
You will get in the car and you will drive yourself. You will get out, you will go in. A receptionist will tell you “make yourself comfortable.” You won’t be. You will wonder why everyone says that. Brittany will approach you. You will remember that you never like when Brittany cuts your hair. She will ask what you want done. You will freeze. Remember the pictures. Remember the stories. The bad stories. The bad haircuts Brittany gives. Your thoughts will be skewed. You will tell her that you only want a trim. Maybe you don’t give her enough credit. She will make terrible conversation. She will give you a boring haircut. You will pay her too much. You will leave. The car mirror will make you want to cry. You’ll sit there for a minute before you start the engine. You will go home. And you will put your hair up for the rest of the night.
Or maybe you’ll have tea. 19
A collection of short stories by Sarah Santo.