May 28, 2010

Happy Poem [olivia]

I haven’t written much poetry
But it’s all been pretty dark
Mostly death of people and dreams
Paranoid, I stopped and thought about it
To check my own pulse

Yup, still alive

A life full of family and love and ideas
Of surprise endings and setbacks and shortcuts
Of bandaged knees and battered books
Of make-believe and beef stroganoff
Of coaching, correcting, and collecting
Of really weak push-ups and persistent hiccups
Of flossing, forgiving, and forecast-checking
Of budgeting for propane and pot roast
Of spur-of-the-moment cocktails named after PBS programs
Of debating facts and forgetting debates
Of risks, rejection, and redemption
Of yelling for my team and whispering to stuffed animals
Of singing, snipping, slathering, soaking, surgery, and sock matching

But those things don’t seem to make the cut
They don’t stop me in my tracks
Squeeze my heart and lungs
Knock me on my butt
Make me write it out
The way death does

So I’ll affix my name to this poem
My happy poem
And use a pen-name for the rest

...continue reading...

Story Recall [jana]

It’s only when I start singing a song word-for-word from a movie I watched when I was young, or recall a commercial I saw as a child that I realize now and then just how much pop culture has impacted my thinking. I don’t regret these influences, for the most part; I think the redeeming beauty of artistic endeavor has in many ways been a huge part of my own salvation walk. Now it seems that “taste” in stories can polarize us faster than most other conversational material, but I want to go back and re-discover what I loved about the stories I remember most, what caught my attention and why.

Reading the Lord of the Rings for the first time began changing my thinking about story. I was sixteen, and was sick of the sappy romantic fare that the library mostly had in stock in the teen section. I would seek through the section for something new and interesting, but then invariably end up back in the Children’s section with my old friends L. Frank Baum, L.M. Montgomery, Marguerite Henry, Lewis Carroll and C.S. Lewis. I started making forays into the Adult fiction section, some of which were met with success, some not. It was like a treasure hunt, sorting through the stacks for stories that caught my interest, reading book jackets, flipping through to read excerpts…Finally I found what I was looking for in the “Fantasy” section. Fairy tales, my native language, but with complexity and beauty. Having loved Roverandom, Tolkein’s children’s story about a little dog who travels to the moon, I spotted the familiar name on the spine of a book I had never heard of; The Fellowship of the Ring.

Nowadays, it’s impossible for a 16-year-old to not have heard of the story. But a triple-threat combination of homeschooling, small-town living, and a conservative background in which anything smacking of “magic ” except for the mildest of children’s stories was kept far away allowed me to discover the books on my own (incidentally, I wouldn’t have it any other way). After reading the back (catching C.S. Lewis’ name on the cover convinced me) of the hardcover with a rune symbol pressed on the front and filled with gold leaf, I took it to the front to check it out.

“Have you ever read this one?” The Librarian gushed. I shook my head, and her eyes popped. She came around the counter and marched me back to the fantasy section to check out the Two Towers and the Return of the King. “You’ll thank me later,” she said, then told me, “Read it with Celtic music in the background.” She twittered back to the desk with me and my stack of books in her wake, somewhat bewildered. What kind of Celtic-music-loving situation was I getting myself into? I had disappeared into stories other times in my life, but this was absolutely and totally absorbing. I think I read until 3:00am that morning. Years later, in a Fantasy Literature class in college, as I read George MacDonald’s Phantastes for the first time, I also read C.S. Lewis’s description of first reading it as a “baptism of the imagination” that set Lewis on his long and winding road to his eventual Spiritual baptism. This idea of baptism of the imagination fully resonated with me because of how I felt about reading Tolkien’s masterpiece.

During my first year in college, I did a lot of discovering pop culture I had never had occasion to explore before. I watched ‘Friends’ and ‘Survivor’ now and then, with a gathering of faithful fans in the downstairs lounge on Thursday nights…I saw ‘The Sixth Sense,’ ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,’ and ‘Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion.’ My roommate was a rugby player, but she was also a choral singer and loved music. She played “Tears in Heaven” on her classical guitar when she felt especially meditative. While I was still listing the Newsboys and Amy Grant among my favorite bands, Anna introduced me to new music. Dave Matthews Band, a music sountrack from the TV show ‘Mad About You’, Sarah MacLachlan, the Newfie band Great Big Sea, Eric Clapton, the Barenaked Ladies, plenty of choral music, and the last and most influential, the Canadian Broadway Cast soundtrack of The Phantom of the Opera. One night when Anna was gone, I dug through her CD collection to find something inspiring to listen to while working on a final project for my drawing class. Anna came back to the room around midnight to find that my project—four head studies at different angles—had become a study on masks, and me working feverishly with charcoal and tears smudging my face.

While I love stories of any kind, movies combine stories with a visual experience that reaches me at a different level altogether. Significant experiences with movies include the first movie I ever cried at with girlfriends (The Land Before Time, on my 9th birthday!) The first movie I ever cried at in theaters (the Robin Williams/Bill Cosby/Diane Lane/Jennifer Lopez tearjerker Jack). We all sat in the food court and sobbed 15-year-old tears over our French fries while talking about it. While my friends and I adopted mostly our favorite rom-coms for movie nights (While You Were Sleeping, That Thing You Do, You’ve Got Mail, The Princess Bride), varying to some touching drama (Life is Beautiful, all things Austen), I remember clearly watching a movie that was something different. It starred Hugh Grant, so it wasn’t a real indie, but it really was a small-market movie which addressed some real, human issues. The characters were all flawed, and circumstances and emotions were addressed in a very real, very human way. We picked About a Boy off the shelf at the grocery store because Hugh Grant was on the cover, but it surprised us with its depths of humanity; sorrow, fear, and loneliness were real, but so were humor, love, and that element of ridiculousness that rings true for all of us, aided by music from the UK band Badly Drawn Boy. We were all under 20 years old at the time, but this was one of the first films I can remember clearly which made me realize the connection between the drama and the comedy of life.

These are some of the stories which have defined me and taught me, set me on the road to write and learn my own story.

...continue reading...

May 25, 2010

Spiral [vanessa]

Man, woman
Enjoying life together
Hearts beating as one

Raw, vulnerable
Soul peels inward
Engulfed in quick sand

Not ashamed
Grace being received
Tears mingled with beauty

...continue reading...

Twenty Four [annie o]

It is the count between
measures of sun: again
crescendo, again hush,
expecting the repeat.

It is the tomb, still sod
and soil, uninformed
of flesh and coffin
coming with a shovel.

Or silence who, mindless
of thunder’s clap, startles
at the sudden knock from
sound, the slow traveler.

It is the monk, patient,
gardening curs├ęd earth,
though reaping fruit heavy
on branches in Eden.

Or the wedding: the groom
and guests await the bride’s
approach. She, elsewhere, veiled
and shaking starts to walk.

The white sea floods the plain,
not baring that summer
wheat will ripple as waves
across the thawed sea bed.

So the revolutions
continue, the unknown
awaited thing, coming
soon, has been accomplished.

...continue reading...

May 21, 2010

A Letter [jessi g]

Note: the following is written to a fictional person. Any resemblance it bears to the reader is unintended. Many people close to me have struggled with depression, and my response has not always been healthy, helpful, or compassionate. I hope you’ll forgive some of the cluelessness expressed in this piece, and see it as honest processing from a friend struggling in the dark.

a letter:

I know you’re struggling to cope with every morning. You lay in bed watching the light filter in through the window shades, and it’s impossible to consider facing the day.

Of course, you know I’m a fixer, and I’d love nothing more than to take whatever’s broken or unhappy in your life and make it better. To ease your troubles.

The anti-depression medication commercial that plays on the radio informs me that you can’t “just snap out of it”, but that’s not what I was expecting, anyway. I’ve had my own down times. But they have been short seasons, not like the epic battles you face, day in and day out. You don’t believe me when I tell you I know how to put myself in your shoes.

Your response is to roll your eyes and say, “well alright for you”, which is really just another way of writing me off. After all, reasonably happy people couldn’t possibly have any insight to your experience.

And while we’re on that topic, I hate that sense of superiority I get from you. You’re using depression as a reason to feel different or special. I could give you a hundred reasons to feel so, and none of them involve shutting the world out and refusing to cope. Things like your deep compassion, especially for those who are hurting; your sunny smile, which I have not seen in months; your sharp wit and your insight into other people.

I hate watching you give up on yourself, especially when it’s such a false limitation. There’s no reason in the world that you can’t be or do everything you once wanted, except that you’ve hit this glass ceiling--a barrier visible only to you. You feel stuck, and can’t move forward. “I can’t meet you for lunch today,” you text me. “It’s my depression again.” Your depression. You call it that like it’s a pet, or a child. Like the school called again and asked you to come get it because it was acting up in class, and the teacher sent it to the principal’s office. I wonder what would happen if one day, you decided not to answer the call.

Sometimes I wonder if you’re faking it. Like you need to have some kind of drama in your life to seem worthwhile to yourself. If you don’t have two guys fighting over you, or co-workers lying about you to your boss, or trouble with your family, you’re not important enough for people to pay attention to. You can’t blame me too much for asking--is it possible you’re blind to that pattern? I swear each of your relationships last about as long as a menstrual cycle. A giggling flirtatious peak followed abruptly by a week of tears and chocolate.

I know it’s not that simple. There are forces at work in your life--things that have happened to you that weren’t in your control. I know, too, that when a beast like depression gets hold of you, all of your perspective disappears, and you can only see how big and insurmountable the mountains in your life are. I know you feel ringed in and overwhelmed.

I wish you could hear from me right now, because what you really need to know is, nothing you feel is true. Like an addict, you feel inexorably drawn to the thing that’s killing you. Maybe there’s a sick, self-sabotaging element to your behavior—like you somehow deserve less goodness or happiness than the rest of us, and so you’re going to keep yourself locked in the same abusive cycle.

You and I both know that most of the shit in your life didn’t just happen to you--you chose it. It’s a sickening realization, one you’re tempted to run from. I can hear you asking, “Am I really that f*cked up?” But I hope, once you get over the shock of it, that it brings you to a shining conclusion: that you do have a choice.

Every breath you take is a conscious decision to keep living, and on some level if you’re doing that, you must believe that this can’t last forever. Please believe that it can’t last forever.

I never give up hoping that, if you can’t hear this from me, maybe you’ll someday be able to take it from someone. And when you do, I hope it provides you with a glimpse of the way out.

...continue reading...

Yellow [kris]

French cut, pleather leotard.
Perched upon your Alexander McQueens—campy canary.
The design is there:
Moist skin,
tucked and pushed in all the right places.
Crimson lips,
with the texture of warm, dripping honey.
But the design is inverted.
Its not alluring, it hurts.
It stings.
And instead of adjusting to the sting, shockingly I’m cut deeper.
Pulled deeper.
By the edgy mix of flesh and art.
The ratio is the same,
but the sum is different.
I’m glad you’ve kept your Italian nose.
I’m glad your eyes are sharp.
I’m glad that when I lean in, and listen.
You’re not singing a siren song.
You’re not inviting the world to an excruciating death between your legs.
You show us how absurd it all is.
How depraved we are at our cores.

...continue reading...

Break Down the Door [liz]

Break down the door to my nostalgia
Let all creations of my mind run free
In the hopes that some may part
And cease their endless banter

I am the maker of these misfortunes
A tight fist, stubborn will, and muted interlude
Changed the course and blocked the chance
To return and be redeemed

I want your hills, I want your green
I want your voice not unseen
But I must wait, delight and patient
For the plan aligned adjacent

...continue reading...

May 18, 2010

Bookends [kory]

Bringing forth new life

A heart beat

Its own drum

The dance of a new day

That smile in your eye

Wind bringing changes

Promises fading

Last dance with young love

We cling to our minds

The light fading slowly

Drum beat grows distant

It just can’t be over

There’s still stars in my eyes

...continue reading...

Letters to a Three year-old, Part 2 [annie m]

My Son,

I'm at a loss and I feel like a failure. Today was the epitome of our relationship, I feel. It started off great. We hung out together and had great conversations and enjoyed each other. Then you yelled at and hit Emma and I yelled at you. You made her cry and I told you to get out. I hate saying that. I don't want to banish you from my presence. I don't even want to not deal with you. I just don't know how when Emma's crying, the chicken is burning and my hands are covered in salmonella. What am I supposed to do? I don't know. I lash out at you. Your Daddy takes you for a walk and I'm left alone with my latest failed attempt at parenting.

How do we get you to understand that you need to listen? How do we make you understand that you are not in competition with Emma for our love? What is it going to take to be your parents? I don't know.

I don't know how to make you stop throwing things in Emma's face. I don't know how to get you to stay out of the corner. I don't know how to make you understand that you can't just disobey Miss Courtney because it's more fun to run around by yourself. I don't have the faintest idea how to instill things like honor, courage, trustworthiness, and protectiveness in you. I feel so unequal to the task.

You are such a cool kid! You love making Emma laugh. You snuggle up so sweetly. You are so curious and alive. You love to learn and you love to run. You have the biggest eyes that show the enormous depths of your soul. I don't know how to spend enough time with you. I don't know how to give you enough love. I don't know how to see past your behavior to what you really need. God! How am I supposed to be your mom?!

But I love you. And I like you. I really like who you are. Even the things you do that are so naughty, I see traits of yours in them that are really cool. When you hit Emma when she refuses to play with you, I can see that you are hurt by her rejection, and I love that you put your heart out there. I love your curiosity and independence when you're getting into things you're not supposed to get into. I love that you find enjoyment in just running around - and if someone else wants to run around with you, great! I hope that you always love just running around. I just don't know how to get the little boy you are now into a man who is strong and confident in who he is and will do the right thing despite what his own self or others may want. What does it take?



I love you, too. But I don't know what you want from me. You talk a lot, but I don't really understand what you're saying. Then you start yelling and I get so mad 'cause you hurt my feelings. Why do you always yell at me? Emma does stuff wrong all the time, but you don't yell at her. She's the one who starts touching the computer when you said not to, but then you yell at me.

I like when you read to me and when we do school. That's fun. But then, I don't want to stop being with you! I want to still have fun with you. I like being with you. You only do boring things and I think we would have more fun if you did what I want to do. You should come play with me. I could show you really fun things to do.

I love you. Just come play with me.

...continue reading...

May 14, 2010

Christmas Eve Funeral [judd]

Across the Country Road
(Christmas Eve 1997, Cumminstown PA)

Across the country road
To the country church
Not too far to go
To a Christmas Eve funeral
Ropes of pine boughs
Tied with ribbon, snake
Along the oak trim that
Gram dusted, polished
She lies there now
An oaken box her pew
Does her soul wish
To polish that wood too?

Glory to God

In the graveyard
There is a hole
About the place where
Dick kicked the skunk
A chamber carved into
The limestone soil
Next to Pap
Who dug so many
Holes for oaken boxes;
Circles unbroken

Glory to God

Children with visions of
Santa and Nintendo
Try to stay calm
In clothes they will wear
To church that night
Sad church today
Happy church tonight
Pallbearers wait outside
Honored casket hoisters

Glory to God

A solemn service on a
Chilly winter day
Ground uncovered
Dirt pile waiting
To fall in on top
Of this woman who
Spent her life keeping
Dirt off of things
And then back across
The country road
To the country house

Glory to God

We eat sandwiches and
Kays and Rays chips
And make small talk
With your cousin
While your mother in her
Wig and her sister the
Formerly favorite
Convene with husbands
To look at the will
Sis insisted on the reading
Even though the chamber
Is still not full of dirt

Glory to God

Then back across the
Country road and back
Across the mountain
They go, never for us
To see again.
Not even when,
Within the year,
Another oaken box
Is placed in another
Country church
Across a country road

Gloria in Excelsis Deo

...continue reading...

The Black Banner: The Discovery of Joy [jessie b]

Big, billowing, whipping, towering,
Flying, flowing, caressing, covering.
Soft, black textile weaving its way
Through petals of crimson and plum.
Fabric and flower meet in dance.

Pain, comfort, confusion, peace,
Loneliness, freedom, fear, trust.
Steadying presence surrounding me,
Filling every crack, each hole.
My emptiness isn’t really empty with You for

You are here.
You do hear.
You do heal.
You do love.

You are good.
You are hard.
You are soft.
You are joy.

My joy.

...continue reading...

May 11, 2010

Listen [rachel]


What does it mean to listen to others, to listen to myself? What does it mean to listen to God?


Jess and I stop walking halfway across the bridge. The painted yellow steel beams rise straight up next to us, looking like strips of candy buttons I might have bought at the neighborhood pool years ago. “Maybe it doesn’t matter if Jesus was a historical figure or not,” she ventures. Almost defensively she continues, “The principles don’t change—love, sacrifice, honor. Maybe I sound like a heretic but that’s what I think.” We are talking about the deaths of mothers. As we start forward again, she remarks, “I don’t usually have conversations like this.”


Marie and I anticipate our meal. The waiter fills the water glasses. The cool breeze makes it feel like we’re at the beach, and the tiny rows of lights come on overhead. Jim and Pete complete the foursome. I watch as they share food from each other’s plates. I see the smile in Jim’s eye, lighting his handsome face. Pete picks up the tab. I remember him saying not long ago, “I feel depressed when I’m alone.”


With the car in park, we sit in front of her apartment.

“I don’t want Him around all the time. I need time to myself.”

I think she’s getting annoyed. “But what if He just loves you that much?”

“He’ll be with me when I need Him, just not all the time.”


I hang up the phone. She laughed a lot tonight and asked many questions. I remember this one, “Are you going to send me something for Mother’s Day? I miss you.” I let my head rest against the steering wheel. The motor is off. The tears come easily and I let them. Then I walk several blocks though it’s dark. I want the air to un-redden my eyes before I go inside.

My hands have been shaking, too little sleep for the last few nights. I just had to finish the essay on time. I know I need to rest, but the sun is bright and the breeze is soft, so I walk to the post office. I choose the brightest packaging, pink with little white swirls. I kiss the book, place it inside and slip in the card labeled “Mom.” Only a month and a half, and I can go home. I feel the tears starting again.


Just when we think the hammer will fall, He smiles and calls (to him, to her, to me)

“My Love—“

...continue reading...

The Stranger And The Brief Case [mike]

I bought this old bakery 2 years ago today. I'll never forget that day. More over, I'll never forget the few days before that. You have to understand, this is hard for me. I've never talked about this until now. I'm not sure this small town would be ready for a story like mine. It was two years and 3 days ago today that the stranger walked into my life for the first time. Actually, he walked into Divas, the club I worked at. Now, I'd like to tell you that I was part owner there, or a bartender, or even one of those cute waitresses you always see, but we both know that's not the truth. I was a dancer.

Back then I didn't go by the name Tracy. I was known as Sugar and I was one of the girls who came out and danced for the evening crowd. There was always a waiting list to get a private room with me.

"You're late!" Carl, the back door bouncer, said with a raspy voice. "You know that Joe wants you in here promptly at 8 pm before the late crowd shows up!"
"Ah, cut me some slack would ya Carl. It's rainin' cats and dogs out there," I snapped back. He glared at me and stomped away. I rolled my eyes and sat down at my dressing mirror. For a moment I stared at the person looking back at me until a soft voice interrupted my trance from behind.
"Hey Trace, how's the day been for ya?"
I smiled and looked up to see Gina. She was the only friend I had in this dive. 

"I'm doing okay Gina, how 'bout you?" I said.

"Pretty good, I guess. I've had better though. School's killing me right now. And I'm gonna be out on my tail if Joe keeps cutting my hours here. What a pig!"

"I know sweetie....I know," I replied. I wish I had more to say to her but the truth was, I needed this job too and I wasn't about to get in the middle of something that could get me in trouble. Gina reached over and patted my hand. She didn't look at me but I saw her smile in the mirror. I envied her because the future was bright and open for her. She was going somewhere and she knew it. This was a temporary stop for Gina. That was more than I could say for myself. Pregnant and married out of high school, a miscarriage 3 months in, and divorced a year later when he decided the girls on campus were more interesting than me. To say I felt lost was an understatement.

"Lets go girls, chop chop....I got hungry paying customers waiting for some action out there! Time is money, and your time is my money!" Joe shouted from the hallway. His thick Italian accent made him intimidating and fierce to all us girls. I changed quickly and headed for the stage.

The music started and I sighed. Just another night Trace, you can do this! I said to myself. The curtain opened and I strutted out to the piercing sounds of whistling and cat calls. I never felt as cheap and worthless as I did on the nights that I stepped onto that stage.

It was only thirty minutes, but that night, it felt like I was out there for an eternity. As I stepped through the curtain and off the stage, Joe grabbed my wrist and pulled me close to him. The smell of whiskey and stale cigar permeated the air as he brought his face close to mine.

"Hey ya Trace, I got a guy who needs a little Sugar with his spice if ya know what I'm sayin'. He's willing to pay me 5 times the amount I usually make off a guy in a private room with ya. If he leaves satisfied, I'll give ya a 40% does that sound?"
I held back the cough that was building in the back of my throat. "Sounds good Joe, just give me a minute to freshen up okay?"

"Just don't take all night!" He said belligerently and released my hand.

I splashed some perfume on my neck and swished some mouth wash then headed for for the upper level of the club where the private rooms were. I needed this money. I needed it badly.

I rehearsed my routine in my mind as I made my way up the steps to the room where the guy was waiting. I threw the curtain back and stepped in with a sexy smile and walk. He was sitting calmly in a padded chair against the wall. He wasn't like most clients. He was wearing faded jeans, a flannel shirt, and flip flops. His hair was shoulder length and brown. His eyes were dark but gentle looking. He said nothing as I walked in.
I gave him a desirable look and started my routine.

"Hey handsome, I'm Sugar, what'll it be tonight?" I said. He didn't say anything back to me. Oh, please don't be one of these types, I thought. I tried again, this time with a breathier voice. "I'm Sugar, honey, and I'll make your wildest dreams come true. I can give you the run down of what I do, don't do, do for extra, and all that good stuff if you'd like."

He said nothing.
I was getting frustrated.

"Come on pal, I don't got all night here. I got a whole crowd needing me out there so if you're not gonna....."

"I was hoping I could talk to you for a while," he interrupted.

"Huh?" I blurted out.

"I've been waiting a long time for this moment. I want to talk to you, Tracy."

I stepped back and glared at him. "What...did... you just call me?"

"Tracy. That's your name," he said.

"I know that's my name! But how'd you know it?"

He smiled. "I know all about you Tracy. Where you live. What your hobbies are. What you dream of. What makes you cry. The hurts you have. What you want out of life. What inspires you. Everything."

I started to feel terrified. I darted for the opening in the curtain.

"It's not your fault Tracy...what he did to you when you were thirteen. He was your father."

I froze. My body began to tremble. I turned sharply and stepped toward him. "Who are you? How do you know me? What gives you the right to say anything about me or my father?"

"Tracy, it's not your fault. I know that you feel empty inside. I know that your broken relationship with him and what happened led you to this place."

"STOP IT!" I screamed. "Stop saying that. You have no idea what I've been through. I don't know where you're getting all of this but you need to leave. If you don't I'm calling security."

"Tracy, please talk to me. That's all I want to do is talk to you," he replied calmly. He looked at me with this look….I was worth something. He didn't look me up and down like I was a piece of flesh either. He looked me in the eye.
I dropped my arms to my side.

"Okay...okay," I said, then sat down across from him.
"So, what are we talking about?"

"You," he replied.


"Yes, you."

"What about me?" I replied.

His face lit up. "You're beautiful Tracy. Your smile can light up the darkest place. Did you know that?"

I shook my head. I was trying hard to ignore him.
He went on. "And you're funny too. You make me laugh when I think about you.”

"Yeah...well...let me tell you pal...I've heard all this before. I get guys in here every night saying things like that to......"

"I said you're beautiful Tracy," he interrupted. "I'm not talking about your body, I'm talking about your heart....your as a human being. You're beautiful."

I'm pretty sure my jaw was on the ground.
"Who are you?" I asked him. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. We were sitting face to face in a private show room in the middle of a trashy strip club and this guy was telling me that I had a beautiful heart. I started to laugh. As I shook my head, I looked up and caught his eyes. He was looking at me the way a mother looks at her newborn baby.

No one had told me that I was beautiful in a very, very long time. And no one had ever looked me in the eye and told me those things the way he did. The guys I knew in high school always checked out my body before coming close to looking at my face. Not him. His eyes never left mine.

"What.... what do you want from me?" I asked him hesitantly.

"I want to be your friend Tracy. I want you to know how precious you are. I want you to know that you're worth more than this. I want you to leave this place and never return."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," I blurted out. "Now you're getting crazy. I can't leave this. I don't know what crazy, jacked up world you're from, but this is the real world and some of us gotta make money to survive."

He leaned in and smiled this big goofy-looking smile. "I thought you might say that Tracy. That's why I brought this." He picked up a scuffed and faded brown brief case and rested it on his knees.
"This is for you."

"What's in it?" I asked.

"I want you to take it, leave this room, go back into the changing room in the back, and open it. Do not show its contents to anyone." He stood up and placed the brief case by my chair.

"I don't understand! What am I supposed to...." I spun around but he was gone. I sat frozen for a moment, wondering if I'd just seen a ghost or if someone had slipped me a drug and I was trippin'. What is this? I wondered, as I looked the brief case over. I didn't waste time finding out. I grabbed the brief case and hurried to the back room of the club.

I locked the door behind me and sat down, pulling it onto my lap. Slowly I unlatched the locks on both ends and opened the lid. A fresh aroma hit my face as I stared at the contents. I blinked my eyes because I couldn't believe what I was looking at. Placed in neat stacks where hundreds, maybe thousands, even millions of $100 bills. There was a note resting on the stacks of money with these words-

"Tracy, you're not cheap, you're priceless. You're not an object, you're a woman who deserves respect and honor. You will find more money than the world can offer in this brief case. I've paid the highest price for you. You're worth that much. You belong to me. Go, and never return to this place. You're free from all of this. Live in my goodness. The choice is yours. I love you more than you can imagine. J"

My tears stained the paper as I read his words. That was the last night I stepped into Divas. It was the first night of my new life. The stranger changed my life forever.
And now I sit in the upstairs window of my bakery, day after day, watching the sunrise. As the warm rays flood my face, I'm reminded of that night two years ago. I smile when I think about it. I smile when I think of how deeply I'm loved and cared for by the stranger. He's no longer a stranger though. He's the lover of my soul. He's the giver of my life. He's my friend. He's the reason I feel alive when the sun hits my face.

I'm jealous for you.
 -2 Corinthians 11:2

...continue reading...

May 8, 2010

A Great Light Shines [jay]

(adapted from War of the Worlds by Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre)

30 October 1938: a cataclysmic event took place in the minds and imaginations of Americans. Civilization ended, humanity fell from the precipice upon which it had perched itself. The terror felt in the hearts and minds of Americans on this day was one imagined and set upon them by what should have been illogical and nonsensical, but it is amazing what can happen when that which should not happen magically does happen. Logic ceases to be logical, nonsense becomes normal and fear of what may become, becomes -- and hope that was lifeless is resurrected.

Orson: We know now that from its conception the world was being watched closely by an Intelligence greater than mankind's and yet incarnationally as mortal as his own. We know now that as human beings busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacence people went to and fro over the earth about their little affairs, serene in the assurance of their dominion over this small spinning fragment of solar driftwood, which design man has inherited out of the dark mystery of Time and Space. Yet across an immense ethereal gulf, a Mind that is to our minds as ours are to the beasts in the jungle – an Intellect vast, deep and sympathetic -- regarded this earth with eyes and ears and slowly and surely drew His plans for us. In the tenth year of the twenty first century came the great disillusionment. [It was] near the beginning of April. Business was better. The war scare was over. More people were back at work. Sales were picking up. On this particular morning, April 4, the Crosley service estimated that 250 people were listening in on radios.

Announcer: (nasal and non-emotional, speaking quickly and clearly) Ladies and Gentlemen, the Corporate Broadcasting System has received reports regarding seismic activities up and down the Eastern seaboard. Apparently, tectonic plates have been shifting, causing disturbances in the earth’s crust that are visible even on its surface. This earth-shifting would typically be interpreted by the scientific community as simply an earthquake, but apparently, this is no ordinary earthquake.
To explain to us the observation of this strange spectacle, we go now to Philip Carl, professor of Geology at Princeton University, who is in the field in Hoboken, New Jersey at the Greenfield Memorial Cemetery.

Announcer: Thank you Dr Carl, for taking time out of your busy day to inform us.

Dr Carl: (upper middle class British accent – scholarly, calculated and calm in all things) My pleasure, sir.

Announcer: Dr Carl, please describe to us what you are seeing.

Dr Carl: Well sir, in twenty-nine years of geologic experience specializing in tectonics and earthquakes, I have never seen the likes of what has transpired before me. Typically in an earthquake, fault lines cause appearances in the earth’s surface that correspond to the fault line. The shifting of the tectonic plates under the earth’s crust make for a tearing, as it were, that with proper bird’s eye perspective would look like a long tear in a piece of fabric.
In this particular case though, sir, I am witnessing no such tear. Rather, the plates have shifted in such a way as to cause a patchwork of sorts in the ground before me. I stand at the edge of a dramatic 500 acre cemetery and the whole landscape before me is dotted with openings in the ground in seemingly totally random fashion. There most certainly was a shaking, I could feel the tremors at my office in Princeton. But the results of that shaking are phenomena the like of which I have not experienced in three decades of geology.

Announcer: Dr Carl, does that section of New Jersey experience much seismic activity?

Dr Carl: Actually, no. Hoboken has never experienced a tremor of great enough magnitude to even be classified an earthquake. It does not sit near a fault line of any kind. This is a truly unique occurrence. As I walk through this place, speaking to you on my mobile phone, I am observing small openings and large openings. Some as small as one grave, others as large as five to eight graves. Most are shallow, no more than six feet in depth. I can make out coffins, though for those coffins that were twisted, broken and/or opened by the quake, I strangely see no sarcophagus remains.

Announcer: Dr Carl, thank you for your summation.

Announcer: We now head to Eugene, Oregon for another astounding report from the scientific community. Dr Justin Wilmuth, head of psychology at University of Oregon Hospital has agreed to communicate with us regarding another strange happening on America’s west coast.

Greetings, Dr Wilmuth.

Dr Wilmuth: (deep booming voice, a highly capable and confident man, never easily shaken) Hello, sir.

Announcer: Dr Wilmuth, please tell us your experience of the last few hours.

Dr Wilmuth: Well, sir – hardly had I begun my morning rounds when I was overtaken by a patient -- a young woman -- shouting uncontrollably. Again and again she was screaming, “There is hope! There is hope! There is hope!.” Always three times, always almost hysterically. She would then pause, take a few breaths, look out the window and shout it again. It began to become infectious…patients all over the floor began meandering out of their rooms to see what was going on. She would simply scream at them, “There is hope! There is hope! There is hope!” and point at the window. Before I knew it, addicts, schizophrenics, manic depressives, recovering offenders…all were screaming, “There is hope! There is hope! There is hope!”

I was about to direct the staff to get as many restraints as possible and get to work with proper sedatives, when I saw my chief of staff staring out the window with her mouth open. She was beginning to drool.

Now sir, I hesitate to continue with my testimony, but for posterity’s and science’s sake, I must.

As I joined her at the window, my eyes were drawn the direction of her gaze. Just over the top of the city skyline, a golden crest was appearing. This crest is the brightest, most captivating thing I have ever seen. It should hurt my eyes to look at it, but it does not. Nor can I look away. The city beneath us has come to a full stop. People are walking and staring at the sky as if in a zombie-like state. Quiet has taken us over but for the random screams of hope. As I speak to you now, I have not moved from this window for over two hours nor averted my gaze from the crest.

Announcer: (suddenly concerned) Dr Wilmuth, sir, are you not in danger? The patients – are they not in need of your care?

Dr Wilmuth: Why sir, would they need my care? They have seen hope.

[the line goes dead]

Announcer: Dr Wilmuth…Dr Wilmuth… Sorry friends, it appears we have lost connection to our psychological expert, Dr Wilmuth, our contact in Eugene, Oregon at the University of Oregon Hospital. We will see if we can re-establish that connection at some point in the near future.

Announcer: Now, let’s return to the Greenfield Memorial Cemetery in Hoboken, New Jersey. Professor of Geology at Princeton, Dr Philip Carl, is on the scene there.

Announcer: Dr Carl, what is the latest?

Dr Carl: (puzzled and a bit distant) Well sir, I wish I had a good explanation of what it is I may tell you. Rather, I am beholden to simply give you the information.

Dr Carl: I have recently been joined by Dr Pierce Sun of the Stevens Institute of Technology here in Hoboken for a survey of the geological data regarding today’s earthquake. I make note of Dr Sun’s presence as a bit of credibility toward this data that I am about to relate.

Dr Carl: As Dr Sun and I were walking among the openings in the earth we began to note a pattern in the seemingly random fractures of the earth’s surface. Each place of opening was softly glowing from various points in its crater. At first, we agreed it was quartz in the earth’s crust that was playing with the morning light. Thing is, the more we continued to observe, the brighter the light became. We recognized that it was not random light; it was directed and piercing. This was not magma from an underground volcano or anything of the like. And now, as I speak to you, we are standing among beams of light streaming to the heavens from every hole in this cemetery. It is as though we are in a pincushion of the most brilliant, beautiful light I have ever seen. I am entranced by it. I feel both alive and dead at the same time, time is standing still and I find myself enraptured beyond words. My heart is on fire.

Announcer: (frantically) You are on fire, Dr Carl? Should you not leave the area? Get to a safer place?

Dr Carl: Leave, sir? Why would I ever want to leave? I am warmed and delighted to be here. Hopeful, even. Dr Sun has adopted a kneeling position in one of the openings under a sugar maple near to us. I believe I’ll join him…

[the line goes dead]

Announcer: (desperately) Dr Carl? Dr Carl?

Announcer: (beginning to feel the experience himself) My apologies, Ladies and Gentlemen, we appear to have lost Dr Carl to a state of ethereal worship. Strangely though, the Corporate Broadcasting System has begun to receive reports from all around the world regarding this strange quaking, often along lines in the earth that seem to have been previously undisturbed for centuries. From New Jersey to Brazil to France, people are witnessing beams of light streaming with great magnitude from random holes in the ground up to the heavens. Moscow, Beijing, Singapore, Melbourne and Honolulu all report the same brilliant crest in the sky that was testified to by Dr Wilmuth, capturing the attention of millions and millions, bringing traffic to a halt in major cities. Industrial sites, vacation resorts, office buildings, hospitals, churches, shopping centers – all have ground to a halt as people everywhere are enraptured and joyfully at peace with one another, observing the light from the sky and the light from the land as they meet together in the heavens.

Announcer: (back to business) To analyze the psychological response of humans everywhere, we return to Dr Wilmuth, head of psychology at the University of Oregon Hospital in Eugene, Oregon. Dr Wilmuth, can you hear me now?

Ms Welles: (soft-spoken and kind) Greetings, sir. This is Ms Welles, Dr Wilmuth’s chief of staff. I’m sorry sir, but Dr Wilmuth is unavailable at the moment.

Announcer: (wanting to sound impressive) Oh, I’m certain Ms Welles. Surely attending to all those patients and now everyone else who is psychologically struggling at this time must be taxing his efforts, and yours as well.

Ms Welles: Actually sir, we’re standing at the same window as before.

Announcer: You mean you’re with Dr Wilmuth?

Ms Welles: Yes, sir. But like I said, he’s unavailable.

Announcer: Understood, madam. But is he all right?

Ms Welles: Oh, yes sir. I am sure he’s never been better. He’s even beginning to drool.

[long pause]

Ms Welles: (as though the phone is away from her ear) What’s that, Dr Wilmuth? One more time… Once more…

Ms Welles: Sir, Dr Wilmuth is gently motioning for the phone. He’s begun to mutter something…I can’t make it out.

Announcer: (elated that someone finally wants to help him) Please, Ms Welles, if there is any way we can talk with Dr Wilmuth, we would so appreciate it.

Ms Welles: OK, I can put the phone up to his ear.

Announcer: (excitedly grateful) Thank you, Ms Welles. Dr Wilmuth, Dr Wilmuth…are you there Dr Wilmuth?

[even longer pause]

Announcer: (exasperated and frustrated) Drat! Have we lost our connection again?

Dr Wilmuth: (unintelligibly whisphering) tha…iz…ooh

Announcer: (business-like) I’m sorry Dr Wilmuth, our connection must be bad…what was that?

Dr Wilmuth: (still unintelligible and whispering) thar…izz…hoe

Announcer: (patiently prodding) One more time, please, Dr Wilmuth.

Dr Wilmuth: (muttering, whispering louder) thuer…iss…hoa

Dr Wilmuth: [increasing in understandability] Thar…i…hoe. Thare izs hop. There iz hoape.

Announcer: (frantically taking charge of the situation) Please, Dr Wilmuth, people everywhere are dying for an answer to what is happening out there. Please, please, please could you gather yourself and speak clearly what you are trying to say?

[long pause, breathing heavily and rapid]

Dr Wilmuth: (shouting as loud as possible) There is hope! There is hope! There is hope!

...continue reading...

May 7, 2010

Wind Chimes and Train Whistles [justin]

Wind chimes and train whistles dance
outside our new home. Morning
sun peers over the old, worn steel
factory to the East, light
returns from the West as it
jumps off the red brick across
the street. Illumination
fills our entryway – warm, not
piercing. The wandering light
extends the aura of dawn
past outsiders awareness.
The newly veiled stairs creek as
feet visit lightly. The house
is nearing a century,
though with us only around
a fortnight. Dressed up nice, but
with old bones and forgetful
sinews. Strong; falling apart,
degenerating; steadfast.
Who knows what lies underneath?

Taste and see, God our refuge.
Our South border is shared with
Catholics and paper saints
guarding the windows. To the
North, perceived pagans looking
for work, wanting more than here.
Our place is in between. It’s
where we belong. We are the
same as our neighbors; we are
different too. Everyone’s a
mystery; beauty and dark
colliding, screaming out for
liberation, but content
in complaint and restraint. Still,
who knows what lies underneath.

My Queen and Princess lie still
asleep next to each other.
A gap shown where I repose,
gone early with not nearly
enough dreams dreamt. Building and
tilling a house, a city,
a kingdom already-not-
yet come takes time and mind. But
what is the world without a
dwelling place home? My girls are
forever around, but not
a simple leaf, rather an
infinitely profound home
with endless caverns to dive
into and explore. Who knows
what lies underneath? The light
from the morning sky is with
them, radiant inside.
Rest is found in a Father’s
arms, a wives heart and eyes, and
a daughters golden state smile.

...continue reading...

Friend Request [hannah]

“Those guys are jerks. Just ignore them.”

Alex tried to ignore them. He nodded. “I know.”

“Seriously,” his friend Sara tried again. “They’re jackasses.”

Alex smiled. “Jackasses,” he muttered. He told himself he was strong enough to take it. It wasn’t the first time jackasses had called him that name. It probably wouldn’t be the last time. He looked over his shoulder at the huddle of frat boys. Two of them looked over. One whispered something while the others snickered.

Alex kept walking. They reached Sara’s dorm and said goodbye. Alex walked two buildings over to his own dorm and climbed the stairs. They’d just installed new grey rubbery flooring in the stairwell. It smelled like industrial strength adhesive.

He walked into his room and threw his book bag on the floor. He turned on his computer. He logged into Facebook. He waited for the top icons to tell him how many new notifications he had. He waited to see who cared.

No notifications.

Alex leaned back in his chair and stared at the profile on the screen. His own face smiled back at him. Under that a collection of tiny faces. All different. 437 friends.

437 friends and no notifications.

He got up and walked to his mini-fridge. He grabbed a bag of stale cookies off the top of it. He turned back to his computer, glancing at the empty bed on his way there. The bed was more than empty. It was naked. Just a mattress sitting on the plain bed frame. A reminder that his school-assigned roommate just couldn’t live with him anymore.

Alex ate a cookie.

He sat back at his computer and grabbed the mouse. He swirled the cursor over familiar names. There had to be someone he wanted to interact with. He pulled up a detailed list of his friends, but none of them looked interesting. He saw a link on the screen inviting him to find new friends, maybe from a list of his classmates. He clicked on a link to view students in his graduating class at Kent State.

He scrolled through faces and names. He scoured eight pages of people Facebook thought he should know.

On the ninth page Alex saw him. He didn’t know him, but his smile caught Alex’ attention. It wasn’t the normal college-guy smile-- that cocky, possibly drunk, macho smile. It was an open, vivacious smile that wasn’t even aimed at the camera capturing it. The smile was for someone standing outside of the camera’s range, or maybe the smile was meant for no one at all. It was just the uncontrollable act of someone who is genuinely happy.

The smile reached out of the screen and grabbed Alex. He couldn’t look away from it. He stared at it and heard laughter. Bright, true laughter. He wanted to laugh with whoever owned that smile.

Alex looked to the rest of the person in the picture. He had a great face. Not only the captivating smile, but lively blue eyes, a smooth jaw, and a square chin. Curly blond hair peeked out from beneath his ski cap. The name next to his picture was Jude Malone.


It was interesting name. He must have interesting parents.

Alex looked back at Jude. He definitely had that all-American college dude look. He was probably in some frat house right now, intoxicating coeds with his smile and cheap beer.

But there was something about the smile. Something that didn’t fit the frat boy mold. Alex didn’t know why, but he believed the smile was never used to attract drunk girls.

Or maybe any girls at all.

Alex clicked on Jude’s name. The computer told him Jude went to Kent State and was born on August 31st. Alex couldn’t see anything else in the profile. He would have to become Jude’s friend to view more.

But he wasn’t Jude’s friend.

Alex stared at Jude, his mouse cursor hovering over his face. He had every intention of closing the window, but he stalled. And stared. And wondered if he would ever meet Jude Malone.

It was Sara’s idea to go to the club. Alex didn’t like clubs. At least not the kinds of clubs Sara wanted to go to. Somehow she dragged him to one almost every Thursday night. A few more girls would go with them. Sometimes the two chubby girls who lived next door to Sara. Sometimes Sara’s roommate. Alex and Sara always went though. They were a team. Sara manipulated Alex into having fun, and Alex made sure Sara didn’t get scooped up by some creepy thirty year-old townie when she got too drunk to know any better.

Tonight it was just Alex and Sara. The club was dark and dirty, and filled with sweaty people. Sara tossed herself around to the music. She danced on Alex as if it was possible for him to be attracted to her. He moved his body along with hers. She must have been sneaking drinks from old guys again. She didn’t even notice that Alex was distracted. He looked away from her and over the heads of all of the writhing college students.

He didn’t mean to be searching for him. He knew that at a school that size, it was highly unlikely that Jude Malone would be at the same club on the same night. Alex told himself he wasn’t looking for him. Still he watched the crowd. His eyes narrowed every time they fell on blond curly hair.

Sara eventually sweated out all her energy and collapsed into Alex. He dragged her back to campus and dropped her at her dorm. He went back to his room. He sank into his desk chair and opened his computer. The bright screen burned his eyes. He pulled up Facebook. He clicked. One. Two. Three. Four clicks of his mouse. He’d memorized the fastest way to get to Jude.

He sighed and his eyelids sagged.

One more click.

He sent Jude a friend request.

Alex held the last of his poptart in his teeth while he zipped up his book bag and threw it over his shoulder. He started to leave the room, but stopped and went back to his desk one last time. He woke up his sleeping computer. He opened Facebook.

No notifications.

Jude did not want to be his friend today.

Just as he hadn’t for the past eleven days. Alex’ friend request was pending. Always pending.

He went to class.

He didn’t live far from his classroom, but he rode the bus. He sat and looked out a dusty bus window for seven minutes. He watched faces. He knew a lot of them. Not by name. He just saw them every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday as he took the same bus through the same part of campus at the same time.

His stomach twisted. He wrapped his arms around his waist.

The same faces. Over and over again. Never the face he wanted to find.

He saw his stop approaching on the right. The bus pulled over. Students put away their iPods and climbed off the bus. But Alex didn’t move.

He sat. He needed more faces. New faces.

Different students took the empty seats of those who’d left, and the bus groaned back into the street. Alex watched the sidewalks slip past the bus. He knew Jude was out there. Somewhere. In a dorm, or a classroom, or a booth at Taco Bell. He was somewhere in this tiny college town. And Alex had to find him.

Alex lay on his bed and stared at the ceiling. Sara called. He didn’t answer his phone. He didn’t move. Seventeen days, and Jude still hadn’t accepted his friend request. He was too good for Alex. He didn’t want to get to know Alex. He didn’t want to be Alex’ friend.

Sara called again.

Then texted Alex when he didn’t answer his phone.

Come on loser! I want 2 go out 2nite!

Alex threw his phone at his computer.

I log in to Facebook. I have a friend request. I frown at the screen.

I don’t get friend requests. This isn’t even a legitimate Facebook account. It’s just a joke account that I made for a fictional character to make my sisters laugh. I look to see who the friend request is from.

Alex Wright.

I don’t know anyone named Alex Wright. And there’s no way he knows who Jude Malone is. Jude is just a character in the unpublished novel I wrote.

I shrug. I hope this Alex kid doesn’t notice that Jude declined his request.

...continue reading...

May 4, 2010

Memoir [jake]

Memory is not fully itself when it reaches only into the past. A memory that is not alive to the present does not 'remember' the here and now, does not 'remember' its true identity, is not a memory at all. He who remembers nothing but facts and past events, and is never brought back into the present, is a victim of amnesia.
- New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton

* * *

I’m not sure of the exact reason for the call anymore, but we had been on the phone, talking for a little while; Brett’s was the first number I knew by heart. I guess it was that time of year, because somehow we ended up, as many second-graders might, talking Girl Scout Cookies. We both agreed unanimously on the quality of Thin Mints, but I knew for certain that my favorites were Samoas. And, considering the context of our conversation, I felt compelled to express this delight to Brett, my best friend, hoping he might share my affinity.

“You know the Samoas?” I asked him. “The caramel and coconut ones?”

“Yeah!” he shouted. I was just about to follow up with “Those are my favorite!” when he continued, “I hate those!”

“Yeah, me too,” I replied, without missing a beat. I felt instantly ashamed of my compromise.

The conversation carried on, and I forget the rest.

* * *

The Rec-Plex (short for Recreational Complex) was a periodic pleasure for my father and his four boys. He took us there maybe one Friday or Saturday out of the month for a couple hours of play; we spent most of our time in the pool area, but I can remember following my dad every once in awhile into the gym area, which had a track on the second floor above the basketball court, and running around the track with him.
The pool area was divided into kids’ and adults’ sections. The kids’ section had shallow water with mushroom-shaped fountains and such, but it also had a slide and a whirlpool for older kids or adults. The adults’ section, however, was an enormous quadrangle. It was usually roped off in various places to indicate where the “free swim” area stopped and the more professional swimming lanes began, or to indicate the vicinity wherein those who wanted to use the high-dives should stay.

I was old enough to feel comfortable swimming in the adult section with my dad and brothers, but I was also old enough to start realizing things which were comfortable within the confines of family, but embarrassing when combined with the presence of friends.

One particularly embarrassing thing was public showering. My dad was one of those guys who perceived the practice as a matter of recognizing an anatomical given. This was not a problem for a number of years because it was all I knew, and I had only ever been to the Rec-Plex with my dad and brothers, not friends. As a young boy growing up and starting to make more friends, however, this unabashedness had begun to wear out quickly.

On one of these days of aqueous enjoyment, I happened to run into two acquaintances of mine, Calvin and Matt, in the large quadrangle. I had shared a couple classes with them over the course of elementary school, but was not exceptionally close friends with them. We chatted briefly, shooting as much of the breeze as nine- or ten-year-olds can, and then we went on with our regular, pooling activities.

Perhaps an hour or so later, Dad informed us that it was time to go, which meant, as it suddenly occurred to me, that it was also time to hit the showers. This was a dreadful proposition to be sure: on the one hand, I knew I would be unable to explain to my dad why showering was not on option this time, but on the other hand, were one of my classmates to happen through on their way to the locker room and see me naked—it just couldn’t happen.

As quickly as I could, though after much deliberation, I stripped down to nothing and began scrubbing myself with the bar of soap, my heart beating with terror and anticipation of the worst. After having sufficiently bathed myself, I turned off the water and scrambled across the tile floor to grab my towel. However, I was so nervous that my muscles didn’t seem to function as fluidly as they normally would. I tugged stiffly on the absorbent cloth, unable to free it from the hook, hanging twice as high as me.

Then, despite all hope, the nightmare became reality: just before I had yanked the towel from the hook, Calvin strolled around the corner, headed to the locker room just beyond the open showers. I attempted to cover myself, but it was too late: Calvin had already seen not a cotton-swathed boy, but a cloth-rectangle floating above a naked boy’s lower half. With the towel finally in its proper place, we made the briefest eye contact and Calvin walked on.

* * *

I sat on the couch, pondering. Looking up, I asked, “Do you ever have those seemingly irrelevant memories that, for some inexplicable reason, almost regularly come to mind? But you know, you know for a fact, that those related to that event won’t remember it, too?”

“Yeah, I think so,” Steffeny responds. The rest of the girls answer similarly.

“I have those all the time,” I continued, “and a lot of them have been surfacing lately. I’m not really sure why.”

* * *

It was second grade when my crush on Jani Becker started. She was the first girl that I had ever liked, and I was pretty enamored. We were in class together, but, being that I was exceptionally shy, I never let on to her that I liked her and hardly even talked to her (though I enjoyed what few interactions we had).

This of course did not lead to any first kiss or handholding, or flirting of any kind, seeing as I was too bashful to ever admit my affection to her, but I did continue being charily fond of her. In fact she was the only girl I liked from that time until the end of fifth grade. I had plucked up a little courage and self-confidence over this time—enough to talk to her at least, being that she was in my fourth and fifth grade classes—but throughout this time I remained, on the subject of my sentiment, steadfastly sheepish.

I had developed general relational skills, but, because of my limited dealings with romance, when it came to Jani, a girl whom I like liked, I had no idea how to properly interact.

It was now the beginning of my fifth grade year—by this time, I had only told my mom and Brett about my three-year crush—and I was seated at a table of all girls, directly across from Jani Becker. During some downtime in class one day we, like kids and grownups do, started talking. And, like kids and grownups do, we started talking about relationships, who liked who, and whatnot. I don’t remember much about the conversation, but eventually the group turned to me.

“So do you like someone?” Jani asked me, smiling.

I admitted that I did, but was not willing to say whom. The girls all giggled.

“Is she in another class?” Jani asked, leaning forward on her desk.

“No, she’s in our class,” I answered honestly, not yet realizing that I had considerably narrowed the scope of prospects. The girls giggled some more.

“Is it Katie?” they asked, referring to another Katie across the room.

“Nope, no one at that table,” I said, nervous but still clueless.

“What about that table?” they asked, indicating the one just next to it. I denied my attraction to anyone at that table. Slowly they began eliminating tables in the classroom (of which there were few), and slowly I began to realize that once we reached our table, I was screwed. If I stopped them at this point, at another table with another set of girls, they would presume my affection for someone I didn’t actually like.

“Is it this Katie?” Jani asked, pointing to her left.

I shook my head, nervously simpering. My time of secrecy was drawing to an end.

“I think I know who it is…!” Jessica whispered across the table to Jani.

My heart was pounding as the girls paused for a moment.

“Is it me?” Jani asked. There it was. The gavel fell. No one was left to choose from, except for Mrs. Scanlon, and that would not do.

“Yeah,” I blushed. The girls erupted in excitement.

“Does anyone else know?” Jani pushed on.

“Yeah,” I said, “I told my best friend back in second grade.” It was a seemingly insignificant admission.

“Whoa,” she said, “you’ve liked me since second grade?”

I couldn’t tell if the shock was out of flattery or offense. It hadn’t occurred to me that liking someone that you hardly talk to for almost four years might be a long time.

* * *

Moving from elementary school to middle school was a big change, not drastic, but big. We had six teachers every day instead of one, we used lockers instead of having our own desks, and our student population was much higher than I was used to, as it combined three elementary schools together. The experience was altogether new and exciting.

My first day of sixth grade started out well. I had seen a few familiar faces on the bus ride and had already made a friend in my first hour course, “communication arts” (English, in laymen’s terms). Now I made my way to my second hour: geography with Mr. Elmy. I entered the classroom and surveyed the room, hoping for a friend to sit with. But I didn’t recognize anyone, so I plopped myself down in an open, front row seat and began looking around the room, waiting for class to commence.

As my eyes drifted, my gaze fell on a kid named Ryan Reavey, sitting in the back row, chatting and joking with a girl whom he probably knew from his elementary school. I watched them for no particular reason as they talked, innocently observing their interaction.

His eyes caught mine. “Hey, you got a staring problem?” he asked me, catching me completely off guard. I turned with my head lowered and mumbled something like, “no,” refusing to turn around again. I felt hurt, and stupid. I didn’t even know him.

It was in that moment, the first of many in my adolescence, that I realized that I had to learn to be quick-witted, or I would not survive.

* * *

“If you were able to take a collection of these memories and look at them altogether, what would they say about a person? If you knew nothing else about that person, would you be able to get a sense of who they are? If you did this with your own memories, could you tell something significant about yourself now?”

I paused for a moment, having adequately concluded my thoughts. “I don’t know. That’s what’s been on my mind.”

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Prickly Beards and Cherry Cigars [steffeny]

I distinctly remember

Driving to grandma’s and writing on my magnetic etch-a-sketch. I proudly showed off the intervention that I had devised for my grandparents. Stop Smoking. It will kill
you. You should stop. I love you.

When I showed my mom she yelled at me and I didn’t understand why. I had worked really hard on that message and besides, mom was the authority on the perils of smoking. Constantly complaining about the uncompromising smell that invades all clothes, skin, and hair. We have to wash everything. Don’t take your nice stuff to grandpa and grandma’s, she warned us, it will be ruined. And don’t get her started on them riding in our car. Smoking is why they don’t come to visit us. Smoking is why they’re grumpy and their health is bad. Smoking is the reason for everything in our relationship. Especially the bad and uncomfortable stuff. They smoke and that’s bad. I heard her tone more than her words. We love grandpa and grandma but they smoke. We feel sad, but we all have to suffer the consequences.


Grandpa. Stuart Steiner. Stern. Rough around the edges.

His prickly beard pokes me when we hug. He lets me sit in his recliner- the throne – and watch all the classic Christmas shows. Crunch Crunch. He turns the pepper grinder over and over and all over every meal. Every bite. Mom says it’s cuz the smoke made his taste buds broken. But I think he likes things with extra flavor. He’s usually grouchy and doesn’t seem very happy to see me, but then grandma mixes drinks and we play cards. He teaches me to play dice and black jack. To him it’s serious business. Me and Colby have spinning competitions on the old black bar stools. I feel so dizzy I can’t hold my giggles in. They smack into the discolored walls, making a stark contrast against the serious space. Exhilarating exhaustion and warning looks from dad cause me to collapse onto the blue davenport. Davenport. That’s a weird word. What’s a davenport? After a lot of hard thought, I decide that it must be a long, uncomfortable, blue couch bench.

Regaining my strength, I set out to explore the bedroom closets in search of toys or games. Any sort of entertainment will do. I find Simon. Circular, colorful, and mysterious. Pushing the neon, pie shaped buttons, I can’t seem to make it come alive and so I quickly throw it aside. The rubix cube too eludes me. I’m perplexed by the crates full of dirty old baseballs kept in the closet. Huh… Finding nothing of interest, I head back to the deck to check on the adults, hoping to find some measure of excitement. My mom seems bored and annoyed. But dad is strangely happy. His insides seem to be smiling in enjoyment, all the while reaching for something slightly out of grasp. Maybe he’s sad there aren’t any good toys around either.

Me and Colby go back inside to watch another TV show. I feel the tiredness creeping in and all over me. We chase and run around the house but are soon scolded and back to the TV we go. I drop down onto the white and beige speckled carpet. It’s a tinted shade of yellowish gray like most things in the house. Even the couch is prickly. I lay on the carpet and feel its scratches on my face. Breathing in deep, I stare up at the thick glass coffee table from my vantage point underneath and trace the edge with my pointy finger. It’s the shape of a kidney bean and held up by a scary tree branch. Sharp and twisty. On top rests an array of ash trays and the boring brown coffee mugs. My little fingerprints are left behind as proof of my careful and curious investigation. Being in this house feels like a nap all of the time. But no one seems to mind. I want to go outside, to run, to breathe the fresh air. Mom says it’s because of the smoking that we feel bad and tired and why we can’t go play. I think I believed her.

The clock dings. Again and again. Waking me up and reminding me of another hour’s passing. But time seems to stand still in this house. Suddenly aware of my surroundings, I realize that no one is around. I’m all alone. Where is everyone? I know they’re home. They must be home. But they are nowhere to be found. The house seems even more quiet and hollow than before. As I walk down the long hallway toward the back bedroom, I run my hand along the walls, feeling the texture of the familiar film that coats them. I reach the bedroom and the door is shut. I pause long enough to feel the fear sitting in my belly. I take a deep breath and slowly push open the door. Mom and dad are sleeping on the bed. It seems like in this house everyone is tired. Even me. The back room scares me. I only go back there to find my parents or to get dressed for the day. All our clothes are packed in mom’s suit case. We always seem to wear sweats at grandma’s house. Only sweats every day. I’m not really sure why.

Grandma comes out of her room where grandpa is sleeping and takes me into the kitchen. She gives me a cookie or fixes me my favorite, English Muffins. I sit at the bar stool and I can’t even spin. I feel the weight of this sleepy house.


When I smoke I can smell him again.

It was a beautiful night. We went to the garden. Relaxing, I breathed in the cherry cigar, my first. Semi awkward, semi comfortable. The cool evening air passed easily between us. Later that night I lay in bed. Feelings of confusion well up inside me. Even more than the emotions, I am overwhelmed by a familiar smell. Unable to identify it, I realize that it’s on me. It is me. The smell of smoke from my cherry cigar. And though I’m 23 and safe to make my own decisions, so many thoughts ebb and flow though my mind. Hitting me. Smoking is awful. Horrible. Terrible. But I did it. I liked it. Suddenly I feel a tinge of hurt. I’m afraid. Am I bad now?

Consumed by the aroma, I realize that I smell like them. The smell in my hair. The taste in my mouth. The dry feel of my skin. I lay in bed perplexed, feeling the weight of all the judgments that we once place on their shoulders. The river of realizations continues to flow through me. This is what grandpa smells like. This is what grandma tastes like. A strange happiness spreads through my insides. Finally free simply to say: I like smoking and I like my grandparents. In this one tiny act I understand them so much more. I can’t even explain it. Suddenly I feel close to my grandparents in a way that never happened while they were alive. Bridging years of distant disconnect. Grandpa, I’m sorry. I don’t hate you. I’m sorry for hating you. Grandma, I miss you. I’m sorry for judging you. I wish I would’ve seen, smoked sooner. How could this one thing be so divisive in our family? How could this one thing bring us back together?

Drifting off to sleep I imagine my grandpa’s prickly beard on my scrunched up face and grandma’s delicious molasses cookies spilling out over my little hands. I smile. I love you guys. See you tomorrow night. I’ll meet you on the porch, cherry cigars in hand.

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