I have a veritable Mount Everest of papers to grade, upon which I will get started shortly. I still need to research some more laptops, as I am looking into getting a new one sometime this week. PLUS, I need to find me an outfit for New Year's Eve. There are simply not enough hours in the day.
I've spent entirely too much time today on Protagonize. But at least I've been promoted to rank 3, which is inexplicably called "Daredevil." And even more inexplicably, I'm now ranked in the top 50, standing (surprised) at 32. I don't know how I got that, and I'm bemused as heck, but also happy.
Oh well, back to the world outside my computer! Time to do some groceries and then begin my long, weary climb up Mount Everest.
If you have a moment, please go and vote on these items for Alya. It shouldn't take you more than five seconds, promise. To read the work of the PEGS Poets community, go here. Thanks! :D
I wasn't always this way. I used to be the kind of person who would rather stick with the tried and true - grilled cheese sandwiches and chocolate milk were the staples of my diet growing up. This made me a virtual pariah in my family, growing up American in a Cuban-born family who were used to feasting daily on rice and beans. And don't forget the lechon. My grandmother would just shake her head over my untouched plate, calling me "una Cubana repentida." That meant literally that I repented my Cuban-ness. As if refusing to eat rice and beans meant giving up on one's heritage.
Perhaps she was on to something, though.
What does to mean to claim your heritage? Can it be boiled down (pun intended!) to speaking one's language, eating one's cuisine? Being proud of your background? I think that these are all important components of it.
Now that I am in the third decade of my life (man, I'm old), I have come to appreciate my grandmother's argument. I have come, also, to appreciate Cuban food for its subtle variances. Bistec empanizado y tostones are new favorites. But my newfound appreciation of food goes beyond even my own culture's cuisine - I am a big fan of Thai and Vietnamese food now, and you can thank two people for that: my boyfriend, Ricky, and the host of "No Reservations," Anthony Bourdain.
When I started dating Ricky at the tender age of 21, my palate was untested. I used to sweat while eating so much as chili. Indian food was out of the question. Mickey-D's and Burger King were constants. I used to see food as nothing special; eating was just part of my mundane routine, like waking and sleeping, and as a consequence, I was rail thin, barely 120 lbs at five-nine. Ouch.
Ricky began his mission slowly. It started with a Valentine's Day trip to House of India, an Indian food restaurant in Miami. Yes, I did sweat and there may or may not have been stomach cramps. But I survived, and what is more, I was now curious about food. From there, he took me to this restaurant near his house in Miami Lakes called Thai Cafe. I'd never eaten Thai food before. Chinese, yes, but who hasn't, really? I was scared of Thai food at first, but now I love chicken pad thai like nobody's business and we go to Thai Cafe so often, the waiters practically know us by name. And I have Ricky to thank for that (not to mention the extra pounds!).
Anthony Bourdain was the second big influence in my newfound appreciation for food. When I began watching his shows, first "A Cook's Tour" on the Food Network and then the (infinitely better) "No Reservations" on the Travel Channel, I began to see eating for what it should be - a celebratory experience.
Who is Anthony Bourdain, you ask? Well, Bourdain wasn't always a TV host - he began as a humble dish washer, and then worked his way up the ladder to become a chef. He has since opened three restaurants, all called Les Halles, in New York, Washington, D.C., and Miami, and made his way to the TV screen. I have been to the Les Halles in Miami. My first time trying what is arguably his most famous dish, steak frites, was practically a religious experience. If you have a Les Halles in your area or ever happen to travel near one, go! Trust me, you will not regret it.
The shtick of "No Reservations" is that every episode, Bourdain travels to a new location in the world and gets to know the people of that locale and their culture. Food isn't the star of the show, but it's definitely a supporting actor. My favorite episodes are the ones in Paris, Tokyo, and the Pacific Northwest (click on the links to see a YouTube snippet of each). Reader, if you haven't yet seen Bourdain in action, I must caution you, he's not for the faint of heart. He sometimes curses, he is anti-vegetarian, and he is very bitter. A typical New Yorker, in other words. But he is also intelligent, well-read, and a great writer. He regularlarly posts about his travels in his blog, which you can access from my blog roll.
Thanks to Bourdain, my boyfriend and I have been inspired to try Vietnamese food, we no longer leer away from street vendors, and his episode in Tokyo even influenced us to take the plunge and venture to Japan on our own - this past April, we flew to Tokyo and spent an amazing seven days enjoying sakura*, sushi, and the unforgettable Japanese people. We have yet to try kuidore, something Bourdain experienced on his show, but there's always next time! (FYI, kuidore is a style of Japanse eating that requires eating until you can't take it anymore. If I'm not mistaken, "kuidore" can be literally translated to "eat until you fall down." Sounds good to me! :p) I am even thinking about taking cooking classes now (and if you know me at all, this is a big deal!).
If you are a "No Reservations" fan like me, or just curious, enjoy the sneak-peak video of his new season below. The new season starts on January 5th, Monday, 10 PM EST on the Travel Channel. Stay tuned to this blog for more information about the show and be sure to add his blog to your blogroll!
*Sakura, as in cherry blossoms, not horse meat sashimi. Thanks to Abel for the heads-up on that!
Here, I'll show you:
Yeah, spiders. In any shape, size, color, variety. Although, obviously, the bigger the baddie, the louder my scream. And I'm not much of a screamer, just ask Ricky. I can sit quietly through the scariest horror flick (with my hands over my eyes, true), ride the tallest roller coaster without making a sound (although it is fun to yell, isn't it?), and I'm A-OK. No problem.
But the second you stick me and one of those eight-legged atrocities into the same enclosed space, I go ape.
True story - last night, Ricky and I were parking at the Toys R' Us near my house, and as I was getting ready to take off my seat-belt, I happened to look up and see something black on the roof of the car near Ricky's seat... something black and crawly... with eight legs.
Reader, I could not get out of that car fast enough. In my haste, I got tangled in the seat-belt, tangled in my purse, but I did not let these obstacles hinder me. No, sirree, I was going to get out of that car even if it meant losing a limb, such was my terror. In fact, the contents of my purse wound up scattered on the parking lot and had to be re-collected. All the residents of Hialeah, my hometown, no doubt think I am a crazy woman. No matter. At least I was safe from the spider.
I made Ricky take it out of the car, professing that no way in heck would I get back in said car if that creature remained within. Well, he wound up killing the spider, not because he wanted to, but because the thing was so damn fast he wound up crushing it. Yes, it made me a little sad, but I must confess - I felt relieved, too.
So that's my phobia. What's yours?
The Great Gatsby, one of my all-time favorite books. I just started a Book Club with my high school students and Benjamin Button is our first selection. You can read the short story here (it's really short, should take you only 15-20 min. to read).
... (<--- That was my reaction.)
Sure enough, an artificial Christmas tree of six feet would only cost me $19.99 at Target, whereas a real tree of the same height would cost me $4,533.99. That, plus my first-born child. You can see what a difficult decision I had to make.
Flash forward to Monday. I arrive to work with plastic tree tucked snugly into its packaging, waiting for my student aide to help me assemble it. Yes, apparently, fake plastic trees need to be assembled. At first, I was dubious about the tree. It was really skinny. Like fashion-model-living-on-crackers-and-air skinny. But we persevered, my student-aide and I, and we decorated it with ornaments and tinsel and all sorts of shiny, happy stuff. This is the end result:
Yes, I know. It does not look like it's 6 feet. But I assure you it is. I am 5-9 and it is taller than me. Skinnier, too, which is giving me a bit of a complex, but there you are. So long as the kids are happy.
Hence the scurry to back up everything of mine here.
So my apologies if you've been inundated with posts lately, especially to my subscribed readers. I'll be back to my regularly scheduled blogging very soon. :D
"Wings Waiting to Color the Sky"
Your movements still cause unexpected tremors in my heart—
Rivers of feeling thrum the line of my pulse,
My breath thready, like the hesitant wind among the trees.
These are the moments I hold in my thoughts,
Turning them over like stones.
There is meaning in these memories:
This body, my fickle flesh,
With its topography of scars and sentiments
Has seen more than its fair share of beauty
And dealt as much as received of cruelty.
There is weight within these words.
I carry them in my hands like an inopportune offering,
Waiting for the right moment to arrive
With my breath in my throat like a bird on the wire,
Wings waiting to color the sky.
"Shadows and Light"
The tuna fish sandwich fell to the ground, unnoticed by Janine. Unnoticed, too, was the squirrel who boldly skittered up and began nibbling on the crust, twitching his button nose curiously at the woman.
Janine only had eyes for her shadow.
You see, her shadow was doing something quite strange at the moment. Something Janine herself was definitely not doing. Slowly, it stood up and beckoned Janine to follow it. She sat looking down at her hands, which lay open in her lap, and gaped, dumbfounded.
“You want me to follow you…?” she breathed, instantly feeling stupid for talking to her own shadow. But her surprise only deepened when the shadow began beckoning even more energetically.
“Oh my God. That’s it. I’m going insane. I’m actually going insane! I knew I should have taken that two week vacation, but no, the Big Head Honcho insisted -“
Janine’s words were immediately cut off mid-rant when the shadow decided to do something even wilder to get her attention; it flew up into the sunlit sky.
"We Need To Talk"
He says my name like a prayer, like it’s his salvation. The vowels of my name sound slippery in his accent, almost dangerous. He tucks a stray curl behind my ear and gives me that look. No one has ever been able to resist that look, I think, before today.
I lean back, pulling my hands away from his. There is a question in his watercolor eyes that I am afraid to answer.
“We need to talk,” I say, but instead of coming out cool, calm and collected, I sound like I’ve taken in some helium. His eyebrows are threatening to go vertical and the butterflies in my stomach have now become full-blown bats.
“What’s wrong?” he asks, and the equation of his tremulous voice and liquid eyes results in a paralyzing wave of nausea.
I twist the ring around on my finger, stalling. He wears a matching gold band on his hand, too. Twin symbols of our union. I just hope it will be strong enough to weather this.
I take a deep breath again and look up again. He’s still waiting patiently.
“Honey, my mom wants to move in with us.”
"These Memories Kill"
Every night, I crawl
into my cocoon of pain
All I want is one
night without stars, only moon,
and no suffering.
I want for you to
swallow my tears whole, till you
taste their bitterness.
Give me the sleep that
is dream-less, that is past-less.
These memories sting.
My days grow stagnant
and pale, like the walking dead.
These memories kill.
A familiar face hovers at the horizon of consciousness—
It is 4 am and the house sleeps.
I am awakened by a memory that has come
Trespassing into my dream.
My pulse an angry fish, desperate to jump out of its net of veins.
These are the eyes that envision a past coldly,
This is the mind that unfurls itself wildly,
Conjuring up a host of ghosts.
What is this face, this abstract jigsaw
With eyes where the mouth should be?
What is its name? What color its voice?
I begin to recall.
This is the memory I had confidently drowned
Five fathoms deep, come suddenly to surface;
It drives cruel fangs into my heart
And I learn what pain is again.
Originally published on Ficlets July 20, 2008.
"Meaning and Memory"
Watching you like this, I can think of
a thousand different things I want to say to you,
The moon slid off the face of the sky just like a tear.
But my mouth disobeys, stays shut as a tomb.
Were you about to say something? you ask, and I’m left
defenseless, the doors behind doors slamming shut,
bolts locked into place.
Meaning comes later, after the words that will be spoken
have been spoken.
Memory will come, too, with its sharp little teeth
that dig and dig.
Don’t try so hard, the mind whispers, before the body
flings itself into action.
Nothing, I say, and smile.
Originally published on Ficlets August 1, 2008
The Legend of Áhasêstse'ó Falls
If you should visit Áhasêstse’ó Falls,
When the night sky is a broken diamond,
When the wind cries through the trees,
Chances are you might hear something unexpected:
A voice hidden within wind, words spoken through water.
One heart lost in battle, another drowned deep
Both separated in life, irrevocably joined in death.
Wait and listen patiently,
For this tale requires a ready heart.
It is a story that has been told countless times
Over countless centuries,
But made no less powerful by its recitation.
It tells the tale of Swift Wind and Whispering Willow,
Two ill-fated lovers destined for the other.
Swift Wind was the fastest, the cleverest,
The best loved by far.
His father was the chief and life was good.
He was free to roam prairie and plain,
But while running brought him happiness,
It never satisfied his deep-rooted hunger;
It was a heart-heavy hunger.
Whispering Willow was the sweetest, the softest,
The best loved by far.
Her father was the chief and life was good.
She was free to weave her tapestries,
Her stories etched in slippery silk and rough wool,
But they never satisfied her deep-rooted hunger;
It was a heart-heavy hunger.
One night Whispering Willow was restless,
Tired of weaving, eager for movement.
She crept under cover of darkness,
Walking many miles until she chanced upon
The mighty Áhasêstse’ó Falls.
She sat on a rock, listening to the water roar,
Divining its secrets.
That same night Swift Wind found himself restless, too,
Tired of roaming prairie and plain,
He crept under cover of darkness,
Walking many miles until he chanced upon
The mighty Áhasêstse’ó Falls.
There he saw a beautiful maiden with midnight hair
And obsidian eyes, and he felt the stirring of fate.
Whispering Willow felt the magnet pull of Swift Wind’s eyes,
And when she shyly raised her own eyes
To meet those onyx orbs, she felt the stirrings of fate.
They spent all night at Áhasêstse’ó Falls
Sharing personal histories,
But never revealing their true identities,
Unaware that they belonged to opposing tribes.
As the sun rose, they pledged their eternal love,
Vowing never to part.
Swift Wind and Whispering Willow resolved
To meet again the next night in secret
And so they did for many nights,
Renewing their steadfast pledge,
Never knowing their time together was running short.
Both their fathers were lifelong foes
Fighting bitterly over land.
They resolved to meet for one final battle
To put an end to this most contentious debate.
Swift Wind led his tribe into the skirmish
With a mighty war cry that shook the boughs
And pierced Whispering Willow’s heart.
Whispering Willow ran to the highest hilltop,
Her heart in her mouth,
Her keen eyes searching, searching
Until they found an unbelievable sight:
Swift Wind unloosed an arrow that flew
On the whistling wind,
Diving straight into her father’s heart.
The mighty chief staggered once before he fell,
His daughter’s name on his lifeless lips,
And Swift Wind shouted joyously,
Unaware of what he’d done.
Whispering Willow unloosed a cry that flew
On the whistling wind,
Diving straight into her lover’s heart.
Swift Wind raised his eyes up to the highest hilltop,
His heart in his mouth,
His keen eyes searching, searching
Until they found an unbelievable sight:
Whispering Willow standing on that hilltop,
Her obsidian eyes awash
With both tears and betrayal.
One moment was all it took to extinguish a life,
To reveal the proof of Swift Wind’s actions,
To uncover the truth of their identities,
Both of them unaware until that moment
That their fathers were lifelong foes.
Swift Wind’s suddenly unfeeling hands
Dropped his bow and arrow.
This was Swift Wind’s second mistake,
Destined also to be his last.
Furious at their chief’s loss, the opposing tribe
Fell upon Swift Wind with sharp spears
Until the mighty warrior was overcome.
He staggered once before he fell,
His lover’s name on his lips.
So it was with firm steps that belied a jagged heart,
Whispering Willow ran across prairie and plain,
Swift as wind, until she reached Áhasêstse’ó Falls.
She carried her father’s memory in her heart,
She carried her lover’s name upon her lips.
Whispering Willow slipped off her moccasins
And stepped into water.
As soon as I enter, I feel the weight of a century being placed upon my shoulders. The air is different here, somehow. I inhale deeply, knowing that these molecules now inhabiting my lungs have been here a long time before I was born.
It is mid afternoon and all the city is at home, resting. I am the only one here.
I sit down on a wooden chair that creaks when I place my weight on it. The grain is raised against my fingertips. A wordless braille, language without meaning.
Closing my eyes, I try to imagine what this cathedral was like a hundred years ago. I can almost hear the rustle of footsteps, the echo of whispered prayers.
I open my eyes and the cathedral is silent once more. Waiting.
"Shrouded in Fog"
The left path was shrouded in fog, with moss hanging down from the treetops. The right path wasn’t much better – there was a deep ditch littered with beer bottles. But I figured the right path had probably seen human traffic more recently so I decided to head that way.
I was careful to avoid the ditch. As I turned the corner I could see a clearing up ahead. My cell was down to one bar out of five and the battery was running dangerously low. I hoped I would be able to call one of my so-called friends to let them know how I felt about their little joke.
For sure they would laugh at me. Like they always did. I didn’t care. I just wanted them to come back, the sooner the better.
When I reached the clearing and peered down at my cell phone again, relief saturated my every pore: the blessed electronic was now up to four bars. Success!
I quickly punched out my best friend’s number and pressed SEND . She answered on the second ring, laughing.
But I couldn’t speak. The scene before me had stolen all my words.
"The Baroness's Request"
It was a curious thing, to be in the Baroness’s chamber. The sunlight pouring through the stained-glass window was mostly obscured by her girth, and as the maid entered she blinked at the contrast between the bright hallway and this dim room, unable to see anything but spots.
“Do not step on my gown, girl.”
She quickly jumped back, her eyes adjusting in the semi-darkness.
“I’m terribly sorry, Baroness Brunhilde Upstance Von Gorgen of Upper Hawthorne.” She was breathless by the end of that recitation, and so her curtsy was a bit wobbly as a result.
“Have you sturdy walking shoes, girl?”
“Good. You will take this over to the next county, to Countess Von Teschen. She lives in the castle on the hill.”
The maid stepped forward gingerly, carefully avoiding the Baroness’s voluminous skirts. The Baroness handed her a slender envelope.
Just as the maid was turning to leave, the Baroness called her back.
“One last thing – you are not to speak to anyone at the castle, under any circumstances.”
"This Is My Absolute Favorite, Favorite Book"
This is a book that taught me about maps
and the difference between betrayal and war.
This is a book that made my blood sing
and my hands itch to write poetry.
This is a book that taught me to respect history
and recognize maps not as something divine
but rather man-made and imperfect.
What is this book?
This is a book about lines on a map,
lines demarcating the boundaries
between brothers and lovers,
between allies and enemies.
This is a book about physical histories:
these scars tell a story
that the memory cannot erase.
This is a book about psychological histories:
these memories tell a story
that the body cannot forget.
This is a book about all the different types of war
and the betrayals that can occur
between brothers and lovers,
between allies and enemies.
But mostly, this is a book about the intersection
of four unlikely people:
a nurse from Canada,
a sapper from India,
a thief from Italy,
and the man who connects them all,
the English patient.
She ran, not knowing where her next step would lead her. Not knowing if this caged breath would be her last.
Her breath was getting labored, her feet began to lag. The fog wrapped its arms around her. She brushed them aside and kept running.
She refused to let fear conquer her. Her demise was waiting around the corner, perhaps behind that tree, but she refused to acknowledge it. She knew to do so would prove her downfall.
In the end it was an exposed root that proved her downfall, both literally and figuratively. The gnarled root snagged her foot and brought her down, her face sinking into the wet bracken.
“Oof!” She exhaled as a shower of leaves fell over her. A spasm of pain ran up her leg, pinning her to the grass.
Oh God, she thought. Not here, not now. She was so close…
Then she heard a footfall and knew she had lost. He stood there with a triumphant grin, black grease paint camouflaging his features, but she recognized him all the same. He ran forward and grasped her wrist -
“Tag! You’re it!”
Originally published on Ficlets July 3, 2008.
He tapped the desk, waiting for the homepage to appear. It was sluggish today for some reason.
“Is there a problem, H-547?” the teacher asked, standing expectantly over his shoulder. He hated when she hung over him like that. He had the impression of a dark vulture perched on a branch above him, waiting to pounce.
“No, ma’am,” he mumbled and pressed the reload button again, trying to get the Ficlets homepage to load faster, wondering what today’s challenge would be.
Ever since the League of Awesomeness had made challenges compulsory for students, students and teachers alike had felt it was a burden. They would never voice this complaint, of course, because to do so would be to leave yourself open to the vitriol of the LoA.
H-547 was perhaps the only one alive who relished the challenges, seeing each one as a chance to mark his individuality and set himself apart from the norm.
Finally, the screen began to flash with words, informing him of the latest challenge. He rubbed his hands together and smiled.
"The Girl in the Photograph"
He was in love with a photograph.
To be more precise – he was in love with the girl in the photograph. It lay behind a thick sheet of glass. He pressed his hands up against it, drowning in her pure crystal irises. This was his 10th visit to the museum since the exhibit had opened a week ago.
The photograph cut off after her collar bones, so he did not know whether she was tall or short. But something about the angle of her face, the elegance in it, seemed to suggest that she was tall.
“Oy, get away from the glass!”
The guard eyed him menacingly. He sighed and turned to leave. He’d be back later, anyways.
He had a half hour to kill before his lunch break ended, so he decided to walk through Trafalgar Square. It was while he was leaning against the lions, watching traffic, that he saw her. She was standing across the street. Watching him. Those crystal irises driving right through him.
He rubbed his eyes, sure he was imagining things. Because the girl in the photograph had lived and died a century ago.
You loved my long hair.
Begged me never to cut it.
Now it's mine again.
"Acknowledgment is the First Step"
I want to love you, but loving you is like trying to shove everything I own into a box. Not everything can fit into the perfect mold you want me to be.
You call me “beautiful,” but the word doesn’t feel like a compliment – it feels like a prescription. I feel myself trying to fit this label you’ve placed on me. I squirm when you look at me now, hoping despite myself that you will love me for my flaws so I can stop worrying about being beautiful. Whatever that word means.
When you said you loved me, it was another label. I recognized that. It was another attempt at trying to pin down a moment. Your hands were in my hair. We were in the slender hour of twilight. Something in your face suddenly broke and I saw the child in you. It lasted only a moment, but I saw. Then you said those words and my world just stopped. Fear trickled down my spine.
Love is such a slippery word. It is so easy to lose your balance on it. So easy to exchange meaning for hope. And my coordination was never that great to begin with.
"It's the Getting There That Counts"
“Are we there yet?”
Two voices sticky with boredom sang this complaint in unison. We sat in the backseat, sick of pinching each other for fun, the batteries in our Gameboys having run out 5 exits ago.
Mami sat in front with eyes firmly shut, feigning sleep. The radio was tuned to an easy listening station. Barry Manilow could just be heard over the purr of the air conditioning. Mami mouthed along to the song and played with the rosary beads in her hand. Long car trips made her nervous, especially on the expressway.
We were on our way to Disney World. It was a four-hour drive from Miami. Papi grumbled about the gas expense, but we’d been begging him for months.
Now all gratitude was out the window. We were bored and in need of entertainment.
“How much longer, daddy?”
“We’re halfway there, m’ija.”
“Can we stop and get more Slurpees?”
“No, you’ve already had two.”
“Oh. OK. ... Are we there yet?”
In all my memories of those summer trips, it’s the getting there that I always seem to remember most.
"The Dead Ask No Questions"
The four girls giggled and squealed as they dragged the cardboard box out from under the bed and began assembling its contents.
“I stole this from my mom’s closet,” Alicia whispered. “She’d freak out if she knew we had this.”
“My mom says using this invites demons into your home. Why do mothers always have to overreact over the stupidest things?” Betty tossed her curls impatiently.
Jenna rolled her eyes dramatically. “Tell me about it. As if this game is a big deal.”
“It’s not a game,” the fourth girl Susan said in a mock spooky voice and they all erupted in another gale of giggles.
Then they lit the candles, turned off the lights, and sat in a circle around the board. A white planchette was placed in the center. They each placed a hand on the planchette and began.
Susan was the first to ask a question. “Is there a spirit present?”
At first the planchette was still. Then Alicia felt a perceptible chill, as if the temperature in the room suddenly dropped a few degrees. The planchette began to move.
"Pretty Good Year"
1978 had been a pretty good year so far, Dolly thought to herself as she arrived in Miami. Hopefully, it would be getting even better soon. It was a unseasonably cool October afternoon, making her wish she’d brought a coat when she stepped off the plane.
In an hour she would be meeting a man that she knew only from letters and pictures. His name was Ricky and he was the cousin of her best friend, China.
In no time, Dolly was parking her rental car outside Ricky’s house. She’d followed the address exactly as he’d given it to her, copying the directions on the last page of Love in the Time of Cholera, the only thing she had lying near the phone when he called.
As she walked up the paved drive, she hummed “Let it Be” softly under her breath. The seven gold bangles on her wrist jingled merrily. She sure hoped Ricky was a family guy because she wanted lots of kids someday. She hoped he liked literature, too, because she loved to read. These were the thoughts floating in Dolly’s head as she rang the doorbell.
"My First Real Fall"
The first time I fell in love, it wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t the stuff of movies, with violins thrumming in the background and two doves cuddling on a branch somewhere.
When I say I fell in love, I really do mean I fell. As in on the ground, right in front of his house, with him outside with his friends watching and laughing. Oh, and pointing. (As if the laughter wasn’t cruel and adolescent enough.)
I was 11 and skating around the block going a hundred miles an hour, despite the fact that I have a reputation for being a klutz (I’m the only person I know who wakes up with bruises). I certainly wasn’t looking to fall in love.
I’d never had a boyfriend before and I still played with Barbies. I dreamed of being an astronaut (this was before I realized I’d have to be good at math in order to be an astronaut, math being my least favorite subject). Boys were just … there.
But then he appeared, like a brilliant comet streaking across my sky. He had acne and braces. But a kind smile. That day changed my life.
"A Tale of Two Sisters"
Julie Meyer had it all.
She was a tall and statuesque brunette with dazzling green eyes, a killer tan year-round, and designer clothes that were perfectly molded to her every curve. Every girl wanted to be her, every boy wanted to have her. All of Finnigan High School was painfully aware of her existence, from the lowliest freshman to the most popular senior.
Today was the first day of her junior year. Julie carefully placed a practiced smile on her face, eager to soak up the attention that was sure to follow, and then pushed open the cafeteria door.
Sure enough, there was a predictable ripple of heads turning to see who’d just walked in, the hush of whispers when they realized it was her. Julie’s smile widened when she saw her friend Stacy wave from one of the benches at the front.
In the back of the cafeteria sat Katherine. She sat alone reading Sense and Sensibility . She didn’t even look up when her older sister walked in. She was used to all the fuss made about Julie, used to being a ghost.
Just as Tracy was sweeping away the stray pieces of hair from the floor, she heard the jingle of the door and looked up. It was 5:30 PM and she normally didn’t receive customers this late in the day. Tracy eyed the young couple who entered the salon with a wary eye.
“May I help you?” She asked, leaning on her broom.
The girl couldn’t have been more than twenty. She had long, curly black hair and a childlike smile. The boy was around her age and he had a protective arm slung around the girl’s shoulders.
To Tracy’s surprise, the girl spoke first. “Um, we both wanted a hair cut? I know it’s kind of late, but we just need a cut, no blow-dry or anything…”
As her voice trailed off, Tracy sighed, drawn to the attractive young couple despite herself. “All right, but let me lock the door. You’ll be my last customers.”
The boy sat in the chair first. He asked for “just a trim.” Tracy took a deep breath and placed her hands on his head, waiting for the visceral jolt, the pull of memories that had yet to happen.
"When Ordinary Becomes Extraordinary"
You know how some moments pass by so quickly that it is all you can do to keep your eyes open and hope you don’t blink and miss it? And how some others seem to go on impossibly long, as if time itself has stopped?
Yeah, this story is one of the latter variety.
It began as an ordinary day: sun shining, neighbor waving hello as I sprinted to the paper. The usual.
Then I heard this God-awful sound. It sounded more like a thousand bats screeching than the squeal of slammed brakes. The paper dropped from my unfeeling fingers, forgotten. I stood up straight and saw a terrible sight: a little girl running after a ball, running right into the path of a careening Porsche 911.
I watched as the sunlight gleamed off her yellow hair. I watched as my neighbor’s mouth slowly formed an “O” shape, the hose in her hand falling to the ground, wetting her feet. She didn’t seem to notice.
I watched as this man came out of nowhere and pulled the little girl out of the way.
That’s when my ordinary day became extraordinary.
"Infatuation is a delicate dish"
Your name is honey-sweet
dripping from my tongue in dulcet tones
sweetening the page I have scrawled
again and again
with the loopty-loops of your name.
(And here’s a secret:
I write my name with your last name,
just to imagine a future as mrs. to your mr.
just to feel what it would be like to inhabit such sweetness.)
Your name is honey-thick
clouding my mouth when I’m stuck for words
obstructing my way when I want
to get across to you
all these thoughts inside my head.
Infatuation is a delicate dish.
It must be prepared with a light hand
throw in a dash of hope and mix in some bravery
for good measure.
You’ll know when it’s ready.
"In the Blue of My Oblivion"
A restlessness in my chest like a caged bird. I can feel its wings beating against the bars of my ribcage. So many thoughts filling my mind, scratching to get out. They are meaningless, weightless like feathers, but still there.
Days like this, I don’t know what to do with myself.
All day – and all night.
I wander the halls along the walls and under my breath
I say to myself,
I need fuel – to take flight
My mother complains I don’t smile anymore. You weren’t always like this, she says. And as much as I hate to admit it, she’s right.
Is that why they call me a sullen girl – sullen girl.
They don’t know I used to sail the deep and tranquil sea.
But he washed me ashore and he took my pearl -
And left an empty shell of me.
A restlessness in my chest like a caged bird. How do I go about releasing him from my thoughts? How do I answer my mother’s question and make her see that I’m all right, that it’s all right?
And there’s too much going on.
But it’s calm under the waves, in the blue of my oblivion.
I am sick of plasticine smile princesses
who do not sweat but rather exude sweet-sweet fragrance
through every pore.
I am bored to death with beauty queens
who cannot find their home country on a map
even if it was color-coded and written in big letters.
I am exhausted by the vapid conversations of pretty girls
who think their worth lies in mascara winks
and lipstick promises.
Give me beauty that is three-dimensional;
I’d rather be drawn to something original
than bemused by one thousand girls who all look the same.
Give me beauty that has a sense of humor;
I’d rather speak to someone I can laugh with
than someone whose only subject is themselves.
Give me beauty that has teeth,
Give me beauty that has wit and grit
and isn’t afraid to show its laugh lines
I want the beauty that is flawed and broken,
I want the beauty that has a story to tell,
I want the beauty that doesn’t ask to be imitated,
but demands instead to be respected and, above all, heard.
"The Truth About Writing"
Ever since I was a little girl, I always knew I was meant to be a writer. I gleefully imagined my future – I would only write wearing my favorite red sweater, the lucky one that helped me get straight A’s on all my Spelling exams. I would lie in bed with my cat curled up around my arm, and write with a pencil long enough to reach the ceiling.
This was before I knew how to turn on a computer, much less how to type, and when I was still infatuated with the color red. This was when writing still seemed glamorous to me. The thought, that you could get paid and become famous to do something that was so easy! Stories flew from my fingertips like birds released from cages. So eager to spread their wings across the page.
Now I own a laptop and type all my writing … when I have the time. I no longer am infatuated with the color red, preferring black instead. I see writing now for what it truly is – it is hard work, work that demands discipline.
But the kid in me is still holding out for that extra long pencil.
I am devastated by your beauty daily—
I wonder what it will take for you to notice me.
I hear words of reassurance from my friends, and
I see the ghost of sympathy in their eyes, but
I want nothing more than for you to see me.
I am torn asunder by your oblivion.
I pretend that I am doing all right, when in truth
I feel like I’m dying inside.
I touch the skin of my awareness just to see if I’m still there;
I worry sometimes I am starting to disappear.
I cry till my eyes are unable to tell fantasy apart from truth.
I am set adrift in the sea of your indifference.
I understand you belong to another and are not meant for me.
I say things are for the best, but my heart belies my words.
I dream of you nightly, still devastated by your beauty.
I try to find beauty in other things, other faces, but still
I hope someday you will realize what could have been:
I am buoyed by this single hope, this one wish.
"Open Your Eyes"
In the beginning there was only pain.
I awoke on a strange bed, excruciating pain radiating from my bandaged eyes to my every extremity. I didn’t know eyes could feel this much pain!
“Just hold still, baby, the nurse is going to give you some painkillers.”
But I couldn’t stop thrashing in what I now realized was a hospital bed. I banged my arms against the cold guard-rails on either side of the bed, eager to free myself from this cage of suffering. I heard a cry that sounded like it was coming from an animal and realized, dimly, that the sound was coming from me. I felt my mother’s cool hands holding me down and then the pinprick of a needle. Then I felt nothing.
I fell asleep again.
I drifted in and out of consciousness for what felt like years, though they tell me now it was only months. Voices entered my dreams sometimes.
Will she be able to see again?
Too soon to tell…
Today the bandages came off. As the last layer was peeled away, I heard a voice I didn’t recognize say, “Open your eyes…”
"She's only beautiful to you when she cries"
She’s only beautiful to you when she cries
When her ruby heart is crushed in the fist
Of your apathy
Bleeding for one whose own heart
Is nothing more than a cold stone
You only love her when she is at her most fragile
Her most delicate
Like the trembling flower on the stem
That threatens to fall apart
In the wake of your furious storm
She is tearing herself open for you
But you just smile, content in her discontent
She chafes against the shackles of her despair
Longing for something she has never had
Something you refuse to give
Just when you are wondering how much sorrow it will take
To sate your black need, your dark desire
She half turns, neither toward you nor away from you
Her face, wreathed in tears, is beautiful in her indecision
Drawn to her suffering, you reach out to her
And the vicious cycle begins anew
Her ruby heart beating against the cold stone of your own
You delight in the way she has come to depend on you
The need fluttering in her eyes, alive
She’s only beautiful to you when she cries.
I have a picture of my mother that my grandmother doesn’t know about.
I found it in her closet one day while she was taking a nap. I was trying to be stealthy so that my grandmother, who lay sleeping on her bed a few feet from where I stood, wouldn’t wake up and see me. I inched open the closet door, wincing when it creaked noisily. My grandmother shifted once in her sleep but then resumed snoring. I exhaled and realized I’d been painfully holding my breath.
It was strange, my sudden compulsion to pry in my grandmother’s closet. I normally didn’t do such things. I wasn’t overtly curious by nature, not even by the fact that I had no mother or father, just an old grandmother with papery skin but a will made of granite. She would certainly beat me if she found me doing this. But I continued anyways, opening the closet door fully and entering the small space.
I found many colorful kimonos wrapped in paper. Unwrapping one kimono that was bright like a marigold, I discovered a photograph hidden in its folds.
"How I Wish You Were Here With Me Now"
How I wish you were here with me now -
The moon is a promise I can keep forever;
The wind is a memory I’ll not soon forget:
The feel of it on my skin awakens moments
That are long since gone,
But your face remains imprinted in my mind’s eye.
How I wish you were here with me now -
I lay on a bed of grass watching the endless parade of clouds
I wonder where you are now, if you’re watching the same sky.
I dream of you every night, and sometimes
I even wake up calling out your name,
But you are never there to answer me.
How I wish you were here with me now -
The days grow shorter, leaving me less light;
I begin to long for sun again, to crave its warmth once more.
The moon is a heavy weight I carry in my heart;
I am bowed down, too, by the winds of your absence,
But I grow sick of darkness, wondering how I still can wish
You were here with me now.
"My Horse's Name is Ziggy Stardust"
My horse’s name is Ziggy Stardust. I know it’s a silly name, but we got him during my David Bowie phase. Our farm also has several cows, two sheep, a cat, and a dog. The cat’s named Strummer and the dog’s named Bono. Can you tell I love music?
But my first love is riding. There’s nothing I like more than ditching 7th period and running home to ride Ziggy, before my brothers come home and when Mom is too busy tending to the baby to yell at me for being irresponsible.
I like to ride Ziggy without a saddle, my legs wrapped tight around him, clutching his mane with my fingers. The hair on his mane is scratchy and tough, no matter how many times I brush it. But I like its toughness. I like that it’s not perfect or smooth like Barbie hair. Maybe because Ziggy’s hair is kinda like mine, bristly and coarse, but resistant. Able to withstand (and sometimes even break!) brushes and the elements.
Sometimes I swear that Ziggy understands what I’m saying. It’s the look in his eyes, that of intelligence. Of kindness.
"I have been here before"
I have been here before.
I know that quiet look, those murmuring hands
that touch upon this and that, never fully answering
the question that has yet to be asked.
You were mine once. I recognize your walk,
the turn of your head just so.
Your eyes draw the hooks of my memory
and make me catch my breath.
You may not remember me now,
but someday soon your heart will recognize mine
and the flood of memories will wash over you
as it does for me now.
Time is a restless lover, impatient for novelty.
He longs to open the door and move into the next room.
But memory is patient. The years are kind to her:
her beauty stays intact, ageless.
Your beauty is the same for me, removed from time.
The classic lines of your face stir my memory
and the musical quality of your voice
makes my blood sing whenever you say my name.
There’s so little we know of living to think we know
all we need to know about life.
But I know this: I was here once
and my life meant everything because you were in it.
"The Smell of Fear"
This collar is starting to feel like a noose. I feel it tightening around my neck, the blood rushing out of my head and heading towards my feet. Making me dizzy. My friend gives me an encouraging grimace and then the music starts.
No, not the music! Because with the music comes the crying and there’s no going back…
A man in black comes and clamps a firm hand on my shoulder. Almost knocking me down. I laugh nervously and try (unsuccessfully) to loosen my collar for the 500th time. There is the overwhelming aroma of sweat mixed with rose petals and something else, something vaguely metallic. I am almost starting to recognize it, but then the music reaches its crescendo and everyone is standing up expectantly, waiting.
Something white is heading towards me. All I can see is white. A filmy, gauzy white that reminds me of bandages and pain. The metallic smell has now become a taste making my tongue heavy and too big for my mouth.
As I fall to the floor in a dead faint, I finally identify its source: fear.
When he touched me, it stung my hand as if an electric current had passed through us. I pulled back instinctively and then felt guilty when I saw him wince and pull back his own hand. He’d been handing me back last week’s notes, which he’d borrowed since he’d missed that class. I could still feel the electricity coursing through my veins, stimulating my senses.
He didn’t know the effect he had over me. But how could I tell him? I certainly couldn’t tell him right now, in the middle of Professor Seitzer’s lecture on 1984.
But when? How? “Hey, what are you doing this weekend? Wanna get together? Oh, by the way, I’m madly in love with you and I have a feeling that you might like me, too. See you later!”
I almost giggled out loud at the thought of telling him in such an offhand way and I had to look down to hide my mirth. But he saw me, and now the ghost of a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. I could hide nothing from him.
I would tell him soon, I promised myself. I owed it to myself and to him.
"Random Thoughts from a Frustrated 17 Year Old"
Scratch that. Let me try again.
Blech, too… I don’t know, but I know I don’t like it! You know what, I’ll just write..
OK so there’s this girl I hate in 5th period, Jenny. She sits in front of me and she’s so annoying. She’s always raising her hand and wanting to answer every little question the teacher asks. When she’s not doing that, she’s flipping her perfect hair. And when she’s not doing that, she’s flirting with the guy who sits on her left, George.
I really like George. But he doesn’t know I exist. I noticed that his face turned red today when Jenny started in on him again. She’s so pushy. I’d love to speak with him myself, but I don’t know what I would say. I’d probably say something stupid and then he’ll think I’m a moron or something.
Anyways… I just realized I haven’t introduced myself. I guess I don’t know the proper diary etiquette. I haven’t kept a diary in like ten years. My name is Helena and I’m a frustrated seventeen year old.
That’s about it.
About all I did.
After you left, I died.
I don’t mean physically, of course.
I mean my heart – my soul – died.
My mind became a blank sheet of paper.
I lay in bed and I dreamed empty thoughts.
Waiting for the day you would come back to me.
When you’d fill up my blank pages, my empty life, again.
But I was just now beginning to understand that you never would return.
And I was learning, to my dismay, that even my own heart could heal.
I sat underneath my favorite tree in the park by my house, reading like I always do when I don’t want strange men or nosy kids coming up to bug me. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Today’s book of choice, Anna Karenina. It’s my second time reading it.
My English teacher thinks I read too much. I think the books she assigns are dumb. I mean, come on, how many times do I have to read Romeo and Juliet? I get it, already, people. Jeez. There’s only so much of those star-crossed lovers a person can take.
So anyways, there I sat, leafing through the book because for some reason my mind was restless and couldn’t settle on the same page. After a bit, I gave up and placed the book on the warm grass by my feet. I looked around me and noticed the tree directly across from me had some carving on it:
Jonathan ♥ Kate Jonathan ♥ Mary Jonathan ♥ Lisette
I wondered if it was the same Jonathan. I wondered, What kind of loser does that?
I never expected to learn the answer to that question.
"One-Woman, One-Dog Mission to Space"
“Are you sure this is what you want, dear?”
“Positive, mother. And it’s not like it’s forever. It’s just 10 light years. I’ll be back before you have a chance to miss me.”
After hugging my mother goodbye I boarded the shuttle and secured my dog, Prince. Then I put on my helmet and waited for the countdown. This was a one-woman, one-dog mission to space. No return flight. Yet.
I thought of my mother, hoping her worries were unwarranted, that I was doing what I wanted to do.
I looked over at Prince. He was staring up at me with those soulful eyes that only dogs seem to possess.
So many doubts floated in my head. I’d be the only one inhabiting Planet X-31, which was good, because then I could conduct my research without ridicule. I believed I could train dogs to speak. I pat Prince on the head. “Am I doing the right thing, buddy?”
In that eternal millisecond before the shuttle burst forward in flight, Prince opened his jowls and said, “Yes.”
The woman’s plaintive voice rises and falls like a sigh. I turn up the radio.
No hay mas vida, no hay
No hay mas lluvia, no hay…
I sit at my mirror and brush out my hair.100 strokes every night, ever since I was a little girl. Ever since I could remember. Even before you.
Llévame donde estés, llévame…
My hair hangs to my waist, the length of it like a black waterfall. Your hands once knew it well.
Cuando alguien se va, él que se queda sufre más.
I put down the brush, impatient with myself and my useless recollections. But memory is long and forgetting is never. I will your face to become a ghost, a spirit. Not this relentless image that burns its imprint behind my closed eyes.
No hay mas cielo , no hay
No hay mas viento, no hay
No hay mas hielo, no hay
No hay mas fuego, no hay…
The woman’s plaintive voice rises and falls like a sigh. I give up to memory and feel the tears course down my face, these irrevocable rivers of love and loss.
Cuando alguien se va, él que se queda sufre más…
At first it is hard. At first it feels like pretending, like acting. Like the smile on my face is so plastic, if I move wrong it will crack and part of my face will fall to the ground. Broken.
The thought of this gives me some sick satisfaction, because at least then I will be able to show on the outside how broken I am on the inside. And then I won’t have to pretend anymore.
But I’m still whole, at least on the outside, so I keep pretending. Because I know it breaks my mother’s heart to see me depressed. Because I don’t want my friends to think I’m some estupida who does nothing but mope over a guy who won’t even give her the time of the day.
I see you sometimes, when you don’t think I’m looking at you. When you are rummaging through your locker or joking with your buddies. I watch you laugh and all I can think is, how can you go on living as though you aren’t missing half of yourself? As if your heart has already forgotten me.
Shakira got it right, man. The one left behind always suffers more.
They prepare you for the teenbrat students who don't want to do their work, don't want to read aloud in class, don't want to take their head off the desk, don't want to do anything but keep ignoring you, thankyouverymuch.
They even prepare you for the teenbrat students' parents who don't want to hear complaints about their kids, don't want to read any letters or e-mail from you, don't want to get a telephone call in the middle of dinner, don't want to do anything but keep ignoring you, thankyouverymuch.
What they don't prepare you for is the ex-student who dies suddenly on a Monday afternoon after being pulled off life support. What they don't prepare you for is hearing how your old student got into a car accident on the previous Saturday night and crashed into a tree on the way home from a party. What they don't prepare you for is learning why he got into that car accident in the first place - no, he wasn't drunk; he was texting and lost control of the car.
Kevin Garcia was a senior in high school. I taught him when he was just in 7th grade. I remember his goofy, ear-to-ear grin. His typical teenbrat moodswings. His sudden fits of laughter, like the sun unexpectedly bursting through a cloud on a rainy day. Next time you're driving, I want you to remember Kevin before you pick up that cell phone.
Carla takes a deep breath
Carla wriggles her toes, stretches her arms over her head, shakes out her hair. She is keenly aware of the audience watching below, can almost feel their eyes on her. She inhales sharply, thinking that the air feels denser up here, more compact.
She has a breathing exercise she likes to do whenever she needs to focus, one that her sister taught her. Her sister Maria had severe asthma, but she learned to lessen the severity of the attacks by concentrating on the simple act of breathing. She would imagine the slender molecules slipping into her lungs, expanding and joining together into an invisible sea of air. She would let the waves wash over her, calm her, and eventually she was able to breathe normally again.
Carla doesn’t have asthma, but she finds that this exercise helps her during her routines. Carla doesn’t have Maria any more, either – Maria died of respiratory failure five years ago – but she finds that this exercise helps bring her closer to the memory of her.
Carla takes a deep breath and dives.
Edna is watching the trains go by outside her window. The rain beats its familiar rhythm against the pane, and she drums her fingers against the glass in concert. She has not been to school in over a month.
There is a group of boys walking in the alley near her house. They are deliberately running into puddles, shoving and pushing each other. Suddenly, one of the boys sees her in the window. “Hey!” he shouts, pointing in her direction. Edna shies back, her fingers curling in upon themselves. The curtain closes, but it is too late; they have already seen her.
Edna scurries to bed and hides under the covers, clapping her hands over her ears when she hears the first stone strike her window. She prays her mother won’t hear. She knows what will happen if she finds out Edna’s been seen.
The boys continue throwing stones against her window, calling out harsh epithets in their high voices.
“Ugly ears! Donkey ears!”
Edna closes her eyes and dreams of a simpler time, before she woke up with the ears of a donkey.
Your words live inside echoes, like reverberations of truth.
I strain my ears to listen, but I catch only fragments,
these jagged half-shells of sentences
that cut up my hands and make me bleed.
Meanwhile my words are strangled by telephone wires,
warped by second thoughts and forget-me-not.
This dissonant language of longing,
made up of words that exist only in shadows and thought.
I know that your voice is nothing more
than the strumming of air, just vibrations
without rhythm or rhyme, no meaning.
But somehow your voice is like music I can't live without
You can see my work there, while it lasts, on these two pages:
Black thoughts on a starless night
under a sky with no moon, only clouds.
I sit here under our tree, in the park where we once met,
writing bad poetry and drinking good wine.
But wine without you is just wasted.
You were the one who taught me how to savor
the little things, the things that count in life.
how to swirl wine in the glass and smell it before drinking
how to peel an apple with one seamless movement
how to sing at karaoke like you don’t care what others think
and how to fall in love on a starless night,
under a sky with no moon, only clouds.
The one lesson you never taught me was how to let go,
when the love is gone and I am left to pick up the pieces.
But I guess this is a lesson I can only learn by myself.
Every morning she seeks me out. What is she looking for in my depths? Her eyes reflect back at her, two black holes vacant of light. She does not like meeting her eyes, will look quickly away if she does, pulling her long hair over her face before she ducks out of the room again.
I often hear voices raised, voices that splinter and crash against each other. When the yelling is done she comes back and huddles in the corner in front of me. She cries, her arms hugging her small body, almost as if to hold in the sobs. Almost as if to comfort herself.
But the tears won’t wash away the pain, won’t silence the anger. One night I see her pull something sharp and silver out of a drawer, the sheen of it reflecting off my surface. With quick motions she draws it back and forth across her wrists.
In the morning she reappears before me. I see the red raised scars on her wrists before she pulls her sleeves down to hide them. I see her physical pain, but I cannot see the deeper hurt, the one that exists skin deep.
Hands reach out tentatively to touch the wonder of your face,
your skin translucent like spun glass, only more beautiful.
I could stare into your crystalline eyes for centuries,
bask in the afterglow of your smile until I am dust.
I worry you are oblivious to my feelings – or worse – uncaring.
You seem unaware of the cyclone of emotions roiling
beneath my surface or perhaps too concerned with
your own inner storms, your own demons.
I see a darkness in your eyes sometimes when you think
I am not looking. There is a quality of restlessness about you
that makes me want to reach out to you,
try and comfort you.
Is it possible to be both frightened and fascinated by you?
I sense a storm in your soul, the lightning flash of which
I sometimes catch reflected in your eyes.
I see a question on your lips which I long to answer.
But I know that you and I can never be.
This burgeoning flower of feeling must and will be stopped
before it can open, petal by petal,
and reveal that which I’ve tried so hard to conceal.
His codename was “Useful.” It was his private little joke. The back-story was that he’d been inept as a kid, all quivering insecurity. He trembled in front of girls, longing to speak but held back by the shackles of shyness. He was timid even with family, unable to stand up to his brothers’ taunts.
“Why won’t you say something?” His mother would plead but he would just hang his head, prompting her to call him “useless.”
Flash forward ten years. In college he fared no better. He did have a few girlfriends, but his life-long habit of passive submission stuck with him, leaving him mute in arguments.
“Why won’t you say something!” his current lover would invariably yell, to which he’d respond with hung head, prompting her to call him “useless.”
After graduation he searched the want ads for a job. One in particular caught his eye: “Wanted: Double Agent.” He called as a lark, sure it was a joke. It wasn’t.
When they asked him to come up with a code name, he didn’t hesitate. “Useless” had become useful at last.
The waves were rough that morning, the wind whipping them into a froth. The girl pulled the curtain aside impatiently, frowning when she saw the dark clouds on the horizon.
“Don’t even think about going swimming today, m’ija! “
The girl hesitated at the window before moving the curtain back. Something below caught her attention. Her shoulders stiffened as she saw the object of her attention walking towards the shoreline with his surfboard in tow. There was a gaggle of girls following in his wake, all simpering stupidity in their neon print bikinis.
She waited until her mother went down to the lobby before she made her escape. Down at the shore, she caught up with him.
“Hey, did you come for a surfing lesson, too?” He grinned. The other girls shot daggers at her with their eyes.
Ignoring them, she tightened the strings holding up her bikini and smiled at him. “Only if you’re teaching.”
The truth was that she was inexperienced at flirting and even worse at surfing. The proof? One lost bikini top.
I was old enough to be his grandmother, God help me, but when a young Adonis falls into your lap, what can you do?
And it’s not like I’m dead. (Yet.)
The truth was that I was well into my 50’s (although I told everyone I was 40), and had been a widow for ten years. The truth was that I still had flesh on these bones, albeit a bit wrinkled, and there was still warm blood pulsing in these veins. The truth, damnit, was that I still felt alive, but I live in a society that expects your hormones to stop functioning after forty.
I knew this young man was probably repulsed by me, but I couldn’t help myself. I found myself caught in the throes of what could only be called a crush, waking up eager in the morning to see him, taking care over my hair and makeup. Rushing to bring him some cool lemonade at the slightest sign of him breaking into a sweat.
I hadn’t felt this way in years, and the feeling was like a poison I couldn’t resist. Unfortunately, it came with an antidote: our 20+ years difference in age.
A day with no sun, only clouds,
I huddle under my umbrella, shivering
in the unseasonable cold.
April showers have started early this year,
and I am ill prepared for it.
The truth is, I don’t like rain unless
I am at home and preferably under the blankets.
I don’t like rain unless
there is a warm mug of tea in my hand
and a cat curled around my feet.
But it looks like I’ll have to just deal with it,
so I shrug my shoulders and soldier on,
Determined not to let my suddenly sodden state
affect my attitude.
Trying to be enthusiastic about the rain, even
looking forward to a possible rainbow.
So I pull my jacket in tighter and try to think
dry thoughts, warm thoughts.
Just as I am about to cross the street, however,
a car comes out of nowhere, too close for comfort,
and splashes me with dirty water.
As our boat reached the shore, there was a loud cheer from the passengers. It had been a long voyage, at times turbulent, but in the end it had proved worthwhile. We were finally here, at Island 473E.
I stood alone at the stern gazing eastward, from where we’d embarked ten days before at the Port of Miami. Now the urban legend had become truth: Florida was sinking into the ocean.
The government was quick to respond to the oceanographers’ dire prognosis—every Florida resident was given a choice, a plane ticket to another state OR a passage on The Royal Steward to a government-controlled island in the Pacific.
It was uninhabited. The weather was temperate, the island having a moderately high altitude. The brochures they sent me showed beautiful mountains side by side with cascading waterfalls.
My family wasn’t pleased with my choice. They had opted to move to Colorado. I opted to have a fresh start, a new beginning. Where nobody knew who I was. Where I could become something different – the real me.
It was a waste of time …. and tears were beginning to form in her stockings, jagged zig-zags that looked like fault lines.
“Vanessa, ballerinas are supposed to be delicate in their movements, not stomp around like elephants.”
The other girls, those heavenly creatures in their petal-colored leotards, snickered in a very unladylike way. Vanessa sighed. Yes, it was a waste of time to be enrolled in this class at Ballet Etudes, but her mother had insisted.
Apparently, their teacher had decided enough was enough, because she turned off the stereo.
Vanessa resisted the urge to squeal with delight. This was her favorite part of class, the only part she liked: the FREE dance!
“OK, girls, that’s enough practice. Enjoy yourselves. Let loose. Let’s see some creativity!”
And creativity is exactly what Vanessa gave them. She spun around and around and around, growing more dizzy, more ecstatic, with each passing turn. She didn’t notice the other girls stop and stare at her, unconcealed envy in their eyes.
“So have you decided on a name yet?”
I sat down, glad to get off my feet. I was in my eighth month and my ankles were really starting to get swollen. Speaking of my feet, man, was I due for a pedicure…
“Amelia, I asked you a question.”
“Hm? Huh? What? Hey, do you have any pickles?”
My mother sighed as she stood up and went to rummage in the fridge.
“I guess it’s as expected—I was absent-minded during all three of my pregnancies, too. Here’s the jar of pickles. Go nuts.”
I eased off the cap and pulled out the biggest pickle. My mother stood glaring at me with her arms crossed, her left foot tapping the way it did whenever she was annoyed.
“Hey, do you think my daughter would mind if I called her ‘Pickle’?” I asked, the words coming out in a mumble because my mouth was full.
I laughed when I saw her expression. OK, she’d suffered enough.
“Sofia. I’m naming my daughter Sofia. It means wisdom, and it also happens to be your name, so it means – well, it means a lot to me. “
The girl walked onto the stage, her legs trembling slightly. As she reached the microphone, a couple of seniors began jeering at her.
“Yeah, baby, take it off!”
The principal ran to hush them. The girl on the stage pretended not to notice. The rest of her band stepped on stage, one boy on drums, another three on guitar. The lead guitarist began strumming the opening chords of the song and she started to sing:
When I’m out walking I strut my stuff, yeah I’m so strung out.
I’m high as a kite, I just might stop to check you out.
Her voice was shaky at first, but when the entire student body began singing along with her, she regained her confidence and even smiled.
When the Talent Show was over, everyone knew who would win. It was unquestioned, unanimous: The High Five and their cover of “Blister in the Sun” took first place.
They were never able to celebrate. Principal Smith was waiting outside the auditorium, waiting to personally let them know they were being suspended for singing a pornographic song.
She: I think it’s time.
He: Huh? What are you waking me up for? It’s almost three in the morning for Christ’s sake.
She: Jimmy, I said I think it’s time.
He: Time for what? Hammer time? [Under his breath] Nap time?
She [hits him with a pillow]: Oh, you great big dolt! I never shoulda married you! Why didn’t I listen to my mother…
He: There, there. Don’t cry, sweetheart. Hey, you ever wondered why we pronounce it “sweet heart” when it’s written together, as one word? You’d think it would make a “th” sound after sweet.
She: That’s it. I want a divorce.
He: Oh, calm down, Kathy, I’m just joshing you. Just helping you relax.
She: Well, I’m not going to relax until you call a cab. I’m gonna go take a shower.
He: What are you going to take a shower for? Who you looking to impress?
She: Jim, the whole family’s going to be there! Your dad always brings that video camera to every occasion. I want to look nice is all.
He: You’d think we were going to a beauty pageant and not having a baby. Sheesh.
“Oh, honey, can’t you see I’m in the middle of something? I’ll join you later. Just remember to wake me up before you go go. I have a meeting tomorrow morning.”
My wife positioned herself in front of me so that she was blocking the computer monitor where I was currently busy customizing my weapons on World of Warcraft. I opened my mouth to complain and then noticed that she was wearing something that looked like it was made out of tissue paper. It was black and very, very see-through. I couldn’t help myself – I stared at her with hungry eyes.
“Don’t you love me anymore?” She pouted. “I’ve been the owner of a lonely heart for months now.”
How could I resist such a request?
“All I want is you,” I told her, and then I endeavored to show her I meant it.
Much later that evening, we lay tangled up in each other.
“(I just) died in your arms,” I whispered.
She turned to me and said, “You know what they say, dear. Love is a battlefield.“