Wayne started beating me five months into our marriage. Initially, it was simply an unexpected slap or a punch to the kidney. It was so unpredictable and out of character that I deemed it my fault. I reasoned that I must have brought it on myself, and that I deserved it. That naïve perspective changed when the abuse became far more regular and intense. After two further months of humiliating, soul-wrecking beatings, I finally walked out. I left with only the clothes on my back and firm resolve burning in my heart. I moved in with a friend, but I knew I needed help. “Speak to Mr. Eden,” Sinead advised me. “You know he's always been kind-hearted to us and helps everybody without hesitation,” she added persuasively. And that's how I ended up outside his office the next morning, clutching my college bag and courage firmly to my breast. Mr. Eden was the College Counselor, and one of the most unselfish men I had ever met. Not a single student had ever been turned away by this gentle, unassuming man. And I was about to ask him to not just go the extra mile, but to also go out on a limb for me. How classically clichéd. “Marina, come inside,” Mr. Eden invited me the minute he saw me. “Have a seat. How's life been treating you?” he asked innocently, but his tone and the innocuous question triggered a flood of sobs. I was embarrassed; I chastised myself for making such a spectacle of myself. Mr. Eden instantly took charge, soothing me with encouraging words and a soft tone. He offered me a bottle of water, which I gratefully accepted. I confided completely in him. I was surprised by the first words he said, but I shouldn't have been. “We need to get you into a women's shelter today. I know a place near the college. I will take you there after I've called them to give them a heads up, all right?” As if that wasn't enough, this amazing man then spread the word – with my permission – on the college WhatsApp group that a student needed donations of clothes, toiletries, food; the works. The response was overwhelming! Mr. Eden took me to the Saartje Baartman Women's Shelter, and they agreed to house me as well as try to resolve the problems Wayne and I were having by giving us marriage counselling. All absolutely free of charge! I received so many donations of barely-worn clothes, brand new underwear, toiletries and even money that I could give some of the things to Sinead to thank her for having granted me a safe haven when I had needed it. And the best thing of all? Wayne is a changed man. The couples therapy had opened his eyes, even bringing him to the point where he apologized tearfully to me for ever having lifted a hand to me. “You are a treasure, Marina,” Wayne said to me on the first night I returned home. He was holding me gently in his arms while he spoke in a voice shaking with emotion. “I nearly lost the most precious gift I had ever received, but I will never again be this careless.” “If not for Mr. Eden, both of us would have lost each other,” I said and smiled, feeling the heavy burdens lift off my shoulders like fog burned off by the warmth of a rising sun.
"There is no such joy in the tavern as upon the road there to." - Cormac McCarthy BRAZIL He stood alone in the middle of the sea; the current immersing every man, animal, being with the same indifference. The waves resonated with a cunning vehemence, as if they were the messenger of the core of the earth itself, trying desperately to erode the drapery of the surface set in stone to become their own independent being. They were tumultuous, as was his heart. The sea flooded his iris with the same clear opacity, the same pure innocence that vehiculed their acts with such instinctive insouciance. In his eyes were a lifetime of emotions. He had no kin, nor felt any sense of belonging. He traveled the country like a nameless clandestin, devoid of any origin. The boy was fourteen years old. It was dusk. The evening sun embosomed the night like a mother would her child, engulfing the sky in a warm shade of orange. His horse trotted towards him and the kid caressed his muzzle. The horse exhaled, a stream of warm air going down the boy's cheeks and into the very ends of his soul. They were at peace, man and animal; Two beings caught at the crossroads of some agent of fate, made of dust, lost in the vastness of the sky. In those stars was the boy; atoms in fusion at his innermost core, burning; an anonymous spark maintained by a nameless ideal and a vague sentiment of yearning. The morning he rode on. The sun stood ubiquitous over a cordillera of mountains, a landscape molded by an intemperate but controlled erosion from the hands of an impulsive god. At a distance he saw a small village, melting in the paysage because of its precipitous attire. The houses, made of clay, seemed to have come from the soil of the earth itself, inconspicuous amidst the caatinga floor. He spent the day there. The darkness of the sky swallowed the night with a precarious indifference, the only remaining source of light being the few torches placed in front of the houses with a natural symmetry, as if a ceremonial hallway, leading its subjects to a precarious hermitage, distant and devoid of any order, perjuring them to eternity. Towards the back of the village there was a solitary fire; a nomadic fire in a peregrine cycle that no longitude or latitude could encompass. It stood there, a light amongst others, a spot on the troposphere of the earth, consuming its remains and transporting them, ember by ember, particle by particle, into the atmosphere, tying them into a transactional bind that could go on perpetually. As we cut to the face of the boy, we see nothing but the fire in his iris, submerging the blue of his eyes. As he approaches the fire, he hears a voice. A distant voice, yet with an acute proximity. “Do you see the light?” It was as if all laws of gravity succumbed to his every word; a black hole luring him into the darkness. “Do you see the light, Jorge?” For a moment, all is silent. The fire is no longer there. We hear a slow respiratory cadence, an imperceptible fiber amidst the daunting landscape. There is suddenly a light at a distance. An ember of fire, descending from the atmosphere, a messenger of microscopic proportions. It takes fire, spreading its indelible roots across the plain with furious anger. He could do nothing but bear witness. “A man cannot dictate his own fate, for it was set in stone from the moment he escaped his mother's bosom, and made his way, fragile and unwelcome, a frail passenger, into the hands of the earth.” There were about twenty men sitting around the man. He was bald, and had a scar that was obliquely engraved to the very ends of his face, and a crystal eye with no iris. “Had you not been a result of a certain circumstance you would not find yourself sitting here, at this crossing.” The gaze of the boy circles around them as the bald man gives his sermon. We hear a tribal drum, setting a raw and animalistic cadence. They were listening to him, hypnotized, drawn by the soothing intonation of his voice. “Until now you have been nothing but a witness to your own actions. A mere pilgrim, stumbling upon the ends of the earth, submissive to hazard. And yet you find yourself here, confronted by a reflection of yourselves, in that very fire. You ask yourselves, isn't every man born equal? For what is a man other than his luck? No, all a man can seek for is his freedom. True freedom, not in the form of economical entitlement, but by immersing oneself in the riches of our landscape. For nature is the purest form of beauty that no man can replicate, the truest form of power that no man can overcome.”
Staring at the screen before me, endlessly morphing faces and changing voices, it kept me there, transfixed into a deep lul, neither growing nor regressing, a perfect channel filled with nothing in an empty package. I was still, my spirit was still, filled with static, calm without peace. A notification popped up on my phone as if it were to interrupt this stillness. A coworker of mine was invited to go rock climbing with some acquaintances, and he did not want to be among too unfamiliar a company, so he extended the invitation to me. I became an unwitting participant. Staring at the 15-foot wall, I decided to go forward, scaling a more difficult route, and I began by placing my feet on the proper holds, both hands where they were meant to be. One step at a time, reaching for what's just barely in my reach. Placing my right foot on the hold that was between my knees. Grabbing that U-shaped rock by stretching my body to its limit. Bringing myself up, until the final rocks of the route are at my hand. Looking down, bracing myself for the fall, and letting go. A fall, cushioned, a surreal feeling washed over me, in spite of my tired body, my mind was more than ready to tackle the next route. Hours later my body could barely move, even forming a closed fist was difficult, and when forced, painful. This pain couldn't even bother me, and as I left the bouldering wall, and went home I decided to do something more with my time. I had come to the realization, a simple one, yet one that rarely presents itself, the viability of failure. I didn't succeed every time I tackled a new route, sometimes falling midway, sometimes right at the beginning. I could feel myself becoming discouraged at times, but that feeling was supplemented with determination. The determination to eventually conquer that wall, and move on to the next one. I had come to realize that in my own life, I had come to forgo those difficult walls, the hard problems that life gives you. I grew discouraged by the initial failings, while at the same time envying those who had seemed to naturally excel. Only by falling again and again, and seeing others fall with me, did I realize there was not a single person who was the best from the beginning, we all learn from our falls more than our rises. The line that divides the competent from the incompetent is if we rise back up after we fall. I remember the first time I tried to play the piano, and considering I was only at the tender age of 7, you can only imagine the beautiful melodies I produced, which is to say, none. I stopped playing after the first time I touched the keys, yet years later, I decided it was an appropriate time to start playing again. I had no nuance, no accents, nothing to speak of, I fell over and over, stumbling upon the keys, yet it was when I struggled past my failings that I began to truly learn. That's when we learn, when we accept our failures and move past them, to gleam lessons from our falls and use them to climb just a little bit higher than before, one step at a time, one outstretched hand at a time, and one note at a time. Failures cannot define us, it is what we do with them that becomes us.
It is an odd feeling being fifty. Wrinkles are settled in now, and my body feels more flimsy by the day. An elaborate continuum of forgotten memories hangs by a thread. As time passes, my thirst for spontaneity dissipates. My brain is resistant like dusty cogwheels waiting for a spark. Looking around, many strangers I used to know now rest six feet under with an identical bouquet of flowers adorning an $11,000 gravestone. Some of their bodies were taken by the wind, drowned in the deep blue sea, or kept in generational attics. Looking back, I lost many jobs in my late 20s, but thankfully I had a second chance to restart my life. Today is my 50th birthday. A day I never knew would come so soon. Occasionally, I wonder how differently my life would have played out or ponder on old friends. Even at this instant, I can taste the bittersweet memories of nostalgia in my lukewarm cappuccino. Reaching into my pocket, I felt a terrible shock enter my body. Like a pinch too sudden and too painful to even breathe. Slowly I pulled out my hand with purple bruises and a pack of sewing needles. A series of flashbacks entered my mind. My mother had sowed, and her mother sewed, and before her, my great-grandmother sewed, and her mother before that. Funny how bits of my past somehow sneak into my present and future. The pain took me back to when I was a little girl sewing patches of all textures and colors onto my corduroy pants. Clothing was scarce then, and most of my blankets were quilted. Sowing became a part of me and followed me through adolescenthood when I joined the Craft Club at my school. During the second meet-up, I noticed a girl named Lila, with hazelnut eyes and brown hair, in the back of the classroom with a croquet kit on her desk. After introducing myself to her, we became instant friends with the everlasting promise of world domination. Our friendship ended abruptly when she told me she was going to study in Europe. I lost contact with her and thought about her occasionally over the years. Even now, her mystery plagues my mind in times of solitude and reflection. Today is my Birthday. My kids and grandchildren are waiting for me to come home and celebrate a year more. This morning has been my secret escape into the past, but now I must return to the present and finish my cold cappuccino. I reach the table next to me and grab a few napkins to place my needles in. It is an odd feeling being 50, but now I feel comfortable in my flimsy skin. My life has played out the exact way it should have, and now I must keep telling my tale so that my daughter and her daughter, and her daughter will tell it too.
She still had three hours to go before leaving for the airport and embarking on this new stage of her life. But for now, she just wanted to have a few moments alone while her family waited for her for their farewell dinner. "Dream beyond what you see," she read before taking the last poster off the wall and rolling it up to put it in the boxes. She still remembered the exact moment she got it inside a cereal box, she was only 12 years old, she had no idea what that phrase originated during her teenage years. Dreaming had motivated her to work steadily, but also with passion. No one had taught her to pursue a dream, she learned the hard way to do it. I walk around the room, looking at the shelves where her books of adventurous princesses and fantastical kingdoms once rested, and now there is only a thin layer of dust on the old wood. Who knew she too would embark on an adventure far from home like her heroines? Her little self, who thought she would be forever in that small town, would not credit that she would now be off to the other side of the world in search of her own story. Now with her life packed in two suitcases, she had to say goodbye to that little girl who at some point had promised her that at some point they would discover beyond the mountains of her city. She had already fulfilled the dream of that little girl, now she had to fulfill the goals of her current version, who not only longed to look beyond her, but to be the best version of herself. -I just want to thank you for not giving up," she whispered before leaving the room, "Now it's my turn to continue with our story. Picture: https://i.pinimg.com/564x/49/9a/1d/499a1d371bab813b63b13a3c94c1ce4b.jpg
And there they were in Barcelona, looking at the world-famous cathedral. The photographer told them not to look at the camera, but there was no need. The majestic building was mesmerising and it was impossible to look away. But the guests forgot about the architecture and were staring at them. And what about them? They were having a wedding. Just like in his fantasy, just like in her romantic dreams. They said, "I do" and exchanged rings. He stood behind her and the wind blew her hair into his face. She could feel his warm breath and they both felt good. It was the culmination - there were no two parts, just one whole. Incredible emotions from a rich wedding and a woman he could only dream of recently - for his ego and the sentimental part that was ecstatic for the guests and the woman he loved. There were family, friends and prominent industry professionals. It was a victory for him. He couldn't contain his emotions - his cold soul was melted by the great success. His voice trembled as he spoke and a tear of joy dropped from his eye. "I am incredibly grateful to everyone here today for supporting both of us before we met," he hugged his lover tightly, “and after. You are an incredible people. This success is yours too! To all those who told me it was impossible, but continued to support me – you were with me in your hearts, even when my head was against it. I would like to say a special thank you! My love, I'm still in awe of how things have turned out, so I thank the universe for every second of it. We have come a long way but we are here today. All of us together. This is a new phase of life, but it's definitely better than the last one! Salut mi familia!” And now what? I don't know - he went to talk to his best friend. Suddenly A realised that he had been chasing something all his life. It didn't matter if it was material or not, but it was a chase of passion. But why think about lost opportunities when everything turned out in a way he could not even imagine? - Do you remember...? –B asked softly as if addressing the wind, not A. - Yes..., – A breathed out a little sadly. - What's next? - I hope this is the beginning. - New York? – B looked seriously at his interlocutor. - New York... The wind blew strongly, bringing with it the scent of September. They were lost in their memories – looked thoughtfully into the distance and became nostalgic. There was a lot to remember. Those distant, carefree days, 15 years ago, when they were just making a name for themselves, trying to prove themselves in school tournaments and leaving it late – exhausted but happy after such events. And when go outside, nature heals. On a warm sunny day and the crisp September air was filled with the scent of their friend's perfume. The trees, dressed in colourful garments, seemed to absorb the sun's energy, creating a sense of harmonious unity in nature. Birds were singing, some flying south. They quietly contemplated this beauty and gradually merged with nature. September was more anticipated than the New Year: the start of the school year, the end of the holidays and the shorter days encouraged us to get more involved in our work. Maybe this is the year we will be successful or victorious? With their dreams supported by their daily work, the days fly by for them. So the beauty around them goes unnoticed. If only this moment could last a long, long time... Then there was the university. Thanks to the Internet the best relationships have been established and consolidated. Not without face-to-face meetings, of course. During the periods when the pandemic was waning, it was possible to attend classes in person. Unfortunately, the enthusiasm for the educational process disappeared quite quickly, but the fact of going to university was quite pleasant. Most of all, they looked forward to the September evenings. A walk after classes on a clear day – people are coming home from work, young people are having fun and making noise, the first lights are shining on the busy highway, where premium cars are speeding along, ignoring the speed limit. They looked up at the clear sky, only the sun is setting behind the horizon, its last rays filling the buildings with orange light. Once a missile hit the schoolyard, burning the perennial maples, destroying the patterns and damaging the building. It was rebuilt many years later. And they are still there. Just like now, in September, it happened again. But it's not the same. These trees need several decades to restore the overall atmosphere of natural grandeur. - Don't think about it too much, – said V, who was the first to recover from the wave of memories. - I have done everything for today anyway! - Come on, let's go, they're waiting for us. And so began his dream life. After the official part of the wedding, the newlyweds and their best friends went to the Costa Brava. The picturesque road along the Mediterranean coast and the Porsche – it was an unforgettable moment.
I look over the students one at a time: there sits the one with yellow blouse, long dark hair, there the two (seem to be intimate friends) one with yellow short hair, blue eyes, with a short with a knot and the one with black curly hair with imposed facial expression, engaged in an animated conversation in low tone, looking over me once in a while. With Black hair, like a straw, and an oddly matched blouse and a skirt, I feel intimidated inside ‘will i ever get to be friends with them?'. Part of me propels me to think so, because it craved for such friendship so long after the lockdown. My storming thoughts are fueled by Tim – our English teacher at this education center – as well as the founder, leaving me with the question ‘Will I ever get to be a good student of his?'. ‘I'm not coming for the next lesson' I say, with fear piercing through my mind. ‘I wanted to try out another education center, but if I don't like it, can I come back?' Maybe because I was trying my best to be a responsible, honest, and loyal student, or maybe because I expected him to confirm that he is okay with that because he is sure of the quality of education he is providing for students, I was struck when he said ‘no' that easily. ‘You can go, but then you have to leave, we don't take back students who left us'. While part of me grew outrageous for his unfair and biased judgment, I couldn't resist the fear of losing a teacher, even if he doesn't seem to be promising. ‘Why not?' I go on. ‘Because this is how it works'. I had sort of promised myself not to expect anything from anyone after my big disappointment from my other education center teacher, whom I overly respected, who I saw as one of the closest people to myself that I expected him to care about. At least I was his best student before quarantine. At least he had taught me for 2 years. At least for the sake of all the laughter and jokes we shared with my groupmates and that teacher. But when the quarantine started, when my world turned upside down, I realized that it was all my fantasy – a teacher caring for a student. It was only after I fought with my bias and realized that a teacher is just a teacher and a student is just a student – expect no more, and if you don't pay, you're now not even a student, you're an outsider. Therefore I had sort of promised myself not to expect anything from any teacher other than just the lesson, but still the easiness that that ‘no' came with once hit me hard, extinguishing my last bit of hope towards intimacy, kindness, and caring for others. As I go home, I nail to myself over and over again my father's words “in this world, nobody but your family (parents, grandparents and siblings), cares for you”. ‘Well, maybe this is becoming strong – you accept there is nothing like proximity, kindness, and care in your relationships with others''. I was totally tired. Tired of believing in the existence of love of teachers, friends, other than family members. I accepted. In this world, everybody is for themselves. This black and white is what the world is. I learned to be cold and keep the distance with others all the time. Until I met my other English teacher, who is now a motherly figure for me. She melted the ice in my heart and convinced me that we're not just teacher and student in the classroom and strangers outside it, but we remain teacher and student anytime, anywhere, and in any case. She convinced me that I could actually turn to my teachers, friends, not just my family when tough times come. I was hesitant as to her intimacy in the beginning after it all happened. But over her closeness with her other students, caring for them like their mother, and trying to bond the students and make them like siblings, I felt love, care, and kindness. The image that my father described, my experience with previous teachers echoed, the one that is black and white became full of color – vibrant colors. Today, I look back and always try to remind myself, when I'm struggling with my academics, that there is love, care, and kindness; life is not just black and white. True, not everyone can paint it, but that doesn't necessarily mean people who can bring colour don't exist. They do, you just need to keep believing in and meeting them someday.
My grandma has always been the glue that has stitched our family together. She is that tall tree whose roots are so sturdy they cannot be cut down. She is the reason we want to visit home during the holiday season. She is a reminder that though we no longer have our parents, God had purposefully placed her in our lives for such a time as this. It could be her contagious laughter that changes any atmosphere or her mischievous gaze that lets you know she has been around the world for some time. Her hugs let you know that she is in love with you, and her cooking, though not the best conveys a sense of home. My relationship with Grandma was rocky for a long time. We could not see eye to eye on certain things. I blame it on our similar traits of hot temper and stubbornness. After my grandfather passed away when I graduated high school and turned nineteen, things took an even darker turn. He had left a business with no will, and per tradition, the oldest of the siblings inherited the responsibility. My mother, at the time, could not care less, so the weight fell on my shoulders. The business was in so much debt, which made it difficult to revive for an inexperienced high school graduate. After several attempts to save the business, it continued to drown in debt. I had borrowed some money from several people with a promise of reasonable interest, but I could not pay it back. Needless to say, we had to close the business. The people I owed money to were banging down our throats, leaving my grandmother in shame and embarrassment. A few months after the business had closed, my grandmother and I had a talk in which she requested that I leave home and stay with my mother for a while. I took this demand to heart as a form of abandonment and rejection. I obliged her wish, but I could not erase the brokenness and disappointment in her gaze. Our relationship was bad, but it had taken a crack for the worst. It was difficult to forgive myself. Years had passed, and I had not set foot at home, even for the holidays. I found a job and proceeded to pay off my outstanding debt. I did not dare to return home and face her. The wound of not being able to forgive had caused a deep rift between my family and me. I lived in isolation, away from them, as a way of self-punishment. I would later lose my mom to AIDS, but even that would not repair our relationship. It had been years since my mom's passing, and my siblings and I kept in touch. I would ask about her well-being but end there. One random day, I received a call from Go-go (translation: grandma). She proceeded with the greetings, and I replied with a sceptical tone, "I'm okay." I can't describe to you how surprised I was by our next conversation. “Sneh, why have you not home?” I thought to myself, has old age taken her memory hostage? “Are you still angry with me?” Nope, she still remembers. “Don't you know how much we have missed you at home?” The shock had silenced my tongue. She continued to express her concern for me and her desire to see me before she dies. Bear in mind, this was just the old people's way of quilting you, not a declaration of a terminal illness. While she talked, a stream of tears came pouring down my cheeks. I felt a lump that had suffocated me for years releasing. It was the first time I let go of the guilt I carried for so many years. I realized that I had imprisoned myself in this self-imposed cell, and only I had access to this key. You know that infamous saying that being unforgiving is like someone taking poison and hoping someone should die. I had been poisoning my soul with bitterness and hatred. My grandma opened the door to healing. I decided that the next step would be to return home. Little did I know, that a lockdown would be implemented. Because of the pandemic, I realized that the anger I carried would amount to nothing. All of a sudden, the senile remark about her dying could become true. During the months of lockdown,I fell into a deep state of depression. By grace, the lockdown restrictions had been eased, and I returned to work. After many months, my finances settled, and in August 2022, I went back home. When I arrived, there she was, my old lady, seated outside her muddy kitchen hut. Her body was frail and wrinkled but still beautiful. Her left eye was near blindness. “Who are you?” I blamed her eyes that had given up on her sight. “Again, she asked, "Who are you?" I replied, "Go-go, it is me, Sneh." She could not contain her joy and hastily cupped me in her arms, joking about my weight gain as if we were old, lost friends. It was foolish of me to think that love, coupled with wisdom, could not forgive a multitude of mistakes. After a couple of days at home and we became friends. She would, like all seniors, question my marital status and my capacity to conceive great-grandchildren. I still wonder if I deserve her, but I believe God had placed her in my life intentionally for such a time as this.
My first memory of COVID was late at night in December of 2019. I saw it on the news, looking at my phone in a pitch black room – a room in the apartment my family had just moved into. An apartment that was small, 11 stories high, and about 7,000 miles away from where I used to call home. When I was ten, my parents shifted the entirety of my life by moving us to Kyoto, Japan. What made me remember this moment - looking at my phone at the news in the midst of unpacking and struggling to live in this completely new culture - is that I told people. I told others about COVID and everyone shrugged it off; as did I, not realizing it would change the trajectory of our lives – everyone's life. A few months later: It's February, 2020. Light was streaming in through the thin brown curtains of my open-windowed classroom at school, all 20 students sleeping on chairs or squishing onto the one stained couch at the back of the room, all looking for a cushioned seat to sink into. Three teachers were jammed in the room. First they said we would be wearing masks. I didn't think anything of it, as did everyone else. The following week, my teacher, standing in the shadows of the light bleached room, said we would all be going into online classes. Everyone was silent. No one understood. Throughout the next three years the borders in Japan stayed closed. Traveling back home over the summer required 5 hours of paperwork after 20 hours of flying, plus quarantine. Only at the start of this year did the Japanese government finally release their grasp on the Mask Mandate. Even today about 85% of people still wear masks; it's like a regularity now, a parasite that people have learned to live with and don't know how to live without. I was in online school for over nine months in total, and staying home wasn't the worst part - it was being told I was going to be able to go to school in person, and then a few weeks after actually being able to see people, we would have to go back into online school. March 2021: The waves licked at my feet in beautiful Okinawa Japan in the late afternoon during spring break. We had been at in-person school for five months when I got the email –- we would be going into online classes for two weeks. That turned into over two months. In the US people sat outside their houses on lawn chairs, talking to their neighbors through their windows. Japan doesn't have front lawns, or back ones. They have windows that are only opened when clothes need to be baked in the sun because dryers take too much space in the house. I talked to almost no one for a year, and, having just moved to a polar opposite country to the one I had been previously living in, I felt trapped in a cage labeled “overwhelmed.” For the first couple months where we lived free of COVID in Japan, there were many foreigners visiting. Where we lived, we weren't surrounded by only Japanese, but also those from the west who somewhat made it feel like home. Then, the borders closed, and the land was quiet. My world felt silent for two years. As I was able to begin riding the train again each morning, not trapped in my home, I realized how being foreign and living in Japan was not pleasing to some. The stares. People crossing to the other side of the street when you are near. Moving to a different bus seat when you get too close. Though every country experiences these problems, living in a closed-off Japan, trapped from the rest of the world - trapped me too. But then I met a girl online, and she filled my life with light. And soon I met another, who lived close by and came over to my house often. Though there were days I felt alone, I knew that I had wonderful people around me - and I will never forget the hilarious Zoom calls with my friends from school… I miss them. I moved back to the US in June, and not wearing a mask felt odd, but freeing. I now live in Texas, and I see that everyone talks to everyone. They are kind – they say excuse me if they are in your way, and they smile at you more often than not. Being in Japan, not talking to many people for so long due to language barriers and the extensive shut down COVID inflicted on the country made me realize how deficient I was in the complex action that was being social. Despite all of this, Japan was a blessing, and COVID wasn't a curse. It was painful; but it also made me stronger. I understood the meaning of looking out for myself, and to simply enjoy life as it was. Sitting at home and typing at my laptop for a whole summer resulted in an entire book that has infusions of my life in it, something I never would have done if COVID didn't occur and I didn't have the time. COVID resulted in me learning about myself, even if it was a struggle to realize that. Those four and a half years were worth it, even through the hard times, and experiencing the entirety of COVID in Japan, though difficult, allowed me to see the goodness in a newfangled place halfway across the world.
Lily Troye drew in a chilly breath as she made her way through the busy streets of Raindale, a small town on the south of Sington. The snow had started earlier this year and Christmas was not due for another three weeks. Children ran around dressed in layers of clothing, their large hats hiding away their tiny ears from the cold. Lily was on her way to the forest adjacent to the marketplace which was temporarily closed down due to the trading of explicit media which caused quite a furry among residents. The sound of bells faintly reached her ears, announcing midday already. She hurried her steps, seeing the tall trees covered in white powder. She knew the path but still followed the slightly bigger footsteps she could trace out in the snow. Her heart pounded in anticipation. She was pretty sure she'd never get used to this feeling any time soon. That's what happened when you were dating Celia Blossom, the daughter of the town's mayor. Celia and Lily were currently in their senior year in high school and had been secretly dating since they were fifteen. To say that they disliked each other at first was an understatement. In fact, they had hated each other more than anything. Lily, being from the underprivileged in the city, didn't have an ounce of pity for anyone related to that vile politician who profited off the hard working people of the town. Celia, on the other hand, couldn't stand Lily's arrogance and had thought she was part of some gang due to her background. Of course, this all changed when Lily had found Celia alone in the nurse's office, after school hours, tending to some bruises, courtesy of the mayor's wife. They quickly developed a profound affection for each other, which deepened into something more over time. Lily smiled as she recalled the weeks before the start of their relationship. The quick glances. The way Lily's coffee coloured skin complemented Celia's snow white complexion. That electrifying feeling when they were in close proximity. Or even that longing in Lily's eyes every time the other girl would come into view. She cherished those memories so much. She finally found herself in front of the picturesque view of a frozen lake surrounded by the forest, as if Mother nature wanted to keep this magnificent landscape away from prying eyes. Lily's eyes however were focused on a particular figure sitting on the snow, every fibre of her being exploding with joy. The woman with unmistakable red hair did not seem to have heard Lily coming as she gazed into the distance. Lily silently drew closer and hugged the girl from behind, causing her to giggle like a teenage girl. “Lily!” The red haired gasped but embraced the other girl nonetheless. “Celia babe, you have no idea how much I missed you,” Lily said and breathed in the red haired scent. As the mixture of strawberry and cherry perfume hit her nostrils, Lily felt intoxicated. At that precise moment, she realised how much she loved Celia Blossom and the consequences be damned, she'd do absolutely anything for her. Celia broke the hug and gazed at Lily lovingly, as if Lily was the elixir to all her anguish and torment. “I missed you too,” Celia whispered, as if scared to bother the serenity of this moment. “I made some cinnamon rolls,” she gestured towards a small basket that Lily didn't notice. Cinnamon rolls were Lily's favourite sweet dish and Celia never missed the opportunity to prepare them for her girlfriend. They sat in the snow and inspected the food. Lily tasted the still warm bun, the custard dripping from her mouth. She rolled her eyes in pure ecstasy as the silky and soft bread hit her tongue. The forest seemed to be dead silent except for the occasional chirping of birds. It had been a while since they last saw each other. With Celia helping out in end of year events organised by her father and Lily's participation in this season's photography competition, they seemed to barely have had time to spend together. It was agonising to say the least but it also made stolen moments, like this one, more meaningful. “Lily, you have-“ Celia removed her right hand's glove, revealing her bare hand with a ring on her index finger. Lily had its matching necklace under her clothes. Celia moved closer to her, her hand reaching for her face. She placed her thumb on Lily's lips, trying to remove the leftover custard. Lily thought she might pass out any second now and couldn't help but notice the coldness of Celia's finger as it traced her skin. The red-haired eyes softened as they took in Lily's features. They were bare inches from each other, neither of them wanting to take the next step. They were suddenly interrupted by the appearance of a squirrel, rummaging through Celia's basket. "You have got to be kidding me," Lily groaned. Celia, on the other hand, laughed and rested her head on Lily's shoulder. To them, it was another heartwarming memory that they'll look back on later, perhaps in another time and era.
Everyday you wake up to choose either a coffee or a coffin, I chose coffee that day, but my friend chose a coffin. Everyone was there, her mom's eyes were wet, everyone sat in a circle around her consoling her, and I watched. I felt hands on my face and it was her sister, her sister's eyes were not dry too, she thought my wouldn't be too, but they were. "Why aren't you crying?" She asked, and I stared at her not saying anything. It happened when I was twelve, my mom said there was something wrong with me when I watched my father die with nothing in sight but his legs dangling and his body soulless. The doctor diagnosed me with alexythymia, and my mom read that as me being a creep, she still thinks that till date, she still thinks that as I do not mourn my friend. My mom worked as a teacher at the school I attended, when she was asked about me, she simply said, "she'll get over it with time", I'm fifteen and I'm still the same, no one asked about it again. They saw it for themselves. It was a Wednesday, school for that day had ended and mom was busy so she asked to wait for her, then I saw it, I saw a boy being hit on the head, he was bleeding from the head, he was screaming and tears were streaming down his face, I went back in to my classroom and met a teacher, I told him what I saw, and he looked at me for a moment, then went on with his work. "Why didn't you say it a little more seriously" his nose was scrunched, his eyes were red, probably from the tears, but I stood there, watching everything unfold, people had now gathered, some speculating that the boy was soulless. "Leave my daughter alone please" my mom said something when the man kept screaming at me, he looked at me one last time, before getting on his knees to take the boy, mom then stared at me too, her eyes were red, everyone's eyes were, except I was not part of everyone. After the incident, mom decided I should change to another school, she suggested a boarding school, and I nodded when she suggested that. We set off the Tuesday of the following week to a neighbouring town, throughout the drive, she held my hand and looked through the windscreen, I took my hand a few times to either fix my dress or drink water, she did not say a word and I did not ask why. We reached the school at noon. "Your roommate will be joining you shortly" the man looked like someone approaching forty, he had lines on his forehead, his eyes weren't on me as he spoke, the papers on his desk kept him busy. I expected to see my roommate a week or two after the man told me that, but I didn't see her till after three months, she came in not like I did, her eyes were puffy and her hand had scars, "What's wrong with you?" I asked her, she didn't respond, she had a mirror facing her, she turned away from it, maybe she did not want to look at it, "Does anything seem wrong with me?" "Your eyes are all puffy and your skin is all scarred, you don't look right" "You're brutally honest" it almost came out like a whisper from her, I nodded when I met her eyes. She laid on her undone bed, and I saw her close her eyes, I did too. The next morning, I woke up and she was not there, I went on to my classes and saw her, she had the clothes from yesterday on, and her eyes were still like they were except a bit less swollen, "You're late" the teacher stopped teaching to face me, "I'm sorry" Mom had taught me phrases that she claimed would make me 'normal', she told me to use 'im sorry' more than the others and I did just that, when I did that often, her eyes didn't get teary every morning. The teacher went on with his lesson. ★★ "Wake up" I heard a voice faint as I tried to see though my eyelids. I opened them and it was her, she had changed from her previous clothes and her eyes were a little less puffy. "Classes are over" she said again and I nodded, she went out through the classroom door and I followed. Then suddenly I heard a loud thud. It was her. I looked around for a teacher but there was none. Then I heard her get up, she got up coughing as if choked by something, "Can't you help me up?" I saw her raise her hands right at me and I grabbed it and helped her up. "I heard you're sick too" she said and I found it very not related to the current situation, but I nodded. It rained and we stayed in the rain because she said so, we did that the day after and the week after. "School's over, see see you next... year?" I she said it like a question and walked out of the room with her suitcase as she waved at me, then I heard her slam the door right before I felt it, I touched my face to see if they were real and they were. Tears streamed down my cheeks and I did not stop them. I smiled.
I only remember that dark, windy night. The accident. I was having a dreadful headache. I hit the wrong pedal, I accelerated. From there on, I can't remember anything, just me waking up in an ambulance. I couldn't hear anything, just my own breath hyperventilating. Immediately, I arrived at the hospital and the nurses took me to a private room to be checked. It was bizarre that they checked me constantly, which led me to believe I was very injured. I was trying to sleep when I heard a doctor entering the room. When I opened my eyes, I saw a tall man with a white coat. He said that I needed to be transferred to another hospital where I could be monitored by specialized equipment. They took me to a black van where I couldn't see anything through the windows. They started talking. I couldn't hear any words from the stress I was experiencing. Abruptly, I started feeling very dizzy. —Do you know where you are?— That was the first thing I heard after waking up. I was sitting in a chair looking at the wall, zoned out. I just got transferred or at least that was what they told me. Apparently, there was an accident; I can't remember anything. —Pass patient 16 to a room, he is not answering— No, no, no. What room? Get me out of here. I got to the room. I want to get out of this place, yet I don't even remember my name. I just want to get out. —Get me out of here— I repeated to myself while the people in white coats were connecting stuff to my body. I don't want this, make it stop! —Get me out of here— I yelled, but apparently, no one heard me. —Get me out of here— I cried out for help, again no one heard. I was trembling. I couldn't feel my body, which to be honest, I didn't even recognize as mine anymore. My heartbeat quickened. Tick tock I heard a clock. —Get me out of here!— Tick tock. —Get me out— Tick tock. —Get me— Abruptly, everything went dark. Silence. I wasn't dead, I couldn't be. —Patient 16– then everything was bright again. —You blacked out— said the man in a white coat. Then everything went back to normal, if normal is the word to define this whole situation. The past days, the doctor said I've made improvement both physically and mentally. I don't know how I made progress if I never felt off. However, I do experience nightmares, and I don't like the looks I am getting from the people in white coats. They seem as if they are hiding something. The doctor said fresh air would be good for me and that I needed to go for a walk. I don't like going for walks, it scares me. The voices in the halls scare me; nevertheless, I'll go later. I don't know where I could end up. I evaded the halls; I couldn't help myself. They're too scary, so I made my way through the garden. I ended up in a forest with yellowish-leaves. I lost track of time. There were stones on the ground with names of people, also there was a big hole that looked as if it was going to be filled up soon. I panicked; I don't like to panic because of the voices, the voices that come from nowhere. They talked about death. I refuse to think I'm going insane because if there is one thing I am is sane. Rain poured down, it felt like acid. As the rain showered on my shoulders, I ran. ——— My phone rang; I picked it up wondering what could've happened so late at night. —Dr. Collins here— I answered. —Yeah Collins, I've got a patient here; he's outside. He's at the yard, you know, the yard— he emphasized, it was obvious he was at the graveyard, but why? —Also this patient doesn't match any of the files I have here, Is he a…— —Patient of mine?— I interrupted, anyone could be hearing. —Yes, yes he is. I'm on my way— then I hung up. Before I left I checked on our latest operating procedures on our “volunteers”; most of them were still in progress. I went quickly to the main lobby. Once the door opened, the cold wind of late autumn night flew through my coat, down the hall Dr. Bailey spotted me. —Collins!— she called my attention. —Bailey— I responded. —Our procedure with 66 was a succes, yet there is a patient outside, patient 16– she stated. It couldn't be 16 he was… —I'll hurry, thank you— I interrupted my thoughts and arrived at the CCTV room. —Stephan?— —Hello sir, you see the patient, he's been staring at that stone for at least ten minutes— I then saw him turn around. When he saw the camera, he ran into the woods. I had to go. —Sir, there's a gate, after our last escape we reinforced it— I left without answering. ——— I felt scared, the eye on the wall, it looked at me. I ran into the woods. The voices kept screaming, sounds of pain. Someone screamed. I felt whimpering, the voices were no longer there, no more screams. There was a thunderstorm. A shower of lighting hit the ground. As the last strike hit, so did my body, and everything went cold.
"Why did you kill him?" she asked, her tone stern. The man looked down at the ground, refusing to meet her eyes. "He...he was going to expose my embezzlement," he said, his voice barely audible. LaBlanche knew that she had uncovered the motive for the murder. The man had killed her husband to cover up his own crime. "You're going to pay for what you did," LaBlanche said, her voice filled with anger. The man looked up at her, his eyes filled with fear. "Please, don't turn me in," he begged. LaBlanche shook her head. "I have no choice," she said. "You killed my husband, and you have to take responsibility for your actions." She pulled out her phone and dialed the police. While waiting for them to arrive, she kept the man at bay, making sure he didn't try to flee. As she stood there, watching him with a mixture of anger and sadness, she couldn't help but think about her husband. She missed him terribly and wished he was still here. Finally, the police arrived, and LaBlanche handed the murderer over to them. She watched as they escorted him out of the house, his head hung low in shame. She knew that he would spend the rest of his life in prison, paying for the crimes he had committed. As LaBlanche stood in the empty study, she felt a sense of closure wash over her. She had solved her husband's murder and brought the killer to justice. She knew that it would take time to heal from this tragedy, but she was grateful for the closure she now had. LaBlanche walked out of the study and closed the door, knowing her life wouldn't be the same again and she was gonna have to make her peace with that.
LaBlanche, an intrepid detective with an eagle eye for detail, returned home late one night. She had been out on a case all day, and all she could think about was pouring herself a glass of wine, and curling up with a good book. But as she opened the door, something felt off. The house was too quiet, too still. LaBlanche had been in many dangerous situations in her life, but she had never been quite so scared as she was in that moment. She crept through the house, slowly making her way to the study, where she knew her husband was meant to be. To her shock, she found him lying on the floor, motionless. For a moment, LaBlanche couldn't move. Her mind raced, trying to make sense of what was happening. He had been murdered, she realized. With a trembling hand, she reached for the phone and dialed the police. When the officers arrived, they brought LaBlanche in for questioning. She gave her statement, but despite her best efforts, she could not provide them with any leads. For hours, the detectives interrogated her, trying to discover any hidden clues that would lead them to the killer. But LaBlanche had nothing to give them, and eventually they let her go with a warning. She stepped out of the police station with a sense of determination. She would not rest until the killer was caught and brought to justice. She knew that she had to act fast, as time was running out. She had to find out who had done this, before they struck again. LaBlanche set out to investigate the murder on her own. She retraced her steps, thinking of all the people her husband had met in the days leading up to his death. She visited his work, talked to his colleagues and friends, and went through his emails and messages. But she could not find any clues that would lead her to the killer. One night, as LaBlanche lay in bed, she heard a strange noise coming from the study. She got up and crept towards the room, her heart pounding in her chest. As she got closer, she could hear footsteps coming from inside. With trembling hands, she pushed the door open and stepped inside. To her surprise, she found a man standing there, rifling through her husband's desk. He looked up as she walked in, his eyes widening in surprise. LaBlanche recognized him as one of her husband's colleagues, a man who had always seemed a bit too interested in their personal lives. "What are you doing here?" she demanded. The man hesitated, then stammered, "I was just looking for some papers that I left here earlier." LaBlanche knew he was lying. She took a step closer, her eyes fixed on his face. Suddenly, she saw a flicker of fear in his eyes. She knew then that he had murdered her husband. She just had to gather enough evidence to prove it.LaBlanche's mind raced with a million thoughts all at once. She had to keep the man at bay while she searched the room for any evidence that would confirm her suspicions. She took a step closer to him, her gaze still fixed on his face. "What do you mean you left some papers here earlier?" she asked him. "And why are you so afraid?" "I...I left some important documents here earlier," he said, his voice shaking. "I needed to come back and get them." LaBlanche didn't believe him. She knew he was lying. She continued to edge closer to him, looking for any sign of a struggle. And then she saw it - a small cut on the man's hand, barely visible in the dim light. "What happened to your hand?" she asked him.The man tried to hide his hand behind his back, but it was too late. LaBlanche had seen it. She took another step closer, and this time, the man stepped back. "I...I cut it on a broken glass earlier," he stammered. "It's nothing." LaBlanche didn't believe him. She knew that the cut on his hand was a sign of a struggle, that he had fought with her husband before killing him. "Show me your hand," she demanded, taking another step forward. The man hesitated, then slowly held out his hand. LaBlanche saw that the cut was deep, and still bleeding. She knew that she had found her evidence. "You killed him, didn't you?" she said, her voice low and menacing. The man looked at her, his face pale with fear. "I...I didn't mean to," he said.LaBlanche knew that this was just an excuse. She could see the guilt in the man's eyes and knew that he was lying once again. She had to make him confess. (CONTINUATION IN NEXT POST)
As I walked up the stairs that led to the platform stage, I could feel all 400+ eyes on me. I gulped, closing out my family's screams that followed my every step. It was only three years ago when I'd crawled out of freshman year with the heaviest bags under my eyes and all life drained from my body. Just those years ago, I'd lucked out on my finals, the stress of the next few years finally dawning on me. I'd probably imagined myself finally graduating from the mess that was my grades, and fleeing far away from my small town to a decent college in a bigger city that would look past my grades and focus on the load of activities I'd gotten myself involved in. But somehow, there I was. Three years later. Trying to find something tangible I'd accomplished in the recent years and almost finding none. Turns out the only things I'd brought out of a two year long pandemic were a new haircut and a tik tok personality. It was a reawakening, of course, realizing all that time passed by and I'd only spent it rising in ranks in video games and not in real life. I'd spent those two years learning all texting abbreviations that ever existed and how to access illegal websites to watch the latest movies for free. I was a master at everything but what mattered. Yet, I'd persevered and one way or another, made it to this stage. This stage that I thought wouldn't come for another three years because I realized, a bit too late, that I was still stuck in that freshman class, hearing for the first time, that school may be closed for a few weeks due to the outbreak of a deadly virus. My 14 year old mind had stayed frozen in time for those two years and I hadn't realized how fast time flew, oblivious to my lack of growth as I advanced through high school. So there I stood on the stage, hand extended towards my school's principal, expecting a credential that forged my accomplishments through the fancy words etched onto the cover page. When did accepting my high school diploma start making me feel like a fraud? I shook off the feeling and advanced, collecting the piece of paper while my family and friends screamed even louder. It was weird as I walked off the stage, my diploma clutched in hand and endless possibilities of the future that lay ahead whirling through my mind. It was weird the way the creases of the paper comforted me, reminding me of the tumultuous years I'd scathed through -a testimony not everyone could give. In that moment, an overwhelming feeling of gratitude engulfed every part of me and tears suddenly found my eyes. I wiped my eyes once I sat down and took in the scenery -the people- around me while a friend of mine mounted the stage, making the same face I had when I was in her place. It was then I realized that I wasn't alone in my thoughts. I looked around once more and saw similar expressions on almost every graduate's face. We were all overwhelmed with multiple emotions at once: confusion, surprise, regret and yet, pride. We were stringed along into a global pandemic that put a stop into our lives without warning and forced us into an immediate life of maturity. Just a few years ago, we were many years younger and looked far ahead at adulthood(and all that came with it), as a distant dream. But it came quicker than expected. That distant dream, now as near as the breaths we breathed, pushed us into the scary, unknown depths of adulthood; and all expectations that the 14 year old children of those years ago couldn't comprehend, had now become our realities. I prayed quickly in that second of unison that each of us would be able to make it through whatever else life threw at us, just as we'd survived through one of the greatest epidemics of our generation. In that, I hoped that the sadness that lingered in our hearts would give us the strength to move on with our lives having no hardships or regret.
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