Category Archives: Prose

Portrait of a Mother

I am not perfect, but I believe my child is.

I will never tire of watching him try new things.

I simply cannot believe my eyes when he does something on his own that he has never been shown how to do by me.

My heart races from frustration to longing to rage to utter and complete satisfaction, pride, and boundless love in seconds. Most days are a long battle between them.

Fear can creep slowly like a tickle in my throat that turns into the plague or it can spark and spread like wildfire in a millisecond.

My child’s grin can make every other being and object of matter in the universe disappear.

His laughter rings in my ears like the most harmonious bell.

Watching him play and learn and laughing with his father brings tears to my eyes.

Watching him adore my parents and grandparents and brother and sister is the epitome of joy.

Keeping calm while a seemingly drunk tiny psychopath screams irrationally at me for the eighth time in a day is the most difficult task I have ever been appointed to.

Trying to rationalize with a toddler is absolutely pointless, but I do it to make myself feel better when I resort to distraction and bribery.

Crying to other moms is sometimes the only solution.

Screaming at the father of my child is often both entirely irrational and necessary.

Poop is not taboo here. There is poop everywhere, all the time.

There is literally no TMI left.

Wanting to go out and rage and make bad decisions is a fleeting thought after his bedtime between a shower and PJs.

Coffee is only there for the placebo affect by now, but I will curse anyone who tries to take it away.

Sleeping in past 7am is ecstasy.

Someone else cleaning my house is a luxury sent from heaven above.

Snacks and naps make for happy children, damn anyone who intentionally gets in the way of either.

I do sometimes loathe my life and this tiny perfect human that I created.

I have never known love like this, and it makes me better all the time.

I am raising a human that I grew and birthed, for nothing, by choice, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Ask. Seek. Desire. Expand. Move. Feel. Be.

There she is. . .
The one who loves too hard, feels too deeply, asks too often, desires too much.
There she is taking up too much space, with her laughter, her curves, her honesty.
Her presence is as tall as a tree, as wide as a mountain. Her energy occupies every crevice of the room.
There she is causing a ruckus with her persistent wanting. She desires too much happiness, too much alone time, too much pleasure. She’ll go through brimstone, murky river, and hellfire to get it. She’ll risk all to quell the longings of her heart and body. This makes her dangerous.
She is dangerous.
And there she goes, making people think too much, feel too much, swoon too much. She with her authentic prose and a self-assuredness in the way she carries herself. She with her belly laughs and her insatiable appetite and her proneness to fiery passion.
Too loud, too vibrant, too honest, too emotional, too smart, too intense, too pretty, too difficult, too sensitive, too wild, too intimidating, too successful, too fat, too strong, too political, too joyous, too needy—too much.
She should simmer down a bit, be taken down a couple notches.
Someone should put her in her place.
Here I am. . . with my too-tender heart and my too-much emotions.
A hedonist, feminist, pleasure seeker, empath.
I want a lot—justice, sincerity, intimacy, actualization, respect, to be seen, to be understood, your undivided attention, and all of your promises to be kept.
I’ve been called high maintenance because I want what I want, and intimidating because of the space I occupy. I’ve been called selfish because I am self-loving. I’ve been called a witch because I know how to heal.
And still, I want and I feel and I ask and I risk and I take the air that fills my lungs.
I must.
We are so afraid, terrified of her big presence, of the way she commands respect and wields the truth. We shame her for her wanting, for her passion.
And still. . . she thrives.
She is me, she is you, and she is loving that she’s finally, finally getting some airtime.
If you’ve ever been called “too much,” or “too emotional,” or “bitchy,” or “stuck up,”. . . I implore you to embrace all that you are—all of your depth, all of your vastness; to not hold yourself in, and to never abandon yourself, your bigness, your radiance.
Forget everything you’ve heard—your too much-ness is a gift; oh yes, one that can heal, incite, liberate, and cut straight to the heart of things.
Do not be afraid of this gift, and let no one shy you away from it. Your too much-ness is magic, is medicine. It can change the world.
Ask. Seek. Desire. Expand. Move. Feel. Be.
Make your waves, fan your flames, give us chills.
Please, rise.
We need you.
**** this is an edited version of author Ev’Yan Whitney’s work. I took the liberty of my own emphases, like she told me too. Thank you, Ms. Whitney, and right back at you.

A Second Chance

Jamal slammed his car door shut. He looked down through the tinted window at the resume sitting on the seat and shook his head. He kicked his tire and regretted it as he walked heavily up the stairs to his apartment, the pounding in his head now matched by the throbbing in his toe.

He stopped at the front door to compose himself. “Tomorrow will be better,” he thought, but the bitterness lingered. He put the key into the lock and tried once again to shake the resentment that had followed him out of the interview and all the way home.

“Hi, daddy!” Dee ran to meet him at the door. The four-year-old ball of joy threw herself into his arms.

“Hi, sugar!” he said scooping her up and kissing his little girl all the way into the kitchen. “Hi, baby.” He set Dee down and wrapped his arms around his wife. She smiled warmly.

“Did you have a good day?” Cassie asked leaning into him. She had one hand flat on his lapel, the other on the stove, both of her eyes right on his, their daughter danced at their feet.

“Yeah,” he said breezily, his eyes communicating that he didn’t get the job, hers saying she was sorry. He sat down at the kitchen table and Dee climbed onto his knee. “So how was your day?” he asked, smiling into his daughter’s eyes.

“I unna get a baby,” she said proudly.

“You’re going to get a what?”

“I unna get a baby!” she said loudly. She jumped off his knee and ran back into her room to play with her dolls.

“That girl she adores at school, Sandra, her mom is pregnant. They’re all excited about the new baby.” She leaned on the doorframe of the small kitchen watching him. He took off his tie.

“I was so qualified,” he started. He unbuttoned his top two buttons, then rested his hands on his knees and let his head fall. “Cassie, the guy looked at me like I was a day laborer,” he said meeting her eyes.

“I’m so sorry,” she said somberly, “you can’t let people like that get you down.”

“I know,” he said rising to set the table, “Where’s Chris?”

“He went out,” she said turning back to the kitchen.

“He’s barely ever here,” he said taking plates out of the cabinet, “and I don’t like those friends of his. Every time I try to talk to him he gets attitude and tells me I’m not his father.”

“You’re not,” she said taking the chicken out of the oven and bumping into the silverware drawer he had left open. She closed it with her hip. “You are his big brother. Chris loves you. He just wants your respect.”

“Yeah and he’d get it if he did something respectable. Have you seen the size of the T-shirts he wears lately? They could fit Biggie Smalls.” She laughed. “I’ll try to talk to him tonight,” he said putting the broccoli on the table. “More like a big brother,” he mocked.

“He’s just a kid,” she said, “he’s mad at the world right now because it took his parents. You are all he has, be good to him.”

“Do you ever get tired of being right?” He asked. She shook her head smiling. He kissed her holding her face in his hands.

“Dee Dee,” he called, smiling. “Come to dinner.”

 

*          *          *

 

“The cluuuub went crazyyyy,” Jackie sang loudly, “the way she shake that ass sho’ amaze me. Come on,” she said laughing, pulling Tasha onto the dance floor.

The music in the club was loud, the dance floor packed. The two ladies wound their hips, tossed their hair, and shook their asses for that song and many to follow. Jackie fanned herself dramatically and mouthed, “So hot.” They were sweating profusely. Jackie stepped up to the bar and made eyes at a boy and then turned to Tasha embarrassed, smiling widely. Tasha looked around the bar for a man worth making eyes at.

It had been some time since either of the two friends had gone out. Tasha had left her job just two weeks before, after being hired at a significantly better firm. She felt like she had just ended a long possessive relationship. She had been looking forward to going out since Jackie called her earlier that week. On Monday, Jackie had finally gotten the promotion that she had been promised practically two years earlier. She left her son with his grandma for the night in order to celebrate.

Six years ago Jackie and Tasha were just two freshmen at community college who had both signed up for a black appreciation class. They left class together that first day laughing about the red-eyed Rasta’s, the Malcolm X’s in training, and the granola eating white kids that made up the class. They were both ambitious, level headed, and intelligent, and had been close friends ever since. Jackie was there to remind Tasha of her dreams as she worked her way through law school at night, while slaving away for an unappreciative lawyer by day. Tasha had been there for Jackie while she worked and went to school all the way through her pregnancy, and then more than ever when Jackie found the nerve to take her baby and leave his no-good father. They were both finally happy with their lives. Tonight they celebrated that.

“Cheers,” Tasha said holding up her martini, “to us.”

“To us!” Jackie grinned tapping her glass.

The two friends laughed and drank and danced some more. Eventually the exhaustion set in and they decided to go. They stepped out of the club giggling into the cold and stumbled across the sidewalk to catch a cab.

Tasha saw a group of guys coming up fast on her right. She saw a black 9mm and time stopped. The street was eerily quiet. She could hear her heart pounding in her chest. There were no puffs of breath in the darkness before her. She saw Jackie’s frightened eyes and pulled her to the ground. Another gang crossed the street towards them. She saw their hardened faces, the one in front yelling and waving his piece in the air. Lights blurred, the noise came back loudly and abruptly, and reality settled gravely over her.

Tasha squeezing Jackie’s hand dragging her backwards across the freezing sidewalk until they were flat against the building behind them. They held each other as if it meant they could hold onto their lives. The reckless teenagers pulled guns as if they were playing with toys. “This is real,” Tasha thought, “this is life or death.” She could not believe the wasted youth displayed in front of her. Her mouth was dry but she wanted to scream. She had never felt so alive, or so powerless. Jackie’s eyes were squeezed shut, her mouth was moving, and Tasha knew she was praying.

Tasha’s eyes were wide open. She stared at the kid in front. Suddenly everything slowed down again as he looked right at her. His eyes met hers and silence surrounded her. His face changed. He looked soft. She knew he didn’t want to be there. She saw him look down at Jackie and then back up into her pleading eyes. She wanted to grab him and shake him, push him against the wall and throw his gun in the gutter. She tried to hold onto his eyes for as long as she could but she could feel time speeding up again. The silence broke.

A shot was fired and sirens cried out. Jackie shrieked, the sirens screamed louder, and Tasha threw her hands over Jackie’s head pulling it down and covered her own head with her arms. When she felt safe enough, she peeked over her arms. The hoodlums had scattered. She took her hands off her friend’s head slowly.

Both women stared wide-eyed at the body left lying in the street. The cops were taping off the area and the crowd had shifted from ducking on the floor to standing on the curb. The people watched solemnly mumbling the words “wasteful” and “useless.” Tasha wondered when things had gone so incredibly wrong.

Jackie collapsed into her lap, tears streaming down her face. Her mouth was open in a wide cry but there was no sound coming out. Tasha rubbed her back staring forward blankly. She couldn’t shake the image of the gun or the boy’s sorrowful eyes. Her breath was short, and difficult. She had been laughing innocently one second and impending death the next. Her freedom had been taken from her so invasively, momentarily. She was appalled at the display of wasted life. The women sat curled around each other on the dirty sidewalk in the winter moonlight, their lives shining in a startling new light.

 

*          *          *

 

Chris’s hands shook as he unlocked the door. His heart beat down into his gut, banging against the iron drum sitting in his stomach. He opened the door and his brother stood staring at him. He thought he might be sick.

“What’s wrong?” Jamal asked, fearing the answer.

“Nothing,” he said automatically.

Chris looked down at the carpet wondering how he had let it get this far. He couldn’t shake the sight of that woman’s eyes. He never wanted to hurt anyone. He wanted to go to college. She looked at him begging to be spared. She feared for her life.

“I can’t do it anymore,” he said and with the words a tear let loose down his dark cheek.

“Do what?” Jamal asked putting his arm around him and guiding him to the couch. Chris’s thoughts swirled and a lump blocked words from coming out of his mouth. He met his brother’s eyes, tears now rolling down Chris’s cheeks.

He pulled a gun out of his pants and took out the clip, his hands shaking so badly that it rattled against the table as he put it down. Jamal couldn’t believe his eyes. Cassie and Dee flew through his mind and in that instant he considered throwing his little orphaned brother out on the street.

“Chris,” he said quietly, “what did you do?”

“I don’t know,” Chris said sobbing into his hands. Jamal took a deep breath and exhaled trying to focus on anything except the Glock sitting on his coffee table. “I don’t want to die.” Chris said looking up into his brother’s scared eyes, “I want to live. I want to make you proud, to make Dad proud.”

“Chris,” Jamal said gripping his little brother’s shoulder harshly, “who gave you that?” Chris stared blankly. “Do the people who gave you that know where you live?” He shook his head no, sniffing and wiping his face on his undershirt. “OK, listen to me. I know they aren’t going to like you walking away, but you have to. You’ll get your ass kicked pretty bad.” He said still gripping his shoulder, but compassionately. “Have you seen anyone else walk away?” Chris nodded. “Did he live?” He nodded again. “Ok, then, it will be ok.”

Jamal sighed. He took his hand off Chris’s shoulder and placed his clenched fists in his lap. He wanted to throw him through the wall for bringing a gun into his home. He fought the urge to lay his brother out right there.

“I’ll walk away,” Chris said plainly.

“How could you do this?!” Jamal asked standing. He shouted quietly through clenched teeth. “You think I’m out there busting my ass, like generations of people before you, fighting for our rights as human beings, so that you can act like some ignorant fool running around like guns don’t kill people?” A vein was popping out of his forehead and his eyes were looking down hatefully at his little brother, “You think Dad got the shit kicked out of him by cops fighting for your freedom so you could hand it back to them?” Chris shook his head. “You think having that makes you free?!” Jamal asked pointing at the gun with intensity.

“No,” he said softly.

“By picking up that gun you’re throwing away your rights. You are throwing away your life. Do you want to be a statistic? You want to be the next black kid killed by a white cop? Do you want to rot away in prison!?” Jamal took a breath and lowered his voice. “Do you want to be the reason that people in the United States Senate think black abortions will reduce crime?”

“No,” he said standing, “Give me a second chance. I want to make a difference. I want to make things better.”

Jamal grabbed his brother and pulled him close. He wrapped his arms around him and breathed heavily into his shoulder.

“You know the thing about second chances,” Jamal said holding each side of his brothers face, his voice raw emotion, “you only get one.”

It was a cold clear night. The radiator smelled of burnt dust. The moon was almost full, and it shone down on them through slits in the blinds. Jamal’s eyes were closed. He held his brother tightly. Chris sobbed into his brother’s shoulder. He couldn’t shake the image of the brother left lying in the street, and how he would never get a second chance.

 

Writer’s note

I wrote this story in 2007 for a Black History Month Contest at Broward College. I won, and when I showed up to receive the award, they were shocked that I was white. They hadn’t meant to pick a white person. But I hadn’t ever meant to be white. The thing about race is, no one gets to choose. We are each just people, hopefully trying to do the best with what we’ve got, maybe we get lucky, maybe we don’t. We’re all human.

I dug up this story, because I am so shocked at the behavior of Donald and of his supporters and so many American people that I know and love. I have not been able to word an essay that doesn’t make me hateful as well, and that is not what I want. This story is an appeal. Black lives matter. Women’s pussys matter. Make your vote count.

loving change, for a change

we say we don’t have seasons in miami, but we do. they are slight and they are lovely, and yesterday was our first fall day. the beach was windy and almost too cool, if not for the eager sunshine. lying on a thin blanket, my face hidden from stray drops of sea flying off the white caps through the wind, my toes hanging off the edge of the blanket digging happily in the warm, sun-baked sand, my soul reaching through the blanket and into the earth, thankful, for once, for change.
it is the best kind of beach day. it is the most serious we get around here. the reggaeton is drowned out by the waves pounding the sand and the party people picnic without overhearing. the change in the air is tangible. facing the roaring atlantic on a day like that with your eyes on the edge of the earth, and your body warmed by it, you feel grounded. it was a refreshing, glorious day that i was happy to spend with my dear friends, equally in need of a recharge. 

happy fall everyone. may the cool air warm your soul. 

Chapter 63

The greatest man I have ever known raised me to be a dreamer. He taught me to ask not what my country could do for me, but to strive to do good for all mankind, including questioning authority, indignity, and every day bullies. He showed me the power of my voice and the sanctity of silence. He instilled in me the toughness I would need for life’s many trials, and made certain I would be present and feel all the feels. He let me see him cry when tears were all he could muster. He dances when the music moves him, without a shred of thought to whether anyone is watching. He raised me to know my own strength and to nurture it, but to understand that love is a better weapon against any enemy. He taught me to sing when I’m scared, because the sharks can smell fear. I still whistle a happy tune so no one will suspect I’m afraid, and I still run to him. I’m lucky enough to have had my dad in my corner every step of the way. He is a champion of the underdog, a true humanitarian. He uses the force. He believes that good will always defeat evil, and I believe him. If that was the one gift he had given me, that would have been enough, but my life has been showered with his wisdoms and those of so many righteous wordsmiths before him. Today, I celebrate his birth with a magnitude of respect, gratitude, love and light. Shine on you crazy diamond, here’s to Chapter 63.

A Café in Paris

She sat staring at the cars driving by on the busy thoroughfare in front of the café, diagnosing what makes pretty people so mean. She’d been a hostess at the theater’s café for the 52 days since it had been open, and she could write a thesis on all the theater-going Miamians that she had come to encounter. It was a complicated trifecta of events: 1. a limited number of seats serving cooked-to-order food, 2. a fixed theater time to which no one could be late, and 3. no reservations. During the blissful moments when she sat outside and enjoyed her cappuccino each night after the show started, she outlined the thesis in her head.

Part One: Bling

The more the bling the meaner the women. This is especially true the older they are or the prettier.
A pretty young woman with more diamonds than fat content is likely to tell you how bad you are at your job, how horrible the establishment – that she’s been in for about 45 seconds – is run, and how dumb you specifically are. Make her wait for some avocado toast and a glass of malbec and you’d better steer clear, she’s looking to take people down hard and dirty.

Next, are the over-seventies. The men are quiet and polite most of the time. They look at you with the sad eyes carrying a lifetime of resignation. Those eyes paired with a blinged-out bluehair, that’s a code red. Abort. Once you engage, it’s going to be a lengthy, degrading conversation that will make you want to walk into on-coming traffic.

Part Two: Bachelors

This is a grey area. You might get a nice guy who will happily settle for drinks at the bar. You might get a quiet type who evaluates the scene on his own and politely smiles as he leaves. More often than not though, they will be unable to understand why you can’t pull a table out of your back pocket for them, or a burger, or a Ferrari. The entitlement is startlingly limitless.

Part Three: Stragglers

These people knowingly show up 15-30 minutes before the show, appalled that you don’t have something they can “grab.” When handed a glass of water, one straggler once said, “Well, fit it up all the way at least, I’m thirsty for crying out loud.” Because clearly, her thirst and untimeliness, are your fault, so just be gracious, this is America.

Part four, she thinks, relishing the last sip of her cappuccino, wherein I move to Paris and am perfectly, carelessly rude right back.

It was but a dream

I see me. In a little black dress. I’m walking. I reach the side of the pool and I don’t hesitate to dive in.

All sorts of people are swimming in black-tie apparel. Everyone is under the water. Twirling and swirling like dancers on a ballroom floor. There doesn’t seem to be any reason to breathe. I swim past them to the deepest part of the deep end.

I wait for him. Breathless.

A Book Review: The Goldfinch

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It’s not easy being a human, flawed and insatiable as we are. Even when we know an action will cause our own detriment, we continue to pursue or perform such activity, time and time again. Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. This is the human condition: the thin line of insanity that we walk, hoping for change, or hoping for the same, but mostly just insane for hoping. Yet hope is what makes us most human. Hope brings us closer to one another, perhaps hope tears some of us apart, but hope is what makes the insane person, and hope is why we create art.

In The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt draws upon every fallible bit of humanity, letting us explore through a collection of characters as real as the insanity they portray, exactly what it is to be human. Taking place in Amsterdam, Park Avenue, Las Vegas and the Village, the plot follows a Renaissance painting of a little goldfinch with a chain around it’s ankle. We are pulled through this seamlessly written novel by our earlobe, knowing full well that it is simply the human condition which carries Theo along. He grows into a man through the pages, while we stay hopeful that he might just do it differently this time. It is the set of characters that Theo meets along the way, however, which have me calling this my favorite book of 2014. Boris, the Russian, and Hobie, the antique furniture connoisseur/repair man, are equally alluring in their juxtaposition of darkness and light. Why Theo treats each of them the way that he does, defines the agony that it is to be human.

Ms. Tartt has created a place that I long to visit, the way that I long to tell the me of a decade ago how to make better choices. There is no visiting Theo in Park Avenue as he mourns the death of his mother though, just as there is no way to revisit the me of the past. It is the cross we bear, the knowledge that the choice may come again, along with the wonder of whether we’ll have the strength to decide not to cross the line of insanity this time, or whether to leap right across it – again.

I recommend you read this book, because it is a shot of life. Strong and hard to swallow, but there is a sweet aftertaste and I do think you’ll feel better afterwards. As Tartt so aptly puts it, “Whatever teaches us to talk to ourselves is important: whatever teaches us to sing ourselves out of despair.” We are a tragic lot, us humans, but there is always hope.

Straight Through the Sunset

We got in his old pick-up truck and he started the ignition. The vinyl seat was like ice beneath me, but he had lit something within me. Jack was rugged and charming, he had the swagger of an athlete from birth, and that voice, like the trucks engine, making me both nervous and excited.
He wasn’t driving away and I followed his gaze to a delivery truck on my right. It was open, unmanned, and full of beer. I raised my eyebrows daring him to say what was on his mind, but before words intruded he was out and running. I had never seen someone act so impulsively, simply crack the mold of good behavior like the thin bits of ice on the pavement beneath his boots. I had spent my high school career visualizing myself raising raucous disturbances, but was always brought out of them by a sympathetic teacher wondering if I needed a pass to the restroom or to the nurse. I never needed a pass, what I needed was a radical.
Jack’s face was bold and excited, almost terrified but completely cool as he hustled back to his truck with a twelve-pack of imports tucked under his arm. He stepped on the gas and I laughed. I inherited the laugh from my mother. As a child I’d watch it rip into the room and turn every head, scared certain that I could never live up to it. It just made Jack drive straight through the sunset pulling out all the stars.

Singleminded Aunt Ida

The sister stands to the side, she sighs. Four weeks to the day since her divorce was final. Six months since she walked out the door. Her sister’s engagement doesn’t make her miss her ex-husband, not a thing could induce such emotions, but it does make her feel her aloneness.

There is a thing in this culture, a big stark white elephant in the room or the park or the engagement party, about a woman alone. She doesn’t have a date, so something must be wrong with her. Is she a lesbian? The relatives begin to ask. The complicated affairs which ended her marriage are too convoluted to share with Aunt Ida, so she asks her nephew if his daughter is of another persuasion. Because how could a pretty, smart, seemingly sane girl, be alone? She feels, and the rest of the party would be lying if they disagreed, that there is something wrong with her.

A single man is a bachelor. He’s playing the field, taking his time, finding the right choice. A single woman is waiting, idle while the universe decides when the right man should come along. As if she has nothing to do with the matter when it’s right, however, everything to do with it when it’s wrong. Some wrong choice that she made, or series of choices, that left her flawed, flippant, or scorned.

She sighs again and finishes her champagne. Fuck you Aunt Ida, she thinks, walking away. Nothing is wrong with me. Nothing is wrong with alone.

Like A Hero

Have you ever wanted to punch someone? Not in that – the person talking too loudly on their cell phone next to you in an otherwise quiet, slow moving-line deserves a quick back hand to the mouth – kind of way. I mean, for reasons that are clearly written in the code of human decency, someone is asking to get knocked around. A guy, for example, has pushed his way into a group of girls, and you actually feel it would be a disservice to the world and all of the humanity resting upon it if this person is allowed to say even one more syllable.

By now, your hand is twitching and while you’ve been keeping it still with a glass of bourbon, it’s down to just rocks and they’re giving away your frustration. Your girlfriend gives you a sideways glance and you’re pretty certain she’s surprised that you’ve let this Heineken-fueled tool stay on his feet for as long as you have. He has been asked politely to leave by two of the girls in the group, and the poor dear with his unwanted arm draped over her shoulder has become a slouched shadow. The third attempt is about to get loud. So, you put the glass down.

“Do me a favor, guy,” I say, and yeah I probably have my hand in his face by then, just so he knows his last chance had passed. “Listen to the ladies, and walk the fuck away.”

Next thing I know, I’m outside looking in. The room is no longer a space occupied by people, it is the being. Drinks float out of their glasses and into the air at a rate that appears to defy the natural laws of gravitation pull. Everyone jumps up at once but none of that is any concern to me because this puffed up short-guy actually chest pumped me and now all I want, with a raw, aching desire, is to be sure that my fist meets his face with the proper torque and accuracy.

The manager’s voice is somewhere in the background shouting orders at waiters who take light-years to appear and when they do, they act with no more strength than that of children. A table is knocked over and wood cracks and splits. The fluidity of the room moves people around like waves crashing.

I can hear my name coming from someone very, very far away. The only thought I process is that someone is holding my right hand back and if I want to swing on this guy it’s going to be a left cross. But in order to do that, I’d have to release the grip that I have on his neck, which is the only solid thing left in the room at that exact time. I finally shake my hand free and land a punch, right around the time the five waiters seem to restrain the flailing fool.

I walk away. I go through a door and down some stairs and find myself at another bar. My hand isn’t twitching anymore, which I only really notice because of the throbbing emitting from it. I move my jaw from side to side and discern I didn’t take any hits. I clench and unclench my fist and determine that the torque, velocity and force were all accurate. My left hand still has a lingering feeling of holding on to something far too tightly.

I ask for a glass of water. My girlfriend is walking towards me trying to suppress a smile, something that she is lousy at. I am certain that if I had a similar disposition, the talk of the bar upstairs wouldn’t be about the douchebag who was asking for it, but the maniac who was just plain giddy to hit someone. I keep that thought, and all the rest, to myself. And for a while, I’m their hero.

At Last

Sam walked down the long green entryway to her grandmother’s door gazing at the new orchids blooming in the courtyard. Her eyes wandered up into the mango tree and she wondered when the fruit would start to weigh heavy on the branches. The year before they had come in April, unseasonably early, almost two months before they should have. Global warming, Sam thought. The flavor of fresh off the tree mangos danced in her head teasing her tongue. She regretted skipping dinner the night before.

When she reached the front door Sam took a moment to straighten out her shirt and smooth down her dirty hair. She could smell that her grandmother had a fresh coat of paint put on the house since she had been there the week before and remembered hearing something about how old Rose’s handyman was getting.

A woman’s voice drifted smoothly through the afternoon heat when Sam opened the door, “At laaaast, my lo-o-o-ove has come along.” Sam smiled at the sound of her old friend Etta James.

Sam looked toward her grandfather’s office. It was empty. Hi, Grandpa, she thought, her eyes lingering on his study, I miss you. He had always played jazz while he worked. Colonel Sommerset had retired from the military years before, but never actually stopped working a day in his life. Everyone in Sam’s family had their addictions, at least his was profitable.

Sam had spent endless hours of her childhood lying on the yellow shag carpet in front of his desk, sifting through his records, playing them as she pleased. The variations of melodies that the trumpet hummed, the soul searching trills of the saxophone, the attention that keeping time with the symbols had required.

The Colonel would look up from his work and Sam would drop whatever else held her attention to stare up at him, fascinated by everything that he was.

“Where’d you get those eyes, Child?” her Grandpa asked.

“I don’t know,” Sam beamed.

“Come give your Grandpa some sugar,” he said and she was up in his lap in an instant. “There’s something about those eyes, Little Girl,” he said balancing her on his knee.

In a family of southern women with light hair and light eyes Sam’s dark features shone brighter than an orchid in the Everglades. Sam could say exactly what was on her mind with those eyes, without ever opening her mouth. The Colonel told her once that before Sam could speak, her eyes did the talking.

They had truly enjoyed the comfort of each other’s company, and hearing the trumpet softly blow reminded Sam of all the questions she had longed to ask about a time that she had missed, but hadn’t, for fear of disturbing her grandfather’s work. She scratched her stomach and it was like the ugly, old carpet, along with the questions she’d never asked, somehow still itched.

Sam wandered into the kitchen and saw Rose poised over the stove stirring a big pot and moving her shoulders to the melody of the saxophone. The smell of her grandma’s vegetable soup hit Sam’s nostrils and saliva gathered on the sides of her tongue.

The music was so loud that Rose hadn’t heard her granddaughter come in. Watching her, and knowing that she was all alone in that big, old house, hurt Sam’s heart. She knew how much her Grandma must miss him. Sam closed her eyes and Etta sang her into the fantasy of a memory.

She saw her grandparents dancing in an old jazz club. The women’s bright dresses were full. Their skirts swished back and forth, a variety of colors and flowers dancing together to the music. The men wore uniforms and smoked Lucky Strikes.

The tall, curvy woman standing at the old fashioned microphone had on bright red lipstick to match the flowers on her otherwise white dress. The spotlight touched her and her skin was like cocoa with thick cream. Her voice was nothing but soul. She was beautiful.

The song ended and the dance partners drifted off the floor. The smoke swirled around itself the way Van Gogh painted the sky.

“There she is,” Rose gushed. Sam opened her eyes out of the smoky night club and saw her Grandma’s pretty eyes twinkling at her. The music had been lowered to a comfortable volume.

“Hi,” Sam wrapped her arms around Rose. “There is no one softer in the world to hug, Grandma.”

“Hello there, Sunshine,” Rose said holding Sam at arms length, “Look at you in black on a Sunday afternoon,” she tisked.

Katherine Rose Tempelton Sommerset only wore black on two occasions: to a funeral or to a black tie affair, and she would wear navy or white to either if she could get away with it.

Sam smiled humbly knowing that Rose had commented on the black clothes she wore because it would have been unkind to comment on the black circles under her eyes. I have to remember to leave some concealer at Jake’s, Sam thought.

“Oh, Samantha!” Rose exclaimed seeing the lilies Sam had placed on the table. She walked to them and stuck her face right into the arrangement and took a deep breath. “How sweet!” she exclaimed and turned to Sam with a smile like cherry preserves. “Honey, they are beautiful. What did I ever do to deserve such a wonderful grandbaby?” She came back for more hugs and kisses.

“Sorry, I’m so late,” Sam said and they sat down at the kitchen table, “Chrissie kidnapped me last night for girl’s night.”

“Oh, you know I don’t mind. I’ve just been bouncing around all morning getting things done here and there.” With this she was up and off to the refrigerator. “I have juice, tea, lemonade, milk, and water,” she paused, “Is it too early to share a beer?”

“Yes,” Sam barked, “I’ll have punch. Please.”

“So, tell me about Chrissie. What’s she up to these days?” Rose asked taking out glass pitchers of orange juice and iced tea. “What was that man’s name that she was seeing?” She placed the pitcher of lemonade on the counter then turned to Sam and put her hand on her hip. “Karma?” she wondered aloud, “Clover? Something like that, right?”

“Dharma,” Sam said laughing, knowing her intentions. “And I liked him, but they broke up.”

“Oh, that’s too bad,” Rose said. She winked at her granddaughter pleased that Sam had laughed at her joke and then turned back to the punch. Having been married to a republican for more than fifty years; Rose could hardly help making fun of hippies, even if her own daughter had married one.

“Yeah and she dated a jackass after that.”

“Well, that isn’t very nice.”

“Neither was he.”

“Is she still with him?”

“No.”

“Good,” Rose said firmly. Aside from her joking she was a smart woman who had a heart big enough to defend the basic human rights of any person.

Sam watched her grandma mix the juice, lemonade and iced tea. No matter how many times she had sat right there and watched her grandma make her punch Sam still had never been able to get the portions right when she made it herself.

“What would I do without you, Grandma?” Sam wondered aloud.

Rose turned sharply and looked right at Sam. “You would get along just fine.”

“Maybe,” Sam smiled. Rose set the punch down in front of her, “but no one can make your punch.”

“You know who can?” Rose asked as she returned to the stove to stir the soup.

“Who?”

“Your daddy.”

“No.”

“It took him a long time, but I think he’s the only one who likes it more than you do.” Rose poured herself a cup of coffee, and sat back down. “So, where did you girls go last night?”

“Monty’s,” Sam said, “I’m still recovering.”

“Well, you just need a bowl of grandma’s vegetable soup!” Rose was up again in an instant gathering bowls, spoons, napkins, stirring the soup, and fishing for crackers. Sam was exhausted just watching her. “Did Annabelle go?”

“No.”

“Is she still sick?” Rose asked in that grandmotherly way that feigned ignorance.

“She’s not sick, Grandma,” Sam searched for words, “she’s….gone.”

“Oh, honey.”

“For some reason she has it in her head that we’re suddenly all out to get her and Chrissie refuses to talk about it like it’s just going to go away. Dee is the only one who Annabelle will even communicate with, but all she tells her are these angry delusions that she has formed. It’s like the Annabelle that we know and love is gone.”

“It sounds like she needs some time to herself.”

“No,” Sam said sharply, “Sorry, but I don’t think that is the case. Mental illness usually manifests in people in their early twenties. I’m afraid leaving her alone is exactly the wrong thing to do, but I’m the only one who seems to feel that way.”

“What do her parents think?”

“Nothing, at all. They’re in denial. They didn’t even meet my eyes when I went to talk to them. They think I’ve turned against their daughter, but I have no reason to! Just like she has no reason to have turned against me,” Sam’s voice trailed off.

“There’s not much you can do to change some peoples minds. You know, I was at the club the other day and this ignorant man…” Rose started on but Sam couldn’t listen.

It infuriated her the casual way people spoke about a person that she loved so much. Sam knew Annabelle inside and out, and knew that this wasn’t her friend. A switch had been flipped inside Annabelle’s head and Sam wanted to flip it back but no one would help her find it. Everyone seemed uncomfortable even looking.

She looked down into her papaya colored punch wishing it were a crystal ball. She wanted to see when she would get her friend back. Or when people would start admitting there was a bigger problem at play, at last.

The First Snow

The first night that the snow fell he had a bag of cocaine in his pocket. It hadn’t snowed in Rome in twenty years. It was beautiful, and it was a party.
We had gone from the restaurant, and their endless supply of house red wine, to the house, and their endless supply of blow. Friends, brothers, and a sister-in-law, laughing, yelling, drinking, watching, whispering, smiling, sniffing, celebrating.
“You know,” said his brother, “I’ve never seen him kiss a girl in front of any of us.”
I just looked at him.
I knew affection was held right next to intimacy, and that they were both reserved for when we were alone. I liked it. It made it like our little secret that no one could see, how we fit into one another without any other.
But I hadn’t known that he had always been that way. Or that those few minutes before when he’d kissed me so deeply that it pulled me inside out I wasn’t the only one who had been left speechless.
He had been mine for months, by his definition, and he’d been mine for years, by my intuition. He had never been one for communication, but that night he seemed to be the only one talking.
“I never met anyone like you,” he said and I scanned the room. Through swirls of smoke I saw other conversations, laughter unconscious of his tone. My reserve mirrored his, even if he’d abandoned it for the night.
“Let’s go outside,” I said taking his hand and pulling him towards the door.
The silence was almost as shocking as the cold. The warmth of the fire and festivities vanished into a vacuum of white.
“You have a really big heart,” he said into the stillness.
“It’s yours,” I promised, placing my hands on each side of his face. His green eyes were glistening and fighting to reveal feeling.
“You are too good for me,” he said. I shook my head. “You are perfect,” he whispered and tears rolled through my fingertips. The snow kept falling around us.

A Hitchhikers Guide to Finding A Greyhound

Do you remember when Jay-Z and Beyonce got married?
I do.
I was standing in a gas station somewhere on the border of Montana and Idaho waiting for a shift change to be carried out. On a Greyhound bus, I’d just learned, each passenger must disembark before the drivers change places at a different location. I had boarded the bus four hours previously in Bozeman, Montana at 3:15am and while I’d rather not have parted with my seat and my pillow, I held my tongue and walked sleepily into the freezing cold morning. Had it been a less ungodly hour, I might have protested, or at least had the wherewithal to grab my purse.
Instead, I walked into the gas station groggy and shivering. It was heated and like a dog curling up in front of the fire, I settled in to the magazine rack. This was 2008, long before Bey ran the world, when Jay was still the power of the couple by my estimation and before they named their child a color. People magazine had printed a story about their very private penthouse nuptials. “From the White Orchids (70,000!) to the Famous Guests and the Crazy-Expensive Cigars, Inside the Power Couple’s Ultra-Private New York City Wedding” read the by-line.
Seventy thousand orchids, I thought, I better see what that looks like. And, obviously, I hoped to see a picture of the dress.
I didn’t get to see pictures of either. I shut the magazine a little disappointed, but also kind of happy that they’d actually pulled off a celebrity wedding that the paparazzi hadn’t infiltrated.
Good for them, I thought, placing it back on the shelf.

“Weren’t you on that bus?” the meth addict cashier said to me. I looked through my red eyes at her brown teeth trying to process the tense she was using.
“What?” I asked, mentally preparing myself for some kind of atrocity.

Continue reading A Hitchhikers Guide to Finding A Greyhound

A Second Chance

Jamal slammed his car door shut. He looked down through the tinted window at the resume sitting on the seat and shook his head. He kicked his tire and regretted it as he walked heavily up the stairs to his apartment, the pounding in his head now matched by the throbbing in his toe.

He stopped at the front door to compose himself. Tomorrow will be better, he thought, still the bitterness lingered. He put the key into the lock and tried once again to shake the resentment that had followed him out of the interview and all the way home.
“Hi daddy!” Dee ran to meet him at the door. The four-year-old ball of joy threw herself into his arms.
“Hi sugar!” he said scooping her up and kissing his little girl all the way into the kitchen. “Hi baby.” He set Dee down and wrapped his arms around his wife. She smiled warmly.
“Did you have a good day?” Cassie asked leaning into him. She had one hand flat on his lapel, the other on the stove, both of her eyes right on his, their daughter danced at their feet.
“Yeah,” he said breezily, his eyes communicating that he didn’t get the job, hers saying she was sorry. He sat down at the kitchen table and Dee climbed onto his knee. “So how was your day?” he asked, smiling into his daughters eyes.
“I unna get a baby,” she said proudly.
“You’re going to get a what?”
“I unna get a baby!” she said loudly. She jumped off his knee and ran back into her room to play with her dolls.
“That girl she adores at school, Sandra, her mom is pregnant. They’re all excited about the new baby.” She leaned on the doorframe of the small kitchen watching him. He took off his tie.
“I was so qualified,” he started. He unbuttoned his top two buttons, then rested his hands on his knees and let his head fall. “Cassie, the guy looked at me like I was a day laborer,” he said meeting her eyes.

Continue reading A Second Chance

Acquitted, Evicted, Conflicted.

 

“Go,” Chris insisted to an audience that couldn’t hear him. His right hand fumbled blindly around the deep center console of his 1989 Bronco. It hit upon its target and he slipped a Marlboro Mild between his lips, pressed the old knob of the cigarette lighter in, and met the eyes of the woman in the car next to him briefly before she looked away. Chris shook his head. The woman’s eyes had glazed over like she didn’t know what she was doing in this world. In Alaska she would have smiled.

The knob popped out and with a familiar fluidity he touched the fiery orange coil to the tip of his cigarette, inhaled, removed the poisonous stick with his left hand and exhaled. He put the car lighter back in its place. The smoke was stagnant in the afternoon heat. It hung around him like the cars amassed in the Miami rush hour traffic.
Continue reading Acquitted, Evicted, Conflicted.

Let’s Get Something Straight

The term “feminist.”

It does not mean I don’t want a boy or girl to open doors for me.
Please hold my hand.
And walk me home.

It does not mean I won’t do the dishes
and the laundry
and vacuum.
And feed us.
Every week.

Which is why
You should too, occasionally
or always.

It does not mean that I won’t shave my arm pits
or wax my hairy bits.
It does mean that I’d like you to earn the privilege to comment
on such things.

Which brings me to:
Put a ring on it.
or
In feminist terms:
Communicate your intentions.

Tell her:
What you want.
How long you want it for.
and
What your expectations are.

Then,
and this is important,
Listen while she tells you her intentions
And her expectations.

Here is the big one:

If I stand
in a teeny bikini
with every inch
of my god given beauty
on display.
I shall not fear
that any person
will lay a finger on me.

Keep your laws to yourself, too.

This temple
That I reside in
is Mine.

Divinely and unequivocally.

Lastly,
Respect me.

Not as a man
Not as woman
As a person.

And a writer.
A creative thinker, activist, and problem solver.
A mother, a daughter, a lover.

A woman
Above and below
and in between
all of those lines.
Not boxed in by them.
And never,
Ever,
Abused by them.

*These, of course, are only my personal opinions and I don’t claim to speak for all people.

My Mother is Not in a Cult

Ali and Heather walked home from cheerleading practice with an aura of sulkiness about them. The trees were just beginning to set fire above the suburban road, but the two fourteen year old girls were so chocked full of self-doubt that they couldn’t see the autumn delight. The yellow and orange leaves mingling with the green in the pleasant afternoon went unnoticed because lately, things had not been going Ali’s way.
When school first started in the fall it didn’t seem to matter that she was the new kid. Despite her original fears, freshman year had started alright. Ali had been chosen for the JV cheerleading squad, she had made some nice friends, and a boy even shared his sandwich with her at lunch. In girl world, things could not have been better. Then one day, out of the periwinkle sky, a shadowy cloud rolled in and settled itself just above Ali’s pretty, red-head. Continue reading My Mother is Not in a Cult

Miami Life, Another Night

A fly’s wings fluttered against the glass as thunder shook the pane.

Drops pelted the roof of the car. The fly buzzed. Sam considered opening the window and letting him drown.

An ambulance siren howled in the distance. The rain masked the sounds of metal and rubber and the slick roads claiming its victims. The fly bobbled through space into the back seat.

Sam watched the rain fall on the windshield. The design reinvented itself with each drop. She hit the wipers and cleared the canvas. Her eyes found new patterns forming within the spots.

The leash that she called a cell phone rang. She resisted the temptation of throwing it out into the puddle beside her car.

The siren faded away. The humidity suffocated the fly. She answered the phone.

The Old Head of Kinsale

It was dark when we arrived. The lights of the city stretched farther than I had expected. Traffic was bad, but not as bad as it had been in Dublin. John took the first parking spot he saw and we headed into the Pub across the street. There was some sort of meeting going on and we invited hostile looks from people present. One woman glared like we had come to ruin her conspiracy.
“Hey mates,” John said. “Hope we’re not interrupting, just lookin’ for a pint.”
“Oh, Dear,” an Irish mum called getting up, “Come in, come in, excuse my manners. What’ll ya have?” She smiled and in the wrinkles around her hazel eyes I saw years of worry, strength, and laughter. Her hair reached out in tight curls.
“Guinness,” I smiled.
“Of course, dear, and for you?”
“Same.”
“There you are.”
She was endearing and nervous and her strong hands and rosy cheeks were everything I expected from an Irish barmaid. She was going on about some old head and John was paying close attention but I was drifting, taking in the authenticity. It was the Irish pub that I had always wanted to be in. I admired the flags and lace curtains and shamrocks that someone had painted on every spot of empty wall, gaily. At this point such space was hard to come by. There were top to bottom pictures from all sorts of celebrations, weddings, birthdays, football matches, all that looked like St. Patty’s Day and all to which we were at least 20 years too late.
“We’ll join,” John said and I turned back to the conversation I had missed. “Won’t we?”
“Sure,” I said trusting his judgment.
“Hey, Pauly,” she called both excited and more serious than I had heard her sound, “we’ve got two new recruits.”
“Sorry, we’re full,” snapped the vicious woman.
“Oh, bollocks,” the barmaid said ushering us over to the group.
A dark haired man with crystal blue eyes rose from the head of the table, “I’m Paul.”
“Pleased to meet you,” I said trying not to sound too American.
“This is Violet, I’m John, and we’re always up for fighting the good fight.”
I nodded and wondered what he had gotten us into. I felt like we accidentally stumbled into the den of a revolution, and I liked it.
“Do you know anything about the Old Head of Kinsale?” the steaming woman asked still glaring at me. I shook my head. Her hair was long and deep red and poured over her thin shoulders like the fire she seemed ready to spew.
“This is Nora, don’t let her passion frighten you. She grew up outside Kinsale so this matter is very dear to her heart.”
I wanted to ask what the matter at hand actually was but I was not about to say anything, lest she might rip my face off.
“Well, its nice to meet the lot of you. How can we help?” John asked

Continue reading The Old Head of Kinsale

The Comfort of the King

The road stretches out before me unwavering, like the heat. The little brown camper that we’ve called home since the start of our month-long trek across India moseys along crookedly, leaning always away. Dried up ditches frame the road and I imagine them as gushing rivers in the wet season. Beyond the dusty windshield, the sweeping flat land extends utterly unoccupied but for an occasional tree and the man that I love riding an elephant that we call Elvis.

The orange tweed interior radiates against my freckled skin like a fake tan. I’ve been wearing the same white linen shirt for so long that there is no longer a white thread to be found. I smell curry spice and compost coming off of my own self as much as anything else, and it has been weeks since I’ve actually minded. This makes me feel like I could belong, something I desperately hope to achieve.

Gone with the town we just departed from are the two men who stood beside the camper each dawn screaming at each other through the dewy haze in a language that I simply can’t understand. The possibility that we might sleep in tomorrow is stifled, like everything else, by the heat. I yawn and stretch, feeling sand stuck to the back of my neck. When I wash I find it in my nose and in my eyeballs as well. The humidity is relentless. Soon, we’ll be to the coast.

The camper finally leans too far away. It takes all my strength to keep it on the road, but in the end I give up and surrender it to the ditch. I step out casually as the rusty mess settles itself into the non-river.

“We’re leaving it,” I say swiftly, deliriously, amused. I hope the lightness of tone will prevent a quarrel.
“Lucy,” Wyatt says, his voice loaded with disappointment, but he stops himself. He looks up at the sky as if for an answer. When he jumps down off the elephant I smile in a way that I hope reads remorse. He walks over to where the camper is.

“Be careful!” I call.

A few minutes later he returns with our packs, the necessities and our sleeping pads. He fashions them to Elvis in silence. I stroke Elvis’s trunk as he tries to fish non-existent peanuts from my pockets.

The man who sold us the friendly mammoth spoke no English. From what Wyatt could gather the elephant was either twenty-four or forty-eight years old and called ‘aracan,’ which means ‘the king.’

“Elvis,” I say looking into his big black eye, “I hope you don’t mind me hitching this ride.”

“Will that be all, Pricilla?” Wyatt asks and I pout. He kisses my cheek and I’m smiling again before he’s through. I stand on my tiptoes to sneak a kiss on his lips before he turns. He gives me that half smile that fills me up with love, and then shows me where to step.

Sorry, I mouth to Elvis as I place one foot on the back of his knee. I take Wyatt’s hand and it feels like I’m climbing up a strong tree trunk. Elvis’s abdomen is hard, stable and sturdy. Aside from the coarse hairs poking through my khakis, it’s not at all uncomfortable.

We both jerk as Elvis starts down the long dirt road. I grab tight to Wyatt and then the animal’s massive shoulders fall into a rhythm that moves us up and down with him. We rock as if in a hammock strung above a small boat in calm water. I loosen my grip. There’s the slightest hint of a breeze. I feel fearless. A surreal sightseer, a tour by the dirty blue sky.

This is why I’m here. This is the adventure I seek.

Elvis’s grey skin reminds me of old people in a winsome way. It makes me think back to the wrinkled faces I’ve met in the villages we’ve passed through. There have been many of them over the last month and yet I feel myself missing the individual strangers. How easy it is to settle into a small towns routine. The beast’s appalling scent overpowers my nostalgia. I remember something that I forgot to tell Wyatt, my nose begs for the distraction.

“I made a friend yesterday,” I say straightening the little saffron colored towel we’re sitting on.
“The girl at the market?” he asks.
“Yeah. She gave me a pear and watched me until I took a bite. It was like she wanted to know if I would eat what she gave me, or if I chewed the same way as her.”
“And?”
“She was glad to find out that I did. Her eyes sparkled and warmed to me.”
“That’s beautiful,” he says patting my thigh.
“It was,” I say, resting my hand on his for a moment. “I really thought that I’d gotten acclimated to the smells. Elvis, I’m sure it’s not your fault but it doesn’t seem very like a king to smell like old baby diapers.”
“You mean to tell me, diarrhea and old eggs aren’t regal?”
“Ew,” I squirm and pretend to vomit over his side.
“He smells better than you do,” Wyatt says smiling.
I laugh so hard I almost fall off. I grab Wyatt’s chest and hold onto him like a seat belt, feeling my ribs shake against him. Better to laugh than to pass out from the scent.

I take the scarf from my hair and cover my face with it like a bandit. It helps the way a single rose might mask a pile of manure.

The winning purchase of the journey has been the cone shaped straw hats we were sold in the first town. They have served as gallant protectors from the sun and the rain. With the hat on my head and the scarf on my face I feel less like a foreigner. I yearn for someone to believe that I’m a local. My dream would be to assimilate so fully that I could shimmy right out the light skin I’ve always worn and try on this culture’s for a time.

To see what they see. To feel how they feel. To learn all the details.

To walk mile after mile on the back of a hard stinky elephant passing salt fields and plantain tree farms, slowly, pontificating over weather patterns, placing space before time.

Westerners aren’t always accepted in the agrarian villages that we explore. Some embrace us, some fear us, and some have no idea what to think of us. I think that people are either fond of those different than them, or not. It doesn’t matter where you are. It’s the same with the people on the subway back home.

Elvis walks steadily, but with purpose and direction. I feel powerful floating on the giant, like a goddess from an ancient world. He carries us proudly down the flat brown road away from the pumpkin sunset.

Wyatt whistles “Fools Rush In,” I sway to the music, and after only a few bars Elvis begins raising his trunk in tune with the notes. He’s so smart! I hug Wyatt, lay my head on his back and close my eyes trying to commit the moment to memory. This is joy.

We stop when the night falls around us. The moon is small and the stars are vast.

We sleep on mats beside the riverbank under a tarp shelter that Wyatt fabricates with sticks and twine. I can smell the sea in the air.

“The coast isn’t far,” I say. “Do you think Elvis likes the sand?”
“I don’t know,” Wyatt looks at the elephant grazing in a patch of grass.

We lay to sleep and within my imagination slow-paced fishing villages that haven’t changed in two thousand years are busy with commerce. I can’t wait to meet the people. In all of my travels I have always felt most at home on small islands, like the one where I grew up.
One never knows if the sea will be fair or furious, but we always have absolute faith in her anyway. Those who reside near the ocean are equipped with an intrinsically easy feeling. For me that faith is simple.

I dream of lush mountains falling into a turquoise sea.

When I wake the sky is light grey and it’s so quiet that I can hear the dust blowing across the road.

Elvis is gone.

At once my eyes well up with tears. I jump to my feet. I walk up and down the road but its no use. He is an elephant in the middle of an even, far-reaching land, and he is nowhere to be seen. I let out a sob and cup my mouth with my hand. I feel tiny and lost, suddenly stuck in the middle of a strange country without a guide.

“Wyatt,” I whisper. “Wake up.”
He squints one eye open and looks at me. “What’s wrong?”
“Elvis is gone,” I say sweeping tears away with the back of my hand. He carried us across the broad land all the time sinking his elephantine footsteps deeper into my heart.
“What!” he sits up quickly, looks around for a moment, blinks into the daylight, and gets up. Shielding his eyes from the sun he looks in every direction.
“We took him from his home,” I sob, “and he left us for it. Why didn’t we tie him up? Why didn’t he want to stay? What’s wrong with us?”
“Shhh,” Wyatt coos, his arm around my shoulder squeezing me to him. He kisses the top of my head and I collapse into my hands sobbing. “Breathe,” he whispers after a minute or so. I try to get it together.

Wyatt stares down the way we had come for a long time.
“Well,” he says finally, “we wanted to live like they live here. This is part of it.”
He takes my face in his hands and speaks sweetly wiping my cheeks, “We have enough water and food. We’ll survive.”
I gaze back at him, dumbstruck and heartbroken.
“It’ll be ok,” he promises and kisses my salty lips. Then he gets started rolling up our mats and packing our things. He distributes most of the weight to himself.

My friend’s abandonment sits on my spirit. Why hadn’t Elvis wanted to stay with us on our voyage? Were we just dead weight to him? Will we only ever be dead weight to the rest of the world? Worthless and spoiled and weak? This is what I came here to understand.

An hour into the walk the rain starts. It soaks us to the bone. Before long my pack weighs as heavy as my heart, like the saturation has added one rock for each of my deficiencies. The road turns to mud. I concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other on the wet ground.

With each step I fight the muck as it sucks at my foot. I pretend I’m trying to step out of that circle thing on the tentacle of a giant squid. The slurping sound is a small kind of reward. I can’t distinguish my skin from my sandals. My toes might very well be growing webbed.

I watch the steady patterns in the puddles. I count steps. I sing show tunes in my head, almost the whole first act of Wicked. Anything to keep the crushing load on my shoulders from my mind.

The dutiful clip-clopping of a cart approaching comes on slowly. The animal pulling it towards us has hooves that are just as slopped in the latte colored mud as my own feet. I look up having to crane my neck in order to see the driver around my hat. An elderly man smiles at me in front of a grey sky. As I blink into the rain at him he closes his toothless mouth and nods. The uncomplicated act of human compassion carries me farther down the infinite path.

The dull ache of my feet is punctuated by intense jabs that I know mean the blisters are giving way to lacerations in the places where the straps of my sandals meet the backs of my heels. I try not to think of that, or the knotting pain in my back. I think of Achilles and how his mother tried to protect him and failed and what pain my own mother might know if she witnessed my current suffering. I’d like to know what that feels like, that all encompassing maternal love.

The rain lets up and when I no longer feel my skin being saturated, I take off my hat. I say a silent prayer of thanks to Achilles’ mother, though I can’t remember her name, and my own for always staying with me. The clouds have finally relented and a low, verdant mountain stands before us. The wet leaves are like glittering emeralds radiating greetings our way.

“Look,” I say, blinking back tears. My voice cracks and it occurs to me we haven’t spoken in hours. Wyatt looks up and I hear myself let out a long, raspy laugh.

He drops his pack and I drop mine and I lean against him, trying to hold some of my weight. I wrap my arms around his middle and squeeze. The jade mountains are a gleaming symbol of our feat. The ocean is on the other side. I stare in awe, satisfied by the road we never wavered from.

The sun breaks through and begins to dry the happy tears that joined the raindrops on my cheeks. I wonder how hard it’ll be to cross the small mountain range. Wyatt has absolute confidence. I can feel it under my fingertips in the muscles on his back. I love him for his conviction.

We sit on the side of the road. He eats wet salami from the bag of emergency food. I lay down resting my head on his leg, too exhausted to eat. Looking up at the new blue sky, my back pressed into the muddy ground, soaked, starved, and blistered, I have never felt such contentment.

When I wake its twilight. The stars are barely shining through the violet sky. Wyatt is asleep. In the absence of rain I hear the sound of the mountains: trees rustling, birds chattering, water rambling down a hill.

I stand and stretch, my back and hips competing for attention with their throbbing. My feet cry at the movement, each millimeter of ripped skin sears with pain. I blink twice into the dark horizon and shriek. The sound of the scream hangs in the moist air.

“Lucy?” Wyatt calls out of sleep.
“Look,” I whisper.

At the foot of the mountain stands an elephant.

“It’s Elvis,” he says, already on his feet.
“You think?” I ask laughing. My eyes are so full they’re over pouring yet again.
We study the possibility, our faces frozen.
“It can’t be him,” I say, sure that it is.
“I guarantee it is.”
“Get back here!” I call. “Elvis! Don’t be cruel!”

He walks leisurely towards us.

I wipe my eyes, and give Wyatt a happy shove. I know in my heart that I proved something to myself. I might be a Westerner, but I’m not worthless, or spoiled, or weak. Tomorrow we have to cross that mountain and it’s sure to wipe this grin off my face, but today I’m a survivor.

I have never seen something so beautiful as that sparkly green mountain, nor felt more humbled than by the comfort of that king.

Bodie, California

Gracie dug through her purse looking for a hammer. She pulled out a 45 of the Beatles single “Love Me Do”, then emptied the other contents of her bag: her journal, a broken brush, a long since finished tube of lipstick, and a wallet with nothing in it but a two dollar bill. She turned the whole bag upside down and shook it. Thin candy wrappers and disintegrating tissues fell to the dusty wooden floor. Gracie’s pale fingers picked a library card out of the rubbish. She flung the purse away. The brown leather had turned orange with age, and the sides had deep creases from years of use, but she hadn’t aged like the relic. She hadn’t aged a day since she arrived in Bodie, California in 1962.

Gracie’s knees were folded beneath her and hidden by the thin yellow skirt that flowed onto the floor around her. Her dirty blonde hair fell loosely about her pretty face. She looked around the small, shabby room. There weren’t many places a hammer could hide. She was so frustrated that when she did find the hammer she planned on smashing what little there was in the two hundred year old room that seemed to have eaten her tool.

“What’s wrong, Gracie?” asked a sweet old woman hovering in the door frame. Trails of grey streaked her dark hair and her black eyes sparkled kindly. She was petite but not at all frail.

“Hello, Rosa May,” Gracie said turning towards the door. Her gloomy dress was unmistakably from the nineteenth century. There was a trail of tiny buttons up the front to her neck and a trim of linen lace where the sleeves touched below her wrists. It hung to the tips of her dark pointy boots which Gracie happened to know laced up past her ankle. The sky behind her was shining such a brilliant blue that it seemed to mute the green and gold desert sitting below it. “Have you seen my hammer?” Gracie asked hopefully.

“Darling child,” Rosa May said with worried eyes, “what do you need a hammer for?”

“I found some more sheet metal down by the mill. The winter is coming and the walls on this house get thinner all the time. I need to add another layer on the north side to block that freezing wind from blowing in.”

“Gracie,” she said softly, “you could set this house on fire with both of us in it and you wouldn’t feel the warmth of the blaze.”

Gracie looked down at her hands sitting lifelessly in her lap. She wanted to cry. She hated when Rosa May spoke to her as if there was no solution. “If I could just find my hammer,” she said, but she knew there was no reason to finish the sentence. She stared out the window wishing she could feel hot tears rolling down her cheek. She hated the sight of such a gorgeous day knowing she couldn’t feel the sun on her face.

“You haven’t seen my hammer then?” Gracie asked distantly. Rosa May floated over the door jam and sat lightly on the table.

“You know I used to come to this house,” she said picking up the dusty, cracked tea cup that sat on a broken saucer. She smiled at Gracie in her soft and inviting way.

“Tell me about it,” Gracie said, she laid back on the dusty floor and closed her eyes.

“It was the turn of the twentieth century,” Rosa May began, “and it was colder than you could imagine. Everyone was dying of pneumonia. We did what we could to enjoy our last days. The man who lived here looked as if he was older than Bodie himself. The war had taken both of his legs and all of his manners. A mean old bastard he was,” she said with a coy smile.

“Why did you come here then?”

“He liked me. I tried to make him smile. Seeing a big old grin grace his miserable face was always worth it. You know, they say misery loves company but what they fail to mention is that the company isn’t worth a damn unless they absolve some of the misery.”

Gracie couldn’t feel the cold floor beneath her. She couldn’t feel the rough wood scraping her elbows, she couldn’t smell the desert air, and she couldn’t feel misery, but she enjoyed Rosa May’s company all the same.

“Where is he now?” Gracie asked sitting up.

“I don’t know,” Rosa May said reflectively, “Heaven, I suppose. Maybe hell. I haven’t seen him around here in a hundred years.”

“Why can’t I remember my home?” Gracie asked with sad eyes begging for answers. Rosa May looked down into her face compassionately.

“I don’t know darling. I wish I could tell you, but I never knew any home worth remembering until I came to Bodie. Here’s the only place I ever really felt loved. I guess that’s why I’m still here.” Gracie tried to remember the people who loved her. She wondered why no one ever come looking for her.

“How long have I been here?” she asked timidly.

“Too long,” Rosa May said looking at her pitifully.

Am I a lost soul? Gracie wondered, but wouldn’t dare say it aloud.

Someone would come looking, she thought. And for once Gracie was glad she couldn’t cry.

Beseeched

“No,” the little girl said simply, “I will not go.”
“But Sara,” her mother pleaded, “you must come to Church with us.”
Sara looked plainly at her. “God knows I’m a good little girl,” she said full of purpose, “so you don’t need to pray for me anymore.”
“I don’t know what to do with her,” she said to Sara’s father, “and I swear she reads my thoughts.”
He smiled. “If God knows she’s a good little girl then it sounds like it’s out of our hands.”
“Real funny,” she said leaving the room, “You’re a great help.”
“Come here,” he said patting his knee. The four year old climbed into his lap, staring up at him with big brown eyes. “Why don’t you want to go to church?” he asked.
“It’s too cold there,” she said guiltlessly. “Everyone talks too much and they ask for the same things, every Sunday. Mary asks for dolls, Maggie asks for a little sister, Max asks for his little sister to go away and for a little brother instead, and Johnny asks for yucky things about bugs and boogers.” He couldn’t help but laugh. “And Daddy, you aren’t supposed to pray about football.”
“You’re right,” he nodded, “but am I the only one who prays for us to win?”
“No,” she sighed, “most of the daddy’s do.”
“And we still don’t win,” he said shaking his head. “Tell me something Sara, what do you pray for?”
“Peace,” she said simply. “And to go to church somewhere warm.”

 

* * *

“You’re too young,” Sara’s mother cried, “why must you go so far?”
“You wish all the time to go far away from here,” Sara said smiling sweetly. Her mother frowned. She placed her palm on her mother’s cheek, “I’m eighteen. I’ll be fine.”
“But alone? Why must you go alone?”
“You understand.” Sara folded her favorite sweater and placed it carefully in her suitcase.
Her father stood leaning against the doorway, his tired eyes watching respectfully.
“And you? You’re fine with our little girl going across the world to Italy, alone?”
He stepped into the room and looked around. He picked up a picture frame sitting on the desk. It was a picture of Sara in a field of wildflowers. He remembered everything about that day.
It had been unusually warm for March, and the snow was beginning to melt. He had told her that he would take her to see something special and she had smiled completely. It was rare that she smiled with all her heart, even at eight years old.
They walked along the small road past the edge of town to the abandoned church. When they reached the top of the hill, she went running down the other side. He stood where he was and studied her intently. She seemed to be glowing.
It was too early for spring. He was sure there had been snow covering the valley the day before, but as she walked through the flowers with both arms outstretched, her open palms touched lightly over the tops of the petals. She was talking, and though he was too far to hear, something held him from moving any closer.
“That was the first time you took me there,” she said smiling.
He nodded, and ran his finger along the glass. He could still smell the lavender in the air.
“You appeared on that hill and the whole valley bloomed for you,” he said with the same amazement he had felt that day.
“That’s my favorite place,” she whispered, “it’s the only place that I can pray for my own dreams without having to listen to everyone else’s.”

* * *

Sara sat in her favorite Roman church looking up at a fresco. Three cherubs floated above the head of baby Jesus. She loved the fat little Renaissance babies, and everything about the art.
“Are you hearing this?” she asked the four of them silently. They didn’t respond. “I didn’t think so.”
She listened as a man very close to her wished for his mother to find someone to grow old with. It pained the man that his mother had been without his father for so many years. Then she melted a little as he prayed humbly for love to find him.
“Ciao,” he said behind her.
I must be imagining things, she thought. She turned around to see a perfect smile, and turned back quickly, blushing. He rose and his heels clicked away on the marble floor, rounded the end of the pew, and came clicking back down her aisle. He sat beside her.
“Ciao,” she said softly, without looking at him.
“You come here everyday,” he said quietly, facing forward, “and you sit in a different place, everyday.”
“Yes,” she said blushing again.
“Why?”
She turned to face him. “What is your name?” she asked after a moment.
“Gabriele, and yours?”
“Sara,” she said extending her hand.
She felt a surge of warmth when he touched her. He stared into her eyes, and shook her hand softly. She loved him at once.
“Do you ever wonder if people can hear your thoughts?” she asked, “And then say ‘Hello,’ just in case they’re listening?”
“No,” his face split into a wide smile, “but I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to hear all that you think.”
Her fists clenched and she realized that he was still holding her hand.
“Can you hear my thoughts now?”
“Only your prayers,” she whispered, “and you shouldn’t wish for such things in a sacred place.”

 

* * *

Sara stood in her kitchen alone. Leaning against the countertop, she studied the curve of the wine glass balanced in her hand. She preferred the way her satin flats looked against the black and white tile at her feet, to the conversation that she could hear from the dining room.
“They were so drab,” she would tell her husband later, “him continuously praying for more money and her for me to cut the black forest cake.”
She took a sip of wine and held it in her mouth as she closed one eye and looked at life through the burgundy liquid. The blue cheese sauce for the pasta danced up to her nose. Her curls stuck to the back of her neck while random thoughts walked mazes within her mind.
She heard the hot sizzle of water on the burner as the pot boiled over. Her eyes came back into focus and she reached for potholders and turned the burner off. As she emptied the fresh gnocchi into the strainer she saw something move in her kitchen window.
“Gabriele,” she shrieked as the pot crashed to the bottom of the porcelain basin.
He flew around the corner. The terror in his face matched the sound of her voice.
“What is it?” he asked barely breathing. He had never seen her look so scared.
Her thin frame moved slowly away from the window, her head shook back and forth ever so slightly. She stared out the window with wide, unblinking eyes. He looked down at her clenched fists.
“There’s something terrible out there,” she whispered, “and it’s praying for a way to come in.”

The Gene Pool Lottery

#LikeAGirl  <– CLICK for Video

 

Genetics are dumb luck as far as I’m concerned. Throughout history, whether you were born into the working class or the aristocracy was your fate. These days, we live in a world where you can change your stars. That is, if you were born in a first world country, and you are provided education. I could’ve been born a girl in Pakistan or I could’ve been born a boy in Western Africa. I got lucky, though. I won the gene pool lottery.

My mother and father are the winged unicorn of married couples. They have been married over forty years, they still love each other, and they still like each other. They sing show tunes and “I Got You, Babe,” there’s a video of that that I will never post – you’re welcome. My father supports my mother in all of her endeavors. He shows me the same respect. He supported me through soccer and water polo and cheerleading, expecting me to do my best in each of them. My brother never cut me any slack. No one ever let me win and when I won, no one was surprised.

My paternal grandmother was a golf pro. Even after she won a fight with breast cancer, after a full mastectomy, she returned to the game, as a pro. If that isn’t tough, I don’t know what is. My maternal grandmother had four kids, an airline pilot husband who was off flying most of the time, and was a league tennis champ. These women were stylish and clever and strong, like a girl, so why isn’t that how the phrase is applied?

Only once in my house did I hear the phrase, “like a girl”. My neighbor and I were putting on our rollerblades. I had wrist guards and he didn’t. “Do you want to use these?” I asked. “No,” he shrugged, “you need them. You skate like a girl.” Later that day when my mom was about to take him home, I shut that boys fingers in the car door. We were about eight years old and I played it off like it was an accident. I’m not sure that he even correlated the two incidents, he was quite literally crushed. I cannot honestly say I didn’t feel a sense of victory in hurting him physically, for the way he had hurt my young and developing physicalness. I’m sure if I did something like that today I would be called a “psycho bitch.” And would you agree?

I bet you would. I was a child, and of course what I did was wrong. Even then I felt bad and apologized profusely. But here’s my problem. You don’t poke a lion and expect to walk away unscathed. You don’t insult a man and expect there won’t be repercussions. So why can you tell a girl that she’s doing something “like a girl” and not expect her to prove to you exactly what that means?

YES, I AM A GIRL. I am able bodied and smart, and I will retaliate against your sexism in one way or another. My brother and my father taught me to. My mother and my grandmothers told me that skating faster than him was enough, and not to rub it in. But I disagree.

I want to change the stars. I want young boys and girls to know that they can do and be anything without gender factoring in as a limitation on that. I want to speak my mind, and I want to do it proudly, like a girl. So tell me, why doesn’t “run like a girl” mean win the goddamn race?

 

 

 

 

Summer in the South

 

A violin whines through the history of her mind. Memories intertwine and overlap like the cream into the coffee in her cup. The diner disappears and she’s young and at home. Ice cubes clink and the porch swing creaks, but the laughter of her girlfriends echoes loudest. She sips sweet lemonade through a straw. The balmy breeze sweeps curly blonde hairs off of her sticky neck. She looks down at her legs, tan and lean, her pink toes dangling as she glides. Summer in the south has always been her favorite time.

It was a time characterized by pace, slow like the molasses pouring into her mama’s bread pudding. It meant all day drives to the beach along the two-lane dirt road. She and her sister would run out to the yard in their bathing suits to crank up the 1936 Model A Ford that they were lucky to have. In the heavy old car their sunbonnets were held tightly to their heads with pretty ribbons that matched their bathing suits and trailed behind them in the wind as they bounced along. They rode east past the endless forest that would eventually be home to fast food chains, housing developments and strip malls. They patiently waited to see their grandmother, who also sat waiting in her rocking chair in a black wool bathing suit reaching her knees.

The car never went over thirty miles per hour, and her dad wore his riding cap and told stories along the way. When he was eight years old he sold newspapers on the corner of First Street and Main for a penny. It was called the Jacksonville Journal, now it’s the Metropolis. He sold the papers from one to six each and every afternoon.

She likes to picture her nine-year-old grandson on that same corner selling papers, he’s got the same gumption her father had, but the world has changed around him.
Her smile fades as the nostalgia sinks into deeper and darker waters. She’s seventeen and walking along with her beau. They stroll casually down the road, tennis racquets in hand shaded by the oak trees along the way, he whistles. They talk for a while, and then walk for a while; he holds her hand and walks on the outside, she smiles and bats the eyelashes that frame her sparkling amber eyes.

“Do you think you might win one today?” She taunts him.

“Well, darlin’, that depends on whether I let you win ‘em all or not.”

“Oh, you think you’re so funny,” she pokes at his middle and he grabs both her wrists and holds them behind her back.

“You may talk like you’re big and tough, but like it or not you’re still a sweet little girl.” With this he releases her arms and kisses her mouth. She pulls him close and squeezes real tight.

The coffee ripples and she looks up at the waitress who is walking away briskly, a coffee pot in each hand. It takes a few blinks to adjust to this reality. She looks up at the cracking wallpaper, and wonders when the diner changed from being a nice restaurant to just a decent one. The walls are yellow with big white gardenias, it’s tacky and she frowns. Pain sits stubbornly in her throat. It’s been a hundred years since she has let herself think of him. The violin plays louder.

Her thin gold watch dangles on her frail wrist. She dives back down to where it is strong and sees his long fingers wrapped around it, as they perfect her backhand.

“You have to follow through, like this, see?” She hates to be treated like a child.

“I have a better backhand than any girl in the club.”

“And a better backside too, but if you don’t follow through you could hurt yourself, honey.”

The man in the booth behind her lights a cigarette. She feels the rush of a dance hall. The first night he filled up her dance card she wore a black dress with red flowers and he wore his uniform. She loved the way he looked in it, so handsome and proud. The world was a mess, but he thought not of the Germans and she thought she would never lose him. They danced for hours.

Afterward he took her to the drive-in and ordered two strawberry milkshakes. Her pretty red toes sat in his lap. He couldn’t take his eyes off her, and she could not stop smiling. Billie Holliday sang “I’ll Be Seeing You.” She thought time would stand still for them.

She’s back on the porch swing. There is a cool breeze that tells them summer will be over in no time. He sits beside her, not touching, yet so close. His violin is perched on his shoulder, he plays a sad song. The strings vibrate against his fingers and the bow. She wears a smile, closed eyes, and one of her dads oversized work shirts. The sound throbs deep within her.

“Baby,” she asks, “why do you always play such sad songs?” He pauses, and takes it away from his chin. She opens her eyes.

“The violin is a sad instrument,” he says looking deep in to her, “If you want to dance I’ll go get my fiddle.”
“No,” she breaks his gaze and looks forward, “I don’t want to dance.” He resumes playing and she looks up at the stars.

Her old eyes grow bloodshot as she remembers the night before he left. No one blamed the President or even the Nazis. He was going to perform his natural born duty, and she wasn’t willful enough to question true loyalty.

In their last moments together they took her dad’s car all the way out to the beach. The long walk through the palmetto bushes was silent. The sand was cool, the air warm. He held her close and she let him lead. Her head rested comfortably on his chest. A million reflections of the moon on the water danced with them to the sound of the crashing waves.

His last letter reads itself in her head as she inhales a sharp breath. After sixty years she knows it word for word. Her fist instinctively clenches around it, but it’s not there. She takes short, quick breaths. The day his mother called she hyperventilated and lost consciousness. She wished they had never revived her. For months she cried herself to sleep with the worn paper crumpled in her palm. It took her years to finally let go.

“Hi, Grandma!” The joyful voice of her grandchild calls her back to the present. It’s too soon. She’s still lost in a different time, a time lost.

“Hi, Mom, sorry we’re late. Are you crying?”

“No, honey, I’m fine. I was just thinking about old times.”

“With Dad?”

She nods at her beautiful daughter and grandson. Pulling a tissue from her purse she wipes her eyes and blows her nose quietly. They would never understand that there were two loves of her life, one cut horribly short, and one that grew to be over a lifetime.

“I miss Grandpa, too,” the child smiles reassuringly.

She sips some coffee, swallows her pain and lets the violin’s gentle strings play on.