When I noticed the illuminated gas light, I knew it was too late-I would never make it to the next big town, 22 miles away. Then, like a mirage, an old building with the words GAS/FOOD painted on its side appeared. Unfortunately, I quickly realized that there was definitely no gas in the pumps, and that there probably hadn't been for years. I looked around helplessly, allowing the worry train in my mind to run at full speed. What would become of a Black Jewish woman, alone and stranded in the boonies of a red state? I could feel tears pricking at the corners of my eyes, begging to fall. Suddenly, I heard the sound of laughter and followed it to a set of tall wooden doors. The echo of collective chortles, chuckles, and hee-has derailed my thoughts long enough for me to make a move, and I wrapped my hand around the cold metal moose-head door handle. The antlers made it so my fingers spread into an awkward claw. I pulled one of the doors open, and behind its heavy mass sat seven white strangers and a white bartender. My breath felt caught in my chest and butterflies fluttered up from my stomach into my throat, choking me. “Hi. Um, can y'all tell me where the gas station is?” My voice came out shaky and those damn tears were still fighting against me. A tall, thin man with shoulder-length grey hair, a thick mustache, and a familiar face stood, looked me up and down, and said, “You're shit outta luck in this town.” The tears finally won their battle and marched right out of my eyes and down my cheeks like hot soldiers pumped up with the emotions of victory and the price paid for it. "Don't worry, come on now. Don't you worry. Is your gas light on?” “Yes,” I replied, feeling foolish with my red eyes and puffy lips, “and I don't know how long but I've driven at least 20 miles since I noticed it.” A blonde woman, the only other woman in the bar besides the plump bartender looking on from behind the old wooden counter with an air of indifference about her, smiled at me. “Oh, I bet you could make it sweetie! I almost run out of gas all the time, but now I know exactly how far I can go once that light turns on!” She broke into a laugh that nobody joined. The tears incessantly fell from my face and were beginning to slide down my neck, which was already sticky with sweat. “I really don't think I can make it, I'm scared I'll get stuck.” The tall man still seemed to be analyzing me as he said, “I really think you'll be fine. Just go on ahead and try—" “I'll go get you some gas.” We all turned our heads toward the low, raspy voice. A man who had been sitting silent in the corner, wearing a white t-shirt and khaki pants stood and pulled his keys out of his pocket. "Be right back, y'all.” He pushed open the door and sunlight rushed into the room, brightening our faces. It slammed behind him with a thud and we were left with our jaws open. A younger man with a large body broke the silence. "So what the hell is a girl like you doing in lil' ol' Pringle, South Dakota?” I wiped the tears from my face and told them about my solo road trip. The large man seemed amused by my response: “Well honey, you sure ain't home in California anymore! You in Trump country now!” I laughed nervously. “Oh, hush Jimmy!” The blonde woman playfully slapped his arm. “What now, darlin'? I'm just tellin' her like it is!” And then to me, “You don't believe in this global warming bullshit now do ya?” The woman slapped him again, harder. “Don't listen to my husband, he's just giving you a hard time.” “It's okay,” I told them, "I wanted to travel this country because it's easy to come up with ideas about people who think differently than me, when I really don't know them at all.” The blonde woman liked that a lot and smiled at me, nodding her head in agreement. “So," I asked, "is this where Pringles chips were invented?” The people laughed and the air felt lighter. We carried on a cheerful conversation, ending abruptly when the door swung open to reveal the silhouette of the khaki man holding a gas can, and sunlight once again spilled over our faces. The blonde woman followed as I led him to my car. She was beautiful, with a face so warm; she could have been one of my grade school teachers. As the man poured gas into my tank, I dug through my backpack for a ten dollar bill I remembered tucking away earlier that morning. “Thank you so much, can I give you some money for all of this?” “No.” He tightened the gas cap and snapped the little door shut. “Alright, this should get you to town. Keep an eye on your tank now, ya hear?” “Yes sir, thank you, I will.” Pulling away, it struck me that I'd had a transformative experience. My gas light illuminated, and it brightened my perspective on humanity.
I miss my grandfather. He was a handsome Austrian fellow with piercing blue eyes and a mischievous grin. He died when I was 17 years old, and I miss him. Here are some of the things that made him cool: He was a veteran of World War 2. He fought in the Pacific and looked better in a sailor uniform than Frank Sinatra. He taught me how to play poker; that was family game night. He used to swear in broken German. My grandmother would swear back in broken Italian. His name was Nick Sigl but spelled Nicolaus. Isn't that the coolest spelling? Nicolaus Sigl. He used to make this dish called Grout Fleckla. For years I have been haunted by the fact that I don't remember much about the dish except that I loved it. It was savory; I think it involved noodles and maybe onions? In addition to my frequent requests for Grout Fleckla at family dinners, I asked him to make it whenever there was any kind of cultural event at my school. I can't say I've ever had a strong sense of cultural identity, but there was Grout Fleckla. It was distinctly Austrian and distinctly Sigl. I have known for some time that it could not have actually been called Grout Fleckla, but that was the phonetic experience captured by my young brain through my grandfather's thick German accent (only employed when he actually spoke German). His command of the language may have declined over the years, but his commitment to the accent never wavered. It never occurred to me that in the 21st century, when I have any number of ways to look up the correct name of the dish, I have not. I don't know why that is. Maybe the feeling of having lost something takes a stronger hold in our brains than the possibility it could be found. It was fabled in my memory, which felt precious because only I could hold it, look at it. I decided that the recipe—whatever it was called—died with him, and I've mourned it ever since. In March of 2020, in the beginning of quarantine, I decided to make a frittata. I don't cook much, but quarantine made some kind of a chef of all of us. Frittatas are usually my husband's specialty, but he was playing with the baby, so I was on frittata duty. Frittatas in our house aren't just crust-less quiches; they involve noodles. We will not go carbless in the Light house. Frittatas come about when we have leftover pasta and the next morning we put them in a cast iron skillet with eggs, cheese, and veggies. I started by sautéing a ton of onions and garlic. While they caramelized, I rifled through the fridge in search of veggies and saw we had a head of cabbage. I chopped that up and threw it in. Once the cabbage softened, I added the noodles. And that's when it happened. I'm getting all flustered thinking about it. Something happened in my nose. The smell of sautéed onions and garlic mingling with the cabbage and noodles sent me into an overwhelming sense memory of being with my grandfather and eating Grout Fleckla. Oh my God. Of course. It wasn't Grout. It was Kraut. Cabbage. And for the first time in nearly twenty years, it dawned on me, I can look this up. I could have, for years, found a way to look this up. I've stalked old boyfriends with less information, but now, I had cabbage. I didn't even have to type kraut, actually. As soon as I entered German noodle dish my results came up. Krautfleckerl. “An Austrian pasta with caramelized cabbage.” I felt like I found my grandfather. I thought he was lost. Now I can visit him in more than just a dream. I can taste this dish again, and memories are so much easier to access with your mouth and your nose than with your brain. I finished the frittata, but the next night I looked up a proper recipe and made Krautfleckerl. As I served it to my family, I could picture my grandfather holding a large aluminum tray full of the savory noodles, wearing a bomber jacket with a fur trim, and polyester pants, helping me bring a bit of Austrian, a bit of Sigl, to share with whomever might be interested. If that's you, if you're interested, here is the recipe for Krautfleckerl. Though I might always call it Grout Fleckla. Ingredients: • 1 white Onion • 1 (head of) cabbage • 1 tsp. of caraway seeds • 1/2 c butter • Pasta, your choice on the shape but I think goes best an egg noodle • 1 bunch of parsley • Salt • Pepper • 2 cloves of garlic Preparation: Cut the cabbage (white, without stalk) into squares, cut onion finely and chop garlic. Let the butter and the caraway caramelize in a big pot. Now add the onion and the garlic. Stir. Add the cabbage, salt and stir again. Let it steam for about 30 minutes with a closed lid. Bring sufficient water to a boil, add salt and cook the pasta until al dente. Strain, rinse in cold water and allow it to drain well. Chop parsley. Mix the pasta with the cabbage and stir. Add the rest of the butter and season with parsley and pepper. Serve warm.
TW: The following piece documents true events of sexual assault. Please refrain from reading if personally triggering. Disclaimer: The following events have been disclosed with adults and mental health professionals, and the author is not a danger to herself currently. The record does not need to be reported to a guidance counselor, and no concern for the author is necessary. Thank you. :) I washed my sheets by myself for the first time that night. My blood and his cum splattered the center in horrific modern art. Mama never taught me how to get that out of fabric. It was two weeks after my 15th birthday. I'd say I lost my innocence that afternoon, but the bruises had stained my body for months. Every week he wanted more. And the day I'd been dreading had arrived. His ribs pressed against mine. Our sticky skin stuck together. His hands on me. In me. The right on my mouth. The left clutching my throat. He took my muffled screams as moans. Signs to go faster, signs to go harder. As my thighs stained red, he smiled. I used to love his smile. My cries awoke the city that night until his message lit up my phone. “I'm sorry about today. I love you.” followed by a heart a brighter red than the lines grasping my wrists. I weakly smiled. He loves me. He said he was sorry the first time he choked me too. Sorry the first time he recorded my body. Sorry the first time he kissed another girl. Words of forgiveness had tumbled out of my mouth a million times until they were all I knew. I thought monsters were invisible strangers that sneak into your house when you least expect it. He was my best friend. And, as he often reminded me, it had been almost 3 years since the day he asked me to the movies during 7th grade recess. At the very least, I owed him my body. Besides, he was sorry. Right? It took months of purple legs and ringing ears to break me. Sleepless nights and empty bottles holding the bear he bought me for valentines day when we were 12. I've always wondered why I can't scream in my nightmares. Why my voice slips away when the darkness falls. I finally understood that day as the word “no” danced out of my mouth as gently as the tears on my cheeks. I've showered a thousand times since, but I can't seem to get clean. He touched me in the shower too. Touched me in the kitchen. Touched me in our childhood park. On the roof of our high school. But nothing beat the day he touched me in my bed. He left me for his blonde best friend 26 days later. Said I cried too much. It was the day before our 3 year anniversary, and my room was littered with gifts for him. The next day my broken body lay on the cold bathroom tile. My hands turned white, clutching my orange bottles of antidepressants and sleep medication. As 42 pills slid down my throat, I closed my eyes and, for the first time in weeks, his smile didn't appear in the darkness. I awoke in the cold hospital bed to the IV's piercing my veins. By the time I escaped the psych ward another month later, I was more broken than before. I whispered the story for the first time one night. Mama sat silent for a moment before asking what I was wearing. Said she warned me this was gonna happen if my shoulders saw the world. Dad said maybe if I had paid more attention to Jesus and less to boys, I wouldn't be blubbering. I told my friend that weekend. By the arrival of Monday, the whole school knew. Whispers paved my paths down the halls. One boy claimed he heard I had hit my head and had amnesia. Said that's why I was making up crazy stories. Another girl said I lied for attention. “She probably liked it.” Even those who believed me could never understand. Until I met the curly haired girl who whispered “he touched me too” in the bathroom. I always thought monsters hunted from under the bed. Not on it.
I watched joy bubble in her heart as she said "I Do" to the love of her life. I could feel her happiness as she stared into his eyes and envisioned the start of a good life with the only man that swept her off her feet. Her smile was infectious and broad, reaching her eyes and spreading throughout her features as she had eyes for only one man, the man whom she would build a new world with, whom she would cherish for a lifetime and grow old in his arms. He drew her close and kissed her full on the lips when the Reverend said "you may kiss the bride" and we all applauded. The occasion was a memorable one and my best friend Vera was married to Vandy as he was fondly called in the full presence of her family and friends who wished the new couple nothing but love and happiness in their new home. Sadly, that happiness was short lived and replaced with visits to the hospital a few days after the wedding. Doctors appointments took over the honeymoon, kisses were replaced with prayers for recovery, life plans were replaced with charts for medication and together forever grew farther away as his health didn't improve. That fateful morning greeted me with news so heart wrenching that I couldn't help the tears that spilled out. She told me that her Vandy was gone, never to speak words of endearment to her, never to hold her lovingly and share dreams with her, never to touch her passionately and grow old with her, never to smile again and share this world with her. She was heartbroken and distraught, in denial and pain, shock and disbelief as she watched life take away someone so precious to her and her heart broke over and over again. How are you doing Vera? I asked, her only reply is to burst into tears and say, "my sugar is no longer in this world". Days passed as preparations to lay him to rest commenced and I watched my dear friend transition from a young twenty three year old lady to a widow mourning her husband one month after she tied the knot. As tradition would have it, she had her head shaved, she wore black clothes, she was holed up inside surrounded by older women who comforted and guided her through all the procedures. It was devastating to watch my beautiful, fun loving, energetic and vibrant best friend lose her light and vigour because life stole something precious from her. She was mandated to stay indoors, to avoid the backlash and stigma that would follow such an untimely and unexpected experience. My best friend matured before my eyes as she found courage to mourn the loss of her husband, endure the probing eyes and side talks, sneers and insinuation from people who think they are saints and god's. I could feel her sorrow behind the calm lifeless smile she shared with people around her, I could tell she was scared and confused, she was alone and drowning in the uncertainties of what to come after everything. That experience was a hellish one for someone as young as she to go through and I know she still struggles with it everyday of her life. To my best friend Vera, you are the strongest woman I know. You have endured more than any young woman I have ever met and you came out brave and strong. In the face of all that you went through you never grew cold or let the emotions bury you under its crushing weight because you kept fighting back. You are a conqueror and a queen, you rose about your pain and fought to be a part of this world and enjoy what life holds in store for you. I admire you my dearest and I pray in my next world to know a friend like you. You will love again, you will feel loved again, which won't make you love Vandy any less or forget him in an Instant. He is always in our hearts and I bet he wants you to find someone special to love and cherish with all your heart. Smile for the world to see that you pulled through, that you persevered and came out better and stronger. Smile for the world to know that you are not afraid to love again. Smile for me to show me that you are okay and moving on. My dearest Vera, this tribute is for you. Thank you for being the strongest woman I know. Your best friend, Jane.
Let's say you're lost in the woods. Again. So, you check your phone. Great, no signal. Shocker. But wait! Your mom made you bring that ridiculous old map! You pull it out of your backpack and unfold it. And unfold it. And unfold. Unfold. Unfold. How big can this thing get? Unfold. One last time? Unfold, and nope. Unfold again. Okay! It's open! That's when it strikes you. The sheer size of the map, the way the paper crinkles when you flick your wrist to straighten it—it makes you feel something. It's almost ethereal. The yellow paper is covered in lines going all which ways in varying colors; their direction indecipherable upon first glance. You lay the map down on the leaf-covered forest floor and manage to pinpoint where you are on the map, somehow. You're surrounded by inked-in trees with their green hue no more than a highlight. You'd never take them for trees if there was no legend in the corner. Among all the trees and roads and rivers and ponds and bridges and parks, you're such a small dot on the map. It puts the size of the whole world into perspective. But enough existential crises for the day, after all, you went to the woods to avoid one, right? As you're looking at the map, you notice a small town nearby. But it can't be there, right? You came from that direction. Oh, if only you knew about paper towns. But you don't. So you fold the map up and head in the direction of the copyright trap, doomed to forever roam the woods. That's the beauty of maps. They're so reliable, and yet you still need to have your own knowledge and logicality. Most people use maps as a means to an end, but few truly appreciate their beauty. No one uses paper maps anymore. Most use phones or mobile GPS devices, but this also takes away a lot of beauty. Imagine the crinkling of the paper while it's being unfolded, or the soft brushing noise it makes when you lay it flat. GPS can't do that. The feeling evoked when using a paper map… it's unlike anything else. Nearly indescribable. It's the feeling of reuniting with our past. When a map is opened, the world is, too. You can suddenly imagine you're in another time. Imagine another life. No longer are you a generation z college student in 2020 on the way to an off-the-beaten-path park, you're now a flower child in the 70s on your way to Woodstock, navigating while your boyfriend drives the car. Your feet are up on the dash and the paper is rose-colored by your tinted glasses. This is the power that paper maps have. When they're opened, it sparks nostalgia and hiraeth. It sparks a longing for something that we've never experienced, but that we somehow know. The crinkling. The feeling of when the pads of your fingertips brush on its surface, looking for something. When it unfolds to larger than life proportions, and yet barely even shows any of our huge world. GPS is meager in comparison, but it allows for a different beauty. More than once I've driven down unfamiliar roads and taken random turns with the windows down and the wind blowing and the music loud. You feel free with no plans and no direction. It's an open road. Making decisions with the flip of a coin, the pick of a hat, or, hell, even meenie miney moe. When you're ready to journey home, if you're ever ready, you simply turn on the GPS to your address and go home. When the GPS turns on, the magic vanishes. It's as if bringing flame near fairies. The magic is yanked away and reality returns. There are no more random turns. There are no more mysterious roads. There is no unknown destination. The adventure is over when you know the way back home. Statistica.com says that nearly half of all people use GPS as a form of navigation, which seems low for the busyness of our world. Everyone is about the destination. There's no care for the journey. The device guides a lost person with its robotic, monotone voice, while cars honk and people shout and static plays on the radio and air conditioner blows and passengers talk and the world is loud. Now go back. Go back to the thought of the wind and music and endless possibilities. Go back to when you were driving with the direction of random odds. Nothing compares. While GPS allows for such freedom, it is also the reason for the end of it.
When I was in seventh grade, I took an aptitude test that told me I should seek out a career as a butcher. This seemed like a shocking conclusion since, to my memory, none of the questions gauged my knife skills (poor) or my interest in animal entrails (quite low). In an act of defiance, I bucked my destiny and went on to get a bachelor's degree in Communications. My first job was with an arts organization run by a married couple. David and Elle were “free spirits” who tried to hide their entitlement behind eccentricity and pass off their lack of personal or professional boundaries as avant-garde. A couple of months into my tenure, the office was abuzz. World-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma was in town and would be dining at the home of my bosses. “Jen, you and Therese will need to go to our house to meet the caterers soon, so they can set up for dinner,” Elle informed my supervisor as she flitted manically around the office. “By the way,” she said with an air of forced casualness, “we've been having a bit of a…ladybug problem. So, if you happen to see any, just vacuum them up, if you could.” She hurried away as Jen and I exchanged raised eyebrows. David and Elle lived in an affluent suburb about 40 minutes outside of the city, in a mansion full of sleek, brightly colored furniture and peppered with experimental (read: nude) art. The house was swelteringly hot, even though it was March and nobody had been home. After setting down our bags and shedding our coats and blazers in the entryway, we took stock of the dining room. I gawped a bit at a large pair of purple breasts staring back at me from a painting hanging above the long table. The far wall of the room was made up entirely of windows, opening on one side to a raised deck and looking out over an in-ground pool on the other. The view was slightly marred, however, by concentrations of dark specs scattered over the bottom quarter of each tall pane of glass, like a bacterial culture growing on a clear petri dish. Jen and I glanced at each other and moved closer to the window. We stopped short when we got near enough to see that Elle had not been exaggerating about their little problem: each dark spec was, in fact, a ladybug. “Shit,” Jen muttered and turned on her heel back toward the kitchen. I quickly followed. “Do you know where they keep their vacuum?” I asked as she strode into what appeared to be a laundry room, dreading the prospect of sending a bunch of innocent ladybugs to a dusty grave. “No,” her reply was somewhat muffled as she rifled through miscellaneous household items. “…but this will do,” she emerged, grimly holding up a small blue handheld dustbuster. That's how we found ourselves, dressed in business casual, crawling on our hands and knees on the heavy off-white carpet. Jen led our bleak two-woman parade, sucking up all the ladybugs she could with the dustbuster. I brought up the rear with a roll of paper towel, scooping up those mercifully left behind. Kneeling in my blue pencil skirt, sweat accumulating under my stiff button-down shirt, I wondered how in the hell I had gotten there. Every four feet or so, we would get up and run out onto the deck. Jen opened up the dust buster, I shook out my paper towel, and we set the ladybugs free. We finished up the operation in plenty of time, a bit disheveled but surely less so than the ladybugs. The catering staff arrived shortly thereafter and began unloading large foil trays of food in the kitchen. The warm, spicy smell of potato samosas filled the room, made all the more tantalizing by the knowledge that we were not invited to stay for dinner and thus would not be partaking in the food. My mouth watered as I pushed down a wave of hunger. Glowing headlights appeared through the front windows, signaling the arrival of David, Elle, and Yo-Yo Ma himself. Jen and I quickly smoothed our rumpled blouses and skirts; I tried to pat down my flyaway hairs and performed a quick armpit smell check. David and Elle whirled in, all disingenuous warmth, showering us in greetings and feigned gratitude as we took their coats and hung them in their own closet. Mr. Ma followed close behind. He smiled genially as we made our introductions, waving away my handshake and offering a kind hug. The group ventured off for a tour of the house, and Jen and I were free to go. I snuck a few potato samosas from the kitchen and bid Jen goodnight. As I drove home, I remembered that aptitude test from seventh grade. I may not have been fated to become a butcher, I thought to myself, but I had dipped my toe into another unexpected profession: exterminator. Maybe the writers of the test knew what I was starting to learn – that you can't genuinely plan for much of anything, and throughout your life, your career path will twist and turn towards and away from what you actually studied. Or maybe they just got a kick out of messing with pre-teens.
My mother clung to my small palm as if her life depended on it while staring up at my father, who was screaming furiously, shaking his clenched fists in front of him. “You never do anything right!” he yelled. As my mother backed up shakily, she ran right into the dining table, bringing me along with her in a fierce crash. I stared doe-eyed at my father then back at my mother. Why is daddy so mad at mommy? His screams became louder and his movements more forceful as he thrust his hand forward towards my mother's throat. Terrified, I let go of my mother's hand, running towards the bedroom. I pulled the covers over my head and wrapped my arms over my shaking legs, rocking myself back and forth. Tears began streaming down my face, but I was too afraid to make any noise. “Please stop!” I heard my mother's frail voice yell out. Slap! The crack of skin against skin echoed through the walls. That was when I heard my mother call out for me. I froze, my body still shielded under the blanket. “Help me!” I heard her scream again. I started to cry even harder, yet my body remained paralyzed at the corner of the bed. Her incessant cries for my help could be heard through the breaking glass and clinking furniture. After what seemed several hours, the chaos in the other room subsided. I stayed put even though it started to feel humid under the blanket and I was breathing in hot air. I knew my mother entered the room when I felt the bed dip. Whimpers racketed from her body. I peeked out of the covers and crawled over to her side, obediently. She looked down at me, a tear spilling from her eye. “Why didn't you do anything,” she says in her mother tongue. I cast my eyes downward and shrug. I had nothing to say to her. It was true: why hadn't I done anything? I could hear my father still yelling. He was crying along with his violent outbursts. That always confused me. He never apologized. It was never his wrongdoing. He was the one inflicting the bruises that painted my mother's body, yet he cried. It made me wonder if it was because he was hurting too. That was the day I felt true powerlessness. As a young child I didn't know what that meant, but fear controlled me when my body refused to move from its place. I was distraught over the daunting question my mother had asked me. I could have yelled for him to stop. I could have called someone for help. I could have stopped him. The last thought haunted me. And it made me wonder if it was my fault. Surely, my mother wouldn't ask me that if there was truly nothing I could've done. My father should've been the bad guy. But I was the biggest let down— to myself. I was a bystander in my own home. I wanted more than anything to protect my mother. But I was still afraid, which meant I was useless. I was angry. Not only with my father, but with myself the most. Reflecting back on this day as a young adult, I realize that so much was out of my control. The systemic, abusive struggle between my parents was not something I could have alleviated or fixed. Yet, to this day, I still seek the answer to a question I fully understand provides me with no refuge, no reward: was there anything I could've done?
The spring was a whirl of ruin: a virus spoiled the entire world's circuits of air; the grainy pictures of plastic-wrapped bodies being loaded into refrigerated trucks flashed across televised broadcasts; garbling politicians traded refrains of speculation; and regardless of whether I drew a 6-iron or 9-iron from my bag, my swing lobbed the golf ball a weak 75-yards. “Dammit,” I hissed, slinging the recalcitrant club to the side and slapping the dirt off of my shins. It was an issue with the clubface, you see. For some reason my arms were compelled to rotate clockwise whenever they were on the move, thereby circling my palms forward and twisting the face of my irons. The wobbled habit reduced my club to a tool that slapped to the right instead of one that punched straight ahead. After I wiped a few streaks of sweat from my brow, I rummaged the range bucket for another ball, and rearranged my feet to try again. Suddenly I struggled with the memory of my last phone call with Naomi. She was scratching her way out of a sinking pit of obsessions and compulsions, and I somehow failed to supply sufficient relief. At that point, I still hadn't figured out what she could expect and— I noticed the ball needs to be more centered under my stance. Once the swing reaches the point of impact, the clubface should drag into the ground to carve a divot and make the most of the swing's acceleration. I might've been overthinking things. “Don't,” I imagined Eric saying. “It's not brain surgery. It's a natural, athletic motion. Loosen up,” I thought he would've added, churning my shoulders with a chuckle. It had been a long while since we spoke. He needed more room to adapt to the new year's shifting ground, and at the same time, I could not make myself any smaller of a piece for play. Ellen never did return my call from the other day. I was still waiting to hear back from Preston. Everyone was busy with doing all the nothing, I thought, and I pushed down a wrenching realization of it having been months since another person folded me into an embrace or since I felt a nudge after a good joke. I rolled my shoulders away from my ears, eased into my back swing, and struck the ball. There's a blend of a click and a rustle when the club hits square, and it should feel like it takes hardly any effort to peel the ball down its path. I wondered then whether or not I would be able to keep the dense space between myself and someone I cared for, should they become infected with coronavirus. The probability of such a dark hypothetical didn't seem comfortably low. I considered what it would be like to have a kaleidoscopic turn of governance; if one president and a few senators were swapped out for others would do the trick. Or, was it too late? Does the sky keep falling into a heap of frail developments, brittle pages of legislation, thin facades of movement? I stopped scooping shovelfuls of outcomes once I felt submerged in a grave. It was easier to concentrate on the angle of my wrist, the fluidity of my swing progression, the flight of the golf ball. That takes up hours of the mental labor I'm able to clock in on any given day. That's hours not spent watching footage of a single mom, escorting her children out of the apartment from which they were evicted. That's hours I avoided the pinched expressions of peaceful protestors dashing away from the heavily bundled officers throwing clouds of teargas and firing rows of rubber bullets. Before I started playing golf, I used to puzzle over how so many boyfriends dissolved on Sunday afternoons. “What'dyou talk about out there?” a leery spouse might ask, to which the golfer gives a rounded, perplexed expression. There's no pause for talking when the calculations of every stroke clutter the head. At most, while waiting for the group ahead to clear the green, there might be an exchange of cautious observations. A headline, proceeded by a cursory judgment, and once that's shared, you need to dig into your pocket for a new tee. “More cases sprouting in Texas? That's not good. No sirree. Not sure how the governor'll respond.—Yeah, you go on ahead and tee off.” Golf courses are littered with meandering bodies, clicking and thumping the tapping their balls into one hole, then another. They're there to duck for cover out in the open. When I enroll to join that sort of stupor, my world is free to crumble beneath my feet without hot worry, and without my even noticing, I'm free to drift away in a hollow place, to fade.
Do you ever get that feeling that you're never enough, no matter how hard you try? Do you ever get that feeling that no matter what you do or say it gets taken the wrong way? Do you ever get that feeling that you're not doing enough for you're children, significant other, or the significant people in your life? Well you're not the only one, and I'd like to help distract you from your feelings and sadness by sharing mine in hopes of helping you relate and better help yourselves in future feelings and situations. My one and only, my love, the only person I can see myself with. We met officially at Taco Bell, but I had previously seen/heard of him previously, like 2-3 years prior. I had started working at Taco Bell at the end of the summer in 2015, it was the beginning of my senior year, I was young just turned 17. Mason being 4 years older was roughly 21 at the time. At this point neither one of us were on each others radars. At the time Mason was with his second baby mom and had 2 children, both from different women. Me on the other hand as previously stated was a senior in high school, pretty sheltered, was a virgin till 3 months after my 20th birthday, never hung out with friends outside of school, had never drank, smoked, or “smoked” a day in my life. So you see our lives were two complete opposites. However we did have two things in common at that time, our jobs and our mental health. Ironically we were both working at Taco Bell at around the same time as each other, the first time I started working there. However we never ran into each other or had a shared conversation, never even heard a mention of him. I was a hormonal 17 year old who hadn't ever had any kind of interaction with guys other than being the only female virgin in a 20 mile radius. (A little over-exaggerated but honestly not by much.) Anyway, all I did literally was wake up, go to school, go to work, come home, and repeat. On my days off I had slowly started hanging out with my cousins who were a little more well known and extroverted than I was at the time. Eventually I had started to climb out of my shell and become my own person. The whole time this virginity thing weighing on me, because the people around me didn't have theirs, and they would tell me their stories of how it happened, with whom, and the repercussions of it all. It made me wonder about all the same questions for myself, how, who, when, and how would it effect me in the long run. Along with that I was worrying about life after high school, I knew in a way what I wanted, I always wanted to go to college after high school, but you see I never believed I could. By my last few months of school I was regretting my life from middle school to high school. Basically my whole academic life that mattered I threw away to spite my mother. (Now that I'm older I can admit that fact.) I'm a natural psychologist without the training, and that's what I wanted, in the back of my mind, that was always what I wanted. However, to many this will be an excuse, (to me as well a lot of the times). My mental health from a young age was always down and so angry. My mother, you know I love her I would never ask for another, but, there is always a but, (I expect it when my sons my age,) she left me scrambling. She is but isn't affectionate, and that doesn't make sense to me, my life, emotions, actions, and the like confuse me, but somehow others emotions don't. For example, I know why my mom is the way she is; it's her background, her parents, their parents. I know them, the times, the circumstances, the cause and effect. My great grandmother grew up sheltered and naive. She was the most caring, god fearing women there was. She married and had 5 children, her marriage was the common 50's misogynistic relationship around. She however did eventually end up leaving him, it broke her to do so but he was a drunk and she couldn't take it anymore; it's sad because they loved each other so much, unable to show it to the best of their abilities at times, but they truly did. She got Alzheimer's disease around the time I was born, she deteriorated and around the time I turned 5 she died, a month later he followed when he had at least a year left in him; but that still doesn't negate the effect the marriage had on them. All five of my great grandparents children has suffered from divorce, cheating, and oddly enough 2 kids a piece. All five of them has some sort of sordid twisted past that is honestly so hard to believe; and now it's making me start to wonder or question really, is it normal, is my family one in a million, or is it some sort of genetic code in our ancestry past down from generation to generation?
Fear and I are no strangers. Growing up with abusive parents and marrying an abusive man at the age of nineteen; you become accustomed to being afraid. Nightmares have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember; but the fear that grips me now is like none I have known before. I am a Christian, so I should not be afraid of dying. I should be happy that if I die, I will go to heaven, right? No. I am afraid. I am afraid because although my soul is ready, my mind and body are not. I am afraid of never seeing my children and grandchildren again. I am afraid of dying on this God forsaken island when there this so much I want to do. I am afraid to go back into the classroom because what if I get the coronavirus and give it to my students? The guilt would eat me alive! Physically, I have trouble sleeping. I can't fall asleep until at midnight or later and when I do, I have nightmares. I have chest pains. Heart conditions run in my family. I can't tell anyone. I don't want to burden them with my fears. I have little appetite. I have to force myself to eat something every day. I used to love food. I am an old-fashioned cook. I bake from scratch. Growing up all my kids' birthday cakes were homemade. Add to that, I am a stress baker. My daughter used to give me a hard time when she came home from school and caught me baking. She'd ask, “What's the matter, Mom?” Food was a big deal. I have often been told I needed to open my own restaurant or bakery. I almost did once. Now, the kitchen brings little solace. Emotionally it's like an alien has taken over my body. I have had some pretty traumatic things happen in my life; but I handled them with relative calm and that lack of a habit of panicking has gotten through them all. I take a deep breath. I tackle the most urgent thing first. I make a list of what I need to do or what I need and mark them off as I go. Over the years I have managed to show a brave front; but I can't anymore. I cry a lot. I am anxious going out in public. My heart races when I do. For five months, I have gotten out to go to the grocery store and that is all. I live on a tropical island and I can't even enjoy it. I am calm one minute and hysterical the next. I'm moody and volatile and it has caused serious strain on my relationship with my fiance. Who can blame him? It doesn't help that I am a redhead and have the trademark temperament. So, how afraid am I? Pretty damn afraid! I have begun to write my will. I have written my daughter a six-page “goodbye” letter. I have written my son a letter. I have always prayed, and I know I am saved; but now I pray every night the traditional children's prayer, just in case… Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray Dear Lord, my soul you take. God bless Quinton and Little Jack. God bless my daughter Christina and her husband Clifton. God bless my granddaughter's Zoey, Malia, and Alice. God bless my son, Monty. God bless Bree (my son's soon-to-be ex-wife), Alaynah, Kaden, and Alex. God bless all of my friends and family and loved ones. God, please watch over all of them and keep them safe from harm. Please God, put a hedge of protection around my family and don't let them die. In Jesus' name, Amen. There are times that fear chokes me and I am unable to get out of bed or do; but don't want to. I force myself to get up and face each day. Going through the motions of fixing my fiance's breakfast (he works nights). I force myself to walk our dog and do the laundry. I force myself to cook supper each night; and then I have to force myself to eat. I look out the window and long for the beauty of the island around me but am too terrified to go out and see it. I have always written a journal, but now I am writing four to six-page entries. I have gone through four ink pens in the last two weeks alone. I have days that all I can do is “depression sleep.” Even this rest is plagued with nightmares. I'm aging fast. Dark circles under my eyes and wrinkles appearing daily around my eyes, mouth, and hands. I am just 49 years old, but I look and feel sixty. With all of this, you would think that it was impossible to look forward at all. You would think that it is impossible to dream about tomorrow, next week, or next year. Even I am surprised that I can, that I have. My fiancé and I have a dream of buying a live-a-board sailboat and sailing around the world. Planning for this dream consumes our days and nights. We have made lists. We watch sailing videos. We talk and discuss what we need to do and what we need to buy. We've laid out all of the steps to follow and have it all worked out. Yet, all the while a shadow lingers behind the surface fueled by the fear that this dream will never come true. That one or both of us will die before it becomes a reality. A voice whispers in our minds, This will never happen. Why do you bother to dream at all? I answer back, “I don't know, but I do.”
I wonder if one can actually sense the beginning of his end. Death. Manifest to mankind yet veiled when it arrives. For three days my grandfather had complained of a tightness in his chest. The fourth day there were no complains. That night he passed away quietly in his sleep. I remember how he'd take my hand and place it on his chest, directly above his heart saying, “it's like someone's standing right here". The rhythmic beat would feel just fine. To this day I wonder what had made him go quiet the day before his demise. Had he known? Could he feel it? The soul slowly gliding out of his body leaving it stone cold or was he asleep all long? I wish he had known no fear. People say there are five stages of grief- denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally, acceptance. My grandmother had only known the fourth. The news had left her in tatters. She was torn from the inside. Every day she'd go visit grandfather's grave, shower it with rose petals and come back enveloped in a new layer of gloom. Talking to her only worsened her pain so we thought it would be better to just let her be. Time passed gradually. It is July 19th. My grandparents could've been celebrating their 56th anniversary just like they always did in the backyard with all twenty five of my cousins and their parents. We'd set up a long wooden table and decorate it with huge sunflowers that we plucked from Mrs.Faizan's garden who lived next door. She despised the action otherwise but allowed us just for the sake of her friend's anniversary. The women of the family would fill the table to its corners with delicacies brought from their homes. We'd sing songs and recall moments that would leave us laughing so hard that it felt our sides would split. The sun would leave us burnt by the end of the day but we couldn't care less for happiness would swallow every other feeling. I wonder if we will feel the same way we did back in those days. Someday, maybe. Today, replacing the table is the bed my grandparents once shared. My sister and I carefully bring out the mattress and set it over the wooden frame. Following it, we spread on the mattress the finest bed spread we own -blue Egyptian silk with yellow flowers marking the borders. I place two big pillows at an angle against the headboard. One of them has sunk inside due to excess use, the other one seems fine. Next, we place a comforter at the foot of the bed careful enough to straighten out every single wrinkle. The bed is placed in the exact middle of the backyard underneath the sky which resembles a canvas painted ink blue. Speckled throughout the blue eternity are innumerable stars. One of them is strangely big and bright. My grandmother swears it appeared the night her husband left her. I avert my gaze from the sky and look towards the door where my grandmother has just appeared. She looks small and fragile in her ankle length night gown which clings loosely to her bony frame. Her hair hangs in loose curls that are gently moving with the wind. Etched on her face is an expression unreadable. But I believe she's happy. That she has reached the final stage of grief. I walk towards her, grab hold of her arm, and lead her towards the bed. Carefully, she gets on top and lies down closing her eyes the instant her head hits the pillow. I notice her lips that have curled into a tiny smile. Out of the corner of her eye falls a small tear that surfs over her temple and gets absorbed into the cotton underneath. She sighs and rolls over. Tonight, on her 56th wedding anniversary, my grandmother wants to sleep under the brightest star.
Planted on the pedestrian bridge spanning the kayad road I look over the handrail at the traffic below, the road is barely visible under what seems like a flock of motorized starlings migrating to escape the harsh winter. Everyone gripping the steering wheel seems to put their frustration on display through their driving. The white lines on the road are almost faded; maybe they're just tired of pleading the people to stay in their lane. I avert my gaze from all the hustle and bustle and make my way towards the sidewalk where I lower my head and immediately start scanning the pavement looking for the signs of deterioration I'm familiar with. Counting the third tile from the left of the parking payment machine, I notice the oddly shaped crack my friend and i have always argued about. I am quite sure it looks like an eye with its inner corner turned abnormally inwards but my friend believes it resembles a sparrow. I smile at the idea for she has always been a nature freak but the corners of my mouth twitch unconsciously as I do so. I heave a sigh and continue walking. I realize I am running late but this revelation doesn't stop me from lingering. As I turn a corner an easterly wind brings along the savory aroma of all the street food present. I feel a vague sense of familiarity, some fragments of a happy memory flicker before my eyes but they disappear before I can get a hold of them. I haven't even taken a few steps ahead when I spot a child ,not older than 5, who is playing with a ball and is eating a samosa simultaneously. He's certainly not good at multitasking for he accidentally throws the samosa in the air instead of the ball. The samosa falls to the ground and the child looks at me as if asking if he should pick it up and eat it but my eyes remain fixated at the samosa that has fallen. It's as if a closed door in my brain has opened, I drift off to a memory of me and my friend; it is 2015. The monsoon season .The only shelter my friend and I have from the downpour is a thin jacket that is draped over our heads. The rain seems to have dampened everything but our moods. Mr. Khalid, our van driver has just called telling us he'll be late, for his van broke down but this hasn't seemed to bother either of us, on the contrary we are delighted! As if on cue we spot a samosa stall and exchange knowing looks. Without a warning both of us sprint, splashing the water that has- like always- failed to drain, buy samosas, and then come back to our spot laughing ourselves hoarse, drenched in rain from head to toe. Someone's angry muttering brings me back to the present; I had been blocking the way. I look around for the child but he's nowhere to be seen, I'm glad the samosa is still there. I clutch the string of my bag even more tightly and continue walking. The grey concrete building has now come into my view. Instinctively, I reach out for the page in my bag and scan the words I had written with so much care. This will never be enough, I think to myself. I hold onto the parchment as if my life depends on it and resume walking. Someone hands me a brochure and just when I'm about to throw it away (like always) a familiar face catches my attention. I can't seem to remember who the person is but the flashy heading that reads "Rina's bakistry” instantly tells me about the person. I take a mental note to pay her a visit after a few days or maybe weeks, I don't know. My friend had always been Miss Rina's favorite, she was so fond of children and the fact that she didn't have her own glued the two of them together. She used to bake muffins for her every weekend and they used to joke about how Miss Rina would one day start a franchise. I really want to tell my friend that this is finally happening. I can't wait. My watch says its 3:15, I should hurry. My walk turns into a jog and in a matter of seconds I'm running like a crazy person. I run for all I am worth and alongside me -so it seems- runs the 5 year old I had once been, coming home from school. The echo of the smaller footsteps sounds haunting because the sprint of a 5 year old is triggered by happiness and glee whereas.... I stop in front of the grey building; the stitches on my sides prevent me from standing straight. I wait with my hands on my knees till my breathing eases. I crumple the paper that I had been reading and editing since yesterday and throw it into the sewer. I watch as the words dissolve into nothingness and the ink fades. Deciding I'll speak from my heart for the eulogy; I brace myself to say a final goodbye to my beloved friend.
Dear Reader of the Future: I haven't the slightest idea about what world you live in as you read these words. I don't know if you know the name of the device I typed this letter on (it's a computer). I don't even know if you'd know what to do with a keyboard. What I do know, though, is that if your world is any different than mine, the 2020 coronavirus pandemic most likely had a lot to do with it. It's a strange feeling to live in a time in which the failings of the global commercial society are so glaringly obvious. In my short seventeen years on this planet, I've learned that the American love language is crisp and green (and I'm not talking about summer leaves). Everything, even our very reality, is augmented to ensure the maximum - maximum emotion, maximum entertainment, maximum workload - all so a glorious few can reap the maximum profit. But the virus has brought this exploitative orgy to a grinding halt, or at least exposed how under-stimulated it leaves the vast majority. Of course, people are still trying to keep the gears turning. Despite the fact that there are almost 3.53 million confirmed cases in the US as of today (compared to almost 14 million worldwide), many are holding tight to the dirt-faced American pastime of hard work. This is understandable. In this country, those who don't work don't eat (unless someone in their family worked a long time ago and made enough for their descendants to eat forever). We've been inundated in this ideology since birth. But the fact remains that, more often than not, it doesn't pay off. Many people work all their lives and still never make enough to enjoy life. Now that those same people are either unemployed or essential workers who risk their lives (but aren't important enough to receive livable wages), I feel that this country - this world - is on the precipice of an awakening, the likes of which I'm not sure will end much better than that of the heroine in Kate Chopin's famed novella. The fact of the matter is this: our economic system has not been constructed to ensure the wellness of the whole population. The implications of coronavirus have made this more evident. Hundreds of homeless sleep on the streets instead of in empty houses, which increases the risk of transmission. Health care is so expensive that many people are unable to even get tested, let alone receive treatment. And the presidential election primaries chug along even in areas without a vote-by-mail option, exacerbating the already egregious issue of voter suppression. In the sullen city of Augusta and the even quieter suburb of Evans, students like myself are tasked with completing coursework online, which carries difficulties for working parents of young children. Of course I am not expecting a ruddy-faced Lenin to swoop in and rally the proletariat at the doors of the White House, but this has to be a wake-up call that our way of life is unsustainable for the masses. I hope that this will prompt a flurry of revolutionary fervor in people from all walks of life to seriously examine their circumstances and try to take action. I know that I am in a relatively privileged situation right now. I wake anytime before noon and pad around the house all day in a cotton-candy pink robe and fuzzy socks, completing online assignments in between episodes of whatever's good on Netflix (Mad Men now, Kim's Convenience a few days ago, Community before that). My most dire ailment is loneliness. Of course I fear for my mother, who is a doctor and on the wrong side of sixty. She comes home every day, peels her mask off, and speaks to me from across the room for the silent fear that she might have brought the virus home with her. But others are not so fortunate. Many have lost friends, family, income, and homes. There are scientific rumors now that this is only the first round in half a decade's worth of “quarantine” periods until doctors find a cure. This is only slightly less alarming than the prediction that COVID-19 marks a coming trend of pandemics that, due to environmental change and population growth, will alarm more people than only those in the global south (Ebola, which has taken thousands of lives in Africa, was a joke to pink-skinned kids in my fifth grade class, although I suppose everything was). Reader, I'm sure you know by now if these predictions came true. I pray that they don't. I hope that this account has been enlightening. I hope that you aren't reading this and shaking your head at my naivety. I hope that some semblance of the world I live in still exists, if only the language I wrote this letter in. What a trivial death my generation would have if no one could read the words on our gravestone. Sincerely, Elizabeth Fulton
Okay, what time is it? Well, it's already few more minutes before 2 AM. Really, why am I awake? I sighed with my question 'cause even myself couldn't understand why I was awaken in the middle of my deep slumber. Whenever I had to wake up unknowingly, I take it as my cue to read novels or just scroll over my Facebook feed but right now is different, as I just found myself writing this piece with unsure topic. “I don't think someone else would read this”—I silently blurted to myself. Okay, whatever. I just have to write down all these stuffs running through my head for I feel like going crazy knowing I had no one to talk to right now. *sighs* First, cases of CoVid-19 continue to rise in our country especially in our region. Second, the newly-signed law that made everyone shut their mouths but with disappointment written all over their faces. Seriously, I don't know what's worst now. I don't know who's the real enemy in this battlefield. Is it the villain we couldn't see? or is the government that instead of hearing our pleas and cries had to permanently silenced us now. My head is spinning. I couldn't help not to be sorry for my fellow countrymen who never had idea about what's really going on. I couldn't even help myself just to remain unheard knowing not everyone has the voice to speak out. I wrote this not to go against with my government. I wrote this for my people. I know, it's been a while since I took writing seriously but right time won't come unless I make it. Now, it's already 2 o'clock and I'm also done writing but my mother suddenly crossed my mind, I can't help not say this myself... “How are you there in abroad, Mama? I hope you feel fine.”
The book was nondescript, plain. Surprising, considering my late mother was anything but. Everyone remembers her as that social butterfly, the beautiful cheerleader, lighting up every room that she inhabited. But, this diary was from way back in 1979, when my mom was still growing into her gangly limbs and discovering her interest in boys for the very first time. My mom passed away when I was only five years old; I jumped at the chance to learn more about the woman who lived in only blurry memories. I understood how historians must feel to find old papyrus documents written over three thousand years ago. So, I opened to the first page, studying every single detail. I don't know what I was expecting. Something serious, maybe? Oh, but I was wrong. So wonderfully wrong. My mom's diary was full of unintentional humor. You know how I mentioned her interest in boys? Oh, there was so much interest. Nearly every entry was about the 'dud' (dude) she had seen at church that day, how they would get married one day. The next day, she would find another boy she thought was cute and discard the other one. There were occasions where she would talk about a purse that she wanted, oh, so desperately and how her mom wouldn't let her buy it. "Sure, I already have five other ones, but I need THAT one specifically." There's so much more that I want to mention, but have to leave out for brevity. Of course, there was an undercurrent of insecurity in her writing also. She mentioned how she was made fun of for her gangly limbs, her lanky body. She felt unattractive. And, you know, that really hit hard. To think that she would later become the social butterfly... I wondered if these early insecurities caused her to change herself in any way. I could really identify with that. I've always felt that kind of thing, as I'm sure others do. But, I think that has helped me become a little closer to her. I've never been super 'popular' or good at being traditionally feminine, but at least my mom and I can understand each other in some way.