I made a list of the things I find interesting and it turned out pretty good

By Landon Amaradio

NUTELLA: A STUDY

            Nutella is a widely consumed, hazelnut-chocolate spread. I put that shit on everything. It meandered over from the European market straight into the hearts of millions of Americans. Imagine my excitement when I found myself in Florence, Italy visiting some family and they brought out that familiar white logo’d jar. Here’s the thing, it was glass. I felt like this was a fancier version of what Americans know and love. When I opened it and began to spread it onto my toast, I noticed the delicious aroma of hazelnut drifting up into my nose-canal. The spread was like a dance of the knife and gooey-brown gold. Once the music stopped and the Nutella covered every last inch of toasted bread, I took a bite. My mind exploded. Nutella in Europe is ridiculously different, having (dare I say) even more hazelnutty goodness. Hazelnutty is a word TIL. I was perplexed by its deliciousness. Why would the product be different in Europe? Is everything in Europe better? Now when I consume Nutella, I am reminded that there is a better version across the Atlantic ocean I am perpetually missing out on.

THE COFFEE SHOP IS CLOSED

            Apparently our favorite coffee place closes early on Tuesdays. I pulled on the door to receive pull back on my shoulder-socket. We sighed and wandered down the street to Starbucks. The coffee didn’t matter, she did. We talked until they kicked us out. I’ve never connected with someone so much. She was independent, driven, and confident. I didn’t want this night to end. I suggested that we go and see the new Star Wars movie, that we had already seen a combined total of ten times. She smiled, and started walking towards the theatre. I could’ve loved her. I think that she could’ve been the one.  Maybe I was afraid, maybe I was a complete idiot. I’ll never know what we could have been. I kissed her for the first and only time, and the credits rolled.

TIME, AND ITS RELATIVITY.

            Time is something we are first introduced to at birth. It is given to us in the simple terms of ‘Today’, ‘Tomorrow’, and ‘Yesterday.’ What I find to be quite interesting is how we can play with these terms. In their philosophical works, the Chinese get playful. Laurence C. Wu, a Chinese author, puts it like this, “...The meaning of "today" and "yesterday" is relative to contexts. Yesterday was the today of yesterday, today is the tomorrow of yesterday, and tomorrow will be the today of tomorrow." This is actually quite beautiful. I mean, it can never really be yesterday or tomorrow, because it is always today. We can definitively say that ‘yesterday’ is the previous 24-hour cycle before the one we currently inhabit, but we can also use ‘yesterday’ to describe fifty years ago. Similarly, we often hear “the __ of tomorrow!” referencing some future gadget or technology. Time zones further seem to skew this meaning, as it is already tomorrow in Japan. To the Japanese, however, it is today. Master Oogway of the successful Kung Fu Panda franchise puts it like this “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.” He has a point, we seem to always look forward to the future and regret the past, but sometimes we need to just accept that we will never go back to yesterday, we will never see tomorrow, it will always be today.

FUNerals

            Funerals are not, as their name falsely conveys, fun. The first funeral I ever went to was for my great-grandfather. I don’t remember how old I was, but I was young. The only things I knew about him were: he had the same name as my grandfather and he always gave me a stick of gum when I saw him. He died the day after his 89th birthday. He fell asleep on a park bench and slumped to his left side, falling over and hitting his head on the steel armrest. I didn’t learn this until I was older. My mother always said that Jesus took him in his sleep, because Heaven needed more angels. Despite all this, I distinctly remember his funeral— I didn’t cry. I don’t think I understood what was going on. I was dressed in my fancy black shirt that had buttons all the way down. I think I tried to cry, but couldn’t. Everyone else was crying so I tried my hardest, but I couldn’t. My Grandpa made a speech of some sort and cried, so did my Dad. I think it’s bad form to count how many funerals you’ve been to. Since that day I tried to cry I have been to too many funerals. All of my great-grandmothers died when I was in middle school. My other great-grandfather died when I was a junior in high school. It’s bad form to count how many funerals you’ve been to. I think death is beautiful in a way. I think about how all my great-grandparents lived entire lifetimes, nearly five times longer than my own. They loved, they brought life into the world, and experienced so much. I saw my great-grandmother on her deathbed and she told me one thing: “The boat is sinking honey, keep throwing that water overboard. Fight for it.”

STAR WARS

            Han shot first.

BABIES

I’m going to preface this by saying that I despise babies. They’re loud, they poop their pants, they can’t feed themselves, and they cost money. I want nothing more in the world than to be a parent one day. The mere thought of bringing a living being into the world— beautiful. If you don’t like puppies, or kittens, or baby animals you’re not human. As much as that makes me sound like a hypocrite. I think as humans, with our vast understanding of the world, we find life to be beautiful and amazing in all of its forms.

MY OBSESSION WITH MIRRORS.

Mirrors are cool. They allow us to make sure we look good and don’t have anything in our teeth. They make the words on your shirt read backwards and they intensify the sun by like a million times for some reason. What color is a mirror though? What if you put a chameleon in front of a mirror, what color would it become? It actually doesn’t change colors, I asked a chameleon owner. Science has shown that mirrors are actually slightly green. For proof, face two mirrors towards each other and you’ll see that the endless vortex of mirrored mirrors has an ugly green hue to it. As interesting as that is— I refuse to believe it. Mirrors are not one color. They are every color. They reflect what is shown to them, and by God they do a great job at it. I have never fooled a mirror. Mirrors are used in offices and restaurants in order to create the illusion of space. The brain sees the reflection, and recognizes that it is a mirror, but for some reason it makes the room feel larger than it really is. Next time you’re in a restaurant, look for the mirrors. If there aren’t any, look for the windows. Maybe it’s our primal instincts coming back, but people don’t like to eat in confined spaces. Small, cramped restaurants are proven to do worse, no matter how good the food is. I watched that Restaurant Impossible guy put a few mirrors in a smaller restaurant and double its business. Mirrors are cool.

MUSIC IS ROOTED IN OUR DNA

            Play music for a baby.

LOVE: HOW ABOUT NAH

            The only people I have ever said ‘I love you’ to are my family members. Once, my ex-girlfriend told me she loved me, I said “I don’t” and left. Literally— that’s what I said while looking into her gorgeous blue eyes. I liked everything about her, she was the definition my aesthetic. Love just wasn’t something I felt for her. My father says that I will know it when I feel it, and that it will feel like nothing ever has before. The world will suddenly make sense, the fucking stars will align and you’ll slip into a gooey coma. I felt things for her, things I’ve never experienced, but when those three words left her perfect lips I wasn’t going to lie to her. I felt stronger about pizza than I ever felt about her.

KUNG FU PANDA SHOULDN’T BE AS GOOD AS IT IS.

            Kung Fu Panda should not be as good as it is. It set itself up for failure just with the mere concept of a fat, noodle-making panda, voiced by Jack Black, learning Kung Fu from a smaller panda in order to save China. I thought this movie was going to make me wish I had an hour and 45 minutes of my life back. It didn’t. Not only did it amaze me and make me die of laughter, it has two sequels that managed to do the same. I thought you could only take the concept so far, and so deep, but boy was I wrong. I own all three and watch them more than I'm proud of.  Hans Zimmer, the same guy that scored Inception got on board to score this movie. Some people may not agree with me on this and I understand completely. But you’re wrong. The character relationships are better developed in these movies than The Notebook. The comedy is surprisingly original, and doesn’t rely too much on animal puns. The animation is stunningly beautiful, and convincing. I don’t find myself saying, “That’s unbelievable,” or “That looks dumb” even though animals talk and have crazy Kung Fu powers. When characters have flashbacks, the animation changes style to a 2D, almost comic-book style that gives the film even more depth despite it lacking a dimension. The story is a driven, rags-to-riches style masterpiece.

DRUNK PARTY FRIENDS

            We all have them, even though we may not remember their names. Drunk party friends are the best friends. There’s no birthday obligations or risk of hurting their feelings because you decided to hang out with someone else. I have met more of these people in my time in college than I care to disclose. I remember all of their faces, their attitudes, and what they were drinking. I met a guy once named Soup, that was it. All his friends called him that so I did too. We hung out for one night, riding around on a Thursday, too drunk to pass a sobriety test. I have yet to see Soup again, but he is someone I'll most likely remember for the rest of my life. My drunk party friends are better friends than my real friends sometimes. They don’t judge me for anything and they don’t ask what I got on my last math test. Drunk party friends are the best friends.

DENNY’S

            I have seen six dead bodies in the wreckage of a head-on collision. I have had an Original Grand Slam at the same Denny’s on the same day of every year since I was fifteen. The same waitress still works there, her name is Laura and she was the only other one who showed up that night, while I sat at a six-person booth. I have seen six white sheets lined up along asphalt as black as the sky, little glass stars scattered across it. I have ordered an accompanying coffee for my Original Grand Slam at the same Denny’s on the same day of every year since I was fifteen. I have seen six funerals too many, six crying families at each one. I have seen a man try and apologize for what he did in hysterics, sobbing at the feet of six families. I have tipped Laura the same amount every time I visit, nearly forty percent of the bill. She was the only other one who showed up that night. She was the one who was there when I got the call that they wouldn’t be showing up. I have seen six lives taken before they got to graduate high school, before they ever got a chance to love, and before they ever got to bring life into the world. I have felt the grey wave of crippling depression surge over me and only recede when that Original Grand Slam is placed in front of me, and a black coffee next to it. I have felt life, in its most turbulent form.

 

Teaching Science Teachers Science

by William Dube

Chapter 1

            As I lay dreaming of skiing, I was ripped from my slumber by my Hartford Whalers goal song alarm tone, and my girlfriend shaking me with urgency, “this is the fourth time you’ve snoozed!” … [incoherent grumbling] … “GET UP!”

I realized that it was 2:40am, rolled out of bed, banged my head on the ground as I attempted to rip myself out of my coma. I had 20 minutes to make my journey to McGuckins from Broadway and Baseline. I pulled my clothes on like a drunken baby, grabbed my Cliff bar and the energy drink I had purchased the previous evening, and ran out the door with my hair on fire to start the day.

This was the typical start to many of my days in the summer of 2016. A summer I spent as part of the Safran Lab field crew, managed by Ph.D. student Amanda Hund. The team was comprised of Amanda, another Ph.D. student named Sheela, three other undergraduates, three middle school teachers, and me. In our lab, we study the mechanisms of speciation. To study these questions, we use the barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) species complex. This complex interests us because there are six subspecies throughout the world that are diverging into discrete species; further, these species select their mates based on different physical traits, such that the males have measurable difference in their expression of these traits (such as tail length and breast feather color) depending on what subspecies they belong to.

Another attribute that make barn swallows a great study subject is how easily you can find them. Almost anywhere you go that has a man-made structure that is open to the outside is a possible place for barn swallows to live. From barns, to abandoned sheds, to culverts under roadways, barn swallows are easy to find if you look for them.

I arrived at McGuckins at about 2:50am, after driving a bit too fast -- depending on who you ask. As I sat there waiting (the rest of the team was behind that day), I thought about the day ahead. Starting when the rest of the team arrived, I would be working for the rest of the day, likely until 5 or 6pm. This is the life of a field researcher during field season, seven days a week.

  Figure 1: Amanda removing a bird from a mist net. (Photo courtesy of Amanda Hund)

Figure 1: Amanda removing a bird from a mist net. (Photo courtesy of Amanda Hund)

As Amanda’s car approached, the muffled sound of BBC radio, via NPR, emanated from within. As her car came to a halt, the door burst open and out she came, Incan hat wearing, travel mug and Goldfish toting, ornithologist extraordinaire. “Hey Will! Ready to catch some birds?”

“Oh ya!”

 “Will, how the heck are ya?!”

“Livin’ the dream DT, what’s good with you?!”

“Well, ya know… It’s 3am and I’m about to go climb around in the mud… so pretty good!”

            DT was one of the middle school teachers working with us. He was a vivacious, fit middle aged guy, with a passion for van camping. He would generally ride his bike from his home, some 10 miles away, to meet us at McGuckins at 3 in the morning. In addition to all of DT’s eccentricities, he was incredibly intelligent. For example, though he is not a biologist by trade, he decided to create a lesson plan on the differences in incubation behavior between birds along a gradient of parasite load.

            After the rest of the team assembled, we headed out for our night of mist netting and banding. This time we were headed to a culvert at Bobolink trailhead on Baseline, close to the intersection with Cherryvale. Off we went to study evolution as it was occurring.

Chapter 2       

As science progresses further and further, it also seems to become less accessible. As field biologists, we are not just naturalists wandering around in the woods looking at unique systems that interest us. We are also microbiologists, statisticians, and are becoming very well versed in coding (in programs like “R,” etc…). As the literature becomes more and more broad, it also becomes more competitive. We must possess a wider arsenal of skills in order to stay relevant. Many young people may feel disinterested, or even intimidated by the idea of trying to work their way into these fields.

            At the same time as science becomes more demanding, the United States is falling behind on science education. Although the United States is generally rated as being pretty close to average in terms of science literacy, there are 20 education systems with higher averages than that of the United States (National Center for Education Statistics). If we want to continue leading the world in science and technology, this must improve.

            The quality of STEM education in the United States not only leads to us being behind in terms of general science literacy; I fear it can also lead to a sort of positive feedback loop, in which our populace begins to lose their sense of value for the sciences. If this happens, it is not outside the realm of possibility that science research will lose its public financing. In order to avoid these kinds of problems, it is of critical importance that we as a community work to improve our outreach, particularly to young people, who are the future of science and science funding in the United States.

            The need for improvement in science education and outreach is the motivation behind the outreach programs cropping up all over the country. Amanda did a great job summing up how scientific outreach has fallen short in the past, and has the opportunity to improve going forward.

Another issue is that scientists traditionally have no training in how to communicate science to non-scientists, or the media. This plays into the whole idea that we are in some ivory tower that is isolated from the public. I think this has really been an issue with things like climate change and GMOs, they are both science communication failures. … We need to figure out how to get the public invested in science, do a better job of teaching science in schools to educate the general public, and have scientists better communicate what they are doing, why, and what they are finding. (Hund)

Despite these shortcomings, the science community has made and continues to make attempts to improve its outreach initiatives. From older local programs like the Thorne Nature Experience here in Boulder, to newer, more large scale initiatives, such as the National Science Foundation’s Research Opportunity for Teachers (RET) grant.

As a scientist, I can go talk to one classroom and reach 25 students, or I can work with teachers who will go on to teach many classes for many years and reach hundreds of students.

            The RET is an exemplary program that provides funding for K-12 teachers to go into labs or field research environments, and take those experiences to design curriculum for their students. This is the grant that allowed DT and the other teachers to work with us this summer. This is a great opportunity for teachers to update their knowledge of the sciences, and to be able to bring relevant, current information into the classroom. Amanda can’t speak highly enough of the program, “As a scientist, I can go talk to one classroom and reach 25 students, or I can work with teachers who will go on to teach many classes for many years and reach hundreds of students.” (Hund)

Given the goals of increasing science literacy in the United States, this program is invaluable. As Amanda said, this program makes it so that her outreach can reach hundreds of people, rather than just 20-25, an order of magnitude of difference!

Chapter 3

  Figure 2: The Safran field crew processing data on birds. (Photo courtesy of Kim Greene)

Figure 2: The Safran field crew processing data on birds. (Photo courtesy of Kim Greene)

As we arrived at Bobolink, we began discussing the logistics of the day. From who would hold the nets, to who would block bicyclists from getting caught in them. Once all of those logistics had been handled, it was time to start the banding day.

            With the teachers there, and their enthusiasm to help in any way they could, I elected to take the morning off from chasing and scaring birds; instead, I stood at one of the entrances, holding one side of the mist net. Soon, lead by Amanda, all the other people “flushing” the birds began clapping, shouting, and making strange noises. Almost immediately after they started this, birds started hitting the net, falling into the pockets formed by the slack in the net.

            After we had the birds removed from the net and in the bird bags came the “science-y” part. To process each bird was a seven step process in this summer’s protocol: We banded them with a NFWS number band (ID in hand, registered with the government), a set of two color bands (to ID them with binoculars), next we would determine the sex of the bird, measure it’s right wing length, and streamer length, collect feather samples from four patches, take a small blood sample for paternity analysis, and finally get the bird’s mass. This doesn’t seem like a whole lot, but when repeated with dozens of individual birds at a site, it is a lot to deal with logistically. This is where the teachers really gained the most experience and knowledge.

            As we collected our measurements and samples, the teachers would help us label and get us what we needed; but, they would also ask questions about what we were doing and why. Because of this, we were able to teach them everything from how to hold a bird so that it won’t get away from you, struggle, or get hurt; to what microsatellites are, and how we can use them to assess paternity.

Chapter 4       

The teachers took these experiences, decided what they were most interested in, and they each designed lesson plans related to those topics. Using this method, they were able to create engaging, real-life-inspired curriculum to elucidate middle school biology concepts.

            This level of engagement is invaluable to creating truly effective lesson plans. I contend that, through these experiences, the teachers gained not only an understanding of what we were doing; but also a level of excitement and engagement with the ideas that they could not have achieved through just reading about how field biology studies work. This is something that can truly set science education apart in the United States. By providing a window to cutting edge research for those who are responsible for educating the next generation of scientists, we can push ourselves into higher levels of scientific literacy.

            A couple things Amanda mentioned that could improve this outreach initiative (and science outreach initiatives in general) were both related to expanding the scope of them. One huge short coming Amanda cited was the lack of these outreach programs in urban areas, and other underserved populations (Hund). Most of the people who are exposed to this type of outreach are in strong schools already. The second thing she mentioned was that the RET should require researchers to be more engaged in the teaching piece that comes after the summer, which is not currently a requirement (Hund). If researchers were required to be involved in some way with the actual teaching process, this could drive student engagement and learning even higher.

            Overall, I left my summer experience with the teachers feeling extremely optimistic about the future of science outreach and education in the United States. That said, given recent shifts in the political climate, and the open distrust for the scientific community, we must be sure to hold our elected officials accountable for their actions. We must make sure that education and science remain priorities, or else we will surely fall behind. We are already on the right track, and if scientists and educators continue to receive the support of the public and programs like the NSF RET, we will have the opportunity to build one of the strongest science education systems in the world.

 

Works Cited

Hund, Amanda. Interview. William Dube. October 2016.

National Center for Education Statistics. Fast Facts. n.d. <https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=1>.

 

 

The Lakehouse

By Kimberly Habicht

           We were in the backyard, surrounded by every variety and incarnation of wood (trees, bushes, logs, sticks, twigs, kindling) that could possibly exist.  Some pieces half-decomposed, some dry- perfect for making a fire.  Some too large and heavy for me to lift. 

           And there I was: Sisyphus doomed to eternally roll the rock up the hill, just to watch it fall back down.  Instead of a rock, though, I was picking up every stick, in a yard that seemed to regenerate sticks in some supernatural prank on me.

           But, my grandmother demanded that the sticks be cleared out of the front yard, so my cousins and I toiled on, our tiny child-lungs sighing in protest, until not a twig could be found. 

           And then we were free to tirelessly run around the lakehouse, from the dock to the playground.  Shrieking and playing kick-the-can or capture the flag, like we were part of the wildlife.  We were free to scream boundlessly; we were in the middle of nowhere.

           My grandparents bought the lakehouse when I was 15 months old.  It was a grand wooden A-frame situated on a lake in western Maryland, three hours from D.C.  It was enveloped by trees and hydrangea bushes and pockets of brilliant flowers.  My grandmother was one of those gardeners whose craft should fall in the same category as magician. 

           In the earlier years of my memories, my grandpa could be seen from his bedroom window gazing down on us in the front yard from the second story, like we were his subjects.  He had been sick with diabetes for as long as I had known him.  It was an ordeal to even transport him the two hours west from Frederick, where we lived.  When he did make it out, he usually rested in his room. 

           Often, I would fantasize about becoming stuck, stranded, at the lakehouse for some extravagant reason.  My favorite was the apocalypse daydream: a bomb hit my home, my family rushed into the thick of Western Maryland.  I’d start a garden.  I could read through all the Encyclopedia Britannica.  I’d watch the only movie (Matilda) we had on VHS without abandon. 

           With no cable, no phone and no news, the property was scenery for a Twilight Zone episode.  It was at once haunted and terrifying- especially to me as a skittish child- and heavenly and charming.  I soaked in the dreamlike quality of the air, absent of the noise of traffic or engines or city.  Only sounds as perfect as the ones that come out of a white noise machine. 

           Work ethic was passed down through my family like a gene.  While my grandmother tended to her lilies of the valley, magnolias and hydrangeas, I would sweep the deck clean of pine needles.  My mother would be doing some elaborate electrical or mechanical work.  My younger brother, Andrew, would have probably been tasked with some sort of job that included machinery – a saw, a leaf-blower, a lawnmower.  He’d resist, and groan on about what he’d rather be doing back home, but I saw the smile on his face when he got to use the exciting, dangerous equipment. 

           I’d help my grandmother wrap her bushes in autumn with mesh netting so that the herds of deer didn’t eat the leaves.  I would watch the tenderness on her face as she methodically wrapped each bush.  She called her plants her babies, and regarded them with delicate, matronly care.  When I water my own measly, usually dying, plants, I think of her.  From time to time, I notice the tenderness that she radiated coming off of me.

           I was in high school the first time I was allowed to take friends up to the lakehouse alone.  The finagling it took to talk my grandmother into letting us go up was mazelike and deceptive.  She had never let a grandchild bring their friends up un-chaperoned, and it was perfectly clear that the purpose of our trip wasn’t to tend to her garden.  So many truths, half-truths, and full-out lies were strung together aimlessly that I actually jotted out what I was telling her in a notebook, so I didn’t forget and misspeak.  I told her that my friend had his boating license; in actuality, he had driven his uncle’s boat once.  I thoughtfully omitted the fact that a few of my friends were twenty-one.  Thinking back on it, I feel sick with dishonesty.  But the labyrinth of deceptions worked, and on some Friday in June, my friends packed my thrashed Subaru Forester full of backpacks, towels, hamburgers and thirties of beer, and we cruised the country roads west.    

           As soon as I opened the door to the lakehouse, and let the ten or so scraggled teenagers stomp through the living room, I felt wildly off-put. 

           To them, this place held no magic.  None of them saw the lazy-boy recliner as grandpa’s chair, where he would sit in his flannel jackets and watch TV.  I can barely remember his face now- I have to be reminded through pictures of what he looked like- but I do remember his presence in that chair, constant. 

           They didn’t notice the precious decorations- the model boats, the dolls from Costa Rica, the antique guns- that I had admired and studied when I was younger.  They walked in and popped the top on a Pabst Blue Ribbon and started looking for the grill.  And I couldn’t blame them. 

           I looked around trying to see what they saw.  The tightly spaced kitchen with an outdated oven and stove.  The fridge with expired milk and jars of dangerously-aged condiments.  The small figurines of Swede girls and cheerful blushed-cheek cows, all painted in red and blue and green.  I, for the first time, saw them as yard-sale kitsch.   

           Detached, I watched my friends move tables and chairs to set up a beer pong game.  As a child, the furniture seemed permanently set in the foundation.  Now, I watched Emma easily orchestrate the movement of the furniture with swift directions.  Move that lamp to the bedroom, push that stool over here. 

           Outside, Adam, ever the hooligan, shot-gunned a beer and tossed the can.  It landed precariously on top of my grandmother’s flowers.  I winced as I remembered the hours that spring that my grandmother had spent laboring over her cherished plants.  I looked up to see Adam’s penetrating smile, with joy spilling off of his face. 

           And I watched Karolina filling the cooler with beer, now that the fridge had reached capacity.  I saw my mom packing apple juice and peanut butter sandwiches for lunch at the dock.  Karolina crammed the cheap, vile-tasting beer into the battered cooler with nonchalance. 

           I shook the reverie away.  With people making their way through my house like germs, I had to tend to the present. 

           I knew I couldn’t transfer my feelings of guilt and remorse onto my friends.  Work ethic, morality and duty were, and are, an integral part of my being, like a bone.  But my family also taught me the importance of fun.  And, I had already opened the doors to my sacred church and let the sinners in; I couldn’t allow them to leave without showing them the light. 

           So I showed everyone Uno’s on the lake, the Lakeside Creamery and the diner where Andrew and I would get heaping glasses of chocolate milkshakes served alongside breakfast.  I took them on the boat, where we fried our skin like eggs and listened to the radio. 

           We went on a walk after dark.  This had been the place where I first experienced the blanketing glow of a huge, white full moon.  The kind of glow that makes a moment inherently intimate.  The sky held a solid stillness that looked fake, like it was a painting.

           Even now, though I had been drinking beer all day, I still remember the look of everyone’s faces in the moonlight.  I feel seventeen-year-old me, soaking in the moments that I had with these people before I left for college.  We had shared years and years of our lives together, and now I was choosing to leave them.  The least I could do was share this hidden piece of myself, this sacred ground, and have them revel in it with me. 

           The amount of times my friends have said, “Remember that time at the lakehouse…” since then constantly warms my heart.

           Sacred things weren’t meant to be kept secret.   Religion, universal truths.  They’re all better when shared.  I had to share the lakehouse, even if it meant betraying my own perfect image of it. 

           Now, I remember the innocence of my youth and the debauchery of my coming-of-age side by side, in a place that will remain sacred and solid in my memories.

 

Pilgrim Passes By

By Lawrence Lawler

            One Mississippi, two Mississippi, one Mississippi, two Mississippi...  I stare out of the window, robotically counting rotations of wind turbines that scatter the Kansas horizon.  I have been traveling, on a road straight enough to drive blindfolded, for the past six hours. My only companions are my mother in the driver’s seat and the stagnant, white giants that watched and waved us onward as we passed them by.  Cars droning by, fields of corn, and groves of sunflowers that retreat over the horizon is all these giants, these massive hordes of wind turbines, will ever know.  They are stationary from birth, monotonously working until their undetermined retirement. But we drive on.

            The odometer in our silver Acura ticks endlessly as we make our pilgrimage toward Colorado from Tennessee.  Mile after mile we keep driving, the distance between myself and all I’ve ever known of home growing larger and larger.  Periodically I reach towards the lemon-lime Gatorade in the cup holder at the center console, the bottle resistant to my pull - because a spilled Diet Coke.  Mom knocked it over.  She hasn’t stopped berating me with apologies for what seems like eons, most likely feeling the need to cover any extra ground before she must say goodbye.  The Diet Coke was knocked over in Indiana; Indiana feels ancient and forgotten now.  Rest stop by rest stop, and fill up by fill up I am beginning to obtain the actual scope of distance that I am placing between myself and the town where I grew up.  Tennessee feels far away and fuzzy; no matter how much I rub my eyes it’s not getting any clearer.

One after another I pop Corn Nuts, a terribly impulsive gas station purchase, asking my mom, “How you feelin’?” as I chew.  I don’t know if I have ever seen her as quiet as she is right now.  At five-foot-one, she is an energized, charismatic, Sicilian spitfire who only loves her own mother and a fresh lasagna as much as her own children, and now she must say goodbye to her youngest.  As she takes off the Maui Jim sunglasses that have been hugging her face for the whole car ride, it’s easy to see the light reflecting off the water in her eyes.

“Good, I am just beginning to miss you already,” she responds quietly, wielding illogical statements that only a mother can cause to make sense.

Normally I would respond by telling her that “I’m still right here,” but I let the remark fade back inside me.  She can say anything she likes; she is the one who must drop her son off at a college 1700 miles away the next day.

“And part of me feels sad that you had to say goodbye to Bailey and Alex and Kevin and all of your closest friends.  And I’m still so sad and frustrated that Susie broke up with you, out of the blue, the week before you left!”

The breakup is still fresh.  My only serious relationship up until this point had ended, seemingly moments before I left Knoxville.  Susie was fearful of what a long-distance relationship implied.  Only days after she had assured me she loved me and was ready for anything, she decided to end things abruptly one night as we were hanging out.  My heart still aches to some degree.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about Susie during this whole car ride.  The subtle, shared characteristics she has in common with my mom, their speech laced with passion, their proclivity for smiling, and even their short statures, keep her in my memory.  But I wasn’t turning back, not even for her.  I knew that the interstate signs with a “W” following the number were the ones I wanted to follow.

Every slow crest of each hill in front of us is new territory for me.  I peek my head up hoping to catch glimpses of mountains, knowing they we are nowhere near.  Instead, I only see the continual collections of spinning giants, taunting us as we pass.  We pass a billboard with the word “EAT” painted on it in stale, white letters.  Accepting its invitation, we near the sign, its peeling white paint flaking off at the slightest gust of wind. Following the sign’s white, fragmented dandruff to a McDonald’s that looks as if it has been closed for years, we hesitantly step out of the car and towards the door.  We almost slip on the freshly mopped floor as we approach the register and overhanging menus.  After mulling over how soon we each want high cholesterol, we both order Quarter Pounders from the cashier.  With bright red hair to match her lipstick and a mole on her right cheek, my mom and I speculate if Ronald McDonald himself had just taken our order.  We chuckle to ourselves and find a seat.  

            Sitting down in the scoliosis-inducing booth my mom is quick to reflect on her college experience. “I remember trekking to college with my parents was really exciting! It was like a new chapter of my life was being written in the moment.”

            “Yeah but Mom, you only moved three hours away to Auburn.  We’re driving twenty hours just to get to the state that I’m living in.”

            “I know, I know.  I just remember it being so great, all of the friends I made that I still talk with to this day. I even hung out with Charles Barkley!” she exclaimed.

            I had heard of her friendship with the NBA superstar a million times, and she knew that.  Laced in her conversation are attempts at comforting her son, who is making the biggest decision of his life up to this point.  I know that her small talk is an expression of her love for me, but comfort isn’t a commodity that I have a surplus of right now.   

I can’t help but wonder if I am going the right direction as I bite into a burger composed of questionable meat content and cartoonish looking sesame buns.  It was only weeks before the college deadline in May that I had decided to negate going to Vanderbilt on scholarship and had clicked the “enroll” button on Colorado University’s website, more or less on a whim.  I know no one out here, I’m not familiar with Colorado in the slightest, and I am choosing to venture out here blindly.  At the core of it, maybe that’s what I want.  I have been raised in the same gray-trimmed, tin roof home barricaded by rosemary bushes my whole life.  I have driven the same roads lined with Sequoia trees and Chick-fil-As, and been friends with the same PFG-wearing “good ole’ boys” since I could walk.  Maybe I am trying to escape.  Maybe Tennessee isn’t enough.  This burger is terrible.  We’re going to keep driving.

The brown, cartoonish “Colorado” sign flies by us on our right while being groped by millennials that are no more than tourists.  With one hand casually on the wheel I glance over at one of the women standing in front of the sign, noticeably more beautiful than the others.  Her deep brown hair flashes at us and I hope to get another glance at her through my rearview mirror as we pass by, but all I see is my high school athletic bag and a milk crate filled to the brim with books pressing against the back of my seat.  All I plan to take to Colorado is in the car with me.  But what have I left behind?  Haven’t I left a room full of belongings in Tennessee, packed to the brim with trinkets and cairns that have marked my path thus far?  Haven’t I left behind a family and a community that waved me off with tears of sadness?  I have left behind church on Sunday, football on Saturday, and the promise of warm cornbread wrapped in cloth before mealtime.  I have left behind waking up to my father’s hugs, watery eyes from standing too close to a campfire, and the smell of rain bleeding through asphalt after a midday storm.  I have left behind my consistency, my comfort, my certainty, and belonging.  I am leaving behind Tennessee; I am leaving Home.

The calling I feel westward still isn’t making much sense as I shift positions, now in the passenger seat, feeling the inward rumblings of my long gone Quarter Pounder.  Everything of Tennessee seems good, worth staying for.  But as I sail further from it, I feel the loosening grip of something that seems to have defined me and hemmed me in for much too long.  We finally crest over a hill past Limon, Colorado and for the first time I can see the tips of the westward mountains bathed in golden sun, beckoning with wordless invitation.  Although I am shrouded in hesitancy and perturbation, I know I desire to accept their mysterious call, an inaudible song too alluring to turn from now.  

 

Sitting upright, I look toward the driver’s seat. “Will you pull over, Mom?  I want to drive.”

 

 

Holy Sunday

By Cameron Matt

            I anxiously watched the warm blood rush from my right hand as my grip around the bottle of cheap vodka grew stronger, and the fist my other had formed became as tight as the muscles in my wrist would allow. I sat quietly, listening, waiting to hear the words I knew were coming, uninterested in what the scum across the table, who claimed to be my brother, had to say. His words went in one ear, and immediately out the other. I couldn’t comprehend the incessant apologies; each became less significant as I found myself focusing, merely on the furiously flowing concoction of alcohol and anger writhing through my veins.

            I’d spent countless Sundays alongside my neighbor and best friend, intently watching our home team, the Denver Broncos claim sweet victory, and other times, bitter defeat. The end of the week was a mutually holy time for the both of us, regardless of the outcome of the big game. Week after week, I’d find myself alongside my long time brother, eyes glued to the television screen, enjoying the game we loved, most often with a cold cup of cola in one hand, and a plate of one of my grandfather’s homemade meals in the other. Over the years, we grew older, times changed, and so did we. Tradition reigned true though; the savory Mexican food- always Mexican-the games, the weekly couch seating arrangement, and the camaraderie, all remained unchanged.

            Moments after I’d received a text reading, “We need to talk.” from my Mother, who rarely got ahold of me via text, I found myself becoming increasingly more terrified of what was to come. I sat in class, beads of sweat sitting on my brows, and my foot consistently fidgeting from the ground and back. The more I sat in my own thoughts, the more the weighing of the possibilities became overwhelmingly frightening. What had I done, and how was I going to get out of it this time? I walked through my front door, dismayed to see my mom waiting on the sofa. In one hand she had her phone, and in the other was an empty pill bottle. I meekly took a seat, and waited. Confused, I pleaded and pleaded that I wasn’t responsible for the crime that’d taken place in my home. She reassuringly insisted that she hadn’t suspected my brother or myself. All we knew was that missing from the medicine cabinet, were numbers of Valium, Xanax, and Vicodin. Soon after, my aunt from three doors down returned my mom’s call, proclaiming that she too, was missing a variety of prescription drugs.

            Fairly immediately, it became clear to myself as well as the rest of the family what was going on. A college dropout (twice), and a benzo addict who’d been in and out of rehab, Cole seemed the likely candidate. More concerned for his health than for the regard of immediate accusation, I pressed Cole on the matter. Denial: as could’ve been expected. Soon after, the adults pursued the investigation… nothing. The assumption that his belongings were searched high and low was fairly applicable. The parents found nothing. For a two-time felon, Cole had done a damned good job of keeping out of trouble this time. Tensions ebbed, and within the course of a week, it’d been forgotten. No hard feelings…this time.

            As a known bender-of-truths, I was no stranger to accusations from within the immediate family. “Let’s have a cigar,” my father insisted. The Matt boys know, a stogie with dad was always one of two things; celebratory, or the opposite. Unsure of the conversation ahead, I waited patiently for my father to prepare his smoke. I rocked back and forth on the porch chair, feeling a brisk gust of cool afternoon air press my forehead with every forward jolt. After some time, the tension was split. “Did you use the card to buy a $300 watch?” was uttered firmly from his mouth, as the thick rich smoke of my Cuban cigar wafted its way into my nostrils. I allowed the smoky rich aroma of the tobacco to control my nose before I had gathered a response. After a while, it’d become pretty apparent that I wasn’t the culprit. And so another investigation was underway. This time around, I’d avoided involvement for fear of disconnect from whoever within our circle was to blame.

            Days passed and I’d forgotten the issue in whole. Unsurprised, I found myself more wholly invested in the case than I had hoped after my best friend had become another leading suspect. After extensive research, and many calls to and from the bank it seemed more and more likely that he’d gained access to our credit cards. I abhorred the very thought that it could’ve possibly been him as I realized I was missing a credit card from my wallet- the card that happened to be tied to my parents’ accounts.

            I’d gone against my parents’ wishes and acquired the necessary information to track the package. Cole. They knew; they had to have known. Disgusted, my stagnant anger turned to action. With a package ID and a rage swelling up in my stomach, I made the drive to his mother’s home about 15 miles away. The regular ear-piercing squeak of my brakes gave me more of an uncomfortable jolt than usual as the fury I’d felt before slowly became unease. I felt sick with anxiety. I was afraid to find the watch in the mailbox for its due delivery. I departed my Jeep and with every step towards my destination, an upset growl rose from my gut. At the mailbox, knowing I was going to be deeply disappointed, I chuckled to myself and sent a short prayer to the God I don’t believe in. I prayed I would find an empty cavern, or a short stack of bills if anything. I took a deep, pure breath, blemished with curiosity and opened the mailbox. There, in front of my face, sat the symbol for betrayal. Caravelle New York grinned its shiny teeth at me. Overcome with a disgustingly uncomfortable blend of confusion, anger, sadness, and regret, I sent my fist soaring into the face of the closed mailbox. The punch left my middle and pinky fingers torn, and my mind no less despaired.

            A week later, Cole had confessed to his family after not finding the watch- he also promised to pay the $600 worth of stolen product back. The six hundred dollars however, only covered the cost of the opiates and benzodiazepines his father had found crushed, ready to be abused on and inside of his desk. Late one weekend night, my brother and I received an essays length text from the liar. It read “My brothers,”- I never wandered past those two words. Cole was no brother of ours, it obviously wasn’t addressed to me.

I’d eventually agreed to talk with him about what he’d done and what he was going to do to make things right.

            I no longer held any emotions regarding Cole rather than the bitter anger of betrayal. I trudged in the door, half furious at myself for agreeing to speak with him, and the other half outraged at that bastard for having the nerve to beg forgiveness. I sat down across from my former kin and immediately he’d extended an alcoholic peace offering before we started a conversation that wouldn’t have gone over well sober. Good move. Typical Cole. Good move. Each minute passed, and the content of the apologies meant less and less. Most of all, I was fighting the urge to lose my cool. I felt like a father- I wasn’t mad, I was disappointed. Tears rolled from his eyes like each droplet was a desperate cry for forgiveness. Not long after, they involuntarily streamed from mine, but not from sympathy, no. I wept over the family that he single-handedly derailed. I looked away for only a moment and it seemed the world had gone back on itself for just a glimpse. One second, I stared at a black television screen, dauntingly hanging in a dim lit room. And for another, all was well. In the blink of an eye, the bottle in my hand turned to a red solo cup filled with Pepsi, night turned to day, half of the family was on the porch sharing stories, and the other half surrounded Cole and I on the sofa as the Broncos game played uninterrupted on the screen. It was January 19th, 2014, and Denver was beating the Patriots 26-16 late in the 4th Quarter of the AFC Championship.

            All I have to remember Sundays by are three scars on my left hand, foolishly given to me by a mailbox, and a golden Caravelle brand watch that continues to gather dust on the desk of my dormitory. The end of the week doesn’t share the charm and charisma it used to. Sunday wasn’t holy anymore. Maybe I’d try church next week.

 

 

 

 

Weather or Not

By: Vanessa Stallsmith

             I sat on the edge of my chair as my teacher passed out thin pieces of paper in the silhouette of a person. These paper people had no names, no genders, and no life stories. They were blank, but soon to be colored with various crayons and markers, depicting what we wanted to be when we grew up. “Alright friends,” my teacher had a strange bond with our particular first grade class so much so that she thought of us as “friends”. “Today I want you to draw what you want to be when you grow up!” The classroom instantaneously electrified with small hands excitedly grabbing for utensils so that they may color a fireman’s hat, a stethoscope, or a pair of handcuffs. I turned to the girls next to me, whose shirts were decorated with pink horses or cartoon puppies. After examining their career choices, I found that I may have been the only girl in the room who didn’t want to be a veterinarian or a stay at home mom.

             At the ripe age of 6 I was already a planner. I made no rash decisions, and I thought everything through with great detail. This task of coloring a paper person to represent my future career choice was no small task. In my mind, I believed that whatever character I drew on that insignificant piece of paper would hold significance for the rest of my life. As most of the kids were finishing up, I was just beginning. Careful consideration led me to my future profession.

             I snagged colored pencils and crayons from the table adjacent to me and began to produce a piece of artwork that would hang proudly on my refrigerator for years to come. As I added final details, children around the room began taking turns saying aloud what they had hoped to be in the future. Through various lisps and shy tones of voice, I managed to hear that it had seemed that my generation would be filled with police men, teachers and astronauts.

             Finally, it was my turn to share what I wanted to be. My future aspirations that would dictate what I studied, where I went to college, and the person I would become. To my bright eyed self, this was the culmination of my existence. I sat up in my chair, twirled my long blonde locks of unbrushed hair, swung my legs that were too short for my body, and said “I want to be a meteorologist”.

             Years passed and I found myself in the same position. Sitting up in my chair, twirling my blonde, more kept hair, and swinging my legs that were still too short for my body. The man sitting across from me was a professional meteorologist at AccuWeather in State College, Pennsylvania. He seemed friendly enough, but in a reserved way. His tufts of hair were combed over to the side, and he had tightened his tie just a nod too much that morning. I felt as though this man was too smart for his own good. The room was artificially lit with a smell of new office supplies and somewhat sweaty, intellectual men. I was probed with a question yet again, but this time it wasn’t “what do you want to be when you grow up”, it was “why do you want to be a meteorologist”.

             My eyes shifted about the room. I searched for anything that could relieve me from that man’s inviting, yet slightly disinterested stare. The office I was being questioned in had a window overlooking the meteorological beehive of work that took place downstairs. It looked almost like a scene from one of those futuristic movies where everything is electronic. More men that looked like my interviewer hurried across the room, comparing data with others and frantically scratching down notes. Vivid diagrams of weather patterns decorated the big screens in this elaborate room, and each were quickly changing.

             After not answering my interviewers question because of a sheer lack of words, I was sent down to dive into this sea of meteorologists. Of course I had chosen to job shadow a weather facility on the day of the biggest freak snow storm Pennsylvania had seen in years.  I was initially given a printed schedule with very specific time slots I was to follow throughout the day. 15 minutes were allotted to Diane, their TV weather broadcaster, 20 minutes for Jim in the IT department, and 10 measly minutes for George, their executive. As I was passed around from person to person, each one gave me short, swift responses in order to not be distracted from the meteorological breakthrough they were about to make. Each individual who graced me with their presence seemed to be distant, preoccupied, and a tad nerdy.

             Although I may have not gotten the exact responses I was hoping for, I could tell everyone working there was passionate about one thing: the weather. Those who lacked personal skills almost made up for it in their vast knowledge of the Earth’s atmosphere and forecasting that we so often take for granted.  I began growing bored of the people I met with, and started to feel disinterested and detached from those around me. All of these workers shared a common interest that seemed to animate their way of life, and I simply couldn’t connect.

             I began to feel the well of anxiety filling in the pit of my stomach. A sharp feeling of terror started in my heart and began to melt its way down until I had felt as though someone kicked me in the stomach. My mind instantly raced back to my 6 year old self deciding this was the profession for me. Was I going to let that bright eyed blonde down? Was I about to derail from a plan I had set in stone for almost 11 years? As I was internally screaming at myself, my thoughts were interrupted by a stout, white haired man who was next on my agenda for the day. I was disoriented and surprised when he introduced himself, but I was able to catch the important part.

His name was Bill.

             Bill was the first genuine face I had seen all day. He was simple, yet well put together, like an older gentlemen who refused to retire. His belly was expertly tucked into his pants under a secure belt buckle, as if he was trying to convince someone he was skinnier than he truly was. His glasses sat on a small crook in his nose, and he had wrinkles etched on his face from years of smiles and laughter. His hair sat back on his head a little more than usual, probably due to the amount of time it had been up there.  He was friendly and inviting, and led me to his office so that I could learn his trade.

             Bill was AccuWeather’s radio personnel. A profession he had told me was fleeting due to the invention of the television and internet. But, he seemed to thoroughly enjoy the novelty of his job. He had told me that he had to do a quick broadcast, then he would chat with me about meteorology. I watched as he centered the mic near his pursed mouth, and adjusted his posture as if the people he was broadcasting to could actually see him. He situated his script in front of himself, clearing his voice a few times before he knew he would be on air. He took a deep breath, pushed a button on an ancient looking radio board, and delivered his broadcast. His voice was enticing and clear, offering details to the listeners about potential weather predicaments. He signed off, removed his headphones, and turned back to me exclaiming “I sure do love my job”.

             This was an interesting phrase to me. How could someone be so passionate about something as monotonous as giving the weather to people who were probably tuning it out anyways. Over the next hour, Bill explained to me that he had been with AccuWeather for 50 years, and adored every second of it. As I began to discover that Bill was a walking, talking wealth of knowledge, I started to open up and ask more questions. Suddenly, our simple conversation about the weather and the years turned into something much more philosophical.

             “Ever since I was small, I’ve wanted to be a meteorologist”, I poured out to this kind man, “but, after today, I’m not so sure.” He looked at me with caring blue eyes that gave me a sense of ease. He explained to me that he too had struggled with a career choice. He told me the oh so familiar story of someone probing him in high school about his future career choices. “When I had no answer for them, they scolded me and told me I was running out of time” he admitted as he pushed up his glasses. “I had a lot of pressure stemming from my parents and my teachers that I didn’t know what to do. I searched for something to spark my interest, but I found nothing. I decided to settle on being in the Armed Forces, but I was never satisfied. I wanted more out of life. Some…zest!” he exclaimed as his eyes began to light up. “And that’s when I found meteorology. They needed some recruits to do the weather reporting while deployed and I fell in love. Everything I was doing had such a purpose to me, I felt complete” his smile plastered on his face proved to me that he was telling the truth.  

             We talked for another half an hour about his wife, his kids and his grandkids. We chatted about topics I wouldn’t even talk about with my own grandfather. Conversation was easy and simple with Bill, as if we had known each other for eternity. I had a connection to Bill, and I knew in that moment that his words were going to stick by me for the rest of my life. I glanced at my watch and had realized that I missed my last four sessions with other AccuWeather employees, but none of that seemed to matter. As I was about to thank him for his time and excuse myself, he decided to add one more thought to chew on. “If you aren’t going to be happy in this line of work, then don’t do it. Your job should be something you love, something that brings you to life. Without any thought as to what will make you the most money, or bring you the most recognition, tell me truthfully: what do you want to be when you grow up?”

             I looked at his genuine face, gnawed on the question in my head, and began to formulate an answer in my mouth. I sat in his high swivel chair, twirled my long blonde hair, swung my legs that were too short to touch the ground, and decided to dec

Winner of the 2016 Upper Division Arts & Sciences Writing Award from CU Boulder

Pura Vida Wanderlust

by Jim Pavlick

Do you remember the first time you were away from your parents? I’m not talking about the first of many times your parent let you at home to deliver some mail or the first night you went to spend the night at a friend’s house. I mean completely away; in other words, isolation. I remember the first time I was away and isolated. That’s how I felt when I first travelled. From the seconds after the wheels of the plane leaving the tarmac, I had the sinking realization that I was not only leaving the state of Colorado but the United States entirely. I was on my very own island; you may as well have called me Chuck Noland. The parental units with whom I had relied upon at least on a weekly basis were going to be thousands of miles away. If I were to need anything from my parents, they weren’t there. In a plane filled to capacity with people, I was isolated and away.

My parents are the cornerstone from which I have built myself as a human being. I had decided well before my parents had that it was time for me to leave the nest. Sure I would come to miss my father’s simple but fantastic Italian cooking paired often with tiramisu and my mother’s daily rants about PTA, celebrity scandals and needle-pointing but this was for my own good. It was for my own sanity. I was constantly nagged by a sensational feeling in my heart. I could feel it pluck at the strings attached and eventually I was consumed with this burning desire. This desire had me search for anything that would soothe and cool the burning within me. I needed something pure, something that would invigorate my life and expose me to adventure. I realized that I needed to travel.

I blame Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway always wrote about what he had seen and what he had experienced. Though his main characters bore little physical resemblance to Hemingway, it was well known and discussed to death in every literature class that it was Hemingway who ran with the bulls, drove that military ambulance and he who had caught that big fish only to have sharks gnaw it away. His life was so full of travel, danger and adventure; it was so exciting for me to read about his life and accomplishments that I couldn’t wait to get started on my own. One problem I encountered was that I had no idea where to start. The second problem was the fact that I lacked the funding to leave the state let alone the country. The third problem was that Pamplona was months away, I am a terrible driver and terrified of sharks and large fish.

I figured my parents wouldn’t foot the bill. So I resorted to saving. The horror! I scrimped. I scrounged for every quarter, begged for every dime and nabbed every nickel and placed it in a five-gallon water jug piggy-bank. I even had time to pick up pennies. I was saving; saving for seemed to be an impossible budget to afford such a trip. So I managed to mostly solve the second problem. I wish I could say that I unfolded a map of the world and flung a dart at it for my destination but that would be a lie. Had I actually done that and knowing my rotten luck, it would’ve landed squarely on Pyongyang.

I heard good things about Costa Rica. There were no bulls, no wars requiring ambulances and I hadn’t planned to go fishing. Problem number three solved. In Costa Rica I had heard, they’re laid back, they don’t mind tourists and they love American money. Winner winner, chicken dinner. It was meant to be discovery-of-self trip. My parents were astonished that I was able to save a single dollar. I had enough money to survive but things would be tight. I would have to downgrade from the ramen-noodle lifestyle I subjected myself to saltine crackers and ketchup in order to afford this trip but I could manage. The plane ticket would be the single costliest part of the trip. Then one day, along came a surprise.

My father handed me a tall and slender white envelope. My father is a trickster and anything could be in that envelope. Could it be money? A plane ticket? A coupon for a ‘free’ slap to the head like it was the last time? Who knew? My father knew and by the way he was smiling, it made me wary. Then I opened the envelope and immediately dropped it in shock. My father went on to inform me that he had intended to buy a one-way ticket to Costa Rica and ‘screwed up’ at the online checkout by ‘accidentally’ buying me a round-trip ticket instead. I wore on him, he said. It was about time; sweet victory never felt so good. I wondered why he told me not to buy a plane ticket just yet.

That feeling of victory quickly faded. When the wheels had touched down on the tarmac at Juan Santamaria Airport in the capital of Costa Rica, I was in full panic mode. I had uncontrollable heart palpitations and shortness of breath despite the weak gin and tonic prepared for me by the flight attendant. Fly the friendly skies, they said. It’s funny how they never mention turbulence. My head was floating in a quinine tainted fog; I wanted to deplane as quickly and cautiously as possible without making a fool of myself. Weak drink or not, I’m still a lightweight.

Everyone around me seemed to be speaking an alien language. I could recognize and understand the Spanish and the English well enough but even then I had a difficult time understanding just about everything. Then I met the woman sitting politely next to me. Her name was Elaine. She had a house in Limón, a city on the Gulf of Mexico and came down whenever she could. The conversation was pleasant and she invited me to dinner, to get to know one another she said, once the plane landed. I gave her proposal some thought and realized she maybe meant to invite me for something more than just dinner. She was a cougar stalking her prey and found me, a young who’s strayed from his herd. I was in no mood to slake the appetite of a predator so I politely declined. I’m committed to my mission. Little did I know just how much I would learn on this mission. Upon this rock, I shall build my church and this church shall be me. It was time to figure out what I was made of.

I can speak and understand Spanish. But I spoke in that high school Spanish pacing and in that high school Spanish accent that makes me stick out pig among guinea pigs. My words were slightly slurred as I asked for directions to the main exit. Juan Santamaria Airport is smaller than Denver International. It’s still as confusing as D.I.A., but just not as big. Everything is written in Spanish save for a few pronouns. I realized quickly that despite being able to read and speak the language, I had no idea what anyone was saying. I was used to that high school Spanish drawl, that slow sort of Spanish speaking you get when you know the words but don’t know how to say them properly.

I say ¡Hola! and before I can ask ¿Cómo estás Usted? they’re asking me about where I came from, where do I need to go, what would I like to see first, my first pet’s name, favorite color, if I though the los equipos de fútbol de Costa Rica were going to the FIFA World Cup and then finally introduced himself as Alejandro.

Well Alejandro, I managed. Then Alejandro went on to talk about how he’s lived here all his life, he had a family of three including the wife, how his brother got him this job and never lets him forget about it at the weekly familia dinner. I would like a taxi, I blurted out.

Alejandro was the concierge of sorts and out of the hundreds of people milling from gate to exit and vice versa, he found me. His concierge spider-sense must have detected a wayward traveler, honed in on me and figured I needed assistance. To his credit, he was absolutely correct. He escorted me beyond the baggage claim and to the nightmarish world outside the airport. Everyone was shouting. Why were they shouting? I have no idea. I asked Alejandro why everyone was shouting. Because they’re cabrónes, he answered with a wry smile and escorted me to a taxi.

This is where Alejandro saved my life. I started walking over to a red car. To me it looked like a death trap on wheels. It looked to be a car stitched together with old car parts by duct tape and spit. As it turned out, it was a death trap on wheels but not for the reason you’re thinking. Alejandro swiftly scooped me away and politely scolded me. In Costa Rica, it is sometimes difficult to determine what’s a legit taxi and what’s a fake designed for nefarious intention. A taxi usually has a yellow triangle painted all over their car. Alejandro escorted me to the yellow triangle-painted car and I gave the driver the motel name that which I would be staying. The Kidnapper Deluxe I almost took had no triangles anywhere. Before Alejandro could slam shut the door, I gave him $20 American. I’ve never seen a man’s eyes light up before like Alejandro’s did. For what he had done for me, it was the least I could do in return.

Suddenly there was a bolt of lightning that lit up the dark and cloudy sky. Before the thunder could make contact with my ears, the heavens opened up and unleashed hell. I was within the safety of the taxi to protect me from the deluge of rain pelting everyone. For now, I was relatively safe from the rain in this taxi that reeked of an interesting combination of good incense and bad beef jerky.

 Okay call me Chico, Chico said in broken English with a snaggle-toothed smile and slammed his foot on the gas pedal. The tiny engine whined and the tiny car rocketed forward and I was blasted backwards. Only after Chico took the first turn and me sliding across both seats did I realize that this taxi didn’t have any seatbelts. The cracked vinyl lining of the backseat helped arrest my slipping and sliding. I had never seen raindrops the size of quarters until that afternoon. I could barely see outside the windshield. I wondered how on earth Chico could see. In retrospect, he probably couldn’t see. There’s a saying that there are no atheists in foxholes. Well, this was my foxhole and you better know I was believin’ and I never stopped. Journey would be so proud.

¡Derecha! ¡Izquierda! ¡Alto! Chico narrated as he drove as if he was the suspect of a high-speed car chase. ¡Estamos revirtiendo! ¡Iquierda! ¡Izquierda! ¡Alto! Okay, we here! Esto no es mi motel. It was a veterinarian clinic. I could tell by the dog and cat silhouette on the sign. I told him no, this isn’t my motel again in Spanish. Chico blushed and apologized. ¡Derecha! ¡Derecha! ¡Izquierda! ¡Alto! Okay, we here! Wrong again Chico. Este es un supermercado. This went on for an hour and several more wrong stops. I was beginning to suspect that Alejandro had played me like in the movie Taken and Chico was taking me to a warehouse where they could sell me. Lucky for me, my parents had Liam Neeson’s phone number on speed dial. He does have a particular set of skills, after all.

I eventually got used to his erratic driving. I had to keep my wits about me because Chico was now pulling up to my umpteenth stop when I recognized the sign. It was my motel! Holy sweet mother of God we had finally arrived. I kissed the rain stained street and inhaled deep the throes of the alien jungle surrounding the city. I gave Chico a $10 and bid him farewell. He gave me his card and told me if I ever needed a driver, Chico was my man.

I wobbled into the clean, well air-conditioned and static lobby and plopped my passport down onto the counter. A beautiful and svelte blonde woman manned the desk and was surprised hearing a slap against her counter. An expatriate in her own right and she was an American studying at the local university. Her name is Julianna. We exchanged pleasantries before checking in. I was exhausted and wanted nothing more than anything resembling a bed. Julianna remarked that it had been a while since she’s been able to speak English with anyone so she invited me to dinner. An invitation I accepted. No feelings of being stalked this time around. I had a feeling that good food and good conversation were going to be on the endangered species list while I was there.

Julianna was an incredible cook; her room had a kitchen as it was her apartment attached to the lobby. The motel belonged to her tia. Julianna was her ward, receptionist, turn-down service attendant, chef, and pool cleaner when the pool was in season. She cooked for me ‘simplicity’: fish, rice and beans and some funny looking bananas called plátanos and some vino to take the edge off. The smells were incredible and indescribable. And for dessert, she had prepared tres leches con pasas. Made from scratch by her earlier that day, she told me. It was sweet, delicious and simple. It was all I could ask for. I was to be the only guest at the motel that night so she rolled out the frayed red carpet for me.

After the pleasant dinner and polite conversations, I was escorted to my room. When the door opened I dropped my backpack in surprise. I paid for some hay in a manger and I received the presidential suite. One hell of a bargain, I thought. Julianna bid goodbye with a wink Everything inside was huge and I suddenly felt very small. I took in everything that had happened that day as I laid down on the bed stuffed full with clouds. I sought to summarize the day in a sentence or even a few words. I started with impossible. It was impossible to condense the day into a single sentence let alone a handful of words. Then I thought about Hemingway. WWHD? Drink alcohol, bed a good-looking woman, travel somewhere exotic, write a short story about it, and win another literary prize, not necessarily in that order. I could strike one thing off that list and I started with that. This is my second strike off that list:

To travel to a destination never been explored is to experience purity in its finest form. To be consumed by experience of alienation is to invite a metamorphosis of self. Never before had I had been consumed by wanderlust. And when I did travel, I desired nothing more than to go back home. My ambitions began with boredom and bled into anxiety. Isolation in a world full of people blended well with my growing confusion and doubt. Flirtation and flattery by Elaine inflated my confidence. A terrifying taxi trip by Chico would aggravate my anxiety and created a dense, disconcerting fog around that island of mine. Wilson? Wilson!

Kindness by Alejandro and Julianna were my guiding lights out and away from this fog. There is no cure for homesickness but there are ways to ease it. Little did Elaine, Alejandro, Chico, and Julianna know how much of an effect they had on me. I had gone from becoming an appetizer for dinner, paying for a family’s dinner, compelled to provide and provided to with compassion by a traveler for a traveler.

My travels within the world at large was less about the destination and more about experience. This was what Hemingway was all about.  I wanted to be like Hemingway but be myself simultaneously. I had no idea who I was. I want to travel and subject myself to danger and adventure and chronicle it all. It took me travelling to Costa Rica to realize this. I still don’t know fully who I am, but I knew this was my start. In Costa Rica, they say pura vida, meaning pure life. Without my lust for travel, this story could not have come to fruition; I didn’t know how to live until I left home.

I wanted to leave home and when I did, I wanted to come back. I realized that balance between both worlds was the key; it was the only way to unlock the secrets of self. Pura Vida Wanderlust is my thirst for purity, for travel and for my life. If you ever have a chance to discover who you are, take it. Doubt be damned. Trust in yourself. We’ve only one life to live and this is our chance to enjoy it. So go. Find your Elaine, your Alejandro, your Chico or Julianna. Find your pura vida wanderlust within yourself.

Salty By Nature

By Jon Lencki 

            It was at a Delicatessen that I learned to be a man. I started working there when I was fourteen and this past summer was my first time not working full time at The Old Salts Pantry. I am 20 years old. The Old Salts Pantry sits softly on the corner of Dock Square and Ocean Avenue in Kennebunkport Maine, a town in which I had spent every summer growing up in my home that sits right on the coast of Goose Rocks Beach.

            My mother was divorced at the end of my first year of life and bought the beach house in the same year. For as long as I can remember that was her and our family’s fundamental escape from the frustrations of the home. Located only an hour from my native New Hampshire, it was always a simple drive that in my later years would be a route that was permanently inscribed in my memory like a map.

            The Old Salt Himself, that is, the man that owns the pantry’s name is John Belyea and he was as true to his name and business more then anyone I had ever met in my life. Old Salt’s was hardly twenty square feet and inside there was a counter, a cooler, and a kitchen in the back that could sometimes stand two people. There was a sign next to the assorted traditional sandwich menu that read “Open most days about 9 or 10 occasionally as Early as 7 but SOME DAYS As late as 12 or 1. We close about 5:30 or 6 Occasionally about 4 or 5, But SOME DAYS OR Afternoons, we aren’t here at all, and lately I’ve been here just about all the time, except when I’m someplace else, but I should be here then, too”. John Belyea, who, in his whimsically drunk weekly schedule, was often late to work due to his crippling hangovers from nights out on the small town, closely abided the sign. I, even as a fifteen year old, was often called at seven in the morning telling me I would have to open the shop by myself until someone else could come and help me. And so some mornings I would go into the pantry at 6am, make muffins by hand, prep all the vegetables and condiments and take the multitude of orders we would receive for our most popular item: our breakfast sandwiches. Finally John would stumble in around 8:30 or 9 smelling of pot and polo deodorant, reporting his activities of the night before to me, never holding back any of the explicit details”

            Every summer I would drive up to Maine and work at the beach while most of my friends stayed in New Hampshire. Driving into Maine it always seemed cooler and the air had a scent of salt that is only detectible by a nose that has smelled lugubriously low tides, time and time before. It’s only when you cross this one green bridge over the Pascataqua river that you can sense you are near the sea. In my youngest years I can remember that drive feeling like it took hours, and because of its distinct size and color, that one bridge always stood out in my mind as half way from home. Once you get over the bridge, however, not much changes for another 40 minutes. The trees are as green as they are in New Hampshire, the geography is the same, there are no major mountains to see but you can smell that salt and its scent grows greater with the passing of every mile.

            In Maine the beaches breathe with the seasons and just like the tides, flows of people would come and pass with the changing of months. The highest tide of people came in the mid summer when the air was hot and the water seemed to loosen its grasp on the frigidness of the Atlantic. John capitalized on the major influx of people who visited Maine in the summer months and made enough money to spend his time doing nothing else but staying at his home in Maine smoking pot or driving around the country to his favorite bar towns for a short get away

            My time in the pantry was spent in those summers abiding by John and his compulsive ruling and doing some of the most grotesque cleaning tasks any employee could be ask to do. Since John only opened the place up for five months out of the year things were by no mean up to sanitation standards. On days I closed the shop I would do my best to clean up as much of the meat dust and food particles as I could but it remained in utter despair most of the time. The simple task of even cleaning the meat grinder would often take over an hour to do in completion. In my first years at the pantry I was constantly under scrutiny for everything I did and John never held back in criticizing me as a 14 year old.

             “What’re you a fucking pussy? Put some elbow grease into it”

            I can still hear his sarcastically squeaky voice to this day, and the feeling of regret I had when I had done something wrong.

           Over the years I gained more trust and responsibility from John and our relationship developed from a strict owner-employee dynamic to one of a shared sense of humor and sense of trust. I remember the first time John saw me stoned at work. He looked at me coolly even with customers in the store and with an outburst declared,

            “Shit Jonny you look like a damn china-men and you didn’t even offer me any?”

            The customers would all stir amongst themselves at these outbursts while we laughed and made their food or scooped their ice cream.  As a young man it became a hobby of John and mine to “go get lobster” or “go to the bank”, tasks we would tell the younger workers while we really just went and got stoned in each other’s cars at Johns house which was just a block away from Old Salts. We only did so when work had quieted down.

            With my physical growth and my continued commitment to Old Salts I gained more and more responsibility and at the age of 18 was essentially the manager, coming in virtually every day to close or open the shop, always working with a high school kid who was younger then me. In my young masculine mindset, it was truly the first time I had any sort of real responsibility over anything, and it developed more character in me that any schooling ever had.

            Growing up, I didn’t take interest in academics until my sophomore year in high school. We read The Great Gatsby in my English class and it was the first time I realized I could enjoy reading. So there I was, a growing young man obsessed with Hemingway and making sandwiches and writing. It goes without saying that working at Old Salts provided me with plenty of writing material and so the summer was always a time I looked forward to the most.

             I had all the time in the world to read and write and was generally by myself when I wasn’t working, a characteristic, that although was lonely at times, wasimportant for developing myself as a writer and reader. It was in those high school summers that I created a sense of self that was permanent and not the arbitrary whims of character I was used to having in middle school and the beginning of high school.

            Being able to finally identify with something larger then myself was ultimately what turned me into the person I am. No matter what happened in my life in New Hampshire, I was always able to escape, even if it wasn’t in the summer, to the beach and Old Salts. By investing my time and energy in something so completely, I was actually given something greater then I ever imagined and that was an undeniable sense of self.

            This past summer my girlfriend broke up with me the day before I flew back to the east coast for five weeks. In my dismal state of mind, I didn’t know what to do. I was more distraught then I had ever been in my adult life and with nothing else to motivate me to do anything I turned to the Pantry and the comfort of the Sea once again.  John knew that I was planning on working in Colorado for most of the summer but he didn’t mind one bit, he needed the help, and so for the whole month of May and the beginning of June I spent every day heading into the pantry to work for the Old Salt.

            In the past I had taken my time in the pantry for granted but this most recent summer felt different. I was nostalgic for Old Salts in a way I never knew I could be because I knew it would be my first summer not working full time at Old Salts in six years. I concentrated my every effort to be as efficient as I could, to be as great of a worker as I could. I would spend my nights drinking a beer in the back cleaning the various instruments of production and be overcome with a sense of retrospective remorse about how that sandwich shop had shaped me into the man I was. It was in these moments of slight sadness that I realized what John had done for me despite all of his and my own debauchery; he gave me a home and a friend in a place which mattered to me most, and taught me never to be ashamed about the choices you make.

            I can still smell the meats and hear the refrigerators in my conscious and in the moments I feel most vulnerable I think about how every warm summer- The Old Salts Pantry and Delicatessen will remain unwavering and unbreakable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Behind The Screen

By Talicia Montoya

September 14, 2014

The morning came as it always had, silent and unimpressive, sunshine slanting in through

the missing panel of the blinds over my window. Crumpled up tissues littered the floor around

the plastic bag hanging on my closet door that stood as a trash bag, and the empty tissue box sat

on my desk, not one foot away from my bed where I had retreated after getting the news late the

night before.

Knuckles tapped three times against my bedroom door, and Brett, my roommate, asked,

“Are you still coming to Pride with us?”

Voice still groggy with sleep, I said, “Sure, I’ll go.” I hoped I didn’t sound as miserable

as I felt. Speaking, I felt the dried tear tracks still on my cheeks, cracking like a thin film over my

skin.

Even though I would have preferred to be alone, it was probably better to go out than

mope in an empty apartment for the rest of the weekend.

After gathering the plethora of tissues I had left lying on the floor, I pulled on a pair of

shorts, slipped into a black, grey, and purple shirt (the colors of the asexual flag), and draped a

rainbow purse over my shoulder. I should try being happy with my friends for Boulder Pride, at

least for a few hours.

No one knew what happened. I kept it to myself under the pretense they wouldn’t have to

know because they didn’t know Carrie.

 

Late May, 2014

Reclined on the couch and by the light of a dim lamp, which was supposed to have three

brightness settings but only had one that worked, I propped my laptop on my stomach. The

internal fan whirred, and the heat from it burned pleasantly through the fabric of my pajama top.

While I waited for reverend-jonas- nightingale to make the announcement that she had opened up

a new game of Cards Against Humanity (CAH), I scrolled mindlessly through Tumblr while

8tracks played a playlist based off the character Nevada Ramirez from Trouble in the Heights.

We sometimes prefer to call what we do “collaborative online writing” when we talk

about it with our “real life” friends because the term “roleplay” all too often has a sexual

connotation. It isn’t sexual in the slightest sense for us as writers, even when the stories

sometimes get to the more steamy parts of our characters’ lives.

There were four of us who started the routine of getting online and logging into an in-

character game of CAH in mid-May. In character, because each of us had our different

characters we wrote as during such games. Reverend-jonas- nightingale played Reverend Jonas

Nightingale, dr-abel- gideon played Dr. Abel Gideon, mark-set- go played Seton Chambers, and I

played Mar Sangre (saferintheshadows). Later, more people joined us—the-cute- waitress (as

Carolyn Long), administratxr (as Dr. Frederick Chilton), rxyalewithcheese (as Vincent Vega),

and dearlydeadinsidedexter (as Dexter Morgan).

Although, in the beginning, we didn’t know each other beyond our respective urls and

character names, we grew closer. It was inevitable when we wound up messaging each other and

playing CAH for a few hours almost every night from May to September. Eventually we

exchanged names, phone numbers, and, in two cases, addresses to send each other packages

during the holidays. Now, I consider nearly all of them to be close friends although we’ve never

met in person—I’m closer with some of them than friends I had in high school.

 

Early June, 2014

Our silverware drawer was, and still is, a hodgepodge of measuring cups, forks, spoons,

whisks, and knives. Neither Brett nor I ever bothered to go out and purchase a plastic insert to

sort our eating utensils. We should have because reaching into the drawer without looking runs

the risk of cutting your hand on any of the several steak knives or the single chef’s knife we use

to cut potatoes.

Sitting hunched over on the couch in our living room, I ran the tip of my finger over and

over across the Band-Aid wrapped around the pinky on my other hand. Brett had gone to his

parents’ place for the weekend, leaving me alone in a mostly dark apartment with only the sound

of our fan and the quiet tinkling of notes from the Silence of the Lambs soundtrack for company.

I wouldn’t allow myself to get up from my seat because my mind was still fixed on the

largest knife in the drawer—the one that was so sharp I hadn’t realized I slit open my skin until I

saw the smear of crimson on my palm.

During my last years of high school and bleeding into my first year of college, I had

struggled with self-harm. Even though I had gone through therapy and threw away my razor

blades, the craving, the inexplicable desire to cut always seemed to resurface, triggered by the

smallest of occurrences—a stray mark of red pen on my hand, a raised welt from scratching a

persistent itch on my thigh, the catch of sunlight across faded and nearly invisible scars like the

rungs of a ladder on my inner forearm.

Not knowing what else to do, I made a somewhat private post to Tumblr, meaning only

those who clicked “Read More” could view it in its entirety on my blog. In the post, I explained

what had happened and asked for anyone, who was willing to do so, to distract me. Less than

five minutes later, a message showed up in my inbox

mark-set- go: If you need someone to talk to, I’m here.

I dragged the back of my hand across my eyes to clear my vision and took a deep breath before

typing out my reply.

saferintheshadows: If I start talking I’m going to wind up telling you my life

story.

mark-set- go: That’s what I’m here for.

Relaying the details of what had happened since my sophomore year of high school to the

present moment took my mind off the gleaming knife in the drawer, and eventually I trusted

myself enough to get up and get a drink of water without making a beeline for it.

saferintheshadows: Thanks for letting me vent.

mark-set- go: Anytime, dear.

I didn’t believe talking to her about it would help; I’d never tried talking to someone before

when I’ve been triggered, other than trying to distract myself and get my mind off it. With other

people, I was always too concerned about how they’d react, how their facial expression would

change, how they’d look at me differently and I’d feel the need to convince them I was actually

okay. With her, I didn’t have to worry about avoiding eye contact in shame and embarrassment.

With her, there were only her words.

* * *

The next day, I woke relatively early, courtesy of the crows cawing outside my window.

Logging online I made a post saying “With how many crows are around here, you’d think there’s

a corpse lying around nearby.”

Mark-set- go added to it and said, “Or a murder.”

It took me a minute to understand exactly what she meant, and when I realized it, I tipped

back my head and laughed out loud. A group of crows is called a murder. She never could resist

making a pun when the opportunity presented itself.

 

June 30, 2014

I had just settled down on the couch in our living room and placed the still too hot mug of

tea on the glass, fingerprint-marked coffee table, when I saw mark-set- go had made a post

reading:

Hey guys. I don’t know if anyone will be interested, but I thought I’d keep you up

to date on goings on in the [real] world, as they may have an effect on my [role

play] life.

A few weeks ago, I was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor. The doctors

have been great to me, and everyone has been very supportive, but it’s not looking

too hot at the moment. While there is still a chance that everything could be okay,

it’s been implied that I should probably start checking things off my bucket list. 

I think I’ve made my peace with that. Obviously, it would be fantastic if

everything came up roses and I lived for another 80 years, but it’s okay if that

doesn’t happen. I’m serious when I say that it’s all good…Also, I just wanted to

say thank you for being such a vibrant community and for embracing me- you’ve

been awesome. I really have been happy here, and I plan to continue as long as I

can.

Anyway, that’s about it. Sorry for being so depressing! Really, everything is

okay, I’m fine with it, it’s all good, all that jazz. Please don’t try to tiptoe around

me in the near future- just keep treating me and [writing] with me like you have!

My first instinct was to act as though I had never seen it. It was easier, emotionally, to say

nothing about it and maintain my distance. The conversation regarding my self-harm was the

closest I had allowed myself to my online friends.

Shutting my laptop, I stood and paced the living room a few times, glancing at my

reflection in the darkened windows as I did. My jaw tightened, teeth clenching, and I raked a

hand through my hair a few times before I finally sat down again and typed in the password to

unlock my computer. We never did get around to playing CAH that night.

 

October, 2014

He messaged me under her url, introduced himself as “Matt (Carrie’s brother),” and

asked if he and I could chat for a bit because he needed someone to talk to and wanted to talk to

someone who knew his sister.

I stared at the message for a long time before finally agreeing. Even though Carrie and I

talked almost every night for several months, so few of our conversations were out-of-

character—we never shared much of our personal lives with each other, save her cancer and my

self-harm. I felt wholly unqualified to talk with her brother and reminisce about her. But still, I

agreed.

The conversation began with what little reminiscing I could do with the few out of

character conversations I had with his sister. Most of it kept turning to how she’d bring details

from her personal life into our rp’s, like how her character was multilingual, including Latin, and

how her character judged mine for eating ice cream with a fork. It was Carrie’s and Matt’s uncle

who used to do it all the time, and they’d always mess with him, calling it a crime against nature.

Then the conversation shifted away from remembering Carrie toward what was

happening now that she was gone. Matt confided in me how his mom had left the family, and his

father did little more than keep to himself. Although Matt was applying for colleges, he was also

overwhelmed by taking care of his fourteen-year- old sister, even having to teach her what a

period was and having to buy tampons for her. He told me he was only seventeen and had no

idea what to do.

Matt: Sometimes I wish it was me instead of Carrie who had died. She’d know

what to do.

Tally: Don’t say that. She wouldn’t have wanted you to say that.

Matt: She was the smart one. She knew seven different languages. She probably

could have cured cancer.

Matt: I feel like I’m drowning.

Tally: I know what that’s like, but sometimes all you can do is tread water and

keep going.

Matt: Yeah, I guess.

A prolonged pause grew in the conversation, and I stared at my blinking cursor.

Tally: I’m sorry. I wish I could do more to help.

Matt: No, it’s okay. I just needed to tell someone.

Tally: Yeah it’s not good to hold things in like that.

Matt: I feel a little better now, thanks for talking with me. I should go make

dinner now.

We bade each other a good night and logged off. Closing my laptop, I swung my legs over the

edge of the couch and sat up to crack my back. The uncomfortably familiar thick feeling rose in

the back of my throat, and I clenched my teeth against it, but it was too late.

A shallow gasp escaped me, and I leaned forward to rest my head in my hands. It wasn’t

right for Matt to be going through what he was. It wasn’t fair that his sister had to die. It wasn’t

fair that there was nothing I could do for him but sit on the other side of a screen and lend a

proverbial sympathetic ear. It wasn’t fair.

 

Early July, 2014

Cross-legged on the floor in the stacks at Norlin, I turned my gaze to the ceiling as my

eyes burned with the effort not to sob, or at least with the effort to be silent about it so no one

would know. It didn’t help trying to tell myself she was going to be okay; the realist in me didn’t

want to cling to false hope.

With cancer, we mourn twice. The first is the death of any future they might have had;

the second is their actual passing.

It was the first time I let myself cry since finding out she had a tumor.

After I had composed myself enough to stop the tears, I stood and crept to the bathroom

to splash cold water on my face so I could finish my shift at work. No one knew I’d been crying

for someone I never met in person.

 

September 12, 2014

The last post she ever made was a photo of several pocket watches hanging together by

their chains, and underneath she wrote:

I think a lot about time these days.

 

July 26, 2014

I messaged her in regard to a post she made asking us for advice on whether she should

forgo chemo to keep what health and comfort she still had even though going through treatment

would extend the 9-12 months the doctors gave her to live because insurance wouldn’t cover all

the costs and one of her siblings would be starting college soon.

saferintheshadows: Hello, love, I don’t think it’s selfish of you to consider

forgoing chemo.

mark-set- go: Thanks! I’ve been struggling on whether I should go that route or

not.

saferintheshadows: I only wish you didn’t have to struggle with such a decision in

the first place.

mark-set- go: Ah, well. It’s just the hand I’ve been dealt. I’ve made peace with it.

I didn’t know how to respond. I let the message sit in my inbox, awed by how well she was

dealing with such an awful situation. With the exception of a few out-of-character posts in regard

to her cancer, we all had done exactly as she asked, and acted as though nothing had changed

because the easiest way to deal with her having cancer was not trying not to think about it. I say

“acted” because we all had her deadline hanging in the backs of our minds with each interaction

of our characters. She had written her character into a situation similar to hers, only with her

character, he had cancer, was cured, and the cancer returned. It seemed to be her way of coping.

 

September 14, 2014, 1:52 a.m.

Brett and I had just gotten back from a party at our friend’s house on The Hill. He went to

bed and I went to log online to talk a little with my friends before going to sleep too. At the top

of my dashboard was the newest post from mark-set- go:

Requiescat in Pace (Important)

Everybody, this is the [writer’s] brother writing on my sister’s account. Early this

morning, in her sleep, my sister passed away of a large, sudden bleed into her

brain, brought on by the tumor that found its way there a few months ago.

This is, as you might suspect, a difficult time for the family and everyone close

to her, but we’re taking some consolation in the fact that she was happy until her

final moments, smiling, laughing, and joking even when she couldn’t stay awake

more than an hour at a time. 

I told her I’d say goodbye to everyone here for her, and so here is her

goodbye. You, as a community, were incredibly important to her, and you made

her so happy. From me, and everyone that loved and loves her, thank you for that.

Reading it, I didn’t breathe, couldn’t breathe. The content smile leftover from the party faded,

and the corners of my mouth tugged down on their own accord. I stared at the post, rereading it a

few times, hoping it would somehow change and not say what it did. I thought for sure she

would have had until Halloween, maybe even Thanksgiving, before passing; I had forgotten her

telling us the doctors said she had less time than they originally thought.

And now she was gone. No more playing Cards Against Humanity late into the night and

typing an excited greeting in all caps when she joined in. No more making puns back and forth

and cracking each other up with the progression of their absurdity. No more writing with her

character, the one my character had grown to love.

Instead of attempting to role play, I shut off my laptop, slunk to my room, and moved the

tissue box close to my bed when I laid down, already pulling out several to use before my head

even hit the pillow.

* * *

In first couple weeks following September 14, I went home to tissues littering the floor

and woke with tear tracks staining on my cheeks. I struggled to focus on my schoolwork, often

forgoing entire assignments because I couldn’t bring myself to see the point in them, couldn’t

muster the energy or motivation to complete them. Although I knew I shouldn’t spend too much

time alone in the apartment, I couldn’t hang out with my friends without having to force my

smiles and conversations. The school year hardly improved from there.

 

September 17, 2014

Matt made another post of a note he found in his sister’s computer case, posted it without

editing or further comment. It was a thank you letter to everyone Carrie had written with online

in the brief time we all shared. Soon after the post, he sent me a private message saying his sister

had also written more personal letters for the select few people she’d been closer to online, and I

was one of them.

mark-set- go: I understand if you’re not up to reading it right now, but if you want

I can send it to you right now.

saferintheshadows: No, it’s all good. You can send it right now if you want.

In only a couple minutes, a new message sat in my inbox:

Hi darling. I wanted to write a few words to you and a couple other people, to let

you know on a more personal basis how important you’ve been to me. Mar has

been one of my favorite characters to rp with- she is incredible. So much fun. But

as cool as she is, you’re a million times better. I’m so thankful for all the times

you’ve been there for me, and I only wish I could have returned the favor more.

Ah well, such is life. As long as you know how important you’ve been to me,

because seriously- you don’t even know. Thank you so much, darling.

If this is goodbye, then goodbye! I hope you don’t take it too hard- I’ve had so

much fun, and been so happy in the last few months. I love you, and thanks again. 

All the best, love.

Carrie (the mun)

Reading the message, I bit my lip, but still tears blurred the words on screen and trickled down

my face. I wasn’t the only one who had received one of these more personal messages

either—both Kay (reverend-jonas- nightingale) and Tawn (dr-abel- gideon) had each gotten

one—and we supported each other via “hearting” each other’s posts regarding these messages

and how they made us feel. Tawn described it as “bittersweet” and said it made her “smile and

weep.”

* * *

I can’t visit Carrie’s blog, I can’t listen to her favorite music album, Hadestown by Anaïs

Mitchell, without getting a lump in my throat even though listening to it was a way for me to feel

closer to her. I can hardly think of her without the pang of a palpitation in my chest-- the physical

manifestation of longing, of missing her.

And I couldn’t talk about it with any of my “real life” friends; I only ever told my high

school friend, Tia, what had happened because I couldn’t spend another weekend at the

apartment alone while Brett went to his parents’ place again. I couldn’t trust myself when left to

my own devices; I was scared of what I might do. In visiting Tia, I couldn’t make my false

laughter to sound genuine, couldn’t make my forced smile reach my eyes, couldn’t maintain the

image that everything was fine.

 

Early November 2015

Sitting on Emma’s bed with my knees pulled close to my chest, I kept my gaze fixed on

the window, watching students go to and come back from their classes. I should have been in

class, but I hardly felt well enough to attend. True, I still felt physically sick after Halloween’s

festivities, but mentally I just couldn’t handle the stress of all the homework piling up for the

week and midterms and socializing with people when all I wanted to do was go home and sleep.

“Feeling any better?” Emma, a friend from my psychology classes, asked—she had

hopped up to sit beside me on her bed.

I only shook my head.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Already I had told my online friends I was going on hiatus because I just wasn’t feeling

up for much of anything, to which Tawn messaged me to “remember to take care of myself

first.” But with Emma, I hesitated, afraid I might have been slipping back into how bad I’d been

the previous semester. I didn’t want her to worry about me, didn’t want to see her face change if

I told her I wasn’t okay because I knew once I told her I wasn’t okay, there was no way to take

back my words, no way to just shut down and distance myself.

“If you don’t want to, that’s okay,” she said.

 

Spring semester 2015

My appetite disappeared completely—I went from eating three decent-sized meals a day

down to two, and eventually down to one small bowl of rice a day. My weight dropped, none of

my clothes fit right anymore.

During the nights I stayed up well past three in the morning because I either couldn’t

sleep or still had schoolwork to finish because I couldn’t focus earlier in the night. I found I

spent most of my evenings sitting at my desk, staring at the wall just beyond my laptop. One

night, it took me eight hours to complete a three page writing assignment. I had been

dissociating, according to the therapist I started seeing after a particularly bad weekend.

* * *

Brett had gone home to his parents again, leaving me alone in our empty apartment. By

then, I was regularly sleeping in until one or two in the afternoon every weekend, and when I

woke, I had nothing to do, no one to see.

Dragging my blanket to our barren living room, I curled up on the couch and watched the

clouds crawl across the sky. I don’t know when it had started, but I found myself wiping tears

from my cheeks and sniffling back a runny nose.

Passively suicidal (as my therapist called it), I thought about how much I wished I would

be hit by a car or run over by a bus or struck with some fatal disease or fall down the stairs and

break my neck. These thoughts ran over and over in my head, as I lay on the couch clutching my

blanket tightly in my hands.

Then when I realized I was longing for some cancer to give me an expiration date on life,

I thought of Carrie, Carrie who had cancer, Carrie whose brain tumor had drastically shortened

her life, Carrie whose family was torn apart after her passing. It was wrong to want what she had,

and though I knew this, I couldn’t shake the fixation.

Standing, I shuffled into the bathroom and had broken down my razor until I had only the

blade. I knew from experience this would distract me, would make me feel better, if only for a

little while. Seeing the blood bubble up red over the pale skin on my wrist gave me something

physical to focus on. It gave me a temporary escape from the thoughts in my head, and I kept

returning to it throughout the semester, tally marks of tiny white scars circled my inner wrist like

the beginnings of a bracelet.

* * *

I often found myself going back to her message, scrolling all the way to the bottom of my

inbox.

I’m so thankful for all the times you’ve been there for me.

Songs from the “Lonely Autumns” playlist drifted out from the speakers of my laptop.

I only wish I could have returned the favor more.

It was me who should have returned the favor more. I often tried distancing myself from her

cancer, from her brain tumor, from her looming deadline.

As long as you know how important you’ve been to me.

The notes and lyrics of the songs played in time with the blinking of the white string lights hung

up around my room.

I hope you don’t take it too hard.

I never had to face losing someone I’d been so close with before—only ever distant great-

grandparents defined solely by their Christmas cards—I couldn’t not take losing Carrie too hard.

* * *

Recognizing I had been suicidal, albeit only passively, had scared me, and I felt too

ashamed of my relapse to confide in any of my friends, online or in-person, so I decided I had to

go back into therapy.

Carrie never came up in therapy, though; my relationship with her and the circumstances

under which we met felt too complicated to try explaining. I doubted my therapist would

understand how an online friendship could be as powerful as one in person especially

considering I hadn’t known Carrie’s real name until after she had passed away.

Don’t take it too hard.

Seeing my therapist every two weeks helped—I wound up throwing away the razor

blades I’d hoarded in a jewelry box on my desk, and my self-destructive thoughts and habits

subsided entirely. Eventually, halfway through June 2015, I felt well enough to cease my

appointments with him.

 

September 2015

On the one year anniversary of Carrie’s passing, I made a post saying “It’s been nearly

one year and I still miss Carrie just as much as before.” The three of us who were closest to

her—me, Kay, and Tawn—had always shown silent support for each other whenever we

expressed sadness regarding the loss of her, but with this post Kay responded:

If you ever want to talk, I’m here.

A Gift from God

By Bradley Frese

           It’s Sunday.  The day of rest and reflection.  I throw on some comfortable clothes, check the time and hurry out the door.  I’m running late.  I hate being late, especially where I am headed.  Nothing is more awkward than having to find a seat after it’s already started (and plus I love getting the best seat).  I make it out the door and get to the parking lot with 5 minutes to spare.  I walk up, hurry through the doors and find a seat before everything starts.  This week's lesson is about revealing your insecurities and how to resolve them to take charge of your life. It’s a story that I've been looking forward to and I am excited to seehow I can apply the teachings to my own life.

           You probably think I’m talking about church, but I’m not religious by any definition of the word.  I don’t believe in a higher being.  I am a bit of a materialist, if you will.  So where am I, you ask?  I sitting in the middle of a movie theater.  I’m by myself and in my Happy place (Happy Gilmore reference, anybody?) I ameagerly waiting for the show to start.

           The theater is my sanctuary.  This is where I learn lessons from the different gospels; the Book of Kubrick, the Book of Hughes, the Book of Spielberg, the Book of Linklater, and these are just a few of my favorites.  I have learned more about myself,  and how to be a better person through movies than I have anywhere else.  It’s really not that different than going to church every Sunday.  I mean the floors are a bit stickier and there are probably a few more stoned people, but the message I receive is all the same.

           I have been going to movies by myself for six years now.  Dozens upon dozens of movies later, and I still remember the first movie I saw by myself: 2010’s classic comedy MacGruber. This masterpiece was the brainchild of Will Forte and some of the other guys from Saturday Night Live.  I was home for the summer and it was my firsta new town.  I was upheaved from the comfort of my childhood home and thrown into a new state some 600 miles away.  I left the safety and serenity of my lifelong friends and the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains, and put into a touristy Florida beach town full of old farts.  I may have been in town for a couple weeks, at the most, and I didn’t know anyone, but I wasn’t going to let my lack of friends stop me from seeing a movie that I had been dying to see.  I guess at the time, my love for low brow comedy was greater than the possible awkwardness of being seen alone in the movie.  I remember being crippled with anxiety about the prospect of seeing a movie alone.  At the time, I still viewed the act of going to movies as a social activity that you do with friends and family and what I was about to do was considered blasphemy.  I was preparing myself to be burned at the stake. 

           To add insult to injury, I had to drive 25 minutes away because the theater in town wasn’t showing it.  This only provided me more of an opportunity to psych myself out.  I remember driving past exits on the freeway and thinking I could turn around.  I didn’t.  Mustering all my strength to prepare myself for the social embarrassment of being seen alone in a customary social environment, I bought my ticket and walked in the designated theater.  I was a bit late due to the internal arguments between my anxiety and my confidence.  I walked in to see literally no one.  I was the single person in the movie.  I let out audible laugh and, with that, all my anxiety melted away.  I sat down with the Milk Duds I had snuck in and I was forever changed.  This was the birth of a new ritual and I didn’t even realize it at the time.

           I can’t remember the next movie I saw by myself, but I can almost guarantee it was during that same summer.  The act of going stag to a movie awoke something in my mind.  I was free.  The movie theater is something of a safe space for me.  When the lights go down and the trailers start rolling, I am instantly transported to a different reality.  I might as well be in a different universe.  Spacetime ceases to exist.   I leave my perspective of the world for a couple hours and see the world in adifferent way.  I can think and reflect and let my emotions do what they feel.  If I need to cry, I cry.  If I need to feel sad, I let the sadness fill me.  If I need a good laugh, I will laugh until my stomach hurts.  This is my therapy and this is my meditation. Whatever worries or anxiety I have disappear.  It is hard for me to find anything else that affects me like a movie or TV show.  Some people get this feeling from church, but for me, I get it from the emotion and energy pouring out from the screen.

           I thought about why I take this solo pilgrimage to the movies, and I can’t really place why I prefer the unaccompanied version to that of seeing a flick with my friends.  I go to movies with friends on occasion (mostly the big blockbusters), but I don’t get the same soul-quenching experience.  This isn’t some tale of a forlorn excursion to escape some desolate life.  It’s actually far from it.  I love my life, and wouldn’t change much, but this ceremonial-like experience does something for me.  Having a place to be alone, with the anonymity of the dark room, and a story that can speak to your feelings, provides a conducive atmosphere to explore some of the thoughts and worries that are floating around your head.  Hearing dialogue between characters, or seeing a familiar situation unravel on the screen, can be the catalyst to figuring out why you feel a certain way and gives you the necessary tools to understand the emotions you may have.

           I recently saw Swiss Army Man with Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe. As most humans do from time to time, I get a bit lonely.  I get stuck inside my head and over analyze my insecurities.  This movie came out at the most ideal time.  I was stuck in one of those funks and just couldn't shake it.  My experience during the movie was incredible. Seeing Paul Dano's character go through similar emotional experiences and watching him progress through the resolution of his insecurities was refreshing.  I walked out of the theater with my held high and feeling positive and happy. 

           Being alone, in general, isn’t something that I seek.  I'm not socially awkward and I don't mind interacting and socializing with friends and people, but it is exhausting.  If you know me, it isn’t that surprising to know how introverted I am.  Watching movies, whether at home or in a theater,  is how I recharge my batteries.  It’s become much more than that, though.  It is my ritual to cleanse my soul, work out internal conflicts, and cope with feelings I might be experiencing.  I do my best thinking during and after watching a movie.  It might seem contradictory to what I said earlier about being able to escape the current world, but my best thinking comes from when I am forcing myself to leave the world for a couple hours.  It is a hard notion to put in words. Best I can describe is it’s like a palate cleanser.  It gets all the stuff out of your head and lets you start fresh.  People often say they feel rejuvenated and reenergized after leaving a church service. Well, that's how I feel post-movie.  It a temporary reprieve from all your problems.  It's just a dark room that's begging you to disconnect and get lost.  I love getting lost.

           The remarkable thing about movies is there are so many different types to choose from and cater to whatever you're feeling at that moment.  Bad breakup? There is a movie for that. Feeling blue? There is a movie to cheer you up. Touch of wanderlust? Definitely a movie to scratch that itch.  My absolute favorite genre is comedy, though.  I love to laugh.  Just an outward and involuntary emotion that bubbles out.  It’s a great feeling.  So, it’s not all deep and introspective stuff, but regardless it provides an escape.  There is something so natural about laughter.  It's instantaneous satisfaction that has these magical emotional and physical healing properties other things can't seem to provide.  I am most myself when I'm laughing at an immature dick joke, or at well-written witty dialogue.  Sometimes, I don't think people really appreciate the intelligence and skills required for writing something to be funny.  It's an under appreciated art form that I have been drawn to since I was young.  Saturday Night Live is where I first learned to appreciate the skills involved, and I think that is somehow elegantly tied into the first movie I saw alone and why it turned out to be so life-changing. 

           I look back on that solo excursion to see MacGruber and I see it as a pivotal moment in the way I view my thoughts on doing things alone.  It gave me the understanding and confidence to put myself out there and not be worried about going against certain social norms.  Who says the movies have to be a date night, or time spent with friends or families?  Honestly, I feel that it’s quite the opposite.  You don't have to worry about judgment from you peers.  This socially constructed idea that movies are meant to be a group activity is misguided.  Looking back on my first time, I was terrified.  Why, though?  I didn’t want anyone seeing me on my own, assuming I was a loser with no friends, and descending into whispers and finger pointing. How pathetic??

           The whole theater experience is set up for the solo traveler and I have learned so much about myself through my travels.   As weird as it sounds, the simple act of going to a movie solo gave me leaps and bounds of confidence to feel better in my own skin.  If you let the movie theater work its magic, it can really transform you; the lessons, the adventures, the emotions. All can shape you to become a better person.  Isn't that what church is supposed to be all about? So, maybe I actually am religious in a nontraditional way. It's just, for me, the stained glass windows are replaced with movie posters, the flesh and blood of Christ are replaced with Milk Duds and a Coke, and my Holy Trinity consists of Scorsese, Fincher, and Rogen.


 

He loved her until he couldn’t fuck her, and then he still loved her

by Savannah Kirksey

In January, he broke my heart in the suffocating heat of his red Honda Accord. Five years ago, I met him in the art room of Dunstan Middle School. He took one look at me, and told me that we were going to be best friends. Then he hugged me. I was hooked on him. When he hugged me I felt his penis against my leg. I went home later that day and I told my cousin I met a guy, and it was the first time I had ever felt a penis. Then I made it a life event on Facebook, just so I wouldn’t forget the first time he spoke to me. After I met him in Art, he texted me and we talked everyday. It was Eighth Grade, so we got permission from our parents and went to the mall with our friends Qashr and Tia. He put his arm around me, and grabbed my boob. I laughed, and he told me he called it the Kort  trick. Two years later he pulled the same move on me. I still laughed. Now, Five years later, he fucked someone new.

A few years later, In October, I met his family. It was Halloween, so this is his family I thought. His brother handed me a few condoms and told me to have fun. I sat on the couch while they locked up the pit bulls. Everyone was drunk off of something; his mom made me dinner and then asked me if my braces ever got caught on his dick when I gave him head. We watched Scream. His whore of a sister left in a bumblebee costume that left nothing to the imagination. His parents tried to make us go with her just to make sure she didn’t sneak out and have sex with an older boy. He showed me a video of him and his friends on his computer; I sat on his lap, and heard his mom whisper under his breath that I was a slut. I told him that I was scared and I wanted to leave, so we did. His parents never liked me. They said I was a try-hard, that I wasn’t good enough, that I didn’t treat him well. Sometimes, I wonder if this is true. Maybe if I had just been a little nicer, if I wasn’t such a try-hard, if I looked different, maybe his family would have liked me—maybe he would still love me. In my mind, the easy part of a relationship was meeting the parents, and I couldn’t even do that. The first time I met his family, they decided I was the whore that would fuck their son up. We were so happy. I had a broken foot so he gave me a piggy back ride home, we only lived a few blocks apart. He took a picture of us, and posted it on Facebook with the caption with “People are always telling me I have the cutest relationship ever. To those people I say… Yes, yes I do.”

It was New Years Eve and he told me loved me. It was nearing midnight, and I was typing my New Year’s bucket list. I was a sophomore in high school.

 

#1: fall in love with someone who deserves me.

 

I was texting him, upset, because I wanted to kiss him at midnight and he was at a party. I wanted to feel like I meant something to someone, that I wasn’t just the boring girl who sat at home on New Years Eve and didn’t have anyone. I was crying, Jordan told me that everyone was surprised we were together because I am who I am and he is who he is. I’m the girl who had never smoked, drank, or went to a party--- I hungout with my cat and studied. He smoked, and he went to parties, and no one ever saw him try in school.  Opposites attract I guess.  At 11:49 I heard a knock at the front door. It was Kort, he ran to my house to kiss me on my deck at midnight. We talked for awhile, I ran inside and got blankets. He kissed me at midnight, under the stars, and he leaned down and told me he loved me. I was speechless, and I hugged him—but I didn’t say it back.

My Mom always told me that forever never means forever. Kort told me that he was going to love me forever; that he wanted to marry me. I never thought much of it. There were so many red flags that I ignored. A sophomore in High School shouldn’t be planning to marry anyone, but he was planning to marry me. One time, a few weeks after he told me he loved me, he wrote me a love note and gave it to me before my history class. He drew me a picture of what our New York apartment was going to look like, what our cats and dogs were going to be named and how beautiful our wedding would be. When I read the note I thought that he was being sweet. If I was dating someone and they gave me that note now, I’m pretty sure I would take out a restraining order.

I would have never ended up at Comicon if it hadn’t been for Kort, who loved comic books more than he loved himself. I begged for a promise ring for our one-year anniversary, and we fought and told me I didn’t deserve one. He said that if I couldn’t have sex with him then I didn’t deserve one. I cried, and he ran to my house with his first comic book instead, and told me it meant so much to him and it would count for my promise ring for now. Every anniversary he drew me a comic book about how much he loved me. It was the end of sophomore year and I accompanied him to Comicon; I watched his eyes light up when he looked at the comics, and when he told me how much he wanted to draw them. He kissed me in the middle of the convention center and said: “Do you know how much you mean to me?” I finally saw his eyes light up when he looked at me too. It was love. That night I texted him and told him I loved him back, because I couldn’t wait. I pretended to be someone I wasn’t for him that day. I pretended that I loved Spiderman too, that I also thought Aquaman was a little bitch, and that it didn’t hurt when I didn’t understand what he was talking about. We took my favorite picture of us that day, and he couldn’t even smile.

We fought more than we loved, and that was the problem. I was just a stone cold prude with a tendency to be a tease. It was December 20th and he was done with it. He came to my house and told me how terrible I was, how he was too good for me, and how I was the only girl he had ever met who wouldn’t give him what he wanted. I cried, and he left me alone in my house. We didn’t talk for a few days. My parents knew he treated me badly, and were happy to not see him around. He went to his best friend Sean’s birthday party, I asked him to come back to my house when he was done. He came, and sat on my bed, in complete deafening silence. I kissed him, we made out, and I placed my hand on his dick over his jeans. He showed my what to do. He told me he loved me again, and I realized this was the way I would keep him in love with me. We were better, and we didn’t fight about it for awhile. Sophomore year, He kept texting me that: “I deserved better”, he said it to me once a day. Sometimes when we were hanging out, I would glance at his phone when it would light up with a new text, and I noticed that he was texting his ex-girlfriend Rori. I asked him about her and he told me I was being crazy, that she didn’t mean anything to him anymore, and I needed to stop. It was just another fight about something I did wrong. He left my house that night, and his Facebook was still logged in. I went to his active messages box and saw nothing between them, then I went to the deleted messages box and saw nothing, then I went to the archived messages box and found everything. He sexted her a picture of his penis on December 20th with a message that said: “Isn’t it big” she replied: “Yes, don’t you have a girlfriend” he replied: “no, come over ;)” she replied: “no.” My heart dropped, and I sat there in a stunned silence. The 6 months we had spent together meant nothing to him. I went to the shower and cried, and cried, and cried. I went to school the next day and ignored him. I went home and sat on my couch with my brother. Kort texted me and said: “Baby, what’s wrong?” I replied: “ Don’t you have a girlfriend?” He came to my house; he knew he had fucked up. We sat in my room and he apologized profusely, and we both cried. I kept asking him if he loved me and he told me he did, and he regretted it everyday, and that’s why he said I deserved better. I took him back under the condition that he would never talk to her again. He agreed. We were in love again.

He crashed the ATV the summer before junior year. We weren’t wearing helmets; we were in the middle of nowhere. We were going 60 and he braked; I told everyone the ATV was broken but I knew it was his fault. He broke his collarbone, and I had road rash over 40% of my body. When the ATV crashed, it flipped twice and we were thrown. I immediately got up and tried to walk, but I was in shock. Kort came running towards me, he hugged me, and told me everything was going to be okay. We flagged down an old couple that brought us to his parents, who drove us to the hospital. My parents didn’t come to the hospital, so I was alone, and I held Kort’s dad’s hand when they cleaned out my wounds. For my birthday, the only thing he bought me was mederma scar cream for the scar he gave me out of his own foolishness. He would have nightmares about the crash and call me crying at 1am and I would comfort him. We won homecoming Queen and King that year, and he was in a sling. I posted a picture of us with the caption: “The couple that flips four wheels together stays together…right?” He texted me he loved me which he wove into text messages telling me how I could be better, how I could dress better, how I could treat him better, how I needed to change, he printed out pictures of the way he wished my body looked. I took him back after he almost killed me, and I comforted him after it.

I keep trying to remember all of the small things and why I put up with them for so long. I think it was the sex that hurt the most. I thought that if I gave it up he wouldn’t love me anymore. He would compare my body to his ex-girlfriends, how my boobs were too small, and how when he had wet dreams they weren’t about me. We went camping with my mom, and she gave us our own tent. He brought condoms and tried to take my virginity with my mom sleeping outside. I told him I wasn’t ready and, he got angry and left the tent; He didn’t come back to the campsite until 9 the next morning, I told my mom he wanted to go on a hike by himself. He was so angry that when he held my hand he squeezed it as hard as he could. We took a picture and pretended everything was fine. I still knew I wasn’t going to fuck him.

He threw me against the bed. Balled up fists, slammed doors, when I wouldn’t fuck him. He called me bitch, he wouldn’t speak to me, and he told me he was going to kill himself. I got him right back. I would take showers with him, undress for him, get completely naked, and I still wouldn’t have sex with him. I played the game right back, and it was fun for me. I was endlessly and hopelessly addicted to our unhealthy love, and he fed my addiction. I came back to him because it was unhealthy, because I loved feeling wanted. I went two and a half years without fucking him, because I liked the way it made me feel.

It was The Senior Year Winterfest Dance and we were eating dinner at Frontroom Pizza. I hated Frontroom pizza, it reminded me of divorce and I didn’t know why, and he knew that. We took pictures beforehand at his best friend Sean’s house, and he refused to smile. That was the last picture we would take together.  I couldn’t tell if we were in love anymore or if were just obligated to one another because we had been together for such a long time. I paid for my own dinner because he made me. When we got in the car I asked him if he could be nicer to me because I feel embarrassed when he treats me badly in front of my friends, and he told me to stop trying to change him. We went back to my house, and watched TV in silence until it was time to go to the dance. He tried to kiss me and I avoided it, he became repulsive to me. We drove to the school in his stuffy, red Honda Accord. He started screaming at me about how I wasn’t good enough, we got to the parking lot and he told me that he never loved me and to get out and walk home. To get out and walk 10 blocks home, in January, in the snow. My best friend texted me and asked where we were. “We broke up” was all I could say. He drove me home, blared music, screaming at me all the ways I wasn’t good enough, all the things I had done wrong. I got out, went inside and cried. I screamed, I hit things. I finally realized what he had done to me, and who I was as a person. He came barreling into the house 10 minutes later asking me to take him back, saying like he always did that he didn’t mean it, and I refused. My mom made him leave, he texted me and told me he was going to kill himself, so I called his dad sobbing and let him know.

He didn’t kill himself, even though sometimes I wish he did. He did break my heart though. I cried everyday for the better part of 6 months, and I thought I would never love again. Everything reminded me of him, I had a list of things on my phone that I wanted to tell him, it said things like: “The Smithsonian cites comic books as a form of teenage rebellion” and “ I accidentally drove to your house today instead of mine because I miss you so much.” I started looking at his social media so I could be with him in whatever capacity I could. He moved on before I did with a girl whose name hurts too much to type. I tried to get him to love me again this summer. I was there when his baby sister was born two years ago, and he asked me to come help babysit her with her while his parents were in the hospital because his Stepmom was giving birth to their second child. I cried on the swing set and told him I still loved him; he kissed me and told me he still loved me too. We hooked up in the living room, in the nursery, in his bed—but I still didn’t fuck him. The next morning we woke up, and he told me he didn’t actually want to be with me.

In the beginning he loved me, but we both played games, and I wouldn’t fuck him. Right when we broke up he had sex with Rori and told me he did it because she looked like me. He fucked her and he still loves me, he’s dating someone else and he still loves me. He told me when he had sex with Rori he accidentally said my name. Five years ago, in Eighth Grade he asked why he wasn’t in my profile picture. Little did he know he would be in them for two and a half years, he would attend prom with me and family parties, and he would be with me for two and a half years. Our relationship made me feel like no one would ever love me, and now I know that that isn’t true. When we broke up I had 6 boys tell me that they wished they had told me how they felt about me in High School. They said they knew I deserved better than Kort.  I wish someone would have just snapped me out of it, and told me that being with Kort wasn’t right for me. But I realize now that the only person that can save you from an abusive relationship is yourself. Sometimes when I see him, or hear his name my heart still beats fast, and I think I still love him, and I hate myself. Sometimes I spend my free time romanticizing his decency. He told me he regrets breaking up with me everyday of his life, and I’m glad he does.

A Day to Break a Travelers Heart

By: Charlotte Thompson

I wake up to the stifling heat of Bangkok. My friend Elena lies next to me on sweat soaked sheets still asleep. I get up and go to buy a Thai coffee across the street and return to wake up Elena. Today, we decided, was the day we would go to the AIDS clinic. A few months ago I had fallen in love with a South African man named Mohammed. We had now gone our separate ways but I had become worried that I may have contracted HIV, knowing that South Africa has the highest incidence of infection in the world. We leave our seedy hostel and give a tuk tuk driver the address.

 “No, no …riots, riots” the tuk tuk driver shouts at us in broken English.

He scoots off. I ask another tuk tuk driver. This man speaks much better English.

“Government protests” he says

“Dangerous…..but okay, I take you.”

 Elena and I look at each other. I see the excitement in her eyes, she sees the worry in mine. We board the rickety tuk tuk, destined for the HIV clinic. As we approach our destination, the driver seems nervous. He stops the tuk tuk blocks from where we had asked him to take us.

“You walk from here,” he says.

 We pay him and start walking. As we approach the clinic, the tension in the air becomes palpable. We hear chanting in the distance. Excited and curious, I hasten my pace. As we round a first corner, barbed wire, car tires and cement barricades block traffic. With no traffic we hear nothing but muffled chanting. As we go around a second corner Elena and I find ourselves in a large plaza packed with people. In the distance a young man stands on a hand-crafted stage made of wooden pallets and plywood. He chants passionately into a microphone. His chanting ripples through the animated crowd.

We push our way through the entranced crowd and finally reach the clinic, an austere building surrounded by a wall topped with barbed wire. Heavily armed military men stand guarding the entrance. Elena and I both shrivel at the sight of this intimidating building. I walk up to one of the guards,

 “Is this the HIV clinic?” I ask.

 The guard gives me a tight nod and we enter.

We walk through the heavy front doors and find ourselves in the main lobby. A small folding table serves as the check-in. I go to sign in and get a ticket while Elena claims two of the few seats remaining. A gay couple gravely clutch hands in the seats next to me. A nurse calls what must be their number. They immediately stand and follow her up the tremendous stairs in the center of the lobby. A few moments later a wail echoes through the room. A young girl crumples at the top of the stairs. Two nurses rush to pick her up as her cries echo through the marble lobby.

At last, the loud speaker calls my name. “Come with me” I whisper under my breath.

 Elena squeezes my shoulder and follows me up the large staircase in the middle of the lobby. At the top of the stairs a kind nurse ushers us into a small, baby blue room with barred windows. In this small room we wait for the doctor for what seems like forever. I chew my nails frantically.

A tall doctor enters the room. His clean white coat pops next to the grimy blue walls. He is handsome and reassuring in his demeanor. He sits in front of me and smiles. Calmly he asks a few questions. I answer politely. My eyes dart around the room as though planning an escape when the doctor asks me to put out my arm. I did not want to see the needle pop through my skin. Swiftly the doctor draws some blood and gives me a number telling me to come back tomorrow.

“Tomorrow?” I ask. “Isn’t there any way to get the results online or …?”

“No” he interrupts. “You must come in.”

Elena and I head back to our dingy hostel. We have dinner in silence and I go to bed. I toss and turn for hours that night anticipating the results and thinking of the clinic. I wake up before Elena the next morning and go get coffee as usual. As I make my way to the coffee shop, I pass two ladies of the night arguing loudly. When I return, Elena, dressed, waits in the lobby. We find a tuk-tuk and whizz through the hazy streets towards the clinic.

As we walk into the lobby we recognize the gay couple from the day before. They stand at the bottom of the staircase, holding each other, sobbing. I imagine they sob because, for them, a positive diagnosis means an ominous future.

When my results come in negative I smile at Elena and look away. I am embarrassed. That night in my diary I write about the young girl on the stairs and the couple in the lobby thinking about their pain and the hardships that they will face in the years to come.

A few months later Elena and I find ourselves whizzing through the busy Bangkok streets once again, this time with our friends Florian and Yoann. The four of us squeeze into a moaning tuk tuk destined for the famous Chatuchak market. When we arrive, we find ourselves overwhelmed by the colorful cluster of vendors selling counterfeit clothing and cheap trinkets. Quickly exhausted by the colors and sounds and smells, we find a bar and sit down for a drink. Behind us a big group of French people get fabulously drunk. Eventually, the rowdiest of them, a flamboyantly gay man named Nicholas, hears us speaking French and insists we join them. I make conversation with Nicholas and learn that our new friends work as attendants for a French airline.

“I looove Bangkok” Nicholas yells.  “You must stick around after the market closes— I have a surprise for you.”

Soon the loudspeakers announce in Thai the closure of the market. The few remaining people and vendors make their way to the front gate. Elena, Florian, Yoann and I stay at the bar with our new friends and order another round. Eventually we leave the bar and Nicholas guides us deep into the shutdown aisles of the market.

“How will we ever find our way out of here?” I ask Elena.

 Elena puts her hand to her ear.

 “Listen” she says.

I listen—a slight thumping resonates throughout the market. Nicholas hastens his pace.

“We are here!” Nicholas exclaims as the thumping gets louder. 

Around the corner to find ourselves in a bumping bar. A man dances on the bar in front of us dressed in a corset and fishnet leggings. A smaller stocky man approaches Elena and me to make conversation.

“Are you a couple?” he asks in broken English. 

Elena nudges me. “Yeah we are” she says wrapping her arm around me.

 To compensate for the awkwardness of being women, straight and foreigners, Elena and I go to the bar and order several tequila shots. We then hit the dance floor. I look at Florian and Yoann who seem overwhelmed as men grab at their butts and wink at them.  As we dance I think of the gay couple from the clinic.  The rate of HIV infection among gay men in Thailand is very high. As many as 1 in 3 of these seemingly happy, healthy people were carriers.

Growing Love

By Avery Lantz

               I watched as the pile of weeds next to me grew bigger and bigger. Third year on the job,

and this was nothing new. For countless hours I would sit in the sun, baking my skin to a crispy

pink color, while pulling bindweed and thistle out of the ground. I came to find the sound of my

digger ripping through the roots satisfying. My team and I usually started our gardening process

around 8:30 every morning, and by about 2:00 p.m. each day, every drop of my energy had

seeped, as water does, into the ground below me. I was giving up my life for the plants. It’s

funny though, how connected I could get to a single specimen growing out of the ground, when I

knew it would be dead and wilted come the autumn months. I watched the plants grow, and kept

the nasty weeds from wrapping their fingers around the plant stems and strangling them. I was a

caretaker to the gardens. Physically draining, yet oddly satisfying.

           I paused for a moment, as that pile kept growing, and thought about my mom. She was

racing across America on her bike, and would be cutting across the southwest corner of Colorado

that day. I liked having my phone on me when she was gone. Updates buzzed through, and

missing them felt like I was missing a breaking news event. All morning, everything stayed

pretty quiet. Strange, I thought, but no news is good news right? Within minutes of this thought,

I felt a ring on my hip where my phone was tucked away. Relief. My mom’s team must be

making good time. As I put down my tools for technology, nerves overtook my world. A text

from my sister read, “Please call, I think something happened to mom.” I knew my sister tended

to be more on the dramatic side, but she did have a good sense of judgment.

           I called. No answer. Slightly worried, I still had this life below me, so I focused my

mind back on what I could take care of. Still on edge though, I continuously pulled my phone

out, only to see a—what felt like—never-ending black screen. Then lights. I fumbled my phone,

with both anxiety and excitement and held it up to my ear. My sister’s voice had a hint of

concern in it, as she said that she was told our mom took a bit of a tumble and bumped her head.

She would be going to the hospital to get checked for a concussion, but would probably be back

on her bike within the next couple of hours. At this moment, I figured everything was going to

be okay.

            I’ve always been one to think that things get better with time. Plants grow and bloom,

storms pass, injuries heal. Though little did I know, that on that Monday afternoon, things would

be getting worse. What started as a little bike “tumble” turned into a flight for life trip from

Durango to the St. Anthony’s Lakewood hospital—a level 1 trauma center, specializing in brain

and spinal injuries. She was unconscious for 2 minutes. With a crewmember stabilizing her

head, she lay still on the ground, breaks and fractures crawling up her spine. At the moment that

this was occurring, I too was handling a life. This was a life that wouldn’t make it long without

the help of a human hand. Both this plant and my mom needed the most delicate touch in order

for survival. Any slight movement could damage the stem.

           Within hours, I was sitting right outside of the hospital Emergency entrance, watching

my dad pace back and forth and my sister nervously scattering through thoughts in her brain.

When will she get here? The place didn’t smell very good. It had a clean scent, but not the type

of clean you would want your house to have. I honestly could not say the events that played out

until the moment that I walked into a white room with fluorescent lights and saw my mom’s

face. But it wasn’t my mom’s face. It was one of those Halloween masks. Bruised, black,

purple and red, with traces of blood on her lip. And swollen, really really swollen. A brace

surrounded her neck, but the rest of her body was free. Relief round 2. My mom was in front of

me. Not the version that I had come to know, but nonetheless, my mom. I watched her body,

waiting for any movement of a finger or toe. She was able to move, but elected not to. I figured

she was too mentally and physically exhausted.

           She had to answer a lot of questions that night in the hospital. Whether she smoked, did,

drugs, or drank. She answered in some form of “yes, everyday” to all of them. As the nurse’s

pen carved out each answer on the paper, my mom had the slightest trace of a smirk come across

her face. She then continued to say, “No, I’m just kidding.” Relief round 3. It was a very

inappropriate time to include these little jokes, but it made everyone in the room lighten up. That

was the mom I knew. Seriousness collapsed on all of us again as the doctor walked in the room.

He had reported the fractures in C1, C2 and T4, a right rib fracture and a traumatic brain injury.

Ha! Yeah this was “just a bump to the head.” That light that we were all reaching for had

suddenly dimmed out. He gave us two options of how to heal the broken body lying on the bed

in front of us. She could either go into surgery and get a neck fusion, or opt for the halo brace.

As my dad and the doctor discussed the repercussions to both, I stood by my mom’s side. She

grabbed my hand and said, “It’s going to be okay, honey.” Through the pain she was

experiencing, she still played her role as a mother and made sure that my pain was lessened.

           So came the question, would this accident really jeopardize the activity that she loved the

most? I couldn’t picture her life if she wasn’t cruising through it on two wheels. Yet I was

forced to picture it that night in the hospital. It was right in front of me, lying on a bed. A much

more important life than that stupid plant I had to water earlier. I became angry. Angry that this

woman who outlined aptitude was now unable to help herself. I didn’t like seeing the nurses

pick her up and move her from one bed to another. She should’ve been doing that on her own.

She was supposed to take care of me, that’s what moms do right? At that moment, she was just

as vulnerable as a flower. But despite how battered she was, she still had that glowing quality

that a garden does, living through even the toughest storm.

           The halo brace it was. This brace would be screwed into her head the next morning and

permanently stay there for three months. No one was sure what this brace would encompass,

except that it would bring an entire new way of looking at life. Not just for the family, but for

her as well. She would be viewing her surroundings through a cage that would physically keep

her safe, but that had an added sense of fragility. It wasn’t until I actually saw the brace

embedded in her skull, that I realized how seriousness her injuries were. I walked out of the

surgery recovery room with tears filling my eyes. I wanted to think that the situation could be

worse, but at that moment, that was the worst it could get. That’s the thing. Her injuries could

have paralyzed or even killed her, and people made sure to tell us that. I understood, but it still

sucked. No one could comprehend this fear and pain. She had been entangled in a mess of

weeds, and it wasn’t easy to get out of.

           It didn’t take long for the sympathy to start flowing in. My family had many people

offering to make meals for us and at first we declined. We thought we were a lot stronger. Only

about a couple days in did we realize that we overestimated our capabilities. On Wednesday, my

sister and I left the hospital hours after the moon was welcomed by the sky. Though only home

during the early and late hours of the day, we realized we actually did need some food. We had

to make a trip to the store and then we could head home. Both of us were exhausted, and this

was just another step out of the way that we didn’t want to take. I recall being short tempered

that night. I still could not wrap my head around the fact that this had to happen to my mom.

After a quick stop at the store and not long after walking through the door, I headed up to my

room. A place where I could normally find a sense of calmness. Not the case. Instead of my

head hitting my pillow, my fist did—then my tears. A moment of pure frustration. I kept fairly

quiet, but inside I was screaming. I was genuinely mad at the Sun for not providing enough to

keep this life upright.

           Lying there, I thought about how much my mom would give to be wearing herself down

on the bike rather than trying to stand up in the hospital. Both of which required an extreme

amount of mental and physical toughness. I had never understood those aspects of toughness in

cycling. It’s an activity that is straining on the body and also challenges the mind to push past its

limits. The Race Across America (RAAM) was one of the biggest tests of toughness and

endurance. Riders go 3,000 miles from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland, with no

breaks, and a continuously running clock. My mom was always the image of strength to me, but

this made her a badass.

           After the accident, I saw a whole new meaning to “badass.” It was no longer proving you

had strength, it was creating it. The halo brace was a big weight on my mom’s shoulders,

literally. Walking, let alone sitting up, posed a challenge. I watched as each day, after the six in

the hospital, my mom created more strength. She was starting from dirt. Dirt being the rental

hospital bed that stuck out like a sore thumb in our living room. No days were pretty, but they

were days nonetheless. I had never seen someone with a better attitude about life after being cut

down. Her perseverance over those three months made it look easy.

           Now we are at a new season. Being presented with an opportunity to start over, but with

stronger roots. A family once close became even closer. I t has been almost a year and a half,

proving that healing takes a lot of nurturing and patience. I had the opportunity to watch a new

life blossom out of adversity, and that was better than any garden I ever touched.

A Ticket For What?

by Michael Mahoney 

The assembly of Me(s) enter the court room taking their respective places

Mediator Me:                          Order everyone, let’s bring the assembly to order.  For our first                                                        item of the afternoon I now hand to floor to whinny overly                                                                     descriptive me so he can explain the situation for us.

Overly Descriptive Me:           Sometimes something so terrible happens that we give them                                                  special names.  A travesty, crime against nature, the                                                                      dissolving the moral and ethical fabric of society, these have all                                                         been used and it is such words that must be used here. While we                                                       were walking home today, innocently, filled with hope and wonder                                             and hunger, we got a ticket for JAY WALKING.

Sassy Me:                               Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.  That’s what you were building up to?                                        JAY WALKING?  Uh let the record show that I think Overly                                                     descriptive Me is sooooooo lame.

Defensive Me:                         Don’t belittle it ass hat. It ruined our whole damn day.

Sassy Me:                               Oh sowwee little baby, I’ll call the news stations and let them                                                            know to stop covering the civil war in Syria because poor us had a                                                             shitty day.

Defensive Me:                         Wow, way to go there dick.  If you don’t shut up I’ll petition to                                                        lock you down so deep in the psyche you’ll be spending all your                                                            time with drunken twerking Me and the Me that’s constantly                                                             giggling over the word duty.

Sassy Me:                               [Silence]

Defensive Me:                         Yeah, I thought so you…

Mediator Me:                          [Interrupts] Order you two, order! Overly Descriptive Me please                                                      continue with your story.

 Overly Descriptive Me:          Anyways, moving on, I’ll now tell you how everything came to be.                                                  See, we were walking on the edge of campus and came to the light                                                  on 28th and baseline.  A slight breeze was combing through our                                                             hair bringing the sweet smell of mountain air along with it.  There                                                     across the street from us was a resolute police car parked on the                                                             grass partly under the shade of the gnarled tree that spends most of                                                            its days as an umbrella for the homeless.  Across the little patch of                                                    nature there was woman officer standing with authority talking to                                                     some visibly upset man on a bike not too far away.  Clearly there                                                           was something going on. Checking the one-way street for cars we                                                    strolled through the cross walk towards the officer and bike dude.                                                     Another officer, getting out of the parked cruiser, approached us at                                                         a steady pace.  There was a question on the tip of his tongue. In all                                                    the realm of questions to ask, there was only one it could be.  The                                                     biker was going to get arrested, you see, and they wanted privacy,                                                    both for their sake, and for his.  We removed our headphones,                                                          leaving the best part of the song to sing its glory to the empty air.                                                      Turning to address the officer we said, “What’s up officer.”

Smooth Me:                            Wo!  Not too formal not to informal and with just the right touch                                                      of badassery, it’s what we’ve all come to expect of my lines.  In                                                            your face reserved and formal Me(s)!

Sassy Me:                               While were stopping from Overly Descriptive Me’s Pulitzer                                                 winning speech here.  I motion that from here on out the                                                                     aforementioned officer is hence referred to as ‘officer lame fame.’

Devil’s Advocate Me:             I’ll second that

Mediator Me:                          The motion carries.

General Assembly:                  [half grumbling half amusement]

           

Overly Descriptive Me:           I would now ask memory Me to aid me with the officer’s response.

Sassy Me:                               Correction, officer lame face.

OD Me:                                   I would now ask memory Me to aid me with the officer lame                                                            face’s response.

Memory Me:                           Officer lame face responded, “did you notice that the cross walk                                                       symbol told you to stop?” It was spoken in a rhetorical fashion                                                    with a discernable condescending undertone.

Mediator Me:                          Who answered?

Truthful Me:                            That would be me.  I responded with, “yeah.”

Assembly of Me(s):                “AHHHHHHH”

Logical Me:                             We broke the law in front of officer lame face, owning up to it was                                       the correct response.

Tricky Me:                              How many times have I told you Truthful Me, never admit fault                                                        after the fact.

Complaining Me:                    What does it matter!  Officer lame face is going to give us a ticket                                                     for JAY WALKING. People do that shit every day!

Logical Me:                             And I suppose that makes it not against the law right?

Sassy Me:                               Duh logical Me didn’t you know that when enough people do                                                           something it becomes the law.

Witty Me:                                Just like cigarette bans. 

Overly Descriptive Me:           Can I just finish the damn story? This assembly is raving on like                                                       the howl of the wind as it roars through the open…

Impatient Me:                          [Interrupts] Get on with it already!

Sympathetic Me:                     Come on everyone, let’s hear overly descriptive Me out.

Sassy Me:                               Yeah, we can always make fun of his prose later.

Overly Descriptive Me:           Ok then. Then, Officer lame face, in a condescending tone that                                                          would belittle   the CU physics department asks us, Take it Memory                                           Me.                             

Memory Me:                           “Do you have your ID.” It was spoken matter-of-factly.  

Impatient Me:                          And let me take a guess here, he LOUDLY proclaimed, that we                                                        broke the law as though there was some magical law being who                                                          was watching the event unfold ready to pass down some grand                                                             judgement.

Witty Me:                                HA!

Impatient Me:                          Shooosh you. Anyways, we gave the man our ID.

Crazy Me:                               We could have RUN!

Logical Me:                             Hey! Who let you out!?

Crazy Me:                               Explosions, running from the cops, thrills, thrills, thrills….                                                               [Tackled and muzzled by the rest]

Impatient Me:                          Then, he said [Points to Memory Me]

Memory Me:                           “The law is meant to protect you”

Sassy Me:                               Right?  Like the bastard was getting a hard on from just thinking                                                       about his badge.  Granted, I think he was forgetting something                                                 about serving but I’m not keeping score.

Mediator Me:                          So what happened next?

Dumb Me:                               Psh, cars are easy to dodge and that cop was scared for nothing.                                                       So I told him so.

Logical Me:                             Wait, you didn’t actually say that did you?

Dumb Me:                               No?  I’m going to go with no.

Sassy Me:                               Dumbass.

Witty Me:                                Good one ace.

Truthful Me:                            Seriously, why are you ever in charge?

Dumb Me:                               [moves to the side and speaks to the location he was just in] Yeah                                                     that is characteristic of someone with below average intelligence.

Overly Descriptive Me:           Well the next thing we knew his hand was moving, putting his pen                                                   to the top page of the ticket pad.  At this point our escape was                                                    impossible.  Our hands landed on my hips in perfect pouty position                                     and stood there vexed as Officer Lame Face jotted down notes on                                                     the ticket, stopping every now and then to reference my license.                                                             Irony tugged at the corner of our eyes.  The light changed and the                                                     bold human emblem shone brightly, signaling for all that it was                                                         now safe to cross and the first car to pulled up to the now safe                                                   intersection.  There were two women who were very curious about                                                   our current predicament.  Needless to say, their smirks and muffled                                      laughter didn’t do anything to improve the dire circumstances.                                                      Officer Lame Face didn’t notice the spectators though; he only had                                       eyes for us.  There was a heathen in front of him who didn’t                                                 understand how ignoring the most basic of laws was a precursor to                                                           murder and mayhem.

Crazy Me:                               mumumummumummumm…[Still muzzled]

Overly Descriptive Me:           Yeah, yeah, whatever.  The seconds ticked on.  About a minute in                                                     Officer Lame Face stopped mid-line and asked.

Memory Me:                           [Sighs] “So what are you studying.” Cough, cough,                                                                          “Mathematics,” with drawn out syllables was our answer.

Sassy Me:                               [Offers high five to himself]

Assembly of Me(s):                [Mixed reactions]

Sassy Me:                               Oh what are you groaning about! Officer Lame face was writing us                                      a ticket, why on earth would he think the small talk game was                                                          going to fly?

Sympathetic Me:                     But the man was just doing his job, there’s no reason to be nasty to                                      him.

Angry Me:                              What!? Fuck that mother fucker, has anyone else ever seen                                                                someone get a ticket for Jay walking, ever? No I don’t think so.                                                     You should have taken that ticket and shoved it up his…”

Mediator Me:                          Ok, how about we have some more productive conversation.                                                            Logical Me, you have the floor.

Logical Me:                             The fact remains that the law was broken, and being a police                                                 officer, he had the authority to give out a ticket.

Complaining Me:                    But what about the human element of policing? We were clearly                                                        being careful when crossing the street, doesn’t that count for                                                        something? Besides, it’s more work for him if he gives us a ticket                                                     so that means he was going out of his way to do this.

Sympathetic Me:                     He could have been facing pressure at work to give out more                                                            tickets.

Logical Me:                             Because his car was parked on the curb he was likely staking out                                                      the intersection along with his partner just for the purpose of                                                  handing out similar tickets.

Sassy Me:                               Yeah, it’s only natural for people to take out their outside pressures                                      on people who didn’t deserve it.

Mediator Me:                          But we should all remember that pressure and frustration has                                                            gotten the better of us at one point or another, it would be                                                                        unreasonable to expect everyone else to be perfect.

Angry Me:                              UH, but when you say it like that it makes me not want to be angry                                       at him anymore!

Mediator Me:                          What happened next?

Overly Descriptive Me:           Annoyed and angry we glared at officer lame face, taking our                                                            ticket with a “cheers mate” and strolling off.  By now the woman                                                   officer had ushered off the man on the bike.  It appeared he wasn’t                                                    going to get a ticket after all.  Our weary feet took us several more                                                    steps depositing us at the edge of the crosswalk zone        for the                                                  on ramp 36.  The other officer watched us carefully, eyes poised                                                       like a lion.  Her stare punctured something inside of us, allowing                                                      hesitation to diffuse out of every pore, a rank smell upon the now                                                 stale air.

Logical Me:                             But we knew we weren’t going to get in trouble again, at that                                                            juncture it was now the drivers’ turns to look out for us.  We had                                                  the right of way.

Witty Me:                                Yeah, why would you do something as silly as judging police on                                                      their prior actions?

Sassy Me:                               Even though the situation had almost identical speeds, a similar                                                         turn and crossing distance and roughly the same line of sight                                                     distance.  Yeah, this is clearly a totally different situation.

Sassy Me:                               Exactly because one had a traffic light and the other had a yield                                                         sign.

Angry Me:                              But that distinction is all but arbitrary for the purpose of crossing                                                      the street!

Mediator Me:                          Ok now, if we can all come back together let’s wrap this up.                                                 Assembly of Me(s), what are we going to do?

Angry Me:                              Obviously next time I’m going to wait at the damn light.

Logical Me:                             Obviously, the minute or two we saved by jumping the light                                                 clearly wasn’t worth the hassle of getting a ticket.

Sassy Me:                               [Sings] We fought the law and the, law won.

Angry Me:                              That and we should avoid crossing that intersection, especially                                                          when there’s a cop around.

Mediator Me:                          All in favor?

Assembly of Me(s):                AY!

Mediator Me:                          The motion carries. Well then it seems that we’ve settled this issue.                                       Memory Me, what next up on the docket list?

Memory Me:                           Next item it to determine whether or not we should pay the                                                                aforementioned jay walking ticket.

Assembly of Me(s):                AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!

Life Sciences Taught by Jesus Himself

By Ishani Thapa

A seventh grade discussion on evolution

          I give the dial a spin to refresh it. Was it left-left-skip-right or right-left-skip-right? I meticulously spin the dial again, right-left-skip-right. The soft *click* relaxes my tense body. The small digital clock on the inside of my locker catches my eye, crap. I hurriedly grab my copy of the life sciences textbook with a bright green tree frog on the cover and head towards my next class. Sigh. Just fifty more minutes till lunch, and then three more hours till I get to go home. I can get through this. I sit behind Ashley, she’s in choir with me and sometimes her mom gives me a ride home. I like her, she wears a gold cross around her neck but never mentions the necklace I wear. As I finish that thought Paige comes to sit next to me, “I feel like if you’re going to have a god, he should be more realistic.” she’s referring to the tiny idol of Lakshmi hanging around my neck. “Like I doubt a god has four arms, that’s just weird” we have this conversation frequently. “It’s just a stupid idol, I just wear it because my mom makes me.” True, but I have to admit, it stings a little, Lakshmi is a part of me whether or not I believe in her existence.

            Class settles down, for weeks the teacher has been hyping us up for this lecture. Mrs. Becker has jet black hair and talks as if she’s never been taught to clear her throat. Despite the nails-on-chalkboard voice, she’s a great teacher, she always lets us get carried away with our lectures if we’re interested enough.  But today is important, we are going to learn about how the Earth was formed. I think back to all those nights where I lay in bed feeling as if my skull can’t possibly contain the thoughts of the universe. Today is the day I finally get clarity on how and why we’re here and I’ll be able to think about our world and universe without feeling suffocated. When these thoughts creep up it’s as if my brain panics and starts swelling and trying to escape out of my skull. I can feel it pushing out of my ears and nose and that’s where the suffocating comes from I suppose.  

            I snap back to class and look around me. It feels different in the room, tense. Hunter, a kid with short man syndrome (I mean we’re in the seventh grade, the kid probably just hasn’t hit his growth spurt yet) is a little red in the face. Last time he was red in the face, he threw up outside our math classroom, he’s got a weak stomach. Wary of an impending puke fest, I watch intently, tense and ready to flee if the need were to arise. But it’s different, he’s muttering something under his breath. “If she mentions the big bang I’m gone.” Big bang? Bomb? A cold chill runs through me, I feel myself freezing to my seat. I’m not prepared, but I’ve watched a documentary once. I slowly started to stand and kick my backpack to the side to make room under the desk, no one else was standing though. What if they’re still frozen in their seats? I feel eyes on me before Mrs. Becker says, “Take your seat Ishani, you’ve had ten minutes before class for a bathroom break” startled, I stiffly sit back down catching a raised eyebrow from Paige before she quickly turns towards the teacher. Oblivious to the tremor engulfing the class I sit attentive and nervous. “Evolution is a controversial topic, but for the purposes of this class you must learn the concept, but remember, your beliefs are your own.” she pronounces evolution with a hard E. She pronounces words funny sometimes. The rumors are that she came from England and hates America. I imagine being in a place I hate and feel sad, Mrs. Becker’s accent doesn’t bother me, it’s a refreshing change from the southern drawl that most of my teachers have. I think it’s silly to try to interpret whether or not it’s an indication of what she thinks of me on a personal level, but hey. E-vo-lution. I spell it out on my paper, a new term, for me anyways.

            “This is bullshitHunter? I spin around with a slight jump and stare with wide eyes at the kid I thought I knew but who is now blatantly disrespecting a teacher. They go back and forth about the roles of teachers and students (something I’ve personally never questioned). “There’s no actual proof, you can’t teach something that you don’t have proof for!” Ricardo exclaims. I notice the rosary around his neck. As I scan the classroom I realize I’m not alone in being uncomfortable some students were also wide eyed. Others have hard argumentative faces like Hunter. Paige nods in agreement every time Hunter talks and shakes her head and twists her face at every counter argument the teacher provides, but has no words of her own. Mrs. Becker, looks slightly nervous, but mostly annoyed. “That’s enough. Out of the classroom, all of you.” Clearly, I’m missing something. “I’m not taking this crap, I have a right to defend my God!” I watch in horror as Hunter flings his binder in the air. Leaving papers flying in his wake, he stomps out of the room. Honestly, this is kind of a funny scene cause the kid is like four nine and his melodramatic exit came off as childish more than anything. I feel numb, and a little sick to my stomach as four more students walk out of the door, looking quite smug. Once they’re gone we all stare at each other and at Mrs. Becker who is desperately trying to look calm. She would’ve succeeded if she didn’t readjust her glasses every few minutes.

            “Ahem” ah, she does know how to clear her throat! “As I mentioned, this is a controversial topic…” She’s cut off by Mr. Cormier, the vice principal, as he enters the room. He’s a tall scary man with a stern, calm voice. He’s here to address the explosion that just took place, but instead of saying any words he just raises his finger and does a “come hither” motion to Mrs. Becker and they quickly leave the classroom. The class, respectfully, waits a few seconds after they disappear out of the door to start discussing. “It’s about time someone shut her up, I heard she believes we fucked monkeys”. “Fucked” is the kind of word eighth graders say, Paige is dating an eighth grader, so she gets to say it. I don’t fully understand the word, but Ashley clarifies, “No, it’s gorillas, but she probably never read the bible. It’s not her fault she was raised by heathens that ain’t never found Jesus, she was just raised wrong”. I feel my face get warm and stare at my binder for the rest of the discussion. I’ve never found Jesus, was I raised wrong?

            Mrs. Becker returns to class with ten minutes to spare, passes out our reports and writes out our homework on the whiteboard. I feel numb, I’m suddenly painfully aware of how people might view me. We never go back to the topic of evolution. The matter was swept away and as the year progressed we all just forgot about it. That night my brain almost made it out of my skull, I had so much to think about.

A Fantasy

By Bryce Kelly

            The sound of Dembow and Dubstep ripped through my body like a storm as I sat cross-legged on the concrete floor. Half-mashed plantains mixed with sardines lined my stomach, swimming up and down to the beat. It was late now, close to my bedtime, the time I used to write in my journal, the time my old host mom locked the door.

            I observe my host brother cautiously messing with his collection of SD cards, each containing a unique playlist put together by himself. As I slowly become entranced by his actions and the song that was playing, he raises his head and greets me with a smile, “Que lo que Luis! ¿Te gusta la música?”

            I paused for a second, forgetting my new identity was named Luis. “Sí, me gusta”. I did really like the music en la República Dominicana; it flowed through me like it had been with me all my life. I couldn’t understand most of the lyrics, but a part of me felt at peace just soaking in the vibes.

            Looking past my brother, I see a frantic gesture beaconing me outside. My host sisters share a wink with each other, motioning me toward them with two fingers drawn. Even though it’s late, I can tell they still think the night is young. As we begin to walk they ask about my life in America, and tell me stories of their youth. They speak nothing about God like the rest of the country, but of dreams and aspirations. Katia wants to own a hair salon, while Rafelina wants to learn English and move to America, the land of the free.

            Tonight is different. Tonight I will end the tradition my now forgotten host family set as law. Tonight will be my first Sunday in community unspoken to by a pastor. I have come to realize through my previous month and a half that a good first impression is key when getting accepted into a new family. The time is now to prove my worth as an addition to their family.

            The farther we walk, the more my brain hurts from fear of breaking the strict rule of leaving the clearly established community boundaries. My mind runs in circles, debating the price of going out, versus the cost of getting caught. I have no second chances, once you’re caught, you’re out. Engrossed in my own captivity, I feel fingers slip into my hand. I quickly snap out of my daze realizing I had gone mute. “¿Quieres ser mi novio?” Rafelina asks, her hand gripped to mine.

            Do I want to be her boyfriend? What? I just met this girl and she’s already asking a very serious, or maybe, not so serious question. This thought cannot be thrown around lightly.

“No, tengo un novia.” I didn’t have a girlfriend back home but to avoid breaking another sworn code of conduct I hide my truth.

Rafelina smiles and states that it doesn’t matter, she has a boyfriend as well. As I look deeper into her eyes, I see that her words are true. She doesn’t care about commitments. She lives for the moment.  

            Our pace halts as we near the corner of a street. Tall cobblestone walls, topped with barbed wire eerily glisten in the light of a lamppost. This lamppost is the only source of light on the block, shining a spotlight down on us in the absence of the moon. Katia’s friend arrives and informs us that they are going to smoke hookah in the park nearby. My untouched lungs and the fear of being sent home overwhelms me, responding quickly that I will wait on the corner until they are finished. To my disappointment, Rafelina says the same and sits down on a rusted black bench that is pressed up against the wall. I feel a surge of panic as a new problem gets locked into my life.

            Awaiting damnation, I prepare for another session of flirting. To my surprise, however, Rafelina quiets and asks one of the most intriguing questions I have ever heard. “¿Debo ir a los Estados Unidos?”

            Should she go to the States? This question may seem very dependent on the person, however, from what I can tell, people have the wrong idea about America. The vision of America, molded by the misguiding portrayals of social media, is the belief that America brings opportunity, wealth, and happiness.

“¿Estás contenta?” The more I think about it, the more I envision life as a jumble of aspirations that move us toward fulfillment. This question of satisfaction embodies this very principle.

She pauses, shuffles her shoes against the coarse ground, tucking her bottom lip under her top lip while raising her eyebrows in realization. “Yo no sé, pero Los Estados Unidos estaba en mis sueños”

She doesn’t know, but the United States have apparently been in her dreams. Pausing for a moment I lean back on the cold metal, responding only with a tentative nod as we lock eyes in mutual understanding.

            Weeks later, after a long day of work, I find myself walking down the street coming back to the home I am now used to. I catch sight of Rafelina, her body hunched over her dampened jeans, quivering in the 80-degree heat. Although I normally try to avoid such circumstances due to my butchered version of the Spanish language, she is between me and the bed I crave. I take the seat next to her on the broken curb. Every inch of me wants to ask, what is wrong? How can I help? There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to express yourself when someone needs you the most. Rejecting my gut feeling, I take a risk and ask the questions anyways.

            Something must have been looking out for me, because today was different. She proceeded to open up to me, stuttering as she explained how her mother was going to send her to Santo Domingo to live with her father because she found out about her “relationships”.

            Her father was a difficult subject. The only time I’ve seen him was when he showed up late one night, drunk off mamajuana, a crude mix of rum, red wine, and honey. However, he was swiftly shoed away by my host mother, lost in the night on his moto.

“¿Qué relaciones?” I murmur the words, scared of the answer.

            She whimpers again, letting out her mistakes that would inevitably cost her dream. She started with the 28-year-old, and ended with the 30-year-old, having two in between. I don’t know why she did it, but that’s not the point. The point is she was halfway through school, and like her older sister, this would mean dropping out, being forced to become dependent on another person.

            Everything in my head went blank. I couldn’t feel pity, or angry, or anything at all. I felt emotionless, stuck in time. My eyes drifted to far out cities, tasting the freedom gifted to me on a silver spoon. The taste of freedom that Rafelina will now never share.

            Sitting here in my bed I can’t describe what happened after that. We must have both accepted our own paths and headed inside. As I lay here, reliving my previous 15 minutes, I listen carefully to the white noise of my fan, taking in meaning where there wasn’t any. I wax into a stationary corpse, paralyzed in my own thoughts. What could I do for Rafelina? She was my sister for God’s sake.

            I hate the very notion of crying, but that night, I let out a single tear. And I still don’t know all the reasons why. I just know that she was only 14, with so much to live for, and I was 16, with so much to become.

 

 

THE NEW YORK STORIES

By Nicole B. Ryan

Not All of New York Shouts // 6.29.16

 

Not all of New York shouts.

Sometimes it whispers, like the rustling of the wind through the trees in Central park, The gentle crash of the waves on the docks of Battery Park.

 

Sometimes New York sings, like the street performers who play for tips, ducking inside the subways when it’s cold, or raining.

Ah, the peaceful bliss that is New York in the rain. Most profoundly late at night, when it gets so quiet you can hear each drop as it graces your window.

 

Sometimes New York prays. Like the hundreds of flowers and mementos left on the doorstep of the Stonewall Inn, after the Orlando shooting.

Sometimes New York cries, as I imagine it did the day its skyline was changed forever.

 

And often New York laughs, like in the tucked away comedy clubs of the Upper West Side, or the little kids playing in the fountain in Washington Square.

It dances, rejoices in the beauty that is, and only can be, New York.

 

And always, New York is proud. As Lady Liberty stands in the harbor, like she’s done for over 100 years, welcoming those to what is, and always will be, the greatest city in the world.

 

And yes, occasionally, New York shouts.

 

Top of the Rock // 6.15.16

 

I found my love for New York in many places. In the majesty of Liberty Island, in the tranquility of Greenwich Village, in the excitement of Times Square; all the hidden haunts and faces of people you see once on the train, knowing you will most likely never see them again. So many times I fell in love with New York, over and over again. Yet, I never truly knew my love for New York until I saw it from the top. 8 million people condensed on this island. I looked down as sirens wailed, tiny cars and ant-like people hurried by, a city moving, yet still. I imagined their stories. Up here, time was suspended, as I watched life keep moving down below. I am reminded… shown truly, my love for this city. The city that slows down for no one, fights, blossoms and grows, even after you’re gone.

 

The city beats on…

 

 

 

Something More // 6.1.16

 

He brushes the hair out of her face as the train slowly sways them. Drawing into each other, she curls into his chest; her protection from the turbulent world around them. In a packed train car, they act as though they are the only two people there. Quiet tranquility, not speaking, just being. They don’t need words as they hold on to each other. Frozen in time, he looks at her in wonder. If there is something more than love, these two knew what it was; holding it secret in the entanglement of their bodies together.

 

Beautiful. Together. One.

 

 

 

Just Because // 5.30.16

 

Walking down the streets of Chelsea, I passed a little shop on the corner selling flowers. I thought to myself, They’re all so beautiful, I wish I had a reason to buy some. After grazing through the flowers for a few minutes, I decided to buy some for myself… just because.

 

It’s good to do things just because sometimes…

 

 

Humanity // 6.14.16

 

I saw humanity come together at the Stonewall Inn.

 

During my time in New York City, the Orlando shooting happened. It was near impossible to grapple with the painful heartbreak the shooting caused our nation, and the LGBTQ community. I was left shocked and devastated, as this served as another reminder of how far we are from peace. I admit my hope was lost. Seeing how one person could take so many innocent lives over things like race and sexuality shook me to my core, leaving me with little faith in my fellow man.

 

The Stonewall Inn is a historical monument, which serves a great importance to the LGBTQ community for its history of the 1969 riots that started the gay rights movement. In the wake of the Orlando shooting, people flocked to The Stonewall Inn to leave flowers and candles as a vigil for the lives lost. I was moved by what I saw when I got there.

 

Couples holding hands, holding each other. People crying. Strangers taking the time to talk to one another. People standing in silence looking upon the faces and names of those who had died. A Muslim man was there advocating for peace and unity. People stopped to talk to him and thank him for his message. In the half hour I was there I encountered dozens of people; gay, straight, from all races and walks of life, came to show solidarity, to acknowledge, pay respect, and remember the innocent people killed.

 

My faith in humanity, my faith in the world around me, was restored that day. I know there is hope for a brighter future.

 

 

Even the Clouds // 6.19.16

 

Lying on my back, feeling the warm grass beneath me A relaxing moment captured on Roosevelt Island

As I look up, I notice the clouds surging through the sky Even the clouds move quickly over Manhattan

 

Where are they going?

Surely clouds hold no responsibilities

No important meetings they’re running late to

No last minute lunch dates or kids to pick up at school

They exist above us, beholden to nothing but their gliding across the sky

 

 

The astounding energy of the city rises, forcing even the clouds to race to keep up Movement, always pushing forward, always taking another step

The clouds too keep in time with their city

Endlessly trudging forward through the New York City sky

 

 

 

Going Unseen // 7.01.16

 

I couldn’t tell you where I was, because I don’t remember

Maybe somewhere on the Upper East Side, searching aimlessly for a subway station

The sun was finishing its decent into the horizon,

The warmth from the scorching day that had just ended still rising from the ground below me

The city had fallen into a quiet hum

 

My attention was caught by the soft, distant sound of a guitar

As I turned my head, I noticed the doorman of the building directly to my right He was sitting behind a large desk, alone, quietly playing

I stood there for a moment, watching him through the glass

He smiled as he played his guitar, seemingly enjoying these precious moments he had to himself

 

These are the small moments that go unseen

The moments we take for ourselves, to do something we love The moments that aren’t shared

 

In this city so full

With millions of people living millions of different days, all at once Imagine how many of these small, magical moments are happening

How many guitars are being played, poems being written, and prayers being said Simultaneously all going unseen

 

I walked away, a smile on my face

The doorman’s soft guitar becoming continually more distant Its sound eventually going unheard

 

 

Bad Luck // 6.24.16

 

This wasn’t an easy day

Trouble with the job I’d traveled thousands of miles to take

Had me feeling less than worthy, less than successful, and certainly less than confident As I shuffled through the busy Starbucks by Washington Square

I cared about nothing else but getting back to my dorm, throwing myself on the bed, and not moving the rest of the day

 

Sometimes life leaves you wondering why things happened the way they did We all have an image, a picture of what we think our lives are going to be like Each new experience, each new adventure we take

We create a picture in our minds of how it is going to go But in life and New York City things rarely go as planned

And we may find ourselves being handed a different image than the one we had created

 

As I was walking to the door, I overheard a woman talking on her phone “Y’know sometimes its just bad luck,” she dryly said

On my walk home I thought to myself,

“Yeah, maybe it is sometimes bad luck. Or maybe, just maybe, there’s no such thing as luck at all. Maybe everything happens for a reason, and the things we see now as bad luck are just a prelude to something else, maybe something better. Or maybe I’m way too overly optimistic.”

 

Is luck real? I don’t know. But I’d like to think that bad luck isn’t real

I’d like to think that bad luck is just an excuse we make to ourselves when things don’t go the way we pictured or planned

I’d like to think that any situation involving “bad luck” could be re-routed and turned into something better

I’d like to think we all have the ability to change our “luck”

 

I’m tossing this day into the books as “the day I decided I was no longer going to have bad luck” Because I can’t always control the way things turn out

I can’t always control the challenges I am handed

But for every situation, every bad day, every wrong picture I can control the way I react

 

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction I’ve decided to look at every bad day that way, too

 

 

Take Off Your Hat // 5.31.16

 

Riding the F train downtown to Washington Square. An old man walked onto the train, heavy in step, shuffling his way from person to person. His ragged clothes blanketed in year’s worth of dirt the city had been collecting. Slowly, he walked up to each person, “Can you spare a dollar?” he’d say. The usual answer was, “No.” I felt a mixture of pity and sorrow for this man. Pity that his life had been wrought with circumstances that brought him to where he was today, begging for money on the subway. Sorrow, because I knew no matter how much money he collected that day, it would never be enough to bring him out of his situation, but maybe it would be enough to get him to the next day, to start all over again.

 

Several stops later, a young man stepped on the train. He carried a guitar on his shoulder and a prideful smile on his face. He was the type of person who projected kindness just by his presence. I watched as the older man approached him, asking if he could spare a dollar. The young man pulled out several singles from his pocket and handed them to the older man. The look of complete and utter joy on the older man’s face as the money, passed young hands to the old, was enough to make each of us on the train regret having said no.

 

A few moments later, the young man unexpectedly moved his guitar in position to play and announced to the train that he would be performing. “My mom has been having a lot of trouble paying her bills, so I’m here to try and help her out.”

 

As he began to perform, the whole train fell quiet in utter awe. His voice was enough to, for a moment at least, make even New York City seem peaceful. His music and the hum of the train were all that could be heard as the rest of the overwhelming sounds of the city faded away.

Everyone was watching him. Cell phones were put down, ear buds drawn out of their permanent home in the rider’s ears. It was as if for that short train ride, this young man was able to unify this train car. We were all experiencing something of wonder together.

 

At the next stop, the majority of us stood up to get off. People began to approach the young man to give him money. He quickly, without any hesitation, looked over at the old man who was now sitting next to him saying, “Take off your hat.” The old man looked at him puzzled, then proceeded to take off his hat. The young man told him, “hold it out, this is for you.” The people all gave their money, 1s, 5s, even some 10s, placing them all in the old man’s hat.

 

The young man continued to play his song, while the old man sat there, a mixture of smiles and tears overcoming him, as he received donation after donation from the people passing by.

 

 

The Rain // 7.4.16

 

Close to midnight on the Fourth of July, alone, I was walking home from Penn Station. Jessika and I had just come back from celebrating the holiday in Brooklyn. After leaving her at Penn I made my way back home, taking my time to ingest the sights and sounds of the now quietly drenched city. The sky was relentlessly pouring, completely soaking me. As the rain beat down on me I felt this overwhelming feeling of life, of rejuvenation. I felt the rain washing over me, washing away the past… Past hurt, wrong choices, falling outs and if only I hads…

I felt myself finally becoming me.

 

I remember looking up at the sky, letting the rain wash down my face, and thinking to myself, “Remember this moment. This is important.”

 

I remember.

 

 

The Man in the Moon / The Girl in Manhattan // 5.21.16

 

I was flying into LaGuardia

It was late, and I had watched the sunset and the moon creep out all from 30,000 feet in the air I stared at the full moon greeting me from across the sky

And began thinking about the story they tell you when you’re a kid About the man in the moon

 

How lonely it must be to be the man in the moon Isolated with no one to talk to

To be in the midst of this colossal galaxy Yet be alone

 

Taking off to New York City by myself made me feel a little like the man in the moon In this huge city, I was going to be alone

Would I get lonely? Or would this help me grow

 

At this point, as I sat on that airplane

All I knew is that an adventure awaited me A city with outstretched, open arms

Maybe I’d be alone a lot of the time, but with the city as my companion, I’d never be lonely

 

 

A Love That Lasts // 6.16.06

 

In Washington Square I saw an old couple sitting together on a bench. They laughed as they sat closely, sharing a sandwich and discussing what they should do with the rest of their day. As they sat there, looking into each other’s eyes, I couldn’t help but wonder how long they had been together. How were they able to continue to keep their love alive for so long, to continually rekindle that flame?

 

I think we all hope to find love. We all hope and long for the day that someone looks at us like we’re the only person in the room; a desire for trust and belonging, a hope for a shared future. Love can be found in movies and pop ballads, but how often are we presented with the chance to see a real life, true love story in front of our eyes?

 

I felt lucky I was able to see a glimpse of this couples love for each other. In this beautiful moment, they gave me the hope that love is real, alive, and can be found. No matter what your age, or where you come from, or where you’re going, love is out there. And that true love, a love that lasts a lifetime and even more, isn’t always just a fairytale.

 

 

 

Bubbles // 6.3.16

 

Washington Square: a little girl jumps up from her stroller, chasing bubbles as they dance through the air. She never tires, perpetuated by enthusiasm. When she misses one, she isn’t discouraged. Filled with determination and curiosity, the little girl keeps chasing.

 

When does it stop? When do we stop being the little kid chasing bubbles, and turn into adults chasing money, status, and praise? When do we stop enjoying the simple things in life, like bubbles?

 

When we slow down, we realize that the reason childhood is so filled with joy is because we appreciate everything so much more. We are seeing everything for the first time.

 

Imagine what it would be like if we could all be as happy as that child, even if it were only for a moment, that each day we could experience that type of joy. Pure and utter wonderment. If we could capture the joy of our childhood, save it in a bottle for those rainy, adulthood days when we need it most.

 

How different might the world be?

 

 

 

Broken Wing // 5.22.16

 

Birds of a feather flock together; that’s what they always say.

Jessika and I were walking through SoHo when we stumbled upon a baby bird lying on the ground. I watched as Jessika ran toward it, pushing everyone out of her way as she did so. She kneeled there, hovering over the bird as the people walked by around it. I knelt down next to her as we decided what to do. They say if a mother bird smells the scent of a human on her baby, she will abandon it. Yet, with no mother in sight, and this helpless bird lying on the busy New York sidewalk, we decided to take our chances. Jessika scooped the bird up, carrying it over to a bench. She laid it down on the bench, a mixture of heartbreak and confusion filling her eyes. We didn’t know what to do. She had to go back to Jersey, and I had to go back to Brooklyn. Neither of us was in the position to be able to take the baby bird with us.

After struggling to decide what to do, we ended up leaving the bird on the bench, in hopes it mother would come back for it. We asked an employee of the store the bench was in front of to keep an eye on the bird. I caught a glimpse of the utter sadness in Jessika’s eyes as we left the bird behind. She couldn’t get over it, the rest of the day continually puzzling if we did the right thing.

I think she saw herself in the baby bird; lost in the crowd with a broken wing. She’d felt the abandonment this little bird had; she’d felt the brokenness to mirror his broken wing. She wanted to save him, because saving him meant saving herself. When she picked him up off the ground, carrying him away from harm, she was picking up herself.

She texted me weeks later out of nowhere saying, “I still feel bad about the bird.” I told her I thought the baby bird ended up okay, but in reality I don’t really know. I’ll never know if that baby bird was okay, but here’s what I do know; Jessika will be okay. So if you’re reading this, Jess, you’re okay.

 

And for anyone else reading this who feels a little like a baby bird with a broken wing, you’re going to be okay.

 

 

Did You? // 5.16

 

Did you ever notice how the lights of the city dance on the water? Tumbling in tune with the waves

And did you ever stand in the place I’m standing in now? In awe at this city and what man can make

 

I often wonder if you walked these streets with the same sense of excitement I do Or did you dread pushing your way through on your way to work

Did you ever stare up at the stars as they light up the city? Suddenly aware of how small you were

 

Sometimes I swear that you’re drawing me here Drawing me back to your home

Maybe the years of missing you have lead me somewhere where I feel a little bit closer To you, to who I am

 

New York is not my home I wasn’t born here

But New York is my heart And that’s because of you

 

 

Dedication;

 

This book is dedicated to my grandma, for all that she was, and all that she always will be for me.

Photo courtesy of Teresa Ryan

 

 

Photo Credit:

All photography is my own unless otherwise noted.

 

Special thanks to…

My family, for the constant love and support. Nothing would be possible without you all. Jessika, for getting me, and sticking around through it all.

Pauli, for believing in me, and helping me believe in myself. Mrs. Frese, for igniting my love for writing.

Brittany, for putting up with me for the last thirteen years. Auntie, for the adventures, and for always being there for me. Kim, for making so many of my dreams possible.

New York, for always welcoming me with open arms.

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Sugar and Spice and Absolutely Nothing Nice

By Nathan Confer

            “Why do you even like Harry Potter? Losers like Harry Potter.” The hard, sharp feeling of someone’s knuckles against my cheekbone. Warm sticky blood dripping down from a gash left behind. Why don’t losers like you just die? My lungs burning, screaming for air as I thrash. My vision blurs and the shimmering light reflecting in the water begins to darken. “No one will even miss you.” The blackness of the locker door closing as the claustrophobia sets in. Bullying was a daily occurrence to me and often left me thinking to myself; but are they speaking the truth? Would the world possibly be better without me? Or do I give them a taste of their own bitter medicine?

            Growing up in a very liberal household, I never had a problem with expressing how I felt. I often did so with gestures of grandeur. If something needed doing, why not do it with a flair? I was an expert in dress-up and a professional in make-believe. I didn’t always fit the socially acceptable categories of a little boy. True, I was a hoarder of Hot Wheels and tractors—as any grandson of a John Deere worshiping family would—with a passion for playing cops and robbers. But I also did not shy from playing with a baby doll nor playing house. Very little did my carefree mind adhere itself to how others perceived me. I merely went about my own business. Life was so simple back then yet still so vivid in my imagination. But all that is gold does not stay.

            A number of years ago, as both of my parents worked full time, I constantly frequented different forms of daycare. Once I had graduated to the formal education facility of Arapahoe Ridge Elementary, I remained at the school after normal academic hours ended in the BASE Program. Before and After School Enrichment, BASE existed as Adams 12 Five Star School district’s attempt to advertise a “program for furthering the education and social development of our pupils”.

            In its first condition, the program was an ideal, picturesque, and well-meaning establishment. I expect some of you will know it. By the time I graced the program with my presence, BASE was decidedly out of fashion. The “enrichment” masked nothing more than a breeding ground of germs, cliques, and of course a prime example of the unfair and ever so dread phrase “I’m telling.” Aside from contracting strep, pink eye, and the flu more than the typical 1st grader, my time at the BASE program was initially drab and lack luster.

            Much of our time in the after school program we spent outdoors on the mediocrely maintained fields and playgrounds of Arapahoe Ridge Elementary. The playground itself was an endless sea of beige wood chips that would find their way into one’s shoe and remain there stubbornly for ages. In the heart of that sea stood a large paint-peeling castle (in reality just a jungle gym) adorned with ladders, slides, monkey bars, turrets, and bridges.

            I digress. Around this time, creeping up at about seven years of age, my mother and father dragged me to see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. As a child of the mild actioned Disney of my time and being told of screaming books, a creepy forest, and a three headed dog, I had no interest. I sat in the theater clutching to my bucket of buttery popcorn for dear life in near tears only to discover with delight the wonderful world of Harry Potter. I lost no time in calling myself an aficionado. So how could a fan of imaginative play and Harry Potter, not see a giant castle like structure and not spark excitement?

            Every late afternoon, around 4:00 sharp, I would meet with my normal group by the slide. With imaginary wands in hand, the casting of fake jinxes and hexes would commence. To us, fake witchcraft was the highlight of our day. But some people just hate seeing others happy. As our wizarding escapades progressed, gradually came the points and snickers from other groups of BASEers. Most of these kids were the ever so (in)famous popular crowd.

            Like any academic establishment, BASE had its own ecosystem of cliques. There were the pretty boys who came to school sporting baggy jeans, exposed plaid boxers, Aaron Carter spiked hair with frosted tips, and the puka shell necklace. There were the sporty boys who knew only how to communicate through athletic lingo and often reminisced of their tee ball days. There were the pretty girls who knew every word to every Spice Girl song and would uncomprehendingly fawn over the ramblings of the sport boys. There were the normals that just existed and could meld with any group. And then there were the losers and outcasts. The bottom rung of the academic hierarchy where those who liked fantasy and actually did their homework during study hall resided. Losers like me.  

            At first, I took little to no notice of these points and laughs. They could be pointing at something else, laughing at a joke someone just told. Points and laughs frequently become harder to ignore when you can hear your name in their taunting from afar.

            My days at Arapahoe Ridge Elementary BASE Program darkened. I dreaded the final bell of the day. It meant I’d have to take the horrid walk into the cafeteria and check-in with the BASE faculty, advertising myself as present and ready to torture. While everyone impatiently waited for the famous ringing that released them from academia, packing up their backpacks before the teacher even finished, I remained lethargic in my work. I’d draw out as much time as I could. When everyone else would stampede for the door, I would lollygag behind trying to come up with questions to ask my teacher as to delay more time. Of course, in those days, speaking with a teacher after the final bell helped very little with one’s image.

            One specific spring day, I packed my bag extra slow. It was second grade, which at Arapahoe Ridge Elementary meant frequenting the mobile homes rather than the school proper. Most of my peers complained about the mobiles. Separated from everything and everyone, they just hated having to walk the excruciating 15 steps to get to the main building. Exercise hurts, after all. I personally enjoyed the isolation; I viewed the mobile homes as a privilege and they made me feel special. I never felt special anymore.

            That particular day had been “Show-n-Tell”. I had recently come into possession of a rather large and clunky plastic model of the Hogwarts castle complete with cheaply painted figurines, tacky sound effects, and an overall atmosphere of mass produced capitalism. It was my prized possession. I proudly felt no shame showing off my treasure to my classmates, as I believed no one would dare make fun of me while under the false protection of the teacher. But whatever I brought with me to class followed me to BASE.

            Earlier that day, while waiting with the other second graders to enter the mobile homes, castle in hand, two brothers had spotted me. As partisans of the sport clique at BASE, these brothers and I were sworn enemies. Lucky for me, their mother accompanied them to school each morning so they said nothing at that moment, but I could see their taunts silently screaming from their lips. Bradley and Mitchell— fraternal twins that resembled gorillas with large hairy arms, protruding brows, and possibly the last remaining DNA of Neanderthal. They were not a pair you wanted to be in sour relations with—

I was.

            When the final bell echoed throughout the makeshift classroom, everyone else ran for the door. They all screamed as if their lives depended on passing that threshold. I picked up my castle and dragged my feet out the door. I said my goodbye to my teacher as if I were making the final walk to the electric chair and crossed the asphalt blacktop towards the cafeteria. Of course, as expected, Bradley and Mitchell greeted me at the door.

            Instead of a polite hello, Bradley book-checked me while Mitchell ripped my castle from my hands, tossing it into a nearby trash bin. Verbal taunts soon followed. I looked at my feet trying with all my might to ignore them. Apparently not looking someone in the eye comes off as rude even when being verbally assaulted. An iron grip and a hairy hand quickly yanked me up by my shirt and blinding sharp pain shot through my face, just under my right eye. My mouth opened to scream only to have that same iron grip gag my attempt.

“If you tell anyone, anyone, I will personally kill you. Do you understand me?”

            “Why do you even like anime? Only losers like anime.” The sharp feeling of knuckle against nose bone. Warm sticky blood running down the nostrils and screams of horrible pain. “Why don’t freaks like you just go away?” Points and laughs all around. Vision blurring through tears. “No one will even notice you’re gone.” The explosive slam of a locker door echoing in the empty hallway. Desperate pleas flooding out from the other side. Bullying was a daily occurrence. Nothing had changed after starting middle school. Nothing, except the bully became—

Me.